In the Garden of Gethsemane

Lately I’ve been wondering why I’m in medicine. Rather, I’ve been wondering how to get out of medicine. I have two young boys who need me home so much, and the challenge of juggling their needs, my husband’s needs, and my needs with my patients’ need to have a physician available to them twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, is truly impossible. At any given time, I am letting somebody – often several people­­ – down. But more than that, I find medicine exhausting. I’m not talking about the fights with the HMOs, or the hours, or the fear of being sued. I’m talking about the suffering. 

I’m writing over at The Well today. Will you read the rest here?

Feast of the Annunciation: looking ahead

Today is the Feast of Annunciation.  Good news proclaimed before we can even see it.  A brave young woman, willing to accept an impossible call because it comes through an overshadowing by the power of the Most High.

“How will this be?” Mary asked, “since I am a virgin?”

The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.  

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. (Luke 1: 34-38)

How is your Lent coming, friends?

Our Lent has been very low key.  I can’t find the mantle letters I packed away last year, so we still have GRACE up, instead of PRAY.  Grace is good, too, and it’s apparently the message I need to be focusing on right now.  I haven’t even pulled out the Lent wreath, though the children have asked.  (I don’t know why I have such lassitude about it.)


We have been slowly memorizing Isaiah 58:6-9 (we’re on verse 7). We’re taking this slow, so that even SweetP can join in.  I feel like the Israelites in the desert– I’d love to push ahead and get somewhere (anywhere?) faster, but the point is to bring everyone along. Leave no one behind. So we go slowly.

But Easter is around the bend, with Holy Week looming.  This is a link to our Holy Week tradition, and one the children are planning to hold me to, lassitude or not.  But I am excited to peruse my copy of Let Us Keep the Feast: Holy Week and Easter (out this week) for new traditions and ideas.

Lent is just around the corner

Usually Lent sneaks up on me, and WHAM- we’re in it, without my having much chance to think ahead to it. To plan, as it were. Perhaps my absurd surprise (at this season that happens every year? Seriously?) is a side effect of my love of Epiphany. Whatever the cause- my heart or my shoes-Ash Wednesday often finds me scrambling.

This year, I have two advantages over years past. One: Epiphany was long this year. I had almost two months to celebrate the season of winter’s Light traveling forth into the world. Two: I had in my hands a copy of Let Us Keep the Feast: Epiphany and Lent. Cate MacDonald’s thoughtful chapter on Lent was a help to me.

My kids were talking about Lent in the car recently. Owen remembered his Lego Fast, during which he “lasted” only five days before caving in to play with his favorite toy. The children were eager to recommend fasts to one another: “You should give up chocolate chip cookies!” and “You should give up books!” (Apparently they remembered by recounting the story of Lauren Winter’s Lenten fast from her chapter –I think- from Girl Meets God.) I was at a loss to think how to move them from a concept as a fast as punitive or fasting for the sake of fasting, to a real fast, which would clear away cobwebs in our heart to let us hear God better.

Cate MacDonald’s chapter focuses on Isaiah 58. Isaiah apparently had the same struggle with Israel as I am having with my children (and to be honest, with myself.)

It appears in this passage that the Lord has chosen a fast that is, in a way, no fast at all. He does not tell us what to give up, but instead what to do. The fast the Lord has chosen is charity, justice, and generosity. The fasting itself is irrelevant- or at least it could be, depending on how you use it.

So I think we will be memorizing Isaiah 58:1-9 and talking about God’s idea of fast. Some of us may choose also to do a more physical fast. I think I will pick up a prayer discipline of some sort. And we will talk as a family about how to reach out to the refugees in our backyard, and pray through how God would have us respond to the hungry, the homeless poor and the naked in our midst.



If you are looking for a more structured way to prepare your family’s hearts for Holy Week and Easter, I recommend Ann Voskamp’s Trail to the Tree (with fewer than 40 days of meditations, so that you can start “late” and still complete the story before Easter). But let’s be real: it’s never too late to start, and a small change in my heart is still a change from where I was yesterday.  Owen’s “failed” Lego Fast- and my many “failed” fasts over many years- are not failures. They are windows into my need for God, and opportunities to begin again.

