milk and pencils

from the kitchen table

012 :: Cardillo Family History – Uncle Sal, part 1


How and why Uncle Sal is with us today – Miliziano ancestry dating back to 1610 – Sal’s mother born in 1911 – Family stone mason business in Cattolica Eraclea – How Sal’s father lost his faith and belief in God – How his father immigrated (snuck) to Bronx, New York in a coal bin – how his mother and father met at an Italian Assembly of God church.

Note: In going back to re-listen to this, I discovered I had already edited out my voice and questions. The original content and meat of the interview is still all here, though. And it’s really what Uncle Sal says that’s important. So here it is, in all its glory:



Sal and Angelica



Out of place


This past Sunday I wrestled with the question, ‘Should I go to church today? We’ve only been there a few months, and haven’t gotten too connected yet. And now we are leaving to move to Vermont. What would be the point?’

Which revealed a deeper question for me – one we’ve been asking for much longer – ‘Why go to church at all?’

Both Rachel and I have been attending church since the womb. This Christian tradition is so much a part of our blood that to even ask the question feels similar to asking, ‘Should I eat tomorrow?’ Since to not eat is to cut me off from physical nourishment. So it feels with cutting myself off from this weekly gathering. A severing of my source of life, from God, through others.

I ended up writing a long rambling piece to my dad and others as a way to air out these ‘sacrilegious’ thoughts. (Often I find the best way to get unstuck is to write honest, stream-of-consciousness thoughts, and send them to others.)

As I wrote, and received an initial response from my dad, I began to realize, ‘This is not so much a question about whether I should go to church or not, but rather, ‘How can I give full expression to my walk with God, to following Jesus, to being his disciple, within the established tradition I am in?’ Because I often feel that the very thing we are trying to do at church is hindered by our expression of it.

What I mean is this. At its most basic level, I believe church is a place to gather to ‘meet’ God, but not ‘out there’ by getting lost in a worship song or the preaching of a good, Biblically sound message. But rather, to ‘meet’ God in fellowship with one another.

I realize that might sound confusing, or too Eastern to our Western ears. So I’ll try to clarify.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says the following:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:34-40 ESV)

I remember going to church one Sunday and meeting a homeless man out front. We talked for a minute, but we were already late, and I felt this urge to rush inside, so as not to miss ‘meeting God’. And also because (I’m ashamed to say) I felt uncomfortable. Uncomfortable with his stench, his language, his touch when we shook hands. Yet at the same time I felt this tug, this small voice saying, ‘I am right here. Meet me here, by engaging this man. Receive from him.’

I did not listen to that small voice. I went into the noise, the drums, the guitars, and the passionate singing.

The homeless man joined us soon afterwards, once he finished his cigarette and over-sugared coffee. I couldn’t help but to observe him from time to time. He looked out of place. He looked like he felt out of place. He didn’t seem to be engaged in his head and heart at all. And soon he walked out.

This is not intended to be a judgment on that particular church and worship service. Rather, to reflect that I simply wondered, Have we missed it? If this service does not meet this man – if we have not met this man exactly where he is at – have we missed it? Have we missed God?

‘…as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

Again, I say this, not to criticize, but to reflect on why I’ve felt so out of place at church, increasingly so over the past several years. It’s not that I want to join another faith tradition, or leave the church altogether. I do want to thrive in the tradition I am in. I see ‘church’, gathering, being together as essential. But maybe like John Robinson is pointing out in Honest to God, going to church as a way to meet the God who is ‘out there’ has lost significance and meaning to me. That the meeting of God is done precisely in meeting others. In living life together. With the rich and the poor. With the whole and the broken. Therefore, when I go to church and do not experience this fellowship, I feel empty, regardless of how wonderful the actual service, preaching and worship was.

Because the Sunday service can often be busy, we would say that the real bread and butter, the meat and potatoes of church is gathering together in smaller groups throughout the week for fellowship. And maybe that is what’s been lacking in my own life. The lack of weekly fellowship with others. Lack of breaking bread together. Sharing a meal. I admit I have not been faithful to do this through the formal small group gatherings of our church. We do share meals with others informally. And I do meet regularly with a few guys in the morning, which has been sustaining to me.

And maybe that’s just it. The life I experience with others – in unstructured fellowship – is precisely what feeds me and nourishes me right now. That I feel most connected to God when I am most connected to others, and out of my own head.

Even when we were regularly attending a small group, though, connection was difficult. We were around people, but there were distractions, both internally and externally. Internally we were weary from a long day, from work and caring for children, and ready for bed. Externally there was busy-ness and noise. No room for fellowship – for really connecting deeply – except till after the meeting was over. And by that point, were head to hit pillow, I’d be asleep. Not to mention we still had to pick up the kids and put them to bed.

What I’m realizing is that even though I might have these criticisms, I’d still like to make the best of the tradition I am in. To, instead of criticizing, engage. To ask questions of church leadership about these things, when they seem to bother me the most. Sometimes that can be discouraging, because real dialogue doesn’t happen, or I feel like I’m only being given the stock phrases and answers. Or I’m told what we’re doing works best for the majority of people so it won’t work to change it. Or ‘be the change you want to see.’ But being the change you want to see within a formal structure feels like cutting against the grain.

Which is why I pray, ‘Lord, help me to be humble in all of this.’ I desperately want church to be a place where I experience deep and rich community. To live life together – to experience life – undistracted by a busy schedule. Which I fear might be impossible, because we are always cooking up new, formal ways to serve one another and our community. Maybe for some it is life giving. But I find a full schedule leads to lack of human connection, and thus, lack of connection with God.

‘…as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

I don’t usually ask questions on this blog to my readers. But today I will (if you’ve made it this far).

In what ways has your local church – or whatever your weekly local gathering place is – been a place of connection? How has it been good for you?

And how could it be better? How could it be a place of more deeply connecting with others and God?

011 :: Cardillo Family History, Grandma Cardillo, part 1



Grandma’s grandmother – from near Naples – immigrated to US – married Peter, her  grandfather – had four children, three girls, one boy – Aunt Elenor, Uncle Tony, grandma’s mother, and Jenny.

Death of her grandfather, Peter – developed pneumonia and died, leaving four children behind. 

Her Grandmother’s grief – Jenny’s death – re-marriage.

Grandma’s father and brothers.

Difficulty of first two years of Grandma and Grandpa’s marriage.

Grandma, living in poverty as a child.

More on Grandma’s father as spiritual leader – loved to help people.


Grandma and Grandpa wedding (Angelica and Sam)


Grandpa in the army


Grandma and Grandpa, park bench (Angelica and Sam)


Grandpa (Sam) with Cathy and Jo

The rule of milk


‘Remember, make bubbles. That’s the rule of milk.’ – Emeth, to his sisters while drinking milk.

*      *      *

E: ‘How does milk come out of cows?’
D: ‘You just squeeze it out of their teets.’
E: ‘Teets remind me of teeth. But teets are just a little farther apart on the cow than teeth.’

*      *      *

‘Cardillo, my-Joy, Talia.’ – Vitalia, when asked what her name is.

*      *      *

A: ‘Mom, can I tell you something?’
R: ‘Yes, Annie.’
A: ‘I love you so much that I even do.’


New shoes excitement


Check ’em out


Making pizza


010 :: Cardillo Family History – Grandpa Cardillo, part 2


Summary: Grandpa in the army – Meeting and getting to know Grandma – Proposal


009 :: Cardillo Family History – Grandpa Cardillo, Part 1



On April 30, 2013, during a family get together, I coaxed my Grandma and Grandpa Cardillo into sitting down with me around the dinner table for an interview, to capture some of their stories and their beautiful life together.

I’ve hesitated to publish these since I wanted to polish them up first, edit out my voice, extraneous noise, pauses and hesitations. But in wanting to wait for the perfect moment, I’ve done nothing.

Furthermore, I wanted to do some fact checking. But the more I thought about this, the more I realized capturing these conversations in their raw form is part of the beauty of these recordings.

They capture Grandpa, two years before his death, when he still had some of his memory intact. I remember watching my Grandma’s face twitch and scrunch into contortions as she watched Grandpa struggle to try and remember facts from eighty years or so ago. Struggling to separate fact from legend. Part of me admires her for not correcting him more often. Though at the same time I wish she would’ve interrupted to fill in some of the fuzzy details.

Either way, here is session one of my interview with Grandpa (Samuel) Cardillo.

(To follow in future episodes: part two of my interview with Grandpa Cardillo, seven parts with Grandma (Angelica) Cardillo, and five with her brother, Salvatore Miliziano.)

I have several other documents from Uncle Sal that I might share at some point as well, to help shed some light and fill in missing details.

But for now, Grandpa Cardillo on:

Family origins – his mother and father as janitors, then caretakers/owners of an apartment complex in Manhattan – story of when his father almost got shot by a tenant while collecting rent – his father’s death.

008 :: faithfulness in the small things


Reminding myself to be faithful in the small things, by meditating on nature and the origins of the universe and our world.

Practicing the very same things



Sometimes I wonder if Paul missed the point. (The apostle Paul, that is. Writer of most of the New Testament. Yeah, that guy.)

Or maybe he didn’t, and we did. Maybe we’ve mis-read Paul. Mis-interpreted him. I’ll be honest. Sometimes his language doesn’t make sense to me. I guess Peter and I are in the same boat. ‘His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.’ (2 Peter 3:16).

I often don’t understand why certain Bible passages seem to be dualistic in a lot of ways. Creating walls and barriers where there aren’t any. Or at least, encouraging us to do so. Or maybe it reveals a lack of understanding of historical context on my part. Or maybe it has something to do with my particular Bible translation.

At its most basic level, I do believe the Bible teaches that to be wise and humble is the path to life, and to be foolish and prideful is dangerous and destructive, to ourselves and others. That there is a real path to life, and one to death. And that the path to life is through dying, and the path to death is through trying to preserve our lives here and now. A beautiful inverse relationship.

Therefore, I think the apostle Paul rightly condemns pride. For example, when I read the end of Romans 1, about how ‘God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless,’ I think, ‘Ouch!’

He really throws the kitchen sink at whoever he’s talking about. Those are words reserved for one who is totally self-absorbed. Totally prideful and selfish.

Again, full disclosure, this section of Romans 1 has always been troublesome to me and just plain hard to understand. Difficult to reconcile, perhaps, with other passages about not passing judgment. Paul says, ‘For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.’ (v. 18)

To get real: we (western Christians) have made this a passage about the immorality of homosexuality. Haven’t we? But does it go deeper? Should it go deeper?

Shouldn’t we be looking at this passage as a mirror, asking, ‘What does this reflect about myself?’

Isn’t that what Paul does? Read on.

I wonder if Paul, rather than setting this up as a proof text for us to use against the LGBTQ community, was instead, preaching against hypocrisy and pride. ‘Do you suppose, O man – you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself – that you will escape the judgement of God?’ (2:3).

Because pride of heart, disregarding God, ‘not honor[ing] him as God or giv[ing] thanks to him’ (1:21), are all ways of setting ourselves up in opposition to him. And that when we cut ourselves off from our Root – our Source of being, our Light and Life, the Creator of all things – we lose perspective on the Good.

We begin to flip things on their head. To see good as evil, and evil as good. We might begin to pursue something thinking it will lead to life, but because our sense of good has been skewed, our compass no longer pointing north, we are disoriented.

So what if Paul, rather than intending this to be an outright condemnation and judgment on the LGBTQ community, (and when I say community, I really want to be thinking of individuals to make it more personal), was setting up this kitchen-sink-of-sins – accusations, symptoms and judgments – as a way to more powerfully make the contrast to his audience at the beginning of chapter 2, saying, ‘Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.’ (v. 1)

I wonder how our interactions with the LGBTQ community, or anyone, for that matter, who we feel morally in opposition to (fill in the blank: liberals, conservatives, those of a different race or ethnicity, people who practice other religions, those with different food ethics, people who raise their children differently, etc.) would become more gracious if we saw ourselves in their shoes? If we could actually step into their shoes? If we could love one another without judging, because ‘in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things’.

In other words, in setting up this passage as a judgment, have we distorted his words, ‘twisting them to our own destruction’? Letting them serve as a judgment on others rather than on ourselves?

Is that something I am willing to live in tension with? That is, rather than judging and being the first to cast the stone, I walk away because I am the woman caught in adultery, so to speak?

How would such an approach revolutionize our political debate climate?

Well, that’s a discussion for another time.

Honest to God




I recently heard one of my favorite authors/speakers mention that the book Honest to God (by John A. T. Robinson) was one of the most influential books he’s ever read. So I ordered it!

A friend and I are planning to read and discuss this book together. If, for some reason, you too (whoever you are) are interested in reading and discussing it with us via the world-wide-web, then now would be the time to order through Amazon! I got a used copy for a few bucks.

I’ll probably get the book within the next few days, and start posting about it in the following week or two. Whether or not you participate, happy Wednesday to you.

007 :: for really real transformation


Transformation through acceptance. The unconditional love of God in a few of my favorite things: Good Will Hunting, Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, and the Gospel of John, Chapter 8.

*For Really Real: my son’s way of saying something is fo’ real.

**Note: There is a clip from Good Will Hunting in this episode that contains profanity.




This morning, as I sat in silence, I had to battle the thought that I was ‘wasting my time’. That time is no different than money. A commodity to be ‘spent’. And that I can spend it wisely or un-wisely.

Despite my best efforts, I cannot store up time or money in such a way that I don’t need to worry about running out of either. They both provide illusory security and comfort. Saying, ‘I’ve got all the time [or money] in the world,’ could seem true one moment, then vanish the next. Because I could die, or the financial system upon which our fiat money is based could crumble overnight.

The accumulation of neither can bring security, peace or comfort. The more I focus on either, the less I can enjoy the benefits of either. In trying to preserve time, or beat the clock, the clock beats me. In storing up wealth as a way to safeguard against the uncertainty of the future, I never feel secure.

Time and money viewed as commodities tends to lead to compartmentalization of everything. In other words, when I only see things through the value they provide in terms of time or dollar units, I make decisions based on worth. It becomes easier to put things in categories of higher or lesser worth.

This type of decision making, I find, is not based on the interconnectedness of everything, but rather on the time/money return-on-my-investment it can bring, now or in the future.

This kind of thinking is not wrong, but unhelpful to me. I’ll try and explain.

This morning as I sat in silence, it struck me again that our world is interconnected in more ways than I will ever understand. For example, I was recently listening to a Radiolab episode called ‘From Tree to Shining Tree,’ in which they talked about the interconnectedness of the forest. That below the forest floor, there is this interconnected network of fungi called mycelium (excuse any poor scientific descriptions) that literally connects plant to plant, tree to tree, in a way that allows them to feed one another. In other words, each tree is not independent of all the rest. Removing one tree in the forest might damage, or even lead to the death of another tree nearby, because of this interconnectedness. (Listen to the episode for a much more detailed and eloquent explanation.)

I’m not trying to argue that cutting down trees is wrong, but simply that viewing nature as commodity, and ignorance of how nature is interconnected, tends to lead to abusive practices. One does not need to look far for examples.

Financial markets are no different. When an investor is solely concerned about yields, they might go to any lengths to get higher and higher yields (ex: housing crisis and masking the high risk of doomed-to-fail mortgage backed securities).

It seems like the same thing is happening in third world countries. There is this emphasis on growing their economies by pumping money into them. Then when their economies fails, the investors aren’t blamed for putting band aids on. (e.g. Investing in infrastructure rather than a sustainable and self-sufficient food system.) Instead, it’s the government’s fault. They mishandled or misappropriated funds. There was corruption. Something went wrong on the ground floor. (Which very well may be true.) Then the country is in bondage to its creditors, they begin to default on their debt obligations, and the vicious cycle of getting new loans to refinance old ones begins. Debtor forever. The creditors always win.

I’m not trying to be negative, or point a finger. It’s not about blame, but rather to simply observe that a compartmentalized view of life tends to lead to abuse of people and land, and an interconnected view of life leads to wholeness and sustainability.

And to ask, How might that be true in my own life? How might I treat others and my world differently, better, more lovingly – how might I be more generous, less selfish – if I seek to understand the interconnectedness of all things? How might I speak and act differently?

Just a thought.


Letting go and silence


I just spent 20 minutes in silent meditation, at the behest of Richard Rohr. I’m several hours in to his series on St. Francis of Assisi, called The Art of Letting Go.

Whenever I’ve thought of practicing meditation or silence in this way, it’s seemed out of reach. Yet I’ve been finding this growing desire in me to be still and silent each day. To ‘be still and know that [he is] God.’ To not just say that, but to actually be still and know that he is God.

I’ve heard so many people talk about how beneficial silence is for head and heart, but I find it hard to put into practice because it requires me to actually be silent. To not move. To not take action.

I imagine I’d find it easier to run a marathon without training.

I’ve known theoretically that silence is good, yet it has always seemed out of my reach to practice it. Impossible, even, because it requires me to let go of control.

Rohr argues that silence – choosing to be still – is practice for the rest of our day. That we must practice letting go of control before we jump into the day, because many other things will come in concrete form that we will want to try and control, avoid, or resist, but cannot.

In practicing meditation/silence/stillness (the art of letting go) we are then more prepared to let go of – or not resist – what opposition, evil, frustration comes our way. We are prepared to accept frustrated plans, or a re-directed trajectory, for example.

Day one. But it’s a start.

006 :: staying awake


Staying awake on our drive home from Vermont.

Good cooker


‘I’m serious. Dohn tauk-a-me.’ – Vitalia (don’t talk to me)

*      *      *

Vitalia: We going a Anerson’s [Anderson’s] today?
Daddy: No, we’re going to the Malcolm’s in two days.
V: [to the others] Guys! we a-going to the mountains today!

*      *      *

Annie: I don’t want to be dead.
D: Why?
A: Because I just want to be back to life all the time.

*      *      *

‘I a good cooker. See ya morrow!’ – Vitalia, making food with sand and frisbee at the beach

*      *      *

‘I nice.’ – Vitalia

*      *      *

‘Once-a-time. The end.’ – Vitalia

Despair, Perspective, Grace and Vermont



READING, VT. Two days ago I wrote a despairing piece about my job and how it relates to whether we’ll move to Vermont. Despairing, perhaps, but so good to get out and express. Often I feel bad for dumping my immediate thoughts onto others, for fear they will bear my burdens in a negative way. But I find that when I feel stuck in my head, stuck in life, it helps to clear out the thought-logjam a bit.

Which I did, both in writing, and in perhaps more detail to my dad before starting work that day. He helped me to put shape to what was bothering me. To realize, it’s not so much the content of the job, or the industry it supports, but rather, the expectations I put on myself, or perceive others have of me. That I feel stuck and paralyzed when I think I’m a burden to others, a liability, not living up to what I should be doing, failing, not giving as much as I’m taking, and so on.

He encouraged me to lay out my thoughts to my boss. To not hold back. I don’t know if I could say I laid it all out, but what I did lay out helped to clear the logjam. To realize, ‘This will be okay for the time being. I can take this a day at a time. Thank you, God, for this job.’

Funny how the mind works. Just a few misguided thoughts, and the next thing you know I’m spinning and flying in a whirlwind of despair. I’ve lost touch with reality. With grace. Then just a little perspective injected, and everything is fine. There is peace.

Perspective. A hard thing to maintain each day. How hard it is to not get lost in all the what ifs, could’ve/should’ves of life. To forget about the immense blessings that I experience day to day. Blessings I’ve experienced for 31 years straight. No breaks from blessings.

When I am despairing, it is hard to see those blessings – shelter, love and kindness, food, education, hobbies, joy and satisfaction, beauty in nature, peace, warmth, rest, refreshment, fertility, and friendship – as gifts. I tend to want all those things, and more, to be lined up for the rest of my life with such exactitude, that I’m unable to appreciate them in their present form.

So will we move to Vermont? When the pressure of work subsides into the background, as it did yesterday, we say, ‘Yes, let’s do it!’ We acknowledge the unknowns. ‘How will we get through such a cold winter, practically and emotionally? What friendships will we have or develop? Where will I get snow tires from? How will we grocery shop? Where’s the nearest hospital in case of an emergency? When and how will I tell my current landlord about our plans? Who will rent our apartment? When and how often will we see family?’

So many good questions. Though again, trying not to put too much weight on them, so as not to lose sight of today. Because today, this moment, is all I have.

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. – Jesus (Matthew 6:34)




The gas stove is burning peacefully across from me. Content to flicker and die out periodically. It’s quiet at this hour. Emeth woke up asking for his blanket, which Annie (sleeping next to him on the floor) took thinking it was hers. Then bathroom break. Then that restless, tossing and turning. Those prodding thoughts which keep me awake, and need to be put to rest so I can rest.

*      *      *

We’re in Vermont, visiting friends.

It’s beautiful here, this time of year. ‘Peak foliage,’ as they say. Golden, blazing, fiery colors. Mountains all around. It’s cold, but I love this crisp air.




When we initially discussed coming up to visit, these friends mentioned in passing that the house they rented when they first moved here is available. Excited by the prospect, we went to see it on Monday, and it seems like it could be a really good fit.

It’s a good size for our family, has a wood stove, a deck, a beautiful view, a big kitchen and living area. A downstairs that could serve as a play room for the kids. There is space for guests. And a space in the attic that would be good for setting up my home office.

It’s is in the woods, nestled on the side of a mountain. There is space for a garden, and a babbling brook within walking distance.

The landlord could teach me so much about gardening, taking care of chickens and hunting. And there is potential for community, though maybe on a smaller scale (which is already what we’re used to, anyway, due to season-of-life constraints).

It sounds like people up here are thirsty for real community and fellowship, in spite of their independent New England spirit.

So much to say ‘Yes’ to. So much of what we’ve wanted. So what is this hesitancy I feel? Why am I approaching it as, ‘I have no reason to say no,’ rather than a resounding and joyful ‘Yes’?

That is the question keeping me up right now. Perhaps the peace of this place is giving voice to the restlessness in my heart.






Yesterday I worked out of the attic. It was a nice, quiet spot, with a great view out the window, overlooking our friends’ open yard that rolls into a wooded mountainside.

I worked while Rachel and Janet spent time outside with the kids. Playing, exploring, walking.

I worked, but didn’t know what I was doing. I worked, but felt alone. I worked, but felt useless. Like I was spinning my wheels to accomplish something I’m not sure of. Something I’m not interested in.

I have come into this company as a liability, let’s be honest. And maybe that bothers me. Maybe it bothers me that I don’t have a vision for my work. And I’m supposed to cover my expenses, plus more.

I have to be very self-directed, which is fine. I don’t have a problem with thinking of things to do, doing them, and moving on to the next thing. I don’t have a problem with getting distracted.

I think it’s worse than that. I think it’s that I don’t value what I’m trying to accomplish. And in not valuing it, I don’t care about it.

Essentially, my job is to draw in revenue for our company. Money is what I’m to follow right now. Not for myself (though that may be why I took this job), but in my work. I am chasing people’s wallets. Trying to get them to part with cash in exchange for a product that doesn’t interest me.

It’s not because I think it an immoral product. It’s fairly neutral. A very functional for the people who use it. Though what it represents – the industry it serves – is part of an economic system that is fundamentally and economically unsustainable.

As is my interest in it.

And maybe that’s what scares me about moving up here. We can move here because of my job. But I don’t want to keep this job. Moving here, at least in the immediate future, would intensify the burden I feel to maintain this job.

What I’m realizing is this. I enjoy working, but not moving up the corporate food-chain. It doesn’t interest me, and I don’t know why. Part of me wishes it did, just so I’d have motivation to ‘succeed’, prove myself in the world, make my stamp, conquer and rule. But I don’t care about those things.

Thankfully I’m not alone. It seems like the wisest people who ever lived raised their voices, and lived their lives, in complete opposition to a financial system that is a white washed tomb; a system that we worship in America, because it is clean, polished and beautiful on the outside – a system that gives us our paychecks – but masks the poverty, discrimination, sickness, and injustice and pervades our society.

*      *      *

I know some have been wondering about our time here, how we like it, and whether we’ll move here. The answer, obviously, at this point is, ‘I don’t know.’ There are conversations that need to happen. And more than that, silence, solitude and prayer. Prayer for wisdom. Because that is all I want in life. To be wise. I don’t want wealth, significance, success, fame, or recognition. Just wisdom.

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)


Sharing the light, with a dash of darkness


Yesterday while making breakfast I listened to Elizabeth Gilbert interview Glennon Doyle Melton on her podcast, Magic Lessons. (The episode is called, ‘Show up before you’re ready.’) At one point Gilbert asks Glennon how she responds to people who ask her, ’How do I get to where you are? Because I would like to have a million people reading my blog, too. How do I have a bigger platform? How do I get more attention? How do I get more followers? How do I get more likes on social media? How do I grow my audience?’

I thought her answer was very insightful. Not just for writers, but anyone who creates. Anyone who has started a business. Anyone who is trying to grow something they’ve created, either for the purpose of supporting themselves, or because it’s their passion and they want to share it with others.

Glennon’s answer, and I’m paraphrasing, was: ’You get a bigger platform by serving the platform you already have. By serving the few people who are already listening to you. There are shortcuts for promoting your work. The problem is that those shortcuts are not real. You must serve the people who already show up. I got up and did the same thing everyday when there were fourteen followers as I do now, when there are millions. If you have ten people who follow you, that’s an honor! An honor because you have the opportunity to shape their consciousness for that day. Because what you consume is what you become. If you have ten followers, give them light. People want love, light and encouragement. If you serve your community in that way, then guess what happens? They want to share the light so they share. You don’t try to get more followers. You try to serve your followers so well that they invite other people to you.’

I love that answer! It’s essentially the same as when Jesus says, ‘One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much.’ (Luke 16:10) How easily I forget this deep and rich truth. How easily I grow discontent with my work, whether formal or informal; with my responsibilities. It is always a wonderful and refreshing reminder that I have the privilege to serve a few people every day, whether through this blog, my job, or my family.

‘Share the light.’ I get a little ‘dark’ on this blog from time to time. But I find that I can’t ignore the darkness in my heart, soul, mind and head, because I find that entering into it helps me see the light more clearly.

I’ve heard it said that certain people ‘have to be depressed and suffer from time to time in order to be happy.’ Which makes me laugh because I find that so true! I find myself drawn to sadness and suffering in myself and others, perhaps because it gives shape to the light. It says, ‘Yes, there is darkness. But do you see that glimmer of light over there? The only reason you can see your pain and sadness is because the light is illuminating it.’

So I want to say thank you to those handful of readers out there who regularly give me their time. Who let me share both light and darkness. Who pray for me, laugh with me, and engage in conversation with me. I’m realizing what a priceless gift that is, to let me into your lives, even if only in this way for this season. Hopefully you’ve received some light. Hopefully you’ve been encouraged from time to time!

Daily dump :: confronting loss


 *I’m thinking of starting a new thread of posts called ‘Daily Dump’. Because sometimes I don’t have a defined idea in mind, and that I just need to write and see what comes out. To unearth what’s below the surface. Because writing and sharing is healing and helpful for me. Some might argue it’s better to keep such thoughts in a personal journal. So be it. I find it more helpful to not only get thoughts out, but to release them and ‘publish’ them. To say goodbye. Because saying goodbye frees me to then say hello to a new day and be fully present in it.


From our road trip to VA last week. Trying to capture the beauty of the moon, and failing. See that blip to the right of the middle?

Good morning. It’s raining outside. I got up early today. I did not wake up early yesterday, and that seemed to be a problem. I seemed distracted all day. Distracted because I wanted to write. I hate that about myself. I wish I could be present. I wish I could enjoy being with my family, during all the extra time I have on a Saturday. I wish I didn’t have this incessant drive to do more. To create something which will add value, have significance, and bring me meaning and recognition in this world.

I just finished Richard Rohr’s lecture series on The Sermon on the Mount. It was so good. I need to go back and listen to it again. One thing that really struck me was his comment about the relationship between faith, unbelief and anxiety. He said the opposite of faith is not unbelief, but anxiety. Man, that struck me hard! Because I feel like my life is consumed by anxiety, and always has been. Why?

Rache and I also recently came across Richard’s ‘redeemed’ Enneagram chart. which types me as a four (and Rache as a nine). Many of the descriptions were spot on for me. Like: “Basic fear: That they have no identity or personal significance. Basic Desire: To find themselves and their significance (to create an identity).”

It talked about artistic gifting, and the need to express oneself artistically. A desire to awaken a sense of beauty in those around them. Etc. There was a lot. But the one thing I couldn’t make sense of – that seemed off – was, “Fours have often had the experience of the present being unbearable and meaningless.” Which is true, but then this: “Quite often this was connected with a very painful experience of loss. This loss can be real (death of parent, illegitimate birth, divorce, moving and being uprooted, an undependable parent, another child is born or preferred to them) or it can have been felt ‘only’ emotionally.”

“A very painful experience of loss.” (I’m trying to dig deep here.) Did I experience a real loss? I don’t think I did. At least, I can’t think of anything that tangible. There were pains growing up, though.

I seemed to have no identity growing up. No crowd. No real friendships. I didn’t have a basic sense of security during most of my waking hours at school. (This lasted through till at least 9th grade, I think.) I was always fearful someone was out to get me; to take my stuff out of my locker, spit on me, harass me in some way. It was so confusing. I don’t know why, but I tried to be friends with the in-crowd, even though they rejected me time and again. And I just kept trying. Perhaps the description in the Enneagram sheds some light: “Fours trapped in themselves will repeatedly cultivate their ‘badness’ and thereby keep producing situation[s] in which they are rejected or abandoned.”

I wouldn’t call this ‘badness’, but I did continue to put myself in situations where the teasing was unavoidable. I didn’t really know how to get out of it. It didn’t occur to me to only spend time with people who wouldn’t tease me, make fun of me, or emotionally torture me.

Maybe it’s because I saw the in-crowd as holding the power. The power to give me significance and meaning by affirming my existence. By simply liking me and accepting me into their graces.

And I find this peculiar thing happening again. There is someone in my life right now that I am forced to interact with through work, that is not shy about her dislike and hatred of me. I am, for lack of a better term, repulsive to her. I think this is affecting me more than I realize. It makes sense to just ignore her, of course. Which I’m doing. But I’m finding that despite my best efforts, I cannot forget things she has said to me that make me feel like I don’t deserve to breathe another breath. That I am a waste of space and resources to this company and the world at large.

Rohr’s Enneagram chart goes on to say, ‘For redemption, fours need to confront the real experience of loss in their lives, they have to admit the rage they feel against the person in question, and they have to stop adulating him or her in the wake of that loss.’

Seems strange to think I’d be adulating someone who picks on me or hates me. Perhaps adulating in this case simply means giving them more mental space than is necessary. Spending time actually dwelling on past hurts. Letting things said affect me negatively. Seeking for approval. Striving to succeed to prove my worth. Yes, in those ways I am adulating, I hate to admit. But I need to.

The rage? I have never been good at expressing rage. Or maybe the rage is not there. I think immediately I was outraged at her comments. But now more dumbfounded and paralyzed by them. Those creeping thoughts make it difficult to effectively and creatively do my work, for fear of judgment. For fear of nothing being good enough.

Rage? Maybe I haven’t confronted that yet. Or maybe I have, and there’s nothing left. I don’t know. A work in progress.

*      *      *

So, yesterday was kind of a dreary day, not only because it was overcast and raining, but because I was distracted by these things. But helpful to dwell on the fact I’ve been so anxious. I tend to not see it. My anxiety shields itself.

What would it be like to not be anxious and troubled about these many things?

I’d probably wake up in the morning and still write. Still enjoy the quiet morning hours. But I wouldn’t have this incessant worry that I’m a waste of space, or that I’m wasting my company’s resources, or that I need to achieve some goal – writing a book, for example, or starting my own business, achieving a job that I absolutely love – I’d be able to rest in the fact that I am loved by God, that he is in me, and I in him. There would be no more striving. Just presence.




“Those who believe they believe in God, but without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God, and not in God himself.”

– Madeleine L’Engle

The last few days we’ve been visiting with family in Virginia. One evening, after the kids went to bed, Rachel and I sat down with our cousin, Char, sipping tea in their living room. Talking. Talking about things, we realized, we don’t feel comfortable talking about with more than a few people.

Not deep down hurts, pains, or relational struggles. But about doubts and questions we have regarding our Christian faith.

Char is one of those people you don’t feel the need to hide anything from. You can let down your guard. Air your questions and confusions without being judged.  

As we talked, it struck me what a rare and priceless gift this is to a person. Someone who will listen without judging. It struck me how few people I’d feel comfortable expressing these thoughts to.

I hesitate to write about doubt because of the stigma associated with it in Western Christian culture. But what really is doubt besides questioning? And who wouldn’t agree that we should question something before placing our trust in it? Before believing in it?

I hesitate, but realizing the stigma revolving around doubt, I think it needs to be more widely discussed. I’m not the first person in history to bring this up. Though I do think there are far more closet doubters in the church than let on.

We all question. We all have our doubts. Even the most committed apologist. I’ve heard it said that the more one seeks for certainty, the more one expresses doubt at a fundamental level. That doubt is the motivation behind all apologetics. Otherwise, why would you seek for certainty unless you had deep and concerning questions about what you believed? 

