2013 in review

Thanks, The Readership, for your part in making these stats what they are. Happy 2014, one and all!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 19,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.


Going Home for Christmas

Family Friday

Grandma G* died on Christmas Eve, two days before her 98th birthday.

I was highly aware that Christmas is supposed to be the worst time to lose a loved one, and she really is a loved one, and it was Christmas. I was aware that this not only complicated Christmas for my parents, who were out in the Midwest visiting the BroFam, but that this would deeply affect my father, because this is his Mother we’re talking about. I was also aware of not feeling anything myself. By which I mean anything, about anything–not sorrow, not fear, not happiness, not hilarity, not even a feeling as easy to access as annoyance.

I certainly didn’t feel “Christmassy” anymore (whatever that feeling is), although I had been gearing up to it before I got the phone call–but at the same time, I had this flash of realisation that Grandma G is now in a better position to celebrate Christmas than any of the rest of us left here. If there’s really a God, and He really became one of us so we could be reunited to Him–well, then, for Grandma G, that reunion is fully accomplished. It is finished. Or truly begun. She’s been moving toward this moment her whole life.

Some Christians think we die and immediately are transported to the presence of Jesus, and some think there’s some sort of holding area which we only get to leave after Jesus has come back here to get everyone else, and some people believe in Purgatory, and some people believe in a sort of unconscious stasis until the Second Coming and some people believe something entirely different, I guess. My own view fluctuates, but I definitely don’t think time works the same way on “the other side” as it does here, and so it didn’t feel remotely inaccurate or “wishful think-y” when I posted on facebook:

Merry Christmas, Grandma G. I guess the arms of Jesus are a good place to be celebrating both His birthday and your 98th. #loveyou

26 December 1915 - 24 December 2013

26 December 1915 – 24 December 2013

There’s this weird kind of tension in living when you know that (through no effort of your own) you’re going to get to see Jesus actually in person when you’re done getting to know Him and His love in this life. It’s not like you have a death wish, but waiting for the next thing might be kind of like waiting for Christmas. The Apostle Paul described it pretty well:

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. (Philippians 1.21-26, ESV)

Apparently when TWCN and Smiley-Guy were told that G.G. had died and gone to be with Jesus, TWCN was excited for her. That’s my girl. She knows what’s what. So does Grandma G.


Portal, Stone Table, Empty Tomb . . . nobody just stays in the ground

Portal, Stone Table, Empty Tomb . . . nobody just stays in the ground

* In case you were hoping I was going to say something more eulogical about Grandma herself, remember, Memory Monday is coming up . . .

Phil Robertson and Sin: A Christmas Post

Word-y Wednesday/Theology Thursday Two-fer

Today, my Paul and I spent half of our Christmas at Brother-John‘s. It was boisterous and happy, and crowded with friends and family. Two friends started asking us in some detail about our faith, so we had a fairly intense (if frequently interrupted) conversation. During no part of that conversation did any of us, at any time, mention Duck Dynasty. But I feel that our conversation touched on a topic related to the brouhaha that developed around that show last week–namely, sin.

Phil Robertson

Whatever his other faults, this guy seems pretty clear about the fact that he’s a sinner.

I don’t typically blog about current events, and that’s partly why I waited until now to say anything about the shenanigans that ensued after Phil Robertson’s interview with GQ. (After all, an event is hardly current when a week has elapsed, right?) Actually, I still don’t want to. Maybe someday I’ll discuss my own take on homosexuality here–but I don’t have any plans to do so. I don’t watch the show (maybe two episodes) so I’m not overly invested in it. I think there were some better ways Robertson could have answered the interview questions which got him in so much trouble, and still have avoided compromising his beliefs, but he didn’t. If A&E were getting fed up with the “religious” bent of this family, as the scuttlebutt goes, they probably could have communicated that better, too, but they didn’t. Double-standards, which flew fast and furiously from both sides of the ideological drama that followed the interview, drive me completely bonkers, but I don’t really want to talk about those, either.

