Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Work of Food

[Drafter's Note: I am all about convenience--really, I am. This girl ate frozen pre-made soup from Trader Joe's tonight. But in general, and certainly ideologically, this is me.]

I score the hard red skin, and slice the top low enough to expose the ruby kernels inside, as I've been instructed in the how-to. The small globe comes apart easily enough in my hands, but it is careful work to pull back clingy membrane and creamy pith, and small reward to hear the tinkle of seed-laden jewels pile onto the favorite orange plate below.

Curled up on the couch and dragging the last rubies from the plate with my lips, I dismiss returning to the kitchen to attack the second half of the fruit. "This is too much work," I mutter to myself. But even before the words have piled on the plate below, I realize that this is part of my love affair with food, with cooking and eating and sharing plates. I love the work of it. I love that it is more than seeing or shoveling in. 

I love the work of Brussels sprouts, neatly cleaning off the withered outer layers and dividing them carefully on the bamboo board: dissected ovals, fading green to a center white on the right side, a rumpled pile of dark leaves on the left. I love the work of grapefruit--the old way, with a knife and my grandmother's toothed spoons, and my new way, segmenting and pulling pulp from membrane with fingertips and tongue, leaving a carcass on the plate. I love the work of bread, the necessity of hands, the way the smooth yeasty ball slides and resists sliding as it has done in every woman's hands for ten thousand years. I love the mirrored work of cinnamon rolls, the way they are the only food of my mother's that I can exactly reproduce--the spread of brown sugar over a canvas of butter, the deft slice of the roll, the prying away layers of still-steaming happiness on a plate. Even Oreos and Reese's cups--there are rituals, patterns that make the food what it is, more than it is. 

I am mistrustful of food that requires no work: microwave-ready potatoes, pre-cut celery, frozen waffles. There is something larger than the portion on the plate, something necessary for me: the pile of skins swept into the disposal, the neat geometry of a chef's knife and a board, starch and dirt to be washed away. It isn't only the ladle into the bowl, but the stemmed tears, neat slices, hard sizzle, and perfect smell of onions in a cast iron pan. We don't just have food--we make it. And that has to be more than opening a bag or pushing a button.

I work at food because it is a language to me, a way of speaking when even my words fail. How would I fully taste from the fork what my hands couldn't remember as a process? How would someone know I loved them if the hands that made the food weren't mine? 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Newsprint and coffee and marble-soft clouds

Happy Thanksgiving, fair blog readers! I've been meaning to post this for a week or so, just haven't had the time/memory... But now, as I wait for the house to wake up and Thanksgiving with the family to commence, here's a bit of free-flow that's come to me in the last couple weeks. Just to prove that when I'm not blogging, it doesn't always mean I'm not writing...

- - - -

The marble-soft clouds spread thin and flat like whipped froth on water's surface, and deep below, deep down through miles of clearwater sky, turbulent hills are branded with geometries of highways and farm plots, white-sharp curves of rivers and lonely clusters of small cities. From up here the world is bigger, and smaller--more manageable, less weighty. From this narrow seat, my neck and shoulder at odd angles in order to press forehead to throbbing window, it is imaginable that life could be similarly carved and sectioned into autumnally technicolor forest, mercurial lakes, paint-by-number pastures. In the thrum of jet engines that is its own kind of silence, everything falls into perfect order, nothing is remaindered. 

But a second look, and the froth is all there is to see: squint-requisite whiteness marked occasionally in winter reliefs, and then the hard cut of horizon, even up here: water and air, but more muddled than sea and sky. And this is the life I know: impossible to fathom or arrange, unknowable, a cover for something deeper. I peer harder and harder into the white, longing for the happy geometries of the ocean floor world I know but cannot prove. The white is solid still--still like marble, firm enough to send sun glares back at me. But in minutes, we will fall, we will take a breath and break the little surface tension, feel the weight of water as life surrounds us again in all it's unfathomables and depths, and what were drawings will return to structures, enclosures surrounding and owning us down in the bottom of the sea.

- - - - 

Listening to a pair of our authors talk about mentor texts--children's book language that plays in deep verbs and hyphenated adjectives--I wonder when it was that I ended the affair.

I remember, still, sitting at the boxy Mac--my mother asleep upstairs, the instant coffee in the tan mug with the apple, the strange silence of midnight burning in my ears. There was work to do--a paper, a report, I don't remember. But I couldn't. A grip to write--not facts and regurgitated opinions but words and sounds that were all mine--had closed over my wrists as sure as rope, and I felt suddenly accompanied by myriad predecessors: mustachioed men and unstylish women who knew what it was to sacrifice small things and big--sleep, jobs, lovers--in the irregular affair we hold with words.

Because that's what it is: a back-and-forth love affair. A hot-and-cold, bruise-your-heart, cry-and-scream-and-go-for-weeks-not-speaking affair with a thesaurus and an empty page. And here I am, years later, the one who got away. The novels I planned to publish remain unfinished, a waiting cursor blinking expectedly, and forgotten. The very definition of my teenage, my college-age self utterly abandoned in the name of those small things and big, and I don't know if the exchange was a worthy one.

Because this old love still so easily circles and swirls into me--I can stand on the bluff, but without trying at all the water can spin around ankles and sink me into sand smiling, grateful, home. I am never, have never been out of love--but like an over-selfish lover, I insist on what my life fails to prove. I assure my old love, my ageless love, not to read into my silence, my too-many-left-blank pages. And like a lover unmatched on earth, she welcomes me back. No where-have-you-been, no if-this-is-going-to-work, no that's-what-you-said-last-time. Just the sound of a page turning, offering the possibility of new. The smell of newsprint and instant coffee. The burning of midnight silence. A waiting cursor.

- - - - -

Friday, September 13, 2013

Five-Minute Friday: Mercy

Back on the 5MF bandwagon! Spent the evening planning a Day-of-Atonement-themed prayer mini-retreat tomorrow, so the brain is only firing in one direction right now--with the exception of it's now-immediate direction: that of bed!


