Monthly Archives: November 2012

What I’m Into – November 2012 Edition

Ducks vs. winter. I love how valiantly they’re trying to take back the pond.


One of my internet kindred spirits, Leigh Kramer, does this great thing at the end of every month where she posts all the stuff she’s been into. It’s how I discovered we watched all the same guilty-pleasure shows and love the same music and that she’s got impeccable taste when it comes to book recommendations.

And you’d think that stuff doesn’t really matter when we’re talking about deep stuff like God and faith and love and Depression, but it kind of does. These little things, they’re the building blocks for the big things, I think.

So when I saw that she’s starting a What I’m Into Monthly Linkup, I decided I’m in.

I don’t do too many linkups around here. I like to keep things simple. But sometimes, I get a little tired of writing so deep into my heart. So today, I’m going to tell you about my November. Maybe we’ll find out that we have more in common than just our harrowing spiritual journeys.

(Note: Leigh usually includes here a linkup of her favorite blog posts around the internet for the month, but I couldn’t get my act together to do that this time around. Maybe in December.)

Things I’m Reading

My brilliant, young-adult-writer friend got me hooked on John Green this summer when she lent me The Fault in Our Stars on tape for my 5-zillionth trip to Chicago.

Since then, I’ve been on John Green binge. I read An Abundance of Katherines, which I liked, Paper Towns, which I really liked and now I’m halfway through Looking for Alaska, which has been a little harder for me to get into for some reason.

I’ve been working through a few nonfiction books too. Madeline L’Engle’s second book of The Crowsswicks Journals series, Kathleen Norris’s Acedia & Me, and Scott Russell Sanders’ beautiful memoir A Private History of Awe. 

(Leigh introduced a great strategy for reading multiple books at once a few weeks ago, and I think I’m going to have to try it. I’m having trouble getting books finished lately.)

I’ll probably put it all on the side-burner though this Christmas and focus on Advent reading.

Mandy over at Messy Canvas put out a cool Advent e-book that uses a-word-a-day to focus on the season. It’s the perfect amount of structure for me: it gives me a jumping off place but doesn’t tell me what to do. I may or may not have started it early. (It’s available here for only $5.)

I also picked up John Blase’s Advent book, Touching Wonder, which I’m really excited about.

Music That’s Moving Me

Someone somewhere on the internet posted a link to this youtube video of Sara Watkins’ song “Take Up Your Spade,” and I downloaded it immediately and played it all day on repeat. It’s become sort of my anthem for the month. Also on my November Mix: The Lumineers, “Stubborn Love,” All Sons and Daughters “Rising Sun” and Sleeping at Last “Noble Aim.”

Speaking of Sleeping at Last, they’ve got a great, free Christmas album right now on Noisetrade that you should go download immediately. I also downloaded Over the Rhine’s Snow Angel album there, which I haven’t had a chance to listen to yet, but I hear is outstanding.

What I’m Watching

True confessions: I’m afraid you’ll respect me just a little less when you hear what an indiscriminate TV watcher I am. I firmly believe that each person is allotted a few guilty pleasure shows…but I’m pretty sure I’ve exceeded my quota.

My husband and I have been watching Revolution all season, and the jury’s still out for me on that. I find the main character vaguely unlikeable, and it makes me stress a little about the end of the world. I’d much rather watch Parenthood, which makes me cry, without fail, every.single.episode.

Among the shows that I watch alone on while folding the laundry or doing dishes: Revenge, Nashville, Vampire Diaries, Grey’s Anatomy, New Girl, Happy Endings, and one other CW show that I’m too embarrassed about to mention here.

This Happened in Our Kitchen

I knew that I’d made a mistake by getting my husband the book Born to Run when he told me one day that he wanted to try eating like an ultra-marathoner for the month of November (until Thanksgiving). Which meant that he wanted to eat beans and rice and quinoa and vegetables and salad and chia seeds and legumes. He wanted to juice beets and kale in our $2 garage sale 1980s juicer.

