On Solitude

Yesterday morning, I arrived at the coffee shop where I meet with my friend and coworker weekly for coffee and ministry discussions.  We’re both at a similar place in life — married and in ministry in the same small town, working with both our local churches and our para-church youth ministry.  We both look forward to this time to connect and talk and be encouraged by having a friend looking at life from a similar vantage point.  She happened to be running late due to her previous meeting running long, and I was presented, for the first time in a long time, with an empty spot of time in a coffee shop, Jack Johnson singing overhead…just me, a fresh cup of coffee, an empty journal page, and a stack of books.  All the while, my baby boy is rolling around in my belly, elbowing and kicking (ever-so-gently…thank you 21 weeks!)  reminding me that life as I know it is about to change in a drastic way.

I often get nostalgic when I’m alone in this particular coffee shop, because 7 1/2 years ago, when I interviewed for my ministry position in small-town Washington, I spent an afternoon alone, journalling at this same coffee shop, trying to discern if I would move to this town.  Over the years, the coffee shop has changed from a country-western theme to a more normal contemporary coffee shop, but the barrista and the coffee are still the same.  And 7 1/2 years later, it’s still me in the coffee shop, but it’s not the 22-year-old, recent college grad looking for the adventure of real life, it’s a 30-year-old, married, homeowning, mom-to-be.

Sitting in the same coffee shop, journal and pen in hand, feels grounding.  I suddenly feel centered and able to look at my life from a bird’s eye view, with a wide scape of understanding of where I’ve come from and been over the last 8 years.  I pull out Ruth Haley Barton’s Sacred Rhythms, which I’ve been reading slowly over the last 8 months with a spiritual mentor.  This month’s chapter is on discernment, which Barton describes a spiritual practice we use in combination with a self-examination, in which we take a bird’s eye view of our lives to assess where we are in regards to God’s will.

In the midst of this time and space, I’m aware of how much my soul longs for this kind of solitude, and how lately, I’ve not made it a priority.  In the course of just 45 minutes, my soul is refreshed, my heart inspired, and my spirit renewed with hope.  Again, baby boy kicks me, and I write in my journal, “4-5 more months, and then everything changes.”

I begin to wonder how a mom can have a morning alone in a coffee shop when there’s a baby to care for.  I wonder how a mom can make it to yoga class a few nights a week for physical rejuvenation.  I wonder how a mom can pursue motherhood, solitude, and a healthy marriage all at once.

The Lord doesn’t necessarily respond with a road map for these questions, but He does remind me that nothing can ever or will ever be able to replace time alone with Him.  And in the refreshing of my true self, I realize there’s nothing like the blessing of time in solitude with Him.  In my journal, I commit the next 4-6 weeks to actively pursuing the disciplines I’ve been reading about in Barton, through Solitude, Lectio Divina, Breath Prayer, Yoga and Self-Examination…all of which is a part of the process of transformation the Lord’s been calling me to this year: towards a deeper intimacy in relationship with Him which will hopefully lead to a deeper awareness of and discernment of His will.  This morning, Barton said that being open to God’s will means honestly being willing to be open to the Lord’s leading to anything–absolutely anything…and that solitude is the most important discipline in honing our understanding of His voice.

What does it look like for a mommy minister with young kids to pursue solitude?  I don’t know yet…but this morning I was wooed again to time alone with the Lord and firmly reminded that no matter how full life gets, solitude must still be a part of it.

Who’s Afraid of the Mommy Minister?

“You can lead a ministry, you can have babies, and you can take them to work. You can run an organization and still be a good wife and mother.”

No one had ever really told me that before. I mean, I think I’ve always believed it, but there honestly just aren’t that many women out there demonstrating that it’s possible. As my mentor, in her 50’s, shared this with me, my heart immediately responded, resting in the reassurance and confirmation that my desires are not misplaced and may actually be plausible.

For me, these desires include pursuing wifehood and motherhood while serving in roles of leadership of a church or non-profit. Also entangled in that is a desire and calling to be an ordained pastor, a role still only open to woman evangelicals in a small number of churches.

