A Harbinger of Grace. You.

"Ask the owner of whichever house he enters, 'The Teacher wants to know, where is my guest room where I can eat the Passover meal with my disciples?'"

"Ask the owner of whichever house he enters, 'The Teacher wants to know, where is my guest room where I can eat the Passover meal with my disciples?'"



 ˈhärbənjer/  noun

As a high school junior, I took a class all but mandatory for college-bound, SAT-sitting students. It was aptly, if not cleverly called “College Vocabulary.” I took one like it in college called “Words for Nerds.” Better, right? Back in high school, our weekly assignment was to read one of the big three magazines: Time, Newsweek, or U.S. News and World Report and then circle, define, and use in our own sentence 50 unfamiliar, college-y words. (This was back in the day when magazines were printed and before USA Today made the news more entertaining by using cartoons. I mean, infographics.)

One of the words I learned and loved then was “harbinger.” I liked the look and sound of it. That it meant a sign of good things to come, an omen of better days appealed to me even as a 16-year-old. Who doesn’t like the idea of a robin’s song heralding spring? (“Herald,” another college-y word. The perfect pair, herald and harbinger-- Hark! A lark! Pretty sure that’s how I remembered them.)

These days my vocab lessons come via Instagram on “Word of the Day.” Some days ago the word was “harbinger,” but this time the expanded definition included its archaic root: “One who provides lodgings; to provide and prepare lodgings; from the Germanic compound for ‘shelter, lodgings,’ which is also the source of harbor.”

Now, this – this definition of harbinger I loved. I provide lodgings now. Often. And when I do, I fuss with the beds, arrange the toiletry baskets, and set out bottles of water (and sometimes chocolate) with a prayer that this room and these lodgings might be a safe harbor. That makes me a harbinger. I like it.

On this holy day, Maundy Thursday, I read about two harbingers I’d never noticed before. In fact in years past, I’ve skipped right over them in my haste to get to the real story. So let me introduce them, from Mark 14 in The Message:

He directed two of his disciples, ‘Go into the city. A man carrying a water jug will meet you. Follow him. Ask the owner of whichever house he enters, “The Teacher wants to know, where is my guest room where I can eat the Passover meal with my disciples?” He will show you a spacious second-story room, swept and ready. Prepare for us there.’”

These two mysterious souls are never mentioned by name but they go about preparing the place where the world’s story would forever change. Here, in the swept and readied room, Jesus would have a final meal with His dearest friends. He would foretell His betrayal, and even invite the accuser to be about his treachery.

Could the man carrying the jug, or the host himself, have known that Jesus would eat His last supper here? Could they have known that this safe harbor of the upper room would be the last place Jesus would recline before He laid dead in a tomb?

And if they, too, were brokenhearted by what would transpire only hours later, I hope they felt some measure of comfort that it was back to this upper room that the frightened, dejected disciples ran. They hid in this place waiting for something. For what? For the ground to become solid, for their heartbeats to slow, for the images of Jesus’ agony to fade? Did the host know his home would become a sanctuary for healing?

That upper room, permeated as it was with despair, in three short days would become the epicenter of joy. Unfathomable, unimaginable joy. What could the servant and host have thought then? To this room, Jesus returned, alive, and offering life that begins anew in an instant with echoes for all time to come. What I would have given to host that party.

Some suspect the owner of the home was Nicodemus, the wealthy, influential Jew, a Pharisee actually, who visited Jesus in the night and became a secret follower. Nicodemus had a reputation in Jewish history for generosity. One story says he used to walk on carpets and leave them in his trail for the poor to take. Not sure I’m buying that. We don’t know for certain who the water boy or the host were, but we know their work was important. Their work is mentioned in three of the Gospels.

Getting rooms ready matters. And not just the rooms in your house. No guilt if you’re not throwing open your doors to a dozen disciples this Easter. (If you are, I wish for you a cleaning service. I wish one for myself.) We prepare rooms every day. In conversations over coffee, in a quick word outside Costco, even in the text you shoot to a friend. Like the unknown hosts of this passion story, we are harbingers. We get to participate in the preparation for the grandest celebrations of all.