So there is this paradox. Culturally we’d affirm questioning as good before blindly accepting creed or practice. Yet we’d also say that too much doubt is a bad thing. That it might leave you swirling and paralyzed. That ultimately, it can be damaging to your faith.

I’d like to argue that the opposite is true. That one cannot have a deep, sustaining, and convincing faith if he hasn’t gone through the hell of doubt.

*      *      *

‘What does it mean to believe properly? To believe in such a way that one is a Christian? What is belief?’

As a human, I want to believe in what is true, not in what is convenient. And growing up in Western Christian culture, I’ve read the words of Jesus, heard them preached from the pulpit, or exposited in books. There are passages I’m now realizing I have questions about, but due to layers of interpretation laid over them, I haven’t been aware of my questions. I’ve taken comfort in my group thinking. I’ve refrained from letting myself step outside the group, to rub my eyes, and ask the questions that bubble up inside.

It becomes difficult to see with fresh eyes when one is in the thick of it.

So what kind of things am I having doubts about? I don’t think it will be helpful to go into detail (because beliefs evolve over time), but rather, to simply say this: If you have questions, deep and concerning questions about what you believe, you do not need to be afraid of those questions. And you are not alone. It is fear that keeps us from acting and growing. Fear is not from God. There is only one thing to fear, and that is God himself. Proper fear brings wisdom. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Psalm 111:10)

So if you are afraid of reading that book by that author someone told you was heretical and that you should be on your guard against…

If you are afraid of listening to someone who is different than you because you don’t want to be swayed in your beliefs…

If you are afraid of questioning the foundations of your faith because it might crumble…

Read. Listen. Ask. Pray.

And you will find that just the opposite happens from what you feared. What you thought would weaken you – while it might shake you at first – will only help you become a more humble, compassionate, sympathetic and empathetic  listener, human and friend. 

If you always stay in the same circle of belief, if you always listen to the same voices, if you keep your belief system tightly wound and on repeat, you will never grow in the very faith you are trying to preserve.

By resisting that which is different than you, it will pierce you at every opportunity. But by embracing it, that which is chaff will blow away, and the truth will stick.

Scary, right? Scary, but freeing. Scary, because letting your guard down means you might have to critically engage with a belief system that is totally different than yours. You might actually have to adjust your belief system.

Freeing, because if you know the truth, ‘the truth will set you free.’ (John 8:32)

Freeing, because God’s spirit is guiding you. Any situation, belief system, or person approached with a humble spirit can become your teacher. One cannot learn from a place of defense. One cannot learn without truly listening. One cannot learn while judging. Judgment must learn to be suspended.

So let those who are different than you – who believe differently – be your teachers. Free yourself from the tyranny of keeping it all together. Let yourself ask the hard questions. Just be yourself.

Thank you, Steven


There are days you feel like you’re breathing, but comatose. Alive, but not really living. There are days, stretches of days – weeks even – that I feel completely directionless. Like everything is moving ahead and dragging me along.

Today is that sort of day. And I was reminded of a sketch that my dear friend, Steven Rayesky, did last August. It’s a concept that has brought me comfort time and again, as I’ve thought about this feeling. This aching sense that it is all a meaningless, broken story.

Because often it’s about perspective. You feel depressed because you can’t see past your pain. You’re anxious about what lies ahead. You’re paralyzed for fear of making a mistake. Fearful that it is all meaningless.

Nothing further needs to be said. Just enjoy this beautiful story.

Rayesky pencil story.jpg

Tall man


There’s something about getting minimal sleep, then glaring at a computer screen all day, making cold-calls that go nowhere – all while drinking three cups of coffee – that doesn’t leave me feeling like I want to put a bear in a sleeper hold. I can’t figure out what it is. I mean, 40 ounces worth of caffeine. Dang. That’s like five cups if you want to get technical.

And how really are you supposed to measure coffee consumption? I say by the mug. But somebody had the bright idea of using the proper 8 ounce standard so they could rain all over my coffee parade. So they could make us coffee lovers feel like even bigger, more shameful addicts. I mean, come on! Who drinks 8 ounces of anything? Nothing comes in 8 ounce portions. (Except steaks. And they should be at least 16.) And if it does, you have to fill that cup up two or three times. Unless you’re drinking Robitussin(R). And that’s just wrong.

I went to a coffee shop several months ago and asked for a small coffee. 12 ounces, right? Wrong. It was eight. And it was $2.25. Addict.

But I’m talking about work. I haven’t written about my job transition on this blog yet because, well, I wanted to give it some time. It seemed like a too-good-to-be-true kind of opportunity. In a lot of ways, it’s still good. But one thing I’m realizing is that you can have all you want with a job – financial provision, relative security, great work/life balance, low stress – and still be bored. Not bored out of my mind. Just disinterested.

Now listen, before I lose you. I’m doing my best to approach each day with a sense of wonder and exploration. To learn all I can. To accept it with gratitude. But I have to be honest – having it all good sometimes just isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

For those of you who know me, you know that I quit my job spontaneously last August. (I can’t believe that was only a year ago. Feels like such a long time ago.) Do not fear. I’m not going to do that again. I just need to get out a little vocational angst.

It’s all going to be fine. I know it is. And I trust this opportunity will either get better, or lead to something better. I’m always hopeful of that. I can’t shake it. Optimism flows through my veins.

But can I just say it, again? (Indulge me. Or stop reading.) I just want to create. I want to create things I love. I want to work at a craft that excites me.

I know it can’t always be easy. And I know that tying my passion to finances might make me love it less. But to me, those are all excuses; ways of telling myself to give up trying. To numb myself.

But I can’t give up. I don’t think I’ll ever stop wanting more fulfilling work. So I’m just saying – Let a man dream a little. Let me strive after something more. And if it doesn’t come, fine. At least I didn’t live my life in a pit of vocational despair.

How many people give up before they start? How many are miserable in their careers, but think they shouldn’t pursue what they love on the side because they assume it will never provide for them? How many don’t try for fear of failure? Because they see someone doing it better?

Well you know what? Success is preceded by failure. Lots of it. Over and over again. And so I’m going to keep moving ahead. Trying. Failing. Trying. Failing. They can’t make you give up. (Whoever ‘they’ are.) Don’t let them. And if anyone tries to discourage you – if anyone tries to rain on your passion parade – throw them a tall man like my boy, Fred.

Screen Shot 2016-10-04 at 4.33.37 PM.png

Because it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, everybody.

Prostituting my passion



There’s something deep in my bones, in my cells, in the fabric of my being that cries out with joy when I put pencil to paper, craft an idea, a story, a concept. When the abstract becomes concrete. This exercise is my daily bread and butter. My wake up call. The thing that gets me out of bed. It’s like crack, but healthier (I’m pretty sure).


I am constantly revisiting my roots with writing. My motivation. Regularly asking, What am I doing this for if it doesn’t make me any money? If it doesn’t bring me fame or recognition? If it doesn’t bring me anything besides less sleep than I need?

It offers no material benefit at all. Yet I can’t stop.

This morning, I lost sight of the core, though. The reason why I write. This morning, I prostituted my passion. I wrote something that I liked, so I wanted to share it. But then I went a step further. Instead of casting it out like seed, letting it go to take root where and when it might, I boosted it.

Anybody out there who’s created a Facebook page to promote their business (or anything) knows what I’m talking about. The BOOST. Reach further. Go higher. Get likes. Drive traffic. It was all there for the taking. And for a nominal amount of $5.00.

So I threw that five down on the table, and BOOSTED that post. I boosted it to a crowd I thought might have similar interests. And I watched. I waited.

The results? I didn’t have the energy to find out. Because I found myself obsessively checking what the numbers were. How many people viewed my page? Did it gain me any likes? Any followers? 

I think there’s something deep in the bowels of the universe (God, really) that just knows when I need a humbling. When I need to be reminded of what’s important, and what’s not. Because often those things that I think will be successful in a specific way fall flat on their face. And vice versa.

Such as this boost. It was a waste of a boost. A reverse boost. A boost into the ground. A humiliating, humbling boost.

So I boosted that boost out of the roost.

But I’m thankful for that ‘wasted’ boost. I cancelled it before it ran its course, because I was disgusted with myself. Sure, a boost might be appropriate for a someone trying to start a business. For some people, under certain circumstances. It’s not a morally bad thing to boost. But boosting’s not for me. Everything keeps pointing me back to organic growth.

So, this post is for all those humiliated, failed self-promoters. All the creators who love to create because it brings them joy. So I say: Just do it, because it’s in you, and because you love it. And if you love it – if it brings you joy – it will bring others joy, too.


High as heaven



In the days of file sharing in college I stumbled across a few of Elliott Smith’s albums. His stark, honest, self-effacing lyrics first struck me as a sort of guilty pleasure. One I couldn’t quite get enough of.

Guilty, because growing up in American Christianity, I felt the need to judge music, especially by its lyrics. There was morally good music, and morally bad. I assumed that if I stayed away from the bad (a.k.a. the music I actually wanted to listen to), then I’d remain on the path of moral perfection. Through Jesus, of course.

I couldn’t understand why I was so drawn to Smith’s music. Yes, I loved the actual music, the arrangements, the harmonies, the counterpoint. But there was more.

His lyrics in St. Ides Heaven especially stand out:

Everything is exactly right
When I walk around here drunk every night
With an open container from 7-11
In St. Ides heaven

I’ve been out haunting the neighborhood
And everybody can see I’m no good
When I’m walking out between parked cars
With my head full of stars

High on amphetamines
The moon is a lightbulb breaking
It’ll go around with anyone
But it won’t come down for anyone
And I won’t come down for anyone

As though he were saying, ‘Things are only good when I’m high as the moon. Yes, I’m a mess. That’s obvious. But when you try to help, instead you just diagnose, prescribe, and move on, without ever stepping into my shoes.’ (At least, that’s my interpretation.)

Why would I be drawn to such depressing lyrics? I’d ask myself. I don’t feel depressed. I think I’m actually a pretty optimistic guy! Why give potential to bring myself down?

After years of analyzing this trend toward listening to more music I wanted to, rather than that which I thought I should, I’ve concluded the following. (And I’m sure even this will evolve over time. But here is my working thesis.) When I taste the real thing, I have a very hard time going back to the counterfeit version, the shadow. Take food. Natural, full-fat, nutrient-dense food blows the processed stuff out of the water for me. I no longer crave the sugar-high. Smith, to me, is a microcosm of the real meat and potatoes of humanity. He displays his full human-ness without apology. And I’ll take him any day over CCM. (Apologies to CCM lovers out there. It’s just not for me.)

I used to work with someone who outright denied, and made light of, every key Christian creed I believed in, though without mocking me (a subtle difference). And ironically, I really enjoyed being around him. Why? Because he was an authentic person. The layers of fake and pretend were stripped away. He was (I’d argue) his God-given self.

To be quite honest, I wanted to be more like him, because deep down inside I knew I was pretending. I was trying to hold together an image of what I thought it should look like to be a good Christian in the workplace, and simultaneously put up a wall between my real-self and others.

I think I used to throw out broad-stroke judgments of music and people in this fashion because I thought morality was simple, clear, black and white. I thought I could calculate whether someone was in or out of the tribe based solely on their words and actions. (Not that these things can’t function as indicators of a person’s heart and motives.)

But perhaps in true Jesus fashion, the ‘sinners’ I judged as such – those confessors of failure, addiction, sin – those who had come to the end of themselves, were actually the ones going on ahead of me.

The tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.

– Jesus, to the chief priests (Matthew 21:31)



Sovereignty and clothespins


A few weeks ago I was in the kitchen sweeping up after a meal, when Micaela walked in. She crossed the room, opened the junk drawer, pulled out a few clothespins, then walked out. Maybe she needs them for a project, I thought. Then continued sweeping.

Then it struck me: she didn’t ask me whether she could use them. Then it struck me again: I was grateful she made a decision of her own will.

Some context. Rachel and I get asked a lot of questions each day by our four children. And I often try to re-direct them to figure it out for themselves, or get whatever it is they need, if at all possible, or within their reach. To direct them to doing as much for themselves, and learn to identify when they have reached their childhood limitations.

Maybe it’s asking a lot, but I think doing things for oneself, and learn one’s boundaries and limitations are valuable skills.

So when she took the clothespins without asking, I thought, Great! Then wondered, What is she going to use them for? Will she break them? Will someone get hurt? Will she lose them? Not because I cared about the fate of those insignificant household products, but because those are normally the questions that go through my head when I’m asked, trying to decide whether to say yes or no.

In other words, when they ask if they can use something, I feel responsible for the outcome of how that thing is used. If someone gets hurt, something breaks, gets spilled or wasted, I feel the weight of responsibility.

*      *      *

In Richard Rohr’s book, The Naked Now, he writes about ‘watching a televised debate between advocates of creationism or “Intelligent Design” and evolution.’ He says the debate went nowhere because ‘the two sides just continued to harden their positions with well-argued language that broadly represented either a scientific worldview or a Creator-God worldview… I hoped for the scientists to open up to the possibility of the central importance of mythic meanings for the soul, for sanity, and for culture… I hoped for the religious people to take incarnation seriously and recognize the brilliance of a God who creates things that keep creating themselves…’ (31,32)

I don’t bring this quote up to argue about evolution vs. creationism  (which is just his point), but rather because I love his phrase, the ‘God who creates things that keep creating themselves.’

In that moment with Micaela and the clothespins – of all the mundane moments of that day – this concept hit home. Seven plus years ago Micaela was not, and then she was. She has come from us. Out of Rachel. Put together in the womb, created in spite of our lack of understanding of how she was created. Then burst forth. Gasping for air. Still connected by her umbilical cord. Drawing the last remaining drops of blood-life before sucking fat rich colostrum-life.

Gradually, Micaela has grown into a more and more autonomous creature. First the umbilical cord was cut. Then she stopped nursing. Then she learned to fine tune her motor skills of walking, grasping, eating. Then honing those motor skills more to create. Ultimately, taking things without asking to fulfill her creative imagination.

She, too, is part of this powerful creative force that keeps creating itself. God has birthed all this into existence, and it continues to birth itself.

*      *      *

Growing up, I wanted God (or someone speaking for God, or a sign, anything) to tell me exactly what I needed to do. I thought it was possible to make the wrong decision. To mis-read ‘God’, or his will, or what I perceived to be God’s leading, voice, or sign.

Looking back, I think this was a fundamental misunderstanding of the way God participates in his ongoing creation. Just as I participated in the creation of my daughter, and she is now free to make decisions on her own, I as her father still seek to protect her and guide her (though imperfectly). I am actively involved in her development, safety, sustenance, everything. In the same way, God guides and directs each one of us, but does not control or micromanage us.

I believe that just as I delight in Micaela’s creative freedom – in her willingness to try, fail and learn – God also takes joy in us when we let our creative energies burst forth, lie fallow, go dormant, germinate, take root, and grow.

J. Robert Oppenheimer, a scientist, said, ‘Both the man of science and the man of art live always at the edge of mystery.’ And this mystery of God’s intimate and integral involvement in our world, in our universe, is astounding to me. This has shifted the question for me from ‘How can God both be sovereign and man have free-will?’ to one of possibility: if all is not written in stone, if God is both creator and sustainer of that which has freedom to continue to create (or destroy), how will I use my creative freedom?

Will I let myself go into creative impotency for fear of wasting resources? For fear of being unrecognized or under-appreciated (whatever that vague standard of appreciation and recognition is)?

We are all fully loaded creators, just waiting to burst forth. So I say, don’t worry about making a mess. Something will take root, something will fertilize. Somewhere. Sometime. Your creations cannot ultimately remain dormant, because the creative energy of God is at their source.

Letting go of certainty



Rachel and I have been listening to the RobCast (Rob Bell’s podcast) over the last three weeks. I was first introduced to Bell at Wheaton College, where he spoke during my freshman year. This was sometime in the fall of 2003 or spring 2004 semester. Twelve years ago. (Wow.) It was one of those moments I knew I’d always remember. It changed my life, and whet my appetite for more.

I remember the fourth session, especially. A sort of bonus session for those who wanted to go deeper. It took place in a smaller room, and there were less people, but the content was so rich. He was getting into the context of Jesus’ life and times, telling me things about the pharaohs and the geography that I had never thought to think of, or try to learn.

I realize now, he was doing a bit of ‘historical Jesus’ unearthing.

Fast forward a bit. Bell comes out with Love Wins, does his Oprah thing, and the mainstream, evangelical, protestant, Christian community literally says ‘Farewell‘ to him. I’m sure there’s so much back-story and context to this I’m not aware of. To be honest, I wasn’t paying too close attention. I hadn’t even read Love Wins. I just heard so much negative press and criticism about it.

I liked Bell based on those college lectures, but considering my tribe was disengaging from him, I figured it was time to put those lectures to rest. (I had saved CD versions of them.) In the trash they went. And I haven’t given him much of a thought since.

*      *      *

I still had a warm spot for him in my heart, though, so when someone recently recommended some of his podcast episodes in which he interviews Pete Rollins on God (four episodes of pure gold), I decided to give him another try. And I’m glad I did. I’ve been binging on the RobCast lately.

I think what I find so engaging about his voice, perspective, way of communicating – his angle on everything – is that he touches so unapologetically on areas of the Christian faith that we hold so close to our chest. That we protect so fiercely. He is not afraid to ask hard questions about what we hold sacred. He is open to truth in all its manifestations.

I think this points to something in my own life that I held so dear in college and the years afterward: doctrine. Growing up in a charismatic church, there wasn’t much doctrine to hold on to, that I remember, at least. In college, though, being exposed to reformed theology and Calvin, I had a lot to sink my teeth into. It was a doctrinal resting place. It was good, and I have no regrets about it. But several years in, I found myself wanting more.

That might seem strange to reformed, protestant ears, but it’s true. And the more I think about it – the further removed I am from college – the more I realize I thought I’d found God in TULIP and the solas: sola fide, sola gratia, solo Christo, sola scriptura. They brought me so much peace and comfort, because they made me feel certain about something. About everything.

I’ve always known I can’t know anything for certain. But I clung to my new-found doctrine like it was. It had become my God.

*      *      *

Over time this simply unravelled for me, despite trying to hold it together. I became smaller and smaller; God, bigger and bigger. It’s been a ten or eleven year process of asking hard questions, and seeking for answers. And what I’ve realized is that the more I’ve sought, the less certain I’ve become. The more I’ve tried to define God, the more undefinable he’s become. The more I’ve tried to make sense of who Jesus is, the more evasive his message and teaching have become.

My layers of certainty needed to be stripped away, so that I could see more clearly. So that I could see more like a child.

I now know less than ever. God is more of a mystery than ever. My image of God, that I made and fashioned with my own hands and mind, has been shattered by (to use Tillich’s term) the Ground of Being.

Sounds a bit mystical, I guess. It is hard to put into words. But it’s been ruminating for awhile, and I think often I’m writing around this bush. This elephant in the room. Around the fact that this immense, seismic shift in perspective has occurred in my heart and mind, and I’m often pretending it hasn’t. I feel like what I was playing with in college was an entry point. But similar to how a child pretends and plays make-believe until he’s an adult, and that this play is proper and good preparation for adulthood, so I was pretending and preparing, perhaps, for an encounter with God, in a way I never expected.


005 :: conversation w. Rachel on self-care, self-love, and satisfaction in work


I’m transitioning to calling these ‘conversations’ instead of podcasts. 1) Because that’s what these are – conversations with myself, or conversations with others. 2) Conversations are part of the fuel of community and connection with others. 3) Conversations are informal. Life is mostly informal.

So here is a conversation between Rachel and I in which we talk about trying to understand proper self-love and self-care, and about satisfaction in work.

In these conversations, we can only speak for ourselves, so we don’t intend these to diagnose or help anyone with anything. We’re just trying to have a good time!


004 :: dormancy


The first, and most baffling trait of the wild plant, is its seed’s insistence to germinate in its own way. On its own time, and according to some kind of gambler’s logic of odds, a seed will go dormant. Its deep sleep might be broken by light, water, fire, digestion, scarification or any number of other events that punctuate its steady, patient dormancy.

– John Bliss, from ‘If Weeds Could Talk’, Taproot issue 14

There are many times in life we have to let go of some dream, expectation, or cherished outcome that we never expected to have to give up. But the wisdom of the ages, and personal experience tell us that the only path to true life, for ourselves and our gifts/desires, is to let things go dormant for a season. To let things die, which often feels like a sort of death for us. The fascinating thing is that in letting some dream or cherished outcome go, and living in the sorrow or suffering that comes as a result, allows that thing to take shape, take root, and come to life in a way and at a time we didn’t expect.

The ragweed can go dormant for up to ninety years, and it takes some outside prompt, some ‘suffering’ if you will – such as going through fire – to bring it to germinate. I find it so fascinating that what is reflected in nature, something which seems so normal, natural and obvious, is mirrored in the human experience.


Perfecting her craft



Talia, doh-her-sing wit’ da frisbee.

Too much fun


Day 6, OC Beach Vacation 2016. Our time is winding down here. We leave tomorrow. It’s raining steadily this morning. Today might be filled with inside activities – games, drawing, hide and seek – whatever their little minds can think of, or make us think of because they can’t think of anything.

My dear sister, Zoe, pointed out to me in a 75%-jesting, 25%-hurt sort of way that I didn’t give her any props or shout-outs on my blog this week. Well, Zoe, here’s your shout-out. I love you, and thanks for coming to the beach, spending time with us, and helping out so much with the kids to give us many, undeserved breaks. You and yours could’ve chosen a much more peaceful way to spend a week of vacation. But you chose to spend it with us. We are so grateful, and it’s been so fun to be together!

Thanks for bringing your camera, too, and letting Rachel and Micaela have so much fun snapping photos with it. They love it. So as a special way to give you props, below you will see a (c)Zoetography in pictures you took. Because everyone wants just a few good family photos. Thank you.














Annie, shielding herself from the wind. (c)Zoetography


Daddy, checking to see if he’s still got air. (c)Zoetography


The girls, showing off their jewelry. Plus Emeth. (c)Zoetography


Photo taken by Micaela. Out of focus, but I still love this one.






I love Talia’s face in this one. The effort. The drive. The will to perfect her craft.


Dead crab




Open to interpretation. (c)Zoetography


A jet pilot with time to kill. (c)Zoetography


My baby girl, all grown up. (c)Zoetography







Stop, Talia. Please. Just stop. (c)Zoetography

Taking flight


Inspired by the wind, dad (pop-pop) goes to the hardware store on a whim to buy a tarp and rope to make an impromptu wind-surfing thing. Here is what ensued.



Cutting rope with a shovel






After an unsuccessful first flight, daddy ponders how to rig up the tarp better so as to take us further off the ground.


Emeth and Micaela want to get in on the fun.



Micaela, being dragged along the ground.


Emeth lets go. Caela tumbles over.



Dante, getting some good air.

Waste your life


In college I read a book called Don’t Waste Your Life, by John Piper. I want to be clear from the start that this book, as well as several others by him, were pivotal in my development; in learning to be a disciple of Jesus. His ministry as a whole was food for my soul at a time I desperately needed it. But I’ve found over the years that there are two ideas in this book that I’ve ultimately found confusing, unhelpful, and even detrimental to my growth as a human being, and I’ve been trying to unlearn them.

In chapter three Piper gets very specific as to how one might waste his or her life, saying:

I will tell you what a tragedy is. I will show you how to waste your life. Consider a story from the February 1998 edition of Reader’s Digest, which tells about a couple who “took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30 foot trawler, play softball and collect shells.” (46)

At the time I read this book, I needed direction. I had just come back from college. A second year drop-out. Completely confused as to what the next step might be. I had just lost my love for playing the piano. The very thing I saw so interconnected with my future in every way.

Part of finding direction involved needing someone to tell me what wasn’t important in life. What not to live for. What not to do. Because there are so many options.

But I didn’t just need to know what not to do. Looking back, I’m realizing, reading Don’t Waste Your Life was helpful, but sort of in the way it’s helpful when someone tells you not to eat sugar. Okay, so what do I eat?

The second idea that most stuck with me was in chapter eight, “Making much of Christ from 8 to 5”. This chapter essentially made me feel like the greater purpose of my job, whatever I was doing, was to “spread the aroma of Christ” in my workplace. To put it more simply, to share the gospel with my co-workers. And if I wasn’t, I was wasting my job, and ultimately my life.

Waste, waste, waste. A lot of emphasis on not wasting.

*      *      *

When Rachel or I are depressed, we will try and phrase things as positively as possible. We don’t just say, “Honey, you shouldn’t be depressed. Look at how much you have to be thankful for,” as though throwing dry leaves on a fire might extinguish it. Instead we’ll enter into one another’s misery, and try to re-direct thoughts from, “I don’t want to do this,” to “It’s okay if you don’t want to do this life-thing today. Let’s make some coffee.” And we’ll talk it through. Not just tell each other what we shouldn’t do. I used to scoff at this idea, but we’ve literally started saying, especially at the start of each day, “Today is going to be a great day!” And it actually has been helping. I don’t think it’s just wishing positivity into existence, or saying that bad things won’t happen. Because they do. Everyday. But rather, it’s a way of – in those especially vulnerable moments of the morning – shutting out the negative thoughts that rush in, and filling the mind with good things. “…whatever is true… whatever is pure, whatever is lovely… if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Phil. 4:8)

So where was I going with that? Oh, yes. I appreciate Piper’s desire to help lost and misguided people from wasting this good life. (Because it is so good!) But I find that the negative focus – don’t waste – tends to lead me to a spirit of thrift rather than overabundant generosity. Because there will be waste when one is overabundantly generous. You cannot both be calculated and wastefully generous, because you cannot calculate waste. And when I try, I simply get lost in the weeds. Maybe it’s just me.

So how can waste ever be good? At the simplest level, there are two kinds of physical waste, for example. Bad waste, which does not break down or decompose easily (trash in the garbage). And good waste, which does (such as compostable materials).

In the larger context of creation and nature, waste is good and necessary. Waste is what makes the world go ’round. For millennia, human and animal waste, for example, went back into the earth and decomposed. It became a part of the soil. The foundation, a rich soil bed for new life to germinate and grow.

Obviously, this is not what Piper is talking about. He is talking about wasting one’s life. But the reason I bring it up, and perhaps why I found it confusing is that I interpreted his book to imply that any kind of waste was, well, a waste. And that one should simply not waste. Waste, bad. Not waste, good. Simple math.

I think I’ve been so conditioned culturally to be thrifty. To not waste time, energy or money – because time is money, and conserved energy is saved time, and time is money – everything goes back to money. This has caused me, I think, to lose a sense of adventure when it comes to wasteful generosity. It’s easy to think in such a calculated way about the use of our resources, that we forget that all of creation and nature are always giving, never holding back, always ‘wasting’.

Flowers put out thousands of seeds, and only a small percentage germinate. Men put out millions of sperm, but only one gets the prize.

In other words, waste happens in such massive amounts in nature. And we are part of nature. So is it possible that waste in our lives can also be good?

I say a resounding, “Yes!” And I believe that to encourage people not to waste – while I understand Piper’s point – can perhaps lead to too narrow a view of what it could mean or look like for someone to follow Jesus. Especially someone who doesn’t fit into mainstream, western Christianity. It excludes people on the fringes of life and society, in my opinion.

Rather than saying, “How can I squeeze my life into this Jesus thing?” I’ve found a more helpful question to be, “How does Jesus, the light of the world, shine light onto all of life?” The former question implies a separation between sacred and secular, while the latter (to me, at least) helps me see all of life as sacred. All people as having potential to follow Jesus in their own, unique, God-given way. Because there is nothing hidden from the light.

I find the phrase “Waste your life” more helpful than “Don’t waste your life,” and I think Piper and I are both trying to communicate the same thing. Live for the truth. For what is good. 

I believe the phrase “Waste your life” is actually an affirmation of life. That it affirms Jesus’ philosophy, that the only way to really live a full life – the only way to preserve and keep your life – is to not try and hold on to it. To let it go. To waste it. And that only those who waste their life – who lose their life – will find it.

Now to collect some shells.


Throwing down.


I started a milk and pencils podcast. Look at that screen shot below from the iTunes store. It’s a beautiful thing.

Screen Shot 2016-09-27 at 5.22.14 AM.png

Everyone has a need to create. Everyone wants to be their true, unfiltered, authentic, God given self. But finding oneself in the midst of the world’s noise is often hard, if not impossible, to go at alone. I create because I need to. And I share – not to gain a following – but to help myself, and possibly others, to see more clearly. To cut through the societal muck, to strip back the layers of cultural monotony in our head and heart, and to find more light and joy – our authentic selves – so that we might give more fully and selflessly to others, in every unique and creative way possible.

I don’t want to tell anyone about it, though, because I’m afraid either 1) no one will listen to it; no one will care, or 2) I’ll say something that gets misconstrued, misunderstood, or taken out of context. But ultimately, number one is not the reason I create, and number two is inevitable and unavoidable in life. And stifling.

I’ve been discovering a deeper and deeper need to create as the years pass. And fewer and fewer excuses not to create, and even less to not share. I do not think art of any kind was meant to stay in the filing cabinet. Even if it is not what we ourselves (or others) would judge as ‘good’.

Several weeks ago I read something in the newspaper in which a mother was expressing concern over her autistic son always telling the brutal and honest truth to others. She said her son is concerned that if he doesn’t tell (for example) an aspiring artist that his artwork is terrible, then he might be deceived into thinking he can go to school for art, and eventually make a career for himself.

I don’t think it’s just autistic children that feel this need to ‘tell the truth’, though. I’ve done it to others, and I’ve received such criticism. In my own life, this has been helpful and unhelpful. Helpful because it forced me to study economics and get a job that could support my family. Unhelpful because I think it stunted further creative growth.

I don’t think it’s just a question of whether or not to let others be deceived about their abilities, because it is not just a question of financial provision or return on our time-investment. To stifle creativity in anyone is a sort of deathblow to that person’s unique and whole self. If someone has a need to create (a need which some feel more strongly), and they are told to not waste their time on it, it’s like indirectly asking them to cut off part of themselves.

Most parents wouldn’t tell their three year old daughter her stick drawing sucks and shouldn’t see the light of day. We give children the freedom to make mistakes, discover their strengths and weaknesses, and grow in both. For those of us who grew up in the formal education system, then went straight to college, we didn’t have nearly the same freedom of time to discover our creative bents, nor cultivate them.

So, how to encourage one another to live creatively and authentically? If I create things from the depths of my heart, will that be okay?

The answer seems obvious, yet I remain fearful. Fearful that if I expose who I really am to people (the inconsiderate jerk, the anxious and despairing existentialist… it’s a long list), then ‘friends’ will split; some will come out of the woodwork to critique and correct (without seeking to understand); others will be turned off, wishing only to see a more polished me.

But I do think there would be others. A very few others who might say, “Wow. You feel like that, too?” It might open up space and opportunity for solidarity. For the kind of empathetic criticism that helps humans to flourish, rather than flounder.


003 :: while the world gawks


Rachel and I lay in bed while the world watches Clinton and Trump go at each other’s throats. We just finished listening to an interview with Glennon Doyle Melton, and our tired minds are teeming with thoughts in response. Here is a snippet of our conversation.

002 :: on self-denial, taking care of oneself, and the need to create, etc.


On self-denial, taking care of oneself, the need to create, scarcity vs. abundance mindset, the deathblow of over-calculating, and the joy of un-calculated giving of our time, resources and energy.


001 :: on the kingdom of God, reconciliation, community, and nature


podcast introduction – on the way to vacation – blabbing about the kingdom of God, reconciliation, community, and nature.

Electricity for dumb dads, and curious boys.


We gave Emeth his electricity set yesterday. Here he is, just after getting the motor to turn the fan. Sweet smile of satisfaction. Talia, reaching her hand in to feel the breeze.


I think I enjoyed it as much has he did (if not more), and learned some basics about electrical circuits that no one ever explained to me. Or if they did, my eyes glazed over because I couldn’t conceptualize it abstractly. It’s a little embarrassing how little I know and understand about electrical circuits, but what a fun way to find out!

For the record: my dad did try to school me on this stuff. I at least absorbed some woodworking basics, which I’m very thankful for. But growing up, I was far more interested in video games and music. I appreciate that my parents deferred to, and even encouraged my interests (particularly music) at the time. But interests come and go, and it’s never too late to learn some of the basics.

For example, take the term, “short circuit.” It is what it sounds like. Yet I’ve heard that term all my life, and it wasn’t until yesterday that I understood even a whisper of what it means. Or the concept of limiting electrical current. Or a fuse. I get goosebumps just thinking about it. Last night Emeth proclaimed, “I love my electricity set!” Me too, bud.

And what a fun way to connect, father and son.

We even did this cool experiment where we reversed the circuit on the motor, so that the fan blade went in the opposite direction. The fan sits freely on top of the motor (without snapping on), so once it hit top speed it took off. My jaw dropped further than his.

By experiment #14 I felt like my own light bulb went on.

