It's Delicious

Ryan, Annie and I are in the process of church-hunting. No small task in a city with over 700 churches. While visiting a new church today, Annie decided to come to the front with us during communion. She was not going to take the elements, though many of the other children were, and was prepared to simply stand alongside us. However, the Reverend bent over to offer her the bread before I could stop it from happening. Annie froze, eyes wide, not sure what to do. In that split second the Reverend bent down, looked her in the eyes, smiled the most beautiful, joyful smile and said, "It's ok. Don't worry. It's delicious!" With a secret wink the pastor handed her the bread and moved on to the next person in our communion circle. Annie's eyes sparkled with mystery and awe. She held on to the bread, then shoved it into my hand where it eventually ended up at the bottom of my purse. And the Reverend's words? Well, they ended up in the bottom of my heart.

I can't shake the beauty of what that pastor gave my daughter. Not judgement, fear, heaven, hell, theology of age or salvation or annoyance that she didn't know exactly what to do or how to respond. She wasn't ignored, looked down upon or simply overlooked. What she was given instead were welcoming words of faith from a pastor that understands the heart of Jesus for his children. Annie was invited to take partake in the body of Christ, and with a wink, was offered a seat at the table of fear-not and it's delicious.

And the whole thing has me thinking of the beauty of a pastor willing to bend low, look us in the eyes and with a wink say the life-giving words 'don't worry' and 'it's delicious'.

Too often we leave our houses of worship with more fear than we walked in with. Too often we leave without an invitation to taste and see that God is good- the body of Christ is good- the world around us (made in the very image of God) is good. Too often we walk out the doors of our houses of faith without the invitation to come to the table and remember that this faith thing- well, it's delicious. The words spoken over my daughter have found a space in my own soul because everything else around me seems to be screaming THERE IS NOTHING GOOD. Nothing delicious. No place to be without fear. No room for peace. But this simply is not true, it is only what the frenzy of media, politics, Facebook feeds- and sadly some churches- would have us believe. But the brokenness is not our totality. As long as God is God, there is good. There will always be reason to taste and see and know the goodness and faithfulness of God that is on display all around us. So I am grateful for the Pastors and Reverends in our houses of worship that remind us, with a wink, that we need not be consumed with fear, worry, hate and politics. I'm grateful that they speak the words to us "don't worry". Grateful that they remind us, "Hey- this bread of Christ offered to GIVE YOU LIFE? It IS delicious."

Maybe today you need to be reminded of this too.

Speak Their Names

Last Wednesday night was one of the most magical nights I can remember. With my good friends Krista and Lori, and our daughters in tow, I sat at Rojo Beach Bar in Amerbgris Caye, Belize and watched the sun set on the turquoise water while Coldplay's song Paradise played through the speakers in the background. There was a breeze, no heat, a bottle of white wine, kids playing, hammocks swaying, feet on the table and eventually, three made-from-scratch-pizzas. All of that, plus a pristine ocean and a beach so far removed from most of the world's radar that it was empty and private and felt completely ours and the stage was set for one of the most surreal nights of my life. When it was finally time to head back to our  beach house, perched a mere thirty feet from from the Caribbean waters, we hailed a water taxi, took a boat ride through the dark night on the smooth ocean, got off at our dock, realized the stars were shining bright and laid down right there with our daughters to name constellations and find planets. In bed that night, Annie curled up close to me and said, "Besides Disney World this has been the best day ever and you have been the best momma to me in the whole world," and then she fell asleep in my arms. It was a perfect night. 

Rojo Beach bar. Ambergris caye, Belize. June 17,2015.

Rojo Beach bar. Ambergris caye, Belize. June 17,2015.

star gazing on the dock. June 17, 2015.

star gazing on the dock. June 17, 2015.

I woke up the next morning to a news feed of horror beyond imagination.

