When We Make (Awkward) Small Talk

I used to talk to strangers a lot more than I do now. Of course that was when I lived in China, was single, and took every opportunity imaginable to practice my Chinese. Conversing with my neighbor was a win-win. I got language practice and my neighbors could satisfy their curiosity and ask me ALL the questions:

“How much money do you make?”

“Are you married?”

“Do you want me to find you a Chinese boyfriend?”

And because of that, I got to ask them everything I wanted to know as well.

One day in China I was waiting for the bus at rush hour. There were no lines, no “But I was here first’s” and no personal space. This was every man and woman for themselves. So I decided to sit on the bench with my packages and just wait for the sea to subside. I watched with amusement as elbows and knees were thrown. The mob moved as one to try and ooze into the small opening of the bus.

But as I watched, I began to notice something.


One man in particular ran up to the crowd, pressing in against them, then retreated right before the bus drove away. I watched as this happened at least five times. Eventually, I noticed something else. As this man pressed in, I saw his hands search pockets and purses. This man was a thief.

I continued to sit and watch. Eventually, the man noticed the waiguoren (outside person/foreigner) sitting on the bench, lap piled high with packages, watching him. I finally got up my nerve.

“So how much money do you make in a day?” I asked.

Without missing a beat, he answered, “About 1000 yuan a day.” This was easily a month’s wages for a lower middle class Chinese person in my city.

Another bus approached. He glanced past me, “Excuse me,” he said. “I need to work.” I watched him run up against the crowd again, then retreat at the last moment. We chatted between each of his “work trips” and I asked about his home, his family and if he felt bad about what he was doing. “Mei ban fa,” he said. No other way.

When the crowds began to subside, I kept a hand on my bag and bid my new acquaintance goodbye. “Man zou,” Go slowly, he said. “Man zou,” I replied.


Since moving back to the states seven years ago, I have gotten rusty in my social skills. I no longer talk to strangers, am awkward when the grocery store cashier asks me how my day is going, and prefer texting to talking on the phone. But since moving to a new home two months ago, I am hoping for a fresh start. I want to do the things I once did in China to get to know my neighbors. Surely those methods translate to my home culture?

So two nights ago when I ran out to buy beer (yes), I hesitated when two men stood smoking in front of the entrance to the liquor store. But my old brave self took over, pushing aside my minivan-driving, latte-drinking mom self. Just do it. Go in, she said.

The men parted quickly as I approached them, the one in the hood scurried around the corner, the skinny one entered the store, apologizing. “Can I help you find anything?” he said.

“Do you have any seasonal beers?” I asked. He pointed out a few.

Bottles lined the entire back wall behind the cashier, from floor to ceiling. I was the only one in the store. “So it sounded like that guy was speaking another language,” I mentioned.

“Yeah, I think it was Hebrew,” he said. “He comes around here a lot, but he usually comes back drunk within an hour.”

“So what do you do in a case like that?” I asked. “When someone comes in drunk, do you serve them?”

We chatted a bit more and I left, my pony tail swinging as I put my Blue Moon in the passenger seat. I felt like my old self again. The self who was curious, asked questions and was interested in people. (Okay, perhaps I’m mainly interested in those who are different from me, but still.) It felt good to be inquisitive again.


I recently listened to a TED talk about a community on an Italian island where there are ten times the amount of centenarians than in North America. Research shows that their longevity is not due to their diet, exercise or even positive thinking. The main reason for their extended life expectancy seems to be that they live in a tight-knit community where they have daily social interactions. They make eye contact, greet one another and exchange small talk.

Though suburban living has the potential to isolate me from my neighbor, I can still seek out community. I want to greet my neighbors, make eye contact, and ask probing questions. I want to use the tools for language learning I developed in China to get to know my neighbors right here in America. What’s the main ingredient in noticing my neighbor?


If we are not intentional about getting to know our neighbors, it will not happen.

So how am I going to do this? I’m taking my children trick-or-treating for Halloween. We’re going on walks around the block and stopping to chat with neighbors along the way. I’m forcing myself to talk to random teenagers or moms at the park. And I’m asking cashiers how their day is going before they have a chance to ask me.

I’m embracing my awkward for the sake of community because Jesus tells me to love my neighbor. And sometimes loving is awkward, isn’t it? Jesus doesn’t say loving our neighbor is comfortable or convenient. In fact, the story right after he commands this unreasonable love for our neighbor is about two men who side-stepped someone in need and another man who stopped to help even though it required time, money and effort he may not have wanted to give.

