Twin Cities Women’s Choir

So, I kind of love choral music. One of my favorite developments of late is the MPR Choral Stream, which means I can listen to soaring choral numbers whenever I want. Anne Lamott in “Traveling Mercies” says that “your essential rhythm is your heartbeat; your essential sound, the breath. We’re walking temples of noise.” I think that is why choral music and vocal symphonies are so soul-moving. So today, I will share this soaring piece by the Twin Cities Women’s Choir.

The Twin Cities Women’s Choir is a wonderful local organization that performs for good causes all over the metro. They are really musically impressive (to my completely subjective ear), and I say that because I ran into a few choir performances that were nice, but not high on musicality before I found TCWC and their wonderful sound. I like them especially because they are a non-audition choir, so they make that fantastic sound with whomever joins, which I think is kind of beautiful.

Turning it Over

I’m all on top of the new year goals/hopes thing that I do usually sometime in early February. The idea is not exactly to set goals that I can meet on my own steam, it’s more to express hopes that I can do something about, but need a little involvement from above to fully complete. I like to look at last year’s goals/hopes first, to see how they held up.

Take a sabbath every week.
I’ve been more or less successful at this. With the baby, my sabbath looks like about 90 minutes at a diner eating pancakes every Saturday. The weeks I missed going to pancakes were weeks we had company or Ben couldn’t watch the baby. Because of how much company we had this year, I’m now working on going out to pancakes (by myself) even if we do have people over.

Have a date night every week.
This one didn’t go as well. We did go on many dates, and probably a lot more than a typical couple with a new baby, but we’ll try to do better next year.

Exercise at least three times a week.
Nailed it. I went through Power 90 after my surgery, did about a month of P90X, and now I workout five or six days a week at the YWCA (which is awesome).

Write 500 new words five days a week.
I’ve averaged 565 words every weekday since March 21st, which is when I started writing again after the baby was born.

Sell 10,000 books.
Not even close. Sad, sad day. So far, none of my ideas to sell books have sold very many books, but luckily, I’m not out of ideas just yet. Onward ho.

So, kinda mixed results last year, but I’m still pretty proud of myself considering I was dealing a new baby and a small case of cancer. We’ll call it a win. Here’s what I’d like to try next year.

Finish the book I’m working on. I have a workable draft, and if I make good on Pearl’s naps, I think it might be doable.

Be able to play “Boston” by Augustana on the piano. Right now I’m working hard to pick out “twinkle twinkle,” so this is a big goal. But I have an awesome keyboard to practice on, and an even awesomer mother-in-law who I think might help me out.

Finish the YWCA indoor triathlon. For this I must learn how to swim a lap with some kind of efficiency or at least an itty bit of dignity. I don’t think my dog-paddle laps are going to cut it.

I will also be declining to weigh myself at all this year outside of the doctor’s office. Since it’s hard for me not to care about how much I weigh, I can help myself care less by not knowing how much I weigh. I want to stay in tune with my body and judge my health and fitness by how my body feels.

Sell some freakin’ books.

Spend as much time as I can with the most beautiful little girl in the world, who just happens to be my daughter. See the picture below for undeniable proof.

Pearl the Minnesotan Princess
Pearl the Minnesotan Princess

Sabbaths, date nights, and daily exercise are still a thing, they are just incorporated enough into my regular life that I don’t feel like they need a resolution of their own.

The Artist Small Group

This fall I’m leading a small group for artists with the dazzling Rena. A few months ago after a few beers, Rena and I were talking excitedly about what a great small group for artists would look like, and Rena exclaimed “Let’s do that!” and so we are.

The group looks like this. We get together, Rena makes sure everyone has a beverage of their choice (most impressively, she makes fresh loose-leaf tea for anyone who asks for it), and eventually we settle down in couches and folding chairs. One person does a devotional, where they share a bible passage they like and why they like it. One person shares some of their artwork. So far we’ve had poetry, photography, and a prototype tropical cookie. We sing worship together, and then everyone answers three questions. What are you making? What do you wish you were making? What was a moment this week that you felt connected to God? Once everyone has answered, we break into small groups and pray for each other.

Rena and I have been praying for this group before it began, and we pray that the group will inspire people to make more artwork. We pray the group will encourage people to notice and actively pursue connection with God. We pray that God will speak to the people in our group about their artwork. We pray these things because we believe that God speaks through the act of creation, and if more things are created, more of the kingdom will come.

In Defense of the Hard-Headed Jerk

Every time I judge someone, it bites me in the ass. Every time. Not always right away, but it’ll come. I’m worried about this principle because I’m reading a book that has kicked me into some super-advanced Yoda level judgment. It’s the kind of judgement that can only really be achieved by encountering a mindset you used to have, even fervently defended, and have now abandoned.

