31

Friday

What I’m Into {a snapshot of October 2014}

October has been full. It’s been full like a teacup, overflowing because the pot keeps pouring into it, and it’s been full the way I am after a really big dinner.

I’m learning more about choosing to say yes to things that fill me up like a teacup, and not like indigestion. It’s a process.

I hope you’ll enjoy this peek into my full daily life, and share a little of yours with me, as well.

Happy October.

Reading

Show Your WorkShow Your Work by Austin Kleon

This is a sequel to Austin’s lovely (and short) book Steal Like an Artist. That one was all about finding more ways to be creative, this one is about sharing that creativity with the world. As someone who doesn’t love traditional self-promotion, but still wants to communicate what I’m doing as a writer, I found a lot to love about this book.

HortonHorton and the Kwuggerbug and more Lost Stories by Dr. Seuss

Even more lost stories (from magazines and such) have surfaced since the Bippolo Seed (published a few years ago). This collection was fun because it included another Horton story, and another Grinch. If you’re a Dr. Seuss fan, you’ll want to check this one out.

 

 

 

RosieThe Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

So many people loved this quirky, Australian book, and I wanted to love it, too. For weeks I read it, not really getting into it. I finally finished it on a plane. It wasn’t a bad book, but I’ll have to think long and hard before picking up the sequel.

 

 

 

 

Honeymoon HotelHoneymoon Hotel by Hester Browne

This is the latest from one of my favorite British chick-lit writers. I’m always on the edge of my seat when they come out, but her last novel (The Runaway Princess) wasn’t all that I had hoped. I was thrilled to find that this one returned to the tight writing, interesting characters and engaging plot that I’ve come to expect from Hester. The protagonist is a wedding planner, her boyfriend is a food critic, her best friend is a chef, and the whole thing is set in a hotel. I loved every minute of it. Just the thing for these cool fall evenings.

 

rp_DQ-198x300.jpgDisquiet Time edited by Jennifer Grant and Cathleen Falsani

This collection of essays written about the contributors’ relationships with scripture really made me think. I reviewed the book here.

 

 

 

 

Watching

While we wait for Parks and Rec to start, my roommate has been introducing me to 30 Rock. (We are already on season 3!) This is another show that I can’t believe I haven’t seen before now. It’s funny, smart and harkens back to another show about a group of television writers, for me: The Dick Van Dyke Show.

I’ve been loving Mindy and New Girl. I’ve heard some say that they aren’t loving what New Girl has become. Honestly, I find the show so relatable as a single woman (yes, sometimes they do exaggerate things, but some of it is pretty real). Either way, my roommates and I quote it back to each other (and even sometimes watch it live together).

I’d like to catch up on The Big Bang Theory, and check out Selfie and A-Z, but I haven’t yet.

Listening

NG-LedgesLast November, at the Over the Rhine concert, I heard Noah Gundersen play live for the first time. His songs were so moving, and he offered a Noisetrade download soon after. I added him to my regular rotation. This month, he came to Spokane and I spent a blissful evening listening to him live, suspended in so much music that I forgot my feet hurt. I haven’t been able to listen to much else, since. His music is a little sultry, and sometimes sad, but the beautiful kind of sad. Right now, I can’t get enough of Cigarettes (an extended metaphor about a bad relationship), First Defeat, and Liberator from his album Ledges. 

Jesus FeministJesus Feminist (by Sarah Bessey) is now available as an audiobook. Naturally, I wasted no time in requesting it from my local library and letting the (very good) reader help me re-read this book. It was about time.

I listened to this on my commute and found myself constantly in tears. It isn’t that I had forgotten how life-giving Sarah’s book is, just that some time had passed, and it struck me again as if for the first time. I’m still letting these wonderful words ring in my ears.

Living 

I went to two really cool fundraisers this month. One is for an organization called Big Table which centers specifically around those in the restaurant and hospitality industry. I love this organization, not only because it encompassing two of my favorite things: food and restaurants, but also because they see people that others overlook. This year’s fundraiser was internationally themed and included food from three different countries (they even stamped my “passport”).

Big Table

The other was called Bedtime Stories (for a humanities organization in the area). Four authors (two poets and two fiction writers) were given a prompt: Things That Go Bump In the Night. They wrote pieces and read them aloud. Such a great way to spend an evening.

There was a concert in Spokane that I wanted to go to (American Authors and Echosmith), but I knew that the venue would be crowded, and it was at the end of a long week. In a strange twist of fate, the radio station we advertise with at work called and asked if any of us wanted to go to a small acoustic show with the same two bands. I got to play hooky from work and listen to them play the songs I knew. Such a lovely gift for a Friday afternoon.

Jackie O and Twiggy

Here in Spokane, we had an arts month in October. The events culminated with a ball at our grand hotel this evening. I had the opportunity to go with dear friends, dress up in a costume, and dance to the cupid shuffle.

My friend Nicole went as Jackie O, and I was Twiggy. Together, we did the 60s.

flyer

Perhaps the most exciting event of this month was my trip to Denver to speak to English majors at Colorado Christian University. I plan to write more about this, but suffice it to say that I was welcomed with open arms, the students asked questions and kept me past time, my speeches flowed evenly, and it was very hard to come home from being a visiting author.

I spoke a bit about my writing journey (and life as a post-grad English major employed in my field), and then held a workshop about my writing process and some of the more specialized details, for the interested.

It was all such a delight.

Colorado

Clicking 

I’m Pregnant. So Why Can’t I Tell You? by Abigail Rasminsky

I found this piece very thought provoking, and a question I’ve thought about for other blessings in the early stages.

You Definitely Need This Condo Pony, And Other Products From ‘SkyMaul’ on NPR

This just made me laugh so hard. Satire at its best.

Is This a Golden Age for Women Essayists? by Cheryl Strayed and Benjamin Moser in the New York Times

As a female essayist, I found this a very thought provoking piece.

Redefining Family by Tracy Simmons on Spokane Faith and Values

Tracy came to my church and gave this sermon. I had been away from church for one reason or another the past two weeks and I cried all through it. These are much needed words.

Where I Am: Four Houses, Four Turning Points by Kristin Tennant

I’m so delighted by this new collaborative blog about place (You Are Here), and I was captivated by Kristin’s piece there. It’s about several different homes.

In Transit by Addie Zierman

I loved everything about this piece which reminded me to listen and see.

Writing

This was a big and exciting month for me, on the writing front (and otherwise). A lot of happiness and nervousness at the same time.

As I told you last month, my piece won the Junia Project’s first blog contest and it went live this month. I wrote about Martha (and Mary) and how Jesus loved and saw them both. If you haven’t read it yet, I’d be honored to have you visit.

For National Mental Illness Awareness week, I told my own story, to an overwhelmingly supportive response. I can only hope as much for everyone who tells such stories, and I’m glad to be part of making the thought of doing so seem less scary.

I also wrote about bikinis and looking at water, going back to an evangelical church (hearing things I hadn’t ever put my finger on) and my first flat tire (and not being a single girl cliche).

I also wrote a bit of an elegy for my friend Virginia (some of you may remember her from After Church). She passed away this month at 102. I think of her every day.

In the de(tales) series, Saskia Wishart wrote about the confusion and loneliness of grocery stores in other countries. My lovely pastor, Liv Larson Andrews, wrote about potlucks. Kelli Woodford wrote about a pencil, and hustling for worthiness. Jason A. Ney wrote a bit about how his relationship with swearing has changed. Christie Purifoy wrote about how bread has intersected with her life, and how the relationship has changed over the years and places.

Once again, I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer for What I’m Into (check out the rest over at her site).

{photo credit}

29

Wednesday

de(tales): our daily bread machine

Christie and I started talking about food almost immediately when we met. I love her gentle spirit (more and more apparent as I get to know her), and I love the way she isn’t afraid to say true things. She inspires me with her words, and she continues to be a treasured friend. If you haven’t met her, I’m sure you’ll make her acquaintance with delight. 

Enjoy, friends. 

de(tales): daily bread machine

I.

Our first apartment was tiny. It was like an apartment for a doll. But not Barbie. We were still college students, and this was no dreamhouse. Though I suppose it was a house of dreams.

The single, small square of laminated kitchen countertop was the brilliant orangey-red of a tomato. We concealed most of it beneath the massive white heft of an automatic bread machine.

I no longer remember if the bread machine was a wedding gift or a hand-me-down. I do remember the bread we made with it. Despite the dazzling promises of our instruction manual slash recipe book, the only bread we managed to bake in our machine was Basic White Bread I. It would sit on our bread board like a sad, pale cube. We called it Robot Bread.

Basic White Bread II always failed to rise. Basic Wheat Bread I never even made it that far, pouring out in a liquid goo from beneath the cover before the machine light could switch from “Mix” to “Rise.”

II.

We gave our machine away when we moved to an even smaller apartment in the city. I tried to forget I had ever wanted to make my own bread.

We bought chocolate croissants at the bakery on 57th Street. We ordered blueberry scones at the French bakery on 55th Street. And, most nights, we ate Thai food from one of three Thai restaurants on 53rd.

Occasionally, we picked up a meal at the Indian slash Soul Food buffet. We piled our plates with spicy collard greens and saag paneer. I think if I hold out my hand I can still feel the featherweight and delicious warmth of charred naan.

Why bake your own bread in a city of bakeries? We ate our way around the world but rarely left our neighborhood. Our taste buds watered over all the delicious possibilities.

III.

We moved far, far away from the northern city. We moved to a land of beaches and palm trees. It was beautiful, but I longed to bump into neighbors at the French bakery. I wanted to linger over Thai food with friends.

I lost friends and I lost bakeries, but I gained a spacious kitchen. I read about the bread-baking book Tartine Bread on the internet. The internet told me the book offered a magic formula for artisanal sourdough bread. No machine required. I clicked purchase before I could think myself out of it.

When the book arrived I learned I would need a cast-iron dutch oven and an electronic scale. I clicked purchase for those too. I did it fast before I could think myself out of it.

It worked. The promises of cookbook, careful instructions, and a cast-iron dutch oven were fulfilled . The bread was crusty. Delicious. A long-buried dream come true.

Manna in the wilderness.

IV.

Today, we live in an old farmhouse in the country. It is our Promised Land, and it flows with coconut milk and honey.

Our son is highly allergic to cow milk. He is also highly allergic to wheat and nuts and peanuts. Thankfully, he outgrew his allergy to eggs, so we now keep a baker’s dozen of chickens.

Each summer good friends come all the way from Tokyo to stay with us. This year they brought a gift. It was a massive, white automatic bread machine.

It is a Gopan, and it makes bread from whole rice. Pour in the rice, add a little water, yeast, and olive oil, and four hours later you have the warmest, crustiest, least expensive loaf of gluten-free bread you have ever tasted.

My son and I call it robot bread. It is the opposite of artisanal. It is the opposite of local. It is the opposite of so many values I love to taste and celebrate.

But it is a miracle. A delicious dream come true.

Our boy takes a slice of this bread to church each Sunday. Our priest gives it back to him and tells us what we already know.

This is the bread of heaven.

Christie PurifoyChristie Purifoy lives in southeastern Pennsylvania with her husband and four young children. After earning a PhD in English literature from the University of Chicago, she traded the classroom for an old farmhouse and a garden. You can find more of her stories at her blog There Is A River, and Deeper Story. Her first book is forthcoming from Revell.

You can check out the other de(tales) (so far) here.

27

Monday

Disquiet Time {a review}

Disquiet TimeGrowing up in church, I heard the term “quiet time” a lot. The words described the time I spent reading my Bible and praying, and was often positioned in youth sermons (and a few “Big Church” sermons) as what stood between me and a healthy relationship with God. No quiet time, no healthy relationship.

I was often regimented about my time spent “in the Word.” I checked it off, first thing in the morning, like a workout, or a vitamin. I read through the Bible in a year. I made it all the way through my PB&J journal (prayer, Bible reading and journaling).

It was only much later that my “quiet times” got less quiet. I went from saying (and thinking): “the Bible clearly says” to realizing that not everything is clear cut. In times of depression, exhaustion or suffering, I found myself reading just one passage at a time, like a track on repeat.

When I heard about Disquiet Time, and the premise behind it (the subtitle is: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels), I hoped that it might be my sort of book. I hoped that it might avoid easy answers, and that there would be things in it that would make me think, even things that would make me uncomfortable.

I was not disappointed.

I resonated with many of the essays in this book, and found myself nodding along with descriptions of worry surrounding the impending Rapture, or concern over the commandments for women to remain silent in church.

I learned Hebrew and Greek words along the way, allowing them to cast some light on stories and verses that had seemed odd (or that I hadn’t thought about much at all).

Some of the essays dealt with familiar stories or difficult passages, others reminded me of places long forgotten, passed through quickly while I read the Bible through in a year.

All of the pieces made me think, asking me to come a little deeper, or see things from another perspective. There are a host of voices here. They may not have everything in common, but they do share one thing: they all take scripture seriously. Many have moved from literal or anxious relationships with the Bible, but there is a wonderful lack of cynicism in these words. This collection does not seem to have much to prove.

Each essay seemed fit to sit with for a time, lending itself to some disquiet of the soul, and a question or two. If anything, this book felt to me like a collection of conversation starters for the reader and God, a starting point for deeper relationship and engagement with the Bible.

Some of the voices are new to me, others are familiar, much-loved, or well known. If you venture inside the pages, you may find yourself hearing scatalogical stories from Karen Swallow Prior, metaphors of wombs and birth from Rachel Marie Stone, and ruminations on 1 Corinthians 13 from Brian McLaren. I found some new friends among these pages (always one of the joys of a good essay collection), and enjoyed the company of those whose voices I already know and love.

This is a book that I will place next to my bed, near my Bible. I want to use it to remind me that it is okay to question, to wonder, to disagree, and to dig more deeply. I want this book to remind me to seek out context and original language. But most of all, I want this cover and its provocative title to remind me that God doesn’t ask for quiet disciples, but for people willing to enter into a conversation with the Divine. I will be returning to this collection often, lest I forget.

You can find out more about Disquiet Time here.

I am grateful to Faith Words for a review copy of this book.

22

Wednesday

de(tales): the list

Jason and I met at the Festival of Faith and Writing in April. He very graciously invited me to come and speak about writing to his students in Colorado this past weekend, and in a stroke of crazy timing, his de(tale) just happened to coincide with my trip. I spent this weekend with Jason and his wife. It was lovely to get to know him better and get a peek into his world. 

I hope you enjoy his de(tale), today. 

de(tales): the list

It’s tough to portray with complete accuracy just how much swearing was frowned upon during my childhood. Our pastor at First Baptist Church, my schoolteachers at First Baptist Elementary, my friends’ parents, my own parents—everyone in our small, stringent subset of rural fundamentalist Christianity decried it as the Devil’s language and vigilantly avoided it. My earliest memory of curse words involves my elementary school principle delivering a school-wide lecture on the topic when I was in first grade. He said a few words like “damn” and “hell” and explained that he was only saying them so that we would know exactly which words we should always avoid using. Fast forward a few years, and my fifth-grade teacher was taking time during our afternoon Bible lesson to explain how we should always avoid words like “darn” and “heck” because they were what he called “euphemisms,” a term none of us understood until he explained that it meant a softer way of saying the same exact thing. Christians didn’t use these words, he and every other adult told us. Only non-believers did.

The most hallowed of all words was the Lord’s name. We all knew the commandment by heart—“Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” The Elizabethan English in the King James Bible—the only Bible we were allowed to use—gave the command extra weight, and the combination of the command itself and the formality of the language used to convey it made me tremble at the prospect of speaking it—or even the euphemism for it—in even the most indirect or unintentional way. I remember lying in bed at night, terrified that I would accidentally think of a time I’d heard a character on television say it, worrying that my mere thought of someone else’s utterance, the words momentarily crossing my mind, would be offensive enough for the Almighty to immediately mete out a swift and terrible judgment.

The crusade against cursing didn’t stop when I got older, either. When I was in my teens, some of my parents’ church friends gifted us a “Curse Free TV” box. They explained how, by hooking it up to our VCR, we could filter out the cursing in whatever movie we watched. Unfortunately for its self-censoring users, instead of allowing them to avoid the swearing in Hollywood’s latest offerings, it only ended up highlighting each instance of a “dirty” word by muting the sound and displaying an often-nonsensical replacement word or phrase via closed captioning. “Wow you!” popped up a lot during R-rated films.

Somehow, despite the deep-seated resistance to all things First Baptist I’d developed by high school, this idea—a set of forbidden words, written in stone somewhere, should be avoided at all costs—managed to burrow into my psyche and take up a more or less permanent residence. By the time I left for college, I could count on one hand the number of times I’d cursed. Even during my first couple of years away from home, I avoided not only swearing but also people who did.

But then something happened. It’s difficult to say exactly when, but somewhere along the line, I started to realize that this crusade, so tirelessly led by almost everyone I’d known growing up, was a years-long exercise in missing the point, the promotion of a mindset devoid of understanding rhetorical contexts or even basic motives behind speech. I should have caught it earlier, how it functioned as a microcosm of their overarching beliefs. Polish up the outside, the health of the heart be damned.

Now, many years removed from those influences, I must admit that I sometimes swear like a sailor, skipping over the small-bore ammunition and going straight for the heavy artillery. Not often, and not in front of people whom I know I might offend, but I do—at myself, at left-lane slowpokes during my daily commute, at my wife in the midst of an argument (although I’ve recently managed to cut that out). I’m not proud of it, but I also no longer feel the deep-seated sense of shame that First Baptist’s authority figures wanted me to feel over using “bad” words. I suppose I’ve fallen somewhere in between—a place I plan to stay.

One thing hasn’t changed, though. I still do not—cannot—take the Lord’s name in vain. Not even the euphemism.

Jason A. Ney works as an English professor at Colorado Christian University. He is married to a wonderful woman and has a dog. He is not on Twitter.

You can check out the other de(tales) (so far) here.

{photo credit}

20

Monday

Slow Leak

Slow Leak

As a culture, we tell stories about single people, women in particular. Who among us has not heard cracks about crazy cat ladies, who, when living in New York, may die alone, undiscovered until the smell drifts into the hall, alerting not the neighbors, but the police, or building management.

I have long thought that it would be much worse to die with cats than alone.

I have been part of telling these stories over myself. One of my co-workers has been known to add “and you’re going to die alone, we know,” to the end of one of the dramatic statements I have been known to make.

Even though I don’t believe that these stereotypical comments are reflective of reality, it’s hard to get away from them, even in my own mind. I am frequently thankful for my cat allergy, which has permanently silenced those who have asked when I will start collecting cats.

Even though I am pleasantly placed in an interesting career, a cozy home and many meaningful relationships, in short, a lovely life, I find myself bemoaning my singleness far more often than I would like.

I don’t want to deny my desire for romance and companionship. But there is a difference, for me, between acknowledging my hopes and discounting the beauty and richness of my life now.

These are not “starter blessings.”

Last Friday, I was plopped into the middle of a stereotype.

I was getting ready to leave work after a busy week, trying to tie up loose ends to allow me to take Monday off (as this post wings it’s way into the world, I am in Colorado, speaking to English majors about writing).

A co-worker came back into the office, shortly after leaving, to tell me that one of my tires was flat. I went out to inspect it, not wanting to believe it, and walked back inside to call my mom.

She suggested that I head to a gas station for a little air, before making my slow way to nearby Costco for a good look.

When I was in driver’s ed, we had to learn how to change a tire. An older friend, likely about the age I am now, helped me to go through the motions. Quite a few years have passed since then and I have no real memory of that time, other than relief that the requirement was at an end.

I have kept the roadside assistance on my insurance plan current.

I pulled up to the gas station and reluctantly put four quarters into the machine to start the air flowing. The picture on the front assured me that part of my money was going to help hungry children.

It was raining.
I struggled with the hose, unable to get much air into my tire. When it didn’t seem so dangerously low, I capped the valve and began my journey to Costco.

The temptation was there, of course, to start crying on the way. Here I was in the situation I’d laughed about so many times before. I was the single girl with the flat tire, driving through the rain, wishing for rescue.

I had an event to get to that evening. I would likely be late.

There is no shame in tears, I know, but something in me hardened and clicked into place. I would not be that stereotypical single woman, I told myself. This would be all right. This was not too much.

I began to unclench my fingers from the steering wheel.

I arrived at Costco and handed over my keys. I started to wander around the warehouse, picking up beautifully illustrated copies of Anne of Green Gables and Little Women. Christmas was in the air and the gifts were out in full force.

Soon, I was summoned back to the tire center. “What was the problem?” I asked, thankful that I hadn’t needed a whole new tire.

“The valve was leaking,” the mechanic told me. “We replaced it for you.”

I drove home, on four full tires, thinking of the tears I didn’t cry and the hope I sometimes struggle to keep alive. It’s amazing how often valves begin to leak.

{photo credit}

17

Friday

Dance Steps of Faith

Virginia and I at her 100th birthday celebration.

Virginia and I at her 100th birthday celebration

Early this year I wrote a bit about my friend Virginia. She and I talked for a while about her experiences as a single woman over the course of her one hundred and two years. In some ways, I remember feeling a little guilty even bringing it up. We are talking about an amazing woman, a writer of books, a teacher and nutritionist. She spent her years doing interesting and exciting things, and making meaningful connections with people. In many ways, she is the sort of woman I want to be when I grow up.

Some of you may remember that piece, After Church. Even though I was nervous to ask, knowing how full and rich Virginia’s life had been, she did not respond with only the sunshine. She was honest with me about the complexities of life as a single woman, and specifically as a single woman of faith. Her words about after church, a time of loneliness for her, since many people went home to their families, stuck with me, echoing in my ears.

A few weeks ago, I went to visit Virginia. She was no longer able to be at home, and they were saying that the end was near. I wanted to make sure I got to say a few things, even though I’ve said them before.

She was asleep when I arrived, and I took a moment to reflect. I thought about her 100th birthday party, so many people gathered in one place. I went on a first date with my last boyfriend that day and she confused him for a member of the maintenance team when he came to pick me up (as the relationship unfolded and shriveled, I’ve come to love that story).

I had asked her if she would mind me writing about our conversation and she’d agreed, though she didn’t know that anyone would find it of interest.

But that piece hit a nerve.

I told her about it, the next time I saw her. She was pleased, and yes, surprised.

She was engaged in her 70s, and when I saw her last, she was still wearing the diamond. Whenever anyone asked about it, she would tell us that it was a sad story. Sometimes, she would tell it. When most people tell me that I’m young and I have plenty of time, I don’t appreciate it. Somehow, it was different coming from Virginia.

It struck me, on this visit, as I sat in a chair near her bed, that it was Sunday, after church. Here we were, two single women, spending the afternoon together, neither one of us alone.

When she woke, we talked. It was hard to see a woman who had been so independent, confined to a bed, so in need of assistance. Still, she wanted to know how I was, asking after the intimate details of my life.

I’ve been richly blessed with people in my life. More than that, I’ve been blessed with strong, insightful, brave, and faithful women. It is hard to pick among them, when I think of my heroines in the faith. Sometimes, I single them out, one by one. It is good to remember.

Virginia passed away this week. That Sunday, after church, was the last time I saw her. I got to tell her I loved her, and even as she slept, I whispered some thanks and shed some tears.

Virginia showed me a lot of things in the time that I had with her. She modeled a gracious spirit, and true hospitality. She reminded me that I am stronger than I think.

But most of all, she danced the steps of faith in front of me. I loved to listen to her pray out loud, talking to her Friend. She loved Jesus and she leaned heavily on Him, even as she resisted leaning too hard on anyone else.

Sometimes, the future seems daunting. And although death is unknown, it is the life that really concerns me sometimes. So much is obscured and untested.

Once, I asked Virginia how she’d approached her singleness, as well as the rest of her life. “I just did the next thing,” she said. “And then I did the next thing after that.” Those words, too, have rung in my ears.

