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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.


The Purpose and Power of God in Marriage

At church this morning, the message addressed marriage again, this time out of Ephesians 5. God's purpose for marriage is set within the broader purpose explained in Eph. 1 as being "set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth" (v. 9-10) and to "put all things under [Christ's] feet and [give] him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all" (v. 22-22). Marriage is part of and a reflection of this universal purpose. Paul doesn't compare marriage to the relationship between Christ and the church because he was fishing around for a close analogy; marriage is meant to be a picture of Christ and the church. How do we participate in that purpose? Husbands lead with love, dying to themselves in order to spiritually nourish and wholeheartedly cherish their wives. Wives respond with respect, embracing the primary privilege of representing to a watching world how the bride of Christ responds to her Husband. The power that enables husbands and wives to pursue this purpose for marriage is first, the gospel - which turns our hearts from the gravitational pull to sin to focus on more than just what makes us selfishly happy - and second, the Holy Spirit. The section on marriage in Eph. 5 is prefaced by the command to "be filled with the Spirit, ... submitting to one another out of reverence to Christ." Our relationship in marriage is one outworking of that command, empowered by the Holy Spirit. (Side note from another recent teaching: the command to submit to one another is also elaborated for the relationships of parents & children - where we all agree that there a defined roles that don't get switched around depending on the personalities of the parties involved - and slaves & masters - "slavery" in the ancient world often being something voluntarily done to pay off a debt, and therefore more akin to modern employee-employer relationship than the type of slavery we think of from the American South, and again, this is not an arena where responsibilities get swapped.) The task that husbands and wives have in marriage is not easy, but we have the gospel and the Spirit to give us the grace we desperately need.

Aaron and I enjoyed a time of fellowship after hearing this message. We got to encourage each other for how we are doing well - Aaron for cherishing me with romantic gifts and surprises, nourishing me by fostering spiritual conversations, and leading me humbly by accepting guidance when I help him; me for respecting Aaron even when he is "not respectable" (his words, not mine!) in his sin, and for submitting my schedule to him. We also shared where we each think the other needs to grow (funnily enough, it was the same area!), and reminded each other that God will meet us as we seek to be less selfish.

Where are you all encouraged in your marriages? Share with your spouse first, but then please share with me; I'd love to learn from you!


Winter Lentil Soup (Now with Photo!)

The weather has turned cold and crisp, and that means I crave a lot of soup. I'll try to post a few favorite soup recipes this month. This one serves 4-5, but you can easily double it to feed a crowd.

2 leeks, white & light green parts only, rinsed well
1 bunch kale*
1 tbsp olive oil
1 14oz can diced tomatoes
3 cups water
1 sweet potato, peeled & cut into 1/2" dice
1/4 cup brown lentils
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
fresh basil leaves (optional)
Parmesan (optional)

Halve each leek lengthwise, then slice into 1/4" thick half-moons (about 1 1/2 cups). Remove the stems from the kale; slice the leaves into 1/2" wide strips (about 1 1/2 cups). Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook for 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes (undrained) and water and bring to a boil. Stir in the kale, sweet potato, lentils, thyme, salt & pepper. Add basil leaves, if using. Simmer until the lentils are tender, about 30 minutes. (If you don't end up with enough broth for all the vegetables, just add more water.) Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with Parmesan (if using).

*I always have lots of extra kale, so I use the rest of the bunch in another soup recipe.


Things Besides My Reproductive System That Are Broken

Thing the First - Aaron's Car

My cell phone trilled out Aaron's ring tone shortly after my alarm went off at 6:45 a.m. on Wednesday. He wasn't calling just to chat on his commute to work; no, his car had broken down - just stopped working while he was driving! Thankfully, he was still close to home and on neighborhood roads, not yet on the interstate. We're waiting on an estimate and wondering if a 13-year-old car with 206,000 miles is worth repairing.

Thing the Second - My Spine!

I think I mentioned before that we're considering some alternative medicine to complement our infertility treatments. A friend (who has experience infertility) gave me a coupon for a free diagnostic work-up at her chiropractor. On Wednesday evening, I had an appointment to go over my scans and X-rays. Y'all, my spine is really messed up! (For some reason, I felt that needed the emphasis of a Southern address.) My lower back crooks where it should run straight. My neck is straight where it should curve. I carry 23 more pounds of weight on my left side than my right. The chiropractor recommended 72(!) adjustments. (To give you a comparison, the friend who referred me only had 18 adjustments recommended to her.) I don't know if I can get insurance to cover it; if not, I guess my back will just have to stay deformed.

