Author Archives: Faith

Agway Adventures

I am sitting in Carol’s Hungry Mind Café to write this column, as I do nearly every Saturday afternoon. Usually I crave this time, when my husband takes our daughters so that I can have a handful of silent and solitary hours – usually my only silent and solitary hours of the week – in order to “work.” (“Work” is in quotations, because being alone to write feels more like play to me.)

But today I had to force myself to come here. Today it was only the threat of a looming deadline that compelled me to drive over to Carol’s. The light rain helped, too. Still, I couldn’t resist stopping in at Agway before landing at Carol’s.

It was my third visit to Agway this week.

Right now, I am not craving silent time to write so much as I am craving time to start seeds, dig and weed, compost and mulch, reseed the lawn, and help my husband finish off the poultry fencing. I want dirt under my fingers more than computer keys.

I’m distracted because it’s spring, of course. Really and truly spring – I think. In Vermont, April is still on the risky side of spring: We are still balancing along the wire of the average last frost, still unsure that Mother Nature won’t throw us one final snowstorm for good measure. But my online forecast shows evening temperatures above freezing for the next ten days, so I’ve taken the plunge and put my spring planting schedule into play.

Spring planting means plenty of visits to Agway, our closest lawn, garden, farm, and pet supply store. And because the only time I’m guaranteed freedom from my children is Saturday afternoon, I usually visit Agway with at least some of my daughters.

Click here to read my latest “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

When You Feel Like Your Family is Killing You: Thoughts On Washing Feet (and a Little Bit of Politics)

Have you ever felt like your family was killing you?

I don’t mean killing with intent, of course; I’m talking about a slow and steady nibbling away at your emotional, physical, and spiritual health. The sense that your blood is flowing directly into their veins, and your breath is being sucked up by their lungs. The fear that it might really happen: You may not be able to take one more step, answer one more question, or get out of bed tomorrow morning. The joy-sucking realization that you’re giving and giving, they’re taking and taking, and the equation will probably never be balanced.

I have felt this way. My neck and shoulders become cement and I feel like I’m carrying three times my body weight — the combined total weight of my people. My people, who want me to answer “How long does it take to get to the Moon?”, slice them an apple for snack, listen to their latest piano piece, and admire their newest Lego creation — all at the same time. My people, who throw themselves down screaming in front of a whole schoolyard full of people when I won’t carry them to the car — because I’m already loaded down by three backpacks. And that was just yesterday.

The endless dishes, crusty countertops, overflowing baskets of laundry, popcorn and Cheerios crunching underfoot: These things seem to sit on my chest and crush my breath.

Many’s the time I’ve longed for a diagnosis — not a terribly bad one, of course, but one in which the doctor says, “I’m sorry, the only cure is for you to spend a week in bed, in total silence.”

The last time I felt sure my family would kill me was two days ago, in the pre-dawn hours between Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Earlier in the day, when I wasn’t homeschooling two daughters, shuttling everyone else back and forth from activities, or hosting two little friends who were over to play, I was hustling to get five apple trees and two blueberry bushes — which had arrived the day before and needed to be planted within 48 hours — into the ground.

When I collapsed into bed that night, I was looking at about six hours of sleep before I had to wake up and do it all over again.

At about 12:30 AM, the screaming started.

One of our daughters was scared. So scared that she woke up two of her sisters, who had to be soothed down. So scared that she couldn’t sleep.

At 1:30 AM, after three trips up and down the stairs, doing all that I could to comfort and reassure (prayers, back rubs, silent meditation, etc.), I dragged my pillow and an extra quilt upstairs and made a “bed” by pulling two beanbags together.

My neck and shoulders had become cement, and I settled in for a long, sleepless night on the floor. My daughter continued to cry on and off, and I cried, too.

They are killing me, I thought. This is SO UNFAIR. 

It wasn’t until the next day that I realized the parallels between my night on the floor and this Easter holiday that we’re celebrating.

(I’m going to write a little bit about Jesus now. If you don’t celebrate Easter, or don’t believe in Jesus’s spiritual legacy, please don’t stop reading; This is a story to which I think anybody can relate.)

***

In the hours between Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, the Bible tells us, Jesus also spent a sleepless night. Jesus also cried. He was stretched out on the hard ground of the garden of Gesthemane. He’d just celebrated the Last Supper with his disciples, and he knew he’d been betrayed by Judas – one of that chosen family of disciples – to Jerusalem’s religious leaders. He knew that those leaders were coming at any moment to arrest him and lead him off to death.

The differences between Jesus and me are clear. Jesus never said, “This is SO UNFAIR!” He was distressed. He asked if God could take away what was coming. But, unlike me, Jesus didn’t whine.

Also, unlike me, Jesus actually was about to die.

