Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Posting at Preventing Grace from now on. Go there! Bookmark it! Please don't reject me! I really long for all your love and continued reading!

Monday, February 24, 2014

a change

I have long been desiring a new blog.
Not because I haven't loved posting here all this long time. As the years have wended themselves away, through crisis and quiet, through babies and exhaustion, always in the church, always with a big pile of laundry and a sink full of dishes, I have lived here working out my salvation with fear and trembling. Looking back through eight years of posts there are some bright moments and some funny hysteria but really this has been the mundane recording of ordinary time. It is here that I got into the habit of writing, both the discipline and the glory. Of all the things in my life, blogging has become a true place of pure uncluttered enjoyment. It has never been a chore, never a trial. It has been a 'duty' I imposed on myself for 'fun'. 

And every year I've become a little more hostile to blogger and a little less hostile about everything else. Why, many have wondered, is her blog called An Undercurrent of Hostility? She seems nice, if overly sarcastic. What is she hostile about? And is it really an undercurrent? 

Well, when I started writing here I grasped about for a name for a blog. It was a new thing. I wanted in. And I come from a large extended family where sometimes, in-spite of all the love, my father used to say 'you could cut the undercurrent of hostility with a knife'. So, I thought, that's a great name. I love being hostile. And I had so many things to be hostile about--the apostasy of TEC, our being sued and losing our building and moving home and church in a bleak mid winter, a culture that is becoming more and more coarse and violent and broken. And I was occasionally hostile about sin, both in myself and in the world. I could go on listing all the various undercurrents of hostility for a while.

But I tried not to, in all my writing here. More and more I didn't want the hostility to be the Main Thing. I wanted to keep track of the funny and ridiculous, of various ordinary miracles that sorted out and ordered our lives, of what interesting things God was saying to me in his word. I wanted always to be writing something, even when I should have been doing other more important things.

And then, a long while ago, Matt and I thought, suddenly at the same time, that it would be awfully nice to blog together. We do everything else together--house, children, church, cooking, everything--why not blogging. And so after thinking about it for a year and then messing about with platforms and thinking all the time about a new name, last week jumped in and bought a domain name and I accidentally moved all my archives over. We're finding our way around a new space, a more complicated space, but a much much cooler space than blogger ever allowed.

The new name is Preventing Grace ( We try to prevent God, all the time, from doing his will and arranging things in the best way, but God's Preventing, as in Going Before, Grace, leads and guides us. We say Prevenient now for grace, what with language always changing and moving along, but I like the old word working along with the new word. God's Preventing Grace is stronger than our preventing him. 

I'm sure there will still be an undercurrent of hostility here and there. I'm sure you will be able to find it. But it's not the Main Thing. I hope and beg you'll follow me over to Preventing Grace and comment and book mark and come along for a new chapter, another decade of Ordinary Life with God's Preventing Grace.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

seven quick home schooling takes

I'm a pretty cruddy homeschooler. Every year I learn a valuable lesson but it's always because I was blind to something obvious or something terrible happened that derailed me, bringing me to the brink of failure, and I learned stuff in the middle of the suffering. Like the year we moved across town in the dead of winter and the whole year devolved into watching you tube clips and trying to make up songs for all the CC memory work. So I've learned a lot. But none of it will be useful if you aren't a person who walks around in a blind terrifying fog, afraid to look at reality because you know it's really bad.

So here's seven quick things I've learned about homeschooling.

You have to teach the children to read and do math. This may surprise some of you, but I'd encourage you to add it to your homeschool day. Teaching reading is a real enormous drag and makes the average adult human want to jump out of her skin and run naked and skinless into the snow, screaming and crying. But you have to do it anyway. One helpful thing, as you're beginning to teach a child to read is to know, in the way that you know God know, that every single child will not be able to learn to read in the way that any other single child learned to read before her. So if Teaching Your Child to Read in 100 Lessons (and what a misnommer that title is) worked with your second child, it won't with your third. Know also that one of your children will try to win the battle and Not Ever Read. You should not let your child win this battle, any more than you let them win any other battle. Remember, what doesn't kill you just makes you angry and bitter, but that's ok, at least your child can read.
You oughtn't to have to do school before the child is seven. I know that all the states in the union make you report before then and so you should definitely "do school" and teach them stuff, but all the years before seven are going to be a time of suffering that you could probably skip, if you were allowed to do whatever you wanted. As it is, at seven, so many things click into place, not least the ability of a child to sit and do something sensible that doesn't include the destruction of every material item you hold dear. 
February will always be a drag. You can try and do a bunch of stuff to make it better, but you will probably always want to die in Febrary and you will probably conclude that you're whole life has been a miserable wretched failure. I've heard this is true for every human person in the colder climes. Don't actually chuck it. The year I did I was proved to have made The Wrong Choice. Remember, don't have a baby in February because then you will have to celebrate a birthday every year in February. 
Don't try to run your home "school" like a school. The reason you're homeschooling is because you don't want to stand out in the snow with your child waiting for the school bus at six o'clock in the morning or whatever. Sleep till 7, pray, read some of the bible or have it read to you by the internet, eat a good breakfast, work out, take a candle lit shower, anoint yourself with oil and nail polish, open the living room curtains and fluff the pillows and finally enter magesticslly into the school room with your coffee (half hot milk, four tablespoons of cream, one tablespoon of Lyle's Golden Syrup, one quarter cup of coffee) at ten o'clock sharp and find the children working hard since 8 so that later they can play. Train them to work alone so that your morning routine will not be disrupted. Arrange your flowers 
and drill spelling and multiplication and otherwise dispense wisdom and advice. 
Take breaks. Don't do school All The Time because of panic. Take a holiday in the summer and at Christmas and if you're sick, think about resting for an hour or two. If you can't walk through the school room, take a half day and clean it instead of pushing forward with your curriculum. I know it sounds insane, but it is possible to progress more rapidly when you can find all the books easily. Remember that ice skating is PE and you are not "missing school" you are "in PE". But still, don't yell at the people who are questioning your life decisions. Don't shout "Don't question me!" as you skate away, say, "physical activity is so imortant in the winter! But don't worry! The children sit still and silent all the rest of the day!" Feel guilty for lying.
Structure your school year around the date of Easter. If Easter is early, start the year late and plan a long holiday around Holy Week and Easter Week. If Easter is late, start early and finish the year before Palm Sunday. The longer you celebrate the passion and resurrection the more it will become moored in your children's spiritual lives. Don't try to do anything else but be in church and pray and eat junk food after church every night. Buy a pink pair of shoes for Easter Sunday and collapse on Easter Monday knowing that not only is Jesus risen, but all you have to do now is standardize test and plant a garden. Drift into depression because life has suddenly lost all its structure, focus and meaning.
Pray. Pray all the time. But don't pray scared. Don't not ask for patience because you think God will make your life more frustrating to "teach" you patience. Don't not ask for humility because you think God is waiting to humiliate you. You are already in frustration and humiliation for screaming and yelling and having a filthy house and not meeting your own expectations, let alone the state's or anyone else's. When you are a homeschooler and you pray, God gives you grace. People say this all the time but they never spell it out, which I find extremely frustrating. When you ask God for something, like, say, the ability not to yell at a particular child for a particular offense, and you throw yourself down on your face and beg him to have mercy, he will, when you're sitting in front of that child consider whether or not to yell, remove the desire form you, miraculously. Or, when you can't get the children to spell anything, not even their own names, and you throw yourself on his mercy, he will improve their spelling, or give you some insight into how to make it click. It's not just that he died and rose again, it's not just that his "grace is sufficient for you", is not just that you have to "lean on him". No. He will answer specific prayers for particular problems when you ask him. Because he loves you. He's not going to make it worse by "teaching" you into more suffering. Just ask, and he gives. That, I think, though sometimes I'm not sure, is what Grace means. That when you throw yourself down, God hears you and loves you, even for your children, even when you fail.

