Saturday, December 17, 2016


For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy
Hebrews 10:14

It's been six months. The world has been on fire with hatred and violence accelerating at new rates thanks to the internet, which also allows us to find like minded crazy people, set up camp, and anonymously troll everyone who might challenge our way of thinking. Lies are paraded as truth, and no one cares as long as it helps them win. Bullying is now an acceptable and applauded form of public discourse, and mobs (both physical and cyber) mete out judgment in a frenzied effort to string up any sane voice. I don't know that I've ever wanted out of this circus more than I do right now. What more is there to say when people scour the internet for self-justification rather than truth, filing up their itching ears with whomever screams the loudest? 

And so I have been quiet. I spent the summer painting the inside of my house, attending to details and willing myself to slow down, to be thorough and attentive. It was a spiritual exercise as much as a practical one. Somewhere in the frenetic pace of life as a single mom, I've lost the ability to be still. The hours of my past that were spent meditating or reading seem more like memories stolen from another person, and I am too long a stranger to my own self.  So I have embarked on a journey of intentional activity. Since I can't escape doing, I am choosing to do those things which require my attention and practice, focusing me on perfecting the simple.

So today: puff pastry. It will probably take years to produce anything truly remarkable, particularly at my pace. Unlike so much of my cooking, puff paste requires my full attention as it is most unforgiving. A very complex process is built on the simple foundations of flour and butter.  So I found myself kneading butter in bowl of ice cold water today, which is something I never knew people did.
The purpose of this kneading is to insure that the butter will stretch properly under the pressure of rolling and not simply crumble and break. Butter as it comes from the store has the characteristics of a casting: It is coarse-grained and easily broken. Butter which is to be used for puff paste, however, needs the qualities of a forged substance: elasticity and tensile strength. Hence the kneading underwater.
Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection 

Heretofore, I had never pondered the tensile properties of butter, but I was surprised to find how satisfying it is to simply snap a stick of butter in half. Really, you should go try it right now. Because it feels like it should be as difficult as, say, ripping a phone book in half, but it is surprisingly easy, and therefore quite satisfying. Massaging it into an elastic lump under freezing cold water, though, may have given me early arthritis. I thought there were only eight corners on a stick of butter, but it turns out that there are about 57. You can feel their rigid edges in the lump of butter like stubborn little tumors, nearly impossible to squash into submission. And then suddenly you either find yourself holding a smooth billet of butter or your hands have gone completely numb, and you can't feel the lumps anymore. Either way, you happily move on to the next step.

Somewhere between the painful loss of feeling in my fingers and the odd experience of massaging butter underwater, I returned to one of my favorite verses in Hebrews, quoted above. Although I have often recited this verse to myself, I didn't have a good metaphor to understand what was happening. How could I be made perfect already but not yet be holy? That tension is the source of so much of my grief, and yet I found my metaphor in the butter. Like the butter, I have been cast in Christ's image, covered by his blood, clothed in his righteousness, but I also am coarse-grained and easily broken. What has been cast must now be forged. And that is what the Lord is doing, squashing all my impossible edges into submission, growing my elasticity and tensile strength.

And the result is peace and discontent, joy and sorrow, fullness and hunger. A whole stockpile of paradoxes on which it is possible to navigate this modern chaos with hope, to bear the world's agonies with the strength of the cross, and to cultivate true hunger in the face of deceitful affluence.
In this vale of sorrows, we should be careful about allowing abundance to con us out of hunger. It is not only the best sauce; it is also the choicest daily reminder the the agony of the world is by no means over. As long as the passion goes on, we are called to share it as we can - especially if, by the mere luck of the draw, we have escaped the worst pains of it. Do all you can to help of course; but don't, for all that, forget that you are also called simply to bear. In the end the agony lies too deep for any cure except the cross. Fast, therefore, until His Passion brings the world home free. He works through any crosses He can find. In a time of affluence, fasting may well be the simplest of all.
Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection  

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Rivers of joy

Foster Falls

"I will sing of your mercy that leads me through valleys of sorrow to rivers of joy."
-jars of clay

Sitting in the hammock with Quinn tonight on my first real day of summer break may very well be one of my sweetest memories of this whole year. Catching fireflies, chatting about his favorite games, and just snuggling while it got dark... these moments get you through the sleepless nights and the difficult days. 

