Commit to narrowness

When you choose anything, you reject everything else.” G.K. Chesterton

The digital economy has created an endless buffet, and it’s easy to overeat. When confronted with infinity, is it okay to blink?” Seth Godin

I’ve been buying the same toothpaste and laundry soap for years. I buy it from one of those membership programs where you have to order a certain amount each month and if you skip an order they’ll automatically ship you some items you’ve preselected. My preselected order has always been vitamins and toothpaste and laundry soap.

The nice thing is I really do like the products. They’re natural and effective and it’s easy. I order online, or if I forget, the box magically comes to my door anyway. The not nice thing is that the shipping has gotten expensive and my vitamin needs have changed. I canceled our membership a couple months ago and now I am in need of toothpaste and I’ll have to go to the store; there are 46 different tubes of toothpaste to choose from at the store. I will be overwhelmed. I won’t know how to prioritize: save time, save money, save the planet, save our health, save our teeth from the effects of our habits?

This is freedom.

A few months ago someone was discussing the many options their family was considering for schooling their children this coming year. They live in a bigger city with more choices, but I could still sympathize with their quandary—time, money, benefits, etc. I realized during our conversation that five years ago we severely limited our choices in this area. We chose one very specific option for homeschool—because you don’t just choose between public, private, or homeschool; you choose one broad category and a hundred other options cascade from that. We got involved with a community that thrives on commitment to one another. If we pull out and choose another course, our community suffers because, though we are replaceable, we homeschool together with a group of like-minded people and the dynamics change with every shift in involvement. We are free and responsible for our own children’s education, but we are interdependent within that freedom.

Making this very specific choice has allowed me to trash and unsubscribe from the multiple homeschool catalogs, conferences, curriculum publishers, and magazines that provoke parents to question their choices. Prior to our decision, every summer was spent poring over websites and catalogs to plan The Best Course for the following year, chasing the greener grass and smarter schedule. I enjoyed some aspects of this planning, but my attic holds boxes of books that, if their marketing was correct, should’ve produced National Merit Scholars who radically love Jesus and Shakespeare and art history.

Did we make the best choice for our kids? Are we missing something? Are there gaps and holes and regrets? Yes. Yes. Yes and yes and yes.

We made a choice and then a commitment, and that’s what is important. My husband and I prayed over our decision, made mental pro/con lists, and counted the costs of this choice as best we could. There were unknowns, but calculating potential risks and worrying about the million other things we are not choosing by making this one choice will only leave the one choice unmade. Sometimes you just have to make a decision and commit to it.

Everything is imperfect. Every imperfect thing teaches us contentment.

The commitment to imperfections and problems may be the most important part. There will be issues with any choice—even following Jesus, which we would say is the best decision a person can make, will bring problems. But our decision to commit and to proceed confidently within our limitations is the real deciding factor, not the fact that our choices will bring problems.

This is the place we have to settle. In rejecting everything else, we are free to pour into our one choice, freed by our limitations to funnel our energy into this one decision. Marrying one man makes all other men off limits, and we are free to pour our energy into that one covenantal relationship. Living in one place takes all other places off the list, but we are free to be a visitor in the world with a refuge to return to. The side benefits are that healthy marriages produce healthy people who have healthy relationships with others; peaceful homes house peaceful families who welcome friends and strangers into that peace. Having children, having a job, keeping a schedule…all these give framework to a life that will not hold up if we have unlimited freedom.

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We are on the last lap of our homeschool, with only one child and four years of high school left. I will have to make other choices with my time. The schedule will change, will flex and tighten with the seasons, but the need for limitations is still there. I have to look at busyness differently in this season because I am not a mother of small, needy children; not the mom who schedules playdates and nap times, who posts chore charts and daily lesson plans. I am the mom who is shifting from the primary voice in her children’s lives, to an ear, an eye. My prayers now are that my children narrow their own way and limit themselves to the wide expanse of kingdom God gives them dominion in.

