An unexpected cost of our calling

During this blog series on Work Stories, here’s some stream-of-consciousness reflections about our journey of calling/work/vocation. These are reflections in the rough and subject to change as I continue to grow up to be more like Christ and more like the Tamara he’s always intended for me.

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The path to discover our calling has brought us to a place better than anything we’d imagined and has cost us more than we ever expected.

This is the sentence I blurted to my friend over a church potluck. I didn’t know I believed it until the words came out of my mouth. I’m not sure my friend heard me, but I can’t stop thinking about it.

I think about it when I’m facetiming with my kids across the country and I realize it’s been months since I’ve been able to give them a real-life hug. I think about it when we try to fit 28 years of possessions into an apartment with two closets and no storage. I think about it when it’s Easter or Thanksgiving and there’s no immediate family nearby to pile into the house carrying pies and side dishes.

It still shocks me.

For generations both Brian’s and my family have lived in the same small collection of towns in the center of New York state. We moved between towns several times as we were getting established, but always within the same county and always close enough to hang out with family at a weekend bonfire. It never crossed our mind we’d need to live anywhere else until my husband’s job was downsized in 2010. Since the early 1980s, the economy wobbled in our little post-industrial part of the northeast, but with Brian’s graduate degree and job experience it never occurred to us we’d have to look anywhere else for work. In fact, Brian had always been offered jobs at new places before even considering leaving another. He’s a sought-after employee with great leadership, team-building, and administrative skills.

Looking back, I’m not positive what came first: Brian’s agonizing vocational discontent or the economic recession that tipped our area’s quaky economy over the edge. Either way, we found ourselves with four kids, ages 12 - 18, and only my part-time church income. After our severance ran out, Brian picked up a job as a long-term substitute high school teacher in the district that had given him his first job back in 1996. It was a backwards career move for certain.

That painful year proved to be invaluable for Brian’s sense of calling and purpose while simultaneously using up the tiny buffer of money we’d saved up to that point. After the economically-backwards way we’d started our family, we’d just barely begun to feel like we’d gathered some security (and by that I mean a tiny amount!).

Here’s where I want to talk a bit about what I mean when I say that pursuing calling has cost us more than we ever expected. Because, of course, I mean that in so many intangible ways: long distance from family and friends, unfamiliar cities, and exhausting cross-country moves. But I also mean costly in a technical way - as in dollars and cents.

For us, the cost has been literally everything we own. That’s not to say we’ve ever been homeless exactly, but we have been often without a home. It’s taken me almost twenty-eight years to say this without even a smidgen of shame: in the course of navigating our calling we’ve had to live within the sheer generosity of other people’s homes at least five times. By this, I mean, we had no other roof to cover our heads than the one offered by a kind friend or family member. On a couple of occasions, even the term friend is a misnomer, more like acquaintances really. To be clear, these were good-hearted people who allowed us (and our ever-expanding family) for a certain period of time to live with them without paying rent.

This is sheer, abundant, undeserved gift. I want it to be proclaimed as part of our family story, rather than hidden in the wrinkled folds of memory.

(This doesn’t even account for the two occasions our mobility muscles were developed when a fire and then a flood evacuated us from our home at short notice and we were housed by our community.)

When I look back on our journey with this in mind, it begins to dawn on me that God seems almost insistent that our family develop the skill of mobility. That’s not to say we’ve never made a wrong move, nor is it to blame our occasional poor financial decisions on God! It is to recognize the unexpected gifts we’ve received along this crooked pilgrimage.

With each move, I’ve tried to get lighter, hold onto fewer things, and to let go of my inborn fear of scarcity. Nothing has weighed heavier, though, than my wish-dream for a family homestead - one that my children and their children could return to every holiday and season of life. Now we have one bedroom for them all to squeeze into and wonder what we’ll do when grandchildren arrive. (and what a blessed dilemma that will be!)

Moving to Connecticut has turned the crank of this deep desire in almost painful ways. Yesterday I drove the long way from Fairfield to Norwalk, through quintessential New England neighborhoods with oak and maple leaves just starting to land on the porch steps, and accumulating in little multi-colored piles around lampposts, mailboxes, and American flags. At one point, a quick glimpse driving by a yellow-canopied lawn surrounding a cedar-sided colonial, actually caught my breath and stung my eyes.

That is what I’d always imagined for my life.

The beautiful, undeserved glory of our lives is that for a couple of years in the middle of all this mobility, we lived in the kind of spacious, rambly, leafy real estate that will always be “home” in our collective family memory. We lived in a place and time when a 3,000-square-foot home with three floors of living space could be purchased for under $100,000.

We do not live there anymore. And we can no longer count that property as an asset to hand to our children as is the American custom.

