Wednesday, December 10, 2008

northside grill

I am pumped. The Splendid Table podcast just featured Northside Grill, which we consider to be our very own neighborhood breakfast spot (it's a three-block walk); not to mention, Kevin used to work there as a short-order cook. I can personally vouch for the potato pancakes; also, if you get to know the boss pretty well, he'll come over and heckle you about being a Jesus freak. The actual podcast raved a bit more than the website did, but here's the review, along with the obligatory freaking out about Zingerman's, of course. I love Ann Arbor.

"Great breakfasts were the discovery of the Sterns' latest foray to Ann Arbor, Michigan, home of Michael's alma mater.

At the Northside Grill it was pancakes: apple oat bran with big chunks of caramelized apples that Michael ordered with a "side" of crispy-on-the-outside, creamy-on-the inside potato pancakes! Jane says spend the extra dollar or so for real maple syrup. The coffee here is fair trade organic.

At Zingerman's Next Door, which adjoins the legendary Zingerman's Delicatessen (where there are so many good things to eat it could make you dizzy), the excellent coffee is strong and the assortment of pastries will put you in a quandary. Chocolate cherry bread is unusual and delicious and the fabulous sticky buns have cherries tucked inside instead of raisins. This is Michigan, after all.

Leave room for Jane's favorite Dobos Torte, or a piece of the flaky and perfect apple strudel."

Northside Grill
1015 Broadway Street
Ann Arbor, MI

Zingerman's Delicatessen and Zingerman's Next Door
422 Detroit Street
Ann Arbor, MI

just the two of us

Things will never be quite the same.

Lazy Friday Mornings: sleeping in, sitting around doing nothing until Kevin comes up with a plan (cause heaven knows I never will), working out with all the seniors at Washtenaw Rec Center, doing some laundry, reading at Borders (magazines for me, Tom Clancy for him)

Drives Into Work Together: timing the Wall Street shortcut perfectly, grumbling at the idiots who can’t figure out the left turn lanes on Glen, repenting, pounding fists when Kevin makes a particularly gutsy and successful maneuver, morning sports talk or BBC News Hour

Coffee at Sweetwaters: reading the newspaper, my feet up on Kevin’s legs (which take up all my foot space anyway), side comments about how much we love Ann Arbor, parking tickets, side comments about how annoying parking is in Ann Arbor

Long Road Trips: sour patch kids and reese’s pieces, energy drinks, worrying about what’s in the energy drinks, Harry Potter, cursing at the funky cruise control, tensing up at the wheel during rainstorms

Late-night Conversations with the Invisible Baby: telling her about our days, describing what life might be like for her out here, coaxing her to move around a bit, exclamations about all the resulting flailing, the difficulty in grasping that this is actually happening, dreams, fears, prayers

Sunday, December 07, 2008

in the meantime

I'm currently in that ultra-awkward waiting phase. If I let myself think about labor and delivery or the bringing home of a child to live with us permanently, I'm pretty darn scared. But generally, I am trying to keep busy. Oh, and I also pray sometimes.

Jenni recently started her own photography/design business, which is SWEET!! She came by to take some ("absolutely no cheese") preggy photos, and I am pumped about what she created. I especially like this one that she photoshopped.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

the fruits of the independent woman

Love, joy, peace, patience, etc. I know the drill. I love Jesus, and I’ve got the Spirit, so why does that list make me feel so bad? Good thing I’ve got it so firmly entrenched in my memory; there’s no need to think about what any of it really means. I’ll just spout it off when it’s important to look well-versed.

I want the fruits of the Spirit. I’m desperate for them. They are the nemeses of depression, anxiety and irritability. But when I try my best to feel them, I come up with this whole new category: tolerance, level-headedness, the ability to ignore worries, niceness, the ability to look busy, and sheer white-knuckle grit. Ah yes, the fruits of the independent woman. So delicious and nourishing, aren’t they?

They’re crap, and I’m tired of their mediocrity.

The fruits of the Spirit are fruits of the Spirit. Why do we expect ourselves to feel them independently of God’s power? Love, real agape lay-down-one’s-life-for-another love is not available to me apart from the Spirit. Real joy and peace are beyond my reach, unless He produces them in me. In every moment, I must yield to the Spirit in order to experience the emotional overhaul I desire.

So why be disappointed in myself when I fail to truly love someone? Why panic when I am stuck in anxiety? It’s not my job to feel better. It’s my job to take a second and “strive to surrender” (as my friend Erik put it so well). I can see how, in this way, life under grace might actually be a lighter burden.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

this went a different direction that i was expecting

I am thankful for my Abba’s grace, that he’s not disappointed in my lack of thankfulness, that his kindness leads me to repentance.

I am thankful for my baby girl, whose unplanned presence in our lives is a perfect one. I do not believe that a planned child is more important than an unplanned child under any circumstances, and never will.

I am thankful that God has given me the privilege of bearing and raising a child. I know he values the role of a mother far beyond what we’d expect, and that every pregnant woman is BLESSED.

I am thankful for my husband, who is currently installing the car seat, who has given me backrubs when he’s exhausted, who has dedicated himself to becoming an excellent birth coach, who taught me from the beginning: “This little zygote is a gift from God. It’s gonna be great.”

I am thankful that I can cast every anxiety on God, because he cares for me.

My life is dramatically good, and I know not everyone’s is. But we have a God who is strong. We have a God who loves us, and he knows what we need.

I am thankful that his kingdom comes and is coming.

