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.

 

 

 

 

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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.

The (pre)School Transition

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It’s the Tuesday after Labor Day, which means one thing. If life were a musical, summer’s starring role is about to end. Her arms have been wide with bright days and lingering sun. She’s thrown her head back and sung rain storms. She’s dazzled us with gardens and greenery and growth.

But somehow, we’ve reached curtain call.

This morning, buses and carpools are depositing eager children at the front steps of schools. A new round of kids with combed hair and new backpacks will pop up on my news feed (bless you, Minnesota, for starting school after Labor Day.) Parents everywhere will be shocked for a moment by the palpable presence of quiet, the rearrangement of family dynamics.

Tomorrow is our eldest’s first day of preschool. And like most days, I’m sure she’ll run down the sidewalk toward the van, sun-bleached hair swinging, and for a few minutes, it will feel like any other outing. Three sets of buckles. The usual haggling over watching a show. Keys. Air conditioning blasting from the vents. Some sort of phantom squeal from the hood of my van.

And then, somehow, we’ll be at the double doors of school. We’ll navigate the halls and stairs to the preschool room, where I’ll gently nudge my daughter, blinking and tentative, onto a new stage.

Thankfully, preschool is like a year or two of dress rehearsal for the real deal. We’ll practice stepping in and out of a new routine for a couple of afternoon hours, three days a week, but not much else will change. At least in theory.

By this time, I’m sure you’ve read your share of articles and blog posts about this, so I won’t bore you with the nostalgic/sad bits about how I remember my first fall with my infant daughter, how I carried her everywhere in a baby backpack so she could see the wild brilliance of September’s colors firsthand, and how now she’s all grown up and going to school. *Sniff*

What I will tell you is that during that season of transition, I had to fight off darkness every single day. I was on maternity leave and my deadline for going back to work was approaching too fast. And while I tried to make the most of my time with my firstborn, much of it was tinged with sad. With fear of leaving her. Of adjusting to parts of my life without her, and vice versa. It seemed that from the moment she was put in my arms, I had to start practicing how to let go.

But it wasn’t just about letting go. It was about trust. 

I had to trust that I wasn’t the only one that was supposed to raise my child.

That in her lifetime, there would be a series of caregivers, teachers, aides, helpers, leaders, and professors in charge of her well-being. That other people were meant to be a part of her development.

As much as I hated having to accept this new concept in the beginning, I’m now incredibly grateful for it. It’s not about shifting responsibility or shuffling childcare duties.

It’s the widening of my daughter’s knowledge and the deepening of her experience.

It’s faith that she’s meant to be a citizen at large in this world, and that each instance of my letting go is the broadening of her capability. When she walks into that classroom, she will get to practice being a person outside of the context of our family.

And I’ll find (yet another) instance to practice trust. To kiss her and tell her she’s strong, she’s smart, and that she’ll do great. To believe those things enough in my heart to convey them to her with words.

Starting school could be another transition filled with worry and fear, if I let it. I question my daughter’s ability to listen and obey classroom rules the first time, every time. I worry about her strong will and mischievous bent. I wonder how my younger daughters are going to get their full naps in. I already feel constricted by the new schedule that hasn’t even started yet. 

But trust says these things will work themselves out. That it’s no use to worry about tomorrow, or get worked up about what may or may not happen.

Each day has trouble. Each day has grace.

And like any good show, we simply must go on.

Planning a 40-Day Fast

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If life is a river, I’ve hit a snag with my easy-going motor boat ways.

I told you that last week, I felt a current of change in my life. Most of it was because of the combination of reading this book Seven, and spending a lot of time talking things over with God and feeling that something was amiss.

Then I started doing some reconnaissance. I’m watching my life, seeing its areas of excess. I’m noticing how often I let my toddlers turn on the faucet and play in the sink. I’m noticing how many times a day I want to open the fridge or the cupboards for something to snack on. I’m noticing that I tend to throw clothes that aren’t dirty in the laundry instead of putting them away.

I’m noticing how much food we throw away. I’m also becoming aware of how much of my life is spent consuming or thinking about consuming, food or otherwise. And I know this is the place to start, for me. This book – A Place at the Table – and the commitment to a 40-day fast.

And then I read this today. Isaiah 58: 6-9.

“This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
    to break the chains of injustice,
    get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
    free the oppressed,
    cancel debts.
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
    sharing your food with the hungry,
    inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
    putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
    being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
    and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
    The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
    You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’

Well then. Sounds a little like divine placement in my day.

My country is still up in the air, but I’m leaning towards Mali, Africa. Our church has a partnership with them, and I have a strong interest in their Hands of Honor program, which works with young women who don’t have much of a future. More on that later. PS. I’m going to ask for your help brainstorming something.

Side note: I’m not planning on roping my family into this. As the head chef and grocery shopper in the house, I’m the one who has the most to learn about my perceptions, preparations, and mindfulness surrounding food. What I buy, the habits I keep, the food I serve – everything I do pours into my family.

This will mean extra work on my part, which is fine. It will also mean going into BEAST fasting mode in order to keep myself from snagging bites of my girls’ sandwiches and snacks, or whatever off-limits deliciousness I concoct for everyone else for supper.

What it mostly means is that I’m going to have to figure out this self-denial thing, which is probably the flabbiest part of my brain. I don’t really deny myself much of anything right now. I also have a strange habit of eating bowls of cereal before bed, because I think I sleep better on an occupied stomach.

Both of those things are going to have to change AND I somehow have to change them gracefully, because it won’t be fair to my family if I turn into a zombie. I probably won’t get any good writing done either, because I’ll mostly just be shaking out the keyboard looking for cookie crumbs THAT I WONT EAT. I swear. I just want to smell them.

Start date: After Easter. That means April 6, if I can research my foods, figure out how/where to get them (within reason) and get a hold of the book. A group of lovely people from my church are doing this as well, so I’ll have a good support group (read: people I can text and whine to about the gastrointestinal effects of eating so many beans.)

Wish me luck.

Better yet, if you’re interested, join me? Leave a message in the comments or email me if you’re interested in taking part. 

Stepping out of the way (blog hop with the Creative Jayne)

Hey guys, today I’m linking up with Kayla over at The Creative Jayne for her Encouragement Community blog hop. Kayla and I got to spend a day together letting our kids play while we talked about her ideas for starting a mama’s group in our church, and I was so thankful to get to know her better. Her heart is wide open and she’s funny, sweet, and has an amazing eye for design. Please take a few minutes to poke around her beautiful blog, check out the other two lovely writers in the hop here and here, and explore Kayla’s recommended vendors. Then head back here to hear what I learned from *gulp* speaking in front of a group of teenagers this week.

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The room was mostly dark, save for the stage lanterns and a string of blue lights slung across the front. I stood on the corner of the front steps, microphone in hand. The group of high school kids I was speaking to were all on their knees, bending over a giant roll of brown butcher-type paper rolled out across the floor, scrawling down things they were thankful for.

Just moments before, they had been huddled, arms out, everyone finding a shoulder to reach out to. They gathered around one boy in the middle – a boy who came up to me during one of the opening songs and whispered a story that broke my heart. A boy who asked if we could pray for him as a group.

Later in the evening, I looked back and saw every body standing, singing, their voices wide with emotion. For the sake of the world, burn like a fire in me.

And me? I had been preoccupied/worried for days. Reading. Writing down verses. Staring at my computer screen. Not because I was afraid to get up in front of high schoolers to talk about prayer. Not because I dislike public speaking. Not even because I couldn’t figure out anything to wear except a flannel shirt, which has become some sort of uniform for me.

Honestly, I just didn’t want the students to think a praise and worship night was weird.

Here’s the great part of being a mom to children under five. THEY DON’T THINK I’M WEIRD. They don’t judge. They accept me as I am. The greasy hair, the tired eyes, the clothes I may or may not have worn yesterday… none of it matters to them. (And for these things, all mothers of young children say amen.)

But I know they will get older, and inevitably, it’s not going to be cool that mom can talk like a monster with her belly. That beautiful innocence. Gone.

So I want to believe I was maybe a teensy bit justified being worried about standing in front of high schoolers, talking about PRAYER and GOD and singing quiet songs in a dark room.

Except that I shouldn’t have been. The kids I spoke to that night were incredible. They listened. They reached. They cared for another and, according to what I was reading in their scribbles and pictures of gratitude, they cared A LOT about the world around them.

Who was I to *almost* get in the way of something they needed to learn and experience because I was too worried about what they would think? What would have happened if I allowed myself to worry too much about their opinions.

I know it’s cliche to say it, but I had to step out of the way. I had to quit worrying what the students were going to think about a prayer and worship night.

I had just had to talk honestly about the things my heart knew about prayer – how it’s easy and beautiful and real and raw, and how God wouldn’t have it any other way. How communication between our heart and His needs no filter, no formula.

What more can we do in our day to day lives if we take the fear of what others might think about us out of the equation, and simply love them for all they are worth? How would that change the way you interact with the people in your life and around it?

Let’s be a community willing to speak from the realness of our hearts and the blue and broken honesty of our lives.

What Mary was Really Thinking

garden_statue_maryTonight at our Christmas Eve service, I watched an amazing friend bring some of my musings about Mary, the mother of Jesus, to life. I cried. I laughed. I watched Mary step out of her stained glass, stone-carved perfection and become a real person.

Christmas is steeped in tradition. For me, Mary was a Sears nativity figurine in a blue robe that was always caught in some sort of ceramic breeze. She was beautiful. Untouchable. In my mind, she was perfect – the woman God chose to carry his Son. She knew what she was doing, right?

Then I became a mother, and I realized none of us really knows what we’re doing.

No matter how perfect every picture, every icon, every statue might make her look look, on the night of Christmas Eve, Mary was a scared girl in a cow barn laboring through clenched teeth.

I don’t know where you’re at this Christmas. But maybe you’re like me, wanting to hear an old story with new ears. If that’s the case, my version of a window into Mary’s thoughts is for you. Merry Christmas, friend. Merry Christmas.

****

Breathe. Breathe.

No room. No room? Who says “no room” to a pregnant woman? I know. I know. Census. Travelers. I’m thankful for a roof. But wow. I’m going to have a baby. In. A. Stable.

Breathe. Breathe.

Father God, I have no idea what I’m doing. I don’t know how to have a baby. This is my first time. And I don’t know how to handle it. It hurts. Do You hear me? It HURTS. For the record, my mother didn’t say anything about this part. It was all “your sweet little hands” and “just a few pushes.” Right.

Breathe. Breathe.

Joseph told me to lie down. Like it’s that easy. On straw. STRAW. Dry, dusty straw that’s been sitting in a barn for how many months. No thanks. Think I’ll stand.

Breathe. Breathe.

Father God, I don’t know how to be a mom. I mean, I don’t even have any diaper rags along with. How is this going to work? No really. He’s your Son, but he’s still going to need his diaper changed. Everyone says it’s instinct. I’ll see Him, and I’ll know what to do. But really, will I?

Breathe. Breathe.

Why does no one talk about labor? What is it – some sort of secret code? Rite of passage? How long is this going to last? I wonder if anyone left the inn early. I really want to wash without a bunch of cows around.

Breathe. Breathe.

Father God, keep Him safe. Keep me safe. Keep Him safe. Keep us safe.

You wouldn’t bring me all this way to lose your child, right? The angel didn’t say anything about that. He said I was going to have a Son. So it’s going to happen. I’m going to have this baby. Your baby. In a stable full of cows.

Forgive me. It feels a little…strange. Why here? And why me? Wouldn’t it have been better to pick a mother who’s already had children? Who knows what she’s doing?

God, I honestly don’t know where I fit in all this. I don’t know how to be a mother to your Son. I’m not perfect. I lose my temper. What if I mess up? Can I mess up? Are You going to be mad at me?

Breathe. Breathe.

Do you know the hardest part? Ever since I was a little girl, I loved hearing the shouts when firstborn sons were born. The family would get up on the roof and call out, and everyone below would stop what they were doing and clap or dance.

But no one knows we’re here. My firstborn deserves all the shouting in the world, God, but instead it’s going to be quiet on this roof. Silent.

Well, except for the cows.

Breathe. Breathe.

Hush little baby. Mama’s here. Daddy’s here. Father’s here…. Always here… Hush. Please come. Please come soon.

I love you.

Letter to my little girls

IMG_3920 (800x533)Dear daughters,

You are the chocolate in my cake and the butter on my bread.

You are a month away from turning 1 and 3, constantly changing, growing, moving, speaking, thinking.

Your milestones are built on routine and care.

You are full of glory, made in the image of God.

You are full of wind and frustration.

You reach and still can’t get things. You speak and we correct your speech. You climb and we pull you down.

You are still figuring out where the boundary lines are drawn.

You scream your desires into our days, always wanting, wanting, wanting, not always understanding when we say no.

You want to taste the batter and lick the spoon. Your eyes light up when sweetness hits your tongue.

You think mangoes are heaven.

You know that the world is broken every time something hurts, and this we can’t explain until you’re older.

Your toddlerhood is part wonder, part terror. It is like loving a tornado.

Your babyhood is stretching, growing muscle and grace, approaching girlhood. You watch the way things work. You learn seemingly without effort.

You are not a job. Or a skill we can become good at. Some days everyone fails.

Raising you is like raising up a house from an endless pile of boards and nails, windows and doors. It requires tools we don’t always know how to use, skills we don’t yet have. It is repetition, repetition, repetition.

Sometimes things fall and break.

Sometimes we all have to start over, gathering up the pieces from the sawdusted floor.

And some days we hang a door on the first try, wondering at the ease.

You are gracious with our efforts. You grow. Take shape. Learn how to open and close things on your own. Learn how to occupy yourself, live within the frame of your body.

Still, we want you to be more than a body, a structure, pretty lashes and a roof.

We want you to become the definition of home.

Haven to those around you.

So we keep building. Hammering. Hollering. Trading tools.

You are labor and love, and we learn that these two things must coexist.

That love without labor has no depth.

That labor without love cannot produce beautiful things.

That cake needs chocolate, and bread needs butter,

and we need you

to round off all the sharpness in the world.