On Feasting and Thanksgiving


As we celebrate a season traditionally marked by harvest and abundance, and we gather around the table to feast, may I encourage you to look past the turkey and the stuffing? Past the pumpkin pie and the whipped cream and the way your waistband doesn’t expand as easily as your belly?

Look past the fullness of the table and see, perhaps for the first time, the abundance of people sitting in the chairs pulled up to it. See the feast of family or friends set before you, whether there are two or twenty pairs of eyes returning your gaze.

Allow the feast of memories you’ve gathered throughout the years join you in celebration. Above all, remember. Remember the fruit of your hard work, your persistence, your love. Remember when the hands and hearts around the table carried you. How they held your grief or your joy with equal willingness.

Take notice, with clear eyes, the feast of this year. Of days stacked upon days in which God proved Himself present and faithful. Do not wait for gratitude to arrive, but seek it. Stir it up. Let it take residence in your soul.

Remember the feasts of the past. Enjoy the feast of the present. Open it like a gift. Hold onto hope for the coming feast, the celebration in which all things–you, me, and the heaving, heartbroken world–will be made new.

This year, may you feast on it all. May you find yourself nourished: body, soul, and spirit. May your table be filled with the extravagance of gratitude and hope. And may you be wise enough to recognize it when it comes in imperfect and awkwardly  wrapped packages.

How to carry the weight of the world


The world weighs heavy on you. You turn from page to page, you scroll past outrage, you watch images that flicker like a film strip behind your eyes when you close them at night. You want to turn away, hide your face from the latest stories because they make a fool of your tears. Tears solve nothing, but they water the seeds of compassion in your spirit. You must let the tears do their inner work because it is a holy one.

You want to wring your hands, as your heart twists into pretzel shapes inside your chest. You want to heave the weight of the world off your shoulders because you realize this yoke is too heavy to bear. This is not the light burden, the easy yoke we were promised. It is the full weight of evil unleashed on an unsuspecting world, and you, you are caught between tears and hand-wringing. Fear and apathy.

Here is how you carry the weight of the world. You lay it down. You water it with your tears. You pray for Shalom. You offer what little you have to give–whether it is time on your knees, money for a cause, beauty for brokenness, words for the weary, or unity in sorrow. You offer Jesus, the one who picks up the burden as you lay it down. You pick up these words instead.

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26

What Hollywood Taught Me About Real Life


We sat in the rented min-van hurtling through the Hollywood Hills, the two youngest on probation in the back seat, the oldest in the middle pretending she couldn’t hear any of us, the mother-in-law with nerves of steel next to her. He and I sat in the front, not speaking. Oh, we’d been speaking. We spoke through gritted teeth with words that cleverly hid everything unspoken behind them. We spoke with a false politeness that raised itself into something akin to yelling. Then we stopped speaking altogether because everything we wanted to say could not be said with other ears listening. My mother-in-law, she with the endless stream of words and the patience of a real-life saint, said absolutely nothing. I couldn’t tell if she was appalled or enjoying the show that was our family–hungry, disobedient, frustrated, turned around in a new city.

Before the Hollywood Hills, we had a great morning touring a television/movie studio. We walked under hundreds of lights and cameras on Conan’s sound stage, and sat on the sofa at Central Perk, and took photos of almost every single item of Harry Potter memorabilia. We all sat under the (real!) sorting hat. I am in Slytherin. This did not bode well for the rest of our journey. My daughter told me during the tour that she wants to be an actress. I prayed, please Jesus, no. Then I contemplated becoming an actress myself for a brief moment because I like to bring all the drama. If you knew me in real life, you would not believe this unless you put a ring on my finger or happen to be my sister.

Later, Hollywood had it’s way with us. We parked and walked around and my kids realized immediately that the glitz and glamour are an illusion. Something I knew already, but with the kids fighting incessantly behind me and the husband refusing to feed us lunch until we squeezed in ‘one more’ landmark, and the half-naked girls dressed like hookers/policemen (a bizarre combination if ever there was one) shaking their boobs at my son, and the sad desperation of artists lining the streets trying to shove their music or art or street performance at anyone who made eye contact–the curtain pulled back a little farther to expose the little man playing at a big one.

Once we escaped Hollywood itself, and drove through hills and hills of mansions, I couldn’t help but think of all the lost souls looking for work in that town. All the artists working as waiters, all the women afraid of aging, all the “aspirings” hoping for a big break and forgetting to live the life they have in the process. I am an artist (on my good/delusional days), I am an aspiring, but my life is so full. Full of people who love me in spite of my drama and my tendency to become hangry. Full of work and words. Full of life and love and anger and frustration and joy and hope. I fear that I will miss out on what I have sitting in the mini-van rental for the want of everything outside of it. The illusion of success. The mansion in the hills. The creative expression. It is a desire to be known, to be bigger than I really am, to be admired, to be talented, to be wanted. But, I already am all of these things to the people fighting in the seat behind me, and sitting silent in the seat beside me.

