Category Archives: return

Return to Sender

It was ten years overdue and found as I was sliding a tin of old Christmas cards into the trash.

An unopened Christmas card, addressed to someone other than the ones at this house, caught my eye in the midst of the haphazard pile.

Immediately two thoughts popped into my head.

  1. Lalalalala just let it go. You didn’t see anything, and it’s been sitting in the basement for years.
  2. Well, maybe you could just open it and see what kind of card it is. It’s been sitting in the basement for years. THEN you can throw it away.

Here I was, the days following Christmas, trying to face honestly all of the stuff we do not need, and tins of old Christmas cards fit the bill. I had finally decided to get on the declutter bandwagon with my husband and was taking precious time to decrapatize basement bins.

Something that should have taken seconds or minutes, stretched into days, but it was worth it in the end.

I chose option 2 and opened the card. I was not expecting to read a heartfelt note of thankfulness from a parent to a teacher or care-giver, find a hand-drawn picture from a child,  and have two Regal Cinema gift certificates fall out. Thankfulness ten years overdue.

What do I do with this?!!

Knowing that I couldn’t unsee, unopen, undo what I had done, I turned to facebook and entered the name on the envelope. One matching result came up, showing that we had one mutual friend. I sent a message to the addressee, and waited in the unrest.

A few days later was New Year’s Eve. I ran into our mutual friend during the downtown festivities in our city. She knew the card’s recipient who now lived in California. I asked if she would also message and ask her to check for my communication. I soon got a response with a mailing address.

Tucking the card, picture, and movie passes into a new envelope, I mailed them off. A few days later, a response came that the surprise flashback had been received. The tone of the message was grateful. I could finally check off the box for my basement Christmas card declutter project.

Sometimes things take longer than expected. Sometimes we don’t hear a thank you for our efforts, even though the overture was made, the picture drawn, the gift sent. Sometimes the reward for our hard work and effort sits in someone’s basement amongst their old Christmas pictures and cards for a over a decade. Sometimes the thanks gets missed through no fault of anyone’s, and oversight, a missed house number, and a busy season buries a treasure. Sometimes a discovery is made leaving the choice to engage or ignore it.

Sometimes, at just the right time, the treasure is found, the word spoken, the gift sent, the heart refreshed. It’s never too late to restore what’s been lost.


It was several weeks ago when a text came through from my youngest sister.

I want you to know that I am praying Joel 2:25 for you, that the Lord will restore to you the years the locusts have eaten.

As one of my go-to people while processing the Return in 2015, she was privy to much angst and frustration over the mess that I was trying to wade through and understand. Her simple text touched my heart in a profound way, as I began pondering what restoration would look like.

restore ~ to put or bring back to an earlier or original state; to put back into use or service; to give back

Other words and phrases began popping into my head in various contexts. One such passage was this prayer of confession from the Book of Common Prayer.

ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against Thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But Thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare Thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore Thou those who are penitent; According to Thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for His sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of Thy holy Name. Amen.

We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done. Yes. Left undone. Much.

Restore thou those who are penitent.


Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Psalm 51:12, ESV

I have not felt much joy, lately, and certainly not over the salvation so graciously given to me by Jesus.

Restore joy.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in the paths of righteousness,
for his name’s sake.
Psalm 23:1-3, ESV

Restore my soul. Yes. My soul is tired.

It’s interesting that restore is one of the words in the acrostic I did for return last year.


It reminds me that there are still places to return to, that I am not finished with that word totally, yet, but that I can back off and rest awhile. Rest in the mess.

When Steve asked me about this year’s word, I had a difficult time articulating why I chose it. I felt clumsy and awkward and began to panic and doubt my choice. I began to lose faith in my instincts and myself.

Maybe it’s not a good word. What do you think?

And that is where I knew it was right, because it is a good word and it’s mine. I don’t need permission or approval for my words to matter. I can choose them just because.

Maybe I need to restore some confidence in myself.

There was also a hard conversation yesterday that reminded me that this is a good focus for this year. There have been places in relationships broken, left undone.

Restore relationships.

Christmas break offered Steve and me a taste of unstructured time together. There were moments to just be and not feel rushed. There were moments when the kids were occupied and there were no immediate projects to attend to. We had snippets of time to dream and risk sharing those dreams with each other.

Restore our dreams. Our ability to dream. Restore our hearts.

So my word this year is a claiming of a promise made in Scripture and the continued walking by faith, believing that which is unseen. It is trusting that, yes, even what has been broken and felt shattered beyond repair can be restored.

Where might you hold hope for restoration this year, Dear Reader?