Nine beautiful people killed inside of their church by a young racist intent on starting a hate-filled war between black and white people. A thousand miles away from home, I read the news and felt physically ill. The night before had been one of the best nights of my life and yet it was another momma's worst nightmare. I wept bitterly that morning and have wept everyday since. I hope the tears do not dry up any time soon because the wounds in our country are deep and will never heal if we live unaffected in the face of intolerant, ignorant evil. So I grieve. I grieve for every life lost and every life left behind to grapple with the unthinkable horror that they or their family members experienced first hand that night. I grieve for the pain our brothers and sisters in the black community have continually experienced this year. I particularly grieve for Reverend Clementa Pinckney's wife, Jennifer Pinckney, and their two daughters Eliana and Malana.

On June 17, 2015 two Jennifer's from the south lived a completely different story and that will never be fair. The least I can do in light of the disparity in our stories is grieve with my sister Jennifer, allow righteous anger for the injustice that so many of my black brothers and sisters still live under, and let the world know that my soul is not unaffected by what has happened. It is affected and I pray it may always be so. As a daughter of Jesus Christ I cannot turn a blind eye to intolerance, injustice, oppression, bigotry or hate. Nor can I turn a blind eye to the collective tears of people in mourning or the righteous anger that rises up from that deep pain. May I always be affected and afflicted with groans of the oppressed and broken in this world.  

May I always remember June 17th, 2015. 

While I sat under stars with my daughter that night, Jennifer hid under a desk with hers.

While my 6-year-old daughter listened to the waves lapping against the shore 
Her 6-year-old daughter listened to the spray of bullets, screams for help and the eventual silence of death.

While my daughter fell asleep safe in my arms 
Her daughters fell asleep in a nightmare, their sense of safety stolen.

On Wednesday night June 17th, while Annie was given the gift of a carefree childhood, Malana was robbed of hers. Her innocence stolen as she hid under a desk with her momma and listened to her daddy being murdered. Malana was robbed; we all were. Violence and hatred effect us all. 

One week later I am still horrified.  
And angry.
And grieving. 

I told Annie about what happened that night because I want her to know Malana's name. I don't often know where to start or how to be a meaningful part of the larger conversation of racial reconciliation, but I will start where I can: in my own home.

I will tell Annie her name. Malana Pinckney. 
And I will tell her what led to the church massacre on June 17th that killed her daddy. Racism.  

I will tell her the stories of our own family. Of our own sin. Of our own pain. Of our own triumph.

I will tell Annie that my grandmother (her great grandma whom she adores) was spending the week with my family in high school, working outside in the yard and bringing loads of trash to the bins in the alley when a white neighbor pulled up and asked my Hispanic grandma how much she charged. I will tell Annie how deeply embarrassed my Grandma was and explain to her that for a long time people assumed a Hispanic woman bringing out the trash from a white person's home meant the Hispanic woman was a maid. A servant of sorts. I will tell her that we can never give into the un-Christlike arrogance of assuming something about a person because of the color of their skin. Never. Not their job, their faith, their work ethic, their political affiliation or their propensity towards good or evil. Skin color does not reveal the substance of a soul. It never has and it never will. It seems elementary, I will tell her, but there are arrogant pockets of people who blindly continue to label those around them and this becomes dangerous and deadly in the hands of the most depraved. I will tell Annie this is the opposite of our faith in Jesus Christ whose earthly ministry was hallmarked by dispelling labels that enslaved people and setting the oppressed free. 

I will tell Annie about my own papaw who helped ensure black students in Enterprise, Mississippi could walk into school buildings that were historically designated for white children only.  As the superintendent of schools in Enterprise during de-segregation in 1964, my papaw stood next to the front door of the high school for months on end, along with local pastors, and ensured that every student was physically able to walk through the doors. This was no small feat in a state where people physically assaulted black students trying to enter the halls of previously all-white education houses. While my Papaw and Mamaw received death threats and vandalism to their own home across the street from the high school, he remained resolute: No black student would be turned away on his watch. He oversaw the integration of the school system at a near record pace for Mississippi. I want Annie to know that this issue has mattered to our family for a long time. 

I have to tell her that some people see skin color and they think it is okay to make jokes, imitate, belittle, categorize, humiliate and in the worst cases hurt and kill others because of the color of their skin. I want her to know that racism is not only an ugly part of our history, but part of our present.  Sadly, a culture of people who routinely turn a blind eye to racist jokes, racial stereotyping, intolerance and injustice will always be marred and marked by the worst among them who take it "one step too far." Our tolerance for such words and deeds pave the way. We all have blood on our hands if we refuse to speak out against such ignorant hate. Sadly, there have been moments where I was not courageous or brave in the face of racism and I too have blood on my hands. I want Annie to know that we must fight ignorance so that when she has children they don't live in a country where cultural racism and religious fanaticism drive the most depraved to do unthinkable acts of evil. I want her to know that black lives matter. And brown lives. And ALL lives matter. She cannot understand this, because she does not see skin color. We were in Belize with her best friend who is black. Black lives matter? Of course they do. It is incomprehensible to her that this is even a question. It should be incomprehensible to us all. 

I long for the day when those of us who profess faith in Jesus Christ lean deeply into the words of the Apostle Paul who says: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Until then I grieve and will continue to speak their names. 

Clementa. Cynthia. Susie. Ethel. DePayne. Tywanza. Daniel. Sharonda. Myra.

Jennifer, Eliana, and Malana Pinckney—and all of those left behind.

Just Start

Tonight I get to be a part of my first ever, Ask An Author Anything webinar and I am incredibly excited. But not because I like to be on camera. Hair and make-up prep time; camera crews with their bright, unforgiving lights; and little interview-y questions that make you bare your soul, expose your semi-intelligence and half-witted-humor and inevitably lead you to cry- are not my favorite things in the world. All the same, I am excited for this little webinar on writing because there are some things about the writing life that I wish I would have known up front. I needed a big-writing-sister to tell me writing secrets in the same way that I needed an already-been-there-sister to tell me about boys and kissing. 

I hope you will join me tonight (or register to receive the webinar link and watch later!) and feel like you are learning a thing or two from a sister who has walked a tiny bit of the writing road. 

If I had a writing sister (And I sort of did. Her name is Annie Dillard and her handed-down advice came to me through a book called The Writing Life. There was also Anne Lamott and her kissing-wisdom in Bird by Bird. And also a big brother, Robert Benson, who taught me through Dancing on the Head of a Pen) my writing sister would say, "JUST START JENNY." 

And I would petulantly respond, "Where? How? Why? WHY? What do I even write about? What will the book be called and how will I title the chapters? And what happens at the end and is this beginning strong enough?!?"

And I would cry as all baby sisters do.
And my big sister would say again, "JUST. WRITE." 

She would go on to tell me what I now know. Don't worry about the name of the book or the chapter titles. Don't know how it ends? Welcome to authentic living. None of us have the ending figured out yet---write anyways. How to start? Not at the beginning, she would say. That's for sure. Skip the beginning. Heck, skip the first five words of the sentence and start somewhere in the middle if you must--- but start. 

As I sat down to write my first book, The Road to Becoming, I knew the story and I had told it a hundred times from stage, but I had no idea how to start writing it and I realized very quickly that writing it down was vastly different than speaking it. I almost didn't write the book because I didn't know where to start. And I think that can be said for so many things in our lives. How many times have I not done something simply because I wasn't brave enough to stick one foot out over the ledge into the unknown? How many times have I not done something because I wanted the game plan first; the outline; the road-map that took me directly to a victorious finish-line. How many times have I given up before I even started because I convinced myself that if I couldn't even start, there was no way I could conquer this unknown thing in front of me? I could use a big sister telling me to just start in so many areas of my life. 

If you hear one thing from me tonight, it will probably be this: I finished. Me! The girl who never finishes anything! The girl who reluctantly, fearfully starts and usually fizzles out somewhere in-between when it gets hard, monotonous, tedious, ambiguous or complicated. I finished my first book (and am working on my second!) and the only reason I finished is because I finally got brave enough to start. 

I started in the middle. Mid-sentence, as a matter of fact. I didn't know how to properly start a book and quite honestly didn't know how the book would end because the story hadn't played all the way out yet. I started anyways. I didn't know the names of chapters or have the book neatly laid out. I started anyways. I wrote without knowing how long a book should be, how many stories it should contain, or what the word count was. I wrote anyways. I started without the promise of a book deal; I merely started with the knowledge that I wanted Annie to know our story, wanted to my parents to be proud of their deep legacy on our lives and wanted anyone else who read it to know that it was ok to grieve, bury, be lost and then be found again. I started based on that. With as much will power as I could eek out and the constant-hovering-presence of my husband who pushed me along the way, I finally sat down one day and started something I was convinced was way out of my league, but started all the same. 

