March. proper noun. The month of spring break and continuing to dream of tropical locales where it’s not still. freaking. snowing. And of Lent.
I unfolded from my car and crept into the Maundy Thursday service. The sanctuary was unfamiliar, a service selected at random from the Internet at a town midway between the Cities and my parents’ house. I felt a little dazed, and not because I’d been in a car for four hours. I just didn’t feel like I was ready for this, the high point of the church calendar.
That’s not to say I hadn’t tried. I did the Lenten fast and waved away unnecessary purchases for 40 days. The hand creams and books and Trader Joe’s daffodils stayed on their shelves. I added to my online clothes shopping cart but didn’t purchase anything. I tried to free up my mental space for more holy things. It sort of worked. But I didn’t feel like I found more room for Jesus. I didn’t feel like I got holier. Mostly, I just saw how petty and shallow I am, and I felt bad that I didn’t know how to fix it.
I’m sorry I’m not better, Lord, I thought, as I sat through the song I didn’t recognize and the sermon about Jesus’s sacrifice. I’m sorry that I waste so much of my time on the Internet. I’m sorry that I care so much about stupid things. I’m sorry I don’t pray more, or read theology more, or sit in stillness more. I’m sorry that I didn’t solve my sins. I’m sorry you still had to die for them.
And then I was walloped by how completely I had missed the point.
Lent is to help me see my need for a savior. It is not to help me save myself.
Jesus knew I would be more Pharisee than Peter, more spic and span outside than in. He knew I would absolutely care about the things man cares about. He knew I would believe my plans were better than his. He looked into my eyes, knowing they would too often shift away from all that blood and all that undeserved agony.
And then he died. For me.
I still don’t understand it, this Jesus, this grace. Daily, my brokenness splashes everywhere, and I wonder what the heck he was thinking.
This mystery is one I will never solve fully. A love this deep, that asks nothing and gives everything, is incomprehensible. There will never be a way for me to earn it, no matter how many striped t-shirts I avoid buying or how many chapters of John I read. There will always be more to discover, through all the Lents into eternity.
His grace is sufficient for imperfect me, indeed.
When I’m not contemplating the state of my soul, here’s what I’ve been loving this month.
Turtles All the Way Down – John Green. I once had a theory that it will never take me longer than one day to finish a John Green novel. That theory is still going strong. This story is told by Aza Holmes, who has OCD. The plotline itself is fine – the resolution seemed a bit rushed, and I thought the romance element had a clunky start. The real gem here is the front-seat view into Aza’s thoughts. It’s what makes this book 100% worth reading. You see her perspective on life and hear her questions about what makes a person human and how much choice we have about our own lives. It also made me realize straight-up how wrong the picture in my head is of mental illness. Though I know that “just getting over it” isn’t an option, I’ve never had such clarity about what it actually feels like to have a “thought spiral,” as might happen to someone with mental health issues. It nearly made me cry, in moments. John Green’s insight into teenagers’ brains is striking, and it’s even more so than usual in this one.
English Creek – Ivan Doig. I read this as a study of how to write historical fiction for another writing project I’m working on, and because I loved The Whistling Season. The detail that went into this 1939 Montana setting was astounding. I was surprised to find out Doig had made up the entire English Creek area, mountain ranges and nearby towns included. Admittedly, the level of scenic detail and description made this one a bit slow-going in spots. But the narration feels like a collection of winding old-time tales that Jick, the fourteen year old narrator, might tell around a fire during a blizzard to his some-day grandchildren. I especially enjoyed the characters – they felt like spot-on caricatures, in the way that the individuals in small towns become reduced to a few stories that somehow tell you everything important about them.
Chasing Slow – Erin Loechner. I went to hear Erin Loecher speak through the Faith & Life lectures here in the Twin Cities, and my mom’s theory that we could be friends with her was absolutely confirmed. I bought this book to pass on as a gift…but I definitely read it myself first. Reading about her journey to pursuing less – in terms of both prestige and possessions – aligned incredibly well with what I’ve been contemplating this Lent. It reminded me that striving to accumulate less is nice – but it’s only truly good when we use the remaining time and resources and energy to pour into loving others well.
Moon Over Manifest – Clare Vanderpool. This is a reread from a year or two ago, about a girl in the Depression who is left in an unfamiliar town who stumbles upon a mystery from the past. I still adore this one. I’m realizing how picky I am about endings, and this one nails it. It’s a beautiful mix of sad and hopeful and tender.
