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Greater Love



Posted by on Sep 14, 2015 |


Sometimes when you get what you hope and pray for, it’s not just hard, it hurts.


I’m a mama to three — two brothers born before their big sister turned five. Babies, then toddlers, are so active, aren’t they? Endless demands and never enough sleep, a constancy of care and attention. If you see a woman with raccoon eyes and a coffee IV, she’s probably a new mama.

Every day is a learning experience for both child and parent.

Perhaps the greatest surprise of parenting has been how much my children teach me. I presumed this teaching business was a one-way street, where I played the role of teacher, and they, always the students. While our home has certainly been a classroom, often it was me learning the lessons of love and life and forgiveness and sacrifice through them. The hardest lessons were those of self-discovery, where conflict or circumstance revealed my own sin.

Sometimes parenting is knee-bending humbling. 


Time plays tricks on mamas. Days stretch forever long but years end impossibly quick. And then one day you wake up to beds already made, an empty laundry basket, two glasses, and two plates in the dishwasher . . . and quiet.

On brutal days of parenting, you’ll wish it would come faster. On days stitched in joy and sunshine, you will time to stop, if only that were possible.

Yes, you will know this empty nest thing is coming a mile away. You’ll steel your heart for the inevitable.

The Day will come softly with no fanfare, the way summer sneaks into fall. In nature and in life, seasons are creation’s evidence that change is good and necessary.

Our youngest son started college last month, our middle son began his junior year . . . and on Tuesday we returned from a cross-country trip to move our firstborn into her new apartment.

Sometimes parenting means letting go all the way.


We must let go of tiny hands so they can walk. We’ve got to release the seat of the bike so they can ride. When it’s time for them to leave home, we can’t attach strings of manipulation or guilt.

We began praying for our children when they were only sparkles of hope in our eyes. When they were old enough, we kneeled right beside their bed or lay side by little side, our nightly prayers a bedtime ritual, a necessary prequel to sleep.

That’s something not often marked in a visible place — the last time you say nighttime prayers with your children. I don’t think you recognize it as such; maybe because it’s more gradual than that. And maybe because you never actually stop praying.

It’s safe to say that most parents pray their children will follow the Lord’s will for their lives, that they will love and serve Jesus for all of their days.

Our world is a broken one and, increasingly, our culture seems to fight Judeo-Christian values. It is no small thing when our children leave home with their faith intact. When they’re on their own, free to experiment and explore, it is reason to downright celebrate when they still choose Christ again and again.

Throughout their lives I’ve prayed for my babies to follow Jesus, but it never occurred to me that might come at a cost.

Keep reading Greater Love over at incourage, won’t you?

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The Bookmark Thief



Posted by on Sep 1, 2015 | 4 comments

There were no greater treasures than her books - Robin Dance

It was likely birthed as a gentle correction to my inconsiderate transgression: I had dared to turn down the corner of a page in one of her books.

For one so young, she took good care of her special possessions, and there were no greater treasures than her books. These were no papery trophies staged on a shelf. They were stirrers of imagination, journeys of escape, introductions to new friends. It wasn’t hard to figure out those she loved most, loose bindings or passages lined and noted told on her.

You could read this child by studying her bookshelf, and even more so if you opened some of those books. For a season, she carefully applied Wite-Out to profanities, a discovery that made me shake my head in wonder and admiration. We were intentional parents who did our best to train a child in the way she should go, but this was beyond expectation. She was so much better than I ever hoped to be. In case you didn’t realize, “bad” words do show up in children’s books sometimes.

If memory serves me rightly, I was annoyed when she scolded me for folding a page corner to mark my place. She was making a mountain out of a molehill. I was disrespecting her property. Neither of us was particularly impressed with the other’s point of view.

I don’t think I fully understood the gravity of this breach to her until she handed me a present a few days later, a hand-stitched bookmark. Certainly, it served both of us, but it was no doubt a love offering. She paid for it with humanity’s most valuable currency – time – and to me it was priceless.

I was heartbroken years later when it was no where to be found.

 * * *

But this is a story with a happy ending, the kind punctuated with tears, heart-wrung but binding joy to sadness in the presence of good but hard things.


She found the bookmark she had sewn for me half her life ago.

She was in the process of turning her room into mountains, piles to sell, piles to give away, piles to throw away, piles to keep. The yuckiest pile was the one marked undecided; it held sentimental attachment but no practical good. Every thing was a symbol of something more, a memory or season worth holding onto. It wasn’t about the thing itself but the everything else of it that made these things so hard to get rid of. If you’ve got an old tee shirt in your drawer you haven’t worn in decades but won’t throw away, you know exactly what I mean.