Sovereignty has no borders, and so it's not even surprising when I remember to look up the word, when I know the Day of At-One-Ment began as the sun slid below the mountains, and the word is "mercy." One of those words too holy to speak, like we should condense it, should throw away the pen. How can we even look for it, when we aren't good enough to give it? When Peter came out of the water, his brothers still hauling in the net, a Lord he'd denied and known to be dead standing before him, I don't think the word was on his lips, though it coursed through his veins. It's perhaps my favorite story--all the more because it isn't told, because it's too personal for even that man, who would bare everything else, to share with all humanity. The moment when a slaughtered lamb, having purified in one final at-one-ment, would take him by the shoulder, would smile, wait for Peter's eyes, and say the word only He has authority to speak.


Explanatory notes: 
- My nerdy English major self was almost disappointed at the simplicity of the etymology of "atonement." Literally being made "at one," esp. with God. 16th century.

- Peter's conversation with Jesus is, to some degree, assumed. I first heard a reference to it in a Beth Moore study (I forget which), and Beth is very frustrated that we don't get every detail of dialogue and body language. But I'm appreciate of the privacy granted there--as I am appreciate of the privacy He's granted me in times of utter brokenness. Piecing together Luke 24:34 and John 21:1-8, it's a fair guess that Peter had some alone time to talk, cry, repent, be at-oned. Mark Driscoll makes the point that the only difference between Peter and Judas was that Peter took his sin to the Christ and Judas took his to the grave. How fitting then that Peter would exhort the same of others, especially in his early preaching (Acts 2:38-40).

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Book Review: Soil and Sacrament

When I requested Fred Bahnson's Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith, I had hoped for a nice bookend with Keeping the Feast. One of my greatest passions is cooking for and feeding people, and I was looking forward to another book along those lines. When a shiny new hardcover arrived at my door, my brows crinkled in dread as I began to page through it: Gardening?? No, no, no, no. This would not work at all. Pesky Speakeasy. Pesky responsibility to read books. I picked up a pen, hunkered down, and cracked open the book with the enthusiasm of an undergrad looking for Gen Ed credits in a Shakespeare course.

But despite my lack of enthusiasm for the subject, Behnson completely won me with his journey from his bucolic community farm to other similar outposts around the continent. Overwhelmed with the mundane problems of running Anathoth, his church's upstart serving a food-insecure community, Bahnson takes a leave of absence, traveling "as an immersion journalist, but also as a pilgrim" (11), and I pilgrimaged along with him. No gardener myself (though I did pick up a few tips from the read), I found myself contentedly joining Bahnson in his forays.

It's tempting to summarize Bahnson--to list off places visited and lessons learned: welcoming in the outcasts of drug dealers and parolees at Tierra Nueva, drawing parallels between mushrooms and prayer lives with monks at Mepkin Abbey, bringing Sabbath and Sukkot to life with a Jewish farming community in Connecticut. But the worth of Soil and Sacrament is, as it should be, in the journey. As Bahnson goes from one farm to another, he and the reader both pull bits and pieces along the way, not only the victories but the failures, the messes.

My only minor complaint stems from how the book wraps up--or, rather, doesn't. While I appreciate that Bahnson doesn't distill everything for the reader, I finished the book wondering about how his journey affected his faith. As the Author Notes will tell you, Bahnson no longer works at Anathoth, and there is no indication as to whether that decision was influenced by his trips, or how. Understandably, he seems very drawn to each community while he's there, but I'd be interested to know what's remained, what's dovetailed together for him now that he's back home.

In a final weaving of theory and practice, Bahnson concludes the book with several practical steps as to how to go about setting up your own community gardening venture, whatever that might look like. Inspiring and grounding, this memoir leads you to look around at the fields you've been given, and leave you asking how you can best serve it, and your community through it.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


For some reason, I was never hungry for lunch yesterday. (This. Never. Happens.) I went out to Starbucks with a coworker and picked up an iced green tea; I threw back some cinnamon almonds because I figured I should eat something. And, predictably, by the time I got home I was ready to start gnawing on my purse strap. It's not often, I suppose, that I am actively hungry.

But that got me thinking this morning about hunger. Because I don't have much experience with real hunger--participating in a 30 Hour Famine with my teens a few years ago is the closest I've been--I find that I hunger for other things...

I am hungry for knowledge. If it had been financially possible to just stay in college for another 5 or 10 years, I probably would have. I love learning knew things (the things that interest me, anyway) and puzzling them out. I love reading and organizing my notes and formulating thoughts into pages of writing. I love knowing things--my best friend accurately calls me an intellectual snob. I find myself getting a little antsy to soak up new facts, new ideas, new learning.

I am hungry for experience. I'm devouring a book for Speakeasy right now that covers a man's travels around the continent as he works toward and develops a sustenance farm in partnership with his church, discovering permaculture and composting, monastic life and Central American social politics. I open Google Maps to look up something for my real life, but find myself dragging and zooming to corners of the world--Baffin Island, Indonesia, the Azores--that I have no foreseeable plans to get to.

I am hungry for stillness. This seems silly, coming from a woman who lives alone--why is this not everyday?--but I hunger for a different breed of silence: a purposeful, chosen, dedicated stillness. The kind of stillness that finds you as you sit on the porch in the early morning cool with hot coffee resting in hand, the vastness of an unlived day hanging invitingly in front of you like steam from the mug.

I am hungry for community. I spent Sunday morning with some church friends giving out free lunch at Willard Beach, and I found myself amazed at how quickly we fell into community with passersby. Much to my surprise, there was no suspicion, no circumspection. There were single moms and elderly men and teenagers, all of them talking and laughing in the speckled shade of a perfect day, content--eager!--to share time with strangers. I am hungry for this: for family to be found in neighbors and acquaintances, for us to remove ourselves from relational bomb shelters and share life.

And why am I hungry? Because I settle for slacking off. I settle for rewatching and rehashing and keeping to myself. I settle for sleeping in and wasting time on things that do not--cannot--matter. Instead of living with eagerness and energy and expectation, I curl into the corner and hold my breath and wait.

When I think back to the 30 Hour Famine, I don't remember the hunger of those two days, so much; but I remember the meal we shared at the end: a bite of bread and juice for Communion, and then simple beans and grains--food so much of the world would be tearfully grateful for. I remember laughing with my kids as we shamelessly scraped our bowls clean with our fingers.

There will be a day when all of this is memory, and I don't want to remember the hunger.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Five-Minute Friday: Last

Back in the saddle with 5MF = happy Channy. If you like a little writing exercise, you should check it out. The rules are simple, the people are nice, and how much more energy do any of us have by Friday, anyway?


There is so much ELSE, so much OTHER. So many distractions and excess parts that have no place. But in the quiet, when I can bring my brain to a place away from emails and deadlines, this is what I see:

Us. Simply us. Doing simple things: reading a story from one of our childhoods or making dinner. Looking out into the night sky or flying down a highway with the radio on. Passing the phone when a relative calls and debating repainting the kitchen. Romantical ideas, maybe, but no romance is complete without them, and these are the things I bring my brain to when life is mundane or when the waiting gets painful. Because one day, like Adam, you and I will say, "At last--this is the one my soul loves." And isn't that what covenant love is? That at the last--at the last piece of the day, at the last breath of life, there we will be: palm to palm, dust to dust. At last, Ella sings, life is like a song. At last.


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Little Revivals

"Imagine a woman has her money all arranged, and somehow loses some--doesn't she tear through her wallet, her desk, the laundry piled on the floor in search of it? And when she finds it, doesn't she text a friend or post a photo on Facebook: 'Check it out--I really DID find five dollars!' In the same way, a veritable dance party is thrown in heaven for a single broken heart turning back into the path of God."
Luke 15:8-10, Channy Paraphrase

Life has just been a little meh lately. In several instances over the last few months, people have eagerly asked me what's new, and I have replied with brevity, with apathy, with silence. This isn't to say things are bad, just that there is nothing remarkable--literally nothing worth remark--in my life lately. "That's good," replied one friend a couple weeks ago. "It means things are stable. Stability is good." Well, yes. But there's stable, and then there's stagnation.

And that's what I've been feeling lately: stagnant. Things have been fine--got a nice letter from the CEO celebrating my 5-year mark at work, ministry is trucking along like never before, I've had lots of good friend times lately, I've been in the Word every day for [checks helpful app] 43 days. So what's missing?

I puzzled on it for a bit, and frankly, it didn't take long. A few months ago, there was balance in my life--lots of busy-ness and filled work days, lots to do for ministry as idea after idea fizzled, trips out of town and fitting in as much time with friends around that as possible. But over the summer, everything sort of screeches to a halt, and that time that was my needed rest and downtime (Netflix + couch + mildly healthy snack food) became my all-the-time. And it's stunning how habit-forming that it, and how sneaky--I knew that I was wasting hours each day doing nothing but watching TV shows I don't care about... and yet I didn't care.

So today--roll up sleeves--I made myself a little resolution. (Perhaps I've mentioned my general loathing for New Year's resolutions... so hello, August 22!) It began with waking up early--and rather than hitting snooze for a third time, getting up early--grabbing my journal, and starting my day with Jesus, writing out some thoughts and petitions of prayer. And it's continued with working hard--not just getting the minimums done, but getting a jump start on future projects at work, punctuated by a visit to our gym. And it's continued with--drumroll, please--me canceling my Netflix account.

I should give you a minute here.

While I love Netflix, it continues to be too great a temptation to flop, to turn off the brain, to watch things that, at best, are mildly entertaining and shift from that to emotionally/spiritually unhealthy surprisingly quickly. So I'm spending tonight blogging (shock!), reading my book for Speakeasy, and going out with a friend*.

These are all teeny, pretty insignificant things. But as I ate my dinner (and listened to my Hillsong United Pandora station and had myself a little dance party that may or may not result in heartburn soon), I found myself noticing how small shifts bring about a total change. (For more cookie fortunes, turn to Chapter 7.) I've done very little, but I feel very different. And I got to thinking that I wonder if we don't limit the idea of Luke 15 up there by only quoting it in reference to those utterly blind to God who are found. Because my life, while defined by some major repentances, is more commonly shaped by little revivals, bits and pieces that fall back into place after weeks or years of restlessness and disorder.

So I'm simplifying. More books and less screen time. More writing and less Words With Friends. More prayer and less prattle. More relationships and less... all the crap I pretend is relational. Little changes. Simple things. Almost too small to make a difference. Almost.

*Because we aim to bring you the whole truth on this little program, I shall confess: said friend and I went out... to watch a movie. But it was SOCIAL. And we went out--grabbed blankets and pillows and ice cream and pizza and flopped on the grass under the moon by a lighthouse and my beautiful bay and laughed at the movie and the kids quoting the movie around us. This beats Netflix a million to one.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Five-Minute "Friday" : Story

I missed the real Five Minute Friday (I was on vacation! ...Away from my phone... Yes...), but I love the FMF concept in general--and this week's word--too much to skip for the teeny little reason of being three days late to the party...


When I think of "story," she's who I see: a little blondy-ginger two-year-old, gleefully toddling through grass and pavement, mindless of the sidewalks, then slamming on child brakes to hunch down on the bank, so desperate to not only witness but take part and immerse herself in--

--Well, they're just ducks. Any adult can see that. They aren't numerous or particularly pretty. They're sort of milling around in the water, doing their duck thing, but Story is fascinated, caught up, ensorcelled.

She's an actual, real girl, too--this isn't a metaphor. The niece of a friend, and my companion for one afternoon a couple years ago in Centennial Park in Nashville. And my friend's sister named her Story.

I loved this, loved it from the first time Lauren told me--I may have even insisted on meeting this child with The Best Name Ever. I love that this girl will live with this word swept in loopy script over her head every day: You are writing a story, right now, right here, in this. You are your own character, nobody else's. You are making something new, something lasting--but also something fragile and easily remade. There will be clumsy missteps, but they only lead to more interesting paths; there will be crushing mistakes, but redemption is always the better story. 


