Hudson’s Home Birth: A Father’s Narrative

I woke to the shower running and the lamp next to the bed still shining.  It was 11:30 pm and I’d been asleep for an hour.

“Jared, you need to start timing these,” Caitlyn said as she moved from the shower to the birthing tub; and with exhaustion still clinging to that space behind my eyes, I began watching the clock as I listened for my wife’s gasps and groans.  Three minutes apart.

By midnight the decision to call the midwife was settled.  We both spoke to Katie, our midwife, and received a few last instructions, which, in the beauty of homebirth and midwifery, amounted to, “Make yourselves comfortable – this is your time for intimacy and solitude.”  And, “Oh, do you have half and half for coffee or should we bring our own?”

It would be an hour before the apprentice-midwife, Serena, arrived, and another half hour before Katie and her doula, Anne, arrived.  In the meantime I attended to a few other details in the house, and sat quietly with Caitlyn while she labored in the warm tub.

The night was pitch black and unusually cold for early May.  Anomalous snow fell furiously to our southeast, but the commute of our midwives was undisturbed.  The house was silent as our daughters slumbered in their sheets.  Our room was lit by bedside lamps and wonderfully warm with the humidity of the laboring tub.  Caitlyn sat in the water, heroic and more beautiful than she’s ever been.  This is our home and this is our room.  This is where our baby enters the world.

Serena softly knocked at the front door, bringing with her the chill of that frigid spring night.  In our bedroom she moved about like a wisp, a gentle spirit, arranging towels and blankets in preparation for the birth.

I met Katie and Anne at the door shortly before 2 a.m.  After pointing them to the coffee and tea, we all nestled into our bedroom.  We are Caitlyn’s team: Katie’s strong, bare arms monitoring baby’s heart rate and mother’s vital signs – her strong voice offering confidence and leadership.  Serena’s gentleness providing peace and reassurance.   Anne’s ease and dignity working quietly in the shadows of our dark room.  I kneel beside the tub, breathing in rhythm with my wife, rubbing her hair and neck.

“I can’t do this,” she whispers to me, without lifting her head from the edge of the tub.  The words don’t startle me.  We know she will come to this place.  The place where she recognizes that the pain and effort is more than she can give.  And then she gives it anyway.  This is the untapped strength and force of motherhood.  This is childbirth.

Shortly after 3 a.m. Katie encourages Caitlyn takes a short walk to the bathroom and then the bed to change positions for a bit.  After a few more contractions Caitlyn agrees.  At the bed they check and she is 7 centimeters.  I give Katie a high-five before helping Caitlyn back towards the tub.  She pauses midway for another contraction, and then steps into the birthing tub.

I maintain the position that no laboring woman can ever be judged for their exclamations or expressions during childbirth; there’s just no telling what words and sounds may come.  Seconds after Caitlyn returns to the tub she stands to her feet in a panic and screams a scream unlike anything I’ve ever heard.  It’s a sound of fierce terror and pain, the kind that makes even the owls in the forest bury their heads in their wings.  She shrieks, “What’s happening to me!” Without hesitation, we all surround the tub like ministers at a baptism.

“It’s okay Caitlyn, it’s your baby.  Baby is coming.”  Katie’s words are matter-of-fact.  This is what she does.  She delivers babies.

Another scream like there’s a stabbing taking place, and I look towards our door for fear that our girls will enter at any minute, awoken by a scene they won’t soon forget.  He gives to his beloved sleep – Psalm 127:2.  On this particular night, they sleep.

We coax Caitlyn from her standing position, but are left supporting her as she squats and leans back.  I hold her hands from the front while Anne and Serena support her back.  “You’re safe, Caitlyn,” Serena reassures.

Katie maneuvers to feel baby’s head and birth position.  Another scream.  After the next contraction Katie encourages Caitlyn to position herself on her hands and knees.  Caitlyn agrees.  Baby’s head is out but chin and shoulders haven’t cleared.  Caitlyn pushes and screams again with a strength I know nothing about, and then instinctively reaches down for her baby and pulls him from the water toward her chest.

“It’s a boy!” She yells as she settles against the wall of the tub, leaning her head back and drinking deeply of the love and euphoria shared by mother and baby in natural birth.


DSC_6128He was born at 3:36 am on May 2, 2013, in our bedroom.

He was born directly into his mother’s arms and onto her chest.

He was born somewhere between Iron and Wine’s ‘Sodom South Georgia’ and The Album Leaf’s ‘Window’ on our labor playlist.

He was born when the waters of the Little Fork River overran its banks as our snowy spring melted away, and those waters wandered toward that great northern bay with which he shares a name.

He was born into a warm tub, filled with his mother’s tremendous effort and love, his father’s encouragement and joy.


Dads are tertiary during childbirth, but nowhere are they more embraced and empowered than in the home.  I was encouraged to be Caitlyn’s most intimate ally and our baby’s unbridled advocate.  While Caitlyn received postpartum care, I held our baby to my body and warmed his pink, wet skin with my chest.  His head rested perfectly beneath my chin and our hearts thumped towards each other’s through layers of bone and flesh.  A few moments ago I knew him only as the lump of life in my wife’s womb.  Now he is my son and I hold him close.

There’s a point during Caitlyn’s postpartum care where she needs an IV.  The midwives and doula are busy at her side.  She is pale and weak and fades into the sheets like sinking into water.  I glance at the clock.  It’s almost 6:30 and the girls could be awake at any moment.  Again, it’s not a scene I wish to greet them with in the morning.  But again, they sleep.

The girls sleep for another hour, a miracle in its own right, and when they do wake up they’re ushered into a room glowing with soft morning light.  We are calm and happy.  When the night began we were a family of four; now we are five, and we pile into the bed to share our warmth and joy.  Sophi curiously brushes his cheek while Aleah stares into his face with her dazzling blue eyes.  We are hugging and laughing.  We are in our home together.DSC_6146


It’s Sunday now, and I write this after dozing on our bed in the morning sunlight, my son on my chest and my wife sleeping peacefully beside us.  All is silent except for the breath that tumbles from Hudson’s nose across my skin, and the occasional drumming of the grouse’s wings in the woods beside our house; a sound that accompanied our entire labor and continues to provide cadence to our story.

We’re often tempted to think that our life is the sum of what we do.  It’s our action and advocacy, our education and vocation, our going and showing.  But what about this moment on our bed in the stillness of the morning, with my wife and new child resting like leaves on quiet water?  Is this just a break from the real thing, or isn’t this the real thing?  Life feels more vibrant now than it ever has.

A Few Changes

As some of you might already know, my wife and I started another blog that will feature our gardening and sewing interests.  That blog can be found at

Some of you have enjoyed this blog primarily because of my gardening essays; if that’s the case, you might want to become a reader of He Sowed She Sewed.  And if you have even a mild interest in sewing or re-using old clothes, then by all means, jump over to that site.

Consequently, this blog won’t feature as many of my gardening/composting contributions.  I’ll hold the Birdseed Desk for my more organized essays, usually involving theology or contemporary issues or some combination of the two.  I hope you continue to enjoy the Birdseed Desk, and please check out the new one too!

Why I’m Not a Grinch Anymore: A Reflection on the Incarnation

Obviously I’m not trying to be unique when I say Christmas is my favorite holiday.  I love snow and twinkling lights and I get warm-fuzzies when I look at Normon Rockwell paintings of people ice-skating on quaint ponds with bright red scarves and rosy cheeks.  This season turns me into the most kitschy, nostalgic sap on the planet.  And I’m okay with that.  I really love Christmas.


But I’m also not naïve, and as I’ve grown up I’ve realized the Christmas that gives me those warm-fuzzies isn’t very closely related to the holiday that’s supposed to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Incarnation of God.  The religious Christmas and the secular Christmas both happen to fall on the same day, but they celebrate two very different, perhaps contradictory things.  Sure, if we try really hard we can convince ourselves that buying lots of stuff and eating large meals is a perfectly meaningful way to celebrate Christ’s coming, but it’s a stretch.


Darn, there I go being grinchy.  I thought this post was supposed to be about why I’m not going to be a grinch this year?  What was I getting at?


