I sat in the cold, stone room for what seemed like ages anticipating their arrival.  Curiosity and nerves were competing for first place in my typical over-emotional state.  Being a ‘feeler’ can be exhausting.  It’s difficult to explain what a typical daily emotional roller coaster a ‘feeler’ must ride.  I can go from crying tears of injustice to laughing hysterically at situational ironies in a matter of minutes. There has been no greater invention in recent years than the emoji, which helps solidify every single text I send. Without it, my text recipients are left to wonder my true feelings.

The room was cold.  It was silent.  Eerily silent.  I was curious. Or nervous.  And then a sound of a low steady hum slowly emerged from the silence.

The prisoners were coming.

My mom and I, and an inter-denominational makeshift congregation, were in the bowels of Raleigh Central (maximum security) Prison awaiting the arrival of the convicted felons and those men who had chosen to minister to them.  This was the closing ceremony of a 3-day spiritual renewal experience for the prisoners.  Michael was a volunteering minister.  I came to support Michael.

I fully expected to be consumed by discernment, the prickly hairs on my neck to stand on end as I met the roughest of the rough.  The vilest of offenders.  The rapists.  The murderers.  The thugs and thieves.  I fully expected that I would be accosted and undressed by their vicious eyes.  I expected to be disgusted and nauseated at the thoughts of what had put them behind those bars and barbed wire.  I fully expected that.

The soft hum was gaining volume.

It was a song.  A familiar one.

Finally, it grew to decipherable lyrics…

Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.
I can feel His mighty power and God’s grace.
I can hear the brush of angel’s wings,
I see glory on each face. 
Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.

Their deep, modulated voices created so pleasing a sound that it shattered my expectations and I was filled with conviction.  As the voices became louder, it was evident that their echoes filled the prison walls from end to end.  Tears flooded my eyes and I wept at my pride.  They continued to sing upon entering the room, and though I tried, I could not distinguish between the captive and the free.  Instantaneously the barriers created by past mistakes and current condition were vanished, and I can’t articulate in mere words the serenity that was in that place.  We were one.  One Body. A royal priesthood.  Surely, the Lord was in that place.

One by one, the men gave their testimonies.

One by one they shared how they had experienced God that weekend.  One by one they shed tears of repentance.  And tears of grace, received.

A young man stood to share.  His calculated gate was evident as he took his place at the mic.  His hair, in dreads to his shoulders, covered his brow.  He hung his head.  After what seemed like an eternity, he lifted his head to speak.  I’ll never forget that face.  Seven years later, I can still see it as vividly as a photograph in my mind.  His cheeks were round, his eyes – soft and round and brown, not cold. Warm. Innocent.  It was the face of a child.  Your child. My child. I was immediately drawn to him.  My maternal instincts flared so abruptly, I nearly approached him to sweep his hair from his eyes.   I showed incredible restraint and stayed seated.

“My whole life’s been hard,” he began, as his voice cracked.  He had to pause and wipe a tear from his bright, right, brown eye.

I had to compose myself as well, in order to collect the puddle that had become of my body on the cinderblock floor.

I saw his life.  I saw my life.  I saw my mother gently tucking me into a warm bed and kissing my forehead.  I saw him alone and cold and unattended.  I saw my dad walk beside my bicycle as I learned to peddle on my own, giving instruction all along the way.  I saw him walking the streets, alone, figuring out life as he passed through it.  I saw my mother dropping me off at the front door of the school.  I saw him being schooled on the street.

I saw exactly how he came to be where he was.

That day I was given a new set of eyes through which to see the people God created.  The lost, hurt, broken, prideful, rejected, outcast, forgotten ones.

‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.’ 2 Corinthians 5:17

The need for my own repentance overcame me, and I had to seek forgiveness for my hardened, judgmental heart.  I thought I had gone there to let my little light shine.  And when the blazing fire of Christ entered the room through song, I realized it was I who had been captive.  That I needed to be set free.  Free from the bondage of judgment and pride and self-righteousness.  Free to love fiercely, mercifully, and unconditionally just as He has loved me.

That day changed me.  That day I gained the audacity to believe that Jesus could make all things new, even a wretched, captive, sinner like me.


I’m a football fan.  The first 3 years of my marriage my team was on fire, and I literally had to go through the grieving process when football season was over.  We haven’t seen much football since moving to North Carolina, because we’re Colts fans and we’d have to pay to watch on a regular basis.  And we’re too cheap for that.

Because today was a rainy/cold Sunday afternoon, Josiah didn’t feel well, and we weren’t over scheduled, I thought it would be nice to turn on the TV and watch a football game.  You know, America’s pastime and all that (Sorry MLB, it’s totally NFL). Our son was in the room with us, being that it was in the middle of the day and he was wide awake.

Within 2 minutes, the network we were watching aired a Hardee’s commercial.  In some combination of horror, disbelief, shock, and bewilderment, my once innocent 7 year old was accosted with images that were overtly sexual and included (almost, but may as well have been full fledged) nudity.  His response:

‘That was weird.’

‘Weird’ because he doesn’t have the vocabulary to express what he saw.  

I have gone to great lengths to prevent my children from seeing too much advertising.  We do not have cable TV, and PBS doesn’t air commercials.  Originally, selfishly, I didn’t want them being inundated with products that they ‘had to have’.