I’m praying for a holy curiosity in all the people around me.

I want to start loving with my ears. Every encounter with every person in my day is pre-ordained by God and full of potential. I don’t want to assume I know people’s stories, because even the most ordinary-seeming person can astound us.

Does Talking about Race Perpetuate Disunity?

Some evangelicals question the need to talk about race. Didn’t Christ erase our dividing lines? Aren’t we all one in Christ? Doesn’t Jesus want us to live in freedom, and not in (white) guilt and shame?

Yes, Jesus came to bring freedom to all who know Him. But when society does not treat people of color as equals, the church must speak up.

Sometimes we need to acknowledge brokenness before we can begin to move toward unity. We need to name it. We rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. We sit, we listen, and yes, sometimes we speak.

It’s time for white evangelicals to enter the race conversation as advocates, friends and allies. Ignoring the race question is like pretending the mountain doesn’t exist because it is shrouded in fog.

Since completing a one-month series on race during the month of March, many people have asked me how I felt about it and how it was received. Honestly, it was one of the least satisfying projects I have ever completed. Writing daily about race opened doors that only led to other rooms with more doors. Talking about race is never a finished conversation, always just a beginning. A person is never fully “woke.”

Most of the feedback I received was from people of color giving me a thumbs-up for having the guts to even enter the conversation. They were surprised I would venture into volatile territory since most white people who engage in this conversation have stakes in it—they’ve adopted a child of color, married a person of color or live in a very diverse area. I’m a white woman living in a white bubble. If I wanted to, I could go on with my life without a thought to race. Except I can’t.

A few friends pushed back on my series, asking, “Isn’t discussing race just divisive?”

Though some may argue that pointing out inequalities is unproductive and even unchristian, I believe silence perpetuates abuse. Last week there were several hashtags causing waves on Twitter. #ThingsOnlyWomenWritersHear and #WhatWoCWritersHear revealed ways women in general and women of color specifically feel undervalued, overlooked and diminished as writers. In speaking truth, we blast the darkness with brilliant light. As we bring ugly, buried sin into the open, it loses its power. It’s time to talk about the scary aspects of our society and our humanity.

Though it’s uncomfortable, naming our pain unleashes the power it has over us. We cannot move forward in relationship when we carry unspoken offenses. There is no sisterhood or brotherhood without trust. 

Here’s the truth:

“One in every fifteen people born in the United States in 2001 is expected to go to jail or prison; one in every three black male babies born in this century is expected to be incarcerated.” –Just Mercy, (p. 15)

One in THREE black male babies are expected to go to jail or prison.

The book Divided by Faith, a highly-researched book on evangelical’s views on race, concludes that the white perspective often dismisses institutional and systemic racism. Most white evangelicals do not acknowledge that we currently live in a racialized society. The authors push back (with documentation for each sentence):

They claim this perspective misses “that whites can move to most any neighborhood, eat at most any restaurant, walk down most any street, or shop at most any store without having to worry or find out that they are not wanted, whereas African Americans often cannot. This perspective misses that white Americans can be almost certain that when stopped by the police, it has nothing to do with race, whereas African Americans cannot. This perspective misses that whites are assumed to be middle class unless proven otherwise, are not expected to speak for their race, can remain ignorant of other cultures without penalty, and do not have to ask every time something goes wrong if it is due to race, whereas African Americans cannot. This perspective misses that white Americans are far more likely than black Americans to get a solid education, avoid being a victim of a crime, and have family and friends with money to help when extra cash is needed for college, a car, or a house.” –Divided by Faith (p. 90)

God’s love sets us all on equal ground. But when American society does not, God’s love should be the fuel that sets his children on fire for justice.

I cannot speak for any one race—my own or anyone else’s. But I’ve been listening. And this is what I hear.

I hear my black sister say society calls her less beautiful, more intimidating and less intelligent than a white woman.

I hear my black brother say he feels unsafe.

I hear parents of adopted children of color say they need to have complicated conversations at an early age.

I hear my mixed race friends asked, “What are you?”

I hear white people say they don’t see color.

I hear the church say we have different cultures, worship and preaching styles, so we shouldn’t attempt to integrate on Sunday mornings.

I hear my black sister experience microaggressions as she is told, “You are so articulate.”

I hear white parents say they value equal education (until they consider sending their child to a failing school).

I hear white evangelicals say we are already equal in Christ, so we don’t need to belabor the race issue.

