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Waiting on Christmas and light
Waiting on Christmas and light
Waiting on Christmas and lightI first fell in love with felt Advent calendars about six years ago when I saw a Christmas tree with 25 superbly decorated pockets at Pottery Barn.

I could practically see it filled with tiny presents and hanging on my walls, but I couldn’t bring myself to fork over the cash, especially since I really wanted one for each of our boys to keep and eventually share with his family.

So, I did what all insecure crafters do. I asked around to see if someone like me, with the most basic sewing skills, could make one. Then, I bought felt and kept it tucked away in my closet for a few years to see if I could build up the courage to begin.

The courage never came, but Mama and my middle sister did.

So, I did what all youngest children do. I asked them to help me make three calendars while they were here visiting. (And just to be clear: By “help me,” I meant do most of the cutting, the sewing and the decorating.)

There was a Christmas tree for Jessie, followed by a snow-themed calendar for Benjamin and a red steam engine, 23 cars and a caboose for Colt.

Waiting on Christmas and light
Waiting on Christmas and light

I’m not sure who was most excited to see the calendars go up – me or Colt. He visited his calendar time and time again throughout the day, peeking inside the cars and turning the buttons that once belonged to his great-grandma and now serve as makeshift wheels for his train.

The next day, when the gifts and candy were added, his interest doubled at least. He discovered a candy cane that he really wanted to eat right away and white pompoms I had planned to be used for an indoor snowball fight.

“Is it Christmas yet?” he asked after an episode of Paw Patrol.

“Is it Christmas yet?” he asked his dad in the kitchen. “Is it Christmas yet?” he asked me as he left his dad and walked through the door to the dining room.

“It’s so hard to wait,” he said, his 4-year-old brain straining to understand the same thing my 42-year-old brain struggles with.

It can be hard to find joy in the waiting, but even when we can’t see things happening, God is working and light is on its way.

Christmas – and all its gifts – are coming.

how to share more than a meal this holidayFew things are as important to me – or as sacred – as stories. I listened to stories before I could walk, and I told my own before I could read.

That’s one of the reasons I enjoy this time of year. We gather around the table and retell the story of our faith. We share meals and memories.

But the truth is, sometimes I wish these conversations could go deeper. I wish we could get beyond the work-is-fine-and-the-kids-are-good answers. I wish we could know each other better. For several years I’ve made a living out of getting people to talk about themselves, so I thought I’d share some suggestions:

Always start with the easy questions, and then work your way up to open-ended questions. Pause. Give people a chance to collect their thoughts. Once they’ve answered, ask a follow-up question.

What interests you the most about social studies? Why is that band so important to you? What do you like most about gardening?

While they are answering, listen. Lean toward them. Look at them. Don’t worry about what you are going to say next. It isn’t about you. Just. Listen. Stay in one conversation at a time so you can focus – and that means putting away your phone, too.

If you disagree or if you don’t understand, don’t show it on your face. Give them the chance to explain themselves before you send a signal that you disapprove or you’ll shut down the conversation before it really gets started. Then, if you’d genuinely like to learn more, ask respectful questions.

I’ve never thought of looking at immigration that way, could you tell me more? Could you walk me through an example?

Treat people as fascinating – because they are. And when it is your turn to talk about yourself, tell your story, too. People would really like to know what you remember about historical events. They do want to hear why you believe the way you do.

You’ll all walk away from the table richer than before.

guidelines for faith
I’ve been driving for more years than I’d care to reveal, but it wasn’t until I moved to the great frozen north that I learned about winter parking.

By winter parking, I don’t mean the complicated calculus-like formulas that you have to use to figure out what side of the street to park on in the city. (Let’s see, on odd days that have a vowel after the third consonant, I believe I park on the south side after 2 p.m. and before 3:18 a.m.) I mean the winter parking that should be easy – the kind where you pull your car into a lot that has snow on it and park without being able to see the yellow lines.

I just had no idea how difficult that was for some people. Sure, they can battle gnarly rush hour traffic and make it to work safely day after day, but parking without lines? That, apparently, is too much to handle for some folks.

For years I’ve secretly made fun of those people, the ones I affectionately describe as line-dependent. But this winter I felt a tiny pang of guilt, followed by a thought that insisted on worming its way through my brain: What if I’m like them?

Sure, I’m a confident enough driver to figure out how far to park from someone else’s car, but there are other times – when I can’t clearly see or feel God in the way that I’m used to – that I just freeze up and don’t know what to do.

God may have walked with me through miles of troubles and mountains of grief. But the instant the snow falls and blurs my view of things, I suddenly forget how simple it is to park between the lines. I forget to have faith and to trust what I know is true.

I guess I could handle it the way I do in my car: leave enough room for others; be careful not to hinder anyone from coming or going; try to be a good neighbor; and believe that warmer days will come and the lines will still be there if I need them.

An open letter to ChristiansDear Christians,

I try never to exclude people, but today I’d like to focus only on you, the people who share my faith – the people I know best.

