Blog

children at advent

Two days ago Rosie had a new career goal. “When I grow up I want to be Hillary Clinton,” she said. “Wait, no. I just want to be President.”

Yesterday in the car she had another plan. 

“When I grow up I want to open a family bookshop.” I thought she meant a bookstore for families, but she meant a family business - she wants the four of us to run the bookshop.

“What should I call it?” she asked. I suggested a few alliterative names. She liked Rosie’s Reads.

A minute later, Owen said, “When I grow up, the third thing I’m going to do is open a park.”

"Wait," I said, "what are the other two?"

"You remember," he said. "Make Pokemon videos" (for youtube) "and play soccer. What should my park be called?"

"Peterson’s Playground!" Rosie exclaimed. "Yeah," Owen smiled.

My children sit in the back of my 2003 Honda, eating pretzels and cheese nips and raisins and m&ms, talking about their dreams. At night they stay up too late reading, fall asleep under down comforters.

In Aleppo this morning, hungry children watch their homes burn, see their friends shot.

In Aleppo this morning, 100 children were trapped in a building under heavy attack and some 80 civilians are thought to have been executed. 

It seems the world has been weeping for the slaughter of innocents for thousands of years.

We are still here, still saying, come, emmanuel, come. Put death's dark shadow to flight.

I've been supporting Syrian refugees through Preemptive Love and the Mennonite Central Committee. We can't just pray for God to be with us now; we must also act.

our favorite books and music of 2016

Every year I like to share a few of my favorite books and albums (here's last year's list). This year the whole family wants to play along! 

Owen (age 5 1/2)
Owen can read - he likes BOB books and National Geographic early readers. But his favorite books of the year include books we read together and an...encyclopedia of sorts.

1- I'm A Frog (a Piggie and Elephant Book) by Mo Willems
The Piggie and Elephant books are perfect for preschoolers and early readers, but I think they're also some of my favorite books to read aloud, because they are hilarious.

2-Pokémon Deluxe Essential Handbook: The Need-to-Know Stats and Facts on Over 700 Pokémon

3- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
We read the new illustrated version, which was a big hit with both kids.

Owen's favorite albums of the year were the Beatles 1, and the Beatles Blue Album.

Rosie (age nearly-8)
After about thirty seconds, Rosie had her answer. "My favorite books are these three serieses," she said.

1- The Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley

2- The Land of Stories by Chris Colfer

3- The Dork Diaries by Rachel Renee Russell

Her favorite albums this year have been the soundtrack to Hamilton and Red by Taylor Swift.

Jack's favorite books of the year reflect his research interests, as he's spent most of his reading time with PhD work. (Sorry about this adorable/hilarious picture. It helps balance the ridiculous titles you're about to read.)

1. Translingual practice: Global Englishes and Cosmopolitan Relations by Suresh Canagarajah

2. Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning by Karen Barad

3. Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia by Dennis Covington

His favorite albums of the year were David Bowie's Blackstar, Rihanna's Anti, and -- when our friend Julia got a job in music journalism this year, she told us that she felt like she needed to educate herself about music that was released before the year of her birth. What year were you born? we asked. And that is how Jack got started listening to basically every album that came out in 1994.

As for me, this summer I started an MFA program, and some of the best books I've read have been for that. Here's my top three works of non-fiction:

1. Citizen by Claudia Rankine
A genre-bending work, this book uses poetry, nonfiction, and modern art script. Rankine gives readers a glimpse of her life as a black woman in contemporary America, and the view she offers is powerful and moving. Her memory of the microagressions she’s swallowed rather than responded to - and the anger that’s built up - and the sense that ignoring microagressions (and other mistreatment) is what it means for her to be a good American citizen  — these are the themes she explores over the seven sections of the book.

2. Safekeeping by Abigail Thomas
I don’t know that I’ve ever read in memoir such a complex, nuanced portrait of human relationship and love as I’ve read in this book, which is composed of very short vignettes in non-chronological order, and is absolutely compelling.

3. Dakota by Kathleen Norris
This was a re-read, but it had been over a decade -- and I'm not sure I actually finished it the first time around. This memoir about life in the rural plains speaks presciently to our contemporary political moment. It's meticulously researched, metaphorically resonant, and spiritually rich.

