12 Days of Christmas: Day 8? Day 9? // Are you still counting?

Tonight, I want to begin discussing a particular topic I've started writing on more times than I can remember. It's a topic that has too many facets to count, can easily become convoluted, and is so big that I usually end up calling it quits after a couple of hours because I can't wrap my mind around the vastness and simplicity of this philosophy.

Jesus said, "love your neighbor as yourself." When asked which neighbors he's referring too, he goes on to tell the story of the good Samaritan, pointing out that even those we perceive as our enemies are the ones he's telling us to love as ourselves.

I'm going to begin small here by saying that every purchase we make is an opportunity to love our neighbors both near and afar. There are companies out to make a buck, and there are others out to change the game, both in business and in the lives of those they employ. The question of course is why do we feel the need to buy from big, greedy companies? Well, for one--we're greedy and we buy into advertising that tells us that we need to make every purchase our heart desires. That's probably a whole other subcategory for another day (case in point on trying to write on this topic).

I'm going to the roots of These Sacred Grounds tonight by sharing my first coffee shop in the 12 Days of Christmas series. This is a business whose mission is to support those coming out of foster care, and whose instrument is coffee. I want to encourage you to check out their website, but more importantly support their work and the work of those like them.

If you don't know much about the foster care system, I'm not going to bog you down with statistics, but I will encourage you to do some research. I will also paint a simple picture for you: a human child is taken from their home due to some form of abuse or neglect. Child is sent into a foster home where they may or may not experience love and care. Child goes back home. Child is taken from their home again, but because there is no room in their original foster home, they get put in another one. Child goes back home. This cycle could easily go on for well over a decade, never giving this child a chance to know love, security, or deep and safe family bonds. Child turns 18, and is on his/her own. Child may or may not have experienced a plethora of abuses, substance abuse, or homelessness growing up, not including the aforementioned lack of love and care that all humans need. This creates a lot of problems for this child--now grownup. Where do they turn? Do they have any opportunity to go to college? Have they had any professional counseling? Did they graduate high school? Do they have any job prospects? The issues for these "state kids" is overwhelming to say the least.

Every corner of the internet these days is preaching the #village, the #tribe, the #squad, and yet what does it look like to have deep community where even the foster children know they have a safe place? By supporting coffee shops The Monkey & The Elephant, we can truly live out the gospel of loving our neighbors as ourselves in community. Can we all take in a foster child or orphan? Can we all go into prisons and show love to those living inside cell walls? Can we all support to needs of the widows, the abandoned, the abused, the sex trafficked? In the most perfect of worlds with the most perfect of communities, yes we can. In fact, I encourage you to take a moment to consider if your family should be doing any one of these things.

The truth is, for one reason or another--or at least a million and one excuses, we are not doing these things. I can't get into all the reasons we (weeee all) need to surrender and do the dirty work of the gospel because that's not the purpose of this post. The purpose of this post is to say that through creative thinking, intentional buying decisions, and by not giving into big companies telling us how we should live, we CAN do all of those things by supporting businesses and non-profits like The Monkey & The Elephant. There are many out there, and with the internet they're easy to find.

This may just be one tiny step in the direction of living our neighbors as ourselves, but we can't have a revolution without taking a step.

The Monkey & The Elephant
1218 South Alder Street
Philadelphia PA, 19147
IG | FB

12 Days of Christmas: A Sharing Sesh // Day 7

Keeping it super short tonight on account of it being New Year's Eve!! Happy New Year to you all, and check out this language-learning app my husband and I started using. Maybe it will inspire a New Year's resolution of learning something new or brushing up on those high school language skills.

Its called Duolingo, and all I can say for now is that it's amazing, it's free, and it makes way more sense to spend your time on than Facebook, so check it out!! I may have Kris share a longer post of this later, but that's all for now, my friends. Happy New Year!!

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12 Days of Christmas: A Sharing Sesh // Day 6!

I started this 12 Days of Christmas series for two reasons: 1. I wanted to share parts of my life that I love with the world, and 2. Since deciding to step more fully into my desire to write, this was a little challenge I gave myself—write 12 days in a row.

So, here I am: Day 6. It's 11:25pm and I honestly don't know if I'll have this finished my midnight, but since I've already chosen what I'm sharing with you, I should be able to bang this puppy out.

I told you once before, in my first recipe post, that sharing recipes--sharing many things in life is not easy for me. It doesn't come naturally for me to say, "Here's something I know that you don't, so let me share it with you,"

Why wouldn't I want to share the things I know with others, any sane and healthy human might ask? Because then you might not need me. And if you don't need me, you may not want me.

There are a few aspects of being in community with others that I believe to be fundamental. In order to stay in a community (of any kind) a person must feel wanted, needed, appreciated, and have an overall sense of belonging.

Now, mind you, by me withholding parts of myself in order to manipulate others into needing or wanting me IS NOT the heart behind true community, and therefore not a part of myself I want to embrace. It's a part of my life that I've gradually surrendered over the years, but every time I share something I love with the world, it's still a difficult step forward for me.

Tonight, I'm sharing not one, but two recipes involving chai. I don't think tea comes naturally to Americans. Many cultures around the world have created and sustained customs around tea: customs that involve special cups and spices, some that involve special straws and others that use the drink as their cultural cue to leave soon.

The two recipes I have for you are two that I can safely say have no right to a special custom. In fact, I'm pretty sure they were both personal experiments in the kitchen at some point. That's why I don't bake, by the way (except for chocolate chip cookies); baking is too precise for me; there’s no wiggle room in baking, so the two of us don't create great results. Experiments though, that’s where the kitchen and I mesh—up until I want to make something a second time. Dilemma of dilemmas.

Both of these beverages are on the sweeter side, but can have a little kick with the chai depending on the type you use. You can play with the ratios too, in order to get them to your tasting preferences. Experiment away!

Recipe 1 // Chai Hot Chocolate

  • Make hot chocolate as you usually would. That is assuming you would absolutely and always make it with milk on the stove or else, go without. If you're response to that is, "no, I make it with water then we may need to talk."
  • Allow one chai teabag to steep in the hot chocolate pot.
  • Pour into your favorite mug and enjoy!

Recipe II // Chai Apple Cider

  • For this one, I usually use those boxes of chai you can get at TJ's or Starbucks or where ever, but it will also work with a lightly sweetened cup of steeped chai as well.
  • So, get whichever chai you choose
  • Get your bottle of apple cider
  • Cut them 1 to 1 in a pot on the stove
  • Repeat the last step from the first recipe.

I know, I know…both of these are essentially rocket science :). Enjoy, my friends!

12 Days of a Wanderers Christmas: A Sharing Sesh // Day 5

Do you remember your senior thesis in high school? Learning to research, find good sources, and build up enough information that could somehow fit together in the form of your biggest paper up until that point, and eventually needing to present it to the class? It was kind of a big deal at the time. I wrote mine on the one experience that was, and still is, the single most influential part of my life.

I wrote about traveling.

My parents were the ones who taught me the value of traveling. Even by my senior year in high school, I knew that nothing in life compared to traveling; there was nothing greater than diversifying my experiential assets, if you will. I’ve since come to believe that reading is a close second, and perhaps film a further behind third, but in my book nothing can replace travel.

Traveling expands everything. It broadens every part of life—even the part that wants nothing more than to be a homebody, ironically enough.

In regard to traveling, I have this soapbox about how vacationing is not the same as traveling. You might do some traveling while vacationing, but vacationing, in and of itself, brings no increase to the human experience. Vacationing doesn't expand the imagination, doesn't make you a more empathetic person. Traveling involves exploration and discovery. Traveling is stepping into an insider situation as an outsider. Traveling takes time.

Traveling also has a reputation of belonging to the free spirits of the world and of costing a lot of money. I’m here to tell you that those two assumptions are not true. Traveling is for everyone who is willing to prioritize it.

When I was in college, I studied abroad a couple times, and I specifically remember being told by a few people that I was “always meeting people.” Back then I wasn’t interested in sticking with the group. Groups had this way of keeping to themselves in an isolating fashion, of getting bogged down in being choosy and taking forever to split a bill. ((Can I just say that if I ever have the kind of job that allows me to do so, I will always just pick up the bill? I know this about myself because I loathe splitting checks and I love giving people gifts. I give you permission to hold me to it.)) Because of the simple fact that I felt large groups brought me down, I did in fact meet a lot of people---a lot of local people, wherever I went.

