We Showed Up

To be quite honest I was terrified of Thanksgiving this year. Holidays are typically stressful- in the best of ways- for most families. Schedules, road trips, different beds, tired kids, unusual routines, faces you love-but-haven't-lived with since high school and about five, ten, fifteen extra people squeezed into houses built for, well, not fifteen. We walk into the holidays silently praying that no one turns on the wrong news channel or brings up politics, hoping that we don't get caught giving the stink eye to another siblings' kid (though we love our nieces and nephews- we do-it's just...) and praying that everyone eats the food with as much enthusiastic joy as the hostess is hoping for. 

Most people spend the holidays waiting for earthquakes, praying for tremors, grateful for fault lines buried deep beneath the earth's surface. Even the irreligious know to start the holidays off with a little holy help prayer on their lips.

So this year was no different than any others. There would be two sisters, four nieces, three husbands, one tiny house, two excited grandparents, and more food than we could stomach. There would be the normal aforementioned family issues that people face whilst heading into the holidays. Joy and stress co-mingling. Fault lines shifting. Families colliding. But this time there would be holes. Missing spots at the table. Grief, raw and unvarnished.

This year there would be no Grandpa. No Mamaw. No Maggie. No Ellen.

I was terrified that our family had weathered the most immediate moments of our deep losses but would come together, thrust into the familial chaos of holidays, and finally implode. I knew we had made it through the center of the storm. The part where you are thrashed about until your bones hurts and your soul cries mercy. But sometimes, when it's all said and done, that's the easy part. The storm. The decimation. In those moments you get these magical things called endorphins. They kick in and kick butt.  Leading up to the storm, and at the storms very height, you are surrounded by the prayers of people, generous doses of God's peace that passes understanding, super-human grace and an overall blurry, fuzzy feeling that keeps you from actually feeling the full weight of it all. But after all that passes and you are mangled up like driftwood, in a river three counties over, in a place you have never known...well, that's when the hard work and spaghetti aisle meltdowns begin.

And I was afraid that moment would happen for all of us, simultaneously, around the Thanksgiving dinner table. The spaghetti aisle meltdown. As if all our grief--- raw, unvarnished, different in nature and beast- would rub to together like sand paper until the fault lines had no choice but to find fault and finally falter.

What happened instead was quite unexpected.
We had our best Thanksgiving ever.

I think it's because we all came with our limps, battle scars and sadness and we were kind to one another. Empathetic. Gracious. And honest.

I think it's because my 83 year-old-grandma who had to take her husband of fifty-five years off of unexpected life support in August... was brave enough to get on a plane by herself and show up for the day of giving thanks.

I think it's because my dad loved on the granddaughters he did have, but when it came time to pray around the Thanksgiving table he gave thanks for Maggie and Ellen too. And then he openly wept, and in so doing, gave us permission to finally do the same. 

I think it's because we played football. And wore turkey hats. And drank more Starbucks coffee than can possibly be good for us. And played dominoes. And let our girls run free. And let our tears run free. And dwelt in the beauty of the moment while also being able to say to one another, "Hey, remember that one year FROM HELL?!?!? Yeah... it's almost over now." And I mostly think it's because we all showed up when we didn't want to.  When we didn't think we could and didn't know how or what the outcome might be. We showed up anyways. And we all knew we were walking on fault lines that might give at any moment- but still- we walked.

And you know what? The fault lines seemed to re-align. To pull in tight. To grow stronger under the earth beneath us. There were no stress fractures, no earthquakes, no tremors. There was strength in showing up with what little we had, but showing up all the while. And this year I am thankful for Thanksgiving. The actual day, the actual meal around the table, the actual chaotic holiday of it all. Because this year we are still walking... and we all walked to the table together.

In loving memory of Maggie Jane and Ellen Olivia Miller, my beautiful nieces. Merlin Hehn, my amazing grandpa. Merle Chisolm, my beautiful mamaw. Jimmy Mac McNamara, my friend and manna. All celebrating Thanksgiving in heaven this year.

