cultivate (kuhl - tuh - veyt)
v. 1) develop 2) nurture

graft (grahft)
n. 1) transplant 2) bud 3) union

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Christmas Grit

A holy hush spills over the room. A solitary candle illuminates the figure of Mary on the donkey, large with child, making her way toward meager accommodations. Eyes shine with the reflected flame.

Then, the preschooler tries cutting fire with safety scissors, at least one child gets up for a snack, cereal grit mars the Insta-worthy Advent photo…and it took two minutes of listening to the Advent devotional song to realize it was sung in English, not Latin.

It’s a tough thing to soldier on sometimes. Oh sure, sometimes it wells up in us with a fit of inspiration and an (un)healthy dose of comparisons on the side. Because we do that, don’t we? We cram ourselves into a mold we were never designed to occupy. To add insult to injury, we then berate ourselves for the ill-fitting mold chaffing our souls.

I’m not an Elf-on-the-Shelf, bake-All-The-Things kind of mom. We have a Shepherd on the Search…who we have never named…and who gets hidden all over God’s creation by whomever happens to find him first. We adore him, but this daily moving and creating magical scenarios is not my jam. Our nameless shepherd got the raw end of the deal when he entered our lives. Sorry, little fella.

In fact, any daily “thing” proves a challenge for our family. Can I get an “Amen?” The days are unpredictable, and more often than not, something goes a little sideways. Nevertheless, good intentions continue to pave the way.

Which is why I finally bought an Advent wreath I’ve been eyeing for a gazillion years. Makes sense, amiright? Has trouble sticking to daily plans…purchases expensive daily wreath. BRILLIANT. It arrived. I opened it reverently and packed it back up until its appointed inauguration. I ordered candles to fit the wreath. And forgot Advent began on November 28th this year. We were behind before we had even begun. The all-natural, golden beeswax candles were delayed in shipping. No problem. Jesus had a manger for a bassinet. We can make do. On December 2nd, I plunked a boring white tealight candle on the wreath and slogged through an Advent devotion I Googled right before summoning the children. Friends, learn from my folly. We disbanded after an awkward attempt at enthusiasm and I sat staring at that obnoxious silver candle. It didn’t fit. It wasn’t pretty. And the devotion was bleh.

God has a way of chiming in when we are ten shades of bleh. As I checked my email after staring down that horrid non-Adventy candle, a dear friend had sent a delightful Advent study to me. It combined artwork, poetry, scripture, music, and a devotional. In short, it was the thing missing in the equation (besides the dern candle).  

It’s been a beautiful thing to gather amongst the cereal crumbs, interruptions, and miscellaneous craft projects (I’m looking at you, pile of highly flammable paper snowflakes). The beauty isn’t found in the perfect devotional or the perfect table setting. It’s not in beeswax candles or even in the spendy wreath. True worth is in the gathering. God’s people, now more than ever, huddle around intimate tables, grit and all. Jesus is folding His people toward tables and pews and halfway houses. He is stirring the heart of His Church.

This Advent season has all the earmarks of being bleh

Ongoing pandemic? Check! 

Explosive politics? Check! 

Strained budgets? Check! 

Fill in the blank…check, check, check! 

We’re stretched to the breaking point.

Then God.

He pulls you and I into the grit of Christmas. We rub elbows with the nativity story and wonder anew at the simplicity and intricacy of the Christ Child’s humble beginnings. And it’s really the only mold we’re designed to fill.

With a week left in Advent, I just discovered my beloved beeswax candle order was canceled weeks ago. Apparently, it pays to check emails from Amazon. Who knew? A fresh set have been ordered and are due to arrive January 4th…in plenty of time for the Lenten season.



Monday, August 10, 2020

In the Shadow of the Tree

The one who lives under the protection of the Most High dwells in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust." 

