When It Feels Like The World Is On Fire


When it feels like the world is on fire, you make meatloaf for dinner. Your mind reaches back to a moment when you felt safe and you didn’t know that bad things happened to good people, and the next thing you know, you’re chopping a green pepper and kneading meat and shaping comfort into a loaf pan.

I don’t watch the news anymore. I haven’t in years, actually. It’s a strange thing for an information junkie like myself to admit. My journalism professors would surely be dismayed by my declaration, but it’s a form of self-preservation.

I can’t watch the world bleed out anymore.

I don’t watch, but I do read. I read the New York Times and the Washington Post. I read the clickbait and the longform journalism. I consume and consume, because I mistakenly believe that if I can just digest enough information, everything will make sense again.

I just need to understand how it all started, and then I’ll know how to fix it.

That’s the thing about fires though. Sometimes we never see how they start, because we don’t notice until they’re raging out of control. We always want to find the person who struck the first match, because he’s to blame, right? And if we can blame someone, then everything will make sense again.

Even as earth turns to ash and what was once beautiful is laid barren.

Some people ask why I read the news instead of watching it. The only way I know how to explain it is that it’s the difference between reading the book and watching the movie. In the book, my mind can draw the pictures and fill in the gaps. Heroes and villains don’t look so dissimilar on the page; there’s room for gray. Watching it unfold in full technicolor, the nuance is gone.

Last fall, when Gatlinburg burned because two boys were playing with matches, the smoke reached all the way to Nashville. The acrid smell stung my eyes and nostrils in my own backyard, more than 200 miles from where the fire raged. That’s the thing about wildfires, though. The smoke always travels farther than the flames—sometimes even hundreds of miles away, depending on how the wind blows.

It’s the smoke that makes it hard to breathe, hard to see. It’s the smoke that will kill you, before the flames ever get a chance.

They say fires are necessary, sometimes, to bring unruly undergrowth to heel. You hear about “controlled burns” of swaths of land, but I wonder, how do you control something like fire? How do you keep it from growing too big and destroying something you never meant for it to?



And If Not, Is He Still Good? (On Her View from Home)

melissa-askew-6878If all things work for good for those who love God, what does that mean when a child is dying?

A childhood friend of mine has a son with serious heart defects. Three weeks ago, they headed up to Michigan for heart surgery with the only surgeon in the country willing to perform the procedure he needed to save his life. His recovery was precarious, and several days ago he went into cardiac arrest. He’s been on life support ever since.

He’s also the same age as my Ellie.

Throughout this, I’ve wrestled with the goodness of God, what it looks like when a prayer is answered, and why we live in a world where bad things happen. I’m still short on answers, but I did find a perspective that lets me hold space for both: God is good and sometimes bad things happen.

Read the full essay on Her View From Home.

As you can imagine, the Kelleys are facing substantial travel and medical costs during this time. If you’d like to contribute financially, you can do so here. And please keep them in your prayers.

The Calm in the Midst of the Storm

Let me tell you the story of the calmest, coolest bride there ever was.

It started on Thursday with flowers. They were supposed to arrive that afternoon, but we received word that morning that the entire shipment of ceremony and reception flowers was still on a plane in Colombia (the country). I made a few calls and sent a few texts, and we found a place to order backup flowers from. Only when Plan B was in place did I call Cassidy with the news.

“That sounds fine; no problem,” she said cheerily. “I’m sure it will be great.”

On Saturday, the (outdoor) wedding forecast was for scattered storms and showers. There was no indoor venue backup plan. We pushed back the setup time to 2, then to 4. Friends rolled heavy tables across the lawn from the lakeside setup to one closer to cover. While the rest of us watched the sky and made contingencies, she stayed calm, even-keel, and unflustered.

The wedding was to start at 7. Radar showed a massive storm arriving at 7:10. Everything and everyone was crowded under the open-air, covered pavilion—the best shelter available. We hurried the bride across the lawn and under cover at the precise moment that the first raindrops fell.

