How Turtle Scientists Can Help Us Parent Better

The Chattanooga Aquarium offers two buildings to explore fresh versus salt water creatures, a regular schedule of exhibit talks, and a heartbreaking question that haunted me for weeks after visiting.

During the talk on turtles (please don’t ask which ones, they were big, I was listening and also making sure my daughter didn’t wander off into the city of Chattanooga on her own), the speaker mentioned one of the turtles their scientists studied was 150 years old. However, the folks currently doing research were unlikely to see the full life-span of this turtle, as turtles will outlive most of us here! she laughed, because imminent death! So hilarious!

Maybe this tidbit doesn’t wreck everyone this way, but it struck me.

The subject of their study will far out live them.

Yet they study anyway.

Why?

Those scientists study turtles with little expectation of knowing the full results of their work. They go into it, aware they won’t be there, at the end, to see how all that work turns out.

Here’s something about sharing custody of your child; there’s so much you don’t see.

Possibly, in ideal divorce and co-parenting scenarios, this is less true.

In my case, and I expect in the case of many people, there’s a natural amount of information and experience that you don’t see when your child is away from you.

For me, my ex and I share 50-50 custody, so that’s a half a childhood unobserved.

Sometimes Dorothy comes home, and I want to put both hands on each side of her face, look in her eyes, and say, “Tell me everything that you did/saw/experienced in the last seven days.”

If this wouldn’t completely (and rightly) freak her out, I’d do it, too.

Instead, I ask about that day at school. We talk about plans for our upcoming week. We start something together, a writing project, reading a new book, baking something.

We get busy living.

Right here, right now.

Turtle scientists don’t walk through their days, watching turtles, writing charts, plotting graphs, whatever turtle scientists might do, while being eaten alive with remorse over all the answers they’ll never have, all the results they’ll never see.

They’re studying the turtles.

They’re busy living.

God willing, we won’t ever know the end of our children’s stories. God willing, we make, build, shape, and study these people, knowing the results of our effort, our time, and our energy will never be fully understood, at least not by us.

Even when they live in our homes, all day long, every day, we raise them knowing they’ll be less and less there, until, at some point, they make their own lives somewhere else. A natural and beautiful secrecy will envelope them, and they’ll become their own creatures, their own individuals.

The act of raising children is nothing if not an act of faith.

Sure, we can find tangible, practical experience in it all.

However, when we step back, and consider it from the turtle scientist point of view, we realize how much we’ve started that we’ll never finish.

How do we do it?

We look at the turtle scientists. How could they get anything done if they let the weight of not knowing shroud them? The uncertainty, the worry, the concern for the turtles, the sadness over not finishing what they’ve created- how could they move under a mantle like that?

I suppose then the same remains true for us. We parent, and love, and discipline, and look after, and shout, and apologize, and start again, because the act of parenting for the length of time we have is enough.

It has to be.

No one would get in the boat otherwise. No one would join the parent parade.

If you believe there’s more after this world, and I do, there’s comfort there too. Yet, for most of us more earth-centered mortals, not enough.

The work itself has to be enough. The time we’re granted, however much in a day, week, or month, needs to be appreciated for exactly what it is: the work of parenting we willingly and knowingly signed up to do.

Those turtle scientists struck me, hearing this noble tale of folks willing to begin or continue work they themselves won’t see the end results of.

With children, God willing, we won’t be around for the finale of anything in their lives. We’ll be turtle scientists, starting the research, giving it a solid foundation, getting it off the ground, and then cheerfully handing it over to its next owner, those kiddos themselves.

And we’ll be hoping they become turtle scientists of their own one day, braving the hard task of starting work they’ll devote their heart and mind to and happily never seed the end of.

The Chocolate/Jesus Dilemma

When life’s got you nostrils flaring, saying all the cuss words, and adding in “and another thing is” frustrated, what’s your go-to comfort?

Now, I’ll pause here. Let me define comfort.

The first definition of comfort on Definition.com is: to soothe in time of affliction or distress.

Is it just me who finds the definition of ‘comfort’ comforting?

About eight or more years ago, I decided to switch all floury, sugary sweets for dark chocolate. Cookies. Ice cream. All the kinds of cake. Replaced with chunks of dark chocolate.

Sweets, for me, most of the time, indicated I needed comfort and hoped to find it there.

Rarely did it work.

Now, I had dark chocolate to rely on instead. A couple squares whenever a craving, or temptation hit. Something that truly tasted lovely, could be savored, and even offered health benefits.

It worked. I mean, it genuinely worked.

I know. No one was more surprised than me.

Dark chocolate was such a quality replacement to those empty sweet treats.

It tastes delicious. I feel good after eating it. And there’s a dark chocolate in the world for every price point.

Here’s the thing with Jesus: you can’t get too much. You can’t overindulge, or need more than you should have, or make yourself sick on it. That’s true.

Here’s what I’m saying to anyone looking for comfort right now:

Jesus is dark chocolate, only better.

I call on Jesus regularly, hundreds of times a in a day. Anything from genuine prayers of repentance and counsel to, “Lord, would you please get this dum-dum off the road before he hurts someone? Or himself? Like, now? Please?”

I call on Jesus for all moods, all feels, all instances.

When I’m angry: What is happening? Where ARE You? Fix this.

When I’m sad: Lord. I can’t. I need you. Please stay with me.

When I’m happy: woot-woot, thank you Lord! Praise be to God!

