Poetry & Words

On Soviet Food and Spiritual Food

I’m currently reading a memoir of Soviet times, a sort of wandering musing on meals and cooking, from Lenin’s own kitchen to the communal cafeterias in Moscow. While I enjoy cooking, I confess I find food to be an inconvenience at times; and, as mother to a child with anaphylaxis, potentially deadly at others. Why did God design food to be so crucial?

On Soviet Food and Spiritual Food

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I’m currently reading Anya von Bremzen’s Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, a sort of wandering musing on meals and cooking, from Lenin’s own kitchen to the communal cafeterias of the author’s Moscow childhood. While I enjoy cooking — and obviously, books about cooking — I confess I find food to be an inconvenience at times; and, as mother to a child with anaphylaxis, potentially deadly at others. Certainly as a parent, preparing, serving, and cleaning up food is a nonnegotiable part of my daily routine. As I go about these chores, I often question why God designed food to be so crucial.

Why does the human body required food, simply to continue to exist? (Or, as I texted my friend the other day, “Why do these people I live with seem to want to eat three times a day?”)

My questioning doesn’t end there.

Why, in heaven, when all things are made new, does feasting still continue to play a central role?

Again and again throughout Scripture, we see food:

The fruit in the garden.

The lentil porridge.

The burnt offerings.

Loaves and fishes.

The last supper.

Perhaps eating, then, is an ever-present reminder of our daily dependence on God.

Take, and eat.

In Exodus chapter sixteen, the Israelites of old had to trust him anew each morning. Manna squirreled away under the corners of the tent or in a basket very openly revealed a lack of trust by dissolving into stinking, swarming mess of worms.

Manna, like mercy, is new every morning. Our own striving cannot sustain us overnight; only He can.

When Jesus teaches us how to pray, He does not tell us His power is vast enough to sustain us for all time — even though it is. No, he tells us we must ask Him for bread, every day. There’s a transcendental significance to the focus on daily bread. (Couldn’t he have just as easily taught us to pray, “Give us this month our monthly bread, so we need not stress about this again until the calendar page turns”? I would have preferred that.)

He didn’t, of course. There are no prayers for weekly or yearly allotments; but many promises for bread and mercy daily.

We are to turn our eyes upon him constantly, over and over and over again.

The hymn-writer Robert Lowry understood this when he wrote,

“I need thee every hour…
I need thee, oh, I need thee;
Ev’ry hour I need thee!”

Every hour. (If you have infants — or teenage boys — this is a very literal reality.)

Eating, I think, reminds of us our constant state of reliance on God. We rely on him for everything — the onrush of air into our lungs, the pulse of our beating hearts, and life itself. Simply to be alive is a gift. And when we set down yet another tired lunch on the table on yet another weekday noon, this ordinary act can be a worshipful acknowledgement of our utter dependence on God.

Work, as worship.

Food, as a worship.

Inhaling the aroma, tasting the spices on our tongue, feeling satiated, feeling hungry — these are all tangible ways to taste and see that the Lord is good. Yes, even if the meal is one you’ve had hundreds of times.

Even if you’re weary of meal prep.

Even then.

And our need for physical nourishment also echoes our need, too, for supernatural food. In the wilderness, David waxed desperately poetic in his sixty-third Psalm:

“You are my God;
I shall seek You earnestly;
My soul thirsts for You,
my flesh yearns for You,
In a dry and weary land
where there is no water.” 

Our souls are designed to crave Him as deeply as our stomach rumbles for food after a long day of slim pickings. God didn’t want us to miss this. He didn’t hide the symbolism in parable: he spelled it out for us when he said “I am the bread of life.”

We are supposed to feel as desperately starved for God when our spirits are hungry, just as we do for a food when our bodies are physically famished. Our bodies aren’t designed to last for long periods without eating; so too, our souls aren’t designed for only periodic spiritual dining, taken at infrequent intervals.

Later in the same Psalm where David first declares his wilderness thirst for God, he exclaims what it’s like to finally dive to God after his soul had been starved: “I eat my fill of prime rib and gravy; I smack my lips. It’s time to shout praises!” (The Message translation)

In the Soviet memoir I’m reading, the author describes mealtime in Lenin’s Russia as “soup with rotten sauerkraut, unidentifiable meat (horse?), gluey millet, and endless vobla, the petrified fried Caspian roach fish.”

Is this what your soul has been surviving on?

Come!

You don’t need to live like this anymore. There is living water. There is life-giving bread.

The shackles are off; the walls have crumbled.

