Category: Uncategorized

A Delayed Advent Post that is Also A New Year Post About Joy

As you will have noticed, this post did NOT coincide with the last week of advent as planned. I decided that rather than write about joy, I would let myself live in it. Specifically, I decided to have a marvelous time in Minnesota with my family and my friends-who-are-family, and not worry about getting a newsletter to you two days before Christmas.

The next week was just total chaos, so there was no newsletter then either. Not because I was being present with my rambunctious kids, or attentive to my adoring husband, but because I was showing myself some grace and having extremely low expectations for my productivity. Try it. It’s amazing.

But now the kids are back at school, I’m ensconced in my little attic office, and 2023 is five days old. Ready to write.

Oddly enough, I still want to write about joy, both as a delayed advent practice and a year-in-review. Specifically, the joy of friendship. I’ve written a little bit about rediscovering friendship over the last year. For years I had mistaken respect, mutual usefulness, and aligned mission as friendship. I’d lost my deep relationships in 2012 when I left ministry and the church where I’d worshipped for almost a decade—but it wasn’t like a healthy person walked away from that explosion, ready to trust and build life with people. Like most wounded people, I was in social survival mode, and a little feral.

Having kids didn’t help me get back to the sweet spot of friend-making. Now my schedule was as chaotic as my soul. Plus, people keep moving away. And then the pandemic. So many of my friendships in life up til 2012 had been built on proximity, on “doing life together.” Every time I tried to build friendship that way, it didn’t work, because life kept changing. Reality kept interfering. There’s a lot of value in the place-based, physical presence, and I’ll get to it in a future post, but there’s also a hearty dose of nostalgia and “please keep coming to church” built into the discourse as well. There’s a lot of bemoaning what we’ve lost in the globalized, career-centric, mobile and mobilized world, but not a lot of good advice for what we can have when we don’t have the luxury of settling down on a cul-de-sac with five other families who will be our community, raise our children, hold our hands, and share our table until we die.

Some of us have to find friendship on the highway. It’s probably not ideal, it’s probably not “what we were created for,” but I refuse to believe the Spirit is completely stymied by modernity. There’s a way.

Friendship wasn’t growing in physical proximity, but something else was. I was continually pulled into various agendas, ideas, and activities, living in Busy Town, but without the cute worms driving cars. I thought that by being useful, I was earning love. I was not. I was earning more busyness. And that kept me confused about human relationships for a while. I wrote about that back in my spring crisis.

Those relationships change too, as agendas and projects shift, and when they all started falling away in 2021 because of the pandemic, something miraculous happened. I was able to talk more frequently with my oldest, dearest friends, who have not lived near enough to touch since we were all in college. Then a group of friends formed, almost by accident, on a text thread at the end of 2021. In 2022 it became a life line, that became getaways, road trips, teary phone calls, camp fires, and lots of cocktails. Also in 2021, a favorite friend moved back home and brought a new favorite friend with him. In 2022, that friendship that had persisted through a lot of distance became a holiday-sharing, family vacationing, tradition-making friendship.

With one exception, none of these friends are closer than 30 minutes from my house. None of us have a natural place to see each other every week, or every month. We have to be deliberate, we have to set aside time. We have to think about each other, interrupt each other, and prioritize each other. We get nothing from each other except belonging, support, compassion, cheering on, and shared joy. I’m not saying that real friendship can’t or shouldn’t share economics, work, biology, or mission. In fact, it’s a beautiful thing when you can build something with friends. But there’s an element to friendship that transcends mutual benefit, which is why building things together can be risky for friendships. Because friendship is what you have when you *cost* someone something, and they hang in there with you anyway. When your suffering spills over into their day and they don’t run away. When they make the trek, read the book, pry their eyes open, and watch the movie they would not have chosen, because being together—in spirit if not physically—is where the joy comes from.

What you will find in these newsletter-style blog posts:

Brain kindling to start your mind fire

Spirit kindling to start your heart fire

Conversation kindling to gather people to your fire

Giggle kindling to warm you up.

Brain Kindling

Had a great time talking about 1) how the church needs to own the damage it does, and 2) parachuting with babies on your back on these two pods!

Just before Thanksgiving, a very brave woman called me from Uvalde. She wanted to share her story, and had been told I could be trusted. I’m bragging. That’s the highest praise I can receive as a journalist. Awards be damned.

This is her story. It is wild. It is gut wrenching. It also ran in the Texas Tribune alongside an investigation into the overall bungled emergency response that may have kept some lives from being saved at Robb Elementary.

Here’s the Trib story:

Spirit Kindling

I’ve shared this before, but it’s very relevant this week.

