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Allison Althoff
Allison Althoff
Natalie Lederhouse
Natalie Lederhouse

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April 30, 2013

God is My Refuge and Strength

When our marriage went cold, my greatest source of comfort came from this passage of Scripture

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Last winter, as the snow fell and life became barren, my marriage followed suit. I can't pinpoint what changed. Perhaps it came from years of issues we thought were resolved yet really stayed just below the surface, ready to jump back to the forefront whenever we got into a fight. Maybe it came as a result of the fact that I was working on a big project that demanded more of my time and energy. Maybe it was the seven-year itch I'd heard others warn me about. I can't say. All I know is that everything in our relationship changed and I didn't like it. More accurately, I didn't like my husband. I voiced my complaints. Loudly.

My closest friends knew everything my husband said or did that most affected me. Allen heard all about my heartache and disappointment. He began to feel hopeless and his level of confidence plummeted. As my finger wagged and triggered his insecurities, he retaliated, unconsciously trying to bring me down to where I took him. We began our dance on broken glass.

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April 11, 2013

Find God's Will for Your Life

Why it is important to pay attention to who he made you to be

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There are few things more attractive, more noticeable, than someone who's pursuing an activity she loves and is good at. We've all had the remarkable experience of sitting in a classroom listening to a teacher who engages and awakens the deepest parts of who we are. I have a friend who runs a gardening service, and as I listen to him talk about keeping a family's yard looking nice, the joy and skill he brings to what he does are obvious. You find your gifts by paying attention to who God made you to be.

What gives you life? What are you good at? What do you love to do? What consistent patterns are noticeable in you that may be clues to your design and calling? Before he met Christ, the apostle Paul was an activist and a zealot—an articulate opponent of the church. When he met Christ, he continued to be an activist and a zealot, but he changed for whom he worked. Acts 9:20 says he at once began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. He didn't change who he was by design, but he did change the Lordship in his life.

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April 8, 2013

Spring Cleaning for My Soul

I set out to clean my closets, but God had a bigger decluttering project in mind.

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Every April, I think a lot about spring cleaning. Visions of closets filled with neatly organized bins in trendy designs dance in my mind. I picture my desk completely cleaned off with only a few tidy, colored-coordinated piles. I even smile thinking about wiping down the miles of wood baseboards in our 1920s home.

But thinking about it is as far as it goes. At the end of the day, the task is just too daunting because I have way too much stuff. I have a room full of crafting supplies, a closet filled with an embarrassing number of clothes, and boxes of books that never got unpacked after our last move.

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March 29, 2013

Thankless for the Cross

I'm learning to see Easter as less about my sin and depravity, and more about the holy perfection of Jesus.

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Every year I feel like Easter sneaks up on me. You might feel the same way. Maybe it’s because you haven’t had a break since Christmas. Maybe it’s because March Madness takes over your entire life at this time of year. Maybe it’s because of something entirely different. But I don’t think that’s the case for me. I have a bigger issue than that.

I’ve been a Christian for almost my entire life. Every year Easter comes and goes, and I seldom ever get emotionally distraught over the act of Christ’s death on the cross for my sins. I acknowledge it and am grateful for it, but I rarely see myself as the death-sentenced person that I am because of my sins.

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March 25, 2013

Because He is Faithful

Easter reminds us that even when we doubt, God is faithful.

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As I walk through Holy Week this year, I have to admit I am a little nervous. Every year I eagerly anticipate these final steps on the path to Easter Sunday, and relish the chance to walk through Christ’s final days as part of the local and global church. But this year is different. I have spent the past few months walking alongside friends experiencing doubt, and understanding what doubt looks like in my own faith. As Holy Week has drawn closer, a small part of me has been wondering if the celebration of Christ’s victory over death will lose its power over the unresolved questions floating around in my head.

