charitable silliness

*this was first posted Christmas day 8 years ago.  Reposting today becasue we still participate in both minitries mentioned here and it’s worth talking about.*


first off Christmas Eve was great.  My church does four services.

  • a 4:00 kids service (usually a drama or something that kids will love)
  • a 5:30 traditional with candle-lighting, choirs, advent wreath, etc
  • a 7:00 contemporary
  • and an 11:00 traditional.

Martin had to be available to work the 5:30 and the 11:00.  Now I knew we weren’t going to keep Ginny up till the 11:00 service, even though that one is my favorite, so we planned to go to the 5:30 with the whole family (including my parents, my niece and hopefully my brother).  It turned out to be just myself, Martin and Ginny, but we ran into some friends and ended up sitting with them.  The service was lovely, Ginny enjoyed the candle lighting very much – even though I wouldn’t let her touch the flame.

The “O Holy Night” solo was done by our assistant choir director Blair Brawner and it was gorgeous.  It wasn’t as technically perfect as some I have heard, but it was beautiful.  Even the one time her voice broke…it just made it more of a human sharing moment rather than a performance.

The real highlight for me came after the service was over.  You see I had to go up to our pastor and apologize….  For wearing a Santa hat all during the service.

??? Why was I wearing a Santa hat to a church service when I don’t believe in Santa?

Well I was wearing it initially because I was just being silly.  Martin wears his a lot, and Ginny looked so cute in hers, so I was wearing mine to fit in with my sweet, silly family.

But then, on the way into the sanctuary, I passed by one of the outer doors, the one right next to the “hats, mittens & scarves tree”  This is a 9 foot tall Christmas tree that the members of our church decorate with brand new hats, mittens and scarves all through-out the holiday season.

As I was passing that entrance a blast of cold air hit me.  Really cold air.

I turned around.

there coming in the door was a woman and three kids.

all in shirt sleeves.

I smiled and said “Hi! Welcome!”

She smiled back, glanced at my hat and then at the tree.

“Do you know how we could get a hat or a coat for my kids?”

At which point I realized that I didn’t have a clue how those hats, mittens & scarves were going to be distributed. They disappear every year after Christmas, but I had no idea where they went.  To the Co-op? To a shelter? I had no clue.

“Tell you what, I’ll find out how we can get you some of those hats and stuff.  I know just who to ask, okay?” I said.

“How will I find you?” she asked, as people jostled us apart.

without missing a beat I said “I’m probably the only person in that sanctuary wearing a Santa hat.  I won’t take it off till you find me again and I promise I’ll have an answer for you”

So I asked around, and finally the pastor told me “you just march her right up to that tree and let her have whatever she needs.”

Well thanks to the Santa hat, we re-connected after the service and as I was walking her and the kids to the tree I figured I should make conversation…so I asked

“Have you ever been here before?”

“Well no, not to a service.” she said “But we come to your Journey to Bethlehem thing every  year, so I knew you were nice people”


That was worth every weird look I got for wearing the Santa hat during the service, and every time I have had to explain to my boss why I need those days in December off every year to put up Bethlehem sets and then take them down again. Not to mention all the rehearsals.

So thank you to the people at SUMC who gave hats, mittens and scarves.  And to all the folks who work hard to make Journey a reality each year – it is worth it.  We are reaching people.  People who sometimes need hats, scarves and mittens.

and I dare say, that is a fitting way to celebrate the birth of the Savior.

Merry Christmas.


look happy

I got a huge compliment yesterday.

“she looks happy”


Which is funny, because at the moment it was said I was trying to hide how unthrilled I was.

I had just stepped outside my building for a moment to meet a friend who was delivering a custom skating dress for me. I had the garment bag over my arm and I was on my way back to the building.

With no make-up on.

In the middle of the workday.

Yes, I know…brave.


Just plain stupid for a 44 year old.


Coming up the sidewalk towards me were three men. I think of them as “young men” but really they are almost my age. They are all fit, neat, healthy and pretty decent looking guys. One of them is my former boss (whom I had a lite boss-crush on) and all three of them were people that I used to work with in the Chemistry Department here at Emory.

Last time they saw me I had long hair and was 40 pounds heavier than I am now.

fat christmas

this is what I looked like last time they saw me


So when Todd hugged me and said

“I’ve heard some rumors about you, are they true?”