And it turns out that out of all the mechanics, insider-secrets, story crafting and editorial advice I could have gotten from a big-writing-sister in the beginning, what I really needed was her voice saying "Just start Jenny." 

And maybe you need that voice too. It might be writing a book or starting to train for a marathon or piecing together a work of art or organizing the dream trip or organizing the local food pantry or finally losing weight or putting down the cigarettes or re-connecting with an estranged loved one... and it all feels so big and weighty and monumental and insurmountable... and maybe you just need a big sister like I did.

Someone to look you in the eyes and say, "Forget about the ending. And the beginning for that matter. Don't get lost in the how or the what-if's or the messy middle. Just start. Somewhere. Anywhere! Take one toe and dangle it over the ledge...and inch by inchy inch...get yourself over the ledge into this new thing that won't go away and keeps inviting you to dance."

Just start.


For more insight into my writing life and a little more big sister advice, please join me for Ask An Author anything. Tonight, Monday May 18th, 8p.m. eastern. 



Recently, my 6-year-old daughter Annie, has been particularly Annie-ish. And of course, this is worthy of sharing.

Upon realizing Mother's Day was followed by Father's Day, she asked, "When is Children's Day?" "There isn't one," I said.  "Oh yes there is! I will celebrate Annie Day in between Mother's Day and Father's Day and I would like some jumping beans for a gift."

What kind of kid creates their own holiday and only asks for Mexican Jumping Beans?!?


Annie has been particularly concerned with making sure my parents "get to know" Ryan's parents. For some reason she is convinced her grandparents don't know one another very well and she has been anxiously trying to arrange get-to-know-you events. Both sets of grandparents flew to Nashville for her birthday party a few weeks ago and we shared several meals, car-rides, late night patio time and other birthday fun together. On more than one occasion Annie pulled me aside, squealed and told me quite seriously that "she thinks they are becoming best friends."  I just don't have the heart to tell her that they knew each other for a total of seven years before SHE EVEN EXISTED. That they were introduced to one another fifteen years ago! I just can't.  At the final bar-b-que, when both sets of grandparents were tucked under jackets and blankets on the back porch, laughing and carrying on, Annie said goodnight and I went inside with her to get her ready for bed. When I closed the bedroom door she squealed with more joy than I have ever heard and said "MOM! They are best friends!!! They are having so much fun together I just can't even tell who is married to who anymore!!!!"


In the car pool line. "I've had the worst day ever mom."

"Why baby? What happened?"

"Lauren (not-her-real-name) slapped me across the face at recess."

"What do you mean? Why in the world did she slap you?"

"Because I was dead."

"Why were you dead?"

"Mom- cats die all the time."

Well. That clears it up.


In the car pool line again. "Mom this was the worst day ever." Again.

"Why baby? What happened?"  Again.

"Well, Lauren (not-her-real-name) caught Natalie (not-her-real-name) stealing two of my toys from my back-up. She stole them from me Mom! And she put them in her own backpack! Why would she steal from me?"

As we drove home I told Annie about good people who make bad decisions. How some kids- a lot of kids- don't get as much love, attention, toys and affection as she does. How some kids learn to make hurtful decisions from their own parents' and grandparents' examples. How some kids operate out of their lack-of without thinking about the person they might be hurting in return.

"I've never once seen Natalie's parents at school. They might have to work really long hours to take care of their family or maybe they aren't around and she doesn't get the depth of love you get. All of those things might be factors in why she would steal from you. She sees that you get lots of stuff and lots of love and maybe she thinks you won't notice if something comes up missing; that you won't care because you already have more than enough. It doesn't make her actions right, but her actions could very well stem from some of those places inside of her heart and mind."

The next morning Annie disappeared after breakfast. I found her in her playroom packing a bag of games and toys. "Mom, these are for Natalie. Maybe if she feels loved and gets a few presents from me, she won't have to steal anymore."

And that, my friends, is a true Annie-ism. Profound beauty and generosity for the world around her.

As her mom, I so desperately want to wrap her in bubble wrap and protect her from a little girl who steals, and another little girl who slaps and from her own desire to create a national holiday celebrating herself and from the painful moments this life will undoubtedly bring her. But more than that, I want to set her free. Free to let her empathy, grace, beauty and generosity run wild. Free to love others without fear of rejection, fear of being taken-advantage of, fear of not being recognized in return, fear of people not quite like her, fear of giving away too much. I want her to be fearless and free. So I will sit on my hands and not TAKE OUT THE CHILD who slapped her. Sit on my hands and not grab hold of the things she wants to give away. Sit on my hands and not bubble wrap her and keep her safe when everything inside of me wants to. I will not steal those things that are most like God, deeply imbedded within her, from her in an attempt to keep her safe. I will set her free. And in so doing allow the world to be touched by her radical generosity, profound beauty, enduring empathy and whimsical grace.


Welcome Home is the Yellow Brick Road

I'll go first.

Once you have resigned yourself to the artist category in life, the road does not magically lay down yellow and lead you straight to the coveted Emerald City. In fact, I would venture to say that once you have resigned yourself to the _________ category in life, that road doesn't immediately (or possibly ever) turn  yellow, bloom flowers and lead you to the mythic green city either.

Most roads aren't that predictable or generous.

They are potholes, detours, weeds and prison crews in bright orange vests picking up trash in the wings.

Today I had one of those days where my career-road felt wobbly, weak and worrisome. It was no sparkly, golden yellow path with poppies and bluebonnets rising to greet me. It was dead-ends and I-give-up's. I will go first and tell you that I have my fair share of these days. And by "fair share" I mean I contemplate never stepping on stage, writing a song or a book ever again- about once a week. I assume this number is a bit disproportionate in comparison to people with "real" jobs. By their very nature, an artist has to wake up each day and assume their painting, sculpting, drawing, music, writing, acting, poetry or other contribution to the world is indeed a contribution and indeed worth pursuing even when there seems to be no discernible road at hand. At the very least, it seems that if I were a nurse, I would know that I was needed in society. Whether I enjoyed or tolerated well my job would not take away from the fact that at the end of the day, my job was necessary in society. An artist doesn't get that satisfaction. An artist just hopes what they are doing is necessary to someone- anyone's- sanity and joy. But it's all one big guessing game.  Madeleine L'Engle says in Walking on Water, that the artist is simply called to faithfully bring forth their art- whether they know it brings someone sanity and joy or not. I would rather bring forth a colonoscopy bag. There is no question whether this is vitally important to the patient.

I stared at my computer a good bit this morning. It was sacred writing time, but I couldn't write. I only kept looking at the blank dates on the calendar. Why weren't more show offers coming in? People want to know if I will do a book tour when the book releases on September 1st. I have no idea. Who books a book tour? Shows are hard these days. I am not "on tour" in any sense of the word and don't wish to be. I did my years of three months on an RV or tour bus at a time... and it is not for me. Not as a momma and a wife and all the other things I hold dear. So these days I travel on weekends. Often with Annie. And always with the same, small tribe of musicians. We go to women's conferences and lead worship. We go to college campuses and churches who open wide the doors to their community. And I tell stories of the many ways I have seen God's faithfulness, his grace, mercy and miraculous provisions in my tatteredy-redemptive-life. I read pages from my book and sing songs, old and new, of hope now and what little I know about Holy. I pray with people, laugh, guide, celebrate, cry and then I come back home. And if I am lucky? I do it all over again the next weekend with new brothers and sisters in a different nook and cranny of the country.

This morning I feared the end of those precious moments spent sharing song and story. Anger is a by-product of fear and I felt myself getting angry. Angry that some churches have become so corporate they have lost their ability to be spontaneous. They are well-oiled machines with no room for outsiders. Angry that I wasn't more social-media driven; a hustler; a mover and shaker and connector. Angry that I hadn't worked harder at promoting myself. How does one even do this? Frustrated that big tours blow through towns now with a slew of artists for only $10! and all other concert options seem ludicrously priced to the average concert goer who assumes a $10 ticket price should be normal. Frustrated that I am still faithfully creating art and still frustrated by the madness of it all!!!!! Seriously?!? Will puberty ever end? Being an artist is like living in the angst of forever puberty.

And these are the things you shouldn't say online because you want to be the "it" person so that the conferences, churches and colleges who are bringing in the "it" people will clearly see that YOU ARE IT!!! But today I felt so not "it."

And the most maddening part of it all is that I don't want to be "it." I just want to keep faithfully bringing forth the music and stories that are deep inside of me. I want to keep telling people that they are becoming and that is ok and God is good at deserts and even better at promised-lands. 

So I told God I was frustrated. I told God I wanted opportunities. Not because I want to be "it" but because all I know to do is keep faithfully putting these stories of beauty and redemption out there. I told God I would absolutely learn to be a nurse and figure out that whole colonoscopy thing if that were a better road. 

Instead He responded, in my soul, with a story. No audible words. Just a vision. A memory. The story of the wealthy man in Luke 14 who prepares a great dinner and invites many to come but is met with excuses for the excessive reasons they could not. The man becomes angry and sends out his helpers and says invite everyone else then! Go the streets! Compel them to come.

"When you are butting your head against the wall, Jenny, and the dinner guests politely decline... maybe you are asking the wrong guests," God whispered deep inside me.

"Well, where do I find the right guests?" I snapped back.

There was no answer.

Moments later I opened up my email. There was a letter from a church of misfits, 12-steppers and broken people wondering if they might have permission to use my song lyrics in a book. A teeny-tiny small church for really broken people? That sounded like the exact kind of people the man in Luke 14 compelled to come to his party. And my kind of people at any rate. I clicked on the church's link to see where they were located. What do you know. Right next to the place I had been banging my head against and being politely declined (or ignored) as I tried to line up shows in the area. I immediately wrote the man back and said, "Yes you can use the lyrics AND I know this is weird, but this is my message and my heart and can I come play these songs and share these stories for your people on this specific date? I promise I don't usually invite myself. But I guess God kind of told me to this time. I don't need money. This is just what I am made to do and I would love to pour into your people, so...." 

He wrote back immediately and said, "Welcome home."

Of course I sobbed on my couch. Who knew "welcome home" could mean so much? But after being politely pushed aside and wondering if the dinner party will ever happen...welcome home feels so welcoming. 

I was so amazed by the response that I wrote another person. And then another. Not the people who had been checking their budgets, checking their calendars, seeing if I was a good fit or if they might be able to get a bigger "it". No, I just went straight to people in cities that I knew loved on others well. A pastor and volunteer firefighter, a teacher, and a tiny-small church full of recovering-everything's. And by the end of the day today I booked three concerts of sorts. And each person that I approached said a whole-hearted, welcome-home, yes. Yes to their couch, their back-yard, their church of broken-beautifuls.

And maybe you are on the not-so-yellow-brick-road feeling the same wobbly, weak and worrisome feelings I have been having. You are inviting people to a banquet who don't seem to care- or might possibly, eventually care if nothing better comes along- and you wonder if maybe, just maybe it might be better for you to do _________ instead. I would challenge you to remember that the colonoscopy guy or gal probably feels the same way from time to time too. But more importantly, I would challenge you to remember Luke 14. Go to the streets. The mom that no one else includes. The co-workers on the fringe. The not-who-you-imagined next door neighbors. The guys or girls on the team who are waiting, hoping to be invited. The small church that can't afford to bring in an artist and may only be able to pay you in sweet-tea and mashed potatoes. Go there. To the places that won't give you any status in the "it" world but with people who are compelled to join you at the dinner table and break bread with you all the same. Forgo the original invitation list. Think bigger. Or smaller. Or out of the box and into a giant circle. Draw broader lines and compel them to join you. They are not mind readers.  You might have to go to the streets and invite them.  You might have to invite yourself. And I know that is scary. I did it holding my breath today- wondering if I might look insane or worse- if they, too, might politely decline. 

But you may be surprised, friend. Because their answer just might be

welcome home

and welcome home IS the yellow-brick-road.