Okay, so I still couldn’t install a ceiling fan or an outlet in the wall without supervision, but I am content with these small beginnings. Our juices are flowing.

I’m wondering what it would’ve been like if, when I was in school, I had the opportunity to try stuff like this out. To just sit with something – a circuit board, pipes, parts, wood and tools – and be allowed to tinker. To make mistakes. To electrocute myself. To start a fire.

This is pretty low voltage, and adult supervision required – and all the experiments are explained and pictured in wonderful detail – so I don’t know if that’s possible yet. But this circuit board does afford him the opportunity down the line to put his own circuits together. To experiment with different placements of integrated circuits. To learn how different set-ups effect the flow of electricity.

There are more advanced sets, too. I guess we’ll see how far his curiosity takes him. He’s a boy that needs to know how things work. We’re looking forward to nurturing each of our children’s individual creative drives.



“Peoples like momma milk.” – Talia, while nursing.

*      *      *

“What-do-doing, daddy?” -Talia, asking what I’m doing.

*      *      *

“Go so fast! on my cy-gul-gul.” – Talia, riding her tricycle.

*      *      *

A: What are you doing, dad?
D: Jumping the car.
A: What are you going to jump it on top of? The van?

*      *      *

Playing church.

E: Who’s gonna be the pastor?
M: I will! Okay. This is how you bow, and this is how you curtsy.

*      *      *

M: Dad! I’m all done taking a bath! Can you get the towel for me?
D: Are you sure? That was so quick!
M: Yes!
D: Did you wash your feet?
M: Yeah!
D: Your hair?
M: Yeah!
A: Your legs?
M: Yeah!
D: What about your neck?
M: Yeah!
D: Okay!
A: She’s amazing, dad. Right?

*      *      *

In talking about dreams at the dinner table.

A: I don’t like to have dreams.
M: Even if they’re good dreams?
A: Nope. Wait, I have a dream I can tell you about. Caela, you were in it.
M: Okay, tell us!
A: First, I had dinner. Then I went upstairs. Then I went into mommy and daddy’s room. And that’s all.
M: But I wasn’t in that dream. You didn’t even say my name.
A: Well, then, I need to say your name. Micaela and I went upstairs, and we walked like this: Doot-do-doot, do-doo [walking her fingers along the table].
E: Caela, I’ll try to have a dream about you tonight so I can tell you about it in the morning.



A season of sowing


The children are with my parents, and Rachel and I have the morning and afternoon to ourselves.

Last weekend we did the same thing. We are getting spoiled. Two nights, three days to just brain dump, re-organize, and re-calibrate.

We need these times, though.

Today we went to Talula’s Garden at Washington Square in Philly for breakfast. Cold, honey-glazed, mustard chicken with a side of beets and goat cheese, garnished with some combination of spices that was delicious, but we couldn’t quite pin down. Though a fennel seed did find its way out between my teeth an hour later.

Then to the thrift store. Rachel is washing her purchases now. T-shirts, pants and a sheet for both wearing and sewing. Some for the kids. Some for her to experiment with piecemeal clothing projects.

We are entering a new season. Fall always seems like a new beginning to me. A time to start fresh.

I was listening to a podcast interview with Alexander Shaia in which he was talking about how the early church read the gospels in the following order: Matthew, Mark, John, Luke, and how this order corresponds with the seasons. (If I remember correctly: Matthew – Fall, fallowness; Mark – Winter, moving through suffering; John – Spring, joy and new life; Luke – Summer, maturing). He mentioned that in some cultures fall is the beginning of the cycle, and that we in America often think of Spring as the beginning for obvious reasons. To these other cultures, Fall is the beginning because it is a season of rest, dying, and fallowness. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies…”

So, maybe this feeling of Fall as beginning has some intuitive beginnings.

*      *      *

We feel we are at the end of a season of purging, getting rid of, and de-cluttering, and at the beginning of a season of adding. Filling our home with opportunities. Asking one another: What do you love? What is life-giving to you right now? What do you want to pursue? We are trying to listen to and observe our children. What gets them excited? What are they fascinated by and interested in?

I’m thinking of Emeth. His endless flow of questions about outer-space, electricity, building materials, building methods, animals and their place in the food chain, habitats. Digging deep into the “Why?” and “How?” of everything.

This can sometimes be frustrating, especially when I’m trying to move him along to whatever the next thing is, whether important or not. Sometimes I am merely frustrated by my lack of understanding of these things, and my inadequate answers. He is okay with, “I don’t know,” for a response. But what I’m realizing is that these are opportunities to take notes. To ask him questions in order to understand what makes him tick.

So we bought him an electricity kit. (We haven’t given it to him yet. We plan to this afternoon.) We look forward to seeing where this guides him in his thinking and understanding of the world around him. A small thing. But a start.

*      *      *

It seems to be a season of feeding desires and interests. Investing in materials which can serve as the basis for their learning and education.

Rachel has shied away from formal curriculums for sometime now, not always able to articulate fully why these do not resonate with her. Yet has hesitated to seize her ideas and act on them.

So that’s what last weekend became. A time to decide: what will we choose to invest in for ourselves and these little ones?

Today was a little bit more of the same. We also feel the need and urge to have creative outlet, but due to time-constraints,  we often feel stuck in those little moments of quiet we get after the kids go to bed, or before they wake up in the morning.

So, recently inspired by some Pintrest posts, Rachel decided she wanted to delve into sewing again, but this time a simpler approach. Use pieces from the thrift store and piece them together. Clothing that doesn’t have to be perfect. But at least be comfortable and enjoyable to wear.

Which reminds me of an article I recently read in Taproot Magazine, Issue 8 :: Reclaim, called Back in Time, by Meredith Winn. She is a photographer writing about learning the collodion process. Invented by Frederick Scott Archer, “It became the most dominant photographic process used between 1851 and 1880. He set a new tone in the world of photography by publishing his discoveries openly (and knowingly) without first obtaining a patent. This was his gift to the world. From such humble roots, wonderful things continue to grow.”

She goes on to say that it is a process which leaves much room for error. “Shifting my mindset from digital to analog leaves me contemplating happy accidents such as sloppy pours, silver flares, fingerprints and the swirl of developer. I believe the mystery (and acceptance) of imperfections in this process truly adds to the beauty of the finished plates.”

Social media and modern day advertising prove the digital world to be an unreal representation of real life. In this day of Photoshop, we compare our outsides to other people’s (often Photoshopped) outsides. Does this leave us feeling less? Less human? Less perfect? Less worthy? When I shoot on collodion, the mask is removed. Tintypes embrace the imperfections. In contrast to Photoshop, collodion somehow seeks out imperfections that reflect our individual beauty to remind us that we are all perfectly and imperfectly human.

– Meredith Winn, Back in Time, from Taproot Issue 8 :: Reclaim

Maybe that is it. We are entering a season of accepting imperfection. Purging was our attempt to rid ourselves of distractions and things unnecessary. Things we at one point in life said, “I would like to pursue this,” or “This piece could be used for this or that function,” then later decided that hobby or piece of furniture had run its course, and is no longer useful to us. And in getting rid of it, trusting that it will find its way into the hands of someone who can breathe new life into it.

Now we try on new ideas. New hobbies, new (or used) pieces of clothing, new recipes, new books, podcasts, educational material for the kids. Attempting to enter these new things with less calculation. No thought of hard ROI. Allowing ourselves be sparked by an idea. To run with it. Till it either takes flight, or falls to the ground. But in falling to the ground, trusting that in its death – in allowing it to die – it will come back to life in a new way, and we will be lead to the next opportunity.

“There is a season for everything,” the Preacher says in Ecclesiastes.

“A time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew.”

And so we take time now to build up, gather, seek, keep and sew.

*      *      *

While at the thrift store I found several books that looked interesting, either on recommendation (Franzen), or reading the jacket, or exposure to other books by the same author (Sedaris, Bryson). I haven’t made time, nor been in the mood, to read lengthier novels, though. This partly may be due to listening to audiobooks for a season while I drove to work. I finished several larger books, all without having to look down, straining eyes and neck for hours on end. An activity I used to find thoroughly enjoyable, losing myself in its pages.

As I stood scanning text, however, trying to decide which to keep, which to discard, I reckoned with myself. “This is not a season for reading these kind of books. I’ve been enjoying articles, the newspaper, Taproot. Reading in spurts. I don’t have time for projects that require long stretches of concentration. And that is okay. It is a season.” So, to my surprise, I put them all back.

I have a few things I’ve been going back to over the last several months. The Wisdom of China and India being the main text taking up those few minutes of reading time before bed. Before drowsiness. Before a child needs to use the potty for the third time. And it has been feeding me.

To satisfy the necessities of life is not evil. To keep the body in good health is a duty, for otherwise we shall not be able to trim the lamp of wisdom, and keep our mind strong and clear…

This is the middle path… that keeps aloof from both extremes [of self-indulgence and self-mortification].

– The Buddha, The Sermon at Benares

As a solid rock is not shaken by the wind, wise people falter not amidst blame and praise.

Let each man direct himself first to what is proper, then let him teach others; thus a wise man will not suffer.

If a man make himself as he teaches others to be, then, being himself well subdued, he may subdue others; for one’s own self is difficult to subdue.

– Selections from The Dhammapada

To yield is to be preserved whole.
To be bent is to become straight.
To be hollow is to be filled.
To be tattered is to be renewed.
To be in want is to possess.
To have plenty is to be confused…

He does not reveal himself,
And is therefore luminous.
He does not justify himself,
And is therefore far-famed.
He does not boast of himself,
And therefore people give him credit.
He does not pride himself,
And is therefore the ruler among men.

It is because he does not contend
That no one in the world can contend against him.

The Book of Tao, Futility of Contention

Ha-ha ring.



Talia, doing her thing. Ha-ha ring.

Doh my sing.




Talia, doing her thing. Doh my sing.

In the kitchen.



As a father of four, I find that most of life takes place in the kitchen. I find it is often difficult to see beauty in the midst of redundancy. So I find that sometimes a change in perspective, such as this video provides, is a way of reminding myself of all I have to be grateful for.

I am in the habit of drinking three cups of coffee each day. These moments – early morning, after breakfast, and after lunch – are stopping points. Opportunities to meditate and reflect. To breath and re-coup.

Song credits: Loro – Pinback
Coffee credits: One Village

Some quotes that made me think and laugh.


A saint is a life-giver… A saint is a human being with the same sorts of hang-ups and abysses as the rest of us, but if a saint touches your life, you become alive in a new way.

– Frederick Buechner, The Clown in the Belfry

*        *        *

For the first time, as James Trefil has put it, scientists had encountered ‘an area of the universe that our brains just aren’t wired to understand.’ Physicists… realized they had found a world where not only could electrons jump from one orbit to another without traveling across any intervening space, but matter could pop into existence from nothing at all – ‘provided,’ in the words of Alan Lightman of MIT, ‘it disappears again with sufficient haste.’

A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson

*        *        *

They halted in the dark to recruit the animals and some of the men stowed their arms in the wagons for fear of drawing the lightning and a man named Hayward prayed for rain.

He prayed: Almighty God, if it aint too far out of the way of things in your eternal plan do you reckon we could have a little rain down here.

Pray it up, some called, and kneeling he cried out among the thunder and the wind: Lord we are dried to jerky down here. Just a few drops for some old boys out here on the prairie and a long way from home.

Amen, they said, and catching up their mounts they rode on.

– Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy

*        *        *

How long you been out here?

Out where?

The kid was sitting on his blanketrool across the fire from the old man. Here, he said. In this place.

The old man didnt answer. He turned his head suddenly aside and seized his nose between his thumb and forefinger and blew two strings of snot onto the floor and wiped his fingers on the seem of his jeans. I come from Mississippi.

– Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy

*        *        *

We want to do a lot of stuff; we’re not in great shape. We didn’t get a good night’s sleep. We’re a little depressed. Coffee solves all these problems in one delightful little cup.

– Jerry Seinfeld

Holy waste.


The history of mankind is the history of men and women who wasted themselves and were not afraid to do so. They did not fear the waste of themselves, of other men, of things in the service of a new creation. They were justified, for they wasted all this out of the fullness of their hearts. They wasted as God does in nature and history, in creation and salvation.

– Paul Tillich, The New Being

This morning I woke up 4:30 am. “What to do?” It would’ve make sense to lie back down, but why waste such a valuable opportunity to get things done before everyone gets up? So I compounded the problem by making breakfast and coffee, jotting down some thoughts, then reading the newspaper.

By 7:00 am I felt like I needed a nap. Then the kids got up.

We read. Thankfully I had made pancakes already. But that wasn’t good enough. ‘Dad, get it in my mouth before I realize I’m hungry!’ they seem to say. No ‘thank you’ or gratitude of any kind. Just generous offerings of complaints, demands, and requests for things I couldn’t understand or fulfill.

So I took a walk. (Thank you, Rache.) Asking myself, ‘How can I use my time more effectively in the morning? What would be refreshing?’

My tendency is to take in a ton of information in the morning. The pickings are plentiful and ripe: news, current events, music, radio, audio books, regular books, social media feeds. And that’s all on top of a full time job, and trying to spend quality time with family and friends who do not allow for meaningful connection through scanning headlines. (And I’m not talking about wrinkles.)

‘How to balance it all?’

I think what I’m realizing (slowly) is that my resources and capacities are limited (surprise… I know). I’m no superhero. Or even a super-dad.

Obviously, the more I try to fit into a single day, the less time I have to devote to each in a meaningful way. So what needs to give? Or is it just a matter of being better organized?

Maybe that’s not the right question to ask, though. Instead, ‘What could I do that is life-giving?’

Information alone is not life-giving, I find. While I do enjoy taking in information and engaging with it, for the most part, it remains a uni-sensory, motionless activity.

But this morning, I walked. Engaging all of my senses. Listening to the sound of cicadas, seeing the variety of plant life and trees, feeling the hot sun on my back, and wet grass beneath my feet. And best of all, smelling octane as cars pass by. Okay, so that’s not so refreshing. But you get the point.

Why? What is it about engaging one’s senses that is life-giving?

I think of those times in my basement taking apart pallets, for example: the roughness of the wood, the sound of the sander, the smell of freshly cut oak, the jolt of the hammer. Designing and creating, even something as simple as a box.

It’s a way focussing. Engaging my mind on a single act or point. As opposed to the frenzy of scanning the headlines, which leaves me feeling scatterbrained at best.

Martha, Martha. Anxious and troubled about many good things. Her mind, busy and scattered. And Jesus affirms Mary for choosing the one thing needful.

So what is the one thing needful for me? For anyone?

I don’t believe we can package it into sitting down with Bible in one hand, journal in the other and meditating on the word of God. I think anything that provides a single point of focus, can be an opportunity for worship and stillness before Jesus, whether we realize it or not.

We say we are made in the image of God. That God is creator. And being made in his image we also are called to create. But I think it’s more than a calling. I believe it is a need as well. Why else would we spend so much time enjoying spinning words, spinning yarn, starting businesses, or cooking delicious and aesthetically pleasing meals?

When we look at all the activity on social media, it is easy to judge, considering the sheer amount of verbal diarrhea and uncreative output available for consumption. But rather than judging, which I am so good at, I’m trying to transition to seeing it as an effort to connect – to spin out of ourselves, into the world, and into the hearts and minds of others.

It is an effort to connect with our Creator.

It is an attempt to share ourselves, just as God did with us. He spun out worlds – planets, stars, galaxies, perhaps even universes within universes. Subatomic particles to black holes. Endless creativity. Mind-blowing beauty.

Because we are made in his image, we too have the urge to spin ourselves outside of ourselves. To bring more light, life and joy into existence. It’s not merely an act of self-validation to share our creation with others and seek their approval and engagement in it. It is more.

Our impulse to create, whatever the medium, is good. And we should affirm that good impulse in us and in others. Even if it is through social media.

Creating is an attempt to worship. An attempt to be still and rest our creative energies in the source of that energy and impulse.

In Mary choosing to slow down and sit at the feet of Jesus she was choosing worship over busyness. And worship for her in that moment meant the cessation of activity and choosing to be still before her Creator. The one through whom and by whom all things were created and exist. (Col 1:16)

C.S. Lewis states the obvious: a window is there for the purpose of seeing through to something else. Eventually our eyes have to rest on something solid. So it is with our hearts. As Augustine put it, ‘Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.’

You can’t go on ‘seeing through’ things forever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.

― C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

There is an effort in Western Christianity to revive the arts. This is good, and I am thankful for it. And I think part of the renewal should include an emphasis on freedom in creating. On affirming messy creativity. On ‘holy waste’, as Tillich puts it.

Creativity needs to include discernment, I think, and discernment can only be learned through creating imperfectly. In creating, it is important to not overthink the act (as it may seem like I’m doing now) but to allow the creative impulse to carry itself through, unhindered, just as God did when he created the universe. When you ponder the lavishness of it long enough, it simply seems wasteful. (Why create something someone will not see or appreciate or praise you for?)

Not only wasteful, but imperfect. Consider the asymmetry, not only of the human face, but also of the Earth, and the orbit of the planets. Yet, the imperfection of the earth, for example, is the very thing that provides momentum for life to begin, evolve, and sustain itself.

So, in creating, I think we too must allow ourselves to be imperfect. To spew ‘holy waste’ without shame or guilt. And in accepting imperfection, I trust we will create things that give life to ourselves and others, just as God’s creation does so for us.


Sprussel brouts.


Way to suck the wind out of someone’s sail, #4

M: Daddy, how many pizzas are you making? Three?
D: No, two.
M: Two!? I’d think it’d take half as long as you’re taking to only make two.


‘You missed some, dad.’

– Micaela, on observing me sweep

*    *     *

‘Oh I love sprussel brouts!’

– Annie, on seeing brussels sprouts taken out of the grocery bag

*    *     *

R: How are you doing, Talia?
V: Piddy-a-good.

*    *     *

Context: Some mornings we break out the peanut and almond butter for the kids to put on their pancakes. Most mornings we aren’t up for the logistical nightmare. So, Emeth, on seeing daddy try to sneak-scoop peanut butter onto a leftover pancake one afternoon, asked…

E: Daddy, what are you doing?
D: I’m putting peanut butter on my pancake.
E: [Pauses] But why do you not let children have it?

*    *     *


‘Daddy, you know how to draw hearts! But not really.’

– Annie

Emeth’s drawing, #1

Emeth’s drawing, #2


Potential album cover


Annie’s painting


Emeth’s painting



Rest and my dress, I digress.


Saturday. August 20, 2016. KITCHEN TABLE, CR. Vitalia is sleeping peacefully on the carpet, outside the kitchen. Rachel, on her back beneath the window, next to the radiator. All is quiet, while the other three do their version of ‘quiet time’ in their bedroom. It is a semi-introspective moment for Daddy.


I sip heavily creamed coffee and suck dark chocolate wafers while fans waft a semblance of air across my bare chest. It seems, for a moment, I am alone.

I tried working in the garden earlier, but within minutes I lost several pounds.

The garden’s been an immense disaster (read: total failure) this year. Packets of seeds, carefully planted at the appropriate depth and space from one another. Washed away in torrential downpours. The only things that ended up growing were mistakes. Squash and tomato seeds dumped in the compost pile. But even they didn’t last long. Sprouted too late. More nymphs than fruit. Or no fruit at all.

We’ve been contemplating looking at houses to buy. Sometimes encouraged that it’s a possibility. Other times, discouraged that it costs so much just to get a fixer-upper. Thankfully, no rush.

I wonder why I write this. Why share it at all? I don’t really want my thoughts floating around for all to see. (Hence, the semi-introspectiveness of this post.) Yet at the same time, wanting to preserve some narrational and pictorial version of life together before children are grown and gone.

These kids are messy.


A typical day in our living room.

I was talking with my cousin several months ago (who also has four children) and he articulated the following truths of Fatherhood. Sometimes you forget who you are. You rarely know what you’re doing. When you have free time, you hesitate to start anything, in anticipation of the next ’emergency’ arising. The next question. The next. You don’t have any hobbies any more.

Scattered thoughts.

Trying to hold people together. Bringing the peace. ‘Blessed are the peacemakers.’

Several days ago Rachel gashed her foot on a nail in our bedroom. It was not pretty. But thankfully she is okay.

We eat pancakes every day. And I’m not getting tired of it. In fact, I love them more every morning. Though it does make breakfast hectic at times. Some like the butter in pats so they can spread it themselves. Others like me to spread it. Some like maple syrup on before the butter. Others, reverse.


We usually half this recipe, but you’ll get the idea.

Talia just woke up, but she still looks tired. Her training underwear is still dry. Win.

Some like cinnamon. Some like to put the cinnamon on themselves, but don’t know when to stop. Some want me to do things they can do themselves. Others want to do things that I should probably be doing for them. Some want almond butter. Others, peanut. Maybe we give too many options.

Last night, after dinner, I said I needed to rest and digest. To which Talia artfully replied, ‘Rest and my dresses.’

I’ve been reading the newspaper everyday, but I think it’s too much. Floods, fires, shootings, viruses, sovereign defaults, and bombs. Maybe I’ll take a break. I can’t hold it all in my head and heart.

Talia is screaming now.

And Annie is asking me to ‘stamp’ (staple) some paper for her. It’s a good day.





One minute of peaceful play together.


Word up+


(Written months and months ago. Just getting around to posting.)

It is incredible that I can worry so much about life in light of it being so fragile. Or, is that why I worry? I don’t know. But there’s something about the fragility of it all, the brevity, that would seem to warrant worry as unnecessary.

Zimmer puts this in perspective well, saying:

While these few pages can’t do full justice to the majestic depths of life’s history, one thing is clear: our own time in this universe is almost inconceivable brief…. If the four billion years that life has been on earth were a summer day, the past 200,000 years – which saw the rise of anatomically modern humans, the origin of complex language, of art, religion, and trade, the dawn of agriculture, of cities, and all of written history – would fit into the flash of a firefly just before sundown. (Evolution, 71)

Which, in many ways fits into the history of how we’ve thought of ourselves. Thinking at first the world is flat. Then that the sun revolves around the earth. That man is the pinnacle of creation. Man thinking he is the center of all things. Which, of course, is the way we still act. I can’t see much beyond myself, and my own problems, even though they are – in comparison – here today, gone tomorrow. The blip of the firefly.

What I find, though, is that while these world shattering realities make me feel utterly small and insignificant, they also increase my awe at all things. Nature and beauty and creation happened, happen, and are happening at such a grand scale, of a magnitude I will never comprehend, and the fact that it all holds together so well for so long, and adapts so well, and can support life, complex life, is astounding.

At first I thought, ‘How does all this jumble about evolution fit into the Biblical framework?’ (A question I’m still seeking to understand, though am comfortable with not understanding.) But one thing, at least, seems clear. Our history, the history of this universe, is massive. And we are insignificantly small by comparison. And this fits into the Biblical understanding that man is nothing before God. ‘What is man that you are mindful of him?’ Our years ‘are soon gone, and we fly away.’ Like the grass, here today, gone tomorrow. Withering. ‘But the word of the Lord remains forever.’

This Word. Is it possible there is a reality more real, more solid, unceasing, with no beginning and no end, the source and life of all things? The Word of the Lord. Not ‘the words’. For words exist in a moment, like a breath, then vanish into nothing. Only existing because of the movement of molecules hitting our eardrums. All a fragile process.

But what is this Word? This Word that can create worlds, planets, stars, black holes, color, sound tastes, smells, and creatures, of almost infinite variety? Variety and diversity which adapts itself to its surroundings. Which has the built in power to evolve into  beautiful variations.

It is beauty and mystery too deep for my simple words.

While I don’t understand it, I can’t help but cling to the poetic beauty of the beginning verses of Johns gospel. (But isn’t that the way it’s always been? We are drawn to what is beautiful, not only what is factually true. Facts do not breathe life into a person. But beauty does, striking a chord so deep – too deep for words.)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life…

Can the Word be a person, rather than a sound formed by tongue, lips and teeth? The Word. Without beginning and with no end. The life which was the light of men. In some ways this makes no sense at all. Yet at the same time, it seems like the only thing there is to cling to. A truth which defies logic. A man who defies categories, affiliations, time and space.

Oh, I love your smell.


‘A. worm. da. ddy.’

[At the breakfast table.]

A: When you’re all done I want you to hug me, okay?
V: Ok. [pause] Or… no.

*        *        *

‘Oh I love your smell! When you have coffee like that it makes me want some!’

– Annie


On the new jungle gym climbing dome thing.


Giant mushrooms size comparison down the street.


Classic portrait of the four.

Building sand castles.


Building sand castles. from Joseph Samuel Cardillo on Vimeo.




Just because.


It’s been awhile since I’ve drafted any type of lengthy reflection. Maybe I haven’t made the time. Maybe I haven’t had the time. Maybe I’ve been less reflective. Or maybe because every time I sit down to write I get interrupted. Like now. Annie, yelling for me from the kitchen.

Silence and space for reflection. Almost non-existent with these little ones. At least while they are awake. Now Talia is crying. Wanting her leftover pizza from dinner. “You didn’t eat it. Why do you now want it?” I ask. But it doesn’t seem to matter. And now she is rolling in her tears on the floor.

*        *        *

I read the WSJ on the front porch today. It was close to 100 degrees, but there was shade and a slight breeze which made it bearable. Especially with no shirt on. Caela sewed an apron, while Rachel sewed one for Emeth out of T-shirts they got today from a Chili Maker at Whole foods, promoting his creation. Annie laid sick on a blanket while Talia played with water.

Later, from that same porch, we watched hail fall like I’ve never seen. And now, an hour later, the sun is shining.

And Talia is eating her pizza. I gave in. And now Annie is asking for hers, though she tells me her belly still hurts.

And she just threw up. Thankfully in the bucket. “Maybe we should save your pizza for later, honey.”

*        *        *

Caela and Emeth are sewing upstairs. I think. Getting into whatever their next creation is. Gloves, I believe they said.

Maybe I haven’t written much because I don’t have much to say. Or maybe most of it got spilled onto paper via my manual typewriter. Seventy or so pages worth. Maybe true reflection has to happen more in silence.

Yes, I do get silence. Mostly in the mornings. Or occasionally when Rachel is out late with a friend. Time to unpack stifled thoughts.

Annie and Talia want to draw now.

Annie's drawing

Annie’s drawing of her and her dolly. Annie is on the right.

Talia's drawing

Talia’s drawing. Jellyfish or something.

*        *        *

Tonight, we made pizza. Well, Caela and Emeth really did most of the work. Hopefully our new Saturday tradition.

I said maybe I don’t have much to say. But that’s wrong. I know I don’t. And I’m okay with that. I want to just be present here with these little ones. Faithful, each day. Day after day after day after day. Because I don’t know when it will end. This life, I mean. It is so fragile. Even these precious moments from today. Drawing in the morning with Annie and Talia, while Caela and Emeth went food shopping with Mommy. Lazy afternoon on the porch. Reading the paper and sipping hot coffee with Rache while our backs stick with sweat to the rocking chair. Trying to fill her in on the headlines between questions. Sewing. Pizza. Hail. More sewing. More drawing.

And who knows, maybe in an hour when I’m starting to get the kids ready for bed I will lose perspective and patience. That is what I mean by fragile. Contentment comes and goes. It is elusive. Was it Lewis who said ‘The only way to find true happiness is to stop looking for it’? I can’t remember. But it seems true.

And now Talia dropped a pencil in Annie’s throw-up that I forgot to clean out. Oh, well.

And so I leave these scattered thoughts, not because they seem worth sharing, but perhaps only to document some of the insanity and joys of our life together. And mostly just to share some fun pictures.

Talia and Annie on kitchen floor

Lounging in the kitchen.

Emeth feather & seeds

Emeth holding feather and poplar seed pod.

Emeth and Annie walking through Saddler's woods

Hiking through Saddler’s Woods.

Caela with curly stick

Caela holding a curly stick.

Talia and Mommy at Saddlers Woods

Talia showing me her ‘fingers’ leaf on mommy’s shoulders

mushrooms 2

Some kind of mushroom.

mushrooms 1

Another kind of mushroom.

Caela and Talia making blueberry crumble

Caela and Talia making blueberry crumble.

Caela and Talia making blueberry crumble 2

Caela and Talia making blueberry crumble, part 2.

Caela and Emeth making pizza 1

Making pizza.

Emeth making pizza

Chef Emeth.

Caela and Talia making pizza

Chef Caela, while Talia eats spaghetti sauce.

pizza 1


pizza 2


Talia window

Talia cuteness.

Spanking windows


‘My job is to be Micaela and have a happy life.’ – M, on vocation and life purpose

*        *        *

Rachel: Did you have fun at the pool today?
Emeth: I don’t know. I can’t tell. Maybe medium. There were lots of splashes.
R: You mean when Kenny was making waves?
E: Those were fun splashes. I mean the other splashes.

*        *        *

‘I love you, daddy. I love these kind of daddies. They’re so cute!’ – Annie, during snuggle time

*        *        *

Talia: What dat?
Daddy: It’s a dart.
A: It’s for spanking windows.

*        *        *

‘Hey, no advertisements!’ – A, on Amazon Prime advertisements before Levar Burton.

*        *        *

‘You don’t have to be like anybody else. Just be like yourself!’ – M, on the pitfalls of comparison

*        *        *

‘First I had to go poopy, then write “Monday”, then eat my pancake.’ – A

*        *        *

Way to kill a prayer #37

D: …and help us to have peaceful and restful sleep…
M: I don’t like the way your mouth smells.

*        *        *

‘She’s a cutie cat.’ – A,  on the cuteness of Talia.


Front view

“Daddy, I didn’t know you could make this kind of playhouse!”

I didn’t know either, Micaela. But when inspiration hits, you’ll make it happen, even if it means working through pouring rain.

I started with pallets I’ve had laying around, thinking that might be it, but it just didn’t feel finished. Once the rain started coming down, they asked for a roof. “Of course, a roof. That’s it.” I thought about laying an old tarp across the top. I mentioned the idea to Micaela, and she jumped up and down ecstatically, yelling, “Oh yes! Oh yes please!” Then listening to the gentle rain I imagined a metal roof might be nice. So we drove to the local big box hardware store and picked some ribbed sheets up. Oh the joy of fulfilled imagination!

Back to the van, I tried getting the twelve foot long pieces through the back with the seats down, but they still stuck out the back. So, shears in hand, I cut them to size in the parking lot.

In the meantime, Mommy was on a mission to to local Nursery with Talia to piece some flower arrangements together.

When we reconvened, the rain had ceased. The kids wanted to postpone lunch to finish the roof, but as soon as they smelled those hot dogs frying it was another story.

Bellies full, we went right back to it. We decided Mommy and Annie should go out and get some potting soil, since we didn’t have as much as we thought in the shed. Talia wasn’t pleased with this idea, wanting to go along, and we watched them drive away as the rain started to trickle again. “I need to finish this before the day is over,” I thought. I didn’t know what to do, Talia crying in my arms and all. “I need to get that roof on!” So I offered to get the wagon for her and make a little bed, which she promptly agreed to.

Talia, snug under her mimi (blanky), wagon placed under a porch 0verhang, I went back to work.

The rain persisted, and I prayed, “Lord, how about a little relief from the rain out here!” but it just came down harder. Which only served to keep my faculties of concentration lasered onto each step.

By the end, there wasn’t a dry piece of clothing on us, tools were scattered everywhere, and we were hungry. But it was well worth it, I’d say. They ran to the basement to get little chairs for their house, and rested contentedly under blankets, listening to the pitter-patter of rain on their new steel roof.

…and dead


After telling the story of Little Red Riding Hood before bed.

M: Daddy, is that based on a true story.
D: No, I don’t think so, since wolves can’t really talk.
M: Oh, right! That’s true.
E: But if a wolf-es is as big as a person, then it could really eat someone. That’s based. Right?

*      *      *

Caela and Emeth sitting next to eat other as they finish dinner.

E: …and we’re still friends when we’re grown up.
M: Yeah, and dead.

*      *      *

Annie runs into the kitchen, and on seeing Talia’s underwear in place of her diaper comments excitedly, bending over and pointing…

A: Hey, where’d they come from?
T: Dat coot… coot pan. [cute pants]

*      *      *

Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man
I like it in the oven
I like it out the oven.

– Annie

Caela blowing out candles Talia blowing out candles



Apologies to my concerned readers for ending the previous post so abruptly. It’s really not all that bad! It’s just that I didn’t want to wrap it up in a nice bow at the end, saying, ‘And this is what I learned,’ or, ‘The point of the story is this.’ Because life does not afford such bows. There is tension. And there are promises, such as, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you,’ (Heb. 13:5) and, ‘he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability,’ (1 Cor. 10:13) and, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Cor. 12:9).

Yes, I get down sometimes. But doesn’t everyone? And 0.09% hope is far from zero. Zero means you’re done. You’ve given up. Goodbye. But even a mustard seed of hope can carry you through the day. God can water and nurture that seed.

So, to be clear: that moment of feeling the weight lifted, of shedding those tears in my boss’s office, was (I have no doubt) God’s merciful answer to my desperate cries.

