On my grandpa: a life well lived and well loved

The night before my grandpa died, I told a close friend at the end of our nearly two-hour phone call that I wasn’t too sad that his passing was likely imminent.

Just 10 hours later, my mom told me that he actually had died — from congestive heart failure — at 2:30 that morning. He was 85 years old.

Less than two weeks before, I’d seen him for Christmas, along with my grandma, where they’d lived for the last 40-plus years in Spotsylvania, Virginia. My family isolated so that we could safely visit him for what he repeatedly told us would “probably be his last Christmas.”

That was the visit I told my friend about the night before he died. He’d been in end-stage heart failure for the last few years, so we knew he might be right about it being his last Christmas. As maybe is reflected by my comment to my friend, I didn’t expect it to come so soon. Or to hurt so much.

My grandpa, Charles Donnie Britt, was a special man. As I suppose many people feel about their grandparents, he was both a fixture of familiarity and mystery in my life. I knew he’d served in Korea in the U.S. Air Force as a young man, and that he worked over 50 years in the retail industry. I’d heard many funny stories about him — like the time he allegedly almost traded my grandma, Gay Britt, for camels on a trip to Jerusalem or when he gifted my mom a Beanie Baby bullfrog as a funny apology for saying she looked like a bullfrog when she cried a few years before. I’d also heard the sentimental stories, like how he met my grandma when she was a young and widowed single mother — they were married for 57 years when he died — or how he prioritized attending all of his grandchildren’s baptisms, no matter the drive required for a five-minute ceremony.

For me though, my grandpa was simultaneously less and more than those things. To me, he was the man who never said no to reading me a book as a child, who taught me the words to “Jesus Loves Me” and always said the blessing before a meal, until his health meant he didn’t have enough breath left to say it anymore. He is the man who gave me my middle name — Britt — and my propensity for crying. He was the man I loved fiercely, even when that love was hard to pin down. He is the man I miss already, even after years of what I thought were preparation to say goodbye.

In the last few years, my grandpa and I bonded over UNC-Chapel Hill; my grandpa, a lifelong Tar Heels fan, was so proud of me for attending and graduating from UNC. Talking about UNC became something of a lifeline for us — particularly as even his hearing aids didn’t allow him to fully join the conversation, and as we saw each other less and less.

Our time together was easy, if not a little awkward. I have a bad habit of saying a lot of words at one time, knotting many sentences and thoughts into one. With my grandpa, this habit was especially cumbersome, as he typically couldn’t keep up with sentences longer than a few words. Our conversations often resembled an unskilled tennis match, with many conversation starters served, but few returned. And lots of shouting. In college, I began trying to more regularly call my grandparents. Once, when my grandma didn’t answer, my grandpa hung up on me after I’d said, “Hi Grandpa, it’s Hannah” — to which he replied (sounding quite exasperated, I must add) “No, it’s not, wrong number.”

Even so, my grandpa always knew what I was up to. He listened intently to what he could hear, asking when he saw me about how the job search was going or my latest article. The last few times I saw him, he began talking with all of us about his death in the casual and peculiar way old people do. Each time I saw him, he gave me another of his vintage UNC sweatshirts or windbreakers. In recent years, I’ve given most of my UNC apparel away — due mostly, I suppose, to disillusionment about and disappointment in the institution I used to love — but when I wear one of my grandpa’s worn out sweatshirts, it only makes me smile.

In the last year, every time I saw him or talked on the phone, he’d taken to reminding me of my singleness. “Now Hannah, I just want you to know, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’ll never see you get married,” he’d say. “I’m just glad I got to see you graduate, twice.”

I’m glad, too. In the midst of what feels like surprising grief, I am holding onto the memories my grandpa and I do have together — along with his laugh captured in old pictures, and the stories all the people who love him have shared in recent days.

Several friends have sent condolences, expressing sorrow that I lost my grandpa during what is already such a difficult time. It’s true — every day over the last week has felt heavy with the weight of grief; my individual sense of loss weaving with the collective loss and brokenness so pervasive in the world around us. That brokenness certainly bled over into my family’s life: my grandma was heavyhearted that she couldn’t throw my grandpa the “celebration of life” he deserved due to COVID-19. And though I love and respect my grandpa deeply, the disagreements we did have — mostly political — were very painful to me. Navigating the complexity of grief is hard at any time, but I’m realizing that navigating it now offers a small gift: space to grieve openly and with others, if over different things.

This past weekend, my family held a small funeral for my grandpa, and gathered together wearing masks, never truly hugging. I cried throughout the weekend, a lot. One day, my grandma was talking to my grandpa while looking up at her mistletoe decoration. My Aunt Carla jokingly asked, “Is Daddy up there?” My grandma, pausing for a moment, smiled and said, “Well, no, I just talk to him anywhere.” She then told us the story of how he died, for at least the third time, and that his last words were “I love you.” I cried more.

I am a Christian, so I believe in the resurrection of the dead, and hope for the day that all will be made right — from the broken world and systems around me to the death of my grandpa. But today, that hope doesn’t necessarily shrink my grief or stop my tears. When I saw my grandpa’s armchair — where he spent most of his time as his health sharply declined the last few months — empty, or occupied by another, or looked at his makeup-laden face in his casket, I couldn’t immediately call to mind the vision of a new heaven and a new earth.

I just missed him.

This piece was originally published by Chatham News + Record.

This Side of Heaven: Exploring a Christian’s Relationship with Social Justice

I originally wrote this piece in the fall of 2018 for To The Well, a Christian thought journal at UNC. A lot has changed since then (including, maybe, even some of my articulations of social justice) but I praise the Lord that his faithfulness, goodness and eternal posture toward justice has not. You can find a shorter version of this essay here. The above image is a screenshot of a partial illustration, designed by Cassandra Berens.

For many people, Christians have become synonymous with enthusiasts of Make America Great Again apparel, big walls, and politically incorrect speech. 