Traveling gives life so much...more than not traveling does. We are in this amazing time in history when besides having cars, trains, and planes, we also have the Internet. We have Google and other sites that connect us to the rest of the world like never before. We have this resource that helps us figure out how to get places--and how to get to them cheap. There’s no reason not to embrace traveling—even if just a little; even if just on occasion. Traveling is rarely an issue of not having enough money and often an issue of life's priorities.

I guess there’s no way for me to know this for certain, but in my opinion nothing will develop a person’s perspectives in life like traveling. There is nothing that can give you an inside look at the lives of others like going to them and spending time listening, talking, and sharing ideas about the world and everything involved in it while being in their space.

It doesn't take long for traveling to make it evident just how small our perspectives are on the most important aspects of our lives: everything from how we date, how we celebrate and mourn, how we parent, how we worship—even specifically how we worship within the Christian faith.

Have I convinced you yet with this roundabout rant that you should take time to travel?

It really is a must, but it also really needs to be a priority if it’s something you’re ever actually going to do. I read a quote by Tina Fey earlier today and it’s been sitting on me, reminding me of how my mom raised me, and it’s this: “Say yes, and you'll figure it out afterwards.” This is how you travel—you say, “YES!” Yes to buses or trains, to sleeping in tents or in the house of a friend of a friend of a friend. It's saying yes to putting every spare cent in the proverbial piggy bank and yes to the hospitality of others. You buy an Ergo, strap that baby on, and go for it! Even if all it does for you is give you greater level of gratitude for your own community, it will change you. All you have to do is give it the chance and the time that it deserves.

12 Days of Christmas: A Sharing Sesh // Day 4

I’ve been writing for several hours this evening, and while I thought I was going somewhere very specific on this 4th Day of Christmas (5th on the East Coast; sorry, friends!!), it turns out that the somewhere I thought I was going should wait.

For this reason, my fourth share with you is the thing that makes me love Netflix more than anything else. Yes, more than House of Cards and Fuller House put together. For me, the gem of Netflix is the documentary selection.

If you’re still of the mind that documentaries are just “boring movies,” it’s time to catch up, my friend. There is a whole world out there of people telling incredible stories in beautiful and compelling ways. Documentaries are the peoples’ stories. They are research and they are art. Documentaries make for great discussions with friends and with people we otherwise may not know how to find a connection. Through the screen, documentaries teach us about a topic in much less time than personal research.  Maybe that’s their key selling point, that we can get information quickly and beautifully right from our own television in an afternoon.

Don’t get me wrong, documentaries are not the end all of learning about a topic. But, if you’re interested in learning more about food, education, the prison system, farming, other cultures, or anything else under the sun, documentaries are a wonderful gateway. They help us begin good and necessary conversations.

I’m going to keep this one brief, and I highly doubt this post is changing any lives, but if you haven’t embraced the world of documentaries, I encourage you do so. Go out (by staying in, of course), and learn something new today. Maybe it will spur you on to greater things tomorrow.

Have you ever watched a documentary that helped change your life or views on something? Tell me about it!!

12 Days of Christmas: A Sharing Sesh // Day 3

Today is the day! It is THE day! After four years, our calendars are marked, we have accepted the invitation, and we are ready. to. go. As I wrote about before, four years ago Kris and I set out on a journey to figure out our personal finances. We had no prior understanding of budgeting or debt or anything in regard to money.

Though several friends suggested we take some plan of action for our finances before getting married, it never caught on. It never stuck. And by that, I mean we weren't interested in hearing about money--it sounded boring and not "for us." At least not until that January of 2013; not until desperation began to take over and we had no choice but to do SOMETHING--ANYTHING to get our finances in order. Once we had no money, no career, and nearly $100K in student loan debt, we knew something had to happen.

What happened next was one of those experiences I wish more of my life looked like. It was one I think could be compared to a marathon instead of a sprint...not that I would know, but it was one I can look back on and see that we didn't simply recognize a problem, but we took the hard, difficult, and necessary measures to change them.

So often in life, recognizing our issues isn’t the difficult part—at least not if we’re being honest. The difficult part is figuring out what needs to be done in order to change our path, to redirect our steps. And we actually did, my friends. We actually changed our outcome. I hope that as time goes on, this part of our history is something we can pass down to our children and their children. I hope this isn’t an aspect of our lives soon forgotten because this wasn't easy and because it's an experience worth passing along.

I’m not going to get into all the details of the hows, the whys, and the mistakes because I’ve shared that with you already, but I am going to share the tools with you in hopes that it will continue to inspire others to make the necessary changes. I'm going to start by saying that money and personal finances and budgeting and debt and workbooks and courses all sound like an awful combination of words that make me want to fall asleep just thinking about it. But please trust me when I say that Financial Peace University can truly be a tool that changes your life. No, I'm not getting paid for this in any way; I'm just a really happy student whose life and family were changed because of this material.

There are classes you can attend, which honestly may be ideal as far as having others to go through this process with, but that’s not how it looked for Kris and I. I honestly do not remember the conversation or the final push that made us decide to go through the FPU material, but I do remember it was on sale. I also remember being sorely disappointed when I thought I’d ordered DVDs, but in fact ordered CDs—uh….what? 13 sessions (now 9) of teaching on personal financial over CD. . .?

I mean, it already sounded fun, but man…now we’re really in for a treat.

But guys, it actually worked. For one, Dave Ramsey is hilarious. He’s engaging and he speaks from and to the heart. He shares his own past and struggles with finances and he gives so much detail and encouragement that he really just kind of pumps you up, even over CD-Rom.

Anyhow, there we were 13 CDs and a workbook (a workbook of which I bought used on Amazon because we were so broke) at our fingertips. Quick survey, does anyone still own a CD player? We sure as heck did not. What to do now?

Fortunately, we had a road trip planned. NJ>Niagara Falls>Grand Rapids>Columbus>NJ.

We’re pretty roundabout people, as you can see from a map, but we made the best of our long, snowy drive that January of 2013. We listened; we wrote. Most importantly though, we learned to talk about money and how to get on the same page with one another in regard to our finances.

Four years later, we’ve hit our goal. Today is the day. The final payment is headed to Great Lakes this very day.

I hope you can hear this, friend. If you’re struggling at all with your finances or you simply want to get to the next level, take the time to take FPU. It’s worth it. It’s nothing more than a tool, but it’s a really great tool that helps people find financial freedom.

I think the idea that really sums up the material for me is that Kris and I stopped being controlled by our money, and we took control of it. And by that, I don’t mean either of us spent uncontrollably or had major money issues. But, in truth, we just didn’t know where it was going. We didn’t know how much we made or had or how much we spent on food or gas or electric bills. We learned to be the ones to make those decisions before they just happened.

Have you taken the course? How did it help your family? Have you thought about it and not gotten around to it? Where are you in your financial journey?

Merry Christmas, and have a Financially Freeing 2017!!

12 Days of Christmas: A Sharing Sesh // Day 2

Community is not everything. Community is not everything, but it is necessary for a full life. Community is not easy, but is hard work. Nay nay, it is extremely hard work. It is hard work to fall short, to be humbled before others, to live so closely in the presence of others that we cannot hide our deepest, darkest selves. It’s easy to give up and walk away instead of face our inner selves with others.

Community is something that is formed, it is molded, and it changes over time. Community welcomes joy and celebration over jealousy. Community welcomes suffering and empathy over self-centered thinking. Community prioritizes the choosing of love. It calls us out and tears us down, while also lifting us up.

Community is made. It is made with those whom we chose to make it. Community is a two-way street. It is not always gentle and sometimes it is a downright pain in the ass that you kind of want to punch in the face; it is seemingly unworthy of the suffering it may cause.

Community is created in our homes and on the streets. It establishes itself in parks and on city streets, in public and in private. Community is a recipe made for a slow cooker. Community is read about in books, but seldom lived out. It’s too hard; people don’t want it. Not truly. We are selfish. We get caught up in the things of this world; we get by just fine living our lives, never embracing our deepest selves.

Community is shaped around the table, in conversation, in getting to know one another, in living alongside one another, in choosing one another. Community is doing one another's dishes before we go back to our own dwelling. And not to force this horribly obvious transition, but what a joyous occasion when those dishes can be kept to a minimum.

I love this meal I’m going to share because it does just that. This meal is like community. It’s simple, yet profound.  It is a dish full of grace, which let’s be honest—all communities need to be. This dish looks at it’s own imperfections instead of pointing out the imperfections of other dishes. To top it off, it has all the necessary pieces of a well-balanced meal while sticking to one casserole dish and maybe a bowl or two. It has the veggies, the meat, the potatoes, and the bread. In my eyes, it is truly the perfect community dish. And now, I share it with you to share with your community as it was once shared with me.

