What’s Church Got to Do With It?

What's Church Got to Do With It?

Photo by Lindsay Rutledge

What’s church got to do with it?

That’s the question we’ve been wrestling with at church this Lent. And I have to be perfectly honest – I haven’t been blown away by any of the possible answers.

For so long we have been searching for a church where we experience true community. A community of believers who really live life together – in every sense of the word. But I’m starting to believe that’s an old-fashioned sense of what church is. That as much as I would like my close-knit community of people to be people I go to church with, it’s just not going to happen.

So we’ve been struggling with church these last few months. Struggling with where to worship on Sunday mornings. Struggling with what we find to be most important when we attend a worship service. Struggling to find a balance between our deep longing for Christian community and knowing that no church really has it. At least not a church that we’ve been able to find in all of our searching.

Anyone who knows me well knows how frustrated I am with “church.” Frustrated that we can’t find a place that has good music, good community, and good theology all at the same time. In an honest attempt to let go and find where God is calling us, we’ve visited several churches over the last couple of months – all with different denominational backgrounds. And every single time we leave feeling like something is missing. Like that’s just not the right place for us. Most often it’s because they don’t baptize babies or they don’t have communion.

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The Best Banana Pudding [Recipe]

Banana PuddingMy biggest cravings when I’m pregnant tend to be things I used to eat as a child. Grilled cheese sandwiches, pasta with butter, and lately – warm banana pudding. We had some friends over for dinner last night and I couldn’t resist using my very ripe bananas to make one of my favorite treats.

My mom used to make it using a box of Nilla wafers and Jello pudding. Because both are processed treats, I didn’t have either in the house – and I was not about to head to the grocery store on a weekend just to buy processed junk. So I headed to Weelicious and found a recipe for homemade Vanilla Wafers. Thanks to my Kitchenaid Mixer, I had a batch whipped up in no time. I was amazed at how similar they tasted to the box ones I remember … I don’t know how Catherine McCord does it, but she nails every single recipe she posts.

Once my cookies were done, I had a much harder time finding a recipe for banana pudding. Every recipe either called for cream cheese or a meringue, and I don’t really like either one in my banana pudding. I finally found one I thought might work, but it called for an insane amount of sugar and cornstarch – neither of which I really wanted to use. So I did some editing and experimenting, and came up with what our guests called the “Best Banana Pudding” they’ve ever had.

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Redefining Soul Munchies

New LogoI apologize for being MIA lately. I’d like to say I have a good excuse, but that’s not really true. The simple truth is that life gets in the way. There’s so much to do when you’re chasing a toddler and preparing for a new baby all at the same time.

And now that we’re down to truly one income, we’ve been really trying to curb our spending. Which, for us, means I’m doing a whole lot more at home than I was before. Between a couple of moves and a little bit of extra income, we lost a lot of the things we implemented a couple years ago in our simplicity project.

A few weeks ago, I came across this article about radical homemaking. Ever since I read it, I can’t stop thinking about our “failed” experiment. Since growing our family to three (and now almost four), I’ve discovered just how difficult – and counter-cultural – simplicity really is. Consumerism is rampant around us, and encourages us all to have the latest greatest of everything.

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It’s Okay To Quit Sometimes

DropoutMy precious one,

Well, it’s only been three days, but today you became a preschool drop out. And you know what? That is absolutely a-okay! Mommy and Daddy have worked it out so Mommy can stay at home with you as long as you need her to. One day, you’ll have to go to school – and when that day comes, you’ll be so ready. But right now – you’re still too little.

You like your early lunch, and early nap, and Mommy milk on demand. You do like playing with other kids, and adults too, but you don’t want to do it without Mommy. You don’t want me to miss out on all the fun you’re having.

In my last letter I told you I want to write. I need to write. And punkin, I want you to know that I will still write. I’ll be creative about when I do it. I’ll use your nap time more wisely than I have been using it.

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Pastrix: A Review

Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-WeberVery few books actually bring tears to my eyes. Especially ones that have something to do with faith. But this book …

Let’s just say I needed quite a few tissues.

As I read the words on the page, I felt as though God was speaking directly to me. It may have been the timing of when I read the book. My husband and I were going through a time of great discernment. It was definitely the thing I needed to read when I needed to read it.

If I’m completely honest with you, I knew I would like this book before I read it. I remember the first time someone told me about Nadia Bolz-Weber and the ministry she was doing at House for All Sinners and Saints. I was all fired up that we, the church, should do whatever is necessary to reach those who aren’t being reached. Irritated that I couldn’t find that kind of community. Convinced it didn’t exist.

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On Your First Day of “School”

Blocks by Sandy
My precious one,

You started “preschool” today. Well, it’s really called “parent day out” – but it seems the same to me. I had to pack your lunch and send snacks. And let’s be honest – the bag I packed made it seem like you were staying overnight.

You’re the only girl in a class full of boys. I don’t worry about that though – you’re already a strong little lady. You’ll be able to hold your own. When I left you this morning, you didn’t cry. Although you told me you were ready to go home, you seemed excited – well, willing – to build a tower out of blocks.

I saw your face when that little boy started crying as his mama left. You were worried about him. You offered him a block – hoping he’d be okay. You are such a sweet child. It melts my heart.

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2013: Year In Review

Year in ReviewFacebook has this really cool “Year in Review” feature this time every year. I think it’s based on what your network of people “like” the most. I love to look back and see the highlights of the year.

When I looked through my Year in Review, I could sum it all up in about four different categories. Four wonderful categories: Leaving church work, Writing a book, Moving to Grant Park, and Parenting little A. For you curious cats, here’s a little more:

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Life After Baby

On Having a Baby by Crystal RoweIf I’ve learned anything over the last 22 months of being a mother, it’s that parenting is hard work.

Some days are near perfect. Everyone behaves themselves, your house is semi-clean, and maybe you even manage to help the kids with an art project. These are the days when you feel like a rockstar parent. Hit me with another one, you think. I’ve got this.

Some days are just plain awful. The days when you wonder if you’ll do anything right. The days when your lack of sleep begins to take its toll on you. Days when your newborn or toddler refuses to nap. Days when you count down the minutes until someone comes to rescue you from your misery.

Most days fall somewhere in between.

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Whole Wheat Carrot Apple Almond Coconut Muffins

Apple Cored by Vegan Feast Catering
It’s apple season! Which translates into that time of year when I long to bake. Baking not only warms up my house, but makes the whole house smell amazing. I just can’t resist it.

It’s been a while since we posted a new recipe around here. This one is so worth turning up the heat in your oven and trying them out.

I took a base recipe from one of my favorite websites and adapted it based on the ingredients I had on hand in my pantry. The final result? My sweet A approved. She couldn’t get enough of them!

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Just Say No

No by sboneham

This is the optimal time to say “No,” “Not yet,” “I can’t,” “Maybe in three years.” … It’s the season to say “Yes” to a simple schedule that doesn’t mutilate the rhythm of your household.

Jen Hatmaker sure knows how to hit the nail right on the head. I read this devotion at the most perfect time in my life. A time when I was feeling burnt out. Exhausted. Like I was a complete failure at just about everything. Not because I was truly a failure, but simply because I was trying to do too much. I was trying to be all things to all people. I needed to say no.

When do we lose the ability to say no anyway? My 20-month old daughter seems to shoot it right out of her mouth when there’s anything she’s not interested in doing. She’s not worried about hurting anyone’s feelings. She knows we’ll love her anyway – even if she does say no a thousand times. She knows we’ll keep coming back for hugs and kisses, no matter how many times she tells us no.

She’s not afraid of our response. She’s simply stating her desires. “No, I do not want that apple. No, I don’t want to play with blocks right now, I’d rather go outside.”

We often get frustrated, but most of the time we respect her no. We don’t force her to eat, and we try to let her choose which toys to play with and when. There are, of course, times when her no doesn’t always succeed – but for the most part, we try to listen when she says no. We respect that by saying no, she’s asserting what’s most important to her at that very moment. And when we respect her no, we teach her that it’s sometimes okay to say no.

So why is it so easy for me to forget that simple truth?

Listen up folks …

It is okay to say no.

We are re-learning how to say no around here. No to obligations that drain us. No to invitations that don’t fit in with our normal daily routine. And maybe most importantly, we’re learning how to say no to things we’d really like to do, but just can’t fit it on our plate at this time in our lives.

It may be the hardest thing I’ve learned to do in my adult life. There are so many things I’d love to do. So many causes I’m passionate about. So many ways I’d love to make a difference. But right now, I just can’t do it. And that’s okay.

Because it’s okay to say no.

One day my kids will be out of my hair. They’ll be in school most of the day and I’ll have eight hours to do things I love to do. Or the things I don’t really care for, but that have to be done. And I’ll look back on these precious days I’m living now and be so thankful that I learned how to say no.

