Category Archives: Family Life

{Practicing Benedict} A post about monks and errands and eating

“Any who are sent on an errand which will allow them to return to the monastery on the same day must not eat outside, in spite of pressing invitations whatever their source, unless the superior has approved this..” (The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 51)

Oh, the errands! There are the errands and the falling asleep babies and the boy who wants to walk beside the cart even though you think of a million reasons to convince him that the cart is so much cooler. Oh, to contain him! Especially in Target, where he knows the location of every possible Cars 2 toy and has touched every button on them four times in the past five minutes. How many times can you say, “Wow, you love that? Well, maybe you can save your quarters for it.”
Errands: What can you manage to accomplish? How many stops in the process before the children combust? No more than two, I’ve found. More than two and someone is screaming; one of the three of us is screaming.

And then there are the errands alone. Of course, these are the rare beauties. The Sunday afternoon when all are asleep, even your husband, and you sneak off to look for a gift for a friend and you walk slow and finger the fabric of scarves and sigh at the shoes and whisper at all the shiny.

We are busy people. We have tasks to accomplish. So much of life feels like one errand after another, especially as so much of life takes place inside the happy glowing screens we stare at all day. We’re buying clothes, working, managing the home, wasting time, all on the same device. And busyness, the act of “errand” running, often feels like all we’re good for.

But home is not found in the errands, the tasks, the checks on a list. Our lives are not found in our accomplishments. Each shop and store is a pause and then we return to what is real. What a funny rule Benedict mentions for his monks. He commands them to only eat with one another, as if eating is so holy that to break bread outside of the monastery is to cheat on the family in some way. Is it possible that Benedictine monks make vows to community and stability, even in how they eat their food?

We all know meals matter. We know that studies show that kids who eat dinner regularly with their families are happier, more successful in school, more well-rounded. We know that every culture celebrates around food. It’s not a birthday without a birthday cake. It’s not Thanksgiving without a turkey.

When I was growing up, my mom had a rule that stunned (and frustrated, sometimes) every other family we knew. She fed us breakfast as a family. At 7 am, no matter when we woke up, we were expected to have clothes on (though, sometimes my brothers weren’t yet wearing shirts) and be sitting in our seats for breakfast. My mom was (and still is) a teacher. She had to be out the door at 7:30, but she always set something out on the table for us, whether that was boxes of cereal and bowls or canned biscuits out of the oven. But what mattered was the community of the morning. We were together. We talked. We knew what each of us was dreading that day. (Though I was probably crying about that day’s math quiz and, therefore, couldn’t pay attention to anyone else’s daily dreads.)

What I’m trying to say is this: You eat with your family. And when you eat with them, you know them. Community is always sealed with food. Culture is always best expressed in what is shared. And food never comes out of the ground in individual packaging. Heads of lettuce were made to be chopped into sharable salads. The meat of an animal always feeds more than one. Pies are made to be sliced into pieces and distributed.

So, yes, there are errands. We are a busy people. St. Benedict would not know what to do with the mess we’ve made of living in this culture (taking a life that should be whole and chopping it into a spreadsheet of action points and check lists). But we are counter-cultural people when we stop to eat with our community. When we appreciate the beauty of food, when we slice it and smell it and taste it, when we call the family to the table and tell stories about our day and how we feel and what matters, when we share food and look in each other’s eyes, then we are living community.

Yes, we leave the monastery and run the errands but we always come home for dinner. And when we come home for dinner, we practice the discipline of simplicity: eating, caring for one another, listening, sharing what we own and what we’ve been given.

Eating is very monkish.

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Simplicity: Meat and Spiritual Practice

I spent yesterday morning rinsing, drying, salting and peppering two chickens. One was for a friend who has just had a baby girl and one was for my little family of eaters. I handled those chickens with love, patting them sweetly with salt all over my hands while Brooksie napped and August played astronaut nearby. I held the little bird and thanked God for his (or her!) life and the reality that its sacrifice will nourish my family. And then I listened to it crackle in the oven and the scent of roasted chicken filled the house. It was lovely.

It was especially lovely because I have not cooked meat in my home in a long time.

If you know me well, you might gasp at the horror of such a statement. What? Micha stopped eating meat! Hush, hush, little bird, it’s okay. I still eat meat. I grew up in Amarillo, Texas. My childhood staples were barbeque and burritos. I have always loved my meat and eaten heartily.

Two things have changed in me. And they happened around the same time. I began to feel convicted about the treatment of animals. Now, I don’t mean that I don’t think people should eat animals. (I have no problem with the use of animals as a food source.) What I have a problem with is chickens stacked on top of each other in disgusting conditions, never seeing the light of day. I have a problem with chemically zapping cattle into meat monsters and force feeding them corn instead of grass for our own sake, for our wallets. What I’m trying to say is that while I don’t know much about agriculture or ranching whatsoever, I do know about conviction. And there’s something in me that says it’s wrong to mistreat an animal, especially one that is giving its life for my own sustenance.

So, as I began thinking about that and wanting to make a change, I found it was difficult to afford organic grass-fed or free range meat. I was struggling between meeting our budget and adhering to my newly forming conviction.

Around that time, we became friends with a couple in San Francisco who we really admired for their commitment to simplicity. I had been studying St. Benedict for a year or so and had begun to think about what it might look like to simplify our lives for the sake of Jesus: our closets, our use of money, etc. But I had never once considered food consumption as a way to simplify. They were over for dinner one night, eating one of Chris’ perfectly done (crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside…so good) pork loins and it came out that they never eat meat at home. We were perplexed. Oh no! Are you vegetarians and here we are force-feeding you this oh so wonderful pork loin??? No, that wasn’t it. They had stopped eating meat at home as a spiritual practice, a way to live gratefully, a way to appreciate meat when it came their way, but not to demand it or expect it.

I’ve never gotten their commitment out of my mind, mostly because I really respect them. For a short time in my childhood, my mom committed one dinner a week to a simple meal of rice. It was a chance for her to teach us about missions, for us to experience what life is like for a majority of world, for whom food does not come easily, for whom meat is a luxury.

I kept coming back to that childhood experience, thinking about what it means that meat is a luxury for most of the world, that there are other ways to get protein, that I was buying meat I felt uncomfortable with because I couldn’t afford to spend more. After we began to think about what we could do to practice simplicity in our lives, meat seemed like such an obvious choice.

So, we’ve decided to simplify our week day meals (the ones I’m in charge of). We’ve switched to wraps and salads, eggs and tofu and beans. On the weekends, Chris is our chef and he can makes us whatever deliciously meaty thing he wants.

I’m loving it. Here’s why: Yesterday that chicken smelled so wonderful. Yesterday, the flesh in my hands was a real creature I could be grateful for and I actually remembered to be grateful. Yesterday, I was reminded that in a culture that allows me to have anything I think I can afford to own or consume, it’s good for my soul to wait, to live simply most days so I can feast some days.

So I can hear the chicken crackling in the oven. So I can notice.

 

What does the practice of simplicity look like in your home?

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It’s Halloween, y’all!

And in honor of Halloween, I’m re-posting what I wrote last year, Why I believe in Halloween.


 

Though I was raised evangelical and can speak Christianese with the best of them, I doubt I’m anyone’s Evangelical Mother of the Year, especially when it comes to all the big things on the Christian no-no list. That said, I will now post about why I have celebrated Halloween my entire life, and why I think it’s Christian to do so.

  • First of all, I love the fall. Halloween encompasses all of the cozy chilliness of a lovely fall night: The sun goes down early, the leaves crunch under your feet, the childhood giddiness of dressing up combined with the shiver of being outside at night doubles the excitement. Plus, jack-o-lanterns are (mostly) warm and welcoming.
  • What other holiday invites neighbors (who are, let’s be honest, essentially strangers) to your home, and yours to theirs? When Christians boycott this holiday based on the notion that it is evil (or, as many churches do, have their own festival on the day of in which church children only receive candy from church adults), we miss out on the chance to meet and interact with and care for our neighbors. Whether or not our culture thinks this is important, being a neighbor was incredibly important to Jesus.
  • Children are allowed to celebrate their own creativity and I believe that God the Creator is honored when we copy him in the act of creation. Therefore, Halloween—especially when children are allowed to use their imaginations and play—is beautifully honoring to God. This is where I will now stand on my soapbox and say that 12-year-old girls in slutty nurse costumes is not “celebrating” creativity. Neither is the helicopter moms’ unspoken competition to see whose child can dress the cutest. Halloween should be about kids getting to experience an opportunity to play a part, to pretend in the fullest sense. (Can I just say here that my 10-year-old niece is a perfect example of using her creativity for costumes? A couple of years ago she was a “Halloween Tree,” her idea. What, you say, is a Halloween Tree? I have no idea but she got it and that’s what mattered. This year she’s one of those mushroom people from Mario Brothers.  She comes up the idea and her family helps her carry it out. It’s a beautiful thing.)
  • CANDY!!! Free candy, placed in your bag. How is that not good and honoring to God?
  • It’s an opportunity not only to be a neighbor, but to show kindness, hospitality, to practice the art of preparing in advance for a stranger to arrive at your door. It doesn’t happen much anymore, but as we buy our candy and make preparations for the little (and sometimes grown up…two years ago I had college student trick or treaters) creatures who arrive on our step, it’s a reminder to be prepared to welcome and make space for everyone who enters our lives. I like that.