Monday, November 17, 2008

getting used to being up


turns out most of my neighbors leave their porchlights on all night.

the silence is not at all frightening, but deeply calming, which is interesting, since i was the little girl who was afraid to be the last one awake at sleepovers.

eight months ago, i was up scanning the internet in search of an explanation for the way i was feeling.

right now i'm up drinking some water and eating a sandwich, waiting for these now-familiar contractions to subside.

soon i'll be up rocking and feeding my sleepy little baby girl, listening to lullabies.

Monday, November 10, 2008

i can see things coming together

I mentioned back in January that I had been throwing around ideas for women’s leadership development at New Life. A lot has taken shape since then; mainly there has been a monthly meeting started for the women who make up the core of the church (aka “Dual Core”). We had our first meeting two weeks ago, and I planned to give a talk on the vision for the meeting. I ended up learning some good lessons about how one needs to plan a meeting out in a detailed way, or it will take on a life of its own. Which it did, but it was good.

We did run out of time, though, and I gave a seven-minute summary of what would have been probably a 25-minute talk. I thought I’d post it here, because I worked hard on it, and it is something I am passionate about. I’d like to share it, though I have my doubts that anyone will read the whole thing. No worries.


"Why do we need a meeting like Dual Core?

So a few weeks ago, Kevin and I went down to Columbus to visit the H2O team and check out their Sunday morning service. They have a pretty similar service to ours, and the guy who shared his slice of life described himself as a “womanizer” before meeting Christ. He was a super excited guy, very enthusiastic, and as he was telling the story of the transformation of his life, he ended up saying, “Now, I love women. Women are awesome.” Have you ever been the one person in the crowd to laugh way louder than everyone else and everyone kind of looks at you?—that was me. But I loved it. I was like, “Right on, Aaron. That’s exactly how I feel.” I think women are the best thing ever.

I think you women are incredible people. And I am especially grateful that you’ve taken the time to come tonight, that you take the time to serve the church in many different ways, and that you want to grow. My plan for this time is to share some things I am exploring and discovering as I’ve studied the Bible and as I’ve been growing as a leader.

The truth is, men and women are dramatically different—“in the image of God, he created man; male and female, [God] created them.”—it’s not a mistake that this is so clearly emphasized in Genesis. We are obviously anatomically different, but those physical differences reflect a deeper and very beautiful spiritual and emotional reality.

Dual Core is designed to re-establish a deep admiration for the way God has created us as men and women. You attend Core each week, hopefully because you desire to go deeper in your relationship with God, while growing in ministry skills and doctrine. As leaders and workers in the church, you need training and exhortation in how to follow and serve God, and this will not always look the same for both men and women. Now, I realize that people from all different walks of life really really want to understand God’s will for men and women; they want to interpret Scripture the way He intended. I am going to share a little bit of what I’ve learned, that has seemed to ring true to my experience, simply as a woman, but also as a woman who is leader in the church. I realize that not everybody sees things the way I do, and that’s fine. I would ask that if anything I say particularly turns you off or makes you mad or something, I would love to talk to you about it. Please don’t let any bitter feelings fester.

It can be hard to extract from Scripture God’s will for women, but the work reveals a gold mine. God has a very very deep heart for women, not just because we’re human, but because we're women.

From the beginning, he entrusted us with a vital element of his image. Hebrew scholar Robert Alter is the guy that John Eldredge cites in his books, when discussing the meaning of the word that describes Eve in Genesis 2. He says that the English word “helper” or “helpmate” doesn’t really hit the mark. In Hebrew, it is ezer kenegdo, and should be translated something more along the lines of: “sustainer, life-giver.” While Adam was commissioned by God to care for the garden and name the animals, Eve was created to provide the relationship he needed to thrive as he carried out those tasks. Eve’s role as sustainer in Adam’s life foreshadows the role of women in the world throughout time.

I have gotten a lot out of reading a book called Shepherding a Woman’s Heart, by Beverly Hislop. I would highly recommend it to anyone who is really interested in this topic. She digs into Genesis 3 to talk about how gender distinctions play out in the fall of Adam and Eve and their subsequent curses. As you’ve probably heard many times before, Adam’s curse is focused on his work and accomplishments:

"Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat of it
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.”

Eve’s curse, on the other hand, is entirely about her relationships:

"I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing;
with pain you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you."

What stood out to me when reading the book was how much our great role as sustainers/life-bearers can contribute to our deepest difficulties. Our bodies are designed to give life, and most of us experience the hard truth of that every month. I personally am very weakened by that process--hormonally, physically, emotionally. The truth is, it’s not just physical. We are nurturers, whether that means we are carrying a baby around before its birth, or we are caring for a friend or an animal—all of this is profoundly meaningful and rich, and it is also, thanks to the curse, profoundly draining. Again, I point this out, because it is definitely hard to be nurturers and sustainers, but the difficulty is closely linked to the great privilege and favor we have in God’s sight. By the way, if the phrase in 1 Peter 3 really bothers you, which says: “treat [your wives] with respect as the weaker partner”—take into consideration the tremendous love God shows us by instructing husbands to care for their life-giving wives. We are not weak in the sense that we are inferior. We are often left feeling weak, because our efforts in the world are so monumental and affects our whole selves.