Chicken Pot Pie:

1. Set the oven to 375 degrees.

  • Sauté 1/2 cup of chopped onion.
  • Add 1 cup of butter—Usually two sticks.

2. Once melted, add dry ingredients:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • ½ tsp-1 tsp. pepper

3. Stir in wet ingredients:

  • 3 cups chicken broth (or veggie!!)
  • 1.5 cups of milk (or non-dairy sub)

4. Stir until thickens

5. Add:

  • 1 bag of frozen veggies. I usually do Trader Joe’s Organic Foursome
  • Shredded chicken (leftovers are GREAT for this!!)

6. As those ingredients are combining, I place those little frozen, garlic potato pods (also from Trader Joe’s) along the bottom of a large casserole dish with a splash of milk).

7. Pour the blend from the pan over the potatoes.

8. The Topper: in a medium sized bowl, whisk the following:

  • 2 cups of your favorite biscuit mix
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk.

The consistency should be a little thick, but not too thick. This part may take a little practice. You should be in love with the topper. If you’re not, try the recipe with halved, uncooked biscuits instead.

9. Put in oven for 30 minutes:

10-15 minutes in, put slits in the topper. I don’t know if this does anything to the meal itself, but it sure does look pretty!!

Enjoy this meal. Love one another deeply. Pray for and with one another.

For dessert, I recommend a round of Ticket to Ride :)

Overall shopping list:

  • 1 onion
  • butter
  • flour
  • milk (or non dairy sub)
  • chicken broth (or equivalent)
  • salt, pepper, and thyme
  • 1 bag frozen veggies
  • chicken
  • frozen potato pods
  • biscuit mix
  • eggs

OH YEAH! One more thing: This is a great recipe to take to people's homes if they are sick, just had a baby, lost a loved one, etc. I suggest doing so in a throw away tin dish so as to not burden them with cleaning and keeping track of dishes afterwards.

 

 

12 Days of Christmas: A Sharing Sesh // Day One

ahh, my people! It's been too long. I've been thinking about my blog and all of you every day since I last wrote you. I've been thinking about what to write, what to possibly share in this chaotic time.

This year's presidential outcome, racism, devastation, terrorist attacks, and war seem to be overtaking our world. It's all been on my heart and mind, and in my prayers, but what could I say? Every direction I turned, people were talking, people were hating, judging, and pointing fingers, so I stepped back, breathed deeply, and searched for my direction.

I've had an amazing few months with my two daughters and husband: laughing and delighting in one another, stretching and growing as a family of four. I've been tired and at a loss. I've had margin, but in all honestly that margin has been used to make up for sleep-deprived nights. Over this past year, my heart drew deeper and deeper into my desires of researching, writing, and sharing, and for this reason, I am thoroughly excited to see what awaits in 2017.

But! In the meantime, I have so many things and people and passions I want to share with you! When I found out last week that the traditional "12 Days of Christmas" begins on Christmas day, I was excited to bring a writing idea to life. Only now, that idea looks slightly different than it did initially. At first, I was going to share with you 12 coffee shops, no—books, no—coffee blends, no—coffee shops in the East Bay...Uhh, do you see my dilemma? There are SO many things I love and want to share with all of you for the 12 Days of Christmas. So now, I'm just going to share 12 anythings I love: some coffee, some people, some books, some organizations. I have a few passions swelling up in my heart; and now--they are my gifts to you.

I want to start today by sharing a person: a writer and fellow saint of the Christian faith who passed into eternity 20 years ago this past September. As I laid (lain? lyed? l...?) awake at 4:45 this morning, I picked up one of his books where I last left off some time last week…in the introduction. After reading through a couple chapters, I began to think that this man might be the single most influential writer for me in 2016. Over this past year, this man's words brought healing and restoration for both my husband and for me. His words have been an arrow pointed towards, and shooting us full force into the direction of, grace and redemption.

I have had a bumpy relationship with Henri Nouwen over the years. Craziness--I know. I first picked up one of his books, Return of the Prodigal Son in 2009, and I couldn't even finish it. I remember something about his voice bothering me, and I put the book down. I picked it up and put it down again. Though it screamed redemption, art, beauty, and story telling, I couldn't hear him. I was distracted, and I never finished it.

A couple years later, my girlfriend lent me a copy of Reaching Out. Ugh, this guy again. His voice. I couldn't read it. I couldn't read it, but I also couldn't let it go. Three years—maybe four years later, when the cross-county move and therefore, the Great Book Purge came upon our family, it was one of the few I held on to. I didn't know why; I didn’t even like this guy's style. Maybe because I wasn't the book's true owner or because the original owner was now living in New Zealand and the friend who lent it was up in New York, and yadda yadda. It was small enough in size, wasn’t mine to give away, and so I brought it over 3,000 miles with me.

This past spring, I decided to read it. No, I needed to read it. It stared at me like a portrait in hush hush art museum. Shh, don't speak. Listen. What is the art saying? I don't know because it keeps following me around the room. Haha, I'm somewhat joking—I love museums. But really, the book had this you-must-read-me-now sense about it. It had a voice that whispered, "I will bring you healing. I will help you rest in the love of your Heavenly Dad." It said, "I know you couldn't hear me in the past, but the time for healing is now, right here, in the midst of my very few pages."

And it was right. It brought to light, it convicted, it healed, it encouraged, and it spurred me on to the deeper life. It was JUST what I needed right when I was ready to hear it.

After I closed the last page of the book, I hoped my husband could hear it too. I hoped that he too could hear that we were arrogant and self-centered, that we were living out of a place of loneliness. And again, it did.

A few months later, he (Kris) says that he found another Henri Nouwen book that is slaying him. "I have your next book," he says to me.

"Ugh, I don't want to be slain again. We're going through all of this wonderful Emotionally Healthy Spirituality material with the church, and that is already doing a great work in me. Do I really have to?"

Enter: Christmas Morning 2016. 4:45am. The children all tucked under their blankets with care. "What the heck, man? Why am I awake???!!!" Usually. Ok—sometimes, and really only on my best, most devoted, deep, and obedient days, these early-morning moments beckon me to prayer. But this morning, at the early hour of 5am, I was beckoned into the world of Henri Nouwen once again. I was called into the world of Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World and oh. em. gee.

Like, the literal Gee. Does he ever slay me with His love? I am a beloved of the great I AM--the God who is with us, which we are reminded of every year on this very day. Many of us will sit in church buildings and hear the message of the good news of Jesus, our ultimate beloved One, but will we hear? Will we understand? Will it change us?

I know, I know, shouldn’t I be talking about baby Jesus and the manger and all things Advent and Christmas for these next 12 days? The truth is, these are the things that point me to Jesus. The everyday moments and people, books, coffee shops, and conversations that point me to my Beloved.

Merry Christmas, dear friends, family, and strangers alike.

Every time you listen with great attentiveness to the voice that calls you the Beloved, you will discover within yourself a desire to hear that voice longer and more deeply. It is like discovering a well in the desert. Once you have touched wet ground, you want to dig deeper. -Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World

If you're in a place of hearing him too, here are some of my personalized links to a few of Nouwen's works:

Grace + Rain

I like to think of rain as the grace I need to rest. In California, there’s so little rain that my local friends seem to have their own built-in discipline to rest; or as they say—“relaaax;” or as we transplants say—they are “California Chill.” I’ve not yet come to fully embrace my own California Chill, so the rain last weekend was a welcomed reminder to take it easy and to slow down.

As a Northeasterner, rest is not so kindly looked upon. It’s even seen as a weakness. During this time in our lives, I’m grateful for being taught the California Chill, and for the reminder that I’m not designed to be on the go always, but that there’s grace in my life to actually enjoy rest. My reminders always came from the weather, like rain and snow.  Where I grew up, these were some of the only realities in life that could get people to slow down just a little bit—to take it easy.

I love that the world is full of little signs urging us to slow it down. There’s grace for rest in red lights and traffic, in flat tires, and getting sick. There are reminders all around us to work out of a place of rest. There is even humbling proof that the world will go on even if we’re not controlling every little piece of the puzzle—funny concept, I know…

There’s so much evidence out there that rest and productivity, not multi-tasking and focus each go hand in hand. It’s pretty amazing, and yet still we avoid the signs. We get impatient, angry even, at the reminders, and we ignore the research. Even when my nearly-two-year-old refuses to nap, I leave her in her crib for a time. She’s usually talking or singing, but even when she gets upset, I encourage her through word and action that it’s time to rest. We’ll see how this pans out in her life, but for now it helps build rest into our home culture.