What I want to talk about is something that came up in the Robertson interview, and in our conversation this evening, and which I believe has a whole lot to do with Christmas. While I recognise that a whole lot of things on both sides of the aisle contributed to last week’s kerfuffle, I think a misunderstanding of Phil Robertson’s (and many, many other Christians’ through the ages) concept of sin was part of the problem. A lot of people got bent out of shape that Robertson “compared homosexuality to bestiality,” but I don’t think that’s where the offense lies. If you want to get offended about something, get offended at the idea that a) everybody sins and b) all sin separates us from God. I happen to believe that myself (and about myself), and I think it’s entirely valid for me (or Robertson) not only to hold to that view but to talk about it, but I do get that it’s not a popular one.

From that perspective, there’s really no grade of severity between, say, not paying back a loan of a couple of bucks, and bestiality. None of us are exempt from the charge of sinner, because we’ve all violated God and/or each other and/or our environment at some time or another. There may be a difference between sins in terms of temporal consequences, social acceptability, what have you, but in terms of marring the image of God and throwing up barriers between us and Him? It’s all devastating. From that perspective also, it’s more or less irrelevant what the specific sin is.

So here’s where Christmas comes in. By which I mean, here’s where Christ comes in. By which I mean, here’s where God steps in. We’re all broken mirrors, folks, made to reflect the image of God but only managing to do so to an extent, in shards and fragments. Furthermore, we can’t fix ourselves. It’s endemic. Something cosmic happened at the beginning of the world at the hands of human beings (who, not realising how godlike we already were, decided to try to make ourselves like God). This cosmic brokenness and rebelliousness got into the DNA of the Universe, and not one of us is born capable of consistently not sinning.

But God is capable. And God loves us. And God knows that the most fulfilled we will ever be is when we are in such a restored relationship with Him, that He shines right out of us. But what do you do when a relationship is broken? Someone has to make the first move. So God did. Rather than lording it over us, rather than saying (as the smirk-worthy bumper-sticker says) “Don’t make me come down there!” rather than forcing Himself and His ways on us, He took our nature on Himself, and showed up here, on our very own planet, in a barn in an occupied country, on our footing.

Pretty much the antithesis to God's approach, actually . . .

Pretty much the antithesis to God’s approach, actually . . .

Then, because He was and is completely internally consistent–He knew who He was and didn’t need to try to be more Godlike, or even to hang on to His divinity, He lived a divinely perfect human life and took the brokenness and guilt and rebellion–yes, sin–of all of us onto Himself, and wiped it out. We’re free, if we want it, and then He leads us into all truth, and into a lifestyle that reflects Him. It’d behoove us not to forget that this transformation, this restoration, is never instantaneous, and like addicts, every single one of us–from the Robertsons to me to A&E–will struggle with sin in this life. (Whether we admit to it is another matter, I guess, but not the topic of this post.) No matter what side of the aisle we’re on, we should extend grace to each other, because (to mix a metaphor) we’re really all in the same boat on this one, no matter what we think the sins of Those Other People are.

Because of Christmas, there’s a God who struggled with sin, too, and beat it. He’s paid off our debt already. Now He wants to help us beat sin, too, one day at a time.

That’s pretty much what I tried to tell our friends this evening, whether or not they got it. I think that is what Phil Robertson was trying to say, too, even if nobody got that either. But don’t take our word for it.  There’s a way better Word than that.

The Word who became flesh and made His dwelling among us.

The One who became flesh and made His dwelling among us.

Cardamom Bread

Memory Monday

Grandma M is Swedish. Lately one of her recurring stories is how she was conceived on the boat between the USA and Sweden, or Sweden and the USA, or maybe she was conceived in Sweden and then her parents returned to the USA . . . anyway, she has some kind of Swedish connexion that the rest of her siblings don’t have, and in raising her children, and then grandchildren, it seems the two most important things for any of us to be are Christians and Swedish. It’s hard to tell which one is more important. Or maybe, to her, they are inextricable.

Maybe for this reason Christmas and Swedishness seem to me to go together as well, and so my freshman year in college, I decided to provide  my roommate and two suite-mates with a St Lucia Day celebration. Since this was one Swedish practice I had been told about for years but which we had never actually instituted in my family, I kind of made up what to do . . . which was to make a wreath to wear on my head (in this case, lacking other relevant supplies, I made it out of strips of index cards stapled together, wrapped with green tinsel-garland, and with rolled up index cards affixed in intervals to be candles–they had gold tinsel on top) and make a cardamom bread to serve them on a tray with hot chocolate or something (since none of us were coffee drinkers at the time) for breakfast.