And my top three works of fiction:

1.The Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber (I wrote about it back in January)

2. The Gemma James and Duncan Kincaid mysteries by Deborah Crombie
They're not quite up to my Inspector Gamache standards, but while waiting for the next installment from Louise Penny, this did quite nicely.

3. The Confessions of X by Suzanne Wolfe
in this gripping, beautifully written historical novel, Suzanne Wolfe brings the ancient city of Carthage to life, immersing readers in the experiences that shaped the theology of Augustine of Hippo.

My favorite albums to listen to this year were the soundtrack to Hamilton, Rihanna's Anti, and Sandra McCracken's God's Highway.

If you're not signed up to get my newsletter, be sure to sign up today - tomorrow I'll be sending out the link to a giveaway for a couple of excellent 2016 books as well as a copy of our church's Advent journal, which includes my original essay "Song Dedications" and one of Jack's poems (or you can buy an ebook version here - all proceeds go to the work of the church). In that newsletter, I'll also share my Christmas playlist and a tiny bit of unpublished writing.

Merry Christmas, friends.

 

a few things this fall

First: I'm sorry. If you've been looking for me here on the blog, I've been absent. If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, then you probably know some of what I've been up to... but I'm in the mood to share a bit more. Ok, more than a bit. Let's catch up. Let me bend your ear. Settle in as I chat away.

Jack spent the summer in Indiana, PA completing courses towards his PhD in Applied Linguistics. This was our second summer apart, and easier in some ways than the first. I visited him and met his friends, and then I took the kids to Colorado, where we visited friends, family, and places that hold so much nostalgic sway over me. We hiked and fed chipmunks and swam and I remembered what I had always liked best about being a camp counselor: the way it forces you to be present to the moment, alive to the physical world around you, undistracted by other things. I felt that this summer, focusing just on the day before me, and I loved it.

When Jack's courses ended, I began my first intensive courses for my MFA through Seattle Pacific University. We met on the campus of St. John's in Santa Fe and joined Glen Workshop participants (like my writing buddies Danielle and Christiana) in worship and play and craft lectures. I wrote a little bit about one of our field trips, to the holy site of Chimayo.

The day after I returned from Santa Fe, Owen started kindergarten, and Rosie began second grade. And I plunged into a fall filled with many things: helping coordinate programs for the Honors students at Taylor University, teaching 3 hours of class a week, completing MFA coursework, a (fairly new) gig writing for Our Daily Bread (more about that later), trying to help out with Relief Journal as a contributing editor, nurturing relationships outside the classroom with various students, hosting poetry nights, and of course staying on top of details related to my book coming out in February. Between those things and my responsibilities at home, I am finding my attention scattered, pulled toward so many different, good things.

Life this fall:

Jack ran a marathon with his dad  in Columbus, Indiana, and we had a meal at Story Inn to celebrate.

I went on an overnight retreat with honors students, and took another group to Wheaton for a day to check out the collection at the Marion Wade Center. 

The four of us went to Grand Rapids for a long weekend. While Jack and the kids explored the city, I met with my publisher and attended a conference for writers and editors at Our Daily Bread. I left feeling encouraged and blessed by the humility and sincerity of this group of people, more thankful than ever that they are the ones midwifing my book into the world.

A couple of my writer friends came to visit me. I love when people visit me. I love cooking for them. I love having the long-distance people I love see the place where I live everyday.

Rosie and Owen dressed as Hermione and Ron for Halloween, and for one night my dream of having a red-headed child was fulfilled.

Books this fall:
 

I've been re-reading a lot of Dorothy Sayers for the class I'm teaching this semester. Her Lord Peter Wimsy detective novels build very slowly, but they are smart and funny and worth the investment. Her essays are even better. I love smart women.

Over the summer, I read other detective novels set in Britain, mainly the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series. They aren't as good as my favorites by Louise Penny, whose latest, A Great Reckoning, I read in September, but they're satisfying.

The best book I read this fall was Claudia Rankine's Citizen, a moving, genre-bending work that about her life as a black woman in contemporary America. I highly recommend it.

