Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Giving Thanks

So my pastor shared a great sermon this past Sunday. It's not on the website yet, but when it is, look for 11-23-08 here. I very rarely recommend sermons unless I feel they are authentic, full of truth, and useful - and this sermon met all three criteria for me.

The title of the talk was "Loving Your Parents", and I anticipated it with a fair amount of trepidation. I do love and respect my parents for everything they did for me - that's not it. But when I hear that a sermon is going to be about relationships, my first question is whether or not the presenter is going to be real about life. I am a child of divorce, and I know more people who experienced divorce or some other tragedy in their growing up years than I do those who did not. So, let's just get down to the nitty gritty, you know? But no worries here. After some introductory material on the Biblical ideal of family relationships, he launched into a time of openness and vulnerability that I rarely see in the pulpit - sharing examples from his own life when necessary, but undergirding the whole time with honesty and frankness. I could tell several people were touched. And I just want to say, keep it coming! People want us to be vulnerable and real, because it helps them be vulnerable and real. In my estimation, this is a major aspect of servant-leadership - humbling oneself (in regards to emotional, or financial, or spiritual matters, or decision-making, et al) so that others will feel more comfortable following suit.

We had our home group right after church, and I opened by talking about the sermon. Even within our group, of the ten people there, only two were going to have Thanksgiving with a family who had not experienced some tragedy (divorce, death, unhealthy relationship patterns, or whatever else). So what do we say to this?

Certainly there are some who would say that people these days complain more. That we should just keep family matters private. While there is something to be said for decorum and respecting the integrity of intimate relationships, I believe this idea as a social more can discourage hurting people from reaching out. Indeed, it can discourage sick people from finding the help they need to get well. I am not interested in complaining for its own sake, but strive to push myself and those around me to answer a simple question in regards to familial difficulties -- What is God trying to say to me? (Not that He originated the difficulties, but that He is always with us and never leaves us and therefore has something to say in the midst of the difficulty.)

Sometimes just asking the question is enough. Sometimes just reminding myself of His presence is enough to comfort me and check my emotions. But more often, I ask that question, and then I get an answer.

"I put this person in your life for a reason. Don't waste it."

"I am with you always, even to the ends of the earth."

"As a man thinks in his heart, so is he."

I hate that last one. Just so you know. It gets me every time.

But what do we do with really tragic stuff? What do we do with our abusers? What do we do with parents who will never be satisfied? What do we do when we really have actually screwed up and they don't have much to be proud of? Or when they really screw up and we're pissed?

We talk. We find that person if possible, or someone trustworthy if not possible, and talk about it. We humble ourselves in openness and frankness so that the other person has the opportunity to follow suit. I had a sweet conversation last night during which I was wonderfully reminded how much healing takes place just when we talk about something. No huge revelations. No advice sought or offered. Just talking and relating and sharing life. We could all use more of this.

And He will restore us. The longing for complete intimacy and complete adventure is stamped on every person's soul, and the Bible tells us that we will achieve these completely in eternity with Jesus. Indeed, we will always feel the ache until the day we meet with Him. But I am convinced that He does not want us to stagnate while we are waiting for that moment. "Let your Kingdom come, let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." This is our prayer. And this is our job. But it is a sweet and satisfying work.

How many have been required to relinquish an unholy relationship, only to have that relationship restored in a new and life-giving context?

How many have endured excruciating excavation of past tragedies, only to realize that these tragedies somehow do not hold the same power or menace over us that they once did?

How many have been able to empathize with some other hurting soul, and have thus realized the truth of Joseph's life? "What you intended for evil, the Lord intended for good and the saving of many souls." (Gen. 50:20)

And it is for this that I give thanks. That He pulled me out of the miry clay and set my feet upon a rock. That He has restored relationship and passion and purpose. That He is the God who heals me.

You have given me more than I could ever have wanted...You alone are good.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

1 Peter 2:13-25

"Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.

"...Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.

"For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls."

(emphasis mine)

Friday, November 7, 2008


Today I attend the memorial service for Dr. Otto Helweg, a very accomplished man by whom I was initially a little intimidated, but who came to be a known by me and Jeff as a ruthlessly humble and relentlessly devoted follower of Christ. It was not unusual for Otto, during our home group meetings, to explain Greek texts from the New Testament in one breath and talk about the first time he noticed his wife's legs in the next breath.

My friend, Ines, wrote a glowing tribute. I will leave a link to it later. It took me fifteen minutes to write that first paragraph. I simply have too much to say, and conversely cannot figure how to say it all. But you should know that I was blessed for having known Otto. Anyone who knew him was blessed for having known him.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Speaking of old-new music...

I am REALLY enjoying my Spin Doctors album these days. Whatever happened to them?

"One, two princes kneel before you..."

