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Four Ornaments and a Nutcracker

Aujourd’hui I would like to introduce you to four of my favorite Christmas decorations.  (Tidbit, because you wanted to know:  I write “aujourd’hui” instead of “today” on all of my to-do lists.)

NUMBER 1:  The Angel.

I’ve had this beautiful little angel ornament for as long as I can remember.  (I’m sure it came from the Waldorf school or something.)  It’s the first ornament I remember being mine, and I love her unconditionally though I’ve had to defend her honor more than once.  One year I was asked to move her to the back of the tree because it looked like “a used cotton ball,” as my brother and my stepdad so lovingly put it.  I don’t know where they got that from.  CLEARLY she is regal and angelic-looking.

I think she may also have been referred to as "dryer lint" and "fuzz."
I think she may also have been referred to as "dryer lint" and "fuzz."

I happen to think she is beautiful and real – like the Velveteen Rabbit.

NUMBER 2: The Styrofoam ball.

I have never wanted my Christmas tree to match.  I do not want a “red and gold” tree, or a “white and silver” tree; I want funky, homemade ornaments top to bottom.  Enter the styrafoam ball.  I don’t remember how old I was when we made these with my mom, but I do remember how badly my fingers hurt by the end of it.  Almost as badly as the first time I poked cloves into an orange.  Evidently my mom prefers her Christmas decorations come with an element of pain.  You take a styrofoam ball and use little sewing pins to stick it with beads, sequins, and ribbon.  We had a bunch of these babies at one point, but I think I own the only survivor.  Though I can’t remember, I suspect this may also have been  a back-of-the-tree ornament.

Funky and awesome.  A favorite.
Funky and awesome. A favorite.

NUMBER 3:  The X.

When we were in college, Dan was the RA of Dorm 10.  They used the roman numeral on t-shirts, and they flashed the “X” sign all the time, all over campus.

Me (center, duh) with two generations of Dorm X boys.  The guy in the Santa hat became my best friend's husband.
Me (center, duh) with two generations of Dorm X boys. The guy in the Santa hat became my best friend's husband.
The back of my shirt says, "Slaying fierce dragons and rescuing fair maidens."  Although the first printing said "Slang fierce dragons and re-saving fair maidens."
The back of my shirt says, "Slaying fierce dragons and rescuing fair maidens." Although the first printing said "Slang fierce dragons and re-saving fair maidens."

Because Dorm X was our brother dorm, some girls on our floor decided to make each guy a Christmas ornament.  This was around the time that Dan and I started dating, and I like to think that the FINE craftsmanship of this spray painted popsicle stick had something to do with that.  Who can resist an artiste?  This little buddy still hangs on our tree today (though, admittedly, near the back).

I especially like the giant dab of hot glue.
I especially like the giant dab of hot glue.

NUMBER 4:  The Legal Jargon.

One year when I was in high school my friend Derick made me this ornament.  Earlier that year he’d dated another girl by the name of Kate, and there was this very confusing “Kate #1/Kate #2″ thing going on.   After their relationship fizzled, an ongoing joke developed among our group of friends that I was (for the time being) “The One And Only Kate.”

Sidebar:  I wouldn’t mind if you all started referring to me as “The One And Only Kate” from now on.

At any rate, a bunch of people got together that year to make Christmas ornaments.  Everyone gave an ornament to everyone else, and this is the one I got from Derick.

The back reads:

“To The One and Only* Kate,
From Derick

*Disclaimer: status of “one and only Kate” subject to change without notice. No purchase necessary, void where prohibited.  Status open to all persons named Kate who are legal citizens of the United States and all occupied territories.  Must be 18 or older to compete.”

I know I said 4 ornaments, but I had to throw this one in for good measure.  It’s free.


This is far and away my favorite Christmas decoration.  This little nutcracker reminds me of how amazing my husband is, and how blessed I am to have him.

Last year at this time, both Dan and I were unemployed.  We were living in our little house in Georgia and working every odd job we could get our hands on.  I was substitute teaching on a semi-regular basis, and Dan had been sending out resumes and making phone calls from dawn until dusk for nearly two weeks.  One afternoon Dan marched into the living room, threw on his coat and said, “I’m going to get a job.  If I’m not back by midnight, you can assume I’m applying at all the Waffle Houses and 24 hour Wal-Marts.”

