so beautiful it hurts to look at you

April's end is fling-wide-the-windows
coffee on the porch
lunch al fresco and
honest to goodness dandelion-and-dogwood
Spring, God be praised.

Resurrection smells of fresh mown grass,
tastes sweet as blueberry ice cream.
We dig out bikes from the shed
and the dirt in the garden, sinking
bean poles that reach for the sky.
A new trail opens, we tie on sneakers and
emerge from hibernation. Stretching limbs we blink and
breathe in this new day, its dawning grace.


Western Pennsylvania winters encroach on fall and spring like choking vine. On my mopiest days, I am certain that we endure but two seasons here, Summer Camp and The Winter Of My Discontent, but the proof is in the pictures and the skip in my step today.

Spring has sprung. (Leeeeeaaaaaves!!!)

I'm playing along with HopefulLeigh's monthly What I'm Into link-up. This April I'm also down with:

  • Morel mushrooms. Jim's been foraging, and we cook 'em in butter and garlic and YUM. 
  • Chickens pecking about. (Less down with the fox who ate one just off our deck, though.)
  • Three little piglets at the neighbors' house.
  • Grilling season.
  • Renew & Refine Retreat for Writers. I'm so excited to spend time learning and writing and having a little fun before summer camp wreaks its havoc. (And it's not too late to spend Memorial weekend with us...The code BREATHE gets you $25 off.)
  • Mad Men. I still love that and Scandal. (There doesn't seem to be a lot else one right now, is there?) I mainlined two season of AMC's The Killing on Netflix in an embarrassingly short amount of time, and it's coming back for a third season soon. Jim thought it was slow, but I was hooked on the characters, emotional depth, and mystery.
  • You already know I've been reading Bread & Wine, Carry On, Warrior, What It Is Is Beautiful, and The Mermaid of Brooklyn. I'm also reading (and LOVING) The Prophetic Imagination, but more on that another time--or better yet, head over to Kelley Nikondeha's for a week's worth of reflections.
  • I used a birthday gift certificate to buy a weighted hippie-made hula hoop with fiery stripes. It seemed like the right thing to do. 
  • Library story hour. I drop both kids off on Wednesday mornings for one glorious hour in which they are thoroughly charmed and I am blissfully uninterrupted. Magic, I tell ya.
  • The kiddos are turning a corner. It's part timing and all grace, but we're hitting a stride. Dylan's not Too Old, and James isn't Too Little. We're out of diapers and babyhood but not yet in school, a fun place where they're little and "big" at all once, and they really are best friends. Hallelujah and Amen.

(an ongoing record of God's goodness, #400-423)

What's catching your eye and capturing your heart of late? (100 points for knowing to what my post title alludes.)


the mermaid of brooklyn

In tv land, there are generally two roles for the thirty-something woman: the (sexy) childless career woman or the (sexy) mother of a (sexy) teenager, a decidedly more supporting role. Motherhood dominates a commercial landscape for everything from paper towels to snack food, toothpaste, and air fresheners, but sustained storylines about parenting little ones are few and far between.

I posted a musing about this on facebook once, and a tired mom, admitting her own preference for escapist entertainment responded, Who wants to watch stories about real life?

I do, I thought. Not stories about diapers and crying, of course, but honest narrative about motherhood, relationships, change, identity, sex, self image, community, family, depression, joy, struggle, work, worth, meaning? Absolutely.

The Mermaid of Brooklyn is that story seldom told, a rare jewel and rough diamond both.

The sophomore novel from Brooklyn dwelling writer Amy Shearn is loosely based on her own great-grandmother, Jenny Lipkin, whose husband disappears one night without a word. He goes out for cigarettes and fails to return, leaving Jenny with their infant and toddler, his dog, and a host of questions.

The story takes place one scorching summer in Park Slope. It could be an enjoyable beach read, but it's no frivolous fluff piece. Shearn writes with honest insight and biting wit about new motherhood and the inevitable trials that set us off, set us adrift, or set us free.

