Onward: Kindergarten, Apples, and Hope

Honeycrisp apple treeThe fall that we moved to our hobby farm, my husband planted a small orchard of Honeycrisp apple trees in the front yard. The following year, we had twin babies, an active toddler, and one of the worst winters in memory. Newscasters kept calling it a polar vortex; I called it a one-way ticket to stay-at-home-mom insanity.

In the spring, (the late, late spring that year), a few of the apple trees barely leafed out. Some developed a blackish type of rot, and others just withered. Every so often, my husband would stalk across the yard carrying an uprooted sapling and add it to the burn pile. Meanwhile, he carefully tended to the rest of the trees: pruning, fertilizing, fencing, weeding, waiting.

Last year, seemingly out of nowhere, a few small, red apples dotted the branches. Jason hid the biggest one on the top shelf of the fridge, a ruby red trophy, and we marveled at it every day for a couple of weeks, waiting for just the right moment to cut into it.

Meanwhile, apple alchemy was working its magic in the little orchard.

This year, five of our most gangly, teenage-looking trees produced an incredible show of nicely sized, bright red, juicy apples. Afraid for the young branches and the weight they were carrying, we decided to pick last week, though I’m sure it may have been a little early. (Remember, it’s amateur farm hour here. We’re learning by… experience.) The girls joined me in carefully twisting off all the apples they could reach, and I couldn’t help but remember driving past the orchard that polar vortex winter, wondering how on earth those trees were going to make it.

***

Four years ago, we were in the thick of raising babies. My eldest was two, and our twin daughters were two months. For better or for worse, our life was about small, concentric circles; we moved around the house in reliable patterns – meals, naps, laundry, baths. Taking an outing required a ridiculous amount of prep work: diapers, clean clothes, snacks, wipes, extra clothes, socks, shoes, toys, etc. and so most days we stayed home, managing best we could.

I want to say, “fast forward a few years”, the way people do when they scroll through vacation pictures and only remember the highlights (conveniently forgetting all incidents of puke, sleeplessness, and wardrobe malfunctions), but the truth of the matter is this: those early years of raising little ones did not go fast. They were full of wonder and challenge, failure and growth. And like the apple trees, there were times I wasn’t sure just how we were going to make it through.

first day of kindergartenBut two weeks ago, I watched my eldest hang her backpack in her locker and walk into her cheery kindergarten classroom. We stayed for a minute, processing her emotions and getting her settled in before turning around and navigating back down the hallway full of eager and nervous students.  The following week, I watched the twins walk confidently through the preschool entrance and line up by the door. And just like that, my minivan was overcome with silence (Griff isn’t a big talker yet).

I drove a few blocks, parked, and pulled out the baby carrier. Griff and I commenced to take on a beautiful, albeit sweaty hike through the woods in Taylors Falls. (Twenty-five pounds of baby and carrier adds a new level to any exercise these days.)

For a majority of my walk, I kept thinking back to two things – apples (namely, the giant bags in the pantry needing to be processed) and waiting, an action I’ve struggled with all my life.

You see, I had to wait for those wimpy little trees to do something, anything.

I waited through those long, wintery days when my daughters tested every ounce of patience I could muster, and it felt like we’d never be able to open the front door without a mountain of snow spilling into the entryway.

I waited while I mowed in circles around the apple fences and weed-whipped around the trees, keeping them clear of intruding vines.

I waited through seasons of discipline when I sat my eldest firmly down on the stairs over and over, talking through actions and consequences.

I waited in the smoke of bonfires, watching the dry leaves of another failed tree darken and curl into ash.

I waited through shopping trips of horror where my daughters took the liberty to climb like monkeys out of the cart, eat Chapstick, tear tags off items for sale, land us in the bathroom multiple times during one trip, and demand to be fed every eight seconds.

I waited because I had the promise of something else to come alongside me through the difficulty.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4

I had hope. Firm, anchoring hope, a Hebrews 6:19 hope, that what God promised me through his recorded words was going to come true.