Some Christians resent this conservative stereotype, while others embrace it. Regardless, it is clear that religious identity has become a strong indicator of political identity – a 2018 Gallup poll on evangelicals in America reported that 68 percent of self-described evangelicals supported Trump, compared to only 26 percent of those same respondents that supported Obama. As the world watches, many who proclaim to know Jesus hold these identities proudly, and at times, more so than they do their identities as Christians. Others choose to abstain from politics because of their Christianity. 

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines identity politics as “politics in which groups of people having a particular racial, religious, ethnic, social, or cultural identity tend to promote their own specific interests or concerns without regard to the interests or concerns of any larger political group.” I am not going to make any arguments regarding the morality of supporting or not supporting Trump, but against idolizing and lifting high political identity above our identity as children of God. As Christians, we cannot fit neatly into any political party or identity, and we shouldn’t expect to. Rather, the purpose of engaging in politics as a Christian is to make a broken world more like the kingdom of heaven, where are humans are equal and dignified.

“Lest we forget, it’s important to be reminded that Jesus’ approaches were not popular during his ministry on earth.”

Throughout the four Gospels, Jesus rebukes the disciples for their expectations of him to be a savior by becoming politically elite, just as he similarly avoids debate with the religious leaders regarding the authority of Rome. So often, these are the types of politics we involve ourselves in – politics not centered on our individual actions, but on those of leaders we either despise or adore, parties we view as the problem or the answer.

Very often, even our best understanding of Jesus’ relationship with politics stops there. Recognizing that our political leaders will not be able to fix or ruin everything is a good first step, but it is not all we are called to as Christians. Jesus didn’t stop at renouncing idolization of political leaders – he also crossed political and social boundaries with nearly all of his actions and teachings. The miracles and words of Jesus we now look to for boldness and encouragement when thinking about love and justice were deeply political. We tend to remember Jesus as apolitical to justify not engaging in messy and uncomfortable political conversations, but in reality he was scandalously intertwined in the political realms we often distance ourselves from while denouncing those with which we engage.

As he built a kingdom in which all humans are equal, Jesus defied the political and social norms of his time by dining with sinners and healing the sick on the Sabbath (Mark 2:15-17; 3:1-6). Too often, Christians stay away from social justice – which really boils down to loving other people – because they do not wish to “get too political,” or defy the conservative expectations others have of them. This behavior is not consistent with the person of Jesus.

Lest we forget, it’s important to be reminded that Jesus’ approaches were not popular during his ministry on earth. He was well known in Galilee and Judea, where most of his ministry took place, and many traveled great distances to encounter him. However, the majority of the followers he amassed during his ministry admired his miracles but did not care much for his teachings or their implications (Jn 4:48). And the religious despised Jesus – he was a radical, socioeconomically poor, Jewish son of a carpenter who undermined their authority and power (Jn. 7:1).

As a rabbi, he defied cultural expectations of cleanliness by dining with sinners. As a Jew, he defied cultural boundaries by speaking to, and teaching positively about Samaritans. As a man, he defied cultural gender norms by teaching, healing, and ministering to women. Jesus’ ministry of elevating the lowly infiltrated politics, and we should expect our pursuit of love and justice to sometimes look political, too. The world may apply labels that attempt to split people evenly into camps with certain positions and identities, but Jesus walks into every camp we create to call his beloved to him – and he calls us to do the same.

Jesus’ selection of disciples tells us this – all who believe Jesus is the son of God are welcomed, embraced, and saved, and no social standing, political stance, or any other human category will ever stand in the way.

Throughout the Gospels we can see Jesus interact with women in ways contrary to societal expectations. He speaks with countless women in public, heals “unclean” women, allows himself to be anointed by a woman, taught women about scripture, invited Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and many other women to accompany him during his ministry, and lovingly called each “Daughter” (Lk 10:39, Mt 12:46-50, Mk 15:41, Lk 8:48). Jesus treated women as valuable and cherished their spiritual maturity and understanding of who he was just as much as he did for his 12 male disciples — evidence that Jesus advocated for the flourishing of all people, regardless of any earthy status they’d been assigned.

Concerning his 12 disciples, Jesus did not pick the type of men who would’ve typically been considered eligible to be religious apprentices at the time – rather, they were fishermen, tax collectors, and Jewish nationalists. Jesus’ selection of disciples tells us this – all who believe Jesus is the son of God are welcomed, embraced, and saved, and no social standing, political stance, or any other human category will ever stand in the way. He traveled to Samaritan and Gentile territories, as well as the homes of despised and cast-out people – all in the name of pointing sinners to God. Jesus was not afraid to get political in order to ultimately bring those marginalized into relationship with him, and we shouldn’t be either. 

Not only did Jesus cross political boundaries to reveal himself to all people, but he also showed grace to both the oppressed and the oppressor. The story of the despised tax-collector Zacchaeus shows that Jesus dined with all sinners, not just the ones shunned by religious leaders and therefore living as outcasts. We cannot fight for justice as Christians without remembering all sinners (including ourselves!) are in need of grace and capable of being redeemed. We cannot fight for the oppressed in the power of the Holy Spirit, and hate the oppressor. This idea is certainly not a popular one in our culture, and goes back to our inability as Christians to fit into societal boxes or categories. Jesus calls us to extend his love and news of his salvation to all people – the victim and the oppressor, the marginalized and the powerful, the protestor and the MAGA-hat wearer. Mark 2:17 says Jesus came not for the righteous, but for the sinners. The good news for us is that we are all, without a doubt, sinners, and therefore each qualified to know Jesus and enter into relationship with him – and we must keep this central to our fight for justice.

The Bible is full of explicit commands to pursue justice, and yet, for many Christians, the phrase “social justice” leaves a bitter taste in their mouths. Often they attempt to rid themselves of this call by adhering to fundamentalist values of authority and tradition. For other Christians, social justice is a crusade in which positive change becomes the focus and fuel, rather than Christ himself. Neither extreme is a biblical, helpful, or obedient response to the call on our lives to pursue justice.

Much of the tension surrounding social justice boils down to Christians prioritizing either justice or peace. But Jesus shows us that when justice is pursued in the power of the Holy Spirit, the two are inseparable. When Jesus intervenes to save the life of the woman accused of adultery and points out the hypocrisy of those present, he also tells the woman to “go and sin no more” (John 8). When Jesus healed the chronically crippled woman, he affirmed her faith and then used the miracle to challenge the legalism of the religious leaders, using the Sabbath as an excuse to not do the work of God (Luke 13). Just as we cannot ignore our call to fight for justice, we also cannot fight for justice without consistently rooting our work in Jesus Christ. In many spaces where social justice takes place, this position is an uncomfortable one to take, but it is a necessary one if we wish to truly love others as Jesus commands us. God created us as both physical and spiritual people, and so we must address a person’s physical and spiritual needs.

We cannot fight for the oppressed in the power of the Holy Spirit, and hate the oppressor.

In Matthew 25, Jesus says those who feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and imprisoned will be blessed, as their actions to the least of these is ultimately done for him. He warns that we will be judged for the times we do not serve others. This is a tall order. In a world that constantly reminds us of its – and our – brokenness, finding a foothold for justice can seem impossible. This is why our identity as Christians is crucial to our fight for justice. We must approach each of these good works in the power of the Spirit, not in our own self-righteousness or out of our own desires. As we step out boldly, we must also be willing to approach what intimidates us prayerfully, asking the Lord to replace our natural responses with those that please him. Along the way, we must continually examine our hearts for the people we are unified with in Christ – whether we are unified politically or not – that we might fight for justice and love with God-glorifying purposes. Jesus didn’t fight for the good of political parties, he fought for the good of people. So too should we, regardless if that fits into America’s two-party mold. 

We live in a word that longs, groans even, for justice. Christians must live in the tension between fighting for justice now, while also realizing true justice will only be accomplished when Jesus Christ returns to make the earth new and perfect, just as he has promised. But that tension does not excuse us of the responsibility to fight for equality and justice now. We have been given much that we might ultimately honor each other as people made “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27) and point them to Christ. And, as Christians struggle for justice, they must be informed first and foremost by Christ’s life and teaching, not our political parties. Most importantly, we should never stop praising God for allowing us to be used in his plan toward ultimate justice, or forget the glorious hope we have in Christ when the brokenness of this world feels like too much. 

We Find a Way: Drives with Dad

More than any other mostly inevitable part of life, being in the car has always been my favorite.

I love the feel of the steering wheel turning in my fingers, the smell of a fall evening coming through my rolled-down windows and the mix of the no-limits conversation and let’s-belt-it-at-the-top-of-our-lungs singing. I love riding in the passenger seat, feet up on the dash and my ponytail flying outside the window.

Yeah, I love being in the car. But the reason isn’t the car. It’s a person.

While I’m sure it happened before then, the first car ride I remember with my dad was when I was six years old. We went to the furniture store – I told my dad I was his “opinion-ator,” and after he lovingly told me that wasn’t a word, he obliged my insistence on using it.

There was never any space for silence on those rides. Not because we feared the awkwardness, but because we never ran out of things to say. We didn’t necessarily say “I love you;” the political debates, soccer tips and Johnny Cash lyrics said it for us.

I remember the repetition of the rides: my dad’s chuckle when he was secretly proud of me for saying something cynical, his desire to hear and talk about my newest poem and his angry expletives (sorry, dad) when – distracted by our talking – he accidentally cut someone off.

No matter how angry I was with him, I was the first to volunteer to run errands. If only for a chance to be his shotgun rider. He cared way too much about explaining directions and teaching me driving etiquette – “This is a merging lane, you’re supposed to accelerate!” – but I lived for the hour and a half with him to myself.

I started driving, quickly and selfishly choosing the drive as far away from home as often as I could, over the ones with my dad. I went to college, and now my dad’s car and mine share a driveway just 20 days of the year.

And yet, at 22 years old, groggy and napping on my parent’s couch, I still jump at my dad’s car-ride invitations. A trip to the dump, out to lunch or two states away – it doesn’t matter. I’m there.

My dad still obliges my silly rants and preference for Sheryl Crow road trip playlists. I oblige his tangents about the danger of political correctness and his insistence at stopping only for Sheetz’s coffee.

I don’t think he’s perfect like I did when I was six; I’m not the adorable, wide-eyed girl with pigtails and lots of “Whys?” anymore either. Our words wind together like the curves in the road and we, sometimes awkwardly, try to fill the space of the car and time with the familiarity of each other – a dad and a daughter.

Blurred together like the lights streaking alongside the nighttime highway, we find a way.

And, alone in his passed-down Honda Civic, 217 miles from my old home, I roll the windows down and let Sheryl or Johnny fill the silence. More often than not, I call my dad.

call it what it is: white supremacy

On February 23, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery — a 25-year-old Black man on a jog in his Brunswick, GA neighborhood — was gunned down and murdered by two white men. On May 7, 2020, those two men, a father and son, were finally arrested — after months of  a justice system doing nothing and a few days of intense public outcry.

This step toward justice should have happened long ago. It also cannot bring justice to Arbery, who should still be alive, still be here.

In the last few days, my social media feeds have been filled with Arbery’s name. Many mourned the injustice and in the days before May 7, called for arrests to be made. Since then, #runforahmaud and the idea to run 2.23 miles in Arbery’s memory have gone viral. And, in my feed at least, these posts have cut across partisan lines. People (many white) who have never posted about systemic racism or police brutality before have written posts — angry, grieving, pleading for justice.


Oscar Grant.
Eric Garner.
Michael Brown.
Walter Scott.
Laquan McDonald.
Philando Castile.
Terence Crutcher.
Antwon Rose II.
Trayvon Martin.
Sean Reed.
Botham Jean.

Tamir Rice.

These, too, are Black men who unjustly lost their lives at the hands of miscarriage of justice. And tragically, this is just a short list. What has changed? Yes, Arbery was shot by civilians, rather than police officers. And yes, Arbery could not be blamed in any way for committing a crime. But is our value for human life and justice so conditional that we only grieve for those whose lives are unjustly and unnecessarily taken when they act completely perfectly, complying with a list of rules many of us have never had to ever consider or know? Does making a mistake or reacting out of fear mean that someone deserves to be killed?

