They said . . .

They said “Make sure you know how he really is.” They said “Know her character so you know how she’ll be in crisis.” “Is he more spiritually mature than you?” “Is she a proverbs 31 woman?” “Can he lead?” “Will she follow?”Some of those are wise words, no doubt. But fear sometimes looks like wisdom and the truth is no one can prepare you for a lifetime of experience. Your spouse will take you by surprise. You’ll be surprised by the dark days of depression that sink over her when a loved one dies. You’ll be surprised by the pettiness she exhibits with lack of sleep. You’ll be surprised by the fact that he sometimes forgets to kiss you goodbye when he’s stressed about work or he sometimes forgets everything when he’s distracted. And it will surprise you that the dreams you dreamed at twenty-one have not all come true by twenty-nine. The anger surprises you. The frustration surprises you. The failures and disappointments can abound. But there are other surprises. You’ll be surprised that three kids later a weekend away is more fun than anything you ever did while dating. You’ll be surprised by that rush of love that twists your stomach when you wake up in the morning and his scratchy face and dark circles under his eyes are only one fuzzy baby head away from yours. Your breathe will be taken away by his daily sacrifice that Love makes possible. His selflessness will disarm you in a million little ways. Coffee brought home on Saturday after running errands. Flowers as a surprise because its been a rough week. Coming home to a pristine house after you spent a day at the beach. And you will grow together, sometimes one of you will have to skip a little to keep pace with the other. But that’s the secret isn’t it. In the movie, Her, Theodore says  “It was exciting to see her grow and both of us grow and change together. But that’s also the hard part: growing without growing apart or changing without it scaring the other person.”

And that’s the truth about life. Drink it down in joy filled gulps, the bitter intermingled with the sweet. The preparation really only helps in the in-between spots, go in with your eyes wide open but prepared to be shocked.  The life you make together will be a new creation. Love takes your breathe away with unexpected joys. Brings tears with unfathomed grace woven into the pattern of a mundane life. “His ways are not our ways.” Forgiveness becomes second nature, Love will abound, grace will increase.

They said preparation is the best defense against divorce. The truth is preparation is a fun thing you do before you have any idea what you’re doing. Marriage is like cliff-jumping. You prepare yourself as best you can mentally, you bring along support, you take a long look at the jump, make sure there are no rocks at the bottom. Sometimes the only way to live is to jump, feet first, eyes closed, the ones you love cheering you on. And you’ll share that rush of wind in your ears, the plummeting feeling in your stomach, and you’ll share the sinking down, no sound, water in your ears, the sun looking so distant and watery-weak overhead. You’ll share the emerging triumph drips shaken out of your hair and eyes. The sun turns bright again overhead, the whooping yells of the spectators. . . you are triumphant. Your fingers interlocked and raised overhead as you tread water together, in rhythm together.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

St. Columba’s Prayer (remixed)

For Lent I’ve been reading some Saints’ prayers and St. Columba’s prayer inspired me to rework it for my own life. Sorry for the self-indulgence. . . but then again what is blogging but the ultimate self-indulgence?

St. Columba’s Prayer for mothers of small children

Sometimes in the blur of morning teeth being brushed and clothes put on and figuring out what healthy breakfast with which to fill their bellies before the shoes and coats go on and we are out the door-

I stand and listen

Sometimes a verse, or still small voice, his quiet will or peace does come.  

But sometimes not.

Because the outside voices are so loud in incessant demands of time, attention, love and need.

I’d give my left arm for a quiet and lonely cell, in which my prayers would rise like steam off the top of my tea, undisturbed by the breath of too many mouths needing.

They expect that I can see the answers, they think I am wise.

I answer (hopefully with patience) I only have as much love as I have been able to receive.

Sometimes in the quiet of naptime

I stand and listen.

But more often I am distracted by my new library book, or social media or the dishes piling up in the sink and the house project I was supposed to finish two weeks ago.