For the love of the Light


I struggle with the darkness in January.  Even now, living in a state with 300 days of sunshine a year, I still struggle with the long nights and late sunrises.

When Jonah was a baby and woke at 5 or 5:30 to nurse and play for an hour or two before going back to bed, we spent many early mornings at the dog park just watching other people’s dogs chase balls on the hill.  But in icy January, which was too cold even for Jonah in his fleecy snowsuit and fuzzy blankets, we stayed home and sat together by candlelight.

Candlelight feels sacred to me.  The light illumines only the space directly around it, but that light is warm. Welcoming. Holy.


Sunday is Candlemas, when we will bring our candles for the year (the ones I have gathered, at least) to be blessed by our priest.  Traditionally, the prayers for Candlemas echo Simeon’s recognition of Jesus’s divinity, as recorded in Luke
2:25-36.  Jesus is the Light.  May He reign in our homes.  May His Light go forth from our homes to illumine the world.


Can we burn unblessed candles all year? Of course.  Can they still remind us of Jesus and remind us to carry his light into the world?  Certainly.  But this small tradition during the season of Epiphany is one of the many opportunities the Church calendar affords us to break the barriers between Church life and home life, and our family certainly needs more of those.  Will you join us?

“All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.” St Francis of Assisi

Celebrating Epiphany

I have new energy for celebrating Epiphany this year.  I’m not sure where that came from- a good break these past two weeks? a snow day to prepare?- but I am going to enjoy it while it lasts.

Normally, I think Epiphany is one of the harder seasons of the church year.  Not that Epiphany itself is hard, but it’s not like Christmas which everyone (and their local Walmart) have suggestions for how to celebrate.  Epiphany is a quieter season, like Ordinary Time, and takes a little more thought.

Like Christmas, Epiphany is a holy day (January 6) as well as a season (running from January 6 to Ash Wednesday, which this year falls of March 5).  Traditionally, Epiphany celebrates the bringing of Light to the nations and recognizes the Magi’s visitation of Jesus.  (Eastern traditions focus on Jesus’ baptism.)

For Epiphany (the day) we have:

  • made French Galette de Trois Rois (Three Kings Cake)
  • played Find the Baby (hiding a small baby Jesus doll, often the one from our crèche)
  • made glittery crowns
  • made star cupcakes
  • played follow the leader, with the leader carrying a star.

but obviously not all at the same time.  This year, I am teaching children’s church, so we will read about the Magi and Herod, play Find the Baby, and follow the star.

For the season, we will:

  • light lots of candles, to represent Jesus as Light of the World.
  • cook lots of international food and spend time learning about the countries and how to pray for them.
  • support World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse as they bring Light to the nations.
  • read Matthew 2:1-12.
  • star-gaze.  Right now we can see Jupiter (it’s so bright!) in the east soon after dusk.  Try here for a weekly digest of what to look for in the night sky.
  • sing the first verse and chorus of We Three Kings as our sung grace.
  • make a little extra time in my day for prayer.

I also am excited to find new traditions in Let Us Keep the Feast: Epiphany and Lent.

What traditions draw you to the Light of the World and lead you to bring his light to the nations?

{phfr}: St Nicholas Eve

Sorry about the blog silence here… I feel a little bit like I’m in a cast and can’t find my crutches.  Meanwhile, there are Christmas letters to write and piles of mail on my desk to dig out and kindergarten presentations on Guatemala (let alone my own processing of the trip), and we’re already halfway through the first week of Advent.

But that’s where the traditions come in to help us– my mom pulled out all her decorations (saving me the trouble of digging through the mountains of boxes) and set things up, and the children are off and running on their Advent traditions. I didn’t make it to Trader Joe’s for gold coins while we were in Chicago last week, but I did find two St Nicholas books at the library.  And we can probably manage a batch of sugar cookies cut into mitre hats.