Choose your limitations and commit to your decisions. Opt out. Unsubscribe. Narrow and refine until your freedom feels like it will hold up your life.

Time and the Peonies

Aside from family birthdays and anniversaries, I am terrible at keeping track of dates. I do calculations to figure out the year we moved, the last time we traveled, the year we planted that apple tree or when my husband had surgery on his shoulder. But I remember the year I started blogging: 2012, January, at a coffee shop in Cottage Grove, Oregon. It’s so random, but I remember the birth of this space as if it were another child. The way I form regrets and should-haves around my writing is very much like my reflections on parenting, and I have to purpose to not look back too much. I have great kids, despite my failures. I’ve written some words I’m happy with, despite my short-comings. And both of those things are impossible without God’s help.

This blog has always been a place for me to work out what I think. Strange, I know, to do this “publicly”, but I could easily be a hermit in the woods who forgets what human voice is like, even my own; writing my thoughts helps me speak, and doing either of those things publicly keeps me "close to the earth” and human, humus, like soil. I can almost embrace the fact that embarrassment, or the potential for embarrassment, is good for me. I can almost let go of my pride. 

(I have never liked the word “blog” or the terms blogging or blogger. There has to be something better, more beautiful, more reflective of what’s happening here than a mash-up of “web” and “log”. Logs are boring calculations of time spent, and I’d rather think this space is a collection of narratives, released and redeemed from the inner stories I tell myself. You have ideas; let’s create a new term!)

Tonight we’ll have people over to eat a simple meal with us and discuss ideas around what it means to be created in the image of God. We did this in January and intended to do it each month of the year, but it’s always hard to put things on the calendar. It’s easier to think about it as a future, far-off thing we might do someday when we have the time and the house is ready and the kids are occupied. Our future-selves are always less busy and more hospitable. This way of tracking time doesn’t work and my present-self knows this, so I am filling in the dates on an already full calendar because my mind forgets what my spirit knows: time stretches to fit every good thing and we can choose to have the time. 

We can also choose how we think about time. Twice in the last week I’ve admonished people who were grumbling about some future thing they had to do, something they were dreading. You’re not doing it now, so stop ruining the moment with your grumbling about the future. In certain seasons, that feeling of dread has come to me first thing in the morning, as my eyes adjust to a fresh 24 hours and my mind flicks through a rolodex of to-dos. It’s not the way to wake-up. Revelatory for me has been grasping the concept that if I faithfully do the things I must do, there will be time to do the things I want to do, without guilt. My husband doesn’t understand this struggle I have with guilt—I can’t sit down to read or write in the middle of the day because people are working hard out there in the world—but it’s always been there. I’m glad he doesn’t understand; it means he thinks it’s silly to have guilt over those things, and that’s the validation I need. I am silly. 

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The peony gives all its gifts and leaves nothing behind but greenery. Every bud blooms, every petal is enjoyed, until they fall to the ground outside or fall all at once in a sudden flouse to the table, dropping whole flowers in one descent from the vase. Even the way they land on my old, scarred up table is beautiful. I can’t describe my love for the peony but I bury my face in the dark pink ones, breathe deeply, and debate whether to bring them all inside or leave a few outside. This is my biggest concern today.

I wish peonies grew all year but they don’t, and this fact of time and seasons and quotidian rhythm prompts me to enjoy the heck out of them right now.  Right now, as I throw out an imperfect “log” about time in this space on the “web”—the space I neglect because people are working hard out there in the world and the to-do lists are fluttering in the wind.

Work.

And flutter.

And flouse.

The peonies won’t last forever.




Life lately

The damage from our epic and unexpected storm in February is still seen around homes and in the forests here. On my walks in the woods, the brush is rubbled-up like leftovers from a huge party, blocking the creek in places and changing the landscape. Fir trees, strong and established, came completely unmoored by the surprise weight of the snow that fell. The trees grow roots to hold on to the earth and so many of them completely let go, gave up, and their bodies all lay neatly pointing downhill. 
There wasn’t a lot people could do about the mess until the season had passed, but now the sun is out and it’s time. 