So let’s count our blessings, shall we? It’s also been said that gratitude can change the attitude, and I have much to be grateful for.

  1. Hand-ground, hand-poured coffee
  2. Birds singing outside my open window
  3. A sunny morning
  4. Kids smearing whipped cream on their faces and bellies last night while we celebrated Talia’s 2nd birthday
  5. A broken down van only 10 minutes from home, when it could’ve happened at any point on our six hour drive back from MA last weekend
  6. A mom who happened to forget to silence her phone before bed when our van broke down
  7. Dad, picking us up
  8. And their generosity in giving us their van for next to nothing

I’m sure if I sat here for long enough I’d come up with many, unexpected nuggets. And maybe writing them is a way to meditate on them more deeply than just saying them.

This is not a logical, air-tight argument, but here it is.

Premise 1. Nobody’s life is perfect.Everyone has circumstances they wish could be different.
Premise 2. Contentment is possible.
Conclusion. If contentment is possible, but nobody’s circumstances are perfect, then it’s possible to be content in imperfect circumstances.

Sometimes it feels impossible to express gratitude. In those moments, I find the way to get out of my sadness is to start with where I’m at. Do I hate life? Write it down. Write or talk honestly about it. Paint a real picture with words. Put it outside of myself, so I can process it less emotionally.

I guess that’s what I was trying to do in the previous post. And I hope it encourages others to do the same. To be real and honest with themselves, God, and others. God can handle our rage. When others get involved, though, it’s a balancing act. Vulnerability can be hard, especially depending on our pasts. It can be a slow process – finding the words to use, finding the people to share with – though it can be healing in the long run.

Tillich’s words have been comforting through this. He says (paraphrased) God accepts those who are unacceptable, in spite of being unacceptable. That is the Gospel, the good news of Jesus. That there is nothing we have done, or can ever do, that will make us 100% pure, holy and good. Only God’s unconditional love can refine us so. Love not based on our actions, good or bad. Love that we only need to humbly receive and accept with open arms, in spite of being unacceptable. An impossible concept. Yet infinitely healing.

Happy deflated birthday to me


I didn’t expect to be crying in my boss’s office on my birthday. It had been an awful birthday. An angry birthday. I was angry at having to say ‘No’ to an opportunity I’ve wanted for so long and so deep in my gut. I was afraid I might write things in emails that I’d later regret. Afraid I might throw my coffee mug across the room in hopes of shattering it to pieces against the wall. Afraid I might get up and walk out. Again.

But I didn’t. I just sat paralyzed, brooding over my decision, and the obvious consequences of it. That now, as far as I could see into the foreseeable future (which is really no further than the edge of my nose), I’d be stuck at this job.

Stuck, angry, and afraid. So I prayed. That same desperate prayer for help, for anything, expecting everything and nothing at the same time. Knowing he is present, while fearing he is a only a crutch for my fears. Knowing he hears, cares and loves, and wondering why and how he could at all.

I knew I needed to say ‘No’, which is strange, considering it all seemed so right for our family. Yes, it would’ve been financially tight, but I know we could’ve made it work. There would’ve been the basic securities of food and shelter. And it would’ve put me on a career path that (I’m pretty sure) I’d enjoy more. It would’ve provided opportunity to be outside most of the year, engaging all my senses. Using and cultivating skills, and learning new ones. Fourteen acres with all the fresh produce we could eat. And a creek in our backyard. Endless summers of fun for the kids. Working only fifty feet from home. And business experience worth more than a dime-a-dozen MBA degree. Working, living, and playing together. Charles Ingalls, watch out.

Those, of course, are all the good things. But with any risky venture there are questions to be asked. And we asked and asked and talked about all the potential joys and challenges. Ultimately deciding that the comfort of familiarity, physical and emotional stability, are worth more to us right now. Or at least, our decision to stay has implied that, even if I don’t feel it.

This ‘No’ hit me harder than I expected. It nearly knocked me out, and I felt just shy of dead-weight, washed up on the shore of my cubicle, gasping as waves of emails crashed over me. One, two, sometimes four a minute. With 0.09% hope.

I wasn’t thinking ‘How?’ but more, ‘Should I…?’ Would it be better to be dead than alive? A simple question. (Though a narrow perspective.) If this is what we call living, no thanks.

My boss unexpectedly called me late in the day to talk about my department. Upcoming changes, current problems, and future goals. He could tell I wasn’t all there, bless the man. (Thank you, God.) He could hear it in my dead-pan answers. My deflated affirmations of responsibility. So I told him. Only because he asked, though. That simple, ‘Now tell me how you’re really doing?’ I didn’t tell him about the job I had turned down on the farm. But I did tell him I was discouraged. Really discouraged. And he listened. He understood. He’s been through it. In a word, he could empathize.

I tried to control my quivering voice. But once we started talking about our children, I lost it. Not in a blubbery way. But I did have to take off my glasses to wipe my eyes. I felt the weight lifted. The weight I didn’t even realize was there. It lifted when I told him I yelled at Annie the night before because she was pushing all my buttons. Even the hidden ones. I yelled, and was now just realizing what I had done. That I had taken out my anger on a three year old who was just trying to get some pre-bed jiggles out in the form of what I perceived to be more than her allotted share of noise and movement.


Tittles and First Lines


I know my God in ways that are love
I know my God through joy is full of love

– Micaela’s song

Annie: Two pinkies! [she found two handkerchiefs in her bed]
Mommy: Nice
A: One is for my bloody nose & one is for my boogies and my drips.

“Are clouds in inner space or outer space?” – Emeth

“He-yoh! He-yoh!” – Talia saying, “Here you go! Here you go!” when handing you something.

Micaela: Daddy, this is one of my favorite verses in the Bible.
Daddy: What verse?
M: [Hands Daddy a piece of paper on which she wrote out Exodus 20:24] “HonoR youRe FAtHeR And youRe motheR tHAt youRe days mAy be LonG in the LAnd tHAt tHe LORD YouRe GOD is GivinG you.”

“Is it in Tittles and First Lines?” – Micaela, while looking for “Amazing Grace” in the Titles & First Lines of the Hymnal index.

“I feel like our whole life is just running around doing things we don’t want to do.” – Rachel, on our place in modern American culture.

Micaela: [Walks into the kitchen while Daddy is washing dishes] Daddy, how do people mate?
Daddy: Make? [Confused about what he heard, having recently been listening to “The Podcast for Makers”]
Micaela: No, mate [really emphasizing the ‘T’] And I don’t want to know how animals mate. Just people.
D: Oh.
M: Because I was reading the nature book we have and it showed a picture of how deers mate. The daddy puts one of his legs underneath the mommy, or something like that?

“My me-maw!” – Talia, saying, “I’m an animal,” while crawling on all fours.

State of the Household, February 2016


“What was Jesus in his church? Was he like a pastor?”

– Micaela

*        *        *

Yesterday was the coldest day of the 2015/16 Winter season so far. Emeth had stayed overnight with Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop to celebrate his birthday, and it sounds like he had a grand time being an only child for 24 hours, eating pizza and bacon, and watching Frosty the Snowman. I ended up taking the three girls to the Smith Memorial Playground & Playhouse (the playground was closed for the winter) to meet up with a friend and his three girls. In the afternoon Emeth rejoined us with his toy chainsaw from the thrift store, and a “You’re #1” balloon, which Micaela appropriately pointed out was inaccurate, as he is now actually five.

The day of Emeth’s actual birthday I stayed home from work and we took the high speed line two stops over into Haddonfield, then walked to the park by the Presbyterian church. Here is a photograph of Emeth with his new backpack, and compass around his neck. I’m not sure who those ladies are behind us, but they were taking up the entire bench.

Emeth and daddy on his 5 birthday

*        *        *

Several weeks ago we got a queen bed for Micaela, Emeth and Annie to share. They’ve since reverted back to individual beds, I guess needing a little more space then the queen afforded. Micaela is now the sole occupant of the queen.

One night/morning, before the reversion, Emeth was calling my name in his confused It Could Be Anything voice. So I crawled as inconspicuously as I could under the covers with them, between Emeth and Caela. I was facing Emeth, with my hand on his belly, asking him what was wrong. Soon he said, “It’s the clam.”

“What clam?” I asked.

“I think he means the clamp,” Caela says from behind.

“What clamp?” I asked.

“The clamp in his leg,” she said.

Oh, right. The cramp. At dinner he had been complaining of pain in his leg, and we assumed it was a cramp. Cramp, clam, clamp. I can see how the terms might be confused in his in the early morning head. Clams can clamp, and cramps feel like a clam is clamping your leg. It all makes sense now.

*        *        *

In some way or another I’ve been trying to get the kids out of the house on a Saturday morning to give Rache some time to catch up the ever replenishing mountain of laundry, or really to do whatever would be refreshing after a week of hard Momma work.

The first Saturday of the New Year I took the kiddos to the Art Museum. Micaela had remembered seeing some wonderful looking climbing rocks while on their way to pick up the Farm Order, so she suggested we go there.

It was another chilly day, and Talia stayed snuggled in her hat and blanket in the stroller, while Micaela and Emeth climbed rock walls. Annie was a bit intimidated, and mostly skirted along the base.

Once we passed the Rocky Balboa statue, they found a Secret Passage which led them in and out from behind the bushes, one side to the next. Then it was a quest for secret passages. They were understandably not as interested in the mountain of steps going up the middle, where everyone else chose to walk or run. They preferred the gently sloping wheelchair incline to make their way to the top. And so we did. Up and down, then back home for warmth, food and drink.




*        *        *

The great Winter Snowstorm of January 2016, Jonas, brought hours of fun as we built villages and took walks to find mountains of snow.






*        *        *

At Knight Park. Yes, Emeth is wearing shorts. I think I can count on one hand how many times this winter he’s chosen of his on volition to wear pants.


*        *        *

Rachel has been enjoying her Fridays out while Mom-Mom comes to watch the kids. She’ll usually come home with a fresh pile of books from the library. Since it’s been so cold, we’ve been spending more time inside reading books: to the kids, or just Rache and I after they’re in bed, or individually, in the quiet hour before falling asleep. Some recent and current reads are:

  • Indians of New Jersey – M.R. Harrington (k)
  • Living Buddha, Living Christ – Thích Nhất Hạnh (j+r)
  • Infant Massage – Vimala McClure (r)
  • The Power of Now – Eckhart Tolle (j+r)
  • The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien (j)
  • The Courage To Be – Paul Tillich (j)
  • Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea – Carl Zimmer (j)
  • Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 1: God – Thomas Aquinas (j)
  • The World of Carbon – Isaac Asimov (j)
  • The Wisdom of China and India – Edited by Lin Yutang (j+r)
  • Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carol (k)
  • The Encyclopedia of Elephants, Big Cats, Bears & Whales – Rhonda Klevansky (k)
  • Birches – Robert Frost, Illustrated by Ed Young

And lastly, some recent music we’ve been enjoying:

  • Screws, Nils Frahm
  • Boys & Girls – Alabama Shakes (or as Caela puts it, the ‘Balama Shakes’)
  • Bass & Mandolin – Edgar Meyer
  • Bium Bium – Icelandic Lullaby Music Box
  • Songs of Sense and Nonsense – Moondog, with Julie Andrews and Martyn Green
  • One Light, One Sun, and Quiet Time – Raffi

*        *        *

There are other joys in our routine, which seem insignificant and minute, but in reality they are the life-blood of our winter.

Rache started attending Yoga classes in town on Tuesday or Sunday evenings, which has been peaceful and refreshing. Sometimes it makes for a long day of work, then home, but the Lord has given us strength through good rest, reduction in stress, nutritious eating, and healthy relationships.

I’m still meeting up with friends and mentors in the early morning before work, which helps me hold onto sanity in the midst of all the questions I tend to ask myself in my head.

There are the afternoon snacks of prunes, almonds, hazelnuts and cashews. The evening, frigid walks with a square (or two) of Ghirardelli’s 100% baking chocolate swirling on our mouths.

Most mornings I’m up before everyone else, spending an hour reading my Bible, and other assorted literature while squash bakes in the oven before being turned into pumpcakes.

The evenings are mostly filled with dinner preparations, cleaning up, maybe a walk or an episode of Reading Rainbow on Netflix. Then trying to get everyone settled by reading about Pharaoh, the Hebrews and the Exodus (a very unsettling story), or a Psalm.

And there are the three cups of really strong coffee to keep me awake through it all. An insanely, joyful time.

Letting go


The Sunday after New Years I sat motionless in a chair by the kitchen window, staring desperately into the night. I had just finished cleaning up from dinner, and the others were scattered throughout the house. In the living room. Upstairs. Their strains of sound seemed everywhere, yet distant. Despair was covering me like a wet blanket. It gripped me like an anchor, pulling me down against my will to the bottom. I felt like I was drowning. Trapped by fate, knowing that in only 14.5 hours I’d be back at the helm, back in my cube, in the cockpit, fighting to not get taken down by an onslaught of emails and phone calls.

I needed to get out of the house. Anywhere. Preferably somewhere quiet. I couldn’t think straight. I wasn’t ready for any more questions from anybody. No more problems. I needed to be alone.

I explained my situation to Rachel, and within minutes, I was out the door, into the cold night. Bag in one hand, keys in the other. I knew just the place. I let the car warm up for a minute, then was off. I couldn’t listen to anything. I didn’t want to. Just silence. I drove, letting my mind wander into swirls of nothingness.

I crossed the bridge into Philly, paid my dues, then took first exit at 5th street. Left on Race, right on 2nd, right on Market. It wasn’t hard to find parking on a Sunday night. I purchased my slip from the kiosk, put it on the dash, and walked back to the corner of 2nd and Market to Book Trader.

*        *        *

I open the door, and bells jingled, announcing my entrance to the only other two patrons in the store, and the shopkeeper behind the register with the plastic rimmed glasses, bald head and hoodie, thumbing through a thick volume.

Book shelves run the length of the open floor, stacked top to bottom. At the foot of each lies postal bins and cardboard boxes, full of books to overflowing, flooding into the aisles. Finding my footing is difficult in this sea of words.

The shelves are so high I can barely reach the top with one of those wheel-y library step stools, that works when it wants to. That slightly musty smell of aged, crisp, yellowing pages, of books born well before me, instantly take me back to hours spent studying in my college library, or browsing my dad’s book collection as a child, or sitting in my room, reading till my eyes fell shut. All the warmth of authors turned friends, of ideas permeating my mind, of words put together in ways I could’ve never imagined or expected. The tingling magic of it all puts my arm hairs on end, and I begin to relax.

I peruse the theology section first, as I usually do. It’s just the right size to be able to read every title in under an hour, head crooked to the right, getting hot in my oversized coat, alternating between glasses on, glasses off, as I strain to see titles on top, then at eye level again. I start filling my bag with some familiar titles, and some not so familiar, but authors I’m willing to take a risk on.

At one point I’m awkwardly asked by the shopkeeper whether that bag of books in front of me is mine, and I say yes. He tells me that it’s a bit suspicious that I have a bag of books in a bookstore. I’m confused, then realize he thinks I brought these in from the outside, so I tell him I’m buying them. Which, it seems, puts him at ease, too.

I don’t bother to check any of the prices, because frankly, I can’t read them. Whoever it is that scribbles this old chicken scratch in the top right of the first page has me beat. He could charge me $9.95 or $4.95 and I wouldn’t know which was right.

I pick up a short read by Alan Watts, called The Wisdom of Insecurity. I’ve never heard of him, but the subtitle strikes me: A Message for an Age of Anxiety. I also pick up The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis, Paul Tillich’s The Courage To Be, The Wisdom of China and India, a compilation of sacred texts from each, edited by Lin Yutang, Ulysses by James Joyce, and a few others.

*        *        *

I’ve lately been drawn to some of these synergistic east/west writers like Alan Watts, Eckhart Tolle, and Joel Goldsmith. I think they are missing something crucial and essential, particularly a satisfying philosophy of guilt and condemnation, but to me they shed light on some of the basic wisdom of Jesus on anxiety, money and possessions, the future, life and death.

What I sense they lack, though, seems to be dealt with by Tillich in The Courage to Be. This book is a bit dense and tightly packed, but I’m gleaning bits and pieces. He’s primarily talking about the idea of Non-Being and it’s relation to anxiety. Non-Being is not just nothingness, or emptiness, but the threat of complete, non-existence and the fear and anxiety this causes in us.

I’ve always thought of fear and anxiety as being similar, or even one in the same, but Tillich makes a helpful distinction between them, saying fear “has a definite object…, which can be faced, analyzed, attacked, endured,” while “anxiety has no object, or rather, in a paradoxical phrase, its object is the negation of every object. Therefore participation, struggle, and love with respect to it are impossible.” (36)

Then, in a phrase that strikes a very deep chord in me, he says, “It is the anxiety of not being able to preserve one’s own being which underlies every fear and is the frightening element in it…. It is impossible for a finite being to stand naked anxiety for more than a flash of time.” (38, 39)

Hence, my incessant desire to busy myself with tasks, with production, whether creatively or out of necessity. I don’t like to be still. To feel unproductive.

I’m still processing all this, and I haven’t finished the book yet to understand his solution to this problem. But I know it is a problem for me. I like to feel I’m validating and perpetuating my existence through productivity. I feel a need to be doing something. It is, as Alan Watts says, the misnomer of Descartes, “I think, therefore I am.” Thinking and productivity don’t constitute my existence.

The two areas where this tendency towards anxiety is most predominant are at work and in the home. (Likely because my time is split between these two places.) I think it manifests itself differently in each.

For example, at work, my struggle is to leave work behind when I come home. Not literally, but mentally. To not carry the weight of all I didn’t accomplish, and all that awaits my attention the next morning.

At home, it’s somewhat the opposite. It can feel busy, but it’s tangible work. It’s cooking and cleaning. It’s helping our children, answering their questions, or getting them ready for bed. It’s the things I try to squeeze in around children, work and sleep, which I think tend to cause me anxiety. The myriad of projects I can think up. The books I want to read. The ideas I want to flesh out in words.

These past two weeks at work have been much better, though. I’ve been actively trying to put aside anxious thoughts. To be present in each moment. To realize I can’t do more than one thing at a time. What has also helped is the basic reality that unfinished work is not ultimately my responsibility. The buck doesn’t stop with me. I can leave things behind because I don’t own the business.

At home, however, I act functionally like I’m the CEO. Every decision stops with me. (In reality, Rache does a fair share of this, too. But this is just the way I tend to think.) A child comes to me saying, “My finger hurts,” or “Can we have chocolate?” or “Can we watch a movie before bed?” or “He/She’s not sharing that with me!” Two of them start a tussle which soon turns to an all out screaming match. They are gridlocked. Daddy to the rescue? And the list goes on. They bring their problems to me – their questions – looking for solutions and answers I don’t have.

I think, in reality, I take too much upon myself, both at work and at home. I don’t mind feeling inadequate or insufficient at work, but I hate to feel it at home, because I think I’m responsible for everything. I’m believing that if something bad happens on my watch, then ultimately, I’m responsible. To compound the problem, the anxiety carries into the future, worrying about what could potentially go wrong – such as, not showing them enough love and affection as children so they resent me when their older – to the point where I try to cover all possible contingencies.

But I know that I can’t control everything. My circumstances are showing me this more clearly every day. I know I need to let go. I’m afraid to, but I must. Lord, help me.


Avrything we have is what we need


“It sounds like a bloody nose coming out so fast!”
– Emeth, while listening to Tabla Solo – Jhaptal (Or to listen on Spotify, click here)

*        *        *

“If we stain it with sky, it will match the washcloth.”
– Micaela

*        *        *

“Caela, next time can you say good morning to me?”
– Annie, asking Micaela to say good morning to her when she wakes up

*        *        *

“Is the coffee not too un-strong?”
– Micaela, wanting to make sure her d-coffee [decaffeinated] isn’t too strong before sipping.

*        *        *

“These are decaf clementines because they don’t have seeds.”
– Micaela, explaining to Emeth that he doesn’t need to watch out for seeds

*        *        *

“Fire up the pans
I’m the pancake man
I’ll cook ’em up faster
than the Baker-man can.”
– Daddy, spontaneous rap while making pumpcakes

*        *        *

“There’s so much we don’t know.”
– Micaela

*        *        *

“If you be happy do you have babies?”
– Annie, after watching ‘Happy’ documentary on Netflix

*        *        *

“You’re stuck with me
and I’m stuck with you.
We’re stuck together
with the best kind of glue.”
– Mommy and daddy, spontaneous song in the kitchen

*        *        *

“Thank you for you.
You’re the one I worship,
the whole time I live!”
– Micaela, spontaneous song

*        *        *

“However we do it, we do it.”
– Micaela, summarizing to mommy how daddy managed to take all four children to Cooper River park in the freezing cold, then to the library, while keeping Talia from pulling out every book on the bottom shelf, interspersed with potty breaks in dirty public restrooms, and checking out books.

*        *        *

God bless ore houme
for shaltr and food
we thaingk you
for avreting we need
Avrything we hav
is what we need

And thaingk you
for avreting you maed
– Micaela, poem



When I was eleven or twelve years old, I remember waking up in the middle of the night with excruciating stomach pain. My parents came in and tried to sooth me, sitting close and rubbing my head. Then unintentionally half gagging me with Pepto-Bismol. But nothing helped. So we were off to the hospital.

As I sat in the back of our forest green, nineteen-ninety something Windstar, the pain was so bad I had to lay down. I continued to dig my white-knuckled, clenched hands deep into my belly, writhing and groaning, praying desperately to God to relieve the pain.

I remember seeing the lights of the hospital approach. We were seconds from pulling in. I felt like I couldn’t stand another second, when suddenly, sound waves pulsed the air. The minivan shook like the sound barrier just broke beneath us. Mach 1, baby. My mom gripped her ears, and my dad acted like we hit a roadside bomb, weaving side to side, shouting like Santa just came down the chimney after years of unbelief. But when he heard me laughing from the back seat he suspected the pulse hadn’t come from without, but from within. When he smelled the foul odor emanating from the backseat, his suspicions were confirmed. I had farted the most beautiful fart of my life.

My dad pulled into the hospital roundabout, then right back out. Things were moving now and everything was going to be okay. Relief had come. We were on our way home.

*        *        *

No one likes to be constipated. It hurts, and slows you down in body and mind.

I’ve been realizing, though, that constipation doesn’t just happen in the gut. It can happen anywhere. It doesn’t take long for anything in life to become constipated. Take email, for example. At work, there’s no stopping it. Armies upon armies of questions to answer, reports to report on, and spreadsheets to complete. Urgent this and 3rd request that. The strange thing is, though it doesn’t take up any physical space, I still feel overwhelmed. In fact, I quickly become paralyzed. I don’t know what to do next, and my brain shuts down.

The same goes for my home. Any bare surface area becomes a resting place for things in transit. Things pile up on the floor, on my desk, on bookcases and counters, into closets, cupboards and down to the basement. The problem exponentially increases with children. It becomes hard to move from one room to the next. First it’s sluggish, then clogged, finally a dead halt.

Lately I’ve been noticing the same thing happening with my hobbies. I love to read and write, but when my to-read pile grows faster than I can actually digest, I feel like I can’t focus on any of them. Or when I get several ideas for potential blog posts, or even feel motivated to write a tome of some sort, if I don’t keep things moving, the inspiration sputters to a halt, and I end up not doing anything at all.

Gut, email, home, and hobbies. Constipation makes me feel heavy and stuck. Things need to loosen up in order to clear out. I have to keep things moving. I need to be a conduit for stuff and ideas, rather than a cul-de-sac.

The thing is, when I try to hold too tightly to anything in this life, I get slowed down. Whether it’s money, possessions, or relationships, I can’t take anything with me when I die. I have to hold it loosely so it, too, can pass through. Everything needs to keep moving, to keep it from growing stagnant, then diseased. The beauty of water is in its movement.

And really, aren’t we the same? Aren’t we all just passing through the bowels of this world?



Drippy lip-brain
Leaky faucet of thoughts
Neurological nasal drip
I can’t turn it off

New birth


Sometimes I imagine a sort of internal Socratic dialogue with myself. (Tell me I’m not alone!) The skeptic in me, the nihilist, the Thomas wants to wrestle with the dreamer, the child, the lover. These voices don’t wrestle with one another, though. They wrestle with death. All writing, all creating, I find, is nothing less than a wrestling with death. A wrestling to understand what it is, what its purpose is, though I cannot fully understand. At least, not before I experience it. I feel like Woody Allen in Hannah and Her Sisters. When asked, “If there was a God, why were there Nazis?” he responds, “How the hell should I know why there were Nazis? I don’t even know how the can opener works!”

I can’t help wrestling through writing.  Like Jacob wrestling with God. Which seems futile, I would think, by anyone’s standards. As is wrestling with death. Though Jacob continues to wrestle with God through the night. Striving for the blessing. And so, I strive for the blessing of understanding life in light of death.

I often assume that because I have five senses I should be able to understand everything there is to understand under the sun. But what if this world is just another womb? What if there is not just ‘under the sun’? Like the unborn child saying, ‘Vanity of vanities! What has been done will be done again. There is nothing new under the uterus.’ What if my understanding of the next life is as limited as the child-in-the-womb’s understanding is of life after birth? It seems it is only a matter of perspective. The pain of birth leads to life. We who have survived the passage know this. Could it also be that the pain of death leads to life? Not just death at the end of our life, but the tiny deaths we choose everyday?

The putting to death of my selfish desires, moment to moment, leads to life. Though choosing to die daily doesn’t seem tiny. It seems monumental. It seems harder than dying at the end, because that death will come despite my efforts. Dying daily only comes through my efforts. Through my wrestling. It does not come naturally. It is the seed that goes into the earth and dies, so that it might sprout to life. A seed coming to life seems so ordinary, so un-miraculous because I am used to it. But really, it is a miracle. It does nothing until acted upon by soil, water, and sun. And what comes from it is wholly and completely different from what it was in its seed form. It is a total transformation.

In dying daily we are not choosing death, but rather, life. We are being transformed day to day, in small, imperceptible ways. From one degree of glory to the next. Transformed to be able to see God. We are getting a face with which to see God.

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV)

This daily dying is nearly impossible, though. “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few”(Matthew 7:14). “Who then can be saved?” the disciples ask. Jesus replies, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:25-26)

So I must be patient, like the child waiting to be released from his wombal constraints. He waits, and waits, and waits.  For an eternal nine months.  And when gestation is complete, his world literally falls apart. He enters a new world. A world that contained his world, and his eyes struggle to open, to adjust to the light. To focus on the people around him. Some cry because they realize they are hungry.  Others take it all in, in awe at what has arrived.  Or rather, what they’ve been birthed into.

The skeptic in me wants to argue that this is all there is. Thus, despair. But the lover tells me there is more. That this is preparation for a new birth. That there is something coming beyond my understanding. “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).


Wondering from the womb of this world


James says, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” I often feel this about faith and reason. “Show me your faith apart from your reason, and I will show you my faith by my reason.” Faith seems incomplete without reason, because I believe there are reasons to believe.

To reason doesn’t mean to prove, though. This may be part of the reason I find the idea of ‘proof texts’ as a conversation stopper so unsatisfying. Yes, a biblical text may agree with an idea or perspective, but it doesn’t actually prove anything.  Sort of like, “Clean your room.” “Why?” “Because I said so.” This doesn’t prove to the child why cleaning his room might be good for him, nor does it really give him a reason other than fear of punishment, perhaps.

Maybe it is lack of faith that I struggle to accept things at face value, but I would venture to say I’m not alone. Take the verse, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). But when observation wants to tell me otherwise, or even personal experience, I must accept one of two alternatives. Either 1) this is a lie, or 2) I’m missing something.

Peter Kreeft (pronounced Krayft) to the rescue. Again. I’ve been reading a collection of lectures compiled by Eric Metaxas called Socrates In The City, Conversations on “Life God, and Other Small Topics”, and Kreeft’s lecture is called “Making Sense Out of Suffering”.  (By the way, Mataxas’ introductions of the speakers are hilarious.  I’ve found myself laughing out loud a bit too early in the morning while reading these.)

Kreeft says this verse is “probably the most difficult verse in the whole Bible to believe, the most astonishing claim, the one that… seems ridiculously wrong.”  He goes on to say:

Let’s deduce that [verse] from three premises… Number one, God is omnipotent. If God is weak, there is no God. Number two, God is omniscient. He knows everything. If he’s stupid, there’s no God. Number three, God is all good. If he’s wicked and cruel, he’s not God. Well, if he’s omniscient, he knows exactly what we need. If he’s omnipotent, he can supply it, and if he’s all good, he does.

Therefore, as a logical deduction from those three premises, we must need everything that we get. (Socrates In The City, 52)

He admits, in the very next sentence, “It certainly doesn’t seem that way.” And I agree. But since I find myself not logically capable of being an atheist, I am  drawn to his deduction: “we must need everything we get.”

Kreeft gives six reasons as to why there is suffering; three from natural reason, three from scripture, or divine revelation. I’ve also been thinking a lot about his fifth reason: hope.

[…] there is hope, which is faith directed toward the future. Suppose the entire universe is a very small thing, a womb. When you were in the womb, you probably thought that was the whole universe; it was enormous. Is there life after birth? Maybe so, maybe not. You found out that there was. Well, maybe that’ll happen again when you die, in which case you couldn’t possibly understand the meaning of suffering here. This is only the womb. When you were a little fetus, you probably said, “Why do I have feet? Why am I kicking? There are no sidewalks.” But now, you know. Probably 99 percent of what we do here is preparation for the next life… (53)

To add to that, we may have wondered (if we could wonder in the womb), “Why do I have eyes? Why do I have ears?” There was so much about our fetal existence that made no sense to us at the time. Just as the caterpillar in the cocoon may question what it’s growing wings for.

I find these two ideas to be extremely comforting, because there is so much about this life that I don’t understand. Things that happen to me, to those I love, and to everyone, everywhere, that I have no frame of reference for digesting with my little brain. But if I need everything I get, that changes everything. That means whatever comes today is something I need. Every difficult phone call, every overwhelming project, every conversation, is something I need.  Every emotional stress, every physical pain, every interruption from a child, every responsibility is something I need. Everything I must faithfully do in this life, while not always understanding why, may very well be preparation for life with God in heaven.

children on board in living room

Should we rejoice or be afraid when the secret things come to light?

children outside

There are many sayings of Jesus that leave me utterly confused and dumbfounded, grasping at meaning, wondering if it’s a good or bad thing; whether I should be joyful or afraid.  Such as, “For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light.  If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark 3:22).  Where to get ears like that?

The idea of everything hidden coming to light can be scary.  Especially the hidden things of my heart.  I trust, though, this revealing of all hidden things will be good, because I trust Jesus is good, divine, trustworthy.  You know, the whole package.  But how?

Several months ago I was listening to Sufjan Stevens new album, Carrie & Lowell.  It’s an album straight from the gut, to the gut.  Emotions, feelings, thoughts, and actions laid bare in a way I’ve rarely heard in music.  Well, at least, rarely this powerfully, effectively and poetically.  Sufjan’s style is not for everyone, to be sure, but nonetheless, I found it lyrically and musically potent.

I also felt I was getting to know him, and not just his music.  Now, of course, I don’t actually know him, but because he revealed his inner thoughts so bluntly and honestly, I felt a connection with him as a another human being who suffers, while searching for meaning and truth.

Some would balk at this honesty, which is understandable.  But as I thought about it more, I realized openness and honesty are very important ingredients in getting to know someone.  Often it seems the most important ingredient.  Again, from Peter Kreeft:

Life is dialogue ultimately because life is a reflection of God; and the very life of God, the eternal inner life of the Trinity, is the dialogue of love.  We are meant to be with each other because God is eternally with-each-other; “each-otherness” reaches into the very heart of God. (Three Philosophies of Life, 106)

As I’ve heard it put by someone (I don’t remember who or in what book), “We were built for relationships.”  We are meant for unity with God and one another.  We were not created to be in isolation.

So on this day of the Revealing of Hidden Things, I wonder, will we be comforted, rather than afraid, seeing one another as we are?

children outside

Give me eyes to see, that which I cannot see


As I sat listening to Scott’s message on Sunday, I did not expect my heart to be warmed, tears of gratitude streaming down my face.  Peace.  Jesus has bought for us, brought to us, true and lasting peace.  We may lose everything, we may even lose our hope at times, but we cannot lose our peace with God.

It’s not just the peace, though.  It’s who I have peace with: God.  And as Scott asked, Will I lay down my arms?  Am I willing to put my weapons down?

I find this to be a daily battle.  The struggle between saying, ‘My will be done,’ or ‘Thy will be done.’  Peter Kreeft puts it succinctly in his book, Three Philosophies of Life.