I experienced my very first “I don’t want to talk about the cancer” moment.

I didn’t want them to attribute my weight loss to the cancer.

I didn’t want them to chalk up my hair cut to the cancer (chemo, hair loss etc)

I didn’t want my lack of make-up to be marked down in their minds as “oh she is strung out from treatment of her cancer.”


fat puttputt

and this photo really shows how bad it had gotten.


I’ve worked hard to lose the weight, I changed my hair cut because I wanted to and I didn’t have makeup on simply because I don’t feel the need for it most days. Sure I look better with it, but I prefer not to have to bother.


this is what I look like now….with no make-up.


So I laughed. I bubbled. I sparkled. And I said

“What rumor? The one that I’m going to U.S. Adult Nationals next week and I’m going to do better than last year? Sure! It’s TRUE! I placed 5th last year, but this year I’m gonna make it to the medal stand!”

In short, I deflected.

I knew what Todd wanted me to confirm.

But I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t bear to have


be the word that comes to mind when they think of me.

I would ten thousand times rather they think of

Ice Skating.

spiral magnolia

recent competition.



The conversation went pretty rapid fire after that. All three of them shooting me questions about ice skating, competing etc…when suddenly one of them says to the other

“Man I almost didn’t recognize her! Deirdre, you sure do look different!”

And the other one comes back with

“yeh, she looks HAPPY!”



just last week. minimal make-up. on a date with hubby.



At which point I got to tease them by saying that it was because I had gotten rid of all the stress in my life when I left off working with them!

All in all a fun conversation. And one that I have gotten more and more out of as it percolates through my brain hours later.

And yes, I’m insecure enough that I wore make-up today…… Just in case.



giving good gifts

We all love to get good gifts, but how many of us are good at giving really good thoughtful gifts.  I’ll admit, I struggle.

And even when I manage to think of something absolutely prefect to give, most of the time it is outside of my budget, or there are time constraints that make it just not possible to accomplish.

But I got a reminder this past Saturday that there are some gifts that are precious, perfect, always appreciated, and free.

I had to go to a funeral on Saturday, (bear with me here.  it will all make sense in a minute, I promise.  just keep reading….) and I needed to take Ginny with me.  Martin had commitments that could not involve a four year old, so she had to come with me. I knew it wasn’t going to be any fun for her, but she can be pretty good about sitting still so I knew it wasn’t going to hurt her to go. 

The funeral was for a Sunday School teacher that I had when I was very young.  She also did substitute teaching at the Christian school I went to and her son was a young man I looked up too alot.  In a “6th graders distant crush on a rugged senior soccer player” kind of way. 

The church where the funeral was held is the same church I grew up in and my mother worked in.  First Alliance Church in Atlanta.  While my mom worked, my brother and I used to play all over the church.  We would do commando crawl races under the pews. We played hide and seek and tag everywhere (and I do mean EVERYWHERE, even the baptismal).  We even got in trouble once for eating up all the communion crackers.  We thought they were just crumbled up saltines.  During services my mom sat close to the front row.  She had a real talent for disciplining us silently and unobtrusively.  I remember that quite clearly, but I can also recall times when I would get sleepy and put my head in her lap.  Mother would do what all mothers do…trace letters or just random patterns on my back and run her fingers through my hair as I drifted.

okay, so you get the picture.  My mother and I were heading into a building that we hadn’t been in since 1987.  To attend the funeral of this dear lady, and to see people we hadn’t seen in forever.  Bringing my child along just made sense. She can be a conversation piece.  A distraction if this whole experience gets too intense or awkward.

Besides, she has this adorable smocked dress.  It’s black with tiny white snowmen up around the collar.  With her fair coloring and those big blue eyes……how could I resist the opportunity to show her off? 

Stay with me…there is a point. 

So we are all in the car.  Me, my mom and Ginny.

And Ginny, naturally asks “Where are we going and why am I all dressed up?”


me: “okay Ginny, when mama was a little girl she had a sunday school teacher she loved very much.  That sweet lady had a good life.  She had grandkids and was very happy, but now she is gone to heaven to be with Jesus and her family is very sad.  We are going to go give her family hugs”

Ginny “okay”

Then she goes back to playing with her stuffed toy in the back seat and my mom and I embark on a discussion of old times at First Alliance Church.

