Our Last Day

Our Last Day

My Sweet Baby Carrot,

Today was our last day together. This weekend your older siblings will be home with us, and the next time they go to school, you will go too. You’re finally entering the world of full-time kindergarten, and you could not be more excited! Me, on the other hand…

When you were born, you came home to 3-year-old and 1-year-old siblings, and your life was LOUD. There has always been someone talking, crying, pooping, eating, spilling, whining, laughing, pushing, throwing, bouncing, banging, squealing, and all.of.the.noises all around you. When you were a baby, I put you in the swing so I could go to the bathroom, and I would come back to find you buried in toys your brother lovingly wanted to share. (He was maybe less concerned about you breathing under there, but boy did he love you!) When I got overwhelmed and needed a “quiet minute,” your big sister would push your crawling diaper-bottom into the bedroom before I lost my marbles. You were always a year ahead of schedule with your activities and interests because you just wanted to do whatever the big kids were doing.

I thought I knew you.

Then two years ago, your Irish twin brother went off to kindergarten, and it was just you and me. Well, there was a newborn too, but – much to your disappointment – he wasn’t much of a playmate, and he didn’t laugh or do anything funny yet. Still, he was a good baby, and most of the time, it felt like you were all mine, and I was all yours. Before then, you had gone to preschool a few days a week, but changes in our family meant now you would stay home all the time. I thought you would get bored. I thought you would miss your brother and sister. I thought you wouldn’t like being with me.

Turns out, I didn’t really know you.

I learned that you love reading more than playing ball, like you always did with your brother. You like puzzles and songs, and you would rather watch Barney than Spiderman. We went to library storytime, which was always just too hectic when your siblings were home, and your favorite part was cutting out shapes, even when you struggled. You are the most determined human being I have ever met, and you keep trying, trying, trying, until you get it right. We went to the park and you climbed to the tip-top of the jungle gym without any help, because I was pushing the baby, and you were so proud. I was so proud. I am so proud of you.

That boring little newborn turned into a silly toddler who absolutely adores you. You sing to him, make him laugh, and get him out of his crib when he wakes up early from nap. You help him up the steps on the Chick-fil-A playground, and you hold his hand when he falls and carry him to mommy. You’re his best friend.

Sweet Carrot, you have become my best friend.

I’ve never spent as many hours with any single human being as I have spent with you. You love helping me clean; you see it as acting like a grown-up rather than a chore. And you would do chores all day long if I promised you 20 minutes of uninterrupted attention at the end of it, as has often been our arrangement. You just love spending time with me; I don’t think I have ever felt so wanted as I have from you. I think you like moaning, “Moooomm, get off your phone!” because you know it’s an instant guilt trip, and I’ll stop everything to look you in the eyes. You have helped me shop, run countless errands, held the baby while I used the public restroom or taken too long at the customer service desk.

I love that you call your action figures “little toys” and want to make houses for them to live in together, like I used to do with my brothers. I love playing basketball with you in the driveway while the baby naps, and you always beat me. (Okay, maybe I’m terrible, but for a 5-year-old, you had serious skills!) I love making you breakfast of two-eggs-scrambled-with-cheese-and-salt-and-pepper with three pieces of toast-cut-like-a-circle: one with butter, one with jelly, one with butter and jelly. I love the way you say it exactly like that every morning. I love the wild stories you tell and the passion with which you tell them. I love how you walk into the library, grab the most random books off the shelf – always at least three more than I tell you to get – and remain firmly committed to checking out those books, no matter how strange of choices they end up being. You just want a reason for me to read to you. And of course you never let me forget to get board books for the baby, easy readers for brother, and chapter books for sister, even though none of them are even aware of this library excursion.

You want everyone to experience the joy you have.

You have helped me make countless new friends by attending playdates with strangers-to-you and jumping right into relationship with their kids so the mommies could talk. You listened to me go on and on about the women’s suffrage memorial on the day after the election, even though you didn’t understand what I was saying, but you could tell it was important to me. Then you helped me eat too many farmers’ market cookies, because it was a good day for cookies. You are painfully unaffectionate, but with a reluctant “oookaaayyyy,” you let me cuddle you when I’m having a hard day.

Today was one of those days.


To continue reading, please visit Knoxville Moms Blog, where this post originally appeared on August 24, 2017.

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Story Lines

Story Lines

“Your face is the first thing people see about you. Shouldn’t you take care of it?”

This was a post about a skincare regimen one of my Facebook friends was selling. Her products sounded magical: they promised to make skin softer and younger looking, remove dark spots and blemishes, and treat fine lines and wrinkles. While these benefits are supposed to excite potential customers like me, sometimes I wonder why we “treat” fine lines and wrinkles, as though the natural process of aging is a disease to be cured. Truth be told, I want to relish in my crow’s feet and the deep grooves in my forehead, and I never want to forget where they came from.

A life well-lived.

Wrinkles are more than the random pattern of sagging skin; they tell the stories of how we became who we are. Because our faces show our expressions, our wrinkles are the story lines of worry, sorrow, laughter, and joy. Certainly erasing the fine lines won’t erase the memory, but embracing these “story lines” can tell so much more.

Meet my grandmother, Elizabeth “Lib” McCalman Caldwell, October 30, 1925-July 28, 2015. She was a fiery redhead, raised during the Great Depression in Memphis, Tennessee. She married my grandfather after he returned from World War II, and they bought a pig farm in Mississippi where she began raising a family without indoor plumbing. Four daughters later, they moved back to Memphis and opened a service station. There they had five more children — all boys — and planted roots for the rest of their lives. Lib (Mammaw to me) raised nine children while her husband worked often 100 hours a week, and those children didn’t always make it easy on her. She cared for her aging parents, her husband, and her younger brother through tremendous health issues until each of their passing, all while continuing to serve in her church and mentor others in her family and the community. She lived on her own in what eventually became a “rough” part of Memphis until her mid-80s. My Mammaw traveled all over the world with Gulf Oil, laughed with her whole body, and made the best ham sandwiches in the middle of the night. There was always a puzzle in progress in her dining room and dishes in her sink from feeding someone.

Her face contained more story lines than anyone I have ever seen, and my only wish is that I could have heard more of them.


To continue reading, please visit Knoxville Moms Blog, where this post originally appeared on March 21, 2018.

My Favorite Christmas Tradition

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The following post originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of the Church of God Evangel in a segment called “Viewpoints.” The prompt was to talk about a Christmas experience that has made a lasting impact on my life. For the sake of clarity and consistency, below is the edited version as it appears in the original publication.


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

John 1:1, 4-5, NIV

I love the way John tells the Christmas story. Sure, it’s missing the angels and shepherds and star, but John’s version gives us so much more, in a way.

The miraculous birth of Christ is an amazing story, but what is even more amazing is that it began long before that night in Bethlehem. It began long before the angel visited Mary, before Elizabeth conceived John the Baptist, even before Adam and Eve.

“In the beginning,” John tells us, before anything else existed, there was Light. Not the physical kind that was created on the first day, but a metaphysical kind, “the light of all mankind,” which allows us to see not just what is in front of us, but to see God himself.

In the beginning, God had a plan to reveal himself to humanity through the Light. On that first Christmas, the Light entered our darkness in the form of a baby boy. As The Message puts it, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (v.14). Christ came to us, waded deep into our mess, and brought us hope we never could have found on our own. That’s what Christmas is to me – light and hope where there was none before.

That’s also my favorite way to celebrate Christmas: bringing light and hope where there was none before. This year I will share my fifth Christmas reaching out to women in the adult entertainment industry. It’s not the only time I visit them; my friends and I take gifts and treats on every major holiday and several times in between, sharing love and friendship with those often hurt or ignored by the church.

I believe if Jesus were walking around our “neighborhood” in 2016, he would be leading the way through those doors to reach the people who don’t feel wanted, worthy, or good enough to approach him.

When I think about the darkness in our world, there aren’t many things that come to mind so quickly as the sex industry. Every day across the globe, millions of women, men, and children are sold for sex or adult entertainment, either by a pimp, trafficker, or – like many of my friends – by their own choice. The spiritual darkness is even darker than the literal dimness of the clubs I walk into, and it can feel overwhelming. In those moments I turn to John 1, where I am assured the light of Christ “shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it” (v. 5, NLT).

Christmas is my favorite time to visit my friends, because as we carry that light into the darkness of the sex industry, I picture Jesus entering our dark world, illuminating truth and hope for all.

The Good in the World: Small Acts of Kindness

Good in the World

This post originally appeared on the Knoxville Moms Blog on June 16, 2016. To read the post in its entirety, please click the link below to view the main page. Thanks and enjoy!

When my mom shared with her mother that she was pregnant, my grandmother cried. These were not tears of joy for the sweet little baby to love and cuddle; nope, she was sad.

Now before you go and think my grandmother is a horrible person – she is really quite delightful – let me explain. My grandmother lived through the Great Depression in a rural Tennessee town and lost her twin sister and baby brother due to lack of medical care. She saw many of her friends and family head off to Europe and Japan during World War II only to come home changed forever. She raised a family during the Civil Rights movement in Memphis, one of the most violent places in the country (then and now). She has seen wars, natural disasters, violence, hatred, death, and all the pain and sorrow of this broken world, and she genuinely feared for the next generation.

Truthfully, my grandmother’s concern was not baseless. This world is hard. And dark. And painful. But there is hope.

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“Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.” -J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Small Acts of Kindness and Love

True, there is much darkness in the world, but I believe there is more light. It only takes the small light of a candle to dispel the darkness of an entire room, so by each of us shining a little, I believe we can make this world a better place. My grandmother was right about life’s troubles, but she was wrong to fear. Since I was born in 1985, we have seen immense advances in medicine, social justice, protection of vulnerable people groups, tolerance, love, and more. We do not need to fear for our children; our children give us hope.

How do we raise up a generation that will change things for the better? We teach them the value of small acts of kindness and love. Model it for them, and invite them into the process. As Arthur Ashe famously said, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”


If you are enjoying this blog so far, please head over to Knoxville Moms Blog to read the full post. Keep on hoping, friends!

Don’t Hurt My Baby! Christ’s Love and the Mama Bear Instinct

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They say hell hath no fury like a woman scorned… Except a mama whose baby has been scorned, and that might scare the pants off the devil himself!

A few years ago my 4-year-old daughter started taking dance lessons. She loved the giant mirrors on the walls and the tap-tap-tap of her shoes on the hard floors, and I loved the small, Friday morning class where everyone knew each other. There was one girl in her class who was a close family friend of the studio’s owner, and the girl’s two adorable younger sisters were often sitting in the waiting area with me and the other moms during class. We often chatted about our kids and newfound role of “dance moms.”

One day after class, the toddler sisters of the girl in Princess’ class must have been hungry or cranky or I’m not sure what, but the owner opened a typically-locked door and came out with popsicles for all 3 of them. As my daughter looked on, she turned to me wistfully, longing for a treat for herself. The owner was handing out the popsicles as the other students were standing around, so I assumed those 3 had been the first recipients of special treats for the class. I smiled at my Princess and motioned for her to go stand behind the other girls to wait her turn. Grinning with anticipation, Princess politely waited as the owner passed out the 3 popsicles. However, her smile quickly faded when the owner turned around, closed the freezer, and shut the door behind her. Without even glancing down at my girl, she locked the door and went back to her office.

My Princess was bummed about not getting a special snack, but honestly, she got over it pretty quickly. I, however, flashed back to every moment of my dorky, awkward childhood, desperate to be accepted. In my daughter’s brief moment of preschool exclusion, I was swept under a massive wave of my own insecurities and buried hurt of being rejected over and over again.

Look, I know I overreacted, but to say I took it a little too hard would be doing me a very gracious favor by underestimating my obvious baggage. I was furious at the owner’s lack of consideration for the other students in the class, her apparent dismissiveness of my own precious angel, and at the other parents for not taking up arms with me. (Well, there were only 4 of us, so I guess it wouldn’t have been a very impressive revolt anyway.) But most of all I was hurt. Certainly the appropriation of my own feelings of rejection was overkill, but it was probably the first time I realized the critically important truth of being a mama bear:

Seeing my children hurt is far more painful than enduring it myself.

 Don’t Hurt My Baby

Last week I shared that loving my children is the purest, most effective way to love me. As parents, we see the long-term positive effects of having others care for our children, so it means that much more to us to see it happen with our own broods. In the same way, we know the scars that can come from even the most trivial slights by another (I’m sure I’m not the only one still carrying some baggage from my childhood hurts!) and dread our children experiencing the same. Whether it’s the helplessness of seeing our children in physical pain when they are sick or injured or the torture of watching them endure emotional pain from a mean kid, unfair teacher, or a shocking encounter with the real world, our souls bleed when our children hurt.

It’s a trait we inherited from our Father when we were made in His image…

God has always been concerned with the needs of his beloved. Jesus reminded us in Matthew 22:37-40 that the entire story of Divine work in humanity is centered on love – love for Himself and love for others. The Lord’s heart is especially tender toward the poor, the helpless, and the vulnerable – much like our own children.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27

“Learn to do right; seek justice.
    Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
    plead the case of the widow.” Isaiah 1:17

“This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.” Jeremiah 22:3

“Don’t rob the poor just because you can,
    or exploit the needy in court.
For the Lord is their defender.
    He will ruin anyone who ruins them.” Proverbs 22:22-23

“What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, ‘Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well’—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?” James 2:14-16

Jesus went so far as to say hurting his children is a direct wound to God himself:

 “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’

“Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’

“And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’”

Matthew 25:41-45

The Mama Bear Instinct

Parents are fiercely defensive of their young: it’s an instinctive response to threats that has helped our species survive. We hurl ourselves into gorilla pens dangerous circumstances to protect our children from physical harm; we monitor travel and lifestyle choices – even decisions about vaccines – to protect our children from illness; we step onto the playground or lunch room or whatever social situation to protect our children from emotional harm. As parents, we are compelled by nature and compassion to tend to the needs of the ones whom we love.

God mysteriously chooses to use human connections to accomplish his work in humanity; therefore he has charged us with the task of looking out for each other. Jesus said it this way:

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” John 13:34-35

Christ took care of the finishing work to protect us against the work of the enemy. His atoning death on the cross and victorious resurrection from the tomb defeated death and sin once and for all. Now, with access to the living power of God through the Holy Spirit, there is nothing holding us back from living out the Kingdom of God…

…Except ourselves.

Are we caring for the needs of the poor, helpless, and vulnerable? Can others identify us as disciples of Christ by our love for one another? Do we truly love our neighbor as ourselves? Are we only looking out for those who are like us, or do we follow the biblical precedent and invite everyone to the table?

If we understood our offenses against one another as offenses against God himself…

If we all truly lived by that Golden Rule that parents of all faiths and non-faiths teach their children – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Luke 6:31)…

If we applied our Mama Bear instincts to all of God’s children and not just our own…

Then we would be fulfilling that Kingdom work of really loving our neighbors. If we want to love God, we start by loving each other.

“Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

To Love Me Well… Love My Children

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How can I have a relationship with a God I can’t see?

Last week we celebrated my son’s 6th birthday. The party was more than a month after his actual birthday, but he insisted on having a bounce house and sprinklers, so a belated celebration it was. We settled on Memorial Day weekend with an inflatable water slide that turned our backyard into a swamp suitable for Yoda to train young Jedi warriors, but hey, it was fun, right??

We hosted a gaggle of children in addition to my own crew, all precious to my Sweet Prince. However, the ones who stole my heart weren’t there for the water slide. Of course, that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t get some play time in…

These two may have been the wettest of the bunch, but there were others who showed up to love my boy with wicked Nerf guns and Pokémon cards before they went about their adulting business. Yes, these special guests are grown men and women, not related to us, no kids of their own, with nothing obligating them to a 6-year-old’s birthday party when they could totally be out doing grown-up things like driving motorcycles or whitewater rafting or shopping for appliances… And yet they came.

They come over and over again, week after week, year after year. They come to birthday parties, preschool graduations, and over for dinner when my socialite 8-year-old begs for “company.” They make Play Doh creations, give us special treatment when we visit them at work (Chick-fil-A, of course), teach the kids’ classes at church, and model a life that is following Jesus. They simply love my children, and in turn, they are loving me.

Love me well

One of the great mysteries of faith is the idea of loving a being which we cannot experience with our 5 senses. Certainly we can connect with the divine in less tangible ways – the work and power of the spiritual realm is often misunderstood and vastly underrated by the exhibitionism of the internet age – but aside from recognizable theophanies, interacting with an invisible God can feel like explaining Pinterest to your great-grandmother… Where do you even begin??

Jesus was once posed a similar question:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:36-40

The Pharisees get a bad rap for being the bad guys in the Gospels, but truth be told, the whole Pharisaical movement was born out of that one question: how can I have a relationships with a God I can’t see? 

Seeking to understand the Mosaic traditions of Judaism in their contemporary context, the Pharisees wanted to shift the focus of Hebrew worship from temple sacrifice to personal study and prayer. Their endless lists of rules missed the heart of the Law, to be certain, but ultimately, they were asking the same questions we are. Their answer landed on legalism; Jesus pointed to loving people. 

Love my children

To anyone who is a parent, it should come as no surprise that the best way for us to love God is to love his children – each other. He spent over half of the Ten Commandments (plus the majority of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy that you never read because it feels rote) telling us how to respect one another, and the critiques of literally every minor prophet in the Old Testament boil down to Israel failing to care for the needs of her most vulnerable people groups.

Jesus’ entire ministry is devoted to loving God’s children. His miracles may be symbolic of large-scale principles, but let’s not forget they were still worked through individuals. He saw the needs right in front of him, and then he met them. We ought to take that as lesson #1 of “How to Be Like Jesus.” In Matthew 25, he gives us this familiar parable:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

Matthew 25:34-40

If I had the job of writing section subheadings in the Bible, this one would be, “Jesus Tells Us How We Can Love a God We Can’t See.” It’s so simple: love his people.

We are created to live in community, and family is both the primary foundation of community and the primary vehicle through which God demonstrates his relationship to us and vice versa. We are most moved when others minister to our children, therefore, so is God.

If you are new to following Jesus, or if you’re considering it but not sure where to start, look to the greatest commandments – the second answers the “how” of the first! Love God, and love your neighbor. Look at the needs right in front of you, and meet them. Mentor a kid. Help someone who is struggling. Visit someone who is alone. Feed someone who is hungry. Get involved in community. That’s where the magic happens, because that’s where God’s heart is.

God is saying to us now, To love me well… Love my children.

A Love Letter to Chick-fil-A

A Love Letter to Chick-fil-A

This post originally appeared on the Knoxville Moms Blog on January 7, 2016. Please click the link at the bottom to continue reading the full post! 

Dear Chick-fil-A,

To be honest, writing this letter to you is rather daunting. How do I put into words all that you mean to me? It’s more than just your delicious, delicious chicken. It’s more than the buttery biscuits (or heavenly yeast rolls of the Chick-n-Minis, when I am feeling especially indulgent), the fresh salads, or the only dairy product that is worth testing my lactose intolerance: the so-good-it-deserves-its-own-name Icedream® cone. Yes, who you are is so much deeper than that.

You have to know how beautiful you are. I bet you hear it all the time! You’re the cleanest fast-food restaurant in existence, and cleaner than most traditional casual dining restaurants as well. I know this because I have seen it first-hand. Oh sure, you’re sweeping the floors and wiping down tables, and all your employees’ shirts appear miraculously spill-free. (I know this to be a true miracle because of my years working in restaurants.) You also provide the cleanest play area I have ever seen. Yeah, I’m in on your little beauty secret, and who cares if you spend a little extra to indulge on quality cleaners? I certainly don’t fault you for that. I watched that man climb through the entire play structure, scaling the outside like Spider-Man, cleaning and sanitizing every.single.inch of the place. Sometimes your appearance is just worth a little investment. And I can tell, Chick-fil-A. Whatever you’re doing is working. *triple snap*


To continue reading, please click here for the full post! And eat more chicken!