Jump into the Way Back Machine with me for a minute. When I started writing here, I posted about a lot of silly things like falling in love over banana bread, how cool space is (with Star Trek references. I’m not embarrassed), and what is UP with Ezekiel. (I love those posts and often use them to remind myself to embrace my inner goofball.) Those posts were a bit of throat clearing before I started writing about Brad’s illness. His health and our coping with it filled my thoughts and soon, this blog. (You can catch up starting here, and then click on the “lyme disease” tag if you’re interested in what happened after that.)
Writing about the experience here was a gift. It connected me to big-hearted people who, remarkably, cared. It helped me process some of our most difficult moments. It also created a whale of a cliffhanger when I stopped writing here for a while.
Sorry about that.
When we left off (in February 2015!), Brad was about to start a low-dose antigen therapy for his chronic Lyme disease, auto-immune concerns, and inflammation. I’ll be honest: I forgot he did that. So I probably don’t have to tell you it didn’t do much for him. Shortly after that, his doctor told us we were out of options. “You have to wait now for research and innovation to come up with the next thing for you to try.”
We waited all summer that year and the waiting was barren. That’s the only word I can think to describe it. There was no next thing on the horizon. There were no more foods we could eliminate or play with. We had tried it all, truly. We didn’t have any hope. That’s when I wrote this.
We prayed, but it wasn’t powerful or hopeful or trusting. It was more like moaning again and again and again.
And then something happened! Brad heard about a cellular health supplement from his dentist (of all people–she was applying it to patients’ gums after oral surgery and seeing fast healing). He tried it and within two weeks, he started feeling better.
Can I say that again but louder? HE STARTED FEELING BETTER.
He started sleeping through the night.
The veil of pain over his eyes lifted. They literally cleared.
His headaches vanished.
His energy skyrocketed.
His knees, always swollen like melons, started gradually getting less puffy.
It was like living the last few years in reverse, watching his symptoms fall away, starting with the most recent. It was glorious and weird. It felt like I was meeting the Brad that I never really got to know: the healthy Brad. As fantastic as it was, I needed time to adjust.
I was numb about the change at first. People who saw how much better Brad was would approach me with tears of joy in their eyes and tell me, “You must be so happy!” And I was! I am! But Brad getting healthy was a sea change in our marriage. It was all wonderful, but everything from how fast we walked down the street to how he greeted me after work changed. I needed time to revert from caregiver plus wife to just wife. I didn’t expect that.
Even now as I’m writing this, I feel a little bit of distance from it. Isn’t that odd? I spent years so engorged on feeling everything from sorrow to supernatural faith and then this moment–the moment we had been working toward and hoping for for years–it came at me like a wall of quiet. No hysterical crying, no screaming with joy. Just standing in front of Brad and watching. Thinking. Weighing. Remembering.
At that point in our journey, remembering made me sad. Brad was happy, full of energy, and full of hope, and watching him reminded me of the six years where he was the opposite of that. Yes, we got so much out of that time. I wouldn’t change it. I really wouldn’t. But I felt loss along with the gain. The grief surprised me.
That’s why I didn’t write about it until now. I didn’t know how, I could barely believe we were exiting illness. I could barely believe he was getting better. It took me a full year to realize this was our new normal.
And how is he now? Well, he’s still better. He can lift our (very chunky) baby. He has the energy and strength to work out twice a week (with this incredible trainer). He usually sleeps through the night still. He can carry the groceries into the house and mow the lawn and get down on the floor and back up again.
But it’s not perfect. His knees still swell with activity, or sometimes for no discernible reason at all. With lots of use, his other joints continue to ache and swell occasionally. In times of high stress, he doesn’t sleep and his headaches come back. Cold weather makes it all a little rougher.
But when we feel discouraged by these remaining signs of illness, we only have to look back at where we were. At the cane, the IVs, the inability to get dressed without help, the days of shivering and nights of sweats. We look back and we know God has brought us up from the low place. We see what’s He’s done for us and we are thankful. We have seen his goodness in the land of the living. And this verse, well this verse makes me cry because it’s our story:
Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting.
He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed,
Shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.