So there's my seven takes. They're longer than I thought they would be. I hope they inspire you to homeschool...just kidding. Put your kids in school. No I'm serious, right now. Stop reading this and enroll them, and mine.

Mercy and Muttering

I've always thought it was a great mercy that Moses didn't get to go into the Promised Land. Certainly it was a judgement to work so hard but then not go in to enjoy Israel's inheritance, only standing on a mountain to see what all the fuss was about before being gathered to your people. But it's like God jumped at the very first opportunity to keep Moses from going into the land, knowing that he had done a complete work and someone else needed to carry on from there. I sometimes wonder which of the disappointments I have suffered were actually a point of God's mercy. By refusing me something I'm pretty sure I need, it may be that I am not going to face something I would ultimately be happy not to face. 

Moses had worked very hard. Israel was going in to the land but they wouldn't be having a rest right away. They had to conquer and then build and plant and settle and put everything in order. Moses was an old man and full of days. Building and planting are more work. He was ready for a true eternal inheritance. Still, if it had been me up there surveying the landscape, I would have been muttering.

It makes more sense, or comes full circle....what is the word I'm grasping for....the sense of disappointment dissipates when you come to the Ascension. Jesus does a full work of atonement and redemption and oblation and satisfaction. He brings his sheep safely through. He conquers evil. He does what he came to do and then, as he rises up on the cloud, surveying the landscape, it's not a picture of muttering but of relief and joy to be going to sit at the right hand of the Father. It's the disciples who stand around covered in disappointment. What do you mean we have to go on without you? 

But Jesus going away was the greatest mercy. Sitting at the right hand of the Father, interceding for us, living in us through the Holy Spirit, conquering and building and settling in and putting everything in order--he doesn't rest, though his glory must be a rest for us.

Either way it's mercy, and with it a measure of grace. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Wordy Wednesday

like to think of myself as a reasonably good cook but lately, maybe because it's February, there are always at least two kids walking right up to the Complaining Line, if not actually crossing over it. 

Our kids aren't allowed to say anything negative at meal times about the food. They can express preferences at other times. Like in the parish hall of the church to their friends they can say insane things like "I don't like bacon". Hey, your dislike of bacon is objectively wrong but you're welcome to be stupid. When you come to the table, however, you get to leave your negativity over there, far away from me the cook. If you have bacon on your plate and you don't like bacon, you have to eat it with a smile on your face. You don't have to say you like it, but you can't complain. If you work yourself into a froth and and actually throw up, you're in a world of hurt. And I don't mean that metaphorically. 

So they've gotten creative in their effort to let us know how they feel about the food.
"I really love this," someone will say, "I'd really like to save it and eat it on another day."
"My favorite food is just like pasta only it looks more like rice."
Stuff like that.
Of course, with your sixth child you have had your will beaten out do you and so that child will say "I don't Wanna eat this!" and run away fast while you pour yourself another glass of wine and decide you don't care anymore.

So I was really surprised when all the dinner was eaten by everyone last night without any veiled complaining and no one pushing the food around into little piles and getting thirty cups of water. I mushed some ground beef in a pan with onion, garlic, green pepper and carrot and then Matt did something to it to make it taste like tacos. Then we shoved it in 56 cent Aldi taco shells with cheese and lettuce and it was all gone. Too bad when I sweat and slave and fuss it's apparently "just as delicious as all your other food, I just love all that other food better". 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

a little offensive bible reading for your day

I am getting through Numbers as best I can on these bleak mornings and am finally up to chapter 30. I always feel that a book should be over by chapter 30 and yet so many of them go on for another 30 after that.

Numbers chapter 30 is a long instruction about vows. If a man makes a vow, says The Lord, he shall keep the vow or the oath to which he binds himself. He shall do, says God, all that proceeds from his mouth. That is the substance of verse 2. Verses 3-15 cope with the eventuality of a woman making a vow. 

There are at least two interesting things to notice about a woman making a vow. First, it's terribly complicated and fraught. You can see a whole ancient household being thrown into turmoil upon discovering that their young teenage daughter has gone to the tent of meeting and promised something stupid. Or, I can see an old couple bickering vociferously because she vowed something and he didn't really want her to. Look out across every marriage everywhere and you can see how complicated something as "simple" as a vow can become. The text reflects the fraught trauma of familial life.

