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From the Squalor of a Borrowed Stable

From the squalor of a borrowed stable,
By the Spirit and a virgin’s faith;
To the anguish and the shame of scandal
Came the Saviour of the human race!
But the skies were filled with the praise of heav’n,
Shepherds listen as the angels tell
Of the Gift of God come down to man
At the dawning of Immanuel

King of Heaven now the Friend of sinners,
Humble servant in the Father’s hands,
Filled with power and the Holy Spirit,
Filled with mercy for the broken man.
Yes, He walked my road and he felt my pain,
Joys and sorrows that I know so well;
Yet His righteous steps give me hope again –
I will follow my Immanuel!

Through the kisses of a friend’s betrayal,
He was lifted on a cruel cross;
He was punished for a world’s transgressions,
He was suffering to save the lost.
He fights for breath, He fights for me,
Loosing sinners from the claims of hell;
And with a shout our souls are free –
Death defeated by Immanuel!

Now He’s standing in the place of honour,
Crowned with glory on the highest throne,
Interceding for His own beloved
Till His Father calls to bring them home!
Then the skies will part as the trumpet sounds
Hope of heaven or the fear of hell;
But the Bride will run to her Lover’s arms,
Giving glory to Immanuel!

(Stuart Townend, 1999)


In the Bleak Midwinter

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air,
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.

(Christina Rossetti, 1872)


Merry Christmas!

Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the Lord. And many nations shall join themselves to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people. And I will dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. And the Lord will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land, and will again choose Jerusalem.

Be silent, all flesh, before the Lord, for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.

(Zechariah 2:10-13)


The Gift of Gifts

O source of all good,
what shall I render to thee for the gift of gifts,

thine own dear Son, begotten, not created,
my redeemer, proxy, surety, substitute,

his self-emptying incomprehensible,

his infinity of love beyond the heart’s grasp.

Herein is wonder of wonders:

he came below to raise me above,

was born like me that I might become like him.

Herein is love;

when I cannot rise to him
he draws near on wings of grace,

to raise me to himself.

Herein is power;

when Deity and humanity were infinitely apart

he united them in indissoluble unity,
the uncreate and the created.

Herein is wisdom;

when I was undone,
with no will to return to him,

and no intellect to devise recovery,

he came, God-incarnate,
to save me to the uttermost,

as man to die my death,

to shed satisfying blood on my behalf,

to work out a perfect righteousness for me.

O God, take me in spirit to the watchful shepherds,

and enlarge my mind;

let me hear good tidings of great joy,

and hearing, believe, rejoice, praise, adore,

my conscience bathed in an ocean of repose,

my eyes uplifted to a reconciled Father;

place me with ox, ass, camel, goat,

to look with them upon my redeemer’s face

and in him account myself delivered from sin;

let me with Simeon clasp the new-born child to my heart,

embrace him with undying faith,

exulting that he is mine and I am his.

In him thou hast given me so much that heaven can give no more.

(The Valley of Vision)


Molasses Cookies

These molasses cookies have become one of my go-to desserts - easy, tasty, made from basic pantry items. They also make an excellent Christmas baked gift, stacked in pretty round circles, a little crackled, a little sparkly with sugar.

2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 sticks butter, softened
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses

Preheat oven to 350F. Whisk flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt together. Set aside 1/2 cup sugar in a shallow bowl. With an electric mixer, beat butter and remaining cup sugar until combined. Beat in egg and then molasses, until combined. Reduce speed to low; gradually mix in dry ingredients, just until a dough forms. Pinch off and roll dough into balls, about 1 tbsp each. Roll balls in reserved sugar to coat. Arrange balls on baking sheets, 2-3 inches apart. Bake, one sheet at a time, until edges are just firm, 10-15 min. (If you bake more than one sheet at a time, cookies will not crackle uniformly.) Cool 1 min. on baking sheets, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.

We're leaving for a Christmas visit to Texas tomorrow morning. (Hi, Texans! See you soon!) I've stored up a few Christmas poems, songs, and prayers to post while I'm out of town. I hope you enjoy!


Late(r) in Time

I wrote the words below a year ago today. Add a year to all the time spans mentioned in the first paragraph, and take out the dread of Christmas this season, and much of the sentiment below still rings true.


In many ways, I've been dreading this Christmas season. Yet another year has come and gone, and I am still not pregnant. I am certainly not celebrating baby's first Christmas. Two years have passed since Aaron and I sat in our car, stuck in a snowstorm on the way to West Virginia, and talked dreamily about how next year we'd probably be a family of three for the holidays. A year has passed since I thought that despite the disappointments of 2005, surely I would at least be pregnant by the end of 2006. I dare not hope for 2007. And not only is Christmas a painful reminder of the children we do not yet have, it is a season focused on the holiness of a birth. We tell and re-tell the amazing story of a virgin who conceived, for goodness' sake. I love the story, believe it with all my heart, but yet there is something about that miracle that can bring a small ache to my infertile soul.

