A Year that Answers

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”
– Zora Neale Hurston *

David and I have been asking questions for years about our life, our values, our purpose our calling. And those questions have surfaced very little answers – though we have attempted many paths that lead us back again to the same place…back to the questions themselves.

But this year is different. It’s not a year for questions but a year for answers. Because I’ve been looking for these answers for so many years, I found myself quick to jump on board with the change and all that comes along with moving a family cross-country.

We are moving from Minneapolis, MN, to Chattanooga, TN.
Uprooting.
Undoing.
Replanting.

This path began to unfold when we were digging around in the dirt of our very small city garden that’s tucked next to our 1929 Tudor home in Minneapolis. We were weeding our vegetables, finally feeling settled in our life – our kids were in a good school, we were both loving our jobs. But something wasn’t feeling quite right to me, and I was nervous to say something.

I did not want to disrupt the goodness of the life that we had worked so hard to build. But something just didn’t feel right – even though I felt like it SHOULD feel right.

With my eyes on the dirt in front of me, and my hands full of weeds, I mentioned to David I was feeling unsettled – ironically – and that I wondered if something was stirring and we were supposed to move. Maybe not today or tomorrow…but maybe this magical 1929 Tudor was not our forever home.

I held my breath because saying this out loud took a lot of courage. I didn’t want to seem ungrateful for the life we built together. And I didn’t want to disrupt the idyllic rhythm of life by mentioning disorder if there was nothing to it. Maybe I just needed a weekend away and a stiff drink. Or maybe…there was something to this feeling.

David’s response was immediate and so strong – he agreed that we should consider something…and that our desire to live by family might become realized.

We finished our conversation and our evening gardening and let it all lay freshly pruned. We walked away from that night with something new beginning to grow. We didn’t have any answers right away, but we started asking bold questions.

Questions about our values.
Questions about who we are, what we contribute to the world.
And most importantly, if we got really quiet, we wanted to know what our lives were speaking to us about who we are – not what we wanted to impose on our one, wild and precious life.

The journey over the next year was not straightforward. We did not make a plan and put it into action. But we started having conversations with our people – about this unsettling, about what “home” means, about family values, about the fact that life is too short and maybe we need to listen to this voice inside.

So we did. And little by little, we took steps in directions we thought we should go – where we felt our hearts were leading. Mostly those steps didn’t lead anywhere, but then one day they did.

And that day was the right day. A path opened, and we took the steps down that road.

Well, you may be asking: what will the next season look like for us?

We are choosing proximity to family after living away from any family for about five years.

Neither of us will be employed by a church. Which means a lot – for the first time, we will not be in “full-time ministry” (as they say in the biz), we will be able to choose our church instead of working for one and the job choosing the community and the weekend rhythm, we will be able to choose not to go to church (or to just show up late like everyone else). This is very new to us…I’m sure this in itself will surface a lot of stories worth sharing!

We are moving from city life to the country.

We have temporary housing, but the next, permanent step is unknown. We have a million dreams and ideas; nothing is in motion. We are okay with that.

I started a job as a managing editor at a marketing content company and I am over-the-moon excited about those people and that place and the work I will get to do. I will also add a commute to my day. So…call me? Or send me your best audio book recommendations.

David will work with his brother in remodeling and construction.

Are we excited? Yes.
Are we overwhelmed? Yes.
Do we feel incredibly certain and incredibly terrified? Yes.

Both, and.

But it feels right. It doesn’t feel easy and saying goodbye to our life and people in Minneapolis will be hard. We hoped for years that we could move back to Michigan, but we are not, and that also feels hard. Packing is hard. But we are hopeful for what is next.

It feels right and it feels hard. The richest things come from hardship. I firmly believe that a new life in Tennessee is growing from rich soil that we tilled up last year while pulling weeds in our urban garden in Minneapolis. We are taking a chance and watering that soil to see what grows up in this place.

Time, patience and hard work will bring a harvest in its time.

And I know there will be some good stories along the way.

:::

*(from my favorite novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God. I read it almost every year…I even named my first born after the author. Want to read a story of finding yourself and finding – and losing – love and telling a compelling story with the most gorgeous language? Read this book immediately.)

