Minnesota and longing for home


Unless you count the summer I lifeguarded there during college, I have never actually lived in Minnesota. As a result, I sometimes feel silly professing a deep love for it. But I have more strong emotions about that place — a deep heart-tugging, if you will — than any other.

I think it’s because I feel that if I were to belong anywhere, it would be there. My dad’s side moved around a lot. My mom grew up mowing hay and picking rocks out of fields in Hinckley, Minnesota.

Minnesota, where my great-great grandfather, Jan Albert Sikkink, started a farm on a road now known as Sikkink Road. Where my great-grandmother made her screened-in porch and dinner table famous by her hospitality. Where my great-grandfather was the county sheriff. Where he bought the land for Grindstone Lake Bible Camp, which every member of the family thereafter attended and where I and many others first remember wanting to follow Jesus.


I remember teeter-tottering on my grandparents’ swing set, still to this day one of the oldest-looking swing sets I have every seen, rusty and well-used. I remember playing in my great-grandmother’s playhouse, pulling dishes from the little cabinet, and returning to it one day and realizing how tall I’d grown as I could no longer really fit inside. I remember three-legged races in the woods at my great aunt’s Fourth of July party. I remember fireflies. I remember cold swims in a lake cut deep by a glacier ages ago. I remember horses and fields and cows and pine trees. I remember sledding on ice and snow down into the gravel pit, the same pit that saved dozens of lives during the Great Hinckley Fire.

My grandparents have a sign on their house: “Welcome to Poverty Flats.” How’s that for understated, self-deprecating humor? And the Os! The long, beautiful Os in their words.

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I think the attachment I feel to Minnesota is the closest I can come to feeling, in this modern technological age, what the Bible says the Israelites felt about their land. I’ve been reading Jeremiah and Lamentations, and the ache of exile is haunting me. “Weep not for him who is dead, nor grieve for him, but weep bitterly for him who goes away, for he shall return no more to see his native land.”

I often wonder what life would be like if my mother had not felt the pull of ambition (the same pull I feel) and left Minnesota for college. Would I now live on the same road my mother, grandfather, great-grandfather grew up on? Would we get together every week for cookies and Rook? Would I drop in and see how the cows are doing? Wouldn’t it be some sort of beautiful agrarian ideal? I’m sometimes so envious of people who have everyone they’ve ever known and loved in one place. As my sister once said to me, as best I can remember: “What is this dumb system where people have to grow up and move away from their families?”

But I’m not Minnesotan. I would have made the same choice as my mother. I make it now, by living in Washington, D.C., far from my parents, far from any sort of ancestral home. And as I realized recently, were it not for a chances, risks, decisions, happenstances of the past, my family would also not be Minnesotan. I dug into history a little bit on our most recent trip to Hinckley and found that many of my mother’s ancestors who immigrated (mostly from Holland, but also from France, England, Scotland) first settled in New York, Wisconsin, Iowa. Some of them made their way to Minnesota; some of their children did. But they had no special attachment to the state. They were wanderers. Their families became as spread out as mine. They left native homes with far more personal history and heart-tugs to cross an ocean to come here. More than Minnesotans, they were pilgrims.

Christians (and the Bible) talk often about pilgrimage and home. We are meant to be pilgrims in this world, longing for the better home of heaven. Perhaps God gave me a love for Minnesota so that I can know that longing for a homeland.

And certainly I can ask “What if?” all I want, but if my family had not spread out so much, I probably would not have met my husband, the best gift in my life, who himself came to America as a toddler and has his own sets of questions about home and longing and identity. Perhaps it is best to know I am really only a Christian and a pilgrim, and as Betsy ten Boom said: “There are no ‘What ifs’ in the kingdom of God.”

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This is what it’s like to get laid off

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I got laid off last Tuesday.

One of the well-dressed shiny-toothed businessmen (they actually call this one “Chiclets” because of his teeth) who governs our company announced they had decided it would make more business sense to close our local news and daily print operations, and go for a weekly political magazine.

I’m not sure it actually makes more business sense. Our paper was a pet project to begin with, and I think it still is. I think the owner just decided he could influence the country more with a national political magazine. I get that. It’s his paper. He can do what he wants with it.

