for the grieving at Christmas

I still remember the empty ache the first Christmas we spent without my grandpa, “Papa,” we called him. His recliner stood in the corner like a memorial. Laughter felt forced. I kept waiting for him to appear in all of his jovial grandfatherly-Father-Christmas fun. He loved to wear his new clothes with the tags still on them, as a way of being silly and funny. He would read the story of Christ’s birth from Luke’s account in his booming, Southern Baptist voice. He had a larger-than-life personality, yet a down-to-earth way about him. I learned only after his death how well known of a politician he had been. For me, he was always a grandfather who paid attention; who loved me; who was the life and heart of every gathering. And his absence was glaring that first Christmas after his death.

It’s been over 25 years, and I can still grow sentimental and sad to think of Christmas “before” and Christmas “after.”

I think about others I’ve lost since then, and there is always that grief that gives Christmas a blue tinge, as Elvis crooned so well. Like Beverlee, who hosted grand holiday parties with her beloved Collier for church members and neighbors in their suburban Philadelphia home. And childhood friend and next-door neighbor, Kristen, who died long before we had the chance to have joy-filled Christmas holiday reunions like we’d always thought we would. I remember close friends and family members who are grieving afresh this Christmas – a sister who died, a father who passed away, a mom whose death came too soon, miscarriages and lost hopes and loves.

And in the grief – both mine and the grief I feel with friends – I can find myself fearful of who may not be around the table next year. That grief steals the joy of the present. Yet Christmas and grief can co-exist, can’t they?

For you, and for me, who are the grieving at Christmas … I write to say you aren’t alone. I write to remind myself that I’m not alone either. Sadness is part of living. But I write to say that I don’t want it to take the joy of Life away this Christmas. I write to say that grief can be deeply comforted by the Truth of Christmas: Emmanuel, God with us. I don’t mean this to be trite … it is a truth I am fighting for every day in my own heart. Take comfort in the words of this melancholy, yet hopeful hymn:

{photo credit: little things studio}

Davis Design Furniture

I grew up with two younger brothers, and I certainly bossed them around in typical older sister fashion when we were younger – until they grew up to be taller than me. As adults, I not only look up to them physically, but I also respect them for the men they’ve become. Jonathan is a physician serving the under-served in a Christian free medical clinic in Georgia. He and his beautiful wife, Nicole, are parents to three kids and foster-parents as well. Bryan is an entrepreneur and business/marketing guru who works in the Research and Development wing of their city’s health system. He and his beautiful wife, Megan, are parents of two boys and live on a gorgeous property in rural SC. He also has incredible talent as a furniture designer and is the purveyor of the recently launched Davis Design Furniture.

Without further adieu,  I’ll let Bryan introduce himself and his furniture company to you.

Designer. Creator. Builder.

Ever since I was a kid I have visualized, designed and built. By the time I was in middle school, I built my first piece of furniture – I was hooked, and learned I had a passion for it (which thankfully tends to lend itself towards improvement). I’ve come a long way since then, and my passion for design and building continues to grow and mature.

Good. Better. Best.

My philosophy? Build more than simply furniture, create a story people can fall in love with. Craft as though it’s for my own family and build to share for generations to come. Every piece of Davis Design Furniture represents hours of designing, planning and crafting.with hand-picked top-shelf materials to produce unique, one-of-a-kind pieces you’ll want to talk about.

Megan. Issac. Asher.

I’m blessed to have an amazing wife and two studly little boys  to live life with on our property in Moonville, South Carolina.

Because a picture is worth 1000 words, I’ll end this post with a few pictures of the furniture that he’s built. And I’ll ask you to check out his website for more inspiration!


a beautiful side-table from Davis Design


a gorgeous farmhouse table from  Davis Design



scattered chaos – or a story?