***

After this realization hit me, I recalled the conversation I’d had with my daughters the night before.

We were reading about the Last Supper in the Gospel of John. We read about how, before Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples, he took off his robe, put on an apron, and washed their feet. Their filthy, smelly, walking-on-dirt-and-dung-strewn-1st century roads feet. He told them to be servants like him; to wash each other’s feet and love each other.

Next, Jesus predicted that one of the disciples would betray him. When asked who would do such a thing, Jesus dipped a piece of bread in wine and handed it to Judas Iscariot. Judas promptly left to collect on the 30 pieces of silver he’d get in exchange for Jesus’s life.

“Wait,” one of my daughters interrupted, “So, was Judas there for the foot washing part, too?”

In all my years of reading about the Last Supper, I’m embarrassed to say, this thought had never occurred to me.

“I guess he was,” I answered. “The Bible says Jesus was gathered with all his disciples. Judas was a disciple, so he must’ve been there the whole time.”

And it felt like a punch right to my gut: Jesus washed the filthy, smelly feet of the man he KNEW was going to cause his death.

***

As I staggered around, exhausted, that morning after my sleepless night, I thought about how Jesus, knowing he was actually going to die, washed the feet of his murderer and spent a sleepless night of agony without whining.

I am far from being Jesus, but maybe I could try to cultivate those same attitudes with respect to my family.

Maybe, just maybe, we could all try to cultivate those same attitudes with respect to each other.

***

It’s not just our families that cause us sleepless nights: Especially now, at this particular moment in history, it’s almost impossible to keep from worrying over the state of our nation and our world. Terrorism and genocide headline international news. Political parties — and their supporters — refuse to listen, talk, or work together. Emotions are high in my own little town over a controversial speaker who was recently invited to speak at Middlebury College.

These things can slowly nibble away at our emotional, physical, and spiritual health.

Everywhere you look, we are divided: nation against nation, race against race, gender against gender, party against party, humans against world. The list goes on, until all the “against’s” crack open and release a flood of vitriolic social media posts, strident position statements, nonsensical legislation, and anxiety-provoking newscasts.

I have been divided against myself as well. Shortly after the U. S. Presidential election, I read something online — I can’t remember who wrote it — the gist of which was: “Now, more than ever, we need writers to give voice to what’s going on.”

I’m a writer, I thought, so I guess I should write about what’s going on. Otherwise I might be complicit; I might become part of the problem.

I wrote a couple of posts about the state of our nation. People who agreed with me were complimentary, and those who didn’t agree either don’t read or stayed gracefully silent.

But I never felt quite right about these posts. So, for the past few months, I’ve stuck to my usual subject matter: Vermont, my children, birds and trees and weather, quaint happenings in our small town. All the while, I’ve felt terribly guilty that I wasn’t addressing Bigger Things.

As I thought about sleepless nights, Jesus, foot washing, and family, I realized the source of my angst: By adding my political opinions to the mix, I feared becoming part of the problem. By choosing sides publicly, I would be complicit in deepening the already deep divides between us. Because at the bottom, the problem isn’t Trump, or ISIS, or Charles Murray: The problem is that we are all picking our sides, digging in our heels, writing our posts and statements against each other.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t care about injustice, or that we shouldn’t speak or act against assaults to human rights. This is to say that we need to choose our issues and how we address them with care.

And it may be that the most important things we do to fight injustice are not done publicly, or on social media. Things like washing feet.

Jesus showed love to Judas, who was about to kill him, by washing his feet. I don’t want to cheapen this act with an overused word  like “love” or “grace;” but perhaps if we applied a little more of  “whatever it takes to wash the feet of your killer” to our lives, our politics, our world, we might see radical change.

“But, Faith,” you say, “Jesus did that, and he was killed anyway.”

Yes, he was. And — regardless of whether you subscribe to the resurrection or the religion that arose after his death — I think most would agree that the world was radically changed.

***

So, for now, I will continue to write about things that are true and beautiful: Vermont, my children, birds and trees and weather, quaint happenings in our small town. And I will continue trying to do “whatever it takes to wash the feet of your killer” when I feel like my family — both the family in my house and my family in the world — is killing me. Given the choice, I’d rather live out what I’m for, rather than write about what I’m against.

Happy Easter.

Backyard Birds and Growing Up

 

I have become a person who watches birds.

For as long I’ve known him – my entire life – my father has been a birdwatcher. Growing up, we always had bird feeders in the yard and birdhouses (which he built himself) on our trees. He could usually, immediately, name any bird that happened by; if he couldn’t he’d pull down our 1965 copy of A Guide to Field Identification: Birds of North America. When he passed that book on to our family this past year, I found that he’d taken notes in felt-tip pen of precisely where and when he’d seen each bird.