As of the 2010 census, the United States is 72 percent white, 16 percent Hispanic (included with other races), 13 percent African American, 5 percent Asian and 3 percent other races (U.S. Census Bureau). Race is and will continue to be a conversation as the U.S. becomes increasingly more diverse. Squeezing our eyes shut will not make this problem go away.

Followers of Jesus should be on the forefront of the race conversation. We should advocate for equal treatment, housing, justice, education and rights for our black and brown brothers and sisters in Christ. When others are silent, we should speak out. But we also must follow, listen and learn.

Solidarity demands a posture of humility.

Yes, we are called to love God and rest in who we are in Christ as representatives of the Imago Dei. But we are also called to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. And perhaps loving our neighbor means entering some uncomfortable conversations and spaces for the sake of love. It’s time to admit that just because we can’t see the mountain, it is there, looming behind our white fog.


How is God calling you to enter the race conversation?

(Consider joining the Facebook group Be the Bridge to Racial Unity to learn more about how God is moving in this sphere.)


I was recently interviewed on Anita Lustrea’s podcast, Faith Conversations, about the series “31 Days of #WOKE” and how that series came to be. Check it out here. Also, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic, so please leave a comment below (or if you are being accused of being a “BOT,” you can send me a comment via Facebook or my contact form–that seems to be working!)

Related Post: Wake Up, White Church

**This post includes Amazon affiliate links

When You and Your Husband Have Different Callings {for SheLoves}

When my husband and I met, we knew one of us would have to give up our calling: acting in Chicago for him, or teaching in China for me. Due for time back in the states, I gave up China. And because of the nature of marriage and parenting three children four and under, he lay stage acting on the altar as well. Like the story of The Gift of the Magi, I sold my hair to buy him a watch strap and he sold his watch to buy me a comb.

Many years before, a wise married friend and mother of four warned me, “Love is sacrifice.” My best friend, who married at 19, described marriage as a way for God to “chisel us down.” Neither sounded very sexy to me, so I vowed to steer clear of marriage.

Then I met this incredible man.

While we were dating, I wrote him a letter from China (which I then scanned and emailed), confessing my fear that one day I’d be trapped in a tiny Chicago apartment in the winter with an infant. Although I longed to have children, I feared losing myself in the process. Two February’s later, I stood jostling a newborn while staring out the drafty windows of our vintage Chicago apartment, wondering what happened to my life.


True love involves mutual sacrifice. Love is the montage of running tedious errands for one another, making love when you’re tired, knowing when to stop talking and when to start listening, changing throw-up sheets together at 3 a.m., squeezing hands under the table during stressful family visits, giving one another a night out or a morning to sleep in. Both spouses make sacrifices for one another in what feels like a relay race as we pass the baton down the field, each doing the hard work of moving the team forward.

I admit I now roll my eyes at romantic comedies. In a card for newlyweds, I’m more likely to copy Philippians 2 about Jesus doing nothing out of selfish ambition than I am to write Solomon’s words about many waters not quenching love.

After a mere six years, I still believe in the magic. But it’s not what you think …

Continue reading at SheLoves.

Loving After Trump {for Mudroom}


I was one of the 19 percent. Nineteen percent of voting white evangelical Christians did not choose Donald J. Trump to be president. And, like most non-Trump supporters, I spent the first days after the election in grief and fear over what a Trump America would look like. The morning after the election, I was shocked the sun still shone, my infant son still grinned at me nearly bursting with joy, and the blue sky dared be so blue.

As a Christian woman, I felt betrayed. I couldn’t bring myself to attend church that Sunday out of fear the service would be business-as-usual. People of color were suddenly tweeting out of their wounds, such as African American sister Yolanda Pierce’s tweet: “White evangelicals: you’ve decisively proven that you love your whiteness more than you love your black & brown brothers & sisters in Christ.” (Yolanda Pierce @YNPierce Nov 8).

I feared being tainted by association.

As a writer, I needed to write it all out. I wanted to add my voice to the cacophony of noise rising in volume. Like the catharsis of screaming into an on-coming train, I wanted my voice to be swallowed by the anger, fear and grief of the voices on the internet.

But I read some words¹ that morning from a wise old king that tempered my impulse.

“Tremble [with anger or fear], and do not sin;
Meditate [speak] in your heart upon your bed, and be still.

Selah [Pause].

I needed to pause, breathe and exhale. If I had spoken, it would have been out of hate, not love. Anger, not activism. Bitterness, not hope. My lament was too raw, too tender.
I desperately wanted to do something. The next words I read suggested this paradox:

Offer the sacrifices of righteousness,
And trust in the Lord.

In other words: before doing, first die. What are the sacrifices of righteousness? Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-Control. This response conflicts with every impulse, feeling and emotion I have right now. I don’t want to love a man who uses fear as a motivator and hate as power’s fuel. And I don’t want to trust a God who would allow evil to win.

But I will put down my sword. Loving right now is counter-cultural, revolutionary, even.

Sounds like Someone else I know.

And so I trust not in our president, Congress, the media, the hundreds of articles debating fact and fiction or even in myself. I lean on the One who spoke everything out of nothing. The One who whispered words into my womb and molded a little life. The One who brings down nations and kingdoms, but also coaxes the butterfly out of its chrysalis. The One who outwitted death, sadness, evil and despair with pure, exquisite, soul-washing love.

We raise high the banner words spoken by Desmund Tutu: “We are a resurrection people.” In death, we live on…

continue reading at The Mudroom


The Words Every Child Wants to Hear

I did something foolish last week. I took my children, aged 3 months, two and four to a museum–during Christmas break. Every other child, parent and grandparent apparently thought the museum sounded like an excellent idea as well.

Not good listeners even on a good day, my two littles sprinted in opposite directions, dodging through narrow spaces, behind strollers and slow walkers as if in a race to disappear the fastest. On high alert, I won the game even with a baby snuggled into my chest: not a single child was lost even for a second.

But each child at some point in the day looked up from playing, didn’t see me and began to panic, tears welling up in their eyes, little heads darting side to side, scanning the crowd for mommy. But as soon as they’d start to lose it, I’d creep through the crowd and touch them, “I’m here,” I’d say. “Don’t worry, I’ve been right here all along.” And back to playing they would go.


Can I be honest with you? 2016 was a difficult year for me. We moved from Chicago to Colorado early in 2015 and visited 12 churches in 18 months, unable to settle into the right community. I got pregnant with baby number three a year after moving and found myself buried in sadness, exhaustion and despair. Most people know about post-partum depression, but I had never heard of being depressed while pregnant.

The endless 90 degree days of summer beat me down so most afternoons I was grateful for TV to entertain my children. Usually a healthy person and an optimist, I didn’t recognize this woman sprawled out on the bathroom floor next to the pile of tissues or the woman who would jump into a car on a Saturday afternoon just to speed through the canyon alone in an effort to stop the numbness.

So this week as I moved on from my December tradition of mulling over the Christmas story, I wandered with John the Baptist and Jesus back into the wilderness again. In the pre-dawn light of a dried-up Christmas tree, top-loaded with ornaments because my children picked them off one by one (whose great idea was it to put untouchable toys on a tree, anyway?), I pulled the baby close and opened to the book of Luke.

Jesus pushes through the crowds and steps into the water. As he prays, heaven cracks open and an ordinary snow white dove, the Holy Spirit in bodily form, lands on Jesus. A Voice booms from heaven. The words I read next slam into my soul.

At this point in the story, I glance up at my children who have just come in with their bedhead, footy PJ’s, sippy cups of milk and glistening noses. Their 24-minute show has ended and they are shrieking, wanting breakfast. My infant son has finally drifted off to sleep again at my breast as I precariously balance Bible, journal, pen and coffee mug on the edge of the couch. My husband herds the hungry ones into the kitchen and I wink at him, grateful for another five minutes to read. I reread the words.

“You are my beloved Son, in you I am well-pleased.”

I remember my children at the museum, terrified they were lost. And I think about myself four months ago, wandering in the fog. Like a small child playing hide-and-seek, I thought that in closing my eyes I couldn’t be seen. I imagine God speaking now, his fire igniting my deadened soul. “You are my beloved daughter, Leslie. In you I am well-pleased.”

God did not say to Jesus, “I am pleased with you because you have a high calling, are perfect or are destined for greatness.” He did not point to His miraculous powers, authoritative words or usefulness to Him. Instead, God tapped His shoulder, saying, “I’m here—the Holy Spirit in the form of a plain old dove. I won’t leave. You are my beloved and I am pleased with you.”

Are there any other words a child would rather hear from her parent?

You are beloved.

I am pleased with you.

God is with me—loving me–even when I feel alone and undeserving. I had a dream once where I was lost in a crowded building. Suddenly a strong hand grasped mine, leading me out and away to safety. Single at the time, I knew I wasn’t just yearning for a lover or companion, I knew that hand belonged to God Himself. Every time I try to run away from God, I find I can’t. He is magnetic, drawing me back, compelling me to face Him once again.

Even when I lose my way, He never loses sight of me. Even as I put my head down, absorbed in menial tasks, hobbies or even guilty pleasures, He sees me. He waits for me to look up and notice His adoring gaze, just as we watch our earthly children at play. And sometimes we don’t look up at all. That’s when he comes to us, and gently gives our shoulder a tap.

As we begin 2017, know these words spoken over Jesus are meant for you, too. If we are children of God, then we are clothed with Christ, gifted with fire and Spirit

You are beloved. You are cherished. You are adored.

As a mama who is often frustrated, ungrateful and annoyed by my role, I also pray these words will set me ablaze with greater love for my children. I pray my kids won’t remember harsh words, minutes squandered hiding behind my phone or less-than-attentive responses, but that one day they’ll be able to say:

“My mom? Oh, she adored me. And she sparkled with life because she belonged to Jesus.”


Subscribe to Scraping Raisins by email and/or follow me on Twitter and Facebook. I’d love to get to know you better!

Previous Post: I Want the Fire {OneWord365}

Next Post: Loving After Trump {for Mudroom}

Words for me, you and our children.

I Want the Fire {#oneword365}



I wouldn’t classify myself as a charismatic. I remember hordes of high school students being slain in the spirit at a youth group in a mobile home I used to visit. I chose to hug my knees to myself, hoping to disappear in the corner. As a good Southern Baptist, I was taught to treat the Holy Spirit with suspicion. After college, I settled into an Evangelical Free church in Chicago for about fifteen years. The denomination was so subtle that my husband thought it was nondenominational for the first several years he attended. It had women elders, practiced listening prayer, taught the Bible, integrated the arts in worship services and looked for ways to serve the community. So yeah, the Holy Spirit was welcome, if not the main event.

Last year I picked one word to focus on for the year (because apparently that’s what good bloggers do), thinking I’d write about it frequently and keep it out in the forefront of my mind. During one of the hardest years in my life, the word “enjoy” seemed like a piece of spinach stuck in the teeth of life—very much out of place and unwanted. And so I was ready to try again this year and decided that my word should be “thankfulness,” (just another variation of “enjoy,” really). Because maybe this year I’d be able to get it right.

So I was surprised when I read the beginning of Luke and God seemed to nudge me towards another, much scarier word.

In a story my four year old won’t allow me to read because he can’t stand to hear about John eating locusts, John the Baptist tells the crowds he is a sideshow compared to the one who is coming soon. “I’m just baptizing with water,” he says, “but there is one who is coming who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

I understand ritualistic baptism rooted in reality, logic and rules.  I do the do’s and don’t do the don’t’s. I was baptized—twice—and know that it is a symbol of dying to our old lives and living on in the newness of life. But sometimes I feel more like I was baptized by the waters of John the Baptist, instead of by the fire of Jesus.

Secretly, I long for the drama of fire and Spirit. Like John the Baptist, I want more.

I want the fire.

And so this year, I’m praying to be baptized with fire and Spirit. It’s a terrifying prayer, really, because the fire of God is not always about cozy scenes of snuggling under patterned fleece blankets, drinking tea by the fire with a kitten curled up at our feet.

Fire kills. It incinerates, scars and destroys.

But it is also a beacon in the darkness; provides heat for the shivering and purifies precious metals so the most exquisite elements remain.

In Luke 2 and 3, the Holy Spirit directs, empowers and fills—even as it leads Jesus to be tempted for 40 days in the desert. The Holy Spirit is much less concerned with our safety than we are.

In Acts 2, tongues of fire fall on the room of Jesus followers, allowing them to speak in other languages and preparing them to go out into the world and bring the message of Jesus. Fire is energy. It enlivens and electrifies.

For the first time in a while, as I open the Bible in the darkness of the winter morning, usually nursing a tiny baby with one hand while holding my thin leather Bible with the other, my heart burns as I read.  It’s been nearly 28 years since I kneeled in my bedroom and gave my life to Jesus.  The majority of that time I’ve been moving forward, sometimes running, other times leaping or crumpled down on the ground before I can take another step in the journey with Jesus.

Most times, I have followed Jesus in the way you keep loving your spouse on the ordinary, exhausting days of sweeping up dried pieces of rice and peas, high-fiving one another as you pass the baton of one responsibility to move on to the next. You love even when you don’t have the fire or passion. You love because you promised you would and love looks so different from how you expected. It looks more like the pauper shining shoes than it does the princess in the ballroom.  It looks like falling into bed together with a baby between you, patting each other’s shoulder, saying a prayer and then one of you getting out of bed again just after you’ve drifted off because the toddler wants her water and the doll that she left in the toy bin downstairs.