Mothering is a Lonely Sport

Waiting it Out
Mothering is so lonely. Especially the  kind of mothering I find  myself doing. Waiting it out, I like to call it. Others might call it something else, but for me…it’s what works.

Holding her during naps. Rocking her to sleep each night. Nursing her upon demand. Staying home with her every. single. day.

“Why don’t you put her in daycare?”

“You know, you could  drop her off at our place while you do your shopping.”

I don’t do it all begrudgingly. In fact, I love it. I love that I can stay with her and watch her every moment of every day. I love her simple joy when she shows me her newest trick. I don’t put her in daycare because she isn’t ready for it. I’m not ready for it.

And that’s OK.

But it is still lonely.

On this beautiful afternoon, I sit rocking her for a nap and stare out the window. I see my neighbors congregating to shoot the breeze. They all gathered together last night over a drink or two. But not me. I am at home. With a baby.

Don’t get me wrong – it is so very worth it. Seeing the peacefulness on her face. Feeling her tender suck as she finishes nursing herself to sleep. Knowing that this is the most important thing I can be doing with my time.

But even though I know all that, I can’t deny that this mothering thing …. it’s a lonely sport.

I guess that’s why it’s so important to find other like-minded mamas. Or maybe not even like-minded … just non-judgmental. Because no matter what kind of mother you find yourself to be, you will still have lonely times.

And we can’t do it without other mamas to back us up. To wipe our tears. To understand, to commiserate, and to remind us that this is just a moment in time.

One day I’ll be the one shooting the breeze while another rocks her baby. Mine will be grown (or at least grown out of naptime) and off somewhere, playing with friends. I will  look back and remember my lonely times fondly.  As some of the most precious times I ever had.

I pray that when that day comes, I reach out to that mama who finds herself feeling a tiny bit lonely, and let her know she is not alone. That none of us are. And that together, we can create a village and mask out the loneliness. One tiny step at a time.

On Buying Local

Harvest by Chandimal Pathirage
Can you believe that nearly 500,000 children as young as six harvest 25% of all crops in the United States? We’re not talking about in foreign countries … we’re talking about right here.

If you’ve had onions (Texas), cucumbers (Ohio or Michigan), peppers (Tennessee), grapes (California), mushrooms (Pennsylvania), beets (Minnesota), or cherries (Washington), you’ve probably eaten food harvested by children.

This article claims it’s not a slavery issue, but a poverty issue. I can’t help but think that the two are connected. Children are working an average of 30 hours a week to earn about $1,000 a year – to try to help their families survive. That’s less than $1/hour. That seems like slavery to me.

It’s unreal. It’s unfair. It’s unjust. And it makes me sick to my stomach. No person should have to work for those wages – especially children. And the more they work in the fields, the less education they receive. Which means they are less likely to be able to help their families out of poverty. Which means the cycle will continue. Until adult laborers are paid a fair wage.

It makes me angry that there are no laws that prevent this kind of thing. Some argue that if the law changes to prohibit children from working in farms, most migrant families will fall even more into poverty than they already are. And it’s mostly because middle class America wants cheap food.

I’m not sure what the answer is. I have a hunch that the solution is much more complicated than we can really understand. I do think that with every dollar I spend on local food, that’s one less dollar going to support that kind of cycle. But only if I buy from the farmers I know and trust.

Because just because I buy local doesn’t mean I’m not buying something that comes from a local farmer that hires migrant workers. Many grocery stores sell local products – but how do we know that those local farmers aren’t using kids to harvest their crops?

Now, I admit, there are times when I find it so much easier to just go to the grocery store with my list. Not only is it easier, but I tend to spend less on the same items I might buy at the market. I’ve found myself over the last few weeks picturing my own daughter in the fields – and it breaks my heart.

So we have really tried to buy most of our produce this summer from our local farmer’s market. We’ve tried to meet our farmers, taking time to get to know the people who are growing our food. We haven’t gotten away from the grocery store completely yet – although I hope, in time, we’ll be able to. But we know, that with every penny we spend at our local market, we’re voting with our dollars. We’ve also discovered that the local produce we purchase is much more flavorful and delicious than anything we can find in the grocery store.

Armed with all of that knowledge, we’re working really hard to be willing to pay more for food. We’re working towards eating seasonally – buying locally – and making as much as we can from scratch. We can’t stamp out the cycle on our own, but at least I know that with every bite I take, there’s not a child on the other end of it.