I am literally yet to meet a moment Jesus doesn’t apply to. All the every day, the banal, the mundane. That late bill, that infuriating person, that toddler with sticky hands gripping the dog’s fur. Through my own experience of trial, and error, He’s in for every dull, ordinary, impossible, amazing moment available.

Today, I’m sharing this because I’m being reminded of my own need for Him. Embroiled in a years-long struggle with someone who I cannot actually ignore or block, today’s got me leaning on Jesus something fierce.

It’s also got me wanting dark chocolate by the fistful. The expensive kind. I mean it’s bad. It needs that much comfort.

If you’re someone who needs comfort right now, I want to throw the Jesus-option out there for you.

Here’s more good news: you don’t have to be a church-goer, a baptized Christian, or even someone who believes in God.

There was this man, who lived on earth, taught lessons of love and kindness, and died a bloody, sacrificial death because He wanted to save us. All of us.

You think He cares what you call yourself or what you believe in?

If you need holding up, He’s a great place to lean. I’m not saying He’ll fix it, or that anything will change. That’s not the point. The point is comfort.

There is something so deeply comforting about a God who never flees, never abandons, never throws up His hands and says, “You’ve been on about this for hours. I’m out.”

And unlike dark chocolate, He never runs out and He costs nothing.

Praying for you and me today, friend, that we find the Jesus who just wants to sit next to us, and hold hands through all the hard. The One who nods, and says, “yep, yep” and can’t wear out, and never gets tired. The One who walked this earth, when some horrible things went down, and Who can say, with a straight-face, “Oh, I know people. They can be the absolute worst.” And then goes back to listening, and staying close, and loving you.

Because nothing scares Him off, and nothing is more than He can handle.

And God is such a quality replacement, the replacement for all those temporary hits of hope, or confidence, or pleasure we’re finding in all the wrong places.

Today, I pray we all find the Jesus who genuinely is better than chocolate.

Also, I pray we find fistfuls of dark chocolate because that doesn’t hurt either. It’s probably what Jesus would want.

4 Small Steps to Growing My (sweet, dumb) Christian Soul

New Year’s resolutions are trite, unhelpful, and usually destined for failure, and if I didn’t love them so much, I’d definitely stop making them.

Am I the only one who enjoys a good goal? A personal growth intention synced up with the start of the New Year?

For me, my 2020 resolutions fall into one succint package: get a better handle on Christianity and How to Do It Well.

As a new believer, I want to lean in and learn more. I want to grow and improve in this faith that went from being the punchline of a joke to the umbrella I’ve pulled me and all of my life under.

Here are my action steps thus far:

1. Read the actual Bible. Every day.

2. Read books by Christian authors on subjects that matter to me.

3. Build my prayer life.

4. Build my gratitude life.

That’s it. Those are my 4 steps.

Here’s where the action steps go into action: practical application.

I won’t fill up your busy schedule with blither-blather on the whys. Just the hows. That’s how we win this.

Step 1: I’m following a Bible reading study.

There’s no way, right now, I could commit to a read the Bible in a year, or even two plan.

Instead, I chose She Reads Truth (have sang their praises here already) and following their reading plans for 2020. And here’s why: 1) they’re organized 2) they post, for free, online, making my life that much easier, 3) they include an essay after each day’s Bible reading, which often helps my grasping mind understand the reading better; and 4) they literally have a study going every single day of the year. PLUS, the first study of the new year is Genesis.

If I’m not ready for the whole Bible yet, I’m at least ready for the Beginning.

Step 2: how to live like a Christian, based on Christian authors whose books I currently own, but am yet to read, OR whose books I can check out of our public library, OR whose books I can find on my e-reader for reasonable amounts of money.

This is a little bit of a motley assortment. Is that so wrong? Who’s to say well curated always leads to a full picture?

In my case, I’m starting January with the atheist-turned-believer, beloved writer C.S. Lewis, and his Mere Christianity. I considered Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, whic I also own, but honestly? It looked hard. There. That’s it.

For me right now, Bonhoeffer looked to be a bit extra. Whereas Lewis writes as though he’s chatting with you over strong coffee at 10 in the morning. That seems doable.

I’ll have new books for February, March, well, you get the idea.

Step 3: Building my prayer life remains a work in progress, but an idea from Instagram inspired me. Writer and podcaster, the tremendously fun and delightful Annie F. Downs, shared her own prayer wall, which is comprised of an enormous Post-It note on her bedroom wall.

Now I don’t have a behemouth Post-It note, but I do have a corkboard, and I’ve got my eyes on it.

Mostly, I realize I need a place to make big prayers, prayers more than the “help me now” kind I like to hurl God’s way in the middle of the day. I believe in these prayers, too, don’t misunderstand me. Yet a thoughtful prayer, one I’ve put real consideration into, can only help organize my life and brain a little more under God, and a little less under the frantic, whatever-happens-to-be-happening-in-the-world-right-now approach I currently favor.

I also need a place to remember others. Because I care deeply when people share their stories and struggles with me, and then they fall straight out of my mind as soon as they walk away. I’d rather not be this person. The only way I imagine that changes would be through actual effort on my part.

Putting them and prayers for them on my wall, that I see, every day, seems like a possible solution.

Step 4: Build my gratitude life.

It’s just everywhere, the talk of gratitude, in all walks of life. Years before Christianity walloped me, I knew I needed to be more grateful.

And that I couldn’t think my way to grateful.

