What Are You Going to Make at the Free Art Table?

Last Sunday our church kicked off the new Sunday School year. Public Schools began as well and the fall routines jump-started us all back to “reality”. Packing lunches. Afternoons of homework, reading logs and math facts. One day it’s ninety-five degrees and the kids are sweating like they were attending a Bikrum yoga class, not Third Grade. The next day, they are running around at soccer practice in the rain, mud caking their cleats and splattering on shin guards.

It’s a liminal time and space, despite the new beginning of the school year. The weather has a foot in the torrid weeks of summer but simultaneously is pushing to shorter days, chilly mornings & leaves on fire with the colors of autumn.

My students and my own children seem to feel this same liminality. The in between. The middle. Even at the start of something new, we look back to what was. We remember the way our classrooms felt as the previous year ended. Relational bonds felt strong, routines and procedures were engrained, the rhythm was second-nature, teachers were more than a Mr. or Mrs., they were like another parent.

Looking ahead each September, there is opportunity, possibility & newness. Perfection seems attainable and even plausible. We set goals, review and practice rules, get new backpacks & lunch boxes. But underneath it all, there is a sense of disequilibrium, unsureness. If we are honest, we have a foot in two places. It’s the in between and nothing feels quite “right”.

In youngest son’s Pre-K class, I heard about something that gave me some grounding in the midst of the newness. At our Back-to-School night, his teacher shared about their Free Art table. A place of potential, opportunity & creativity, but without a lot of rules and perfected, teacher-driven projects.  The students won’t be forced to create a bat during Halloween week or a turkey made of their handprint. Rather, the Free Art table is a place to explore and innovate. There is a bulletin board to put their creations or they can take them home when they finish. There is freedom, options & few teacher-directed objectives other than creative expression.

When we are in the liminal space or embarking on a new beginning we crave order, rules, boundaries and a perfect model of what we should make or how to act. But sometimes, the way to move into the newness, out of the in between, is through freedom. During the unscripted moments, we force ourselves & our kids to dig deep and grow, discover and even develop new community.

If we hold too tightly to the past it is impossible to embrace the “next thing”. By it’s very nature, the in between times, the transitions, are fairly permeable. Malleable. Boundary-less.   Just think of what can be created in those times though…. our own little moments to envision something new at our “Free Art Table”. Pick up the scissors, grab a googly eye or some glitter and get to work.

I walk by my former students in their new 4th grade classroom everyday and long to have them fill our desks again. To hear their reflections, read their words & watch them work through math problems. But then, the new faces of this year’s students grace our walls, their portraits smiling down under the banner “Class of 2025”. So many moments to share lie ahead. There will be stories to tell, connections to be made.   We’ve already buried “I Can’t” & held its funeral. We wrote about our summers & set reading goals for the year ahead. We have high-fived & hand-shaked our way home each day and already shed tears and a lot of laughs together. And we are only nine days in….

I look at my own two boys and marvel at the ways they—along with kids in general—jump into newness, adapt & adjust to new classrooms and teachers, hoping I can try to do the same. Make my own creation at the Free Art table. Let go of the past a bit. Dream into the future knowing that the underlying grounding is a Creator that delights in seeing us embrace Freedom, wants us to get messy with extravagant Grace & explore the possibilities ahead. God is an innovator & yet stands with us in the in between too. May we seek to be the same for our children. Cheerleaders of their imperfect creations, celebrators of their new connection and generous dispensers of grace as they get messy & busy at the Free Art Table of growing up.

Simply Tuesday


It’s 1:40pm on a Wednesday. Early release day. It’s “hump” day and we have 1st Grade Buddy Reading. After lunch, it’s time for Read Aloud and then sending the kids out for P.E. Erasing the schedule off the white board, I slowly craft the Thursday plan in alternating colors in preparation for tomorrow. Unused papers and recycled from the day and pre-copied activities for the next day are carefully laid out, all with the harsh glare of the fluorescent lights off. The portable door is open and waves of students laughing, yelling & bouncing four square balls filter through. I sharpen a pencil, grab my lesson plan book and my water bottle, look frantically for my keys and then head out for our weekly Staff Meeting.

The agenda looms. Upcoming events to discuss. Union issues to be ironed out. Scheduling of assemblies, special events, loose ends to tie up before the upcoming field trip. Implications of the new standards to work through.   And my head?! Ready to burst. I had just walked out of my classroom, calm, remembering some of the day’s light bulb moments, or the struggles walked through together, the conversations had to work out playground issues. Basically our little Room 18 bubble was a lab. Not every “experiment” went flawlessly. Rarely were we able to “replicate” the exact same results. But it was still a living, breathing organism. I truly loved that space. It wasn’t big, especially by late spring with 30 sweaty, growing 4th grade bodies, but it was ours. A place of community—whether easy or hard. A place to learn and grow. A place of acceptance balanced with challenge.

