Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Moving In

1984 - My first experience moving in to a new home.

In addition to being on the move this summer (from Texas to Indiana, Indiana to Kentucky, Indiana to Texas, and next, Texas to China), I have been moving households, as well. Before my time-with-parents-cum-dissertation-month in Indiana, I moved out of my sweet riverside apartment. Last night, I moved into my new home.  

I began this blog because questions about home have been haunting me since college.  Those questions had grown acute once again last fall. Although I have felt at home in Texas for several years, I still live in a world of academic pilgrims and wanderers.  It is natural in a college town, a college church, and a college campus, that friends will come and go steadily.  Last fall, however, I realized that in the summer of 2011 I would witness a particularly hard exodus of friends from Texas.

My heart was heavy with these thoughts one night in late October as I shared dinner with Grant and Jennifer. Both have been friends of mine for most of my time in Waco, and last August they became husband and wife.  Even before they were married, Grant and Jennifer each had an instinct for hospitality, and I had spent many happy hours in their company.  On this particular warm autumn evening, I was particularly grateful for being invited to their table, even though I wasn't feeling very convivial. 

I didn't mention this sadness to my friends, but after dinner, Jenn and Grant began to discuss the house they were about to buy, and the reasons the house attracted them: it was in an old neighborhood, had hardwood floors, a lovely kitchen, and a sizable backyard with enormous pecan trees. It was also large enough, they said, that it would be possible for people to live with them. The last owners of the house, a young married couple, had let two single women share the large back bedroom.

At this point, Jenn asked me what I would be doing when Adrienne graduated.
"Oh, find another roommate, I suppose," I said, trying not to sound as mopey as I felt.

"Well," said Jenn, "We've been talking about the idea of having someone live with us, but you know, it's hard to know. Some people can be good friends and not do well living together. But others...."

The next thing I knew, we were having the first of many conversations about the possibility of me moving in with Grant and Jennifer. On that first night, neither they nor I were sure it would work, but as we talked, prayed, and planned over the next two months, we grew more certain that this idea was worth trying. When Jenn began saying, "Well, we thought we might paint the front bedroom purple -- you like purple, don't you, Bethany?" I realized that we had decided. Early this spring, we sat down together to plan finances and sketch out a garden. In May, I moved scores of boxes into their attic. Last night, Jenn picked me up from the train station and brought me home. 

This new home excites me for many reasons. First, living here is a strange thing to do, and Strange Things provoke people to ask important questions.  It isn't typical in twenty-first century America for a single woman to live with a married couple, especially when she is neither sister nor daughter, mother, aunt, or any other recognized relation. The reactions people have had to our plan have reminded me that we are undertaking a curious experiment.  Several people have asked if I am in difficult financial straits, and many more have made rather vague comments about the idea being "nice," just as people will sometimes mumble lukewarm accolades over a picture of an unattractive baby.  The people who know all three of us well, however, have been as enthusiastic as we are. "Of course you should!" my mother said when I first mentioned the idea. "You'll make things so beautiful!' said Margaret.

This certainly won't be the first time I have lived with other people, but I'm nearly past the age when roommates seem normal.  College roommates last until graduation, and it is common enough for twenty-somethings to live with friends until, for example, one of them gets married, but those arrangements are often still treated as something that is still a step shy of real adulthood. Moving in with Grant and Jenn isn't exactly "settling down"-- I'll probably leave Waco when I finish my degree--but it is a different kind of situation. It feels either very old-fashioned or very Bohemian to live with married friends.

We are making this choice, however, neither for the sake of tradition or transgression.  We are going to live together because our faith teaches us that friendship in Christ doesn't need to fit into normal pictures of home and life together. We are going to live together because we want to see how something as mundane as living arrangements can provide a glimpse of the Kingdom. I doubt there is a Hallmark card precisely suited to this occasion. Thanks be to God for that.

Here are some of the reasons I’m excited for this season with Grant and Jenn:

-- Already old friends, we will share one another’s joys and sorrow in new ways.

--I will be able to "fast" from many of my possessions.  Many of the things I sometimes mistake for home--a bookshelf, a soup spoon, a tea pot--are already packed away in the attic.  Resting from some of the cares and distractions of ownership will free my attention for other things, especially as I finish my dissertation over the next year.

-- I will be able to walk to church again.

-- We will cook for one another and share more meals than we each eat alone.

-- From watching Grant and Jennifer, I will learn more about the wisdom and challenges of a Christian marriage. 

-- We each have quite different personalities, and it will be good to see the world through one another's eyes.

--I will remember that freedom--to pack up my house, to move in with friends--is one of my greatest resources at this stage of my life.

As we begin this time together, I hope you will pray for our endeavor:

--Pray that we do not mistake proximity for intentionality. Ironically, I have often found that living near or with friends makes it easier to take one another for granted.  It is dangerous to assume that quality time will "naturally" happen if people live together. Pray that we will be good stewards of the time we have together.

