Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Through the Dark

Alexi Murdoch is one of my new favorite singer/songwriters. The simplicity and homeyness of his acoustic guitar and his voice and oftentimes his lyrics as well comfort, stir, gladden, engage. Wikipedia, the infallible source of all wisdom, tells me he was "born in London to a Greek father and Scottish-French mother and raised in Greece, just outside of Athens until he was ten, when his family moved to Scotland," so of course some of his awesome comes from that background.

Through the Dark just came on my station. Brainlessly simple, but good. Good for a cold night that seems so very unlit. Good for a night whose edges seem to crumble. Good for a night of sniffles and tea and chapstick. Good for a night that calls me to curl up under a soft blanket and dreams for at least a couple of days.

Monday, November 28, 2011

A friend just shared this...

I had to do the same. Later tonight, I plan to go look it up in Orthodoxy and read the context.

‎"The outer ring of Christianity is a rigid guard of ethical abnegations and professional priests; but inside that inhuman guard you will find the old human life dancing like children, and drinking wine like men; for Christianity is the only frame for pagan freedom. But in the modern philosophy the case is opposite; it is its outer ring that is obviously artistic and emancipated; its despair is within."


(As always, clicking on the photos will enlarge them to full size)

Giving thanks 206-219
206. Christmas lights draped over and around the windows
207. a pile of clean dishes in the sink and on the counter
208. Tali's guitar - when she plays it, when Maria plays it, and when I try to play it
209. Adele
210. balls and skeins and tangles of yarn of various colors
211. sitting around the house Sunday afternoon with roomies, crafting Christmas gifts and listening to Wodehouse on audiobook
212. a clear windshield on an icy cold morning
213. wire whisks in the kitchen
214. central heating
215. the old jacket I found at home - dark blue, too large for me, pocketed and collared, and (once again) very boyish
216. laughs and funny moments with my student that are deep and real and distract us from school for a few minutes at least
217. Adam's old fashioned crunchy peanut butter, sitting in my cupboard right now
218. Gilbert Keith Chesterton
219. Thanksgiving week and the good times and great foods I shared with family

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving Monday

"Never seek to define your identity apart from your relationships. When did we become sons of God? We were generated in His image when He breathed the breath of life into our first father. When did we become objects of wrath, children of the devil? When our first father took the fruit that had been forbidden to him, but which he coveted anyway (Gen. 3:6; 1 Jn. 2:16). When were we born again, when were we regenerated? When we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ in truth, moved by the Spirit to do so, and God the Father became our Father once again. In short, it happened when the central covetousness died, and the central thanksgiving was born. What is it to be born again? It is the death of covetous wanting, and the birth of thankful wanting."
From The Gospel and Thanksgiving, sermon by Douglas Wilson

Giving thanks-

191. the big man's coat found in our basement and how comfy it can be to wear something so utterly unfeminine, huge and warm.
192. gold and green and neon leaves against the snow
193. building a snowman where no one else will ever see it
194. corn chip crumbles in the bottom of a bag
195. homemade cranberry sauce
196. laughing at games we are playing until our eyes water and our stomachs ache
197. Maria's hot orange juice
198. reading through an entire Shakespeare play (that I've never read before) in one sitting with so many of my friends
199. someone giving up a seat for you
200. someone else who always remembers to thank you for the food you have made or served
201. guitars and co: the picks, the slides, the capos, the strong fingers, the head that nods in time to the music, the foot tapping and the singing
202. lounging around at midnight with roomies chatting for a few minutes before bed
203. cheese
204. the wave - across streets, through windows, across the room, in meeting and in parting the motion of friendship and salutation
205. a God who supplies all my needs - and then so much more. Abundance and grace.

Monday, November 14, 2011

With Gusto

The wind is ferocious today. It blows hail at an angle from a wild sky partly blue and mostly white, and always shifting. It makes the little maple bush, empty of all leaves now, sway back and forth like a mad pendulum. It whackles the branches of the tree out front against the roof of the house. It rattles the back door in and out a good half inch, slipping in weasel-like around the edges wherever there is the slightest gap.


