Monday, August 7, 2017

Best and Worst of Travel Trailer Living...a short, experiential summary

Our family has been living full-time in our camper for several months now. We’ve been coast to coast to coast and then settled back into stationary living for the summer and early fall. We are unsure of our plans after October, but in the meantime are enjoying our home state. Right now we have a tiny spot on my brother and sister-in-law’s property, right by a flowing stream, nestled into a cute neighborhood. I’ve never lived in a neighborhood, and honestly didn't think it would appeal to me. But I’ve converted. I get all you neighborhood dwellers now. People wave and shout hello. I can run 3 miles at 12am and not worry at all about being safe. It’s just really pleasant and sweet!

 We still love our small space. I wasn’t sure if it would grow off us, but it has not. It’s tiny and darling, and we are probably the weirdest people you know…but we like our unconventional home. I don’t think we will live in a camper full-time forever, but it fits our lifestyle goals and that is something we appreciate…even on the rough days of living small.

I’ve been asked a few questions repeatedly via email, messages, or on social media. So, I figured it would be a good time to do a “best and worst of travel trailer living post” and answer some of those questions in the process. I am surprised by how many people have written us saying “we always wanted to do this” or “we hope to do this someday”… Tiny, adventurous, travel living appeals to a ton of people. Here is how it is working for us in 140 square feet of living space.


1. We probably could use six more feet of space. Honestly, I’d love another “room”. Is it a necessity? No. Would it be appreciated and incredibly useful? Yes! Our entire inside camper length is 17 feet. Pushing out to 23 or even 25 would be all kinds of wonderful. In the meantime, we enjoy what we have and keep it nice so that it has a decent trade-in value for sometime down the road. (*If this camper was used for weekend trips or just occasionally through the year, it would be the absolute perfect size for us!…And honestly, I’ll be sad to trade her in someday.)

2. Litter box duty. Enough said. In a tiny bathroom,

3. Instant coffee. We tried to convert. I did better than Phil. He said it tastes like s#*t. It probably does. I’ve developed a high tolerance for bad coffee. We ended up finding an $8 drip coffee maker at Walmart that is so tiny, you barely see it on the counter. So, no more terrible campfire coffee.

4. Dumb camper mistakes. We’ve made a few. Some, too embarrassing to share. Regardless, mistakes cost you time and money. Luckily, none of ours were the money-sucking kind…but we got close! When you convert to a camper (whether for a weekend or a year), you will do silly things. We’ve learned to be okay with it, keep learning, and always always double check each other!

5. All our drawers are filled neatly with our folded clothes in sorted stacks. YEAH RIGHT. This is how we put our folded clothes away: we mush them into a tiny drawer while we hold back the clothes that are already squeezed inside and try to shut the door before anything falls out. It isn’t pretty or neat, but our ENTIRE WARDROBES for a season at a time are inside an 18” by 10” drawer (Niamh and Philly actually SHARE one drawer). If you find a better way, letmeknow. Otherwise, just keep it quiet and never open our overhead compartments for a looksie.


1. Time spent in the National Parks. The East Coast has its own beauty, and I love it and would never want to diminish it. But once you hit New Mexico, the landscape changes drastically. Desert is my favorite climate. I love super hot days and dusty places. And we spent most of our time in arid or semi-arid climates, so I was in heaven. Joshua Tree was my favorite, but Zion was probably the most beautiful.  We slowed down and took all our excitement and joy from each other and our surroundings— not our phones or computer screens or ipads. We debated whether to return or just ditch society for life in the desert. Sometimes I still think about it.

2. Our pets just happen to love traveling. We initially tried to keep Red in a cat carrier. But he pooped all over it in the first hour (I think it totally stressed him out), so we took turns holding him or letting him rest with the dog. Juno loves to be in the SUV. She just likes a good drive! When we stop to go the bathroom, one of us walks the dog, and Red goes back into the camper for ten minutes to take care of his biz. Then we lock it all back up, everyone piles back into the truck, and we set off again. We got super efficient at the process:). We won in the pet department.

3. Oils. Command Hooks. AA batteries.
~Oils. I bought an inexpensive diffuser and some good oils once we got back to New Jersey for the hot (and humid) summer. I thought it might help the camper smell nice and also help with bedtime (Philly often has bad leg pain at night). Keeping the camper smelling fresh and also infusing our bodies with good things— I don’t think there is a better option.
~Command Hooks. Not many campers come fresh from the assembly line with really good interior decor. When Phil and I walked through our Coachman Clipper the first time, I was basically looking for something I could work with. I wanted light (fake) wood floors and light walls. That is what our camper came with, so I was glad about that. Then we removed the window valence pieces and covered all the cushions (cuz camper fabric is U.G.L.Y.), and hung up all our wall decor with command hooks. They are a life saver. I can’t have bare walls, so they’ve allowed me to get all my decorations up without ruining the delicate camper walls. They helped us make our camper our home!
~AA batteries. I buy mine at BJ’s in bulk. It is how we keep little lights on when we are not plugged into a power source. Twinkle lights make my soul happy. And when you are in the middle of no where or a Walmart parking lot overnight, without power, water, or sewer hookups, twinkle lights keep you sane. No lie.

4. Campfire meal: Spicy sausage. EVOO. Onions. Garlic. Corn on the cob. Peppers. Potatoes. Seasonings. Throw it all into foil and put on the fire for 40 min. That’s all you need to live your life. You're welcome. 

