Field Notes From A Gentrifier, Part I: How I Became The Enemy

Thus begins an ill-advised series of “field notes” from my experience as an unintentional gentrifier in Over-the-Rhine, Cincinnati, Ohio. Consider it the purging of my current thoughts on/observations about gentrification, urban economics, class, race, and $3.50 tacos. Three related posts are planned so far. There may be more to come. Or not.

 

In 2005, I moved to Cincinnati from Elgin, Illinois. My first job in town was as a bartender/barista at a place called Kaldi’s on Main Street in Over-the-Rhine.

I knew that Over-the-Rhine had a reputation. I knew it had a history.

I knew to hide my bartending tips in my sock on the way to my car at night. I knew to make eye contact with the people I passed on the street. I knew that the storefronts were mostly empty after 6pm every night. And I knew that it wasn’t necessary to pay the parking meter most nights because cops didn’t give a rip about parking in OTR.

I knew that the produce at the Vine Street Kroger was never up to par and they didn’t sell organic milk.

I knew that Over-the-Rhine was thick with racial tension. I knew this because if I told the man from the street that he could not use our bathroom at 11:48pm on a Thursday night, he would call me a racist.

I knew Over-the-Rhine was a dark and moody place to be.

But I also knew it was alive with a steady current of creativity and strength and survival. I knew that its residents knew enough about all sorts of things to not be afraid to be out at night like everyone else was. I knew that the stories in the news were always only half-true.

I knew that Over-the-Rhine was more than dark and moody.

But I swear that I did not know it was the next big thing.

We got married in 2009 and our first apartment was a large loft north of Liberty in an old brewery building. There were a zillion building code violations and my mom probably cried the first time she saw it.

Our apartment smelled like hotdogs on Saturday mornings from the soup kitchen next door. There were cockroaches in the bathroom. There were rats. There were beer and dog piss leaks through the floorboards of the apartment above us. There was no real heating system. There were drunk neighbors. There were loud knocks on the door and the buzzing of doorbells at all hours of the day/night by people walking past. There were drug dealers perched on our stoop–literally–every day.

The landlord may as well have lived in Cambodia the way he cared for the place. Every good thing about that apartment was done with our own hands and our own money.

It was like the Wild, Wild, West.
We were newlyweds.
The rent was $650.

By this time, I was working at a non-profit doing community organizing types of things around the city and I had insight into the things “moving” in Over-the-Rhine. They had been in the works for a few years. There were big-time investors involved. There were things like development strategies and tax incentives at play.

But, honestly, it all happened so quickly.

While we were busy learning to be married and then having kids and working at our jobs, things were changing around us. We were like the proverbial frog, boiled alive in the pot.

Vine Street.
Washington Park.
Conversations about something called “a streetcar.”

We wanted to buy a house in the neighborhood because it was our neighborhood, not because we wanted to capitalize on someone else’s loss. The only person we (personally) displaced was a man who wanted to sell his house so he could move across the country to be nearer to his kids.

Sure, we knew it was probably a good investment. Sure, we knew that OTR was going to “improve” in the next few years. But it was still a gamble. And investing in Over-the-Rhine, in general, was still a calculated risk.

I didn’t think I was the bad guy.
I was just a young, idealistic wife and mother.
We wanted to plant some roots in a neighborhood that needed more stability. We wanted to start something, build something. And it seemed like there was space enough for us here.

I tell this story because it’s important to know that people–low income, high society, black, white, and everything in-between–move where they move for all sorts of reasons.

Because we can afford it.
Because we like the way the house looks.
Because our family lives there.
Because we can walk to work.
Because we want to make a good investment.
Because of the quality of the schools.
To start our first business.
Because we’re new in town and it’s all we know.
Because it’s time to downsize.

Or we move because of a bunch of reasons all mashed up together.

Most people moving into “gentrifying” neighborhoods don’t move there to cause trouble. They aren’t trying to displace long-term residents or raise the rent next door. Often times, they (like we did) think they can help make the neighborhood better for everyone through their investment and community engagement.

But that’s not the way things usually happen, is it?

It’s only a matter of time before I just blend in with all the 30-something Friday night bar hoppers. And then it doesn’t really matter how I got here, does it? All that matters is that I’m young and white, that I like eating macarons, and that my house has (at least) doubled in value since we bought it seven years ago.

Suddenly, I’m the enemy.

Sometimes I still feel at home in Over-the-Rhine; sometimes I don’t.
Sometimes I feel great about my investment in the neighborhood; sometimes I feel guilty about it, like my very presence signifies economic injustice.

All that has happened in my neighborhood in the past 12 years and all of my thoughts and feelings about it are too much and too many to share here.