I've recently been spending time at Allegro Coffee in Whole Food on Gilman St in Berkeley. They have a great setup of tables for groups of people to meet. They also serve until 9 o'clock and let their customers stay until Whole Foods closes. How cool is that? It's much later than any other coffee shop I've found in the East Bay. Hooray for later-night gatherings. And Hooray for places to rest.

Allegro Coffee Roasters // 1025 Gilman St, Berkeley
IG // FB // #ACR
 

Getting Out // Four Barrel Coffee, S.F., CA

// An Update for You Lovelies: While generally adapting to being a family of 4, we had a special anniversary event, a large family camping trip, oh—and a move; we also moved. This all took place in a couple week span.

Anyhow, the point is that I’m here; I haven’t gone anywhere. With the exception of the move, that is. I now have a two-month old daughter along with my almost two-year-old daughter, and I’m back. So, Hello! and Happy Fall! \\

So...Do you ever have those mornings? The ones that have you saying, “Whelp! There’s always tomorrow” before it even hits 10 o’clock?

What do you do on those days? Do you try to get out of your funk and start over? Maybe you take a shower or make a fresh cup of coffee? Do you accept that the day is not going to change, hit up Netflix for the remainder of the day, binging on cereal and a decade’s worth of television?

For me, it’s some of both. When I wait to get up at the same time as my daughter, I automatically feel like my whole day is gone before she’s even finished breakfast. There’s something about beating her to the punch when it comes to starting off my day. I don’t need to shower to feel ready for the day, but getting dressed—like, actually dressed, having coffee, and spending some time in prayer are three things that can set my morning off to a start like no other. But if I’m honest, it’s easy for me to give in, stay in my sweats, and call the day a wash. On those days I probably get on the verge of crying at least once, watch more New Girl than I care to admit, and accept a general disliking towards myself for the day.

This morning, I decided to do the other thing. I got off the couch, washed my face, got dressed, and got out! It can be so hard to get out of the house. I have a friend Becky who I so admire. Sometimes it seems like nothing gets her down, and she’s always ready to get her boys (and now girl) out for another adventure. I know this isn’t true, and it’s not always as easy as it appears to stay motivated. I know it takes effort for her to pull off this mom strength magic. But isn’t that reality all the more inspiring? To know that it isn’t easy for this woman to get her three children out to play and learn and grow, and yet she finds a way? Even if they’re all still in their PJs and one child is super grumpy, she finds a way to make the day worthwhile. For me, that’s some serious inspiration right there, to know that I can get out too. And even if just for a walk—it is possible and it is worth it.

All this to say, there is no such thing as a wasted day. Some days do require us to stay in, stay chill, and give ourselves some grace. But other days do require us to get up, get dressed, and get out—get anywhere!, though it may take every ounce of motivation we can muster. For me, not much can change a day, and really—an attitude, like a little bit of prayer, a lotta’ bit of surrender, and some sunshine, cityscapes, and conversations around the neighborhood.

Not much inspires me to have a beautiful day quite like a beautiful space.  I went to meet a friend recently at this lovely and inspiring space in San Francisco. It also seems worth mentioning that Four Barrel is the first S.F. coffee shop I've decided to feature. If you're in the area, check out one of their three locations.

Four Barrel // 375 Valencia St, S.F., CA

What's in a Name? // Featuring Common Grounds, Waco, TX

I’m slightly obsessed with names. I love to know the meaning behind a name and the process by which a name was chosen. This is true of people’s names as well as the names of shops and businesses, books and other forms of human creation. My brain can barely handle picturing the process by which one human may have named every creature and plant in the Garden of Eden. That may have been the most creative time known to humanity—the beginning, a completely blank, pure and precious canvas. What fun!

When starting this blog, I made list upon list of words and ideas that eventually found their way to These Sacred Grounds. As the blog’s first birthday approaches, I received an email from Squarespace regarding the renewal of my domain name, and therefore—the blog’s name. It’s made me think about names a whole lot these last ten days.

Throughout my own life, I’ve gone through a series of names so far: my parents and childhood friends had their nickname for me; in college, I adopted a new variation of my name that friends knew, and still know me as; only recently have I begun introducing myself by my given name again as I did in adolescence.

Names are important. My imagination consistently dreams up other forms of my name I might be known as. Or better yet—known for.

I sometimes wonder if other new names will come along with different stages of my life. My daughter calls me "mama" and someday will likely morph that to "mom," but what will my grandchildren call me? I’ve always loved that my name means strong, but not that it was one of most popular in the years surrounding my birth.

Because of its commonality, I haven’t embraced my own name. This makes me wonder if parents ever regret the name they gave their children. If so, would they ever admit it and risk having their child question the identity tied to their name? Naming humans is no easy task, and naming this blog wasn’t either. The difference being that I can change the blog’s name much easier than I could either of my daughters. I was reminded of this upon receiving the previously mentioned email. Choosing the names of both daughters and this blog consisted of meaning and namesake and purpose.

I’ve questioned the name of These Sacred Grounds several times throughout this past year, considering whether or not I’d change it when the domain expired. As I considered, I looked back to my process—to one of the many lists I initially created. I remember going back and forth as to whether or not it should include some cheesy, coffee-themed word or if it should be something more obscure—less obvious. I’ve debated this decision specifically several times since last September.

As I think about the name now, I think about Moses taking off his sandals as he recognized the sacredness of being in the presence of the Holy. I’ve encountered more sacred moments in the everyday, simple moments of life than I can remember. As a few specific examples, I’ve seen the sacred hand of God in other humans, in hospitality, and in various forms of creativity. Sometimes these moments are referred to as “thin spaces.” This idea of thin spaces, as I understand it, is a moment or place in life when the divide between heaven and earth, between the holy and unholy, the peaceful and chaotic, the spiritual and unspiritual or whatever other terms you choose is closer than usual.

So here formed the idea of These Sacred Grounds. It’s an encapsulation of the profound and the simple, the everyday and the momentous. It involves both the legacy of the ancient world and quirkiness of the coffee-themed “grounds,” opposed to an equally suitable synonym.

I think, at least for this year, the name shall remain. Thank you all for reading along this past year, for your support and your encouragement to just keep writing.

This post's Coffee Shop feature is for a place that makes up 1 of only 2 reasons I'd ever want to go back to Texas (sorry not sorry, TX). The other is to see a sister's family, so this place is kind of amazing. Plus, we share the commonality of "grounds," which means we're both a little bit quirky, a little bit common, and a lotta bit embracing the everyday simplicities of life.
Common Grounds //
1123 S 8th St, Waco, TX 76706

For a glimpse of their space AND music venue (what?!), check out their IG here.

I'm a Sucker for a Good Referral. Am I alone?

A year ago this month, I discovered my first online customer referral program, and guys...I'm hooked. Any site I go to now that has a referral program and an item I want to buy, I'm instantly sending out those semi-obnoxious, but well worth it, emails, texts, and social media plugs with my personalized referral link (i.e. albeit to a lesser extent: this post). Recently, a friend and I even worked together so she could get a free 15 bucks to spend and I could get 15% off my purchase to try out a new American-made company. Win win win.

1. ThredUP. So...it was this time last year. I don't remember how it happened, but I discovered ThredUp. I'm obsessed with buying used clothes. You know...typical millennial wanting to lessen my load on the landfills. ThredUp and I became besties pretty fast. Originally, if a friend signed up through my link, I'd get $20 to spend and they'd get $20 to spend. How cool is that? I built an entirely new wardrobe just from friends signing up to get their $20. I literally got to spend hundreds of free dollars because of my link. Since becoming more established, they now offer $10 for referral signups, but hey--you won't see me complaining. ThredUp is still my first source for any clothes I need. Designer, but not new and overpriced? I'm in! Here's my link if you want to get your free $10 to spend.

2. E-Bates. Other sites have come along over this past year, which I'll share below, but my latest main squeeze in the online shopping world is E-Bates. This is a site that really and truly gives you money back just for shopping through their links. They are basically the ultimate friend referral for loads of sites where you already buy stuff and things. It's also the site I'm kicking myself for not using when friends told me about it two (gosh...maybe three?) years ago. To think...all the baby items I've ordered these last two years and how I could have gotten cash back on all of them. I've been a committed user for two weeks, and already have $20 in my account. I would have more if I ordered more from Target's website instead of going to the brick and mortar for things like my newly acquired Nutra Ninja. Se La Vie on that one, but here's my link for that site as well. This one won't have a popup; simply click my link then hit the Sign Up button in the top right corner. They currently have a welcome bonus of $10 when you spend your first $25 AND if you refer 3 friends, you'll get $60!! The more friends you have sign up on E-bates, the greater your bonuses become--so their incentives are well worth creating a free account.