She walked down the aisle and when she arrived at the front, so did the 70 mph winds that knocked centerpieces and glass jars to the ground. The thunder and lightning were incessant. Children were crying, adults were casting anxious glances at a dark and furious sky, and the ceremony paused while everyone huddled together in the center. The bride never stopped smiling, while the groom, officiant, and friends compared weather sources and debated what to do. The winds abated briefly, but there was a series of storms lined up behind the first. It was clear this was as good as it was going to get, weather-wise.

“Snuggle together—we’re getting married!” the groom shouted to the cheers of the crowd.

Handwritten vows were read, tears were wiped, rings exchanged. They were pronounced husband and wife. Another cheer went up from the windblown, rain-spattered friends and family surrounding them.

With the decorations strewn across the ground by the wind and more storms imminent, the decision was made to cancel the reception and encourage folks to head for shelter. Many dispersed, but several also formed a line to hug the new couple.

“Most memorable wedding ever!” was the frequent refrain. “We will never, ever forget this night.”

As we cleaned up after the last of the crowd departed, my hair worked its way loose from the bobby pins and the hem of my dress was soaked. But all I kept thinking about was I would indeed remember this night forever.

I’ll remember the wind, rain, thunder and lightning. I’ll remember watching my brother find love, joy, and redemption after a lonely and hard season.

But mostly, I’ll remember her face and how she never stopped smiling. How her constant refrain was “I’m great/it’s great/whatever you all think.” I’ll remember her smile as she read the note he sent her and the way her eyes sparkled when they were pronounced man and wife. She was never ruffled, never worried, never shaken.

I’ve never seen anything like it. But then, I’ve never known anyone else like Cassidy. She is joy, and peace, and certainty in the midst of turmoil. You can’t help but feel she knows something you don’t. So you draw closer and you watch carefully, and you realize that it’s Jesus. Her trust and confidence in Him is unwavering. The rest of us are the disciples on the boat in the middle of the storm-shaken sea, bailing water and casting frantic glances at the sky. She is the one watching Jesus sleep and trusting that if he thinks it’s okay, then it will be okay.

It was all okay.

And now I have a sister who will remind me where to look when the storm rages.

That Kind of Love

bowlI’m in a Bible Study that meets every Thursday night. Most of us are mothers and all of us are women, but when we started our only common thread was the woman whose house we meet in. Ms. Ava knew some of us from church and some of us from other parts of her life, but she invited all of us to come sit on her couch once a week and talk about life through the filter of Jesus. We’ve been meeting for more than two years—a newborn Ellie accompanied me to the very first one. Over the years, we’ve developed our own bonds of sisterhood as we’ve helped each other navigate through births, losses, hard decisions, and bad news.

For the past several weeks, we’ve been studying the book of John. I will confess my disappointment when this was chosen for our study—John has never been my favorite writer in the Bible. I find him flowery and descriptive, with all his talk about Light and Life, vines and branches. Matthew and Luke have always been my preferred gospels, grounded in facts and the fulfillment of prophecy. John frustrates me, and because of that I find myself getting frustrated with Jesus.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)

So … capital letter—Jesus is the word? What word? Jesus is the Bible? Jesus is God? THIS IS WHAT YOU START WITH, JOHN?

“Then they asked him, ‘Where is your father?’ ‘You do not know me or my Father,’ Jesus replied. ‘If you knew me, you would know my Father also.'” (John 8:19)

HEAVEN, Jesus. Your Father is GOD and He’s in HEAVEN. As I tell my children, USE YOUR WORDS, JESUS.

There are a lot of shouty capitals when I read John.

My frustration with John (and Jesus) takes me all the way to the Upper Room on Thursday night during Holy Week. Jesus has spent the day explaining to his disciples that where He’s about to go they cannot follow (just tell them you’re dying, Jesus) and that one of them is about to betray him (Jesus, tell them it’s Judas. Someone will stop him—my money is on Peter).

I empathize with the disciples and the way they keep missing the point of Jesus’ stories.