Friday, July 26, 2013

Five-Minute Friday: Broken

So, it's Friday. Which means I'm blogging. (This is only one in a flurry of recent examples where I'm learning to appreciate rules I adopt for myself. After years of embracing freedom and "grace," which in addition to its truth can be a euphemism for tolerating or even embracing my lack of self-control, I'm starting to fully get what Paul meant in Galatians about the Law being a guardian for us.)

So even if I have nothing else to say am too lazy to blog the rest of the week, I suddenly seem to have blogging ambition on Friday. I typically go over and see what my buddy Ruth wrote, and then head over to Lisa-Jo Baker's blog to make it official.

[Drafter's Note: I cheated a little this week, and this is more like Six-and-a-Half-Minute Friday... I am presently typing on an iPad, on a train, and so I allowed myself some extra time to counteract the autocorrect- and turbulence-related backing-and-filling...]


In feeling my own throat, in considering that TV show I was watching involving a serial killer who strangles women, I find myself wondering why this sacred place, this passage for voice and breath, should be so scandalously vulnerable. Just skin and a thin veil of muscle, poorly guarded, an undefended keep.

The heart, too--Ingrid Michaelson's voice warbles in my wonderings--so vaguely enshrined in thin ribs, too easily accessed, punctured, broken, lost. It's tempting--unavoidable, inevitable--to second-guess the craftsmanship. Where are the plates of heavy bone, layered like marble slabs to keep us safe? 

In short, why are we breakable? Did He not consider all that we might lose in an instant, a sudden sacrifice to misstep or violence? But He chose to make us fragile, to let us be broken, whether it's a stubbed toe, bent and bruised, or a fractured heart, murmuring and fading. He designed us this way, and encourages us through every means available to leave ourselves that way: easy to accessed, effortless to hurt, but open to a world of wild emotion, compassionate even in the face of darkness.

It's possible, to some degree, to choose the other path. To become hard-hearted. But it's preferable to fracture and then be mended; to break, and be remade unbroken.


Friday, July 19, 2013

Belonging, continued.

On a different vein from my post earlier tonight, I'm going back to where I grew up next weekend. I don't say, "going back home," because home is my apartment, and the other "home" is where my mother is. (More on this back in March of 2012.) But I'm going back, and I have surprised myself and others when I say that I don't really have many plans for my brief visit. (I keep using "brief visit" as an excuse... We'll leave unturned the rock that asks whether I'd feel differently with a longer trip.)

I have long been connected to certain places, as they in turn connect me to certain moments or phases or feelings. And it's not that New Jersey doesn't have those places, but, I think, that those places are closed off to me now, and shy of significantly violating basic trespassing law or using a TARDIS, I can't revisit them. This is part of life, of time, of change: that while I would love to walk down the stone steps, tracing my hand over the sphinx statues and peeling-bark trees that guarded my childhood play area*, I cannot. That while I miss the feeling of possibility and joyful unknown I knew as a teenager waiting under trees in the back acreage of my childhood church, I cannot recreate it by revisiting them--I have tried. In every case, either the place or I have changed too much to summon what was.

This is a mood I find myself in occasionally: melancholic, which is not to say sad or depressed or regretful. You can miss things without really wanting them back, especially because with all these pieces of selective memory, there are shadows, too: watching friends fade, feeling hope revert to resignation. I don't actually want to be 7 again, or 17. In fact--and I do hesitate to say this, but--as I approach 30 at the end of this year, I find myself, if not entirely content, more content than I have been... maybe ever. There's nothing specific about this contentedness, which is maybe why it's remarkable: it's not based on circumstance. (To quote C. S. Lewis, "don't let your happiness depend on something you may lose."*)

I still love returning to certain places that bring the past back to life--to my mother's kitchen (wherever it may be), to the farthest-out sand flat at Kingsbury Beach on Cape Cod, to the orchard of my grandparents (now my cousin's) house--but for whatever reason, the idea of belonging, of home has shifted away from where I'll be next weekend.

This, here, where I am, is home. And while there are pieces of the past that still resound with fluctuating emotions, this is where I belong.

* Never have I typed a phrase that so thoroughly screamed, "this girl went to private school." Dang.

** Clive Staples, paraphrasing St. Augustine, in his The Four Loves: "This is what comes... of giving one's heart to anything but God. All human beings pass away. Do not let your happiness depend on something you may lose. If love is to be a blessing, not a misery, it must be for the only Beloved who will never pass away." [Note: that same love funnels to people, too. No hate.]

Post script: I feel like I frequently end with a song, so why break a pattern? This.

Five-Minute Friday: Belong

A word of warning: this will initially be a five-minute Friday challenge (yay for Ruth Ayres & Lisa Jo Baker), but as this has been on my brain lately, I may go on after the 5 minutes...


I had imagined belonging to be easier. Aided by TV shows that demonstrated moving only involved a scene change, and that all your friends (with the occasional instant new one or guest star from the old show) came with you. Moving to Portland was going to be like that: an artsy, foodie, bookish town on the coast where I would blend seamlessly into a group of intellectual, funny, compassionate people who would love me instantly as we shared microbrews and Shakespeare.

It will be seven years in October, and I've had this community I was aching for... for about four. I didn't see it then, and couldn't see it as it was happening, but moving is easy; meeting people is unavoidable; belonging is hard. It was two years before I had someone local who I felt like I could call in the middle of the night with a broken heart. It was longer before I had a local family I now spend Christmas with. It was only recently that I caught myself, stopping for a moment in the midst of a church picnic, being thoroughly submersed in a place of laughter, of acceptance, of imperfection, but most of all of belonging.

And that's the rub we want to skip over: belonging is being known--and that means being real. No masks, no pretending, no faking it. Real community, real belonging comes from vulnerability.


I'll write the other bit separately, I suppose, to avoid novel-lengths... :)

Thanks for visiting!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Out of the Habit -- Five Minutes.

...This might be a record on the blogging dry spells... No further comment. :/

I wandered over to ye old Blogspot to write some deep, intellectually moving piece on how we see ourselves, where we think we've screwed up when others see us succeeding (and, let's be honest, vice versa). But A) it's been a loaded 24 hours of ministry work and I don't think my brain is up for that, and B) it's hard to get back into the hang of writing after 4 months of drought. (You may notice, this falls into the category of "further comment.")