But it’s sad for journalism, and it’s sad for democracy. It’s sad that the city that still reelects a man who was caught doing crack while mayor will only have one daily print publication — and that will be behind a paywall.

But putting aside my wailings and mournings for my paper, I thought it might be interesting if I shared what exactly getting laid off is like. So here goes.

On Monday, every employee in our office got an email: “Staff meeting… Your attendance is required.”

Typically our staff meetings go something like this: “Write more blog posts” or “We’re all making videos now.” I thought it would be one of those, but my fellow reporters smelled something fishy, mostly because they realized some people’s emails said the meeting was in the newsroom, and others’ said the meeting was in the conference room. Two groups.

I still figured it was going to be something unimportant, until I went to the gym that night. (The gym is a recent thing… wedding pictures and all that, you know.) There I got a text from a friend who used to work at my paper: “Are you alright?” Well yes, of course I’m all right. I’m huffing and puffing on this stupid treadmill and I HATE RUNNING, but of course I’m alright. Why? “I’m hearing all these rumors that they’re axing local. Everyone is freaking out.”

I remained unconvinced until I got further information: a fellow reporter on maternity leave was also coming in tomorrow. Then I guessed.

But I still didn’t know, and I tried to remain calm, praying that I would trust God and thinking that if I got fired that day I could go work at Hank’s Oyster Bar.

The next day the tension in the office was palpable. No one could work. Everyone sat around talking about what was going to happen.

Finally the shiny-toothed executive came. He told us the paper was closing, but that we had work until mid-June, when we would publish our last issue. Several people cried. Everyone was grim, somber.

Two human resources employees told us to line up and give our last names as they handed us manila envelopes — our severance packages.

The political reporters, who had been kept for the new magazine, came back from their other meeting, I think feeling guilty they were still employed.

87 people lost their jobs that day. All my editors, most of my fellow reporters, and many more people who put together the print version of the paper in our Virginia offices.

My heart breaks for them.

But you know what? I’m not really angry, and I’m not really worried. After four years in college wrestling with God’s providence, facing mystery after mystery and coming away with only tears and a pile of questions for my religion professor, I’ve finally reconciled with his sovereignty. I see how he’s answered prayer in this — Homère was asking God that I would be able to leave my job before our wedding, for reasons I won’t share here. Also the timing is impeccable — exactly two weeks before our wedding will be my last day of work, if I don’t find something else before then. And I know that somehow, through the decisions of men, and the seeming whims of the world, God is working out an achingly beautiful, unforeseeable master plan. That’s something to remember on this quiet day between Good Friday and Easter.

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

So thankful!

Homère and I were in a car accident Wednesday. He was kindly driving me to work when a car turning left hit our front side as we traveled straight through an intersection. My face and knees hit the dash, and I went to the hospital in an ambulance because I was dizzy and nauseated immediately after the crash. But I turned out to be fine, though with a few bruises and some ongoing headaches. And thanks to our good friend Juls, who rescued us from the hospital and the car repair shop, we even made our flight to Minnesota.
And so I am so, so incredibly thankful to be here with family on Thanksgiving Day, introducing them to the best man in the world, listening to toddler squeals and opinions on sports figures I’ve never heard of.
“O My God,Thou fairest, greatest, first of all objects, my heart admires, adores, loves thee, for my little vessel is as full as it can be, and I would pour out all that fullness before thee in ceaseless flow.”
– a Puritan prayer, in part

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!


A little Saturday update


So much to update! In August I went to Joni & Friends camp with Lee Anne, accompanied Homère to law school, signed a contract for a wedding reception venue, got to see Juls… More on all that later.

But for now…

I really love Saturdays. I was working Tuesday-Saturday most of last year, and now that I’m off that schedule, boy it’s really great. They just feel so perfectly lazy and comfy. And now I am watching a wild storm whip around the trees out my window — rainy Saturdays are even better.