And I’d start a battle too, if the promise was it would end in a quiet and lonely cell.

But then I am reminded each act of love is a form of creation.

And what is love without people upon which to pour it?

Sometimes in the chaos of my life- in the presence of my God

I stand and listen.

Easter 2013,vacation, city trip 006

#reallife. Just in case you think we’re always super-artsy.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Upside-Down Art

Today I’m guest posting on D.L. Mayfield’s Blog. She’s doing a series on outsider art. And today is publishing something I wrote after going to the Chicago Art Museum.  Click here to check it out.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.). Image from the Brooklyn Museum



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Love and Legos

File:Lego Color Bricks.jpg


His fingers are still a bit pudgy, left-over remnants of a fat babyhood. Our heads inclined towards each other. My center leaning towards him as if pulled by a gravitational force. Small pieces grasped between a thumb and forefinger. He breathes out and I breathe in; our breaths co-mingling, a strange sort of incense. We are not aware and yet so aware. Together we create with few spoken words. We fall into a rhythm. I collect the pieces for the next step while he attaches them, pain-stakingingly. I am winging through a world I barely know. Fully unconscious of myself, fully conscious to this task at hand. Could this be a sacrament? Something so mundane? Something maybe so commercial?  And yet snow falls, the world coated in impenetrable white. And the pieces rustle against other. A sigh of satisfaction when things fit.  Maybe every act of creation, of creating order out of chaos- of quieting your mind and dying to self- maybe it all- every time- is an act of love. It’s wonderful to paint a picture that shows the inner life. Or write a sonnet that moves others to tears. Or to play a song that every person enters into as if it is their own emotions embodied in that melody. But those are not the only acts of creation accessible to us. Our identity, formed by the Creator can only express itself through creation. As if love shattered into a million pieces and we are left picking up them up, each tiny fragment at a time. Each lego car, each loaf of bread, each perfect spreadsheet, each wildflower bouquet puts one more piece in place. And in the end we will be able to see ourselves for what we truly are.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Facing the Sunrise

We are in the car.  The gritty not quite awake feeling still in my eyes and my mouth. Driving a familiar route, the route that speaks the beginning of pretty much every family vacation of my childhood. The route of beaches, and sunshine and weeks of relaxation. This morning the excitement is tinged with a bit of anxiety. My mother and her cousins will be running a triathlon. My sister and I are going to cheer them on but we can’t help but be nervous about the outcome. As we drive, we talk. Despite the fact that we see each other three times a week- frequently we are surrounded by children and friends and husbands. Here, in the holy safeness of this car we talk as only people who have known each other for ages can talk. Assuming our perspectives on things coincide. Knowing that despite misusing a word, or declaring something a little to loudly, our essence will be understood by one another. Madeline L’Engle uses the Greek word ouasia to describe the being of a person. The existence beyond and behind your personality. Everyone in the world gets glimpses of who you are but your oausia is your inherent essence. I feel like here in this space my oausia is allowed to breathe- to be understood, I don’t need to pause to make sure what I’m saying will be taken the way I mean it, this holy presence of my sister fits me with the comfort of a worn sweater or an old pair of jeans.

And so we drive and talk and don’t stop for coffee or breakfast anticipating that we might miss the beginning of the race. And then we reach Sandy Hook Park. The sand stretching huge lengths to the sea and at the horizon the sun is rising. The clean feeling of early morning salt air. The chill breeze making me forget I slept only four hours last night. It is morning! It doesn’t matter that the sun hasn’t crossed the horizon or that the light outside is still dim and hazy. The reality of morning is there- present in the watercolor splashes along the ocean horizon. And for one second, one brilliant mysterious flash I glimpse the ouisa of living out Christianity.  We are those living in the reality of the horizon. The work is done. It is morning and yet the reality that should come about if it is morning is not yet here. I have a feeling I may spend the rest of my life figuring out what it looks like to be a child of the sunrise. We live in the tension of a promise fulfilled but not yet realized. We are meant to live oriented towards the horizon.

photo credit: Liz Sacchi don’t you wish your cousin was as talented as mine?