5. Campground downtime. Sometimes Walmart parking lots are the best thing you’ve ever seen after driving a full day (80% allow the use of their parking lot to sleep in your camper). Other days, the family needs a couple night stay at a campground with a nice swing set, a pool, and a game room. Most of the campgrounds we stayed at were run by kind, generous, friendly people. We also met super helpful neighbors all too willing to share their best adventures and favorite National Park recommendations with us. Camping people might be the nicest people.

Maybe one of the nicest things is being home, too. We still get the itch to hit the road again, but we are thankful for familiar faces, awesome family who carve out a space on their property to make room for us, and tiny living in our own neck of the woods. We’d like to find a good balance of travel and roots for the rest of our lives…and I think a travel trailer gives us a shot at that.

 Feel free to ask any questions I haven’t answered below or message me via email. I’m happy to answer! Also, feel free to share your own favorite campgrounds, National Parks, or must-sees. Just remember, we have kids, so appreciate kid-friendly options the most!!

Happy trails!

PS, want to follow my camping Pinterest dreams?  Click HERE... It is where I shove all the stuff I want to see, remember, or attempt.  You can also find us on Instagram @kristacanary !

Friday, July 21, 2017

Evolution and Our Children

This past spring, I was able to share with a group of christian middle school kids how we, as a family, have come to understand evolution and integrate it into our faith.  I love to talk to adult friends about our evolving universe, and all the theological implications that renders.  But, I think the more important conversations are with the children. 

When we hope for little bits of magic as children— whether it’s Narnia closets, Whoville worlds nestled into dandelion flowers, big foot in the backwoods, or even a perfect garden with two uber humans walking around next to lions, dinosaurs, and talking snakes— these are stories that shape some part of our brains to believe there are dimensions or spaces that exist that we cannot fully see (quantum physicists must be the very best kind of adults to be around).

Stories can be true without being, well, true.  Horton Hears a Who is not a literal story, but it is one of my very favorites because it is packed with truth.  There are a billion tiny worlds inside our world.  Are we caring for them well?  Are we fighting for them?  Do we even see them?  Or do icebergs 46 times the size of San Fransisco have to float away to catch our attention1

Without engaging evolution, the Bible, and all the questions that pour out from those two things in tandem, we hack the beauty of creation off at the knees.  When Sunday school classes assume from the start that all the kids are ready to push the magic out of the garden and make it a real, factual, this-actually-happened story, we’ve perpetuated a facet of the problem that has pushed most millennials to leave church already.  Christians are really good at de-mystifying the Bible.  We make it unbelievable in our need to make it so damn clear. 

I was thrilled (like, I can't even tell you how excited) to be given the opportunity to talk to Niamh’s class about the Bible and evolution.  First, I was thankful for an open minded facilitator who invited the marginal view into her classroom to be spoken about in a positive way.  Second, I wanted the kids, more than anything in those 20 minutes I blabbed, to hear an adult give them permission to explore and ask questions and doubt, too.  I wanted them to hear me say I accept evolution and I love Jesus.

In three specific places, evolution continues to increase my love and understanding of God.  These are the places I talk excitedly about God to Niamh and Philly:

Deep time

We love a God who spent unfathomable time invested in creation before we ever showed up on the scene (so get a little humble ya’ll).  He is an artist in the truest, truest sense of the word and reveals himself in canyon walls, flower petals, flash floods, dusty dessert, storms on Jupiter, solar flares, dying stars, imagination, nerve endings, birth, death, new life, good books, sidewalks, iced coffee, dark chocolate, a silly puppy, great novels, muslims, jews, nones, gays, women and men alike, children, neanderthals, transitional species, T Rex, dark matter, and even suffering.  Christ is in everything2.  

I’ve sat in a Sunday group and listened to someone equate chance with purposelessness.  The only thing I think that type of statement shows is a lack of knowledge on the subject.  Chance is a beautiful, necessary freedom of creation.  Without it, you and I wouldn’t be here.  Creation tells us who God is (Romans 1:20), so I think God embraces chance— the freedom and growing potential of it all.  “Evolution is a dynamic process toward greater complexity that requires chance, law, and deep time.  It tells us that change is integral to life, or rather, that without real change there is no real life.  Life unfolds from simple structures to complex systems, and this development is not entirely predictable; chance is integral to change” (Ilia Delio, The Emergent Christ).

Finally, we are co-creators in a connected universe.  This is a great story to invite your kids into.  It means we are not drawing away from the world or trying to get back to a perfect, locked up garden or just trying to make it to heaven.  Heaven is already here, and it should be our greatest joy to care for and love this inter-connected world now.  Christians should be raising all the tree huggers.  We should be on the front lines of every effort to save and protect our earth.


This week, I stood in the checkout line of the grocery store, and an older lady asked who was tattooed on my arm.  I smiled and said, “Darwin.”  She must have seen my other religious tattoos because she moved away tentatively and said, “Well isn’t that a bit of a contradiction?”  I smiled and said I believe in God and accept evolution, that I think they are both good together.  Then the teenage cashier who was scanning all my items got super excited and burst out with, “so do I!”  And he went back and forth with this 70+ year old lady about human evolution, how we adapt and overcome, and continue to evolve.  She said she knew how it worked, she knew where she came from, and she didn’t see humans emerging from any green pools.  It was a funny exchange to watch, the teenage boy excitedly talking about science and the older woman who wasn't budging with her bible story.  I had a thousand things I wanted to say, but I knew it wasn’t really the place or time to engage the woman on the intersection of her faith and modern science.  I left by offering her the name of an author she might enjoy reading on the subject.  She said, “I guess we’ll all find out someday” with a smile. 