It’s a good gift to own a home and to be able to preserve that as a financial gift to hand on to the next generation, but it is not the global normative. As our living spaces have become smaller, I’ve been reminded that to live in a completely private home - not attached to the walls and rooms of someone else’s living quarters - is the way of most of the world. (For millions of people, having walls of one’s own is an unimaginable luxury!) I take an odd sort of comfort in knowing this fact every time I want to bang on my bedroom wall to ask the neighbor to please turn down his television. (Despite how it might sound, I actually feel lucky to live in our current arrangement, and I’ll share more about that story another time.)

Without a smidgen of shame, I want our children and grandchildren to know that we have followed God with abandon on this downwardly-mobile path. We have done it badly, at times, always trying to learn what financial stewardship means in each place and season of life. Imperfectly, and sometimes ungratefully, we have depleted every bank account, sold every asset, used up retirement, while simultaneously, and ferociously waging battle against recurring debt. Unless the Lord builds the house, we may never have one.

There are a few items we carry around with us on each move as sort of Ebenezer stones to God’s care, provision, grace, and mercy. One of those items is a simple metal folding chair. It’s a generic fixture, kind of nice as far as folding chairs go, although the padding’s a bit rumpled and stained. Without a story, it would easily be sent to Goodwill.

The folding chair is what my husband received at his father’s death. He helped his brothers clean out his dad’s apartment and they split up the few items worth saving. Brian got a folding chair.

(We save the chair because it reminds us of the mysterious, backwards way God turns sad things into reminders of good things.)

When my mother’s mother died, she left a tiny sum of money to each of her five daughters. My mother used the total of her inheritance to take her kids and grandkids to dinner at one of my grandmother’s favorite barbecue chicken restaurants. One of my most prized possessions is the glass-enclosed bookcase my grandmother’s foster mother left to her. Needing a home is part of my family heritage, it seems.

My dad’s parents are still living, but they have generously shared their resources over the years they’ve been alive, in the form of a tiny, beloved family cottage that now belongs to my beautiful cousin. When my grandparents moved into their retirement home, they invited kids and grandkids to split up their household goods. I have a beautiful, sunshiny-yellow Pyrex bowl on my kitchen shelf that I’ll treasure forever. If you visit our home, you’ll notice these little treasured items, not worth much in economic terms, but priceless in the way they literally connect us to our heritage.

We’ve moved into areas of the United States with ever-increasing (and burdensome) costs of living at the same time our family expenses exploded with four kids entering the college years. It’s a terribly inefficient timeline, and my children have had to navigate the social awkwardness of our downward mobility. Of all the important lessons I’ve learned, I’ve become increasingly aware of the benefits for those able to participate in the American custom of transferring wealth. This means inheritances and other sorts of transferable assets, yes, but also college funds, down payments on real estate, and other sorts of help for the next generation to be able to obtain appreciable assets. It’s a fine custom, and, given the opportunity, one I’d heartily embrace. I’ve lost track of the number of times, in my exasperation, I’ve harumphed “We don’t even have a rich uncle!”

I’ve learned that this is a kind of wealth that a portion of our culture’s population seem to take completely for granted. It’s the bit handed down from generation to generation. I’ve lost count the number of times someone’s mentioned to me in a conversation their anxiety about “tightening their belts” and I nod my head, yes, knowing they mean that one source of available revenue is a bit sluggish and I mean “I’m hoping we can make rent”.

Coming from my financial naïveté I’ve grown a healthy respect for the kind of good this tradition of transferring wealth from one generation to the next can generate. I’ve also had more opportunity to grow in relationship with families who possess this kind of wealth, and to understand the kind of commitment that stewardship requires. When it’s done well, it’s a beautiful thing. God bless and and bring blessing through all who steward their wealth for His purposes.

God has asked us - the Brian and Tamara Murphy family - to the same stewardship in a different way. I’m learning to not only be grateful, but to embrace the abundance of His care for us in the process.

There have been seasons of our journey that we’ve been able to pull a healthy, double income, and seasons when we’ve lived off one part-time income. We’re currently in the part of our vocational journey where we pay for continuing education for me without me bringing in income. This mobility God’s required of us has made us scrappy and resourceful. We’ve been uniquely trained for this work by our industrious parents and grandparents, and we’re grateful for their example.

While we’ve usually had jobs that earned us enough to fit the description of the middlest of the middle class, we haven’t always had those jobs. We’ve also cleaned houses and corporate offices and cars, We’ve delivered pizzas and poured coffee from behind a counter at 7 AM. All of this work was and is good. We also do not take for granted the privileges automatically afforded us at birth by the sheer luck of our ethnicity and family networks. We’ve always been wealthy in relationship and community. We receive these assets with open hands and pray God will expand beyond them beyond just our own children, but also across the socio-economic, racial, and national borders of our lives. (I also pray clear words to God that I’m counting on Him to cover every expense that our particular vocational journey has cost our children and grandchildren.)