I wasn’t muscling my way through the daily grind without reason. I was waking up day after day, pouring bowl after bowl of cereal, mediating argument after argument, reading story after story, because I had faith that eventually my children would learn to do those things for themselves…and that my perseverance in teaching them the small things would prepare me in maturity to teach them the bigger lessons later on.

And then it struck me that here, in this season, some of the things I’ve been waiting FOR just climbed into the passenger seat next to me like it was no big deal. It’s like when you see your child make their own toast and pour their own milk and you feel like THE WORLD has opened wide up with progress.

We survived that first awful winter, and the ones after it, with a little bit of pluck and gumption. The toddlers that tried my patience are now talking about helping others on the playground and raising their hands in class. The apple trees are thickening their limbs, digging down deep to produce the richness they were meant to.

Our daily life, which used to feel so small, is now moving forward, not at breakneck speed, but with a steady, constant pace that I have grown to appreciate as I deepen my understanding of things like faithfulness, and patience, and hope.

Onward.

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Embracing Risk

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The door to the plane rolls up, and a blast of air hits my face. Everyone comes to life, securing safety googles, straightening harnessing, checking straps. Twelve thousand some odd feet below and sixty miles away, my family is going about their Sunday afternoon routine without me, because I’m sitting on a bench, rattling my teeth in the smallest airplane I’ve ever set foot in, strapped to a stranger I’m about to trust with my life.

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My tandem jump guide straightens up. The four pairs of jumpers ahead of us scoot their way down the bench to the front and launch themselves out of the plane. My friend Katie and I high-five each other like amped up high school football players, and I take a deep breath. Katie’s videographer, (all photos courtesy of Katie Folkestad and Sky Dive Twin Cities, Baldwin WI) Katie, and her tandem guide slide to the front, barely pausing before disappearing into the patchwork green landscape below.

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Katie’s jump

Somehow, it’s my turn. My guide and I awkwardly move off the bench and crouch in front of the open door. This is the part I assume everyone pictures in their mind – eyes frantically searching the unfamiliar horizon, hands clutching the overhead bar, calculating the risk, making that final decision whether or not to jump – except it doesn’t go that way. We face the open door for all of two seconds. I can’t tell you if my guide said ready, set, go, or if he counted 1…2…3… because somehow we just lean forward and tip ourselves out in the open air.

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Katie’s free fall. Phenomenal.

When Chris, my friend and youth pastor at church messaged me with the question, “Ready to jump?”, I didn’t know how to respond. He was putting together a sermon illustration and promotional material for taking faith-filled risks in the month of July, and wanted to know if I’d be interesting in skydiving with my friend, his wife Katie. I was standing in my kitchen, surrounded by dirty dishes and the chatter of my children finishing their breakfast. The idea of jumping out of an airplane seemed alien, so different and strange in the context of my normal life.

Jason and I had talked about it briefly over a cup of coffee before he took off for work, but with no real decisions or clarity.

Was I ready to jump?

Are we ever ready to hold hands with that kind of risk?

It seems to me that risk is something I try to steer clear of at this stage of life. I carry the weight of responsibility for my children, who are all still in various stages of physical and cognitive development, and it’s up to my husband and I to know what our kids are capable of – when to protect, when to push, when to maintain status quo. Risks are taken in a calculated, padded sort of way.

But this wasn’t about my children. This was about me and my faith. (Well, I mean, if I died it would be about my children and my husband, *laugh/cry*, but the likelihood of that happening was 0.0007%, much less than the risk of dying while driving a car, which I do every day.)

This was about my willingness to take a risk for something beyond myself.

The whole idea of taking risks is complicated. To be perfectly honest, it’s not often I see the need.  I enjoy wrapping myself in comfort – a solid family, close friends, good food, a snug home surrounded by nature. I like soft clothes and strong coffee and books with hundreds of pages. I revel in hot showers, clean sheets, and the smell of my favorite Aveda lotion.

But life isn’t about comfort. In fact, because I’ve decided to be a follower of Jesus, building a static, easy life built on maintaining my own comfort should be the least of my concerns.

“Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.”               John 12:24-25

But was I really, ready to jump?

***

Katie said I should scream, and she was right, because the cold crush of wind roaring in my ears and tangling my hair rips my breath away, and the best way to fight it is to roar a raw mix of fear and exhilaration into the wideness of the sky.

I know I’m falling, but strangely, it doesn’t feel like falling. The ground is so far away that the free fall loses any sense of urgency and instead, I find myself able to believe I’m flying, arms wide spread, screams turning into shouts of astonishment and adrenaline. After sixty seconds, my guide taps my shoulders, alerting me to the parachute that’s just opened above us.

We shift to an upright position as the parachute pulls up on our harnesses, and suddenly me and the stranger on my back are masters of the sky. I can’t help but kick my feet out wide like a baby does when his legs are submerged in water for the first time, excitement coursing through every inch of my limbs. We continue to descend, the air growing warmer around us. The guide asks if I’d like to do some maneuvering, which involves leaning and swirling one direction, then the other. This isn’t my favorite, and I’m thankful when the pressure of the turning subsides.

 

The drop zone is now in sight, and even though I shout that I could stay up here all day, my guide laughs and tells me I better just come back and jump again. We glide through the air, turn gently, and position ourselves to land on the drop zone of green grass at Sky Dive Twin Cities in Baldwin, WI. I lift my feet forward so that they’re parallel with the ground, which is steadily getting closer and closer. I try to savor the last few seconds as we come into land, my guide touching down and leaning back, pulling us down into a controlled slide on our rears.

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high five

The whole process took less than five minutes, and as I shake my arm and legs loose in the harness, I can’t quite believe it’s over. I am flooded with adrenaline, so loose and light in the warmth of the afternoon sun. Katie and I hug and high five again, and I find myself repeating the words amazing and awesome over and over again to anyone who will listen. And then, somehow, I climb back into the 4-runner and drive off down the road, back into normalcy and, in a split minute decision, the Dairy Queen drive-thru.

***

A week later, I’m under no delusion that I did something earth-shattering for my faith. Yes, I took a controlled risk. I conquered my uneasiness and got to jump out of an airplane, which was an incredible life experience gifted to me by my church. Did I change the world? No.

But what if, by practicing taking a non-essential risk, I was preparing myself for something bigger later? What if saying yes this time meant I’d have more faith, and be more ready to say yes to whatever came next?

What if being willing to jump gave me the opportunity to build my trust in One who’s never failed me yet?

That, my friends, is a risk I’d take all over again.

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These unexpected gifts

The summer morning air is cool and heavy. I instantly feel it resting on my forehead and arms as I cross the yard to let the chickens out. My yellow farm clogs leave dark footprints in the grass, proof of life in the quiet, early hours. I open the coop and watch the chickens pour out in a flurry of feathers and straw, then turn to the bigger coop housing the ducks and meat chickens. Something green hanging on the barn catches my eye.

Every so often in the summer, and usually after a rain, the farm becomes home to some amazing moths. We’ve found various Polyphemus types resting in the grass, but this moth was new to me. Her wings were a perfect creamy green, with four small, yellow markings, and her antennae were like an intricate ivory lattice that twitched gently.

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I finished chores and came back to check on her, and, knowing how excited the girls would be, decided to bring her inside. I gently reached my hand under her wings and waited until the delicate legs grasped my finger, and then slowly carried her into the house. The girls were thrilled, and no matter how many times I reminded them to move slowly and quietly, they shrieked and jumped with excitement.

Picturing a sticky preschooler foot as an untimely cause of demise, I scooped up the moth, which I later looked up and discovered was called a Luna, and set her back outside. After a wobbly start on the grass, the moth suddenly started shivering (a precursor to flight), and then caught the breeze and fluttered into the sky, looking for all the world like a delicate leaf suddenly come to life.

I stood back up, brushing my hands on my knees, and watched the grays and blues of the clouds marble the sky. And in that moment, I decided it would be a slow day for me and the children. A day for margin, for space. A day for looking for the extraordinary in the framework of our normal lives.

