A move and some change

Hi pals!

I wanted to let you know that I decided to make a few small changes to this blog: I’m focusing it a bit more on politics, culture, faith, and family. I also decided to host it through my own domain name and not wordpress.com. All that means is that if you follow my blog you’ll still see it in your feed but you won’t get an email notification and this URL will not have any of my post anymore. If you want to still receive email notifications when I post, go to www.quietasitskeptblog.com and subscribe! Easy peasy. Also, for those of you who have been with me for a while now, I have created a facebook page for this blog where we can connect more often. The links to that are in the top right corner of my new site. I’d love for you to come on over and to facebook and chat with me!

Thank you all for your continued support and conversations. I hope you’ll make the jump on over and join me.

Ashley

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A Hopeless Election in a Kingdom of Hope

On foot you will find that the earth is still satisfyingly large, and full of beguiling nooks and crannies.
-Wendell Berry

Are you all tired yet? Of the election, I mean. What a silly question. Of course you are. We are all feeling the political fatigue of 2016. It has been a long, gruelling, and exhausting road to election day. More so than I’ve ever experienced in my short history of voting. And since we’re only 3 weeks away from November 8th, the political tenor has reached a feverish pitch. I don’t know if you’re like me at all, but I love politics and I love even more to talk about politics. Researching, commenting, and keeping up to date on our nation and it’s leaders is exciting and stimulating for me. And I love a good debate. But not this time. There is nothing exciting or fun about this election or any of the discourses surrounding it. The world seems to have closed in and it feels so very small. Suffocating. Hopeless.

I hope that I have built a strong enough of a rapport and a relationship with you, my readers, that I might share with you the hope that sustains me when I’m suffering and struggling most. At the risk of being an insufferable evangelical, may I breathe a moment of hope and peace into your mind today?

God is a god of love, peace, and justice, and no nation, political party, or leader can ever fully capture the social, moral, and ethical concerns of the Lord. Neither conservative, liberal or independent can ever care for the poor, the widowed, the orphaned, the alien, or the oppressed to the extent to which God has called us. That is to say, there is no one way to vote as a Christian. There is no candidate or party that fully embodies the concerns and commandments of God. He is far too big for any political agenda or national identity. And what a relief that is for us because there is no morally right or ethical vote this election. I believe that there is only one candidate this cycle who has shown herself to be qualified, and fit to serve as our president. And as a Christian, this means that I must be very critical of her and our nation as to how we address education, poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia, sex, crime, etc. To be a Christian involved in politics is to not sell your soul to a political party or a national agenda, but to love what the Lord loves, and hate what the Lord hates. And there is no one issue that the Lord hates more than another, including the hot button conservative issues of abortion and gay marriage.  For, to love the Lord and do as he commands is to have a heart for those in the margins of our cultures:

“If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs…You shall surely give to him, and your heart should not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your works and in all to which you put your hand. For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.”
-Deuteronomy 15:7-8, 10-11

This is our hope: that the Lord, in our great need and depravity, came to earth and died for our sins so that we might have eternal life with him. And through his life, death, and resurrection, he has equipped us  with every good thing that we may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever (Hebrews 13:20-21). This is the hope and calling of the Christian, that we engage courageously, thoughtfully, and critically in politics and culture with our eyes focused on Jesus. There is no nation in the history of the world that has lasted the entirety of existence. Every nation rises and falls, but it is the Lord and his kingdom who lasts forever. And this should give us great hope. Who are you to believe that any president can thwart the will of God? That his sovereignty and goodness for us and his world is not big enough to right the wrongs of evil dictators and corruption? Neither Hillary or Trump can usurp the Lord’s throne and upset his divine will. Rather, it is the job of the Christian to speak truth and life into all areas of our politics and cultures and to be critical of how we engage with the commandment to act justly and love mercy (Micah 6:8).

For those of you who aren’t Christians reading this, thank you. I am honored to share with you what it is I believe and that you would listen. I’m sure that there are areas of my faith that I need to sharpen my understanding and that you don’t agree with. But, even so, I hope that my faith in Jesus may bless you and give you hope in some way today; that we don’t have to put our trust and hope in any political leader or nation, but rather in a God who has always been and who always will be.