3. Notice how the links on these things are never pretty? Well, mine are currently hyperlinked, but when you click and sign up for your various accounts, you'll see what I mean. There's nothing personal about them; they are long and random. I'm just a number in a system, and I'm totally OK with that since I've tested these sites and they've each paid their dues.

This is true, with one exception. When you partner personally with other blogs and small businesses, you just may have a personalized link or code. For instance, if you visit my friend Lindsay's shop over at Chalk Full Of Design any time this month, and put in the code SACREDGROUNDS, you can enjoy 15% off you order!! AND since she's on Etsy, you'd get 1% cash back with your E-Bates account. If you've read this blog with any regularity, you know how much I love, and prefer, to support small businesses. Lindsay has always had an incredible talent for calligraphy. It used to come in the form of notes during our years of working at summer camp, and now she's turned it into a her own business. She's both creative and an inspiration!! The thing that impresses me most about Lindsay's model is that each item is HAND-DRAWN!! This is a rarity these days with so many options to print a piece of artwork.

4. Traveling somewhere? Try Airbnb and Turo. If you haven't tried Airbnb, let me tell you--it's awesome! People renting from people--how ingenius is that? Furthermore, a GREAT referral program. Here's $35 of spending money if you want to get out of town or enjoy a little staycation. You can also get money by offering to rent your own place (a room, the whole house, whatever you're feeling adventurous enough to try). For this, you'd get an even bigger referral bonus. I haven't gone that far nor do I have the space to, but it could be fun!! Our last trip was to Groveland, CA for a visit to Yosemite National Park. We rented a 3-bedroom for 5 of us, and we saved tons of money avoiding a hotel and having to eat out.

If you need a car during your travels, check out Turo. I've used Turo for out-of-town trips and when I needed a truck for moving into a new apartment. Renting cars from other people in your area or at airports around the country can save you TONS. Here's $25 to give that a go.

Here are a few more services I use that also have referral links. Because, as with all of these referral programs, it's a no brainer--with the exception of small businesses, these companies are MAKING OUT with these business strategies, so why shouldn't we? Whatever online services or sites you use, I definitely suggest checking to see if they have a referral program and then SHARE IT...share it far and wide because it's only benefiting you AND those who sign up through you. Have fun everyone and go make that extra dough!!

5. Grove Collaborative. Another site I've tried out this year is Grove Collaborative--where I now buy all of my cleaning supplies. Grove is SO good. Almost out of tin foil and tooth paste even though I was JUST at the grocery store!? No biggy; I'll hop on Grove. They are fast, convenient, and the prices are fantastic. They're customer service is on point too. They forgot to ship one of my items recently; their response team was so kind and helpful, and they even offered me a $5 credit for my trouble...which was really no trouble at all. If you try them out, you'll also get free and discounted goodies to try quite often, which is just an extra bonus (chap stick, a toothbrush, things like that). If you want to give Grove a try, here's a free $10. **Something to Note: Unlike other membership sites, Grove does not have mandatory monthly purchases, but they will send you emails each month with suggested items they've already put in a cart, You'll want to login and remove the items if you don't want them sent to you automatically. Smart cookies.

6. Love trying new coffees? Obviously, I do. Here's $5 to try a Bean Box. Coffee delivery tasting service? Uh, yes please. If you review the coffees they send you to try, you'll also get a $1 credit per review.

7. Thanks to my friend Jeana's recent $10 referral code share, here's 10 Bucks for Backcountry.com. Remember that Ebates link above? Go there first for an additional 4% back on this site. Say What!??

8. Here's $5 for Amazon Prime. I'm sure Amazon Prime has way more advantages than I've ever explored, but I use it for the free 2-day shipping.

9. 15% off American Giant. Have you heard of them? The ultimate American-made sweatpants? I watched their video and immediately knew I'd be purchasing a pair this season. Click the link. Watch the video. I'm sure you'll understand. **Side note: A friend and I ordered together to get free shipping.

10. Want to try HULU? Here's a free two weeks!

What do you think? Have you found any referral programs on sites you already love? I'd love to hear about them in the comments below. Feel free to share your referral links as well!!

Because both of my ladies mentioned in this post are back in NJ,
here's to a coffee shop I used to frequent for Philly > NJ meetups in Haddonfield.
This is also the FIRST NJ Coffee Shop or Roaster I've featured.
Is that weird? It is my home state after all..I'll have to get on this.


Jersey Java + Tea Co. // 140 N Haddon Ave, Haddonfield, NJ, 08078
IG // FB // Tw

A Big THANKS to my subscribers!!

Thank you to everyone who follows along on These Sacred Grounds.

As promised, I'm sharing a copy of Shauna Niequist's book Present Over Perfect that released TODAY!!

I'm sending an email to the winner now. If they're on Instagram, I'll tag them there as well!!

Thank you all again for your love and support of this little project.

B.G. Cook: Mom of Girls

As I peruse through various social media profiles, I often notice an assortment of titles that women place in their bios. I’ve seen labels such as, “mom of boys,” “mother of…fill in the blank number of children,” or maybe “mom to multiples.” By no means do I believe mothers of daughters love their children any less when they don't put "mom of girls," I just don’t remember seeing this same title claimed by those who only have daughters.

Before my husband and I had children, I had an idealized view of a boy being the firstborn and girls arriving second or later. With no scientific tracking, I noticed that this was the birth order in many families I admired—specifically because sibling bonds seemed closer. In these families, whose Christmases I imaged to look like some combination of The Family Stone and The Sound of Music, a boy was usually the oldest with girls or boys following after that. Long before I even met my husband, I also had the not-so-secret dream of marrying into a family of brothers. While I hadn't yet processed all of the subliminal thinking that went along with my view of males, when it came down to it I eventually realized how many lies I believed about what it means to be a woman.

As time went on, I married an only child--so there’s that. But when I found out I was pregnant—literally the moment after seeing those two red (blue?) lines, something else changed. Within those first, take-my-breath-away moments, I prayed and I also knew my firstborn was a girl. You know how the saying goes—I just knew she had to be a girl. I wasn’t as confident with our second, though I had both a desire for another daughter as well as a sense that she too was a girl.

As my first pregnancy went on and I eventually learned that she was most definitely a female, I was filled with so much awe and gratitude that I had the honor of mothering a daughter. I thought about some of my husband’s former students from different parts of Asia and how they felt unloved in their families compared to their brothers or male cousins. I thought about all the unwanted baby girls around the world and the epidemics that some countries will eventually face of having a drastically uneven amount of men and women within their populations because of abortions and abandonment. I thought of the suffragists and women’s rights. I considered all the little girls around the world who are trafficked and those who aren’t allowed to get an education because of their sex. Overall, I thought about how women are the most violated, abused, and vulnerable “people group?” in the world.

On the contrary, I also thought about all the amazing, world-changing women I know--either first hand or through the media and realized, “wow, what a privilege it is to raise a daughter in this world.” What a privilege it is to know that I have the opportunity to teach my girls about their self worth and identity, their strength and how to be brave. What an honor it is to shape these two into women who will know that they can pursue their dreams and callings like any man, only with the added reality of being that much braver and stronger on the other side. Not only that, but that they too may have the opportunity to fight for their own rights and the rights of others as they grow up. They too may have the chance to stand up against injustices, to persevere and to strengthen their characters over the years simply because they too may need to work harder than the men around them in order to follow their dreams. I am overwhelmed and humbled by the simple thought of having the opportunity to shape the future image of women both in the U.S. and elsewhere by being a mother of daughters.

Choosing names for these girls was a long process. We wanted to take into account both namesakes and name meanings. Both girls are named after incredible women who fight (fought) hard to show the love of Jesus, to live lives that are (were) sacrificial and outward focused. None of these women are or were perfect, but that’s part of the beauty of this whole conversation. The beauty is that in the midst of life's already existing struggles, being a woman in this world can mean that much more hardship, making these women that much more bad ass, strong, and brave to lead the lives that they do and that they have. At different points, I was sure that both girls would have a middle name that meant warrior. It turned out that we named the first to mean, “a noble light” and the second—“beauty, love, and freedom.”