Warcross – Marie Lu. This book tells the story of Emika, a broke hacker who hacks into a world tournament video game, gets found out, and accidentally gets herself hired by the head of the video game to be a spy. While reading, I enjoyed this one a lot. Then I finished it, and I couldn’t figure out why I was disappointed. Until I realized that I wanted this book to be Ready Player One, and it wasn’t, and I would suggest just reading that one, which has more action and more depth and a more interesting and clear virtual world. The end.
One – Sleeping At Last. Sleeping at Last is in the middle of a project where he creates a song for each number of the Enneagram. It should be abundantly clear that I am a One after reading the introduction to this post. The first time I listened to the One song, I thought it was fine (typical). But then I couldn’t get the line “As if I could earn God’s favor given time/or at least “Congratulations,” out of my head. And then I listened to the podcast explaining this song, and it became even more meaningful.
Bridges Burn – NEEDTOBREATHE. They have new music and an updated concert schedule releasing soon and I am not excitedly messaging my brother every time they post updates on Instagram. Not at all.
Ain’t No Man – The Avett Brothers. It makes me feel like I should be at a barn raising, in the best way.
The Liturgists podcast has made a comeback, and they make me think really hard about things that I always thought were true.
Baking with Josh and Ange. I’ve only watched a few episodes of this, but it’s a cute how-to YouTube channel where the Ange half of the duo is the actress who plays Angela in The Office. She seems so…nice? and normal? in real life. Naturally, the episodes with guests from The Office are my favorites.
Allbirds. I needed some comfy sneakers for traveling last month, and Allbirds caught my attention. The alleged benefits? They’re comfy, sustainably made from wool, they don’t get smelly, and socks are unnecessary. After nearly two months of wear, I’m happy to report all those claims are actually true. I was worried that they wouldn’t be supportive enough for my old lady, high-arched feet, but I walked for most of a day in San Francisco in them and have worn them all day at school with no complaints. Plus, I don’t have to wear socks. Praise hands. I have the natural gray wool runners, and they go with nearly everything.
Being off Accutane. Last spring, my skin went bonkers. I’ve struggled with spotty acne since high school, but toward the end of college, I started getting painful cystic breakouts where I would actually ice my face because it would feel so sore. I tried medication and topical products, and for a stint, eliminating milk and low-fat milk products. Whatever I tried would work for a while, and then all the spots would come back. My dermatologist recommended isotretinoin (more popularly known as Accutane), and I’ve been on it since August. And friends? It was entirely worth it. There are some definite downsides to that stuff. My lips and the skin on my face have never been so dry (thank goodness for Aquaphor and argan oil), and I did have more joint and muscle stiffness than normal. But I’ve been done for almost 3 weeks and my skin has never looked better. Everything – from the big breakouts to the little blackheads around my noes – has been healed. I haven’t regularly worn any foundation or concealer to school since December. Dermatologists are magic workers.
This bread recipe. I’ve been attempting to make bread lately, and this turned out the best of any of the loaves I’ve made. The King Arthur Flour Baking Company Bread 101 videos are also incredibly helpful.
Library cookbooks. Did you know that you can check out cookbooks from the library and take pictures of the recipes and then make them even after you returned the physical book to the library? This world is a wonderful place. I’ve checked out The Pioneer Woman’s Dinnertime and Come and Get It! and am looking forward to trying some new things.
Spring breaking! At the beginning of the break, a dear college friend and I met up in Chicago and drove to the Ohio-Kentucky border to hang out with another friend for a long weekend. Those two are the best. In addition to the required staying up way too late talking, we hit up Cincinnati for a concert, experienced some quirky local Kentucky culture and then went to Louisville to see Churchill Downs, the Louisville Slugger Museum, and Please & Thank You (a coffee shop with the best chocolate chip cookies I have ever eaten – good recommendation, Modern Mrs. Darcy). We also saw the Indianapolis Zoo on our way back north, which had a fantastic orangutan exhibit and would be worth visiting again when it’s warm.
I capped off spring break by hanging out with Adam in Chicago. Even though he was in the midst of finals week, we managed to squeeze in a viewing of the opera Cosi fan Tutti, which is funny and thus a little more my speed than Wagner. Other than that, we mostly hung out in libraries. At least they were pretty libraries!
Heading home for Easter. Having the whole family in one place is sweet – as is eating a lot of good food. I will never tire of angel pie.
What have you been into this month?