on getting sunburned

A little less than a year ago, when I was newly on the launch team for For the Love, this crazy things started happening. Women began pouring out their lives and their stories and their struggles and hard things in our group and it was so freeing and beautiful. I shared some of my own story and talked about how my friend Megan met with me outside of a Coffee Bean for three hours, so long that I got sunburnt, as we talked about the same kinds of things. That kind of friendship and openness was a bridge to me feeling like the church could be a safe place again.

Jen Hatmaker, who wrote For the Love, commented and said, “You know what my dream is? That we become that friend getting sunburned outside the coffee shop. We get to be her! It isn’t even hard! We get to love and listen with zero judgment, and just like that God heals. We do not have to be God. We can just be a good friend who loves God.” This was so profound to me. I’d never thought it that way, that we get to be the ones and it’s so ridiculously easy to do it.

Flash forward a few months. I’ve met lots of new people (hello, For the Love launch party! I’m looking at you) and made new friends and was enjoying life. And then their weirdest thing happened. I met this new lady at church who I guessed to be around my age and I really, really wanted to be friends with her but I was afraid to ask. This is a problem I’ve encountered zero times before. But for whatever reason, I had myself convinced she was way too cool for me.

Now, this makes literally zero sense. This woman didn’t act too cool. She wasn’t mean. She wasn’t unfriendly or unkind. I just had myself completely convinced that she wouldn’t want to be my friend because I wasn’t cool enough.

A few weeks ago she came up to me at our evening church service and asked me if I wanted to get together for coffee sometime. I seriously felt like I wouldn’t be able to contain my joy when I said “Yes!” to her.

A couple of days after she asked me to get coffee, in the way that God always does, He brought things full-circle for me.

My new friend and I met at Coffee Bean. And I got sunburned.

I got to be that person and it was so thrilling to me.

I just want to encourage you all — be that person for someone else. Get burned. Sit out in the rain. Do life together. And even if you think that other person is too cool for you, ask anyway because you just might be pleasantly surprised! I sure was and now I have a new friend for life.



on life & grief & healing

every time I see the hope in your eyes, the
shimmer of new life within, the
dreams of a new month and new chances, of
new hope rising in the center of your being:
I feel like I can’t catch my breath, like all of my dreams are coming true
when I see your face.

in those precious moments where dreams exist because
they are still the reality we live in — when you don’t know one
way or the other — when the future still seems like the fun place
to dream about and travel to — when your anger has simmered and
we talk about names and you haven’t been hurt just yet — in those moments
I dream the dreams of a dear friend for a dear friend.

and when the calls come and the tests don’t turn and the
numbers don’t add up, when the chances are slim and
the hope has slipped out of your tightly grasped fingers,
the grief that shrouds your face blankets mine, too, if not the same.

I think I have seen grief before but until I saw you
wearing it that first time like
a skintight black dress, squeezing your body tight,
constricting your lungs,
I knew I had never seen it at all.

Harry Potter birthday party

On Saturday we celebrated Charisse’s 12th birthday (which was actually on the 12th, but she was in Oregon in the snow on her big day!). We’ve been planning a Harry Potter-themed party for her for months, buying things online here and there and stashing in the garage. A few weeks ago, Charisse, me, and our mama had a brainstorming session for the party to figure out everything we were going to do. And yesterday, in perfect So Cal sunshine, the big day arrived! It was a long and tiring day (and my calves are screaming at me today, complete with middle-of-the-night Charlie horse) but so fun and perfect. Charisse loved it and had the best time with her friends.

First things first. We definitely put the Gryffindog, Hufflepup, and Slytherrat (Pepper, Penny, and Chloe) in the office so they didn’t run around these 12 crazy girls.


Each student was sent an acceptance letter to Hogwarts (on parchment and sealed with red wax, of course!). Inside the letter was a ticket inviting them to take the train from Platform 9 3/4.


Her buddy Emma came over before the rest of the girls arrived. They were trying on the sorting hat. Students were instructed to wear white shirts and black bottoms.