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Please Read the Letter

By Page and Plant

Caught out running
With just a little too much to hide
Maybe baby, everything's gonna turn out fine
Please read the letter, I nailed it to your door
It's crazy how it all turned out
We needed so much more

Too late, too late
A fool could read the signs
Maybe baby, you'd better check between the lines
Please read the letter, I wrote it in my sleep
With help and consultation from
The angels of the deep

Please read the letter that I wrote
Please read the letter that I wrote

Once I stood beside a well of many words
My house was full of rings and
Charms and pretty birds
Please understand me, my walls came falling down
There's nothing here that's left for you
But check with lost and found

Please read the letter that I wrote
Please read the letter that I wrote

One more song just before we go
Remember baby, you're gonna reap just what you sow
Please read my letter and promise you'll keep
The secrets and the memories and
Cherish in the deep

Please read the letter, I nailed it to your door
It's crazy how it all turned out
We needed so much more

Please read the letter that I wrote
Please read the letter that I wrote
Please read the letter that I wrote
Please read the letter that I wrote

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Wait for it, wait for it...

I went to the batting cages after work today. I have had a week of funkiness, internal and external, and thought it would do me some good to experience some physical exertion. And the whole hitting-the-crap-out-of-something thing was extremely attractive, truth be told.

I went to Gator Park on Baseline, and when I got there I was actually the only customer. It felt kind of creepy to walk into the game room with all of the video games making noises - and nobody in there. I finally got an employee to the counter, and then told him I wanted to use a cage for a half hour. He raised his eyebrow and said, "You gonna hit all them balls?"

I said, "Well, how many are there?" I couldn't help myself.

"Um, I don't know." Then he looked down and busied himself with the credit card machine. I mean, I know I don't completely look like the lithe athletic machine that I once (thought I) was. But I can still handle a half hour of exercise.

So I finally made it out to the batting cage, chose a bat, and hit the button. I love exercise for the mindlessness. I spend all day at work being engaged and challenged mentally...and then, all I need to think about is, wait, swing, hit. Wait, swing, hit. Not that I hit it every time. Especially since I indulged my fantasy of being a switch hitter. That part wasn't pretty, but still fun.

And despite my goal of mindlessness, I realized a few life lessons during this little adventure. (I can't help it. I'm a teacher; it's what I do.)

1. Always control yourself. I went there to hit the crap out of a few softballs. But when I swung like I was hitting the crap out of them, I would overswing or otherwise waste my motion. On the other hand, when I focused my will and energy, I connected solidly.

2. Don't get distracted. In other words, keep your eye on the ball. In other words, when the big muscly guy in the cage next to you starts grunting and swinging faster than any person you've seen in your life, you should still watch the balls coming your way or you may get hit in the shin by a wayward pitch. This kinda stings.

3. Wait for a good pitch. Swinging at bad pitches almost always produces bad results. Even if you are in a swinging mood, you will only get more frustrated at yourself when you get crappy hits.

Now...to apply this in daily life...only slightly more challenging than being a switch hitter.

Peace and grace to you.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Far Beyond Me

I got a new CD the other week, and I can't stop listening to it. Caroline Cobb Smith's album, "Far Beyond Me" is full of solid songwriting, charming melodies, and interesting instrumentation. Not to mention a great voice. Apparently there's a new album in the works, which makes me very excited. Get this album, folks, and you can someday say you were Caroline's fan way back when.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Take It All In

What makes one day more special than another? What embues a moment with extra light, and more vivid color, than the one previous? What broadcasts an apparently casual statement onto a billboard in my mind? I'm not entirely sure, but I thrive on those moments. Normal life, normal schedule...then suddenly I feel the nudge and I see the spotlight.

Most of my living takes place between the magic - during the perfectly-fine days at work, and comfy-cozy evenings at home or with friends. It is vital to be my best during this time, to live fully even when I don't feel like it. Or when I don't feel like it makes a difference.

But then it happens. Maybe I meet someone new, or visit someplace new. And as I am walking through the unusual day, it is as if there is a small voice in my ear saying, "Remember this one. This is special."

One such moment happened about a year ago, when my sister and her family had traveled from their home in Boston to spend time with the rest of us here in Little Rock. It had been a great visit, but finally, the time for them to depart was looming on the horizon of my mind and I was spending one last afternoon with them. It just so happened that I got to spend the majority of the afternoon with my 3-year-old niece, C, by running errands and cooking supper and reading. When it was time for me to leave in the evening, I was saying my good-byes and barely holding back the tears. My family is so special to me, and saying good-bye is never easy, no matter how many times we do it. So I picked up C, and she gave me a big hug and smiled, and said, "Can I keep you for a really long time?"

Needless to say, this was an extremely bittersweet moment. I so wanted to say, "Yes." But I didn't. I handed her to her mama and I went to the restroom to compose myself. And I knew I would never, ever forget that day.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Somebody "Gets" It!

I just read this article, by Richard J. Mouw. I'm smiling from ear to ear. I am quoting below the section of the article that spoke to me the most. I think by now most evangelical Christians are conscious of some sort of disconnect between who we are, and who we appear to be, to those outside our group. Undoubtedly, we usually don't make things better. But there are a few prominent evangelical voices with whom I identify, and Richard Mouw is one of them. I'm going to stop writing now and just let you read the article.


"I spoke at Chautauqua this summer, as part of a week of lectures in the Abrahamic religions. There were two days of Jewish lectures, a couple of Muslim lectures, and then I was the last speaker. The president of Notre Dame spoke in the morning, and I was last in the afternoon. There was a lot of evangelical bashing that went on. I was told that the crowd was largely liberal mainline Protestants, with a smattering of people who just had an intellectual interest in religion, but weren't believers. And there were a lot of Jews, and quite a few Muslims. So I spoke to this audience of mainly liberal Protestants, Jews, and Muslims.

"I explained evangelicalism to them, as I understood it, and tried to say, "You shouldn't equate evangelicalism, as a movement that cares about the gospel, with the religious right." I did all that, and then concluded by saying, "You know I live with a number of tensions, and I want to describe one in my life," and this was my ending with them. I told them about the National Prayer Breakfast this year, where Bono spoke in the morning-he was wonderful. Then at the leadership luncheon, in Washington, the speaker was King Abdullah of Jordan. And he was great! He called Christians, Jews, and Muslims of good will to work together against extremism of all sorts. He condemned terrorism and expressed sympathy with the people of Israel who had experienced terrorist acts-horrible things. It was a very reconciling approach, and very intelligent. He quoted passages from the Koran that spoke about the need to be peacemakers, to be good neighbors, to love other people, to show mercy toward others that you disagree with. Then, after the luncheon, about 20 of us were invited to spend an hour and a half behind closed doors with His Majesty. Rick Warren was there, and a number of others, but also quite a few Muslims and Jews. It was mainly evangelicals, Muslims, and Jews. And King Abdullah was even better in private. People asked him questions, he made his case, and he was so sharp! So bold, so courageous; really great.

"At the end his bodyguards came in, ready to whisk him away, along with an older rabbi from New York City. But the rabbi said, "Your Majesty, you've got to stay one more minute. I've got to say something before you go. So tell your people to get their hands off you; I've got to say something." Then he said to King Abdullah: "I'm so impressed with you. We need you." He said, "I worry about your life. I worry about your safety. I worry about the safety of your family. Take care of yourself. Surround yourself with people who will protect you. We need you." And this rabbi said, "Before you go: This is presumptuous, I know, but all of us sitting around this table are the children of Abraham. And I'm going to do something on behalf of all of the children of Abraham. I want to give you a blessing. I promise you I'm going to pray for you, but right now, I want to give you a blessing." And then, the rabbi gave King Abdullah the Aaronic blessing: "The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you; the Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon you, and give you peace." I cried. It was a wonderful moment.

"I described this to the Chautauqua crowd, and I said, "You know, I've got to say this, as an evangelical Christian. I believe everything I've said prior to this in my talk today, in the God whom I worship as an evangelical. And I believe with all my heart that that God looked down there and saw that rabbi blessing that Muslim king, and God said, 'That's the way I want it to be. This is the kind of thing that I want to happen in the world.'" You know, there's that great passage in Genesis 17, where Abram goes before the Lord, and the Lord says, "I'm going to establish my covenant with you. I'm going to change your name, and I'm going to give you a son. You don't have him yet, but you're going to have a son. I'm going to make my covenant with him, and through him all the nations of the earth will be blessed." Abram says, "But I already have a son, Ishmael. What about him?" Then there's an amazing passage, where the Lord God says: "Nope. I'm going make my covenant with Isaac. But I heard you about Ishmael, and him, too, will I bless."

"There is a sense of mystery there: that as a son of Isaac gave a blessing to a son of Ishmael, something profound was happening. I don't understand it all. And I said this at Chautauqua: I don't know. I don't know how to explain it all in my theology, but I'm willing to live with that mystery. And I said to them, "I've got to tell you another thing about myself. Every NFL game, behind the goal posts, somebody gets a seat and holds up a John 3:16 sign. That's me. Behind all the goal posts at the championship games, behind the backboard, there's somebody with a John 3:16 sign. That's always going to be me. I'll live with the mystery. I'll acknowledge that, but at the same time, I've got to hold up the sign that says, 'For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.' I've got to tell you that."

"Well, they applauded, and that was the end. Then a wonderful thing happened. A Jewish woman stood up, and she said, "You've destroyed my image of evangelicals, and I want to thank you." She said, "I want to tell you something. I'm going to pray for you." She said, "I worry about your safety."

"Billy Graham comments: "I'm willing to live with the mystery. And yet, at the same time, every time I get a chance to say it to a Jew, or a Muslim, or a Hindu, or a Buddhist, I will say it: 'Jesus Christ is the only way. There's only one Savior.' I'll leave it up to God, as to how he gets through to people and what he's going to do, but I'm going to preach Jesus Christ, and him crucified."