And that this only came through an actual gratitude practice.

So off and on, over years, I attempted to keep a gratitude journal.

Honestly? It helped. I mean, money didn’t rain from the sky, nor Oprah walk into my house and ask to interview me. On hard days, though, it helped me find a little perspective. And on good days, I leaned in a little more, appreciating what I had.

I stopped at some point and forgot about it. The way you do.

So I’ve picked that back up, with the journal Dorothy gave me for Christmas. So far, my gratitude lists lands somewhere between 5 and 8 things. I make a point to write the date, day, and to preface each entry with the phrase: Today I am grateful for. . .

So welcome 2020, and hello resolutions! I’m glad you’re here, pull up a seat, and stay awhile, won’t you?

Do you resolution or not? I’d love to hear more on your resolution-take, and what you might be resolving if you’re so inclined!

Live Like You’re FitBit

Do you Fitbit?

If not, allow me to sing its praises. It tells me, to paraphrase that now-ancient Police tune, every step I take. It’s watching, as Sting was want to sing, every move I make. If I step, burn a calorie, gain an inch of ground, move for a set length of time, my Fitbit revels in sharing this information back to me.

There’s an almost voyeurs’-quality to Fitbit, or, I imagine, any activity tracker. Literally there’s almost no physical activity it’s not monitoring, and swiftly reporting.

It reminds me if I haven’t moved in at least 250 steps in the last 60 minutes by buzzing at me by 10 til the hour.

It buzzes when I hit my goal of 10,000 steps, and the screen bursts with digital fireworks.

I tell you, making myself exercise has never been so rewarding.

Yes, it can be a drag, on those days when I don’t want to hit 10,000+ steps and I don’t want to force myself to work off 2,100 calories, or I don’t care if I’ve moved 5 steps or 400 steps this past hour.

However, the real killer about those goals?

I set them all myself.

Fitbit doesn’t care.

They have some arbitrary goals set, but whether or not I use them, whether or not I get there is not Fitbit’s business. Fitbit would be as happy for me at 20,000 as it is as 10,000 and would, I expect, be just as satisfied with 5,000.

Fitbit just wants me to hit the goal whatever the goal may be.

Like most of life, the goals Fitbit holds for me, are actually and only the goals I set for myself.

Sometimes I base these goals on the goals of others, such as syncing up my 10,000 steps to what a group of coworkers aimed for every day.

Sometimes I base these goals on what I feel I can achieve most days, and still be a pleasant person with a life, like aiming only for moderate level exercise and only 30 minutes of that per day.

Sometimes I leave the setting to whatever Fitbit arbitrarily decided already. I mean why 5 miles? Could have gone 7. Could have gone 3.5. You want me to go 5, Fitbit? Sounds good.

Here’s where Fitbit works so beautifully for me- somehow between myself, my environment and Fitbit itself, I’ve made goals. Then, every day that I hit those goals, Fitbit celebrates and I do too.

Alerts for hitting my markers. All the digital confetti I mentioned above. And, my absolute favorite, markers to let me know how far I’ve gone.

Did I walk the length of the London Underground early in my Fitbit days? Why, yes. I did.

Have I followed the Monarch Migration trail it’s full length? Indeed. *coughcouh, nail check coughcough*

Have I walked the length of Africa? GUILTY AS CHARGED.

Call me shallow, call me silly, but I get a little grin each time I go to my Fitbit Badges and see these miles markers. They – the makers of this activity band – find all kinds of ways to celebrate my activity. I’ve earned badges in all catergories for Daily Steps including “Classics,” “Urban Boot,” and the least impressive, but delightfully titled “Boat Shoes.”

I love my imaginary earnings.

And I want to feel as accomplished in other places of my life as I do about my Fitbit life.

Possibly because I struggle to find positive aspects in my own life, to see silver linings in my clouds, with a tendency to turn my nose up to the spoonful of sugar to get that medicine down, celebrating doesn’t come naturally for me.

You might say, I suck at it.

However, the more I Fitbit, the more I’m learning from their delightful screen-savvy ways.

Looking at my life like the Fitbit app might report back to me encourages me in two ways: to keep going; and to celebrate when I get somewhere.

Weird? Probably.

Helpful? Definitely.

Sinkful of dishes? Wash ’em, all of ’em, even that last dang dirty spoon you found and tossed in the sink, hoping it might just slink over into the clean dishes section of its own accord.

Next morning? Small victory dance in the kitchen over that empty sink. Bonus square of dark chocolate to highlight the victory.

9pm Monday and still haven’t posted on my blog? Sit down, set a 20 minute timer, and start writing. Do nothing else until the timer chimes. If you’re not done (and you won’t be) repeat timer, keep going. An hour to ninety minutes after you started, hit ‘publish.”

In bed that night? Check the blog app on phone, read through previous posts, particularly anytime it’s been liked or received a comment. Bask in the words you’ve generated, and the praise they’ve received, no matter how tiny.

Stressful day at work and AmazonPrime deals hard to pass up? Take a walk. A long one. Long enough that you’re hungry and possibly cranky by the time you get home. Make dinner, watch show or read book. Refrain from touching your phone.

The next time you read your low or non-existent credit card statement? Take you and your sweetheart out to eat (somewhere cheap) and celebrate how all those ‘no’s’ to “Add to My Cart” added up to this evening out with your boo.

Heck, go crazy and make names for things!

You just walked the All the Debt I Didn’t Incur Trail. Congratulations!

