Pumpkin Fluff Parfaits

I've been a very bad blogger, I know. But somehow, I got all consumed with CPE in all its 60-hours-a-week glory, and then was thrown right into being the Summer Greek social coordinator, and then started the semester. So there's been little to no time for blogging. Sad day.

Also sad? I only realized that I have a few more months of being a sassy seminarian. So I should probably use up the name for all its worth before my tenure as such runs out.

I don't aspire to be a food blogger, but I always like trying new things, so here it is. Earlier this week, a friend's facebook post caught my eye:
So, I resolved that these would grace my family's new kitchen this weekend, and today I made it happen. Who says I'm not productive on the weekends?

First gather some ingredients.
1 package of sugar free/fat free vanilla instant pudding mix
1 15 oz can of pure pumpkin [NOT pumpkin pie filling!] (or 15 oz of the real stuff if you're good like that)
1 8 oz tub of Cool Whip Lite (thawed per directions)
1 cup of fat free milk
Pumpkin Pie spice
Ginger snaps (4-6 cookies per parfait)
Plenty of miniature semisweet chocolate chips

Start by pouring the milk into a large bowl.

Then, if you're going to be photographing this whole process, find yourself a willing assistant. Then take a blurry picture of her, because you haven't quite figured out how to properly manually adjust your dad's awesome DSLR camera.

Pour in the package of instant pudding mix while whisking, so the mix doesn't clump. The assistant might become unreasonably excited about this step.

Whisk it until it's all combined and the consistency of pudding. It will be thicker than normal pudding, but that's a good thing. Try not to eat it as is.

Now, add some of the pumpkin pie spice.

In this family, we like a lot of pumpkin pie spice.

Well, most of us do.

Now, pop open that can of pumpkin.

Ponder it for a moment.

Model it, if you so choose.

Then dump it in the milk/pudding/spice mixture. All of it.

Then, have your assistant do some actual work and mix it all around.

Make sure it's all nice and combined.

Then grab some whipped cream.

And dump the whole container in the bowl.

Then mix all of that around...

...until it looks like this! Now, you could stop right here, put a good cup of it in a bowl, and eat it. It's basically pumpkin mousse. It's light, fluffy heaven in a bowl.

If you're like me and you don't want to make the parfaits right away, put the bowl in the fridge. You should refrigerate any leftover fluff anyway. This will also help firm it up a little bit, which is good for the parfaits.

While the fluff is in the fridge, go to your nearest IKEA and pick up these adorable little glasses. You can get a package of six 6-ounce glasses for $1.50! Truthfully: we bought these today specifically for the purpose of making the parfaits. There's no shame in that.

Grab one of the glasses and a plastic bag.

Put the ginger snaps in the bag, and crush them using the glass. I left some large pieces and made some into the consistency of a powder, but that's entirely up to you.

Put them back in a bowl if you're going to be photographing your process.

Grab your bowl of miniature chocolate chips and try not to eat them.

Fill the cup about halfway, maybe a little more, with the fluff.

If you drop some on the counter and then accidentally smear it, pretend that you're on Top Chef, where they always smear some sort of foam or cream or whatever on the plate.

Put a generous amount of ginger snaps on top of the fluff. I like to use the bigger chunks for this part.

Then, after you've figured out the sweet spot of the manual focus, add some of the miniature chocolate chips, especially around the edge.

Add some more fluff on top and sprinkle with some more ginger snaps. I used the powder-like cookies for the topping.

Then, if you love chocolate like I do, add some more miniature chocolate chips. Or, as my friend up there suggested, some chocolate shavings. Whatever floats your boat.

Then, your mom and sister will tell you there aren't enough ginger snaps in the middle.

So you'll add some more, and your mom will tell you it needs ginger snaps on the bottom.

So you'll add them, and then you will have found the perfect combination of fluff and ginger snaps.

And there you have it: Pumpkin Fluff Parfaits. Refrigerate them until you're ready to eat, and then enjoy this fall treat! If you use all of the light ingredients, it's a little more healthy than most desserts, so it's practically guilt free :]

Any favorite fall recipes you'd like to share?

[Oh! And if you'd like to see all of the ridiculous pictures my sister and I took during this process, check them out here. There are 114 of them. Seriously. I promise you'll laugh.]


Fear or Love?

Over the past few months, I have become an NPR addict. I used to listen from time to time, or peruse their website, but I wasn't an avid listener. For some reason, this past January, I made NPR one of the presets on my XM radio, and I very rarely change it now. Except for when my sister gets in the car and, before I can even turn the key, begs, "Can we pleeeeease not listen to NPR?!" I'm one of those people who starts every other conversation with, "You know, I was listening to NPR the other day..." and I love hour-long drives that begin on the hour, so I can catch a full show. And much like my friend Sarah, I will sit in my car outside of my destination to listen to the end of a program (or, if I'm able, I'll run inside and pull up the online XM player on my laptop). It's okay, I know I'm a nerd.

Anyway, today, I was driving to my clinical site, listening to Tell Me More, and Melissa Etheridge came on. Now, I like Melissa enough. I can sing along to a bunch of her songs when they come on the radio, and I think she's a great musician, but I've never waited in line outside of Best Buy to pick up her latest album. But this morning, I heard her say something that has been running through my head all day. In talking about her new album, Fearless Love, she said that along her journey, including a battle with breast cancer a few years ago, she has learned that "every choice we make is either love or fear, in anything, everything we do."

Love or fear. Everything we do is either love or fear.

At the exact moment I was listening to this interview, I was feeling incredibly exhausted, both mentally and physically, and reluctant to get out of the car once I got to my clinical site. But then I started thinking...if I sat in the car, I would be making the decision out of fear. Fear of initiating conversations with people I don't know, fear of saying the wrong thing or not taking advantage of the moment in a conversation, fear of failing. But if I got out of the car, I would be making the decision out of love. A love for every person inside of that facility, a love for hearing their stories, a love for ministry.