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March 11, 2013

Back to the Basics

Why I'm praying for an authentic prayer life

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I’m an introvert, so one of the hardest things in the world for me is initiating conversation. Icebreaker activities fall in a list of my top ten least favorite things to do, along with hailing a waiter for the check, mingling at high school reunions, and job interviews. Essentially, when I’m in a situation that necessitates interaction with strangers or acquaintances, I become a feverish, panic-stricken mess. I feel like a shell of myself, disengaged from the connections I’m supposed to be making, intensely aware that this is not something I’m good at. My capacity for creating competent sentences evaporates, and I worry that every word I utter sounds moronic.

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January 30, 2013

Perpetual Pursuit

God continues to seek us even after we begin following him.

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Have you ever read something in the Bible that made you wonder why it was ever included? Consider the story of the prophet Hosea: God tells him to marry a prostitute (Hosea 1:2).

So Hosea marries Gomer, who has a wandering eye—and body. She continually runs from Hosea, who continually pursues her and brings her back into relationship with him.



I don’t know if you’ve been lucky enough to hear a sermon on or to study the book of Hosea, but it really is a beautiful picture of grace—well, beautiful might not be the right word. Hosea’s relationship with Gomer is an illustration for God’s relationship with us. Just like Gomer, we’ve gone astray. And the fact is that just as Hosea pursues Gomer regardless of who she is or what she does, God continually pursues us, seeking a relationship.

So the story of Hosea really is a great story about God’s grace and love for us.

Blah blah blah.

Great.

Hosea and Gomer’s story is a touching one—unless you’ve heard it so many times before, it starts to feel stale. And that’s exactly how I was feeling. After all, I’d been following Christ for 11 years. I already had a relationship with God. I wasn’t Gomer.

So as my pastor spoke on Hosea two weeks ago, I settled in for a sermon I’d heard many times before. You know how it goes: God wants to be in relationship with you. So much that he sent his Son who died a terrible death. And there’s nothing you can do to earn the grace he’s offering; you simply have to accept it.

But that wasn’t the sermon.

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January 21, 2013

Sticking With Love

Here are a few reasons why, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., love should always win over hate.

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It was summer. It was Maine. It was Sunday. So my dad, a U. S. army reservist on a two-week hitch in the small town of Bangor, decided to do what he always did on Sundays. He went to church.

He didn’t know anybody in the small congregation. As a black man, he didn’t expect the few churchgoers to fall over themselves to welcome him. But this was the Sixties. This was Maine. And this was Sunday. So the last thing he expected is what happened.

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January 16, 2013

Powerful Prayers for Peace and Rest

Life can easily spiral out of control, but not when prayer becomes a priority.

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It was late when I finally finished eating dinner. Tired and bleary-eyed from a long week at work, I opened the kitchen cupboard to put away my spaghetti leftovers and stopped suddenly.

What am I doing?

I shook my head and laughed and put the food in the refrigerator where it belonged. I was exhausted. The past few months had been a whirlwind, and tension was taking its toll. Of course, putting Italian food in the wrong place was the least of it. Most nights I was up late working, folding laundry, or doing “one more thing” before going to bed, wondering why the days were so long and the nights so short.

I don’t think I’m the only one who has too much to do and never enough time. Indeed, we are a generation of busy people; working hard but hardly living. Getting enough rest, replenishing rest, is often at the bottom of our priority lists.

But why?

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January 14, 2013

In the Shadow of Death

To survive I need hope, so if faith and the hope of life beyond the grave is a crutch for the weak, sign me up.

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My grandmother is dying.

When she passes, she will leave my father an orphan, joining my mother who’s been an orphan for 23 years. The “next line of defense” will have passed on, ushering my parents one step closer to eternity.

Ushering me one step closer.

Gram, as I call her, has been suffering. Her 89-year-old, weak body has been starved to the point that it has begun to eat itself, leaving her at 70 pounds. She has a bit of dementia, and when she looks at a photo of my grandfather and her, she claims that she knows them but can’t quite place who they are.

When I saw her the week before Christmas, she still knew me. I held her cup of sweet tea as she sipped it and gently rubbed her hands and silently prayed that she wouldn’t linger.