A half dozen (or more) children’s books are scattered in piles of two or three around the perimeter of our living room. The one most recently read lays atop our ottoman beside a discarded ballet slipper. Its pink partner sits in front of my husband’s recliner. A pink polka-dotted blanket is on top of the rug, and a paper airline peeks out from underneath the couch. Blue sparkly Cinderella shoes and fuzzy pink slippers grace another corner, and the pink bin of Legos sits opposite. A plastic green cup with a straw sits proudly beside the remote controls. Cushions are all in tact at the end of this day – and that says something.

In my more frustrated moments, I’d say this is scattered chaos. I look around and feel annoyed that I didn’t ask my daughters to pick things up before they went to bed. I’m annoyed with myself for not picking up more before grabbing my laptop to write a long overdue blog post. But then I try to remember how this mess tells a story of a full day well enjoyed by two five-year-old girls. The books are from reading time at the end of the day, me in one chair with one twin and my husband in another chair with her sister. Before this there were dance parties (hence the ballet slippers and Cinderella shoes) and a yoga session (note the blanket on the floor as makeshift mat). One twin adores her slippers and hates cold feet, so she wore them downstairs until the day’s play began. Another girl was thirsty before bedtime and so she brought in her ice water with a straw while being read stories.

In ten years, the mess will look very different.

In twenty years, we’ll miss the days that left behind such a scattered chaos.

I wish – I pray – that I would have the long view as I parent during what feels like a long summer in the midst of a long season of gloriously imaginative play and charming smiles punctuated by sibling conflict and mommy frustration.

My word of 2016 has been “rooted.” I haven’t written about it here before because, well, the book has taken a lot of air time. But it’s because of the book’s publication that I chose this word as a focus and prayer for this year. It can be too easy to get lost “in the clouds” of a book release, becoming a published author, engaging in speaking events I’d only dreamed of before – and forgetting my roots. The lovely, hard, sanctifying thing about motherhood and marriage is that my family roots me and grounds me in reality. There is laundry, and the dishes pile up when neglected, and meals need to be cooked and planned, and these ones I love are always present. Loving me and counting on me for their rootedness.

This task feels too immense. And it is until I remember where I am rooted. Deep in the eternal love of God, secured for me by Jesus Christ, spoken into my heart and soul by the Spirit. To be rooted in him, all I need to do is rest and abide and remember. Reading the Bible and praying and worshiping in our local church community help immensely. roots

The truth is that as I look around my living room this evening, the scattered chaos and the story it tells reminds me where I am rooted. Physically and emotionally – here with my family at a house in Virginia amidst a neighborhood and community of friends. Spiritually – I am rooted in a story that often looks to human eyes like the scattered chaos of this room. But it is telling a bigger story of redemption and hope and joy as the life of God is known through my work and play and parenting and marriage and friendship.


who’s at your bonfire?

Last weekend I attended the 30th birthday party for my youngest brother. I’m the big sister of two younger brothers, although they’ve long since surpassed me in height. So now I look like the little sister. (But my wrinkles prove otherwise. Ha!) I am proud of both of my brothers for the husbands, fathers, and hard-working professionals that they are. I love them dearly, and their wives are like the sisters I never had. Since we live far away from each other, family gatherings are more infrequent than we’d choose, but we try to make the moments count when we’re together.

bonfireSo last weekend I drove the hours necessary to be present at his monumental birthday party. And it was a blast! My favorite part had to be the bonfire in the backyard of the extensive property where he lives. As we huddled around the warm glow, the circle of family and friends who love my brother was enviable (in the best of ways). He’s stayed close to home, and so present at the bonfire-birthday-party was a friend he’s known since they were toddlers – who had his own toddler in tow. There was also another good friend he’s known since high school, and a guy he had mentored as well as his incredible boss/employer who’s mentored him. There were representatives of the family – parents and in-laws and a sibling and nieces and a nephew – and we all enjoyed gathering around the bonfire with one another. We came together to celebrate this friend/family member whose joy for life has always been contagious.

And it made me think as the chill in the air increased, and we all began moseying back inside and into our cars and back to our homes – the bonfire is a great image for a circle of friends and family. Ones who’ve made our history with us, who remember the stories we’d rather forget or the moments so beautiful for having been shared.