Worst Disney World Mom Ever

Looky-look here people: I will hire two teenage girls who resemble Elsa and Anna, purchase them elaborate costumes, make my husband be Olaf, rearrange my living room furniture and cover it all in white sheets to make it look like an ice castle and then let Annie throw toilet-paper-snow into every unvacuumable crevice in this house before I wait five freaking hours with sugar-laden, sticky, hot, tired, emotional little GIRLS to meet the cast of Frozen. I am a terrible Disney mom.

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Generous People Are: Part 2

A few years ago I wrecked my dad’s truck. In the Target parking lot. I wrecked into a parked car. I pulled through a spot, turned left, and somehow- in a stroke of mind-boggling science- I hit the car to my right and jacked it up into the air. Straight up into the air, with my truck pinned underneath its driver-side hood. Kids and old ladies gasped and everyone else was looking at me, smirking, as if I was the most stupid girl they had ever seen in real-life-action. Who hits a parked car? Seriously Jenny?

I called my dad crying.

And he replied the same way he has my entire life. “Are you hurt? Are you OK?”

And I replied the same way I have my entire life. “I’m fine. I just _____.”

Wrecked your truck. Caught the microwave on fire. Spilled nail polish all over the carpet. Broke all the glasses in the top of the dishwasher. Burned a hole in the carpet with my curling iron. Locked myself out of the house. Out of the car. With Annie inside.

You know- the normal issues a girl like me has.

And dad always responds the same. No matter what I throw at him. “Are you hurt? Are you OK?”

I tell him I am fine. And then he always, always says, “OK. Well that other stuff is just stuff. As long as you are OK. That’s all I care about.”

And the thing is- he means it.

He cares more about me, my mom and my sisters than about the carpet or his truck or any of his belongings.  And he has always made sure in the midst of our tears and panic- that we KNOW- besides us, to him, everything else is just stuff.

My dad is, without question, the most generous man I know. And not just with his money- though he is insanely generous with his money. He is generous with his affection. He is generous with his forgiveness. He is generous with his time. And he is generous with his grace.

Take  IT

Back to that pesky fire I talked about yesterday.

People were insanely generous with us. We showed up to our next few concerts and people gifted us with clothes, jackets, diapers, suitcases and even guitars. I remember getting a call from a DJ at KLOVE radio who said that someone in Oklahoma had heard about our RV exploding and burning to the ground and had an RV they wanted to offer us to use for as long as we needed it. After some conversations with them- we sent our driver out there to pick it up.

He called Ryan and I and said, “We can’t take this R.V.”

We said, “Why not?”

He said, “It’s too nice. It’s brand new. There’s like- plastic still covering the chairs up and stuff.”

We told the couple that we had had our van and trailer stolen twice that year. Followed by a fire which burned our last RV down to the ground. We told them we were bad luck. We told them we were traveling with at least seven people and a toddler. We told them we would be driving it from California to South Dakota to New Jersey. We told them, there was a chance the thing would come back broken, scratched, with thousands of miles on it.

We told them: you don’t even know us.

They told us: take it.

Them. A young couple. With young kids. With a lot to lose by giving us their RV. This was their investment into their family’s vacations for the next ten, fifteen years. This held incredible value. And they said take it.

And here’s what I’ve learned about generous people from my dad and from this couple in Oklahoma and from so many others:

Generous people like people more than they like stuff.

A lot of them like their stuff too. Like houses and cars and art and good wine and nice clothes and memorable vacations. But at the end of the day- if it comes down to honoring one thing over another- they make it very clear that people trump, say, animals or cars or carpet.

Without flinching, generous people value human beings more than stuff.  Generous people are lovers of people. They realize the value of their belongings pale in comparison to the value of the human being standing before them. Grace trumps glares. People trump possessions. And everything they own finds its value, not in monetary currency, but in the way those things allow for love, grace and open-handed generosity to flourish in the people around them.

generous people arepeoplelovers


Why I Like Her.

IMG_8854 I just got off the phone with my mom.

She is currently, at this very moment, sitting on her back porch coaxing the largest raccoon I have ever seen into eating bread out of her hand. She gives me the play by play.

"OK. He's getting closer. And closer. Can you believe this?!? He's not even scared of my voice!"

"No SIR. Do NOT eat from that bird feeder! Do you understand me?  That is not yours. Do not eat from the bird feeder."

"Mom," I try and get her attention, "Who are you talking to now?"

"Oh- still the raccoon. He knows what I am telling him. He understands my voice."

And somehow you get the feeling- listening to my mom converse with this wild raccoon- that perhaps it actually does speak her language and does understand her voice.

Her. The lady who talks to- and names- wild raccoons. The one who fearlessly sang Jesus Loves Me to an angry longhorn who's horns were pointed straight at her, because she was sure this was the best way to calm him down. The one who decided to rent a sheep from the neighbor down the street, to bring to church and use as a sermon illustration. Her. The one who frantically calls me with a sheep bleating in her back seat, wondering why the sheep isn't calming down when she sings it Jesus Loves Me.

I mean- it worked on the longhorn.



The one who has made the absolute best of the empty nest and the daughters and granddaughters living all over the country. Not once giving up on her rights to be the most active grandma ever... even if it means playing hide-and go-seek in a self-made tent over Skype.




The one who has always encouraged alone time and freedom of expression. Even when it has meant children (and grandchildren) who hide under blankets and threaten to move to the woods behind the house (but actually just run-away to the laundry room). "I'd run away too!" She would say. And inevitably this leads her into quoting- and butchering- the entire storyline of Alexander and The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. "Move to Australia and eat worms!" she says in a moment of solidarity with her troops.




Who has built Annie a "magic house" deep in the woods. Complete with year-round Christmas ornaments, ribbons, wind chimes, Gnomes and magnificent stories. Her. The one who taught me to dream and think and pray and ask good questions and make craft projects- even when they all sucked- and not be afraid to build forts in the woods and produce my own newspaper by the age of five.  Her. The one who keeps giving Imagination. Creativity. Curiosity. New eyes for things long forgotten in this world. Like bugs and magic houses and old people with stories rich in heart ache and beauty.




The one who gave me my sisters. And by extension, my nieces. And kept my dad around- even when he was really mean- a long time ago- before he was the dad, the amazing dad, that he has grown to be now. Her- who has loved us all well. And fought to keep us together. And fought to keep us loving each other. And fought to keep underwear on our bodies and food in our bellies and fight in our spirit. Her. The one who was stepped on by people who claimed to love her- who was fired, humiliated, betrayed- and kept going back for more. Because it wasn't about HER. Or them for that matter. It was about something bigger. It was about love winning. It was about Christ being constant- redemptive- worth it... even when people broke her.


The one who keeps fighting.




Who calls to let me know that Annie is hugging a chicken... and she is sure that Annie was gentle and didn't squeeze the chicken too hard... that the chicken is just fine and loving it. LADY- I DONT CARE ABOUT THE CHICKEN. How is my daughter? Her- who keeps modeling over and over  and over again for anyone who will listen and pay attention... that life isn't really all that complicated. Wake up. Sit and stare at a few birds. Listen for Jesus. Go do something that matters- mostly- pay attention to the people and the world around you... no matter what your job title might be. Love well. Hope deeply. Drink richly. Call your kids- or someone else you care about. Befriend a few wild animals. Hug a chicken. Repeat.

It just shouldn't be as easy as hugging a chicken- but my God she makes it that way. With her,  life isn't all the complicated- even when it hurts like hell. Even when it is insanely complicated. She is chaos- but knows no chaos. Somehow- she is peace. She is content.

Her. She is maddening and absolutely freeing in one fatal swoop.



Her. Who sang Amy Grant songs before the rest of the world understood that Amy Grant's songs were life-changing. Her. Who explained to me and my sisters what it meant to live in an old man's rubble, why angels watched over us and how there were so many names for God but El Shaddai was one of her favorites. Her. Who told us we had our Father's Eyes. Over and over and over again. That we had our Father's eyes. That we were made in the Father's image and likeness- bearers of that goodness, freedom, grace, hope and love. We had our Father's eyes. He made us and longed to use us. And dad agreed. God didn't make us as girls and then limit how we might be used in the church and in the world... God made us fully in God's image. We had his eyes. We were to hold nothing back from the church or the world. Just like...




Her. Our biggest fan. Who brought cow bells and bull horns to football games to cheer for us.... the cheerleaders. Yes, it was embarrassing. Her. Who was so worried that my heart had been shattered in the 9th grade when all the other cheerleaders got homecoming mums and I didn't, that she went and ordered one for me herself. It ended up weighing about 20 pounds and was the most hideous thing I've ever seen in my life. But I wore it proudly through the parade because she loved me so much- she didn't want me to feel the sting of being alone. That was worth wearing ugly proudly. Her. Who texted me as I left this summer for South Sudan and told me she was proud of me and that also- if I felt threatened- to scream wildly like a monkey and furiously itch my armpits and crotch- because "People in small villages are superstitious. They won't touch you if they think you are demon-possessed."



Who told me time and again, "Jenny it was just an accident. Accidents happen all the time. It's no big deal." Who cared very little about the "stuff" in our house and much about the people walking in and out of it. Who taught me more about scripture than how to apply make-up. More about grace than about stuffy, alienating, pretentious living. More about mercy than judgement. More about freedom than bondage to what others thought about me or what others might be doing. Her. Who would rather we paint our bodies and our walls and our world with bright big strokes- than live small and afraid and neat and tidy and conventional. Paint washes off you know? That's what she would say. There was never an accident worth a dirty glare. Oh God how I'm grateful that there wasn't an accident- in her book- worth a dirty glare.



Who loves my baby girl more than I seem to love her sometimes. Who loves me more than I seem to love myself sometimes. Who just loves. And loves. And loves.




Who has taught countless men and women- now spread out and trickled all over the world- that if you dig your feet into the sand long enough or stare at a sunset and shut-up soon enough- you will hear from God. Because God speaks. Now one way. Now another. In dreams. During "silent sounds." On camping trips. In the mountains. At the beach. In your backyard. In the bathtub. On a bus with three hundred students driving to summer camp. God speaks. Over and over and over again. She has taught us that. Her. The one who heard God speak when she was stoned out of her mind and angry at the world and broken in a million pieces and all kinds of dirty and unusable- she heard God call her name and whisper to her that she had purpose. That she was loved. That she was known. That she could be set free. That he loved...


And she hasn't turned back. And her daughters- we rise and call her blessed. And those she has pastored through junior high and high school. Through divorces and teenage pregnancies. Through lost jobs and lost love. In delivery rooms and deathbeds. In magic houses and talking to raccoons on her back porch... God has used HER...

To remind us that HE IS- and that's enough.


I love you mom. This world is different because you have danced through it and shown us its beauty.

momgoat family




Dear Girl Scouts of America:

Dear Girl Scouts of America: Why are you hiding from me? I get it. It's freezing cold outside and snowy and a bit icy and school has been cancelled for a few days and the driving conditions for your parent's minivans are probably deplorable... still, have you not an obligation to uphold for the sake of the fat people of America?!? I have driven by Wal-Mart and Kroger every single day this week looking for you and I cannot find you anywhere. Girl Scouts, I need some tagalongs and I need them NOW. I need them TODAY. And I want to support you and your horse-back riding camps and your leadership development classes and your little badges for your little sashes and all that jazz, but let's get one thing straight: I really just want your cookies. And now that you have gotten me all addicted to your crack, you are morally obligated to sell it to me.  You are the dealer. I am the user. And I need my tagalongs. It's been an entire year.

So... put your little jackets on. Borrow some ear mitts. Have your granny knit a scarf for you. Put some twelve hour long-lasting heat packs in your gloves if you have to, catch a small cold or the flu if you have to, but it's time to suck it up and make some sacrifices here ladies.  I need the Girl Scouts to get back in the game and remember what's most important: ME.

Dear Dad:


Please tell me this isn't what you listen to.

Please tell me someone planted these in your truck and set you up.

Please tell me you don't still own cassette tapes.

Dear Valentines Day:

I joined the gym.  I joined because it's only thirty dollars a month and that includes up to two hours of free childcare each and every day. Can you believe that? What young mother wouldn't work out (or, ok, sit on the toilet in the locker room reading my Kindle and catching up on emails) if it means free childcare? Anyways, that's besides the point Valentines Day. The point is this: My free personal training session that came with the membership was quite devastating. The young pup started off by commenting on how slender I was. "You've had a baby?" he said, "No way! You are just so slender. You must be doing something right! Wow, you must have a really healthy diet!" Of course I knew that everything he just said was false. I was only deceptively slender and no I wasn't doing anything right (like not exercising in over a year) and no wasn't eating healthy... unless donuts and three meals a week at Chick-Fil-A qualify as the new healthy... no, I am not abiding by any rules. But the more he talked, the more I started believing him. "I knew it! I am slender! I'm still rocking my pre-baby college body! You looking good girl! Those blue jeans that don't go past your knees anymore... they're shrinking after all! What a phenomenon! I knew the air pressure in my closet was making all my pants get smaller! I knew it! I got it going on!"

Valentines Day... that was all a lie.  Cause then the little yuppy with his ripped muscle-y arms and six pack and calves the size of my face pulled out this little pincher thing and started pinching the most ungodly parts of my body, on a witch hunt for fat, and then he started writing down numbers and scrunching his little face up... and then all those comments about me being "slender"???  Abruptly ended. Valentines Day, can you believe the nerve of that guy to be pinching my back fat? To squeeze the sides of my hips like he's trying to show me just how many servings of enchiladas and mashed potatoes I had stored up for the winter?  Putting his little pincher device under my arms and trying to give me little turkey gobblers down there, like I'm some old lady with skin flapping in the wind, hanging down to my knees? Valentines Day, he was looking at me with shame.  Can you believe him scrunching up his little yuppy nose and looking at the numbers like he just uncovered a ticking time bomb that needs to be disabled?

Valentines Day... apparently I have 29% body fat. That's only two short hops and a skip away from the catergory of obese unhealthiness. Apparently I need to lose 10 pounds. If I lose ten pounds I'll end up weighing what I did in the fifth grade. I told him that. I asked him if he really wanted me to weigh 117 pounds? Like a fifth grade girl? He said yes. Can you believe he said "yes" Valentines Day?!? What nerve from the mouth of a gorgeous little yuppy with way too many muscles.  And then he said he wanted me to gain it all back in muscles. Like I'm she-woman. Like I'm actually working out at the gym and not using it for free childcare, reading sessions on the toilet, and the occasional dip in the hot tub!

Anyways Valentines Day... I have to cut back this year.

Apparently, ten boxes of girl scout cookies is too many boxes for a family of two and a half. Especially since Ryan doesn't eat them and Annie was still eating baby food last Girl Scout Cookie season.

So maybe just five boxes this year.

3 boxes of tagalongs.

2 boxes of thin mints.

(And just between you and me, maybe a fourth box of tagalongs that I can hide in my closet. Please?!? I'll only eat it after really tough days at the gym. I promise.)