No. It doesn’t. And anyone who says otherwise has let their value of life be politicized by a partisan understanding of who deserves justice. Of who deserves life.

And yet, the public outcry in response to Arbery’s murder suggests that far too many of us have let our own senses of justice be twisted in this manner. To be sure, Arbery’s murder was and is evil. And in many ways, to see so many people acknowledge that is heartening. In a world full of many ugly things, it gives me hope that, as MLK said, the arc of the moral universe perhaps does bend toward justice.


To call out and condemn racism is not enough. Particularly so for my white, Christian friends: we must stand against racism and white supremacy. This is the fuel that keeps racist actions and systems alive.

It is easy, comfortable even, to point a finger at obviously evil people doing an obviously evil thing and say, “We must do better than that.” And we must. But, we must also do better than the conspicuously complacent thing that hides in the shadow of the obviously evil. We must continually examine our actions, and how our own privilege contributes to systems of white supremacy. How does our inaction or apathy allow these injustices to persist? How do our empty words put a band-aid on a gaping bullet wound?

I, of course, ask these questions tongue-in-cheek. And also with empathy. As a white woman, I am continually growing in my own awareness of how I contribute to and fail to confront systems of white supremacy. I think back to my own inability — not many years ago — to imagine a system I trusted as being guilty of violence. My own desire to sit in the comfortable reality of believing these deaths could somehow be deserved, rather than grieving that such evil persists.

So what am I saying?

As white people, and especially as Christians, we must do better. We must cry out for Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and all of the others senselessly killed. We must believe Black lives matter, even and especially when our friends and family members are not posting that they do. We must allow our heartbreak now to affect our actions, conversations and voting later. We must listen to Black people and other people of color, and admit that we cannot fully understand their pain and trauma. And when a whole group of people shares their common reality with us, we shouldn’t wait to watch a hideously graphic video to believe them.

Even as a cynic, I do believe the arc of the universe bends toward justice.

I believe this because I believe in Yahweh, sovereign God of the universe and source of all justice; I believe this because I believe in his son, Jesus Christ, source of all redemption on Heaven and on earth. And, as a Christian, I am hopeful. I am hopeful that God is using this moment to turn the hearts of his people to those he cares for: those whose suffering and endured injustice he mourns. Hopeful that all the social media posts mean something — that this will not be an isolated moment of public outrage but instead, a sustained movement toward justice.

The Lord mourns injustice and laments evil and so must we. Even when it is not a social media trend or viral hashtag.

Thoughts on Walmart interactions and meaningful compliments

“Hey pretty, how’re you doing?”

This question greeted me this morning, in-between the shoe aisle and cleaning cart at Walmart. In some ways — literally and figuratively — I felt trapped.

The older gentleman who asked the question, in front of me and much taller, did not move out of my way until we were less than a foot apart. The people pleaser in me did not state my discomfort, but instead offered a “I’m good, how are you?” as I squeezed past and tried to offer a tight smile.

As I walked away, the man continued to make uncomfortable comments about my appearance. He kept talking until I’d rounded two corners away from him. I truly do not know what his intentions were in doing so. And I won’t. But that’s the thing, right? In most of our daily encounters, others will not know our intentions behind our interaction with them.

Here’s my two cents: there are much kinder and appropriate ways to greet (or compliment) someone than with a comment on their appearance. This is not a preachy rant about how you can never tell someone they look nice. Rather, a suggestion that there are many other more meaningful ways to comment on someone’s worth.

When you’re commenting on someone’s looks, consider your proximity to them. While I’m always a fan of non-appearance-related compliments, I think it is almost always inappropriate for someone you are not close with to do so. Maybe that seems harsh, but I’d ask you to consider why you’re comfortable with complimenting a person’s (read: woman’s) looks when you would not be comfortable complimenting their (read: her) joyfulness or generosity. Just a thought.

And hopefully we can all agree that compliments are almost always weird coming from strangers at Walmart. Looks-related or otherwise.

Anyways, this post is clearly coming from a moment of personal discomfort and frustration, which makes the sentiments more personal and perhaps less nuanced.

I don’t mean to suggest to never compliment your friends or family on their appearance. Sometimes, hearing that someone thinks you’re beautiful is such a lovely and much-needed affirmation. In a world often devoid of encouragement, the more compliments the merrier. But just remember: the person you’re complimenting is a whole person — with a brain, emotions, thoughts, hands that serve and a heart that loves. Do your compliments reflect that person’s wholeness?

In any case, I hope you will think about more ways to encourage others that don’t always center their appearance. Here a few that I’m fond of (disclaimer: some I’ve heard, some I’m hopeful to earn by demonstrating…):

  • Your joy is contagious.
  • I love your laugh!
  • You are so fun.
  • You are such an encouragement.
  • Your outfit is so stylish!
  • I see Christ in you.
  • My kids love you!
  • You are a good teacher.
  • You’re so smart.
  • Your writing makes me feel something.
  • You are thoughtful.
  • You are so kind!
  • I like your music taste.
  • This pie is so yummy!
  • You are funny.
  • You are so strong.
  • It’s good to see you.
  • You make me feel so loved!
  • You tell good stories.
  • Your wisdom is so helpful to me.
  • You are a good friend.
  • You’re a hard worker.
  • I love our conversations.
  • I like your shoes!
  • You are kind.
  • I’m proud of you.
  • I like your blog (not fishing for any compliments here, nope, not me)
  • I like being around you.
  • You matter to me.

all is grace!

On a day full of declarations of goals and resolutions, the last thing anyone probably wants to read is a list of mine. But alas, I am writing and sharing one anyways.

As I told a friend earlier this morning, I actually despise resolutions. I do not like the guilt they usually inspire, or the obsession with measuring success by strict yet arbitrary standards. Mostly, I don’t like the feeling of paralysis that resolutions of a new year can bring. Or the sense that once January is over, I am stuck in my already established habits, unable to start anew or decide to grow differently in certain places.

But I do think there’s something to the practice of honing in on which areas of growth are important, and practical ways to make those happen. Not to confine what success in those areas can look like, but to visualize what the doing itself actually is.

I am clearly not a motivational speaker. Just a gal who doesn’t want to be *too* hypocritical in posting a list of goals, okay.

Anyways, here goes it — 20 goals for 2020:

  • Slower but steadier.
  • Read 2-3 books per month, FOR FUN.
  • Re-read the new testament by graduation.
  • Declutter and de-waste: Donate more clothes, only buy secondhand except for *needed* shoes.
  • Train for a half, and for a fall marathon.
  • Europe!
  • Pitch more stories. Really.
  • Write a blog or poem once a week(ish).
  • Less screen time.
  • Write more letters!
  • Bake 2-3 times a month, just ’cause. (I impulsively bought a Kitchen Aid yesterday so… this needs to happen so I feel justified in my purchase…)
  • Finish my thesis. Cry sparingly along the way.
  • Bike and walk more.
  • Listen to more podcasts.
  • Battle for an even more consistent sleep schedule because I am A Sophisticated Adult Person.
  • More dancing!
  • More lollipop moments.
  • Give more generously.
  • Serve more generously and creatively.
  • Love more selflessly.

(All is grace — thank you, Jesus!)

a love letter to my parents:

My parents met much like a scene out of a movie.

At 19 and 20 years old, they met while my dad was working at their college’s dining hall. Actually, they met after my mom — who was too busy staring at my dad to move forward in the food line — almost spilled her tray of food and my dad rushed over to help her clean it up.

That was in 1987. Today, my parents celebrate 27 years of marriage. From the outside, their 27 years tell a story of nearly the same fairytale-quality of their meeting: there has been hardship and fighting but there has also always been redemption and joy.

And yet, any relationship is much more than the highs and lows that are visible from the outside. The sweetest times are often the quietest — the moments of monotony that together, make up a lifetime.

Their lives, and mine. Bound together not with scenes out of movies, as sweet as they are, but with days that string together into years, into life. Ours.

I’ve always been a hopeless romantic. So, it was with a fair amount of disappointment that I realized in middle school that my parents were not romantic. Not in front of me, at least.

Oh, they sometimes held hands. There were plenty of “I love you’s” at night, and always Valentine’s Day cards. But compared to the other (usually younger) parents who I watched casually kiss each other upon reuniting or share a seat at a party, I began to feel my parents were, well, boring.

Where was the type of love evident in that story, shared so many times, of their meeting?

As most children do, I one day realized that (surprise surprise) I did not see or know all of my parent’s relationship. That their relationship extended beyond just being my parents.

Perhaps as other children react when learning the world doesn’t revolve around them, I remember feeling cheated. I wanted so much to know them, to be the force holding them together. Of course, I wasn’t so self-aware as a seventh grader. I didn’t know why I was both embarrassed and, in some ways, jealous of my parents, I just was.

I wanted to know them.

As I got older, I discovered that in many ways, I already did.

Through small moments: Mom making chili for dad, despite never having a taste for it. Dad making us spaghetti for dinner on the nights when, we didn’t notice, but Mom was completely worn out from the work she did day-in and day-out, on and off the clock. The fits of laughter while remembering a college story, the conversations over the watching of TV at night.

Bigger moments too. The decisions made of how and where to spend their money — decisions that seemed random, sometimes unfair to me, but I now know came from hours of deliberation and planning, often immensely stressful, sometimes sacrificial. Reconciliation after disagreements. Companionship through the loss of those loved.

I would never, and will never see all of their moments. But I’ve seen enough. Enough to know that while they may not be picturesque romantics, their love is true. What else could a person hope for?

As someone who has been single for most of my life, it’s sometimes difficult for me to relate to my parent’s story — two people who found each other very young, and have loved each other well.

But what I am particularly grateful for about my parent’s story is for what it has taught me about Love. That, while theirs is certainly a romantic love, it is not constrained by the limitations of fleeting attraction, or even affection. Theirs is not merely a feeling, but a promise.

Ultimately reflecting the picture of Christ’s love for his church, my parent’s marriage is founded on something stronger than cheesy scenes out of movies. Even from a secular standpoint, love based on more than fleeting feelings is attractive.

Not only because it offers some permanence in a world constantly changing. But also because it offers hope to those without romantic love: hope that Love is not only for those who meet in crowded dining halls and only have eyes for each other.

Their love points to a greater love. One I may one day uniquely experience as they do, but can and will experience in many ways and moments until then.

One of those ways, in being their daughter.

on celebrating freedom.

Growing up, the 4th of July was always one of my favorite holidays.

Every summer from as young as I can remember until 11th grade, my family spent the 4th of July with my Aunt Carla and Aunt Jill  – where we spent time together as a family at the pool, eating ice cream, shopping, watching movies, playing card games and, of course, going to the 4th of July parade and fireworks. I took pride in my collection of patriotic GAP and Old Navy apparel, and as I grew older, was excited to find trendy ways to make my outfits red, white and blue.

I still love the way I can’t stop smiling while watching fireworks burst across the sky. I love the sense of unity felt when standing amongst a sea of red, white and blue. I even love the long lines for ice cream, and the punny t-shirts and instagram captions.

But, I have a much more complicated relationship with this day now.

Am I grateful to live in a country which has given me such a wealth of opportunities? Immeasurably so. I am grateful to live in a place with public education, labor laws for children, freedom of speech and religion, and am very grateful for the brave men and women who have fought, to the best of their knowledge and ability, to preserve my liberties, even at the cost of their very lives.

In the midst of gratitude for my own American experiences, though, lies the tension in recognizing the very freedoms I just recounted, are not freedoms fully experienced by each American. Public education is still largely segregated — not only by race, but by resources and opportunities — vulnerable immigrant communities being manipulated and taken advantage of by greedy businesses and corporations, people disrespected and called “sons of b*tches” for protesting their own American experiences and Jewish and Muslim Americans being threatened, degraded, and murdered for their faith.

No, these freedoms don’t belong fully to everyone.