Death is a terrible reality. And we can do absolutely nothing to stop it. We can only sit by helplessly and watch it speed up the clock, as the future becomes the present, which too quickly becomes the past.

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January 7, 2013

What Are You Waiting For?

I started the new year jobless, and have been learning what it means to wait and trust in the Lord.

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A few weeks ago I made what might be called a careless and foolish decision: in a time of economic uncertainty and at a stage of life that has me screaming for stability (read: mid-20s), I quit my job.

It made for some uncomfortable discussions when family or friends would ask me about my plans for the beginning of 2013.

“Um, to be determined?” I would say sheepishly.

But if it was poor planning on my part, it has been perfect timing on God’s. In propelling me toward an exit, God is challenging me to put my hope back in his promises—promises that begin with the birth of the Savior.

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December 12, 2012

Cultivating Time Alone with God

God is asking us to come near to him, so what’s keeping us from taking time to recharge and allow God to speak to us?

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Have you ever been to a place so amazing, you wished that someone you loved was with you? Maybe it was the beauty or the peacefulness or the fun, but you wanted so badly for them to experience what you were experiencing. You just knew how much they would love it, and how happy they’d be if they had come.

This is how I feel about my time with God. Moments spent in his presence, with his word, and with all of my attention. I have so much to learn from him, so many things he wants to show me, I can’t help but want this for everyone. It might sound strange because, granted, not every time I’m with him is a glorious event.

Sometimes I’m overwhelmed with my sin, sometimes I’m hurting, and sometimes I just feel blah about everything. But I think you can recognize that this is like any good relationship. Our deepest bonds are with people who have walked with us through life, with its messiness and highs and lows. God wants to walk with us like this.

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December 3, 2012

Expecting Jesus This Advent

When Christ came to earth as a baby, he chose to enter into every aspect of our lives. Have you consciously let him into yours?

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In November I bought an Advent calendar for my kids, in keeping with family tradition. Behind each window is a small piece of chocolate and a Scripture verse that tells a little of the Christmas story.

When all the windows are closed, the calendar depicts a lovely scene: Mary and Joseph and a few tidy shepherds huddle closely around a well-fed baby, cozy under a pile of blankets, surrounded by fresh hay. Two suspiciously medieval kings kneel before him, and a well-behaved sheep looks on. The group has artistically arranged itself in front of an elegant redbrick-and-stone stable that, while rustic, looks to have been cleaned recently. The night is clear and star-lit—all is calm, and all is bright.

If the savior of the world had to be born in ancient times, this is where he should have been born, right? After all, cleanliness is next to godliness—these are his kind of shepherds.

Or are they?

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November 26, 2012

Does Doubt Have a Place in the Church?

I found my suspicions were necessary for my faith. Here’s why.

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I remember lying on my bed on my 16th birthday, staring at the ceiling through tears, and admitting to the wide-eyed parents standing in my doorway that I just couldn’t believe in God anymore. We’d just had an argument, and somehow the conversation led to the real issue: the doubt that had crept into my heart over the past year.

The minute the words left my mouth, I felt honest and empty. The façade of a safe, “Sunday school” faith was gone forever.

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November 8, 2012

How I Freed Myself from Biblical Limits

What I do when I get trapped in the pharisaical maze of having to do everything right.

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It was nearing eight o’clock, and my sinful flesh was screaming for me to catch up on Grey’s Anatomy before drifting off to dreamland. On this particular evening, I nearly skipped my Beth Moore Bible study lesson, but something, or more accurately, someone, kept nagging at me.

I knew I’d feel guilty if I chose McDreamy over McSavior, so my Bible study won by default, and I proceeded to take part in a lesson on the meaning of diligently seeking God.

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November 5, 2012

Is “Overthinking” a Blessing or a Curse?

How I turned my excitable stream of consciousness into a daily devotional practice.

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I used to think I had an overactive mind, like it was some kind of disorder. It just never seemed to turn off. One day after a particularly obnoxious amount of thinking, I googled overactive mind disorder. When no legitimate medical results popped up within the first page of search results, I breathed a sigh of relief.