Wracking up serious points on the So Tired and Wrote that Post Anyway Safari. Keep it up!

Way to earn the Kept My Kitchen Clean and Tidy Like a Boss Badge. Crushing. It.

I don’t know about you, but, for me, a little encouragement can go a long way, even if it’s only between me, myself, and I. Fitbit’s worked out the beauty of positive motivation.

And that digital screen, expecting me to show up today just like I did yesterday, goes a long way to keep me motivated.

If you’re moving into the new year, and you’re struggling to find your rhythm, I invite you to look at your life like one big Fitbit screen. Somewhere in here, you’ve got a big goal, and a lot of little goals that fall underneath it, helping you achieve it.

Maybe it’s a Peaceful and Balanced Life, or a Day Full of Adventures. What little parts of the day help you achieve what you’re looking for?

I suggest picking 4 or 5 mini-actions that move you towards your goal, and placing them squarely (in your mind or on a page or screen) under them.

Now do them. Do them, even when it’s hard, and then celebrate them, even when it’s only for yourself.

And if you miss a day, and don’t hit every goal, don’t blow up every circle, let it go, and start over tomorrow.

Imagine your activity tracker urging you on. Imagine the graphic confetti. Imagine the badges.

In the end, with my tracker, I set the goals, not Fitbit. I decide what’s in, and what’s out. And in the end, I’m the one who does or doesn’t do them. There’s no pretending to accomplish anything. I’d only be fooling myself.

Maybe this new year could be a chance to find your own inner encouragement, your own inner badges.

For all those not sure what to achieve, I’m praying clear guidance for you, the confidence and commitment to go towards it, and the gentleness to move on and start over when you fall short. To let your own inner Fitbit guide you closer the to the person you were created to be, and to become your own #1 fan, and personal cheering section over every accomplishment, big and small.

Recipe to Not Be Afraid

For me, sending a Christmas card, of our new blended family, tops the charts for challenging.

This has me wondering: do you have beautiful, but unusual or tender circumstances you struggle to celebrate?

Sharing good news in our lives can be so much harder than expected. Because what’s possible on the other side of that good news?

Utter and total failure. Maybe humiliation. Broken heart. Devastation. Not to put too fine a point on it.

Perhaps this is only me, speaking from my own personal experience. I’ve learned, over great years, good years, mediocre years, and a run of kicked-in-the-teeth years, sharing the holly-jolly in life is almost as difficult as sharing the challenging.

Because: what if it all goes wrong?

This is the hissy voice whispering in my ear, reminding me of past struggles and failure.

It’s essentially the don’t-get-too-big-for-your-britches hum of Satan.

As someone who’s been through a couple main character changes, some plot twists, and one or two double-crosses, it can be hard for me to trust the new chapter I’m writing.

At the same time, it’s only our first Christmas as a new family once. We only get to celebrate this particular moment one time.

If you need encouragement, here was how I took this hard, yet important step.

I asked Dorothy if she wanted to do it.

Yep, I outsourced it to my kiddo, someone who has never turned down a creative project in her life.

After she organized a family photo shoot, with about a 10 minutes heads-up, and a timer on the phone for that “this is not a selfie” angle, she took charge of the design.

When she finished, here was my check list.

Check all spellings.

Check the cost, bring the price down a reasonable amount, type my credit card number into shutterbugfishfly whatever.com and hit done.

Ta-dah! I just acknowledged our sweet and unusual family to the whole world! Or at least to the 23 or so people we know and like well enough to send a holiday card.

Maybe for you, it’s not a Christmas card. Maybe it’s celebrating your amazing coworkers, at the weird job you love, with an Instragram of the holiday lunch you had.

Maybe it’s a Facebook post about the “fixer-upper” home you adore, that makes your parents want to call 9-1-1 every time they come to visit.

Maybe its the text you send to your bestie, holding hands with this new fella you like, and captioned: “This is a thing

However you celebrate, taking time to acknowledge some joyful, yet new or vulnerable aspect in your life right now can be life-giving.

One of the first Advent stories I remember hearing was this snippet of Joseph, Mary’s husband-to-be, and Jesus’ stepdad-to-be, and his story. On learning the lady he’s marrying is pregnant, Joseph plans to, in a gentlemanly fashion, back the heck out of this deal, with an end-goal to not embarrass Mary.

However, God.

Because here’s Joseph, the “he” down here and what followed.

But after he had considered these things, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”

Matthew 1:20, Christian Standard Bible

Don’t be afraid! Your wife-to-be bears a holy child! THE holy child. Stay put. God’s got this.

Were I Joseph, this would still give me pause. Good to know Mary’s a faithful woman, but hard to hear the son of God is literally in her womb.

Joseph isn’t a man of many words. I don’t believe he’s a man of any words in fact. He doesn’t have to be.

He’s a man of action.

When Joseph woke up, he did as the Lord’s angel had commanded him. He married her.

Matthew 1: 24, CSB

I think that’s one of the loveliest lines I’ve read in the bible to date. He did as the Lord’s angel had commanded him. He married her.

There are so many ways God calls us to be bigger, deeper, stronger than we actually are. He called Joseph to this new, quirky family, and this crazy-scary assignment, and Joseph did as he was commanded.

I hope you might find that Joseph-courage this Christmas, to embrace the beautiful, new, and offbeat situations and people in your life, and celebrate them.

