Anything for love

Maybe it’s all the “Celebrity Apprentice” I’ve been watching lately, but I’ve been humming Meatloaf’s “I Would Do Anything For Love” since watching a Royal Wedding special earlier this week. Meatloaf and the royal wedding — kind of a stretch, right? (By the way, did anyone ever figure out what “that” was? You know, “I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that.”)

I was captivated by the Royal Wedding this morning. My husband set the alarm for me on his way out to the Y, and I had one hour of uninterrupted fairy tale romance time before the children woke up. (Side note: This bone china mug arrived in the mail this afternoon, straight from England, for my birthday. I’m a little giddy about it.)

Weddings, in general, have taken on new meaning for me since I’ve been married. My husband and I celebrate four years of marriage in less than a month, and it’s been a roller coaster ride so far but worth every crested hill and sharp turn.

During this television special earlier in the week, one of the reporters commented that he thought Kate would prefer that she wasn’t marrying a prince, that she would like to lead a nice, quiet life in the country and raise a family outside of the public arena. That struck me as truly amazing and sacrificial. Despite her personal preference, for the sake of love, she is entering a life she would not have chosen for herself, a life that will have its difficulties in lack of privacy, rules of etiquette, public appearances and possibly even threats to personal safety. All for love. She could have decided it wasn’t worth it, but for love of a man, who happens to be prince, she is choosing to sacrifice her idea of an ideal life and enter a world that certainly is different from what she has known.

In a sense, it’s what we all do when we get married. We join our lives to someone else’s, aligning our dreams, ambitions and goals to theirs, come what may. I didn’t understand this fully when I got married, and I’m not sure I ever will understand it fully, but joining my life to a man preparing to be a pastor has required sacrifice of things I thought I wanted and expectations I had for how life would be. But I wouldn’t change the choice I made to marry him. For me, there was no one else. He could have been a beggar asking me to live in a cardboard box with him or an astronaut with dreams of living on the moon. That’s the thing about love, the craziest of notions don’t seem all that crazy and as long as I’ve got my husband walking next to me hand-in-hand, I believe we can face anything together.

I imagine Kate could be afraid of the future. She will be queen someday. How do you live every day with that knowledge? Most little girls dream of being a princess; she literally is one. All because she loved a man.

Those of us who choose to join our lives with Christ experience this kind of love, too. For love of the one who first loved us, we’ll do things we never thought we could, give up the lives we’ve always wanted for the lives we never thought we could have. Living the Christ-life is scary, risky, unpredictable and difficult sometimes, but it’s also fulfilling, joyful, purposeful, abundant and freeing. Having experienced life with Christ, I hope that we would say we can’t imagine life any other way.


Some things you can’t learn by following a recipe

One of the fun things about living away from family (OK, don’t take that the wrong way!) is the chance to experiment a little with our holiday traditions. This year for Easter, my husband didn’t have to work for the first time since we’ve lived here, so we planned a Bartelt feast for the ages. (We like food. Planning for it. Cooking it. Eating it.)

For over a year, I’ve been wanting to try this homemade rye bread recipe I requested from a woman at church who made some for us after our son was born. (He’s 17 months now. Yes, I’m a procrastinator.) Easter seemed the perfect time to try.

Fact: I have never made homemade yeast bread before.

Fact: I try to follow recipes to a “T.” I am not a great kitchen improviser.

Fact: I get frustrated if I don’t succeed the first time at trying something. (Perfectionism, you are a vice.)

Fact: My husband is a better cook than I am, despite the cinnamon chili story he told in church a few weeks ago.

So, the Saturday before Easter, I gathered up the ingredients, and my nerve, and dove headfirst into homemade bread.

Step 1: Dissolve yeast. Whisk in flour. Cover, let stand for 4 hours.

No problem, although I’m slightly insecure about my kitchen’s ability to foster risen bread. My pizza dough never quite does what I want it to do.

Fact: While making the rye bread, I discovered that I’d been using the wrong amount of yeast when making pizza dough. 1 Tb. of yeast=1 packet, not 2 Tb.

Step 2: Stir in sugar, caraway seeds, salt, AP flour and water. Mix well.

Here’s where it started to get a bit tricky. And intuitive.

Step 3: Add enough flour to form a firm dough.

Huh? I mean, I know what dough is supposed to look like, but as I added more flour, I grew less confident in this endeavor. I kept asking my husband’s opinion.

Step 4: Floured surface; knead till smooth and elastic.

This is what kneading looked like. The dough was sticking to my hands, the wax paper (note to self: don’t knead on wax paper) and I kept adding more flour to try to get the dough to a kneadable state.

Crisis point: I was ready to give up, and things were getting tense in the kitchen. Phil kept telling me what I should be doing and I was ready to punch him. Or cry. Or tell myself I’m a big fat failure at bread making. (Note to self: This was your FIRST TIME making bread.)

Somewhere in the midst of the crisis, he suggested that I flour my hands. Genius. That made a huge difference. Why wasn’t that instruction in the recipe?

My conclusion: Some things are better learned by watching and doing alongside a more experienced person.

We live in Amish country. I have no doubt that a 30-something Amish woman could make bread with her eyes closed and one hand tied behind her back. She’s seen it done. She’s participated in its creation. And the first time she made it on her own, she’d have had someone watching her.

Even among the non-Amish are women (and some men, like my husband) who grew up watching their mothers and grandmothers make bread from scratch. I was not one of those.

A recipe can’t tell me when the dough is firm or that I should flour my hands or how long I have to knead before the dough becomes “elastic.” It also can’t tell me how to fix my mistakes or encourage me to keep going when I think I’ve screwed up.

In the midst of kneading and trying to salvage the bread, I thought about Christian discipleship and how sometimes we give each other a “recipe” of sorts for how we’re supposed to grow and develop as Christians. Read your Bible, pray, don’t do this, love your neighbor, tell people about Jesus … I’m sure you could add your own. And sometimes we don’t know how to do those things or we fail at some part of the Christian life and want to give up. What we need more than a recipe for Christian growth is a relationship — someone to show us how it’s done, who is more experienced than us, who can give us tips learned from those experiences, and who can encourage us to keep going and assure us that failure is an option but isn’t the end.

I pressed on with the bread, though I’m sure I kneaded it too long.

Step 5: After it (and I) rested for a few minutes, I divided the dough into four loaves, prepared the baking sheets and let the dough rise again. They definitely grew but didn’t really rise like I had hoped.

Step 6: Bake.

Here’s the finished result:

They look like bread and they taste pretty good, but I know I made some mistakes along the way. Baking homemade bread took most of the day, and while I’m not ecstatic about the result, I do feel good about trying. And I intend to try again, just not too soon.

I am grateful, though, for the reminder that it’s OK to fail at something, especially if it’s your first time and you have no one to guide you through. And for the encouragement to not give other Christians a list of “musts” or “shoulds” without committing to walk through life with them.

And I welcome any bread-baking tips you have!

Praying through Lent

40 days is a long time. Anyone who has given up something they really like for Lent knows this. Chocolate, french fries, caffeine, coffee … it’s not always easy to live without them for a few weeks, and the sacrifice doesn’t always stick with us when Lent ends.

I’ve never been really faithful about giving up things for Lent, and frankly I’m not 100 percent sure why or if I should. But this year, I wanted to acknowledge the season in some way, so Phil and I talked about praying together daily.

© Simon Krzic |

We’ve been looking for ways to grow spiritually, and the disciplines of the Christian life — Bible study, quiet time, prayer — have not come easy for us in our married life. If they were done at all, they were done more out of a sense of duty than of a desire to become more like Christ. In the months leading up to Lent, we had both established regular times of Bible reading and personal devotions, but our prayer life still lacked. So, we decided to commit ourselves to praying together once a day for the duration of Lent.

We prepared a prayer calendar listing the names of family and friends for whom we wanted to pray. (We actually created the list months before but hadn’t made the commitment to pray.) We hung it in a place where we could see it. And we sent Facebook messages (mostly; we did make a couple of phone calls) asking for prayer requests from the people who were coming up on the list for the week. (If we didn’t contact you, it doesn’t mean we aren’t praying for you. Sometimes, we got too busy to send the messages before the day arrived.)

This became one of my favorite parts of the day. It took both of us, sometimes, to remember that we had to pray. Sometimes it was afternoon; sometimes it was almost midnight. Sometimes we were really alert; other times we fell asleep during prayer time. We did miss a day or two toward the end, but for us, this was a major step in our daily practice of our faith.

Besides growing us closer to God and each other, this commitment opened the way for closer relationships with friends and family members. At times, Phil and I are horrible at keeping in touch with people. We post pictures of our kids months after we took them. We don’t respond to voicemails or e-mails or letters or Facebook message, mostly because we forget and are lazy, not because we don’t care. Living 700 miles from family is a greater distance than it first seemed, and technology doesn’t always close that distance for us.

Praying for people made us make an effort to keep in touch, and we learned new things about those closest to us and were able to feel their needs more deeply because we’d heard from them.

The calendar is set up for four weeks, so if we’re faithful to our commitment, we’re praying for the people on it about once a month. The second time through the calendar, we haven’t been asking for requests because it almost seemed too soon, like the requests may not have changed in a month. We’re still praying for people, but we’re evaluating how we gather prayer requests, and if we should ask every time we’re praying for a particular person.

I’m considering setting up a Facebook group for those on our prayer calendar to create a place where people could leave their requests if they have something they want us to pray for. That almost seems too passive, impersonal and public — not at all what I want our prayer life to be about.

Asking for prayer requests is kind of a tricky matter. I think the question, “How can I pray for you?” is too often seen as a spiritual substitute for “What juicy thing is going on in your life that I want to know about?” I’ve certainly felt like that, both when asked and when doing the asking, but when I’m actually praying for the person, I don’t feel guilty asking how I can pray.

The Bible says that even if I don’t know what to pray, the Holy Spirit does. Talk about mind-blowing: I can’t begin to imagine how that works. So, I also know that I don’t need to know what to pray for in order to pray. We certainly didn’t get a response from everyone, yet we prayed for those people.

So, I’m curious about your approach to prayer. Do you ask people what to pray for or trust that the Spirit will give you the words and needs? Do you intentionally pray for people on certain days or as the needs arise? Have you used a prayer calendar to organize your prayer life?

I know, for me, having a calendar has helped lessen the burden of prayer. Because, let’s face it, we can’t pray for everyone and everything everywhere all the time, but sometimes we feel like we should. The calendar has helped us focus our times of prayer but also gives us leeway to pray for other, timely needs when they happen.

Lent may be over, but the Easter season is just beginning. If you’re looking to add to your spiritual growth, take the 50 days of Easter (from this past Sunday to the Day of Pentecost, June 12) to try daily prayer or intentional prayer for those you love. Or pick some other area of spiritual growth where you feel you may be lacking. My husband the seminarian recommends Richard Foster’s “Celebration of Discipline” and Ruth Haley Barton’s “Sacred Rhythms” as helpful resources for the Christian disciplines and spiritual growth.

If you make any kind of commitment for the Easter season, leave a comment and I’ll be glad to pray for you and encourage you on your journey. To prayer, my husband and I added a devotional reading for the Easter season.

Just as physical growth doesn’t happen all at once, neither does spiritual growth. Take one step today and see where it leads you.


“All ready for Easter?” I asked our grocery cashier this morning. She’s one of my favorites at our local store.

© Silencefoto |

“Yeah,” she said, adding, “it’s expensive.”

She has a son who is close to the same age as my daughter, and though we’ve never talked about it, I suspect she’s a single mom. And while I don’t “believe” in commercializing religious holidays, I, too, bought my kids things they don’t need and candy they shouldn’t eat too much of. Add to that the whole reason we were at the store: buying food for our Easter meal. Yes, Easter is expensive.

Later, while I was home fixing lunch, I thought of what I should have said. I always do that. I don’t think quickly. Words, replies, comebacks always come to me slowly, and often too late.

It’s Good Friday. We remember what happened to Jesus this day. How he was dragged in front of political and religious leaders, beaten, lied about, betrayed, abandoned, insulted and executed. Him — God in flesh — suffering the most for the least of us. And, why? So we wouldn’t have to and so God could be in relationship with us.

I still have trouble believing it sometimes. God wants a relationship with me so much that He lets His Son die on a cross?

Yes, Easter is expensive. It cost Jesus his life.

But, thankfully, that’s not the end of the story. Jesus didn’t just die; He was raised from death and lives even now!

What an extravagant gift of God. He didn’t spare anything to give us what we couldn’t give ourselves. He loves to give to his children, his beloved ones.

The gifts I give my children this weekend weren’t expensive, but they did cost me something. It will give me great joy to see them use the gifts, to find joy in them, but it is possible that they will discard the gifts and ignore them.

God has given us all an expensive gift in His Son. What will you do with it?

You will know them by their crab legs

The hubby and I had an impromptu date night tonight. He’d been wanting a chance to eat the seafood buffet at a local restaurant (for which we happen to have a gift card!), but he usually has class on Thursday nights. Since this is Holy Week, no class, and our friends were available to babysit, so seafood night was ours to behold.

We had no good idea what to expect. When the hostess asked if we were having the buffet, and we answered affirmatively, she grabbed a metal bucket and escorted us to our table. I don’t know if I actually looked at my husband at this point, but I was thinking, “Um, what’s the bucket for?” As we walked to our table, I noticed the buckets full of inedible seafood parts and was enlightened. OK, this is going to be fun, I thought.

My husband prayed before we left the table to approach the buffet but admitted that he was distracted by all the cracking sounds he heard. It was definitely noticeable.

We gave the buffet the once-over so as to choose wisely what we would eat: clams in the shell, tilapia, haddock, salmon, shrimp, shrimp and more shrimp, breaded scallops, clam strips, crab cakes …

and these:

Yeah, those are crab legs. They pretty much take up a whole plate. I decided to be adventurous and try one. Bear in mind, I’ve never eaten crab legs before. I admitted this to my husband when I sat down and added, “I don’t know how to eat a crab leg.”

I tried ripping it apart with my hands but ended up with cracked shell and little bits of crab. I was beginning to think it wasn’t worth the effort, even though it tasted good. My husband and I both thought there had to be an easier way.

Enter, the regulars.

A nearby table filled with three people. All three came back from the buffet with plates piled high of crab legs. I tried not to stare. Most importantly, though, they came back from the buffet with these helpful little gadgets.

Yeah, I’m pretty smart. I totally missed the crab leg crackers (if that’s even what they’re called) on the buffet. My husband graciously grabbed one for me, and I set out to figure out how to crack crab legs. There really should be a tutorial or a picture or a step by step guide. Or maybe I just needed a sign that said it was my first time. So, I watched the nearby table — the guy went through two heaping plates full of crab legs in no time. Trying not to stare, I started to catch on to what I needed to do. I mean, this guy was pulling long, intact pieces of crab out of the leg while I was eating it in bits.

My second crab leg, I started to figure it out. But by this time, I was so full that I could hardly finish it. Now, I want to go back just so I can practice eating crab legs.

We were headed to church after dinner for Maundy Thursday service, and as I savored my ice cream sundae, I was convicted about my enthusiasm for seafood night and ice cream sundaes and food, in general. Not that food, in itself, is bad, but am I as excited to be gathering at the communion table with brothers and sisters in Christ, feasting in remembrance of Him?

And then I thought about how confusing communion can be to those who aren’t “regulars.” We talk about the body of Christ and the blood of Christ and we offer bread and juice or wine, and we ask people to eat and drink. We pass the elements, or sometimes we line up for them or kneel at the altar or drink from the same cup. Sometimes we dip the bread in the juice. Sometimes we take it all together; other times, we take it one by one. I, for one, don’t know the significance of any of the various ways to celebrate communion, and I’m in church almost weekly.

What does communion look like to those who aren’t in church weekly? And who’s there to guide them through?

Bread and grape juice aren’t exotic, but tonight they tasted better than the crab legs. “Taste and see that the Lord is good,” the Bible says. How many people miss out on a spiritual feast because they don’t know what to do with Him?

Try Oatmeal

Yesterday, while driving past McDonald’s on my way to the Y, I read this sign: “Try Are Oatmeal.” Annoyed by the incorrect “are,” I vented via Facebook status.

What I meant as a therapeutic search for other “grammar Nazis” turned into a discussion about fast food workers and their education level.

I never meant to imply that fast food workers were uneducated because someone used the wrong “are” on a restaurant sign. Chances are, the person who did the actual work on the sign wasn’t the one who created the message, anyway. I try not to make those kinds of generalizations about people because we’ve been on the receiving end of ones that aren’t true of us.

But that’s not my point. Grammar is.

Today, this is what the sign said:

Thankfully, I’m not the only one who noticed or cared.

It’s an age where not many people seem to notice or care about spelling, grammar, punctuation and all the other rules of writing and speaking we used to learn about in school. (Yikes! Already, I sound like I’m old.)

I’ll be the first to admit I’m no grammarian. I don’t always get it right. And I don’t know every grammar rule in the English language. I’m no grammar expert. More of a lover, I guess. And I’ve made my fair share of mistakes, in public, in print. (I once included the word “tresses” in a  newspaper story about building a house. The wife of a builder sent me a not-so-polite message informing me that the word I was looking for was “trusses.” Embarrassing, to say the least.)

So, maybe I’m biased. As a professional writer and editor, grammar, and its correct usage, is part of my job. I get paid to care.

That’s not everyone’s position, but I think grammar (and spelling and punctuation, for that matter) is something most people should care about, whether it’s part of their job or not.

The McDonald’s sign, and the subsequent discussion, is proof of why.

I don’t know anyone who works at that McDonald’s, so the sign is my first, and maybe only, impression of the restaurant. When there’s a mistake on the sign, my first thought is NOT that everyone who works there must be stupid, but that they don’t care enough to get it right. So, if they don’t care enough to make sure their sign is spelled correctly and communicates an accurate message, do they care enough to get my order right? Or keep a clean restaurant? Or serve me with compassion and a smile?

It’s just a sign, right? Maybe I’m making too much of it. But what if that mistake was on your application for employment? Teachers used to call those “careless” mistakes, and a careless mistake can cost you a chance at a job, at a hearing, at an audience. Just recently, I’ve read a couple of books with major grammatical, spelling and typographical errors in them, which caused me to set them aside and lose respect for the message. Not caring about the details makes me think a person doesn’t care about the larger message or mission.

Digress with me for a moment. I watch a lot of “What Not to Wear,” and the hosts are constantly telling people on the show that how they dress sends a message to people. If they go out in sweats or pajama pants or big, baggy clothes, they’re essentially telling people that they don’t care enough about themselves to make an effort at looking nice.

Writing and speaking do the same thing: they send people a message. If you don’t want people to think you’re uneducated, then learn to use language properly.

That said, I don’t think the rules apply in every situation. Does grammar apply to texting or Twitter? Or Facebook for that matter? IMO, no. (That’s, “in my opinion” for the texting illiterate. I am one of you.) But if we’re talking about a public image: a sign, a poster, a job application, a presentation, then I say, put your best foot forward. It can only help you.

So, if you haven’t clicked away in outrage or disgust, here’s a little reward for you:

I discovered a new Web site this week. I suspect I’m behind the curve on this one, as I am on most things culturally popular and relevant. Oddly enough, it has to do with oatmeal, which, in a way, started this whole post. Click here to “try oatmeal,” or in this case, I can’t vouch for all the content on the site, but this comic about word misspellings made me laugh out loud. (Or LOL?)

If you find any grammatical mistakes in this post, care enough to tell me. And if you dare, post a few of your own. If we can’t laugh at our mistakes, we’ll be afraid to make them.

Heard and not seen

© Robert Pernell |

Donald Trump’s getting a lot of air time and attention these days. (The Donald for president? Really?) But I want to talk about someone else on “Celebrity Apprentice”: Jack Jason.

If you don’t know the name, don’t worry. I didn’t either. I’ve been calling him Marlee Matlin’s interpreter for weeks. Until I googled him, I couldn’t have even told you what letter his name started with. He was introduced when the show started, and even though I hear his voice every week when I watch, his name wasn’t important enough for me to learn it.

In a way, I think that’s how it’s supposed to be. He is, after all, the interpreter, not the star. But I was thinking, while watching the episode where they filmed the commercial for the video phone, how hard it must be to not answer people’s questions with his own opinions. People talk to Marlee, but he answers for her, and even though he’s in the room and could give his opinion, that’s not his job. His job is to speak for her.

Last week, when Marlee raised $1 million for her charity, Jack cried his own tears. It was a meaningful moment for me. I’ve since learned that his parents are deaf, so charities that benefit those with hearing disabilities is personal for him as well. But it was a rare glimpse of how connected they are, and I was reminded that he is a person, too.

It must take a lot of humility to be someone’s personal sign language interpreter. You’re essentially a background figure. Necessary, essential and important, but your life is all about someone else.

Not unlike a Christian’s life. When we choose to follow Christ, we choose to become part of something bigger than ourselves. We choose to let God work through us, and ideally, give Him the credit for it.

That’s not always easy. I’m learning this myself. I used to think that I needed to write a book or have magazine articles published with my byline to feel successful at writing. My two most recent paid writing gigs won’t have my name prominently displayed anywhere on them. But they paid, and they’re writing credits. Glory be to God.

I’ve heard said that you can accomplish much if you don’t care who gets the credit, and I think that’s where I’m at with writing and God and the Christian life right now. It really isn’t about me, after all, and God can accomplish much more through me when I hang on to that truth.

Back to Jack Jason. He was Marlee Matlin’s interpreter when she won an Academy Award, and thus got to voice her acceptance speech. He said this about that experience:

“I flashed back to when I was eight years old [and] wrote in a school journal that it was my aspiration to have my voice be heard by millions of people as a DJ or a TV announcer. There I was doing just that. The moment was even sweeter as Marlee thanked her parents and I spoke those words, knowing my parents were in the audience too. It was a moment I’ll never forget.”

You can read more of his thoughts from that interview here.

I don’t know what your dreams are, but I know mine, and I’m finally coming to understand that God may not grant them in the way that I expect. And that’s OK.

It’s not self-defeating to not care who gets the credit; it’s freeing. If all I’m worried about is whether or not someone is going to recognize the work I do, then I won’t do much work at all. But if I join the work God is doing, and let Him get the credit, then who knows what might happen.

I choose to serve Him as faithfully as I know how, to communicate the messages He wants people to hear and forget about myself in the process. I don’t expect it to be easy. Humility never is.

And on a show where the objective is for the contestants to use their celebrity to win tasks and eventually be named “Celebrity Apprentice,” I’m grateful for the reminder that serving can still be celebrated.

When I tune in tonight, I’ll be watching for more than the stars’ antics. I’ll be seeking a lesson in humble service.