I have the day off work. I mean to sleep in longer than I do, but it feels better to be awake and moving than lolling under my quilts. Morning is not for sluggishness but the joy of life.


Peaceful days are nice in their own way. But I like the dramatic days - the swollen, golden days of almost instant sunburn, the snowfalls that accumulate an inch per hour, the cleansing rush of heavy rainfalls, the the urgency and bustle of windy days. When the world is pulsing and breathing hard and whirling with gladness and telling sudden stories, life wells within me, and unfolds my praise.


Life is for living; the shower almost hot enough to burn my skin, pulling back dripping hair, warm socks between my feet and the wood floor. Hunger is for food; the tortillas bubbling and turning dark brown while the eggs solidify, dipping it all into salsa and chewing slowly as I read Isaiah. Morning is for planning; for making a list, and a phone call, and a trip to the hardware store for a narrow paint brush, a gleaming silver tray and puffy white rollers, for cans of primer and paint with their perfect labels and unopened lids and the gloopy splash inside those round walls as I carry them out to my car. Time is for people; asking for help willingly rather than trying to do it myself, sipping coffee with friends at my old school, hauling wood inside together in anticipation of a fireplace party.


Leaves skitter along the street, and the hail that fell minutes ago has melted, leaving my sidewalk polka-dotted with wet splotches. The sun came out and is gone again; the wind is slower, and the brightness of the sky is lessened and greying. The caffeine-rush of the morning has quieted a bit, and it feels like an ordinary afternoon.


I take a break from scraping old paint from an ugly ceiling, brush bits of off-white from my shoulders and the scarf over my hair, and eat an apple still a little pert from the orchard a month ago, but sweeter and softer now. After my break, I feel the paint waiting, a promise of fumes and a short wooden stick for slow stirring and the satisfying waterfall as I pour into the tray. It speaks of patience along the edge of the walls and stiffness along my neck and drips along the sides of the can on the way to the floor, and it also speaks of the smooth new roller layering freshness, and the wooden brush handle in my palm, and the gleam of the lights against a surface that will be perfectly white. The paint and the tools wait for me to finish what I started, and I refill with good food and retie my scarf for an afternoon of thinking and working within these quiet walls.

thanking God

178. hail bouncing from my sidewalk
179. dry shoes
180. hugs from old friends
181. hearing my mom's voice for a minute on the phone
182. how warm my computer's power cord is under my feet
183. Josh Ritter and Pandora
184. Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina
185. automatic doors when your hands are full
186. paint-stirring sticks
187. finding mounds of hibernating (?) ladybugs in the pile of wood, a gleaming red and black surprise
188. having snow boots
189. sore muscles that speak of the activities I was able to do this weekend
190. that tamarack trees turn yellow

Monday, November 7, 2011


I've been thinking almost constantly about connecting with my community here, hoping to belong here more and more, and to bless those around me even as they bless me. I am learning to love people more this year than ever before. It has been a good evening on that front and I pray for it to continue.

167. Thankful for the residents at Clark House, and how they remind me of my grandparents who have passed away, and of the frailty of life, and the love of God to the very end.

168. For Jeremiah and Noai and the Rouch family, who are faithful in their ministry to these people through song, prayer, handshakes and conversation.

169. For the hymnals there that hold so many of the good old songs I have been missing.

170. For the voices - tiny and clear, old and wavering, middle-aged and firm, young and eager - that sing these songs.

171. For my car, that took me safely from home to there and back again, and then on to the book study.

172. For Mrs. Lawyer - her wisdom, her smile, her bluntness, her love.

173. For Rachel's cookies and the Maki girls' hospitality every week.

174. For the girls who joke and love and wink and shove on the way out the door.

175. For white stuff floating down, and for voices saying Merry Christmas 48 days early.

176. For that moment when you're all standing there with your car doors open and one leg ready to step into it but you are still talking and laughing with everyone and not quite ready to end the time together.

177. For girls who call hello as soon as I come into our house, and who ask me how I am as soon as I enter the room where they are studying their various subjects.

How many siblings do you have??

Sometimes people ask how many siblings I have, and then act like they wish they hadn’t asked. No matter how matter-of-factly I answer, in how soft of a voice, or how I ease the blow by casually saying seven brothers and leaving a thoughtful pause for them to adjust before mentioning the nine sisters.

The eyebrows jump straight up a few inches off their usual resting place, like a cat that has been batting nonchalantly at a still mouse it assumes is dead, when the mouse suddenly gives the reaction it has been prodded for.

The mouth unhinges for a moment, offering a nice view of the teeth, tongue, uvula and pharynx, and sometimes a case of muteness attacks for a few seconds after this anatomical display is closed.

The eyes – well, you have seen the cartoons where the eyeballs nearly leave the face because their saucer-like size makes it hard to fit between the other features. Like that.

Then the comments. People are amazingly quick at putting us into a box, a category – no matter how obviously empty their category for Extremely Large Family has been up until this point. They assume my parents must be uneducated, or Mormon, or hate the environment, or hate their children who obviously are harmed by having to share a bedroom with brothers or sisters.

But sometimes people are cool enough to ask the right kinds of questions, ones that reveal that yes, they may think it is all a little crazy, but they are interested in how this kind of crazy works for a real life family. One of the best questions I’ve heard was from a kid, about a week ago. “But how do you all use the bathroom and take showers in the morning? Do you have to get up in the middle of the night to do it before everyone else?”

I laughed. But the more I thought about that one, the more ironically true it was. My sisters have some kind of system worked out among themselves so that they all end up with shiny clean hair every day, and when I go back to visit I have to either wait until an hour after breakfast when everyone else is done and off doing chores and the water has had time to heat up again, or grab my shower before bed each night – but then I have to fight my brothers for a chance at the hot water and towels.

There are too many things about life in a big family, too many even about this family in particular, for me to answer what it’s like to be part of it in just a few sentences of conversation. It has been a life, not merely an experience. But I still try to explain what it has been like.

There are not enough bathrooms. There never have been, but at least there are 2 now. Standing in line at the bathroom door warps all sense of time, proportion, common kindness, and etiquette. People have been known to accuse others of taking hours in the shower when it has been far closer to a quarter of an hour in reality. People have been known to knock, go to the other bathroom and knock there, then go back and knock on the first one again in case that might help. Some of our number have tried to cut in line and been forcibly removed or seriously chastened for their cheating. Brushing teeth is quite a community affair, since you are extremely selfish if you clean your pearly whites with the door shut all alone when 6 or 8 people can pass the toothpaste and coordinate movements around a sink and be so much more efficient.

There are so many dishes. You would not believe the heaps. A mother would never get them done if she didn’t have so many people to help clean them up. So maybe it evens out. Just don’t keep thinking or you might realize that if she didn’t have that many people to clean up after, she wouldn’t need that much help with the cleaning up. But then we would miss the crazy after-dinner mess that is Mom making coffee and a couple sisters clearing the table and someone rinsing the dirty dishes on the counter where Naomi is trying to mix up cookies; and Lydia is emptying the dishwasher of lunch dishes and reaching in front of whoever is at the wash sink to put the glasses away while Elsi is trying to sweep the floor for the night, and the damp towels, and the splashed water, and the bumps and dodges as you step back to make room for someone to pass and right into someone else working behind you, and the conversation that never stops and the collaborative love and labor that warms us all.

Sometimes we want to play Monopoly but there are too many people. But that just means we play Monopoly and Rummy and Battleship and War all at once, and what a din around the crowded dining table.

You are never in the house alone, which means you can usually find someone to do an activity with you or answer a question for you. This is why, sometimes, a little brother will come up with an extremely pitiable look on his face, stand there so quietly and then ask in the sweetest, pleading voice, “Will YOU play chess with me?” This also means you can never BE alone in the house, which can be another problem altogether (unless you go in the bathroom, lock the door, and ignore whatever knocks, shouts or desperate pleas you hear from the other side).

I didn’t grow up doing sleepovers with friends (though I seem to remember one of them). I don’t think I missed it, though, because I shared a room with enough friends already, and we could never go to sleep without sharing our lives (Bible readings and frustrations, uproarious laughter and books like A Damsel in Distress, thoughts on movies we’d just watched, and the talent and attractiveness [or lack of it] in the actors, and all kinds of stories).

We didn’t have to invite a bunch of friends over to play volleyball.

We didn’t always fit into our vehicles. Actually, that isn’t right; I mean we didn’t always have the correct number of seatbelts for the number of passengers. We used the CJ5 jeep until we fit a Chevy Blazer and had to upgrade to that, used the Blazer until we fit a 12-passenger van, and used *that* until we were just the right size for the 15-passenger van, which we stubbornly used even when (for a while) we could have used a couple more seats. But seatbelts can be shared, and policemen thankfully can’t always count heads as the cars pass on the street, and no one was ever injured or ticketed for the way we traveled around.

Eating meals out was a rarity with that many mouths to buy plates for. Such a rarity that was almost nonexistent. This meant that we thought stopping to get hamburgers on the way home from Spokane was quite the treat, and when we did, we made it a party that I’m sure the employees were quite astounded at.

We don’t draw names for Christmas shopping, which means there is quite a pile of gifts under our tree – or perhaps I should say around our tree, for they certainly don’t fit beneath the branches no matter how fat a tree we can find, and they have been known to pile up to a ridiculous height. Sometimes it is the better part of wisdom for 2 or 3 of us to partner up and buy gifts for the other 14 or 15 of us, and sometimes one ends up buying one gift for the older girls to share, one for the boys, and one for the little girls, but there is none of that nonsense of Which sibling am I actually going to give something to. Every one is a face and two hands at Christmas, and there is almost nothing better than watching the eyes of a little brother as you approach him with a wrapped box, and place it into hands that can’t wait to pull the paper away and drop the card and pull out what you chose for him because you know him.

It means a lot of gifts. It means a lot of birthday cakes around the year, including 5 in January alone. It means heaps of laundry and two baskets full of unmated socks. It means sharing chores, and laps, and time with parents, and so many good times. It means a lot of coordination, and budgeting, and loving one another in the day to day. Just like any family.

Seventeen is a big number. But we are not numbers from the inside of the family. That is why I don’t realize how shocking it is for people to meet us. And that is why I think of a family of 7 children, and a family of 9 children, and sometimes even families of 5 children, as ‘big families’ without a thought to the difference in headcount from my family. We number 17, and it is unusual, and it is amazing that our parents have done this with their lives; but we are actually just siblings and friends, like you and your brothers and sisters probably are. And the craziness is good, and the goodness is crazy. This is my family.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The gift of food

Thanks 155-166

155. Grocery stores. Sometimes I feel suddenly overwhelmed at the number of choices to make there, unable to decide which kind of salad dressing to get. Other times, I am floored by the abundance of God evident in the heaps of food around me.

156. Calculating my money, the emptiness of my cupboards, and each item I take from a shelf at the store, so that the total at the cash register comes out within cents of my budget.

157. Slices of apples and cheddar

158. The Spirit of Food: 34 writers on feasting and fasting toward God.

159. Simple Americano with a pinch of sugar and a slosh of cream

160. The smell that hits me when I open our pantry to the sacks of apples waiting to become apple butter.

161. With the help of Emma, getting all of the dishes washed from our chicken, rice and gravy dinner last night. Brings back good memories of the fellowship, re-stocks the cupboard with clean dishes for today, clears the counter and makes us look like responsible housekeepers.

162. The multi-colored and-pattered plates in our cupboard that bring the same tasty things to each of us in different ways.

163. Opening my freezer to find the bag of dark chocolate chips I bought on sale a week ago and forgot about.

164. A fresh bag of coffee in the cupboard, thanks to Maria.

165. Communion tomorrow morning with my beloved church family, my Lord and Savior, and the rest of His body around the world and throughout history.

166. Sunday dinner invite from friends, and preparing our contribution to the meal ahead of time.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Next year on Oct 31...

Stumped on a good Christian response to the secular and weird ways October 31st is celebrated? I definitely have been. But this article by pastor Ben Alexander is extremely helpful and I plan on passing it on to others who might be benefited from it.