Thursday

acedia & motherhood | exorcising the noonday demon



I don't think I'm cut out for this stay-at-home-mom gig.

You're not supposed to admit that, are you? I'm blessed and lucky to be able to stay home, so the least I can do is be grateful, right?

I am grateful. I love my kids fiercely. I loved being the one at home when they were tiny. But at three and five, they aren't tiny anymore. And I'm weary and poured out. 

Five years is a long time in the land of littles. 

--

We don't spank. God doesn't parent me with fear, threats, or force, and I don't want to either.

We listen with our ears.
We speak kind words.
We help with our hands.
We love each other.

These are our rules. We do love each other, but not always well. There are days in which we hurt as much as we help, and around here, listening is like a unicorn--or an errand by myself. It's difficult to be kind at top volume. A little bit louder and a Whole Lot Worse.

A hot, crimson rage fills my heart, love.

The fabled Mommy Wars are fought on two fronts: in the media, of course, but many days, the battle feels closer, under my roof. I feel foolish for believing that babywearing and breastfeeding would create a magical foundation of attachment, trust, and peace in my home.

I don't want to reinvent the wheel, but I don't know how others do it. If a kid isn't naturally compliant or fearful of punishment, where is the incentive to abide by family rules or function as a team? I can't prevent and redirect every negative behavior. I can't even keep my own shit together.

--

Deep down, I know that every Yes is a No to something else: a clean house, a play date, a quiet morning at home. But I keep joining. Staying too long. Committing to things whose season has waned. I hang on, just in case.

If I don't keep putting myself out there, this loneliness could be construed as entirely my own making.

--

There was that study last spring, about how stay-at-home-moms (especially low-income ones) experience more depression than working moms or women without kids at home. The findings familiar, my eyes brimmed. Mothering is emotionally exhausting. Without that village it takes (or the money to hire one), the isolation exacts its toll.

--

I saw a counselor once this summer. She had a lot of pointers.

I just needed to get out more. Date nights!

Writing might not be the best use of my time. Too solitary!

And she was the one, after I told her we didn't spank, who reminded me none-too-subtly about a certain Proverb's fondness for smacking kids with rods.

I wiped my eyes and nodded my head dumbly. So hungry was I for adult conversation that I made an appointment to return the next week.

But I didn't. I remembered my already-ample access to ill-suited advice from strangers, free-of-charge.

I called to cancel. "You'll be fine," she assured understandingly and yet not at all. "You just need to get happy again."

--

I finished a book about acedia, the noonday demon, bane of solitaries, desert monastics, and apparently, stay-at-home-moms. It's a spiritual restlessness, different from clinical depression, but with similar markers: lethargy, languor, and lack of attention to the daily upkeep of life.

I'm still in deep. I confess it here, without tidy resolution, to say: I'm ready to work, to fight. Not my kids. Not my husband, not even myself, but the acedia. The creeping suspicion that if my best isn't good enough, then what's the point in trying at all? 

Work, gratitude, and prayer are all antidotes, and when I'm stuck like this, I shrink from all three. But I need them, blessed footholds to climb my way out. To live again as an actor in my own life. To fight hard against complacency and escapism. To be present to joy in hardship, purpose in monotony, and holy ground on the kitchen floor.

To not despise the day of small things.


gratitude is the fairest blossom


A most blessed and happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. xo

Wednesday

mother of exiles


I miss my babies. We barely slept for four years, but I knew what to do, mostly. Always cuddle, always nurse. Their desires were basic and I their whole, happy world.

Pre-schoolers are harder.

We are at Aldi getting pecans for pie. We haven't even made it as far as the cheese. James doesn't want to be in the cart, and he begins to lose his mind at top volume. People look on, horrified, or pretend they cannot hear our terrible circus. I am your nightmare. I am invisible.

He is not a baby. He is old enough to know better, and so am I, but still I snap sharply and swear when I see the check-out lines wrapped well into frozen foods, those huddle masses, tired and poor, and I yearning to breathe free.

