4 Spiritual Practices to Reduce Anxiety and Stress #spiritualpractice #anxiety #stress

Like so many people I struggle to find peace amid stress and anxiety. Anxiety and stress take so many different forms in our lives: headaches, panic attacks, muscle tension, and on and on. Negative effects of stress on our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being are well known and researched. What to do about it? When stress and anxiety becomes overwhelming, it’s often important to consult a doctor, psychologist, psychiatrist or all of the above. The advice on this post is not meant to substitute for those important resources.  That said, here are some of the things that I use that have helped me tremendously.

headspace1. Meditation – I’ve wanted to learn to meditate for a long time but never found a system or method that helped me learn until I found HEADSPACE. Headspace is an app that teaches you, step by step, how to meditate. The first 10 lessons (10 minutes each) are free. There is a subscription service after that. I’ve been using Headspace for about 2 months now, and I love it. Give it a try!

biblejournalb2 2. Bible Art Journaling I’ve written about Bible Journaling HERE and HERE and given some tips on how to get started and what resources to use. I find that Bible Art Journaling is a great way to reduce stress and anxiety.






mandalacoloring3. Mandalas and Coloring Books for Adults. Adult Coloring is all the rage recently, and with good reason.  Here is a link to a nice book of mandalas, and here is a lovely one called Beauty in the Bible.






gratitude4. Gratitude Practices  Gratitude has many scientifically proven benefits. There are many ways to establish a gratitude practice, from writing in a journal every day, to simply jotting down five things for which you are grateful once a week. I have a journal that I write in sporadically, and Elias and I also list five things on Sunday evenings and share them with one another.





Bonus: Here are a few other things that have helped me with stress and anxiety. Maybe give them a try!

  •  Relaxation therapy (aka the best nap in the world!): When I have gone in for relaxation treatments for anxiety, the practitioner puts me on a table with cushions under my neck and knees, puts noise canceling headphones on my ears that play nature sounds, puts a lavender scented eye pillow on my eyes, and (the most luxurious part of it, for me) covers me with a  weighted blanket. I lie there and take a 30 minute luxurious relaxation nap break. I have yet to recreate this whole setup at home, but it is one of my goals, because I come out of each treatment feeling great. Your own at home relaxation spa! Give it a try!
  • I try to cut back on caffeine when I’m super stressed and add tea to the mix. One of my favorite teas recently is lavender. (Sensing a theme?) I also use lavender candles, lotion and bubble bath.


Those are all my tricks and tips! Happy relaxing and de-stressing!


FCC Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links! Happy Shopping!



Parenting Practice: Write Some Goals Down… Stick ’em On the Cabinet #spiritualpractice #parenting #itsenough


True confession: many times I don’t feel like I’m “living up to” what I should be as a parent. I know lots and lots of dads and moms feel this way, but sometimes it feels like an extra weight on my shoulders. After all… I wrote a parenting book, for crying out loud. Are my kids going to be like the cobbler’s kids who have no shoes? Am I the one who has great ideas for everybody else’s kids, but not my own?  It’s a lot of pressure, not going to lie. I read a lot about parenting. Blogs… articles… listicles… books. Sometimes I think it helps. Sometimes I know it doesn’t. For me, the struggle is not in knowing what to do, but in actually applying that knowledge. It’s like being healthy. Everybody knows that going for a jog and not eating cheese fries is healthy, but going for a jog is a lot of work, and the cheese fries are convenient.

So what helps? Well… here’s one thing that has been working for me. It’s super simple.  I didn’t do it for you (or y’all as we say in Texas). I did it for me, but since it’s working, I thought I’d share it. It’s really easy. Embarrassingly easy. Ready?

I wrote down some goals. 

I stuck them on my cabinet. 

I read them every morning while I wait (impatiently) for my coffee to brew.

