Five Kernels of Corn

Corn KernelsMy daughter and I recently had the delight of reading Mary’s First Thanksgiving, a picture book Kathy-jo Wargin.

In this book Wargin tells a story about a young girl named Mary and her family’s first Thanksgiving as American colonists in the early 1800’s.

Based on historical events, this sweet story draws from a speech that Daniel Webster gave in 1820 at the bicentennial celebration of the Pilgrims’ landing at Plymouth Rock.

According to Wargin’s book a banquet followed Webster’s speech and, per his request, five kernels of corn were placed at each setting. These five kernels were to represent the “starving time,” that our nation’s first settlers endured and also sybolized five special blessings.

Mary's ThanksgivingThe first kernel represented the beauty and bounty of autumn. The second kernel represented their love for one another. The third kernel represented their love for their families. The fourth kernel represented their friendship with the Native Americans. The fifth kernel represented their freedom to worship God without fear.” (From Mary’s First Thanksgiving)

Five kernels. Five blessings. Beauty. Community. Family. Friendship.  And faith. Almost 200 years later these blessings continue to remind us what Thanksgiving is all about.

I love Thanksgiving, and each year I enjoy celebrating my own traditions. Wearing my grandmother’s turkey apron, baking my Aunt Becky’s mac-n-cheese, and singing The Doxology before Thanksgiving dinner are three of my favorites.

This year I’m excited to add the Five Kernel Tradition to my family’s Thanksgiving. I hope this new tradition will encourage each guest at my table to remember those less fortunate, reflect on all we’ve been given, and give thanks for each of these sacred blessings.

Whether it’s through five kernels of corn or another tradition your family holds dear, may the blessings of beauty, community, family, friendship, and faith fill your Thanksgiving, your heart, and your home with gratitude and joy.

What traditions typically make your Thanksgiving special? I’d love to hear from you!

Dear Zach

My nephew Zach at 1lb. 9 oz.

My nephew Zach at 1lb. 9 oz. (Roughly the weight of a Coke can.)

A letter to my nephew on his second birthday…

Dear Zach,

As I get ready to celebrate your birthday, I can’t help but remember the day you were born. To be honest, Zach, I think of that day every time I see you.

Every time I see your handsome smile.

Every time I hear you laugh.

Every time I hold you in my arms, I remember that day and I shake my head in awesome wonder of what God has done.

I remember the prayers.

How I, for one, dropped to my knees and begged God to protect you, your mom, your dad. How I asked again and again that he would not allow the day, the night or your precious life to end in heartbreak.

Because to lose you, Zach, would break my heart. To lose you, Zach, would break a world of hearts.

In fact, there were so many hearts that we created a website to let all your “followers” know how you were doing. Whenever they visited the site they could enter their location on the “Praying for Zach,” map.

And Zach, that map was ablaze. People all over America, in South America, in Africa, in Europe, in Australia, in China were praying their hearts out for you!

We prayed that God would grow you from a baby born at 24 weeks to a little boy healthy and whole.

I remember the pictures.

The pictures of you so small, so fragile, with your tiny hand latched onto your daddy’s finger.

They told us, Zach, that your daddy’s wedding band could slip around your tiny arm. And your mama’s arms, they ached to hold you, for months they ached and waited to cradle you close to her heart. And we ached too.

We, your family, your world of friends we ached, and waited, and watched.

I remember how each day, for month after month, was a fight.

For you.

For your mommy and daddy.

For everyone who loved you.

Your tiny body needed time, and surgeries, and love. Each challenge led to another. Every upside came with a down side.

And there were days when all we could do was trust and wonder.

Zach, this is what I remember.

And this is what I know.

They say, Zach, that children teach us grown-ups far more than we ever teach you, and I know this is true. I see it in the faces, in the eyes that water whenever a conversation turns to you, and people you don’t even know shake their heads and say that God must have something really special in store for you.

Of course they’re right. God does have something truly special in store for you, Zach, and I can’t wait to see what it is, but I don’t have to wait to see how God has already used you.

God has used you to show all of us that life is precious, that life is worth fighting for.

God has used you to show all of us that there is power when God’s people pray.

God has used you to show all of us that he is a God of miracles.

You are a miracle Zach. But even more than that, your life, from day one, speaks to and demonstrates the miracle that God has placed inside each and every one of us: A beating heart. Lungs full of glorious air. A brilliant mind. A plan. A purpose. A soul.

So, Zach, on your second birthday, I want you to know, that I am blessed to be your Aunt.

You, Zach, are a fighter and champion.

You are wonderfully made and dearly loved.

You are a miracle, as all God’s children are miracles.

And your life, it tells the story, it tells the world, of God’s goodness, provision, and love.

It always has. I pray it always will.



