15 Things I Learned in 2014

Normally at the end of each month I post what I learned that month, but since it’s the end of the year, let’s make it what I learned in 2014.  Some things are lighthearted or silly, and others are more serious and reflective.  Either way, I learned some important life lessons in 2015.

1. I like winter. I grew up hating winter, but now I think it’s because I was never properly dressed for it, which means I was always cold. It’s miserable to be cold all the time. In Fort Worth, there are just a few weeks where you actually need a winter coat, so naturally, I didn’t invest in a true coat until I had to walk around UNT in 20 degree weather. Then I moved to Arkansas where it’s colder for longer, and there’s actual snow! I bought boots, long underwear (do they even call it that anymore?), sweaters, scarves, gloves, hats, etc. I learned how to keep warm, and I grew to love cold weather and all that it represented. Then we moved to Austin. We need a winter coat here about 5 days out of the year. And it makes me very sad.

2. I am a loyal art lover. I find a writer or musician that I like, and then I read only their books or listen only to their albums for years. I become incredibly knowledgeable of their body of work and biography, and I treasure their work so much that I hesitate to share it with just anyone. And I’ve always been like this. As JD and I were talking about my obsession with Josh Garrels (I may or may not have suggested naming our first son after him), I realized that I had been a die-hard fan of just 2 or 3 musicians and just 2 or 3 writers as a teenager. Bethany Dillon, Jennifer Knapp, Elisabeth Elliot, Francine Rivers, Frank Peretti…those were my people. So if in the past few years I’ve suggested musicians Josh Garrels, Sara Groves, or Jill Phillips, or writers Marilynne Robinson, Khaled Hosseini, or Wendell Berry to you, consider yourself a trusted friend. Their work is sacred to me.

3. When I don’t make time for reading, my imagination and wonder for life plummets. I become stuck in one reality and often my perception is skewed by anxiety, exhaustion, and loud voices. This year has had spouts of reading marathons, but on the whole, the year was symbolized by bookless evenings replaced by mindless Netflixing. This leaves no time for thinking or pondering or trailing off in thoughts.  So here’s my reading list for the next 6 months:
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4. JD is very smart in ways that I am not. I knew this already from college, but I’m relearning it as he settles into his new job in finance. When he tries to explain things to me, I have to get him to explain it 3 or 4 times, or I just nod my head like I understand but really I don’t.

5. Waiting leaves me gutted. This year has been a year of waiting–figuratively and literally. Figuratively, in that we’ve been waiting for JD to find the right job. Literally, in that we shared a car for the better part of the year, and I waited in my classroom for hours and hours. During this period of waiting (for something to happen, for God to show up, for a beginning, anything), I’ve said things I wish I could take back and written things I’m afraid to read now that we’re moving out of the wilderness. However, I have learned a few things about myself and God in that dark fog. Those lessons are coming up.

6. Waiting Lesson #1: First, myself. My patience is directly affected by my restedness. If I feel rested physically, mentally, and emotionally, then I can look at life with clearer eyes and a quieter heart. But if I’m lacking rest in any of those areas, everything is doomed, we’re stuck forever, and life is over.

7. Waiting Lesson #2: We need others to speak hope into our lives. I am too quick to spiral down into despair by myself, so I need someone to say, “That’s crazy” to my crazy thoughts, and say, “Hey, you’re going to be okay.” Friends can see things about our lives that we can’t because we’re standing in the middle of it.

8. Waiting Lesson #3: I need to feel my frustration before I can experience peace. There is no shortcut to a peace that surpasses understanding. We have to have an understanding of life being murky and confusing before we can have a peace that surpasses said understanding. I don’t like feeling frustrated or confused or uncomfortable. I so often want to just skip ahead, but I have to feel those emotions first. I have to acknowledge that I’m bothered before I can be soothed.
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9. Waiting Lesson #4: Next, God. After searching for clues and advice in other wanderers’ lives such as Abraham and Moses, I realized that God calls people out to the wilderness. They don’t just stumble into it or make a mistake and wind up lost. They are led out by a God they trust, by a God who has captured their imagination. This information was frustrating (“Why did you bring us out here, God?!”) and comforting (“Okay, so this has happened before.”).

10. Waiting Lesson #5: God makes promises in the desert. He promised so many offspring to Abraham that he would not be able to count them. And that came true in Egypt. Then God led those offspring out into the desert and promised them His love and faithfulness. Sometimes He needs to take us somewhere dry and nearly uninhabitable in order for us to hear His whispers of faithfulness.

11. Waiting Lesson #6: God’s promises outlast our lives. We are not the beginning or the end of our story. My life will affect the lives around me and the lives after me for generations to come. In Hebrews 11, the author makes it very clear that many of these faith heroes died without seeing those promises fulfilled. This can be frustrating when only thinking of my story–what if there isn’t resolution? what if that end is left loose? But if my view becomes panoramic, transcendent, and Kingdom-laced, then it’s okay if those loose ends flutter in the wind because I am not the end of my story. My story is part of the Greater Story, which has no end but does have resolution.

12. There are some things that just cannot be made healthy. I’m not talking about people or behaviors, I’m talking food. For example, cinnamon rolls. Even when vegan–they’re still mostly coconut sugar and vegan butter. But, oh, how they make my taste buds sing.
Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset13. Egg nog in French toast is the key to amazing French toast. It makes sense, I suppose. But you should buy up the egg nog before they stop carrying it at the grocery store! Trader Joe’s has already stopped selling their beautifully magnificent Ginger Brew.
Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset14. Not being understood is isolating. I felt this keenly in Hungary this summer–there’s only so much you can communicate with a handful of vocabulary and gestures. The week that JD and I spent with his brother’s family was beautiful and fun and heart-warming with our nephews and late-night conversations, but it was also really lonely for me. JD was literally the only person I could have a conversation with that entire week, and he was being pulled in 8 different directions . I’ve thought a lot about that week since then, and I’ve wondered how many times my family and friends have not felt understood by me and subsequently isolated.

15. My taste buds have overturned their verdicts on many foods, but not mint chocolate. I like green olives now (in foods, not by themselves…yet), lemon desserts are now acceptable options to me, coconut is my favorite food on everything, and I had to have a good apple to become an apple-lover, but mint chocolate? No way, Jose. Do not mix a rich, creamy decadence with a breath freshener. That’s just crazy.

As you wrap up 2014, take some time to reflect on what you learned. What did 2014 teach you?


Prayer for 2015

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Over the past week, I’ve been reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. It’s a book about overcoming shame and embracing vulnerability. As I’ve read and taken copious notes (it’s not my copy of the book), I’ve realized how much shame drives my life.

In chapter 3, Brown describes shame as “fear of disconnection; fear that something we’ve done or failed to do, an ideal that we’ve not lived up to, or a goal that we’ve not accomplished makes us unworthy of connection.” She then says there are three truths about shame:

1. We all have it.
2. We’re all afraid to talk about shame.
3. The less we talk about shame, the more control it has over our lives.

So my prayer for 2015 for me, for my family, for you is this:
May we see shame for what it is and shed it like an old skin. May we step into our story and embrace it, owning all parts of it, the heroic and the dirty. May when we feel shame we reach out rather than retreat within. May we love and care for ourselves so that we can love and care for others. May we experience true connection this year.

Katie’s Tomato Basil Soup

It’s a cold, dreary day.  My favorite kind of day if I’m at home and hungry.  Usually on days like this I want one of two dishes:  curry or tomato basil soup.  There’s something about the flavors in those dishes that makes me feel warm and satisfied and ready for a nap.

This tomato basil soup recipe has a little back story.  It’s adapted from the Nordstrom cookbook, which I don’t own.  But my friend Katie had them all, and when i was in college, she had me over at her house every week and cooked dinner and mentored me.  The older I get, the more I realize what a labor of love that was.

Typically I would help her with dinner when I got to her house–which I am so grateful for now because I credit those nights for helping me learn how to cook–and then we’d prepare cookies to bake while we ate dinner.  My favorite dishes from her include her lime cilantro tacos, pecan and apple over greens salad, and the tomato basil soup.  I still have all of those recipes (and one for muesli) in my cookbook written in her handwriting.

After dinner, we’d scoop some vanilla ice cream onto a warm cookie and head out to her porch to talk about my life.  She listened to me talk about that Hungarian guy I really liked, but I didn’t know if he liked me back.  She helped me find some of the roots of my performance-based perfectionism while making me laugh at some of her teenage stories.  Most importantly, she invited me into her home week after week and let me see her marriage with Ryan, let me help tuck her daughter Kyla in, and let me see what a Christian woman who is not afraid to own up to her vulnerabilities was like.

I credit Katie for helping me see myself and God more honestly.  She and Ryan helped JD and me in ways that we are still realizing, and I will always be grateful for those weekly dinners and cookies on her porch.

Below is a plant-based-ified version of Nordstrom’s tomato basil soup, and it is my favorite soup of all time.  It’s simple, easy, and fairly quick.  You can make it smoky by adding some smoked paprika.  You can put some Italian sausage (or Italian tofurky) for the meat-eaters in your family.  You can pour it over rice or toast some french bread for dipping.  Or pour some pumpkin cornbread croutons on it like I did. It’s really hard to ruin the soup.

So good luck!  Whip up some of this soup and perhaps invite a college student over for dinner.  They need someone to talk to.

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Tomato Basil Soup
Makes 6-8 bowls of soup.

1 tbs. coconut oil (or vegetable broth if you don’t use oil)
5 carrots, peeled and chopped (I run these through my Vitamix for like 10 seconds to chop them)
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 tbs. dried basil
3 cans (28-oz. each) whole tomatoes* with puree
1 can (15-oz.) tomato sauce
2 cups cashew cream (2 cups raw cashews and 1/2 cup of water)
2 tbs. honey (this is to combat bitterness)
Salt and peper to taste

*You can use whole tomatoes with basil, whole Roma tomatoes (my favorite), or Italian-style whole tomatoes.  They are all slightly different, but good options.

1. In a big pot, warm the oil.  Then add carrots, onion, and dried basil and saute until softened (about 10 minutes).
2. Add the tomatoes with puree and tomato sauce, and bring to a boil.
3. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes to blend the flavors.
4. While the soup is simmering, pour 2 cups of raw cashews and 1/2 cup of water into your blender and blend.  It is much better to start out with not enough water than too much–trust me, you do not want cashew water in your soup!  If the cream is too thick to naturally pour out of the blender, add water by tablespoons until it’s the consistency of melted ice cream.
5. Remove soup from heat and puree the soup with an immersion hand blender.  You can also do this by blending the whole tomatoes and some of the soup in a regular blender, but it’s much more cumbersome.  Get an immersion blender–it will change your life.
6. Once the soup is pureed, add cashew cream and heat through.  Add salt, pepper, and honey to taste.  If it’s too bitter, add some more honey.
7. Enjoy!

A worthy life


Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?  Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.  Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.

The words above are from the prophet Isaiah.  As we work hard these last few weeks before Christmas, as we are tempted to buzz around smelling like peppermint and pumpkin spice, may we remember that all of this laboring and hustling for a worthy life is over.  Hustling and striving to prove we have value is like spending money on bread that is not really bread.

Jesus has come to give us food that is good, that is rich without us having to spend any money.  He is making our life worthy.  He is establishing a new life for us with the bread and wine, with his body, reminding us of his steadfast, sure love for his people.  For us.  For me.  For you.  He is saying, “I make you worthy.  You are worthy because of my love for you.”

So come to the table and eat up.  I’ll pass the bread.  It’s really good.

Advent Reflections

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I’ve heard a lot of chatter over the past few years about Advent. I had always associated Advent with high church in my mind, and so this reawakening/trendiness in broader Protestant culture was interesting to me. In my curiosity last year, I found a simple Advent reading calendar, and I resolved to read the few verses a night with JD in preparation for Christmas. I felt like I was going to experience something mystical and beautiful. After all, my favorite Christmas hymn is “O Come, O Come Immanuel.” What better song to love than one that embodies the spirit of Advent?  It felt right.  Advent was coming to the Dargai household.

