Monday, February 22, 2010

Our daily bread

I must admit that uur sweet little house was a bit of an impulse buy.

We were planning on living in our one-bedroom apartment for at least another year or so, when through a few twists and turns, we found ourselves realizing that we probably COULD afford a house sooner rather than later.

We looked online. We drove around. We looked at a house that looked like it would be really cool....and it was really gross. Like, GROSS. This process took us all of, oh, a week. The day we looked at the gross house, my mom was with us. Matt had made a little list of houses he had seen for sale on one end of town, so the three of us toot-tooted around the south-side streets of Holland. Every one of them I ix-nayed. And then we drove by this one.

And to me it just said, "Hi." And I said, "Matt, I LOVE that house!" It was For Sale by Owner. We saw it the next day, loved it, and made an offer. And that was that.

If you've ever watched "Property Virgins" on HGTV, you'll know that Sandra says that's a big no-no. Oh well, we were property virgins and now we have a sweet little house.

I love our house. But there are things I do wish were different. I wish we had one more bedroom. At the time, I thought, "Fab! A room for us and one for a kid!" and now I think, "Fab. A room for us, one for a kid, but where does anyone else sleep?" A second bathroom - even just a half bath - would be divine. The stairs up to our room (the whole upper half-story) are very steep, and I have horrible visions of a three-year-old trying to find me in the middle of the night and climbing up those stairs. I think, how on earth will we fit more than one or two kids in our house? What if we want to adopt? How do we save to adopt and save for a bigger house at the same time? Augh!!! Why didn't we think about this when we were looking for a house?

BUT - our house is exactly what we need for right now. Our daily bread. Not too much, not too little. Our mortgage payment is way less than we ever paid for rent. It's comfortable and a breath of fresh air at the end of the day.

But what would I do if I had a big house? (And "big" is a relative term: anything larger than 1090 sq. ft. with three bedrooms and two bathrooms would be "big").

I would sure have a lot more to clean. Minus.

We could entertain more people. Plus.

Our utilities would cost more. Minus.

We'd probably have something bigger than a one-butt bathroom. Plus.

Our house payment would be higher. Minus.

We could fill it with more kids (bio, adopt, foster, etc). Plus.

God laid it on our hearts about a month ago to think about what we would do should something happen to one of our friends, who is a single mom. The answer was a no-brainer: we would take in her kids. Funny thing (coincidence? I think not!), our friend approached Matt recently to broach that very subject. So Matt and I were talking about it last night and trying to figure out what we would do if we suddenly had these kids...I mean, we have this teeny house. How would we give everyone the privacy they need and keep them comfortable? Our conclusion was that if God were to allow that to happen, He would provide for us in only a way that He can. And we have to trust Him on that.

He would give us our daily bread. We might need a little more bread for that "day," and He would provide it.

I was driving to see a dear elderly woman from our church today and pick up her grocery list on my way to the store. On the way there, one of those thoughts pricked at my mind that come up from time to time: I would be twenty weeks this Saturday. As much as I try to put out of my mind where I would be if I were still pregnant, for some reason my mental calendar keeps peeling away the days and the weeks. Everyone knows twenty weeks is a milestone. And I thought, "Man, if things were different, I would be looking forward to that twenty week ultrasound next week, probably."

But things are not different. They are as they are. And I started to cry and pray and thank God that He knows way more about my life than I do. A couple of dear girls with whom I work struggled with infertility for YEARS...and both of them remind me that there is NOTHING that I can do to thwart God's plans (they both have beautiful children now, but the roads they walked while waiting for their children were arduous and washed with tears). There's nothing I can do to speed up or hold back the course of my life that God has ordained. I am so grateful for that. Anyway, I was wiping my tears with my mittens and thanking God in advance for however He would choose to bless us, and I felt a still, small voice inside. Not an audible one, not an overtly obvious one...but a small voice nonetheless.

I am going to fill your house with children.

I pictured our teeny little house, filled with children. Ones that we've had, ones we've adopted, ones we've taken in...and it looked marvelous!! And I thought, why on EARTH would I complain about our small house if it were filled with children? What a grand problem to have!