We’ve had a lot of disagreements in the past. Some of us have even split off from one another over doctrine and hurt feelings. And we haven’t always been kind.

Many of us are convinced we have all the right answers, when in reality, we haven’t asked enough of the right questions. We haven’t asked and asked until we found common ground, until we found a way where we could work together.

We’ve used bumper sticker phrases like band-aids, but the scars from our arguments are still there. And those scars? They’re distracting when we try to talk to people about love and mercy, about forgiveness and healing.

Belief has mystery all around its edges. We can use that to badger one another or to build one another.

I know I’ve wrestled with my faith. I’ve tested and tried. I’ve searched scripture and I’ve cried to God for answers. I suspect you have, too. Just because we disagree on things today doesn’t mean we’ll always disagree. God never changes, but I pray I do.

Clearly we have many battles to fight in this world, many causes we are called to support. But we shouldn’t confuse the number of battles with the number of enemies.

There is only one enemy.

And the lie he tells us is that we are all enemies.

I hear it from the talking heads, the experts on TV. I read it in the newspapers and watch it scroll through on Facebook and Twitter. We act as if there is no hope for the left and for the right, and we forget – as one body – we share the same heart.

We forget that the baby in the manger came addressed to all of us.

We forget that God calls us beloved. Beloved liberal. Beloved conservative. Beloved sinners, all of us.

Beloved. Beloved. Beloved.

An open letter to Christians

Jesus had kind words for prostitutes, thieves and murderers. He had harsh words for religious people who thought themselves better than others.

We have much to do, you and I. We must be up and about our Father’s business – and his business is love.

I pray we can all agree on that.

Your sister,


IMG_2745.JPGLooking for gifts with meaning this year? Want something under the tree that points to faith and joy?

Let me suggest 10 of my favorite things you can buy, a few items you might like to make yourself – and some ways to bring a spiritual focus to more typical gifts.

To buy:
1. For men or women: a scripture wallet sold by Treasured Word on The wallets, which range from $4-8, hold scripture cards and feature a see-through window in the front for the scripture you’re working on memorizing.
Scripture wallet
2. For a no-clutter gift: a standard pillowcase with a favorite verse. These cost $20 at local Christian bookstores and are made by people with barriers to employment.
3. For those who like to host: a beautiful, modern kitchen towel with the scripture “They broke bread in their homes & ate together with glad & sincere hearts.” The towel costs $22 from If there is still room in your budget, you could make your own soup mix or barbecue rub and add it to the gift.

4. For those who like to decorate: a lantern that reads “The love of Jesus is the light of the world.” Expect to pay $30 for similar lanterns at and at bookstores.
5. For the young family: a daily devotional that’s perfect for reading at the dinner table. “Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing” was written by Sally Lloyd-Jones, author of my favorite storybook bible of all time, and I can’t recommend her work highly enough. The devotional is $17 – or you can buy a deluxe edition that comes with a set of audio CDs for $25.
6. For the children: a nativity set that’s sturdy enough for the littlest fingers. Think felted wool, wood or plastic.
7. For the slightly sarcastic among us: a T-shirt that has a picture of Jesus with BRB written underneath. They are $13 at SuburbanBasement on

8. For the art-lover: a watercolor painting or ink sketch by artist Michelle Palmer. Her nature-inspired work appears on everything from calendars and cards to fabric and flags. You can find her two stores on and you can see glimpses of her projects and follow their progress by liking her Facebook page.
Michelle Palmer1
Michelle Palmer2
9. For the sailor: a coffee mug with a scripture and blueprint of a boat. Also, miniature boats with verse on their sails. Mugs are $10 at or find them at Christian bookstores and Hobby Lobby. Boats range from $19 to $30 at bookstores.
10. For me (and anyone else who likes silver jewelry): a ring with a faithful message. My two favorites are a band that reads “with God all things are possible” and a ring with a rose-colored crystal surrounded by the words “I am always with you.” Both are $80 at

To make:
Clothespins with a message: Add inspirational words like “hope” and “blessings” with inexpensive rubber stamps. (I bought my tiny alphabet set at A.C. Moore for $1.) Glue magnets to the clothespins or use them to clip on to gifts.
Advent wreath: My grandparents had a huge black walnut tree in their back yard, and my cousins and I spent hours underneath those branches. When a storm took the tree, we saved some of the trunk and used a slice to create an Advent wreath. Is there something meaningful you could use to celebrate Advent? Maybe you don’t have a drill to make holes for a candle, but do you have bowls or teacups that could hold candles?
A tray that focuses on serving: Thrift stores seem to always have serving trays in need of upcycling. Why not add something related to faith?

To add a little faith in:
Binoculars: One of my favorite gifts to give children is binoculars. Why not add a note about the importance of exploring or enjoying God’s creation?
rainbowRainbow blocks: Blocks in the color and shape of a rainbow ($22, Grimm’s Spiel & Holz) are perfect for reminding people of God’s promises.
Books as themes: The book “Pirates on the Farm” ($13, Zonderkidz) practically begs to be paired with a pirate ship or a farm play set.
Pirates on the Farm


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