We get to the church, walk in and wow…..  it is different, and the same all at once.  There were people we know and people we used to know and people we don’t know at all.  The service was beautiful and the music really got Ginny’s attention.  It was a long service though and by the end of it I was whispering to Ginny all about the special treat (high tea with mama and grammy) that she would get if she could just sit still for a little while longer.  Eventually the service was over and we filed quietly out into the vestibule.

At which point,  my child enthusiastically reaches for all these complete strangers and starts handing out hugs. 

Some people she grabbed around the legs, some she pulled on their sleeve till they bent down or picked her up to see what she wanted, and once she reached out from my arms to hug the mother of a friend of mine from middle school.  She literally attack-hugged the whole crowd….and it was like watching the sun come up to see the effect she had on that room.

It was so simple.  She gave comfort.  She gave smiles and hugs because they were needed.  She didn’t know these people.  But she blessed them right where they were.

Yes, my child is adorable, but that’s not the point.

The point for me is that so often when someone preaches on using our gifts they talk about time, money and talents.  The talents they refer to seem to be the specialised sort.  Like being able to sing, or preach, or organize or build things.  To me, those things are nice but what I think gets overlooked are the little gifts.

  • a note (but of course to write an encouraging note you have to have at least some familiarity with the person)
  • a hug (but most people, gregarious four-year-olds aside need to have some acquaintance with a person before hugging them)
  • a smile.  Smiles can be given to anyone, anywhere without knowing a single thing about the other person.

What? you don’t think a smile is a gift?  When was the last time someone just beamed when you walked into a room?  Remember how that made you feel?  Well you can make other people feel just like that.  I call that a gift.

I have a challenge for you.

Next time you walk along  in the mall, or on your way to or from your car in a parking lot, try giving the gift of a smile to literally everyone whose eye you can catch.  That way they don’t think you are just smiling to yourself.  Make sure you catch their eye and then smile right at them.   Make them feel like you smiled because they crossed your path.

Let me know how it goes.  I’m betting you will be addicted to this form of gift giving in just one session.

oh, and one other blessing rained down on my head during that service….Ginny put her head in my lap and I got to play with her hair and trace letters on her back in that same sanctuary where I can clearly recall my mom doing the same to me.

we need to move the djembe…

ah …..

The unbearable cuteness of being….Ginny.  She does or says something cute every day, but some of them need to be recorded for posterity (or for embarrassing her with when she starts dating). That said, here are a few cute things Ginny has said or done recently

She has started singing.  The first recognizable song was “Ring around the Rosie” which in her world goes something like this

Ring a’ rosie
Ring a’  pocket a’ posies
all fall DOWN!

Not quite canonical, but when she gets the words right it won’t be nearly so cute.  I do have film and audio of her singing this, but as her favorite place to sing is in the bathtub….I can’t publish it. *sigh*

So instead you will get a photo of Ginny devouring birthday cake.  The child adores her Grammy’s carrot cake.

She slayed me the other day.  I work full time.  Monday through Friday 7:30 to 4:00.  Martin has a part time job doing AV for our church, it involves a lot of emailing, but he only really  physically works on Sunday mornings and a little bit during the times that Ginny is at school, so she doesn’t really notice him as being gone or not available.  Apparently she has no trouble at all identifying ME as being gone and unavailable.

This became evident about a week ago.  I was spending a delightful evening with Ginny. We played dress up, we wrestled, we giggled, she had a very good time at dinner and she was very snuggly all evening.  I was in hog heaven.  She was in her bath and we were playing and she started doing the roll call that all toddlers do.  Naming every person in their life whether the person is in the room or not.  And you, the adult are supposed to answer and tell her where everyone is.

Her – Gammy?
Me – Grammy is at Grammy’s house.
Her – Gammy’s house.

Her – Gan-daddy ?
Me – Grand Daddy is at Grammy’s house.
Her – Gammy’s house.

Her – Kirby?
Me – Kirby is downstairs.
Her – ‘own sairs.

Her – Lucy?
Me – Lucy is down stairs.
her – ‘own sairs.

Her – Papa?
Me – Papa is downstairs.
Her – ‘own sairs.

