5 ways to encourage play in children.

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Well, first of all, friends, can I just say that I’m excited to not just point you to other things around the web in a couple of weeks here? It’s been an incredible month of making progress on my manuscript (17,326 words thus far – and hopefully another 6,000 to go). But I miss our interactions. I miss the interactions writing here and there around the internets provides us. So, here’s to health in balancing book writing, article writing, blog writing and sermon writing sometime in September again!

Meanwhile, if you have young children and sometimes find yourself stuck in knowing how to encourage play in them, consider leaning into this article written for MOPS. Or, dive into the beginning of it here:

They only needed pen and paper in order to get started yesterday. Somehow, making lists turned into drawing pictures of fire, and drawing fire turned into a game of Fire Chief for the next hour. Two little boys ran around the house, putting out “forest fires” in the living room, the bedroom and Mama and Daddy’s room alike.

As I watched my children, ages 2 and 4, enter into this world of imagination and play, I almost did a little skip in the air: They’re playing without me!

They don’t need me to sit in on playtime quite so much anymore, even though I more-than enjoy watching their creative juices flow. Although I loved them as babies, I love who they’re becoming – little boys who thrive on play, on creating imaginative worlds all their own. And it makes me want to do everything I can to encourage this critical element of childhood for them.

The American Academy of Pediatricians agrees. In a 2007 report, play promotes healthy development, and even helps maintain strong parent-child bonds: “Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive and emotional strength.” Isn’t this the desire of every parent?

Let’s invite our children to just be kids and play ­– and, in case you need a couple of ideas, here are five things that have worked for my boys:

Curious as to what those five things that encouraged play for my boys were? Click here to read the rest of the article, then make it happen in your house or with a small child near you.

Let’s play!

How do YOU encourage play with the children in your life? What are some of your favorite memories of playing from your childhood? 

holy spirit conditioner.

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Today I’ve got a story of conditioner (which we use a lot of in our house), the messiness of life (as evidenced by every hour of every day), and a story of friendship (which I’m always learning and growing in, that’s for sure). Here’s a nugget of the article, or you can head on over to She Loves Magazine to read the whole thing!

We go through a lot of conditioner in our house.

My husband and I use extra conditioner on our boys’ hair when it’s washed, then we spray down their curls with a leave-in detangler most every day in between. We comb through the tangles until the ringlets pop and bounce, mostly because they can’t do it themselves, partially because I refuse to shave their heads quite yet. My younger son, whose hair is longer, curlier, coarser, can’t stand the process, but for the time being, I’m bound and determined to have one curly-haired baby boy.

If we don’t have conditioner, all hair-hell breaks loose. Gnarled baby dreadlocks stand in place of ringlets. A matted mess threatens the back heads, the spot a permanent reminder of the previous night’s sleep.

And sometimes, I must say, I feel like I’m in need of my own extra dollop of conditioner, too.

Because life, man: it’s messy.

Relationships are messy. Schedules and calendars and deadlines are messy. Political and racial wars are messy. The division that so easily exists between Christians–and the way we tend to forget that Christ remains the center, even when we disagree–is messy.

Sometimes it feels like everywhere I look, and everywhere I step, and everything I put a listening ear to is consumed by mess. My own hair a tangled mat of curls, I find myself reaching for a bottle of conditioner to pour like honey over my hair.

Is it just me?

Do you ever feel the same?

Don’t worry: it does not end with questions, even though that is the best way to end a story sometimes. So, head on over to She Loves Magazine to read the rest of the tale.

Happy August!

xo, c.

Holy Spirit Conditioner: what the Jesus mumbo-jumbo is that? I know, I was thinking the same thing, but then it just came on out. So, your thoughts? Do tell!

when there’s more than enough to go around.

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Too often, I don’t think there’s enough to go around. I forget that there’s more than enough food, and there’s more than enough resources. There’s more than enough room for all of us to sit at the table – for me to write and you to write, for me to parent and you to parent, for me to create and you to create.

I believe more in scarcity than I do in abundance.