In the past few months, I’ve been invited by more than one family to use their home space to study and work, and to treat the property as if it were my own, as in “come and go as you please, and here’s a key to the back door”. Each invitation has been gift-wrapped in the most exquisite simplicity. There’s been no strings attached, and nothing required of me other than to show up and receive unearned hospitality. (By the way, if you ever want to bless the socks off an introvert, offer her the use of your home while you’re not even in it!)

This kind of hospitality is how I ended up spending a couple blissful mornings this summer lounging lakeside in a backyard hammock that was not my own. And this week, sitting in a rocking chair on one of those quintessential New England front porches, reading and praying and collecting a pile of autumn leaves the wind kept blowing onto my book pages. On a regular basis, I’ve accepted rides when our shared vehicle was not available to me, and shared meals I didn’t purchase.

Along the way we’ve also received more care than can be accounted from our community. Brian’s seminary degree, donations made to my tuition, jobs and gifts for our kids, and a massive investment of prayer and encouragement from those around us all belong to the overflow of the goodness of God and his people. All of it unlocked by our own desperate attempts to discover our truest callings.

This is the abundance I’m discovering in downward mobility. It’s an unexpected, unlimited return with an unexpected, limited cost. It is God’s manna for this pilgrimage.

In the meantime, I’ve begun the spiritual practice of thanking God for the homes that other people own. The ones I visit and the ones I drive by as I wander through Connecticut. I believe each pang of longing is a reminder that we are made for homes and beauty, and that one day we will welcome each other across the thresholds of eternal dwellings not made by human hands.

I ask Jesus to please make sure mine comes with a front porch.

I’ll write more on our vocational journey on another day. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about what you’re discovering as you pursue your life’s calling. Drop me a line?

Charting our calling

During this blog series on Work Stories, here’s some stream-of-consciousness reflections about our journey of calling/work/vocation.

January 2010: charts representing the timeline of Brian's life and our search to know God's calling for his life..

January 2010: charts representing the timeline of Brian's life and our search to know God's calling for his life..

We’ve been talking about calling around here lately. It’s not exactly a new conversation - more like a new level of learning on a conversation we’ve been having for more than twenty-eight years we’ve been engaged and married. We tell our kids that we did everything backwards: married, had kids while Brian was working on his bachelor’s degree and not even landing his first, “real” salaried job until we had three kids (and added another within a year). Of course “backwards” is a relative term. Other than the covenant-type, “I Do” decision, who decides what order the rest is supposed to happen?

When we say backwards, we’re acknowledging that there’s some wisdom in being a bit more stable before adding children. Things like college degrees, salaried jobs with health insurance, and appropriate housing are generally a more hospitable way to welcome children into the world than the alternate. At the same time, there’s nothing like welcoming children into the world to add clarity and ambition to one’s sense of calling.

So, we started our family while Brian was a full-time college student and a full-time manual laborer at a car dealership. I worked every sort of odd job - tutoring, cleaning houses, cleaning offices, assisting in a library research room, and babysitting. We were just ignorant enough to be happy about it all. When we look back now, it totally stresses me out, and I’m guessing at the time our family and friends were freaking out a little bit. (I remember when I told my Mom Brian and I wanted to get married before we finished college and she, naturally, asked how we planned to afford it. I gushed “MOM, I could live in a cardboard box and eat Nutter Butters for the rest of my life just to be with Brian.”)

The plan had been to complete college degrees together and for six months we worked toward that goal. What we’d imagined about a cute little newlywed, college-student life got serious real quick when we discovered we were pregnant. Each weekday, we’d drive the twenty-minutes to campus trying to make 7AM classes, arriving late because we didn’t factor in enough time for morning sickness. I’d politely ask Brian to pull off the road, lean over some guardrail and lose my breakfast and then we’d hustle to class.

In addition to taking a full load of classes, we both worked jobs - me in the reference library on campus and Brian in a pharmaceutical warehouse from 4pm to midnight every day. We saw each other from midnight to 7 AM and a tiny bit on the weekends, and tried to figure out how to do things like find an OBGYN without health insurance in a fairly-rural, slightly-barbaric medicaid system. (My first appointments as a pregnant woman took place in a kind of locker room where I shivered in a paper gown in a little cubicle waiting for a nurse to open the curtain that separated me from a long row of other curtained cubicles to walk to the examining room. I’ve literally blocked out the memory of actually being examined in this cattle-call arrangement.)

