When Jonathan and I were at the King's College Choir performance I couldn't help but marvel at the purity of the cathedral boy's voices. There was a moment they were pin-drop quiet, and still rich with melody. It reminded me of when I sang in the A Cappella choir at Concordia. It was always the silent high pieces that were the most difficult. Somehow we had to find a way to reach the notes without straining, because in a silent piece, straining was heard by everyone.

The only way we reached those notes was with confidence. Without it, our voices would scratch their way to the top and our hesitancy would stain the purity of the song. It was the same situation when I played french horn. I had moments in a concert when I knew I wasn't going to hit the note, and I told myself over and over that I would fail so that when the time came, I didn't even try to hit the note. I stopped just shy and hoped that my dad (the director) wouldn't hear my mistake and that the other instruments would cover it up. It was the same when I played sports. My parents always told me that while I had natural talent, I lacked confidence. As a result I lacked the competitive nature that has gotten my brother Andrew so far this year in his senior b-ball season. Part of me grieves for what I could have done athletically if I had confidence, and part of me realizes that I did what I could and it wasn't something I wanted badly enough. But what about those things remaining in my life that I desperately want to succeed at? What about my writing career? What about my music that I have tossed to the side in recent years?

When I'm alone and night has covered the room in darkness, that's when my desires and doubts come out the strongest. That's when I feel the most ambitious and the most helpless. The only thing I can do at that point is pray for confidence--pray for strength. Because when daylight comes, it's time to act.


No Nog But Good Nog

At first I was disappointed to see that they don't sell egg nog in London. I even went to the Whole Foods on High Street Kensington hoping they would have it so I wouldn't have to buy all the separate ingredients. Alas, no nog. So I made it myself and as always, I love the homemade drink more than the storebought stuff (especially after the rum had time to seep into the flavors!)

My love of egg nog started with my Grandpa Jack (a.k.a. Captain Jack for my brother and his friends in the blue house next to David). Grandpa Jack did not serve me egg nog with rum. Instead it was virgin egg nog and 5 a.m. Christmas dates on the sun porch. Snuggled on his lap, we watched snow frost the sliding glass windowpanes, listened to his special Christmas album (he and Grandma buy a new one each year) and marveled at the lighted Christmas tree in the backyard. This was the only time I had my Grandpa all to myself. My three brothers will still snoring away in the living room, my parents were desperately trying to sleep in, and even Grandma wouldn't get up at that ungodly hour. Those quiet mornings were just for us.

This year Grandpa Jack and Grandma Glennie told me to see the King's College Choir at Cambridge for their annual "Nine Lessons in Carols" service. It's famously watched on BBC each year by the British and by the world--my grandparents included. I didn't want to stand in the queue at 9 am until the service started at 3, so Jonathan and I got tickets to their performance in the Royal Albert Hall last night. It was amazing! The orchestra and choir performed pieces from The Messiah, The Nutcracker, traditional carols, and even a carol that Concordia's Chamber Choir sang a few years ago. A giant pipe organ stood stately at the front and changed from orange to red to green with the lights. Two silverblue trees stood beneath it. At one point the director invited the audience to join in singing the carols. The acoustics in the hall magnified our voices (and all the coughing fits, unfortunately) and I loved that the name 'Jesus' rolled off of lips so easily.

It was the perfect night. I even got to go home and have a mug of Nog! Thanks Grandpa Jack :)


O Little Town of What?

I went to my first London carol service tonight. Candlelight shimmered and mulled wine simmered and the choir sang joyfully. They played my favorite version of "In the Bleak Midwinter" which is not the one I'm most familiar with in the States (I've now made it my mission to get this particular version from iTunes, because it has a melodic twist in one line of the song that makes it mysteriously beautiful).

Carol services in Britain are a bit different than in the U.S. I was happy with the Midwinter variation. I was okay with the different pronunciation of "Israel" (they pronounce it "Iz-rail" instead of "Iz-rile"). And I was pleasantly surprised to discover that one of the choir singers looked exactly like Mr. Bean when he wound himself up for the next line of the song. He leaned forward and his eyes and his mouth bulged open and it was weird but funny. All of this, plus the mulled wine afterwards, made for a delightful celebration.

But I was not okay with O Little Town of Bethlehem. Somebody didn't give the carol memo to Britain. Somebody needs to tell them that they sing it all wrong. How can you celebrate Christmas with the wrong tune for O Little Town of Bethlehem?

