Thursday, May 27, 2010


In blog world, I am M.I.A, I know. To my city life, I am definitely M.I.A as well. I'll be back. But for now, wanna know where I am?

I'm away for several days, tucked in a rural utopia of a white wrap-around porch, wicker furniture and rocking chairs nestled amongst flowers and watering cans, a brick patio lightly shaded by a white pergola, gardens, trees, lush green grass, brats on the grill, fresh strawberries out of the garden, sisters and brothers and teeny nephews and niece, and a quilt to snuggle under tonight with summer breeze coming through the window screens.

I am home.

And I am red, very red. Something about the bliss of this perfect summer day and home and memories and my niece's giggles in the pool made me forget entirely, or just entirely not care, about SPF. Ouch. But somehow, it's kinda a good ouch. Makes me feel alive, carefree, and summer-ish.

My mom says I burned because "Chicago makes me white." She's got a point.

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Book to Top the Summer Reading List

Chances are, a good majority of you are totally ahead of me on this one.

But in case you, like me, hadn't read Francis Chan's "Crazy Love" as soon as it was fresh off the press and entered the conversation in churches and colleges countrywide, know that this book is well-deserving of making it onto your summer reading list. It was at the top of my list, and it so got my summer-reading- momentum rolling, as I was able to place a check mark beside it after just a couple sittings- it's really that simple and engaging of a read.

Sound too good to be true?
Ok, here's the thing- what isn't so quick and easy about this read is processing its content. After scribbling in my journal and highlighting the heck out of the book, I'm still left thinking. Thinking, thinking, thinking.

And here's the other thing- this book doesn't just move around the "furniture" inside my head. It asks me to rearrange the furniture in my life.

To make more room for giving.

To make more room for touching the unlovely, the unseen.

To make more room for loving not the lovable people in my life, but the unlovable.

Moving my furniture around is hard, because it's heavy and set in place, and I've become accustomed to where things are. Hardest of all, my current arrangement is most comfortable.

But I have to ask myself, who is it most comfortable for? For me.

We are taught to think that our lives should seek to establish personal comfort above all else. And I want that. The problem is, when I read my Bible, when I read the "Crazy Love" book, when I read through Jesus' stories and teachings, I don't see "personal comfort" as the main piece in the arrangement- I see generosity, service, sacrifice, love.

So as you might guess, I have a sofa or two to move around.

Now you're probably thinking that you like your furniture where it is too, and relatedly, are thinking of picking up any other book than "Crazy Love." But opening the pages of "Crazy Love" opens you to a fresh and profound understanding of God's love, His crazy love, for you. And comprehending that love makes you want to get off the couch and give it a shove.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Long Weekend Called Summer

It happened. Students studied through exam week, packed up their dorm rooms, and moved out for the summer. It all happened so quickly, and suddenly, summer is here!

The last night before all the students were to be officially checked out and on to their summer destinations, I felt so blue about everyone leaving. Neal and I sat down in the plaza late at night, drinking tea, and watching students mingle and say their good-byes to the city and to one another. I don't much like good-byes. Especially after a year of such meaningful relationships. Man, did these Moody students make our first year a good one.

[CREW: Neal's RA small group this year.]

But I awoke the next morning to that delicious feeling of realizing that it's the weekend. Yes, one big, looong, wonderful weekend called "summer" has arrived! Hardly knowing yet how to take it in, Neal and I headed out to one of our favorite parks along the lake. We found the perfect bluff to shelter us from the chilly wind and on which to lay back and tilt our faces toward the warmth of the sun. Heaven.

We laid flat on our backs on that hillside for... almost two hours.

It was simple, real relaxation. A perfect deep breath between the year and the summer ahead.

