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.

How Writers Find Their Brave

Madeleine L’Engle should be the patron saint of Christian women writers. Any time I start doubting myself, I pull out Walking on Water and feel like I can stop hyperventilating and breathe again. This morning in Walking on Water I read:

“I believe that each work of art, whether it is a work of great genius or something very small, comes to the artists and says, ‘Here I am. Enflesh me. Give birth to me.’ And the artist either says, ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord,’ and willingly becomes the bearer of the work, or refuses; but the obedient response is not necessarily a conscious one, and not everyone has the humble, courageous obedience of Mary.” (p. 18)

“When the artist is truly the servant of the work, the work is better than the artist.” (p. 24)

“When the work takes over, then the artist is enabled to get out of the way, not to interfere. When the work takes over, then the artist listens.” (p. 24)

Serve the Work. Get out of the way. Listen.


Annie Dillard says something similar in The Writing Life:

“At its best, the sensation of writing is that of any unmerited grace. It is handed to you, but only if you look for it.” (p. 75)

Most days I sit down and write paragraphs of pure junk. It flows so easily. Then I pick back through the rubble like a hurricane victim trying to salvage valuables from the storm. A friend of mine just shared an article with me about how we must first allow the madman to write. That’s what I’m doing these days. Lots of “shitty first drafts” written by my inner madman. (Thank you, Anne Lamott, for empowering us to write what comes first.)

I have a friend who wants to start writing. “How did you get the courage to start?” she asked.

I wrote because not writing was no longer an option. It was more painful not to write than to write. Like plugging a water faucet with your finger, the words were just too pent up. They demanded a release. In Letters to a Young Poet, Rilke says that we should only write if we must.

But I am still learning how to get out of the way and serve the work. It takes a certain faith to believe in the word magic. Elizabeth Gilbert has built her entire career on it, writing Big Magic and producing a podcast called Magic Lessons. It feels like voodoo. But Christian poet Luci Shaw instead names the Holy Spirit as her muse in Breath for the Bones.

Sometimes it helps to over-spiritualize things.

When I meet other writers, they ask me if I want to write a book. “Maybe eventually,” I’ve always said. I still feel like I’m in love with the love of writing, like I’m not ready to commit to this as a profession. It is an affair without the commitment and I don’t want to sacrifice the butterflies for the long-term, daily work of love that includes the non-sexy tasks of emptying the dishwasher and hanging the wet clothes on the line. But the time has come.

The Book is asking me to write it.

I was excited at first. But lately I’ve taken cues from my children and become a fantastic whiner. Just what my husband needs.

I made the mistake of going into Barnes and Noble. Thousands of beautiful books full of billions of words assaulted me. I couldn’t leave quickly enough. They seemed to all be harassing me, screaming, “We don’t need any more of these!”

But hanging on my husband’s neck in the kitchen after the kids had finally quieted down that night, I told him about the abuse I had suffered. I echoed the books’ words: “Why? Why does the world need another book?”

“Think about it like this,” he said. “The world doesn’t need another child, either. There are billions. And yet each one is precious—unique—and a necessary and beautiful contribution to the world. And people just keep birthing them.”

This from a man who consumes over 80 books a year and reads for a living. He has narrated a few horrible books in his lifetime. Surely he would save me from myself if I was way off track.

But he believes I can do it. I don’t think I would have even started writing without him as a coach, editor and cheerleader. God knew I wouldn’t venture out without at least one person in the world telling me I could do this.

So I released my inner madman this morning. He’s running all over the page. I’m listening. I lift my hands in terrified obedience–surrender, even.

Yes. I will serve the work.

Here we go.


If you are a writer, how do you find your brave?


*Contains Amazon affiliate links

What do Annie Dillard, Madeleine L'Engle, Luci Shaw and Rilke have in common?

The Cost of Getting Proximate {for SheLoves}

Sharing this post at SheLoves today, for the theme “Amplify.”

Bryan Stevenson changed my life.

Last year, his book, Just Mercy, crushed the last of my illusions about justice in the United States. A few months after reading it—sleep deprived with a 12-day-old newborn—I drove to hear Stevenson speak in the auditorium of a nearby university. I nursed my infant with one arm and scribbled illegible notes with my other hand. But two words rattled me, transfixed me. They altered the course of our life, in fact.

“Get proximate.”

I stopped writing and looked up as he spoke. “Get close to the problems instead of trying to solve them from a distance. Get proximate to the poor and be willing to do uncomfortable things,” he said.

Was I willing not to just visit, talk about, or pray for those living in the margins, but actually move there?

For the past two years after moving from the city of Chicago, we rented a house in a nearly all-white area of Colorado snuggled up against the Rocky Mountains. The middle class neighborhood was made up of retirees with large campers parked in their driveways and a few young families. People didn’t bother locking their doors and I would have felt safe walking down our pitch black street late at night under a jubilee of stars. We were within walking distance of a huge new park with a splash pad, a giant wooden playground, a Frisbee golf course and tennis courts.