With a clear prognosis, I perused the rest of the results and found I was in good company. Though I don’t share all their worries and concerns, the Google search returned hundreds of stories from people whose overactive minds made my excitable stream of consciousness seem mild.

Anyway, all of this is to say I over-think things. A lot. But when all I hear is my own voice repeating my own problems over and over, I have little space to hear God’s voice and the encouragement and direction he has for each day.

To help create margin in my cluttered mind and so I can better experience the presence of God throughout my day, I’ve developed some strategies:

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October 18, 2012

The Surprising Blessing of Inconvenience

How a slower pace of life has filled my spirit.

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For 13 years, I was a busy pastor’s wife living a normal and active life of ministry in Illinois. Then God called my husband and me to minister in Zambia.

We have now moved halfway across the world, and everything has changed for us. I’m still busy with ministry, but through the process of adjusting to life in a radically different culture, I’ve learned some valuable lessons about the pace of life.

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October 11, 2012

Suffering 101: The Required Class We Wish We Could Ditch

When life provides us with unwelcome doses of pain, do we cling to God or run away?

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I must admit I wasn’t thrilled a few weeks back when my husband signed us up for an upcoming class at church. . .on the Book of Job.

The teacher is great and the fellowship will be fantastic. But Job?

That book is all about suffering. It’s about horribly difficult questions about pain and heartache and God not intervening or, even worse, playing an apparently complicit role in that suffering. It doesn’t have the ending I want—the ending in which God answers the hard questions and, poof!, turns back the hands of time to magically erase all the suffering. No, Job wades right into the deep, dark muck of pain—the muck I strive hard to avoid.

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October 1, 2012

Insignificant

I went on vacation ready to fix my grandiose life. God had other plans.

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Two weeks ago, I headed to a beach house in North Carolina with my pregnant sister, her husband, a couple of their closest friends, and my dearest friend in the whole world, Steph. It would be my first real vacation in years, and I was ready to, in addition to having extremely long, productive, life-changing quiet times with God, accomplish several personal goals, including regular morning runs, a tan for my pasty Irish skin, the consumption of healthy food, and at least five edifying novels during my time on the beach.

The only goal I managed to achieve of the 10 I initially set for myself was to stay off the internet.

In all other aspects, I was a total failure.

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July 23, 2012

Spiraling into Insecurity

I know God loves me . . . so why do I feel so insecure?

Ever been there?

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We can be moving through life swimmingly with a confidence in God’s love, a vibrant faith, and a healthy sense of self-worth and then, boom!, seemingly out of nowhere we’re hit. Suddenly we’re spiraling down into a nosedive of insecurity. One minute we felt fine, but now we feel ________ (fill in the blank: unlovable, ugly, imperfect, misunderstood, insignificant, fat, lonely, out of place, unworthy, unimportant).

Surprisingly, for many of us, it doesn’t take much to prompt a plunge into insecurity. Even women who’ve made great strides in this area can still find themselves caught off guard by a sudden slip into a lack of self-confidence. It’s a spiritual danger we must actively battle so it doesn’t catch us unaware. One critical way to be on guard is to be more aware of what triggers our insecurities in the first place.

Consider these common triggers:

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May 14, 2012

Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

Figuring out our responsibility to care for and serve others

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Cain certainly isn’t on my “Top 10 Inspiring Heroes” from the Bible list. But if I’m honest, he’s on another of my lists: “Big-time Sinners in the Bible I Can really Relate To.”

It’s not the jealousy or the murder that I connect with; rather it’s that self-justifying question he tosses back to God that jumps off the page and often echoes in my own thoughts: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9, NIV).

Cain’s motivations in this defiant interchange with the Almighty are as complicated as any twisting and turning modern-day crime novel.

When I have this attitude, on the other hand, my motivation is pretty simple: I’m aiming to justify a self-focused life.