So I dreaded Christmas this year. But God has mercifully given me a new measure of joy, instead of the heartache I anticipated. My circumstances are still difficult, my trial is not over, my temptations still press in. Yet I find myself singing. As we sang "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" in church a couple weeks ago, the Spirit illuminated to me the words, "Late in time behold him come, offspring of a virgin's womb." At first, I felt that pang, but then I really thought about those lyrics. Though he was suddenly and unexpectedly conceived (from a human perspective), Christ's birth was long awaited. A barren world yearned for centuries for the Messiah to come. Thousands lived and died, hoping for the birth of a Savior, trusting God's promise of a Redeemer. Human hearts were sick with sin and deferred hope. Then, oh miraculous act of love, God became man, took on flesh as a tiny infant. Immanuel. God with us. God with us in our deepest suffering. God with us to rescue us from his own wrath against our sin. God with us to give us himself.

This month, every time I think of the anguish of the past couple of years and the anxiety about the upcoming year, I remember. "Late in time behold him come." My years of waiting to conceive are small in comparison to the centuries that the world waited for the Savior to be born. My suffering - though still weighty - is infinitely lighter because I live after that birth, after Christ bore the burden of my sins. I am waiting for a baby, but I am not waiting for a Redeemer. I trust and hope that I will see my child's face one day; I know with certainty that I will see my Lord's face in heaven.


More Advent Links

The post for the third Sunday in Advent is up at Toddled Dredge, reminding us of how God breaks into our routines and our ordinary lives.

At Solo Femininity, Carolyn McCulley captures some helpful thoughts about Christmas expectations from a commentary on the book of Esther.



A Tale of Three Christmas Parties

Last week, we attended the annual church Christmas party for leaders of ministry teams and care groups. This party has become somewhat of a personal measuring stick for me over the past three years. Up until we started trying to conceive, this gathering was one of my favorite events of the year. We would get together with some of our closest friends to share laughter and memories, and each person would share how they were most encouraged by God's work in the past year. It was a joyous time. I expected things to be much the same in December 2005.

But then one pregnant woman after another arrived at the party. I think about half the group was expecting, and all I wanted to do was run and hide. It was a miserable evening. I took a huge nose-dive into self-pity and stayed there. [As we shared our highlights for the year,] every other couple mentioned the gift of the baby on the way. When it was my turn to share, I said something about our care group, but internally I was thinking, “I have nothing to be encouraged about! God is not blessing me! He has forgotten about me!”

On the way home from the party, Aaron asked how I was doing and I told him truthfully. I was completely overwhelmed. I knew I was sinning in a thousand ways – pride, unbelief, jealousy, self-pity, impatience, lack of contentment, etc. – but I felt absolutely stuck. I felt like the pain of not being able to conceive was leaving me no other options. There was too much pressure, too many temptations, and I didn’t know where to begin to fight against it all. I was ready to throw my hands up in despair (entry from 6.23.2006).
That night became a turning point for me. You see, we had been trying to get pregnant for about a year at that point, and the suffering of a good desire denied had begun to get very intense. As a result of the anguish I felt at that party, I began to fight back against the sin that infertility was beginning to expose in my heart. The fight has lasted much longer than I expected. A year after that night, we returned to another church Christmas party, now with a couple failed IUIs under our belt. The party was populated with babies instead of pregnant women (although I'm sure there were a few of those, too, knowing our church). It was still a challenging evening but by God's grace not nearly as difficult as the year before.

Now here we are in December 2007, at the end of our third unsuccessful year of trying to conceive. With two failed IVFs and with questions about whether we'll be able to attempt IVF again, we are in some ways farther away than ever from the chance of having a child. And yet, I am content. As we sat at this year's Christmas party, I was able to honestly share how encouraged I am at how God has filled me with such gratitude for the gospel that I feel joy and peace even in the face of my still-unfulfilled longing. Yes, being in the company of another cluster of pregnant women - some of the same who had been expecting at the 2005 party - gave me twinges of resignation, but what a change God has wrought in my heart! These Christmas parties mark off the years of my physical barrenness, but they also give me a chance to measure the harvest of spiritual fruit.


Advent Links

Other folks 'round this here internet are getting ready for Christmas, too.

The gals over at GirlTalk are talking about the keys for Christmas joy; the series starts here with the question: "What would make you happy this Christmas?"

That contemplative mom with crackers behind Toddled Dredge is serving up rich Advent meditations. For the first Sunday in Advent, she prescribes the antidote to naive Christmas nostalgia:

We light the prophets’ candle in defiance of nostalgia. The world has not changed so much. The voice that spoke then, still speaks today. The God who loved them also loves us, and offers to change us like streams reversed in their courses, running uphill to Zion, the house of the Lord.

And for the second Sunday of Advent, she reminds us that "we don't get points for being merely Not Horrible." I'm eagerly anticipating Veronica's Advent and Christmas thoughts to come.

Read and be inspired this Advent season!


Anticipating What Has Gone Before

This December, I decided to prepare for Christmas by reading through the daily Advent readings in the Book of Common Prayer. Spending time in Scriptures that prophecy both the birth of the Messiah and the eventual return of Christ has filled me with anticipation. I have been especially impressed by the sense of the bleakness of the world before God sent his only Son to the rescue and, by association, the darkness of my own heart before God saved me. It is a strange and eager feeling, to look forward with longing to the Savior's birth; the event has already happened, and I know the rich truth of its significance, yet for this month I dwell imaginatively in a realm waiting for the breakthrough of the gospel.