There’s my joyful news, world! Don’t be afraid! What’s coming is holy! And, in lesser stories, I sent a Christmas card with our new, sweet, blended family!

So now I wonder, what holds you back from sharing special moments with others? I’d love to hear in the comments below.

We Wassailed. Ish.

Did you know there are two ways to define wassail? Googling “wassail” here’s the first thing to pop up:

  1. drink plentiful amounts of alcohol and enjoy oneself with others in a noisy, lively way.”he feasted and wassailed with his warriors”synonyms:drink and make merry · go on a drinking bout · go on a binge · binge · [more]
  2. go from house to house at Christmas singing carols.

We wassail-ed #2. Probably some parents wished we had combined a little wassail #1 with it.

Though we lacked plentiful amounts of alcohol, still we walked our neighborhood, with a band of about 12 children, ranging in ages from 5 to 13, most wearing stuffed antlers, and Santa hats, singing loudly, and about half as many adults, whose job it was to yell ‘CAR!’ every 2 minutes or so.

Afterwards, we came back to our house, for food, and merriment.

Before this sounds too over-the-top Old Navy commercial, or 7.5 ways to have the Best Caroling Party Ever Pinterest pin-y, allow me to sprinkle a little holiday truth dust on the scene.

Our house is small. There are two functional bedrooms, and a little but ferocious dog was bundled into one of them.

The layout is straight 1950s with a tiny living room, adjacent to the awkward dining room, cut off from the kitchen, which is next to nothing. Seating space is limited, and the Christmas tree is engulfing half of the little living space.

There’s one functioning bathroom and it works beautifully. Just look away from that missing patch of 1980s wallpaper we stripped off to confirm the window did leak and there is now just a touch of black mold growing there.

Our kitchen is great except for lacking a dishwasher, and space for more than two people to stand in the heart of it at the same time.

Here’s the truth of our house. It’s dear, snug, and we’ve spent the last five years making it ours. It’s also a mess in it’s own right, always about 5 minutes away from being overrun by the wild outside or the wild inside.

There’s a lavender painted bedroom that makes Dorothy so happy. I’ve got my red living room and dining room, because I’ve lost the ability to live in a house without a rich red room. The yard is an awkward shape, but huge. Most importantly its smack dab in a neighborhood of people we love.

So we gave a party and kept it simple.

Chili and cornbread, a round of homemade sugar cookies, and a variety of fizzy water made up the menu.

A text sent, I don’t know 10 days?, prior rallied the party-goers.

As far as the caroling went, none of us knew what we were doing, except my terribly talented friend, Alana, who is a music therapist by trade, and literally strolled through the ‘hood with a guitar strapped to her body. She strummed all the Christmas songs we sang, and she did an excellent job of keeping all of us somewhere around the key we were aiming for.

So small house + good food + overly excited children in reindeer headgear + whacky dogs + singing = a pretty terrific time and a lovely memory.

We asked, people said yes, and we opened our doors. A party happened, and from between 4:30 to about 7:15pm last night our house held about 18 or 19 people, and 10 of them were under the legal driving age.

Have you thrown open your days lately and invited people inside?

If not, is something, besides severe introversion, stopping you?

I gave you my list

It turns out, I needed to get over myself. Folks didn’t want to judge the state of our bathroom; they wanted to eat simple food someone else made.

Our guests weren’t interested in our outdated kitchen or the lack of an open floorplan, but they were happy to eat a meal in peace because their kids were with other kids and not talking over them.

We all need hospitality, to be hospitable and to receive hospitality. To break cornbread together, and eat off holiday-themed paper plates, and to overdo it on sugar cookies and the cake someone brought to share.

Yes, the season is frantic and frenzied and brings out the bad words. I wrote about it here. And still, there are good things we can do.

Volatire wrote, we are all guilty of the good we did not do.

I mention this only to ask: is there some good you could do? In the true spirit of Christmas, considering that couple, so long ago, turned away at an the inn, and that baby to come who would change our world.

Don’t take this as terrible pressure. No one is expecting you to perform miracles.

However, could you invite someone to dinner? Invite someone to tea? Or accept the invitations coming at you, one or two of them? But only from the people you really like; we’re not canonizing any saints today.

And if you can make the space, make the space.

I won’t say it didn’t take work, because I’d rather not get struck by lightening. Except for the two hours we dedicated to church, it was a full day of party prep, party having, and party clean-up.

But once a year, I can make the space, and invite people in, instead of waiting for someone else to make it, or to avoid it altogether.

It turns out, we could have a caroling and chili party that sounds worthy of a Pinterest pin, without every being, or doing, or looking like people we’re not. It meant having a party on my terms instead of the internet’s terms.

It’s our home. You’re welcome at this inn. Please come in. Peace be with, y’all.

Self Five

Have you taken a moment to thank your Past Self today?

I worked with a woman who did. Searching through a set of files, she’d discover some random, but now useful, piece of design from previous years, and say, “Thank you, Past Loralyn, for saving that.”

Past Loralyn? Past Self? I loved this.

Flash forward a few weeks later. It’s 6:45am, and I’m searing a roast in a skillet. On the countertop there’s a floppy yellow cutting board, with a chunk of sliced onions, and diced garlic. I’m in my robe and the fact my freshly washed hair is going to stink of seared meat for the rest of the day makes me more than a little irritable.

Yet in that moment, I’m reminded of that little office, and that boss, and those words.