This world is “a vale of soul making”, a great sculptor’s shop, and we are the statues.  To be finished, the statues must endure many blows of the chisel and be hardened in the fire.  This is not optional.  Once we lost our original innocence, the way back to God has to be painful, for the Old Man of sin will keep on complaining and paining at each step toward his enemy, goodness.  Saying “not my will but thine be done” was ecstatic joy in Eden and will be in Heaven, but it is life’s most difficult (and most necessary) task now.  Without it, we have no face with which to face God.  Why could Job see God face to face and live?  Because Job got a face through his suffering faith.  As C. S. Lewis says at the end of his novel Till We Have Faces, “How can we meet the gods face to face till we have faces?” (85)

“This is not optional… the way back to God has to be painful…”  This statement can be joyful to hear, or disheartening, depending on what I perceive God to be like.  If I see him as an unappeasable father, waiting for me to mess up, trip and fall, then life will be void of joy for fear of punishment.  But this painful way back to God does not need to be joyless.  The pain is purifying, but not in a sadistic way.  God has made us for himself, and if my greatest good is to see him face to face, to have only him in the end, then the blows of his chisel will be welcome, knowing they are because he loves me.

For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives. (Hebrews 12:6)

I say this, but struggle to live it.  Paul says, in Corinthians, we do not lose heart, but I do lose heart.  He says we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen, yet I look to the things that are seen.  (2:4)

And of course, this seems logical to me.  How can you look with your eyes on that which is unseen?

Part of getting a face (as Lewis puts it) involves getting eyes, I would think.  My children occasionally ask me, “Why can we not see God?”  And I wonder, “Yes, why?”  Then tell them, “Because he has not given us eyes to see him yet.”  And they seem satisfied with that answer.  Content to know there are things we can and cannot see.  Content to know that he is with us, all around us, but too bright to see with our natural eyes, like the sun.  “Then why can we not see his brightness?” they ask.  And I say, “We do.”  We can only see the natural world because there is light, but we would be blinded to stare at the sun.  We can only see the unseen because there is Light, but we physically could not stand to see God face to face.  Not yet.

We can only see that which is unseen with eyes of faith.  The faith that says, I will choose what is good for me, even if it is painful.  And in so doing God reveals a bit more of himself to us.  A bit more of the unseen.  It’s as though every molecule in this universe is bursting at the seams with the unseen, ready to reveal itself to our eyes of faith, if we will only lay down our arms.

I believe; help my unbelief!


A friend recently asked whether I struggle with believing in the doctrine of the sovereignty of God.  My short answer was, ‘Yes,’ because I was pressed for time.  My slightly longer answer is, ‘Yes and no.’  It’s not so much that I struggle with belief in it as I do with understanding it.  Just as I believe there will be growth in our garden in the Spring, yet I do not understand how this will happen.

Believing something doesn’t mean there will not be doubts.  But I do not think doubt and belief are mutually exclusive.  A shallow faith cannot hold doubts, just as shallow waters cannot hold a cargo ship.  The deeper one’s faith, the more it can float.  The more it can contain.  Questions and doubts become part of the whole.

Doubt is not synonymous with unbelief.  We tend to think of doubt as a slippery slope, and thus, fear all doubting and questioning.  But questions, like fire, can either burn or refine.  I suppose it depends on what is being put to the test.  If it is a paper thin faith, it will burn.  If it is gold, it will become more beautiful and pure still.

Of course, there is a questioning that could lead one to be ‘always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth’ (2 Tim. 3:7).  And just as good questions can bring us closer to the truth, so dumb questions can give us shallow and false justification for unbelief.  Such as, ‘Can God create a rock too big for himself to lift?’  Either way you answer, God is not all-powerful, and thus, not God.

But it is not just that there are good and bad questions.  I believe it also depends on the disposition of the questioner.  The ‘God and rock’ question, asked from a place of humility, asked by the one who is genuinely seeking, is not dumb.  Just as more sophisticated questions, asked by the youthful, prideful seminarian, may be nothing but a circus of wind to make himself feel like a theology superhero.

In other words, questioning and doubting, while earnestly seeking for the truth, is a way of humbling ourselves before that which we cannot comprehend or understand.  Questioning while seeking for un-truth, is a way of setting ourselves above God.  Of saying, ‘My will be done’ rather than ‘Thy will be done.’

To fear our questions and doubts is like fearing the sun.  Just as the sun reveals all that is already there, and even gives life to it, so I think questions and doubts only reveal what is in our hearts and minds already, and can bring life and strength to our faith.

God invites our questions and doubts, just as a father invites his children to come as they are.  In their messiness.  With their tear stained cheeks.  I cannot give answers to my children that always make sense to them.  In fact, I feel 99% of the time I don’t give adequate answers, because I myself do not fully comprehend or understand the answers.  At times, I don’t even understand their questions!  But I love when they come to me with their questions, regardless.  Questions that reveal a heart to understand, and with a disposition that says, ‘I will obey, even if I do not understand, daddy.’

Waiting while suffering


I’ve been reading a magnificent book by Peter Kreeft called Three Philosophies of Life.  It’s subtitled, Ecclesiastes: Life as Vanity – Job: Life as Suffering – Song of Songs: Life as Love.

I came across a passage which seems appropriate to share during this season of Advent; this microcosm of our whole lives.  Waiting while suffering.  Searching for the Light in midst of darkness.  Asking, “How long, O God?”  He writes,

Job may be short-range unhappy, but he is long-range happy, even in the sense of satisfaction.  Job is satisfied at the end… He is in a drama, a story, after all, and only in the earlier acts, the earlier chapters.  How can you understand the point of Act II until you get to Act V?  The problem of evil, as lived rather than as thought, is a problem in a story, in time, and Scripture’s one-word answer to the problem is “wait”.

When Saint Thomas Aquinas stated in the Summa the problem of evil as one of the two objections to the existence of God, he remembered what many philosophers forget: that the solution, God’s solution, is concrete, not abstract; dramatic, not schematic; an event in time, not a timeless truth.  Saint Thomas… stated the problem as follows: “‘God’ means infinite goodness.  But if one of two contraries is infinite, the other is totally destroyed.  Yet evil exists [and is not destroyed].  Therefore God [infinite goodness] does not exist.”  And he answered it as follows: “As Augustine says, Since God is the highest good, He would not allow any evil to exist in His works unless His omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil.”  In other words, life, like Job, is like a fairy tale.  To get to live happily ever after, you have to go through the dung heap.  Evil is only temporary; good is eternal.  Once again, in a word, “wait”.

But wait in faith, Jesus told Martha, before he raised her brother Lazarus from the dead, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?”  Seeing is not believing, but believing is seeing, eventually.  Job does not wait patiently, but he waits.  Job’s faith is not sunny and serene, but it is faith.  It is not without doubts.  (Indeed, his doubts came from his faith.  When faith is full, it is open and can include doubts; when it is weak, it cannot tolerate doubts.)  But Job remains a hero of faith.  He waits in faith, and he sees the glory of God.  He is blessed in the very waiting, in the dung, in the agony; and he is doubly blessed in the finding, in the end. (75-6)

Waiting, listening and just plain ol’ showing up


What am I really waiting for, though?  Am I really longing for him?  Or do I just want him to come and put everything to rights?  To make everything okay, then leave me to myself?

*        *        *

Children seem wholly unconcerned with what their purpose and meaning in life is.  And if I am to be like a child, I have failed miserably, because I tend to be consumed by this question.

Purpose and meaning often seem hidden, though.  Not just from our own eyes, but in nature, too.  Does a seed question its purpose?  Even if it could, it would have no way of knowing that one day it might bear fruit, flower, and give off new life in the form of new seeds.

A seed would have no way of knowing that the very fruit it gives off as it’s death, and that perhaps even causes it pain when plucked, will feed and sustain another.

A weed uprooted surely cannot know that once tossed into the compost heap, it will soon break down and form something new and beautiful.  Rich soil, fertile for new growth.  For new seeds to sprout in.

*        *        *

In Slow growth (part 2), I wrote, “Everyone suffers.  Everyone has their hurts.”  And as each year passes, the more true it seems.  Everyone is in pain.  But often I do not want to make the connection that the very people around me may be experiencing pain and hurt beyond belief, without me even knowing it.

Why?  Because once made, it calls me to action.  Will I continue to stand on the sideline and long for my circumstances to change, or will I be faithful to love those around me, just as Jesus did?

I’m particularly thinking of my work, as there have been a number of situations over the last month that have provoked me to think, “Perhaps I am exactly where I need to be right now,” even though I hate to admit it.

The first was small and simple.  I had been talking with my boss earlier in the day about the state of things in our department, and he asked me how H was doing in her new role.  I said, “She’s doing a great job.”

Later that day H came to my cube to ask a question.  After answering it, I felt I wanted to tell her that I told our boss she was doing a great job. So I did.  And her face lit up like the sun.  Who knows when the last time she was encouraged by anyone in her life?  Who knows where she took that sunshine later that day to encourage someone else?

There have been numerous phone calls from disgruntled, angry people, threatening me with this and that, because they haven’t been able to get the answers they’ve been looking for.  So, I’ve taken the time to listen (and calm down myself first) before responding.  To understand their situation, and take down their contact information and do some digging to get the answers they’re looking for.  I tell them to call me back in few days to see if any progress has been made, (because I’ll likely forget to call them).

It is amazing what a calm and caring attitude can do to diffuse the intensity of a situation.  (Now, if only I could get myself to remember that with my children.)

I received a voice message the day before Thanksgiving from a woman with various concerns, so I called her back several minutes later.  She sounded shocked, thrilled and amazed that I returned her call so quickly, and put her concerns at ease.

I received two very similar phone calls, one week apart from each other, from women in very similar circumstances.  I am not allowed to go into the details, but I can say they both expressed gratitude that I took the time to listen and help (one of the situations remains unresolved, but we are in regular contact to work it out), even though there wasn’t much I could immediately do.

And really, all I did was listen.  I didn’t have all the answers, but each woman had been calling various contacts involved in the situation, and no one has been willing to do as little as this.  All I feel like I did that day was show up.  I didn’t have any special wisdom to offer, but I did have the patience and love of Christ to give.

“80% of life is showing up.”
– Woody Allen


*        *        *

Then, there’s the situation with F.  I should say this, first, though.  The only reason I have been talking so much with him is because he replaced me in my former position, and he’s required an extensive amount of training.  The only reason he replaced me is because I asked for a change.  Looking back on it, though, I’ve regretted my request for a change, because I liked what I was formerly doing better than what I’m doing now. I viewed it as a mistake, summum fastigium.  (I may really be misusing Latin here, but hopefully you’ll get the idea.  And honestly, I think fastigium is just a fun word.)

So all this time, F and I are having these conversations – two, three, four times a day – as he calls me with questions.  But F has a hard time focussing on the question at hand, and often goes on tangents, asking me about how to interact with certain co-workers over certain issues, or religion, politics and child-rearing.  We talk (and I think God has given me a supernatural amount of patience through all this), and I may begin to answer, or ask another question.  But I mostly listen.

This has been going on for months now.  Recently, though, he went from talking about everything that was happening around him, to addressing a more personal struggle.  He brought it up, and we couldn’t really go into depth over it, but later he texted me asking that I call him on my way home.  We didn’t get a chance to connect yet, but I deeply suspect he wants to talk more openly about this particular struggle.


*        *        *

I could go on.  There have been other conversations.  Other opportunities to listen, which seemed insignificant in the moment.

All of this listening, these conversations, these (seemingly so far failed) attempts at building friendships with co-workers.  It all feels so insignificant in the moment.  But I’m slowly learning that my measure of significance is rarely the same as God’s.  I measure in numbers.  x(Input) = Output.  I measure by what I can see ‘under the sun’.

Listening and building relationships.  It takes time, though I don’t want it to.  So, here, too I’m waiting.  Trying to be patient, like the little seed buried in the ground, pushing up through the earth to sprout.  Will there be life?  Will it amount to anything?  Will it bear fruit?  Must I even know?

Perhaps the sum of my life can only be measured in eternal terms.  BY that which is not ‘under the sun’.  Infinite terms that I cannot understand, because I am finite.  Building the Kingdom of God is not something to be observed.  It is hidden.  And so, I must learn to be content with the hiddenness of my actions, and the hiddenness of any fruit they bear.



Waiting. Impatiently.


The beginning of Advent.  Our time of waiting for Christ to come and make all things new.  To make me new.  I wait.  (Though impatiently, and not for very long.)  Then ask, ‘When?  How long, O God?  How long must I wander through this wilderness?’  I look for you, but you cannot be found.

It is strange, the way you work.  Just when I need you most you seem to hide yourself.  

You have ways of making me feel desperate.  Of showing me what lasts, and what does not.  Of testing what is in my heart and mind.

I the Lord search the heart
and test the mind,
to give every man according to his ways,
according to the fruit of his deeds. (Jer. 17:10)

God left him to himself, in order to test him and to know all that was in his heart. (2 Chron. 32:31b)

In the midst of the testing, this concept seems strange to me.  But I suppose the testing, in whatever form it takes, reveals what is truly there.  What is really inside me.

And I will put this third into the fire,
and refine them as one refines silver,
and test them as gold is tested. (Zech. 13:9a)

It can seem cruel, this testing.  I say, “Why not mercy, Lord?  Why not purify me through more gracious means?”

And you say, “This is my gracious means of purifying you.  It is hard for you to see.  But it is the best way.  Trust me, even though you don’t understand.”  

When you see I am putting my hope in that which doesn’t last, you test that hope.  You refine me, that I might call upon your name.

They will call upon my name,
and I will answer them.
I will say, ‘They are my people’;
and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’ (9b)

I don’t want to be tested, Father.  But if it is the only way, Thy will be done.  I don’t want to persevere.  But if it is what you require of me, Thy will be done.  You have promised not to tempt me beyond what I can handle.  To never leave me or forsake me.  To work all things together for my good.  To provide all things necessary for life and godliness.  Today.  Your grace is sufficient for today, even if I don’t feel like it is.

Have mercy, O God.

Slow growth (part 2)


Thanksgiving was everything I hoped for.  Relaxation, coffee and conversation.  And food, of course.  But I don’t look forward to the gorging as much as I used to.  Maybe my metabolism is slowing.  Maybe I’m more nourished on the whole, so stuffing my face seems less necessary.  (Less fear of starving between meals?)  But the food was fine, don’t get me wrong.  One can’t go wrong with deep fried Turkey, pork loin, mashed this-and-that, beans, salads, and beers.

There was one conversation that’s had me on edge more than I’ve realized, though.  At first it seemed inconsequential.  In fact, it seemed strange.  But I’ve been lost in thought over it while washing the dishes.  While tossing for rest in the middle of the night.

My sister told me about a mutual co-worker, some relation on her husband’s side, who works in the same building as I.  And out of the kindness of his heart, seeing me eating lunch outside, alone at a picnic table, he stopped over to extend his hand in greeting and say hello.  But as the story goes, I had my ear bud(dies) in, and a book open in front of me.  Supposedly, I looked up, locked eyes with him, then went back to my book without saying a word.  I completely ignored him, and he was deeply offended.

I couldn’t believe my ears.  Not because I’m not rude.  (I’m sure I am.)  But more because I don’t remember it.  At all.  I can’t even remember a single time someone introduced themselves to me at work.  (That’s just the sort of culture it is.)

It’s not that I’m concerned about that particular interaction, only because I trust we’ll be able to make amends on Monday once I track him down.  Rather, I think it’s had my head spinning, wondering, “How many people have I offended without knowing it?  Who else thinks I’m an arrogant jerk who hogs the toaster oven at work?” (which was another of his accusations).

I cannot control what others think of me, it’s true.  And one can live at either extreme – not caring at all what others think, or being obsessively consumed by it – both of which are unhelpful.

But it was sobering to be on the receiving side of someone’s judgment.

And maybe that’s the crux of what’s been bothering me about it.  How often have I uncharitably judged others without taking the time to understand their situation?  Maybe he caught me on my worst day there.  Maybe I was on the phone.  Maybe I didn’t actually see him because my thick glasses frame blocked him from sight.

It was sort of a slap in the face reminder, “So that’s why Jesus said, ‘judge not.’  Because it divides.  It doesn’t allow room for empathy and compassion.  It leaves no room for patient understanding of another’s situation or hurts.

*        *        *

Everyone suffers.  Everyone has their hurts.  And those that seem to live the most fulfilled life on the surface may be the very ones who feel their inner-emptiness, their alone-ness, more starkly and sharply, simply because they expect they should be happy but aren’t.  We are all pretty good at hiding our pains.

I don’t know the pain that others may be facing, but I do know that where there is darkness, even a little bit of light can be helpful.

I’ve always struggled to evangelize in the ‘be bold with Jesus’ sort of way.  It seems like such a big leap, especially when I barely know someone.  “Hey, did you see that Eagles game on Thursday?  By the way, what do you think about God?”  Then, as a result, I find I don’t want to even try to get to know anyone new because of the weight of the burden to evangelize them.  It’s a downward spiral, I know.  I don’t like to share the Good News in one fell swoop, so I don’t get to known anyone, so I never tell anyone about Jesus.

Lately, though, I’ve been trying to think about it more incrementally:

People are hurting all around me, whether I realize it or not.
There is darkness in all our lives.
People are in bondage to things they want to be freed from.
Relationships are hard.
People want deep relationships but are afraid of them.
Jesus is the light.
Sometimes light shines dimly, sometimes brightly.
Sometimes we are afraid of the light, when we are comfortable in the darkness.
If I can shine even a little bit of Jesus’ light, I might bring a small amount of hope to someone in darkness.  I might help them to see the Light.

Simple, but I need it broken down into terms I can understand.

It is a challenge to remember these things, especially when I want to wallow in self pity, but that’s where the baby steps come in.  I may not want to tell someone, ‘Jesus died for your sins,’ and as a result, clam up.  But I can look them in the eye and ask them how they are, and really want to know.  I can, at the least, listen to them.  Because don’t we all need someone in our lives who will listen without judging?  Someone to come along side us in our hurt?

*        *        *

Change rarely happen instantaneously.  And even when it seems to, or when we experience a so called ‘breakthrough’, there’s been a lot going on behind the scenes for years to bring it about.  It takes time to break free from an addiction.  It takes time to learn to eat healthy.  It takes time to learn a skill.  Developing a healthy marriage and nurturing your children takes decades, and the work is continuous.

And change often involves people.  I need help from others.  I cannot do life on my own.

I change one degree at a time.  And the changes are imperceptible.  And from my vantage point, sometimes I think I’m going backwards.  I’m more aware of my immaturity at 30 than I was at 20, or 10.  Because I change so slowly, because I want others to be gracious and patient with me, shouldn’t I extend the same grace and patience toward others?  If I change so slowly, shouldn’t I adjust my expectations for how quickly others will change?

Isn’t this how God treats me?  Even though he sees me perfectly – imperfections, failures, sins and all – he is gracious and merciful.  Slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  He does not deal with me according to my sins, nor repay me according to my iniquities (from Psalm 103).  He does not treat me as I deserve.

And, in so doing, I have changed.  Slowly, yes.  But as a result of his steadfast love, mercy and patience.

Read Slow Growth.

Glory is my naem


Morning glories climbed and vined all summer
through metal wires twisted into fence, held by stakes
along the edges of the garden.

I wish my name could be Morning Glory
she tells as we walk past the violet blossoms
lingering late this warm November.

“Glory is my naem” she writes later
on little papers which recline
on the wooden easel.

What does glory mean? she asks over a cup of tea.
I lean back to Webster on the shelf
and wonder that she must know,

And has so aptly given herself
the trumpet mouthpiece name,
praise and adoration,

She who has written songbooks filled
with love and adoration for the one
she cannot see

And stands upon the steps and sings
from her books, from her heart
of a love I long to have.


Give it to me!


Several Fridays ago when I left work, I felt inspired to stop at Whole Foods to pick up some snack-y things for the kids.  A sort of treat, if you will.  Olives from the olive bar, cheddar cheese, apples, almond butter, and of course, LARABARs!  And they were thrilled.  (This is what happens when you don’t have sugar in the house.  Children get excited about this kind of stuff.)

They all love gifts, but giving and receiving them is Micaela’s love language.  She is already addicted, I can tell, to the adrenaline rush that is both giving and receiving.

The next Friday I did the same thing, but on a slightly smaller scale.

I don’t know if this was what started it all, but since then, Micaela’s been strongly hinting at the fact that her favorite days are the ones that I come home with special treats.  Wanting to facilitate this a bit from her end, she began making me little pouches and purses out of paper and string saying, “Bring this to work and put something in it for me.  Then bring it back home.  It’ll be like a present!”  So, with my instructions fairly clear, I brought it to work and placed a little sticky pad in it.  A small gift, but again, she was extremely thankful and thrilled.  Well, of course, Emeth and Annie longed for one, too.  “I really want something like Caela’s,” was Emeth’s subtle theme for the night.

“You have to make a little pouch for me to bring to work,” I said.  And so, he did.

The next night, sticky pads for everyone!  It was a little crazy, but well worth the joy of seeing their faces light up over something so little.

This experience, while fun at first, has become a bit of a drudgery recently.  Caela and Emeth gave me yet another pouch with yet another instruction to “put something in it for me and bring it home like a present!”  I really don’t have much at my desk.  And besides, I don’t like bringing little trinket-y things home every single day.  (You only need so many clips, pens and pads in the house.)  I can understand, though, as I remember loving to putz through my dad’s supply closet when I visited him at work.  Pens, pencils, and paper galore!

So, not sure what to do, I drew little pictures and wrote little I Love U’s all over pieces of paper and brought them home.

“Where’s my present!  I want my present!  Give it to me!” they all screamed when I walked in the door.  I was going to try and hold off till after dinner, wanting to slip an extra little cacao piece from the fridge into each one, but they wouldn’t have it.  “Give it to me!  I want it!” they shouted, endlessly.  Tired of hearing their whining voices, and no longer looking forward to giving them a post-dinner treat, I relented, and they were disappointed.  “Love notes?  Where’s my sticky pad, dad?”

*        *        *

Father, give me another job!  I can’t do this!  I prayed, over and over on one of my recent walks around the parking lot.  Give it to me!

Often when I read the parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1), or the account of Jesus with the Canaanite woman, (Matt. 15:21), or “Ask, and it will be given you” (Matt. 7:7), I think, “I should pound on God’s door until he hears me and gives me what I want.”

But more often than not, these times of asking, pleading and pounding lead to anxiety and discontentment, because I am asking but not receiving.  Where is the thing I’m asking for?  It’s not here.  It has not come.  And I lay exhausted at God’s door, curled up, whimpering and alone.

I think there is something to these passages, for sure, but I think I’m missing it.  In John 16:24 Jesus says, “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”  James, a little more starkly, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (4:3).

I do believe that God wants my joy to be full, and that he is not ignoring me or closing the door in my face.  He’s not standing on the other side laughing, or saying, “Poor child.  If he’d only learn.”  No, I believe God is with me in this very moment.  That he is closer than the air I breath.  That he is sustaining every cell in my body.  That he has not left or forsaken me.  Even though I feel like I’m in a vocational wasteland right now, and the winter is coming, I am not alone.

As a father, I see the difference in my children between expectation and expectancy.  When they expect and receive something less than expected, they are disappointed.  But when they are expectant, open to receiving any gift, their joy overflows.

I don’t know how long I will be here.  I don’t know how long this will last.  I don’t think I need to passively wait until something better comes along.  In fact, I have been applying frivolously for jobs that seem in-line with my experience.  (So far I’ve gotten only one nibble.)  But in my asking, in my searching, am I seeking for joy in the hope of things changing?  Or is my joy and delight in the Lord?

Delight yourself in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
(Psalm 37:4)

Just as I love when my children are excited to see me when I come home, and not just my gifts, does my Father delight when I delight in him, and not just his gifts?  I have everything I need, and yet I say it’s not enough.  My children have everything they need, and they still want more.  I can’t give them everything.  There are limitations.  But there are no limitations with God.  He made everything.  He owns everything.  He is everything.  He is all in all.  And if I have him, I have all I need.

Father, give me yourself.  Amen.

Contemplative Micaela Jane


“Daddy, want to read my writings?” Micaela asks as she enters the kitchen.  I dry my hands off and sit down with her notebook.  She writes:

Jesus loves me
Love me Jesus
Me I do love you Jesus
Jesus I Love you soso* much
I love Jesus and God too
I love you too so much
I do not stop loveing you too
You too are love for
You too Jesus
And you too God
Jesus and God I love you too [two] loves

This is mi love

*I’ve attempted to keep her original spellings and punctuation throughout, but not her capitalization, as it does not translate well to the screen. Any clarifications are in [brackets].

*        *        *

I love you God
You created me.
Faith is good for me too.
I can imagine you.
I ahv [have] joy in you.

*        *        *

I can believe you God.
I can love in you God.
You created me and you love me
I can imagine you

*        *        *

Jesus you are my won [one] I love.
You’re the won I love soso much.
I do not stop loving you.
Because you are soso good
I love you all the tiaem [time].

*        *        *

I love you and you love me
You created all of you’re pepple [people]
Faith is good for me too

*        *        *

Jesus you are good to me
not only you Jesus lovs me.
But God dos too.
It is good that too av [two of] you love me.
It is soso good too love pepple.
It is vary fun too love pepple



Being ‘paleo’ (whatever that term means anymore) in today’s world of fast food and grain subsidies is not easy.  But, as the idea goes, ‘scarcity is the mother of invention’.  And when you are desperate for something you’ll find a way to get it.

There isn’t much I miss by way of food anymore.  I think it’s safe to say I’m clean over sugar, as well as grains by now.  But there is one thing that’s irreplaceable in my food book.  And that’s plain old toast with butter.  That, with a cup of strong, black coffee in the morning was my lifeline in college.  My crunchy, caffeinated explosion to ignite my day.

Summer brings the humid heat,
Fall brings loads of squash to eat.

For the last two years squash has served as our staple carb substitute.  Something to help fill out those meat and veggie dinners, and stretch those food dollars.  But, as with any other food, too much of it becomes repulsive after a time.  As much as I love those sweet as pie Long Island Cheese Pumpkins, my body eventually screams, ‘No more!’

I’ve been finding that these leftover mashes of squash and butter sit in the refrigerator untouched.  They are unsure of their place in life.  Doubtful of their eternal destiny.

Recently, though, through what I deem nothing short of divine inspiration, a recipe for squash cakes materialized in my mind’s eye one morning upon opening the fridge and seeing these sad leftovers.

*      *      *

Pumpcake Recipe


  • 4 C pumpkin
  • 1 C butter
  • vanilla
  • maca powder (optional, but very expensive these days, for added sweetness)
  • dash of salt


  •  2 C tapioca flour
  • 8 eggs
  • 1 tsp baking soda

Add more butter/fat to pan and fry those cakes up.

*      *      * 

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t divine inspiration, and maybe these cakes are ‘nothing new under the sun,’ but they are my new bread.  My carrier for butter and salt.  The missing half of my morning brew.  The marriage is restored.  The love is born again.

And I’m not the only one in love.  I can’t fry these things up fast enough for our brood.  Talia double-fists them, cheeks popping, apron on to catch the dripping butter, and cinnamon smeared, goatee style, around her lips.

This recipe is forgiving of a little smudging, and highly adaptable to all manner of use.  Whether as a carrier for butter, maple syrup, and cinnamon, or if you just want to wrap up some savory leftovers, crêpe style.

These cakes literally melt in your mouth.

They reheat better than cold toes by the fire, and you can crisp up the leftovers to get that old toast feeling back in your mouth.  Pair with strong coffee and your morning is made.  Your day is set.  These cakes will take you back to Saturday mornings with dad at the frying pan, without all the physical pain induced by Bisquick(R), or the insulin spikes of Aunt Jemima(R).

To be like a child: Midnight conversation with Jesus


I try to imagine what it’s like to be a child again as these three older children yell and scream in the living room.  They laugh deep from their bellies.  They live life on the edge.

They are playing in a shanty house made with boards, chairs, pillows and blankets.  Living life in make-believe.  They throw balls over it, run around it, and bump into each other, knocking one another down with vigor.

Their conversations are vibrant and illogical.  (At least, in the way I’ve been taught to think of logic.)  They are full of imagination from morning till night.  They are restless.  No, not restless.  They do know how to rest at times.  They are active and full of energy.  Gushing forth with words, non-sensical syllables and songs.

And they do not try to capture any of it.  They live fully and presently in each moment.

I am sitting next to Vitalia on the floor, in the kitchen.  She has pulled herself up, hands on the wall, feet firmly planted beside me.  She attempts one timid step to the left, then one to the right, giving me a wide, four teeth smile when done.

She is here, and nowhere else.  She is thinking only of her movements in this moment.  She does not fear death like her father.  She does not have any concept of ending when she is just beginning.  She is alive.

I try to be with her.  I try to keep my mind from wandering through future or past, to grasp some issue to gripe over, some circumstance to dwell on that is outside of my control.

Their minds are fully tied up in this present play, in hands on the wall and feet on the floor.  And I give way, my feet swept out from beneath me in a torrent of anxious thoughts.

*        *        *

It’s somewhere around one hour into my first sleep cycle.  Emeth whimpers from two doors down.  I give him time to see if he settles.  He doesn’t, and I pull warm covers off tired body and shuffle down the hall.  I don’t know what to expect.  It’s always the same, but always different.  I start my conversation with Jesus.

Me: Jesus, where are you?
Jesus: I’m right here.
Me: Where?
J: You don’t see me, but I am here.
Me: Why can’t I see you?
J: Take your eyes off yourself, and you will see me.
Me: Are you near?
J: Yes, very near.
Me: How near?
J: Open the door.

I open Emeth’s door, and kneel beside his bed.  I ask, “What do you need?” and “What’s wrong, bud?” but no response.  Only suffering.  Writhing, but not in pain.  Stuffy nose, but doesn’t want his pinky [handkerchief].  Tired, but doesn’t want to lay down.  One contradiction after another, so I stop asking and just pull him into the hallway, onto my lap in the rocker.  I start singing his favorite song.  ‘I hear the Savior say, Thy strength indeed is small…’

Me: Jesus, are you still here?
J: Yes.
Me: My strength is small.  Help me!
J: Child of weakness, find in me your all in all.
M: All?
J: Yes, all.
M: Isn’t there anything else?  Don’t I need more?  I’m a failure.  I fall short in everything.  I can’t do this!  I’m tired.
J: My grace is sufficient for you.  Keep going.  I will give you what you need.
M: Will you?  Emeth asked me earlier why I keep getting older and mommy doesn’t.  I said, ‘I don’t know, I just am.  I guess mommy’s face keeps getting more angelic, while mine gets more wrinkled and my hair more gray.’  But I thought, ‘Everyday, one step closer to death.  I’m dying.  That’s why.’  What have I given to this world?  What?  I’ll die before my work is done!
J: You will accomplish everything you need to.  Do not be afraid.  Though it will be less glorious than you hope for.
M: Everything?  But how do you know?  I’m so weak.  So scatterbrained.  I don’t have the strength for even this.
J: My power is made perfect in your weakness, not in your accomplishments.  When you are weak, I am strong.  Do not focus on your work.  On your accomplishments.  Rest your eyes on me.

‘For nothing good have I whereby thy grace to claim.
I’ll wash my garments white in the blood of Calvary’s lamb.’

M: But my eyes are tired.  I have nothing good.  But you are good.  Right?
J: Yes, I am.  I am your good Shepherd.
M: You are my Shepherd.  I shall not want.  Make me lie down in green pastures.  Make Emeth lie down in his bed.
J: Keep singing.  Be still.
M: But I don’t know what to do to calm him?  How can I be still when I’m so confused?  Don’t you know everyone believes something different about you?  How can I know what to believe when everyone is so divided?
J: You don’t need to figure out what to believe about me.  Just believe in me.
Me: You mean, that you exist?  That you aren’t Santa?  I suppose I can do at least that.  Most people are agreed on that point.
J: No, not believe in the sense that you must conjure up faith in my existence.  ‘Even the demons believe.’
Me: Right, right.  So, what do you mean, then?
J: Be still.  Cease striving.
Me:  Trust you?
J: Yes, trust me.  Trust me in this moment.  You cannot control him.  You do not know what’s going on inside him.  But I do.  Rest in my arms.  Let go of him and hold on to me.
M: But how can I hold on to you if I don’t know where you are?
J: What you have done to the least of these, you have done to me.



The children have abandoned their posts to go ‘play war’ in the living room, and we sit down for seconds at the table.  Freshly picked arugula from the backyard garden, with chopped purple onions and a lemon/olive oil dressing, all dashed with our favorite chipotle chile powder.  Our three minute post-dinner date.  Our unity of silence before the force ten gale blows from the living room.

I tell you Radiohead has some really beautiful songs, and you ask, Wanna play me one?  ‘Scatterbrain’ from Hail To The Thief comes to mind, and I turn the volume up so we can feel it to our bones.  Because aren’t we all just a little scatterbrain at times? I say.  We listen quiet and our feet dance together under the table.

Our house is a war zone.  Life, a field of scattered bones.  But I have you and you have me, and we look at one another with peppery eyes.  Oh, just one look in your eyes and I feel scatterbrain!  You put flesh on my bones.

We say we want to be somewhere we’re not scatterbrain, but we know we won’t be there anytime soon, so we take three to settle into the rhythm of this evening.  Into this scatter that is love.

Rigid and inflexible


Human beings are
soft and supple when alive,
stiff and straight when dead.