In the back of my mind, I always assumed that once I start having babies, I’d need to step down away from pursuing leadership. In my deep longings, I’d always hoped that being a mommy and a leader in a ministry was possible, but because of the influence of evangelical culture, I figured it’d be too hard or unhealthy. There’d be rejection and too many battles, and maybe I wouldn’t want to fight that hard. Maybe my kids would resent me.

My mentor was speaking to me from her experience, however, and so her words carried weight. She had been there, and she had taken her baby son to work while leading a successful ministry. The Lord had blessed it, and through it, she grew into a place of deep intimacy with Him. And she has a great relationship with her son. God made a way, and her influence grew, and she managed and led adult male leaders in a compassionate and humble way while raising a family.

She told me I could do it too, and she could see it for me…it wouldn’t be easy, but God could certainly make a way for me too.

So, delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart (Ps 37:4). Wifehood. Motherhood. Ministry. A Wife and Mommy leading the church? A Wife and Mommy shepherding leaders with a pack-and-play in her office? Is that something the evangelical church of America is ready for? Is that something I’m ready for?

How to Cook Good Food Inspired by Your Favorite Restaurants!

This afternoon, we went to our “Dinner for 6” dinner club group, and our friend said she was making Pasta e Fagioli inspired by the soup at Olive Garden that she likes.  In an effort to go along, I thought I’d shoot for an Olive Garden-inspired salad, only making it better by replacing romaine for the iceberg and leaving out the only food I can’t love: olives.

In the process, I found out about www.copykat.com, this lovely website that provides copy cat recipes of restaurant dishes.  How lovely!

So here’s the link to Olive Garden Salad.  I recommend replacing the iceberg with a romaine or green leaf lettuce.  Also, I substituted Newman’s Own Light Italian with a bit of salt and pepper added in lieu of the “real” Olive Garden dressing, which is probably much higher in sodium.

My friend used the recipe for Pasta e Fagioli from America’s Test Kitchen subsituting the bacon with italian sausage.  With a bit of parmesan sprinkled on top, it was a soup with incredible flavor.

The combination of the soup with the salad was a.maze.ing! So, next time you’re in the mood for Italian, I totally recommend this soup/salad combo…and next time you want to make a better version of your favorite restaurant dishes, try CopyKat!

The 2010 Highlight Reel

In celebration of a great year, here are my 2010 favorites:

  1. 2.5 years of marriage to husband and 4 years of building a relationship.
  2. The Ashland Shakespeare Festival.
  3. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
  4. National Parks: Yosemite, Arches, Canyonlands, Crater Lake, Mt. Rainier.
  5. Traveling with dear friends and both of our families.
  6. Starting a backyard garden and having it actually grow vegetables and then being able to eat the veggies!
  7. Discovering Ravelry (www.ravelry.com).
  8. Knitting.
  9. Friday Night Lights.
  10. Netflix Instant Queue.
  11. Enjoying the last year of our 20’s.
  12. Concerts: Shawn Colvin, Zoe Muth, Patty Griffin & Buddy Miller, the No Depression Fest.
  13. Playing Settler’s of Cataan, Munchkin, and Carcassonne.
  14. Getting closer to friends at church.
  15. YD’s 40th Anniversary Bash.
  16. Mentoring and sharing life with some fabulous teen girls.
  17. Traveling to San Diego for and incredible week with 13 teens.
  18. Our friend Katie surviving the Haiti earthquake and making a full recovery.
  19. Singing in 2 church musicals and growing as a singer.
  20. Joining the AFMC worship team.
  21. Watching Lost with Clay and Bethany.
  22. Starting yoga classes at Movement Arts.
  23. Goonies Weekend in Astoria.
  24. Starting Spiritual Direction meetings with an awesome mentor.
  25. Enjoying some of Seattle’s best sushi restaurants.
  26. Wedding weekends in Dallas, Houston, and Tampa.  Celebrating a new life for Brittany&Wilson, Dan&Tracy, and Matt&Kacy.
  27. Our church transitioning to a new Senior Pastor.
  28. Cabernet Sauvignon.
  29. Teaching from Andy Stanley, Craig Groeschel, and Henry Cloud.
  30. Women of Faith, especially Sheila Walsh.
  31. Successfully pulling off with my staff team: 8 fundraising dinners, Golf Marathon, the 40th Anniversary Celebration.
  32. Eating cake and watching Inception at the IMAX to celebrate 2 years of marriage.
  33. Smoked Gouda.
  34. Teavana.
  35. Sweet Potato Fries.
  36. Paradise Sushi in Arlington.  Dinner for 2 for under $20!
  37. Mae Phim’s (Thai) Crispy Garlic Favorite Chicken.
  38. Lunch Specials at Asian 1.
  39. Reading the Bible cover-to-cover with 9 teen girls and watching it come to life for them.
  40. Continuing to walk through life with my tri-mails, near-daily emails with 2 of my best friends.  Seasons of life change, but we continue to write and walk together after 10 years.
  41. Celebrating the births of best friends’ babies.
  42. That husband got 1st place in his fantasy football league.  (Not really a highlight for me, but funny to watch husband brag all day and giggle with glee at being victorious.)