“Future You will thank you, Present Self,” I say out loud to only me, and sear on, before wrestling this honking piece of meat into a crock pot.

That night, I walk in the door, rowdy kid in tow, rowdy dog at the door, arms full of everything, and I smell that roast.

You know what? Past Me was right. Future Me, now Present Me, was so thankful. Present Me wanted to self-five Past Me.

It was a complicated, and gratifying Matrix-esque moment.

Wouldn’t it be lovely to give ourselves more of this credit?

Look at Past Me, paying that utility bill on time- well done, Past Me!

Check out Present Me, remembering to check kiddo’s got her ballet shoes before we pull out of the driveway for dance class. Crushing it.

Hello Future Me – get excited about this snack I remembered to pack for you, when dance class runs late, and you’re chomping at the bit for something to eat. Enjoy that, friend.

Most of us are carrying out these simple behaviors all day, every day, all the time, and we aren’t giving ourselves a word of notice or appreciation for them.

Because those simple behaviors, those every day actions, that’s the big stuff. It’s one after the other, mundane decisions adding up to one big life.

What would our inner monologue look like if we borrowed a page from Loralyn’s book and noticed when one of our Selves really got it right?

Because most of us know the flip side, don’t we?

Why was I so stupid? Why didn’t I set down my costly and ridiculously delicate iPhone before I tried to wrestle the dog’s leash onto her collar? Stupid, stupid.

What an idiot! Am I really getting onto the interstate, in rush hour traffic, thinking I’m gonna make that meeting on time?

I’m going to hate myself tomorrow for that second slice of everything I had at dinner tonight.

We can choose either response: praise those positive Past/Present/Future Me moments. Or beat that same girl into the ground in all tenses.

Thinking on this subject tonight, this piece of Scripture jumped out at me.

For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

John 1:16, ESV

Grace upon grace? Um, yes please.

Little catches, that’s all it takes. Those moments when I feel pushed, stressed, frazzled, at a hot skillet in my work clothes with meat-stinky hair moments? That’s the moment to remind myself, gifts will come from taking time now.

When I walk in the door that night, that’s when I remind myself: remember that Past You this morning, whipping up dinner before you even ate breakfast? Let’s give that girl a Self-Five.

Am I alone in needing these nudges of encouragement far more than I need those butt-kicks of condemnation?

Because God doesn’t seem to be shaking His big God head at us, smacking His Holy forehead in disbelief, and exclaiming, “What a moron! Doesn’t she know she’s gonna drop that iPhone? Has she not seen herself and this dog before?”

He’s not looking at those constant, throughout-the-day missteps, and judging us as a real dumpster-fire of a human being.

Instead He’s offering grace upon grace.

I mean, I don’t quite understand why, but since John wrote it, I believe it.

No take-backs, Lord.

So I’m hopeful, giving myself a little more self-directed good job and a little less you dum-dum talk could go a long way into making me less like me, and more like Him. With His grace upon grace.

All of my selves- Past Me, Present Me, Future, Me – we are so in on this plan.

Have you had any moments lately that could use some appreciation? A three cheers, a hip-hip-hooray? Please share in the comments below; I’d love to hear about it!

Do What You Can Do

Hey friend, because it’s that time of year when some of us catch a touch of the stiff-upper lip, I just wanted to check in – are there any ways you might be possibly breaking your own heart in the service or needs of others? Any chance this Christmas season might bring that out of you?

At church, I volunteered in the Babies’ Room during service. It took me a lot to volunteer in the children’s room in the first place, as you miss, almost, the whole service. However, some self-imposed semi-nonsense about helping, and contributing weighed on me, and after a few runs of volunteer schedules, I signed up for the babies, ages 0 to 2.

To be honest, I also hoped this volunteer role might fill a need in myself. Need I spell it out? The B-A-B-Y need. I had my one sweet daughter who was about 9 at this point, so not so small and not so willing to snuggle me for hours at a time, and also, at her dad’s house part of the time.

Maybe holding these big-cheeked babies, interacting with these bendy, chubby-kneed toddlers, might fill that place in me that didn’t get filled up with a pack of children of my own.

It didn’t. I rotated into this slot half a dozen times, and I just sort of made it through.

New Year’s Eve service ended it. That holiday season, Thanksgiving to New Year, burned with loneliness, and struggle for me. Holding all those babies only opened up the achy canyon in my heart.

After church that day, I had lunch at my dad’s house. Within a few minutes of talking about my time at church, I was sobbing.

Not crying.

Sobbing.

My father, who can handle a reasonable amount of ugly-cry said, with something close to alarm in his voice, “I don’t think you need to do that job anymore.”

My parents often give good advice, and often I don’t listen.

This time I did.

Those dang babies in the Babies room. They were the end of me.

I changed that role from Babies Room to Hallway Monitor. Now I check those kids in, I chit-chat with their parents, I give high-fives, I go home, and I don’t cry.

Do I hope to be in the Babies room again? Oh, you best believe it. I love babies. Even those angry babies are good (that’s how you know it’s been a minute since I had my own baby; I find those little bawlers AH-dorable).

But not right now.

I wish I could, but not right now. The strength, the will-power, the healing – whatever you might call it – I’m not there yet.

If there are pieces of your holiday season that might break your heart if you’re forced to partake, please let me look you in the eyes, pat your arm, and say, “Not this year. Just don’t this year.”

Because next year? This might be a totally different story. You’re almost sure to be in a somewhat different place, mentally and emotionally.