So, in this month of believing that the world really can handle another book, another memoir, another conversation about race, I’m embracing abundance. I’ve written about it at Gifted for Leadership, so click here to read the whole thing (or read this excerpt):

There were 60 of us in the room that day, and only 8 were women. We’d been chosen, called, or assigned (however you want to say it) to speak at summer camps across the United States. I wish I could say that as I sat in two days of intensive training, every part of me was marked by Paul’s words in Romans 10:15, “Blessed are the feet of those who bring good news!” Instead, a fierce spirit of competition seeded its way inside of me, burrowing into my soul, and into every sinewy part of my body. I wanted to be the best. I suppose that’s where I went wrong.

Since it was my first speaking assignment, I knew that I wouldn’t be the best camp speaker in the room. I could swallow my pride and admit that I had space to grow. But if nothing else, I could at least be the best of the women in the room. Was that so hard? Was that asking too much of God? I began to see my sisters in Christ (who’d been entrusted with the same task) not as fellow travelers on the road, but as fierce competitors in the game. I began to believe there wasn’t room for all of us at the table. Only one of us could make it to the top. Only one of us could claim the top prize at the end of the day. I saw my sisters in Christ as my enemies.

But that’s not all. Not only did I want to be the best of the eight women there, I wanted to keep all the glory and honor to myself. I didn’t want to let anyone else in, especially not any other women—not because I thought my peers were less qualified, but because I wanted to hoard the achievement for myself. I wanted to become the star of my own Jesus-centered reality television show. I thought there was only room for my talents and gifts. I’d push any other woman aside who dared proclaim Jesus’ name.

Where in the muck and mire of ugly competition is Christ? Where in this belief is the God of abundance and the Spirit of more-than-lavish generosity?

Care to read it in its entirety? Click here!

xo, c.

So, scarcity: when do you fall prey to it? Abundance: when have you jumped on the train and believed it? 

two words: gilmore girls.

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I came to Gilmore Girls a little late in life, nearly fifteen years after it first aired. I’d just had a newborn, and as you may have heard or experienced, newly-plucked-from-the-womb humans like to party in the middle of the night. Mine was no exception.

Some parents, when it comes to 2:30 am feeding responsibilities, finally get to reading Crime and Punishment or Madame Bovary.  I may like to get my read on, but I was not one of those literary-minded parents, and instead relied on binge-watching all sorts of shows in order to not fall asleep on my child.

Enter Gilmore Girls. And enter the much-anticipated, four-part reunion I can’t wait to see starting November 25th! You can read all about it here, or keep on reading for a little snippet of my words:

Some things never change.

Back in your hometown, you drive down the same street you once learned to ride your bike on. Memories of childhood flood you. You finger the books on your bookshelves, but still believe nothing beats an afternoon with Anne of Green Gables. And when it comes to television, nothing brings you back to slouching on the couch with girlfriends like an episode of Gilmore Girls.

If you’re anything like me, you likely squealed with glee at the Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life trailer that released just this week. And if this little snippet of Stars Hollow is any indication, I doubt we’ll be disappointed.

The music is just the same: why build a soundtrack to Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself” when a late nineties Sarah McLaughlin tune will do just fine? In fact, better than fine. I wouldn’t have it any other way. And the scene is exactly as you might imagine, with “Lorelai” (Lauren Graham) and “Rory” (Alexis Bledel) at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and eating Pop-Tarts. Their go-to diet.

Head on over to For Her and read the rest of the article if you haven’t already. Otherwise, go Team Lorelai!

xo, c.

I know: I’m so white. But I sure love me some Gilmore Girls, and I doubt this will change at the end of November. So, what did you love or hate about the show, and what of the trailer makes you GIDDY with excitement? 

*Contains Amazon Affiliate links, yo!

the knockoff (book club podcast #5)

Book club podcast, book club podcast! 

As most of you know, I’m taking a break from the blog for the month of August, mostly so I can get work done on my manuscript. (And it’s working – amazing how focusing on one thing actually promotes creativity). But, if you’re anything like me, your brain still needs to rest. You still need to laugh. And if you’re a reader, you most definitely need a stack of brainless summer reads to fulfill all reading responsibilities.

Insert The Knockoff by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza, for your summer reading pleasure.