Staff Meetings, though? Woowee, felt like a virtual earthquake for me almost every time. The realities of “the world out there” filled my head with worry. Was I doing enough for my students? How would we fit in all the standards? What methods would help me teach curriculum effectively and meaningfully to our new students struggling with learning English? And on and on.

My worries and concerns had nothing to do with those around me. Our staff was my family. Our administrator was the strongest ally and cheerleader. My grade level team consisted of some of my closest friends. It was more the magnitude of looking beyond the walls of my classroom—when I locked the portable door, leaving behind my little space, I often let the worries, concerns, to do’s of our school and beyond lead me into a downward spiral of stress & worry. Overwhelmed with the what-ifs and problems out of my control, I often lost sight of my role inside those classroom walls.

Reading Emily P. Freeman’s new book, Simply Tuesday, has taken me back to those Wednesday staff meetings. It has brought to light the gift and curse of my to do list mentality. I have had to sit with the truth that my desire for faster, more efficient, my need for productivity and bustle is already taking a toll on my relationships, and even more? On my soul.

Maybe you can relate? “The pull to comparison and competition, the feeling that the work I do is never quite enough…the pain of inefficiency, the addiction of ambition, the longing to build something important, and the disappointment that comes when the outcome looks different than I thought.” Throughout Emily’s book, she reminds that Tuesdays, the most ordinary day of the week, can be a model for how to live EVERY day of the week. The ordinary, the small moments we overlook or run past, can actually hold our true life work and purpose. Rather than living in a place of fear, longing, disappointment, pain and addiction, God is calling us to see His presence in the small, seemingly insignificant moments. To “see smallness is not a punishment but a gift.


Looking back on my former classroom, I now realize that its smallness, the simple truth of sharing 180 school days with my students, can be seen as a blessing and not a source of angst. My inner need to construct, shape and fill each and every moment might be leading me to miss a connected life. Just yesterday, I was rushing to get our family out the door to church, overdue library books in hand, Redbox movie to be returned, comforting stuffed animals tucked into my purse all while lugging the food & supplies I needed to bring for the church BBQ. I was barking out orders to the boys to get their shoes on and grab their things, to turn off the tv and pick up the living room. My eldest looked at me and said, “Mom, I know we are running late and you are stressed, but yelling at us doesn’t help. It just stresses us out!”

My fast movements. My inner need for speed and hustle. My mental lists and expectations. These often smother the gift of connection. The lessons to be found in small moment, everyday, ordinary living are the ones I need to pay attention to.


As Emily wrote, “People need our with-ness. They don’t need for us to impress them with how spiritual we are. They need to know they aren’t alone. People need us to embrace a relational smallness, accepting we are not the star, the counselor, the convincer, or the fixer. Instead, we are a companion, willing to keep company with the soul of another. We need not compete, we need only to connect.”

Whether it be in your job, your family life, your marriage, your friendships, your morning routine, or your conversations—I pray that Emily’s words will inspire you to connect instead of compete. To mark your days and time with with-ness. To be ok with small spheres of influence and simple agendas. “We were made for presence.” I know for me, as I start the school year in a few weeks, as I parent my boys and seek to strengthen my 11-year marriage, Simply Tuesday has been a much-needed reminder about what really matters.

“God can do anything, you know—

far more than you could every imagine or guess

or request in your wildest dreams.

He does it not by pushing us around

But by working within us,

His Spirit deeply and gently within us.”

Ephesians 3:20, The Message



Pick up your copy of Simply Tuesday wherever books are sold in the US:  AmazonBarnes and NobleCBDDaySpring, or anywhere else you can find it.

Sign up here today for a free, four-video series where Emily will share practical ways to help you create space for your soul to breathe, even in the midst of your busy life.

Join us every Tuesday on Instagram and share a simple moment from your regular life. Hashtag it using #itssimplytuesday so we can see your moment and celebrate our smallness together.

Packing It In

IMG_3766A few weeks ago, we loaded up and hopped on a plane to the Bay Area. It had been two years, to the day, that we moved to Oregon from California, and our boys, now 4 and 8, had yet to return for a visit. Our eldest would be jetting off the following morning to Disneyland with Grandma and youngest would be occupied by Grandpa’s plans to keep his mind off of NOT being in Disneyland. Our bags were packed and our itinerary was full of coffee dates, early morning walks, restaurants to enjoy, parks to visit, the zoo to explore, a wonderful family wedding to attend and even a San Francisco Giants vs. Oakland A’s game.

