Weekend Daybook: the Engagement edition

A week of collecting what I've been up to lately: places, people, books, podcasts, music, links & more for your weekend downtime.

(1) photo from this week

Our daughter Kendra got engaged! We’re so happy for her and her fiance, Jordan, and we loved celebrating with them this past week!  Many more photos and exclamation marks to come!

Our daughter Kendra got engaged! We’re so happy for her and her fiance, Jordan, and we loved celebrating with them this past week!

Many more photos and exclamation marks to come!

(2)-part article published for The Telos Collective

We live in a culture of workism where people both define themselves by their work and struggle to find its meaning and purpose. In this two-part series, I explored a missional approach to the areas of identity and vocation.

  1. In Part 1, she shares how listening to the 9-to-5 stories of her community has opened a path for blessing and connection: Why Am I Here?”: A Missional Approach to Identity and Vocation

  2. In Part 2 of her blog series on vocation and mission, Tamara Hill Murphy of Church of the Apostles shares firsthand experience that offices can double as confessionals and work-related prayers as benedictions: The Workplace: America’s New Church?

(3) sweet videos about fathers and sons

  1. Can’t get enough of this adorable father-son conversation.

  2. This son reminds his dad and the rest of us what matters most!

  3. Negative Space is an Oscar-nominated short film animation that depicts a father-and-son relationship through the art of packing a suitcase.

(4) rubrics for a Christian political imagination

  1. The Grey Area is Holy Ground by Marilyn McEntyre via Comment Magazine | "The bottom line for great compromisers: "It's not that simple."

  2. The Christian Mandate to Subvert Tribalism by Judy Wu Dominick via CT | From 2017 and more important to read than ever: "Our call to pursue nuance, a love-infused, subversive force."

  3. Against Nationalism: A Reading List for Christians via Englewood Review of Books | “How do we balance our biblical call to love, care for, and seek the welfare of our neighbors with our identity as followers of Jesus, whose reign was not of this world?”

  4. The Economics of Love by Peter Mommsen via Plough | Beyond Capitalism – and Socialism

(5) books I’m reading right now

  1. One Blood:Parting Words to the Church on Race and Love by John Perkins - Hearts & Minds Bookstore | IndieBound | | Amazon

  2. A Place in Time: Twenty Stories of the Port William Membership by Wendell Berry - Hearts & Minds Bookstore | IndieBound | | Amazon

  3. The Heart’s Necessities: Life in Poetry by Jane Tyson Clement with Becca Stevens - Plough | Hearts & Minds Bookstore | Amazon

  4. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri - Hearts & Minds Bookstore | IndieBound | | Amazon

  5. Call the Midwife: Shadows of the Workhouse by Jennifer Worth - Hearts & Minds Bookstore | IndieBound | | Amazon

(6) posts from the archives

  1. 2017 - All Who Enter Here [writing at Art House America] (This is an essay I keep writing and re-writing, and it feels meaningful again this year as my Grandfather’s health steadily declines. “Year by year, we formed a kind of family liturgy, a joyful way of being together that transcended the reality of the modest little cabin and weedy pond. The liturgy expanded to jubilation… underneath Grandpa’s homemade picnic pavilion, eating Grandma’s macaroni and potato salads.”)

  2. 2014 - Orange (August is a good time for paying attention to the daily things, don't you think? Sometimes these prompts feel a little self-indulgent for me, but I think it’s a really good time to participate with #AugustBreak2019 again!)

  3. 2012 - My life as a rabbit (“People called me, emailed me and sought me out after church to share great part-time job ideas: personally assist a speaker and life trainer, copywriter for a sales company, provide childcare. All I wanted to do was to get paid for reading books all day.”)

  4. 2011 - Saying good-bye hurts like hell OR How My Husband's Personal Trainer Taught Me About Love (“When talking with people about this fact, my husband has taken to quoting a well-loved line from Christmas Vacation, " If I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn't be more surprised than I am now.")

  5. 2011 - Farewell Gifts (“We're still licking our wounds a bit, I'll admit. Still in mourning over lost dreams. Still shaking our heads at the lunacy of leaving behind these once-in-a-lifetime kind of friendships.”)

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4 years ago

2015 - Natalie the fire-keeper. This will always be one of my favorites!

(7+) photos from our little celebration for Kendra & Jordan’s engagement!