I will never forget the joy of leaving our newlywed apartment near our college campus with a little U-Haul hitched to our Buick Skylark and heading back to our hometown to find an apartment near grandparents, aunts, and uncles to welcome our first child. We’d started the journey at the beginning of the semester with $200 in our pockets and no place to live. At the end of the semester, we cashed in a few savings bonds I’d been given as a kid to pay for the trailer (I’d received the savings bonds in exchange for anchoring a kids’ television news program in my hometown. A story for another day.) We headed toward New York with even less money in our pockets and still no place to live. Thankfully, my grandparents welcomed us into their home for the first couple of months while Brian found a job (cleaning cars at a dealership he’d worked at before we were married). Thanks to a wonderful Catholic hospital system, our home town also came with a much more comfortable low-income health care provider. I mean it when I say God bless Lourdes Hospital and the De Marillac and De Paul clinics.

A few weeks before Andrew was born, we moved into a second-floor apartment on Rotary Avenue in Binghamton and I hustled that little place into shape. I was also just blissfully ignorant enough to not think twice about teetering my nine-month pregnant self on a metal kitchen stool to paint our kitchen (trying to compensate for the cockroach problem we’d just discovered). While I was in the hospital recovering from the twenty-six-hour labor and delivery, my mother was in the apartment a couple blocks away painting and stenciling the nursery.

This all happened within the first year of our marriage. It was a bumpy, nonsensical way to start a life together. We don’t necessarily recommend it. At the same time as I look back from our current vantage point I don’t know how we would have gotten here any other way. To be clear, by here I mean we still have no money in our pockets, we’ve traipsed from home to home in our vocational journey, but there is a sense of having arrived into our rightful place in the world. Like a highly disorganized flow chart, we’ve adjusted each stage of our life “If this happens, then we live here”, “If that happens, then we move there”. On the one hand it’s been a messy, backwards way to live; on the other hand it’s been beautiful and full of the sort of grace and mercy that makes us feel unimaginably wealthy. You might even say lucky.

While I’m certain we didn’t plot every new iteration of the chart correctly, I do believe we’ve been following the overall direction of our Shepherd Jesus as he leads us ever nearer to the purposes of God for our lives.

Recently I was chatting with a friend during a church potluck supper. He was feeling emotionally staggered under the weight of an ill-fitting career. He’d reached the point where most of his emotional energy went into the kind of flow-chart calculations that precede a major life change. When he asked me about how Brian and I felt about the moves we’ve made from New York to Austin to Connecticut I said a sentence I didn’t even know I believed until after I heard it come out of my own mouth:

The path to discover our calling has brought us to a place better than anything we’d imagined and has cost us more than we ever expected.

I couldn’t tell if that encouraged him or not, but not long after that he left his job and he and his wife sold their house and moved a long way away. I think about them a lot and wonder if he’s thought again about the unimaginable outcomes of pursuing one’s calling.

I’ll write more on our vocational journey on another day. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about what you’re discovering as you pursue your life’s calling. Drop me a line?

Christmas Daybook, 6: Savor memories (even the hard ones)

Welcome to my Christmas daybook for these 12 days of celebrating. We'll be spending Christmastide with some favorite short films and video clips. Join me, won't you? 

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Hill Family Christmas, created by Natalie Murphy

I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!
— Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

England has Boxing Day on December 26, and for the past 25 years or so, our family has Hill Family Christmas. This started the year Brian and I (as the eldest children and the first to have grandchildren) decided we'd prefer to have our own quiet day at home on December 25. My parents and siblings, mostly still living at home at the time, graciously flexed their own important traditions to accommodate ours, and a whole new family tradition began. Now, it's as good as any celebration could be, and I'm grateful to my family's commitment to "keep Christmas well".

I'm especially mindful of these shifts in tradition as my own children have left home. My hope is to flex with their needs in the same way decades ago my parents did with our ours. We've also begun (it seems, comparatively, at a rather late date) to learn how to flex tradition necessitated by our aging grandparents. The fact that I still get to see my grandparents (on my father's side) at Christmas is no small gift, I realize. Yet, it's still difficult to see them decline. You'll see in the video our collective attempt to take the family celebration to them, squeezed in all around my grandmother's nursing home bed. 

I can't think of a better better Biblical passage for Christmas than the one my brother chose and my nephew read and my grandparents verbally affirmed than Revelation 21. In our own visible decline, God is, in truth, making all things new. While our outward bodies (families, traditions, memories) decay, there is a real work being done to restore us all. Thanks be to God.