Recently, in a conversation about goals, a friend said that she never says she "will" do something, but rather that she "intends" to do something. When she says, "I will," she rarely actually does. But intentions run much deeper. It connotes an internal motivation to achieve something. For this friend, using such language helps her accomplish her goals more often. So, taking a cue from her, I intend to live and act out of love, rather than fear.

This sounds awfully nebulous, I know. Sometimes love means holding back, or it can mean saying or doing something difficult. And that can often look like fear. I know that this summer, which will continue to be filled with exhaustion, pain, emptiness, and most of all, learning, it will be difficult to push away that fear and instead choose to act out of love. But I can't help but think what a rich and joyful season this could be, should I make that conscious decision. So I will ask those with whom I spend the most time to check in on me and make sure I am not reverting to fear.

And I intend to love deeply, honestly, and often.


"We change, whether we like it or not." [Ralph Waldo Emerson]

Generally, when I'm overwhelmed and anxious, I have quite a bit of trouble sleeping. The best remedy I've found is to make progress on the cause of my anxiety, helping my heart rate go down and my brain to stop stumbling over itself long enough for me to fall asleep. In the middle of a semester, I'll lay awake for hours stressing about assignment deadlines, but as soon as I jump out of bed and do twenty minutes of work, I'm sleeping like a baby with no trouble. When it's time to pack up and move out of any one of the temporary residences I've inhabited for the past five years, I run through every item that needs packing while trying to get some shut eye, but can only achieve that blissful state after emptying my desk drawers into a movers box at two in the morning.

Well, there are no assignments due in the next few days, and all of the boxes that need packing are about sixty miles north of my current location, and although they are weighing on my mind a bit, they aren't the primary source of my anxiety at the moment. I've laid here for an hour, trying to figure out why I'm so unsettled, and it all boils down to my least favorite six-letter word: change.

This is my first summer not living at home. I've lived on campus at college and grad school for five years, but I've always been able to spend my summers in my hometown: spending days off with childhood best friends, carting my younger sister to and from daycamp and various other activities, shopping with mom on a lazy Saturday, enjoying my father's grilling experiments, sitting by the pool at a family party...all the comforts of home. It's not so much that I'm nervous about living away from family and friends, I know I can do that. But to upset something that has become so routine in my life reminds me that I am about to experience immense change, and I'm none too happy about it.

This summer, I will complete a summer unit of Clinical Pastoral Education. This is an accredited program that helps those in ministry learn more about pastoral care. I have a lot to learn on the subject, so part of me is excited about the learning experience. But CPE is also heavily focused on learning about yourself. According to those who have gone before me, this summer I will learn why I react to certain situations in certain ways, what unresolved issues I have in my life, and what I need to work on to be a more pastorally caring presence. Just putting it all out there...I am terrified of CPE. I think that what scares me the most is I have no idea why I'm so afraid, just that I am. I'm pretty sure it has to do with not knowing what to expect, so I'm hoping some of these fears will be eased shortly. But it is mostly because everyone says that you emerge a changed person after CPE, and like I said, change and I have a tumultuous relationship.

While CPE will be the big change in my life, there are a bunch of other changes happening, some bigger than others, that have me tossing and turning. My family is moving next month, and while I am excited for a brand new house with brand new doorknobs, light fixtures and appliances, I am saddened to think that this might be my very last night in the only permanent home I have known for 23 years. The people (and dachshund!) I love are going to the new house, but we are leaving behind the marks of door hinges that came down many, many years ago after breaking a fall, thus busting my chin; the worn carpet where I played "airplane" with my baby sister for hours (even after she spit up on me that one time); the kitchen floor where I spilled an entire bottle of sprinkles, much to the delight of the aforementioned baby sister; the backyard that holds a long-forgotten swing set and the under-appreciated grape arbor; and all of the other memories that I can't even remember, but will surely miss. There are things that I won't miss, like a basement that floods with too much rain, and the complete lack of counter space in the kitchen. But it will be difficult to be removed from the moving and settling process, only traveling through on weekends and holidays for the next year, and then for who knows how long after that. I'm afraid that settling in the new house will change my family, and I won't be there to be a part of it. It's a little irrational, as I'm incredibly close to my family, but it is undoubtedly going to bring about change.

Then there are the little changes, the ones that may be strange at first, but are ultimately for the best. Things like meeting roommates and learning how to live with someone new, even if only for a few months. Or having to wear professional attire every day instead of reliable old jeans and flats. Or a best friend getting married. Or saying goodbye to a beautiful, vibrant toddler who you watched once a week for the past nine months, as she and her parents move several states away to answer God's call.

These are the things that haven't allowed my mind to stop spinning or my eyes to remain closed, even though I have an incredibly busy weekend approaching quickly. I tried to think of something I could accomplish in half an hour's time to give me temporary closure and grant me enough sleep to be productive tomorrow. Letting it all out and making my fears known is part of it, but I've realized that I also need to issue myself a little reminder: "Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God" [philippians 4:6].

I've been missing those "prayer" and "thanksgiving" parts, forgetting to be thankful for the vast amount of stability and security I've been given throughout my life. Forgetting to pray for peace in the midst of change, all while be thankful for the opportunity to experience new things. And how often I overlook the compassion and grace of God when anxiety takes over, preferring to abate my fears rather than to pray for a peaceful spirit. So as my eyelids become increasingly heavy and my thoughts order themselves neatly in my mind, I think it might be time to try a new remedy for these sleepless nights.


Clean & Unclean

This semester, I am taking Witness of the Gospels, a class where we look at all four Gospels and how they came to be, as well as what they are actually saying through the original language. At the beginning of the semester, we were given one text from each Gospel and were asked to choose one to work with for eighteen weeks. I chose Mark 7:24-30, the story of the Syrophoenician woman:

From there [Jesus] set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ But she answered him, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.’ So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. 

