Spread the Love

Most people make Valentine’s about going on a nice date and celebrating their love for a significant other through food, cards, and gifts.

Great. Beautiful. Do that.

But remember when we were kids and Valentine’s Day meant we got to make treats and cards and give them to everyone in our class? And then you would go home with your little card house and open each one (of course, carefully analyzing the pre-chosen message from the person you liked. “Have a ‘Super’ Valentine’s Day” is obviously platonic versus “You’re my kryptonite!”…right?!?), feeling great about life.

I like that better.

So, as our we’re reminded of “love” this month with seas of red and pink and commercials for Kay Jewelers, let’s think of unique ways we can show love to everyone. I know we are all busy people, but here are some small ways you can consider spending your lovely time.

Love your community: Volunteer to cook a meal this month for your local shelter, Catholic Worker, or your neighbors.

–  Love your co-workers: Bring in coffee and donuts to share, write cards, or offer to clean someone’s office.

– Love your parents: Call and thank them for specific things they’ve done for you.

– Love your stranger: Buy the meal of the person behind you in the drive through, dedicate and perform a karaoke song to the guy alone at the bar, or knit something and give it away to someone.

Love that couple who desperately needs a night out: Offer to babysit (for free)

– Love your planet: Buy a plot of rainforest, plant a tree, pick up trash on the highway, build a compost, install energy efficient light bulbs, etc.

– Love the love of your life: Spend a media-free evening together.

Go love and be loved.

ImageMake these adorable Valentine’s banners with:

– Paint

– Pages from old books (or canvas cloth)

– Hemp string

– Paper doilies

-Hot glue gun


Say It Now

Today I got a message from someone who reads this blog and she said very nice, beautiful, articulate things. I don’t know her extremely well and she didn’t have to say them. She could have just thought them and kept them to herself and that would be fine. But out of nowhere she shared these incredibly encouraging words with me and it made my day. THANK YOU. You inspired me to write about something that has been on my mind recently.

“If I died unexpectedly would you get a tattoo to commemorate our friendship?”

I asked this half-jokingly to a friend of mine who said that yes, they would, and they even knew exactly what it would be! And what they said was perfect and sweet.

Which means at some point they have pondered my early death and what they would maybe do or say in response to it. 

I find this fascinating. I mean, I do it too. We don’t want to think about people we know and love (or just like) leaving us too soon, but it happens. Within the last week two twenty-somethings passed away tragically and suddenly. I didn’t know either of them personally, but we shared mutual friends and my Facebook feed was covered with people posting their thoughts, memories, prayers, and goodbyes. 

I wondered if I died tomorrow what kind of texts, emails, voice mails, wall posts I would get and from who? What would people say? How many-

“I wish I would have told you…”

“I wish we had spent more time together…”

“I remember when you…”

“I always loved that you…”

“I didn’t know you very well, but I…”

“I’m sorry…”s

would there be? So many lovely words written to someone who can no longer read them. But they could have read them. 

Why don’t we say things we love about people when we see them? Who cares if it “seems” out of place or awkward. If the girl I sit next to in class were gone-just like that, I’d want her to know that I love how she’s passionate about using recycled material in her work, I think she’s really smart, and she’s a beautiful person. Why don’t I tell her that? Shouldn’t we write or say those things to people simply because they are alive to receive it? 

Yes, we should.

So, go tug on someone’s heart strings. Or a few people. Or everyone in your contacts list. 





Ode to Advent & God Removal

Right now we are in a season of advent. A season in which we remember Emmanuel- God with us. Jesus came not to explain the existence of pain and suffering, nor to rescue us from it. His response to human suffering was to enter into it himself. He came to endure it with us- for us. God is here in the midst of our suffering.

There are no words for what happened in Connecticut this weekend. But my thoughts, along with everyone else trail to, “Why, God? Why?” I hear people claiming that these terrible things happen because we have removed God from our schools and political platforms. It kind of baffles me really, that people who claim to know God would say that. Suggesting that we have the power to remove the creator of the universe from our school buildings and society. That somehow we have just kicked Him out and kept Him from entering in. That He isn’t present in people and places everywhere. The God I have read about and come to know isn’t easily dictated by humanity, and he certainly doesn’t give up quickly.

In Hosea 12, God says, “My heart is torn within me, and my compassion overflows.” Our God feels and knows pain. The book of Jeremiah is loaded with images of God’s heartbreak and desire for the Israelites to turn back to Him. It doesn’t matter how many times they mess up or how many times they “take Him out” of life- He’s there. Waiting. Watching. Involved. When God saw what humankind was capable of in Genesis, He responded with grieving. What kind of God chooses to feel the pain that mere humans feel? Emmanuel- God with us.

