Monthly Archives: January 2013

What I’m Into: January 2013/Cabin Fever Edition

cabin fever

It’s deep winter. In Minnesota. We have been bundling up against the negative temperatures and harsh wind chills, and I’ve been putting off essential, life tasks like grocery shopping and library trips (currently The Circle Maker is three days overdue). I just can’t seem to force myself out into the cold.

The boys are wild with pent up energy, riding their bikes down the hallway, wrestling on the floor. Fights over toys are more explosive than ever, and we are watching way too much PBS.

I love the northern Midwest. My heart was made for this landscape. But the winters. Oh the winters. They do me in every lousy year. My McDonalds consumption goes up exponentially in January, and my Swear Monkey comes out in full force.

Things I’ve Been Reading

I saw The Perks of Being a Wallflowerin the theatre by myself a couple of months ago, and I loved it. It was the kind of movie that made me want to create art that matters to somebody. I finally read the book this month and was pleased to see how close the movie stuck to it. (Possibly because the author was also the screenwriter and director.) Beautiful, beautiful.

I finished the second book of Madeleine L’Engle’s Crosswick Journals, The Summer of the Great-Grandmother. It took me a while. I kept getting bogged down in her family history. But still, many beautiful moments and a worthwhile read.

I also read Brené Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection which rocked my world and the evangelical bestseller on prayer, The Circle Maker, which took me three posts to work through. (The final reflection is here.)

Currently Reading: The Book Thief (Zusak), The Sun Also Rises (Hemingway), and Why Can’t We Talk? Christian Wisdom on Dialogue as a Habit of the Heart (Backman) (I can’t wait to tell you more about this one!)

(I read 4 books this month; aiming for 5 in February!)

What I’ve Been Listening To

My parents gave Dane a kids’ music CD, Slugs & Bugs & Under Where? for Christmas, and he is OBSESSED. There is a song about the stinkbug that cracks him up every time, and if we’re in the car, we’re pretty much listening to this album.

I’m happy it makes him happy but bummed that he’s no longer content to listen to my music. (On a related note, it’s really inconvenient when you get the potty-themed song, “Where You Gonna Go?” stuck in your head.)

Back before I had kids, I used to do a monthly mix exchange with my close friends, and I loved the way it drove me to explore new music. I’m trying to compile one just for the winter of 2013, but it’s slow going. I’m so much more aware of my need for silence in Stir-Crazy January, so I haven’t been listening to as much music as usual.

So far I’ve only added two songs to the playlist: Let It Go, a haunting song by The Murder of Crows, and Matt Redman’s 10,000 Reasons, because it does something to my heart. Hoping for more great new discoveries in February.

What I’ve Been Watching

It’s January, which makes it officially Bachelor time. I can’t believe I watch this show, but I also can’t stop watching this show. The drama! The cat-fights! The roses! Knox McCoy calls it “The Hunger Games of Love,” and though his weekly re-caps of the show border on over-the-top mean, my Tuesday morning is not complete until I’ve read his hysterical commentary.

We had to take a little break from one of my favorite shows, Parenthood, because all of the story lines felt so dark. Every now and then, I work up the courage to watch one and then feel depressed for a while. Speaking of depressing, Downton Abbey. Enough said.

Loving Nashville and my pre-teen staple The Vampire Diaries. I’m behind on New Girl and Happy Endings, but will catch up over laundry at some point. This season of Revenge isn’t grabbing me like the last one did, but I’m invested in the characters now and will have to see it through to the end.

Also, Andrew finally talked me into trying The Walking Dead, and we devoured the first season. I don’t really like horror or scary stuff, but the relational dynamics of this show sucked me in. We also just finished the first season of Sherlock, which was quirky and smart and totally addicting.

Wow. Does it seem like I watch too much TV? It’s possible I watch too much TV.

The Basement Room

Remember back in November when the basement room looked like this?

messy basement - before 1

And this?

messy basement - before 2

And then you were kind of scared that I was a hoarder?

And then remember a few weeks ago, when I was stuck deep in the messy middle, and even after seven hours of cleaning and organizing and rearranging, it still looked like this?

messy basement - middle

Well, now it looks like this:

messy basement - after 1

And this:

messy basement - after 2

And this:

messy basement - after 3

I still want to do a few things. I’m planning to hang a lot on the wall, and I just ordered a new comforter (since this one’s falling to pieces). I’d like to sew some cute pillows and new curtains too.

