the little things: pink sunrise (kristin wolven).

Today’s writer is someone I’ve called Friend for over fifteen years now, back when I called her Willoughby and she called me Kujo.  I’ve always been glad that our paths continue to intertwine and cross when and where they do, so welcome with me someone who GETS IT.  She truly is someone who gets that the little things really are the big things. Welcome to the blog, Kristin!


What’s crazier than being addicted to reality TV? Working in reality TV. 

I have to admit though, I love working in reality television. It involves a lot of my favorite things, like writing, and people, and TV. It moves fast. It’s fun. I thrive in production.

At the same time, it consumes my thoughts and takes over my life. Since I work twelve-hour days, six days a week, I miss out on spontaneous dinners with friends, evening runs, and taking a weekly ballet class. It’s hard to live a balanced life.

How long can I do this? But I need a job. Is this is the job I really want to do? Yes. I have to keep moving. Moving up. Moving forward.

How will I live a full life if all I do is work? Literally. All the time. Where is the joy in that?

Last December, I was nearing the end of a four-month shoot on a home design show. It was a Saturday, and I had to leave at 6:30am. I jumped in my car and headed towards the 210 Freeway. I turned the corner, when suddenly I was gazing at the most beautiful sunrise I had ever seen. The sky was bright pink. Massive, horizontal, purple clouds were resting against the San Gabriel Mountains in the distance. It was amazing. I stopped singing, turned down the music, and craned my neck to get a final glimpse as I headed down the onramp.

It occurred to me that I was experiencing something nice. The view was spectacular. I was alone in my car. It was silent. I had some time to drive and enjoy just being. I had found a tiny moment of joy.

In February, I was still sorting through these “quality of life” questions, when I was given the opportunity to work on a reality show in New York. Although I hoped it would be this grand and glorious adventure and every conversation for the next year would begin with, “Well, when I lived in New York…” It didn’t quite turn out like that. The job was hard. I was homesick. I missed California. I missed my car. And I drive a 2000 silver Saturn sedan. With no power steering. And no power windows.

Granted, it was still fun. I loved, loved, loved the people I worked with every day. It was a stretching experience. I learned a lot, but these questions still plagued my mind. Is this the life I want?

I tried to find that moment of joy I had experienced in my car that early morning back in December. But it’s hard to find the pink sunrise when there are tall buildings everywhere. I mean everywhere.

And then finally, I discovered my tiny moment of morning joy.

At 8am each day, I would step out of the 59th St. subway station onto Lexington Ave. and gaze down the busy street at the Chrysler Building. It’s my favorite building in New York. It’s stunning.

Then again, each evening, I would pause to stare at it glowing brightly against the night sky. Believe it or not, those fleeting moments staring at a building in the distance made the long days easier. It was a small thing, but it made a big difference.

I’ve learned that when your mind is consumed with big questions, you might need to shift your focus. Find a new moment. Find a little joy. I found the Chrysler Building. I found a pink sky. And the San Gabriel Mountains.

IMG_1717Kristin Wolven loves movies, TV, coffee, and living life with her roommates in Pasadena, California. She has a passion for writing and acting. Kristin recently co-produced and appeared in the independent feature film, CAMP. She is a former elementary school teacher, who now spends her days as a freelance associate producer in reality television. You can follow Kristin and her roommates, Katie and Emily, as they chronicle their daily adventures on their blog In the Meantime.  So, I don’t know about you, but I’m going to remember to open my eyes and LOOK for that little pink sunrise and sunset.  Thank you for your words, Kristin!  In the meantime, encourage our friend by leaving a comment below …and if you’re new to the blog, encourage Cara by following her words today!

on faith: the gray that saves.

“I’m joining the synchroblog for the release of A Christian Survival Guide: A Lifeline to Faith and Growth by answering this prompt: ‘What saved your faith?’”

Flickr Creative Commons: Maria Gemma June.

Flickr Creative Commons: Maria Gemma June.

Embracing the gray saved my faith.

Maybe it all stemmed from the little Baptist church I grew up in, for there existed a certain amount of certitude that came from the simple act of believing. Doubting was not a part of our vocabulary, nor was questioning the directives of Pastor Jack or Mama or Dada – but instead, we stuck our arms out in front of us, like miniature mummies, playing a valiant game of Follow the Leader. Because how could the leader ever lead us astray?