Yet if, right now, you’re smack dab in the hard, don’t do it.

That child you long for isn’t coming? Maybe skip that children’s choir performance.

That relationship ended? You know what, you do not have to go to that all-couples’ Christmas Eve dinner.

You’ve been forced to move and can’t stomach where you landed? I don’t think that holiday historic home tour, in that privileged neighborhood, with money just oozing out the restored, original windows, is right for you this year, friend.

If my saying, you don’t have to helps, then please: you don’t have to. Just not this year.

Because this is where you are right now. Maybe you were here last year. And it’s possible you could still be here next year.

However. We’ve got this Hope.

And I truly believe, where you are right now? You’re just visiting, not buying property.

At some point, that home tour, that couples’ dinner, those adorable kiddos sounding like a choir of mice by the end of Away in a Manager? You’ll be right there. In. It.

Yet this self torture we put ourselves in on our way to better – that serves no one. There are other ways to show up, and benefit the world besides that way that’s cracking you open.

I haven’t gone back to the Babies Room and it’s been a minute. However, have I held babies at church? YES. Have I taken it upon myself to make silly faces, and distract wee ones during those especially long communions? Guilty.

So hanging with those babies, especially those angry ones, again? It’s only a matter of time.

Tonight, I’m praying for those in that hard space, that you find good rest, nourishing things to eat, sweet people to hug, and all the time you need until you’re ready to try again. It’ll happen.

Until then, sometimes sitting it out is the most heroic action we can take right here, right now, right where we are.

The Cussing of Christmas

Christmas season – a time of twinkle lights, candy canes, presents, Christmas songs, and so much cussing.

Or is that just me?

On the off chance you too celebrate the season, and simultaneously feel overwhelmed by the demand, the noise, the expectations, and the almost-steroid-induced-like frenzy so many of us reach over shopping for the perfect present, this is a safe place.

Allow me to be a voice of encouragement – you’re not alone! If your fa-la-la-ing, and your “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays!”-ing all comes sprinkled with some salty monologuing, I see you. I hear you.

It’s the dang hardest time of the year.

The deeper the dive I do into being Christian, the milder my language. Get off your phone, you dummy! That BOZO is holding up the entire store! If that witch thinks she can dictate one more holiday rule to me… You get the gist. PG to PG-13, sure, but the feeling remains the same.

On my way to the grocery tonight, at 5:30pm, on Saturday, when I imagine most of God’s children are tucked up at home, in front of a NCAA televised sporting event, or at their favorite neighborhood chain restaurant, getting swindled into an appetizer and dessert they didn’t want in the first place because it’s “a deal,” I actually discovered everyone was out on the road.

Everyone and their mother.

Driving 15 minutes to the good Kroger, cars abounded. Cars at all the fast food eateries, cars at all the sit-down eateries, cars at the OK Food City, cars at Party City, cars at Advance Auto Parts, cars everywhere, all making sudden right-hand turns without using a blinker.

To my Savior and myself, I queried, “Lord Jesus, why are all these people out?”

I can only assume it’s Holy Spirit speaking when I remember, it’s Christmas. The people are moved to be amongst one another in the public places.

It is a terrible situation for those of us who just want to get our mixed nuts, and our fizzy water, and get home. to our house. away from them.

Stay hopeful, folks. This too will pass. The busy, the frenzy, the stress-eating. Yes, its where we live right now. But it is not forever.

Jim’s dog, Radar, a small, Jack Russell-Chihuahua kind of guy, loves being under blankets. This is something I’ve never experienced with a dog, preferring canines of the linebacker variety over the more diminutive lady gymnast stature of Radar. Previous dogs I’ve loved were too big for furniture, let alone blankets.

Radar’s proclivity for blankets and cuddles thrills Dorothy and me. Jim’s used to it. But we females throw up a blanket whenever we happen to be under one, and Radar happens to walk into a room. “Radar, come!” We call, patting the spot next to us voraciously, “Get under the blanket!” He springboards his squat, sausage-like physique into the place, and burrows under the blanket.

Radar prefers under the blanket: when it rains; when he’s been alone most of the day; when someone else is resting and he wants to rest too; and when he thinks our other dog is getting attention that belongs to him, and he is done with the indignity of it all.

Under the blanket is Radar’s safe place.

Should the lines be too long, the traffic too thick, the fifty-sixth version you’ve heard of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” too repetitive, I hope you will, Radar-style, find your own blanket to get under.

Maybe it’s a cup of hot tea.

Maybe it’s YouTube videos of dogs doing goofy tricks.

Maybe it’s your favorite person to snuggle on the sofa.

Maybe it’s a literal blanket, with a literal dog under it.

In my life, my tendency to “power through” or “grin and bear it” or “just keep going until Netflix doesn’t work and I almost throw something at the TV” rarely works. We need breaks, downtime, little rests.

Find your little rest, friends.

Take a pause, take five, and take a break.

A prayer, attributed to St. Francis of Assisi (that I came across on the internet, so that seems solid) sums up what I strive for during this time of wonder and overwhelm:

Lord, help me to live this day, quietly, easily;
to lean on your great strength, trustfully, respectfully;
to wait for the unfolding of your will, patiently, serenely;
to meet others, peacefully, joyfully;
to face tomorrow, confidently, courageously. Amen.

St. Francis of Assisi, Daily Prayers

And, if this fails, Lord, get us to our coziest blankets, Radar-style, and help us stay under them until these dummies get off the road and go back to their houses.

Second Amen.

Little Cracks, Big Openings

Around my later middle school years, I remember asking my mom about the date of Christmas Day.

Thanksgiving lay on the horizon, and, I expect in attempt to understand exactly when my vacations from school would transpire, I wanted to run through the general layout of holiday dates.

“So Thanksgiving is always on Thursday?” I prompted.

“Yes. Fourth Thursday of the month,” Mom replied, eyes fixed to what she was doing, loading a dishwasher or chopping something for dinner.

“And Christmas – that’s, like, the 23rd? Or 24th of December?”

She paused to look over at me. “It’s the 25th.”

“And it’s always the 25th? It doesn’t move around?”

My mother, who had backed away from God, Jesus, and any packaged religion you might offer sometime in her early 20’s and didn’t look back until she was in her 60’s, was still genuinely shocked. “Yes, it’s always the 25th.”

I love how this story points flashing, neon arrows at how little I knew of Jesus until these last few years of my life.

And now I’m a lady in my thirties, buckling down for my fifth Advent. Do you know who I think gets an even bigger kick out of this than me?

Jesus.

I like to believe this just delights Him no end.

Here’s how my first Advent played out.

There I was, right in the middle of a divorce, and life in major upheaval. Looking for a full-time job, looking after my kiddo, and our home, and our dog, with no clue of God, except as some heartwarming concept warming the hearts of other people. Not me.

That time still feels murky for me, but I remember so many days of feeling like all I wanted to do was go home, unzip the weird alien-skin that was functioning-in-the-world me, and climb into bed to hide.

I started attending an Anglican church near our home in late October, early November. I went alone at first, meaning without my daughter, afraid some crazy Christian would say something too Jesus-y and scare me off.

Advent started about 5 to 6 weeks after I began these church-forays.

I missed my first Advent.

Understand, I was present at every service.

But I missed Advent.

Perhaps I was vaguely aware of the change in songs or liturgy. Heck, I don’t even know what liturgy is at this point in time (to be fair, my comprehension, 4 years in, is average understanding at best).

We sang, we recited, we sang some more, we bowed, we repeated some more. There wasn’t much room in my brain for the subtlety of moving to a new Advent liturgy.

After 3 or 4 Sundays, I risked bringing my daughter with me. We attended the Christmas Eve service too. However, her father and I made arrangements for him to pick her up during the service, to spend a portion of the evening with him, before coming home to me.

Halfway through the service, I walked Dorothy outside. It was dark, and cold, a little windy, and rainy, your basic Christmas Eve in East Tennessee. After the exchange happened, I returned to my pew in the back, where I liked it. The church was dark, lit by candlelight.

Prior to communion, the priest makes the same announcement each time. “This is not our church’s table, this is not an Anglican table. If you’re a baptized Christian, please come up to receive communion. If you are not a baptized Christian, please come up anyway. We’d love to give you a blessing.”

Until this service, I stayed put.

It’s an awkward thing to do, especially with other folks in the row. They’d smile encouragingly, indicating it was my turn to head to the front. I’d smile back, kindly I hoped, and give a little wave with my hand, fingers pointed to the ground, as if to say, “no, no, you go on,” like this was some buffet I couldn’t bring myself to enjoy.

Which, I suppose, is exactly what it was.

Sending my kiddo off with her dad that evening, even for just a few hours, I felt the threat of where this new life led. Switching halfway through birthdays, Christmas days split in two, having her every Mother’s Day, not seeing her Father’s Day.

My mind couldn’t comprehend the full brokenness of it.

But my heart felt it.

It was one of the first deep, irreparable cracks this divorce would leave.

The candlelit church, the dark night outside, and my breaking heart conspired against me. They pulled me from my safe seat, right into line, right up to the priest.

That’s the first time I received a blessing.

I crossed my arms. He put his hand on my upper arm, the fleshy part, and gave it a little squeeze. I remember a part of the blessing involved him taping at my feet with his own. I’m embarrassed I can’t remember it now; I would receive the same tidings every Sunday for another year.

The sanctuary, the darkness, the candles, the singing.

The awareness of this messy world, broken by people.

The talk of hope, of a baby being born to save a world.

In that candlelit sanctuary, among people I didn’t yet know, all pouring their hearts and attention into God, among these old traditions of songs, and prayer, and liturgy, I felt safe.

I wasn’t saved, but I wasn’t alone either.

It was the first (but certainly not the last) time I cried at church. I have now become a long-time goer, constant-crier. But that night marked something new happening in my heart.

In Revelation, John (possibly my favorite disciple) shares words coming from Jesus to him in a vision.

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”

Revelation 3:20, ESV

Christmas Eve is the last night of Advent. I missed nearly all of my first Advent. I was so tired that first year of meeting a god, this God, the one I’d spent so much of my life missing.

But that’s the great mercy of God, I’m starting to see, the One who stands at the door, and knocks. It was never about us finding Him.

God’s always finding us.

Tonight, as we enter into this first week of Advent, here’s my prayer for you and yours: Lord, You are the God who listens, both to what’s said, and what’s left unsaid. You know, as we read every Sunday during Advent, the desires of our hearts. You know the aches, too, and the pains. And for us all, You’re making all things new. Please stay close to us, Lord, those of us looking and those of us who still don’t see. Please keep knocking and calling, God, until every one of Your children opens the door. Amen.