Tradition be darned, and a word for 2019

I’ve always resisted a fad. Tell me the world’s loving some hot new thing and I’ll cross my arms and purse my lips, dead set on proving myself different from the rest of you. But like a big brother sitting beside me in the backseat of a sedan, it’ll keep poking me over and over and over.

This choosing a word for your year fad has been poking at me since at least 2012. Last year I almost caved. It was a dark time and a moment of light burst in one early January day and I threw up my arms. “The joy of the Lord is my strength,” I claimed. It stuck. Many times over in 2018, I whispered that verse in my soul. I needed both joy and strength and somehow I still wanted to believe both came from him. I placed the emphasis on a different word in that sentence depending on the situation. The statement could be good for so many things.

Maybe that’s why I was willing to claim it for a year. It was good in different ways – and I quite like freedom. One word seemed too – well, limiting.

Until last night.

Last night I was perusing Facebook and a friend was asking for comments. Share a word for 2019 that starts with the same letter as your name…

I just about put M&Ms.

I do love them. And with all the flavor choices they keep coming out with, it certainly didn’t have to be limiting.

Instead I wrote Magical.

It’s a shame you can’t choose different fonts in Facebook comments because I felt the word needed a little fanciful flair. But upon hitting return and seeing it there, it stood well enough on its own. And I was not surprised at all that it quickly earned a ❤️.

So here we are, me and Magical. Anything else can stop poking its finger at me this year. I’ve committed and that’s resolution enough.

The husband asked a bit later if we’d be having traditional New Year meal and I ain’t gonna lie, I resisted. I don’t even know what I was resisting. Was it the grocery run that would need to be made? The cooking (and cleaning) and the not going out that would then be? Or was it the very foods themselves that tradition brings?

Nevertheless, I like making him happy. (And, ok, had nothing better to offer as a suggestion.) So I set about trying to figure out how to make black-eyed peas like-able.

Because, well, I do not.

Google brought me the answer with Cheesy, Creamy Black-Eyed Peas, or so I thought. (You really should check it out.) I could almost taste this rich concoction (did you see the ingredient list?) until I stood with cart in front of the dairy case at Aldi, wondering when they were ever going to restock the heavy whipping cream that had been out since Christmas baking week started.

I am both faithful to Aldi and faithful to heavy cream. As such, I feel there should be some secret inventory stashed for me on these occasions. But as I’d asked them three days ago about extras in the back, I knew it would be a waste of breath.

Still, I parked my cart in the way of everyone waiting to get soy or almond milk and stared at that empty shelf like I’d stare at someone on Christmas or Easter who’d taken our family pew. And when I felt I’d shown it how disgusted I was with it, when I felt it had heard me send my telepathic you will have my coffee cream when I come back in two days, I set that cart in reverse and left, leaving the vegans to pillage.

There is no substitute for heavy cream. But all was well enough, because as I found out not two minutes later, there was neither a black-eyed pea to be had in that place either.

Truth be told, a bag of frozen butter peas were more our tradition anyway. (Shhh. Don’t tell the coin gods, please.)

There was no time to return the already procured ingredients. A new check out line was opening! If you are an Aldi shopper then you know how rare this is. Once that employee made eye contact with me and mouthed aisle three, there was nothing left to do – but buy the cream cheese and Monterrey jack. (You DID read the recipe link above, didn’t you??)

And I need to tell you that today I made those butter peas pretty Magical.

364 more days of Magical headed my way. Some days I’ll find it. Some days I’ll have to make it.

Today’s magic: cream cheese!

(Ok, ok, and a handful of brown sugar – those greens are mighty bitter!)

How in the world did you do tradition this New Year’s Day…


“Crafts” or Creativity?

Don’t fret over what they can “take home” in their hand. 

A few will be so proud to carry that coloring sheet with googly eyes glued on Noah’s animals, or glitter falling off Abraham’s stars, or Popsicle sticks taped to make shepherds’ staffs.

But really, most of your crafts will not make it safely home to the refrigerator door. 

More will be trash for the sextant to clean off the sanctuary pew or for the car wash attendant to vacuum out of the minivan’s seats.

You want to spend time on what will go home in their hearts and minds.

More tomorrow on my study of memory making.

Today I challenge you to brainstorm creative toys and materials. 

Timehop reminded me that I was searching for a bargain on some years ago.