That is it. Seriously. Nothing else. I don’t achieve all of the goals every day, but they’re there. It’s like parenting food for my brain. I’m going to share my goals with you, but I don’t think you should just copy them. I think you should write your own. Here are some tips that will help you:

  1. Don’t overthink them. You probably have an idea about what will help you in your parenting. In fact. I know you know what to do. Sit down and write them down.
  2. Try to frame them in the positive. Instead of “don’t yell” write “Speak calmly.” Don’t we have enough voices trying to judge us already? We don’t need to judge ourselves.
  3. No more than… say… 12. I mean… how many goals can you reasonably have? I wasn’t aiming for 10, but 10 came out. There are 10 commandments. Seems like a good number. But you can have up to 12.
  4. Just do you. Think of things that are realistic for you. I wanted to put something like “no screen time” on mine. Not realistic. My boys are going to watch Daniel Tiger every single day. I’m fine with that. I’m not judging myself against somebody else’s parenting. I’m judging myself against mine
  5. Get extra help if you need it. This is the hardest part, but if you need help with your parenting, you can get it! Find a coach. Reach out to a friend. Don’t do it alone; We’re all in this together!

There you have it. Good luck! If it helps to share yours, I’d love to see them! Post a link to your pictures here.

My goals for parenting Clayton and Samuel

  1. Look them in the eye.
  2. Notice what they are doing and talk about it.
  3. Focus on them individually and together each day.
  4. Avoid working on other things when it is our time.
  5. Include them in chores and tasks.
  6. Sing to them.
  7. Read to them.
  8. Create art.
  9. Say yes whenever possible (even creatively).
  10. Keep a quiet voice and non-towering presence.

Good luck!

The Hardest Stories to Tell #EndFamilyDetention


The stories we most need to tell are often the hardest to tell. I’ve struggled mightily to figure out how and when to tell this story. I’m sure there will be more to tell, later, but for now I tell it for a simple reason: Patricia and those like her want their story to be heard. I translated this story into Spanish for Patricia and she corrected a few minor details. Everything told here is with her full consent and permission.

I met Patricia in October of last year, while she and her son, Mario, were detained in Karnes Family Detention Jail. Immediately, I was struck by her smile and her positive energy and bright eyes. Though she was optimistic and happy, it was impossible not to feel the deep sadness within her. We didn’t talk about the details, then, but I knew they must have been horrific. She fled El Salvador with her eight year old son, Mario, because his life was in danger. He would be forced into a gang if she didn’t get him out, and quickly. Mario is eight years old. He has a sister they had to leave behind.

I went to visit Karnes several times, and I brought someone new with me each time, first my colleague, Kelly, then a parishioner from my congregation, Melissa, next my husband, Elias, and finally my two and three year old boys, Clayton and Samuel. This is the part in the story where I want to be crystal clear that I was taking my toddlers to a to a jail where other children their own age and younger are detained as prisoners.

In the visitation area there is a play kitchen and mismatched toys. The three boys played together.  I wrote this in my journal that day:

We sat on the carpeted space with the toys and the little refrigerator… we didn’t talk too much this time about Patricia or El Salvador or what she left behind or what she’s going toward, we just played with the kids. We laughed when Clayton identified a piece of pretend meat as a watermelon. We scolded Samuel for taking a toy away from Mario. We praised Mario for saying ‘That’s ok.’ We pretended we were normal friends, not in a prison.

But we were in a prison, a fact that was painfully and viscerally evident when Clayton asked “Why is the door locked?” I said nothing.

The night after my husband and I brought our boys to Karnes Family Detention Center I had a dream that we were all back there again and when it was time to leave the guards wouldn’t let me take my children out. They said when children come in here, we don’t let them out, ever. You can’t prove that they are yours.  When I woke up the next morning, I told Elias that I was never bringing the children to visit Mario and Patricia again.

I changed my mind and we continued the visits. The nightmares continued, though.

Mercifully, thanks to the dedication of RAICES lawyers and the bond fund, Patricia and Mario were released to come live with us on January 1 of this year, after five months in jail.

I have vivid memories of dinner on New Year’s Day. Some El Salvadoran friends told us that El Pollo Loco was a good choice, and so we got roast chicken with all of the sides. I remember Mario gobbling up every morsel and seconds. We found something for Mario to sleep in. They came to us with the clothes on their backs and some legal papers.

The first few nights with all of us under the same roof were intense and emotional. Elias was out of town for a week and so Patricia and I had a lot of time to talk. She told me about the violence she fled. She told me about the journey. She told me about the incredible sense of isolation and hopelessness she felt in detention and how hope filled and happy she was when we would visit.  She talked about El Salvador and why she had to leave. I journaled about the terrible details of other stories she has shared but I cannot bear to read them.

