Psalm prayers + silent Saturdays

I am glad for Psalm prayers I don’t write and for Saturdays where silence can really stretch out. I didn’t realize I was whispering at the bagel shop until the sweet red-haired girl leaned in closer and raised her eyebrows over tortoise shell Warby Parkers, “Sorry, hon, what did you say?”

“Um, ehm.. I’d like an egg and avocado…”

“Oh, you want number 4 on 7 grain? Anything else?”

I felt like a child whose mom sent her out for eggs and this redhead knew I was breaking the rules. But I just bought a Dirt Devil and I’m hosting Thanksgiving, so I read the [free copy of the] New York Times like I belonged in the adult world. I picked up a few groceries on my way home. And when I got home, I stayed. I baked and pureed pumpkin, hand wrote a few cards, made brown sugar+cinnamon+chocolate chip cookies for tomorrow, put away dishes and drank tea. (Okay, I also ate four Oreos but I did not feel good about that). At some point in the middle of the candlelit silence, I read this:

By the word of the LORD the heavens were made,
and by the breath of his mouth all their host.
He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap;
he puts the deeps in storehouses. (Psalm 33:6-7 ESV)

And I breathed prayers without any new words. All these Psalm words are prayers enough and my words can’t get that big. My words can’t make heavens and my breath can’t make host to fill them. The waters ignore my commands and the deeps don’t respond. Only God can do this. And only God would want to cause this kind of creation commotion when He needs no one and no thing.

I feel very created today, very in my place.

Our soul waits for the LORD;
he is our help and our shield.
For our heart is glad in him,
because we trust in his holy name.
Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us,
even as we hope in you. (Psalm 33:20-22 ESV)

Why is the One who gathers the waters in a heap also my help and shield? And how is He that?

The radiator is hissing in the corner, sputtering like antique apartment heaters do. It feels selfish to stay indoors, but I don’t feel well and I can’t remember the last day when I didn’t have plans. I suppose that is an excuse. Scripture needs silent space and time. I came to no conclusions and wrote no prayers; I don’t feel better or wiser. But I am remembering. I remember who the Lord says that He is. And I remember that I trust Him.

I trust that He is God and He has not given up on His redemption plan. He is very much in the middle of making all things new – old things and dead things and dry bones and this old, stubborn heart.

I’ve been a lot of inward lately. Last week, I was walking out of the subway after a frustrating stop-and-go “We are delayed because of train traffic ahead. We apologize for any inconvenience” situations. I was bundled and hunched and leaving sighs on the sidewalk when someone touched my arm and pulled me close. Patrick was leaving to go to work, but caught me just in time to say, “Hey, I love you.” I hoped that he couldn’t see all the self-pity in my face because the streetlight lit up his and it was full of the best husband love.

Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain. (Psalm 127:1 ESV)

Sometimes living is labor. I don’t mean working the 9-5. I mean just living. I let Psalm 127:1 sing over some of the silence today until it felt like my deeps started to listen.

And I remember. Unless the Lord builds the house (read: plans, days, vocation, prayer, family, community), I will labor in vain. My building efforts end up being for my own glory or my own preservation or my own pride. But, the Lord – He is a great builder and none of His plans go to waste. None.

It is still Saturday and there is a bit of it left to savor.

To read more from my grief journey, you can find those posts here.

squash for zucchini | another episode of pancake mondays

I still want to make this recipe from Girl Versus Dough for zucchini corn pancakes, but it didn’t happen last night because Patrick couldn’t find zucchini when he went on the Pancake Mondays grocery run.

I was gone from 7:01 am to 6:20 pm yesterday and Pancake Mondays technically starts at 7:30. I received the “zucchini not found” SOS text before I left work, so I picked up what I could find (butternut squash – same gourd family, right?) with a gift card from the wedding. Every recipe seems to go that way on Mondays – a little bit prepared, a little bit improvisation, and a lot of Amelia Bedelia when measuring, substituting, and smooshing a small crowd of helpers into our Brooklyn hallway/kitchen. It’s good to be in the new swing of things, hosting friends, neighbors and strangers as a full fledged duo.