Wednesday sure packed in the crazy!


Wasted. Or Not.

Thank you all for your kind comments on yesterday's post; your thoughtful words lifted me up. While still bewildered about where to turn next in our efforts to grow a family, I took some comfort in the chapter I "happened" to read this morning in Knowing God by J.I. Packer. (Please bear with the lengthy excerpt.)

Here is another cause of deep perplexity for Christian people. They have sought guidance and believe it has been given. They have set off along the road which God seemed to indicate. And now, as a direct result, they have run into a crop of new problems which otherwise would not have arisen... At once they grow anxious. Is their own present experience of the rough side of life (they ask themselves) a sign from God that they are off track?
It may be so, and the wise person will take occasion from his new troubles to check his original guidance very carefully. Trouble should always be treated as a call to consider one's ways. But trouble is not necessarily a sign of being off track at all; for as the Bible declares in general that "many are the afflictions of the righteous" (Ps 34:19 KJV), so it teaches in particular that following God's guidance regularly leads to upsets and distresses which one would otherwise have escaped.
[L]ook at the life of the Lord Jesus himself. No human life has ever been so completely guided by God, and no human being has ever qualified so comprehensively for the description "a man of sorrows."
By every human standard of reckoning, the cross was a waste - the waste of a young life, a prophet's influence, a leader's potential. We know the secret of its meaning an achievement only from God's own statements. Similarly, the Christian's guided life may appear as a waste. Nor does God always tell us the why and wherefore of the frustrations and losses which are part and parcel of the guided life (pp. 239-240).

I can be plagued by doubts about the choices that led to this point in our infertility. We thought God led us to defer starting our family for a couple years so that I would be able to stay at home; what if those years in our early 20s were our only window to conceive? We thought God led us to pursue specific infertility treatments in a certain way; would we have had a better chance of getting pregnant by eschewing those medical interventions altogether? Everything up to this point may appear like a waste to me right now, but God has guided and he keeps us on his track. How can I fail to trust the Lord Jesus who "wasted" his life to save my soul?


Reality Check

We visited the new RE at the Fertility Institute at Posh Hospital today. We decided to go there because the new OB-GYN recommended them, because we thought they might do more thorough testing, because they are most conveniently located, because they have really high lab ratings, and because they were spoken highly of on the IVF Connections boards. For today's initial consult with Dr. Yet-to-be-nicknamed, I brought a sizable stack of medical charts from all our previous fertility tests and treatments. After he read through them all, Dr. YTBN sat down with Aaron and I in the office and said, "I don't really understand why you're not pregnant yet." Like us, he felt that with such easily treatable problems (low progesterone, mainly), it is strange that none of our IUIs or IVFs would have resulted in pregnancy. He suggested two possible courses of action to us. One, we take a step back to reevaluate and we try a few IUIs with FSH injections. If we do that, he would want to first do an X-ray to confirm that my tubes really are clear (I guess the saline sonogram I had done is not completely accurate for examining the fallopian tubes, even if the fluid is seen to spill out the ends). The other option would be to continue with IVF - but he says that option only makes sense for us if we are willing to freeze embryos.

He was completely sympathetic to our concerns about respecting human life, but he thought that we did not have all the information we needed to make our decision about that issue. He then went on to explain that even in a young, healthy woman, only one out of five eggs has a full set of correct chromosomes. The other four may fertilize and have the necessary chromosomes to grow to blastocysts, but they will not grow and survive beyond that. With those odds, he said, our previous practice of fertilizing just four eggs had almost no chance of resulting in a pregnancy. He asked how many children we want to have, and we said as many as the Lord gives us and that, before infertility struck, we imagined having four or more. In light of that, he suggested that we fertilize as many eggs as we can, transfer two embryos, freeze the rest, and then transfer them all back a couple at a time.

We like Dr. YTBN; he seems incredibly intelligent, but very mild-mannered and compassionate. We appreciate that he was very up-front with us and gave us the facts. That said, I left the appointment feeling very discouraged. I approached this consultation with cautious optimism, hoping that we would get a new perspective and direction that might turn our infertility treatments toward success. In the end, it seemed like we had moved farther away from the possibility of having children, not closer. It feels like the past two years of treatment have been a waste, like we never really had a chance of conceiving at all. We had been told that our odds for IVF, even with fertilizing only four eggs, were around 50%; Dr. YTBN said that with those limitations the chances of success are really more like 15% - no better than an IUI, and less than the average couple trying to conceive on their own. We have had such strong convictions against freezing embryos, and now we're being told that unless we're willing to do that we should forgo IVF altogether. We want to see if Dr. YTBN's facts check out (especially about only one in five eggs being chromosomally normal), and we will re-examine our practice of IVF in light of the new information, but we of course will not go against our conscience. Nothing has to be decided right away, thankfully. Deep down, I know that God is sovereign over all that has happened in our efforts to conceive up to this point, but right now I'm worrying that we've missed our chance. I thought we were heading in the right direction, medically, and now I've been told that we had the wrong map.