Fun to be had. People to see. Memories to be made. Adventures to be lived. And yet, I was filled with anxiety. Would the upended routines and schedules throw the boys off? Would we over-extend ourselves financially eating & touring our way through the Bay? Would the flights be on time? Would we encounter nasty traffic? Would the boys have sibling moments leading me to utter embarrassment? Would I pack enough snacks and the proper clothes? Question after question after question. Anxiety growing and magnifying before my eyes.

The funny thing is, 99% of my concerns and worries never came to fruition. And if they did, it wasn’t something we couldn’t handle. But like those bags smashed and packed into our little rental car, full of promise of the week ahead, I didn’t realize something was amiss. Looks can be deceiving.

After getting the boys settled in the car, the bags smashed in the backseat and our phones out and on to navigate to the in-laws, we heard a rap on the window and saw the guy from Budget waving us down. We’d gotten into the wrong car. We were CLOSE to the right car. Just a bit off. Luckily they caught us before we left. But all the same? We were in the wrong car.

In the anxiety and the tiredness I find these moments happen all too often. Either focusing so much on the details that the big picture gets lost. Or so overwhelmed by the situation that I forget to pay attention to the details. Maybe you, like me, have lost your sunglasses only to realize they were on your head all along? Or were so wrapped up in hosting a dinner party that you swapped sugar for salt in a recipe?

I do this over and over and never seem to learn. As a parent, I fail my own good intentions daily. After stepping on one too many LEGO, not being able to navigate through our playroom, I lost it the other day. And rather than driving off in the wrong car, my body took care of the situation instead, landing me straight on the couch for the next 24 hours having thrown out my back. Tension had been mounting and instead of taking a breather, talking to God, regaining my equilibrium? I got angry. And my body snapped and told me, “Anxiety and stress or not, you need to take a moment.”

The stars aligned and all the boys slept the next morning until 7:25am. Anyone who knows our sleep woes understands that this is truly a miracle. My back was seizing too badly to hobble out and get the paper so I managed to get over to the kitchen and shuffle back with a cup of coffee. I sat down with Shauna Niequist’s new devotional, Savor. I read and read, page after page. Backwards. I started in August and worked my way back to April. The words spoke to my heart, as did the quiet.

PFpic0807152Zephaniah 3:17 leapt off the page, “The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but rejoice over you with singing.” No more rebuke. Only singing and delight. My go-to is rebuke. In the classroom much of my day teaching involves discipline. I am constantly refereeing between my own two boys. I am putting myself down for failing to do everything on the to do list. And in this case, for having my back go out, rendering me slow and helpless. Those words spoke to my heart, though. God delights. God is with me. God saves me. Mightily. God loves. God rejoices, not just with words, but with singing.

The rebukes that I dole out or speak to my own heart can be covered with singing. Erased and replaced with delight. When my parenting is overtaken by lists and anxieties and fears, God speaks love. As I make mistake after mistake, and come close but am still not on target (hello, parking mishaps!), God still is with me. Not rebuking, but singing. Reminding me to slow down and breathe.

Packing it all in, trying to control every move of our kids and ourselves, only leads to failure. And luckily, in the case of our rental car mistake, some laughs at our own expense. May we choose the way of love, of UN-packing it all, not trying to fill our days with too many to do’s, rebukes or anxieties. And to see the place we are meant to be, which might just be in the parking space right next to where we’re standing.

{This post is part of my monthly contribution at Practicing Families, published there earlier this month.  Feel free to hop over there too!….}

Summer Lesson Plans

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Today marks that quintessential transition day—the school year coming to a close and stepping forward into summer vacation. As an elementary school teacher, I spend hours teaching and instructing each day, but before that happens, my lesson plan book is filled to the brim. Best laid plans for approaching new text, for writing opinion papers. Times highlighted and labeled for P.E., computers or special pull outs.

Topics and lists to cover at meetings or to ask colleagues for clarification and advice. Fluorescent post it notes sticking out, marking important information or events to remember.

Buying and creating this lesson plan book each year is like walking into a candy store for me. Which design will win out? Will it be columns or rows? A month-at-a-glance or weekly planning format? Tabs with color? Places for storing important documents or a separate binder? All this to say…I love having a useful holding place for planning. A location to go back to at the end of each day and ask myself, “Did we make it? Did we push through everything planned, or where do we need to pick up tomorrow?”

When I think of that next “season” that begins today—Summer—I often imagine a big precipice, though. Not a new lesson plan book of opportunity and lessons to be planned and learned. But rather a blank slate of fear. The school year seems like a marathon I have run and completed, crawling across the finish line as I hand out report cards and leave the clean classroom to ruminate over the break. Picking up my sons with brown bags full of projects, papers, pictures and memories, we all breathe a collective sigh, filled with so many emotions. Sadness over the end of a year of community and learning and teacher/student connections. Excitement thinking about the more “relaxed” schedules and days ahead. Anticipation for summer fun…of camping, s’mores, LEGO camp, trips to the beach, afternoons of popsicles and sprinklers, playdates and more time to read.

Wondering, though, if it’s time to see the year as a relay race or maybe a triathlon? A transition into something different that is still part of the same race. Switching from swimming to the bike leg or passing off to a new baton carrier while still moving forward. My head and body want to fall flat on the bed, letting myself sink into the cool comfort of my quilt and zone out, rest. To let PBS Kids take over the childcare and let the kids blaze their own paths for two months. “Teacher Mom is OFF duty!”

It doesn’t work that way, though. And even when it seems like that path is the best route, I know it’s not. If I come into the school day unprepared, while the students may never catch on, my inner world is wrought with angst. I play tapes through my head filled with, “you aren’t good enough…you didn’t care enough to plan….you can’t get your act together.” And really? Everyone suffers.

So this summer, I am making a plan book of sorts for our days. It won’t be nearly as full as my teacher lesson book at school, but I am blazing a pared down trail. A path for giving some structure to our days. Time for reading. Time for figuring out what to do. Time for a few fun outings. Time for s’mores. Time for trips to the library. Time for sprinklers. Time for the park and friends. And weaving it all together, just like the in the classroom, I am slogging through the process of management. When the “troops” are restless and structure-less and lacking respect, the mission is rarely accomplished. The learning and growth that happens in a well-managed classroom is exponential. This means setting behavior plans, being clear and loving in explaining and enforcing them. Firm, fair and friendly, we used to say when working at camp.

For some reason, this feels so much scarier and more challenging at home, then when facing my classroom of students during the school year. But this summer, it’s going into my Lesson Plans. This summer, I am reminding myself that parenting and faith isn’t something we just magically arrive at if we close our eyes and say, “POOF!” It can feel like, and it truly is, work. It means discipline and planning and follow through. I am convinced with a little pre-planning and mental wrestling, we can create a structure that allows for freedom and choice, but also with a mix of responsibility and fun.

At school with each new unit of study, we always begin our planning by looking at the assessment we must give at the end. What will the students need to do to show growth and learning by the time we finish?

When I am making dinner, I look at the beautifully staged picture of the finished product so I know why I have to add ingredients in a specific order. How many times have I skipped that step and then been halfway into the recipe and realized with frustration that the dough needs to rest for 3 hours, or the meat needs to marinate overnight or the tomatoes need to roast slowly for hours? Plans foiled for simply not knowing the full picture.

As a minister, my husband does this too. What is the main point he wants the congregants to leave ruminating about? If he can’t narrow down his theme enough and simplify it for a children’s message, then he hasn’t planned thoroughly and tightly enough.


So for summer, we must do the same. Look towards the end, to September, and planing for more than survival. My friends have been funneling wonderful suggestions my way and so I’m trying to cook up a soup of:

  • daily reading
  • exercise and outdoor time
  • down time to quiet the pace while enjoying books on tape/cd
  • a summer journal (planning to use the same composition notebooks I use with my students which we decorate each September)
  • chores on popsicle sticks to be completed before screen time

None of these are new, groundbreaking ideas, but setting out the structure and the plan and then following through will be groundbreaking for me for sure. From the mentors and supervisors in my career, I have learned the value and importance of “setting the place”. Allowing others to arrive knowing you first were there, thinking about them, praying for them, preparing for their arrival and for what would unfold.

So here’s to Summer! To all the fun that makes it a season of rest, rejuvenation and relaxation. But also? Here’s to setting the space. Here’s to filling up the lesson plan book. Here’s to looking at the end result to see where the starting place should be.

“What we do every day

matters more than what we do

once in a while.”

~Gretchen Rubin, Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of our Everyday Lives

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Ode to Eight


As you are starting to realize, my dear, the things that go on in Mom’s classroom often spill out into our home life too.  Clouds.  Animal Reports.  Caldecotts.  Books.  Roots and Trees.  Well, today we were writing Odes like Mr. Pablo Neruda.  Odes are celebrations to something we love using our words, in poetry form.  I know you scold me for not forcing the students to make all their poems rhyme.  And these Odes?!  Well, they don’t rhyme.  They are little narrow columns of written goodness, showering love onto someone or something we hold near and dear.  And so yesterday?  I chose to write about YOU for my example poem.  The kids gave me the stamp of approval and promised you’d like it.  So without further ado, my Ode to Eight in Celebration of your 8th Birthday, Alex.

We Love You So Much!

Mom (and Daddy, Drew & Sally)


Ode to Eight

Clicking, linking

LEGOS connecting

Building, creating




Ideas churning


holes in your


Must write.

Must draw.

Must innovate.

Books pile up

by your bed,


off like an


as you devour


and stories.

Shoes tossed

to the wall.