Gentrification is a real thing. Affordable housing is a real concern. Equitable development is, indeed, an urgent matter. We need to be honest about how these issues affect the most vulnerable among us. But we also need to acknowledge that few things are as simple as “oppressor vs oppressed.”

The conversation about the issues facing my neighborhood and others like it need to be stripped of their unfair guilty-by-association politics so we can see each other as neighbors and friends. And that requires telling the stories about how we got here and why we want to stay. We are, after all, real people making real life decisions about how we invest our time and our money and our family life for the sake of our communities.

A community is a living eco-system and the parts all affect each other. There are both intended and unintended consequences of those decisions on the people around us. We need to be honest about how diversifying a neighborhood (socially, economically, etc.) will affect the quality of life as a whole. And we need to be honest about when the positive consequences outweigh the negative and vice versa.

Case in point:
The grocery store now sells organic milk.
But our old apartment now rents for $1800.

 

 

 

 

(Possibly) later in the Field Notes series:

Class, Culture, and Race (and Racism)
How to Solve the Affordable Housing Crisis

My $13 Box of Macarons

Stay tuned!

 

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To The Woman Who Wants To Be A Mom (But Isn’t)

I know it’s dangerous business talking “mothering” to the childless when you have no personal knowledge of childlessness. It’s like a trust fund baby encouraging a friend to “just start saving for the future.” So, I get it. And I’ll try to tread lightly.

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. I’m not much for holidays, but I know this particular day brings a lot of hurt and heartache for some of my friends. Some have lost babies before they were born, some have lost them after, and some have never even had the chance. Some are still longing for a partner to create future babies with and some, with a partner, have tried and tried and tried and nothing works.

I’m sorry.

Even on the worst of mothering days, when I’m crying in the bathroom alone wishing I could un-mother myself for a few minutes, I still know what a miracle children are and what a blessing it is to grow them and to watch them grow. So I try not to talk up mothering too much, and to not belittle it too much, mostly for your sake. Because I know how it feels to see my dreams lived out in the lives of others. And it really hurts.

It wouldn’t help to tell you that Mother’s Day is a lame holiday, just an opportunity for excited children to buy overpriced “Best Mom in the World” coffee mugs and shamed fathers to buy underwhelming roses. It’s a sweet gesture, and I’ll take all the sweet gestures anyone wants to offer, but it’s really not a big deal to me. But when “Mom” is the one name you’ve always wanted, even the overpriced coffee mugs can seem huge and hard to look at.

I can’t make you feel better, but I want to encourage you in three ways.

First, don’t feel the need to explain your desire away or pretend it doesn’t exist.

You are a woman. And in a perfect world, men and women would interact in a way that made the world of dating and marriage and sex easier to navigate. And in a perfect world, all women (and men) would be capable of bearing children and be able to raise them without the pain and heartbreak of infertility or miscarriage or infant loss.

You already know that we don’t live in a perfect world. But it helps to be reminded that part of what you’re feeling is the same thing we all feel, though in different ways. You know the brokenness of human relationships and human bodies. You don’t need to hide the knowledge of your brokenness or the longing for completeness.

To be sure: Motherhood will not “complete” you. Not in the way you really want it to. But I understand the “new life” symbolism of pregnancy and childbirth and motherhood and I understand why you want to embody it.

You may have a million voices telling you that motherhood is not a big deal that that you can do a million other things other than being a mom and still be a woman. In a way, they are right. But, in a way, they are wrong. It’s okay to want the crappy “Best Mom in the World” mug.

But, don’t obsess about motherhood.

Motherhood will not complete you. It will fill your days and at least 18 years of your life and your dreams (and nightmares). But it will not fill the deepest void you feel inside you. And it will not fill the deepest voids you feel between you and your partner.

Turning a good thing (even a very good thing) into the best or ultimate thing distorts its value and purpose. A sure sign of an idol is our all-consuming pursuit of it. If you “will not stop” until you become a mother or if you will pursue it at all costs, you may want to reconsider the depth of your obsession.

The truth is: you may never be a mother. And those of us who are mothers may some day find ourselves childless. There are no guarantees. Obsessing about something so fragile sets us up for crushing disappointment.

Making motherhood an idol serves no one, especially not our children. Don’t let your desire consume you.

But, please, don’t turn it off.

In the meantime, while you are in waiting, don’t suppress your desire to be a mother. Don’t ignore it and try to fill the longing with something unworthy of it. Keep yourself busy, stay faithful in other ways, and embrace life as it is without a child, put please keep your heart open and longing.

I say this, first, for selfish reasons because mothers need non-mothers. We need friends who have things other than potty training and teething and 2nd grade math homework to talk about. We need friends and family who keep the other, non-parent parts of us alive.

But, once you have kids, it’s hard to make friends with people who really don’t like kids. I once saw a t-shirt that said, “Love me, love my cat.” In this case, it’s more like “Love me, love my kids.” I absolutely want friends without children. But not the kind who think I’ve wasted the best years of my life by being bogged down by four attention-hungry children.

And, more importantly, the world needs non-mothers. It needs them badly.

First, there are obvious needs in foster care, education, adoption, after-school programs, church programs, nursing and medicine, etc. These places need women who aren’t afraid to let that mothering part of them pour into a child who is not (or not yet) their own. Their lives often depend, literally, on women like you.

And even if you’re not built for teaching or changing diapers for a stranger’s baby in the church nursery, I can promise that, at some point in your life, your mothering heart will find a “child.”

It may be as simple as a young mother who needs an extra hand while she digs through her purse at the grocery store (I’ve been that woman). It may be the middle child of a large family who feels invisible and wants to make sure someone big and important (like you) sees his drawing.

It may be a lonely child in your neighborhood who likes to look at your flower garden. Or it may be a college student far away from her parents who needs help finding a job or an apartment.

Years down the road, It may be a younger friend who just lost her mother to cancer and needs a shoulder to cry on. Or it may be an older neighbor who needs someone to read her a book when her eyes go out.

I know this might not make you feel better. Heck, it might make you feel worse because it means admitting that it’s possible your desires may never be fulfilled in the way you want them to be.

Nevertheless, even if you never give birth to a child or never manage to save the money to adopt, I hope you never let the mothering part of you die. I hope you leave it soft and open and ready for whoever needs it. Because we’ve all needed it at some point.

The world is full of childless mothers. Go ahead and be one.

First came bright Spirits…
Then, on the left and right, at each side of the forest avenue, came youthful shapes, boys upon one hand, and girls upon the other. If I could remember their singing and write down the notes, no man who read that score would ever grow sick or old. Between them went musicians: and after these a lady in whose honour all this was being done.
“Is it?…is it?” I whispered to my guide.
“Not at all,” said he. “It’s someone ye’ll never have heard of. Her name on earth was
Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green.”
“She seems to be…well, a person of particular importance?”
“Aye. She is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quite different things.”
“And who are these gigantic people…look! They’re like emeralds…who are dancing
and throwing flowers before here?”
“Haven’t ye read your Milton? A thousand liveried angels lackey her.”
“And who are all these young men and women on each side?”
“They are her sons and daughters.”
“She must have had a very large family, Sir.”
“Every young man or boy that met her became her son–even if it was only the boy
that brought the meat to her back door. Every girl that met her was her daughter.”
“Isn’t that a bit hard on their own parents?”
“No. There are those that steal other people’s children. But her motherhood was of a different kind. Those on whom it fell went back to their natural parents loving them more. Few men looked on her without becoming, in a certain fashion, her lovers. But it was the kind of love that made them not less true, but truer, to their own wives.”
“And how…but hullo! What are all these animals? A cat – two cats – dozens of cats. And all those dogs…why, I can’t count them. And the birds. And the horses.”
“They are her beasts.”
“Did she keep a sort of zoo? I mean, this is a bit too much.”
“Every beast and bird that came near her had its place in her love. In her they became themselves. And now the abundance of life she has in Christ from the Father flows over into them.”
I looked at my Teacher in amazement.
“Yes,” he said. “It is like when you throw a stone into a pool, and the concentric waves spread out further and further. Who knows where it will end? Redeemed humanity is still young, it has hardly come to its full strength. But already there is joy enough in the little finger of a great saint such as yonder lady to waken all the dead things of the universe into life.
The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis

Why I Bring My Kids To Funerals

The first death I remember was a great uncle.
I was elementary school age and I barely knew the man. But he was family and my whole family was there and it was quiet and that’s about all I remember.

For most of us, the death of someone close is the first serious blow to our perceived immortality. For me, I was 14 and it was the death of a favorite uncle. Then, a few months later, a close friend. In the next five or so years, there were a few more: another friend, a few acquaintances, a friend’s little brother, my grandfathers, etc.

I don’t honestly remember much about the ins and outs of the visitations and funerals I attended as a child and an adolescent. I remember how every one was different because every person’s story and family and friends were different. I remember it being confusing. I remember not knowing how quiet I must be, whether or not I could smile at friends and family, whether or not I was saying the right words to those in mourning.

But I remember a lot of hugs. A lot of crying.

And I remember how much the knowledge and experience of death changes us.

 

Death is on my mind because, yesterday, my family attended the funeral of a young man I never met but whose parents are friends. And, of the hundreds of people in the room (maybe more?), my four children were some of the only children there.

 

I bring my kids to funerals.
Not every funeral, of course. And we don’t always last the whole service. (And if I had different kids I might reconsider.)

But I bring my kids to funerals because I don’t believe there are many truly “adult things” (as distinguished from “kid things”) and, even if there are, death is certainly not one of them.

I bring my kids to funerals because they are painful and hard and confusing and uncomfortable. But I’d rather my children fumble through the uncomfortable experiences of life in the safety of a family who loves them and is willing to entertain dumb and silly questions about life and death and how we celebrate and observe them.

I bring my kids to funerals because, some day, someone close to them will die. It might be me. Or their father. It might be their brother or sister or grandparent or best friend. Lord willing, it won’t be for a long time. But it will happen. And, when it happens, I don’t want the experience to feel like showing up to their first job interview wearing the wrong color suit. Hard things take practice. We practice together.

I bring my kids to funerals because my deepest anxieties surround their mortality and I need to be reminded that their lives are gifts and they are here with me now even if I cannot be certain they will be with me tomorrow.

I bring my kids to funerals because I cry–oh boy, do I cry–when someone I love or someone someone I know loves dies. And I don’t let my kids see the vulnerable parts of me enough.

I bring my kids to funerals because babies are like puppies and they cheer people up (when they are not howling or chewing up the paper programs, of course, which is why we don’t always make it through the whole service).

But, more than anything, I bring my kids to funerals because they need to see how people with hope observe death.

I bring them because they need to hear about Jesus and Heaven and “forever” from people who really believe it and breathe it in like it’s the only thing still keeping them standing.

In their short lives, my children have already heard plenty from us about “God loves us” and “God takes care of us,” but they need to hear it from other people–especially people who are standing at that dark cliff of death, are stricken with grief, but can still say “it is well with my soul” (even if they’re not quite 100% there yet).

I bring them because Christians do not grieve as those who have no hope.

Death is still terrible and sad and I hate it with everything inside me. But Christians do death differently. And I want my kids to look at the world and look at the Church and know the difference more fully because they’ve sat in those pews and sang those songs and heard–with their own two ears– the voice of a grieving mothering declare the goodness of God over her child’s death.

This is powerful stuff and, as much as I wish I could, I cannot hide my kids from it.

Beauty, Between Three and a Million Years

IMG_5708

When she hears music, my daughter starts to dance.
No matter what the music is,
something inside her tells her to move.

Yesterday, she heard a song humming
from the phone in the palm of my hand
and came closer to hear,
closer so she could
match her moving to the music.

Then she stopped.
Suddenly.
And looked at me.

“Mommy,” she asked,
“Does God think I’m pretty?”

She is my third child.
Three of four.
And three years old.

In eight years of parenting,
I’ve heard a lot of questions from my kids.

“Why is our house red?”
“Where is Atlanta?”
“How do clouds make rain?”

Now, instead, she asks,
“Mommy,
“does God think I’m pretty?”

It’s such a big, important question
for such a small girl
and it deserves
the best and truest answer
I can muster in the
little time she’ll give me
before this big, important moment
has passed.

In the few seconds it takes me to
quiet the music and
look into her
clear blue, questioning eyes,
her question becomes my question
and my grey-blue-green eyes go misty
and my mind starts to wander.

I see ahead into her future and
I want to warn her that,
eventually,
these silly, simple questions of her
three year-old self will not offer
the answer her 10 year old
or 16 year old
or 30 year old self
wants to hear.

Eventually the question will become,
“Do you think I’m pretty?”
“Does he think I’m pretty?
“Am I pretty enough?”
“Am I prettier than her?”
“Am I as pretty as I used to be?”

And,
more often than not,
the answer she speaks back to herself,
whether it’s true or not,
will be a quick,
painful
“No.”

Because,
in that moment,
whether it’s true or not,
no simple truth will seem
big enough to satisfy her big need.

But, right now,
with three years behind her
and a million years ahead
and those big, clear blue eyes
looking to me for answers,

I tell her the truth
as simply as I can.

I tell her,
“Of course, sweetheart.”

But I don’t stop there.

I tell her,
“The God of the universe–
the God who made the trees
and the rivers
and the flowers
and the mountains–
He made you
exactly the way he wanted you to be.
And when He looks down
at the world he made,
He sees you
and calls you
‘the crown of creation’
and says you are
the most beautiful of all.”

So my daughter smiles
and is satisfied with the answer
and floats away
to tell her big brother and big sister

“God thinks I’m pretty,”

and leaves me to repeat my answer again
but this time to me
because I think it’s been years–
a million years, maybe–
since I was satisfied
with such a silly, simple, honest answer.

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I’m Not A Feminist (and other things you can’t say in public)

Feminism. It’s so hot right now.

