Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Where I can enjoy waiting

(A guest post by Steve Schuler for this sixth day of Lent).

Home is where I can enjoy waiting.

Dial-up internet was a blessing in disguise. As a poor graduate student working at home, I found myself waiting in front of the computer screen for half a minute each time a page loaded. I wished the wait-time were either shorter or longer. If it were longer, I could at least read a couple pages of a book in the interim. But the wait time was just short enough to be annoying. One day I noticed that my wife had left her Irish tin whistle on the desk. So as I waited for a page to load, I picked it up and blew a couple notes. The instrument was simple enough, having just six holes to master. Soon I found myself sitting in front of the computer with the tin whistle and an old hymnal, playing one or two verses while I waited for each page to load.

That was the beginning of my realization that home is a place where I can enjoy waiting.

In my own house, if I am waiting for a telephone call or for a pot to boil, I can walk over to my workbench and sharpen a dull tool, or I can pick up a magazine and finish reading an article I had put aside. There’s no pressure to do such things. They are merely available to me whenever I have a few spare moments. While waiting for my children to get shoes or jackets on, I can pull a weed or two in the yard, or I can sit on the steps and admire the trees across the street.

In my office, when I am waiting to leave for the classroom or waiting to be picked up if my wife has the car, I can organize papers or browse through book reviews to see what I might like to order for the library. I can also brew a fresh cup of coffee, put my feet up on a chair, and and just think. At my parents’ house, which is not the house I grew up in, I can wait without pressure. I can always flip through one an old photo album, or in fine weather I can simply lie on my back in the grass and watch the sky.

My oldest daughter waiting in the yard.

In places I call home, I can wait without agitation or anxiety. That’s not to say I always do wait patiently at home, but patience is usually easier at home than it is elsewhere. At home, it is always possible to enjoy waiting.

Naturally, there are places in which waiting is sheer tedium—in the checkout line, in the mechanic’s waiting room, in the dentist’s chair. Such experiences can be endured, but not enjoyed. I may have brought a book to read or have found an interesting person with whom to chat, but these are diversions from the otherwise unpleasant experience of waiting away from home. There are also places where I do not (yet) feel at home, such as the homes of some relatives, or my church building. When I have to wait in these places, there is something of an aimless vacancy, a suspension of mental activity, that seems inevitable even if I have a means to occupy myself. Waiting in such places is not unpleasant, and I may even be relatively comfortable, but it is hard not to become agitated while waiting, though I am hard pressed to say exactly why.

Good things come of waiting at home. I have kept abreast of books being published in my field, my front yard has gotten weeded, most of my edge tools have remained sharp, and I eventually progressed from the tin whistle to the tenor recorder and have become competent enough to accompany my wife and father in recorder trios playing Handel and Bach.

Steve Schuler lives with his wife and children in southern Alabama, and he is an English professor at the University of Mobile. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Reflections on Home

(Guest Post by Dave and Mandy McNeely for Day 4 of Lent)

Homemaking, especially the kind involving two people, is a curious and sometimes frustrating tri-blend of past, present, and future.  

When we married, we brought with us two different experiences of home. Mandy comes from a family in which her parents are divorced, and Dave’s parents are still happily married. Mandy is an only-child, and Dave is the eldest of three, with two younger sisters. As you can imagine, these differences, as well as many others, have shaped our expectations about what “home is.”
In the present, our sense of home is often defined and shaped by the many little acts of tedium that create a family life - who will take out the trash? who will do the dishes this time? who cooks? who mows the grass? who wakes up with the kids in the middle of the night? and on an on..becoming more holy in our search to find worth amid those small tasks; joy in the labor of being home to one another.

But we are equally in the gravitational pull of a future home whose quality of life guides us forward, a home where the restless find rest, the stranger finds a name, and the hurting find healing.  With the stories we carry, the small unnoticed acts we perform, and the various lives we are learning to welcome in, we continue to crawl toward that blessed light.

Inspired by an idea she had seen on Pinterest (who isn’t, these days?), Mandy posed the possibility of taking one of the walls in our living room and creating an ever-changing work of art. We would use paint-pens to write or draw what the word Home means to us, and to anyone else in our community.

Rather than just name home, we wanted to create home.  With that in mind, we invited over three good friends who had been experiencing the confusion and pain of their own troubled homes for a sleep-over.  If nothing else, we wanted them to know that their homes were more than just the houses where they had experienced division, dissension, and doubt.  That their homes extended beyond blood into the deeper waters of baptism.  That they would always be a part of our family and they would always share a home with us.

That evening, in the midst of the lifelong work of homemaking, we began the much less arduous journey of creating a testimony to the many senses of home that are shaping our own.  One by one, each hand added their own domestically-existential signature, creating the kind of home that can only be crafted through the diversity of penstrokes that grace our wall and our lives even now.  

Our wall has now become a reflection of the home we’ve made and the home we’re still striving to make - graced by the fingerprints of so many stories that are blending into a beautiful mosaic, the many colors bleeding into one.  Our home is full of mistakes that are embraced rather than scorned, full of pretentiousness that has room to be laughed at, and full of longings that we are living into together.