During my drama class in January, we worked a little with this text, and I wanted to know more about it. We did quite a bit of exegetical work (figuring out what the Greek is saying), and then wrote a heady, academic paper that was actually really helpful in deciphering the real message. Then, we were graced with the integrative project. The task? To use what we found in our exegetical work to creatively present the text. Some of my classmates wrote really insightful sermons, some wrote beautiful and/or hysterical songs, and some created visual art. It has been a huge blessing to see my friends use their talents to creatively preach the word of God.

For my project, I took a cue from the Woman at the Well video that I found a few years back. If you haven't seen it, watch it immediately, it's incredible. Anyway, I wrote a slam poetry monologue based on this story, and then recorded it for the project. I've embedded the video below and included the text. This helped me learn quite a bit about the story of the Syrophoenician woman, and I really enjoyed creating this.

I am a woman, of no distinction, of little importance.
I am a woman who they say is unclean.
I avoid you in the street, if I’d touch you, you’d recoil.
And you can’t even see that I’m a person too,
I’m a person who is so much more like you,
Because clean and unclean may not mean what they seem.
This demon in my child, it has ripped us apart, cursing, beating, swearing, tearing, condemning, hating, shouting, doubting.
I have prayed and I have paid, in every way you could imagine, but this spirit haunts my daughter and shows no sign of release.
They say that you’ve healed others:
You can remove a leper’s spots and make a paralyzed man get up and walk, and give a withered hand new life and stop bleeding, pain and strife,
And I heard you healed a man who was unclean just like us;
We can’t help where we come from, and we don’t know why we weren’t chosen, but we know that we deserve to be loved like the rest,
Because clean and unclean may not mean what they seem.
They said that you would come to this house;
Close the curtains, lock the door, rest your feet, take some time, take some time just for you.
But there’s no time for my daughter, how much longer can she bear it?
I’ve sat across the road, hoping, wishing, praying, doubting, needing, for you to appear and release us from this pain.
So imagine my pain when you brush me off and cast aside
Comparing me to the dogs who roam the streets where they reside
I won’t bark but I’ll beg, and I’ll beg but won’t bite.
I’ll take what you can give us, crumbs and scraps from off the floor
That they would step on, sweep up, throw out, disregard, even ignore
I’ll take what you can give us, we haven’t gotten much before,
Because clean and unclean may not mean what they seem.
Now there’s a change in your eyes.
Did I offend, affront, insult or taunt?
I wait for the cold shoulder I’ve come to know so well, the one that chills my heart and lets my daughter’s demon dwell.
But then you do what I asked; you say my child is healed, that from here you made the demon yield.
I want to thank you or to kiss you or to show you what you’ve done
For me and for my daughter and our new life that’s just begun
But I can only turn and run
And when I see her I’m undone
Because she’s smiling, laughing, blinking, talking, doing all the things we’d missed.
I never saw your face again, but I heard about your words and deeds, the things you did for people like me
So when everyone asks how my daughter got well,
I tell them about the man who knows
That clean and unclean may not mean what they seem.
All items in this post ©Julie Stecker 2010. May not be used without permission.


Endorsed & Edified

Recently, I wrote about processing the process. At the time, I was struggling with penning my endorsement essay (endorsement being the next step towards rostered leadership in the ELCA). At the time, it seemed overwhelming and scary and I wasn't sure I could jump that hurdle. Luckily, I finished the essay the next day, giving me time to sit with it, have colleagues read over it, make the necessary revisions and submit it to my synod. Then, I began the waiting game; for two weeks, I went about my schoolwork, trying not to be nervous about the interview that loomed in the near future.

This past week was particularly stressful. I had a comprehensive exam on Monday, a book to be read and a paper to be written by Tuesday, and on Thursday, I handed in a huge exegetical paper that kept me in the library until 3:35 a.m. I was exhausted by the time Thursday night rolled around, and try as I might, I could not fall asleep for hours. Chalk it up to nerves or the copious amount of coffee I consumed on Thursday, but while I lay awake, all I could think about was my pending interview. I had no idea what to expect and was terrified that I would give an incorrect answer or make an unintentionally heretical theological statement.

Friday came soon enough, and after reading through my essay several times and receiving the affirmations of classmates and professors, I walked confidently to the location of my interview and was delighted to see the two members of my committee with whom I am most comfortable. After talking amongst themselves for a few minutes, I sat down with the members of my committee and a faculty member, and we engaged in one of the most life-giving conversations I've ever had. I'm not sure if I'm allowed to post what they asked, so we'll play it safe and just say that we talked about the various areas in which I have grown over the past year, and how my theological education has impacted my understanding of youth ministry. I realized new things about myself during the interview, and it has given me a renewed understanding of my own call to ministry. My personal victory? I didn't cry once. If you know me, you understand the significance!

Going into the interview, as I said, I was scared and overwhelmed. I came out on the other side refreshed and excited. The exact opposite of what I expected to happen. This says something about not letting our expectations dictate our experiences, and I think it was an important lesson to learn. But even more, I think I finally realized the core benefit of the Candidacy process. Certainly, it is in place to evaluate our qualifications to be rostered leaders and track our progress during theological education, but I think it's much deeper than that. The process can edify us. It can point to our baptism and remind us of how deeply it is connected to what we are doing now, and what we will do in the future.

Maybe I have a fantasy-like picture of how endorsement should go, but I can only speak from my own experience. My advice, for what it's worth, is to go into these interviews with an open mind and a willingness to learn new things about yourself, all while being true to who you are. Trust the process and seek the support of the great cloud of witnesses who are praying for you to have a positive experience. Breathe in, breathe out, and remember that you are a child of God.