We have water jugs, and we help prepare the places where Jesus may find a home. We aren’t named and I figure we don’t often get a seat at the table, but we do our work, preparing rooms and softening hearts. We go ahead as harbingers with a word, a gesture of kindness, a prayer that declares Jesus is alive and that He wants to make His home with you.

Don’t tire of the preparation. You are needed. One day when Jesus “stands at the door and knocks,” the door will open, and in the life of someone who may never know your name, a party will break out. In places of sadness and uncertainly, the lights will come on and a celebration will let loose. And you will have been one of those who went ahead. The unknown with a jug of water at the ready and a room freshly swept.

A harbinger of grace heralding life everlasting.


Epiphanies and Other Unexpected Gifts


I have a friend who wouldn't claim to be religious. Except she is fervently religious in this: Christmas decorations in her home are forbidden after December 30th. Every year, mere days after I’ve placed the final touch on my Christmas decor, she is stripping her home of all things ho ho ho. Off go the twinkle lights. Down go holly, jolly and mistletoe. Even Santa on the front porch takes his leave. But it was time. He had to go.


In fairness, my friend is a decorator with an unfettered imagination. She is busiest in late fall, planning, shopping and, later, festooning client homes with decorations that are both lovely and fun-loving. She has a gift for turning drab into fab. And little tolerance for decorations past their expiration date.

I, on the other hand, de-decorate slowly and deliberately. I start with Santa. We don’t have a deep and real relationship. Empty boxes? Recycled or saved for next year. That’s easy. Brittle greens that draw blood when I brush up against them go next.

But oh, our tree, listing with treasures collected over decades; my mantle swag, lush with sparkling glass ornaments—most of them gifts. The angels, the crèche. I choose a day to return those to my Christmas closet. Usually a Sunday. I don’t ask for help. It’s a ritual best observed alone. I listen to my Christmas favorites, and, before I seal our ornament collection in tissue paper and zipper bags, I linger over the mama snow-woman and her snow babies carefully selected by a 3-year-old daughter, and the miniature Colorado rifle chosen by a 10-year-old son, once upon a time. I remember, I pray, and I cry. (Just a little and very quietly.)

January can suck the life out of a Christmas heart. Away with excessive and festive! Welcome austerity and organization. No more counting down to the big day. Count carbs instead. This is hardly joyful and I bet it isn’t biblical either. The wise men didn’t even show up until January 6th. We must have at least that long to enjoy the tenderness of Christmas.

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And who came up with New Year’s resolutions? That can't be scriptural. Show me the verse that says, “Yes, O Lord, I resolve forevermore to eat gluten-free, shop with coupons and rise at 6:30 every morning to greet the day with a 3-mile run. Oh, and I will not be grumpy. At all.” I will be a better person this year. By my own dictate. In my own power. I will create a better future. For myself. By myself.

That mastery of self that stiffens the spine, is it even possible? Statistics would say no. The Journal of Clinical Psychology found that Americans have a resolution-keeping success rate of eight percent. (Sounds about right.) Most of us will fail nine days into January. (Ditto.) Why would I expect anything else? Haven’t we read that self-control is a fruit—a fruit of the Spirit. Demanding that an apple tree drop fruit in January won't make it happen. Fruit-producing is a process of yielding, not demanding.

One year I tried something different. Instead of resolving, I released. I released to God’s keeping those changes in my heart and family life that I most wanted in the coming year. I recorded them on yellow, rectangular post-it notes and stuck them on the inside cover of my Bible. I included two columns on the first slip—one for the previous year to which entitled “Thanks be to God.” It seemed important to recount and thank God for the gifts already bestowed. The next column I called “Where God Leads” and there I asked where God would have me follow Him in aspects of daily life: work, home, relationships, and service. Finally, on a second note, I made a list of “Dreams and Prayers” for the year ahead. I offered these first for my husband and then for our children. Then I recorded two dreams for myself that I entrusted to God's keeping.

A year later, I revisited those dreams. In every case, I marked them with a bold check mark. Yes—He answered the prayers of a wife, mother and dreamer beyond my expectations with a generosity I was too timid (or maybe too faithless) to ask for.

