Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Twelve Reasons to Stay Put

I like my house.
By any standard it's a nice house, spacious and full of light. The kitchen is well equipped and pretty, the bedrooms look out on green spaces, and there's room for family, books, and conversation.
I know someday we might need to move. Someday we might want to move. But not yet.
“Wouldn't you like to downsize?” asked one of my daughters, noting that only her dad and I live here now. “A cozy bungalow -- doesn't that sound appealing?”
Well, no. It doesn't. And there are several reasons why:
* This house is full of memories. It's the last house where my dad visited us, and the last house where John's parents came to see us. I remember them all here for family dinners, or walking up the driveway or in the yard, or just stopping by for a visit.
*Seven of our eight kids spent a lot of time growing up here. Two of them had their weddings here, one in the back yard, one in the living room.
*All ten of our grandchildren think of this as our house, and have fun when they're here.
*We've remodeled the kitchen and the basement, re-roofed, planted shrubs, trees and flower beds, survived a flooded basement, and painted, patched and papered almost every room in this house. My dad and my uncle, all our kids, their friends -- everyone pitched in to help us fix up this place.
*When our dog Meg died, we buried her in the back yard; two of our boys came a long way to help.
*The rose bushes in the side yard were a gift from my confirmation class students one year. The lilac bush was a gift from another confirmation class.
* We have the best neighbors.
* We like the location -- we can walk uptown easily.
* This house has a peaceful quiet that I love. John and I enjoy breakfast at the picnic table or coffee on the swing or chilly Sunday afternoons in front of a fire.
* Did I mention all the family celebrations -- the Christmas morning when we got up to a picture-perfect snow, or the Easter egg hunts, or the Fourth of July backyard baseball games? Thanksgiving dinners when we have to set up tables in the living room and the basement? These walls have absorbed the joy and fun of those family times; on a quiet day they echo back that joy and fun.
* I like having space. I want room to spread out, room to invite people into. I would rather create cozy, not have it imposed on me by the down-size of a house.
* This house is a home, a shelter. When I turn onto our street, I feel as if I'm returning to a place where I belong, where I can relax or where I can get to work -- whichever I need to do. This house is the place where I can locate my family, my heart.
How will I ever fit all that into a bungalow?

Monday, September 29, 2008

One Fun Thing

Here's a fun thing I found on one of my favorite blogs, PENSIEVE: Wordles.
You have to go take a look! and then you can make a Wordle of your own.
It's a captivating form of wordplay, designed to tempt and coax the artist in you.
Just be sure you have a little time to play!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Beauty Is Its Own Reward

The Midwest is hardly ever listed on “most breathtaking” lists. The nation's breadbasket doesn't win tourism awards. We're hardly ever photographed the way Big Sur is, or the Great Smoky Mountains, or Cape Cod.
But the Midwest has subtle beauty for those who have eyes to see, and this week-end is a good example. As trees color the hills and roadsides from green to gold and red, fields undergo their own transformation from green to bronze. Sumac blazes, pumpkins wait for harvest, orange and round and plump. Light filters through spider webs and shimmers on creeks, all tucking themselves in for the coming winter.
Like a crazy quilt, the Midwest in autumn is stitched together with color and texture, piecing beauty and utility into something warm and surprisingly beautiful.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Something Old, Something New . . .

It's always exciting to start something new.
For me something new is a new weekly column on the Blissfully Domestic website, on the Inspired Bliss channel. You can find my first Grandma on Board column here, and a new column again each Thursday. You can also use the Inspired Bliss button on the side column of Notes from Home to find the Inspired Bliss website and explore all the other excellent posts on that channel.
Oh -- the something old?
That would be me!

Boredom, Ennui, Restlessness, and then some . . .

I've been reading Kathleen Norris's new book, A Marriage, Monks, and A Writer's Life: Acedia & Me, and as always, I'm both touched and challenged by her insight.
In this book she shares a great deal about her marriage, her husband's death, and the acedia she experiences in the midst of her everyday life, in the challenges of making a life in the midst of daily responsibilities and death.
Norris writes, “It's easier and far more efficient to go about our daily tasks as though we were the sun around which the earth is spinning, and devote our attention not to divine mysteries but to whatever comes along: deadlines, e-mail, rush-hour traffic. And all of this is oddly comforting.”
She continues, “While we complain about the stress, it reassures us to know we're busy -- it means we're essential. We convince ourselves that we are far too important to die, and this is how we live from one day to the next.”
So -- what, exactly is acedia?
Boredom? Ennui? Restlessness? A sense of futility?
All of the above, and then some.
And what is the remedy?
One of the nice things about Norris is that she doesn't preach; she shares her life with her readers. She doesn't provide prescriptions, she offers pieces of her experience.
And in that life and those experiences, we can see glimpses of God dealing with one of His beloved children. No one-size-fits-all remedy. Just God, being God.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Little Things Like Silverware

Sometimes it's really all about the little things -- the small pleasures and irritations of daily life that bring us joy and build our character.
I blogged about little things on the Hearts at Home website this month. Find out how loading the dishwasher turned out to be a lesson in both character building and marriage.
And let me know how you load the silverware!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Telling The Story, One Day At a Time

I love stories.
I love to hear them, I love to read them, I love to tell them. I just love stories.
My favorite story is the gospel story -- the good news of Jesus Christ. And I love the “story songs” that tell that story, or talk about telling that story.

Here are some of my favorites:

“I Love To Tell the Story”

“Tell Me The Old, Old Story”

“Tell Me the Stories of Jesus”

“We've A Story to Tell to the Nations”

These old hymns always remind me of the privilege of sharing the story of Jesus, the responsibility to tell it, not just with words, but with my life. They remind me to be intentional and deliberate about telling this wonderful story, and they remind me of the pleasure God takes in our sharing this story.

Sometimes I think heaven will just be one big sing-along!

So -- what's your favorite old hymn?

Rain, Rain, Go Away

This past week-end's rain left our yard soggy, but the sun has come out to dry everything off.
We scurried around in our basement as the rain continued to fall, putting things up from the floor, wondering why we haven't made more progress in sending our grown-up kids' possessions home with them, watching the creek as it rose and rose.
By noon, though, the rain had stopped and the creek started to fall, slowly at first. The basement was still dry!
For us this was a morning's anxiety; for our friends and neighbors in Texas and Louisiana and Chicago -- not to mention Haiti and Cuba -- this was devastating. Our prayers are with them.


Went out to sweep the porch a few days ago and found this visitor.
I backed up fast -- I'm not a big bug person -- but then I couldn't resist snapping a few shots. He -- she? -- kept turning his head to watch me, which was a little freaky. I felt as if I'd stepped onto the set of some sci-fi movie.
Later the 5-year old identified my visitor as a praying mantis. A boy in her pre-school class had brought one in for show-and-share and she recognized his face and form. We examined the photographs carefully, noting the fine details of this particular praying mantis. The detail and planning that must have gone into creating this small creature are amazing!
Next time, I'll try to remember to introduce myself.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Five Ways to Work Toward a Culture of Life

Working to create a culture of life doesn't require winning an election.
It does require courage, commitment, and creativity.
It also requires discernment and the ability -- and willingness -- to think about different possibilities with clarity.
It might even involve some compromise -- supporting a candidate we don't agree with 100%, or accepting some policy we don't support wholeheartedly in exchange for making progress on something more truly important.
It means we have to be able to define clearly, both for ourselves and for others, what we believe to be negotiable and what is not.
It means becoming invested in that conversation with God we call prayer.


I like Sarah Palin. She's feisty and brave and funny, and she's a mom, which means that, no matter what else she does, she's a working woman.
There's still a lot I'd like to know, though.
I think she has a serious lack of a certain kind of experience, particularly in foreign policy. I'd like to know how Senator McCain is working to help her learn what she would need to know as his Vice President; how he'll prepare her to carry on if the worst should happen to him. I'd like to know how he intends to utilize her gifts and abilities in that role. I'd like to know what he expects of her, and how she intends to meet those expectations.


If it came to a choice between a candidate with integrity of character but little experience, and a candidate with experience but little integrity of character, I think I'd choose the candidate with character.


Kristen commented on a previous post, noting that “We'll know women have really advanced when we don't have to behave like bad male caricatures...the posturing is like the bad menswear shoulder pad suits of the 80s... “ I think she's right. We women need to quit imitating men when we run for office (or run companies or do any of the things women are doing now) because when we do that, we neglect the distinctive gifts we as women bring to a situation.
Andy Crouch addresses the postures we adapt in his book Culture Making. He writes, “I've found that a helpful word for (these various responses) is postures. Our posture is our learned but unconscious default position, our natural stance. It is the position our body assumes when we aren't paying attention, the basic attitude we carry through life.”
Too often both women and men adopt what Crouch calls the “gestures” of everyday life that we think we should adopt -- the gestures that will help us fit in, that fit the way we think the world is or should be -- and not the gestures that reflect who we really are. Those gestures, repeated over and over often enough, become part of our posture.
So, politicians adopt gestures they think will win votes, and over time those gestures become part of their posture, whether they are authentic or not, at least initially.
The question is, how do we discover what is real in a person and what is not? And how do we live so politicians will trust us when we see them as they really are?
We need to be discerning.


I don't agree with a lot of things Senator Joe Biden says or does, but I like this about him: he took care of his family when his wife and daughter died. He made his boys his priority, and that shaped the man he has become.
And I liked Senator Dick Durbin's sharp rebuke of those who would make much of Sarah Palin's daughter's pregnancy. His defense of the Palin family's privacy in this matter was both pointed and elegant.


Creating a culture of life is work enough for all of us, and it requires God's grace.
Andy Crouch, writing in Culture Making, describes that grace this way: “Do we see a divine multiplication at work after we have done our best? Does a riotous abundance of grain spring up from a tiny, compact seed? This is grace: unearned, unexpected abundance that can leave us dizzy with joy. It is a return on investment that exceeds anything we could explain by our own effectiveness or efforts.”
Dizzy with joy. Unearned, unexpected abundance. Grace.
Where is the candidate for office who understands this?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Creating a Culture of Life

Today, and maybe all this week, it's political.
The issues we face are important ones, and it's silly to pretend we're not thinking and talking about them. These posts aren't brief, because the issues are complex, and I don't want to think about them carelessly.
What I'm offering here is only my opinion, a kind of thinking-out-loud conversation, and you're welcome to join in, whether you agree or not -- maybe especially if you don't agree. Feel free to comment!
The only thing we have to agree on is that we'll have this conversation courteously, and stay friends, even if we disagree.


I was talking with an extended-family member the other day about presidential politics. He was gloating about Senator McCain's vice-presidential choice. “Want to just concede right now?” he asked, chuckling.
We discussed some of the pros and cons of various issues, and as I shared my point of view about Senator Obama and abortion, the conversation became more serious. He agreed that abortion is a bad thing, but “so is bringing a child into the world who isn't wanted, or whom the parents -- or parent -- can't care for properly.”
He brings up a fair point, but I think he stops too soon.
In my opinion, the answer to that argument isn't to abort the child, but to help that family cope with an unwanted or unexpected pregnancy. That help doesn't have to come from the government, either, although adapting government policies to enable safe adoption more easily wouldn't be a bad start.
Was it President Reagan who talked about a culture of life? I really don't remember if he used that phrase, but I think it speaks to the real answer to the question of abortion.
When we value each life -- see it as something to cherish and celebrate -- we are more likely to find solutions to the difficult emotional and economic problems that come with unexpected or unwanted pregnancies. We make room in our lives for what we value, even if it requires sacrifice of some kind.
How do we create a culture of life?


In his book Culture Making, Andy Crouch talks about the importance of cultivation and creativity in building a culture, and his definition of culture covers a variety of the ways in which we organize our lives -- including ethnic culture, political culture, religious culture, and so on.
When he talks about cultivation, he is talking about a kind of nurturing, a way of building into something so it grows and flourishes. When he talks about creativity he is talking about finding ways to invent and re-invent anything and everything that has to do with our lives.
Crouch says, “What is most needed in our time are Christians who are deeply serious about cultivating and creating but who wear that seriousness lightly -- who are not desperately trying to change the world but who also wake up every morning eager to create.”
Abortion is a matter of life or death, and we've had decades of angry accusations back and forth between those who define the rights and responsibilities involved, differently. How much better it would be if, instead of trading acccusations we worked together, creating and cultivating a culture that affirms the importance of life, a culture that seeks to create and cultivate abundant life for all babies, even before birth, as well as the mothers and fathers who are their parents!
It would require our best effort, but isn't the effort worthwhile?


Senator Obama, in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, asserted that common ground on abortion is to work together to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
To me, common ground on abortion would begin something like this: recognizing that parents (not to mention the father-to-be) have a legitimate interest in being informed if their minor-aged daughter is seeking an abortion. Parental notification that recognizes the danger some girls might face from a parent under those circumstances, but that also recognizes legitimate parental interest, might move toward convincing me that abortion-advocates are serious about “common ground.”
“Preventing unwanted pregnancies” sounds too much like a rationale for comprehensive sex education programs and condom hand-outs to me.
Sex education isn't something I'm categorically opposed to. A comprehensive sex education program that begins in kindergarten with lessons on same-sex marriage and technical descriptions of various sexual acts -- now that I'm opposed to, and not just on moral grounds. I don't think kindergartners need that kind of sex education, period.
Perhaps we should help parents understand more about how they might educate their kindergarteners about sex instead. Isn't home a natural place for those talks?
And if it's not, what can we do about that issue, without unquestioningly giving the responsibility for that education to teachers/school administrators/the government?


This has implications for end-of-life issues, as well.
When each life is cherished and celebrated, that means no elderly person, no special needs person, no person with a life-threatening illness that falls on the wrong side of an insurance adjustor's cost/benefit ratios will have to fear abandonment or worse, encouragement to “just let go.”
There comes a time when it is appropriate for each of us to die, and sooner or later we'll all get there.
Do we really want to rush someone toward death just because it's too difficult or expensive or inconvenient for them to keep on living?
Yet, despite scoffing at the “slippery slope” arguments against abortion, what has happened since Roe-v-Wade is a growing acceptance of euthanasia in our country. It's still whispered about, but a recent case in Oregon proves the point, where a middle-aged man with cancer has been denied treatment by his insurance company because it would only prolong his life, not cure him.


Creating a culture of life -- just how do we go about doing that? What would it look like?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Brief Sightings

We went past a farm stand today, piled high with late summer melons and early fall pumpkins. The furnace is humming, warm against the first chilly evening. Twilight comes earlier and earlier now, and a few trees sport red and orange leaves among green.
Summer is hanging on valiantly, with warm afternoons and bright blue skies, but for how long?

Friday, September 5, 2008

September Song

Yesterday rain whispered around the house all day long.
What was left of Hurricane Gustav came with grey tenacious clouds, and when the rain began it was quiet and steady. We had rain all through the night and all through the day and into the evening again, rain that brought up the creek, greened up the grass, and sang in the windows.
No lightning, no thunder, nothing but rain. Relentless rain.


This time of year I start gathering up light against the dark winter. We have a hosta in the back yard with a generous bouquet of bloom. It reminds me of the first lines of Jane Kenyon's poem Peonies at Dusk, where she says “White peonies blooming along the porch/send out light/while the rest of the yard grows dim.”
The white blooms of our hosta light up the backyard, especially at dusk, when shadows gather.


I got Trisha Yearwood's newest CD, Heaven, Heartache, and the Power of Love, a few weeks ago at Coldwater Creek; the first time or two I listened to it I wasn't impressed. Then I listened to it while I was baking one Saturday afternoon -- probably my favorite way to listen to music -- loud, while I'm working.
It's a great CD! There's not a bad cut on the album -- The Dreaming Fields is beautiful and poignant, while Nothing About You Is Good For Me sizzles with sass. Cowboys Are My Weakness slyly tips the hat to all those guys with “down-home rugged sweetness.” Let The Wind Chase You will speak to anyone who's ever yearned for someone who didn't yearn back, and Sing You Back To Me is a tender end to the album.
If you're looking for something with a little country kick, this album is it!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Abortion and Senator Obama

This rainy evening we are getting Hurricane Gustav's left-overs, and the Republican Party is going about the business of nominating John McCain and Sarah Palin.
Corn is firing, drying down, and fields look like storehouses of gold. We drove past a field of sorghum this week-end, and it looked as if it were on fire.
The temperatures cool off even as political rhetoric heats up.
And so the season changes.


Last week I listened with great interest as Senator Obama gave his acceptance speech. I think he is an honorable man with some good ideas. I especially like his emphasis on a father's responsibility to his family.
I'm convinced he cares about people, and I believe he would give the presidency his best effort.
But I won't be voting for him.
In his speech -- so quickly overshadowed by Senator McCain's announcement of his running mate, Sarah Palin -- Senator Obama talked about his energy policy, but he did not tell us how he intends to pay for it. Higher taxes? Restrictions on our everyday use of non-approved forms of energy? What changes will his policies make to our everyday lives and our budgets? He gave very few details about that part of his energy policy. That concerns me.
It seems too much like one more political pocket-picking.
I thought it admirable that he reached for common ground on thorny issues, but I don't believe working harder to “prevent unwanted pregnancies” even begins to address our differences about abortion -- his compromise falls short, and his voting record on abortion makes it impossible for me to vote for him.
Dennis Byrne writes about one aspect of Senator Obama's voting record on abortion in a column in the August 26, 2008 issue of The Chicago Tribune, reprinted here on Rick Hogaboam's blog Endued, a Blog About Life and God. In that column, Byrne discusses the Senator's resistance in the Illinois Legislature to recognizing any legal rights for a born-alive “product of abortion.”
I agree with Byrne's assertion that “by arguing against the born-alive legislation because it might in some distant and ambiguous way obstruct abortion, Obama implies that the right to an abortion trumps an infant's right to life, even after he is born.”
I don't see how Senator Obama's position on abortion allows him to claim moral leadership.
I believe his position on the basic issue of life is basically immoral.