Perhaps it came from Oldest Child Syndrome, from clinging mercilessly to Black and White, to Right and Wrong, to Good and Bad. You either believed or you didn’t believe. You were either a good student or a bad student. There was no middle line of demarcation, but each one of us stood on one side or the other, sometimes jumping back and forth but never straddling the precarious unknown.

So I clung to this certitude, humming the tune we’d sung over and over again at church camp:

     Oh, you can’t get to heaven (oh, you can’t get to heaven)
     In a Kleenex box (in a Kleenex box).
     Oh, you can’t get to heaven (oh, you can’t get to heaven)
     In a Kleenex bo-o-o-o-ox!
     Oh, you can’t get to heaven in a Kleenex box, ‘cause God don’t like them little snots.
     All my sins are washed away, I’ve been redeemed …by the blood of the Lamb!

And so the verses continued, because let’s face it: I wanted my ticket to heaven, for I believed this the end goal of the Christian faith. I read my picture bible and I sat obediently in Sunday School; I listened, without question, to instruction from my elders, but mostly, I just believed. Because like the song proved, adhering to the Christian faith granted either an “in” or “out” status – and as for me, I wanted in, no questions asked.  

The fog-filled gray began to roll in sometime in my early twenties.

In college, disillusionment surrounding church culture met my own unmet needs when I realized the place and the people I’d called home for the previous three years weren’t the right fit anymore. When I left, they called me Jezebel, labeling me with the only villainously biblical female name they could think of; this when I didn’t show up to their place of worship on Saturday night, when I instead spent my evenings waywardly meandering campus smoking cloves.

But in a way, their name-calling provided me room to think and to question, and to mourn the loss of Always-Knowing and Ever-Understanding.

A year or two later, with college behind me, I wore the hat of Teacher by day and Friend by night. Sitting with one of my best friends in a cramped and tiny booth in a vegan restaurant on the west side of town, we finally pushed passed cordialities to the heart of the matter.

“Cara,” he said, his mouth full of Soy Chick’n Nuggets, “I’m gay.” He stared at me, eyes never dropping my perplexed, caught-off-guard gaze.

“No you’re not,” I replied him assuredly, “you can’t be gay.” I may have even laughed at his admission, I’m not sure.

“Um, I am.”

And so our argument went back and forth for the next minute or two: me doubting his sexual orientation while he held firm to the belief, that yes, indeed, he actually was attracted to males. But this doesn’t make sense! I wanted to scream. You love Jesus more than anyone I’ve ever met. How can you be Christian and gay at the same time?

His words blindsided me that evening. Because everything I’d known and believed and professed up until that point didn’t now fit together. In a sense, as the gray fog of faith rolled in just a little bit more that evening, I yearned for certainty and I craved the assuredness I’d unwaveringly trusted in in my youth. But I also began to grab hold of the God who resides in the gray.

Were we to sit down to tea today, bags steeping in metal spoons beside oversized ceramic mugs, I’d probably tell you that most of the time my life feels like there’s more gray than black and white.

But this isn’t, I’d say, a bad thing, not at all. I’d remember with fondness a conversation with my friend Lori, as we walked down Sloat Avenue toward the ocean, slate skies of San Francisco mirroring her words.

“Oh, but gray is good!” she’d exclaim, clutching her latte tighter, smiling her infectious, believe-you-me grin. Because when The Gray emerges, when it overwhelms and frightens and clouds our stories, it also sometimes forces us to huddle under cozy blankets and stare out cloudy windows and just be. We become lost in a tangle of unknowing and we question God, hurling insults at him and raising questions towards him, one after another after another, like the ball pitching machine in the batting cages. Whoosh! Whoosh! Whoosh! Our hands lob and they sling and they fire fastballs towards the Great One, wondering if this’ll be the last time he’ll lend ear to our third-degree queries.

For somehow, in this insult-throwing, not-knowing, time-of-questioning period of gray, I’ve felt the most certitude.

Because I’ve been able to just been me, even if I don’t have all the answers, even if I don’t seem to understand. And it’s then – in the most eventual of ways – that I come around, because I realize that it’s not actually about me. It’s not even about my faith, and how much I believe or disbelieve, or about how certain I am that I’ll make it past those pearly gates. But it’s simply about him. It’s solely about the God who sees, and right then, right there, he sees me.