***

We spent the morning sprawled on the rug, playing games, clapping for the baby who practiced his squats and stands with the dogged determination of an Olympic athlete. His strong legs pushed him up and down, and I marveled at how tall he’d grown, and how much work it must be to learn the art of balance and motion.

We moved outside to the swings, the bikes, the trampoline. The baby joined me in the garden and learned the sheer joy of smearing, squashing, and raking his way through the dirt. I staked peas, pulled weeds, spent time staring at the intricacies of the flowers in bloom. Instead of rushing from one thing to the next, I slowed down. Took notice. Enjoyed.

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The rest of the day flowed steady, easy, like water from the garden hose. Please don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t perfect. The girls fought over stuffed animals. The baby cried and messed an extraordinary amount of diapers and clothes. I still did dishes and laundry and sweeping and the lego-to-heel dance of pain.

But somehow, those things were okay too. It seemed that having margin for both joy and error was equally important. After all, life doesn’t favor one or the other. Could it be that joy and error were necessary partners in the everyday?

***

Later, we piled into the van and headed for the library, where we ran into our neighbors and miraculously both had time to chat. A surprise text landed us next to my best friend for supper at the local Drive In, where our kids ran circles around the fountain pond and chowed down on hamburgers.

Out of nowhere, someone anonymously paid for our family’s meals. I looked up from wiping food off the baby’s face, and stared incredulously at the waitress when she told us. I couldn’t have been more surprised, or more grateful. We hopped back in the van and left the radio off, making time instead to talk about the about the gifts of thoughtfulness, of generosity, of blessing.

Later that night, I kept thinking, “I could have missed this entire day.” And in a sense, it was true. Yes, I would have lived and breathed for the same 24-hour period. But it would have been easy enough to hurry my way through chores before diving into house tasks, and miss the experience of the Luna moth delicately spiraling into the sky.

I could have skipped playtime to fold and put away laundry. I could have thrown together something quick for lunch instead of making my daughter’s favorite meal. I could have said no to the library, which would have then been easier to decline meeting up with my best friend, and not afforded me the chance for sharing an unexpected object lesson on generous living with my kids.

I could have missed it all.

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When I create space to say yes, to be awake, stay present, and actively appreciate the good things in my life, I rarely feel as though my minutes pass me by, or that they’ve gone too fast. Savoring my days ensures that even if I look back and yearn for a certain time period again (newborn stage, anyone?), I can know I lived those moments to the fullest, leaving no space for regret. Conversely, time moves slowest when I put the blinders on, doggedly pushing forward, bound by my own perception of duty in lieu of enjoyment.

And some days, that might be reality. Some days are meant for doing, moving, accomplishing. Some days run beautifully on a schedule. But when we’re given the opportunity and reminder to slow down, to watch, and to feel grateful, there’s endless surprise and delight waiting in life’s simple, unexpected gifts.

Living Life Unfinished

 

 

If I were organized, I’d be a killer list person.

Alas. If I manage to find a pen in my house (the child security locks on the office cupboard have long been hacked) and write out a few daily tasks, more often than not, I find myself staring at them at the end of the day, in all their bullet point glory, whole and uncrossed.

Let me tell you something. It’s tough to never, ever finish things.

The work ethic in my family is strong. My mom still wakes up at 5:00 am most days to exercise, shower, make breakfast, and tackle what needs to be done. My dad will run the combine at harvest time long into the cool fall nights. My husband will stick with a project for hours until it’s done, or he’s reached a finishing point.

Me, on the other hand? I move around my home in never-ending circles. Load more dishes in the dishwasher. Pick up the deflated socks that seem to be everywhere. Comb someone’s hair. Change the baby. Check the dryer.

Kitchen. Laundry room. Bathroom. Circle. Circle. Circle.

It’s work of the most frustrating kind. Things never, ever stay finished. As soon as the holy grail bottom of the laundry basket appears, someone throws another wrench in my Indiana Jones-like quest for clean clothes. Dishes get dirtied. Something spills and the floor has to be swept. The circle starts all over again.

