Saturday, November 30, 2013

From the Archives: children, Advent, and bad television shows

Here are some posts from Novembers past, for your reading pleasure:

-"Wanted Children":
Isn't it, cruelly, peer pressure at its earliest, its foulest? Don't we always tell our children not to base their self-worth on what other people think of them? Yet this bases their very reason for being on whether or not someone thought they were worth it. Wanted? Wanted by whom, why, for how long?
-"Nursing Mother Sculpture": I still love this picture of a beautiful work of art celebrating the bond between mother and child.

-"We Do What We Can":
I’m facing writing the chapter in my book that terrifies me to write, because I’m not equal to it. It’s the heart of the story, and I’m so scared I’m going to get it wrong. It is, in fact, not the place where the gospel is told, but where it is shown, and I'm scared I'm going to get it wrong.
- "24 Days Before Christmas":
The key to doing something every day of Advent, I've found, is to be both prepared and flexible. Have a list of things you want to do, and even have an idea of the order in which you want to do them - perhaps even the day on which you want to do each - but be prepared to change that order and those days. If someone gets sick, it's not the day to try to get all the Christmas packages mailed. It might, instead, be the day to sit on the couch together and read all the Christmas books, one by one.
"Keeping Advent: the week before the fast":
And I want the good stuff to crowd out all the bad. Sometimes the best way to flee temptation, to banish evil thoughts and sinful tendencies, isn't to fight them head on. It's just to fill your heart so full of good things that there's no room for the bad.
"Revolution on NBC - how can such a good show be so bad?":
And . . . the thing is, you could have a character like this and use her well. Self-righteous teenagers are pretty common in real life, after all. But instead of letting her be disillusioned and learn from it, or court disaster and learn wisdom, or anything like that, the narrative seems to insist that we admire her for her pluck.
And, argh. I just can't.
Happy feast of St. Andrew, folks!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Weekend Links: Advent, Book-Binding, the Name of Jesus, and more!

I'm posting this weekend's links early because, well, it's Thanksgiving! :D  And I intend to spend the rest of the weekend drinking coffee, eating pie, and playing with Legos.  I hope you're doing something similarly relaxing with people you love. Happy Thanksgiving, wonderful people! I'm thankful for you.

And now, links!

"Advent: why it matters (and how to do it sanely)": I was excited to see "Let Us Keep the Feast" mentioned here (thanks, Tsh!), but also excited to see a lot of other awesome-looking resources. If you're looking for ideas for celebrating Advent, this post is a great resource.

"This is How Huge Door-stopper Fantasy Novels Get Made": If you've never seen the process of book printing and book-binding, this is a great photo essay on the subject. I thought it was fascinating!

"Savor the Name":
Most fruit seems like a gift, but a pomegranate is the most extravagant. The seeds burgeon under the skin, and when you tear it open with a tart ripping sound, the byzantine arrangement within tells you that here, there is both order and design, and an unaccountable exuberance. The seeds shine. They glow like rubies, and you crunch them with your teeth and lick the blood of rubies off your lips.
Well, that's how I feel about pomegranates. 
wordy wednesday: because if I had had a camera, it would have been a great picture:
a few weeks ago, I linked to a post by Sandra Taylor, saying, "this is why I love Sandra's blog: because she's always writing stuff like this." Well, the above-linked post is why I love Anne Kennedy's blog: because she's always writing stuff like this. (And this.)

Crossroads Kids' Club: looks like a neat activity-a-day Advent program!

"Let Us Keep the Feast: a Book Recommendation":
. . . because what I really wanted wasn’t an abstract identity, but something that I could touch: I wanted Shabaat meals by candlelight, and long, restful Sabaath days; I wanted mezuzahs and prayer shawls, feasting and fasting; I wanted to dance with the scrolls on Simchat Torah, and eat the bitter herbs of Egypt on Passover.
"What Steven Moffat Doesn’t Understand About Grief, And Why It’s Killing Doctor Who":
Then Moffat, of course, took over the show as show runner. And once again, people just seem to keep… not dying. Part of the problem is that Moffat’s a big fan of the Giant Reset Button — so much so that he literally wrote in a Giant Reset Button into the episode Journey to the Center of the TARDIS. One step above the “It was all a dream” plot, the Giant Reset Button absolves the characters and the writers of any repercussions and they can carry on as they were, even though we, the audience, saw a “major event” that is evidently no longer relevant. You can have your fun and adventure, but you need not learn or grow or change from it.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Clutter Interrupted Interview!

As I noted here, I love the Clutter Interrupted podcast. Chelle and Tracy, the hosts of Clutter Interrupted always post great shows - motivating and fun stuff about organizing not just your home, but also your finances and health. Love it!

And this week, I had the honor of being interviewed by Chelle and Tracy for the podcast! We talked about getting ready for Advent and celebrating Christmas. I got to share some of the traditions and ideas from Let Us Keep the Feast.

You can listen to the podcast here on the Clutter Interrupted website, or you can subscribe via iTunes.

My thanks to Tracy and Chelle for a really fun interview - they're amazing ladies! :)

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Monday, November 25, 2013

Book Notes: "Shadows" by Robin McKinley

ShadowsShadows by Robin McKinley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh, how I wish this book had been longer. Not because it felt unfinished or because it ended in an unsatisfying place, but just because I was enjoying it so much, and I wanted to stay in the world a little longer. I was loathe to leave it.