The older woman was kind, gentle, and stubborn.  I liked her boldness and how she tempered it well with softness in her voice.  Her responses, however, were learned, probably from a well-meaning, God-loving leader who was also ill-informed and probably scientifically-challenged.  She had so little understanding of evolution.  The cashier kept trying to tell her “you need more time” and “you can’t see it happening right in front of you.”  But all she knew was that no half human is walking out of the South Jersey marsh, so evolution isn’t real.


Here are some interesting stats:

% of Americans with purely evolutionary view (no God):  19%, up from only 9% in the 1980’s3

% of Americans who hold literal, young earth creationist view:  38%, down from 46% in 20123.

% of Americans who affirm human evolution (God-guided or not):  57%3

The percentage of people who hold an evolutionary view increases with formal education.3

Largest religious group in America:  The ones who are unaffiliated with religion (also called “nones”) at 25%4

% of “nones” who believe in some sort of higher power:  59%4

These statistics seem to indicate that religious people have (generally and for quite sometime) not done a good job integrating science and faith.  We largely get our evolution knowledge from resources slanted at disproving it in the first place.  Evolution is put in opposition to our bible story from the get go.  And in the process of debunking Darwin, Christians invite science lovers to leave our church communities.  In fact, we push them out the door with foolish responses like “I don’t see any humans evolving now.”  Those learned-from-Christian-textbook responses only do a good job of showing people how uneducated we are about evolution. 

This is why Phil and I speak to our kids over and over about an evolutionary God.  We want them to have the understanding and matching vocabulary that speaks to God’s beauty found within the process that the overwhelming majority of scientists today affirm. 

Sometimes I think what holds us back the most is the fear that once we give an inch to evolution, it maligns our bibles in some way.  It takes this perfect book that God whispered into the ears of humans long ago and makes it grey whereas we prefer it black and white.  We cannot raise children with a tendency to save their bibles at the expense of engaging the world around them.  Our bibles can handle our doubts, fears, questions, and shiftings.  All these things are within its pages already.  Abraham.  Jonah.  Ecclesiastes.  Job.  Go look.  We’re in good company. 

Three easy places to start the conversation are deep time, chance, and connectivity. 

First, get comfortable with crazy amounts of time.  Artists need time.  Creators invest in their work by sitting with it, allowing it to move forward on its own volition, giving it the space and care to unfold. 

Talk to your kids positively about the word “chance.” Maybe reorient yourself first, because this is a biggie that is used in our churches to undermine evolution.  Chance does not mean that God is at the mercy of creation.  He is not not in control.  It’s bigger than that…God is the newest thing5.  He is moving alongside us, in freedom and expectation.  Chance indicates possibility.  It is the potential energy of the universe awaiting arrival. 

Finally, draw them into the world as caretakers and activists to protect it— because it is deeply connected to their actual existence.  Encourage children to find heaven now.  Invite them into co-creating with God through care and protection of their environment.

These places are easy thresholds to cross and when we do, we've embraced a bigger story for ourselves, our children, and the universe.  Obviously, there will be some theological fall-outs for literal bible readers, but theology should be shifting and surprised and even flipped from time to time.  Or else you’ve grasped God already— and that, I think, might be the most dangerous territory of all. 

"Evolution occurs because God is more interested in adventure than in preserving the status quo."
~John Haught

1.     Here’s the Size of the Huge New Antarctic Iceberg...
2.     Colossians 3:11
3.     In US, Belief in Creationist View of Humans at New Low
4.     Exodus: Why Americans are Leaving Religion—and Why They’re Unlikely to Come Back
5.     The Emergent Christ, Ilia Delio

Resources we’ve used to celebrate God in evolution with our kids:
Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story 

Darwin and Evolution for Kids
Evolution  (this one was mostly for Phil and I to help explain aspects of evolution to them, but it has great skeleton pictures they enjoyed)

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A Fast Reader, Tears, and a Guy Named Science Mike

Niamh is an incredibly fast reader.  She can easily finish a 400+ page book in two days.  Which, when you are living in a small space on the road, presents a small problem.  I could solve this issue by ordering her stories on my Nook, but she likes to collect her favorite series in actual books.  Two weeks into our roadtrip, we found a Target in Vegas just to load her up on reading.  

Before we made it to Vegas, though, we spent four days in Joshua Tree National Park.  She did not have any reading material by that point.  A couple days earlier, she listened to a podcast we put on while we drove.  Peter Enns and Jared Byas interviewed “Science Mike” on The Bible for Normal People.  (We listened to a few of their podcasts on the ride out, and she apparently really liked them because she reminds me on Mondays that new Peter Enns podcasts are out.) Because she had enjoyed the Science Mike interview so much and was out of reading material, I pointed her to his book Finding God in the Waves.  She finished it in 24 hours.  