Tempest-tost, I turn the cart, shoving cream back into coolers and pretzels on shelves, abandoning the cart and my dignity by the sliding doors.

Mother of Exiles, I want to go home. But I still need those freaking pecans.


Friday

the smitten word | around the web 10.16.12


I've started telling my daughters I'm beautiful (Offbeat Mama)

There are women who were too big for this town, who had their backs bent carrying things like religion and a history that originated somewhere in the crook of a branch that extended over a stream. A place where a patch of the sky was visible through the leaves, where a little girl let her bare leg dangle too far down.
There are a lot of people like me, because we're all the same. We're all blood and electricity. We're lonely under the gaze of god. We're all wet with dew and swallowing hard against DO THIS, CONSUME, SHUT UP and BE AFRAID to die.
All of you women with lines on your brow, with cracks between your fingers… it's been a long winter. All of you, you are beautiful and so am I.

Election 2012 Marks the End of Evangelical Dominance in Politics (The Atlantic)

But death often creates an opportunity for new life. As I survey the rising generation of Christians in America, I see many who recognize the ways in which the thirst for power has corrupted the faith. They're eschewing partisan politics as a way to coerce and control the country, and they are finding ways to work with others they may disagree with. They are looking for new ways to live their faith in our rapidly changing world, and they give me hope that American Christians may be on the cusp of a healthier engagement with the public square.

A Father's Fright of Twilight (The Resurgence). On my "emotional porn" post this week, some people said they'd never heard the metaphor. Here Mark Driscoll rolls it out in all its sexist, alarmist glory. Hide yo' kids, hide yo' wife:

Twilight is for teenage girls what porn is to teenage boys: sick, twisted, evil, dangerous, deceptive, and popular.
This weekend, millions will flock to movie theaters for the final installment of the teen vampire saga. Tragically, many will be driven by their parents, including some cougar moms encouraging and joining their daughters’ obsession with handsome young males.

Emily Maynard (not of Bachelorette fame) deconstructs another bad evangelical metaphor:

You keep saying that I have to cover up my body because I wouldn’t invite an Alcoholic to a bar, right? I wouldn’t be so cruel as to grab him a cool bottle of delicious beer and set it in front of him, right? I wouldn’t do that and expect him not to go into an insatiable frenzy and violently consume that alcohol, right?
But the problem with that is:

my body is not a bottle of beer.

This one is older, but I read it this week, and it's still timely, especially since the election. The Distress of the Privileged (The Weekly Sift).

As the culture evolves, people who benefited from the old ways invariably see themselves as victims of change. The world used to fit them like a glove, but it no longer does. Increasingly, they find themselves in unfamiliar situations that feel unfair or even unsafe. Their concerns used to take center stage, but now they must compete with the formerly invisible concerns of others. 
If you are one of the newly-visible others, this all sounds whiny compared to the problems you face every day. It’s tempting to blast through such privileged resistance with anger and insult.
Tempting, but also, I think, a mistake. The privileged are still privileged enough to foment a counter-revolution, if their frustrated sense of entitlement hardens.

this is to you, the military wife (Ashleigh Baker)

This is to you, for when you felt yourself slipping, darkness pressing close, and everyone told you to buck up, told you it was just stress. To you, the one who heard that weakness is failure and that admitting it would harm his mission. To you, for when you went to the clinic doctor anyway and were strong enough to ask for help.

On Remembrance (Luke Harms, A Deeper Story)

I have struggled much, and still do, with the meaning and purpose behind my service. I’m still working on making peace with myself and my experiences, but there is one thing that I am certain of this Veterans Day:
From my perspective as a veteran, the greatest honor you could ever pay me would be standing in solidarity with me as we fulfill our calling to be peacemakers and children of God.