Read! Partake! Drink it in!

The time for feasting has arrived.

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Homeschooling, Poetry & Words

East of Eden Book Club Hosted by the Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community

Hello, friends! Late summer finds me here, back in Tennessee after my summer wanderings. School books are stacked up again, pencils are sharpened, and we step into the rhythm of lengthening shadows and lingering sunsets. Here and there a leaf drifts by as if to whisper what’s next, on the wings of the wind.

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East of Eden Book Club hosted by The Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community

“A kind of light spread out from her. And everything changed color. And the world opened out. And a day was good to awaken to.” -John Steinbeck

Sometimes, as homeschool parents, our world can end up being all-consumed with education, can’t it? Especially when we’re entrusted with the education of quirky, out-of-the-box, outlier kids, we can easily spend all our spare time chasing down solutions to help our asynchronous students thrive. This is definitely true over in The Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community, the closed Facebook group that’s an offshoot of this blog. We spend a lot of time discussing giftedness, education, curriculum, and our kids in general. I love the support homeschool communities can provide. I’ve learned so much about various homeschool helps for gifted and twice exceptional kids.

But do you know what else is essential for success?

Our own wellbeing, as homeschool moms. We need to fill our reservoirs, too. If we’re stressed out, frazzled, expended, and flat-out exhausted, we’ll find it a whole lot harder to pour in to our kids, and lean in to this whole homeschooling craziness.

We think nothing of spending hours tracking down the precisely perfect literature list for our kids, but then somehow allow the stack of to-reads on our bedside table to languish. We make sure our students spend time digging in to the nuanced treasures hidden in stories, knowing it will enrich and edify, but then we scroll through social media instead of paging through a classic. (Or am I the only one?)

Online Book Club for East of Eden

Reading is really a wonderful kind of literary, thoughtful, continuing education. This fall, won’t you join us as a group of us from The Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community pick up John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, lingering over four chapters each week?  I’m planning to pick out a brand-new commonplace book, too, and jot down passages which stand out to me.  (Everyone’s favorite Sarah Mackenzie explains what she keeps in her commonplace book.)

East of Eden Book Club hosted by The Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community

I’m naturally an overly-speedy reader, so keeping a pen and commonplace book handy as I read forces me to slow down a little more. As I wrote in a recent piece called Five Rewards of a Reading Lifestyle,

“Sometimes the nuggets of truth in a written passage are readily apparent; other times, the nuances require a little deeper digging before they’re visible. This is analogous to life; the profundity of life will not always shout to us from the surface, but is often

  • hidden away in quiet corners,
  • glistening in the shadows,
  • camouflaged by the everyday,
  • waiting to be discovered.

Reading teaches us it’s not always the flashiest or the loudest moments which are the most precious. In quiet searching through the written word, we are rewarded deeply.”

East of Eden Book Club hosted by The Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community

And as a writer, slow reading spurs me on to write, every single time. Yet like Steinbeck, “I find it difficult to write about my native place, northern California. It should be the easiest, because I knew that strip angled against the Pacific better than any place in the world. But I find it not one thing but many–one printed over another until the whole thing blurs. What it is is warped with memory of what it was and that with what happened there to me, the whole bundle wracked until objectiveness is nigh impossible.” -Steinbeck, Travels with Charley

I can’t wait to open East of Eden and travel west — walking figuratively through the West Coast again, seeing familiar places through new eyes, and stretching myself through intense plot and characterization.

East of Eden Book Club hosted by The Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community

Join us, September 2nd, as we dive in to all 601 pages of East of Eden!

so you can chime in during our online discussions.

If you don’t have a copy of the book, ThriftBooks has several copies for around five dollars. (Click through to ThriftBooks from this page, and get 15% off your first purchase. Overly obvious disclosure: this is a referral link.)

Alright, ready? Mark your calendars for September 2!

Download the East of Eden Book Club schedule 

In September, the air smells different. Septembers are charred. The earth is dried and shattered into thousands of immovable pieces. I can always taste the wildfire in the air in September, that deep mix of ashes, burned pine resin and dust. No one else talks about it, but I think there’s a hint of pollen and petals in it too — that faint scent a rosebush gives off at the end of a long dry summer, when the blooms are slumped into disfigured, twisted crepe. I’ve always loved the way everything in September aches for the rain, looking forward to the washing that’s around the corner, even when everything is in ashes.” -an excerpt from my in-progress memoir

East of Eden Book Club hosted by The Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community

Poetry & Words

The Place Where Time Can’t Find You

A Place Where Time Can't Find You

Everyone needs a place where time can’t find you, where the landscape swallows time the way the water gulps up the shoreline every second of the day. This corner of the world is detached from time, wholly present, endlessly still, yet always in motion. The water sees to that.