And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!
— Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

All readings for today: Isaiah 25:1-9, Psalm 20, Psalm 21:1-7, Revelation 1:9-20, John 7:53-8:11

Prayer for today from Evening Prayers For Every Day of the Year by Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt:

On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken. Isaiah 25:7–8, NIV

Lord our God, your kingdom is coming. Your help reaches us. However much we must suffer, we look to you, for you have given us your promise. You have promised that all shall go well with us. You have promised that while still on earth your people may have strength to trust in you and wait for you in patience and joy. So lay your hands upon us, O Lord our God, and let your redeeming strength be revealed in us. You know all our needs. You see into each heart and know how to help, as you have promised. Bless us and help us, and may your name be honored among us. May your kingdom come, and your will be done on earth as in heaven. Amen.
— Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt

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Savor Family Memories (& don't be afraid of the ones that make you sad)

Spend some time today watching the videos and looking through the photos you took of family and friends this year. If you have access to old family movies or photos, look through them. Notice what you are feeling as you savor memories, and avoid making general judgements about who you are and where you come from. Just look, notice, tell stories, voice any sadness, and give thanks.

Here's an excerpt from a post Brian wrote about a painful family memory and a time we did not flex tradition for the sake of our kids: Christmas Confessions From An Exhausted Dad.

One family tradition is to read the Christmas story from Luke 2 while the kids bring each character of the nativity to the stable at the appropriate time.

In our twenty-seven-year-old-parental-wisdom we decided to keep this beloved family tradition using the hand-painted ceramic nativity set that we received for a wedding gift and that we hope is used well after Tamara and I are gone.

Four kids, ages 6, 4, 1 and 17 days, a priceless ceramic nativity, a stressed out dad
and a video camera.

Seriously. Bad idea.

I scolded, growled and snatched Baby Jesus out of the hands of an innocent child. At one point during the morning, I threatened to cancel Christmas. Yep, Christmas cancelled on account of kids being kids. I was George Bailey.

(read more here)

(See all Christmas Daybook posts from 2016 here.)

7 celebratory quick takes

As we move back into the liturgical calendar with the season of Advent, this will (probably) be my last 7 Quick Takes post for the year. Thanks for reading along through the archives (and the rest of the internet!) with me each week, friends.

(1) Alex & Rebekah visit!

We just had a lovely visit with Alex & Bekah. We hadn't seen them since April, and they hadn't been to our new place yet so we squeezed in a 3 day visit over the weekend. They seem to be doing well, and it's always so good to just be able to hug them. Natalie and I have been in a bit of mourning since they left Sunday afternoon, but Christmas will be here soon. Between now and Christmas, though, both Alex and Natalie will celebrate birthdays.

(2) Farewell to Audrey

We said good-bye to a dear friend last week. In our short time in Connecticut Audrey Gilbertie endeared herself to us in so many ways (as has her whole family). I continue to be amazed at the way those who are close to death are able to persevere in relationship - in both giving and receiving acts of love - up until their last moment in this life. Audrey was like that, and Brian enjoyed each pastoral visit with her. On Tuesday, her family eulogized her so beautifully, and I was reminded that it's the small and tangible acts our family will recall when we are gone: the hugs, laughter, shared meals, and stories we tell that make up the most substantial part of our legacy. 

Farewell, Audrey. We will meet you again soon.

Brian's last visit with Audrey.

Brian's last visit with Audrey.

(3) Thanksgiving Day in Binghamton (and the rest of our kids in Austin)

Thanksgiving posts in the archives:

2016 - Thanksgiving Daybook: Hallelujah, the bounty has come

2014 - Thanksgiving party-in-a-post

2012 - Thanksgiving party in a post

2011 - the sacrament of the unnecessary &  mostly grateful & 7 quick takes! (preparing for our first Thanksgiving away from our NY family)

2008 - all is safely gathered in

(4) Our 27th Anniversary

Our anniversary gift to each other this year was a photo session with our friend Adiel Dominguez Photography. He helped us feel a bit more comfortable than we generally do in front of a camera, and we ended up having so much fun traipsing in the Connecticut woods. We tried to recreate one of my favorite wedding day photos from 27 years ago. (Brian has a much better haircut this time!)





Here's a few more of the photos from Adiel:

Anniversary posts from the blog archives:

2014 - Paying Attention (22): celebrating monotonous monogamy

2011 - twenty-one

2010 - I'm going to stop blogging for awhile because I need.... (a sappy photo slide show for our 20th)

2009 - i wanna marry you all over again & recession-proof romance

2007 - a delicious taste of the Big Apple; moving; Dot Rama's big lesson (Celebrating our 17th in NYC)

2006 - respite (Our 16th - exhausted - anniversary.)