The Autumn Breeze

Why, hello there! Time seems to have slipped out from beneath me and I look over my shoulder and it’s October 5th. No, wait. 6th. Good grief. Around here the breeze has turned in from the north bringing the slight chill of autumn that we’ve all been waiting for. I’ve thrown open the windows to circulate the recycled air from the summer out of our house and have invited the outside to come in. A welcomed cleansing. But wouldn’t you know it that the time of year when I like to start roasting vegetables and bake hearty breads that my oven would break? I know, I know. Does autumn really come when ovens are broken? It surely does. I’m actually not in a rush to buy a new one. We’re in a stage of life where I’m not working and money is very tight so we’re trying to fix things where it’s possible instead of tossing and buying. Rejecting capitalism and materialism by force rather than by romantic idealism. Living the dream. Ah, but anyways. I’m adapting. The stove top still works, so instead of biscuits from the oven with our vegetable and barley soup last night I hand rolled a few parsley dumplings and plopped them into the pot. What a delicious treat they were. Our bellies were full and the breeze was wonderfully cool.

Last night after supper, after Ruby was tucked into her crib and the boys were showered, the four of us settled into mine and Jason’s bed with a few books while we laid around telling stories and tickling feet. Wouldn’t you know that Myles read to us The Giving Tree in its entirety, without whining or complaining, but with a legitimate desire to read and finish it. I teared up, not from the old stump giving its dearest friend the only thing left that it had to offer, but from listening to my son read. What a long journey this has been for us all. This moment has come at a sweet time for our family. As you know from my last post over a week ago, I went around the house in a fit of being fed up and unplugged all of the electronics. I’m a bit confused because the boys actually haven’t asked to watch TV or play Minecraft but only a couple of times. I’m wondering if it was actually us who pushed all of the technology on them for one reason or another. What a revelation that has been. If I hadn’t have unplugged the TVs, I wonder if we all would have spent the evening together in bed talking and reading together. A memory that wouldn’t have existed. Honestly, the children have been better behaved over all. They’re not as grouchy. They play independently without any prompting from me or Jason. And we’re spending such better time together. Playing legos, building toothpick and marshmallow structures, reading books, playing games, sitting and talking. And Myles isn’t struggling with homework and reading these days. I’m well aware that correlation doesn’t imply causation. But if the shoe fits and the sun rises…

So, here we are. Broke and happy. Content with a broken oven and reading children. As embarrassed as I often get about our finances and the choices that we’ve made to get us here (graduate school for both of us, heaps of student loan debt, poor financial planning, and me not working) I don’t count it as a failure. Something about the shifting breeze has settled a contentment in our small house. Sediments of rest and peace have dusted the earth. Financial security and upward mobility have lost its grasp and drifted away. I’d also say that my desires to be thin again, trendy, and less grey have gone with it as well. Contentment. What a sweet gift. I hope you all are feeling the change of season wherever you are and that it pushes in a peace past your understanding, as well. Until next time.

Our Journey Through Technology: Or, Getting Rid of Screen Time

There are a thousand thousand reasons to love this life, everyone of them sufficient.

― Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

Most everyone in southeastern Virginia is watching for the leaves to begin browning around their edges and preparing to fall into our yards as we start settling into new autumn routines and daylight rhythms. This is one of the things I love most about Virginia. We have such beautiful changes of seasons. I have grown to really appreciate the turn and the tilt of the earth as we move from summer’s extreme heat to winter’s blistering cold year after year. Our home life has turned away from the traveling, leisure, and late evenings of summer and is now more focused on new house projects, routines, and instruction. The beginnings of turning inward and spending more time in our minds reading, practicing, learning, and creating always start in the fall, continuing through the deep winter when we’re all tucked tight inside, hibernating. After the busyness of spring and summer, this time of year is always welcomed. This is actually the first time that we’ve put our older boys into any after school activities. They started both cub scouts and piano lessons this year. I’ve always been wary of over scheduling my children and structuring play out of their lives, but this feels slow paced and reasonable for our family. It also makes them seem older to me, which is a welcomed gift.

I’ve been watching my oldest son, Myles, a lot recently. He’s 7 and in second grade, quickly growing out of the innocence of young childhood and into an older child, rounding the corner into adolescence. Sometimes it’s tough watching him lose his innocence and navigate the world. This age is a particularly awkward as he gains more social awareness, constructs his peers and the world into hierarchies, and is yet still so clumsy and emotionally fragile. I can only imagine that it will become more and more difficult as he continues to grow up and we navigate through my and Jason’s parenting. We all have lots of learning to do, and still more failures and successes to accumulate over the years.

The most recent topic that we are navigating through is our children’s use of digital technology. As they all get older their love for and immersion in so much technology is always a struggle for me. It’s something that we try to monitor and keep boundaries around, but often it almost feels like an impossible battle. And what are we fighting? At times it seems so benign and harmless. They love to play Minecraft and watch YouTube. It’s what they enjoy. And yet, so quickly it becomes all that they want or know how to do. I find that they even become more agitated and bored the more that they are connected to their games and television. When it’s turned off they pace around the house, become agitated at each other, and oh, do they whine. It’s as if they forget how to play and use their imaginations. They need something to stimulate their brains and flash across their eyes in order for them to function and participate in the world. And obviously, this concerns me. There’s a slew of research out that argues against so much digital technology for our kids. But there’s also a slew of research that supports it. Some would even probably argue that our world is becoming increasingly more digital so we should all rethink and restructure how and what we consider to be normal social interaction and play. Though, I do become wary when my children, and myself, need constant stimulus to function and interact with people.

Since the summer’s heat has finally lost its grip around here, I’ve been pushing the boys outside every day. And wouldn’t you know, they have no idea what to do. Jason and I set up their micromachine trucks and soldiers outside in the dirt and rocks and showed them how to play, attempting to spark their imaginations. While it takes a few minutes, they finally latched on and began to play. But as soon as another kid comes outside, the same fight ensues trying to keep them outside. They all want to immediately go in and play on a tablet or watch YouTube. Then it’s a hoard of boys pestering you to go to someone else’s house and play the xBox.

Well, over the weekend I had enough. I went through our house and unplugged every television. I put away their Leap Pads. I took out the Wii. I banned Minecraft and all access to the laptop. For the sake of my sanity and the health of my kids. Do you know what happened? The world continued to spin into autumn and my boys played outside. They spent hours building Legos. They drew on construction paper. They played on the swing with their sister. When a kid came over that wanted to take them to their house to play video games I said NO. I put my foot down. Yes, they whined a little bit. Yes, it was harder parenting. But they got over it.

Somewhere along the way this no-shame, no-guilt, parenting culture has turned into a game of survival that often overlooks what’s best for our kids and families. Sure, I feed my kids frozen chicken nuggets and turn on the television when life gets out of control and hard, but it easily and increasingly morphs into our daily lives and routines. And then out of nowhere I have a brood of digital addicts who don’t want to leave the house. And for what? So that my life is easier? Parenting is easier when your kids are staring at a screen. But that doesn’t mean it’s what is best. At least not all of the time. That’s not to shame parents who do it! We’ve all been there. But we can encourage each other to press into parenting when it’s difficult. We can set rules, limits and boundaries that teach our children how to use their imaginations and interact with others in the physical world. That is, I guess, if you value the physical world. The world that has natural rhythms and cycles and is moving our family into fall. And we’re not going to miss it.

Real Talk: Cultivating Kindness

Surely by now we all are friends. At least the distant digital kind that give a listening ear and kindness when we need it. Right now I need a real talk moment. Parenting has been quite a struggle for me recently. I find myself so easily agitated at my children, even the littlest one, barking orders at them, wishing the day away until it’s time for bed. It’s such a shame because I see how it affects their tempers and attitudes. How they’re treated is often reflected in how they treat others. These days it’s mostly with annoyance and anger. Sigh.

What’s the most difficult is that my two boys are absolute turds. I say that in the most loving, motherly way, but holy shit, they are so loud and fight so much. And you know, Jason and I try to teach them kindness and gentleness, but out come the punches and cries that someone took something that they were looking for and will neeeeever give it baaaaack, despite all of our modest attempts at guiding them to loving others. That’s about when I drop my head and wait desperately for 8pm reading, toothbrush, pj, and bed time. Okay, honestly, they could go to bed in jeans and cavities at that point. Just please, for the love of god, close the door and fall asleep. And there you have it. A vicious cycle of anger begetting anger, and more anger, and a heaping tablespoon of annoyance. No wonder my kids are just so lovely to be around.

I think that it was, oh, everyday this week that the boys were squabbling when I pulled them aside to talk to them about kindness, about honoring others with our words and our actions, loving others, treating them how they would like to be treated. They both darted their eyes around the room, squirming to get away from their nagging mom, and told each other sorry, now give me back boy toy, you thief! 

You know, cultivating kindness really is difficult. Everything in our flesh rejects it. It is a discipline to think of others and not yourself. To forgive when you have been wronged. To love when others hate. Selfishness and pride rule our bodies and minds. Well, at least in our family. And that’s really what I have been struggling with. My own selfishness and time. I want to do what I want, when I want it. So, naturally, that causes conflict between me and my toddler when she’s hungry right when I want to, oh, go to the bathroom or check my email. It also causes conflict when I don’t want to read or play games with my son after he’s been asking for an hour. And I get annoyed. Then he hits his brother. Like I said, it’s a vicious cycle.

But you know, I could go off and read a list on how other families have worked to cultivate kindness – writing encouraging letters to each other, baking each other cookies, shooting rainbows from their… I’ll stop – but those lists always leave me feeling like a pretty big failure. My kids don’t donate their allowance money to starving kids in Haiti. Hell, I can’t even get them to loan me $5 for a coffee at Target. They have Minecraft paraphernalia to buy! But what we can do is cultivate forgiveness. When they do wrong they can confess, ask forgiveness, and be forgiven. Maybe that will cultivate more kindness in the long term. To know that you’re forgiven and loved would motivate anyone to be kind to others. Even me.

When You Accidently Expose Yourself For Who You Really Are

When was the last time that you had one of those embarrassing moments where you did something wrong or acted in a way that exposed a part of yourself that you’d rather not have other people see? Perhaps you acted rudely, or said something mean to someone publically, or acted selfishly when you didn’t get your way, or you spoke too quickly and revealed that you are jealous. There are endless ways that this can manifest itself and it almost always leaves a pit of despair and desperation inside of us. We then conjure up ways to defend ourselves, make our reputations right again, shift the blame, gloss over the wrong that we have done, and do anything we can to take the blame and attention off of ourselves. If you’re anything like me, this happens far more than you’d like to admit.

But what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if when you were found guilty, caught in a corner, completely in the wrong, that instead of talking and impressing your way out, you could just confessapologize? ask for forgiveness? All while knowing that you are already loved and forgiven.

This weekend, my husband went on a surfing trip with some of his friends to the Outer Banks. I can already see the smirks on some of the ladies’ faces reading this. You know what’s coming next. I was awful to him about it. I didn’t want him to go without me, leaving me home alone for the second weekend in a row with all of our kids. After the long, hot, tiring summer with all three of our young children, all I wanted was a weekend away with him. No fighting and whining kids. No cutting chicken into little bite sized pieces before every meal. Some personal space to breathe and be alone with my love. I was so jealous of his friends, that they got to spend the time away with him that I wanted so badly. And I let him know it through my passive aggression: on facebook, in texts, and in person before he left.

Naturally, when he came back home he was hurt. I had acted like a child and forced him to not have a good time on his trip from worrying about me. And there it was. I was backed into a corner with nowhere to run or hide. I had hurt him in front of his friends and had done wrong. My very first reaction was to throw blame back into his face. But we both knew that he had done nothing wrong. I was jealous and hurt that I couldn’t go along, so I punished him. Seeing the hurt on his face caused me to pause and stop running the solutions to my problem of having hurt him. And I told him how sorry I was for hurting him, for being so selfish. A death to myself. My body almost wanted to physically run away from admitting that I had done wrong and asking him to forgive me. And do you know what he did? He forgave me. He told me that I am always his. There is not much else in this world that draws me to love my husband more than when he forgives me or asks me for forgiveness. In those tender moments of honesty and grace, where wrongs are forgiven without a record being kept, I am captivated to him.

Oh, to be loved and forgiven.

Bed Sheets and Black Holes

 

This morning at 6:30, Myles crawled into my bed and snuggled next to me. Jason was already downstairs drinking coffee and answering email, leaving me alone in our dawn soaked room with the fan whirring and cooling the air. Bundled under the comforter Myles asked, “Where are black holes?” We started the day in bed together slowly uncovering the universe. He used his hands to demonstrate the earth’s orbit around the sun and how days end and nights begin. His little imagination and curiosity eager to wrap around the workings of time and space.