Shalom Book Club with Cara and Osheta
Photo cred: Karen M. @onemorepageblog

The book is fun. And funny. And horribly stereotypical toward the Millennial generation (which Osheta the Millennial and Cara the Gen Xer talk about in depth). Sometimes all the drama between the two characters, Imogen Tate and Eve Morton, felt a little too canned, like the authors were just begging for a movie adaptation. But the bottom line is this: it really is the perfect summer read.

So, head on over to iTunes and listen to episode 19 on the podcast.  

Also, be sure to grab a copy of The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love, our August book of the month. I just started it a couple of days ago, and let me tell you: this YA read is FUN. If you like nerdy, Comic Con-loving high school students, then I have a feeling you’ll love this book.

Happy reading!

So, The Knockoff: did you read it? Like it, hate it, decide to use it as a dartboard because it was that disliked? Otherwise, what’s the BEST book you’ve read this summer? 

get your butt in the chair.

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You knew this was coming: I need to get my butt in the chair.

I’ve been doing a lot of writing lately, as you may have seen whenever I beg you to follow the link to something I’ve written. (And thank you, thank you, thank you – it means the world, it really does!) I love writing shorter pieces, and it’s been fun getting my words out in the world – but I’ve also neglected that longer love, my manuscript.

So, for the month of August, I’ll point you to various pieces around the web, but I won’t be creating any new blog content for the next month.

In the meantime, I’d love for you to read this post I wrote for my friend, Siv. You can click here to read all of it, or catch a short preview here:

I spent 45 minutes crafting a single sentence last night.

You see, the perfect idea existed somewhere in the back of my brain. I knew where I wanted to say it. I had an idea of how it would help the article come together, but the actual practice of clearly communicating what I wanted to say took more than a little while to get there.

I don’t think I’m the only one.

Anne Lamott, my writing saint of saints, says that it’s merely a matter of getting your butt in the chair. But taking the time to sit down, to wait for inspiration and creativity to come, is oftentimes the hardest practice of all.

On Saturday, I sat across from a young woman who wants to be a writer. She has a book idea down pat, so much so that she’s even carved an outline of its contents.

“So, have you written the book yet?” I asked her. She looked at me and laughed.

“No,” she replied. “I’m waiting.”

I, of course, continued to ask her questions. After all, she asked to meet with me about writing; she wanted to know how I’d gotten from Point A (teaching) to Point B (ministry) to Point C (writing). Naturally, I wanted to know the secret of her waiting game. It wasn’t a matter of time: working part-time, she knew she had more than enough hours in the day.

She was waiting for someone to want her. She was waiting for someone in the publishing industry to hear her great idea and offer her a book contract on the spot. She was waiting for the world to see and hear and believe in her potential, even though she’d hardly done any of the work to get there.

I leaned across the table and locked eyes with her.

“You have to do the hard work, my friend,” I told her, as gently as I could. And then I told her my story.

I’d love for you to head on over to Miracles in the Mundane, and read the rest of my story. Otherwise, I’ll catch you in September!

So, how do YOU need to get your butt in the chair? What do you need to say NO to, in order to yield a mighty, holy YES? 

10 ways to avoid burnout.

Burn out: it’s a real thing. I experienced it in the classroom, and I experienced it in ministry. I come close to experiencing it as a mom and as a writer when I don’t have the help I need, or when I spend all my free hours crafting my words.

So, the last thing I want is for the same thing to happen to you. Click here to read ten ways YOU can avoid burnout, or check out the PDF She Loves created of the article below:

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Curious as to the story beforehand, or a further explanation of the ten ways you too can prevent burn out? (I know, it’s so Smoky the Bear of me). Head on over to She Loves Magazine to read the whole article.

In this life of wholeness with you!

So, have you experienced burnout? What did you do to get yourself out of the burnout hole, especially as it pertains to vocation? 

this isn’t about you making a black friend.

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“But how do I join in the conversation about race if I don’t know any black people? And what if there aren’t actually any black people who live around me?” Her questions were earnest, her desire genuine. I’d spoken at her church earlier that morning, on the theme of racial reconciliation. As a white woman and as a Christian, it’s a topic I find myself learning more about every day, even if I sometimes feel like the least qualified one in the room to speak.

I looked at her. I may have gawked.

“Well,” I replied. “Maybe it’s not about you making friends with black people. Or maybe it is – but I think there’s a little more to it than that.”

Here’s the thing: even though people want to be handed answers, I don’t think straight answers can or even should be handed to them. I believed this when I once stood in front of a high school English classroom, and I believe this now, when many of my white friends find themselves grappling with conversations of race, most of them for the first time.

It’s not a matter of having swallowed the wrong pill – the blue pill or the red pill, as one friend accused me of doing a couple of weeks ago (the result of which is a mass of liberal bile he believes now resides in my intestinal track). But it’s a matter of my eyes being opened to the world around me.

It is no longer my privilege to avoid talking about police brutality toward the black community (and toward African American men in particular), when another man is shot by those who are supposed to be protecting him.

And it is no longer my privilege to chalk this up as a problem of the black community, to believe that this only applies to people whose skin is a darker shade than my own.

It is also no longer my privilege to remain silent.

“In the end,” Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” 

I don’t want to be someone who remains silent toward my friends, just as I don’t want to deny a friend the beauty of how their racial identity plays a part in their story.

But when it comes to these questions of friendship, we need to examine our motives.

Almost two years ago, this article ran in the Washington Post. I agree with everything Christopher Ingraham wrote, including his opening line from comedian Chris Rock: “All my black friends have a bunch of white friends. And all my white friends have one black friend.”

But as my friend Bethany pointed out a couple of weeks ago, the point is not that those in the white community have personal connections to the black community.

The point is, regardless of their connectedness – whether they have a black best friend, whether their best friend from high school who adopted a little boy from Ethiopia, whether they know a woman online who happens to write about her interracial marriage – they care, just because. 

That’s it.

They care because every human on this great earth was made and created in the image of God. Imago dei, imago dei, imago dei. 

They care because every person, red and yellow, black and white, are precious in God’s sight.

They care because when there is injustice toward one community, there is injustice toward every community. It grieves each of us at the core, or at least it should.

This injustice, this paralysis, this deep-seeded discrimination within the American system should make us want to raise hell for every single one of our brothers and sisters, especially our black brothers and sisters. 

It’s then not a matter of someone asking me how I’m doing when another black life is wrongfully attacked, because I’m married to a black man, but it’s a matter of asking how every single one of us is doing, because we humans are interconnected, one to every other.

So, how are you doing?

How does this make you feel?

And how do the shootings of the past month affect you, how does this cause a change, a stirring in you to stand up and say, Something is not right. I will not be silent anymore. 

All of this has to be a white cause, just as much as it has to be a black cause and a brown cause and a fill-in-the-black cause for it to really matter.

So, it’s not about you finding yourself a black friend to call your own (even though I guarantee entering into a friendship that is genuine and real will change you from the inside out).

But it’s about you caring deeply for the things God cares about. It’s about you believing Love trumps hate. And along the way, I bet you’ll find yourself entering into friendship with those who don’t necessarily look like you and being changed in the process.

In this with you,

c.

Bring it. Agree, disagree? Find my words (and the pill I’ve gladly swallowed) utterly repulsive? Well, dear one: I hope it makes you think. 

running toward reconciliation (a sermon).

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A number of months back, my friend Brad asked me to speak on the theme of reconciliation at his church. The week before I was set to take the stage, a horrific string of events followed, one after the other: to Alton Sterling. To Philandro Castile. To six Dallas police officers.

Call it what you may, believe what you want about the eight individuals who wrongfully lost their lives, but the issue of race in our country cannot be ignored. Sometimes I don’t know what to make of it. I don’t know what to say and how to respond …but then, when I find myself before a couple services of Jesus-people, eager to engage in conversations about racial reconciliation because this is the conversation we can’t help but talk about, I do know what to say.

I’d love for you to pull up a chair and get cozy. Really, it’s a three-in-one sermon deal: reconciliation + spiritual friendship  through the lens of paralysis in Mark 2 + racial reconciliation (which, for future listening purposes, won’t be quite so broad next time). But the bottom line is this: when we see paralysis in our communities, when a distinct disadvantage that makes achievement unusually difficult happens time and time again to a specific people group, we can’t stand back any longer. We have to join in the conversation of race, even if for the first time. We have to run toward reconciliation.

So, click here and have yourself a listen.

Peace.

3 faith-themed summer reads.

with textIt’s no joke: summer is made for reading.

Now summer, mind you, is also made for grilling and for camping, for swimming in lakes and pools and rivers and not caring what we look like in our suited attire of choice. But mostly, summer is made for pounding through books (and not instead for writing, something I try my hardest to do in this season, but struggle to achieve when the sun is out! The sky is blue! The outside world is calling my name!)

But I digress.

If you’re a reader, you likely read for a number of different reasons: for pleasure and for fun. Because you’re interested in the subject. For learning purposes. Because someone passed along a free copy to you.

I happen to put a check mark next to all of the above, so in an effort to save you some book reading time and energy, here are three faith-themed books that have come out this summer that I’d love for you to check out.

A Woman’s Place (Katelyn Beaty). Katelyn, the print managing editor of Christianity Today, is a witty and wise young thirty-something woman who set out to reconsider women’s work, especially in Christian circles. And I’ve got to tell you: I’ve been waiting for this book for a long time. Three and a half years ago I did something I never thought I’d do: I left the traditional work force to care for my son, and pursue writing and speaking. Leaving full-time ministry proved harder than I ever believed it would (or should) be, partially because of other people’s expectations of me, and partially because I didn’t know what to make of this whole mama-writer-speaker gig (especially when invitations to use my words didn’t roll in as I thought they would). I cringed when people called me a stay-at-home mom. I yearned for someone, anyone to believe that my words held value and hand me a paycheck for the work I did when babies were napping and babysitters watched the boys. And Beaty’s book gives my own journey value: she urges men and women “…into a better framework for imagining career, ambition and calling. Whether caring for children, running a home or business, or working full-time, all readers will be inspired to live in a way that glorifies God.” So, yes, read it.

How to Survive a Shipwreck (Jonathan Martin). Now, I’ll be honest: I ordered this book to review when I mixed up the last name of said author with another well-known online religion writer. We’ll just chalk that up to not having had enough coffee that morning. So, I began reading Martin’s book with a very limited understanding of him: a white guy who wrote a book about shipwrecks and other such harrowing adventures at sea. And that’s when this modern Thomas Merton words captured me from the very beginning of the book:

“The only way to lose yourself forever is to keep hanging on to the life you had before. The storm rides you hard, but the Spirit whispers into the pitch-black that surrounds you, carrying the words Jesus spoke to Nicodemus in the wind: You must be born again.”

He doesn’t go into details over his shipwreck of a situation, but he doesn’t have to – that’s not the point of the story. Instead, we’re transported into a land of mysticism and intrigue, where Jesus is not a pat and dry answer to be realized, but a person to journey on in this wild, treacherous ride called life. So, pick up a copy and enter into the relic that is his story …and yours.

Reading for the Common Good (C. Christopher Smith). Chris has become a friend of mine in the online world: the editor for Englewood Review, he’s a thinker and a reader, a connector and someone who is deeply desirous of community. But what happens when, in our fast-paced 21st century lives, we forget to enter into life with other people? How might reading be the common thread that brings us back together? In this short read, he points out the obvious – but the obvious we’re often times too blind to realize and see is right in front of us. We were created to learn and to read, just as we were created to flourish with the people who are right in front of us, namely in our churches and in our neighborhoods. As someone who’s participated in and led book clubs in both arenas, I can attest to its truth …even if I wouldn’t have figured out that an entire book could be written on the subject. Enter in, and read Chris’ words – and see if they change the way you live. 

So, there you go: three faith-themed reads that you’ve got to add to your list in the remaining month and a half of summer. I’m also eager to read Rescuing Jesus: How People of Color, Women & Queer Christians are Reclaiming EvangelicalismAmerica’s Original Sin, and Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith. They may not be books that may not strike your fancy but have me wholly intrigued.

Happy reading!

What’s on your list this summer, especially when it comes to faith-themed reads? What have you read lately that you just can’t get off your mind?

*Post contains Amazon Affiliate links, yo!