To reclaim humility, Jesus embraced human limits as good. To restore our humanity, Jesus revealed the goodness of being bound in space and time. To free us from shame, Jesus proved that being human is nothing to be ashamed of. (page 88)
But it is precisely the fact that our resources do not belong to us–that they have been given to us by our good, kind Master–that frees us to take risks. When everything is a gift and when we learn to trust the Giver of those gifts, we learn a kind of humility that makes us fearless and productive. And instead of either hoarding or rejecting our resources, we cultivate them. Instead of burying them, we plant them. (page 148)
When you recognize that you love something are gifted to do it, you must also immediately recognize that you do not love everything, and you are not gifted to do everything. Suddenly you realize your own limitations; desire humbles you. And suddenly you are free form the tyranny of “keeping your options open.” You are free from the responsibility of feeling like you have to “do it all.” You are free to do only what you have been made to do. (page 162)
The humble person doesn’t deny the pain of this world, or her complicity in it, but she does hope. She continues to forage for the sweetness that God has promised. She gleans where she has not planted. Along the fence rows and roadsides. Not in carefully cultivated thickets, but in the wildness of the waysides. Our hands may be scratched and bleeding, we may stink of sweat, our feet sinking in the mud, but there, just within our grasp, is a cluster of hope–a reminder of who God is and he never fails His children. (page 188)
Oh, this book was so good and so necessary for me this summer when I’ve bumped up against my limits as a wife, a mother, a friend again and again and needed the reminder that limitations are a grace. They guide us, they reveal the truth of our dependency to us day after day. They also remind me to stop in this place right now, with all its difficulties, and plant. None of our sweetness has grown where we cultivated it but I’m starting to see mercies in the “wildness of the waysides.” And that is sweet indeed.
All quotes from Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul by Hannah Anderson
Popping in quickly because I just read a provocative essay on art. Zach Franzen, a professional illustrator, connects the idea of hospitality with the idea of holy imagination (and by extension, “good” art). Here’s a little bit of what he says:
Hospitality as an artistic goal collides directly and forcefully with the cult of self-expression. … By contrast, the cult of self-expression exalts in “mine” more than it exalts in “good.” Its adherents do not create art to serve others. Rather, it suggests that art and others bend to the artist.
Treating self-expression as the goal of art sanctifies the personal in a way that’s bad. It encourages students to work on explanation rather than craft and discourages them from seeking common ground with the viewer.
He goes on to use an example from contemporary art: A rumpled bed sold for 2.5 million pounds (!). The artist laid in the bed during a bout of depression, so it was covered in soiled sheets, tissues, and other icons of melancholy. Why is this art? Someone asked her. “Because I say it is,” she replied.
Franzen says there’s no room for this as Christian artists of any kind. He says this type of artistry demands the viewer serve the artist. It would be like a host serving a plate of salt to a guest and saying, “This is a good meal because I say it is.” (You really should read the whole essay for more context.)
The money quote for me:
Art should serve, and Christian artists should serve in a way that’s full of both grace and truth.
Think about it. What’s more hospitable than displaying the beauty of truth?
So two questions:
1. Should art serve? Is that the end goal of art? Who determines the end goal?
2. Who should art be for? The artist or the viewer? Can it be for both and what would that look like?
Ok, that was more than two, and I’m nowhere near having the answers. I wonder if there’s something to defining whether a finished artwork is about changing the viewer, changing the artist, or merely having produced something. I’m chewing on it and would love to hear your thoughts.
Stress level = 11. A hard conversation about hard numbers that don’t add up, no matter how we try. A tricky writing job weighing on and waiting for me.
I pour a big glass of wine and get to work. The words aren’t easy, but they come. In 60 minutes time, I have more than what I wanted.
It occurs to me that sometimes the goodness of God is as drinkable as a big glass of wine. Then I remember this isn’t a new idea.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus poured a glass of wine and held it in his holy hands, as yet unpierced by nails. (That would come the next day.) He handed it to his best friends each in turn.
This is my blood. This cup is my life.
Feel it warm you and strengthen you. Drink down the mystery of my flesh for yours, my blood for yours. Share this cup. Not the strife, or the pain. Not the beatings or the lacerations or those nails. No. Share the celebration. Share the victory. Share the goodness.
Share the wine.
UPDATE: Another meditation on the goodness displayed in wine.
“You shouldn’t get pregnant,” the nurse said, her voice filled with the burrs of being transported through wires and towers to the cell phone I held in my hand.
Her voice went on about a positive test, a bacteria strain, a follow-up appointment to begin treatment. But I stayed behind.
I shouldn’t get pregnant.
I hung up the phone and quick-walked to the bathrooms at work, faking grins the whole way down the hall.
In the stall, I sat down and held my hands in front of me. My fingertips brushed against one another and the sensation felt so strong. I began to sob. I fixated on my hands, the gentle curl of my fingers at rest. The wedding ring that still felt heavy with newness on my finger. The palms that suddenly felt impossibly, permanently empty.
I don’t remember the rest of that day. I don’t remember telling Brad that a baby wasn’t in the cards for us, not now, and maybe not ever. I don’t remember telling my mom I wouldn’t be a mom.
But I do remember the heartache. It was vicious.
That heartache lasted five Mother’s Days. On the morning of each day, I touched this memory briefly, testing to see how much it hurt. By the Lord’s grace, the heartache was never bad on Mother’s Day. Instead, it would assert itself when I was on a long run and had time to imagine being the girl who didn’t get that phone call. Or on long road trips when I let my mind drift. But the day when it was supposed to hurt the most, it didn’t.
Last Mother’s Day was different. It was the first one since Brad and I decided to live by faith, not by hard phone calls. I got pregnant and my due date was just 10 days away.
But I lost that baby months before, in November. I sat through an afternoon of meetings at work, suspecting what was happening inside me, I’m losing my baby on repeat in my mind. I sobbed the entire train ride home and fell into Brad’s arms when he picked me up at the station.
That heartache was vicious.
By May, it still was. I missed my baby. Now it wasn’t just my hands that felt empty, it was my arms, my womb, my heart.
A week later I learned I was pregnant again.
This Mother’s Day, well, I’m not sure what to feel about it. This year, I have a beautiful, happy, giggly four-month-old son. Sometimes I can hardly look at him because the joy he brings me and the promise he represents is so big. I will gladly take this Sunday to celebrate mamahood and rejoice in the One who gave it to me. But I’ll also remember my first child—the one who made me a mother. The one who isn’t with me, but is instead held by the same arms that have been holding me this whole time. And I’ll look around and wonder how many other women have a baby in one arm and another in their minds. Or how many of us have only the children we’ve lost.
Twelve days, seven states, I don’t even want to count how many miles, and one adorable three-month-old. Despite those frightening figures, our recent road trip (I’ve been calling it the Great Great Grandparent Midwestern Tour) was a smash success. Leif got to meet all the people before him and the people before them, and we marveled at how such a tiny person can bring so much joy to a room.
We also ate granola bars. Let me tell you the story. Spoiler: It’s a tragicomedy.
After an evening devoted to the careful review of the approximately three dozen granola bar recipes I’ve tagged over the years (wanna hang out sometime? I’m super fun), I chose the one I knew would be a success: Smitten Kitchens’ thick and chewy granola bars. When you need to get a recipe right, get it from her.
Batch 1 was perfection: sunflower seeds and chopped walnuts mingling with oats and chocolate chunks in a bar that actually held together. We snacked on those from Nashville to St. Louis to Des Moines.
But then we realized we had more driving to do. We couldn’t face those miles without granola bars, so I made another batch at my parents’ house.
Thing 1 I did wrong: They didn’t have parchment paper so I used wax paper, then tenderly filleted that paper off the bottom of the bars when it melded with the mixture after baking.
Thing 2 I did wrong: I left the bars at dog level.
You see, my parents have an adorable Chow/Newfie rescue dog that has a slight anxiety problem. By slight I mean this dog, when left alone, hunts out every single paper (and oat) product in the house, chews it up, and deposits it on the living room rug as a really sweet welcome home gift for my parents.
When we got home from church the night I made batch 2, the rug was strewn with chewed up dirty diapers (all the ewwwwws), paper of unknown origin, and one previously perfectly filleted batch of granola bars. Although in an unexpected twist, Sirius* chewed up the ziploc bag and left the bars. (No, we didn’t eat them. I cannot with dog slobber.)
Batch 3 came together yesterday back at home when we needed a good snack. This time I mixed cashews and coconut with chocolate. There will always be chocolate. We fell in love all over again. These bars are sweet enough to be a treat, but hearty and wholesome enough that you don’t feel too bad about it.
Jump to her recipe and try them out with my whole-food substitutions:
1/2 cup coconut sugar for the granulated sugar
6 tablespoons coconut oil for the butter (though I’d happily make these with butter now that I’m eating dairy again)
2 tablespoons honey for the corn syrup
*Yes, my parents’ dog is named after Sirius Black from Harry Potter. And yes, they are the coolest parents ever.
Guys, I’m clocking a lot of time on the sofa nursing my little bebe. Sometimes I read while he eats, but honestly, it’s hard to take my eyes off his round nose, dinner-roll arms, fat fat thighs, perfect little toes, and his round chin (and his second chin and his third one).
So I listen to podcasts.
These five get played first right now:
5. 1o Minute Writer’s Workshop
Writers of all sorts answer a handful of questions like What’s harder to write: the first sentence or the last? and What’s the worst writing advice you’ve ever received? in a mere 10 minutes. It’s fascinating if you’re the type of person who loves to learn about writers’ writing routines. (And if you’re that person, I hope you also read Brain Pickings’ compilation of daily writerly routines.) Episode to try: The 10-Minute Writer’s Workshop with Alexander Chee
4. Circe Institute Podcast Network
Ok, ok. This is a super niche choice. If you’re in that micro percentage of people who is considering (or using) the classical or Charlotte Mason methods to homeschool your kids OR that (maybe smaller?) percentage of people who are obsessed with Homer, this group of podcasts will be your jam. I’m not obsessed with Homer, in case you’re wondering which category I fall into. Perpetual Feast is their all-Homer-all-the-time podcast that I surprise myself by listening to beginning to end. The Commons are convos with experts about people worth knowing more about. A recent example: A quirky look at Flannery O’Connor with one of her biographers. Quiddity features interviews with authors, musicians, professors, and other experts in their field about different topics tangential to classical education. The Mason Jar is interviews and question/answers about the Charlotte Mason method (this one can be a little precious, but also has some concrete tips). Then they have Close Reads, which is essentially an online book club. I don’t listen to that one because I don’t know why. I just don’t. Episode to try: Definitely the one on Flannery O’Connor
It seems everyone I know is listening to these half-hour or so interviews with culture creators who happen to be Christian. These conversations focus on the intersection of faith and work, though everyone host Mike Cosper interviews seems to be involved in music, writing, art, or ministry of some sort. So it’s not like, a random accountant talking about how he or she brings faith into Excel spreadsheets. Though come to think of it, I know that accountant and she’d be a great interview. ANYWAY. Thought-provoking and a good source for new people to follow on Twitter, for sure. Episode to try: everyone says the Andy Crouch two-parter is their favorite, but I haven’t listened to it yet. So instead, listen to rapper Propaganda’s episode. It made this white girl who is–no lie–currently listening to Beethoven’s piano sonatas want to buy his album. (Whaaaatttt?)
2. Q Podcast
Q is an organization that explores Christianity’s place in modern-day culture, encourage culture-creators and culture-engagers, and in their words, “advance good.” Sounds good to me! I actually heard about Q through founder Gabe Lyons’ Cultivated interview. Their programming is varied: Yesterday I heard a twentysomething nun talk about why she chose to enter a convent (that mindset is radical, y’all), a few weeks ago I listened to their six-part series on how Christians should faithfully love and serve and engage with the gay community. I appreciate how Gabe doesn’t fall over himself to make faith relevant; it simply IS relevant because it has a lot to say about human hearts, human trials, and human ambition. Episode to try: Seriously, hear from the nun. It’s episode 17.
Another super niche one. The husband-wife founding team behind the homeschool literature curriculum Center for Lit talks with their son and daughter-in-law about the role of literature in the world. I promise it’s more entertaining than that sounds. I’m just getting into it and they’re exploring the Cerebral Questions like What is the Great Conversation? and What is Art? It makes me laugh because they banter, strongly disagree, and even more strongly agree, which reminds me so much of when I talk about literature with my parents. Hey Mom and Dad, want to start a podcast? Episode to try: Episode 2: The Great Conversation where mother and son get in a heated argument about whether or not Dumb and Dumber contributes to the Great Conversation. Reader, I laughed.
We’re heading out of town on a 12-day road trip and I’ve downloaded these three for binge listening:
S-Town From the Serial team, so I know it will hold my attention. But will the true crime scare me?!
Homecoming From Gimlet, I downloaded this scripted podcast simply because Oscar Isaac is in it and I like him as a film actor.
Pod Save the World Time to learn something about foreign policy. Yeah, I just fell asleep, too. We’ll see how this one goes.
Grain salads are one of those rare categories where Brad and I differ. I love them, mostly because 1) I love salad, and 2) grain salads seem so virtuous that it actually increases my eating pleasure. Brad’s enjoyment is circumstantial. He’d never choose a grain salad or suggest one when we plan our meals. But if I put a good one in front of him, he’s on board.
Folks, he was on board for this one.
If I’m totally honest with you, he wasn’t on board with the one pictured exactly (he declined to try it. I loved it). He ate the second version of it I made. Because you see, this salad is more a slam dunk formula than it is a recipe. It’s endlessly adaptable and deceptively simple.
First, and most importantly, you roast some red onions. These little jewels will populate your salad with sweet caramelized heat–more like a gentle heat. A smolder? Can onions smolder?–and make everything else the better for it. After that, it’s just a matter of tossing greens (I did this with romaine–ROMAINE! The most basic lettuce there is–and it was still awesome), grains, nuts, and raisins together. There’s not even a real dressing. This salad is more low-maintenance than an air plant.
(I’ve killed air plants before. I KNOW.)
I’m just getting started with variations and I suspect the possibilities are infinite. Try it and let me know what combinations you love.
infinity grain salad
makes 4 entree servings
adapted from Alexandra’s Kitchen’s Farro Salad
The first time I made this I used cooked millet, raisins, pecans, and arugula (pictured). So good. The second time it was quinoa, raisins, almonds, and romaine. STILL GOOD. Someday I’ll make Alexandra’s version too, promise.
1 red onion, diced
avocado oil (or olive oil)
1/3 cup raisins (or currants)
1/2 cup nuts (I’ve used almonds and pecans)
2 cups cooked grains (I’ve used millet and quinoa; Alexandra uses farro)
several handfuls of greens (I’ve used arugula and romaine)
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss the diced onion with a few teaspoons of avocado oil. Spread on a sheet pan and season with salt. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the onion starts to char. Watch it closely! When finished, remove from oven and place in a large serving bowl.
Place the raisins in a small boil and pour 1 tablespoon boiling water and 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar over them. Let sit while you prepare the rest of the salad.
Toast the nuts in a small skillet over medium heat until golden brown. Watch these closely, too!
Now, the assembly: Place greens, grains, raisins (including the liquid), and nuts in the bowl with the onions. Drizzle with avocado oil and season with a big pinch of salt and some pepper. Toss together, adding more balsamic vinegar or oil as necessary to reach the amount of dressing you like. (I’m usually satisfied with it as is.)
Did you know infants prefer black and white images? It’s true. The high contrast of black and white graphic images gives their mind a way to rest from the visual stimulation the rest of the world offers, and it also helps develop their vision. I read that when I was pregnant so I registered for this book called Black & White and it’s true! Leif really does seem to be into it. It holds his attention so much more than the more showy books do.
In this way, he and I are a lot alike. I really like things to be black and white. Sure, I love a good discussion. I love plowing through a complex topic, approaching it from every angle to figure it out. But plowing should create neat rows, and that’s what I expect and like: neat rows of information and ideas. I want to leave those discussions knowing what’s for sure and what’s for sure not.
This next part isn’t a surprise: the world isn’t really like that. A lot of the world is gray area. I cling to the absolutes (God loves us. The Green Bay Packers are the best team in the league. Chocolate is awesome.) but everything else? Well, I thought about that a few mornings ago on my walk. All of that gray? I think it’s grace. It’s grace to figure it out. It’s grace to explore. It’s room to come to a conclusion a little bit different from your neighbor’s.
When grace = freedom, I don’t mind the gray at all.
December 16, 2016, I did what every working person must dream of doing at some point: I walked away from my job knowing come Monday morning, I wouldn’t be scrambling to get to work, I’d just be done. Done working full-time. Done checking work email. Done commuting.
For good? For a few years? I don’t know. Leif was due in four weeks and Brad and I both wanted me to stay home with him and freelance.
We knew this was the right choice for us and even so, I have moments where I wonder if what I’m doing with my time counts for anything. Can I say that about raising a human being? I know it’s actually the most valuable work there is, it’s just that it looks like sitting on the sofa 8+ hours a day, changing that onesie with spit up all over it again, wondering if you’re talking out loud enough to your baby.
So Essentialism was the right book at the right time.
The book oribts around one phrase: Less but better.
Basically: There is so little that actually matters. If you focus on those things–what’s essential–you’ll be less stressed, better at making decisions, more in control of your work and life, and more productive.
It’s worth reading the whole book to get into the details of it, but that one phrase was enough for me.
When my day looks like nurse, burp, smooch fat cheeks, repeat, it’s easy to feel like this new life I chose is small. “Less but better” reminds me that we made this choice to make our lives a little smaller in some ways so it could be bigger in other ways.
Less income, better flexibility.
Less to show for a day’s work, better meaning to every moment.
Less impressive job title, better long-term reward.
In other words, what I’m doing right now is essential, and that’s a relief.