And it’s more than a wall; it’s a foundation.

Mandy and Dave McNeely live in Jefferson City, TN, where they spend their days welcoming God's Kingdom through their two beautiful boys, their teaching, their dancing (well, her dancing), and their attempts to love the person in front of them at any given moment.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Place That I've Left Behind

(Guest Post by Brooke Reich for Day 2 of Lent

Home is a place that I've left behind, that I'll never quite recapture. Home is beside my husband, facing a new and unknown future.

Home is a 12 x 12 foot box with three windows, a desk, a computer and much work to be done. Home is a good book. Home is supper simmering on the stove, sleepy blue eyes over a coffee cup in morning light, four swishing tails and eight pairs of overly-curious, frisky paws. Home is wrapped under blankets, warmed by the man I chose so well.

Home is a place I've left behind, that I'm constantly leaving behind. Home is a bond that I've severed. Home is a hand I once held. Home is the person I used to be. Home is constant frenetic energy, and trying to keep up. Home is trying so hard to more, be better, be enough. Home is a grand gathering, loud voices, lots of laughter, and constant demands. Home is a tight hug after a long, honest cry.

Home is a place that I've left behind, that I'm constantly leaving behind. And home is a place I'm returning to. Home is the person I want to be, the person I'm becoming. Home is open arms, open eyes, and an open heart. Home is moving forward, and sometimes looking wistfully back. Home is beside my husband, the man I chose so well, looking out at a brilliant and unknown future. Home is a great, big, wide world to explore and to make my own. Home is risking and loving, and learning to be unselfish but still maintain my Self. Home is wholeness and healing and tearing down walls. Home is looking at myself, honestly, and not always liking what I see. Home is being loved and challenged, held and pushed. Home is reaching out a hand. Home is being led and being lost.

Home is a place I've left behind, that I'm constantly leaving behind. And home is the place I am always returning to. Home is always right here - wherever You are - wherever I AM.

Brooke Reich is a Texas girl transplanted to the pine-studded coastal plains of northeastern North Carolina. Wife, daughter, sister, friend. Writer, reader, dreamer, seeker. Blogger at

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday

Back stairs at Calvary Baptist Church, Washington, D.C.

(Day 1 of Lent)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Longing for Lent

Lent is not typically a season people approach with glee, but I am very, very excited about this season of repentance and preparation. Much of my excitement comes from the fact that my dissertation defense will be on Ash Wednesday; I have been joking that I intend to fast from my dissertation during Lent.  More seriously, I believe that Lent will be a beautiful time for me to repent of the past year's worries, and to cleanse and re-order the rooms of my soul. 

I have a number of ideas about what to relinquish for Lent this year, but one very important one involves this blog. Between my dissertation and my job applications, this past year has been very much about my words, my work, my anxieties, my achievements.  I have learned more than I can say--more than I realize, no doubt--from these processes, but as Lent approaches, I am ready for a fast from my own words and stories.  Professionally, I cannot take forty days off from writing about my own ideas, but in this more personal endeavor, I can afford to rest from posts that are almost entirely  self-reflective. 

This fast will take two forms. First, I will literally relinquish most of my words by offering pictures that capture an aspect of "home" in its many forms.  Next, while my regular posts come almost exclusively from my own experiences, I want to feature the words of others. This is where you, dear reader, become a crucial collaborator. I have made a form (below) for you to submit your own thoughts on what makes a place, season, church, or person "home." Inspired in part by my friends' project (which I first described here), I encourage you to complete the sentence, "Home is......"  You can tackle this question in a literal sense (Home is Texas. Home is where my books are. Home is where I go for supper.) or a more spiritual or abstract sense (Home is where I am known. Home is where my sister is.).  Write as much or as little as you like.  I would also be delighted if you sent me pictures of your homes and harbors.  You can submit pictures to my email (bethanyjoybear [at] gmail [dot] com), and I will be sure to give you credit.

I am eager to explore the rich silences and sweet disciplines of Lent, and I hope you will help me.

Friday, February 17, 2012

In Transit

If I didn't know better, I would think the transportation industry has some sort of conspiracy to throw my travel plans off schedule.  I left my hotel before five o'clock this morning, only to find at the airport that my flight (scheduled to depart at half past six) would be delayd by two hours. However, today's delay is far less stressful than my long and strange day waiting for the train at Christmas.  In fact, I'm rather thankful for the respite. This has been a whirlwind week and a whirlwind month, and I have had very little time to reflect on the wind and the flurry.

Last week I submitted my full dissertation to my committee.  Next week (on Ash Wednesday, in fact), my committee and I will meet for my oral defense of the dissertation. This week I traveled for an on-campus job interview for a very exciting position.

Written out, those words seem small, but each event is the culmination of months and years of work and waiting. I can hardly believe that only the oral defense remains. I am exhausted and bewildered and thrilled.  Even as I sit here in a Gulf-Coast airport, I'm not troubled by the uncertain schedule. Travel disruptions in December became an emblem for the waiting that seemed to characterize every area of my life. Today, this delay gives me time to pause, drink a cup of tea, and remember that I am headed home in more ways than one.

What are you doing on this early Friday morning?