This was going to be tricky, because at least two of them had 8 o’clock classes and we lived in a dorm, with a public and insufficiently stocked kitchen–as per dorms. Plus, I really didn’t want Roommate-Sarah to catch me down there making her secret cardamom bread. (Note: I have had three Roommate Sarahs. This was the first one.)

So I went to an upperclassmen dorm where I knew someone, and I took my cardamom bread mix (limited resources, folks, limited resources) and added water or whatever, and mixed it. And waited for it to rise. And waited, and waited, and waited. It didn’t rise, so finally I formed it into a ring and put it on a baking tray and stuck it in the upperclassmen dorm oven.

The oven turned out to be abnormally small . . . for the enormous Jabba-the-Hutt-type creation that emerged from it. Apparently the bread decided to do all its rising in there, and it overflowed the tray to such an extent I didn’t really have anything to put it on. I also was completely out of time to let it sit and cool, so I thanked my hostess, grabbed my homework, threw the strangely bloated loaf into a clean, never-before-used garbage bag, and headed back to the dorm.

The next plan was to drop the bread off at a friend’s on another floor of my same dorm, so none of my living companions would suspect anything. I made the drop, skedaddled back to my own room, and went to bed. And got up again at 5 o’clock in the morning. I ran up the stairs, sneaked into my suspecting friend’s room, and grabbed the garbage bag of spiced carbohydrates. I opened the bag and . . . the entire loaf, not having cooled properly the night before, was completely soggy. (Carbohydrates, indeed.)

What ensued was a desperate dash from the top floor of the dorm to the basement, and various and sundry attempts to dry out the sodden loaf before Roommate Sarah or either of my two suite-mates woke up to get ready for class. I tried the microwave. I tried the standard oven. I sneaked into my suitemates’ room, where the heater was blasting, and put it on top of the heater. Finally, in complete desperation, I brought it into our bathroom and took the blowdryer to it.

It worked! Just in time, too. Quickly I made us some hardboiled eggs in our hot-pot, and just as Jenny-the-Suitemate started stirring, I burst into her room with cardamom bread, eggs, margarine for spreading, and some sort of hot beverage. Her roommate Jacquie got the same treatment, and Roommate Sarah got the rest. I probably told them about my entire ordeal with the bread. Happily, none of them were germophobes, I guess, because everybody ate it.

Everybody's smiling, at least.

Everybody’s smiling, at least.


The Gingerbread Baby

Family Friday

On December 2nd, my Paul, my parents and I received an email via Sister-in-Lu from TWCN’s kindergarten teacher. This is what it said:

During the month of December, it has been a tradition in my classroom to have fun with a Gingerbread Baby.  I introduce my stuffed Gingerbread Baby to the class and we read the story by Jan Brett.


I tell them that the Gingerbread Baby likes to run off and hide from me so we have to watch him carefully.  Sure enough, theGingerbread Baby goes missing during our school day.  That’s where you come in.  I would love it if you would contact friends and family to write to our class, letting us know they have spotted our Gingerbread Baby.  It is fun if they tell us they saw him somewhere that has something to do with where they live.  For example, he has been spotted at a Packer’s football game, riding on Grandpa’s tractor, at the Liberty Bell, etc.
The students have so much fun with this activity!  They especially enjoy when the letter comes from someone they know.  
I will introduce my friend on Monday before Thanksgiving break.  I would like to receive letters between Dec. 2 and 18th.  The Gingerbread Baby will make a surprise return on Dec. 20th.

My Paul and I didn’t really get our story in quite soon enough, I guess, but Sister-in-Lu read our letter to TWCN (The World’s Cutest Niece) who, by all reports, loved it. It was a joint effort. Can you figure out who wrote which bits?

Dear Mrs. Johnson,

Your Gingerbread Baby had such a nice time in New England with TWCN’s  Grammie and Grandpa, that he decided to run back there and visit her Auntie Jenn and Uncle Paul, too. By this time, the house was all decorated for Christmas, so guess where they found him?

photo by Jennwith2ns 2013

Merry Christmas!