And I realized even then that He would give us our daily bread. If He can make a few tiny loaves of bread be more than enough for a crowd of 5000 to pig out on, He can make our house more than enough for those He will place inside it. Matt and I would love to have a family, and someday I'm certain we will, but that may look so different from what we even picture. Will we someday have a big house filled with children? I sure hope so. Maybe that's why He led us to our current little that He will have the opportunity to glorify Himself again by providing for us in circumstances that we would not have expected. I can't wait to see what the daily bread will be that He give us!

Friday, February 19, 2010


I copied some recipes this week out of a Vegetarian Times magazine I had borrowed from the library. I love VT's recipes because they're, well, normal. Some veggie recipes are just kind of weird. I guess the same can be said about some meaty recipes, though.

I've been reading a lot lately about the United States food industry and trust me, it's been quite eye-opening. I'm not normally a sensationalist, I consider myself fairly level-headed, and I'm no conspiracy theorist. But I also strongly believe, and I've probably said this before, that we need to be intelligent consumers and advocates for ourselves and our families. Advertising and strong government lobbies have had a heavy hand in what our culture believes about nutrition, for instance, and not strong scientific research. The same could be said about many things, I'm sure. I'm not advocating a life filled with suspicion and fear about every step you take, every pill you pop, every bite you eat. I'm advocating developing a habit of saying, "Huh. I wonder if what they said on the news/what I read in that magazine/what I heard from a coworker really is true. I might investigate that a little bit." Much of what we believe as a culture about health (you need gobs of vitamin C to stay healthy?), weight loss (low carb diets? Seriously?), medicine (don't get me started on the anti-vaccine campaign), and food (why are we as the wealthiest nation in the world also the sickest - highest rates of obesity, heart disease, type II diabetes, osteoporosis, and cancer, to name a few) is based on a touch of sensationalism and not a lot of truth.

I think of it this way: when I go to church, I sit in the pew and listen to my pastor. But I don't believe what he says because, well, he said so. No. I need to know God. I need to hide His Word in my heart (I'm working at it!) and test what I hear against what God Himself says. Just because a book I bought at a Christian bookstore says something doesn't mean it's biblical. There's a lot of stuff out there claiming to be truth but it's not Truth. I need to be committed to learning sound doctrine. What I believe about Christ can't be based on human opinion, because that changes on a daily basis. When I have doubts I need to press even harder into Him and His Word and seek out what is Truth.

If I need to do that in my most important relationship of all, shouldn't that be a template for the rest of my life?

I guess I like Truth. I like truth. Maybe it's partly just my personality. Research is fun. At work, I'm not a fan of doing things simply because that's the way it's been done since dirt was invented...I want to know if that's what's best for the patient and the family. If not, why can't we change? When I encounter someone (and this is something I'm working on, please don't think I'm trying to paint myself as anything other than what I am....someone in desperate need of a Savior every single day) who has a, shall we say, colorful history (see that a lot where I work), what's the story behind this person and why did she end up where she is today? Would I have ended up the same way if I were in her shoes?? And if so, who am I to look down on her? (Like I said, woooorrrrrkiinnnggg on this. Very, very difficult not to roll my eyes and make a snarky remark instead.) And I want to see well to the ways of my household. Is this cleaning product something I want to expose my family to? Does it matter? Do I want to take the chance? Huh. I'll use vinegar and lemons instead - they're cheaper anyway. Is this food that I've prepared healthy? Where did it come from? How are the people who work for that company treated? Who am I supporting? What am I supporting? A little digging here, a little investigating there, a couple of habit's really not that hard, and I think it's kind of fun.

Bottom line is, how can I be a good steward of everything God has given us - my money, my health, my home, and my planet?

