The Paradox of Perfectionism

I am a perfectionist. I want to be a perfect writer, a perfect teacher, a perfect wife, and a perfect friend. I want a perfect personality and sense of humor and complexion and wardrobe. 

Sometimes, my desire for perfection paralyzes me from taking action: If I can’t do something perfectly, why bother doing it at all? 

Recently, I’ve felt this way about my writing. When I sit down to write, my perfectionism sits heavy on my shoulders and whispers into my ear: You’re not smart enough, talented enough, prepared enough, [fill in the blank] enough … Just give up already and go watch HGTV. 

Maybe you know what I mean. Maybe you’ve heard that voice too.

I never really saw my perfectionism as a problem until I got married and my husband, Christopher, pointed it out to me. Marriage is humbling in that way – how all those deep issues we hid from ourselves and from the world come bubbling up to the surface in our most vulnerable moments. 

The first time I became really aware of my perfection problem was when Christopher tried to teach me how to surf. 

Having grown up in the Midwest, I have always romanticized the notion of surfing – endless thrill and speed and smiles, golden skin and salty, wind-blown hair. So, naturally, I asked my California-raised husband to teach me. 

We were less than two months into our marriage, and, per usual, I desired absolute perfection out of these lessons: I wanted Christopher to give me a perfectly articulated set of instructions. I wanted to know the perfect strategy for paddling out past the break, the perfect motions and timing I needed to master in order to catch a wave, the perfectway to “fall off” at the end so as to avoid complete embarrassment.  

The problem, of course, is that learning to surf – like so many other things in life – doesn’t at all work that way. There is no “perfect formula” to follow. When it comes to surfing, there is no possible way to avoid failure.

But I didn’t know that at the time. 

So, we packed up our truck with camping gear and two borrowed surf boards, and we drove down to San Onofre State Beach – a legendary surf spot north of San Diego. San Onofre (nicknamed ’Ofreby the locals) has some of the bluest, most consistent waves in Southern California, waves surfers have been riding since the 1920’s when surfing first arrived on California’s shores. 

It seemed like the perfect place to learn. 

Our first morning in ‘Ofre we woke just as the sun bloomed behind the horizon, blanketing our campsite in smoky pinks and oranges. We made campfire coffee and avocado toast (like perfect little millennials), and Christopher showed me how to wax a surfboard: Circular motions. More wax than you think you need. Thick and textured for grip. 

We had to hike down a steep trail to get to the beach. The board was heavy and awkward under my armpit, which made it difficult to balance, and I slipped and stumbled nearly the whole way down. 

“I’d offer to hold the board for you,” said Christopher, who is normally chivalrous to the extreme, “but if you can’t carry your own board, you shouldn’t be surfing.”

Down at the beach, we sat on a piece of driftwood and watched the waves. There were a handful of other surfers out, all on shortboards cutting in and out of waves as graceful as ballerinas. I wanted to know how to get that good. 

But Christopher’s only instructions to me all morning (aside from “hold your own board”) were “paddle as hard as you can” and “when you get slammed by a wave, don’t fight the current.”   

I battered him with dozens more questions about how I should handle big versus small waves, white water versus blue, and when to bail and when to hang tight. But all he said was, “You just have to feel it out as you go” and “You’ll figure it out.”

“How do I not get slammed?” I asked.

“You will get slammed,” he said. “That’s the only way to learn how to not get slammed the next time.”

What a stupid, horrible philosophy, I remember thinking.

“You ready?” Christopher asked me. 

I was most definitely not ready. But I figured if I died out there, at least Christopher would have to live the rest of his life feeling guilty for failing to educate me on the nuances of surfing.  

We attached the board’s strap to my ankle, and I walked uneasily into the rocky surf. The waves sucked and crashed powerfully against my lower legs, bringing golfball-sized rocks with them, which pummeled my ankles and shins. 

“You gotta jump in fast between sets of waves,” Chris said, “otherwise you’ll miss your window.” He took a running dive into the cold, blue water and started swimming. Shivering and already a bit frustrated, I leapt onto my board and started paddling after him.  