While I’ve simplified the practice, every January I still offer myself and my dreams to Him. With thanksgiving for the past, and some admitted ambivalence, I let go.

I resolve to loosen the fist of control I have wrapped around the air. Who am I kidding? Can I control the future with my will? And I release myself, those I love, and our futures to the care of a God called, Jehova-Jireh, my provider. A clenched hand can receive nothing new. But into a palm upturned in trust, Jesus can give epiphanies and other unexpected gifts.


The Princess Years

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The year after “Frozen” melted the hearts of girls everywhere, Disney reported sales of more than 3 million Anna and Elsa dresses. Until last year, princess dresses topped the list of costume sales for 11 straight years. That’s a lot of tulle and tiaras. From an early age, seems that a lot of us girls want to be a princess.

But what’s a princess anyway? And who decides that? Well, at The Walt Disney Company, the definition of a princess was once hotly debated. In the center of the debate was my friend, Jody Jean Dreyer. (You can read more about that debate in our new book Beyond the Castle, a Guide to Discovering Your Happily Ever After.) At the time, Jody was head of Disney’s Worldwide Synergy and she was charged with mediating an agreement among Disney’s business units regarding a princess’s qualifying attributes. (And, no, an 18-inch waist was not among them. But there were other standards established. For example, you might be a princess if:

  • You’re a royal – by birth or marriage, or decree.

  • You’ve got a faithful sidekick – a duo of mice, a trusty horse, or a crabby guardian.

  • You’ve got some royal rags – tattered rags turned shimmering ball gown in the case of Cinderella, or less fluffy, ceremonial garb when needed. Think Mulan and Pocahontas.

By these definitions, all of our daughters, granddaughters and nieces have a real shot at being a princess. Why shouldn’t they wear a gown whenever the spirit moves them? And, the spirit moves at unconventional times, doesn’t it? I remember having purchased a Snow White costume for our then 5-year-old. (Admittedly, Snow White may not be the most admired princess for an apparent lack of feminist spunk. But she did know how to organize an unruly bunch of short people. More than I could ever manage.) Our daughter, Haley, would wear that yellow satin gown with some regal attitude – right over her elastic-waist corduroys and white, light-up tennis shoes.

Like Jody and me, do you love to see princesses in snow boots and parkas at the grocery store? Or the full royal look (and flip flops) at a church service in July? When you see these little gals you know they’ve asserted themselves to assume the role of the princess they identify with. And you wonder is that healthy? Is that how we want to inspire the little women in our lives? Susan Scheftel, Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, wrote in Psychology Today about her determination to steer her own daughter away from “princess culture” and the wearing of “symbols of female oppression.” But try as she might to introduce wardrobe alternatives, her daughter preferred wearing anything and everything – including underwear, having to do with Ariel. Dr. Scheftel came to a new appreciation for the appeal of a princess and wrote, “If we simply condemn commercialism and its takeover of little girls’ minds, we are not catching onto something important … The specific princess may be a personal preference, but it is the notion of someone being the beautiful heroine of her own story that carries the day. I guess we can’t argue with that.”

Dr. Scheftel might have been gratified to know that there were other requirements for an entry level princess. They include having endearing and enduring qualities that are often the cause of their undoing. Snow White’s kindness opens the door to an evil witch. Belle’s courage compels her to close the door on her own prison cell. Beyond that, when Jody and the many gathered heads of Disney business lines settled on those defining princess qualities, they agreed that every princess must have a transformative experience that reveals her true character.

Now those requirements are worthy. And they suggest something every mama ought to recognize. Certainly, we enjoy our girls as they try on the role of princess for a day … or a year. But are you missing a greater discovery? As you serve and love the children entrusted to you – those little struggles of joy who will not leave you alone or unchanged, can you see the transformation happening inside of you? Do you see God working some magic in your heart, taking a woman distracted by the whim-of-the-moment, absorbed with lesser things, and transforming her into his royal heir – a princess with a heart that beats for others.

So put on your tiara, Princess. By every definition that matters, it’s yours to keep.

This post originally appeared in the MOPS Blog.


Are You Ready For Christmas?