It’s good to disappear sometimes.

It’s good to be suspended in that ethereal space between perpetual motion and perpetual stillness.

As bloggers, our livelihoods are attached by a fragile string to algorithms and engagement and content. We feel a constant push to be active, to be relevant, to be on top of the ever-raging onslaught of consumer habits and user trends. We photograph, we edit, we caption, we package, we sell. We ride the waves of Instagram stories and live streams and pin boards and tweets.

But photographs don’t last, here, in this empyreal place. Oh, photographers have tried: these deep-ridged trunks and these limestones cliffs dissolve into silvery liquid depths on the developers’ trays — but then fade again, swallowed by time. And as I stand here, I put the camera back into my bag, reverently. This moment exists so deeply outside of time, that to photograph further is to crush the gossamer wings which bore me here.

Few things are constant. Grace, the tide, His omnipotence, eternity. These rocks of chalky white have not always stood sheer, have not always born sturdy roots of cedar red. But they have outlived me — and outlived Instagram — a thousand times over.

A place which swallows time also swallows up egotism, and vain ambition, and leaves only perspective behind. Existence is not dependent on audience. Performance is not dependent on audience.

The water in this bay does not stop faithfully sweeping up shore, the cliffs do not stop holding up the trees, the sun does not stop feeding chlorophyl green for mere lack of audience.

What is the reason you picked up the pen? What drives you to tap away at a keyboard and scribble fragments on napkin shreds in the wee smalls? Were you born with the incurable drive to find the one shareable Facebook meme that will allow your analytics to exceed last week’s numbers — or were you born with a story inside you?

I see the story in these cliffs, in the sky, in the tools left in the white clay dust beneath the crumbling foundations, in the iron anchors sinking, in the blackened chimneys still. And through this dimmed glass, I see.

The beat of my soul pulses to a rhythm composed  by all the unphotographable places I’ve stepped inside. These northern cliffs, that impenetrable eastern curtain of iron, the southern mountains edging closer to the Equator. My heritage, my culture, every place my footprint has pressed. This is my soul, my heart, my life, my story.

I can’t iron this all out and square up the edges to place it neatly into Instagram. You’ll never see it there. But if you listen quietly, you can hear it, in a place that swallows time.

You have this, too. It’s not just me.

You have moments you can’t contort into a photograph. These are your illuminated treasures. Pull them out of the ash. Hold them up to the Light. You are a blacksmith. The fire refines. And these words are molten in a way photographs will never be.

Lift up your tools, face the fire, and write.

Life in Photos, Poetry & Words, Travel/Moving

On Moving to Tennessee

Sunset comes in like a whisper, hushing the robin’s monologue, stretching and bending the shadows until, at last, nothing speaks save the skies. They breathe deep navy words — slowly, confidently, and silence settles down. The lamp glows warmly, inside, and I pull my legs up over the pine bench and settle down into the posture of writing as the last remnants of Jasmine rice and watermelon dissipate into the air.

I don’t know what Tennessee smells like, yet. Florida was a cauldron, with thick air pressed closed to the ground, rippling intermittently through the Spanish moss and magnolia. And I miss the sea-salt air of the Atlantic, with its tangled seaweed and glinting jellyfish tossed up in the surf. California, too, brought me scorched pine-resin September skies, rich sweetness of strawberries wilting in the thin dry air, and a whiff of tar along the freeway as I sped toward the windswept Pacific cliffs of Bodega Head, drinking  juniper and cypress into my lungs.

But I don’t know Tennessee’s signature scent.

I walked through the plant nursery last night, ivy tumbling at my feet and ferns bursting from their swinging baskets. I buried my face in the mint and lavender, and ran my fingers through the Irish moss. This one smells like the coast, I said, and that one is pure ocean. But what’s in this new landlocked soil that’ll unfurl its leaves and wind its way around my heart?

Cedar in the air will bring me to the pebbled shores of the Great Lakes, every single time.

And the syrupy incense of wisteria rewinds me all the way to Taborska Cesta, Ljubljana, where I can still see the trail of ants parading up the vine.

But what

years from now

will bring me back here when I close my eyes?

Homeschooling

Christian Homeschooling is not a Formula for Success

Christian Homeschooling is not a Formula for SuccessAs a homeschooled kid born in the 1980s to pioneering parents, I was one of the first guinea pig generations. My friends and peers were steeped in Christian culture — in safe, sheltered, homeschool culture, our own personal circles teaming with prominent authors and leaders — and yet a startling number of my peers no longer embrace Christianity. Some of them picket home education. There’s a whole lot more to be said about that (a lot more) but let’s start here: homeschooling is not a formula to guarantee your child will turn out the way you want. Homeschooling is not a formula for raising Christian kids. Homeschooling is not a formula for raising any particular kind of kid. Homeschooling is simply not a formula.

The truth is, there’s no formula for raising kids. There’s no way to ensure your child will turn into the adult you envision.

There’s no parenting panacea against rebellion.

Let me say that again: there’s no parenting panacea against rebellion. There simply isn’t, no matter how strongly the Christian bookstore tries to sell you one, neatly bound and displayed so enticingly on the eye-catching endcap, and no matter how many conferences try to lure you in with the seven-step parenting workshops guaranteeing trophy children.

This is the whole, terrifying, somber, humbling truth about parenting: there are no guarantees.

(There are no guarantees for earth-side life, even. A wise woman once told me never to forget that children are on loan from God. And it’s profoundly true.)

So if we’re looking for a tidy copy-and-paste template to neatly apply to our lives, one which guarantees a particular outcome, we’re not going to find it in parenting. We’re certainly not going to find it in homeschooling. I emerged from the guinea pig generation, and I’m telling you, conservative homeschooling didn’t work the way the speakers promised.

If we’re looking for that perfect template, we’re not even going to find any such guarantee in the Bible. If there’s anything disappointing about the stories of Biblical men and women — I say this in all reverence — it’s that there are precious few formulas we can glean. It’s true. It’s actually very difficult to create familial formulas (say that ten times fast) based on the examples handed down to us in the Bible. Biblical accounts are wildly diverse, and in all honesty, often nothing short of bizarre — and I say this as a Bible-believing Christian.

So if the Bible isn’t an index of formulas, and there are no guarantees in parenting, how has homeschooling gained a reputation in conservative Christian circles as a way to somehow promise adherence to Christianity and safeguard against rebellion?

In the 90s and 00s, I spent plenty of time observing the homeschool guru circuit from the front lines. (I like to say I’ve seen it all in my time as a homeschool kid: the good, the bad, and a whole lot of ugly.) And the more I watched, the more I saw speakers and authors peddling this idea: homeschooling will save your child from the claws of culture, in a way that other forms of education never will.

As humankind has been drawn toward simple solutions to complex problems since the beginning of time, parents latched on to this idea by the droves.

And as I watched, Christian homeschool families shelled out hard-earned cash for conferences, retreats, and books outlining a path to purity and good character and uprightness. This was a path which often circumvented the radical Jesus, chasing wildly after morality instead  — as long as that morality could be modeled inside a controlled homeschool environment.

Religious homeschooling, intended to preserve religion, instead became religion — and morality replaced Christ.

Morality, the homeschool gurus insisted, will make your child perfect. Morality is key. Virtue will save us all. And so, homeschool subculture created a fantastic Morality World, complete with its own literature and curriculum and clubs and dress codes, a sort of monastic exile hyper-focused on creating the outwardly perfect child.

Like I said before, this didn’t work so well. Morality-first education delivered in a sheltered homeschool did not produce the Christ-centered generation the pioneering homeschooling gurus promised us it would. (Imagine that!)

Yet in the thirty years since I entered kindergarten, I still see homeschool celebrities and curriculum companies (and Sunday Schools!) shilling out the idea that morality and good character and wholesomeness is somehow going to change hearts.

Friends, it can’t. It never will. Jesus changes hearts. Character curriculum and good books do not change human nature. Putting morality first is not the path to redemption. Teaching our children more about mimicking a list of admirable traits than about the transforming power of the blood of Jesus is wrong.

What would  happen if we turned our eyes to Jesus himself, and not to character education? What would happen if we viewed our role as parents to equip our kids to boldly face the world, not to entirely shelter them from it? What would happen if we embraced the mystery of grace for the earth-shattering wonder that it is, rather than reducing it to human terms and claiming to understand it all? What would happen if we lived the kind of  life that Jesus (quite a radical, by the way) was personally calling us to live?

The answer to those questions might not always be found in homeschooling itself.  Really.

In fact, I don’t even necessarily see a definitive Biblical mandate to homeschool.

(Yes, I actually just said that.) I can hear the collective screech of proverbial brakes right now. I can hear some of you sputtering. I know I put off a lot of people whenever I say this, but please, hear me out. Don’t close the tab yet.

