It’s moving day so let’s read a poem.

Today we move into our house. We open up boxes that were packed on June 25, that long and short summer ago. It will be like Christmas! And, honestly, it will be a little sad because it means we actually live here in this new city. It’s our home now, not some place we parked ourselves for a month or two.

You want to know something new in my life? My being sad has been a sweet reminder lately that God loves me. And yesterday, while I ate a chunk of my last bar of Trader Joe’s dark chocolate (I sort of brought 10 bars with me when I left SF. Don’t judge!) and felt that heavy weight of the loss of place and the ache of needing friends, I was reminded of this dear Jane Kenyon poem (I love her) and the water “filling the pitcher until it spills…”

Happy moving day.

Briefly It Enters, Briefly Speaks

by Jane Kenyon


I am the blossom pressed in a book,

found again after two hundred years. . . .


I am the maker, the lover, and the keeper….


When the young girl who starves

sits down to a table

she will sit beside me. . . .


I am food on the prisoner’s plate. . . .


I am water rushing to the wellhead,

filling the pitcher until it spills. . . .


I am the patient gardener

of the dry and weedy garden. . . .


I am the stone step,

the latch, and the working hinge. . . .


I am the heart contracted by joy. . . .

the longest hair, white

before the rest. . . .


I am there in the basket of fruit

presented to the widow. . . .


I am the musk rose opening

unattended, the fern on the boggy summit. . . .


I am the one whose love

overcomes you, already with you

when you think to call my name. . . .


Collected Poems Jane Kenyon (Graywolf Press, 2005)

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God’s Deepening Life in Me, Part 2 (aka: All is Balance, All is Gift)

“In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance before all created gifts insofar as we a choice and are not bound by some responsibility. We should not fix our desires on health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one. For everything has the potential of calling forth in us a more loving response to our life forever with God.” (from “The Foundation: Fact and Practice” of The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.)

I’m reading Organized Simplicity and contemplating for our family and our home what we really value. See, I think there’s a difference between saying we don’t have much money to spend while filling our lives with an endless supply of the poorly made—gadgets we don’t really need that take over our cupboards (guilty), way too many sweatshop-expressed Old Navy tops that we don’t even like that much (guilty)—and choosing to keep purchases minimal but full of quality, conviction and beauty. I’m trying to figure out what that means.

When I was 18, I went on a life-changing trip to the Amazon. You know the argument that the Western Church’s mission trips are really just for the American-types who go, not for those being “ministered to”? Well, consider me the face on that poster.

I doubt my presence did much for the locals I met living along the banks of the Rio Negro, but I know that those 10 days shaped my life in countless ways. It was the first time I recognized poverty and my complacency in it.

I returned home committed to stop buying clothes because I didn’t need them. And then, I went to college, wanted a new t-shirt for every sorority activity I participated in, and struggled constantly with what it meant to know that I, in my middle class luxury, had more than most people on the planet. Should I give away everything but the bare essentials? Should I reject trends and dress like a nun? Should I forget about style?

I ended up going the route of Old Navy and Target: cheap finds that started breaking down the minute they touched oxygen, and judging those who might dare to spend more. Then I spent plenty of brain stress guilting over whether I should want a cowboy hat (this was 1999 in Abilene…they were so cool!) for pure vanity when so many women had no hats, their faces scorched in the sun.

Guilt and judgment. Two things I don’t think Jesus had in mind when he asked us to clothe those in need.

So what did he have in mind? What does it mean for us to hold all created gifts in balance?

We just bought a couch. It’s our dream couch. Modern with a look of vintage. Beautifully designed. It’s the first couch we’ve ever bought new. (Read, former couches in former homes: gift, hand-me-down, Craigslist then resold.) And we struggled over whether or not we should get a couch we didn’t love but was cheaper and generic.

But it came back to Art for us. Someone took time to design this couch. It wasn’t mass-produced in factories. It was made with hands. We want to honor those who are making things with thought and valuing beauty. And we had the chance to.

