Friday, December 31, 2010


1. an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary

In a year replete with change, I have spent some time thinking about the difference between external change and internal change.  And how much harder it is to experience, embrace and embody the latter.

It's far easier to paint a room than remember to take a breath before speaking when angry.  Renovating a kitchen is a piece of cake compared to learning when to speak and when to stay silent.  Even learning to home school is easier than keeping myself from having the same old emotional response, regardless of how appropriate it is to the situation.

My friend calls this your "problem emotion."  (I have no idea whether that's a technical term, but I learned it from my friend K, so I'm giving her the credit.)  Your problem emotion is the way you react when upset, regardless of whether the situation calls for that reaction.  You can identify your problem emotion by thinking about a stressful situation beyond your control and imagining what emotion you'd feel in that moment.  For example, if your daughter were to dump a bowl of soup on a guest at your Christmas Open House, how might you react?  Anger at your daughter for the mess, the mistake?  Fear that your daughter or guest might be hurt?

Pick your circumstance, your hypothetical situation, your scenario of choice, here's what I would feel: shame.  A good bit of counseling has helped me realize that shame is my problem emotion.  In fact, it is the emotion I feel most easily and most often.  And while shame has a place in the pantheon of our feelings, the kind of shame I feel is not shame for something I've done, but shame for who I am.  The two are vastly different.

I've begun to recognize shame when it rears its ugly head, especially when it is an inappropriate response to the situation.  When I received A's TCAP scores a few months ago and found she had dropped from advanced to proficient in both math and science, it was a prime opportunity for a good spiral of shame.  But I reminded myself that A's scores had nothing to do with me - they weren't a reflection of my parenting skills, of my teaching skills, of anything about me.

I'm getting better at avoiding feeling shame for nothing I've done, but I was reminded today that knowing what I should do and doing it are two different things.  Sometimes, it is simply not enough to know what I should do.  Sometimes, my habit of shaming myself takes over and my response is involuntary.  Even being aware of it, I spiral into shame and rational thoughts are not quite enough to pull me out of it.

I wrote most of this post last night and then found myself too tired to articulate a cohesive finish.  So I woke this morning thinking about habits, about the role they have in our lives and what good things they bring us.  A few years ago I would have unreservedly described myself as a creature of habit.  I've always been thankful when fall rolls around and school starts back and that is due in part to the rhythm that the habit of school imposes on our lives.  But of late I have noticed that I am equally thankful for school breaks to arrive.  I love the freedom of unstructured time, the opportunity to simply see where the day takes us and the chance to make the day what we want it to be.  And I have found in home schooling that one of my favorite things is the freedom from imposed structure.

I'm not sure whether these recent discoveries mean that I am less of a creature of habit than I used to be or whether I am simply finding the right role for habit in my life.  I do know that I want habit to have its proper place in my life.  This year of change has not been about throwing out everything and starting all over.  Instead, it's been about leaving circumstances, places and habits behind that no longer serve me well.  Many of these changes have been bittersweet, but I have felt in each step that the changes have been akin to the ones a caterpillar undergoes.  So in a year filled with change both voluntary and involuntary, I find myself facing a new year with a reminder that old habits are indeed hard to break, but there's always a period of adjustment when emerging from the chrysalis.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


1. of, pertaining to, or situated at the limen (threshold)

If ever there was a time of year that feels liminal, it is now.  The short days between Christmas and the New Year are neither here nor there.  We stand at the threshold of a new year.  Some of us may be ready to leave behind the year and dash into a new one.  Others may feel themselves standing in the doorway of 2011 looking back at all that 2010 held.  I find myself feeling a bit of both.

This Advent was one of the best ever for my family.  We had fun together.  My girls seem to understand the meaning of Christmas better with each passing year.  I loved hearing from them what their favorite traditions are and it was pure joy to watch them use the utmost care in selecting gifts for each other.  But newest - and best - of all, it was relaxing.  I feel ready for a new calendar year after ending my year with Advent.

This is due in part to the things we didn't do this Christmas, but it is also simply a gift.  It's a gift to feel rested heading into a new year that brings a birthday just five days into the year.  It's a gift to feel refreshed and ready to resume homeschooling as we await lottery results January 8th.  It's a gift to breathe deeply and sleep soundly and live in the moment.

But even as I've lived in the moment in a way that is right and good, I feel the need to look back, however briefly on 2010.  It's been a year of great change for us.  Our annual Thanksgiving letter featured a set of doors created by B.  She made them out of paper, decorated them with trees and snipped tiny paper curtains to adorn the windows.  They were lovely.  And I simply had to share them with others.  So I trimmed them and copied them onto paper, then labeled them the Doors of Thanksgiving.  Upon these doors, we wrote the things we were thankful for in 2010.  And above the doors, I wrote:

Doors are a good 2010 symbol for our family. We opened new doors and closed old ones. We lost some doors (during the long awaited renovation of our kitchen) and hung new ones (adding a bedroom for Bekah at the back of the house). In early 2010, Shannon dubbed 2010 the year of change. Little did we know how much change would come. We traded in a set of bright red school doors for the door to our home: This time last year, all three of our daughters were enrolled at the same sweet elementary school. Now, 10 year old Anna is home schooled, while 9 year old Bekah and 6 year old Kate walk through the bright red doors of Lockeland every morning for fourth grade and first grade. Who knows what next year may bring?

