What to do when you’re busy

Sometimes it isn’t the bad weeks that make my heart race – it’s the busy ones.

The late-night work events. The meeting with the higher-ups. The talk at church. The paperwork piling up at home and pushing against a deadline.

All good things. All things I wanted to do.

Still, I woke up last week feeling nervous and rushed. My drive to work came to almost a complete halt about the time I reached Holy Sepulchre Cemetery and its neighboring road construction. I drummed my fingers and tapped my foot, urging the cars ahead of me to move. I wanted to be really early for work so I could move a few things off my to-do list before my meetings even started for the day. Maybe then I could relax my shoulders a little. Maybe then I could settle in to a comfortable pace.

How to make room for Jesus

doll1I suspect even the most dedicated collector has favorites. That one quartz he found on vacation as a boy. The postage stamp that came on the first letter from her pen pal.

At least it’s true for me, a recovering doll collector. Of all the dolls in my collection, there are a few that are always top of mind.

There’s the one in the tattered yellow dress. Nancy is her name. She was the one Mom bought me when I was a baby. The one I most liked to play with.

Then, there’s the Madame Alexander doll my best friend’s mom gave me – Cinderella with a shiny blue dress. It had been hers growing up and she wanted me to have it because she knew I’d treasure it. She was right.

But the dolls I always have on display at my house are my matryoshkas. I love the artistry of each nesting doll, and I like the visual reminder that we all have layers of stories to tell just beneath the outer surface.


A few of my Russian nesting dolls show women in intricately painted aprons, and two display Russian cities with shining domes. But my favorite set of dolls shows a series of religious icons, starting with Mary and baby Jesus. Four other icons are inside and sometimes I open up the set and display them all.

The last time I opened them and rearranged them, I paused when I got to the one that showed Jesus as an adult. I admired the gilded halo and the soft eyes, but just as I started to set it down, I noticed the empty shell of the larger doll.

To make room for Jesus, the first shell had to be emptied. The wood had to be carved and shaped and then, ever so carefully, crafted to fit back together.

Is it really so different for us?

For faith to have a place within, something else has to be carved out. Greed and gossip must go because love and humility and sacredness need space to grow.


It’s not an easy process, this letting go of selfishness to make room for what makes our selves better. But it does no good to paint the outside without clearing out the inside because without the clearing, the story ends before its time.

Instead of five nesting dolls, the story stops at four. Or at three.

The beauty that the artist had hoped to share is stunted. The story is shallow and the masterpiece unfinished.

So, we can hold on and remain intact, or we can let go and be made whole.



Giving is only half of Christmas


Growing up with Erb’s Palsy, I often had to ask for help with the little things – the things that would be much easier with two good arms:

French-braiding my hair.

Sharpening my pencils in class.

Fastening necklaces.

By now you’d think I’d be used to it. After all, the nerve damage in my neck and right arm was caused at birth. I’ve never known what it was like to be able to raise my right arm or straighten my wrist.

I was 12 before I figured out a way to put on a pair of pantyhose without help from my mama, and my middle sister drove two hours to hang pictures and curtains in my first apartment. My daddy cut my steak into bite-sized pieces for me the first 29 years of my life, and now my husband discretely slides my plate over at restaurants to do the same.

Still, after all these years, I blush. I’m embarrassed that I need help at all.

I think that’s pretty common, the desire to feel like you have it all together, that you don’t need anything from anyone else – that you are the giver, not the receiver.

IMG_0598In fact we celebrate that idea throughout the end of each year. We gather food baskets for those deemed “needy” and we wrap Christmas gifts for those who are “less fortunate.” We buy presents for our kids, our mailman and our hair stylist because it is, after all, the season of giving.

But is that how it was meant to be? Did God intend for us to give gifts or did he mean for us to accept his gift, the present of love and joy that he wrapped in swaddling clothes and put in a manger?

I suspect he wants us to do both – to experience the feeling of helping others and to know what it is like to be the one who needs a lift. It’s humbling to know that I stumble on my own and must rely on God’s wisdom and grace and the kind shoulders of family and friends. I’d rather focus on being the giver, but that would be celebrating only half of Christmas.




How to capture the Light

BenjaminStarSometimes, when the lighting is just right, I can’t help but grab my camera. And when Benjamin plugged in the tree top star to test it, I knew I wanted to freeze the beautiful image on film.

Seconds later he pulled the light bulb and its cord away from the star and began swinging them from left to right.

Can you keep your body really still and swing the light in a full circle, I asked… all the while snapping pictures.


BenjaminLight2Miraculously the camera-shy boy obliged, and we all ooohed and aaaahed when we saw the results. By leaving the camera’s shutter open a bit longer and staying still, we captured the path of the light.

Staying open.

Staying still.

There’s something to that.

“… the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining.” — 1 John 2:8

Inspirational school supplies, right in the aisles of Walmart

Scriptures and thoughts inside the cover of the composition notebook.