Oh yah…so it should also be obvious that I’m not trying to be unique when I rag on the consumerist, materialistic bonanza that Christmas has become.  I’m not the first person that’s been troubled by this, and you don’t have to be St. Francis to realize that Black Friday and doorbusters and evergreen trees surrounded by boxes don’t point us to Jesus.


Consequently, throughout the last several years it’s been difficult for me to truly celebrate the great Christian holidays (Christmas and Easter) because I’ve been so bothered by the secularization thing.  What does a stocking hung by the chimney with care have to do with the Virgin Birth?  What do a bunny and a basket have to do with the Resurrection?  These are real questions, and as a young husband and father I’ve been trying to figure out how my family is going to celebrate these holidays in a way that honors their true significance.


And while I was busy figuring this out, I forgot to marvel at the God lying there in the manger; I forgot to rejoice at the empty tomb.


This is a big problem.  In my effort to reclaim the true meaning of the Christian holidays I had, in fact, ceased to celebrate them.


As I reflect on it now it seems so silly: I’m all bothered that our celebrations ignore and contradict the religious events that propagated them; so instead, I’ll spend all my energy worrying about how everyone is doing it wrong.  God came to earth and then defeated death, and now this same God needs me to be all grouchy about the way people spend their money.


Don’t get me wrong, as someone passionate about theology and Christian ministry, I care deeply about who the church is and what the church does.  In fact, I spend a lot of my time pondering the ways we can more faithfully follow the Christ we profess.  I want to be an effective Christian minister and participate in communities that earnestly follow Jesus, thus I’m motivated by our potential to be different, to be better witnesses to the God we worship.  The way we celebrate these holidays is one of those areas we can be better.


But like I said, whether my energy this Christmas is wasted on Best Buy’s latest sale or wasted on how badly I want to kick everyone in the head who waits outside Best Buy for that sale, it’s wasted nonetheless. It just doesn’t make sense, in light of the Incarnation, to feel such pressure to fix everything that’s wrong with Christmas.  That’s kind of the point of the Incarnation of God – we were having trouble fixing anything, so Jesus came and fixed it for us.  This is a truly liberating reality, and it’s helped me enjoy this season so much more.


I love Christmas.  I really love it.  And this year I will pour myself a cup of coffee and sit by the window while it snows and turn on Pandora’s Christmas station…and be happy.  Christ has come, and Christ will come again.


Christians and Creation, Part II

Longs Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park

There are flood and drouth
Over the eyes and in the mouth,
Dead water and dead sand contending for the upper hand.
The parched eviscerate soil
Gapes at the vanity of toil,
Laughs without mirth.
This is the death of earth.
~ T.S. Eliot

My wife and I spent consecutive weekends in September at the weddings of some of our closest friends.  First, I stood with my friend Chris as he said his vows to his wonderful wife, Jess, at her home in Montrose, CO, with the smell of summer peaches still lingering in the air and the San Juan Mountains decorating the southern horizon like crooked teeth.  It was beautiful.

The following week my wife stood next to her friend, Tonia, while she smiled up at her husband, Mike, beneath the flame-tipped maple leaves and crisp autumn sunshine of northern Wisconsin.  This, too, was beautiful.

For the first wedding, we drive six hours across the Rocky Mountains and gazed at the scattered groves of Aspens flaunting their first golds of the fall.  For the second, we drove 5 hours on Highway 8 through the forests of Wisconsin, which are just now bursting with the pockets of blaze and burgundy that will color the landscape until the snowflakes fly.  This is a marvelous time of year for outdoor weddings and road-trips, and it’s made for some further reflection on Christianity and creation, and the wild, wonderful places that I love.  Oh, and I finally finished that book I was blogging about, so here are a few more thoughts about creation-care and the Church:

It’s been my experience that the majority of Christians are encouraged to appreciate the greatness and beauty of God’s creation on things like spiritual retreats and camps, which at least at a superficial level, engenders some sort of ecological appreciation.  Growing up, nearly all the youth camps I attended took place just outside Rocky Mountain National Park, and there’s no doubt that when the wind whistled through the giant pines and the sun shined off Longs Peak’s diamond face, I gained a deeper sense of who God is and what this God is capable of.  Every time I return to the mountains I am overwhelmed and humbled by the greatness of those places and the God who made them.

