Pebbles of Remembrance

I was sitting outside drinking my morning tea when I noticed a shift had occured.

Pebble of remebrance

This was not a huge aha moment. This was a quiet tuning in to how I felt about an upcoming event and it felt … different. The shift was in a positive direction and nobody but me would notice. On the outside, I’d still attend, I’d still participate, I’d still be present, but I’d enjoy it more than I had been.

Once I noticed it, it kind of surprised me. Wait, the dread isn’t as strong? And what’s that? A twinge of anticipation? 

I know how to mark fairly significant events. Using the language “stones of remembrance” from when the Israelites crossed the Jordan River to capture the big events. The Israelites took 12 stones from the middle of the river, one for each of the tribes, and placed them along the bank to remember what God had done.

But I’ll be honest, this was no stone of remembrance moment. It was not nothing, not something to be brushed aside. But it also wasn’t huge and to call it a stone seemed to be blowing it out of proportion.

It was more like a pebble.

Right there on the spot I saw how the language I use of a stone of remembrance can foster a one-size-fits-all response to events and change.

Here is a stone of remembrance, I am no longer as annoyed by you as I used to be. Not exactly the bridge of friendship, although it may be true.

So I facebook messaged a friend saying, “This message is pebble of remembrance. I’ve noticed this subtle shift within me and it’s not really for public consumption, but I wanted it noted in some way. So by telling you, I’m placing a pebble along my life path.”

I like this idea of pebbles of remembrance. Of having different sizes–pebbles, rocks, stones, and boulders–to mark change or events. It’s freed me up to see what’s there and not feel sheepish if a change or event is not the biggest, most important, most over the top event ever. Not everything needs to be a production.

The flip side is also true: more needs to be noticed and then noted than we think.

Today, look for pebbles in your life. If you notice one and it’s not fit for public consumption, just come back and leave a comment that says “Pebble.” We’ll know what you mean.


3 Reasons You Need to Read this Chinese Food Memoir

I just finished Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-sour Memoir of Eating in China by Fuchsia Dunlop. It came out in 2008, so I may be late to the party, but if you’re like me and hadn’t heard of it, I recommend it.

Dunlop first came to China in the early 90s and then moved to Chengdu, Sichuan in 1994 to study Chinese and “from the very beginning vowed to eat everything she was offered, no matter how alien and bizarre it seemed.” In 1995 she was the first Westerner to train at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine. Studying at the SIHC officially launched her into the foodie world of China.

I lived in Chengdu at this time. It’s weird and cool to think we were in the same space at the same time . . . but having rather different experiences.

3 reasons food matters

She’s written three cookbooks: Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking (2003), Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province (2007), and most recently Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking (2013). Since I’ve only recently heard of her, I don’t know the quality of her cookbooks. I have requested all three from the library and will let you know in a future post what I think.

Regardless of whether you are a cook (not so much me) or enjoy eating (waving my hand, solidly in this camp), here are three reasons you’ll want to add Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-sour Memoir of Eating in China to your reading list for this year. Not for when you get to it, for this year.

Culturally—food matters in China. Period.

I could stop with my first point right there. Food matters in China, so reading about food is not mere fun, it is a window of understanding. The more we, as outsiders, understand about food, the more we’ll understand China, her people, and her flavors. Mirroring what’s happened in China, Dunlop goes from one who will “eat anything” to one who begins to question areas (e.g. eating endangered animals) that are being examined on a larger scale.

Dunlop doesn’t just write about Sichuan cuisine as she takes the reader on a flavor tour, eating her way around China. As a chef, she’s able to interact with a part of culture that (almost) completely sidesteps political entanglements other areas of society simply can’t avoid.

Historically—food is a carrier of history.

Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Peppers is indeed a food memoir, but you can’t talk about food in China without also touching on history. Other than reading about periods of starvation (and especially those caused by leadership), history learned one dish at a time, is like attending a banquet where you nibble, knowing more will be coming. Dunlop understands her task is to stay focused on the food, but she also knows that in China, food separated from history loses its flavor.