And I remember that gray is good.

So, what did this spark in you?  If you’re a person of faith, what’s saved you?  And if you’re interested in reading or submitting your own story to the discussion, check out my friend Ed’s blog here.  Also, you can download a copy of his new book, A Christian Survival Guide, for free TODAY, and on extreme discount this whole week.  Check it out!  

food moaners anonymous.

There’s a whole lot of grief going on in the world today: #Ferguson, following the death of Mike Brown.  ISIS.  Robin Williams and (much-needed) sparked conversations surrounding suicide and depression.  And these examples are only the tip of the iceberg – because truthfully, there are a whole lot of people saying a whole lot of things about these topics and more, so please, go and understand and take a minute to educate yourself.

But for our purposes here, be it because of my run-from-pain Enneagram seven self or simple human need to not entirely be consumed by the dreary and depressive, Cara proudly presents Incredibly Important, Life-Changing Thoughts.


And this week’s topic of conversation?  Food moaners.  

Listen carefully: you might just hear a food-moan.

In an attempt to get our kid to eat more than fruit and yogurt, yogurt and fruit, repeat, a friend of ours suggested he be given four food options at meals – perhaps two from Mama and Dada’s choice of grub, and two from his extensive two-food repertoire.  So we began to put salad and chicken, beans and bread on his plate at dinner time, but in order to show him how delightfully AMAZING a chow-filled plate can be, we started moaning along with our meals:





Soon these words and phrases marked the extend of dinner conversation, but much to our chagrin, it actually worked!  For the most part, Little Man began eating (or at least attempting to eat) like a champ …and in the meantime has become a full-fledged food moaner himself.  I need not prompt him to try a bite of P-dub’s delectable tomato soup, because before the bowl is even placed in front of him, he’s off and moaning.  

And it makes me wonder: have we birthed a food moaner?  

I mean, don’t get me wrong, his moans have the power to make me feel pretty good about myself, whether I’ve actually stood up for thirty minutes straight and cooked a meal, or whether I’ve just taken a piece of string cheese out of its plastic wrap cover.  (Mmmm, chee!  chee!  Mama, yum!  I know, Baby: I do what I can).


But is this forever?

Back in the day, before marriage and babies, when it was still just me and Mr. Darcy (my long-ago pup), I lived with a family of food moaners.  Most of the time my “cooking” consisted of the Trader Joe’s frozen food aisle, but for those rare nights when I’d bust out one of two meals I knew how to cook: taco soup and TRB (tofu, rice, broccoli, Santa Cruz-style).  So one night, although we each had our own living spaces, we decided to do dinner together; I went to the store and purchased ground turkey, taco spice and yellow onion; tomatoes, tortilla chips and cheese; avocados, black beans and chicken broth.  And I went to taco soup town.

When the five of us finally sat down to dinner, the result couldn’t have been more satisfying – in fact, it was actually quite a bit like meal time “conversations” with Cancan as of late:





I was about to drop my day job and go full-time into the taco soup-making business when we had another meal a week or two later – complete with grilled hotdogs, oven-heated buns, ketchup and mustard on their part – and I realized this: no matter the meal, they were bonafide, real-life food moaners.  It didn’t matter whether we were eating processed meat trimmings and fat, or a slaved-after, soupy meal of Mexican goodness, they’d moan.  They’d moan and they’d groan, and they’d make any preparer of food feel like a million bucks.

And I’m okay with that, I suppose, because what’s a world without orgasmically-inducing meal times?

But if this is going to be a part of the dinner time conversation for the next eighteen years, I’d better prepare myself.


What about you?  Are you a food moaner?  Have you ever been around food moaners, and what did it elicit in you?  Should we all try our mouths at food-moaning today?  Do share the results with us!  

the little things: little heart (ashlee thomas).

Today’s writer is sure to put a smile on your face and gently remind you that the way we interact with children DOES matter.  Ashlee is an old friend from Auburn, Washington, whom I’ve been privileged to see grow up over the course of the last nine years.  And friends, I LOVE all she has to say today.  Enjoy!  

Photo cred: Flickr Creative Commons, Hadeaki Hamada.