So What’s Up With Seasonal Taste Buds?

What is it about changing seasons that changes taste buds?  No, I mean seriously…no one sits around at the beginning of August saying, “Give me some chili!”  We’re totally thinking “Hot Dog!  Hamburger!  Watermelon!”  But in November, it’s all about the chili, the cider, and the pumpkin-spiced everything.

Some of this is obvious, because hello, fruits and vegetables are (or at least they used to be) seasonal.   But it’s not like Hamburgers are seasonal…so why, in this day and age when we can have strawberries in January and cantaloupe in April and pomegranates any day of the year, do we still have any seasonal ebb and flow to our tastebuds?

I noticed this weirdness this morning, as it was pouring down horrible, horrible cold and horrible rain, was how I immediately thought, “I want a peppermint white chocolate mocha.”  What is it about cold and rainy weather that screams “GIVE ME PEPPERMINT!”

My best guess is that it’s a link to memories…an entire childhood of buying the first available box of candy canes I could get my hands on…the memory of a chilly weekend in November visiting NYU with a good friend and curling up in a corner of Starbucks with a peppermint mocha…and now, on an uncomfortable dreary day, for $4.00, I can buy a bit of reassurance and a link to the past.

My second guess is that we still love tradition at the holidays.  We love the sights and smells and flavors that belong to this time of year.  To drink peppermint mochas in June erodes the value of drinking peppermint mochas in December.  We love the significance we give to the seasons when we put away the barbeque grill, but pull out the pumpkin pie; we say goodbye to the last bit of Christmas leftovers, with no intention to prepare the dishes for another 12 months, because to do so would reduce their special role in the holiday tradition.

And somehow, the corporations know this…they know that if they put candy canes at the checkouts in November, I can’t help myself.  They know that if they take away McRib and suddenly bring it back one day, that suddenly I’m compelled to want a McRib simply because I remember enjoying eating them as an 8-year-old. (GROSS.)

Really, a few minutes after beginning this reflection, my main conclusion is that I should be careful in the seasonal traditions I establish with my own family, because I don’t accidentally want to be stuck eating McRibs as our holiday tradition just because it links to some fantastic memory we all had of eating McRibs together.  Which reminds me…Christmas this year is in a time-share in Florida, but, well, it won’t be Christmas without the sausage and cheese casserole, so…we can’t forget to pack the recipe. 😉

Shopping Can Change Lives

Lately my ears perk up when I hear the word “microenterprise.” What is microenterprise? It’s the idea that by giving someone a small amount of capital, she can use the cash to invest in a business that allows her to create a product or service to support her family. Overseas, a microloan of a few hundred dollars can transform lives.

There are tons of organizations out there involved in this work. I purchased my first microloan through World Vision, when brother and I bought presents for our family from the World Vision catalog one Christmas. The big one I know about is Kiva, which has given away $150 million in microloans in just 5 years of business. (Wall Street Journal, 10/22/2010).