There has been a visible transformation in eight year old Mario since he has been out of detention. When he was inside, his mother said he was getting sadder and sadder every day, but here, the opposite has been true. Just eight days after getting out of detention I wrote this in my journal “Today at dinner Patricia said “his face is filling out a little bit. he doesn’t have as much of that sad look in his eyes anymore. I wanted to ask her, ‘will there come a time when he doesn’t have it at all?’”

Since January we’ve felt an outpouring of love and support from our community. The church I pastor has showered us with gift cards to the grocery store, clothes, school supplies for Mario, money for vaccines and warm smiles. The Interfaith Welcome Coalition brought hot meals, listening ears, legal help, and a guest house for them to stay in when my parents were in town for an extended visit. We’ve formed a strong bond, and so have our children who play together and fight together like brothers.

Yet, these months have not been without challenge and struggle. It’s not easy to squish two families who barely know each other together in a modest home. We’ve all had moments of stress, misunderstanding and sadness.

At times I felt buried under an avalanche of pain, which has led to tremendous guilt. Why is it, I wondered that I am feeling so much stress when I should be rejoicing that things are getting better for Patricia and Mario? Part of the answer, I think, lies in the fact that seeing Patricia and Mario every day is a constant reminder that there are hundreds of children and their mothers locked inside for-profit (yes, for profit) immigration detention centers like place we first met in Karnes City.

In a few weeks, Patricia and Mario are moving on. They’ve gotten some things situated, they’ve made some choices, and now they’re headed for beautiful Seattle. You can help them get there. My family has never been to the pacific northwest, but now we have the perfect reason to visit.

If you would like to contribute to Patricia and Mario’s relocation fund, there is a Go Fund Me site set up. Donations of any size are welcome. 

Other Ways to Help

To Donate to the Refugee Backpack Program, go HERE.

If you are a faith leader, sign this letter.

To learn more about Family Detention, here are some good places to start:

What I Saw at the Detention Center

Locking up Family Values, Again



10 Creative Ways for Grandparents to Connect with Baby and Toddler Grandchildren Using Skype

skype birthday party

When I moved from Chicago to San Antonio, there were a number of wonderful reasons to make the move… great church, great San Antonio weather and culture, bilingual environments for the boys. There was one horrifying reason to not make the move: serious distance from grandma and grandpa.  Though it was a heartbreaking and difficult decision to make, we decided that we would make the move, trusting that we would find creative ways to make the best of the situation.

My boys (now ages 3 and 2) have been talking to grandma and grandpa on Skype nearly every morning since we moved here two years ago. Here are some of the games and activities we’ve played. As the boys grow older, and as we come up with new activities, I’ll post future editions of this.

1. Have a Skype Birthday Party  – We do this for everyone’s birthday. Here’s how it works. We set up an appointed time on the birthday to have the party. Even if Grandma and Grandpa can’t come to our house, we can still decorate our kitchen, bake a cake, and eat cake at the same time, over skype, with Grandma and Grandpa. We light candles and everything. We have a basket with our reusable felt birthday banner and party hats so we’re ready for a skype birthday party at a moment’s notice. We do this for cousin’s birthdays as well. The key is to make it a party feel in our own house and build it up. The kids love it.

2. Play “Do what I do” – Grandma and grandpa say “Can you do this?” (and then they pat their heads) or “Can you do this?” (touch your nose.) From an early early age, the babies learned that they can interact with Grandma and Grandpa via the computer.

3. Have a routine or special thing that only grandma and grandpa can do – I think this varies depending on what your child is passionate about. For our (weird!) boys, it’s the garage door. They love watching the garage door go up and down. So guess what? Grandma and grandpa (for a time, until they grew out of it) would take the computer over to the garage door and open it and the boys would watch it go up and down. They loved it, grew to count on it, and it was a special connection for them.

4. Do something the same, together, like eat a banana – One day grandpa said “Oh, you’re eating a banana? I’m going to eat one too!” Now Clayton sometimes says he wants to eat his banana “the grandpa way” (Meaning he has to leave the peel on as he eats it and pull down the peel as he gets closer to the bottom. The “non grandpa way” is to peel the entire banana in advance.)

5. Do some sort of demonstration – Today grandma made a smoothie, over Skype and the boys watched. She set up the computer in the kitchen and asked the boys how she should do it. Should she put in 5 strawberries or 10?

6. Keep a pad and paper by the computer, ask grandma and grandpa to draw things and hold them up to the computer – “Grandma, draw a circle and a sun!” or “Grandma, can you draw a smiley face?” Simple, but they love it.

7. Take Pictures – On PCs there is a way to take a picture via Skype (I don’t know how my mom did that, because I use Mac.) On a mac, we just take screenshots. The picture quality isn’t half bad! Grandma and Grandpa have a whole file of pictures they’ve taken of the boys on Skype.

8. Send mail through the mail and open it on Skype – This is fun, because the children can see the same object on the other side of the screen come to their house. When the mail comes, give it to the children when they are talking on Skype to grandma and grandpa and have the experience of opening it up together.

9. Play peek-a-boo – We did this when the boys were babies. There were two ways we did it, one was for grandma to “cut” the video feed and just talk with the audio and then turn it back on. The second way was for her to just have a blanket available at home and cover her head (traditional peek-a-boo.)

10. Read a story over Skype – So easy, and so sweet.

#notmyOGHS — The @PCUSA_SO ‘s spectacular ad failure #presbyterian

Well, the PCUSA has done it again in terms of missing the mark (big time) and branding/marketing only this time, instead of a relatively cute dog in a pink sweater, it’s a campaign that makes plays on stereotypes of race and gender and portrays the recipients of mission not as vital members of the body of Christ with whom we can partner, but poor recipients in need of various types of handouts. Let’s take a closer look. For this post I want to focus on the two images which are the most disturbing to me. Incidentally, these are two of the images that are not highlighted in the PCUSA’s news article that has been receiving a lot of traffic in the last few days. I can speak to the first image directly and out of personal experience because it features a woman. Take a look:

put in her place

A beautiful young and confident looking woman with the bold headline that says “Needs to be put in her place” with smaller type that says “Math 101 to be precise” and then even smaller type talking about how a gift to the Christmas Joy offering can provide schooling to girls who need it. It’s clever and provocative advertising, to be sure. It’s edgy. I like the typography. It looks professional. One problem: It hurts.  I’m not as beautiful as that woman, but I’d like to think I have the same level of confidence. And guess what? People have said that I need to be put in my place. The intent of this ad is to say “Oh look, some people say women need to be put in their place, we’re saying that women need help and support to get an education. See? We turned it upside down!” Yes, yes, they did. I get it. Get it as I may, I look at that image and I see myself in that photo and I think of all of the times men have said subtly (or boldly) “That’s ok, sweetheart, we got this one.”  The ad is intentionally offensive. The second ad I’m going to talk about is much harder to write about because it hurts even more. It’s truly an embarrassment to the denomination I love:


A young African American boy juxtaposed against the words “Needs help with recurring anger issues.” Then in smaller print “his country’s” then in smaller print words about how the world is unjust and full of famine. This ad reminds me of two friends I’ve spoken with about how it is to parent an African American boy. In both cases, the mothers choke up as they talk about the sense of powerlessness they feel as their sons experience the type of racism that this ad is based around. The ad’s intent, again, is to say “we’re not saying African American boys are angry! We’re saying the world is an unjust place!” Yet no matter how you dress it up, the fact remains that, in the context of everything we have been through as a nation, the PCUSA approved an ad campaign where a young African American boy is juxtaposed against the words “recurring anger issues.” I can’t imagine the hurt this ad causes African American sisters and brothers. I would encourage you to comment on the posts, though, so that those responsible can begin to reflect on the hurt these ads have caused. My boys are Colombian Americans. It’s a stereotype that Colombians are drug dealers. How would I have felt if there were an ad with a little Colombian boy and really large type floating around that said “Looking for Some Coke” and then in smaller type it says “Coca-Cola, that is. Buy these boys a soda!” I would be heartbroken. I wouldn’t think it was edgy or appropriate or funny or a way to raise funds. I think I would put my face in my hands and have a good cry. This ad is inflicting a similar pain on my mama friends who have black boys. I hurt for them. I am ashamed this ad has anything to do with my denomination. How could they not know that this would be a problem?   I was not around for the process of approving these ads and discussing them. Through the beauty of the internets, however, it appears that the powers that be did know about the concerns and chose to ignore them. What were they thinking? Seriously. What. Were. They. Thinking.? It’s ok to hurt people as long as a lot of money is raised? It’s provocative and that’s a good thing? It appears that the intent of these ads is to make them unforgettable and memorable. They are that, for sure, but at what cost? At the cost of actually hurting people. Not only are the ads plays on race and gender stereotypes, they seem to go against the model of partnership and mutuality that the PC(USA) tries to excel at. Our missionaries are called “mission co-workers” our Hunger, Peacemaking and Disaster programs seek to work at a level that is not “you vs. me” but rather “us.” We have an entire grantmaking organization called “Self Development of People (SDOP)” that seeks to empower grassroots organizations. Each of the ads proposed by this campaign sets up the giver as someone who can help the “other.” At no time is it ever suggested that the girl who needs to be “put in her place” is a partner in all of this. (And we didn’t really mean she needs to be put in her place, it’s just a ‘made ya look’ type of thing) This ad campaign needs to be removed and an apology issued.  We wanted to do the right thing and raise a lot of money for causes we all believe in and we went too far. We should have listened to minority voices and we didn’t. We will do better.   Two important things before I let y’all have the floor in the comments 1. “Special Offerings raise money for good things.” This has come up again and again on numerous threads and discussions about this campaign. I agree wholeheartedly. Special offerings raise money for Presbyterian DIsaster Assistance, Presbyterian Hunger Program, Self Development of People, Young Adult Volunteers, Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, and (hello!) Racial Ethnic Leadership Development. I (or my husband) have benefited directly from each and every one of the programs I just named. We owe a debt of gratitude to the PCUSA for providing these programs and for the good work they do. All the more reason to not jeopardize the future of such amazing programs by rolling out such a divisive and painful campaign. There will be a cost to redoing the materials for this year. There will be an even greater cost for not redoing them. 2. “PCUSA needs relevant and good marketing that appeals to young people.” Yes and no. I agree that it can be helpful to have a well designed and beautiful campaign to inspire people to give money to a cause. I was impressed by the gifts catalog that was put out for Christmas this year. It made me want to show it to people and encourage them to give. That said, slick marketing campaigns only go so far. In my experience money starts flying out of wallets when people hear the stories of what God is doing and how lives are being changed. I will encourage my congregation to give to special offerings, as I always do. I’ll be looking closely at the denomination in the coming week to see what materials they propose I use to do that.

5 Simple Spiritual Practices for Advent (for individuals or families)


More and more, advent feels like lent to me: a time of darkness and waiting and preparation. The older I get, the less I am attracted to the hyperactive frenzy that our culture tries to impose on us during advent and Christmas. I’m starting to relish advent as a time to snuggle in, sit in the darkness and gaze at flickering lights. Though it doesn’t seem to be the image on TV, I think advent can be a time of shadows, of yearning, and of waiting. Here are 5 spiritual practices you might want to do this advent either by yourself or with your family or community. Give them a try!

1. Word a day creative challenge. (Photo challenge, art challenge, journal challenge). This one is easy. For each day in December (from the 1st to the 25th) meditate on a word and what God might be telling you through that word. Take a photo to represent it, paint or draw or create something. Do it together as a family, a community, or on your own. My congregation is doing this as a photo challenge this year and posting their photos online. I think I might do some paintings this year, too. Make up your own words, or use these:


2. Gratitude paper chain – Make a paper chain throughout advent (use blue or purple pieces of paper for a liturgical connection or use the traditional green and red). Each day write one thing you are thankful for and put it on your chain. On Christmas morning, put the chain on your Christmas tree or hang it in your home.

3. Advent Poetry/Devotional Reading – Find a book of advent poems or readings and read one each evening in the darkness or in the early morning. Suggestions: Luci Shaw, Accompanied by Angels or the Anglican resource Love Came Down or Chalice Press’ lovely (and inexpensive!) Partners in Prayer. It’s not too late for any of these! They’re all available in e-formats, or get them by mail and just wait a few days to start.

4. Color Your Way Through Advent – Coloring pages. Coloring is not just for kids, you know. Check out these fantastic daily coloring pages produced by Ann Voskamp, author of Unwrapping the Greatest Gift.

5. Adopt an Advent “Fast” – We usually think of fasting as something that happens during lent. We “give up” something sometimes as a sacrifice or a symbol of repentance and returning to God. In the frenetic “more more more” of our culture during this season, it’s a great idea for people of faith to adopt a “less, less, less” approach. Fast from buying (what would that look like?) or fast from busyness. Perhaps you are able to give up one weekly (or daily) meeting during advent in order to listen to God’s voice and prepare for Christ to be born anew.

Happy Advent!

Like these? Check out my book Seamless Faith: Simple Practices for Daily Family Life which has ceremonies and traditions for families in addition to a variety of spiritual practices. Available at Chalice Press or Amazon.

An Immigration Policy We Can All Agree On: #EndChildDetention #EndFamilyDetention


I’ve been visiting a mother, Alicia* in family detention in Karnes City for a few months now. Family detention is the almost unbelievable practice of locking up young mothers and their children in prison. No matter what we think about the right of immigrants to cross the border without proper authorization, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where anyone believes that children deserve to be locked up. The United Nations agrees. The committee on the rights of the child says:

Children should not be criminalized or subject to punitive measures because of their or their parents’ migration status. The detention of a child because of their or their parent’s migration status constitutes a child rights violation and always contravenes the principle of the best interests of the child.

For several months I’ve been actively volunteering and working with Mission Presbytery’s efforts to help refugees from Central America who find themselves in the bounds of our Presbytery. There are a lot of overlapping, complicated issues. Though we see these issues through the eyes of faith (“Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” – Exodus 22:21) our work necessarily takes us to places where broader policy is involved.
Not everyone agrees on what the policy should be. Should there be quotas? Should more people be given asylum? How should new arrivals be handled? Should people be deported right away? How many people should be allowed to come and under what circumstances? What about people who have been here for a long time? And what about family members? Should adult children of US citizens be automatically given visitor’s visas to come visit? (This affects my own family and Elias’s adult children who have not been allowed to visit in the 6 years Elias and I have been married, though they have applied). It would take a lot of blogging to address all of these policies and to propose solutions, and these are all very complicated questions and solutions.

Instead, though, I want to focus on this mother and her children, because I think it’s something most of us can agree on:

Children do not belong in detention. Family detention must be ended.

I’ve heard people who work inside the family detention center in Karnes talk about how nice it is. “The children have school and they are fed three meals a day and they are permitted to play outside.”

These things are true, and even so, family detention is outrageous. When we talk about facts and statistics, sometimes our eyes glaze over. (Although, if you’re interested in facts, I suggest reading THIS or THIS.)

Instead of summarizing the facts you can easily read yourself, I want to tell a story, and it’s a story about the mom I’ve been visiting in detention. More specifically, it’s a story about her 8 year old son, Camilo.*

Alicia says that Camilo is having a lot of difficulty in detention. After making a harrowing journey all the way from central america, fleeing imminent gun violence and threats of death, they spent some challenging days at the US/Mexico border. Once they made their way to Karnes Detention facility, she noticed the problems: acting out at school, hitting his head against the wall, outbursts. She says he cries a lot. One of the problems, according to Alicia, is that he can’t make friends in detention. Friends mysteriously arrive and leave. He doesn’t understand why. He also doesn’t understand why they can’t go anywhere. Ever. They can’t go to the store or to church or to the soccer field. They can’t go to get a haircut.

It’s this last one I want to talk about for a second: a haircut. Last time I went to visit Alicia, I asked about Camilo. “He’s sad today. He was supposed to get his haircut, but then he didn’t. He’s been crying about it.”

It didn’t seem like she wanted to talk more about it, and so we didn’t. But I can’t stop thinking about that haircut. As I pack my two boys up in the car to take them here and there and everywhere, I can’t stop thinking about the hundreds of children in Karnes Detention facility who are locked up, in cells, because their parents dared to try and give them a better life. Family detention is outrageously costly to the US government. There are cheaper and more humane options.

#EndFamilyDetention #EndChildDetention

Three ways to begin to make a difference about child detention in the US:

1. Look for information and learn about it. Family Detention seems to get lost sometimes in the middle of a much larger immigration debate. Another reason it gets lost is that the family detention facilities are far out of the way of any major city or area. Out of sight, but not out of mind.

2. Don’t worry too much about being “too political.” It’s a dangerous narrative out there when showing compassion and basic common sense is somehow a political agenda. There is room for all kinds of politics in the immigration debate. There is not room to ever justify locking up children and denying them freedom to live in a house with friends or family while their cases are processed. Whichever political party you support, your leaders can get on board with some kind of meaningful reform. Children deserve to be free. (And, yes, some can come live with me. Mission Presbytery has families lining up to receive families in our own homes if people are given the opportunity).

3. Connect:

Mission Presbytery Refugee Family Response

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service

See also: Babies in Jails


*Names changed for privacy

Poetry as a Spiritual Practice for Moms (and everyone!)


If I had a dollar for every time a mother said to me (about parenting) “make sure you enjoy it, because it goes by fast,”  well, I’d definitely not have to say to Clayton “Not today because mama doesn’t have any dollars in her purse” when he’s asking me to go on that train in the mall that doesn’t accept debit cards.

Moms love to talk about how quickly their children grow up. Even though mine are only 3 and 2, I am starting to understand it. I see little newborns and think “Oh! I loved those baby snuggles! I hope I appreciated them enough when I had them.”

As someone wiser than me once said “The days are long, but the years are short.”

Soon after moving to San Antonio, I met my friend Kyndall. She is a pastor, and a poet. I loved how many of her poems are autobiographical and narrative. They are like stories, but still poems. They inspired me to write poetry of my own, mostly about my kids.  I thought I would share a poem with all of you, along with my one and only tip for you to get started. Here’s my poem, Burdens  about Clayton learning to get dressed:


Clayton, my three year old, is learning how to dress himself.

It’s a hoot!

Mismatched clothes aren’t the half of it

shirts on backwards (and upside down!)

out of season clothes worn proudly in public

the robot shirt every day of the week

— if he can get away with it

(and he usually can).

A few weeks ago he was struggling to get out of that robot t-shirt

grunting and straining

“Do you need help?” I asked.



More struggling, more grunting

his arms all tangled up over his head


“My arm is too heavy, Mama,”

So endearing, right?

My arm is too heavy. 

It’s like this three year old way of trying to say

I don’t know how this whole “getting dressed” thing works. 

Endearing, yes, but also heartbreaking, somehow.

my eyes welled up with tears at the sound of those words.

My arm is too heavy. 

I started to think of all of the burdens and struggles he’ll face throughout his life.

There are lots of times when your arms are too heavy, but that’s not the half of it

There will be times when it’s not his arms that are all twisted up and too heavy, but his spirit too

And his little heart.

I wanted to say “Sometimes my arms are too heavy, too.” 

But instead I smiled and said, “Here, let me help you.”

My one tip to writing your own poetry: don’t judge yourself. Don’t say to yourself “I can’t do it. I’m not a poet.” Sure you are. If it’s just for you, if it’s just to sit down and write out some things that you’re thinking about and feeling, you’re already a poet. Who knows what you will discover in the process.

Junia, John and Clayton

Flowers in memory of the saints in our lives. Photo Credit: Melissa Johnson

Flowers in memory of the saints in our lives. Photo Credit: Melissa Johnson

Today is All Saints’ Sunday, a day when we remember the community of saints who have gone before us and reflect on their meaning in our lives. I love All Saints’ Day for so many reasons. Today at Northwood Presbyterian Church we each brought up flowers and laid them on the front table, remembering and naming saints who have a special place in our hearts. Today I told the story of three saints that mean something special to me this year, 2014.

Junia – Junia is an apostle whose appearance in the Bible is limited to one important verse. Romans 16:7 in which the apostle Paul says, “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.” Junia is clearly and convincingly a woman’s name and in the oldest New Testament manuscripts we have, her name is preserved. Later, though, Junia was changed to Junias, a man’s name. There’s a whole book dedicated to this small (but so important) change. It feels plain to me. Junia was erased. There’s so much I could say about women’s identities and voices being erased throughout history and today, but I’ll leave it where I left it this morning: I know what it’s like to be erased because of my gender, and I’m grateful that those who said “Yes, you are called” and “yes we believe in you” were louder than the voices that said “Women can’t be ministers.” See also:

John – John was a colleague in my Presbytery. We didn’t know each other very well, but we had a few important things in common. We were (are) both European-Americans married to Colombian-Americans, we both love(d) to dance and laugh. We were(are) both deeply concerned about the suffering of Central American Refugees in the United States. On John’s last day on earth he opened a meeting with this prayer for refugees.. It feels like a sort of gift and also a challenge. More about John here.