Me too, guys. Just say what you mean, Jesus. Stop dancing around the metaphors and the parables and the answering of questions with another question. How is this supposed to help my faith? I’ve been in the church since I was weeks old; I’ve heard every story and know every character, and even I’m wondering how it’s possible to have faith in someone who can’t answer a simple question in a straight manner. Can’t He just SHOW us what he means?

And then, He does.

They’re about to eat when Jesus wraps a towel around his waist and gets a bowl of water and a pile of rags. He kneels before his friends and takes their dusty, calloused feet in his hands. One by one, he washes them.

Even Judas.

Yes, Jesus washed the feet of the man who would betray him. I wonder what Judas felt like during those moments. Did he feel loved? Known? Guilty? We know little about Judas, but sometimes I wonder if it’s this scene that played over and over in his mind when he tried to unravel his betrayal. When he found it couldn’t be undone and he tied his own noose.

Not everyone knows what to do with that kind of love, I guess.

They say that John was the last one to write his gospel. He knew what Matthew, Mark and Luke had written by the time he wrote his, which means he included the story about Jesus washing feet, knowing they’d left it out.

Clearly it meant something to John, and it’s everything to me. It redeems the confusing metaphors and analogies, because he finally captures one that couldn’t be more clear.

Jesus takes the dirtiest parts of us, and makes them clean. When he commanded us to love one another, he didn’t specify who the “other” was, but he didn’t have to. He’d already shown us.

Not everyone knows what to do with that kind of love, though. Sometimes it’s hard enough to love and serve our family, our friends. Washing the feet of the person who has hurt me the most? I don’t know how to do that. I don’t even know where to start.

But then, I remember that Jesus showed me that part, too.

It begins with getting on my knees.

The Choices We Make

weddingEight years. It was a cold and drizzly day in March 2009 when we said I do, and now we’re closing in on a decade of married life. I thought Jon wasn’t ever going to propose, you know. We’d been dating for five years, and he’d finally finished college. Everyone had me convinced I was getting a ring for Christmas. Instead, he got me a dress and I spent Christmas Day night in tears, asking him when he was going to marry me already. (I have never claimed to be the charming one.)

Five months later, he did indeed ask me to be his wife, on a dark beach in Charleston with the waves crashing in the background. So dark, in fact, that I couldn’t see my ring until we got back to the house. (This was before things like iPhones that doubled as flashlights when you needed to see in the dark.)

I learned then that he can’t be rushed. He will make a decision when he’s good and ready to make one, and no amount of impatience or pushiness or, frankly, childish foot stomping on my part is going to nudge him forward. Or rather, I should have learned it then. But like most important lessons, I have to hear them more than once before they sink in.

When we did our marriage counseling, we received one piece of advice that I’ve clung to for eight years. After talking with us for only a short time, our pastor noted how opposite Jon and I are. It’s true — we share almost no personality traits in common.

First, he told us the good news: marriages between opposites can be the strongest, most enduring types of marriages. Then, he lowered the boom. The key, he said, was to never resent the other for not being “more like me” and also to not try and change ourselves too much to mirror the other person.

Did you catch that? Resentment is the enemy of a strong marriage. The antidote to resentment? I’m not sure, but I think it starts with choosing to take care of each other, instead of ourselves.

So I’ll keep making Jon’s breakfasts and coffee in the morning, because he moves slowly and is perpetually running late. I’ll make the weekly grocery lists and all the doctor appointments. And he’ll keep closing my open drawers, refolding his t-shirts, and screwing the top back on the damn toothpaste.

Eight years. There’s been joy, sadness, excitement, anger, peace, and frustration. We’ve both had moments where we’re certain we married the right person, and some really honest moments when we’ve questioned it all.

We choose love though. We choose forgiveness. We choose hard work and sacrifice and grace.

We choose marriage.

Preemptive Love

serving or intended to preempt or forestall something, especially to prevent attack by disabling the enemy.

I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about what our world needs. It feels loud and harsh. It feels unfamiliar and remote. Mostly, it feels angry, unsafe, and more than a little broken. My natural response is to quietly retreat and insulate myself as much as possible. I’ll keep to my familiar routines, known and trusted faces, and a sliver of the world I can identify with.

It is dangerous out there, so let’s keep it safe in here.

My instincts are preserving the wrong thing.

My silence is comfortable, but it doesn’t make the world any quieter. And my distance will protect me, but maybe I’m not supposed to be protected. In fact, maybe it’s the opposite. Perhaps I’m supposed to risk myself in pursuit of love.

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. Luke 10:25-28 NIV

Love. Not safety, not peace, not quiet. We are commanded to love. In the Bible, the man that Jesus is talking to tries to carve a way out, to make his command more palatable. He asks “But who is my neighbor?”

Bad news, fellow introverts. It’s not our physical neighbor. It’s not our friends or our family or even the people in our own community. Instead, Jesus answers his question with one of his most famous parables — the story of the Good Samaritan.

A Jewish man is robbed and beaten and left on the side of the road. A priest and a Levite (basically a priest’s right-hand man) both passed him by and did not offer help. Then came a Samaritan. A little Internet research tells me that Samaritans and Jews did not get along. In fact, their religious leaders actually commanded them not to intermingle. They were to have nothing to do with one another. They were the ultimate Us versus Them.

But the Samaritan was the one who stopped. He tended to the man’s wounds, took him to a place where he could be looked after and even provided the funds, should he need further medical care.

He was his neighbor, not because of proximity but because of compassion.


Our world can’t be healed by screaming the loudest or sharing the perfect meme or blog post on Facebook.

The healing starts more simply than that, but also much, much harder. It starts with love. Not a familiar love, but a preemptive one. One that has the power to stop the Enemy in its tracks.

Our enemy is not the Them. Our enemy is hate, it’s misunderstanding, it’s fear. When we love our neighbor, we shine a light on all of that darkness. Just as darkness ceases to exist in the light, so fear dissipates in the presence of love.

Darkness is merely the absence of light, and fear is merely the absence of love. If we want to be rid of fear, we cannot fight it but must replace it with love.” Marianne Williamson

We were created from love. We were given free will from love. We are saved by love.

Now let us be defined by our love.

P.S. Over at Coffee + Crumbs, my other Internet writing home, we’re collecting donations for Preemptive Love Coalition. Drop $5 in our online collection bucket, and we’ll send you a snazzy “Love Never Fails” downloadable print. Every penny will got to Preemptive Love to support their work in our world. Donate here.

Lessons learned

tying-shoes“Mom, I HAVE to learn to tie my shoes!”

The car door had scarcely closed behind him before Nathan was simultaneously ditching his backpack, buckling his seatbelt and telling me everything about his school day. I know the day is not far off when my inquiries about his day will be met with a sullen “fine,” and absent any clarifying details, so I’m trying to embrace the flood of information while it lasts.

“Hold up buddy, slow down. What’s this about tying shoes?”

“The kindergarten teachers sent a letter home and everything. I HAVE to know how by Christmas. They won’t tie them for us anymore after that!”

“Okay bud, I’ll teach you how to tie your shoes in plenty of time. I promise.”

Yes, I promised that I would teach him.

Usually, Jon is the teacher in the family. I suppose it’s because of his patience —I can only endure so many slow or misguided attempts before I take over and do it myself. I am a taker-over. It’s not my most charming quality.

Jon has taught Nathan how to brush his teeth, climb trees, shoot basketball and button shirts. He taught him how to help take the trash out and clear the table after dinner. He teaches things that I don’t even think about teaching until after the fact. If you’re thinking it sounds like Jon would make a better stay-at-home parent than me, you’re not the first one with that thought.

But I was determined this time. I would be the one to teach Nathan how to tie his shoes. I showed him the time-honored “Loop, Swoop and Pull” method. He nailed the loop on his second attempt, but the swoop and pull were lost causes. Undeterred, every single morning we headed to the bonus room a full 10 minutes before we needed to leave for school so we could practice tying shoes. I didn’t want us to be rushed; my fledgling patience didn’t need any additional tests.