Anyway, I originally wanted to share a recipe that won major thumbs-up the other night...and ended up yammering instead. It's for some stuffed peppers, and actually they're supposed to be quinoa stuffed peppers, but I used brown rice instead because it was quicker and cheaper overall. So here's my tweaked recipe (and I made just a half recipe for the two of us):

Quinoa (ahem, *rice*) stuffed peppers

2 T olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped (1 cup)
2 ribs celery, finely chopped (1/2 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced (2 t)
1 10-oz package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry (I just thawed in the microwave and left it at that)
2 15-oz cans diced tomatoes, drained with liquid reserved
1 15-oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
2 c brown rice
1 1/2 c grated cheese, divided
4 large bell peppers, halved lengthwise, ribs removed

1. Heat oil in saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and celery and cook five minutes, or until soft. Add garlic, saute one minute. Stir in spinach and drained tomatoes. Cook five minutes, or till most of the liquid has evaporated.

2. Stir in black beans and rice. Stir in 1 cup of cheese. Season with salt and pepper, if desired.

3. Preheat oven to 350. Pour liquid from tomatoes in bottom of baking dish.

4. Fill each pepper half with heaping amount of rice mixture and place in baking dish. Cover with foil and bake x1 hour (I baked for 40 minutes at 375, because I was running late, and it turned out fine). Uncover, sprinkle with remaining cheese, and bake a few minutes more.

Yum. It was oh-my-word-alicious!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A good dose of the best medicine

Yesterday I embarked on the craziest road trip with two friends from work. As many of you well know, I will go to great - and I mean GREAT - lengths to find myself standing in a Trader Joe's. I just can't explain the obsession. Matt and I, on any road trip that we take, will map out how to detour to the nearest TJoe's and PACK our cooler FULL of quirky, kitschy goodness. We wept when we moved to Colorado, who due to state liquor laws, will never maintain a TJoe's chain. We leaped for joy when we moved to Tucson, and were equidistant from TWO TJoe's (could life get any BETTER?). And we mourned yet again when we moved to Michigan, and the nearest TJoe's was 2.5 hours away.

So far, our Trader Joe's stomps have included San Francisco, CA; Walnut Creek, CA; Napa, CA; Tucson, AZ (downtown AND Oro Valley); St. Louis, MS; Madison, WI; Chicago, IL; Rochester Hills, MI; and now, Ann Arbor, MI.

Anyway, there's this clinical instructor from Hope (I'll call her MC). She intimidates students with her spit-fire attitude, high expectations, and amazing clinical skills and knowledge. But the woman is fun and crazy and FULL of life. She passionately loves her family and the Lord and laughter. She's no-nonsense and loud and large-and-in-charge. We both love Trader Joe's. And so we decided to take a road trip.

Enter my other friend Martine. NO ONE makes me laugh nearly as hard as Martine. She will SLAY me with stories told in a thick Dutch brogue (she's originally from the Netherlands, but she grew up here, so she only pulls the brogue when it'll sweeten the funny pot). When it's your birthday she'll sing a loud and unfettered Dutch birthday song that includes holding aloft your invisible stein. The stories she tells me of when she was a young mom (four of her five kids are grown) will reduce me to a tear-and-mascara smeared face that I have to wipe with the burp cloth of whoever I'm feeding at the moment (yes, I get a clean cloth out afterward!). Martine is as close to a throwback hippie as you'll ever get, one who homeschooled her kids well before it was popular and soaked lentils and baked her own bread. She also passionately loves her family and the Lord. She was a balm to my soul when I was first going through our loss, crying and praying with me and hugging me through our 12-hour shifts together. She is 100% mom and 100% friend. When I know I'm going to work with Martine, I actually look forward to my shift.

So MC and I planned our road trip, and then MC invited Martine along as well. Oh my goodness. Put the three of us in a car, and it was un. be. lievable.

I can't even begin to describe the scene we created in that West Michigan minivan. Dance jams were pumping, all three of us were dancing, and when we got lost in Ann Arbor trying to find Trader Joe's (the Google map lead us WAY astray), we were a laughing, shrieking, yelling mess. When we finally safely landed in our parking spot, we were breathless, exhausted, and had zero eye makeup left on our faces (save for what was still smeared on our cheeks). MC all but announced our arrival in Trader Joe's and danced her way down every aisle.