In the Gospels, I love how we get a glimpse of Jesus’ female friends. In Luke 8:3 and Matthew 27:55 we learn that Jesus and his very active disciples are being sustained and cared for by women; they are, in fact, the ones who stick as close to Jesus as possible even after he’d been arrested. The Matthew verse says, “They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs.” They were close by Jesus during his deepest pain, and even in death, they were there to care for Him. They wanted to be with Him. This is not a flippant by-the-way comment. Matthew knows he is communicating something important by including it in his story. I loved how the women had such prominent roles in The Passion movie—it definitely showed that the women were responding to Jesus at an incredibly deep relational level, and they ministered to Him in His deepest neediness.

Does this paint a small picture for you guys of the immense privilege we have as women to be sustainers and life-givers? We are endowed with incredible relational skills—the things that often come naturally to us, like a well-timed hug or a sustaining word of encouragement, can take guys a long time to learn. We need to lead the charge in this area at New Life, and therefore, we need special training and understanding.

What are the implications of our differences on a practical level when it comes to ministry?

Please hear me: I do not mean to imply that you can’t do anything that a man does. Not at all. In fact, most of the men and women in our church are doing the exact same work—leading lifegroups, following up young believers, discipling, reaching out to unbelievers, playing on a worship team or running a community service project. What I do mean to point out here is that there is a significant difference, generally speaking, between the way a life of ministry affects men and the way it affects women. Also, our influence will look and feel different to the people we reach out to.

I actually ran a very informal survey with the help of some spies and got some feedback from a few guys about what motivates them in ministry and what makes them thrive. It was interesting to hear how powerful it was for them to be involved in “the greatest work there is.” They see the impact, they have a vision, they want to see if they can do it; and one guy said he felt the most like a leader when he had sole ownership of something.

We’re definitely motivated by the impact of the work, but I would like to suggest that we thrive when we are doing the work in relationship. My husband Kevin said: “I’m willing to step out where somebody else isn’t going—I’m not going to wait around until somebody else says, “I’ll do it with you.” And not every guy is like this, but I was like, You know? I don’t think women are generally built that way. I think we are very capable of handling lots of responsibility on our own, but will we enjoy it? Will we thrive? Will it result in burn-out? This has been my experience and I’ve observed that other women have really struggled when they take something upon themselves with very little support from other like-minded women.

The main point of my talk tonight is that I believe it’s biblical for the women of the church to be extremely committed to supporting one another for the sake of the Kingdom. If you lead a small group or if you are actively seeking to build up the women in a small group, you are already doing this. But my fear is that in our passionate efforts to care for those less mature, we ourselves often feel uncared for. I want to go another step further and challenge each of you to make it a priority to support the other women leaders in your sphere—we hope this monthly time can help you do that, among other things.

So the purpose of dual core is relational at its heart. We certainly want to provide opportunities for you to be equipped in ministering to women in specific areas (we’ll be taking a survey at the end to get your suggestions, in fact). But what we love about this meeting is that it’s a chance to get all the women leaders and workers in a room together—to get a chance to look around and say, “I’m not alone; these are like-minded women.” We hope Dual Core will give you a chance to connect with some people you don’t know, to maybe meet some women who are older or younger than you. We want to give you a chance to bounce ideas off each other, encourage one another and make new friendships. We’re excited to cross some of the parameters between staff women, campus women and community women. I think it’s going to be a really valuable time, and there are new ideas popping up left and right.

Will you guys pray with me that God will use Dual Core in our lives? He cherishes womanhood—he created it. He wants us to connect and support and nurture. I’m praying that we will learn valuable and practical skills during this meeting, and that we will also feel a deeper kinship with the rest of the women who attend. God is moving at New Life in this area—I really believe it. I sense His heart for women in my own spirit and I’ve heard it expressed through many of you. I am really excited to see what He has in store for us."

Monday, October 27, 2008

if you live in southeast michigan...

I'd like to direct you to Ali's blog: Amani is Coming.

I traveled with Ali and Theresa to Kenya back in May, and what they are doing here in the States to respond to their experience is thrilling and challenging. The vision for even taking this annual trip to Kenya is exactly this: that members of our church, so gifted and well-equipped in many ways, would apply their skills and their hearts to loving the needy. Please consider attending this event on November 8. It is open to the public and is being advertised throughout Ann Arbor.

We have purchased a diaper bag for the little lady (sturdy and stunning, totally unlike anything you'd find in an American store) and a little bag full of stuffed animals (Kevin actually got it for me in Nairobi at the Amani headquarters on Mother's Day). You won't be disappointed--the products are designed with Westerners in mind.

Here's some more info from Ali:

"We're writing to tell you about a non-profit organization in Africa and how you can help refugee women just by doing your Christmas shopping. This organization is called Amani Ya Juu, Swahili for "Peace from Above" or "Higher Peace." It's a program that started in Nairobi, Kenya but reaches out to refugee women from many African countries. Women are taught sewing skills and gain experience in purchasing, bookkeeping, design, and more, while seeds of peace are sown in their lives through cross-cultural relationships and Bible study.

The beautiful things they make are then sold in Kenya and around the world, and every single penny spent on their things is put back into the program, to give the women a fair wage and to continue training other women.

Saturday, November 8, from 11am to 3pm, we're bringing Amani to Ann Arbor. There will be many products for sale, ranging from journals to bags, kitchen and home decor to kids toys, beautiful jewelry, and more. Everything is unique, made by hand from African materials.

There will also be a raffle. The money from the raffle will go toward buying a new sewing machine for the women in Nairobi.

Please stop on by to learn more about Africa and purchase some unforgettable Christmas presents that really do give back!"

Amani sale
Saturday, Nov. 8, 2008 11am-3pm
New Life Church Building -- 1541 Washtenaw, Ann Arbor, MI 48104

Saturday, September 20, 2008

is it worth it?

