Wednesday, January 29, 2014


My friend Anjie took this photo just over a year ago, at my maternal grandmother's 95th birthday party. There's another like it, somewhere, with my older daughter's hand instead of my younger daughter's, but I treasure this particular photo for many reasons, and--given Nacole's prompt of "hands"--I thought I'd try to write them out.

The gold rings on Grandma's hand--which she'd worn since the 1930's--were stolen by a nurse after Anjie took this photo. The nurse stole them from Grandma's dresser, or so she says, and took them to a pawn shop, where they were melted. This photo reminds me to pray for that nurse.

Mom's worn her rings my entire life plus four years, and when I say that, I mean I can't really recall having ever seen her hand without them; unlike me, she wears her rings to fulfill daily tasks. I remember fiddling with them, turning them around and around on her finger while she read to me. They're loose where they live low on her finger but can't be easily slid over the joint: all the knuckle-cracking, she says, when she was younger.

The similarities between Grandma's and Mom's hands stand out to me, in this photo, but my hand is nothing the same; I have Dad's hands. My ring finger, in fact, is at least three sizes larger than Mom's, and I have the trademark, crooked index fingers of a Shafer. (Incidentally, Grandad Shafer was missing a center finger on one hand, and as the story goes, he left the Church of God--which didn't believe in seeking medical attention--just after he lost his finger.)

I've bitten my nails as long as I've had teeth, and have mercy, I've had to give up the other bad habits one by one, so I'm hoping to keep the nail-biting one. On my left hand, I bear small scars from the time I flipped a car near Hattiesburg, Mississippi; Anjie may have edited those out.

When my husband bought my engagement ring, it was the most expensive purchase he'd ever made. I still think about that, sometimes: his uncharacteristic extravagance. I consider that most every out-of-character thing he's ever done has been tied up in me somehow, and my mouth turns up in one corner.

He bought my other ring, silver, for a song. I'd never worn two rings on one finger until the mailman delivered that band with its six differently-colored birthstones, one for each of us. My heart thrills every time I look at it: a reminder of the miracle that we're all as here as we'll ever be.

Charleigh's little hand looks exactly as mine did some thirty-seven years ago. Of the four children, she's the only one with hands like mine...all the way down to the bitten nails. She's wearing Anjie's turquoise ring in this photo, which reminds me of my friend's eye for a good shot and, more importantly, of her huge heart that loves us so much.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The ViewMaster

I was walking out of Cade's bedroom, the other evening, when the dusty box caught my eye. My brother's and my old ViewMasters and slide discs are housed within that old, blue plastic, and--even though Cade never cared much about them--I've carried them from house to house long as I can remember. (You might call this post "A Case for Hoarding"; I make them all the time.)

It snowed, last Tuesday, and the little kids and I holed up until Sunday morning. They were restless by the time I presented the blue box and most intrigued by its contents.

It had been a long time since I'd thought about the box let alone opened it, and my childhood came back in a rush with the clicks of the discs and the slide-slide-pops of the levers. "What does this say, Mama?" the girls asked, and I looked upon the words printed on the discs and characters on the images as old friends.

"Try to look through both eyepieces at the same time," I told the girls, "so the images seem 3-D." Because I remember falling in love with my ViewMaster a second time when I realized I could perceive the images with depth.

"Try looking at it another way," James Henry Trotter's mother says, and I am the mother of my own James, now (though we call him Chip), not to mention of Cade, Clementine, and Charleigh. I want to encourage them to do the same: to try looking at things another way.

So many lessons to impart to my children on the topic of seeing, and stereoscopic imaging is least among them. It's overwhelming, really; I'm glad for the presence of the one true ViewMaster in my heart.

Monday, January 27, 2014

January and Silence

The Mill, 1964, by Andrew Wyeth

When I get real with myself (and you), I see:
nothing makes me uncomfortable like silence.
I don't trust it, its darker side having been
woven early into my life, as punishment, and
although I'm just now starting to figure it out,
I've resisted silence ever since, wasting energy,
causing pain. So many ways to function with
dysfunction: chasing the uninterested, and
overreacting over careless (meaningless)
failures to respond, and refusing to end or
even postpone conversation. And, and. And.

I gaze, now, into the cool, pale face of January.
No other month offers or understands silence
like she, fresh out of cash and holiday greetings.
She pretended to make nice with me, once, and
gave me a son, but she couldn't stand herself:
stole a different child from me, later. Trust me:
blood and muck under January's white skirt, and
I'm doing, here, what I've always done; I'm
fidgeting in the quiet. Spilling words into the hush.
But someday I'll learn January's secrets; someday,
I will. Someday, I'll make something wordless, too.

**linking at The Mag

Jim and I took the little girls to watch a ballet performance, yesterday: my very first. Beautiful, but I missed words. I waited patiently for someone on stage to speak or sing, and of course, no one ever did. Funny thing is that my Clementine (my chatterbox) struggled with the absence of words, too.

In the same vein, after five years on facebook, I deactivated my account two days ago, and things got very quiet very quickly. Still adjusting to that silence.

If you're accustomed to being notified of new Smooth Stones posts via facebook, may I invite you to subscribe via e-mail? You'll find a box for your e-mail address in the right-hand column of my blog. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

14 Things for His 14th Birthday

Cade. I can't believe you're fourteen: that's crazy town. I looked down the other day and realized you have your dad's hands. The years (especially these last five) have flown, and I want the next five to really count.

For your fourteenth birthday, I've given up facebook. I want you to know: no face means more to me than yours. I want to spend more time studying it over games of backgammon and bowls of batter.

And now, a list. Fourteen things I really like about you:
  • I like how deeply patient you are, how even-tempered and calm.
  • I like how you see right to the heart and choose your friends accordingly. (I really like your friends!)
  • I like how you finish what you start and take your time finishing (enjoying the journey).
  • I like how you choose not to take anything or anyone (including yourself) too seriously. I love your laugh.
  • I like that you're not afraid to act, think, wear! outside the box.
  • I like how respectful you are, especially of other people's feelings. I like how you call when you think I'm worried.
  • I like how naturally artistic and creative you are: how the drawings, music, and words come easily.
  • I like how you grasp concepts and come to understand quickly how things work.
  • I like how you can recommend a good book at any time.
  • I like how you're always up for one-on-one time with me (board game, play, movie, dinner, etc.).
  • I like how you never act embarrassed of me in front of your friends, including the pretty girls.
  • I like how you sing with me in the choir and crowd me in the pew, Sundays: how you still put your head on my shoulder, sometimes, during the sermon.
  • I like how encouraging you are. ("You sound like Alicia Keyes when you sing, Mom," you say, and, "Have you printed from your blog, lately? Because I haven't read it for awhile.")
  • Mostly, I like how you're becoming exactly who you should. I'm thankful that the Lord is faithful; that He redeems; that He can call forth a fascinating, strong boy from two separate households: no big deal; that He lives in your heart and loves you beyond my wildest, human imaginings. That He's got this. You.
I'm so deeply blessed, grateful, honored! to be your mom. Happy Fourteenth Birthday, Cade. I love you.

Thursday, January 23, 2014


Musician in the Rain by Robert Doisneau

When the low and dark clouds roll in,
instinct says: batten down the hatches.
Practicality rises from hidden places
to the surface. We turn from our art
and choose, instead, to collect water,
gather batteries, buy bread. It feels like
self-preservation, prioritization; I know,
but I know, too: we slay much more
than frivolity with our frenetic energy.

I'm asking you to stand still with me:
to wait while I create in this falling rain.

(Hold open your umbrella over my art;
let your hand hover just over my heart.)

**Linking with the communities of The Mag and Poetry Jam

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Book Review: Jesus Feminist

So, I just finished reading Sarah Bessey's Jesus Feminist, and I appreciate it so much more than I expected given the particulars of my upbringing, marriage, faith, interpretation of scripture, etc. I'm surprised, also, to have read (devoured, really) the book within twenty-four hours because, well, I just don't tend to do that, these days.

I've visited Bessey's blog but don't follow it regularly, and chances are slim that I would've purchased the book: limited resources, so many other (already-purchased) books to read, and (as this post proves) weariness over the topic of feminism. But my blogger friend Esther Emery sent me a copy, so I decided to give it a whirl.

This is what I like: even though Sarah Bessey and I are in different places, I didn't feel as though she were yelling at me or coming at me angrily or forcefully; in fact, I felt loved by her, and that's important to me. I'm not in the same place as the Jehovah's Witnesses, either, but I feel loved by them; therefore, I invite them in when they come knocking.

Also, I believe that Bessey knows and loves Jesus, and I have no reason to doubt she's on an authentic journey with Him. I enjoyed reading stories from her life: the ones in Chapter Seven, especially, about miscarriage and childbirth. It doesn't offend me that Bessey's marriage is one of mutual submission or that she can sit comfortably under a female preacher. To each her own, in Christ (of course), and in general I think the world would be a better place if we were in hot pursuit of what He wants for us individually instead of insisting we should all be living identically.

In Jesus Feminist, Bessey encourages her readers to really pray and seek the Lord and His plan for their lives, and I like that. She encourages her readers to love as Jesus demonstrates and Paul writes, also to do Kingdom work as we've been called and gifted, and I like that, too. I don't think we can go wrong, doing any of those things, and I feel inspired to do better and more, even if my marriage, church, etc. function differently than Bessey's.

I recommend this book wholeheartedly unless, perhaps, you're easily confused or swayed/tempted from God's plan for your life. I'm not. If someone shares something with me in the right spirit, I can generally (prayerfully!) take from the conversation or resource the things that are helpful/useful to me and let the rest go. My thanks to Esther for sending Jesus Feminist; I'm very glad to have read it.

Monday, January 20, 2014


I'd wager that each of us, growing up, fantasizes about the freedom of adulthood; I did. When I'm grown, I promised myself, no one will ever tell me what to do again.

Here I am, almost forty, and I find I've got more people trying to tell me what to do than ever. I find, too: I don't handle it well.

One of my middle-school teachers (the most ruthless paddler on the hall) told me to stop biting my nails, once. I blinked against the red spots and, leaning forward, said in a shaky voice: "They're my nails, and I'll bite them if I feel like it." He never said another word about it; we both knew he didn't want my daddy after him.

Looking back, I know it was a decent place to be, under my daddy's roof and authority. He wasn't (isn't) perfect, but he cared about right and wrong. He told me: if he found out I'd done wrong at school, he'd whip me at home, but if I was wronged at school or anywhere else, he'd have my back. He was and is an intimidating sort; I walked a fairly straight line, back then, but didn't worry about bullies in any form. 

I worry about bullies a great deal, as an adult, and I have this desire to call them out: to say, over and over, I saw (heard, read) that, and it was hurtful. It hurt. It hurt me, or it hurt someone else, and I refuse to pretend it's okay or didn't happen; I don't care who you are. I don't care how believable your sheep's clothing.

"You start a lot of shit," my husband said, and his words stung.

"I don't," I said. "I respond to a lot of shit."

"You make things worse," he said. 

And he's right. My spiritual gift is mercy, and I see myself as painfully honest: a defender, an avenger, a voice for those judged, cornered, pressured, bullied, overpowered, and/or overwhelmed, but--if I'm painfully honest with myself (for a change)--I can't think of a time I've gotten the response I've sought, which has always been: "I'm sorry I hurt you or someone else." 

I don't know how to let things roll off my back. I don't know how to refrain from speaking out, and I don't know how to speak out effectively, so I'm trying to ignore the repeat offenders. I haven't "unfriended" any of my facebook friends, but I've stopped "following" a lot of them. I've also stopped visiting the blogs of those whose words I find discouraging, hurtful, or offensive.

I love the Lord and seek to obey Him: HIM, not Him according to other people. Experience has taught me: those who have my best interest at heart will encourage me to seek His face, not try to tell me what His face looks like. (Both my husband and my pastor have my best interest at heart; I'm blessed.)

I like what Euripedes wrote: "Question everything. Learn something. Answer nothing." I also like what Jesus said: "Seek, and ye shall find" (Matthew 7:7). I trust God and know I can go straight to the source of Him and His Word. I hope you know the same: that you walk freely in Christ, that you are free.

Diana Trautwein - Living into the Answers

Saturday, January 18, 2014


I'm easily frustrated, you know, and it's the stupid, little stuff that gets me every time.

Baby Chip's sock situation had been frustrating me for awhile. He'd outgrown most of his socks, and to find a pair that fit required a lot of digging and unballing and trying on. Ain't nobody got time for that, but I shouldn't have grumbled; I can't recollect having ever bought Chip a pair of socks.

Chip's socks (and the rest of his and my other children's clothing for that matter) have always just sort of shown up. We're blessed. We have kind and generous friends. I've filled in the gaps at thrift stores and yard sales, and I've had a complete blast dressing my kids; it's all good.

Kyndra had crammed Chip's dresser drawers right before Christmas, and he had but one unfulfilled clothing need: socks. The pesky socks.

So, yesterday, Rachel gave me a bunch of clothes for Chip. "2T," she said, "for him to grow into," and I almost just crammed the bags into a closet without looking, but something stopped me, and I looked.

Clothes to grow into, sure enough, except for a ton of 12-month socks.

I didn't hesitate; without attempting to sort, I emptied Chip's drawer of all socks and replaced them with the ones from Rachel. And you might think: yeah, yeah, happy coincidence, but I felt it.

I felt God looking down and saying: "I see all your struggles and frustrations, and I care about them. I see you. I care about you." And He does. Of course He does. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Unblogged Happiness

Truth is, I got aggravated and overwhelmed and did a poor job of blogging our December. It seems a pity not to have blogged so much of our holiday cheer, so for the sake of posterity:

1) Cookie Day. This is Christy's and my annual tradition of at least a decade, and Sarah Duffer has participated in one form or another for most of those ten years. What stood out to me, this year, was the participation of Christy's daughter Abi, who's been present for Cookie Day every December of her life. I can close my eyes and see her in an Exersaucer, but this year she brought her own recipe and whipped up her own batch of cookies.

Baby Chip was a total whiny pants, this year, but Cookie Day went on.

Life goes on, and so quickly. Bittersweet, the fast-growing of the children.

2) Tacky Lights. Jim and I think this an ideal Christmas activity with very small children: they're confined, for the most part; the lights are fantastic; and there's no cost aside from gas and the (optional) hot Krispy Kreme doughnut. 

3) Little Kids' Party at Rachel's. Charleigh had been on the podium at gymnastics earlier; thus, her unconventional attire. Somewhere in the archives, there's a similar picture in which the older of these children are much younger, and the younger are unborn. Again, bittersweet, but next year Baby Lake will join the others on the couch, and I'm so excited I can hardly stand myself.

Charleigh and Rachel (Aglow)

4) Bevell's Hardware. This was a new experience for us. We were blessed in that our friends Wendy, Luke, and Cole made the little trip to Blackstone with us, and we were delighted by not only the 18'x56' train display but also the train that gives children rides through the parking lot of the store.

Chip with Bobby Daniels, the Mastermind behind the Train Display

5) Christmas Morning. Santa was good to the little kids on Jesus's birthday. He was good to Cade, too, but Cade's gotten a little dodgy with my camera.

6) Christmas in Tennessee. I want to stay true to my theme of happiness, but our time in (and in route to) Tennessee presented some challenges. So, an aside? Any prayers that you could send up for my mother-in-law would be appreciated. She started chemo and radiation, yesterday.

We drove home in a much nicer minivan; I'm thankful. I'm thankful to have watched my daddy crack open his Bible, to have heard him read the Christmas story to us, one more time. I'm thankful for each moment we shared with our loved ones and for all the gifts, but for my parents' homemade gifts, especially. (I've got a brand new bottle of hopped-up vanilla with which to flavor my cookies: yay!)

Love this photo of Chip with his aunt Jill.


Clementine with her aunt Sarah.

Mom made Charleigh's dress from a clover-seed sack.

7. Shrinky Dink Tree. How had I never had a Shrinky Dink experience, before? I was mesmerized, enchanted, and all the rest.

Clementine Looking in the Oven

Right around the time we started baking the things, Charleigh announced: "I'm going to snuggle with my papaw!" And this is how I found them, just a little while later:

Mom's Hands

8. New Year's Eve at My Brother's House. Food, games, fellowship, and my brother led us in the Lord's Supper: one of the holiday traditions I hold dearest. My mother-in-law joined us, this year; I forgot my camera but managed to capture this with my mom's cell phone:

9. The Unphotographed. Then there was Frozen: Sharon's Christmas gift to the little kids and me. Also an afternoon with Kyndra Steinmann of Sticks, Stones, & Chicken Bones. We'd kept up with one another in the blogosphere for some time but hadn't met until right before her move to Massachusetts. She invited me to go through her children's outgrown clothes (Score!), and it so happened that I needed to drive into Richmond to pick Cade up from the airport. What a blessing to spend time with her and her children. Kyndra, like all the other bloggers I've met in person, is just how she seems in words. And let me not discount the blessing of my big kid's returning safely from Indiana, where he'd attended the funeral of his paternal grandfather.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


I went unnoticed by man most all my life. It seems he appreciates rarely a thing as it is; he wants to make a thing from a thing, and--although I can't explain it, entirely--I know he overlooked me because I didn't inspire his art. He preferred harder things, shadier things, all manner of other things. I didn't let it get to me.

Instead, I concentrated on putting down roots and growing, on becoming a stronger and fuller version of myself. I didn't travel, but my tiniest pieces took flight upon the very breath of God. I learned the secrets of the sun and the swivel-headed, traveling owl. I became a haven for those smaller and weaker than I.

At last, man came for me. Winter had been harsh, and the others were fallen or, at very least, naked; for the first time in my life, I stood out in my full, green dress. Man gave me the up'n'down. I saw admiration burning in his eyes.

Then he cut me abruptly off from myself and dragged me from everything I'd ever known.

He confined me in a hot place, made a mockery of my natural beauty by draping me with a gaudy scarf and covering me with cheap baubles. He offered me a sad pan of water from which to drink, but I could feel myself starting to die.

I fell apart gradually. He gathered up my bits and tossed them into the fire until, one day, he stripped me of the tacky accessories and kicked me to the curb.

The acknowledgment of man (ax murderer!) stole my life. I lost myself (my ever, along with my green). I became no thing. No thing at all.

***Joining Nacole in writing out "evergreen."

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


Boards creak overhead in the middle of the day, and I tell myself what I've told myself so many times before: houses settle. Wood remembers old patterns, sometimes. But then: running feet up there. Too heavy, the steps, to belong to a child.

I walk to the bottom of the stairs and look up, watch shadows dart across the hall from our bedroom to the girls', and then a man-sized being emerges from the shadows of our room. It's somewhat transparent, pale and dark-haired. Its head's tipped downward; I don't see a face as it crosses the hall. 

As it enters the girls' room, I think with relief: it didn't see me. But then I remember: Clementine's napping in that room.


I woke with a start and started praying God's protection over my children. There was no going back to sleep, either. I've been prone to nightmares the last few years and so careful not to watch scary movies and shows. I've had so many zombie nightmares that I won't even allow The Walking Dead as background noise; Jim watches it only when I'm out of earshot. 

I turned this last nightmare over and over in my mind for several days. I turn everything over and over in my mind, all the time. I've been feeling angry and tired and tired of being angry. My face has forgotten how to smile. 

When Jim left, Saturday, I thought: music. I need music. I don't listen to worship music. I don't know why; I just don't: never have. When I'm low, I listen most often to Merle Haggard but sometimes to Billy Joel. Again, I don't know why; I just do: always have.

Saturday, I listened to Billy Joel, and at the end of "She's Always a Woman," he sings:

She is frequently kind and she's suddenly cruel,
She can do as she pleases, she's nobody's fool,
But she can't be convicted, she's earned her degree,
And the most she will do is throw shadows at you
But she's always a woman to me.

I played the song again. "The most she will do is throw shadows at you." I remembered the shadows in my nightmare and thought: what if it's me? What if I'm the zombie: lost up in my own head, throwing shadows at my children? And I don't think so because I don't typically frighten myself, but what a sobering thought, anyway.

Trying to be warmer, more alive, more present.

Self Portrait April 29, 2013

Friday, January 10, 2014

The First Amendment and What It Gets Us

Amendment 1 - Freedom of Religion, Press, Expression

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

A friend of mine linked, on facebook, to an article in the Business Insider about a statue of Baphomet proposed by The Satanic Temple for the grounds of the Oklahoma state Capitol. Scary-looking thing, in my opinion, but a spokesperson for The Satanic Temple explained: people will be able to sit on it--the very lap of the devil!--to think and find inspiration...

...if they can't think and find inspiration just beside Baphomet, I reckon, at the Ten Commandments monument.

The Satanic Temple says it's a First Amendment issue: that Baphomet should be allowed on the grounds of the state Capitol just like the Ten Commandments, that what's fair is fair.

Surely this is a sick joke, I thought, but (although the story is too hot to have even hit Snopes), it doesn't seem to be so. The Internet is plumb eat up with the news.

I know you're just dying to know what I think, so I'm going to tell you.

The First Amendment guarantees the freedom of religion. Your religion, yes, and everyone else's, too. It guarantees the freedom of words: yours and everyone else's, just the same.

The First Amendment might protect Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy, but it also protects those who say they don't want chicken with a side order of Cathy's belief system.

The First Amendment might protect Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson, but it also protects those who say they don't want to hear what he has to say, anymore. (I guess he gets to keep his show, after all, so they can just turn the channel.)

And I know you don't want to hear this, but those who oppose Christianity learn so much from so many Christ followers. "First Amendment! First Amendment! FirstAmendmentFirstAmendment!" We take our perfect Savior--the one who suffered and bled and died because God so loved the world (John 3:16) and because He isn't willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9)--and use Him as a weapon, calling it our constitutional right.

I tell you this as a sold-out follower of Christ: there are times on facebook and in the blogosphere that I feel as though my very own Jesus is being crammed down my very own throat: "You'll take Him, and You'll take Him this way (with a piece of camo-wrapped chicken), and if you don't like it, you don't deserve a place in the USA, let alone in heaven."

If I--again, a sold-out follower of Christ--feel a little like I might choke or vomit...if I feel a little angry (or a lot, like I'd rather like to punch someone in the face), how do you suppose a non-believer feels?

Brothers and sisters, courtesy of the First Amendment, enjoy that mosque near Ground Zero. Enjoy that satanic statue on the grounds of the Oklahoma state Capitol.

Or maybe, instead, just take a step back and ask yourself: for what are you fighting? Are you fighting for souls? Is the Great Commission foremost in your mind? And if so, are you expressing that in the most effective way?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Fire (for Jason Hatfield)

The world knows I love you, or at least, it will now,
and I hold dear what our time taught: a boy and a girl
can be friends and nothing more (although, to be fair,
the rest of my life has revealed the rarity of this).
There are things I know that you only know, with me,
and when I've feared for you, I've feared for myself,
believing my horse lives on, someway, in your head,
along with the girl who rode her. And I love that girl:
look back and see my thundering from innocence,
losing control, crossing every line (just never with you).
I needed reigning in, but that was never your deal;
you would've vouched for me no matter my tragic truth.

Today, I remembered the burnt forest (Can you hear my
telling it in a whisper?) and how quietly we rode there.
I don't know why we rode there; it was bare and charred,
ugly, wanting. What was it? What was it? What. Was. It?
Fascination with post-destruction, maybe, and maybe
we learned what we learned there against this very day.
The fire does not take it all. Most of what a thing is
lives under the surface and cannot be burnt away and up.
Even if, say, the fire kills a man, his soul will take flight,
settle in the light of another place. We live in this truth,
you and I; we'll never die. The burnt forest isn't. Burnt.
(It's a forest, still.) Birds sing, trees whisper, of us there.

**Linking at the Poetry Jam. Visit to read more offerings on "fire."

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

On Discouragement. And Santa Claus.

I don't know why I blog-interrupt myself unless it's that sometimes I open the floodgates, and it feels so good to release what hurts that I don't want to stop.

Several people have had things to say about my word for the year, and I should say first of all: if you're kind enough to care that you may have hurt me on facebook or in the blogosphere, it probably wasn't you.

And it wasn't just one person, anyway, or regarding one topic. I could compile a list of all the posts I allowed to disrupt my inner peace last year, and guaranteed: your mouth would hang plumb open.

It's my problem. I have an anger problem. I have a getting-over-it problem.

I've been trying so hard to pray and work it out, and it's probably even more complicated than I realize or can articulate, but I'll tell you right now: I'm incredibly apt to judge a judger. So sad. So sinful.

Also, I think what we say and how we say it matters. I'll never utter or write a word for which I won't take personal responsibility, and I'm not going to lie: I think everyone should operate that way.

And then there's this: unless I've sought your advice, or unless you're one of my trusted advisors (and you'll know if you are!), I would prefer that you not tell me what to do. Tell me what you do, by all means. Tell me a story, your story, any story. But don't tell me what my story should be.

So. Santa Claus. I read this post before Christmas, and I'm not going to link to it or name the blogger, but she was writing against the whole Santa Claus thing, and it was even more than that. It was a call to action: a "mothers stand with me" type thing.

And you know, my own pastor's against the Santa Claus thing, and it doesn't bother me. He doesn't make me feel pressured to do things differently. He doesn't make me feel judged. Upon reading this blogger's post, on the other hand, I felt more discouraged than I've felt in a long time.

I wanted to put my head down and cry. Am I feeling convicted? I asked myself.

And no.

My children know that Christmas is Jesus's birthday. Charleigh played with our nativity set all season; in fact, I think "Joe" lost another body part. We participated in the Bethlehem Walk. At our church, the girls blew out candles on a birthday cake for Jesus, and we attended Christmas Eve service. And--as he does every year--my daddy read the Christmas story to us straight from his Bible.

Our Santa Claus works in a copy shop just down the street. We visit him throughout the year, and he passes the girls little cards that say: "Santa caught me being good." My children were the only ones in the copy shop when we visited in December; Santa changed into his fancy clothes just for them. He held them and loved on them for the longest time. It was beautiful. I flat-out refuse to believe our Santa has stolen anything from anyone...including Jesus.

And you know something else? True conviction of the Lord never makes me want to give up or quit. True conviction of the Lord never makes me cuss under my breath. True conviction of the Lord never makes me want to punch out a sister.

Now, let me be careful and clear here: it's not my place to judge my sister's heart or intentions in writing that post. I'm not bold enough to say that post wasn't of the Lord or that He didn't intend those words for someone else. I will even grant that He may change my heart over the Santa Claus thing down the road. God doesn't change us all at once, you know; if He did, our heads would pop off.

All I'm saying is: I allowed that blogger's words to discourage me during this season of my life and that--especially since it wasn't the first or only time I've felt discouraged by them, recently--I don't intend to return to her blog.


Jesus's Birthday Cake

Christmas Eve Service

Yes, there's an elephant in there. There was also a tin man, at one point, and a police officer.