May your weekend include some rest and some fun with friends and family. Peace...

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!

Weekend Daybook: the voting, hiking, praying edition

Seven days of collecting what I've been up to lately: places, people, books, podcasts, music, links & more for your weekend downtime.

(1) photo from the week

kept this candle burning as a prayer reminder throughout this week.

kept this candle burning as a prayer reminder throughout this week.

(2) photo essays about everyday work stories in America

I’ve so enjoyed hosting the Work Stories blog series this fall. At the same time, with only one week left in the series, I’m aware how lacking in socioeconomic and racial diversity the stories represent. I offer the following two excellent photo essays (one journalistic and one artistic) as a supplement. Enjoy!

  1. 24 HOURS IN AMERICA: Documenting moments across the country, large and small, quiet and indelible. via NY Times

  2. NightShift: Photos by Florian Mueller via Faith is Torment (I find these fascinating and can’t help picture them as an icon for the nativity. Anyone else see that?)

(3) new posts in the Work Stories series

  1. Walter Wittwer’s learning-from-the-least calling (I love how Walter reminds us that we’re all called and we’re also all on the spectrum of need. May we look around our places of work and be encouraged through Walter’s story for God’s mercy to flow through us.)

  2. Krista Vossler’s hiddenness calling (Krista’s words remind us of the kingdom paradox that only as we embrace our hiddenness in Christ do we have eyes to rightly see the unseen realities in our relationship with God, others, and our own wild and precious lives.)

  3. The call that rose up like a road to meet me (More personal reflections about our journey of work, calling, and vocation. “Like the way people describe love at first sight, I knew immediately this invitation was just right for me.”)

Related: the IG Live video conversation brian and I had about our attempt to be Via Media voters. You can  watch it here.

Related: the IG Live video conversation brian and I had about our attempt to be Via Media voters. You can watch it here.

(4) recent & brief articles following election day

  1. Your Catholic 2018 midterm roundup: health care, wages, abortion and more by Michael J. O’Loughlinvia America Magazine (“While the waviness of Tuesday’s midterm election continues to be debated, Sister Simone Campbell called the day “a tremendous success,” at least when it came to the dozen U.S. House races targeted by the “Nuns on the Bus” national tour that ended earlier this month outside President Trump’s Florida home.”)

  2. After the midterms, can the new Congress work together? Here’s where they could start. via America Magazine (“Several legislative opportunities stand out as ripe for bipartisan action.” May it be so!)

  3. Have Evangelicals Had Enough Yet? via Jesus Creed (“With these latest reminders of how much hate is waiting in our nation to ignite into murder, have we had enough demagoguery yet, or do we want more?” Written before the mid-term election, and worth asking all the more.)

  4. The Demise of the Moderate Republican by George Packer via The New Yorker (“Ryan Costello, a centrist wonk, ran for Congress to solve problems—but his colleagues fell in line with Trump’s parade of resentment.” As a person with a penchant for centrists, I found this interesting and also discouraging.)

(5) photos from this week’s walk in the woods

Mountain Laurel Open Space in Fairfield, CT

IG Screenshot from a lecture we attended last weekend from Dr. Danny Carroll (see resources below).

IG Screenshot from a lecture we attended last weekend from Dr. Danny Carroll (see resources below).

(6) recommended links as you pray for the “migrant caravan”

  1. Dr. M. Daniel Carroll Rodas - Hispanic Immigration: (We had the privilege of hearing Danny Carroll speak at our diocesan convention last weekend on the biblical lens for immigration. I’m looking forward to sharing the video from those sessions. In the meantime this is an excellent resource.)

  2. Sarah Quezada’s interview with Matthew Soerens of World Relief about the migrant caravan traveling toward the U.S. (Sarah is quickly becoming my go-to source for down-to-earth, factual, biblically-informed, and gracious information about immigration and refugee issues. I especially recommend her to you if you have children at home that you're trying to educate about the current crisis.)

  3. Humanitarian groups at U.S.-Mexico border prepare for the migrant caravan by J.D. Long-García via American Magazine (“While it may be more than a month away, humanitarian groups on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border are already preparing for the possible arrival of the migrant caravan from Central America.”)