Sunday, August 31, 2008


Old stories and new dreams
arise from nowhere, from predictable rhythm,
from beneath the surface of predictable days,
Waking Me.

Things I used to say,
always wanted,
and never believed.

Old dreams and new characters.
The Champion of my heart,
of my dreams.
And I'm new, getting newer,
And More Awake.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Creamy Chicken Spinach Pasta

I made this tonight from stuff we had in the fridge and pantry. It's very similar to a recipe my sister, Holly, gave me. I hope you like it!

1.5 lb chicken breasts, cooked and cubed
8 oz pasta (penne, spaghetti, angel hair, whatever)
10 oz pkg frozen spinach, thawed and drained very well (squeeze in your hands)
8 oz sour cream or softened cream cheese
1 c milk
4-6 oz shredded monterey jack cheese
8 oz French's fried onions, divided use
.5 tsp garlic powder
.5 tsp salt
.5 tsp black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Cook and cube the chicken. You could use leftover chicken, or you could boil the chicken for 10 minutes, cool for 5 minutes, then cut into cubes.

3. Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions, less 2-3 minutes, and drain.

4. After chicken and pasta are ready, combine spinach, chicken, sour cream or cream cheese, milk, shredded cheese, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and half of the onions. Stir to combine. Add more milk if necessary to make this mixture very saucy. (If you're using cream cheese, make sure it is very soft or this step will be annoying. Heat in the microwave for 10 sec intervals, then stir, to soften.)

5. Stir in pasta, then dump into a big casserole dish that has been sprayed with Pam. Cook at 350 for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, top with remaining onions, then cook for 5 more minutes. Serve immediately.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


While I was in college, Caedmon's Call was the band I listened to if I felt a little melancholy or introspective. And given that I was usually melancholy and introspective during this time, I listened to lots of Caedmon's Call. Even now I return to their albums when I find myself in this mood. Kind of rainy and dreary and quiet. The weather matches my mood today.

It's a muggy night in Houston
And all the intersections are like full service stations
I'm on my way to a familiar place
It's cold in Kansas City
And you can no more hear me than I can see your face
How I wish it was just you and me

We wouldn't have to talk above the crowd
We wouldn't have to talk so loud

I give you my life and all I am
But what I have to give
So I hand you a candid photograph of this little boy
'Cause I have nothing to my name
But I can give you that

I don't miss the driving
Seems like forever
And I'm always driving in my mind
And wearing out the road that gets me there

And I'm driving till my eyes just can't see straight
But I suppose that it's getting late

I may never find the sleep
I've lost all feeling in my hands and
Feet may touch the ground but
My mind's somewhere north of here

Out on these Texas plains you can see for a million lives
And there's a thousand exits between here and the state line
About the last time that I saw you
You said call me Pandora, call me a fool

And I'm thinking this view it could do you some good
So drop these scales and take a look

There's 40 acres and redemption to be found
Just along down the way
There is a place where no plow blade has turned the ground
And you will turn it over, 'cause out here hope remains
'Cause out here hope remains...

Out here the Texas sky is as big as the sea
And you're alone in your room like an island floating free
Your spirit's hanging in a bottle out on a tree
You say that you're the black sheep, I say you're still family

So throw that bottle to the waves
They'll bring you in to me and from the shore you will see

Out here the Texas rain is the hardest I've ever seen
It'll wash your house away, but it'll also make you clean
Now these rocks they are crying too
And this whole land is calling out for you

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Baby In the House

One of the other questions I am sometimes asked is, "What's it like living with a baby, considering you have no children of your own?"

First off, let me just encourage you to look at this face, and tell me what could be bad about living with this beautiful treasure. I challenge you to think of something, anything, that would not be outweighed by the fabulous joy of witnessing and participating in her daily growth.

Logistically, one thing that is different about living with a baby is that sometimes the parent(s) will ask for occasional babysitting. This has worked fine for us, because we're glad to do it when we can, and when we can't, she's fine with us saying no. I'm sure discipline will become a more complex issue, but right now we're just collectively trying to keep her little fingers out of light sockets and such.

An amazing scene involving her struggle to do right: This house has a central vacuum, which means there are outlets on a few walls with a cover that pulls back to reveal the hole where the vacuum tube attaches. It's about 1.5 inches across, and it's kind of dusty, so we discourage her from pulling back the cover. It's right at eye level, though, so it's a big temptation for her. The other day, she was standing a couple feet from the outlet, staring intently at it...reaching for it...and saying, "Don't, don't." Then she turned and looked at Andrea, her mom, and started inching toward it, still saying, "Don't, don't." I felt a mixture of amusement and, well, sadness for her. Not even a year old, and already feeling the pull between obedience and disobedience.

