30 Days of Advent: Reflections and Prayers for the Christmas Season

30 days of advent

A lot of people I know take a little break from social media when December rolls around– a time to focus on being present with family and friends.

But for those of us here, present in the online world, there is also work to be done in encouraging and preparing one another for the coming of Christmas.

We’ve got beautiful Advent reflections by Bonhoeffer sitting in a book next to the recliner, and my boys have bound pages full of stories that center on the Christ-child.

So why not here, where our fingers meet the keyboard, where we watch Christmas unfold for all the world to see?

For the next 30 days of Advent, I’m sharing a daily reflection or prayer with you– words to help us remember why the magic of Advent is so magical, indeed.

So, let’s turn our hearts to that cave of a manger, where bright light burst forth from the womb of a teenage girl.

Join me in praying every-day kinds of prayers and reflecting on every-day sorts of moments, in celebration of the world Jesus entered into on the day He was born.

A Prayer for today, the first day of Advent:

Jesus– baby, young boy, weathered man–

the whole of You brings us to the light

of a new day.

And where there is darkness,

we remember how You were born

on a starry night,

those stars shining in your infant eyes.

Pull us close today, 

away from busyness and dread,

away from pride or self-anything.

Pull us from ourselves and into Your humanity,

our dear Emmanuel.


The Hands That Hold the World


I think a lot about God’s hands.

Sometimes when I pray, I picture these big palms and digits holding the world in orbit right there in the middle of black-night outer space.

I see wrinkles on those palms, each one a line of a story-



the lady next door,

the man you’ve never even known existed.

Maybe His fingernails are a little dirty because He’s constantly digging in our dirt.

I imagine how He holds us all, all these tiny earth-bound bodies with kingdom-souls.

His hands, they’re always steady.


I’m not sure that there is much I can do to steady this world of ours.

There’s not much I can control.

I have the energy that I spend, the love I try to spread from my heart to someone else’s.

But God’s hands, they are vast. They are warm and mighty, and they hold a steady grip.

That’s what keeps the earth in orbit–

my Muslim sisters

and me,

my sons,

my gay and straight friends,

the prisoners on death row,

and the children of Beirut.

These are the hands that created gravity, that crafted orbit,

so that as we watch the clouds slowly pass by in the blue-rimmed sky,

we see that yet another day has dawned,

and a kingdom of otherworldly mercy steadily approaches us.



Lonely Together: a lesson from the shire to the cafe


“Lonely, lonely, you must be lonesome…take a hard look at yourself.” –Glen Hansard

I sit in the dim light of this Atlanta cafe and it is quiet in my earbuds, except for the soft hum of Glen Hansard’s voice.

We are all hunched over our iPhones, our books, our computers.

Some people are hunched in toward each other, but mostly, we are together– alone.

This is an odd and captivating thing about humanity– the guy with the bass pro baseball cap is looking for life, just like I am, just like the woman at the bar.

When I was in college, I’d get on the bus and put my phone away and look at the people around me– all people who seemed to be looking down.

I over-saw text message conversations, I watched people stay only in their own world, longing for human connection. But I was right next to them the whole time.

So where do we find each other?

My husband always makes eye contact with people, always wants to see more in that glimpse, and usually does– those eyes, they tell a story, don’t they?

When we first met, I was afraid to look in those eyes of his, because I knew that if I did, he’d see me, all my bones suddenly showing through my skin, all my fears and thoughts laid bare.


Bilbo Baggins, Tolkien’s character hero, smoked his pipe and watched friends pass by his shire home, saw lives dance in the orbs of view he’d been given.

But they had no iPhones there.

They had the hearth and a scone and a piping cup of tea.

They looked upward and eyeward.

I imagine that they saw each other there; even Gandalf saw the ring reflected in his dear friend’s eyes and heart.

The secrets, the deep truths, and the spoken, shared, quiet things- all was laid bare by the fireside and in the tobacco’s smoke-swirl.

Maybe that’s what we are made for– I truly believe it. And if our eyes are really the windows to the soul, maybe we need to give a little more to each other, and be alright with our bones showing all the way through.

So here we all sit, in this Atlanta coffee shop, and whether we’d like to admit it or not,

every now and then we look up from our own worlds and see that everyone looks around a little,

because everyone is asking to never really be alone.

Becoming a Deacon(ess): just passing through

The day in September that I was flying to Minneapolis for the Why Christian? Conference, I got a phone call.

“We’d like for you to consider being a deacon,” Scott said. I felt his smile through the phone, and I think it widened when I started cackling.