Advertisements

CHAOS

You know how people will often choose a word for the year? In the month of January, you choose a word or phrase that is meant to inspire or build hope or set the tone for the year ahead.

Last year, my word is “chaos.”

Which neither inspires hope or sets a tone for winners.

I blurted it out in January for the first time without thinking when I was at the tail end of a trip to Israel. We had just hiked us through the old city and our pockets were full of tchotchkes and we were ready to head back to our hotel and pack up after a full 10-day trip.

We went around the circle of about 30 of us and shared a word to describe our experience. When the circle came to me, my palms got sweaty, and without thinking, the word “chaos” came out of my mouth loud and clear.

This was early January, the start of a new year, and the beginning of opening my heart back up to faith and God after my dad died a year earlier. I was questioning a lot about God, and grieving, and for a while, I distanced myself from God.

My dad had ALS and when he died, I was 35 and he had been sick for over half my life. His death was a mix of relief, confusion, sadness, and the shock of feeling shocked – because even if you see death’s train rolling down the tracks, the finality of it still takes your breath away. I saw it coming for years, but when it finally happened, I was surprised to find that I was still surprised.

The word chaos came so much out of nowhere that I was insanely curious about it. I chewed on the word, let it roll around in my head, invited it into conversations and filtered feelings and situations through its lens. I started to realize that it was a true word for for my spiritual life – and when I blurted it out, it came from a place of truth.

It’s like that moment in fall when all the dry leaves have fallen and then the wind suddenly picks up, sending the leaves swirling into the air and around into other people’s yards where they don’t belong.

That was the feeling of my spiritual life. And it wasn’t inspiring or comforting, but a little disconcerting. I have tried some spiritual practices this year, but each time I do, I feel less settled and end up with more questions. Even church feels hard and as these winds of chaos pick up in my spirit, I find myself backing away from spirituality, because who wants to be disrupted from their peaceful, daily rhythm?

I try to identify these swirling leaves:
A leaf for my questions about religion
A leaf for my doubts about God
One for anxiety
Uncertainty
Leaves for
Not fitting into church, a small group…
A whole pile for grief
More for my questions –
About prayer
About love and loss
About God
About the afterlife
About the very hard things in life.

I watch the leaves, but there’s nothing to do with them, by the way. It ruins the fun of fall – which is raking them into a pile and jumping into them and then setting them on the curb for the city to take away in a nice, neat fashion. Control. But when they are swirling around, you cannot control them.

When my spirit is unsettled, I cannot control it. I have to sit in it and watch it happen around me and just try to keep my eyes open to pay attention. It feels very chaotic.

I looked up the word chaos at one point, hoping to find some deeper meaning in the Hebrew that I could hang onto (because like I said, that word is not very inspiring).

It’s found in the creation story. Genesis – the very beginning. The spirit of God hovers over the water, which is described as – chaos.

And then, God brings life.

It’s the chaos before the creation.
It’s the stirring up before the new life comes.

When I read that, I thought – yes! Something good is coming! God is creating something new.

But that wasn’t my word. My word wasn’t re-birth or re-new or even new or creation or create.

My word was chaos. Period. And over and over this year, it’s proved true for me.

So I’m trying to sit in it. I’m trying to breathe through the tension of my spirituality. I grew up in church – my dad was a pastor and now my husband is a pastor. I do love the local church, but I have a few questions about Church (capital C). And I know I’m not the only one.

So many of us are finding God outside the walls of the church these days – in a yoga class, over coffee with a friend, hiking in the woods. Which is where we have always found him. But now we’re just finding him there and letting it be.

Because what would it mean to bring my chaos to church?

What would that look like? And how do I get really honest about the questions I have? When the wind picks up in life, where do I find God in the world to get my footing again? And, maybe, some of you are like me and when you do lean into God, you feel more confusion than clarity.

I’ve never heard a sermon about that. Have you?

It’s November as I write this and the word came to me in January. I thought by now I would have gotten to the creation part of the story. That the chaos would ensue, but – surely! – by the fall I would see a new work begin to grow.