Second, how old the woman is and her status as a daughter or married woman are important. If she is young and unmarried and living with her father, her vow is handled a certain way. If she is married her vow is handled a certain way. If she is widowed or orphaned, that is a different matter. I say 'handled a certain way' but really it just means that if she is yet unmarried with a father, or married with a husband, that is, neither a widow nor an orphan, her vow can be nullified by either her husband or her father. The father or husband can "oppose" her and then her vow no longer exists.

Well, thought I this early morning, that's not very fair. I mean, I know women are stupider, certainly Matt, as everyone knows, is my intellectual superior, but I have a relationship with Jesus and if I want to make a vow, I should be allowed to make a vow, mumbled I to myself this morning.

But then I listened to the chapter again and heard the hint of something I thought I'd heard before. If the father or the husband "in the day that he hears of it" "says nothing" the vow stands. The text identifies particularly if she makes a "thoughtless utterance". So, let me get this straight. Young girls and married women sometimes make "thoughtless utterances" or promises they don't have the means or intention to carry out. If their husbands or fathers hear about it, those husbands and fathers have the opportunity to rescue their daughters and wives from the consequences of those words. But, and I bet this happened a bunch, sometimes fathers and husbands heard about it and couldn't be bothered, and then the woman was stuck with doing whatever she said she was going to do.

Hmmm. I wonder where we've see any thing like that in scripture before?
I'll go ahead and tell you in case you haven't read it before.
Much longer before this chapter in Numbers, in that primordial dust up in the garden, Eve had to stand around wrestling with Leviathan while Adam, Who Was With Her, kept silent. He didn't say anything. He didn't do anything. She sold herself away to the devil and he joined in. If ever a vow or an oath should have been "nullified" or "opposed" that was the moment. 

This happens so so often in marriage. The woman is wrestling her way along, trying to oppose evil and love God, and the man, who is supposed to be studying the law and protecting her and bringing her close to God, is standing around doing nothing and saying nothing. In the church, she signs the family up to do everything and he leaves as soon as the service is over to watch football, or he doesn't come at all. She exhausts herself, and usually out of love for Jesus, and he can't be bothered.

But here, in Numbers 30, is a glimpse, a foreshadowing, of the correcting saving grace of the second Adam who didn't stand around saying and doing nothing but finally went out to battle Leviathan himself. God offered  under the law, a picture of a good father and a good husband who would hear and stand with the woman, and protect her from Satan. And I bet some fathers and husbands did avail themselves of this chance to love and protect their women. Just like there are plenty of vigilant fathers and husbands who are with wives and daughters and who are more like Jesus and less like Adam.

Is it "fair"? Well, it wasn't fair of Adam to abandon Eve. And it's not fair of Jesus to rescue you and forgive you for the stupid vows you make, but he does. So I'll take Numbers 30 as a blessing and get on with my day.

Monday, February 17, 2014

an olympic rage: in which i am an elitist judgmental snob

We've been enjoying a nice respite from family movie nights and reality in general by watching the Olympics whenever we have a spare moment. We don't get to it enough to watch the cool stuff, like curling, and it seems like I'm watching one particular ice dancing routine over and over, but we have seen some snowboarding and cross country skiing and finally some bobsledding. I'm surprised how much I enjoy watching the actual sports and how exciting it can be. 

Which is why I think NBC should be sent away for some reparative therapy and the gospel for their treatment of Bode Miller in prime time last night. For those of you who were fortunate enough to miss it, after tying for bronze medal, an NBC interviewer accosted Bode not to ask questions about the technicalities of his run but instead to focus her ratings driven reportorial gaze on his personal life, reducing him, finally, to a weeping broken fetally positioned puddle of sorrow. NBC filmed it, edited it and ran with it. And I and Matt rushed desperately around looking for the remote trying to end the anguish and despair, crying out in rage at out helpless condition of having to watch something so inappropriate and weird we might as well have been in a Real Housewives of New Jersey set. To try to connect us emotionally to a grown man at the top of his sport, as if his skiing is so inconsequential that we can't be bothered to care about it, that what really matters is that his brother recently died and that he has a hot hot hot Olympian wife whose every word must be audible to the entire American public, is shameful.

I know there are a lot of factors bringing American culture and life into a cesspool of debauched stupidity, tv being one of those at the top of the list. There's a reason we don't ever watch it except for the Super Bowl and....hmmm....I think we watched something some time ago but I can't remember what it was. So anyway, I know that one reason tv is so dumb is because the people who watch it are dumb and we accept the stupidity and become stupider for accepting it. And one of the stupid things about America is that we (and I use 'we' here very loosely so as to not include myself) don't care about real things, real objective true things, we only care about how it makes us feel. So what's going on in the world is not important to me unless I can feel something about it and since I don't have any feeling about Syria, who the hell cares anyway. Bring it to sports and the actual sport is a great bore to me unless I know something about each sporting person, something about their intimate life, that let's me feel "connected" to them and then I'll awaken my dull dull mind to some kind of feeling and watch them slide down a melting snowy slope. Except for ice dancing, apparently I'll watch that all day long with no problem.

Do I sound bitter? I am. I'm made so tired by American civic appeals to my emotions. It's like when I couldn't get out of the hospital without watching the Shaken Baby Syndrome video. Six times I had to watch it. And do you know how they tried to guarantee that I won't shake my tender and precious offspring? By trying to make me fear, emotionally fear, that I might accidentally do it. I might just so lose control of myself, as a hormone soaked dumb young mother, that when the baby cries, I might just pick it up and shake it. Not one rational, logical, objective, fact based appeal to my intelligence and mind was made in the Shaken Baby Video. 

Americans, I think, love to see other Americans cry. And they'll goad and push until it happens. And every time it gets a little more boring and a little more stupid. Because there's so little appeal to the mind, to real thought and intelligence, the emotions and feelings careen around our lives like overwhelming little Honey Boo Boos. "Watch this! It will make you cry!" we lob heart wrenching youtube videos back and forth through cyber space trying to feel something and "connect" to others. But the less there is the more immediately the feeling dissipates and we have to looking for another fix.