“Okay!…are you sure?” I said through shallow breaths.

See, we’ve been in this beautiful little community for about a year and a half now, and while I certainly admitted deep down that I’d love to be a deacon in a church someday, I didn’t know it would come so soon.

The defintion of a deacon is something along this line: a servant who’s passing through.


If you’re of a certain conservative lot like the one I grew up in, you might be a little uncomfortable with this. A woman, a deacon, a worship leader…a woman.

Well, it seems the longer I know Jesus, the wider the Kingdom becomes, and He calls every single one of us into something unexpected and holy and good, if we just widen our scope of the Spirit.

And even when we aren’t listening so well, He’s still good. If that isn’t miracle on earth, I don’t know what is.

But I know that I’ve found in this last season of living in Atlanta that God is stretching me bigger than I thought my being could stretch.

I am so small, and yet I find that somehow He grows my capacities, and multiplies gifts like bread and calls me good when I think I know better.

So then He pulls me close again and asks me to serve.

Serve, daughter. Give yourself again to these people. Be filled by them and pour your gifts out like I’ve asked you to. Be church. 

I remember someone else who passed through, a man who healed for some years before He passed on into eternity to take over the throne seat that had been waiting for Him for so long.

If deaconship is following in His passing-through-as-servant example, I’m in.

So while I pass on through, I get to wash some feet.

I get to know stories and faces and embrace bodies and speak life.

I get to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those whose hearts beam joy.

I get to remember, again, that I am part of this deep and everlasting well that calls everyone to her, calls everyone into some sort of servanthood, some sort of “love one another” beckoning.

Hallelujah, that this Kingdom is a serve while you’re passing through kind of Kingdom.

I’m so honored to be here.


Coming Alive Inside Your Own Skin


Can you imagine something with me?

Imagine that you were created to be the person you are today. Imagine that your skin is fit to you just as it should be, that you’ve got traits and characteristics that are yours because they are what make you, unashamedly, you.

The problem is, we see ourselves reflected a little too often in some else’s mirror; we find our uniqueness shadowed under someone else’s “normal.”

This last weekend, we attended the Stone Mountain Indian Festival and Pow-wow.



We watched dancers and listened to drums and booming baritone voices mix with shrilling high notes.

We looked at jewelry from South and Central America.

We walked inside a tipi, gawked at a giant stuffed bear standing tall near a blazing fire.

But the dancing.


The Dance of Butterfly Wings


Potawatomie/Northern America Dance

I’ve never seen such colors, never come so alive to something so deep in myself.

They were moving in the way that I thought I ought to have been for years, but haven’t known how.

I’ve been a Native American my whole life, Citizen Potawatomi Band and Cherokee out of the southern Oklahoma plains.

I’ve always belonged to this skin with these high cheek bones and this dark hair.

But now, it seems I’m running full speed out of the shadows of who I thought I was, running to see and know and experience more of my present identity–more of who God reminds me to be.

And I pray that life won’t run out before I get there, because there is so much to learn for us, so much to venture into and embrace about who God asks us to be in those quiet and open places.

I watched my oldest son dance in the middle of a circle of Aztec dancers, shuffling his feet to the beat of the drum.

These are the things that make him come alive.


Somewhere along the way, we leave bits of ourselves behind. They get shuffled underneath something else, layered in with the babel of voices that tell us who we should  be.

Erika Morrison, in her book Bandersnatch, puts it like this:

“…the Christian traditions are often afflicted with a pandemic of uniformity. Many of us in it are afraid to venture outside the norm even when our whole beings ache to break prototype. We were fashioned for the blazing glory of a divergent God to be displayed within the collection of us.”

I am in my 27th year of life, and God tells me again who I am. He speaks to me in the things He’s always spoken to me, but I see it all afresh.

He tells me who I am when I see a turquoise stone or a firing flame, when I hear a drum or see an eagle feather.



When I sway in worship, lift my voice, put on my fringed boots, or braid my hair– He’s calling me into myself, back to the people who have always belonged to me, back to my very own DNA.

Those things that  I lost for a few years, He’s gently pulling me back to with grace on His fingertips.

And Eliot dances. He dances at church, and now he does the dance of the Aztecs, the dance that thanks the deer for their gifts, the dance that thanks God for His acts of mercy towards us.

Eliot dances, and I cannot and will not say no, because it is in his skin to find God in the movement, and to find God in the hum of violin strings and in the white of the nighttime moon’s gaze.

Do you remember that scene in Disney’s version of the classic tale Beauty and the Beast, when Beast’s entire body fills with rays of light right before he transforms?

That’s how I feel now– like God has cracked open every part of me to let light in and back out again, and I just rest and breathe and let the transformation swallow me whole.

How magical is this King, that He takes our tiny stuff and makes us Kingdom-sized, ablaze with glory and radiant with light?

How gracious is His love, that He doesn’t desire uniformity in us, but for each of us to dance our own dance, to embrace our very own identity, to call out the pieces of ourselves that make us exactly who we are in all our individual, radiant, and curious glory.

Kingdom come, I say.

And as it comes, may it beckon us to come alive inside our own skin.

Hallelujah and Amen.

A Year of Listening: finding myself in the reading room

With my husband’s parking pass, I spent a few hours on campus. I grabbed a coffee in my keep cup and headed across the brick-lined road to the library, where the security guard greeted me.

“Welcome to the library, where all your dreams come true,” this tall and kind African American man said.

I smiled and told him that I was there to return a book for my husband, but that I’d certainly be reading, too.

I quickly made my way to level three and found it: The William L. Matheson Reading Room.


When we first moved here, Travis brought me to this room, and the Rory Gilmore inside of me had to hold back her whoops of delight.

A room lined with periodicals, a room with a marble floor that every chair scoot bounces noise off of. Long tables with lamps, nooks with chairs.

I looked at a psychology magazine and wondered for a moment what it would be like to be in school again.

My four years of motherhood at home with the boys have been just what we all needed.

And as we continue the journey, I’m being called back, ushered into another world that will bleed into my mommy one.

The boys and I, we are students. We learn together every day, our curiosity overflowing into our little apartment home and our world– sometimes I think those walls can barely contain us.


A few weeks ago, God spoke something to me. It was something like, “Maybe what your boys need to see you doing is following me, as wild as it may turn out to be.”

And so I cried and said, “yes, yes, I know,” and we’ve kept praying and pressing in.

So for the next year or so, we are waiting.

We are processing and looking and examining, and our hope is that I can go to seminary while we’re living here.

We are seeking that we may find, and every day I am inviting the boys along with me– because this journey is ours.

So I sit in the reading room, and remember how He has wired me– to be the curious soul, the hard working student, the diligent learner. It is my joy.

So maybe in this next year of the wait, I’ll come back to this room when I can, and sit at this table and write and dream.

And because it’s quiet, and it’s not a bustling coffee shop or the comfort of my bed at home where I often read and write, it’s a new experience in listening.

At Wednesday night bible study a few weeks ago, our interim pastor Roger Paynter said, “We’re still a part of the story, you see?”

This is my story, and our story.

And it’ll be crazy, and we’ll take one step forward and two back, but they will be our steps, nonetheless.


So say a prayer for this family of ours, will you friends?

And may we all listen in when God tells of the mystery-things that so delight His heart.

A New Church Truth: the lie of the generation gap

Often in the church, a gap emerges, a “we” and “them” dynamic, a “modern” versus “traditional” dualism that leaves many people isolated and lonely, the church hurting in unnecessary ways.

The truth is, that gap is rooted in a lie.

The generation gap exists because we created it to bear itself down on us, to impose a rule of restriction over our natural need for community.

The younger avoid the older, so much that we find it most difficult to cross into uncharted territory, to join in the other service, to sit at a new table, to even say hello.

One day, not long after we first moved here, we ventured across downtown shops and busy streets with Debra, and ate at Chic Fil A. She held Eliot’s hand and ushered him into the bright red and white building.

She bought our lunch and gathered at the table with us, helping Eliot with his chicken and fries while Isaiah hunkered down with some apple juice in his stroller.

Then we left, journeying back downtown to explore a community garden and local park.

“We don’t have grandchildren, so we’d love to borrow the boys sometime!” she said while we walked.

We continued on, nearly arm in arm, the kindness of community becoming more apparent by the hour. It’s Debra loving on a young mother and her two boys, and a young mother asking for a friend for her family.

The boys go to Debra and Scott’s home some mornings, and it’s another Grandma and Grandpa, another experience of inter-generational kindness and love.

The generation gap we’ve created tells us that these moments aren’t possible, that young people can’t put down our iPhones long enough to make any eye contact, and that someone like Debra just won’t seem to understand.

If there’s any pressing responsibility for the church today, it’s to bind this lie. 