Today Was A Fairy Tale

Once upon a time there was a little girl with a notebook and a pen…

“Let God begin to rewrite your story. Invite him to show you your past through his eyes. Ask him to surface good memories you have forgotten. He would love to do it. There is healing to be had there. There is a replacing of regret with mercy.” (From Becoming Myself, by Stasi Eldredge)

As I read these words last Saturday morning I smiled to myself at the thought of God speaking to me through the magic of a memory.

“Lord,” I prayed, “Give me a memory. Something special, just from you.”

Later that afternoon my girls and I went to an anniversary party for an elderly couple my family lived next door to when I was a little girl. We walked into the reception hall, found the special couple and exchanged hugs. I introduced them to my daughters and they marveled at how much my daughter, Aletheia, looks just like me.

At four Aletheia is the same age I was when our families were neighbors, and it was clear that meeting her brought back memories of me.  

“You know what I remember most about you?” Mr. Nelson said. “I remember you sitting out beneath the trees that bordered our yard, with your pen and your notebook. You were always out there writing, just scribbling away.”

As Mr. Nelson shared this sweet memory with me, my heart leapt in my chest, and I knew this was no coincidence.

When I think back to those childhood days I can remember finding secret hiding places in the bushes and trees that bordered our yard. I can remember sitting there with my pen and my notebook, but beyond this my memory is vague.

Later, as we said our good-byes, Mrs. Nelson, who had not been a part of my previous conversation with Mr. Nelson, relayed a similar memory. “I remember watching you in your yard, in your own little world,” she said. “You were always out there writing something.”

While the Nelsons are special friends to my family we don’t see them very often. They had no way of knowing that I’ve grown up to me a writer. No way of knowing what these memories mean to me.

“You don’t know how special your memories are,” I said with a smile. “Because, that’s what I do now. I’m a mom and I’m a writer.”

As my girls and I left the party and headed home, I couldn’t help but feel God’s presence with me. I felt his smile. I sensed his pleasure.

“You see, my love,” he seemed to say. “ You’re a writer! You always have been. You always will be. I set you a part as a writer from the very beginning, wired in by my design since the day you were born. It’s been my plan for you all along.”

What a precious gift. These memories weren’t my own, but God gave them to me by way of sweet friends, and I know I’ll treasure them always.

As Eldredge writes, this is just the sort of thing our God loves to do. With his own fairy tale sort of magic, he reaches into our past and finds a way to trigger a memory, a memory that can affirm, redeem, and restore us.

Sweet friends, may you wake up this day to the fairy tale found in the magic of a memory. May you ask God to romance you the way he romanced me. May you find in him a memory long forgotten, a memory just for you.

My Love Is Bigger

photoWhere is Mary Poppins when you need her? Somehow this is all I could think as I stood in the doorway of my daughter’s room.

It had only been a few minutes but a few minutes is all it takes for a little girl to turn a room upside down. What I wouldn’t give for a bit of Mary Poppins, spoon-full-of-sugar magic about now?

Alas, the only magic I’m equipped with these days is a dose of holy perspective and a spoonful of grace. The magic, it isn’t mine, it’s on loan from God, but just like Mary Poppins, it came to me in the nick of time.

Weary and worn, from dealing with my daughter’s fourishness, with her messes, her mistakes, her trying disobedience, I recently found myself in an ongoing rut of what I call, “bi-polar parenting.” A cycle of extremes where I’m loving and kind one minute, then railing and angry the next.

I know all mamas have days when this stuff happens, but for me, this was more than a bad day. This was a habit, a pattern of behavior I was falling into and my daughter was paying the price.

This realization, sent by God, came to me as I stood with hands on my hips, yelling at my daughter over the state of her overturned room.

“Why can’t you ever do what I ask you to do?”

“What’s wrong with you? Why would you do this?”

“What is it going to take for you to learn to listen and obey?”

The words flew from lips, hot and seething.

Perhaps it was the look on her face. Her sad eyes, her solemn frown. Perhaps it was her reaction to my anger. Her defeated silence, her gentle nod that triggered my epiphany.

In a sort of out-of-body experience I was able to detach myself from my anger and see what I was doing to my daughter. There I was, loading her with blame, with shame, with guilt. There I was, killing childhood, killing joy.

And it hit me, this question: If this is what I’m saddling her with now, the blame, the shame, the guilt, what’s going to happen when she grows, and tries, and fails, and makes real messes, real mistakes? What happens when she gets in over her head, and finds herself drowning in disobedience, in sin?

Because we all get in over our heads. We all make messes. We all make mistakes. It happens at four. It happens at 34. It happens at 104.

And when it happens to her I want her to be sure of my love, of God’s love, not wary of me, of him. I want to instill her and guide her with grace, with truth, with patience, with joy. Not guilt. Not shame. Not anger.

I want to love her as I have been loved and this is what she must know:

There is no mess, no mistake, no act of disobedience or sin that is too big for my love.

She’s four and I’m thirty-two and we’re learning it together. When the messes, the mistakes, the disobedience, pull at the trigger of my worn out mama’s heart, I’m learning to slow, and to smile, and to remember how I am loved.

And I whisper it soft in her little girl ear,

“It’s okay. It’s just a mess and there is no mess too big for my love.”

“It’s okay. It was just a mistake and there is no mistake too big for my love.”

“It’s okay. You disobeyed, but there is nothing you could ever do that would make me stop loving you.”

If a thousand times is what it takes for her to see and know that this is the truth and depth of my love, that this truth and depth of his love, then I will say it TEN thousand times.

Because this is what everyone of us must know:

Our messes…

Our mistakes…

Our sin…

Are never too big for God’s love.

No matter the mess…

No matter the mistake…

No matter the sin…

His love is bigger.

This magic, this holy perspective, this spoonful-of-grace, it may not clean a room, but it can make this mama’s heart soft, and patient, and willing to laugh. 

This magic, it can heal at little girl’s heart, and right the wrongs of a mama who grows, and tries, and fails every day.

This magic it can make the medicine of a broken and messy life go down…

In the most delightful way.


The Sweetest Gift

Today is my birthday! I love birthdays and when mine rolls around each year I love to celebrate, not so much in big ways, but in ways that are meaningful to me. Doing things I love, with the people I love, is my idea of a perfect birthday.

When I woke up this morning, I had plans to do just that. Plans to write and possibly finish the first draft of my book. Plans to enjoy dinner with my family at Olive Garden.

However, as my day unfolded I quickly realized that God had something different in mind.

Right off the bat, my little girl woke up with a tummy ache. Soon thereafter, my babysitter sent a text saying that she, too, was sick and wouldn’t be able to watch the girls as we had planned.

As I kissed my writing time good-bye, I held on tight to the hope that our plans for dinner might still work out, but when my daughter lost her lunch around naptime, I knew that my birthday plans were officially over.

But you know what? I really couldn’t care less!

Was I disappointed? Maybe a little, but more than anything on this birthday-gone-awry what I have felt the most is blessed.

I feel blessed because my sweet friend, Beth, stayed up until 1:30 am to call me all the way from China. (Tell me, how many people get calls from CHINA on their birthdays?)

I feel blessed because another sweet friend surprised me with a pumpkin spiced latte from Starbucks and a present just for me. (The coffee and present was great but I liked her hugs the most!)

I feel blessed because my mom made me my favorite chocolate cake. (Seriously, this homemade masterpiece of a cake will wreck you on desserts forever!)

Each of these blessings has made my day special, despite my change in plans, but the sweetest gift of all came yesterday in a moment spent with my daughter.

Love You ForeverWhen it’s naptime at our house, Aletheia and I often enjoy reading a book or two before she goes to sleep. Yesterday, I let her pick out which book we would read and she chose Love You Forever by Robert Munsch.

While this classic storybook is one of our all-time favorites, it had been a while since we enjoyed it together.

For anyone not familiar with this story, it is about a mom, her son, and a love that endures as the boy grows from an infant in arms to a man with children of his own.

Throughout the story the mother holds her son in her arms, and while she rocks him back and forth she sings:

“I’ll love you forever

I’ll like you always

As long as I’m living

My baby you’ll be.”

This book has a very distinct way of tugging at my heart, and as Aletheia and I read it yesterday, its message hit me all over again: I’m getting older and so are my babies. They fit in my arms today, but the day is coming when my arms will no longer hold them and these childhood days of books before naptime and lullabies in the night will soon be gone forever.

Have you ever had a moment in your life when you felt keenly aware that this time, this moment was something to hold on to? Something to stop and treasure? Something to embrace, here and now, before you blink and it’s gone?

As I sat and held Aletheia, all snuggled up in bed, I knew that this was one of those moments. I was overwhelmed with God’s goodness, with his love, with the knowing that he picked me to love and mother this girl in my arms. I could feel my heart swell, so full, so tight; I knew it would surely spilt open.

And in this moment I also knew that this was my gift. My birthday gift. The sweetest gift of all.

“Mommy, are you sad?” Aletheia asked, her blue eyes fixed on me.

“Yes, sweetheart, I’m sad because I know there will soon come a day when you’re going to be too big to fit in my arms. But at the same time I’m happy because right now, you still do. I’m happy because you are my gift. Loving you makes everyday feel like my birthday.”

“I love you, mommy,” Aletheia said and smiled her winsome smile.

“I love you, too,” I said. And then holding her in my arms, rocking her back and forth I sang,

I’ll love you forever.

I’ll like you always.

As long as I’m living

My baby you’ll be.

Mamas, rock your babies!

Maybe your baby is small, still held within your arms.

Maybe your baby is big, grown up and away from arms, from home.

Maybe your baby is waiting, in your belly, in your soul, a wish you make on every star.

No matter their size, their shape, their form, mamas rock your babies! Rock them in your arms. Rock them in your heart. Rock them in your dreams.

And find in them the sweetest gift.