If you know anything about me, you know that in spite of my glowy organic dreams, I am a Kraft Macaroni and Cheese person. A Diet Coke and chocolate person. A pizza and pasta girl down to my cholesterol-filled heart.

But because I love him (and because I thought it might be nice to drop a few pounds), we tried it. Here are the best and worst from the two weeks we managed to eat like ultra-marathoners, before we gave up and went back to our regularly scheduled frozen pizzas.

Favorite Three:

  • The beet juice (juiced with apples, carrots and a little ginger) wasn’t actually that bad. It was my first juiced veggie drink ever, and I think I did pretty valiantly.
  • I tried this broccoli by the Amateur Gourmet and really liked it. Yum.
  • Really liked this zucchini herb casserole. We used way less cheese and added more veggies, but all in all, it was one of my faves.

Least Favorite Three: 

  • We tried my friend Micha’s favorite green monster blender drink, but I think I did something wrong. There were a lot of tiny itty bitty pieces of kale, and the texture just about did me in. What am I doing wrong?! (Fill me in, you green-drink makers. I know you’re out there.)
  • Crock Pot Beans and Rice. I’m not going to even link to the recipe here, but I think it’s probably just generally a mistake to do rice in the crock pot.
  • Two things I learned about quinoa: it’s pronounced “keen-waa” and from now on, I’m officially calling it “keen-BLAHH.” Not for me. But if you like quinoa, here’s the recipe I tried. At least it looks pretty…

Top Five Moments of the Month

  1. In preparation for the dental office party she’s organizing, my mother-in-law sent Andrew and I to the Mall of America to try out the photo scavenger hunt she created. It was a blast. This may or may not be us dressed as rappers.
  2. On November 10th, I had the honor of signing on with Rachelle Gardner as my new agent and then went underground with some major book edits. You can read my post about it here.
  3. My parents came through town on their way to South Dakota this month (my mom, a couple of days early to watch the kids while I worked on my book.) Watching my kids play with their grandparents always makes my heart happy.
  4. We hosted a small Thanksgiving, and it was a blast. Here’s a picture of my table. Eat your heart out Pinterest.
  5. Putting up the Christmas tree with the kids was awesome. Liam still doesn’t get it, but Dane was so much fun this year, putting his ornaments in just the right place. Looking forward to the Christmas season with this guy.

On the blog

What about you? What are you into this month?

(Linking up with HopefulLeigh for her What I’m Into synchroblog.)

Church Home

Church Home: The church you attend regularly. The one you belong to.

Church Home: On finding the place where your particular heart can receive Good News

I chose Jesus in junior high for a lot of reasons, but at the top of the list was the fact that two girls in youth group chose me.

I was a little awkward, a little lonely, a little unsure of who I was. I hadn’t quite figured out how to pluck my eyebrows or do my hair yet. And they sat down next to me and took me in.

I chose that amped-up, on-fire kind of faith because I loved God, yes…but maybe moreso because they loved me.

During those years, youth group became a place where I fit. I couldn’t kick a soccer ball or throw a basketball. I didn’t make the spring musical; I sat ninth chair violin in orchestra. But church gave me an identity. A sense of belonging. It gave me cross-country trips in a double-decker bus. It gave me Sunday night youth group and Tuesday night Beach Nights and Christian ska concerts where I danced like mad.

And I’m grateful for that time and the way it formed me.

But also, I am becoming more and more aware of how enmeshed faith and that feeling of belonging are in my mind. I’m aware of the role that played in our long, soul-sucking church hunt (which I wrote about a while ago in a three-part mini-series here and here and here).

I’d walk into those buildings week after week, and I wasn’t looking for God so much as I was looking for My People. The ones who would see me, lonely and awkward, stilted in my Depression. The ones who would sit down next to me and take me in.

One of the longest, most painful parts of my journey has been the prying apart of expectations and reality. It’s been separating individual, broken churches from The Church, that wide, deep, uncontainable thing. It’s been realizing that no church can heal me…that it’s only ever Jesus. That when the Church People are barbed or absent or toxic, he is still enough.


Six Sundays ago, we got up and drove to a different church.

We’ve attended the same one ever since we moved into our house nearly four years ago. We kind of crashed there. We’d just been through a particularly difficult season, and we needed something, needed it now, and we ended up somehow at this big, lively community church in the northern suburbs of Minnesota.

It was not the kind of church that I wanted, but it was what I needed. During our first small group there, we sat around and told our stories – the true, messy versions – and I saw for the first time that we are all a little broken.

The loneliness started to ebb, and it wasn’t because I found a perfect group of friends, a community, but rather because I began to see the small, intricate ways that we are all connected.

I learned to stop seeing them as one nebulous whole – the Church People. I began to see faces. Learn names. There were things that continued to hook my cynical places, but also, I become more and more aware of the beautiful things that were happening. Their methods of outreach rubbed me the wrong way, but God, did they know how to love the poor.

 It took us a long time to decide to leave. But we did.

And it wasn’t because God wasn’t there. It wasn’t because they’re not our people. I am aware now more than ever that God is at work even when I can’t see him. I am aware that they are all my people in some way or another.

We left because it was time to leave. Because God had done things in us in that place, and we both felt the gentle pull forward to something different.


We walked into a new church that Sunday morning, and in many ways, it was like any other church. There was the foyer and the coffee and all the greeters. Small talk and introductions and so much smiling.

But I could feel my heart expanding, and it was almost inexplicable to me, the suddenness of it. The pastor spoke, and he wasn’t saying anything all that new to me, but, Lord, I could hear it. For so long, I’ve sat guarded in church chairs, arms crossed, daring them to impress me, but all at once, I found myself unguarded. The tiny worship band bid me to praise the Lord, and I did.

And I think that we’re using the wrong language. It’s not church shopping or church hunting. You’re not looking for the right church, as if there could be one. As if there’s a magical place where everyone will love you immediately…where they will know exactly how to take you in. Where you’ll feel complete.

It may not be even about looking for a place where “God is working,” because, really, God is always working. He’s always among us – Immanuel – his ways so much bigger than our ways. His plans so much more complex than ours. Who can see what is really happening among so many miles of surface?

Maybe, in the end, it’s about looking for yourself. Not in some narcissistic way, but in that deep, true sense that we’re all created different and beautiful.

Maybe it’s about finding a place where your specific beautiful heart can hear Good News and take it all the way in.  A place where they talk about God in a language you understand. Maybe it’s about finding place where you can serve with your whole, broken heart and be healed in all that giving.

I don’t know, really. All I know is that we landed in this tiny church one Sunday morning, and I felt entirely myself.

And after all, isn’t that what we mean when we say home – that place where you flourish into your truest self? Where you come down the stairs in your sweats and your ratty bedhead, and still, you’re exactly perfectly enough?

Prepare Our Hearts

Prepare Our Hearts: A common prayer before a church service or a worship set in which we ask God to make our hearts receptive to his Spirit and his love.

I was so busy this fall that I didn’t even get a chance to be sufficiently annoyed about how early “Christmas” is starting these days.

I did notice a Target holiday commercial in the middle of October (fail), and a few weeks ago, while I was deep in book edits at Caribou, I was startled into the moment by that annoying song, “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime.”

But other than that, I hardly even noticed it.

On Thanksgiving morning, the sun rose pink in the sky and we sent the kids outside in only sweaters to chase the ducks. We ate and laughed and ate and cleaned, and then I stumbled off to nap, (to sleep off that cooking/Pinterest-project-doing/tryptophan coma).

And when I woke up, the world was entirely changed.

It was snow-coated and glowing, and the kids were clamoring into boots and hats and puffy coats. They were running outside to hold the first heavy flakes in their mittens. The white lights on the house flickered on and lit against the new-fallen snow, and suddenly, it’s Christmastime. Justlikethat.


There’s something about this season that throws into stark relief that gap between who I am and who I think I need to be.