I will restore to you the years
that the swarming locust has eaten
Joel 2:25, ESV



Return to Year’s End

It’s another year’s end. Almost. Today I sit in the tension of a messy house and messy relationships and messy conversations and a messy heart.

Floodplain, the latest project by Sara Groves, plays in the background while my youngest plays in a box in the living room for her not-so-quiet-time.

Really we don’t need much
Just strength to believe it
There’s honey in the rock
There’s more than we see.

These patches of joy
These stretches of sorrow
There’s enough for today
There will be enough tomorrow.

I’m trying to trust enough for today.

My brain works faster than my fingers as thoughts bombard my head, trying to connect in a coherent way. Last year’s word drifts through my mind, filtering experiences and thoughts through its grid.

Did I do enough? Get it right? How was my progress?

I’ve been here before. . . Sara croons in the background. Friends, get this album. *She has an incredible gift . . . wondering why I can’t do better than I’ve done.

The hand of grace reaches down to me ~
A voice inside says that I can be free.

And I sit here wanting to be anyone but myself.

A voice inside says that I will be free.

Ah, yes, it’s another year’s end.

*When I say get this album, I mean it is amazing. I receive nothing from this link other than the joy of knowing that others may discover Sara’s gift of singing to the heart.*

Return to Romans 12

After posting this journal entry written nine years ago, a friend asked what I would change had I written it today. Full of shoulds, I had resisted editing them out.

This is my Return to Romans 12.

It’s hard to present myself as a living sacrifice through the daily offering of my life to God.

It’s easy to sit in the early-morning quiet and ponder the measure of grace I have been given for the tasks I have been called to. Harder is to step out and act on them, viewing the inevitable conflicts and messiness ahead as my reasonable service.

It doesn’t feel reasonable to do laundry, plan meals, clean up dog poop and pee, change small animal bedding, listen to middle-schoolers arguing over preschool toys, watch mail and bills pile up, pack lunches, fix breakfast, mediate arguments, deal with disappointments, find socks, walk the dog, scramble for lost papers and permission slips, pack lunches, figure out the daily school drop off and pick up schedule, spend hours in a classroom, monitor homework, figure out computer time, and do it all again tomorrow.

My desire to conform to the world tells me there must be something more than this. That I have missed out. This feels boring and pointless without a renewed mind that says, You are being transformed!

Being transformed sees my life as full of opportunities to love as Christ, to use my spiritual gifts, and to function as part of his body on earth. It sees these opportunities before me in my home as valid and meaningful.

So in my walking through each day, rather than wallowing in not this again, my cry is, Transform my heart, Lord! It is thinking of myself more highly than I ought to demand that I not bear my part of the broken, the painful, the hard. I am exactly where I need to be to fulfill God’s merciful plan for my life.

Believing this offers rejoicing in hope while practicing patience in tribulation. Instead of wallowing in the dog poop on the floor, I can rejoice that there are no longer poopy diapers! Once upon a time those were my biggest trial.

There will always be a new biggest trial.

My prayer is for a fervent spirit making me diligent about the work I have been called to today. I long to give preference to my family with brotherly love, to distribute to their needs with kindness, to show them hospitality.

If my greatest “tribulations” are a house to care for (shelter), laundry to do (clothing), meals to plan and prepare (food), and a classroom to run (employment), how ungrateful to complain about the blessings in my life. Transform my heart, Father, to see as you see and to receive the good gift of this day from your hand.

Reasonable Service

This morning, Pastor Todd brought words from Romans 12, challenging us to give our entire life to God. I was transported back to a season of meditation on this very passage.

Certainly not the only time I have spent in Romans, it was a significant season in my story. I recalled the exact journal used to process and pulled it from the shelf this evening to examine my thoughts more closely.

The first page tells me what I need to know.

I’ve just given birth to child #7.

It’s August 7, 2006, and it’s been a week and a half since her birth.

The summer seemed quite fragmented due to the fact that I was very pregnant for the first half and post~partum for the second.

As there are four full weeks of August before school starts this fall, I am trying to begin collecting my thoughts and planning for the coming season.

This is followed by lists of things that I would like to accomplish during the month along with things that have been lacking in my life. There is concern for my emotional stability as we enter a season of transition in the areas of church, school, and family. There is looking ahead to the fall and what to focus on with the parenting of seven children ranging from 13 years to 10 days.

There are goals set. There are lists of things to rejoice in. Blessings.

There is the question.

How can I not feel blessed?

A theme in my story is trying. I am grateful that God’s Word does not return void, no matter where we are on our path. In 2006 I was trying to do the right things on the right lists and to understand what God was doing with my life in the midst of feeling lost and overwhelmed.

The following is a mediation on Romans 12, demonstrating how God met me there in 2006. This is directly from my journal to illustrate where I was during this season.

Romans 12 ~ Wow! What a chapter! Here is what jumped out at me.

“living sacrifice” ~ daily sacrifice of self
“reasonable service” ~ caring for home and family
“do not be conformed” ~ worldly desires
“be transformed” ~ changed through the Gospel
“renew your mind” ~ think like Christ
“Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought.”
“All members do not have the same function.” ~Not everyone has my role, and that’s okay. My job is to be me.
“Having gifts differing according to the grace given to us, let us use them.” ~gift of mothering 7 ~not 2, not 12, but 7 children
~abhor evil
~cling to good
~be affectionate with brotherly love
~diligent, busy about my own work
~fervent in spirit
~serve the Lord (with gladness!)
~rejoice in hope (what is to come!)
~be patient in tribulation (dirty diapers, disagreeable children)
~care for the needs of the saints
~practice hospitality
~bless, rejoice,weep
Do not be wise in your own opinion!
~don’t seek to get even

I am to present myself as a living sacrifice to God through the daily offering of my life to him.

He has given me a measure of grace to mother seven children, and I am to use that gift for him. It is my reasonable service to do laundry, potty train, change diapers, clean up messes, organize toys, plan meals, read stories, wipe noses, run errands, and do it all again tomorrow.

My desire to conform to the world says there must be something more than this. This feels boring and pointless without a renewed mind that says, You are being transformed! Being transformed sees my life as full of opportunities to be Jesus to those around me and to use my spiritual gifts and to function as part of Christ’s body on earth.

So in my behavior day to day, rather than wallowing in not this again, I should be crying, Transform my heart, Lord! It is thinking of myself more highly than I ought to say, Not this again. I am exactly where I need to be to fulfill God’s merciful plan for my life.

I should be rejoicing in hope while patient in tribulation. Instead of wallowing in the messy pants, I can rejoice in the hope of no diapers one day!

I should have a fervent spirit making me diligent about my daily work. I should be giving preference to my family with brotherly love. Am I distributing to their needs? Showing them hospitality?

And if my greatest “tribulations” are a house to care for (shelter), laundry to do (clothing), and meals to plan and prepare (food), then how ungrateful to complain about the blessings in my life!

I resisted the urge to edit, especially all of those shoulds. I left them. That is where I was back in 2006. It was a season of shoulds. I was also in a season of the New King James Version of the Bible, which gives context to my notes and why I linked to that version above.

I hope these words have encouraged you. They certainly have encouraged me by reminding me that God has always been faithful and will continue to be so, even in the lost and overwhelmed. Thank you for journeying alongside of me and for your kindness in glimpsing my world, Dear Reader. Be blessed!

Seasonal Ritual

It happened again. Though not officially fall for another week and a half, a seasonal ritual took place today. Since my teenage son was around for a rare Saturday moment, the timing was perfect.

The porch swing was carried from the kitchen set back down to the basement.

Didn’t I just carry this up from the basement? My obliging son asks.

It’s a seasonal ritual, I reply. The carrying up of the swing in the spring in hope that THIS will be the year that I sand, repaint, and hang it. The dragging on of summer. The realization that maybe it will be NEXT year’s tree of life moment. The return to the basement.

The swing was found at the Belmont Yard Sale many a year ago by my dear sis-in-law, who picked it up for me.

If you see a porch swing, let me know, I told her.

It hung for a time on the old porch, always with the intention that one day I would repaint and rehang it.

There was the porch project that is still a work in progress as we save up money to finish it.

Oh! You live in that house on the corner that is going through the remodel.

Yes, we do. The twelve-year remodel.

There was the idea that it would be nice to have a swing hanging.

There is another season gone. Another desire delayed for a spell. There is only so much time. So much space. So much money. So much energy.

So I have my son return the swing to the basement after toying with the idea of putting it out on the curb. We almost got money for it on Craig’s List one year. Almost.

Maybe next year will be the year. For now, I just need to stick with my word and continue the seasonal ritual.

Hardship Friday ~ Guest Blogger

I’m going to tell you what it feels like to be a fourth grader riding the bus for the first time.

It was the dismissing time of day and I was going to ride the bus for the very first time in my life. Instead of my mom picking me up I would ride the bus. I was feeling like a nervous wreck and like I was going to throw up.

When they told the Boys and Girls club to go to the gym I was starting to worry. When they told walkers and riders to go to the cafeteria, the first bus was called.

I don’t remember which one but it wasn’t number Five. (did i mention that was the one I was riding?) Then the second one was called it still wasn’t number five though. Then number five was called. I was really paranoid. But some of my friends were coming so I was kinda comforted.

When they were dropping kids off at some places around my block I was getting freaked out when they were going to a different block/street. I started to cry until my friend comforted me. Luckily I was sitting by someone that lived on my street.

When I got off the bus where I was SUPPOSED to I started to walk up the sidewalk then my mom came down too. I ran up and hugged her, and my bus troubles were over.

Thank you God for Helping me, Roo.

Return to the Red Tent

Today was my first day back to work after summer’s break. Part of returning this year involves teaching again, and today began the process of setting up for another year in the classroom.

This morning I set an alarm to wake me early, beginning the push through some sort of early morning routine that I hope to follow.

I am thankful for time to practice it this week.

As I sat in my corner with Bible and journal, reading and writing and praying and listening, an alert came through my phone. It was the posting of today’s Red Tent article.

My heart soared when I saw that it was the article I had submitted for consideration this month. You see, the timing of its publishing felt perfect.

I have struggled this summer with many things, including writing. In fact, when I am struggling, writing is the first thing I cast aside, shutting myself out of the very thing that brings joy to my heart and breathes life to the hearts of others.

Writing this article was an act of defiance to the shutting-down place. It was a pushing through during a time when I didn’t feel like writing or sorting out or sharing. It was fighting for my heart.

I did it anyway.

Sometimes we just have to do it anyway. Whatever the it is that brings life to our dry bones. Even when we’re not feeling the love.

I’ve had to work this summer at intentionally looking for and receiving the love. Offering up praise and thanksgiving in the hard.  It’s there to be found. Even in 2 Chronicles. Don’t give up seeking.

I hope that if you haven’t clicked through already, you will choose to do so and see where writing took me this month. Rejoice with me in the kindness of a God who sees us as individuals and who encourages us in the places where we need it most.

You can read all of my Red Tent articles here, including a bonus by my daughter.

Still Single Digits

August is still single digits. New and fresh, the month has not yet swelled and aged into what is to come, but it’s coming.

Change is on the way.

The single digits of each month offer excitement and hope. They hold possibility. They look ahead to what is not yet here and offer a breath. A pause.

I am trying to breathe; to stay present in the single digits.

This month’s single digits offer just a little more slow down time. They remind me that the school year is not yet here, and that kids in PJs for another day is okay. They remind me to enjoy the puttering while it is still puttering season rather than borrow stress from what is coming.

Monday begins double digits and the last week of my summer before returning to work. I am spending another year in the classroom with just the right group of students. I am excited about changes that are coming. I am sad about changes that are coming.

Ambivalence much?

For now I will sit in the single digits. I will help change a guinea pig cage and visit a brand new baby in the hospital. I will hitch a ride to Roanoke to check out my son’s new apartment when he and his dad pass through with the moving trailer. I will continue to assess clothing and school supply needs for the upcoming year and check the calendar for last-minute appointments.

I will rest in the unrest. The mess.

I will savor the remaining single digits of this month.


August marks the beginning of the end of summer for me. It brings a mental shift from unstructured days and planning for travel to easing into structure and planning for a new school year. It is in this tension that I sit on Saturday, the first of August.

Reflecting on the summer, things have not been as I thought they would be. Are they ever?

I anticipated extra time on my hands to clean, organize, do house projects, and write. I envisioned the blog full of words and engagement and processing. When this didn’t happen, I envisioned closing up shop. Circling up those wagons, deleting the blog, and folding in on myself.

That wasn’t the answer, either.

What is?

I spend much time wanting answers. I want to know the end and that I am making the best choices in the middle. I want to understand the whys when sometimes they are just the secret things. I want to make sense of the senseless.

So August dawns new and fresh with possibilities even as my hopes for June and July seemed to wither on the vine this year. August brings with it more change. So much change.

I am still writing. In those moments of doubt and disconnect when the temptation to delete was strongest, encouragement came in the form of comments on posts or texts to my phone or a handwritten card. The reminder that I write to remind us that we are not alone in whatever we face kept me going during the dry discouragement of does it even matter?

I have still not returned to facebook. I may in keeping with my word this year, but I just can’t yet.

There remain places to process in quiet and things to learn about healthy boundaries for my heart. There is still much to focus on in real life and social media tends to distract me from that.

I don’t know what the end of August will hold, but its beginning is hopeful, and I will hold to that.