Where I fit


I’ve decided in the past few weeks that Minnesota is my state – not solely mine, but a place that is mine. I wasn’t sure before if there was anywhere that was mine, but I’ve realized Minnesota is it. What does it mean to have a homeland? My parents didn’t originate from anywhere near Minnesota, so it’s not where your family is from. Alabama and Colorado are certainly not my homelands.

If you go farther back, well, what country did your family come from? I honestly can’t tell you for certain. We’ve been here since pre-Revolution. I think we were in Scotland and Britain before then, just judging by the names I’ve found in my family tree, but it’s so far back that it hardly seems to matter.

I’m the only one in my entire family – ever, that I know of – to be born in Minnesota. Brooke (though technically a Jersey girl) and I have lived the epitome of Minnesota suburban girl lives: played soccer for a limited time, skated on the lakes, went sledding and playing in the snow til our snow pants were drenched, made countless snow forts and snowmen, have had innumerable mosquito bites all over our bodies, have been “Up North” to friends’ cabins and to summer camp, have known how to canoe and kayak for ages, never cock an eyebrow in confusion when someone references “the lake.”

“The lake” doesn’t refer to a particular lake, for all you non-Minnesotans. To Chicagoans, it means Lake Michigan. To Minnesotans, it refers to whatever particular lake you happen to be near or were near at the time of the story. And, just for bragging rights, Minnesota may be called “The Land of 10,000 Lakes,” but we actually have more. HA.

Anyways, back to belonging. I belong in Minnesota. But is it just because I was born here? No. Is it because I embody the typical Minnesotan spirit? Well, I only imitate the accent and sometimes slip into it by accident (Uffdah, ware gunna take tha boat owt on the laaayke fur a spin. You betcha, hun. Than ware gunna eat sum lootafisk an’ put it in a bayg), but I do really live it up in the summers (Minnesotans spend nearly all of their time outside during the summer. Summer is defined as any time period where the weather is 55 or above and there is no snow on the ground nor any forecasted) and am proud to brave winters where temperatures plunge thirty below zero – and windchill is colder. I beat around the bush when I talk (less so after my time in Austria, where people are much more direct) and can sugarcoat anything to make it sound nicer.

Is that what makes me belong here? Maybe partly. I think it’s mostly because I fit with the people here, though. Whether I’m like them or not, we get along. I like the communities I’ve found in my church, in my retail job, in my former high school friends, and with the strangers I meet who will shiver and talk about the bitter cold wind with me though I don’t know them from Adam. That can’t be said for every place I go. This spirit gets you strange looks in other parts of the world. Not that we can’t adapt to fit elsewhere, but this is home.

This post might be more for me than for you. I declare – Minnesota is home! It doesn’t mean I’m not getting back on the plane back to Chicago next semester and again in the fall. It doesn’t mean I’ll never have a beach home in Florida (even though with my anticipated paycheck, that’s unlikely). But I know where I fit, for whatever that’s worth right now.

Keeping Christmas


And it was always said of him, that heWhen the last goodnight had been said last year on Christmas, I knew that normalcy had subsided in terms of holidays and that our family was headed into a new normal. When Brooke and Alex tied the knot in January, we knew life would change – in many ways for good.

But you can’t prepare for change, because that’s just the nature of it. It’s different, transitional, unexpected.

This year marks the first time Brooke and I didn’t open either a pair of pajamas or one of our favorite Disney movies on DVD on Christmas Eve, after going to church then out to dinner with our family. Instead, we went to church with Brooke’s in-laws (and took up an entire pew with our family for once, which was cozy) and had a delicious lasagna dinner at their home. Then we left Brooke there and came home (with Grandma, because she’s visiting this week), where I opened slippers with three of my favorite adults.

Dickens’ most famous character spent his first 50-odd Christmases the same way, too – no different than any other day. He didn’t start the day with whispers and giggles with a sister in the dark, waiting until parents summoned and lead down the stairs without allowing us to see the tree with the new, unwrapped gifts from Santa. I’m sure he worked, planned who to evict the next day, used as little coal as possible, grumbled about his staff taking the day off, and ate gruel for supper.

The night three ghosts visited his him was met with initial gruffness.

I stayed pretty gruff about having to share my sister with another family (she is pretty great, you can’t blame them for wanting to see her and their son) for quite some time.

But as Scrooge began to understand the amazing transformative power that a change in perspective and heart can have, he warmed up to not only Christmas but mankind. He rejoiced in finding that he hadn’t missed the holiday and began generous habits toward his fellow humans.