…the grasses and trees are
soft and fragile when alive,
dry and withered when dead.

Therefore, it is said:
The rigid person is a disciple of death;
The soft, supple, and delicate are lovers of life.

An army that is inflexible will not conquer;
A tree that is inflexible will snap.

The unyielding and mighty shall be brought low;
The soft, supple, and delicate will be set above. (Tao Te Ching, No. 41)

I prefer to think of myself as flexible, easy going, and adaptable.  But if you were to observe my life – my responses to stressful moments with the kids – you probably say, “Loosen up, boy!  You’re about to snap!”

You’d think after almost seven years of being a dad I’d have learned some lessons in flexibility.  Or that I had some tricks up my sleeve for when children start pushing the wrong buttons.  You’d think I’d have learned to joyfully handle the constant interruptions that are children in need.

Rache and I have been whispering “soft and supple” to each other in these moments of escalating intensity with the kids.  And I quickly realize she’s right.  I’m about to snap!  It’s become somewhat of a joke between us, as I walk into the kitchen mouthing, “I can’t do this anymore!” when I’m not getting the response from Annie I want.  Then, I stiffen up like an angry, dry and inflexible board, ready to snap.  My way of diffusing my own bomb, I guess.

I think Annie realizes this maxim more than the others.  Yesterday she overturned the living room trash can onto the floor.  Thankfully it only contained cut up scraps of string and paper.  Only thousands of them.  She eventually consented to helping clean the mess, only after specific demands were agreed upon:

  1. The trash can needs to remain upside-down
  2. The trash needs to go into a different container so demand #1 can be fulfilled
  3. That the task can be completed only after she is finished coloring her picture
  4. That she doesn’t have to bend over while picking up the trash

So, post-picture coloring, with a separate bag, we sat on the floor to clean up.

Toward the end I noticed little pencil sharpening shreds burrowed in the carpet.  Great.  Now I have to vacuum to.  Angry that additional work had been added to our evening routine, I gently asked Annie if she could be so considerate as to next time get a separate container to dump said trash in before dumping it to the floor.  She sat, staring to her right.  Repeat supplication.  “Annie, can you look at me, please?”  She imperceptibly turns her head, eyes turning in my general direction.

“I am,” she says, with a smile, barely making eye contact with me.

I ask several more times if she understands my request, until finally she peeks over at me again, smiling, and says, “My mouth is broken for ‘tend [pretend].”

And how can I not laugh at this autonomous, free-spirited, human being who wants to take her shirt off at the dinner table?  Who wants to brush her own teeth?  Who wants to hang up her own clothes and open her own doors?

*        *        *

The nights that pass in uninterrupted sleep are far fewer than those that don’t.

I think Rache handled Annie’s bursting into our room in tears earlier at 2am or so, while I handled Emeth’s whimpering closer to 5:30am.  (I definitely got the better end of deal.)

In talking about this with an empty nester couple with more perspective than we have, they commented that Emeth, especially, may be seeking connection through these times, that he doesn’t get throughout the day.  Who knows all the reasons for this that may go back to his earliest days?  But their comment resonated with us.

My typical response to any middle of the night waking mostly consisted of escalated frustration from both parties, only to lay back down with so much anxiety I couldn’t sleep.

Maybe the Spirit of God is helping me to loosen up, though.  Gradually.  Slowly.  Those times of frustration are further and fewer between.  And those times of connection are more consistent.  I used to remain distant in Emeth’s struggle, crouched beside his bed, asking unhelpful questions and growing irritated.  Now I lean in close, rub his head or belly, touch my cheek to his.  Kiss his forehead.  Sometimes even laying next to him for a few minutes.  He usually doesn’t need anything at all.  Just a prayer said with him to fill his dreams with light.  A song sung over him to calm his anxious mind.

*        *        *

The rigid person is a disciple of death;
The soft, supple, and delicate are lovers of life.

When I am inflexible and resistant to interruptions, I become anxious.  My body tightens up.  My demeanor grows somber and dim.  My outlook is clouded and darkened by my own storm of thought.  I can’t think clearly about what to do next.  And it seems, in some sense, I’ve become dead to all around me.  Rachel picks up on this, and at times even assimilates my outlook into hers.  We become, then, both anxious and darkened in our sight.  The kids imperceptibly feel this and assimilate it, too.  Like a tumbleweed of discontentment, turned avalanche, pounding us down the mountain.  We can’t think straight in the deafening noise, in the insanity of it all.

Conversely, when I am soft and supple, accepting interruptions as “Christ’s invitations” (as Ann Voskamp calls them), I can enter into them.  I can be present with my children.  I can laugh with them over their complete silliness.  It not only breaths life into me, but through me, and into those around me.  I am freed from focus on myself, to instead be the life and light of Christ to others.

Building in secret


The weather has officially changed over to those crisp days of fall.  Nights in the 50s.  Days in the low 70s.

Last night Rache took the kids for a walk while I finished prepping dinner.  Our downstairs neighbor is already pumping up the radiator, so I cracked the windows just enough to let a cool draft come through.

Our neighbors next door took advantage of the drop in temperature (brought by Joaquin) to light up their fireplace.  Their first floor chimney is not far from our second floor kitchen.  The smell of burning wood curled onto the roof, the draft wafting it into the crack of the window.  Invigorated, I set to work.

*        *        *

We spent five days, four nights at the beach, just before the effects of the hurricane could be felt.  The first two days were brutal, though, with the wind whipping sand in the children’s faces.  Annie, especially did not appreciate it.  The following two days, though, were perfect.  The calm before the storm.  I am ceaselessly amazed that sand, sun and water can keep us occupied until hunger pangs gnaw.

We chose not to bring a lot of sand toys this time, since they tend to mostly get scattered about and buried.  Instead, we brought just enough shovels and buckets for everyone.  (Not those dollar store ones that break in half when you touch them.  I mean those hobbit size, wooden handle, metal spade, dig up the earth shovels (and stainless steel buckets) from the hardware store.

Because what do we do when we go to the beach?  We dig holes.  Deep holes.  Deep enough for the water to come up from underneath.

*        *        *

I turned on Jose Gonzalez’s album, Veneer, as I chopped.  His guitar rhythms wash steadily over, yet somewhat unexpectedly, like the waves of the sea, due to their complexity.  It’s not always easy to keep my head bopping in the right direction.

I find preparing food can be an act of worship, or a jumbled rush of crumbs on counter, dirty dishes, and near finger losses.  I’ve been aiming for the former.

In the charismatic church I grew up in, we used the phrase ‘enter into worship’.  I never questioned at the time what this meant.  It seemed obvious to my child brain.  The music starts, the people dance.  Now, though, ‘enter in’ seems to hint at something deeper, rather than explain what worship is.  It describes more how one gets there.

For preparing food to be worshipful, I find I must enter in.  If I rush the process (rushing is not always synonymous with speed, nor is slowing down synonymous with a snail’s pace), I do not find the process worshipful.  If I am present with knife and onion – listening to the sound of slicing, feeling the resistance as I push, smelling the fragrance – I have entered in.  When I dig in the sand – present with shovel in hand, feeling it twist against my blistered thumb, sensing the heat of the sun on my skin, listening to the roar of the waves – I have entered in.  And when I enter in, I am undistracted.

So is worship only glorified focus?  No, I think it’s more.  For, in being present with food, sand, and water, I am less aware of myself.  When I rush through anything, though, I am only aware of myself.  But worship is not only relegated to the spheres of inanimate life.  If I worship more fully when unaware of myself, then anything that would take my attention off myself can be worship.

So it is not distractions, per se, that keep me from worship.  Distractions can be opportunities to worship.  For if I enter into the interruption, I am also worshiping.

*        *        *

Digging and cooking are humbling acts.  They appear fleeting on the surface.  The food is cooked.  The family eats it.  The castle is made.  The water washes it away.

I have struggled deeply with this since I’ve been conscious of the passage of time.  The basic question, rushing back to my mind continually, “If this will pass away, what is the point of doing it?”  The age-less question, right?  “What is the meaning of life?  What is the point to all this?”

Why take pleasure in preparing food, or building a house out of sand, if it will not last forever?  Not just “Why?”, but “How?”

This struggled reveals I understand little about the kingdom of God.  The phrase ‘kingdom of God’ still, to this day, evokes images of streets of gold and tirelessly hopping up and down with arms raised in the air to the music of the angels, ceaselessly ‘worshiping’.

“What is the kingdom of God is like, and to what shall I compare it?” Jesus asks.  Like a grain of mustard seed, sowed in the garden.  Like leaven, hidden in flour.

The image of ceaseless worship and streets of gold leaves me with a disconnect between now and then.  How is my work now a storing up of treasure for then, if I won’t be enjoying that treasure, but only experiencing that narrow sense of worship, tirelessly, for eternity?

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth… but… treasures in heaven.”

So either, the mundane is futile, since it is disconnected from our eternal purpose, or the mundane is intimately connected to eternity.  In everything, we are choosing to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven that cannot be destroyed, or we are laying up treasures to be consumed in the here and now, whether by our insatiable appetite for more, or by literal moth and rust.

So how can I build my house of sand in a way that is building my House on the Rock?  Am I merely to ‘enter in’?  To worship?

*        *        *

If I build on the sand, my work will be washed away.  And my work will be washed away if I am building my own kingdom.  A kingdom that can be seen now.  But the kingdom of God is the inverse of all earthly understandings of empire, power, and wealth.  If the kingdom of God is something that starts as small as a mustard seed, then my work in the mundane must also begin with small, hidden acts of selfless love.  If I build my castle in the sand in hopes that all beach passersby will gawk at my artistry, my ‘reward’ will fade in that instant.  If I cook delicious meals with only the desire to be worshiped for their beauty and taste, that worship will not satisfy, and will be eaten by my moth of selfishness.

But if I dig a hole with my children, laughing with them, enjoying them and what God has created, then I am building my eternal house on the rock.  I am storing up a treasure that will not fade or wash away.  If I cook to nourish and to fellowship, even though it will be eaten, the reward will not fade.

All that I do to build my own kingdom will fade, shrivel and die.  To seek worship for myself, to make myself the object of worship, is to make myself the treasure that ultimately turns to rust.  That is eaten by moths.  But all that I do to build God’s kingdom, all that is done in the secret mundanity of life, that seemingly fades away, every act done in secret is in some inverse, mysterious way, a storing up of treasure that cannot be destroyed.

I must die now, so that I can live then.  But also, in the mirth and joy of God, his bursting secret is that in dying now, we can also truly live, now.

Cigarettes, dinosaurs, and spontaneous worship


Daddy, I smell something I don’t like.  It smells like cigarettes and cake.

– Micaela, on the smell of Black & Mild

*        *        *

R: I went to have lunch with my friend, Andrea.
A: Does she talk?
R: Yeah.
A: Can I talk a her?
R: Yeah, maybe next time you could meet her.
A: But I didn’t come!

*        *        *

God is above me,
God is above me,
God is above me up in heaven.

I am below God,
I am below God,
I am below God on the earth.

– Micaela, spontaneous song on the steps

*        *        *

I like to write, but it’s hard to know what to write, that’s why I like to write from the Bible.

– Emeth

*        *        *

But what if Jesus turns?

– Micaela, while discussing what it means to follow Jesus on the straight and narrow path

*        *        *

I feel like this water could be as soft as a coat because it’s so warm.

– Micaela, while taking a bath

*        *        *

E: Are there dinosaurs around here?
D: No, not anymore.
M: Even the ones that don’t fly?
D: Yes, even those.
E: Why not?
D: They’re extinct
M: What’s extinct?
D: It means they’re not alive anymore.  They aren’t having any more babies.
E: Why aren’t dinosaurs around here anymore?
D: Because they’re extinct.
E: Why are they stinky?
D: They aren’t stinky, they’re extinct.
E: Why are they a-stink?
D: Because they aren’t alive anymore.  There are none left to have babies.
M: So instead of seeing dinosaurs we could just go to dinosaur birthday parties, or draw pictures of them and put them on the refrigerator so we can look at them and remember them.

*        *        *

It’s so good to be at church, [repeat each line 10x]
O, thank you, God, for everything!
Thank you, God, for church,
O, thank you, God, for your Holy Bible!
God is great to me,
O, thank you, God, for you!

– Micaela, Emeth & Annie, spontaneous song on the steps

One on one


I don’t know if it’s because we’ve simplified in our home, or because Talia is becoming more independent, but we finally feel like we’re in a place to spend some much needed one-on-one time with each of our children, particularly the older two.  It’s something we’ve desired to do for a long time, but have had difficulty getting past the essentials of food prep, clean-up, baths and bedtime.

Previously we’ve only spent one-on-one time on their birthdays.  This has put an awful lot of pressure on that one day, because it seems that with each day, another idea springs into their minds of what they want to do.  Then, come birthday, it feels like, “This is it!  We better have a good time!  We better make a memory!  Let’s pack it all in!”  Micaela and Emeth both wanted to spend their birthdays in the city, so we did.  But I found it distracting and difficult to connect on a more personal level.  Walking through busy streets, so much to look at, weariness from walking, hunger and thirst, and televisions in the diner while munching pizza.  Fun memories, to be sure, but the experience left me wanting more.

So, for whatever the reason, we feel ready to work toward making one-on-one time a habit.  As we talked about it with Micaela and Emeth, they were astir with ideas of what to do.  They started on a grand scale, but moved toward more realistic ideas as we talked.  For example, after having spent a half-hour in our bedroom with mommy, folding laundry and talking, Micaela proclaimed, “Mommy, maybe for my birthday we can go up in your bedroom and organize and play dress up with your dresses!”  

At first I laughed when Rachel relayed this.  “Poor, deprived child,” I joked.  But then quickly realized what a precious gift this could be, if we could do something so simple with each of them, while growing in our friendship, trust, and love.

After that evening, Micaela and Emeth began making ‘things to do with mommy and daddy’ lists.  Thrift store, dress up, build, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Knight Park.  Each item something that could be done in one evening.  

Wednesday was Micaela’s turn with mommy.  They went up in our bedroom and got out the blank stamp blocks and carving tools.  Micaela was so enthralled to get focussed time, mommy helping her with a certain technique, or how to execute an idea.  Answering her questions, and sharing in her joy.  It was simple, but several times Micaela expressed her gratitude, saying how fun it was to spend time together, just the two of them.

Emeth, understandably was ready (and has been for a long time) for some focussed time with daddy.  We agreed to Thursday night.  “Can you stay home in the morning?  I really want to build with you in the morning?” he asked me several times.  

Rachel said from Thursday morning till the moment I arrived home Emeth was talking about working in the basement with me to build something.  He was drawing plans for a toolbox, a house for his animals, and a truck.  He was asking if daddy could come home after lunch, and if he’d be home soon?  No?  How about now?  No?  Now?

Finally, the moment came.  I was home, and nothing was stopping that boy from directing my attention to basement, wood and tools.  We got our water bottles, strapped on our shoes, put on our hats and went down.

“Which one do you want to build?” I asked, looking at his drawing plans, having some difficultly making out what each was.

“Um… a toolbox!”  He pointed.

“How big?” I asked.  He put his hands in front of him, spacing them out, further and further.

“Um… this big!”  We settled on 10 and 7/8 inches.

Each step of the way I asked him about the details of his plans, not really sure what I was getting myself into, or whether I’d be able to execute it in the time we had, with the resources available.  The wood was warped, which made things a little tricky.  But he didn’t care.

Emeth would grab the next board, excited that he could carry it.  (They were thin and light.)  I’d measure, put the square on, and he’d draw the line I was to cut.  He insisted that I use the hand saw, since the electric mitre saw was too loud for his liking.  He’d then hold the end of the board while I sawed, taking his job very seriously to not let it fall to the ground.

He loved that there were parts of the process that he could do, and that he could experiment with the more difficult tasks of hammering and cutting.  He was not thwarted or discouraged by their difficulty.

What was so encouraging about all this is that not only did Rachel and I feel a real connection with each of them, but these have been things we’ve wanted for a long time in terms of schooling.  Some would call it ‘project based homeschooling’.  To us, it’s simply learning through living.  Our children coming along side of us, working together, and learning the practical skills of life: reading, measuring, fractions, hand-eye coordination, communicating, collaborating, creating, adapting.

Micaela is already getting excited for the Clay Fest next Saturday in Old City.  She seems ripe for this focussed, hands on time.  For the opportunity to engage her creative ideas and desires.  How will these moments shape each of them in the years to come?  What will they run with?  What will fall to the wayside?  I’m finding this to be one of the great joys of dad-hood.  Watching our children grow and develop, to take interests and hone their skills.  Seeing them try and not give up because they are not perfect.  Seeing them pursue their interests, not for the praise they’ll receive, but for the sheer joy of it.

Undertake difficult tasks
by approaching what is easy in them;
Do great deeds by focusing on their minute aspects.

All difficulties under heaven arise from what is easy,
All great things under heaven arise from what is minute.

For this reason,
The sage never strives to do what is great.
He can achieve greatness. (Tao Te Ching, No. 26)

[He] acts but does not possess,
completes his work but does not dwell on it.
In this fashion,
he has no desire to display his worth. (No. 42)

Toward the flame


I feel weary of writing about that which wearies me.  But my job remains a wearisome trial, and so, I must process it through writing.  If I do not, it is as though these thoughts will continue to fly wildly through my mind, crashing into one another, creating a storm with nothing to anchor them.  Writing is a way to catch them by their tails and stick them to the paper (or screen).  To look them directly in the face, and attempt to keep them in their proper place.

*        *        *

With so few books now on my shelf, I turned to my dear friend, Kierkegaard, yesterday for some counsel.  I read the section entitled, Spiritual Trial, not really knowing if ‘spiritual trial’ is an appropriate way to describe what I’m going through.  But nonetheless, he writes,

In the case of temptation the right thing to do may be to fight it by avoiding it.  In the case of spiritual trial, however, one must go through it.  Temptation should be avoided?  Try not to see or hear what tempts you?  Temptation is best fought by running away?  But this does not work with thoughts that try the spirit, for they pursue you.  If it is spiritual trial, go straight toward it, trusting in God and Christ.  When you are weak, he is strong. (Provocations, 380)

An interesting distinction between temptation and spiritual trial.  I can tend to view my job as a temptation.  That is, as something I must flee from if I am to find relief from its effects.  The difficult thing about contentment, though (I hate to admit), is that true contentment is that which is not based in circumstances.  As put in Tao Te Ching:

Know contentment and you shall not be disgraced. (No. 7)

No disaster is greater than discontent…
Contentment that derives from knowing when to be content is eternal contentment. (No. 9)

While it may be true that different circumstances, such as working with my hands rather than staring at a computer screen all day, may give more opportunity for joy and contentment in my work, I can’t help but wonder if I should not place so much hope in things changing.  It may sound obvious that the grass is not always greener on the other side.  Yet, it is far easier to pick out the things I don’t like about a good situation, than it is to thank God for the good things about a bad situation.

So what can be done?  What is God thinking when he puts us in the wilderness?  In a situation that seems endless and hopeless?  What was he teaching the Israelites as they wandered through the wilderness for forty years?  What was he teaching Abraham as he waited for Isaac?  What was he teaching his people in the 400 year silence between the prophet Malachi and the coming of the Messiah?  What was his purpose in not answering the cry of his Son, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

There are no easy answers to these questions.  And there are no easy questions to ask of these problems.  Is it merely a matter of God desiring to teach something?  Can I understand the deep purposes of God?  The one who knows all, and sees the interconnectedness of all things in an instant?  Who weaves stories together at a grand and masterful scale?  Who both moves planets and brings plants to sprout from the smallest of seeds?  

Why do I feel the need to try and understand that which I am not capable of understanding?  Like a child that only wants to eat sweets, while his father withholds them, choosing rather to feed him nutrient dense foods.  (As though he were starving me of my ill cravings.  Training my soul to feed on the fat of his Word, and not the sugar of life.)

Is there some danger he is keeping me from?  Is there some purpose in bringing me through this dry, desolate valley?  

As his child, I can only say, “Father, I do not understand why you are withholding something that clearly seems good to me.  But you have never left me or forsaken me, even when it feels like you have.  You have always been a faithful Father.”  

And as my Father, he would lovingly address me by name and embrace me, saying, “My precious child, do not run from this trial.  But go straight toward it.  Be still.  Cease your striving, and rest in the circumstances I have given you.  Change will come when it will be good for you.

“I withhold nothing good from you.  You can’t see that now, but you must trust that I can see, both behind and before you.  I have chosen this path for you.  It is the best path.  It is the good path.  But not in the way you think of good.  You think good only means to avoid suffering.  To not feel lonely.  To not feel desperate.  But the true Good is so much more.  True Goodness is that which makes you good.  That which makes you more like my Son.  That which strips you of your selfishness, your unloveliness.  I am only desiring to make you more lovely.  More beautiful.  Even silver must go through the fire.

I will put this third into the fire,
and refine them as one refines silver,
and test them as gold is tested.
They will call upon my name,
and I will answer them.
I will say, ‘They are my people’;
and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God. (Zech 13:9)

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  

I do not see him, or his purposes, or his ways right now.  So is it merely a choice to trust?  To trust him with all my heart, and to not lean on my own understanding?  To fear him, only?  

Yes, to fear the Lord.  For this is the beginning of wisdom.

Contentment through tidying


Today we must return our friend, Kondo, to the library.  I share a departing thought from the end of her book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

Through this process [of tidying] people come to know contentment.  After tidying, many clients tell me that their worldly desires have decreased.  Whereas in the past, no matter how many clothes they had, they were never satisfied and always wanted something new to wear, once they selected and kept only those things that they really loved, they felt that they had everything they needed.

We amass material things for the same reason that we eat – to satisfy a craving.  Buying on impulse and eating and drinking to excess are attempts to alleviate stress. (197)

Planting. Watering. Observing. Growing. Praying.


“Mommy’s home!” The kids shouted and crowded at the window.  As soon as mommy opened the door they yelled, “Did you get any books for us?”  Mommy had just returned from the library, and yes, she happened to get four books.  One for each.

The one for Micaela was Crosby Bonsall’s, The Day I Had To Play With My Sister.  A first level, ‘I Can Read’ book.  Micaela accepted it with rapture.  She gathered Annie and Emeth around her on the sixth step, and to our great surprise, she read the entire book to them.  Afterwards she brought the book to the piano, placed it on the music stand, and plucked out a simple melody while setting the text of this book to music.

This was incredible to watch.  The absorption of information, gathered through thousands of question and answer sessions, over the past several years, between child and parent.  Information assimilated, sorted, made sense of, built upon.  And finally, the fruit of this little child’s hard work ripens, allowing her to make sense of the English language.

It was joyful to see the fruit of Rachel’s patience and labor as a mother and teacher, reflected in the joy of Micaela’s voice as she read this book.  It was a sweet satisfaction.  A confirmation that we are not completely off track with our alternative approach to education.

Of course, our approach is not the only way.  It is not the Right Way.  It is simply our way.  The way that we feel best suits the needs of our children.  Will it work for all of them?  I don’t know.  But we will take it one at a time.

*        *        *

Micaela has been sitting down at the piano, multiple times a day, to pluck out melodies that we have been singing to her for years.  This, too, is incredible to watch and hear.  I don’t think we have a genius on our hands.  It’s more that I believe God has given every child the capacity to learn the things that interest them.

She is exploring the keyboard, just as she is exploring language.  She is adding chords, experimenting with rhythm and the pedal.  She has already written a short tune that ascends up the keyboard.  Chords in the left, melody in the right.

Emeth, on the other hand, is not interested in music at all.  The other day he said to Rachel and me, “I don’t really like playing music.”  I was so glad he felt free to express that to us.  (Especially since his father is a musician!)  He’s more visual and hands on.  He likes to build and draw, and pays much attention to the details in his world.  He is drawn to books where there is a lot going on in the illustrations, such as Town & Country, by Alice Provensen.  He loves to ask questions about what is happening, and what the people are doing.  While Micaela is interested in music and language, Emeth is drawn to that which he can touch and see.

In some ways, Emeth is a mystery, despite his simple interests in wood and paper.  He has a difficult time expressing his wants and needs.  I wonder if this partly because he feels squeezed out by the strong personalities of his sisters.  I do struggle to give each of my children the time they deserve.  The time they need.  Simply because their are four of them, and there is much to do in a day.  I think, though, Emeth needs that time more than the others right now.

It’s an exciting process trying to figure out what interests each of them.  What makes their little minds tick, and what moves their hearts.  To discern how they are different than one another.  To observe what is important to one and not to the other.

Annie is a free spirit, and mostly Emeth’s opposite and rival right now.  We are still trying to figure her out.  She has a very unique sense of humor, and is fairly good at playing by herself, when given the opportunity.  She seems fairly independent already.  She is a fireball.  She doesn’t beat around the bush.  Instead, she tears it up.

*        *        *

Vitalia, has finally learned to crawl at sixteen months.  Yes, some children learn to walk by nine months.  But not our Talia.  She started out very calm and peaceful.  We joked that we should’ve named her Shalom, and not Vitalia (life) Joy.  She observed and took in her world for twelve months.  Then found her voice.  She can yell louder than the other three.

She seems the type to take it slow, and to learn at her own pace.  She does not let us force anything on her, and she knows what she wants.  (Her wants and needs are fairly simple at this point, which makes it easy, perhaps.)  For example, when she doesn’t want any more of a particular food, she lowers her head in the direction of the spoon to make it clear that spoon will not make it into her mouth.  And if you continue to try, she’ll swat it out of your hand (if she makes contact).

She is coming into her name though.  (Interestingly, they all seem to be doing this.)  Talia is so vibrant and expressive, lively and joyful.  She has more facial expressions than she knows what to do with.  She can go from happy, to skeptical, to angry, to laughing with the slightest change in her brow and lip.  She, too, has a sense of humor, and knows how to get us all laughing.

I wonder what they will all be like in a year.

*        *        *

Lord, help us to know ourselves and our children.  To know how you hardwired us, to know our needs, and to express those needs to one another.  Help us to care for one another in a way that is meaningful to each.  Fill us with your Spirit, and help us to love, not just when we are lovely, but when it feels impossible.  When we make a mess, and when we ourselves are a mess.  Amen.

Cast your bread upon the waters


Jesus is, “…the way, and the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6a)  “…all things were created through him and for him.  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Col.1:16b-17)

While knowing these truths about Jesus (or rather, that he is the truth), I still attempt to quantify him.  To store him neatly on the shelf, to pull out at my convenience.  To reduce him to logic, and his acts to formula, as though I could fully understand him and his ways with my limited mind.

But I cannot plumb the depths of Jesus Christ.  He is mystery, yet simple enough for a child to love.  He is unfathomable, yet near.  He is full of blinding light, yet bids us to look on him and be saved.  He is the word that lit up Mount Sinai with lightning, and whose thunders made the Israelites tremble, and he is the Word become flesh, saving us from our sins.

He is the center of all things.  Like the hub of a bike wheel, holding up and supporting all of the spokes that radiate out from it.  He is like the sun, shining his light into the darkest corners of the universe; the darkest places of our hearts.  Wherever we hide, his light remains, and if we only peek our eyes out and follow the light, we would see him.

I’m not quite sure where all that just came from, or why I’m writing about the mystery of Jesus when I intended to quote further from a book on tidying my home.  Maybe it’s this.  I find it fascinating when Truth is affirmed through experience, even if it is the religious experience of someone who (as far as I can tell) is not a follower of Jesus.

Jesus seemed to turn our natural understanding of things on its head.  Take the simple idea of provision.  His words are simple and clear on the matter.  “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal…. Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.”  (Matt 6:19, 25)

My natural tendency is to hoard.  The thing about hoarding, which I’m still trying to understand, is that it doesn’t lead to more peace, security and comfort.  For me, it leads to distraction, discontentment, anxiety, and insecurity.  Hoarding feeds my desire to hoard, to stock up against the future, and this desire is never satisfied.

King Solomon put it more succinctly.  “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.” (Ecclesiastes 11:1)  The first several times I read this, I did not understand it.  But I think the following verse sheds some light on it.  “Give a portion to seven, or even to eight, for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.” (v. 2)

In other words, give freely, and it will come back to you.  Do not hold on to the things that are so dear to you.  Let them go, and you will find them returning to you just when you need them.  Give freely, for you do not know when you will lose them to disaster anyway.

In Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, she affirms this truth, but from a  non-Biblical perspective.  She says,

Everything you own wants to be of use to you.  Even if you throw it away or burn it, it will only leave behind the energy of wanting to be of service.  Freed from its physical form, it will move about your world as energy… and come back to you as the thing that will be of most use to who you are now…  A piece of clothing might come back as a new and beautiful outfit, or it may reappear as information or a new connection.  I promise you: whatever you let go will come back in exactly the same amount… (p. 193)

This reminded me of Jesus’ words in Luke 6:38.

…give, and it will be given to you.  Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.  For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.

Jesus can even speak through a book on tidying my home.  I guess he has a sense of humor, too.

A table in the wilderness


Can God spread a table in the wilderness?

– The Israelites, Psalm 78:19

We read this Psalm last week and this question has been playing on repeat in my mind ever since.  There are many times that my work environment feels like an empty, sterile wilderness.  The white, ceramic tile in the bathroom.  The dead stillness out on the cubicle floor.  The baking pavement that I walk during my breaks to remind myself that I’m real.  That I’m alive.

What is so interesting about this question is that, immediately after, the questioner acknowledges God’s provision, as though God would only go so far to meet them in the wilderness. “He struck the rock so that water gushed out and streams overflowed.  Can he also give bread or provide meat for his people?”  I do the same thing, I suppose, in acknowledging God’s goodness to me in all other areas of my life, but doubting that he can bring rich, lush pastures to grow in my 9 – 5.  “The soil’s too barren, Lord!  It will remain like this forever.  You aren’t that good of a gardener!”

So what are my choices today?  1) Quit my job, 2) look for another job, 3) complain, 4) rejoice always; give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:16); give thanks always and for everything (Eph 5:20).

Okay, so the answer seems obvious.  But this is how my brain works.  I need to think through each one logically (and prayerfully) before the day gets started, otherwise I’ll be tossed to and fro by the wind and waves.

Option 1, quit.  I’ve already been through this.  The short answer is: don’t do it.  It’s not worth it.

Option 2, look for another job.  This is a viable option, but tends to leave me more restless than before.  My options are limited based on my experience.  And honestly, I don’t know where to begin ‘looking’.  Throwing my resume into the black-hole of the Internet has never proved fruitful.  Looking for Another Job is too broad to give any focus.  The fact is, I don’t like the career path I’m in.  And that’s okay.  I’m not alone.  Most people don’t.  My responsibility is clear, though: God gives us our meat and veggies through the labor of my hands and mind, whether I like it or not.  (That said, if any of my three readers has any suggestions or thoughts about this, I’m listening.)

Option 3, complain.  I’ve tried it, and it leaves me not only restless, but angry.  There isn’t much more to say.

Option 4, rejoice and give thanks.  Can I trust this is a good and loving command from my Father?  That he knows what I need better than I do?

And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good? (Debut. 10:12-13 ESV)

Father, help me to just thank you today for that which I don’t feel thankful for.  Do a simple miracle in my heart.  Make me lie down in green pastures.  Amen.

Like Father, like son


Despite our best efforts, things still make it into our home that we are less than thrilled about.  Our children brought home a fist-full of dollar store goodies from a birthday party the other night.  One such gift was a 3-D dinosaur puzzle.  Punch the pieces out of the wood.  Put them together.  Bam!  There’s your dino, resurrected from millions of years ago.

With toys like this, that seem to be a great idea until you actually get one into a kid’s hands, mom and dad need to stay integrally involved.  First, there’s the ceremonial removal of the shrink-wrap.  Then the virtually impossible punching out of the pieces without breaking them in the process.  Then figuring out how the thing actually fits together, as there were no instructions.  Ages 4+.  Way to make me feel stupid.

Once Rachel figured it out (she has more patience than I with stuff like this), each child asked us to take it apart for them.  Take it apart?!  What do you mean?  I just put it together!  No!  But they wouldn’t have it.  They wanted it un-done, so they could do it themselves.

By the third re-assembly, the manufactured pressed wood was already stripping apart, and the sticker picture of the dino was peeling back.   This was a one shot deal.  Sorry, kiddos.  But of course, they insisted on forcing it together, no matter how difficult it got.  I admire their persistence.

The next morning, Emeth was up first.  “Where’s my dinosaur?” he wanted to know.  Rache and I agreed to not throw them out just yet, and to let them suck a few days of enjoyment out of them before they fell to shreds.

“Daddy, can you help me put my dinosaur together?”  He then proceeded to have me assemble the dinosaur several different ways, while I attempted to cook breakfast.  Rachel and I looked at one another.  My eyes said, “I can’t do this anymore!  I hate cheap toys!  Who’s twisted and sadistic idea was this to create emotional torture toys for parents!”

*        *        *

In the evening, while preparing dinner, Emeth and Caela were playing upstairs.  Emeth began to laugh and cry simultaneously.  He shouted my name in a desperate, more urgent tone than usual.  I knew something must be up, so I darted upstairs, three at a time.  “I peed my pants!” he cried.  The evidence was clear.