I have never been so exhausted from laughing in my life.

But I love that these ladies are so fun and adventurous and full of life. I want to be like MC ten years from now, and like Martine twenty years from now. Any stress that any of us may have felt in the past few weeks melted away and our souls were restored for at least another day.

See? Trader Joe's unites people and makes everything better.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Sitting backwards

This weekend I went to see my dear friend Renee in Chicago. We're both feeling like we've been burning it at both ends, and it was a welcome break from "things" (job-things, travel-things, schedule-things, you get it). I took Amtrak - which is just the sweetest way to travel (unless you're traveling overnight to upstate New York over the holidays during the first major snowstorm of the year, causing the tracks to freeze and all of your trains to be very, very delayed. Not that I know anything about THAT, but thought I'd throw that out there...). Drive a few blocks, hop on a train, read a book and enjoy the bucolic countryside as it seems to float by (until you hit Gary, Indiana *insert record scratch here*), and next thing you know, you're hopping off the train and waiting for your friend to circle the block again and do a classic drive-by pickup, after which you're totally on your way!!

Anyway, it was a quick overnight, and next thing you know, we're circling the block again and I'm deposited back on the sidewalk by Union Station and I'm on my way (I'm saying that more for effect because it fit my literary scheme here...Renee really did stop and park and we finished our conversation before I stepped gracefully out of the car). As I boarded the train, I took note of its orientation and chose the seats that would face forward as the train left the station. Because, like, who wants to ride backwards? Riding backwards in any vehicle just makes me think of being in the "way-back" of my friend's station wagon growing up, feeling carsick. Remember those way-back seats??

I settled in, and much to my dismay, I had lost my orientation and mis-thought in which direction the train would head....because next thing you know, guess who's being rocketed back in time to the way-back seat? Yours truly. I was like, 'Aw, scumbags....I'm going backwards. I really wanted to see where I'm going, not where I've been.' But I wasn't going to make a production of trying to find another seat on a fairly-full train, you know? So I dialed through my iPod until I found something suitable (Sarah McLachlan) and made up my mind to enjoy it.

There's something about Sarah McLachlan...have you listened to her before? She has a certain ability to string words together to form a lyric and a metaphor and sing them in such a way that I'm like, I'm so in a mood to think about something deep and profound right now. And now you're going to read the progeny of my deep, profound, and contemplative state, many thanks to Sarah Mac and a backwards-facing train seat.

I actually enjoyed riding backwards as we departed the city. No, I couldn't see where I was going. I could only see, a few beats after the fact, where I had just been. And that wasn't so bad. I got used to the going-backward feeling and it didn't bother me as much as I thought it would. But how like me (and you??) is that - to be so pell-mell on where I'm going, what my plans are, what's my next focus, that I forget to stop for a minute, turn my head, and look at the tracks that have been laid down behind me. Other people are going to travel on those tracks, undoubtedly. What can I tell them about that path?

At Renee's, she was a gracious hostess who insisted that I sleep in her room while she took the couch. After we had turned in, I took a mental tour of her room. Renee has a gift for maintaining her friendships, and the pictures that freckle her space prove it. But there was one shot in particular, one I've seen a hundred times, that suddenly arrested my thoughts. It's of the two of us, freshly turned off the stage following our nursing graduation (the "pinning" ceremony, where you receive your school's nursing pin). As per tradition (at that time, anyway), we were dressed in white, holding our roses, and squinting into the sunlight. One proverbial piece of track laid down behind us - nursing school - and that was it.

And I stared at that picture for the longest time, and it occurred to me: We had NO idea what we were getting ourselves into. And if I could step through that thin, cosmic veil of time and prepare myself for the next ten years, would I have dared to tell me what to expect?

I can't speak for Renee and her own mountain-load of experiences (she moved to Gallup, New Mexico shortly after we graduated), and man, she's had a ton of them. But holy cow, if I try to sift through the snapshots in my mind, I get lost. As I pause and look behind me at each piece of track that each experience bolted to the ground I've been walking, it humbles me. Excites me. Burdens me. Inspires me.

I remember being a nurse on the night shift on a medical-surgical unit. One thing I hated about the night shift was having to call a doctor and wake him or her up at O'dark:30. No one is very congenial at O'dark:30 and I don't blame them. I would suck in my breath, say to myself, "I'm not here to make friends," and dial the number. Ugh.

On the night shift on that same unit, I would round each hour to do checks on my patients (less because I was concerned about them sleeping and more to ensure they were BREATHING). Please don't think I'm crazy when I tell you this. But I'm serious as a heart attack when I tell you that on many - many - of those nights as I rounded alone in those dark hallways, I would see - just out of my peripheral vision - someone dressed in white scrubs standing in a patient's doorway just down the hall. As soon as I turned my head to see who was there, they were gone. Does God place His protective angels in the hospital and dress them in white scrubs? Maybe He does....and maybe He DOES....

Would I have had a good laugh with myself as I relayed the story of the fateful night when I decided that yes, it IS time for me to move on to the NICU...after admitting a homeless train-jumper with a gangrenous foot (bummer when you miss the train you're jumping on and it RUNS OVER a body part) and experiencing some of the foulest language ever directed at me, I promptly set down my clipboard, put my hands on my hips, and, um, starting telling HIM exactly what I thought about him and his nasty little mouth.

Did I know, when I first started to work with babies ("BAY-beez!!!") that I would hold more of them in my arms than I can count who had already passed from this life onto the next? Would I tell myself about one of my first nights off orientation in the NICU, when I watched a child go from seemingly okay to developing a gut infection, having a heart attack and dying - within ten hours?

And this sort of thing would happen repeatedly over the course of the next handful of years, and each time I would just have to find a way to sleep and return to work the following night?

Would I then remind myself that for every loss, devastation, or heartbreak would be miracles so amazing that you'd truly have to see them to believe them? Like the 14-ounce 22-weeker who actually survived and went home after spending the first year of his life in the hospital? And he was actually, for all practical purposes, okay?

Would I want to let myself in on the fact that I would actually develop the courage to go to parts of the country that I had never been, to live alone there, to navigate waters by myself? That I would meet people and do things that I never, EVER imagined I'd have had the courage to do?

Would I have wanted to clue myself into the little secret that I would actually meet my husband on one of those adventures??? Or would I hold out and let the suspense build?

Would I prepare myself for my own loss? Or can you paint your own picture of grief and expect even you to understand?

I could go on and on...every little decision, every big decision, every relationship built, every belted-out laugh, every tear I bawled...I can just hear the steel being fastened to the ties. Compared to many others', my track is still quite short, and a lot of it will be laid ahead of me. And I have no idea what it will bring. But swiveling the seat a bit is.....well, it's a lot like my mother-in-law has said to me: Our memories are like things packed in drawers. And every once in a while, you pull out a drawer and unpack it, examine the contents, smell the smells, hear the sounds, feel the feelings.....and then you tuck it all back in and shut the drawer until the next time.

So I put the picture back on the shelf and left myself and Renee suspended in May of 2001, clueless, unaware, and dreaming big. Today I'm suspended in February of 2010, clueless, maybe slightly more aware, and still dreaming big. I wonder what I'd be telling myself if I were looking at me...ten years from now.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Bummers

I've been fighting a case of The Bummers lately. The Bummers tend to hit around this time of year, and if you live in a cloudy, cold climate at the moment, you totally understand. I can't say that I have full-on SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder, thanks to zero sunlight or at least very little of it) or anything like that. It's more just a tendency to feel.....bummed. Like,'s cold - again. Bummer - there's not enough snow to play in, but there's enough on the sidewalk that I'll bite the dust if I try to go running outside. Bummer - there still exists the high potential for another whollop storm or two before we leave Bummer season. Bummer - I need to shovel the sidwalk again. Bummer - I keep turning the heat up. Bummer - I have to take the dog out to pee and robe myself with six layers for a grand total of ten seconds. Bummer - I miss the flowers, the sunshine, putting clothes out on my line, and having the windows open.