Oh, and I can't forget The Road Back to You, a new book from IVP on the enneagram that has inspired hours of conversation between Jack and me and our friends. I think this book has given me tools to better flourish in my relationships with others. (I'm a 5, by the way.)

Movies this fall:
I really need help staying awake in movies. We liked The Lobster, a sort of absurdist black comedy about what it means to be human, and enjoyed Southside with You, which is like Obama fanfic about Barack and Michelle's first date. I love Michelle Obama and would probably watch countless more hours of this.

TV this fall:
The shows we're adding to our DVR this fall are Pitch and The Good Place. I was less than enthused about the premise of Pitch, which is about the first female pitcher in MLB, but the writers have crafted a show that is nuanced and interesting, and that is about much more than baseball: the dynamics of male-female friendships, for example, and the politicking and money behind the scenes in sports. And The Good Place is funny, some episodes more than others, but I'll watch Kristin Bell in almost anything. Still a little on the fence about This Is Us, which I enjoy but do find to be a bit emotionally manipulative, taking the easy way out in its writing more often than it should.

Music this fall:
We're still listening to Hamilton (and loved watching Hamilton's America on PBS). And did I ever share our 10 year anniversary playlist?

 

Writing this fall:
Honestly, I've been struggling since I finished writing the first book. Do I have anything left to say? This is one reason why being in the MFA right now is good for me, I think. Apart from learning things to strengthen my craft, I'm also being forced to create and to pay attention to my life. Hopefully something good will come of it. 

Also, I have an essay in a book that came out from IVP this summer. You can read "Teenage Heretic" in the collection Soul Bare, which includes poignant essays by writers like Sarah Bessey, Karissa Knox Sorrell, and Seth Haines. 

Maybe the only other thing I've written this fall was an op-ed for the Taylor student newspaper about Independent candidate Evan McMullin. I've been deeply disturbed - I mean, there have been nights I haven't been able to sleep, I went to see a doctor because of a constant lump in my throat, I've been sick - by the religious right's support for Trump this season, by the silence of prominent evangelical men when I expected to hear them condemning the racist, misogynist words and actions of the Republican nominee.  When I saw polling that indicated that a large number of Taylor students were planning to vote for Trump, I wanted to make sure they understood all their options. McMullin is a good choice, but personally, I did vote for Hillary, because although parts of her platform bother me - she's hawkish in the Middle East and more aggressively pro-choice than I am, for example - overall, I believe she's smart, hardworking, dependable, emotionally stable, and has policies that will support the common good. (More here.)

So that's what I'e been up to this fall. How about you?
 

~linking up with What I'm Into at Leigh Kramer. ~

the ministry of reading aloud

Throughout my childhood, Dad read to me every night, and Mom read to me every morning. Nowadays government programs promote this practice, citing research which shows that it encourages emerging literacy, language development, and healthy parent-child relationships, but as a child all I knew was that it opened other worlds to me: Narnia, Oz, Deep Valley; Midwestern prairies, the Highlands, the Holy Land. Those stories burrowed into my soul, forming a foundation of truth that shapes my person and my priorities to this day.

In my life this reading-aloud has been a gift: a gift from my parents, a gift from the librarian, a gift from a fifth grade teacher doing all the voices in Hank the Cowdog. Most memorably, maybe, a gift from Jack, when we spent a month camping across the country and reading The River Why to each other, chapters in the car during the day, and chapters in the tent at night.

I’m an adult, now, but I still want people to read to me. I still want to listen. And I don’t think this is a childish impulse, but a human one, and even a subversive one.

At my graduate residency last month, people read aloud to us every day. In class my mentor reclaimed rhetoric. “The only place in contemporary, public society where you find rhetoric and poetics at work is in political speeches,” she said. “In fact, when we think about the word rhetoric, we now have all kinds of negative connotations because of politicians - we think rhetoric means twisting the truth. But in its original usage, rhetoric meant the most eloquent, moving expression of the truth. We need to take it back from the politicians,” she said. We need to care for words.

What if we read aloud to each other? At book release parties or poetry slams, at the preschool storybook hour at the public library, in the Sunday liturgy, during a cross-country car trip, what if we read aloud? What if we listened? What if we read novels, building empathy? What if we read poetry, letting cadence and metaphor shape our sentences and our sight? What if we read stories that taught us about experiences other than our own?

