The Trouble with English Class

I had phenomenal English teachers. Truly. Particularly in high school, all four of my English/literature teachers fascinated me, challenged me, inspired me, and grew me up in different ways. They taught me Shakespeare and Hemingway, they taught me grammar, they taught me word choice, they taught me critical thinking.

There was Mrs. Gregg who reminded me of my mom except with blonde hair that curled in instead of dark hair that flipped out. I would have never admitted this at the time, but she was a motherly comfort to me during the awkward transition that is freshman year of high school. I felt a little less scared having Mrs. Gregg as part of my daily routine. She exposed me to Romeo and Juliet and The Odyssey.

Ms. Moore was my sophomore English teacher. The moment the news of 9/11 hit our high school, I was just finishing up 1st period with Ms. Moore. That minute was flash-frozen on my brain and I can relive it like it was yesterday. Ms. Moore had a lazy eye and she very well could have been looking at you when it appeared that she was looking at someone else, so you were wise to just assume she was always watching. She was a fierce feminist and planted seeds in me that blossomed years later. I remember reading A Tale of Two Cities and Their Eyes Were Watching God in her class.

Then there was Mr. Mendelson. Unfortunately, Mr. Mendelson made some grave moral decisions a few years after I graduated high school and his teaching days came to a swift end when the facts surfaced. It taints how I remember Mr. Mendelson but it would be dishonest of me to say that he wasn’t a brilliant teacher. He taught me how to write a paper, like a really good one whereas before I felt like I was just bumbling around. We read A Farewell to Arms and The Jungle and Catcher in the Rye. Literature was combined with U.S. history in a block course and the melding of the two gave me the realization that history could be interesting. Mr. Mendelson demanded our absolute best work and I was transformed in his classroom.

Finally for senior year I had Mrs. Walters for British literature. We read Beowulf and Wuthering Heights. Every single morning we had a “Grrrr…” that we had to solve: Mrs. Walters would put a grammatically incorrect sentence on the blackboard and we had to spot and correct all of the errors. (To this day “off of” drives me nuts — you just say off, people!). Mrs. Walters had a reputation amongst seventeen-year-olds as boring and stuffy, but she was anything but. She was elegant and gentle and clearly loved both English and students. Mrs. Walters was very helpful to me with the college admissions process, and helpful to me in general as a human being. She was a crown jewel on my high school experience.

Now, I have a confession for my teachers before I go on: I know you thought I was a model student and all, but I didn’t actually read any of the books that you assigned me to read. Except for Pride and Prejudice — Jane Austen won me over. Oh, and To Kill a Mockingbird too. But I totally Spark-noted and Pink-monkeyed the crap out of those other books. I mean, Red Badge of Courage?! Whose bright idea was that? No sixteen-year-old wants to read that!

You know what I did want to read? Harry Potter. I think those are the only books I read for pleasure in high school, because my love for reading had been severely squelched by then — a real testimony to the genius that is J.K. Rowling. (And I devoured those 500, 700, 800 page books in days immediately upon publication). But while I was a dutiful and accomplished student, I didn’t care about the books you wanted me to care about. I cared about whether or not Hermione and Ron were ever going to get together and whether or not Severus Snape was a good guy.

I was a bookworm as a kid. My sisters roamed the neighborhood, but I typically tired of that quickly and went home to bury my head in a book. I loved spelling bees as a kid (lost on bananas, dang it, too many na-‘s) and vocab words as a teenager (looking up words I don’t know and using them in sentences?! Love! Don’t you just love words like effervescent and irascible?). But middle school and high school completely zapped my love of reading. The joy was stolen from me. Suddenly it was a chore, and they were two parts that were really depressing to me: I didn’t get to pick which books I wanted to read, and after being forced to read a book I didn’t want to read, I was forced to write a paper other than the one I wanted to write. a-book-a-week-image

Isn’t it sad that I can’t remember more of the books I “read” (ahem, cheated on) in high school? I guess it serves me right for cheating. (But, and this is a soapbox for another day,  research shows that homework is mostly without benefit, and also that teenagers need more sleep than school typically allows them to get. So, just saying, I may have had more time to really read if I hadn’t been doing excessive homework, and more motivation to really read if I wasn’t exhausted. Also — and this is more of an explanation than an excuse — I was far more interested in cheerleading than I was in old dead guys). But I firmly believe I WOULD HAVE remembered the reading in high school (and that I would have actually completed it) if I had been given the choice as to what I read. But kids need to read the classics! Some will argue this. And I say, fine! Give students a list of ten, twenty, or fifty and say TAKE YOUR PICK! This doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Boundaries and freedoms can harmoniously coexist.

And after I injected my brain with Sparknotes synopsis after Sparknotes synopsis, and I had finally “finished” the book, then the real hell began: write a paper about the book. But did they want to know what I thought of the book? No, not really (let’s be honest). “Write a paper demonstrating how The Great Gatsby has this motif.” Well, what if I don’t give a rip about the approved motif? What if it meant something different to me? What if  I have a divergent opinion? I would have NEVER done this because I was way too much of a brown-noser, goody-two-shoes, world-class-kiss-ass, but in retrospect I would love to break into my adolescent mind and turn in a paper that said in effect: “I didn’t get The Great Gatsby (or The Scarlet Letter, or whatever torturous novel it was for you). It bored me to tears. I would have rather stabbed myself in the eye with a dull dusty pencil than to keep turning its pages. And forget your motif — I am of the opinion that that wretched book had another meaning, not that anyone cares. (Also, what if I wanted to write a spy novel instead of this paper in the first place?) I used to love reading but now I don’t and that sucks. I used to love writing, but that’s been ruined too. I know the government has mandates, and the district controls some things too, so I don’t blame you personally. But I am a cog in a seriously flawed machine and you are participating in the destruction of my creative soul. I want to transfer to Hogwarts.”

I know, so much anger. But it does make me angry and I think it should make us collectively angry too. It’s criminal that children who organically love reading and writing have their loves undermined by our education system. I have had to relearn how to love reading and writing as an adult, and it’s taken a long time. It’s been a journey to find the joy again; it was so shoved down by expectations and rules and grades and right and wrong. Wouldn’t it be preferable if more adults enjoyed reading? Wouldn’t that be great for society and for individuals as well? Sure seems that way to me. Now that I’m in my thirties and slightly more mature than I was at seventeen, I would love to really read Their Eyes Were Watching God. I think I would love it. And I’m sorry, Zora Neale Hurston, that I did not appreciate your art when I was a sophomore in high school. Now I think about this remarkable contribution you made to black literature and women’s literature, and I want to know everything you wrote about race and gender roles and women in relationships, and I want to read it again which will really be for the first time.

I don’t have an easy fix or strategic solution to keep bookworms like me from being turned off to reading  and writing in the most ironic of places, English class. I know teachers are under infuriating constraints and I believe our education system is deeply broken. And I bet my fabulous, dedicated English teachers were banging their heads on their desks half the time about how they wanted to do some things differently but weren’t permitted to. In fact I’d put good money on it — because I know every one of those teachers loved books and language and words, and cared about teenagers too. My teachers suffered the same ailment I did I think — I didn’t have their permission; they didn’t have their superior’s. And our souls were burdened together as dead creatives rolled in their graves.


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My Election Story & Reflections

Prelude: I understand that my view is just that, *my* view. I have friends who voted for Hillary, friends who voted for Trump, friends who voted third party, and friends who did not vote. And I do not write these words in an attempt to influence others to share my opinions. Instead I write this as a personal lament, a personal way of processing, and simply my own story. And I’m offering it publicly in the hope that it may resonate with others. I feel that I am continuously made a better person by having a diverse community, a political combination of ruby red and navy blue. I am grateful that I can learn from so many people of different walks of life. 

When I was in elementary school there was a boy who dry humped girls on the slide at recess. I feel like it happened to every girl in my class and sure enough my day came as well. It made me feel dirty and scared. I didn’t tell my teacher. I didn’t tell my mom.

When I was a teenager I was frequently told by family members, neighbors, and my parents’ friends that I was beautiful. I enjoyed being thought of and called beautiful, but I did notice that my looks were praised far more than any other attribute. It’s true I was lauded as smart too, but “beautiful” was the common refrain. I cannot remember ever being complimented for being determined or passionate or capable.

When I was in college I turned down a Valentine’s Day invitation for a date from a guy in my dorm. I was in the midst of a painful drawn-out breakup and it was just not the right time. As if I needed to have another reason for saying “no” besides I just wasn’t interested. I got some slack for turning him down from my peers. Halley, that was so cold of you. Halley, it’s Valentines’ Day! Halley, it’s not right of you to not give him a chance. 

A couple years after college I was getting to know a guy via the internet and some phone calls; I had met him online. After a few weeks of what seemed like promising conversation, he told me that he would need to see me naked before any further communication could take place to make sure I was good enough for him.

This past spring I was at a bar in Chicago with a group of women for my sister’s bachelorette party. There was a man who was dancing near us and began flirting with us and cozying up to girl after girl within our group. I flashed my wedding ring and walked in the other direction. Some of the women danced with him, some did not, and it seemed pretty harmless albeit mildly annoying to start. But eventually one of the women in our party seemed to be having a hard time getting away from this guy, and another bachelorette guest intervened on her behalf. The man became aggressive and threatening. We were frightened and left the club in a hurry.

Over the past year I worked in a children’s hospital where the staff is overwhelmingly female. I was constantly advised to move my car from the employee garage to the (closer) visitor garage on evening shifts in order to avoid being assaulted or raped when returning to my car after dark. And due largely to the emails that circulated like wildfire in my youth, I automatically look into the backseat before I get in my car.

Last week a man came to my front door promoting his air conditioner business. He asked me if our AC unit was in good working order and when I told him we had just moved in and I hadn’t inspected it, he handed me a flyer and said, “Just give this to your husband, honey.”

I have been thinking a lot about my life and identity as a woman over the last couple of months. Some of these stories I have not thought about in years; several of them never even bothered me until recently. But the 2016 presidential election changed things. The now-infamous Access Hollywood tape changed things. The audacity of a candidate for the most powerful office in the world saying jaw-dropping things about women (and many other demographics) over and over and OVER again changed things. And, in a spectacular juxtaposition, the possibility that a woman might shatter the highest and hardest of glass ceilings changed things.

At first I was pretty even-keeled about everything. I read up on emails and Benghazi. Tax returns and Trump University. I watched the news all the time. I devoured articles about both Clinton and Trump. I tried to do my homework and maintain a balanced perspective. But things kept happening that made it easier and easier and easier for me to conclude that Hillary was more in line with my values and she was going to get my vote. And I was so excited to cast my ballot and watch the election results roll in on November 8th. I was certain Clinton would win.

Well I spent all day on November 9th sobbing. I cried and cried and ugly-cried throughout Hillary’s concession speech. I supported Hillary and I voted for Hillary and I wanted Hillary to be President — yes — but more than all of that, I was (and am) devastated by two terrible truths: a competent and highly-qualified woman lost, and a cruel, vicious man who treats women horribly, won. I cried for Hillary; honestly I was heartbroken for her. And it’s not because of politics. It’s not because I’m a sore loser. It’s not because I can’t get with the program. It’s because I found myself identifying with her. It’s because, really without my express permission or awareness, Hillary Rodham Clinton became a beacon of hope for me as a woman. Her candidacy proclaimed that women are more than beautiful, that we are determined and passionate and capable too. Her forecasted win shouted from the rooftops that women are more than their bodies, that we have every right to say no, and that we truly have power if we would only harness it.

And her loss? It broke me. It broke me deep inside. It broke the heart of the little girl I used to be who just had her dreams abruptly dashed. I texted my husband at work, “I cannot help feeling very small as a woman.” I wept with thoughts like I guess you can do whatever you want to women and still be President of the United States. My internal barometer for justice was busted. I had a hard time looking at my own little girl that whole day after the election. I had been expecting to spend the day beaming at her about a national proclamation that she had unlimited potential. Instead I spent the day despondent that the inherent “lesson”for girls was that a person who boasts about grabbing vaginas can still win out over a person who possesses a vagina.

I wake up twice every night to nurse my daughter. And every time I have been up in the middle of the night for the past two weeks, I have been thinking about Donald Trump. I do not like slipping back into bed at 2AM and 5AM bogged down by worry about how this hate mongrel will govern our nation. One night he followed me into my dreams and I had a nightmare that Trump the sexual predator was loose in my house. Needless to say it was disturbing. It is not right that I am afraid of the next leader of our country. It is not okay that I would not feel safe in his presence.

I was shocked and overwhelmed that Trump won the election and I feel naive that I never really thought it was possible. Other than being female, I am privileged in every way. I am white, straight, cisgendered, Christian, middle class, and I was born in the USA. I have tried to make it a point the last couple of years to learn about what it means to be privileged and to unlearn behaviors that I engage in that disenfranchise those who are not privileged. A woman I know who is similarly privileged to me commented on Facebook post-election that Trump’s victory felt like getting punched in the face. And then she went on to humbly confess that although she has celebrated the triumphs for the vulnerable in our society over the years, she has failed to experience their pains as her own. And she said she was grateful for the intersectionality aspect of the election results — as she was cut down as a woman, she was able to move towards some understanding of her neighbors who, for years, decades, or lifetimes, have been discriminated against due to their religion or race or sexual orientation or abilities.

“I thought I got it before. I thought I was woke, on the right team, in this together. But the fact that this is the first time I’ve felt punched in the face like this shows I was wrong…

I didn’t feel the blows as my own blows. But I freely and hungrily took part in the victories…

And I see now now that wasn’t fair or right. I need to be present for both. Sickness and in health. And I’m sorry it took this for me to see.

I hate this silver lining but here it is, dug up and ugly and true.”

— Janelle Barr Bassett

I’ve been having the same experience and it’s been overwhelming. I watched the SNL spoof of a Clinton watch party and it was as funny as it was convicting. Because that was me — SHOCKED. And as the laughter of Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle illustrates at the end of the skit, this is NOT “the most shameful thing America has ever done.” It’s just the first time I’ve felt punched in the face.

It’s far from the first time for many, many people. And the result of the presidential election and the news of the last two weeks has given me just a glimpse into that sobering reality. A friend of ours mentioned on Facebook that she experienced xenophobia on a regular basis as an Asian-American child growing up in a rural area, and perhaps now we (enraged whites) can understand a bit more what that feels like. As a woman I feel rage coursing through my veins when I read that Jeff Sessions thinks it’s “a stretch” to label grabbing a woman’s genitals as sexual assault. But I’m also feeling sick reading about Sessions’ racism, Flynn’s Islamophobia, and Bannon’s white supremacy because for the first time, I feel utterly punched in the gut by the plight of my brothers and sisters who are people of color, Muslim, and Jewish.

The past two weeks have been an experience of shifting. Shifting from viewing the election results solely through my personal lens as a white woman to feeling the outcome a bit more through the eyes of a Muslim, a person of color, a LGBTQ person, an immigrant, a disabled person, an abuse survivor. In no way can I now or ever fully understand the experiences of those whose shoes I will never walk in. But I feel that my chasm in understanding is growing smaller. Reading is one of my favorite ways to expand my knowledge base. I recommend this convicting and brutal article about white people’s shock over the election. And this one too which addresses white feminists specifically. I’m an idealist, it’s true, but I’m heartened by strides towards more meaningful relationship.

It is defeating to wonder if the things I try to do to help are not helping at all. Sometimes I feel squished reading about how I’ve gotten it all wrong in my privileged little world. But I want to sit with these feelings and wade through them. I want to be willing to hear hard things and be rebuked where I am shortsighted. I want to keep unpacking my own narrative and feelings about our woman-demeaning President-elect, and I want to listen to the narratives and feelings of others whose intersections with the election results are different than mine. I don’t want to forget this feeling, this gut punch. I will keep learning. I will honor and incorporate my story as a woman, and keep seeking our shared human story. And I will be motivated to action.

The other day I saw my husband staring out the kitchen window with a grave expression on his face. I asked him what he was thinking about and he said he was reflecting on the hate crimes going on and imaging what he will say to our half-Korean children if someone calls them a “chink” or scrawls “Go back to China” on a wall at their school someday. He expressed sadness that people are feeling more freedom to say and do racist and xenophobic things. He signed as we discussed that Asians are often praised in our culture or spared explicit harassment thanks to the model minority myth, but this has the effect of maligning other minorities and downplaying legitimate hardships of Asian Americans. I must admit that I struggle even to understand my own husband’s non-white narrative because my own privilege is so deeply imbedded.

I hate that Simon and I are having these conversations. I hate that the school district where my mother works had an anemic response to students cheering, “Trump, Trump!” and yelling at black students to go to the back of the bus.  I hate that many people found it more believable that over a dozen women were lying about being sexually assaulted than the FBI’s conclusion that one woman was not a criminal (and I hate it that sexism is largely dismissed as a modern phenomenon). I hate the attacks from both sides on Facebook. Despite who we voted for and why, despite our differing views of scandals, can’t we all agree that it’s a bad thing when the KKK is having a parade to celebrate the election and the internment of Japanese Americans is being described as precedent for a Muslim registry?

How do I move forward? What do I do? Honestly it feels insurmountable much of the time. I’m breaking a lot of pastor’s wife rules by writing this post. “Don’t talk about politics” is a good general rule of conversation for anyone, but for those in ministry it’s particularly prudent. But just the other day I was explaining to my three-year-old that our family believes in love and kindness, that we believe in fighting the good fight, and that we believe in standing up for those who are vulnerable and oppressed. I’m not trying to be political. I’m not trying to be divisive. However I am trying to live those values I explained to my child. I cannot be silent. I will not sit by while precious people who were created in the image of God are terrified of the future.

So I programmed my U.S. representative and senators’ phone numbers into my phone. I plan on calling them A LOT. I intend to give money on a monthly basis to help the people groups whose rights may soon be under attack. I plan to keep writing — both on my blog and letters to newspaper editors as well. I called a local mosque yesterday and left a message asking if I can help somehow; I know I sounded like the silliest white lady ever…but I’m trying. I told Simon I’ll even kick around running for office (even though that sounds like the scariest thing ever and I have no idea what I’m even saying). And I’m trying to abide by a resolution I made for myself: talk to my Maker every morning before I allow myself to engage in social media.

What I will not do is go silently into the night.

I march on, cracked and undone but determined and fiery. I will befriend the vulnerable and scorned like Jesus taught me to do. multicultural-handsI will oppose bigotry. I will stand with the downtrodden and poor. I will commit to unlearning my biases and grappling with my privileges. I will hold fast to an ethic of “love thy neighbor” and support a politics of empathy. I will cultivate kindness and raise my children to do the same. And I will fight like hell to make sure my daughter takes it for granted that a woman truly can be anything she wants to be.

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The Belly of the Fish

Lately my three-year-old has been enjoying hearing stories from the Jesus Storybook Bible at bedtime, which is all kinds of precious. He has favorites as you may imagine, like Noah’s Ark, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, and Jesus Feeds the 5,000 (or as Gabe calls it, “the hungry people story”). And he also approves of Jonah’s story (it’s got an animal in it, in case you missed the preschooler motif here). So tonight at bedtime, which I rushed through an hour and a half early because it was a napless but play-filled day, my little boy asked for the Jonah story. And as has become thematic in my life since becoming a parent, God spoke to me through my child (and the writing of Sally Lloyd Jones).

God had a message for the people of Nineveh, that he would continue to love and pursue them despite their evildoing. And as it usually goes with God, he elected to accomplish his purposes through his people — he wanted a human messenger to deliver his message. The messenger of his choosing was Jonah. Well Jonah wanted nothing to do with God’s message. His heart was full of judgement towards the people of Nineveh and he believed they deserved whatever they got. God was calling him to a place that he did not care to go and so he ran. The Bible details that Jonah boarded a boat headed to Tarshish, but I love how Jones puts it in the Jesus Storybook Bible: “Not-Nineveh.” Isn’t that just how it is in our hearts? It sure is in mine. It doesn’t matter much what the alternative destination is; the point is it’s anywhere but where God is leading. You want me to go where, God? You want me to do what?! Oh heck no, I am NOT going THERE! I am NOT doing THAT! You’ve got the wrong girl. That’s not the boat for me. I’ll hop onto half a dozen other boats as long as they are going to NOT-NINEVEH.

upload_263-HMS-Cavalier-Hi-Res-RobertRadfordPhoto credit: Robert Radford, via Google Images

Jones also says that Jonah thought his plan to go to Not-Nineveh was a good plan, but that in reality it was actually a silly plan. “Silly” of course, is a great word choice for a child audience, and at first blush it seems innocuous enough. But a quick gander at reveals that synonyms for silly include childish, foolish, pointless, ignorant, unwise, and stupid, amongst others. Ouch. Somehow the realization that I have been silly, foolish, unwise, and the like is really driven home but Gabe’s giggles about silliness in general — not much more humbling than feeling indirectly mocked by your three-year-old.

So what does God do in response to Jonah’s assumed reasonable-but-actually-foolhardy plan? He sends a storm.

Now I did not grow up attending church and thus I did not first hear the story of Jonah in conjunction with a cute whale craft; no, I initially heard it as an adult, preached from the pulpit on a Sunday morning. And I remember my flinch reaction to God’s sending of a terrible storm after Jonah: this was vindictive, this was cruel! But my view on this has softened over the years, and now I see the heart of God not so much in the noun here (the storm), but the verb (the sending). God went after Jonah. Not like a bounty hunter, but like a father. My sweet husband preached a sermon recently that blessed me with the reminder that God relentlessly pursues his people. ‘Tis the message of the entire canon of Scripture. Though Jonah basically gave God the middle finger, God came after him; came after his physical person but more importantly his heart. Was God’s method severe? Absolutely. Was it necessary though to get Jonah’s attention? Yes.

How do I know that? The Bible doesn’t explicitly say this, after all. It doesn’t say “a violent storm was the only way Jonah was going to grapple with God and his own prejudices, heart, and questions” but I know it to be true regardless. And the reason is because I am not unlike Jonah.

schlanger_jonah_prison_090913_820px Photo credit: Alma Sheppard-Matsuo, via Google Images

I too have been fleeing from the Lord. Running away from my own Nineveh. It hasn’t been particularly conscious, although that’s debatable at best — the truth is that claiming I was unaware makes me feel better about it, less complicit in my actions. I can look back and see the glimmers of truth, directional signs towards Nineveh. Some I can see that I bypassed knowingly and of others I was honestly ignorant. But it’s easy to miss signs if you have big blind spots. And so the storm came and consequently the fish.

For the past three years, I have been living in the belly of a huge fish. The Jesus Storybook Bible talks about how the fish’s belly was dark, half-digested food stinking the place up. The illustration shows Jonah hunkered down under the fish’s rib bones, a harsh cathedral in which he must confront Truth, uncomfortable as it may be. Gabe always points to the rib bones and says, “What’s that, Mama?”every time we read about Jonah. And I realize tonight that it’s really God speaking through my sweet babe. What is this, Halley? This dark place where I have brought you? Do you see it? Do you recognize it for what it is? Are you going to grapple with Truth while you’re living in the belly of the fish? 

DSCN3958Photo credit: Jesus Storybook Bible

Although my marriage to Simon started in a season in which he was employed as a pastor, it happened to be in the same church I called home in high school. It was my home church and my first church. I had chosen it as a consumer, as a sixteen-year-old with a group of my peers. I had picked it; it didn’t “pick me;” there was no notion for me of being at a “pastorate” (full disclosure I didn’t know what that word meant until, umm, like a month ago. FYI it’s the church or office a pastor is called to serve within). And as far as I was concerned, I wasn’t doing ministry; that was Simon’s thing. It wasn’t even on my radar. I didn’t understand (despite being told) that it needed to be. I brushed off the notion that ministry would humble me or require much of me. It wasn’t my dream after all.

But to a greater extent that I previously understood, God has been busy weaving my life and story right into the fabric of my husband’s. And his life into mine as well. Our Maker has been blending our desires and dreams and callings. Shepherding people in the context of church ministry + birth work, lactation support, and a still-hazy general advocacy for womankind. And we’re sorting things out together. Our living room bookshelf holds books about theology and books about the female reproductive system. And Harry Potter. It’s awesome.

32Photo credit: MN Textiles, via Google Images 

Lately the sorting out is intense. We are asking things we’ve asked before with our lips but not with our souls. So IS God calling us to church ministry or not? Have we been listening well? Is this the right journey and how can we know? Are we dictating the terms we will accept from God? Does He have something else in mind for us, and will we say yes? Do we truly have our hands open before the Lord? We feel humbled and we feel scared (if that gives you any clue as to how we are answering these questions) but we also feel a deeper sense of peace. God has graciously reminded us of what we each desired in the beginning, apart from “everything that hinders” (Hebrews 12:1): just loving people well. And I feel like lifting my hands in awe, and running them along the fish ribs that comprise my sanctuary, and whispering, worn out but emboldened, I think I’m ready now. And by “ready” I mean finally being aware that I’m not and I won’t be. I’ve been saying “I’m ready” for years now — beating my fists into the fish’s sides and demanding my release from this unjust prison! Today though, somehow, I feel “ready” to sit. I’m scared I will sit forever and at the same time I dread the fish’s gag reflex. I don’t know what will happen in the next chapter and I feel woefully unequipped.

My husband has a heart that longs to serve others in tangible ways. It seems easy for Simon to remember others and do small things to bless them, like asking friends insightful questions, and thinking to buy flowers for his mother-in-law, and grabbing my favorite chocolate from Costco. Simon is a loving shepherd who longs to walk with others. I don’t remember how it started but our son has taken to saying “pastors should be tender.” That is the heart of my husband, made more tender daily by his children that teach him the word’s true meaning. He is a teacher and he preaches passionately with this goofy smile on his face. It sure seems like he’s called to be a pastor. For a long time we held that calling with pride, evidence that we still had (and still do have) a great deal to learn. Today I type these words with trembling, having had lots of time in the belly of the fish to smell my self-centeredness, and having being made aware of my true size, I look up to the Father with reverence. God? What would you have us do? We are so small. 

new-slider-no-text-optPhoto credit: Blue Sky Career Consulting, via Google Images 

I didn’t get it. I still don’t. But I know that I don’t, which seems significantly different. My heart is humbled. I do feel silly. For YEARS I have been asking God essentially, “What are you going to offer me?” instead of “What can I offer you ?” The enemy of our souls has been trying to shame me, whispering lies to me: Geez, some pastor’s wife. You just figured this out? You are so unfit for ministry. You are not holy enough to give up the comforts of this world for the sake of God’s people. You are not mature enough. You do not rely on Christ enough. You will never make it. Everyone will laugh at you!

But my God is faithful even when I am faithless (2 Timothy 2:13). He will fight for me even when I am silent (Exodus 14:14). And there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). And it’s true I don’t know much about being a pastor’s wife (at least in a conventional sense; I know a lot about being the wife of a pastor who is “without call”). But I was a follower of Jesus before I was a pastor’s wife and I was just a girl loving a boy before I was a pastor’s wife too. Fit for ministry? No, I’m not. But no one in the Bible was really “fit” for ministry either, not Moses, not David, not Paul. Praise be to God who loves and pursues and utilizes “misfits” for his kingdom and his glory! Worldly comforts? Oh gosh, I love those (and to add to the trouble, I don’t like change). Convenience, security, status, satisfaction; I’ll take one of each. Holy, mature, perfectly reliant on Christ? Nope, not those things either. And some probably will laugh at me (last night I was Googling differences between Protestant denominations because I sure as heck don’t know). It would seem the devil’s proclamations might be right about me after all. But here’s the thing: none of that holds weight because my identity is in Christ. I am free. And a perfect resume is not required. Willingness is the only thing required.

ws_Summer_Leaves_1280x800Photo credit:, via Google Images

And if I’m like Jonah and I am unwilling? Jesus will (and thankfully DID) send a storm, and a fish, and long time to ponder truth in a church of bones. I would like to think that if/when God chooses to send me, send us, again to Nineveh, I will go with a cheerful heart and a humble spirit. But if I remain like Jonah and comply technically but with an unchanged heart (and at a minimum I will have days, weeks, or seasons), I know God will come to me and ask, “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4). You see, Jonah was ticked that God chose to be compassionate instead of vengeful, and he left the city of Nineveh in disgust. If I similarly retreat away from my Nineveh to pout about how God did not act as I thought best, I know God will send a plant to guard me from the elements, and in time a worm, wind, and sun to expose me to those same elements for my growth and my good. Though I may fume about the dead plant, God will remind me of the same thing he reminded Jonah. I am not the one who makes plants grow. They are gifts and it is appropriate that they are seasonal. Their demise points us to things that are higher; things that are more deserving of my deep concern (like the welfare of others!).

The book of Jonah ends here; we can only guess at how Jonah responded after this point. I can only guess at how my own story will continue as well. I just know God’s relentless pursuit will continue. Send a storm to find me, swallow me up by a fish, take away my shady plant. He will find a way. He will forever seek his Beloved. “He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn or the coming of rains in early spring” (Hosea 6:3).


Photo credit: Tumblr blog “Spiritual Inspiration,” via Google Images 

Together with the Fitzgeralds

C.S. Lewis said, “Friendship is born at the moment one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one'”(The Four Loves). This sentiment surely is true of my friendship with Corinne, my husband Simon with her husband Bryan, and even of our preschoolers together, Gabriel and Owen. God has given us friends who know and understand us in nearly every way, and this week we said tearful goodbyes to them as they move to Argyle, NY for a long-prayed and hoped for pastoral opportunity. I don’t feel its necessary for friends to share everything in common in order to have a deep and meaningful friendship, but I do resonate with Lewis’ words, and it has been a remarkable gift just how much my family shares in common with our dear friends, the Fitzgeralds.

505dbe9baa530c6870f5bf67809caca4Both Corinne and I are registered nurses and fostered a friendship through involvement in the same women’s Bible study (affectionately known as “Best Bible Study Ever”). Both Simon and Bryan attended Covenant Seminary and graduated with their Masters of Divinity. Simon was employed by Riverside Church as the Pastor of Youth & Families for six years and a significant portion of that time period overlapped with Bryan’s pastoral internship at Riverside. Bryan and Simon both have been working as waiters to pay the bills while awaiting ministry opportunities.

It doesn’t end there. Simon and I played matchmakers and set up Corinne and Bryan; we introduced them to each other at Simon’s 30th birthday party. We went on a bowling double date with them as their first date. Simon and I talked Corinne off a ledge a few weeks into her relationship with Bryan when he was coming on a bit strong and she thought he was “bat shit crazy.” (She and I talked for hours and hours on numerous occasions about these men who fiercely pursued us…about how we loved it and were also quite terrified). Corinne and Bryan married eight months after Simon and I did so we have walked the joyous and difficult journey of early marriage together. Corinne was a guestbook attendant in our wedding (a fact I really wish I could historically rectify: she should have been a bridesmaid. Our friendship was just taking off at that point but now she is a sister to me, and so it just doesn’t seem right that she wasn’t a bridesmaid. It really bugs me). Simon was a groomsmen and I was a bridesmaid in the Fitzgeralds’ wedding, 14 weeks pregnant with our Gabriel.


Our dear friends got pregnant six weeks after their wedding day, so Corinne and I shared half of pregnancy together. I remember when Corinne announced her pregnancy to the group of 8th grade girls that we co-led a Bible study for: “Bryan and I are getting a little friend…by way of my uterus.” When I went into labor at 41 weeks Corinne was 22 weeks along with Owen. She was my doula and she was outstanding. She opted to swap out her jeans for a pair of Simon’s boxers to throw on so that she could jump into the birth tub with me and rub my back during contractions. When I was losing my mind in pain and discouraged by the process, I yelled out “Someone pray for my cervix! Pray out loud!” Corinne didn’t hesitate and prayed that weird but genuine prayer. She must have been terrified after watching me scream out my nine pounds of baby boy but instead she told me she was just incredibly impressed. And inspired. Corinne delivered her own firstborn a few months later after a grueling 60-hour labor from the first early twinge to the final heroic push. I was there with her just as she was there with me, pumping breastmilk every 3 hours for my 4-month-old who was home with Daddy. Corinne elected to have a midwife-attended homebirth just as I did, because we didn’t have enough in common already. She was first exposed to the idea of natural birth in college, same as me.

In my opinion there is nothing like becoming parents to knit friends together in the strongest possible way. Suddenly you share all the same struggles and all the same joys. Corinne and I have texted at 3AM about obnoxiously awake and happy babies who insist on middle-of-the-night parties, and also wept on the phone at 3AM about devastating breastfeeding struggles. We figured out some crazy mess of sleep training together, solid foods, toddler meltdowns, and Target runs with littles in tow. We learned marriage with children together, finding some comfort in the same battles, the same challenges. Perhaps more than anything we hand-in-hand came to terms with our humanity as mothers. We shared our shortcomings with each other, real or perceived, and received grace upon grace from the other, both of us fallible new moms who were just doing our best and learning along the way. da631752b1fd13b6fc567dfd56a47113We also got baby fever at the same time, and both got pregnant for the second time in July 2014. We had morning sickness together, round ligament pain together, attended refresher childbirth class together, and hated the glacial pace of the last month of pregnancy together. Along with our dear friend Melissa (who was also pregnant with her second and due in April!) we did foot soaks and painted each others’ toes because when you have a BELLY BELLY you cannot do this yourself. Corinne and I did postpartum together. The engorgement, the battle to get out of maternity clothes, the anxiety that the two-year-old would run over the baby, and the absolute cluster of adjusting to TWO crazy monsters (and with that the complete lowering of our standards).

Our firstborn boys were born about 4 months apart and our second-born girls were born eleven days apart. Ordinarily I would never agree to doula for someone when I was 39 weeks pregnant myself, but I couldn’t not be there for my sister Corinne. I didn’t really have Braxton-Hicks my entire pregnancy, but whoa when you were pushing and gripping my hand for dear life, my uterus squeezed right along with yours! You birthed sweet Lily Anne in triumph and grace, my precious friend, and it was my honor to be at your side. Corinne, of course, was not at my labor 11 days later (I would have never allowed it) but she was the one I was texting with in early labor before Simon got home from work (“This sucks – you do it for me”), and she was notified of our GIRL’s arrival very soon after delivery — we didn’t know in advance if we were having a boy or a girl, and Corinne was beside herself with excitement at the news. Baby boys together and now baby girls together!

Bryan and Simon started a tradition of taking the boys to the mall together in the morning. The Saint Louis Galleria was about equidistant from our rental house in Brentwood and their rental house in Dogtown. Sometimes the mommies would tag along, but this was primarily a boy thing. I’d hear stories from Simon about their adventures. Gabe went through a phase when he would just pitch a fit when it was time to put him back in the stroller — unless Uncle Bryan did it. 24411Gabe and Owen crawled all over those mechanical “put 75 cents in to make them go” rides on the 2nd level — they both loved the hot dog truck the best. They threw coins in the big fountain downstairs, rode the elevators and escalators up and down and up and down and up down, hit up the Disney store, and just caused a general delighted-little-boy-sugar-high-ruckus. And Bryan and Simon talked about life. Marriage, parenting, ministry, waiting on God. The jobs they each had applied for (which were sometimes the same ones). Simon always came home encouraged. Bryan, you always pursued him well. And I am so deeply thankful for Bryan Fitzgerald’s faithful friendship with my husband.

Let me tell you about Gabriel and Owen together. OH, be still my heart. They have literally been friends since birth. They ask about each other ALL THE TIME and I know no unadulterated joy like the look on Gabe’s face when he sees Owen, the look on Owen’s face when he sees Gabe. As one-year-olds they were pirates together for Halloween; as two-year-olds they were Toy Story characters. I just don’t know what we will do this year when they cannot go trick-or-treating together. Gabe and Owen hug each other and kiss on the mouth upon greeting and when saying goodbye, always, without exception. They refer to each other as best friends, in those darling three-year-old voices they have. They terrorized the Yellow Room together every Sunday at Riverside, and together refused to participate in kids’ worship time (thank you, #pastorskids). After the service each week when we had retrieved them, they just transferred their mischief to the sanctuary: ran around the pews and instruments up front (can’t believe they never broke anything) and the playground outside — getting Gabe into the car eventually was no easy task. Mention of the mall at our house became synonymous with Owen — in Gabe’s mind there is no mall without Owen (so we may never go shopping again).

Corinne and I had many, many, MANY evening play dates around 5pm when Bryan and Simon were both working dinner shifts at their respective restaurants — it was the end of the day, and our mothering patience was generally frayed, and we banded together to make it through till bedtime. Sometimes at the Kim house, sometimes at the Fitzgerald’s, always with a huge mess of toys everywhere (and fighting over said toys), a blur of giving dinner to two toddlers who generally consumed very little, and a joint bath time full of splashes and giggles (and sometimes conversations about not touching your friend’s body parts). And for the last ten months, also two baby girls who needed lots of nursing, holding, bouncing, and loving, of course at the most inconvenient times.91ab1bceca5b743cfa5d099edf1b116a Somehow, eventually, everyone was fed…something (marshmallows on some days), wearing PJ’s (or at least clothing) and ready for bed. The visiting family departed for their own home and the hosting family moved ahead with bedtime routines. Gabe always talked about Owen on the way back to our house, and I’ve heard many sweet stories from Corinne about Owen doing the same thing (“Gabey, Gabey, Gabey…”). This was our rhythm and it was chaotic but life-giving. It may have made our homes into war zones but it also left us with pursued hearts and understood feelings. Marriage, motherhood, working, ministry, waiting…these are not easy things and it’s been irreplaceable to have friends to whom we can relate on every level.

All of these layers of deep togetherness and understanding has built up such a sweet friendship. I think all four of us would say we have been apprenticed in the ways of Jesus through learning how to best love each other. For example our kids are sensitive to dairy and we’ve been dairy free as a family for nearly two years now. The Fitzgeralds have always gone above and beyond in making sure that we were served dairy-free meals in their house, that Owen’s dairy-containing snacks were stowed away before we came over for playdates, and even at Owen’s 2nd birthday party — they made (a lot of) dairy-free cookies for Gabe to enjoy in place of the other children’s cupcakes. Fairly often we would babysit the Fitzgerald babies for short bursts of time when Bryan and Corinne’s work schedules overlapped and Bryan had to get to work for a dinner shift before Corinne was able to leave the dialysis center to intercept the children. They perhaps thought this was an inconvenience to us, but time with the Fitzgerald children was always a welcome occurrence! Owen is Gabe’s favorite person EVER, so that cutie’s presence in our home always put Gabe in a great mood and gave him something to do besides whine to his mother! Besides, it meant the opportunity to visit with my bestie when she picked up the kids, and that was always a major win.

Friendship-helen-kellerThis long time of waiting has been just plain hard on both of our families. When will God provide ministry jobs for our families? What is taking so long? How do we make sense of the “no’s” from churches and the “not yet’s” from God? The Kims and the Fitzgeralds, together we traversed this long road and collectively we asked these confusing questions. And despite the frustrations of our shared journey, the togetherness has made it much more bearable. It has been a valley of (ministry) joblessness for quite some time, and we have struggled with feeling forgotten by God sometimes. Well we’ve never been forgotten by the Fitzgeralds. They saw us in times of plenty and they saw us in times of want. They have played the part of Ruth, the compassionate friend, to us in the role of Naomi, hurt and bitter, slow to heal. We have all been Naomi together as well, the blind leading the blind perhaps, but feeling so very heard and seen and known in the thick of things. You guys have been a vessel for God’s love to seep into our sometimes-blackened hearts; you have been the hands and feet of Christ to us; you have ministered to our souls.

Friends, you are truly Aunt Corinne and Uncle Bryan. Owen and Gabriel are best friends (and Lily and Phoebe are too, they just don’t know it). God gave us something so incredibly rich and special when He brought you into our lives. We are sad, just so sad, to lose you to upstate New York. Truly our world does not make sense without you right here in Missouri with us. We have cried and will cry more. It’s so sad! And simultaneously it’s happy and it’s new and it’s adventure and we rejoice: your prayers have been answered! The time has come! We know Jesus has so much in store; we know you are going to advance the Kingdom; we know you will be such a gift to the community of Argyle Presbyterian Church. We cannot wait to see how the glory of the Lord will shine through you!

friendship5_1Corinne Christine, you are my sister through and through. Before we met you were described to me as “puppies and sunshine” and that couldn’t be more accurate. You are a ray of brilliant light in my life. You have walked with me through my darkest days with me. When I miscarried baby Zuzu you entered into my agony like she was your own child. We have labored together (literally); we partnered together in the carrying, delivering, and parenting of new life. We’ve said hard things to each other and loved each other more afterwards. So many cups of tea, so many glasses of wine. Ridiculous fits of laughter. Hearts poured out. You stole my yoga pants for like a year and a half and I wish I could glue a phone charger to your arm, but goodness, I just love you as much as anyone has ever loved anyone. Ever.



A Heart Exposed: Provision

“I have led you forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn off your feet.” – Deuteronomy 29:5

The last couple years have caused to reconsider everything I thought I knew about provision. The phrase “God provides” makes for a lovely cross-stitch and a pat Christian saying, but what does it even mean? What does God’s provision look like in real life?

The Israelites wandering in the wilderness were hungry. And God provided a strange and unfamiliar food to satisfy them – manna, a flaky grain that dotted the morning dew at the start of each day. “Bread from Heaven.” The people must have been so thrown off my God’s chosen provision; they certainly grew tired of their simple diet and eventually let their displeasure be known. It wasn’t what they envisioned; it wasn’t the food they were accustomed to; it didn’t match up with their idea of God coming through for them.

But it fed them. It sustained them. There is so much manna in my life, it’s everywhere. Just like the Israelites, I am invited to collect it, to be satisfied by it daily. For reasons we don’t know, the Lord has not provided my husband with a ministry job. But he did recently provide me with a great job. He did provide my in-laws who just up and gave us their car. He did provide a landlord who allows us to rent a house in a great neighborhood at below-market value. He did provide precious friends who are just THERE, who do not depart, Ruths to our Naomis. Manna may not be a house free of mice but darn it, it’s ACE Hardware around the corner, and a husband who sets and cleans up the Tootise-Roll-ladden mouse traps. Manna is dinner on the table. It may be spaghetti, or chicken and rice, or soup AGAIN, but it’s calories and it’s nourishment. My belly is continually full. The manna keeps coming. It’s simple but it’s sufficient.


God’s provision is not fancy. It’s not customized to my preferences. It’s not everything I want. But it has been and continues to be everything I need, which is crazy for me to say and crazier for me to believe. Like deep-down believe, not just “churchy supposed-to” believe. It’s wild because I’ve spent so many days and cried so many tears over what God has given (and withheld). I have been incensed – no, angry – about my family’s circumstances the last couple years.  But by some turns of faith and small miracles, I must admit it’s true. I’m arriving at a place of belief. God truly supplies all our needs.

These last few years I have been seeking God’s provision. Actually that’s a lie. I have been seeking God’s hand. Trying to pry open cosmic fingers and nab treasures God withholds from me. A bigger house. A second bathroom. Better insurance. Cushier bank account. No mice in the kitchen. Nicer date nights. (Basically anything and everything I can complain about). And above all: that elusive great job for my husband. God, this isn’t enough. You are holding out on us. We deserve more.

It can be a poisonous word, “deserve.” I’m learning that when there are things I think I must have, it necessarily creates limitations on what God’s goodness looks like. If I “deserve” a big house, a padded bank account, and a generally comfortable life, then it follows that as long as God withholds those things from me, he is not good. God isn’t giving me what I am due! God isn’t granting me all I have a right to possess! The entitlement runs deep.

It’s not that we shouldn’t grieve things we have lost or nurse hurts we have sustained. It’s clear that the Bible instructs us to cry out to God, to be quite honest with him, even to complain. Christians love to rag on the Israelities, to talk about what whiners they were, how they couldn’t hack it in the wilderness for forty years despite God’s obvious faithfulness to them. Well I think we’ve got a lot of gall. God’s faithfulness to the Israelities is only obvious to us because we’ve got the whole story in front of us to inform our arrogant opinions. We can flip forward a few chapters or a few books in the Bible and gain a perspective the Israelities could not. Certainly we are not able to do this with the story of our own lives and in a similar situation of limited perspective, we behave the same way the Israelities did. We doubt. We whine. We complain. We try and take matters into our own hands and “make things happen.” In essence we’re just as human as they were. And thankfully God is just as much God.

The text in Exodus 16 specifies that God provided just enough manna for each day and therefore the people were to collect manna daily, except on the Sabbath, when they were to rest and their portion from the day prior would be sufficient to sustain them until the following morning. God provided the manna in this daily fashion as a way to test the faith of his people. Moses instructed the Israelities not to save any of their manna in reserve but to consume everything they obtained (those who tried to conserve a portion discovered it became worm-infested by morning). It makes sense to me that God instituted this method of provision in order to teach his people to rely on him daily, to trust that he would come through for them again and again. God does love proving his faithfulness. But what I just think is remarkable is that God desired for the Israelities to eat up EVERY BIT of that sweet bread anointing the dew. Yes, don’t save it because you ought to trust God to provide again tomorrow, but also don’t save it because you don’t have to. God isn’t the type to be stingy! I’m learning that his blessings aren’t always (or often) what I had in mind, but they are not ungenerous. It’s all for today, it’s all for my filling. Eat up. His mercies are new every morning. His goodness is always given in full.

God’s word actually says it’s sweet, manna (Exodus 16:31).  Tastes like honey apparently.  This weird grain-like “bread” stuff.  It’s not what I wanted.  It’s not what I’ve been asking for.  But it’s sweet nonetheless. Canaan was the land of milk and honey. The destination at the end of the forty-year journey through the wilderness for God’s people. Isn’t it curious that the manna itself, the simple food for the Israelites for those grueling four decades, tasted like honey? A foretaste of the glory to come. What a beautiful gesture from our God! Provisions may be meager at times, in actuality or in our perceptions, but they point to the future; they point to Heaven; they point to Jesus Himself, the most extravagant provision there ever could be.

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long;
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.

– “Blessed Assurance,” hymn published 1873, lyrics by Frances Crosby, music by Phoebe Knapp

A Heart Exposed: Introduction

“The secret of being in love, of falling in love with life as it was meant to be, is to befriend our yearning instead of avoiding it, to live into our longing rather than trying to resolve it, to enter the spaciousness of our emptiness rather than trying to fill it up.” – Gerald May

I sit in my living room tonight, fingers clicking away at my 2004 Toshiba laptop, seeing as the Macbook bit the dust a few months ago. My back is tired from babywearing and my scalp stings from hair ponytailed too long. After giving the baby broccoli that made her choke and cleaning up the subsequent vomit, and scrubbing dried blood off my 3-year-old’s carpet from last week’s nosebleed, and, somehow, eventually getting two tired little ones to sleep, I plopped myself down on the couch with a box of Oreos and went to town.

My heart and mind have been aflutter as of late, buzzing with thoughts, questions, ponderings of life, of this particular chapter, of why this way and what’s the lesson here. For coming up on three years my husband and I have been praying for God to create for us a specific reality. A full-time pastoral ministry job for Simon, greater financial security, the opportunity to “settle down” somewhere, and a house that’s ours, with a few bells and whistles. So far God has not made these things happen. He has not granted our requests, and I use the verb granted on purpose because that’s what genies do, and it’s become apparent to me that I’ve needed to learn repeatedly that God does not live in a lamp nor does he have the voice of Robin Williams.

It’s been difficult to know what to do with God’s seeming inaction. Does God not care about us? Does God not hear us? Does God think our wants are silly or childish or misguided? We have wondered many times over what God could be up to. Perhaps we are supposed to be learning patience. Surely this is for our sanctification. This must be a lesson in contentment. Often times Simon and I just look at each other in this context and shrug, and because we’ve had this conversation so many times, the meaning of that body language is well-understood.

We are learning patience (or, rather, learning how impatient we truly are and occasionally being humble and aware enough to pray for increasing patience). I do think this journey has been and continues to be sanctifying; there’s a hallowing out and refilling process that God just has playing on repeat in my heart, excising the bitterness and envy and selfishness and ladling in softness and courage and grace. We are learning to be content with the riches we already possess, and perhaps more importantly, to view them as riches in the first place.

And, alongside all of this, good Christian growth as it may be, still wanting, still dreaming, still incredibly human. I’ve seen my husband go round and round. Is God trying to tell me something? Am I on the wrong road? Is it time to give up this dream? And I look at him with tearful eyes and tell him I just don’t know. Because I don’t.  I don’t know when “not yet” means “no.” I understand asking the question, as time marches on it becomes more nagging and harder to avoid. I understand the heart can only take so much strain and I wonder alongside my husband what the right prescription is of dream-chasing and sanity-preservation. But I also know that our God cares about hopes deferred. I know there are countless ancestors of the faith who waited, and waited, and waited, and waited for very long periods of time before their dreams came to fruition, before God’s callings on their lives became manifest. Sarah. Joseph. Moses. Jesus. In her song “To Those Who Wait” Bethany Dillon says of God, “You can do more in my waiting than in my doing I could do.” It’s a struggle to believe that but it’s also an anthem our hearts cling to these days. If those words are true than this journey isn’t for naught. God is not passive; when I can’t see it, he is still moving, still seeing.


So I encourage Simon to keep after it. Send in another application. Do another interview. Browse Zillow when it’s fun and gently tell each other to stop when it’s gone too far. And we keep up some kooky cycle of hope, excitement, confidence, disappointment, despair, cynicism, thawing out, and hope again. We keep hope alive, and sometimes it dies, and later we resurrect it. This church, that church. This place, that place. I pray for Simon before interviews now but I don’t pray he would find favor with search committees or that he would get job offers. I only pray for God’s will to be done. That’s a prayer I know will be answered, and I’m coming to see that, when I believe God is good, all of the manifestations of his will are good too.

And along the way, well, I’m learning that’s maybe that’s the point: being on the way. They say it’s about the journey, not the destination. And our journey has been painful, confusing, and though it’s no forty years in the wilderness, to us it feels long. In other words it’s been ripe for learning. Learning who we are, who God is, how a marriage grows, how children teach us. How we can walk the line of practicing contentment and simultaneously having unmet desires. How it’s okay and human and normal to want some stuff, like worldly stupid material stuff, but how our lists of “must haves” have been trimmed immensely as we grasp more deeply the treasures of Heaven. And perhaps at the core: we can embrace wholly our humanity and our sainthood in Christ.

Sometimes I try to force it. God, I’ve arrived, I understand everything you’re trying to teach me through this trial…now go ahead and give me the things I want, ok? Just writing that sentence finds me a fraud. Some days I truly find myself close to God, intimate with the lover of my soul, and actually thankful for these circumstances that have caused me to lift my head toward Heaven, a child who realizes her limits and gazes up at her mama for help. And I do feel myself stretched, deepened, expanded. The Spirit has been at work in my heart, in my husband’s heart, and there are days that I see it. I notice how we respond to the hard things, and I think about how we responded a year ago, two years ago, and it’s clear we’ve grown.

And still there are other days. The ones that are long, generally lacking meaningful sleep and heavy with three-year-old meltdowns. The ones that are just so ordinary, so much more of the same, where I don’t feel at all compelled to do anything that would be nourishing for my heart. No reflection, no prayers, no writing, no pillow talk. Just escape. More Big Bang Theory reruns and Facebook scrolling. The necessary chores (or not) and an evening of technology next to my husband but not engaged with him. On these days, and there are a lot of them, I operate on auto pilot and I turn my heart’s volume dial to zero. I don’t want to hear from God; I don’t want to hear from my own soul. I want to eat junk food and post pictures on Instagram and mindlessly like everyone’s statuses. I want to be tuned in, to be fully alive, to commune with my Maker…but my humanity is ever before me, and quite honestly, I am physically and emotionally exhausted much of the time. And it’s easier to devise clever hashtags than it is to release vulnerable heart-breathings.

So here I am, this is me, this is my family and our back-and-forth, to-and-fro faith struggle and journey. Our Christmas list, the desires of our heart, is largely the same as it was last Christmas and the one before. We’re still asking, still praying for those things that we long for, some of them on the holier side and some of them just human. And on the surface, or in the “short story” version, Jesus has not seen fit to answer our prayers. But is that really the case? I’m learning to listen to Abba, Father, as he whispers gentle truth: No, beloved, it’s not. I am here, I see you, I am moving. At this very moment I am working all things together for good for you who are called according to my purpose (Romans 8:28).

Merry Christmas, my friends. Thank you for traveling this road with me.


The Omelet Fight

Greek-Omelet_There was this one time when Simon offered to make me an omelet. We were dating, maybe engaged, and we were hanging out at his place.  I remarked that I was hungry.

“Can I get you something to eat?  I’ve got chips and salsa, cereal, leftovers…or I could make you an omelet.”

“Sure, that sounds great,” I replied from the couch where I was watching TV.

“Oh, really?” He sounded disappointed and scrunched his face up a bit.  “You want an omelet?”

Confused, I answered affirmatively.  “Yes, I’ll take an omelet.”

He gave me this annoyed, please-don’t-make-me-do-it kind of look.  I flashed him my best “You think I’m adorable and we both know you’re going to make me an omelet so get cracking!” smile.

He begrudgingly set to work, a quiet anger his companion.  He presented me with a beautiful omelet a short while later.  I ate on the couch and eyed him as he silently channel-surfed.  Finally I just asked him.

“Why are you mad at me?”

Simon started half-laughing, “I thought you would pick one of the easy things!  I didn’t think you were actually going to say YES to an omelet…I just wanted to be nice!” I raised my eyebrows and chuckled a little, irritated but also amused (everything is cute when you’re dating).  “Well, you offered and I accepted.  It wasn’t wrong of me to say yes.  No one made you offer.”

Simon eventually conceded that that was true and decided my wanting an omelet wasn’t so horrible.  We made up (was that even a fight?) and life went on.

Lest anyone think that I don’t “offer omelets” myself, let me tell you about a situation that played out in our home recently.  I made plans with a girlfriend to get our rambunctious toddler together for a play date.  I would enjoy spending time with my friend, the boys would run around together, and it would give Simon a chance to relax with only our 2-month-old to manage.  Simon was quite tired from working late and losing sleep, and I thought it would be nice to give him some down time.

We had agreed that I would take Gabe out of the house but leave Phoebe with him. But as we were getting ready to go I could tell that he was really beat. I offered to bring Phoebe along with me as well. I figured he would appreciate my amazing selflessness and desire to serve him, and, out of his deep love for me, decline my generous offer. Guess again.

“Oh babe, that would be awesome. I just need some rest, thank you.”

What?!  YOU need rest?!  Who’s the one who’s been up nursing the baby two or three times every night?  Who’s the one who’s up even after the baby returns to sleep because YOU never stop snoring?!?!

I just gritted my teeth and put Phoebe in her car seat, grabbed the diaper bag, and ushered Gabe out the front door, toddler Crocs in hand. I gave Simon a kiss goodbye, with an air of superiority, wanting to rub it in that *I* was the amazing spouse.  This was lost on him, he just looked into my eyes and said “Thank you so much sweetie.”  Gag me.

I drove off to my friend’s house fuming and self-righteous as all get out.

Then it hit me: I offered.  And Simon only did what I gave him the opportunity to do: say yes.  And I much as I desired in the moment to savor fury and breathe contempt, I recognized the situation for what it was before parking the car: it was an omelet.  I didn’t actually want to be kind to my husband; I just wanted him to think I was awesome.  And when an omelet is offered, is perfectly legitimate for the recipient to say, “Yes, thank you!”  The fault lies with the person making the phony offer, the one seeking to pad his/her ego rather than to give sincerely.

We want credit for being a good spouse more than we actually want to be a good spouse.

And that’s why omelet fights happen.  Because we don’t really want to chop up mushrooms and dice a tomato.  We don’t want to leave the house alone with both (or all) of the children.  We want to do what’s easy.  We want to give the appearance of going above and beyond, of being as loving and selfless as our partner believes we are, but a fair amount of the time we don’t genuinely want to put in the effort.

Relationships take work, marriage more than any other variant.  The day-in, day-out of life — the laundry, the kids, the cooking, the jobs — takes its toll.  As tired people that makes us tired spouses.  And if you’re anything like me, sometimes you don’t want to think of your spouse; you just want to think of yourself.  So you feign care; you offer counterfeit sacrifices.  Sometimes you get away with it too.  But thankfully, sometimes, your lover figures out what you’re up too (I’m learning this happens more frequently the longer you’re married).  Even better, you realize it yourself and can own up to it.

I came home from my play date that day and confessed to Simon that the play date offer was an omelet sham.  He smiled, implying understanding and forgiveness, and thanked me for giving him the afternoon off all the same.

Marriage is such a vessel for redemption.  For remaking.  It exposes the darkest parts of us, parts we didn’t even know were there, and provides opportunities for us to grow, and change, and let some light in.  I’ve found that I’m a lot more selfish than I thought I was, much more ready to serve my pride than my partner, more apt to be a poser than a lover.  When I offer something I don’t intend to give, I am not being nice; I am being a con artist.  I am making myself look good under the guise of caring about you.

I wouldn’t have known that I do this if it wasn’t for my marriage.  I likely wouldn’t be aware that it’s done to me either.  Simon and I, we expose each other’s yuck.  (As time goes by, we learn to do it gently).  Its so humbling but it’s good.  Because it’s a healthy and beautiful thing to go from, “You jerk!  You ‘made me’ use a frying pan/schlep two children/fill in the blank!  I give and give, and you just TAKE!” to… “OH.  You don’t make me do anything.  I get to decide what I offer to you. I need to examine my own motives.  And, oh yeah, I actually love you.”