What does it mean to value beauty? Especially when it’s a luxury to even pose such a question?

You know what I can’t forget? Standing on that boat in the middle of a river so large I felt at sea, staring out at night into the stars of the Southern hemisphere, my 18-year-old self begging God: Show me what it means that you love us.

All is gift. My children, my health, my friendships, my place, my city.

Friday my “stuff” will arrive. I’ll decorate my home, a middle class indulgence. I’ll place plates and glasses in the cabinets. Somewhere, in a village, tomorrow morning, a mother will untie the eight hammocks swinging in her one-room home. She will give her children drink from the river, so clouded with sediment it is called “River Black.” She will wear the same clothes as the day before. Her children will go to school and in the afternoon they will play soccer in the middle of town.

All is gift for her as well.

Can I love beautiful clothes? Can I decorate my boy’s room with rockets and a solar system mobile? Can I buy less things but better quality, made responsibly? Where is the balance? Where is the line?

The more I believe that all is grace, the more I believe that Jesus loves me, the more I can claim that this is key:

Let us “hold ourselves in balance before all created things.” Not wealth or poverty. Not pleasure or work. Not opulence or hunger. Somewhere in the middle of those extremes that long to snag our lives and unwind our beautifully spun selves, there is a God who is offering a place to rest our insides. A place where we hold lightly to our things, to our ease or our ache, and believe (really believe!) that what is in the middle is greater than all the false certainty money can buy.

Only in gratefulness can “everything [have] the potential of calling forth in us a more loving response to our life forever with God.”




Filed under the Praying Life

80 degrees, cool breeze, breakfast tacos: a list

It’s Thankful Tuesday!

A List:

  • Eighty degrees and a cool breeze! My baby sleeping on me outside in the shade while my husband and little boy laugh and make up games in the apartment complex pool. A holiday and we’re all home together.
  • Time to read and hear the Psalms.
  • Breakfast tacos in Austin, Texas. This is breakfast taco heaven.
  • A 3-year-old who’s over wearing shirts to bed. Plaid pajama pants and that skinny-tan little boy chest? Be still, heart.
  • Did I mention coffee and breakfast tacos by the pool? Baby against me? 80 degrees? Thankful.
  • I’ve decided I”m going to start a series called: “Wise things Chris says to me in the car.” Love that guy.
  • August’s number one requested song in the car this week? “Rock me Mama!” (It’s actually called “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show. I like that so much better than Veggie Tails “Action Songs”!
  • 3 more apartment days and we move into our new home on Friday! I’m so thankful for this temporary home. And I’m so thankful to see and hold and cook with all my kitchen stuff. It’s been a long time, sharp knives.
  • I shocked myself yesterday when I realized that I believe wholeheartedly that God has something beautiful for us in Austin. I didn’t even doubt it. Still don’t. Isn’t that good?
  • A church that’s orthodox Anglican, with Kenyan liturgy (!), lots of families, single people and old people, including a lovely elderly woman named Bebe (she wouldn’t let me call her Mrs. Smith), who talked to me for 10 minutes Sunday morning. An authentically welcoming group of people. We’re in, Christ Church.
  • The Tree that Survived the Winter, sent (out of the blue!) to me last week from my friend Amanda, with the instructions: “Read aloud.” So beautiful I sighed. (This sighing also occurred while sitting outside in 80 degrees with a baby sleeping on me, while I ate breakfast tacos and drank coffee.)
  • Psalm 92: A God who declares to us his: “steadfast love in the morning, and his faithfulness by night…”
  • A tiny Ikea pencil and torn envelope in my bag so I could make this list while sitting outside by the pool with a breakfast taco on a holiday morning.
What are you thankful for? 


Filed under the Praying Life

God’s deepening life in me (Part 1)

“In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance before all created gifts insofar as we a choice and are not bound by some responsibility. We should not fix our desires on health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one. For everything has the potential of calling forth in us a more loving response to our life forever with God.”

This is from “The Foundation: Fact and Practice” of The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. The Exercises are a director-led intensive prayer practice designed by St. Ignatius in the 16th century.

I’ve been returning for the past few days to this paragraph from what is essentially Ignatius’ preface to his exercises. I can’t get over these words:

“All the things in this world are also created because of God’s love and they become a context of gifts, presented to us so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more readily.”

The first time I ever sat down with my spiritual director in San Francisco, we ended our session with these words on a sheet of paper. I was to take them home and pray them through. (I had asked for homework…because homework always makes me feel better.)

See, this was still in my first year in San Francisco: The year of the Stay at Home Mom Personal Crisis. If you’ve been reading my blog for long you might laugh at this. That’s because I wrote about it A LOT. I was obsessed with the need to believe that I was still worthy. Me, this woman whose life was once full of ministry and sacrificial choices, afternoons discussing broken home lives with high school girls over coffee, nights sharing fries with awkward freshmen at the local pizza place. My working life was beautiful and hard and fulfilling. I loved my job.

But there was something under that, a dark need: Jesus, I secretly thought, liked me best when I was working the hardest.

When I quit full time ministry to stay home with my then 1-year-old, I couldn’t imagine that my life could ever be as valuable to God as it once had been. (If the rest of my culture didn’t find value in the work of a SAHM, could I?)

When my spiritual director gave me this small set of Ignatian thoughts to meditate on, I kept coming back to the gifts I had in my life: Living my days alongside my boy, enjoying his growing, lunchtime with him at his kid-size table, teaching him the name of every possible shark (his obsession at the time).

What began to happen to me was simple: When I didn’t fix my desires on superficial success, impressiveness, false burdens, or people pleasing, Ignatius was right: “Everything [had] the potential of calling forth in [me] a more loving response to our life forever with God.” 

It didn’t have to be about whether my calling was exciting to the stranger at the park. It didn’t have to ache when Cocktail-Party-Professional-Lady made a joke about SAHMs while I stood in her circle. I didn’t need to explain my former credentials to my husband’s coworkers. What mattered was that I know the truth: Jesus is not impressed with me because of what I accomplish. What he desires from me is a life where everything calls me forth to love him.

Sometimes that looks like talking about God’s deep love with a 15-year-old who finds her worth in the laxatives she swallows in the dark of her bedroom. Sometimes that looks like playing “Cars” for the 2 millionth time on the floor and being bored out of my mind.

What God wants is my love. And I give it by living. I give it by using the gifts of creation.

“For everything has the potential of calling forth in us a more loving response to our life forever with God.

Our only desire and our one choice should be this: I want and I choose what better leads to God’s deepening life in me.”

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How ‘the ordinary becomes a container for the divine’

My brother and sister in law gave me an Amazon gift card for my birthday. It didn’t take me long to go straight to my Wish List and find the two books I’ve been most longing for. One is finally going to order my life (I know it! Come on, Organized Simplicity!)

The other is going to be discussed on these pages over and over and over. I can feel it.

To Dance With God was recommended by my friend Nancy in San Francisco, who taught a course in our church on living as a Missional family. She often alluded to this book, which is subtitled Family Ritual and Community Celebration. I can’t express how much I long for intentional ritual and spiritual rhythm in our family’s life. I want our lives to be seasonal, measured by the Church calendar, and our instruction to our children in the faith to be grounded and ordered, not simply shaped by our whims or lucky conversations. But I also don’t want to be the parents who force boring “devotional” times on our kids. (I have this sick feeling when I think about a half-hearted dad reading scripture to bored kids in the living room.) I want to wow them with wonder. I want their senses to be stirred by the beauty, the blessing, the power of the God we worship. I want their worship to be childlike, tactile, magical.

When my kids grow up and remember the autumns of their childhood, I want for them not only the magic of cooler nights and bundling in blankets at the football stadium, I also want them to connect the fall season with All Saints Day and how we made an attempt to remember those we’ve loved who’ve died. I want their memories of Advent and Christmas to be tied to so much more than gift opening, but to recall how we prepared ourselves as a family for Christ’s birth, how we acted out the story with their toys. I want their memories of Holy Week to include how we used our hands: baked Easter bread, made a prayer corner in our home with hand-drawn pictures on the wall.

I love thinking about these things and I can’t wait to share them with you as we enter from Ordinary Time into the Church seasons. Until then, I’ll leave you with this:

This Church celebrates our cycles and seasons, inviting us to see and engage and feel and touch and be aware and grow and be transformed. Through myth and symbol the experiences which make up our daily lives are affirmed and made sacred.

This creative and poetic Church helps us to pay full attention to what we might otherwise deem ordinary and commonplace. Rites and symbols use the ordinary and earthy elements of our existence and, by encircling them, ratify, sancitfy, complete. The ordinary becomes the container for the divine and safely holds what was uncontainable. The transcendent is disclosed in what is wonderfully familiar: bread, wine, fire, ash, earth, water, oil, tears, seeds, songs, feastings and fastings, pains and joys, bodies and thoughts, regressions and transformations…In its creative function, the Church speaks directly to the heart, a heart which hears symbols, not rational vocabulary (7).

How good is that?!


Filed under Books

“All is grace”…and Ms. Grace

Remember how August’s first day of school was Tuesday? It was also his last. I know that sounds dramatic and I probably deserve that criticism. But his teacher had rubbed me the wrong way the week before at the Meet and Greet. We don’t have to go into details here. I just didn’t have a good feeling. The P in my personality type is “Perceptive”…I’ve been learning to trust it.

August’s stubborn nature, especially regarding when and how he goes potty, resulted in a cry-fest on his part when he was forced to go potty, which brought on chastisement and disappointment from his teacher, who told me he was distracting for the other kids. (On his first day? After moving across the country and struggling with this major life transition? As a 3-year-old?) I felt no kindness or compassion in that room when I picked him up. And after taking home a sad boy who kept repeating: “My teacher was scary” and “it was a sad day,” I haven’t been able to recover.

That little boy loved school in San Francisco. He was and is imperfect. And I get it: He can be a real pill. But his teachers in SF were kind and compassionate and full of grace.

So I spent yesterday struggling through whether it was worth it to take him back to a room of strangers and leave him there when I felt genuine unease about what made him so sad the day before. I decided to pull him out. There’s nothing he needs to learn right now more than the reality that I trust him and I’ve got his back. Enough tears have been shed over peeing in the potty. Let those tears be mine and not his. And let no one of authority in his life make him feel like a failure for what he can and can’t do.

And do you know what I considered yesterday as I made the decision and crafted a “we quit preschool” letter for the director of the program? I thought of Ann Voskamp’s words: “All is grace.” Even this. Even as the woman-stranger forces your kid to drop his drawers in front of the potty on the first day of school in a strange bathroom with strangers while he screams, “no!”, then tells him his cries are hurting the ears of the other children. All is grace. My non-combative nature, standing beside the woman who is disappointed in my boy. My attempts to piece together his story while I nursed his brother in his bed, smoothing his hair before nap time.

All is grace: Those moments when we realize that being a mother has lit a fire in our bellies: we the passive, the sweetly natured, the peacemakers, who suddenly can see nothing but the glaring flash of our mistreated child.

Do you know what I thought of as I cried in the living room, my boy (who had smiled so big for his first day of school picture only hours before and now begged me not to make him go back) sleeping in his bed? I thought of the mom of the boy whose heart I’d twisted and wrung Sophomore year of college. How much she must have ached because of me.

All is grace. Do you know that was this teacher’s name? Ms Grace.

How good it is to be grateful. Even as I pressed send on my carefully constructed quitters email, even as I spent two (fruitless?) hours searching Austin webpages for one opening for my boy at some sort of 3-year-old program. Even as I cried for the teachers who loved him and knew him and understood him in San Francisco. I felt a sense of peace. How good that he doesn’t have to be anywhere where he is mistreated. How good that he knows how to communicate his unease with me. How full of grace that I can trust him when he tells me he is afraid.

All is grace. Even the achey parts. Even the first day of school picture and the new backpack and the big smile for the camera.

We love a God who is in all of our messes, even the ones that bring out our most angry Mama-fires. We love a God who burns in his belly for us, who longs for us to know our value is not based on our performance, our stiff upper lip, our ability to please. It is based on belonging. We belong to our creator. That is enough, I thought, as I pressed his sweaty hair behind his ear. That is enough.


Filed under Motherhood

First Day of Preschool (!) Thankful

Many reasons to be grateful today:

  • August is so ready for some friends and a schedule. He loved his art school in San Francisco and I know he’s going to thrive at real preschool. Circle time! Playing with new kids! Eating lunch without his mama! (And then going home with her 15 minutes later…) It’s going to be so good.
  • I’m thankful that for every moment in my life where I’ve been as afraid as August is about his first day at a new school with new friends and new teachers, I’ve been lovingly nudged off the edge. Today I will have to do some nudging.
  • The greenest romaine I’ve ever cut up for salad last night. How have I never noticed how beautiful lettuce can be?
  • A husband who does dishes and puts away food.
  • A rustically modern bench Chris got at an antique sell on Sunday.
  • 1 ½ weeks until we move into a home and get our stuff out of storage.
  • Reconnecting with friends from long ago.
  • The beauty of being in a new city and with new people but feeling at home at Young Life “Club” Sunday night (UT College Life to be exact…)
  • How baby T-Rexy grabs my hair in both fists and pulls me down for a kiss. Such passion!
  • How is it that these boys have me for a mom?

  • I’m thankful for sweet babies who grow as tall as a 5-year-old and get hairy legs and become obsessed with volcanoes, engines, and fire:

Thanks to my sister-in-law and SunnyKaye Photography for the photos…


Filed under Motherhood, the Praying Life

The Chalice

I grew up in a faith tradition that celebrated the Lord’s Supper every quarter, four times a year. I remember my first Communion on a Sunday night: it was passed down the aisle in an offering-esque plate—a dry-white cracker, a doll-size cup of juice. I was in second grade and had recently made a profession of faith. My parents had shown me it was important, this miniature meal. I knew it mattered.

I was told that we participated in the meal rarely because it was so valuable. I remember asking why other churches had Communion every week and we didn’t. The answer was always the same: We can appreciate it more when it’s rare. If you do it every week, it isn’t as special.

When I moved to Syracuse 10 years ago, I found a small Episcopal congregation, full of loveliness: the cheesiest worship band ever, randomly scattered gray hairs, and the sweetest prayers I’d ever heard in church. I loved the earnestness of that church’s prayers for peace, just at the time when the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were beginning. I loved the dearness of voices peppering out from kneeled bodies on pews when the pastor offered space for our own added requests: a woman’s son who was struggling with addiction, a family member fighting cancer, a financial need.

And I loved weekly communion. Preparing my heart alone in a pew among people I hardly knew, walking the short aisle to the kneeling bench before the altar, bowing my head as the bread was pressed into my palm. The pastor saying my name when he reminded me that Christ’s body had been given for me. I couldn’t believe the depth of reverence, the meaning that this form of celebration had given me. I began to feel like I’d been missing something wonderful.

My friend at that church was a mother and was pregnant with her second child. Each week when she received her bread and wine, her 2-year-old and unborn baby were prayed for, her son’s head marked with the cross. It felt like what every mother longs for—that physical blessing on her child: prayer with some meat on it.

I realized that I would never be able to go back to a little Communion here and there. For me, it marked my week. I was consistently reminded that I belonged to God not because of my own merit, but because of Christ. The Communion table wouldn’t let me forget the cross.

In all my churches since, I’ve been shaped by this constant repetition: The bread offered to me, the wine given. I began to always drink from that shared cup. I stopped being a dipper. I love the symbolism too much to worry about germs. I love seeing the old lady with her walker and knowing that my lips will touch that cup as well. It’s the same reason I felt the blessing for my babies when I took the wine and bread into my pregnant body. Or now, when I ask Christ to pass himself along to my five-month-old in my milk. It’s the family of God. This is our meal.

And so, here in a new church where the liturgy is the same but the faces are unknown, where every conversation takes effort and I get tired at the thought of the work to come in building a community, I can still stand beside my husband, our children in tow, and wait for the blessing.

My husband dips his bread, always has. I understand. But there’s this thing in me that needs to gulp as much as I can out of that shared chalice. I want the family with 8 kids down the aisle and the high school kids a few rows up. I want the single women on the back row and the blue-haired ladies in front of me. I want our shared taking of this wine. I want our mouths to know Jesus together.

And I want to leave knowing I am not alone here. I’ve always been in this family with them. They have always been in this family with me.

And so I drink.


Filed under the Praying Life

‘Eucharisteo always precedes the miracle’ (Or, Why One Thousand Gifts is changing my life)

Today I’m guest-posting at Christianity Today’s Women’s Blog: Her.menutics. The piece is called “One Thousand Gifts, Reconsidered: A second take on Ann Voskamp’s bestseller about gratitude.” As if you really wanted to hear me go on and on about One Thousand Gifts some more…

Please? Don’t you want me to go on and on a little more?

Read it here.



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To Lose Faith is to Stop Looking

“To lose faith is to stop looking.  To lose faith is to decide that all you ever saw from afar was your own best dreams.”               -Frederick Buechner

I’ve had that quote on a sticky on my desktop for years now. I don’t know where I first read it. I simply read it. Every day I read it.

I’m a doubter.

That probably doesn’t come as a shock to you if you’ve been reading this blog long enough. Usually, if a believer finds peace in the acceptance of “mystery,” she worked a long time to get her hands off of the doubt and on to that mystery.

What I mean is, my head has never let me rest, not since the first day I declared to Jesus my life, a four-year-old on a swing in the backyard of my babysitter’s house. No, that wasn’t when I was “saved.” That came later. At four, I understood what I needed to understand: good and evil. Jesus and Devil. Myself, the swing and the sky. I gave Jesus a whole heart. I rejected all I knew of evil. I offered this life.

There are some decisions that shape the course of what you are, where you’ll walk this earth. Mine was love. I boldly offered Jesus my love. My head has been crammed ever since. For every certain experience of God’s presence, for every answered prayer, there a sure and present nag, a crusty whisper that what I’ve seen is not enough, that what I’ve counted as God’s love has been simply privilege.

Then I pray and choose to let the girl on the swing love Jesus.

My son is three-years-old, and thinking. Every prayer I offer out loud he’s thinking through. Reacting. Analyzing. Determining.

Friday in the car, we listened to an old folk hymn from a children’s album: “Welcome Table.

“This song’s about having dinner with God, August,” I said, glancing in the rearview mirror. “It’s about heaven and how we get to go there.”

“I don’t want to go to heaven,” he said. “I want to stay at my house.”

“You won’t go for a long time,” I said. “And it’s so wonderful there.” He wasn’t convinced.

He was still thinking about it Saturday night. “Mommy,” he said, interrupting my prayer, my hands still tucking the sheets around him as the words came out. “Mommy! But I can’t see God!”

My heart sank. It wasn’t because he admitted what we all struggle with. Not “seeing” is the hardest part, right?

My heart sank because I saw in him what lives in me, that twirling brain, striving for some solid part to hang my faith upon. I long for him to be a man of deep, life-altering faith. And I know it will be a battle for him.

I looked at him, answered: “God is too beautiful for us to see, Aug.”

And so we hold to the part we can’t see, right? We call that beauty the mystery and we beg for it to seep into the rest of us so it’s not just our hearts that believe, not just our bodies, not just our souls, but those pesky minds God gave us too. And I hope I’ll raise this long-legged boy to look with his mind into the depths of that mystery and call it beautiful. Because, when he does, he’ll find that there is much that lies deeper than his “own best dreams” and he’ll long for the table where God is serving that lovely meal.

And I’ll save a seat for him nearby.


Filed under the Praying Life