The board felt bulky and clumsy beneath my body, completely powerless against the cobalt waves that rolled toward me like speeding trucks. I could hear Christopher screaming at me to PADDLE HARDER, but his voice was muddled and distant beneath crashing water. My board made it over the first wave in the set, but the second wave looked way too menacing for me to handle, so I bailed as soon as I saw it.

The wave crashed directly on top of me, spinning me around like a load of laundry and spitting me back out near the rocky shore. 

I stood up disoriented but unhurt. I could see Christopher treading water out past the break, waiting for me to get back on and try again. I hoisted myself back onto my board and paddled on. My arms already burned with exhaustion. I paddled over a few smaller waves, and then, like clockwork, the big waves came.

I refused to bail this time. Instead, I stopped paddling and held on for dear life as the wave flipped my board backwards with me on top of it, stuffing me beneath the churning Pacific all the way to the ocean floor.  

When I surfaced, I heard Christopher yelling at me: “I said don’t stop paddling!” 

I kept trying different strategies for getting over the waves, and each time, the ocean’s powerful arms shoved me off and pushed me back towards the shore. I started to get angry – at the ocean for its indomitable strength, at Christopher for his unhelpful demands to “paddle harder,” and at myself for failing to even get out past the break (let alone catch an actual wave). 

After several more failed attempts, I started to notice something I hadn’t seen before: There were gaps at the edges of some of the larger waves. I found that if I paddled hard and fast enough, I could reach these gaps before the waves folded, and my board would float over them like a little duck floating over ripples in a pond. I used this strategy until I got all the way out past the break, where Christopher was waiting with a smile. 

“You made it,” he said. “Now we wait for the right wave to come along for you to catch.”

I never really successfully surfed that day. I did catch a wave and managed a partial kneel on the board as it soared toward the shoreline. When I fell off, the board flew into the air and slammed hard into my left foot, splitting open my flesh. 

But the adrenaline rush of catching a wave was so exhilarating that I barely even felt any pain. I still have a scar on that foot that I’m rather fond of. It’s shaped exactly like single quotation mark.

Lately, I’ve been conjuring up this memory whenever my desire for perfection threatens to take control. I think learning to surf serves as a good metaphor for the fundamental paradox of perfectionism: growth and learning happen because of failure – not in spite of it. 

One of the most powerful and comforting things about scripture is that, again and again, God uses imperfect, unprepared, unexceptional sinners to do His work and participate in His story. 

He chose Rahab, a prostitute, to rescue two Hebrew spies from the king of Jericho (and to save her entire family in the process). He chose a poor widow, who was on the verge of starvation herself, to feed the prophet Elijah. He chose Ruth, a poor and widowed immigrant, to become grandmother to King David and, thus, a direct ancestor to Jesus. He chose the orphan Esther to save the Jewish people from death. He chose a group of uneducated, voiceless women to witness and spread the news of Christ’s resurrection. 

And He chooses us to be part of His story too. With all our imperfections and insecurities and failures. 

Indeed, He chooses us becauseof our shortcomings – not in spite of them. 

Have you been avoiding “diving” into something because you feel too imperfect, too unprepared, or too unexceptional? Maybe you’ve been called to start a bible study, write a devotional, start a blog, witness to a friend, invite a stranger to dinner, host a celebration, volunteer. 

What might it look like to shun the voice of perfectionism and just dive in? 

Welcome Johanna!!

Jo and Chris – aren’t they the cutest:) oops and Roscoe

We both fell in love with a Lange. She with my nephew and me with his uncle. We share the same last name and now we get to share some life. You cannot help but love Jo. I knew that anyone that caught my nephews attention for a lifetime had to be special. You can tell from one conversation that she is kind, determined and passionate about life. Her insta pics also show she has a love for the outdoors and adventure. Her smile lights a room and her laugh is easy, making one feel comfortable to be in the space they share.

Johanna and her husband Christopher recently moved to the midwest, just 3 hours from me. On a recent trip through their town we shared a cup of coffee and walk around their community. They shared their excitement for their new life, possibly entering into homeownership, and continuing careers they loved. In the midst of our walk I asked Jo a question. It is actually my favorite question to ask my friends. If you spend any amount of time with me – be ready. The question.. “So what’s your dream… like if you could do anything in the world, what would you do?” With little to no hesitation she replied. “I’d write.”

And write she does and write she has… for our campfire community. So excited to introduce her to our world. So excited for another chance to pause and listen and learn.

Welcome to the fire Johanna!! We’re so glad you’re here.


I live in a boy house. They are loud and competitive and dirty. They’d rather wrestle than sit and they’d rather make burping noises than eat. They run and yell and like to hit as hard as they can. They often need reminders about using their words (not their bodies) and using a tissue (not their fingers/shirt/blanket). Some days, it feels nonstop–their idea of a good time constantly butting up against my idea of a peaceful home.

I grew up in a boy house (the only girl among five brothers), so I thought I was surely prepared for these testosterone-filled little gifts from the Lord. But being a mom is a lot different from being a sister, and being in charge is a lot different than being able to escape to the woods whenever I wanted. Keeping a rhythm of rest and work in my role as mom has proven vital to sustaining light and love in my soul.

Recently, I was not only a boy-mom, but a boys-who-are-sick-mom. It was more peaceful around these parts, for sure. We all (except for my very cautious I-can’t-get-sick-before-Easter husband) came down with this terrible virus that knocked us flat on the couch with extreme aches and fevers that hung out for days. It was honestly a welcome change of pace: to just fill up waters and cover with blankets and sit next to them on the couch and rub little feet and backs. It was welcome… for a while. But once I hit the 8-day mark of serving and giving out of love, I realized that I was tired. I was tired of not having our normal rhythm. I was tired of feeling foreheads. I was tired of de-germing things in our house. I was tired of hearing the coughing, coughing, coughing that seemed to come in such great fits that I wondered if it would ever stop. I was tired of not being able to join in any sort of community. And I was tired of being needed.


And then, like these things always do, the sickness started to clear up. The foreheads I was feeling were not red-hot anymore. The coughing spells were becoming more infrequent. I was able to run to the store with my son and not be worried that he would contaminate everything within 10 feet. All the boys were finally healthy enough to go to school and I got to return to some sense of rhythm and care for my own heart.


Something else happened during the same time: spring showed up. Every year, after the winter rains and foggy days, there is this beautiful season of yellow flowers here. Mustard flowers, daffodils and other yellow flowers I don’t even know spring up out of the tall green grasses, and all at once, there is yellow everywhere. These little sprigs of sunlight rise up to meet the warmth of clear blue skies.

Little yellow surprises even spring up in our own backyard, which is usually characterized by patches of dirt, broken toys, and grass that’s trying its hardest to grow. Little yellow sunshines. They pop up so effortlessly–no sowing of seed, no fertilizing, no watering schedule. Just sweet gifts from a good Creator.

And without fail, every spring, I have three little boys who collect yellow flowers and bring them in as prized gifts for their mama. I don’t know who started it, why or when. It always surprises me a bit, and at first I felt like I needed to put their little gifts in small containers of water more out of pity than anything else, like, “If I don’t act like this is the greatest gift ever, his little heart might ache for days.”

This year was different, though. I’m not sure if it’s because I was on the heels of feeling emotionally drained from taking care of them, or if it’s because my oldest boy is now eight, and capable of being genuinely considerate. Whatever it was, it was different.


These flowers were a sweet, sweet gift that filled my heart to the brim! Noah had taken the time to gather, arrange, and even tape them all together and write his name on the tiny-skinny stem of one of the flowers (of course–something a boy would think of)! They graced my kitchen table for the next few meals, bringing warmth and beauty to each gathering we had there.

yellow flowers

One of my favorite characteristics about these flowers–the BEST PART– is their almost unseen rhythm. Each evening, even after they are cut and brought inside, their little petals curl up into tiny tubes, hiding all of the beauty and wrapping it up safe inside where it rests for the night. Then, each morning, after the sun comes up, the petals begin to open, gradually and without a whisper. They display their beauty still and perfect for as long as eyes will look on them.

They remind me of the wisdom of my Creator. Just like I needed some resting space after caring for my sick boys, these flowers, too, were designed to rest at night after sharing their beauty during the day. We are all made to have rhythms of opening up ourselves {and our beauty} to the world around us, and then winding down and having a safe place where we can be all wrapped up for a time. What a grace-filled rhythm. What a sweet, sweet gift.



Welcome Christa!!

She was 12 ish when I first met this amazing boy mom:) My husband and I had been married a week. We had just driven from our honeymoon in Michigan to the “meet a million ( or so it felt) of his family members” at the Lange Family reunion in Grand Lake, CO. What I didn’t know about our trip is that Tom wasn’t exactly sure where we were going. This was in the age of no cell phones or GPS. When we pulled into the parking lot of the lodge and saw Christa ( Tom’s cousin) and my niece Jaime Lange Brinkmann ( yes – one of our other story tellers at the fire) Tom was over joyed!!!! I thought it was because he was so excited to see Christa and Jaime ( how sweet) but it may also have been that he got his bride to the correct location:)

I have had the privilege of watching Christa grow up, marry and now parent 3 young boys. She resides in California so our interactions are limited to our every 3 year family reunion. I have learned her heart through her amazing story telling on her blog She has graciously agreed to show up at our fire. Christa has the ability to recognize God’s wisdom and his goodness through everyday life and through the lives of her boys. Pull up a chair and a roasting stick – this California gal, with a love for running, Jesus and all things boys has something worth listening too.

Welcome to the fire… We’re glad you’re here!!!

Christa and the boys

Cheddar Potato Chips and a trashy novel….ever had one of those days???

It was the best advice my 18 year old college freshman self had ever heard. It came from my honors english professor so I figured it had to be good and wise and … and well it was HONORS english. So EXTRA smart points for this type of advice.

Summer after my freshman year of college.

Our professor told us that after we had completed our finals, turned in our final projects after a semester of reading more and writing more then we ever had in our academic lives…

that we should……

pull out a trashy novel,

open a giant bag of our favorite chips

and settle in for some good old fashioned fiction escapism.

It sounded lovely… reading for pleasure and not because I had too. And guilt free eating an entire bag of sour cream and cheddar potato chips ( guilt free – I mean my HONORS professor told me I SHOULD!)

It was a lovely evening. I still remember the crunch of the chips and the drama of the Danielle Steele love story. (don’t judge my teen reading choices) I fully embraced the advice I’d been given, happily ended my first semester of college and headed home for my 3 week Christmas break.

GVSU – Allendale, MI

It wasn’t until after that blissful time at home, upon my return to my college dorm room that I realized I had only successfully completed ONE important task from my English professor. You see, before we were to enjoy the chips and the fiction we were to successfully complete a final exam AND turn in a final project.

I had stayed up ALL NIGHT LONG – studying and writing. We had a final exam and project due.

At the same time.

It was unreal.

I guess thats what happens when you say “YES” to the Honors School. ( Did I mention I was just barely admitted to this program… )

My dorm floor was a buzz with activity as we all happily greeted our new college friends and shared tales from our Christmas break. It was in the middle of all this joy that my world came crashing down. All it took was one simple flip of a paper binder to reveal a college co-ed’s worst night mare.

What to my wondering eyes did appear… Why my Honors English Project, the one due at the same time as my final exam, the one I had celebrated its completion with a bag of Lays and my Danielle Steele…yes the one… that had clearly spent vacation in my dorm room tucked neatly in my binder – Not in my professors brief case.

It was a bummer in the first degree.

It was an irreversible mistake. There was no way of proving I hadn’t actually written it over break, pretending like I had just left it at school. My professor agreed to read it and give it a grade so it would not be recorded as a big fat zero.

It was a gigantic deal.

This project was a major portion of my grade. My grades were important because my academic scholarship would only continue into the next semester if I proved I could actually perform on the college level.

Junior Year of college – I lived to tell the story…

I’ve told this story to my children a million times. Usually when they share a mistake they’ve made they think will ruin the rest of their lives. A low test score, a missed assignment, sleeping through their alarm. They have yet to out-story my college freshman snafu and the recounting it seems to give them perspective that at least they didn’t mess up as bad as mom.

In the 30 years since the Honors English Project debacle I have had other days that have left me feeling overwhelmed, speechless and wanting to smack my head in disbelief. Sometimes this comes as a result of my poor actions and others come due to the fact that we live in a crazy world with even crazier people. Today I listened to two friends process a stressful week that seemed to continue a trend of other stressful weeks. At the end of our conversation we didn’t have solutions but it sure did feel good to pause and recognize that it indeed can be hard when life or ourselves fail to meet the expectations we have. To feel the feelings, to laugh at the ways we wished we could respond but never would, and to recognize that despite looking like we have it all together…

most people you encounter have probably had a…

” Surprise… you never turned your paper in” moment in their recent past . We all just have our stuff don’t we???

And when I say ALL, I mean all. The people we love and the people we don’t. Everyone has a story and is living with challenges of which we many never know. How different my day would be if I looked at each person, believing they are doing the absolute best they can with the life they have been handed in that moment.

I’m not sure what kind of day you are enjoying,

or enduring…

as you read this post.

I hope its filled with met deadlines, overflowing cups and all the answers you are waiting for.

But if not…

I recommend a big bag of chips,

your favorite fiction novel…

and a big bowl of grace , generously poured over this day, and the truth that you have a God that meets you where you are, loves you in your mess and points you to his beautiful plan for your future.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13


A Miracle of Diapers

Stories can be powerful.  I think that’s why I like the format that Beth has created for this blog and the idea of gathering around an online fire. Stories are our history. They allow us to participate in each other’s history or to relive shared experiences.    

A lot of the things I keep have a story behind them.  I have discovered this in my continuing efforts to reduce Stuff. Things with stories are hard to reduce! And while some keepsakes are displayed prominently in our home, others are relegated to dark corners of drawers and closets.

A toddler-sized disposable diaper had a place among our things for many years.  I would encounter it in a dresser or bin and think, “How long am I going to keep this?”  The answer to that question was always “A little while longer,” and back it would go.  While a diaper was not something I would display, as such, it was still important to me as a memorial to God’s miraculous provision in the days when our family first moved overseas.

Our daughters were four years old and 16 months when we left the United States in September of 1993 to spend four months in Siberia for language training. We were being sent as missionaries to Russia, where John would work with re-emerging Lutheran congregations after the fall of Communism. Because our stay in Siberia was temporary—Moscow was our ultimate destination—we had packed everything for those months into eight large trunks and suitcases, stuffed to their maximum weight limit. We took advantage of every available ounce!

Among the many other items in our luggage, we had strategically scattered two packages of Huggies disposable diapers for our toddler, along with diaper wipes, a dozen cloth diapers, and several packages of concentrated detergent.  The Huggies were intended to give us time to get acclimated. Disposable diapers hardly existed in Russia at that time, so ultimately we expected to use cloth diapers, which we would have to wash in one of the small portable washers that were common in Russia. We were as prepared as we knew how to be! 

We sensed our plan had some flaws when we were shown our new home and discovered there was no small washer in the apartment–just a large mustard-colored bathtub that we were encouraged to use to wash our clothes, as well as ourselves.  A second and more distressing sign of trouble came when we unpacked our suitcases and discovered that all of the boxes of detergent had been removed somewhere along the way—a not uncommon occurrence in Russia in those days.

Our daughter and our lovely bathtub

So there I was, the morning after our arrival, still in bed, foggy with jetlag and not keen to meet the challenges that lay ahead, while John fed our girls in the kitchen.  The menu featured cooked buckwheat cereal (unsalted, unsweetened), the lone breakfast food we had found in the store the day before. The girls were eating it gladly.  

The doorbell rang, and I felt oddly indignant that someone would be invading our privacy. Didn’t they know we were overwhelmed!? I heard John’s voice and then other vaguely familiar voices, all speaking English and having a rather cheery conversation. After a short time I heard John say “Thank you!” several times, then some friendly farewells, and the visitors left.  In another few seconds, John was at the door of the bedroom with a funny look on his face. For some reason he was holding one of the packages of Huggies from our luggage.  Only it was NOT a package from our luggage at all.  It was another, identical package of Huggies that had just been delivered to our door. In Siberia.

In the kitchen I also discovered a high chair, a package of wipes, a few jars of baby food, and two happy daughters eating baby applesauce.  But most importantly in that moment of need, there were diapers—disposable diapers that were the exact size and brand that we had chosen to bring with us.  The message was so clear and poignant:  “I’ve been expecting you!”

