the verdict is in: meatballs are changing my life

The Friday Night Meatballs themselves.
The Friday Night Meatballs themselves.

I wrote back in September about the Friday Night Meatballs movement– it all started with a piece on Serious Eats that promised to change my life with pasta. The idea was to create a standing casual dinner party that would create community and serve as a social outlet, a sort of secular sabbath. I of course loved the idea immediately and was eager to give it a shot. I didn’t even allow myself to be deterred by the fact that I had never made meatballs before. That first FNM was such a hit that we decided to keep it going, and now, as I type, my house smells like garlic and tomatoes because I have my red sauce simmering on the stove for our FOURTH Friday Night Meatballs. (Some bloggers write posts ahead of time. I just sit down during nap time and write what I can.)

Hosting tip: always drink wine while you wait for the pasta water to boil.
Hosting tip: always drink wine while you wait for the pasta water to boil.
The FNM table all set and ready to go. The cheese stands alone.
The FNM table all set and ready to go. The cheese stands alone.

I knew from the start that although a weekly FNM sounds nice, it wouldn’t work for us, because Jon isn’t always off on Friday evenings– and I really think doing it on Friday is key, because it’s not a “school night” and most folks are off the next day, so the FNM can be relaxed, a nice way to ease from work week to weekend, and no one is in too much of a hurry to leave. Last time, we had four toddlers playing so happily together that we let bedtimes be damned and allowed them to play until almost 9 while the grownups chatted. So, for us, FNM has become more of a monthly than a weekly gathering, and that’s fine too.

Continue reading “the verdict is in: meatballs are changing my life”

can meatballs change my life?

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Recently, I read a piece on Serious Eats that seriously resonated with me– it promised to change my life, WITH PASTA. Pasta is basically my favorite food after cheese, so if there’s a way to change my life by eating more of it, I’m interested. In the piece, writer Sarah Grey talks in almost spiritual terms about what seems to be a sort of secular sabbath: the community created around what has become a weekly tradition of an open dinner party that centers around meatballs. Simple idea, simple meal, huge impact.  Continue reading “can meatballs change my life?”

the wonder of opening up

Me and one of my sick, sweet babies. Still smiling!

The other day, I wrote a really honest post about the exhausting hardness that is being a parent to two small children and trying to do just about anything else. I was feeling incompetent at life, and because I’m a writer, because literally that is who I am, because even the code of my DNA probably spells words, the way I worked out those feelings was to write them. And cry.

And then something amazing happened: that post got (as of this writing) 21 amazing comments. And on Facebook, where I also shared it, I got 12 other amazing comments, plus a couple of supportive private messages. And the support continued on Twitter. And this morning, a lovely friend took the time to send me an email that warmed my heart and brought tears to my eyes. While one commenter called me a downer, every single other woman who commented did two things: they affirmed that my feelings were normal and OK, and they assured me, things do get better. Time passes. Nothing stays the same. It was an amazing experience of the best of the internet and its power to bring us together and let us know we are not alone. I am beyond grateful. Today, even though I’m home, still in my pjs at 3 pm with two sick babies who have croup and are just beyond pitiful, my heart is lighter. And I feel strong and confident.

Buoyed by this love and more than a little indignant at the downer comment, I posted this on Facebook:

And while I’m actually kind of proud of that line and think it really says it all, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what it means to be a woman, a mother, and a writer, and what it means to put my heart out into the world through my words, and I’ve found (shock me shock me) that I still have some more to say.

Despite a comment that would minimize and silence my giving voice to my experiences with the more painful side of motherhood, I will not be minimized and silenced. Tellingly, that comment, the only one that wasn’t encouraging in some way, came from a man. I’m taking a course on women writers this term, and over and over in the works I’ve studied, women writers depict women writers with men in their lives who don’t understand why they can’t just be content, grateful even, with their lives as wives and mothers. Why they feel a yearning for more, why they simply must write. Any woman who, like me, attempts to express anything but sweetness and light concerning motherhood feels the need to qualify it with caveats about how much they really do love their children, husbands, and homes, for fear of being criticized by a society that constantly tells us to be grateful and enjoy every moment.

All that does is leave you feeling guilty when you inevitably fail to live up to that standard.

Based on the love that was poured out to me when I poured out my heart, I have to say: it is worth that risk. Because when you pour out your heart, you invite others to do the same, and they will, and you will feel less alone. The great Flannery O’Connor wrote in one of her letters: “In the face of anyone’s experience, someone like myself who has had almost no experience, must be humble.” We don’t get to tell other people how to understand, frame, or feel about their experience. But we can let them know that they’re not alone in having it.

I’m so thankful to all the folks who let me know that I’m not alone this week or in this life. You have been a model for how I hope to respond the next time the shoe is on the other foot and someone opens themselves up.

still haven’t found what i’m looking for

Today my boss took me out to lunch.  It’s something he does every month or so, because he says I’m underpaid, and he wants me to know how much he appreciates me and all that I do for the department.  It’s just another way in which he’s awesome, one of the kindest and most genuine people I’ve ever worked with or known.  Because of his kindness, and also because of a GK Chesterton book I spied on his desk, I have pretty much always suspected that my boss is a Christian, something that’s been slowly confirmed as he’s remarked on books he’s seen me reading, or in our conversations about current events, or as I see him interact with students and colleagues.  I really respect that he’s a man who lives up to the saying, “Preach the gospel at all times; use words if necessary.”  I respect the kind of person who doesn’t have to give you a manifesto on what they believe in order for you to know what they stand for.  They just…stand for it.

