Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Day Maya Angelou Died

It’s a day that has a headache and two ibuprofen, a day with a face aflame with allergies. And a day of silence because all the children have gone off to school/Grandpa’s house and the husband is at work and I’ve been waiting for this, this silence. And I’m waiting for a text message from a friend who’s at the hospital. She’s waiting, too, to begin labor.  And when she sends me that text, I’ll jump in the car with my cell phone and charger and wallet and spend a few hours in her hospital room, “advocating” for her and her baby and making sure her husband doesn’t hit the floor when he gets light-headed.

The neighbors behind us have been working madly—three trees, two garden boxes planted. And now they’ve dug holes for a climbing structure. The yard sits in disarray, a stray lawn chair here, a rototiller there. The sunlight cascades through our sunroom windows. I’m waiting, wondering if I should do a load of laundry or if it will sour if I’m called out of the house in the next few minutes. I answer church emails. I answer church phone calls. I plan for a meeting. I read an article, am told that we can’t give away love if we don’t have it.

I sit to pray and my heart is cold/busy/bothered/stiff, like my neck and shoulders. Sometimes it just takes noticing the silence for a while before your heart begins to soften. I stretch. I listen to music from my phone. I sit in the sun with a book. I read three lines. I read the book of Jude. I read Philemon. I think it’s Paul’s greatest advocacy against slavery but why did so many people not pay attention for so long? The music plays. Tears that mean nothing or everything or things I don’t have words for. All of this charged life around me. All of this history behind me. New life ahead. 

Dear Kirby Vacuum Salesman (Epistolary Wednesday)

On Wednesdays, I'm writing letters.

The deal was that you would shampoo my living room carpet and my stairs. In exchange, I would listen to your vacuum sales pitch for a product that truly does sell itself. Of course, you won’t tell me the price ‘til the very end, after you’ve done the pitch, after you’ve followed the act devised by Corporate in Cleveland. First, you vacuum with my $25 Dirt Devil. Then you vacuum with your Kirby. Ten times. Over the exact same 10-foot-square area. And each time, you must present to me the vacuum’s excavations from my living room carpet: Lint and sand. More lint and sand. You do other tricks. I oooh and aaah. Yes, your machine is amazing, as evidenced by piles of excavated sand. Yes, it can do all the things I’d like a vacuum to do. Yes, we really do need something better than this $25 Dirt Devil.

But your shampoo and demo is supposed to last 1.5 hours, tops.  At that point, you still have not shampooed my carpets. Instead, you pull out your price sheet.  For everything (the vacuum, shampooer, attachments, warranty), the suggested retail price is $2500, but it’s negotiable, you are sure to mention multiple times. 

“So, would you go down to $1800?”

“Yes, yes! Would you be interested in purchasing it today if I could sell it to you for $1800?”

I have to text my husband about the vacuum and the finance plan. You have to shampoo my carpet. I say I’ll think about it. You say again that the price is negotiable, so I ask, “Would you sell it for $1200?”

Maybe you could. You’d have to call Corporate in Cleveland to get their permission. You’re not even allowed to sell more than three per month at that price, and you never make any commission on vacuums sold for $1200.

“Well that seems awfully silly,” I tell you.

It’s true, though, you say and sigh resignedly. The vacuum is just so amazing that the company really wants it in people’s homes (even if they make no money) so that the presence of the Kirby will self-evangelize neighbors, relatives, and children who will grow up to buy Kirbys.

“By all means, please, call Corporate in Cleveland. Feel free to go outside so you have some privacy,” I say, amused by the charade. Before you can finish chatting with Corporate out on my front porch, you return to sit on my sofa and, in my presence, summarize our whole conversation to Corporate Guy. Corporate Guy wants to know: If they were agree to this purchase price, what could I put down on the vacuum today?

I say I’ll text with my husband and I ask you to please go ahead and shampoo my carpet—I have to pick my kids up from school. I’ll let you know our decision when you’re done. But now you tell me you won’t shampoo my stairs (“Is that okay?”)—it would be a lot of work and take a lot of time and somehow mess up your equipment for your next demonstration.