But as we began to search for a home to buy, I sensed God nudging us towards something other than safe, secure and comfortable. As we looked for houses in the nearby college town, I picked subdivisions where the neighborhood school had a high percentage of non-white students and free lunch recipients.

I drove around neighborhoods near trailer parks and run-down apartment complexes, ashamed that though I’d be willing to live near them, I wasn’t willing to actually live in a low income neighborhood just to be proximate to the poor.

Buying a home holds a mirror to our prejudices, privilege and values. It blasts holes in our claim to love our neighbor when we begin to realize we meant the neighbor just like us.

God never assures us safe or comfortable. He doesn’t urge us to pray for “smooth journeys” or perfect health. In fact, the gospel message juxtaposed against American culture is starkly counter-cultural.

Jesus wandered from house to house, keeping company with the misfits of society. He touched the untouchable and dined with the outcast. In the end, he gave up the right to protect himself and willingly died so these misfits could experience belonging. This is the gospel. So why do Sunday mornings at church always feel so polished and pristine?

We finally bought a home. Though the city is 82 percent white, the neighborhood school is 73 percent white. Fifty-two percent of the students have free or reduced lunch. It is not a drastic shift, but it is a small step toward a wider community of neighbors.

The city we moved to is double the size of the one we left. The hum of life murmurs at a low level. We now hear sirens, see bikers buzz past our picture window and hear Thai, Arabic and Hindi spoken at the grocery store. For the first time in my life, there is an African American family living across the street. My children are also beginning to recognize Spanish being spoken at the public library or MacDonald’s play place. I have plenty of opportunities to eavesdrop on unsuspecting Chinese people who don’t know I spent five years in China. From a diversity-standpoint, this feels like a good decision.

But what about the increase in homelessness and crime—does Jesus really want us to move closer to that?

Before moving (and in rebellion against the inner voice that warns us we’re googling too far) I searched online to see if there were any sex offenders in the neighborhood. There are. The site also offered all the registered felons. There were many—even on the route my kids will one day walk to school. I joined the local online forum for our neighborhood and learned that three cars were broken into last week and an unsolved murder a few streets away was solved. Fear began pawing at me, whispering that I am right to shelter and shield my children.

Proximity costs us …

Continue reading at SheLoves.


Monthly Mentionables {July/Aug 2017} + 10 Things I Learned While Renovating Our New Home

If you want to test your marriage, parenting, and general lust for life, try moving with three children, age four and under. I suppose it wouldn’t have been so challenging if we hadn’t attempted to paint all the kitchen cabinets and the entire interior of the house before moving in …

But my word for this year is “fire,” so I will leave you to apply all the metaphors to this current situation. Just not the cozy, sit-by-the-fire ones, please.

But in the midst of our normal, daily life stressors, I can’t not mention that this was the month of Charlottesville, the solar eclipse and Hurricane Harvey, plus flooding in many other countries around the world. Each event left me stunned and speechless. As a writer, I struggle because I feel the pressure of speaking into the noise even when I know I may not be heard. The weight of responsibility weighs on me. But that’s a topic for another post …

Today, I’ll keep it light and share what I’ve learned this month via books, podcasts, articles and writing.

Because of the busyness of our recent move, the book reading has been minimal. But with the many hours of painting and nursing a baby, I’ve squeezed in podcasts and much blog/article-reading. Please comment here or on social media. As an extrovert, I love knowing I’m not writing into the void and as a mother to small children with little time to reach out, I appreciate feeling like this blog is more of a conversation than an online journal I am publishing for every stranger to read. Don’t be a stranger;-)

So here we go. Here are the books (okay, book), podcasts, articles and very little writing I’ve been into this month, plus ten things I learned this summer while renovating our new home:

Adopted, by Kelley Nikondeha

I have a serious problem. As a writer, I have some amazing opportunities to pre-read books and be a part of book launches. I find I CANNOT SAY NO to these. It’s a problem. But I am so glad I went against my own better judgement and agreed to read this book written by a long-time contributor to SheLoves. Adopted is a slowly-read-and-savor kind of book. It is an underline-every-line kind of book. The author was not only adopted, but also adopted two children from Burundi (and married a man from Burundi), so she speaks out of her experience as she shares about belonging to the family of God. Kelley is an outstanding writer and I loved the way she weaves words and images from Africa throughout the book. If you are looking for an early morning companion to your daily Bible reading and coffee drinking, be sure and pick up this book. It will change the way you view your place at God’s table.


Pass the Mic

Bonus: The Fierce Urgency of Now: Christian Complicity with Racism and the Imperative for Immediate Action. This is fabulous. Please listen if you have a chance this month.



I’m experimenting with listening to this during the first part of my runs in the mornings. I’ve shared it before, but it includes a spiritual song, then a reading of a short Bible passage and a few questions for reflection. They have British accents, so it makes it feel even more spiritual somehow;-)


The Simple Show

Episode 88: No & Yes. I’ve been thinking about this question a lot lately as I begin the school year calendar. What will I say no to and make room for the things I want to say yes to? This episode gave me a lot to think about.


Slices of Life. This one was new to me this month. I love the depth these women go to as they discuss daily life.

Episode 39: Making Time for Your Kids

Episode 53: The Benefits of Margin in Your Day


Sorta Awesome

Episode 110 Sorry/Not Sorry. This is a long one, but if you don’t have time to get together with girl friends yourself and need a good belly-laugh, this is a perfect way to spend your minutes folding laundry, cooking dinner or commuting to work.


TED Talks Daily. These are all fabulous. If I were teaching right now, they are talks I would assign as homework so we could discuss them in class. Here are some I listened to this month:

How to Design a Library that Makes Kids Want to Read, by Michael Bierut (I feel like this isn’t the right title for this–listen through all the way to the end!)

Why Our Screens Make Us Less Happy, by Adam Alter

How Cohousing can make us happier (and live longer), by Grace Kim

When Black Women Walk, Things Change, byT. Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison

12 Truths I Learned from Life and Writing, by Anne Lamott



Authentic Italian Meatballs at food.com

Garlic Lemon Herb Mediterranean Chicken + Potatoes (one pan) at Café Delites (Be sure to add feta cheese to this one)

Shrimp Boil at Tasting Table. (Use less salt!)

Vanilla Cupcakes from Life, Love and Sugar. The cake part wasn’t anything new, but the frosting was better than any I’ve ever made before! I’m excited to try out some new recipes from here.

Casper, WY. The night before the eclipse. The sun was already showing off.

Interesting Articles from the Web:

Be a Foster Parent or Be the Village, by Katie Finklea at Loving Well, Living Well

The Death of Reading is Threatening the Soul, by Philip Yancey at Washington Post

I Moved My Kids Out of America. It Was the Best Parenting Decision I Ever Made, by Wendy DeChambeau for The Week 

Oldest Kids in Class Do Better, Even Through College, by John Ydstie for NPR

Teach Me How to Age Well, by Leah Abraham at SheLoves Magazine

The ‘Wait Until 8th’ Pledge–Let Kids be Kids a Little Longer, by Linda Sharkey, at Westport Moms Blog

White Supremacy (Overt and Covert), a great visual for understanding race

Why Free Play is Disappearing in Our Culture, for Today’s Mama

10 Truths and Realities of Transracial Adoption, by at Loving Well, Living Well

12 Best Practices for Finding Time, Energy and Inspiration to Write + A Prayer for Writers, by Sarah Bessey

100 Books by Christian Authors of Color, by Deidra Riggs at her blog



This Shiplap is Killing Me: 8 Things I Hate about HGTV

John Piper’s Best Tweets


In Case You Missed it on Scraping Raisins:

Why I’m Not Apologizing for My Kids and Doing Hospitality Anyway

Why We’re Not Doing Preschool this Year and Are Doing a ‘Gap Year’ Instead

#WhiteChurchQuiet and How the White Church Can Get It Right

Why I Write (because don’t we sometimes need to remember?)


And Elsewhere on the Interwebs:

Doe, a Deer, a Female Deer (for SheLoves)

Small, Sticky Hands Lead Me to Jesus (for Redbud Post)

Selling Out by Settling Down? (for Mudroom Blog)

And this is for the Emily P. Freeman Crowd–10 Things I Learned this Summer while Renovating Our New Home

  1. Painting Kitchen Cabinets: Don’t use Annie Sloan Chalk paint on your kitchen cabinets unless you want to do three coats of paint, plus three coats of polyurethane PER SIDE–that’s 12 flips, people. I did use it on the kitchen island, though, because I wanted to use the dark wax and loved the turquoise color, called Florence.
  2. Shower Mildew: check this out before re-grouting your shower. Totally works.
  3. DIY Kitchen Island: My dad and I built our kitchen island basically using this site. I love it so far!
  4. IKEA and I are not enemies anymore. I love the drawer organizer, kids’ easel and paper, kids’ plasticware, comforter and plants.
  5. Downsides to the Open Floor Plan: noise and it is impossible to hide the clutter.
  6. Painting Kitchen Counters: haven’t done this yet, but I’m planning on using Giani–let me know if you’ve ever done this and have tips!
  7. Painting All Interior Walls: taping takes so long that I eventually just got really good at cutting-in.
  8. Stock Up on Trader Joe’s Frozen Dinners–the Indian ones and naan are actually really good! People should do meal trains for moves like they do for new moms. A couple friends brought us meals and literally saved my sanity that day!
  9. Keep Little Ones Busy: let them play with paint brushes and rollers outside and “paint” the sidewalk with water.
  10. Popcorn Ceilings: don’t attempt to remove them yourself. It is completely worth the cost to pay someone to do it.

Before and After pics still to come!

What all were you up these past couple months? I’d love to hear!


*Linking up with Emily P. Freeman and Leigh Kramer

**Includes Amazon Affiliate links





Why I’m Not Apologizing for My Kids and Doing Hospitality Anyway

Lately I’ve been asking myself if I still enjoy hosting people in my home. Gathering around the table, feasting, having deep talks over plates piled high with food in the glow of candlelight is the goal, right? The adults belly laugh, dabbing tears from the corner of their eyes, then grab another steaming roll to dip in their homemade soup while the children run off to laugh together in the backyard. This is my expectation. No, this is my illusion.

Instead, hospitality looks more like this:

I wait until the absolute last minute to tell my three children we are having guests, because they turn into crazed creatures pulsating with energy the second they know more attention-giving bodies will be in our home. Instead, as soon as my pre-arrival stress is about to erupt, I plug them into a movie to do the last minute meal prep, sweep the floor, pick up the toys and issue marching orders to my husband-turned-servant. Seconds before our first guest arrives, we scan the house, noting that it is worth having guests over just to have a decluttered home even if for just a second. But then the reality check arrives.

The doorbell rings and one of my children hides, while the other rushes to the door, suddenly all disheveled hair and stained clothing and immediately drags any newly arrived kids to their messy bedroom. The guests make their way to the kitchen and plant themselves at the kitchen island. My husband delivers drinks while I try not to screw up the whole meal in minutes because I am now not only stressed and hungry, but distracted. The kids race through the house, dumping the toys from every basket, crashing trucks over our feet and racing them on the hardwood floors. They reach grimy hands over the counter to blindly grab at olives, cheese or chips at the edge of the counter.

I calmly and slowly remind my children of “what we talked about before our guests arrived”—they should play outside or in designated rooms. Go there right now. Please. They ignore me. I stand there, hands covered in garlic, knife in hand and keep smiling at my newly-arrived guests.

Welcome to our happy home.

We had a family over last weekend with three children the ages of our children and one man who came solo. We spent the entire afternoon preparing. The food was overcooked and too salty, and I learned the downsides of the popular “open floor plan”—namely that the child chaos ricochets around the room and is impossible to escape. The four older children (all five and under) sat alone at the kitchen island, dueling with the plastic knives they had snuck out of the drawer and turned their food into ships and guns. The other mom and I tried to feed our babies finger food and unsuccessfully police our other children all while trying to talk about plans for a new small group. The older kids finished and the three-year-old girl caught her finger in the sliding glass door and wailed the remainder of the time. We all stood up, leaving our one male friend eating his apple pie alone at the table.

When the baby, too, began to cry, the parents abruptly announced their decision to abort mission. What was meant to last 2 ½ hours lasted 1 ½ hours. They were all out the door in minutes, leaving my husband and I standing in the kitchen, counters piled high with dirty dishes and over-stimulated kids running through the toy and food-littered floor. “Let’s go for a walk,” I said.

And so in the quiet after the chaos, I did what any halfway sensible adult would do and reflected on the wisdom of continuing the stress, anxiety and humiliation of having people to my home during this season with little ones. Maybe this isn’t the time of life. Perhaps I just said I liked hospitality because it seemed like the Good Christian Thing to do. “God, is this really…” And before I could even formulate the thought into a prayer, God interrupted.

“You do it anyway.”

Wait, what?

Do hospitality anyway. You do it in the stress and the mess and the raisins smashed into the carpet. You do it even though you are hollering over three preschoolers telling knock knock jokes with no punchline and talking about poop and pee at the table. You do it when your children throw tantrums and blatantly disobey you in front of your friends and family. You do it because doing life together means not hiding behind closed doors, but inviting people into your actual life. And real life is not pretty. It is not organized, perfect or pristine. Hospitality is not comfortable, clean or controlled.

Three of the four books in the Bible about Jesus’ life and ministry tell a story about his friends trying to keep the kids away from Jesus. I’m sure the children then were not so different from kids today. They had dirt under their fingernails, food on their faces, didn’t know how to use inside voices or walk—not run–inside. They didn’t know they shouldn’t ask people why they are fat or handicapped or black. They probably announced that food was “yucky” and peed on the floor when they forgot to go to the bathroom. They probably fought to hold on to their favorite toys and didn’t like going to sleep in the dark. Those Jewish children probably acted just like my kids.