And the same thing happens still today with different churches and different landscapes.  This August I led a cabin of high school boys at YoungLife’s Castaway Club in Pelican Rapids, MN.  On the final evening the students were asked to spread out across the grounds and spend 10 minutes alone as the red sun receded over Pelican Lake and the prairie wind carried the waves quietly across the water.  Later that night many of our students expressed the significance of that time for them.  For whatever reason, we all find it easier to pray when we’re alone beneath the northern sky and the starlight creates shadows in the trees and the loon cries out from somewhere in the darkness.  These sorts of experiences seem fairly common among religious people.

So why the disconnect?  Why are so many Christians skeptical of, if not outright against, today’s “green movement” and other ecological advocacy efforts?  I’ll offer a few of my own thoughts as to why this is, and then share some of Bouma-Prediger’s suggestions for reshaping the way the majority of Christians think about the earth.

I mentioned in my previous post that for most Christians this issue is perceived as too politicized and secular.  Environmental issues typically form part of the leftist platform, thus many Christians won’t align themselves with a cause that will get them labeled “liberal,” or worse yet, suggest that they somehow support PETA or Ale Gore or other supposed wackos.  While in some cases I understand this reservation, it’s actually kind of ridiculous to determine your beliefs and opinions based on the types of people that might agree with you.  That would be like choosing not to feed your children because your neighbor feeds his children but he also lets his dog poop in your yard and “we wouldn’t want to be confused with that sort of person.”  If something is the right thing to do, like, say, feeding your kids or protecting an endangered species, we should do it regardless of those who might also agree.  It’s called having a conviction.  Unfortunately, too few Christians have any convictions regarding the created world.

A related issue is that many people are now turned off by how doggone trendy it is to be “eco-friendly” these days.  You can’t turn on the TV or read a magazine without seeing some new company flaunting the greener version of itself (which is usually not all that much different than the old version).  This now even happens in some Christian circles, like the University/Seminary I attend, which recently tried to capitalize on the fact that a few of us seminarians and one undergrad student actually garden and make our own organic compost.  In at least one publication the University tried to spin these small, normal efforts as some sort of grand initiative by which the University is going green.  As an institution, we may be going green, but for now, we are still hot pink.

As annoying as this trendy-ness can sometimes be, we ought to agree that just because something has become popular doesn’t mean we should abandon it.  That’s like those people who can no longer listen to Kings of Leon because they overheard the homecoming queen humming “Use Somebody” while pulling Starbucks receipts out of her Coach bag.  Oh, and if teenage abstinence ever becomes super-cool I don’t think we should all ditch that bandwagon just because it’s too popular.  Anyway, back to ecology…

Another big problem is the imbedded sentiment within conservative Christianity that feels that any statistic suggesting the earth is in some sort of ecological crisis is so skewed and slanted by the left that we must throw out any claims they might make.  Truth-telling around environmental issues is a big problem, and I don’t necessarily fault conservatives and evangelicals who feel like the facts are always being manipulated.  Many of the facts are being manipulated, and unless you’re an expert on the environmental sciences, you are at the mercy of someone else to tell you what our problems are.  And that person probably has an agenda.

But I think that if you’re paying any sort of attention, you’ll notice that we are having a negative impact on the earth, and even if we aren’t going to die tomorrow, we should be trying to fix it.  The evidence is everywhere.  In 1995 a bunch of schoolchildren studying around a pond in Minnesota were horrified when they came across a number of deformed frogs, many with missing limbs.  And when I moved to Minnesota eight years ago I couldn’t walk to the end of my driveway without sending at least a few leopard frogs into a panic as they leapt for the ditch.  By the time we left that house four years later, after the area became more and more developed, no frogs could be found.  That sucks because I like leopard frogs, and their presence in an ecosystem is suggestive of health and balance.


And when you drive to Denver from my parents’ home in Fort Collins, as soon as you crest the hill near Longmont, you can see the brown cloud that hovers over the Mile High City like a dirty rag.  It’s ugly and it smells like barf.  We should be doing something about that.  And admitting this doesn’t make you a tree-hugger.

So hopefully most of us can agree that God’s green earth is a pretty nice place, and we’d like to keep it that way.  This isn’t too radical of a statement.  However, as soon as we start discussing the things we’d have to do and the changes we’d have to make if we really wanted to start lessening our negative impact on creation, people start to get real uncomfortable.  For instance, it’s my opinion (and shared by many others) that environmental issues are largely related to our consumerist, materialistic habits as a culture, thus consuming less would naturally lessen the stress and exploitation of the non-renewable resources needed for material production.  And last time I checked, simplicity and self-restraint, especially with respect to material wealth, are not something invented by environmentalists.  They are, one could argue, quite biblical.

But the common argument against this sort of solution is that our way of life would collapse if everyone started consuming less, and even if some Christians did this, it’s ridiculous to think any grand-scale change could ever happen.  Bouma-Prediger addresses these two objections quite nicely.  For the last one, he argues that the probable results or consequences of our moral actions do not determine whether or nor we should do the right thing.  We ought to act justly and rightly whether or not there will be any noteworthy consequences.  And to the first objection he writes, “Truth be told, however, our current way of life is in many respects unsustainable, and it is already showing signs of collapse.  Maybe our way of life ought not revolve around the constant quest for more stuff.”  I agree, and I also recognize that this is an unpopular stance.

There are many good people who make things, sell things, work in retail, etc.  I understand that.  And to suggest that our consumer economy is somewhat to blame for the abuse of the earth, and that we need to change, has deeply personal and scary implications for a lot of us.  But what if he’s right and we do need to consume far less than we do right now?  Is it possible that there are other ways of making a living and being happy on this earth that don’t revolve around this way of life?  And can’t we be more creative about producing goods in sustainable and less wasteful ways?  After all, we are bursting at the seems with good ol’ American ingenuity; let’s put that to use thinking of ways we can consume less, not more.

As a Church, we can start being radical about more than just personal sin issues.  For many of us, when asked what makes us Christians different, we say something like, “I don’t get drunk, I don’t sleep around, and I don’t cuss.  Plus, I go to church and I tithe.”  This is all good stuff, and certainly these may be some of the ways that Christians can distinguish themselves.  But what if our answer to that question involved things like, “As a Christian, I want to be part of Jesus’ activity in renewing the world.  Which means loving my neighbor, restoring broken relationships, and taking care of the good earth that God created.”  What if part of our radical stance as Christians was about more than not sinning but about actively participating in the restoration of all things.  This should inform the way we think about the environment.

And on this point, Bouma-Prediger makes it clear that the Bible presents a gospel concerned with far more than saving individual souls.  He accurately portrays the false sentiment shared by many Christians who think, “We should take care of first things first—saving souls, feeding people, preaching the gospel—and worry about timber wolves and northern falcons only after we have attended to God’s primary concerns.”

This is a false dichotomy.  The gospel is not about one or the other, and Bouma-Prediger is careful to assert that concern for the environment should in no way be construed as anti-people.  The gospel is definitely about human relationships, salvation, and reconciliation, but this gospel also involves the earth.  Poignantly, he states, “This objection wrongly assumes that the gospel is somehow unconnected to the earth, as if the message of the bible concerns only disembodied souls in some netherworld, as if in the eschaton the canvas of creation will be annihilated, as if our Redeemer is not our Creator.”

And this is really the most important point.  Many of us haven’t even considered what it would mean for us and our churches to start showing concern for the earth because we think this has nothing to do with our duty as Christians.  But we need to change the way we think.  And when we’re on that retreat in the mountains, or a hike with our kids, or a fishing trip with Grandpa, we should look out over the landscape and sense the presence of God, and know that our lifestyles and efforts as Christians have a lot to do with this place, this good earth.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always –
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing no less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of things shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.
~ T.S. Eliot

Still Here

Greetings.  It’s  been about a month since I’ve posted anything, and those few who care are perhaps a little annoyed with me.  Sorry.

spinning my daughter in Yellow Birch Lake

My family and I had a great July, spending time in the woods and waters of Fergus Falls, MN; Eagle River, WI; and the eastern shore of beautiful Lake Michigan.  With so many lakes to ski across, fish to reel in, and loons to be haunted by, I found little time to sit in front of my computer and type.  I hope you can understand.