The one I think about the most is a microeconomics organization that’s now a part of the Free Methodist Church, called Heavenly Treasures (HT).  We first met the peeps from HT last June at our annual FMC Leadership Summit.  Heavenly Treasures is helping people all over the globe setup their own business to create products which they are selling at conferences, in specialty shops, and online.  On my first visit to one of their shops, I was blown away at the quality of the goods, and went

on to discover that their founder works with the local artisans to help them create products that will appeal to Westerners and thereby increase their earnings.

I think about HT most days, as I carry around this beautiful hippie bag knapsack with an embroidered sequined elephant, through which I invested $20 into the life of the woman in Thailand who created it.  HT’s slogan is, “Every product represents a changed life.”

Anyways, Christmas, the season of giving gifts to loved ones is around the corner, and so I just wanted to give a shout out on behalf of the incredible products at Heavenly Treasures, which you can buy online, and which I’ve found to be both beautiful and high-quality. And the cool part is you can tuck a brochure in with the gift and give your sweetie the knowledge that this gift improved the life of a stranger so much more than and equivalent made-overseas-piece bought from the mall.  Whereas when we shop at Target or The Gap, the person who made that piece is seeing pennies of it, at Heavenly Treasures, 100% of that money is being reinvested in the business that created it.

So, go  check out Heavenly Treasures online and change a life through your shopping this Christmas!  Your friends and family will love you for it, and you’re doing a really, really cool thing.  So.  Go do it.  Right now.  What are you waiting for?  Seriously, go.  *Click*

Tiny Cute Things as an Temporary Antidote for the Late-Fall Blues

It’s usually about this time each year, when it’s pitch black by 5pm, and the morning commute is foggy and gray, that my own little version of Seasonal Affective Disorder sets in, and I turn to my two late-fall vices: espresso and yarn.  Such are my drugs of choice, forcing my body to greet the day with a heavy dose of caffeine each morning, and pulling out my latest creative project each night in order to feel some small bit of joy and productivity while I cope with 6 or so hours trapped in our 850 square feet of apartment with a husband who loves to assuage his own Seasonal Affective Disorder by chasing radioactive mutant ants with an axe.*

This weekend, I was thrilled to finish a project that’s been in the works since we visited Astoria, Oregon in June for the 25th Anniversary of Goonies, and I picked up this incredible little crochet book on tiny and incredibly cute Japanese stuffed animals.  It’s referred to as Amigurumi because apparently, in Japanese, there’s a whole word devoted specifically to what we would refer to as, “incredibly cute and tiny crocheted stuffed animals.”  (Who KNEW?!  What an incredible language, and even more incredible people group because of their intense love for tiny and cute stuffed crocheted animals!)  Soon after purchasing the book, I decided to use its contents to create a special gift for my college roommates little girl and little girl on-the-way.

And thus the journey began.  5 months of working on these tiny cuties off and on, and finally this weekend, I was able to package them up and ship them to two little girls in Iowa under the auspices of “sister stuffed animals” to celebrate the blessing of sisters.  It was hard to say goodbye, because I seriously fell in love with these “Frogs on Holiday” and “Piggies in Love,” but I must say, I coped a bit better than I did the last time I made a stuffed object and ended up writing a song about how sad I was to give it away.  (The song, and stuffed object were aptly named, “Little John Lennon,” and while it may seem like an interesting story, worthy of you asking more questions and this blog getting trapped in some insignificant rabbit trail, it is not the story for today.  Maybe someday, if you’re lucky, I’ll introduce you to LJL next time I’m back in Ohio, where he currently resides.)

Because I love these guys sooo much, I needed to share them with you. So, here they are…tiny guys made of yarn, who are currently trapped in a box in the middle of Kansas, totally stoked for their new life with a fabulous child to love.  *Queue the Toy Story score and commence weeping.*

*While this is a general reference to husband’s overall love of video games, particularly those of the 1st person shooter variety, this season, it’s in particular reference to Fallout: New Vegas, which has been on active duty in our house since mid-October.