The poet Naomi Shihab Nye tells a story about a man who came to listen at a poetry workshop she led, and how his presence changed her:

And then this farmer showed up in Oklahoma at a workshop and told us all that he had come just to listen. He just wanted to hear everyone read their work. And we thought, “Wow. Look at this. The wandering audience. He doesn’t even want to participate; he just wants to listen.”

And he said, “No, listening is participation. It’s very important.” And he talked about being a child and being awakened every day by his granddad who read to the kids in the house as a wake-up call every morning, stood in the resonant hallway outside their bedrooms, and read poems. And my brain clicked. I thought, “This is what I’ll do for the rest of the time our son is at home. I’ll waken him every day with reading poems.”

So we did that for years, and I think he really liked it. And we would occasionally talk about the poems. Later in the day, he’d bring something up about one of the poems I’d read.

...It feels beautiful. And you feel better.

What if we read our poems aloud, and what if we listened? Later in the interview Shihab Nye tells another story of a school principal who begins each day by reading a poem, or a portion of a poem, over the school loudspeakers. Students there tell her they “carry poems” with them every day.

This week I've carried with me a few lines from Shihab Nye’s poem “History”:

“We were born to wander, to grieve,
lost lineage, what we did to one another
on a planet so wide open for doing.”

Our planet is so wide open. There are so many things we could do, so many surprising moves a person or a country can make that might be imaginative… And what have we done to each other?

I am looking for surprising, imaginative ways to make some holy mischief here and now, to reclaim rhetoric, to love words, to listen well. The ministry of reading aloud is a subversive practice to counter bigotry and hate. On a planet where we have the most refugees history has ever seen, in a nation where we’ve nominated a man full of toxic words and self-importance to run for our highest office, this is my next move: to stop and listen to you read your poems. And when it’s my turn, I’ll open my already well-thumbed copy of my friend D.L. Mayfield’s new book, and read you a chapter. Together we’ll learn how to listen well, how to be a witness to the world's brokenness, and how, as Danielle says, to run toward it.

 

Easily my favorite book of 2016, Assimilate or Go Home is a collection of stunning and surprising essays that invite us to reconsider our concepts of justice and love, and to reimagine being a citizen of this world and the upside-down kingdom of God. It officially releases tomorrow, but if you order today at Amazon, you can get it for under $9 - a steal.

dance to yellow submarine at six

A brief life update:

College students, professors, and preschoolers are finished for the year. Elementary students have four days left. On Memorial Day, Jack will head to Pennsylvania and to eight weeks of PhD classes. The day he finishes his intensives, I'll start my first 10-day residency for an MFA. 

We ate asparagus from the garden this month, and yesterday we picked the first strawberries. But half my beds are producing only weeds: I'm cutting back. This year we will travel instead of garden, wander instead of plant. I have baby relatives to meet, and I get antsy when Jack's not around.

Earlier this month I spent a week in Brooklyn with nephew Cedric while his dad started his second round of chemo. While there, I wrote an essay about cancer that doubles as a love-letter to my family's obsession with food. 

The kids have finally gotten into The Beatles, and our disc of The Beatles 1+ has been on repeat for a month or so now. So this morning, when I was reading through some old journals (I'm adding a chapter to my book - and that's another thing, final revisions are happening this summer, and I might have accidentally revealed the new book title in my bio here), I smiled when I found this letter that I wrote to Rosie before she was born. I wanted, at 27, to capture all the things I'd learned so far. I suppose there are bits I'd change and add now, at nearly 35, but mostly, I still think it's all true.

Rosemary,

Dance to Yellow Submarine at six. It's not ever going to make better sense.

You won't ever do even one thing perfectly. That's ok.

Don't let anybody do your imagining for you.

You were created to create,
and blessed to bless.

Hold everything with open hands.
What's ours is ours.
What's ours is God's.

You can't save the world.
You can barely learn the right way to love it.
But you will love it.

If you are not sure, then it's not love.

God's ways are higher than our ways.
We start with faith.