Saying “I’m not a feminist” in 2017 is an invitation to making enemies out of friends and strangers alike. And, contrary to what some believe, I do actually care quite a bit what people think of me so I’m sometimes reticent to say it out loud in mixed company.

But, alas, I am not a feminist.
Well, not really.
(Okay, it’s actually kind of complicated.)

I had a different blog once upon a time where I wrote a series about my complicated relationship with womanhood and my struggle with Biblical, cultural, and worldly definitions of femininity. If you know me in real life, I’m happy to tell you all about it, but I’d rather not get into it all here.

The short story is that, somewhere around early high school, I got really uncomfortable with “girl stuff.” It was a mixed reaction to both my insecurities as an awkward young woman, desperate for attention and affection, and my beliefs about modesty and Biblical womanhood. Rather than learn to reconcile the two, I embraced a third option: the anti-girl.

Feminism is a fun thing to flirt with when you’re a kid, especially when you don’t easily fit into whatever “girl” mold your world is currently selling. It’s liberating to be told that you don’t have to shop at a certain store or choose a certain career or kiss a certain number of boys in order to ascend to womanhood. Find your own path; chart your own course.

For me, anti-girl feminism was particularly attractive because I had never been as gentle, graceful, quiet, or pretty as my more “feminine” peers.

I could tell that Seventeen magazine was a load of garbage.
Bitch Magazine was so much cooler.

So, I bought it. Literally.

There is real power in the feminist narrative, especially when women are often misunderstood, objectified, underrepresented, abused, or flat-out ignored. But there was a point at which, for me, the narrative lost its charm.

Like any social or political movement, feminism has changed a lot since its inception. The first-wave suffragettes of yesterday gave birth to the bra burning hippie feminists of the sexual revolution who then gave birth to the third-wave, pussy-hat wearing women of 2017. For some, the third-wave is not yet enough; there is still more ground to cover.

Feminists and I may share the same anatomy (well, some of us), but I have a hard time seeing us as kin. Even when many of my dearest friends proudly wear the “feminist” label.

To a certain degree, my critique of contemporary feminism is unfair because I know that every self-proclaimed “feminist” defines her feminism differently. But at some point, it became obvious to me that the movement–loosely defined as it may be–represents a few particular values or beliefs that I can’t get behind.

To broadly generalize:

Contemporary feminism divorces sex from procreation and procreation from marriage*. It promotes perpetually baby-free sex (through birth control and abortion) as an essential “freedom” and sex, in general, as a basic human right.

Contemporary feminism confuses sexual autonomy with sexual insensitivity. It flaunts sexual freedoms and tells women they owe not an ounce of modesty, decency, or deference to anyone. It gives them warrant to use their sexuality for control, manipulation, pay-back, and attention.

Contemporary feminism divorces womanhood from motherhood. It takes extra measure to establish a woman’s identity apart from the very thing that defines her as a “woman” rather than a “man”: the capacity for bearing children**. It devalues the work inherent in mothering, promoting the pursuit of a career in its place, relegating the nurturing work of mothering to everyone but the mother herself.

Contemporary feminism is predicated on the lie of a great, global anti-woman conspiracy. It sees the bogey-man of The Patriarchy*** as the world’s great evil and perceives even the common courtesies of good men as aggression. It is insecure and plagued by one-upmanship, often seeking to position itself in places of power above–not equal to–men.

These, in short, are the things I simply cannot get behind.

But, you may say, “Feminism is so much more than that!”

Yes! I agree!

Contemporary feminism is also fighting for:
– comprehensive sex ed
– better maternity and postpartum care
– an end to sex and domestic-worker trafficking
– stronger support systems for low-income mothers
– educational opportunities around the world
– help for victims of domestic and sexual abuse
– equal pay for equal work
and so much more.

And, trust me, I do get angsty about women’s issues like these. I am a woman, after all. And a mother. And I want to help build a just and equitable world for myself and my daughters. But I likely disagree with many of my feminist peers about how a just and equitable world is accomplished. Insofar as the feminist agenda revolves around dismantling the nuclear family, redefining womanhood, and dodging motherhood, I will always be an outsider. Mostly by choice.

 

The expectations and limitations of womanhood are complicated and, apparently, extra difficult for people like me. My thoughts on womanhood have evolved significantly since I was a kid, but there is still a lot of my younger Anti-Girl self left inside. Maybe that will always be my most honest expression of womanhood. Maybe not.

My hope is that I move closer and closer to reconciling those two parts of me–the awkward young woman, desperate for attention and affection, and my beliefs about modesty and Biblical womanhood. Because, though I may not raise my daughters as “feminists,” I am raising them to be women. And I am preparing them to embody more than the modern narrative of womanhood that is reduced to power struggles, sex, fashion, and gossip.