We talked about the year, and then we'd just lay in silence...we'd process some more about some aspect of the spring or fall semester, and then drift off again, all the while soaking in that vitamin D. We told God how thankful we are to Him
for the privilege of doing of ministry at Moody. I had to tell Neal over and over how proud I am of how hard he worked this year and how well he did, because I just am.... so proud. And the way he took care of me month after month on top of his work day- there's just not words to describe his feat of faithful love and service this year. Thank you, Neal. Thank you, God. And is this sun really so warm it feels like I might be getting a little color on my face? Thank you again, God.

Right over the bluff was this:
Summer, you're here, and we are so happy to welcome you!

For me and Neal, summer goes from now until August 1. Neal still works in the office, but we have several weeks of vacation and lots of long, lazy evenings.

With calendar in hand, I mapped our summer:

Summer: 11 weeks
Days home in Chicago: 40
Days spent with families throughout the summer: 21
Days on vacation in Florida, just the two of us: 13

Here's a peek into a few of my summer hopes and plans:

yoga. reading. cooking. baking. exploring Chicago neighborhoods. farmers markets. spring cleaning and organizing my apartment. calligraphy. scooter rides every evening. a picnic at Buckingham Fountain. Lakeshore path bike rides. having my first Chicago-style hot dog. and so many more things that Neal finds it necessary to remind me that rest is in the plans as well.

And of course, longer visits with family, and welcoming my sister Tiff's new baby! Yummy, my favorite!

Please pray with me that God will bring about total healing to my body this summer, and that He will help Neal and I to persevere and experience His comfort and hope until complete healing does come. Until then, I will tuck these summer hopes and plans into my "good days" and at an easy pace. We'll taste life as it comes. There's so much to taste here in Chicago!

"I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let you heart take courage; wait for the Lord!" Psalm 27:13-14

Mother's Day Much-ness

When Dr. Stowell was president of Moody during my first year as a student, he used to talk about what he called the "much-ness" of God. By this he meant that there's so much of God to love and to know, and then so much that we're not even able to comprehend.

Well, the idea of "much-ness" came to my mind when thinking about our Mother's Day weekend. There was just so much to it! A drive to Indianapolis, a family dinner with grandparents we seldom see, an international send-off for brother-in-law, a mini over-night vacation at a local hotel, a baby dedication, a Mother's Day party, a drive back to the Chicago suburbs, and another Mother's Day celebration. All in the span of 30 hours. Much, yes?

Starbucks, yes?

We had a really great time. It helps that Neal and I looove car trips together. Chat, dream, process, plan, and a little music, and then we're there.

After meeting up at a yummy steakhouse with the family for dinner and catching up all around was had by all, Neal and I "retired to our hotel" that Neal's grandpa kindly booked for us. Doesn't that just sound sophisticated? We usually don't stay in a hotel when we go visit family, but man, there was something to it.

I'd love to introduce you to my Anderson family. Some of you know them well, others have met them before, and others have never seen the faces of this side of my newly married life (almost 4 years can still count as newly-wed, can't it?)

On the two ends are Neal's two brothers, Grant and Blake. Next to Blake is his wife Cassie and their twins, Halie and Addie. Then of course us, and in the middle is Grandpa Anderson.

Here Neal's sweet parents have joined in the back there.

Now for the whole family with Neal's other side, the Rolphe grandparents.

Neal and I with our red-headed nieces, Halie and Addie.
Being "Auntie Ash" is very near the top of my "these are a few of my favorite things" list. And I think "Uncle Neal" enjoys it almost as much, if not with the same "cute-baby-dresses-are-jumping-into-my-cart-for-my-nieces" exuberance that seems to plague me.
I love being an auntie!!
Can that be my job?
Another reason for our trip to Indy to see the Anderson clan was to see Neal's brother, Grant, off for his 2-year trip to the Dominican Republic. He will be working as a counselor there at a camp for troubled adolescents. We're so proud of him, excited for him, and sent our love with him via a large bag of candy- he says it made it through customs!

On the road again.

Waiting 15 minutes at the drive-through Starbucks. 15 min.= not a lot of time to get from here-to-there. 15 min.= a lot of time to wait at a drive through.

