The truth about Thanksgiving break



One of the best quotes of all time about this time of year.
By Anne Greene, on looking forward to the end of exams
and the coming end-of-semester break.

“Thanksgiving break is such a tease.”



Truth. Amirite?

Thanks Sister-in-Law! And Happy 50th!

In a continued celebration of my 50th birthday, 7-22-2015, I’m writing 50 thank you notes in 50 weeks. Here’s number 11, to my sister-in-law, Kim.

Thank You Sister In Law
The Mitchell Family 2012
(Kim, 2nd from Left)

Dear Kim,

It’s your 50th birthday: a perfect time for me to tell you just how much I appreciate you and the qualities you bring to our family.

You were the last in-law to join us, setting our count to eight once and for all. (Well, eight plus eight now, but still . .  . .) You’ve been a Mitchell for over two decades, or forever; I’m not sure. It seems like our family has always included you.

Kim, I love how you love us. It’s clear to everyone: your devotion to your family-in-laws has nothing to do with marital obligation. You love each of us with visceral faithfulness. You are all-in, 100%, wholly committed to our clan and we all know it. Thank you Kim, for loving us in that full-throttle Kim way. I so appreciate that about you.

Your gifts, so different than mine, amaze and humble me. Your no nonsense efficiency with the details of life is such a blessing to our whole family. Thank you for prioritizing life’s particulars; by the time I realize the minutiae exists, you’ve already resolved it. Thank you.

Kim, I’ve never doubted that you loved my parents as your very own. Your love for them is clear with every interaction you have with them. I mean it when I say I NEVER worry about them. I don’t because I know you are right down the street, a phone call and a 30 second drive away. So many times over the past several years, this reality has proved, if not life-saving, then at least anxiety relieving.  But in the last 12 months, having you so close to our parents has kept me from lying awake at night, consumed with worry. I remember the first time I spoke with you after we learned the extent of Mother’s surgical needs. Your response, honest and immediate: “I wish I could do it for her.” And I knew you did. That’s how much you love her. I can’t tell you how much that means to me.

Of course, living a two-minute walk from our parents means that you get an influx of company at least twice a year. Anyone else might be at the very least annoyed when we descend on your hospitality and invade your space. But if having an extra 8-10 people at your house is an imposition, I’ve never known it. And the thing is, it’s not just that I feel welcome; it’s more than that. It’s like you have been waiting for us and are delighted we’ve arrived. “Would you like a beverage?” you say as you hand me an ice-cold Diet Dew. Thank you Kim, for always wanting us around.

Thank you for your passion for family, your zest for life, and your steadfast loyalty to those you love. I am so grateful for you, and so thankful to God for the gift of you. I love you Kim and wish you the happiest of birthdays.


For my sister-in-law’s 40th birthday in 2005, I wrote this Seussian poem as her gift. I thought it’d be fun to pull it out in preparation for her 50th birthday: 11-24-2015

ADaytoImagine (1)-page-001

Decade Throw Back

Dreaming Big on Reign of Christ Sunday

IMG_2830“Before I was ordained, I just thought every day was Reign of Christ Day,” the rector quipped. Comfortable laughter wafted through the sanctuary.

I was attending the early service at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Georgetown with my husband and our daughter who is a senior at Georgetown University. She worships regularly with this congregation, so it was a delight to join her there in her chosen sacred space. The Sunday we were there was the last Sunday of the liturgical year, the Sunday before the beginning of Advent: Reign of Christ Sunday.

Referencing Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann in her sermon, the rector discussed one difference between good and evil. “Good doesn’t like big imagination because it requires us to be too vulnerable, to work too hard. Evil, on the other hand, loves big imagination.”

I wasn’t sure I understood; she continued.  “A wistful mention of the end to local homelessness tends to be met not by enthusiastic support, but by scoffing judgment and wringing of hands. But let Evil mention a big idea. ‘Let’s kill an entire race of people! Let’s fly planes into buildings! Let’s open fire inside an elementary school.’” She listed these real-life tragedies with machine-gun fire rapidity.  “Evil has a preposterously huge idea and gets busy, plotting and planning, seemingly unconcerned with any possibility of failure. Good holds back. Good lists all the reasons this dream is improbable and unrealistic, then Good shrugs its shoulders and walks away.”

It was a valid point and frankly, hit me right in my self-righteous intentions.

“On this reign of Christ Sunday,” she challenged us, “the Body of Christ needs to remember where our center of government is. It’s not in Washington, but in the tender hands of merciful Jesus. Those hands can handle any dreams we can conceive, regardless of magnitude.”

Prayers followed the sermon and then it was time for Holy Eucharist. (What we Baptists call the Lord’s Supper and have monthly or quarterly, the Episcopalians have weekly and then some. If it were a competition, I’d say they are beating us on this count.)

We all filed to the front of the church and circled around the table—there were about 30 of us, maybe 40. The officiants blessed the bread and the cup, then handed one plate of bread to the left, one to the right. The organist began playing a familiar hymn as the elements of communion passed from person to person around the circle.

Let us break bread together on our knees.
Let us break bread together on our knees.

“The body of Christ, broken for you,” said a silver haired man as he leaned over to the caramel colored girl next to him.

“Thanks be to God,” a bespectacled brown man said as he received the bread from a young white man sporting a fresh military haircut.

When I fall down on my knees, with my face to the rising sun.
O Lord, have mercy on me.

The cup made its way around, passing from a teenage acolyte to a tall Asian woman with two children of disparate ethnicities.

“The blood of Christ, shed for you,” a college student said to a young dad who held his infant son, swaddled but squirmy.

A little girl—three years old or maybe four–rocked back and forth, toe to heel, in her shiny Mary Janes; a twenty-something year old woman, her raven black hair plaited in the back, smiled at the fidgety girl. A baby cried. A grown man, eyes glistening, shed a tear or two himself.

Let us praise God together on our knees.
Let us praise God together on our knees.
When I fall down on my knees, with my face to the rising sun,
O Lord have mercy on me!

What a holy and blessed time of worship. A challenging proclamation by a gifted and engaging pastor, sacred communion celebrated at the foot of the cross, and a rich foretaste of God’s kingdom: an eclectic, multi-generational, international collection of believers who came together for this one moment of connection. For me, it was like a glimpse of a dream come true.

Oh Lord, let me dream big and act with bold conviction that it is You who reign in my life.

What about you? What’s YOUR dream?




Ministry: Cocoa Butter Advice*

IMG_8739In my family, we call it cocoa butter advice. It’s the advice that no one needs, but everyone
offers. You know what I mean, right? It’s like when my sister suffered from a rare disorder called obstetric cholestasis which caused severe itching from the inside out. Some dear soul would hear she was pregnant and itching and would suggest, enlightened and eager, “Have you tried cocoa butter? That really soothed my itchy skin when I was pregnant.” My sister’s liver was malfunctioning and her obstetricians were consulting with specialists across the globe. It wasn’t cocoa butter that she needed.

Most of us have offered our share of this kind of not-so-helpful advice. We hear someone has a fever and we can hardly keep ourselves from reminding them to drink lots of water to avoid dehydration. Someone mentions computer problems and we ask way too quickly if they’ve tried restarting it. We mean well, bless our hearts, but this kind of advice is anything but helpful.

As the Body of Christ, we can easily become too generous with cocoa butter advice. It comes from a good place; we don’t want someone to suffer when we might suggest something that could alleviate their pain. So we jump in with solutions even before we have any idea what is truly needed.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because of my mother. You see, after years of unrelenting pain, Mother decided last fall to undergo a knee replacement. The risk of infection was minimal and extremely rare, but my mother fell into that dreaded one percent. The infection in her knee required a second surgery a year after the first. This surgery meant removing the first knee replacement and inserting an antibiotic prosthetic. After three or four months of immobility and daily IV antibiotics, she’ll have yet another knee replacement and hope to be in the 99% this time.

People, myself included, have had lots of suggestions for Mother. The thing is, she has done way more research on her particular situation than any of the rest of us. Plus, she is perfectly willing and capable of asking for information when she needs it. Unrequested advice is just not helpful right now. But those of us who love her want a quick fix. We want to offer some words of wisdom that will help her feel better faster.

As the Body of Christ, I think we are often guilty of over-advising. We love each other. We want to help. We want the pain to go away. But we don’t know how to do that, so we fill the gap with words of dubious relevance. One problem with this tendency is that too often we pronounce our advice and promptly absolve ourselves of responsibility. But instead of spewing out cocoa butter advice, what if we offered some real comfort?

Here are a few things we could try.

  1. “I’m sorry.” Whether the person is contending with physical, mental, or emotional pain, a simple, “I’m sorry,” offered with authentic concern, without judgmental overtones, can be the perfect thing to say. Then listen. They might just need to share their story. You don’t need to add your own personal anecdote or suggest solutions. Just listen and end the conversation as you began with a simple, “I’m sorry.” It may be the most comforting thing they’ve heard all day.
  2. “How can I help?” True, the person may not know what they need yet; so remember to check on them again. Oh and don’t bother saying, “Call me if you need me.” A person in need rarely calls. Think about it: if you were struggling, how likely would you be to reach out and ask for help? So check back.
  3. “What time can I bring dinner?” (Note: this is not the same as “Would you like for me to bring you dinner?”) You might also add, “Do you have any food allergies or particular preferences?” You don’t have to be a cook. Pick up something at your local deli or take-out restaurant. If you are handy in the kitchen, you might plan ahead and make two of everything you prepare for your own family. That way you can keep a meal on hand, ready to share.

Let’s commit to being more intentional in ministering to each other. Let’s listen with open hearts to each other’s stories. And let’s keep the cocoa butter advice to ourselves.

*This piece was first published on November 16, by Baptist News Global. I’m delighted to be associated with this great organization and am honored to be among the writers and thinkers featured there. Watch for my BNG column, appearing monthly at

Thanks Niece. You Rock.

In a continued celebration of my 50th birthday, 7-22-2015, I’m writing 50 thank you notes in 50 weeks. Here’s number 10, to my firstborn niece, Rachel.

Dear Rachel,

I always knew I wanted children, that was a given. But I couldn’t imagine being ready for that responsibility. We’d been married just under four years when you were born and we were definitely enjoying our freedom. Weekend trips, spur of the moment adventures, it was hard for me to imagine setting that aside for a couple of decades to raise a child.

And then you, my first niece, were born.

Rachel & Trellace, 1999
Rachel & Trellace, 1999

It was six weeks until I could get my hands on you. Six long weeks of you growing and changing that I missed. But finally, finally, I got you in my arms. I can still feel your tiny form, just big enough for your head to rest on my knees, your legs tucking in at my waist. I remember touching your brand new skin, inhaling your newborn scent. (Surely that is the aroma that flows from Heaven’s Gate.) Magnificence.

And that’s when I knew.

The epiphany came sometime between me reaching for you, and you looking up at me. In that very moment, it all became clear to me and I knew I would gladly give up any fleeting worldly pleasures for the joy of parenting.

Three years later—give or take a few months—-my first child was born. Oh how delighted you were. As far as I can tell, you’ve never stopped being enthralled with your Trellace–your “twin cousin.” I’m so thankful that you love each other as you do.

I’m so proud of you sweet girl. You have grown into such a beautiful young woman, pursuing your dreams and, of course, making your own mistakes. I wish there was a better, easier way to grow up; I’d prefer you never had to have a bad day, much less learn a difficult lesson. But you’re doing it. You’re making it on your own, finding your own way. And I couldn’t love you more, or be more proud of who you are.

rachel and trellace grown up
Trellace, left, and Rachel right, October 2015

God gave you to our family, that’s true. And I do thank God for the gift of you. But you let me into your heart. You let me love you and you have loved me back. Thank you, beloved girl. Thank you.

I love you so my Rachel. Today on your birthday, I celebrate you, thanking God for your life, and thanking you for sharing it so generously with me.

I love my Rachel!

Aunt Aileen


Thank You #9: To My Daddy

In a continued celebration of my 50th birthday 7-22-15, I’m writing 50 thank you notes in 50 weeks. Here’s number nine–to my Daddy on the occasion of his 79th birthday today.

Thank You Daddy
[Photo Credit: Emma Weiss Photography.
All Rights Reserved]

Dear Daddy,

Mother always said that she was grateful to have an earthly daddy who gave her a wonderful image of her Heavenly Father. She was quick to caution us that not everyone has that gift: a daddy who loves lavishly, forgives readily, and offers reliable shelter from life’s storms. Indeed, from an early age, I was aware that having you as my daddy was a godly, precious gift.

I don’t know anyone who looks more like Jesus than you do, Daddy. It’s easy for me to imagine the kind of love God has for the children of God because I know how you love me, how you love everyone. You love so completely in that heartbreaking and heart-strengthening way of loving beyond the limits. When I try to fathom God’s infinite love, I just start with the way you love, and build on that. You form the very foundation of my understanding of God.

For example, I believe that God shows up. I believe that, because you always did. Thanks for showing up for parent conferences and band performances, for youth trips and choir concerts. Thanks for volunteering to drive the bus, chaperone, or teach. I could always count on you being there for me: standing up for me, setting boundaries for me, laughing, and crying with me. Your steadfast presence in my life teaches me about the unfailing presence of God. Thank you.

I believe that injustice affects God in a powerful way because I’ve seen how it affects you. I’ve seen injustice cause you to weep, but I’ve also seen you motivated to act in profound and purpose-filled ways. Like that time back in 1968 . . . You remember of course. You opened our home—which so happened to be the church parsonage—to an African seminary student. He spent the night with us and the next morning taught us a familiar song in his native language. From then on, with very little prompting, we were apt to break out into his translation of “Jesus Loves Me.” Much later I learned that for the next two years you would regularly find KKK brochures littering our lawn. (Perhaps having your new friend preach in your pulpit had a little something to do with that.)

I’ve seen you confront injustices so many times. Like your groundbreaking work with Alcoholics Anonymous. (Did you really threaten to become an alcoholic to join if they wouldn’t let you join sober?) In my memory, you started a chapter at every church you pastored. (Those must have been some long—and loud—deacon’s meetings!) Maybe my memory is off by a bit, but the lesson remains: God hangs out with the folks on the fringes. You taught me that, Daddy. Thank you.

Because of you, I believe God forgives us and truly forgets our transgressions. You never remind me of past sins. I literally have no recollection of you ever doing that. So when Scripture tells me that when God forgives us, that sin is blotted out completely, I get it. That’s what my daddy does. Thank you.

Something else you’ve taught me, though, is that humans are not perfect. You’ve allowed me to see that you can and do make mistakes. You’ve messed up, apologized, and messed up again. You’ve taught me that it’s okay to be human and that humans aren’t perfect. (I can’t imagine the money I’ve saved on therapy bills just from that one lesson!) Thanks Daddy.

So thank you Daddy. Thanks for teaching me how to be human; thanks for teaching me about God.

I love you Daddy-Daddy,



10 Things No One Says

I’ve seen lots of memes lately that say something like, “I just love meetings that last twice as long as they should, says no one ever.” So here you go: my very own “Says No One Ever,” statements.

  1. The sound of my dog’s incessant barking fills me with joy. It’s like a gentle lullaby.
  2. Our family just isn’t materialistic enough. I wish I’d spent more money on gifts.
  3. My kids have grown up so slowly. I know exactly where all the time has gone.
  4. I hate the smell of fresh baked cookies. Hate it. Bleck.
  5. I wish I’d worked late instead of leaving early for my child’s ballgame. My job is so much more important than my family.
  6. I am so glad I dropped out of high school. Best decision I’ve ever made.
  7. I overate so well today! Those extra 2000 calories will really help me achieve my long-term health goals.
  8. I love potty training! I wish my kids had not caught on so quickly. In fact, if I could go back to one time in my kids’ lives? Potty training, that’d be the time.IMG_8736
  9. Not voting in that last election . . . great choice. I’m so glad my voice wasn’t heard.
  10. I wish Christians would point out to me more ways that retailers fail to honor Jesus through their marketing plans.

That’s what I’ve never heard. What about you? What can you add to this list?

Be Who You Needed: Minister Across Generations*

minister across generations

“Be who you needed when you were younger.” This meme, trending in social media, offers a great reminder to those of us who may have forgotten the struggles of our younger years; it’s also a great suggestion for how to minister across generations.

In the community and in church, I hear so many negative comments about kids, teens, and young adults. “They require technology to have fun!” “They won’t commit.” “They lack direction.” But really, we’ve all been there haven’t we?

When I was in elementary school in the seventies, a certain doll was all the rage. My sister and I each got one for Christmas: she got Crissy, the brunette, and I got Velvet, the blonde. Crissy and Velvet had these magic belly buttons that you pushed to grow their hair; to make it short again, you turned a knob on their backs. With this new-fangled 20th century technology, and their fashionable outfits, they were magnificent! Today the latest technology is certainly advanced from Crissy and Velvet–and even Teddy Ruxpin–for that matter, but kids are very much the same. They are attracted to the newest (and most effectively marketed) toys, just like you and I were.

What I needed as a child was someone who was interested in the things that thrilled me; someone who took the time to get to know and understand me. (Oh how I loved explaining Velvet’s fancy features to befuddled adults!) Today’s children need that too. Sure, their toys baffle us, but so what? The more confused we are, the more delighted the kids will be to enlighten us.

As a teenager, I was often flummoxed by relationships, high school struggles, and post-graduation options. By grace, loving adults invested in my life. They asked questions, listened to my answers, and sometimes offered advice. Teens from this decade–just like teens from every other time–may not realize how much they long for your company. But think back. You remember how you felt when an adult (other than your profoundly stupid parents) took an interest in you, right? Today’s kids need to be valued and appreciated just as much as you did.

Then there’s our college and young adult years, heaven help us. Are you proud of every choice you made during your twenties? Yeah, me neither. The good news is our college choices weren’t tweeted out to the world as a permanent digital record of adolescent angst. The better news is it’s really quite easy to find out what today’s young people are doing. Not too long ago, I was talking to a teenage friend and mentioned some picture I’d seen of him. He was shocked and accused me, hands on hips, “You’ve been stalking me, haven’t you?” Equally surprised that he hadn’t realized how accessible his antics were, I responded, “Umm, yeah. Daily.” Then I talked to him about choices, direction, plans for the future. I needed that kind of intervention when I was his age; I needed real adult guidance. By that time, my parents had grown out of most of the pathetic dorkiness they’d suffered from during my teens, but I still needed other mentors. Young adults today do too.

And when it comes to the church, to ministry, “Be the person you needed when you were younger,” has even greater import. Think back. Did you need someone to give you a “Get out of Hell free card,” or did you need someone to tell you about the depth of God’s love? Did you need people to give you all the answers, or did you really just need a safe place to ask the questions? Did you only need friends your age who were struggling with the same issues of faith as you? Or did you value the companionship of those whose faith had sustained them through a lifetime of trials?

If we are the Body of Christ, it really isn’t enough for campus ministers, youth directors, and children’s Sunday school leaders to reach out to specific age groups. It’s not enough because to be the Body, we need the tendons of relationship to connect young muscle to wise bones. Thus strengthened, the Body of Christ becomes better equipped to build the Kingdom of God. And that . . . that is church.

*This piece was first published on October 19, by Baptist News Global. I’m delighted to be associated with this great organization and am honored to be among the writers and thinkers featured there. Watch for my BNG column, appearing monthly at


A Thank You to a Faithful Sunday School Teacher

In a continued celebration of my 50th birthday 7-22-15, I’m writing 50 thank you notes in 50 weeks. Here’s number eight–to a Sunday school teacher from my childhood.

I had lots of different teachers when I was at Five Points Missionary Baptist Church in Wilson, NC–Marilyn Thompson, Judy Earp, Allegra Poole–and they all play active roles in the memories of my childhood. So, I don’t know exactly why it is that Elaine Hill managed to become the icon for all of those wonderful church leaders; but when I think back on my years at Five Points church, it’s her face that often comes to mind. This thank you note is to her.
piano stool with claw feet

Dear Mrs. Hill,

Do you remember when you were the director of the children’s department at Five Points back in . . . I guess maybe 1972ish? We were up in those classrooms that must have been just under the steeple. We climbed about a thousand steps to get up there, took a right at the top of the stairs, and there you were, week after week, waiting on us–usually by the upright piano situated up front, its back flat against the wall. That piano was a classic. It was painted a kind of minty green. Or maybe the color was more of a faded iceberg lettuce hue. Hard to say.

Anyway, as Sunday Morning Assembly began, you’d take your seat on the piano stool–it was one of those round, adjustable ones with the claw feet. Remember? You’d select a morning hymn or maybe one of the popular tunes in Sing ‘n’ Celebrate. Your glasses perched on your nose, you’d smooth out the pages, position your fingers on the keyboard, and then look back over your shoulder at us. “Boys and Girls, let us stand and sing our opening song.” You’d play a brief refrain, then with an energetic nod, you’d direct us to begin. I know we must have sounded amazing because you were always so delighted with us, smiling broadly even as you sang Sing n Celebrate

It never once occured to me that you had a choice about whether or not you were the director of our Sunday school. You were just there. Always. Now, all grown up as I am, I know something of the sacrifices you made to be there for us. I know how hard it is to get young children out the door Sunday mornings; how much more so when the mommy has to be at church early. Thanks for taking all the extra time and effort to be wholly present with us each week. It mattered.

During the Assembly, from time to time, you talked about the importance of bringing an offering to church. You didn’t just talk about the money; you reminded us of other responsibilities. Holding up an offering envelope, you’d point out the boxes at the bottom: “Sunday School,” “Worship Attended,” “Bible Brought,” “Offering Brought.”  (I always thought that last one was stupid because if you hadn’t brought an offering, would you seriously turn in an empty envelope?) You encouraged us to get in the habit of doing each of those things each week. Such good teaching! Of course I didn’t know it then, but you were placing cornerstones in our Christian formation. And for me at least, the foundation you helped to build has supported me through a lifetime of spiritual growth. Thank you.

I do have a confession to make, though. Before I explain, you should know that I have a thing for marking boxes. To this day, I’ve been known to add a task I’ve already completed to my to-do list, just to have the pleasure of checking it off the list. So, those little boxes on our offering envelopes? Real motivators for me. And most Sundays, I could mark every one. Almost. There was one that gave me trouble: “Bible Read Daily.” I’d inevitably miss at least one day during the week and there I’d be on Sunday morning, an empty, checkless box on my envelope and not one thing I could do about it.

Anyway, one morning, you were telling us how important it was to do just that: to read our Bibles daily. “All of these are important habits we should practice,” you told us, pointing to the boxes. “But none is more important than reading your Bible every day.” (Clearly, you were speaking directly to me.) One caveat before I go on: I admit, there’s a slight chance that the years have distorted my recollection of the  moments that followed. You continued and as you did, the Light of the Lord shone down upon you, illuminating your next words as you spoke them. The voices in the room hushed; the fidgeting stopped.  “Even if you just read one verse, that’s okay. You’re still reading God’s word daily.” Realization descended upon me on the wings of a dove as angels sung sweet hallelujahs. The answer to my nagging empty box problem! Sweet Salvation. Problem solved!

And that was it. For the rest of my tenure with those little offering envelopes, I could check off every box every week. I dutifully read one verse every day. I never lied. I told the God’s honest truth.

Except. The thing was, when you said we could just read one verse, you didn’t specify that we should read a different verse every night–mix it up a bit. You said, “One verse.” (Or maybe it was Jesus who said that; it was a high and holy moment, to be sure.) So, I read one verse, the same one, night after night after night. I pulled out my red faux leather Revised Standard Version, my name embossed in gold lettering on the front, and read John 11:35, also known as the shortest verse in the Bible.

Since I’m pretty sure this is NOT what you meant, you might want to adjust the record books accordingly. Just pull out the Sunday School Roll from about 1972 to 1976 and erase all those checks, okay? Great. Thanks.

Anyway, even though I missed the point you were trying to make about spiritual disciplines, I did get the most important message: Mrs. Hill loves me.  Your laughter, your smile, your genuine interest in my life, all that added to an early understanding of the love of Jesus. Thank you Mrs. Hill. Thank you for teaching me so much about godliness and for modeling for me what it means to follow Jesus. I noticed, and I’m forever grateful.

May you continue to feel the presence of God in your life. May you be reminded of all the children who have been blessed by your godly obedience and your life of faith. And may you read your Bible daily–even if it’s just one verse.

With Love,