Advent, Week 3: Joy

Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’” (Luke 2:10-11, NKJV)

Back towards the beginning of November, I tweeted that I had started listening to Christmas music. “Desperate times call for desperate measures,” I wrote. I said I wanted joy at all costs, even if it meant breaking my strict No Christmas Music Before Thanksgiving rule. But in the weeks since, I’ve mostly been listening to Joni Mitchell’s “River” on repeat (and every good cover of it I can find), with “Winter Song” and “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” sprinkled in for good measure. I made a “Contemplative Christmas” playlist, but that may just be an alliterative name for a playlist full of the saddest Christmas songs out there.

I know that Advent isn’t all about joy; it’s about the wait, the anticipation of the joy that will arrive with that baby’s first cries on Christmas Eve. I know that we are called to carry both our joy and our sadness, to feel them both fully, to not expect one to replace to other but to slog along, one bucket in each hand. Still, I really wish my melancholy would go away.

Back in January, I chose “joy” as my word of the year. If you know me much at all, you probably know that I chose “free” as my word of the year in both 2014 and 2015, and it quite literally changed my life. The ongoing conversation I had with Jesus about His promised freedom was the truest “renewing of my mind” (Romans 12:2) I’ve ever experienced. It’s how for the first time, God began to loosen the chains of striving, accomplishment, and perfectionism that had enslaved me all my life.

Near the end of 2015, I began asking: If I’m free from perfectionism, what do I want to be free for? The answer was clear: joy. I wanted and needed more joy. And I expected that “joy” would have the same profound effect on my life that “free” did. I was looking for tangible, profound, more than all I could ask or imagine change.

So, how did 2016 go? I haven’t done much of anything with my word (besides scribble “choose joy” on the tiny chalkboard by my front door). Lessons about joy haven’t shown up unexpectedly in my reading, writing, or podcast-listening. The word hasn’t leapt off the pages of Scripture. I feel like my word let me down a bit, or like I let myself down by not doing enough to make joy a reality.

During Advent, the temptation to manufacture joy is stronger than ever. If I bake just one more batch of our favorite chocolate chip cookies or hang one more cute printable on my wall, if I come up with another silly thing for our elf to do or serve up another batch of hot cocoa, then our Christmas season will feel joyful. Or maybe I just need to switch playlists and turn the Christmas music up a tiny bit louder.

But as I think about it, I know it deep in my soul: I’ve missed the point.

Joy isn’t something I can create by sheer force of will. Joy is not something I can chase. Joy is a fruit (Galatians 5:22). It is only something I can be filled up with, as I am filled up with the Holy Spirit. It’s something I can only receive. All year long, I acted (and prayed) like I just needed a better attitude, and then I would feel joy. While my attitude certainly needed adjusting some days, I think this is where the difference between happiness and joy can be found. Happiness has more to do with my attitude, and joy has more to do with my soul. Joy isn’t a response to my circumstances; it’s a gift I receive from Jesus in the midst of my circumstances, whatever they may be.

When the angels appeared to the shepherds, they didn’t say, “Go be joyful now!” Jesus’ very presence created and brought forth the joy; the shepherds could only receive it.


Admittedly, I’m still trying to hash out what this actually means in the context of my real life. So, I pray.

Dear Jesus, help us not wait for the light to break through before we receive the gifts you offer us. I want my anticipation of your coming—your salvation, your redemption, your making all sad things untrue—to lend me real and tangible joy, even in the midst of the darkness. Help this be true of my life. Fill me with your spirit and transform my heart; in the process, may my whole life become a reason to rejoice.

Advent, Week 2: Peace

Last week, I wrote my Monday Benediction and a blog post all about hope, so as to match the theme for the first week of Advent. My plan was to do the same thing today, for peace, and so on through the rest of the season. But yesterday came and went and I found I had little to say about peace, and no clarity came this morning.

All day long, my boys seemed determined to get on each other’s nerves. They spent most of the day pushing and shoving one another, snatching toys from each other’s hands, crying each time the other got in his way. And doing it all at the loudest possible volume. I walked around the house thinking (because “praying” is probably too strong a word), “Isn’t this week supposed to be peaceful?!”


This concept of peace also feels heavy this year, given all that’s happening in the world: Syria and refugees, Trump and tweets, Standing Rock and ISIS. We all have very different ideas about what peace entails and what will bring it about. Some of us believe letters, phone calls, and blog posts are the path forward. Some choose legislation while others choose sit-ins and picket lines, and still others believe in the power of boots on the ground. And I think each of us believes peace exists solely in the past, or in the status quo, or in the future.

Peace, like the rest of Advent, feels like a lesson in contradictions right now. On the one hand, I believe it’s something we need to work for, strive for, build, create, cultivate, even fight for. On the other hand, I believe peace is being handed to us, a fruit being offered, something we can only receive as a gift. It’s both an internal and external reality.

The other day I went through the Starbucks drive-through after dropping Ian off at preschool, and scrawled across my red cup were these words: “Love and joy, crafted by hand and by heart.” I snapped a photo, because it reminded me of one of my favorite Brené Brown quotes: “We move what we’re learning from our heads to our hearts through our hands.” It was just a Starbucks cup, but I can’t stop thinking about it.


As I’ve mulled over this post, I wanted to land in one spot or another: hand or heart? Which is it? Do we work for peace, or do we receive it as a gift from Jesus?

Of course, the answer is both. Just as both God’s spirit and Jesus’ physical presence are required for our redemption, both our hands and our hearts are essential for peacemaking. Advent is an irrational season of contradictions: darkness and light, impoverished little babies and kings, angels and shepherds, virgin unwed mothers, now but not yet. It is possible that while the entire world is walking away from peace, Peace is still coming. And peace is forged—simultaneously—through the transformation of our hearts and the work of our hands.

But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.

Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. —Galatians 5:22-26 (The Message)


Dear Jesus, may we sense peace in our hearts and may be we create peace in the world. In this season and in every season moving forward, may we work out the implications of peace in every detail of our lives. And in your mercy, please bring peace to our hurting, broken, war-torn world.

What Stars Hollow taught me this time around

In the spring of my freshman year, a big group of girls crammed into my tiny dorm room to watch the finale of Gilmore girls. We each had a spoon, and we passed around a tube of Tollhouse cookie dough to share. We moaned and groaned about the terrible seventh season, and we smiled and laughed and gushed about this show we had loved so much.

I distinctly remember, too, the first episode of Gilmore girls I ever watched: it’s the one when Lorelai and Emily steal bathrobes from a hotel. (Season 2, Episode 16, Google tells me.) I was hooked from the get-go.

In an attempt to prepare for the revival, I started rewatching the show a few months ago. I suppose I forgot how much parenting small children eats into binge-watching time, because I only made it to the beginning of Season 4. Even so, I’ve realized how much about this show I didn’t appreciate during my first go-around. I did not appreciate the relationship dynamics between Lorelai and her parents (Emily is a Gilmore girl too, you know!) or how deeply flawed Lorelai and Rory are (and really terrible decision-makers). I didn’t realize how much the four seasons affect what’s happening in the show. (Has anyone on the Internet done a meta-analysis of what kind of plot points take place during which seasons?). I didn’t appreciate the subtle humor of Sookie or Mrs. Kim, and I didn’t feel the intense pity for Paris I feel now.

I guess what I mean to say is just this: for me, the show is better upon second watching.

Last week, I drove up to Traverse City so my cousin Meaghan and I could watch the new episodes together. Admittedly, my expectations were perhaps irrationally high, only because I loved the show so very much and because the original writers were involved in this reboot. (Not to mention—hello, Internet hype!) Did the show meet my hopes and expectations? Nope. It left a lot to be desired, I think, and I agree with the vast majority of the Internet: Rory was terrible, and her decisions were terrible, and just generally WHAT THE HECK RORY, GET IT TOGETHER.


I still found the experience of watching the show so incredibly enjoyable. As cheesy as it sounds, it felt like being reunited with old friends. But what I keep coming back to more than anything else is this: I love Stars Hollow.

It’s true. I love that quirky, unrealistic little town. On a recent episode of The Simple Show, Tsh Oxenreider and her guest Kendra talked about how Stars Hollow is a character in and of itself; it has personality and in so many ways, it drives the plot. I couldn’t agree more. (That episode is full of spoilers, just FYI.) All I keep thinking since watching the revival is that somewhere, deep in my soul, I needed a visit to Stars Hollow, and I am missing it even now.

(Please note that there may be some spoilers here. You’ve been warned!)

Here’s what Stars Hollow taught me and reminded me, this go-around:

1. Our commitment to home matters. Our move to Michigan has left me feeling like my heart is divided between so many different homes, and I guess that’s ok. After all, C.S. Lewis has said that our longing for something this world can’t satisfy reminds us that earth, after all, is not meant to be our home. And yet. I don’t want to live like Rory, three different cell phones in my purse, never actually feeling committed or tethered to any given place. I don’t want to walk around saying, “I’m not back, I’m not back, I’m not back.” I don’t want to put too much pressure on any given place to be something it’s not or never could be. At the same time, we can not be whole and healthy if we are divorced from our physical surroundings. We need to choose a place and be all in, for as long as life’s circumstances allow. Rory’s inability to choose a home mirrors her inability to choose who she wants to be in this season, and I don’t want to fall victim to the same trick.

2. Achievement matters little, but integrity matters a great deal. I, like Rory, have fallen victim to the idea that a college degree, prestigious career, and impressive resume is my highest calling. Rory had one great achievement and then felt completely lost in its wake. Meanwhile, Luke actively avoids building the “empire” Richard hoped for, but we love him all the more for it. And aren’t Paris and Doyle choosing achievement (in the form of careers and a crazy house) over each other, dismantling their marriage? Stars Hollow may not provide many opportunities for achievement or upward mobility, but it does allow people to be their most authentic selves.

3. We all need people who see us, believe in us, and call out the best in us. This is what Jess does for Rory always (but specifically, in the revival, by giving her the book idea). This is what Sookie and Luke do for Lorelai. Sometimes, the loudest voices in our lives are not these most helpful voices; we need to seek out the good ones and give them highest priority. #teamjess

4. It is worth working for the kind of families and communities we want. Lorelai did this for much of her life—working hard and forsaking almost everything to build the kind of home and family she wanted and needed. Taylor does this with every insane statute and community initiative. Even Kirk does this in his own crazy way. Yes, you have to suspend disbelief a lot in Stars Hollow, but I find that this relentless optimism is giving me hope in these crazy times.

5. To be people of integrity, we’ll sometimes need to forge our own path and write our own rules. A friend of mine pointed out that Rory thrives when the rules are written for her and when there is a rubric or syllabus to follow; she excels in school because the expectations are perfectly clear. Rory flounders when the rules aren’t spelled out for her, when someone might be disappointed, or when the right answer isn’t immediately clear. She second-guesses herself and makes poor decisions. As someone who has clung to the rules far too tightly for most of my life, I get it. Meanwhile, people like Lane and Luke seem to be people of such integrity because they are more concerned about who they are becoming than what they are doing.

I can’t count the number of conversations I’ve had about Gilmore girls over the past week, and even that fact seems to mirror Stars Hollow somehow. Let’s be honest—the Internet has been straight-up terrible in the aftermath of the election. But the Gilmore girls revival reminded me that the Internet can also be a place to discuss, analyze, and celebrate together. (Not to mention, collectively groan over a fictional character’s terrible decisions.)

Thanks, Stars Hollow, for being a lovely little home away from home. Thanks for all you’ve taught me about family, community, forgiveness, and loyalty. I can’t wait to visit again with my own daughter one day.


Advent, Week 1: Hope

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.
–Psalm 130

This Advent season, we are anxiously waiting for our third baby, Ruthie, who is due in mid-January. I’m thinking of Mary and how our stories–though very different–align in many ways this year: our bellies swollen and growing, our families far away, our babies surprising but so welcome.

With both Ian and Leo, I was eventually induced because those boys were content to make us wait. Waiting was torture. Admittedly, I’m one of those strange women who really enjoys being pregnant, but I hate the approach (and passing) of a due date; I don’t like surprises. 

As I marked an X through each box on the calendar, I could think of almost nothing else. I watched for a sign: every twinge, cramp, and movement. Is this it? Was that a contraction? Is this the moment? Multiple times a day, texts would come in from my mom, mother-in-law, and best friends: Anything yet? No, nothing.

I think of the Jewish people, expectantly waiting for a Messiah. Their wait was not forty weeks (or forty-one and two days), but generations. For hundreds of years, they waited for the Messiah they thought was surely arriving yesterday. 

I can imagine that with every prophecy, every shift in the weather, and every change of regime and ruler, they wondered: Is this it? Is that the Messiah? Is this the moment?

Anything yet? No, nothing.

The truth about this Advent season is that I am not just waiting for a baby. I’m waiting to see how our family will change and how my sons will adjust to a new little attention-hog. I’m speculating about sleep patterns, labor pains, and weather reports. I’m waiting for my life and family to irreversibly, markedly change. I’m waiting for the hope and dream of this baby to become flesh, for my faith to become sight.

And the Jewish people were not waiting for merely a king. They were waiting for victory, for freedom, for generations of oppression to be reversed and rectified. They were waiting for a new reality and new story.

We all have something for which we’ve hoped, but the reality of which we can’t even imagine. So it was for the Jewish people waiting for a Messiah, so it is for us pregnant and adoptive mamas with approaching due dates and court dates, so it is for the patient waiting on clear scans, so it is for the graduate waiting on job offers.

We sit with our questions, our fears, and our hope. We sit, we watch, and we wait.

Advent has come to mean more and more to me over the past few years. November and December have been marked by pregnancy announcements and infant sons, by deaths and national tragedies, by lots of uncertainty and questions about what might be next. On some days, I have asked myself, “Where is God right now?” and I have cried literal tears as I prayed for his return. On other days, I have rejoiced and stood amazed at his goodness and obvious presence with us. I’ve felt the meaning of Advent deep in my bones.

And no matter in which place I found myself, hope is the anchor. We look to the star and walk hopefully in that direction, knowing that though we haven’t seen our Savior yet, he is surely on his way. It seems that Christmas is more meaningful when I don’t skip straight to the joy, instead pausing to acknowledge the longing and the desire and the heartache that comes first—for all of God’s people throughout time and also for me in this very moment.

“Maybe it’s a better thing, a better thing, to be more than merely innocent, but to be broken then redeemed by love.

Maybe this old world is bent, but it’s waking up, and I’m waking up.

‘Cause I can hear the voice of one. He’s crying in the wilderness, ‘Make ready for the Kingdom Come.’ Don’t you want to thank someone for this?” –Andrew Peterson, “Don’t You Want to Thank Someone”

This is the reality of Advent: hopeful anticipation, the slow and watchful journey toward our faith made sight.

Heavenly Father, we are waiting. Give us a glimpse of eternal realities, so we don’t miss a single sign of Your hope and Your presence this season.

A letter to my children, in the aftermath of the election

Dear Ian, Leo, and Ruthie,

Have you been able to tell that I’ve been a tiny bit out of it lately? I’ve been in a bit of a funk: stuck in my head, easily distracted, feeling melancholy. I hope you haven’t noticed, but it’s alright if you have. I’d like to tell you why.

You see, just a couple of weeks ago, our country endured the 2016 presidential election. In the aftermath, it seems like everything and everyone is going a little bit crazy. I won’t go in to the all the details here, but I will just tell you this: Everyone is feeling pretty disheartened, and things have gotten ugly. It seems as though many, many people are using this time as an excuse to be unkind. I think most people are scared, and sometimes fear makes us do and say crazy things. Some are scared of Muslims. Some are scared of black people. Some are scared of white people and a group called the KKK. Some are scared of terrorism, and some are scared of the economy, and some are scared to lose their jobs. Many moms and dads like yours are scared about the kind of world you might grow up in, and how it might be different than the world we’ve known up until now.

It’s likely that by the time Donald Trump is done being president, you guys will be 11, and 8, and 7 years old. (Ruthie, if all goes according to plan, you’ll be born just before the inauguration.) I can’t even fathom what each of you will be like in eight years, let alone what our country will be like. I don’t know what you will have experienced or what you will understand about our country.

But. I do know a few things, some of which feel more important than ever. Here’s what I want to tell you:

It’s important to be good listeners. I signed up for Facebook just before my freshman year of college, when they still required a .edu e-mail address to sign up. I love social media; your dad pokes fun at me a little bit because of it. But I’ve come to realize something that bothers me: social media allows us to talk but rarely requires us to listen. We can unfollow, block, or scroll past without a second thought. I can’t begin to imagine the ten million ways you all will be able to share your opinions when the time comes. But I hope you’ll try to listen before you try to be heard and understand before being understood. In our family, I promise we’ll try to be committed to the truth. We’ll try to always honor and welcome your questions. We’ll say, “Tell me more about that,” and “It sounds like you are saying…” I am not always a good listener because I love to be right and be an expert; I’m confessing that to you now, and I hope we’ll be able to learn more about this together.

It’s ok to be uncomfortable or not understand. It’s uncomfortable to disagree with people and hear people talk about their pain. But please—don’t walk away from those uncomfortable conversations. It is always ok for you to feel angry, sad, confused, afraid, or disappointed. It’s also ok for other people to feel that way too, even if you don’t understand or experience the same things. Our feelings may not always be true, but they are real. Remember that when you are talking to people and avoid the temptation to rely on quick resolutions and easy answers. Everything is not black and white.

Look to Jesus. The world is a confusing place, and faith can be confusing too. Some people—especially Christians—will try to convince you they are 100% sure of their answers and don’t have any lingering questions. I’d stay away from those people, because chances are, they aren’t being honest. I don’t think it’s wise to expect your faith and politics in our country (or anywhere in the world) to match up well; this is simply not the example Scripture sets for us. So, whenever you are feeling confused, something doesn’t sit right with you, or you wonder what to think, look to Jesus. He may not give you a straight answer—after all, he was mighty fond of asking questions—but he promises his spirit is within you and can help you navigate these situations. When I look to Jesus, I notice he was always making more room to welcome more people in, he was always choosing to lower his status in society, and the people in power almost always disagreed with him. I notice that he was gentle, and slow-moving, and loved to share meals with people. You might notice different things about him; I can’t wait to find out what they are.

It’s more important than ever to be kind. And being kind is always more important than being right.

It’s easy for me to say these things, but they are harder act on in the context of our real lives. They are challenging for me sometimes, and it seems they get a little bit harder all the time. But you know what? We are family, which means we are going to figure this all out together. We are going to practice, and mess up, and practice some more, and there is always enough grace to go around. I am not afraid of the world you’ll grow up in, because I know that Jesus is still in charge and you three are going to help build his kingdom. And nothing gives me more hope than that.

Love you guys,


Obsessions (Fall 2016)

It’s that time again! Each month, I share some of the best things I’ve read on the Internet, in 3 categories: faith and family, learning and creativity, and perfectionism and freedom. Because I’m combining two months worth of links this time around, there is more to dig through than normal. But, I promise I wouldn’t share these links if I didn’t think they were worth your time. Happy reading!

And of course, it’s the 20th of the month, which means Issue #003 of The Drafting Desk will ship out to inboxes this afternoon! This month, we’re talking about hospitality: how perfectionism leads us to avoid it, what being hospitable really means, and how we can approach it (with less pressure!) during the holiday season. If you’re not a subscriber, you can claim some free goodies and get signed up here!


  1. “In Her Time. (She Chose Pizza.),” by Ashley Ann Campbell. Oh, y’all. Grab a tissue. I have been following Ashley’s blog intermittently for years, and I remember when this sweet girl came home. This is a story about the small and large victories of parenthood, and it’s beautiful.
  2. “Love on a Monday,” by Shannan Martin. “My gut knew we were kin, but my brain protested. Isn’t that what life asks of us, to lean heavy on the scale of our perceived self protection?”
  3. “The Heartbreak and Joy of Being a Lifelong Cubs Fan,” by Katherine Riley. “I had learned that being a Cubs fan was about balancing naïve optimism and relentless pessimism, and I was determined to never again let the former eclipse the latter.”
  4. “Tune In to Your Heart,” by Emily Allen. “I heard somewhere recently that it is not possible to have grace for yourself. If you have to have grace for yourself, that is just one more thing you have to generate from your empty well.”
  5. “Right Here,” by Erin Loechner. “I know what my mother would say. As a child, when I’d lose anything – Where are my swim goggles? I can’t find my science book! – she’d respond simply: Where did you last see it?”


  1. “10 Things the Bravermans Can Teach Us About Food,” by Kendra Adachi.

    “The chairs don’t match, the tablecloth is plaid and dated, and the multiple tables under it aren’t level. But don’t we all look at this photo and say, ‘I want to go to there’?”
    (In related news, I am still looking for a show to replace Parenthood. I thought This is Us might be it, but I’m not there just yet. Fingers Crossed.)

  2. “13 Writing Tips from J.K. Rowling, Because She Knows a Thing or Two About Perserverance,” by Sadie L. Trombetta. “I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.”
  3. “It Can’t Wait” by Dina L. Relles. “Sometimes I picture the rest of the world moving at super speed while I’m stuck, stationary and still, in the slog of this small life.”
  4. “What We Write About When We’re Not Writing,” by Kathleen Harris. “You need two half-gallons of milk, because the children are pouring themselves larger and second glasses of the stuff. You make a note of that. Two half-gallons. Write the number two in parentheses, next to the word ‘milk.’ You don’t write about the fact that your children are growing older, becoming gangly-limbed strangers to you…”


  1. “Earning My Grey Hair (And Feeling Weird/Great About My 30s),” by Haley Stewart. “So I’m letting myself feel a little weird about it. And I’m also letting myself feel a little awesome about it.”
  2. “Wise Words,” by Mari Andrew. (This is an illustration, so you’ll just have to click the link!)
  3. “I failed the Write 31 Days challenge,” by Rebekah Crosby. “The old me and the new me are doing battle over whether 16 out of 31 is failure. Math says yes; old me says yes.”

#31: A benediction for the recovering perfectionist

A benediction for all of us who are tired of constantly striving for better, who want to feel content and at peace with our days and our lives, who recognize the ill-fitting yoke of perfectionism for the heavy burden it is: 

May we learn to recognize the myriad ways perfectionism can manifest itself in our lives, and may we boldly and bravely say “no more.” May we say “no more” to people-pleasing, to endless self-help, and to defining our worth based on the content and completion of our to-do lists.

May we be willing to show up exactly as we are: as beginners, as rough drafts, as unfinished and messy, without make-up or masks. May we approach our days with a clear sense of purpose and never let comparison derail us.

May we never hesitate to make a mistake, to learn something new, and to accept help from all who offer. May we accept compliments and apologize only when necessary. May our humility be genuine, our words truthful, and our risk-taking courageous.

May we fight perfectionism not with our white knuckles, not with our degrees or our credentials, and not with our lists and resolutions. Instead, may we fight with freedom, grace, and joy.

And above all, may we do all of this because we remember that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, dearly beloved sons and daughters of Jesus.

This is the final post in my Write 31 Days series, 31 Ways to Fight Perfectionism. You can find links to all the posts in this series here, or by clicking the “31 Days” button at the top of the page. Thanks for reading this month!