Writing is habitual, as is, well, not writing. And of course I write emails and policy at work, but it's not the same. So in an effort to get back into the habit, I'm going to go hunt for something prompty to get my creative juices flowing.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

AHA! Cue Lisa-Jo Baker's Five Minute Friday community--thanks for the direction, Ruth! (I'm aware it's Saturday. If I'm four months late in blogging, I figure I can be 12 hours late to a fun bloggy party...) This week's word: present. Setting the timer now...

I don't know what I ever expected, sitting cross-legged in the vicinity of a Christmas tree, my 6-year old, 11-year-old, 17-year-old self somehow still hoping, far away past the cynicism and jadedness, that bright paper and cheap ribbon could contain some piece of what I'd lost at three. That even in the confusion of adolescence and the frustration of high school I thought I could find it, earn it, restore some part of myself that broke before I knew the word for it.

Between rolling eyes, deeper than the sigh of exasperation, ever-childlike fingers would wreck the present's perfection, and as the paper fell, the inevitable fall: it was only a -----. It never mattered what. It wasn't a brokenness mended, it wasn't presence, it wasn't him. Just a thing, too late, too wrong. It had been better, perhaps, unopened--a constant promise, a possibility.

Monday, March 25, 2013

SOLC 20: The Other Side of the Battery

Drafter's Note: I think I'm going to reframe my personal SOLC goal from writing every day of March to writing 31 slices as soon as possible. Because this weekend's travel, running a conference, and being sick, it should surprise no one that I haven't sliced in a week.

Drafter's Note, Part B: That was the note I wrote when I started this post 5 days ago. I am awesome at this.


My visual for this post is a battery. Your standard, copper-topped, AA battery. As I vaguely remember from Mr. Grabowski's science class, one of that battery's ends is negatively charged, the other, positively. And apparently that somehow makes stuff do its thing. (I liked Mr. Grabowski, really I did--it wasn't his fault that science just never snagged my attention...) Anyway, my visual is me, like a little dust mite, crawling on that battery. Because I'd opened Facebook on my lunch hour to post some snarky self-important thing about  work, but one of my goals lately has been to me less negative in general, and at work specifically, so I am, to coin a phrase, turning this frown upside-down.

Reasons Why I Actually Love My Job:

- The People. I work with some genuinely awesome people, and get to spend huge chunks of time cracking up, getting sound advice, and generally being valued. Having worked at places where this was not necessarily the case, I am particularly grateful and appreciative for that last piece. Put simply, we like each other, and it shows. Of course there are issues. Of course there are snags. But all in all, we're pals. And in addition to my coworkers, I've met amazing, inspiring, wonderful people around the country, from authors to distributors to customers, and I am consistently blessed & impressed.

- The Perks. I can't go far down this list without mentioning the obvious. I get to travel, and frequently. Because of this job, I've added six states to my have-been list, pounded the pavement of a couple dozen new cities, and been able to visit a smorgasbord of friends and family around the country. I've had amazing meals in great restaurants, experienced various sights, museums, and theater, and learned that I don't hate cities, and I love seeing the world from the air.

- The Profession. (Yeahhh, I'm rocking the alliteration. Who's surprised?) I do, in fact, love my actual job. It suits me incredibly well--a mix of introvert-ish, organizational, spreadsheet-ridden planning, and cocktail-party-hosting, booth-running schmooze. My mother apparently used to say that I was just looking for my own little world to be in charge of, and I have found that here, and an ever-shifting but semi-constant booth space that I should probably call "our" but in fact use "mine."

- The Purpose. A coworker was talking about teachers the other day, saying that while they are terribly underpaid, they are personally valued more than most--that no one will come to us years later and say, "That marketing campaign? I mean, wow. Such an impact on my life." Now, fair enough, but what I do matters. Not to a lot of people. Not in the grand scheme of things. But when everything boils down, my job is to take care of people, and that is something I'm pretty damn decent at. In the past couple weeks, three authors have specifically stopped to say how well-treated they are, how what I do helps them feel and do better. I don't say that to toot my own horn (though, let's be honest, that's something else I'm decent at), but to say I wouldn't be able to do something I didn't find some real, relational value in.

Okay, it's officially taken me nearly a week to write this post. That's a wrap.

Monday, March 11, 2013

SOLC 11: What's My Isaac?

Drafter's Note: It's a good thing I can still call this SOLC (Slice of Life Challenge)--which is to say, I'm thankful it's not called D(aily)SOLC or something, because then I would clearly be lying. But whatever. MOST days of this month will have slices. Some not. Keep on keeping on.


Our interim pastor preached an awesome sermon yesterday. (Yes, it's going to be one of those posts. We'll get through this together.) And one of his points was the difference between walking in (to a church, but it's applicable to any communal thing) with a "What Do I Get?" vs. "What Do I Bring?" mindset. Because if we come in with the former, we have a list of expectations, and we grade our experience based on our personal preferences. If we come in with the latter, we add our unique gifts, experiences, and personalities to a community on the move, and we see where it takes us.

An ideal glimpse of this is the idea of tithing: in "What Do I Bring?" mode, I am supporting the mission and services of this body with not only my time and energy but a financial offering. In "What Do I Get?" mode, I am paying for a ticket to a schedule of events and services that should be tailored to my desires and needs. Thus we leave a church at noon saying things like, "I just didn't like the music today," "That sermon didn't address my present situation," or (my personal favorite) "Jeepers creepers, that ran long today." *

Now, should you be in a church that fits you--your style of worship, your doxology, etc.? By all means. But if you're looking for a church service that is precisely--every song, every announcement, every point of the sermon--as you, personally, would desire it, you should really stay at home. I mean it: you can pick out a playlist from your personal favorites, find yourself a sermon to listen to or watch online (you'll even see how long it will be, so it won't interfere with your schedule), and skim over the news that doesn't affect you. And all from the comfort of your own couch.

