Summer Reading on my Summer Vacations


Boone Plantation, SC

Boone Plantation, SC

It’s Labor Day weekend, the end of summer, so I’m sharing my two favorite reads of the past season.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. My mom recommended this book to me. However, since it is told from the perspective of the Angel of Death during the Holocaust, I thought it would be terribly depressing. I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised by this gem of a book. This imaginative story is about a German girl who lives with her foster family, her love of books, and her unlikely friendship with the Jewish man hiding in her basement. Even in the midst of evil and human suffering, persistence, courage, and sacrifice shine brightly. I read this 576-page book in 1-2 days on my trip to St. Louis. (My husband was solving some computer/tech problems for his parents, so I had some time to myself!)

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. This novel was inspired by the real-life Sarah Grimke, a Charleston plantation owner’s daughter who was gifted with a slave, Hetty, on her eleventh birthday. Sarah Grimke later became an influential advocate for abolition and women’s rights. The author imagines what a complicated (fictional) friendship between the two girls would have been like as they grew up. I learned a lot about slavery from reading the book, and the plot kept me interested, especially since the story went back and forth between Sarah’s and Hetty’s perspectives. This was the perfect book to read before I visited Charleston, SC, in July. Although Boone Plantation, which I visited, is different from the city setting of the book, there are many similarities in the way of life and the inhumane treatment of slaves.

Have you read either of these books? What are your summer favorites?


Sorry, NOT SORRY for saying “I’m sorry”


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Pantene’s #ShineStrong campaign recently released this video, asking the question, “Why are women always apologizing?”

The point that women need to stop apologizing unnecessarily is especially well-made in the scene when the woman introduces her great idea at work with the words, “I’m sorry.” This short Fast Company article explains some reasons why women say, “I’m sorry” when they mean something else.  For example, sometimes saying, “I’m sorry,” is easier than thinking of the word that really communicates your meaning.

These are good points. Due to lack of confidence, I know I’ve said, “I’m sorry” unnecessarily at work. But I would argue that saying, “I’m sorry” appropriately is much more important than eliminating the unnecessary “I’m sorry.”

For a person to say “I’m sorry” when she was truly at fault takes the kind of confidence that comes from true inner character. It’s tough to admit our mistakes. In my experience, most people aren’t eager to step up and take the blame for something that went wrong. They are much more likely to defend themselves and explain why they couldn’t possibly have done a better job.

So when I had a boss who admitted he was wrong and apologized to me, it surprised me. I work with a tough group of people. These men and women have years of experience in manufacturing. When they have something to say, they tell it to you straight. You better have your ducks in row before you dial in to a conference call, because they’re not going to have much patience if you’re fumbling around. All that is to say, I did not expect to ever receive a sincere “I’m sorry” from someone in this environment, much less a superior. And it’s happened more than once…from different people! Each time, it has deepened my respect for the person who was courageous and kind enough to admit his mistake.

The fact that these managers say “I’m sorry” speaks to their inner confidence and their leadership skills. They take ownership of their results. Not only do they expect each employee to take responsibility for his or her own mistakes, these managers show how it’s done.

To #ShineStrong as women in the workplace, we need to stop saying “I’m sorry” when we don’t mean it and start saying it when we do.

And maybe a good shampoo wouldn’t hurt either. (Because I have a really great hair cut right now, and sometimes I have a hard day, but I look in the mirror and think, “Well, at least my hair looks good!”)

When has someone surprised you by saying “I’m sorry”?


Boundless Post: Did My Single 20s Have Purpose?


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boundlessscreenshotBecause of His Word, I know God was at work in my life while I was single, just as He is now that I’m married. 

I’m excited that Boundless published my post yesterday. I’m thankful to my husband for encouraging my writing, and for his amazing love and support during our first year of marriage!

Christmas cards


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I love to receive Christmas cards! I know it’s fun to make fun of them, but I enjoy following people’s families through the years, especially those who live far away. Every year, I always read my parents’ stack of Christmas cards, too.

Christmas 2013 009

One Christmas, I was particularly lonely, and I went over to my parents’ house. People always give them a lot food at Christmas, so I loaded up on Italian pizzelles and sugar cookies, and sat down to read cards. I was feeling sorry for myself and expected to see a stack of cards that did nothing but celebrate marriages and births and brag about superstar children. Yet as I worked my way through the cards, that was not what stood out to me at all. There was an older woman who’d lost her husband that year and was also losing her sight. A young woman was raising children on her own after the death of her husband. Actually, quite a few people had lost spouses, and many were coping with failing health.