Toes rubbed


evidence of

bike rides

and near


as you


Light sabers



created and



tried on and


Darth Vader

goes to the Bakery

Yoda frequents

the Zoo

and C3PO

crosses the

Golden Gate Bridge.


conjured up

in your mind.

Journeys taken



the strains

of Taylor Swift

create a


you can’t deny.

You move

to the beat,


yet giggling


it all.


strains of

“Shake It Off”



to New York”

heard as you

crank out your




a dirty mitt

and batting


have a

prominent place

on your shelf.

Dodgers gear

for your team

proudly worn,

but eclipsed

by the Giants

and A’s

whenever you

get to choose

the occasion.

Your grit

and determination

has amazed us.

Crack goes the bat

as you connect

with the pitch.

Run, run, run

to first base!

Glasses slide

down your nose…

you squint

over the top,

eating up stories,

reading recipes,

making lists.

You’ve got big plans.

Plans of fruit platters

Of baked goods

Of stories and

narratives to be.

Eight means

working out

math quandries,

problem solving

with smoke flying

off your pencil.

Eight is


struggling to

be let loose.

Eight is

getting the

joke and


and your brother’s

silly connections.

Eight is

attacking life

like it’s a

big donut

with pink

frosting and sprinkles.

Eight is

wiggly teeth

and gaps

where teeth once were…

now off to the

Tooth Fairy!

Eight is


and challenge

and tears

and joy

all wrapped up

in one



and unpredictable






Past Birthday Posts


Six and a Half (some reflections on “the half years”)












Christine Gough 7_13_20140003












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I assume you’ve been there before? On a steep, narrow, winding road? Inching your way to a weekend of skiing and “snow fun”? Way too many times my husband and I found ourselves driving or being the passenger in a packed youth group van, on our way to a MLK or President’s Day Weekend ski trip. Junior and Senior Highers were packed in, steam fogging up the windows, stuck and not moving an inch due to an unidentified traffic backup.

There are many ways to try and pass the time, but I often found my nerves on edge, and the final destination seemed impossibly far away. Sometimes an impromptu snowball fight would break out after the vans had been turned off, hope for vehicle movement dashed. Other times the kids would be sleeping away, and I’d be imagining smoke angrily pouring out of my nose as I realized the schedule was getting thrown off.

It is no surprise, once we had our own two children, that they might just struggle with similar things as their parents. We tend to be a household that runs on high emotions with a strong serving of determination and a bit of stubbornness to top it all off. Oftentimes, frustrations crop up or life deals a dose of the unexpected, and it seems easier to let the anger blow than to approach things with a little forethought.

So we are trying to integrate a new narrative for these inevitable moments. The bumps, hills and mountains that are bound to “land” in our paths on a daily basis are to be expected. The way we choose to react, however, is the variable. We often lean towards an “unexpected response” to these challenges. Maybe the baseball game is rained out or the store is out of your favorite kind of yogurt.   These moments are truly “bumps” in our daily road and journey, but our choice of response says something. Is it unexpected (temper tantrum on aisle 7, anyone?) or are we able to assess the situation, label it as the “bump” it truly is and move through problem solving options? When the van is stuck on Highway 50 towards Tahoe, along with all of the Bay Area escapees, do you get out and have a snowball fight? Or just fume in the car, spilling over with unexpected rage? What mindset do you choose?

It’s a daily, constant choice. Taking a minute to stop. To think and observe. And then, to choose….the expected or the unexpected? The temper tantrum or the calm revoicing? The foot stamping or the slow, deep breaths? The fist slamming on the computer keyboard or the stepping back and asking for help? Are we correctly assessing the intensity of our roads and the unexpected bumps, hills and mountains before making the choice on how to proceed?

Because in reality, our roads aren’t lonely highways in the middle of the nowhere. We are navigating aroundothers, through commitments & agendas, under and over our co-workers, next to our spouses, and betweenour children, often feeling behind, inadequate and stretched {see 9-month pregnancy picture at the beginning of this post!}.

These days, I am trying to take note of the roads that cross over mine or run parallel to my path. Are there offramps I need to pay attention to and use for a break? Rest stops to plan for? Freeways to accelerate on? Our own roads and paths do not exist in isolation. We are made for community. We are made for others. Thus, there is a call to pay attention. To watch for our own responses and choices, to respond with our companions in mind. And…as hard as it might be, to help one another over, around and through the bumps, hills and mountains in the way.

This post is part of my monthly contribution to the Practicing Families blog.  Hop on over there to read more!

Lighten Up


Alex, my eldest, asked a question from our Table Topics Box of Questions the other morning:

“What exercise is so fun it doesn’t feel like exercise?!”

He responds to his own question in all seriousness:  “Playing Monopoly.”

Younger brother, Drew, quickly pipes up:  “PETTING SALLY!”

Moments later I overhear:

“What is the healthiest fast food you eat?”

Alex:  “Carl’s Jr fries on French Fry Fridays!”

Drew:  “No, Alex.  McDonalds’ fries….you can eat them faster.  They are healthier if you eat them FAST.”

And I allow a chuckle to escape because—-it has been a MONTH.  Illness has taken over our family in every which way you could imagine.  Friends joke about quarantining our house.  “You guys just can’t seem to catch a break!” another co-worker commiserates.  Even the lady at Safeway smiled and empathized, “I’m sorry…” when she saw my cart’s contents the other day.

I am a planner.  Type A to the core.  Maybe….a control freak?  It is often a joke that these personality traits have lead me to my profession “managing” eight and nine year olds in the classroom.

The unpredictability that naturally comes along with parenthood has been one of the bigger challenges for me over the last eight years.  You can’t plan for illness.  Maybe predict it or stress about it, but not plan.  Injury can happen even during the most innocuous moments.  Case in point, Drew split his forehead open after tripping while singing “This Little Light of Mine” with a flashlight in the dark.  Sweet and cute moments can quickly land you in the ER within the blink of an eye.

But moments unfold that surprise.   “Feasts” made of wooden food and plastic tableware spread before you with pride.  Love notes “Four Sally” taped by your dog’s bed {when you’re FOUR why would you write FOR properly?!}.  LEGO creations carefully crafted for your approval.  Even early awakenings that lead to unexpected beauty.


The other morning at 5:58am, Drew summoned us with, “You HAVE to see the sunrise!  It is so beautiful!!!!!!!!”  This was quickly followed by “I need to draw that!”

About 10 minutes later, I exited the shower to this scene.  Truly priceless use of toilet as art easel.


These little people, swirling around us each day are often a mystery.  And for me?  I often want to control, contain, quiet and subdue that mystery.  Children, whether my 3rd grade students or my own two boys, unarm.  They surprise.  They are unpredictable.

Through it all, though, I am seeing the message loud and clear, though, “Lighten Up, Christine.  Lighten UP.”  It’s not a flippant, “get it together” tone from God.  More of a loving reminder—-a phrase to allow these moments of joy and humor push their way up through the crevices.  To see the beauty these little ones see and soak it in.  To let go of the reins a bit and loosen up.  An invitation to Lighten Up.

And when all else fails….Donuts.  Just donuts.



This post was written for my friend Mihee’s blog, First Day Walking.  If you aren’t already following her writing, sign up to receive her posts.  Mihee makes me think deeper, ask harder questions and shares about ministry and mamahood in such a fresh, real way.  In May, she is hosting a new series on stories from people in all walks of life and their observations of children and what they make us.  Head over to Mihee’s blog, First Day Walking, to read this post as well as many others this month!

All the Miles…






All the miles of a hard road are worth a moment of true happiness.

{the moral of “The Mouse and the Seashore” from Fables by Arnold Lobel}

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *


One of the writing workshops I attended this weekend ended in a place of Lament.

Lament.  Do you know it?

The expression of sorrow.

The cries of grief.

The words of mourning.

Lament can often feel like a place of shame, a plate leftovers we want to hide.

We do this over and over.  We seek to cover up these areas of pain.

Or to wrap them up with a beautiful bow to shroud the reality.

But…through the oddest voices in the most unsuspecting ways, I’m starting to see the value of Lament.

The growth to be had in ALL the miles…

in the catharsis of the LONG road.


 Today, as we read about “The Mouse and the Seashore”, a beautiful fable in Arnold Lobel’s book, Fables, I could not help but be moved by the mouse’s tenacity.  Despite not being supported by his family, he sets off for the Seashore.

He faces many obstacles, losing his tail, limping away bloodied and bruised, tired and exhausted.

All the while, still pushing for the seashore.

And when he crests that hill, here are the rich lines:

At evening the Mouse slowly climbed the last hill and saw the seashore spreading out before him. He watched the waves rolling onto the beach, one after another. All the colors of the sunset filled the sky.

“How beautiful,” cried the Mouse. “I wish that Mother and Father were here to see this with me.”

The moon and the stars began to appear over the ocean. The Mouse sat silently on top of the hill. He was overwhelmed by a feeling of deep peace and contentment.


{the glorious Oregon coast, Newport}

* * * * * *

That dear mouse has found contentment.

He faced the Lament.

He sat with the pain.

And eventually, after slogging through the muck, he found his ocean, and did you catch what he said?

I wish that Mother and Father were here to see this with me.”

He longs for his parents to join him in the beauty, even though they didn’t support the journey in the first place.

Reaching out, across the estrangement, to find connection again.


I can’t seem to stop taking pictures of cherry trees, cherry blossoms…pink snow confetti.

It is just so shocking.

After weeks and months of dark, damp rain it surprises.

A seemingly normal, everyday tree explodes with hot pink fireworks so dense you almost can’t see the sky above.

It’s a visual triumph that has been waiting in the wings, dormant during the winter.

It has survived from the dark days of lament, arriving at its own seashore.

Were the miles and the long road worth it?!

For that moment of happiness?

Even when the sun goes down so quickly?

Or when the blossoms fly through the air or litter the ground overnight?

I hope so.

My students seemed to think it was worth the slog, the danger, even the emotional bruises along the way.

I love how those cherry blossom petals masked the harshness of the concrete in the image above.

The brick and the chain link fence are still there, but there is beauty in the harshness.

As a few shared at my seminar on Friday, a banquet table is set for us.

And at that table, there is a FEAST to be had and enjoyed.

But one of the platters just might hold a serving of Lament.

The Feast and the Blessing and the Nourishment is in tandem with the Lament.

The fill the table together.

May we see that table as a gift, even when the food may taste bitter and the road long.



* * * * *

My students were working on Personification and wrote a group poem turning “Grit” into a person.  Wanted to share it here as a reminder of what it takes to keep going “all the miles of a hard road…”  Enjoy!

Grit does anything and everything.

Grit never gives up.

Even when she is afraid,

she jumps out of an airplane anyway.


At school, Grit takes a hard test and makes it her own.

She uses the harder questions to help her answer the easier ones.

Grit helps Frustrated with her stuck point and mistakes.

Grit’s friends are Self-Control, Zest and Courage.

They play baseball together at recess.

Grit knows that “Said is Dead!” and she attacks her multiplication & division facts, not giving up.

Grit sees Loneliness and asks, “Why are you alone?  Want to play?”

Grit reads the Little Engine that Could and takes an AR test.


Grit sits down for a lunch of mashed catepillars, onions & worms.

For dinner, Grit eats the Carolina Reeper Pepper and for dessert, has Hot Tamales as sprinkles on her ice cream.

Grit eats mushrooms, not knowing if they are poisonous.

Grit lives in a home far from Anger, in a Rainforest with animal skin rugs.

She helps her family with chores and even cooks dinner.

Grit has a poster on his wall that says, “Yes, We Can!”


Grit lives in a big part of all of us,

right next to her neighbors, Anger and Hard Times.


Lean Into the Discomfort :: Some Thoughts on the Faith & Culture Writer’s Conference


Dancing With the Stars started 5 minutes ago.  And a big part of me wants to turn it on, curl up on the couch with my tea now that the boys are in bed.  To ignore that I have a classroom of 3rd graders who will be staring at me at 7:55am ready to start a new week.

Today was a perfectly arranged school-wide day off since we crammed parent-teacher conferences into last week.  I envisioned a leisurely morning of catching up, maybe finishing my overdue library book.  Having my coffee without rushing out the door at 6:45am.  Finishing today’s 1-star Suduko.  Relaxing.  Instead, I filled it with scurrying around after laundry, balancing the checkbook, sweeping up LEGOS and tidying up the playroom/guest room (mind you….it now, 10 hours later….looks almost the same as prior to cleaning).  I made a weekly menu and a grocery list and shopped.

And really?!  All of these things are things on the list.  Not all FUN.  But things to be done.  Often, in an attempt to put discomfort at arm’s length.  Rather than leaning into the discomfort, I am often choosing this, that and the other to conquer and tackle rather than the important.

Instead of reality tv.  Or obsessing over my lesson plans.  I am planting my rear in the chair and writing tonight.  If for nothing else than knowing it matters.

*   *   *  *  *  *  *


Matt and I had the chance to attend the Faith and Culture Writing Conference this past Friday and Saturday in Portland.  When trying to explain the conference to others—whether prior to attending or post conference—–I always hem and haw, not knowing EXACTLY how to spin, define or explain it.  Yes, the conference is full of writing tips, tricks, opportunities, advice and experts in their craft.  But for me, for the past two years, it has meant so much more.  A place for retreat.  A moment for re-adjusting and re-focusing.  A time for slowing the mind while simultaneously amping my thoughts into a frenzy.  I compared it to one of those blitz 2 week Europe trips where you try to squeeze in lots of museums, restaurants and historic sights and in the end feel a “full”.  In a good way.

This year’s conference started with a pre-conference called “Breathing Space”.  I signed up with the selfish desire of hearing Seth Haines and Nish Weiseth speak—-two bloggers and authors I have been a little star struck over for awhile now.  Seth talked about the need for retreat.  To move away from the drive to create, produce and compare.  That we are called to be “window washers” for others, allowing a new vision of God to be seen.  To clear away and wipe clean the gunk and mess and muck that makes clarity almost impossible.  The conference, for me, was two days of having windows washed; artists and writers and creatives sharing their work, but more-so, their hearts.


{{such a privilege to meet this lady…got to take her to the airport and it was  highlight of the weekend for me}}

As Nish preached (and if you were there, you know she PREACHED in the best way, and didn’t just “talk” to us!), Jesus is subversive.  We see it in his actions, who he healed who he spoke to and hung out with.  He was relational, giving power to people in the margins.  Christ’s mandate was love.  Our writing is empty without purpose and our truest purpose is to love God and love people.  End of story.  Our writing is meant to serve others.  Our purpose is to use our very lives to live into the beauty and truth that God’s Kingdom isn’t some far off place we eventually arrive at.  It is happening now and that with or without us, we are invited to participate in what is before us.  Right now.

Later that night, two others wove similar themes.  Emily P. Freeman, author of A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live, reiterated this point.  As writers, even for me as a teacher, there is a call to

“Write like a hostess, not a crazy person.”

We get to live our day to day lives, inviting others in, or as Emily so eloquently frames it offering a bench to sit on.  Not a required conversation.  Or an agenda or a platform.  But a bench.  A place to practice the spiritual discipline of wasting time.  {{{For me, this often feels like Leaning into the Discomfort….You?!?!}}}  She shared how scary the question

“What is going on in you RIGHT NOW?”

can be.  We often like to talk about yesterday.  Or last year.  Or when I was 12.  Or plans for five years down the road.  But right now we are called to live, work, write, listen and love from a place of love.

At last year’s conference, Tony Kriz left me speechless and practically dumbfounded.  I just had no clue what God planned to unleash through that man’s heart and words.  He was so compelling and I promised myself that I would twist my husband’s arm every which way to read Tony’s books and come and hear him speak.  As Nish’s words and Seth’s and Emily’s and so many others from my writing seminar filled my head (Esther Emery, Velynn Brown, Ashley Larkin, Alia Joy, Kara Chupp, Michelle Watson, Nicole Bennett, Kamille Scellick, Ashley Hales…I could go on and on and on because that seminar was HOLY HOLY ground, almost feeling TOO raw to process here)…Tony pushed us to think about the “jar” we place up on the altar that is filled with how we are and aren’t allowed to think about, to talk about and to write about God.  The words that are fear-based, language used to constrain and constrict our faith.  Tony, in his own amazing way, wove the story that the jar of his youth, the big glass jar that was up on the altar, if you will, allowed for God is to be light…but not a rainbow.  God could be compared to a lion, but not a bear (too Native American).  God could be a strong rock, but not a crystal (too… Portland).  He went on and on and one with comparisons.  And me, being the simile girl {{{WELCOME TO ROOM 15, KIDS….WHERE WE WILL WRITE LOTS AND LOTS OF SIMILES AND POEMS BECAUSE YOUR TEACHER LOVES THE POWER OF FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE!}}} I was stoked.  Tony called us to take risks, use risky language and to even make mistakes with the goal of breaking the culture-imposed boundaries of who God is.

“My faith is like ____________ because it is _________________ . “

To force comparisons that stretch the mind.  That stretch our faith.  That stretch our worn out understandings of who God is and what God can do in and through us.  I am still giggling about when he asked us if we could compare our faith to our pancreas.  Or the Jihad.  Try, folks….do it!

The next morning…Romal Tune and Emily Freeman talked to us and we delved into seminars, hearing about Truth Telling from Alia Joy, The Holy Mundane of the Daily Lives of Holy Writers with A.J. Swododa, the Art of Questioning with Shane Blackshear and even a closing hour with Wm. Paul Young, author of The Shack.  Clearly I could write pages and pages about each of these seminars and talks, but for me?  The take away is one full of blessing, richness, meatiness, love and mental exhaustion/fullness.  I had opportunities to sit next to and talk with bloggers and writers I have long admired and realize…they are human.  And real.  And kind.  And funny.  Rather than feel like a D-list celebrity amongst A-listers, it was a sweet time of connection and laughter and listening.  Matt and I had the gift of attending together and sharing a huff and puff hike up Mt. Tabor along with conversation in and through seminars and speakers which was awesome.  After Easter and Parent-Teacher Conference mayhem, not to mention busy children duties, it was so refreshing to walk, eat, listen and rest.

However, as the saying goes, even on retreat, even at a conference like this, there is discomfort and moments of sighs and deep breaths.  Opportunities to lean in (or back like I often due after eating too much yummy Portland food), knowing that you are full, but just need time for it to digest and work its way through your being.  So I am stopping for now.  Maybe will try and catch a few minutes of Dancing with the Stars and fall asleep to dreams of VooDoo Doughnuts and thoughts about Leaning into the Discomfort knowing the truth of Zechariah 4:10. {thanks, Romal, for the reminder of this verse!}

“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin.”



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