So without further ado, I have a few photos of Advent doings around here.

Pretty:  My parents’ Christmas decorations. My favorite it the olive wood crèche.




Happy: I made these little Advent people (they’re just felt with beans and stuffing inside) when SweetP was a baby.  They were the first things she asked for when the other kids said it was Advent.


Funny: here’s what my medical assistant was making yesterday while I was seeing patients.


Real: Can you see how big Jonah’s hands are here? Just a week (or maybe 13 years) he was the baby lying on the floor giggling up at the Christmas tree. Now he’s the one we tap to decorate the top of the tree. Time’s a-flying, friends, so who cares about the mounds of stuff on the desk? Not I.


Capture more contentment in the context of every day life at Like Mother, Like Daughter.
round button chicken

Breakfast: the Most Important Meal

I began my medical residency with a cross around my neck and a Bible in the pocket of my white coat.  The three or four years of residency are when a new doctor truly learns her craft.  It is a grueling test of stamina and courage—like war—when much of what we see and even do is horrible and hard to explain to anyone not living it, too.  We work on catnaps and irregular food and follow a strict hierarchy that leaves little room to question orders and decisions.  The stakes are high, and mistakes are harshly punished.  I had been warned by those before me to hold onto my faith with two hands, and I pondered this advice as often as my sleeplessness would let me.

I’m writing over at The Well today.  Will you read the rest here?

Mommy, why is Santa everywhere we go?

So now that Halloween (my least favorite holiday ever) is over, my observant children are noticing Santa everywhere.

I have an uneasy relationship with Santa.  I was a little creeped out by the radio show in my town that gave a blow-by-blow of the UFO/sleigh sightings across America on Christmas Eve.  If he was so great, why did he only show up one night a year?  Of course, he did bring me the teddy bear I slept with every night from the time I was five until I was … wait–how old am I? I think I just had a birthday. Forty-three. Where was I?


Oh. Santa. Everywhere.

For a long time, I was determined that his name would not be mentioned in our house.  Like Voldemort, only nocturnal.

And then it turned out my kids were way smarter than I was, and they could handle the world of make-believe AND the world of reality side-by-side.  They were pretty sure someone who showed up just once a year to drop presents in their socks wasn’t real.


Some days I am afraid the barrage of Christmas marketing is going to make me loathe Christmas as much as I loathe Halloween.  That would be a tragedy, because I truly love Christmas:  the miracle that God would come to be a person with sweaty skin and bad breath and bed head.  (Manger head?)


So there we were in the grocery store, and Owen asked, “What about Advent?  Did we skip Advent this year?”


And that was a double-take: my children noticed Advent.  As if it weren’t just a way to get more days of elf on the shelf candy and a terrible countdown of how rapidly Christmas is approaching and how I’d better get everything bought before there aren’t any more widgets or iGadgets or any more 18-inch doll paraphernalia left on the shelves.

While I’m on my fast-approaching the end of the year rant, can I talk about the pressure to take a perfect holiday photo?


I was taking a walk in the park with a friend last weekend, and we kept tripping over photographers taking photos of families wearing clean, coordinating clothing under the golden trees.  I used to try to get a good photo of all of us. Granted, I never actually hired a professional photographer, which apparently is the only way to get a decent photo.


(Of course a perfect photo is so much more representative of our family than all those hundreds of other photos I take all year long, with messy hair and dirty clothes and half of Moriah missing because she was dancing when I snapped the photo.)


Instead, I would beg a friend with a good camera [read: camera with interchangeable lenses] to take photos of us one afternoon.  (Remember when we had to buy FILM?  And worse, DEVELOPING?)  Invariably someone would be sick and the only photo in which everyone was looking at the camera would have snot dripping down someone’s face.  (For clarification: usually it wasn’t my face.)