In Jesus, God sent someone to take on all our mistakes, our burdens, our suffering. He was innocent! His “crime” was being crazy enough to suggest that to be the first, you must be the last. Declaring that God’s blessing was upon the poor, not the rich. For telling the religious, self-righteous bastards to shut up (Matthew 23) and justifying the sinner with a repentant heart (Luke 18). And that it’s not enough to just “love” people.

The crucifixion story amazes me because I see just how jaw-droppingly full of grace God is, even in torture, awaiting an unjust death. His first words on the cross are to ask God to actually forgive the people who are killing him (Luke 23:34). Then, the criminal who hung on the cross next to Jesus, acknowledging Christ’s innocence, asks to be remembered when Jesus enters his kingdom. He doesn’t start confessing his sins or inviting Jesus into his heart, he simply asks to be a part of the kingdom. In his last seconds of life, hanging in excruciating pain on the cross, Jesus assures him they’ll be in paradise together that day (Luke 23:43). And then his last words on the cross moments before he dies are, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). Jesus knows pain and suffering better than I ever will. God knows the pain of losing an innocent child.

I’m not going to bother trying to comprehend the incomprehensible. But I will take comfort in knowing that God is well-versed in issues of pain and suffering. When I don’t understand I choose to put my hope in Him.

Lamentations 3: 19-30 (MSG)




A Green Christmas

I purged.

Clorox, Ajax, Windex, Tilex, Frebreze- BE GONE!

And then I converted.

Just this morning I made an all purpose vinegar cleaning spray, laundry detergent, tile scrub, and hair spray.

Most cleaners warn you to wear rubber gloves and be careful about breathing in fumes. So, obviously, they shouldn’t be in the air or on your body. Why go out of your way to use toxic cleaning chemicals? Apart from the health factor (the increase in cancer, reproductive problems, respiratory illness, and allergies are strongly linked to what we eat, absorb, and breathe), using natural cleaning products is CHEAPER. Who doesn’t love that?! And if you’re thinking that paying a bit more for convenience is worth it, think again. It’s pure and simple. Literally.

They are safe for the environment. Conventional cleaners contain industrial chemicals that pollute the air, water and ground when they enter the wastewater stream. Baking soda, fruit sugars that ferment to make vinegar, and vegetable oils used in pure castile soap already exist in nature, so they won’t cause pollution when you clean with them. Their ingredients quickly biodegrade into safe, neutral elements.

They’re multi purpose. Rather than having a cleaner for each item in the house (toilet, sink, mirror, floor, etc) consider using these two products for multiple tasks. Baking soda works for detergent, a scouring paste that safely scrubs porcelain, deodorizes and removes grease from kitchen surfaces. Vinegar shines windows and mirrors, disinfects kitchens and bathrooms, and gently cleans floors.

Seriously, you can do a TON of things with vinegar.

  1. Counter tops – clean with a rag and vinegar.
  2. Drain or garbage disposal – pour in 1 cup baking soda then one cup hot vinegar. Let sit for 5 minutes.  Run hot water down the drain.  (Note: some garbage disposals do not react well to this cleaning method check all manufacturer instructions first.)
  3. Microwave –  mixing equal parts vinegar and water in a microwave-safe bowl. Bring it to a boil inside the microwave. Wipe clean.
  4. Refrigerator – clean with a half-and-half solution of water and vinegar.
  5. Dishwasher –  pour a cup of vinegar inside an empty machine and run through cycle.
  6. Plastic food containers –  wipe them with a cloth dampened with vinegar to remove stains and smells.
  7. Glass – remove film from the inside by letting vinegar sit in them for a few hours. Add a little rice or sand and shake vigorously to loosen stubborn stains. Repeat if necessary.
  8. Tarnished Metal –  make a paste with equal amounts of vinegar and table salt.
  9. Grease – use a sponge soaked in vinegar.
  10. Grill – spray a solution of half water and half vinegar on the cooking surface.
  11. Sponges – placing in just enough water to cover them. Then add 1/4 cup vinegar. Let soak overnight.
  12. Grout – let full-strength vinegar sit on it for a few minutes and scrub it with an old toothbrush.
  13. Germs – spray with full-strength vinegar. Wipe clean with a damp cloth.
  14. Mildew and soap scum – wipe with undiluted vinegar then rinse.
  15. Toilets – pour in a cup or more of vinegar and let it sit several hours or overnight. Scrub well with the toilet brush and flush.
  16. Wood – remove water rings with a solution of equal parts vinegar and vegetable oil. Rub with the grain.
  17. Cutting boards – wipe wooden boards with vinegar.
  18. Dusting – use spray bottle filled with half vinegar, half water and lightly spray a rag to dust all surfaces.
  19. Mildew – spray shower walls and shower curtain with half vinegar and half water to help prevent mildew.