After giving myself a few days of distance from my 9/8 and 9/10 posts plus comments, I’m still wondering if blogging is worth it. The whole experience of “the anonymous commenter” really threw me for a loop. On the one hand, I’m glad it gave me an opportunity to wrestle with God over what to do (and boy, did I wrestle), as well as to set some boundaries on my blog. At times, I was certain that good was coming from the situation, at the very least in my own personal life. On the other hand, some people to whom I told the story said, “That’s why some of us don’t blog,” and “That’s why I don’t get blogging.” Those comments were not meant to put me down, I know, but they carry with them a little bit of blame—like this was my fault. Like I shouldn’t have put myself out there in a vulnerable position for all the world to see. Cause that’s what’s wrong with blogs in the first place; they’re indiscriminate.

Do I just crave the attention that this blog provides? Is it wrong for me to share openly about my life and heart with anyone other than those who have won my trust and who also trust me?

Ironically, I’d like to be honest here. I felt a lot of shame in the last week about various things, but particularly about what happened on my blog. I’ll spare you the details, but I do want to say that I noticed something. Isn’t it odd that my outlet for writing, my forum for creativity, truthfully one of my main reasons for going part-time, felt like such a defeat? I was initially struck by how much like a demonic scheme that seemed. Or, as a friend pointed out, maybe God wanted to teach and refine me through this. Either way, now doesn’t seem to be the time to give up. I work so much less now, not because I’m an exhausted pregnant woman, but because it was clear back in March that I needed this. I needed the chance to test out my words, and maybe even my paintbrushes or camera. From my perspective, this blog motivates me to create.

I would really love your thoughts on this. What makes a blog worthwhile? What makes you read my blog? Do the pros outweigh the cons? Should I speak less openly about what’s going on in my life? If you wouldn’t mind taking the time to comment, it would mean a lot to me. I think it would also help me to know who reads this. Even if I don’t know you, I’m interested in your thoughts (with the exclusion of anonymous comments). Can I tempt you with a give-away?

Just kidding. It’s not that kind of blog, at least not right now.

Thanks, everybody.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

dove does it again

LOVE this.

Today I got my new 25-year-old license in the mail, and all I could think was "pregnant face." A video like this reminds me of some things I need to remember.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

for keri

"We live in such a way that no one will stumble because of us, and no one will find fault with our ministry. In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind. We have been beaten, been put in prison, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food. We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love. We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us. We use the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defense. We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us. We are honest, but they call us impostors. We are ignored, even though we are well known. We live close to death, but we are still alive. We have been beaten, but we have not been killed. Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything."
--2 Corinthians 6: 3-10

If I've ever seen this in action, I've seen it in you.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

two angles

I got an anonymous comment from Monday’s post that I thought I would wrestle with a bit. It’s definitely the first openly critical comment I’ve ever gotten; it hurts real bad, but it’s also good for me, I think.

I thought about deleting the comment and the post, but that seemed like image maintenance to me. I’ll be honest, the hurt I feel is entirely a product of my desire to look good. I read back through my post with different lenses, and I can see that it comes across as unfeeling—the girl at the bus stop is presented as a neutral prop in my setting, instead of as a soul, created by God and in need of real love. In fact, I need to ask her forgiveness for walking by, and ironically, I’ll be seeing her again in a few days, so I’ll be praying for courage. That said, I’m making a few changes to the post, but in general, I’m leaving it the same. Part of learning how to write is learning from mistakes and receiving criticism, and I can’t just erase every mis-step as if it never happened. The only reason to do so would be to make myself look good.

My intention in writing that post was to make fun of myself, to look back on the myriad selfish reasons why I often don’t say hi to people I know when I see them from a distance (this is certainly not the first time that’s happened). I hope it made me look a bit ridiculous, but if it didn’t, then I failed to paint the picture I intended. I feel genuinely convicted by God, even more now after receiving this comment, that I can’t ignore his people; not because I’m tired or in a hurry, and not even because I’m shy or afraid. I appreciate being called out on that.


I would also like to come at this situation from another angle, so: permission to speak boldly. From here on out, I’ll be monitoring my comments more closely, and as a general rule, I won’t be posting anonymous comments. I’ve gotten a few in the past, and since I’m an avid blog reader, I’ve noticed that they provide license for saying pretty much whatever one wants without consequences. That is, of course, the nature of the internet these days, but I’ve seen extremely hurtful things happen to people I love at the hands of blogs. And I guess this blog has a longer reach than I realized. If you know me, love me and care about me, I will take constructive criticism from you any day, and the odds are good you already have my personal email address. Write away. In fact, I’m probably going to need some feedback for this post.

Since the comment references New Life, I’ve decided to speak up, although it’s hard to know what is meant by “New Life,” since it is a giant mass of individuals. Many of these individuals are my family, and while I personally may do a somewhat crappy job at loving people and have, on many occasions, run away from messiness, it is entirely untrue that we, as a church, avoid pain, brokenness and unhappiness. Let it be known that I AM A MESS, my husband is a mess and all my best friends are complete messes. We are hurting and very often unhappy.

But everyday I watch my husband pour out his life for other people in pain, and I watch my friends love and pursue people who are depressed, sick, addicted, afraid, or alone. Does anybody ever love perfectly? Definitely not. But these people have given up their lives to try to love like Jesus. They are washed in the blood of Christ, they are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, and there is NO condemnation for them. None.