I heard once that the ancient Romans considered Christians atheists because they had no temples, made no sacrifices, worshiped no tangible gods. I don’t know if that’s true but I loved that. I loved that at the dawn of Christianity there were no rules, no thresholds to cross, no expectations. They lived oriented towards the return of their Christ. I think maybe now we’ve gotten caught up in defining what the sun will look like when it rises or deciding what exactly we should be doing or saying every time we glance at the horizon. What would it look like if we stopped talking about theories about the sun and just tried to live by its light? What if we lived our lives facing East? What if we lived like the reality we have not yet realized was present now?

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Love and Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love Christmas because it’s magical, and the Fourth of July is beautiful because of my memories with my grandmother, but Thanksgiving is all the good stuff of a holiday without any of the negative. There’s good food and family and all the positive feelings with minimal amounts of stress.

Unfortunately, navigating how to talk to your kids about the history of this holiday is especially fraught. I want to affirm the beauty of thankfulness without misrepresenting all the parties involved. I want my children to pause and reflect on all the good things brought into their life. To notice the million little blessings we forgetfully take for granted. The easiest narrative of Pilgrims and Indians is probably the least true. I want my kids to be aware of the responsibility they bear as descendants and beneficiaries of some of the worst atrocities committed on this soil- but to be honest, at six and three, I don’t want them to be too aware. I don’t want to lie, but telling the truth is such a heavy burden. Without casting all First Nations people in the same light, I do want my kids to know that the Wampanoag tribe did invite strangers onto their land- share their knowledge and celebrate life with them.  I want my kids to realize that, at least for a small portion of our history, being from a different group didn’t matter as much as shared work, shared table, shared food.

And maybe that’s the sad truth in this world. Being sacrificially loving doesn’t always work out. Sometimes you get beat, but maybe if you get beat your acts of love and peace can still ring out- resound as a vibrating gong through history as a testament to your greatest self. Maybe our best acts are the ones with more staying power than our worst acts. I hope so- for my own sake. I want to be remembered for my creativity and passion- not my judgmental attitudes. For the notes from the tooth fairy I left under my kids’ pillows, and for how good I was at creating special moments throughout the day, not for the times I asked them to “please leave me alone so I can finish the chapter in my book”- the edge creeping into my voice. I want them to sing the songs I sang them, not yell the way I yell at them. I hope my flaws and failures fade away into faint remembrance like scars from kindergarten, while my acts of love and sacrifice can stain the pages of our family history forward in brilliant purples and greens.

I understand the danger of only knowing one story, but the truth is you have to start with one. If I tell my children one story this week and another next week and more and more as years go by, hopefully their understanding will grow and stretch. They will see the many dimensions of humanity in all its beautiful, sordid, fantastic, depressing reality. They will have the capacity to see people as individuals and hopefully, faulty ideas will fall from their minds as naturally as petals to the ground. So I’m going to tell them this Thanksgiving story: I’m going use the real tribal names, and no tepees or war bonnets will be in sight. I’m going to talk about the religious persecution, but also the greed that drove these Europeans to the “New World.” But mostly I’m going to talk about how taking time to share a meal, to thank God, to invite strangers in, to recognize value in cultures and knowledge that are different from your own can be life-saving.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

The Scent of Love

It is a cold March evening- a gray morning that gave way to a gray afternoon and is ending in a gray night- I am unsettled. My husband is still working and won’t be home until eight. I face a daunting prospect of dinner and bedtime alone with my kids. My 3-year-old daughter is antsy after a day indoors and I can’t say I’m much better myself, after a day of taking care of a newborn. I shake myself and stand up. I hurriedly pull on boots and coats and hats. I bundle up the baby boy in thick, cozy, shapeless bunting. We trudge through a path worn through snow piles, a small stone bridge through the woods and into a house that radiates warmth. It does not matter that I show up on this doorstep five days a week. The welcome is joyous. My daughter is swept away to be read to, played with and cuddled in a pile of giant stuffed animals. I am offered coffee! Water! Seltzer! Nuts! Bread! Fruit! Dinner! Until I say yes to something. The hospitality comes in overwhelming waves. The welcome is so strong it washes out my embarrassment at needing, once again, to escape my empty house. This aunt of mine has managed to create a space where everyone sits to rest. Where coffee is hot and conversation is warming. She seems to incorporate the unexpected needs of others into the rhythms of her day. The army she enlists in creating that warm chaos I have come to associate with family is her own children. There is always someone there to talk to, to show you the latest SNL skit, to offer you something to drink and eat (No, really- my 12-year-old cousin would politely ask, “What can I get you to drink? Pelligrino?”). And oh the food! My aunt is a use-your-best-dishes-everyday kind of person. She doesn’t save good treats for the holidays only. Eat this dulce de leche. Have you tried this sorbet? Have some fresh mozzarella on warm Italian bread.

And it’s all a little ridiculous. How does she get anything done? How does she finish homeschooling her kids? How is dinner ever finished? How could she afford to let us live next door rent-free for two years? But that’s kind of the point isn’t it? Love rarely makes sense, or works out mathematically. It rarely leads to clean lines or clean houses.

At Bible Study we read the story of the woman who anoints Jesus. She pours out that thick, rich perfume over his head, over his feet, crying and wiping his feet with her hair right there at the dinner table. How messy, how sensual, how scandalous! It’s sad that we can still be so shocked at scandalous love. We are suspicious of too much sacrifice. Couldn’t that have been done more neatly, more efficiently? Why didn’t she pull him aside and say, “I’m praying for you,” write a note expressing her love in a more culturally- appropriate manner? But someone mentioned that because of hygiene habits and the type of perfume it was, Jesus probably could smell that perfume as he hung on the cross. I wonder if that comforted him? I wonder if even as he was dying, he could close his eyes and remember eating surrounded by people more like family, being physically touched and cried over by his friend who was there watching him from the bottom of the cross. I wonder if the scent that lingered triggered memories of love.

I think love can do that. Sacrifice for someone else can leave a scent- a mark- that lingers past the actual act. I see it in the way my kids still think bagels- hot to the touch slathered in butter- is one of the best treats to eat. I see it every time I load my fruit basket- the wicker threads fishtailing into each other to make a cord of three strands. I see it in the way my daughter preaches, tall and proud atop the coffee table, her theology unfolding before an audience of stuffed animals and little brothers. I see it in my own changed theology- a little more open, like I suddenly have more elbow room in my faith. These are things I received from my aunt and her willingness to love. They linger like the scent of expensive perfume over my new home. And trigger memories of love and sacrifice for me.


Like what you read? Click the follow button on the upper right hand side of the page and enter your address so you’ll never miss a post.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Love and Halloween

There has been a running countdown going since 9 am. “How many more hours til we can put on our costumes now?”

“4 and a half”

“How many more minutes til Ben and Molly and Penny come?”

“About one hundred and forty-three”

The candy I have by the front door- organic lollipops and kitkats- is a compromise between wanting to be socially responsible and wanting to not be THAT house. (Hershey’s has pledged to be 100% fair-trade by 2015, so I’m not entirely evil). I am a little dizzy from huffing spray-paint. I have single-handedly created a cardboard Lightening McQueen (from Cars 2, so he has won 4 Piston Cups, in case any of you aren’t tracking his career as closely as we are) that is way too heavy for my son to wear by himself but he is excited as only three-year-olds get excited- practicing his running back and forth in the living room-so he’ll be really fast. My daughter is rotating between the front door to look for her cousins and her bedroom to look at her butterfly wings with the regularity of a pendulum.