Nevertheless, I recently started reading Steven Bouma –Prediger’s For the Beauty of the Earth and I plan on sharing some of my reflections on his “Christian vision for creation care.”  The book is a little dated (c. 2001), but I picked it up at a thrift store last year and I’m only now getting to it.  I’m interested in the approach Bouma-Prediger will take in this book – he has a PhD. From Chicago but teaches at the largely evangelical Hope College in Holland, MI – so it will be interesting to see if he is successful in bridging the liberal-conservative divide that characterizes this issue.  Too often one has to assume a purely evolutionary cosmology or an impersonal God’s–energy-in-creation pneumatology to follow the arguments for “creation care,” which is why many evangelicals have failed to take it seriously.  Whether or not I share these assumptions is irrelevant; I’m wondering if there is anything here that will make sense to those Christians who throw darts at images of Al Gore.

Until then, enjoy some of these pictures from our July adventures and our recent garden harvests.

my Grandma's dock in Fergus Falls

coffee and cribbage with Dad

waterskiing on the Eagle River chain

backflipping off the raft

one of many meals on the deck

friends and family picnicking in the northwoods

visiting Aunt Maria in Traverse City

a rainy day on Mission Peninsula

admiring our delicious tomatos and basil from the garden!

Kids and Contextual Theology

My wife and kids are staying with my wife’s family in Wisconsin for the week while I attend a summer school intensive 8 hours a day.  After class yesterday I went for a long run, and as I climbed the hill approaching the seminary apartments I was pleased to find a number of children careening down the slip-and-slide and splashing in the miniature kiddie-pool.  My head was pounding with dehydration and sweat dripped from my chin, so I knelt next to 3 yr old Timmy and his older brother Calvin and I asked,

“I’m hot, should I go stick my head in the sprinkler?”

Calvin shook his head in approval, then a few moments later, after a silent pause in which Timothy seemed to ponder the question with utter seriousness, he looked up at me and said enthusiastically, as if a great idea had just occurred to him,

“I think you should go stick your head in the sprinkler.”

Well okay, Timmy, that settles it.

After soaking my head in the cool water that poured over the slip-and-slide, I walked back toward Timmy and noticed Kenneth, my 7 yr old neighbor, sitting on a towel in the grass.  Kenneth was wearing a winter stocking cap.  It was 87 degrees and sunny.

“Kenneth, why are you wearing a stocking cap?” I asked.

“I am wearing a stocking cap so that mine hair doesn’t get wet.  Because if mine hair gets wet, the water might drip down into mine mouth and then I might drink it.  And if mine hair gets wet it might drip into mine eyes, too, and it will hurt mine eyes.  That’s why I’m wearing a stocking cap, so that mine hair doesn’t get wet on the slip-and-slide.  But I don’t always wear a stocking cap, only when it’s the slip-and-slide.”

Good enough for me.

So after spending 8 hours a day talking about redemptive-trajectory hermeneutics, or the relentless contextuality of interpretation, or the interplay between cross-communal dialogue and communal self-reflection, I get to come home and have conversations like this.  And it keeps me from thinking I’m more important than I really am, or taking myself too seriously, or feeling I need to maintain a certain level of pretense and sophistication.

Kenneth and Timmy don’t care about my theology or my ability to articulate myself.  They care if I can relate to them while they run through the grass carrying sticks like sabers.  And my two-year-old doesn’t care what sort of hermeneutic I hold to; she wants me to sit by her while she does a puzzle and run underneath her while I push her in the swing.

That doesn’t mean theology is unimportant; in fact, it informs the way I treat my kids and those in my community.  But if doing theology becomes an end in itself instead of a means toward greater worship and service and relationships with my neighbors, then I’m in big trouble.

My current course has challenged us to consider who really cares about our theological discourse.  If the only ones who are going to give a crap about your latest project are you and the professor who will read your paper, or your fellow Ph.D. candidates, or the faculty in your department, then we are missing the point.

Theology ought to serve the Church, and the Church is made up of people writing dissertations, and single mothers who must choose between groceries and rent, and kids like Timmy and Kenneth.  Our theology ought to take that into account.