I’ve noticed lately that the easiest time to judge someone is when they’re coming from a place you used to be. Some of the most hardcore “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” people I know are those who used to live in poverty and worked their way out. The person most likely to criticize someone else’s eating habits is the person at the table who used to be obese. You would think it would be the other way around. Like the formerly obese person would have the most grace for the guy taking down a third slice of cheesecake, that they would understand where that guy is at and cut him some slack.

I get like this with religious Christians. I used to be an extremely religious Christian, and now I’m some other kind of Christian. Centered-set Christian, or Kingdom Theology Christian, or a Hangs Out with Drug Addicts Christian. Something like that. When Dave Schmelzer so eloquently speaks about Muslims who follow Jesus or Atheists who follow Jesus, I internally call myself a Recovering Christian who follows Jesus. That time of my life was miserable, I don’t ever want to go back there, and every time I hear someone talk or write like that way of living is a good idea, I go from zero to irate in 2.5 seconds.

If I’m talking to someone in a bad place that I used to be, I immediately feel superior to them. If they were as good, strong, smart, open-minded, committed, spiritual, or awesome as I am, they wouldn’t be in that bad place anymore. If they would just do what I did, they could get out. I think the human brain is predisposed to look for ways to inflate itself, and this is such an easy way to do it. I forget all the miracles I’ve experienced in my life, the lucky breaks, the divine interventions, the grace of God. I forget for a moment that I can’t really take credit for my own intelligence or even my work ethic. These are gifts too.

When I speak to someone who is living in a space I used to inhabit, I can very easily assume that I have nothing to learn from them. Since they are where I used to be and I have moved on, obviously they can only learn from me. It takes a great deal of humility to remember that no two places are exactly alike; someone else’s experiences are never going to be exactly the same as mine. And perhaps in my rush to get out of dodge, I missed a few things that might be valuable. Maybe someone who stayed a bit longer could teach me about that.

I’d like to think so anyway. It is harder but much better than writing off so much of humanity as hard-headed jerks. So I will try, really try, to get some good stuff out of this book I’m reading. If for no other reason than the love and respect I have for the dear friend who gave it to me.

On Self-Education

I’ve realized recently that I have some pretty big advantages in a lot of areas just because I read books from the library. I’m not much smarter than anybody else, but I can know a lot about a specific topic and make informed, intentional decisions about things if I educate myself first. So I read a book on dog training before we got a dog, a book on human fertility while we were trying to get pregnant, and many books on pregnancy, childbirth, and early parenting. I’ve found these books so immensely useful that I’ve decided to write…

Lauren’s Guide to Self-Education

Read a book.
Yes, I know it’s out of fashion. Yes, I am biased towards books because I write them. Nevertheless, while reading articles on the internet is useful, I find reading an entire book on a subject gives me a greater breadth of understanding than reading an equivalent number of words on the internet. Maybe because the author of a book is put through more of a screening process than one on the internet, maybe because a single author will delve deeper in one book than a bunch of authors will do in a shorter format. Books are easy to get because we have a great library system. You can request books online and have them sent to your nearest library and they will e-mail you when it’s time to pick them up. You can renew them via e-mail and you will get reminder e-mails when they’re due. You can’t beat that for the price, which is free.

Read a book you like.
You’re not going to keep reading a book unless it’s interesting or enjoyable, preferably both. If you start reading a book on a topic and you’re bored to tears put the book down. Get a different book on the same topic, one that’s more engaging and interesting. Trying to force yourself to read a book you hate will have two results. First, it will take forever to read it because you will find other things to do during reading time. Second, you won’t retain very much of the information, because instead of soaking up all the facts, your brain was busy keeping your eyelids upright.

Don’t believe everything you read.
If the book you are reading frequently says things like, “my friend Joe tried such-and-such a thing, and the result was…” that’s called anecdotal evidence, and it’s very bad. While a real life story seems like hard evidence to the author’s point, it fails to mention that there are a thousand different factors that could lead Joe to that result. When reading for information, especially information you’re going to actually use, look for phrases like “so-and-so did a study, with this many test groups, the control group had this result, and it was published in this journal.”

Really, don’t believe everything you read.
Even if you see all the phrases I mentioned above, still be suspicious of the conclusions they draw. Expect a person who runs a study to want that study to mean something dramatically significant. Not everything is dramatically significant, even if it is true. For example, a study done on breast milk found one element that’s used to produce jet fuel in the milk. If the author goes on to ask, “so how does jet fuel find it’s way into breast milk?” pause for a minute. One element used in jet fuel is water. Another good example is an article I read on how letting babies cry produces cortisol, the stress hormone, in their brains. It said nothing about the effect cortisol has on baby brains, it just made it sound like it might be really bad. I want to see something like, “babies with higher levels of cortisol scored 30% lower on an IQ test when they reached the age of five” or something. I made that fact up, just for the record.