Here are some meditations from one passage of Advent reading (I recommend reading the verses from Isaiah first):

Isaiah 1:1-20
Before the coming of the Savior, we were laden with iniquity. We were utterly estranged from God. Though children should know and obey their father, we lived in rebellion and more base than the beasts who know their Creator and follow his natural order. We languished sick in head and heart and body. Our souls were completely unsound and we could apply no remedy. We could make no sacrifice to please God or gain his favor. The blood of sin covered our hands, and we could never wash the stain off. Though God, in his holiness, could not heed our prayers, he still took the initiative to save. We were lost in evil, but he came as a man to make a reasonable way. God said, "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool." The blood of my sin could only be washed by the blood of Christ crucified. The only white I can claim is the pristine robe of Christ's righteousness.


Three to Six Inches

This morning, I laced up my rugged winter boots and tugged on my soft-green knit cap. I stepped outside and walked toward the nearby pond. At first, I tried to keep to where I guessed the sidewalk to be; but the snow had erased all the lines and bestowed freedom to walk anywhere. Sometimes I made my own path, and sometimes I trod in the footprints of those who had already ventured out in this winterscape. I imagined a father and son, enjoying the snow in the morning before the boy boarded his school bus - the father walking slow, making large, distinct prints, and the son scampering, shuffling, leaving a line of scuffs in snow too high for his small stride. As for myself, I walked in solitude. I saw the last fallen leaves of autumn, indistinct under the layer of snow, as if a bleached cotton curtain draped over them. I saw bright red berries topped with white woolen hats and evergreen fingers boasting chenille gloves. I praised God for giving these cold climes the flora that wear the fashions of winter so well, these buds and branches whose bright complexions are not made sallow by greys and dusty whites surrounding them. I saw traces of life - the perfect pairs of indentations left by rabbits' hind feet, the flock of geese frozen out of their favorite pond, the tracks of a little person running around the yard to the trampoline to jump, jump, jump in the snow. Across the steely sky, church bells chimed nine. Time for work, but taking in this dawn of a new season merits a late start. As I trudge home, toe to toe with my outgoing footprints, a new snowfall flurries and blusters around me. The drivers of the cars passing me may pity the girl who has to walk in the snowstorm, but I... I tasted God's beauty like the snowflakes on my tongue.


Spinach Artichoke Dip

I'm serving this sinfully delicious dip at a game night this evening. I make it in my little slow cooker (I have this one - great for dips!).

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
8 oz cream cheese, cubed
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp pepper
14 oz can artichokes, drained and chopped in food processor
6-10 oz fresh spinach leaves, chopped in food processor

Combine ingredients in slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for 2 hours, until hot and bubbling. Stir well and serve with tortilla chips. (If you prefer a chunkier dip, chop the artichokes and spinach coarsely by hand.

And with that, my friends, I end NaBloPoMo! Sure, I filled up the last week with a dithering lack of true content, but I still did it. My goal - lofty, but perhaps possible - is to post each weekday from now on. We shall see... Thanks for reading along this crazy November!


Christmas Albums

All the bloggers are doing it!

by Sarah McLachlan has quickly become one of my very favorite Christmas albums. Wonderfully mellow, she includes a mix of mostly sacred standards and wintry, tasteful pop songs. Her rendition of "In the Bleak Midwinter" is hauntingly beautiful.

Snow Angels by Over the Rhine is their second Christmas album. Most fans are partial to their first album, The Darkest Night of the Year; I really like that one, too, but Snow Angels jingles my Christmas bells a bit more. It's jazzy and occasionally saucy, with a lot of original songs and a few nods to classics - including a charming tribute to Vince Guaraldi, "Goodbye Charles."

Speaking of Vince Guaraldi, what list of favorite Christmas albums would be complete without a mention of A Charlie Brown Christmas? Every song makes me happy. I tap my toes and hum along to the piano. I pretend to ice skate. I savor memories of watching the Charlie Brown Christmas special with my family every year (my Dad is a huge Peanuts fan).

Sovereign Grace Ministries put out the Christmas album Savior last year. Like everything they do, these original Christmas songs are very cross-centered. The worshipful reflections on the incarnation fix my thoughts on the joyful and glorious reason I have to celebrate - God become man. This is a Christmas album you don't have to pack up when the new year comes.

I don't currently own this album (although it's on my Christmas list!), but I grew up listening to We Wish You a Merry Christmas by Ray Conniff and the Ray Conniff Singers. We would put the record on every year as we decorated the tree. It's marvelously corny and nostalgic. Think Lawrence Welk thrown into a blender with Santa and the elves.

What are your favorite Christmas albums?


100 Things: Part the Second

51. I’m a picky eater.

52. My food dislikes are based on texture.

53. I don’t eat ground meat.

54. That doesn’t mean I don’t like beef. (For some reason, when I tell people I don’t eat ground meat, they often respond by asking, “What about steak?”)