--Pray that we will communicate clearly and often, so that we can quickly address any conflict, worry or discomfort.

--Pray that together we might practice hospitality to others with enriched imagination and courage.

--Pray that our time together will be witness (even if a strange one) to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Do you have any suggestions or advice for my friends and I as we live together? Have you ever been part of a household that did not fit the status quo in your culture?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Songs for the Train

I've scheduled this to post as I travel back to Texas on the train. In honor of my journey, here are two songs and a picture that might help you feel you are traveling south with me.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Leaving Home

In a few hours, I will board a Texas-bound train in St. Louis.  For more than a month I have been enjoying some time in my first and longest home. I'm not particularly sentimental about Indiana, but I do love the house I grew up in, and after five years in Texas, I love a place where the rains fall heavy in June.  Since I first left home for college, sharing this place with friends has been one of my quietest joys. If you were here, we would work at the dining room table, then go for a walk under the old trees, and end our day on the porch together. This is a good place. This is home.

A place where words are gathered and sent with care.

A place where someone brings me flowers as I work.
A place with room for friends.

A place where naps are encouraged.

A place we pray.

A place I must leave.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

All Things Bright and Beautiful

Photo by David Hiser

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.

Lydia turned, watching my face as I whispered the words of the hymn.  Not yet two months old, she lay on her back, listening more quietly than some college students I have known. As I read, I kept my hands on her, caressing her plump arms and belly in rhythm with the words.  Such a small creature, yet already so bright and beautiful.  
Lydia is the firstborn of two dear college friends, Mark and Moriah, and I spent this past weekend staying with them.  As I read to Lydia, her daddy and I were crouched on either side of her.  Moriah had already gone to bed, and Mark and I, having failed to put the baby to sleep through rocking, walking, or swaddling, were now on the floor with her, delighting in all her wonderful newness.
The beauty of the night’s wise darkness, the child’s small form, and my friend’s bright eyes all filled my heart. I kept reading. Some joys can only be whispered.
Lydia will not remember that one sweet night in June, her father and I knelt alongside her, listening to the words of a poet who knew that God “made all things well.” She may never know the stories of my friendship with her parents: the days Mark, Keith, Rachel, Mari and I spent rambling through New England, the pumpkins we carved in Moriah’s apartment, the prayers I joined on their wedding day. Nor will she have any conscious recollection of these earliest days in her own home.  She will not remember the way the sun shines on the grass in the yard, or the gentle curves in the road to their house.  She cannot yet count the number of times her parents say, “I love you,” and they may read a hundred books to her before she is able to call one back to her mind.  As I read about “Each little flower that opens, / Each little bird that sings,” I realized that she will probably not remember the very first flower she sees, or the first bird with its tiny wings.
We often think of home as a place where we have good memories, but since visiting my friends and meeting their daughter, I have been marveling at the thought of how much we do not know.  Home, no matter how small, is a place where a thousand beautiful things lie hidden from us.  What words did Moriah’s mother speak over her cradle? How many friends calmed Mark’s tears when he was too young to know them? How many beautiful days dawned and set before I could tell one from another?
 Even as we grow, we see through such a dark glass, and the lens of our memory is clouded, too. One of my fancies about heaven is that we might be taught to remember all the beautiful things we missed while we lived on earth.  Perhaps when we are at home within eternity, we will remember the words that love whispered on our earliest days, days when all things bright and beautiful first kindled our longing for home. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Where Nothing is Wasted, or Why My Mother is Awesome