Even more troubling, is the very history of the holiday. On Independence Day — July 4, 1776 — the overwhelming majority of signers of the Declaration of Independence not only owned slaves, but also perpetuated racist theory and language to justify excluding freedom from all people, even as they signed “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Not to mention the land we live on now was all stolen from indigenous peoples who had lived and thrived here long, long before we settled the first colony.

No, these freedoms have not always belonged to everyone.

In 2019, African Americans constitute over 2.3 million, or 34%, of the total 6.8 million incarcerated population, five times the rate of white people. Black men are nearly six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men, and federal courts imposed prison sentences on black men that were 19% longer than those imposed on similarly situated white men between 2011 and 2016.

No, these freedoms don’t belong fully to everyone. And, the sad reality is that many people of color, people in the LGBTQ+ community, people with disabilities, people who practice religions other than Christianity, experience large and “small” acts every day which threaten the freedoms they do have.

I know and love people who have and are serving in our military. I love my country. But I do not love the blind love that keeps many of us from being able to recognize the injustice and pain that exists for those disenfranchised Americans, who, are just as American as the most patriotic among us.

We can love our country without idolizing it. We can love our country while recognizing it’s room for growth and need to make reparations. We can love our country while advocating for it to do better.

Being a Christian, especially in the South, it often feels like some sort of blasphemy to criticize my country. Or as if I am somehow doing more harm making others uncomfortable with drawing attention to injustice, than the injustice itself is doing. This line of thinking, is not of or from God. Idolatry of anything, even country, is not of God. Nor is God American, or America the modern promised land.

We can love our country and not idolize it. In order to truly love it, I think we must see it as it truly is — the opportunity, injustice, wealth, invention, pain, triumph, love and hate all mixed together.

We must live in the freedom we know. And part of living in freedom is, yes, celebrating it. But celebrating is not a cause for blindness, but rather, sharing. Sharing the freedoms we have with those who don’t. Advocating for freedom to be more accessible to all people. Truly believeing “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

As a Christian, this means rooting myself in the freedom I have in Christ ABOVE the freedom I have as an American. And living my life to share that freedom I have with others, to glorify God and love others well. To share the eternal freedom I know through the grace of Christ alone, and the earthly freedom I possess due only to where I was fortunate enough to be born.

So let us celebrate the freedom we do have. Let us thank our service men and women for preserving the freedom we know, and thank God for the blessings we enjoy, without ever thinking we are somehow any better for knowing freedom.

We don’t need to be ashamed of our freedom, but as Christians (and just decent humans!) we have an imperative to share it.

This 4th of July may bring more complicated emotions for me than before, and it may even bring pushback or pain from the words I’ve written. And you, just as I have exercised my own right in doing, have the freedom of speech to disagree with me completely. I urge you, whether you love America, or even hate it, to use this day to reflect on the freedom won, and the freedom yet to be fought for.

So tonight, as I watch fireworks, and hear scattered shouts of “MERICA!,” I will let myself grin as widely as before, when I knew nothing yet of our country’s unjust history, or our modern failures. I will grin, not simply because of the beauty of the fireworks, presence of friends, or even out of gratitude for the vast freedom I know. Instead, I will grin with the hope that truly celebrating freedom means sharing it.

Because, yes, this freedom can belong to everyone.


“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” // 2 Corinthians 3:17-18

nothing is lost.

Lately, I have struggled with missing old things. My old things.

The things which once brought me comfort, even when they brought me sadness; the things which gave me worth, even when they brought me shame; the things which built me up, even as they tore me apart.

Depression. Comparison. Dependency. Grief. Anxiety. My old things – and of course, the many ways I sought to keep these things.

With this missing, comes the shame for missing. The disappointment in myself for wanting what is gone, what is not good for me.

How often do I long for what harms me? How many times have I grieved for the parts of my past which have nearly broken me?

Nothing is lost, everything is transformed.

It is not as if some part of me still romanticizes the old parts of me. I remember the pain, the regret, and the loneliness which accompanied these old feelings, along with the pursuit and maintenance of these feelings. These feelings were far from good, but they felt safe. I felt safe in the midst of them, because I felt unseen, unaccounted for and able to exist without any sort of pressure or expectation.

Satan likes to deceive us in this way – to twist real good things into threats we hide from. We start to view the all-encompassing love of a Creator who knows us as controlling. We see our bad things as “good things” because we are enticed by the false sense of freedom they offer – all the while missing out on the promises from The One who makes all good things.

It has been almost five years now since I was, by the grace of God, brought out of some really dark places. I have seen the Lord restore my life in ways I could have never imagined and experienced time and time again the overwhelming hope of knowing I am redeemed through Christ, and no longer who I once was.

And yet, I find myself getting distracted sometimes. Sliding into old (albeit small) habits that are not healthy for me. Feeling a sense of nostalgia for that old me who felt she was completely unknown and didn’t answer to anyone.

On my own, I am weak. On my own, I listen to sad music for hours instead of decompressing with friends, nap too often and purposely don’t do what I know helps me cope with feelings of anxiety or stress.

Luckily, I am not on my own. All old things (yes, including mine!) are being made new. And that transformation is in no way dependent on me or the moments I am enticed again to the old things I’ve left behind.

Nothing is lost, everything is transformed – including me.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. // 2 Corinthians 3:18


my tribute to candace.

On June 17, 2018, my cousin Candace Howlin Kay died after a longtime battle with cancer. There aren’t enough words to convey the type of person Candace is, but here is my best attempt, read at her funeral.

Candace Howlin Kay is many things to many people. She is a mother, a sister, a wife, a daughter, a granddaughter, a niece, a cousin and a friend. But she is more, too. While she was here, she was the person who lit up a room when she walked into it – the one with the most contagious laugh and love for life which you couldn’t help but be captivated by. She always made sure those she loved knew it. Whether it was through a hug, a text, phone call, Facebook comment or card in the mail, Candace loved others well. I am here today to share a little more about all that she means to my family and I.

As her cousin, I remember and treasure all the adventures we had together. Our times together became less frequent as we got older and life got busier, but every time was special. I remember all the walks around each other’s neighborhoods, late-night movies in the den way past my bedtime, and the fun – and trouble – we would all make together growing up at Grandpa’s Ben Franklin. All the summers at Aunt Carla and Aunt Jill’s house during Fourth of July, and the Christmas’s that changed location throughout the year but were always full of laughter, some pretty intense ornament exchanges and of course Grandma’s pound cake. Remembering her many expressions of pride in my accomplishments and excitement when I found out I got into UNC can still bring a smile to my face. Candace had a way of making everyone feel important – including all the younger and, I’m sure at many times, annoying cousins. Growing up, I remember feeling like the coolest kid in the world when Candace and Faith would let me hang out with them all the many times Alex and Anthony were over. It occurs to me now that as teenagers, they probably never wanted to watch the Grinch as often as we did, but I never felt like a pest or an annoying kid to them. With Candace, I just always felt loved.

And it wasn’t just me who experienced this love. Cassidy, Caitlin, Sarah, Jacob, Faith, Candace and myself – the dream team as far as cousins go in my opinion. Candace, as the oldest, was so good at loving and knowing each of us. We weren’t all together often, but during the 4th of July trips each summer, we could always just pick up where we left off the summer before. I wouldn’t trade the memories of all the board games, playing cards, s’mores or swimming together for anything. As the oldest, Candace always looked out for us, but she also had a mischievous streak. During a Disneyland trip in 2004 that Cait, Cass and Aunt Donna took with Grandpa, Grandma, Candace and Faith, they learned not to let Candace pick out any movies without checking them out first. Because the movie she picked was “White Chicks,” which didn’t turn out to be the most appropriate movie for elementary-aged Cait and Cass to go see. They can all still laugh about Grandma leaning over to Candace and saying in shock, “I thought you said this was a kid movie!” to which Candace replied with a smile, “No grandma, I said it was a funny movie.”

As a sister, Candace was supportive and loving in all things. Together, her and Faith overcame so many obstacles. Candace’s joyful and happy spirit never faltered – in the good times like celebrating each other’s marriages, Faith’s nursing accomplishments or each other’s graduations, but also in the hard times like after my Aunt Allison died or when Candace found out she had cancer. Candace was so excited to be an aunt to baby Zora, and even near the end was optimistic about doing so. Anyone who knew them, knew that Candace and Faith were the epitome of power sisters. They were not always dealt the best or the fairest cards, but together, they always did their best to play a good hand. I have always looked up to their relationship and love for each other so much, and I have learned an incredible amount about what sisterhood means from watching them do life together.

As a granddaughter, Candace was such a blessing and joy. I remember being jealous as a child watching how close Faith and Candace were to Grandma and Grandpa. As I grew older though, I was just happy to see they had two people in their lives who loved and cared for them so well. Candace always knew how to keep them on their toes too. My grandma, who is many incredible things, including being one of the strongest ladies I know, is not the most perceptive of sarcasm. So watching Candace tease Grandma and always knowing it would be followed by Grandma’s sighs of “Well” was always amusing. There are many ways to tell someone you love them without telling them, and I think Candace’s easy way of joking and making conversation with others helped teach me that. In her last months, Candace shared with Grandma and Grandpa her growing faith and also her love and appreciation of them. They were able to share so many special times together with Josiah, and Candace’s dedication to being a mom was so sweet to watch. Candace will live on through Josiah as he grows into a strong and good man, and I know my grandparents will truly treasure seeing her in him as he grows.

As a mother and wife, all of Candace’s joy for life was best captured. The love she shared with Lamar was evident from the beginning in how I watched her smile when I first heard her talk about him to my mom. Her love for Josiah was also amazing to see, and even now, as heartbreaking as it is to know he will have to grow up without her, as her family, it is so comforting to know just how many people he will have to remind him of the amazing woman he has to call mom.

So yes, Candace is many things to many people. But above all else, she is called Beloved by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. She put her trust in him as a young girl – believing that she was sinner but that through Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection three days later that she could be reconciled to God. Caitlin and Aunt Donna were blessed to talk to Candace on the phone the day before she died – in the conversation she remained hopeful and was looking forward to going home, but also expressed she knew God was looking out for her and she trusted it would work out the way it was meant to be. As hard as it is to be without her now, how comforting it is to know that today Candace is the presence of Jesus. She is reunited with her mom, Great-grandma Tillman and all of her other loved ones gone too soon. And without any pain or chemo – and with all of her beautiful hair – she is making all of them laugh a deep-down-in-your-belly-laugh. Our relationships with her all look different now, and it hurts to love her without having her here to hug or to laugh with. But our hope in Jesus Christ is that our relationships with her are nowhere near over – they have only just begun with the brief time we spent here on Earth knowing and loving her. So when the pain and grief feel like too much to bear, hold on to the coming eternity we will all have together in order to get through this life here without her.

on feeling (and not feeling) God

“I feel God in this Chili’s tonight.”

These ~famous~ words were spoken by Pam Beesly after she won a Dundie on The Office.

For any Office fans out there, you know how funny this scene is. For those of you souls unfortunate enough to have not discovered the genius that is the Office, just trust me – this scene is funny.

But it is also perfect for segueing into my inspiration for this post — feeling (or not feeling) God’s presence in day-to-day life.

Christianese is saturated with “feeling God”’s.

But what does it mean to feel God?

And what does it mean when you don’t?

Looking back on my journey with Christ, starting when I accepted Him as my Savior at eight years old to now, my spiritual peaks are definitely found at times in my life where I “felt” God. Summer camp highs. Seasons filled with new bible studies and discipleship. Personal victories. Intense life lessons that led to intense revelations about God’s truth.

All good experiences, all vital to my walk with Christ and understanding of Him.

But while looking back on my journey, I am also struck by the valleys in my testimony, the lowest and darkest points. The crippling insecurity. Loneliness. Depression. Heartbreaking circumstances and my various consequential poor mechanisms of coping with them. The common denominator of all these low points?

Separation from God resulting in my inability to “feel” God.

Feelings are good. Those spiritual highs you get when tears flow during prayer and hands are raised during worship are good. But for the sake of our spiritual maturity, our faith must rest on something much stronger than our own feelings.

If that something truly is Jesus Christ, rather than our own feelings about Him, then our relationship with Him cannot be so easily influenced by our circumstances. What seems like such an obvious distinction, is actually so often confused in our hearts – leading to discouragement that makes us feel God is far away, when in fact we are.

God wants our wholehearted worship, and our feelings of joy in doing so. This post is not to say that. But God also wants our constant acknowledgement of His goodness and love – even when we don’t necessarily “feel” that goodness or love.

Accepting Christ as Savior and Lord in my life cannot simply be a heart change dependent on my ability to feel Him working in my life. While yes, this heart change definitely matters, and is crucial in salvation, relying only (or even mostly) on something as inconsistent as my feelings cheapens God’s gift by cutting short the potential to truly know and worship Him.

The truth is, my feelings are ultimately weakness, and cannot reign over my relationship with Christ. At the root of my feelings, should be the knowledge that Christ is so much greater and more powerful than my feelings could ever account for.

When I trust my feelings to inform my relationship with Christ – whether it be feeling inspired by my quiet time or this week’s sermon – I allow doubt and anxiety to seep in whenever God’s word doesn’t instantly make me feel something good. Thats not to say that we shouldn’t desire good feelings about God, but to say that our feelings should be informed by our knowledge of Christ and the salvation He freely offers us, rather than the other way around.

Of course, the truth of the gospel should always make us feel good, heck, it should make us feel amazing. But like I said, often times, our feelings are our weakness, and just as often, we begin to get used to the transforming power of Christ, and in doing so take it for granted. Why? Because we are human, and throughout history humans continue to forget about God’s goodness.

But this is where God comes in, and the knowledge of His nature becomes so essential.

Isaiah 57:15 says, “For thus says the high and exalted One Who lives forever, whose name is Holy, ‘I dwell on a high and holy place, And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit In order to revive the spirit of the lowly And to revive the heart of the contrite.'”

God is dwelling within us, whether we feel Him or not. We may be infinitely contrite, but He is infinitely Holy. He doesn’t need our awareness of Him to be working in and reviving our hearts.

We must know that God is timeless, ever-present, all-knowing, and always good. We must know the unchanging characteristics of God, so that even when we don’t feel Him in our quiet times, we know that He is there.

We must know, so that we can worship God authentically, independent of how we feel that God is. We must know, so that we can trust. Trust that He is working all things for our good, even when we are in the middle of what seems like a chaotic mess.

I treasure the moments that I have truly felt God, and I think we all should. Those moments should serve as markers for us – moments to remember God’s abundant goodness when we are feeling far from God, and our human weakness requires that reminder of God’s unfailing love and goodness. And I think it’s okay to admit that our human nature requires those reminders.

In admitting so, we must also admit that our feelings can never fully fathom all that God is.

And then, we must turn to scripture and all the truth about God in it – where we find that God is always with us, always good and loving, whether we feel it or not. Where we find that our God isn’t dependent on us to be. He simply is.

So yeah, feeling God in Chilis is pretty cool.

But knowing that you serve and worship a God that is always good and always loves you despite what your feelings might tell you? That is even cooler (sorry Pam).


But You, O LORD, abide forever, And Your name to all generations.
-Psalm 102:12

~loud~ quiet times

On one particularly tiring and hectic morning last week, I sat down to do my quiet time with pretty low expectations for what the Lord could/would reveal to me. I was exhausted, and on top of that I was discouraged. Interestingly enough (I’m sure many can relate) I’ve found it’s usually in these moments that He chooses to reveal the most.

My quick devo that morning, from Jesus Calling by Sarah Young, spoke about the perfection of God’s plan and timing. I found myself reading these next sentences over and over again, basking in their truth. “One of the main ways I assert My sovereignty is in the timing of events. If you want to stay close to Me and do things My way, ask Me to show you the path forward moment by moment. Instead of dashing headlong toward your goal, let me set the pace. Slow down, and enjoy the journey in my presence.” These are important words, their meaning beautiful. But on that particular morning, they were also convicting ones.

It’s easy to quote Jeremiah 29:11 over and over again, and even easier to simply remind my friends, or campers I’ve gotten to talk to this summer going through hard times, of Jesus’ plan and how awesome it is. And don’t get me wrong – it is awesome. But its important to remember that it doesn’t always feel awesome in the moment. And on that morning, I was reminded that by believing that it will is not only a disservice to myself and to my relationship with and trust in Him, but also to my effectiveness in comforting others with His truth during their trials or struggles.

God’s plan, for my life and for yours, is so intricately beautiful. And surprisingly(???) enough, it does not usually not depend on the variables we make of the upmost importance in our own lives. Instead, God’s hand is moving in ways we might not recognize until we are far beyond our current situation. Even more often, we will never see the ways in which God’s hand has held us up throughout various experiences.

A pattern I fall into all too often, and yes, specifically on the morning I read this devotion, is transposing my plan onto God’s. I think, “What I want is good. know that God wants this for me!” But even the things I have longed for throughout my life that were seemingly good, I look back now and cannot thank God enough for not giving me those things when I begged Him for them. I’ve learned that part of surrendering my life to Christ involves surrendering my hopes and my desires – even the “good” ones – and replacing mine with His… AND that I will spend my entire life re-learning this over and over again.

Psalm 118 24 says, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Every day, heck every part of every day, is part of the plan God has made for each of our lives. That is worth rejoicing about!

So yeah, days that don’t go according to MY plan aren’t usually my favorite ones. But through God speaking to me so clearly on a day that I wasn’t even genuinely trying to seek His voice, I have been awed by the knowledge that God’s timing doesn’t need my approval. Learning to trust in a plan I can’t see or know is difficult, and I don’t believe it ever won’t be. But trusting in my own plan and resisting God’s timing is so much more so.

I can either trust His timing, and be joyful in waiting to bear the fruits that Christ has promised, or I can be miserable “dashing headlong towards my own goals” and miss out on the beautiful journey God has placed me on — but regardless of my attitude (thank you Jesus!) God is good, and His timing better than I could ever hope or imagine.