“Go downstairs right now,” I said with a shaking, slightly raised voice.  He left, and I picked Annie’s blanket up and threw it as hard as I could against the wall.  Something silent, that wouldn’t make much noise.  “That was dumb, but peeing on the floor was dumber,” I thought.  “He knows better than this!”

It was already 6:30 pm, and I had barely started meal prep.  (Rachel was busy with Talia.)  I was angry that my plans continued to get waylaid.  Dinner would be late.  Bedtime later.  Daddy more tired and more irritable.

I got some clothes for Emeth and went downstairs.  “You need to take a bath,” I told him.  He hates baths, so maybe I was trying to punish him for something that was just childish.  But this time he happily complied.  Insult to injury.  Coals on my head.  He was happy as a bee in pollen.  “No harm done, dad.  It’s just pee.”

*        *        *

While getting the kids ready for bed, Rachel went downstairs to get the laundry.  When she came back, she said, “Jos, can you come here, please?”  Her voice was tense and shaking.  I followed her to the kitchen, not knowing whether I was in trouble, or whether someone had died.

“Everything in the laundry is completely red!”  The way she said it, I imagined that some small, suicidal creature had crawled into the dryer just before she closed it, and shed its battered blood on everything, in one last ditch effort to leave its mark on the world.  “One of them must have had a red dinosaur crayon in their pocket!”  She articulately emphasized every word.

“Let me see,” I said.  Sure enough, splotches of crayon on everything.  Even on the two new (thrift store) dresses she picked up the day before.  Even my undies.

*        *        *

When I saw Emeth and Rache struggling with dinosaurs and ruined clothing, I responded with frustration in the former, and attempted words of comfort in the latter.  Sometimes things happen that seem like a big deal in the moment.  Like the pee.  It was extremely frustrating to me.  But it seemed like no big deal to Emeth, and he was over it in minutes.  (The red clothing took longer.)

When I saw Emeth struggling with his dino assembly, I thought, “Is this what I’m like at times?  That I can’t see past my immediate circumstances?  Complaining about inconsequential things?  What does God think of me in such moments?  Does he have compassion, saying, ‘My dear child, I have so much more for you.  Let it go and rest in my arms.'”

With the clothing, Rache wondered if God was punishing her for loving her new dresses too much.  I understand why she was feeling this way.  We had just taken a whole van load to the thrift store, and she’s always struggled to find comfortable clothing.  It was like a double blow, getting rid of mistaken purchases, then having your good purchases taken away from you.

What does God think of our raw responses in each of these moments?  Is he a God who delights to punish us, and teach us a lesson?  Or is he gently reminding us, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Mark 10:15)  What did the child among us do?  He peed on the floor, made his daddy clean it up, then rested in the love of his father.  He knew I would not banish him from the house, or withhold his supper.  He knew I still loved him.  “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:11)

Yes, I’d like to be more like that.  A father who delights to give good gifts to my children.  A child who delights to receive good gifts from my Father.

Tidying up


We’ve always enjoyed our cleaning binges.  Emptying out drawers and closets, filling up a box or two (or five) for the thrift store, then neatly organizing the remains.  The only problem, though, is that those remains often remain in that drawer or closet for another year before we do it again.  Or, more difficult to deal with, Rachel and I would have differing opinions about one another’s stuff.  Things that I would readily do away with were hard for her to discard, and vice versa, since we value things differently.

This has been our pattern, until reading Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.  In it, Kondo argues that decluttering needs to be done all at once, and that if done correctly, your space will forever remain tidy, and you won’t “rebound”, only to find closets and drawers bursting at the seams, or floor space and shelves piled high the next week.  

Through Kondo’s simple wisdom, we’ve been inspired, challenged, and motivated to get rid of more possessions than we imagined possible.  She’s helped us to see beneath the surface of our inability to rid ourselves of unnecessary belongings.  To develop a philosophy of stuff that frees us from our slavery to that stuff.  She gives practical tools and tips for processing each category of possessions.  She starts with what is traditionally the easiest category to work through, then moves through to the most difficult: clothing, books (‘papers’ fall under this), Komono (miscellaneous items such as watch batteries, make up, greeting cards), then sentimental items.

The basic premise is that if you rid yourself of all your unnecessary possessions as quickly as possible, then designate a place for every single thing, then each thing will always have a home.  If it’s out of place, you’ll know exactly where it goes, and it will be easier to return it to its designated spot.  

Clutter is caused by a failure to return things to where they belong.  Therefore, storage should reduce the effort needed to put things away, not the effort needed to get them out. (142)

But having a “tidy” home isn’t the end goal.  It is a means to an end.  Kondo says that her client’s repeatedly tell her that tidying their space has freed them up to pursue the things they’ve always wanted to.  I think of all the projects or books I’ve intended to start or finish, and how when I see them all over the house I feel weighed down.

In other words, the fewer decisions you have to make each day, the more peaceful you will feel, and the more time and mental energy you’ll have to devote to the things that are important to you.  The things that “inspire joy”, as Kondo puts it.  It is a way to make time for what you love.  To focus on the person that we’re becoming, not the person we used to be.

No matter how wonderful things used to be, we cannot live in the past.  The joy and excitement we feel here and now are more important. (114)

Kondo’s philosophy of stuff seems similar to Jesus’.  That building bigger barns does not lead to freedom, but the enslavement of their owner.  That when it comes to our physical needs, we should live day to day.  To take no thought of our lives, and to not be anxious about food, drink and clothing.  

It’s an experiment for sure.  One that is not easily assimilated by my American mind.  But so far it’s been freeing.  

When we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future. […]

When one or the other of these thought patterns makes it hard to throw things away, we can’t see what we really need now, at this moment.  We aren’t sure what would satisfy us or what we are looking for.  As a result, we increase the number of unnecessary possessions, burying ourselves both physically and mentally in superfluous things.  The best way to find out what we really need is to get rid of what we don’t. […]

The process of facing and selecting our possessions can be quite painful.  It forces us to confront our imperfections and inadequacies and the foolish choices we made in the past.  […] It is only when we face the things we own one by one and experience the emotions they evoke that we can truly appreciate our relationship with them.

[…] If we acknowledge our attachment to the past and our fears for the future by honestly looking at our possessions, we will be able to see what is really important to us.  This process in turn helps us identify our values and reduce doubt and confusion in making life decisions.  If we can have confidence in our decisions and launch enthusiastically into action without any doubts holding us back, we will be able to achieve much more.  In other words, the sooner we confront our possessions the better.  If you are going to put your house in order, do it now. (183-84)



It seems especially difficult to stay level-headed in the mundane moments of life.  Last night, Rachel was out and I was responsible for washing up, giving baths to our four little ones, and putting them to bed.  Doing this with her is hard enough.  Alone, impossible.  I say to her regularly, “I don’t know how you do this every day,” and that’s only after I’ve been home from work for an hour.  She does the impossible, everyday.

Our children were playing, playing, playing while I was washing, washing, washing.  They were having fun while I was brooding over the dullness of my day.  An unfulfilling job, followed by the mundaneness of meal-making and dish-washing.  So, I was ripe to lose my head when Annie flipped over the kids drawing table and smashed her toe underneath.  Instead of nursing her injured toe, I firmly picked her up and firmly placed her on the couch, yelling in what felt like justified rage, at all of them.  “Why do you guys have to keep flipping over the table?  Can’t you just leave it alone?!”  I slammed it right-side up.  Besides, why do they?  Tables were meant to stand on their legs.  How would you like if someone kept turning you upside-down and jumping all over you?

Of course, it wasn’t the kids that had made me angry.  I had been brewing all night, and Annie’s flip-over was a tiny pin in my self-pity balloon, which I had been inflating all night.

Before I had children, I never expected to yell at them.  It seems a ridiculous thought.  Just as marriage arguments seem impossible to the uninitiated.  But the mundane moments of marriage and child rearing are an unexpected training grounds, it seems, for becoming more Christ-like.

Which sounds strange, now that I write it, because I certainly don’t feel more like a little-Christ.  Like a Christ-imitator, follower, lover.  I feel more like that vacillator, Peter, when Jesus washed his feet at the Last Supper:

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” (John 13:6-9 ESV)

By this point we were all melting down.  Not wanting to end the night in the present state of affairs, I quickly put Talia to bed, then sat down on the couch with the older three to read Madeleine L’Engle’s The Glorious Impossible.

Truth be told, I hate over-simplistic tellings of the Gospel story.  I recently came across a board book which portrayed Jesus and his disciples as white, American, disproportionate cartoonish figures, albeit dressed in tunics and sashes.  L’Engle, on the other hand, sets her retelling of the Gospel to Giotto’s frescoes from the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua.  These paintings, while also not ‘accurate’  in the sense that they are not realistic, transmit more than just Giotto’s impression of what Jesus may have looked like.  They communicate, rather, mystery, and just what L’Engle’s title implies.  That Jesus was glorious, his life and message, impossible.

In over-simplifying Jesus, it seems we are inadvertently stripping him of his mystery.  Of the impossible-ness of his call.  We are attempting to make him understandable, when Jesus himself proclaimed that he spoke in parables so that “seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.”  He turned everything upside-down.

Before reading, I apologized for getting angry and yelling.  It seemed insignificant to them, and Emeth just remarked that he wanted Annie to sit back on my lap, otherwise it’s hard for him to see the pictures.

The next chapter in L’Engle’s book was Jesus’ washing of the disciple’s feet.  L’Engle observes that Jesus, knowing that Judas would betray him, washed even his feet.  What an act of love!  Washing the disgusting, filthy feet of one who had already turned on you for a sack of money.

It’s easy to look down on Judas through the long passage of time, with the perspective of two thousand years, and judge him for being so foolish.  More than that, to think, “I would never do that!”  But in that brief moment, reading that brief sentence, I felt more his equal than judge.  I saw myself sitting at that table, dipping my bread in the same bowl as Jesus.  Then yelling at my children.  Wondering, “How can I call myself a disciple?  How can he wash me?”

But the fact remains.  He washed Judas’ feet.  He washed Peter’s.  He washed the feet of the Imperfect.

Free to fall… flat on my face


I’ve been there and back again before I had the chance to go there.  I was lost, but now I’m found.  I laid it on the alter, but received it back before slaughtering it.

Ten days.  That’s how long it took me to rescind my notice of rescission, and to get some sense (gently) knocked into me.  I am no longer on the verge of not having a job.

Last week I wrote about quitting my job.  But I’ve since un-quit.

How did all this come about?  What have I learned?  Am I just fickle?  What could I have done to avoid this?  Does that matter?  What is God teaching me?

Of course, such answers are hard to quantify.  Especially so soon.  But I think it’s important to try and understand my inner-workings, and to learn from my mistakes, so as to (hopefully) make fewer and fewer really stupid ones, and to become wiser as my hairs continue to gray.

But first, a special thanks to my wife, my parents, in-laws, the R-s, and my coffee-comrades for walking through this with me, and for their immense patience, their probing and thought provoking questions, and most of all, their prayers.

Last Saturday I visited my Grandma C. at the H- Behavioral Health Center.  She seemed to be recovering well, aside from some recall trouble and a slight tremble in her hands.  I mostly talked, telling her stories about our children and our garden, to try and soothe her mind.  At one point she asked me about work.  I didn’t have the heart to tell her I had put my notice in.  I assumed she’d worry about the obvious, of how we would put bread on our table.  (Gluten free, of course.)

I tried to communicate that the transition to this new office had been difficult, isolating, and slightly depressing, while trying not to sound too depressed.  “Your Grandpa always hated his job,” she told me.  Right out of the military he started working for the Postal Service because his brother encouraged him into it.  And he worked there till he retired at age 55.  “I always thought he should’ve gone to college, though.  He could’ve done more.  It would’ve been nice to see him pursue something he enjoyed.  But the children always knew he was doing it to put bread on the table.  He was a faithful man.”  Yes, he was.

Before and after visiting Grandma, we cleaned out our basement in an attempt to make room to pursue our new venture.  During the week I scavenged for pallets on the side of the road.  We were researching projects we wanted to work on, and discussing our ‘business plan’.  We were narrowing down our plan of attack.

In ten days we had done more to work towards our goal than we had in the last several years.  It occurred to me, “If we can pursue this while I’m working full time, why can’t I pursue this while I’m working full time?!”  Why put pressure on something, that we haven’t made a penny from yet, to put bread on our table?  The fact is, we need to provide for ourselves.  And it seems that God has provided this job for that purpose, obvious as it may sound.

Yesterday I explained all this to my boss.  That I made a mistake.  That we really did want to start our own business, but not like this.  That I need this job.  He, and everyone else involved, were very understanding.  God was kind.  I was restored to my post as the cup-bearer.

The adventure was short lived, but it allowed me to think from a perspective that I otherwise would not have had.  How many people can say that they un-quit their job?  Those ten days were full of conversations, prayer and reading the Bible with Rachel, questions, and introspection.  It forced us to focus on our plans, and to accomplish things we’ve wanted to for a long time (like cleaning out the basement).  It forced us to think about what is important in life, and the good gifts that we have.  About faithfulness and perseverance.

As we talked with the R-s this past Sunday afternoon while sipping coffee on the front porch, our children played in the yard, riding their trikes and scooters, swinging, laughing, and joyfully engaging every detail of their existence.  I’m still learning this, but older people generally are wiser, and have a patient, more reasoned perspective than I.  We talked about these little gifts from God playing in the yard.  And that jobs are often excruciating, or boring, or aggravating.  But that even in the agony of it, God teaches us to press into him.  To trust in him with all our heart, and to not lean on our own understanding.

We talked about having open lines of communication for when things get tough again.  Just the simple act of talking with another human being about our struggles, often frees us, and turns us toward the only one who can bear all our struggles with joy, and who can lighten our load.  “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

It is hard to learn the hard way.  But, in the words of Rosaria Butterfield, “Some people are smart enough to learn lessons the easy way.  Not me.  I need to fall on my face.”

Free to fail


“Happy anniversary, Honey, I quit my job!” I shouted as I walked through the door this past Thursday.  Welcome to our year of Sabbath rest.

I lied.  Only about the shouting, though.

But yes, you read correctly, I quit my job.  The notice is in.  In two weeks, I’m a free man.

Free to do what?  Well, I shouldn’t get ahead of myself.

I should say, though, it wasn’t all roses.  It didn’t feel like freedom right after I did it.  Rather, I felt a different kind of entrapment.  Like escaping from Alcatraz only to free-fall into crashing waves.

I’ve dreamt about this day, but always with an overwhelming sense of dread and fear.  The instant after I submitted my letter of resignation I panicked.  Oh, my God!  What did I just do?!  But it was too late.  I had already jumped.

* * * * *

It’s only been five days since the decision, and I’ve gone through a wider variety of emotions than I thought were possible for my tiny frame, within extremely short periods of time.

Thursday.  It had been quiet all week.  Week two at the new office, same company.  The office is in the middle of what is traditionally called a Business Park, which, for obvious reasons, is an attempt to pull the wool over our eyes.  (For, there is nothing in it that would otherwise make anyone with any sense at all compare it to any park at all.)  I felt that every movement, every noise, was a violation of some Unknown Company Policy, and a distraction to all my cube-mates.  I attempted to find relief at lunch, going out back to the picnic benches (some of which are actually in the shade).  But it was stifling, hot and humid, and cigarette smoke hung heavy around me.

I then tried lunch in the car, but same problem, minus the smoke.  Then I tried driving around, but there was nowhere to go except the mall and Starbucks.  Then I got really desperate, and drove twenty minutes to get coffee at the nearest small-batch roaster.  (And, man, was it good!)  But hitting traffic on the way back and stretching my lunch to an hour, I knew I couldn’t do that every day.  If you count the time lost, gas used, and wear and tear on my car, it was the most expensive cup of coffee I’ve ever purchased.

In short, the work was more numbing and sleep inducing than ever.  All things considered, I felt myself at a brink.

In the cube

I’m convinced that any job that can be done in this position, for hours on end, is not worthy to be called ‘work’.

I was distracted, dare I say possessed, with finding out what was on the other side of the wall known as Steady Employment.  What would I do?  How would I support my family if I broke through?  Ideas were racing through my head.  Ideas we’ve discussed before, but after entertaining each one for a few minutes, it would come burning to the ground.  Repeat, for hours, with little work being done, and no one seeming to care.

I drafted my letter of resignation in April, and pulled it back up for some revisions.  Changed the date, changed a few words around.  It was short and to the point.  “Please accept this letter as my formal resignation…”  I was sure to leave it with a positive ending.  “It has been a pleasure to work here and I’ve learned a lot.”

I pulled it up every two or three minutes to read it.  Then, after several hours, I attached it to an email.  Then, after two more hours I put HR in the ‘To’ line.

But I couldn’t bring myself to actually send it.  If I do, then what?  I felt paralyzed.

I decided that the only way to get break through my fear would be in gradations.  So, I put my cursor over the ‘Send’ button, and lowered my index finger very, very slowly.  *click*  Then I’d slide my mouse off.  *un-click*  Several times.  It was now almost quarter till five.  I wondered, If I don’t do it now, will I lose this resolve to move on?  I was afraid that a night of good rest would make me feel like all was right with the world, then I’d go through the same set of emotions the next day, and the day after, and the day after…

* * * * *

Every time I’ve discussed with others the idea of quitting my job, I’ve met unanimous counsel.  “Don’t do it unless you have something else lined up.”  Sound, wise advise that kept me out of trouble for a long time.  Why give up something that provides security, a steady paycheck, health insurance, employer contributions to my retirement, and paid time off?  Don’t be so foolish!  And I’d go on, in work I do not enjoy, as so many of us, understandably, do.

But there are certain decisions in life that, no matter how hard one tries, there is no way to prepare for all the contingencies.  Take marriage.  We flirted, we dated, we spent time together, got to know one another’s families.  We even read books, and talked to older, wiser people.  We asked every question we could think of, and were asked questions we didn’t think of.

Then we got married.

Our proverbial crumbling of the wall.  Gradually, our true selves were revealed.  And, wow! was it scary and ugly at times.  Prior to living together, we had absolutely no idea what real marriage was like.

It’s the same with becoming a Christian.  You can read the books, you can learn about Christians through the media, and you can spend time with them.  You can even read the Bible and go to church.  But there is no way to be sure that all of this Jesus stuff is true and relevant, solely through question and answer logic.  There is simply a moment where you leap forward, not knowing where you will land, or whether His arms will be there to catch you.

* * * * *

*click*  I paused, then lifted my index finger as slowly as I pressed it down.  Almost imperceptibly.  Then before I knew it… *send* …it was off.  The wall quaked, crumbled, and fell.  I was free.  And I jumped.  *splash* I had landed, and the waves were tossing me against the rocks.  I was treading water with all my strength.  Then a sense of dread fell on me, as though my head banged square into a rock.  What will Rachel think?  What will my parents think?  My in-laws?!  What about my landlord?!  And the list went on.

* * * * *

“Did you do it?” she asked, after a few minutes of silence on the couch, children climbing on my lap and asking me random questions.  She could see it in my sunken face.

* * * * *

The next morning word had spread like a virus.  I was getting inquiries from people about my decision, before I had even told anyone.

My boss called me early Friday.  “Can you swing up for a minute?”  I was nervous.  I thought about what I was going to say, but it felt like a jumbled mess.  How honest should I be?  What if he asks me where I’m going, or if I got another job?  What if he offers me more money to stay?  Will I give in so soon?

“What’s going on here?  You’re killing me!” he said, as I shut the door behind me.  (Context: I asked for more opportunity.  The opportunity was in NJ.  He strategically moved me to a department that needed help that I could offer.  It seemed like a perfect plan.  And I was destroying it.)

I decided to tell him the truth. “We’re going to try and start our own business.”

“Doing what?”  Yes.  What?  Good question.  So far my plans were loosely strung together.

“Making high quality things… out of wood… selling them…”  Yes, sounds promising.  Doesn’t it?

No counter offer, as there was nothing to counter.  Just “good luck.”

* * * * *

All weekend my emotions swirled between relief, regret, fear and excitement.  We talked about what was next.  About what it would mean to focus through this time.

Friday night, I woke in a sweat, feeling only blackness ahead, and a vague plan of how to proceed.

By Sunday night, after numerous weekend conversations, and a less than promising handing in of an application at an upscale restaurant, I felt more discouraged than ever.  I felt so stupid.  How could I be so stupid as to quit my job, without even the promise of part-time employment?!

We were tossing around different ideas, trying to gain focus.  Some ideas were too big, while others, paltry and small.  But all revolving around wood, leather and fabric.  I felt crushed, ready to throw in the towel, crawling back to my superiors at work and begging for a reversal.  I made a mistake! I wanted to shout.

Within minutes of leaving my parents, and feeling at my lowest point, we drove past three pallets that were in excellent condition, ready to be piled on top of our roof rack.  I pulled around and grabbed them.

For some reason, this small provision was so encouraging.  It felt like God’s way of saying, “I will provide everything you need, just when you need it.  Do not be afraid.  I will guide you through this time.”

* * * * *

This is day four.  Again, it all seems mysterious, but I feel more peace today than since Thursday, 4:46 pm.  I feel excited.  I feel ready to fail, and to learn from my mistakes.

I am typing this at work.  (Shh…)  Being somewhat on the ‘other side’ of all this now, I look around me and see the sadness and shallowness that is this job.  I see hunched shoulders and sallow faces, glued to double screens, clicking away in the dead stillness.  Muttering a few remarks to people as they stop by.  Smoking on breaks.  Guzzling caffeine (guilty as charged) to stay awake.  Leading dormant, subsistent lives, plugged into the Machine to benefit the few at the top, all for a paycheck that feels inadequate in light of what is required of us.

This is not criticism, but only empathy.  I know we all have more inside of us.  We all want more to our existence than this.  But for varying reasons, not least of which is provision for self and family, we continue on.

Maybe some people enjoy this.  I don’t know.  But I wonder if there are others who want to break free.

* * * * *

I wonder at times if Christians have taken Genesis 3 to mean that this sort of existence is acceptable because of the Curse.  In other words, “Tough luck, kid.  We weren’t meant to enjoy what we do.  Work’s going to be toilsome and you just need to suck it up.”

Yes, it’s true that work is toilsome.  But so is gardening.  So is raising children.  But alongside the toil there can also be the satisfaction in fixing a leaky pipe, watching a child blossom into a follower of Jesus, or harvesting vegetables after a hot summer of weeding.  Cannot work be both toilsome and enjoyable?   Or is soul-sucking employment part of the Curse of Genesis?

* * * * *

This morning I began listening to the audio version of Rosaria Butterfield’s The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.  I was not expecting to find anything in it relevant to my situation.  Anything that would encourage me.  I had simply heard friends recommend the book, and since it was being offered for free, I decided to give it a listen on my drive in.

Rosaria was teaching at Syracuse University at the time.  She was asked to be the Advisor of Undergraduate Studies, but others advised her to not take the position, as it would take time away from her writing and research, and embed her in University politics.  She decided to not follow their traditional advice, and to take the job.  She says:

Success comes when we build on our strengths… Doing something I loved and was good at helped me to get my writing and research done in an efficient and focused way.  Although risky, working from my strengths turned out to be a good risk, and I’m glad that I took it.  I felt vindicated in the principle that risks are worth taking and that gain is only sweet if you have something to lose. [….]

Where everybody thinks the same, nobody thinks very much.

At the time, Rosaria kept a quote from an unknown author on a ‘stickum’ on her desk, which read, “I would rather be wrong on an important point, than right on a trivial one.”  She goes on to say:

This quotation reminded me that when you make your mistakes in public, you will learn that they are mistakes, and being corrected, you will grow.  It also reminded me that being wrong and responding to correction with resilience was a higher virtue than covering up your mistakes so your students, and the watching world, assumed that success meant never being wrong. [….]

I’m a former gymnast and marathon runner, and I have always found flexibility and a steady pace to be more useful than perfection, or bursts of speed.  Winners have always seemed to me people who know how to fall on their face, pick themselves up, and recover well.  It has always seemed to me that without the proper response to failure we don’t grow, we only age.

I was not expecting to hear anything regarding risk taking, this early on in a book about a former lesbian’s conversion to Christianity.  But there it was, as though God was speaking (again) through her, into my time and place of need.

* * * * *

There is this ever increasing sense that God is guiding me very specifically through this time.  That he is giving the ideas and encouragement, one at a time, just as I need them.  There is a childlike trust that I can pursue my ideas (his ideas?) with vigor, and run into slammed doors and fall on my face.  And that he will pick me up, watch me stand there for a few minutes while I wonder which direction to go, then, just when I turn to retrace my steps back home there is some movement in the distance, some sound, some inkling, moving me forward, towards I know not what.  A sense that he has us on a journey, and that I do not know what tomorrow holds, but that regardless of whether I have steady employment, this has always been the Christian’s lot in life.

Give us this day our daily bread.
Lead us not into temptation.

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

Food, drink and clothing.  The things my mind immediately runs to in all of this.  How will I provide?  How will he provide?  I want to know.  I feel that I need to know.  But this knowledge is not necessary.  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5, 6)

Even if all this ‘fails’ in the human sense, God is leading and working through it.  May I be humble enough to accept my mistakes, to learn from them, and to recover well.

* * * * *

Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! […] Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

– Psalm 19:13-14

[…] establish the work of our hands upon us;
yes, establish the work of our hands!

– Psalm 90:17

Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.

– T.S. Elliot, Ash Wednesday

Cimms and punks


M: Daddy, at your new work will they still say you can stay home on Saturdays and Sundays?
D: Yeah.
E: And will they still say that Mom-Mom can come on Fridays?

* * * * *

If we re-use the pickle juice, it’ll be decaf water.

– Micaela

* * * * *

Cimms and punks.

– Emeth,  asking for cinnamon and pumpkin spice in his coconut milk

* * * * *

He washed us white as snowman,
He makes us Crosty [Frosty] Snowman.

– Annie, singing while we make play-dough

* * * * *

D: Look at the sky!
R: It’s so beautiful!
M: I see blue, yellow, orange…
E: And beach color!








Bring-backs, butterballs and brussels


Don’t worry, don’t worry
You’ll be alive all the time of your life

– Spontaneous song by Micaela and Annie

* * * * *

Why do the neighbors plant flowers but mow the flowers in their grass?

– Emeth

* * * * *

Context: When daddy makes burgers he is faithful to weigh the mass, then divide it by six, so everyone receives an equal share. 

E: Daddy, maybe next time you make hamburgers you could do four grams.
D: Four?!  I did ninety grams each.
M: Gramma Robins is ninety.

* * * * *

There’s a lot of ‘bring backs’ in that song.

– Micaela, after singing My Bonnie

* * * * *

This [is] mommy and daddy singing!

– Annie, while listening to Sufjan Steven’s, Greetings From Michigan

* * * * *

E: Caela, can you come upstairs with me to get my sweatshirt?
M: Sure! Annie, you wanna come too?
A: Sure!
E: Let’s all go so then we won’t be afraid!
M: Yeah, then we could all be happy together!

* * * * *

Daddy, when it’s just you singing by yourself without mommy, I can still hear her singing.

– Micaela, singing before bed while mommy was running errands

* * * * *

Context: Conversation at the dinner table. To Annie, cute and small are synonymous.

A: I hear a sweeper last night.
D: Yeah? Outside?
A: Yeah. [pause] Why I choke on a bwussel spout [brussel sprout]?
D: I guess it was too big.
A: I not choke on a cute bwussel spout.

* * * * *

How come Caela can’t curl her tongue but I can, even though she’s older than me?

– Emeth

* * * * *


– Annie, saying ‘excuse me’

* * * * *

This is how God makes the moon – he just lights a candle!

– Emeth, on creation

* * * * *

I wear that when I get small.

– Annie, about Talia’s dress

* * * * *

Context: Middle of the night, Emeth running a 102 degree fever, laying on the couch in and out of sleep.

E: Why are there animals in here?
D: There aren’t any animals in here, bud.
E: But what’s that?
D: That’s a pillow.
E: Oh… wait, why is the living room outside?

* * * * *

Mommy! My favorite nuts is butterballs.

– Annie, chiming in with the other children on what her favorite ‘nut’ is

Garden of dreams – If you cook it they will come


I was standing in line at a fast food restaurant.  I had put my order in and the despondent employees behind the counter were acting like they’d never done this before.  They would walk away and out of sight, then come back a few minutes later to put the next ingredient on, as though they had to ask their father superior permission before each step.  The line continued to grow.  And we, the patrons were growing restless.

I banged my fist on the counter in a sudden rage.  ‘What the h— is going on here!’ I demanded.

No one was behind the counter at this point, but when they heard the commotion, one employee rushed up to the abandoned burritos.

‘We’re sorry.  We’ve got a big catering order to fill for the R-‘s that’s slowing us down.’

‘Whadaya mean, son?!’ I yelled back.  ‘I’m going to the R-‘s house!  You think I came here because I don’t know how to cook?  I came here because I’m in a hurry!’  By this time I was yelling loud enough for the whole store to here me.  ‘I’ll get back there and fill your d— catering order with my left hand and make burritos for everyone in this line with my right in a minute, if you don’t hurry it up, kid!’

* * * * *

I walked into the supermarket for a tomato.  Just a single tomato for our salad.  Rachel had forgotten to pick one up a few days prior on her food shopping run.  The cold air blasted me as I entered through the sliding doors.

To my surprise, the local produce section was bare.  ‘What’s the meaning of this?’ I asked the person passing behind me, pointing to the empty shelves.  ‘Isn’t this the Garden State?’ I asked.

She didn’t say a word, but just shoved a newspaper in my face.  The headlines screamed.

 *NJ farms unable to grow food*   *Worst soil in America*   *Get out while you can*  

‘So it’s finally coming true,’ I said to myself.  I was afraid.  I wanted to scream but couldn’t find my voice.  I felt like I was unable to breath.

Then I woke up, head buried in the pillow.

* * * * *

I keep saying it again and again to Rache, ‘How in the world can you grow one of these things from a seed!’ while holding up a stunted carrot or rutabaga.

‘I’ve got the bug,’ I told a friend at lunch the other day.  ‘I can’t stop.  I’m dreaming about weeds now.’

Yesterday I thinned out the rutabagas.  I noticed there were a few growing too close to one another, so I uprooted them and rinsed them off.  Some of the arugula was going to seed, so I salvaged what I could.

rutabagasOurs is on the right.  The one from Whole Foods on the left.  As you can see, a little guy in comparison.  I picked a number of these though, and put them all together in a mash.

Sometimes people ask me, ‘How do you cook so healthy on a budget?’  The age old question, with a variety of answers based on one’s food convictions.  I think one of the most important principles, though, is innovation.  Cookbooks can be helpful, but only so long as they feed your imagination.  The worst thing is opening a cookbook, looking at all the deliciousness, then closing it again because you don’t have coriander.  Well, who needs coriander?  Skip it.  It’s nice to get to the point where you can just look in your fridge and see three elements of a meal come together in your head.

Last night it was…

  • 1/6th lb beef burgers with sautéed onions, kale and garlic, cooked in bacon fat
  • Freshly picked arugula salad, supplemented by store bought romaine, onion and carrots, with olive oil / balsamic dressing
  • Mashed rutabagas from the garden, supplemented by potatoes and daikon radishes

farm fresh dinner

The picture doesn’t do it justice.

Why 1/6th lb?  Because there are six of us.  I like to get out the kitchen scale and divide the final weight by the number of eaters, so as to ensure perfect fairness.  (Nothing is ever really fair with children, though.)

* * * * *

I had picked some kale in the afternoon.  Rache had been out for the morning, so, thinking she’d be hungry when she got back I fired up the cast iron pan to medium.  Once hot, I poured a generous tablespoon of bacon fat on, left over from breakfast.

I chopped a sweet onion, then let it simmer for a few minutes while I washed and chopped the kale.  (Kale, also from the garden.)

Once the onions started to brown at the edges I added the kale, stirring regularly so as not to let it burn or stick to the pan.  Once the kale started to crisp up, I crushed three cloves of garlic in, stirred for a minute, then turned the pan off.  Salt, pepper.  Done.

She ended up eating some other leftovers when she came home.  What to do with this delicious saute?  I tasted it.  Burgers.  Of course!

* * * * *

1 lb of ground beef in a mixing bowl.  Add in the sauté with some more salt and pepper.  Place in fridge to keep fresh while you prep the mash.

Wash rutabagas, potatoes and daikons (DIE-kon).  Peel the ruties and daiks.  Take out the bad spots in the tatoes.  Chop into cubes.  Place in pot.  (I also added leftover broccoli stems.)  Add 1 cup of bone broth.  Cover pot and bring to a boil.  Lower heat and let simmer.  Let the veggie cubes cook and soften.  The goal is a mash.

Wash and chop the lettuces and arugula.  Add diced sweet onion and shredded carrots.  Pour a generous amount of extra-virgin olive oil on top with a splash of balsamic vinegar.  Oregeno, fresh basil from the garden, and marjoram.  And of course, salt and pepper.  (Everything good ends in salt and pepper.)

Now form those burgers up and slap them on a hot skillet with a little fat.  You won’t need much, especially if you have fatty meat.  Let them cook till just before they char on each side.

Now that your vegetables are soft, take the lid off and let some of the broth boil away.  You don’t need to, though, depending on how thick you like your mash.  Stick blend the sanity out it all, then add a stick of butter.  Or, if you’re using Kerrygold, a half stick.  (4 oz.)

Do I need to say salt and pepper?

Garlic, too, if you’re feeling up for it.

*News flash*   *NJ family grows their own food and makes delicious meals from it*   *Get it while you can!*

Slow growth


IMG_2923Last November we started our first legit garden.  Well, I didn’t know it would be legit at the time.  I assumed it would fail miserably, as had all my previous attempts at gardening.  I don’t have a green thumb.  The only kind of thumb I ever developed growing up was a calloused one from playing too many video games.

I had read the books.  But now it was time to get my hands dirty.

We expanded what was the landlord’s vivacious tomato garden, into a 15′ x 21′ straw patch, hoping it would be a good winter cover.  But again, what do I know about this stuff?

In the above picture you’ll see little Anna Belle, crying miserably because straw was getting stuck in her boots and gloves and coat.  Her first thorn in the flesh.

Here’s an up close shot.

IMG_2930Poor child.  Face red-stained with tears.

* * * * *

I can sympathize with you, child.  I’m an adult now.  But sometimes, no, often, I feel like wailing.  I want to throw in the mittens because they’re just getting so ragged from work.

You’re a tough bunch, you kids.  Love for family is fierce, though strange at times.  We need one another to survive.  Well, really, you need me to survive at this point.  We get married and start having kids, having no idea what we were getting ourselves into.  ‘Yeah, I got this.  I’ve seen it done.’  But no.  We’ve got nothing now.  And with each passing, I’ve got less then nothing than the day before.

‘I don’t know how you do it, between this and raising four kids,’ a co-worker said to me the other.  ‘I’ve learned to just expect that I’m going to be a failure at everything, and that seems to make it all okay,’ was my response.

A failure in the most loving, and gracious way possible.  No one really tells you what it’s like to be an adult, let alone to be a married adult with four children.  I guess the fact is, no one really can tell you.  For if they could communicate the depths of joy and sorrow that just raising a family would bring, your brain would pop like a latex birthday balloon.  No one has the capacity to understand such a role until they live it.

* * * * *

Here We Go ‘Round the Mulberry Bush, second to last time.  I’ve been letting them each make up the next verse.  Caela, Annie, Emeth, Caela, Annie, Emeth.  ‘This is the way we…’ and I pause, and they add whatever insanity comes to their little child-mind’s.

‘This is the way we eat your beard!’ Annie says, coming at me with chomping lips.  I lose it with laughter.  I am tired, and I want out.  I want to be left alone.  I have nothing more to give.  But this song-game is starting to loosen me like red-wine.

* * * * *

How do they do it, these children of mine?  How do they split my sides with laughter, and make my head spin, all within thirty seconds?  Was I like this?  Did I play with mom and dad’s emotions like sand, sifting them through plastic play-things?  Was there ever a time I had not a care in the world but to be fed, clothed and loved?

* * * * *

I stared at Emeth on the see-saw.  Four year-old boy.  Lanky arms, bright eyes and an explosive smile.  He looks over at his mother and sisters on the other side of the playground, lost in some momentary thought.  Then we lock eyes.  Just for a moment.  My little boy, before you go trotting off to meet them, and I follow.

In that moment I saw not the little baby Emeth that you seemed to be yesterday, but a shadow of who you will one day become.  Of course, I don’t know for sure.  No one can.  But you just seemed so mature.  So old, when I still look (and act) like a child myself.

* * * * *

Micaela is six now.  Last night she was at mom-mom and pop-pop’s for a sleepover, celebrating.  A dinner of her choice (steak and potatoes), then a night on on Passyunk.  Rachel and I took the opportunity of having one less in the house to do some much needed organizing and cleaning.  Carla and Emeth each have an ‘artwork drawer’ on the shelf.  I hate throwing their artwork in the recycle bin, but due to place constraints, I sometimes force myself to go through their overstuffed drawers and decide somehow which art is worthy of retaining, and which is less-worthy.

Each child seems to go through themes and phases in their work.  Annie started with wide scribbles, followed by smaller scribbles in the imitation of handwriting, and has recently moved into the drawing people phase.  Little oblong heads with some semblance of eyes and mouth, and little feet that jut out like a tadpole.  The beginning of her drawing evolution.



Emeth really takes a theme and runs with it.  For awhile it was the daddy/Emeth truck series.  Endless pictures of him and daddy driving in the truck that daddy doesn’t have on the way to his ‘four birthday.’



That endless pre-occupation with the number four.


Then he started adding words as he learned to spell.  His uncanny ability to write his name backwards: hteme.


Then there was the scooter phase.  And now, it is the beloved Emeth with a blanket on his head underneath his baseball cap, riding on his doggy, Tuffy, or walking next to it.



IMG_3740 (1)

As I went through Micaela’s drawer last night, I noticed a vast collection of religious and spiritual work.  Drawings or paintings with phrases like:

GOD LHFS ME [God loves me]
Jesus is GOOD to ME
Jesus Love ME
Jesus is MOY LORD [Jesus is my Lord]
Jesus is GOOD
GOD is GRAt [God is great]
GOD MiE FiHR [God my Father]
GOD lam GODS [God lamb Gods]
GOD taks Ar Af ME – GOOD GOD [God takes care of me – Good God]
GOD LHf ME – PLES LHf ME [ God loves me – please love me]





Pictures with a cross in the middle.  Pictures of home, garden, family, and even  of her and her future husband.  Pictures full of love between God, herself, and those around her.






Yes we read scripture together as a family, but I often wonder if they are even listening, distracted as they are by one another.  But the Spirit blows where he wills, it seems.  Bringing growth and understanding of mysteries too deep for words.  ‘God love me, please love me.’  Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief.

* * * * *

The garden is in full bloom now.  We started these beauties from seed.  (All except the tomatoes in the back.) IMG_3736  IMG_3737

IMG_3738I never knew you could eat rutabaga greens.  But they are the crown glory of the garden so far this year.  We’ve sautéed them a few times in butter with onions for breakfast.  The radishes haven’t faired so well.  I think we had three good ones.  The rest were duds.  It’s very possible that all this beauty is in the greens, and that the actual roots won’t do so well.  We pulled up one of the four beets that came up, and it was a baby compared to those rubies at Whole Foods.

* * * * *

This morning I woke up at 5:30.  More rare these past few months.  I didn’t know what to do with myself, so I made some coffee and went outside to the garden.  The air was cool, and it had rained overnight, so I didn’t need to water.  I started pulling up weeds in the back squares.  Within minutes my hands were covered in cold, wet soil.  I looked at my filthy fingernails and tried to imagine all the microbials crawling in and out of me.  Fresh soil, gentle breeze, and caffeine running through your system.  There is nothing so life-giving.  So invigorating.

* * * * *

The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field.  It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches. (Matt. 13:31-33)

* * * * *

‘What is all this business about waiting, Lord.  I don’t like waiting for my food to come up out of the ground, or for my children to grow up into maturity, or to wait for the desires of my heart.  But you keep telling me to wait, to delight myself in you, to not be anxious, to pray.  To be still.

‘But how can I be still when there is so much to do?  So much to think about, and process?  If I don’t do it, who will?’

Then, of course, how pathetic I feel.  Like a child not trusting his (perfect) Father to give him his sustenance when he needs it.  ‘If you are a good God, you would not withhold anything good and necessary from your children, would you?’

God taks ar af me.  From the mouth of babies and infants.  Why can’t I rest in your arms, O God, as my daughter rests in mine?  God loves me.  Please love me!  Help my unbelief.

To fall into the earth and die


It feels silly to confess this, but I’ve always aspired toward ‘greatness’.  A vague term, but to me, meaning: being well-known, having a deep and lasting influence in the world, leaving a legacy.  Simply put: to be famous.

Of course, this desire will never be fulfilled in my lifetime.  (How could it?)  There is no amount of fame or recognition that would satisfy me indefinitely.  Which is, perhaps, why such a longing leaves me lifeless and breathless, forever panting after something immaterial.

While I wish that scripture always had immediate power to change my attitude and perspective – or perhaps, a better way of putting it is – while I wish I was always self-aware enough, and in tune with the Spirit of God speaking to me through his word, I am not.  While words like, “Whoever loves his life loses it,” should lacerate my pride, I am, rather, anesthetized under the knife.

Thankfully, God has not given up on me.  He speaks in a number of ways to get my attention.

* * * * *

Recently, in reading a book called A Different Kind of Luxury, By Andy Couturier, this concept (losing life to gain it) was rekindled.  He relays the story of Atsuko Watanabe who lives in on Shikoku island in Japan with her husband and two daughters.  They live a simple, quiet life, providing for their basic needs, while also fighting for social and environmental justice.  At one point, the author remarks,

I remember that she once told me she wanted to be like plants are, producing an uncountable number of seeds, or like wildflowers in a meadow, not thinking of herself as so unique and special.  “I admire how they simply sacrifice themselves, hundreds of thousands of seeds, and only a few grow into plants.  I’d like to be more like that myself.”

What a release of self-important, I think to myself. (p. 76)

This reminded me of that same passage in the John’s Gospel, where Jesus says, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies it remains alone.  But if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

To produce thousands of seeds, and only a few bear fruit.  Often, that thought scares me.  To work for a lifetime and not see the fruit of my labors?  For most of it to lie dormant?

I wonder if previous generations struggled with this as much.  I wonder if the digitization of everything causes me to feel that all must be recorded and praised (or liked).  Every dinner I make must be posted on Pinterest.  Every moment with the children captured on Facebook.  Every memory written down and capsulized for eternity.

In other words, there is constant temptation for me to capture or capitalize on every moment.  It can be very difficult for me to ‘just be’ with my children.

* * * * *

Sunday mornings are stressful because daddy needs to get to church on time.  The morning is ruined because of my sour attitude, and our hearts not prepared for worship.  (One of many examples showing that the clock has me wound around itself.)

* * * * *

Another over-familiar Jesus saying that has, to some extent, lost all meaning for me is, “Do not resist the one who is evil.”

Again, I saw this in fresh perspective in reading about Kogan Murata in the same book.  Murata, after saving up enough money to travel, spent a number of years in India, people watching, eating, and learning Hindi.  Murata says:

“At first I would get angry so quickly.  It’s hot there, right?”  He’s looking straight at me across the table.  I know what he’s talking about now: the constant battles with taxi drivers or shopkeepers, each attempting to get more money than was initially agreed.

“Oooh,” he says, using one of my favorite Japanese idioms, “my stomach stood up!”  Murata growls, “I got so like this”; demonstrating, he crunches up his face, all the muscles red and tight, squinting with one eye, the other one wide open with the eyebrow up over it, and his hands in fists above his head.

“And I started to think, ‘This is pointless.’  And I got tired.  Incredibly tired… I must have lost twenty pounds in my first month there.  So then I decided, ‘This is a total loss.’  After all, the argument was usually over five or ten rupees, I figured, ten or twenty yen [about 10 – 20 cents].  So I decided, ‘Forget it.  If they overcharge me, I just pay it.’”

“Really?!” I say, leaning back in disbelief.

“Yeah, they’d raise the price, and I’d give it to them, and buy them a cup of chai too.  We’d talk for a couple of hours.  And then,” he says, with a satisfied grin on his face, switching to English, “Everything is getting peaceful!  I was relaxed, all the time.  Can you imagine letting you head and heart get like that? ‘You bastard, you lied to me!’ and all that.  So I’d give him the money, and then go and get tea for him.  ‘Drink some chai.  Take some time.  Drink, drink!’  Really, it’s an incredible coincidence to meet this rickshaw driver.  And then he would say ‘Thank you’ to me.  That’s better, isn’t it?  I just thought back to my old way, fighting with them all the time, and I thought I was just such an idiot!  Ten or twenty yen!”

“But if the motor rickshaw driver charged you twice the price, you just gave it to him?!”

“Sure!  I’d say, ‘You want it?  OK, here it is.  No problem.’”  Murata’s voice is now utterly sunny and happy.  “Over something small like that, getting all…” he makes his face of mock fury again, eyes bulging out… “like that, it’s just a bad bargain.  So I changed.  My way of thinking turned all the way around.” (p. 109)

Interestingly, in letting go of control over the situation, and ‘turning the other cheek’, he stopped getting so angry, and was instead peaceful and happy.

In the words of the author, Murata espouses “the gospel of taking it easy.’

As I read his story, it occurred to me, that I am not much different than he in regards to my children.  It’s not just getting to church on time.  It’s doing everything on time.  I have the American disease of hurry, hurry, hurry through every moment of the day just to go to bed and do it all over again until you go on vacation for a week.  Everything from making breakfast, to taking a walk, to putting the kids to bed becomes a headless frenzy of short answers, scarfed food, and toothbrushes jabbed a little too far into the back of a child’s throat while barking out orders.

* * * * *

These stories have been ruminating in my head, along with those words of Jesus, over the past several weeks.  They’ve inspired me to conduct a little experiment this past weekend, called Not Looking At The Clock And Just Enjoying The Moment.

Hypothesis: If Jesus words are true, then I should 1) experience much more peace of mind and joy if I pay less attention to my own agenda, and 2) simultaneously have time for what is needful, as well as the things that God has given me desires for.

Goal: To be less like headless Martha, and more like submissive, worshipful Mary.

Here were the four, loosely laid out rules:

  1. Don’t look at the clock or your phone as much as possible
  2. Don’t think about the next thing but be fully present
  3. Let the kids (reasonably) interrupt you
  4. Say yes as much as possible
  5. Don’t take pictures

It started Saturday.  A leisurely breakfast, then several hours spent outside putting up a fence and building a door for the garden entrance.  Rache took the girls out to look for shoes, while Emeth stayed with me.  When it’s just he and I, he talks almost non-stop, alternating between conversations with imaginary drivers of his cars, and questions to me about everything he sees or thinks of.

After cutting off a few ends of a board, Emeth asked, “Are these for me?”

“Sure, bud.”

A few minutes later he came back with the pieces piled on top of one another, “Daddy, can you nail these together like this?”  He wanted to make a ‘car’ out of them.  So, I stopped what I was doing (though I desperately didn’t want to), got some nails out and started hammering.

Then, seeing some spare washers lying in the hardware box, I asked, “You want some wheels on here, too?”  (Thinking of, ‘And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.”)  And proceeded to screw on some shiny ‘wheels’.  This process went on for a little while as more pieces dropped onto the ground, and as he’d run back and forth, to and from the sound of the circular saw.  Little boy was happy as a bee in spring.

Rachel and the girls got back late from shopping, and went inside to prepare lunch while the kids played outside.  I think we ate around 3pm.

* * * * *

Sunday.  Called The Best Day Of The Week by one of my pastors.  I prefer to think of it as the Most Challenging And Anxious Day Of The Week.  The day I am supposed to slow down and rest.  Something I find nearly impossible.

To complicate things, we were going to visit the in-laws church about an hour away.  We are already usually ten to fifteen minutes late to our ten o’clock service (on a good day).  Their service starts a half hour after ours, so we had some wiggle room.  But we also had to pack extra supplies of food and clothing.

I didn’t set my alarm the night before.  We woke up sometime around 7 am.  Exercised, then showered.  When I finished, Caela and Emeth were awake.  Oh no!  No time to just sit, read and drink coffee.  “Can you read to us?” Caela asked.  I’d prefer to make breakfast, I thought to myself.  Instead, with my eyes lowered so as not to see what numbers the clock hands were on, I grabbed the hymn book and Bible, and we sang and read.

We went through our morning routine of food prep, packing and modest kitchen clean up, got into the car, read to Rachel on the way up, interspersed with yelling answers to inquiring children in the back seat, wind blowing through the wide open windows.

I finally checked the clock when we arrived.  Just a little before 11 am.  Not bad! I thought.  We arrived happy and peaceful.

* * * * *

The rest of the day, more or less, went on like that.  Attempting to be fully present, undistracted by all of the things tugging at my mind, enjoying the slowness and beauty of it all.  I think we arrived home around 8:30 pm.  The kids were (understandably) hungry since they were distracted playing with their cousins all day.  (Food, a distraction from the real fun.)  I laid down the law: No Food Later If You Don’t Eat Your Food Now.  I intended to enforce it, but realized (again) I was trying to control time, wanting to get the kids down as quickly as possible so I could go to bed as anxious as possible and with my stomach in knots.

Whether or not I did the right thing by going back on my word, I do not know, but the evening was peaceful and full of laughter as Rache and the kids sat around the dinner table, drinking milk, snacking on nuts dipped in butter and salt, while I washed up the remaining dishes.

Typically, on those late nights, I’ll rush through the bedtime routine as a last resort to save some time for myself.  My tendency is to lay down more rules to keep order in the bedroom, but it usually turns to chaos.  (Everyone, get in line!  March up the stairs!  Lay down!  Blankets on!  Quiet!)

Instead, that night we let them sit or lay wherever they pleased, or for Annie, to walk around with her blanket tied around her head, arms lifted as she sang.

By 10:30 pm, the kids were down.  Rache and I were tired, but not frazzled.  Again, we felt peaceful.  We spent a little time reading in bed, then, to sleep.

* * * * *

I tried doing the same thing this week, as I prepared breakfast and got ready for work.  Usually the last ten minutes are an insane whirlwind of scarfing food, abbreviated ‘shower’, getting dressed, packing lunch and snacks, and deciding which book(s) I want to read on the train.  Usually I forget something crucial, like deodorant or a wallet.  Instead, I kept my eyes off the clock, did everything I needed to, kisses and hugs, walk to the train, etc.  I got to work on time Monday, and was even early the rest of the week.  (I usually get in at the last second of the last minute of the ten minute grace period they give us.)

* * * * *

It seems that in everything Jesus said, he is trying to turn my perspective upside-down and inside-out, helping me to see that there is more to reality than I can calculate.  While I didn’t do much different this past week, while the events were nothing short of mundane, I was happy and peaceful.  My attitude was different, and I fought less with the kids.  I wasn’t anxious.  Perhaps because I was continually reminded to relinquish control over things I have no control over.  A way of letting God build the house, or watch over the city (Psalm 127:1-2).  Walking the line between lazy trust, and laboring in vain.

Perhaps this is just a taste of what it means to walk in step with the Spirit.  Not rushing ahead, but also not lagging behind.  Is this what God means when he says, “Cease striving, and know that I am God”? (Psalm 46:10 NASB) Or to fall into the earth and die, like a seed, that I might bear fruit?  Is that when I will begin to experience true life?

* * * * *

There is a phrase Murata wears around his neck while alms playing, “Without existence, without extinction.”  I think there is some wisdom to it.  Jesus continually taught that I should not be aware of myself or my needs.  Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.  Pray in secret.  Do no be anxious about what you will eat, drink or wear.  Give to the one who asks of you.  Do not exact revenge, but turn the other cheek.  All of it, a call to continually die to myself.

Does not experience and observation tell me that living like that is more joyful than always pushing for what I want?  Am I not happier when I don’t hold a grudge, or exact revenge?  Does not my marriage thrive more when I don’t grumble and complain when I feel our responsibilities aren’t evenly divided, or when I let go of what I think I deserve?

* * * * *

I fear dying, it’s true.  But only when I fear being nothing.  But Jesus calls me to be nothing.  Not to not exist, but to take no thought of my life.  To be like the flower that disburses thousands of seeds without caring how many take root and bear fruit.  Maybe this is another dimension of the parable of the sower.  Disbursing seeds upon all types of soil.  Some is choked, some eaten, some thrives.

* * * * *

Father, you have made me in your image.  You are the Creator.  I am the created who loves to create.  You have designed intricate beauty at the depths of the sea, at the microscopic level of the earth, and in the farthest corners of the universe that man will never see.  You care not whether it is seen and worshipped.  May I not care whether my creations, my seeds of sacrifice, my investments of time, love, and energy bear any fruit at all.  And if it does bear fruit, may I not care whether anyone is even aware that I was the one who cast the seed.  Make me unaware of myself.  Make me nothing, just as Jesus was made nothing.  Empty me of myself.  Amen.

Death almost took you


I’ve never been this close to death before
Not mine, but yours
Sweet Anna Belle

You choked on a brussel sprout
On my thirtieth birthday

I think it will pass
But you quickly pass
From choking to wide eyes
Those desperate, dilated, helpless eyes
Image etched in my mind

Helpless father
Help me, Father!
I cry with shaking voice
Oh God, no! God please, no!

Completely lost
In confusion of thought
Do I squeeze your abdomen
Or hit your back?
Will I lodge it deeper into your throat?

I don’t know
So I do both

I squeeze and hit
Like an abusive father
Harder and harder
But nothing works
Your face and lips turn beet purple

You go limp in my arms

Feeling your faltering life
Feeling burned into my skin
Turns my blood cold
And I pray my heart would stop
Instead of yours

I yell louder at your mother
To call nine-one-one
She fumbles for the iPhone
Dropping it to the floor

Your sister starts to scream

I don’t know what to do
You are fading, sweet child
You are fading, sweet Anna Belle

Instinct compels me to reach down your throat
To feel for that lodged brussel with my index finger

Something happens
I know not what
But something gives
And you sputter for air

Color returns to your face and lips
And we collapse on kitchen tile
Stunned and afraid

An eternity before you mumble
Brain in tact
Heart beating
Lungs breathing
Tiny hands reaching for glass of water

My mind running after
What could have happened?
Thirty more seconds
Would your brain work?
Another few minutes
Would you have died?

If you had
(ashamed of my thoughts)
I would have blamed myself
For not knowing how to save you
For not holding on tight enough
As you slipped into Death’s arms
I would have cried out
My God, my God
Why have you forsaken me?

When all my life, I’ve thought
If I were in Job’s place
Humble Job
(Humble Joseph)
I would say, as he did
The Lord gives
And the Lord takes away
Blessed be the name of the Lord

But now I know
I wouldn’t



There are only a few teachers that have left a deep impression on me.  There was Dr. Hsu, my piano professor.  Dr. Talbot, my Philosophy 101 professor (which was also the class I met Rachel in.)  And there was Jack.

He insisted that we call him Jack, but I couldn’t bring myself to it.  It seemed irreverent.  To me, it implied that we were old chums, yet he seemed so far above me.  He was a mathematical genius, and in his presence, I was mentally undone.  Like a child, tinkering with my abacus.

When he taught, the room was silent.  Attentive as an army rank before their Captain.  Even the most apathetic student sat bolt upright with pencil in hand and beads of sweat on his brow.

Jack treated all of us equally and gave none an unfair advantage.  He told us upfront, “You will have to work hard in this class.  If you at least show you’ve tried, I’ll give you a C.  That means you have to show up.  This is not a class you can skip.  If you skip, that shows me you don’t care.”  His words were firm, yet calm and even.  He’d pause, placing his left thumb, index, and middle fingers on his forehead.  Sometimes he’d pause so long you’d think he’d forgotten about us.  He’d look each one of us in the eye, and we’d shudder, or look away.  Then, just as calmly, he’d continue.  “And if you don’t care, I’ll fail your ass.”  And we knew he was serious.

As much as I respected him as a teacher, I could not understand his character.  Jack was Irish Catholic, and had been an orphan.  Once in awhile he’d tell us stories from his impoverished childhood.  And when he would get going, his stream of swear words would flow like milk in Spring.  Most people I knew at the time over-used or misused swear words.  But not Jack.  Each one seemed so appropriately placed, so tastefully used.  Adding to the effect of his story, rather than diminishing it.

* * * * *

Jack told us he was a Christian.  Occasionally he’d even end his lectures with, “A wise man once said…” and quote the words of Jesus.

This bothered me.  How can this man, who claims to be a Christian, use curse words like he does?  He is misrepresenting the faith!

It was my last semester.  My last course with Jack.  I was sad it would all be over soon.  He had stretched and challenged me.  But this one character flaw (or what I supposed to be one) still bothered me.

So, one afternoon, during his office hours (I had never gone before), I showed up with some questions about the homework.  (My cover-up for my real agenda.)  We went over the assignment, then I had a choice to leave or bring up my concerns.

I didn’t have the audacity to call him out directly over his use of language.  So I proceeded in a roundabout way, asking him about his faith, saying I was curious to know more.  How did it come about?  What led him to it as a child?

I don’t remember all the details of his story, but I do remember how humbled I was.  Here, I had been judging him for several years, and in the course of ten minutes I learned what a truly difficult childhood he had, and yet, how in spite of it all, God provided for him every step of the way.  He had always seemed so tough and hard in class.  But by the end of his story, he was crying, grateful for what Jesus had done for him.  More grateful than I had ever been for the same gift.

Three children born


Part twenty-five.


Five springs, five summers,
five falls, four winters.  
Three children born,
Under the shadow of poplars.
You and I,
in a covenant of love.
One merciful God
Giving grace from above.

* * * * *

The greatest of all our joys in our house under the trees was the birth of three more children, birthed in the comfort of our own bedroom.

February 8, 2011.  Rachel was already two weeks overdue, and we weren’t supposed to go beyond that date.  The midwife suggested a protocol of herbal extracts and using a  breast pump to initiate the contractions, which Rachel started at 8:30 in the morning.  It worked better than we were expecting.  The labor picked up quickly, and transitioned as the midwife arrived and set up her things.  Within two hours, our boy slid right out in the water sac, his hand up next to his head.  I caught him as the rest of his body emerged.  The water broke and our joy overflowed as we heard his first gasps for breath, and his vivacious cry.  “Oh, baby boy!  Oh, baby boy!” Rachel cried, again and again.  A little before noon Emeth Reid came, as sunshine streamed in through the bedroom windows.

* * * * *

July 27, 2012.  The contractions had started in the middle of the night, but Rachel didn’t tell me or the midwife until 6am that morning.  She didn’t seem to be in much pain, and I went through my usual morning routine, getting ready for work, in the event that the contractions stopped.  But they didn’t, and continued to intensify with no sign of relenting.  We had been in communication with my mom and the midwife, and they both were taking their time, thinking they had a few hours to go.  By 7:30 or so, the timing and intensity of the contractions really picked up.  We spread out our home-birth supplies in the bedroom, covered the floors, and kept texting the midwife.  I remember her saying something to the effect of, “I’m going to leave the house at eight.”  Okay, seems good enough to me, I thought, imagining we still had plenty of time.

Rachel paced back and forth in the house, groaning deep through her contractions.  Micaela and Emeth were awake at this point, and standing in their cribs, playing and laughing at one another.  Soon, Rachel went into our bedroom and leaned into the bedspread to muffle her groans, but the kids heard from across the hall and made a little game of echoing her.

Rachel: “Oooooh!”

M+E: “Aaaaah!”

R: “Oooooooh!”

M+E: “Aaaaah!”

At 7:53, Rachel’s water broke.  I texted the midwife.  Water broke.

Call me if you need to, was her reply.  I’m on the Ben Franklin Bridge.

My mom had not arrived yet, and thankfully the kids were still playing in their bedroom.  Then the reality of it hit me.  She isn’t going to make it!  Then, I remembered the midwife’s words to me, from the previous week.  She had said, If things are going well, all you have to do is catch.

I called the midwife and put her on speakerphone, just in time, for during the next set of contractions, Annie’s head popped out.  Miracle of miracles.  It was really happening, and we were alone in our bedroom!  I felt for the umbilical cord around her neck.  Check.  Not there.  I was zoned in, and ready to catch.  The midwife told her to push at the next contraction.  It didn’t take much (at least from my perspective) to have Anna Belle come sliding out.  I slipped my fingers under her arms, held her for a moment, then placed her on Rachel’s chest, where she wailed for a moment, then began nursing fervently.  Arriving prompt and hungry, at 8:00 on the nose.  I opened the kid’s door, “Annie’s here!”

At 8:05, my mom arrived.  I heard the door open and walked out of the bedroom with my hands held out in front of me, gloves on, as though I had been in surgery.  “What happened?!  Is everything alright?” She asked, with a nervous look on her face.

“Come and see,” I said.  Everything is just perfect, I thought, leading her in to meet her third grandchild.

* * * * *

When Rachel first found out she was pregnant with our fourth, she ran the idea by me of doing the delivery by ourselves, since we had delivered Annie alone.  No way, I said.

Over the course of the next few months, though, Rachel wouldn’t let go of the idea.   This scared me a little, but the more we talked, the more I softened to it.  We talked with the midwife about all the different scenarios and possible symptoms that would indicate that we needed to get Rachel (or baby) to the hospital.  We ordered extra homeopathics, herbs, and supplies just in case.

The day finally came.  April 15, 2015.  Again, labor started in the morning.  It was a warm, overcast, drizzly day.  The contractions didn’t seem to be relenting, so we called my mom, since she had agreed to come and help with the other three kids, and Rachel’s parents too.

The timing and intensity of the contractions slowed down just before noon, to every ten minutes or so.  We were discouraged, and hoped they wouldn’t stop altogether.

The midwife suggested a homeopathic remedy that we didn’t already have to help the contractions pick up.  So Grandma and Grandpa took the kids to pick it up at Whole Foods.  Rachel continued to labor slowly.

I had it on my mind to apply for some new jobs at the time.  What better time than now?  The kids weren’t around.  Rachel was laying on the couch.  I didn’t need to worry about making dinner since my mom had already started preparing it.  So I went online and continued to work on an application I had started.

Rachel got up and paced again, groaning louder during the next set of contractions.  “Are they picking up?” I wanted to know.  No answer.  After a minute, she asked if I could do a technique that the midwife taught us, called rebozo sifting.  Rachel was on all fours in the back room, and I held both ends of a towel, with the middle of it wrapped underneath her belly.  I lifted, and rocked her back and forth.  It was supposed to ease the pain of the contractions.

Wanting to take advantage of the downtime (between contractions) I walked to and from the computer, working on my application for a few minutes, then back with Rache and the towel.  Between one set of contractions, as I was typing away, Rachel said, “Jos! My water broke!”  The application can wait!

I ran back to the bedroom.  We had already put the birth supplies away earlier when her contractions were slowing down.  I spread out a shower curtain and some towels on the floor, and Rachel got down on her hands and knees.  Rachel’s parents and the kids returned from Whole Foods with the remedy we no longer needed.  They turned on some music out in the living room to help drown out any noises from the bedroom.

Things were progressing quickly now.  And I realized, There’s one question I forgot to ask.  How do I measure how dilated she is?  At that point, it didn’t matter though.  “Oh, Rache!  I see her head!  It’s so scrunched!” I cried.  Pretty dilated, I guess.  The next two sets of contractions were textbook.  First the head.  That beautiful, scrunched, oxygen deprived head, feeling the harsh atmosphere for the first time.  I checked for the cord.  Nothing.  Then, the next contraction.  I told Rachel to push.  Baby girl’s body started slipping and twisting out, and I slipped my fingers underneath her arms.  Our little Vitalia Joy.  (“Thank you, Jesus!  Thank you, Jesus!” was Rachel’s refrain this time.)  She was calm and alert, and barely whimpered.  Within moments, she opened her eyes, and stared at us, as though saying, Thank you.  I’m so glad to finally be here.  I gave her to Rachel.  She didn’t express any desire to eat, but rather, just kept looking at us.  Her whole face and body, full of peace.

Once Rachel was settled and tended to, I walked into the living room and asked,  “Did anyone hear a baby cry?”

“What? No!” said grandma.

In time, Vitalia nursed well.  We ate, put the kids to bed, and followed suit.  Needless to say, we were all exhausted.  Even Vitalia.  And in God’s kindness, we all slept through the night.

Part twenty-four.

The wisdom of Frodo


I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved.  But not for me.  It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger.  Someone has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.

– Frodo Baggins, from The Return of the King

Beav it up


Emeth, playing with dust pan and broom, imagining broom is a beaver.  Places ‘beaver’ at foot of kitchen table leg.

E: Daddy, I’m gonna put the beaver right here so that he can beav up the table.
D: Beav it?
E: Yeah.  He will beav it up and then the whole table will fall down!
[Then later, speaking to the beaver…]
E: Beaver, I wonder why you beav trees up.  Maybe ’cause you love to!

* * * * *

I need a quash-wash!

– Annie, requesting a wash-cloth after dinner

* * * * *

On a Saturday.

E: Daddy, it must be Sunday.
D: Why’s that?
E: Because there’s sun out!

* * * * *

This is my vacu-veen, and it’s bringing my water into my mouth.

– Emeth, comparing his straw to a vacuum

* * * * *

Annie and Micaela dressing their dolls, sitting on the kitchen floor next to the radiator.

A: I not wanna die in ner.
M: You won’t die in there.  It’s just a heater.  It’s just a little hot.
A: Oh.
[Emeth walks over]
E: Annie, wait!  That’s not your baby!
A: My baby!
E: That’s not your baby!
A: My baby!
M: Emeth, if you stop talking about it she’ll stop saying it’s her baby.

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