Summer Daze

Knuckles Down by Norman Rockwell

Chalk it up to the latent truancy that exists in parent and child alike, but I’ve been less than motivated these last few weeks. From the middle of May onward, I found myself slogging through the final projects, class picnics, and end-of-school year programs. I bought the ice cream, clapped for the perfect attendance awards, and sniffled through fifth-grade graduation. When the last bell rang, my kids weren’t the only ones ready to be done.

No more lunches to pack…

No more homework to muddle through…

No more waking up in the middle of the night to remember what I forgot…

At least for the next 104 days or so.

I grew up in a teacher’s home; in fact, it was a two-teacher home. Both my mother and father spent their days schooling future generations in the finer points of history and science. For our family, life existed in discreet increments of 9 weeks that gradually worked their way toward the ultimate goal of summer vacation. Dad often had to take odd jobs during his months off to make ends meet, but occasionally, every so often, there was a glorious summer when we had enough. He could stay with us, tend his garden, putter in his orchard, and simply enjoy working at home.

Of course, we still had responsibilities, even as children; but there was something marked about the sense of freedom we felt when school wrapped up. Instead of lesson planning and testing and grade books, our days were filled with berry picking, camping, ice cream, and lounging on the couch watching cartoons. We might go on vacation or travel to see relatives, but the joy of summer was directly tied to the fact that we didn’t HAVE TO. Dewy June mornings evaporated into hot July afternoons which eventually gave way to the muggy nights of August. And all of them blissfully unscheduled.

At least, that’s how I remember it.

Later in life, I learned that this wasn’t exactly the norm. My sense of extended vacation was, in many ways, the result of both my childhood naivete and my parents unusual work schedules. Most of my friends didn’t experience summer the way I did, especially if both their parents worked and they ended up at grandma’s or in multiple sessions of day camp topped off with nightly VBS. In many ways, our family lived in a world apart, moving to our own rhythms, resisting outside forces. We did participate in church activities, offering up our service at Bible school or youth group camping trips, but for the most part, my parents felt no need to live their lives the way everyone else did.

For me, this meant that I carried some interesting expectations into adulthood, particularly that the world should slow down during the months of June, July, and August. In these times, you’d need only do the bare minimum outside your home. Certainly you must work. Those afternoons in front of the television often included snapping green beans, but somehow it was different. We were working for ourselves. We were investing in our own home and family. We weren’t obligated to anyone else.

Eighteen summers of this will shape a person. So that even today, my heart seems to skip a few beats faster when June rolls around. June means freedom. June means family.

At dinner the other night, after a discussion of loose teeth, why ice doesn’t sink, and the obligatory knock-knock joke, I leaned over to my husband.

“You do realize,” I said, looking conspiratorially into those brown eyes that got us here in the first place, “you do realize that we are living in a Beverly Clearly novel.”

A Beverly Clearly novel set smack-dab in the middle of summer.

I tell you all this to explain where I’ll be for the next few months. The last bell has rung, and I’m taking the summer off. I might pop in now and again, but don’t expect to see much of me. There may be some previously scheduled posts on FB or Twitter, and I might work up the effort to record a podcast or two, but for the most part, it’s going to be quiet.

Somebody’s got to teach these kids how summer’s done.

Taste and See

Still Life by Gerard Van Honthorst

You’d think after ten years, I’d have figured out a better way. You’d think that I’d have learned how to motivate, how to cajole, or how to simply avoid the conflict altogether  But no. Ten years into this thing called parenting, dinner time can still be a battle.

Not every night, of course. The nights I serve up macaroni and cheese, chicken, or pizza, all is well and all manner of things shall be well. But the nights we’re broadening our palate, the nights my husband and I enjoy a grown-up meal or attempt some exotic recipe, these nights devolve into protestations, stalling, and outright depression. I can never guarantee precisely how it will all go down–which food will be the stumbling block or which child will stumble–but I have noticed a pattern.

It begins with quiet resistance, moving the food around on the plate, sad looks, and barely uttered sighs. Perhaps all the other portions are consumed, leaving behind the one offending pile of vegetables or curry. My husband and I will have finished by this point. We will be ready to clear the table or have dessert, ready to move on. But instead, we stay. We stay for round two. We stay to encourage, to confront, and eventually to demand. We set timers, appeal to their sense of gratitude, and promise no other food until morning. Sometimes this works; sometimes they take us up on the offer.

After ten years, I should know better. Yet, each time, I continue to be surprised.

It’s not that I’m unsympathetic. I understand their resistance to foods they don’t like. I understand that we all have our own set of preferences. I understand that my husband doesn’t like olives or carbonated drinks. But what I can’t fathom is why my children resist foods they have never even tried. How can they know they don’t like something if they’ve never even tasted it?

So while I’m willing to go through the process with them, go through the process we must. We insist that they taste. We insist that they try. We insist that they open themselves up to possibility.

It starts with a gathering of courage, putting a tiny bit on the spoon, hesitantly raising the spoon to the lips, closing the eyes, and tasting…  And it. is. good. The eyes open; relief and surprise wash over the face. “It’s good. No, mommy, I mean it’s good. I’m not just saying that. I really like it.”

After ten years, I should know better. I should know that my children are no different than the rest of us.

It is human nature to doubt. It is human nature to question. It is human nature to think the worst. Of course, I won’t like that food. Of course, I won’t like that change. Of course, I won’t like what God is offering me. As I wrote recently at a colleague’s blog: “We are helpless, flawed people and our inability to trust God is just one expression of this.”

In some sense, we are all small children sitting at a banquet table with sorry looks and unuttered sighs, pushing the food of the gods around in circles on our plates.

But instead of demanding that we clean our plates; instead of setting timers and threatening no more provision, God simply invites us to “taste and see.” He invites us to test him. To hesitantly raise the spoon to our lips, to close our eyes, to swallow.

I wonder if we expect more of each other than God himself expects of us. We want robust expressions of faith and confidence in God’s plan. We want to see his children gobbling up the food that is put in front of them–whether it is a unforeseen trial or simply a change in life circumstances. We want to hear bold proclamations of faith that “all things work together for good.”

But God knows better. He remembers our weakness. He knows we are but dust. And so, the perfect Father, opts to go through the process with us. Instead of demanding mature, perfect faith, he simply says, “Taste and see. Taste and see that I am good.”

And so, slowly, hesitatingly, we obey. We open ourselves up to the possibility that his ways are beyond ours. We open ourselves up to the possibility that a good God might just give good gifts. We open ourselves up to the possibility that the Lord is indeed what he claims to be.

***You can read the full interview about faith and doubt here.

Pulling Together: Marriage, Ministry, and Calling

Yesterday, Bible teacher, Christian radio host, and conference speaker Nancy Leigh DeMoss announced that she will marry Robert Wolgemuth this coming fall. If you’re familiar with DeMoss’s ministry, “Revive Our Hearts,” you’ll understand the significance of this news. For years, DeMoss has been an advocate for Christian women to embrace the “freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness” found in Christ, including the unique calling to home and motherhood. At the same time she has confidently and comfortably embraced her own singleness, believing it to be a gift that has allowed her to commit herself to ministry.

But as God does, just when we think we know the plan, He changes it. Recently, He has brought widowed Wolgemuth and DeMoss together in order “to continue serving Him wholeheartedly, trusting Him to make us even more spiritually fruitful together than we could be apart.”

DeMoss continues:

I love this man dearly and look forward to becoming Mrs. Robert Wolgemuth. But my life mission has not changed. It will now be our life mission to magnify the Lord together… We envision a continued robust Revive Our Hearts ministry. Our longing is for even more women (and men) around the world to experience freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness in Christ.

And Wolgemuth adds:

My promise to our heavenly Shepherd, to Nancy, to her precious ministry family, and to the thousands around the world who love Nancy Leigh DeMoss, is that I will come alongside her and her ministry with my prayers, encouragement, and support.

And all God’s people said, “AMEN!” This is precisely how we should talk about married women and their calling to Christ’s kingdom.

Unfortunately, I don’t hear this language employed very often. Instead, I regularly hear Christian women being told to seek their callings through their husbands. Don’t get me wrong. I am fully convinced that a woman is called to minister to her husband and family. And I’ll be the first the trumpet the imago Dei-quality of a well-made peanut-butter-and- jelly sandwich or a properly laundered (and folded) pair of boxer shorts. What I’m concerned about is how often we confuse our prepositions—how often we misunderstand the difference between through and to.

In I Corinthians 7, Paul makes it clear that husbands and wives must cultivate and care for each other. Of all the neighbors you are called to love, your spouse is the closest one. This means that being married will naturally limit your ability to pursue other callings in the Church. But Scripture also makes it clear that the call to marry is rooted in a larger call so that even as we enter it, we remember that marriage itself is not all-consuming. It is only part of how we serve the Lord with our whole hearts and lives. This is true for men. This is true for women.

It may sound like I’m stating the obvious. Don’t Christian women understand this? No, I’m afraid that some don’t. Some, in fact, believe that the calling to help their husbands trumps every other ministry calling or desire. Sometimes they believe this because of their own immaturity; and sometimes they believe it because this is what they have been explicitly told. The result is confusion and frustration as women wrestle with their own gifting and place in the Church. They either become weak and directionless, unable to serve apart from their husbands; or they become frustrated and manipulative as they attempt to live out their own passions and gifting through their husbands.

How do I know? I used to be one.

Early in our marriage, when my husband first entered professional ministry, I honestly believed that my calling in the Church would be fulfilled through him. So whatever he needed me to do to further “his” ministry, I did. But I also ended up crossing a lot of boundaries I shouldn’t have crossed. I invested myself too deeply in his career, attempted to do the Holy Spirit’s work in his heart, and meddled in things that were not my concern—all in the name of “supporting” his calling.

What I was really doing was longing for a way to use my own gifting to serve the Church.

God was faithful despite my immaturity, and today I work beside my husband as a wife, mother, and active member of our local church. Out of the Holy Spirit’s gifting, I offer advice, counsel, and support as he needs it; but what he most certainly does not need is for me to confuse my calling with his.

As I’ve found the freedom to develop my own gifts, God has led me to a place I never expected. Today, a significant part of my ministry happens independently of my husband’s. It happens through mothering and homemaking, to be sure, but it also happens through blog posts and articles just like this one.

The result? Today my husband and I are more fruitful for the Kingdom than we have ever been.

You may know that I live in the Blue Ridge of southwest Virginia. You may not know that this is railroad country. Our county and the surrounding area was built on rail and to this day, Norfolk-Southern is one of our largest employers. We also have a lot—A LOT—of mountains. So it’s not unusual to see two engines coupled together pulling a load of cars. With hills this big and loads this large, one engine simply can’t do the job alone.

In many ways, marriage is the same. Both men and women have the same basic calling: We are called to work for Christ’s Kingdom. We have to get the load up the mountain. But just like one engine can’t do it alone, neither can men nor women do it alone. “So God said that it is not good that man should be alone; I’ll give him a second engine to help him.” (That’s from the SWVA version of the Bible which also translates the plural of you as “ya’ll.”)

But here’s the thing: too often, we think of a woman as the coal car that fuels the man’s mission; in reality, she is a strong, second engine tasked with the same mission that he is. His engine may be out in front, and she may even be a different make and model, but make no mistake, they are both tasked with getting the load to the top of the mountain.

I am thrilled to see Nancy Leigh DeMoss and her fiancé confirm the work that God has called her to. I am thrilled that in God’s providence, He has brought them together to serve His Church as husband and wife. But mostly, I am thrilled that they will be able to model this for the rest of us. Because ultimately this is what a truly Christian marriage looks like—two people bound together by a mission greater than either one of them. two people bound together to love Christ and serve His people.

Frost Date

It’s finally spring in our hills. Officially, it’s been spring for over a month, but an Appalachian spring is not a spring you can trust, especially if you are a gardener. The mountains tease and tempt you, blossoming one moment and freezing the next. That’s why “frost date” is so important. This is “the day of the year, based on these 30 year averages, that there is only a 10% chance that there will be a frost.” Statistically speaking, this means that you should be safe to plant after this day. For us, it tends to fall at the end of April.

But every year, I watch grown men and women tempt this “frost date.” For people staunchly opposed to all forms of gambling and avarice, the gardeners I know have a particular penchant toward risk. If you put out your seedlings early enough, and the weather holds, you might also be the first to put out home-grown tomatoes at a church supper. But if you presume too much upon spring, and put them out too soon, your tomatoes won’t show up until August because you’ll have to replant them after they die. (Of course, you could always do what one friend of our does–tend your plants in a greenhouse until they’re nearly grown and then put them out already in bloom–but for the most part, this kind of behavior is frowned upon.)

I spent my childhood watching my father worry and wait until the frost date had finally passed. Today I watch my husband do the same; in fact, as I type, he is out in his garden finally putting out his broccoli and cabbages and tomatoes. He hasn’t been this happy in months. Last year, I wrote a short poem about this angst-ridden season and remembered it just today–a day far enough past frost date to ensure that we will have tomatoes come July.


Frost Date

Spring comes to these hills on
lilting steps of two forward, one back.
The man who has known eighty
lifts his hat
and smooths down wisps of white.
“You cannot trust these days; they’re as fickle as a woman.”
But these days seduce old men
(and young too)
to sow their seeds of hope–
a hope that is less than confidence–
lest April make fools of them all.