And then it’s time, face paint and ribbons and a little bit of makeup and some more cardboard right there, and bulky sweaters underneath costumes. The creativity pouring forth in unexpected ways. I love homemade costumes and while they sometimes result in failures that are barely held together by hope and zipties and ducktape, they also are a reminder that even our best work is temporary, we aren’t long for this world, this too shall pass. Before I have a chance to wax too poetic, up pull the cars. And out tumble friends and relatives. An Aunt who makes up little baggies filled with candy and with hand drawn art on the front-not only for her own niece and nephews- but also their cousins. Grandparents laden with food and more candy.

We descend on our neighborhood. Our next door neighbor remembering special lollipops for my one-year-old. The highschool boys across the street clearly delighting in handing out bags full of treats. Teaching our kids to say “thank-you” as loudly as they say “trick or treat.”  We wander around- the adults nodding to each other- occasionally complimenting a really cool costume. The rain keeps drizzling down. The sky- a slate helmet- not a crack in the clouds. Occasionally the wind picks up but the gloomy day serves simply to highlight the warmth of community and celebration in the air.

Then back to our house to eat the oddest assortment of foods imaginable (chili and nerds and lasagna and Chinese food and raw veggies and peanut butter cups and pizza). To light the jack’o’lanterns and do our duty by handing out our own candy. Exclaiming over cute costumes and nodding and laughing to parents in the background.

And this to me seems the opposite of a celebration of death. We are so very alive. Alive to our neighborhood and the people all around us. Alive to our own creativity. To the scent of apple cider and spicy chili. To the taste of sour patch kids. What is love but to affirm someone in the disarray? To invite people into your disheveled house and feed them from food they brought themselves? To value being present over doing enough? To hand out gifts to strangers on your doorstep and receive gifts in return?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

Love in Community III

We’re mostly all here. . . in the big house. My husband’s family-gathered to say goodbye to the Spanish foreign-exchange student who’s really their “Spanish son.” Most people use the word family lightly, because I believe most people are born into theirs. But this family is a cobbling together of people who maybe wouldn’t even like each other if not for love and marriage. The fire in the brick oven is going and we’re all taking turns slinging pizzas- my sister-in-law and I making delicate pesto and garden-tomato creations; my husband and his stepbrother pouring hot sauce over dough and covering it in buffalo chicken. No matter- every single slice will be eaten while the salad sits slowly wilting in the corner.

This home is a weird in-between place. A place where the hurt flock because my mother-in-law is a soul-healer. She fights for the weak, she stitches up those places in the soul that are so often rubbed raw. Her 4th of July parties are legendary. She invites the head pastor of their church, along with the elder’s family who was asked to leave because of theological differences. She invites an elder’s oldest son and the girl who dumped him only a few months ago. Awkward young adults and self-assured mothers of 6 all find a place to hang out in her sprawling backyard. Most people I know would never dream of hosting a party like that. But her code is simple- love me, love my friends. Maybe that’s a little bit what heaven will be like. All these people, awkward for a few minutes, testing the sore areas, trying to find a place to land that won’t touch the tenderly-healed soul wounds. But eventually forgetting the pain in a whoop and a shout and a fiercely competitive volleyball game.

The triplets (my husband’s stepsisters) are here. I can finally tell them apart easily, and even in the waning light. And we’re laughing hard because we’re reminiscing. What is it about your 20’s that makes you want to reminisce so much? Is it the realization that you’ve lost your childhood forever? Is it trying so hard to hold onto the things you know for sure as you navigate this rocky thing known as adulthood? For the first time we’re laughing about those stressful years when my in-laws’ marriage was new and all 8 kids lived under the same roof. Preteens, teenagers, college students and adults. When my sister-in-law put signs on her door that said things like “No knocking” and “No talking outside my room.” When my stepsisters were 12 and had all the attitude and drama to go with it. My stepbrother Eric sneaking out and using the garage door right under my husband’s room. We laughed at all the awkward situations (a grown man, practically a stranger, at your breakfast table while you’re still in your pj’s and only 12 years old) and hurt feelings that ensue when you try to build a new family. And the laughter is healing, it’s beautiful.