55. I don’t like the width and texture of spaghetti noodles.

56. Because of that, I didn’t think I liked pasta at all until someone introduced me to fettuccine alfredo as a teen.

57. I love chocolate.

58. I like peanut butter.

59. I don’t enjoy chocolate and peanut butter together.

60. I love tea.

61. My favorite tea is Earl Grey, with a little bit of milk and sugar.

62. I don’t prefer herbal “tea” – it makes me feel like I am drinking potpourri.

63. When I eat, I choose my last bite before I take my first bite.

64. My comfort-food is a grilled cheese sandwich, preferably on sourdough bread.

65. At age four, I learned to read from a Care Bear book bought to prepare me for the birth of my baby brother.

66. Around the same age, that baby brother could multiply 3-digit numbers in his head.

67. In many ways, those two facts summarize most of our similarities and differences as siblings.

68. Both of us love to cook.

69. In a lot of pictures of my brother and me in childhood, one or both of us is not wearing pants.

70. We used to trade off playing “girl games” (Barbie, My Little Pony) and “boy games” (dinosaurs); he claims I still own him a game of Transformers.

71. When I first read the Chronicles of Narnia, it only took me four days to devour all seven books.

72. I despise running.

73. I enjoy Pilates, biking, some aerobics, weight-lifting, and swimming.

74. I was baptized as an infant.

75. After learning about believer’s baptism in youth group, I was convicted that I ought to be baptized again. (I was, in a river in Georgetown, TX.)

76. I came to faith in Christ in kindergarten.

77. Paranoid, I repented again and again until a wise chapel speaker at my elementary school suggested that I wouldn’t be worrying about whether or not I really believed in Jesus unless I had truly been saved.

78. In my late teen years, I realized for the first time that regular Bible reading isn’t just for pastors to do.

79. Through the influence of my high school youth group, I came to believe in the active presence and ministry of the Holy Spirit.

80. In college, I embraced Christian feminism.

81. I was adamantly opposed to Reformed theology throughout high school and college.

82. Now, I am a Reformed, charismatic, complementarian Christian.

83. During one summer break from high school, I spent three weeks traveling in France, Germany, Switzerland, and Spain.

84. I spent the summer of 2000 studying literature in England, Scotland and Wales through the Wheaton-in-England program.

85. Aaron and I honeymooned in Barcelona.

86. We have vacationed with my parents in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and in Quebec province.

87. I hope to someday visit Italy, Greece, and Australia.

88. I’ve now lived away from Texas for almost ten years, and I wish I still said, “Y’all.”

89. Somehow I managed to make it through an English major without reading any Charles Dickens; I read his novels for the first time after college.

90. I am horrible at making small talk.

91. I married a man who excels at making small talk.

92. I get very chapped lips, and I have a bad habit of rubbing off the dry skin.

93. As a child, I always got annoyed when my mother sang along to songs in the car.

94. I always sing along to songs in the car.

95. I have a freckle above my right earlobe that I often mistake for a spot of dirt.

96. Same goes for two freckles on the palm-side of my left index and pinky fingers.

97. Both of my grandfathers are in their mid-nineties.

98. I really enjoy filling out forms and paperwork.

99. I invited President George H. W. Bush to my 7th birthday party.

100. I am named after my (now-deceased) grandmothers, Ann and Jenny.


100 Things: Part the First

1. I am 100% Dutch.

2. I was born in Redlands, CA.

3. When I was 3, my family moved to Colorado Springs.

4. When I was 7, we moved to the D.C. suburbs.

5. My Dad was in the Air Force.

6. When I was 10, we settled in Austin, TX.

7. I attended private Christian schools for kindergarten and 2nd-5th grade.

8. I skipped first grade.

9. My fourth grade class had six kids in it.

10. Ten years later, I encountered two classmates from that tiny school at my small college in the Midwest.

11. My mom home-schooled me for one year, between 5th and 6th grade.

12. I attended public schools for 6th-12th grade.

13. Even though I could have gone into 7th grade after my year of home-schooling, I decided that I wanted to be with kids my own age and to start middle school at the same time as all the new 6th graders.

14. My childhood best friend (during the DC years) was Rachel Cronkhite.

15. Her dad worked as the head chef at the Blair House.

16. As Rachel and I were true children of the 1980s political subculture, our greatest pledge of friendship was that we would attend each other’s weddings even it one of us married Gorbachev.

17. We did, in fact, attend each other’s weddings (neither of us married Russians).

18. I sucked my thumb until 4th grade.

19. At age 7, I began wearing braces to correct an overbite. The braces came off when I was 14.

20. To stop me from sucking my thumb, I had my mouth wired shut for a summer.

21. I saw Les Miserables for the first time when I was nine.

22. “Lovely Ladies” was my favorite song from the musical; I didn’t understand what it was about, but I liked the lively melody.

23. I took ice skating lessons for a couple years; my highest achievement was a one-foot spin.

24. I stopped taking lessons when we moved to Austin, because the only ice rink in town sat in the middle of the mall and I didn’t want people to watch me.

25. I took piano lessons for nine years.

26. In college, I was too intimidated by the Wheaton Conservatory students to keep up with piano practice.

27. I wish I hadn’t let fear of other people get in the way of pursuing hobbies I enjoyed.

28. I was a cheerleader in 8th grade.

29. My first car bore the nickname “The Target,” because it had notable dents from the number of times it had been hit by other cars before coming into my possession.

