Why Christmas is, inherently, nostalgic

The kids and I weren’t aware we started a ritual last week, but it was the beginnings of something worthwhile.

Basically all you do is come home from school and work and go to the freezer and take out the Slow-Churned Edy’s Chocolate ice cream and eat as much as you can stand while talking about your day at the kitchen table. You do this every day, at first because it’s cold outside and oddly the most comforting thing is a bowl full of chocolate ice cream, with requisite chocolatey mustaches to boot.

In order to continue the ritual, you have to buy more of the freezer food of the gods. No other flavor or variety will do. You can still sit and talk about big ideas and bellyache about petty people, but something will be missing. Graham crackers and milk do not cut it.

Victorian Christmas Card


My friend Lisa picked me up from the airport today. I knew we didn’t have any ice cream at home so I made asked her to take me to Frogurtland so we could dish, literally and figuratively. It was like I was homesick for chocolate ice cream.


My uncle Bob died last week and it was the kind of awful terrible unfathomably unfair thing, in spite of having lived a very full and happy life. Just the way he went. Parkinson’s Disease is a total crap way to go, the slow lumbering suffering and total awareness of the dismantling of everything over which you once had control.

I’m not into the theology of our loved ones smiling down on us. Not yet. I’m into the theology that we weren’t made for any of this. We were made for a better world. Every ache and acute feeling of separation in this world is a reminder that we were made for wholeness and unity.


The best scene in all of Mad Men is the last episode of Season I (“The Wheel”) when Don Draper is selling the “carousel” marketing pitch to Kodak. He defines nostalgia in such a perfect way that it reaches across every culture, generation, sex, race, state. Nostalgia, “delicate but potent,” that which causes us to ache in our hearts to return to a place we have once been, to have what we once had.


The irony of the song “Silent Night” is that the entire point of Christ’s entrance into this world was to expose the violence, the jealousy, the greed–the total lack of heavenly peace on earth. There could have been little solace there in the manger or beyond, given Herod’s orders. According to Ortberg’s “Who is this Man?,” Herod, upon hearing the news of the birth a King of the Jews, ordered soldiers to plunge their swords into every baby boy in Bethlehem. How still we see thee lie.

Bethlehem Square


Christmas is nostalgic. Christmas is the reminder of three-speed bikes once-longed-for. Christmas is finally getting to go to midnight mass. Christmas is observing new chocolate ice cream traditions at 3 o’clock in the cold winter afternoon.

Christmas "Santa" New York  (LOC)

But Christmas is also inherently nostalgic. Christ’s birth is nostalgic, pointing us to a condition we once had and can once again attain, but only through Him. He was born, vulnerable to a broken world. The earth ached to return to what it once was. Christ, the one who would redeem us all, longs to restore our factory settings so that our hearts may no longer know the pain of separation.

#2014 recap

I like the rhythm of asking myself the same questions over and over again, so here’s the survey I usually do at EOY.

1. What did you do in 2013 that you’d never done before?
The two biggest newnesses were:
a.) going to Minneapolis where I made awesome friends at writers camp
b.) launching my own column on Nooga.com.

Also memorable this past year were:
Met Lauren Winner.
Started my fourth consecutive year working at the same place.
Taught a new class just for first year students.
Witnessed one of my sibbies get married.
Toured Graceland.
Moving and having lots of meltdowns about it.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I tried so hard to get into the best shape of my life. The silver lining is that when I couldn’t because I kept getting injured, I learned that I was anemic. Knowledge is such power.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

Yes, and I am especially ecstatic about the first of my cousins to become a parent. Congrazzles to Ryan and Rachel on the gorgeous Claire!

4. Did anyone close to you die?
I’m so extra grateful to answer no this year.

5. What would you like to have in 2015 that you lacked in 2014?
A book deal.

6. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Writing a bimonthly column has been so life-giving to me. It has connected me with community members in ways I had not yet anticipated, and my love for Chattanooga has grown immeasurably.

7. What was your biggest failure?
I learned some things about teaching this year that were major blows to my ego but I don’t call learning from shortcomings “a biggest failure.” Just learning to fail forward, as it were.

8. Did you suffer illness or injury?
see #2

9. What was the best thing you bought?
Um, Just Dance 4 for the Wii is pretty fabulous.

10. What did you get really excited about?
My sister TP got married
Sarah Koenig is absolutely blowing the doors off investigative journalism with Serial.

11. What was the best book you read this year?

close ranking:

12. Compared to this time last year, are you:

– happier or sadder? I have a lot to be happy about
– thinner or fatter? Fatter
– richer or poorer? About the same

13. What was your favorite TV program?
The Good Wife
Orange is the New Black Season II

14. What was your favorite music from this year?

Ryan Adams’ newest
Bethel Church “It is Well”

15. What were your favorite films of the year?
I really liked “Liberal Arts,” “Thanks for Sharing,” and “One Day”–all on Netflix.
Honestly, Big Hero 6 was absolutely adorable.

16. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
On my 34th birthday, I went to a staff meeting and accompanied my hubby at the hospital when his finger got dislocated.

17. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2014.

I am a better mom when I am in educating-mode versus rebuking-mode. Majoring in the former makes the latter more impactful.















In which I talk about what’s happening with my book

“What’s happening with your book?”

I get that a lot. In addition to, “How did you get your hair to do that cool thing?” and “Are you sure that’s how ‘research’ is pronounced?” Or from my students: “Did you grade all the things yet?” Or from my kids: “Do we have any of those Spiderman fruit snacks left?”

I’m good for an equal measure of answers. Dunno. Maybe. Still foggy on that one. Okay?

But the book question plagues me a lot and so I thought I’d lay it out bare. Here’s what’s happening with my book.

You may remember how I wrote a spiritual memoir about my intercultural marriage. And how I got an agent and she turned out to be wonderful. She helped me craft a killer proposal and she submitted it to two full rounds of Christian publishers. My agent has been as kind and thorough as she has been prayerful.

Her positude has made a huge difference because the road to finding a publisher can be quite negative. Waiting and waiting seems to beget more waiting and then the door one’s been knocking on opens quickly and then closes. The rejection feels rare and fresh every time. It’s been a long process of all of that. All said, I’ve been pouring my guts into this book–the writing and the pitching and the proposing for about three years.

After two rounds of rejections from publishers, here are three things I’ve learned:

1. I am not Oprah. I am not Oprah’s best friend Gayle. I am not Joel Osteen or his wife or anyone whom they’d remember in the Osteen will. Ergo, I am not famous and a book deal isn’t going to fall into my lap. My platform, the invisible box upon which I stand to promote my ideas, is pretty microscopic compared to others who score big book deals. This is an obvious hurdle and not one to easily dismiss. Publishers care about platform and it’s more than just being invited to the popular girls’ table in the cafeteria. It’s a marketing base. It’s a branding package. It’s the underpinnings to some really successful empires.

2. I am so close to this book. My kind colleague and his wife taught me that. They recently read the manuscript and gave me some keen feedback which is helping me to shape a new iteration of it. Because this book is so intertwined in the fibers of my being, to be perfectly dramatic, I needed some distance from it. I needed some extra eyeballs to help me reshape it. I’m so grateful for their input and for all who have helped me to keep believing.

3. I still believe in this book. When I hear of others struggling through issues in their family or marriage that fall into the bucket of intercultural relationships, my heart starts beating fast.  This is my bag! I want to say, “I have so dealt with something similar,” followed by a, “And I hope you enjoy Chapter 4, if only for a laugh about what not to do, courtesy yours truly.” I believe there is a captive audience for my book. I believe that there is potential for this book to really bless others and to be a part of some important conversations that have for too long felt too awkward to broach.

So to the question of what’s happening with my book: it’s gearing up for the sprint home. It’s in better shape than it’s ever been. It’s so ready to break through a publisher’s ribbon and to stand in the winner’s circle. But first, let me take a selfie.


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