When spring comes, I’d like to repaint the dresser and bookshelf all cool and distressed-looking. But at this point, I’m just thankful that it’s clean and it’s organized.

Addie Zierman for the win!

A Few More Things that Happened in January

1. My Mama friend and her husband went on an anniversary trip to Mexico, so we took their two kids for a couple of days.

It was pretty much as exhausting as it sounds. But it was also a lot of fun. The three big kids managed to actually sleep all in the same room two nights in a row…and there’s nothing quite like a first sleepover.

first sleepover

2. During our Adventure in Babysitting, we ventured out in the sub-zero weather with all four kids to go to the Reptile Zoo south of the Cities. It was totally worth it.

reptile zoo

Highlight for the Dane and Reese: holding an alligator.

Lowlight for Addie and Axel: holding an alligator.

holding an alligator

3. Liam tasted play dough.

the eating playdough face

4. I ate an entire serving bowl of pasta. By myself. On two different occasions.

serving bowl of pasta

5. Dane had his pre-school screening and I started researching options for the fall. UNREAL. This is us on our post-screening slushy-and-chocolate-bread date at the Starbucks in Target. (Only the best for my man.)

slushie date with dane

On the Blog

I announced my One Word for 2013: Ask and confessed some of my prayer baggage. I told you about five things I’ve kept from my Super-Evangelical-Jesus-Freak (SEJF) days, and you told me about yours.

What about you? What have you been into this month?

(Joining up, as usual, with the lovely Leigh Kramer for her monthly What-I’m-Into linkup.)

Remnants of the Jesus Freak Life

I got an email a couple of weeks ago from a reader named Ryan. (Have I mentioned lately that I have the best readers? Because I totally do).

I liked him immediately because he turned Super-Evangelical-Jesus-Freak into its own special acronym (SEJF). I may just use it from now on because it’s so awesome.

Anyway, he had this brilliant thought:

We were packing away the Christmas stuff, and I thought about how back in my SEJF days, I would listen only to Christian music, of course. Now I generally can’t stand CCM, but I noticed that in my world, it’s still not Christmas until we play the Michael W. Smith Christmas album.  

It made me think of what other things I must have deemed worth saving. I still wear my little wooden cross necklace. Under my shirt though, not on top where people can see it. Back in the day, you were supposed to wear them on top, so that everyone could see your “witness.” Turns out, it was mostly just bad advertising. But it grew into a different purpose, and that is to remind me that I am a Christian.  I need to be reminded lots, and so it’s good to wear the necklace all the time.  To be a reminder, though, only I have to know it’s there, so underneath it stays.

Anyway, it all made me wonder what you would say if you wrote about the things from your old faith that you still find helpful to the new.

I’ve been thinking about this question for a couple of weeks now. Because once I burned on fire for Jesus, and then I burned with anger and frustration, and then I languished in the ashes of Depression.

And now I’m sifting through. And there are always remnants.

You grow up, and you start looking critically at the past and at your former self. Some things pass away, but the things that remain usually have to do with faith, hope and love. Especially love.

So here’s my list. A few things I’ve kept:

christy miller series

All of my Christy Miller Books. You guys, I cannot seem to throw them away. (For those who are unfamiliar, this is a Christian teen romance series about a girl who falls in love with Jesus…and a handsome surfer boy named Todd.)

The covers are all pastel, and on the original book covers, Christy Miller has 80s hair and Todd’s shorts are pulled up wayyy too high. I own them all, including the spin-off Sierra Jenson books and the Christy Miller: The College Years trilogy. I haven’t read them in years, but there they sit, at the bottom of the bookshelf, where I hide most of the Christian fiction.

In those early days, I read and re-read those books. So much of Christy Miller’s story mirrored my own. The blond, SEJF boyfriend. The internal struggles. The waiting and the hoping and the heartbreak. The learning and the letting go. My facts and her fiction are so intertwined in my imagination that I almost can’t tell them apart.

And even though I’ve been through enough to see that these books are flawed and a tad reductive (not to mention fluffy) – those pastel covers remind me of a part of myself I don’t want to forget. That high school dreamer who still thinks she’s going to renovate a castle someday. That girl whose heart is untouched by cynicism. The one whose hands are open.

Christy Miller is that old friend that I’ve outgrown but still love. I keep the books around just in case I need that old, invented world: those evening bonfires at Newport beach where everyone loves God. And yes, it’s more complicated than all that…but it’s also not as complicated as I tend to make it these days. And sometimes I just want to see that silver Forever bracelet glinting bright in the setting sun.

accountability partners 10 yrs later

My “accountability partners.” Once we met at a round table in Panera weekly, and we read each other selected excerpts from our journals and confessed our struggles. We said to each other Choose joy! and we cried over boys and stressed over AP tests. We got bored trying to read the book of Matthew straight through.

And it’s been years since we’ve called it “accountability” or sat at “our table” at Panera. But you can’t go through all the details of the SEJF high school experience without getting all knotted together at the soul.

We live far, but we meet when we can in various pockets of Wisconsin and Chicago. We met the weekend before Christmas in the Wisconsin Dells, and they sat cross-legged on hotel beds, hair wrapped in towels, while I told them, teary-eyed, about our new church.

Our faith all looks a little different now. We burned bright, and then we burned out. But we are reaching. We are doing it at highboy tables over margaritas. We are doing it short and sweet in text messages and emails.

We’re all still a little tied up together in this thing. If one of us starts falling, we all fall a little. When we move it’s like some awkward three-legged race. But still, a little bit at a time, we’re moving forward.

jennifer knapp - kansas albumJennifer Knapp. OK, honestly, I still have all of my Christian “rock,” filed away in boxes somewhere. (It’s too nostalgic to throw away.) But the only CDs I’ve listened to with any regularity these past years are those of my girl, Jennifer Knapp.

She was the opening act of the first Christian concert I ever went to – a lone figure on a stool in the middle of the stage.

Once, my friend Molly and I took the train downtown to see her (and The Ws) at Moody bookstore. We brought the CD dust jacket with us (remember those?) and sang harmonies while the Chicago suburbs rolled into city.

There was something about her lyrics that always felt so poetic and honest to me, and when I listen to them now, I still hear it: the beauty. The struggle. The doubt and faith all mixed up together.

She “disappeared” from the SEJF scene around the same time I did. I remember reading an article where she talked about how overwhelming the Christian music industry felt to her. She talked about being in “cement box rooms at the back of arenas” trying to quick write something beautiful and inspiring for a record…and I can picture that so clearly, because I felt it too: that pressure to keep manufacturing spiritual insight. To never show that you were struggling; to just keep giving it to Jesus in loud, murmured prayer.

She’s back now, singing again, and she’s openly gay. And I don’t want to get into a debate here about Christianity and homosexuality…but what I do want to say is that I can identify with someone who went away and is trying to come back. With someone who no longer fits the mold but is forging ahead anyway, trying to figure it out the best she can.

t-shirt quilt - partial

This ugly quilt made of my old Witness-Wear t-shirts. I cut all the old shirts into squares during the last weeks of my senior year of high school. Then, to make it even better, I bought ugly, patterned fabric that I felt would remind me of each of my friends and added that too.

My Mom helped me sew it into a quilt with lots of extra white squares, and I brought it to Youth Group Beach Night one night and had everyone sign it the last week of summer. It seemed really sweet at the time.

Pinterest-users and sentimentalists beware: if you sew all of your old, ugly t-shirts into a quilt and have people sign it, you’re never, ever going to be able to throw it away. And t-shirt quilts are bulky and take up lots of space. Consider yourself warned.

prayer journals in binMy prayer journals. They fill one entire Rubbermaid, crushed at the bottom of my storage room. The box is so heavy that I can barely move it out. (Hence this blurry, storage-room photo.)

In retrospect, I wish I would have written more details about my life. I wrote little about specific events and rarely described people. At fifteen, the details seem minimal in comparison to emotions and passion…and you figure that you’ll remember all those little, important things forever anyway. (Spoiler alert: You don’t.)

Still, I think there is something there, in all these journals. They make it impossible to simplify and write-off the past. They make it hard to dismiss the girl who was me because her heart is so genuine – full of praise and prayer, joy and hope. She is unafraid to ask. She believes it will be given.

And I think there is something important about preserving the history of our hearts. We scrapbook and create photo albums of events all the time. The pages of my prayer journals are a kind of photo book too: they are still shots of a soul.

They remind me who I was. They remind me how far He has brought me.

*

I rarely ask direct questions here because it seems weird and it reminds me of those fill-in-the-blank Bible studies that I hate. But this is such a good question.

What remains for you? What did you keep? I’d love to know.

The Cynic and the Circle Maker

Circle MakerI know I keep telling you this story, but I don’t know how to talk about The Circle Maker without talking about that circle I drew on the carpet at age 14. That sort-of-boyfriend who told me to kneel down in circle and stay until God told me which country to go to on my TeenMania mission trip.

Tell me the ancient story of Honi and his circle in the sand. Tell me about how he stayed there until God sent rain.

Tell me this, and instead of feeling inspired, I will feel the depth of my own failure.

I will feel the silence of that moment fifteen years ago when I knelt small and hopeful in my basement room. When I prayed and prayed and never felt an answer, and so I chose the Dominican Republic by pointing at a page with my eyes closed and hoping God was involved.

Tell me about praying in circles, and I’m back in the Dominican Republic, you see…because this is how the memory works, jumping from one sharp pain to another. I’ll remember the unkindess of that trip. I’ll remember the flimsy look of my faith next to everyone else’s. I’ll remember the mime costume and the hot, dirt roads and getting “disciplined” for sitting next to a boy on a bus. I’ll remember feeling entirely invisible.

I will feel it all like I’m still there.

*

Over pizza and wine at the Crave restaurant in Mall of America, my friend Kim and I segue seamlessly from publishing to prayer (because that’s just the kind of friendship we have).

She mentions a great sermon she once heard on prayer and spiritual warfare, and I feel my face drain. I look down at the roller coasters below, the flashing lights, the giant Ferris wheel in the middle of the world’s biggest mall, and I feel unmoored.

“Oh,” she says, apologetic. “Is that a trigger word for you?”

And it’s never occurred to me to think of it like this. Trigger: a term I’ve only ever heard used in relation to victims of rape. But maybe it’s the right word, because when she says spiritual warfare, I feel like I’m Jericho-marching around a school, battling something I cannot name.

I feel stretched-thin and small. I feel the weight of all that is at stake. I feel my own inadequacy. I feel my faith small and slight, my prayers disappearing unanswered into the sky.

And I’m writing this blog, and it’s because words like this undo me. I write here because I’m trying to find the true thing at the heart of all of this loaded language. It’s about reclaiming something. It’s about finding my way home.

*

circle maker coverThe Circle Maker is book about dreaming big and praying hard, and not giving up before you see a miracle. It’s a chronicle of the impossible realized. It’s story after story in which prayer was met with a resounding, amazing yes, and it’s glory and it’s movement and the whole world pulses with the power of God.

It’s meant to be inspiring, to awaken the dreamer in each of us. To rekindle a sleeping imagination with the embers of faith and prayer.

But this cynical heart of mine is not easily inspired anymore. I read books like this through narrowed eyes. I allow myself to become closed off by words and sentences that feel too simplistic. I am stirred to frustration rather than faith.

Show me your slideshow of Before-the-Miracle and After-the-Miracle snapshots, and my first thought is It’s not really as simple as all that. My thought is You’ve left out the mess. It’s the craft tutorial that leaves out the glue-gun burns and all the times you’ll have to pull out the stitches and start over. It’s the episode of Extreme Home Makeover that’s so inspiring but so unrealistic.

I want to know more about the “long, boring” years of praying that Batterson mentions in the book. I want to know what it feels like to walk around and around and see nothing happen.

I want to know that the mega-church pastor who sees miracle after miracle come to pass feels it too – the discouragement, the doubt, the fear. He mentions it briefly, but I need to see it. I want to know what happens, really, when the simple, desperate prayer goes unanswered for years.

Because unless you tell me the dark, unsexy truth of it, how can I tell you my own hard truth? How can I tell you that it’s not that I don’t think God can do wildly wonderful things? That, if I’m really honest, it’s that I don’t think he’ll do them for me?

*

This is less a post about a book than it is about my own steeled heart.

I don’t think that The Circle Maker is a bad book. I think books, like anything, speak to us all differently at different times in our lives.

For me, for now, I am conflicted. I am frustrated and grateful all at once.  I love Mark Batterson’s believing heart. I am inspired by his faith. And also, I am annoyed by some of his black-and-white-sounding statements. I am thankful for the way this book threw a stark light on my own gnawing questions. Is God FOR me? Do my dreams matter? Does prayer really change anything? I will probably never love the term praise-through.

And here’s the thing: for a long time, I gave little thought to prayer, this tender spot in my faith journey. What you are seeing are my first steps back in.

I spent all these years walling myself in with cynicism. Ram that wall with big questions and giant claims about God, and what you’ll see is 15 years’ worth of crankiness flying loose like so much dust. Trigger those hard memories, and there will be fallout, and it is bound to be messy.

And I think this is just part of it. The beginning of a process. The first steps of something new.

All I know is this: grace anyway.

Grace for the cynic. Grace for the Circle Maker. Grace for every beating, broken heart reaching toward God.

Spiritual Journey: The Cold Season

minnesota winterIt’s that sudden fall from winter to winter that always catches me off guard.

We live in Minnesota, and it happens every year. It really shouldn’t surprise me all that much when the ticker on my phone tells me it’s -12 but it feels like -26 and we won’t get above zero today. But it always does.

We haven’t had a measurable snowfall since that magical December blizzard, and the whole world feels raw, exposed without its thick blanket of white.

The trees are stripped bare, and the homemade hockey rink on our pond is empty, and we have to pile on the layers and run fast from the warm car to the warm grocery store because the air all around is break-you-open cold.

These are the days I think about running away.

All the riding toys are inside. Dane is working his balance bike down the hall, bare feet smacking on the floor. Liam is pushing the Thomas riding toy fast and slamming into the patio door. There is a small chunk of paint missing from our wall, and I don’t know how it happened, but I can’t stop seeing it – this mark of our restlessness.

Sunday I sat on the couch in the middle of all the chaos, and I thought seriously about sticking my kids in the van and just driving south. I tried to figure out if we knew enough people along the way who would let us stop. Eat. Play. Crash for a night before moving on.

In my desperate, half-froze mind, 1600 miles with two small boys seems completely manageable. And I feel like if I could just get us all to the edge of the world where there is water and sun and seagulls…if we could just run far and fast without all of these bulky layers…maybe we’d be alright.

*

This weekend, I finished reading the first book on prayer – the one that was making me so crabby.

There were a lot of times that I almost gave up on the whole thing. It was touch-and-go for a while when he turned the word breakthrough into prayer through…and then, as if that wasn’t fun enough, introduced the term praise through. Nothing makes me crankier than a cutesy pun applied to a profoundly complicated spiritual truth.

There was a time when I would’ve just put the book down. Not for me. But I am aware lately that there might be an unhealthy hypersensitivity about my bullshit detector. It’s a result, I think of my own angry season, of all that leftover angst. I read one thing that sits wrong with me, and I’m prone to write off entire books, entire people.

I come across reductive phrases that leave me feeling Minnesota-January Cold – Spell your miracle! And God does not answer vague prayers! – and I want to run away again. I want to chuck the whole thing and get the hell out of Dodge.

But.

The truth is never quite so simple.

This weekend, I sat in the upstairs hallway with my book and my glass of wine. I kept one eye on my son’s first ever sleepover and one eye on The Circle Maker, and I discovered something: Underneath all of that bravado, all of the hyperbole and the fighting-words, there is a person who loves God. Who loves people. Who prays with an intensity that I have not yet figured out.

And who am I to say that there is not something for me here? I am turning these phrases over in my mind. I am figuring out what prayer isn’t and something of what it is and if I only listen to the voices that sound like mine, I might miss something true about God.

*

It is end-of-the-world cold in Minnesota. When you walk onto the deck, what’s left of the snow is sharp and brittle under your feet, calcified by the cold.

On the bad days, I feel weak and I feel lost to it, like I’ve fallen through a hole in the ice and I’m sinking.

But then, some mornings, I wake up and I know the truth: I am strong.

I live in Viking country, and I am from Prairie people, and I am a survivor. I walked in my insulated boots through my own Mad Season, and the love of God makes me enough.

I can read the book that might have shattered me two years ago, and I am strong enough now to calmly disagree. I am learning to quiet my inner cynic, to note my own reactivity, and to listen for that which might be true.

It is January in Minnesota. I am learning to walk through the break-you-open cold of the world without breaking open. Every day, we get a little closer to spring. Every day, I am becoming a little more whole.

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