Personally—Chinese food carries our stories too.

Reading this book reminded me of my own food history in China. The first time I ate snake. Eating such mouth-numbing food at a school-hosted banquet that I thought dentists in the West could benefit from learning about hua jiao [Sichuan pepper]. Moving from randomly pointing at items on a menu to actually ordering. Dishes I dream about.

It doesn’t matter who you are, if you’ve been to China, you have a story to tell. Dunlop offers the gift of reminding us that sometimes the best stories are hidden in the most common places and are woven into daily life.

Look at how much happens in the Bible around food. Two big ones jump to mind—the Fall and the Last Supper.

Taste and see that the Lord is good.

Indeed, he is.

What food memories have been stirred in you? Anyone want to share a plate of 干煸豆角 as we talk about Dunlop’s book and the way food shapes us culturally, historically, and personally? What’s your favorite Chinese dish?

This first appeared on From The West Court Yard

Twenty things that make me happy

Sometimes it’s the little things in life, eh?

happy (Small)


  1. A hot cup of black tea with milk in the early morning
  2. Seeing a friend’s name in caller I.D.
  3. Talking about books
  4. Greek pizza
  5. Listening to rain
  6. Playing “Ticket to ride” with my nieces
  7. Traveling to new places
  8. Getting an email saying the library book I’ve wanted is in
  9. The smell of Christmas trees
  10. Cheering a Broncos touchdown with 70,000 other fan
  11. An unexpected kind word
  12. The memory of a girl blowing dandelions in the backyard, wishing for a kitten
  13. Arriving home after a trip
  14. The sound of a diet coke can opening
  15. Inspirational movies
  16. The flicker of a candle
  17. The adrenaline rush at the end of a workout
  18. Looking back at pictures I’ve taken
  19. Tea parties
  20. The crunch of fall leaves

What would be on your list?

Can Lent be done poorly?

This weekend I am at a dear friend’s wedding and will not be with family or close friends Thursday through Sunday — it is odd to be “out of community” during this season of the year and brought to mind the following post from two years ago. Of all the types of services, a Tenebrae service (more below) is one my soul longs for in preparation for Easter. Another resource I learned about last week is by The Liturgists and called‘Garden’—it combines music, prayer, poetry, and spoken word to create an honest and evocative liturgy around Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.



This past week I had the sinking feeling that I had “done” lent poorly this year. Which begged the question, is lent something to do? The most direct answer is, no, it’s not.

However, it is a season that can help position a soul, a family, even a group in such a way that you are not doing lent but entering a deeper relationship with He who is timeless. So when I say that I did lent poorly, what I really mean is that I am saddened to have missed an opportunity to reflect, to grow, and to walk with fellow sojourners more intentionally.

I am part of a community that humors me as I wrestle out loud and in ways that might appear ridiculous. A subgroup gathers faithfully Friday nights to join a less eternal, but still redemptive story, watching The Biggest Loser. This past week was a shorter episode, only 40 minutes with the commercials cut out. I received this extra time as a gift to start the weekend more appropriately postured than I had been during the preparatory season. I sent out a last minute email entitled Biggest Loser and Good Friday – all were welcome to join in a short Good Friday service after we had debriefed Makeover Week.

TV then a religious gathering. An odd juxtaposition, I know. A bit ridiculous? Perhaps. Needed for my soul? Absolutely. Touching this world and the next.

Twelve of us gathered for a Tenebrae service.  Taking turns reading though Matthew, we started at the end of the last supper and read through Jesus’ death. Candles extinguished as the story progresses – Peter’s denial predicted. Candle snuffed. Praying in the garden. Candle snuffed. One by one they were put out until Christ dies. The final candle snuffed and we sat in the tomb-like dark room. People left as they were lead.

