Book Review: Real Love for Real Life

“Home is the school where we learn that love shows itself in the details.”

My friend Laura and I just finished up Andi Ashworth’s Real Love for Real Life: the Art and Work of Caring. I wanted to take this opportunity to heartily recommend it.

We live in a culture that has largely farmed out caretaking to paid individuals, and Andi posits that perhaps this shift has undermined the value of unpaid caretaking. Whether it be to our children, our parents, or our neighbors and friends, special care in the mundane (and the not-so-mundane) can feel like an overlooked skill.

Parenting is the most obvious battleground for this struggle. Who hasn’t felt as though no one notices or appreciates their efforts in care for needy little ones or the home in which they live? Andi encourages us on the road of day-in and day-out caring for our kids. Keeping our eyes on Christ, who gave His life to serve, we can find encouragement and endurance for the road ahead.

Andi reminds us of the value of taking time to celebrate as a family in recounting her family’s annual Valentine’s dinner. She gives examples of hospitality to strangers and neighbors. She recounts friends’ faithfulness in preparing for her son’s rehearsal dinner at their homeReal Love for Real LIfe. She also reminds us of the importance of prayer in care for people.

Reading this book, I felt called back to the wisdom present in Edith Schaeffer’s Hidden Art. Andi encourages caretakers in creativity and the careful art of fostering homes and environments designed as havens for those who shelter there.

All the while, Andi maintains an eye towards balancing the need for rest and play amidst the tasks that might fill our days. I found her perspective on saying “no” — to many good things, in order to say “yes” to the best things — refreshing.

The book also provides a sweet glimpse into the life at Art House, where Andi and her husband Charlie Peacock (“Chuck”) encourage artists and musicians with hospitality and prayer. I’ve been an observer of their ministry for years, so this element of the book was a treat for me.

Rabbit Room Press was responsible for the reissuing of this gem. You can buy it here.

Places We’ve Loved: 72 Cook St

Next month marks fifteen years of marriage for my husband and me, and I’ve been working on a special series in honor of all the Places We’ve Loved along this road together. You can read the first entry here.

Our church family moved us in on a Saturday in May. It was hot for Massachusetts. We ordered pizza for the movers and made sure Cameron had a crib to sleep in that night. As the last boxes came in, you and a friend pulled one tile off the wall in the shower and discovered the rotting drywall underneath.

I set up my books, notebooks, and pens in the “sunroom” — the breezeway in between the garage and the house. It would be the first of many such little spaces I carved out for myself. The back windows overlooked the broad, flat backyard, obviously once beloved but overgrown for the last five years.

The tiles in the bathroom came down quickly one night, and out poured a stream of ants worthy of a Hitchcock film. I wondered about whether they could travel across the hall and actually carry our child back to their queen. I went to the only store left open that late at night and bought whatever spray poison they had available. It would be a months-long battle until we were able to shower in that space.

Outside, we pulled up weeds. We cut back vines. The front beds were a steady progression of tulips, bleeding hearts, and then daylilies. They seemed to be always in bloom. Cameron liked to sit on the front step and watch you mow the grass. One night he fell hard and had a bloody bump on his forehead, but he was probably more traumatized by the argument that followed about who should have been watching him.

When spring came, Ben arrived. It was over ninety degrees all week the week we came home — bizarre for April in New England. He was a miserable reflux-y mess as a newborn, and I was always at the sink washing bottles since we had no dishwasher. One day on route 9 in Spencer I saw a dishwasher by the side of the road with a sign: “FREE.” I sped home to tell you, and we turned around to pick it up. You and Brad installed it a few weeks later, bringing a new “modern” luxury to the house.

We laughed about the fact that you had once lived in the basement of that house as a bachelor. You had moved to my parents’ apartment as a result of tensions with the landlord at this place. Now we had a tense relationship with him, wondering when he’d pick up the last of his junk from the basement. He never did, until eighteen months later when we moved out and called a trash company.

There was a house a few doors down that had plastic plants in its front beds. It seemed as though the owners had given up on actual vegetation; the lawn was covered with green plastic indoor/outdoor carpeting and littered with sprigs of artificial flowers. A few more doors down was the house where the garage door was spray painted with “BEWARE OF DOG.” I always wondered if the owners had done that or someone else.