I've traveled these past few years. I've worked hard. I've written and read and studied. I've held fast in grief to a hope I often could not feel. But I've also laughed and loved and grown and danced and been silly. Through all of it deep rivers of joy have been carving their canyons in my soul, deeper even than grief or sorrow.

And today, when looking back on the past five years, I can let the sorrow mingle with joy until they're almost indistinguishable, wrapped up in God's love and faithfulness on this crazy adventure. So thank you for your prayers and notes and texts and many, many kindnesses. I am reminded daily of the power in small acts of kindness to help others hold fast in difficult times. May we be each other's cup of cold water today, encouraging each other to hold fast to the one who is faithful.

Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.
Hebrews 10:22-23

Friday, April 29, 2016

old lady suit

Twice a week I stand at the edge of the pool and wonder what crazy notion ever made me think this was a good idea. There are treadmills or pilates classes or even just a good old fashioned book to occupy my time while Quinn swims, and yet I drag myself to that pool edge every Monday and Wednesday afternoon, dreading the shock of cold water as I put on my cap and goggles. The matron in the swim shop tried to convince me my suit was for "older ladies," and I should consider something younger with wilder patterns or lower cuts. She doesn't know that I've been an old lady since I was born, and neon geometric patterns stretched across my mom abs aren't going to fool anyone about the state of my body. I watch the lap clock tick away seconds as the old lady suit and I wait for just the right time to dive in. You'd think it would get easier, but it doesn't.

The earth is once again showing off her extravagant beauty after the chilling grayness of winter, and I am saying goodbye to another group of students. As perhaps one of the hardest and most rewarding years I might ever see in my career, I am both relieved and sad to see it end. I've lost count of the number of students I've ushered through this stage of life and onto the next one, but these past couple of years have been filled with students who love learning, enjoy science, and want to engage in the difficult questions about truth and reality. They enter into the realness of life with all its troubled chaos, and I am reminded of this Roosevelt quote, popularized recently by Brene Brown:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” Theodore Roosevelt
I find myself standing on a different edge as I relinquish some of my roles at work to focus more of my time and energy on parenting. The busy schedule came with many accolades and much attention, so it is tempting to stay the course. But this is a season of change, and I feel it no less than my students. The coming year will have more quiet, more rest, more work, and less attention. Yet for me it is the more difficult route. I am ready to start on some new projects, and I'm in desperate need of rest, but stillness is a much more challenging temptation for me than work. Nevertheless, I will put on my old lady suit, drag myself to the edge, and jump in. Because that is my next arena, and I have no desire to sit on the sidelines.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Angry voice

I had one of those awkward parenting moments the other day when Quinn was acting out with a bad attitude that was quickly spiraling out of control at someone else's house. It was one of those situations where there is no solution that isn't awkward and embarrassing.  I had been patient and sweet and gently redirecting and loving and encouraging and all those other qualities parents in TV commercials seem to possess in infinite amount. But it wasn't working, so I yanked him outside and whipped out my angry voice and lit into him. And it worked. Now, let me be clear, I focused on the behavior, not on shaming him or all those other things you're not supposed to do, but I put the fear of me into this child. He repented, said I'm sorry, and changed his attitude. Five minutes later he was his sweet, helpful self as if nothing had ever happened. I was flabbergasted that after all the gentleness in the world failed to correct his attitude, completely losing my calm worked like a charm.

It is amazing that as a parent of only one child, I have all his one on one interaction with my son and still have no capacity to accurately predict how to talk to my child so that he hears me. Depending on his mood, his social interactions of the last 24 hours, and the weather in China, he can have any one of an infinite number of possible reactions to the same sentence in the same tone of voice. Parenting, it is hard work. Seriously. It's like trying to recreate a DaVinci masterpiece on a canvas that won't stop moving and has a tendency to spontaneously combust.