Photo cred: Flickr Creative Commons, Hadeaki Hamada.

In high school I took a class where I went to a third grade class and hung out with kids twice a week. Since then I’ve been working with kids in some capacity ever since. The funny thing about kids is they say whatever is on their minds. On a normal day I get asked and told things like, “Why are your toes are brown?” and “Do you have mommy milk in your breasts?” “Ashlee, I didn’t fall down today” or “You are too old to get married but you’re not old enough to die”.

Most of my days are spent giggling about the things that my kids say. My favorite thing about these little hearts I get to teach are they aren’t yet afraid of what people think. They live life with such a beautiful freedom. I’ve always loved the saying “If a child calls you fat, then you’re fat”. Good or bad kids will tell you the truth. As a preschool teacher it’s hard to decide if what’s being said to me in that moment is important or not.

But one day Jerry* came barreling towards me tears rolling down his cheek. He had been yelling at a friend, for the millionth time. I could feel my patience running thin. It wasn’t the first time that I had to talk to him about the importance of talking to others kindly. For some reason though, this time I decided to ask him why he was yelling at everyone, including me. This sweet, snuggly little guy looked at me and said, “Everyone yells at me, my mom, dad, and other teachers”. My heart sunk and tears welled up in my eyes. Seriously, how does one even respond to that? I still don’t really know. What I did do was sit on the floor with him. I met him in that moment. I asked him gently if he felt like I ever yelled at him. To my relief he said no.

Although I know I am no perfect person, this little heart changed the way I interact with children. I take more time to listen and understand; even when the stories never seem to end, or don’t actually make sense. That day I decided that I would always make sure to meet these little hearts where they are. It’s easy as an adult to get caught up in the chaos of the day and forget to really listen. But to take the time and let the children we interact with every day that they are worth listening to. I am a better teacher because I opened my heart and ears to a little chubby faced boy on a glooming fall day.

Facebook-20140521-022344Ashlee resides in Seattle. She is a preschool teacher to the world’s cutest four and five year olds. She fancies herself an adventurer and recently a world traveler. She’s currently working on getting her BS in early childhood education.  So what can you say to encourage her today?  I know this reminds me to be present with my son and truly listen to all that’s going on in his little heart.  What about you?  


*Names have been changed.

i’ve wanted it all (found wanting).

Today a piece of my writing appears on author Jen Pollock Michel’s blog – and hey, that makes me excited!  Jen’s new bookTeach Us to Want, was named one of the 25 Best Books from the First Half of 2014 by the Englewood Review of Books, so if you need something to read, consider picking up a copy!  Otherwise, read my essay on the theme, “Found Wanting,” and check out the other writers as well.   

Photo cred: Flickr Creative Commons, insane photoholic.

Photo cred: Flickr Creative Commons, insane photoholic.

I’ve wanted it all – and I’ve felt entitled that I deserve it all.

I’ve held an inflated sense of self. Like a caged lion desperately devouring his meal of bones and blood, I’ve greedily eaten affirmations of self-promotion. Fed to me from the earliest elementary years, I’ve taken and applied these words of invincibility to heart: You can do anything you set your mind to! “Can’t” is just a four-letter word! Be all that you can be! On and on the exclamation points continued, pounding into every pore of my being, infesting every part of my soul.

While such inspirational phrases never meant harm, naturally, the shouts of entitlement found their way in to my life of faith – because why wouldn’t My Big Genie Above grant me the desires of my heart? So I’d whisper the psalmist’s words heavenward, making David’s thoughts my own: God, I delight in you – so give me the desires of my heart as you say you will. With an indulgent nod of the head, I’d punch a conclusive “Amen!” onto the end of that day’s expectant request.

Really, my directives seemed to work well for a while – until I left full-time ministry and struggled to understand my identity apart from a vocational definition of self. Until a season of wandering in the wilderness arrived, and walking through a vast, unmarked desert found me helpless to even know what to utter to the One I’d apparently known so well, only months before. Until a month of darkness clouded over me, when unheard cries were met with mute silence did I later begin to understand that Something New was perhaps emerging in me and with me.

Click here to read the rest – and don’t forget to pick up a copy of Jen’s book, Teach Us to Want!  Otherwise, have you ever wanted …and felt like you deserved it all?  

(Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazonany purchase you make supports this site). 

the intersection of competency & powerlessness.