Anyway, over lunch we were talking about the South and churches and South Carolina and C-Street.  I wanted to be like OMG YES I’VE BEEN BLOGGING ABOUT THAT STUFF, but I didn’t really want to tell my boss all about my blog.  Anyway, long story short, my boss is almost as obsessed with The Family as I am, and said he really has no idea what Bible these guys are reading.  Which is really how I feel about the whole thing– I can get how, from the Old Testament, you might get the idea that it’s OK to do whatever you want to do as long as you are a powerful man and feel called by God, but I’m not sure you could ever get from Jesus the idea that he sides with the powerful over the powerless, the wealthy over the poor.  We both agreed that while these people may claim to follow Jesus, they do not follow the teachings of the Jesus of the Bible–at least not any Bible we’ve ever read.

However, the truly sad part is that in my experience, these people who so loudly proclaim their faith but don’t live it out are far more common than they should be.  I told my boss about the summer I spent working in a Christian bookstore, and what a soul-killing experience it was.  I was hit on men who were there to pick out devotionals for their wives.  I was treated like an imbecile by people buying Bibles, simply because at the time I was operating a cash register for a living.  I was berated by old women who cared more about a coupon than how they spoke to the person behind the counter.  I was informed by one lady that she didn’t listen to Amy Grant anymore, because Amy had been divorced– as if we carried the music of any sinless artists in the store.  And perhaps the worst part of all was experiencing the culture of a business that claimed to be Christian but in reality cared about nothing other than the bottom line.

One day, a particularly hot, humid, Arkansas day, a homeless guy who spoke very little English asked me if it would be OK for him to sit at a table in the airconditioning and read the Bible and maybe have a glass of water.  I didn’t really think it took a Bible scholar to decide that the human thing to do in such a situation is to give the man a glass of water and a quiet place to cool off.  Not to mention the entire concept of “What Would Jesus Do?” that I was selling printed on bracelets and t-shirts and candy bars.  But I got into trouble with management for letting this man hang out in our store because he might “scare” the regular customers.  As if the kind of people shopping for devotionals and Thomas Kincaid paintings wouldn’t know what to do with themselves if confronted with one of the “least of these” in a Bible bookstore.  Perhaps there is an episode of “Veggie Tales” to address this kind of predicament?

I guess all of this is part of why I’m sort of without a church at this point.  We sporadically attend Bible Studies and Community Groups, but have not really been regular church attenders in a while.  And I could very easily blame this on Jon’s schedule and say that he works a lot of Sundays, and how that’s made it very difficult for us to find a church to call home.  And I could point to the church we attended for about a year, whose services we LOVED, but where, even after a year, we still hadn’t made any friends or found any sort of community.  So we spent six months looking for a church, a year attending one that turned out not to be right, and another year halfheartedly attending another church that seems to be about like the one before it.

But the weird thing is that my churchless season has also been one of the most spiritually rich of my life.  After a dark period sparked by my grandfather’s death, in which I felt far from God and clung fitfully to my faith, and after a rough first few months in a new city in which I can say pretty confidently in retrospect that I was depressed, I’m actually feeling closer to God than ever before.  I’ve been reading books about faith, reading my Bible, and listening eagerly to sermons via podcast.  I’ve been spending a lot of time talking with my husband about faith, working out what we think about things together.  We’ve both been going through this sort of revival together, and it’s really brought us closer.  Strangely, this is perhaps the most spiritually active time I’ve had since high school, and yet it’s all taking place outside the context of a church.

And as someone who grew up in church, this seriously distresses me.  The problem is, I’m looking for a group of people like me, like Jon, and aside from a few dear friends (who unfortunately live far away), I’m having trouble finding it.  I’m tired of church sermons that don’t touch on the realities of modern life, or respect their audience as a group of people who don’t need to be told what to think, but need to be taught how to wrestle with the moral contradictions of modern life.  I’m tired of a church that exploits hot button political issues but fails to feed the hungry and comfort the grieving.  I’m looking for a church that challenges my privilege and wealth, that makes me uncomfortable with the things I own, that urges me to give more of myself away.  I’m looking for a church that tells me that I’m not guaranteed safety, or comfort, or even happiness in this life, but urges me to live like crazy anyway.  I want a group of people to sit around on porches and drink wine and go deep with.  A group of people who see my passion and tell me they want to join me in it, rather than suggesting that maybe Jesus died to take away my personality.  A group of people to really live out a faith with, to preach the gospel at all times with, to sometimes use words.

Basically I’m fed up with Pharisees.  I’m tired of slogans and bumper stickers and the things you buy at Bible bookstores.  I want to get active in the renewal of all things.

And I have no idea where to start.