Everyone has a bias.
Every book is written from a particular perspective, and is usually trying to prove or persuade you to something. Don’t stop reading a book because it’s biased, and don’t assume you’ve found a book that isn’t biased. Find the bias, identify what it is, and remember what the bias is when you’re considering the information they’re giving you. A book on raising organic vegetables is going to make villains of all chemicals. When that book tells me that a particular chemical is really awful, unless they offer some concrete evidence with it (see the two points above), I remember that this book is biased against chemical treatments and I reserve judgment.

The proof is in the pudding.
If you read something in a book, and you try it, and it does not work, stop doing it. This requires some forethought. What does “work” mean? What are you trying to accomplish? This is very interesting when you look at books about sleep training babies. Some books are trying to find the way of sleep training that creates the gentlest and least invasive situation for the baby. Other books are trying to find the way of sleep training that creates the longest stretches of sleep for the parents. These are both noble goals, but you need to know what you’re aiming for before you try something. Then you can tell if you hit it or not. If you don’t hit it, either take what you’ve learned from your attempt and do something else, or read a different book.

Talk to people.
You can save yourself some misery by chatting casually about the book you’re reading with some friends in a similar life situation. Chatting about dog training with other dog owners gives me an idea about what might work, what I might be inclined to do, and a few catch phrases that will help me find a book that’s helpful for me. If I know the phrase “positive dog training” or “alpha leader,” I will know what I’m looking at when I pick a book. Not to mention, I can get myself in some majorly twisted worldviews if I never check mine against someone else’s.

Don’t go nuts.
You don’t have to read every book on everything you ever do. Reading just one book on a topic will give you a very solid reference point for making decisions. Reading two will practically make you an expert in that area. Read three and you can bet that people will be calling you for advice on it. When you see that there are 800 books on prenatal nutrition, don’t freak out and relax with a cheeseburger. Pick one that you like and read the whole thing.

Add your own stuff to this list, object to a point, tell me what you think.

For the Joy

Now that I’m no longer pregnant, I feel more comfortable saying that I found pregnancy almost entirely miserable. My pregnancy could be measured in symptoms: First mind-numbing fatigue, second vomiting, third daily migraines, fourth crippling pelvic separation, fifth false (or “practice”) contractions, sixth freaking hives.

Before my pregnancy could end, I had to go through labor and birth. Labor, like pregnancy, gets continually worse before it ends, so the desire to move toward an endpoint is married to the awareness that more pain is coming. I chose to labor and birth naturally, which means I did not use any painkillers. For the majority of my labor, I felt like I could handle it. Even toward the end of active labor when I was crying and shouting during the contractions, I felt that those actions were part of how I was managing the pain. Between contractions I was still calm, serious, and committed to continuing without drugs. The transition between active labor and pushing was one of the most frightening experiences of my life. This is the only part we usually see in the media, when the woman says things she doesn’t mean, makes impossible requests, and shouts at people who are trying to help her. This is what Sylvia Plath described as a “long, blind, doorless and windowless corridor of pain.” Out of 34 hours, this lasted about 2 ½, or so I’m told. When my midwife told me I could start pushing, I felt an immense sense of relief. Now I could do something to move the process forward, I could use my strength, the might of my warrior woman, to end my pain and start my daughter’s life. At the climax, the space in which the highest peaks of agony and joy touch for just a moment, I gave my last push through the ring of fire. I pushed despite the fact that I could feel the pushing breaking me, partly because I chose joy over an absence of pain, and partly because I had no choice.

I was told that I would forget all my discomfort and pain when my baby was born. I did not forget it, but I also don’t regret it. That long, hard ascent to the peak of physical suffering is completely eclipsed by the sheer joy of my daughter’s mere existence. She does not erase the pain; she is the purpose of the pain.

Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus suffered on the cross because of the joy that was waiting for him. That is how I feel about pregnancy and birth. I did not suffer because suffering is a virtuous thing to do. I didn’t suffer because I wanted to be refined into a better person. I didn’t suffer because I have a martyr complex, or to have an excuse to complain for the rest of my life. I chose to suffer for one reason and one reason only; for the joy of being Pearl’s mother.

I have only sobbed for joy twice in my life. The first time was after I walked back down the aisle with my husband on our wedding day. I cherish that moment, when I couldn’t hold all the wonder and beauty inside for another second, and my new husband held me while I trembled and cried for joy. That was a small taste of what it was like to hold my daughter for the first time. She is miraculous in many ways, not least of which is in the simple and unbelievable fact that this complete person had just emerged from my own body. She came when we’d given up hope for children, she came despite my lack of faith in a God who keeps his promises, she came and grew and was healthy in a body that also is growing cancer cells, she came with a name God gave us before her conception. She is a true pearl, emerging from struggle and agony to grace the world with a pure and flawless beauty.

The Personality of Parenting

On March 4th, my husband and I welcomed our beautiful daughter into the world. Because I am totally not above bragging about my kid, here’s a picture of her utter cuteness.


I’m finding that parenting is deeply personal. The way I choose to interact with my child, the values that I emphasize, the behaviors I encourage, the words I use, the type and amount of affection I give, all of those choices come from the core of my being. They are a projected image of my true self. Because I read a great deal and put a lot of stock in education, I will carefully search out articles and books on various aspects of parenting, but that is all just raw data I’ll draw from to make those oh-so-important decisions. The way I choose will still be based on my values and intuition.


Here’s the rub though. Parenting is also done in public. The results of all those deeply personal decisions ends up running around the playground with her very own voice for all to see and evaluate. And because everyone’s parenting is deeply personal, it is just as inevitable that any other parent present would have done something different than I did. If that other parent assumes that the way they interact with their kids is the way to do things, we’re not going to be friends. If I go back and judge them for doing things differently than I do, we get the same result. Which is a shame, really, because if we can both agree to let each other be who we are in how we raise our kids, we can be really helpful to each other.


But it’s hard. In the mom’s group I’m in, we sometimes have to remind each other, which everyone is grateful for. Those women are amazing, and it would be tragic to lose their friendship just because they’re different moms than I am.

What I’ll be trying in 2012

Okay, I am aware that it is nearly the end of January, but I didn’t do my yearly hopes/goals and I really like doing that. So for the purposes of this blog, it is still the beginning of the year and people are still talking about what they’d like 2012 to look like. I like to start out looking at least years goals to make sure this isn’t a huge waste of time. So here were my goals for 2011

1. Read 50 books, one of which will be the Bible, and one will be a Russian novel.

In fact, I read 58 books in 2011.  The Bible was one of the books, but unfortunately I was unable to finish the Gogol.  Interestingly, Dead Souls is by far the shortest Russian novel I’ve taken on and the only one I didn’t finish.  Six of the fifty-eight books I did not actually finish, but I didn’t count them unless I read more than half of the whole book. So you can say that I read 52 and six halves if you prefer. This was an incredible experience which probably deserves a blog all it’s own.
2. Go through The Artist’s Way.

I did go through The Artist’s Way with the lovely Kim and ever-so-talented Heidi, and it was awesome.  I learned a lot about my own process and how I was tripping myself up at several points.  I’ve done more writing and enjoyed it a great deal more since going through this course.  I think this in tandem with Jeff Pelletier’s class on finding one’s life purpose (God’s Work In Progress) has revolutionized the way I do what I do, in an entirely positive way.

3. Several goals related to my human trafficking novel.

Ironically, due to the wonderful progress I made on goal #2, I decided to stop working on my human trafficking novel.  I learned that while I believe that raising awareness is a vital and noble endeavor, it is not what I personally love to do.  The novel is complete in most respects, and there is a chance it will show up in the market at some point, but it will not be the intensive nation-wide tour I’d been planning.

4. Complain about other people less.

I do think I complain about people less than I did, although I could still get a lot better at it.

5. Have sex 365 times.

Oh, wouldn’t you like to know? (Typed by a woman now eight months pregnant who can’t tie her own shoes).

The real irony in last years goals is that it was the first year in three that I declined to even write down that I was trying to get pregnant or published, both of which came to pass in the great year of 2011.  In 2012, my daughter will be born and my first novel will be released, and I could not be happier.  Not even a little bit.

Choosing goals for this year feels kind of wonky, if only because I have no idea what my life will look like eight weeks from now.  After some serious thought, I’ve decided to write down the things that I hope to cling to even with the upcoming major life changes.  Here goes.

1.  Take a sabbath every week.  I’ve been doing this consistently for two years now, and I really believe it makes my life dramatically better than it was before I started.  I think it’s a good example to set for my child.  I don’t know exactly what a sabbath looks like with a baby in the house, but I’m willing to figure it out.

2.  Have a date night every week.  Yep, you heard me.  There are those who laughed at me when I said I was going to start having date nights while my husband was in school, but we managed 50 dates in 52 weeks.  Although I already love my daughter immensely, and I imagine actually seeing her will only increase that feeling, my husband will always be the most important person in my life.  I intend to treat him accordingly.

3.  Exercise at least three times a week.  I really hope to start P90X again once I’m recovered from giving birth and thyroid surgery, but I will consider the year a success if I work out three times a week.

4.  Write 500 new words five days a week.

5.  Sell 10,000 books.  That seems like a nice round number.

There we go.  Wish me luck!