 Psalm 91:1-2


    The palo verde tree is the kitchen of our backyard; it’s the gathering place. Everyone gravitates toward it for shelter, community, and nourishment. Spiritual nourishment is the goal, but typically, a cereal bowl (or two) wind up attracting ants. Highly spiritual. Camping chairs straddle the tree’s meandering roots, dodging ground squirrel sinkholes. We aren’t fancy people with actual patio furniture. Swings grace two sturdy limbs. Bicycles topple like dominoes. Goats nibble as far as their lips can possibly stretch, and boy howdy can they stretch. And here I sit, idly taking it all in from the shade of its vast branches. We can call it, “relaxed parenting,” but I remain seated not because of any parenting ideals. I just don’t want to lecture someone while the sun is dehydrating me with each passing second. It’s hotter than blazes, my friends, and I don't drink enough electrolytes for that nonsense. I’d much rather pop a question off from my chair than follow the offender to a place in the heat. I call this, “parenting smarter, not harder.”

    Heard often from me as someone starts off on an expedition is the phrase, “eyes and ears.” In the desert we have all manner of exciting surprises. It’s the world’s worst jack-in-the-box. “All around the creosote bush the rabbit chased the lizard...dadun-dadun-danununudun…POP goes a rattle snake!” Whee! Fun times. Eyes. And. Ears.

    Another common phrase uttered to the toddler is, “Stay in the shadow of the tree.” In the mornings, the shadows stretch across night-cooled sand. The aforementioned toddler prefers to explore sans shoes, running heedless of danger. The shadow of the tree falls on level ground with no obstructions to my view. It’s her designated zone of relative safety. Some days she’s content to abide within the boundary. Other days, the reminders roll out like red carpet for the queen. On one such red-carpet day, she bounded over to me with the assurance, “Don’t worry, Mama. I’m going to stay in the shadow of the tree.” There was something strikingly whimsical about hearing those words from her mouth. That's when the impact skittered across my mind. Like a skipping stone, the truth rippled.

Stay in My shadow, beloved.

    My toes stray to the edge, the fiery heat glowing at my soles…or maybe soul…? Abiding in the shadow of the Most High chafes against my sinful pride. My flesh seeks that which is outside His dwelling. Yet, His is not a darkened shadow; on the contrary, His shadow is ironically indwelt by the Father of lights, filled with every generous act and perfect gift (James 1:17). 

    The clock ticks and the shadows shorten. The toddler’s shadowy bounds are ever-changing, and there’s absolutely nothing to deter danger from breaching its borders (well, except perhaps the dull roar of children). Not so with Him in Whom there is no variation. His shadow is always and irrevocably anchored. To abide in Him is to be held with steadfast love. Love for you. He becomes your eyes and ears. And ain't nothin' breaching that.

Tucking In,


Monday, August 3, 2020

Sour Lessons

Like all good Americans, I’ve taken on the mysterious and fickle hobby of sourdough starter during this pandemic/quarantine/covid…thing. A plus with this little endeavor are the dozens of tangy, chewy bagels that appear in our kitchen. It’s a slow process. Anyone who has dipped their toes (hopefully only metaphorically) into sourdough starter knows that sourdough takes its sweet time to do All The Things. It takes weeks before you have “mature” starter. Mine is bubbly and smelly, which is typically a sign of immaturity in people. Not so with sourdough. It takes a day or two to produce what you hope will be delicious carbs. Sometimes the effort is wasted. Most of the time it’s rewarded.

But I digress.

I’m currently staring at bagels that are “resting” for another hour. Also note: Starting sourdough baking projects in the afternoon is a great way to guarantee you are going to be up past your bedtime. Feel free to pin that baking hack. The dough has spent the better part of the day sitting. What it’s resting from is beyond me. I’m the one who could use a nap, what with the sourdough-sitting gig

I can’t explain what the dough has been doing all day, but it’s been doing something alright. It’s not the same dough I kneaded with enthusiasm nine hours ago. It’s changed. I can relate. All day long things are happening below the surface. Growth. Subtle transformations.

Weigh the dough, roll it between floury hands, pierce the center, give it a good twirl around the ol’ finger for good measure (also, a master baker method, I’m sure). Rest, boil, bake. Repeat. Sounds familiar. Although I live in the desert, so anything that sounds oven-y feels applicable to daily life, especially this time of year.