Through each of these attributes as well as looking to their namesakes, I want my daughters to know that wherever they go and whatever hardships they overcome, they are capable of stepping into the legacy of women who leave the world better off than when they arrived.

This feature is long overdue, but for the most beautiful English Garden-esc setting, check out Julie's Coffee and Tea Garden // 1223 Park Street, Alameda, CA 94501

For a glimpse of their space, check out their IG here.

How To Find Your Community Using Hashtags

About this time last year, my husband and I hit an unexpected turn on our path that led to a 3,000-mile move across the country. Going from Philadelphia to Oakland, I knew nothing of the city I would soon call home, but three weeks after deciding to make the move, we hit the road with our then 9-month old daughter. In that decision, we left behind family, lifelong friends, and the rich community we had in our church and neighbors. It wasn’t long after our arrival in Oakland that we began to see how our community life here would look exponentially different than it did in Philly.

I’ve written several posts about community on this blog, about how it requires commitment, sacrifice, and time. I've also written a couple posts on motherhood and how I think it's hugely important for moms to have a diversified group of friends, so as to not lose sight of their identity. The question that may still linger in your mind is, “how do I find my community?”

During our time in Oakland so far, I have come to love this city. I love the neighborhoods, the art, the local businesses. I love the people I’ve met in various settings, and the cool, laid back culture everywhere I go (well...let's be real, Jersey girl still adjusting to that one). I love that this city is a hodgepodge of Oakland lifers, artists, transplants, young and old. I love that Oakland melds together the beauty of ancient Redwoods, vast rolling hills and the salty bay breeze with the downtown feel of any quickly changing, vibrant, yet forgotten city that up until recently was more likely to be known as the dangerous city across the San Francisco Bay. The city of Oakland is a beautiful place with beautiful people who make up its unique identity.

These are all characteristics I know to be true of Oakland now. But when we moved here 11 months ago, all I knew of was the reputation that preceded it of being violent and undesirable. As I set out to start this blog, I did so in large part to meet people in my new city—to find local hangout spots and feature them within my writing.

And now enter: The Hashtag (for me, mostly on Instagram):

As I set out on this project, there were a few basics I started with: #oakland, #eastbay, #oaklandcoffee, #eastbaycoffee, and #norcal. These five helped in my initial search to find local coffee shop favorites in the East Bay area.

Eventually, I discovered more specific hashtags and their associated IG profiles for locals in the city, like #weloveoakland and #Oaklandish. With these two, I began to find people online who also lived in Oakland as well as beloved local businesses, shops, coffee roasters, and events. As time went on, I had the opportunity to begin building both an online community with fellow Oaklanders as well as meet people in the community based on common interests through hashtags like #cmOak. "Cm" stands for the international organization called Creative Mornings while "Oak" stands for the Oakland branch of that organization. Creative Mornings is where creative minds get together monthly for talks on various topics.

This is where the real meat of the hashtag takes place—when it leads you out into your community, meeting others face to face. There are loads of organizations, shops, and events I discovered through hashtags and want to attend, but have yet to begin even scratching the surface on visiting them all.

As you get more specific (but not too specific) in your use of hashtags, you can begin to seek to diversify your community. By using various online forums, it would be much easier for me to attend advertised playgroups with my daughter and thereby only connect with other moms. Don’t get me wrong, there is certainly a need for playgroups and for moms to connect, but I also believe there is potential for more. Instead of stopping there, I've been able to connect with others who have a broader range of commonalities--some with children, some without, some with similar faith backgrounds, but by and large--not, some who are also transplants from the NE, but others with completely different cultural backgrounds and upbringings. The hashtag is incredibly helpful for meeting others with the added bonus of living an intentionally diverse lifestyle.

One final aspect to using these hashtags is discovering important local events; there are things happening in Oakland that I would not know about without the use of hashtags. Not even two weeks ago, a local man, Twon Shavers was shot and killed. It was horribly sad to read about this young man’s life, his love for his daughter, and his commitment to Oakland. By discovering #pray4Oakland, I was inspired by this beautiful legacy left by a man committed to seeing change in his city. Discovering a person's story, being inspired by their life, and having important conversations all based on a hashtag is an incredible resource for our current place in human history, so why not take full advantage of that?

Each of these examples led me to finding and following others who love the city of Oakland. These individuals may also be raising small children here; they may also be artists or love the outdoors. By starting broad, then honing in on local love, and eventually focusing in until I found others with more specific commonalities as myself, I've been able to find gems of places and people in a relatively short time. Everywhere I turn on Instagram and Twitter, by way of using various local hashtags, I’ve been amazed by this city, it’s people, and how quickly I’ve taken pride in calling my home.

A couple of real-life friends I’ve made by way of hashtags are from Slojoy Coffee.

They are currently sharing their roasts by way of events and pop-up shops throughout Oakland. These guys love this community. They are committed to spreading joy, to providing local roasts from small batches of coffee to their subscribers, and did I mention--they love SPREADING JOY in the city of Oakland. I love them a lot and hope you’ll check them out and SUBSCRIBE to have their coffee delivered to your doorstep.

Delayed Responses

Over the past month, I’ve gone through an assortment of grieving and questioning. This process, in great regard, put all writing on hold. Upon our arrival back to CA from a visit to the east coast, I went through both culture shock and homesickness--neither of which I'd yet undergone since our move 10 months ago. This experience was just one area of emotional processing.

In the midst of settling back into our life here, I was struck by a conviction involving part of my life’s calling. While watching the movie “Spotlight," my heart was incredibly burdened. If you haven't seen the film, it's about the journalists from the Boston Globe who uncovered the sexual abuse scandals within the Catholic Church around Boston in the early 2000s.

If you know me, you may be as surprised as I was to discover which aspect of the film burdened my heart. There is no question that learning about impoverished children being sexually assaulted for decades was heartbreaking. But more than anything, the story gave me this overwhelming sense that I somehow missed the mark in my undergraduate studies.

During my college years, I was in the perfect position as an editor to pursue writing and journalism. In many ways, I knew I wanted to educate others and communicate the world’s darkest secrets and deepest hurts, but I was scared. I acted out of fear and listened to voices that said journalism was a waste of a degree and that there were too many unknowns in pursuing the arts. My unwise answer was to study a little bit of this and that, travel a great deal, transfer schools several times, and incur massive amounts of debt in the process. It was a pretty chaotic four years. Don't get me wrong, in many regards it was also a beautiful hodgepodge of life experiences—an expensive hodgepodge, but beautiful nonetheless.

The second occurrence of my convictions came as I continued reading Makoto Fujimura’s, “Silence and Beauty” the day after watching "Spotlight." Simply put, it’s a book about Christian persecution in Japan, the cultural role of art and beauty, and a reflection of Shūsaku Endō's novel, "Silence". It’s a worthy read involving the intricacies of Fujimura’s life as a Japanese American child, student, and artist.

On the page where I left off, Fujimura shares the story of a journalist who was held hostage and later killed while searching for a friend he suspected was taken captive by ISIS. It turned out that this journalist was also a Christian working to tell the stories of children and orphans in war-torn zones. What an incredible image of living out the Christian call to sacrifice all comfort, even to the point of death, while working within one's gifts and passions.

From both stories, I was reminded how doing the work of love and justice could look like so many different paths. I was challenged in how hard I fought to avoid surrendering to the call to work in the field of publications. In college, I was in the perfect place to follow out this call and to receive the training in the art of journalism. Instead, I denied that desire to continue pursuing other areas of academia and intercultural studies. I had a job in publications that helped pay for my degree, and later more opportunities to grow and be mentored in the field, but I threw it away time and time again.

I don’t share this to say that it’s necessarily too late or that I necessarily missed my chance. I share it to say that I recognize my disobedience in my college pursuits. I share it to say that this past month has been one of grieving, questioning, and processing.

I’m all for being present wherever it is I find myself. But friends, there are also the realities of obedience and disobedience, of putting up a fight and of knowing when to surrender.

Sometimes in life there is a fine, beautiful, and grace-filled line in these areas of our lives. And yet, the outcomes will look different depending on the paths we choose. In many ways, I chose chaos for those four and some odd years, and only now can I look back and seek to discern what that means for my life and my family now. In all of this, where I am right now is in the questioning, considering, and praying as to whether or not the time is now to continue writing, growing and stretching out these muscles that were on the shelf for nearly seven years or if perhaps that time is later, or sadly, but potentially not at all.

