Packing My Bags

In our home this week, there has been much discussion of travel. A good number of my Nashville friends are filling up Oxford at the moment, putting on what I hope is the first of many Hutchmoots in the UK. Their Instagram feeds are lighting up with picnics in Port Meadow, walks in the Cotswolds, and pints at the Bird and Baby.

As David made his tea yesterday morning, he let out a little groan. I asked what was on his mind. He said, “I was just remembering our last day in London. I remember making my tea that morning and thinking about how our trip was over…how there would be no more tea in London for us. If we were to ever go again, there would be another last day, and that makes me sad.”

I laughed aloud, thinking about how he had not only jumped to making another trip, but also to that trip already being over. I would call it glass-half-empty thinking; he would call it realism.

There is definitely something about travel that helps me meditate on Heaven. Back in 2014, David and I made our first trip to England, just the two of us. I spent most of the months leading up to the trip in disbelief that it was actually going to happen. On days that were hard, with the usual demands of parenting and homeschooling and all of the rest of it, I would think about how at a definite, set date in the future, I would be landing on the ground in London. I would take a train to Oxford. I would be there! It seemed too good to be true. I could endure a lot of hard days if I kept the goal in mind. 

I picked out things I would wear. I anticipated how I would pack. I made list after list of places I wanted to see, knowing full well that there would, in fact, be a “last day,” and I could never see everything. Why oh why can’t travel time and budgets be limitless?

But in eternity, the time and the budget is limitless. Why do we not live more often with this truth in mind? At some definite, set date in the future, we will be with the Lord. We will have all the time in the world to enjoy, to walk, to grow, to rest. We will walk in the Port Meadows of eternity and not grow tired. There won’t be a sad “last day.” We can put of with a lot in the here and now if we keep that in mind.

I don’t mean to say we should check out for now and be “so Heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good.” What comes our way in the here and now is a way of “packing our bags,” of preparing us for the feast and rest to come. We can welcome it with the knowledge that there is a sure and steady hand guiding it to us and for our good. 

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.  John 14:1-3

The Candles at Turl Street Kitchen


Evening comes on quickly in Oxford in November. The dark creeps in around 4 in the afternoon.

When David and I closed out our afternoons there, we sought out a little respite in a place pointed out to us by our friend Sarah: Turl Street Kitchen. Turl Street is one of the cross streets that runs between Broad Street and the High Street. It is rather narrow and always full of bicycle riders.

The restaurant was tucked in on the right side of the road as we left Broad Street and Blackwells’ bookstore. It was the kind of place you’d imagine in Oxford: small-paned windows, rough wooden pub tables, and a staircase that marched up the middle of the building. In the back was the coffee bar: a lighter space with a few high-top tables scattered about.

As dusk came on, we sought out those most modern of necessities: electrical outlets and free wi-fi. My eagerness to guide us around the town with an online walking tour, along with my incessant picture-taking, had mercilessly killed my phone. While “going dark” in Oxford was a tempting proposition, responsibilities back home (by the names of our five children) demanded that we keep the communication lines open. So we ordered two lattes and a slice of cake, and slumped down with our bags at a corner table by an outlet.

We took out a map, as tourists are inclined to do, and discussed our next day’s plans. As we chatted, a server walked about with a lighter and lit the white thick pillar candles on each table. There were no candle holders; not even a plate underneath them. The candles sat down unapologetically on each wooden table, where the burn marks remembered them. There was no fuss about anything.

Despite the small effort, the room took an enchanted glow because of those candles. The little bit of effort taken turned the space into a cozy residence, perfect for thinking noble thoughts and having profound conversation.

When I returned home from the UK, one of the first errands I took included a stop for white pillar candles. I wanted to recapture that moment and make it exist in my own home. Forget the fact that I didn’t have ancient walls, magical libraries, boys’ choirs, or Evensong…I could have the white candles from Turl Street Kitchen.

What is it about us that thinks we can recapture an atmosphere? What makes an atmosphere “just so” in a fashion that can, realistically, never be recaptured? The air and the mood, in that place have taken up residence in my heart.

What is a place that you have ingrained in your heart? What made it that way?

I want my home to be a place that is ingrained in my children’s hearts. Realistically, this is unavoidable. It will be part of them. I pray that those positive pieces — the tray with our initial, the smell of bread, and yes, the white pillar candles on the Oxford tea towel on the table — will stick with them more than the weak, broken pieces.


Going Home to Hutchmoot

I’m going home this weekend. I’ve only been there once (1)

This weekend is Hutchmoot, the in-real-life gathering of people who are a part of The Rabbit Room community.

Last time I attended, it was my first ‘Moot. I was painfully nervous walking in. I tried so hard to match faces and names, never mind the stories that came in behind the faces.

Is it possible that this collection of 150 people in an Anglican church in Nashville contains this many kindred spirits?