The clock keeps ticking. I don’t know why I bother taking the time to poke a hole in the middle. It closes up by the time it’s finished baking. Besides, no hole would equal more surface area for important things like cream cheese. One person suggested, “The hole is so it looks more like a doughnut.” I’m sure that’s why professional bakers do it. Another person chimed in that perhaps the hole allows for even cooking. Hmmm…perhaps. But even if it’s not, it struck a chord. Perhaps Step One is laying the groundwork for Step Two, and Step Three, and Four. Perhaps the pressures and punctures of right now yield greater consistency later.

Sometimes what’s best for us pierces. Sometimes the process takes longer than we anticipate. Sometimes we begin later than we should have. Sometimes, the heat feels a little extra, well, hot. The sear of sanctification rarely whispers. More often than not, I go kicking and screaming into change. You too? Perhaps the hurt is ensuring the next step is more successful. Perhaps the heat allows us to rise.

Oh, and bagels have holes to ensure consistent cooking temperatures throughout the dough. So, I guess it’s not to mimic their fried cousin...? Who knew?

Learning Sour Lessons,


Thursday, September 20, 2018

Anecdotal Antidote

There seems to be a case of the newlyweds going around. Much like polio vaccinations, the antidote contains a strain of the contagion. You hafta get hitched to get inoculated. It takes about a year or so for the symptoms to decrease. Then it lays dormant in your system till death do you part.

The masses are mostly concerned with those recently infected, and those who have successfully managed their diagnosis for fifty or more years. We are simply teary-eyed over couples who have been married for fifty, sixty, seventy-plus years. They’re an inspiration. On the other end of the spectrum, we feel the need to check in with those newlyweds to make sure they’re managing OK. Maybe they need us to bring them a pot of Chicken Soup for the Just-Married Soul (CSFTJMS). We give them a studious once-over to make sure they seem sufficiently dewy-eyed and affectionate toward one another. And it’s always the same question (newlyweds, say it with me):
“How’s married life?”


Go ahead. Ask a newly-married couple how many times they’ve been asked this exact question. I dare you. Now, here’s the really weird thing: How many newlyweds are going to offer an earth-shattering answer to this question? Even if they’re two months into this gig, and it’s going horridly off the rails, do you think this question paired with a goofy smile on the face of the inquirer is going to solicit any kind of vulnerable answer? Um, no. Best case scenario, you happen to be the first person to ask them this question, and they’re excited to answer with some adorably cute anecdotal proof of their wedded bliss. More likely, you’ll be the 174th person to ask them this week, and they’re so sick of slapping on the million-watt smile and telling cutesie stories that they kinda grimace-glare-mutter something unintelligible which necessitates you administer an emergency dose of CSFTJMS.

This is really not a post about the One Yearers though. This is really just a long-winded segue, but before I drop the newlyweds like a sack of biohazard pathogens, may I make a suggestion for some alternatives to asking the much-dreaded question, “How’s married life?”

Hows abouts:
“What is one thing that has surprised you about married life?”
“What adjustment has been the most challenging?”
“How can I pray for you?”
“Do you have any leftover trendy cake pops from the reception? I have a craving.”

Moving right along.

While I remember that repetitive question in our early months of marriage, I don’t recall the last time someone asked me. A couple’s first year very well may have significant challenges, but it’s the following 49+ years that will fortify or crumble the castle. Most couples will outlast their first anniversary, but many don’t make it to their matrimonial booster shots.

Booster shots are a tricky thing. I’m sure my childhood vaccinations have worn off, broken down, fallen apart, whatever it is they do when they’re too old. I think I’ve received a couple booster shots of something as an adult…?* If someone hadn’t walked up with a stabby-mabob and administered my whatever booster, I wouldn’t have bothered to ever get it. I don’t spend my days charting immunization boosters and how to maximize their effectiveness. I don’t give them a second thought. I barely given them a first thought. It’s more like a fleeting blip on my brainwaves.

Shots. Blip. Ouch. Blip. Is it too early to have chocolate? Silly me! It’s never too early to have chocolate. Blip-blip.

I’ll pause to validate that I might be losing my dear non-vaxer readers. The analogy gets a little muddy if you’re opposed to them, yeah? Just substitute essential oils for vaccinations, and call it good. Group hug.