“Waste dishonors the poor.” 
Her example also encourages
me to lead a life of empowered whimsy.
My mother is a woman of adamantine principles.  She does not shop in grocery stores that sell alcohol; as a campus minister, she has seen too many young lives ruined by reckless drinking. She does not buy wares made in China in protest of their human rights violations, and as a fast to remind her to pray for that nation. She does not shop in bookstores that sell Playboy or anything like it, because those periodicals contribute to the objectification of women. When I was a child, these practices affected how our household entered the marketplace, and her example has encouraged me to live a life of conviction. 
 My mother's war against waste, however, is even more integral to my understanding of home. Home is a place where nothing is wasted. My mother and father’s determination to be wise stewards of their resources impresses me anew each time I come home to them.  Looking around the house I grew up in, I can point out many signs of holy thrift. 
-- No air conditioning. In the twenty-seven years my parents have lived in this house, they have never had air conditioning. In addition to saving lots of money and electricity, this lack made the changing of the seasons a reality I could always feel on my skin. It also added a little redemptive suffering to a childhood full of otherwise-carefree summers. 
--In the entire house (a modest 1920s bungalow with three bedrooms and 2 bathrooms), I can think of only three pieces of furniture my parents bought new. Most of the furniture and appliances (as well as clothes, housewares, etc) came from yard sales, thrift stores, or dumpsters. 
-- When Mama decides the dining room chairs need to be recovered, she does it with fabric remnants and a staple gun.
Who needs buttons, anyway?
-- The television in the living room is missing most of its buttons.  The TV was given to us by friends from church nearly twenty years ago. My parents have a remote control, but those broken buttons are an emblem of the way my parents refuse to cast things away lightly.  
-- My mother loves dumpster-diving. (She’s not as bad as these people, though we have been laughing together over the clip).  I see every salvaged lamp or chair as a challenge to the Way of the World, and as a picture of redemption.
-- On her bookshelf, you can find volumes I, II, and III of The Tightwad Gazette.
-- Any time my mother goes for a walk (and she prayer walks for an hour each morning with another lady from church), she collects aluminum cans.  When she has enough, she takes the cans to the scrap yard in and gives the money to Baptist Collegiate Ministry's world hunger offering. 
These are just a few of the ways my mother attempts to make good use of what God has given her. The really beautiful thing about my mother’s absurd wisdom is that she does all this because she is, from heart-core to finger-tips, a minister of the Gospel. She saves because waste dishonors the poor. She saves so she can give. She saves so my parents can do their work as campus ministers, providing pastoral care, counseling, Bible studies, worship, missions opportunities, and mentorship to college students for almost thirty years. 
During this visit, I have found myself newly thankful for the lessons of a home in which nothing is wasted. Now that I am an adult and see the way so many people use their money, time, and resources, my mother seems even more extraordinary. I qualified for reduced lunches during most of my school years, yet Mama and Daddy managed to pay off the mortgage on this house in twenty years. Because of their example, I find myself, at 27, a year away from finishing a PhD, having never had a penny of debt. I want the freedom that my parents have had for so long -- the freedom to look for God’s work and rush to join it, regardless of the pay scale. 
Much groovier than anything
at Hobby Lobby
Banishing waste not only gives my parents the freedom to do the work to which they have been called, but also enables generosity. At its best, a home should teach its children about God, and I learned a lot about God’s providence from my mother’s watchful gathering and saving.  One summer, I remarked, “I’d like to learn to can salsa.” Within ten minutes, she had produced a dented but serviceable canner from the basement, several glass jars, and a box of canning lids. Tomatoes and peppers came from the garden. This summer, I mentioned that I have begun to sew regularly, and need more thread. A spool of thread generally costs between $2 and $4 new, making sewing a potentially expensive hobby.  Instead of driving to the craft store, she and I spent a happy hour going through the boxes of thread she has purchased on clearance, gleaned from relatives, and found at yard sales over the years. I’ll be returning to Texas with a rainbow of threads (as well as a groovy avocado green spool case she found in her work room). If I come to my mother with good desires, desires shaped by the home she built, she has what I need, and gives it freely. 
Nor do they give only to me, their only child. In a thousand ways, they share their money, time, goods, closets, vegetables, and wisdom with those who need it.   
Hard at work in her beautiful home.
And yes, that is a map of Narnia on the wall.
In the coming year, however, my parents will learn new forms of God’s providence. After nearly three decades of faithful work in campus ministry, my parents will no longer have an income after the first of the year.  For many years a significant portion of their income has come from the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board (NAMB), but NAMB is cutting much of its giving to Indiana, and so the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana has eliminated all of its jointly-funded missionary positions, including six campus ministry jobs.  God, however, hasn’t finished his work on the college campuses of Indiana, and my parents don’t plan on leaving. If they plan on eating, and on keeping the lights on in their house, they will need to couple their thrift with the money of people who will commit to support them and their ministry.  If you are looking for a place to send part of your tithe or offering, click to visit Please Feed the Bears and learn how you can give. 
And I can assure you that no matter how much you give, none of it will be wasted. 

Addendum: Mama didn't know I was writing this blog, but after I told her about it, she said I should mention that her life verse 1 Corinthians 15:58: "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord."
She said that as much as she would hate for a cup of flour or a chair to be wasted, it would be far more terrible to come to the end of one's life and find that it had been wasted. Not wasting her material goods means she need not live in fear of wasting her spiritual gifts.

What principles or values from your parents continue to inspire you?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Back Home Again in Indiana

Between packing up and moving out, taking a train from Texas to Indiana, and scrambling to finish a draft of my first dissertation chapter, I've been a bit preoccupied for the last two weeks.  However, I have several posts planned from my Hoosier homeland (my childhood home, though not my birthplace).  Tonight, a bit of nostalgia.

Earlier this year, I posted some reflections on gardens as a way of understanding home, and I included one of my favorite pictures -- a snapshot of my father with me in his garden, sometime around 1987, when he was a trim 30-something, and I was a wee wisp of a girl. More than twenty years later, we decided we needed an updated version.

Squinting against the sun in 1987. I wish my father still wore those shoes.

Still squinting in 2011. I'm smiling goofily here, but I promise I was happy.

Tonight, I'm thankful that this house is still home, even more thankful for the people in it, and glad to see my father's garden still grows.  What makes you grateful today?