And yet instead of being embarrassed, Jesus invited those messy, noisy, belligerent children to come to him. He didn’t tell them to clean up or straighten up first. Instead, he reprimanded his well-meaning friends who were eager for a constant atmosphere of contemplation and miracles. “Don’t stop them,” he scolded them. “For the Kingdom of God belongs to people like these.” The Kingdom does not belong to the perfect adults (ha), but the imperfect, loud, obnoxious kids.

Somehow, the Kingdom of God belongs to those with the greatest impropriety. The ones we are embarrassed of are the very ones to whom the kingdom belongs. Instead of working for our children to be seen and not heard, perhaps we should be doing more inviting, listening and learning from them.

I’m not advocating for a child-centered existence, but I am wondering if there is something to Jesus’ command that I’m missing when I expect my children to be anything more or less than what they are–children. Perhaps I need to hang a sign by my table as a reminder: “She is three years old. He is four years old.” Because I forget and expect them to act like adults.

My children are peeling away my masks, forcing me into true, messy relationship without the pretense of perfection. And Jesus says that if I don’t learn to receive the Kingdom of God like one of these kids we apologize for and try to hide, then we will never receive it.

So I’m doing hospitality anyway. In the noise, fuss, mess and chaos. Don’t wipe your feet at the door. Just come on in.


How are you doing hospitality anyway?

Somehow, the Kingdom of God belongs to those with the greatest impropriety. The ones we are embarrassed of are the very ones to whom the kingdom belongs. Instead of working for our children to be seen and not heard, perhaps we should be doing more inviting, listening and learning from them.

Why We’re Not Doing Preschool this Year (and Are Doing a ‘Gap Year’ Instead)

I sent my first son to preschool two days a week before he even turned three. In spite of a twinge of grief and guilt as I dropped him off that first day, I know we both did a little skip when I left—him running to plunge his hands into the sensory bin filled with items I wouldn’t let near my house and me rushing home to put my daughter down for her nap and a glorious hour and a half of silence.

As an educator myself, I don’t need to be convinced that preschool is a good idea. It is fabulous. Structure, another adult to listen to and obey, friends to be made and exposure to more of life outside of the sphere of our home. Preschool is a wonderful way for kids to learn, grow and be socialized.

But this year, we are opting out of preschool.

I recognize that even having the option of sending or not sending my child to preschool and being a stay-at-home parent is a result of my privilege. I erased my last fourth-grade homework chart off the dry-erase board of our school nearly five years ago–just weeks before my first son was born–and I haven’t received a paycheck since (*sob*). But I want to acknowledge that I am a privileged person simply because I have the choice to work or not work.

For the most part, preschool in Colorado is not free, so money is a large factor in why we aren’t doing it this year.

But I also suddenly realized that unless I homeschool (which I’m not planning to), we will be bound to a school schedule for the next 18 years.

But we have this one year before that happens.

Just one year before we will be racing around in the mornings to get a child out of the house. One year before the school supplies, fieldtrip permission slips, picture money, parent conferences and other parent-child-school responsibilities begin. A week into madly researching a viable preschool option for my three and almost-five-year-olds, wondering how I’d juggle drop-offs and pick-ups with a one-year-old, the thought occurred to me…

What if we did something crazy, and just took a free year—a gap year? A year to be a little tribe and explore, play, learn and grow together?

Before kids, I was an upper elementary and middle school teacher—early education was not my thing. But I’m hoping by surrendering to the mess, stress, slowness and simplicity, I’ll fall in love with these little years. And perhaps we’ll build a strong foundation together before they begin to totter out of the nest into public school.

Here are some ideas I have for the coming year.


This one is hard for me. It is nearly impossible for me to sit on the floor with my children and not start organizing toys. But I’m going to attempt to let go, give in and learn to play with my children this year. This year, I resolve to:

  • Allow lots of free play. I finally surrendered the couch cushions to the minions. They have their own pile in the sunroom now.
  • Visit all the parks in our city.
  • Sing and dance. My son has a CD player and all the CD’s are scratched, but they can really break it down.
  • Get outside every day—spend time in the front and back yard, go to parks, go on walks around the neighborhood or visit nature areas around town.


We are in a new city, so there is much to explore. But you might be surprised what you’ll find when you become a tourist in your own town.

  • Visit all the Little Free Libraries in our city. We always have a stack of books to give away. We’re going to ride bikes or drive around to visit all of these we can.
  • Go on hikes and nature walks. My kids whine the first fifteen minutes of a “hike,” but usually find rocks, bugs and flowers to distract them pretty quickly. The baby rides in the ergo for this one.
  • Attend free festivals and concerts. Denver is just an hour away, but our city has plenty to keep us busy year-round.
  • Go to the children’s museum, zoo and other museums in and around our city. Instead of blowing all their grandparent Christmas and birthday money on gifts that just get lost and clutter up our house, I usually use 70 percent of it on museum or zoo passes.
  • Visit a fire station or create our own fieldtrips.
  • Find out about other languages and cultures. We’ll be attending the international women’s club on a weekly basis, so this helps with that. We’re also hoping to have an international student live with us this year.
  • Visit the grandparents in the mountains.