Loop, swoop, pull. Loop, swoop pull. Nathan, biting his bottom lip in concentration. Me, biting my lip and fisting my hands to keep from taking over.

After two weeks, he finally did it. I held my breath, lest his loosely formed knot fall apart but it held. His whole face lit up and his eyes met mine. My grin matched his.

“I did it, Mom! I tied my shoe!”

“Good job buddy! I knew you could do it!”

We high-fived and I quickly double-knotted the laces so we could head out the door.

Usually when Jon gets home in the evenings, the kids rush to him to tell him about their day. Not that night though. I was first in line, triumphant with my news.

“I did it, love! I taught him to tie his shoes!”

Jon smiled, amused at my phrasing.

“Good job love. I knew you could do it.”

Then he turned his praise to Nathan, and Nathan ran to grab his shoes and show off his newfound skill – the one I taught him.

Of course, I learned a lesson, too. Instead of letting Jon be the patient one, I dug deep and found that I can be, too. It doesn’t come as easily, but planning does — so I’ve learned to out-plan my impatience. I’ve built time into our routine for Nathan to tie his own shoes and for Ellie to climb into her carseat by herself. I’m taking over less and letting them take on more.

It’s not the first time that motherhood has made me the student, rather than the teacher. I think that’s the hardest part of this gig, really – having to learn on the job. Every single day pushes me to be better, to confront my weaknesses and find a way to parent around them. It is a refinement of the most complete kind, this role.

I fail often. I’ve learned to keep trying anyway.

Maybe that’s the biggest lesson of all.


The Scenic Route

When I was younger, my dad and I would take a ski trip for my birthday every year. It wasn’t anything fancy; just a Red Roof Inn and a couple of days on the modest slopes of Western Carolina. For all my awkwardness and lack of coordination, I’m actually a pretty decent skier; we always had a great time.

One year – my 13th birthday, if I remember – we decided to try out a new resort. We weren’t certain of the best way to get there, but my dad was confident we could find it without trouble. This was before there was GPS or Google Maps, mind you. Although, even if we’d had them, they likely wouldn’t have worked in the backwoods of North Carolina anyway.

Dad had taught me how to read a map though, and I sat shotgun, playing navigator, in his rear-wheel drive Lincoln town car. The directions indicated we needed to take Beech Mountain Road; Dad spotted a sign for Old Beech Mountain Road, and we assumed that’s what the map meant.

It wasn’t.

Before long, the paved road had given way to a gravel one, covered in ice and snow from a recent winter storm. Steep drop offs lined both sides, and more than once we took a wrong turn that lead us off the road entirely.

It should have been scary. We should’ve fretted about being lost forever in the woods of Boone, North Carolina, or at the very least we ought to have worried about sliding into a ditch we couldn’t get out of.  I can’t remember being afraid though. We laughed and joked as we slid around one corner and then another, eager to make our way off the mountain to an audience who would appreciate our tale of conquering Old Beech Mountain Road.

Eventually, we ended up at the ski resort, nearly two hours later than we had intended. As we checked in and got fitted for our gear, the guy adjusting the bearings for my boots to snap into the skis asked how our morning had been so far. I told him about Old Beech Mountain Road, and he laughed as he said, “Oh wow. Y’all really took the scenic route to get here, didn’t you?”

Dad and I took three or four of those ski trips before our little tradition petered out. Twenty years later, the only one I can remember in any detail though is the one with Old Beech Mountain Road, when we took a wrong turn, got a little lost, and ended up with one hell of a story.


I am not a New Year’s resolutioner. I don’t use a daily planner. I don’t set goals. I don’t make lists or plans for my accomplishments for the coming year. This is strange, I think, because I’m a pretty Type A person in every other regard. I mean, I organize my grocery list in order of the aisles at our local store (they’re actually building a brand new Kroger, and the thought of learning a new store layout and having my list be a hot mess for awhile is killing me).

