Cleaning out the Inboxes of Life

It’s the week between Christmas and New Years Day and I find myself quarantining again in order to spend time with a grandbaby. My husband and I are in Beaverton, OR, where the weather is cold, wet and overcast, so we are spending an abundance of time indoors, where our rental duplex boasts a different space heater for every location in the house.

I don’t typically make New Year’s Resolutions; however, I do usually reflect upon my life, and this year–2020-has been one for the books, you know, the books no one wants to read that lurk in the back shelves of an unvisited library. I don’t know about you, but I am ready to pop the cork on a bottle of bubbly at 10 p.m. (because I am lame) and say goodbye forever to this horrendous year.

I am not focusing on big changes for 2021, just smaller, incremental ones. I have too many passwords, and too many unread emails in my inbox. I want to de-clutter my life, simplify. I want more quality time with my loved ones, more presence. I want do continue my routine of drinking a cup of hot lemon water every morning. I want to continue this feeling of needing less, doing less with more intention. Less Netflix–more reading. Less talking unless I really have something important to say. Less expectations–more grace. Less guilt, more thankfulness. Less closed-mindedness, more open arms to beauty.


A poem from the past

I wrote this poem several years ago when I was still on the active-parent list. My muse, our youngest child, was accepted into Georgetown Law School today, so this is, as always, for him:

How to Make Mason Jar Fairy Lights With Your Kids

Here’s what you need to get started:

·  Jar

·  Glow in the Dark Paint

·  Paintbrushes (preferably longer)

·  Paper

·  School Glue (optional)

·  Glitter (optional)

Enamor of the sort that ignores chiggers is necessary. Your life served up like sloppy-Joes

on a plate which marks in invisible ink the map to the secret whiskey. The ability to roll your eyes

then flick that bright attention necessary to make them forget.

Four-year-old fireflies can smell night like ancient hounds. Don’t bother trying to hide.

You’ll be so sniffed out once they’ve learned how to articulate their own directions. Snacks

and any kind of mashed potato concoction can mesmerize them long enough so that you can sneak out

of the paper Mache’ wings, but keep your bra on at all times. In fact, sleep in it. Fireflies

have this way of getting between in early-dawn moments.

Drink and pour water. Sprinkle it over their tiny heads. If the drops are as big as the heads, take immaculate care. Don’t force them into days where they are likely to become invisible. Listen as though you are Barbara Walters to the barely speaking.

Never wash off the places they have sullied you. If you do this one thing, glitter is optional for them and for you. Let them light upon anywhere they like without a coach. Remember, you are the one in the jar.


Top Ten

I don’t know about everyone else in Covid-land, but I have already found the NY Times online formula and plugged in my place in line for the distribution of the Covid vaccine in my county. As a teacher with some risk factors, I hope to receive the vaccine prior to the start of my spring semester. No judgment here for those who may choose not to be first in line to receive the immunization. I trust Science, but I also know my history so I get the fear of it all.

Personally, I cannot wait to return to some semblance of normal. I live mostly in anticipatory mode when it comes to major life changes, mostly because as an empath I don’t always face changes without some awkwardness and holding tight to the status quo. I am already making a list of what I want to do when I am free do do anything again. Here are a few of my first random ideas:

  1. Go to Target every day for a month because I can. Maybe buy far too many candles and new pajamas.
  2. Attend in-person worship again. This is so big for us, and the only reason it didn’t pop into my mind as the first, most important thing is that we have already been sneaking to in-person worship every Sunday that we aren’t in quarantine to gather with family. I think the first time I smelled the pews and botched the new Covid-safe communion wafer-and-juice-in-one-container was the day I realized how difficult 2020 has been for all of us.
  3. Exercise classes. Sweat. Locker rooms. Talking to other women while sweat drips from our faces. Sore biceps. Someone sneezes. It will be okay again.
  4. All my grandchildren in one room. Oh for the day when navigating visitations doesn’t feel like “Sophie’s Choice.”
  5. Teaching. Really teaching again. Leaning over a student’s paper and offering hands-on revision instructions in the moment in the classroom. Breaking students into discussion groups where they are actually close enough to converse. Hearing the sweet chaos of ideas and relationships.
  6. Traveling. My husband will once again be hoisting my overpacked suitcase onto trains and airport baggage check-in stations all over the world.
  7. Here might be the sweetest revelation for introverts everywhere: staying home and eating in will once again be a curated choice, not an edict from above. I”ll still be reading books and writing poems, only happier.
  8. March Madness. This one is probably truly #2 on the list right after Church. Rock Chalk.
  9. Dinner parties, concerts, coffee dates with friends, lunches, Bible studies, showers, weddings, poetry readings.
  10. Lipstick.

What is on your list? Share in the comments section, please.


The angel on your shoulder–the Jesus in your head

I laugh a little when I ponder the reality that every time one of my daughters makes a parenting or a consumer or a home decorating decision, they must contend with the ever-present Mom-in-their-heads. As their mother, I am the standard, one that they often surpass and rise above, and sometimes one that they feel they fall short of. If they hit or miss the mark, I am that mark.