Fortunately, as soon as Andrea said, "Yes, don't," that was enough for her and she walked away. :) She's such a little joy! I know it'll get tougher to convince her to obey, but we're just relishing every moment on this crazy ride.

Friday, August 1, 2008

How Do You Split Up Household Chores?

You may not believe it, but this hasn't been a huge issue for us. We have yet to organize a "chore chart" or make rules or anything. Everyone is just kind of responsible for their own spaces (bathrooms, bedrooms), and for the common areas we just do what we can when we can. We're all pretty interested in keeping a clean house, and this makes it easier I think.

TOTAL HONESTY: I have on a few occasions been tempted to complain about this aspect of living with other people. There are more dirty dishes, we have to share a washer and dryer, and there is NO END to the amount of mail we receive! But when I think about the whole "speck in your brother's eye, plank in your own" thing...the obvious answer is, "If it bothers you so much, do something about it!" If the kitchen is dirty, clean it. If there's mail everywhere, sort it and put it in people's bedrooms. After all, why would it bother me so much to clean up someone else's mess? Because I'm SELFISH. Because I have an over-developed sense of personal justice and may need to just suck it up a little and try to be a servant. Maybe. I'm just suggesting.

However, like I said, we do not live with slobs. I guess if we felt like we were always cleaning up after one person, it would be different. Not sure what we would do then.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Do You Miss Having Your Own Home?

The short answer here is, "Sometimes." We've all given up some stuff to live together for this season. Some personal preferences suffer - little stuff, like me letting someone else use my cutlery and cookware (gasp!). If I haven't told you already, I really enjoy cooking and I enjoy having nice tools for cooking. But my stuff is in the kitchen, so we all use it to cook whatever we want. I see this in a positive light - that it helps me to hold loosely to those things that could otherwise become major hang-ups.

Unless the Lord has other plans, this sharing a house thing is just for a season. We're just trying to learn what we can while we're here.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

50 Cent

Did you hear that 50 Cent is suing Taco Bell for using his name? I guess they say something about "fifty cent" in a commercial or something. Does anyone else this this is HILARIOUS???

Maybe I'll change my name to Antioxidant...then whenever there's some healthy drink or fruit on the TV, I can sue them! "Hey, they can't use my name! I'm Antioxidant, and I've got a name to uphold. After all, what's going to happen to my son, Flavinoid?"

So did 50 Cent name his kids like Nickel and Dime? Sixpence? That would be the girl name.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


I am away from home this week, attending a weeklong conference for work. I've been here since Monday morning, and although I've been talking to Jeff on the phone at every opportunity, I am still experiencing a fair amount of alone time just by the nature of the schedule and my accomodations. For an extrovert like me, this is both a challenge and an opportunity. A challenge because I tend to get anxious if I'm alone for extended amounts of time...and an opportunity because, if I can make myself relax, I can really listen. I can really listen to my life, and my innards.

I guess I'm a mystic hobbyist.

It's fun and useful because I don't do it all the time, and only voluntarily.

I have some treasured friends who seem to live in their mind, and they emerge on occasion to play in the external world before retreating in (I'm sure) exhaustion...so I'm pretty much the opposite.

So here's what I heard last night:

How much time do I waste on ineffective speech? Gossip. Coarse talk. Cynical speculations. Fresh water and salt water don't come from the same source. How much more powerful would I be if I only spoke those words the Lord blesses?

I actually couldn't sleep last night because of this thought, and sent myself a text message (I know I'm a nerd. I would have had to get out of bed for pen and paper.) so it would quit rattling around in my head.

I haven't totally processed it. Just thought I would throw it up here as a jumping off point. I've got a syllabus to write...


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Is Jeff ever home alone with one of the other roommates?

I shared a little in a previous post about how Jeff and I have changed our interactions while our roommates are around. Essentially, we have less private time and the changes have grown out of that. One thing that has come up a couple times is whether or not Jeff is ever home alone with another of the roomates.

My initial reaction to this question was, "Duh...YES. We live there. It happens." We do not coordinate our schedules so that he and I always leave and return at the exact same time. Could you imagine?! I guess I thought it was pretty absurd. But upon further reflection I saw the concern, caution, and maybe even apprehension in that question. And if I were totally honest, I did some serious thinking about my husband living with single women before we moved in.

The conclusion I came to was basically the conclusion that I hoped Jeff would come to for me, if we ever live with some single dudes. I trust him, his commitment to our marriage, and his ability be appropriate with our roommates. The other side of that equation, of course, is the roommates (are the roommates?), and their ability to be appropriate as well. And I trust them, too. On a personal note, jealousy has been much more of an issue for me with Jeff than it ever was in any of my other relationships. It started when we got engaged, and I think it was just, "Oh man, this one is for real. The stakes here are really high." I am still very protective of my relationship with him and I have no problem telling him when I think some chick is inappropriate or too familiar or if I just think she's crazy. And although it's never come to it, I would have absolutely no problem telling some crazy, inappropriate, and/or flirty chick what to do with herself when she's around my man. After all, the stakes are high here and I'm not messing around with immaturity. Grow up and act like a woman.