Lipkin is a fascinating protagonist, because although she is not tremendously likable, she is strikingly relatable, and as a reader, you do want to see her succeed  The book takes a novel turn into the waters of magical realism, a charming plot device that serves the story and doesn't take away from its more down-to-earth enchantments.

I don't want to give anything away, but I especially liked the sensuality that Shearn imbues Jenny with as she re-learns to navigate her own body even while sharing so much of it with her young family. It was tender and true picture of life-after-baby.

Darkly funny, smart, and resonant, The Mermaid of Brooklyn tells a true tale about relationships, parenthood, second-guessing and starting over, even when today looks exactly like yesterday and the day before that.

Who is telling good stories about motherhood--or of women as more than romantic leads--in books, television, or movies? Are you reading/watching anything good lately?

TLC Book Tours hooked me up with a book, but these opinions are all mine. But you knew that;) Affiliate links, yo.


what it is is beautiful {giveaway}

I'm thrilled today to introduce you to Sarah Dunning Park, although since she is poet-in-residence for a little media empire known as Simple Mom, you may already be thoroughly charmed by her lyrical take on aspects of motherhood both sacramental and mundane. Her first volume of poetry, What It Is Is Beautiful: Honest Poems for Mothers of Small Childrenhad its official release this month, but I was lucky enough to receive my own copy when Sarah and I met up at our alma mater last May.

Sarah and I traveled in similar circles in college, but she graduated early, and I never got to know her as well as I wanted. Reconnecting last year on Twitter and then again in person for an afternoon with her and her girls was a delicious treat and exactly what my heart needed.

Sarah's a good mama, not because she's perfect or put together but because she's honest and kind. She generously agreed to share a poem here as well as a copy of her new book with one reader. (Yay!) It's available for only $4.38 right now at Amazon, so you might as well pick up a few for gifts. Mother's Day is just around the corner, and these poems are a cup of cool water and a needed "me too" to harried mamas in search of a little peace amid the storm of parenting littles.

Keeping the Peace

I saw it out of the corner of my eye,
noticed its tall, silver form
long before naming it in my mind:
heron. It perched, utterly graceful and
still, on a fallen trunk that sloped down
into the creek we cross over every day.
Fog was rising from the water,
and I wished I could stop the car,
approach quietly with camera in hand,
and somehow arrest the moment—
then lift it, intact, to take with me
as an emblem for the day.
Instead I turned away
to face the road again,
letting the moment flick past
like the flipping of channels,
and swallowing my awareness
that we live in a world with—herons.
The children were slumped behind me,
only just lulled into a dubious harmony
that would no doubt be shattered
if we stopped, or if I called out
for them to notice this marvel,
already now behind us.
I envisioned
three heads swiveling,
eager to broaden their horizons
with the wonders of the natural world.
Then I pictured a careless elbow
clipping a seatmate on the chin,
and two sets of hands clawing
at the sibling with the prime view—
of this animal
who has had the good sense to freeze
as we go barreling past.
No, I decided
(and it felt ungenerous):
today I would choose to keep
this emblem of peace to myself,
not sharing it with them directly,
but thereby preserving
the absence of conflict in the backseat,
and the heron’s solitary breakfast,
and perhaps most important,
that rare jewel—peace of mind—
for me.
© 2012 Sarah Dunning Park

To enter to win a copy of What It Is Is Beautiful, leave a comment in the vein of mothering or poetry, and we'll pick a winner Sunday night at 11:59 PM.

unsponsored content. affiliate links. please don't repost sarah's work without permission. you know the drill.

carry on, warrior

If you visit the internets now and again, it is likely that you have come across the words of Glennon Doyle Melton of Momastery.  Even if you've never read her, your sister, neighbor, or mom probably has: her post Don't Carpe Diem has 305,000 facebook shares, and that was before the Huffington Post syndicated it.

Girlfriend knows how to write words that connect, and Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed does just that. It's a roaringly funny, painfully honest, and uncommonly kind collection of personal narrative essays on life, recovery, family, truth-telling, faith, and loving well. Not everyone will appreciate Glennon's flawed-and-flighty-with-a-heart-of gold persona, but I did (and I'm not a regular reader of hers). She comes across as wildly over the top at times, but there is still something resonant and real within the silliness and self-deprecation.