Reading with my brothers and sisters, we walked the path together. Denying we know him, sleeping in the garden, betraying with a kiss, we joined in the story. I cannot speak for them, but hearing their voices, voices I know in the light, read the words I needed to hear in the growing darkness postured this soul for Saturday mourning and Sunday rejoicing.

Though Christ cried it is finished, it’s never too late to join in. Even if it is day 38 of a 40 day season, that’s a key part of the gospel: it’s never too late!


Linking with Velvet Ashes


Photo Credit: Sabrina Mae via Compfight cc

What’s one step below expert?

Day Three of Anniversary Week at The Messy Middle is here! If you missed day one or day two, please check them out and thanks to all who have subscribed!

What’s one step below expert? I’m not sure, and a year ago if you would have asked me what might I become “minorly” (very minorly!) known for on the internet NOT ONE of these things would have been on my list. But, thanks to the inner workings and mystery of search engines, the following seven inquiries are likely to lead you to The Messy Middle.

{Sort of a no-duh statement, but not including Amy Young, Messy Middle, or some form of Amy Young + Messy Middle.}

1. Writing on hands. Yup, from the girl who was raised by a woman who frowned, at best, and outright forbid writing on our hands when we were girls, if you search for writing on your hand you might be pointed to God is whispering to me or God is whispering to you.

2. Chipmunks as pets. I’m kind of surprised how many people out there are interested in chipmunks as pets, what to feed chipmunks, do chipmunks make nice pets?, or housing for chipmunks. For the record, I believe that chipmunks should run free and if you’re really looking for a good pet, I’d recommend a guinea pig. But who says chipmunks don’t make nice pets? 

3. Is meningitis a painful way to die?  I am thankful to be able to answer that one with no hesitation. YES. Imagine your brain in a vice grip … that just will. not. stop. cranking. tighter. and. tighter. It is so awful you might beg someone near you to kill you and then cry out in pain to the heavens, “This teammate You gave me is of NO HELP TO ME!” when they refuse to kill you. Erin, I was wrong. You were wonderfully helpful, it’s just that meningitis is a painful way to die. I am still grateful that I didn’t die.

4. Hula hooping. I find it interesting that that I get more hits from things I don’t normally do (write on my hands) or have (a chipmunk as a pet), than things that are more a part of my life. Hula hooping is no different! If you recall, I hadn’t hula hooped in years, but hula hooping as an act of bravery  put me on the map for hooping, as it’s none in the biz! I bet you didn’t know that is a great place to learn, let’s just say, a lot about hula hooping, they reprinted part of the post.

The next three are related.

Bar none, the most likely way to find The Messy Middle from an internet search is going to be related to An Open Letter to Pastors {a non-mom speaks about Mother’s Day}. To date it has gotten over 70,000 hits and continues to be viewed ever day. What a rich learning opportunity for you and me (thanks to the many, many who forwarded and commented). I shared some of what we’ve gained in Another open letter to pastors {lessons from the comments section}. If you haven’t read about what this experience was like you can read about it in Dear Pastors, It’s me again {what a few days, eh?!}.

Here are some of the searches that lead to the Mother’s Day letter.

5. Letter. Appreciation letter to my pastor. Thank you letter to my pastor. A letter to my pastor to say we miss him. Thank you letter to a pastor for honoring a conference. An open letter miscarriage sucks. How to write a letter of gratitude to my cousin i’m blessed having you.

6. PastorFamous pastors who have lost children. Pastor friends austrailia. I’m pastor my son ran away. Pastors in the midst of mess in the church. Pastor mind reader. Pastors as fathers.

7. Mom and non-moms. Is it normal for a mother who lost a child to want another baby. Moms exclude non moms. Mothers letter to her miscarriage baby. Your an amazing mother dedicated miscarriage. Black non mother female bloggers over the age of 50. Thing to do for non-mothers. Friend or foe letter from mum.

How did YOU first hear about The Messy Middle?