Continue reading

How to receive a performance review


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cityIt’s that time of year again! At my workplace, many of us are dreading the annual performance review process. It can be awkward, nerve-wracking, and — let’s face it — how many of us really get a whole lot out of it?

I’ve worked for a variety of managers and experienced a range of styles while going through this process. Usually the managers are sober, but one was slightly drunk. At least she gave me a good evaluation! While I always hope to receive the highest rating possible and a minimum amount of criticism, I’ve finally realized that’s not the optimal situation for my growth. Though it can be difficult and painful to receive criticism, I can’t improve without specific feedback.

Here’s what I’ve learned about receiving performance reviews: Continue reading

We can eat Kristen’s leaves!


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My friend and her family recently visited from Scotland. Her kids were a blast! Since I  don’t have kids, before they came, I tried to think of fun things for girls ages five and three. One thing I didn’t include on my list was the “garden tour.”

porch croppedBut they were quite impressed when I went out to the porch to pick some oregano leaves for the salad. As I assembled the salad, they kept asking, “Can I have a leaf?” and I would give them spinach to munch on. (Full disclosure: the spinach came from the grocery store.) The girls excitedly told their dad, “We can eat Kristen’s leaves!” Unfortunately, at that particular moment, the youngest was about to eat my poisonous lily plant, so we had to teach them that they could only eat certain ones of Kristen’s leaves.

plants croppedThe girls, particularly the oldest, were very interested in all my plants. The next morning we went outside and sampled all of the herbs. Then we had blind taste testings, were you had to guess what kind of leaf you were eating and which plant it came from. This became more complicated when somebody put leaves from multiple plants in my mouth.

I would have had a great time with these precious girls even if they weren’t interested in plants and didn’t like salad. We had so much fun together eating Rita’s water ice, walking to the park, and comparing accents. But the fact that they shared my delight in eating leaves from my own plants increased my joy. I hadn’t expected two young girls to be my garden’s most enthusiastic visitors!

Farfalle Salad with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Spinach
1 lb butterfly or spiral pasta, cooked 
3 spring onions 
2 oz sun-dried tomatoes, cut into strips 
1 lb baby spinach leaves 
4 Tablespoons toasted pine nuts 
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh oregano 

1/4 cup olive oil 
1/2 tsp. chilli powder 
1 clove garlic, crushed 
salt and pepper

(Recipe is from a friend's vegetarian cookbook.)

Are you looking around or looking up?


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New markers. I love what I learn about God with the first graders.

New markers. I love what I learn about God with the first graders.

Some of the stories in my first grade children’s ministry curriculum seem kind of random. I’m not sure how they were selected. But one of these surprises has become my favorite this year.

When Hezekiah was king of Judah, Jerusalem was surrounded by the Assyrian army. They’d already wreaked havoc on surrounding nations, taken the Israelites from the Northern Kingdom into exile, and conquered the fortified cities of Judah (the Southern Kingdom). Hezekiah had already bought a little bit of time by handing over all of the gold from the temple. Now they were in dire straights. I’d encourage you to take time now to read this true story directly from II Kings 18-19.

The Assyrian king sent his army to the city wall. Hezekiah’s representatives came out to meet the Assyrians. The Assyrian field commander had a message for Hezekiah, and for all of the people of Judah who were listening in. He used every psychological weapon at his disposal. Hezekiah’s men asked the field commander to speak in Assyrian instead of Hebrew, to shield their people from his words, but the commander gloried in stirring up fear and temptation:

Guilt/Fear: Who can you trust in now that you have rebelled against the great king of Assyria? You can’t trust in Egypt. It’s a broken reed of a staff that will pierce the hand of any man who leans on it. (2 Kings 18:19-21) Judah claimed to be relying on the Lord, but they had actually went to a lot of effort to “guarantee” Egypt’s protection. This was foolish as God had delivered them from Egypt in the past. When the field commander brought this up, it could have stirred up both guilt and fear. Continue reading

This Momentary Marriage – Book Review




The pendulum of our marriage oscillates and sometimes wobbles, but it is suspended from above and firmly attached. By God’s grace, it will not crash to the ground.

These are Noel Piper’s thoughts from the forward to her husband John Piper’s book, This Momentary Marriage. John Piper looks at marriage in view of eternity, as an earthly parable of the relationship between Christ and the church. In this sense, even though marriage is a lifetime commitment, it is momentary.

As a newlywed, the pendulum analogy is so encouraging and helpful to me. I’m often afraid whenever there are disagreements, when I think I’m not living up to some kind of ideal, or when I know that I’ve sinned. But our marriage is anchored in Christ. There will be highs and lows, the lows made lower because of sin. But thankfully, it’s not simply the strength of our affection holding us together. The Lord brought us together, and He holds us safe in the palm of His hand.

Marriage is for God’s glory and our sanctification. It’s not just for romance, pooled economic resources, 24-7 IT support, home-cooked meals, help changing  breaklights, or children, although these are blessings to enjoy. Even for “spiritual superstars” like John and Noel Piper, marriage is tough; there is a lot of joy but also a lot of self-sacrifice. Even if my husband and I had followed the “perfect” Christian method to dating/courtship, marriage would still be both beautiful and ugly, exhilarating and maddening, inspiring and tedious. I liked how the Pipers were open about their struggles, but they kept the focus of the book off themselves. Thinking about the bigger picture–eternity–is relevant to every married and single person and so inspiring and hopeful!

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction – Book Review


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When a friend moved several states away, she reluctantly parted with many of her books. I acquired this gem, written by Eugene Peterson in 1980. Even though my particular copy was printed before I was born, its yellowed pages speak timeless, joyful truth.

I have to admit, the title did not sound exciting at first. A Long Obedience in the Same Direction? It sounds kind of like drudgery. However, I was compelled to read it when I discovered that it included a chapter on Psalm 126, a meaningful Psalm to me during a difficult period.

The title of the book was  inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher who famously declared that God is dead. Peterson quotes Nietzsche’s work, Beyond Good and Evil:

The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is …that there should be long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.

For those of us who know that God is very much alive and want to follow the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6), it’s helpful to meditate on a collection of Psalms called the Songs of Ascents (Psalms 120-134). The Hebrews sung these psalms as they traveled to worship at the temple in Jerusalem. They incorporate many aspects of Christian discipleship and offer much spiritual encouragement to pilgrims on the long path of obedience. I find that even though I know the end destination of this journey, it can be hard to stay on course and not go off into the weeds and bushes.

I appreciated the chapters in this book, one for each Psalm, each focusing on a different topic, such as work, worship, service, and humility. Every chapter was relevant to me and inspired me to continue long obedience in the same direction, which makes life worthwhile because it is pleasing to God. I’ve started thinking how the spiritual disciplines seem constraining at first but ultimately lead to peace, joy, and contentment. They are not something that we do to earn our salvation or prove our worth to God. Our faith in Christ’s death and resurrection is sufficient. Yet we are called to obedience, and this commitment to the Lord ultimately leads to freedom and abundant life.

My favorite chapter is on Psalm 126, where the author focuses on joy. In this song, the Psalmist reflects on the great things the Lord has done for us in the past, and he looks to the future with confidence that the Lord will do great things again. At the center of the Psalm, in the present tense, even in the midst of incredible suffering, is the statement, “We are glad.” I love this Psalm, because we live life in an in-between time, the present, but we can always look both backward and forward at the great works of the Lord for us. I hope you’ll be able to get your hands on a copy of this book, so you can read the rest of Eugene Peterson’s reflections.

What has encouraged you recently on your “long obedience in the same direction”?



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Almost made it to 10,000 steps the day we were in NYC!

Almost made it to 10,000 steps the day we were in NYC!

“We walk without fear, full of hope and courage and strength to do His will, waiting for the endless good which He is always giving as fast as He can get us able to take it in.” — George MacDonald

10K-A-Day – That is the goal I rashly committed myself to. I knew I should have declined that steering committee meeting! The company where I work is encouraging all the employees to walk 10,000 steps per day, and there is a competition for the month of June. Some of the leaders on the steering committee needed another person to complete their team, so that is why I’m now walking around with a pedometer, getting up at 5:45 am to get more steps in, and sometimes even choosing a far parking space. I also make extra trips to the department kitchen during the day to see if there are any good snacks, although I’m not sure that’s in the spirit of the competition.

When I first started, I quickly realized how impossible it was going to be for me to meet this 10-K-A-Day goal (approximately 5 miles), and I was scared! I didn’t want to look bad in front of a whole bunch of company Vice Presidents!

I have been thinking about what it means to walk without fear. My fear in this particular situation has eased because the daily results are posted online. Very few people are walking 10,000 steps each day. I’m somewhere around average and I feel better. I know this is not the right way to think. Our pastor often talks about how Jesus died to set us free from the greater-than/less-than mindset. Because Christ loves me, I don’t have to live with the fear that comes from comparing myself to others.

So I get up each morning and walk outside and enjoy the cool air, the empty neighborhood, and Lecrae rapping on my iPod. There are a lot of things I want to accomplish each day, and I have a lot of long-term ambitions generally. But when I think of walking without fear, I think that it’s okay to work toward goals when there is no guarantee of success, because I don’t have to be afraid of failure.

How do you walk without fear?