a toast to my parents

Photograph by YiMay Yang

My brother and I threw a retirement party for my parents at their house this past weekend, and it was a blast to celebrate with family and friends. We enjoyed Tex-Mex food catered from Abuelo's, watermelon & cucumber water, peach Bellinis, French macarons, homemade carrot cake and key lime pie, and cookies from Savannah Bakery (and more), along with great conversations and laughter. My main prayer for this party was for my parents to feel loved and blessed, and from what they tell me, they were indeed.

Somewhere along the way as I planned the party with my brother, I realized that I would have to give a toast. I kind of panicked because I've never spoken in public. I took a deep breath and decided to act like a writer — write my thoughts down, and read from a piece of paper. There is so much more I could have said, but I hope you'll get the idea: My parents are two of my heroes.

A Toast to Coach Strother and Queen Kitty Ann

Whenever I meet someone who is a teacher or a coach, I instantly think of my parents. To me, they define what these professions are truly about, and how to do them well. I believe this not just because I’m their daughter and I’m biased, but because I experienced their gifts in coaching and teaching firsthand. 

At my dad’s suggestion, I tried to play basketball and volleyball in middle school, but I didn’t inherit the athletic genes — I remember scoring a basket for the opposing team in 7th grade. I was slightly better at volleyball, receiving the Most Improved Player award in 8th grade. That ended my athletic career when I decided to participate in drill team in high school. But I’ll never forget my dad’s encouragement to try sports, and him hugging me and saying, “Well done,” even when I helped the other basketball team take the lead. He always wanted me to just try and do my best, and I always knew that he was proud of me no matter what. In the years since high school, many former students and athletes have told me how much they admired Coach Strother for this same encouragement, support, and unconditional love.

I took my mom’s Honors World History class in 10th grade, which was a very creative class that reflected her unique and genius approach to teaching. Among other assignments, we recorded a video of the class dancing to The Bangles’ song “Walk Like an Egyptian” — to enhance our understanding of the historical Egyptian culture, of course. She also helped me with countless school projects and papers, and was a co-drill team director one year. Before or after school, or in between classes, there were always kids in her classroom talking with her, confiding in her, laughing with her, crying with her. It never surprised me how kids were drawn to her like a magnet, and how deeply they loved her. She loved them — all of them — more deeply than they ever knew, and wanted them to learn and grow with every fiber of her zany, fun-loving being.

I also pulled up my knee socks for Principal Strother in high school, but I’ll tell you a little secret: He didn’t really care about those knee socks. He was just doing his job. But today is not about me and my memories. We are here to celebrate the careers of Jim and Julie Strother, whom I have watched love students my entire life — sometimes to the point of exhaustion, and sometimes with such a pure love that I felt as if I had hundreds of siblings along with my awesome brother, Jody. My parents have not only been teachers, and a coach, for 44 years, but they have also been a bodily form of Jesus Christ’s sacrificial love to students across the state of Texas for 44 years. Much more than wanting to teach the subjects of mathematics, history, or athletics, their deepest desire has always been to teach students about the unfailing love of Christ, to cultivate a passion for His word, and to teach them to live their lives guided by faith in Jesus. My parents may be done with the classroom and the football field, but they will never be done with teaching kids about Jesus and His love. I can promise you that.

I raise my glass to you, Mom and Dad. I’m so proud of you, and I love you. Cheers to you both!


editing suburbia

Photograph by Dave Allen

I have a new essay on The Curator — "Editing Suburbia." I recently read a tweet by Ethan McCarthy which said, "Good writers thank their editors." In the hopes of being a good writer, I'm truly grateful for my editors for this essay: Curator Editor-in-Chief Adam Joyce and Assistant Editor Laura Lynn Brown. When I first turned in my essay, they both encouraged me to dig deeper in my thoughts about faithful omission and what exactly I wanted to say at various points in the piece. They asked more of me than other editors have in the past, but I'm thankful because their editorial direction taught me a lot more about the writing process and how to write well. Thanks again, Adam and Laura.

Now I'm working on an essay for the Art House America Blog. As the Editor of that website, I don't write for it very often, so I'm really honored to do so. And with that, it's time to get back to the writing. It's not easy, but it's good, good work.


20 things I love

My bed at The Glen Workshop in South Hadley, MA, 2012.

Okay, so this is another list, but I'm trying to make good on some promises I made to friends. Today I'm sharing a list of 20 things I love for Laura Lynn Brown, in response to her post on the Makes You Mom blog which she also edits.

This list could easily change each day — heck, by the hour — but for today, right now, here's what comes to mind pertaining to the rules that Laura quoted her friend Rebecca to say, "Not family, friends, or Jesus. We know that."

1. Twinkle lights — anywhere, anytime.

2. Many shades of blue, my favorite colors.

3. Sunshine.

4. Dark roast coffee.

5. A glass of wine at the end of a long day.

6. Used bookstores.

7. Making my husband laugh, much to my surprise. He is much funnier than I am.

8. Reading in bed.

9. Birdsong.

10. The smell of gardenias. And honeysuckle.

11. Granny Smith apples.

12. Ethiopian food, especially red lentils (yemissir wot) & injera bread, and honey wine (tej).

13. Burning soft Japanese incense in the morning.

14. Lip sync battles on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. My favorite one to date is Emma Stone's win.

15. French macarons — pistachio is my favorite flavor.

16. Walking (or driving) while listening to a good podcast. Fresh Air with Terry Gross is my all-time favorite, though I love many others.

17. A really good mail day — letters from friends, paychecks, Books & Culture, Image Journal, etc.

18. My necklace with an American Goldfinch pendant.

19. Walking to the lake in my parents' neighborhood in The Colony, TX.

20. Sightings of Great Egrets in the sky.

Care to share your current top 20 in the comments or on your blog? I'd love to read your lists.


writing update & love list

Photograph by James Charlick 

I've been wanting to revive my blog for a long time, but I don't have time for a full-on narrative today. Let's start with a writing update and a love list, shall we?

My writing:

I have a new essay in Proximity Magazine — "A Strange and Common Meal." I reflected on the Communion Table and how it inspires other tables and forms of togetherness in our lives. Many thanks to the editor, Towles Kintz, and to the other writers in the "At the Table" issue for their inspiration.

I have forthcoming essays in The Curator, and the lovely Makes You Mom blog edited by Laura Lynn Brown. I'm working on the first essay right now — it's inspired by this fascinating article in The Atlantic about Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard.

Love list:

I've fallen in love with literary graphic novels again. On a recent trip to the library, I devoured Here by Richard McGuire in one sitting. Then I checked out The Sculptor by Scott McCloud and devoured all 496 pages at home. I renewed that book at the library so that my husband can read it, too. I gave The Sculptor 5/5 stars on Goodreads. It is beautiful, heartbreaking, powerful.

Now I'm reading these 3 books. And I bought Compass of Affection: Poems New and Selected by Scott Cairns at Houston Baptist University's Writers' Conference this past weekend. Cairns talked about vocation and read some of his poetry on the opening night and it was truly a slice of heaven.

I was not feeling well at the conference, but I pushed myself to the end of the final day. And so I came down with a cold + allergies due to Houston's current violent allergens permeating the air. I spent one day of recovery doing nothing but reading, eating soup and Vietnamese spring rolls, and watching TV and a great film — The One I Love. I really can't say anything about it without giving the unique story away. I will say that it's like a romantic comedy meets The Twilight Zone. And Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) from Mad Men is one of the main characters. Okay, her name is Sophie in the movie. It is highly recommended, and it's streaming on Netflix right now.

If you had told me pre-marriage that I would enjoy comic book-inspired films and TV shows, I would have laughed in your face. I had zero interest in such things way back then. But fast forward 12 years, and I do enjoy such art now, thanks to my husband. I was so sick after the writers' conference that I thought I watched episode 1 of Netflix's Daredevil, but I actually watched episode 4. My regards to the writers, though, because it worked as a pilot. I've now watched episode 1, and I eagerly await episode 2. It's super violent, but an excellent show. My husband thinks it's the best thing that Marvel has ever done, and I agree.

Last night my husband and I watched the series finale of FX's Justified, inspired by Elmore Leonard's short story, "Fire in the Hole." Oh my goodness, y'all, I became quite attached to those characters, particularly Raylan Givens, Ava Crowder, and Boyd Crowder. I didn't want any of them to die, and, well . . . you'll have to watch the show yourself to find out what happens to this dysfunctional trinity. Also, if you love bourbon as much as I do, you'll appreciate and be amazed by how much Kentucky whiskey these people drink. Too much, really, but it's impressive. Also, when I'm irritated (or tipsy), I can do a pretty good imitation of Ava's voice, rich with a true Southern drawl. This is very redemptive for me because people never think I sound like I'm from Texas.

Psalms by Sandra McCracken. Y'all must buy this record. It is rich, soulful, and absolutely beautiful. It's currently on repeat as I'm working, cooking, driving, walking our dog, taking a shower . . . you get the idea. It's gorgeous.

Home by Josh Garrels. My current favorite song is "At the Table," but the whole record is so great. By the way, you can download it for free on NoiseTrade.

Look me up on Spotify to see what else I'm listening to, and to listen to my playlists. I'd like to own all of those records on vinyl. One day, I hope.

Visual art
Read this Byway Collective interview with Ellen Cline, a very talented potter, installation artist, and photographer who goes to my Church. I'd also like to own a collection of her tableware one day. I'll start with a coffee mug.

I'm really taken with the photography of Alex Currie right now. I mean, images like this one are magical. And this self-portrait looks like a Jacob Collins painting.

Back to the current violent allergens in the Houston air, these remedies are saving my life:

If you are suffering from allergies, go forth and buy these homeopathic Godsends.

I use Dr.  Hauschka Translucent Face Powder which I admit is pretty pricey. But it's the best powder I've ever used, it lasts a long time, and it pays off when they send along free samples with my order like Lavender Sandalwood Calming Body Cream. I tried it today and it smells amazing, it's very moisturizing, and it is truly a calming aromatherapeutic scent. I might save my pennies for a full-sized tube.

Whenever my face breaks out, I'm thankful for the Zum Lab Pimple Stick which works very well, and it smells good which is a plus. My husband and I are also fans of their Frankincense & Myrrh line of products.

That's all I have time today for, folks. I'll include podcasts, what I'm reading on the web, and food and drink in my next love list. Please share your love lists in the comments. I've missed this blog community — it's good to be connected to you here again, friends.

All other photography is by yours truly. Join me on Instagram, won't you?


days like these

My husband and mother-in-law left early this morning to help green our church for Advent and Christmas. I'm getting over a stubborn head cold, so I slept in until I could will myself out of a NyQuil stupor.

I enjoyed the peaceful quiet, momentarily interspersed with the exuberant voices of boys playing football in our neighbors' yard across the street. (Later the game moved out into the street. One shorter kid repeatedly protested, "Really?? I'm wide open here!")

I filled the French Press with decaf Sumatra, peeled and savored clementines, and mulled over the parallel glory of Revelation 7 and Ezekiel 9. I made scrambled eggs in coconut oil, and gluten-free toast smothered in local, raw honey.

After breakfast, I carried the French Press up to my office — I was not about to waste any of that precious dark roast coffee. I need to finish reading Lila by Marilynne Robinson by tomorrow for a writing assignment due next week, so I reveled in the luxury of reading page after page after page, and taking several pages of notes. 

Some time later my husband texted, "Are you hungry? We're going to Torchy's Tacos." Um, yes. Please. He brought home 2 Mr. Oranges — salmon and other goodness wrapped in corn tortillas.

I made a cup of tea, read some more, and listened to a Spotify playlist created by a friend called "Jenni."

Then I stumbled upon a poem by Marilyn McEntyre via Ruminate Magazine's Instagram feed. Writers do indeed rely on the following things, and also days like these.

What Writers Rely On

An ear for local speech.
Their third grade English teachers.
Overheard conversation.
Accurate facts.
Childhood wounds.
Ruthless editors.
Tolerant families.
Very sharp pencils.
Strong verbs.
Fat dictionaries.
A cat in the window.
Or a dog on the beach.
Clean windows and wide views.
The refrigerator hum.
Iambic pentameter.
Eccentric relatives.
Bus rides.
Good visual memories.
User-friendly software.
Air conditioning.
Or heat.
Long walks.


window light

I'm not the world's best sleeper, so I often pray for the Lord to give me, His beloved, sleep (Psalm 127), and for help to lie down in peace and sleep, for the Lord alone makes me dwell in safety (Psalm 4). Lately, I've been sleeping better than I have in a long time and I'm grateful. I realize we can function on less sleep than we desire, but I am truly a different, better person when I sleep well. My behavior is also more tolerable when there is sunshine — my psyche can only take gray for so long.

I should also confess that most mornings I'm grumpy, hoping that no conversation will be necessary. I may have peace in my soul and a faithful expectation for the day, but pre-coffee I can't quite verbalize such optimism. It's like the virtues don't have a clear path through all the neurons to reach my lips. Today was different. I had a good night's sleep. I didn't even stir when my husband left for his early morning drum gig. I woke up at 8:00 am, not 9:30 or 10:00 as my tired body wants to do lately — I'm doing a cleanse to rid myself of fungal toxins and man, cleansing is tiresome, bodily work. This morning I actually opened my eyes and smiled for God's sake. I spied blue sky through a window and smiled again. Thanksgiving came out of my mouth. I mean, this was a miraculous, holy moment.

I fed the cats then settled into the armchair with a gloriously large mug of chicory coffee and Psalm 23. I remembered some beautiful words that my friend Marc Omar shared on Facebook:

Old folks are aware and emotionally connected to the reality that Goodness and Mercy shall follow them all the days of our lives if we are in Christ. Psalm 23 resonates deeply with me — The Good Shepherd loves me and He has assigned Goodness and Mercy to follow me. I tried to ditch them and wallow in self-pity or fear but they are obstinate. Goodness and Mercy are glued to me like chewing gum on hair.

I read through Psalm 23 again, slowly. I love verse 5: You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows. I often think of that cup brimming over when I see the Big Dipper in the night sky. 

* * *

Sunlight flooded through our windows. I smelled traces of myrrh that my husband and I burned last night to celebrate the season of Epiphany. I picked up a favorite book of mine, A Diary of Private Prayer by John Baillie, and turned to "Seventh Day — Morning." My heart skipped a beat with joy as I prayed:

O LORD and Maker of all things, from whose creative power the first light came forth, who didst look upon the world's first morning and see that it was good, I praise Thee for this light that now streams through my windows to rouse me to the life of another day.

I praise Thee for the life that stirs within me:
I praise Thee for the bright and beautiful world into which I go:
I praise Thee for the earth and sea and sky, for scudding cloud and singing bird:
I praise Thee for the work Thou has given me to fill my leisure hours:
I praise Thee for my friends:
I praise Thee for music and books and good company and all pure pleasures.

O Thou who Thyself art everlasting Mercy, give me a tender heart today towards all those to whom the morning light brings less joy than it brings me:

Those in whom the pulse of life grows weak:
Those in who must lie abed through all the sunny hours:
The blind, who are shut off from the light of day:
The overworked, who have no joy of labour:
The bereaved, whose hearts and homes are desolate:
And grant Thy mercy on them all.

O Light that never fades, as the light of day now streams through these windows and floods this room, so let me open to Thee the windows of my heart, that all my life may be filled by the radiance of Thy presence. Let no corner of my being be unillumined by the light of Thy countenance. Let there be nothing within me to darken the brightness of the day. Let the Spirit of Him whose life was the light of men rule within my heart till eventide. Amen.

I'm telling you, all of Baillie's prayers are golden. Y'all, enjoy this week — every day, everywhere you go, goodness and mercy will chase you. He will catch you and never let you go.


on reading in 2013 and 2014

Yesterday I cleared away our breakfast dishes, tossed clean laundry in the dryer, Swiffered the bathroom floor, then plopped down in the armchair to peruse Facebook for a few minutes. Perhaps I should have done my editorial work first, but my Facebook meanderings led to feasts of knowledge about good books. My friend Anna Tesch mentioned Eugene Peterson's newest collection of poetry, Holy Luck. I quickly added it to my to-read list on Goodreads. Laura Ortberg Turner mentioned a few books about anxiety on her blog. Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry by Amy Simpson caught my eye, but it doesn't release until October — I made a mental note to read it later in the year. I read several of Alissa Wilkinson's blog posts, including "A Year in Reading" and "Reading List for 2014." Alissa is one of the top 10 people who inspire me to read well. And so I also added This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett and Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power by Andy Crouch.

While adding to my ever-growing to-read list, I noticed an alert from Goodreads — Share the books you read in 2013. I hesitated because I recalled reading very little, but for the sake of honesty I clicked the link to find out just how meagerly I read last year. Nine books. Ouch. It was worse than I thought. But given the chaos of 2013 I wasn't that surprised. Before I touch on that lack of serenity, allow me to share a few highlights of the books that I did complete:

CMYK: The Process of Life Together by Justin McRoberts is an inspiring collection of letters, essays, song lyrics, and interviews with visual artists. I also had the immense pleasure of editing this book. All bias aside, I highly recommend it along with the accompanying EPs and full-length album. I interviewed Justin about his entire CMYK project for the Art House America Blog — all of these things are worth your time set aside for reading and listening.

The Exact Place by Margie L. Haack is hands-down one of the best memoirs I have ever read. It is exquisitely written, hilarious, and deeply moving. As the General Editor of Kalos Press I might seem biased once again, but truly, you must read this book.

Johnny took me on a date to an Imprint Khaled Hosseini reading downtown in September, which made me love And the Mountains Echoed (and Hosseini's other books) all the more. I could sit and listen to good authors talk about writing for hours and hours.

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell — I really don't have the accurate words to describe this stunning novel. I read it upon the recommendation of a friend I met at Glen East 2012 (thank you, Emily). You can take Glen folks at their word when it comes to books, music, and visual art. My husband read this book several years ago and he, too, gave it high praise. It is sci-fi yet beautifully literary. It is the book I've pondered most in 2013 — the characters, the grand scope of the story, and the tragic ending have stayed with me closely ever since. Oh, Emilio Sandoz — I have not loved or ached more for a fictional character since I met Reuben Land in the pages of Peace Like a River by Leif Enger.

Speaking of Peace Like a River, I decided to reread it in December 2013. It would have made my Goodreads book list for the year, but I've been reading it slowly, savoring every word. Anyone who knows me understands my passion for this book, but as rereading your favorites will do, I've swooned more dramatically during the second reading. I've laughed out loud (in bed while my husband was sleeping), squinted through tears in my eyes, and caught many insightful details I missed the first time around. In fact, I've enjoyed the art of rereading so much that after I read the sequel to The Sparrow — Children of God — I'm going to reread Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen since a recent online quiz revealed that in the world of fiction, I am Elizabeth Bennet. That's quite a compliment. I might even write about the art of rereading. We shall see.

Now, back to why I didn't read much during 2013. Basically, it was a year in which I wrestled with anxiety like never before. I've always been a worrisome creature, but this past year my fears almost consumed me. I was also dealing with some health issues, and my internal stress made these discomforts worse. I didn't truly live my life — it felt like I was watching it. And I was completely distracted from what is good, true, and beautiful — including books, which I've devoured ever since I read Heidi by Johanna Spyri at age 3. Books have been a consistent pleasure and blessing to me, and one of my best therapies.

Here at the start of 2014 I haven't made a list of resolutions. Rather, I have some pretty basic goals which could be written on a perpetual calendar:

* Trust God — set my eyes to Him like a flint, especially when I'm afraid.

* Be joyful and laugh. Be peaceful. Be thankful.

* Love my husband well.

* Love my family and friends well.

* Write regularly.

* Do good work, both editorially and in our home.

* Continue to learn the art of waiting.

* Take to learning and making with my hands — guitar, cooking, knitting, and so on.

* Read the Bible starting with Genesis. I'd say I've read 95% of the Bible, but I've never read it in the order it was published, cover to cover. I'm following my husband's lead here. He's full of great ideas.

* Read more good books — fiction, memoir, and poetry in particular. Theology, too.

I'm not about to say how many books I plan to read in 2014 — that's not what is important to me. I'm a slow reader anyway. But I can honestly say that 9 books is not my best effort. It's time to input more than I output. I spent so much of last year voicing my fears and complaining. This year I want to replace that kind of vapid speech with the Truth and good writing. And pick up a book any time I'm tempted to sit and worry, and, well, spend too much time on the social medias. Nothing against the latter — I just want the balance to tip more toward the tangible.

As for January 2014, I'm working on these 6 books, reading Genesis aloud, and looking forward to the aforementioned Children of God. Oh, also — an old, lovely book I pulled off our bookshelves last night which I gleaned from working at Half Price Books: Writers at Work (The Paris Review Interviews, 4th Series).

Tolle lege, my friends.