“We really like to have ‘the husband’ here too,” you say for like the twelfth time. “There’s a much better chance that they would agree to the purchase if they see the demonstration.”

Oh, but you don’t know my husband. Better for you he’s not here, because he’d be sighing and eye-rolling in the midst of all the suction melodrama.

When you’re done shampooing, I let you know it’s no dice. The husband is not going for this killer deal, which he and I have discussed via text message. I’m sure we’ll buy a vacuum down the road, just not today.

And it’s like I’ve pierced you in the side with a spear with this news, and you must now move in slo-mo as you pack up the brand-new vacuum you used for the demo. Grief that you cannot leave it in my home slows you down, makes your movements labored. “We really like to leave them when we can. It means I can’t use a brand new vacuum at my next demonstration.”

I feel mildly guilty until my father shows up at the house for a random visit. He’s 70 and has purchased a vacuum or two in his day. “So how much do these things sell for?” he asks candidly. “Four, five hundred dollars?”

“25, but I could get it for 12,” I tell him drily.

“Twenty five hundred dollars!” he chortles in your presence. “Are you kidding me??!” You hang your head in a sort of shame-faced defeat.

I have to leave to get my kids because now you’ve been at my house for 2 hours and fifteen minutes. I leave you in my father’s stead, with the understanding that I can stop by the Kirby vacuum repair store anytime we decide to purchase and mention our agreed-upon sales price.

The next day a friend tells me she bought her Kirby for $900.

A week later I call the store—the fix-it shop you told me to call—to see if you would match her deal. The store owner says they don’t sell new ones because, by company policy, those can only be sold by salespeople in homes. I mention making a deal with you, and, like its some kind of classified information, the store owner tells me he’ll pass on my information to a regional sales rep because selling a Kirby vacuum over the phone is ILLEGAL! I feel as small as a four-year-old.

You leave me a voice mail message an hour later that you’d like to make a “great deal” today. I haven’t called you back.

All this hoopla adds up to one big deterrent to buying a vacuum. I actually LIKE your vacuum. But the fact that you didn’t shampoo my stairs, the fact that you spent 2.5 hours at my house vacuuming the same patch of carpet over and over again, the fact that you’re playing the “Corporate in Cleveland” card when you want to negotiate like some kind of underhanded-snake-oil-salesman does not a win for you make. If your vacuum’s so great, you could just be straight up, man. I like you, I truly do. I see the glory of the Creator in you, and so I like you. But, listen up, this is what I tell my girls from time to time when that glory gets all clouded with anxiety and deceit and pouting.

You’re better than that. So do better.

Enter to win a FREE COPY of Dear Boy, between now and June 23. Follow my blog by either signing up to have new posts delivered to your email inbox OR subscribe to the my posts by adding it to a blog reader that you use, such as Feedly. Sign up easily at the prompts on the right-hand side of the page. Once you've done so, comment on any post letting me know you're following and how you're doing it. Your name will go into the drawing for a free book and the winner will be announced in June!

Monday, May 26, 2014

BOOK GIVEAWAY and Monday Must-Reads 5/26/14

Happy Monday/Memorial Day! 

You've caught me in the middle of our Giveaway Month. Enter to win a FREE COPY of Dear Boy,: An Epistolary Memoir, between now and June 22. "Follow" my blog by either signing up to have new posts delivered to your email inbox OR subscribe to the posts by adding it to a blog reader that you use, such as Feedly. Sign up easily at the prompts on the right-hand side of the page. Once you've done so, comment on any post, letting me know you're following and how you're doing it. Your name will be entered to win and winner will be announced on June 23.  

As for the Must-Reads:

For pastors' wives and pastors' husbands (and the congregations that love them), here's a conversation hosted on Rachel Held Evans' blog, "Ask A Pastor's Wife and a Pastor's Husband."

Also for the people who love pastors and their families, Jamie the Very Worst Missionary explains why "Not All Pastor's Kids are Christian. Sorry."

And for every mother chasing down her dreams in the middle of raising kids, Sarah Bessey writes about writing on "Chasing a Dream in the Midst and in the Afters."