Okay. I'm getting a little fired up. I need to take a few deep breaths...alright, I'm calm again. Some guidelines for you from our experience:

1. Don't feel bad about being married. Although our roommates have always been gracious, let's face it - some single people are bitter. Let them be. God gave you this spouse and he/she is your priority now. If you live with someone, or are close friends with someone who can't handle that, it's their problem to fix, not yours. (I should also say, I was 28 when we got married and I know what it feels like to be aging with no real prospects. It was scary sometimes. At the same time, by the grace of God I never resented others for finding happiness in marriage.)

2. Don't be lovey-dovey around your single roommates. Have some decorum and help them feel comfortable with the two of you as a unit.

3. Take all the private time you need to make sure you stay connected primarily to each other, and to everyone else after that. Jeff and I are both huge extroverts, so we naturally want to be where the party is at all times. We have to be intentional about time just with each other. And we are always so happy that we do.

4. Keep your relationship private. Don't gripe, don't discuss disagreements, and don't say something about your spouse that you wouldn't say in front of your spouse.

5. Stand by your man, or woman. While Tammy Wynette's song with this title is a little troubling with its allusion to excusing extramarital affairs, when I overlook that part of the song, I see an exhortation to be loyal and be a cheerleader. And everyone needs a cheerleader sometimes. Be a cheerleader in private, and if you really want to make him/her feel special, be a cheerleader when other people can hear you.

By God's grace, it has been really easy for us to live with these ladies and that is due in large part to their ability to respect our boundaries and just generally be "okay" with us as a couple. It's a fabulous blessing to have such wonderful folks in our lives.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Flat-Iron Steak and Twice-Baked Potatoes

It's Friday and I don't feel like getting very deep, which the next question on our list will require. I'll tackle that in a few days, but for now, here's a pretty simple meal that we enjoy for it's affordability, ease, and deliciousness.

What you need:

1 Flat Iron Steak (usu. 2-3 lbs; serves about 4 people)
1 big baking potato for every 2 diners (3 potatoes for 6 diners, etc.)
sour cream
cheddar cheese
cooked and crumbled bacon (about one slice per diner)
green onion
Ranch dressing
Whatever else you like on a potato
Salt and Pepper
Vegetable Oil

Preheat your oven to 350 F. Scrub potatoes under running water with a clean washrag or vegetable brush. Dry thoroughly. Prick all over with a fork, then brush each potato with some veg oil (think sunscreen). Season the skin with salt, then put potatoes directly on the rack of your preheated oven. No foil, no cookie sheet, nothing. Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the potatoes give easily when you squeeze them.

When the potatoes have about 30 minutes to go, preheat your George Foreman grill. If you don't have one of these, preheat a non-stick skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Remove the steak(s) from the fridge to a plastic cutting board. Brush with veg oil, and season liberally with salt and black pepper. Allow the steak(s) to marinate while you finish the potatoes.

Remove the cooked potatoes from the oven to a clean cookie sheet. Using a pot holder, grasp each potato firmly and cut in half length-wise, being careful not to tear the skin. Scoop the potato flesh with a tablespoon into a large mixing bowl, and be careful not to puncture the skin. Then add butter, sour cream, bacon, cheese, chopped green onion, and a fair amount of salt and pepper. Mix with a hand-mixer, then spoon this back into the potato skins and top with more grated cheese. Pop these in the oven while you cook the steak(s).

Cook the steaks on your preheated grill or skillet for 6-8 minutes per side. This will be about medium rare, and you don't want to go much past this as flat-iron steak tends to get tough when it's overcooked. Remove the steak to a cutting board, and allow to rest for five minutes before slicing.

Remove the potatoes from the oven.

Slice the steaks thinly across the grain and arrange on a serving platter. Serve with the potatoes and your favorite steak sauce. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

How do you handle the money side of things?

I have lived in a handful of roommate situations. And I have probably handled rent, utilities, groceries, household supplies, etc., slightly different in each situation. From these experiences I have concluded that there is no better way to do this. It is just important to figure out a method that everyone in the house understands and agrees upon beforehand.

Regarding rent and utilities, we basically split these up per person. Also the bills are not all in one person's name; while we all love each other, I think it does help us feel "safer" in a sense to know that we share the financial burden together in this way. (Our landlords would only put one name on the lease, which is understandable.)

When the time comes each month, the designated person will collect all the bills, do the math, and then post it for everyone else to see. Since the lease is in our name, and rent is the biggest check, everyone else pays us the difference of their combined expenses and their designated bill. If that doesn't make sense, and you want me to send you an example, just let me know. However, I am not by any stretch of the imagination detail-oriented, and I feel great peace to leave this mess to others.

Early on we figured that it would be easier to share some of our food. Five adults sharing one kitchen (one stove, one fridge, etc.) can make for crowded meal times, and we think, not the best use of our resources. Basically we share almost all suppers (whoever is cooking will let everyone else know if it's shared food or not...but 95% of the time, it is), and some breakfasts. Everyone will take a sandwich or leftovers or eat out for lunch. This begs the question, how do you shop? Well, we made a list. Just call me Jacob (I love LOST!).

Our list is actually pretty mundane compared to Jacob's. When we moved in, we had a little meeting and wrote down all staple items for the household. This includes groceries as well as other stuff like paper towels, cleaning products, laundry detergent, etc. Basically, stuff that we all use and, therefore, we knew it would be easier to have one or two instead of five different types of laundry detergent. We even discussed preferred brands, bargains, etc. Then Jeff did his math magic (he is one of the resident detail gurus), and figured an amount that each of us should contribute to the "community fund" each month. Right now that is $35 per person. So if we are out of milk and bread, anyone can grab a few bucks from the envelope and purchase these things. We return all receipts to this envelope, and then Candy balances it out at the end of the month.

If we purchase a grocery item with our own money that we do not want to share, we simply put our name on it.

If we are expecting guests for supper (other than the close friends who drop by often), we will let everyone know via a household calendar that hangs in the kitchen. I don't think anyone has ever verbalized this, but we all pretty much understand that if you're having someone over for supper, you will definitely share space and probably share food with the rest of the household. I guess in this respect, privacy is infringed upon -- but then again, none of us really wanted to live alone anyway. It's all a big trade-off.

My bro-in-law, Brent, has asked a very important philosophical question. I know this question rose from deep within him, from his primal connection to and empathy for the only other male in the house:

How many bathrooms do you have??

Well, Brent, here's your answer. We have 2.5 bathrooms. Jeff and I live in the master bedroom which has a full bathroom, there's another bathroom upstairs, and then a half bath downstairs. We know we wanted at least two...I think maybe it would be possible to live with just one, but not for us. We're not that crazy.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

So...how are you guys getting along?

I love this question. It is usually accompanied by this priceless facial expression - a mixture of curiosity, humor, concern, and just the tiniest dash of dread at what I'm about to say. It's as if they are half-way expecting me to say, "We love it! We're never moving out! We're gonna start a colony!" and half-way expecting, "Yeah, we pretty much hate each other by now. I weilded a knife during an argument the other day." They don't know what to expect, I guess because this is a very unexpected living arrangement.

The short answer is we're getting along just fine. We have had tense moments and disagreements and arguments and awkwardness, in some small measure. We have also had laughter and familiarity and inside jokes and sharing, in heaping amounts. It's real life, you know, and we are taking the good with the bad. I guess it's that authenticity everyone talks so much about. I would hope, anyway. None of us were very sure of what to expect when we moved in, either, just like people aren't sure of what I'll say when they ask about what's going on. I think we all had a fair amount of trepidation along with our willingness, if we are honest. It makes me think of this Groucho Marx quote I saw the other day...

"I would never join a group that would accept someone like me as a member."

It made me smile when I read it, but there's also some truth hidden in the humor, isn't there? You see, I need to tell you something about myself. I am a Judger. Plain and simple. I am a decision-maker, and I don't enjoy suspense a great deal thank-you-very-much. The up side of this trait is that I'm good at making quick decisions, and not looking back once I have. The down side is that sometimes I apply this quickness to decide to people. And a person isn't a very static subject, like deciding what to have for dinner. Spaghetti will always be spaghetti, but people have this amazing capacity to change from day to day.

So what I've learned mostly from living in the Cove (our address), what has become my mantra really, is, "Acceptance, acceptance, acceptance." I'm not there (wherever "there" is), but it has helped.

Another thing I think we have done pretty well is that we talk when we have problems. I know...good thing you're not paying for this, right? :) But given the family-of-origin issues for most of us in the house, that IS pretty significant. If something is awkward, we say, "Wow, that was awkward. What just happened there?" If I am offended, or I suspect I may be the offender, I approach the other person within a reasonable amount of time to work it out. By the grace of God, this has always ended in a positive way.

So. We're doing fine, thanks for asking. And I want to leave you with a recipe. All of us Cove dwellers LOVE Mexican food, but it seems that whenever we make it, we have these random leftovers, and Kim and I formulated this recipe to deal with some of that (with some help from a "Good Eats" episode I saw a couple years ago).

Mexican Lasagna

12 six inch corn tortillas (flour would work, too, but corn tortillas are cheaper)
2 cups or so of enchilada sauce, taco sauce, salsa, or ro-tel
1 lb. cooked and cubed chicken, or taco meat, or shredded pork, or plain ground beef (just not raw)
1 can black beans, pinto beans, or kidney beans
A lot of shredded cheese (cheddar, monterey jack, whatever)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 2-qt. casserole dish with Pam. Dump the sauce, beans and meat into a skillet and heat over medium heat just until bubbly. To make sure the lasagna is moist enough, it should be pretty saucy, so add more ro-tel, etc. (even a can of plain diced tomatoes would work here) if needed. Layer your lasagna in this order until you run out of ingredients: 3 corn tortillas (to as closely resemble a single layer as possible), meat mixture (a couple of scooper-fuls per layer), and cheese. Your top layer should be cheese.