Let me be honest: There are plenty of days when just “keeping” my own life running—and “keeping” my beloved family—are about all I feel I can handle!

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April 10, 2012

The Best Time I Failed at Lent

I beat myself up over my weakness, but then I discovered an important aspect of Lent and Easter that I hadn’t realized before.

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Over the past week, I read a book. This should be a simple statement, but for me it’s somehow not. When I look back over my past week, I wonder where it went. For a few days, I totally rearranged my life in order to maximize reading opportunities. I ate at my desk so I could devote my full lunch hour to uninterrupted reading, and one day I brought a change of clothes so I wouldn’t have to backtrack home between work and my evening plans and I could get a few extra minutes with my book on a nice park bench. I may have even said no to a social invitation or two because, when it came down to it, all I wanted to do was go home and curl up on the couch with my book.

This isn’t a unique experience for me. In fact, it’s happened at least three times in the past 40 days. Oops.

You see, about 40 days ago I committed myself to spending at least one full, uninterrupted hour with God each day during Lent. I picked one hour because it sounded like enough time to force me to rearrange my schedule. I needed to shake things up, and this “radical” commitment was, I thought, the perfect way to do it. It would look like . . . well, like my other, non-biblical reading turned out looking.

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April 3, 2012

Avoiding the Cross

It’s so much easier—and less painful—not to think about the reality of what Jesus went through. And yet, it’s essential.

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Violence really gets to me. My husband often laughs at my reaction to movie scenes, TV shows, and CSI commercials: gasping, covering my eyes, and cowering in fetal position at sights that to him (and probably most of America) seem relatively mild. Even hard tackles during NFL games set my teeth on edge!

And so the Cross—the mind-numbingly painful and brutal reality of it all—well, it’s hard for me to swallow.

Several years back when The Passion of the Christ came out on DVD, we bought a copy. My bright idea was to watch it every Good Friday as an aid in contemplating Christ’s suffering and death.

It literally took me four years to follow up on that idea. For four Good Fridays in a row, despite my determination to go through with it, I just couldn’t bring myself to watch it. (I’d seen it in the theater, so I knew—very distinctly—what I was avoiding.)

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March 20, 2012

When My “Stuff” Gets in the Way of Helping Others

Am I really attending to my friend’s hurts or hindering her from getting the help and comfort she needs?

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Imagine this. A friend calls you upset and in need of help. She invites you to her house—something she’s never done in the many years you’ve known her.

You pull up to the quaint house with a nicely manicured lawn, you walk to the front door, and ring the door bell. Within a few moments your friend answers. Her face is red and splotchy. It’s clear she’s been crying.

As you step into her house you immediately notice how dark and smelly it is. All the shades are drawn and a single lamp lights her large living room. Mildew and dust mix in the air and flood your nostrils with stench. Once your eyes adjust you notice piles of books, newspapers, and magazines stacked up along each wall. The end table near the couch is covered with used tissues. A bowl of moldy food sits on the floor.

What stirs up inside you?

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January 31, 2012

The Surprising Delight of Confession

There’s something freeing when we call sin what it is in our lives.

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A few years ago amid swirling rumors of Tiger Woods’ infidelities, newsman Brit Hume waded in with a bold claim about Christianity: “The extent to which [Tiger] can recover seems to me depends on his faith. . . . I don’t think [Buddhism] offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. My message to Tiger would be, ‘Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.’”

Many were up in arms about Hume’s direct on-air promotion of Christianity—but what struck me most was the aspect of Christian faith that Hume drew attention to. It wasn’t God’s love or how we’re made in God’s image or even about God’s wonderful plan for your life. It was the desperate need we sinners have for forgiveness and redemption.

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October 24, 2011

Thoughts on Death

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Two months ago I started spending my Thursday afternoons at a nearby nursing home. I visit a woman named Millie who will probably not live much into next year. Since we spend most of our time in the common room, I end up interacting with staff members and other residents as well, and as Millie rarely speaks in more than short, nonsensical phrases and questions, I spend much of the time observing the room at large.