Want to go for it?

Okay, once you’ve used up a product or you want to get rid of it, save the bottle and fill it up with this simple recipe:

All-Purpose Cleaner

  • 1 part white vinegar
  • 1 part water
  • 2 Tbsp baking soda
  • a few drops of essential oil if you want it to smell pretty (optional)

For the bath/sink scrub stirred all the ingredients and poured them into a mason jar. Then, I poked holes in the lid with a serrated knife to make it into a shaker:

Scourging Powder

  • 2 parts baking soda
  • 1 part salt
  • 1 part borax powder (found at Target, Wal Mart, and most grocery stores)

*recipe from Wellness Mama

Laundry Detergent

  • 1 55oz. box of Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda
  • 1 76oz. box of Borax Powder
  • 1 bar of soap

1. Grate the bar soap with a cheese grater or food processor

2. Mix all the ingredients together (add a few teaspoons of baking soda if desired)

3. Store in a closed container and use 1/4 or 1/8 cup per load

*recipe from Wellness Mama




Last week I was working at the mall when a mother and daughter came in to shop for some new clothes. While the mother was browsing, the daughter began a small stack of clothes that she had set behind the counter. Then, she went on to try on a bunch of clothes for her mother and briefly mentioned in the dressing room, “Oh, I have stuff up at the counter too.”

Once they got to the check out line and mom sees the other pile of accumulated merchandise she exclaims, “You’re getting all of THAT too?!”


“Okay, well that’s about it for Christmas then.”

“Are you serious…?” (que whining)

And there went $600 to a teenager’s wardrobe. Cha-ching.

Merry Christmas.

Anyway, that story leads well into a something I read recently at Where My Heart Resides. Jen Hatmaker wrote a wonderful blog about the Christmas conundrum many of us experience. She started a gift-giving policy for her family: something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read. That’s it. Simple. And our “wants” and “needs” don’t have to be material things. I want to make dinner and watch a movie with my parents. I want to go to yoga and grab coffee with my friend. I need to go serve the homeless in my city. I need to spend time with my refugee friends. Someone “getting” or initiating those gifts for me would be incredibly special and low-budget. The gifts of time and experiences are always the best and the longest lasting. I want to make it a goal to give those gifts more frequently, but especially during the holiday season rather than dealing with crowds and the stress that comes with spending big $$$. But, if and when you’re purchasing gifts this season buy what you can LOCALLY. Most of what you can get on Amazon or at Target you can also find in independently-owned stores. It puts your taxes to good use, creates jobs, reduces environmental impact, supports non-profits, and keeps your community unique. Money spent in a locally owned business stays in the community. It’s definitely an investment worth pursuing!


Something she wants: Flowerbomb Parfume by Viktor & Rolf, Le Creuset Skillet (found at Kitchen Collage), Yoga Unmat (found at Lulu Lemon), One Line a Day Journal (found at Ephemera)

Something she needs: Liquitex paints (found at Creative Cold Sno), BareMinerals Foundation in Medium, Warby Parker prescription sunglasses: Thatcher in Greystone

Something she wears: Journey’s Women’s Oxford Shoes, I Heart Iowa Necklace, Fair Isle Open Stitch Sweater, Too Faced Lip Color

Something she reads: Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling, Whole Living Magazine subscription, The Story of God, The Story of Us by Sean Gladding, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn


My Lip Gloss Be Poppin’

I bought my first real tube of lipstick the other day. ‘Real’ implying that, A. I didn’t get it from Target and B. It’s not a color reserved for wearing as part of a costume.

This little gold tube has had a profound impact on me. There is something about it that makes me feel instantly grown up and fiercely confident. As if signing a marriage license at 19, paying bills while going to school full time and doing mission work in various third world countries haven’t nudged me into adulthood enough. But seriously, its like I was looking in the mirror and realizing I am no longer ten years old. I’m no longer sitting on my grandma’s bathroom countertop applying some hideous shade of pink, pretending to be a lady. There is no pretending involved in this scenario. I have arrived.


Some other “grown-up” moments of mine include:

-When I wrote a check for $3000 to buy a car. Still hurts.

-When I had to kill a bat in my apartment

-When I asked for dishes for Christmas

-When I realized I didn’t have to “go home” at the end of the night

-When I was at book club drinking wine and talking about politics and Roth IRAs

What are some of your “grown-up” moments?