I support homeschooling. But I do not support homeschool onlyism.

I do not support the idea that if you are a Christian, you are obligated to homeschool.

I educate my own daughter at home, but I didn’t choose this path because I believe it’s the only way to educate. In fact, when I read through the Bible, I see incredible diversity.

Paul was a Roman citizen.

Moses was raised by Egyptian royalty.

Daniel got his education from the Babylonians.

Rather than only one template for life, I instead see examples of God’s glory shining through impossible situations (and, let’s be real, there are some impossibly odd people in the Bible, too.) I don’t see a formula. If anything, I see God going out of His way to make a point about there being no such thing as a catch-all formula.

The Bible’s not big on catch-all formulas.

Even when it comes to marriage — a topic that’s specifically addressed in the Bible, unlike homeschooling — the examples are wildly divergent. We all know the story of Ruth, right? [1] Ruth was told to wear perfume, wait until Boaz had drunk plenty, then go into his room, uncover his feet, and lie down. (I’m still waiting for the wholesome Ruth Generation movement to show up at courtship seminars across the country.)

And then there’s Isaac and Rebekah [2]. Rebekah watered his camels, and then when Isaac gave her a nose ring and some other bling, she knew he was the one. (Yes, a ring for her nose. Not ear. The Hebrew word נֶזֶם refers to a nose jewel.)

Go back a little further, and we have Adam and Eve. What can we find in this account to boil down into a family-based formula that’ll sell well at homeschool conferences and Christian bookstores? They were naked, she was made from a rib, and then one son murdered the other. Hardly an example of marriage and family life that will top the Christian self-help charts.

You might still be reeling from my insinuation that homeschooling isn’t addressed in the Bible. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean we are to live so apathetically hands-off that our children run wild, adrift with no moral compass. When I read the Bible, I clearly see the mandate for Christian parents to instruct children in the ways of God. There’s no arguing this: we should teach our children the things of God and our Biblical heritage. The Bible commands us to. So don’t misunderstand me: I’m not speaking against raising children in a Christian home. I’m not saying to stop instructing your kids in the foundational tenets of Christianity. I’m just saying modern Western homeschooling, as it’s represented in the modern homeschool movement, is not the only way to educate kids. (I still love Jesus; I’m just not a legalist when it comes to what kind of school Christians should use.)

I’ve been in the homeschool subculture for a long time, and sometimes the subculture needs a few reminders: Jesus’ power is not stopped by brick-and-mortar school doors. He doesn’t limit his salvation to only those kids whose parents homeschool them. He transcends centuries and languages and continents. Homeschooling is not an essential tenet of Jesus-based doctrine and theology.

We can’t have a conversation about education and Christianity without mentioning Deuteronomy chapter six. Verses five through nine talk about instructing our kids in the ways of faith; we’re told to do this “when you are at home and when you are on the road…on the doorposts of your house and on your [city] gates.” [3]

In other words, everywhere.

Not just at home.

Not just in a bubble of our own constructing.

Not just in a shelter we’ve fashioned with our own hands.

Everywhere, without fear.

The truth is, I often detect an element of fear in the homeschool subculture’s insistence that all Christian parents must homeschool. I can understand that. I see the ideals running through public school education, and I know they’re often counter to Biblical convictions.

I get that.

But when I look at the Bible, I see repeated rebukes against fear. I also see God taking broken situations like Joseph’s or Daniel’s — stories full of pain and desolation, and certainly full of the secular culture of the day — and using these situations to glorify His name in mighty, mighty ways.

Look at John 11:4 — it’s God who was glorified.

These things happened that God might be glorified.” That’s the goal of what we do. He’s the point of how we live.

Not that homeschooling might be glorified, but that God might be glorified.

Not that our particular flavor of homeschooling might be seen as superior, but that God might be glorified.

Not that our parenting might be held up as an example of excellence, but that God might be glorified.

Not that we might get the credit, but that God might be glorified.

And God is not limited by environment. He can work mightily in a lion’s den, a virgin’s womb, a donkey’s mouth, a public school classroom, a broken home, or a homeschool living room.

It’s not about our formulas and styles and philosophies.

It’s all about Jesus.

So go forward fearlessly. Live wildly and bravely, the way God wants you to, not the way the parenting gurus and bestselling authors tell you to.

“Abraham believed God,” Andrée Seu Peterson wrote, “not what well-meaning pastors or little old ladies told him about God.”

Now go, live fearlessly!