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Are you ready for Christmas? Of course not. No one’s ever ready for Christmas. When I’ve met the rare person who claims readiness, I figure she’s overly optimistic, or that her standards are simply lower than mine. She must settle for sticky-back, store-bought bows, I reassure myself.

Seventeen years of annual Christmas preparations and I’m still not ready. This year I’m less prepared than usual. This is the year my mom died, fourteen months after my dad’s death. This Christmas I find myself trying to stuff my home with memory-making spirit, while I air out, and “neutralize” my parents’ home, making it more attractive to prospective buyers. I’m decorating one home while I sort, divide and discard contents of another. It’s a fairly unbalanced approach to ushering in the holidays. Consequently, I am not ready for Christmas. 

In an early morning reading of the Christmas story, I discovered I’m in good company. No one was ready for the first Christmas either.

Take Zechariah, a man of faith, a wise old priest; he had been so disappointed by his wife’s childlessness that he refused to believe the good news of her pregnancy when Gabriel pronounced it. His faith in the impossible God was tested that first Christmas. He wasn’t ready.

Joseph wasn’t ready. He was a righteous man disgraced when Mary told him she was pregnant. Knowing he wasn’t the father, nonetheless he was asked to trust her, and trust God that her words and his dream were true. His reputation was on the line—was he a fool? Or could he be the earthly father of a holy child? He couldn’t have been ready.

The shepherds in the fields had to be inconvenienced by Christmas. They were busy protecting their sheep. It was dirty and disreputable work, but it was a job. And even if they could get away from their work (who was going to watch the sheep?), they were a mess. Shepherds were a smelly bunch. They weren’t welcomed in most towns; certainly not in a town as busy as Bethlehem was that night. Christmas came at a bad time for the shepherds.

How about the innkeeper? Of all the Christmas characters, I think the innkeeper gets the worst rap. But actually, the “innkeeper” isn’t even mentioned in the Gospel account. The word “inn” translates better to “guest room,” and is the same word used to describe the upper room of the last supper. The innkeeper was likely a distant relative of Joseph’s, opening the door to in-law pilgrims traveling because of census mandates. Completely booked, this relative offered the holy family a stable for the night. That’s quite generous given the circumstances. (If God had wanted the executive suite, he should have made arrangements. He is God after all.) Bethlehem was swamped with travelers, and this host was simply tapped out. He was over-committed. His plate was full. He didn’t ask for the census or its repercussions. He wasn’t ready for a baby’s birth in his home.

The magi weren’t prepared. Most theologians think the magi were part astronomers-part astrologers. They studied the heavens and interpreted the stars’ portent. Imagine them discovering a new star. After years of studying charts, constellations and seasonal skies, what were they to do with a new star? Their science couldn’t reconcile such an event. I’m certain the magi never expected God to part the night skies and place a latecomer star over Bethlehem.

Thinking on this cast of characters, I realized that none of us is ready for Christmas—ever. Like Zechariah, we’re too wounded by past disappointment to believe. Or like Joseph, we’re unsure whether we can stake our reputation to trust in God. Like the shepherds, we’ve got responsibilities to our own lambs. Besides, we’re not cleaned up enough for the presence of God.

These days, our lives are a lot like the innkeeper. We’re well meaning, but we’re stretched too thin. We’re not ready for a big-time commitment to God. Or like the magi, we’re struggling to make science explain faith. It’s hard to believe in something that we can’t touch. Surely, we can’t come to the cradle with doubt.

I’m really not ready. Which is just when I realized it: Christmas doesn’t come because we’re ready. Disappointed, unsure, inconvenienced, over-committed and, frankly, at a loss when logic won’t explain why. We’ll never be ready in time.

And God knows that. Jesus wasn’t born to a self-sufficient, cleaned-up, organized, and intellectual bunch as the CEO King. He came to us as savior, which is exactly what the name Jesus means.

Christmas doesn’t come because we’re ready. It comes—rather, He comes because we’re needy. That is the supremely good news, the essential element and the gift of Christmas to all who would receive it. Ready or not.


The Adventure Starts Now


On this summer day, let your mind wander and imagine the castle at your favorite Walt Disney theme park: The one you have visited (maybe four times) or the one you hope you will. Can you see the turrets standing tall against a cotton candy sky? Are their flags fluttering in the breeze? And popcorn. Can you smell the popcorn as you make your way to the castle gates? (There may be a better aroma than Main Street popcorn, but it has to rank in the top five. At least for me.)

