Mom’s out of office autoreply

Dear… world,

If you have called, texted, emailed, messaged, or otherwise tried to get a hold of me in the last month, I am not ignoring you. I didn’t even lose my phone. It’s just that I have a one-year old, and I have been busy teaching her not to

grab Logan’s tail

pinch her fingers in the piano cover

unroll all the toilet paper

fall and hit her head on the bed frame (elliptical, kitchen chair, book shelf, etc.)

lick the floor

stick food up her nose

poke the dogs’ eyes

open the DVD tray on the computer

stick her hands in the dogs’ water bowls

put the end of the phone charger in her mouth

eat her own poop (yes, that actually happened)

feed the dogs onions or grapes


And I have been busy teaching her to…

laugh at silliness






drink from a cup

pet the dogs nicely



play on the piano

watch movies

make blanket forts


read books

enjoy food and cooking

play fetch with the dogs

pick up dirty clothes

put things away


SO, I will get back to you— during nap time. And if nap time doesn’t happen, my response may come the next day. If it doesn’t come the next day, you might want to send your message again. It’s not that I don’t love you. It’s just that my response doesn’t prevent your

diaper rash

hunger pangs


attack by angered dogs


pinched fingers

mental underdevelopment

social underdevelopment

spiritual underdevelopment

physical underdevelopment



and the like.



Denise (A.k.a. Mommy-still-in-training)


2014-02-04 09.01.30


Why I left the church

Like many of the kids I knew from growing up in “church school,” by the time I was old enough to make my own choices, I took a hike. I had had enough of being told what to do, what to wear, who to date, and to not dance, drink, or party.
(Especially because no one could ever really explain to me why it was wrong about it, since Jesus drank, David danced, and what in the world was really wrong with having a party?!)

Before I jump in head first, I want you to know a few things:

  1. This post could also be called, “Why I left the church…and came back again.”
  2. The reason that I am writing this story is primarily to warn my own heart, as a youth leader, to remember what being a teen and young adult was like. I’m inviting you into that journey.
  3. God has blessed me with a tremendous amount of healing in many of the relationships that were wounded by my path of rebellion and restoration, and I hope that this story honors that.

People are trying to figure out why youth leave the church. I’ve read accounts blaming everything from youth ministry programs to hypocrisy.  I don’t claim to have all of the answers, but here is my story. Here is my why.

I left because I didn’t belong.

Somewhere around 1999 when grunge was dying, FRIENDS were making us all laugh, and everyone was scared about computers crashing, I started a descent into a dark, doubting, questioning hole that is familiar to so many teens who grew up in the church. It was the year I started to drive and got my first job. What I found in that retail store was about to rock my world.

I grew up in what I like to call “The Bubble.” Maybe you are familiar with it- I went to Christian school, church 3 times a week, Christian summer camp, joined Christian clubs, went to Christian concerts, played Christian video games (no. really.), read Christian books, and to be honest, was a little scared of all the “unsaved, God-shunning, cold-hearted heathens who needed Jesus and were going to hell.” I love my parents and appreciate their efforts to lead me in a good path and into a relationship with Jesus. But I was wholly unprepared to walk into the world of working with non-Christians and (gasp!) talking to them.

I was so confused when I found that my new co-workers, who obviously did not attend church and took smoke-breaks, were SO. NICE! Nicer than anyone I had ever met in any Christian group. For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel judged. I laughed as loudly as I wanted because no one thought women should have a “meek and quiet spirit.” This was the first step in my break from my church and from God- the unconditional acceptance of me, just the way I was.

Another contributing factor to my feelings of not belonging at church and other Christian groups looks silly to me know, but was painfully real during this time in my life. We were relatively poor. I didn’t have a lot of nice clothes. Even though this feels crazy even writing now, I started not wanting to go to church because I felt like I didn’t have anything to wear, anything that would make me feel like I belonged with the other kids who did wear nicer clothes. Again, I thank God for my hard-working parents who kept me clothed, fed, and in a private school! At the time, though, I couldn’t appreciate those things the way that I do now.

Lastly, I left the church and God for a period of time because of my own sin. I struggled with dating relationships. Some people struggled with alcohol or drugs or a love for money, but for me, it was my desire to control my own dating life. I couldn’t stand that any guy would be considered “off-limits” because he didn’t believe in God. I didn’t respect warnings to remain “pure” which in my opinion were very subjective and unclear anyway. So I left. Adios. I’ll do it my way. And I did.

I spent years of my twenties running from God and doing life my own way. I ended up depressed, confused, and angry. But in that entire time, God never left me. He gently, quietly, lovingly drew me back to Himself.  The first tool that God used to begin calling me back to Himself was, ironically, the first thing that had started my descent away from Him- a longing for real relationships.

What I found in all of the those “friendships” with the “nice” people outside of the church was an inability to enter in to real relationship. Real relationships are formed around Jesus (and food… but definitely Jesus!). Why is that true? Because real relationships exist when you step outside of yourself and think of the other person first. When I was looking for fulfillment in another person, I could never find it. Why? Because we are inherently selfish. Without God’s prompting to think of others’ better than yourself, people, without thinking, think only of “me first” (as I was- I was looking to get from these relationships, not give.). And ultimately, we only think of others first when we are experiencing the wholeness that a relationship with God brings into our own lives. We cannot give what we don’t have- love.

Eventually God brought my husband and I to a church in White Bear Lake, MN- Eaglebrook Church.  God used this place and a small group Bible study of women to solidify my return to living in His will for my life. I was still very angry when we landed at Eaglebrook. I hated churches and most of the people in them. I was there because a friend had invited and a group of her friends were cool and fun to hang out with. They made me feel like I belonged there.

Then one Sunday the Pastor challenged us to “quit complaining about the church and start being the church.” That began a new journey for me of knocking off the sarcasm and letting go of the bitterness I’d held for so long. My husband and I jumped in head first to serving at the church and that has made a world of difference in our lives. Our church is not perfect- no church is, but we have found a community of people that God has called us to serve and love. The amazing blessing is that they serve and love us back. God is so good. He has called me to help make others feel like they belong in our community, our church.

Since then God has also been moving in my heart to remove sin and build positive habits that grow my relationship with Him- and I have never been more at peace, more content, more filled with life. But those things may never have happened without me first experiencing the thoughtfulness of a group of broken people making me feel included.

How about it? Have you let imperfect Christians keep you from experiencing the amazing love of God like I did for so long? Do you include others when they come into your group of Christians, whereever that group might be? If you left the church (and came back or never came back), I would love to hear why!

Don't get distracted by all the beautiful people.

Don’t get distracted by all the beautiful people.

Hopeless Marriage: A Book Review

At some point in our lives, “Hopeless Marriage” may as well be splashed across an arrow-shaped neon sign pointing right over each of our homes.

It happens to just about every marriage because marriage. is. hard.

Judy Bodmer and I have a lot in common, strangely enough. We’re both recovering Registered Dietitians-to-be. We’re both passionate about helping other couples stay married because we’ve both struggled in our marriages with emotional affairs (first time I’ve ever written that out loud!). The difference is that Judy has actually written the book to do it! And it’s a good one. I’d love to share it with you.

When Love DIes

When Love Dies: How to Save a Hopeless Marriage methodically explores all of the reasons why we think we should leave our spouse and speaks truth into those feelings. These feelings are so universally experienced that I believe there is not a wife out there who would not benefit from reading through her journey. Judy’s honest sharing of her experience falling out of love with her husband, but choosing to stay offers a roadmap of hope for every woman wrestling over the divorce question in her mind.

Each chapter sets up the struggle (for example, I can’t forgive or forget; I had so many dreams; We can’t talk, etc.), succinctly defines the problem, offers experiences and potential solutions, and finally ends with a challenge. (We can’t talk ends with the challenge- Take your weakest communication point (listening, interrupting, letting your motor run, etc.) and work on improving it this week.) Each challenge offers the reader the opportunity to take responsibility for their marriage and a sense of possibility for real change.

I don’t want to pretend, naively, that there are no reasons for divorce. However, in the absence of abuse and infidelity, Bodmer offers so many reasons for holding on to the committment that you’ve made and rediscovering the best friend that you married. (If anyone wants to borrow my copy, let me know- I’ll even ship it to you!)

Photo credit: Photography by Jewels, 2006

Photo credit: Photography by Jewels, 2006

Just Grown-up Kids: Truths from the Global Leadership Summit 2013

If I could rewind the last 48 hours and invite each of you to come to the 2013 Global Leadership Summit, I would. This is Adam and I’s third year attending the Summit, and every year we leave with renewed focus and with our leadership fires lit for the coming year.

The last two years, I took so many notes in our Summit notebook that I treasured the books as gold at the end of the two days- pages full of insights that I could refer back to throughout the coming year. BUT this year with a four-month old in tow, my notes are a little sparse (to say the least). In spite of that I’d like to share with you a few themes that I heard during the Summit that have especially tugged at my heart- things that I believe God put me there to hear.