I love the kind spirit of Christmas, giving individualized gifts to every person in my life, the twinkling lights, the hope of a Savior who meets broken people in the middle of the mess, the candles, the twice-baked potatoes.

I had loved the way we spent Christmas before, the stockings opened one at a time in front of both the yule log and the fireplace (side by side so you aren’t sure which one is actually generating heat and which is just the TV), spending the whole morning with our cozy little foursome, hot cups of coffee, wassail, or Russian tea, a special, carby breakfast, and opening presents, an orderly ordeal where Brooke bags up all the wrapping as it is taken off, distributes presents until the tree is barren, and makes sure we all open one-at-a-time and in order.

I had loved the sweetness and closeness of it, and how our family would often have friends who didn’t have family in town over for Christmas dinner.

But now it’s time for me, like Scrooge, to keep Christmas in a new way, a more open way. Our whole family, actually. We’ve got to learn to share, because marriage isn’t just about compromise between two people.

And Christmas isn’t about sameness. It isn’t about doing the same thing over and over again. It’s about a God who knows that sameness brings stagnation and that a radical intervention is always the way to shake things up.

May we all branch out from the comfort of our routines in this next year. May we see opportunities to draw closer to God and to each other. May we seek out the new and good, living out the spirit of Christmas all year.

 

Unbalanced to unseen.


Ever since one of my friends suggested the possibility I’ve been keenly aware that one of my legs is longer than the other. It’s been a couple weeks now, and sometimes I just sit and wonder at not knowing for so long.

I mean, it’s my body. I should know if one of my legs is longer. One of my feet is bigger. One of my eyes is slightly bigger. My knuckles on that hand are bigger. It’s all on my right side, which could make sense since I’m right-handed.

It just threw me for a loop. I’d lived with having different sized feet and knuckles for a while, but finding out that I likely have been slightly tilted for my entire life was a different, much more fascinating story. Then my other friend said I might not have differently sized legs; no, my pelvis might just be misshapen.

I’m unbalanced. It’s okay. If I was J-Lo or Kim Kardashian, I would have surgery to make them the same length and get a nose job while I was at it.

For these light and momentary troubles are achieving for us a glory that will far outweigh them all.

This is light and momentary. It’s hardly even a trouble. My small physical asymmetry is incredibly light.

But stress isn’t light, life decisions aren’t light, grief isn’t light. Was Paul referring to all earthly trouble when he said that? Was he talking about loneliness and heartbreak? Was he referring to loss and regret?

Earlier in that passage (2 Corinthians 4), Paul says, Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. Gosh, Paul. That’s kind of big. But are your legs the same length?

So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you. …That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!

So, we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

I just read the other day the part of 2 Corinthians where Paul talks about all he’s endured for the Gospel. It’s not light. It pretty much encompassed his entire life. But the hope of eternal life with God was enough to make it light. Not that it hurt less, but it meant less. It didn’t determine his future.

What is seen: racial tension, mass murders, exploitation, hints of good amid explosions of not-good, pieces of the Kingdom in the rubble of earth

What is unseen: History – a baby in a manger who grew up to bridge the gap between a God who loves and wants relationship and man who was unloving and didn’t know how much it needed that God, healing, light, life, reconciliation, peace, hope, joy.

The story stays fresh because it’s still relevant. It’s still central to our humanity that we’re broken and in need of someone to sort out our mess. We still need a humble Savior to lead the way.

I’m unbalanced. I’ve got iniquity in one hand paired with pain and grief. It weighs me down, but I cling with the other to my Father’s hand. As we walk, I start to drop my bad habits and painful memories.

For what is seen is temporary; what is unseen is eternal.

Baking to better.


“Out of love I made you a cake.I bake almost every week, at least once. It’s not uncommon for me to show up at Liesel’s work (the rock climbing wall) with a piece of cake – not because I’m just a fabulous person but because I’ve baked and someone has to eat it. So I’ll put a piece of cake (because that’s usually what it is) on one of our few precious paper plates left over from a baby shower, grab a fork, and head over to the fitness center.

As I hand my ID to the desk attendant to scan in, I often feel the need to explain myself, wearing street clothes and holding one or more plates sugary goods: I’m not here to work out. I’m here to deliver food to the working class of America. I just baked, and I can’t eat it all. Here, you have a cookie bar, too. Don’t you love me now? Okay, please don’t judge me for not working out today.

Last fall I hit as close to rock bottom as I’ve ever been in realizing I was both depressed and full of anxiety. As a result, I went through more flour and sugar than ever before. I may have set records. Around Thanksgiving time, I baked 16 loaves of pumpkin bread and gave them to every apartment on my floor – and then some. You don’t even want to know how many eggs and cans of pumpkin that took and how many times I washed my limited number of loaf pans.

We ate hardly any frozen pizza last year. I cooked and cooked and cooked, trying to communicate through food. I love you, my roommate. I know I’m a bear to live with right now, but I don’t know how not to be. I can barely handle myself. Have some garlic. It will get better. Ohhh, let me sauté that for you. 

It wasn’t even just about trying to prove that I wasn’t a horrible person – just a nice person going through a horrible time. I needed a way to cope, something through which to escape all the feelings I was having to deal with in and out of counseling. I needed to make something, to have control over something, to have something to show for my day. And actually, people are starting to say that baking is an effective treatment for depressed people.

The Wall Street Journal says, “Psychologists say cooking and baking are pursuits that fit a type of therapy known as behavioral activation. The goal is to alleviate depression by boosting positive activity, increasing goal-oriented behavior and curbing procrastination and passivity.”

See?

It’s proven.

Passivity. That’s kind of the opposite thing most people think of when they think of depressed people. You picture extreme sadness, don’t you? Weeping? That commercial where the woman has a heavy bathrobe she can’t take off – until she takes their particular anti-depressant? I pictured that before I became one of the number. “Depressed” is such a good word for it though, because basically, when I was in my darkest times, I felt like a pressed down version of myself, like I’d been deflated and put in a tiny Tupperware. It was hard to breathe, hard to do anything, and worst of all, I didn’t want to breathe or do anything.

But then there was the kitchen.

I didn’t realize until recently what a sanctuary it has become for me – even the mountains of dishes when I’m done with the actual creation. The satisfaction of watching my efforts – sometimes even deviating from recipes or cooking norms – become something edible and many times even tasty must be healing.

I don’t have any data to back that up. I don’t have statistics or dates when I started to feel better as a direct result of baking, but all I know is I didn’t feel like myself. But as I baked and cooked (and went to counseling and took medication and started talking about my emotions instead of bottling them up quite so much and journaled and sought out the company of people who would understand), I felt progressively more like myself. And I feel most like myself in the kitchen or at the table.

What a gift that not all therapy has to be electric shock or lobotomies. What a treasure that food can heal. I’m betting Jesus had something to do with that.

 

Finals week: defined in pictures.


Finals week. It’s becoming a cliché. We all use up our yearly quota of complaints in just a few days. We eat more junk food than we should and sleep less than we should and procrastinate more than normal.

That is, of course, unless you aren’t in college in the 21st century. Oh, you aren’t a millenial?

You don’t know what finals week is in this day and age?

It’s time for some meme education.finals rich

This is how many people feel during finals week. The stress of studying for an exam that is weighted to 50% of one’s grade induces hopelessness. The only solution? Do your best, and if you fail and end up unable to graduate (not that that is the normal course for those who fail finals, but we’re entitled to a little hyperbole here), you must find a neurosurgeon to hitch yourself to upon being kicked out of student housing.Jesus finals

Finals week reminds us all of the power of prayer. Take a deep breath, croak out, “Help, Jesus,” and feel better. It’s not like a cough drop – it’s a reminder that someone else is in control, and it’ll help us stay calm… until we forget again.finals pointing

This is the perpetual mantra. Finals week? Naturally you must forego everything but your studies. Give up sleep, friends, jobs, social work, the soup kitchen, your sanity, eating (unless it’s prepackaged and bad for you).emperor finals

Then we have the attitude of those who never study, even though they should. We all wonder why they’re in college. Sometimes we even ask them. They still feel the pressure of finals week, because this particular brand doesn’t want to fail – they just don’t want to put in any hard work.baby finals

This is how we all wish we felt – like we had a handle on all the things that are heading out way this week.elf finals

Let’s be real. No one says this. liam neesen finals

We’ve all had a metaphorical phone call from Liam Neeson. It’s dark, his voice is menacing, and terror ensues.
memes finals

Then there are those who complain without trying to actually accomplish anything. They are the ones I personally have little patience for.politicians finals

How we all expect the professors talk in their communal gatherings during the holiday season. “They thought it would be on material we actually covered! HA! What a lark!”ryan gosling finals

Sometimes we ladies send this to each other just as a reminder that some hunk somewhere believes in us. We all know Ryan Gosling has no idea that we exist, but it’s a nice thought that he cares about the average college woman.sleep finals week

Popular misconception. I always sleep during finals week – maybe less, maybe less soundly, maybe while tensing every part of my body so I wake feeling rather uncomfortable, but at least I sleep.time wisely

And then we get to the truth. Half of us right now are watching something we’ve already seen before on Netflix. A quarter of us are in the library (half of them are studying, the other half are just staring at their notes to try to download information without putting in effort). An eighth of us are in study groups, trying to make up for what we don’t understand by feeding off of others’ knowledge, and the other eighth of us are posting about our stress levels on social media.

No matter where we fall on the meme scale, we will survive this week. We might even thrive if we actually apply ourselves and keep on swimming.

To my fellow finals week sufferers: keep on keeping on. It will be Christmas soon.

Planner panic.


Let me lay out a little absurdity for you here.

I have never been without some direction in my life. I have never wanted for employment when I desperately needed it. There has always been a bed for me to sleep in and a roof over that bed. Even though it’s not part of the package when I signed up to follow Jesus, He has provided for all of these things in every stage of my life.

Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

I’ve been anxious lately. Panicky. One year from now, I’ll be headed out into the world with a piece of paper that says I’ve completed college, maybe even know something. Which world will I be headed into? What field of work will I apply for? Will I even have a job? Will I have three jobs? Will I live in my childhood bedroom? Will I live in Chicago? Will I actually escape the Midwest that I love so much (really, I do) for a warmer climate?

You get the idea. If you’ve ever graduated from anything, you can relate. If you’ve ever reached the end of something enormous, you can relate.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.

Sooooo, I’ve only been in school for the past sixteen years of my life. Now what?

You can tell I’m an anxious planner type because I’m still a year away from this and getting my stomach in knots about where and what and when and how much and with whom?

How much of this goodness and mercy can I count on? My fear isn’t that I’ll end up homeless or destitute, because it would have to be an act of God for all of my safety nets to fall. My fear is that I’ll be doing the wrong thing in the wrong place. What will make it wrong? If it isn’t the best.

Does goodness and mercy follow you if you misinterpret God’s will for your life? Does it follow you when you direct your steps through the valley of the shadow of death just because you weren’t totally sure which path to take, and this one looked bright at first?

I like that word, follow, but I’d rather do the following. I’d rather follow goodness and mercy, the Love that has lead me all the days of my life, into His house. Is it possible to want to follow so desperately and to get totally lost?

I’m putting my money in the bank account that says, “No, it isn’t possible to be incapable of following God into His plan for your life.”

I think that’s what the verse in Romans is for about God working everything out for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes. If I love God and am trying to follow Him, He honors that.

This one is mostly for me, to remind me that God cares more about where my heart is than that I’ve figured out His ten-step plan for me and am following it to the letter.

For those who can’t catch a break


Have you had one of those Mondays where you juuuust can’t catch a break, too?

Gotten to the station in time to see your train chugging away… twice? Made it home just in time to put the groceries away, grab a yogurt, clementine, and chocolate covered pretzels for dinner, and head to work, where you lock your stuff inside the door and have to go up and downstairs four times to get the key and return it?

Have you said, Jesus, I would like a break now. Can I catch one of those? Are there graces for me today?

And has He reminded you that the Spirit that is in you is greater than the one in the world? Has He reminded you that you are a fierce powerhouse of kindness, gentleness, perseverance, and love?

It makes your step a little firmer, your resolve a little more steady, your spirit less easily disheartened.

This is a pep talk.

If you’re about to head into finals at school, I feel you. For all the rest of you just living through this busy Advent season, I feel you, too. Can I remind you that cool air (which is a slight understatement for what we’re experiencing in the various parts of the Midwest I’ve been in recently… more like frigid) can fill your lungs with purpose? Can I suggest that in busy times we have more prompts to ask for help?

You’re a bull. You’re going to charge into whatever faces you this week. Mondays may be rough, but they can’t get you down. It wasn’t all bad, was it? There was that good conversation and that victory.

And for me, there will be dinner after this last half hour of work. There is this time where few people are coming in to the writing center, so I have time to get my work done.

We can do this. We can do more than just get through it. We can thrive in pressure, whether its our natural inclination or not.