30. The Target had no air-conditioning; talk about delightful in Texas summers.

31. The Target also had a leak that prevented it from retaining any power-steering fluid; I developed strong arms fast.

32. I wrote a lot of mediocre poetry as a teen.

33. Some of it was deemed publishable in “Frontage Roads,” my high school’s literary journal.

34. I used to fall asleep every night to the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s (my TV had an off-timer).

35. I dislike math, though I have a reasonable aptitude for it.

36. My senior year of high school, I took AP Calculus in order to avoid math in college.

37. Right before the AP exam, I found out that the college I would attend offered a simple math competency exam to test out of required math coursework. I doodled on my AP Calc exam and still passed.

38. In high school, most of my good friends were guys.

39. Now, for the most part, I am better friends with their wives.

40. I was president of the drama club at my high school.

41. I had roles in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Inherit the Wind, Our Country’s Good, and The Sound of Music – respectively:

42. Helena.

43. A townswoman/Rachel Brown.

44. Mary Brenham.

45. Elsa Scraeder.

46. At birth, I had red hair.

47. From toddler-hood to late elementary school, I had scraggly towhead blond hair.

48. In 5th grade, my hair turned light brownish-reddish and thickened up considerably.

49. In my mid-twenties, my mildly wavy hair developed into soft curls.

50. My favorite colors are brown, green, and blue.


Lifting Up the Cup of Salvation

Lately, I have felt relatively content in this place of infertility. I still long for children, but God seems to be gracing me with fruit in the long fight to trust in him. This morning I read Psalm 116, and the words seemed like an apt description of the current state of my soul.

I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called upon the name of the Lord: "O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!" Gracious is the Lord and righteous; our God is merciful. Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you. For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling. What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.

My circumstances haven't changed; infertility remains real and present in my life. But while God hasn't taken my infertility away, he has taken much of the distress of it away. Childlessness is still hard, but I no longer shed so many anguished tears. The Lord heard my desperate cries and has given me contentment in his gospel. He showed his graciousness and righteousness to me perfectly on the cross. I can rest and be satisfied in that merciful bounty. My soul has been spared the death of sin and been given the Lord's presence instead; how can I be anything but grateful? In return for the benefits of salvation, all that I can do is celebrate the gospel of grace and call on the Savior to give me more of himself. Through the trial of infertility, Christ and his cross have been magnified in my eyes, so that my suffering eases and my peace grows. I would never have expected that I could feel content in the midst of infertility, but the Spirit has been so kind to do that work in my heart.


A Common Temptation

Ah, the holidays - full of festivities, food, fun... And family. Time with family is joyous but also tempting. We spent most of Thanksgiving week visiting with my in-laws (some local, some in from out-of-town). During those days, my own sinful heart made its blackness known. My preferences and the preferences of Aaron's family often clash - I like organization, order, quietude, plans; they like spontaneity, whimsy, noise, activity. I am rather particular; they live with laissez-faire attitudes. When we're together, I find myself grumbling (internally, mostly) that they don't take my wishes into consideration and judging that their lifestyle preferences are worse than mine and downright wrong. Essentially, I set myself up as the standard of right behavior, and when they deviate from my standard I store up bitterness against them. During this visit, my sinful attitudes of pride and selfishness came to a head when we had all the family over for dinner on Monday night. Red play-dough was tracked into our freshly-cleaned carpets, and I got mad at the responsible party as well as everyone else in the family who didn't seem to take it as seriously as I did. At the time, I felt completely justified. Examining the situation later, I could see that I had made an idol out of doing things my way - keeping my home and possessions just so, having adults and children behave in a certain way when they visit us, expecting others to value the neatness and cleanliness that I strive to maintain. Whether or not my in-laws should have said or done certain things, the fact is that I put my preferences above theirs and then sinned against them in anger. I wanted them to serve me and my ends, and I did not consider how I could seek to be a blessing to them. I know that Aaron's family loves me, and I know that I have been gifted with kind, Christ-loving in-laws. Yet I selfishly fail to consider their interests time and time again. I felt stuck in my sin against them, and I did not believe that God could really provide me with the promised way of escape from temptation for the duration of the Thanksgiving visit. But through God's Word, Aaron's help, and the counsel of some friends we met with midweek, I did find grace to respond better to our family. Not perfectly, mind you! But better. I read Psalm 141 and asked the Lord to keep me from speaking unkind words, to help me receive correction, and to lead me to him as a refuge and defense when the temptation to judge my in-laws seemed too strong. As I thought about how my words toward Aaron's family come from the overflow of my heart, I realized that I need to actively think kind thoughts about these family members. I had been striving to feel neutral toward them, but when I failed to replace my unkind thoughts with charitable ones, the negative thoughts kept coming back to fill the void. Ideally, I will find ways to verbally encourage my in-laws and communicate my love for them. The visit is over now (and by God's grace Thanksgiving day went quite well; I didn't get mad over the gravy incident!), but I hope to keep cultivating humility toward Aaron's family. Though I am a great sinner - proud, selfish, and angry - I have a great Savior who promises abundant grace!