“Henri Matisse Looks Like Satan”

Ever since I returned from Uganda I’ve been itching to find a way to more or less continue some of what I was doing there. I have a beautiful, wonderful friend who works with refugees. We ended up getting together a group of 6-10 women who meet once a week to learn about art. They range in age from 4 to 40 and come from all over the globe: Burundi, Congo, Nepal, Eritrea, etc. We look at famous art eras from history, eat, laugh, paint and most recently took a trip to the Des Moines Art Center. Next on the agenda is exploring the art of dance. Which, with a bunch of African ladies, is bound to be AMAZING. I’m always fascinated by which pieces the love and the reasons they hate others. I get lost in thought about how crazy it would be to see a Picasso for the first time EVER and learn that, “When you mix blue and yellow you get green,” as an adult instead of when you’re in 1st grade. But in turn, they teach me what art is to them, what art looks like in their country and their thoughts (while sometimes absurd and hilarious) inspire me. To me, the community IS the art. The relationship between the participants and the process of making IS the art. It’s all about the experience.

And we have so. much. fun.




Do You Know the Poor?

Parental influence and involvement in political activities is one of the largest predictors of where their children’s vote will go.

So, this election I’ve been seriously pondering why my political tendencies are different from that of my own family. Politics were rarely brought up in my presence. In my opinion, this was great because I always relatively knew where my parents stood, but it allowed me to keep a very open mind and make a decision for myself.

I believe for most people, political preference simply comes down to personal life experience. When I think about my depression-era Grandpa who grew up in rural Iowa, a staunch Dutchman, man of God’s word, a tax accountant who had two or three kids by the time he was my age, it makes sense for him to vote Republican. When I think about my friend who is Hispanic, Catholic, left a gang when he became a dad of two, juggling a job at Wal-Mart and an auto-body shop while taking college classes to become an art teacher, I understand why he votes Democrat. It’s not right or wrong. It just is. And it’s a good thing, because America is a melting pot for a reason and we need to see things lots of different ways.

When I think about myself, I come from a conservative, hard-working, middle-class family. I chose to be a Christian and for me following Jesus meant loving the poor, homeless, orphaned, and broken. Not just sending them a check and prayers. It meant praying with them, touching them, smelling them, eating their food, sleeping on their floors, and attempting to see their life in the way Jesus so profoundly did (and I should still do a better job). And those people affected me and changed my way of thinking. I married someone who shared those thoughts, or actions. We got married young-really young. So we’re kind of broke and have had to live life in ways a lot of married couples don’t. But I’ve never been worried about being poor and desperate because we have networks. We have LOTS of family, friends, and churches that would cushion the blow if something devastating were to happen. So many people in America don’t have that. And here’s where my background and my current state divide.

I think a lot of people, perhaps some of my own family included, have a very inaccurate depiction of the poor. And this deeply, deeply saddens me.

First of all, to understand the poor, you must know the poor. If you want to talk to me about the poor I want to hear you say their names, show me their faces; tell me about their lives, and what your relationship with them has been like. Because if you’re going to tell me that volunteering to feed the homeless twice a year or donating your used clothing to a local mission is how you “know the poor” I think you have the Gospel all wrong.

If you think the majority of people on welfare abuse the system, if these people would just get jobs it would solve a lot of problems, or if you think tough love is going to change them then you don’t understand the culture of poverty. If my grandparents were poor, and my parents were poor, I’m going to be poor. And if by some miracle I make it through high school and into college and I make good money, my money goes to my family because they need help whether they’re in America or in another country.  If I have an influx of income, I spend it because it could be taken away at any moment. No one has sat me down and taught me how to save and honestly, you really can’t live off of minimum wage. Point being, if you didn’t grow up in poverty you have no way of comprehending what it is really like. I know I don’t! But I’ve tried hard to. You can get a better idea by building ACTUAL relationships with the homeless, orphaned, widowed, and disabled in your community. I promise if you do (and if you’re a Christian, you are CALLED to do this), your heart and your head might change a little or a lot.

I’m not politically savvy in the least bit and I choose to put my hope in God no matter who sits in office. I realize these conversations about poverty and politics and religion could go on for days and I really only skim the surface of a lot more I’d love to say. I understand it is not a black and white issue and am not claiming to be correct about everything. I just want to encourage people, especially my fellow Jesus-followers, to ask yourselves what your relationship with the poor looks like? Do you even have one? If you don’t, do you make judgments or have pre-conceived notions about the poor? Spend some time reading over scripture about God’s heart for justice. Justice for the physically poor, spiritually poor, homeless, widowed, orphaned, and foreigner.



“We can admire and worship Jesus without doing what he did. We can applaud what he preached and stood for without caring about the same things. We can adore his cross without taking up ours. I had come to see that the great tragedy of the church is not that wealthy Christians do not care about the poor but that wealthy Christians do not know the poor.”

Shane Claiborne, The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical