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The Art of Going Home

San Diego, CA

Six months ago, I came home. The year was up and it was time. This road trip however,  I made with my hilarious mother who was in fact, adorably looking for an adventure of her own. It was quite precious to watch. She lived up to her potential by paying for all the hotels and saying, thirty miles into the trip, when I asked what the heck the slow driver in front of me was doing - Probably smoking crack. I don’t know where she gets this stuff.

We stopped in St. Louis, Oklahoma City, Albuquerque and the Grand Canyon. I read Bird by Bird, wore the same green jacket, experienced three cities and one world wonder I had not previously been to. Here’s a few film photos from the trip as well as some from Chicago before I left.

Like most things that are hard in life - I turned going home into and art.




















Ahlberg Wedding from Jessica on Vimeo.

Since starting school full time and de-anonymous-ing this here blog - writing just doesn’t seem to have the same appeal. However, summer is approaching and I have some ideas brewing! In the meantime, enjoy my bestie Mijanne’s wedding video I had the wonderful opportunity of editing. 

Why Girls Aren’t Funny and How Jesus is the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Them

Chicago, IL

My first apartment was a sixteen hundred dollar a month two bedroom on Montezuma Road near SDSU. The only thing more disgusting than the amount or rent we were paying was the constant smell of college student throw up in the halls. The place was hot like hell and the only way you beat the heat was constantly pointing a fan on yourself. It’s into my personal fan that my friend Garrett farted. Why not fart directly on me when you can just spray it all over me through a fan. It was ingenious.

The farty fan incident remains a comedic staple between Garrett and me to this day.

This other time, I slightly, barely, joked about passing gas in a guy friends’ car. He then pulled over and asked me to get out.

Though I was pushing my girl-fart-phobic friend’s buttons, one thing still scratched at my soul – if I were a guy, this would be okay, and this would even be funny. However, I do love the tension I can create in a man’s head with just one four letter word that starts with f.

In Tim Keller’s new [text] book, Center Church, when overviewing the Gospel at its very start in the garden, he mentions the division between man and woman. They put clothes on out of shame, shift blame, and as Keller uniquely says it, “Because we are alienated from God, we are also socially alienated from one another.”

Socially alienated? That’s harsh Tim Bone. But when I look back on life I can’t help but agree, and even sigh in relief that if this is true then it’s probably not just me.

I’m not entirely complaining. Men get to fart in comedic freedom, women get to eat first. Men get poker nights, women get ladies’ nights. Men have a better chance of making millions of dollars being a professional athlete; women have a better chance of getting on a rowboat when the Titanic is sinking. I call these societal gender roles. The rules may change based on culture but the roles always exist and sometimes these roles make life awkward.  

This is usually when the conversation shifts to feminist theology or egalitarianism v. complementarianism. This is where the woman feels wronged and begins asking questions, right? The conversation is worth having, it’s worth studying, it’s worth praying about, it’s worth finding answers as to why we function in the roles we’ve culturally created, what God thinks about it and if it is right.

But it’s not really the point and it’s like my Orlando nanny boss put it when divulging her plight to believing egalitarianism, “For the longest time, I thought the way to combat complementarinism was to make my husband submit to me. Turns out it’s a dual, constant submission, a persistence to die to ourselves for the sake of one another and I was doing to him exactly what I felt was being done to me.” Regardless of how you feel about gender roles, she’s right.

But let’s slide right past that conversation and into why Jesus is the best thing to happen to the unfunny. It’s this social alienation that Keller references that fuels what men and women can and cannot get away with. While the pressure of social norms and gender roles will probably always exist, what’s great is the Gospel.

The liberation paved by Jesus in both deed and eternity is unparalleled. The Samaritan woman, the bleeding woman, Mary Magdalene, the begging woman with the demon possessed daughter – the examples do not relent. Culturally, women were not to be talked to by men. But Jesus traveled to, healed, accepted, and tested woman after woman. Jesus’ example on how to treat women shaped Christianity’s view on how to treat women which shaped culture’s view on how to treat women. Jesus socially liberated women.

Where women stand in culture today is an affect of the Gospel, but it’s still not the Gospel. And the strain of gender roles and the search for biblical clarity still persists. The fall of man is carnally inescapable.

What’s best is how Jesus liberated humanity’s eternity.

When I interact with girls I am discipling, I can never really promise them much in context to Christianity, but can somehow promise them everything at the very same time. God has provided a plan, a savior, reconciliation, and an eternity – that’s everything. That’s the Gospel!

Girls don’t need to be pumped self-esteem, told their funny, or pretty, or that they have rights. It’s hard enough convincing a girl her worth isn’t based on the amount of instagram likes she gets, let alone, the things I just mentioned. Girls just need the Gospel. To be convinced of it, reminded of it and justified by it.

What’s the Chance of Actually Finding a Man?

Dave and Bailey

Chicago, IL

It seems as though every time my friends Dave and Bailey get together around me, they land on the topic of my relationship status. Both of them were in town recently, and this is just about how it went down, “Jess, you need to come home.” Bailey kindly affirmed.

“Dude! She can’t go back to San Diego, she’s not going to find a man there. She needs to stay in the Midwest where the real men actually are.” Dave argues back.

“Well, I kind of think so and so is pretty cool…” I chime in.  

“Really Jess?” Bailey asked, “There are seven billion people in the world. And you’re just considering that guy because you know him.”

And that’s usually how it ends: Dave marrying me off and Bailey keeping me far away. It’s all very endearing.

But Bailey’s demand to think bigger got me, in fact, thinking bigger.

Seven billion people, I thought. That’s got to be a bunch of bologna.

So I pulled out the maths and I got to work.

How many options do I really have?

According to the census, as of 2010, there were 6,892,319,000 people in the world. Since I have no immediate plans of traveling globally as well as soliciting myself as someone’s green card, I’m going to narrow that number down to the U.S.’ population at 314,235,653.

Females make for awesome friends, but terrible boyfriends, and they make up about 51.8% of the U.S.’ population. I’m no mathemagician, but that leaves me with only 151,781,326 males.

Seven billion, Bailey? Yeah right.

Let’s keep going.

I currently live in the state of Illinois with a male population of 6,292,276. Illinois isn’t exactly the most hopping state and I don’t find myself hanging outside Chicago much. So… Chicago has a male population of 1,405,684. Still at a one in a million “unique” opportunity, but that window of opportunity falls dramatically since 7.8 percent of those males are actually appropriately aged. That leaves 109,643, 25-29 year old males in Chicago. Though, if I were looking to pull off a Demi Moore/Ashton Kutcher fiasco somewhere down the road, then I could tack on about another 200,000 suitors. But until that’s legal… let’s just keep rolling.

5.7 percent of the Chicago male population is gay, that leaves me with 103,394. I tend to like white dudes and that’s 71.5 percent of the Chicago male population. But I wouldn’t mind a little color, so let’s bump that percentage up to an even 73 percent just for good measure which leaves me now with 75,477. Less than 49 percent of the Chicago population is Protestant, so at best, I am left with 36,983.

I have no plans of home-wrecking, so with only 33 percent of Chicagoans being single, that leaves me with 12,204.

12,204 available, Jessica-applicable, Chicago men. That’s a lot. If I could narrow it down more – I would. But I didn’t get very far on Google typing in “how many men in Chicago have a beard?”

Note to self: start an American beard registry.

12,204 Bailey! That’s hardly 7 billion!

But hey, it’s still looking pretty promising.

The Insecure Twenty Something Hipster Moocher

Milwaukee, WI

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age and into the loving, caring arms of the Midwest, according to the will of our God and Father. (Galatians 1:3-4, kind of)

It’s incredible what you can do with four friends and twenty four hours in the city of Milwaukee.

A few weeks ago, the now very established summer “crew” (official name still pending) and I headed that way with a small agenda and large hearts.

Roommates Ashley and Rebecca, Rebecca’s brother Daniel and the happy-go-lucky, likes everything, likes everyone, comedic relief – Tyler.

I just thought I’d start by making something clear – there are two types of twenty somethings – Hipsters and Hipster Moochers. None out of our group is the former, though Rebecca may ride the fence at times, but certainly we are the latter. It’s an easy explanation – you may not want to take on the hipster lifestyle and stereotypes, but you’ll certainly track down their hangouts, buy their music and drink their craft beer, now won’t you? Shit, I do.  

After we ate dinner that night at Waters Street Brewery we realized the area was far too “college” and I even demanded we find something more “hipstery.” So then Rebecca actually googled hipster spots in Milwaukee. As we navigated our way across town, we knew we were heading in the right direction as Daniel pointed out, “Look! A bike lane! Oh there’s a lesbian couple! I think we’ve made it guys!” We had made it, we had indeed.

We played Apples to Apples at a bar, danced into the wee hours of the morning at Mad Planet and then played Marco Polo at our hotel’s pool. We aren’t hipsters but we sure acted like it – Hipster Moochers.

Now that that is on the table, our hipster moochering and all, our trip slowed that next morning as we woke. We headed toward Lake Michigan to the local coffee roasters – Alterra. Not even a few sips into my iced mocha, Daniel put a question on the table we were all required to answer – What are we most insecure about?

If you want to take a group of people from acquaintances to friends – talk about your insecurities together. It was intense – I started tearing up and I hadn’t even taken my turn yet. I can boil all five of our answers down to three very key components.

  • We’re afraid that our current efforts are not good enough.
  • That our future may not actually hold even better efforts and accomplishments.
  • And that maybe, the people around us are going to realize all of this.

Take my story for example: I want to be a prophetic, gospel-centric voice amongst young women.

But what if that doesn’t happen, right? What if you never write that song you’ve been dying to write or start that company the world needs or take that trip through Thailand?

Well. Everything would probably be just fine. But it’d still be disappointing, now wouldn’t it?

Every day I get discouraged and want to give up. I fear I’m constantly offending people and that there is no substance behind what I am actually saying. I mean, I’m only 23, who is going to care what I have to say? For instance, right now in life, I think people should walk more slowly and drink more alcohol. But if that were good wisdom, we’d probably have a bunch of tardy drunks on our hands. And what’s worse than a tardy drunk? Probably not much.

But it’s like what Tyler and I reminded ourselves this afternoon on my back porch as we listened to a baritone sing the national anthem at Wrigley Field – you have to just keep showing up. If I keep writing, if I keep discipling young women through books of the Bible, if I keep practicing – maybe I will stop offending people, maybe I will gain some wisdom, maybe I will be a prophetic, gospel-centric voice amongst young women.

Maybe the same goes for you too, you insecure twenty something.

So after the open heart surgery we performed on each other at Alterra – we took it beachside. Ashley sent Tyler to grab us some driftwood for our apartment. When he didn’t return for about an hour, Rebecca went to check on how his search was going and came back with a message from him, “Just give me two minutes.” He asked.

Ten minutes later he emerged from behind the jetty floating a fairly large piece of driftwood behind. But as he got closer and as the angles changed, we soon realized Tyler was beaching a fifteen foot piece of driftwood. All the while, the Amish family that had been culminating and I think multiplying before our eyes on that jetty, blankly watched as we cheered on our smiley, proud-of-his-work friend.

The driftwood never made it to our apartment, unfortunately, but I’m sure it will make for a wonderful bench for many beach-goers to enjoy.  

Later that afternoon, these photos were instagrammed of Tyler:

Gun Lake, MI

I mentioned here that I’m falling in love with Michigan.

I mentioned here that both of my best friends are now engaged.

The video below that I put together for Nick and Mj’s engagement really sums those two things up.

Please check it out:

michigan engagement :: nick + mijanne from Jessica on Vimeo.

Church vs. Church

Chicago, IL

I’ve got a major confession to make: I love my church.

That’s hard to admit, because once you say it, you’re just going to find something wrong with it, right? I mean that’s the mandatory plight of the American church-goer, right? To be in a constant state of at least slightly bothered as you choose to show up and participate, right? Right?!

Well, that’s what I’ve always thought.

But seriously, I love my church. For instance, at small group last night the goofy business dude gave me some of his home brew (which I felt like even I worked hard for because he had spent twenty minutes explaining the process to me before it was done three weeks prior), I said home brew. We drank beer at small group. And then, when it got just quiet enough, the accountant to my right farted. So we laughed about that right alongside her for about two solid minutes, all the while, taking an exegetical look at Ephesians.

There are so many good things to say about my church. Doctrine. Structure. Mission. Community. All good.

Now, about three months ago, while I sat in my seat at my church in Orlando, a young black girl came onstage, named Miracle to pray us out.

These are some the things she said:

“Dear Lawd, I thank you for Yo love. I pray for all da ol people with da sickle cell and da diabetes Lawd and da cancer. Lawd heal der bodies Lawd. And I pray for da kids in Africa drinkin that dirty water wearin dos nasty clothes. And I thank you for my clothes and my fancy shoes Lawd. And Lawd I just thank you for my sisturs and my mama and da people in dis place here. Thank you Lawd, amen.”

So can I just say, admit as well, that I loved my church in Orlando, too. Loved two churches? Is that possible?

And get this – they’re polar opposite. Missio Dei in Chicago is an Acts 29 church plant, non-traditionally respectful of tradition and structure and God’s word. They’re also reformed.

City Beautiful in Orlando is a large community of artists striving to be inter-generational, valuing all ages and their voice – hence, Miracle’s prayer. They are not reformed.

Style, views and priorities will always be important to the western churching-hoping consumerist. But those things aren’t what kept me coming back for more. It was absolutely the Gospel. Both churches have and will always provide the knowledge of a transformative regenerating redemption in Jesus Christ through His death and resurrection, and made it priority to remind me of that constantly.

As a child of God you have a right to the Gospel. So start preaching it, repeating it and hearing it.

I Think I Just Missed the Engagement Train

Chicago, IL

In the last three weeks. Two of my very best friends have gotten engaged.

Mj was proposed to on a boat on Gun Lake in Michigan. They docked and then proceeded to an engagement party that all of their close family and friends flew in for. We spent a weekend exploring the magical west of Michigan and celebrating Nick and Mj.

Danielle on the other hand, was surprised by Ryan and handed a plane ticket headed for Tokyo in 24 hours. A handful of days later he proposed at Tokyo’s version of Times Square – photo on the big screen and everything.

Have I mentioned that Nick and Ryan are also best friends?

These two stories leave me floored. Not only is God providing incredibly solid men for my best friends, He is also lavishing their story in an unfathomable way.

Oh. And check out the rings:

But every time I tell someone the story, they tilt their head, concern their eyes and say something like, “Are you okay?” and “So how does all this make you feel?”

I usually reply with an, “Okay, I think.” And then I think more, “Should I be taking it badly?”

Of course I shouldn’t. But the head tilts, the concerned eyes and occasional hands to the hearts are at least keeping things humorous for me over here. Maybe when the weddings draw near and I’ve got bridal showers coming out of my ears and two sets of beautiful vows to listen to, maybe then I’ll lose my marbles. But for now, I’m doing amazing, traveling the country even and more grateful then ever – thanks for asking.

I thought I’d leave you with a photo. One of the last nights in Michigan for Nick and Mj’s engagement we went to a stock car race. I’m not sure why, but it was everything I hoped for. There were chili cheese fries, lots of tank tops that used to be t-shirts and baseball caps with the army print that you see all over those alligator hunting shows.

Playing Twister with the happy couples on the race track in Kalamazoo, MI.

The Purity Gospel: Book Report on Passion & Purity

Chicago, IL

As my highly-suspicious-journey-into-the-world-of-popular-Christian-non-fiction-geared-toward-young-women-continues, it took an obvious turn toward the very popular book Passion & Purity.

As far as I am concerned, the author of Passion & Purity, Elisabeth Elliot is boss. She, along with a group of women played a major role in bringing the Gospel to an unreached people group, after this people group killed all of their husbands. Nonetheless, I wanted to take this book on. I was skeptical.

Let’s take a key word from the title – purity. It’s sort of a bothersome, teeth-clencher for me. Scripture claims that no one is good but God (Mark 10:19; Eph. 2:3) and the Gospel provides us with the knowledge of justification through Christ on the cross (Eph. 2:8-9). It is impossible for flesh to maintain purity and to believe otherwise is to believe in what I like to call – the purity gospel.

I can’t help but see, from my upbringing and from the upbringings around me that this idea of maintaining one’s own purity is rather high on the Christian to-dos. Purity, or what could more namely be referred as abstinence, at its simplest is obedience, and that is something we are actually capable.

Am I trying to downplay the obedience of abstinence? Absolutely not. For that is how we explicitly show our love to God (1 John 5:3). I am however in the business of reminding young women of the Gospel and doing my very best to expose works-based efforts that attempt to replace it.

Coming in with that predisposed concern was quickly alleviated in Elliot’s preface:

It is, to be blunt, a book about virginity. It is possible to love passionately and to stay out of bed. I know. We did it. Have I nothing to say, then, to those who have already been in bed? I would have to have my head in the sand to imagine that my unmarried readers are all virgins… I write to them to say that there is no purity in any of us apart from the blood of Jesus. All of us without exception are sinners and sinful, some in one way, some in another. If I can show others that the message of the Gospel is the possibility of a new birth and a new beginning and a new creation, I want to do that.

Moving past the preface though, turns out, this book is more than anything a memoir of the courting period between her and Jim Elliot. Most of what she says about dating, kissing, and everything else romantically relational is usually placed through the filter of her own story. And ladies, I want to remind you, that, everyone’s story is and will be different.

Waiting five years to find out if the guy of your dreams is willed by God to marry you, no matter how romantic, no matter how storybook worthy, is just not in the cards for everyone.

The bible just doesn’t give clear direction on a lot of the things she places strong opinion and direction over. She gives you a way, certainly, but cannot provide for you the way. Only obedience unto God can do that for you in a very personal way.

This book is worth a read, especially the parts that don’t particularly have much to do with romance. I found myself fiercely underlining basic, biblical discipleship references more than anything because she nailed it. Which leads me to believe she may have done precisely what she set out to do – shifted the focus off us and onto living consecrated to Christ.