And what do I think about the ghosts, the witches, the monsters of the holiday? Honestly, I don’t know. August has two cute Halloween books that we’ve been reading. The ghost is a friendly one with rosy cheeks. The witch flies on a broom with a sparkly pink hat. We’ve never talked about what they are or what they represent and I don’t think we need to.

I’m not afraid of allowing August to see or experience things in our culture that I don’t agree with or want to glorify. So, I’ve decided not to be afraid of his being exposed to these things. (He’s been making cute ghostly art projects at his school, as well, by the way). He will spend his childhood and young adulthood exposed to values and ideas we don’t agree with: a sexually perverted culture, greed, and inequality, to name a few. My job is to point out what we believe and why…and to steer him to a life that knows and follows Christ.

Teaching him to say hello to the neighbors is a beautiful first step…

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Wise Stuff My Husband Said {A Series}: Beauty and Brokenness

Two weeks ago when August had his traumatic day at school, I was a mess when Chris got home. We put the boys to bed and talked. He said, remember how my dad said, “You’re only as happy as your saddest child?”

I remembered.

Then we thought about it some more. For the past year Chris has been slowly picking through Dale Brunner’s commentary on the first half of the book of Matthew. It’s fantastic. I’ve read it in chunks. Chris reads it almost everyday and then rereads the good stuff over and over. (Sidenote: Dale Brunner taught a seminary class I took on the life of Christ. He is hands-down the cutest little gray-headed man I’ve ever seen. And he is oh so very wise. Now is when you should click here to buy Matthew: A Commentary, Vol. 1: The Christbook.)

Chris reminded me that Brunner’s commentary on The Beatitudes says: “The deepest joy may reside in persons with the deepest sadness.” Then he says this, “Sadness and joy are not mutually exclusive; they are often cause and effect” (164).

We’ve been thinking about that and discussing it lately. Isn’t that what true community is meant to look like? To truly love each other we have to choose to feel with the people in our lives who are hurting. That has to be so much more than being sad about their struggle but leaving it behind when we’re back in our home, our life, our family. That’s not an easy choice. It’s intentional. Our minds like to close themselves off to any other’s pain. We have enough of our own. Entering in to brokenness means hurting ourselves. But can we really experience joy, true joy, if we haven’t walked the dark places? Friendship, community, fellowship (oh! there’s a word we don’t use anymore!) is only real when it ventures into the beautiful places and the broken places. The stuff in between is a chat about the weather.

That following Sunday, somewhere on the MoPac Expressway on our way home from church, while half of our car (ahem, August and Micha) were singing along to the Cars 2 soundtrack, Chris brought it up again. He was thinking about our budget, what we want to value as a family. He said maybe beauty and brokenness should be our gage.

What if we chose to only buy stuff that is either made with care or is absolutely essential? What if we formed our family around the goal of always giving our time and things to the hurting?

How do you respond to these questions when you’re in the car, trying to keep your 3-year-old awake till you get home and can put him to bed? How do you respond when the chaos of your life rarely reminds you how deep and wise and kind-hearted this man is whom you’re married to? How do you respond when you think about The Beatitudes and recall how failed you are at really believing in the upside down reality of Jesus and the blessings he pours out to the poor in spirit, to the merciful?

You do like I did: Say, “Okay. Those are our values.”

Then you buy a notebook, and make some notes and rethink the words you use to correct August’s behavior and wonder how to teach your boys to love the broken when it hurts you so badly to even try.

Yesterday I drove past a homeless man begging on the side of a big intersection. August said, “That man doesn’t have a home or a job. But God will take care of him.”

Brokenness and Beauty. Ah, Lord, let it be the truth of us.

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