(5) Christ the King Sunday

Tomorrow marks the final Sunday in the Church calendar. I hope I never stop delighting in the profound meaning of beginning the year with Christ in the womb, and ending the year celebrating His entire rule and reign over every square inch of the universe. Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus!

Here are some previous meditations from the archive:

(6) Advent is coming!


Advent begins on Sunday, December 3 is the first day of Advent this year, which makes it a shorter season than other years. (Don't tell anybody I said this, but it also means we get a full week between Thanksgiving and Advent to watch some of our favorite Christmas movies before entering the contemplative weeks of Advent!)

As in the previous few years, I'll be sharing a daily meditation of art, music, Scripture, and spiritual practice. It also means you'll see my name show up more often in your inbox or blog feed (every day through the 12 days of Christmas). I hope that I'll be an encouragement to you as we enter into the waiting of the Christ who has come and will come again. Please feel free to let me know if there's any way I can improve the Advent Daybook series for you.

In the meantime,  I've written quite a lot about Advent in the archives!

2016 - A few simple ways to decorate for Advent

2016 - Our favorite TV episodes during Advent

2016 - Our favorite Advent & Christmas books (for all ages)

2016 - Our favorite Advent music (for all ages)

2013 - You're not too late: five ways to celebrate Advent starting anytime

2012 - Parenting Unrehearsed: Family liturgies for Advent and a confession from an exhausted Dad at Christmas

2010 - Advent gifts from the church, ancient and contemporary & uneasy Advent

2009 - we are expecting! 

2008 - anguish

(7) links re: liturgy, art, and relationships

An End to 'Realistic' Love: Real love requires real imagination by Aarik Danielson - A beautiful, insightful piece by a new writing colleague. "Love is specific. No bumper-sticker theology—even the greatest, truest bumper sticker you can think of—can convey what it means to be for someone else. Only presence can do that. Only tenderness working from the inside out." | via Fathom Magazine

Every Moment Holy: New liturgies for daily life - Added to the top of my Christmas wish list! The good crew at the Rabbit Room have collected 100 of McElvey's prayers for everyday realities and occasions into a book that can be ordered here. | via The Rabbit Room

Episode 11: The Art of Criticism with Alissa Wilkinson - Grateful for the work Allissa is doing in the world of film criticism, and enjoyed this conversation so much! | via Image Journal podcast

Advent Readings from a Modern Martyr (Óscar Romero) - 25 excerpts from Plough's free ebook The Violence of Love. | via Plough

Responding to sexual abuse will take years—and it should -  "The process of taking care of problems that have been avoided for decades will itself take decades." | via America Magazine

Krista Tippett - Top 10 episodes of On Being! - In honor of Ms. Tippett's Birthday. Many of ERB's picks overlap with my own. | via Englewood Review of Books

What Flannery O'Connor's College Journal Reveals - Published for the first time in the current issue of Image, an arts and faith quarterly—[the journal] covers just 40 days from December 1943 through February 1944, and was written during O’Connor’s sophomore year at what was then Georgia State College for Women.| via Atlantic Magazine

May your week ahead include true, good, and beautiful things.

p.s. This post may contain affiliate links because I'm trying to be a good steward, and when you buy something through one of these links you don't pay more money, but in some magical twist of capitalism we get a little pocket change. Thanks!

See other bloggers' 7 Quick Takes posts  here .

See other bloggers' 7 Quick Takes posts here.

Heading home [sharing at Art House America this week]

read the whole article at Art House America

“When you arrive at a fork in the road, take it.” 
—Yogi Berra

My dad loves baseball. From as far back as I can remember, he’s been a Yankees fan. He tells me he was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan until they broke his heart and moved to the West Coast. That was the 1950s and long before I knew him. His grandfather was a Yankees fan, and his parents are Yankees fans. Naturally, the man I chose to marry is a Yankees fan. But I don’t really remember anything about the Yankees before their comeback year of 1996. With a new manager, Joe Torre, who had never won a championship in his thirty-two-year career as both a player and a manager, the Bronx bombers began to live up to their pinstripe glory once again, winning their first world series since 1978. We followed every single game.

We didn’t own a television in 1996. When our third child was born in March, a few weeks before baseball spring training and a couple months before my husband completed his bachelor's degree in education, we were paying our bills with his substitute teacher income. We had no health insurance, no vacation time or sick pay, and made ends meet by picking up extra work cleaning houses. We’d put all our hopes in a college degree landing him a teaching job in the fall. Evenings in our second-floor apartment, after we put our two sons to bed, we’d tune into the game on our radio. While I sat on our hand-me-down sofa to nurse my daughter, Brian sat across the room writing résumés on our clunky IBM personal computer. It doesn’t take a therapist to figure out that we’d associated our own underdog story to the scrappy team fighting for a win, night after night, a couple hours south of us in the Bronx. 