The Headache Was Horrid, the Bread Pudding Dreamy, and the Quiet Music Was Played Loud

Things on my agenda that I did not do today:

- buy a Christmas tree
- give my husband a haircut
- ironing
- blog before going out for the evening

Things I did do:

- have coffee with friends
- lay on the couch all afternoon with a headache
- go to a fancy French bistro for dinner
- hear Over the Rhine play the first show of their Christmas tour!

We just got back from the concert at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago, which was a great venue for an Over the Rhine concert. Man, are they some talented musicians! Nobody makes melancholy more beautiful or blues more jazzy. Most of the songs they played tonight were off their latest album, Trumpet Child, or off last year's Christmas album, Snow Angels. It all made for a delightful night out with my husband, who has just been on a roll with planning outstanding dates and fun surprises for me. Now, I'm plumb tuckered out and shall go to bed with wistful melodies in my head...


The Day After

I have now successfully cleared a major cooking hurdle. The turkey turned out beautifully! We will definitely use the brining method again. We also made the Pioneer Woman's butternut squash puree - just as heavenly as she makes it sound! We forgot to prepare it the day before, so I microwaved the squash wrapped in paper towels for 30 minutes instead of cooking it in the oven, and that worked just fine. The only minor disaster (and what would Thanksgiving dinner be without at least one mishap?) happened in the gravy preparation. I had poured off the turkey drippings from the roasting pan into a small glass measuring container. I had set the container in the sink, so as not to make a mess all over the counter tops if I spilled. In the time it took me to turn the stove on and set the roasting pan on the burners, other people started using the sink to (A) dump out coffee grounds and (B) fill a pot with water. The addition of water and coffee grounds rendered our turkey drippings unusable for gravy-making (although I suppose we could have discovered a new gourmet treat - mocha gravy!). I ended up using butter instead of the turkey fat, and chicken broth in place of the drippings. Not quite as flavorful, but it turned out okay. And now I know that I can improvise a gravy!

I'm off now to join Aaron's family for pumpkin pancakes; yum!


Happy Thanksgiving!

O my God,
Thou fairest, greatest, first of all objects,
my heart admires, adores, loves thee,
for my little vessel is as full as it can be,
and I would pour out all that fullness before thee
in ceaseless flow.
When I think upon and converse with thee
ten thousand delightful thoughts spring up,
ten thousand sources of pleasure are unsealed,
ten thousand refreshing joys spread over my heart,
crowding into every moment of happiness.
I bless thee for the soul thou hast created,
for adorning it, sanctifying it,
though it is fixed in barren soil;
for the body thou hast given me,
for preserving its strength and vigour,
for providing senses to enjoy delights,
for the ease and freedom of my limbs,
for hands, eyes, ears that do thy bidding;
for thy royal bounty providing my daily support,
for a full table and overflowing cup,
for appetite, taste, sweetness,
for social joys of relatives and friends,
for ability to serve others,
for a heart that feels sorrows and necessities,
for a mind to care for my fellow-men,
for opportunities of spreading happiness around,
for loved ones in the joys of heaven,
for my own expectation of seeing thee clearly.
I love thee above the powers of language to express,
for what thou art to thy creatures.
Increase my love, O my God, through time and eternity.

"Praise and Thanksgiving" from The Valley of Vision


First Time

Hey, guess what I'm doing right now at 7:54 a.m.?

This! In preparation for tomorrow, when I'll do this! Wish me luck!


The Reading Lists

Back when I figured out how to add a new sidebar and threw the reading lists up on the right column, I meant to explain them. But I never did. They're fairly self-explanatory, but I am short on time am desperate for NaBloPoMo material would like to offer some additional information.

First, you may have glanced over there and thought, "Gee, some of that looks awfully like a high school reading list." That's because some of it IS a high school reading list! As a side job, I lead a weekly literature discussion group for a handful of high school students of home-schooling families in my church. It's a joy to do, as I get to indulge in my love of books and academia all while serving friends and hanging out with some pretty neat kids! I started doing this a few years ago when, just at a time when I was asking God to give me some way to use my English major, a mom asked if I could help her out. Currently I have four students, and we're studying 20th century literature.

Some books move from the "Currently Reading" list to the "Read This Year" list quickly - those are generally books I read for pleasure. Some have lingered in the "Currently Reading" list for a while. I have been reading Knowing God during my morning devotional time for a little while now. I strongly recommend this book! I would rank it as one of the best spiritual books I have ever read. I only have one chapter left, and I have been putting it off because I don't want to be done with this book. I hope to post some thoughts on the book soon. Our small group (a group for young adults, led by Aaron) has been studying Doing Things Right in Matters of the Heart. And Aaron and I have been slowly working through Love That Lasts on our dates.

So that's the book list! I love getting new book recommendations, so feel free to leave a few titles in the comments.


More Mackinac Pics

Crazy day... Need filler post for NaBloPoMo... Film developed... Too worn out to provide captions...


And Then There Was Sin

Today at church, we reached chapter 3 in the current teaching series on Genesis. Genesis 3 recounts the fall - the original sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. To understand why our world today is so different from life in the perfection of God's original creation, we need to understand this tragic day in Eden.