  4. The ‘crisis’ of the migrant caravan is one of misperception Antonio De Loera-Brust via America Magazine (“The 3,500 or so unarmed men, women and children seeking asylum in a country of 350 million represents as much a threat to the United States of America as a glass of water is to the ocean.”)

  5. 12 Children’s Books About Refugees (Picture Books) via What Do We Do All Day (“My hope is that these books help you open an honest dialogue with your children about the plight and experiences of refugee children and families around the world. Teach your kids to be the change.” I suspect these would be beneficial for readers of all ages.)

  6. Children of the Caravan via Reuters (I’ve heard people say that journalists exploit children for political agendas. Children are exploited constantly and from every direction, it’s true, but this is definitely not that. I pray that journalism like this fits is more like Jesus pulling a child to his knee in order to help his followers get the Gospel “Whoever welcomes one of these, welcomes Me”.)

(7) blog posts from this week in the archives

  1. 2013 - God and Sisters Are Not To Be Ignored (For Kaley on her November 5 birthday!)

  2. 2011 - Enlarged in the Waiting (“We live from grace to grace in this life.  The space in between is the waiting and it always feels like we're not going to make it.”)

  3. 2011 - My One Parenting Strategy That Actually Worked (And Alex wrote about it in his college application!)

ADVENT IS COMING! ADVENT IS COMING! Which is to say WAITING IS COMING on December 2! (That doesn’t quite roll of the tongue, but is a pretty good description of life, don’t you think?)

  1. 2016 - How We Prepare For Advent (Join us?)

  2. 2016 - A Few Simple Ways to Decorate for Advent

  3. 2017 - Our 10 Favorite Advent Devotional Books (for all ages)

2 years ago

A Veteran’s Day ramble with Brian & Leo on the Pequonnock River Trail in Trumbull, CT.

May your weekend include some time at home and some time with friends that welcome your tears as well as your laughter. Peace...

A Book Review: "You Carried Me" by Melissa Ohden

What happens when an abortion survivor finds and forgives her birth mother, who never knew her daughter was alive?

What happens when an abortion survivor finds and forgives her birth mother, who never knew her daughter was alive?

The well-documented and dramatic details of Melissa Ohden’s survival stand on their own as an important memoir, and are made more valuable by an invitation to readers to consider their own experiences of suffering. Chapter eleven of You Carried Me: A Daughter’s Memoir,  opens with an epigraph by author Zora Neale Huston: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story within you.”  Ohden’s emphasis on welcoming the untold stories of others is her greatest strength, and what makes her book a life-changing parable for anyone willing to listen.

Throughout her life, the author navigates a tangle of untold and unwelcome story.  Where she imagines as a child that her birth mother gave her up for adoption in a loving act, she discovers, instead, she’d been left for dead after a failed saline infusion abortion. She spends her teenage years alternately escaping and grieving that harsh truth, and hopes for a regained sense of self in academic pursuit. As the first person in her adoptive family to attend university, she imagines a confidence gained with collegial acceptance. She discovers, instead,  a chilled response from her peers and outright rejection from her professors.  She painfully concludes, “In the midst of conversations about every kind of abuse, abandonment, and human heartache, I learned quickly that my story was one that could not be heard, and therefore must not be told.”

And this is only the beginning.  

From here, Ohden begins the arduous and lonely process of searching for the truth about her biological family.  Where a different storyteller might connect together the details of this search like a movie montage - discovery to dreadful discovery - Ohden insteads lays out a chronological journal covering the decades of her search.  In reality it takes years (well beyond the scope of a dramatized movie scene) for her to not only find, but absorb, each new detail punctuating her otherwise ordinary Midwestern life.  

Perhaps most importantly, Ohden creates a gracious space to not only give account for the tenacious uncovering of her tragic and miraculous birth story, but to also frame her story within an offer of hospitality.  Page after page, she invites us to see beyond the surface of her daily life (childhood financial insecurity, pursuit of academic degrees, vocation, marriage, children, faith, and social activism) into the complexity of her internal turmoil and, then, acceptance of the real story of her origins - the good, the bad and the truly devastating.  It’s in this methodical untangling, I find the unique gift of hospitality she offers to discerning readers. She welcomes us to fully engage with our own struggles at every level - body, soul and spirit.