The nursing home is a sad place. Residents generally have some degree of dementia or some other mental disability. Millie often cries, seemingly out of the blue. She buries her wrinkled, mournful face in her cupped, knotty hands. Her shoulders shake. I wish I could know what specifically makes her sad, but asking questions doesn’t get me far. This week I’m going to take her some photos of my puppy. Maybe they’ll make her feel happy, at least for a time.

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September 27, 2011

The Neglected Spiritual Practice

Why do we so often forget the importance and power of celebration?

I was a typical new mom, meticulously recording milestones, photographing every possible facial expression and pose, and religiously recording it all in a scrapbook for my bouncing baby boy. That, of course, was baby number one.

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August 9, 2011

Forced to Face My Issue with Grace

How God used my gallbladder to show me an area in my life that needed work

After a year of having an on-again, off-again “funny stomach” that I blamed on bad food or bad-for-me food or a passing flu, I woke up one morning with excruciating pain just under my right rib cage.
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A few hours later it passed, but I knew I couldn’t blame the episode on bad food or the flu. Within a few weeks I saw several doctors who concluded that my gallbladder was the culprit. Surgery was scheduled, but in the meantime I still had graduate classes, work, and household duties.

It was difficult to keep up with my responsibilities. The pain was so strong sometimes that all I could do was lie still, nibbling on crackers to try to settle my stomach. Additionally, I was relearning what I could and couldn’t eat, which meant I spent a lot of time worrying about what I’d eat at weekly work lunches and how that would affect me. Plus there were all the doctor appointments. I had blood drawn at least once a week for months and saw four different doctors during the ordeal.

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August 1, 2011

A Narrative Problem

Our stories can define us in both good ways and bad. Too often I was choosing the bad.

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Not long ago, I found myself telling a new friend an old story.

It’s a pretty good story, as stories go. In it, I’m the wise, intrepid heroine who navigates an especially tricky matter of the heart with resilience and aplomb. Despite tragedy, heartache, and loss, I emerge on the other side a little sadder, but a lot stronger, with help from mother wit, some swinging jazz standards, and the occasional pint of Ben & Jerry’s Coffee Heath Bar Crunch.

At least that’s how I thought it sounded when I began.

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December 6, 2010

Singing of Mother Mary

In our efforts to differentiate ourselves from unbiblical approaches to Mary, have we swung the pendulum too far the other direction?

I used to feel an inner struggle whenever I’d hum or sing the famous Beatles’ song “Let It Be.” I loved the tune, and I really liked the general message of the song . . . except for that darn, pesky line about “mother Mary” coming and urging the songwriter (Paul McCartney) to simply “let it be.” The idea of Mary showing up to give the Beatles advice seemed like just one more wrong, off-the-rocker example of Marian mythology in our culture. As an evangelical, I always felt it was my duty to shrug off and fastidiously avoid anything mystical, magical, mythical, or even remotely special regarding Mary.

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November 9, 2010

How Great a Father’s Love

It even extends to our hair

Lately, I can’t stop watching the Sesame Street video, “I Love My Hair.” The video, which debuted last month, features a cute little African-American Muppet who dances around the screen, singing about her hair:

“Don’t need a trip to the beauty shop/’cause I love what I got on top/It’s curly and it’s brown/ and it’s right up there/You know what I love?/That’s right! I love my hair.”

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September 14, 2010

An Object Lesson in Perseverance

Not everything in life goes to the swift and strong

For me, fall means more than spicy baked goods, craft fairs, or a wardrobe change. After a summer off, autumn means returning to part-time study in my graduate program. And this quarter, that comes with an extra challenge: Most of the people I started my program with have graduated.

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June 29, 2010

Swatches of Hope

How do we connect what feels like abstract hope to the concrete problems we see?

For a few weeks now, I’ve been carrying around some unusual symbols of hope: a small stack of paint swatches in a wrinkled plastic grocery bag.