Our good friend Joel arrived early and insisted on cutting peppers and doing dishes. Patrick handled the bacon (as per usual) and also all the apartment clean up (as per the new usual and my sanity). We met several new neighbors, who just graduated from FIT and who heard about Pancake Mondays from our other neighbor Elsa. She has been known to promote our little breakfast-for-dinner gathering to anyone who will listen. Elsa reminds me of my grandma, and not just because she brought over the most adorable wedding gift (a set of towels), but also because her kind smile makes me sure she loves well. Our friend Ben provided philosophical kitchen banter and our friends Aaron and Christina came over from Patrick’s old apartment building to complete the crowd.

This is the stuff of Mondays.

Zucchini corn pancakes morphed into butternut squash griddle cakes with roasted peppers, southwestern black beans, sour cream and salsa. We dreamed up the bacon fried brussel sprouts for our gluten-free friend. And then when people kept hanging around, I sent out green grapes, watermelon and homemade orange julius for dessert. I love it when the kitchen feels like a restaurant. Anyone who insists on helping will hear me ask from the kitchen, “How does it look out there?” and “What do people need?”

My fondness for a full house and abundant table probably comes from my Grandma Avonell. Her eight children remember well her grace in adding places to the large oval table that now sits in my parents’ dining room.

We don’t have a large oval table (it would never fit if we did) and I’m sure I don’t have her grace, but every place we live will definitely have an open front door for neighbors, strangers, and friends. The joy of hosting gatherings is really too much to keep it closed, anyway.

According to our marriage manifesto, item number 7: we will host Pancake Mondays at least once/month. According to marriage manifesto, item number 3: we will never get cable. I think the two are probably related – with such brilliant company, I don’t know how anything could be better entertainment.


because His love won’t run out

The last neighbors, strangers, and friends had just left Pancake Mondays at Patrick’s apartment when another neighbor knocked to say thank you for the invitation we left on his door. Ted had lived across the hall from Patrick for 6 months, but they had still never met.

For some unfortunate reasons, we have moved the Pancake Mondays operation to Patrick’s apartment for the month of March. And (are we surprised?) what appeared to be every bit evil, God has turned into every bit good. Patrick and I both have griddles now and the ingredients float between our apartments as we host neighbors, strangers, and friends for pancakes and waffles and bacon.

the sign on my door...
the sign on my door…

Last night, we all sat on armchairs and stools and leaned against the wall with criss-crossed legs on wood floors. Tam took drink orders and I flipped waffles in the kitchen and Patrick taste-tested until we got the recipe and timing just right (wafflemaker courtesy of my favorite neighbor-friend Yeun). 

Everything about Monday night was just the right amount. Laughter, conversation, neighbors, and friendly banter. Good, old-fashioned neighborhood love was happening around a coffee table stacked with waffles, coconut jam, peanut butter, raspberry jam, coconut, syrup, and chocolate chips. 

I think we tripled a cinnamon vanilla waffle batch and served 13 people in all. I saw several neighbors as I was taping up invites and those who had plans asked if there would be a repeat the following week. “Yes!” is fun to say when it means more pancakes and neighbors and crowded living rooms.

I kept wandering into the kitchen to let out excited squeals and Patrick kept following me to match my joy because community was happening in the other room. It’s like we uncovered a secret that God has already spoken so plainly: the love Christ has lavished on us is meant to be lavished on others.

So, we crack the door open, mix up some batter, and trust His love won’t run out.

photo by Patrick
photo by Patrick

when eyelids protest at half-mast

Sometimes, in a season of late winter nights and early chilled mornings, my eyelids protest at half-mast to honor the sleep they have been denied. Sometimes, I am more gauche than my unusually high average. I leave pancakes on the hot stovetop in the morning and I spontaneously hit up galleries in Manhattan looking like disaster and I lean over to check the hot water when my roommate inserts this phrase calmly into the story she was telling,

“… ‘is your scarf on fire? your scarf is ON FIRE”

These are real life stories of my real life self. And, surprisingly, I am not more graceful at half-mast. After forcing my eyes into alert and screaming like a scared child, I hopped back and forth and swiped at the sparks jumping around my neck. So smooth.