My mom's gift (Intelligensia coffee!), all ready and waiting for her. Just three more hours, and we'll be there...

As much as I feel I am always pulling out my camera, I forgot to take a picture celebrating Mother's Day with my momma and family. We ended up at a diner called "The Colonial Cafe." Very fun. And she
loved her Intelligensia coffee. She emailed me the next day frantic saying that she had her regular 4:00pm Starbucks and it "tasted like tree bark!" Sorry, Mom, for ruining you. I'll be sure to make your Intelligensia delivery when I come next week!

For Neal and I, family is one of our greatest priorities and deepest loves, and we are so thankful for both of our families. Living amongst sky-scrapers and coffee shops will never take that love away. See you all soon!

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Puritan's Prayer

First of all, hello gorgeous day! Aren't these the days that make you so exultant that summer is finally just about here?

While students are hauling cartloads of their belongings across the plaza, and cars are jammed into the visitor lot waiting to pick up students and take them home for the summer, we stole away with Starbucks breakfast to this beautiful spot south of the city. The couple pictured with Neal and I above are students who asked us to do their pre-marital counseling this year. Let me tell you, it was one of my favorite parts about this year. I'd love to do more in the future and continue to grow in serving couples in this way!

[To see where I received my certification in pre-marital counseling, and to see how you can become certified too, visit]

Neal and I are still new to this pre-marital counseling thing, so we're certainly still tweaking our process. But the closing ritual we tried today is one I want to make into a tradition: Go to a beautiful, memorable spot (if possible) and pray the Puritan's Prayer over them.

My dad prayed this prayer over Neal and I at our wedding, and there's something deeply satisfying and joyous about passing it on to other couples in our lives that are ready to step into marriage. This prayer paints the most beautiful heart and vision for marriage I've ever read.

The Puritan's Prayer

"Father in heaven, thank you for this husband-wife commitment to Christian marriage. As they look ahead, we pray that their future will never lack the convictions that make a marriage strong.

Bless this husband. Bless him as provider and protector. Sustain him in all the pressures that come with the task of stewarding a family. May his strength be his wife’s boast and pride, and may he so live that his wife may find in him the haven for which the heart of a woman truly longs.

Bless this wife. Give her a tenderness that makes her great. A deep sense of understanding and a strong faith in you. Give her that inner beauty of soul that never fades, that eternal youth that is found in holding fast to the things that never age. May she so live that her husband may be pleased to reverence her in the shrine of his own heart.

Teach them that marriage is not living for each other—it is two people uniting and joining hands to serve you. Give them a great spiritual purpose in life. May they seek first your kingdom and your righteousness knowing that you will sustain them thru all of life’s challenges.

May they minimize each other’s weaknesses and be swift to praise and magnify each other’s strengths so that they might view each other thru a lover’s kind and patient eyes. Give them a little something to forgive each day that their love might learn to be longsuffering.

Bless them and develop their character as they walk together with you. Give them enough hurts to keep them human, enough failures to keep their hands clenched tightly in yours and enough success to make them sure they walk with you throughout all of their life.

May they never take each other’s love for granted but always experience that breathless wonder that exclaims, “Out of all the world, you have chosen me!” Then when life is done and the sun is setting, may they be found then as now, still hand in hand, still very proud, still thanking you for each other.

May they travel together as friends and lovers, brother and sister, husband and wife, father and mother, and as servants of Christ until he shall return, or until that day when one shall lay the other in the arms of God. We ask through Jesus Christ, the great lover of our souls.


Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Corner Bakery Chat

5:30pm sun on the face.

Outdoor patio with flowers.

Corner Bakery chicken pomodori sandwhich on a pretzel roll.

The evening special: conversation.

After a short walk, Neal & I found ourselves at the corner of State and Cedar St. and decided to just sit down and have dinner- something so spontaneous as this we don't usually do, since we are both much more of the planner type. But tonight, we soaked in the evening sun, and the meaningful conversation that passed between us was especially.... needed. As we battle out this journey with Epstein Barr, we just keep talking, and processing, and trying to trust. Helping each other to trust.

Mostly, we discussed the content of this incredible message on suffering. It is given at Wheaton College by one of my most beloved psychology professors, a recent stroke-survivor. Follow the link here to listen. If you don't have time now, come back to it. It's short (30 minutes or less) and will help your "roots go deeper"- it will impact you, I am confident. It's gentle, raw, and real. And it's so where I'm at. Thank you, Dr. Mangis.

Monday, May 10, 2010

For my Anderson Mom

Another Mother's Day card today. This one is for my mother-in-law, who I just call "Mom." It's so easy to call her that. From the day I married into the Anderson family, and even before, I felt so welcomed, so loved. Of course, it helped that there was stored-up excitement just ready and waiting to receive the girl who first walked through the doors of that all-boy home!
I'm so thankful that it was her home into which I walked to eventually be part of forever. I'm so blessed by who this Mom is and to have her in my life.

I'm blessed by her friendly and warm personality. We love to chat, chat, chat, both about the small and the big things. She's so fun to share a funny story with, and just as good to share a deep hurt or difficulty. I love that I have what I count as a friendship with her.

I'm blessed by her rock solid walk with the Lord and heart for ministry. I know that Neal and I are beyond words blessed to have not only our own set of parents, but also our in-laws supporting our desire to serve the Lord with our lives. And not only do I have support from this Mom, but we share the heart for ministry as well. She gets what Neal and I do. She gets it because she's lived it for years and continues to daily. And about that rock-solid walk with the Lord- she's been through valleys in life. Hard times. Like anyone. But through those times, she has cultivated such a deep faith and history with God. Her faith has been such an example and encouragement to me in my valleys.

I'm blessed by her care and love for me. She prays for me so faithfully. What a gift! I feel so much love and care through her prayers. In this recent season of deep difficulty with my health, I've been given an even clearer window into her love. Like the time she drove up and spent a day with me at the hospital, waiting through tests and doctors and taking notes for me. Like the time I crumpled at her kitchen counter in tears and despair, and it was ok. She cried too. Like the time last week she sent me the most meaningful card and get-well-soon-gift.

Mom, I'm so thankful for you. I hope you can see from these short paragraphs that you are truly such a blessing. I love you, and Happy Mother's Day!

Friday, May 7, 2010

For my Momma

In honor of Mother's Day, I'm going to be posting a few cards. This first one, of course, is for my Momma. Happy Mother's Day Momma, and I can't wait to be with you on Sunday evening!

Some of you have asked if I'm going to write a book someday. In all honesty, yes, I hope to. And it'll be about my momma. Shhh, don't tell her. She won't much like that idea because she's far too humble to ever think someone should write a book about her.

Sorry, Mom. I'm all grown up and big now, and I'll have to make my own decisions! By the time I get it done, you'll be so old that all you'll care about are your great-grandbabies, and I can sneak a copy into your hands while you're snuggling the newest. Maybe then you won't mind so much.

Momma, thank you for being so wholly loving, nurturing, and caring- from the day I was placed in your arms to this morning when you emailed me with encouragements about this weekend and texted me to see how I was feeling.

Thank you for devoting your life to caring for me, providing for my needs, raising me up in the Lord, and being my supporter and encourager as I took my wings to fly...and then comforting me when I have a gimpy wing or an especially gusty headwind.

Thank you for teaching me about the Lord, praying for me day after day and year after year, sharing your godly wisdom, modeling a life of absolute passion and service to Him. In you, I see a true disciple, a true lover, a true servant of Christ. In you, I see His love for the hurting and the needy. Because of your example, I know what it means to give, to serve, to love, to suffer in the name of Christ. Because of your example, I know what it means to love the word of God and to trust.

