Tuesday, December 31, 2013

What I'm Into [December 2013 edition]

It's been a while since I linked up with HopefulLeigh because I've barely had time to post these past few months. I'm coming in late anyways, but I figured I'd write something short.

This month I got to come home after 135 days in sunny California. It's still hard for me to believe the semester is over, though I've already started practicing next semester's music and reading books for the next semester. In some ways it feels like I wasn't even gone, and then I remember everything that happened at school this semester and I know it's been ages since I was home.

This month I'm working on Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics and Tolstoy's Anna Karenina for schoolwork. We studied Joshua, Deuteronomy and Leviticus, and Hebrews for session. I read The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley on my way home and am currently working on Annie Dillard's The Maytrees before I start The Book of Merlyn by T.H. White. I managed to total a rough estimate of the books that I read this year and if I include my Torrey books (including each book of the Pentateuch + Joshua + Hebrews) I finished around 50 books this year. I also managed to post around ten poems, though I think if I was to go back and total all those that I wrote they would be something more like twenty.

Month in review:

Monday, December 23, 2013


Last year children died
in spurts of fire and blood
And we together mourned
The cruelty of the world
To have found and arrested
Them so young, not just
Arrested but destroyed.

I thought of Rachel weeping
Inconsolable for children
No more, and then of Hebrew infants
Cast into the Nile in desperate
Gestures of small panic.
To this violent opposition
Small Christ is borne from woman's womb.

~ j.l.s. ~

Saturday, December 14, 2013


A guest post by Rachel Brady

Light pours smoking
Into dry dust
Which lifts its lips
And drinks in glory.

Thursday, December 12, 2013


I saw a girl once
in a gas station in the desert
where we stopped dusty, frustrated and tired
To duck in from under the stars glitt'ring out of cold
Into the dirt and grease of old chips
And exorbitant stale crackers and wish we were back
On the road as soon as we'd stepped in.
We were maneuvering people just to stand
long in line for gray-peeling dirty stalls
in a tiny dim-light room where crumpled papers
scattered floor, and flies buzzed low.
She was kneeling on cement with child
in front of her to change wet for dry
practically in public out of respect for the line
which stretched clear to the refrigerators in the back.
"I wouldn't do it," was muttered behind me
Road-sharp voice, "why doesn't she just use the
back seat of her car?" The baby in her patience
stood with sleepy-wide brown eyes and thick black locks
hanging shining in her face quiet and bewildered.
And I thought of inn walls straining fit to burst
and a child laid squalling into straw and hay
So I only could see grace in that woman's shamelined face.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Attainment of Elegance


(a little poem from my dear friend Rachel Brady who talks with me about music, theology, poetry and philosophy and plays the piano beautifully. )

The attainment of elegance 
is best left to Mozart
and girls from France.

Monday, November 11, 2013

november update and an introduction

     These days I step back a lot and think about the absolute absurdity of my experience here. It has been ridiculous in so many senses - a ridiculous amount of playing violin and piano, a ridiculous amount of pages  of epic poetry read, a ridiculously small amount of sleep I've gotten some weeks, the countless ridiculous things I've done with friends that we laugh about, the ridiculousness of some of the deepest and most thoughtful conversations I've ever had happening with people I've known for nearly three months and in all that time the ratio of laughing to quiet, pensive conversation.

    I've learned so much about myself, I don't even know where I would begin in telling you. If you care enough to want to know, ask me questions and I would be happy to answer them. God has shown up in places I did not look for him and situations I would have dismissed as impossible or unlikely four months ago.

     I laugh a lot here. I sit back and watch as my friends interact and laugh at it all, at myself, and how absurd we are and nonsensical and I marvel at the loveliness of it. I've learned that I need to escape sometimes, so I disappear, leave my phone in my room and walk to green places to sit and think and let my soul be still for once. People are everywhere here and sometimes you need to be the only person in a place, not just the only person you know in a place. Or sometimes you need just one friend, a restful friend. Someone who will sit with you in silence and marvel at creation, or cry with you, or pray with you.

Thursday, November 7, 2013


  (This poem was conceived in the darkness of a concert hall, while I sat in astounded silence. The piece that the string quartet was playing arrested me, and called to mind images from Dante's Paradisio and the Hubble Space Station: the universe in motion. I will be unable forever to separate this poem from Golijov's Tenebrae for String Quartet and Dante's celestial rose. Before you read, take some time to read Golijov's description of the Tenebrae and listen to the piece. 

"I wrote Tenebrae as a consequence of witnessing two contrasting realities in a short period of time in September 2000. I was in Israel at the start of the new wave of violence that is still continuing today, and a week later I took my son to the new planetarium in New York, where we could see the Earth as a beautiful blue dot in space. I wanted to write a piece that could be listened to from different perspectives. That is, if one chooses to listen to it "from afar", the music would probably offer a "beautiful" surface but, from a metaphorically closer distance, one could hear that, beneath that surface, the music is full of pain. I lifted some of the haunting melismas from Couperin's Troisieme Le├žon de Tenebrae, using them as sources for loops, and wrote new interludes between them, always within a pulsating, vibrating, aerial texture. The compositional challenge was to write music that would sound as an orbiting spaceship that never touches ground. After finishing the composition, I realized that Tenebrae could be heard as the slow, quiet reading of an illuminated medieval manuscript in which the appearances of the voice singing the letters of the Hebrew Alphabet (from Yod to Nun, as in Couperin) signal the beginning of new chapters, leading to the ending section, built around a single, repeated word: Jerusalem."


(inspired by Oswaldo Golijov's Tenebrae for String Quartet)

   Soft darkness
       submerged, floating in sound
  I  watched   heaven tear
       And  I  saw  stars  spinning
  wheeling  in  the  expanse
       with  brilliant  color  and  light
  magnificence  of  stretching  infinity,
                     Spheres of rose and gold
     blue  and  green,    flared  to  life
        and  died  in  bursts  of 
                   blinding   intensity. 
Beneath this distant cosmos we
    eat  and  drink,
        study  and  laugh  and  play
 while  it  wheels  on  in 
      grand,   extravagent  silence
          watching all the while
                   one thing: 

Saturday, October 5, 2013


So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

~I John IV.16-18

     O I have seen
  though not understood
          your Love.
It catches unawares as I lean
    into fear and anxiety, unrest, mistrust
What I ought to do and what could happen.
     It springs light into my doubt
 and whispers rest into my chaos.