Instead, I am still sensing this stirring…the discomfort…the word that no-one knows what to do with or how to talk about.

So I stay curious. Because even though the predictable things haven’t happened when I’ve pressed into God this year, something is happening. My spirit is moved in a way I have never felt before – and I may not have expected this method, but if there’s one thing I know from reading the Bible, God always shows up in the ways we least expect.

Maybe I’m like those guys who saw Jesus after he was resurrected. They were with him for a full day before they realized who he was. Maybe soon I’ll see the Jesus in this story – and just like these guys in the Bible, I will say, “Oh, I thought something was stirring in my spirit! You were speaking to me all along!”

Is there life after Facebook?

Let me get right down to it: I quit Facebook and I’m not looking back. 

 

The first day was hard – my good friend was having a baby and I felt like I was missing out on the whole thing and I thought for sure I’d be the last to know when he was born, his name and all the important stats. 

 

You know what I did instead of check Facebook? I texted a friend. And she texted me back. Then, when the baby was born and the whole world (it seemed) was looking at his adorable pics on Facebook, this same friend sent me a pic of him…via text. 

 

So I didn’t miss out. 

 

It’s gotten easier and easier to break away from this online world that both connects and alienates at the same time. 

 

There are a million reasons I love being off Facebook, but mainly I’ve taken stock of the real community around me and I feel so blessed. For me (and I know this isn’t for everyone), Facebook gave me a false sense of connection – I felt I had connected with a lot of people because I “liked” their statuses or commented on a photo. But really, there had been no actual interaction. And for this extravert, this false sense of interaction was hard. 

 

So I’ve been more intentional about connecting with friends that I am doing life with – texting, emailing, and – wait for it – picking up the phone and calling (gasp!). 

 

I’m also a really competitive person, so reading everyone’s highlight reel made me feel inadequate and under-equipped – as a friend, as a mother, and just as a person. 

 

I should be clear that I’m not anti-social media or even anti-Facebook. I know not everyone is me, and maybe Facebook is great for you. I’m not going to twist your arm and tell you being off Facebook it will change your life. But maybe it will. It took a lot of pressure off mine and I feel I’m breathing a little easier. Maybe I’ll pop back on at some point and learn to live in the world of Facebook with some boundaries, but for now, I need the space totally away. 

 

Wherever you are in terms of social media usage, I think it’s healthy to have conversations about how technology is shaping our lives. 

 

I’m curious if others have thought about leaving Facebook or have tried it in the past…? What are your thoughts and comments about life-after-Facebook?

Bread and Wine: a book review

Image

When Shauna Niequist offered bloggers the chance to preview her latest book, Bread and Wine, I said “yes, please!” And so this is the subject that brings me back to this lonely blog…

There are two things I loved about this book: it inspired me to get [back] in the kitchen cooking real food, and it encouraged me to invite other people around my table. I’ve done a great job at the first since I set down the book, but honestly, my table feels maxed out right now with three little ones, so it doesn’t get many visitors. That’s okay for right now. 

I think my favorite chapter was the one about weeknight cooking, which included simple, whole foods, and creative ideas for cooking on the fly during the week. I’ve used these tips a number of times since. 

I also felt like I got a good glimpse of Shauna’s cooking rhythm – the spices and foods she generates toward (yes to goat cheese and absolutely no cinnamon). I loved this part because I am so curious about how other people feed themselves, not just on the fancy days when they have you over for dinner, but on the everyday grab-and-go lunches and the rushed dinners. 

I was hoping – and expecting – the book to be less personal essay and more expository. With a title like Bread and Wine, I expected more theology, or at least spiritual insight. But besides two chapters book-ending the piece, Shauna didn’t really go there. It’s her preference, really, but I was disappointed because I really wanted to hear her insight on these topics, but was left with stories about her own personal life. 

However, this is Shauna’s style, and this book certainly solidified her place in the personal essay section of the book store. And she does it well, so, that’s something. 

I’ve tried the enchilada recipe and it was as heavenly as Shauna talks it up to be in the book. So, so good. This recipe alone is worth gathering a crowd or splitting it into a couple of pans and sharing it with a friend (or your mom and dad, which is what I did). 

Other recipes I’m dying to try: Brannon’s Caesar Salad, Mango Chicken Curry, Nigella’s Flourless Chocolate Brownies. Oh, and the Blueberry Crisp. Oh, wait, and the Gaia Cookies, too. And, I’ll want to try the soups, but now that spring is around the corner, I’m moving away from soup season. 

I think we all love hearing stories, especially when they’re told in a personal way (that’s one reason we read blogs, right?). And when those stories relate to life and friendship and food, it makes for a rich book.

Have you read Shauna’s book? Are you planning to pick up a copy? I’d love to know what you think of it. 

Also, what inspires you to get into the kitchen and cook good foods? Springtime? Warm weather? The smell of the grill? I say yes times a million to all of these – I’m so ready for food that is grown in (or close to) my own back yard. 

My Award-Winning Chili Recipe

My neighbors had a chili cook-off a few weeks back. Since my husband was out of town, I was dragging my feet about whether or not I wanted to tackle making chili and dragging all three of my kiddos to the party all by myself. But I decided to go for it, and I’m so glad I did.

It was fun to try everyone’s chili recipes and there was quite a variety of flavors – everything from the traditional bean and beef chili (that’s what I brought) to a spicy mushroom-and-black-bean goodness. It was a night talking about food and cooking while eating and drinking – what is there not to love?!

Well, I ended up getting first place! I was so excited! I’ve never won anything food-related before. I can already tell that the competition is heating up for next year’s round…I’m planning my next chili creation already…

So, here’s my throw-together chili recipe (guestimates, only). The key, really, is cooking it FOREVER and seasoning the heck out of it…with those tricks, you can cover a multitude of wrongs. Oh, and buy good ingredients. I used really good ground beef and organic veggies. If you can manage to cook your own beans from dried, that will only take it up a notch (I didn’t bother this time).

Heather’s Award-Winning Chili

1.5 lbs ground beef, browned on the stovetop with seasonings
3 cans beans, drained & rinsed (use whatever you like – I think this time I used black, white, and red kidney)
3 cans fire-roasted, diced tomatoes (get the fire-roasted!)
1 cup (about) of diced onions and peppers (I keep a mix of this frozen so I can just throw some in chili or tacos or whatever)
1/2 cup (about) frozen corn
seasoning to taste: I use Penzeys Original Taco Seasoning and Ancho Chili Peppers (ground), salt and pepper and a little bit of agave or natural sweetener.

– Throw all ingredients in the crock pot along with about a can of water. Let simmer on low for 6 hours or so, stirring occasionally. You might have to add more water as it cooks.

Ain’t fancy, but it’s delicious! Enjoy!

Check one, two… Is this thing on…?

I have a song going through my head for this post that sounds something like this:

“Is there any-body out there?
Is there any-body out there?
Someone I can trust (huh)!”

Anyone remember that song? Circa early-80’s…conservative Christian music…?

Anywho – I’m back.

I think it’s been about 8 months since I blogged. In that time, I carried and birthed a baby boy, who is now almost 4 months old. I know I’m bias, but he is the cutest baby ever and I love him to bits.

Having 3 kiddos, 3 years and under has been a whole lotta crazy, but it’s fun. My children are sweet and thoughtful (nature, probably not nurture 🙂 and I love to watch them forming relationships with each other.

This morning, Dashiell (pronounced DASH-‘ll) was sittting in his Bumbo (are those things recalled?!) and the girls were dressing him up, giving him toys and reading him books. It was so cute and he was loving it.

So the precious moments (thought I’d keep the 80’s theme going here) are what have kept me away from the blog…oh, and the piles and piles of laundry and dishes and dirty diapers and mealtimes and bedtimes and, and, and…

[I have been micro-blogging (which is a term I recently learned) on Instagram (heatherehammond) if you’re interested in following me there.]

But it’s good to be back. I have a few posts in the works – including my award-winning chili recipe and some gluten-free information.

In the meantime, is anyone still reading…? Is there anybody out there…?