Micha Boyett on Sacred Touch:

She said, “Micha, so few girls are touched in a tender, non-sexual, non-violent, non-manipulative way. So few girls are touched in a way that demands nothing of them. They are all craving true, loving touch.”
So we sought ways to care for them. If we dressed up for a goofy country night, Kelly and I were the ones wandering the room drawing freckles on their faces, braiding their hair, helping them with make-up. Who cared if we were even dressed for the night? Were they loved well? Were they told they were beautiful by the way we had cared for them?

The Age of Hipster Sexism (The Cut)

Like Hipster Racism, Hipster Sexism is a distancing gesture, a belief that simply by applying quotations, uncool, questionable, and even offensive material about women can be alchemically transformed. 
But have we really reached this stage of enlightened irony? We think we're over sexism yet our ironic expressions of it can only reinforce the basic problem, which is that women are paid less and (degradingly) sexualized against their will far more than men.

Move Over, Barbie--You're Obsolete (Upworthy)

Some Thoughts and Musings About Making Things for the Web (The Oatmeal). Funny and true. (Earmuffs for language.)

The Hill Country Hill Tribers make gorgeous fair-trade, hand-crafted scarves, jewelry, dolls, and more. Each sale provides income for Burmese refugees and their families. Check out their new line for holiday gift-giving.

Popular herechick flicks are not emotional porn
A follow-up: consume, critique, create | culture & the Kingdom

What are you reading, watching, creating? Tell us something good.


Thursday

consume, critique, create | culture & the Kingdom


There's a difference, isn't there, between evaluation and fault-finding? Discernment and cynicism? Critical thinking and a critical spirit?

We all have people in our lives--teachers, family, bosses, friends--who've judged us and found us lacking. Sometimes, this makes us feel like trash and puts those relationship on ice. Other times, their tough love or gentle truth-telling is the kick in the pants we need to become our best selves. 

Some critique is constructive, firming foundations and helping us grow. Other criticism is destructive, bent on tearing down. When it's personal, it can be hard to distinguish the difference. When I perceive an attack, I can launch into defensive mode, closing my ears to where I need to change. On the other end, I may righteously pretend to offer dispassionate critique, oblivious to my own tones betraying resentment or arrogance.

But thoughtful critique is a far cry from attack, and we shouldn't be so quick to conflate them. While it is true that we are asked to "Judge not lest ye be judged," there is a place for cultural criticism among Christians, and I'm not talking about the kind of finger-pointing or fear-mongering we've engaged in before.

For so long, Christians have told each other what to think that sometimes it seems like we've forgotten how to engage scripture and culture for ourselves--and the pendulum swings both ways. Those who've questioned fundamentalist framework and narrow boundaries can easily come out on the other "I do what I want" extreme, a path that can be just as unexamined and incongruous with the gospel.

We talked this week about how chick flicks are not "emotional porn", and a few people worried I could be swapping legalism for libertinism, but that's not my intention at all. My goal was not to prove the genre worthwhile but to show that the metaphor is flawed and a poor substitute for the work of engaging media through the lens of the Kingdom of God.

Passive consumers are susceptible to messages embedded in narrative and packaged in shiny glamour or gritty realism, but we are called to lives of more than mindless consumption. Christians who approach entertainment, advertising, art, or life without reflection should be wary of insidious messages. When our guard is down, we are easily influenced, but engaged critics can identify conflicting worldviews and hold them up to the light. We critique cultural messages, testing everything against the gospel.

But we never need to be the kind of critics who expose sin in every corner but ours or perceive holiness as a line dividing Us from Them. That criticism burns much and builds little, least of all the Kingdom of God among us.

What if instead we resolved only to be the kind of critics with fewer answers and better questions, the ones who listen closely for words, meaning, and the still, small voice of God? What if we said no to small gods and yes to grace? Could we learn to keep step not with church or culture but with the Spirit's lead? 

Could we find Jesus in everything true? Could we heed the whisper, the one that says, Turn it off. Make something better.

Could we train our critical eyes to see stories of redemption everywhere? Could we write them with our hearts and our lives?

Let's be critical like that. Let's critique by creating something new.

Monday

chick flicks are not emotional porn


You've heard the claim, right? It's a popular refrain in evangelical circles, meant to be edgy and relevant:

"Chick-flicks are emotional porn."

That's right, your favorite Kate Hudson movie is PORN, ladies! Commence feelings of guilt and shame now!

Now, I'm no rom-com apologist. This weekend found me adjusting Netflix settings and rating movies to garner better tailored suggestions. (Stop it with the cartoons! No more zombies!) I thumbed-down a host of women's favorites. How To Lose A Guy in Ten Days? Nope. My Best Friend's Wedding? Boo. Miss Congeniality? Next. Legally Blonde? Ew.

I don't love these movies but not because they're "emotional porn." There is no emotional porn. That is not a thing. The emotional porn argument is just the same Christian legalism in a shinier package, and it's a lie. 

The people who make this argument mean well. They desire strong marriages and relationships built on the good things of God. They hate to see people led astray. So do I. So let's have this conversation, but let's have it broadly. Let's talk about media literacy, identifying messages and measuring them against the gospel. Let's practice discernment. Let's test everything. Let's take every thought captive and strive for purity. 

But let's be adults, and let's grow our kids into adults in time. Our God is big. Our struggles are different. God may be calling you and me to different boundaries in different seasons, so we'll need to engage critically.

Good. Bad. Safe. Unsafe. These are not useful categories for young people, and they're even less meaningful for Christian adults. Broad labels and easy answers mislead. This is not the way for lovers of the Truth.

The "emotional porn" label is more confusing than clarifying, and it exists as yet another way to police women's behavior. It also minimizes the degradation and damage that actual porn inflicts (perhaps on women most of all). Ryan Gosling may be impossibly romantic with impossible abs, but his leading man ideal does not debase or exploit. To some degree, all literature, film, and entertainment are fantastic, but it's quite a leap to imply that every fantasy is pornographic or inherently destructive. Sandra Bullock movies are not addictive, and Twilight is unlikely to ruin your neighbor's marriage or your son's self-image.

Ultimately, I don't know whether or not you should watch that movie in particular or chick-flicks in general. Perhaps the genre fosters dissatisfaction, and it's best to steer clear. Maybe they're harmless fun. It's not up to me to interpret God's will for your life. 

Chick flicks are not pornographic, but that does not mean that they are value-neutral. We still need to do the work of interpreting media messages. We are influenced by culture and owe it to God, ourselves, and one another as Christians to settle neither for mindless entertainment nor rigid legalism.

So let's dig in. Let's open our eyes and engage critically. Let's wrestle with what it looks like to be not conformed to the world but transformed. Let's have conversations about relationship and fantasy, entertainment, and what honors God. Let's talk about what grows a person and relationship. Let's identify which messages we're susceptible to and fight the tide toward passive media consumption.

And then let's not chain each other to the specific and personal ways we discern God's leading in our own lives. It is for freedom that Christ sets us free.

A follow-upconsume, critique, create | culture & the Kingdom

Sunday

Tiny Prints giveaway {ends TONIGHT 11/19}

**This giveaway is closed (with sincerest apologies to email subscribers.)  I loved hearing all your traditions and memories in the comments! The winner is lindacarol. Congrats!**

It's beginning to look a lot like...Thanksgiving, right? It's not even Advent 'til December 2, but I'm of the opinion that the day after Thanksgiving is a great day to get out the Christmas decorations (and put on the Sufjan boxed set that makes Jim a little ragey).

But! None of this is the point, because no matter whether you're in the Christmas spirit yet or not, it's decidedly not too early to beginning thinking about holiday cards, and I have a sweet giveaway for one lucky guy or gal:

$50 worth of free goodness from Tiny Prints.

There is one code up for grabs for $50 off [not including shipping, cannot be combined with other offers]. This is also a super fast turnaround, and the winner's coupon code will expire 12/14/12.

We designed our Christmas cards last year through Tiny Prints, and they turned out absolutely beautifully. They have hundreds of fun, elegant, and stylish templates for all sorts of occasions featuring one photo or a dozen, and they're printed on quality card stock.

So, to enter: leave a comment sharing a favorite holiday memory or tradition. That's it. (You're always more than welcome to "like" The Smitten Word on facebook, but alas, it will not net you extra entries.) Random.org will spit out a winner tonight at midnight, so make sure you leave an email to get in touch.

Disclosure: this giveaway (and our own holiday cards) are sponsored by Tiny Prints.

Saturday

what we need is here


After October's whirlwind posting schedule, it's been a little quieter here, but I'm still around, refereeing monkeys, tackling clutter one pile at a time, and trying to breathe deeply. Sweet mercy.

What We Need Is Here (Wendell Berry)
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.

Heart-quiet? Yes and please. Mr. Berry, as my youngest would say, you are my best.

A blessed weekend to you all. Let us pray to be quiet of heart and clear of sight. What we need is indeed already here. 


On an unrelated but fun note, find details on designing 10 FREE Tiny Prints flat cards here (no purchase necessary). I also have a free shipping coupon code for Tropical Traditions coconut oil and natural foods in case this was the week you were finally going to try to make deodorant:)

Tuesday

how hast thou offended?



There was this pastor, and he got a little news coverage for putting a political zinger on the church marquee. It was unkind and possibly racist. The community cried foul, but he defended his sign up and down, saying,
Truth is offensive.
Is it? Offensive like that?

I'm over at A Deeper Story today. Won't you come by and say hello?

Saturday

practicing peace: a perfect end

We made it through 31 Days, delving into hard and hallowed aspects of peacemaking, and I suspect we only scratched the surface. I may just add an ongoing tab so that we can keep the conversation going a while longer. I would be especially interested in digging into spiritual practices like centering prayer and talking a bit about peaceful parenting and works of reconciliation.

I'm so grateful to Danielle, S, Tara, Becky, Kelly, Amy, Bristol, Luke, Kristin, and Kamille for sharing words and practices here. Your posts were among the best, most shared, and most interacted with this month, and I loved hosting your thoughtful and varied perspectives.

Thanks to everyone for reading and reflecting here with me. I like you. xo

The Lord Almighty grant us a peaceful night and a perfect end. Amen.
  1. 31 Days to Practice Peace
  2. the peace of shared chaos
  3. the peace of killing the approval god
  4. peace of leaning into the light
  5. making peace with a postpartum body {guest post Danielle}
  6. the peace of putting it out there
  7. the peace of wild things
  8. the peace of quiet activism {guest post Tara Pohlkotte}
  9. the peace of imperfect hospitality
  10. making peace in prison {guest post S}
  11. the peace of subversive sabbath
  12. the peace of perseverance
  13. waging peace: the sword that heals
  14. the peace of sharing stories
  15. peace & the still, small voice {guest post Becky MacKenzie}
  16. the peace of knowing the enemy {guest post Kelly Chadwick}
  17. peace amid debate & political storm
  18. when parenting doesn't feel peaceful
  19. the peace of being saved by Story {guest post Amy L. Peterson}
  20. the peace of disconnecting to reconnect
  21. the peace of breathing the rhythms of rest
  22. a peace wisdom-sown
  23. peacemaking: play as resistance {guest post Bristol}
  24. making peace with feminism
  25. the peace of keeping the darkness at bay {guest post Luke Harms}
  26. peacemaking: wisdom from the margins
  27. the peace of getting away
  28. the peace of practicing freedom
  29. creating space for peace (guest post Kristin Tennant}
  30. making peace with proverbs 31 {A Year of Biblical Womanhood}
  31. shalom & restoring identity {guest post Kamille Scellick}
May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you : wherever he may send you;
may he guide you through the wilderness : protect you through the storm;
may he bring you home rejoicing : at the wonders he has shown you;
may he bring you home rejoicing : once again into our doors.
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