School wasn’t the only front that brought change. We also went from walking through the glass doors of West End Community Church weekly to entering wooden ones, behind which lies the quiet of St. Bartholomew’s. We traded the doors of an old red van for the doors of a silver one, much to the dismay of our girls. We’ve visited old doors – gracing the thresholds of family and friends – and have welcomed friends new and old through the front door of our home. Through each and every door, we hope we’ve journeyed closer to becoming who God made us to be. It is only the faith that this is true that enables us to keep opening doors to unknown places. We hope 2010 has brought your family blessings as varied as those we’ve experienced and that 2011 opens the doors to bountiful blessings.
 I think it's good to look back, especially on a year that brought more change than I could ever have imagined 360 days ago.  I wouldn't undo any of the changes we've experienced this year.  As I prepped, cleaned and cooked in preparation for an open house on Sunday, I was more thankful than ever for our new kitchen.  The more I use it, the more I like it.  Its functionality is nearly stunning when I think about our previous space.  And while my surgery this past January was a change I didn't see coming, I learned from it and am thankful to have a leg that will straighten completely.

But looking back also makes me turn around and look forward.  Because I wonder what 2011 will bring.  What will come when we cross the threshold and leave the year of change?  A year of stability?  That's nearly laughable.  A year of more change?  Likely, but hopefully not on the scale of 2010.

For a few more days, I'll just enjoy the liminality of this season.  I'll straddle the year ending and the year beginning and try to simply rest in the peace that Advent brought and Epiphany reinforces.

Saturday, December 25, 2010


: one who discovers the existence of

This has been a Christmas season of finding our own way.  Of seeking to let go of the things that didn't fit or wouldn't work and clinging to the best this season has to offer for our family.  Today offered bountiful blessings: excited gift givers, delighted receivers, a white Christmas (my first!), lunch with family, time to ride new bikes on our quiet street, a snowball fight followed by hot chocolate to end the day.  All in all, a Christmas worth celebrating, even if it wasn't steeped in tradition.

Last year I started a tradition that I chose to continue this year: as my final gift to my daughters, I sit with each of them and give them a gift of words.  I sometimes feel like I am a detective: looking here and there for glimpses of who my daughters really are.  I don't think their actions define who they are any more than my actions define who I am, so how to figure out exactly who these wondrous beings are?  Just keep looking.  And, like any good detective, keep notes of your findings.

So I spent a bit of time telling my daughters that I know they are complex and awesome, but that I spent a bit of time and made a list of words that describe them as they are right now.  We agreed that these things may change and that my words do not define them - they get the pleasure of defining themselves.  Nevertheless, I want them to know how I see them.

Here were their lists (with one word for each year of age):

Loyal Friend

Risk Taker


My words to describe them have changed a lot in just one year.  But this has been a year that has brought plentiful, beautiful, painful, heartening and sad change, so who would expect them to do anything other than change, grow and discover more of who they are.

With treats for Santa

Thursday, December 23, 2010


1. lacking, absent, or not found

I've tried to take a different approach to this Christmas season than I have in the past.  I made the conscious decision to let my daughters' preferences lead me in what traditions matter to them, instead of trying to replicate all of the traditions that I've always loved.  This has meant that some things have gone missing this year:

Gingerbread House:  We didn't decorate a gingerbread house.  Not even the kind from a kit.  We are baking gingerbread cookies tomorrow for our open house on the 26th, but only because K very much wants them.  None of the girls have expressed remorse over not assembling and decorating a house of our own.

Cookie Party:  For the first time in seven years, we did not have or attend a cookie decorating party.  When A was in preschool, a friend invited her over for a cookie decorating party.  We loved it so much that we've done it every year... until now.  I had fully intended to continue this tradition, but the timing simply didn't work out.  The day I had picked for the party (the first full day of Christmas Break), A had the opportunity to dance.  A loves any opportunity to perform and this month has been completely free of performances since she isn't in The Nutcracker.  So I agreed to let her dance and realized later that a commitment to dance at noon on the other side of town pretty much eliminated the opportunity to have a cookie party.

Birthday Party: K has desperately been wanting to have a party since our kitchen was finished late this summer.  I have been her roadblock since it took me months to get the dining room painted.  It had seemed the perfect occasion for the party would be my birthday.  We often use my mid-December birthday as an excuse for a party.  At my request, we started this six years ago and have been on roughly a bi-annual schedule.  It actually worked out that the birthday party didn't happen this year, since I'll be 39 next year - a number that merits a celebration, don't you think?

Pecan Tassies:  Even without a cookie party, I've been baking.  I hope to finish up tomorrow, but we've already made Surprise Teacakes, Sugar Cookies, Lemon Whippersnappers and Peanut Brittle.  With the exception of the sugar cookies, these are all cookies I baked with my grandmother, starting when I was around 13.  But she always, always made Pecan Tassies for Christmas.  For those of you who (sadly) have not sampled these lovely treats, they are akin to miniature pecan pies with a cream cheese crust.  They are wonderful.  But they are also a lot of work.  So I skipped them this year.  Thus far, no one has noticed.

Along with these intentional omissions, there have been a few less intentional ones.  We've yet to make it through an Advent season where we read the Advent devotion as a family daily.  This year was no exception.  We didn't even manage to light the Advent Wreath together each Sunday (which seemed like a fairly low expectation a few weeks ago).  In the past, the girls have made homemade decorations - snowflakes, paper chains, etc. - to adorn the home.  This year they introduced some friends to German Bells, but they haven't asked to do others this year, so it hasn't happened.  

These absent events have had multiple effects.  They've allowed room for more quiet - both internal and external.  They've made space for us to determine as a family what Christmas should look like.  That is something that is still evolving, but this year has made me more determined than ever to make sure my daughters have a voice in what aspects of celebrating Christmas mean the most to them.  I loved having gumbo on Christmas Eve for the first twenty years of my life and I'd like to make sure the things they love are the things we don't change.  And some of the things that have been missing from our Christmas created room for unexpected blessings.

While we didn't decorate a gingerbread house, some family friends dropped by one day with this for us:

Would you feel compelled to make your own gingerbread house after receiving this delight as a gift?