What I'm talking about in all of this is the reality of life's consequences. I think the sooner I can question and deal with life's consequences, the sooner I can step into fuller joy and contentment of living in the present.

Have you had experiences like this? Experiences where you look back on life and wonder how things may have panned out if you made a few, slightly different decisions?  I’d love to hear about them and how you navigated your thoughts during that time.

In considering the areas of life that seem a bit random + hodgepodgy, check out
The Random Tea Room & Curiosity Shop // 713 North 4th St. Philadelphia, PA


To order "Silence and Beauty" by Makoto Fujimura or "Silence" by Shūsaku Endō's through my affiliate links, click below.

In Honor of 10K

When Kris and I got married, we faced the same realities of student debt that many face today. With nearly $100k in combined debt and degrees that equipped us to work in ministry, we were confused and desperate. A year and a half into marriage we started to see that we had no idea how to handle money. In our desperation, we heeded the advice of many to take Financial Peace University and this is what happened:

1.     We chose to give. From the very beginning, Kris and I wanted financial giving to be in our family’s financial DNA. Even when it hurt, which it often did, we wanted to be faithful in the little bit that we had to offer. And by little, I mean the first year we were married our tax report stated we made something like $13,000. As a family, we believe that all provisions have a spiritual element. We believe in the temporary nature of the earth and the eternal nature of heaven, and that there is an amazingly loving God who is always faithful.

This isn’t some self-righteous, guilt-ridden area of our life. It’s actually quite fun. Since we believe that God is creative and that everything we have is an outflow of that creativity, we figure we might as well choose generosity and see all the fun experiences that flow from that place. We also figured if we didn’t force generosity into our daily lives when there wasn’t much to be generous with then we wouldn’t magically start being generous when we reached some imaginary threshold of financial comfort in the future.

Therefore—be it little or be it much, we wanted to give. I could tell you some amazing stories just about this topic, and maybe some day I will. But for now, I’ll leave it here: generosity matters always. In my experience, community is the sweetest and truest among the most impoverished humans on earth. In the midst of need there seems to be a greater capacity to understand our need for one another more than our need for wealth.

2.     We said “no…” a lot. Kris and I instituted the phrase “It’s N.I.T.B.” or “It’s not in the budget.” This was our way of informing one another that we’re not prioritizing this purchase or that outing because of our commitment to paying off our debts. Some say you can see a person’s priorities pretty quickly when you look at their bank statement. Over these last three and a half years, our family’s statements, for better and for worse, would tell you that we wanted to get out of debt more than anything else.

3.     We also said “yes.” For one, we said yes to every legal odd job that came our way—again, for better and most definitely…for worse. But we also said yes to many people and experiences. Instead of dinners out in the city, we said, “yes” to hospitality. We said yes to grilling out and sitting on stoops to hang with our neighbors. We said yes to staying in, playing board games, and watching movies on Netflix. We said yes to the park and the beach and spending time outdoors. There were so many yeses these last few years that my heart is warmed just thinking about all the sweet memories and relationships we now have as the fruit of those yeses.

4.     We wanted to show gratitude. At times we did, but at times we most definitely failed. We thanked God by remembering to give when it hurt and more recently, by celebrating his creativity. We showed gratitude by sharing this journey with others and by thanking those who played a roll in this incredible feat—those who hired us for odd jobs, those who provided cheap housing, those who were willing to eat in instead of eat out, those who made this financial journey possible. But…

5.     We also lost sight. I would be lying if I said this path was an easy one or that we did it perfectly. There were many times that our decisions affected us emotionally, relationally, and physically. There were times that we took on too many jobs and times that we forgot to show gratitude. There were times we felt defeated, felt alone, and felt like our situation wasn’t fair. There were moments we were jealous of our friends. Times we coveted their jobs and homes and ability to go out whenever they wanted.

Over this past year, we began to see our failures of loan repayment for the first time. When a mentor told us how we were failing, we were hurt and heartbroken. We cried and we repented. We were sorry for the hurt we caused, the damage we did to our relationships, the way we processed the stress of it all, and we surrendered.

This one is huge because it isn’t in the textbook or the teaching. It’s huge because I think in great regard we would have done so many things the same. And yet, the experience for us and for those around us may have been drastically different because our hearts may have been different. The way we relieved stress may have been different, our attitudes may have been different. Maybe we would have done better at verbalizing all the amazing provision we saw instead of verbalizing the stress we were experiencing. Maybe, but maybe not—perhaps there is a greater purpose as to why we lost sight.

Either way, I’m grateful that we now know the importance of our overall well being in this process. I’m grateful to finish out this last year of paying of our debts better than we started three and a half years ago. Perhaps through these lessons this last $10k will be even sweeter to pay off the first $80 or $90 some thousand.

I don’t know for certain, but here’s to the last $10k and to all the amazing generosity we encountered these last few years. Here’s to living in a place where we are free to give thanks to God for his provision, to pursue an education, and to a place where we don’t experience financial corruption like many others. I could really go on for days telling you all the amazing ways we experienced Divine provision and human love. But for now I leave you with a full heart and an encouraging word that getting out from under the weight of debt is possible, and maybe doing it while caring for your holistic well being is possible too.

The story of the photo: When Kris and I were practicing the “envelope system” by carrying designated cash, we lost around $400 halfway through a two week camping trip to Canada. We lost all the money we budgeted for the trip, so we tore our car apart in a little town north of Portland, ME where it was last used. We experienced the kindness of strangers who helped us search late into the night—this is why I am featuring a Disk Golf course this week instead of a coffee shop.

Fast-forward a year: I asked my dad to unscrew our back seat JUST in case the envelope slipped under it. I thought it would be super fun if a year later, as we set off for a similar trip to the same places, we found the money. Alas—we did not.

Fast-forward another year: The day our family loaded up our car to move across the country, my dad was changing a fuse in our car behind the glove compartment, and what slips out? Of course—the envelope of $400! As we set out for a new chapter in life, moving across the country—a decision that was made three weeks prior, we had this extra bit of cash to help alleviate the burden (and make the 10-day drive more fun). This is just one of the countless stories I’ve got about all the creative provision we’ve experienced during these years.

Play Disk Golf? Sabattus Disk Golf is more than worth your time. These amazing friends helped us (as I described above) look for our cash, rewinded security footage, fed us, offered us a bed since it was nearly midnight by the time we called it a night. They were AMAZING and we love to support their efforts in the DG community, so check em out!!

Sabattus Disk Golf // 605 Bowdoinham Rd, Sabattus, ME 04280
http://www.sabattusdiscgolf.com/

 

Cold Brew + Summertime Feels // Featuring Heritage Roasting Co.

I mentioned a few posts back how I'm struggling to carve out space to write regularly. Update: this is still true, and that's all on that. What I'm really here to tell you is that when I was pregnant with my daughter, the idea of ingesting anything hot made me want to throw up on the spot. Literally (like, really…literally), simply the thought of something hot made me gag. And when I say gag, I don't mean first trimester, just in the morning gagging. I mean all day, every day, month upon month upon month gagging. It was truly a joyous time of creating life. . .

Fortunately—and this is a big fortunately, the smell of coffee didn't bother me. So, that spring I started making regular batches of Cold Brew Coffee for my early morning shifts. At the time, I was concerned I would forevermore avoid cold, coffee beverages like many women do with edibles they eat and drink a lot of during pregnancy sickness. I am happy to report two years later, however, that I'm still on the cold brew wagon. I’m also thrilled to report that this second pregnancy is nothing like the first as far as the nasty all day, every day sickness. P.T.L.

So far this spring, I've made a couple batches of cold brew and still love it. And while part of my brain is now saying, "uh oh…the humid, NJ/Philly summer must be upon us," the other part is celebrating because it knows this isn’t true, knows that I now live in Bay Area, and understands that I can simple enjoy this coffee beverage sans the sweat and 100 degree weather. Again, hallelujah! That part of my brain and I are pretty excited about this. Stay cool, my friends and enjoy!

To make your own, super easy Cold Brew:

  •  Mix 1/3 cup of fine coffee grinds to every three cups cool water in a glass container with a lid
  •  Allow it to sit covered on the counter overnight
  • Filter it and put it in the fridge the next morning

And now, for a longer list of side notes than recipe instructions:

  • I only like dark roasts when drinking hot coffee, but I like using medium roasts for cold brew—don’t know why; there’s probably science involved.
  • I use a French Press to filter out the grinds.
  • C.B. tends to be less bitter than hot coffee on account of using cold water—or again, something equally scientific like that.
  • Lastly, this should be fairly concentrated, so it may be too strong for your taste. You can add more water when you drink it or do as I do and add milk. I drink hot coffee black, but I prefer milk in my C.B.