Monday was just one of those days – as in, just another manic Monday, the best of times and the worst of times (and on and on the phrases go).  Because, as it turned out, that night happened to house the ultimate intersection of complete competency and ultimate powerlessness.

On the one hand, 647 miles away, at the American Legion Hall in Beaverton, Oregon, a dinner for 95 of the Navy’s Wounded Warriors training at Nike Headquarters for the week was happening:

Some of the warriors and coaches.

A table of warriors and coaches gettin’ their fill.  All photo cred: Ashley Rogers.

I bring it up because it was a family affair: my parents smoked all the ribs on their backyard Traeger (and lined up various volunteer cooks and food donations), my sister rallied the troops the night of and solicited volunteers for the event, my nephew practiced cuteness, and my brother-in-law dominated as one of the athletes:

Top of the morning to you, family.

Top of the morning to you, family.

And from what I’ve heard, it was a pretty flawless evening of home-cooked southern BBQ, Oregon-style …with smiles all around:

Again, some of the warriors, coaches and volunteer staff pictured afterwards.

Some of the warriors, coaches, volunteers and staff pictured afterwards.

My contribution to the night came in organizing the event – because for me, this was something I could actually do from hundreds of miles away.  Just as my parents are really, really good at smoking ribs for nearly a hundred in their backyard, I’m really, really good at thinking through and organizing the details of an event.  It’s not a point of hubris, it’s just something I learned to do as a teacher and a non-profit director.  So together, we each worked in our giftedness and pulled off a fantastic night …even if I wasn’t able to be there because Baby Boy is expected to hatch within the next couple of weeks.

I say this because this event was an example of competency.  This was me doing what I do, with Mom and Dad and Sister and the American Legion and the warriors and coaches and all the other varied pieces of the puzzle doing what they do, each falling together as they should.  But as I think so often happens in life, this competency was juxtaposed next to powerlessness.  Because in our little slice of Bay Area pie, something like this was happening…

Screaming, temper-tantruming, “What happened to my sweet and precious baby?!” child:

Not my kid, but pretty close.  Photo cred: Jill Greenburg.

Not my kid, but pretty close. Photo cred: Jill Greenberg.

Meets the wide, wide world of Target:

Photo cred: NPR.

Photo cred: NPR.

Meets Toddler’s newfound ability to crawl out of grocery carts and begin his Olympic training practice (with a coach who can’t keep up, mind you):

best-mens-running-shoeTo call the hellacious trip to the store memorable would be an understatement; to instead call the 13.5 minute visit to Target THE WORST TRIP TO THE STORE IN THE HISTORY OF SHOPPING EVENTS would be a little closer to the truth.  Because after three cycles of scream – climb out of cart – climb under cart – roll to the ground – run like a banshee fifty feet ahead of waddling mama – finally be captured and placed back in cart …repeat, both Mama and Cancan were in tears.  All I wanted was a canister of oatmeal.  All he wanted was his hard-earned freedom.  And together that meant we were not seeing eye to eye.

Little old ladies stopped us in the aisles, attempting their best grandma-magic solutions.

Teenagers absentmindedly glanced up from their phones to witness the real-life, non-Facebook commotion happening right in front of them.

Other young parents nodded sympathetically, in an I’m with you sort of way.

All other shoppers quickly got the hell out of our way.


By the time we got to the queue of registers, with Cancan in arms, shrieking, refusing the cart all together, my uterus was fighting Braxton Hicks contractions and my eyes frustrated pregnancy tears.  Finally, we got in line, behind another mama who took one look at us, and in broken English said to me, “Go ahead of us, please.”  

I could only nod my head in thanks.  It was the least I could do to not burst into tears right there, sobbing in line at the red and white, feeling completely incompetent as a mother in every sense of the word.  God bless you, God bless you, God bless you, my mind whispered, hoping she subliminally caught my words of thankfulness.

By the time the HBH (Hot Black Husband) got home, I was done (and Cancan, meanwhile was suddenly in an angelically perfect mood).  And that’s when it hit me: this is life.  This is the intersection we each deal with on a daily basis, because it’s where messy and beautiful meet.  It’s where we feel completely on top of the world one minute, and positively powerless the next.

And it’s okay.