The nuptial excitement wears off, and without proper preventative measures, the commitment breaks down. The initial megadose of matrimony becomes diluted and risks falling apart. In order for continued success, immunizations require boosters. Marriages, likewise. If I expend no further energy and thought than minimal blips on the brainwaves, there won’t be many anniversaries to celebrate. Do I keep a watchful eye on the health of the relationship, looking for ways to maximize our strength as a couple? Or, just like my booster shot, have I completely ignored it, assuming my laissez-faire posture is enough to avoid calamity?

I wonder what would happen if, instead of inundating the newlyweds, we also asked those who are due for a booster, “How’s married life?” Now there would be some conversation.

Seventeen and counting,


*Yes, I realize I should probably have some sort of a clue as to what the nice lady is jabbing into my arm, but confrontation is not my strong suit and I wanted to be brave for my girls to see it wasn’t so bad.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Beauty is in the Eye of the Bookholder

There’s something anticipative about wrapping my hands around the spine and fore edge of a novel. It beckons the senses and stirs the soul. The possibilities are boundless. The weight of the volume whispers of uncharted lands, adventures that beckon; of elation, agony, redemption, beauty. Anything can be extracted from the pages.

Despite my hearty tribute, I’ve always struggled to read books that challenge me, books with substance. I wanted to be someone who read books that stuck to my ribs, but I always gravitated toward...fluff. Instead of decadent twelve course meals on delicate bone China, I was settling for sketchy potluck appetizers on flimsy paper plates. You know the ones I mean. Toasted salmonella puffs with a hint of E. coli merengue plated with a tangy botulism reduction which rapidly saturates the 1-ply plate. Check please.

This year I wanted to feast. No more bland fare that’s been sitting out too long. The goal: fifty-two books in one year, consisting only of books I’ve either never read or never finished. My list is comprised of a smorgasbord of genres that would lead you to assume the curator was a hyperactive toddler hopped up on a dozen Pixy Stix and released unsupervised in a bookstore for a shopping spree. I won’t even attempt to explain why I’ve chosen the books I’ve chosen for this year. Accept the method, folks.

It’s Week 37 and I’ve completed thirty-one titles. Perhaps I won’t meet my reading goal, but I’ve already succeeded in something far superior to arbitrary quotas; I’ve proven to myself that I am most capable of digesting quite the literary meal. I’ve dined on the theological eloquence of Lewis, the worlds imagined by Tolkien, and the cry for social justice of Dickens. I’ve sunk my teeth into the battles between men, and the gods who interfered. I’ve wandered through the well-worn paths of Prince Edward Island and come face-to-face with IT. I’ve cried despite knowing the fate allotted to Beth and Charlotte alike. I’ve cringed through dystopian landscapes, and nodded along to uplifting prose.

In short, my palette is greatly expanded, and I’m left, not uncomfortably stuffed as one who gorged until pained, but rather as one whose appetite has merely been fanned into flame. Each entrée merely whets the appetite for the next literary flavor.

Yes, I think I shall peruse the menu a bit more. What’s your recommendation?

Turning a Page,


Sunday, March 11, 2018

Let Them (Re)Visited: Let Them Get Dirty

Let Them (Re)visited is an opportunity for me to eat crow or crow all the louder regarding topics I covered during my Let Them series. Let's see what happens, shall we?

Many moons ago, we lived in the middle of the city. We had modern conveniences like sidewalks and asphalt. We were greeted in the morning, noon, and night with sirens. We had a decent-sized yard, all things considered. Getting dirty was downright luxurious. It was like winning the lottery when mom said to play in the mud.

That was then.

This is now.

We have two and a half acres...of dirt. Dirt roads, dirt driveway, dirt-covered bushes. Basically, it's dirt as far as the eye can see, broken up by desert growth and our lovely 3 foot berm of poop. You see, we bought this dirt with poop factories animals in mind. So we're fortifying our city gates with the materials they provide. You want on our property? You're gonna hafta scale the poo. May the best man win.

We're classy people. Most of my children take Olympian leaps up Poo Mountain and arise victorious at its peak, complete with celebratory fist pumps. I'm trying to curb this bad habit. I really am. But I've had better luck nailing Jell-o to the wall. I've also caught them sliding down its treacherous sides like it's the black diamond run of poo skiing. This is accomplished on feet if I'm lucky...backsides if we have house guests. 