John and our girls in our kitchen in Siberia

During our months in Siberia, diapers continued to be delivered to our door, and it is hard to explain what a difference that made in our daily life. Disposable diapers meant we did not have to wash cloth diapers in our bathtub with the locally available detergent that sat in a semi-dissolved lump in the water, demonstrating no noticeable cleaning power.  A toothbrush and a bar of Dial soap made a surprisingly effective treatment for tough stains on other clothes, but I was not eager to try this method on diapers.

Disposable diapers also meant we didn’t feel compelled to attempt toilet training our little girl—a popular suggestion among our Russian friends. In an unfamiliar place where we were often in class and always out of our comfort zone, toilet training seemed like just one more stressor in our lives.

Not all of the diapers we received were Huggies.  There were other brands, and some were labeled “for boys,” because the family who shipped them from America to an apartment not far from ours in Siberia had a baby boy.  For reasons unknown to us, that family returned to America shortly after arriving in Russia…several months before we came on the scene.  The older couple who moved into the vacated apartment had been on our flight from America, and belonged to the same mission organization as the family that left. They had access to the diapers that were left behind and knew we had a toddler. They were happy to keep us supplied!

In the usual way of sharing stories that are incredible but true, the miracle of our personal Siberian Diaper Delivery Service was a story we related over and over after it happened. People who were in Russia with us at the time, or following our progress through emails and newsletters, seemed to understand the miracle very keenly. In a few short years, we had adapted to our new life and Russia changed a lot. We would still tell the story in a “back in the day” sort of way, but realized that even people who arrived four or five years after we did seemed to have difficulty grasping the shortages of those earlier times and the immediacy of the need we felt in our very first days.  It’s actually been many years since I have shared these events. So why am I circling back after 25 years to tell it now? 

First, whether or not others can understand the desperation we feel at times, I want to say that God understands fully.  He knows our needs, whether they are the most fundamental needs of day-to-day living, or the very fundamental spiritual need of a Savior to redeem us from sin.  The needs of daily life he provides in both mundane and miraculous ways.  The need for a Savior has been met—once for all (1 Peter 3: 18)!

Second, I find it encouraging and exciting that God uses us in each other’s lives, intertwining our pasts, present, and futures to accomplish what he wants to accomplish in our lives, separately and together.  Sometimes we cross paths and never actually meet. Sometimes we share paths.  We may even share paths, part ways, and share paths again. But we are by no means alone in our life of faith on this earth.  I never tire of stories that demonstrate this!

Third, as our daughters and son (born in Finland a year after these events) have grown to adulthood, and consider how God might be working in their lives, I want to remind them of what God showed us long ago–He knows where we are.  He’s been there ahead of us and he is prepared to be there with us.

I may be lost in unfamiliar territory, over my head in territory that is all too familiar, or with feet firmly planted, whatever my territory.  I may feel led by God to be where I am, or that I simply ended up there, and don’t know why.  I may be satisfied and happy with my life, or aching to change it.  I have been all of these. Whatever my situation, He who is not bound by time or place, and freely gave his life for me, is fully aware of MY time and place and is in it with me for the duration.

Our children, 20 years after the diaper miracle

Welcome Susan!!

celebrating our nephews wedding… we love a good party!

My sister in law, my friend.

Shortly after Tom and I were married in 1993, his sister and family left for a 20+ year career on the mission field – in several different countries – all on the other side of the planet. This was before social media and email was just entering the scene. This meant that I knew Susan from afar. I knew her through the stories Tom would share and the pictures I would see in their family newsletter. I enjoyed the moments we would have every several years at our family reunions and I never anticipated I would have much opportunity to know her on a deeper level. Until …. until God shook up both our worlds… putting us both in the heart of the US – just 4 hours apart. We have seen more of each other in the last 3 years than we had in the previous 20.

Susan has helped me discover some important aspects of my personality – not limited too but including- the ability to pose and pose well for the camera.

California 2017 – Where our posing selves were discovered

We have laughed and cried and processed things from Alexa to parenting. Sue is fantastic at making sure everyones needs are met and is always on the lookout for the underdog. She is a parent to my children when they want to detassel corn in Nebraska or when they chose to attend the college where she works. She is also the spark that started this campfires blog. It is her willingness to share this idea to collaborate that got this whole thing started. I know you will be blessed by her words and her wisdom. Welcome to the fire Susan… we’re so glad you’re here!!!