Not pushing to squeeze in a cookie party when my original date fell through gave us the gift of time this week.  Monday was a bit warmer, so we went for a walk on the greenway, where my girls found a partially frozen creek that merited exploration.  I think I'd rather have these memories than some beautifully decorated cookies:

Choosing to forgo the birthday party allowed us to have an open house on the 26th.  A post-Christmas party has turned out to be a true delight.  We've loved planning for it and having it to look forward to and it feels like a gift to be able to open our home to friends on a day that might otherwise go without celebration.

There are so many lessons packed into my experience of this season that I'm not sure I can unpack all of them.  So I'll choose one:  I am learning - ever so slowly - how beautiful it is to give up the illusion of control.  Even if I worked non-stop and had a perfectly clean home filled with the scent of fresh baked cookies, I could never craft the perfect Christmas season for my family.  I have to leave that up to God.  And by not trying so hard, I feel like this has been one of our best Christmases ever.  We've had time to actually enjoy each other.  We aren't rushing around.  We're lounging around.  We prayed together tonight as a family - far past bedtime after watching a movie together.  And we prayed to prepare our hearts for the next two days.  Because that's the preparation that really matters - not getting the dishes done and the soups made and the bathrooms clean.  Getting our hearts clean and clear and ready to receive.  

I am so thankful for the things that have gone missing from this year's Advent.  And for what these missing things have taught me in their absence.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


1. Santa Claus: a benevolent figure of legend, associated with Saint Nicholas, supposed to bring gifts to children on Christmas Eve

Do your children believe in Santa Claus?  For that matter, do you?  Today has been a nearly idyllic Christmas Break day.  The girls and I baked two batches of sugar cookies, decorated cookies, watched London's Royal Ballet's Nutcracker production and went to the library.  It was after 2 pm before I went upstairs to dress for the day.  Yes, I stayed in my pajamas nearly all day.  To be quite honest, I would have stayed in them ALL day if not for the need to return DVDs to the library.

As I soaked in a warm bath this afternoon, I was thinking about the magic in our day and in the season.  Maybe baking cookies doesn't sound magical to you, but it felt magical.  K & B helped roll dough, cut cookies and decorate them.  In classic B fashion, she came up with new and inventive shapes for the cookies that went far beyond the cookie cutters available.  A day with few sibling altercations and cookie making to boot is a success in my book.  And it's all the more amazing to have a peaceful day like this in the midst of Christmas craziness, when kids are hyper, but it's too cold to play outside or they are feeling the pent up anticipation of the season, but have a few more days to wait.  So as we wait, we plan.

K is so excited about Santa coming, she can hardly stand it.  She has the perfect trio of cookies planned for his Christmas Eve consumption and she has decided to solve the familial debate of whether the big guy prefers Coke or Pepsi by leaving one of each.  Yesterday, as the four of us were walking in to Target, a man in tan coveralls with a striking white beard said, "Ho, Ho, Ho!" as he passed us.  B whispered in my ear, "I think he's the real Santa.  He just has on different clothes."  A & B are 10 and 9 this year, so it's hard to believe they aren't on to the whole Santa thing.  But if they're on to it, they aren't saying so.  Instead, they are encouraging K's excitement and hanging on to a bit of their own.  They never come right out and ask me whether Santa is real.  And if they did ask, I wouldn't answer in the negative.

I know a lot of families, especially those from evangelical Christian backgrounds, don't encourage or allow their children to believe in Santa Claus.  And while I can understand the desire to shift the focus of Christmas away from Santa to Christ, I frankly think Santa Claus is the least of our problems in getting our children to understand Christmas as something other than the over-commercialized excuse for excessive consumption that it has become.  Santa does, in fact, bring something very important to the experience of Christmas: mystery.

As a culture, we're not big fans of mystery.  We want the answers to all of our questions and we want them now.  Some turn to science for the answers, others to the Bible.  I think both solutions are likely to land you slightly off course.  Because I think this life is supposed to contain mystery and the Bible isn't meant to be a life manual, but a tuning fork for our hearts.  There are things we will never understand - some horrific, some wonderful, some beautiful.  And this is how it should be.  That's why it's called faith, after all.

Advent itself is filled with mystery.  Not just the mystery of Christ's birth, but the unfathomable things promised upon his return: my mind can barely comprehend the promises of peace, the absence of pain and suffering.  But I long for these things.  And I long to see the mystery of those promises become reality.

Do I think allowing my children to believe in Santa Claus quickens the coming of God's kingdom?  No.  But I do think it encourages them to believe.  It encourages them to keep their minds and hearts open to the mysterious workings of the Lord that are beyond the realm of our comprehension.  I don't want them to ever think they have God all figured out.  Because that would mean they have made him far too small and themselves far too big.

I'm sure my feelings about this are shaped by my family.  If you ask my mother whether Santa Claus is real, she would tell you, "Santa Claus is the spirit of giving and as long as you believe in giving to others, Santa exists."  (Her children are 38 and 35, so if that's her answer now, you can bet it's always going to be her answer.)  A friend was telling me not long ago that she and her husband didn't do Santa with her first two children.  But when her two younger children were born, her older children asked her to please let them believe in Santa.  I love this story because for me it shows the desire of a child's heart to see the mystery and magic of Christmas.  Because who can ever fully understand Christmas?  Who can really comprehend a Father loving sinful mankind enough to send his Son to this painful world to die a painful death?  Who can comprehend the Son's willingness to come?  If that's not mystery, I don't know what is.  

And while Santa Claus isn't a direct descendant of the original Christmas story, in our family he has a part to play.  As long as Santa keeps my children joyfully focused on the mysteries of the season, he is welcome in my home.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


2 a : something that lends grace or beauty

K hanging an ornament on our tree

Sometimes I'm not sure who learns more from my mother/daughter relationships: me or my daughters.  I learn so much from them.  And they are often the lessons that I need the most.