As a newborn, in order to survive a premature birth induced by days of ingesting poisonous saline, Ohden fights for survival at a cellular, completely physical level.  As an adolescent, Ohden fights at a more emotive level - absorbing the shame of the knowledge her existence was completely unwanted.  She responds to the depth of that shame in some completely natural ways that further damage her sense of belonging within her adoptive family and among her school and church communities.  Still, she persists toward a deeper truth about herself and the Being who formed her in the young, unwed womb of the woman who - for reasons Melissa wouldn’t know for decades - did not want her.  As a young adult, Ohden presses into her story with her mind - trying to grasp the realities of human behavior and development through her studies in psychology and social work.  As she encounters the stories of others, she seeks to understand better her own.

And then, as a thirty-something wife and mom, we walk with Ohden through a more complete spiritual surrender to the mystery of faith, doubt, suffering and forgiveness. Maybe this is is the progression of healthy human development - a response of body, soul and spirit to both the banal and truly tragic events of our lives, but how many of us willingly engage our total selves with those realities? I find that sort of whole-heartedness to be a rare response, and one Melissa Ohden models beautifully for all of us. Her courage to share her story after repeated rejection and full-scale shunning invites us, the reader, to our own moment of choice.

We, the readers, can choose to welcome the totality of Melissa’s story or we can, like her collegial and professional peers, choose to look away.  Even further, we can choose to honor the author’s courage by embracing the complexities her story represents, or dishonor it by cherry-picking the parts of her life that further our own social, political or religious agendas.

Ohden’s story is inconvenient to everyone with deeply-held convictions on reproductive rights, no matter what their political posture. For those who’d choose to dehumanize her preborn self, there’s the reality of her will to survive the attempt to end her existence. For those who who’d choose to dehumanize men and women faced with unplanned pregnancies, there’s Ohden’s insistence on mercy, forgiveness, insight and acceptance of her own biological parents. For the reader  who would deny the equal dignity of womanhood, Ohden persists in championing women’s rights.  For those who’d argue no child should have to suffer physical limitations, she shares the experience of welcoming the complex health problems of her youngest daughter while growing in empathy for those “tempted to choose abortion to avoid this fate.”  To those who would deny the role of grief and suffering within faith, Melissa tells about the miscarriage of her second child and professes solidarity with “women everywhere who have lost a child in any way. Whether our child died through illness or accident, abortion or miscarriage, we share an unspoken bond of sorrow.”

The author’s perseverance to not only know the truth, but to know it within the bounds of love make her life story more complex than mere survival.  Like the unnamed and unclaimed two-pound newborn fighting to live against the odds, Melissa invites us all to a greater miracle: forgiveness and reconciliation.  She shows us that this is what’s required for a life that flourishes.

On a personal level, I found Melissa Ohden’s memoir to be most inconvenient to my disenchantment with pro-life activism.  I am older than the author by only a few years, both of us children of the 1970’s and 80’s.  The historic Roe v. Wade decision framed almost my entire view of both the religious and political worlds in which I grew up.  As a child raised in more conservative church communities than Ohden, it was completely normal to find me on any given day of my high school and young adult years protesting the politics of reproductive rights, picketing abortion clinics in my hometown and across the northeastern U.S., petitioning state congressional leaders and writing opinion articles for religious newspapers.  When I was 17, I watched through a fence line while police officers arrested my father for trespassing at a local abortion clinic during a nonviolent protest.  On my eighteenth birthday, I visited him in the county jail where he served a one-month sentence for that protest.

I’ve never stopped carrying a deeply-formed conviction that human life begins at conception and that any attempt to intentionally end that life is a human tragedy by both biblical precept and basic civic moral codes. I have, however, spent most of my adulthood distancing myself from the sort of activism that framed my youth.  I became severely disillusioned by the community of people who identified as pro-life on one issue only, while fiercely opposing matters of life on so many others. In my secluded Protestant upbringing I knew little of the long history of Christian teaching on a consistent life ethic which spanned the range of life-threatening issues I intrinsically questioned: war, abortion, poverty, racism, the death penalty, gun control and euthanasia.

Among those whose actions shattered my idealism was one of the key leaders of a nationally-known pro-life organization who lived in my hometown. He sent his kids to the same high school I graduated from, and led protests and prayer gatherings alongside area clergy like my father.  I can trace my decision to separate myself from this particular brand of activism back to two defining moments:  the mid-90’s abortion clinic bombings and news that the pro-life leader we’d followed had abandoned his wife and children in order to marry his former church assistant.  If this is what it meant to be “pro-life”, I wanted to get as far away from the label as possible.