Although really close to being finished with my read through of the histories and prophets, I've been significantly slowed by February. Not only is this the month of perpetually gloomy weather, I have to walk through the anniversaries of my daughter's birth and death as well as Emmett's diagnosis. Unfortunately, I also have exactly 4 days off this month while putting in quite a few 14+ hour days as well. Add single parenting into that mix, and February can potentially be a recipe for disaster.

But it hasn't been. Quite the contrary, actually. A couple weeks ago, having been woken early full of thoughts and prayers for the day, I found myself driving to work at 6:30 AM having already bee awake for several hours. I was working through a difficult conversation in my head, when it struck me that in a few short hours I had experienced more emotions than most people have in a month. I burst out laughing and started praising God. Despite the numerous difficulties and long hours, my job affords me a front row seat to see God at work in so many people's lives. I see the hard and beautiful and sad and lonely. I see the struggles with mental illness and depression, and I see the victories and encouragements and so many moments that will make my students so amazing. I get to muck through the realness and rawness of life that so many people are missing.

A glorious respite from the gloomy weather came this weekend, happily coinciding with one of my only days off. I was reading though Ezekiel when I cam across this passage from Ezekiel 20: 33-38 (ESV).

“As I live, declares the Lord God, surely with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with wrath poured out I will be king over you. I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you are scattered, with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and with wrath poured out. And I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will enter into judgment with you face to face. As I entered into judgment with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will enter into judgment with you, declares the Lord God. I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant. I will purge out the rebels from among you, and those who transgress against me. I will bring them out of the land where they sojourn, but they shall not enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Lord.
The fierceness of God to be king over the hearts and minds of the Israelites, despite their unfaithfulness is both beautiful and terrible in this passage. Seriously. Read it again. Do I really want to call this god, my God? The God who does whatever it takes, however pleasant, to bring his people to a heart of repentance is more than a little terrifying.

Despite the joy from really, finally flourishing in my job after so many year of patiently and faithfully and begrudgingly floundering, I still am convicted of my sin, perhaps now more than ever. Just the other day he brought something to my attention, as if he were saying, "Now, we can do this the easy way or the hard way, you choose." I ran so fast to repentance and prayer that I had to laugh at myself. Now this complicated issue involves how I speak to others, how I respond to their speech when it is not gracious, and how I lead students who are speaking ungraciously, so it is way beyond a simple correction. It involves patterns of my heart and years of attitudes and habits that need changing as well as a huge dose of wisdom beyond anything I can imagine.

But I heard the conviction and I want to repent, and I started to pray about the situation because I don't want God to yank me outside and use his angry voice to lead me to repentance. Because he will if he needs to. I am his and he will allow no sin to remain in me unchallenged. I have heard God's angry voice in my own life as I hear it in this passage, and I am so thankful to have grown into a heart that, although not perfect, is learning to run towards repentance before the angry voice comes out.

Monday, February 8, 2016


I had a college moment this weekend, you know the times where you had so much work to do that you suddenly had an overwhelming desire to clean you room. Yep. That was my weekend. And, wow, my house was clean, and I mean spotless, but only for about twelve whole seconds because I do have an eight-year-old boy.

The cleaning frenzy was a desperate attempt to clear my head. William Zinsser in his book On Writing Well, says, "Clear thinking becomes clear writing: one can't exist without the other." Writing is usually how I clear my head, but I've started a dozen blogs without being able to write more than a few sentences.

I've been suffering the past few months from 3 AM anxiety attacks. I don't usually feel anxious, but for some reason my body has been waking up around 3 AM nearly every morning in a physical state of panic; heart racing, tightness in my chest, out of breath... Often I wake up anxious for a student, and those mornings don't really bother me. I just pray until my alarm goes off. Sometimes though, it's a bit ridiculous. Back in November I had one of these panic attacks because I had noticed Quinn's leopard gecko was looking a little off, and I wasn't sure if he was shedding or dying. I had a panic attack about a leopard gecko. I feel like that's a new low, even for me. The gecko was just shedding and completely fine by the way.

Around the time of the gecko panic attack, someone pointed out that as a teacher I probably have upwards of three to four dozen interactions a day that require some kind of emotional processing. A lab group dynamic I don't like, a difficult conversation that needs to happen, an email I need to write, a student that needs correction, a curriculum quandary - all of these can happen in one day before most people have even had breakfast. And if teaching and coaching a hundred hormonal teenagers isn't providing enough fodder, there's always at least a dozen or so parenting failures to process. It would seem that I already have enough material to wake me up early for the rest of my life.

I was reading through Daniel last week, and in response to the unpleasant vision of chapter 8, he says, "And I, Daniel, was overcome and lay sick for some days. Then I rose and went about the king's business, but I was appalled by the vision and did not understand it."

I sat with that verse for a minute. Then a day. Then a week.

I have a hard time admitting that sometimes the knowledge of God, that his presence in my life is exactly what makes me heartsick. The news of refugees or trafficked women, the heartbreak of a student, my own sin... So much of this world - of my own heart, even - leaves me sick and appalled and awake at unreasonable hours of the morning because I know the one who has the power to fix these things and he has not yet done so. I am appalled by my own capacity for sin. Hearing about the evil in the world makes me physically nauseous. I deeply grieve the pain that my students inflict on each other.  I know that after writing about my anxiety I may be assaulted by a barrage of well meaning people armed with random verses implying that if I really had faith, I wouldn't wake up at 3 AM, but somehow I know they are wrong.

I am deeply grateful that God has not given me the appalling visions like he gave Daniel. Instead he has given me this life, my students, and this world, breaking my heart for each of these things. But he has also called me to get up and go about his business with my sick heart and weak knees and poor understanding. So I go forward without clear understanding, but perhaps with a little more faith.

A citrus grove in Belize

Sunday, January 10, 2016

take care

Unfortunately becoming a better speller did not make my son's list of new year's resolutions, but the rest of these are pretty amazing. Apparently he is reliving my childhood angst of not being able to whistle, a skill I couldn't master until college.

 My notes for this year's advent devotional started with an excerpt from Jeremiah 3: 6-11:

The Lord said to me in the days of King Josiah: “Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and there played the whore? And I thought, ‘After she has done all this she will return to me,’ but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce. Yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore. Because she took her whoredom lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree. Yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but in pretense, declares the Lord.” And the Lord said to me, “Faithless Israel has shown herself more righteous than treacherous Judah. (ESV)
Israel forsook the Lord to worship other gods, playing the part of prostitute, yet it is treacherous Judah, who is called out here for making only a show of holiness while her heart was still black with sin. I was hoping to explore the theme of holiness in the book of Hebrews this year, but this passage made me tremble with the weight of that task. All throughout Deuteronomy, the Lord warns the Israelites to take care to do this or take care to do that. All of these thoughts are echoed in Hebrews 3:12, "Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God."

Take care...

The words come to me when I wake up in the morning, when I lie down at night, when I talk to Quinn, and I am convicted of my lack of intentionality about most of the relationships in my life. Then comes chapter 11 of Hebrews with descriptions amazing faith, a particularly discouraging passage to read for those of us convicted of our lack of faith.  But this year I found myself unusually comforted after reading it a little differently. Abraham? Oh yeah, that was the guy who was so afraid of foreign kings that he pretended his wife was his sister. And Sarah? Yeah, she laughed in disbelief when she was told she would conceive. And then there's that liar Jacob, the braggart Joseph, the fearful Moses, the prostitute Rahab... These are my kind of people. I can hang with some broken, ugly sinners longing for a better country.

This is my season for cultivating longing. I pray that I would become more intentional in my relationships. I pray that I would take care to do and not do whatever the Holy Spirit presses upon me. But most of all I pray to cultivate a heart of longing that, despite the inevitable detours into sin, always presses on towards that new and better country.