As the year wore on, your job dried up. We wondered where we’d end up. And then, we were moving to California at Thanksgiving. You flew out to begin work, the movers came and packed us up, and an ice storm descended on central Massachusetts. A tree came down in the backyard. We lost power. I called a friend who had a tree business and he came to our rescue the last week we were in town.

You completed the bathroom renovation that last week, too. To install the new window, you stood on a ladder on the outside of the house as the ice began to fall. I picked out paint and was sad I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the finished product.

A family friend sold the house for us. He kept the walks clear and showed the house through the winter. It didn’t take long to sell, and we were officially “only” renters again — this time on the other side of the country.

Linkage 7.19.14

Goodness, I love a rainy Saturday morning. The coffee is brewing, most of my people are working on a NYC puzzle, and I’m about to turn on NPR.

Here are some goodies I enjoyed recently:

3 Lessons From An Early-Life Stroke:  We just saw Andrew in April at T4G. He is 33 and recently had a stroke.

School Starting Age: the Evidence:  When friends ask me about their preschoolers, I usually respond that the countries in the world with the highest literacy rates begin reading instruction much, much, later than the US. This is more evidence along those lines.

Tim Howard Could Save: Hilarious meme born out of the final match for the US Men’s Soccer team.

Yes, I Do Want to be Friends With My Kids: My friend Sam has a helpful corrective here.

 

Lego Mom

And lastly, here is my favorite LEGO creation of the week. It’s me. I am sitting at our coffee table, coffee and phone in hand, and my Bible and study book are in front of me. I’m choosing to appreciate it rather than be wildly convicted that I’m holding the phone and the Bible is closed. 

Have a great weekend!

Places We’ve Loved:  72 Salisbury St.

Next month marks fifteen years of marriage for my husband and me, and I’ve been working on a special series in honor of all the Places We’ve Loved along this road together.

 

We found the ad in the classified section of the Sunday paper. As we planned the wedding and made a hundred frivolous decisions about it, this decision seemed to cement our life as husband and wife more than most. We found a place to live together, under one roof.

It was an old school building with hardwood floors and tall windows in every room. We had an intercom and buzzer to let people in the front door.  We used to imitate Jerry and Elaine with the intercom. The kitchen was new, with corian countertops; the bathroom was old, with retro yellow tile and fixtures. The hard water dried out your skin and drove you crazy.

You moved in on my birthday, the same day my mother and sister threw me a bridal shower. I came home sweaty from helping you move to find tens of women dressed for tea on the front lawn.

The landlord was old school — so private and mysterious that we speculated about connections to the mob. We mailed our rent to him and hardly ever saw him. If we needed a repair done, it happened while we were gone.

We were often awakened in the early morning hours by the territorial cats around the trash shed outside. Their attachment to the address was explained when we learned that Connie, the elderly lady down the hall, fed them every few days. The carport was littered with cat food cans.

We affectionately called her “Crazy Connie.” She loved to listen to Jordan Levy, the local political talk show, and tell us who should get the boot in the city. The day they announced the rent increase, she called Jordan to tell off the landlord publicly. She used to talk about her husband, who we never saw. We thought maybe she was delusional — hanging on to a memory — until the day I opened the front door and there he was:  a slight elderly man with steel-gray hair and a walker clutched before him. He walked the halls while we were at work to keep his muscles from deteriorating. We wondered how many cats they had inside their apartment.

Sometimes in the middle of the night when the cats were quiet, the window shades would let go of their lowered position and shoot up the length of the window with the sound of a gunshot. Adrenaline pumped through our veins and we prayed for rest to come after the jarring fright.

I burned up our first Christmas tree in the working fireplace in the living room. Looking back now, I see how that was a foolish decision.  But the only time I set off the fire alarms was when I used the oven to season our “new” cast-iron skillet, the vintage one I bought at the Brimfield Flea Market.

The hallways were poorly lit with beautiful brass lanterns. The basement was terrifying. The two washers and dryers were in the best-lit room in the place, but they adjoined the storage rooms — a series of stalls with padlocks where the twelve tenants each stored their worldly goods. One had a painting of a black figure with a glowing red heart. It was life-sized and it seemed to peer at me while I folded. I knew the exterior doors didn’t close properly and I wondered who was hiding in the stalls. Eventually my fears caught up with me and I started using the laundromat.

On nice days, like my first Mother’s Day, we walked to Institute Park across the street or across the campus to Tortilla Sam’s or the Bean Counter. You took me to the Boynton and gave thanks that we were together, since you used to go there as a single grad student and wonder why you’d moved to this social wasteland.

On snowy days, you diligently moved and shoveled out our cars at various hours. You prayed the plow wouldn’t hem you in too badly. The ice became so bad in the deeply-rutted driveway that one tenant scraped off the bottom of his oil pan on his Mercedes. Serves him right, said Connie. He didn’t pay for that car anyway; his daddy did.

The neighbors had fierce fights — sometimes physical ones. One night it was so bad, I had my finger on the phone to dial 911. We heard the door slam and out he went. After that it didn’t happen again.

On December 3, 1999, we drove home on the highway and saw some firetrucks on the street below. The next morning, we awoke to the smell of chemical smoke and learned that six firemen had died the previous night. The city was quiet and grieving. The President and Vice-President came to town for the funeral.

The millenium came and went with much fanfare. We didn’t prepare (sorry, Dad). We fell asleep before midnight, figuring that we’d wake up with no power….maybe.

The next January, we drove the five minutes to the hospital in the middle of the afternoon on a Wednesday and welcomed our first child as the snow approached. He came home with us that Saturday at noon, as the new President took the Oath of Office.

When the spring came, heralded by the blooms on the trees in the churchyard next door, we had a deal on our first house. You had shrewdly talked our way into it, buying it from a friend with no realtors involved. We signed the papers on a Friday afternoon at a round table in a noisy corner of the courthouse. We walked home.

Welcome, July

On the Grasshopper and Cricket

John Keats

The Poetry of earth is never dead:
  When all the birds are faint with the hot sun,
  And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run
From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead;
That is the Grasshopper’s—he takes the lead
  In summer luxury,—he has never done
  With his delights; for when tired out with fun
He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed.
The poetry of earth is ceasing never:
  On a lone winter evening, when the frost
    Has wrought a silence, from the stove there shrills
The Cricket’s song, in warmth increasing ever,
  And seems to one in drowsiness half lost,
    The Grasshopper’s among some grassy hills.

Desire Like Dynamite, Jayber Crow, and A Rocha

I had a dream that the mountains cried like a child for their mother

There was poison in the seam and I saw eastern Tennessee flooding under

Black the hope, the Holy Ghost

a deaf man hears inaudible thunder

The hush, the chill, the iron will of man

Sweeping everything in sight…with dynamite

The other day I was driving down the road listening to Sandra McCracken’s latest album, Desire like Dynamite. The title song is maybe my favorite on the album. In it, Sandra compares “the iron will of man” across the landscape to our struggle with will and desires within us and our children.

Then suddenly, I encountered one of those blessed moments of connection that happen with good art and literature. I was back in the concluding chapters of Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow, watching Jayber sleep in the Nest Egg, a treasured bit of forest on a neighbor’s farm:

Everything there seemed to belong where it was. That was why I went there. And I went to feel the change that that place always made in me. Always, as soon as I came in under the big trees, I began to go slowly and quietly. This was not because I was hunting (I hunted in other places), but because in a place where everything belongs where it is, you do not want to disturb anything. I went slowly and quietly. I watched where I put my feet. I went for solace and comfort, for a certain quietness of mind that came to me in no other place. Even the nettles and mosquitoes comforted me, for they belonged where they were.

At the end of the novel, the Nest Egg is gone, sacrificed to the iron will and carelessness of man.

I dreamed I heard the sound of the last Great God bird singing

Lying in the trees I could hear the ax machines that were ringing

This is like a fable to be told but I’d rather put it down

Will we choose the noise of our desire,

Or the hope that makes no sound?

Those who have ears, as the smoke it clears

will see things as they are

to bend the will, you first must change the heart…

If you’d like to read about Sandra’s visit to Mr. Berry’s farm, go here.

Also, please consider giving to the Nashville A Rocha project, which encourages people in integrating faith, creation care, and hospitality. You can get some music for a small amount of support to their campaign, which ends on July 2.