That’s right—under the Christmas tree. He was sitting on the sled underneath it and playing with the silver castle ornament that Auntie Jenn got from Ireland. Auntie Jenn lifted him up so he could hang an ornament on the Advent calendar, and what do you know? It was an ornament of himself!

Gingerbread gingerbread

Gingerbread gingerbread

After that she let him down so he could look at the Nativity scene. This one had Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus, a cow, a donkey, a shepherd, three wise men . . . and a squirrel!

I think he forgot to bring a gift . . .

I think he forgot to bring a gift . . .

The wise men were bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The squirrel didn’t want to feel left out, so he brought an acorn. Gingerbread Baby thought this was funny, but he really started laughing when he felt someone tickling him. The dogs Shemp and Oscar had started licking his feet. Gingerbread Baby didn’t realize that Shemp and Oscar reeeeally liked the taste of gingerbread! Just as they were getting ready to take a big bite, Uncle Paul came over, picked up Gingerbread Baby, and made the dogs go and lie down. 

Who, us?

Who, us?

Gingerbread Baby asked Uncle Paul if he could visit with the fishies that Hannah and Patrick caught last summer. Uncle Paul brought him down to the dock, but the pond was covered in ice and snow, and the fishies were tucked in their beds for a long winter snooze. It was bright and sunny, so Uncle Paul and Auntie Jenn decided to take Gingerbread Baby with them for a snowshoe around the pond. When they got back, Auntie Jenn made hot chocolate with mini marshmallows to warm them up. Gingerbread Baby had to get going, so he gave them a big hug and headed out for his next adventure.

 Gingerbread Baby1

Hope he gets back to you soon!

Auntie Jenn and Uncle Paul

Until Next Time

Saturday Snippets


You might have noticed that I haven’t been around much, lately. I’ve been writing . . . and writing . . . and writing . . . for Seminary. Which hasn’t left me much (read any) time to write here. And then, those moments this fall when I did have time, I still had so few visitors it was just kind of demoralising. (Thank you, though, to The Readership who did stop by, like, and occasionally comment or even newly follow. Because you were here, and that means a lot.) I was getting demoralised anyway, because I do that sometimes, but then I realised that because I am also reading . . . and reading . . . and reading . . . for Seminary, I also haven’t had time to read your blogs, so it’s really not surprising that I’m completely off most people’s radar.

I’d like to think I might have a little more time for posting during, say, Christmas week, but yesterday I finished the last of my ten mini, 2-page, expository personal application papers (don’t know what that means? I finished ’em and I’m still not sure), and today I will be commencing an integrative paper (also not sure about that one) and Monday I will begin studying for an exam. Then in January, because they are closing down the Seminary and I want to get as many classes done as possible before they do, I will be taking two classes. That’s right, two. In one month.

All that to say . . . I don’t see this non-blogging, non-blog-reading trend ending any time soon. I want to take this opportunity right now to apologise for the non-reading part. I know, a couple of you think I’ve been ignoring you. It hasn’t been on purpose! I can’t wait until I get back to a more normal schedule and start interacting with you for real again. I’m not going to pretend I will be able to do that for the next couple of months, but I’m keeping you all on my “following” list so I can see what you’re up to when I get back.

As far as encountering any Jenn stories . . . I’m trying to post one- to two-sentence snippets on the Jenn story page on Facebook at least once a day, and occasionally on Twitter, but I (not so secretly anymore) kind of hate Twitter and my posts are usually just slightly too long for that format. So if you’re on Facebook, please go over there and like that page, and feel free to pester me there so I don’t miss you too much. I’ll hie myself back over here when I can, but in case that doesn’t happen before the end of the month, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year . . . and whatever else you’re celebrating!

At our house, EVERYbody celebrates Christmas. Although someone should probably warn that squirrel about offering acorns . . .

At our house, EVERYbody celebrates Christmas. Although someone should probably warn that squirrel about offering acorns . . .

How Do You Plan to Nurture Your Spiritual Formation After Seminary?