I never paid much attention to this peculiar birdwatching habit: I didn’t see the point. Birds were always just part of the scenery, hanging around in the background. They were nice, but far less important than studying, socializing, or going to the mall. Why should I bother to learn their names?

My dismissive attitude towards birds and birdwatching continued for nearly 20 years. I lived in cities for most of that time, where everything was too loud and too busy to even notice birds. Birdwatching, when I thought of it at all, seemed like a hobby for “old people:” people who had time on their hands, pricey binoculars around their necks, floppy-brimmed hats on their heads, and chunky hiking boots on their feet.

Change began gradually, after our family moved to Vermont. I can pinpoint the moment my interest in birds shifted: I was walking the dog, and I heard a mockingbird call. I didn’t know it was a mockingbird at the time, but I recognized the sad, haunting call as something that I’d heard often during the long, lazy afternoons of my childhood. When I got home, I looked it up. Now I knew one bird.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

Stumbling Towards Spring

 

Notice the beautiful compost bin at the end of the rainbow!

 

I don’t want to brag, but this winter my husband and I built a compost bin and installed a fence around our (chicken-less) chicken coop. We count these among the proudest accomplishments of our nearly 15-year marriage, neck-and-neck with those four daughters and those economics publications.

A little background: Last August, we moved to a house surrounded by twelve-and-a-half acres of open land. This move was the result of A Vision. There was absolutely nothing wrong with our previous house, which was surrounded by an acre of woods and rocks — nothing wrong with it at all, unless you had A Vision of small-scale gardening and animal husbandry.

So we moved to a house where we could turn our Vision into a reality. Where we could plant gardens and fruit trees; where we could establish a small poultry flock and add some pigs or a couple of goats in time. The idea was to buy a little land, really care for it, and use it to grow the things that our family was most likely to consume.

(There is nothing new about this Vision: Since Scott and Helen Nearing first left New York City for Southern Vermont in the 1930s – and perhaps even before then – its various iterations have been called things like “the good life,” “the back-to-the-land movement,” and “homesteading.” Also: “reckless idealism,” “backbreaking labor,” and “folly.”)

Here is one challenge we face: Our new little slice of heaven has never, so far as we know, been used as anything other than a hayfield – and even the hayfield had fallen into scrubby neglect by the time we bought it. There were no gardens, no outbuildings other than an open shed, and no effort had been made to care for the soil. We are starting from scratch.

Here is another challenge we face: Inexperience. Other than caring for polite perennial gardens and one short-lived flock of laying hens, we have no prior experience with growing or farming. We feel like suburban kids playing pioneers, which is exactly what we are.

But here’s what we have going for us: We know how stupid we are.

Click here to continue reading my latest “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent.

Reflections on My First Town Meeting

 

Every year, around the first Tuesday in March, Vermont feels pretty proud of itself. That’s because, as any Vermonter can tell you, the first Tuesday in March is Town Meeting Day: the day when citizens meet in towns across the state to discuss and vote on town business and budget items (most importantly, the school budget.)

The pride that Vermont takes in its town meetings likely has something to do with the sense of small-town democracy that the tradition embodies. This was evident in the dialogue that took place in Wilmington, which voted overwhelmingly against a measure to replace an in-person Town Meeting with voting by paper ballot.

“I think what you’ve got here in Vermont is a pretty unique situation,” said Wilmington’s Merrill Mundell. “We try to do away with things that are traditional. The truth of the matter is, every time you nip away at it, it takes away a little bit of the special.”

“We don’t agree. But we do agree that the town is important, that the school is important, that we are important,” added Laura Stevenson. “And in a world of fake news, and identity politics…we have to meet each other face to face.”

This year, I attended Middlebury’s Town Meeting for the first time since moving to Vermont nearly six years ago.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

On the Ice

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Just like that, winter is over.

At least, that’s what it feels like today, as I look out at snowless fields under a sunny blue sky. The temperatures over the past week have been unseasonably warm for February in Vermont, culminating in a high of 66 degrees at our house. Our entire family spent the morning outside: the children romping in t-shirts, the adults starting some early yard work. As if to confirm the change of seasons, two honking V’s of Canada geese flew north overhead.

In all likelihood, winter is not over yet. My online forecast for the coming week predicts temperatures that are half of what we’ve experienced today. Like a cruel barn cat, the Vermont weather will toy with us for a while; it’s quite common to have decent snowstorms here in March, April – even as late as May.

But it feels as if a corner has been turned: If winter isn’t over, we’re heading into its downslope. As I look back upon the winter of 2016-17, it’s certainly not the snow I will remember; the Champlain Valley received very little snow, which came in a few dumps with long, bare breaks in between.

For me, this winter was about ice.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent.