Friday, March 4, 2016


This is my buddy Marta. It all started when she came over to see what I was doing and said she liked the green color I was painting. So I smiled, put a little paint on the brush, and handed it to her. That led to hours of us working alongside each other: painting the green patio set, finishing the walkway, touching up all the white paint on the house, and even washing up all the team's paint buckets and brushes...not hindered at all by the fact we share un poquito espanol. I'll be remembering her smile, and her giggle, for a long time to come.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Challenge Day

I had one of those special small/big moments last Sunday.  It was "Spring Challenge" day in children's church. The kids had the opportunity to recite the Lord's Prayer from memory and get some cool prizes.  We've been studying it for weeks, and I think we teachers were just as nervous and excited as the students.

One of my 1st graders came up to my station to take the challenge.  I asked him if he was ready, and he took a deep breath and started.  He got a few phrases in and got stuck, so I gave him a tiny prompt. He did that thing where you look up and off to the side to try and retrieve something from your memory.  His confident smile turned nervous, but I just beamed at him and said "I know you know this.  Keep going!"  He skipped over the next phrase, and then got stuck on the end.  I stopped him and said, "Why don't you start over?"

He did. His confidence a bit shaken, but not defeated.

But wouldn't you know it, he started slow, but with each verse, his smile grew a little more.  He did need one little prompt in the middle, but when he got to the "Amen!" at the end, his smile was from ear to ear. "Ethan, that was awesome!  I knew you could do it!" "Thanks Ms. Regina!" Our simultaneous smile and high-five made my morning.

I still struggle with wondering if I'm being a good teacher to these 1st-6th graders, but that morning, I could see just how far we've come.  I could see that they know I believe in them, and each one who triumphed through the challenge showed me that they're getting the message.  

I know I'm not the only 30-something who looks around at her life and wonders how she got there, and longs to break from the momentum of the mundane to do something significant.  But last Sunday was a reminder that sometimes those significant moments hide in the middle of the ordinary ones.  I may only be an influence for an hour a week to these kids, but that doesn't make it small.  ...I needed that reminder.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

We Have Pickles!

It was the afternoon lull at the Meadow Braiding Booth of the Maryland Renaissance Festival.  It's always crazy in the morning in the Meadow, but we tend to have a few quiet hours in the afternoon before people start passing us on their way home.

This day had been crazier than usual, and I was savoring a moment's solitude while sitting at the hostess station and keeping an eye on our book.

I spotted a family coming up the hill.  Two long-haired teenage girls, dad, and two little boys. One was dressed as a knight, the other as a pirate.  Not brothers, but obviously best friends.  The girls quietly approached and shyly started flipping through the pages of braiding designs.  I barely had time to greet them and let them know they were free to ask me any questions when the little knight walked right up to me. With a pickle in one hand and a wooden sword in the other, his chest practically touching my knees, he looked up at me with pride and declared, "I'm a knight!" This was the kind of boy whose personality is three times too big for his body.

"Why yes!  Yes you are!  And a mighty defender of the realm."

"I got a new sword!" he added.

"Me too!" chimed in little pirate.

"Very nice! That will come in very handy on your adventures."

"What's that?"  asked little knight, pointing at my little gel holder that I keep on my belt.  A very practical tool in a hairbraider's arsenal. Dad shot me an apologetic look.  One that said, 'I'm sorry he's bothering you.'  But I just shook my head and smiled.  'It's ok.'

"It's dragon snot."

"Dragon snot?"

"Mmm. Hmm.  It helps me to braid hair."

"Could you braid my hair?"

"I don't think so.  Your hair is too short to braid, even with the help of dragon snot.  But maybe I could spike it up for you.  Want me to try?"

He smiled from ear to ear and nodded.  So I dipped my fingers into my gel, and ran my fingers vigorously through his hair.  His hair was way too short for it to make a difference, but I've discovered that little boys care more about the fact that they've been infused with dragon snot, and less about the outcome of their hair.

Little pirate had been getting closer during this whole exchange.  As soon as I finished with little knight's hair, I asked "Would you like dragon snot in your hair too?"  Unsurprisingly, this question was met with a nod and a smile and I happily obliged.

"Did it work?" asked the little knight.

"Umm, not really."

He looked at me a little skeptically. "Do you really have a dragon?"

"Of course! We just don't let him come into the village."

"Why not?"

"Well, for one thing, he's a little shy.  Especially because he has a cold.  Plus, if he sneezed, with all this straw on the ground, he might catch the village on fire.  That wouldn't be good at all."

"So where is he?"

I pointed past the far shops and the big blue organ stage to the woods. "Back there."

He paused and considered what I'd said.  Then to my complete surprise, this valiant little knight turned in the direction I'd pointed, squared his shoulders and shouted, "DRAGON! Show yourself!" After a moment he added, "We have pickles!"  He raised his half-eaten pickle toward the woods as both evidence and offering.

Emboldened by his friend, little pirate stepped up behind him and shouted "Yeah! We have pickles!"

Sadly, our dragon was not moved to appear, even for such a tempting morsel.  Little knight held his pose for a few seconds, then dropped his hand and turned and looked back toward me.

I was doing my best to keep a straight face and not dissolve into giggles.  Dragons are serious business after all. Their challenge had been witnessed by everyone in a 20-ft radius though, and not all those who heard were as successful at holding back their laughter. Even Dad was grinning broadly.

"I'm sorry." I said.

He shrugged, then a grin broke across his face and he surprised me for a second time.

"En guard!" He cried.  Taking up a fighting stance and raising his new sword at me.  I suppose in lieu of a dragon, a hairbraider would have to do.

Little pirate was not to be left out.  "En guard!" he added.  Jumping to position and grinning at me from ear to ear.

What do I do now? In a moment of inspiration, I reached into our pick jar and pulled out a silver comb. "En guard!" I replied, taking up my own sword fighting stance.

And somehow a conversation about hair gel had transformed into a three-way sword fight between a knight, a pirate, and a hairbraider.

In the end, we all emerged victorious.  The girls didn't end up getting braids that day, but everyone left with a smile on their face, and a little more joy in their heart. It was a reminder to always look at the world not as it is, but as it could be...with a little bit of magic (and a little bit of confidence).

"Dragon! Show yourself!  We have pickles!"

I'll never forget that little boy.

Monday, January 4, 2016


For the second year in a row, I've started the year off by playing dominos.  Mexican train to be exact.  It's such a fun game, and a glorious (sometimes frustrating) mixture of strategy and luck.

No matter how ingeniously you might form a plan and line up your tiles, chances are you're going to need help at some point each round.  Either by playing one of your errant tiles on someone else's train, or by someone else playing a helpful tile to help you get past a dead end.

With very rare exceptions, you just can't do it on your own.

Which is a great reminder at the beginning of the year.

In 2016, I want to keep an eye out for how I can contribute to other's lives, and treasure those who help keep me inspired and moving forward. I want to have eyes to see when those around me throw up the sign that they're stuck, and to be brave enough to indicate when I'm in trouble too.  (After all, no one can see what's in my hand.  They have no way of knowing that I've got myself in a pickle until that little train appears on my row.)

Doubling joys, halving burdens... remembering that life isn't lived in isolation, nor does it always go according to plan.  We don't get there on our own, but with those who share laughter (and frustration) in ordinary moments at the kitchen table.

Not a bad reminder from a game of dominos.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Order of Events

This past Sunday, our Pastor Emeritus gave his traditional Palm Sunday concert.  He really does have a gift for weaving songs and thoughts together to present a beautiful message, and I found myself paying attention more than I expected.

Perhaps that's because he said something that caught my interest.  Early in the service, listed all the things that happen between Palm Sunday and Resurrection Sunday.  It's quite a busy week! One of those happenings caught be by surprise.  It completely yanked me back from the beginnings of my sermon-time daydreaming. I knew it happened, but for some reason I had forgotten that it happened then.

Right after the triumphal entry is the infamous temple cleansing.  You know, the one where Jesus got really angry at the things he saw going on in the temple and started flipping over tables?

Really?  I thought.  That was the same week? I didn't think my pastor was lying to me, but I wanted confirmation.  So like any good church brat, I grabbed one of the pew Bibles and looked it up. There it was: Matthew 21, Mark 11, and Luke 19 all showed the same story.  (John 12 is the outlier because he only talks about the triumphal entry, not the cleansing of the temple.)

And then all of a sudden, the pieces fit together.

One of the biggest lessons I remember from that week is how quickly the winds of social favor can change.  And hearing all the events of that week as one list, it all sort of makes sense.

Because how natural is it to welcome Jesus with cheers, until he starts correcting and cleaning house? Suddenly "Hosanna" isn't the first phrase on the tip of the tongue.  It's "Hey buddy, back off!"

(Of course, Jesus knew exactly what he was doing and where this week was leading.  Perhaps this was just a very strategic first step in setting a lot of things straight.)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


I've wrote about this before, but Joshua chapter 3 is one of my favorite passages of scripture.

After this big long journey, the priests stand in the middle of the Jordan river, holding back the water, and stay there while the rest of the Israelittes crossover into the promised land. This is flood time, so that's no tame river. And it's their promise too, but they stand there and wait for everyone else to get to their promise first.

Those themes seem to pop up often in my life: intercession, selflessness, empowering others, standing in the gap.

Reading it this time through, I was reminded that while they were obedient to their calling, the priests didn't do anything by their own power. (Maybe a bit obvious...but it still jumped out to me this time.) They were holding the Ark of the Covenant. They were just ordinary guys standing where God told them to stand. It's what they were carrying that made all the difference.

What's my modern-day equivalent? I think it's remembering to have God's word etched it into my heart and mind, and to let my character and actions be a reflection of Jesus. After all, my relationship with God is a covenant -- a promise I've made to follow him, and his promise to transform me from the inside out.  That covenant is one of my most valued possessions, and probably the greatest tool in my tool-house.

It's only when I'm walking in my covenant, that he can use me to help hold back the proverbial river, wherever he tells me to stand. If I try to step into that river without him, I'm toast. No matter how pure and selfless my intentions. But with him, I can stand against anything.

Even if it's a river at flood time, and he calls me to stand there long enough for millions of people to cross over to the other side.

I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. ~ Philippians 4:13 

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. ~ Ephesians 6:13

In case you're curious, here's my other post about Joshua 3: Don Pedro

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


I was dropping off my favorite four-legged friend at my parents' house Saturday morning.  He's technically my mom's dog, but we're best buds so I love the times I get to spend with him.

My dad was doing his normal channel-surfing thing, and he happened to stumble upon the Alpine Skiing World Championships.  He must love me because he ceased with his surfing for a bit to let me enjoy the competition.  (I love things like this!)

I was even more stoked than usual because we caught the final runs for women's slalom, and I just love watching slalom.  There's a rhythm and grace to it that I find completely captivating.

But it's also exciting because in the blink of an eye, a perfect run can fall completely apart.  And not necessarily in dramatic fashion like a head-over-heels tumble.  I have this distinct memory from the Sochi Olympics last winter.  A skier was having a great run, leaning into every turn, gaining time on the leader, and just looking fantastic.  Then seemingly out of nowhere, she just stopped and took herself off the course.  It was very controlled, and left the commentators stunned for a brief moment.

"She must have missed a gate," one said.  And indeed, a review of her run showed that the tip of her ski just missed the second pole of a double gate.  She hugged the edge too much by millimeters and the pole went through her legs.

Just like that, her run was over.

She wasn't the only one who had trouble. That Sochi course was particularly difficult. Part of it was the course, and part of it was the weather. Watching skier after skier try to conquer that particularly tight section of the Sochi course brought to mind these verses:
Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Matthew 7:14 (One translation says: "The gateway is very narrow and the road is difficult...")  
So be careful to do what the LORD your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left. Deuteronomy 5:32
I've been mulling on them ever since.

Doing the right thing can be hard!  It's a narrow and challenging course.  And like a slalom skier, things can be going so well, but it only takes a moment to lose it and get off course.

How do you do it?

Core strength. Being balanced on your skis, and being able to lean into those turns takes a strong core. Staying centered through life's twists and turns takes the same.

Look ahead.  I remember an interview with Ted Ligety during the Sochi Olympics last winter.  He talked about the whole process of an Olympic slalom run.  They go down those mountains at 50 miles and hour or more, so those gates come at them fast.  He said he's always looking 2-3 gates ahead and constantly planning how one turn will flow into the next.

Lean in. Saturday's story was a triumphant one. Mikaela Shiffrin kept her rhythm, made every gate, and found an extra dose of speed on the bottom half of the course to defend her title.  Doing so in her hometown made the victory extra sweet. But finding that speed is about establishing rhythm and then leaning in -- committing to each turn to get as close to each gate as possible, while at the same time maintaining control and finding the best curve.  (Which circles back around to core strength.  Flirting with that edge takes real strength that has to come from the center.  Both mentally and physically.)

Narrow is the way.  Difficult is the road.  And it takes both adventure and control to navigate it well.  Just like slalom, those gates can come at you fast, and any number of things can knock you off track -- whether by a millimeter or by a mile.

Thank goodness ours is a race that isn't one where missing one gate counts you out.  We get to brush the snow off our butts and continue.

For this I am very grateful.