It’s hard to believe she’s gone. I half expect to turn a corner and see her standing there, bright lipstick and all. I suppose, one day, I’ll do just that.

This blog post is part of Michelle DeRusha’s #MyFaithHeroine contest, in connection with the release of the book 50 Women Every Christian Should Know. Find out how to participate here.

15

Wednesday

de(tales): pencil

Kelli Woodford and I met at the Festival of Faith and Writing this April. There are those people I feel I’ve known for a long time when I meet them, people who carry an ease of conversation and comfort about them. Kelli is just such a person. We stayed up talking long into the night, sharing honest, hard, and beautiful  things.
Her writing is fluid and poetic, always asking me to think a little differently. 
I’m thrilled to share her de(tale) with you, today. 
de(tales): pencil
I frowned at the rain. And it seemed to frown back. The toddler at my side – who had demanded he do it BY HIMSELF – struggled to get his arms in a hoodie, finally erupting into a wail that would wake the dead. Sigh. It was going to be one of those days. I could feel it.

We pitter pattered across the wet grass toward the waiting van. When he was securely buckled into his car seat, I began to dig in my cavernous purse for the keys. What presented itself to me first, though, was the sticky remains of a lollipop – half-wrapped and half-sucked. I tried to wipe my hands on the seat, but gumminess has a way of laughing in your face, of course. Especially in the rain. When you can’t find your keys.

I went back in for a second dig, this time with renewed ambition. The search resulted in something long and thin – what could that be? Curiosity had me. I pulled out a white pencil. Turning it over in my hand, the words were as clear as the purple ink with which they had been written: WE ARE PROUD OF YOU.

And it all came back without warning, spinning me softly into nostagia’s lap. We had been sitting in church when I first laid eyes on this pencil. It was one of those late August days when the flies stick and the wooden door swells so much it won’t shut right to keep them out. I had felt brave that morning, as I recall it, and had shown up at church with all seven kids in tow by myself. We sang, we read, we listened. It was a typical service.

Until.

Halfway through her children’s lesson, our pastor pulled out a handful of these lovely white pencils. She asked the children what would be starting soon and waited for one of my precocious ones to pipe up appropriately: SCHOOL! Which, of course, they did.

She handed the pencils to an older child to pass out and then continued talking: “I’m going to speak for the congregation here, but we want you to have this pencil to remind you of something. When you are at school, we hope you know that you are so very loved by every person in this room. That if you need something – anything – we want to be there for you. See, you’re part of us in a way that we can’t really explain, and we like it that way. When we know you’re in that building down the street, learning your multiplication facts or studying the anatomy of a toad, we are thinking of you – we are connected to you. And that connection brings us a lot of joy. So when school starts this week and you take this pencil to school, we hope you’ll remember that there are a whole lot of people who make up the local Body of Christ who love you, who pray for you, and who are proud of you. And we hope that will give you joy, too.”

My children each turned their shiny new pencil over in their hands. I, meanwhile, worked hard not to show the shiny tears that had been streaming down my cheeks at her every word. You see, not so long ago we were surrounded by people who did not understand the importance of this message to my children’s hearts. I imagine if pencils were given out in our former scenario, they would have said not WE ARE PROUD OF YOU, but rather MAKE US PROUD OF YOU.

And friends? There’s all the difference in the world between the two.

Children who grow up trying to prove their worthiness are starting at a disadvantage. They hustle through their days, eyes fixed on the ones withholding acceptance, wondering if they are enough yet. Often, they become adults who have finely tuned the habit of measuring themselves – chronically assessing and re-assessing their every move – for a lifetime. Self-consciousness, insecurity, and a critical spirit are usually not far behind. And this is a tragedy.

Because God doesn’t love us like that.

God doesn’t withhold love from us because we fail or falter or any manner of catastrophe. The love of the Creator is constant. It doesn’t demand “make me proud of you” as much as it offers itself unabashed.

That day in the van in the rain, I allowed myself to feel all the feels of this encounter. My eyes welled up with gratitude for the path we had traveled and the place in which we now find ourselves: surrounded by cornfields and grace. There and then, my heart resolved anew to be a voice of acceptance, of belonging, of sufficiency for those around me. To quell the anxiety of the hustle and calm the uncertainty of past woundedness. To bring a gentle “Yes” into the life of every little (AND BIG) boy and girl who crosses my path asking “Am I enough yet? … Are you proud of me? … Am I safe here?”

Aren’t those the questions that so many of us are asking when it comes right down to it?

To speak this powerful YES into the ravenous void is the work of a healer. Of a reconciler. It is the work of apeacemaker. One who proclaims the peace that already stands between God and man and welcomes others to make themselves at home in the fact of their ridiculous belovedness.

That, friends, is a good place from which to start. Whether it be a school year or a life.

My three year old crunched on his apple from the backseat. I snapped out of my nostalgia and turned around, looking deep into his impressionable almond-shaped eyes. Then, slowly, I swiveled back toward the front. Through my tears I smiled at the rain. And I can’t be sure, but I think it smiled back.

IMG_20141009_112731I live in the midwest, surrounded by cornfields and love, with my husband and seven blue-eyed children. We laugh, we play, we fight, we mend; but we don’t do anything that even slightly resembles quiet. Unless it’s listening to our lives, which has proved to be the biggest challenge of them all. You can find me writing somewhat regularly at my personal blog or hanging out on facebookinstagram, or twitter.

You can check out the other de(tales) (so far) here.

13

Monday

Hope For Beginners

Hope For Beginners

Now, when I offer a friend a drink and she refuses, I begin to wonder if she is pregnant. It is an intimate thing, and so I hang back from asking, at first. These are the women who have worried, not over when or why, but with if. There have been miscarriages and diagnoses and complications.

For some, there are children, or a child, already. They have seen the miracle of life created in the womb. Some of them have confided that they feel a little guilty hoping to see that miracle again.

I like to carry hope for people. It is often so much lighter than carrying my own. It is easy for me to imagine that it will not be disappointed, not for this person that I love.

It is easier than to suppose that my hope will come to fruition as well.
I spent yesterday morning unexpectedly in an evangelical church, not unlike the ones of my youth. I swayed in a darkened room on a bright, sunny day, and sung some of the words. My mind would not stop whirring.

Perhaps distance is always needed before clarity can dawn. Perhaps the time and space has been enough at last, but I saw and heard something in those prayers and songs and words of explanation that I’d heard often but never questioned.
We sang, and I was struck by words I’d always belted without a second thought, sometimes in consecutive songs. “I’m nothing without you.”

It’s true enough, as things go, I suppose. But the problem for me is that it’s entirely hypothetical. I stop singing, and the words of Psalm 139 float into my conscious thought as I begin to cry.

Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will lay hold of me.

I may be nothing without God, but where would I go to be without God?

The musicians pray for strength to reach, and for Jesus to come into each corner of our lives. They pray as though He is not already there.

At my core, I am still trying to prove myself. I am still trying to do my part so that my hopes will not be disappointed. I will hold up my end of the yoke, if it kills me.

It’s easy for me to get so caught up in all of the tribulation (the things that I weather and traverse) leading to hope in Romans that I easily miss the reason that hope does not disappoint: it’s because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:1-5).

Now, I can see that these statements don’t match the Jesus that I have come to know. They are close, so close, but they do not tell of the grace and true love. They don’t tell the full story of Who it is that does the reaching.

I may hold the hopes of friends and loved ones, but I am not the only one who does so. I have longed believed that it is God who opens and closes wombs in times and for reasons that I don’t understand. When I watch a friend waiting and hoping for a baby who has not yet come, I don’t assume that the baby will never come. I don’t assume that my friend will receive some sort of cosmic consolation prize. I wait and I watch and I pray. I anticipate.

Sometimes, when I think about my singleness, and my hope of being married, I think exactly the opposite. Yesterday morning in church, I couldn’t help but think about the patterns of my youth which haunt and inform my theology. How I want my theology to be a static and unchanging thing, never needing revision (at least, the part of me that loves to be right, wants that). But, another part of me remembers that the word itself means “study of God” at the roots, and I realize that it will always change and shift. I will never know the whole.

I have held tightly to a theology of scarcity in my life, forgetting completely about those cattle on thousands of hills. I have forgotten about the people that God brings and calls and grows. Like Elijah in the wilderness, after the slaughter of the prophets of Baal, I have said aloud that I am the only one left.

I have continued to start from a deficit that doesn’t exist.

I have chosen to sing about being nothing, wondering if God could ever forgive and welcome me, when all of that has been done, settled and made right.

I am missing the party.

I’m sure much of what gave me the eyes to see yesterday, was my new church. In that place, often filled with light from the lovely open windows, I never feel less than. I am welcome and loved. I belong.

The task of God’s people has always been to hope and rejoice at the same time. We look forward to wondrous things, and we thank God for what already is. I want this to flood my view of singleness and longing for marriage.

I don’t want to minimize the pain and the difficulty of this part of my life, but I also don’t want to obscure the blessing that comes from each one of those thousand hills.

And when I pray, which I do, some mornings in my car, with the radio off and tears in my eyes, about singleness and the cocktail of emotion that comes along with it, changing recipe from day to day, I want to pray from a place of safety, knowing that my hope is safe, suspended in Love.

10

Friday

On Bikinis and Looking At Water

On Bikinis and Looking at Water

A couple of weeks ago, as I was catching up on Sarah Bessey’s blog, I read two posts both set around water. Maybe you read them, too? One was about going near it and just giving yourself time to be, the other was about spending some time with women who wore bikinis without apologizing for their bodies.

This is why I found myself stepping into the bikini I had purchased this summer, and then leggings and a long sweater. I packed a beach towel and a book, and a yellow pad. A friend and I drove to nearby Liberty Lake, which was practically deserted on that late September day, hot as it was.