And yet…yes. Here they are. And they believe they wouldn’t be the same without you.

Here is food, wine, and beautiful places to sit long and talk around candlelight. Here is music that shatters the pretense and falseness so prevalent in today’s song. Here are authors who have shut themselves away for hours, toiling in solitude so that their stories can find but one reader. Here are prayers said in gratitude. Here are words, the Word, and the people of the Word.

Nashville is calling to us over the mountains, extending hospitality, lavish love and grace, and community. And we’re answering. Would you pray for us?

And if you’re curious what a Hutchmoot is, this might help. Then again, maybe it won’t.

What is a Hutchmoot? from The Rabbit Room on Vimeo.

What a Week

David and I celebrated our 15th anniversary with a long-anticipated trip to England. We spent two days in Oxford, walking in the steps of our much-loved Inklings, and then spent three days seeing the sights in London.

Me with a lamp-post in Narnia-- I mean, Oxford
Me with a lamp-post in Narnia– I mean, Oxford

Hutchmoot Souvenirs

I still haven’t unpacked my suitcase completely from last weekend’s trip to Hutchmoot.   Maybe I think that the spell will be broken if everything gets put away — that the conversations and richness of the experience will be shelved along with the new books we bought.

I don’t know why I fear that.  I cannot put away the souvenirs in my soul.  Moments from the weekend stand out as gracious gifts:

Our early arrival to Nashville due to the time change.  We forgot that Nashville is on Central TIme, so rather than show up at our host’s home early, we went to the Parthenon and walked around a bit.  David had been there twenty-some years earlier; I had never seen it.

Walking into Church of the Redeemer and being approached by Pete, the host of the weekend, asking if we’ve met before.  I should have said yes, because the entire weekend had that vague sensation of my having been there before.  A unique community has formed at Hutchmoot — one that says, “We are happy you’re here.  We know the Lord has brought you, and we can learn from you as much as you can learn from us.”  We were part of the family that they hadn’t met yet.

Looking across the table at Lanier Ivester, a woman whose writing I so admire, and having her tell me, “If you like to write, then you are a writer,” after I clumsily stammered my way around the question.  I’m not sure what the exact percentage is, but it feels like half the people in this crowd have published/recorded/done something amazing.  And yet humility permeates all, because everyone shares the recognition that the Lord gives gifts as He sees fit.  The Giver gets the glory.

The freedom to geek out and have people appreciate it: Shakespearean Star Wars.  A workshop on “Writing Close to the Earth” where I felt like my brain might explode, there were so many connections to Charlotte Mason education.  A film review of Man on Wire that sounded like poetry.  Hearing Keith Getty talk about the arduous process of composing new hymns and Kevin Twit talk about the arduous process of preserving old ones.  My cup overflows.

My first Anglican worship experience, and the realization that communion can be a loud, joyful, generous experience as well as a quiet, sober one.

Since I process as I write, I will probably be blogging more about the experience.  For now, I am content to express thanks.

Hither and Yon

Well, we have almost survived the length of a two-week stint without Dad home. It’s the longest we’ve been apart since we married, and definitely the longest the kids have gone without him.  In some ways, it’s been easier than when he left when they were littler.  The older boys help a good bit more now and the little ones come along for the ride.  We’ve even had a dog here for the last week, since some friends of ours were out of town and they needed a sitter.

We started school this week (dang!  STILL haven’t taken a picture!), and it’s going really well so far.  This year’s history covers a broad swath, from the Middle Ages to early Colonial America.  I am really glad to be out of Ancients.  Ancient history just does not excite me.  It brings about memories of my freshman year World History book with an Egyptian head on the cover.  So dry.  So boring.  I know, I know — bad for a teacher, but there it is.  We all have our preferences.  For their part, the boys are eating up the information about knights and castles, and they even like the stuff about how barbarians didn’t bathe and they ate their meat raw.  Plague and pestilence for the win.

Friday is our lighter school day, where we wrap up loose ends and finish up the details of the week.  Today we were done before 11.  I know that won’t always be the case, but it was nice for today.  And then we finished up our work with a bang, by watching this video and laughing ’til we cried:

Turn My Striving Into Works of Grace

I’ve been doing summer things instead of blogging this past week, such as…

Checking out homeschool choices for next year.  Buying used books.  Reading longer.  Making salsa.  Swimming.  Watching my kids swim.  Replanting houseplants (they only get love in the summertime, poor things).  Sewing tablecloths.  Hanging curtains.  Spackling, sanding, and painting.  Making the kids do more chores than they’re used to (yay!).  Exercising.  Eating out.  Cleaning out all that stuff I never should have moved to begin with.  Buying spray paint with plans in mind.

So…all happy things.  I’m trying to not be overly ambitious or overly concerned with the list.  Summer is precious,  and one month of it is already gone.