Clayton – Clayton was my grandpa. (Readers of this blog know that this is also my son’s name). As I told the church this morning, grandpa Clayton understood faith in a very different way than I do. His was a quiet and personal faith. My grandpa kept a diary every day (or nearly every day) from 1933 until the mid 90s (they started getting more sporadic when his memory started to fail.) I, too, keep journals. The difference between Clayton’s journals and my journals are stark. Whereas my journals are emotional and rambling, his are concise and non-emotional. Got a haircut. Listened to Moody Bible preaching on the radio. There are lots of entries about the car. Oil changes. Even so, the entries reveal a person of deep and inspiring faith. On one particular day, he is reflecting on the death of a family member and writes simply “XXX died. The Lord Giveth and the Lord Taketh Away.”  Powerful.

Today I named Junia, John & Clayton. Who are the saints you name this day?

World Mental Health Day: 5 Thoughts from a Pastor’s Perspective…


Today, as I’m sitting in a hospital waiting for my mother to come out of recovery for her knee surgery, I’m reminded that today is World Mental Health Day. Here are five things that are on my mind a lot when it comes to mental illness…

1. Mental Illness deserves the same treatment as physical illness in the church. I’m talking about the casseroles, the cards, the prayer requests, the phone calls from the pastor, the full court press. People who are suffering with mental illness (and their families) need real support. So many times, though, we’re afraid to mention it. There’s a stigma and a shame we can’t get over. I know the reasons for this are varied and complex, and I don’t have easy answers. I think the first step is for us to admit that we don’t talk about it enough. Maybe the first step is for everyone to say to each other “You know, why don’t we bring someone a casserole when they are depressed?” or “Why don’t we know when someone is suffering with bipolar disorder?” Mental illness is largely hidden away under layers of shame and silence. Lifeway Research points out how infrequently mental illness is discussed by church leadership which is part of the problem.

2. Colleagues… how can we help each other when we ourselves are suffering with mental illness? The same study referenced above also found 1 in 4 pastors reporting that they (we) are suffering from mental illness. We need to speak up in our clergy groups. We need to seek counseling and help if (when?) we suffer. We need to help each other.

3. Another reminder to my colleague brothers and sisters We need to find the best therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists in our town and refer to them often. In the same way: parishioners – your pastor is not a therapist (usually). Most ministers are not trained mental health professionals yet many people with mental health needs come to us. This is only a problem if we aren’t clear on what will (should) happen in that situation. We should provide appropriate spiritual care and then refer out to excellent appropriately trained mental health professionals. Every pastor has his or her own policy on how and when to counsel and the “rules” are different depending on circumstance. I usually agree to meet with someone (or a couple) up to three times about the same issue or situation and then always refer out after that. Sometimes it takes even less meetings to know when something is out of my area of expertise and education. It’s not a sign of weakness to admit that we can’t help, it’s a sign of strength. 

4. A word to all of the mental health professionals out there: thank you! Your work is so important and often invisible. Thank you for working long hours and taking on difficult cases. Another word — pastors in your community can help. Though we’re not trained to treat mental illness, we are trained to provide spiritual care. Many of your patients need that too. We can help. Let’s work together.

5.  I want to pledge to keep learning more I want to end this post with a shoutout to fellow Chalice Press author Sarah Lund and her new book Blessed Are the CrazyI’m not going to lie, the title of this book makes me nervous. I was really happy to read the Huffington Post Article she recently published explaining and defending the title. The book is important. It’s Sarah’s story about mental illness in her family. I think she’s exceedingly brave to tell it. More than this, the book aims to bring the topic to churches around the country that we might begin (or continue) to talk about it. What an important and worthy goal. Congratulations, Sarah, and I can’t wait to read your book.