We ended the night laughing over a meal together at the Cheesecake Factory, but only after slamming car doors and real yelling and some people losing their electronic privileges. Most days this is the art I am making–no illusions, no hair and makeup, no fawning fans. Real life–I’m pulling back the curtain.

When the Holy and the Human Meet in the Everyday

DSC_7524Years ago, when we traveled through Israel, we spent a day driving from Jerusalem to Galilee. As we drove, we followed the path of the Jordan River for some time as it snaked its way through the desert. Somewhere along the bank, in the middle of the desert sits a designated area set up for baptism, presumably it’s the place where John baptized followers with water.

We asked the kids if they wanted to be baptized that day, and the older two agreed they wanted their Dad to dip them in the murky water. We’d discussed it for weeks beforehand, leaving the decision entirely up to them. We pulled into the parking area, surrounded by sand and empty watchtowers. The kids slipped on white robes over their swimsuits and walked down the bank of the Jordan, while I stood with our youngest trying to record the scene with my phone. I wanted to be in the moment and I wanted to record the moment, which made for two opposing desires pushing and pulling me in different directions.

The heat radiated from the desert floor, but I could see them shivering as soon as they entered the water. They shook in white robes surrounded by brown water while the sun pressed down. Reeds grew up around the banks, and ropes with netting cordoned off the baptismal area. I wondered what hid behind the thick grass rising up on either side, what secrets the water held, and how many people rose from the water a new creation.

Across from my children, on the opposite bank, a few men banged hammers at wood slats on a small pier. In the middle of the pier, sat a soldier with an assault rifle strapped across his chest. He sat a few feet away in Jordan, casting a lazy stare across the bank to Israel and the white-robed worshipers. While we experienced one of the most profound and holy experiences of our family’s life, a few feet away the world broke in with hammers banging against the hum of hymns sung by pilgrims.

We speak a lot of God breaking into the world, small pockets of mystery, or moments where we sense His presence breaking through from the other side. But I do wonder if God looks at His vision, the future He is continually creating, and sees where we, the world, continually try to break through to Him. We try to break through the veil of the holy with our jealousies and petty differences and man-made heartbreaks. We try to break through, rather than dwell in it because we don’t know any better. We don’t know how to be more than human. His is the place where I want to dwell, where I want to spend myself. Not trying to break through with my own version of the world, but trying to fully inhabit his. I want to be fully in the moment without forgetting that I am dust and breath.

It is a hard thing to straddle these two worlds of the holy and the human. It is a hard thing, but not impossible. As we drove away from the Jordan river with full hearts, and the kids sat with wet hair dripping in the back seat, my husband asked, “Do we have everybody?” He ran through the checklist of names, and when he said my son’s name, my son replied, “He’s not here anymore, Dad.” Children instinctively know what we adults struggle to put words to–my son left the old behind in the reeds and mud of the Jordan, he rose from the water, dripping, like new. He broke through.

Why Making Time For Family Matters


My brother lives in the country, in an old farmhouse built in 1833. Original, wide-plank wood floors run throughout the house, and the kitchen displays a fireplace I can stand up inside at my full height. At 5’2″, that’s not a huge accomplishment, but it gives you some idea of the scale. Every window in his home offers a view worth capturing–old, paint-chipped barns, stone outhouses, tree-lined country lanes, and corn fields for acres and acres. I have a serious case of old-house envy.

When my sister-in-law gave us a tour of the house, she saved the best for last. We click-clacked up the attic steps, and after warning us that a snake lived up there (Help me Jesus, she wasn’t kidding. A snake skin lay swept into a pile of dust in the corner. This was not the best part), she shut the attic door behind us. While my husband looked for something with which to mimic a snake and frighten me, and I looked for another exit, she pointed to the back of the closed door. Scripted in three shades of paint, and then in black sharpie, were the names and dates of the various people who had a hand in painting the farmhouse over the years. Nicholas Peters 1834. W. Boyd 1886. GWB 1905. Then a gap of 99 years before a long list of modern names written in sharpie. My brother and sister-in-law will add their own names to the back of the door soon. Perhaps another family will add their own signatures, nine or 99 years later.

We gathered at my brother’s–all eight adults and ten kids of us–to celebrate my mom’s 65th birthday. There was pizza and a pink cake and little ones running around with soaked pant legs from creek wading. We didn’t have piles of gifts or scrap books of memories to share. We didn’t even sit around and say nice things about my mother (which in hindsight, sounds a bit anticlimactic). Instead, we sat around and ate together and shared ticking minutes, which stretched into autumn hours. I think it was everything my mother ever wanted.

Spending time together as a family reminded me of all the names painted across my life. All the people who made a difference, who made me who I am. They leave a signature behind, and sometimes they leave a soft imprint and sometimes they leave scars too, but their names have significance and a lasting effect on the life I’m building.

My mom wrote her name across my life before anyone else. CLH 1975. Carefully crafted in permanent ink, she wrote across the foundation, making beautiful the rooms she tended, molding me into something a little more like her, a little more lovely for her having been there.