To gather all the friends I love around a bonfire would entail literally flying people in from the corners of globe – from Singapore and Nairobi, Kenya – and from coast to coast, North/South/East/West.

And isn’t that the picture of heaven? We will all come around – gather together – around the One we love, whose Joy welcomes us in and warms our hearts with the Spirit’s fire.

I’ll leave you with a verse that gives words to this vision from Isaiah 60

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
    and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
    and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
    and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

“Lift up your eyes and look about you:
    All assemble and come to you;
your sons come from afar,
    and your daughters are carried on the hip.
Then you will look and be radiant,
    your heart will throb and swell with joy;..”



the Christmas of unexpected Joy

For a long time, 2015 will be remembered as the Christmas when we were barely hanging on, and the Advent of finding joy in unexpected places. I told my physician-brother a few months ago that if there were a clinical diagnosis for “too busy,” Seth and I would have met the criteria for it several months ago. It is just too easy for two over-achievers to keep doing and forget to rest, relax, and take a break. To focus on who really matters: God, each other, our daughters, and the family and friends we love dearly. And I guess I should speak for myself – Seth does a way better job of this taking a break than I do. My counseling heart and artistic impulse are gifts … but they have the dark side of my tendency to say “yes” to more people and projects than I can adequately follow through.

This fall has been the process of me taking a giant step back – a step out of leading our small group, teaching women’s Bible study, over-scheduling with extra-familial commitments and appointments, and a step back that culminated in a decision to take a sabbatical from my counseling practice starting January 1, 2016. There are many reasons for this particular timing – two of them being:

(1) My pastor-husband will be graciously receiving the gift of a sabbatical from our church from February through April (an every 7-years-rhythm they’ve established for the pastors) – and I want to join him for that.

(2) My first book is being released in June, and I needed/wanted space to devote to this venture.

In the stepping back, there is much that I already miss – chiefly among them, the courageous women and men I’ve had the privilege of sitting with and walking together through stories of love, loss, and hope despite the darkest of backgrounds. (I do find myself already counting down the months until I will reengage with this calling again!)

Yet this is the beauty of God’s gifts of realizing our limitations: the limitations form the boundaries of our truest calling.

Until I said no to over-scheduling, I couldn’t have known the joy of just being … of writing … of enjoying the gift of a quiet home the mornings our daughters are at preschool … of being present for their many unscheduled moments (highs & lows) that happen when I’m here to notice them. I couldn’t have known the frustrations that push me deeper into faith in a God who sees – the frustrations that come when I see how poorly I love my family for whom I profess undying love (and when I experience their imperfect love towards me, too).

And herein lies the beauty of this Christmas-Advent season: in slowing down (being forced to, might I add, due to a litany of never-ending illnesses), Joy still came. Despite what felt like barely hanging on in terms of health and the fullness of our days and the way we typically celebrate Christmas (lots of parties both hosted and attended, etc.) – Joy came in being still and quiet enough to notice The Greatest Gift, Jesus. Jesus ushered in the best gifts of this season:

  • grace given and received in the midst of fraying emotions and harried tasks
  • a beautiful painting by a dear friend
  • a necklace for this season, reminding me to “be still and know”
  • a bracelet from my beloved, and all the love that is patient that it represents
  • words to speak to you and to God – expressing my heart and inviting us deeper still into the mystery that is Jesus
  • many hot cups of tea sipped while editing the manuscript of a book I need more than anyone else possibly could
  • gifts from neighbors for us and our girls – and the gift of having great neighbors!
  • family and friends who continue to love us through our imperfect moments and to lavish us with their time, attention, and generosity

For all of these gifts … for the Greatest Gift to match my deepest need … all I can say is what’s been sung for generations (reminding you and me that “faithful” is not what we are in our own efforts, but what Jesus calls us who cling to him by faith):

o come all ye faithful

order your print from Etsy here

When Father’s Day hurts

I was blessed to be raised by a dad who loved me well as his daughter. He cherished me, led me to Jesus over and over again, and proudly gave me away to the man I married almost eight years ago. This man has been a father for four years to our twin daughters, and I daily thank God that my girls have such a father to call “Daddy.”

This isn’t an article about my pain, but it’s an article about the pain so many of you carry on this day. God calls us to bear one another’s burdens, and in my calling as a counselor and friend, I have heard your stories, and I hurt for you today. I wanted you to know that someone notices, sees, and acknowledges today’s pain.

Today may be painful because you’re grieving the father you never knew. The father you wish you had known, but whose absence leaves a hole in your heart and your life. A hole that you’ve tried to fill a thousand other ways.

Pain may show up in many different ways. …

Read more  here at The Gospel Coalition Blog where this article is published today.

learning to play

It used to come easy for me. My two younger brothers and I would build blanket forts and lego castles and watch our hamster spin around her clear ball beside us in our “rec room” that I always thought was “wreck room.” Because it was a wreck! The room over the garage with its orange-black industrial-strength carpet, and my mom never had to see it unless she came up to see what we were doing, and so it remained a happy wreck of the detritus of play most of the time. I played school there and my brothers were my reluctant students; we had a comfy beanbag we would fight over until it began to lose its stuffing one small styrofoam ball at a time. An ancient typewriter and I would be the “secretary.” There’s a great picture of a birthday party – maybe my 6th? – where me and all the little ladies are smiling big (with gaps for lost teeth) while sitting atop an old mattress in that room. And two of those girls are friends now with kids who were our age, and we still keep in touch. (Shout out to Shelby and Schelyn!)

Play was never work; it wasn’t “have-to;” it was our life. We lived for play. We came home looking forward to play, having to be coaxed to do homework at some point; but then it was always the return to play. My parents didn’t put us in lots of programs or schedules when we were in elementary school. They innately understood that play and family-at-home-with-nothing-to-do time was what we needed the most in those early years. They entered into our play as they could. Cultivating our creativity with frequent trips to playgrounds and parks and outdoor picnics and bedtime stories where we traveled with Susan, Peter, Lucy, and Edmund into the magical land of Narnia at the back of the wardrobe. When we wanted to have our own backyard putt-putt course, my parents trucked us around to the local putt-putt establishments asking to purchase/donate the green carpet for our course. And we did it – “Pine Acres Putt-Putt” – our 9-hole wonder – lives on, featured in a local newspaper where the archives from the ’80s hold our proudly displayed homemade sign.

Somewhere along the way, play became work. How? When? Why? I don’t know. It’s almost impossible to pinpoint, but I suspect for me it got buried in the “big work” of academic pursuit and the stress of working my first job and the angst of learning how to navigate relationships as a young adult. Add to that the pressure/dream I had to do big things for God, and somehow I forgot that big things for God must start with learning to be little with God. For that’s who we are as people – we are as small as a child splashing in the waves before the eternal horizon of an ocean, as blessedly tiny as the way I feel each time I drive into the Blue Ridge Mountains. I am small. I am meant to be small, and therein lies the greatness of any person – embracing the small, learning to play where I am and in accord with who I am.

My children are teaching me. Brene Brown  and Gretchen Rubin are teaching me. To play (again). I am learning to be as free to play as a child in a sandbox. For I am not God – HE is. I am free to play because the world does not rest on my shoulders. I am free to play because it’s the only way I can manage the weight of the small corner of the world that does rest on my shoulders. I’ll end by asking you (and by sharing with you) one of the best questions of this e-course on The Gifts of Imperfection – what’s on your “play list”? Not your iTunes one, but the list of things that fit the “properties of play” (from Stuart Brown):

1. Fun for the sake of fun
2. Not required.
3. Awakens my heart.
4. Lose track of time.
5. Able to lose myself in it.
6. Exponential creative potential.
7. Hard to stop.

I’m hoping a picture of my “play list” will inspire you to create your own.



the God who sees (moms who feel invisible)

It was a shocking story to hear. Of a woman who slept with her boss, and then became pregnant. Upon discovery, her boss’ wife asked that she be thrown out (for, you see, this woman was working in their home – a maid, of sorts). Oh, the irony! For the plan had been formulated by her boss’ wife, and this maid was only doing what had been asked of her. Her boss’ wife arranged for their maid to sleep with her husband, out of hopes that the maid would get pregnant and that the child could carry on their family name. When that very thing happened, conflict and contempt erupted between the two women. The boss? He didn’t defend the maid, but told his wife to do whatever she thought was best. And so this maid was abused and then thrown out, utterly destitute and expecting to die. While pregnant with child.

You would think this is the end of that very awful story. But it’s actually just the beginning. For this woman was found by one who cared – she was met in such a way that gave her courage to return to this home … !! (for that home was her only hope of survival for her and her soon-to-be born son) What made the difference?

An encounter with the God who sees. He gave her yet-unborn son a name – “the God who hears” – and she, in turn, gave her God a name – “you are the God who sees.” She was heard; she felt seen. And her story was recorded to give exponential hope for untold women and moms and destitute and abandoned who wonder if there is a God who hears and a God who sees. Her name? Hagar. Her son’s name? Ishmael. The boss and boss’ wife? Abraham and Sarah. Genesis 16:13 records it here –

“So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, ‘You are a God of seeing,’ for she said, ‘Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.’ “

mother's dayAs we approach Mother’s Day tomorrow, I want to remind you and me and all of us moms that it’s not about how much recognition we get. You have already been seen; your invisible and secret and overlooked work is validated by the God who sees. He sees the invisible and untold sacrifice of sleep, sanity, bathroom breaks to yourself, time alone, friendships, meaningful conversation, money to spend on what you want v. what your kids need, dreams, career, mental capacity. He sees all that you may not even be able to name, and HE looks after you. He commends you. He meets you in the don’t-have-enough-they’ve-taken-it-all moments when you really want to lay down and bury your head in your pillow and disappear from the whines and demands and incessant asking, asking, asking, and never-having-enough’ing. He saw you when instead of disappearing and locking yourself in your room, you gave a hug; invited your child into your lap for a snuggle; fed the crying baby (again) at 3:42am; warmed up the mac & cheese for dinner; poured the Cheerios into the bowl; swept up the mess made by the Cheerios spilling out of the bowl; cleaned the markers from the wall; folded laundry for the only quiet 30 minutes of your day; mopped up the potty-training accident for the 12th time; put the fighting siblings in time-out for the 22nd time; woke up before you wanted to; went to bed hours after your strength gave out.

He saw you show up instead of run away. He saw you enter in to the emotional distress of your adolescent daughter as she felt hurt and left out and alone. He sees you when you don’t let your teenage son run away – and you pursue him with hard questions and consequences and he screams at you in anger for messing with his life (while inside he knows you love him). He saw you carry the load alone of parenting when your husband walked out the door with another woman. He sees you in the months of single parenting you endure because your husband serves our country in military service that requires foreign deployments when you can’t regularly communicate with him about the ups and the downs of your days without him. He saw you when you wept in losing your weeks-old child to miscarriage. He sees you who are secret moms – moms who lost a pregnancy, or gave up a child to adoption, and no one else knows.

There is one who knows. Who sees. Who celebrates you, not just on Mother’s Day, but every day. He rejoices over you, and He will give you strength for the journey ahead. Ask him? Call out to him – be found by him, as Hagar was. And, yes, be celebrated this Mother’s Day … I do hope for you and me that we receive heartfelt cards and sweet handmade gifts that will be small reminders and reflections of the God who sees. But let’s not put our only hope there. There is a bigger hope to be had, and a grander validation and commendation in which to rest. You are seen by the God of seeing. Rest, rejoice, be comforted, find strength there, fellow mom!

when Advent arrives (the end of the waiting)

When I wrote last week’s post on the waiting of Advent, my brothers and I were all waiting. Scattered up and down the East coast, from Maine to South Carolina, we all were awaiting quite poignant gifts. Both sisters-in-law were pregnant, due within a week of each other!, and we were eagerly waiting for the gifts of these babies.

And within a week, both gifts were delivered. Jonathan and Nicole welcomed their first daughter (third child), Abigail Katherine, on Thursday morning, December 6 (on her due date). And I gained my first niece! Six days later, on her due date of December 12, Bryan and Megan welcomed their first baby, Isaac Lee. My “baby” brother having his first baby … I can hardly believe it!

I am reminded that the end of the waiting is a gift. It is a gift immeasurable to see these babies cradled in the arms of their parents, babies which even just two short weeks ago were still nurtured in their mother’s wombs. To see these gifts delivered! The gift of a first daughter; the gift of a first baby … And there is a taste of Advent here. The “already” part of Advent – that there is a baby who has been delivered. Isaiah echoes this promise –

For unto US a child is born, unto US a son is given …

And yet I am still waiting to meet these sweet gifts. I rejoice with their arrival, and I ache with longing to hold them and kiss their sweet faces and welcome them to the world and actually see/witness/experience the joy of their proud parents. And isn’t this like Advent? We rejoice that our King has come, humbly born and laid in a manger. That He began the redemption revolution and its end is guaranteed. But yet we await the full experience of it, don’t we? There is still suffering, tears, infertility, death, grief, abuse – that remind us that we still await the FULL Advent, of our King will will “make all the sad things come untrue.” (Tolkien)

I am sharing a poem I wrote with the birth of my first nephew over four years ago. And it is now in honor of these two sweet babies, barely and not quite a week old now. There can’t be a better way of celebrating AND awaiting Advent then for these parents as they cradle their newborns.

Who will this little one be?
So much potential!
Tiny toes, hands, feet …
what miles will you walk?
What work will you do?
Who will you become?
Your world is a blank canvas.
Yet planned by a Creator who has been forming you from the beginning of time. He knew your face before any of us glimpsed it.
He knows what will make you laugh and cry.
He sees your end from the beginning.
And he loves you more than any of us can.
(hard to believe – I haven’t even seen you yet
but I love you already because you belong to us)

A late night prayer is that you will come to know
the One who knows you early in your life.
You have a better chance than many because
you will see Him in the lives of your parents.
They will show His love to you in 1000 ways, reflecting it to you like a prism’s rainbow of light.
May you receive it,
drinking it in like water in a desert’s oasis.
This world is difficult.
You will find that out too soon – it is a desert
and it often feels like wandering wilderness,
but there is refreshment to carry you through.
It’s the beauty of Christ … the way He is making all things new.As he has made you new tonight.

So this evening,
your first evening in this world,
rest well.
Sleep well, little one.
You will awaken soon enough.
The journey is long and sweet and beautiful. Welcome to the family.

Five Minute Friday: “together”

As kids, my two younger brothers and I would laugh at mom’s desire for “family together time.” We made fun of her for how much she wanted us to be together, even if that together time wasn’t filled with anything “special.” Now I admire her desire (shared and fostered by my dad, too) to be sure that we did share this most precious of commodity together as a family: time. Dinners every night; one weekend night that was devoted to “family fun,” even when I was in high school and rolled my eyes and copped a bad attitude. They were committed to us being together. Whatever that included.

[photo credit: image from]

Now we live up and down the East Coast – literally from the coast of Maine down to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Carolinas. “Together” for the extended Davis family is a rare commodity. One we last shared in our annual May beach week; the next one yet to be scheduled since there are two December babies due (my sisters-in-law’s, not mine!); and we Nelsons will be celebrating what’s likely to be the last New Jersey Nelson Christmas since plans are in motion for my in-laws to move closer to us next summer.

Together is precious, as precious as ever, even more so because it is so infrequent. Together isn’t about what you do; it’s about who you are with and what we share: time, faith, emotions, joys, sorrows. Thank you, Mom and Dad, for teaching me the value of “together.”


Today I’m participating in Lisa-Jo’s “Five Minute Friday,” a chance to write unedited for five minutes on a word given by Lisa-Jo each Friday. Come join us!