I claim this truth of the Gospel on behalf of my family, not just at New Life, but all around the world.


To my anonymous commenter: I'm bold in my words, because I want to respond to what you said. I am not condemning or judging you as a person. You have been hurt, I'm sure, and I completely understand your frustration. If I've met you before, is there any chance you'd want to hang out with me? I've been wrestling my whole life with that question of "how much of this is even real?" My own fakeness is despicable to me. I really want you to know what it has been like for me to learn how to truly love God, even in the midst of that temptation to hide. I'd like to be a listening ear for you too, if you're looking for one. Please feel free to facebook me...

Monday, September 08, 2008

take it or leave it

Last week it was HOT in Ann Arbor. The students seemed optimistic, yet sweaty, on the first day of classes, and I was walking among them on my way back to New Life from the League. All the fluid in my body was descending quickly to my feet, the glare off the concrete was making my eyes squinty, and as I looked toward the future, the skin of my middle-aged years was looking more and more sun-damaged with every passing minute out there. I was, perhaps, waddling.

To my right (oh, if I’d only looked left!), a friend of mine sat in the shade of the bus stop, looking sad. My hipster wide-rimmed shades lended themselves nicely to peering at her out of the corner of my eye without turning my head. She didn’t notice me. Excellent. I kept walking.

Now, I happen to know that she probably was sad for a particular reason. It would have been really quite good of me to stop and talk to her. I was thinking these thoughts for the next block, along with: “NO. I refuse to turn around and go back. It is hot; I am tired. The bus will come soon anyway.”

I believe this was one of those take-it-or-leave-it moments that God gives me.

“Just go back.”

“Who me? Nah. Wait, who is this? Ha! I’m so silly. Not a big deal. Seriously.”

My question on the subject is: how much does God care whether or not I go back? Am I being sinful by moving forward toward the goal of elevating my legs? Or am I missing out on just one of the boundless ordinary opportunities to love others that God gives me? Listen, I certainly don't miss out on every opportunity. In fact, I’ve taken him up on quite a few of them. The truth is, I’m doing quite well at loving people, if I do say so myself.

But let me ask myself a question. How sweet could life be if I made it a goal to take God up on these promptings more frequently? In reality, they aren’t that numerous, and they aren’t that hard.

Often my reason for saying NO to God is my “spiritual green-ness.” Oh, I am very green indeed. From my perspective, my energy resources are very limited, draining quickly and Must! Be! Conserved! I join the ranks of many other devotedly green people by feeling genuinely panicked. At some point, the earth will be completely wiped out of its resources, and at some point, I will use my final drop of relational energy, have a nervous breakdown and die.

I can only laugh at myself. That, and remember the truth—that as I labor, “I am struggling with all [the Spirit’s] energy, which so powerfully works in me” (Colossians 1:29). I have to count on God to give me his strength to follow through on his ideas. He is trustworthy, and what he asks of me will not hurt me, at least not for long. His quiet calls beckon me to a more full life. I’ll be keeping my ear out.

Friday, August 29, 2008


Today, Krysta posted this link to some free music:

So far, I am enjoying me some JJ Heller; however, I decided to putz around on her website and found her blog. Turns out she's due to have a baby girl six days before me, and she has graced us with some lovely photos of her nursery (compliments of Lovely Little Things). If you're interested in decorating, you should really check it out.

Forgive me for feeling slightly deflated when I contemplated the current state of things in my own little girl's room:

Yikes. It's not even the right color.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

a little dream psychology

I had a dream about the little lady last night. There were some strange elements—I came to the hospital to have a baby but didn’t feel or remember much of anything until she was born. She was absolutely beautiful but was somehow already able to walk. The most disturbing part was that I never established any sort of real attachment to her. I kept leaving her behind and forgetting about her, and I had this intense anxiety that I had entirely missed my chance to bond with her. Here she was, already walking, and I didn’t even know how to feed her.

Except for the fact that she was a drop-dead gorgeous baby, I think this might be categorized as a nightmare.

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of the necessary research on labor and delivery, and I feel convicted by my dream--that maybe I'm becoming paranoid and not trusting God. Information is good, but I can't let it make me worry. Prayer would be good. Yes, maybe I should go pray. Ok, I'm gonna go pray now.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

writing is a tricky task.

Writing is a tricky task. I dream of having something truly worthwhile to say, something that other people would want to hear. Maybe I could publish a memoir someday? Does a 24-year-old have any right to contemplate writing a memoir? Still, I want to be involved in the craft somehow. But how?

This summer has been both discouraging and encouraging along these lines. In many ways, I have felt thwarted. In fact, almost completely diverted. The writing class I had planned to take in Virginia Beach, which was, amazingly, one about creating a spiritual memoir, ended up starting around the time we left. I’ve also found that I’m not one to volunteer information about being pregnant, despite the fact that this milestone fills my thoughts. This blog is the perfect place to practice, but it haunts me with its archives full of forced word choice.

Other circumstances have recently spurred me on, however. Yesterday I was given several chapters from a book-in-progress about living with hormone fluctuations—my job is simply to provide feedback. I feel an excitement creeping in, because here is a subject on which I could genuinely contribute, not as the writer, but as a person speaking from experience. As a side note, I’ll admit, I wouldn’t mind having my name listed in the acknowledgments. Even more encouraging, the spiritual malaise of my first trimester (and really the last year of my life) is giving way to a deeper, truer relationship with God, and I’ve discovered I have more to talk about than just being pregnant. I don’t want this to become a mommy blog (Baby A, or Wee Strong as we call her, can have her own website); I want to keep talking about matters of the spirit. Hopefully a little deep calling to deep will happen, both the result of and beyond the realm of motherhood.

Finally, I’ve decided that a painful reading through old blog entries might make an excellent exercise in developing my voice. I don’t want to write something just because it sounds good. I want to write it because I mean it. I can detect a false motive in a single word when I read some of my past blogs—I don’t want this to make me feel ashamed, so that I end up deleting most of my entries. I want this to remind me to test the words I use now for authenticity and truth.

What I’m saying is: I have something to say. I should say it.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

at which point, life changes drastically (yet again)

Wow. March 28th. That's kind of ridiculous.

But guess what? I have the best excuse ever!!

Baby Armstrong decided to make his/her presence known on April 7, after which I stopped posting, because I didn't really feel like writing about some random thing going on in my life, when the fact is: aaaaahhhhh!!! I'm having a baby!!!!

In case you interpreted that "aahh" as "Yippee, this is so exciting, and I'm experiencing maternal bliss!"--well, that's kind of true to a certain degree, but it's also: "Wow, I feel like crap and I want to sleep all the time, and this is not what I was planning for my life, and I'm not sure I'm ready for it."

In reality, the last three months of my life have been some of the hardest ever. Since finding out, we 1) had to go to the ER, got diagnosed with a "high risk" pregnancy (which later turned out to be a mis-diagnosis), 2) went to Kenya for two weeks, which consisted of me spending most of the time on the couch and/or losing my mind, 3) left three days after our return from Kenya for LT in Virginia Beach, and 4) got adjusted to the violent mood swings, nausea, cravings for ranch dressing, and extreme fatigue of a pregnant woman in her first trimester. Whoa.

Life has leveled out significantly, and I am now one excited mama. I've been feeling the baby move for the first time this week, which is nuts! I am now at the beginning of the 17th week, and here is a photo for your viewing pleasure, taken right before heading off to a sweet fireworks show (there were local and professional shows up and down the beach, so it felt like we were actually in the middle of the fireworks). I'm not actually this big all the time, but we had just eaten a crazy good meal, ala Bobby Flay (Kevin's new muse).

Hey there, little person.

Friday, March 28, 2008

taking a long soak in big differences

For those of you who have never taken the Myers-Briggs personality test (also known as the Keirsey Temperament sorter), let me enlighten you: you must take it. And then you must allow me to enlighten you about you. I think I'm going to be writing more about this in the future.

Did you know that for the four larger personality categories (Artisan, Guardian, Idealist, Rational), there are specific hand gestures that people of the different types tend to use? And that it actually rings true in almost every case that I've observed? It's gotten so that I can pretty much say what personality type a person is, without even thinking about their personality, but simply by watching them.

Did you know that if you are an Intuitive-Perceiver, like me, meaning you are an abstract thinker and you're pretty indecisive, that you are at the absolute bottom rung on the ladder of efficiency and productivity?? And that it's not because you totally suck and you're lazy, but because you have very different priorities than many other people? Glory be!

Did you know that most extraverts are able to figure out what they're thinking as long as they're talking, but become confused if they don't share their thoughts? Did you know that, without time to process alone, introverts get more confused about their own thoughts the more they talk about them? I was wondering (and so was Kevin) why it takes so darn long for me to answer just one simple question.

Did you know that if you are a "Sensing" person, then the odds are pretty good that you're thinking right now: This is kind of cool, but really, who cares?

What I'm trying to communicate is that we're all different--did you know that? Come on, do you really believe it? Or do you expect people to react like you would to the situations of life? Do you look down on them for not valuing what you value? Do you compare yourself to someone else and think you're falling way short in various areas?

I think we are quick to abuse our personalities--mainly, we force them to do something they weren't meant to do. But I want to say right now, Thank you, Jesus, for making me who I am. I want to be ME.

On that note, thought I'd let you know that sometime in the next few months, I'm changing to part-time staff at New Life. I am actually loving what I do now, but I'm doing too much of it and not enough other stuff. So what I'm going to do with that extra time is take some writing workshops, and I'm going to write for awhile. Just to see what happens.

My work will most likely be published.

On this blog. Heh heh.

Friday, March 21, 2008

first day of spring

“It’s pretty,” we agree.

A moment later, as worn-out wipers disperse the fluffy, perfect little mess, Kevin tests the brakes. Ahead of us, a red car careens soundlessly, over the curb and through a patch of shrubs by the sidewalk, halting ashamedly at the foot of the grumpy house on the corner.

Monday, February 18, 2008

wrestling with a nasty procrastination habit

petty crimes of forgetfulness:
failing to avoid failure, as I
drag and defer.

who drags the sea of days for my wasted time?

does my life leak out
through the crack of my unwillingness?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

a little flannery (or a long philosophical post)

"Oh, Matt. There are spaces of sorrow only God can touch. You did a terrible thing, Matt, a terrible thing. But you have a dignity now. Nobody can take that from you. You are a son of God, Matthew Poncelet."

I'm like a broken record, but I'm unrelenting and unapologetic about that. Hopefully there are enough individual nuances to each post, so that even though they all say the same thing, they're still worth reading.

Last night Kevin and I watched the movie Dead Man Walking (see quote). It had been sitting in its Netflix sleeve for over a week, because we knew it would be tough to watch--not exactly your typical Valentine's Day flick. But we both felt up to it last night, because we'd had a pretty restful day, and I can now confidently say that this movie drove my ability to worship Jesus this morning. As with The Kite Runner, I can't openly recommend it, because it is utterly painful and horrifying at times (I would absolutely not recommend it to anyone who has ever been abused in any way). But if you're open to it and up for it, I would say, give it a shot, but read some Flannery O'Connor first.