Her – Mama?

And before I could hug her and say Mama is right here, she came out with “Mama’s at work!” in a decidedly belligerent tone.

Ugh.  Talk about a stab to the gut!

I’ve never before run into this, but she knows the major USES of the colors Red and Green, but she doesn’t say the color NAMES.  For instance she will hand me a red ball and instead of saying “red” she will say “stop” and when she sees a green object she identifies it as “Go!” not green.  Is this weird?

One of my greatest joys in life is watching her figure stuff out.  Don’t you love the thoughtful look they get when the wheels are turning inside their little heads?  Well, last night Ginny was pretending to clean things.  She went all around the living room with an (empty) spray bottle and cleaned the couch “I keen sofa.”  She cleaned the little tykes slide  “I keen lide.”  She cleaned the dog “I keen puppy” (this was Kirby who got slightly annoyed with being sprayed with pretend water and sound effects).   She cleaned the TV screen “I keen Movies.”

Then she moved to the item next to the TV which is the glass fronted cabinet where all the other electronics are stored.  The VCR, DVR, Cassette player, the cable box etc.  She pretend sprayed the glass cabinet door and said “I keen……ummmm”  she visibly thought about it a moment and then said “I keen BUTTONS”

And then she looked at me funny as I giggled for the next ten minutes.

One more story of recent cute stuff.

Ever since she was born we have been singing a couple of specific songs to her “This is the day that the Lord hath made” is our morning song.  “the Lord bless you and keep you” is our night time song and we all hold hands and sing the blessing at the table.  For a while now Ginny has been asking for the blessing song all throughout dinner.  At random intervals she will hold out her hands to the people next to her and say “pray” which means she wants us to sing the blessing again.  Ginny also asks us to her nighttime song almost every night.  It is our best cue that she is ready for sleep.  She says “Peace.”  We sing the song, kiss her goodnight and go away.

The one song she hadn’t asked for yet though was the morning song. Until about a week ago.  Martin is the lucky man who gets to greet Ginny in the mornings.  And I’m not being facetious here, Ginny is pure sunshine in the mornings.  I don’t know why God saw fit to bless two people who are addicted to sleep with a morning person, but that is unquestionably what he did.  Ginny is at her best in the mornings. Cuddly, sweet, amazingly happy and very free with her hugs and kisses. Naps just aren’t the same thing.  She wakes up cranky from naps more often than not.  But mornings?  Pure gold. If you ever need to be cheered up or pulled out of a depression, just come by our house at 7 a.m.  any day of the week, Ginny will cheer you right up. This, by the way, is why I try to schedule our family photo appointments first thing in the morning.

Anyway, Martin gets to enjoy the majority of the wake up times and he has been singing his own version of “This is the day that the Lord hath made” to Ginny.  His version involves using two books as impromptu percussion instruments.  Apparently Ginny really likes this version. Martin forgot one morning last week and didn’t do the song right away.  Ginny went and got two books, started banging them together in the proper rhythm that Martin uses and brought them to her papa saying “This is Day! This is day!”

Clearly we need to get her tambourine or move her djembe to her room……

overheard at the russell’s

at our house nap time on a Saturday still means that even mama and papa are gonna try to get a nap.

So there we were, both being very still and quiet, listening to Ginny on the monitor.

She bounced for a while, and then started just laughing and laughing. Deep belly laughs.

then, from over the monitor we heard two darling words

“I’m Funny!”

more giggles. and eventually she went off to sleep.

bits and pieces

I’ve just spent four full days without any dairy products of any kind in my system.






very soon if I can’t have cheese. White Mexican cheese dip specifically.

This wasn’t a completely random decision. I had all four of my wisdom teeth out on Thursday morning.  Whenever I asked what I could eat after the proceedure I kept getting the same answer :

Ice cream, yogurt, cottage cheese, milk shakes, jello pudding.

um, let me get this straight.  You want to take out four of my teeth, give me drugs that will make me want to not move for four days and feed me a diet of all dairy?  oh and I can’t brush my teeth during this time for fear of disturbing the surgical site?

So in the space of four days I will gain 10 pounds and have a mound of decay in my remaining teeth.  Lovely.


So I went the opposite direction. I decided to cut out dairy for seven days.  I’m drinking beef broth, chicken broth, tea, water, fruit purees and the occasional serving of clear jello.