I know it’s a phase, and that these days of my children being little are like the sunlight hours after daylight savings time: so very short. So I’ve been trying, trying to sit down in the middle of the chaos and be present. To be silly. To take *awesome* family pictures so I can remember life in this season. I’m learning to leave dishes in the sink. I don’t pick up toys every night. I can’t tell you the last time I deep cleaned anything

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But somehow, it’s still not working. I still find myself a little on edge most days, wanting to recount just what it is I’m doing besides endlessly picking up gently browning apple cores left out from morning snack, and supervising cleanup of whatever catastrophe happened while I was nursing the baby last.

Last night at a family birthday party, my sister in law recounted the wonderful stuff she’s been up to lately. Then the tables turned on me. My mind went blank. What have I been doing? Um. *Scramble scramble scramble* I’m…reading a manuscript for a friend! Painting a bedroom! Teaching Ellis not to use an entire bottle of shampoo in one sitting! Making a small attempt at national novel writing month (#nanowrimo y’all!) with the goal of two chapters!

See my exclamation points? Isn’t that big? And exciting? Have I convinced myself I’m worth something because I made a list? Yes? Yes? Yes?

Sigh.

As much as I’ve always wanted to be the serenely-listening Mary in the new testament story when Jesus visits two sisters, deep down, I’ve always know I’m the Martha clanking away in the kitchen, furiously working the dishrag, trying to do all the things.

The things that could have waited.

Because they were just that. Things.

Jesus didn’t care about a clean counter or a swept-up floor. He wanted to be with his friends, Mary and Martha. Likewise, when my daughters come tromping down the stairs in the morning, they aren’t looking around going, Wow. I sure feel safe and secure at home because the house is picked up. Not a chance.

They’re looking for me.

Which means maybe I need to figure out a new approach. Maybe I need to stop measuring the value of my work by the things I’ve accomplished, and starting looking for more places to be available.

Maybe I need to listen to more Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros, because if home is wherever I’m with you, then the best things I can offer my family are my empty, waiting hands.

And maybe one of those creepy automatic vacuum robots.

Maybe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Easter Doesn’t Feel All That Holy

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Two weeks before Easter, Grandma generously surprises us with a bag of dresses, all butterflies and flutter flowers in aqua and blue. The girls try them on the next morning and refuse to take them off, dancing like fairies to Stevie Wonder while the rain mixes with snow outside our farmhouse windows.

Later I sit down with my bible during the twins’ afternoon nap and think, Easter. I should read about Easter. I end up somewhere in Matthew 5 instead, reading through the beatitudes and trying not to yawn.

A week before Easter, I go through the drawers and bins, hunting for tights and sweaters and shoes. (Yes, that’s Midwestern snow in the background, thank you very much.) Nothing works. The sweaters are stained. The eldest has a bin full of neon tennies and worn out boots. The tights all say 6-9 months.

Somehow, our preparation for Easter keeps running that track. Clothes. Shoes. A nap instead of contemplation. Suitcases. Car repairs. All things irrelevant to the story of a man on a cross, a body gone missing, an angel in a garden.  

We pack the van and drive six hours across Minnesota and down into South Dakota to the farm where I grew up. We are immediately welcomed by family, activity, food. The next morning, the girls follow Grandpa across the yard, bounding like eager puppies. They relive my childhood of feeding livestock, petting cats, begging for tractor rides.

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I stand by the kitchen window, coffee in hand, witnessing this ordinary, extraordinary grace.

But later, the girls are tired and owlish, and we abandon the idea of going to an evening Good Friday service. My brothers and their families come over instead, and we eat dinner out of a giant skillet, talk, laugh, wrestle children into pajamas.

There’s celebration in this. I know there is. We extend grace to one another when the table never gets set and we eat chips out of the bag. Fellowship is washing the dishes together, snapping towels, telling stories.

It’s not the usual, contemplative celebration of the body and the bread, and maybe that’s okay.