I’m grateful for this contextual theology course, and for my family and community at the seminary, and for the youth in south Minneapolis who come to our church, for reminding me who and what theology is for.

What I’ve Been Up To

For those few of you who may have been wondering why I haven’t added anything new for a while, I’ll post a few pictures of what I’ve been up to lately.

I was still in class all the way into the first week of June, and then my family escaped to Colorado to visit my parents and dedicate our two babies.  My wife’s folks and her younger sister also met up with us for a few days — here are some of the highlights:

Caitlyn and her parents and younger sister on the left; my grandmothers, parents, and lil' sister on the right; our children in our arms

playing around in Estes Park

the thunderstorm sky in Rocky Mountain National Park

a family portrait (even our two-month-old in the stroller behind us) at the alluvial fan

our families enjoying steak dinner on the deck of the cabin

All the above photos (other than the one on the deck) were taken by Caroline (pictured directly below).  She has a a skill for photography and our family has taken full advantage of it, obtaining beautiful pictures for little more than the occasional frozen pizza or cherry pepsi that Caroline might request when she visits.  It’s a pretty good deal, thanks Caroline.

And thanks to my family, both Bangs and Belchers, for a great week of vacation out west.

My blog activity should pick up soon as I have a break from class and won’t be chasing hail storms through the Rocky Mountains any more this summer.

Caitlyn's younger sister holding her niece (my daughter)

Why We Garden, Part IV: Special Spaces

There’s a place at Grandma and Grandpa’s house where everything is always good.  Up the hill behind the kitchen window the woods are cleared and the sun hangs out all day above a little crest of earth where Grandpa used to pull tomatoes.  This June marks six years since he last turned a shovel in that ground, yet still, in the middle of the overgrown grass and twisted thickets is a small wooden sign proudly announcing “Grandpa’s Garden.”

Grandpa’s Garden has always held a sort of magic for me.  Before we lived in Minnesota my family used to vacation at their little house in the woods, and while Grandpa would be up there yanking weeds I’d be chasing garter snakes at a safe distance or catching the leopard frogs that sprung from the grass as I ran by.  Once, when it was just him and me, he picked a tomato and I followed him back to the kitchen where he sliced it and put it between pieces of toast and melted cheese.  I received that sandwich from Grandpa like a child at his first Communion – goodness and grace from the ground he’d toiled over.  The woods and rivers surrounding their house are full of all sorts of mystery and adventure, but that bright garden atop the hill is a special place, alive with critters and sunshine and images of Grandpa before he passed.

I often work night shifts patrolling our relatively quiet campus, and last week, during our third consecutive night of rain, I walked up to the garden with my powerful Maglite and studied the ground in its darkness.  I was in a place not used to visitors at that hour, and it felt like I was intruding on some mysterious secret, like a child walking downstairs late at night for a glass of water only to find his parents playing cards and drinking wine with strangers.  And there in the dark, with the rain falling sternly, the garden seemed to possess its own urgency.  In the daytime when the sun is bright the humans come with their watering cans and shovels and they poke around as best as they know how, but here in the darkness the earth and the rain seemed to be getting some real work done.  And the worms! Oh the worms! Wherever the light fell, the giant, swollen nightcrawlers slurped back into the dirt as if I’d just burst in on them changing underwear or toweling off after a shower; and there were hundreds of them, some as thick as fingers and others like spaghetti, working the soil as only worms can.

The more time I spend around gardens the more I appreciate them for their energy and beauty.  Whether it’s the wisps of steam curling from the giant compost piles at Growing Power or the way Grandpa’s hilltop feels warm even in the frozen January sunshine, gardens are fascinating and full of life.  Yesterday morning, as we enjoyed our first seventy-degree day in several weeks, a fellow seminary gardener commented in wonder at my impressive sunflower seedlings, “It’s amazing how dirt and sunshine can somehow take these little seeds and turn them into plants taller than you or me.”  And then, as I mixed rich compost at the base of my young tomato plants I marveled about how weeks previous this dirt was nothing more than the eggshells and coffee grounds I’d discarded after breakfast.  What wisdom and strength the earth must possess!