But if you're entering Church--and with that capital C I'm drawing on an ancient history, initially documented in the Book of Acts and practiced around the world for thousands of years, most effectively in environments of extreme persecution--with the idea of joining a group of people who share (though cannot precisely replicate, and may therefore occasionally challenge) your beliefs, who love and support each other, and who reach out to their surrounding community in an effort to actively demonstrate love, kindness, grace, and humility**, you will need to recognize that there are other people in the room. And that by coming into that room, by joining that community, you are adding something, not just taking. You are bringing something, not just getting. And by the adages we've all lived out--it's greater to give than to receive, etc.--you'll find that by pouring out what you brought, not only financially but with your time and energy and passions, you'll come away with far more than a good show.

Eric's means of phrasing this yesterday was, "What's my Isaac?" For those unfamiliar, I cannot adequately unpack this story quickly--it's too big. But for the purposes of this post, the question is, "What is the ultimate, most, best sacrifice I can make?" It is not, "What's the bare minimum?" For a community to thrive, for God to lavish grace and power on a body of believers, we cannot come into it having allotted a comfortable gift and call it a sacrifice. We cannot each come in with a list of demands and leave frustrated when they're not met. As a friend reminded me yesterday, the Church documented in Acts thrived because its members "were of one accord." They caught the vision, they shared the passion, and they didn't mess around. They shared one another's joys and burdens. They reached out and made active, much-needed change in their community. And they met the knee-jerk reaction of their government and culture with grace and humility. My church, my ekklesia, does not presently meet this ideal. Oh, there are sparks of it. There are moments. But it is the vision I hold for it, and it is the prayer I pray over it.

So, the morale of this little post, the challenge I am accepting as well as posing: For your church, for your workplace, for your community, what is your Isaac? How is your community different--better, we hope--for your presence and contribution? What can you bring?


* Fair warning to members of my beloved ekklesia: So help me if I hear you complain about the length of what is, ever, at most, a 90-minute service. I might haul off and hit you. In, ya know, total Christian love... Also, I really hate the exclamation, "jeepers creepers." What does that even mean??

**There's a whole separate post (sermon?) on that right there--how and with what motivations does a church reach its community? We've messed this up on a national scale (and I, on a personal scale) for so long, and we've only just begun to reap the benefits.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

SOLC 7: Well Met

Fair warning: I have no idea what to write about today, so this is going to be just good old-fashioned random...


I muse (as, I think it's fair to say, most single women do) from time to time about how I'm meeting this future husband of mine. Don't get me wrong, I'm still in unprecedentedly smooth waters on that front, and am really, genuinely content being single these days. I'm not feeling desperate or needy or overly daydreamy--and haven't for the last year. But it's still fun to think about.

This particular thought bubble was brought on a couple nights ago, when a friend asked me how tall I was. I confirmed that I'm plain old regular six-foot-nothing, and she nodded and said, partly to herself, "Well, there's this guy..." And then we were interrupted, and got to chatting about other things.* But those four little words have a way of lodging themselves in my brain like few others do, and I was thinking later that night: one of these days, it'll be it. It'll be the story I tell eight thousand times when people ask, "So how'd you two meet?"

And while I'm a romantic through and through, and while I joke (JOKE, I tell you) that it'd be helpful for him to have a little divinely-lit "THIS GUY! RIGHT HERE! HUSBAND!" halo rotating around his head, I am expecting that when we do meet (if we have met?), it won't be a "I knew it was him from the start" kind of situation. I'm not waiting for angelic arias and flower-filled meadows. And it was amusing that, since my brain was on this setting anyway, I stumbled on a Disney bloggy thing yesterday, rating the meet-cutes (I really hate that term) of several "classic" Disney movies. (Sidebar: I have no major issues with "Tangled," but classic?? I think not. Second Sidebar: Out of the way, Snow--Philip and Aurora all the way.)

Anyway, it's just one of those muse-y things that flits across my mind sometimes. A friend has a theory that I'll meet him on a plane to one of my conferences. (I vote against this: I hate talking to strangers on airplanes. You start talking to me, you are working from a negative score.) For quite a while I've joked (...mostly...) that my favorite author and I should bump into each other when next I'm in The Other Portland, home to him and my cousins/godchildren. After making a Women's Community announcement a few weeks ago, I joked with a friend that I was leaving the door open for a seemless pick-up line: "Sooo... how do I get together with you?"

And how's this: I went to email our interim pastor, in reply to a letter that I'd received, and got a lovely little reply from an interim pastor in Albany, TX, letting me know I had the wrong address. I mean, I'm just asking... Is that guy single? :)

* Not to worry, fair reader: I'm seeing this friend again tonight, so I'll get the scoop then...

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

SOLC 6: Argentina in Technicolor

Anytime I can't think of what to write, I'm just going to go see what NewTreeMom has done lately. She gave me the idea for one of my most favorite pieces of writing I've done lately in last year's SOLC, and came through again for me last night, for today's slice...

And so I give to you, Argentina in Technicolor. I spent 6 weeks in La Plata (with brief visits to Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls), and here are pieces that are still with me nearly 8 years later. In an effort to be brief, and actually get to bed before midnight for the first time in weeks, I'm going to test my skills in brevity...

Sickly orange fruit perched in pristine trees, inedible and lost.
          Bitter or poison, I was never certain.

The Mothers' white scarves stark on stone, children unforgotten.
          A heritage of devastating loss and open wounds, decades of unrepentant power.

Single-side green ostrich feather earrings--a city of separated twins.
          Does a single earring cost half of a pair? I never found out.

The universidad: black swastikas across the face of an American president.
          The first time I saw national hostility face to face; finding ourselves saying we were Canadian.

The crisply cream stucco chapel, studded white with roses.
          The welcome sigh of a few days in quiet nature after weeks in the city.

Pounding blue water, storming or silent?
          In a place without lawsuits, a different Niagara drops away just below & between your feet.

Pale pinks and lavenders in styrofoam buckets, shared spoons.
          Sharing gelato like secrets, giggling like children, scraping the sides.

Electric hues of La Boca, with a heartbeat of the tango.
           Mission trip kids trying to keep their jaws from slacking at such street-side intimacy.

Green-tinted copper hands making horns to the crucifix.
           Ailen, an atheist, shows me the cathedral, but also it's adversaries across the plaza.