Melissa Ohden’s persistence to live out her heartbreaking story with the courage of hope, healing, and forgiveness invites me to reexamine the integrity of my response to disillusionment.  If she can be joyfully reconciled to the woman who (against her own will) left her for dead, then I most certainly can be reconciled to honorable communities of people who speak up for the defenseless.  She didn’t choose to be pro-life as an idealistic posture, her very existence speaks for itself the sacredness of human life.

For the reader who longs, like me, to acknowledge every human being as image bearers of God, Melissa Ohden’s story should not be overlooked or oversimplified. The image of God was fully developed within the mother who carried her.  She, like us, could do nothing to manufacture that dignity.  It’s freely given to each of us, and we are made to not just live but flourish with that recognition.  

When it came Ohden’s time to accept or reject the dignity freely offered, she chose to flourish within the paradox of God-given grace that does not replace suffering but, instead, carries us through it.  This choice is what makes her story especially important to those of us wanting to love humans well. It is a grace that offers to carry us all.

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Go to my Book Reviews page to see reviews from 2016 and previous years.

Here's my Goodreads page. Let's be friends!

a few reasonable words for your weekend conversations.04

Happy weekend, all! I'm ending this blog hiatus starting with my weekend posts of interesting bits and pieces I found online this week. We're looking forward to a couple of get-togethers with new friends in Fairfield this weekend. What are your plans? 

Goethe quote.jpg

A dose of conversation-starters for all your weekend conversations. If you and I happen to bump into each other in the next couple of days, I'd love to hear what you think about these reads. (or, you could always leave me a comment below!)

  • Like most of you, our family loves political satire.  This podcast asked a question I hadn't even considered: Does American political satire help or hinder social protest?  via Malcolm Gladwell's podcast Revisionist History podcast, The Satire Paradox episode

  • Speaking of politics, here's an article I missed when it first published in early July.  I listened to an excellent interview with the author about his memoir of growing up among the white poor.  He gives intelligent insight into the addictive appeal of Donald Trump among his hometown community.  via J. D. Vance in The Atlantic

  • An editorial packed with truth.  "... remembering well always requires overcoming nostalgia—overcoming our selective memories, owning up to our forgetting. Remembering for the future has to face up to what we’ve repressed—shining a light on the shadow side of our traditions. This is why Christians invested in the goodness of creation can’t fall into the trap of Golden Age–ism, because to remember creation is to long for the new creation."  via Comment Magazine

  • Speaking of remembering, may God bless Pastor Heber Brown and so many others doing good, generative work in the wake of Baltimore's tipping point. via Yes! Magazine

  • I love the web-based documentary series Perennial Plate, and this short episode with a woman who has been selling homemade pies at her Colorado farmers market for 43 years is just beautiful.  Also, it made me crave strawberry-rhubarb pie. 

On the blog lately:

  • This week I'll share my final post of our dream-come-true trip to Ireland.  Here's parts 1, 2, & 3
  • A year ago today I shared this post:  Finding contentment during sleeplessness (You guys!  I got goose bumps when I re-read the Jane Kenyon poem I'd found in the middle of a restless night. Please notice the city mentioned in the poem.  Kind of freaky, right?)

The "How to Prevent Small Talk" question for the week:

You have 15 minutes to address the whole world live (on television or radio — choose your format). What would you say?

Hoping for a good and contented weekend for us all, friends.  


A theology of billboards, sharing today at Think Christian

Three years ago my family moved to Austin, Texas. Our very first spring we got a front row seat to the effects of theHighway Beautification Act of 1965, a legacy of former first lady Lady Bird Johnson. In a place known for heat and drought, springtime in Texas kicks off a wildflower parade up and down the state’s medians and roadways. Johnson’s concern about the increasing number of billboards crowding out the natural beauty of her home state energized her to become the first president’s wife to actively campaign for legislative action. 
A recent NPR story described the new battle Texans are fighting against the billboard lobby’s request to heighten signs. It makes sense for political figures to discuss the use of public spaces, but what if it also became a Christian conversation?    

Bonus feature:
one of the billboards we managed to catch on the camera on our trip to Texas, 2011.  

This is somewhere in the middle of Ohio, in case you were wondering.