If it seems like this woman is the one dead person with whom I'd like to spend a day, then I've represented myself correctly. Yesterday morning, without knowing how much it would help me understand the movie, I read an article by her called "The Church and the Fiction Writer" and then promptly stumbled (without even looking) upon an article written about her called "Who's Afraid of Flannery O'Connor?" by Douglas Jones, which I would recommend if you want a sweeping overview of her work. Both wrestle with the question of whether or not Christians must be willing to face abundant horror in order to understand abundant grace.

Flannery O'Connor's characters are total creeps, just exactly the kind of people you would hope never to meet on the street. I've been saying for two years that The Violent Bear It Away is my favorite book in all the world, but I think I am just now beginning to understand why. A spare summary here (don't read if you want to experience the shock of it all on your own): 1) kid is hellfire-brimstone despicable, 2) kid drowns his disabled cousin, 3) kid gets horribly and randomly abused, 4) kid experiences the extension of God's merciful hand into a frightening and horrible landscape of suffering. (All the credit for the fact that I understand this book at all goes to my favorite professor of all time, Cindy Sowers, the one living person with whom I'd like to spend a day, to see if I can find out what she's really thinking).

"The violent bear it away" is the King James Version of "forceful men take hold of it," which I quoted from Matthew 11 in December. God is weaving this verse into my very essence. (Too dramatic?) It's true! In O'Connor's book, the violent boy takes hold of the kingdom of heaven and bears it away. I don't think that's what those KJV dudes meant when they translated it that way, but I know it's what good ol' Flannery meant!

This is where Dead Man Walking comes in. This movie was the bare, ugly bones of the Gospel: that Jesus accepts even the murderers and rapists (though we don't want to know it), and in the end, they probably understand what's really happening better than anybody. And it's beautifully and violently clear--you don't have to derive your own Christian meaning. People are talking about Jesus and thanking Jesus and crying to Jesus the whole time, even while the vicious sin of the crime is available for all to see, reminding us, the viewers, that there's a reason we all need our Deliverer.

The film was broken up from beginning to end by short shots of the crime, so that I could never forget what had really happened. It helped me remember that murder is real, rape is real. This is important, because it's easy to say that God will accept even a rapist, when you don't have to think about the brutal reality of it. But Jesus looks upon the crime without a filter, weeps and holds the wounded ones, and then extends forgiveness to the criminal. I've never known Jesus' love to be that big, never tried to get it till now. Dead Man Walking made it real for me.

There are other people who have a little Flannery in them:

--Brennan Manning (he writes in The Ragamuffin Gospel: "At Sunday worship, as in every dimension of our existence, many of us pretend to believe we are sinners. Consequently, all we can do is pretend to believe we have been forgiven. As a result, our whole spiritual life is pseudo-repentance and pseudo-bliss.")
--Sufjan Stevens (John Wayne Gacy, Jr. is a song about a serial killer that makes me sick to listen to, but there's the line: "On my best behavior, I am really just like him. Look beneath the floor boards for the secrets I have hid." And then there's Seven Swans: "He will take you. If you run, He will chase you." That's a rather foreboding sort of grace, but I like it.)
--Over the Rhine (Everyman's Daughter: "I carry the inward aching. Like you, I too am naked. I don’t look that good, but this is flesh and blood. I’m everyman’s daughter.")
--Rainer Maria Rilke ("We must not portray you in king's robes, you drifting mist that brought forth the morning...")

I'm always looking for more.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

right here, right now

At New Life, we've been talking about "the Kingdom" and what it means to pray for God's kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth, as it is in heaven. This means thinking about things, both big and small, in terms of how God's kingdom might come right here, right now. The bulk of the work is small.

Last Sunday was a big day for me though. A representative from Compassion International brought 100 pictures of children who need sponsors. He also brought along George, a Kenyan man, perhaps my age, who was the first child to be sponsored in his specific project in Nairobi, back in the 80s. Right now, he is getting his MBA and wants to go into public health in Kenya, specializing in infectious diseases.

I got to go out to lunch with George and some others. I also got to man one of the Compassion tables and watch as people searched the faces to find their child. After hearing George's stories about life in Kenya, the impact $35 a month makes, the kind of changes that can happen in a country at the hands of its children--I knew that these flat-broke college students were going to see God's kingdom come in their midst in big and small ways. I'm not sure I've ever been this sure that I am right in the thick of it. Right here, right now.

My second book of 2008 was The Kite Runner. If you feel willing to open the floodgates of your inner sanctum, go ahead and read it. I wasn't totally prepared--that's why I'm warning you. I'm unsure about how to talk about it. The general plotline is a major stretch, particularly towards the end. The prose is often beautiful, but then sometimes I felt insulted by the author, like, "Thanks, but I was catching on to that on my own."

I guess it doesn't really matter, though, because the characters were so real. Since the vast majority of the book takes place in modern Afghanistan, the characters were also in a whole lot of pain, and the things that happened to them were unimaginable; also unimaginably commonplace, as if they weren't that big of a deal.

There is a character named Ali, who had polio as a child and thus walks with a limp, swinging one leg out to the side with each stride. There were little boys. It's hard to even think about them.