Grown-ups are really just big kids.

This thought was a passing comment that Patrick Lencioni jokingly said while discussing his book, The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: A Fable for Managers, which digs into the reasons why people hate their jobs, underperform or leave. Lencioni was referring to our need as humans to belong. to be heard. to be seen. to be known. We “grow up” and pretend that we don’t need anyone else. That we can make it on our own. But reality is that everyone needs to be seen and known. If you are in or have been in a workplace (or church) where this was not the case, you know that it can make you miserable.  This became the theme of my Summit experience preparing me for the other lessons that I needed to hear.

What kills love kills organizations.

Dr. Brene Brown authentically delivered a challenge to leaders to break down their walls of pride. Dr. Brown reiterated the need for people on my team, for the (little and big!) people in my home to be seen and known- to be loved. Her research found that what kills love kills organizations:

  • Shame
  • Blame
  • Lack of Respect
  • Betrayal
  • Withholding

Two of my favorite quotes from Dr. Brown- “We are so desperate to belong that we will form groups of intimacy based solely around people (or things) that we hate.” And “You can have courage or you can have comfort, but you cannot have both. They are mutually exclusive.”

Time spent alone is wasted time that you could be investing in the next generation.

This shot to my heart like a bullet. Pastor Oscar Muriu challenged me to get off the couch, get out of my comfort zone and get in the leadership game. No excuses, even being the mommy of little kiddos. My kiddos are the most obvious future leaders that God has entrusted to my stewardship, but they are not the only ones. I am fortunate to be working with an awesome group of young women at my church through the youth group program, but I can do more with them! Look around you- where can you dive in to start now to encourage leadership in the next generation?

I wish I could connect all of the dots for you and deliver a neat and compact summary of the Summit, but trust me, it just isn’t possible. The best I can do is encourage you to attend next year (it is hosted at 230+ sites around the world- there’s probably one near you!) and check out their website and social media feeds for more in-depth followup.

Tongue Sit-ups

Didn’t your mama ever tell ya?

To think before you speak.

Mine did, and I’ve been thinking recently just how much I still need to learn how to put that advice into practice. Sometimes, I find myself saying the dumbest things! The first time I heard the phrase “word vomit” I knew I had found the exact words I needed to describe what comes out of my mouth more often that I care to admit. We giggle when we think of the “darndest things” that kids say, but isn’t it true that sometimes we say things that are “darndest” too?

I was at the park yesterday with a few of my good friends. One of my friends kiddos was off playing at the park when another little girl used some rather unkind words toward her. My friend informed this little girl that her words were not kind and in fact she was being rude! Don’tcha just wish you could grab their chubby little cheeks and say, “Didn’t your mama ever tell ya?!”

As moms, it is SO important to teach our children the power of our words.

The words that we say are the most direct and forthright method of conveying our thoughts and feelings. My words can build up or tear down another human being. That is a lot of responsibility and immense power!


Proverbs 18:21

The consequences can be positive or negative. I wish we could just do tongue sit-ups to reign in our loose tongues and make sure we are constantly delivering life through our words. Don’t you?

A good place to start reigning in our tongues is to think before you speak. My fifth grade teacher, Ms. Wohlenhaus taught us to ask three things before we opened our pieholes. I deliver them here to you.

Is it TRUE?

Is it KIND?


Let’s try to bring life through our words this week and teach our kiddos to do the same.

Apologetically Christian: A Blue Like Jazz Book Review

Blue Like Jazz is a must read for anyone who hates Christians.

Blue Like Jazz is the book that I wish I had written.

Blue Like Jazz is one of those moments in my life when so many thoughts and feelings finally converge into clarity and truth, bringing liberation and life.

Donald Miller somehow combines raw, real feeling and spiritual questioning into a masterpiece where Christians apologize to the “heathen” and Jesus’ true teachings are fully illuminated. Shelves could be filled with the books, seminars, messages from the pulpit, and writings defending Christianity, intellectually debating the legitimacy of scripture, and unapologetically proclaiming God.

Blue Like Jazz brings a brisk slap-in-the-face reality check, that perhaps Christians do need to do a little apologizing. Perhaps, laying down our defenses and loving unconditionally (no, really, unconditionally; not pretend “churchy” unconditionally) is just what this world needs to see the real Jesus. The real Jesus who was named a friend of tax collectors (the hated) and sinners (the despised). Blue Like Jazz challenged me to forgive myself for the times that I have failed to love, and to start now to love- unconditionally and apologetically.

Blue Like Jazz tells the story of so many of the kids who grew up in the church and had to leave when they found out that the “world” wasn’t full of demon-worshippers and hateful people. The kids who were confused at why the people outside the church were kinder than those who were in it. The kids who always felt like they were the red-headed-step-child, but found a place of belonging with the hippies in the woods (you’ll have to read it to understand that part 😉 ). The kids who desperately wanted to believe in Jesus, but got blinded along the way by His followers.  The kids who loved God, but didn’t want to be Republicans. Have you been there? Read this book.

Blue Like Jazz is the story of a kid like me. I wish I had written Blue Like Jazz.

Finally, Don brings into focus so many questions and lays out beautifully the clarity that can be experienced in the midst of the questions. There’s no guilt that having faith means having doubts. There’s no lie, no wall built as if Christians have all of the answers.  There’s just faith and a belief that following Jesus means life, because Jesus frees us from ourselves.  His teachings illuminate the greatest lie and free us from it.  The greatest lie is that life is a story about me. That my needs, wants, and desires, when fulfilled, will bring me the greatest happiness.  The truth is found in the teaching of Jesus that whoever loses his life will find it. Serving others is the highest calling. Loving others is the most powerful tool.


I wish I could do Blue Like Jazz justice in a short book review. I can’t. You just have to read it.  If you’ve read it once already- read it again. I know I will. The pages are underlined and dog-eared, but now I need to find my highlighter. It’s just that good.


Peer Management: Stop the Mommy Wars

Becoming a mom automatically entered me into the largest sorority of sisters on the planet. I have never had more interaction at Target or the grocery store in my life, especially from adorable older women. And I love it. Liliana loves it. There is nothing sweeter than hearing compliments directed at your sweet baby.

Unfortunately there is also a dark side of the sorority that comes with the not-so-secret sisterhood!

Mommy wars.

Now, this isn’t really exclusive to moms and definitely occurs in the workplace as well. We all have the opportunity each day to build one another up or tear each other down. I propose, however, especially as moms- we need to lay down our weapons of people destruction and replace them with life-giving actions instead. Here are just a few of the biggies:


Judgement often sounds like “I can’t believe she…” or “I would never…”

Instead try to think and use words like “How is your day going?” or “I really like the way you talk to your kiddo. I hope I can communicate that well.”

Choose positivity over negativity.


We all do it. We all shouldn’t. Especially as women, we tend to rank ourselves on the social totem-pole based on exterior things- the way we lose the baby weight or don’t. The way we keep our house or don’t. The way our kids behave or don’t. The way we fill-in-the-blank or don’t. We get discouraged when we think someone else is more “super mom” than we are and we get an ego boost when we can say, “Well at least I am better this way or that.”

Comparison is defeating and deadly to self-confidence, both yours and the mom you’re comparing to. So stop! For heaven’s sake, stop. Compare yourself to yourself yesterday. Become a better you each day and don’t worry about other moms. This is even more difficult in today’s digital world because we get to choose what to share on our public profiles, leaving everyone else to believe that our lives must be perfect.


Quote Source:

No one’s life is as perfect as it may look from the outside. Realize that everyone struggles and everyone has outtakes. Be kind to yourself and gentle with others who may look like everything is perfect, but may be secretly struggling with something. Looking past someone’s perceived perfection may also open your eyes to another opportunity to be an encouragement.


Nothing kills friendships or relationships more quickly than talking behind someone’s back. If you talk to friend A about friend B, the. first. thought. that friend B is having is, “Wow, what do they say when I’m not around?” It is never a good idea to gossip.

Gossip sounds like, “Did you hear what [negative thing] she did?” or sometimes, “Wow, we really need to pray for friend B.”  Be careful what you share with others when you have been confided in.

Replace these with,”Did you hear what [positive thing] she did?” or “She is so great at party planning [or other positive attributes].”  People tend to rise to the occasion when they hear they have a positive reputation for something.

For example, I laugh awfully loudly. I realized this when I was younger, but did not realize until I was older that people really appreciate my laugh. When I realized that my laugh encouraged others to relax and laugh, I released the full potential of my laughter and never apologized for it again.

Or in the workplace, speaking positively of a colleague’s work in front of them will boost their confidence and their motivation to continue to work hard to maintain their positive reputation.

In the end, the mommy wars is something I don’t want to tolerate. We can do better, moms!

Take a challenge with me- tell one other mom today something that you noticed that they do great! It only takes a moment, but can bring life to someone else’s day. Happy Friday!