Friday, February 14, 2014

happy valentine's day mummy (and everyone)

Another great celebration of a Christian Martyr turned into a secular moment to eat chocolate and spend money you don't have. And hold the one you love up to an impossible standard. Will he fulfill all my longings? Will he meet my expectations? Does he love me as much as I deserve to be loved? It is a perfect American Expression of the average dysfunctional, wrong headed, regular relationship that most everyone seems to be either in or looking for these days. Except me, of course. I love Matt with an agape, life giving, self sacrificial, Jesus like love. That's why I calmly and rationally told him that if he didn't take me out to dinner he would be miserable for at least three weeks. Twelve years ago I would have waited for him to figure it out. See? Just like Jesus.

Anyway, the great thing about Valentine's Day with children is that it's about having a party and going ice skating, which is what we're to do because we finished our third quarter yesterday. The list of things that we've finished for the year? History, Geography, Science. But not spelling and math and writing. I have a small glimmer of hope. And! Elphine has been sewing.
Here is the purse she made herself, completely unaided by me or anyone.
And a bible cover.
She wanted it to be red because I have so much red around. Now I have to glue the poor bible. It's so mushed and beat about.
Oh! And speaking of joy and wonder, Mom! Look what came back into my life!
It had been filled with hydrangeas and was being safely kept by a nice person who loves us both and who handed it back to me on Sunday. And! I didn't fall and break it as I was walking home in the snow. It's just as beautiful as ever.
So I'll be making a big gorgeous salad this weekend in honor of you whom I love. 
So many people to love, so little time. Six of them require breakfast and me not sitting here thoughtfully considering the nature of love. So, I'll leave you with a true expression of love, from the 
Holy Scriptures, a little verse from my readings this morning, "And the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?” And he said, “No.”
Happy Valentine's Day! Hope you all have a beautiful weekend!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

february brings more snow

Gladys was copying out that ridiculous poem yesterday 'January brings the snow, makes my feet and fingers glow (what does that even mean?). February brings the rain thaws the frozen lakes again (rain and again are supposed to rhyme presumably).'
Gladys read it out and then looked up in confusion and wonder. "What month are we in?"
"February," I said, making some kind of small effort to surpress some bad words. "I don't remember who wrote this poem," I said, "but February never brings the rain and March doesn't bring the flowers." We were all seven of us huddled around the heater in the school room, sniffling and warming our cold fingers like something medieval. There were constant fights and jostlings as each tried to be as near the heater as possible without touching it and being burned. And now the snow is dumping out of the sky again. It's a valentines day miracle. But Binghamton hasn't canceled school. Heh heh heh. Suckers.
So I bought myself some flowers. It seemed the only thing to do.
And I carry them to whichever room I'm in as a coping mechanism.
Matt tried to say that because he had said I should sometimes buy flowers that somehow this counted as him buying them for me. 
"No," I explained calmly and slowly, "If you want credit for buying flowers you have to go outside in the muck and put gas in the car and actually buy them." 
He looked up from his computer vaguely as if he had heard some kind of sound but couldn't locate if. "Hmm?" he said.
Later I took Elphine to her second time of fencing. Ohmyword she is so cute and short with the helmet and sword and glove and everything.
And her unmatched socks. Her commitment to the truth led her correct me that she "did it on purpose". 
"I couldn't find matching socks," she told everyone reproachfully. 
"Well," I said to the assembly, "I have six children and my husband does all the laundry." Everyone nodded understandingly. 
So now I guess I'll go make pancakes. 
Happy Tuesday!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

men are human: the preach moment

I've been thinking about Jael the wife of Heber a lot lately. It's hard not to with a steady diet of P.G. Wodehouse and his Scripture Knowledge Prize. Every book you open there she is, so funny, so strong, so like Aunt Agatha who chews up broken bottles and the dreams of young men.

She, Jael, I mean, not Aunt Agatha, is an interesting portrait for our time. When all the men are freaking out, she picks up her tent peg and does what's required. Her warm milk, her soft words, her firm pressure and grip on the hammer, she has it together. She is strong and clever and what you want every young woman to be. Nevertheless she is an indictment against Israel. That she had to do what she did, that the men were all wringing their hands and fussing, is it's own judgement.

Place her in the pulpit and you have a sign of a world gone awry. I always thought this when I was on my way to and then in seminary, listening to young men and women preach and distinguishing no real difference in the quality of the voice, neither in content nor strength. Many times the women were indeed more forceful, more prepared to wield a word of judgement. That is until Matt stood up, in class, and preached an incredibly startling and glorious twenty minutes on how to escape the fire of God's wrath. The class, if I remember, was transfixed and then horrified. This was no tent peg but was a glittering sword. That same term I preached a long "poem" about The Road, and everyone thought it was so charming. Not desiring to shed blood, I gave out the milk and left the peg in my room.

Sometimes God tells the woman to stand up and use what's in her tent. She should not stand helplessly by when evil rides in longing for a rest and a drink. But that's the not the problem, anymore. There are so many women in the pulpit saying so many things in the same tone of voice and very little of it has anything to do with arresting evil. 

When you have the chance to listen to a man, week by week, wielding a sword, you have been given a great gift. The voice of the man should not have to be muted so as not to scare and offend. He should not have to speak very quietly. It is a great sorrow to me that when you finally get the chance of hearing a man preach the voice is often pallid and sorrowful, practically indistinguishable from a woman's (I long to name a number of actual preachers here but I don't want to be unkind nor get in trouble with anyone). 

Matt's preaching through Mark has been the true counter to the weak insufficiency of the modern Man. I think there are several reasons for this. For one, his voice is pitched neither too high nor apologetically. There is no whining timber anywhere in his delivery. For another, he works through a whole text so that a complete theological and exegetical thought is completed. He answers all the questions in the text. Most critically, though, he works hard to bring out the Psychology of the Individual, both the preaching voice of Jesus, the true and perfect man, and the weak and broken thinking and acting of the sinner. In a moment of shameless appealing, I commend the whole series to you--but most especially this last week, the 9th--which is on the internet, somewhere within the reach of Google. Surely you can find it if you look.