Thank you for teaching me hospitality, simplicity, modesty, beauty, hard work, diligence, excellence, compassion, tenderness, joy in creation, love for family, the blessing of making delicious foods, and putting others before yourself- loving others above yourself.

Thank you for all of the time we've spent together eating and talking our way through Chicago, Founder's Weeks, sitting on the laundry room floor at home or up in my old room talking until Dad comes to find you, walks down the gravel road, special shopping trips, kitchen chats while you're cooking or working, sititing by the pool in the sun together, parties, the move-ins and the move-outs, decorating my floor and room together at Moody, our hours of phone conversations, and so much more.

I love you Momma, you're the greatest, and you'll always be in my heart! Happy Mother's Day to the mother of 18 who could never be celebrated enough!

Kidnapper, Teacher, Liberator

Today as I was eating breakfast in our quiet apartment, cityscape draped in rainy clouds out open windows, I had that rush of hot, stinging tears to the back of my eyes that comes when you're quickly overcome with emotion.

Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of my Master's graduation from Wheaton.

Two days ago was the day I was to be Moody's chapel speaker.

I crossed the room to grab my journal and Bible, with the full intention of facing these losses. Acknowledging them, grieving them, making sense of them if I possibly could. Yet as I went to sit in the big armchair, I was afraid if I sat down, I wasn't sure if or when I could get up. My grief threatened to overcome me if I gave it too much space.

So, instead I went to the bedroom and started making the bed. I got dressed for the day. I found my eye-makeup remover that had been lost to me the night before. I removed the day-old smudges, and all the while I reflected in my heart on an email I received from my mom the day before. She enclosed the following written by Paul Tripp in the face of suffering:

"It's hard not to look at the day as a day of futile activity accompanied by needless discomfort. You can't honestly look at the day and make sense out of it...Suffering transports you beyond the boundaries of your reason and your control...Suffering is a kidnapper that comes into our lives, blindfolds us, and takes us to where we do not want to be.

But suffering is not just a kidnapper, it is also a teacher...It points you to the fact that there is little that you actually control. It instructs you as to where reliable comfort and sturdy hope can be found. Like a patient teacher with a resistant student, suffering pries open your hands and asks you to let go of your life. Suffering invites you to find security, rest, hope, and comfort in Another, and in doing so, assaults the irrationality of personal sovereignty that is the delusion of every human being. In that way, suffering is not just a kidnapper, and not just a teacher, it is also a liberator. Suffering frees us to experience a deeper comfort and hope than we have ever had before."

Today, with remembrances of landmarks or losses, I'm living in these words, tossing them around in my mind, using them as water for the seeds that God has already been planting in my heart in this field. I never wanted to be in possession of this field, but it has been promised that it will come forth with some good-tasting fruit. Maybe, just maybe, it will taste even better than I ever thought possible.

Romans 8:28, "For we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purposes."

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Naturopathic Approach

I know you're not supposed to scour the internet for info about your health concerns. It most always leads to misleading fears, misconstrued information, or to non-identified persons relaying the most discouraging, extreme examples of their life-story with whatever malady you're looking into.

I know. I've done it. I've panicked. And it's all not really worth it.

But, for lots of rules, there is that one exception, and recently I did reap a good outcome for my bad-behavior internet searching. I found one name that kept coming up over and over in my search for "how to overcome Epstein-Barr Virus." And attached to this re-occurring site were the testimonials that totally did me in.

"When I was first diagnosed with mononucleosis (Epstein Barr), I couldn't get out of bed at all. I just couldn't function. I had a chronic headache. Very, very severe fatigue. I felt like I had the flu. I had chronic nausea 24 hours a day."

"I was ill for about eight months, until I purchased the book and started following Liz's suggestions."

Tears. Yes, that's me.

Elizabeth Noble is the name of the qualified naturopathic who has published a wholistic treatment-approach to Epstein-Barr. She says on her website,

"Are you fed up with suffering from Epstein Barr virus?

  • Do you have to get better fast for your work, studies or family commitments?
  • Do you hate the idea of going to work, school or university feeling sick?
  • Do you feel agitated that you can't shake your annoying Epstein Barr virus symptoms and jump back on the bandwagon of life and work?
  • Do you despair at missing out on family activities and fun things you really want to do?
  • Do you feel inadequate and guilty that your body has let you down?
  • Are you terrified that your Epstein Barr virus could end up as chronic fatigue syndrome or worse?

You are not alone! Epstein Barr virus can be a time of significant physical suffering, great uncertainty, frustration and distress.

Epstein Barr sufferers are often driven into silence, resentment, anger and depression. I believe that these frustrations and blocks are only something that a true Epstein Barr virus sufferer can understand."

Ok, you got my attention, Ms. Noble.

I've since purchased her book and combed through it for all the ways I can add her suggestions to my day. I made notes and lists on notebook paper, and then Neal and I set out on our next mission. If you would have told me in October on our way to our first doctor visit that we would still be at this in May, I would have fallen over dead. But as we were pulling out of the parking garage, Neal grabbed my hand and warmly said, "Just out on another adventure called life." My heart and my spirits bolstered.

Instead of heading to the pharmacy, we were off to Whole Foods and Stanley's Fruit and Vegetable Stand. While the medical community says there is nothing I can do but wait in the face of a virus, alternative medicine says there's plenty to do in the meantime:

1. Take vitamins, vitamins, vitamins!

2. Use essential oils to relax, soothe, and calm.

3. Soak in epsom salts to flush toxins out of the body.

4. Do yoga daily to achieve low-intensity exercise and strength-building for your body.

5. Eat fruits and veggies like it's your job (80% of your plate per meal).

6. No sugar!! No cake, candy, cookies, processed foods, or treats. Little carbs. Lots of protein.

7. Go to sleep by 10pm and sleep for 10 hours.

8. Drink immune-boosting teas.

There's a few more things, but you get the idea. Honestly, I've enjoyed reading about what each vitamin does for my body and why it's important. And while it takes more time to prepare fresh veggies and fruits for each meal, I like the fact that unlike medications, I know that all of these things are beneficial to my body, whether or not they relieve my symptoms.

The journey to health continues, and prayer is never absent for a day.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Esther Grace in Chicago

As I mentioned in a previous post, one of my dearest friends, Esther (affectionately dubbed "E" by me) flew in for a weekend to visit.

Her timing: perfect; Neal was away all weekend on a retreat with his students.

Her presence: easy and comfortable; we went out, we stayed in, and we talked incessantly wherever we found ourselves. Over meals, walks, and treats, we shared our lives, trials, and joys, and it was soooo good to be together and get to catch up in person!

Her words: encouraging; this girl is full of commitment to God's word. I was challenged and so refreshed by her godly spirit. In case I had ever forgotten, I was reminded of why she has become one of my closest friends.

[A Saturday morning walk through beautifully blooming Washington Park]
[Every trip needs a little drama, right? We got ours in the form of a torrential wind and rain storm on our late-night quest for cheesecake. We got super drenched, especially after my umbrella turned inside out!]

[Insert here the fact that we were sad we forgot to take a picture Sunday morning at Harvest. We went to church there together for a couple years until Esther moved to NE. It was so wonderful to worship alongside her again, and especially at the church we love.]

[Airport picture at Midway! Reminiscent of all the times in college I would hijack Neal's car and pick E up after school breaks, or drop her off for one upcoming.]
E, thank you! Your presence and encouragement and friendship had the greatest of timing in coming that weekend. I absolutely loved it, and I am so thankful for you! P.S. I mailed in my umbrella, hoping they will come through on their "lifetime warranty" policy!

And, a P.S. to my lovely readers: That rainy, blustery cheesecake quest resulted in me finding a new piece at the Cheesecake Factory to try- the "30th Anniversary Cheesecake." Layers of original cheesecake, fudge cake, and chocolate truffle cream. You're welcome, and I love you.