Thursday, October 20, 2011

Moving on up

Hey there

This blog can now be found at

I will no longer be updating at this site, but I'd love to see you at the new one.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Pea Soup

I grew up eating pea soup.  My mom and aunts made it all the time, and my Grandma Verkaik made it best.  I am pretty sure that her mom made it and that this recipe came across the ocean from the Netherlands, memorized by the minds of my great grandmas.  I like to think that they sailed into New York Harbor, gazing at the statue of Liberty thinking of freedom, new opportunities and Pea Soup.  I’m sure this isn’t the case, but it’s my story and I can tell it how I want to.

simmering, savory pea soup.
Yesterday I made my family’s pea soup.  It starts by boiling a leftover ham bone, so right away you feel resourceful.  This is the sort of recipe that takes time, you keep the pot simmering and add to it all afternoon, so that it thickens, but doesn’t burn.  If you haven’t had dutch grandma pea soup, you probably think it looks sort of gross.  I know it’s thick and greenish yellow and trust me, I didn’t love it when I was younger.  In fact I remember a story book my Mom read me about a pair of hippos and split pea soup.  The girl hippo, Martha made a ton of pea soup and the boy hippo, George, hated it and tried to hide it all over the house so she’d think he was eating it.  I sat on my mom’s lap and empathized with George, pea soup wasn’t really all that great.
But now that I’m a mom, I make pea soup, and the other three Pennys indulge me.  Kel is even coming to like it, I think, unless like George the hippo is hiding it in his shoes.  When I make this soup I feel connected to my past in a really positive way.  When I grate peeled potatoes into the simmering pot I think of all the women I come from who stood over countless pots of soup, thinking about life, love, God, husbands and kids.  In good years and bad, my family made this soup. After it was just right they gathered around the table to fill their stomachs and souls with fellowship and warm, green goodness.  And probably a side of warm homemade bread.
We all have pea soup type things that bring us back to who we are and where we come from, these are the touchstones that remind us of our rich heritage and history.  When you do these things, you can almost touch the roots of connection with your ancestors. Pea-soup type things strengthen and ground us and they give us pride, in a good way.  They remind us that generations of people  lived life on this earth, they loved and lost and struggled to connect and find God, just like we do every day.
And so even though I get most of my recipes off the internet these days, I always return to my roots and my old school wooden 3×5 card box for this pea soup recipe.  This soup is thick and rich and it sustains me and my family in countless ways.  I hope you have pea-soup type things in your life and if you do, I hope you go make a big metaphorical pot of green goodness to remind yourself of who are, whatever that looks like for you.  Go out and tell the stories of where you comes from to your children so that one day they will have pea soup moments when they remember your faithful strength over simmering pots.  Right now they make be more inclined to dislike it and hide it in their shoes, but I assure you someday they will be infinitely thankful that you did.

Gramma Verkaik's Pea Soup
- One ham bone, bring to a boil in water until the ham falls off the bone.  Take the bone out and sort through the tender meat, removing the fat etc...
- Add two cups of celery to the ham broth you made
- Add onion to taste
- Add 1 1/2 bags of pea, split and whole or all split.
- Add a bay leaf, don't forget bc Gramma Verkaik swears it makes all the difference.
- Add some basil and salt and pepper
- Add a ring of sausage, or Gramma Verkaik calls it metwurst.  I usually use turkey sausage
- As it simmers, grate in peeled potatoes to thicken it.

Don't let it burn and once it is all done, pour and enjoy.  It freezes well.