A mosaic of browns--hair, skin, eyes--welcoming into community.
          "Don't promise you'll write to them--they'll actually think you mean it."

The problem with brevity is that it doesn't say enough--there is so much more not here: learning to order a hot dog like a local, naming the desperate stray dogs, teaching the difference between "schmooze" and "smooch," a lifetime of brothers and sisters, keeping granola bars for the street children, the longest hour of our lives, sharing stories and faith.

No list does it justice, but neither does memory.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

SOLC 5: Joyful, Joyful

I. Am. Joyful. Tonight.

And I will tell you why.

A few things:
- I was reminded tonight that 5 years ago--the first time I was doing this particular Bible study I'm in--I was in the midst of a major struggle, one that would continue to plague me for years. I was given the basic precepts for breaking its hold back then, but for whatever reasons, I wasn't ready for it. About 8 months ago, God broke those chains for good. (I'm aware this sounds like jibberish to some--here I can only quote Sara Groves and say, "I don't claim to have found the Truth, but I know it has found me."*) Because mindsets are habits, and hard to break at that, I've found myself wandering back into the same snares, but, in the words of Beth Moore tonight, it's not so much that I have to start back at Day 1, but that I get to start again. Clean slate. And if freedom isn't a cause for joy, I'm sure I don't know what is.

- I have been, as anyone on Facebook can tell you, a little excited about Women's Retreat, our annual getaway each summer. Two years ago, God used it to call me into this ministry; last year, He used it to confirm that calling, but also point me to the very obstacles that still held me back (see above), and proceeded to bring me to a place of freedom. This year?! I can't even deal. But wait, it gets better: of the 26 women coming, three of them are teens that I worked with while in youth ministry. As I posted this evening, I have a serious concern that my heart will not be able to contain itself, and will self-destruct before June. Cannot. Even. Deal.

I am freed. Secured. Loved. Called. Rescued. Redeemed. Restored. And hopeful.

There are still struggles I carry with me--how to be this joyful self when the stresses and frustrations of life crowd me in; how to wait on a divine timetable when most of me rebels and demands autocracy; how to bring finances and personal health and time management under better lordship than my own... But this I know is true: "How kind the LORD is! How good He is! So merciful, this God of ours! The LORD protects those of childlike faith; I was facing death, and He saved me. Let my soul be at rest again, for the LORD has been good to me. He has saved me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling. And so I walk in the LORD's presence as I live here on earth" (Psalm 116:5-9, NLT -- my testimony psalm).

Joyful, joyful, we adore thee: God of Glory, Lord of Love...

Oh, and just in case that didn't get you singin'... Try this...

*From Sara's awesome "Conversations," off the record of the same name:
"I'm not trying to judge you--no, that's not my job.
I am just a seeker, too--in search of God.
Somewhere, somehow this subject became taboo
But I have no other way to communicate to you
That this is all that I am, this is all that I have...
And I would like to share with you 
what makes me complete:
I don't claim to have found the Truth, 
but I know it has found me."

Monday, March 4, 2013

SOLC 4: Arcade Games for Grown-Ups

...What? What do you MEAN you don't see an SOLC post for yesterday? That is SO WEIRD. My assistant* must have dropped the ball. That girl is getting SACKED.

Ahem. Moving on.

I had a super fun weekend with my ole college roommate/best friend (going down to hang out in Boston, see an awesome play for which she's worked her tukhus** off, coming back up here, eating our way through Portland, and going to collect her new rescue dog), and took today off for same. Just spent a few hours with my adoptive family here, commemorating their oldest child's senior year on varsity basketball. And came home to start contemplating the week.

And just like that, it starts: the slowly building, adding up, merciless process of stress. (Now, a sidebar: I am so aware of how stressless my life is compared to plenty. But the premise is the same, regardless of the details.) And I got to thinking, perhaps because I've recently downloaded Letris to my phone, that stress is like a really lame arcade game for grownups. It starts as a few blocks dropping into place--maybe singly, maybe in clusters. Some fit together, if not naturally, at least semi-helpfully. Others seem determined to be in everything else's way. And just as you start to find a system, something trips you up--it seems to get faster, or the clusters are less easily nested. And you feel your shoulders creep up and press to the back of your head your muscles twist tight, your face crunch into an expression of anticipatory pain.

This isn't meant to be a depressing entry--in fact, I don't have time (either for the sake of sleep or getting this in under the wire for SOLC) to make it depressing or uplifting. It's just an idea, a mental picture I had.

So here's hoping you and I find ways to be more than gamers in a world of real life.

*If you think I really have a personal assistant, I have some employment paperwork to send you. There's totally an opening. The paycheck might get lost in the mail a lot...

**yes, I did just go look up how to spell that... ahh, Wikipedia, how did I ever know anything before you came into my life?

Saturday, March 2, 2013

SOLC 2: I'm Sorry, You're Sorry

[Drafter's Note: I don't think there could be such a thing as an exhaustive blog post on this topic. There are absolutely exceptions. There are absolutely if/thens. This is only what I've been talking and thinking about lately, and I hope it gets you doing the same.]

I've found myself in a couple conversations lately, digging through that always-simple issue of forgiveness. And I've been realizing that there are different types--or perhaps styles--of forgiveness. The one that I've found myself thinking on today is what I might call retributive forgiveness, in part because "retributive" is a fun word to say. " ("Reciprocal" is more accurate, but less linguistically enjoyable.) This is the style we've all practiced, at least internally: the variety of forgiveness wherein we (oh-so-helpfully) summarize not only our process of frustration and reconciliation but our partner's as well. "I said things I didn't mean, you said things you didn't mean..."

The problem is, this isn't forgiveness. It's settling accounts. "I owed you, you owed me, let's be pals and call it even." It's a great philosophy for minor financial conundrums, not so great for relational ruptures. It's problematic because we're highlighting--either to justify or lessen our own faults--that we were not alone in this fight.

And the fact is, of course we weren't. There aren't one-person fights (not external ones, anyway). We wronged, and we were wronged. But if we enter into reconciliation with the tally of Who Did What still rolling in our heads, we aren't really seeking authentic forgiveness, given or received.