  And I know what it means to abide
I could tell you a hundred ways to try
    but still fail to see
 that Spirit abiding in me,
   the first Abider, who broods inside
with quickening tide of life
       and deep, rich stillness.
     Who says
         — Come to me. Let go, and come to me.

Monday, September 9, 2013

There are no repeats

     There are no repeats of relationships.

There are good habits, bad habits, healthy patterns and unhealthy tendencies in relationships but there are no copies of relationships.

     You will never be friends with another person in exactly the same way that you were friends with that one person, those years ago.
     People are not copies.

Being here, there are a few people that will do or say something that reminds me of another friend, sometimes even the same friend will repeatedly remind me of certain person.  I have to remember what a friend told me just a week or so ago:
     People aren't copies.

Even though they remind you of someone else, they aren't a copy of that person. They are their own person with their own story. Your relationship with them will never be the same relationship you had with that other person.

     There's grace in that. There's freedom. For you who have been in dysfunctional friendships - no relationship is ever the same. There can be multiple bad relationships, but never the same bad relationship, and God might surprise you - what you thought would be terrible might turn out to be wonderful beyond belief. And for those who have had wonderful, deep, friendships and those who have had painful, the world is open wide to you, flung wide, far skies blazing glory, steep roads waiting to be traversed, new beautiful and unique relationships to live.

      Sit and think deep and then speak, thoughtful, clear, and let the words winging spring from your heart into the waiting soul of a friend because they need the thoughts that flow from silence. Listen hard, be present and let the words sink into your soul until you can see whole persons, roots grasping deep dirt, far flung edges and the sweet soul with all of its hard pain and quiet unspoken fear. Look for it. Search it out like treasure to be found.  It is precious and wondrous to behold. There is glory in the human soul if only we have eyes to see.

O open our eyes, Lord, sing courageous grace into our hearts.
may we dare to love a new love each morning.

Friday, August 30, 2013

What I'm Into [August 2013]

     What a whirlwind month it has been! I've hardly posted at all, I am sorry, but I'm back with some pictures and stories, so hang tight. I'll warn you though - I didn't read hardly any books this month, or watch hardly any movies. Instead I moved across the country....

Saturday, August 17, 2013


The past week or so have been crazy, I've been packing, unpacking and repacking, trying to figure out what I can bring, and finishing homework that is due before I get there, and meet up with people. Oddly enough, it's not quite as busy as I anticipated, so I've had a little time to think. thus follows, the ten item list.

  1. I have tons of stuff. Too much stuff. The amount of junk I have thrown away in the past three weeks is atrocious. Have you ever gone through your stuff and realized just how much of it there is? Here's what I propose, in order to limit our junk: (a) move often. The more you move your stuff, the less you'll want it, because you have to lug it around with you. You'll find things you don't even remember having in the first place and throw them out because you don't even want them. (b) Don't get any college mail, ever. (c) Don't be even slightly sentimental. Those old trophies from random things you did as a kid? Throw them out. They have your name on them? Too bad. Too harsh? Sorry, I'm crabby from throwing things away and trying to pack the rest.
  2. I could fit my pillow in my new backpack if I really need to, for the flight there. Just in case I run out of room in my suitcase, this is my plan B. When you look at the pillow, the backpack, and back to the pillow, fitting it seems like something of a distant dream, but it is possible. Just so you know because i know you found that fascinating....

  3. Hildegard of Bingen is awesome. When Allison first loaned me her book, it's slightly sketchy looking, titled "Meditations with Hildegard of Bingen" and has very random illustrations. (see pictures above)
     It probably doesn't help that she doesn't really follow with the same logical sequence that we tend to, so it took me a few weeks to get into it. Her free-verse poems (do they rhyme in German? I want to know!) are beautiful (and a little different) and great for thinking through. If you've never heard of her, go check it out!
  4. I discovered this week that I don't own nail clippers. Or a handful of other helpful and indispensable things, such as tweezers, floss, any real quantity of ponytail holders, good scissors, paper clips, a stapler, and various other things that you just naturally share with the rest of your family until you can't anymore. Chances are I'll forget something and three weeks into school freak out because I don't have one. What did you forget when you went to college?
  5. My deep thought for the week: I was finishing up my run on Monday with a cool-down walk, and thinking about Lewis's Til We Have Faces and Perelandra and debating some questions in my head. Here's what I was thinking about: once we, created beings, could talk face to face with God without fear or shame. But then we traded away those faces that could look upon God for the knowledge of good and evil. Since then, in history, men have feared to look upon the face of God, even upon the faces of his terrible angels. Even though it says that "The LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend," (Exodus 33:11) when Moses asked to see God's glory, he could only see God's back. And when angels appear to men, they fall to the ground, or to their faces, hiding their face from the vision of holiness. Thus it is that Christ took upon himself the face of a man, that he might come among us and speak with us and minister to us face to face, as it was in Eden. And by him, through his Spirit which abides in us, hovering with warm breast and bright wings, the unlovely face which we chose is slowly being exchanged for the holy face which can approach the throne without fear. Face to face. And thus we come again the the "already and not yet" - we can approach the throne with confidence because we have the face of Christ to mediate for us, and yet we do not yet have the privilege of speaking with God face to face as they did in Eden. Presently we see God only through a mirror dimly, as Paul says, which makes sense. After all, we are supposed to be the reflection of God, but we, because of our sin, dim the glory of God that would be revealed through the Spirit within us. But soon we shall behold him face to face...
  6. My laugh for the week: Allison's fiance Jonny and his brother gave me a going-away present which I was going to take a picture of but packed already. (Story of my life these days, I'm always discovering that I packed something which I want, so I just unpack it and then pack it again.) Anyway, it's a Louisville Slugger bat (the small wooden size, like what you get when you go to the museum, we actually have a few of them) with "The brother bat" written on it in Sharpie. Now I have double defense against any unwanted attention: the orphan dress and the brother bat. :D Thank you very much, now I can depart for college. (But seriously, it was really sweet and I was quite surprised by it. I will miss my two sisters and my two brothers this semester a great deal!)
  7. Orphan dress you ask?   The orphan dress is actually an old Goodwill find that I bought a few years ago. This is the best picture I can find of it: 
The main reason I wear it is because it has pockets and is really soft and comfortable, but Allison abhors it and calls it my orphan dress because the plaid looks like a flour-sack dress and it is pretty shapeless and big on me. The joke was that if I think a guy likes me I'll just wear my orphan dress for a few days to send him on his way. If that doesn't work I'll pull out the brother bat. :)
8. It's so strange to have our closet half empty, my shelf by my bed deconstructed, and the closet shelves emptied. This feels pretty good though:
All of those shelves used to be completely full. Cleaning ninja right hear, ya'll.

9. Because I'm flying Virgin America, it's pretty affordable for me to check several bags, so I'm bringing two suitcases, a backpack, and my violin with me when I fly out on Monday. Every time I tell someone this I get looks and then this image of me at the bottom of a pile of luggage springs into my mind, especially since the entire get-up weighs more than I do.

10. It's crazy to me that I'm leaving in just about a day and a half now, and that I'll be living there for the whole year. I'm so excited, but at the same time I don't even have categories for imagining how it will feel. I hate saying goodbye to the faithful and wonderful friends I've had here, and I know I will miss the closeness of my family, but on the other hand I'm so hungry just to take classes and read good books and think and play some new music finally. What a grand adventure this life is! And how bittersweet!

and now that I've bored you to death with the details of my week, how was yours?


how clutter affects you and what you can do about it https://ooomf.com/blog/how-clutter-effects-you-and-what-you-can-do-about-it/

on when your art is rejected: http://www.incourage.me/2013/08/what-to-do-when-your-art-is-rejected.html

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

What I'm Into [July 2013 edition]

yay for a new family picture!
I'm linking via HopefulLeigh again as the month draws to an end.
     I feel looking back as if July was packed to the gills and yet when people ask me what I've been doing with my summer, I look back and hardly know what to tell them. I've been teaching; not as much as in past summers, but still quite a bit, and mostly just trying to pack every spare moment with time spent with friends. I've been learning to prioritize my time, decide what is important to me in the three weeks before I leave. LOTR marathon? Not so much. Freeport trip? Very important. My weeks start to feel like this:
College group hang out night or coffee with a friend who I might not get to see otherwise?
Hang out with sisters or do homework?
Spend time out with friends in the evening, or stay in and spend time with my family?

     And based on the week the answers will be different, but I'm hoping that when I look back on these next few weeks, I hope that I'll be content with my choices and not wishing I'd made different choices with my time.
This has been a bittersweet month, yesterday I finished up my last day of teaching at home and I've only got 18 days left until I fly to CA for honors orientation.

Here's a bit of what I've been up to this month:


     This has been a slim month for reading. I started my school reading (the Iliad) and so I really only finished one book this month. One Thousand Gifts was my reading for the month and I loved it so much that  I bought it while I was only half-way through the library copy so that I could go back and write in it. While I was at the store I picked up a copy for a friend for graduation because it's so good and it already made the list of books I'm bringing with me to school.
      I'm currently trying to finish the Iliad so that I can read the Odyssey and Chesterton's Manalive before I leave for school. I did start Surprised by Oxford last week, it was a gift from a friend and I'm practically devouring it, it's really good. I'll probably finish it by the end of the week. I'm also still struggling through Tale of Two Cities which I really just need to finish already.

Movie-wise & such

     This month we did a few Harry Potter hang-outs with friends and watched the first two movies. I love seeing how the special effects have so drastically changed and grown in just the ten years or so that the movies were created. The first movie has really terrible special effects, but the cuteness of the kids totally makes up for it. :)
    We went to the theater to see Despicable Me II, which was cute and fun, but nowhere near as good as the original.
     We're still on season 4 of Chuck, and have been watching season 1 of friends. I managed to watch almost no current TV this month which has felt great. Evenings I read before I go to bed and there's been a lot less sitting in front of the TV.

I'm loving

  • the spurts of warm and cool weather that keep alternating
  • our lovely Independence Day at the beach
  • full moon spottings
sweet time with friends
  • the laziness of rainy days
  • late night family games
  • morning runs in the forest preserve
getting the chance to spend some time with my grandma before she left for Colorado

  • six o'clock sunshine while driving with the windows down
  • reading the Iliad outside for hours at a time
  • Singing the old hymns at church, when you can hear the whole congregation joining, loud and full
Strawberry Rhubarb pie, for Independence Day
  •  the smell of cool water when you're dripping because it's so hot
  • Espresso caramel chip cones with Ally
  • Taking walks barefoot 
the sweet fragrance of wild purple clover
  •  velvet skies spread with stars
  • Helping out at weddings, watching the young men dance the little girls
  • living room full for a worship night, with doxology sung rich in harmony

  • hot coffee on darkly clouded mornings
  • late night theology talks with Allison
  • evenings outside 
the abundance of wildflowers this summer

  • sweet colorful child drawings
  • puddle reflections clean and clear.
  • preparing gifts for friends 

sister time!
  • wandering in the antique barn
  • friend wedding showers
  • watching my cousin's play
  • time with friends at the beach
  • getting to use a sparkler for the first time ever at the wedding. They were always deemed to dangerous by my parents. :)
  • Sunshine on browning skin, and freckles forming on noses and cheekbones
  • Warm homemade bread with honey.
  • picking out schoolbooks on Amazon

On the blog:

messes of eggs, scrambled with green onions and red peppers, sprinkled with cheese.
Last week I managed to post every day as part of a link-up with Jen at Conversion Diary. I did pretty well every day except for Saturday, it was a hectic day and blogging didn't make it onto the list of priorities. I did post-date a poem to that day though. I think that's cheating.
     Anyway, here are the seven posts I did:
Monday: Eight Ways to be a Better Friend
Tuesday: Identifying Marks of a Former Homeschooler
Wednesday: On the Power of Words
Thursday: Without Doubts: Thoughts on John 21
Friday: Learning the Present
Saturday: Among the Ranks
Sunday: How to Read and Enjoy a Good Book