And he found a job – three, to be exact.  He wasn’t able to spend Thanksgiving Day with us last year because he was carving ham for the guests at the Ritz Carlton.  He started his next job on Black Friday, working at a children’s retail store in the mall.  And finally, he worked as a parking booth attendant at a hospital – the 5:00 am shift.  My husband who HATES the cold and the dark in a compulsive, irrational way, got up in the wee hours of the morning, bundled up in his uniform, and sat in a freezing parking booth punching tickets so that he could provide for our family.

One evening while we were hanging out at Dan’s parents’ house, Dan told us about his long (13+ hour) day at the Ritz Carlton.  He had to wear the white waiters coat, of course, but the one that they provided had the name “Barry” stitched into it.  (Apparently someone named Barry had quit and turned in all his uniforms.  So Dan, as well as the three people standing next to him in the serving line, were all wearing “Barry” coats.  A whole row of  Barry’s carving your meat and dishing out your veggies for your Thanksgiving meal.  Bizzarre.)

That year Dan’s mom found a Chef Nutcracker, bought it, and painted the name “Barry” on his white coat.  She gave it to Dan for Christmas – as a joke.  Last year that nutcracker was silly; this year it is precious.  We are in different jobs, a different house, a different state, and that scary time just last year seems a million miles away.  But this funny little nutcracker reminds me that I have a husband who loves me.

Dan is the best man; he is strong and brave and good.  He’s a hard worker who doesn’t consider anything beneath him.  He’s a servant, and he has a heart of gold.  And I love him very, very much.

Hope: Wednesday

As I sat down to write these devotions about hope, peace, joy, and love, I asked myself, “What steals our hope?  What steals our peace?  What steals our joy?”  I want to bring these thieving things into the light, that we might reckon with them and be able to experience hope, peace, joy, and love afresh this Christmas season.

I think that perhaps the greatest thief of hope is unbelief.   We read about our great God in scripture, but because He’s SO great, sometimes we find ourselves a little skeptical.  We would never say it out loud, of course, but somewhere in our fallen, twisted hearts we think:

“God isn’t really good.”

“He can’t (or won’t) really reach this person I’ve been praying for for YEARS.”

“He can’t really heal my friend.”

“He won’t really forgive me, our use my life for his glory; I’m just too messed up.”

And when this sneaky kind of unbelief creeps into our hearts, our hope shrivels up and dies.  We stop hoping, stop praying, stop believing, stop striving – because what’s the point?

I hear those whispers in my heart more often than I’d like to admit.  And when I do, I turn to what I believe is one of the most beautiful, honest verses in the whole Bible.

In Mark chapter 9 a man is begging Jesus to help his son.  He says,

“…If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

That just kills me, I love it!  It’s just so honest, so human.  “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.”  (And you know what happened next?  Jesus healed the man’s son on the spot.)

I find myself exclaiming this to God when I recognize that sly, dangerous doubt in my heart.  God, I KNOW You!  I believe that You are who You say You are, and You can do what You say You can do.  Help me overcome this unbelief!”

With my whole heart I want you to experience the glorious hope of Jesus today (and for the rest of the Advent season).  Is there a place where you failing to fully believe God?  Is it stealing your hope and joy?  Make this verse the cry of your heart today, and allow God to restore beautiful, glorious hope in your heart!  God, help me overcome my unbelief!

“I trust You as much as I love You; help me to love and trust You more.”  [ Hinds Feet on High Places]

Hope: Tuesday

As I was putting together these devotions, the more I wrote about hope the more I realized, as I read back over my pages, that everything sounded kind of…depressing. In every single devotion the format went something like this: “Terrible things happen, life is rough, everything fails us, people in the Bible suffered, we suffer, but hey!  There’s hope!”

I thought, “Ugh, this is going to be the worst Christmas devotion ever.

Until it occurred to me that in order to have hope, you have to know there is something better than what you’re experiencing at this very moment.  Which means, by default, that what we’re living in right now is far from perfect.  (Can I get an amen?)  If everything were rainbows and poppies all the time, hope would be obsolete; we wouldn’t have any need of it.

And over time, instead of feeling melancholy about this pattern, I began to love it, because it The Bible follows the same course – from Genesis to Revelation.  Life from death, hope from despair.  Man sinned in the garden, but there’s hope!  Man rebels throughout history, but there’s hope!  The things of this world fail us.  But there’s hope!  Christ was crucified, but there’s hope!