Theology Thursday
This is the final installment of a paper I wrote for my Spiritual Formation Class. For context, please see Parts One and Two and Three. And also maybe The Seminary.

“After seminary” appears to be closer, maybe, than I at first expected, so I should certainly be forming a plan by now. For most of my adult life I’ve tried to maintain a relationship with at least one mentor at any given time. Both sides of the mentoring coin are vital for spiritual formation. I hope to maintain a connection with my current two mentors in future and I also have a moderately changing but mostly consistent network of prayer partners to whom I send emails a few times a year. Even if my current mentoring relationships grow more distant, I hope to be proactive in finding both someone to mentor me and someone for me to mentor, as I am currently doing with a young woman at the church where I work.

I certainly expect and hope to maintain a regular habit of Bible reading and journaling/prayer; in fact, I trust I will grow in this area again—or possibly revert, as I used to be more disciplined about it than I find I am now. I also hope that my husband and I will be able to continue to grow together spiritually in mutual accountability, worship together, and common life.



The Tuesday Reblog

It would take far too long, and maybe still not even be possible, to explain why this poem hits me the way it does, but sometimes I just have to post things here that I wish I had written myself.

Cooking Fail, or You Probably Should’ve Stayed Home That Day

Memory Monday

Looking back on it, I wonder if my teachers in junior high and high school kind of dreaded assigning major projects when I was in the class to which they were assigning them. I have never been one to Keep It Simple, Stupid, and neither has my Dad, honestly, who was usually the one to help me with these projects. There was this really ill-fated “simple” machine experiment designed by Dad when I was in 9th grade, for example. I’m trying to get in touch with that teacher to see if he still, by some miracle, has the video he took of it, so I can show you what I mean.

The rest of the time, I came up with the crazy ideas on my own, and my dad helped me. I have many such projects I could tell you about, but Friday’s story about the Indian pudding reminded me of the Food Projects. (There were a few, but today I’ll just tell you about one.) The reason it reminded me of the Food Projects is because . . .

In 8th grade we were learning about Native American tribes and each of us had to pick one and research it and then make something to present to the class by a certain date. I don’t know if it’s because my birthday is in the summer and I never got to bring cupcakes to class to celebrate it like everyone else, and so therefore I was subconsciously trying to make up for it, but to me, “share it with the class” made me think of food, and so I decided to make acorn pudding. I regret to say I no longer remember which tribe I chose to research, nor do I remember what I found out about them–besides that they lived in the Northeast like me and that they occasionally ate acorns–because the project became so acorn-centric that I really pretty much lost the plot probably even before I made the presentation.

Even as a child, I’ve been one of those people who can’t stand to waste things, and also who likes to find uses for things that appear to be useless. I already knew the tops of acorns were great for whistling–which was helpful since I’m not very good at whistling otherwise. But squirrels and other animals eat acorns, and I had probably been wondering for a few years already about whether people could eat them. It turned out they used to, and what was more, this book I found had something of a recipe for this pudding that this Native American tribe had, evidently, used to make and eat.

So I went into the back yard and harvested acorns. There were a lot of acorns. I harvested a lot of acorns. Then I had to get the meat out of all of them. Then I had to boil them to soften them. They smelled terrible, but this was my project, and I was pretty excited to find out that you could eat acorns, so I wasn’t going to let anything like an acrid aroma put me off or anything. Nor, apparently, the fact that the book I was using noted that sometimes some acorns are poisonous or something. I must have “neglected” to tell my parents that part, because I can’t quite believe they would have countenanced my continuing on with this project and then feeding it to my classmates. Either that or they were pretty sure no one would actually try it.

After the acorns were boiled, I think I had to mash them, and mix them with corn meal and . . . some other stuff. I really don’t remember what the other stuff was, but the resulting mash ended up looking exactly like my Paul’s Indian pudding. It didn’t taste anywhere near as good, though. I do recall dumping inordinate amounts of sugar into the mess in a desperate attempt to make it palatable, but I was totally unsuccessful. In the end, I just spread it in a 9″ by 13″ glass casserole dish, baked it, and brought it to school the next day. Everybody got a slice on a napkin in class. I’m not sure how many people, besides me, actually tried it.

I am happy to report, however, that nobody died.