The most popular post of the month was Identifying Marks of a Former Homeschooler:
Whether or not you were homeschooled, chances are, you'll meet someone in your life who was. But once you get out of highschool, it becomes harder to differentiate, and people who were once obviously homeschooled now blend in with a crowd. Curious about your roommate? Suitemate? Want to try and figure out if they were homeschooled?
finish reading 

The second most popular post of the month was my journal from the plane home which I wrote when I found out I wouldn't be able to go to Haiti after all.
 Hours and hours ago we took off into the dawn, pink-gold and dazzlingly bright with our eager hopes and shining faith and then, after a few sleepy hours we descended into clouds and rain and little did I know it would not just be literal, that descent, but figurative as well. When we trudged off, baggage-laden from the plane we found out that due to the tropical storm over Haiti our flight had been cancelled and we sat in limbo, time-spending in the gate where we'd hopeful arrived as DeeDee made phone calls to find out what there was to know.     All flights to Port au Prince cancelled for the next two days. Mudslides and flooding. No open flights for two weeks. A flight home hours later, for us up since 2am, or since Tuesday morning for some. And a trip rescheduled, tentatively for two weeks from now.      
And I can't go.
finish reading 

And the third most popular post was Eight Ways to be a Better Friend, which you can find here.

On the Web

My links are going to be all over the place this month, but I hope you'll find one or two of them as interesting as I found all of them!

10 things I learned from loving Anne of Green Gables via Los Angeles Review of Books
 I feel about Anne of Green Gables like Huck felt about rafts or Proust felt about madeleines or like Virginia Woolf felt about closing her bedroom door: escape, pleasure, self worth. Exquisite in both story and sentence, the Anne books built me as a reader, which is to say: they built me. finish reading 

In which I want to be a person via Sarah Bessey
How about this? How about when someone is before us, a real, live person, suffering, we be a person?
Don’t be a defender of an institution. Don’t be an office. Don’t be a title. Don’t be a minimizer, a gloss-over-er, a down-player. Don’t be an oracle or an activist. Don’t be a self-help manual or an encyclopedia or a concordance or a few tactical probing questions to steer the conversation. Don’t be the fault-finder. Don’t be a hero or a cop or a gatekeeper. Don’t be “God works all things for good.” And don’t be “pray harder,” or “more faith-ier.” 
finish reading

Jeans, Social Justice, and One Small Thing via Addie Ziermann
I come from a long line of Bargain Hunters and Garage-Salers. I knew what a “Sale Rack” was long before I ever went shopping on my own, and to this day, I’m drawn there like a fly to light. I go the back of the store first. To the clearance and the red-tags and the allure of a good deal.Better than finding a cute pair of jeans is finding a cute pair of jeans on sale for 90% off. Better than having someone say, “I love your shirt,” is being able to say. “Thanks! Got it for two dollars!” finish reading

Cascades of Grace via Allison 
Grace is supposed to flow through you: an enormous power that fills your smallness beyond measure only to pour out, sloshing and spilling all around you.  Experiencing grace for myself means I can't help but leave drips and puddles behind me and splashing a little on everyone I meet. finish reading

Modesty: I don't think it means what you think it means via Rachel Held Evans
It’s no secret that women today are bombarded with mixed messages about what it means to be a woman in a woman’s body.  
On the one hand, we are all familiar with the dreaded walk down the grocery store checkout aisle, where magazine after magazine boasts airbrushed photos of impossibly thin celebrities and headlines promising to teach us how to “please our men” with sexier bodies, more fashionable clothes, hotter sex moves and better flirtation skills. Ours is indeed a culture that tends to assign value to a woman based on her sex appeal rather than her character, and that’s something we must work to change.
But many of us are also familiar with the other extreme. We know what it feels like to have rulers slapped against our bare legs so our Sunday school teachers can measure the length of our skirts. We know how hard it is to do a cannonball into a swimming pool when you’re wearing a giant “Jesus Saves” T-shirt over your bathing suit. 
finish reading

Young Evangelicals Are Getting High via the Christian Pundit 
Young Christians are going over to Catholicism and high Anglicanism/Lutheranism in droves, despite growing up in low Protestant churches that told them about Jesus. It’s a trend that is growing, and it looks like it might go that way for a while: people who grew up in stereotypical, casual evangelicalism are running back past their parents’ church to something that looks like it was dug out of Europe a couple hundred years ago at least. It’s encouraged by certain emergent leaders and by other “Christian” authors whose writings promote “high” theology under a Protestant publisher’s cover.finish reading 

Starved for the Sacred via Allison (in response to the above post) 
But when we sing of God's holiness yet approach Him so casually, sometimes I feel a disconnect.  It is good to "draw near the throne of grace with confidence" (Hebrews 4:16), but what happened to "[offering] God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire"? (Hebrews 12:28-29)  Can the trust that is strengthened through relationship also be strengthened by a sense of His enormous greatness above and beyond our ken? finish reading

My husband is not my soul mate via The Art in Life
I wouldn’t want to imagine life without James. I enjoy being with him more than anyone else in this world. I love him more than I ever thought you could love someone, and I miss him whenever I am not with him. I wouldn’t want to married to anyone else other than James, which is good, because I plan on being married to him forever, and he has to let me die first.But I reject the entire premise of soul mates. finish reading

Desert spirituality at two o'clock in the morning via Jen
Look at pretty much any culture that existed before the use of electricity, and you’ll see that they had deep superstitions about night. Throughout the ages, it’s been a nearly universal human belief that evil forces gained potency after the sun went down.  finish reading

What it means to 'do less and be more' via Emily 
It’s been three weeks now since John left his job and we’ve had some uninterrupted family time. We have been doing less. As it turns out this question – Are you willing to do less and be more? – is not a question for your schedule.It’s a question for your soul. finish reading

(I'm almost done, I promise!)