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There is really no good way to describe a season while you are in it. You don’t understand the full extent of it till it has passed.  So we describe what we were and what we did and how we thought. We tell it as though it was either the worst of times or the best, because nostalgia creeps in and makes us victims—either the past was great and now, here we are; or the past was terrible and there I was. Distorted. Hyperbolized. Inflated.

Knowing all that, let me try to describe our present season in one sentence: On Thursday we took the trash to the dump and we didn’t have another bag-full of garbage until Sunday. 

Or this sentence: Friday there were only three of us so we had dinner out. 

You’ll need to get used to this mom, my daughter said when I noted the trash situation, and that’s another sentence that could describe our season—my daughter, explaining things to me gently, letting me down slowly.  She has two months in Mongolia this summer, a full-time job, and plans to move out soon. Is eighteen years really enough time to prepare?

I had already changed our chore chart from a daily trash affair to every other day, and then I removed the chore from the chart altogether because it was so random and chore charts need regularity. Someone just takes the trash out when it’s full and no one gets to check it off a list anymore.

We still run a load in the dishwasher daily, but I wonder when that changes. When do we switch from six gallons of milk a week to four, to two, to a tiny, cute half-gallon? When does the milk spoil? I can’t remember the last time the milk spoiled in my fridge and I think it's maybe never happened; maybe milk spoilage is a myth to perpetuate repopulation: have more kids or your milk will spoil.

Time is the same. God is the same. We think it’s logical that our bank account should begin to increase now as children work and learn and leave, but even that is essentially the same. 

The sameness of God is what counteracts our (mock) despair in a season like this. He is same and steady and sure, the way a tree rooted to the earth and reaching to the sky should be. But He’s not boring in His sameness. He’s not fully discoverable, still, after so many seasons.

God is the center of a concentric circle we rotate around, rowing our boats, forgetting our bread, still not getting it. He increases the surface tension and we don’t even realize we could walk right to Him and touch Him and see Him steady, unchanging in Himself but new to us in every season. We think we’ve discovered something new when we unwrap a mystery, but He has only just pulled back the cover on what has always been. The only new thing is our understanding.

I need to think about these things when all my things are changing things, because I am a woman whose definitions and titles are changing. But I am who I always am.

*****

When the disciples forgot their bread, somewhere on the shore behind them were twelve baskets full of fragments leftover from a miracle—twelve baskets from a feast prepared for the hungry who would be hungry again. On the one hand, no one thought to bring bread for the trip and I think they were men focused on a task. On the other hand, wasn’t Jesus exasperated that they still didn’t get it? “Don't you understand yet?” He asked them. They didn’t and I don’t and we attempt to cover our lack of understanding by trying harder, but it never works that way. We laugh at a joke we don’t get and wonder how our bellies will be filled in this next season.

I don’t understand yet how God meets all our needs but sometimes we still feel a lack; how the spiritual dangers we can’t see outweigh the physical ones we can; how preparing for a season is even possible when we don’t know the start date, the itinerary, the return flight schedule. I don’t know how to prepare for something I’ve never been or done or seen.

All I can do is what I keep doing: gathering the fragments for the trip between feasts. There are miraculous provisions in my past, baskets full to carry me through the present.

The fragments for this season must be the memories: a toddler and an infant on the carpet, one reaching for a toy, the other starting to take it away but holding back, looking at me, knowing to be gentle; scrunching up a baby sock, rolling it over tiny toes; a baby in a room full of un-held babies, one of those orange plastic jewels stuck to his finger, eyes large and black and drowning; all of us on the floor Christmas morning.

I have a sketchy memory full of very specific snapshots I’ve intentionally frozen—remember this. I am mad about so much I don’t remember but the fragments are enough to fill the boat, and if I forget, ultimately, it’s ok. It’s never about the lack, the forgotten things. It’s always about the present provision.

The trees grow roots to hold on to the earth but so many of them let go this winter. I am changing, but I am not like those trees.