Never go to Matagorda.
View the ocean from Isaac's House,
skinny dip at midnight.

Be surrendered, but don't give up.

Find rhythms in life.
Find stillness.
Learn how to be.
Try highway driving, alone,
or listening to cicadas,
if you need to pray.

For now, we see trees walking.
A dirty windowpane view, at best,
or at least,
nothing.

It doesn't matter what you do
if
in doing it
you are finding broken parts
piecing them back together.

Don't live within your competencies.
The kingdom is breaking out all around you.

You can build your card house ideas;
in fact, you can't help but build them.
When they fall, Love is still there.

Trying to know a person you love
is like hitting a moving target.
It changes. You keep trying.

 

 

 

 

Advice for New Parents

Dear Tricia,

When I was pregnant with Rosie, I went to a fabric store.  I had never quilted before, but I wanted to make a blanket.  Standing there in the aisles of fat quarters, I found myself drawn to certain colors and patterns: paisley, roses, vines, dusky pink, sage green. As I connected the baby in my belly with a certain physical vision of where she would live and what colors would tuck her in at night, I felt linked to her in a way I hadn’t felt before that point. She would be a little woodland sprite of a baby, in a magical midwinter’s forest - or she wouldn’t - it didn’t really matter, what mattered was that I found a way to connect to her when I couldn’t see her yet.

The quilt I'm sending you today is my fourth baby quilt, and I still feel like a total novice.

Seven years into parenting, and I still feel like a beginner in that, too. I think kids change too quickly for you to ever feel like you’ve got a real strong handle on parenting. But as I finished up this quilt over the last couple of weeks, I kept thinking that the things I need to remember to be a better quilter are also good advice for a first-time parent.  

It’s not like you asked for my advice. But don’t you know me at all? I love telling people what to do. Here goes:

Write it down. You won’t remember later.
I started this quilt almost a year ago, and then set it aside for a few months before finishing.  When I came back around to it, I couldn’t remember exactly how it worked. Had I cut the triangles this way, or that way?  Had I pre-washed the fabrics, or not? 

When you’re in the middle of it, you think you’ll never forget how old she was when she took her first step, what it was that made him smile for the first time, or when she finally starting sleeping through the night (note: the medical definition of “sleep through the night” = a five hour stretch). But I’ve already forgotten. It doesn’t have to be a baby book.  Get a small, inexpensive notebook you can carry around, and when something lovely happens, write it down. Here are sample entries from an old notebook: 

9/6/11 Instead of saying “yay” or “woo hoo” when she’s happy, Rosie says “yay hoo!”

9/14/11 Owen has smelled like a grape jolly rancher since the day he was born.

Trust your instincts. 
My quilt squares were not coming out right.  I followed the instructions, but still the corners weren’t matching.  So I re-read the instructions, tried again, and failed again. I abandoned the instructions. Instead, I tried to understand what was underneath the instructions. I tried to understand the project holistically rather than as a series of steps, and then I trusted my instincts.

If he’s not sleeping, or won’t stop crying, or wants to eat every twenty minutes, go back and check the book. Call your mom, ask Google and Facebook. But in the end, your baby is a person, not a project, and people don’t always go by the book. We’re unpredictable and individual. Sometimes following all the right steps just doesn’t work.

If the expert advice is failing you (and honestly, so much of the "expert" advice is contradictory, depending on which experts you ask), trust your instincts.  God chose you to be your baby’s mother, and that tells me that you are the most perfect mother in the world for your particular baby. 

Play.
For me, sewing is play: I try things I’ve never tried before, even -and especially- when I don’t exactly know what I’m doing. I like to experiment and see what happens. 

See where those points don't match up?  Hopefully this is not the end of the world.

See where those points don't match up?  Hopefully this is not the end of the world.

Tricia, I basically never know exactly what I’m doing when I’m parenting, and I’m guessing this is true for most of us. It’s all experimental. If you’re hoping to do it perfectly, you’re going to need to adjust those expectations. Just experiment. Play. Accept that you’re going to make mistakes and that, most of the time, these mistakes will not be the end of the world.

Get comfortable.
Sometimes your iron will burp up rust-colored steam and water droplets, staining your white fabric for good. Sometimes your baby will do the same, minus - hopefully - the steam. Parenting is a messy business.

You might be one of those people who feels an immediate bond with her baby, an overflowing well of love at first sight. That doesn’t happen to everyone, though, and that’s ok too. For some of us, love grows more slowly, as we get to know our kids, and deepens over time. 

You might be someone for whom mothering is all rainbows and lollipops. Or, you might find, in the early months of motherhood, that you are slipping into the darkness of postpartum depression. Statistics suggest that one out of five new moms does suffer from some form of it. Be kind to yourself. 

Quilts are about comfort, after all. They’re about warmth and cuddles and naps and taking bits of old scrap fabric and making them into something new and beautiful. They are about grace and transformation, not perfection; honestly, I think that’s what parenting is mostly about, too.

We don’t know yet if your little one is a girl-child or a boy-child, so I made this quilt less with gender in mind and more with you in mind - to me these colors and happy prints are all you. If they don’t suit your firstborn, feel free to save this quilt for your second, or pass it on to a niece or nephew.

Love always,

Amy

a few things in January {+book giveaway!}

Well, in January I went to Italy, and what else is there to say? Plenty, actually. Because I haven't told you about the books, movies, and music that accompanied me on the planes, trains, and buses.

Books

My editor suggested that I read The Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber - and boy does she get me! This weird story about a British missionary to aliens (like, the sci-fi kind) had as much relevance to faith and missions and cross-cultural communication and what it actually means to be human as anything I've read this year, and it was a page-turner, to boot.

I loved the descriptions of growing up in the South in Amber Haines's lovely Wild in the Hollow. At some points, her prose was so raw and vivid, full of unexpected yet concrete images of the physicality of the human experience, that I was reminded of Annie Dillard.

Also, I read the latest Veronica Mars novel.  I was in an airport for 10 hours.  It was perfect.

 

Movies
I watched three movies worth mentioning on the plane: 

The Intern - totally charming

The Martian - I thought the writing was a bit uneven (particularly the scenes on earth run toward cliche), but Matt Damon was pretty fantastic.

Paper Towns - I'm always up for some John Green, and I loved the way the ending of this movie dismantled the "manic pixie dream girl" thing 

Music
I spent more than a few hours listening to the music that I listened to last time I was in Italy - stuff like Indigo Girls and Pete Yorn - but I also tried some new bands that Emilie recommended, The Staves and Daughter. Another new favorite is this little album by Joan Shelley.

And Also
When I couldn't sleep on the plane, I listened to The Gilmore Guys podcast, and the soothing sounds of conversation about my favorite tv show helped.

Family
Rosie turned 7.  
We took the kids to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens!

Writing
Aleteia launched a new website called For Her in January.  I have several pieces there-
Tuning In To Taylor Swift - how I dealt with my six year old's TSwift obsession
The Joy of Being Alone (Without Your Phone) - the proven sociological value of solitude
Fall in Love with Fair Trade Fashion - I love these pieces, especially the Noonday earrings, which I got for Christmas
Resolve to Retreat - I did not write the deck copy on this piece, and kind of hate it, but this is a list of affordable retreat centers across the States

I might have book title news soon... when I do, I'll announce it first through my newsletter.  Sign up if you haven't!

And Finally, the Giveaway!
When I got back from Italy, I had a package waiting for me - two advance copies of Christie Purifoy's new book Roots and Sky. Since I had also preordered a copy, I want to share these two! I haven't finished the book yet (because: first week of the semester + jet lag), but I've valued Christie's words and her friendship for several years now.  She wrestles honestly with darkness and still finds hope. (See, for example, this post she wrote for my blog about the pain of infertility.) If you've been following her over the last few weeks, you know that this has been an especially dark time for her family.

If you'd like to read this book (and yes, you probably would - it's a lyrical, meditative reflection on home and hope), leave a comment on this post.  On February 10th, I'll close the comments and choose a winner at random. {Update: random.org generated 14, and the 14th commenter was Hannah! You'll be receiving your copy soon.}

The second giveaway copy will be given away randomly to a newsletter subscriber, so if you haven't yet, sign up to receive my very occasional newsletter.

PS this post is linked up with Leigh!