Why is it such a big deal that Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit? It was not an arbitrary transgression of an arbitrary rule; humanity committed outright rebellion against God himself. The first man and woman believed lies about God's character, questioned God's motive toward them, and denied God's authority. This disobedience evoked a response of both judgment and mercy from God. The judgment lies in the bitter consequences of sin: estrangement and shame, pain in childbearing and in work, strife in marriage, the realities of decay and death, and being cast out from God's presence. Yet, there is mercy; God's grace offers hope to fallen people. After the disobedience of Adam and Eve, who went looking for whom? God, rather than justly smiting the rebellious couple then and there, takes the initiative to seek out those broken human beings. He set up a plan for decisive victory of sin and its consequences. He promises a Savior to crush the serpent who led people astray. Eventually, Jesus comes to live a guiltless life, to resist all the temptations that Adam and Eve could not, to melt away the effects of sin (healing disease, softening hardened hearts). Then he is bruised mightily on the cross, bearing the curse in our place. One day, he will return to deal ultimately with sin and to restore to his people pure fellowship with God himself. "There is hope even in paradise lost" (R. Kent Hughes).

What does this story of the first couple eating forbidden fruit in the first garden have to do with us today? I had several personal reflections as I listened to this sermon. First, I thought about how the pain of infertility is tied to the curse of pain in childbearing; apart from the fall, conceiving and giving birth to children would have been effortless, but now the whole process is fraught with difficulty and suffering. I am so grateful that heaven promises an end to these sorrows! And second, I thought about my own depravity. I can be prone to think, "Gosh, Adam and Eve sure messed things up! If it weren't for their mistakes, life would be perfect today." But if I had been the one in the garden, I am sure that I would have made the same grave error. I am just as prone to question God's character and motive, to wonder if he is really doing what is best for me. Thank the Lord that he seeks me out in my unbelief! What amazing mercy, that he offers me salvation and sanctification, and that he redeems my crooked heart and my broken body!


Acorn Squash Soup with Kale

So, what do you do with the extra kale after making winter lentil soup? I make this yummy, creamy (and healthy!) acorn squash soup.

2 whole acorn squash (about 2 lbs each)
4 strips bacon, cut into 1/2" pieces
1 medium onion*, diced
1/2 bunch kale, thick stems removed, leaves finely chopped (about 4-8 cups)
salt & pepper

First, prepare a squash puree: preheat oven to 400F and place acorn squash on a rimmed baking sheet; bake, turning occasionally, for 1 hour (should be very tender).** When cool enough to handle, halve each squash; scrape out seeds. Scrape out flesh and process in a food processor until smooth. [I often make the squash puree a couple days ahead of time, then refrigerate until I'm ready to use.] Now, cook bacon in a large pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp. Leaving fat in pot, transfer bacon to a paper-towel-lined plate; set aside. Add onion to fat in pan; cook until softened (4-5 min.). Add kale; cook until soft (3-4 min.). Add squash puree; add water one cup at a time until you achieve desired consistency [we like this soup kinda thick, so I add 2-3 cups water]. Bring just to a boil. Season generously with salt and pepper. Stir in bacon and serve.

*Last time I made this (as pictured), I didn't have any white/yellow onion, so I used red onion and it tasted just as good - or better!

**Theoretically, you could also microwave the whole squash for 20-25 minutes, or you could use two 12 oz packages of frozen winter squash puree (thawed), but I've always roasted the squash in the oven.


1,825 Days Ago

For our wedding ceremony, we generally followed the outline given in the Book of Common Prayer. When we exchanged rings, we uttered the vow that has stayed most clearly in my mind every since:

I give you this ring as a symbol of my vow, and with all that I am, and all that I have, I honor you, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Aaron and I pledged that to each other, and I pray that every year of marriage would demonstrate that statement more truly. I want to honor my husband - to consider him more significant than myself and to look to his interests above my own (Philippians 2:3-4). And I want to do so - to love him - with my whole being. All that I am and all that I have, devoted to the person I cherish most in the world. I, a sinner, often fall short of that commitment. He, a sinner like me, may not always be worthy of that honor (although as his adoring wife, I think he's pretty great). But, by the grace of God, it is a promise I made, a promise I remember, a promise I have grown in fulfilling for the past five years. And it is a promise I hope to keep - Lord willing - for the next five years. And the five years after that, and the five years after that, and all the years we get together.

So on this eve of our anniversary, I say it again. Aaron, with all that I am and with all that I have, I honor you, my love.


1,824 Days Ago

We have a few funny stories from our wedding day that we love to re-tell.

The Night (or Morning) Before
The night before the wedding, I planned to sleep at the home of some friends with a number of my bridesmaids. The friends were out of town, so they had given me the key to their house before they left. After the rehearsal dinner, it took a LONG time to collect all the gals who were staying with me. We finally made it to the house at about 1 a.m., only to realize that I didn't have the key. It was on my key ring with my car keys, which Aaron had because he had washed my car and would be driving it to the church. I called him, waking him up to ask him to meet me with the house key. In his drowsiness, he suggested that we rendezvous at the most recognizable landmark between the homes we were each staying at - a shopping plaza anchored by a skanky, neon-lit lingerie and adult toy store! Honestly, the only other choices were unidentified warehouses. So we tried to ignore the distastefulness, exchanged the key, and slunk off to our separate beds at 2 a.m. Not the ideal, restful wedding-eve I had hoped to have!