P.S.  The subscription drive is still going on!  All who subscribe this week  can win a $20 gift certificate to a business of your choice (like amazon, itunes, Starbucks, that kind of thing). Got any friends who might like The Messy Middle?

With coarse speech, coarse food, coarse everything {Sound like your home?}

I love a good gift shop and am willing to buy something that doesn’t smell of “you can get this anywhere.”  Rocky Mountain National Park (near Estes Park), has such a gift shop in their visitor’s center, so, a friend and I each bought a copy of A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella Bird.

Isabella was a British woman who spent the summer of 1873 going all over the state of Colorado.   She was quite the explorer and was on her way home from the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii); the book resulted from letters to her sister of her time in Colorado.

Isabella’s journey was 800 miles long, and much of it on the back of a borrowed bronco named Birdie. I spent part of my summer driving various friends around Colorful Colorado, same, same, but different.

A few excerpts:

All the women work in this region, so there is no fuss about my working, or saying, “Oh, you mustn’t do that,” or “Oh, just let me do that.”

Same. This is one of the things I love about Colorado.

Upon arriving in Fort Collins, a military post, she wrote, “The settlers have ‘great expectations,’ but of what?  These new settlements are altogether revolting, entirely utilitarian, given up to talk of dollars as well as to making them, with coarse speech, coarse food, coarse everything, nothing wherewith to satisfy the higher graving if they exist, nothing on which the eye can rest with pleasure, The lower floors of the inn swarms with locusts in addition to thousands of black flies.”

Wow. That’s a strong opinion! Coarse everything? I hope she’d describe Ft. Collins with other words today.

I must take up my narrative of the nothings which have all the interest of somethings to me.

Same, regardless of who you are or what time period. Our narratives are made of nothings, but they have all the interest of somethings to us!

An American is nationally assumptive, an Englishman personally so.

She said this several times. Again, this was in 1873, long before much of the modern history that has formed both cultures, so maybe what forms us goes deeper than we realize.

While I’m not sure that everyone will want to run out and buy this book, it offers a gentle reminder. It is a rare treat to see that land you are so familiar with and feel a part of, in an earlier form. These kinds of books exist for all places, but aren’t flashy and forward thinking, so they are not likely to jump out at you. Go looking for one from your neck of the woods, I’m sure it exists, and read it this year.

Amy’s interaction with nature. Not quite like riding a bronco for hundreds of miles, but it’ll do!

What had captured my eye?

Really, you have to understand how unusual it is to have a marmot this close!

What gems have you stumbled upon in recent months?

The Pain of Separation {Vintage}

This was first posted in January, but as I board a plane and fly back to China this expresses how I’m feeling.


Three conversations:

“I’m so glad you were here for two months and not just a few weeks,” Number One niece mumbled into my chest, choking back tears, my last night in the States.

A few days before her sister, Number Two niece, had told me, “It sure is good you weren’t here for a whole year or it would be even harder to have you leave.” We were backing out of the drive way and I couldn’t look at her in the rear view mirror because it’s hard to drive with tears in your eyes.

The prior weekend Number Three niece had looked at me with her big blue eyes and asked, “Why do you have to go back?”


Each in her own way was expressing the pain of separation. The ache of not being near people who are dear. The sorrow that comes with hearing about something, as opposed to getting to be there in the midst of it.

As I embraced the physical, emotional and even spiritual pain I felt as I packed my bags, hugged my people, stood in lines and was transported away from them, I saw it as a living metaphor. A metaphor for what sin does and the pain it causes. Sin creates separation. Separation from God. Separation from other people. Even separation from creation and the beauty it can behold. The air in Beijing is so foul this week that with every breath those of us breathing it know that we are separated from what is normal, healthy and good.

Not that I sinned in leaving them. No, that was not sin – but a mirror of the pain that comes with separation.

What is the first thing that Adam and Eve did after disobeying God? They hid out of fear. They were separated from him. Before they had walked with God, enjoying the garden with him, but now they were huddled behind some trees in their homemade fig leaf skirts, experiencing the pain of separation. God in his infinite mercy reached out to them and made them more permanent garments, putting a plan in motion to bridge the gap and close the distance.

Paul assures us in his letter to the Romans that as believers nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God and I believe him.  I wonder what heaven will be like when we will be able to experience being apart from people and yet not feel loss, or pain, or sorrow. Until then, I do feel the pain of separation.

Where have you felt the pain of separation this week?

If my life came with a warning to y’all, this would be it

When I saw this in the Beijing airport, it had AMY written all over it.

Thanks to all of you for putting up with me!

Amy, definitely in progress

Have you ever seen a signed that summed you up? 

The taste of love

Strawberries are in season.

Strawberries that taste like love.

Last spring my sister and two of her daughters spent eight days in China. Eight days I will remember the rest of my life. Eight days in which a part of me came alive for the girls in ways they simply couldn’t before. China was no longer just where Aunt Amy lived; it was where they, too, had walked. And eaten.

Niece Number Two loves me with a love that is fierce. They all love me, but this one, this girl, this nurturer, she loves with raw public abandon. And I love her back.

At one point in the trip she was asked her favorite Chinese food and she answered, “Strawberries.” Before you scoff, you must know that these berries are so full of flavor. They have not been coaxed to the large flavorless, shells of themselves that many berries in America have.

In the market today I told the fruit vendor I had a strange question and asked if I could take pictures of their strawberries for my niece. Once they understood and saw that I really was taking pictures of the berries, the wife called me around the corner and had me take pictures of the stacks of flats. For your niece, to show her the berries. Does America have strawberries?   “We do, but not flavorful like these.” I replied. Ah, Chinese ones are better.

Yes, they are.

They taste like love.

The view from the 17th floor

View from the 17th floor

I’m attending a conference in Chiang Mai, Thailand and this is the view from my seventeenth story window.

One picture, yet three realities.

Reality one: Pool Side. The pool is on the fourth floor of the hotel and when you sit pool side, you are unaware of the canal.  In many ways, this pool is like Eden was. It is fresh, attractive, and conducive to relationships with room to play, hang out or talk. However, there is also space for solitude allowing for contemplation, reading, and recharging. Now, I get that the metaphor is not perfect because Eden didn’t involve an artificially, recreated piece of nature in the middle of a city. No, Eden was natural, it wasn’t forced, it was truly paradise and I agree that this pool is not paradise. But then we have …

Reality two: the rancid canal. It is dirty, smelly and as much as the pool can be seen as a reflection of what Eden was, this canal reflects so painfully, Eden lost. And lost on so very many levels. It is but a small taste of how sin has robbed creation aesthetically with literal trash tossed in it. Its productivity has been stolen as it has ceased to flow with water or life. People pick up their pace as they walk by because it reeks of what has been lost. Sadly, that is not a metaphor. This dear canal truly smells. From the street you have no idea that if you look up a mere four floors to the left, there is such a lovely place so close. However this is also …

Reality three: the bird’s eye view. This view challenges us to hold both realities in tension. It is true that Eden has been lost and that much of life does stink, is filled with garbage, and reflects brokenness. But it is also true that the Kingdom of God is now with Eden Returned breaking into Eden Lost. Eden Returned is fragrant, beautiful, and reflects God’s glory in ways that restore hope and bring the cry of a cheer from a grateful heart.

It is tempting to stay in vacation mode and want to live by the pool, denying the canal. Or become so frustrated and disillusioned with the canals of life that all you see is floating with rubbish without an ounce of hope in sight. But as believers we are challenged to have new eyes and to accept the already/not-yet-ness of life. Eden is returning but she has not fully returned yet. We must hold both as true.

Where in your life do you see elements of Eden returning and yet still lost?