Somewhere in the sorting and pile-making, she found my bookmark. Neither of us know why it was in her room but who cares? She found a treasured possession.

When I look at this bookmark, I see her then. I can sense her indignation over my scarring her precious book, and her satisfaction in figuring out a brilliant solution.

Uneven stitches…ragged edges…skewed alignment–the casual observer might see a mess of imperfection, but all I see is something perfectly beautiful.


The same could be said of all of us, I suppose.

* * *

When you’re raising your children it feels like it will last forever, doesn’t it?  The fridge is a revolving gallery, measuring time in footprints and thumbprints and handprints. Crooked letters and misspelled words. Construction paper and tissue paper, glitter and glue and gumption.

We save every masterpiece…

because we don’t quite know when the last one will be The Last One.

But make no mistake my friends, there is a Last One.

* * *

I find her sitting on the floor in her room surrounded by piles of things wanted and not, an undoing of the life she’s constructed for more than a dozen years. It will be the place she’ll remember as “home” when she’s grown and away, the house dreams about her childhood will travel back to.

The bookmark is on the floor next to her –  “The bookmark you made me…!” “Yeah, I’m not sure why it’s in here….” – and the sight of it slays me happy. It’s a prodigal, an old friend, treasure found, and surely it’s a good sign of some sort. The edges are a bit frayed and the ink escaped her lines, but those things only endear me further.

Sometimes you can love a thing so much it becomes an idol, but sometimes that thing is a just a placeholder for something else, and there’s no sin or shame in those affections.


Memories roll in like thunder. So do thoughts of her future.

In four days we’ll pack up the piles she decided to take and drive 1400 miles to go confidently in the direction of her dreams, to begin living the life she’s imagined.

The bookmark stays with me.



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Facing giants {a series on motherhood & empty nest}



Posted by on Aug 17, 2015 | 13 comments

A good thing to file away about empty nest


I’ve been pulling this Band-aid off for so long, I’ve become accustomed to the sting. It still hurts but the pain is a dull one just below the surface.

Until it isn’t.

But then once it’s off, that means the healing has taken place and the wound is restored to health.

Isn’t that the way it goes?

Last Wednesday we took our youngest to college, to the big university that happens also to be in my hometown. Athens, Georgia was a wonderful place to grow up in the 60s and 70s – living in Five Points was a citified Mayberry – but I went away to school and never returned except to visit. Reasons are many, mostly tied to job, but I’ve arrived at a definitive peace with my hometown, and it feels so good to be there now, like all the unpredictability, challenge, and change over the last four years was leading to this: setting the stage for my baby to go to college in a familiar-to-me place.

Home. Through him, in an odd sense, I’m able to be at home when I go home. Family is still there – family has always been there – but I think I appreciate being closer in proximity in a way I haven’t in a long, long time.

So we moved my boy in to the 9th floor of a 960-student high-rise, and we left him and a chunk of my heart right there on Baxter Drive, 1.4 miles from the apartment we were living in when Mama died, down the road from my high school and middle school and around the corner from Barrow Elementary….within a few minutes and miles of where I spent my entire first 18 years.

It’s easy to drift into memories – they’re a flood – but I’m anchoring myself to today.

We came home to begin a new season, and lordy, our house was screaming quiet.

And here’s the thing, a good thing for you to file away if you’re years from where I am: 

You can “prepare” for Empty Nest all you want, you can steady your heart for the letting go, and you can even believe it’s good, well done, that this is what your parenting goal has been; but that doesn’t insulate you from the impact of this major change. 

So…I’ve given myself permission to feel it.


Thursday, my husband went to work like normal, and I went to work like normal. No, not normal, I threw myself into my work and barely stopped all day. Not to eat or use the bathroom, just go go go so I wouldn’t have to listen to the damned silence.

But then late in the day I had a conversation with a work colleague and she asked about taking Stephen to UGA the day before…and I stopped in my tracks. I couldn’t speak. And she spoke simple, liberating words over me, He’s your baby. This IS a big deal. It’s okay to be sad.

Which of course made me cry, which of course made me feel better.

Sometimes tears are a means of escape for all the feelings pounding your heart.


I AM a half-full glass girl. I DO see silver linings in stormy clouds. But sometimes it’s fine, even better, and certainly more honest, to absorb the impact of life and to recoil; eventually you’ll spring back.

If you don’t, you need to get help.

Two things are helpful, important and maybe even necessary when you’re approaching or in the season of Empty Nesting.