Monday, October 17, 2011


Last night I went to a concert featuring two of my favorite bands, David Crowder and Gungor.  Despite the five straight hours of standing in a sweaty crowd, I really enjoyed myself.  When I look at God's people I see a huge painting, each of us an unique color splashed onto the canvas.  Musicians add an essential color to my world, and I am immensely thankful for their faithfulness.  I love both lyrics and music, but if forced to chose between the two I would have to confess that I am lyrics gal.  Nearly all of my favorite songs make the cut because the lyrics strike a chord in my heart.  
Every year my Dad released a soundtrack that served as his musical journey, and he gave that CD out to friends and family.  I am totally his daughter in that respect.  He didn't live in the world of the iPod playlist, which is where I do the majority of my soundtracking.  Since music was made to be shared, I decided to reflect and release my soundtrack for the past year with you.  So this is one year of grieving my mom, in musical form.  Complete with lyrical snippets of the words that really had an impact on me this past year.  I am so thankful to these artists for allowing these words to flow form their souls and into my ears.
All this pain
I wonder if I'll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change, at all
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us. 
This song came into my life just a couple weeks before I began the process of grieving my Mom.  I heard Gungor perform this live in Waco, TX and I knew immediately it would be played over and over and over again in my car, my home and my walks around the park.  Also it makes me want to learn the xylophone something fierce.  
I'm at a loss for words, there's nothing to say
I sit in silence wondering what led me to this place
When did my life become so lifeless and cold
Where did the passion go?

Here I am, at the end, I'm in need of resurrection
Only you can take this empty shell and raise it from the dead
What I've lost to the world, what seems far beyond redemption
You can take the pieces in your hand and make me whole again. 
At the planning session for my mother's funeral my aunt suggested using this song and honestly at the time I just trusted her judgement.  I had no time to process the song before we buried her, but over the next few months the lyrics really had a powerful effect on me.  There are many days when I think about my mom's death and I can almost feel her freedom from mental illness.  I pray incessantly that I never know her pain.  
3) Give me Jesus by Fernando Ortega
 And when I come to die, give me Jesus.
You can have all this world, give me Jesus. 

I've always loved this hymn and after playing it at the funeral it is even more intertwined into my life.  Have you ever thought about what it would mean to really be at peace with God taking everything out of your life and finding true and total contentment in Christ alone?  When you process these words, your realize that this really is a concise description of the journey itself.
4) Still Fighting it by Ben Folds

Everybody knows
It hurts to grow up
And everybody does
It's so weird to be back here
Let me tell you what
The years go on and
We're still fighting it, we're still fighting it
And you're so much like me
I'm sorry 
After my son was born in January I was strangely convinced that he was born sad because he had been on such a deeply painful ride with me during my last trimester.  As I was processing what it meant to be a mother to my two beautiful children this song helped me along.  I have to grow into my role, even though it hurts sometimes.
This is what it means to be held, How it feels, when the sacred is torn from your lifeAnd you survive.  
This is what it is to be loved and to know, 
That the promise was that when everything fell
We'd be held.
I think when your mom takes her life, it really does feel like the sacred is torn away from you.  We all want to believe our moms have us, that when life is overwhelming they can swoop in and make things all better, or at least a little better.  I felt that was ripped away, I spent long evenings in my bathtub just wishing I could physically feel God holding me and wiping away my tears.  
I’ve been living in this house here
Since the day that I was born
These walls have seen me happy 
But most of all they’ve seen me torn
They’ve heard the screaming matches 
That made a family fall apart
They’ve had a front row seat
To the breaking of my heart
As my family and I went through the process of packing up my Mom's house, this song kept popping up on my radio.  I wasn't there for most of the sorting and boxing up of my childhood home, but knowing that home was permanently gone was a grief in and of itself as well as a relief.  This song confirmed those feelings and after hearing Chris August perform it live last night I love it even more.
Send me a sign, a hint, a whisper.  Throw me a line, cuz I am listening...
...Shine your light so I can see it, 
pull me up I need to be near you.  
Hold me I need to feel love.  
Can you overcome this heart thats overcome?
I don't know if I would have fallen for this song so hard if it wasn't for the light bright music video.  Go watch that video, you won't be sorry in the slightest.  I am so connected to the story line of the two little lite brite people, the hope at the beginning, the tragedy in the middle and the idea that out of death, something beautiful can grow.  I want to be that something beautiful.  
Please be my strength
Please be my strength
I don't have any more
I don't have any more
This is my prayer many mornings.  'Nuff said.
He has cheated
Hell and seated
Us above the fall
In desperate places
He paid our wages
One time once and for all
On Friday a thief
On Sunday a King
Laid down in grief
But awoke with keys
Of Hell on that day
The first born of the slain
The Man Jesus Christ
Laid death in his grave
Also I need to add: "Because he lives, I can face tomorrow, because he lives all fear is gone, because I know he holds the future.  And life is worth the living, just because he lives."  The lyrics of these two songs, one contemporary and one a hymn from my childhood, serve as a reminder of where our comfort truly lies.  When we face death and pain and un-mendable brokenness we cannot forget the promise that is wrapped up in the empty tomb.  One of the reasons I heal and press on is because I know where this path leads.  We have already won.  
So here are 9 songs that made my soundtrack.  They top the charts now and they will always be a part of the my life's dance.  They fed me on days when I didn't know where to find food.  Most of them fall in the "christian" music genre but I certainly don't limit myself to that genre.  Wherever musicians are pouring out truth you will find and connect your story with God.  
I hope you practice the healing discipline of soundtracking your life.  Music is something God wired us for, so take advantage of it and take the time to soundtrack your life in the gray and sunny seasons.  I can't see why you'd ever regret it.
Would you share a few songs on your current soundtrack?  Please?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

one year with suicide

This post is best read with a mug of something warm such as coffee, cocoa or hot tea.  Also hot apple cider, if available is a great choice.  

In Michigan the leaves are changing bold and beautiful hues and falling to the ground.  Fall has always been my favorite season, but this particular fall day lacks beauty for me.  You see, today marks the one year anniversary of my Mom's death.  One year ago today she took her life.

Last year on October 13th I was just getting into bed after staying up too late when I heard my cell phone ring.  It was my brother, and after a glance at the clock I realized that time in Michigan was midnight thirty.  My heart sank and I braced myself for a blow, because calls after midnight rarely bring good news.  My husband took the call and after he hung up the phone he gently filled me in.  Earlier that evening my mother had taken her life on the same train tracks that my sister had her accident years before.  I didn't burst into hysterics or tears, instead I sunk into shock.  I couldn't believe that all the hope I had been grasping so desperately had shattered on the tile floor of our bathroom.  There was no coming back from her depression.  It had finally defeated her spirit.  She had been so mentally and emotionally unavailable for years, and now she had faded out of my life completely. 

I wanted to write about what it feels like to spend one year processing and grieving suicide.  I know a lot of people tell me that they can't imagine what it would be like to have your mother take her life.  Well I think that if I could sum it all up into one word it would be this: confusing.  After 365 days of living with suicide I am still confused.  I know that the body, mind and soul of a person are unbreakably connected.  When the mind is very sick it has the power to take down the other two.  When the body is sick it can take down mind and soul down as well. However, I have seen enough optimistic cancer patients to lead me to believe that the worst place to get seriously sick, is in the mind.  

My mother struggled with depression for about 30 years, and it eventually took her life.  Some days I view her death as a struggle with terminal depression, a disease of the mind.  Other days I wonder what was inevitable because of her diagnosis and what she could have fought through.  But every day I wonder who my Mom really was underneath that thick gray crust of pain and sadness.  Toward the end of her life she was usually a warm body and a blank stare, existing in a world I couldn't seem to reach.  I listen to stories and glean pieces of the person God made her to be, she was bright and fun loving, a warm hearted and servant minded person.  She felt other people's pain like it was her own and she was the star of the school play.  I miss her even though I hardly knew her at all.  Mostly I am frustrated that I missed out on her.  That my life was spent watching her blow away like dandelion fluff, piece by piece drifting somewhere unknown.  

I can honestly say I was angry at her, for all her failures as my Mom, and for being locked behind a wall I couldn't penetrate no matter what I did.  I kept reaching for her just like my own baby son reaches up for my face.  As much as you hate to admit it, You always need you mom, and she couldn't be mine anymore, even though she was sitting right across from me.  I won't ever fully understand that, it's utterly terrible grieving someone who is still alive.   

I don't know why some people die of physical illness, some people die of mental illness and some people die in sudden tragic accidents.  I do know that one out of every one person on the earth will die and that even though my moments on earth seem endless, they are anything but. 

I try to remember the good memories of my Mom, but most of them happened years ago.  When she was alive, the idea of being like her terrified me, so I rejected everything in hopes of avoiding her fate.  Well now I am confident that I can avoid her fate while at the same time being her daughter.  I am now brave enough to talk about some parts of her that I carry on in this life.