About the Triune God the Nicene Creed reads:

We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible…


And in one Lord Jesus Christ… by whom all things were made…


And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life…


Those last words strike me – The Giver of Life.

The life-giving work of the Spirit can be perceived in various ways, but I can’t help but sense that the same Spirit that gave life to Grandpa as he shouted from his pulpit is the same Spirit that gives life to Aleah as she drops her granola bar in the dirt…and it’s the same Spirit giving life in a garden where the soil and sun make strawberries so sweet you can hardly stand it.  All of creation hangs on the life-giving breath of God.

Gardens are special places.  Some of Jesus’ last moments before his Passion were in a garden, his sweat turning to blood as he anticipated his death.  And Grandpa’s sweat dripped upon his garden as often as his wheezing chest and failing heart would let him six years ago.  And now, in my family’s corner plot of the seminary community garden, I can spy on worms as they soak in the midnight rain or listen as the stems seem to stretch and straighten in the morning sun, or kneel next to my wife while our necks turn red and sweat darkens our shirts.

Gardening isn’t always profound.  It doesn’t always remind me of Grandpa or witness to the Spirit’s work in creation.  Sometimes it’s nothing but blisters and ambitious bugs.  But spend enough time in a garden and you’ll get a sense of what I’m talking about.  Gardens are fascinating, and if bright vegetables and stunning flowers aren’t enough to keep you interested, consider gardening simply for the fact that something amazing is going on in there.  You’ll see.


I wanna fit in to the perfect space,
feel natural and safe in a volatile place.
And I wanna grow old without the pain,
give my body back to the earth and not complain.
–The Avett Brothers, The Perfect Space

Why We Garden, Part 2: Family Stuff

It didn’t take Caitlyn and me long to figure out that our oldest daughter can only spend a few consecutive hours indoors before she starts climbing the walls or diving off the back of the couch.  She doesn’t really self-entertain and gets frustrated when constrained to our two-bedroom apartment.  With my busy class and work schedule, Caitlyn and I rarely get much hang-out time, thus it doesn’t do us a lot of good to sit around in the apartment while Aleah dances on the coffee table with marker on her face and play-do in her hair, insisting we feed the birds again…”Seeeeeds, mo seeeeds!”

We can go to the playground or push the strollers down the path, but perhaps the most rewarding activities for Caitlyn and me have come as we sweat beside each other in the garden while Aleah follows us around adding worms to her bucket or pouring dirt over the tops of weeds.  We need to be outside and we need to be together and my wife needs delicious, handpicked strawberries.  So, naturally, we need to garden.

Since marriage (and family) is, in some sense, a life-long commitment to shared purpose and interdependence, gardening is one of those microcosms where this relationship is really incarnated.  As is often the case, it would be easy for our marriage to become an echo of  June and Ward’s nifty little black and white utopia where I go off to seminary and Cait puts on her apron and coddles the kids while a hot-dish bubbles in the oven.  I don’t mean to caricature those families where this is the model or imply that this doesn’t reflect interdependence in some way, but it just wouldn’t work for Caitlyn and me.  We need to be beside each other, working together in situations where we can hear the other’s voice and knock elbows as we crouch in the dirt.  I think most couples find their own ways to make that connection, and for Cait and me, gardening is a big one.

So, for our little family, gardening is both a family activity that keeps our 22 month-old from carving her initials in the window screens, and a means for my wife and me to participate in each other’s lives in a productive and rewarding way.

One last thing: Something I’ve noticed about bloggers, myself included, is that we tend to present our lives as far more interesting or cute than they actually are.  So, in an effort to prevent that, I need to be clear that not every little family excursion to the garden is all that rewarding.  Just the other day Caitlyn and I both became flustered and tense while trying to plant our final seeds because Aleah was sitting in the dirt balling her head off.  She had only lasted about ten minutes before growing bored and tired, so we spent the next several minutes alternating between getting some actual work done and trying to amuse her with meaningless tasks.  I gave her the hose and a sprinkle can to fill with water, but after only a few minutes her jeans were soaked and the boogers pouring from her nose were glittered with dirt.  Defeated, I carried her inside and left Cait to finish planting the Oregano.  It wasn’t our best day.

But gardening is still awesome.