A bit of the content has been previously published on her blog, which is kind of a bummer, except that they are still remarkably powerful essays. Every time, I'd be like, Man, I've totally read this one before! and then before I knew it, I was weeping or almost peeing my pants with laughter again, which speaks to the power of her storytelling.

Glennon might come across as too Jesus-y for folks who aren't religious and a little too much for some Christians (and others), but I found her grace and humor to be disarming and refreshing. I read a few passages aloud to Jim, and he loved it, too, so I'm pretty sure it's not a Women's Book (and also that Women's Books are not, in fact, real things).

Books that really make me laugh are rare, so I'll recommend them every time. There's more than enough outrage to go around, and sometimes you want to read something that makes you feel like the world isn't such a terrible place. Carry On, Warrior is like that.

TLC Book Tours hooked me up with a book, but these opinions are all mine. But you knew that;) Affiliate links, yo.


Dove's "real beauty" is a charade

Jim and I had the tv on this weekend, and a certain ad had me shaking my head and waxing feminist about the difference between the marketing of products to men and women.

Drink this beer...Get a hot chick! 
Shave with this gel...Get a hot chick! 
Buy this domain...Get a hot chick!

Advertising geared toward women is a different beast entirely, creating fears and providing "solutions" to embarrassing problems we never knew existed in our bodies and homes.

Your couch smells! Your house smells! You smell, not just at the gym but probably on your subway commute, too!
Your (off-white!) teeth are crawling with "bugs"!
Your lashes aren't lush!
Your thighs don't "gap"!
Your hair is flat! Your color dull!

And apparently, there's also something wrong with our armpits. They're not pretty enough, and we're probably not "ready" for sleeveless shirts, no matter what the weather report says.

Yup, the ad that inspired my mini tirade this weekend was created by none other than Dove, the "real beauty" company that brought us that feel-good viral ad that everyone was sharing on social media yesterday.

I should be more grateful of my natural beauty. It impacts the choices and the friends that we make, the jobs we apply for, how we treat our children.
It impacts everything. It couldn't be more critical to your happiness.

Beauty couldn't be more critical to your happiness. Imma go ahead and call that a fat corporate lie, peddled by a company with a vested interest in our believing that they can sell us both. Beauty and happiness are fleeting, at least the versions that come in a lipstick tube or can be purchased on credit. Those pleasures fade, but their elusive promise is a carrot that we keep chasing despite our better judgment.

If only we were skinnier--or curvier. If our arms were sculpted, our nail beds nicer, our lips fuller, our skin darker (or lighter), our stomachs flatter, our butts rounder, our breasts perkier, our hair smoother...THEN we would finally be truly happy, right? 

(Because if we've learned anything at all, it's that beautiful people are the happiest. Celebrities, for instance. Um...)

We spend a lot of time as women analyzing and trying to fix the things that aren't quite right, and we should spend more time appreciating the things that we do like.

Just not our armpits, right? Dove, you're kinda full of crap. You can't sell "real beauty" with a side of insecurity; that's not how this works. Yes, women experience happiness when we feel pretty, but joy is a much deeper well, which you'll never bottle, no matter how hard you try.

Joy arises from inhabiting bodies of all shapes fully and well, and women are not ornaments, shells, or prizes to be won. I may feel happy when I wear a pretty dress, but I experience joy when I dance, recognizing my own body's strength through work or play. With our hands we comfort and serve, and we are so much more than than our skin.

Joy is being present to the moment, loving and being loved, and the satisfaction of a job well-done. It's using our gifts to make the world better, lighting the darkness, and lightening one another's load. My joy is wrapped up in yours; we find happiness in connection and in the beauty of kindness, community, and truth.

Beauty is critical to happiness insofar as it is understood to be something greater than anything that can be photoshopped or purchased at a drugstore. Neither age nor "unsightly" armpits are a threat to the lasting beauty that springs from kind hearts and good works.

(And Dove? I like my deodorant without toxins, thanks.)


bread & wine: a love letter

Bread & Wine, Shauna Niequist's latest offering of essays are as charming and disarming as we've come to expect from this warm-hearted storyteller. The icing on the cake is the additional treat of favorite recipes which perfectly frame a narrative built around eating and hospitality.

Her stories are sensuous and evocative, celebrating memories shared around tables and the ways we nourish more than bodies in the breaking of bread. Shauna makes you want to cook and more than that, to feed people. Her vision of hospitality is one we seem to have lost along the way and long for again.

This is not a book about "entertaining" or showing off but eating together, eating simply, and eating well. She shares travel stories, heartbreaks, and lessons learned in community, balance, and embodied living. You definitely come away wanting to share a meal at Shauna's house, but it's still relatable: she confesses to serving cheese and crackers for dinner and admits it can be easier to feed a crowd than cook for your family day in and day out. She offers practical tips for doing both better, sharing her own learning process in between honest stories about friendship, parenting, celebration, shared burdens, and eating with joy.

I read an advanced copy that was missing a few recipes (although I have them in my inbox), and I look forward to putting more into my rotation. I did make her Breakfast Cookies. They were a little too wholesome for my picky eaters, who longed for a bite of chocolate with their banana, coconut, and oats, but they've been good for me before or after workouts.

I've been dressing salads in simple oil and vinegar for months, but Shauna convinced me that homemade vinaigrette can be just as simple and twice as versatile. Olive oil is no good in the fridge, but a maple Dijon balsamic dressing can sit out on the counter for up to a week and is as tasty on roasted asparagus as it is on greens (and probably quite good as a marinade, too). I've already made it twice, no measuring.

I definitely want to try the Dark Chocolate Sea Salted Butter Toffee and Annette's Enchiladas because hers look simpler than the way I make them, and I keep hearing rave reviews.

Both down-to-earth and inspiring, Bread & Wine captures the pleasures of fresh food, full-bodied flavor, and life shared around the table.

Gather the people you love around your table and feed them with love and honesty and creativity. Feed them with your hands and the flavors and smells that remind you of home and beauty and the best stories you've ever heard, the best stories you've ever lived.
There will be a day when it all falls apart...There are things we can't change. Not one of them. Can't fix, can't heal, can't put the broken pieces back together. But what I can do is offer myself, wholehearted and present, to walk with the people I love through the fear and the mess. That's all any of us can do. That's what we're here for. (come to the table, Bread & Wine)

review copy provided by zondervan. opinions mine, affiliate links, what-have-have. as you were, soldier.

waging peace: conflict, christian unity, & power

Those who hate conflict will avoid it like the plague, but I'm not one of those people. It's not that I like to fight, balls-out, guns-blazing, I-will-CUT-you. I just happen to believe that conflict is inevitable, necessary, healthy, and not inherently indicative of battle lines drawn, Us vs. Them, or all-out-war. My life is full of people with whom I disagree about a million things, and we manage to love each other all the same.

I'm realizing that my (relative) comfort with conflict is a minority position in many Christian circles, where disagreement can be conflated with attack and one of The Worst sins: disunity.

Whenever Christians get to disagreeing, as we're wont to do, someone inevitably waves the "UNITY!" banner, imploring folks to pipe down and get along. This is understandable, to a certain degree. We are supposed to be known by our love and what-not.

But conflict itself is not a threat to peace, and those pleas for unity rarely occur on neutral ground. When the Supreme Court was considering marriage equality, I read arguments by Christians on the right and the left about how disagreements were a distraction from what God really cares about.

It may be natural to prioritize our own passions, but one person's "issue" or hypothetical thought exercise is another's actual life. If I, as a straight, cisgender person, can ignore the fact that LGBTQ Americans do not share many of the rights that I take for granted, my "opting out" is a luxury and privilege, proof more of my callousness than enlightenment. It's also a wildly presumptuous leap to project my own apathy onto God. 

Unity pleas rarely occur in a vacuum, and they can come off as silencing dissent when issued by Christians for whom the "fight" is not personal. Those without a horse dismiss the race with record speed, but not having stake in the battle du jour should never be confused with the moral authority to explain how there are bigger fish to fry--or the ability to impart God's own perspective!

There are uneven power differentials at play within many conflicts. Glossing over them not only misses the heart of much disagreement, it impedes the very reconciliation those unity pleas strive for. The most heated conflicts are deeply personal, and injustice and hurt may bring the most heat of all. We all have unique perspectives and intrinsic value, but if someone is being hurt, silenced, marginalized or oppressed inside a conflict, that inequality bears profoundly on its resolution.

Unity pleas sound noble, but they cannot bring about healing or justice, and without those, there can be no real unity--just the appearance of it (and even then only from select vantage points).

Conflict must be worked through and harm accounted for, even the hurt we never intended. We rarely hurt each other on purpose, but good intentions don't mean never having to say you're sorry. We are responsible for our words, actions, and inactions: meaning well alone is not absolution. 

I generally mean well, and I hurt people all the time, usually the ones I love the most. Everybody does, and we rarely intend to at all. Christians who believe that we're all sinners should know this better than anyone, but again and again, we act as though meaning-well covers over a multitude of (our own) sins.

But that's not how it works. People rarely intend to be racist or misogynistic, and yet well-intentioned people say and do hurtful and oppressive things all the time. This doesn't make us bad people but human people, and part of being human is being accountable for our behavior. We all mess up, and hurt isn't any more palatable just because the offending party didn't intend it. 

If a wounded party has already experienced marginalization because of race, gender, sexuality, abuse, etc., conflict is often experienced within a deeper, systemic context and repeated pattern of social inequality, which cannot be ignored if we care about unity, peace, and love. If someone lets me know that my words or actions caused pain, I need to account for that, especially as a person of privilege. I need to listen, and I need to make it right.

So yes, by all means, let's assign positive intent. Let's not assume that people intended us harm (or that our own critics are picking fights for sport or being too "sensitive"). But then let's also choose to acknowledge the power dynamics at play and take responsibility for our own behavior before pleading, "Can't we we all just get along?"

There are no shortcuts around conflict into unity. Unity involves forgiveness and loving well, but it is also about righting wrongs. Conflict is not a threat, especially to a unity that did not exist in the first place. If there are inequalities within a community, pleas for unity can function as unwitting endorsements of existing hierarchies and an unjust status quo. Real peace is not kept but made: forged in fire and hard-won. Unity is like peacemaking, and it won't be achieved without the kind of love that sees conflict through all the way to the wholeness of shalom.


come on now, sugar

It was a long winter. My son weaned in June, but I ate like I was still nursing or pregnant or in my twenties like I was when the baby season began. For six years my body was not my own: stretching, retching, rocking, soothing, and nourishing someone else's. It returned to me, finally, but I don't recognize myself in photos.

It was a long winter. It's Eastertide, but daffodils won't bloom when snow still swirls and they know better. When we tapped trees last year, the weather warmed, and we were boiling syrup thick and sweet by February's end. This year, the maples fill buckets into April.

It was a long winter. The kids were sick, Jim traveled, and I drank coffee for breakfast and forgot to eat proper meals. It was dark, grey and white, and there were days we never changed out of our pajamas. The kids fought, and I yelled, and I ate to cheer myself up, because apparently, I am a person who does that. Maybe I always did, and it's just now catching up.

I want to fit into my clothes without projecting jacked up habits and hang-ups onto my daughter. I want to nourish me again and be nourished. I want to be well.

So I go back to Zumba and remember why I never danced on stage for all my roommates' culture nights in college. I remember, and I smile, because there is no audience here. I jumble steps, and I'm breathing fast, hips swinging, booty shaking, enjoying my own body and my kindness to it.

It was a long winter, but it's Eastertide. Life flows through the trees and in my veins, and I'll not search for the living among the dead.


to love is to serve is to liberate

'Fligendes Herz' photo (c) 2009, hmboo - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

When Jesus removed his outer garment and knelt to wash his followers' dusty, dirty feet, it was a profound act of humility.

Taking the very nature of a servant

To love is to serve, to bow low that others may be honored. To set aside power that the humble may be exalted.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

Christ's love risked personal discomfort, community dissension, and his own life.

 he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death
        even death on a cross!

But the Christian story does not fade out on one humble man's unjust execution. It is not a tale of submission as an end in itself or a pie-in-the-sky gospel of get-along, wait it out, it gets better, suffer, sisters!

It was just before the Passover Festival. 

The foot washing, Last Supper, and Christ's arrest happen in the context of celebrating the Israelites' liberation from slavery in Egypt. Jesus serves his friends and submits to death not because he is compelled, but because he is free, demonstrating that the power of God and Love is greater than the power of empire or anything else. He

did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage

Christ's humility and service honored a God who liberates the oppressed, breaking every literal and metaphoric chain. To love is to serve is to liberate. "On the night he was handed over to suffering and death, our Lord Jesus Christ..."

showed them the full extent of his love.

Jesus wasn't a nice guy or martyr but a servant-leader. His service was radical for the way he laid down his own authority. His ministry consistently upended cultural norms, transgressing myriad religious, ethnic, gender, and class barriers. His love is inextricable entwined with the laying down of power and the lifting up the vulnerable, lowly, and despised.

having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

With one empty tomb, Jesus demolished hierarchies, humiliating the oppressive religious and political powers that hung him naked and bleeding to a tree. He subverted their symbols of dominance and shame, exposing their blood thirst and impotence by his own humility, forgiveness, and resurrecting, all-things-made-new power.

To love is to serve is to liberate. Christ washing his disciples' feet hearkens back to the exodus and ahead to the cross and empty tomb. 

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Yes, we are called to deny ourselves and pick up our own crosses but never to nail each other up on one. To follow Jesus is to tread the way of suffering and death all the way to Sunday, when old yokes shattered and a new day dawned. 

We are an Easter people. Christ is risen and his Kingdom comes, on earth as it is in heaven. The last are first, the dead are raised, and all things shall be healed. In his Name all oppression shall cease

We'll follow Jesus down the path of servanthood, flattened hierarchies, and radical love. We'll follow him into repentance, freedom, and resurrecting life. 

Our strengths, weaknesses, experiences, privileges, and perspectives are unique, so we won't bind each other to the specific, personal ways we discern God's leading in our own lives. We'll seek unity without uniformity, but never on the backs of brothers and sisters who are hurting. We won't agree on everything but will hold our tongues from crying, "Peace, peace," when there is no peace.

It's a hard and hallowed path, but we're in this together as family, co-laborers, pilgrims, prophets, priests, ministers, reconcilers, servant-leaders, and friends. We are God's workmanship, Christ's Body and Bride: uniquely gifted, irrevocably called, assuredly beloved, and free indeed.


raising children to subvert purity culture (& create consent culture)

1.  Each of us derives our inherent, unshakable worth from being created in the image of God. Human worth cannot be measured by appearance, achievement, or "sexual purity" (a dubious and harmful construct). Every person is loved and valued. Full stop.

2.  We are each responsible for our own choices, sins, and lusts. Be wise, be humble, and be free.

3.  We set our own boundaries for touch. No person is entitled to touch another without his or her express permission. This applies in discipline, affection, play, aggression, arousal, comfort...pretty much any circumstance that isn't an emergency. Consent is not implied.

4.  People are not objects. Objectification reduces human worth to sexual or social utility. People don't objectify themselves; we objectify them by seeing them as objects existing for our own pleasure (or judgment) instead of people created in the image of God.

5.  Be media literate, rejecting fear or passive consumption and choosing discernment. Test everything.

6.  Our bodies and sexuality were created by God, and they are good. We're called to honor God and others with--not in spite of!--our bodies and sexuality, even as single and celibate people. Purity is demonstrated not by hemlines but hearts.

7.  Love God. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. Jesus summed up 613 commands in those short two. We'll lighten one another's burdens, choosing love.

This post was inspired by a rather pearl-clutchy 7 Things conversation I stumbled across about modesty and raising daughters. What would you change or add?
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...