And last night, half-mast style, I sat my gray dress down with a beer in the kitchen while a roomful of wonderful people enjoyed macaroons and comedy in Patrick’s tiny living room with no seating. I crossed my legs on the food-covered wood floor and admired the fact that I was still wearing uncomfortable heels… and the fact that the macaroon making party wasn’t a complete disaster and mostly the fact that there was a successful gathering of friends and strangers and neighbors laughing in the other room.

My second wind came eventually and it carried me through until 4:30 am, when we walked into my apartment after I lost to Patrick (but within respectable reach) in the game Ticket to Ride Europe Edition.

On a regular basis, I am wrestling the wind instead of feeling the breeze. I don’t know if one is better than the other, maybe they are equal and equally good. But these are real life stories about my real life self.

We really did invite 20 people into Patrick’s apartment last night to whisk egg whites into stiff peaks and blend $15 almond meal with powdered sugar and cocoa. I really did attempt a very specific recipe that reads “difficulty: hard” with a bunch of people who were varying levels of comfortable in the kitchen. But that didn’t really matter, because it was all set up on a 2×10 piece of wood on top of two chairs next to the bookcase in the living room.

photo 1

Wrestling the wind is risky.

I’m never sure where I will get thrown and if the landing will be safe. In a literal sense, Patrick thinks I should get renter’s insurance and never leave the stove when I turn it on. As an analogy, I don’t think insurance is an option.

Sitting next to Patrick in the kitchen last night listening to the laughter in the other room, I knew that wrestling the wind was worth it. Chocolate disasters and recipe improvisations and floor seating… all of it. I guess life and fullness is about inviting people in to messes as much as it is inviting people in to order.

We are all amateurs at life, at least everyone I have met. Our lives are not storyboarded like a Kinfolk photo essay. The recipes we attempt are not always delicious and sometimes we have to throw something away and start from scratch (during the dinner party). Our apartments don’t have seating enough for a crowd more than three. We spill wine and say the wrong thing and misspell macaroon. We are all amateurs at life and it is okay to be honest about all the ways we are not “adult.”

Maybe I’ll never have a full day to prepare for a party. Maybe I won’t ever feel confident about the space I invite people into or my attempts to make them feel “at home,” but my attempts as I wrestle the wind are worth it because of the laughter in the other room.

I think God means for us to live together like amateurs, to invite each other into chocolate disasters and ill-fitted living rooms. I hope I don’t ever get old enough or adult enough to stop learning these lessons. I am listening to the protests of my half-mast eyes and I will sit to feel the breeze soon, but right now I’m surveying the scene where the wind has thrown me. And it looks good.

photo 2 photo 3 photo 4

getting comfortable with being ordinary

The oatmeal wheat dough is raising in the oven and I’m on my 13th cup of tea.

It feels like someone just boxed my ears and if I knew who it was, I might just let loose some Scrooge on them. But, I don’t and that’s probably better. The upside of this whole sick thing (because there is always an upside) is that there is bread dough in the warm oven and I’m on my 13th cup of tea.

Making bread is a big commitment and probably why bread machines and bakeries and sliced situations are so popular. Who has hours to linger around a warming oven and who has patience to knead a ball of dough for 6-8 minutes? Few people.

And it might be easy to make assumptions about those few people with that kind of time on their hands – that they are smaller or less important or less interesting. Those ordinary folks with rugged hands and simple lives.

I’d like to be that kind of simple folk – just ordinary, you know.

I’m not saying I don’t want to be great or that I don’t want to pursue the passions buried in my gut or that I don’t want to marvel and chase dreams. I’m not saying that.

I just never want to make life more complicated than it was when God sent a celestial choir to a group of simple folks hanging out in the fields. These were the kinds of folks who spent long hours doing ordinary things and these were the kinds of folks God wanted to tell about the Savior’s birth. These were the folks who heard it first, in a glorious arrangement of God’s best choir.

Anyway, there are a lot of lights here – buildings and shops and trees lit up for the holidays. But the lights are always on and people are always working, always getting ahead and afraid of falling behind. The lights are always on and people are always looking for something other than ordinary.