I’ve been a fan of DaySpring greeting cards and wall art for years, but I had no idea they were offering school supplies with Christian messages at Walmart. I’m guessing my friend and I spent 20 minutes gathering pencil holders, binders, student planners and notebooks for an impromptu photo shoot right there in the aisle. Sure, it was a bit awkward when other people had to step around us, but we were determined to show these to you!

Enjoy the pictures, and if you need more information, visit http://www.dayspring.com/notes_and_supplies/back_to_school_supplies/?ref=HERObts2012

Finding spiritual meaning in an ugly clay foot

I’ve seen mosaics with gilded halos around the heads of saints and stained glass windows that stretched 20 feet or more, glowing with light. I’ve stood within a breath of Michelangelo’s la Pieta, and I still remember how no detail was rushed or skipped – every muscle, every vein captured there in marble.

And now, I’ve seen the ugly clay foot in my friend Linda Gordon’s car.

I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure what it was when I first leaned over to buckle my seatbelt. I just saw it out of the corner of my eye, sitting there taped to the dashboard by the clock. It was an inch and a half, 2 inches at most. Pinkish, like my skin, and it had one slightly chipped toe courtesy of an unfortunate fall to the floorboard of the Kia.

I took in a quick breath before I blurted out, “What is that?”

“It’s a foot,” she said, as if it were the most common thing in the world.

She had gotten it at church in the days leading up to Easter. She had her choice among a rooster, some silver coins or a foot – all reminders of Jesus’ final days before his crucifixion.

The rooster was kind of big and unattractive, she said, with a shrug, so she went with the small, ugly foot.

“I painted its toenails after it fell,” she said, as she backed out of her driveway. “I think it looks a lot better now.”

It was hard to argue. She had done a terrific job painting the toenails a shade of cotton candy pink.

“It reminds me that we’re all on a journey,” she said, the foot bobbing just a tiny bit on top of its loop of tape. It was slightly unconventional, and certainly unexpected, but there it was: Her very own quirky religious symbol.

I still like ornate crosses and finely detailed nativity scenes, but I began to see the awkward clay foot in a slightly different light.

Take the next step in faith. Walk with God. Add beauty on the journey, it seemed to say.

“Do you think I could get my own foot for my dashboard?” I asked.

She promised to ask if there were any left over at church. “But you’ll want to paint the toenails,” she advised.

Of course.

Church is something that happens — anywhere God is invited

For me, church is not just a building or even a group of people who worship and serve together – it’s something that happens.

As a kid I went to a rustic church camp tucked away in the hills of Arkansas. When my youth group first started going there, the cabins didn’t have air conditioning and you needed to wear rubber-soled flip flops in the shower to avoid a slight shock.

The centerpiece of the camp was the chapel and it had only a dirt floor and a tin roof. No walls. No frills. One night, it started to storm. Rain came down in sheets and slammed into the tin roof, making it almost impossible to hear anything else. Within minutes of the start of service water ran down the aisles and formed puddles among the uncomfortable pews.

But just when it seemed worthless to stay and try to listen, a man stood to sing the old Southern hymn “When the Roll is Called up Yonder.” It was as if he had swallowed a microphone. His deep voice carried from the front of that soaked little chapel all the way to the back, and as the words from the song washed over the congregation, things began to change. Teenagers started standing and thanking God for the changes they had seen in their lives, for the times he had helped them through rough spots and for the love he shared with them.  Gratitude and grace entered the room and there, amid the mud and the rain, church happened –creating a moment that God might want to be part of, something sacred, powerful and unforgettable.

I’ve been back many times to that little chapel that now has a cement floor and a new roof. I’ve spent time in the opulence and beauty of the Vatican. I’ve had thoughtful conversations with groups of friends, and I’ve stood alone in my modest kitchen with just the buzzing of the refrigerator. In all of those places I’ve had extraordinary moments when I’ve felt close to God and faith has come alive for me.

Hopefully I’ll have many more moments like that, wherever God would like to meet me.

From stained glass to Twitter: Is Jesus’ story getting through?

I did my best to listen to the prayers and to follow along in the hymnals but I kept glancing at the stained glass windows. I liked how they colored the light that streamed through the glass, and I watched how the yellows and reds and blues brightened mostly empty pews and mostly gray hair.

At one time people knew what the symbols meant. The average man or woman would have read the story of Christ through the images and the colors. They would have learned of his love and of his work by studying the pictures and they would have shared what they had learned with others who couldn’t read.

Long ago, stained glass was more than an expensive tradition. It was a communications tool — a way to reach the masses right where they were. Then, as the literacy rate rose, the holy stories were shared more and more through books, then devotionals and magazines. Tracts and T-shirt slogans and tweets. Always writing, but rarely innovating.

Do people need more words — or do they need more love? And how do we meet the masses where they are today?