I’ve seen one too many Thomas Kinkade paintings. One too many quilted Christmas placemats on Pinterest. I keep seeing this TJ Maxx commercial for “The Gifter,” and she is sleek with tall books and unwrinkled dresses, and she glides through stores like she’s riding on a cloud. And every time I see it, I know what they’re trying to sell me, and I know that it doesn’t really exist, but still, I buy into it just a little bit.

One friend buys her child very few gifts in a commitment to simplicity and downward mobility. I worry that I’m spoiling my kids by giving them too much. Another friend gives more than I do, and this too ignites my Mama Guilt. I worry that I haven’t done enough, that somehow they’ll be disappointed.

I try to sing Silent Night to Dane at bedtime, and he says, “No, Mom. The Christmas song. Frosty the Snowman!” and I think I have not been hitting the Jesus themes hard enough. But then, I want Frosty for him too. Rudolph and Santa’s big-bearded smile and the whimsical fun of all of it.

The Christmas season comes, and I’m a little hunched under all these ideas that I have. They’ve digitally morphed somehow into one striking composite: the perfect Christmas. I know perfectionism to be an impossibility, a phantom, a myth…but still, I can’t stop waking up in the morning thinking, Today’s the day I’ll get it exactly right.


And I think about that word prepare. I think about my heart, weighed down as it is with so many things. To make ready it means. Or to put in a proper frame of mind.

Look outside: the snow has fallen and the world is lit and the bells are ringing outside of stores. The ads come and come and come in the newspaper and you have to decide now. Who will you be? What will you choose?

This year, I will watch as many sappy Christmas movies as possible and give myself two points for every former child-star from my youth that appears in a starring role. I’ll drink hot chocolate every night, screw the calories. I’ll choose only simple Christmas crafts to do; nothing that requires a “tutorial.”

This year, I will not compare our hastily-taken backyard family photo to the sleek, professional Christmas cards of long-distance friends and family. I will look instead at those faces and pray good things. Then I will look at my own boys’ sweet faces – neither of them looking at the camera  in this shot, the little one with his hand raised, about to smack his big brother. I will choose to be thankful for this family as it is, not as I wish it would be.

I will measure myself not by the downstairs office, where I just started a giant storage room re-org and where it looks like something out of Hoarders. (A photo – in case you think I’m exaggerating.)

I’ll stay in the living room instead. I’ll sit by the lit-up Christmas tree – the real one that we bought from Lowe’s last week. I won’t feel a bit bad that we didn’t go to a Christmas tree farm and get that shot of everyone walking hand-in-hand down a snow-laden path.

I’ll love this tree – the one strung with colored lights and old ornaments. It was $19.99, and it will be sharp and half-dead by the second week of December.

But Dane pulls up the little green chair in front of it and says, “Will you sit with me and look at the lights?” And I will sit there as long as he wants, even if it means we’re having frozen pizza for supper again.

I’ll give out of joy and love instead of out of stress over the “perfect present.” I’ll read the Advent books without pressuring myself to experience the Christmas story with some kind of new epiphany. I’ll stop trying to put the Christ back into Christmas and look for the ways that he’s already there.

I’ll let Dane and Liam help make cookies, even though it takes four times longer that way and we always drop at least one cup of flour on the floor. I’ll sing and laugh and ban myself from Pinterest.

When it all comes down to it, I think I’ve had too many years in a row of trying to conjure up the perfect Christmas. This year, I’ll settle for merry. I’ll settle for good, for less-than-picture perfect. I’ll settle for not-quite-how-it-was-supposed to be.

I’ll choose the manger instead of the inn. The baby instead of the king.

I’ll settle, settle, settle into the couch and give myself permission to be still.

Give Thanks

Give thanks for all that you’ve been given
Give thanks for who you can become
Give thanks for each moment and every crumb
Take up your spade and break ground
Sara Watkins, “Take Up Your Spade”

1. The sun rising pink and streaky over the pond 2. The ducks, who are still here at the end of November, because our next door neighbor keeps throwing out corn 3. The automatic coffee 4. The clicking of computer keys under my fingers 5. Kids stumbling down stairs in jammies, piled on my lap, their hair smelling still like Johnson’s baby shampoo

(And you can’t earn any of this. The sun comes up no matter how hard you tried or didn’t, no matter how good you are, no matter how much you failed. It’s just grace, and in the early morning hours, the whole world glows with it.)

6. Curious George 2: Follow that Monkey (our current DVD obsessions) 7. Garage sale legos and tonka trucks and enough pretend food to make an imaginary feast 8. Sweatpants and sweatshirts, soft from so many washings 9. An unseasonably warm Minnesota November 10. The light-box on the table – a hope for buoyancy, even as the sun disappears into winter

(Stop and breathe and look around you before Thanksgiving bleeds into Black Friday. You have everything you need.)

11. Grandparents who get down on the floor and play with my kids 12. The seven-layer Jell-O in the fridge that I made mostly to remind me of my sister 13. A little brother who’s Christmas list includes a surprising amount of lumberjack tools (that’s his job now; I still can’t totally get over it) 14. Friends who love you like family 15. In-laws that live close, that fill the house with food and laughter on holidays

(And we are all a little fractured, aren’t we? Our relationships, our families, broken along great distances, cracked in the imperceptible ways of our brokenness. We fail each other and we hurt each other, and still on days like today, we gather around the table, pass the bread, drink wine.)

16. Stacks of unread books all over the house 17. A Reader filled with the words of beautiful, talented online writers 18. Strangers that have become friends through social media 19. The ways we can brush up against each other’s lives via Facebook, photos and videos and status updates keeping us just a little bit closer 20. The newspaper spread all over our kitchen counter on Sunday mornings

(The way you are connected by all of these words. They span across all these distances like a web, delicate and translucent and beautiful. The way they bring us closer to each other)

21. Stretched out bedtime routines 22. Tantrums on the kitchen floor 23. Unwashed dishes 24. Sticky kitchen floors and fingers and discipline techniques 25. The messiness of family

(After all, these things matter too. They give your life definition. They give you a reason to reach out for help. Finger by finger, the unending daily tasks of motherhood are prying you loose from your need for perfection…and until you stop trying to be perfect, you can’t know that you already are.)

26. Trader Joe’s wine 27. New recipes ripped from magazines and taped into a binder to be tried some stay-at-home date night 28. My husband throwing the kids up high in the air, wrestling wild on the living room carpet 29. The dog who still sleeps every night in the crook of my knee 30. My collection of pretty aprons hanging on the wall, making me think of the people who love me

(And of course you don’t need twenty different aprons. But something that’s the point. Sometimes the point is the way they hang there, colorful and sweet, all that fabric and all that whimsy.)

31. The small ways I am learning to read the Bible again 32. The prayer book that says it beautiful 33. Kathleen Norris and Mary Karr and Madeleine L’Engle 34. A Love that, I am learning, has no limits at all 35. A new, white church just up the road. The small ways we feel ourselves entering into a new community. The brokenness and the grace and the way I can actually hear it when the pastor opens the Bible and reads a verse. I don’t know what it is. But I can hear it.

(In that ever-circling of the spiritual journey, you find yourself, maybe, in a hopeful arc. The mad season is over; you find yourself breathing deep and feeling cool and wild in your lungs.)

36. A red kitchen 37. Soft sheets on the bed 38. Appliances that all for the most part currently work 39. A new front door that lets in the sun 40. Christmas lights strung on the house, just waiting to be flipped on

40. McDonalds cheeseburgers (I know…) 41. Diet Coke (Don’t judge…) 42. A great backyard with a pond full of frogs 43. Super Simple Learning songs on YouTube…a miracle cure for Liam’s pre-dinner crankies 44. Early morning/late night quiet 45. Sleeping at night next to the man that I love.

(And you can’t earn a single bit of it. You don’t have to be good; you don’t have to make your bed or clean the bathrooms or remember to write the cards. It’s just there. Grace. Reach out and take it.)

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