The 1996 season introduced Yankees fans to Joe Girardi (catcher), Derek Jeter (shortstop), and Mariano Rivera (relief pitcher), among others. It’s the season we rooted for Darryl Strawberry to rise above his drug history, and he did. We worried about pitcher David Cone’s surgery to remove an aneurysm and rallied behind him when he promised to come back by the end of the season. And he did—in time to pitch a winning game in the World Series. It’s the year I discovered the joy of befriending radio announcers John Sterling and Michael Kay. Even though I’d never meet them in person, they felt like guests sitting in our living room, passing the time with warm conversation for hours each evening. We began to relish the ritual of sportscasting, loving each Yankee home run not only for the score, but also for John Sterling’s patent call: “It is high! It is far! It is gone!” Over time, he would embellish his trademark home-run call with wordplay for each player’s name. Center fielder Bernie Williams hits a run, it’s “Bern, baby, Bern!” from the announcer’s booth; first baseman Tino Martinez cracks one over the fence, “It’s the BamTino!” and so forth.  

After a long, uncertain summer, we celebrated our team’s October World Series win almost as raucously as we’d celebrated the teaching job Brian received in September. We earned a salary, and the Yankees earned a championship.

Fast forward nearly twenty years, most of our circumstances had changed. ...

read the whole article at Art House America

BONUS FEATURES: 2 extra deleted "chapters" that include my own very humbling unsportsmanlike behavior + a whole bunch of cute photos of my kids repping the Yankees over the years

“Little League baseball is a very good thing because it keeps the parents off the streets.” -- Yogi Berra

My Dad played baseball through high school and college. By all accounts - mostly his and a couple of yellowed news blurbs clipped from the paper - he was a pretty good player. Naturally, he’s never given up hope that one of his 6 kids and 18 grandchildren might take up the sport with the same fervor. As the oldest child, I did my part in disappointing this fatherly wish with a couple of seasons of town softball. I recall these years in snatches of terror and embarrassment. Somehow, I never quite understood what was expected of me as an outfielder (wayyyy out in the field) my few times off the bench. As far as my stats at the plate, I ask you: Is there anything more humiliating than swinging a big stick at the air? The answer is no, no there isn’t. I fared slightly better on the school soccer team, not because I was any more talented, but because I could at least run around a lot between the goal and half field, and make it appear I had what my Dad called “hustle”. Although, I have a clear memory of a burly coach yelling in my direction while our team ran laps, “Hill! Can’t you make your stride any longer?!?” By that time, I’d already reached my adult height of 5’2”, and felt my stride was doing its part adequately.

During the springtime of the town league softball games, a kind, older cousin showed mercy on me, teaching me how to V my thumb, fore, and middle fingers along the leather stitching of a baseball, cupping the ball just so, and then releasing it in the generally correct direction. As far as I can remember, no one even attempted to address my incompetence with a glove.

When our own four kids were of the age for town sports, they each took a turn at T-ball, softball, or Pony League. One son got as far as relief pitching, but he quickly realized it felt like stress instead of fun, and he took up the guitar instead. All my kids leaned toward artistic, rather than athletic, pursuits. While our neighbors were schlepping their kids to the ball field, ours were making a holy rock’n roll raucous in the basement, instead. This was a development that rather pleased me - even if it was noisy.

Still, we kept up with the Yankees. Not playing baseball in the spring actually gave us more time to enjoy watching and listening to each game. We began a family tradition of giving each of our kids their own first trip to see a live game in the house that (Babe) Ruth built. We took our oldest son when he was only 5 years old, and it’s one of our happiest memories. We spent the day sightseeing the city as far as his little legs would carry him, stopping only to crane his neck upward to take in the skyscrapers. One photograph captured the image of of Brian and Andrew staring up at the Twin Towers. In the evening we sat through all nine-innings of the 1996 Yankees. Andrew’s inagural stadium trip coincided with Derek Jeter’s rookie year.

The photo I’ve kept of our second son is a close up from nosebleed seats. He’s smiling at the camera, waiting for the game to start, miniature Yankees cap shoved down on his head so far his ears are jutting out either side of his face. A little over a decade later, he and Brian would attend the final game of the 2009 World Series in the Yankees new stadium. They’d watch the home team beat the Philadelphia Phillies 7-3, and win one last title for the "core four" of Pettitte, Posada, Rivera and Derek Jeter. Alex would cheer as gently as possible because he was suffering a tooth infection, and was scheduled for a root canal the following morning. If you asked him, he’d still say it was totally worth it.

On one of our daughter Kendra’s first trips to the stadium she’d get the thrill of a player, Ramiro Mendoza, handing her a baseball after batting practice. She’d lisp “thank you” through her missing teeth, and later give the ball to her Dad as a Father’s Day gift. It now enjoys a treasured spot on the bookshelf in his office.

Natalie, as sometimes happens with a youngest child, would wait until she was a bit older to visit the stadium, and she wouldn’t be by herself. Our whole family would be with her, because a kind church friend gave us free tickets. But we managed to get a photo of her, cheering from the railing of our upper deck seats, taking in Brett Gardner’s first hit and first RBI in the seventh inning. Gardner went on to steal second and eventually score in that inning.

This year, the 2017 season that Natalie is living back home with us, Brett Gardner is a much-needed veteran on a team of new kids, known affectionately as the Baby Bombers. Now that we live about an hour north of the Bronx, Natalie and Brian have been to the stadium three times together this season. Thanks to generous church friends, again, she’s enjoyed great seats - most notably along the right field line within shouting distance of #99, right-fielder Aaron Judge. At that game she made it to the jumbotron, with her giant, hand-letter sign, “I’ve got 99 problems, but A. Judge isn’t one!” The home-run-derby king’s gathered a huge fan club this  year, but I’m positive none more earnest than my daughter. He should be so lucky.

“It ain't the heat, it's the humility.” -- Yogi Berra

I’m a fairweather stadium attender, myself. I mean that literally. The older I get, the more comfortable I am insisting on my own comfort, and, in my book, that includes forgoing the experience of sitting thigh-bone to sweaty thigh-bone with over 50,000 people stewing in stale beer underneath the blazing sun. I no longer feel the need to physically suffer for the love of the game.

I’d like to blame the physical discomfort of a hot, crowded stadium for one of the most epic moments of my own humility, but the truth is the weather was decent that night, and we were only sitting in our town’s double-A minor league stadium, which at capacity seats only 6,000 people. And that night we were not even close to capacity, but I was feeling clausterphobic anyway.

Here, let my son tell you in his own words (the ones he wrote for a senior-year Public Speaking class. Lord, have mercy.)

"Baseball game are rarely fun when you're sitting near drunks. That was the situation I was put in about five years ago at a Binghamton Mets game. Behind us where the drunks; in front of us were the smokers.

The drunks were mad at the smokers for smoking. They said their kids -- John, Ashley, and you know, what's-her-face (they couldn't remember because they were so drunk) -- were crying and scared because the smoke from their cigarettes were drifting upwards towards their row.

This was obnoxious to me because the drunks were obviously looking for controversy for controversy's sake. It was also obnoxious that the smokers were fighting back. They weren't drunk, and they should've had the common sense to just move up to the dozens of empty rows in front of them. It's a B-Mets game, after all. There are going to be empty seats.

The person who broke up the tiring feud was my mother. She looked back, and I swear the second before her mouth opened I could see lightning strike behind her profile. She screamed 'Shut Up!' at the drunk parents, whose little kids were now crying only because the adults were so angry at each other. She was so scary that the two rows ceased their arguments.

A couple of fighters on each side ended up speaking to each other, just stubbornly apologizing for their pointless fight. My brother and I actually spoke to each other because we could finally hear each other without all the shouting. And no one, absolutely NO ONE, spoke to my mother. And I have a feeling she was okay with that."

Brian helps Natalie ready for her catcher position in town softball.

Brian helps Natalie ready for her catcher position in town softball.

A Yankees game in 2008, Natlie's watching Brett Gardner's first hit for the Yankees.

A Yankees game in 2008, Natlie's watching Brett Gardner's first hit for the Yankees.

Brian & Alex catch the Yankees in Houston (where Alex was in college). It was Mariano Rivera's last game, 2015.

Brian & Alex catch the Yankees in Houston (where Alex was in college). It was Mariano Rivera's last game, 2015.

Alex, age 4, sporting his first Yankees cap, Christmas 1997. (That's Kendra, 21 months old, and Grandma Meacham - Brian's mom, reading the book.)

Alex, age 4, sporting his first Yankees cap, Christmas 1997. (That's Kendra, 21 months old, and Grandma Meacham - Brian's mom, reading the book.)

Alex's (age 4) first Yankees game, summer 1998.

Alex's (age 4) first Yankees game, summer 1998.

Andrew's first trip to NYC and his first Yankees game (summer 1996)

Andrew's first trip to NYC and his first Yankees game (summer 1996)



Brian and Natalie (age 19) at Yankees Stadium, June 2017.

Brian and Natalie (age 19) at Yankees Stadium, June 2017.