In the midst of these recent conversations, I've been recalling and delving into a few true, authentic reconciliations I've had, searching for clues to what made them tick. And this might be the A+ Number One Thing I realized: I didn't come into it waiting for my apology, either in what I said or what I didn't. In the experience that leaps most readily to mind, I found myself focusing on The Place I Screwed Things Up. Of course, there had been more than one, and I don't mean that the key to forgiveness is throwing yourself in front of the train, but when we seek forgiveness we can't be coming to the table with the motivation of rehashing what was done to us.

Relationships--be they familial, friendly, professional or romantic (but hopefully not all four)--are hard. It's mushing broken people together to points where their faults and idiosyncrasies are not only revealed but sometimes exacerbated, and in such a state we can't help but, on occasion, wound and be wounded. And as a friend commented on her own situation this week, there is a nearly irresistible draw to close up, to break and leave broken. Our culture tends to suggest this in its urging to protect ourselves, to bring safety and stability to our lives by hedging bets, learning from the last time, keeping trust and vulnerability locked away safe. What is far harder is to fight. To tell our broken hearts to heal but not harden. To come back to the table, to try again.

I have a dim memory of hearing this, perhaps at a wedding: that there is a reason Paul points out in his famed "Love Chaper" (1 Corinthians 13) that "love keeps no record of wrongs," and there is a reason we are so drawn to it: because we are so very, very good at it. We (maybe women, especially, but men aren't faultless here) love to keep an ever-growing list of How You Messed Up, when all the while love--real, genuine, in-this-for-real love--comes to the table with a list thrown in the trash and an apology--just for oneself--on the lips.

And what happens next?

We trust.


Friday, March 1, 2013

SOLC 1: 2 minutes!

It's the first day of the Slice of Life Challenge and I nearly missed it. It's been a busy day, but still no excuse. So, a sumup of 3/1/13 in 17 words (3+1+13) ...

Reconciliation counseling.
Frank's Red Hot, cilantro cream.
PJs for work, iPad setup.
Slice just under the wire.


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Lent is More

Well, hi, blog. Fancy meeting you here. Come here often?

Me neither.

 - - -

So it's officially Lent, and in my yearly (or most-yearly) struggle to find a relevant, Scriptural, and generally just good way to "do" Lent, I've been working on how to spend this season.

I grew up in a Protestant (Nazarene) church, wherein most Catholic traditions were mentioned or not, but rarely practiced. This was, I think, a leftover from the idea of being free of a more legalistic theology, but in my adult life a few factors have led me to give a more open curiosity (and occasional adoption) to them. For starters, I met some Catholics--my best friend among them. I still remember standing in a cathedral in Argentina 8 years ago and watching a stranger cry, bawl, sob--English fails me here--in prayer before a small collection of relics. In 21 years of living, it had never occurred to me that Catholics could be emotional. (This is no slight to Catholics, only to me: in those 21 years, I had not known--or had not knowingly known--a practicing, devout Catholic; only classmates who griped about CCD class and pretentious priests on TV shows.) When I find a new tradition to explore, I try to see it not only intellectually and through the lens of Scripture, but through the tears of that woman in La Plata.

My initial rejection of Lent, several years ago, was tied to that idea of joining in Christ's sufferings--that just as Christ gave up liberties and life, so we give up coffee and soap operas. My problem was two-fold: our sacrifices were so pathetically surface-level, even when uncompared to Christ's; and we should be living under the new covenant, under victory and redemption, with the specific note that we don't have to take on sufferings unless prescribed by God. But as I delved, I found the original and returning concept of removing something only in an effort to devote more time to God through prayer, service, etc.

My first practicing Lent was in 2008, when I gave up Facebook (again, let's not compare sacrifices...) with the idea of spending that time--at that point, perhaps an hour a day--in better pursuits, largely divine. We will officially stamp that a moderate success--I did stay off the site, but I miraculously found a dozen other ways to spend time poorly, and I remember having a vague feeling of emptiness and dissatisfaction when Easter freed me from my commitment. Since then I've made similar commitments some years, and skipped others; one year I thought of some "good" thing to do before realizing Ash Wednesday had passed, unnoticed, two weeks earlier.

So this year, I found myself trying to find the perfect thing: a sacrifice that didn't make a mockery, a goal that was true to Christ and not just a diet by another name. (My buddy Kate posted this article on Facebook a few days ago, which I found to be very close to my own thoughts on the subject. Self-improvement is fine, but let's call it what it is.)

But I caught myself getting too legalistic about it--the same sin, if you'll recall, that I'd once plastered Catholics with. So I tried to shake that off and consider things through my recent re-centering on constant gratitude (due in large part to Ann Voskamp's simple/elegant One Thousand Gifts, a birthday gift from my dear friend Julie). Had I been spending way too much time on Netflix, and not enough with God and His current calling on my life? Absolutely. Had I been meaning to cut back? Of course. Could I do it randomly, on any day? Sure, and I could accredit it to willpower and self-improvement. Or...

I could take this step of re-prioritizing how I spend my time now, in this season, in honor and in the name of the One who sacrificed more than I can fathom for anything but personal gain. Much like my earlier focus on Advent and not just Christmas Day, I could take this season and present it to my savior as something more than a badge of painless sacrifice. I could trust this betterment not to my own willpower but to His, and give thanks to Him for each successful day. I could spend that time instead of wasting it. I could let this Lent be a time to commune with a savior who spent far more than six weeks preparing for his own sacrifice, a time to invest in the ministry He has inexplicably given me, a time to foster community and deepen relationships--in short, a time to re-allign my life to my ideals. And come Easter morning, I will be able to look back in wonder, not at my own righteousness, but at His grace.

So here we go.

I did, in fact, start on this Lenten journey on schedule--early, in fact. Not "giving up TV," but but using my time better by refusing to spend it wastefully. In my efforts to guard against legalism, I'm building a four-hours-on-the-weekend clause into the plan. (As my friend Sarah and I shared the other day, we'll view this as grace, not cheating.) And I'll check in and let you know how things go.

Because if nothing else, fair reader, this should mean an end to the two-month blogging hiatuses.