Shauna Niequist inspired me with her post on embracing "Less," and Glennon Melton made me laugh with her #TBT about laughing at spilled milk.

Happy reading!

Friday, May 23, 2014

In Which I Write About Rape

Recently, a friend of mine told me the awful account of her two college-aged friends who were drugged and raped on campus last month. They were of age and at a bar with a crowd that moved to a house where someone handed them drinks (future note to daughters: don’t ever accept drinks late at night at parties in homes of people you don’t know). The next thing they knew they were half-aware in a bedroom with three men; details were foggy but they could hear each other’s objections. The rape kits at the emergency room filled in more of the story.

I know it happens—that women are raped. And yet every time I hear a story like this, my mind is blown. That someone, that two or three someones, could pre-meditatively plot this sort of evil and execute it so well here in my community sickens me. And it’s quiet. I’ve heard no newspaper stories. These women pressed charges but the perpetrators are still walking around. They run into them on the street. What else is quiet, I wonder? How many women walking the sidewalks on campus with the same story?

My husband says he gets alerts from the University whenever a sexual assault is reported. Last month he said it was like he was getting a new alert or two every week. Often the rough details are followed by the explanation that the victim has “chosen not to press charges.”

Rape at home leads me to think of the Nigerian girls, still missing. Brave girls--willing to risk their lives for an education--awakened in the middle of the night. The adrenaline surges they must have felt, the shaking, the sweating, the grabbing for a pair of shoes or an extra garment before they were caught in the fire. The confusion, then the clarity, then the fear.  Then the demand of “conversion.” Then, the demand of “marriage” (read: sex slavery) to members of the Boko Haram. Then, what we would have to assume: rape.

Rape as power. Rape as punishment. Rape as anger. Rape as weaponry. Rape as sport. Rape as entertainment. Rape as retaliation. Rape as war.

Enter to win a FREE COPY of Dear Boy, between now and June 23. Follow my blog by either signing up to have new posts delivered to your email inbox OR subscribe to the my posts by adding it to a blog reader that you use, such as Feedly. Sign up easily at the prompts on the right-hand side of the page. Once you've done so, comment on any post letting me know you're following and how you're doing it. Your name will go into the drawing for a free book and the winner will be announced in June!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Dear Sixth Grade (Epistolary Wednesday)

On Wednesdays, I'm writing letters.

Sixth Grade,

You’ve changed since I was 12. I remember you a shadowy room, full of the odor of the science teacher’s imported-to-Iowa sea water and “mystery powders,” which we burned over open flames or fizzled with vinegar. You housed our “personal development” unit, in which us girls awkwardly sat under the teaching of a female stand-in instructor who handed us postcards we could fill out and send in to receive free personal development “kits.” We didn’t have our periods, silly, but of course we would be intrigued by anything free, especially tampons and sanitary napkins in bright purple cardboard boxes designed specifically to pique our interest.

I self-consciously wore my mother’s clothes here, her yoke-front jeans skirt and button down shirts. My hair sported a ponytail on the side, my ears big hoop earrings. Our homeroom and science teacher, who I adore retrospectively, dragged us on outings particular to his passions: he had a religious fanaticism for raptors and life in the ocean. And he expected a lot from us girls, as he should have, reprimanding me for dropping out of the Extended Learning Program, reprimanding my table-mates for their own drive-lessness. You were lethargy and boredom for me, Sixth Grade. Seriously, who flipping cared about owls like that?

I was depressed (parents divorced that year, blah blah), but I kind of thought everybody was (and has been) with you, but I’m watching my Oldest now in the same school district and it’s like you are her very own personal social club and crack cocaine. Who needs Facebook and uppers when they’ve got Mr. Snyder’s sixth grade classroom? She’s having so much fun that she doesn't even notice the fact that she's learning, and I do know she’s learning because her test scores come back higher and higher, and she placed into pre-algebra for junior high math next year (which I didn’t even know you could do, SG. And that's how all the smart kids got a year ahead of me in math!).

Truly, you're like this recently-come-near relative who’s won the lotto, presenting us with gifts and delights you were never able to offer before. And we take full advantage: to hear Oldest talk, you’d think her teacher was a stand-up comedian (deemed “Most Ironic” of anyone in the class). At certain times he lets them have smart phones in the room where, I should add, there seems to be a steady stream of Harry Potter, Percy Jackson and Hunger Games references, jokes, nonsensical gibberish, dares, and ground-rolling stunts that the entire room finds profoundly funny. Oldest repeats the same ludicrously-funny-to-her stories ad nauseum around the dinner table. Sometimes I have trouble catching the joke. “It’s sixth-grade humor!” she cajoles.

I don’t remember you being such a riot.

No hard feelings though. I’m glad you’ve changed. I’m glad you’ve been good to my oldest baby. Third and Fourth were not so good, downright traumatic really. So thank you for an environment where friendship and endearing nicknames grow. And for friends with whom she’s coordinating matching outfits, surprising the gym teachers and the principal with a triplet of brainy dark glasses and black blouses with white polka dots. And that she’s having so much fun and such good self-esteem (really, she doesn’t hesitate to declare “I’m amazing!) that the love of one of those unshowered, scab-picking sweet young men in her class is Completely Unnecessary and goes Completely Unnoticed.

Seventh has a lot to live up to.

Enter to win a FREE COPY of Dear Boy, between now and June 23. Follow my blog by either signing up to have new posts delivered to your email inbox OR subscribe to the my posts by adding it to a blog reader that you use, such as Feedly. Sign up easily at the prompts on the right-hand side of the page. Once you've done so, comment on any post letting me know you're following and how you're doing it. Your name will go into the drawing for a free book and the winner will be announced in June!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Monday Must-Reads (and Watches) and Book GIVEAWAY!

[Photo: Linda Nylind for the Guardian]
I spoke at our LIFEchurch women’s event this past Friday on what was a combination of my journey and my thoughts on the pain in our lives and the hope and redemption that so often comes around the corner of all that pain. Sarah Bessey’s post, In Which I’m Learning to Obey the Sadness," and her video, “You Are Not Forgotten,” so beautifully dovetailed with all of my thoughts. And, she says it better than I ever could. So check her out.

Rachel Held Evans announced that she’ll be “Blogging the Lectionary” on Thursdays for the foreseeable future, and she’s invited other bloggers to do the same. I must say I’m intrigued. I grew up non-denominational and pentecostal, which means we didn’t do the lectionary, but I love the idea of systematically coming to the same portions of scripture with other ministers week after week, the community wrestling with the meaning and significance of these particular passages. Check out Rachel's site on Thursdays and look in the comments section for links from other bloggers to their own lectionary blogging.

And here's something for all you foodies: I found The Spunky Coconut blog by Kelly Brozyna last year and checked out a book of hers at the library. She's got a knack for perfecting the (often raw and vegan) kind of treats so many of us love (sans dairy, wheat, eggs and soy). Her pecan pie, sweetened with dates and prunes, rocked my world last well as her cashew milk for homemade frappucinos. Sigh. She's now releasing a compilation of ALL her cookbooks as a reasonably priced e-book: Real Food Recipes from The Spunky Coconut! I swear to you that I literally was checking prices on her individual cookbooks a week or so ago and was delighted to see this. FWIW, foodies.

And FINALLY, my big announcement. On June 23, I'll be announcing the winner of a FREE copy of Dear Boy,. Wanna be considered for the drawing? Here's how: Follow my blog by either signing up to have new posts delivered to your email inbox OR subscribe to the site posts by adding it to a blog reader that you use, such as Feedly. Sign up easily at the prompts on the right-hand side of the page here. Once you've done so, comment on any post letting me know you are following and how you are doing it. Your name will go into the drawing for a free book and the winner will be announced in June.

Happy Monday!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Must-Reads and Watches

It's been a week of inspiring, important, and simply moving video and blog posts around the internet. I wanted to share some of what moved me.