How the church has objectified women  via Emily Wierenga
The Bible talks a lot more about love than it does about fear and I think if we were to approach modesty and purity with love for our bodies instead of fear of religion; if we were to treat our skin with reverence and our clothing as symbols of respect for that skin, if we were to believe that we were divine instruments rather than sexual beings, maybe we wouldn’t slouch so much in the pool. finish reading

A Love Song for Delilah via Addie at Deeper Story
You learned that beauty was never really about you in the first place – it was about the boys.It was about who noticed you and who didn’t and about whether you applied the right makeup or combed your hair the right way or wore the right clothes from the right stores. It was about the way you held your body when you sat on a bench, about what you did with your eyes. Flutter up. Flutter down. Flutter up. Catch his eye and then look away, and wait to see if you are magnetic enough to pull him in. finish reading

Rethinking the $3,000 Mission Trip via Christianity Today
Painfully thin for his age, Martin shivered uncontrollably by the side of the city swimming pool. He held his sides in a futile effort to keep warm. I was puzzled. A rare June heat wave had swept through Knoxville, and the temperature was pushing 90. finish reading

I Wonder If Sunday School Is Ruining Our Kids via Beliefs of the Heart
But our Sunday school lessons teach us to be good little boys and girls, and God will love us and use us. It’s the total opposite of the gospel. It’s a counterfeit of the worse kind. finish reading 

July has been a wonderful month - hard, bittersweet, but full and beautiful. Now with August here I can concentrate on packing for school and saying goodbye to friends.  18 days and counting!
What have you been up to this month?

Monday, July 29, 2013

last teaching week

     Today marks the beginning of my last week of teaching at my home studio that I've built up over the past few years. I'm working on writing notes to the students and families who have been so faithful over the past few years and desperately trying to brainstorm good gifts for my students that I can scrounge up in a few hours. It's been a crazy weekend between a good friend's grad party and my cousin's play, as well as my Grammy's last weekend in Chicago before she drives back to Colorado, so I've hardly had time to think about the fact that this is it!
     It's so hard to believe that I will no longer get to see these kids every week anymore. I will miss all of my students terribly! I just pray that they find great and wonderful teachers (SOON!) and that they continue to pursue music in the future. These students have made me laugh, sweat, lecture and smile, and I'm thankful for each one of them that taught me to be a better teacher. What a blessing they have been in my life!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

life skills: How to Read and Enjoy a Good Book

     Ever since I can remember, I've wanted to read something. When I didn't know how, I wanted to learn. I remember the day I learned to read quietly to myself too. And it seems like there's always been books I want to read. It's a rare month when I don't finish at least one book.
     I love reading as I'm sure you've gathered, and it's easy for me. It doesn't matter what it is usually, as long as it is well written - classics or moderns, theology or poetry, mysteries or romances, Dickens or Austin, Dostoevsky or Hugo - I'll at least give it a shot.
     But, as I am discovering, I am among the few. Many people don't read books at all if they can help it, and as a result, they hardly even know what they're missing.
    So, if you're not a reader, or you are but you haven't ventured into the realm of good books yet, there's hope for you! You don't have to start with Dickens or Dostoevsky, you can work your way there. After all, Rome wasn't built in a day.
     Here are a few tips for starting a habit you won't ever want to kick.

1. Get books from the library. If your library doesn't have it, inter-library loan it. Or, better yet, if a friend recommends a book, ask if you can borrow it. You don't want to buy a book before you've read it, as a general principle.

2. As you read, ask questions. Try to figure out what the author is trying to communicate. This is usually pretty easy to find in non-fiction, fiction is sometimes harder. As questions like:
  • What does the author want to prove?
  • What does the author believe about human nature?
  • What does the author believe about justice vs. grace?
  • What is the author communicating about good and evil?
  • What does the author believe about choice vs. free will?
  • How is the main character developing? What traits are they acquiring and what does that say about them?
  • Is the author condemning or condoning certain actions or behaviors?
These questions will put you on the track to understanding the point of a book. Not all fiction has a point to prove, but much of it does, especially the good stuff.
For example:

The last slide is the point. Both of the books, whether you like it or not, have a point. And whether that point is legitimate or not, there is a point.
Most books have something to say, whether it's good or bad.
3. If the book does belong to you, write in it! Especially if it's non-fiction. Underline it, bracket parts you like, star things you want to remember. If it makes you think of something, write a little note in the margin. This is especially helpful when you want to remember something you read and you go looking for it. Plus, the physical act of underlining it will help you think about it more deeply, read it more closely, and remember it more clearly.
4. Write stuff down. Write down anything that sticks out to you, even if you aren't sure why. Keep a notebook just for things you've read in books. If a section strikes you as being really beautiful, copy it out. If a section is speaking to your heart, write it down. Include the book name, author's name, and page number, that way, if two years later you remember it and want to use it for a paper (or a blog post!), you'll be able to find it again. Write down sentences, or paragraphs, poems, theses, whatever it is that will help you engage with the book.
5. Re-read. C.S. Lewis and Sheldon Vanauken agreed that the sign of a true book-lover is re-reading books. If you loved a book the first time, re-read it. If a book is really good, you'll get something different out of it the second time. There are books that I re-read every year (C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia) or every few years (L.M. Montgomery's Anne and Emily books) and I get something new out of them every time.

Need something to read?

     Stick around, tomorrow I'll give you some suggestions for where to start. In the meantime, I'd love to hear from you! Are you a reader? What would you suggest to help a new reader? If you're not, what keeps you from reading?

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Among the Ranks

O let me count myself no longer
Among the ranks of the confident
Who thinking themselves wise
Grow in folly, and imagining themselves strong
Ignore weakness, who, thinking
Themselves clean are instead dirty
And mistake ignorance for courage.

Join me instead with those who
Knowing their folly venture towards wisdom
And seeing their fault attempt to repair it,
Who know they are weak and so deliberate
Before rushing to battle, that they
May be sure of their choice despite
Loud-throbbing betrayal of inner heart's fear,
And fight with strength in the face of it.

Let me not hesitate to admit I am wrong,
Or say too loudly what I have not thought out,
Let me not be too proud to weep and laugh and sing
When the time is right and may I know
   When it is not.

Lead me to be a "little one" always,
Content that He is ever strong.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Learning the Present

     Have you ever sat by the airplane window and watched the world go by, civilization passing beneath you? Our houses are in rows, surrounded by roads, by stores; neat grids arranged by city planners, with a confined bit of nature thrown in to give us a break from concrete and brick and stone, our attempts at a foundation that will have some sort of staying power, remain a hundred years, a thousand years. Even the countryside has no uncharted places it seems, it is all broken up by roads and farms, neatly planted fields, man-made ponds with corners and irrigation ditches in straight lines.
     The roads weave about, this one over, that one under. If you lifted them up they would come up like a child's train-track set, all in one piece, woven together and soon you would have the whole network of asphalt and concrete in your hands. Perhaps the railroad tracks would come up too and you could peel the transportation system from the country in one good pull, finger and thumb and the interlocked, interwoven methods of our madness thrown aside.

     It's all so flimsy. I feel so safe when I run the paths of our neighborhood, I don't think about it wearing out and being tossed aside like Brio train tracks lifted from the basement carpet. It's only from the air when I see the structures of our humanity from far above that it strikes me how small and weak it is.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

without doubts

     Last night I had the great privilege to lead college group for the last time before I leave, and finish out our long study on the book of John. This is the journaling that I did that inspired me to take on last night.

 Peter and John were first to the tomb, and no doubt they saw Jesus in the confines of that locked upper room, stuffy with fear.
     Here we see seven of the disciples fishing in the fresh sea air; they’ve toiled all night, now the sun begins to rise and we see them as we saw them first in Luke—glistening with sweat, stripped down for the heat of a fruitless night, empty handed, the light of day just beginning to show upon their weary faces. A man on the horizon calls out, inquires about their catch, and they answer him. He gives instruction and they don’t think twice—they’ve done this before, but can’t quite remember where through the aching of their muscles and their sleep-deprived brains. It’s not until they try to haul up the net and it is impossibly full and heavy that John awakens and says what must have stirring in everyone’s  minds to Peter—“It’s Jesus, our Lord!”

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

on the power of words

     Today I sorted through my letter box.
It's an old tin box, red, with clear plastic on the lid because it came, once-upon-a-birthday, with a watch in it that had Pooh Bear on the face and tiny hands that went round and round in solemn duty. It has yellow bumblebees on it, flying in lazy circles and it strikes me occasionally that it is childish and I hardly care because it has always been my letter box. Ever since we moved to Colorado and I started writing letters to my cousin.
     I've gone through it before and gotten rid of old letters, letters that had no power any more because they were silly child-letters about nothing and they didn't even make me smile anymore. But today I sat with that box on my lap in the hot sun outside and pulled them out one by one and read them through. I untied the tightly bound packet of letters years old and let them speak their words over me like I have not done in a long while.
     I wish sometimes that I could see my own letters that prompted such replies, but for some letters I am glad that I cannot because I would probably do what my friend Ally jokes about and write all on top "Silly little girl moment". And I have enough of those in the journals I have yet to sort through.
     Today I threw away letters from a girl I was friend-ish with in Colorado. I didn't even read them. When I saw her return address label on the envelope and I had no face with which to connect the name and no memory of affection for her I didn't even try. They had no power.
     But there were other packets, one from Demi while she was in Japan that welled up my eyes and I could hardly read for the blurriness of her cursive through my longing. There were two from my little sister on birthdays that made me laugh out loud, hard, and sweet old letters from Ally on various occasions that were too lovely to throw out. And I was amazed that the lines of ink on paper in familiar curved handwriting could have so much power as to make me laugh or cry.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Homeschooler Part II: Identifying Marks of a Former Homeschooler

     Whether or not you were homeschooled, chances are, you'll meet someone in your life who was. But once you get out of highschool, it becomes harder to differentiate, and people who were once obviously homeschooled now blend in with a crowd. Curious about your roommate? Suitemate? Want to try and figure out if they were homeschooled?
     This isn't an exhaustive list, and it's not a foolproof one either, plenty of homeschoolers will break these molds and many will fit only one or two of them. But chances are, if you were homeschooled you'll recognize a few of these traits in yourself or some of your friends.

(if you missed part 1: How to Survive as a  Homeschooler in a World of Not-So-Sheltered People, you can catch it here.)

1. They read books. For fun. Lots of books. Thick books.

     Now, not every homeschooler I know reads for fun. In fact, a lot of them don't. But most of the people that I do know who do read for fun were or are homeschooled. They read long books, short books, hard books, easy books, and analyze and underline and do it all for fun. When we talk book language, we understand each other.
     If you find yourself re-living the first thirty seconds of this video (on either side of the table!) you probably know a homeschooler:

2. They not only read books, they talk book.

     Do you know what I'm talking about here? These are the people who talk in book references rather than pop culture references. They quote books like no one's business, and half the time you have no idea what they are talking about. (Well, you don't, I don't know what you're talking about when you make pop culture references. I talk book. It's true.) It might be hilarious, but if you haven't read that book, you might not have any idea what the joke is. It's okay. Roll with the punches. They give you courtesy laughs all the time when you quote Big Bang Theory or Friends, so you can reciprocate.

Monday, July 22, 2013

life skills: Eight Ways to be a Better Friend

    It's so hard to believe that in less than a month, I will be leaving for California. Though I'm excited to make new friends there and mix with a diverse group of people, I am sad to leave the wonderful friends I have here because I know that our friendships will change because of the distance, in good ways and bad.  As I prepare to move, I am treasuring the time I have with my dear friends here, and reflecting on the ways I have learned to be a good friend.
     Friendship is a hard thing. I don't have any close friends that I really knew since "childhood" - all of my close friends were made during or after sixth grade and onwards, when we moved to the area. I've had good experience and bad experiences, and God has taught me a lot about what it means to be a good friend and what I value in friendships.

So, without further ado, eight things I've learned from my friends and my friendships:

1. Pursue your friends 

(Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

     One of the most confusing parts of friendship is the give and take. It's hard when you really love a friend and you enjoy spending time with them, but they never contact you and say, "Let's get coffee!"  I might really love talking with you, you might tell me that you love spending time together, but if you rarely text or call, I begin to wonder if our friendship is actually important to you.
     Pursue the people you love spending time with. Tell them that you enjoy your time together. Text them and ask them if they can meet up to talk. Facebook them and ask them when they are free. Pursuing time with a friend is a way of showing them that they are important to you.
     This doesn't only apply to friends whom you live in close vicinity with. One of my dearest friends hasn't lived nearby for two years now, but we're just as close as we were when she lived here, because we pursue each other. She lets me know when she's in town and I do whatever it takes to see her. We write letters, snail-mail style. We talk on the phone whenever we get the chance. She texts me to ask how she can pray for me. I post articles on her facebook wall, and she tells me what she thinks, and sends me an article in return. Long distance friendships can survive and continue to grow if you're willing to put the effort in.
     Pursue your friends. Make an effort. It makes such a difference.