And even as we tease our parents, parents-in- law, stepparents about the crazy situation we were all thrust into, I am thankful. Thankful for my family by marriage and love. Thankful that they drive me crazy, thankful that they show me a new perspective (even if that involves more country music than I would ever voluntarily listen to), thankful that these people choose to love me. They’re not forced to, like in the case of my own family who must love their too-loud, over-passionate, too-sensitive and oblivious sister/daughter. My in-laws choose to love me and I choose to love them, past hurt feelings, rude words, misunderstandings. We choose to love and in choosing create a family, perhaps more fragile than ones created by birth, perhaps more prone to pain or scars. But we are weaving this family together, laugh by tear by pizza. And one of the pizza crusts burns a bit in this outdoor brick oven and I can’t help think of Old-Testament sacrifices, because this moment is holy. It feels like a scent wafting up to heaven. I know a pizza isn’t much, but to me, it’s a symbol. A symbol that mercy was abundant and love prevailed.

Posted in Love in Community, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Love in Youth Ministry

To the man who sat in that weird hallway between the worship room and the lounge at Rock Mountain Bible Camp and talked to a fifteen year old for an hour about her ministry to the 5th and 6th grade girls as if what she was doing was on par with foreign missions. To that same man who during a long and weary bus ride promised the girl she didn’t need to have her entire life plan mapped out by the end of this, her junior year. To the man who lit tiki torches and then went inside when she and her not-even-dating-yet-but-gonna-be-her-husband-in-3-years went swimming in his pool alone at night (seriously what was that? We kept half the length of the pool between us at all times, because even we knew tiki torches and midnight swims were more Real World than youth group). To the man who was wiser, more humble and more insightful than I was able to give him credit for in my teenage years. To the man who was the first to tell us we are important now, not when we grow up. To the man who could harness the emotions and passions of immature teenagers and channel them into service and love for the community.To the man who formed my understanding and ability to serve in youth ministry, even to this day.

To the man who was humble enough to let a bunch of eighteen-year-olds plan and run a trip because he had only been their Youth Pastor for two months and they knew what they wanted. To that same man who decided to take a gamble on an outspoken nineteen-year-old and let her preach to his youth group. To the man who introduced that girl to her passion and her favorite act of worship: speaking out truth to a group of teenagers. To the man who spoke the age old-words “I now pronounce you man and wife” over that same girl and her husband (and her sister and her husband). To the man who made celebrations out of the Oscars and March Madness and cold cereal. To the man who time and again took young, lost boys under his wing and helped them to mature into fully confident young men. To the man whose laughter rang through the halls of the church and who, I think, could convince anyone that following God was a joy-filled experience.

To the man who came hurt from another church, yet threw himself wholeheartedly into serving ours. To the man who viewed his leadership team not as support staff but as people he would support. To the man who bought gifts and cooked meals for his team. To the man who let them run wild with their creative ideas for youth ministry and took the fall when parents didn’t think they went so great. To the man who was always willing to do the hard boring difficult stuff- cleaning up after other ministries, shopping for food for a hundred teenagers, driving people home when they didn’t have a ride. To the man who lent me perspective towards criticism. To the man, who, rather than cancel the winter retreat when his son was born let a bunch of untrained, unpaid staff run the whole thing and encouraged and supported them through it all.

And to their wives who have their own stories apart from their husbands. Who have been my friends and mentors. Who are fierce and strong and true and who have sacrificed mountains and oceans and family and friends to allow their husbands to live out their calling.

Thank You.

It’s National Pastor Appreciation week and the vast majority of my spiritual life has occurred in Youth Ministry. So thank you to my youth pastors!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment