August 2010

Jaron and I are in the process of recording an album, as you may have seen, and as it’s a different project than the music we play with our band, we’re left with the task of finding a new name under which to release it.  Not our favorite task.  There’s so much in a name – intended meaning, understood meaning, aesthetics, originality (not just desirable, but required by law).  Practically speaking we’d like it to be decently easy to remember.  But most of all we want it to feel like “us”.

There are few things more valuable than having the freedom and the ability to feel like yourself, or at least the version of yourself that you want to be.  For me it’s the feeling of a v-neck t-shirt that fits perfectly.  Or driving a little too fast with the windows down and The Con playing a little too loudly.  Or the feeling that I was able to say a lot with just a few words.  For Jaron I imagine it’s listening back to the layers of guitars he and Andy are building on these songs.  Or laughing with his brother at something only they seem to understand.  Moments when there is no striving and no questions; all is well between yourself and the world.

On days I feel too fat, I find myself with the inclination to take another shower.  As if it would wash the fat off.  Wash away the part doesn’t belong, that isn’t “me”.  I long for the day when I am not at battle with my body, with the image of myself that it carries around.  I long for the day beauty and terror are not bestowed by the same ocean, healing and sickness by the same chemical.  I long for the Earth and its inhabitants to stop rebelling against each other.  But sometimes I realize I have become comfortable, even come to prefer the imperfect world.  The imperfect relationships.  The freedom to mistreat people, to be selfish and even to imagine I am above others.  A far cry from the person I’m meant to be.    But even when my heart fails me in who I wish to be, it stays true in how I wish to be known.  It’s easy to get carried away with this task of naming ourselves, to see it as an opportunity to be perceived more brilliantly than we necessarily are.

Fortunately for our sanity’s sake, we only have about a week to decide.  So maybe this side of Heaven we’ll settle for something that doesn’t get us sued or make make too many of our family members furrow their brows.

And here’s a piece from an awesome artist who is working on our album artwork – we’re so excited to be working with Hollie Chastain.


Moving to a new city without a job is scary, but I was prepared for that.  Making new friends and finding a new church is a little scary, but I was also prepared for that.  I was even prepared for the possibility that we would make a record and no one would want to buy it.  Not even my Mom.  (No, I’m not going to make my Mom pay for one.  That’d be rude.  It will be her Christmas present.  :))

All of these things were easy to predict, to make myself ready.  And having made some demos at home with Jaron before, I thought I had a decent idea of what it would be like to sing at the studio, which is my main contribution, besides the afternoon coffee run.  But, oh, I was wrong.

Recording has involved some pretty short work days and lots of lunches out, really fun conversations, and a ton of learning as we watch our amazing producer do his thing.  But there is something about being in the studio that unnerves me more than I ever could have imagined.  I’ve been dreading that first take in the vocal room and at the same time wishing it would hurry up and get here and done-with.  When that moment came and I put the headphones on and stood in front of a mic that cost more than my car, I could feel my throat shrink up.  Suddenly my vocal cords felt like an old rubberband, dry and cracked, stretched to almost breaking.  I heard the sound of my own voice come back to me through those headphones, probably more clearly than I ever have before, and it sounded like someone else.  I tried to fix it, to get my own voice back, but the sound continued to worsen, cracking out of control and breathless.  The encouraging faces on Jaron and our producer began to look like smirks and exchanged glances.   For the first time my voice was utterly naked, not harmonizing with someone else, no big room to smooth out the kinks.  Just amplification.  They say that nightmares only last six minutes; if only that were true when they came to life.

Two hours later it was over, and two days later I’m finally starting to breath again.  What is it about being made vulnerable that is so gut-wrenching?  My body literally rebels against me in those moments.  I used to be jealous of the artists who could quiet the fear and skepticism, ignore the blatant warnings from others.  Maybe those artists are out there, but I’m beginning to wonder.  At Hutchmoot this year, Andrews Peterson and Osenga shared a story.  Several years ago a group of the prominent songwriters of the industry gathered for a retreat in British Columbia.  In a time of open sharing some the artists shared specific struggles they had encountered in their writing, and it was quickly made clear that the voices of doubt are not easily quieted.  Writers at the top of their industry, with years and years of successes behind them, still heard unbidden doubts when they woke in the morning or tried to rest at night.

I don’t have much to conclude these thoughts, but I do have a request.  If you know someone who is choosing taking a great risk, being vulnerable in order to accomplish something important, let them know you are in their corner.  Let them know that they don’t have far to fall, and be willing to show them your imperfection in return for their own.

I didn’t get a job this week.  Rather, I was turned down for a job this week.  I didn’t really want it, but I rode the spiral just cause it was easier to believe the part that said “they don’t want you” than to embrace the fact that I didn’t really want them.  What is it about rejection that screws with us so badly? People, jobs, loans… rejection makes me question my identity in unending ways.  It makes me believe I want something I might not actually want, but suddenly think I need to feel worthy again.  In my case it almost made me forget I am allergic to business-casual.  It can make me yearn for things that are downright bad for me.  The new kid at school called me “fat” and now I desperately want to date him.