They both selected white Fiestaware for their wedding gift registries. They both like neutral paint colors. They both demonstrate terms and gestures of respect that could only have been taught to them by a southern grandmother (mine). They are naturally inclined to practice attachment parenting. They always have at least six boxes of Jiffy cornbread in their pantries and they hoard toilet paper even in non-pandemic times. They read their Bibles and they began reading to their own children from the time they brought them home from the hospital.

They’ve got a healthy dose of Mom-in-their-heads. When I parented them, I tried to impart values more than I tried to harp on the specific applications of those values. I wanted, more than anything, for them to feel a sense of fresh air freedom as they painted the walls of the homes they would make with their spouses. I knew that my imprint would be a lifeline in their own fingerprints, but I wanted them to be able to define love by me and through me but also apart from me. I wanted to be, as the poet Christian Wiman writes of God, both “a part” and “apart” from the miraculous creation of their families.

So I told them stories, not so they would feel the need to repeat my mistakes and triumphs, but so they would fall in deep love with the prospect of someday creating and retelling their own.

As pastors and teachers and advisors and neighbors and social media friends–oh, that we would take this lesson to heart, that Christ is less interested in steering our own hearts like a pilot in the midst of a nosedive and most interested in simply and fully inhabiting us while still allowing us to be us. Leadership is less about telling people how to vote and how to feel about vaccines and where to buy our clothes from and who to vote for, and it’s everything about sharing with others the specific touch we felt when a word from God or a vivid remembrance of beautiful discipleship and mentoring influenced us to act out our understanding of obedience at a given time. Don’t tell me to act in the way you felt led. Tell me how to position my mind and heart so that I, too, can be led. There is a weariness that comes with the selfie-ness of

our senses of justice and journey these days. It’s all application when the world is so famished for the source.

Prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child.


It’s going to be a weird Christmas

You know you are in for a novel experience at Christmas time when you can’t even fully explain your family’s holiday- Plans A and Plans B- to your sister over the phone. I was smack-dab in the middle of my futuristic narrative last week when I was abruptly cut off. She claims her phone died. I think she felt lost in the hopeless boredom of watching a mouse in a maze as I spouted the if-then-but scenarios.

This must have been what Mary felt like (along with a greater degree of physical discomfort) as she bopped and bounced on that donkey on the way to Bethlehem. She must have felt estranged and empty at times of anything but blind faith in a vision which made her sound crazy when she tried to recount it.

I can’t honestly tell you what Christmas is going to be like in my house on December 25, or how a family that usually shares bites of food and hugs when we move from one room to another will handle wearing masks and socially distancing from one another. I am not at all confident we will manage not to pass our Christmas baby around, although we are fully committed to all of these safety protocols going in.

I don’t honestly know how many of us will show up for Christmas. Coronavirus is on the rampage in our state as it seems to be everywhere right now. Every day I learn of a new friend in our small town that is suffering from this virus. I am fearful of becoming ill, but I am also filled with concern about the longterm affects of coping with this pandemic and the measures we have all, in good faith, been forced to participate in. I pray that our four grown children and our four little grandchildren will be able to hold to memories of the zany indoor snowball fights and spread of touchable food on my kitchen island and game boards and puzzles spread across card tables throughout my house.

It’s been a dreadful year this 2020. And now, we have all these RULES for Christmas. What I find most helpful amidst all the unknown is that I must now forage for simple blessings, that to be honest, I gave up noticing many years ago.

I find myself in Christmas quarantine ten days before the event that I have no control over, finding comfort in small things: sharing a lunch with my husband, text messages from my Bubble wishing me a happy isolation, the hanging of pictures on the walls of my home, where I relish the new faces of the babies I hope to hold.

The first Christmas was fragile like this I think–a garment with an un-hemmed potential for hope and faith. I am rediscovering those words and their meanings in Scripture this December. We all have the chance to choose thankfulness for whatever happens this season. To be “loved with an everlasting love.” To have been “drawn” with an “unfailing kindness.” (Jer. 31: 3).

Christmas 2020 is already complicated. I am choosing to keep my mindset simple. Read it and Believe it, my friends. Merry Christmas.



Peace doesn’t have to be simple, but it can be.

Peace can be a self-acceptance that we extend like a grace-garland

to others. Peace can be a place where we finally name ourselves

“Who-I-Am-in-Christ.” Peace can be movement or still-life.

Needing less. Doing less. Filled. Vessels without our own agendas.

Lingering for a Christmas moment on the precipice of obedience.

Not someone else’s formula for me and not my own. Peace

can be walking while listening. Harnessing that power.



We sleep in fits. We pray in dreams.

We cannot seem to find our way

this year. You have returned to us simplicity

and quiet praise of long charades. It is December

and we go through motions of an automatic dance.

We cling to the lungs of faith, a faith we have not given

breath. Help us, Lord, to find our thankfulness as a warm

repose, as a reminder that this solitude, while stark,

can rewire our attention spans for You. A candle burning

cinnamon, remembrance of friends’ laughter and the multitudes of stepping among crowds and gathering in front of shops and trees

and altars, of passing babies and sharing food. I hold these thoughts close to me this season. I do not welcome evening dark, but neither will I shun her lessons to me. In this stillness, Your presence

shines so real to me, Lord. For this I am thankful.