Hopefully, they will have it a little easier than I did.
Hopefully, we will have a better world awaiting them when they get there.

 

 

 

 

 

*Footnote: I do not believe that all people must marry and have children, nor that every sexual encounter much be procreative. But I do believe that monogamous sex and fruitful marriages are the paradigm for family structure and a foundation of society.

**Footnote: I do not believe infertility makes a woman less of a “woman,” by definition.

***Footnote: I do believe that there absolutely exist evil men who hate women. But I do not believe that these men are mounting a conspiracy against women. Nor do I believe that Patriarchy is an evil in and of itself.

 

A Life In Books

Two weeks ago, I stole away to ignore the Superbowl and eat dinner alone (!!!) while reading my new book club book. (Any introvert mother knows how valuable time like that is.)

While basking in the beauty of being alone to eat a meal and drink a glass of wine, reading my new book made me reflect back on all the good books I’ve read along the way and how significant a part of my life they’ve been.

Truth is: I don’t remember reading much as a child. And I know that, in high school, I completely faked my way through every book report required. Growing up as a “church kid,” I did read the Bible a lot, and lots of pop Christian literature. But, I don’t remember many specific books before college.

What you’ve read and what you’re reading tells me a lot about who you are. A stranger’s bookshelf is one of the quickest views into his heart and mind. Maybe you’re not a big reader. Maybe you’re not a collector of books. But you’ve probably read something somewhere that made a difference in your life–something that changed your mind, saved your life, or helped shape who you are.

I tried to think back on the books that have made me who I am and came up with 15 titles. These aren’t necessary my favorite books (books I could read over and over again) and they aren’t necessary books I still find as compelling (or still agree with), but they are the books that entered my life at just the right time and, literally, changed me.

In chronological order of when I read them (with quotes when I felt necessary):

 

 

Ragamuffin Gospel– Brennan Manning

When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.

To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means. As Thomas Merton put it, “A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God.”

The gospel of grace nullifies our adulation of televangelists, charismatic superstars, and local church heroes. It obliterates the two-class citizenship theory operative in many American churches. For grace proclaims the awesome truth that all is gift. All that is good is ours not by right but by the sheer bounty of a gracious God. While there is much we may have earned–our degree and our salary, our home and garden, a Miller Lite and a good night’s sleep–all this is possible only because we have been given so much: life itself, eyes to see and hands to touch, a mind to shape ideas, and a heart to beat with love. We have been given God in our souls and Christ in our flesh. We have the power to believe where others deny, to hope where others despair, to love where others hurt. This and so much more is sheer gift; it is not reward for our faithfulness, our generous disposition, or our heroic life of prayer. Even our fidelity is a gift, “If we but turn to God,” said St. Augustine, “that itself is a gift of God.”

My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.

A People’s History of the United States– Howard Zinn

The cry of the poor is not always just, but if you don’t listen to it, you will never know what justice is.

The Pursuit of God– A W Tozer

O God, be thou exalted over my possessions. Nothing of earth’s treasures shall seem dear unto me if only thou art glorified in my life. Be thou exalted over my friendships. I am determined that thou shalt be above all, though I must stand deserted and alone in the midst of the earth. Be thou exalted above my comforts. Though it mean the loss of bodily comforts and the carrying of heavy crosses, I shall keep my vow made this day before thee. Be thou exalted over my reputation. Make me ambitious to please thee even if as a result I must sink into obscurity and my name be forgotten as a dream. Rise, O Lord, into thy proper place of honor, above my ambitions, above my likes and dislikes, above my family, my health, and even my life itself. Let me decrease that thou mayest increase; let me sink that thou mayest rise above. Ride forth upon me as thou didst ride into Jerusalem mounted upon the humble little beast, a colt, the foal of an ass, and let me hear the children cry to thee, “Hosanna in the highest.” In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Into The Wild– John Krakauer

No Compromise: The Life Story of Keith Green– Melody Green

Till We Have Faces– C S Lewis

When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you’ll not talk about the joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?

I And Thou– Martin Buber

Godric– Frederick Buechner

What’s prayer? It’s shooting shafts into the dark. What mark they strike, if any, who’s to say? It’s reaching for a hand you cannot touch. The silence is so fathomless that prayers like plummets vanish into the sea. You beg. You whimper. You load God down with empty praise. You tell him sins that he already knows full well. You seek to change his changeless will. Yet Godric prays the way he breathes, for else his heart would wither in his breast. Prayer is the wind that fills his sail. Else drift with witless tides. And sometimes, by God’s grace, a prayer is heard.

Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Politics of Jesus– John Howard Yoder

Telling The Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale– Frederick Buechner

Switching on the lectern light and clearing his throat, the preacher speaks both the word of tragedy and the word of comedy because they are both of them of the truth and because Jesus speaks them both, blessed be he. The preacher tells the truth by speaking of the visible absence of God because if he doesn’t see and own up to the absence of God in the world, then he is the only one there who doesn’t see it, and who then is going to take him seriously when he tries to make real what he claims also to see as the invisible presence of God in the world? Sin and grace, absence and presence, tragedy and comedy, they divide the world between them and where they meet head on, the Gospel happens. Let the preacher preach the Gospel of their preposterous meeting as the high, unbidden, hilarious thing it is.

Crunchy Cons– Rod Dreher

A CRUNCHY CON MANIFESTO
1. We are conservatives who stand outside the conservative mainstream; therefore, we can see things that matter more clearly.
2. Modern conservatism has become too focused on money, power, and the accumulation of stuff, and insufficiently concerned with the content of our individual and social character.
3. Big business deserves as much skepticism as big government.
4. Culture is more important than politics and economics.
5. A conservatism that does not practice restraint, humility, and good stewardship—especially of the natural world—is not fundamentally conservative.
6. Small, Local, Old, and Particular are almost always better than Big, Global, New, and Abstract.
7. Beauty is more important than efficiency.
8. The relentlessness of media-driven pop culture deadens our senses to authentic truth, beauty, and wisdom.
9. We share Russell Kirk’s conviction that “the institution most essential to conserve is the family.”

Last Child in the Woods– Richard Louv

Time in nature is not leisure time; it’s an essential investment in our children’s health (and also, by the way, in our own).

Let Me Be A Woman– Elisabeth Elliot

It is a naive sort of feminism that insists that women prove their ability to do all the things that men do. This is a distortion and a travesty. Men have never sought to prove that they can do all the things women do. Why subject women to purely masculine criteria? Women can and ought to be judged by the criteria of femininity, for it is in their femininity that they participate in the human race. And femininity has its limitations. So has masculinity. That is what we’ve been talking about. To do this is not to do that. To be this is not to be that. To be a woman is not to be a man. To be married is not to be single – which may mean not to have a career. To marry this man is not to marry all the others. A choice is a limitation.

Sidewalks In The Kingdom: New Urbanism And the Christian Faith– Eric O Jacobsen

(W)e of all people have a deep history of interest in the city, rooted in our biblical tradition. … When John (the evangelist), exiled on Patmos, is given a picture of our redeemed state, he does not see Eden restored in some kind of agrarian utopia; not does he see the American ideal of a single-family detached house surrounded by a huge yard for every inhabitant of the kingdom. What he sees is a city — New Jerusalem descending from heaven onto earth.

The Season of Perpetual Motherhood

My oldest child will turn 8 next month (!!). I had a daughter 2.5 years later. Another daughter 2 years after that. And I’m due to have another son any day (any moment) now.

In all, I’ve spent about 8.5 years pregnant and breastfeeding, physically connected in one way or another to children who are dependent on me as their primary caregiver. Yes, I’ve worked part-time during most of those years and I have spent a few hours away from them a few days a week. But, practically speaking, motherhood and its demands and responsibilities have been my primary vocation for 8.5 years. With my new baby’s arrival imminent, I can count on at least 2 more years of the same.

I am 34 years old and this is my season of (what sometimes seems like) perpetual motherhood.

Definition time: By “perpetual motherhood,” I mean the willingness to continue in a constant state of pregnancy and child-rearing as one’s primary role and responsibility, in contrast with women who “take a few years off” from their lives and careers to have one or two kids before returning to other responsibilities.

Life update: A few months ago, I quit my “day job.”

As a matter of principal, I’ve never worked full-time since my first child was born. But, the economics of our family situation being what they were, I was blessed (100x blessed) to already be in a job with an organization that valued me enough to allow me the flexibility to transition into a super part-time role. Once I got pregnant with Baby #4, I knew that the logistics of my job were going to be impossible to juggle and I finally took the leap into official unemployment. (Which isn’t even honestly true since I work as a freelance writer from home.)

Specifics aside, the past few months since my transition out of work have forced a lot of difficult soul-searching about this season of life and about how it has grown and challenged me. It’s still new to me and I haven’t finished processing it all, but I’m 40+ weeks pregnant and feeling bold enough to share.

The truth about perpetual motherhood is that

It’s isolating.

In the 21st Century, I don’t have all that many peers. I don’t blame other women for not wanting to choose this road with me, but I sometimes feel like I’m an island in a sea of moms who paid their full-time mothering dues for a few years, but have moved past this season into more interesting and exciting things–even if that’s just more time alone or with others, without their kids. I, conversely, spend almost 100% of my time in the company of young children. And it’s surprisingly lonely.