The question that rolled through my mind right after I finished the book was: How would I react if I could truly confront the fact that these things happen to real people, not just to characters in books? It was 4AM, during that sick time when I wasn't sleeping much, and I asked God to send me rejected children to adopt someday.

I remember wondering if I'd care as much about this when I woke up the next day.

I think I still care, I really do. Kevin and I chose a Compassion boy named Johnston, who's 14, and just not that cute anymore. My guess is he's been waiting for several years to get a sponsor. The older ones rarely, if ever, get picked, because those little three-year-olds are absolutely irresistible. Still, Johnston, I have to say, it's good to know you. I hope to meet you.

I have to ask myself if I am writing this to proclaim my good deeds before men. If you like me more, whomever it is that reads this, then I guess that's my reward.

But truly, this what I'm thinking about these days. This is what is on my mind. I am overwhelmed and moved by the lonely and rejected, the ones that nobody wants. I want those people to know the love of Jesus through me. I really really do.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

what i'll be doing at 4am

As a small window into my life, I thought I'd let you know that I'll be staying up all night tonight. This was not my idea. At Michigan, there is an event called the 40 Days of Prayer that has been happening annually. There is a prayer room on campus open 24 hours a day for 40 days, and anyone from any organization or church can use it to pray. I hear it's pretty cool in there, though I haven't visited. In general, this sort of thing makes me wonder: "Where am I? Cause I'm pretty sure I'm at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor...but maybe not."

There was an opening ceremonies of sorts, during which one of the organizers challenged us to spend one whole night in prayer. I kind of chuckled to myself. You know how these college kids can be--so passionate and energetic. Hope they have a good time.

So then Katie, this girl in my small group whom I pretty much adore and who has a lovely unique way of influencing people just by being herself--she comes up with this idea that maybe our whole small group could do an all-nighter. I guess I should have seen this coming.

So tonight, I think of myself in solidarity with people like Linn and Glenn and all you missionaries out there who have to go to wakes and all-night evangelistic events. You're brave souls. I'm really hoping I'll survive this, in honor of you.

Last time I stayed up all night to "pray," I was in high school, and I made a pretty impulsive decision around 4AM. It was a weird experience. This is a step of faith for me, that it'll be different.

Now I'm off to take a nap.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

maybe in 2008 i'll write about these things

I know I've said this before, but I would like to post more often and get in the habit of writing about what is going on with my work. There are a few things that I'm feeling pretty excited about, so I'm hoping to tell you about them in the next few months.

As a preview:
--I actually started counseling on Wednesday. I have had this sense that God is using this time in my life to give me emotional health and stability. Lately it is very clear that my emotional volatility holds me back from a lot of things, particularly in ministry. The woman I met with asked me questions about my family tree and the timeline of my life, and we unexpectedly focused a little bit on high school, a period of time I haven't thought much about lately. It was kind of strange to go back and think about how some of those events still effect me now.
--I've been mulling over the concept of "women's leadership development" and how we as women are typically motivated to serve in the church. I don't think I'm coming up with any original ideas when I throw out that we're ridiculously different from men. At the risk of generalizing things too much, I'm developing some theories in my own mind about a woman's need for security in ministry versus a man's need for significance. A man might ask, "Do I have what it takes to succeed in this role?" A woman might ask, "Who will go with me?" Bottom line: women need something very different, and I'd like to that difference to become more acknowledged in the fabric of our church. Not sure what that means, but I sure do sound like Elisabeth Elliott right now. Heh.
--We're leading a trip to downtown Detroit for spring break, and I am feeling like Detroit might just be the only place I'd want to spend a week right about now. I have no idea why, but I'm drawn in and excited.

In the meantime, I'm sick as a dog. I seriously haven't been this sick since I was a kid. It started a week ago with a sore throat that lasted for five days, and yesterday, the sore throat seemed to creep up the right side of my neck and then settle in my ear. Unfortunately, I was the CORE retreat by then, so I took some Nyquil last night and hoped for sleep. Before I could settle in, though, I started in with this dry cough that I still have today. No more aching ear, but everything seems to be clogged up, and still, the perpetual sore throat. I've been in and out of work for the last week, without a real sick day that goes from waking up to going to bed. Maybe I should do that tomorrow.

Monday, January 14, 2008

cursed are the ones who can't abide

I'm still swimming in revelations.

This song got me through several very nasty nights in November, and I kept wanting to post it. Strangely, I've never considered Shane & Shane a favorite band, but the last song that moved me this much was by them. (This version was the best I could find on YouTube, despite a bit from John Piper during the long postlude.)

Embracing Accusation

The father of lies
coming to steal, kill and destroy
all my hopes of being good enough.
I hear him say, "Cursed are the ones who can't abide."
He's right. Hallelujah. He's right.
The devil is preaching
the song of redeemed,
that I am cursed and gone astray.
I cannot gain salvation.
Embracing accusation.
Could the father of lies
be telling the truth
of God to me tonight?
If the penalty of sin is death
then death is mine.
I hear him say, "Cursed are the ones who can't abide."
He's right. Hallelujah. He's right.
The devil is preaching
the song of the redeemed,
that I am cursed and gone astray.
I cannot gain salvation.
Oh the devil's singing over me
an age-old song
that I am cursed and gone astray.
Singing the first verse so conveniently over me.
He's forgotten the refrain:
Jesus saves.

I've been meaning to say thank you to the anonymous commenter from my last post. Your note was an encouragement and a surprise to Kevin and me. I've been wondering if I ever met you, because I came to Ann Arbor in 2001.