So I’ve begun to appreciate the darkness, in a kind of way.  That is to say, I’m not afraid of it, or of talking or singing about it anymore.  I don’t think it’s negative or self-centered to talk or sing about our current less-than-perfect condition.  In fact, I think it’s biblical:

“Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us…”  [Romans 5:3-5]

The bridge in one of my favorite worship songs these days says this,

“My flesh may fail me,
Heart may fail me,
Everything I have may fail me,
My only hope is resting at Your feet!”

(Listen here)**

At first glance it might sound a little dreary – all that failure.  But I am filled to overflowing with joy when I sing it (at the top of my lungs, which I recommend to each of you), because I think that God is glorified when we acknowledge that our hope is centered on Him, and that nothing lesser will do.  “My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus blood and righteousness.

So I’m okay with a little bit of dreary, with a little bit (or a lot bit) of struggle, because “Everything I have may fail me,” and even so, my hope is secure; it is built on Jesus Christ, who “is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

Meditate on these verses today:

“Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.”  [Psalm 73:25-26]

“Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us…”  [Romans 5:3-5]

Acknowledge to God that your only hope is resting at His feet.  Give Him glory for being worthy of all of our hope and faith.  He never fails.  Make sure that He is the hope of your life and the strength of your heart today.

**The version of this song from the album, “Sons and Daughters” sings the bridge 3 times (instead of only one), and it’s paired with another great song.  Worth checking out.

Hope: Monday

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.” [Hebrews 10:23]

This is perhaps one of my favorite verses in the whole of Scripture. (A bold statement, I know.) But it’s probably in my top 10.  I just love the word “unswervingly,” and the faithfulness of God is positively one of my favorite things to think on.

His faithfulness astounds me just as much as his grace and love ever have.  You mean He’ll NEVER let me down?  You mean He’s ALWAYS there?  He doesn’t get super-busy and frazzled sometimes and just forget?  He will keep EVERY promise?  Even the really extravagant ones like “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”?  (Ephesians 2:4-5]

As Christians, our hope rests on the faithfulness of God.  If God weren’t faithful, it would be foolish of us to hang all of our hopes on His word.  But He is.   One of my pastors in college once said, “When God makes a promise, it is as good as if it has already happened.”  I love that!  When God promises something, He knows in that moment how He’s going to fulfill it (one of the perks of being omniscient and outside of time).  God told us about our Savior-Redeemer Jesus way back in the Garden of Eden.

Whatever you are up against today, or this year, you must know that God’s promises are as good as if they have already happened.  Therefore, let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.

“His faithfulness is my shield.”  [King David, in Psalm 91]

“Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be.

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!”

Hope: Sunday

Ack!  I was hoping to have this up first thing this morning, but alas.

Today is the first day of Advent!   Advent means “coming,” as in Christmas is coming.  As in Jesus is coming.  It’s such a special, wonderful season.  So without further ado, here is the devotion for today!  The rest will be early morning posts for the morning people.  I don’t know who you are, or if you are myth, but I’ll post them early just in case.


While I was in college, I took 2 ½ years to read through the Bible.  I suppose I could have used one of those “read the Bible in a year” plans, but I don’t like people telling me what to do.  I wanted to read it in order, as much or little as I pleased each day, and chose for myself which verses to meditate on.

It took me over a year and a half just to get through the Old Testament.

That’s more than A YEAR AND A HALF of reading about bondage and slavery and rules and sacrifices.  About good kings and bad kings, and a whole lot of walking through various deserts.  I remember feeling utterly depressed as I read through the books of prophecy.  It was all woe, woe, woe to everyone.  People always seemed to be poor or hungry or both.  What got me through were the promises.  In every book there was a promise:  God is going to send a savior to bring us back to Himself.  God can redeem – and He will.

For a year and a half I read every day about people longing for a savior, praying for a Messiah to rescue them.

I waited for one year; the Israelites waited for hundreds of years, just clinging to promises:  “He will be from the line of David.”  “He will come from Bethlehem.”  “He will be born to a virgin, and his name will be Immanuel, which means ‘God with us.’”

And as long as I live I will never forget the day that, as a sophomore in college, I opened my Bible to the fist book of the New Testament, Matthew chapter 1 and read,

“A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham..:”

I wept.  I felt my heart cry out within me, “This is the one we have waited for!”

Hope.  There is hope!

Galatians 4:4 says, “When the time had fully come, God sent his Son…”  God’s people clung to His promises for 42 generations, according to Matthew 1.  And God, in His perfect timing, delivered.

For the first time in my life I read every single name in a list of genealogy.  I cried and prayed, “God thank you for Judah, and Perez, and Tamar, and Hezron, and, and, and…”

And thank you for Jesus.  The hope of nations.

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O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice!  Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O, come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice!  Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O, come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.

Rejoice!  Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

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A refuge for the poor
A shelter from the storm
This is our God

He will wipe away your tears
And return your wasted years
This is our God
Oh, Oh, This is our God.

A father to the orphan
A healer to the broken
This is our God

He brings peace to our madness
And comfort in our sadness
This is our God
Oh, Oh. This is our God

This is the one we have waited for!
This is the one we have waited for!
This is the one we have waited for!
Oh, Oh. This is our God

A fountain for the thirsty
A lover for the lonely
This is our God

He brings glory to the humble
And crowns for the faithful
This is our God
Oh, Oh. This is our God

This is the one we have waited for!
This is the one we have waited for!
This is the one we have waited for!
Oh, Oh. This is our God.

You Hem Me In

I am a Black Friday shopper.

I never thought this would be the case, as I used to shop like a man.  I’ve only recently learned to enjoy “just looking,” and I’m still pretty terrible at judging what is and isn’t worth spending money on.  (In the past there was some confusion about a bobble-head chihuahua.  Yikes.)

But when I married Dan, I began to do the Black Friday thing with my mother and sister in law.  The first year I was just along for the ride (I was also great with child, so the 12 hours on my feet wasn’t tons of fun).  The second year it sort of snuck up on me, like a happy surprise.  After our Thanksgiving meal I remembered, “Oh yeah!  We get to do this!”

And this year?  I’ve been looking forward to it for weeks.  Parking/walking/spending/crowds and all.  I don’t even mind getting up early.  ME.    When you combine this fact with the stories in the previous two posts (here, and here), you will begin to understand that the Conner family has totally transformed Thanksgiving for me.

It is a SPORT for these two, now three, Conner women.  We scour the sales pages while everyone else watches  football.  We map out a route.  Usually something like Target, then Bass Pro, then Belks, (stop for brunch) followed by some giant mall where we can pick up the last of our family Christmas gifts.  I mean we literally PRINT OUT A MAP.

I’ll be out of commission for a few days, so here is a little piece I wrote after Black Friday last year:

Sandra, Sandy, Madeline and I were in Big Lots for round two of Black Friday Christmas shopping. We’d stopped by the house to eat some leftovers, and collect Madeline from our babysitters.  I mean husbands.

The Big Lots here is kind of like K-Mart, only less organized and junkier, if you can imagine it.  It had been a long day, and after only 10 minutes of sitting in the cart, Madeline began to “escawhine.”  (Short for “escalating whining.”)  In the event that you are not a parent, allow me to explain: when a child escawhines, the child states what it wants and if the parent doesn’t IMMEDIATELY comply, the child tries again, only an octave higher and slightly less articulate.  And then higher and even less decipherable over and over until the child’s whining has escalated to such a high, squeally, incoherent state, that it sounds like a freight train slamming on its breaks.  And if you listen really closely, you can hear the screeching metal train saying, “Wanna hold Ellllllmmo!”

So Madeline began to escawhine, “I don’t wanna sit in the caaaaarrt.”

For a brief moment I considered turning this into a teachable moment – leaving her in the cart to show her that whining doesn’t work (or at least that I am as stubborn as she is), but that is a battle that can be won in the comfort of our living room – not in a crowded discount-super-store.  Her remaining in the cart is hardly a hill worth dying on, so I plucked her up and plopped her down on her tippy toes and let her walk beside me.

She toddled around, weaving in and out of all our legs, touching EVERYTHING.  At which point I began to look for the 5-gallon jug of off-brand hand-sanitizer.

Madeline called out all the numbers she recognized on the sales tags as we passed. “Dassa fiiiive.  Dassa freee.  Dassa seven.”  (She says “seven” really fast, like a ninja.)  Then she pulled on the beards of all the singing Santas until she found a little pokey football on the floor and carried it around the store, clutched to her breast like a prize.

That funny little girl is the prize of my life.  We moved   s l o w l y through the store in a single file line.  Sandy first in her knee-length black and white giraffe print coat (which I would like to borrow for my Cruella DeVille costume next Halloween).  Sandy was followed by her mother, Sandra, who was followed by triumphant Madeline with blue football, and finally me – exhausted, bedraggled, and pushing the cart heaping with cheap Christmas decorations.  We look like a bunch of people who would shop at Big Lots.

As happy as I was to watch Madeline walking with her football prize, I was also keenly aware that she is a beautiful little two-year-old girl wandering through a store full of strangers at Christmas time, all by her big-girl-self.

And every time our little caravan turned a corner and I saw “the Sands” disappear, I accelerated my cart right up behind Madeline as she stepped out around the corner – like I was cutting out in traffic – so as not to leaver her in the back of the line, exposed.  I repeated this exercise as we worked our way up and down all the aisles, imagining Madeline as a duckling waddling in line.  I zipped around every corner right on her heels and smiled as I saw her walking safely between her grandmother and myself.  She hadn’t a care in the world; she was safe and happy, and I was hemming her in.

And in my heart I heard a whisper,

“You hem me in – behind and before; You have laid your hand upon me.…”

I memorized Psalm 139 in high school so I immediately recognized the whisper as the Word of God.  And in that moment the word-picture in Scripture came alive to me.

I saw myself in little Madeline: marching forward, unaware and fiercely loved.  With every corner we turned I thought, “Precious Father, You watch for me like I watch for Madeline.  Only instead of protecting me in a bargain store, you protect me through this messy, scary thing called life.”

I could have started crying right there in our caravan at Big Lots (which really would have been a sight).  Oh, Jesus.  You hem me in – behind and before.  I walk safely through life with God going before me to lead me, and following close behind to keep me safe.  Never exposed. Hemming me in.

As soon as I got home I pulled out my Bible and began to read.

O LORD, you have searched me
and you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O LORD.
You hem me in—behind and before;
you have laid your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.”
[Psalm 139: 1-12]

I have a great big God who loves me enough to hem me in as a travel through life.  He turns the murky darkness around me into light, because darkness is as light to Him.  He is fatherly towards me – tender.  And He makes me feel safe when everything around me is in upheaval.

You’ll hear from me again after I emotionally recover from all that spending.  And when I do?  It’s time for Advent!  Get excited.

1,000 Thanks

Dan told two stories last Sunday, both of which I was looking forward to sharing with all of you this week.  My stomach got fluttery as he told them – because I realized they are as meaningful to him as they are to me.  So here are two Thanksgiving stories that are special to us; they’ve become the very beginning of our family’s Thanksgiving narrative.


The first story is actually from the Bible.  It’s found in two places, 1 Kings chapter 3, and 2 Chronicles chapter 1.  It’s the story of Solomon asking for wisdom after he becomes king.

It says that Solomon loved the Lord, and that he went to the most important high place to offer 1,000 offerings of thanks to God.  I wonder how long it took to make 1,000 burnt offerings.  Gracious.  Immediately after Solomon finishes worshiping and thanking God, the Lord appears to him!  (Crazy.)

God says to Solomon, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” (Even crazier.)  Here is Solomon’s response:

“You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day. Now, LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties.  Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number.  So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

He asked for wisdom.  I don’t know what I would have asked for, but I’m not convinced it would have been so noble.  This was God’s response:

“The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this.  So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for…”

Pause.  Let me just say, that’s God. He gives us what we don’t think to ask for.  :)

“…Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.”

Solomon wasn’t greedy in his request.  He wasn’t itching to be a little happier, a little wealthier, a little more fit or talented or whatever.  And I think the reason that Solomon wasn’t greedy was that he’d just spent days meditating on the provision and the goodness of God!  He wasn’t caught in the “just a little bit more” trap because he was grateful for what he had – grateful for where he was.  He was content.

What a precious story about the power of gratitude.  Oh, that all of us were so overwhelmed with gratitude that there would be no room for greed in our hearts.


The second story is from the early days of Dan’s and my dating relationship.  Six years ago, while he was home from college on Thanksgiving break, Dan decided he was going to ask me out on a date.  He did so on Monday, our first day back, and we went right then and there!  I didn’t KNOW it was a date until about halfway through the evening when he busted out the charm, because Dan is very sneaky that way.  Another story for another day.

At any rate, one afternoon we were sitting in a restaurant on campus and Dan started sharing with me what he’d been reading (The story of Solomon in 1 Kings).  He announced, “I have a project for us.  Let’s make a list of 1,000 things we’re thankful for.”

“Deal!” I said.   How hard could it be?  I’m thankful for everything; I don’t have anything that I haven’t been given.

PAH! Oh, foolish young Kate.  As it turns out 1,000 is a really big number.  I started with everything I could think of about God that I was thankful for.

1. God as my creator
2. God as my provider
3. God as my healer
4. God as my savior
5. God as my comforter…

God is indefinable and inexhaustible, but my brain is not, so I ran out of things somewhere in the 70′s, if I remember correctly.

I moved on to family (I have a big family, so that was a help).  Then friends, teachers who impacted me, people who gave me jobs, mentors, etc.  All my homes, cars, food, schools.  Privileges we Americans so often take for granted.  All sorts of various freedoms, our military, etc.  Getting to 300 was actually pretty breezy.

In the 400′s I had to get a little creative.  Ummm, I’m thankful for…

412. Nail polish
413. Nail polish remover
414. Shampoo
415. Conditioner
417. My straightener

At first I was disappointed in my pettiness, but then I thought, “This is the point!  These are small privileges that bring me happiness, and it’s not silly to be thankful for that.”

My little privileges got me another 150 or so.  Then I started saying thank you for certain experiences.

566. That time we went boating with my Dad that I’ll never forget,  and we found that little island on the lake.
567. That time we saw a gorgeous hawk sitting on a fence post on the way home from horseback riding with Mom.
568. That time my teacher gave me extra credit when I didn’t deserve it.
569. That time my friend Megan and I didn’t get caught TPing those houses…

When I got to 700 I thought, “SEVEN HUNDRED!  I’m almost done!”  But the thing about 1,000 is it’s such a big number that even when you’re almost done, you still have THREE FREAKING HUNDRED MORE THINGS TO THINK OF.

By the end it was all,

890.  For air to breathe on January 5
891.  For air to breathe on January 6
892.  For not dying in a firey car accident on January 7

When all was said and done I certainly had a greater appreciation of Solomon’s offerings!

But I also knew a lot more about my future-husband, and most importantly, I took the time to flex my gratitude muscles.  It was such a blessing to flip through pages and pages of my handwriting knowing that each page was filled from top to bottom with things God saw fit to give me.  Several times during “the project” I was moved to tears by the overflow of God’s goodness in my life (and this before I was a crier!).  I remember thinking, “Why me?  Why should I receive all these things?  What did I ever do to deserve them?”

The answer, of course, is nothing.  I did nothing to deserve them, but that’s grace.  And I’m convinced that if you take the time (and grueling effort) to make a similar list, your experience will be similar to mine, and similar to Solomon’s.  It sucks the greed and discontentment and dissatisfaction right out of your heart when you are overcome with the thousands of things you’ve already received, which you did not deserve or think to ask for.

But that’s God.  ”Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for…”  This year, don’t stop with a cursory top 10 list of things you’re thankful for – take the time to flex your gratitude muscles.  You will love what it does in your heart.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends.  I’m thankful for you.

Culture Shock

Five years ago Dan and I made the long drive from the mountains of Virginia to Atlanta, Georgia.  We were still dating, and I was about to spend Thanksgiving with his family for the very first time.  I could not have known the culinary culture shock I was headed for.

Now, I’d already met everyone because of the horrid, horrid New Years I’d spent with them two years earlier.   Yes, it was that bad.  Here’s the two-minute summary:

One Christmas my Dad got me plane tickets to Atlanta to go spend some holiday time with Dan.  We had been dating for a sum total of 2 weeks, so I was all high on puppy-love-crush and thrilled to go.  As we were sitting around the table on New Years Day, the family received a phone call saying that “Big Mama” (Dan’s Great Grandmother) had passed away.  I spent the next two days of my romantic vacation at the funeral home, where I knew not ONE. SINGLE. PERSON.  Unless you count Dan’s parents whom I’d met the night before.  Dan was a pallbearer, and I certainly wasn’t considered “family,”  so I waited outside of the viewing area with a bunch of strangers for the most uncomfortable hour, and everyone kept asking me how I was related to Big Mama.  When I told them I was Dan’s girlfriend, they said, “Oooh, how sweet of you to come all this way for the funeral.  It must be serious.  How long have you two been dating?”

“Ummm…for exactly 14 days now.  Is there a casket somewhere in back that I could go crawl into?”

So – I’d met Dan’s family before, but Thanksgiving was the first holiday I’d ever participated in where someone didn’t die.

My Dad grew up in Nebraska/Pennsylvania, and my mom grew up in Illinois/Ireland.  We don’t exactly do southern food.  I didn’t have sweet tea until I was in high school, and I used to think okra was a type of seafood.  I’d graduated from college before Dan gave me my okra education.

Dan, however, grew up in Georgia.  Like, Gone With The Wind Georgia.  So it stands to reason that our Thanksgiving meal experiences were quite different.  Take dressing, for example.  I thought this was a verb, not a food.

That year, as I stood in Dan’s Grandmother’s kitchen and surveyed the buffet line, I noticed that stuffing was nowhere to be found.  Thanksgiving with no stuffing? And the sweet potatoes were not mashed with a touch of brown sugar on top.  They were sliced, like sweet potatoes au gratin, except for they were swimming in an entire bottle of Karo syrup and probably a whole bag of melted sugar, too.  The green beans were not in a casserole.  WHERE ARE THE FRENCHES FRIED ONIONS?  IS NOTHING SACRED?   And then there were strange foods, like tomato ketchup to go in the black eyed peas, but it’s really not ketchup at all.  And pepper sauce – the juice that comes out of a jar full of shrively green peppers.  (Pepper juice is for pouring into your bowl of collards.  Before that day I could not have told you what a collard looked like.)  And a little piece of my soul died when I inventoried the dessert table: no pumpkin pie.

Culture shock.  I swallowed hard and scooped a few green beans onto my plate – all cooked down to a deep forest green color.

These, are collards.
These, are collards.

Because God is hilarious, I ended up MOVING to Georgia.  I worked with a few southern belles in an office before I had Madeline, and one fall afternoon I was telling them about my first southern Thanksgiving.  When I mentioned stuffing à la the North/Midwest, my friend Bridget piped up, “With sage!  In the bird!”   Bridget was from Ohio.

Our eyes sparked and in that moment she was my soulmate.

“Yes!” I exclaimed.  ”My brother was always pouty because he had to cut up all the bread!”

“Did you make acorn squash?


“And cut it in half and stick it face down in a pan of water?”


Now, I’m not a foodie kind of person.  I don’t like to cook and I’m not a recipe-posting variety mommy blogger, BUT LET ME TELL YOU, that day Bridget and I talked food for nearly an hour.  You would have thought we were chefs in a former life.  It was magical; we were food sisters.

After having spent many Thanksgivings with the Conners, I know the ropes.  I know that dressing is basically the same thing as stuffing, except it’s made with cornbread and baked in a pan.  I also know that if you douse it in gravy it is  heavenly. As you’ve probably deduced based on the bag of sugar/bottle of corn syrup thing, the sweet potatoes are also divine.  And biscuits!  When I rule the world there will be southern biscuits at every meal.  For the last two years I’ve brought my green bean casserole to the table, which people really like, and I also make a pumpkin pie.   I’m usually the only one who eats it, but truthfully, I’d be alright if it stayed that way.

I’m really looking forward to traveling to Georgia to spend Thanksgiving with Dan’s parents this year.  The jittery, I-might-start-packing-tonight kind of excited.

And now I live in Alabama.  ALABAMA.  I love fried okra, fried catfish, and fried pickles.  I could even pick Paula Deen out of a lineup.  Who am I???  Sometimes I even say holler – as in, “Madeline stop hollering,”  or “Dan, holler if you can hear me!”  (Please don’t tell my mother.)

If you had told me five years ago that I would be here today, I would have laughed.  Or fainted.  But that’s how life goes.  In the book of John, Jesus tells us that He’s come to give us life more abundant, and since I’ve become a Christian, my life is certainly that.  Abundant.  Abundant in surprises.  Abundant in challenges.  The highest highs and awfully low lows.  Abundant in brokenness and humility, and abundant in joy.

Thanksgiving (and southern food) remind me of how full and brimming my life is.  Here’s to living with open hands, palms facing up to God as if to say, “My life is open before You.  Take anything, take everything.  And I will gladly accept whatever You choose to give me.  Even if it is collards.”


What is the biggest food culture shock you’ve ever experienced?

What is your “it’s not Thanksgiving without it” dish?

What things remind you of your abundant, surprising life?

This is what I want to know.