1. Give yourself permission to grieve. Your identity has been wrapped up in being a mother for a lot of years; while that will never change, your role will. Transitions can be tricky…. Remember that while there may be loss of young humans under your roof, their departure is one measure of success as a parent. You’ve been raising children to be independent young adults, not grown children who need you to survive. Their leaving might not be your only end-goal but it certainly should be one of them.

2. Collect friends in this same stage of life, and even a few years ahead of you. When you’re a new mother, it’s vital to be in community with other young moms; whether to encourage or advise or just listen, having others going through this same life stage is sanity-saving. It’s equally important, if not more so, to have women who can speak life and experience into this new season of Empty Nesting. What you’ll learn soon enough is, at this age, it’s not one thing going on (kids all leaving), it’s many things (aging parents, health issues, sickness among friends, marriages falling apart, career issues, financial pressures, etc. etc. ETC.) and you NEED others who understand from living it that you CAN get through it. It makes a huge difference and I’m so thankful for those in my life who continue to encourage, champion and challenge me…and even let me be sad.

To be continued…this is at all what I intended to write about when I started. Oh, the mind of my fingers sometimes… 🙂 

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Charleston’s Phoenix



Posted by on Jun 25, 2015 | 1 comment

Sister Jean German Ortiz quote


I’ve often said Charleston, South Carolina is one of my favorite cities in the world, a place as colorful and complex as its history.


My college roommate was born and still lives just across the Cooper River Bridge, and it was through her I first made Charleston’s acquaintance. I was instantly smitten.


Stitched Panorama



Sweetgrass basketsHow could you not be? Rainbow Row is enchanting. Ghosts walk among the living along the Battery. And, strolling through the Market, I swear I could watch those old women knitting sweetgrass baskets with their fingers all day long.


So it is with the nation I grieved another headline last week, nine lives sacrificed on an alter of hate and misery, the likes of which I’ll never understand. DePayne Middleton Doctor, Reverend Dr. Daniel L. Simmons, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Cynthia Hurd, Myra Thompson and pastor the Reverend Clementa Pinckney. People keep saying their names, writing their names, to remember. To honor. To make sure we all see the flesh and blood and skin and bone…the personalities, faith, heart and soul of the people slain by a lone deranger.

We’ve all seen his face, those dark hollow eyes and surly mask. Who could’ve have know that simmering beneath was a cauldron of rage, hate and delusion?

Now, we see the signs and hear the rumors and conjecture, but it wasn’t so obvious a week ago. Even the people who knew him and heard his rants didn’t take him seriously. Plenty of people (sadly) make racist statements but they don’t pick up a gun, walk into a church, mingle among the people, and then systematically take them out.

There are a lot of things about what happened at Emmanuel AME Church that concern me, a lot of things that should concern all of us. My heart aches for those who lost their lives so senselessly, so violently, and for those who have to live with the agonizing void created by their deaths. I anguish for them, their mourning a public spectacle, and yet their public forgiveness has preached a thousand sermons. They honor their King beautifully, and I’ve wondered Would I be able to forgive so quickly?

In the bloody and tear-stained aftermath, complexities relative to racism, gun control and symbolic icons have plagued me as a human, but there’s one thing that has rattled me as a mother: Dylan Storm Roof’s age. He’s 21.

My middle child turned 21 this week, and when I first heard about the then-suspected gunman, all I could think of was He’s the same age as Thomas.


Oddly and interestingly, four different 21-year-olds have been on my radar over the past week: in addition to my son and Roof, two others:

Jordan Spieth. If you haven’t yet heard of Jordan Spieth, you will. He accomplished something monumental in the golf world over the weekend even Tiger Woods didn’t manage: winning his second major golf tournament before turning 22. He won the U.S. Open Sunday and back in April he snagged the green jacket at The Masters.

And he’s a good guy, one of the rare ones, the kind of young man people can say only good things about. He draws inspiration from his younger sister, he’s still dating his high school sweetheart. His affections are obvious and outward toward his parents.

But then there’s Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, perhaps a name not so familiar until you realize he’s the surviving Boston Marathon bomber. He was only 19 when he and his brother detonated pressure cooker bombs that killed three, injured more than 260, and left 17 amputees. Now 21, he just received a death sentence for his crimes.

I’ve thought about the mothers of all these 21-year-olds, how they’re processing their sons’ choices. I’ve wondered what their relationships look like.

Of course it’s apples and orangutans, but it’s what I find myself thinking about. Four 21-year-old men, who still look more like boys to me.

Two of whom have the world in front of them, two who will spend the rest of their lives in cages.

God have mercy.

It makes me think about that line in Shawshank Redemption, the one when Red is sitting in front of the parole board for the umpteenth time, when he speaks the truth of his heart —

There’s not a day goes by I don’t feel regret. Not because I’m in here, because you think I should. I look back on the way I was then: a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I want to talk to him. I want to try to talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are. 

How long will it take for Dylann Roof and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to feel regret? Not regret for getting caught, but true remorse for their slaughter? Will they ever?

Consequence of choice is one of the major tenets of parenting in our home, it’s something we’ve stressed since our children were young. Whenever possible, we let them bear the consequences of poor decisions, while celebrating the consequences of good choices.

This wasn’t a one-time lecture but an on-going conversation commensurate with our children’s age. Conversations at eight about losing a privilege if they choose to disobey, one day gave way to much more adult fare. Of course, this doesn’t guarantee your children will always make the right choice, but on most occasions, when faced with a moral dilemma, they at least consider the potential consequences to their actions.

Did Roof or Tsarnaev consider what the rest of their lives would look like given their choices? Were they so misguided in their beliefs they were willing to sacrifice their lives for the cause? Neither strikes me as that noble. Obviously, they had no regard for the devastation they’d wield against the people groups they hated, but did they consider the pain they’d cause their families? Their mamas?

In the wake of the Charleston shootings, we see unimaginable beauty rising from ashes –

A city wrapping her arms around those who grieve

Much needed conversations taking place

Emmanuel AME Church’s website features a quote by Sister Jean German Ortiz on its homepage:

Jesus died a passionate death for us, so our love for Him should be as passionate.

A 21-year-old fool had aspirations of starting a race war. And he “almost didn’t go through with it because everyone was so nice to him“….but the trajectory was already set in motion.

He just had no idea that love has already won.

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Mama’s Way (15 Things To Teach Your Children)



Posted by on May 5, 2015 | 3 comments

15 Things To Teach Your Children


To say this is a big month for me is to call Everest a molehill. My first born will graduate college and my last born will bid adieu to high school.


I’m fine, really…. Introspective. Contemplative. Prayer-filled. But good.

This season has me missing my parents something awful, wishing so badly they were here to celebrate with us. Daddy at least got to meet and spend time with his grands; but maybe because Mother’s Day is coming up, I’m lamenting not having more time with Mama. If given three wishes, my first would be to have time with my her, to talk as adults and friends and for Mama to meet my babies and husband.

To honor her memory and celebrate her legacy, today I’m sharing the text for my Listen to Your Mother reading. It’s a lovely thing to hear, but quite another to read. I suppose this is mostly for me but I hope it will bless and encourage you, too.

Motherhood extends the special privilege of shaping lives, impacting the future and changing the world.



Mama had just nine years to teach me everything she knew about being a mother.  Thing is, I don’t think she realized she was teaching any more than I understood I was learning.

Like when I would sit on the floor next to her bed and she would dream out loud with me.  She told me I was going to be Miss America 1984.  I believed her.  My older sister would win first, and when I was crowned two years later, we’d be the first sisters ever to share the title.

This was back in the early 70s before Disney princesses were born and when beauty pageants were the end-all, be-all for every little girl.

This was mama’s way of teaching me my own daughter would need to be told she was talented and beautiful and of immeasurable value; that part of my role would be to encourage her,  to believe in her,and to help her see in herself what was yet to be seen.  In those bedside chats she taught me to be present and positive and to mine deep potential and possibilities.

Or the time she explained the birds and the bees.

Now remember, this was a thousand years ago when TV couples had just been allowed to be seen sharing the same bed, and today’s PG-rated movies would have been slapped with an R.

My little eight-year-old mind couldn’t wrap itself around how THAT could go THERE and WHY IN THE WORLD anyone would want it to.

Naturally, I had a lot of questions.

Probably regretting her decision to make sure it was she who first taught us about sex, the conversation abruptly ended when, exasperated, she declared, “I am not going to sit here and draw pictures!”

This was mama’s way of teaching me it is a parent’s privilege and responsibility to initiate important conversations, even if they can get a little uncomfortable; and there are just some things a child needs to hear from her parent first, before the world gets a hold of them and tells a distorted version of a beautiful truth.

And then there was the way she’d respond when we’d ask, “What’s for dinner?”  Now, it’s important for you to know before I tell you her response, that Mama was a woman of deeeep, deep faith. And it wasn’t until I had children of my own that I understood.  They were picky, horrible eaters who preferred a PB&J over the wonderful meals I’d cook–

Then, I not only understood her response but I’d have to exercise extreme restraint not to screech it every time they asked What’s for dinner?

Chicken Shit on a Shingle.

Some of you know what I’m talking about….

This was Mama’s way of teaching me that some things about motherhood never change, and sometimes a right-timed expletive isn’t just appropriate, it’s necessary.

And then there was what Mama taught me when it rained.

She’d round the traffic circle at Barrow Elementary to pick us up after school, but she wouldn’t leave it at that, she just couldn’t.  Our apartment was a mile or two past our town’s housing projects and when she’d spot a group of children walking home, she’d stop in traffic, make us open our doors on the sidewalk side and invite them to ride the rest of the way.

She couldn’t have cared less that their skin wasn’t the same color as ours–to her, they were just children whose mamas couldn’t pick them up.  She wasn’t about to let them walk home in the rain!  I didn’t like it because we were cramped in our car two or three laps deep and why did it always have to be us who gave rides?

But this was Mama’s way of teaching me that some things are just right, that those who have give to those who don’t, and red and yellow, black and white, are precious in His sight.

Mama taught me manners by always using “please” and “thank you” herself, and because she sang “You are My Sunshine” to me a thousand times, it was the lullaby to which my own babies fell asleep.

She died too damn young at 38, but even following her death, she continued to teach me.

She taught me that being brave doesn’t mean you aren’t scared, it just means you keep fighting for hope and praying for miracles, and it’s not the number of years you have that matter most but the life in those years.  She taught me depth over breadth and that children are listening more than you’ll ever know.

Her death was my first lesson in what doesn’t kill you in life can make you stronger.

When I turned 34, I was aware that was the age my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.

When I turned 38, I was aware that was the age she died.

At 39 and every year since, I realized I’ve outlived my mother.

Mama’s most profound lesson came as a result of her life and death:

To age gracefully.

Now, I don’t always get this right–last year was the BIG 5-0, and for just a little while I was sinking loooow.

But, age is the price we pay for life and it’s a privilege not everyone has.

The gray hair, crow’s feet, wrinkles; the memory we lose, the weight we gain, and arms too short to read a restaurant menu; the blasted eyebrows that forget where they live and move south…

The chance to know my children as young adults, and Lord willing, one day, to meet their future mates and my precious grand babies.

Mama died when I was nine and though she flat missed the Miss America prediction, I think she’d be happy to know I finally figured out the sex thing…

As far as my children know, three whole times.



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Heart-shaped :: A Valentine’s Day Feature at {in}courage



Posted by on Feb 14, 2015 | 1 comment

A blessing to women

Valentine’s Day isn’t about romance or passion to me. Instead, it’s a blur of fizzy affections tethered first to grade school then later to a woman of valor.

I grew up in a Mayberry-esque town before the internet or big box craft stores were born.

They were halcyon days, when a teacher would hand out construction paper, scissors, glitter and glue, then light a creative match and set our imaginations on fire.

We’d transform our cereal or shoe boxes into treasure boxes. Then, we’d snake up and down the rows of desks, slipping our Valentines into bedazzled boxes, eager to sift and analyze our own.

Simpler times.

When I got older there was a season when Valentine’s Day took on a shroud of romance, but even when I started dating the man who would become my husband, I never liked the idea of a retail-imposed, gift-giving mandate. Except that one time in college, under Valentine’s Day pressure but totally broke he came up with my favorite gift of all time — that was true love.


When my firstborn was three years old, Valentine’s Day changed. It happened when my mother-in-lawlove (MIL) asked if we could have a Valentine Tea. My husband is one of four boys and my in-laws had been waiting for a granddaughter for almost 30 years. They had ideas.

Our mother-daughter tea evolved over time. Initially I hosted the tea. Our menu: heart-shaped PB&Js, strawberry Jello Jigglers, and Valentine M&Ms. For the moms: chicken salad and strawberry cream puffs. In those early years we’d make a craft, plus a card for the dads, and read a special book.

Our Valentine Tea Party became a much-anticipated annual event growing larger each year. When it outgrew our dining room, I raised the white flag. That was the year we moved it to my mother-in-law’s house and it became a family event — the four girl cousins inviting their very best friend (and her mom), my sisters-in-law, my MIL and her best friend.

We’d sit around the dining room table for hours, three generations at school in a sacred space, no one in a hurry to leave.

Three constants remained over the 16 years we hosted our Valentine Tea: a darling invitation, Noni’s famous butter mints and surcies for the girls and their mamas.

Valentine Tea Party Essentials

When we had our Valentine Tea in 2012 — a little late because it was the year I was living abroad — I had no idea it would be our last….




Please click to continue reading Heart-shaped over at incourage,
a very special personal story.

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