Because it’s normal and real and hard and good, all at the same time.  It humbles us and it  provides solidarity with those around us, because we realize we’re not alone.  But each one of us – each messy, imperfect human being is in this beautiful world and thing called LIFE together.

Glancing heavenward, I utter another subliminal thank you, thank you, thank you and beg for another day to rally and try all over again.

Because this is what we do.

In this with you, c.

What about you?  Where and how have the intersection of competency and powerlessness met in your life?  Share a story ..and/or feel free to offer your babysitting services to parents of young children around the world STAT.

Also, the Wounded Warrior Project is a fantastic organization; to make a donation and help those who have been wounded in action, click here.  

the little things: i should have been someone else (aleah marsden).

Happy Guest Post Tuesday one and all!  Today’s writer is someone I’ve had the opportunity to begin to get to know over the past year …and let me tell you, she’s gold, pure gold!  Because there’s something about being scared and raw and vulnerable with another person – and then jumping in and taking the risk.  And Aleah’s one of those people, through writing specifically, who’s been that to and with me.  Enjoy!  

Flickr Creative Commons: Chris Johnson.

Flickr Creative Commons: Chris Johnson.

The sound of my boots clicking on the gleaming cream linoleum as I walk the long empty hallway resonates through the air and echoes in my soul. I breathe deeply, slowly in rhythm with my steps. When was the last time I have been so alone? That I experienced such heavy silence pressing in on me; only the tap-tap, tap-tap of my boots breaking the continuum? Even my heart seems to beat in time. In this moment I find myself acutely aware of the entire journey I had traveled thus far.

In fact, these steps are leading me back to my cozy, immaculately clean room at the retreat center where I am spending the weekend. I’m attending the annual Redbud Writers Guild retreat. I just completed a breakout session on writing prompts. I had never used prompts before and listened intently as the rules were explained. Write without stopping. No editing. Handwrite with pen and paper. Choose the first prompt that speaks to you. Set the timer. Go.

I chose an unfinished sentence: I should have been someone else… I wrote haltingly at first, then with a relentless fervor, surprised by the torrent that burst forth. I tore through the pages, completely caught by surprise when the timer signaled it was time to drop my pen. No time to think through a conclusion. There was my innermost self brazenly engraved into the pages, indented from pushing too hard on my blue ballpoint.

Now we’re going to read our work aloud to the group.

What?! I start to panic. Surely the spunky redhead leading this unexpected venture into the depths of my soul did not say this beforehand. This piece is raw, unfinished. It waxes poetic at offbeat moments then jars sharply into meandering train of consciousness. This piece is awkward, cumbersome, and rough to the point of jagged. And now it is my turn to heave my mismatched baggage onto the round wooden table and present the contents of my heart to the class.

Step step stepping down the long corridor lined with heavy, polished wooden doors on either side, I can still feel the salt tracks where the tears had streamed down uncontrollably as I read aloud to the group. I was surprised and overwhelmed by where the writing without stopping had taken me. Writing without considering form or my audience. I decided to skip the second session to process in solitude the flood of whatever that was that just happened. Where I tapped something deep, rushing torrents rising to the surface where I was buoyed by the warm yeses and amens and me toos of my sister-writer soul-spelunkers.

I have closed my eyes many times in the almost year since this passed. I’ve re-walked that hallway smooth in my memory. This scene has arisen from the past and pinned itself to a wall in my heart as a noteworthy testimony. Here I was vulnerable with everyone and myself, exposing to the light sorrow that had saturated a dark soft place at my core. The closed door lined hallway is now a living metaphor in my mind—a pathway from regret to hope. Each boot-step click propels me toward possibility. I do not know what worlds are concealed behind each of the heavy doors, but I walk the long hallway in search of one that will not open for someone else, only me.

profile picAleah Marsden is a stay at home mom of four who wakes up at 5am to study the Bible and write because she discovered physical exhaustion is more manageable than emotional exhaustion (i.e. consumes copious amounts of coffee). She shares stories of life, faith, and Bible study at, and she is a  member of Redbud Writers Guild. You can follow her on Twitter: @marsdenmom.  Man, isn’t it amazing how those little things – like the perfect writing prompt, like being vulnerable in front of near-strangers, like, like, like …are the big things?  Encourage Aleah with your comments of her experience today!