  • Go to the library once a week and attend library story times.
  • Intentionally read some books each week with people of color as the main characters.
  • Read books together daily—big books and little books. We just finished James and the Giant Peach and are doing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory next.
  • Listen to audio books. My son has enjoyed Magic Tree House so far.
  • Have them read quietly at certain times of the day (ha).


I don’t do well with messes. This is one of the things I loved best about preschool—the teacher did all the messy things with my son so I never had to feel guilty about not doing those things. But this year I’m going for it. We bought an easel at Ikea, lots of washable paints and markers, rolls of paper and all kinds of random objects at Hobby Lobby to glue onto paper to make collages. We’re doing it. The goal is for all of us to have glitter, paint or marker on our bodies at all times just to prove we are artists (okay, maybe not glitter).

  • Draw
  • Paint (my kids hate finger painting, but we’ll probably try again)
  • Make necklaces
  • Glue things to paper—like pasta, tiny pieces of paper, feathers, nature items,
  • Bake
  • Do one pinterest craft a week (*slight cringe* #notapinterestmom)
  • Make puppets and masks
  • Play with sand (LOVE this crazy sand–as long as it’s on a sweepable surface), water, playdough, clay and other sensory items


  • Bake something for a neighbor or homeless person and deliver it once a week.
  • Visit a nursing home.
  • Attend the international women’s club each week at the nearby college.
  • Visit with elderly neighbors.
  • Have people over for dinner and have the kids help make it.
  • Practice random acts of kindness together.


  • Stay home at least one day a week.
  • Take our time going places.
  • Throw out schedules every once in a while—allow naps in the car, stay up late and have movie nights, wear PJ’s until 2 pm, take baths in the middle of the day.


Notice I don’t have a “learn” category. This year, I want to focus on my children learning experientially. Will we do letters, numbers and reading? Of course, because those things happen organically in life and we’ll talk about them when they do. But I am not planning on having a structured “school time” each day or week other than my kids attending Bible study and church each week.

Opting out of preschool is a slightly terrifying prospect to me, and yet I’m excited for margins in our days to lean into life.  Because we are not paying for preschool, we can afford a sitter one morning a week so I can write, but the other days (thanks to my husband who works full-time), our time is flexible. And as much as I would have loved a few hours with a few less kids a week, the thought of a year of freedom to live, explore, create, read, serve and relax sounds pretty amazing, too.

I’ll be writing about our experience periodically and sharing reviews about the books we check out at the library, so subscribe to my newsletter to keep in touch!

Here we go. Let the adventures begin.


*Includes Amazon affiliate links

Why we're not doing preschool this year--and all that we'll be doing instead.


#WhiteChurchQuiet and How the White Church Can Get It Right

I skipped church the week Alton Sterling and Alando Castile were gunned down. I feared their names wouldn’t be mentioned from the pulpit.

I wanted to protect myself from bitterness that our all-white church could afford to not even notice the tsunami happening in the African-American community. Instead, I immersed myself in downloaded sermons from churches with people of color at the helm, finding they were not as bitter as I was. It turns out this was not a new phenomenon to them like it was to me. They had seen it all before. And they’d see it again.

I found myself gathering a similar resolve this past weekend after Charlottesville, my insides coiling and preparing to fight or flee as a response to the inevitable silence of our white church. We’ve since changed churches, but our 98 percent white church has tended to shy away from controversy in the past, so I suspected silence from the pulpit.

I was wrong.

Our pastor hit it head-on. We began our service with a congregational prayer and response for racial healing. From there, he launched into a lament and a call to us to do more, be more, learn more. He shared a time when he got it wrong in a partnership with a local black church.

Our church doing a congregational prayer and response after Charlottesville.

The white church has so far to go. In Lisa Sharon Harper’s recent guest post on Ann Voskamp’s blog, she pointed out that race is often considered an extracurricular activity for the church. But fighting for equal justice for men and women of color is not the same as signing up to help with the monthly newcomer’s potluck. It is not the same as giving money for overseas missions or serving in the soup kitchen.

This is not just one lane of many that we can choose to advocate for—the lane of racial healing is for every single member of the body of Christ. For when one part of our body is hurting, the rest suffers.

We all know how these things go. The internet will be deafeningly loud—for a while. The buzz will quiet down for a time until the next brown teenager is shot or the next rally is broadcasted.

But what if the white church couldn’t be identified as #whitechurchquiet any longer—a Twitter hashtag coined by Andre E. Johnson as a way of calling attention to the silence of the white church? What if the white church was known as a champion of our brown and black brothers and sisters in Christ? What if the white church was the loudest cry, the longest march and the most insistent voice in the fight for equal justice for every breathing human made in the image of God on this planet?

What if?

I am tempted to tune out and turn off the noise. I feel numb to the hate, paralyzed by the need for change.

But the church does not have the luxury of scurrying away and hiding from pain.The church does not have the right to cover her eyes until this, too, has passed. No, the church needs to step into the fire. 

We are the body and blood of Jesus Christ. The church is fueled by the Spirit of the living God and the resurrected King of Kings. This is not the time for the church to cower. This is the time for the church to come out of hiding and love with all the love we have been given. It is the time to speak into the spheres where we live, work and worship.

These are not dark days, for God is not dead. He is piercing the darkness. He wants the white church to join Him.

Race Resources:

70+ Race Resources for White People

80+ MORE Race Resources for White People

Facebook groups:

Be the Bridge

Pass the Mic

What if the white church was the loudest cry, the longest march and the most insistent voice in the fight for equal justice for every breathing human made in the image of God on this planet?

Why I Write (because don’t we sometimes need to remember?)

I haven’t written in five weeks. Julia Cameron would call this taking time to “restock the pond” or “refill the well.” But it has been out of necessity more than creative intention.

I painted our entire house. Alabaster White now coats the renovated popcorn ceilings and hides the dark wood trim. Sherwin Williams “Silver Strand” cools most of the walls of the house, lending a faint blue, green or grey tint depending on the lighting of the room. There is still more to do, but now that we are living here, we will have to shift furniture and barricade rooms to get it done in the evenings after the kids have gone to bed.

I also took a break from podcasts, instead painting to playlists collected from illegally downloaded music while I was living in China. But I also painted to childhood favorites like the Big Chill soundtrack including “My Girl” and “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” as well as my Christian youth group culture beloved albums like “Enter the Worship Circle” and the album I listened to freshman year of college—Chris Rice’s “Deep Enough to Dream.”

Becoming more adept at cutting in with the angled paintbrush, I numbly eased into the music of all the women I have been. Escaping into those old identities was more comforting than obsessing over whether or not I was trading those old selves for the American Dream.

But now I have to shut off the music, put down the paint brush and get back to regular life.

I must get back to writing.

But the amount of time it takes to be a writer (not to mention a mother who writes) and live in that headspace begs the question: Why do I write at all? You may write for different reasons, but this is why I do it.

I write to think. I think best with a pen or pencil in my hand. I told a friend once that I am not a verbal processor, but need a pen to work out my thoughts. “So what is that called?” I asked her. “A writer,” she said.

I write to stay sane. (Seriously.) My journal is my personal counselor. If my husband and I reach an impasse in our communication, I’ll grab my journal and hole myself up to write it all out until I’ve figured out what I am feeling and why. I almost always reach clarity through doing this. I have saved thousands of dollars on therapy simply by journaling.

I write to remember and keep a record of my life. I have purposely not bought a fantastic camera because I want to transcribe my memories with words and not just pictures. I rode the bus in China and would experiment with different ways I could describe my experience to friends and family back home who would never have the opportunity to visit. Pictures seemed a less challenging puzzle.

I write to connect. I used to be a letter writer. I still schlep boxes of letters around with me to each place I’ve lived. Blogging, for me, sometimes feels like a polished letter to a friend. It is the state of my heart right now, in this place. But it can also feel one-sided–like standing in a lit room at night with the shades wide open. Others are seeing me from the outside, but I can’t see them. In this way, writing makes me feel exposed. Yet the days I feel most vulnerable as a writer are inevitably the days I get an email from a reader saying, “Thank you.” And “Me, too.”

I write because I am compelled. When I fell in love with my husband, love was a rapid river current that would have been impossible to escape. Writing feels much the same. Since the word “calling,” makes me squeamish, I hesitate to use that word, and yet it is something like that. I’m committed, but I also can’t imagine not writing. Being trapped without a way of getting my thoughts out seems like the worst kind of punishment. Writing is a need, not a want.

And to spiritualize it all (because sometimes we need to do that, don’t we?), I write my life as an offering. I hope God will take my loaves and fish—the simplicity of my days—and use them to feed more than just myself. Writing demands faith because there is always the fear that I am just wasting my time and adding noise to the world. But God delights in creating banquets out of table scraps, abundance out of scarcity, and cool springs from parched land.

I trust that the God who makes tiny seeds grow from dirt can plant my word offerings in the world and cultivate beauty that wasn’t there before.

And so this week I return to work without pay, fame or fanfare. For all its impossible demands on my time and attention, not writing is a far worse torture.


If you are a writer, why do you write?


**Contains Amazon affiliate links

Why I Write

Doe, a Deer, A Female Deer {for SheLoves}

I published this earlier this month at SheLoves Magazine. Click over to read the full article!

“When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.” –Mother Superior, The Sound of Music

Currently, I am in a season with many walls, few doors, and quite a few windows to the outside world—taunting me by what I’m allegedly missing. I’ve been here before—as a teenager trapped in my parent’s home, as a college student waiting for my life to begin, as a thirty-year-old single woman (with a sex drive and ticking biological clock) surrounded by families, as a teacher going on to the next year because it was expected. And now I’m here as a mother to three littles, walled-in by naptimes, temper tantrums and mind-numbing routines.

Perhaps you’re here, too, though your walls may look different than mine. Illness, job insecurity, infertility, a sick parent or another impossible circumstance may leave you feeling trapped against your will, walled-in and alone. You have underutilized gifts, unfulfilled callings and pent-up passions.

Part of what I’m realizing is that just because strength, intelligence or giftings are harnessed for a time doesn’t mean they are weakened or disappear. In fact, Old Mother Maturity is still at work on our juvenile souls, training us by her delays and uncomfortable restrictions.

Last week I eased my minivan out of our driveway into the cul-de-sac and caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of my eye. Poised like a queen was a huge doe, beaming her gaze directly at me. But the most alarming part was that she stood trapped inside my neighbor’s fenced yard.

How did she get in there? I thought. And how will she get out?

The image haunted me all day long. It took a while to decode my emotions, but when I did, I accepted this living parable as a gift to me in my current season. It was as if God was saying,

“I see you.

Yes, you are fenced in right now, unable to travel far or do so much of what you thought you would do with your life. But the fact that you are restricted does not diminish your strength. And it does not mean you will be here forever.”

That doe was strength under control. She was choosing containment just as I am choosing it now for the sake of my little people.

And through forfeited freedom, I am learning the richness of soulful living.

Science calls this “potential energy.” Potential energy is the energy an object has because of its position, rather than its motion. It is a bicycle perched on a hill, a nearly poured-out pitcher of water or a book balanced on someone’s head. It is a doe behind a fence. It is harnessed energy, ready to explode into action. It is doors slammed shut, waiting for windows to be thrown open …Continue reading at SheLoves …

Small Sticky Hands Lead Me to Jesus {for The Redbud Post}

Last summer, hugely pregnant with my third child, I took my 1- and 3-year-olds on a walk every afternoon. I’d saunter along behind them, absently resting my hand on my taut belly, hoping to receive some communication in the form of a heel or shoulder blade in my palm. My head ached from the dry Colorado heat, and every joint and ligament protested at being stretched to capacity. I had no delight left in me, so I drank in the delight of my children, filling my own empty reservoir with their joy.

We spent over an hour on a half mile stretch of concrete path that wound behind our neighborhood. The path only extended another half mile beyond that and was barricaded by a chain-link fence, though there were rumors the city planned on extending the path one day.

On these walks, my kids would lie on the sidewalk, watching ants and poking roly-polies until they curled into a ball. They’d pick dandelions by the fist-full and stuff their pockets with ruby red berries I hoped weren’t poisonous. Wild, brown bunnies would dart out of bushes and skitter away as my son and daughter chased them under fences.

For once, I was glad to roam at the rhythm of my children. The first four years of motherhood had been a constant tension: my kids wanted to go slow; I wanted to go fast. They wanted to savor simple pleasures; I wanted the adventurous life I had lived before children. They wanted to play; I wanted to be productive.

But last summer, I finally surrendered. My children won the battle for slow, small and simple.

So now, instead of resenting them for weighing me down, holding me back, and stunting my growth, I’m starting to accept that my children are not a burden. In fact, they are teaching me how to live.

My children are my wonder-catchers. They are my sieve—capturing every small, insignificant, glorious life particle before it can slip away. Like getting eyeglasses for the first time, my children magnify life, bringing every bug, spider web, sparkly rock, quirky person, and familiar place into sharp clarity. We do not go far or fast, but they are teaching me to marvel at the mysteries of a God hidden in plain sight. As a writer and worshiper of God, slowness is a gift, for I am honing the ability to notice and delight.

I’ve had these prophetic words by Madeleine L’Engle scribbled into my prayer journal since my pre-kid years. I never knew their fulfillment would come in the form of motherhood:

“Slow me down, Lord … When I am constantly running there is no time for being. When there is no time for being there is no time for listening” (Walking on Water 13).

In my former life, I was a doer. I led, organized, taught, and planned. I lived in other countries, got my masters, traveled alone on 27-hour train rides across China, and spoke other languages. But it turns out God was not impressed. Instead, he wanted to teach me how to be nearsighted again. He wanted to slow me down. Not just so I could see his work in the world, but so I could hear his still, small voice …

Continue reading at The Redbud Post

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