And now, I guess it will be to protect their eyes from the soft porn images on Hardee’s commercials.  

Frankly, I don’t blame Hardee’s.  Neither do I blame the network.  They are businesses and their sole purpose is to generate profit. That’s business.  They have no obligation to cater to my beliefs. They don’t claim to be followers of Christ, and therefore I would not ever expect them to act under my convictions.

They air/produce/create/promote/utilize those commercials because it (somehow) sells cheeseburgers.

I could rant and rave and scream until I’m blue in the face about the dangers of pornography/overt sexual images on the actual brains of our girls, our boys, our culture, and it would not make one bit of difference.

Because sex sells cheeseburgers.  And until it doesn’t sell cheeseburgers, it will continue to sell cheeseburgers.

Get it?

Don’t want to see those commercials?  

  • Don’t buy those products.

We will never win this battle with an argument of righteousness.  It’s all about the Benjamin’s baby.  Every dollar you spend casts vote.  

Hardee’s, you just lost our vote (and our dollar).


Parents who are trying to raise boys to become men who respect women


If you know my children, you know that my oldest child is spirited. Lively. Animated. At times his impulsivity overrides his conscious and he can be intrusive. Parenting him can be difficult. We both like to be in charge, and there are hard days. And subsequently, he has taught me infinite lessons about mothering, about patience, about expectations, about pride, about life.

And for every single ounce of energy that is in his body, there is every bit as much a generous spirit. It’s a side of him that most don’t see. We spend hours picking out gifts for him to give cousins/teachers/friends. This Christmas season, his generous spirit blessed me so much, moved me to tears, and convicted me of my overwhelmingly selfish nature.

This summer, I felt God speaking to my spirit to give more freely my time, energy, and resources. I like to keep those things for myself, thank you very much. But in prayer, in scripture, in my times of quiet, ‘giving yourself’ just kept surfacing. Like Romans 1 all over my spirit. Like the Parable of the Good Samaritan all up in my face.

But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

About eight months ago I met a representative of World Relief at a community prayer breakfast. I was there for eggs and sausage, he was there trying to engage the church to stand for the vulnerable. I mean…. I took his card and put it in my console, where I promptly forgot about it. And then in preparing for a sociology lecture several months later, something in my notes about poverty reminded me about this organization, which, in their words:

We believe God has equipped the church – the most diverse social network on the planet – to be at the center of these stories, leveraging time, energy and resources to join the vulnerable in their time of need. We practice principles of transformational development to empower local churches in the United States and around the world so they can serve the vulnerable in their communities. With initiatives in education, health, child development, agriculture, food security, anti-trafficking, immigrant services, micro-enterprise, disaster response and refugee resettlement, we work holistically with the local church to stand for the sick, the widow, the orphan, the alien, the displaced, the devastated, the marginalized, and the disenfranchised.’

So after scouring their website, drooling over them being Jesus, and trying to reconcile the stirring in my spirit, I decided to pitch the idea to my Sunday School class about getting involved with refugee resettlement. They were all over it. Like willing to give up days off, money, stuff, time, and just whatever. These people are legit. So we went through the orientation and the background checks. The day we went to finalize everything we received notice that our family would be here in 12 days. We had to furnish an apartment from scratch and come up with $1000. And we had exactly zero dollars, zero pieces of furniture, and zero time. It was the week of Thanksgiving.

I wish I could put the entire text thread from our class on here. They were rock stars. Some would send “I’ll take care of a couch.” Others would make Snoop Dogg references (Melissa Partin). Others would give lengthy descriptions of what they would send (also Melissa Partin). Long text short…we had a fully furnished apartment within 3 days, except a dining room table and dresser. So I put out a request on Facebook. And then we had a table, and a dresser, and a car, and another car, and then someone randomly gave me $100 ‘for whatever’…. it went on like that. Some kids even gave up their DS. I eventually had to refer people out….because we were full to overflowing…

Nolan, upon seeing that their son had no toys, began donating his own. Every time we have gone to visit the family, Nolan has brought something from his own room to give to them. Every day, he has asked to spend time with him. He has helped their son with his English homework. He has generously and genuinely given of himself, and never complained. He considers it joy. His generous spirit is a constant reminder to me to let go of that to which I cling so tightly. My space. My things. My time. My money. My energy. Myself.

‘Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.’

That line grips me. Sears my spirit. Is etched in my soul and is propelling me to a kind of service that goes further than standing on the serving side of a soup kitchen line, the table serving as the great chasm between us and them. Soup lines are wonderful. Needed. But if there is no supping together when the dinner is served, I think we have missed the point. I think the kind of giving the Bible speaks of is…all of it. A living sacrifice. The kind that is uncomfortable, inconvenient, costly, and selfless. The kind that honestly enters into the lives of those around us. The kind that reforms and reshapes us in the process.

When Nolan gave their son his prized guitar, his smile was more than I could bear. Nolan’s smile. He was so incredibly genuine in his generosity. The lump in my throat was so huge, I couldn’t speak. Lord, that I could be that generous. Lord, that I could give that freely. Lord, that I would be a living sacrifice, holding nothing back from you. Lord, that my heart would be like that of a child, that I might enter your kingdom (Matthew 18:3).


And a little child shall lead them…


I grew up in a really, really small town in rural Indiana. Really small. So small, that when my family moved away in 1998, the population dropped a full percentage point.  Our ‘community days’ festival consisted of between 4-6 venders down Main Street, which, when blocked, made absolutely zero difference in the traffic. During said festival, the highlight was the casket race.  This is, essentially, where pallbearers would carry a (living) person in an open casket.  The person would carry a plate of water.  Whosever plate still held the most water at the end of the race, won. (Why didn’t the person crossing the finish line win? I don’t know. Your guess is as good as mine.) This might sound morbid, but it makes perfect sense when you learn that there were exactly 2 possibilities for employment in Lynn, that is if you didn’t own a gas station or work at the school.  They were casket factory worker and farmer.

Truth be told, it was a wonderful place to grow up.  Because there was nothing to entertain us, and nowhere to go, we spent most of our time cultivating relationships on the front porches of one another’s homes.  Although my extended family was 500 miles away, we were surrounded by loving surrogate aunts, uncles, and grandparents.

Which leads me to the Ice Storm of 1995.

In rural Indiana, we could handle quite a bit of snow and still function.  But ice is a whole other monster.  Ice = no power = no school/no nothing.  In 1995, I was the horrible awkward age of 15.  Too cool for school, too old for babysitter, but too young to drive.

When the ice storm came, my mother was working as the director of nursing at a nursing home 30 minutes away.  If you don’t know my mother, just imagine Sally Field with the enthusiasm/personality/optimism of Richard Simmons.  Imagine she’s your boss.  Imagine telling her “I can’t make it to work because of weather.” Imagine her driving to your house in her ’92 Pontiac Grand Am and picking you up, because…yeah ya can. So my mother stayed at the nursing home, caring for the elderly (because Jesus), making sure people got to work and picking up the slack of those who refused.

My brothers both (somehow) landed in hotels in the quasi-neighboring city of Richmond with friends.  I, and my best friend, Erin (whose mom was also a nurse and was keeping vigil at the hospital), were stuck in Lynn. Because of those close relationships, Erin’s family was my family and we spent a few days with her grandmother because she had a generator. We pretty much felt abandoned, jealous of our brothers, and IN.CRED.IBLY. bored.  But, eventually, when flushing (and misery) became an issue, we somehow convinced our moms to let us stay home.  So Erin and I, in some sort of mid 90s survivor-style adventure, stayed at our house which had a gas fireplace and ‘city’ water, thank God.  At the time we were both boyfriendless, but obsessing about our crushes.  Which is the worst possible scenario for two teenage girls.  We sang “Always Be My Baby” 1,434,345 times.  Conversations went like this:

Do you think he’ll drive by here on his moped/bike/with his mom/permit?

Probably not. The ice storm.

Oh yeah.

Do you think he’s thinking about me right now?

Do you think mine’s thinking about me?

Let’s get our makeup on in case there’s a fire on the other side of town, and this is the only house that is left standing, and all the boys have to come here!

Uhmygosh! Kay!!

It went on like this for days.  We were like wondering souls in the desert imagining scenarios of otherness.  No one came. We ended up playing cards.  We built a giant snowman in my front yard.


 (see my hair with no electricity!  And what was I looking at?? There was literally…NO ONE else to look at!)

We kept warm under hundreds of blankets. We resented our mothers.

Can you believe them?

I’d never do this to my children.

Me either. I can’t believe they didn’t get us our own hotel room. With room service.

We burned candles and talked and talked and talked.  She told me she wanted to be a professional beach rater.  I decided on physical therapist.  After the storm passed, my mom said, ‘One day, you’ll look back on this and laugh. You may even thank me.’

‘Ha!’ Was my reply for the rest of high school.

But today, when I saw that it is going to be -14 with tons of snow in Indiana next week, I texted Erin (in Arizona) from my home in North Carolina (we probably moved to milder climates as a direct result of the trauma we endured).  We chatted about our endless ordeal together.  Secretly, of course, we loved every second of it.  Secretly, I would love to spend 4 days my best friend with nothing more than time to kill and snowmen to build and dreams to dream.

So, my dear Indiana friends, if your forecast is correct and you get snowed in next week, enjoy it, even if you’re 15.  Let the lights be out, put the fireplace on, wrap up tight, and dream dreams and play games and enjoy one another.

One day you’ll (really) be so glad you did.

I just hope your toilets work. 😉


When I made my ’40 before 40′ bucket list, it must have been a warm day.  Warm, but not hot.  Productive, but not busy.  And I must have felt good and optimistic and happy and energetic and rested.  ‘Delirium’ is the only thing I can figure, because I included on number 16, “Run a 5k”.

I haven’t run since 8th grade gym class.  But ‘the heart’ and all that.  So, I’ve made a small, minuscule really, effort at working out since I entered my thirties.  My husband loves this.  He’s one of those brute animals who is a glutton for punishment.  He still wears his shirt from high school wrestling that says ‘no pain no gain’.  And he means it.  He likes to tear into a new workout routine and push his body to its limits, then enjoy the sore muscles as a physical reminder of his victory over the threshold of mediocrity.  This is who I chose as my ‘trainer’ for the 5k.  Because, 1) he’s free  2) he’s smokin’ hot, and 3) he’s free.  This is how our training sessions went:

Michael: You’re doing good, Babe. One more set.

Me: I hate you.

Michael: Almost there.

Me: You’re a liar.

Michael: You’ve got this.

Me: I hate this.

The adorable title “Jingle All the Way 5K” was 100% of why I chose it as my inaugural race.  Unfortunately, as the name implies, this race was in December.  And the eve of December 7th came in cold and rainy.

Me: It might rain tomorrow. Too bad about the 5k.

Michael: They’ll still have it.

Me: You think we should run in the rain????

Michael: You’ll either be wet from rain or sweat.  What’s the difference?

(You see what I live with?  I tried another route.)

Me: I don’t feel good.  Work, kids, dinner.  Hard week.  Don’t feel like running that thing tomorrow.

Michael: Don’t run it then.

(I mean, can you believe him?  Ugh. No way was I backing out after that.)

Me: Oh, I’m doing it alright.

Michael: It’s whatever you want to do.


I was up at 4 a.m. Nervous.  We arrived to the race site to falling temperatures.  After a brief warm up, instructions about ‘follow the signs’ and yada yada yada, the race began.  It began on an incline.  At the top of the hill, there came over my body a strange hot sensation that radiated throughout.  I quickly identified the sensation as pain.  Oh no, I thought.  This isn’t going to work.  I’m in pain!  I hurt!  There are so many more deliberate steps I have to take!  Crisis! CRISIS!!  No one else seemed bothered.  Michael was out in front, and I was wondering why in the world I thought I could do this.

But I kept going.

The burning sensation gave way to warmth and I began to focus on the paved road that lay ahead of me.  Just keep doing this, I thought.  My best friend told me to plan out my next vacation during the hard parts of the run.  I tried, “I think we’ll go to…” and then my mind just went to “this stinks.  Why am I running?  My body hurts. I’m thirsty.”  Apparently, there are no complex thoughts that can go through my prefrontal cortex when my body is being subjected to such torture.  But little by little, I made my way around the loop. And mile 2 went by so incredibly fast, I can’t even account for it really.  Except I was so thirsty by the end of mile 2 that I allowed myself to walk 10 paces to take a sip of water.  As I neared to the finish line, I picked up a little bit of speed.  This wasn’t even horrible.  No wonder no one thought running a 5K was a big deal.  I can totally do this. I’m not as out of shape as I thought!  Seeing the finish line ahead, I couldn’t see Michael.  Where could he be?  He should have been done way before me.  Familiar faces were lining the finish cheering and smiling!  ‘You’re almost there!’, they shouted.  ‘Just one more time around the loop!’ they said.

Wait. WHATT???????  One more time? Around the WHOLE loop?  I’M ONLY HALF WAY DONE?????????????

I died inside.  And a little on the outside.  Halfway????  I told my body it was over! I told my poor unassuming legs that if they could just kick it in high gear across that chalk line, I’d let them rest.  I was so devastated.  That whole ‘yada yada yada’ must have actually been ‘And then you do it again. For a total of 2 times around the loop.’

I did not stop.  But I did walk for a bit.  I just kept moving forward, one foot in front of the other.  Finally, I thought just pick up your legs in a quick, jogging motion, over and over and over.

The first step was the hardest.

I knew once my body began, I would be able to finish.  So I started running.  And I kept running.  I ran past the now familiar signs.  I kept running. I was all but Forest Gump.  I was doing this thing, no matter what.  And I kept on.  I ran and ran and ran.

And when I was still quite a ways from finishing, I saw Michael jogging towards me.  He had won the race, and ran back to find me.  He came at the perfect time.  I needed some encouragement.  He stayed with me.  He ran with me, even after he had finished.  He ran the whole rest of that race by my side. He was so encouraging that he teetered closely to annoyingly so, but I would never ever say that in a million years. (Honey, God bless your sweet soul.)

I have heard real runners speak of a runner’s ‘high’.  Some kind of euphoria they experience during a run. That did not happen to me.  I got runner’s ‘cramps’ and runner’s ‘sore everything’, but no feeling of intense pleasure from this sport.  And when I found out I was only half way through, I felt like giving up, like giving in.  Instead, however, I picked up my feet.  I made a decision.  I kept going.  And no sooner did I get discouraged than did my handsome trainer come to my side.

Friends, this Christmas season, I am mindful of those who feel like giving up.  I am burdened by those who feel like all hope is gone.  If this is you, dear reader, pick up your feet.  Keep going.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-3

And if you see someone who needs your courage, your strength, your cheer…run with them.  Stand with them. Fall with them.  For we are called to encourage one another and build each other up, through trials of all kinds.  This season is so painful for so many.  In the hustle and bustle and holiday cheer, do not neglect those among us who suffer in despair.

The true meaning of Christmas is hope amid desperation.  Spread that.  Give hope.

photo-16 photo-17


When I was young, one of my favorite books was Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.  I was a serious child.  I identified with Alexander on somewhat of a regular basis, as he and I both had two brothers.  So I anticipated the worst, pretty much all the time.  I remained cautious and pensive.