1)  When Noelle was born she came to visit and kissed her right on the lips.  I thought that was weird, but now I smooch those little lips whenever I want to, because I am mom, and I can.
2)  She always left her coffee cup in the bathroom because she finished her last mug while she was doing her makeup.  I do that too.
3)  My mom's favorite season was fall, mine is too.  She would drive us around town just to find beautiful trees to fuss over, as a kid I didn't get it, but I have every intention of subjecting my kids to that as well.  
4)  She wore the diamonds my dad gave her when he proposed, I am now brave enough to wear them too. They are a symbol of all the beautiful intentions they had when they started our family, and that's a part of all of this that I want to carry into the future.  

Suicide is messy and inexplicable selfish, I doubt she had too much control over it, as far gone as she was.  It is a terribly confusing thing and difficult legacy to leave your children.  All that being said, I am my Mother's daughter and I have every intention to fight like hell against metal illness.  I will love autumn with reckless abandon. And every morning I will leave a mostly empty coffee cup on my bathroom counter before I get out there and live life to the very fullest with every intention to leave an amazing legacy in my wake. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Reminder Bear

Greetings from Michigan.  It is so unbelievably lovely here right now.  Wherever I go I pass roadside produce stands brimming with bushel upon bushel of freshly picked apples.  I am snacking on them between every meal and spending most of my days with my family and friends as we share memories and simply enjoy the rare gift of face to face time together.  

I have been contemplating the idea of a top ten list for my life as it stands right now.  This list would be the top ten things I need to be reminded of often, not only because they are foundational and important, but because I often get distracted and forget them.  I decided it would be hilarious yet practical to record these top ten truths and put them in a teddy bear voice box.  That way anytime I feel lost I could hug my soft reminder bear and God could use it to give me direction.  

Also, since I hate the sound of my own voice so I decided that I'll have Morgan Freeman record my top ten list.  This will really add impact and authority to my reminder bear.  I am pretty sure that when I get to heaven God will sound just like Morgan Freeman anyway.

Top Ten List for Reminder Bear:
(Don't get caught up on the order as the bear will dole out these truths at random)

1) In the busy-ness and the mess, be still and know that I am God.  Yes today and yes for you.

2) Every part of life, the good and the bad, is a season.  Don't let the bad destroy you and don't forget to savor the good moments.

3) While you're out, swing by the store and buy milk, eggs, and bananas.  Because you're probably running low on all three.  Silly but true, and I bet when Morgan Freeman says it, it sounds so profound!

4) You aren't destined to become your mom.  You are own person and your family will follow a new course, through my (God's) faithfulness I will be glorified in your perseverance.  

5)  I (God) don't need another "them" but I absolutely need you to be the you I made you to be.

6)  Remember the order of your Calling.  You are my daughter, Kel's wife, your children's mom and a writer.  You aren't a chef, maid or professional Facebook-er so use your time accordingly.   

7)  When life gets too much for you, you should probably get in the bathtub and remember who you are and where you are going.  A glass of wine wouldn't hurt either.  

8)  Believe the best about other people, they are rarely being jerks on purpose, so often they just don't understand.  Be patient.

9)  You don't need to earn my (God's) love, you already have it, rest in this truth, and stop trying so hard.

10)  Stop right now and be thankful for five things, this is a healthy and healing discipline and you will never regret doing it.  

I think we could all use a reminder bear, or at least a chalkboard that we could go to when we in our human weakness forget.  These are the truths that I need for today, for the leg of my journey that I find myself in right now.  I am certain that my reminder bear needs will change as I grow, but for now I am loving this little list.  Now to tweet Morgan Freeman and ask him a small favor...

Your turn, share a few things that you would put on your reminder bear list.  

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Simba's daddy takes a nap

Just like everyone else in America, I grew up watching classic Disney movies.  So, I am really happy that they are re-releasing the films I loved for my own family to enjoy.  As you may well know, The Lion King just came out on DVD.  So my 2 year old daughter and I drove to the media store to pick up a copy for the Penny family.  We made some popcorn and slid it into the DVD player to enjoy the magical musical journey together.  Okay so honestly I was in the kitchen making chili and singing "I'm gonna be a mighty king" but we were together... ish.  

I assume you have seen the Lion Kind, but in case for some reason you missed it, In the middle of the story Simba gets caught in the path of a wild stampede.  In order to save Simba's life his dad, Mufasa runs in and plucks him from danger.  But in the process his own brother Scar pushes him off a cliff to his death.  After the stampede passes Simba rushes in to his father and  realizes with wide, sad eyes that his dad is gone.  

It's brutally heart wrenching.  At this point in the film, my two year old daughter looked up at my husband and said:  "Daddy, Simba's daddy take a nap?  Simba feel sad?"

At that moment my Mom heart broke a bit.  I ached inside, Oh God, not yet, I am not ready for her heart to comprehend death yet.  I'm not prepared for that moment where she tries to process the awful permanence of it.  I don't want her to lose so much as a pet hamster, let alone a cherished person in her life.  

This moment has been weighing heavily on my heart these past few days.  Just like any Mother, I want to protect her from the pain of this world, but I know that's not really an option.  I can provide the healthiest and safest environment possible, but she will still encounter heartache, sickness and death on her journey.

After a great deal of pondering I have come to several conclusions.  First of all, I don't have to explain this to her right now.  Cognitively she isn't there yet so for today it's perfectly fine for her to go on believing that Simba's daddy takes a nap.  On the other hand I do have to prepare myself to explain to my children eventually why they don't have the typical grandparent situation.  I think I'll start by telling them that all their grandmas and grandpas are in heaven.  And that God has put special people into their lives to love them, but that their Grandmas and Grandpas in heaven love them very much too.  And then someday I will have to explain what suicide is, although I plan to hold off on this for a long while.  

It is a blessing when you come to realize that your concerns for the future don't need to have concrete resolutions today.  We only have to be prepared to do our lives now, and then wisely prepare as best we can for the future.  That's really all we can do.  I don't have to explain death to my daughter right now, so I am not going to let it spoil my today.  Heck, I'm still trying to explain some aspects of it to myself.  I'm in the middle of sorting through my own sleeping lions this week.  

So today I will cherish the innocence that is found in her beautiful young heart.  I will educate and prepare myself to parent her well in her current and upcoming life stages.  I will pray for wisdom to be her mom and to know how God wants to use me to teach and guide her on this earth.  And I will thank him for the abundant gift that she is, and be thankful that for today it's okay to think that lion daddys are just sleeping.  

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Mobster in the corner

What seems like forever ago I wrote about how grief is like a ninja. .  What I meant by that is that once you have loss in your life, you never know when it might jump out from behind a corner and ninja kick you in the face.  This doesn't mean that you aren't living life to the fullest and worshiping God with your life, it just meant that you loved someone who isn't on earth anymore and when you are reminded of that, it can cause pain.  

 I have been ninja kicked a lot lately, and I think that this season of my life grief isn't so much like a ninja but an Italian mob lackey in a pinstriped suit standing in the corner.  He has sunglasses on and he had a chest the size of a Volkswagen.  Every so often he just nods, walks over to me as I am chopping peppers in the kitchen and knees me in the gut.  You know for good measure. 

You see right now my grief feels palpable.  It's right there, and it may take an afternoon break but it always pops back up and my mood falls as my insides seem to sink to the floor.  My mom walked out in front of a train last year, and that is now a painful part of my story.

I suck at self care, and as much as I encourage other people to take space and time to sort through painful loss I am really bad at doing it for myself.  I confessed to my husband this morning that I really felt like if I enter into the grief season right now our little world would fall apart and I would be letting everyone down.  So I don't always practice what I preach, I'm just that human.

But even though it will result in a huge mess I am going to "go there." I am going to remember who happened last October and I am going to remind myself of who my Mother was.  I am going to try to cling to the good parts and separate her from her illness.  I am going to start to be okay with some of the ways that I am like her and not see them as ugly spots on my life.

Because even though she and my Dad are both gone now, I am their daughter.  A piece of them that can still speak to this world.  And speak I shall, so take that mobster.