Homère is off at law school, studying very hard. I miss him very much, but he’s visited twice already and is planning to visit quite a bit more in the next few months, so the distance hasn’t been too terrible for us yet. I keep busy going to work, planning our wedding, pinning too many things on Pinterest, catching up with friends, reading, etc. And I will gladly bake several dozen cookies for whoever invented Skype.

Lately I have been reminded over and over again how incredibly, undeservedly and abundantly blessed I am. God has just been so kind. My good friend and future bridesmaid Michele just got engaged! I get to see my family in two weeks! I have a loving fiancè, an exciting job, an encouraging church, a comfy house with fun roommates, etc. And in the midst of this I sometimes still complain! I’m crazy.

Praying you get a chance to count your blessings today….


Planting roses

Ok, remember that quasi-New Year’s resolution about blogging more? Yeah. Total fail.

Lately I have been soaking in life and not writing about it. Sometimes it’s nice just to live and not think about how you will tell someone else about what you did. Facebook and Twitter like to whisper in my ear that things aren’t real unless you put them on the Internet — which is total nonsense. But they also aren’t less real if you put them on the Internet, which is what some pretentious young men in tweed will tell you. So here I am, writing.

Today was a delicious day. The sun was shining and warm. I went on two walks, reveling in how happy the world seems when you can go outside without a coat.

It was so warm that I decided I should plant these roses, given to me by a wonderful boy on Valentine’s Day.

Marieke’s generous mother gave us the beginnings of a garden last year. I confess I haven’t done the best job of keeping it up, but I’m determined to change that. I pulled out all the vines and winter weeds today, and I’m excited to do some spring planting. Our bulbs planted last fall are already poking through the dirt. There’s nothing like planting in the earth to remind me of my utter dependence on heaven. I can’t make anything grow on my own.

The dirt felt good in my fingernails, and reminded me of this passage from Candide:

“‘All events form a chain in the best of all possible worlds. For in the end, if you had not been given a good kick up the backside and chased out of a beautiful castle for loving Miss Cunégonde, and if you hadn’t been subjected to the Inquisition, and if you hadn’t wandered about America on foot, and if you hadn’t dealt the Baron a good blow with your sword, and if you hadn’t lost all your sheep from that fine country of Eldorado, you wouldn’t be here now eating candied citron and pistachio nuts.’
‘That is well put,’ replied Candide, ‘but we must cultivate our garden.'” 

Being grown up: Uncharted culinary territory edition

Being grown up isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. You pay bills, you work a lot, if you try to do the splits you break something. But there are a few perks, such as eating whatever you want.

I remember once telling my parents that someday, when I was grown up, I would make popcorn and soak it all in butter, instead of just drizzling it on the top like they did. I don’t live with my parents anymore, but I still haven’t done that. I think I would probably vomit.

However, I have accomplished one culinary mark of adulthood. Hannah and I ordered takeout Chinese. And had it delivered. I’m very grateful I had a childhood without takeout Chinese (thank you, Mother), but ordering it as a real-live adult had its own peculiar thrill.

Why takeout Chinese, you ask? Well, as you know, Hannah and I watch Gilmore Girls, in which the main characters eat takeout Chinese all the time. I realized I’d never had takeout Chinese and should probably add that to my life-experience repertoire.

So…. we called Yum’s. Yes, that’s right: Yum’s. So simple, so succinct! So many good connotations!

Yum’s was inexpensive, had prompt delivery and a friendly person on the phone. However, Yum’s had two shortcomings: 1) It didn’t come in the traditional square-ish paper takeout Chinese box that I’ve always pictured takeout Chinese to come in, and 2) we weren’t quite sure the chicken was really chicken.


But I’m up for another thrill. I think next we’ll try New Tong Shing.


I am thankful for…

a job
spy novels
Korean food
colors…especially fall colors
biking past the Kirby center (reminds me of home)
hot showers
jokes that only close friends would understand
fuzzy blankets
Gilmore Girls
the fact that I live with TWO insane redheads
college memories
an eternal hope
the smell of new magazines
the smell of old books
new shoes
the D.C. Metro (no really)
my skills at staying warm acquired in Michigan
a friend and her family to spend Thanksgiving with
going home for Christmas

Happy Thanksgiving!