I think it was CS Lewis who likened a woman being able to preach to a dog riding a bicycle or doing tricks or something. (I'm not going to bother to look it up so everyone is welcome to correct me.) It's surprising that it is being done at all. It seems to me, all these years later, that the remarkable preach moment is a man really preaching as a man and not as a man trying to be a woman. When you hear it, you should stop and listen and be glad of the rest. Tent peg or no, a sword works so much better.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


Baby turned three on Sunday. I'm thinking of calling her Elsbeth. I really like Ermintrude but 
Matt hates it. He really likes Euodia but I don't. Clearly she needs a name because a Baby she isn't, nor Fat. Woe is me. Her little baby shape has changed into a little girl. She uses words and has fine motor skills. Sob.

She got a Pair of Shoes and a sparkly butterfly skirt and wings and a wand.
When I mentioned that her birthday was coming up she said very clearly and pointedly, "Marigold broke my crown." So I bought five crowns and we're all still wearing them.
I'm not much of a believer in every little girl being a little princess bit, but I found it surprisingly pleasant to spend the whole afternoon in a crown myself. It gave me that extra push to just keep going.
She looks sweet but she's pretty bossy and loud. After posing with her new Bunkey she turned and smacked Marigold for trying to touch her Tiny Special Owl. What a beautiful moment.

Elphine has been sewing all the time as if her life depended on it. I haven't had the will or ability to teach her anything so she's been figuring it out herself--threading needles, stiching, everything. She made a dress for Elsbeth's (see, that sounds pretty nice doesn't it?) Unicorn.
Was so so worried that The Bully Elsbeth wouldn't express true gratitude but she was really delighted and Elphine was extremely proud. Elsbeth even hauled it up to bed and slept with it. 

Elphine has also made me a cover for my basically destroyed bible and a tiny purse for Marigold and a purse for herself. It's so amazing. She figured out that if you sew something and then turn it inside out you can't see the seam. Felt guilty for not telling her but she was so thrilled to have discovered it herself. So Binghamton, who amongst you can devote some summer moments to Emma? I even have a sewing machine. And I'll give you a pie for every hour you spend with her.

So now we have a break from birthdays until April, just around Palm Sunday if my calculations are correct. My third quarter for school ends this week and then, if God is nice to us, I think we'll be able to push through and finish all our curriculum before Holy Week. I keep saying that and not believing it, but every time I look through everything it looks like it might really be possible. Of course, Matt is sick, and I  feel terribly unwell, and the kids are all pale and pokey, but that's no excuse to not get into a little extra spelling....and math....and maybe just a little more history.....and some handwriting.....nobody is sick enough to skip handwriting.

Onwards and Upwards!

Saturday, February 08, 2014

my talk at iv last night: independence

Some lovely person came up to me this Sunday after church, someone who had spent a few minutes with my fifth child, a four year old girl, and said to me, "Marigold" (that's her blog name) "is really independent isn't she?" 
"Oh yes" I said, laughing, and then I looked in this lovely person's eyes with a sinking heart, "you mean Rebellious, don't you? Not independent."
She laughed. "Well yes. Rebellious."
It's cute in a child, rebellion. And sometimes it's hard even to detect because it comes with a toothy grin and it's just so cute and you think, if you're a bad parent like me, "oh, she's just expressing herself. She's just being who she really is." And that's true, up to a certain point, but not the person she should be.
It's a thin line, between independence and rebellion, we might even say two sides of the same coin. They aren't opposite of each other, exactly, but more like two points on the same line. The question is which direction you are walking.

Independence, that state of thinking and acting for yourself, is a valuable quality, one which I think every parent and every child across the world has a relationship of necessity with. When you were born you could not live without the totalitarian and life giving choices and presence of your mother.  For food, for warmth, for safety, for everything, you depended on her, and probably your father, or some necessary care giver. But those closest to you, lest they loose their minds, needed you to grow and learn to do important things by yourself.  Walk, eat, speak, cross the road, drive a car, study for an exam, manage a check book, enter into relationships with people who were not them. Babyhood, childhood is so precious, so lovely, but there's a reason it needs to end before age 20. Your parents would have died of exhaustion if you hadn't grown up. They love you. They are probably willing to give their lives for you. But if you don't grow up and get a job, you will send their poor gray hairs is sorrow to the grave. I say this as someone who only began sleeping through the night this year. I stopped sleeping with the birth of my first child, eleven years ago, started sleeping again this year now that the youngest is 3. Indeed, with the youngest, long after she had stopped waking up to be fed, I continued to wake up from the memory and habit of it. This kind of dependence, though beautiful, is apt to kill you if it doesn't end. So Independence is good. It is necessary. And it is given to a child by parents who don't need the child. They maybe gain love, eventually, but it's not a reciprocal relationship where the parent gets very much back from the child.

Even when independence is given as a gift, it doesn't come easy. This American cultural is saturated with the message that you have the right to determine your own course in life. You can do anything! You've been told by Disney in every movie for the last thirty years. The most important person in the world is you and your choices are supreme over all things! Perhaps, as you struggled through adolescence, you made choices and pursued your dreams but you ended up feeling more dependent than ever on your parents and friends. Stupid Disney, perhaps you thought, as I did. Now you are here, self determining your classes and relationships and food choices and everything else, but still you probably write home, or maybe text, for money. I am so old, I used a fax. You want to graduate and get a brilliant job. Your parents are praying with all their souls that you don't have to move home any time soon. They want you to be you, an individual with thoughts and feelings and aspirations. The parent who doesn't want that, who wants the child to stay really close, who wants to make all the decisions, who obscures and muddies who you are, or the friend who does that, is muddying the water between good dependence, which only happens when two people are properly independent and weird bad dependence which happens when one person won't let the other person be an actual person. Independence allowing for the right kind of dependence, is good, even when hard won.

Let's turn the coin over and look at the other side, or the other point on the line. Rebellion. To see what this looks like we will go back to the ancient story of Adam and Eve.  You've maybe heard this story. Another time we could argue about how and whether this story is true. For now, go with me to my Christian paradigm. This is how God articulated the beginning of all things, and the beginning of humanity. 

In Genesis 1 and 2 God created Adam out of the ground--not a baby, crawling around on the garden floor eating bugs--no, a full grown human man, a man with a personality and identity. Adam had work to do. He was supposed to name all the animals and care for them and the garden. But God created Adam, independent walking around Adam, with a lack. He created him lonely. After naming all the animals and looking them over, Adam realized something was missing. There was him, and the animals, and God, hmm, something else was needed. And so God put him to sleep and took a rib and made Eve, beautiful, self possessed, different and distinct from Adam. WhenAdam woke up he was so delighted. You are the one I've been missing! he cried. You are bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. Let's be together forever. And God married them and they lived happily ever after.

Just kidding. It's not Disney. There's another piece to the story. While Adam and Eve could walk and talk and eat food they actually were not supposed to be completely independent. They were distinct from each other but supposed to depend on each other--to work together in the garden, to help each other and relate to one another. They weren't supposed to absorb each other into their own beings, manipulating or managing each other, nor keeping each other at arms length, preserving a careful boundary around their own psychic space--no, depending on each other and even more they were supposed to depend on God. 

That's something Christians say a lot--depend on God. It's an easy thing to say and impossible to really do because of what happened next. Adam and Eve were hanging out in the garden, doing whatever they were supposed to be doing  when a great temptation came upon them. The serpent, Satan, came to Eve and said, God doesn't really love you. He hasn't given you everything you need. You would be happier if you had more independence. Wouldn't it be great to know things the way God knows you, to be like him.  He doesn't want you to really be who you are.  He's trying to obscure and muddy your true identity. He is a bad father. True happiness lies in independence from God. 

Now, this was a great lie, but a bewitching one. There were two kinds of dependence that Eve had on God up to that moment. The first was for her very existence. She was walking around on her own feet and picking fruit to eat, but she actually owed her very breath and existence to God. God was holding up her being alive in the palm of his hand, in his very breath. He sustained her existence materially and physically. The second was for her spiritual existence. God kept her spirit alive and he also loved her and she was able to perceive that love  and to experience it. And Adam with her. They could talk to God and be with him as one is with a parent and a friend. As long as they depended on God, they experienced true independence.

This relationship between independence and dependence didn't spring from nowhere, it's a reflection of God himself. God the Father is related in perfect love to God the Son. Everything the Father has he gives to the Son. Everything the Son has he gives to the Spirit and the Father. They are perfectly unified. The technical word is One. They are one in being and heart and purpose. But this perfect unity is only possible because God is three, the father, the son, and the spirit. They are perfectly distinct from each other. They are not weird outgrowth avatars of each other, the Son some kind of manifestation of the father. No, they are distinct persons within the Being of God. They have unique roles. The father is not the son. The son is not the father. Neither are the spirit. So they have something actual to pour out, to give to each other. Adam and Eve were a reflection of this distinction that produces unity.

Until the moment of temptation. Be like God but do it without him, said Satan. And so Eve took and ate the fruit she was not supposed to eat and became truly "independent". Except now the word is called Rebellion. It's doing things your own way as if there is no God, as if you yourself are God. And we all have it. If you see a child look in her mother's eyes and say 'no!' you are seeing rebellion. If your parents say, please come home for Spring Break and you say you have too many papers to write and go to Cabo, you are being rebellious, not independent. If a friend says, I really need you to have a coffee with me because I'm coming unglued and you say, get your own life together I have better things to do, you are really being kind of selfish and rebellious. If you say, to your friend or room mate or anyone really, I'm not going to let you be who you are, I'm going to manage and manipulate you to suit myself, you are being rebellious. But at the center of it, if God says to you, Love me more than yourself and obey me and be related to me, and you say, 
No, I love myself more than you and I will do things my own way,
That is true rebellion.
It looks like independence, it feels like independence in the moment, it probably feels good, but it's rebellion. 

Here's the trick, God created you to be you. He created you to glorify him and enjoy him and do interesting and useful things. But he always meant to be loved by you. He made you expressly to be in a relationship with him and to depend on Him.  Your "independence" is conditioned on your total complete unconditional and willing dependence on him. 
Your walking around and making your own life choices does not negate the fact that he holds your very breath in the palm of his hand. His existence sustains you. Were it not for him, you would be as dust on this gray floor. You might go around feeling awesome and empowered and alone, but that is not the fact on the ground. You depend on him for your existence. The question is will you willingly depend on him for your life. 

Will you trust him with yourself? Will to give your whole self to him to be his? Will you glorify him by depending on and being depended on by those around you?

Why would you want to? What's so bad about rebellion, you might ask. Well, one big reason is that the rebellion side of the coin is ugly.

I'm very sorry to say that the Sunday after my daughter was identified as rebellious, another friend asked me what I was speaking on. 
"Independence" I said. And the person spit his coffee out with laughter.
"What!" I cried. "I'm not independent! I'm not rebellious!"
But I am. I get irritated when my kids want me to do stuff for them that they can't do for themselves. When people articulate weakness, I am tempted to say, 'Just get it together why don't you.' When Matt isn't living up to my plans for him I want to manipulate and destroy him. When I am weak, I want to hide it from the world so that everyone will think I'm fabulous and independent and have it altogether. But really, I'm rebelliously making my own way to have knowledge and good things without God. 

The opposite of Rebellion isn't independence as I said in the beginning. They are two points on a line. The difference between independence and rebellion is which direction you are walking. The true opposite of Rebellion is Love. Love is acting for the good of a distinct other. It's not just a feeling of affection, it is an action for the good of another. So God, in pouring out himself for us, is acting in love. When you give up your own agenda and plans and give yourself to God or to another person, you are acting in love. 

The trouble is that while God has the power to pour himself out to you, you don't have the power to pour yourself out for anyone, let alone God. Eve destroyed the perfection of dependence on God that brought true independence. You are carrying around a great lack. You aren't holding up your own material existence and you can't perfectly meet your own needs for love or anything. 

If rebellion and independence are two points on a line, and there you are on the line, maybe you're waffling between both or just fully in the grasp of rebellion. There you sit, knowing you ought to walk towards God, not really wanting to or being able to. Meanwhile, God isn't waiting for you to make up your mind and get it together. He came down to the line himself. The Son, the second person of the trinity, came down to show us his true identity, to cut through the rebellion. The Son, as you probably know, is Jesus. He is the true picture of love. He gives himself to you to be depended on, to give you what you need, so that you can stand up and be who you're supposed to be and then to actually have something to give to others. You don't need to absorb and obscure others because Jesus has given you his whole self.

To the outside world it may look like you are no longer truly independent. But really, you have walked away from rebellion towards God. You have given up yourself for another. You have said, maybe to God, not my will but yours, not my plans but yours, not my way but yours, not my knowledge but yours. Do you then loose your identity? Do you become a religious sap or nut who cannot think or act with any independence or creativity? No, instead what you have done, when you have given yourself in love to God, is become a true person, a person with no lack, a person who is free to walk closer and closer to God, a person whose identity is less and less obscured and muddied by temptation and sorrow, no longer alone, but bonded to another, closely, truly. 

Thursday, February 06, 2014

seven quick takes: why am I in this hand basket edition

I shouldn't have been blogging so psychotically and consistently the last two weeks. If you've been wondering why I've become your morning cup of coffee it's because I've been supposed to be writing a talk for Intervarsity for this evening. Being the kind of person that I am, I've been doing everything I possibly can to distract myself from this morbid and terrifying reality. Don't worry, my talk is written but only by the grace of God. I did everything I could to sabotage myself, working all the time to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Although there's still time. I have all of today to get through.
So I guess I'll go get a hair cut. What could be less sensible than going in the middle of the day when I should still be writing and editing or schooling my children to get a hair cut from a total stranger who wields immense power to completely disappoint me.
When we moved to Binghamton I drove to Ithaca every time I needed a hair cut. That lasted about a year. Then I got tired and just cut it myself. That was stupid. Really stupid. And stressful. Then I had one brilliant haircut from someone who I could never find again. And now I'm on my third try of just clicking around the internet and praying for The Lord to guide me.
Isn't it irritating how silent God is on matters that are really the most important? On the subject of hair for instance. On a day like today I would really like God to stop worrying about my holiness for just a few minutes and spend time working it out so that I will look awesome. Of course, as I stand there tonight, my soul virtually naked before a room full of people who I'm sure are all much much more awesome than I, certainly because they're all much younger and read books and stuff, I want them all to be drawn closer to Jesus and not think of me at all. But I don't want to look stupid. I'd really like my hair to be amazing.
If you've been waffling between being for or against the ordination of the ladies, I guess I've just given you a really great reason to be against up there in take number four.
Sorry Ladies. Didn't mean to betray our gentle sex. 
So I guess now I should just beg you to pray that it will all be ok. O Lord Just Make It All Ok! There, you don't have to think of an actual prayer, I put it down for you. Now, if everyone who reads this will pray that ten times over the course of the day, maybe it will be ok. 

Have a great weekend! And go check out Jen!

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

{phfr}:grumbling about the snow edition

It is objectively pretty.
It is. I awknowledge that it is objectively beautiful. However, I am a sinner and so I am unmoved by the beauty. I don't like it. Really just don't like it.

By happy I guess I really mean angry (me), whiney and cold (the children), and sick (Matt). I didn't start out angry but by the time everyone was dressed and outside I was cursing the day I was born. Then they only stayed outside for five. read FIVE. minutes before trying to come back in. And then the school room was basically a lake of water from all the melted snow. And they came in demanding, cold and whining for hot chocolate, like it's their birth rite. Nothing makes me want to make hot chocolate less than being shouted at by a pack of children.
Oh well, maybe they'll remember it more fondly than it was.

I just had the following conversation with Marigold who is four but who is difficult to understand and only just started talking but who lept right in to language with rather large concepts. This is, frankly, an ordinary conversation with her.

"That's Gladys' ring. That's her ring to get married. She always gets married with that ring," she said.
"Who is she going to marry?" I asked.
"I think Mary is on her way."
"Yeah. Jesus is on the cross and he doesn't know about Mary," she said.
Then she mumbled something about her father.
"What about daddy?" I asked.
"I think daddy will get married in time but he's working on your blog again."

All year we've been learning a hymn called "Forgive us Lord, as we forgive" (Hymn 674 in the 1982 Episcopal Hymnal by Rosamond E. Herklots, Detroit) along with Matthew 18:21-35 which is the parable of the wicked servant who won't forgive his fellow servant a dept of 100 denarii after he had been forgiven his dept of 10000 talents. There isn't a good rendition of the hymn on YouTube that I can find but the tune is lovely and articulates the substance of the Matthew text really perfectly.
So I copied it out while waiting for Elphine and Alouicious to remember how to spell 'orator' which I guess is more complicated than you would expect, even after being previously apprised of it's actually spelling. And then I took this bad picture. So there you are, I did do something today.
Here are the words of the hymn:
Forgive our sins as we forgive
You taught us Lord to pray;
But you alone can grant us grace
To live the words we pray.
How can your pardon reach and bless
The unforgiving heart
That broods on wrongs
And will not let old bitterness depart.
In blazing light your cross reveals
The truth we dimly knew,
How small the debts men owe to us
How great our debt to you.
Lord, cleanse the depths within our souls,
And bid resentment cease;
Then, reconciled to God and man,
Our lives will spread your peace.

wordy wednesday: peanut sauce

It's snowing. To put it mildly.
All the children are stuffed up and whiny and suffering from deep unhappiness of various kinds. I've read thirty five blog posts on how to avoid February burnout but I think it's already too little too late. Let the children paint in the middle of the day yesterday because I'd lost my will to live. Can't tell you how much I loath a room full of children painting. The water everywhere. The paint smeared on everything. The bickering. The torn paper. The enormous stack of pictures at the end of the day that aren't really nice enough to keep that you have to smuggle out because each child is convinced their seven paintings were glorious dreams. So I made peanut sauce. Too bad I haven't made it in so long the little girls didn't know what it was and were not apprised of the fact that it's supposed to be everybody's favorite food in this house. That's the baseline expectation for membership in the family. Know I posted the recipe years ago but I can't be troubled to go find it and you'll probably be wanted to make it when you can get past the snow to a jar of peanut butter.