Oh, and the results of my interview? I was recommended for endorsement by the members of my committee, and they will take their decision back to the full committee, who will vote on it in the near future. God is so faithful :]


Just sit

Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes...When [Job's friends] saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him, and they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads. They sat with him on the ground for seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great. [Job 2:8, 12-13]
I have some dear friends who are struggling with significant pain right now, mostly due to loss of a loved one. Some are faring better than others, but pain is pain and grief is grief.

In the book of Job, a man has everything taken from him. His livestock die, his land is ruined, his health is shattered, and his children are killed. His wife tells him to curse God and die, just to end all of the suffering. But instead, Job takes a potsherd (literally a shard of pottery), scrapes off the sores that have plagued him, and sits in the midst of the ashes. In his grief, he can do nothing but sit.

His friends come along shortly thereafter, and while they will prove to be unhelpful later on, in that moment when Job can do nothing but sit, they in turn sit with him. For seven days and for seven nights they sit. Not because they were good at sitting or only desired to sit, or even because they thought that's what God was telling them to do. They sat for they saw his suffering was very great.

I'm not a sitter by nature. I'm a talker or a sympathizer or a fixer. But I'm learning to be a sitter. I've been blessed in the past by those who sit, when my suffering was very great. To have someone join me in the heap of ashes and practice the ministry of presence has brought healing to my soul without a single word uttered. So now, when it is my turn to comfort a friend in need, I am reminded that it is not always in the loving words we say or the sage advice we offer, but in the being with the ones we love.

Learn to sit. Let others sit with you. And start to be healed by the knowledge that you are loved and cherished and worthy of the time spent just sitting.


StuffChristiansLike Scorecard!

One of my favorite blogs is StuffChristiansLike.net. As if the blog weren't hilarious enough, there's also a book, and I'm just going to let you go ahead and read the blog/buy the book so you can split your sides and never forget to give a good Christian side hug.

Today, those of us who read SCL and also blog are putting together an incredibly important and helpful post today. It is something that every Christian needs to read and take to heart, because it the topic will have resounding impact on our culture for all time. The question you have all been asking: Is that contestant on American Idol a Christian?

John Acuff, the brains behind SCL, has linked back to all of these posts today, as we are each posting a different piece of the scorecard. Check them all out and and evaluate your favorite American Idol  contestant for how devout a Christian he or she may be ;]

67. They wear a promise keepers t-shirt that says “I love my wife” just to make sure everyone knows they’re taken = +2 points

To add up your score with over a 130 other ideas on this scorecard, visit stuffchristianslike.net!


One More Time With Feeling

I may or may not have mentioned that one of my favorite musicians is Regina Spektor. I saw her in concert many many moons ago (okay, in 2005) when she opened for the Killers and Keane, and I was less than impressed. Then Begin to Hope came out, and Fidelity is just so darn catchy and Samson so clever and gorgeous, I couldn't resist buying the whole album and falling in love. Begin to Hope is really a gateway Regina album: it's mainstream enough to have wide appeal, but once you've acclimated yourself to her sound, you start to love the quirkiness of Mary Ann Meets the Gravediggers and Soviet Kitsch and then you're on a slippery slope of looking for all of her unreleased concert tracks that are kinda weird but completely ingenious. I saw Regina in concert at Messiah in 2007, and it. was. increds. One of the best shows I've seen. If you can catch her live, DO IT.

So anyway, this summer, Far was released, and it's even better than Begin to Hope. It's more accessible and insanely catchy and good Lord I cannot stop listening to it. Go out and buy it right now and import it into your iTunes and watch the play count eclipse the play counts of all other albums. Except for Wicked, let's be honest. But anyway, I'm not getting paid to endorse this (I wish), I just want to spread the love. Especially the love for Human of the Year, which I would put on my top ten favorite songs of all time (and that is a hard list to break into). Here's a lyrical sampling:

Outside the cars are beeping
out a song just in your honor,
and though they do not know it
all mankind are now your brothers

And thus the cathedral had spoken
wishing well to all us sinners,
then with a sigh grew silent
'til next year's big human winner

Go get your life changed by the musical stylings of Miss Regina Spektor, resident antifolk goddess.


I love you, so I won't steal your Tristan Prettyman thunder with the title of this post

Today is a special, special day.

Exactly twenty-three years ago, the second mom that I didn't even know I had at the time (I was only 34 days old, you know) gave birth to one of the most fantastic and beautiful people I've ever met.

Mom & Dad #2 named her Lindsay.

I met Lindsay in first grade, and we hated each other. Don't worry, there's a happy ending, and it gives us a good story to tell now. You see, we were in different first grade classes, but we were both in a group of students who were pulled out of the milieu of seven-year olds for Gifted & Talented. Because we were excessively both (I'm so modest), we were arch-enemies. But we realized that we could join forces and obliterate the competition (it is fierce in grade school), so we decided to be best friends.

Then, the cosmos aligned on the first day of second grade, and we showed up to school looking like this (completely unplanned):

The rest is history.

To go through our entire friendship, even at the speed of light, would take weeks. Maybe even months. But this, this I can say in the space of a blog post:

My dear Lindsay, I love you so very much. Thanks for being the first sister I ever had, and my mom's favorite 1.5. Thank you for decorating Barbie cars with me in art class, and helping me learn how to ride a bike, and getting in trouble with me for taking the long way around the block, and saving my sister's life that one time, and prank calling boys at my birthday party, and always being my favorite softball teammate, and giving me the tajas, and being there for every crush and subsequent crash, and coming to visit me at the Mess, and letting me come visit you in North Carolina and Annapolis, and learning so much about yourself in Australia, and having the best New Year's Eve parties, and entertaining me via gchat at the most opportune times, and a billion other things that have absorbed into my subconscious over the past sixteen years.

Oh, right, and thank you for being my best friend.

Happy birthday, beautiful. I hope it's the best one ever.


Processing the process

In order to gain admittance to many of the degree programs offered by ELCA seminaries, you are required to be in the Candidacy process. Those of us who are immersed in it often roll our eyes or groan when someone unfamiliar with the process asks what it is. So here is the brief version (and I promise I neither groaned nor rolled my eyes; I am in a library after all):

Candidacy is the process through which synods (regional groupings of ELCA congregations) evaluate a candidate's readiness for ministry. There are three steps in the process: entrance, endorsement, and approval. At each step, there is a reflective essay and panel interview. At times, the interview will be with the entire candidacy committee of the synod (my committee is composed of about 15 members, if I recall correctly), which is made up of the bishop, synod staff, pastors, seminary professors, and lay members; or it may be with just a few members of the committee (but the final approval process involves evaluation from both the seminary faculty and the entire committee).

At each step, the committee has three options, one of which they will bestow upon the candidate: approval (different from final approval...confusing, I know), postponement or denial. Every candidate strives for approval. That means that your essay met their requirements, or if it fell a little short, your interview made up for it, and you are ready to continue in the process. Postponement can mean many things, but it often means the candidate has some things to work on before completing the next step; it does not always mean that the candidate is not qualified for ministry, but that they need a bit more time. From what I understand, denial is rare, but it can happen, and it can sideline a candidate for an indefinite period of time. I'm not clear on whether you can enter the process again after time and growth, or if you are finished with candidacy altogether, but I've found that most candidates avoid thinking about it at all.

My entrance went well. I had months to prepare, and I was ready for the interview, as it mostly assesses where you are at this first step of theological education and preparation for ministry. I was approved for entrance without difficulty, and I have been riding on the coattails of my entrance for the past few months. But now, it is time for endorsement, and I am scared out of my mind. Most candidates wait until the beginning of their second year, after their Clinical Pastoral Education, to seek endorsement. But because I am in a two year program, rather than four, I need to be endorsed before other parts of my academic program can move forward, so this is all happening very quickly.

Very quickly as in April 16th.

With the essay due April 1st.

By my (read: my Dashboard countdown clock's) calculations, I have a mere 6 days, 7 hours and approximately 53 minutes to finish this essay.

I took over seven months to write the last one.

And now, I have to show growth.

Writing the essay is the hardest part. They want me to think theologically about my vocation as it is as it is grounded in baptism, in contexts such as family, confirmation, friendships, work settings, school and community. In one page. I barely know what it is asking in the first place, much less how to address all of those topics in 23 double-spaced lines. And then there are eight more questions beyond that! When do I get to stop writing about myself?
As far as the interview, I'm intimidated. I'm afraid that my committee will ask questions to which I haven't learned the answers, or want to know why I still don't feel called to be a pastor. I cried in my last interview, and my number one goal for this interview is to not repeat those tears. But I am afraid it will happen.

I hope this doesn't sound as if I'm degrading the Candidacy process; I actually think it is necessary and well-developed to raise up qualified leaders in the Church who can clearly articulate theological groundings and a sense of call. But in the midst, it seems like I'm drowning in an ocean of essays, interviews and decisions that keep me up at night worrying. And all I wanted to do was help young people encounter Christ.

I'm not sure if there's a greater purpose for this blog entry. Maybe it was just to vent in the middle of the process, or maybe it was to encourage someone who feels he or she is the only one with anxiety about the process. But I do know one thing for absolute certain: I now have 6 days, 7 hours and 42 minutes to put the last seven months of learning and living down on paper, and I still feel as strongly about my call as I did eight years ago.* If my committee knows that, I think I'm doing just fine.

*Interestingly enough, I just realized that today is exactly eight years since I felt called to youth ministry, to the day. I wasn't sure exactly what it was at first, but I quickly identified it, and I remember it like it was yesterday. Funny how these things work out, eh?


In loving, loving memory

It's funny; my grandfather's favorite holiday was St. Patrick's day. He was Irish to his core. I vividly remember his excitement when he and my grandmother traveled to Ireland (for what I doubt was his first visit) and he was able to kiss the Blarney Stone and survey the land of his ancestors. In 2008, he passed away on Friday, March 14th, and the process of laying him to rest began on Monday, March 17th.

The day he loved.

It was appropriate and touching and painful and beautiful.

Today makes two years since we began to say our last goodbyes and cried what were far from our last tears and continued to thank God for giving us so many years with one of the kindest and most loving men I've ever known.

One of the hymns we sang at his funeral was I Am the Bread of Life. Today, we sang that hymn in chapel. I joined in when I could, but mostly I just wept. It was a poignant and unexpected moment of remembrance for my dear Pop-Pop, and it was a fitting tribute: the hymn that always brings him to the front of my mind on the day that does the same.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace. 

[ecclesiastes 3:1-8]


I got 90 problems...

Okay, I try to keep my corner of the interwebs free of what some would call "foul language," but this was TOO GOOD not to share. I'm there are great lessons to be learned about the importance of youth ministry here, but they're going to have to wait until I stop laughing.

What are they teaching in DC charter schools?!


Born to Fly

Over the past nine months, I have boarded an airplane 16 times. If my memory serves me correctly (and actually, I’m not sure it does, but work with me here), this is one more than the number of airplanes I had boarded in my entire life, prior to June 2009. Given the increase, I’ve learned some things about myself and air travel in the process. I pondered these between Minneapolis/St. Paul and Baltimore last night, so I figured I’d share a little mindless fodder with all of you.
  • I am chronically early to the airport. I don’t love sitting there, but I am always nervous that I’ll have to empty all of my belongings at security and miss my flight, or they’ll change the gate and I won’t notice and miss my flight, or some other scenario that involves me not getting on the plane. I’d rather sit and suffer than not get on that plane.
  • On that note, I believe that every airport should have free wireless. If I have to sit at your gate for an hour and a half (at least), you can let me catch up on my Google Reader, twitter feed and facebook updates.
  • I’m passively pushy about getting on the plane. I’ll never actually push someone out of my way, but I will walk quickly and stand firmly to be one of the first in my boarding group to get on the plane. I hate having to check my bags at the side of the plane. That’s why I brought a carry-on, thank you. I will fight (in the nicest sense of the word) for overhead bin space.
  • My ears always pop and it is always terrible. More about this later.
  • After all of these flights, I haven’t figured out which seat I like best. I do know, however, that I don’t like the aisle seat. If it were a life or death situation, I’d probably pick the window seat.
  • One of the reasons I do like sitting next to the window is that no one ever has to climb over me.
  • I also never have to climb over anyone else. I try to use the airplane bathroom as little as possible. True story: on the flight from London to New Jersey (about seven and a half hours), I used the bathroom once. The seven and a half hours from New Jersey to London? Not a once. This is definitely because I can hold my bladder for an incredibly long time, but maybe I should save that for TMI Thursday.
  • My favorite in-flight beverage? Sprite with no ice. The only time I ever asked specifically for ice was on the flight from London to New Jersey, since I hadn’t had ice in almost two weeks. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why I had to use the bathroom on that flight.
  • In addition to wireless in airports, I think every airplane should have little touch-screens on the back of every seat so you can watch movies and listen to music, even if it’s a short flight. On those two international flights, I watched two full-length movies and four episodes of House. On each flight. Those were the greatest flights ever. Oh, and please include a live flight-map. That was totes awes.
  • When touch-screens are not available, I’ve found that I can only listen to two different artists on my iPod: Regina Spektor and Skillet (anti-folk and industrial rock? No big!). When I was flying to Florida, I tried to listen to the Glee soundtrack, which I seriously adore, but I could only get through two tracks. I was unsettled until I switched to Skillet. Strange, I know.
  • I will always always always end up sitting behind someone who reclines the seat almost all the way. I hate this, but that person paid for a ticket too, so I keep quiet.
  • I can always tell when we’ve started to descend. My ears become totally clogged, to the point where I can’t hear at all (not kidding, I can’t even hear myself cough); I get really hot really fast, but don’t sweat…it’s like an internal furnace; I start to squirm and move my legs A LOT because I get incredibly uncomfortable. If you are flying with me, do not try to have a conversation with me until we touch down, because [a] I can’t hear you and [b] I am seriously uncomfortable and just want to sit silently until it’s over. This is for the good of everyone on the plane.
  • Even though I don’t need to stand up during the flight, as soon as that little bell sounds, I jump up like my seat is spring-loaded. I don’t mind being the last one off the plane as long as I can stand while everyone else is deplaning.
  • In the past, it has taken as long as three days for my ears to return to their normal state. 
There’s no point to this entry, but I’m trying to make blogging more of a habit for me, so you get this lovely little gem. Enjoy.


Simple as it should be

22 was a good year. I'm thinking 23 will be better. Hope is a great thing.

Thanks, mom, for going on bed rest for two weeks (or something like that) so I could get born.* Thanks, dad, for being the first person to say my name.

Thanks, friends and family, for getting me to 2010 relatively unscathed. Here's to another few decades of life and love.


My relationship with coffee- Part III

As you may recall, I have a deep, abiding love of coffee. I've written about it here. Twice. A brief recap: I love hot caffeine. The taste of black coffee has always repulsed me, but I can't go without that energy boost at the beginning of the day. Or the middle, or even near the end.

During the latter half of December and for most of January, I drank Starbucks like it was my job. I got a Starbucks gift card for Christmas, and after registering it on the starbucks.com, I found that every time I use that card, I get a star, and the more stars you get, the more rewards you get! Win win. So I started stopping at Starbucks at every chance, accumulating a couple of stars per week. Then I realized that lattes are expensive and use up my card faster, so I started going with flavored coffee. Toffee nut is my favorite, but there's also sugar-free caramel and hazelnut, which, when combined with coffee, fat free milk and a packet of Splenda equal a low-calorie, delicious coffee experience! Plus, now that I'm at the Green Level, I get free flavors in my coffee. Score.

Anyway, since coming back to school, I've been drinking the coffee brewed here instead of making it at home. I do have a coffee maker, but I've always just used these Folgers coffeebags (think teabags, but with coffee grounds). Well, this morning, I made coffee out of said bag, with the appropriate amount of creamer and sweetener (by the way, I've been using WAY less of these items...my coffee is more the shade of tree bark now, which may not sound appetizing, but it looks pretty)...and I almost spit it out. It was so watery, I literally chugged it just so I wouldn't waste it, but so that it would be gone.

This has me thinking...maybe I like the flavor of coffee now. Maybe all of that strong Starbucks has conditioned me to be a real live coffee lover. Now what to do with all of those coffeebags...


An Ode to Being Single on Valentine's Day

So, today is Valentine's Day. Or, as Liz Lemon would say, "a sham created by card companies to reinforce and exploit gender stereotypes." Oh Liz, you're speaking my soul.

Okay, but in all seriousness, I've chosen to not be bitter this year. Yes, I am plagued by chronic singleness. In fact, I'm really surprised this hasn't come up in my blog more often. There's no reference to the frequency with which I wallow in singlehood in my blogger tags, which is reassuring. It was hard enough in college, with acquaintance after acquaintance getting engaged (somehow, most of my close friends evaded the Ring By Spring tradition) and the ratio of single men to single women decreasing by the semester. But now, in seminary, it's even worse. Everyone. is. married. Seriously. Okay, well that's only a little bit of an exaggeration. But in reality, in my whole incoming class, there is one single, heterosexual male under the age of 30. The prospects are not promising for the few of us girls who are still unattached.

But back to today...whether it's a conspiracy started by Hallmark or a twisted holiday celebrating persecution and martyrdom or a day to really celebrate unadulterated romantic love, it can make single people feel pretty under-appreciated. Fortunately, there's also been a resurgence of viewing the holiday as an opportunity to tell everyone in your life how much you love them. This can seem like a futile attempt at glossing over the lovey-dovey nature of the holiday, but hey, since when was it a bad thing to tell people that you care about them?

If I become bitter and cynical about love, that won't help me find it. In fact, it will probably hinder the process. So I'm choosing to love love. This Valentine's Day, I do want to tell all of the people in my life that I love them and care about them (I love you and care about you). But I also want to tell all of my friends and family members who have found that very special person that I'm happy for them. Very happy, in fact. I hope you've all had an extra-special day with your sweetie, even though I know you tell each other often how much you love one another. Don't let the haters get you down (I can't believe I just wrote that), because you deserve to be happy and in love and in a beautiful, healthy relationship. I pray for your continued love and happiness, and that those of us who remain unattached can find love like you have found.

My challenge to the rest of my single ladies (and gentlemen...I hope you're all putting your hands up): embrace love, even if the romantic sort hasn't found its way to you yet. At the very least, it'll remove the black cloud that tends to loom over the day for us, right? ;]


Olympic Fail

Okay, I love the Olympics with every fiber of my being. I thrive on competition, and that's really the basis for the entire celebration. But I also adore the opening ceremonies, for their excitement and national pride and identity and AWESOMENESS in general.

So the Olympics are in Canada this year. If you know me well, you know that one of my favorite things in the whole world comes from Canada:


I love Celine. I've loved her since I was in the fourth grade. I know almost all of her songs (some of the new ones haven't made it onto my iTunes yet), including two entire French albums. And I don't speak French. I used to be able to name all of her thirteen brothers and sisters in order, oldest to youngest. I did a project about her in fifth grade that was a timeline of her life, with each event on a music note, on a staff, that actually "spelled out" the first few bars of My Heart Will Go On. It was incredible.

So when I heard that the Olympics would be in Canada, I figured that the top selling female artist of all time, who hails from Canada, would be included in the opening ceremonies. In fact, I even Googled, and there was an article that stated she would be performing. So throughout the entire four and a half hours of the opening ceremonies, I waited with anticipation. Sarah McLaughlin sang, which was great. k.d. Lang sang, and even though I would have preferred Rufus Wainwright crooning Hallelujah, I was satisfied. I figured she would be the final performance, closing the show with a bang.

But I was wrong. There was no sight of Celine anywhere. I'm incredibly disappointed. I wanted her to come out and belt out a tear-jerker of a ballad, pounding her chest and bringing the audience to its feet. But I was denied. Of course, Celine may have had a prior engagement, or maybe she just wasn't feeling the Olympics this year. But I have a hard time believing that Celine would turn down performing at the Olympics. So that makes me wonder...is Canada shunning their sweetheart? What is going on here, Neighbor to the North? I want some answers.

[EDIT] According to various sources, Celine is in New York for IVF treatment (yay more babies!), and she will perform at the closing ceremonies. All is right with the world!



I'm not going to try and describe how much snow we've had over the past few days. Most of you are familiar, and you probably don't want to think about it. I've developed cabin fever, even though I have plenty of on-campus friends and Skype at my disposal. All I want is for the snow and wind to stop so I can dig out my poor, poor Lola Bug from her place in the parking lot. I yearn to get off campus, even though I just spent four days in North Carolina. This is bad.

When I have to fill out call papers [which really won't matter so much because I have to find my own job], when it asks for regional restrictions, I am just going to write "ANYTHING BUT REGION 3." Region 3 is the mecca of the ELCA, even though we're headquartered in Chicago. Looking at a map of all the regions, 3 is on the smaller side. But that is because it is the most dense.

This is because it includes Minnesota and the Dakotas. After all of this snow? NO THANK YOU.

That's all for now. I may be back later with pictures, or tales from being cooped up. But for now, I'm going to listen to the wind howl while I work on a quiz due tomorrow, when we will have class online in lieu of braving the snow. I guess the silver lining of this blizzard is that I can sit on my bed and "go to class" in my pajamas. While watching Dr. Oz and all of that other delightful morning television I always have to miss. With a mug of hot chocolate and a warm bagel.

This blizzard is sounding better and better by the minute.


A Lent Without Spending?!

This morning, as I was clicking through my Google Reader, I noticed that Ex-Hot Girl had done a links post. She linked to a blog called Fat Bridesmaid, and it sounded interesting, so obviously, I clicked and started to read. This girl is giving up spending for Lent. She has some rules, but it's pretty strict. I'm considering this. I'm constantly broke, but I keep spending a little at a time, forgetting that it all adds up. There are a few things I would have to fudge...like, I'm going to a conference at the end of the month, so I'll have to eat out, and let's not lie, I'll probably buy some books. But seriously? To stop spending for 46 days? This could be interesting. I'll give it some thought today while I'm in class.

On second thought, maybe I should give up thinking about other things while I'm in class...



So, unless you live under a rock, you have probably heard about the earthquake in Haiti. This is incredibly, incredibly devastating. Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world, and nothing in that country was prepared to stand against a 7.0 magnitude earthquake. They are still experiencing aftershocks, and it is difficult to assess the full extent of the damages there at the moment.

I'm writing this as a plea: please pray or think or channel good thoughts, whatever you think works, for Haiti. I was talking with someone who went to Haiti on a mission trip a few years ago, and he said that their houses and buildings there are always a work in progress, they are always building additions onto the small structures they have. When the earthquake hit, it was like knocking over a house of cards because of the unstable nature of the structures. Everything there is devastated. Their capital city is flattened. Think about how America felt when Katrina ripped through the Gulf Coast, and then imagine an entire country that lives on $2 a day trying to recover from similar destruction. It's practically incomprehensible.