Friday night, B and K spent some time crafting.  B made a three dimensional Christmas tree and a snow globe that was snowing on one side and had a hand gripping it on the other side.  K made only one thing: a Christmas tree adorned with every color of glitter glue available.  And she made it with one intent: to give it to our rector, Father J.  As she piled on the glitter, as she crafted a pipe cleaner star for the top of the tree, as she waited for the glue to dry, K talked about giving the ornament to Father J.

K patiently let her ornament dry overnight on Friday.  She even ate breakfast before asking if we could please take the ornament to Father J.  While nearly every part of me wanted to tell her to wait until today at church to give it to him, I knew it would be a long wait for her.  We didn't go to our regular church this morning because B was singing at another service, so if I had made K wait, she would have had to wait until this evening's family concert.

Let me make this perfectly clear: I am not the kind of person who shows up unexpectedly at people's doors to chat, say hi... or deliver something.  But K is exactly that kind of person.  She thinks that people are the most important thing in the world.  So I swallowed my hesitancy and drove K to Father J's house (which is in our neighborhood).  He was at the hardware store, but his wife graciously accepted K's ornament and put it on the tree.  K was satisfied and I survived stepping outside of my comfort zone.

K is similarly anxious for me to get to know our new next door neighbors.  This isn't an easy task in the dead of winter.  As I mentioned, I'm not a knock on your door kind of girl.  So I have a plan: we will bake cookies and deliver them together.

It's not that I don't like people.  I don't want to give you the impression that I'm a recluse.  But I do tend to feel awkward around strangers.  My solution?  To not talk to them.  This technique serves me well.  I stay safe in my comfort zone.  Do I miss opportunities to connect with people? Yes.  Do I miss opportunities to encourage others?  Probably.  Is this wrong of me?  Not exactly.  But I do think I choose my own comfort over people.  I choose to avoid interactions that make me uncomfortable because I am thinking about me.  I'm not thinking about whether the other person might want a kind word, a simple question or a response other than a smile from me.  I am thinking about me.

K, on the other hand, thinks about other people.  She notices them.  She reaches out to them.  Her world centers on relationship.  It would never occur to her to wonder whether Father J would want her ornament.  She was thinking of him and wanted to make something for him.  So she did.  For her, it was that simple.  I can learn so much from K's approach to people.  Instead of seeing them as something to flinch from, could I actually learn to see people and interactions with others as great blessings?  Could I learn to see people as ornaments of life that lend grace and beauty, rather than roadblocks to be dodged?

I think we each have our own personal hindrances to encountering God fully.  For me, my tendency to choose intellectualism over relationship is the barrier.  I have to work to remind myself that God doesn't just want me to know about him.  He wants me to know him.  If I had to guess, I would imagine K will never have this barrier.  Will she face her own struggles and need to grow in other areas?  Absolutely.  So I hope God is gracious enough to give her a daughter who teaches her some of the lessons she needs to learn.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


: the color of our dining room walls during our first eight years in this home

I finished painting our dining room today.  It was the last step in our kitchen renovation.  OK, so it wasn't directly related to our kitchen remodel.  But when we knocked out the wall between our kitchen and dining room, I found I didn't like the brick red of the dining room against the calm blue of the kitchen.  It just looked too nautical to me.  So I decided to paint it.  I picked a nice chocolate brown that would look great with the granite on the pass through between the rooms.  And I got it about halfway finished.  Until today. 

Today was the last half day of school before Christmas Break.  I had initially talked B & K into skipping today.  Their parties were both scheduled for Wednesday and I thought a half day sounded like a great excuse to sleep in, make pancakes and stay in our pajamas.  Until it snowed.  And school was canceled Monday.  Then school was canceled Tuesday.  Suddenly, I was left with almost no time without children to get the dining room painted.  I hadn't had a definitive plan, but I thought I could carve out time Monday afternoon or Wednesday afternoon after finishing school with A to get it painted.  So while I loved our snow days - complete with pancakes and PJs - I was a little worried about exactly when I was going to finish the dining room.

Why the rush all of the sudden, you might ask.  After all, the room has been halfway painted for weeks (months?) and it doesn't really bother anyone in our immediate family to have it incomplete.  Ahh, yes.  That's the problem.  On December 26th, we're having a post-Christmas open house.  This is my concession to K, who has been desperately wanting a party since the last screw was in place in the kitchen.  And I've been putting her off because I hadn't finished the dining room.  So I set a deadline by sending out invitations to a party.  I knew this would mean I would have to get the room painted.

Now the room is painted and I'll confess that what I felt as I put on the last strokes of chocolate brown over brick red was... sadness.  Not satisfaction.  Not relief.  Sadness.

The brick red that is now gone was the first color I painted in this house.  When we bought this house, I pictured that room red and decided to paint it before we even moved in.  Had I known it would take three coats of paint to get the deep, rich red I wanted, I might not have been so determined to do it pre-move.  But I didn't know how hard it would be to turn tan, boring colored walls into luscious red ones.

The transition from red to brown was much easier.  In most places, only one coat was needed.  But I felt like I was covering over dreams I had for this house, for our lives in this house, as I painted over the red.  Even more important, I felt like I was changing the one constant for what our life has been in this house.  J and I rearrange furniture with regularity.  We can't stand to leave our living room looking the same for more than twelve to eighteen months.  It's just who we are.  Our kitchen looks radically different than it did when we moved in and I've painted nearly every room at least once during our time in this home.  The only one that's always been the same was the dining room.  I felt like I was changing the heart of our house by rolling that last bit of brown onto the wall.

When I told J I was sad about finishing the paint job, he (predictably) said, "But you were the one that wanted to change it.  You wanted it chocolate brown."  And I did want it.  It looks nice.  The white trim looks great against the chocolate, it blends with the living room color and makes it feel like we actually have a color palette for our home instead of a color wheel. And let's be honest: if you're going to paint your dining room the color of a food, isn't chocolate the food you would choose?

My sadness clearly isn't about the actual color of our dining room.  It's December 16th, which makes us 350 days into a year that has brought unprecedented change to our lives.  For the most part, I am thankful and a little awed at the change we have willingly walked through this year.  It's this thankfulness and my belief that we are on the right path that has helped keep sadness at bay.  Until that last stretch of changing a dining room from red to brown.

I have recently been praying for someone who is walking through nearly unimaginable sadness.  And I found a prayer in the Celtic Book of Prayer on grief.  The prayer says, in part, not to rush through grief because rushing does not help the journey.

So I write this post not because I am likely to forget that our dining room was once a lovely brick red, but to allow my heart a bit more space to grieve.  I know that the memories we have made and will make in our home have nothing to do with the color of our walls.  I know that change has been good for our family.  But the old had good, too.  And it's not wrong to stop and grieve the good (red) in an attempt to move towards the better (chocolate).

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


1. liberal in giving or sharing; unselfish

Today was snow day #2.  Snow day #1 started at 6:40 AM when J climbed out of bed and turned on the TV in the next room to check the condition of the roads.  I grumbled to myself, still more than half-asleep, "Why couldn't he check the weather on his phone?"   Today got off to a better - and later start.  Near 8:00, K came clomping up the stairs.  I opened my eyes to find her fully dressed, with mittens and coat on and a bag in her hand.

"Mom? Can you zip me up? I want to go to L's house and give him this gift."
"Honey, what's in the bag?  It's a little early to go to L's house."
"Oh!  It's a gift that will make it easy for L to play with his little brother."

The contents of the bag were a somewhat broken music box.  I convinced K not to head out pre-breakfast to give her friend a hand-me-down gift, but her point was this: I want to give L a gift.  So I explained to K that I would take her to the store later in the day to pick out a gift for him.  She did not forget.

Hours later, we were back from a trip to the downtown library.  A trip that revived our weary, cooped up souls with much needed time away from home and wonderful books to read.  We had barely finished our post-library lunch when K said, "Can we go buy the present now?"  Laundry beckoned, so I mumbled yet another excuse to this six year old whose heart was bursting to give, give, give.

My excuse did not dampen her enthusiasm.  I later found her climbing on the step stool to reach her birthday money, which she wanted to use to buy L's gift.  Seeing that, I set aside all the chores awaiting me and put on my coat.

A trip to the store energized K.  She picked a stocking, then candy to fill it, choosing items that L could share with his family.  As I type this post, K is finishing up a pre-dinner snack so that we can walk down the street and deliver the stocking.  She wants to wait while L looks through it and sees the treats she picked out for him.

Perhaps it shouldn't surprise me by now how much I learn from my daughters, but it has felt like a special treat to see generosity in action today with K.  She is, in fact, the very definition of generous: liberal in both giving and sharing, embodying this aspect of the Christmas spirit exceptionally well.  She delights to show others how she feels about them.  She delights to give others things that she has or things that she thinks they will like.  In fact, she simply delights in others.  

I need to learn over and over again that relationship is worth the hurt and pain it brings when done authentically.  I sometimes think life would be easier if I were a hermit, left to my own thoughts and unencumbered by possessions and obligations.  That life probably would be easier for me, but it's apparently not the life I'm called to.  Because relationship is a vehicle for change, a vehicle to change me into who God made me to be.  If left to my own devices, without the iron sharpening iron effect of relationship, I would likely still be far more selfish, far more ambitious and far less creative, amongst other things.


I'm not as naturally generous as K.  This is due, in part, to my tendency to protect myself emotionally.  K lays it all out there - there's no such thing as less than total transparency with her.  This is beautiful - and terrifying.  Her heart will surely be broken time and again if she continues to lay herself open to people the way she does now.  I don't want her heart broken, but I also don't want her heart hardened.  I want her to remain the exuberant, loving, generous girl she is.  And I want to keep learning from her - about how to give freely and how to live with abandon.

Monday, December 13, 2010


1. being alone; without company or accompaniment; solitary; unaccompanied

I've lately been pondering the value of pursuing life with less accompaniment than I've had in the past.  This was brought into focus about ten days ago when it was time to turn in A's lottery application for the academic magnet middle school.  If your child is enrolled in a school, the principal simply initials your form saying that your child has the required test scores and continues to do well in school.  But if you home school, you need to provide six assignments and the accompanying work in the four core areas of language arts, social studies, math and science and your child has to take an on-site writing assessment.  This is fine.  Except that I didn't know anything about it.  So I hadn't been keeping records that enabled me to easily pull this data together.  As a matter of fact, when A takes a math test, I grade it and recycle it.  Oops.  Perhaps I should alter that practice. 

This unpleasant surprise was a bit stressful.  But I found I didn't truly panic.  I simply got to work and pulled together a packet that frankly left me feeling affirmed that A has learned a lot so far this year.  As I drove to make copies of the work in order to submit our packet, I was praying that what I was turning in would be sufficient.  And it occurred to me that one reason I didn't panic was that instead of turning to a friend, I turned to God.  Instead of picking up the phone and commiserating about how crazy it was that I didn't know about this requirement, I simply sought some inner peace and then did what I could do.  And I think maybe finding that inner peace was easier in solitude than in community.

Preparing my heart for Advent has felt like a solitary practice this season, even as I have practiced it in community.  Even as I have read passages from the Celtic Book of Prayer and known that they are being read by others around the world, I have felt it as a lone practice.  As I've studied Advent symbols and verses with A in our unit study, I have felt this in a deeply personal and unaccompanied manner.  While attending church or reading the daily office, I am still doing so from a deeply private place.  And I think this must be the way, the only way perhaps, to truly experience Advent.

Because if Advent is the season of anticipation - and it is that, above all - anticipation is a solitary emotion, even when shared with the broader community.  If we are to spend Advent celebrating one arrival (Christ's birth) and awaiting another (His return), then some part of our hearts must do this in solitude.  Because while he will greet us communally, it is individually that we must ready our hearts for him.

One night this week, I sat in a friend's car talking with her about her friendships and how they've evolved recently.  This friend and I are in different seasons of life, but have some similar circumstances.  We've both seen a shift in the climate of our friendships as we've changed jobs, left schools or moved to a new faith community.  Days before my talk with this friend, my husband urged me to go out with friends more often.  At the time, I tearfully replied, "With who?!"  But I've made some efforts in the days since then.  I've had some successes.  And I've grown more and more thankful for this season of my life.  This season with more solitude, less community, more quiet, less raucous laughter.

I am thankful for this lone season - of Advent and life.  But Sunday's sermon reminded me that while Advent may be a season prepared for in solitude, it is one to be lived and shared with others.  If I am to be Isaiah - if I am to say, "Send me!  Send me to comfort, to exhort, to direct, to remind others of God's faithfulness," then I must first listen in the quiet of my heart for where God will send me, who he would have me speak to and what he would have me say.  And if the cacophony of community - even faithful community - drowns out that voice, then I will gladly walk a stretch of road alone in order to have my God beside me, whispering in my ear.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


1. Kate's pronunciation of popcorn

The first time J took me to a movie, he bought popcorn for us to share.  It had probably been years since I last had popcorn at a movie.  In high school, I was too cheap and/or too concerned with my weight to eat popcorn during a movie.  So it was a novelty to eat popcorn with J that day.  Little did I know popcorn was to be a regular, frequent and favorite part of our lives for years to come.

J loves popcorn.  He comes by this honestly.  His dad pops up huge batches of it, pours it straight from the pot into large bowls, butters and salts it liberally and passes it around.  J learned from the best.  Over the years, this husband of mine has perfected his popcorn technique.  He pops one batch for the girls and I (salt, no butter) and another for himself (butter and salt).  For special occasions, he pops rosemary brown butter popcorn.  Yes, it is as good as it sounds.

Our girls have eaten popcorn nearly all their lives.  I think A was a tiny toddler when J popped her first bite into her mouth.  The same was true for B.  But K.  K is the popcorn loving daughter J was meant to have.  She even has her own name for it: po'corn.  (It is essential to drop the second "p" when saying it.  Try it.  It's very, very cute.)  While I know she will outgrow this pronunciation one day, I don't look forward to the day.  I love that she has her very own name for her favorite treat.

Yesterday brought a busy morning - A to ballet at 9.  B to choir at 10.  Pick up A at 11.  Pick up B at 12.  While A & I were picking up B from choir practice, J and K were having a po'corn party.  Nothing makes K happier than po'corn with her dad.  She eats every morsel he puts in her bowl and asks for more.  In fact, I suspect that with A and B gone today, K was probably given a larger bowl than either of her sisters.  It may even have been the buttered variety. 

K has always been a momma's girl.  She was far more attached to me than either of her sisters, which is somewhat baffling to me since she's the least like me of the three.  So it's nice to see her curl up with her dad and a bowl of po'corn.

Daughter/Father Bonding circa 2008

Friday, December 10, 2010


1. something given; a present

I'm not a natural when it comes to giving gifts.  It's not that I don't want to please others.  It's more that I can barely get my mind to focus for long enough to think about the right gift to give.  I just don't care that much about things.  But I realized a while ago that my daughters don't necessarily feel the same way.  It started with A making gifts for nearly everyone in our family.  She did this for a Christmas or two before I realized that this wasn't just a crafting spurt for her, but an expression of her love.  I remember saying to her one Christmas as she pestered J to take her to buy me a gift, "Honey, you don't have to give me a gift.  I know you love me."  This yielded nothing more than a puzzled look and continued insistence on a shopping trip.

This month, A and I have been doing a unit study on Advent symbols.  Wednesday she studied gifts and as a part of her lesson read O. Henry's Gift of the Magi.  You may not recognize it from the title, but it's a short story about a couple trying to buy the perfect gift - she decides to buy him a chain for his pocket watch and he buys her combs for her hair.  In case you haven't read it, I won't say more.  (Except to say: click on the link above and read it - it's free via public domain.)  After A read the story, I asked her how the story made her feel and whether she wished for a different ending.  She was quite adamant that the couple in the story should have given their gifts because of "how giving a gift makes you feel."  When I asked her how she feels when giving a gift, she paused, then said, "It makes me feel like I've really shown them that I love them."  That's pretty different from giving a gift because it's expected of you, doing it to fulfill a duty or just because it's that time of year.

In the past, I've found it challenging to pick the right gifts to give teachers.  I've tried giving Thanksgiving gifts instead of Christmas gifts to make it clear that we are thankful for all they do and to take care of remembering them before the craziness of Christmas sets in.  We've made various gifts from cookies to bath salts.  This year's offering was fun to make, but took a lot of time.  There were several steps involved and the girls enjoyed some of them, but not others, which left me completing the project.  Yet I found myself working on small collage elements to go on each gift card after the gifts were wrapped and under the tree.  Not because it was necessary, but because I enjoyed it.  As I worked on the two dozen tiny cards, I wondered why I was doing this.  It wasn't really necessary.  But that's the whole point of a gift, isn't it?  Not that it's necessary, but that you enjoy giving it.

I'm thankful that this Advent season has brought the unexpected and delightful gift of stillness to my heart.  It's this gift that has enabled me to help my daughters create two dozen teacher gifts, wrap them and ready them.  And to do so with a joyful heart.  I figure regardless of what the teachers think of their presents, that's a gift - not just to them, but to us.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


1. to take hold of suddenly or forcibly; grasp

On the agenda for Monday?  Work on an Advent unit study, do laundry, catch up on Bible Study, plan for the rest of our week.  It started OK.  A finished some math work and took her math test.  When I went to record her test, I realized I had given her the wrong test - test 11 instead of test 10.  She only missed one problem, so I guess that's OK.  We'll take test 10 tomorrow.

Then A got started on the first assignment for her Advent study: "Write today's Bible Verses in your journal: Luke 2:52 and Isaiah 61:1-3."  Except she copied the first three verses of Isaiah 6, not Isaiah 61.  After she copied the verses, A said to me, "Mom?  You were right about the seraphim when you described them."  I was a bit puzzled.  Seraphim?  Her verses were supposed to end with a bit about trees.  What were angels doing there?  And when had I described seraphim to her?  At least a year ago.  Clearly, the conversation stayed with her.  I looked at her work and realized her mistake.  I pointed out that the verses were supposed to come from later in Isaiah, then realized all was not lost. 

Isaiah 6:8 is another favorite verse of mine because of what Isaiah does after seeing the angels and realizing God's holiness.  God says he needs someone who will go to Israel and tell them how far they've come from what He intended.  It's not an easy job:  Israel is enmeshed in sin cycles and is not going to take this news happily.  But Isaiah says, "Send me!"  I'm sure there's no one else anywhere around, but I picture Isaiah nearly jumping up and down, waving his arm in the air, Pick me! Pick me!  I told A that I want to be like Isaiah.  I want to readily go where God sends me, even if the task seems daunting.  I also admitted that I'm not quite there yet.  There are days when I'm afraid to ask where I should go, much less go there.

While A was working on adding Isaiah 61 to her Advent journal, I was sitting at the table with her.  She was to my left, her back to the window.  From where I sat, I could see snow falling.  Not enough snow that it would accumulate, but enough that it was swirling in the air.  I'll pause here to note that snow in Nashville in December is rare.  We may get a bit of snow throughout the winter, but we're far more likely to see real snowfall in late January or February.  Not December.  So this was a rare treat.
I thought to myself, "We should go for a walk."  My immediate response?  "It's cold out there.  And there's still lots of work to be done."  After a few minutes of inner debate, I said, "A?  It's snowing.  Go get on shoes or boots and let's go for a walk."  So we did.

It was cold.

It was windy.

It was snowing.  

My daughter giggled - several times.

I smiled.

We were chilled, red cheeked and happy by the time we returned.

If you can't seize the opportunity to take a walk in a snow flurry with your ten year old, what's the point in home schooling?  As we walked along, a car slowed down beside us.  A woman rolled down her window and asked, "Do you need a ride?"  "No, thank you," I replied with a smile.  As she pulled away, A said, "Little does she know, we're doing this on purpose!"  Still, it was a kind offer.  But our purpose was to seize the moment, to enjoy the snow, laugh together and remember a friend who now lives in Mexico (A was wearing her hat, so she was fresh on our minds).

The laundry?  Wrinkled and still in the basket.

The daily home school plan?  Incomplete.

The day? Seized.

It doesn't make me Isaiah.  My task wasn't as hard as reminding Israel of how far they'd strayed from God's path.  But I think that walk in the snow it was where God wanted me to go.  That's something.

Monday, December 6, 2010


1. Informal: a grandmother (specifically, my father's mother)

I have my Granny's hands.  Not the shape, but the skin.  When you put lotion on your hands, what happens?  Do you simply rub in the lotion, perhaps pause to take in the scent, then finish with softer, moisturized skin?  Not I.  If I attempt to use a lotion with scent, my hands immediately inflame.  Tiny red dots appear, accompanied by burning.  This is one of the things I inherited from my Granny - hands that want nothing to do with lovely scented lotions.  But I also have her hands in the kitchen, when I dice onions to use in a gumbo.  When I stir dough to make cookies.  When I place the food on the plate and put the plate before my girls.

My Granny died a few years ago, on the day my youngest daughter was baptized.  I miss her often, but especially at Christmas.  When I was at that awkward age, between girlhood and adolescence, I started joining my grandmother as she baked the cookies for our family to eat on Christmas Eve.  As best I recall, I joined her that first year because I wanted to make cookies to give to my friends.  But it became much more than that.  When I would come home for Christmas break in college, we baked together.  As a newlywed, we baked together.  I still make the cookies we made together two decades ago, even if I won't have a crowd to feed them to on Christmas Eve.  We eat some.  We give lots away and do so with great joy.  

One year, we were traveling on Christmas Day and every time we stopped for a restroom break or to gas up the van, we gave a bag of Christmas cookies to the people working at the restaurant or gas station.  You would have thought we were giving people gold, they were so excited.  One gas station owner wanted me to let my girls pick a candy bar each in exchange.  I assured him that wasn't necessary, but I still remember how pleased he was to receive that little gift.  I'm sure it would have made my Granny smile to see a stranger in Georgia eating her cookies for a late afternoon Christmas snack.

I learned the basics of how to cook from my grandmother.  I learned to start a second type of cookie while the first batch was baking.  I learned how to use a candy thermometer (although I'll confess I don't own one - the pralines we made together are no longer a part of my holiday repertoire).  I learned to make a variety so that your guests and family can have several yummy bites.  And I still use her mini muffin tins to make pecan tassies each year.

I also learned Christmas carols from Granny.  She had a beautiful voice and lead the choir at our church for years.  I didn't inherit her love for music (I think my brain is missing a crucial piece when it comes to understanding music), but I love, love, love Christmas carols.  And I know a lot of them.  On command, I can sing two or three verses of many favorites.  This has served me well as a mother, putting my children to bed during Advent.  Joy to the World?  Off we go with three or four verses.  Silent Night?  O Come, All Ye Faithful?  I've even recently added a few with O Come, O Come Emmanuel being a newfound favorite.  And while I didn't inherit Granny's voice, her understanding of music or her interest in it, I think B did.  