NIAW: My Story Project*

When I signed up for health insurance with my job, I looked with some interest at the maternity coverage. I figured it wouldn't be too long before my husband and I would want to start a family, so I was pleased to see that we could expect very few out-of-pocket costs for prenatal visits and for labor and delivery. It never crossed my mind to check the insurance policy for infertility coverage. When we neared the one-year mark in our attempts to conceive a child, I went back to that insurance booklet to discover - to my surprise and delight - that our HMO provided coverage for all the diagnostic procedures, medicines, and treatments for infertility (excluding those still deemed experimental). I later found out that this wasn't just the luck of the insurance draw, but that my state mandates insurance coverage for infertility - up to four IVF attempts for a first child, plus an additional two attempts for a second child.

Without insurance, we could not have pursued medical treatment of our infertility. I am so grateful that we have not had to face financial pressures on top of the emotional, physical, marital, and spiritual difficulties that pile on month after month of failing to conceive. As a young couple fresh out of college, we already had a load of debt from school and car loans. A loan for the purpose of building our family would have been, sadly, unthinkable. Thankfully, the Illinois laws that mandate insurance coverage for infertility meant that we could freely pursue the medical options before us. I remember getting the large box of injections and pills for our first IVF attempt and noting with relief that we only had to pay about 10% of the $2000 price tag. Though we have not achieved pregnancy through the IUIs or IVFs we have done so far, we have hope for our remaining two insurance-covered IVF cycles. And at least the multiple negative results of the past two years have not carried the added injury of costly invoices.

So many people in so many different life situations face infertility. The media tends to focus on women at the end of their fertile years who suddenly realize that their child-bearing years are drawing to an end. The implication is that those women made choices to pursue things other than children and now are reaping their reward. But infertility is not something anyone chooses. We certainly did not. We began trying to conceive when we were each 25 years old, only a couple years into our marriage. We wanted (and still want) to be young parents, and we want our parents to be able to actively enjoy their grandchildren. Medical problems have postponed the start of our family, but insurance coverage means that the dream might still come true.

*Flicka and Melissa have asked infertility bloggers to share their experiences of infertility and insurance coverage during NIAW; this is my contribution to the project.



Yesterday kicked off National Infertility Awareness Week. Here are a few informative tidbits:

- Medically speaking, infertility is the inability to conceive after a year of unprotected intercourse; infertility is also diagnosed if a woman has multiple miscarriages.

- Infertility affects approximately 10% of the population.

- About 35% of infertility cases are due female problems; about 35% are due to male problems. Approximately 20% involve both male and female factors, and 10% of infertility cases have no known explanation.

- The varied causes that contribute to infertility include: endometriosis, structural abnormalities in the reproductive system, weak or no ovulation, thyroid imbalances, low sperm counts, sperm with poor motility or morphology, immune issues, blood clotting disorders, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and more. (This is why stories about your best friend's second cousin who finally got pregnant after seven years aren't helpful; the underlying reasons may be wildly different, so such stories don't provide any realistic encouragement.)

- Patients undergoing infertility treatments have been found to have rates of depression similar to those facing AIDS or cancer.

If you'd like to learn more about infertility, you can visit the website of the national fertility organization RESOLVE. They have a helpful section for family and friends of those who are having trouble conceiving, including articles like "How Can I Help?" and "Don't Tell Them to Relax (or What Not to Say)." They capture the experience of infertility pretty well (although some discernment is needed about the best Christian response). While I don't want to make infertility the issue that defines my life - that function belongs only to the gospel of Christ - this week seems like a good time to highlight the broader impact of this particular concern.

I'd also like to take the opportunity afforded by NIAW to thank all of my fertile friends who have been so supportive and compassionate during these past years. Though you may not understand all of the heartache, you have been so thoughtful and sympathetic and encouraging. I know you don't always know what to say, but you have all been so sensitive. I have rarely been the recipient of thoughtless, hurtful comments about infertility, and I am so grateful to such gracious friends!