Cover and heat in the oven for about 30 minutes, then remove the lid and heat for an additional 10 minutes or until the cheese on top is kind of brown. Garnish with fresh salsa and sour cream. This makes 8 big servings and is really good with those leftover chips and cheese dip.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


Since January we have been asked lots of questions about our living situation by friends, family, and random acquaintances. People are generally encouraging about our living situation, and some don't seem to think it's a good idea. I can tell from the types of questions they ask. Nevertheless, I will try to answer as many of these questions as possible, posting each discussion as a separate blog and then returning to this post to link them when they are complete.

As of last night, my roommates know about this new blog and that they should feel free to give their input and/or totally contradict me as I am not the authority on living in our house. As
Kim is very active in the blog community, I expect you will at least read some very insightful commentary from her end. Her front end, that is.

So, um...anyway. Here are the questions:

1. So how are you guys getting along?

2. How do you handle grocery shopping and bills - the money side of things?

3. Does it ever happen that Jeff is home alone with one of the other roommates, and how do you handle this?
  • Actually I wasn't asked this question exactly like this. A very righteous acquaintance, when I told her of our living situation, said, "Wow. I bet it's tough for you and Jeff to coordinate being at the house together all the time, so that he's not alone with one of the other women." I said, "Uh..." Basically that's what I said. I could tell she was grappling with whether these young hippies were crazy or not, and I didn't want to agitate her further. I let it go, but I will give a hopefully more succinct answer here.

4. Don't you miss having your own home?

5. How do you split up household chores?

6. A mother and baby live in the house. What's the dynamic of caring for and disciplining the baby?

7. Why did you decide to live in community in the first place?

I will start going down the list of questions very soon. Feel free to add your own (readers or roommates), and we can discuss whatever. Peace to you.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Living In Community: The Newlywed Adventure

Last summer my husband, Jeff, and I had been married a little over a year. Our current living situation was an amazing blessing - housesitting for missionaries during their one year assignment overseas. We paid only utilities, and the house was way nicer than anything we could have afforded then, or now, or probably for about 25 years. But like I said, this blessing only lasted a year, and so we started talking about what was next.

We weren't quite ready to take the plunge and buy a house. Additionally, we had been discussing with some friends various ways to live in community,
then one day Jeff and our friend Candy half-jokingly talked about the option of us renting a place with her and her current roommate, Kim, when we left the big house. Zoom to December, and my sister (who had jumped on the bandwagon) and I were looking at houses. We providentially found the perfect one: a four bedroom, two and a half bath home with a great kitchen, backyard, and neighborhood.

Now it's July, and you would not be shocked to know that we have all learned a lot about each other and living together and living with people in general. The following posts will deal with day-to-day details, logistics, recipes (cooking for lots of people can be tricky!), grocery shopping, relationship dynamics...probably I will write more from the practical perspective than the philosophical (though I do reserve the right), because there seems to be in my estimation lots of discussion out there about the 'why' of communal living, and less about the 'how'.

Now that introductions are out of the way, I would like to share a little about how our marriage has changed. I have learned about how to live with roommates and my husband, and Jeff and I have made a few changes in our relationship to adapt to our new situation:

1. We have become more intentional about daily "us" time. Although we aren't legalistic about it, we try to spend fifteen minutes or so when we get home from work in our bedroom processing our day. This practice developed from necessity after several weeks of talking as we are falling asleep and not communicating very well as a result.

2. We go on dates again. Like many other newlyweds, we had almost no discretionary money, so we would cook supper and rent a movie for a stay-at-home date. But in our new home, just like our daily time alone, we have learned to be intentional to spend longer amounts of time reconnecting. This has been lots of fun, spending time and money just on us. We'll also do needful stuff together, like grocery shopping and other errands, that we didn't do as often when we lived alone.

3. We have changed how we talk to each other. Most married folks (well, and unmarried, for that matter) understand that there are things that you can say to your spouse when you're alone that you cannot say when you are around other people. For example, I am generally receptive to Jeff's advice about clothing and such because, honestly, he has great taste. But it's much different for me in am emotional sense when we're sitting in the living room with someone else and he says, "Why don't you wear the red shirt?" Likewise, I have had to be much more conscious not to correct him or give suggestions, to which he is generally receptive, if we're around roommates.

Although some of these details may seem cumbersome or overly technical, we have approached this living in community thing as an adventure and therefore have had a very positive experience. I hope you will enjoy reading about our adventure as much as we are enjoying being on it!