Niamh is thirteen and probably not Mike McHargue’s target audience. Half way through the book, she cried her eyes out while we were eating dinner.  She asked me how we know God is real.  And told us, sobbing, that Mike was picked on for being a “chubby nerd”. (Niamh has no tolerance for bullying).  We’ve had a few of these moments with the kids— those talks that come out of nowhere about God, the Bible, and our beliefs and experiences.  While they are happening, I aways feel a little rocked—like maybe we are inviting them into hard places too soon. A neat, tidy, literal Bible is so much easier to hand to children.  You can put them to bed with a lost tooth under their pillow, the promise of the tooth fairy, and a book about Noah’s Ark— and it all makes perfect sense.  Until they age a little and realize the quarters come from your nightstand and innocent children were collateral damage in an ancient story to just ‘begin again’ by washing everything away.  

I’m glad Niamh read the book and cried.  I think Mike caught her heart by first sharing his story, which she identified with (who isn’t a kid who feels weird or on the outside at some point?).  Sharing your story is a brilliant way to invite people in a tender and vulnerable way into difficult discussion.  She felt his pain and that helped her track with him through his journey— even the leaving God part.  She liked how he approached each faith tension, even if it was not resolved in a concrete way.  The book caused a momentary panic— but she told me, after finishing the book the following day, that even in the unravelling of faith, there is something fresh and beautiful about the process.  Like after sitting in it a bit, she thinks of God in much deeper ways.  

It is very much like a hard, long run.  It freaking sucks while it’s happening, but afterward you feel more alive.  

The kids were old enough to understand what was happening when my (and Phil’s) beliefs began to fall apart.  We were not prepared with a parenting plan through their childhood regarding God and the Bible as our own belief systems came under scrutiny.  We have been in the thick of it, figuring it out for sometime, while our children stay privy to our own questions, shifting theology, and humanity.  

Whenever the kids used to fall and get hurt, I’d pick them up and start saying “you’re fine, you’re fine, you’re fine” over and over.  One time after Niamh got hurt, she asked me, “Why do you keep telling me I’m fine when I’m actually hurt?”  I told her that if I keep repeating you’re fine she would believe me and feel less hurt.  She told me that was dumb.  

It is pretty dumb, actually.  As a mom, my first inclination is always to relieve pain—I want to just stop the bleeding.  I don’t want my kids to hurt or suffer.  It causes me pain— worse pain than their’s, I think!  But walking through hard spiritual places with them, I am learning to embrace them in their doubt and fear, but not fix it.  I’ve admitted to them that somedays I don’t know if there is a God either.  I can’t prove him to them, I can only share my own experiences of Love and beauty and pain (and my sincere and growing love for the Bible)— and remind them of their own experiences.  But their spiritual discomfort and questionings are not a good place for me to start repeating you’re fine.  Growth happens in tension and hard places.  And my kid’s (I’m sure, like yours, too) are good thinkers and bullshit spotters.  It is better for me to believe in the depth of their hearts and minds than to fix God for them into something much smaller than he actually is.  

Niamh and Philly are asking questions and thinking through things at eleven and thirteen that I did not question until I was 32.  It can be difficult to parent through, but we are amazed that they are approaching these places far sooner in their lives than we did.  And maybe that’s the whole point—to just be a parent who raises kids who are better parents and deeper thinkers than we are.  I believe humanity is collectively moving towards goodness (even if we are always stumbling forward), towards a horizon that is defined by love.  As a parent, I think that is my goal.  Niamh and Philly are people who will embody love and grace far better than Phil and I.  That is our legacy.  

Finding God in the Waves was more of an attempt to occupy my reader for a few days than an invitation into a faith crisis.  She finished the book in one day and ended up crying into her vegetables.   Neither of those things were what I imagined when I handed her the book.  But.  BUT.  It was the catalyst for a fantastic family talk, a new way of thinking through things for Niamh, and a parenting opportunity for Phil and I.  

After she finished it and asked for another book, I gave her Rob Bell’s How to be Here.  I like Bell after a book that rocks me.  It’s like reading a theologically brilliant beach bum.  Something about that is comforting to me.  He often reminds me what it is like to feel excited about life, people, and God again.  She read that book in a few hours (seriously, Niamh?!) and told us all about it, no tears, just bright eyes and excitement.  I think it’s pretty special that she is reading these books already and creating a list of exceptional writers to return to again and again.  I think I will give her Richard Rohr next.  His books are so dense, maybe I can buy myself two whole days of reading.

If you are interested in this topic— parenting kids through their faith journeys, especially when that road is not a straight line through easy conversations and a tidy bible— THIS IS A LINK worth an hour of your time.  And here is a link to the book, Finding God in the Waves.  

Monday, March 27, 2017

When a Slippery Slope Changed Our Faith:

As a family, we have grown together over the past four years in our faith dialogue.  There have been growing pains for sure.  For instance, Phil and I started our first year of homeschooling as Old Earth Creationists and interpreted the Genesis story fairly literally.  Now we accept evolution in its entirety--all the way down to the shared genes with primates.  Our kids have watched and listened as we shifted and changed our direction over the years.  They’ve been a huge part of the story.  I like that they have walked it with us.  We’ve explored hard things together, re-shaped our limited literal view of the bible, and talked openly about hard topics (abortion, sexuality, other faiths-- all of it).  

I remember at the beginning of the shifting, someone telling us to be careful about the ‘slippery slope.’  It supposedly started with gender-role equality in church and marriage, problems with inerrancy, then the evolutionary science in which you no longer see Adam and Eve as historical figures, an acceptance of homosexuals, and finally you just give up on Jesus.  Because you’ve messed with the bible so much, you can no longer figure out which parts are eternally true and which parts are antiquated storytelling.  

The words “slippery slope” are thrown around in Christian circles usually with little understanding of the actual processes involved in the so called ‘sliding.’  The short sighted assumption is that one or two small shifts in belief lead to a tremendous descent into a very unbiblical spirituality.  The term keeps us in check because it instills fear.  We want to have a valid faith, so we stay away from the cliffs.  We want to be poster Jesus followers, so we do not play by the edge.  The funny thing is that Jesus lived his life at the bottom.  Over and over, he is creating space in the low places and then saying, “This is where I’ll be.”  I like to think most religious people 2,000 years ago watched and listened to Jesus and thought, that guy is on the slippery slope. 

As my own faith started painfully shifting, I hoped I could allow some alterations, but remain secure on the summit of faith…that I could adjust my sails a little (like be a Jesus feminist or accept evolution), but I would not slide down to the bottom (accept homosexuality or consider the possibility that other faith traditions are honored by God).  Little by little, even as I dug my heels in and tried scratching my way back to higher places, I could feel the descent.  I hate rollercoasters and I detest the freefall rides.  I involuntarily curse a lot on these things.  My kids count the curses and tell me afterwards how many times I said ‘shit.’  God has heard me curse a lot over the last four years, too.  

The reality is that I cannot invalidate or deny that some progression occurs-- all things are connected in some way.  My favorite word in the whole English vocabulary is ‘sonder’.  It is defined as follows:  n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.  When I was a kid, and we were driving in the dark of the evening, my mom would always comment how she loved to peek in the windows of the houses we passed.  The lights were on, window curtains pulled back.  And sometimes the old house we saw a hundred times before, the one that looked only semi-cared for or maybe a little broken down, would come to life.  People would be sitting around a table.  Walls were filled with photos, candles twinkled.  I looked forward to certain houses, because I knew they were alive inside.  Glowing.  I am learning to start here with myself and others—assume that we are all a complex mix of story, experience, and light and not a mere structure of mostly correct or terribly incorrect thinking, that we all have truth to offer.  

A few years ago, I found a blogpost that didn’t just critique the slippery slope, but formulated a better shape and understanding of it.  The graph was specifically addressing inerrancy, but I think it offered me a sigh of relief at the time.  Since then, I picture the “slippery slope” as a soundwave.  My faith has a frequency, a heartbeat.  Some days I live in the valleys and feel more like an atheist or agnostic than a Christian.  I’ve tried holding on to certain narratives or doctrines I thought were untouchable or somehow validated my faith before others, but eventually my stubborn fingers relent, my hands open, and I’m left with what feels like emptiness in this place.  But, I’ve learned through it all, this is never the end.  Something far more rich and wide is always given back to me.  And my faith swells and deepens-- and then I find myself rising again.  Valleys and mountaintops.  Darkness and light.  Doubting and trusting.  

I listened to a podcast this week where Rob Bell talked about pinning down a butterfly.  By the time you’ve got the thing pinned still, it’s already dead.  I’m not trying to pin down my beliefs anymore.  I feel safe to live in freedom.  I believe in a God big enough to love me even when I’m wrong or still figuring things out.  

So as we have moved and talked as a family unit, all while our individual hearts shift and beat inside us, we do not fear the ‘descent.’  It is where we have met God.  Two weeks ago, Niamh sat in the truck with me, and somehow homosexuality came up.  We talked about different viewpoints, our own consciences, and that we should believe first in a good, loving God.  She told me “I’ve never really thought about it as bad, mom.  I think there are really good families who have two dads or two moms.”  And I exhaled a little.  We are okay with our kids treading these places now.  Working out their faith.  Owning their belief system.  I’m thankful for a daughter who believes in goodness and grace and thinks through nuances and complexities rather than seeing the world in black and white.  She will offer tired souls a safe place.  She will see people and not labels or stereotypes.  She will know that as you turn the prism of a life, you see a million hues and a spectrum of light-- and we are not structures only, but unfolding stories, too.  

I think there are many families who hold hands and cross, together, the lines that neatly defined their faith years ago.  It is a sacred thing to do with children-- navigate the hard places in freedom and grace.  I believe in it.  Too many millennials are leaving church because in their youth they were given a box that contained a statement of faith, some creeds, and God himself.  Eventually, life, experience, and the secular world shakes the box apart, and we realize it only housed a God we had made for ourselves: easy, safe, and obvious.  But I get super excited over this place—the messy, ‘slippery slope’, upended faith place.  If we celebrated these parts of the faith journey, people could be included not excluded.  Loved, not judged.  Safe, not dangerous.  I love a wandering heart because it is the vehicle through which I fell in love with God again, and I know it is an opportunity to deconstruct some structures and assumptions.  Instead of rebuilding with rigid framework and impenetrable walls, we find that our faith is better for the wild freedom of soft lines and fluidity.  

Science is my very favorite place to sit with new ideas and challenges to our faith and bible.  I grew up loving science, but fearing it too.  As I began to accept evolution as an adult, I worried that I would be forced to leave my faith behind.  As I pressed in, evolution offered this exquisite, beautiful story about life and a God of process and deep time.  It stood in contrast to a 6-day creation (which surely speaks to God’s power) in that it revealed incredible investment and artistic integrity.  While I do not think it matters AT ALL what we believe about creation regarding our faith, I do think our learning posture in it sets the stage for how we dialogue across the gamut of faith conversations.  Evolution in its entirety caused a chain reaction in much of what I held tight; but the gift is that I no longer fear science—or the bible.  I can embrace life on other planets (it’s out there in some form— get used to the idea), neanderthals (the amount of time I’d spent worrying over those guys is.just.weird.), an evolving universe (instead of a fallen-from-perfection universe), the deeply beautiful humanity of the scriptures (differentiated from seeing them as mostly or fully divine), and all the tensions and different theologies that make up our bible (the writers and editors of scripture were on individual and collective faith journeys, too).  One of our biggest obstacles as parents has been the lack of resources for our children in this.  However, we’ve learned that the answer is not in a meshing of God and secular science— like no book or curriculum is going to give five neat bullet points for kids on to how to love Jesus and accept evolution.  Is there a better way to embrace emerging science that speaks to multiple universes (quantum mechanics will likely provide the next biggest obstacle to a literal bible viewpoint in the very near future) and life emerging from non-living matter (why do we equate purpose with instantaneous life)?  For us, the best way forward has been in safe conversations, embracing science, and loving God.  And not fearing that one excludes the other.

One direction I’d like to take this blog is helping other people create good dialogue in this area for their families.  Questions are a good way forward.  Story is a good way forward (knowing someone’s story softens the heart immediately).  Trusting that God loves you even if you have a few things wrong— that is a good way forward.  I’ve written this post over and over; I’m still deep within my own learning and figuring-it-out stages.  (Pretty sure this will last my whole life!)  But I figured a rainy Monday is as good a day as any to share my heart and start somewhere.  I hope to publish a monthly blog dedicated specifically to navigating science and faith conversations within the context of a family unit (including children)— questions, resources, books, links to people who lead well in this area, and our own continuing story through it all.  Mostly, I want people who are knee-deep in it to know that there are others already waiting for you at the bottom of the hills.  We love Jesus.  We believe in a loving God.  We sit with our bibles and read the Psalms.  We have a deep, rich faith too.  The Gospel lies perhaps the most alive within the valleys we tread.  

"When someone in vulnerability tells you everything they’ve known has fallen apart, 
the correct response is not to quote scripture, 
the correct response is not biblical apologetics, 
the correct response is a hug. 
The correct response is to say, I love you. 
They have to encounter an impossible love.
It’s the only way the gospel comes to life.” 
~Mike  McHargue

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Thoughts on Water, Moana, and God


Water speaks to me.  I am not a huge swimmer or anything (I’m actually awful).  I do not spend much time in or on water— but it has always been that place for me where Spirit and matter meet.  Water is dangerous and beautiful; more powerful than any ship and yet will gently cradle our body-form and float us across its surface.  Without it, there is no life.  It serves as a good place to house the ancient stories of creation and floods, where perhaps water and myth work together to tell us the divine things that factual, quantitative words cannot.  Water is paradox at its finest; chaos, ordered, deep, shallow, dark, reflective, wild, and poetic.  In eighth grade, I wanted to write my research paper on water and how beautiful I thought it was.  I didn’t.  I thought it would make for a weird paper.  In my mid-thirties, it seems like the most logical thing to blog about.   

This week, one of my best friends texted me (used and edited for length with her permission), “I want so badly to call myself a Christian [but] I am finding it increasingly difficult to convince myself of any truth.  How can I take some of Scripture and say it’s “truth” and some are “stories” or an “outdated ideal” of…how we deal with God and ourselves?  How do you hold on?  What do you still hold to be absolute?  Is there such a thing?  Do we still call ourselves Christians?”  

I love this friend.  We were besties in elementary, and then she moved to another school.  I did not see her for twenty years.  And then one day, there she was in our Chick File A.  We fell back into being friends as easy as water runs downhill.  I love, more than anything, her searching heart, open eyes, and difficult questions.  These are good questions, guys.  They are the questions, often answered inadequately or too hastily, that drive many of us from church rather than to it.   

I saw Moana last month.  Twice.  It is my favorite kids’ movie ever.  I looked forward to this movie for two years, mostly for the artwork, not knowing much about the storyline.  However, as breathtakingly beautiful as the movie is, the story is what stole my heart.  It mirrors some of our Christian journeys— being on an island, only allowed to sail the coastline, knowing there is an ocean to explore, but feeling the pressure to play it safe.  We can feel locked into a predetermined role, an already mapped out faith, where questions and an exploring heart lead to danger, or worse, the unknown.  My favorite part of the movie happens in the cavern full of hidden sailing ships, when Moana whispers, “We were voyagers!”  

We should remember that we were voyagers, too.  That there is more to being a God worshiper than staying close to the shore.  

I’ve thought a lot about my friend’s questions the last few days.  They are not unfamiliar to me.  I have had the same ones.  I don’t think the point is in the answers though.  We may live our whole lives in darkness in some places.  St. John of the Cross said, “…the more we look at the sun, the greater is the darkness it causes in our vision.”  Maybe the point is not whether we ascribe to every point in our church’s statement of faith or can honestly adhere to whatever Creed we read aloud in Sunday morning worship.  Maybe we do not need to be worried about whether we are called “Christian” or not in our friend circles.  If you love God and are in open water—the kind of water that sometimes feels soothing and other days feels like you are drowning— listen:  YOU ARE A VOYAGER.  

God is not squeezing you into a role or belief system that redirects your questions and searching heart towards easy answers.  His love is bigger than the places you get him wrong.  Thank God— because we all probably have him wrong here and there.  I hope so.  I put my trust in a God who is bigger than my faith, so it is always stretching— sometimes painfully so.  Who the hell cares if you fit into nice definitions or other people’s expectations.  I hold on to two things: 1. God is love.  Always and 2. My theology will forever be in flux (stagnant theology means I am worshiping a God I’ve created).

To my dear friend, I’m there with you.  I am cheering you on from my own spot in the ocean.  We are not meant to show up on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights and be fed all the answers.  Church people need to be voyagers too.  There is still much to be learned, to be explored.  May you find the space and grace to ask these things aloud, to wrestle for answers even if they never come, to refuse common labels the power to invalidate your love for God.  You are safe.  Even in the middle of the ocean.  Far from shore.  God is there, too.  

I love that your faith is all the paradox of water-- chaos, ordered, deep, shallow, dark, reflective, wild, and poetic. This, THIS, is a beautiful life in God.  You have a pulse.  A beating, sometimes throbbing, heart.  These are not the places to fear.  It means you are alive.  Voyage on.  

Friday, December 9, 2016

~Navigating Social Media with a Teen~

We have a teen.  

She is bright.  And funny in a witty way.  You would like to be around her.  She is good at making people feel precious and noticed.  She likes playing and make-believe and her toys are still treasured in all the sweet ways (I found a Moana doll in her bed the other night which made my heart melt because I really, really do believe in the phrase “let them be little.”). 

She is growing up, too.  She wears my clothes.  And my shoes.  Lately, she has been in a “piercing” stage where she wants ALL.THE.HOLES.  I accommodate her when I can (I mean, I don’t really have a good argument on this one), but the nose has to wait until she is 16—thank you Department of Health and tattoo shop that abides by the laws.  She does the Dab and that Whip and Nae-Nae thing. Recently, she knew the words to a song I’d never heard, and she told me, “it’s an 80’s song, mom”…like she knows cool-vintage and I didn’t actually grow up then.  She loves all the good books and movies, and you will be her best friend if you reference anything Harry Potter, Star Wars, Narnia, Lost, or Marvel.  

I love my Niamh.  She is this thirteen-year-old mix of being a child and being a real live teenager.  We have had hard discussions this year about image, eating, exercise, friendship, being unique, and why I don’t like her in 4-inch wedges (it’s just too weird, man).  I am learning for the first time as a mom what places I want to stick my ground (my kids are not allowed—ever ever ever— to drive with teens, for instance) and what hills I’m not willing to die on (piercings, hair coloring, and her use of YOLO—which makes me cringe but I bite my tongue).  She loves music (like her dad), so we have taken the route of evaluating on a song-by-song basis whether curse words have some type of value in the song (because we think some help express a point or feeling— like in Stand Up by FloBots, which is one of her faves) or whether they are pointless, derogatory, or crass.  We have also had to figure out a parenting plan for social media—which is a place, I believe, needs strategic parenting.  

There are a thousand different ways to approach social media as a parent.  Niamh has multiple friends with Facebook and Instagram accounts.  I learn from parents who do it differently than we do.  In most cases, they are a nice correcting force in my life, because I tend to over protect and maybe helicopter around a bit.  From a parenting standpoint (and I really have to consciously work at this), I want my kids to have the freedom to experience the world, make some bad choices with the good ones, and know they are joyfully loved to the fullest in it all.  I don’t want them operating from a behavior management angle (which I did very well as a teenager).  They will make mistakes.  I will make mistakes.  Richard Rohr says in Everything Belongs, “The great and merciful surprise is that we come to God not by doing it right but by doing it wrong” (let your theology wrestle with that one for a while!).  This way of thinking has helped Phil and I both stay in conversation with our kids.  Sometimes I have to show up to Niamh and Philly and say I am sorry for failing them as a parent— that I was concerned with behavior over heart, which is never the point.  And they come to us, too, sometimes with tears in their eyes (Philly) and sometimes with a broken heart (Niamh) and ask for forgiveness.  And it is all mercy, grace, learning, tears, space to fail, adjusting their compass a little, and hugs again.  

Phil and I choose not to allow Niamh to have her own Facebook.  We think it might serve as a distraction and could even be a place for someone like her (who can be shy and nervous…like me) to depend on abstract friendships rather than real-life-people friendships.  

Instagram is, in my humble opinion, the best thing since email, maybe even bread.  It is my favorite social media platform, mostly because it is, at its core, a creative and curated place.  I openly and fully admit, it is the best of our days.  I choose my photos carefully and edit them meticulously so that they flow together and the “story in squares” is both lovely and inspiring.  I can talk about real and messy things there, but I like that it is a place for me to creatively tell our story in beautiful photos.  

I wanted to allow Niamh this same creative space to explore photography and express herself.  However, there is no real way for parents to monitor or manage the content on IG.  Sure, you can make your child’s profile “private”, but that does not sift out what will appear in their searches or even on the community page.  I do not want to protect her from the reality that some people in the IG world are basically naked and happy to show it, are sending a message of body-perfection over soul-substance, are preferentially promoting discord over peace, are demoralizing and verbally assaulting to women, or are really good at following whatever is popular but have no real thought of their own.  As a parent, though, I want to talk through it with my girl…who is still learning that it is a beautiful thing to be “curvy” and have freckles and wear plain, old Beatles tshirts and be weird and unique and appreciate people who are culturally, religiously, and ethnically very different than herself.   I do not want to give her free and unsupervised travel down a road of being informed and possibly shaped by excessive amounts of the world’s content with no friend to help navigate the harder things.  I want her to walk it, but I’d like to hold her hand.  

So we opened an IG account together.  We use it to refine her love of taking photos; grow her creativity in telling a good story through images and a few words; to share a fun place together as a mom and daughter; and to give her some access to the world of social media.  She is not logged in unless I do it for her.  And she is not allowed to “surf around” IG aimlessly.  It is a working compromise, and may need some adjustment as we move forward.  I’m learning there is an art to compromise when you are a parent, some sort of give-and-take of freedom and respect.   I plan to eventually hand it off to her.  But Niamh is still half child in our opinion, so Phil and I have the responsibility and massive privilege of guiding her as she grows.  

It is not a matter of trust.  I trust Niamh and Philly both.  I trust them to know the right choice.  I trust them to make it.  I trust that, at some point, they won’t.  I trust them to be honest with us, because we stress grace and love over perfection.  I trust them to honor our parenting choices.  I trust them to fail—and they trust Phil and I to love them through it.  I trust Niamh not to look for bad content.  But I do not trust bad content to not come looking for her.  When it does, and it will, I would like to be part of the picture.  I’d like to ask the right questions and gently nudge her towards a healthy outcome.  And at 13, we believe that is necessary parenting not optional parenting.  

Like I said, there are so many different ways to approach social media with kids.  We have many friends who do it differently— and successfully.  In no way do I think we have the best approach.  In these new things—this teenager stage we are encountering—parenting often takes the form of a shot in the dark.  We have found that being honest along the way with our kids—keeping them a part of the discussion, admitting where we have struggled in the past, and being free to share anything  in a safe, loving home—creates a family where honesty is a thing to celebrate even when it reveals a failure.  Often our hard talks start with us telling our child “you can’t shock us” and end with “thank you for being brave and sharing with us.”  


And this is our attempt at incorporating those things into social media access.  I’m thankful that our kids are good at grace for Phil and I, too, even as we figure out parenting!  It is my favorite, most exhausting, and scariest life task.  And my greatest, greatest hope is to be parents of children who parent better than us— who move our family and legacy more towards Life and Goodness and Love.  

If you want to check out Niamh’s and my shared Instagram, you can find it under @mom_and_a_girl .  Feel free to say “hello.”  We enjoy meeting new friends.  

And Phil and I would love to read advice, experiences, and tips on how you navigate this with your own children!  Feel free to share in the comments.  

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

RV Life...soon.

This month we bought an RV to live in.  I know that is weird and maybe even a little crazy, but we did it.  It is a move we’ve been planning for months but weren’t too sure how it would pan out.  Or, even if it would.  But now there is a trailer in our driveway, a hitch on our truck, and a box of luminoodles on its way to our address.  (I refuse to live the camping life without twinkle lights.  It is where I draw the line, folks.)   

For almost two years, we’ve been feeling the need to simplify, choose freedom over expectations, and wholeheartedly pursue living out a good family story together.  It did not start as a dream to live in a 17-foot RV (I really thought we’d be in a 34 foot airstream with new wood floors and little cactus plants in the big, airy windows)—but our path has led exactly here, and it’s terrifying and exciting. 

There have been moments of panic.  I’ve woken up a few times in the middle of the night wondering what the hell we are doing because I don’t know about bears or wilderness or how to cook tasty things in my oven let alone over an open fire.  I don’t know how to “winterize” anything and honestly, the luminoodles are not so we can look cute while we camp—I’m gonna wrap those suckers around my kids so I don’t loose them somewhere on a mountainside.

The day we picked up the camper, right before we handed over our money, Phil and I both walked into a corner of the dealership and just breathed.  We kept asking, “Are you okay?” And we both kept answering, “I think so.”  At one point, Phil did say, “We could just run.”  After laughing and instead of running, we talked everything out—What do we want?  Would we regret not giving this a shot?  Where is God leading us?  So we handed the salesman our money, hopped into our truck, and drove the tiny (guys, it’s t.i.n.y.) RV back home. 

It has been a huge learning process.  The times we feel nervous about what we don’t know, feel afraid of what others might think (you know you think we cray cray—it’s ah-ight), or feel overwhelmed by big dreams, we always come back to those three things—simplicity, freedom, and to live a good, adventurous story. 

So here is to living with less, wild spaces, quiet work, learning new things, nature, homeschooling on the road, facing fears, 140 square feet of living space, four humans, two cats, and twinkle lights to make the kids into walking glow sticks.   We will be messy at it, but I am thankful for passionate, adventurous hearts to share the experience with. 

We will post our trip itinerary sometime after Christmas.  Be sure to let us know if we are in your neighborhood!  And if you are a seasoned RV-owner or camping expert, feel free to share hints, tips, or advice—we will be very grateful!