They had pulled the docks out the water and we set up camp on top of them. The sky was brilliantly, daringly blue, and the sun seemed unaware that it was fall.

I stepped out of my clothes and waded into the water.

It’s been challenging for me to be sweet and gentle to my body lately. While I used to feel fairly confident, lately I’m not so sure. I look askance at my hips and my tummy, even though I don’t want to. Even though I know that I deserve better.

I was intentional about buying a bikini this summer (and eating some french fries before I did so, to get an accurate idea of what it would look like). I spent a wonderful evening suspended in a lake, feeling free and delighted.

But then, someone took a picture and I couldn’t stop looking at it. Is that really what I look like? 

I’m learning that, as it is with other people, love for myself is a choice. I will not always have a smooth relationship with me, but I want to keep working at it. I want to accept myself as I am.

As my friend and I stand, calf-deep, in the water, a young couple wanders down to the waterfront. She is wearing a sweater, jeans and boots and looks at me as if I am lost, as if I may be leftover from another season.

She must be hot in those clothes, I think, as the sun warms the back of my neck and the tip of my nose.

After a while in the water, I lie down on my towel. I have brought a book and other things to do, but I don’t do any of it. Instead, I think about the way the sun feels, and how much I like the whispers of breeze that cool my back. I watch the water as it sparkles and laps at the shore: constant, but always changing.

I close my eyes, and I am satisfied.

8

Wednesday

de(tales): potluck suppers

Liv is one of my truest friends, and also my pastor. My time talking and praying with her has been among the strongest tools that the Holy Spirit has used to heal some of the wounds of churches past. She constantly challenges me to think a different way (usually with more room and more grace), and she always has a warm hug and a wink for me. If you’ve been here long, you may already know her, a little, she’s made it into my posts here and there.

I’m so happy to share her de(tale) with you today.

Enjoy, friends. 

de(tales): potluck supper

Barley and kale salad. Blueberry crumble. Black bean chili with red onion salsa. Cornbread.

Not surprisingly, there are good potluck suppers and bad potluck suppers. As a Lutheran pastor, raised in the church, I am adept at telling the difference. It may not be what you think.

I grew up in a large, wealthy, suburban church. My rosy memories of childhood there include potlucks where my Dad joined a throng of women bringing thoughtful, creative dishes to share, offered up in a warm and sincere manner with accompanying serving spoon on a big buffet table. When I chat with my parents these days, I hear a different story. No one cooks anymore, my Dad moans. Instead they swing through Whole Foods and grab designer potato salad or a roasted chicken. “Don’t get me wrong, everything tastes fine,” he explains. “But you can just tell. People don’t care.”

My Dad is a rarity in this scenario. A male who loves spending time in the kitchen, he carries a now-old-fashioned notion of care connected to food and feeding. Old-fashioned, and I would say gospel-centered. Others are pressured by busy lives or assumed standards and decline the work of cooking for a church potluck. This breaks my dear Dad’s heart.

Years after leaving the large church in the suburbs, I worshiped at a small urban church on Chicago’s far north side. It was affiliated with the Mennonite tradition, and it was there I got schooled on the true goodness of the potluck supper. Even as a Lutheran.

Wednesday nights the people gathered. Warm chafing dishes brimmed with baked veggies in rice. Chipped pottery bowls held fresh fruit. Someone made weak lemonade. On Wednesdays, this neighborhood corner became casserole row.

One night, Ray, an expert gleaner (he spent a lot of time finding treasures in corporate dumpsters), came to potluck bearing guacamole. A big bowl of it. “Guacamole!” The excited cry went up. One by one, we scooped the green goodness onto our plates, grabbed some chips and gave it a taste. Then looks passed around the room. Raised eyebrows, puckered mouths. “Ray, what did you put in this?” The explanation came: “Seventeen limes. Y’know, to keep it green.”

Whole Foods, while helpful in many ways, would never sell you guacamole made with the juice of seventeen limes. It also can’t sell you that great story, that potent memory. It can’t package the puckered faces laughing through the grimaces. Certainly it cannot sell you a relationship with Ray. That’s the special glory of a good potluck.

In the congregation I now serve, those limited by access and skill bring pre-made potato salad or chips to a potluck. Others bring soups and casseroles baked at home, with ingredients from their masterfully tended garden. And we eat with delight. The wide welcome, the sharing, and the magic that somehow every time we gather there is more than enough: this makes a potluck good. Humble yet glorious, it is a feast in which the hidden face of God is made visible, embodied. It’s the body of Christ in green guacamole and homemade bread. O taste and see.

LivLiv Larson Andrews is the pastor of Salem Lutheran Church in the West Central neighborhood of Spokane, Washington. She lives with her husband and young son, and dreams of hosting the first lectionary-based cooking show.

You can read more of Liv’s words on her blog for Spokane Faith and Values.

You can check out the other de(tales) (so far) here.

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