The best part of Shadows is the voice. I instantly believed the narrator was the smart, somewhat grouchy teenage girl she said she was, and her matter-of-fact explanations about her odd world and her normal self felt very real. And because of that very real narrator, McKinley was able to pull of one of the neatest characterization tricks I've ever seen. I don't want to go into detail, because it would spoil it, but someone turns out to be someone different than you thought he was, and because of the viewpoint (and limitations of viewpoint) of the narrator, I was totally able to buy him both as the person the narrator first thinks he is, and as the person he actually turned out to be. It was a lovely suspense, and then a lovely surprise, both.

I admit that I almost didn't read this one, because the gloomy cover and gloomy title put me off. But it's not gloomy at all, even if it is a bit mysterious and sometimes scary. Instead, it's a slow-building fairy tale with familiar characters and fantastical details. Loved it!

And really, really, truly? I did not want it to end.

View all my reviews

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Celebrating the Church Year: Christ the King Sunday

-something to ponder:
“And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.
-Luke 21:25-28 (emphasis mine).
-something to read:  "The World's Last Night" by John Donne, and . . . "The World's Last Night", by C. S. Lewis.

-something to listen to: "Dust Bowl Dance" (just for the apocalyptic overtones)

-something to sing:  "Lo, He Comes In Clouds Descending"

-something to do: This is the church's New Year's Eve: next Sunday is Advent, which is the beginning of the Christian year. Use this time to look back on the past year, a month before the rest of the world will be doing it. Remember God's mercies. Ask for His grace and guidance in the year to come. Prepare your heart for the repentance and fasting of Advent. Thank the Lord for His constant dear presence. And maybe raise a toast to the turning of the year. :)

But still remember the seriousness of this feast:
We believe that thou shalt come : to be our Judge.
 We therefore pray thee, help thy servants . . .

Amen, Lord Jesus, come quickly.

(For more ideas on celebrating the church year, pick up a copy of "Let Us Keep the Feast: Living the Church Year at Home".)

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Weekly Scripture Reflections

These are my notes on the week's readings. I'm posting them here just because I realized I wanted to start keeping track of my notes! And I'd to hear your insights from your weekly devotions, too!

Luke 22:
-in this gospel, the argument about who will be greatest comes right after the argument about who will betray Jesus. Were they talking about both at the same time? Did talking about who was going to be the awfullest disciple prompt boasting about who was the best?

That sounds very, very terrible . . . but very, very human at the same time.

-when the disciples could not stay awake with Jesus in Gethsemane . . . it says they slept for sorrow. Somehow I had never noticed that detail before.

-after the angel strengthened Jesus, He prayed more. Was that what he needed strength for? The prayer? If so, then so must we . . .

Psalm 101:
-"I will early destroy all the wicked of the land, that I may cut off all wicked-doers from the city of the LORD."  Doesn't that sound like a clarion call to early morning prayer and confession?

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Weekend Links: What Happened to Susan Pevensie? and more

"A Plea to Narnia Fans":
With Lewis 50 years in the grave this week, we can't pull off the Woody Allen-Marshall McLuhan "You know nothing of my work" routine, but we can do the next best thing. You see, children in the 1950s and 1960s read The Last Battle and were concerned about Queen Susan's absence. They wrote directly to professor Lewis and he wrote them back.
"Neville Longbottom is the Most Important Person in Harry Potter—And Here’s Why":
Harry and company need Neville in the exact way that James and Lily and the Order of the Phoenix needed Peter. The difference is that Neville is more than up to the task.
"Love-Inspired Contest!" - now this is cool: a giveaway involving books AND yarn. :D

And I know I'm late to the party, but I can't stop watching the "Honest Movie Trailers". Here's one from "The Notebook", but there are a lot more to be found on the Youtubes.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Knitted FO's: a new sweater (the Nevis Cardigan), and a Christmas gift

I finished a sweater that I've been working on for a looooong time: the Nevis Cardigan, by Stefanie Japel:
I used Madelinetosh Lace in Spectrum (a gift from my brother and sister-in-law) and I love how floaty and airy the result is. It's the perfect sweater for fall: light-but-warm. And it's long and colorful and full of the jewel-tones I love. If you can forgive my very tired and makeup-less face, here's a full body shot of the sweater, graciously taken by my nine-year-old:
On top of that, I finished a few smaller things: the doll dresses I talked about in this post, and to go along with it, a sweater for my son's favorite teddy bear (can't leave the boys out of our crafting plans, right?):
I'm excited about giving the kids these little labors of love at Christmastime!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

(Ravelry links to my project notes can be found here and here.)

Monday, November 18, 2013

Green Smoothies are a Bad Idea

But if you simply must drink one, I've figured out a way to make it less painful: add frozen mango.

It turns out that frozen mango is a strong enough flavor that its tartness mitigates a lot of the dry green flavor from the spinach. Adding some plain yogurt increases the masking effect.

And if you're going to go healthy, you might as well go whole-hog and add in some ground flaxseed.

So here it is: a recipe for a ridiculously healthy green smoothie that's almost enjoyable. I give you: The Ridiculously Healthy Smoothie:

The Ridiculously Healthy Smoothie
-1 cup frozen spinach
-1 generous cup frozen mango
-2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
-1 cup plain yogurt
-1 cup milk
Blend and enjoy! Or, at least, try to. :)

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Weekend Links

-"Loki Have I Loved, But Thor Have I Hated":
I’ve settled on an alternate way to interpret Loki’s character. I’ve decided that Loki’s genius is that none of it is illusion. It’s all real. His disdain for Thor, real. His love for Thor, real. His desperate need for Odin’s approval, real. His disregard for his father, real. His self-sacrifice, real. His self-serving nature, real. His arrogance, his bravado, his penitence, his pain, it’s all real. Loki is the ultimate trickster because he believes every one of his own illusions. He’s not deceiving others so much as he lets his heart deceive himself. Loki’s the most complex character I’ve ever seen in a superhero film (although Robert Downey, Jr.’s Iron Man ranks an exceedingly close second).
"Gospel-Centered Sex?":
So what am I saying? Men need to do better? If they want more sex, here’s the formula? I bet a lot of men would like a formula—10 ways to serve your wife that will make her want to give you more sex. I could write that book and I bet it would be a best seller. I could call it The Proverbs 32 Man. But it would not be the gospel, or the solution to an unhealthy sex life. It would be a list of requirements that he could not fulfill or a manipulative formula that feeds selfishness. It would be just as unproductive as commanding a wife to go home, get over herself, and give her husband more sex.
"Breakfast on the Beach":
Was Peter tempted, after his spectacular denial of Christ recorded in all four gospels, to hide under a rock? To say, “No, I can’t.” Can’t go back. Can’t face the Church, with its knowing eyes and long memory? He must have been. Yet his love for his fellow disciples was strong enough that when all was lost, he climbed back in the boat with them to do what they knew best. And his love for Jesus was strong enough that just a glimpse of the Lord across misty dawn waters and the shadow of a miserable night made him forget all that had gone before. All the failure, all the shame. This devastating love of Peter’s is the foundation of the Church.
"A Bittersweet Adoption Story":
Less than two months after Alice’s arrival, Katie gave birth to our son Edmund. It was a traumatic delivery where Katie, again, hemorrhaged and nearly died. I got yet another two weeks paid leave for Edmund’s birth, and we needed it. He was colicky and not sleeping well. Katie was weak and sick. And, with Edmund’s arrival, we now had four children ages two and under. We were barely able to stay afloat with laundry, meals, and sleep. 
"Explaining Silence":
It wasn’t shame or fear or guilt or grief that kept my mouth shut most days. The people in my life I most wanted to tell – my parents, my brother – would have to grieve if I told them. They’d have to go through a version of what I did, because family is connected. I might be able to find peace with not being a mother (and I genuinely did, years later), but I wasn’t willing to foist that process upon someone else. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Noah Lukeman on plot and reading

I just came across these scribbled-down quotations in an old notebook and thought them worth sharing:
Plot, more than anything, is the enemy of stasis. Plot demands people dying and being born; getting married and divorced; saving lives and murdering. Something - no matter how small - must change. It is your job to create instability, and then, perhaps, to set it right. - The Plot Thickens, by Noah Lukeman, pg. 211.
The more stories we hear, experiences we have, the more we fill in our own books; this is partly why we crave hearing others' stories, reading books, or watching films at all. We are, in one sense, learning how to live. -ibid, pg. 189.

I love that last observation: that we read stories to learn how to live.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Almost Regency: a Speculative Fiction Lover’s Guide

So, it's pretty well-documented in my book reviews that my biggest literary loves are two: romances, and speculative fiction.

I know the two genres don't always appeal to the same cross-section of readers, but I thought it'd be fun to make a list for those of you like me, who have a love of both – or for those of you whose curiosity might be piqued by the idea of courtly love . . . in space!

So, let me introduce you to a few novels that blend the comedy of manners with imaginative vistas of other worlds.

(Note: none of these books are explicitly Christian, and may contain material offensive to some readers. I personally think the good stuff in them still makes them well worth reading, but parents, give them a look over before handing them off to teenagers.)

-My favorite book dedication of all time comes at the front of Lois McMaster Bujold’s “A Civil Campaign” and reads: “For Jane, Charlotte, Georgette, and Dorothy: Long may they rule”. The luminaries mentioned are, of course, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Georgette Heyer, and Dorothy Sayers, and this intelligent and hilarious tale of courtship in a high-tech world is worthy of those great mistresses of the comedy of manners. 

-The Liaden books written by the husband and wife team of Steve Miller and Sharon Lee feature an aristocratic society full of archaic rules of behavior . . . remind anyone of the London ton? The resemblance isn’t an accident, as the authors’ blog proves they’re fans of Georgette Heyer. Newcomers to the series should start with “Agent of Change”, wherein the high-born spy Val Con meets the mercenary Miri Robertson. This prince-meets-pauper tale should please fans of the familiar Regency romance trope of high-born noble falling for the commoner.

-Moving on to fantasy, I can't recommend Megan Whalen Turner's Thief series highly enough. Though there's no romance in the first volume, there's the fiercest of courtships in The Queen of Attolia. Wow. And the King of Attolia gives you a bit of a glimpse - through a stranger's eyes - of how that romance continued.

-And in the oldie-but-goodie category? Beauty, by Robin McKinley. If you haven't read it, go and treat yourself. McKinley was retelling fairy tales before retelling fairy tales was cool. And if you like Beauty, you should probably give her Spindle's End a try next.