Loving Jesus, walking with Him–knowing and giving your heart to him–looks a lot like THAT. It is mundane, familiar and comfortable.

But sometimes—just sometimes—passionate, inside-searing, chest-pounding love stirs in your heart and makes it glow, expand, contract and beat faster. The tongues of fire come down–or else they take the form of an ordinary dove that you JUST KNOW is not an ordinary dove–and you feel Jesus is with you—IN you—fueling you and moving you on in your journey.

Fire is not the norm, but you don’t always know you have it until it’s gone.  Like the men on the Emmaus road who walked with Jesus, chatting away and didn’t recognize him until they sat down to eat together.  “Wait, weren’t our hearts burning within us as he walked with us on the road?” they asked.

Oh wait, that was JESUS.

Jesus still makes cameos in our beautiful, normal lives.

I want to be purified, empowered and filled with the Holy Spirit in a way I never have before. I want to remember why I fell in love with Jesus in the first place and carry his flame within me in such a way that I may lead others back to dry land.

This year, I’m praying for the fire.

Monthly Mentionables {December}: Books, podcasts, recipes & articles

My family spent Christmas here in Grand Lake, CO with my parents, brothers and their families. It was breathtaking and good for my soul.

Hygge, “woke,” enneagram, writing, submissions, edits, rough drafts, pregnancy, depression, minivan, lament, Jesus, racism, election, baby, church-hopping, twitter and podcast are all words I would use to distill down the essence of 2016 for me. I have written at length about some of these, will write about some others in 2017 and may keep some of these things to myself as I continue to learn and process.

Which words characterized your year?

I’ve been planning posts for the year and will have a series soon called 12 Days of Books where I’ll be sharing all my favorite books. I’d love for you to join me and if you have a blog, you are welcome to share links to your book posts in the comments section! 

Here are some of the books, podcasts, recipes, articles and writing I have been into this month:


On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, by William Zinsser
The first time I read this was for a writing class in college, so I was due for a refresher. It was just as helpful as I remembered and is a book I will return to in the future.

Blue Horses: Poems, by Mary Oliver
I’m still experimenting with poetry and I read this one in one sitting. A friend of mine advised that poetry be read and enjoyed like a glass of wine, but I don’t always have that luxury these days! I want to pick up some more books by Mary Oliver. I liked this one, but I still feel like an amateur when it comes to poetry, so I’ll refrain from giving too much of my opinion since I don’t feel qualified yet.

Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents Around the World Can Teach Us, by Christine Gross-Loh, Ph.D
I’m adding this to my list of favorite parenting books. As someone who has lived overseas and studied culture in grad school, I love books that explore non-western ways of doing things. This book has provided fodder for interesting conversations about preconceived notions about parenting. 

Several Short Sentences about Writing, by Verlyn Klinkenborg
The first thing you will notice about this book is the structure. Every sentence begins with a new line.  This as well as On Writing Well, both emphasize the need for short, clean sentences. I loved this book and it is on my list of favorite books about writing.

(Check out my favorite podcasts of 2016 here!)

Faith Conversations: Anita Lustrea

Mark Scandrette 
(His wife shared this post on SheLoves last month!)

Esther Emery

Carolyn Custis James

Makoto Fujimura

Lisa Sharon Harper

On Justice and Reconciliation

Faithfully Podcast

Will Christians Ever Get Race Relations Right?

White Christians, the Confederate flag and the Civil War

Black Lives Matter, the Black Church and the Prosperity Gospel


I binge-watched every single episode of their second season in a week;-) The episode with Ann Voskamp was very powerful, but I would recommend all of these episodes to anyone who is interested in writing or blogging.

Sorta Awesome

The awesome freedom of the DON’T do list

The best in books & reading for 2016 


Aside from forcing myself to watch the Gilmore Girl’s reunion on Netflix (I have to), I would highly recommend the much more life-changing, important documentary called 13th, which is also on Netflix right now. It falls right in line with all that I’ve been studying this year and features Bryan Stevenson and Michelle Alexander among others who take a deeper look into the prison system in the U.S. 


For a new Christmas morning tradition, I used this cinnamon roll recipe shared by a woman from the Velvet Ashes community. I made them ahead the night before, froze them before the second rise and left them out of the oven 30 minutes before cooking.  They turned out perfectly!

We had two familes over and made Chinese hot pot for New Years Eve. Although I probably had hot pot about 30 times in my five years in China, I used this site as a guide for what to buy in the states. I bought this hot pot from Amazon and found the spice packs at our local Asian market. Though it was a bit tricky trying to feed kids who aren’t the best at waiting, it was such a fun, communal meal and I’ll definitely do it again!

Thought-provoking Articles from the Web:

Favorite Fiction of 2016, by Leigh Kramer on her blog (I’m using this list with my book club to pick out some fiction books this year.)

It’s Not Just a Danish Word that Made Dictionary’s shortlist; It’s a Lifestyle, by NPR (an article on hygge!)

Life After ‘The New Jim Crow,’ by Brentin Mock of Citylab (an interview with Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness)

Where Love Abides, by Leah Abraham at SheLoves Magazine (a reflective practice for the new year)

4 Ways White People Can Process Their Emotions Without Bringing the White Tears, by Jennifer Loubriel of Everyday Feminism

10 Reflections on Ten Years of Reentry, by Ruthie at Rockyreentry.com

30 of the Most Important Articles by People of Color in 2016, by Zeba Blay for Huffington Post

55 of the Best Diverse Picture and Board Books of 2016, by Mrs. G at hereweread.com

In Case You Missed it:

6 Things to Do When You Live on White Island 

When You’ve Lost Your Wings {a poem}

Breastfeeding and the Liturgy of the Hours {for SheLoves}


Subscribe to Scraping Raisins by email and/or follow me on Twitter and Facebook. I’d love to get to know you better!

**This post contains affiliate links!  

Linking up with Leigh Kramer


22 Favorite Podcasts of 2016

22 Favorite Podcasts of 2016

This was the year of the podcast for me. I’m convinced podcasts are the stay-at-home mom’s version of continuing education. Podcasts turn mundane tasks like folding clothes, getting dressed, washing dishes, driving to the grocery store, cooking dinner and even showering into opportunities for personal growth and development.

Most of the podcasts I love fall into the categories of social justice, motherhood, writing/creativity and spirituality. Many of these have altered the way I now view the world. Thanks to each of these hosts for sharing their time, wisdom and connections with the world. Many of you are changing history right from your tiny padded bedroom closets. Thank you.

On Motherhood: 

A Mom’s Missionfield
I love the concept of this show and appreciate that Tiffany Castleberry doesn’t expect moms to drop all other callings when they see two pink lines on a test.

God Centered Mom
This show is so solid. Not a bit cheesy or fluffy, Heather MacFadyen plans challenging, encouraging and practical episodes that truly help you to be a better mom.

The Global Mom Show
If I had my own podcast, this would be it. I can really relate to wanting to raise kids with an awareness of the world outside of our small sphere.

On Race-related Issues:

Pass the Mic
Of all the podcasts, this one has impacted me the most this year. These African American men offer their intelligent, Bible-based perspective on the race issues in our country.

Faithfully Podcast
This podcast is newer to me, but has guests that discuss the intersection of faith and race and I really appreciate the insights I’ve gained from their discussions.

Kin City
I love that this podcast focuses on Chicago since I lived there for fifteen years. It’s a fascinating look at many of the social issues in Chicago today.

Code Switch
Code switch discusses current race issues from a more secular perspective since it is put on by NPR. But they have a way of handling heavy issues in a light way that I appreciate.

On Holistic Living & Spirituality

Seminary Dropout
(He also has a new podcast called OnRamp focused solely on racial issues that I’m excited to listen to!)
Shane Blackshear has some outstanding guests.  This show steers clear of evangelical buzzwords, clichés and assumptions. I appreciate the fresh perspective and focus on looking at Jesus and the Bible instead of just going through with the motions of Christianity.
The Practice
The Practice is the church service of a subgroup of Willowcreek that is attempting to integrate ancient church practices into their community worship. The speakers always usher me straight into the presence of God.

The Liturgists
This episode was the most powerful episode I listened to on race all year. Please listen if you haven’t! I would put The Liturgists into the category with Seminary Dropout of hosts who appreciate real, raw Jesus-following above status quo evangelicalism.

This podcast focuses on current articles or events in culture and spends time discussing them from an intelligent, Christian perspective. The discussions remind me of talks we would have late into the night about topics that our college professors would have brought up during my days in Christian college.

Quick to Listen
This and the following one are podcasts put out by Christianity Today.  This one takes on controversial issues, attempting to reframe them from a Christ-centric perspective.

The Calling
This podcast, also put on by CT, has had some fascinating guests recently such as Michelle Higgins, Propaganda, Shauna Niequist, Katelyn Beaty and Jemar Tisby. At the beginning of the podcast, the host always asks about a person’s calling, which is a topic I love to think about.

Epiphany Fellowship
This is one of the African American pastors I am listening to each week in my attempt to desegregate the Christian messages in my life.

Faith Conversations with Anita Lustrea 
I just discovered this podcast recently and have binge-listened to about ten of her episodes.

On Being
I have a girl voice crush on Krista Tippet. She is my favorite interviewer. She is SO well-prepared, thoughtful and inspiring. Unlike so many hosts, she rarely interjects herself into her interviews and does an outstanding job of drawing insight from the souls of those she interviews. LOVE.

Shalom in the City
The premise of this show is that we are all able to contribute to “Shalom,” or peacemaking in the cities where we live. Osheta has a variety of guests who are incredible world-changers on both large and small scales.

For Fun: 

Sorta Awesome
This podcast has THE BEST Facebook hangout group. I go here with questions before I go to my Facebook timeline! But the show itself is fabulous and after listening I always feel like I just sat down to have an intelligent conversation with a couple of girlfriends.

What Should I Read Next
My husband, narrator Adam Verner, was on this episode this year! Anne Bogel also has a fabulous voice and has contributed to the addition of approximately 100 books on my Goodreads to-read list. If you need suggestions for books to read, this show is for you!

On Writing:

Ann Kroeker, Writing Coach
Each of these episodes last anywhere from three to seven minutes as she provides snippets of encouragement for writers of all kinds (which I am in constant need of). I’m thankful for her wisdom.

Hope Writers
This podcast also provides lots of valuable advice for writers.

Beautiful Writers
I liked some of these episodes more than others, but loved the episodes where they interviewed professional writers on their daily rituals and practices in writing.


Check out my “Monthly Mentionables” posts for more of the specific episodes I loved this year!

What were your favorite podcasts?
I’ll be sharing lists of all my favorite books, so be sure to subscribe below so you don’t miss the discussion!
Subscribe to Scraping Raisins by email and/or follow me on Twitter and Facebook. I’d love to get to know you better!

Previous Post: Book Discussion Questions on Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson

22 Favorite Podcasts of 2016


Book Discussion Questions for Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

This is the true tale of an African American lawyer in the south fighting for the rights of death row inmates who were unjustly incarcerated. Stevenson illuminates the racial injustices that are happening not during slavery or the Civil Rights era, but RIGHT NOW.  It proves that we are not in post-racial times, but still living in the midst of rash injustice. This is the best book I read in 2016 and should be on your list of must-read books.

Discussion Questions:

(This is a very flexible guide for a book club to use as a spring board for discussing the book Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson. They can be skipped and discussed in any order).

1. How did you feel before you read this book?  How did you feel afterward?

2. Describe the author’s style.  Was it effective?

3. What was most shocking/sickening/saddening/surprising for you in this book?  Why?

4. What did you want to know more about?

5. Discuss some of the most memorable stories from each of the groups mentioned throughout the book: African American men, women, children, mentally ill, disabled, drug convicts.

6. What stood out to you most about Walter’s story?

7. In what ways did Mr. Stevenson himself experience prejudice?

8. What are some of our state laws about incarceration?  How can we find these out?

9. What can we do personally to make a difference?

10. How does Mr. Stevenson’s race impact your reading (and his writing) of this book?  How would it have been different if it had been written by a white man or woman?

11. Would you recommend this book to others?  Why or why not?


(You are welcome to use these for group discussion, as long as you attribute Leslie Verner.)

If you have read the book, I would love to hear some of your thoughts in the comments section! 


Subscribe to Scraping Raisins by email and/or follow me on Twitter and Facebook. I’d love to get to know you better!


Related Post: An Evening with Bryan Stevenson: Get Closer

Previous Post: When You’ve Lost Your Wings {a poem}

Next Post: 22 Favorite Podcasts in 2016

**This post includes affiliate links.

When you’ve lost your wings {a poem}

Severed by scissors,

angled and severe.

Holy hearts, diamonds, circles emerge

as corners are snipped,

possibilities removed.

Paper flutters to the floor;

wings litter the ground like waste.

We gingerly unfold,

creases and bumps smoothed,

loose edges freed.

A snowflake stretched wide. 

This is nursery artistry. 

Taped to the icy window pane;

winter light 

beams through empty spaces. 


Next Post: Book Discussion Questions for Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson