Acting locally in Franklin, TN

This past week, we volunteered as a family at Graceworks Ministries in Franklin. We placed food from the pantry shelves into grocery carts. Those carts will stock the pantries of families throughout Williamson county who are experiencing need. As we filled the grocery carts with food, Max and Zach (our sons) noticed that the pantry was short of several specific items. Our boys really hated having to pass over an empty space on a shelf, especially if it was food that they liked.

It was wonderful to work together as a family to make a difference, especially with an age appropriate task for our children. Afterward, we decided to pass this list of shortages on and encourage you to help fill these specific food needs.

Here’s the list of shortages we noticed: Crackers, Canned evaporated milk, powdered milk, Laundry detergent, liquid dish detergent, Juliced and other drinks, pancake mix and syrup, paper towels, kleenex, toothbrushes, shampoo and conditioner.

The majority of local Publix and Kroger stores have bins for donation or you can take items to Graceworks. They are located at 104 Southeast Parkway, Suite 100, Franklin, TN 37064 / 794-9055 / Graceworks Website

The next time you’re at the grocery store, consider picking up one or more items and dropping them in the bin. If you forget and then remember on your way out of the store, at least look for the bin and make a note of its location. On future trips you might consider making a habit of adding an item or more to your list for the bin each time you stop in for groceries.

If you have another pantry you support, you might see what they are lacking.

Thanks, the Whitler family – Zach, Max, Celia and Ron


What do you pour yourself into? I was out walking Lilly, our dachshund 2 weeks ago. It was quite late and the stars were brilliant. Over our yard In front of me was the Big Dipper, majestic and looming. I have always been able to find the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper because they pour into each other. As I stood in the cold and thought of the new year, I found myself reflecting on the question, “what do I pour myself into?” My mind wandered through some related questions, “What do I allow to be poured into me? What am I passionate about? What captures me, my time, my energy, my money, my ears, my eyes, my attention?”

A few days later on a morning television show, two ladies were talking about new year’s resolution. One mentioned she liked to have a word for the year. Just one word that she focused on all year… and I drifted back to my Big Dipper experience and the word “pour.”

That’s my word for 2009, “pour.” I had coffee with a friend at Starbucks and I mentioned my word. She said, “That’s great” and I asked her what her word might be and after a few moments she smiled and said, “do.” I know her and “do” fits her!

What’s your word for this year? Where are you going to grow, to be passionate, to give, to pour yourself?

During the holidays, Ron and I spoke of looking for ways each week that our family might help someone else. We were looking for something our family could do together. This past week we went to a local food pantry operated by Graceworks Ministries. The folks there were wonderful. As we waited in the lobby for our job to begin, a young mom with her two children sat filling out paper work for aid. Our boys played with her children. I thought of the countless number of people that need a hand during these tough times. Carol, the volunteer coordinator, greeted us and described our job for the day, I knew we were in for a wonderful journey. We worked together filling shopping carts with food that families in need would pick up. Ron and I each worked with one of our sons. Carol talked to us about the families they help and the churches and groups that stock their warehouse she said, “it looks like a lot of food, right?” We gazed at rows of food. Then she said this pretty much has to last until May. We get food from folks to help out, but we’ve already given out more food this year than we did last year. As we walked the isles to fill our carts, Max and I would come up to an area that was empty and he’d say, “Mom what are we gonna do?” “I guess we’ll have to skip it, Max, and go to the next thing.” “Mom, we need to go by the grocery store and tell our friends what they need. People would help if they knew, right?”

So we are gonna send out an email blast to friends in our town and you might do the same in your town. Make a trip to your local food pantry and see what their needs are. I love that Max, Zach, Ron and I experienced it and poured ourselves into an afternoon of compassion. I could have been that mom filling out paper work with my two kids. In our small way, we made a difference for a few families this week.

Last month, I spoke about the loss of my friend, Kathleen Baskin-Ball. I called another friend of mine, Billy Crockett, to tell him about her last days. I remembered an event Billy and I did years ago with Kathleen. After the evening ended, Kathleen said to me, “look Celia, you and Billy must keep writing and singing songs about those on the margins, those hurting, those not seen, those in need. More important than singing, you must go there, go with me to Mexico or to East Dallas, go and experience it yourselves and then you can’t help but share what you have seen. You can’t help but be moved by what you have witnessed. It becomes apart of you and you’re changed. It’s more than just singing, writing, volunteering or giving money. It becomes who you are. It’s no longer theirs or mine, it’s ours.” She was right about a lot of things and she poured herself into a life of practicing what she preached.

I want to live a life in which I pour myself into eternal things, but honestly I fall short day after day. I never went to Mexico with Kathleen, regardless of how many times she invited me. I always had something else I was doing during her trips. I guess I thought, I’d get to it later. I spent 2 whole hours today searching for my favorite winter knit hat. How trivial is that! It’s brown with a color band around the top. If you find it let me know. I miss the mark day after day, but lots of days I’m on my knees surrendering (myself and my hat).

My prayers are for you and I as we embark on the days ahead, that we’d know the gift that is Christ and each other; that we would know the awe and gratitude for creation, for the Creator and that we’d pour ourselves into eternal thing; that we’d look for new ways for our churches, schools, families, ways each of us would turn ourselves toward each other and give selflessly; that we would be light that others not only see but experience.

Shine on friends,



I recently heard a talk where one of the illustrations was for us to view ourselves with a large sign over our heads. We were to imagine something on it that positively stated who we are. I thought about what my sign might say. The speaker essentially was saying that we become what we believe about ourselves. Last month I went to asummer evening gathering of women and again was told to look in the mirror everyday and to tell myself, “you are loved and you can do whatever is before you today.” Have you thought about how you see yourself? While talking to a friend about these thoughts, she mentioned that she sees herself with extra weight, more wrinkles and grayer hair. As she continued, I said “Are you kidding? What I see is your smile, your laugh and your light. I see you through the eyes of love.”

How can we all write on our signs those kind of things about ourselves that would reflect how God sees us and how we see ourselves through the eyes of love? I think my sign would be a mixture of who I believe myself to be and and how I want to view myself, something like,”I am loved and unsure and joyous and scared and blessed” All of it crammed into one sign.

In addition to working on my next book, this summer we are pretty much at home and we are teaching swimming lessons to preschool and elementary children at home with Max and Zach, covered with bugspray and sunscreen, saying over and over again, “you can do it, put your face in the water, reach and pull with your arms!” Most are beginning swimmers, with signs saying “I’m afraid.” One little precious boy, during his first time ever in swimming lessons, when asked to put his face in the water, said “That too tary!”(scary) During his last lesson after he put his face in, he laughed. What a journey from beginning 8 days ago, at 11 AM his sign said, ” that too tary,” and today, “I can do it!” What I know made the difference is Ron’s arms under him, holding him and telling him repeatedly, “I’ve got you and I’m not gonna let go of you.” Doesn’t matter what I allow on my sign, I do feel loving arms around me.

While at the grocery store in the produce I knocked over a box of cookies in a plastic container. Cookies went everywhere. As my son Zach and I began to pick them up — one of the deli workers just appeared and said, “I’ll take these ma’am.” “Oh no,” I quickly replied, “I’ll pick them up and please let me pay for them.” My sign said, “I’m embarrassed and I want to leave.” Apparently not. as she smiled. and said, “Don’t worry about it.” As we headed toward the bread aisle. I looked at Zach and said, “I don’t know why stuff like that bothers me, I just feel so embarrassed, I was moving too fast’.” Zach interrupted, “mommy, mommy, it’s okay it happens.” He took my hand and something changed, really changed. I was lifted. The problem was not gone, there were cookies everywhere. But there was another reality, of it’s ok — more importantly — I’m ok. I am ok and all that is in front of me that seems too tary is not too tary. I am known, I am loved and most importantly I am not alone.

Before I take my first step of the day, I started sitting up on the side of the bed in the morning. I put my feet on the floor in front of me and I say to myself “I’m living, I’m loveable, I am loved and I am not alone.” I also spell the ABCs with my feet. (When I ran I got fasciitis in my right foot and that was my runners’ re-hab.) I say to God help me let go of today, I give it to you.

Say it with me… “Today, I’m living, I’m loveable, I am loved and I amnot alone” There is nothing too tary, that today I cannot face!

Have a cookie today, I am gonna let go of today and see what happens


Scripture, Romans 8:28 — We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

P.S. Congrats to Tanner 5 1/2 who passed the swimming test that consisted of swimming a lap in the Olympic sized pool and treading water for 30 seconds, so that she could go down the big blue slide at the YMCA all summer long! Way to go!

To Rachel 18, in NY who graduated this June, Congrats! My text message to her on her last day of high school was “The best thing you could have learned is how loved you are, how special you are and how all things are possible.”

You both did it and we knew you could!


When I was eight everything was possible. I thought I could run faster, and I could. I thought there would never be a time when I wouldn’t try things and that time has come. I believed that all people are good and I have had occasion to wonder and even question that fact. I played with friends and thought those close to me then would be close to me forever. I know where only a few of those folks are today and I smile even thinking of them now. We were innocent. We were young. We were carefree. We loved, laughed outloud. ate ice cream when we wanted. drank Icees when we wanted, slept in during In the summer we watched cartoons early Saturday mornings, went to the fair every year, flirted with boys because it was fun, made wishes, believed dreams came true, said our prayers and all before bathtime and lights out. We played together and didn’t care who lived on which side of the tracks. We held hands during recess and skipped. We still played dress up with our mom’s clothes and shoes and makeup when they weren’t looking and pretended we knew what it would be like to be grown up. I had no clue.

I loved us and all the lessons we taught each other. Riding on your best friends handle bars down a steep hill should be avoided at all costs. The feeling of drowning is no fun and that feeling that you’ll never breathe again is something you put our of your head. That feeling returns when you’re a teenager and someone breaks you heart–you remember how it feels to be drowning all over again. We shared, really because we liked to share. The joy of giving what I had to my best friend and seeing her face–money can’t buy that. It’s priceless, really. We jumped off of things and didn’t think at the the time we’d get hurt, until an ankle sprain. I learned how long it takes to heal. Later I learned it again and again–healing seems to takes forever. We can spend our whole lives healing from something, even if we’ve made peace with the hurt. Some prayers don’t get answered, but I believe all prayers are heard. Fear is overridden by desire and joy is found in the smallest places.

I caught every living thing in my back yard and I treasured the world around me. The trees were my playrooms and my bike could take me anywhere. With coins in my pocket I’d head downtown to the library and get lost in a book that would take me to places I couldn’t pronounce, much less dream up. Next I’d ride to the drugstore for fudge ripple ice cream on a sugar cone and buy a Richie Rich comic book. Then I’d ride down past the cemetary to the creek and swim–that’s crazy huh. I’d catch tadpoles and fireflies. Then I’d head back home and play tag with my neightbors until it was dark. Finally and only at the last hour, I would go back inside for a quick bite, most of which I would sneak to the dog under the table. Then it was bath time. I made shampoo supported mohawks. After a quick bedtime story made up by my dad, I was off to sleep. I was still afraid of the dark at eight.. after a kiss goodnight, I’d check under the bed for the creatures and in the closet. I’d pull the curtains closed, hold a stuffed animal tightly. and head under the covers. I was right to be scared of things. There are things to be scared of. Some nights I was frozen–no trapped by fear, not most nights, but enough to remember. I’d whisper a few words under my breath and I was off to sleep. Now that I think of it, those creatures never surfaced. They were in my head, not in my room. Isn’t that the way it is? We have to be careful what we let have it’s way with our thoughts. Most nights the good prevailed. I dreamed when I was eight. Seldom did I remember my dreams, but I loved to dream about playing with dolphins somewhere exotic. Dream land was very different from my surroundings. That is still true today, but I still believe that anything is possible.

It’s all how you look at it. An eight year old sees with eyes that are still open and there are days when I long for that view. Even if I could go back and whisper some of the things I’ve learned and realized along the journey to that girl, she might laugh until she cried or she’d cry until she laughed. She wouldn’t, couldn’t believe me. She’d have to see it with her own eyes. That’s just what I have lived. Here’s to eight. Really in a word, it was great. Don’t ever stop being eight. Don’t forget to buy a snowcone this summer, bubble gum’s my favorite flavor and it turns your tongue blue–who doesn’t like that!

Max turns eight today… May 16, 2008 eat some birthday cake… 2 slices!

Life that is truly Life

While decorating our home for the Christmas holidays, I realized I couldn’t find baby Jesus from one of our nativity sets.

He was there last year. After Christmas, I packed him up carefully knowing I’d want to know right where to find him when I set out my collection of nativity sets (does 4 make a collection? Max has collected 13 webkinz and Zach 11, now those are collections. Maybe I have a group.) Anyway, the last set was missing baby Jesus. For days I’d walk by the piano where they all were set up and every time I’d say, “ugh” where is baby Jesus?” And yes, I’ll admit I do find myself praying to the infant Jesus during this season (8 pound 6 ounce or otherwise.) As I continued decorating, I began the search through every box of ornaments, “now baby Jesus, OK, if you know me you know that I lose things, but this is it.” I mean really, Celia. Finally 8 hours later in the bottom of the last box upside down, beside a cotton ball angel, there he was. What a relief! I laughed about it and knew I wanted to share my mishap with you.

The more I thought about this devotion and about losing and finding Jesus, I recalled a sermon I heard recently. While attending Calvary Community Church in Westlake, California I got the chance to hear a guest preacher Pastor Bill Hybels, the founding pastor of Willow Creek Community Church. He preached about Jesus and the poor. When I tell you that I was moved, those words do fall short. I heard the sermon three times (once on Saturday night and twice on Sunday morning.) During the second service, I was wrecked. I began to cry and to feel God’s Spirit move over me. I could barely sit in my seat. I have sung at Calvary several times and always find it warm and inspiring, but this week was different. Friday evening, I spoke and sang at their women’s tea with 450 incredible women. Now that I think about it, I can’t think of a group I’ve spoken to that I wasn’t drawn to and afterwards felt like I’ve been with old friends. Our good friends on staff, Rex and Andrea asked us if we’d extend our visit through the weekend and I’m so glad we did. Bill’s sermon was about those times in journey as Christ-followers when we have had a “I just got my world rocked” moment.

Along my way in life, these are a few of my aha moments in life and faith.:

  • Discovering a heart for missions and service from a few youth workers who nurtured that in me.
  • Realizing at my first teaching appointment situated in an low income neighborhood that we must do more to be inclusive. Everyone is God’s child. We can all encourage and inspire.
  • During the deaths of several family members–my sister, my mother and fathers death. I became profoundly aware that we are not alone. God is in the midst of our suffering. Friends are family and the local church have opportunities daily to be Christ’s hands and feet.
  • Through sponsoring a child, if I only change one child’s life, that’s enough.
  • From college days traveling the world, when need each other and we have more in common that we think.
  • From recent news from around the world and driven home by the movie Hotel Rwanda I was reminded who my neighbor is. Moved to tears I remember feeling the same about the Holocaust museum in DC. We may be the only ones who can help and if we don’t, those in need will perish.
  • Having Max and Zach I discovered how few things are eternal.

Bill Hybels spoke of his own expereinces and passion for the poor. He asked us to reflect on a simple question. “When others speak your name, do they say of you, ‘she has a heart for the poor’?” I sat there and thought about what others would say. Obviously I have a heart for music, a heart for the church, I love others. I think I live for others, within reach, but what about those I’ll never reach or meet? What about those in need every day from gut wrenching hunger, lack of shelter, medicine, education, employment? I should be on my knees everyday saying, “Lord, thank you help me not turn a blind eye to those who need me the most.” Where would Jesus be if he were here today? My best guess is that he would be on the streets with those in need. Bill mentioned a phrase from scripture, “life, that is truly life.” He told of helping a woman in Africa to her hut with a bag of food and praying with her. In that moment he had a “rock your world” moment. Life that was truly life, was crystal clear.

As I write this, I am remembering a song writing appointment two weeks ago with two of my favorite song writers. One told of a woman in a friend’s neighborhood who was experiencing hard times. Her husband had left her with two small children and she was barely getting by. She was a young mom alone and a gentleman in his eighties who had always been kind to her, saw her struggle and came to her aid. He had been her neighbor for years and he knew her story. He walked with a coffee can door to door to his neighbors, pointed to her house and said, “see that house, that women in there is hurtin’, she needs some help. What can you do to help her?” Then he went to her home and piled up the money on the table and said, “I hope that helps.” Whew, that’s the good news. That’s the kind of love that doesn’t care how it looks. It is not always wrapped in pretty paper with a neat bow. It might look like a rusted old coffee can.

I know what this season brings. Many of us are busy, treading the waters of the commercialism of the holidays, squeezed (I just cannot bring myself to spend $80 on a sherbert bunny webkinz for Max’s collection), stressed over money or over time, or over our loved ones or sad (if we’ve lost someone) or maybe a strained relationship with someone we’re going to have to be with in a week. All the while I’m wondering what have we done with Jesus. I know this is what I need to be reminded of. To have a heart like Christ we must have a heart for what Christ had a heart for. That’s my prayer this year. “Baby Jesus be born in my heart once again. Wreck me today for what matters to you. Use me to bring your goodness here on earth, that we might find you and know life that is truly life.”

I love you all and thank God for you in my life. You are a blessing Merry Christmas!


P.S. I hope you get the easy bake oven and moon boots this year or whatever is on your list

On Bad Days

Have you ever had a day when you just want the world to go away? Like a nagging sister, the world is right there– tagging along, always needing something and making you tired and grumpy! I had a day like that recently.

When I woke up, the world had already begun its spin and I was sucked into the spin within my first hour. How can it be? I just woke up! How early do I need to get up, so that I’m not behind? Some days it seems like some time before 5:00 AM would do it. But who gets up before 5:00?–dairy farmers. I’m sure dairy farmers don’t care what the world thinks. They’re too busy taking care of cows. That’s exactly what I need, a cow.

Next thing I know I’m running out the door. Last month I wrote a song that has a line in it: “getting out the door’s like getting out of quicksand.” Yes, that’s true for me. I ran out of the door and started driving down my driveway only to stop the car and run back into the house to get the thing I swore I woudn’t forget. Ugh. Then I ran back to the car. The last time I had a start like this I drove off with my favorite red coffee cup on the back bumper of the car and you got it. It fell off somewhere and I have never seen the pieces it left behind. I drove by the area I think it flung itself into only to find high grass and a deep ditch. I didn’t check the bumper that morning but nothing would have surprised me. I loved that coffee mug.

I made it to school in time to drop boys off. It rained today, so when they got out of the car instead of the usual in the air kisses that they blow me, they blew me off and headed for the front door of the school in the rain. That’s ok. We had a plan for today. I parked the car and met them inside to deliver some slices of leftover chocolate cake to some of their teachers, past and present. As I shared the cake with Zach’s teacher, I said, “just a little sunshine coming your way!” As I headed to the next teacher– the PE coach, I caught a glimpse of my reflection in a school door. I was wearing no make-up, but wet hair from the rain. All I made time for this morning was my frumpy clothes. Today would have been a great day for sleeping in. The PE coach was out sick, so we gave a piece of cake to a friend down the hall who was thrilled.

Next, I stopped off at Max’s class and asked his teacher if she had any work I could help with. Three hours later I finished organizing a year’s worth of second grade readers. I know I helped, but I was hoping for something artistic, like designing a colorful decoration for the hallway. Now, I love doing that, but organization is not my gift. But I’m sure that’s what she needed today and looking back, I’m glad I could help. When you think of me, don’t think of filing. OK, cows are starting to look better.

I headed home to make some phone calls and grab lunch. Right before I turned the car off it started making a funny sound. You know the sound, the one that sounds like money. OK, by now the world is really getting on my nerves! We just replaced a radiator. I wonder how much it costs to maintain a cow.

When I picked up Max and Zach we headed to Max’s class and decorated the hallway. A friend of mine came by and had her daughter out on the playground and asked if the boys could join them. “Are you nuts,” I thought, “how long can you keep them?” I mean, “sure that’s a wonderful idea.” Three hours later, our hallway of trees, butterflies, grasshoppers and flowers was complete.

Upon arriving home, everyone read books. Then Max did his homework. We all ate our slightly overcooked dinner together and made designs with a Spirograph. Do you remember those? We made our way to bed and read “The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash” which was a great book for today. We said prayers and I kissed boys goodnight. Then I was off to watch Grey’s Anatomy–thank goodness for TIVO. Who’d have thought time-shifting content could be so life changing and miraculous? Until the unthinkable happened–the last 5 minutes of Grey’s was not recorded. I know that I can get someone to tell me what happened, but at the time, let’s just say, it took my breath away. Now that I think about it, it’s kinda funny. I’ll bet if I was a dairy farmer, I wouldn’t have time to be interested in TV shows. I’d be waking up at 5 or 3 am to milk the cows instead, here I am with my day.

Someone was born today… someone died… someone fell in love… someone got closer to curing AIDS or a form of cancer… someone broke up with their boyfriend… someone celebrated a birthday with family and friends… someone celebrated a birthday alone… someone climbed Mount Everest… someone got lost… someone lost their first tooth… someone got their first job… someone found out that the cancer is still there…someone found out they are not sick anymore… someone else learned they are going to have a baby… someone felt loved, while someone else thought of taking their own life… all of this happened and so much more… and I felt all day like I wanted a do-over. Maybe that’s just it, we don’t get one. Max’s pre-school teacher Ms Beth used to say, “you get what you get and you don’t pitch a fit.” Maybe today was all the best and worst rolled together in into 24 hours, but it was my day. It just was. At the end of it, I find myself falling on my knees, thankful to God for all of it. For those who know the real “dirty-hair-pulled-on-top-of-my-head,-didn’t-take-a-shower-yet,-my-house-isn’t-clean-and-won’t-be-until-I-don’t-know-when,-got-$1.34-in-my-purse,” me. Those last five minutes of Grey’s Anatomy can be lost forever. I didn’t lose one minute of my day. Each moment I felt–the joy and disappointment. Tonight while preparing dinner…. I over-cooked a grilled cheese sandwich and I started crying. Zach looked up from the table and said, “what is it, Celia? is it just everything?” And I thought, “yep it is.” Somedays are like that even for dairy farmers.

This is the day that the Lord has made… let us rejoice and be glad in it. PS118:24

Just Because

A few nights ago I was helping my sons get ready for bed. I had Max (the oldest) do the usual routine: bath, put jammies on, brush teeth and make the last potty stop. Then I said, “find brother and tell him you love him just because.” So he did. Zach smiled as he hugged him and told him “ I love you.” Then it was Zach’s turn: bath, jammies, teeth, last trip to the potty and find your brother, tell him you love him just because. So he did. Did I mentioned after each declaration of love that the recipient was wrestled to the ground just to make sure they got the message. That was not what I envisioned. It was still one of those times when you remember what is important.

During a retreat I led last month, I sat with a girl who told me that she was struggling with her younger brother. She lamented that he was mean to her and he just didn’t get it. It was clear that she loved her brother deeply. She had learned how fragile life was and she wanted her eighth grade brother to get it. I said, “he’s just being a little brother. You keep telling him you love him, better yet show him how you feel. Find how what he likes to do and do it with him. Find out what he loves just because. Show him what it means to care about him and then love the brother you have today–the way he is right now. Make it about the giving. One day maybe he’ll look back and see the gift he has in you.” I encouraged her to see the gift today that she has in him.

She sent me a text message after the retreat. She said she had just returned from her brother’s band concert. He played drums. I told her about Max and Zach’s night. One day maybe I won’t have to remind them–they’ll just say it because. Because we need to use those words, because we all need to hear those words. At the end of our text conversation, I said, “sometimes the just because moments make all the other ones bearable.”

Isn’t that true? Think about it. Those people who do things for you just because, hold a special place in your heart and in mine. First, they get you what you love and they cherish it! Isn’t it wonderful to have someone know you? Do you have someone who knows what you love? Maybe they know your birthday.. your hard days.. your favorite things? To be known is not only important, it’s sacred. Second, they remember. Not only do they know, but they remember. Third, they follow through. Sometimes I do the first parts well, but I get lost in the third part… the doing. I watch, I listen, I file away, I stop, I ask, I may have the best intentions, but sometimes I don’t get to the finish line. That’s just crazy–I buy the card and forget to send it. I think of them during the day, but just don’t get to the phone to call them. Every once in a while, I remember and I do the right thing.! The look on their face, their voice on the phone when they received a card out of the blue just because. That is what it’s all about. I am a true believer that those moments of receiving carrying us through, because they’ve made the difference in my life.

Last month, I met a friend at the grocery store just because. I loved her and I tracked her down. As I walked through the check out with her, I thought about all the little things she has meant to me over the past years and about the ways I have been there for her. I know God was a part of my being in that grocery store. I also know that on that day, I was part of bringing God’s kingdom, in some small way. My week with her turned out to be just one of those weeks and really it began at the grocery check out aisle four.

A few days ago, I called a friend that came to mind. I had not talked with him in months and I just said, I’m not sure what’s going on but you were on my mind and I called to tell you I loved you just because I do. For a moment the phone was silent, then he said, “I’m not sure how you knew that today was a bit of a set back and a snag, but thanks for the call.” To know someone, to remember, to follow through, to be a part of their moments, to speak those words, to just do something for someone else is the thing. I know it is God’s work that we get to be small part of.

I encourage you to make some moments for someone esle this summer. — Celia

P.S. I have been thinking about writing this for a week and as I sat down to write, I received a card from another friend that started with two words, “Just because.”

Entertaining Angels

She stared directly at me and burned a hole in me with her dark brown eyes. She was holding her mother’s hand and lagging a little behind her mother’s pace. Her red dress was what first caught my eyes and then her face drew everything toward her. She really looked at me as if she knew me and knew all about my life. I wish I could use the right words to describe what I felt but in a minute I knew she knew me. Right there at gate C14, as I made my way to baggage claim, a 2-year-old named Sierra captivated me. Her mother walked by me and she turned her body around to look at me. She began waving and then stopped. I of course, stopped and said, I see you… you are beautiful. What’s your name? As I bent down to talk to her, she had stopped her mother as well. The mother’s eyes were gentle but tired and she smiled and said, Her name is Sierra. By then Sierra and I were in full embrace and I said again, “I see you and I love you.” I had been away from Max, Zach and Ron for days and I was so thankful for Sierra’s hug. As her mother began to pull away, Sierra motioned kisses to me in the air. an appropriate farewell for a 2 year old. Her hair covered in red ponytails, her white shoes, her red polka dot dress, as cute as they were, all paled in comparison to the countenance on her face–pure love.

Have you ever met anyone and see it shining from their faces? And then there’s the knowing… the real, genuine, truthful knowing that is exchanged in the connection. It was more than words shared, because to be honest, I was the only one talking. Her mother after sharing her named, sheepishly said, “thank you,” when I commented on her beauty. As they walked away, I stood and told Sierra “I’ll see you another day. Go with your Mamma, she’s a good Mamma and she loves you and I’ll see you another day. Sierra continued to blow kisses until finally she turned around to catch up with her mother’s stride.

As I made my way down the hallway toward baggage claim and toward my family I was thankful for the gift of our encounter. I have been pondering this season… all it means and all I still don’t comprehend about these holy days. This morning, Zach summed it up on the way to school. We were talking about Jesus and about Easter. We talked about how Jesus came to teach about God’s love and show us how much we are loved and he eventually died doing so. Zach one of my back seat theologians said, “yea, that Jesus loves us more than we can know.” That sums it up for me. Max and I agreed and I wished I had said it that way ‘cause it’s true.

Every once in a while I am reminded of how that love knows me, claims me, sustains me, invites me, embraces me and sees me. Like my meeting with Sierra. Out of nowhere I’m instantly reconnected and reminded and overwhelmed with more love than I can know. I wish that for you. If you see a little girl in a red polka dotted dress, don’t pass her by. She may be Christ’s messenger with a kiss or a hug for you on your journey. It is almost easier to forget to be on the lookout for the angels that live and visit us everyday as messengers of God’s love. Who knows, maybe God was using me that day to see Sierra and her mom and to be of an encourager for them along their way; just as they were to me.

As Paul is closing his letter to the Hebrews, he writes these words, “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:1-2 NRSV)

I sang for a leadership event for Calvary Community Church in the Los Angeles area last month. A small group of leaders and chosen influencers gathered to focus on making their church a more hospitable place. We talked about fun, we talked about being inviting and we talked about being on the lookout. One lady said it well when she said that she was much better at recognizing opportunities in her rear view mirror. I’m not sure how it works, but God is moving and I’m looking out my windshield at what’s coming. Join me on the lookout.

Love you, Celia


I was at the grocery store check-out … the self-check-out with my six year old Max when she passed by — a friend I hadn’t seen in several years. As we noticed each other, I left my post and my scanning job and hugged her neck. “How are you?” I asked. Immediately I knew the answer by the look in her eyes. It was a only few days before Thanksgiving. I was expecting, “busy, buying last minute baking supplies.” What she shared was unexpected. Her husband has cancer and his chemo was to start on Monday.

I now have totally abandoned my checking out duties and have turned it all over to Max, who, now that I think about it, was doing a fine job! Okay, normally I think I know what to say, but here’s what came out. “Could we get together and get a cup of coffee?” Why do I think Starbucks can cure anything? My dad was that way about hot tea. You could have pneumonia and he’d say, let me whip up some tea with a little honey and lemon–you’ll feel better. She laughed that you-silly-girl laugh, then she said, “I can’t imagine having time as I’ll use all my free time taking care of him.” Ugh, Celia

Then I said what I should have said first, as I grabbed her again, “I love you and I’m so sorry. What can I do? ” Her eyes filled with tears. My eyes filled with tears and the music in the background was little beeps from Max finishing up my scanning. Ahhh and here comes Christmas with all its jolliness and bright lights and me suggesting a chat over coffee and Christmas carols in the background.

Recently, I was with some other friends and I helped them with their family Christmas photo. I stood behind the photographer as he took their picture. I saw this beautiful family in front of me. When I tell you they were model material, I’m not kidding — any clothing store ad people would love this photo on their catalog cover — scarfs, hats, smiles, snow and I thought of pictures I’ve taken in years past. Beneath the smiles and poses there was so much more going on. My friend could have just smiled and told me that everything was great and I would never have known, but she didn’t. She really gave me a gift by telling me the whole story. Her smile quickly turned to tears as she shared the whole truth about this season for her family.

Okay, I am not saying we should slap a warning sticker on our Christmas portrait that says “objects appear happier than they are.” That can’t happen but it would be a fair warning.

Last year taking Max & Zach’s picture in front of the Christmas tree was a bit of a stretch. One of them kicked the other one and someone got poked in the eye. The whole time, I’m trying to get the perfect shot. “Boys… boys… stop that… look my way… smile… big… Max leave your brother alone… oh my Lord, you’ve got to be kidding.” I’m just trying to get both of them in the frame…. forget the smiles!

As I am writing this, I’m listening to “The Best of Michael McDonald.:The Christmas Collection.” When I say it has my favorite Christmas song, I am not kidding. The title is “Peace” and I can barely listen to it without crying. Michael and Beth Nielson Chapman wrote this incredible song. It is everything I wish for my friend in the checkout line, for those friends who took the Christmas picture, really, for all of us this season — is we will all find peace.

That I would fall to my knees this Christmas before the Christ child… become so real, so genuine this year with all that I offer Christ the only gift he needs and the only sacrifice I can truly make — all of me. The smiles me… the I’m hiding something me… Celia who lets others in me; the Celia who cares to share and know that what is behind the picture me….the Celia who tries to fix things with coffee me and the Celia who can’t fix it me….

In Christmas past it did seem easier when all I wanted was an easy bake oven, but Christ offers you and me much more than what we want, what we need this season ….may that peace be born in each of our hearts this Christmas.

May my friend find that peace as she begins this unknown journey and may Christ sustain her through these days. And you and I, may our picture be one filled with love–love we receive and love we unconditionally give. Not that our picture would just look like love, but may our lives be overflowing with God’s joy and may we know the source of that joy – a relationship with each other that is so real and rich that we grab each other and hold on and a relationship with the One who is holding on to us–who knows and loves us best. That one I believe is the Christ child.