I know I get sucked in just like everyone else. I want people to know me and like me and appreciate my creativity. But there is wisdom inside this slow day. And wisdom in an ordinary life, the most ordinary there is, that can point more easily to a Savior who makes all things glorious.

It was not the shepherds – their stature or accomplishments or reputation – that made that middle of the night song so superb. It was the Lord who sent the host of angels, the Lord who made the starry night display, the Lord who wrote the music and the Lord who directed the song.

Maybe if we can get comfortable with being ordinary, we’ll be more prepared to hear and listen and participate in what God is orchestrating in these days.

I’m going to go pour another cup of tea and see if I need to punch down the dough.

how to make the neighbors talk

The average “how to” article is written because people want to know how to do something they don’t already know how to do. But this isn’t your average “how to,” I suppose.

In December, my sister and I moved into a house that was built in 1865 on a block in what used to be an Italian neighborhood near downtown Des Moines. The biggest selling point for the house was the landlord with the loud voice, who lives next door. I guess that prompted our next day move in. We saw the house on a Friday night and moved in on Saturday with a simple handshake sealing the deal.

And the pair of us, we moved in with intentions. We weren’t just going to be the two look-alikes with questionable driving skills and frequent memory loss on trash day. We wanted to be the kind of friends and neighbors who did more than wave en route to the driver’s seat.

I can’t tell you we’re there yet – but I can tell you about our progress and how to make the neighbors talk.

It all started in January when Christina decided the people with the worst job are airport workers working the early shift on a Saturday morning. As part of her church outreach, everyone in the congregation had been given $20 to bless the community in some way (funded by a private donor). So, off we went at 5 am on a Saturday to pick up donuts and coffee at Hy-Vee. A few very interesting conversations and several surprised airport workers later, we still had donuts and coffee.

(Now, remember I’m not saying this is how to recruit friends or admirers or a following… just how to make your neighbors talk. I just want to throw this in here, to be clear.)

We came back and took a nap before delivering the rest of the donuts and coffee to our neighbors. Yep, we just walked door to door and introduced ourselves, in all our roused and ruffled Saturday glory, and then when they looked at us like we were crazy we raised up our offerings and said, “Do you want some coffee and donuts?”

And do you know what they did? They invited us in! So, in we went to our neighbors’ houses to chit chat about neighborhood things and learn a little about some of the lives on our street. When we got back to our house, we kept saying, “That was so random. That was so random.”

And that was that.

Then there was February, when Christina discovered some leftover Halloween candy in her car and I unpacked some Valentine’s decorations from Mom in the kitchen. Christina crafted together some pink baskets with candy and I made sugar cookies from scratch. And Christina went out to deliver them door to door. She didn’t see very many faces, but she left them in mailboxes instead.

That’s when Tremain showed up on our doorstep. He had a chain necklace, a coat with fur, and several sparkly pieces in his mouth. He stopped Christina as she was walking in the door and said, “I just wanted to say thank you for the Valentine” and gave her two candles he had made for us along with a very sweet letter. A few days later, we received a card from Marie down the road and she said, “It was the only Valentine I received this year. It meant so much.” I remember Marie’s house because it has a very friendly lamppost in the front yard.

We really didn’t need an occasion to pop over to our Mexican neighbors’ home. We have been swapping baked goods since the week we moved in. And now we know that if you knock on the door you should be prepared to stay for a while. I once arrived home from work and told Christina I would be gone for a few minutes to bring a pumpkin cake next door. An hour later I came back wiping my mouth after enjoying a delicious tostada cooked to Mexican perfection. There were about 30 baking powder biscuits and an unhappy Christina to greet my satisfied belly.

Then there was March and, of course, St. Patrick’s Day. I went on an Irish baking frenzy – making Irish soda bread, shepherd’s pie, and irish soda cookies to bring to our neighbors. Caraway seed is a funny ingredient, but we reasoned that traipsing around to distribute something “irish” made our intrusions a little less weird. Looking back, I wish we just would have done cookies with green frosting or celery because caraway seed is just too strong of a taste. In any case, we knocked on doors and left cookies in mail boxes with an invite to church on Easter Sunday. Christina did another sweep with personal invitations later to invite everyone to church and then Easter dinner at our house.

Meanwhile, we got invited to a fiesta where they put tequila in the fruit punch and chocolate on the chicken. It was the best garage party we’ve been to in a while and the only one where Christina depended almost exclusively on my Spanish and her good looks to not embarrass herself.

Then there was Easter and, as it turns out, our neighbors mostly had plans. But an adorable couple across the street (lived here for 60 years) brought over a secret recipe jello and we made promises to have them over for dinner soon. Our Easter table filled up anyway, with our grandparents, a high school student and a friend (and thank goodness because we made two main dishes!). It was perfect.

Last night, I finally brought their jello dish back along with some banana bread. Luis and Arlene invited me right in to their kitchen. We chatted about the weather and about the neighborhood and then I asked them what they liked to eat for dinner because we’d like to have them over. They said they were easy to please.

I can tell you one thing, the neighbors are talking. They might be talking about dry, caraway seed cookies or they might be talking about the two pony-tailed girls making the rounds at 8 pm or they might be talking about stale candy and church invitations. We don’t really know what they are talking about, but we hear bits and pieces.

“Are you those girls in 318?”

“Oh, Marie was asking about where those cookies come from and we told her it was you girls.”

“Yeah, those irish ones were weird.”

“Now, are you two sisters?”

You want to make your neighbors talk? Figure out ways to get invited into their living rooms.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

God is glorified in our love for one another

She wandered in to the kitchen, shrugged her shoulders and said, “What can I do?”

Twenty years of provision fell heavy on my heart and I brimmed with thanksgiving. My grandma, who had hosted countless Easter gatherings at her home and provided the homemade bread and deviled eggs for too many Easter gatherings at my parents’ to count. Her knobby fingers have kneaded more dough and cleared more dining room tables than mine can dream about.

And she wandered into my little kitchen after our ragamuffin Easter dinner to offer her help. But, not just to wash the dishes and de-bone the chicken… because as we scrubbed the carmelized onions out of the bottom of the stew pot, she asked how she could pray for me. We chatted about how to make the best beef stew from roast leftovers and about how to make creative meals out of de-boned lemon sage chicken. And she said she was praying about my job constantly. She put her hand on my arm and looked at me with a steady gaze and assured me she was praying.

This was the first Easter my sister and I hosted at our humble rental home in our little Des Moines neighborhood. We invited our neighbors, our grandparents, and a few friends. We conquered Lemon Sage Chicken and Chuck Roast Dinner with (surprisingly) very few catastrophes or disastrous substitutions. The sunshine started early and was still proclaiming resurrection joy when we arrived at our house after church.

I’ll admit, no amount of Febreze in any scent can compare to a house with a roast in the oven. The smell was coming out the windows when I invited my grandparents inside, where they spread out the deviled eggs and fresh baked french loaf. Just before our celebration began, our neighbor Louie came over to bring a jello salad and his regrets that he wouldn’t be able to make it with his wife. We made plans to have them over for dinner soon (and vice versa) and I introduced Louie to my Grandpa.

Our guests around the table ranged in age from 15 to 80, but the laughter was all the same level after my Grandpa said grace. We enjoyed elderberry jelly and lemon-buttery potatoes and conversation and laughter. We enjoyed it all and we enjoyed each other and our laughter lingered long after enjoying my Gram’s puff pastry dessert with coffee.

But, it was that moment when my Grandma wandered into the kitchen to offer her help (and more than just her help), that I breathed a sigh of gratitude for the way we are designed for relationship.

Our front doors are meant to swing open to family and friends and strangers – to break bread with one another, delight in the gathering and the eating and the laughing and the conversing. We are made to live together in relationship and our hearts are glad when we live as we were made to live.

My heart was full today as we broke bread together, as we laughed together, as we prayed together, as we washed dishes together, and as my Grandma looked me in the eyes and told me she prays for me constantly.

Because I know she does.

God has woven our hearts together intentionally to reveal His glory. He is glorified as we benefit by loving one another, sharing with one another, bearing each others’ burdens, and wandering into the kitchen to say, “How can I help?”

let LOVE fly like cRaZy