I’d been looking for a new place to live—someplace close enough to work and school to shorten a soul-draining daily commute. A good space for having friends over, with enough room for a little dog, and a small balcony where I can read on warm summer nights. A space with walls I can paint whatever color I want.

Finding that space has taken more than a year—a long year full of appointments and paperwork squeezed around all of my regular responsibilities. As time has ground on, the idea of having a home has started to feel more abstract than concrete. I know intellectually that eventually I’ll fax the last mound of papers, write the last check, get the keys, and move in, but I didn’t feel connected to that reality.

So a few weeks ago, I went to the hardware store on a mission to find some paint swatches. I figured that having some small reminders of the joy I’d feel once I had my own place would help me feel encouraged and connected, even as I slogged along.

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June 1, 2010

When I Was in a Besieged City

We are not alone in our fears.

Hopefully you’ve tasted the blessedness of bringing sin into the light of Christ’s love and the fellowship of gracious believers. The step of coming out of the shadows is a challenging one to take—to show we are empty, crooked, and dark. And sometimes even seeing this darkness in us takes a long time; sin desensitizes us as it often subtly invades. And for different reasons, sin causes us to lose some connection to the life outside of our broken selves. This, I believe, is the scariest part.

In the same way that sin curls us inward and slowly silences us, so does fear and anxiety. The places in us that are governed by worry and panic take control of our minds and suck our attentions and demeanors into that darkness. And as with sin, the more we invest in our fears, the more we nourish them.

For the last four years, I’ve been struggling with the darkness of anxiety. Where I once relegated those consumed-with thoughts about death to the fringe Goth kids in my high school, I’ve come to wonder at anyone who doesn’t interpret day-to-day goings on through a sharp awareness of mortality. I am constantly expecting the next tragedy that will turn my life upside-down—the news or the accident that will change my course completely and break my heart.

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May 11, 2010

Finding My Own Voice

How do I deal with the confusion of singing versus lip-synching through life?

I almost always spend part of my long daily commute listening to the radio or my iPod. I usually sing along: scatting with Ella Fitzgerald, rocking out with Robert Randolph, or attempting those strong, soaring notes with Aretha Franklin.

Lately, though, I’ve noticed an odd development: from time to time, I notice myself lip-synching rather than singing along to the music.

I haven’t analyzed this development enough to notice any sort of pattern here: for example, whether I mouth the words to gospel songs or jazz riffs, whether I bow out when it’s time to hit the high notes during the bridge of a power pop ballad, or whether I start out strong, then fade away. I just find that, without noticing it, I’ve stopped making any sound.

What makes this especially strange to me is that I have a passable singing voice. While you won’t see me on American Idol or Gospel Dream anytime soon, I have a soft but steady Bapticostal soprano, and I’ve often led songs as part of a choir.

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March 2, 2010

My Daniel Fast

I never imagined everything that I’d realize about myself

A few Mondays ago, I inhaled deeply as the warm, earthy scent of brewing coffee wafted gently over several rows of cubicles and wandered toward my nose. I can usually smell coffee brewing, but on this particular day the scent was so strong I could almost see it meandering around the corner and swirling around me, like in a scene from a cartoon.

I stepped over to my desk and flipped open a small black notebook I’d placed next to my keyboard. Uncapping a pen, I wrote the first thing that came to mind:

8:15. Smelling coffee. ARRGH.

That Monday was Day 1 of a 10-day Daniel fast my church was participating in. Inspired by Daniel 10:3, in which Daniel determines to forgo “choice food” in order to demonstrate humility before the Lord and to gain understanding, our pastors called us to eat simple foods for 10 days, and to add additional prayer and Bible study to our daily routines. Refined foods, sugar, dairy, and yeast were out, in favor of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts. Also on the “no” list? Caffeine.

The journal I kept during the first couple days records my adjustment to the routine in stream-of-consciousness style.

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January 6, 2010

Becoming a Godmother

Two godly women gave me powerful examples of how to shape a child’s life.