2. Encourage your friends. 

   This one is really open ended, but that's what makes it terrific. Good friends build each other up in the Lord. Look for ways that you can encourage your friends while speaking the truth. Notice the things that they love and are passionate about.
     One year one of my good friends made an effort to come to my orchestra concert at the end of the year. I play violin at church all the time, but she'd never heard me play classical music with my orchestra. It was a huge encouragement to me that she came. I'd never had anyone outside of my family members attend one of my orchestra concerts.
     So when I found out that a friend had her orchestra concert on a day that I was free, I went. It turned out that I was the only person she knew that came to the concert that day - her family couldn't make it.
     Attending a concert, or dance gala, or play, or soccer game isn't the only way to support and encourage your friends. Tell them how they encourage you!  Tell them what they are good at! Write a note and stick it in the mail. Text them a verse that makes you think of them.
     Be specific in your encouragement. "I love the way you are passionate about Scripture - I wish I was more like that," or "I notice how much you love and respect your family and I know how hard that is for you," is more helpful than "You're a great person."

3. Be thoughtful

     This goes along with number two, but is slightly different. Being thoughtful means you take time to put deep thought and effort into the relationship. It means you go out of your way sometimes to do something you know will mean a lot to a friend.
     I make an effort always to remember my friends' birthdays. I don't have a perfect record by any stretch of the imagination, but even if I don't see them on their birthday, I'll make sure I write them a long note or get them a small gift. If you don't have money, bake them cookies or make them their favorite dessert or meal. If you don't have time, buy them flowers. If you can't decide on a store bought card, make your own and write them a note (or just write it on notebook paper! It's the words that count, not the card.). Get them a small gift - for Christmas, for their birthday, just because it made you think of them. If you're indecisive, or don't know what they like, take them out to dinner or buy them coffee or dessert just so you can spend time together.
     A lot of the time, I just meet up with a friend and we catch up. But Starbucks dates can start to blend together, so if you have time, mix it up! Go for a walk in the forest preserve. Go for a picnic. Take a trip to the beach. Go sledding. Bake cookies. Do a photo shoot. Have a tea party. Host a movie night.
     Those all sound like sort of lame, cliche ideas, but I've done every single one of those with a friend or friends in the past year, with maybe the exception of sledding.  The times that we went out of our way to do something special stick in my mind as sweet, memorable scenes with my friends.
     The point is this: put some thought into your friendship instead of simply going about it haphazardly. It makes a difference!

4. Speak the truth

     This is a hard one, because sometimes the truth isn't always what you want to hear, or say! But if you really know your friend well, and they are a Christ-follower, you are called to speak the truth into their lives.
     I really appreciate the people who speak truth into my life. I want to be teachable, malleable, able to hear from other Christians where I need to grow.
    This is not permission to say rude things. This is a call to iron-sharpening-iron relationships. I need the friends who tell me - "Jessica, you're over-reacting," or "Jessica, you want formulas, but God doesn't move in formulas," or "That's a cool idea but I'm not sure Scripture backs that up."
     That being said, don't make assumptions.  If you're worried about a behavior pattern or relationship or whatever it is, but don't know all the facts, ask.
     We talk about speaking the truth in love, and automatically think about confrontation, but speaking the truth isn't always confrontation. Sometimes it means confession.
     There was a point last year when I went to several of my friends and apologized to them. I had to be honest with them, that sometimes they'd asked me how I was and I'd said "good" when that wasn't true at all.  I'd been unwilling to be vulnerable with them and in doing so I had not only unconsciously lied to them when they asked and really wanted to know, but I'd done so in pride, not wanting them to see or know my own brokenness.
     Speaking the truth means telling trusted friends when you are struggling, asking for prayer, sometimes confessing sin. It means being honest and being willing to be vulnerable.
     Vulnerability doesn't come easily - nor should it. But your dearest, closest friends want to know what is in your heart. And your best friends should be those you can be honest and open with - not necessarily those you spend the most time with.

5. Listen

     Make sure that the relationship is two-sided. Ask what is going on in their life. Ask what God is teaching them, what they've been thinking about. Listen. Ask follow-up questions. Let them talk.

6.  Pray together, pray for each other.

     I love praying with my girlfriends. One friend in particular is so faithful about making sure we pray together when we meet up. It doesn't matter if we're in Starbucks or Caribou or out to dinner, we pray for each other at the end. It is a way of reminding ourselves and each other that our lives are in God's hands. Often we pray together at the beginning too, asking that our conversation would be honoring to God and encouraging to each other.
     Some of my sweetest memories with friends involve praying together - praying in Starbucks parking lot in my car while it rained with Demetria, the last time I saw her before she did her YWAM DTS; praying with Ally at the forest preserve; sitting with Kelli at Starbucks or Panera and praying afterwards, trying to pray with Geri when we both laughed so hard we couldn't talk.
     Ask your friends how you can pray for them, and then do it. If you lift them up to God, you'll probably remember later to follow up about that specific prayer request, and they will be grateful that you remembered. Praying with your friends is a gift and privilege - take advantage of it!

7. Honor your friends' confidences

     This may seem obvious, but there is nothing more hurtful than a friend betraying your trust. This means more than just not telling other people things you were told in confidence - though  that is important - it means knowing how to steward your friends' trust.
     An example of this? You don't always need to have an answer or a solution. Sometimes saying, "Wow, that's really hard, I'm sorry" means way more than, "Well, I think that if you were in the Word more, you wouldn't be feeling that way," after they just told you how they are struggling with staying in the Word. Your friends don't always want an answer or solution. They don't need you to be a Bible to them, or a theology textbook. Sometimes they just want an ear and a hug.
     When a friend comes to you with grief or sadness, you need to affirm that sadness before you speak truth. You can profane the holy words of God if you speak hard truth ("God is sovereign, he has a plan,") before you affirm their sadness or the difficulty of the situation ("That's really hard, I'm so sorry,"). Depending on the friend, they may not need to hear God's word, they may already know it, but I bet you anything they need to hear "That's really hard, I'm so sorry," or a hug or even simply a text that says "I'm sorry."
          I'm speaking from the receiving end; when my trip to Haiti was cancelled and I couldn't go, it meant so much to me when someone texted "I'm so sorry about your trip". And even though several people gave short sermons about God's sovereignty that I didn't need and didn't want, it was still the grace of God that they texted "I'm sorry about your trip", because I can count the dear friends who said nothing at all and that hurt much more than the well-intentioned theology that was misplaced.
     It's okay to not know what to say. You don't have to have answers, your presence is enough, and if you can't be physically present, an email that says, "I love you and I'm praying for you," can be the equivalent.
     And don't you dare tell them that they don't have enough faith. That's between them and God - if their prayers aren't being answered, tell them that you're sorry, that it's hard, and that you'll be praying too.
     If they're being vulnerable with you, honor that. Don't make judgement calls about their heart, just love them. And offer your own vulnerability too.
      Be a good steward of your friends' trust. Treat them with respect and as a person when they are vulnerable and offer your own vulnerability in return.