Providentially, the day after my surgery I got a call from my general practitioner…..  To tell me that my cholesterol was too high and they were going to have to put me on medication for it.

So I guess my planned orgy of dairy goodness that I had scheduled for this Friday is going to have to be put off.  I’ll reintroduce dairy slowly.


In the meantime here is a great substitute that I found to make my broths into creamy soups with NO DAIRY – use coconut milk.  Yup canned coconut milk.  Just 1 tablespoon of it in two cups of beef broth turns the clear boring broth into a creamy dish of delight.

or at least that is what I’m telling myself.

put out the fire and tear down the walls

Recently I realized that there was something missing in my life.

Some walls that I had built, some anger I had harbored for years was gone.  Just gone.  Crumbled. Vanished. ……..gone.

Had I been working on removing it?  Not really.  I had prayed a couple of times about it, but I wasn’t thinking about it a lot or praying about it recently.

I just came to the realization this past Sunday that the raging fire of anger was just…gone.  I couldn’t even dig up the embers.  And believe me I tried.  When I first realized the anger was gone it was almost like a friend had moved away.  My first thought was how to get the anger back (which makes NO SENSE, I know)  It had been something I quite literally cherished.  A fire that warmed me.   If I stopped being angry, was I admitting that the person had actually done the right thing all along?


Letting go of the anger is not the same thing as agreeing with the event or the actions of the person that I was angry with.  Letting go of the anger was just that.  Letting go.  Nothing more.

What happened?  How did it go away without me even noticing?

Frankly, I don’t know.

Perhaps it had something to do with listening endlessly to the same sermon (one of Beth Moore’s Sunday school classes called called “Thieves of Joy” ) over and over for the past few months.

Or perhaps it had something to do with the Bible verses I have been concentrating on for all of last year.  There are many, but the very first one that has been with me since January of 2009 is

II Chronicles 7:14
“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and heal their land”

Called by my name – I am a Christian.  I have been begging God to help me be a better representative of His Holy Name.  This is what Witness means by the way.  To represent, to bear witness, to testify.  In our case, those who are called Christians are meant to bear witness by our actions and lives to those around us.

Pray and seek His face and turn from their wicked ways – I have been seeking.  Filling my mind with His words (memorizing scriptures), filling my ears with music that glorifies Him (making a deliberate choice to keep my CDs to only praise music this year).  And keeping my mouth shut.  One of the most sinful areas of my life is my mouth.  I speak sarcastically and hurtfully in the name of humor far too often.  Partially due to illness and partially as a personal choice I have been trying to keep my mouth shut recently.  In effect – turning from my besetting sin.

Heal their land – I believe this is what happened.  Not literal land, but my spiritual land.  My land, the place my heart and mind was dwelling in was filled with fires of hatred and anger.  God has honored my seeking by healing this area of my life.  This scorching anger that has been consuming me for so long, the wound that would not go away, in part because I could not let go…..God loosened my grip and helped me let it go.

Which brings me to an example that my pastor Richard hunter used in church this Sunday –

Ever noticed that when you hold your fist closed tightly around something for too long it actually hurts to move your fingers in the physical act of opening your hand?  Try it.  Just make a fist.  Make it really tight.  Put a lot of effort into it.   Hold it for 60 seconds.

Then uncurl your fingers.    Relax your hand.  It hurts doesn’t it?  The word “relax” just doesn’t even seem to apply.

It actually takes effort to perform the physical act of opening the hand.

I think too often we generalize “letting go” as an effortless act of freedom.  And the result absolutely is freedom, but the act of releasing our grip on something, someone, or in my case – some emotion can actually be an effort.  In my case it was too much for me.  I cherished that anger.  I wanted it.  I was not about to let it go.

But God knew it needed to go.  It was standing in the way of joy.  And I hadn’t put any limits on God when I prayed from II Chronicles.  I just asked for His healing.  I didn’t say what needed healing.  I wasn’t trying to be clever, I just had no idea what God needed to do in my life.

I’m posting this today, even though it is not Easter related, because this really did just happen this past Sunday.  And I wanted to share the joy.

Fill your mind and heart with scripture, any scripture.  Don’t put any limits on God, and see what amazing things come of it.