The hard part is this: the holiness of Easter is not where I used to find it, sitting quiet in the pew of a small country church, and I don’t know how to feel it here, lying on the living room floor with a shrieking toddler jumping on my legs and the TV droning in the background.

***

I’ve always craved the holy bits and pieces of things. You know, the proverbial moments when the music swells, the lights dim, and sacred swirls around, unmistakable. The candles at dinner. That split second when everyone is laughing all at the same time and the sun is setting and the world glows in hazy, golden twilight. Moments when everything comes together, holy, unmistakably divine.

You too? Good. Welcome to the fold.

Here’s the problem. I’m also a parent. And as a parent, I find that holiness is not in the vocabulary of my very young children. Quiet times are interrupted by fights over a toy. Church gets skipped when the girls don’t sleep well, or refuse to stay with anyone but mama. Early mornings are cut short; books I’m reading go lost under the couch.

Too often, the moment I’m craving slips by, an unacknowledged guest at the wedding.

I can’t help but think that something’s wrong here.  Maybe you’ve felt it too. Maybe you’ve nursed your way through countless different services instead of listening to the message. Maybe you were relegated to the kids’ table after your toddler spilled her third glass of milk. Maybe you skipped church for months at a time because of traveling soccer. Or maybe church was never part of your vocabulary to begin with, but you still feel this draw, this quiet calling out.

The reality I’m learning, and relearning, is this: we can’t always rely on a church, or a moment, to hand us our portion of desired holiness on a silver platter.

What if having “unchurchy” moments forces us to create our own definition, a definition that says it is not the when, the where, or the artifice of stained glass that allows us to contemplate and celebrate the mystery and miracle of our faith?

What if our new definition gives us the freedom to do it when we can? Where we can? With whomever we can?

What if, instead of manufactured moments, we sought connection with God himself?

***

This is how I ended up celebrating Jesus’ resurrection by myself the Monday after Easter, while the laundry thumped around in the dryer. I finally had a second to breathe. My eldest was in preschool, and the twins were napping. So I dug around in the fridge and pulled out some naan (the closest thing I could find to unleavened bread besides teddy grahams) and filled a little cordial glass with juice.

I leaned on the counter, and I read the story of the Last Supper. This, my body, broken. This, my blood, spilled out. I took makeshift communion. I prayed. I looked out the window at the brown of spring struggling to unfold in the northern climes of Minnesota and breathed a simple, heart-felt thank you that had nothing to do with eggs and candy and hair bows and coordinating shoes.

It wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t choreographed or particularly inspired.

But it was space in the ordinary to recognize the sacred. It was searching out God himself, laying my simple gratitude at his nail-scarred feet.

Midday, barefoot, holy.

 

Friends, do you have ideas for drawing yourself, and/or your kids into unconventional celebrations of holy moments? Leave me a note in the comments. I’d love to hear how you balance the two!

Stories of Dark and Light: Hooking up with Night Driving Synchroblog

night drivingIt was dark the spring of my sophomore year of college, even though daylight savings time had bartered sleep for sun and the streetlights of Christian community artificially lit the campus where I lived all night long.

That year, dark did a strange thing to me.

Time stopped.

I mean this in the truest sense. In my world, time stopped passing normally. My anxiety was one of reverse chronophobia – instead of hours passing too quickly, they became painfully slow. Days seemed to widen and spread like the mold on the last few pieces of cheap bread I had in the kitchen cupboard. Hours that were not spoken for by class became a gaping chasm where I laid in my bed, pretending to read with my face to the wall.

The clock became an obsession. Twenty minutes in the shower. Ten minutes to get ready. Five minutes to eat breakfast. Seven minutes to walk to class. Class. Class. Then Break. A dreaded break. Where would I go? What would I do?  I’d plot where I’d walk, how long it would take me, and how to avoid eye-contact. Each move had to be calculated, or the wheels of my strange anxiety would hit pavement and I’d speed onto a highway of full-blown panic.

No one knew.

It was too hard to explain, and I didn’t really get it either. I didn’t know about triggers, and how easy it was to fall under the dark spell of depression. Meanwhile, the rest of my world was busy moving forward – something my anxiety with the clock prevented me from doing.  Other classmates excelled. Friends made new friends. A boy from another school that I’d had a deep friendship with told me he saw us always, and only, being friends.

I spent hours in my bed, clutching my bible like some sort of holy talisman. Sometimes I read it. Sometimes I just held the green canvas cover to my chest and mumbled intelligible prayers about wanting to wake up three hours later,  feeling normal.

And there, on the bottom bunk, staring at the brown metal springs of my roommate’s bed above, God did something strange. He held me. Quietly. Solidly. He pointed me deep into the Psalms, where I found David, a writer who seemed to understand how I felt in the pit and tangle of my fear.

I read. I read and I slept. My dip into depression was not deep, lasting about three months, though they were literally the longest months of my life.

Alone in my room, I read until I knew enough about God to believe what He told the writer of an Old Testament book called Ecclesiastes – that there was a time for everything and that somehow, time was not the enemy I made him out to be.

That spring, I also took a poetry class. I didn’t know anything about contemporary poetry, but I fell headlong into a world of metaphor and simile that threw me another means of rescue. My professor Judy encouraged me to submit my work to the campus literary journal, and my first published poem buoyed me to keep pushing into my darkness, prying into what it meant, and why it was happening.

I tell you this because I believe everyone has a story about dark and light. These are stories that deserve honor and space in our worlds for what they can reveal, and the ropes they can throw us.

Addie Zierman’s Night Driving is one of those stories. It catches you whole, packing you along with her carefully labeled totes and snacks and two small boys, and drives you down the interstate in a frenzy of giddy, winter escape. It makes you laugh with along with her wit and wisdom about gas station coffee and hotel pools, and think deeply about faith and the places you run from.

Night Driving is a perfect spring read, a realization that even a seasonal escape cannot bypass the reality that faith, like all living things, must endure the necessary dark and barren stretches in order to once again show green signs of life.

ANDDDDDDD… it releases today, which means you can buy it NOW at places like Barnes and Noble or IndieBound or Amazon.

Go ahead. Get one. You can thank me later.

 

 

 

 

The Amateur Farm Hour series

A few weeks back, I told you how I realized that sometimes, the only way to start is to START. Meanwhile, I’ve had an idea in my head for a couple of months now. I’ve waffled over the best platform for it, and have learned a couple of things along the way. 1. I belong in the blogging-for-dummies camp, technically speaking. I can talk a little talk, but when it comes to SEO and monetizing and GIMPing up my pictures, I’m too busy sniffing out the culprit of that mysterious stench upstairs (you don’t want to know) and scrubbing crayon off the kitchen floor. And 2. I have about thiiiiiiiiiiiis much time to focus on developing new ideas. See #1.

That was a long, roundabout way to tell you that for now, we’re simply starting a new series around here called Amateur Farm Hour. 

Yep.

Amateur Farm Hour. Because let’s be real.

What I’m doing is all amateur. I’m not trendily clad in buffalo plaid and shooties when I’m cleaning the chicken coop. (Okay. Shooties might not even be a thing anymore. I’m that behind.) I’m wielding a shovel that’s actually dirty, and a pair of worn out garden gloves that barely keep crud off.

My children aren’t always instagram-ready. Half the time, my eldest is in some sort of off brand pajamas. Ponytails are wonky, pants are too short. Shoes are a crap shoot.

What I put on the table is 50% awesome, and 50% overcooked/underdone/fallen/substituted/unpinteresting fare.

And pictures. Let’s talk about pictures. Because you know there’s the crop tool. The lightening, brightening, color temperature filtering options. Yes, good pictures tell a story. But rarely is it the whole truth.

The whole truth is that I could sell you on my attempts at a sustainable family lifestyle. I could talk blithely about our free-range chickens and their glorious golden-yolked eggs. I could probably manage some stunning shots of our heirloom Wealthy and Honeycrisp apple trees. I could show you my freezer full of labeled bags of garden veggie sauce from our raised-bed garden. Hashtag. Hashtag. Hashtag.

Meanwhile, you might think I have it all together, and follow this series because it’s a pretty place to find funny farm stories and fall recipes and to see cute kids.

And we’d both miss the point.

***

Yesterday, I grabbed an extra gallon of milk from the store. (For the record, that made four gallons of milk in my cart. Apparently we need a cow.) My goal was to make yogurt since the girls have been on another one of their crazes, and the new mantra/chant at breakfast is now MORE. BIG. YOGURT. PWEEEEESE.

We got home, and somewhere in the middle of the chaos, I pulled the soup kettle out of the cupboard, dumped a gallon of milk in it, plopped it on a lit burner, and put the lid on. Homemade yogurt is a multi-step process, and since it was already 4:00 pm, I needed to get moving.

And then I glanced out the door. The girls were rolling down the hill in the front yard, busting out peals of laughter.

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My oldest called out for me to come and join them, and it took all of three seconds to abandon kitchen ship, grab my camera, and run outside for the next hour.

We finally all piled back in the door around 6:00 pm, red-faced and covered in grass. I issued an immediate bath edict, but my nose was already starting to smell something else: the odd, semi-sweet fragrance of boiling milk. Boiling. Crap. 

Boiling means the milk is at least twenty degrees over the 180 degree desired warming point. Which means I’d basically annihilated my chance at having the yogurt culture.

Double crap.

I should have dumped the pot and moved on. A trained chef would not have thought twice about starting over. Unfortunately for me (and everyone around me), I’m not a trained chef. I’m a product of frugal parents and depression-era grandparents, and if there’s one thing that irks me, it’s waste.

After all, I could make…. a lot of hot cocoa with that milk. *gulp*

Which is why I added the yogurt starter, agave nectar and vanilla anyway. You know, because instead of wasting one item, it’d be better to waste four. Brilliant, I know.

Three hours into incubation, the yogurt refused to set.

I had also reached max capacity for any task involving real energy (mombie zone) so I haphazardly rearranged a fridge shelf, shoved the entire soup pot of warm yogurt-not-yogurt in, and went to bed kicking myself for ruining the batch.

_20150926_065517The next morning, I opened the fridge and stared at the pot. It was time to start getting creative. What could I use sweet, yogurt-laced milk for? Right. Muffins of some sort. I pulled out the mixer and got started. I made it halfway through the recipe before I took the lid off the pot to grab a cup of milk.

Miracle of small miracles, it had cultured.

I practically danced it to the counter. The yogurt wasn’t thick, but it was rich, creamy, and sweet. And aside from my failure to tend it properly, it still made something good. It was allowed to become something good because I didn’t give up. I waited for another angle. A new idea.

Maybe that’s how it goes in your kitchen, or in your office, or at your table too. Great ideas, good intentions, and then wham. Distraction. Need. Real life headbutts creative life and suddenly everyone’s knocked out on the floor.

Please don’t let that stop you.

Don’t throw away your messes, your failures, your imperfect attempts. You are not defined by these things. I believe you are fluid, and your definition rests in the cupped hands of God – God the creator, God the author, God the perfecter and finisher.

He doesn’t give up on you. He doesn’t see you as failed yogurt. He does not see your bad day at work or your temper with loved ones as who you ARE.

He understands amateur.

He knows sometimes, it’s the best show in town because those folks are having fun. They may not be doing everything right, but they have a good time trying.

That’s what we’re doing around here. Having a good time trying. It’s not always picture perfect or hipster-worthy, and that’s okay.

It’s amateur farm hour. And you’re invited.

In between posts, you can laugh along at my #amateurfarmhour pics on Instagram (@rachelriebe). Like how this series is starting off? Share it with a friend! See you next week!

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Because fashion blogging is slightly hilarious to me… tank top – past season Gap outlet. Pants – worn out Athleta jeggings. Little girl hairband/wrist bracelet – Walmart. Blade of grass kazoo – sustainable product of Riebe Farms.