Sadly, that's the end of my list of speculative fiction that gives almost-equal time to the romance. But if you want some speculative fiction that still has a strong thread of romance running through the story, let me recommend:

-Julie Czerneda. Her most famous sci-fi-and-romance pairing is probably found in To Trade the Stars, but for my money, the slow-simmering romance between biologist and spy in the Survival series is tops.

-Another Bujold: though I like Curse of Chalion for all kinds of reasons that have nothing to do with romance, and everything to do with my love of good theological fantasy, it does have a quiet romance (or two) lilting through its pages.

So, those are my top picks when it comes to love in the spec. fic. world. Let me know if you know of any others I should check out!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Monday, November 11, 2013

on Veterans' Day, a prayer for those in the armed forces

Almighty God, we commend to your gracious care and
keeping all the men and women of our armed forces at home
and abroad. Defend them day by day with your heavenly
grace; strengthen them in their trials and temptations; give
them courage to face the perils which beset them; and grant
them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

-from the Book of Common Prayer

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Weekend Links!

-"What Story Are You Writing?":
When a family gathers at a funeral to celebrate the life of someone dear and to console one another in their grief, the words of a eulogy can have tremendous power. Eulogies are gifts, even more for the people who mourn than for the deceased. As I went about my business all last week, tending to the myriad of details I had previously never even considered, deviating so far from my original plan for the week that it was barely recognizable, I considered what makes a good eulogy—not what makes a stylistically good eulogy, what makes stirring oration, but what makes the summation of one’s life “good.” What really is a life well lived?

-"The Teaching of Kindness":
So many words, and they can be so hard to find, buried in all the clutter and confusion. So many times, all I want to do is send everyone to separate rooms, put a quick stop to all the ugly words. Sometimes that's all I can do, and sometimes that's okay, but mostly I'm called to show up with the right words. The good words, the true words, the life-giving words of love and joy and peace.
-This post is an example of why I enjoy Sandra Taylor's blog so much: her account of her days just feels so very real. And maybe it's because I identify with her - this mom of not-a-few who is pursuing creative endeavors and trying to keep her house a home at the same time - but she just tells that daily story very, very well in small, telling, relatable details. I'm always happy to see one of her posts.

-"Is Youth Ministry Killing Church?"

-"How to help someone inside a cult/abusive church {hint: interventions don’t work}" - helpful perspective here.

Finally, I wanted to mention a few podcasts I've discovered in the past few months:
-Simple Mom: I  know I'm a latecomer to this one! My favorite was the episode on book publishing.
-Clutter Interrupted: This one is wonderful to have one while you're cleaning house! And I love how they address not just organization in the home, but also in things like health and finance.

Hope you have a wonderful weekend!
Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Friday, November 8, 2013

Motherhood and Vocation: a second epilogue

This was supposed to just be a four-part blog, but as I was posting these this week, I realized I had just a bit more to say. Smaller things, but probably important.

1) What if you have no other vocation? What if you’re “just” a wife and mother? (Or just a wife? Or just a mother?)

Well, in that case, my guess is there’s no “just” about it. Women like that tend to be, in my experience, pillars of the church and community. They’re the ones who take care of everyone behind the scenes, the ones who fill in the gaps – gaps that might seem small, but that end up making all the difference in the world. The old are comforted by them, the sick visited, the children watched, the sad encouraged, the extra bit of running around and paperwork done, the missionaries housed, the strangers welcomed . . . and piece by piece, this looks small, but honestly: the world would fall apart without these “mere” wives and mothers. And even if you think this superwoman isn’t you, take a closer look: you might be surprised by what the Lord is accomplishing through your hours and your days.

Or what He will accomplish. You might be in the middle of a time where you feel you’re not even enough to take care of your own household. It’s okay: serve Him there. Turn to Him; He will not forsake you. And remember that you don’t know what He has in store for you, and no more do you know what He will do with those sacrifices of yours that now seem so insignificant. We aren’t allowed to see what’s coming and we aren’t always allowed to see the eternal result of our work – and all our work is just gift, just grace, just superfluous goodness in the kingdom that is entirely dependent on His great virtue, not ours.

(Also, if you are in this place, and you find it a discouraging place, I urge you to go and read Milton’s great sonnet, which he wrote as his sight disappeared. Remember: “they also serve who only stand and wait.”)

2) Okay, this is the harder piece, because this is where I’m likely to get things thrown at me. But I felt like I needed so say it, especially after all my emphasis on the essential humanity of women: I think women and men are different.

Phew! I know, I know, it’s shocking, but hear me out: we are different. Man was created male and female, and what would be the point of that if we were exactly the same? Moreover, basic biology tells us there is a difference and I get so annoyed when people ignore basic biology.

(And that’s just the biology – I’m pretty sure there are some even less tangible differences between the sexes, but I really don’t think I’m up to articulating them – and I mean that literally: I doubt my ability to do it. But being creatures who are not just physical, but whose embodiment is part of our very nature, it would make sense that what we see in our bodies is reflected in our souls. We’re very all-of-a-piece.)

The thing is though – and the reason I hesitated to say anything about this – is I don’t have a worked-out, easily-stated philosophy of the difference between the sexes. It’s a difference I can see more easily in real life and in good stories than I can in coldly-stated philosophical statements. And that’s probably a fault on my part.

So, before I go on, let me state really clearly: These are my thoughts in progress. You know how you can have an opinion about everything (and probably do), but you hold some opinions more strongly than others? This is an opinion that’s a little weak. Not because I think I’m wrong, but because I know it’s a huge and complicated subject that I haven’t thought through well enough yet. So it’s an opinion I hold lightly, because it seems not unlikely that I have some of it wrong.

But, with that huge caveat, here's what I see when I think through it:

Women are more vulnerable than men. History teaches us this – sadly, the daily news teaches us this. When people are being virtuous, this vulnerability is no disadvantage. In marriage, women receive. In pregnancy, women nurture. In childbirth, women break themselves in order to bring forth life. Can men receive and nurture and so productively be broken? Yes, of course. But not in the very literal sense that women can. (Huh – though as I think of it – Jesus is the sole exception to that last one – His broken body produced more life than any woman ever could.)

And in good societies, in good marriages, in good families, these feminine abilities are great gifts. They’re uniquely feminine opportunities for virtue and growth and goodness. They’re great gifts.

In bad societies and families, they’re uniquely feminine opportunities for experiencing violence and victimization.

And this is just true. I hate it when people act like it’s otherwise. The very reason we need all the protections our laws afford women is because this is true. Are men victims of violence? Of course. But not in the same systemic ways women are, and that’s because, as a group, men are less vulnerable. (And that’s not even getting into the effect hormones may or may not have on our daily emotional experience – not that that might not go the other way, too: I understand men are much more likely to be sociopaths, for example.)

St. Peter talks about men treating their wives kindly, as weaker vessels, and I can’t help but think this vulnerability might be what he’s talking about. As if he’s saying, “recognize that they are vulnerable in a way you aren’t, that they are operating under hardships you don’t have to bear, and remember also that they are loved by your Lord, as His good creatures, just as you are, and so don’t take advantage – though you can – and don’t be unkind. They are the Lord’s, as you are, and so treat them well, as you would be treated if you were them.”

I don’t know. I don’t presume to know I understand everything St. Peter meant. But it seems to me clear that he was reminding men that women were “fellow heirs of salvation” because the men needed to be reminded, and reminding them to treat women kindly because we women need that kind treatment. If we’re called to be mothers, we’re called to a specific kind of purposeful vulnerability, in order that we might nurture our young, and in that vulnerability, we need the protection of good men.

And if you think that’s not true, you need to read some more history. Or daily headlines. But you’ll find them both pretty depressing. See what happens to women in cultures that haven’t been influenced by Peter’s stern admonition about women being treated kindly as fellow heirs of salvation (i.e., made in the image of God, i.e., humans). They’re squished, that’s what happens. Because they can be. And because nothing stops the men from doing it.

And I don’t want to leave you depressed, or with the impression that the weakness of women (because, in some ways, we really are weak) is all bad news. It isn’t. Like I said: it presents us with unique opportunities to grow in holiness. (I’m sure men’s strength provides them with unique opportunities, too, but that’s not my topic here.) God’s strength is shown in weakness – that’s so clear in Scripture – and so in some ways, we have a head start. Weird as it is to look at it that way. But we can't ignore our vulnerability. It shouts at us. Sometimes I think men can ignore their weakness (because all humans are weak and breakable) more easily than we can, and I can’t imagine that’s to their eternal advantage. Realizing you're weak when you always thought you were strong - that's a pretty rude awakening, and one we all must have, one way or another.

Strength in weakness; God’s strength in our weakness: it’s a glorious thing.

Our prime example of this, of course, is Mary, who represented the entire people of God – male and female – when she in her humility said, “May it be to me as the Lord has said.”

May we all be more like her. And as we’re more like her, by God’s grace, may we be more like Christ.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Motherhood and Vocation, Part 4

I suppose I could also title this: EPILOGUE: THE GOOD HUSBAND.

You've probably noticed that I haven't given a lot of specifics in this series. I haven't used the words "stay-at-home mom" or "daycare".

Yeah, that was on purpose. The thing is, I don't know what the right answers are for you. I don't know the details of how this all works out in your life. I'm only barely figuring out how it works out in my own!

I can give a few general thoughts on it though:

1) A bad husband will make every single piece of this so, so much harder. If vocational worries are a first-world problem, they're also in some ways a good-marriage problem. Women with husbands who aren't good at husbanding are in a hard spot. They need every grace everyone around them can give. A good husband will, well, husband. In older times, that word was a verb that meant to cultivate, to guard, to help things grow and flourish. The result of good husbanding is growth and flourishing.

I do believe that God is a father to the fatherless and a husband to the husband-less. But if a good husband is an unearned blessing, a bad one is at the very least a severe handicap.

And we're all of us bad spouses to some extent. I'm just saying that it's not fair to beat yourself up when you're having to fulfill your own role and someone else's and you're finding you're not able to do the job of two people no matter how hard you try.

God gives grace wherever we find ourselves. But it's unkind, I think, to fail to acknowledge that the husbandless or badly-husbanded woman is playing the game on a much higher difficulty setting.*

Again, I don't know how to address the situation or how to fix individual situations. I can just see clearly that having no husband or having a bad husband makes all of mothering harder, and that has to include the parts that have to do with juggling your vocation. And I want to acknowledge the bravery of the mothers who keep loving and working in the middle of those situations. They're heroic. And may God grant them every grace and mercy and strength that they need.

2) People say "specialization is for insects" but screw that. The truth is, specialization allows for civilization. Try having roads without engineers or secure borders without soldiers. Specialization is efficient.

Specialization allows for civilization in countries . . . and in families.

That the children are fed and clothed is the responsibility of both parents. It's my concern that there's money for food and it's my husband's concern that the children are cared for. If either of those things fail to happen it's both our faults. Redundant responsibility is a good failsafe.

But, practically, specialization makes for efficiency, and often it's going to make sense to have one person specialize as the bread-winner and one as the care-giver. Not always. Often. There are certainly reasons to split up those tasks or to juggle them back and forth. There are reasons, and there are seasons. (And I think the older kids get, the easier it's going to be to juggle those responsibilities back and forth.)

But, often, specialization is the most efficient way to make sure the family is 1) provided for, and, 2) cared for.

So you end up, often, having the father with the bigger career and the mother more often at home. I just want to point out how practical this is. And that it isn't necessarily bad to do things for practical reasons.
I think the problem comes when we start to see ourselves as the roles and only the roles. If I look at my husband and see a workhorse or a piggy bank, if he looks at me and sees a nanny or a maid . . . then we're in trouble.

But if I look at him and see Adam, and he looks at me and sees Jess - knowing full well that Adam earned the money and health insurance, and Jess cleaned the bathroom and cooked dinner - well, that's fine. We're called to love each other is all. Not use each other. Love each other. That there is utility there too is just the proper rights of love. That's okay.

It's a question of love. I guess it all comes down to a question of love. Sometimes loving the Lord means I'm nursing twins and trying to have a kind word for my toddlers despite my headache and my exhaustion. Sometimes loving the Lord means I'm spending four hours writing. Sometimes loving the Lord means I'm scrubbing a toilet. Sometimes it means I'm sitting still long enough that I can hear Him remind me how much He loves me.

So, motherhood and vocation . . . all come down to love, I think. Loving the Lord with all your heart and mind and soul and strength . . . and loving your neighbor as yourself. You know, those little neighbors who are the fruit of your and your husband's love. Your first neighbors. The ones in your own household.

Love God. Love each other. Do the work God's given you to do. Trust Him to make up the lack. And . . . I don't know what else to say, so I'm stopping there. What do you think?

*I think the first user of this metaphor was John Scalzi, here. It's probably pretty obvious that I don't agree with Mr. Scalzi on everything, but he's a good writer and it's just a brilliant metaphor. Credit where credit's due.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Motherhood and Vocation, Part 3 of 4

Have I mentioned I'm still in the middle of working this out in my own life? Ha, ha, and I was writing like I had all the answers, huh? Sorry. :)

But! I do have the beginning of an answer, I think. And this is just what I've gathered by observing the lives of the saints ahead of me - of the smart and loving women I know who are going through life using both their brains and their hearts.

The thing is, they do Have It All, sort of. They just do not Have It All All At Once.

(btw, one of the other answers I've seen lies in those exceptions I keep acknowledging: some women are called to the life of the mind and not the life of the home. Christianity has always held a high view of the celibate man or woman dedicated solely to the advancement of the Kingdom of God. St. Scholastica, pray for us.)

So, for those of us work-a-day sorts, for those of us called to the ordinary roles of wife-and-mother, what's the answer? What do you do, as Harriet Vane said, if you're blessed with both a brain and a heart?*

And now is when I'd invoke a different saint, if I did indeed pray to the saints, and say: St. Dorothy, pray for us. Because I think the answer lies in in the answer to Sayers' famous question: Are women human?

The answer is: yes. Yes, we are. And so, like men, we are called to worship God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength and with all our mind.

God didn't call just part of us, He called all of us.

Here's the thing, though, about virtues: they are immutable and immortal and unchangeable. But, in their application, they are as various as the flowers of the field. Modesty is an eternal virtue. But modesty in Regency England looks different than modesty in 2013 Los Angeles. The application of virtues looks different in different lives.

Serving God with all your mind won't just look different in you than in your next-door neighbor, it will look different in the 20-year-old you and in the 40-year-old you.

The first thing, always, is to pray and ask the Lord, "what is my duty right now? At this minute? How should I obey you today? What do you want of me this hour?" And then obey.

And often, obedience looks like cooking dinner or doing the dishes or reading to your kids. If that's today's duty, be content. Christians have always - always, always - been called to be content in their current circumstances. Were you a slave when Christ called you? Serve Him there. Get free if you can! says St. Paul, but if not, well, serve Him there.**

Wherever we are, we are called to contentment.

And so we're called to patience. We're called to peace.

But we're not called to complacence.

We're mothers: growth is our business. We know what it looks like; we watch it happen every day in our children.

And adults are supposed to grow and mature, too. Our growth isn't as dramatic, awkward, and startling as growth is in children, but stagnation is pretty ugly in grown-ups.

Children grow, and their growth makes room for us to take up our old pursuits and passions.

But to take them up peacefully, calmly, maturely. We're given the gift of finding ourselves again and finding that we're new people. The refining fire of motherhood has knocked off a lot of our hard edges. The long nights and days and toil in obscurity have taught us patience.

It's a gift. I'm saying: motherhood is a gift. And it's a gift in this completely unexpected way, because it gives you yourself back, after you'd given up completely any hope of finding that person again. You sort of wake up slowly, and it takes you awhile to realize that you're still there.

But you are. And you're whole. And you can do work, more work than you ever could when you were young and selfish and naive. You didn't know what work was then.

(In the first draft of this post, I had a screed here about dealing with male condescension. And, well, maybe there's a place for it somewhere, sometime. But not here, not now. Because the truth is: men have their own trials and temptations. And what they are isn't my business, any more than the single woman's trials and temptations are my business. Besides, that screed doesn't apply to good men and, frankly, good men are the ones I care about and who care about me, so for the jerks, who cares? God bless them; may they find their way home.)

But: work. Mothers know how to work. Oh, do we ever. And what a gift! Would you have ever learned the lesson of work quite so thoroughly if you hadn't been forced? I know I wouldn't. The tide of need that comes with children washes you over like a flood and you swim and you swim and swim so that you don't drown.

But then the tide goes out, and sometimes they still need you urgently and sometimes they still need you constantly, but they don't constantly need you urgently . . . and, those swimming muscles you built up? They're still there. And you're free to use them for something else. For something extra.

For your work. Your work. Your proper work. Your human work.

Because women are human. We're human first, and we're women second. The first thing you notice about a person may be their gender, but it's the first thing you notice about a person.

What screws us up here is that, in temporal terms, our gendered work comes first. Motherhood doesn't end till you die, I don't think, but biologically it's the job of youth. If you're going to have kids, you're likely going to have them in your twenties and thirties.

And because we often have to do it before our careers - or as an interruption to our careers - it feels like that's all we are. No. That's just what we are first. It's what we are always. But it's not all we are.
It's okay to be a mother and to take the time to be a good one. It's okay, it's good. It's okay to want to be more than a mother.

It's okay to live for a time - even a long time - with those two desires in tension. It's hard, but it's okay.

Desire delayed makes the heart sick . . . but there's still a place for patience. For resignation. For contentment.

And it's okay to reach beyond your first vocation when the time is right.

And it is always, always, always good to bring all these desires and conflicts before the Lord in prayer. Because this isn't going to look the same for every woman and He knows and loves you better than anyone.

Wait on the Lord. Take heart, and wait on the Lord. And He will give you the desires of your heart.

And desire fulfilled is the tree of life.

*Read Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers. Read it now.
**1 Corinthians 7:21.

a few mid-week links

Maybe Elena's sonnet "Woman's Work" is hitting me so hard because of the blog series I'm writing right now, but probably it's just because Elena's such a good poet. I really love this line:
I am human, too, and tread on floors
 which must be swept to clear a space to think.
Then, Anne Kennedy says nice things about "Let Us Keep the Feast: Advent & Christmas" - and being Anne, she's witty and fun and interesting while she does it:
So much of my life is rummaging around in cupboards in the sacristy or the church bat cave or the Sunday school cupboard looking for advent candles or black ribbon for Good Friday or tying head arrangements on assorted boys trying to beat each other with their shepherd's staffs at Christmas time or rushing out on Saturday night to acquire unto myself oranges and chocolate gold coins for the tallest man that fits my make shift bishop hat to distribute to surprised children in the middle of church on the Sunday closest to St. Nicholas Day. My home church year life is less about all that and more about the food. And that, the food I mean, Matt and I take very seriously. Eating through the church year is our spiritual act of worship, or our love language, or something.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Monday, November 4, 2013

Motherhood and Vocation, Part 2

In the last post, I talked about how motherhood constricts your choices and your potential. And it does.

But that constriction doesn't last.

Children grow up. And you grow up, too.

You get better at caring for them. Of course, every couple of weeks, they hit a new developmental stage, and you have to revamp every last schedule and routine to deal with the new, crazy behavior they've sprouted now . . . but even then: you get better at that kind of flexibility. You know that children=change, and you grow in the grace of matching them rhythm for rhythm.

You get a little bit of space.

And you realize . . . you're still human. That girl who was brilliant with words or who was perfectly intuitive with people or who could make an office run like clockwork . . . you still have all her skills. And, what's more, now you're mature enough that you have an idea of what to do with those skills now, how to put them to best use. But you can't, can you, because you have to mother your children.

Here's the thing: motherhood may be the primary vocation of most Christian women, but that doesn't mean it's the only one.

There is a tendency in conservative Christianity to be weird about this. We're so worried about losing the family that we end up acting like the family is all there is. We think that because women are mothers that they can't be professors or police officers or teachers or council members or doctors. That they have hearts, but not brains.

And, honestly, we think this because we're at least willing to acknowledge the truth stated in Part 1: that mothering takes real energy and real time. We know that taking the time and energy to mother means we're not going to have as much time and energy as we would otherwise. We're willing to acknowledge the cost.

And that's good as far as it goes. But it isn't true that being a mother always takes all your time and energy.

Truthfully, this is a first world problem. I know we don't want to think that, but hear me out: you're only going to have opportunity to worry that you're not living up to your potential if you have enough energy at the end of the to stay awake fifteen minutes thinking about it. If you labored in the fields all day and barely kept your family fed, well, this isn't going to be your issue.

Or your husband's, to be fair.

So, anyway, I just had to point out: this is a problem for the privileged.

But it is a real problem. Ask any smart woman who's been through college. Especially if she's been to a Christian college. Ask her if there's a tension between having a family and having a career. Go ahead. Just ask.

Are you back? (Are you me?) Okay, so: there's a tension.  And I already gave my opinion that being a mother is a good thing. Ignore your biology at your peril: God created your body. You are female. You are made to mother. That's just bound up in your DNA, and trying to not be yourself never made anyone happy. (Yes, there are exceptions. No, I'm not qualified to address them.)

But being a smart person is a good thing, too. Being a gifted person is a good thing. And your intelligence and your gifts are just as hard-wired into your body as your fertility is. God made your brains, too.

The thing is, that you can't ignore people in pursuit of things. You can't ignore your husband and your kids in pursuit of your career. You can't neglect them. That's sinning. And so that's where we get caught up: we just mother, just housewife, because these things need to be done, but we're unhappy, because we're not using our brains and our gifts.

(And here I'm going to stop and say again: these things need to be done. Modern culture tries to ignore this, tries to act like we can have homes without homemakers or healthy kids without caretakers, but that's just ridiculous. And given, again, biology, mothers are going to usually be those homemakers and caretakers. Our bodies are made to sustain life. Bluntly: we can breastfeed. It makes sense for us to be home with, at least, the babies and toddlers, because We're Not Just Mom, We're Dinner.)

But, anyway: we're not using all our gifts, and so we're unhappy.

And, at that unhappy place, I'm going to leave you until Part III.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Motherhood and Vocation, Part 1 of 4

Want to sit down and have a cup of coffee? - because any blog that has "Part 1" in its title ought to come with coffee. :)

(And I want to say at the start: this blog series isn’t comprehensive, not in any sense, and I’m not pretending it is.*)

In this series, my focus is on what many of us experience: getting married and having kids. This is the path a lot of us take, and so it's worth looking at it. Most of us marry rather than burn, and the result of sex is kids. Fairly often, anyway.

Given that, what does that mean for Christian women? It means that our primary vocations, often, will be that of wife and mother.

And this isn't a bad thing. 

In fact, this is a normal path for sanctification. Marriage and child-rearing require self-sacrifice and that's good. It doesn't feel good, but it is good.

I'm not sure I know another way to say it . . . I just know it needs to be said. Yes, it's hard. Yes, you have to give things up. Yes, you get an infinite return.

Your sphere of influence will be abruptly contracted and so will your choices. You chose this one thing (and in our culture, it was your choice - now there's a mercy and a judgment!) and that meant you didn't choose every other thing in the world.**

And you have to be faithful to the vocation to which you've been called. Yes, called, even though you chose it. Did you really know what you were choosing? No, probably not. We never do. We're human, which means we're finite. Which means we're stupid. (Cosmically speaking, anyway.)

You didn't know it would be so hard, and that you'd be so tired, and that you'd be so angry, so often. So, so often.

But it happens to men too, it happens to single people too, it happens to everyone. Everyone chooses one thing and not every other thing. Everyone has to deal with the consequences of their choices and the loss of freedom that follows.

But there's a new kind of freedom that comes after the choice: the freedom to be faithful. Once you know what you're supposed to be doing, you're free to do it well. You're freed to do it with your whole heart. You're freed to do it faithfully.***

Which is just glorious.

So, that first: being a wife and a mother is normal and good. Your biology is destiny, in one way. You were made to do this. You were made to bear and to nurture. You were made to give of yourself. You were made to be the strong and sturdy trellis these baby plants could cling to as they grow towards the sun. You were made to provide structure and peace around their nutty energy. You were made to soothe and comfort and feed and protect. This is normal. This is good.

And when people say it's not, they're lying.

Yes, you can't do everything you want. You can't have it all. Being a mother means that where you're going to spend the majority of your time and energy for the next twenty years is now determined, and you don't have the potential you used to, and you can't "have it all".

But no one can. No one can.

And motherhood, if you receive it as from the Lord, if you take it as from His hands, will give you opportunity after opportunity to grow in holiness. It will give you practice in giving grace - over and over - and in opening yourself up to receive it in turn. It can teach you the practice, the constant practice, of turning your face towards the Father to receive from Him the love that you need. And then you can turn and give it to your children. And then receive again - because you don't have enough of yourself, and motherhood teaches you how finite and small and fragile you are - how much you need the Lord.

And how much He gives of Himself to you. How He is ever-present, ever-sufficient, ever-kind. How He loves you through His own presence, and through the presence of your husband, and of your family, and of your church, and of your friends. Christ in every face that greets you with kindness. Christ being formed in your children. Christ when you are in tears for fear of their lives or of their souls. Christ when you're so tired you wish you never had to wake up. Christ always present, always.

This is a grace that I am sure is available in every vocation, but that I know is present in motherhood.

It should not be despised.

(Stay tuned for Part 2, tomorrow . . .)

* My experience is that of a married woman who didn’t struggle with her fertility. I know that means there are a lot of people this series of essays just can’t address. I'm writing under the assumption mothering is one of the normative vocations for Christian women. But there are other paths; those other paths exist and they matter and many good people who are not me are writing good things about them. (Try this blog, or this one, just as a start.)
**I learned this from Elena.
***This is what discipline does: it allows for freedom. Think of how working out regularly allows you take a hike in the gorgeous fall weather without getting out of breath. Think of how practicing scales gives you the freedom to interpret a piece by Bach. It is the boundaries of discipline and choice – choosing “this” and not “that” - that allow for freedom!