At least I got to come home to our new little Christmas tree that sits on our windowsill. Thanks for the ornaments, mom :)


A Prayer for Advent

"But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain You. How much less this temple I have built! Yet give attention to Your servant's prayer and his plea for mercy, O Lord my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that Your servant is praying in Your presence this day." 1 Kings 8:27-28

I'm not worthy to contain you. I'm not even worthy to look into your face, seeking the approval that I crave. But God, there's a Baby coming. Through him mend my cracks and fissures and stains and make me willing. Let my gift be me, a God container full of life and love and peace as you come closer to this earth.

Fill me with your Son.


Piccadilly Santas

Have you ever seen a herd of Santas before?

Jonathan and I were Christmas shopping in London. Carnaby Street was a Technicolor Harry Potter scene—shops squashed on twisty turny alleys, lights sparkling, and shoppers twittering about their recent purchases. We were just about to catch a bus in Piccadilly Circus when out of the Underground’s stairway, three or four Santas suddenly popped onto the street like loose kernels of popcorn. We thought they must be on their way to offer a lap and an ear to some kids. But then another Santa appeared, and another, and soon hundreds of fluffy red Santas began bursting out of a bottomless Mary Poppins purse! They were singing and skipping and laughing to the Eros statue in the middle of the Circus where they piled for pictures.

We looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders at the absurdity, and what the hey? We crossed the street to join the picture-snapping crowds, surrounded by cheering St. Nicks.

London is never dull!



I don't know how people survived without laptops. When I work at home (or when I'm supposed to be working and play on the internet instead), I move myself all over the apartment like a crazy nomad. I have to have a change of scenery, even if it's from my bed to the kitchen table or from my desk to my futon. I find myself dragging my computer charger and stereos to different outlets, crossing and uncrossing my legs, and switching from my ipod to speakers every couple hours or so, only because I need a change.

I worry that it's the same with my life. Ever since college I've been in limbo. I lived in transition between a squished square in Nebraska that called itself a dorm room to a bedroom in Colorado. Not long after I made memories in a good-sized basement apartment in Nebraska and began my basement dwelling record-breaking, as my friend Brooke likes to say. After I was married I moved to Reno, where we lived in an apartment (second floor) for seven months. We moved to another apartment (first floor) and lived there for a year. Now we live in another basement apartment in London, and I find myself unable to stop worrying about our next move. I worry that the next place we live I'll be bored again. I'll get restless and the next year we'll find ourselves in yet another basement apartment in some random city. And on and on and on with the moving and the restlessness and the anticipating something better. Will it ever stop?

Honestly? Probably won't stop till heaven. But setting that aside, I know there are people who somehow find themselves content in every situation, comfortable with a secure life or a scary life--sorta like Bible Paul. I wish that could be me.


Hot Showers or Chocolate?

Before Jonathan and I left for Paris we were without hot water for a week. I boiled water in our tea kettle and filled the sink to take sponge baths and wash my hair. It worked, but there was this overwhelming emptiness that wouldn't leave me alone. It was an emptiness only hot showers could fill. I was a sad, cold girl.

This morning I got into a piping hot shower that made me sigh with happiness. This was when I decided that if I ever had to choose between giving up chocolate or hot showers, and I had the option to keep chocolate if I was okay with having lukewarm showers the rest of my life, then I would definitely have to give up chocolate.

Can I get an amen for hot showers?



My Uncle Randy (mom's brother) died this week. The good news is that he loved Jesus. My mom found a song that has been a constant source of comfort for her, and will hopefully be a comfort for my Uncle's immediate family. The song is by Mark Harris and called "Wish You Were Here," sung from the perspective of someone in heaven. One line runs itself over and over in my mind and almost makes me laugh with the freedom it sings. It's about him "running with the angels on streets made of gold."

There's something so liberating about that image--it robs all the heaviness that death brings to our lives, and reminds me that as painful as earthly life can be, as trapped as I feel by death, by injustice, I AM FREE. I am free to love, to laugh, to forgive, to celebrate, and to live without fear! I want my life to overflow with the joy that I have because I want people to know what true freedom looks and feels like.

"So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." John 8:36

I first learned these songs at a worship conference in Dallas. The first song was led by Ross Parsley, who is the worship leader at New Life Church. I'm not sure if the song was actually written by Ross Parsley or by the Desperation Band (a worship band at New Life) but it is such a powerful song. Everyone should start their day out with it! Click on the link and you can listen to both songs.