Meanwhile, in the kitchen, the house elves named Krista and Melanie were slaving cooking from The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook. Charisse picked out these peas and potatoes (and she is obsessed with them a few days after the fact, too, and I don’t blame her because they were pretty tasty!). We grabbed four roasted chickens from the grocery store (and let me tell you, 12 little girls turned four chickens into scraps — they have giant appetites!) and a couple of Casar salads. Charisse also requested mint-cucumber water.


Outside, the tables were getting set up. There was a banner for each of the two houses represented (Gryffindor and Ravenclaw). Each house tables was complete with appropriatly-colored plates and wax candles. (We did have to move most of the candles off during dinner because they kids had a feast and there wasn’t enough room for candles and delicious food.)


These candles were so great at setting the ambiance of the night and really easy to do. It’s just brown glass jars that had kombucha in them. Charisse drank it and then we peeled the labels off (that part was hard — a blow dryer is your friend!). The white candles were purchased at Target. And once the wax started the melt down the sides of the candles and jars, it was a thousand times cooler.



We had a sorting ceremony but before we could do it all of the girls had to arrive. Two of the students were coming from a play rehearsal so the other girls went outisde and had some fun in the photobooth. Most of the images here were made from googling things and from using word and a free Harry Potter font. Pretty easy and way fun! The props are glued to cardstock and the sticks attached to them are actually Wilton Cake Pop Sticks from Micheal’s.

sorting hat

Once all of the students arrived, we read the Sorting Hat’s rhyme from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (and we eliminated the verses about Hufflepuff and Slytherin since we didn’t have those houses at the party). Each of the girls put a hat on and then drew a slip of paper from a bucket. The papers had pictures of the house shields on them and we would announce in a loud voice “Ravenclaw!” or “Gryffindor!” There were an even number of girls at the party (12) so we had six slips for Gryffindor and seven for Ravenclaw (Charisse was in Gryffindor so she didn’t actually take out a piece of paper).


Class photo! All the girls, including the three high school prefects, got together for a picture before the madness began. Look how sweet they look there together!

After they were sorted, we broke up into houses and went to class! Ravenclaws started with me in Transfiguration, where we played the grossest and funniest game ever: Beanboozled. I have no pictures of this which is a good thing because it involved lots of screaming and dramatic faces while spitting out half-cheweed jelly beans into a bowl. You know what’s gross? A bowl full of half-chewed jelly beans and saliva that smells like barf, dog food, skunk spray, boogers, and more.

The Gryffindor students started their class in Potions, where they used essential oils, shea butter, avocado oil, and water to make a perfume, a spray, or a lotion. Their classroom smelled a thousand times better! We switched classes after about 20 minutes.

Once classes was over, it was time for dinner in the Great Hall! First the girls picked up a formal gown to wear with their uniforms and then they went to their house’s tables and enjoyed their dinner. I have never seen such small humans each so much meat.


Once dinner was done, it was time for everyone’s favorite: presents! Charisse has the best friends. There were so many handwritten notes and homemade cards with her presents. These girls love her well. presents

That’s Bill over there on the left and in front of all the presents. A little girl named Mia made Bill, which is a replica of The Monster Book of Monsters, a textbook selected by Hagrid.

mamadaddyspresent This is my favorite series of pictures from the evening. She saw this full set of books at Target not long after Christmas while we were shopping. They were $70 and she had $100 to spend. She wanted them and I said, “Your birthday is in a few weeks so wait.” Mama and Daddy got them for her and while I think she was expecting tons of Harry Potter presents, this wasn’t something she anticipated. Her face just kills me! She loves that the spines of the book make a picture of Hogwarts and I don’t blame here.


Dessert was a bundt cake from Nothing Bundt Cakes — a lemon layer and a cinnamon swirl layer. Daddy-man was responsible for the awesome quidditch hoops. That cake was AMAZING.


We took a quick picture of everyone in their gowns, which they took off after dinner. Then it was movie time! What Harry Potter party is complete without the birthday girls’ favorite HP movie, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban? We played bingo to keep the attention of some of the girls who wouldn’t be interested in otherwise.


And then the night was over! (Let’s be real, this was a five-hour party so no one left feeling like it was too short!) Lots of planning and lots of fun. This girl was pretty overjoyed at the whole evening and went to bed very happy.


a better mess

I’m going to spend the next couple of weeks writing off an on about being messy. I hadn’t planned it, but after my previous post on being messy and this one, it’s a theme I think I need to embrace.
– – – – – – – – – –
A few years ago, Charisse started swimming on a swimteam. She went to practices several times a week and eventually, she started entering competitions. The first meet, she got her first official times, including one DQ (disqualified – she didn’t turn right). Every meet after that, she had official times and was put into heats based on her previous times. Sometimes she would get so fixated on who she beat in her heat, or the other kids who were fast than her. We had to remind her over and over again that the only person she was trying to beat was herself. Every previous time, every DQ – those were her measuring sticks, not the girls in the lanes next to her. It was a thrill to watch her shave seconds off her times at each meet. Sometimes, in meet where she swam five events, she would cut a minute or more total. It was thrilling to see her grow.


She was always proud of those dropped seconds. We were, too. They were her victory, proof that her hard work to better develop her technique was paying off. We cheered her on until our throats burned not because she was first or last in her heat, but because she was taking the time to improve in something she enjoyed.

Why is it so much easier to teach this lesson to a nine- and ten-year-old than it is to teach it to my 30-something-year-old self? I find myself these days often looking at the things I do now as I use the talents God gave me and I shrug off what I do as childish or unworthy, as not good enough. When someone gives me a compliment, I dismiss it by pointing out exactly the opposite of what the other person is telling me. I belittle myself. I have told myself often enough that I’m a mess and not to accept with grace compliments when they’re given.

I haven’t just told myself I’m a mess, I’ve bought into that lie that being a mess is what ultimately defines me.

It seems laughable when I write the words out like that. I mean, why I would I believe that the messy person I see looking back at me is who I truly am?

I have these three poetry notebooks from when I was in high school and middle school and reading them is both very sweet (I have lots of big emotions I poured into those empty lined paged) and cringe-worthy (because I had some crazy confidence that I was the next poet laureate). You can see the development in quality of poems as I got older, but then I look at what I’ve written more recently, and I see how even what was good back them pales to what I can do now.

It makes me think — if I can see the growth in the last 15 years, maybe I can spend a few minutes encouraging myself about that growth that will surely happen in the next 15 and 30 and 45 years. I won’t ever be the best writer, or the best speaker, or the best Christian, or the best anything, but I’ll be better at these things than I was in the past.

I think that is an excellent thing to be satisfied with: being better instead of being the best. I’m not that messy 15-year-old girl. And truthfully, I’m only going to be this messy 32-year-old woman for a few more weeks, and then I’ll be a messy 33-year-old woman, and the years will come, and the messes will change, and some will become a little less messy. My seasons will look different, and I’ll learn from my mistakes and my failures, and I’ll be better.

So maybe I am — and will still be — a mess. But you know what?

I am a better mess than I was before. And that counts for something.

what do you do with a dream like that?


I couldn’t shake it from my bones but I put it down because what do you do with a dream like that?

Jennie Allen, the founder of the IF:Gathering, spoke those words during the end of the last session at the IF:Gathering in Austin, Texas the first weekend in February. It was Saturday, almost 5 pm. I was tired but so full of God. I had seen so many things that God had done that weekend (stay tuned for a post about that in a couple of days!) and I didn’t know the ways God would continue to show up on Sunday and Monday, too. Jennie was sharing about the IF:Gathering becoming a reality, something more than just a crazy dream she had.

A few minutes later, Jennie told everyone to look under their seats for a domino. We were challenged to write out next step in honoring God, in sharing the gospel. I thought for a few seconds before I wrote my answer. It wasn’t a difficult choice of what words to write:

Tell the truth.

That’s been the whisper building to a scream inside of my heart for the last year. It’s been nearly a year since I was selected to be on the For the Love launch team and in that time I have felt my own voice shake and wobble as I spoke the truth but I have learned more than ever to tell the truth, even when my voice trembles. Because if I don’t, then who will?

Tell the truth.

I was born with a gift from God, a gift of telling stories. I don’t mean to say that in a prideful way, but more as fact. God gifted me with words — both spoken and written — and I spent years as a teenager scribbling poems into college-ruled notebooks, typing them in Word and pasting them between my hand-written stories, and writing short stories to submit to our school’s lit magazine. I won award after award for my writing and in my senior year, I won an award for public speaking.

I couldn’t shake it from my bones…

Somehow, I began to doubt this precious and special gift from God. I had listened to adults tell me for years as a teenager to use those those words to glorify God. I also listened to those same adults make me feel worthless for the choices I made as a teenager, so when I thought about bringing glory to God using my gifts, I never felt like I could because I didn’t feel like I was good enough to bring God any glory. But still, I dreamed of making those things my career some day, in the way a little girl dreams of being a teacher or a doctor or an astronaut — I believed I could, but inside I never truly believe I would.

… but what do you do with a dream like that?

Even in college, when my professors praised my writing and speaking, I never felt like it was good enough or that I was good enough. I had to try harder, do better, on the next assignment, until I had pushed myself to point of breaking. It was so tiring to win their approval all the time, so with the exception of the academic papers I wrote in grad school, I quit writing. Stories, non-fiction, poetry — I just let it go because it didn’t seem like a dream that would go anywhere.

I couldn’t shake it from my bones but I put it down because what do you do with a dream like that?

In college, I spent nine months writing a book. It was a horrible and painful piece of writing — it was more free therapy than anything else. I look back at it now, at that first and second draft, and I see the flaws in my storytelling. It is an achy, cracked 250 pages of words, and I used to think I could never do anything with it. In fact, as soon as it was written, I knew I would never do anything with it except let it gather dust on a shelf or tucked in a box for storage.

But God. Oh, God. He does crazy things with our crazy dreams. Six months ago, I felt like I could hear the faintest of whispers in my ear — maybe you should write a book. And I answered back, before I ever heard Jennie Allen say those words, “But what do you do with a dream like that?”

Tell the truth.

You pray about it. You give it God and say, “Once I had this dream. And I thought maybe I could do it, but most likely I wouldn’t. But God, I just cannot shake it from these bones. So maybe, maybe You could take this blurry dream of mine, and You could either make it go away or You could make it come into focus? That would be great, God. One way or the other. Just do something with it, ok?”

God answers every prayer we pray. So often we only think He answers the ones that have positive outcomes. The things is, sometimes His answer is no and sometimes it’s not yet. This prayer, though, He answered with a resounding yes right away.

He gave that dream of mine, the dream-of-the-bones of mine, focus. I’m watching the pixels sharpen into something so crisp it’s becoming real. I am watching that story I told in painful words in college be retold with words that I hope are beautiful and powerful and that I pray point back to the goodness of my Jesus. I’m writing words that are so hard and so good to write. I’m crying my way through this story and seeing the glory and grace and goodness of God in every step of my life, every season of hardness and every season of submission.

We just go with all our heart. We just run. We throw off the junk.
– Jennie Alen

I am throwing it off — all the lies and untruths I’ve believed in and allowed to rule my life for so many years. I am not the best writer or speaker and I won’t pretend to be. God can teach me so much more of this craft He’s made me love. But the thing is, He did give me the talent, and it’s my job to embrace it now, and so I will spend my breath and my words telling the truth He has always known I would tell.

I will tell of His goodness.

Of His love.

Of His beautiful mercy and endless grace.

Won’t you listen, won’t you hear, the things I have to say?! Because my bones, they’re ready to share the dream they’ve held on for so very long.

– – – – – – – – – –

Four Letter Words will be available sometime in June. Stay tuned for more updates as I have them! I can’t wait for you to get a copy!