I think you get the picture. It's right around February that you start having visions of longer days filled with sunshine, walking out on the pier, going to the beach, buying flowers at the Farmer's Market, all that stuff. Or you have visions of selling everything you own and hitting the road to move to San Diego. Don't think we haven't talked about it!

So what to do to combat the Bummers? Here are some of the things we've done (well, I don't think Matt ever really gets the Bummers, but I'll include him by default)...

1. Join Netflix. A monthly fee, and a neat little red envelope pops up in the mailbox. A good movie, a nice hot bowl of popcorn, and a warm fleece blanket chases the Bummers away pretty well for an evening. And we didn't even have to go out to Blockbuster and pick through a bunch of flicks we've never heard of.

2. An annual Lord of the Rings marathon. It's just that good.

3. Plans with friends. Coffee dates. Dinners out. Game nights (not that we've done that yet, but it SOUNDS fun!). Quick weekend trips.

4. Exercise!!!! This has been a life-saver! I discovered how cool the hospital's "gym" is that is free for employees - WHY have I been dinking around with gym memberships??? I ran downtown with my friend Nancy the other day - downtown Holland's sidewalks are heated and therefore one is less prone to totally biff in the winter (if you do, it's YOUR fault, NOT the snow's!), and while it was dang COLD, it felt good. And it was sunny.

5. Keeping the radio on - my current fave is Moody Radio. I love to listen to sermons and speakers and the news and music, and Moody has all of the above. And it pumps good stuff into the atmosphere of our home. I find that what I listen to profoundly affects my attitude.

6. Looking forward to summer!!! Planning a garden, talking about how much we look forward to our favorite activities (we love going to the beach for an after-dinner walk), going to the Farm...when we start thinking about it, we start to realize it WILL be here before we know it!!

7. Of course, hauling out the National Geographic mags, scissors, tape, and my Dream Book NEVER hurts!

8. Cooking!!! I went to the library the other day and checked out a bunch of Vegetarian Times magazines. The glossy pictures of bright fruits and vegetables make me want to jump up and get my chef on!! Even the lady who checked me out was swooning over the veggie kabobs pictured on one of the covers. If I have to cook in order to see some color, then cook I will.

9. Learning something new. Lately I've been fascinated with cooking with whole foods and learning more about nutrition. As a result, tons of people have come out of the woodwork asking for advice on dealing with food allergies, recipes, etc. VERY FUN! I'm eating it up, so-to-speak. I just finished reading "In Defense of Food" by Michael Pollan, and "Fast Food Nation" by Eric Schlosser, and am now moving on to "The Omnivore's Dilemma," also by Pollan. I simply find it fascinating and fun.

10. Finally...dreaming. Dreaming about things we'd love to do definitely cures the Bummers. Should we....go on a short-term missions trip someday? Where would we go if we took a year off to travel around the world (like YOU, Cynthia!!)? What would we do if we could buy that huge Victorian house on 15th Street that has, like, a hundred rooms in it...would we take in a ton of foster kids or troubled pregnant teens or adopt a ton of kids or what?? My friend Susanne and I are meeting for coffee next week to just...dream a few dreams. Well, it's more specific than that, but I'm not sharing it yet. We'll see what we come up with. ;)

And even writing this post has provided a quick Bummer remedy!! Hey man, winter isn't such a bummer after all!! (And don't get me wrong - I do love a good, cold, snowy winter. But I like to play outside...and this winter has been pretty mild, so the "fun" snow has become more slushy, and when it's gray and slushy, THAT'S when it's not fun anymore!)

Anyway, if you're feeling The Bummers, take heart. Plan a movie night, a junk food night, a trip to the library to get a stack of magazines, have a game night, plan a day trip...SOMETHING!!! Very soon the smell of elephant ears and the sound of Dutch Dancers will be fixed on us, and the Bummers will be....SUMMER!