There was the year Jonah climbed up the dresser I had neglected to fasten to the wall, resulting in a black eye and gash on the nose. Another year I was determined to take a photo of my children in front of the Chagall windows at the AI and Owen wouldn’t even get in the photo, let alone hold hands (see above). And then there was the year I told the children I wouldn’t let them get back in the car until I had a photo of everyone smiling.  (It was so cold I finally made do with everyone smiling, but one little elf looking sideways at her brother.)


(Okay, this one wasn’t even attempting to be a holiday photo. It’s just an example of a beautiful photo ruined by snot.)

One year we took photo after photo at the beach in our matching collared shirts and shorts.  I kept scolding one of them (probably poor Jonah again) for looking sick, and then all of a sudden he yakked a gallon of vomit onto the seagrass at his feet.  (Sorry I can’t find that one to post for you.)

I don’t want simulated perfection this year.  I don’t want the blow-up Santa or the pressure of making the perfect card I saw on pinterest or the illusion that someone magical is going to put the ideal gift in my monogrammed stocking.

Furthermore, I apologize if any of my previous attempts in manufacturing perfect have made you feel bad about the messy, true miracle that is your life.

This year I want Christmas, the real deal.  God Incarnate.   “And without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory.” 1 Timothy 3:16

And I want the miracle 365 days a year.  The real, the action shot.  I want the whole mystery fleshed out in my life.  God was far; he came near.  He touches me every day and speaks into my mess, my inadequacy, and my brokenness.  Great is the mystery.

Cherishing our Baptism

Each of my daughters received a rose-bush for her baptism.  Moriah was baptized on All Saints’ Sunday (November 1), and I had a tiny tea rose-bush to keep alive all winter.  It was a lovely gesture, but that winter nearly killed it, between the too-sunny window in which I placed the rose, and the intermittent watering it received.  The next summer, things calmed down in my life, and I pruned it back a bit and planted it in the earth, where the watering was a little more frequent.  And how it grew!  Moriah’s baptism rose was the one plant we excluded from the sale of our house, and we transplanted it to the new house two years later, where it thrived in afternoon sun.


SweetP’s rose-bush was planted at the new (now old) house between two other, larger bushes.  In the spring it got plenty of light, but as the summer wore on, the larger bushes shaded it, and though it bloomed, it was hard to find them among all the green around it.  We sometimes forgot to look for its beauty and sweet fragrance.


Both bushes were excluded from this summer’s house sale, and I dug them up and put them in pots which now sit outside my mom’s house by her clematis bush.  Both roses died back, looking dead after the trauma of being dug up.  I know I badly damaged the root of Moriah’s bush– being so much larger than SweetP’s, the root was deep and fat and I couldn’t pull it out whole.  SweetP’s bush came back in September with full leaves, but the most Moriah’s rose has managed so far are two green trunks.  I pray those will sprout new growth in the spring. Winter is coming, and I will have to move them to the basement, because I think the pots are not going to be enough protection from December wind and cold.


My faith is so much like those two roses.  It started came as a gift, started very small, but put out fragrant blossoms almost from the beginning.  It depends not only on the soil around me, but on my tending it.  Nurturing it.  And as I know, the “worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth” (Matt 13:22) so frequently choke the growth out of me.

When I water those roses and prune them, I pray for our faith.  For each of us,  that the gift of our faith, like the gifts of our baptism, will grow and produce a crop for the Kingdom.

Let Us Keep the Feast

Whoo hoo!  I have exciting news to share!

I have been part of a book project for the past two years: Let Us Keep the Feast: living the church year at home.  It’s a book of ideas for how we can celebrate the liturgical year. The ideas, both traditional and new, are for anyone wanting to deepen their faith by observing the cycle of the church year.

The book will released in chapters, by season.  The first season (Advent and Christmastide) will be released in November.  I can hardly wait. Epiphany and Lent will come out in December; Holy Week and Easter in February; and Pentecost, Trinity, Christ the King, & Ordinary Time in April.  A collection of all four sections will be available together next year.