8. Challenge your friends to do hard things with you. (Spur one another on toward Christ)

     One of my favorite passages of the Bible is Romans 12:9-21, and I love verse 10: "Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord."
     My sister encourages me to read good books, hard books. Demi encourages me to pray more, to pursue people whole-heartedly, she challenges me to be more spontaneous. Ally and I encourage each other to understand what it means to be a woman of God, to forgive, to be in relationship with other Christians. Kelli encourages me to be patient, long-suffering. They all make me want to be sold out for Jesus, and it's rarely because they say I should. It's just because they live their lives that way. Demi's faith makes me eager to step out in faith and trust God's providence. Kelli's long-suffering and patience and kindness in the midst of difficult circumstances teaches me to have joy no matter what's happening in my life. Ally's faithful and gentle love and her extravagant dreams motivate me toward gentleness, reasonableness, dreaming big.
     Sometimes it is spoken - a friend and I doing bible-study together; my sister and I memorizing scripture together. But it can often be unspoken encouragement and chastisement.
     Good friends seek the Lord together. They encourage each other to do hard things.

The point is this - pursue your friends. Be thoughtful. Speak the truth, but also encourage. Challenge each other, pray for and with each other, be honest with each other.
     This is timely because due to the swift advancement of social media, we're deceived by our feeling of social connections. People are more lonely than before and we long for meaningful interactions. I pray that you would find friends who would pursue you, that you would make fun memories together, pray for each other and spur one another on toward Christ.
     Christians are called to community, and good friendship can challenge and encourage you in your relationship with Christ. I pray that you would find the timeless beauty of a vulnerable and challenging community.

     "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity."

What have you learned about friendship? What would you add?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

seven posts in seven days

This week Jen at Conversion Diary is challenging readers to link up for a week of blogging. I don't think I've ever blogged every single day for seven days in a row, so here we go! I'll be linking up with her the next week and you'll get the chance to see posts that I wrote and never published, posts written off  the top of my head and some summer pictures that have been sitting in my Picasa files.

Ready or not...

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

journal from the plane home

    [journal 7.9.13 yesterday evening]
     Today I sit in the midst of my piles of things for tomorrow - back pack, string bag, notebooks, suitcases, clothes for the wee hours of the morning when we will stand tired-shivering in front of the church in the dark, with dawn still hours away. Today I wrote in the gifts journal: "44. Packing for an adventure."
     It's getting dark, now, both with fading light and gathering storm clouds and before this time tomorrow I'll be in Haiti.
     I got to talk to Demi today, in the far-off Hawaii, and me here and about to be in another country. It's scandalous, the way we can jaunt about the four corners of the globe in just a few years, she in Maui and Kona and Japan, and then Nashville and Spokane, and Geri in Greece and seeing England, Italy, Cypress, France; me on my way to Haiti with Geri and then off to California for school. It's craziness, all of this.
     So I try to sink down into today, in the ladies voices in conversation downstairs, in the dark greying sky outside and the brightness of my room within, because for me, my little world is so big I can scarcely imagine the hugeness of our little planet in its ridiculous enormity.

     Welcome to the world, child. Come and gape at the incredible detail of it, stand in awe at its ginormity.
The Creator loves pizazz.

     [journal on the plane 7.10.13 bound from Miami to Chicago]

 Hours and hours ago we took off into the dawn, pink-gold and dazzlingly bright with our eager hopes and shining faith and then, after a few sleepy hours we descended into clouds and rain and little did I know it would not just be literal, that descent, but figurative as well. When we trudged off, baggage-laden from the plane we found out that due to the tropical storm over Haiti our flight had been cancelled and we sat in limbo, time-spending in the gate where we'd hopeful arrived as DeeDee made phone calls to find out what there was to know.
     All flights to Port au Prince cancelled for the next two days. Mudslides and flooding. No open flights for two weeks. A flight home hours later, for us up since 2am, or since Tuesday morning for some. And a trip rescheduled, tentatively for two weeks from now.
     And I can't go.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Redeeming The Arts

Whether or not you're an artist, I challenge you to take the time to watch this video. My friend Ally Westfallen (you can see her previous guest post here ) is a very talented speaker and dancer. This speech is one that she wrote for NCFCA competitions this year and it is quite powerful!

"I adopted Michelangelo's motto several years ago. He said, 'Criticize by creating.' I get frustrated when I see the church criticizing by criticizing. Why don't we make better movies? Why don't we write better books? Why don't we start better businesses? Why don't we criticize by creating? I just think we ought to be more known for what we're for than what we're against. We ought to beat the enemy at his own game, and that means we ought to be shrewd as snakes."

~Mark Batterson


Let's make good art.

Friday, July 5, 2013


 [body broken for you. thanksgiving]    

Wednesday was the day of studying, praying, giving thanks, finding beauty in the quiet of a kitchen filling with the sound of gentle melody and the smell of pie browning in the oven.
     Wednesday I led John 19 in college group - the chapter of blood - Good Friday. I wrote almost ten pages with notes and cross references and commentary notes and ideas. And I prayed. And then I mixed flour and salt and cut in the butter and rolled out the dough and turned it over and rolled it out while I turned all these thoughts over in my head.

     I washed and cut strawberries to the vibrations of piano and violin washing over the kitchen and the rain washing the leaves of the trees and the face of the grass and I thought of the One who washes us with his blood and baptizes us in his water.


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