I AM FREE by Ross Parsley/Desperation Band (New Life Church)
Through you the blind will see
Through you the mute will sing
Through you the dead will rise
Through you all hearts will praise
Through you the darkness flees
Through you my heart screams I am free

I am free to run
I am free to dance
I am free to live for you
I am free

(second verse)
For his returning we watch and we pray
We will be ready the dawn of that day
We'll join in singing with all the redeemed
Satan is vanquished and Jesus is King!

So come let us sing a song
A song declaring we belong to Jesus
He is all we need
Lift up a heart of praise
Sing now with voices raised to Jesus
Sing to the King


Why I Write Creative Nonfiction

I write mostly creative nonfiction. It’s what it sounds like—nonfiction told as a narrative, or as a series of narratives. The thing about creative nonfiction for me is that it’s not just a genre; it’s a philosophy, a principle for living. “Creative Nonfiction writers are in an ideal position to be one-person “truth and reconciliation” commissions, to uncover “the small stories that have gone missing,” as one writer put it.

I can’t help but think of the Bible as a piece of creative nonfiction—as a whole, that is. There are parts of it that are not. The Psalms is a book of poetry, and Matthew starts out with a genealogy. As a whole, the purpose of the Bible is to tell smaller stories to make up the bigger story in order to get at The Truth. It invites the reader into an experience of such heavy magnitude (an experience that is not excluding of anyone) and does it by “unearthing lives at the margin of the bigger event.” Each story told is about characters that played a small part in the grander play. And of course there's the ultimate Hero's Journey story told in the life of Christ.

Those ancient stories, interwoven between a front and back cover, still change lives today. And the lives that are changed--those are the stories I want to tell.


Emptied Rubbish

In London I walk onto the street and see mounds of cathedrals piled on top of each other. They’ve been thrown together in the rubbish pile. They’ve been stripped of their dignity, robbed of their majesty, and put out onto the curb for Friday’s trash pick-up. They still contribute to society, but not by offering a warm pew for prayer and worship. Now it happens through entry fees paid by tourists. Faith communities are now “spiritual counseling” sessions—not centered on a God outside of ourselves that we worship, but centered on the self for self-help, self-esteem, and self-improvement.

It seems disheartening, especially to people with aesthetic tastes that appreciate sacred spaces. But it’s a reminder to me that a building and a society is only a place for the Church to gather, not the Church itself. The Spirit doesn’t reside in a building, but in Christians.

They tried to throw Jesus into the rubbish pile, too. They stripped him of his dignity, robbed him of his majesty, and put him out onto the curb for Friday’s trash pick-up. But Friday’s trash pick-up came and went, and it didn’t find Jesus in the rubbish pile.

It’s going to take a lot more than dilapidated cathedrals, laws, and popular opinion to do away with the power of Christ!


The Shopping/Dating Dilemma

Jonathan and I went shopping at Covent Garden yesterday. Surprisingly, it was the most successful shopping day I've ever had. We found a gift for almost everyone we were shopping for. We bought Christmas cards at a charity shop. We even enjoyed the best meal we've eaten out since we've lived in London (better than the TexMex at the Texas embassy, if you can believe it).

Afterwards a friend and I discussed how rare successful shopping trips are. For us, it's because our indecisiveness gets in the way. Don't get me wrong--for the most part I love shopping. But for it to be a good shopping experience, I need to find the perfect gift. I may find something that I think, "Yes, that person will like that gift. It is a good gift." But then I wonder--is it the perfect mix of thoughtfulness, sentimentality and practicality? And I wonder if I could find something better. Because if I don't, this might be the best I can do and I'll regret not buying it--but what if it's not? I might need to keep looking until I find the "right" one, the one that makes me giddy with joy when I give it.

Christmas shopping is one thing, but I think some people encounter the same problems when they date. "He's a good guy. I like that guy. I don't know if I'll find someone better, so I think he's the guy I want." But the question remains: is he "the" guy? The right guy? And how will you know if he is, or if there is someone better?

In my experience, as in my shopping yesterday, when you find the right gift/guy you just know. You don't want to look around anymore. You know that even if you conducted a world-wide search until you were 90 years old that you would never find someone else you wanted to spend your life with as much as with this person.

It's a passionate commitment, but at its center is peace.