B is singing in two different choirs this holiday season - one at our church, one at another church.  She loves it and she does it well.  For several years, we've worked to find an activity that B will love as her own.  She was good at soccer, but didn't want to keep playing.  Basketball she liked, but it required constant coaxing to get her to fulfill her commitment.  But choir?  She knows when her practices are, has her songs memorized, does it all with joy and anticipation.  It thrills my heart for several reasons.  Primarily because she's found something she loves.  But also because I see Granny in her.

A few weeks ago, I came across a note in Granny's handwriting.  It was tucked away in a book of hers that I had and when it fell out, I immediately recognized the writing.  It made me remember a story my mother once shared.  When I was in college, my mom stopped by my grandmother's office.  As she walked in, Granny was writing a word, then sweeping her hand across it to see if the ink got on her hand.  "What are you doing?" my mother laughingly asked.  "Oh.  I'm putting together a package for Shannon and she doesn't like it when the ink gets on her hand when she writes.  I was checking to see which pens to send her."  (As a Leftie, this is a big problem for me.  When writing papers in high school and college, my left pinkie would be smeared with ink by the time I finished a paper.)  It's a sweet memory to think about my grandmother, hours and miles away, doing something so little, so simple, so sweet.

Can you tell I miss her?

Saturday, December 4, 2010


4. requiring or taking a long time for growing, changing, or occurring; gradual

My Christmas wish for this year is quite simple: I want to be counter-cultural.  In a season when the world tells us to rush, rush, rush, buy, buy, buy and do, do, do, I want to go slow.  I want to soak up every moment this season and it's only possible for something to soak if it sits for a while.  

From the outside, our lives might not look slower this season.  There are still parties to attend, crafts to make, cookies to bake.  Each girl wants her very own shopping trip - to buy gifts for her sisters and her dad.  I want time with friends old and new.  These are all good things and we will do them as time allows.  But whether it's visible or not, I feel slower.  And I mean that in the best possible way.

I can feel the rhythm of this season deep in me and it's not a rush, rush, rush.  Instead, my inner rhythm is to go when necessary and stop when possible.  More and more this season I'm not asking whether something should be done, but whether we want to do it.  It was always important to me that we do the exact same things, the exact same way at Christmas.  But I don't sense that desire in my daughters, so I'm not going to push them to do things just because we always do them.  Instead I ask, "Do you want to?"  And if the answer is "No," then we don't do it.

Yesterday, we went over to a friend's house to make Christmas bells.  I picked up B & K early from school (something I would never have done a few years ago) so that we would have more time to be with our friends before J's work Christmas party.  While we were there, A & K were rarely in the room with us - they played outside, upstairs, all around.  But they were consistently uninterested in making an ornament.  B made one ornament and helped others make several more while staying near the art materials, making an assortment of things.  None of my three daughters actually did what I envisioned when we planned the afternoon.  And that was fine with me.  

They weren't bad guests.  They weren't unkind friends.  They weren't antisocial.  They were just following their own internal rhythms.  A played with my friend's twins who are several years younger, then curled up on the sofa to read a book she found laying around.  K played with her friend and her friend's sisters, then continued playing while her friend drifted downstairs, working her way through assorted dress up clothes.  B hummed, sang and generally entertained my friend and me.  She helped choose just the right Christmas card to turn into an ornament, reminded us to put a real bell inside our paper bells, turned our rectangles into squares and generally acted like a 9 year old art teacher (which is exactly what she is).

We only had a few hours at our friends' house.  We had to get home for the girls to head to their uncle & aunt's house.  We had to get home so that I could soak in the bathtub, get dressed in party attire and go out on the town with my great date.  But our limited time didn't feel rushed.  It felt just right.

I am finding that the key to taking Advent slow is not in what or how much we do.  The key is listening to the rhythm of our hearts and going when we want to go, staying when we want to stay and resting when we want to rest.  If we approach Advent in this way, I think we'll find our very own epiphany - that this season is done best when done slowly.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


1. the letters of a language in their customary order.
When we visited my parents for Thanksgiving, we exchanged Christmas gifts.  One lovely gift that I received and already love is book of Celtic Daily Prayer.   It's beautiful inside and out - gorgeous cover, thoughtful words, meaningful content.  Many things about it resonate with me, but one of today's readings particularly struck me.  It tells the tale of a Jewish farmer who mistakenly is stuck in his field during Sabbath.  When his rabbi admonishes him and asks whether he at least spent the time praying, the farmer says, "Rabbi, I am not a clever man.  I don't know how to pray properly.  What I did was simply to recite the alphabet all day and let God form the words for Himself."
This stopped me in my tracks.  I make things so complicated sometimes.  
 Why not just give God what I have and let him form the words?  
Why not give him my small successes (laundry, grocery shopping, home schooling and garlic cheese grits for dinner all in one day), my roller coaster of emotions (content with a quiet morning, thankful for a productive day, excited to have my daughters home, frustrated at their sniping at each other), my good, my bad and especially my ugly.  He knows what words need to be formed from the alphabet of my life, from the alphabet of my heart.

I'm trying to be intentional about Advent this year.  I figure my girls are old enough to do more than just sing Christmas Carols with me.  They can take turns reading scripture, listen to me read A Little History of the World to better understand what the world was like when Jesus was born, read Monday compline with me.  I'm lighting every candle we have, trying to make our environment beautiful and thoughtful.  I want the letters that comprise my alphabet to be ones that show my great anticipation in this season - for Christmas Eve's traditions, for Christmas morning's celebration, for Christ's return one day.
But here's the thing - the farmer didn't even construct words with the alphabet.  He simply offered them, as they were and trusted God would know what to do with them.  Even as I write this post, I'm trying to make my own words instead of just saying the alphabet of me over and over.  I want to be able to let God write my story instead of trying so desperately to wrestle the pen from his hand.  I want to have my alphabet on my lips and nothing more.  Nothing more.