Until a few years ago, I called Disney home. Walt Disney World, the Team Disney building in Burbank and Euro Disney (now Disneyland Paris) became homes to me during my 30-year career at some of the happiest places on earth. The castles at Disney theme parks are among my favorite sights, and the popcorn, with flavor variations at each park, is still part of my personal food pyramid.

Like you might have been, I was introduced to Walt Disney World at a young age. We actually took our first family trip there just weeks after it opened. To that point, most of our vacations were enjoyed closer to home in trips to our family farm, summer camps, or impromptu tent sleepovers in the backyard. But this vacation was a big deal. We celebrated Christmas at Disney World. Could there be anything more thrilling for a child (or possibly more overwhelming for a parent) than waking up Christmas morning to presents in a hotel room and the prospect of spending Christmas Day in the Magic Kingdom? (Let me answer that. Um…no.)  So thrilling, in fact, that my three siblings and I started pestering our parents about a second trip even before we’d unpacked from the first.

That first Disney vacation started it all for me. Not just a fascination about working at Disney, but an appreciation for experience of vacations—the planning, saving, and dreaming for one every bit as much as the actual enjoyment of it. Without realizing it, as a child I was living the mantra, “it’s not just the [Disney] destination, but the journey that counts.” Based largely on those early family vacations and the planning for them, I fell in love with the before, finding that afters are more satisfying when you’ve paid attention to the before. I came to appreciate that in the planning of an adventure I could enjoy a vacation even before I left home. In fact, I’ve even planned some trips that I never took and still enjoyed them!

Vacations call us away from home and out of our comfort zones. We explore the unfamiliar. We eat new foods and we smell new smells. Disney imagineers understand that. They know the human nose detects between 4,000 and 10,000 unique scents. Disney imagineers also know that unlike our other senses, smell is hard-wired to our brain and not dissembled or remixed. It travels a short path to the area of the brain that handles emotions. That’s why smells—like Main Street popcorn, or the musty, gunpowder smells of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, transport us to a time and feeling of our most magical moments.

But sights, sounds, and aromas are not the sum total of vacation magic. On most vacations we move out of the familiar with someone we love by our side. Nothing connects us to someone else like shared discovery and adventure. Walt Disney said he wanted Disneyland, his first park, to be a happy place “where adults and children can experience together some of the wonders of life, of adventure, and feel better because of it.” And whether you’ve been to a Disney theme park a dozen times, or you’re actively saving for a visit now, you have a thirst for this kind of shared adventure. I believe we were created for it. And nothing stands in the way of you experiencing your adventure now. Today. (Even without a Park Hopper ticket.)

Don’t wait for a Disney-sized vacation to begin enjoying a shared adventure. With a child by your side you can explore an unfamiliar park in a nearby community. Or hunt down a drive-in theater, slip your kids into their PJs and let them eat their weight in popcorn until way past their bedtime. Throw down a blanket in your backyard and watch the stars put on their own fireworks show. Ignore your obligations (if only for an afternoon) and with your children, take a daytrip to Neverland.

As a mom, you’re the family’s keeper and chief dispenser of pixie dust. This summer, give your kids a liberal sprinkling of it, and as you do, capture a little for yourself. Linger awhile to consider where the sights, the smells, and the memories of where you have been might calling you forward, further into the life-long adventure called motherhood to the discovery of something more; something magical, to be sure, and something real and true —the happily ever after meant for you. The one that you can live today.

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Read more in Jody’s upcoming book, Beyond the Castle, a Guide to Discovering Your Happily Ever After. Co-written with MOPS mentor mom, Stacy Windahl, and published by Zondervan, you can pre-order it at BeyondtheCastlebook.com.


Why, HelloFresh…


I joined the meal delivery service movement yesterday. I’m feeling guilty. I wouldn’t have, but a $40 coupon pushed me over the line.

Why HelloFresh? Let’s start with my internal dialog and why not:

I am an eight minute drive in two directions from four grocery stores that sell anything from indulgent gourmet dishes-to-go to vegan, raw, non-GMO, antibiotic-free, chia-seeded wholesome goodness. Really? You can’t get your sorry self to one of a plethora of groceries to buy your own ingredients? Well, I can. But I am feeling uninspired. I need a little help to move beyond my cooking comfort zone.

So…your shelves of cookbooks, your magazine subscriptions, Rachel Ray on the internet and the Allrecipes app on your phone, and you lack inspiration? Let’s be honest. Inspiration takes about 3 minutes to gin up. Ingredients, on the other hand, take 40 minutes to gather, an hour if you visit with five people at Heinen’s. Stash the goods, pull out the pots and pans, and it’s 7:30. I’m tired! OK?

You know, when you’ve hit the culinary wall before, JW has suggested you take all the great recipes you’ve mastered over the years, create an ingredients list, log these into a spreadsheet and companion calendar and work a rotation for planning, shopping and meal prep. To which I say: Never. Happening. Here. I refuse to be the model of wifery efficiency that your mama was. (Even if sometimes we both wish I were.) I have to find my muse to cook. Nothing musing about a spreadsheet.

OK, let me get this straight. You’re asking a large corporation and delivery men…in trucks…burning fossil fuels… to bring to your door that which you promised, decades ago, you could pull off with one hand behind your back (no doubt tying apron strings). Seems wasteful on so many fronts and a breach of contract. As for that, I sing…I never promised you an Ina Garten.

So, yes. I admit it. I signed up for HelloFresh. My first three meals will arrive on my doorstep next Tuesday. Wanna come over? We can order a pizza.


The Day of Small Things


Somewhere between the villages of Corniglia and Vernazza, along the narrow trail that connects the five fishing villages of Italy’s Cinque Terre, I came to appreciate sturdy shoes (in my closet at home); and racerback bras (at least six of them in my work-out drawer); and Band-Aids (back in the hotel, very near a bottle of wine). You have time to contemplate the things you lack, and those you long for when you are carefully planting your feet, one after the other, on a rocky endless path.

But eventually we came to an elbow in the trail, a landing wide enough to allow a rest and quick survey of our surroundings. Ohh. Look at this. How had I missed it? Below me I saw the sapphire sea churning up a latte froth. And behind me, I could just make out the pastel dots of the cliffside houses of Corniglia. We had lunch there not long ago and now it looked miles away. (Thank God, it actually was.)

In the switchback, we passed shoulder-to-shoulder with some German hikers, properly equipped with walking sticks, wool socks and sensible shoes. (And this is why they had to be German.) “How far to Vernazza?” we asked. They replied, “About an hour.” They might well have said, “About an eternity.” It seemed the same to me. And also to our fellow hiker—a loudish man from L.A. we seemed destined to dislike, who, in fact, became our favorite hiking companion. My husband, our two kids and I can recite in his response in unison: “Oh, Sh#@!!!”

A continent and two and a half millennia away, the first wave of Jewish exiles returned to Jerusalem to re-build Solomon’s temple, the once glorious house of worship razed by the Babylonians 70 years before. Under the direction of Zerubbabel, the pilgrims began laying the stones of the foundation. After two years of slow and tedious work, the foundation was complete and a celebration begun. Ezra records that at the celebration, some Jewish priests, elders and others in the crowd began to weep, so much so that the sound muffled the joy-filed praise. Their memory of what had been and their vision for what could be was not in any way evident in the construction of foundation. Such an insignificant achievement. You call this progress?

But Zechariah responded with the Lord’s admonishment—and encouragement. By my strength and by my power, the Lord said, you will complete the work. And as for small beginnings, “Who despises the day of small things? For they shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet (plumb line) in the hand of Zerubbabel.”

Do you despise the days of small things? Do you walk with your head hanging low just trying to keep your feet on an uneven path? I know it too well. How far off is the finish line? Maybe I should stop now and take a nap instead.

How many days in the early going of my marriage and career, my mothering and mentoring, did I look at the collection of irregular stones around me wondering, is this progress? Could this sorry array of stones be the foundation for a place God would indwell?

Yes. Yes. And forever, yes.

The small things are the real things. The stones the builder delights to use. Precious few go from tinker to millionaire inventor, or blogger to bestseller, or weeknight cook to iron chef. Most of us just slog away, one step at a time, one stone at a time, one small act of obedience followed by another. And it all amounts to….what exactly?

It amounts to glory.

The small things of our ordinary days, in every season of life, can create in us and provide for us the reasons to delight, rejoice and celebrate. Because the secret is—there are no small things.



Timeless, Imperfectly Perfect Beauty


My 20-something sits cape-covered in a black salon chair chatting easily with Amanda who paints certain of her tresses and then enfolds them in foil. That Amanda can get a comb through my sweet girl’s hair at all is proof that “this too shall pass,” and that even daughters resistant to hair hygiene, do, eventually, come around.

It wasn’t that long ago—was it?—that her older brother implored me, “Mom, if you don’t make her wash her hair, kids are going to start making fun of her.” She was barely half my size but I wasn’t going to get her in a headlock to tend her greasy hair. Her will was stronger than her stiff neck. She had then, and still has, thick brunette locks. No comb passed through it crown to end without a struggle and a few tears.

When my friend agonized over the lice discovered on her daughter’s head saying, “Lice love clean, blond hair,” I took some comfort knowing the invaders would never visit my daughter’s head or our home. They never did.

And now, just years after those elementary school skirmishes, I watch her. Gone are tangled, lop-sided pony tails, hairy legs, braces with bubblegum pink bands and a complexion that frustrated a caring dermatologist. In her place is a graceful young woman with a sense of style, a bright smile, dancing hazel eyes, and heavy, soon-to-be highlighted hair that sweeps and swings around her sun-tanned shoulders. Of course I’m not objective, but even strangers tell me she is beautiful.

What makes her more so is her casual regard of it. Having been (a little) dorkish for so many years (sorry, honey) seems to have re-shaped her mirror. Her reflection never was never foremost about being perfectly beautiful, but about being perfectly Haley—and knowing that was enough.

I heard a news report yesterday. It said that of the $12 billion spent on cosmetology services in 2014, an increasing number of those dollars are being offered by women in their 20s for Botox and other age-defying injectables. After what I have spent on hair dye, anti-wrinkle cream, and teeth whitening, I have no stone to cast. But, really, in your 20s? The bud is barely formed at that tender age. Just wait, sweet daughters, wait and see what beauty blossoms.

I think about beauty of the timeless sort. That kind with a softer, warmer quality—a feminine patina, that doesn’t so much demand attention as much as it quietly attracts it.

Glennie, Lila, Marianne, Edna Lee, Mary, Jannie… not one of them younger than 75 and each one a stunner. I am sure you have your list too.

Nothing shiny or tight about these women’s faces. These eyes that have looked long into sorrow but reflect only its sweetness. Their brows once furrowed in concentration (and some consternation) now arch in delight over something new and wondrous—like Instagram or a delicacy from the trove of Trader Joe’s. They have smiles on the ready and voices expressing more interest in the happy mayhem of my life than the difficulties of their own.

Oh, and then there is Alice Marie. My mother-in-law. She was prettiest in her final hour. Up against pancreatic cancer, she knew it would likely take her life. That she allowed. But she would not let it take her joy. She owned that til the end.

After a particularly caustic chemo cocktail, she lost much of her hair. Never a drinker, just one of those cocktails was quite enough, thank you.  She styled what remained of her hair in a pixie cut that months before her eventual death, made her look younger than ever. Pre-pancan, she would prepare for a travel adventure with a perm and shellacked “do.” If she managed a 10-day trip without having to wash it, the style was a success. (Hmm. So this hair-washing thing could be genetic.)

At the end of her 78 years, her wash-and-go pixie cut liberated her. Strangely, so did the cancer. It required her to own her days. Not one passed without notice or intentionality. She chose joy, and in the process got beauty. Her blue eyes sparkled like she had a secret she couldn’t wait to share. Though her body was gripped in a tightening vise, she glowed with the “imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.” (1 Peter 3:4) Not a manufactured look that screamed, “Notice me!” but the kind of loveliness that beckoned, “Come sit beside me. Let’s visit awhile because the world if full of mystery.”