Because young mothers have forever been in need of mentors and friends to lighten the load, and parents and grandparents have forever been loving on their kids and grandkids in beautiful ways.

The truth of the space between generations is that it exists in order for us to teach each other something. The difference in years between us is for both our benefit, a holy design that’s lasted years and years before our time.

It was Ruth and Naomi, fighting for each other in grief and healing. It was my Grandma, gathering us to the kitchen to make blackberry pie.

It’s my mom holding my boys and reading to them.

It’s David and Jeanie bringing us into their home for an entire day while Travis is out of town.

It’s our neighbor and Eliot’s best friend, Suzan, driving hours and hours to spend one weekend with us.

And it’s Scott and Debra, reminding us week after week that they see us and are for us, and that these spans of years between us only add to the Kingdom’s good diversity.


We are all gathered at that well, we are all surrounding and surrounded by that good and holy water that beckons us to Spirit and each other.

Hallelujah, for a diverse and truth-filled Kingdom.

The Harvest Flames: a lesson in listening from the fireside


It is difficult for me to recall small details of stories– especially history– so sometimes I wish I’d engaged in more oral storytelling as a child.

There is something different about a story pouring through someone’s lips, right out of their brain, out of their heart.

There’s something about experiencing a story through hand gestures, facial expressions, and intonation, the way my Native American ancestors might have done it, and the way so many cultures across the world still do.

In John 21, there’s a story about Jesus and his closest friends.

The disciples are having trouble fishing, so when this stranger (Jesus) tells them to cast the net again, they end up with a load of fish.

And when they understand that the stranger is Jesus, Peter can’t even wait for the boat ride to shore- he jumps straight into the water!

And what do they find there on the beach?

Jesus with His arms outstretched, holy orbs of light shooting from his fingertips?

Jesus, kneeling down, praying with His eyes turned to heaven?


He’s sitting back, resting by a fire, ready to eat.

“Come have breakfast,” He says.

And they gather round, and what did they do next?

I believe they told stories.

They reclined in the sand, sat on a wet log, their hands stretched toward the fire’s warmth in the early morning sun.

And they remembered the lifetime they’d packed into just a few years, and their hands were gesturing and their mouths were moving. Their voices were bringing laughter into the air, tears of joy, moments of shared mourning, community built up around that sacred place.

2015-09-20 10.47.51

It’s fall here now.

Right around this time, I feel this tightening into my home, to the fireside, to the blankets and the beds and the candles and the hot drinks.

It seems that the bears and the squirrels aren’t the only ones who prepare for winter.

We nestle ourselves inside with the coffee or tea or cocoa, with pumpkin baked goodies always on hand.

We draw ourselves to the fireside, and we meet each other’s stories, and we watch fire dance that has always danced, that same kind of flame that danced beneath cooking fish by the sea, that overhead every story Jesus told.

It’s that same flame that gave light to my Potawatomi and Cherokee ancestors, that told them to keep speaking, to keep listening, to hold onto what they knew so that centuries after them could also know.

Maybe this fall and this winter, during this holiday break that’s coming in a few short weeks, we can all develop new listening skills.

Let’s remember back, way way back, to earlier times and the stories that narrated them.

Let’s tell each other what it’s like to be us, what it’s like to live in this skin and believe the way we choose to believe.

Let’s jump out of our boats and swim to shore as fast as we can, gather at the fire like there’s no tomorrow, and call those moments sacred and good.

A God Story: the thin and holy string


In the corner of our boys’ room, there is a rolled up rug. It was woven in Uganda, and it’s got pink and cream and purple fleshed into its design.

And above our oven, there’s a white plastic canister with a red plastic lid, and it’s got groundnuts in it.

When I see that canister, I close my eyes and remember seeing those little plants growing up out of the African soil.

And every time I look at that rug, I remember our trip to Uganda in 2009, the research trip that my husband Travis and I embarked on with a hunger to see and understand someone in another part of our world.

I see Dunkan’s living room, his brick compound of a house and his tiny mother in her beautiful print dress, humbly gifting this homemade present to us.

I see him cutting the sugarcane and jackfruit with a handleless knife and I remember his shy smile, the way his white teeth flecked light from the sun.


The day I met Dunkan, I tried to hold on to the air, tried not to breathe too deeply so that the moment would last longer, so that I could cherish it forever.

I remember the day that I decided to sponsor him through Compassion International, the day I was only a teenager standing there, looking through faces in tiny rectangular packaging.

I told God then, “If I do this, you have to provide for me. If I do this, I need you to provide.”

And Dunkan went from being someone I’d never known to someone I had finally met to a family member whose picture hangs on our wall.

Dunkan is 18 years old now, and I’m a mother of two little boys, and God has always provided for both of us.

Today, He still provides, and I am reminded that the journey went from the blue carpet of my Baptist church to the dirt ground of Uganda, where I put my arm around him and saw his life spread out before me– two lives attached by a thin and holy string, two lives claimed by the grace and kindness of God.


It’s odd to think about making deals with God, to consider that this relationship is a give-and-take in so many ways.

Thomas Merton said, “Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny. We are free beings and children of God. This means that we should not passively exist, but actively participate in His creative freedom, in our lives, and in the lives of others, by choosing the truth. To put it better, we are even called to share with God the work of creating the truth of our identity.”

Sponsoring Dunkan when I was sixteen was the beginning of a new season of my identity, and God and I worked together every month to give a little something to this boy across the ocean.

And every month He was shaping another part of my identity, another part of Duncan’s identity, painting Himself in a new light for us both in this unexpected and magical relationship between two people who really needed each other and the Father.

He was someone God was real to, someone cherished and known and valued.

Knowing who God is means asking Him questions, asking questions of ourselves, stepping outside of what we know to embrace possibilities of servanthood and goodness.

There, we shape a new truth in ourselves, and there in my boys’ room I’m reminded of it every time I see that rolled up rug in the corner and every time I pass by the jackfruit piled up at the International Market.

God is real as He shapes my heart and my identity every single day, and He is real in the way He provides for me, and in the way He provides for Duncan.




You’ve always been a gift-giver. In the healing of your hands, in the spit and the dirt you used to work wonders, you were giving the essence of yourself to our humanity.

When you left us to be with the Father, you gave us Spirit, a chance to put fresh breath into our tired and weary lungs, the gift of someone speaking to, for, and with us in our quietest moments.

And in our humanness, you still pour gifts forth, in the ways we experience the sacredness of each other’s lives.

Thank you for cherishing us, thank you for teaching us how to cherish You.

Lead us to your throne, day after day after day, and then lead us back to each other, back to community, back to the gift-giving legacy you began in us so long ago. Amen.

The Sacred Act of Coming Clean: a lesson in roasting pumpkin seeds


I’ve roasted four pumpkins so far this fall, which has given us four loaves of pumpkin bread and a batch of pumpkin muffins.

The first time I tried to roast the seeds, I burned them. It’s mere seconds between the crispy brown you need and a charred black.

So on the second try, I took my time.

I’ve been watching a lot of Gilmore Girls lately while the boys nap– coffee, a light blanket, and a stack of home decorating magazines, and I’m set for an hour and a half.

And while I’ve really been enjoying those afternoons, I’m missing a deep silence that gives me the space to ask, and so the Holy Spirit does this thing with a quiet and steady voice, and I’m drawn back to the quiet again, into my own pondering and into a new book (this gem by Erika Morrison).

So, while the pumpkins roasted in the oven, I sat down at the table and looked into the big bowl of muck.


And I began the slow sift, letting whatever needed to happen, happen.

The seeds do not let go of the flesh easily, so you must pinch them off and tear them away for the seeds to be free.

With every tug, I released something. In the quiet, I let myself breathe.

In Erika Morrison’s new book Bandersnatch, she says,

“…life is not about building an alternative name for ourselves; it’s about discovering the name we already have.” 

So I asked God who I am, what pieces of me are being sifted out of my muck, pulled away from my own flesh.

How do you hold the identities of every creature? I ask.

How is it possible that You knew us then, the intricate and tiny parts, and that You still know us now, in our changing and aching, in our rejoicing and daily becomings?

You see, when we come clean to God, we come clean to ourselves, and all that buried treasure– our gifts and longings, our sacred selves– comes free and alive to the surface.


I threw out the orange, stringy pumpkin flesh and washed the seeds clean under cold, cold water.

And I asked God to take me, to take the pieces of my identity that are still lost to my mess. I asked Him to release those pieces, that I might understand, and if I can’t understand it, that I might at least feel the freedom of their presence in my bones.

And because I belong to this Aslan-like King, this Lion of a maker, I do not claim always-safety, but constant-security, that when I am freed from my own shackles, I am freed into Him, and every part of who I am is tethered to His steadfastness, in every pulling and tearing, and in every new fall day.

Hallelujah and Amen.

(and in case you want to roast your own, here’s the recipe I used.)