Last Wednesday I had a bad day.  I was finally on my way to the grocery, since we were out of all sensible food (kids wouldn’t eat canned black beans for breakfast), when I got a call from the school that Josiah had thrown up in the classroom and needed picked up.  I can’t tell you how much that ripped my heart out.  Josiah is my most private child.  He’s my pensive, cautious one.  To have thrown up in front of his peers must have added considerable insult to injury.  This was my sentiment as I walked into the nurse’s office, where he was laying so pitifully on the plastic cot.  She told him to stand up and walk because he was certainly too big to be carried.  I tried my very best not to glare at her as I responded as nicely as I could, “he most certainly is not”, then scooped up my 6-year old baby boy and carried him to his seat in our van.  On our way home he threw up two more times, into his sweatshirt, causing Zachary to dry heave beside him, and Nolan to lecture all of us on the importance of immediately using hand sanitizer.

There were spills, schedule rearranging, extra laundry, extra worry, extra cleaning. Just…..extra.

You’ve probably survived much darker days than this one.  This may have been the day you started chemotherapy.  Or the day your child started chemotherapy.  This may have been the day you had to walk away from the cemetery, leaving behind a piece of you.  This may have been the day you have had to endure the darkness of divorce, or deception, or dependence.  This may very well have been your terrible, horrible, no good, very, bad day.

I’ve had some dark days.  Days when the bottom fell out.  Days when my typical exaggerated anxiousness was legitimate fear that drove me to action.  Days when the world was so obviously the world.

But as I laid my head down last Wednesday (on the couch, right next to my sick, feverish baby), all I could say in my prayers was “Thank You.”



Give thanks in all circumstances…

How could I say anything else?  I could I be anything but grateful?

I effortlessly walked over to the sink and poured my son a glass of clean water from our working faucet.  I sauntered over to the medicine cabinet and grabbed the thermometer, tylenol, and cooling cloth.  I sat with him and tended to him all evening, while my husband managed the other children.  I stayed by his side and let him rest in our heated home, on our clean sheets.

Thank you.

Thank You, Father.

Even on days that seem so long.  Even on days when hope seems gone.  Even on days like yesterday, when the cold relentless rain fell for hours and hours on end reminding us of the coldness and relentlessness of the world.  Even on days when the hope is gone…

This year two of my ‘sisters’ walked through the darkness of miscarriage.  I was a blubbering mess for weeks after each one.  I cannot express to you how connected I felt to those particular babies.  And because geography can be so cruel, I was unable to stand physically beside them through it.  So, I wept inexplicably and at inappropriate times, just releasing my grief onto whomever asked me how my day was. (Sorry, Aldi checkout lady.)

During those dark times, my sisters blew me away.  They so bravely and rightly “chose joy” and proclaimed “the goodness of God,” as they put it.  IN their hour of darkness.

Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  1 Thes. 5:18

Tomorrow has been set aside for a day of Thanksgiving.  Most of you have cheated and been grateful all November long.  (I’ve enjoyed your daily posts on Facebook.)   I want in on that.  I want to cheat all year long.  I want to express authentic gratitude from the depths of my soul as a rule, as a way of living, a way of thinking, a way of being.  I want to give thanks in all circumstances.  Not just the great times, the good times, or the even the dark times.  But in the mundane times too.

Like today.  My cup runneth over sharing conversation with my brother over a cup of coffee and nacho dip rather than over the phone.  Be still my heart as I watch my nephew devour an un-iced cupcake (y’all…I fed him one when no one was looking…sorry! but you didn’t see his face! he reallllllly wanted it. I’m probably not ever going to be able to resist that, just so you know. I am my mother’s daughter….) Could any more joy flood my soul as I tuck my children into bed, or see my husband return home safely from work, or feed my family from our plenty?

Thank You, Father!


Thank You!

I identify less with Alexander now.  I will have bad days, of that I am sure.  I may even have some terrible, horrible, no good, very, bad ones.  On even those days, instead of wishing I could move to Australia (that only makes sense if you’ve read the book) let my heartcry be the 100th Psalm:

‘Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.’



I knew I was getting older the last time I went to Forever21 and the sales associate asked me if I was lost and then called me ‘ma’am’.  I quickly darted out of the store, pretending like I had wandered in by mistake.

Then, I heard on K-Love that women who dye their hair blond look older.  I immediately quit dying my hair.  I decided to find out what my natural color was, since no one really knows.  That was about six months ago.  I’ve been really obnoxious about it too.   “I’m going natural,” I keep telling people.  “I’m going to quit spending so much money on my vain attempt at looking young and give to the poor.”

So, I’ve been working the ombre style until Michael changed the 3 out of 4 burnt-out light bulbs in our bathroom.  I was so thankful until I looked in the mirror and noticed millions of white hair attached to MY HEAD!!!!  Ok, not millions. But definitely more than two, which might as well be millions.  PLUS, less than 12 hours later, Michael and I were driving down the road in the daylight and I made the egregious mistake of looking at myself in the mirror…..and I noticed a wrinkle where I’ve been smiling too much.

Obviously, I

1. had a nervous breakdown.

2. apologized to the poor.

3. scheduled a hair appointment.

4. stopped smiling. Ever.

Wrinkles and grey hair?  What in the youthful world is happening to me???

Am I growing up? So much evidence suggests ‘no’!  In my profession, I am still a teeny tiny infant.  As a mother, I have little bitty children.  I’m not yet responsible for a turkey at Thanksgiving.  I still have slumber parties with my friends.  I even know how to hashtag….

But. I guess I have a ‘profession’. I am a mother. I do make the dressing for Thanksgiving, and the world has to be realigned and meticulously organized and prepared for a slumber party to actually happen.

Maybe I am growing up?

We have had the most gloriously spectacular autumn here in North Carolina.  The trees have been the most brilliant shades of crimson, gold, and fire orange that I ever remember seeing.  My super smart science friend says it’s because we had a relatively dry September and some frosted but not frozen mornings.  I’ve nearly run off the road staring at/Instagramming them with my (hip) (smart) (i)Phone….because I’m young like that. Michael reminded me as I was admiring them on a family outing, that the the chlorophyl has been keeping them green since spring, and that just now their true colors are beginning to show.  That as they come into autumn, they are really coming into their fullness, into the pinnacle of their magnificence, into the truth of what they were created to be.


And then I remembered my grandmother talking about the autumn of her life.  She shared about what a full and beautiful season it was.  And then she shared about how she knew it was slipping away and how she was easing into the winter season.  She talked about the peace she had as she braced for the winter.  She didn’t fear it, she embraced it.

Before the sun finally sets, the frost begins to squeeze the color from the blue of autumn’s skies and the brilliant colors of spring and summer turn from scarlet red to softer hues of gold.  As age begins to wrinkle our skin and greys our hair, we look forward to living our final chapters.  As we join the vast caravan that marches toward the west, we shall first behold the winter “sunrise” which brings with it tiny hints of lovely pastel shades.  When winter sunrise begins to paint its dawn upon our lives, we shall not fear what lies ahead. 

She was so wise.

Our culture would have us to believe that the summer of our life is to be preserved at all costs, and, by the way, at all costs is the precise and only motivation.  While I am still far from shopping in the “Ladies” section at Belk (sorry, but the only way I am buying a sweater with a turkey  embroidered on it is if I wear it as a joke), I am coming to the realization that there is real value in each season of life.  Could it be that ever so softly, ever so slightly, my autumn is creeping upon me?

Besides the physical calamities I am enduring, I’ve noticed other changes too.  Ten years ago if you had asked me to give you a 10 year plan, I would have gladly blurted out my pretty little plan tied with a pretty little bow.  I have learned the value of being open to God’s plan. I have learned the value of sitting at the beautiful feet of my elders.  I am learning the value of saying ‘no’ to things that don’t align with my priorities.  I am learning that some things matter, and other things, simply…..don’t.  I am learning that I have so much to learn.   Maybe, ever so slightly, ever so gently, my true colors are beginning to show.  Maybe, despite my initial repulsion, I can find beauty there.  Maybe, as I come into my own, I can even embrace it….the way my Grandmother embraced her winter.

We will quietly stand and behold the majesty and wonder of a sunrise that will lead us beneath the open sky, under its glorious arch to walk among God’s creation and all His peaceful works.  ….together we can share the calm that dawning brings and welcome release from relentless busyness.  Between the winter sunrise and sunset, we know that Jesus will be with us. 

Because the wisdom of her words, which she shared through her wrinkled lips, made her more stunning and more beautiful than any attempt at holding onto the evidence of her youth.

Wasn’t she beautiful?


Frances, easing into winter

(Quotes by Frances Pierce, from her autobiography Why Not Us?, the chapter entitled “Winter Sunrise”)

(Image of Photographic Oil Portrait by Gaye Frances Willard. For more information on photographic oils, click


I remember being in the concrete driveway of your old house. You had effortlessly set up an entire play land of activities with hula hoops, giant homemade bubble wands, a crazy sprinkler, and a little kiddy pool. You were quietly keeping order while sun bathing, and eventually you stood up, picked up a hula hoop, and began to hula. You had managed to get at least 4 hoops going simultaneously. One was around your waist, one on each arm, and one around your neck! Suddenly, we all wanted to hula too!

‘I want a turn, I want a turn!!’ we yelled impatiently.

‘These hula hoops have been laying here all morning, and no one has paid them any attention,’ you responded in your calm, firm way, which we didn’t dare question.

Those hula hoops were boring rings of plastic before they were set in perpetual motion, at which point they became the most fascinating things in the driveway. The same scenario played out with the bubbles, as you took the rope and dipped it into the homemade solution and created the most giant bubble circle I’ve (still) ever seen.

And we’ve been watching you quietly create a life full of beautiful masterpieces with your gifted hands ever since.

I can’t express what your constant presence in my life has meant. For sisters, you and my mother couldn’t be two more different people. She with her exuberance, you with your calm spirit. She with her everyone, you with your each one. She with her drive, you with your patience.

But you have the same Joy, the same Peace, the same Love. Because you know the same Savior. And it is invaluable to behold the wisdom you both possess and to see the manifestation of the Word through both your unique lives. She with her vision, you with your voice. She with her unwavering encouragement in a culture of despair, you with your unwavering testimony to Truth in a culture strife with lies. To witness what God can do no matter your personality, no matter your size (you’re so tiny), no matter what.

What if you had never used your gifts? What if you had never sung your songs? Made your cakes? Painted your masterpieces? Written your children’s books? What if you had never become what God created you to become?

The little 8-year old girl who gave her life to Jesus while reading The Merriest Christmas Ever wouldn’t be who she is. And so many others who have been touched through your music and your art wouldn’t understand our Savior the way you have helped them to understand Him.

And I wouldn’t be who I am either. I’ve needed to see you stand for Truth. I’ve needed to see you take a risk to follow a dream. I’ve needed to see you pay attention to things. I’ve needed to watch you patiently hold up your hand so still and so high, a sea gull would brave the decent for a morsel of food. I’ve needed to see you watch the animals in wonder and in awe. I’ve needed to see you create something wonderful from something plain. (Lord knows I needed you at my wedding. The dress, the flowers, the cake, the music, is there anything you cannot do??) The lessons you continue to instill in my life are plentiful and precious. The hours we get to spend over coffee, over Russian Tea, over the driveway, over nothing, are some of the sweetest moments I’ll know.

Grandmother once told a nine-year-old Jonathan to fix a mistake on his picture by making it into something new. She said, “Gaye always just makes something new out of a mistake. That squiggly line can become anything you want it to be. That’s what Gaye would say.”

Thank you for allowing Him to make beauty from ashes. For becoming the beautiful, wise, amazing, artistic woman God created you to be, despite being a merely a human in fallen world.

I love you.




My phone calendar starting buzzing yesterday morning at 5:50 with all the reminders I had.

‘Send salty snack with Zachary.’

‘Send cookies/drinks with Josiah’

‘Nolan and Josiah wear orange for Anti-bullying campaign.’

‘Zachary dresses up for class party – nothing scary’

I have to include really specific notes like ‘nothing scary’ for obvious reasons.

We turned in the school parking lot on 2 wheels, like always, and hopped out of the van.  As I loaded up my arms with 3 boxes of capri-suns, a bag of animal crackers, and a tray of store-bought (because we CANNOT send anything homemade…..(pre-made cookies are $6.00)) cookies and started across the parking lot with 2 older orangely dressed children and 1 younger power-rangers mega force guy with a green lantern cape and sword, I realized how ridiculous I may have looked.  Suddenly Nolan yelled,

‘MOM! You have to hide that sword!  We are not allowed to have ANY weapons in school’.

So, I shoved it under the tray of cookies and took them to the school classroom.  I then dropped Zachary off at preschool and planned my almost immediate return so I could watch, photograph, and enjoy ‘Halloween 2013’.

Halloween has never been my favorite holiday.  It’s just not my thing.  It may have to do with my parents not putting a particular emphasis on it either.  I don’t remember any of my costumes.  I just remember one year my brother wanting to be a skeleton.  My mother would not hear of buying a pre-made costume from the store and attempted to create a skeleton out of panty hose, a pillowcase, and magic marker.  My mom is many things, but an artist is not one of them.  The thing I remember about that costume is how sorry I felt for Jeremy having to wear it in public.

So even though it’s not my thing, I do it.  I just fall in and go with the flow and participate and dress them up and set reminders about who is supposed to be what when and where and get the pumpkins and mums and so on and so forth.  This morning, I asked my husband if we could carve our pumpkin tonight, since we only have 2 days to let our light shine before I dispense of all things fall and get on to real holidays, like Christmas and well, just Christmas.  He responded like this, ‘how about we ask the boys what they would rather do, blow up the pumpkin or make a cutesy face on it.’

So, pumpkin bombs are a thing at our house.  Michael makes them explode.  So, obviously, I was outvoted and vetoed.

Cut to the preschool party.

After the parents arrived with cameras to photograph their children eating cheese doodles and candy-corn cupcakes, we filed out to the pumpkin patch to hear a pumpkin story by a precious elderly church lady.  After she finished explaining to the children how God makes pumpkins just like he makes children, that each is special and unique no matter what they look like, she asked them, “Do any of you have a special pumpkin with a face on it at home?”

“Oh Yes!!” they all excitedly share.

‘Mine has a funny face!’ -one kid yells.

‘Mine has a scary face!’ -says another.

‘My dad explodes our pumpkins!’ – says Zachary.

And the perimeter of parents, in unison, turned their heads to look at me.  The moms in shock, the dads in curiosity.  And I just nodded that yes, we do blow up our pumpkins.  I know, the swords and bombs sound so violent, and, I mean, we don’t even hunt for crying out loud.

‘Did you say explodes?’ answered the sweet little story teller.

‘Yes!’ he replied.

‘Uhm. Hmm….” was all she could say as she finished with the song “This little light of mine”….you know for those who put candles in their pumpkins….which don’t get blown up.

So we happen to live in a culture which has this tradition of dressing up like someone/something else, knocking on doors, and expecting candy when the phrase ‘trick-or-treat!’ is excitedly shrieked.   Historically there are some questionable practices also associated with this day.  And I certainly understand and respect any Christian who has the conviction to abstain from its participation.

But, after some very casual google research, the holiday is also historically known for community gatherings in which the harvest is celebrated around a big bonfire.  Last Friday night, we had 40 of our closest friends to our home for a bonfire.  The idea was to have a relaxed agenda, enjoy one another’s company, paint some pumpkins, and ok, blow up some pumpkins.  In our individualistic, me-focused culture, I am all about spending time in community.  False connectivity via social media is a great tragedy of our generation.  If having a bonfire and blowing up a pumpkin brings people together, then I’m about it.  And I don’t think that puts my Christianity in question.  In fact, if anything, being in community greatly enhances my walk with Jesus.

And I think that any time Light shines in the midst of darkness, that is a good thing too.

So, tonight, as we head out, dressed as various superheroes and such, I hope that we the church can let our little Lights shine.  That can look like a million things.  For the Coats family, it was a bonfire.  For another, it will be serving food at their church.  For another, a literal front porch light on that beckons others to come and be welcomed into their typically individualistic space.  Because we are called to let our Light shine every day (Mt. 5:16), including (and perhaps especially?) Halloween.  May we shine in such a way that we represent Christ to a world who so desperately needs Him.


…..alas, I have only pumpkin fragments.

Happy Halloween.


We have a new pet fish.  

It all started 6 years and 6 weeks ago.  I know exactly because this was the first time I took my 20 month old and 3 week old babies out in public, alone.  I decided to brave the 9 minute drive for the 22 minute story time at the local library.  I had showered. I had dressed. I had timed Josiah’s feedings such that he shouldn’t have needed to eat or poop.  I gave myself a nice 9 minute long pep talk on the way.  ‘If Nolan strips or acts like it’s a big deal to have to wear shoes in public, I’ll just grab the kids and leave and never return.’ I had planned for this monumental event.  

I wish I could tell you it was to stimulate my children with the world of literacy.  But that would be a lie.  First of all, my kids are not the kind of kids who need a whole lot of extra stimulation created for them.  (They chased each other with pool noodles for a solid hour today.  We don’t have a pool, just the noodles.)  And secondly, if I have done anything on a regular basis it is read to my children.  I have missed baths, blown the schedule, skipped tooth brushing, forgotten checkups, fed them processed food, and didn’t teach them baby sign language.  But I wore the daylights out my rocking chair reading to my kids.  The coils actually busted through the bottom.  

 They didn’t need story time.  I needed story time. 

Story time was cancelled that day.

I was so heartbroken.

I had showered.  I had planned! Though I had every blessing imaginable with 2 healthy children, I was so lonely. I was really missing my Indiana friends.  We had recently moved to the area, and although my entire family was here, none of them had small children (yet).  Since I didn’t work outside the home, I had little opportunity to communicate with adults.  Well, to communicate with anyone.  Nolan was only saying 2 words at a time and Josiah and Facebook were both infants. Pinterest wasn’t even born.  My days were long.  Long.  

Which is why I was so determined to get to story time.  I needed friends.

By the abundant and amazing grace of our Living God, another mother walked in that day.  She (of course) knew that story time had been cancelled and she was just stopping in to return her library books (on time).  And at second glance, I realized I knew her.  She was good friends with my cousin in high school and I had met her then.  And she had two boys.  And the thought that entered my mind was as sophisticated as a 6 year-old grade schooler,

‘I wonder if she could be my friend?’

The next several years were full of play-dates, field trips, story-times, and all-the-free-stuff-for-toddlers in the triad (and sometimes beyond).  Josiah crawled for the first time on her living room floor.  We’ve had family slumber parties just for fun.  We’ve roasted marshmallows, milked pretend cows, and been kicked out of the library for ‘being a little loud’ with our (then) five boys (she’s got a little girl in the mix now too).  Her children were the first friends my children knew.  There aren’t words for those memories. There are tears.  But there are no words.  I can’t articulate how she has shaped my mothering and how God used that particular friendship to fill such a void in my life.

Which is the only reason I took home a fish from her son’s “county fair” themed birthday party last weekend.

I spotted those 3 little fish immediately, and immediately I asked, “what are those for?”

“They’re prizes!” she exclaimed.

“You’re giving pets? As prizes?”

“Yes, and if your kid wins one, you’ll take it home!”

“I’m not taking home a fish! I can’t feed or keep alive one more….”

And off she was.  Onto organizing the games.  For which the kids won tickets.  And then the tickets had numbers.  And my kids had done usually well (cheated) because they had like…100 tickets or something.  

Well, I thought, there is no way in this world Michael Coats would allow another pet in our house, so if by chance they call a number on our kids’ tickets, I’ll just defer to him.  He will not bring home a fish.


“ME!” shouted someone else’s kid.  

Ha ha. Sucker.


“ME!” shouted my kid.

“You NOLAN??  IS that YOUR number?!?!?  YOU GET YOUR VERY OWN GOLDFISH!!!!”

NOOOOOOOOOOO………..I screamed in my head.

And my husband turned to me with his giant blue puppy dog eyes and a smile that begged, “Aren’t we going to let our kid have a pet goldfish?”

And it was in his hand, with a smile that stretched from here to Australia and eyes as big as saucers he said, “Mom!! Meet Michelangelo! He’s my new fish!”

For crying out loud, he’d named it.  I can’t refuse something with a name.

And so that is how Michelangelo/Mikey/Leo (so, apparently we haven’t exactly landed on a name) came to be the 7th member of the Coats family. And how it was that I spent the entire morning preparing his new habitat with appropriately temperatured well water that I brought gallon by gallon from my mother’s house.  And why I have spent an embarrassing amount of time reading blogs like “how to keep your 38 cent gold fish from dying the first week”.  I’m considering it a win if he makes it to Christmas.

And I’m dropping off a kitten on my friend’s porch next week, as a thank-you card.

I’m that thankful for her. 



Love you, friend.  You have blessed me more than you know.  Image