Free play will encourage careful thought of the daily subject matter rather than efforts, sometimes very frustrated efforts, to copy your symbolic prototype.

And we want our children meditating on bible stories and spiritual truths.

Free play will promote genuine conversations with, rather than repeated craft directions to, your students.

And we want relationships to be forming in our classroom.

Last year I discovered quickly that my small class loved play dough. 

Consider adding one of these to your supply wish list this week. 

And don’t be ashamed to ask for donations.

  • Blocks
  • Puppets
  • Wooden peg people
  • Tea set
  • Magazines (safe previewed ones) for collage making

What creative free play items would you add?

Story: Sights and Sounds

I was there when a creation unfolded yesterday.

Pouring water echoed in the sanctuary, and when the font was filled, he leaned over it, slow and deliberate, and breathed.

A baby, a toddler, and a woman were baptized.

But I saw more.

I saw the ages of time replayed for all of us to remember.

We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water.
Over it the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation.
Through it you led the children of Israel out of their bondage
in Egypt into the land of promise. In it your Son Jesus
received the baptism of John and was anointed by the Holy
Spirit as the Messiah, the Christ, to lead us, through his death
and resurrection, from the bondage of sin into everlasting life.

(Baptismal Liturgy, Book of Common Prayer)

I was reminded of Genesis and Exodus and the Gospel stories.

And I marveled again at the repetition of water throughout the biblical narrative.

And I knew that creation, and the exodus from Egypt, and the baptism of Jesus should be included in our foundational stories.

What do you find in the creation account that repeats itself in scripture …

Last year I grabbed a trio of words.



Breath of life.

I returned to the storytelling training from my time in the preschool department of Bible Study Fellowship.

There I was encouraged to study each passage for words to define, dialogue to highlight, and descriptions to showcase. Our leader, Ms. Sherry, called them the “Three D’s.”

And so I encourage you to tell your stories with extreme care.

But let there be sights and sounds, and perhaps a bowl of water to touch in your classroom …

How do you bring the stories to life?



“All of his stories are true”

Don’t confuse this with story time –

Though I have always loved a good one. But this is not quite dad spinning a good ole tale before bedtime. Mine was the best at it. Mine had his own renditions of classics, such as The Three Bears, and I made an appearance in each. Such belly laughs would ensue, no matter how well I knew what was coming in the telling, that mom would holler a reprimand to settle down.

You can and should enjoy giggles in Sunday School, too.

But explain and remind your children that these are special stories.

  • Hold up a Bible. Ask them, “What is this?” An entire conversation may begin with this one question. One Sunday the first correct answer I received was “a chapter book.” And boy is it. It’s likely the largest chapter book that any child will hear.


  • Hold up a Picture Book Bible. Why? Because you will probably use one during the Sunday School year. They are not the same. One contains some of the stories from the other. Only some. And, one has pictures. (Please, oh please, use one with good pictures.) “Look at the these pictures. Were they taken with a camera?” Explain that the pictures are someone’s drawings, not the real thing.


  • Hold up a child’s story book. You think that any book will do, but be careful. As in, do not hold up a book about Santa or the Easter Bunny – you wouldn’t have those such books in your classroom, would you – because you are about to be sure that they know the difference between true and not true. And, just trust me. You do not want to make this more difficult than it need be. Cinderella or SpongeBob will do just fine and neither will squelch any childhood magic that some parent is trying to maintain. Just be sure that they hear that the stories that you’ll be talking about each week are not made up; they really happened.


You start with some semblance of these reminders every time you meet. 

I sometimes use a finger play that goes like this –

I open my bible,  (make open book hands)

and listen to God.  (cup hand behind ear)

He tells me what I should do.   (point finger up, to “heaven/God”)

I know that He loves me.   (cross arms over chest like giving a hug)

He hears when I pray.   (prayer hands)

And all of his stories are true.   (point finger and shake as if giving command)

And then you read or tell a good story, staying true to the text but adding some fun.

What Picture Book Bibles do you use …




How much do you teach them?

My students will never win at Bible Jeopardy.

That’s not my goal.

I’d rather teach my preschoolers how to join in, participating alongside youth and adults, in that hour right before or after Sunday School called big church, morning worship, or mass.

If you desire head knowledge to become heart knowledge, 

If you believe that it is in our worship that God meets us,

If you want childlike faith to continue into the future,

Then I believe that you’ll best see your Christian education time as a partnership with and primary preparation for Eucharist.

And while I certainly believe that ongoing biblical studies are beneficial for a lifetime, I believe that it is the repetitious sacramental experiences with the church body that truly shape us and our faith.

Years ago, when I began compiling 52 Stories, I considered how each story answered three questions.

  • Who am I?
  • Who is God?
  • How should I live?

Let’s look at that creation beginning that I mentioned. (prior post in series here)

  • God is the creator of all things.
  • I am one of his creations.
  • Therefore, I should …

Praise him?

A child will ask, What is praise?”

I could explain, “A praise might be a great compliment.”

But, really, it may be much simpler to take this child by the hand and lead him into your sanctuary or chapel or to your mini-altar table.

It may be most effective to simply praise the creator of all things, bowing together within a place of beauty, and reciting a Creation Psalm, singing together The Doxology, or answering a common refrain such as this,




Blessed be God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
And blessed be his kingdom, now and forever.


What parts of worship would you include in your beginning unit on creation?



What I’d like to teach this year

I’d like to start at the very beginning and get that right.


Do you sing along with Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music like I do?

As the movie shares how Governess Maria brings joy to seven grief-stricken von Trapp children, I find myself longing for that playful, exuberant spirit in the children that I know.

And as those same movie children go on to experience real fears for safety and cling to each other, I find myself hoping for that same family rootedness and resolve in my own.

If we believe that faith, not sentimental story and song, is the basis for a life of peace and joy, of calm in chaos, then how do we teach faith?

What if we began with “God made me…”

Hear that. God made you. You are good.

Hear this, too. God made each person that you meet.

What if we added how “God made all things …”

Everything. Humongous things. Microscopic things. Intricate, detailed things. Beautiful things. Useful things.

Things visible and invisible.

What if instead of rushing to floods and clouds of fire and giants and sling shots and big fish that spit up men, we simply took a few weeks to settle into this great belief that God is creator of all things…

How much would it matter?

Each week we recite the words of the Nicene Creed.

Do we base our foundational teaching on it?

Why not?

My first unit of teaching preschoolers this year will find me saying these things.

Over and over.

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

What difference does this belief make in your life…


Adventure Week Sixteen




I wanted to participate in South Carolina’s Walk a Mile in their Shoes event to help other people.

As it turns out, I needed to do it to help myself. 

I’ve known confusion and shame, the kind that sneaks up from behind you and wraps its arms around your neck, dangling its fingers down your chest.

I’ve known that flinch that stops itself because pretending it’s nothing seems better than making a scene, because maybe not acknowledging will make it not so at all.

I’ve known the silent drives home and the determined path back, over and over again, because deviating would mean that something was wrong.

I’ve known secrets so long that truth disappears.

I’ve heard I’m sorry‘s.

I’ve walked alone.

Not this night.

My thanks to STSM for leading such a victorious event, 

to the crowd who enjoyed a moment of loudness, “NO MORE,” 

to the men who walked in high heels but somehow still kept it serious, 

to my people who prayed about the sign.

These things happen and it is not ok.

A lot of people know and believe this. 

And truth can bring freedom.

Some days are full of it.

I felt it in the back of the crowd. 

They felt it up ahead 🙂

And I was mighty proud of my city.

Walk with me next year…

Adventure Week Eleven

Ever planned a wedding?

Yeah. Adventure Week Eleven went big. Real big.

Precious friends talked about eloping in the midst of some difficult family situations.

But, really, could this couple pass up the chance at a beautiful day?

Just look at them.

Too beautiful to elope!

Too lovely.

Too many friends.

That precious young woman has shown me what it is like to live in freedom this past year.

So I joined a village and helped with a wedding.

I asked my DIRTY DANCING tribe to make desserts. And they came to the rescue. (That’s a whole other post right there, my journey in learning to ask.)

That’s a PIE BAR, y’all.

There was also a Cookie/Brownie TOWER.

There were invitations painted by THE BEAR AND THE ROSE, a sweet etsy shop I just happened to know. They were all woodland shire looking because the couple said to me one night when we were talking plans that they liked The Lord of the Rings.

I can’t find that particular photo right now, but you just imagine that soft forest green background with the names Gretchen and Zach etched on it.

The programs had that same simple font and were graciously done, at the last minute I might add, by Ms Christy, of artvark creative.

Need help imagining the wooded shire …

groom and his men

(The Groom and His Men, photo by Sarah Scruggs of Kindred Co.)

Friends did flowers and music – even a harp y’all!

And photography by Sarah Scruggs.

(Note to Kindred Co., I’m going to steal another of your pics, but give you credit, ok?)

But for me, the highlight of it all was the statement of vows. Borrowing much from the traditional, but with additions from themselves, those promises made to each other reminded me of what these precious two have already overcome together and what, with God’s continued help, they will continue to do as one.

I present to you, my Adventure Week Eleven, with much gratitude to them for allowing me to be a part of their special day –

Mr. and Mrs. Zach Arnold

reception kiss

(photo, you know, by Sarah Scruggs of Kindred Co.)



Adventure Week Ten

“If I only had a girl…”

My mom had a girl.

Obviously 🙂

She tells me that while she was pregnant she practiced tying bows, just in case.

Hair ribbons.

Dress sashes.

Maybe that’s what happened to me. I never learned to tie a bow.

And (so) I had a boy.

Shhh. I know logic doesn’t work that way.

I also love my boy.

And I love other boys, too. 

In fact, every infant I’ve had the joy of keeping for awhile when their mommy returned to work – was a boy. 

Adventure Ten is no snub towards boys, but it is ALL ABOUT THE GIRL.

I blamed so many things on being an only child. With no siblings at the dinner table to mock my body or tease me about boy crushes, I could keep anything I wanted a secret at home. And secret keeping can become habitual.

In time, I grew to blame myself. Why didn’t I tell my mama stuff? Why was I afraid to ask if she would buy me makeup? Why did I try to hide my tears when that guy didn’t like me back? Why did I never tell her all I wanted to be when I grew up?

Eventually I learned to blame Eve, and her tasting of good and evil, and her ushering of death.

With the help of professional counseling, I came to see myself and my mother and my grandmother as girls caught in a cycle of mere survival.

The death curse took nanny’s mother away from her when she was just a little girl. What happens to a girl without a mama…

Girls without mamas can fail to learn how to celebrate.

I’m pretty sure that my mama was rarely celebrated. I know it had some to do with the alcoholic father. Some.

But I think it also had to do with the mother who probably wasn’t celebrated herself as a child.

I once blamed socio-economic status, but I don’t buy into that anymore. You can celebrate within any budget.

Girls with mamas that don’t know how to celebrate can fail to learn it, too.

Right now you are probably wondering about that word: celebrate.

And I will try to explain.

Let’s use the most basic of celebrations: the birthday party.

My mama always offered me a birthday party. 



I had a love/hate relationship with the birthday party. Inside my head, I dreamed of how it might be. I contemplated locations. My favorite was the back room of the Baskin Robbins Ice Cream Parlor. Some elementary school friend had hers there one year. But the excitement was offset by sweaty palms when I considered the ending of every party I’d attended:

– the opening of presents, in front of everyone.

That was enough for me to forego any group celebration. 

Why? I wasn’t shy. I had friends.

Why were birthday parties ok, just not my birthday party?

I think it might be this –

I never saw my mama have a birthday party.

And I’m guessing that she never saw her mama have a birthday party.

Let’s be clear. I saw my mama and my grandmama celebrate other people, but I’m not sure that I ever saw them celebrate themselves.

And I followed them.

It didn’t matter that the offers came. I followed their example, not their offers.

And I think it hindered my friendships with other girls. 

You psychiatrist readers will want to scream, “You’re simplifying things.”


But there are girls who know how to properly celebrate themselves and their accomplishments and there are girls who don’t.

And the difference can divide.

We non celebratory girls can grow judgmental. 

I am grateful for girlfriends who taught me better. I could list a couple of dozen. Most celebrate from a sense of wonder and gratitude and joy in Eve’s creator, who called her out from hiding.

They celebrate bodies and minds and beauty in every sort of form.

They laugh and cry and twirl.

And I’m making up for lost time. I’m telling my secrets and listening to others. 

I’m loving a lot of girls.

And on Adventure Week Ten, I became a trunk keeper for a little boutique clothing store for girls.

All ages of girls.

I have some catching up to do.


Mama’s birthday is May 14th and I’m throwing her a party and somehow I’m going to get both of us to wear the ruffly pants and twirl.

Thanks, Ashley!

And Matilda Jane!

 Someone’s watching; celebrate yourself!

Adventure Week Nine

Adventure HOSPITALITY week was all about a four year old and a twenty-four year old who came to stay awhile.

The four year old boy brought joy. He’s a head full of curls and twinkling eyes and smiles. I was part-time sitter for eight days and I was well loved. Mr Andy was, too. Wyatt would bid Andy farewell with a “Have a good day at work, Mr. Andy.”

When I picked Wyatt up at preschool, he would announce, “I had a good day.” And he would ask me, “Did you have a good day?”

Wyatt taught me that just about any day can be a “good day” and that blessed me.

He also reminded me that four year olds like snacks.

That blessed me, too.

One morning during our car ride, Wyatt proclaimed that parents start off as babies. He continued. “Everyone starts out as a baby.”

I chimed in. “Even Jesus started out his life here as a baby.”

Wyatt agreed. But never wanting to leave Jesus as only a baby, I just had to add – but Jesus grew up, didn’t he?

It was at this moment that I learned that Jesus liked snacks, too. I had never considered it.

Yes, Jesus growed up and when he growed up he got to go shopping all by himself and when he went shopping he bought popsicles and Mary and Joseph let him eat the popsicles that he was growed up enough to get.

Eight days of that, y’all. Eight days of that smiling, positive, snack eating goodness. One afternoon we made stove top, not microwave, popcorn. There was hot cocoa to be had, too.

And homemade play dough. Did I mention that I like homemade play dough?

Was it a little trouble? Sure. But saying “yes” to some part-time babysitting is worth it.

The other hospitality “yes” this week seemed a bit more risky.

Let me tell you about our house.

We have this room.

Off the garage.

With a bed.

And a closet.

And its own three-quarter bath. (That’s one with a shower if you’re not in the real estate know. A half bath has a sink and a toilet. A full bath adds a tub. A three-quarter bath lacks the full tub, but has a shower.)

We have been known to let people who don’t require a full bath to move into this room.

More than once.

Months ago Mr. Andy was perusing a political website and asked me if we could volunteer to house a campaign worker. I won’t get into the politics here. That’s not what this post is about. You can read about that in Adventure Week Two if you like.

Nothing happened for so long that we just assumed that nothing was going to happen.

And let me tell you that I can appreciate the beauty of offering something, but never having to actually follow through with it. That’s some easy stars in a crown right there and I’ll take them.

This did not wind up being one of those times. For on Friday night about 8.30 pm, Mr. Andy’s phone rang.

After a bit, he came to me and asked if it was ok if a campaign worker came.

“Yeah,” I answered.

And he still stood there with the phone in his hand. And I pretty quickly understood what kind of conversation they’d been having.


Yes, friends. The campaign worker needed to come “tonight” – that very night.

And you think that you have to clean the house before you can invite someone over for a cup of coffee …

I am here to tell you that you do not. You can extend sufficient hospitality without much effort.

Mr. Andy and I pushed a few stored boxes around in that room off the garage, made sure there was toilet paper in the three-quarter bath, and  did a quick vacuum. During this bit of frantic housekeeping,  Mr. Andy let me in on the upcoming guest’s name.

Let me just say this – and I do try to keep folk’s privacy intact even when I’m writing about my adventure with them – I’d never ever hosted a Mr. Houssain in my home before.

He arrived about 10.30 pm and I told him about the tank-less hot water heater and that he was welcome to anything in the kitchen that he could find and that I’d left towels for him and so forth. And then I went to bed.

And I don’t think I saw Mr. Houssain for a few days.

He worked long hours.

Sometimes hospitality is a lot easier than you think it’s going to be. Mr. Houssain lived in our garage room – well, slept in our garage room – for over a week before I even served him a meal.

To say that he was not much trouble would be an understatement.

Really the most we did for this young man was to leave the garage door up.

The twenty-four year old young man brought hope.

I saw that this generation is polite and hard working and generous.

Mr. Houssain was a lot like little Wyatt.

He smiled a lot. He said thank you. He determined that each day would be good.

And our lives were blessed by meeting him.

I’m kind of thinking that one day I might be voting for both of them …

Together they’d make a great ticket on any party side, my week nine guests.

Who are you inviting over this week …