If you follow my Facebook updates (or anyone's FB updates), this will probably look familiar: Bloggers and tweeters everywhere are trying to get our attention about the kidnapping of almost 300 teenage girls in Nigeria. On Rage Against the Minivan, Kristen Howerton explains "Why Girls in Nigeria Should Matter to You." Sarah Bessey added a prayer to the conversation: "In Which We Pray: Bring Back Our Girls."

For you married readers, Glennon Melton offers a true-to-life portrait of what happily-ever-really means: "The Lie and Truth about Marriage."

And then, I happened upon this little gem of a happy ending--the sort of thing that sounds too good to be true, so good its's probably made up. But it wasn't. This was a real deal--a preemie twin born at 27 weeks, pronounced dead, but comes back to life over the two hours that his Australian mother practices Kangaroo care.

And for those of you who've been wondering at all the feminists springing up in your churches, this talk about the compatibility of faith with feminism, given by the so-smart twenty-something, Sarah Schwartz, from Biola University, is a wonderful place to start your investigation.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014


Sometimes, usually right in the middle of a snarky exchange between tweens, I launch into full-power fretting over said tweens’ futures. I fast forward ten years and put the same sassy tone of voice, the same biting words, into the mouth of a junior-year computer science major or a recent high school graduate. And I worry.

At the bottom of my piles of worries is this root question: How do I get these children to love? How can I influence them so that they conclude that love is important, that selflessness is important, that preferring the other is important—in its season, at the appropriate times. And if not that, how can I get them to see that eye-rolling is one of the. Most. Damaging. Things. They. Can. Do. To. Their. Relationships? 

But why would they care about preserving said relationships? They don't have the long view yet. These children. One of them is walking around in a mini-adult body and I keep thinking she’s got mini-adult emotions and mini-adult maturity, but that’s not entirely fair. 

I don’t recall my parents ever sitting me down to talk about “protecting my relationships” with my brothers when I was young—checking me on my tone of voice, my eye-rolling, my disrespect toward either of them. Did I not exhibit any? I doubt it. But, at 11, I was not thinking about Love. Not love-your-brother-as-yourself-love. And if my mother or father had sat me down to pour out their existential concerns for my eternal sibling relationships, I’m not sure what good it would have done. Might I have head-scratched, nodded, and moved on my merry, disrespectful way?


Oh, I would give a million dollars for hindsight right now.

Fast forward me ten years where, I imagine, I will hear myself say these words: They will grow out of this. Sassiness comes with the territory of tweendom. They will be friends. They will love. They will understand what you were talking about—ceaselessly—for years. They will practice love. Wear it on their faces, in the shiftings of their eyeballs and eyebrows and lips.

The other thing I might say in ten years is that I was raising powerful leaders when I wasn’t sure of it. There were reasons why their take-charge-ness, their control-my-own-destiny-and-don’t-let-anyone-stand-in-my-way-ness, their I’m-picking-my-clothes-and-I’m-only-two-years-old energy was a powerful swirling current when other friends’ daughters were happy to take cues and directions and pink hair bows and scamper to comply. And how ironic, I might say, that I got three little leaders as daughters when so much of my existence revolves around encouraging women to lead well, and learning to lead myself.

Back to the present: a few weeks ago, I offered to take Oldest to see Divergent on a Thursday night (a movie she’d been asking me to take her to). She sighed and said resignedly, “Oh, I don’t know. I was hoping we could take one of my friends.”

“I thought it could be nice mother-daughter time?”  I offered weakly.

“Ugh, I hate that!” she ejaculated in the unself-conscious way of 11-year-olds.  “That’s so boring--and you always want to read the Bible to me.”

Egaads. I am this mother, apparently. The mother who “always wants to read the Bible" out loud to my kids for fun, for “mother-daughter time.” She must have meant that I’m the mother who sometimes wants to read the Bible to them…right before I take them to see dystopian fantasies about teenagers revolting against the government and kissing in between action sequences?

I sighed from the kitchen table. “Wow, it’s a good thing I’m so self-confident and have such good self-esteem. If I was a little more insecure I might be feeling kind of hurt right now.”

She looked up from pulling dishes from the dishwasher, her pout turning to a smirk of appreciation for the irony. I got a nod of apology. This irony-loving girl knew just what I was saying-without-saying.

Some days it's these smirks that are my only promise of impending maturity, the impending miraculous.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Notes #20 In Which I Stay Rooted

A few weeks back, I got a headache that grew louder than the voices of the four women who joined me in a women's retreat planning meeting. My eyes were aching and I just felt wiped out as we talked about themes and speakers and women's issues--and I didn’t know why.  I was juicing a lot that week for heaven’s sake. I was eating tons of greens, no sugar, no meat (...except for those two GF brownies I ate after a day of only juicing). But anyway, I was in this meeting feeling like my progesterone levels were taking a nosedive off a cliff into a rocky canyon, trying to keep up with the ideas, the different directions, which I couldn't do. So I wrote them down and thanked the ladies and prayed and said I needed time to process. 

I got in my car and drove to the preschool parking lot where I would pick up Tiny and I just sat, with my head on the steering wheel and I thought I can’t do a women’s retreat. We should scrap it all. This is too much work! And right there was my second clue (headache being the first) that I was Not Okay--because planning stuff is sort of what I live for. And then my head started spinning through the engagements and deadlines and speaking commitments and classes to schedule and I could feel the anxiety mount. But how did I get there? How does one go from walking at a brisk pace to running out of breath with no chance to stop? Because that’s what it felt like. And my body was boycotting, having it’s own little Revolution Against Over-Extension.

Of course, there’s no one but myself to overextend me. Everyone I work with is gracious and we are mutually protective of each other's energies and abilities. But I often feel this urgency, this urgency to get to the next thing, to build and keep building—a new class, a retreat, deeper levels, better curriculum, more supportive structures for particular areas of church life. There are so many things in the distance, so much possibility for the future. And I want to build it all right now. And yet, I can’t get to them until I set down these foundation stones in my hands, in place and in order, one at a time.

The headache worsened that night. My whole body ached. I had trouble explaining it to my husband, to my friend. I’m sick, I think. And I feel stressed and anxious too. But which caused what? Chicken or egg?

In periods of stress and on the days of Revolution Against Over-Extension, I often have to just bear the revolution out. I don’t always know how it got started or what my soul is trying to tell me or what message it is I need to hear. And so I just wait with my head on my pillow and a questioning eyebrow at God—what? What do I need to know?

Last time, after a day of that posture, there were two things that broke through my frenetic internal buzz. One, I played the audio of my YouVersion online Bible app. I love the NIV, read aloud by some William Branaugh sound-alike. So Shakespearean and poignant, he chided me (and I cried):

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

I know that, if you’re not familiar with everything the writer of Hebrews wrote of up until chapter 12, that this sounds like a bunch of cultish gobbledygook. Spirits of the Righteous Made Perfect. Sprinkled Blood that Speaks a Better Word?

The writer is saying, in my plain Iowa English, that our God isn’t distant or untouchable. That we have access to a joyful, welcoming God and all of heaven supports his welcome of us.  We are welcomed by God the Judge who judges us as “right” simply because of our trust and faith in Jesus, who helps us continue on in our lives of faith.

Why did I cry upon hearing this? Oh the mystery of our own souls--maybe because it was a spirit-touching-heaven moment, a reminder that all the stuff of our lives—the bills to pay and forms to sign and the offspring’s favorite clothes to launder and the class curriculum to write and the marriage to maintain—is not the endgame, is not the reason, is not the why. 

He loves me. He just does. And that is Something.

And then, the second thing that broke through the noise in head:

I read two blog posts from two of my favorite bloggers, women negotiating writing and blogging and speaking and ministry and parenting. One wrote about reassessing her commitments. It was so helpful to know I’m not the only one asking these questions about what is and is not working and what I’m supposed to be doing in a particular season of life.

The other blogger wrote about criticism, a bad review, of her book.  It was a comfort to remember that I will fail--especially in other people's perceptions of my endeavors--and that this is Okay.

No matter how hard we try and no matter our whole-heartedness in trying, we won't please everyone and we won't always succeed. And so, we must stay rooted in What Has Been Revealed and What Is, and grounded in our purposes, our callings, and the intentions of our lives.