Yes, I have to remind my children to not show off our poo pile to their friends. Yes, I've lectured my children about inviting their friends to scale up, roll down, and generally fling the contents of Poo Mountain. Yes, we are blacklisted from delicate play dates. 

Then there's shoveling manure against the wind, which always results in a special full-body "dusting." I wish I could tell you how many times I've told a particular child to go shower off, because there's poop in her hair. She acts like this is ludicrous.

I showered yesterday!

Yes, but you've conquered Poo Mountain (congratulations, by the way-your gold medal is in the mail) and flung manure dust all over creation, sweet child. Contracting dysentery is not on our bucket list.

Dirty nails and smudgy faces are a daily occurrence around here. “Shoe checks” are mandatory. But mixed in with all that dirt are great life lessons woven throughout childhood memories. Hard work, the responsibilities of farm life, the joys of training a new animal, and the sorrows of burying one. The struggles are greater. The earth oftentimes resists yielding to the shovel, as we are wont to protest the shock of the Gardener's spade slicing away that which would stunt our purpose. Yet, the rewards are richly gratifying. Moldy kitchen scraps and manure mingle with cultivated soil and thoughtfully sown seeds to reap an inspiring bounty. When what we see is degradation and filth staring back at us in the mirror, perhaps He sees timely growth wrung from adversity.

In the end, we traded our sidewalks and asphalt for neighborhood games of tag on a bumpy back road; our sirens for the silence; and our yard for dirt. Glorious, filthy dirt.

And more showers.

Applying Soap Liberally,


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Annie was one such woman...

Every once and again a life touches another's, leaving a profound and indelible signature. Annie was one such woman. My story is much like countless others; her kindness speaking volumes, and her smile sparking palpable joy in any room she entered. She never took herself too seriously, all the while gladly bearing another's burden with heartfelt warmth. What was probably an act of kindness quickly forgotten by her has stuck with me for nearly twenty years. 

As I blew into work on a frosty morning, I lamented to Annie (who went by “Annie” then, and so remains in my mind as “Annie” instead of “Anne”) that I had regretfully lost my favorite winter hat. Bustling between college classes and work, I had somehow lost it out of my truck. Alas! Despite retracing my steps, Operation Hat Recon had failed miserably. It was just a silly ol' hat, but Annie listened to my dramatic hat tribute with her trademark compassion and empathy (those who knew her, know exactly what I mean). With work to do, I set to my tasks, while Annie went to the back room. Now is a good time to mention that the hat I lost was white-just ordinary and white. She reappeared with what can only be described as a Suessical hat. Measuring in at an impressive thirty-six inches-yes, it was three feet long, this hat boasted bright stripes from stem to fringey stern.  With her 1,000 watt smile, she held out her hat and declared that she absolutely insisted I have it. She modeled how stylish this hat was as she strutted her stuff across the faded carpet of the workroom.. With a gallant toss of her head, she demonstrated how one could use the tail of it as a scarf. How could I possibly say no?

Her head would have been just as cold as mine on the trek home after work, and yet I know that if it had been my jacket I'd lost, she would have given that to me as well. That's just who she was. I could recount dozens of stories of her kindness-driving me across town when my glasses broke, shoving money into my pocket to sneak us ice-cream at work, impromptu drawings for tough days, movie dates, a great many conversations on every topic under the sun, and a hilariously perplexing nickname which stuck for quite some time (but which also holds precious space in my memories). Each moment is stored in my heart, and I'll treasure them there for a lifetime. 

As the air grows chilly, I'll pull out my Annie Hat. I've readily worn it every winter, and every winter I garner at least a couple raised eyebrows and amused side-eye glances. The fluff has long since been suppressed, and the hues have lost a certain vibrancy-much like the world has with Annie's passing. However, I will gladly keep right on wearing this comical hat, and anyone who comments will hear a tale of an incredible woman who, with a simple gesture, taught me that it's always the right time to be generous...and a tad goofy.   

At a time in our nation when it's en vogue to disagree, I can't help but think that the world needs more Annies. Perhaps today you could choose kindness over yet another politically charged argument. Hug tightly. Listen intently. Snuggle a little longer. 

With a Blessed-but-Heavy Heart,