Peanut Sauce
One chopped onion, a couple of minced garlics, an inch of grated ginger, sweated in a deep pot. I added five little sweet peppers, diced, a couple of diced carrots, and half a chopped cabbage at this point but none of that is necessary. Then, when the onions are translucent, add a jar of smooth peanut butter (no sugar, obviously, because that would taste really strange), two tablespoons of tomato paste and probably four or five cups of stock, assuming you want to feed ten people. If you want less sauce (and I can't understand why you would want to do that because this freezes brilliantly in little cups and gets better with time) you could do half a jar of peanut butter and half the stock. Once it's going along nicely you can add chicken--thighs are best but if you have an aversion to those you could do something else. If you want to be authentic you will go kill a chicken and dismember it and add it piece by piece to your pot, but I can see the snow making that route difficult. Plus, I've discovered that modern stores provide already dismembered chicken for you, so that's probably a sensible option. There you are, when the chicken is cooked through and the rice is done (unless you're carb free and then you'll want a big bowl and a spoon) you can eat it. Actually, it's fine to just stand in the kitchen and devour it with a big ladle and not tell everyone it's supper time. Oh! It's really delicious with red pepper and lately I've been squeezing a big lime into it, just at the last moment.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

men are human but what if the man is woody allen

Woke up with a bad headache and the shifting shadow of a bad dream confusing my angry morning darkness. Gladys was shouting that her head hurt and Baby (still nameless) was "patting" me sharply on the face and bellowing my name.

The dream wasn't about bad children, though, it was one of those horrid ones where you're trying to get away from a thug but you're too slow and stupid to enact any kind of plan. I think I was looking on in terror as some hulk with the features of Woody Allen set about to make like difficult. Then I was on a plane (another kind of nightmare) and then the children screaming.

I had gone to bed wondering how that small weasel-ly man, Woody Allen, can go on being famous and beloved all these years and prey on young girls like it's no big deal (assuming the charges are true) Hollywood double standard bla bla bla. Something must be done, I thought to myself. But what? 

The fact is, there are really evil men who have hurt and do hurt and will go on hurting women in unspeakable ways. Just read that weird and horrible story in Judges about the Levite and his concubine and you will see how very old and traumatizing and part of the whole human experience this is. It's no wonder that well meaning people look at the violence of the world, and even men in particular, and think, 'I must shield myself from that and I must make sure that my boys don't ever do that. Here, sit quiet and do as you're told. That will be a good solution.'  In the name of fairness and safety (that ridiculous idea, I'm sure you've heard it, that if women ruled the world we'd all live in meadows of butterflies and flowers) and equality and rights bla bla bla, women have banded together to do away with all the evil in men and in the world.

Except that it hasn't worked. For a hundred years it hasn't worked. Instead of a more peaceful society and world and less violence against women we have the same violence and degradation we had before but now we've managed to dehumanize the offending half--men. If you have to be a man, poor you, you had better be as gentle as possible and by that, of course, I mean passive. Don't Scare Anyone with your evil masculinity! Meanwhile the women are allowed to be as pushy as they want.

Don't get excited. I don't have a novel solution. The solution is as boring as the bible. If you run around looking for the evil in the other person, you unhappily miss it in yourself. And when you go about trying to fix that other person's evil, you actually end up trying to make them look like you and that's idolatry. 

So yes, I guess I'd have to say that Woody Allen is a human being. A really rotten nasty one like all the other ones. And it is so evil that men violate and degrade women. But that degeneration doesn't justify the dehumanizing of all men everywhere in all time. That was a poor solution to a bad problem. Too bad more people aren't more interested in the real solution--Jesus--but I guess I will leave that to him--the best and most human man ever.

Monday, February 03, 2014

a super day

We baptized a new Christian yesterday, in church--young man who has had a rough go it up till two or three months ago, made a lot of bad choices and had things turn out unhappily. If I'd wanted to engage in some nefarious and shadowy activity, he could have been my guide. In the gray light of day, on the feast of presentation of Jesus in the temple, he stood on the step facing the congregation renouncing Satan and all his works and turning to Jesus and embracing him as Lord. Then he turned around to face the altar and Matt called the congregation forward to lay hands on and pray for him. There was a sort of rush out of the pews and nearly everyone who could stand and walk seemed propelled towards him. Elphine, standing next to me in her bright red acolyte robe, turned red in the face and her eyes got teary and she looked like she was going to cry. Then he went up to the font and was baptized and handed and candle and anointed with oil and then Matt said, as he always does because it is written in the bulletin, "Let us welcome the newly baptized". There was a great corporate shout and whistling and applause and I think someone banged on a pew. And then the peace took forever because everyone. Everyone. came out to greet him. Later he stood around in the parish hall holding an enormous cake and being photographed with lots of people who were meeting him for the first time. 

The picture of him standing on the step, holding a candle and grinning broadly, came back to me as I watched what seemed like endless footage of poor Peyton Manning and his woebegone team in the third and fourth quarters of yesterday's game. It was no contest, really. The Broncos ran out onto the field and were suddenly and completely defeated. They stood no chance. But nobody knew before the game. People made predictions on both sides. It seemed like any outcome was possible. The complete routing, as I got more and more foggy because these games are so so long, worked itself into an icon in my mind of this young man's new life in Jesus. Evil, crowding in on him, has no chance. He looks vulnerable, holding his thin small flame, his grin and the expression of life in his eyes the only mark that a new great force dwells within, that he cannot be defeated, that evil has been vanquished. There will be attacks on all sides. But there won't really be any contest. 

And then the total and overwhelming rejoicing. I think those laboring on in the kingdom of heaven, like me, get so discouraged. It seems like we just work and work and pray and evil is so big and God doesn't choose to do what we want him to. He could solve the Syrian crisis in a moment. He could break Pastor Saeed out of prison. He could get that house sold or heal that person. To the world, and sometimes to me on the inside, it seems like it could go either way. Maybe evil will prevail after all. Predictions are made on both sides. The eyes full of life, the grin, the thin vanquishing light, the cake, the church full of rejoicing came at the right moment. A super day, a day of presentation and joy, a clear picture of how the battle will ultimately play out.