Then I completely forgot about my Advent reading calendar until December 25. This is my life.

So this year was going to be different. I set a reminder on my phone. I would not forget. Nothing would get in my way.

JD and I started our Advent readings December 3. Better late than never.

As I heard the buzz of this word…advent…and thought of candles being lit, shepherds watching their flock by night, this season of breathless expectation, I envisioned moments of great peace, magical silence, tearful whispers of “Jesus”, a bright glimmer on everything I saw, and perhaps a faint singing in the background by an angel chorus.

However, the advent I’ve experienced so far has been moments of interruption and thoughts of “What am I doing?” I’ve cried in frustration and exhaustion. I’ve literally said to JD, “I hate that I’m being mean to you… but I feel like I can’t control what’s coming out of my mouth because I’m so tired.”  I chuckle a little at that moment now, but truly, the situation has been dire.

I’ve felt like I’ve been waiting for Christmas break, for the end of the week, for when I can get in my car and drive home, for something, anything. I’ve felt like I’ve been grasping at promises of peace and at the same time scoffing at them. I’ve said to myself, “This is not the spirit of Advent! You are supposed to be peacefully waiting!” And then I’ve cried some more in shame.

But perhaps everything I’ve described is an aspect of the spirit of Advent. If it’s not the spirit, it’s certainly the reason for having a tradition of refocusing our mind, of waiting for peace, for life, for rest, for the Messiah.  Even in our crummiest moments, and perhaps most especially in our crummiest moments, our holding on for dear life points to the mystery of Advent.

This morning as I was reading from Isaiah, I realized that my heart’s prayer really is “Come, Lord Jesus.” Sure, it’s not in a tranquil, meditative voice. It’s more of a pant or a cough. But it’s a prayer nonetheless.

Mother Teresa graciously said, “Prayer is in all things, in all gestures.”  Even in my 4 AM alarms and meetings and faint buzz (rather than the angel chorus!) in my over-caffeinated brain, there is a prayer.

“Come, Lord Jesus” is a prayer of my striving, of my crying, of my wearying. It’s a prayer for peace, for life, for rest, for the Messiah.

What I Learned in November

1. Brothers grow up. I got to talk with one brother on Thanksgiving who is living in Amsterdam, and my other brother this week about his life at college, and I realized kind of all of sudden that they are adults. They are not my little obnoxious shadows anymore–they are real grown-ups. They have bills and responsibilities, and we’re not kids throwing beanie babies at each other late at night after sneaking out of our rooms to watch Gargoyles anymore. Until we get to giggling–then we become 8 again.

2. My mom likes olives! How have I grown up in the same house and eaten countless meals with her and not known this? I saw her plop one in her mouth at Thanksgiving and thought, “Who is this woman?” I kind of like getting to know my parents in new ways.

3. Christian fraternities are very interesting. My brother has recently joined one (or is a pledge, or whatever you say at this stage), and they are about to start (or have already done…clearly I can’t remember the details very well) “Job Week”, as in Job from the Bible, not get-a-job week. My brother’s initial explanation: “It’s a tough week meant to bring us together and closer to God by having us go through everything Job went through.” My response: “So they’re going to kill your family and servants and give you boils?” Not quite. They just have to be awake for like 18 hours of the day and spend all of their waking moments together, or something like that. This would make for a good anthropological study.

4. The season of Advent is for the faint of heart. I had high expectations of a peaceful time of reading prophetic passages with JD at night, and lighting candles, and hearing angels sing faintly in the background. However, I have been thrown back into the rhythm of school by time and a half and have had a breakdown in the kitchen because I’m so tired and worn down already. Come, Lord Jesus. This is why we need you.

5. My friend Kristy is finishing up her Marriage and Family Therapy master’s, and she said something really interesting last week as she spent time with my family for Thanksgiving. She said one of her professors encouraged her not to use the word “breakdown“, but rather call it a “breakthrough“. In those moments, we are learning something about ourselves, we are coming to a realization. I like that.

Come, Lord Jesus. Break through our chaos.