Rings? What Rings?
In our wedding album, we have a picture of Aaron at the church, in his tux, talking on a cell phone. He was calling his parents, because he forgot to bring our wedding bands when he left the house that morning! I don't think I found out about that mini-crisis until we got the proofs from the photographer.

Samuel & the Elephants
Our nephew Samuel, age 3 at the time, stood up in our wedding as ring-bearer. Or rather, we intended for him to do so. But while in town for the week preceding the wedding, Samuel got to visit Brookfield Zoo and had collected two plastic elephant toys. Elephant toys that HE WOULD NOT LET GO OF AT ALL. Not even to sleep. Already somewhat bewildered by the discomfort of his rental tuxedo, Samuel lost it when told he had to put the elephants down and hold a lacy white pillow instead. He stood in the back of the church crying, "NO! NO! AUNT AN-DRE-A! UNCLE AA-AARON! MY EL-E-PHANTS!" And that was the end of that.

Wife's Early Attempts to Follow Husband's Leadership End in Laughter
After our pastor announced that we could kiss, we did so. A couple times. Aaron flashed a thumbs-up to the crowd. Then we turned to face the church while our pastor announced "the new Mr. & Mrs. Patterson." But Aaron started down the aisle a little prematurely, stepping off the small platform at the front of the church while Tab was still introducing us. I figured I had better move with Aaron - and stepped down to the aisle just as Aaron realized his error and stepped back up. Everyone laughed. We did, too.

A Spontaneous Menu
We had an early wedding, so our reception finished by 4 p.m. We invited family to meet us at Aaron's sister's house after the reception, where we planned to open our gifts and have a smaller wedding celebration. Our brother-in-laws had made pumpkin pies for the festivities, and then they attempted to make fresh whipped cream. Whipped too long, it turned into butter. Someone - I think Aaron's mom or sister - suggested making bread to go with the butter. So the guys went to buy more whipping cream, and the ladies mixed up some beer bread to throw in the oven. Then Aaron's aunts decided we ought to have soup to go with the bread, so they raided the fridge and pantry for leftovers and ingredients. Thus, a meal was born out of one batch of accidental butter and fed to those already full of reception dinner and wedding cake.

These humorous wedding memories are woven into our marital history. I'm so glad that our wedding day was full of laughter!


1,823 Days Ago

To continue the celebration of our almost-five years of marriage, I present a list of things about my husband that I enjoy (in no particular order):

  • He washes dishes after I make a mess by cooking.
  • He is quick to confess sin.
  • At 6'4", he is tall enough that I can wear heels.
  • He has a riotous, often dry sense of humor.
  • He excels at making strangers comfortable through conversation.
  • He gives me frequent and lengthy massages.
  • He prioritizes our marriage over everything else.
  • He takes daily time with the Lord seriously.
  • He comforts me when I cry.
  • Children love him because he knows how to have fun with them.
  • He serves others eagerly.
  • He loves nature, especially trees, and causes me to see created beauty that I would often otherwise overlook.
  • He almost always lets me pick the movie.
  • Every day when we sit down to dinner, he asks me about my devotional time.
  • When I don't like something he is wearing and ask him to change, he does so willingly.
  • If I am busily scurrying around, he loves to stop me in my tracks to hug and kiss me.
  • He gently challenges me when I sin.
  • He faithfully applies teaching from God's Word and diligently pursues spiritual growth.
  • When he travels for work, he calls me every day.
  • He kills all the nasty bugs in our apartment, but he always apologizes to them when he does so.
  • If I have trouble falling asleep, he runs his fingers through my hair to soothe me.
  • He makes me coffee in the morning.
  • He appreciates music and art.
  • He collects an assortment of really random facts.
  • Though he can't always find the right words, he wants me to know his heart.

My time is short, so I'll stop the list here; I'd really never have enough time to share all the ways I love my husband!


1,822 Days Ago

This Friday, Aaron and I celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary.

We began dating on February 3, 2001. Although we both had imagined a spouse quite different than the other, we fell in love quickly and completely. During our courtship, we read Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese together. Sonnet XXVI became "our" poem; a handwritten copy sits in a frame on our bedside table.

I lived with visions for my company,
Instead of men and women, years ago,
And found them gentle mates, nor thought to know
A sweeter music than they played to me.
But soon their trailing purple was not free
Of this world's dust, -- their lutes did silent grow,
And I myself grew faint and blind below
Their vanishing eyes. Then THOU didst be,
Beloved, what they seemed. Their shining fronts,
Their songs, their splendours, (better, yet the same,
As river-water hallowed into fonts)
Met in thee, and from out thee overcame
My soul with satisfaction of all wants --
Because God's gifts put man's best dreams to shame.

This week, I want to revel in God's best earthly gift to me - my beloved husband and a marriage that surpasses any youthful daydream.