It’s hard to make and keep friends.

I may talk up being an introvert an awful lot, but being an introvert means less about “liking people” and more about desiring close, meaningful relationships rather than casual ones. Being an introverted mother means sometimes feeling physically smothered by children who you truly enjoy and love desperately but who simply cannot (and should not) meet your mental and emotional needs. But it means not having the social energy to pursue the relationships you desire with other women, especially those in a different season of life than you.

And it’s hard to connect with your husband.

Parenting together is the most amazing and frustrating task a couple can undertake. Watching the man you love become a father is like watching a new part of him come to life. And it’s fantastic. But it’s not enough. My husband and I have spent nearly all of our married life with children. And those first few years were rough in ways we never acknowledged until recently. Learning to connect as “us” before “us with kids” is really, really important and, if you never really have enough time to make it happen before you’re “with kids,” then it’s even harder to make it happen after the fact. Especially when you keep adding kids to the picture and you have to start all over again with each new baby.

Choosing motherhood requires much more personal sacrifice than I anticipated.

The world of business executive husbands and nannies aside, most of the perpetual mothers I know have given up an awful lot for their decisions. They sacrifice careers (along with their income potential and financial independence). They give up their bodily autonomy and self-care for the sake of carrying and caring for babies. They lay aside creative aspirations, life goals, and dreams of worldly success. They give up time with their husbands who often work longer and harder and more so their wives won’t need to. They give up yearly vacations and extravagant gifts and $75 steaks because they’ve re-negotiated wants vs. needs. And, whether these children come by birth or by fostering or adopting, these parents have already reconciled one fact: this is not a temporary situation. This is the life we’ve chosen.

And it’s impossible to ask for, or expect, sympathy.

No one forced me to do this. It was our decision to have kids right away. To have four of them. My decision to breastfeed them for what seems like forever. To homeschool. To quit my job. To live an urban lifestyle we can’t really afford. To support my husband’s decision to work for a non-profit rather than make big bucks elsewhere. (Etc.)

I chose this life because I believe it is good for my kids and valuable work for me and the best for our family. I never expected it to be easy. (Geez, can you imagine the disappointment that would have caused!?)

I am not a victim and I don’t need sympathy.

But I also wish I didn’t feel so alone in my decision. Invalidated by a culture that sees motherhood as a job you take on the side. Left behind by my peers. Isolated from other moms who are living similar lives, like islands, alone with their gaggles of children.

 

 

I know a lot of awesome moms who have made very different decisions than me for very good reasons. And, here in the thick of things, I can understand why they would. I may not agree with a woman’s decision to be a “career mom,” but I know for a fact that it is a hard decision and carries a lot of difficult implications, as well.

All good moms see themselves as “full-time moms” even when they have other roles and responsibilities. Child-rearing is hard work, whether it’s with two or twelve kids, whether it’s your full-time “job” or something you share with a babysitter or their father or their elementary school. So, there’s just simply no way to compare our lives equitably. At least not in a way that truly validates the role of motherhood in the way it deserves to be validated for all moms.

(Career moms are not victims, either, and they don’t need my sympathy.)

 

 

Some days of constant mothering leave me wondering when I’ll get back a little bit of what I gave up for this life and hoping there are some “golden years” awaiting me once my kids are grown that will help make up for the years I’ve given. But, at the end of the day, and at the end of my life, I don’t believe I could ever regret this decision.

These children in my home are more than projects to take up a few years’ of my time until I move on to bigger things. They are little people, after all. Little people with all the hopes and dreams and potential in the world. If training them up is not the most important job in the world, I can’t imagine what would be. (Thankless, exhausting, and isolating as that job may sometimes be.)

Cheer up, perpetual moms.
Even if this season is lonely, you are not alone.

Our Favorite Free Range Kids Books

And now, for something completely different…

Since Christmas is right around the corner and you’re likely shopping for gifts, I’d like to share some of our favorite children’s books.

It just so happens that many of our favorite books have a common theme of “free range kids” or, as they used to call them: kids.

You know, the kind of kids who are full of wild ideas and are super creative and curious and who spend time by themselves doing wild and creative things.

Andrew Henry’s Meadow and The Summerfolk, Doris Burn

Roxaboxen, Alice McLerran and Barbara Cooney

The Snowy Day, Ezra Jack Keats

Blueberries for Sal, Robert McCloskey

Oh, Were They Ever Happy and Bored, Nothing to Do, Peter Spier

A Walk In The Woods, Christin Couture (currently out of print)

The Railway Children or The Book of Dragons, Edith Nesbit

 

 

 

So if you’re looking for a great gift for your kids this Christmas, a book that you’ll enjoy reading as much as they will, check one of these out.