Shared joy is double joy; Shared sorrow is half a sorrow. – Swedish Proverb

Conversation Kindling

Top Five Books I Read in 2022

  1. Crossroads – Jonathan Franzen
  2. all about love – bell hooks
  3. The ENTIRE Gamache series – Louise Penny
  4. Breakfast With Seneca – David Fideler
  5. Beyond Welcome- Karen González

Giggle Kindling

Advent Week 3: Admin Season when You’re Bad at Admin

My kids are super into advent things, calendars, candles, traditions. Asa calls his 24-days-of-chocolate calendar his “Admin” or, more recently “Admint.” It’s adorable, but yesterday, as I balanced the buying, packing, wrapping, enrolling, filing, attending, editing, feeding, and “just circling back on that cancelled subscription that still keeps showing up on my credit card statements” I realized that Asa is right. It’s admin season. It’s trying to do “special” when “ordinary” is already so. damn. much.

Y’all. I am SO BAD at admin. I’m actually great at finding deeper meaning, at focusing in on the sacred, at making things special. I’m TERRIBLE at the ordinary. I spent most of 5th grade in the front office calling my mom to bring the homework I’d forgotten. I have to have a tracking device on my keys. When my routine is thrown off, I will lose all the things. For someone like me, adding tasks and to-do lists and “please send your child with one (1) personal snack item, one (1) wrapped secret Santa, two (2) group snacks, all the library books they’ve lost, and four (4) permission slips for various Christmas activities” is disruptive to routine in the worst way. Admin Season feels like a collision between who I need to be and who I am.

I’m tough on myself, because I think it’s my brain—which can either hyper focus on one thing, or militantly obsess about every tiny thing with seemingly no in between—failing me. But reading the rest of y’all’s posts and from the here-and-there chats I’ve picked up on…very few of us feel like the excesses of the holidays are sources of love, joy, peace, and hope. Two things are true: we were not made for this, and this was not made for us.

I feel that way about so much right now in the world, and Admin season seems to be bringing it all up, emphasizing how unsustainable it all is, how relentless the demand for “more,” how crooked are the paths twisted by greed and violence.

All week I’ve been meditating on peace, and what it means to have peace in Admin Season when you’re tired and over-administrated and under-nourished because all of your friends are also being stretched to their limits. What does it mean to be present when you’re surrounded by to-do lists? Can forgiveness make the world feel less hostile? Can we have peace in a violent world?

Yesterday I attended an event put on by a joint coalition of Catholic and Jewish leadership in San Antonio. It was a beautiful hour of songs and ceremony, focused especially on the common practice of candle lighting. Candle lighting has been, in many traditions an act of defiance against scarcity, suppression, and isolation. And yet candlelight is also so peaceful. It is gentle light, not a flood light or a blaze. It is a little assertion that we are simply here, and that is enough. We have not been snuffed out, but we are not in conquering mode right now. We are simply here. A little light. A little warmth. Doing what we can where we are, holding onto Advent, not Admin to sustain us.

What you will find in these newsletter-style blog posts:

Brain kindling to start your mind fire

Spirit kindling to start your heart fire

Conversation kindling to gather people to your fire

Giggle kindling to warm you up.

Brain Kindling

I wrote this devotional for Unsettling Advent about the prophets call for us to “prepare the way of the Lord.”

Talking with Amy Julia Becker is a delight, and her podcast is balm for the soul.

Spirit Kindling

Conversation Kindling

Best Christmas Hymns (Probably my lease controversial/most basic opinions)

  1. Hark the Herald Angels Sing
  2. O Holy Night
  3. O Come O Come Emmanuel
  4. Joy to the World
  5. O Little Town of Bethlehem

Giggle Kindling

Advent Week Two: Coming to getcha

The traditional week two of advent is peace, but we had a week all about love, so we went with it.

I actually think love should follow hope. Love is the response to hope. That help that my kids were waiting for? The promised help that gave them the strength to keep going? That’s love. Love is moving toward us, to help. To seek, to find, to know.

In our wedding vows, Lewis and I made this promise: “in difficulty I will run toward you.” (My first draft read “when it gets hard I will run toward you,” but Lewis immediately refused to say that in front of 350 of our family and friends.) And we finished with the statement, “I am for you.” Double entendre aside, those two components, moving toward someone and being committed to their wellbeing make up the bulk of what love is. When we think of the common wedding reading from I Corinthians, adjectives like “patient,” “kind,” and actions like “keeps no record of wrongs” describe what it means to be for the wellbeing of someone else. But there’s an active component in there, a pursuit, as well.

We see that love in the character of God, an ever-pursuing love that goes beyond death, and cannot be thwarted. We are the people of God who can give that kind of love to each other. When we are always looking for ways to love, we offer help, and others have hope.

What you will find in these newsletter-style blog posts:

Brain kindling to start your mind fire

Spirit kindling to start your heart fire

Conversation kindling to gather people to your fire

Giggle kindling to warm you up.

Brain Kindling

I really loved this post from Christians for Social Action. It’s a great advent thought.

And this episode of Quitters Podcast was as delightful as Buster Bluth standing up to his mom.

Spirit Kindling

I first heard this song when Justin Vernon sang it at Unplugged. Since then I’ve listened to just about every version, and this one is my favorite. I could have saved it for Peace week next week, but I’m letting my inner chaos muppet breathe a little.

Conversation Kindling

Five Ways I Like to Show Love

  1. Finding things we both enjoy
  2. Hugging
  3. Surprises, large and small
  4. Listening to the directors cut of whatever story you feel like telling
  5. Keeping my opinion to myself

Giggle Kindling

Advent, Week One: Send Help

Greetings! Week one of advent is here! Which means I’ve been half-meditating on hope and half-meditating on what my kids need to have in order to participate in their school’s 12 Days of Christmas celebration in which every school day between now and December 16 is a DRESS UP DAY.

I’m not going to do some magical turn of phrase to connect those two things. You know as well as I do that not every aspect of Capitalist Christmas has a Jesus-tie in. Some of it is just chaos. But here we are in our gingerbread onesies and our drum major hats, doing Christmas, and if I’m being honest, actually feeling hopeful.

When I asked the kids what hope meant to them, they told me that hope was when something is really difficult, but you keep going, because you know someone is going to help you. I love that. I love the weight and the waiting inherent in their hope. They made room for struggle and agency and relationships. Theologically we know that hope is God. God is that help that is never far off. But how does God work? Does God buy my books? Does God pick up the kids from school? No. God works, damnit, through people.

I fought for a long time to not have to depend on anyone. It was very uncomfortable to me not to be able to meet all my own needs, or even my own wants. When I set a goal, I don’t like needing other people to determine whether or not I reach it. And I got there, in a lot of ways. But the most independent years of my life—the years when I was hustling hard and trying not to owe anybody anything— have also felt the most hopeless.

I was doing it! Nobody owned me!

And all I had to look forward to was more hustle, more strategizing, more work. I didn’t want to ask for help, because I wasn’t sure what I could offer in return. I didn’t want to take any risks, because I had staked my reputation on being able to do it all. The only reason people sought me out, I told myself, was for my competence. So, by my kids definition of hope, I had the struggle, I had the perseverance, but I didn’t feel that hope-energy, because help was not on the way. I had told hope to leave me alone.

Instead of hopeful, I had dread. Every little hiccup was terrifying. I dreaded school pickup and backpacks full of new-effort-required. I dreaded edits. I dreaded phone calls. It would be people wanting things, criticizing things, exposing the fact that I actually wasn’t doing well enough on my own. For years, I have been a study in how to have it all and somehow not enjoy it.

This year has been different. This year, I owned my limits and invested in friendships. With less of me hustling there was room for friends. I invested some key friendships, with people I trust. With friends in my corner I felt better taking risks. Work risks and emotional risks. I also owned my limits in my marriage, and risked asking for more help with the domestic things that were dragging me under. And I finally don’t feel anxious and afraid every time our kids have a bad day, or the school decides to have 12 DRESS UP DAYS IN DECEMBER.

All that limit setting and space making and people trusting has paid off in that last, critical piece of hope: God became flesh, and that’s still how God sends help. Help is on the way.

What you will find in these newsletter-style blog posts:

Brain kindling to start your mind fire

Spirit kindling to start your heart fire

Conversation kindling to gather people to your fire

Giggle kindling to warm you up.

Brain Kindling

First, I commend to you this very challenging Unsettling Advent guide from Word & Way.

Then, as Hope-themed chaser:

Spirit Kindling

Conversation Kindling

Top 5 Advent Season Traditions I Actually Enjoy (there used to be none, because I

  1. The annual Love Actually viewing with eggnog
  2. Hot chocolate neighborhood lights walk
  3. Sending the kids to the Christmas Craft Extravaganza with my mother in law
  4. Drinking eggnog while not viewing love actually
  5. Advent wreaths

Giggle Kindling

This is where I live now.

Welp, I ended up back where I started. Away from the whims of billionaires and algorithms, on my own little corner of the internet, that I pay for yearly: my website. Welcome! This is where my newsletters will live now, and I have to say, there’s a lot of freedom in being back where I know how things work. I’m getting too old learn the quirks of a new publishing platform every few months. When you’ve been a freelance journalist for five years and had to learn 25 different editors’ preferences on em dashes and paragraph length, your brain is full.

So here I am, a few days after a reading in Denver, meditating on what it means to live in my little niche, to decide how hard I want to push, how many technological tricks I want to learn in pursuit of fame and followers. Lewis and I regularly discuss, in terms of money, how much is enough, and what is the difference between sacrificing to reach your goals and living as slaves to someone else’s. We don’t live in a culture that believes in “enough” or the biblical sense of “plenty” as viable goals. Whatever your values are (family, career, jetskis, etc) capitalism is the machine that tells you “more” is always better.

A more achieverly, picture perfect family.

The career ladder.


So while it is tempting to spend the next three months trying to master the new social media landscape and somehow crack the platform game, I’m instead choosing to invest in the quality of my work—the journalism, the books, the connections—and to let whatever reach it has be enough. I am choosing to make contentment a value so that I can be freed up for whatever else needs to happen, be it enthusiastic kids, caring for a friend, saying “yes” to an opportunity, or starting a brave new adventure.

What you will find in these newsletter-style blog posts:

Brain kindling to start your mind fire

Spirit kindling to start your heart fire

Conversation kindling to gather people to your fire

Giggle kindling to warm you up.

Brain Kindling

This story about the gun reform debate dividing Uvalde was published with The Trace and The Guardian. It was a long time in the works. It was months and months of going back and forth to Uvalde, listening and watching things unfold.

And this post for The Invisible Cake Society, run by my friend Jenna DeWitt gracious and vocal queer Christian advocate. It’s about raising our kids to be affirming.

Spirit Kindling

I know. I know. But it came on randomly this week and weirdly moved me.

Conversation Kindling

Top Five “Board” Games I Will Tolerate (most don’t have a board)

  1. Apples to Apples
  2. Clue
  3. Pictionary
  4. Punderdome
  5. Taboo

Giggle Kindling

Favorite Things Written and Read in 2020

Okay, since no one else is going to say it, I guess it falls to me: 2020 has been a rough year. Unprecedentedly rough. Crisis rough. Surreally rough. Rough like no other. Roughest. year. ever. Roughness is so 2020. Because 2020, amiright?

Phew. Don’t we all feel better now that someone has FINALLY just said it?

It’s heady to be in journalism right now, because we are writing the first draft of history, which is intimidating and motivating and cool. Not just the pandemic but allllll the history going down right now. Trump. Black Lives Matter. Kamala Harris. Some of my colleagues, I believe, were built for this kind of gravity.

I go on a lot of walks.

In May I started working more or less full time for The 74 Million, reporting on the pandemic in San Antonio schools. I’m on a team! Just like I wanted! It’s amazing! It is a position created by a pandemic that cost a lot of people their job and I don’t know how to feel about that so I’m just going to try to do really good work and not think about how the pandemic ending would mean my gig ending!

Your lives are more important to me! I swear!

The gig has some very specific vocabulary, that I’m sure we’re all equally tired of: remote learning, in-person learning, COVID-19 protocols, learning loss, enrollment decline. I’ll never forget the moment when contact tracing went from getting flagged as jargon to being common vernacular, along with asymptomatic and asynchronous. I’m torn between never wanting to type those words again and being gleeful at getting away with it. Like when your family visits Hoover Dam so you say the word “dam” as much as you can before it’s outlawed again.

However you feel, fools can’t keep their masks on, so you’ve doomed yourself to another year of it, kids. Time for some asynchronous protocols for asymptomatic learning loss among in-person learners amid the pandemic.

Even though most of us had to write those words more than we wanted, some folks made some very delicious work out of it. Or just did delicious work about other stuff still going on in the world that still needs lots of attention. Cue the lists!

Favorite journalism by others:

This Texas Monthly oral history blew my mind and made me proud. It also explained why, as eerie as things were in those first pandemic weeks, in San Antonio they were not as dystopian and weird as in other places, grocery-wise.

Alec MacGillis’s Dollar Store investigation had me on the edge of my park bench for 20 minutes, then had me bothered for months. Definitely ruined my trip to the Family Dollar in rural West Texas when I realized that I had no other option and then realized that no one in that town had another option. MacGillis also wrote one of the most painful looks inside remote learning debacle.

Maria Godoy on the lingering effects of housing discrimination in Dallas. It emphasized something we saw graphically illustrated in the Somos Neighbors project in San Antonio earlier this year, which I was lucky enough to work on.

Alia Wong wrote about tools to help emerging multilingual learners during COVID-19 in Tulsa, a city which became dear to my heart this year while I was reporting on their refugee welcome efforts.

Favorite Stories I Worked On:

The renaming of Pacific Bay Christian School was something I wanted to write about for over a year before I got to do it. This story was so, so cathartic, for many reasons. I loved working with Sarah Garland at the Hechinger Report as point editor and with The Undefeated. Both were incredibly generous.

The reporting for The Gardeners of Eden (its print title) for Christianity Today was dreamy. I was in orchards and community organizing meetings, driving up and down the California coastline meeting humble, committed people who deeply care about the communities they serve. I want this story to make people think about their food differently, and the complex, at time exploitative and strained system that delivers it. It did that for me. We joined a farm delivery co-op.

Reporting on the pandemic in San Antonio schools (while living it) has been a trip. I’m particularly proudest of this piece, which involved public information requests, data analysis, and interviews with bold people who got real with me. All the best things.

Favorite Books I Read this Year, regardless of the year they were written:

Kiley Reid’s Such A Fun Age was amazing, and sent me into the tailspin identity crisis of ohmygodI’mthevillain. Given that it was sent to me as part of the Ally Box subscription from Fulton Street Books…I think that means it hit the mark.

Mothers of Massive Resistance, by Elizabeth Gillespie McRae provides more explanatory ammo for debates with doubters of systemic racism than any one person could ever remember without notes. So take notes. Because if you can’t gain ground in those conversations, you just embolden the doubters.

I began to have some concerns about my brain this year, so I read NeuroTribes by Steve Silberman. It was very reassuring, after it stopped being terrifying, and it was entirely engrossing.

My husband gave me Allie Brosh’s Solutions and Other Problems for our 10th Anniversary. We were planning to travel to Zambia for the occasion, but a comic book about life with mental illness written by a winsome lady who looks nothing like the monster she depicts herself to be (I won’t hold that against her) was a more than adequate consolation prize.

Calypso, by David Sedaris, gutted me. I like to think I’m willing to bleed on the page, or smile with my makeup off, but when I think about writing the stories of my life that are a distant parallel to the stories he’s telling (we ALL have them)…I feel palpable fear. The fact that we are warmed by these in any way, and drawn to him even, is a testament to how good of a storyteller he really is. Which cued a different kind of panic for me than the panic Kiley Reid called up.

Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series. Because I needed something to read on a rainy day, grabbed In the Woods from a shelf of my husband’s paperbacks, and then read the rest of the series, because once I’m really in, I am all in, without the ability to moderate. I then watched the miniseries, and am now, apparently against my will, doing the same thing with The Pillars of the Earth.

Looking back on the list of my favorite books of the year, I see a theme. The theme is “my own crap amid all the crappiness.” I think I was reading books to make myself feel less alone, and more equipped. I hope that some of my writing did that for you.

Small Girl Mows Small Lawn

A local six-year-old stunned many last week by doing what, she said, “no six-year-old has ever done before, probably.”

She mowed half the lawn.

San Antonio resident Moira McNeel said she’d taken on the task, “Just to see if I could do it. Not for fun.”

Her father confirmed that the endeavor was, in fact, not a lark, but a serious undertaking.

“She took it upon herself to volunteer. She saw a need and she stepped right in and did what needed to be done,” the father said, “I’m very proud of her.”

By “need” her father means that he appreciated the help, though he maintains the work he was doing up to that point was perfectly adequate in quality. “I didn’t take her desire to come help as a sign of criticism,” he said, he was happy she wanted to give mowing a try, and even happier she asked so nicely.

Fortunately, the only mower the family has ever owned, a Scott’s manual push-reel, posed little threat to her safety.

McNeel mowed for approximately five minutes, pausing only to direct her father to take photos for this article, and to alert the media, who was on the porch but, to her frustration, not watching the lawn-mowing.

All told, McNeel said, “I did a full swoop.”

The McNeels’ only patch of actual grass measures exactly 15 feet in diameter, so a little went a long way. McNeel was able to cut in straight rows with minimal missed blades between the passes. When she had mowed “enough,” she said, “I was tired.”

McNeel’s father offered no further details on the current status of the job, and would only comment on the enthusiasm with which the child took up the task.

“I have never in my history of mowing lawns seen a little girl mow a lawn so well,” McNeel’s father said, “Or with such zest.”

Disclosure: Moira McNeel is a primary source of joy for the author of this article. Her father is also a financial contributor to the Hall Monitor blog and, according to Texas state law, owns half of it.

A decade of being bravely underwhelming.

In late December 2009, ten years ago, I did something strange. I started a new journal expressly dedicated to chronicling a love story—my love story. In my 18 years of journaling before then, I had always been cautious about how much weight I ascribed my various romances. That’s easy when you have a written record of all the non-starters that came before. I knew how much shame I felt when reading “he’s the one!” in bubbly 2001 letters, when mere pages later he’d disappear.

What’s even more strange about my decision to start an entire journal dedicated to my love story is that it had not even really begun. I’d met a guy. We’d hung out twice. But when I started the journal we were one week into what would turn out to be a four week silence between first meeting and first date. No flirty messages. No emails or phone calls.  There was no evidence to suggest that this non-relationship was going anywhere.

Nevertheless, in a fit of romance, I did it. I started a brand new journal with the explicit and stated purpose of writing about my love story with one Lewis Maverick McNeel…who had yet to call. 

In that first journal entry, I wrote about the moment I now know, and then suspected, I had fallen in love.

We were at the grocery store, and I was buying break-n-bake cookies…for one of those fancy holiday cookie swaps where everyone goes all out. I was working in college ministry, making $16,000 per year (all of which I was fundraising), and jumping from crisis to crisis with the people around me, students, friends, and family. I just didn’t have the resources or energy to make elaborate cookies. 

But that was the life I was in. I was unsure of the value I brought to the world. Convinced that I had to earn my keep by being agreeable, unimpeachable, and useful. Knocking myself out to sell myself short, professionally. Auctioning off my time and energy to the people I thought would keep me safe, emotionally. Running on affirmation and little else, spiritually.

Break-n-bake cookies do not bring affirmation.

I lamented my predicament to Lewis at the checkout and he said, “I’ve been underwhelming people for years now.” 

I fell in love on the spot. And then he disappeared for a month.

Four months after he reappeared, he asked me to marry him. And for the first time in my life I really didn’t care if anyone thought that was a little irresponsible or too fast. I was certain. I bought a wedding magazine, looked at the recommended planning timeline, and realized that most people spent longer planning their weddings than we would spend going from “hello” to “I do.” 

That was the easiest brave thing I’ve ever done.

The next brave thing happened in 2012. That’s when I left the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). 

Despite my bold dreams of a life in ministry, there was no future for me in it. Looking back, I realize that I had traded usefulness and approval for calling. For 28 years that denomination had been my home, but it had also kept me childlike and dependent—because women in that world will always serve at the pleasure of the men, the “specially gifted” who are ordained by God. I had never been taught or allowed to think outside those rigid guardrails, so I just maintained them. A strong, smart woman joyfully submitting, proving that the system worked.  

I believe I would have wasted my life as a Martha sweeping the stoop of the boys club had it not been for those break-n-bake cookies and that fast engagement. I was not defined by my fancy cookies or my prudence. I was loved beyond my usefulness. 

When I left that church it was like coming up out of the ocean and being able to see without the salt burning my eyes. 

In this new world, I could be a terrifying anything. I could be what I was supposed to be. It turned out that was a journalist and a mother. 

My fingers trembled a little as I submitted an essay to The Rivard Report in June 2012—after all, I was nothing but a failed ministry paraprofessional at that point. I had no idea if they would laugh at my small life, my small thoughts. Would they dismiss me like my writing had been dismissed and diminished for the past four years? 

I was able to push “send” only because I said, “Maybe they will be underwhelmed. It won’t be the end of me.” 

I had just quit my job and left the church community I’d been in for almost a decade and the denomination I’d been baptized into. I’d married a man I’d known for less than a year. I had dedicated a journal to a guy who hadn’t called me. I’d taken break-n-bake cookies to a cookie swap. If some editor on the other end of an email laughed at my small mind, what was that to me? 

Of course, that’s not what happened. Robert Rivard and Monika Maeckle may have been underwhelmed at some parts of the essay—I don’t remember what that first draft looked like—but they also called me. They gave me a shot. 

In 2013 things were looking strong on the career front, and the thought of starting a family sounded like setting off a bomb in the middle of it. Having a baby would change how the world saw me. I was so close to being taken seriously, I felt, to no longer being underwhelming. If I had a baby, the climb would become steeper. My capacity to perform would be split between worlds, and I needed every bit of it, because I was already balancing two jobs.

I would also have to fight for my writing to be professional and motherhood to be relational. Parenthood is not a career. It is a relationship. Caring for children’s needs, however, can be a career, and one at which many parents excel even as they are unpaid and undervalued by society. It’s noble and incredibly necessary—and not the career I wanted. But we have a hard time separating parenthood (mostly motherhood) the relationship from childcare the career, and I knew that doing so would test the limits of my professional and relational confidence. 

But Lewis— that man who had given me the courage to underwhelm and befuddle and flout expectations—wanted to be a father. He wanted the parenthood relationship. And he promised that if he could be 100 percent architect and 100 percent father then I could be 100 percent journalist and 100 percent mother. He didn’t care that there were precious few examples of this in our world, very little evidence it could be done.

I had lived 28 years looking to others to tell me what to do. Only two years listening to Holy Spirit inside me. The Holy Spirit reminded me how this whole adventure had started. “I’ve been underwhelming people for years.” 

I was free to underwhelm. Free to do it differently, even if different was disappointing to many. 

Having Moira was the only brave thing I did in 2013-14. We have had to fight for balance every single day of her life, but we have found it. It is not the vision of motherhood or professional life I had imagined. And with it have come incredible doubts. Such doubts, in fact, that I was not sure that a second child would be a wise decision for me. As a mom, I felt underwhelming, and not in a free and easy way, but in a fearful, inadequate way. 

But one day, at our new church, a couple prayed for me. A couple with five lovely, successful adult children, prayed that I would have confidence that I was not the perfect mom, but the right mom, for my daughter, and whoever might come along next.

And so having Asa was the brave thing I did in 2015-16. 

With a second kid on the way in 2016, I quit my side hustle and leaned hard into journalism. In 2017 I walked away from a sure thing—The Rivard Report—to try something idealistic and new—Folo Media. One month into 2018 I had to walk away from Folo on principle. I did not have nearly the portfolio or reputation I needed to be a successful freelancer, but that was the option. The day I left Folo, I thought back to 2012, when I’d left my ministry career. Maybe this was it. The end of my journalism career. 

But I had given birth to two children while working two jobs. I’d submitted an untrained essay to a fledgling publication just one month after leaving an entire life behind. I had married a man I’d known less than a year. I had dedicated a journal to a guy who hadn’t called me. I had taken break-n-bake cookies to a cookie swap. 

I had been underwhelming people for years.

Freelance journalism, any journalism at all really, is like tying your ego to the tracks. It is rejection and tough feedback. It’s also thrilling and fulfilling. But it does feel like I have to do little brave things on the regular now. Pitches, fighting for stories, calling sources without a big institution behind me. I publish things on my blog. On other people’s blogs. I write things that less than 100 people read and things that tens of thousands of people read. Both feel incredibly vulnerable.

I regularly hover over the “send” button and tremble a little, and then tell myself, “Maybe they will be underwhelmed. It won’t be the end of me.” 

Summer reading list: The book that (further) sold me on reparations.

Because the ed beat slows down a little in the summer, I have to keep myself busy doing other things. Most recently that’s meant covering immigration. But I also like to use to summer to read really enriching things that my brain totally cannot handle during the school year. 

First up, one that I’ve been anxious to get to, mostly because I felt like until I did, I was just walking around making a fool of myself.

Like most people, and nearly all white people, I’ve carried around some what-I-thought-were-truths about housing segregation in the US. Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law has disabused me of some of those beliefs.

Housing is part of the education beat, because housing segregation leads to school segregation. In a city as sprawling as San Antonio, there are plenty of opportunities for those with means to escape the discomfort of being poverty-adjacent. However, when those who still have a lingering tinge of poverty move in next door to middle class families in the aging inner loop of the city, the trend continues northward. We call this de facto segregation. People are legally able to go to the same schools/live in the same places, but they choose not (i.e. white flight) to or are barred from doing so by economics (not laws).

Myth-I-believed #1: Changes in the law are the end of the story

White flight is not the whole story on how segregation works. That’s how it has worked in my life time. But everything about my lifestyle will tell you: what happened before I was born changed everything. 

I’ve never been salaried over the national average. If things keep going well this year I just miiiiight reach it. Combined with my husband’s salary, we do well. But our lifestyle way outstrips our income because of what we’ve inherited. Not just the actually inheritances, but the networks of people willing to give us a break on rent, the families who paid for college and continue to help out with camps for kids, vacations, etc. We were born into land wealth which translated into excellent dental and medical care, private schools, and summer jobs that were more about long term career goals or edifying experiences than they were about helping out with family income. We can afford maintenance on ourselves, our house, and our cars so that we do not have huge emergency costs from deferred maintenance. 

All of that is because our families have been landowners for generations. Or, as my husband put it, wryly remarking on how the deck is stacked in our favor: “The smartest thing you can do financially is to be rich.”  

Before I go on, I realize that not every white person benefits from generational wealth. Tragedy, crashing markets, changing work forces, and various forms of usury have taken their toll. However, we were never legally prohibited from advancing into middle class houses and schools. If you’re white, money is money. If you were a person of color in the 20th century, your money wasn’t always accepted currency.

I was once interviewing a city councilwoman from Austin, where they are fighting to preserve family homes of black residents on the uber-gentrified East Side. Without historical designations, many are not preserved from rezoning or demolition, and the market is now priced above entry for most young working class people. 

Councilwoman Ora Houston was born on the front end of the baby boom, just a smidge older than my own Boomer parents. She owns her home, and is trying to help others secure the same. When we were talking she said, “I’m just trying to do for my kids what your great-grandparents did for you.” 

Her parents and grandparents were not allowed to do that. They did not have access to the loans, neighborhoods, zoning protections, and housing stock that would create value over generations. 

In the two generations of buyers between government efforts to help white people own homes after the Great Depression and the Fair Housing Act (1968) you have my great-grandparents and grandparents accumulating wealth, and Ora Houston’s parents and grandparents being denied the same opportunity. 

If prosperity were a race, which capitalism has ensured that it is, my white family is two laps ahead of Ora Houston’s. We were two laps in when they fired the starting gun for her. 

Which is why housing is about more than the legal freedom to move where you want to move. It’s about the fact that we live in two different housing markets—one in which prices of our assets have inflated our prosperity, and the other where you get less for your money than ever before.  

So it’s sort of insulting when people who got a two lap head start (at least…I married into a few more bonus laps) look at the people who just started the race and say, “Why can’t you just catch up?” 

Myth-I-Believed #2 That de facto segregation is more damning than de jure segregation

I thought the fact that we had no legal excuse to divide the world into ghettos and enclaves—and yet continued— was a moral indictment. I thought that’s where we were as a society, just trying to make our final strides toward justice by winning hearts and minds. 

Rothstein, however, points out that in order to make racial disparities better on any meaningful scale, it is the de jure segregation that matters. 

That’s what the book is about. It wasn’t a bunch of racist people individually excluding black people between 1932 and 1968…it was a series of racist laws. As those discriminated against by the law, black people should be entitled to legal restitution. 

This is also a good time to point out that decrying de facto segregation is more to appease my white conscience, while confronting de jure segregation can get some stuff done. 

Not to worry, there’s plenty of cathartic self-flagellating to be done in de jure segregation. After all, who was making these laws? 

The 14th Amendment made, essentially, segregation Constitutionally untenable. It would take some time to get from segregation being mandatory to it being permissible to it being illegal. We have not quite figured out how to proactively encourage integration, but that’s the next step, and it probably involves reparations—incentives, subsidies, grants, scholarships, etc.

So the existence, however specific or local or de jure segregation is key to making good. However for justice to be complete, the will to make amends must touch the heart of de facto segregation—there’s going to have to be enforcement, which means that property owners, police forces, judges, and elected officials are going to determine the lived experience of those who would receive their legal due. For instance…Ruby Bridges got to go to school, but I’d hardly call her experience a laudable example of justice.

Myth-I-Believed-about-segregation #3 That progressives support integration 

Sometimes, as a guilty pleasure, I read the exchanges between historian Kevin Kruse and provocateur Dinesh D’Souza. One such exchange pointed out that Southern Democrats were the party of segregation, Jim Crow, etc. It was, as Kruse pointed out, a shallow, intellectually dishonest pot shot at current Democrats. 

Then, of course busing came up at the Democratic debate. 

You can be “progressive” and still uphold racist systems. You can be in favor of abortion, LGBTQIA rights, and environmental regulations and still not give a lick about brown people at all, in fact. You can even be for “the little guy” and limit that definition to just “the little white guy.” 

Right now, the deep blue cities are priced out of range for working class people. People who financially support Planned Parenthood and the ACLU won’t put their kids in schools where too many of the kids are poor. 

The examples Rothstein uses in the book aren’t all conservative strongholds like Birmingham, Atlanta, and Dallas. They are in the Bay Area and the Northeast. 

From Reconstruction to the Great Recession, the politicians trying to take care of the most people were often convinced—not saying how difficult it was to convince them—to trade the freedom of black people to live and go to school where they wanted to, for things that benefitted poor and working class white people. When they could rally support to give something to black people (i.e. public education, subsidized housing), it had to come with the promise to in no way increase white exposure to those black people. 

Integration—and any support for reparations that might lead to integration—is the ultimate test of hypocrisy. It asks not whether we believe that people of color deserve to vote, own property, or move freely throughout society—but whether we believe that they should be able to do so to the same degree that white people are, and whether we are willing to bridge the gap our laws created. 

To my kids, on the seashore

The beauty and energy of being four, and being certain of everything, and hungry for everything else.

The depth of being two, with emotions carving out subterranean chambers until they erupt, run down your face and cool into igneous beaches that will hollow into coves and  gather soft sand over time.

This is our now. It is not easy, but it is pure life, and it is life-giving. It is humanity distilled to its essences – need, delight, energy, feeling, understanding.


These two small people- the four year old circus and her brother with moods like fog and lava- are exactly who I dreamed I would mother, and yet exposing every day how small my dreams were. How low was my bar for a full life. Fullness is not easy. Fullness is scary, like my daughter on a cliff, insisting she’ll needs to take just one more step toward the edge. Fullness is one more stop, even though it’s bedtime, because we may never be back.

Fullness comes with tears, of course. But I’ve learned that tears are not a sign of failure, not theirs and not mine. Tears mean we are growing, expanding our reach. Even though I know this, I still avoid them when I can, I’m incapable of drowning out the whining or the wails.

The ocean is a perfect mother. She drags her tides in and out, at regular intervals, morning, noon, evening, night. She never complains that the work continues, she only delivers a new smattering of simple treasures to be scavenged by insatiable collectors, like my own. She lulls them to sleep, and chases them from the beach when it’s time to go home.


I’m not the ocean.

I’m like the wind. All force and no regularity, leaving my family tousled and chasing their scattered paper goods. I’m always with a list or a task, always on to the next thing.

It’s nice to let the ocean be mother for a while, so that I can watch my children be nurtured by her. I am taskless here.

When we go away from our routine, I discover my children in their latest form. Not in the ways their newest angsts disrupt, derail, and splatter paint the day’s agenda. But in the ways they carve adventure across a landscape, and spread to fill the frame of every moment. The way each passing year adds to their capacity for rapture.