I suspect there are a couple of reasons for my non-resoluting ways. The first is that I’m a contrarian. Frequently, the expectation that I would do something because it’s always done that way is all the motivation I need to never, ever do that thing. This is not my most attractive trait, but it is perhaps my most honest one. I am rarely motivated by external pressure; in fact there’s nothing that causes me to stiffen my back and jutt my jaw more. My get-up-and-go has to come from within.

The second reason is actually even less complimentary of me than the first: I’m scared. I’m afraid of putting my dreams down on paper. I’m uncomfortable declaring that “This is the Year That I Do X!” because what if it’s a year of nothing but Y? I’m terrified that if I sit down to make a list of all the things I wish to improve about myself, I’ll never stop writing.

I’m an endless fixer-upper, you see. And I never was very good with tools.


A friend once told me that, when it comes to answering prayers, God rarely takes the quickest and most direct route. He is not a genie granting wishes, but rather, a Father invested in growing the character and shaping the legacy of his children.

I’ve found this to be true. Whenever I have faithfully, deliberately, and trustingly prayed for something specific, the answer has never been a simple one. Sometimes a yes has looked a lot like a no, until the threads come together and I see the tapestry He’s been weaving all along. Sometimes a no has been a devastating blow, until he leads me out of the woods and around the corner to a sight more beautiful than any yes could have brought.

This has, unsurprisingly, left me skittish about praying. I am a poor meanderer. I like my beaten paths. I have a hard time slowing down. God’s way is frequently not my preferred way, and I have the arrogance to argue. I am efficient while God is omniscient, and I’m foolish enough to confuse the two.


My friend Erin lives on the island of Oahu; her husband is stationed at the Army base there. A few weeks ago, she was telling me about a drive she took up to the North Shore. She explained that the fastest way to get there is an inland highway, but there was also a second, longer route. That one hugged the rugged coastline and offered amazing, postcard-worthy views.

“When you have the time, it’s kind of a no-brainer,” she said. “You always take the prettier route, even though it’s longer. It costs you nothing but time.”

Her words have been rattling around in my brain ever since. I’ve thought about my need for speed, and how I rarely take the slower route anywhere. I like being efficient, and feel like slowing down to enjoy the view rarely fits that bill.

But who wants to look back at the end of her life and say, “Wow, I sure lived efficiently?” When my grandkids spare me a moment to listen to one of my stories, I’m not going to regale them with tales of met deadlines and moments that unfolded exactly according to plan. I’ll tell them about Old Beech Mountain Road, and how the scenic route always makes for the best stories.

Maybe I’ll never be a New Year planner. But perhaps this could be the year I learn how to pray. Really pray. Not like purchasing groceries from a list organized by aisle (I’ll take one successful career, two healthy kids and no unexpected expenses this year, please Lord. And no thanks, I can take my own cart out to the car.), but like I’m ready to trust the Navigator. 

Take me on the scenic route, Father. I’ve got the time, and I’m ready to enjoy the view.

After all, I always did love a good story.

A Weary World


Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope; the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

                                            – O Holy Night

It’s been a hard week for my beloved Tennessee. Last week, a bus accident in Chattanooga took the lives of five children days before Thanksgiving. Two days ago, wildfires in the Smoky Mountains encroached on Gatlinburg, a tourist destination packed with people this time of year to see the mountains in all their fall splendor. Stories emerged of families trapped in hotel lobbies while firefighters beat back flames and friends speeding together down a mountainside, trying desperately to outrace the deadly inferno. Then last night, a tornado touched down in the southern part of the state, causing property damage and rattling nerves.

Yes, it’s been a hard week. It’s been a hard year. Turmoil and unrest seems to be the backdrop to every news segment. There is sorrow and suffering, around the globe and amongst our neighborhoods. We commiserate after a tough election season or yet another devastating headline, asking each other, “Has it ever been this bad?”

We are a weary world.

And yet, we’ve been here before, haven’t we? Just ask Israel. Two thousand years ago, they had endured slavery, famine, hardship, loss and a series of increasingly misguided kings. They’d watched their temple be destroyed, rebuilt it and watched it be destroyed again. They were a people who had wandered without a home for generations.

They knew darkness. They knew fear. They knew war. Far better than we do, if we’re honest.

Despite the suffering, a vein of hope ran through them. Their prophets said that a Savior was coming. A Messiah; the one who would rescue them. It was precisely when all seemed lost — a far-off empire levying taxes once more; a blood-thirsty ruler on the throne, that God smiled and said, “Now. We will send him now.”

And a baby was born amongst livestock, to a simple teenage girl and her carpenter fiance. A baby who would change everything. The waiting was over; the Savior had come.

Yes, it’s been a hard year. But it’s Advent now. It’s time to turn our eyes from what has been to what is coming. It is a season of preparation and anticipation, and not just of family togetherness and traditions with our children and gifts. The promise of Advent runs much deeper than that, and I for one am clinging to it more desperately than ever.

He didn’t come so we could continue to dwell in fear. He didn’t come so we could hold onto our hate and our mistrust and our stubborn opinions. He didn’t come so that we could shout each other down with our rightness.

He came to give us hope, peace, joy and love.





There’s a glorious morning coming, my friends. Let your soul feel it and be lightened.

This is Advent.

Planting Seeds


photo courtesy of the USDA

In Nathan’s preschool class last year, there was a little boy named Aaron.* For reasons that were never explained, Aaron seemed to have a harder time than most settling in. At drop off and pick up, he was frequently seen bolting out of sight of his grandfather, who appeared to be his primary caregiver. Many of Nathan’s stories at the end of the day included an anecdote about how, “everyone got a sticker for being a good listener in music class … except Aaron,” and how, “Aaron pushed me down the slide on the playground today.”

One day, Nathan asked me why Aaron did those things. “Why doesn’t he make better choices?” he asked. “It makes me not want to be his friend.”

“Well buddy,” I said, choosing my words carefully. “Aaron seems to have a hard time controlling his words and his actions. It’s harder for him to make good choices about what to say and do, than it is for you. He probably gets frustrated, and that’s when problems happen. Do you know what you could do to help him?”

Big brown eyes met mine in the review mirror, and he shook his head slowly.

“You see, Aaron – and other boys and girls like him – need extra patience and kindness from you,” I explained. “I know it’s easy to get frustrated or mad at him, but it’s really important that you try your best to show him what making good choices looks like. And that includes being a good friend to him. If he sees you being kind, that might help him be kind, too.”

Nathan said nothing, and we soon switched to talking about stopping to play at the park on the way home, but I prayed my words planted a seed in his mind.

Weeks later, preschool had ended and he was headed to a week of Vacation Bible School (the struggle to keep an active kid occupied is real). Ever my social boy, he was mostly excited and looking forward to making new friends. On the way there the first morning, he jabbered on about what they might do and who he might know. Then he grew quiet for a moment and he asked, “Mom, what will I do if there’s someone like Aaron there?”

My eyebrows raised; we hadn’t talked about Aaron since that drive home two months prior. Keeping my voice even, I lobbed the question back to Nathan – “Well bud, what do you think you should do?”

I watched him glance out the window, his brow puckering in thought just like mine does. A small smile played on his lips and he said, “I’ll be extra kind and patient … right Mom? Because it’s not easy for everyone to do that, but when I’m doing extra it makes it easier for them.”

My heart felt like it would burst and my eyes filled with tears of pride, and I said, “that’s right, buddy. I’m really proud of you, you know?” He beamed and gave me his “no big deal” shrug.

It’s hard work, this mothering gig. So much of it feels thankless and fruitless: I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve given the exact same set of instructions over … and over … and over.

But every once in awhile, you get a gift. You plant the seed of an important lesson in their hearts and cover it with prayer in the hopes it will take root. At first, you eagerly check for progress every single day. You are dismayed when the landscape looks unchanged though; maybe you did something wrong. Maybe it was too early in the season, or you didn’t pick the best spot. Then one day, when you’ve finally quit looking for any signs of growth, you see it. It’s just one tentative little green shoot, but the evidence is there all the same.

Your seed found fertile soil and has sprung to life.

* name changed