TGC Women’s conference was lovely.  We were so immersed in the atmosphere that a tropical storm descended on Florida while we stayed there, and we had no idea until the drive home was extremely rainy.  I had a chance to reconnect with two friends from California while there, and had good fun with the ladies from here in Charlotte.

Katie and me

The messages are not yet up on the TGC website, but they should be soon.  If you have to pick just one or two, I’d choose Paige Benton Brown’s message on the temple of God and Piper on Isaiah 6.  Kathleen Nielson is no slouch, either.  Or Don Carson.  Or really anyone who spoke.  So I guess my point is, don’t just pick one or two.

The Gettys led us in song all weekend, and I was moved by the scriptural truths in their music.  Here’s a favorite verse from “Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God.”

Holy Spirit, come abide within;
May Your joy be seen in all I do—

Love enough to cover ev’ry sin

In each thought and deed and attitude,

Kindness to the greatest and the least,

Gentleness that sows the path of peace.

Turn my striving into works of grace.

Breath of God, show Christ in all I do.

To-Do List for Today

  1. Repaint toenails.
  2. Get in car with three of my best Charlotte girlfriends and drive to Orlando, Florida for The Gospel Coalition National Women’s Conference.

OK. Ready, set, go.

You can look for sporadic updates on my weekend on my twitter feed and on facebook.

Pictures From the Week

(left) Easter green M&M.  (right) Kelly’s toenail.  Not to be confused.
Here’s the free book stack.  We got two of these because we were both registered.  We also have a large *paid* book stack.

The “Zero Dollar Bookstore” is how T4G handed out the freebies.  You went in, got a couple empty bags, and went from station to station getting one of each.

Here’s the building where we stayed.  Our place was on the 8th floor of the Henry Clay building.

Each morning we had a four block walk to our destination.  I liked the trashcans that said “Downtown Louisville.”

I love the name “Augustus Toplady.”
Here’s a shot of us outside the arena.  We had no idea that we were posed so that it looks like David’s saying “Yum!”.  That was a funny surprise later.

The Vacation Story I Told Once Before

Today at co-op I’m teaching the boys a lesson all about the life of John Owen.  I thought I’d dredge up this post about Owen just for fun.  It was originally published on 3/6/08.

Usually when we travel up to New England, we stop off in Pennsylvania as a halfway point. It makes it a more pleasant trip for everyone if the 14-hour drive is broken into an 8-hour day and a 6-hour day. So we usually bunk near my alma mater in Mechanicsburg, PA.

And on one leg of the trip or the other, we dart down the road to Carlisle to visit two little bookstore gems: Cumberland Valley Bible Book Service and the US headquarters of Banner of Truth.

Because if you know us at all, you know we are bibliophiles.

This time, we went to Cumberland Valley first, and I think escaped for under $100. They have a great collection at wonderful prices, as well as some unique selections for children.

Then we walked down the block and around the corner to the Banner of Truth office.

And there…

from out of the drab wood-paneled surroundings…

smiling from its green and white covers and dripping with theological and practical wisdom…

beckoned to my husband…

The Complete Works of John Owen.

He gasped quietly and politely asked how much it would be. Everything housed on their shelves in Carlisle is 50% off list price, but the total would still be over $200. With great self-control, he said thanks, but no thanks.

A few minutes later, a woman who had been working there emerged from behind her desk and asked, “Sir? Are you interested in the Owen set? I have a reason for asking this, by the way.”

David said, essentially, yes, but he wasn’t looking to spend that much today.

The woman then reported that a benevolent man in Florida had authorized Banner of Truth to give away six complete Owen sets each year, courtesy of him. She added that every time she saw someone go weak in the knees over the sets on their shelves, she knew that she had found the proper recipient for one of the six sets.

So about a half-hour later, we were on our way to Charlotte with a box in the back containing…

Now, I entertain a fantasy that I know who this generous man is (we got his name and have sent him a gushing thank-you note, by the way). 

On one visit to the Cumberland Valley store, I overheard a conversation happening between David and a clerk there. David was in the middle of Overcoming Sin and Temptation by Owen at the time, and he was asking for recommendations on which of Owen’s works to dive into next. The clerk was tossing around some ideas, and his coworkers were offering their own suggestions.

Also overhearing this conversation was an unimposing white-haired man with glasses, standing near the shelf laden with ESV Bibles. As the talk about Owen drifted to a close, he looked at the men, and said in a soft Scottish accent, “Just…read…Owen.” It was almost a whisper. I don’t know if they even heard him, but I did, and it felt like I’d been visited by an angel (Scottish accents can do that to me).

So maybe it was that man or maybe it wasn’t. But somewhere in Florida there is a man with a love for theology made practical through the pen of John Owen, and he demonstrates that love by passing it on to others.