That’s it! As always, thanks for you reading.

The coffee I used for this batch comes from the lovely people of Heritage Roasting Co.
These folks in Shasta Lake, CA seriously love their community and are continuously expanding their community center to serve the needs of those around them. What's not to love about people who make great coffee and love people so well? Check them out:

Heritage Roasting Co. // 4302 Shasta Dam Blvd, Shasta Lake, CA 96019
IG // Facebook

Reading, Books, & Freedom // Featuring One Shot Coffee & Cafe, Philadelphia

I’ve been spending a lot of time reading, lately. As I've mentioned before, I only started reading in my 20s. Now, as soon as I finish a book, I'm on to the next (no promises this will last, but I'll take it for now). Here are a few thoughts I have about reading, books, and for that matter--freedom.

First, there's prioritizing which books to read. HOW do you choose? Seriously, how? Please share your insight...As someone who has not been a lifelong reader, this is a difficult process. It's also why I recently challenged myself to only read one book at time. I am a sloooow reader, so picking just one book is tough! Do I go back to the classics that I missed? Hop into what my peers and friends are reading? Do I focus on the spiritual life, social issues, continue reading books based on authors I like, or go to my personal fave--books on intercultural studies? It's no easy task choosing the next book to start, and this is why I start so many at a time. But! I've chosen this new way, and am now a more productive reader overall.

Next, is that I cannot afford to buy all the books I want. When Kris and I packed up our Philly apartment to move across the country, we gave away and sold more books than anything else. I'll be honest, besides not wanting to spend all my moneys on books (most of which I'll read once), I don't want to go through that process again. Books, especially cherished, written-in ones were by far the hardest items to let go. My answer to these dilemmas today was the go to the library. Getting out into the community AND saving money--when does that happen??

In the same vein of collecting and holding on to books, I find they’re an easy source of pride. When I walk into a home with a lot of books on display, I assume certain attributes on that family--that they're well-education, smart, will probably want to talk about things I don't understand, and that overall they're...better than me. Do you know the feeling I mean? I've DEFINITELY had the experience of loving books for what they might tell visitors about me more than I cared to read the content within. It's such a silly thing, but it's humbling to know that any material thing (albeit, one as important as books) could do this to my character. It's like, why don't I also put down my window and turn up NPR while displaying TED stickers on my back window, so my fellow drivers might also know just how smart I am…? Oh brother, how do I even begin to take myself seriously?

The last thing I'll share about reading is that I think it's helping me to become a better listener. Did you ever experience this? For me, it was sort of an unexpected surprise. I was wondering this week if people who are better readers are also better listeners. From personal experience, I know this isn't true across the board, but it got me wondering if it might not also be the case for some others. Thoughts?

Anyhow, I'm grateful for books and reading and libraries. Sharing knowledge and information freely is such a sweet gift. As someone who isn’t terribly patriotic, freely shared knowledge is something I take for granted in the U.S. Why wouldn't I take full advantage of books, lectures, and the radio? For that matter, why wouldn't I take full advantage of conversations with strangers, social movements, social media, national parks and natural reserves? There's so much freedom in the Western World to share, preserve, and explore, all of which are areas I want to show more gratitude. Reading seems like a good step in that direction.

Tonight's Coffee Shop Feature goes to one of my old Philly spots. They have every kind of sitting arrangement possible (definite perk), delicious food, and loads of books. I have lots of photos from the upstairs of One Shot Cafe, and have never once asked the purpose of all their books. I always assumed it was a "take one, leave one" situation, but also like I might be stealing if I took one. I always forgot to ask before I left what purpose they served. Either way, it's a beautiful display, encouraging a home-like feel.

One Shot Coffee & Cafe // 217 W. George Street, Philadelphia

Also, check out their Instagram

As always, thanks for reading. Would love to hear about your relationship with reading,
books, libraries or generally...whatever else you'd like to share.

To Mother // Featuring The Stirring Coffeehouse

Many say that to mother is to sacrifice—to give all of our selves to give our children all their wants, needs, and desires. It’s an image I’m unconvinced is healthy in regard to motherhood, but I see it all the time—women losing sight of their own identities regarding anything outside of their children. It’s an image that easily turns our children in to our idols, ends marriages over time, and one that I’m unconvinced is truly what’s best for our children long term.

The stay-at-home-moms // I have friends whom I admire for their desire to mother their children both as their role as well as their work. They are fully confident in this type of mothering, not giving in to the pressures of society and feminism to be working moms. I have great respect for them and appreciate how confident they are in the role of mother, knowing fully how much value this place holds. I know these friends have received push back from others—from family and society who say that they should get a job, that they're wasting their degree, their talents, and that they’re not doing justice to their calling. I’m here to say that’s bogus, and it isn’t what I’m talking about when I mean loss of identity.

There are many ways for mothers to lose sight of identity, and I see signs of it all over. I see it in expectant moms, new moms, working moms, stay-at-home moms, empty nesting moms, and it saddens my heart. Seeing the loss of other passions and desires to grow and learn and keep living out the other areas of life that need these women saddens me.

What this currently looks like for us // As my daughter and I go about our days, I notice that she’s usually more into what I’m doing than her own toys and stuffed animals. She’d rather be present alongside me than do anything else. I remember being the same way with my mom: sitting, pretending to type on a typewriter while she did work in her office. For this reason, making room for my daughter in my life, welcoming her into my space, is key. She’s so happy going out and about with me to the grocery store or a coffee shop (one with a children’s section always helps. Who am I kidding--it's required!), to sit alongside me chattering and looking at books while I type on my computer, to mix flour and sugar and water together while I make dinner; we have so much fun exploring and adventuring together.

Through these interactions, I can’t be afraid of messes happening or projects taking longer, because they definitely will. But this doesn’t stop me from being open to how my daughter can take part in my life while I also take part in hers. Because of course, this goes both ways—I have to be willing to play and cuddle with my child in her specially designated spaces in the world while also inviting her into mine. The point is, there’s room for both. There’s space for me to create a playful atmosphere in the midst of my life so my little one can join in as I take care of the needs and desires and passions of my soul.

In this conversation, I haven’t even touched on community outings, volunteering together, and the other child-toting ideas I have. My only hope is to encourage some mamas out there that there are many creative opportunities to open up spaces for your children to engage the world alongside you. There are nooks and crannies all over life where you can both thrive. She doesn’t need you to entertain her every second, and maybe she just wants to be present alongside you—regardless of the activity. What I’m saying is simply that I don’t believe being a sacrificial mother has to look like shutting down who we are as women—as people, but can mean being a passionate, fill-in-the-blank human who also mothers well. You can love, protect, and care for them, while still being you.

To the not-yet-mothers // Part of the reason I share this is because I was terrified to become a mom. I knew that if I had a child it meant giving up everything else that I cared about. Another friend of mine who doesn’t yet have children once told me that she thought new parents became too inward focused—too selfish. And isn’t that just it? Isn’t it the case that so many parents lose site of their life, their friends, and their community in the name of parenting? I want to encourage you too, not-yet-mothers, that there are other ways of parenting. It isn’t selfish to have desires alongside being a mother. I want to give you permission when that day arrives, that you are empowered and equipped to live your life with your child alongside you. They have needs—it’s true, but they also have many wants often misconstrued as needs. You don’t have to be fooled by Toys-R-Us and Pinterest as to which is which; you may move confidently in being who you are called be while also living out your role as mom.

Last week, my husband, daughter, and I attended a conference in Redding for regional church leaders. During one of the main sessions, a local woman spoke about mothering. As a leader in the area, she shared that while mentoring and teaching are important, they aren’t enough. She said that above those things, we must be willing to mother and father the generations coming after us. She spoke about being alongside them, showing them, leading them, and guiding them through life’s trials—persevering alongside them, praying along with them. It was a beautiful image she painted of mothering, and it’s an image I’m grateful to hold onto--one that reeks of a secure identity. I am grateful for her words, and I am still grateful to the conference organizers for knowing the importance of what I’m talking about here by providing childcare during the sessions.

The church who hosted the conference also runs a meticulous coffee shop, "featuring local vendors and roasters."
If you’re in the area, I encourage you to stop by, grab a coffee, and linger in this space.

The Stirring Coffeehouse // 2250 Churn Creek Rd. Redding, CA

As always, thank you for joining me. And Happy Mother's Day!