Not long ago, my sister and brother-in-law asked me to serve as their son’s godmother. Over a series of text messages with the attendant abbreviations and emoticons, we discussed the responsibility of caring for my nephew’s physical, spiritual, and intellectual development.

I couldn’t help but smile over the idea of having such a serious conversation through the casual medium of text messages. Still, given the experiences my three siblings and I had with our godparents, it seemed appropriate. Our godmothers and godfathers were members of the church we attended, so their presence in our lives was as ordinary and frequent as a Sunday service at our church in Boulder, Colorado. At the same time, these remarkable Christian adults were deeply intentional about showing us special care.

My godmothers, whom we call Aunt Jewell and Grandma Innis, entered our lives as if they’d always been there. My mother describes the ease and care with which Aunt Jewell held me at Bible study when I was a newborn. “She held you like you were her own,” she always says when recounting the story. That convinced my parents that she was the godparent they’d been looking for. A few years later, during my sister’s dedication, Grandma Innis stepped forward, and, with the gentle authority of a seasoned church mother, said simply, “I am the grandmother.”

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November 3, 2009

The Monthly Visitor

Why I’m grateful for the intense sadness that accompanies my menstrual cycles.

I’m grateful for my period. And not just because it proves the possibility of new life and distinguishes me as a woman. I’ve actually become thankful for the emotional instability that sensitizes the handful of days surrounding my menstrual cycles.

For the first years of my period, I noticed few symptoms of pre-menstrual syndrome. But I remember sitting alone in my dorm room my freshman year of college and crying about—literally—starving children in Africa. Even I was caught off-guard by the experience. My period started three days later.

I’ve continued to grow more emotionally fraught around the time of my period. Much of my emotional instability during this time feels pathetic and can quickly become embarrassing. It’s hilarious, actually, as I like to think of myself as laid back, secure, self-actualized. I suppose there’s benefit to having that mirror shattered on such a regular basis.

But present within my spectrum of extreme emotions is sadness. Just sadness. And sometimes this sadness isn’t disembodied or irrational. It’s appropriate sadness: sadness for things and situations that deserve to be grieved.

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August 4, 2009

Dead Tree Blooming

Almost every day I pass a certain field. It?s pretty wide open in the center, with some sort of oak trees and some kind of palm trees scattered here and there, which is an odd combination if you ask me.

In the center of the field stand two oak trees, and in the 17 years I?ve passed them, they haven?t changed.

The tree on the right has always been dead-looking, probably hit by lightning. It has remained a skeleton for as long as I can remember, with its branches stripped bare. No leaves, no life, not even any Spanish moss hanging from it.

It?s always been an eerie sight, especially when black birds line themselves on the stark white tree limbs and shriek, reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock?s The Birds. It ranks an ick factor of about 5, with a pit of snakes at 10.

It reminds me of how death mocks life, how it haunts our thoughts and tinges even our best of times, a constant reminder that we don?t leave this world alive.

In contrast to this dead-looking tree, the oak tree on the left is lush and green. Its leaves never seem to fall, never fade or turn color. They are ever and always green.

For years I?ve passed this field with these two trees standing near each other, one alive and one dead-looking. For the longest time I thought the dead-looking tree was truly dead. Although it hasn?t fallen over, there?s been no activity or growth. No tiny buds in spring or tender shoots.

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February 11, 2009

Seeding the Snow

It's two degrees outside, and my mailbox is overflowing with lilies and tomatoes. Pictures of them, that is. Seed catalogs.

They began turning up just before Christmas, sandwiched between the Visa bills, gilded Christmas cards, and letters from friends we haven't seen in years. In the midst of carols, baking, and family festivities, the seed catalogs were piled on an end table, largely forgotten. Until today.

I love how they arrive in the dead of winter, dependable as the liturgy. So much promise for just pennies a packet. Some of the catalogs are slick and polished, with an abundance of exaggerated hyperbole. "Exclusive!" "Summer Madness Hybrid Double Petunia," "Picture Perfect Salmon Pink Coleus," "A tapestry of stunning colors and textures." No shy descriptions here.

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