My husband is good to me.  I don’t mean that in the “my husband doesn’t beat me” kind of good to me.  Not even in the “my husband is a hard worker” way.  (Both those things are true, of course.)  My husband is better to me than I am to him.  He is more gentle, more patient, more kind, and he has been since we met.  Despite all this it took him three years and two proposals to convince me to make the leap.  I love Jaron and I did from early on, but in our dating relationship I really battled the idea love must be fantastical, rather than just fantastic.  I had pined after boys before and to me part of the “love” experience involved drama and quite honestly unrequited or at least unpredictable feelings.  When Jaron came along he wore his heart on his sleeve, more than I had ever experienced before.  I loved it.  But time went on and he continued.  More time went on and he still continued.  I began to replay romantic comedies in my head, Christian romance novels I read when I was 9 years old (that stuff should be illegal), and found myself at times underwhelmed with our love story.  Jaron hadn’t taught me that I didn’t deserve him.

If this was the After School Special version of our story, I would finally have realized that I do deserve real love and would then be able to receive it from the doting, funny, ever-faithful boy next door.  But let’s be honest, that’s a load of crap.  I don’t deserve love any more than I deserve a Nobel Peace Prize.  It’s less about what I deserve and more about what I trust.  What really happened was that Jaron and I went through a real, painful conflict and what I found when we reached the other side was still me and Jaron.  A scarred, more tangible version of who we had been before.  And I knew that our relationship was real, that the love could be tested and stay true.  That’s the way it is with love.

Growing up in the evangelical Christian community, there was sometimes pressure to have a fantastical conversion story.  A moment when no one could argue that God intervened and saved you from what was surely imminent destruction.  Former drug addicts were featured a lot.  The thing is that each our stories progress on the same trajectory, regardless of the details.  It’s not about one dramatic moment that wraps the story up nicely for a twenty minute testimony.  You can’t get a Hollywood reel out of it; love between the two beings is not in question.  And I think I’m finally getting used to that.  Finally in a position where my first instinct is not to think that a job rejection means a God rejection.  More importantly, I’m finally in a place where I don’t believe that being loved leads to being rejected.  Don’t get me wrong, it still sucks when you don’t get the job.  But I know that the love doesn’t change.  Trust might, but not love.

I hate working out.  I am team sports girl and if no one is counting on me to show up or work hard, I’m hard-pressed to do it.  I enjoyed feeling affirmed in my lazy attitude in an article I read several months ago outlining the dangers of America’s exercise habits.  Essentially, there is not a lot of history in the idea of working out, especially to lose weight.  Day-to-day activities of work and play used to give our bodies a good dose of movement, which maintained muscle tone to critical degrees all on its own.  This century, however, many of us have become professional sitters, who average less than seven thousand steps per day between cars, elevators, and computer work.  So, in order to maintain enough muscle for occasional bursts of energy and to keep our bones and tendons well-enough supported to avoid injury/ chronic wear, we try to work out.  Fair enough.  But as the Time article points out, we are still out of balance.

Working out tends to be more intense (but not necessarily more calorie-burning) than just daily activity.  It sends our body into glucose cravings, which means we want to eat things that will bring our body calorically back to the place it was pre-workout.  It leads to compensatory and often over-compensatory eating.

The other thing it does is make us tired and make our bodies want to rest and reserve energy for the next day.  Compensatory rest.  I’m guessing all of us have experienced the feeling of post work-out vegetation.  We’re not as productive as we might need to be after giving time and energy to the exercise.

It takes some thought, but we can use a lot of calories if we just make less sedentary choices.  My body uses as many calories of energy to make dinner, wash the dishes, and walk the dog as it does to run 3 miles. (calculated here)

(So far, I’ve made a pretty good case to justify my distaste for working out, don’t you think?)  A friend of mine commented the other afternoon that after her run in the heat of the day, she felt she had earned the right to do nothing all day.  It brought my mind immediately back to the Time magazine article.  I thought to myself that she could benefit from more activity and less intensity.  It was a moment of self-satisfaction followed by serious conviction.  Because the habit I have developed of using my body regularly more than extremely has not crossed over to the most important health aspect of my life, my spirit.

For years I have participated in “mission trips”, essentially volunteering my time and labor for a concentrated period to a group of folks that have particular needs.  I go, I learn a lot about service and humility, and I come home and subconsciously behave as though I now have a right to do nothing.  I have exhausted my philanthropy and proceeded to mistake exhaustion for completion.

I do the same thing with other spiritual disciplines like fasting, prayer, meditation, scripture study, you name it.  I realize it’s been a while, I hit it hard, I get exhausted, and I turn it off again for months.

But what would it look like to infuse spiritual exercise into daily living, much the way I’ve done with physical exercise?  Partly a trick of perspective, I think; slowing down and recognizing the holiness of my surroundings.  The people I interact with (or sometimes ignore) each day are not “mere mortals”, but souls, alive and exceptional.  If I can keep this at heart, my conversations change from casual to a profound encounter with something God-made. The earth constantly reveals what lies above and beneath the lives we live here.  If I can pay attention, I will see splendor and terror and everything in between.  I will see God.  My growing acquaintanceship with food and nutrition keeps me in awe, all the more so when I use my bare hands to do the labor it requires.  If I stop to give thanks, I acknowledge my relationship with the Creator; I experience the safety and vulnerability of having a caretaker.

I know that I don’t know all the answers for this one yet, but I’m starting the pursuit.  In a new town, a new neighborhood, a new vocation- it’s the perfect place to start observing the holy patterns in the world around me.

Yup, I did it.  I launched a new blog.  No plans to neglect this one, but where this blog is loosely focused, the next will be almost absurdly focused, solely on stews, soups, and microbrew.  I’ll be sharing our favorite recipes and sources and plugging our favorite matching beers.  The brew aspect will likely be fewer and farther between based on our current budget, but still an important component of my very favorite meal, a hearty bowl of stew and a 1/2 liter of nice, hoppy beer.

My love for stew is multi-faceted.  There is the warm and cozy feeling it gives me – the way it communicates love and alludes to hours of smells developed in the kitchen.  The fact that I feel connected to history and the world-over by eating from a bowl and making food stretch, the way people have for centuries.

There is also the health factor.  It’s hard to overeat on soup, because of the liquid.  The human stomach is designed to hold a lot of food.  This is because more nutrients come from low calorie vegetation than animal food sources and we need that nutrition.  We crave meat (some would say) because it’s supposed to be more difficult to come by and a boost of fat and protein that is harder to get through nuts and vegetation.  So, onto the scene comes stew, a way to make vegetables especially palatable, develop and infuse pleasing flavors, and stretch meat to what we can afford/accomplish/apply.

Soups and stews are the little black dresses of the culinary world.  They are timeless and easy to dress up or down, suitable for most any occasion.  They make life easier by often creating less mess in the kitchen and lasting for several meals (some are easily frozen for later in the month).  They are easy to make ahead of time for guests.  Nothing has helped Jaron and I eat at home like stew has done.

So, I invite you to check out my inaugural post of one of Jaron’s favorites.  This one is not seasonal (gasp) but easily enjoyed year-round, at least in our house.  It’s a rip-off of the best dish to come out of Carrabba’s, sausage and lentil soup.

Recently I read an article on Writer’s Digest which gave advice on developing a dynamic character in fiction writing. It suggested that you find where on a particular continuum your character might be at the beginning of the story versus the end of the story. It gave examples like goody v. baddy, team guy v. rebel, artist v. dreamer, tough guy v…… I stopped and went back. Artist v. dreamer? How are those opposites? I consider myself quite the dreamer. Some of my past employers and teachers might agree with me. 🙂 But I also consider myself a creative type. So how does one journey between attributes that seem to go hand-in-hand?

It took some unpacking and further development at the conference I attended this weekend to realize just how mistaken I was. Being a dreamer and being creative may well co-exist, but there is a difference between having creative abilities and being a creator. A difference between starting the homework and turning it in on time. Right, Mom? A difference between picking out a name for your future child and actually giving birth. Dreaming will not make art; only creating makes art.

The presence of art is, of course, open to interpretation. This weekend I was able to hear Walter Wangerin, Jr. give his description of what art is and does, and I understood for the first time that this endeavor is not just about satisfying my desire to be or feel “artsy”. It is not a competition or even a popularity trick. It is the way that we give and are given our identity. Normally when I try to identify another person, I use facts. What they look or sound like, maybe what they do to earn money, or even the things they have. But if you ask someone who they are, or better yet why they are who they are, you will hear a story.

If our generation will ever hear the stories that affirm and give life and purpose and context, we must move on from the land of x-boxes and school loans and dreaming and start creating, start story-telling, start sculpting. Whether it’s through relationships, spreadsheets, or installations, our communities need to feel connected to the deeper, richer threads that unite us around our common humanity. Those who have a heart for story-telling, for explaining Life in four dimensions, need the courage and resolve to stop waiting for opportunity or inspiration. To move from dreamer to artist.

If I were to profile myself, in the story I’m living as a dreamer v. artist, I would say I am about 40% of the way. Jaron and I have done some of the hard work of removing distractions from our lives. Commutes, extra bills, wasted entertainment hours have largely been dealt with. What lies ahead is the hard work of putting pen to paper and music to record. But the great news, the unexpected news from this weekend, is that we are not alone. And that, I believe, is the catalyst that will move this story to its resolution.