As Lutheran World Relief said today, "Due to the severity of the situation in Haiti, donations are the most important thing right now---Rescue then Rebuild." I'd ask you to consider donating money to an organization that will put 100% of your donation to good use in the relief effort. There are several well-known organizations that have already mobilized efforts in Haiti, but they could always use more money to send bottled water, water purification tablets, blankets, clothes, food and other various necessities. I've listed some organizations below that have great reputations and will definitely put the money to good use.

On that note, PLEASE be wary of requests for donations that seem at all like a scam. Go directly through an organization's website; some scams say that they will double your donation if you make it through their website, but in reality, they are pocketing your money, and it will not go to Haiti. Be aware of email scams, or requests for direct transfers of money. It is awful that some will use this tragedy to profit personally, but it does happen.

Thank you for your prayers and for your donations. I do not personally know anyone who was in Haiti at the time of the earthquake, but there was a group from Wartburg Seminary (another ELCA seminary) doing mission work there for J-Term. Yesterday, we were told that they were all safe, but today, we received notification that two members of the group got out of the building they were in when the earthquake hit, and they were able to find one another, but the third member of their party is missing. This student, Ben Larson, is a senior at Wartburg; ready to graduate and become an ordained pastor in the ELCA, as far as I know. The two people with him were Renee Larson, his wife, and Jonathan Larson, his cousin. Those of us at ELCA seminaries are mourning the loss of this student; the president of Wartburg, Duane Larson (no relation), said this about Ben:
Ben's baptismal light burned so brightly in our community and for all who came to know him. We grieve the loss of so clear a proclamation, with eyes twinkling, of Christ's love, compassion, and humor. source
It seems to be a reminder that natural disasters do not discriminate. And for as much as we mourn the loss of the relatively few foreign civilians and military who have been killed, we must remember how devastated the people of Haiti are at this time. Prayers are abounding for them, and we pray for increased resources to help those who survived.

Credible Organizations
  • Lutheran World Relief- This is the organization through which I personally donated. It is Baltimore-based, and I know that they are excellent stewards of their donations. If you click on the link provided, it will take you directly to the Haiti page of their site, where you can click "Click Here to Contribute NOW." On the donation page, you can donate any amount, but make sure you select "Haiti Earthquake" in the dropdown menu. You will receive a confirmation email after donating, which can be used for tax purposes. Just as a side note, LWR has committed an initial $1,000,000.00 to relief in Haiti.
  • The American Red Cross- Always reliable. If you click on the red "DONATE NOW" button on their home page, you can select the Haiti Earthquake as your chosen cause. You can also text the word "HAITI" to 90999 to automatically donate $10 (it will appear on your cell phone bill). THIS IS NOT A SCAM. The Red Cross has this information on their website, and they have received over $3 million in donations as of this morning with this method.
  • Planting Peace- This organization has been endorsed by Rainn Wilson, better known as Dwight on The Office. He has done work in Haiti, in schools and orphanages, and he knows this to be a reliable source. As an incentive, he is offering a personally signed 8x10 headshot to anyone who donates $100 or more. Check out his twitter account (@rainnwilson) for more details.
  • Artists for Peace and Justice- Another great charity that is supported by several celebrities: James Franco, Charlize Theron and Olivia Wilde, to name a few. Their "DONATE NOW" button is on the bottom right of the page.
If you have any other charities you recommend, please post them in a comment and I will try to add them to the list. Also, feel free to use any part of this post to get the word out to YOUR followers about the importance of helping Haiti.


Dear Verizon, fire your marketing team

This past week, I've been in DC during the day for a class. This means that I woke up every day at 4:45, left the house by 5:40, arrived at the train station at 6:00, stood in the dark and cold until the train came at 6:10, slept the whole way to DC, took a bus from Union Station to Mount Vernon Square, went to Starbucks, had class from 9:00-4:00, took a bus from Mount Vernon Square to Union Station, ran to try and catch the 4:24 train (I made it on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but Tuesday and Thursday found me on the 5:20), read The Time-Traveler's Wife (go buy that and read it right now) until arriving back at the train station around 5:30, then driving home and walking in the door around 6:00. So I have been understandably exhausted. But I was alert enough to notice something while taking the Circulator back to Union Station. It was a billboard that looked just like this one:

Now, because of the building where this ad is located, you can't really see the bottom right corner from the street, because it is angled. But every day, when we passed this billboard, I couldn't help but wonder, "Why is Verizon equating their phones with buckets of angry female deer?"

Albeit, I haven't been watching as much television (or when I do, it's usually taped, so I fast forward through commercials), so I haven't seen the Droid commercials. Had I been paying more attention, I would have seen that Verizon means that it is a bucket of third-person-singular-present-indicative "do." But let's take a second to think about this, Verizon. What do buckets contain? Matter. Actual physical matter. Buckets do not contain verbs, so I would venture to guess that most people are going to think of angry female deer when they see this ad. And then the ad doesn't make sense to them, and they have little desire to buy your product. And then Apple goes and makes straightforward ads, and, well...we know who emerges victorious. Just saying.

Anyway, this billboard really bothered me, and I know I have a few editors (or at least word-conscious folks) who read this blog, so I figured you would appreciate it. If you see this billboard, just picture a bucket of raging mothers of Bambi, and it will give you a good giggle.

*And just a side note, I really, inexplicably hate the word "bucket;" you know I'm dedicated to this post, because I think I used it five times, including in this side note. And you all think I don't love you.


A little message from my sister and me

I am exhausted from this class/commuting, so I had to blow off a little steam. Aren't you lucky!


At least it still involves words...

I'll admit, I have been doing very little writing lately. Especially here, on my poor neglected blog. But I have two posts in the works right now, both centered around the books I've read since Christmas: The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose and The Shack by William P. Young. They are both incredible books that everyone should read. So, my few but faithful, hopefully I'll be back with two exciting posts in the next two days.

I'm taking a class in Washington, D.C. this week, so hopefully my time on the train will give me time to write. Love you all! Happy New Year!