I have a lot to do today. And I have a wicked sinus headache. Not a great combination.

I’ve been sitting here at my computer, trying to get caught up on email and paying bills and stopping every 2 minutes to add something else to the to-do list that I forgot about and then re-counting the hours until it’s time to take another Advil.

I’ve got iTunes open in the background, but I wasn’t really paying attention to it—and then this song started playing: This Rock Is Jesus by the bluegrass band NewFound Road.

It’s a good tune, but I don’t actually remember buying the song or hearing it before—or, perhaps more accurately, I never really paid attention to it before.

Anyway, the line that stands out this morning is: “When you can’t hold to the rock, the rock holds on to you.” 

Seems deep. Comforting, too. I’m too headache-y to do a full theological unpacking of it—but it’s still bringing a sense of peace. It may be a long day, with a bad headache, but Jesus is holding on tight.

When you can’t hold to the rock, the rock holds on to you.

Ellie is sprawled in the front yard, soaking up the sunshine.

She refuses to come inside. When I asked her to, she managed to glare at me with only one eye open.

Ordinarily this wouldn’t be a problem, but I want to take a nap, too. And I don’t like to leave her outside when I’m, you know, unconscious.

I suppose I could take my nap on the lawn—if we didn’t live near a busy street, and I wouldn’t get a sunburn in about 2 minutes (even with a blanket; trust me, I’ve tried), and the grass was halfway comfortable, and I wouldn’t wake up every time the neighborhood kids rode by on their bikes.

She herself doesn’t really sleep out there, either. She’ll doze off for a few minutes, and then she’ll (somehow) hear a squirrel or something trying to sneak past, and she’ll jerk her head up and go on the prowl—until she realizes her rope doesn’t reach across the driveway, and then she’ll sit perfectly still, all tensed up, until the squirrel wanders away and she gives up and flops on the grass and starts all over again.

So, from a practical standpoint, and because it’s Sunday afternoon and the Sunday afternoon nap is practically a biblical command (“Thou shalt do no work on the Sabbath Day…”), she’ll have to come in.

I can be gentle about it, though. I could storm out there and grab her collar and drag her indoors—or I can find a piece of cheese (her favorite thing) and ask her to choose to come in. Maybe she can’t process all the logical reasons it makes sense to sleep inside, but she can understand that I’m approaching her with love.

Yesterday, as I was putting on socks, I told Ellie we were going to ride in the car (also her favorite thing). She was so excited that she jumped up on the bed and then swiped a paw at me, catching me right in the lip. It hurt, too. “Ow!” I said, loudly, and felt my mouth for blood—and then I petted her. Gently. Because I forgive her for hurting me accidentally, and because I know she doesn’t know better, at least not yet, and because I want her to know that I’m not leaving her just because she made a mistake. 

I hope that’s what love is. Real love, I mean, not the romantic mushy kind, or the abstract “love thy neighbor” idea—but the real, practical, “I care about you even when you’re difficult” kind of love. I hope that’s how I love Ellie. I hope that, in her own way, that’s how she loves me.

And I hope that’s how God loves us: with a gentle, forgiving, patient love that doesn’t end because we make mistakes, a love that tries to work with us when we’re stubbornly sitting on the front lawn instead of being safe inside the house.

Gotta go find some cheese.

Been traveling a lot this summer—and when you’re away from home, you miss little things. Turns out I can get by without some stuff, but I really don’t want to live without:

1. Post-It Notes. Two weeks ago I nearly tore apart my parents’ house looking for even one of these sticky little miracles. They were like, “Can’t you just use a regular piece of paper?” No, no I can’t.

2. A Decent Shower. The youth mission trip to South Dakota was great, despite the fact that once a day they took us to an old locker room with, um, less-than-new faucets and standing water all over the floor. Somehow it’s hard to feel clean when you have to wear a swimsuit and flip-flops for a three-minute drizzle that foams up the soap but doesn’t rinse it off. Builds character, though.

3. A Map. First of all, despite what anyone says, I did not get us “lost” in the middle of Minnesota on the way to the mission trip (it’s not my fault they can’t use decent signs out there); I did not take an unnecessary “detour” looking for an address in Minneapolis where Dad was taking down some trees (I enjoy the sights of the city, OK?); I did not turn the “wrong” way after the annual Norwegian country church service and end up at Catholic Bingo in Tilden instead of Lutheran Chicken Dinner in Bloomer (the food line always takes forever; I had plenty of time for the scenic route); and I did not have to “backtrack” around the city when I took some of the high-school girls to a Convo Design Team meeting in Madison (I thought it was important that they tour the town). At all times, I always knew exactly where I was. Because I had a map. Of course, I’m not denying that a more detailed, less ancient map may have been helpful…

4. A Good Book. For a weekend visit with my new nephew, I packed four novels, thinking that would be more than enough to fill the time when the baby was sleeping—but they were all terrible. I had to give up after the first few chapters and was left with nothing to do but read “Goodnight Moon” for the 4,000th time, or take a nap. (Fortunately Lukie made up for it by generally being adorable.)

5. Rope. Make that: strong rope. Ellie has frayed, snapped, or chewed through at least six ropes and two leashes:

In June we were up at the lake and she took off into the swamp—which is so dense that there was no way for me to go in after her—and suddenly I heard this terrible snarling, hissing, roaring fight. She came calmly trotting out a few minutes later without a scratch. (Mom’s convinced it was a raccoon that was afraid of her growling and ran off. I think it was a bear that was laughing too hard at her to engage in a fight.)

Then in July she was “helping” Dad with firewood and wriggled free of her 30-foot rope and disappeared into the woods. He had to call me to come down and coordinate a county-wide manhunt—er, doghunt. We finally found her on the other side of the highway, covered in mud and completely unrepentant.

In August she escaped three times: Once she came back stinking of dead fish, once we had to tackle her to the ground in the middle of a poison ivy patch, and once she sliced her leg open and I almost fainted from all the blood.

She’s under house arrest for September.

And I’m glad to be home.

This week on 5 Things Friday: little things that mean a lot.

1. Laughing at Ellie when she falls asleep during playtime.

2. Showing up at Aunt Barb’s around suppertime, hungry and uninvited and unequivocally welcome. (2a: Knowing she’ll love me anyway when I refuse to eat the asparagus.)

3. Spending a rainy afternoon playing cards with Mom. (Winning helped. Which I did. A lot.)

4. Running into youth group people around town, and having them shout out, “Jenny!” and come running to give me a hug.

5. Cuddling with my nephew.


I couldn’t find Ellie last night.

You’d be surprised how easy it is to lose a 45-pound border collie, even in the house.

It doesn’t help that she’s a bit of a stealth dog; sometimes, I’ll call for her, then turn around and find that she’s standing right behind me. She usually looks at me reproachfully like, “There’s no reason to shout, I’m already here.”

It also doesn’t help that she’s too smart; she won’t come running unless she’s convinced it’s worth it. Last week I dropped a pretzel on the kitchen floor, and I called her to come and eat it. (Because that’s what dogs are for, to clean up after spills.) She took her own sweet time uncurling herself, jumping down from the couch, wandering into the kitchen—and then took one look at the pretzel and glared at me. “That’s what you called me in here for? You couldn’t drop something with cheese in it? A meat-based product, perhaps?” I actually picked up the pretzel and offered it to her; she took it gingerly and then spit it out in disgust and flounced back to the couch.

So last night, when I finished brushing my teeth and realized she wasn’t flopped on the bathroom rug like usual, I said, “Ellie, where’d you go?” and I was not at all surprised that she didn’t appear at once. I checked all her spots: on the bed, first, then on the couch, under the desk, by the back door. I even went back into the bedroom and got down and looked under the bed, but she was nowhere to be found. Then I turned around and saw her stretched out in the closet, watching me calmly. Probably amused at the spectacle of me searching everywhere else when she’d been right there the whole time.

Somehow this made me think about us searching for God. Not that God hides from us, or laughs when we can’t find him—but maybe, sometimes, we try so hard to go out and find God that we forget that God has been there with us the whole time.

I’m still mulling over what this means, exactly. For today, though, I’m remembering that God is already here with us.

And I’m keeping a close eye on Ellie, just in case.

This week on Five Things Friday: maybe my graduate school career isn’t as stuck as I thought it was.

I’m trying to earn a Ph.D., which means I have to write a 300-page dissertation of original research and brilliant insights. (It is not fun.) It’s taking a lot longer than I wish it would, but recently some small things have happened that, taken together, feel like some pretty good progress:

1. At the church dinner on Wednesday, someone asked me what my dissertation is about. This is always a difficult but helpful exercise for me: it forces me to summarize the topic in just a few sentences. I answered, briefly, that I was studying Methodist circuit riders—preachers who travelled around on horseback and preached wherever they could find people to listen—on the American frontier in the early 1800s. Not only was it nice that she asked, but it made me feel better when she said, “Wow, that sounds really interesting.” I was like, yeah, actually, it is interesting…

2. I re-discovered Google books. Many of the autobiographies and journals that I need are out of print and difficult to find; fortunately, some of them have recently been put online.

3. I forced Dad to listen to a rundown of all the theorists I’m using. Last weekend we were working outside and I said, “So, you’re a captive audience; let me tell you about the theories I’ve working on.” Helped me organize my thoughts. And he only rolled his eyes a little.

4. Last Sunday’s sermon included a quote from John Wesley that I hadn’t heard before, so I went and looked it up later—and realized that it will help tie together two sections in my first chapter. Funny when coincidences happen like that.

5. I devoted part of a lecture in my university class to presenting a portion of my research. I was almost certain that all 83 students were bored to death. Then, after class, one of them came up to me and said thoughtfully, “I thought this was interesting. I’d really like to take another class with you.” It reminded me of the reason I’m working so hard on the Ph.D. in the first place: to help me be a better professor.

And that’s progress.

My new nephew is 18 days old today. And yes, he’s adorable.

And he’s reminding me of all the cute baby things I forgot about:

1. Feet. They’re just so small!

2. The hiccups.

3.  Fingernails. I don’t know why this always gets me—is it that they’re so tiny? So like a grown-up person, only miniature? So completely formed, even at birth, that they remind me of Jeremiah 1:5: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you…”? I don’t know, but they’re cute.

4. The spastic way he bounces his head against my collarbone as he’s snuggling in for a nap.

(4 1/2: Naps. How can someone sleeping be so sweet?)

5. Pale blue. Really, all the pastel colors. Officially, I still think a man (even a baby man) can wear pink, but he looks pretty darn cute in his little blue Pooh suit.

I had a very bad day—one of those days where I started to wonder if God had disappeared altogether.

It was such a bad day that I was dreading Youth Group tonight, even though it’s usually the highlight of my week. I was a little annoyed that I hadn’t felt God’s presence all day, and I really didn’t want to be around God’s people. I almost called in sick.

But we had a good time. We worked on our “Training Video” (coming soon!) for the South Dakota Mission Trip, and we designed T-shirts, and we hung out and laughed and had fun together. It put me in a little better mood, and I was glad I hadn’t skipped out on the evening.

Then one of the girls showed me a Bible passage, Psalm 18, that she was using on her T-shirt design, and it spoke to me. She had been looking for something else, she said, when she just happened to open the book to the Psalms. She was using The Message translation, which gave fresh voice to an old verse: “They hit me when I was down, but God stuck by me. He stood me up on a wide-open field; I stood there saved, surprised to be loved.” (v. 18-19).

That spoke directly to my bad dayIt reminded me not to get so bogged down in, well, bad days that I forget that God loves us. It didn’t erase the day, but it did help me put it into context.

A fun night at youth group would have been enough. But for God to use a T-shirt design contest, and an accidentally-found Bible verse, and a student brave enough to share it—that was grace when I least expected it.

I stood there tonight, while God’s people swirled around me, and was surprised, again, by how deeply God loves.

Even on a bad day.

Each member of the Confirmation class has to write a “statement of faith”—including the youth leader, apparently. So I sat down to think about what I believe, and it struck me that there are several songs that sum it up a lot better than I ever could.

You can listen to each song by clicking on its title. (I think. I have faith in God, but not so much in my own technological abilities. Go figure.)

No Other Love (Rush of Fools)

God loves us. Really.

This isn’t ordinary love, either—it’s not limited and incomplete the way that human love is. It’s not dependent on what we do or even on what we believe. It’s just there, surrounding us no matter what.


Drivin’ Nails (Forbes Family)

The Bible stories about Jesus aren’t just fairy tales.


Moving All The While (Sidewalk Prophets)

God’s Holy Spirit helps us live.

It’s as close as our breath—and as important to our spiritual life as breathing is to our physical life. This Spirit is moving all the time, everywhere—and yet it’s within each one of us, too.


You Don’t Know What Love Is (White Stripes)

Sometimes we don’t get it.

This song seems harsh at first—but listen closely: It’s not judgment so much as pointing out that living apart from God doesn’t work very well and ultimately doesn’t make us happy. It’s not what we’re made for.


At Calvary (The Link Family)

Jesus helps us restore friendship with God.

Sometimes it doesn’t make sense how the Cross works, exactly. But this song reminds us that it works: “mercy there was great and grace was free.”


The Horse Nobody Could Ride (Joey + Rory)

God doesn’t force us to follow him. It’s called “free will”: God waits patiently for us until we’re ready to accept Love—and the best ride of our lives.


All Are Welcome (Agapé)

Church isn’t just a social club: we’re meant to support each other on our journeys.


As Is (Peder Eide)

No need for perfection, here—God can use us just as we are to reach out in Love.


Gentle Arms Of Eden (Dave Carter & Tracy Grammer)

Sometimes we get caught up in debates about how life began or whether we should talk about Divine Truth as “he” or “she”—or which religion is “right” when others are “wrong.” That stuff is interesting, but we need to be careful not to miss the point:

God just wants us to come home to Love.

John 7-8

Sometimes, Truth is scary.

“Why do you not understand what I am saying? Because you cannot bear to hear my word.” (8:43)

Jesus, here, is telling people to let go of outdated notions of religion. “Look,” he says, especially in these two chapters, “forget all that other stuff; you’re missing the whole point—God loves you.”

It’s so simple, and yet it’s so completely radical that it gets Jesus killed.