“We’re throwing open our front door
and inviting you in, as we invite Him in.”

Christmas shopping that makes Jesus happy
What to do when giving thanks feels out of place
True confessions of a left-handed giver
4 things to tell yourself when you feel like time is too short
Trees vs new townhomes? My vote may surprise you.
You can change the world — just start with a shoebox
If God wired us to move, why does he make us wait?
Our parents are going to die. Are we ready?
This could be the best YES you say today … (+ a free giveaway!)
On choosing sides, and choosing love

Christmas shopping that makes Jesus happy

By Beth Hartt

Christmas snuck up on me again this year. I swear I was still finding pine needles in October from last year’s tree, and yet right now I’m looking at a brand spanking new evergreen in my living room. That means it’s time to buckle down and do some shopping!  And I’m here to throw a monkey wrench into your holiday buying habits. You’re welcome.

You may be surprised to hear that many of the Christmas gifts we buy are made in factories that depend on forced labor — that is, by slaves.  These products are easy to buy because they’re readily accessible, cheap and in stores you and I shop at every day.

With the mad rush of this season, there’s no time to think about the blood, sweat and tears of the people who make the things we buy. But modern-day slavery is real and it’s ugly. Some estimates report one out of every 280 people in the world is enslaved — through bonded or forced labor, child labor, domestic servitude or human trafficking.

But the good news is that we have the power to change it. Ending slavery starts with you and me, consumers with purchasing power. So let’s start right now. This Christmas.  We can say enough is enough, and decide to quit buying products that enslave workers in an endless cycle of poverty. Read More

What to do when giving thanks feels out of place

By Leigh Sain

There is this pumpkin still sitting on my back deck and a boy who thinks that we can carve it up, pull out some old superhero garb and have our own little re-do of that holiday, the one with all the candy. He’s drawn the face on it already and if I will go get the pointy knife, he’s just sure we can call tomorrow Halloween again.

And there’s this other boy, still sneaking Halloween’s loot, but working hard on a list a mile long for the guy with the beard and the red suit.

And I stand somewhere in the middle, trying to sweep out the crumbly leaves that keep blowing in the front door each time a kid trudges in from the windy cul-de-sac. I stand and stomp my feet a bit at it all, demanding that we must first be thankful.

First, we must give thanks. Read More

True confessions of a left-handed giver

By Mary-Evelyn Starnes

Growing up, when my family would sit down to a nice dinner, my dad would often sigh and sentimentally say, “Well, I wonder what the poor people are doing right now.”

I am not exactly sure why he would say it.  My father wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth.  His was a family that might go days without meat when money was tight, a family that would welcome his contributions of small game to the table.  But years later, when meat was a staple and only purchased at the store, he couldn’t help but ponder about the poor people.  I don’t think he was celebrating his success either.  Rather I think the tension of knowing the poor were out there — and knowing what it’s like to feel hungry — made it hard for him to fully enjoy our feasts. Read More

4 things to tell yourself when you feel like time is too short

By Abigail McConnell

There are times of the year when the contours of our calendar take over the contours of our hearts. Ladies and gentlemen, we have entered such a time.

I saw a friend at the gym right after Halloween. She asked how I was doing and I heard myself answer her, “Fine, fine. Just starting to feel that slide toward Christmas, you know?”

Why did I say that?  I hadn’t even been thinking about Christmas. But there is this calendar rhythm that runs all the time in our heads — it’s not something we consciously choose. But we can let it choose us. Read More

Trees vs new townhomes? My vote may surprise you.

By Jennifer Graham Kizer

Recently, a neighborhood friend emailed me an online petition. The document explained that a developer has purchased a parcel of land—14 acres of trees—in our community. He plans, of course, to cut down the trees and build on the land, but a current zoning law limits the number of homes he can build. So he’s attempting to get the property rezoned. He wants to build 96 townhomes there. The petition is quickly filling with names of people who want to block his efforts.

In our house, we’re big fans of The Lorax—you know, the guy who spoke for the trees, “for the trees have no tongues.” It bothers us that, in the four years since we moved into our leafy community, it’s become significantly less leafy. Dr. Seuss’s cautionary tale seems to be unfolding all around us. Everywhere you look in our suburban town, it’s trees falling, and McMansions rising.

This happens to me sometimes. I get so wrapped up in my own needs and interests, and in those of my children, that I forget about everyone else.
I read through the petition, noting that the land in question is on my highly trafficked route to the kids’ after school activities. I imagined how 100 more homes might affect this frustrating congestion. I signed the petition, and then I complained about the whole thing to my husband.

Guess what he said?

“I think the rezoning could be a good thing.”

I narrowed my eyes. I looked at him sideways. But I heard him out. And then I had one of those moments when I realize that suburban living has thrown me off course. Read More

You can change the world — just start with a shoebox

By Beth Hartt

If you’re like me, an empty shoebox might mean you just replaced old running shoes. Or maybe your kids outgrew theirs and needed new ones. Or maybe you treated yourself to new pair just because.

But what if your whole life you never had anything to call your own until a shoebox landed in your hands? What if, for the very first time, you felt like someone really cared about you when you opened it? What if that shoebox actually held hope, love, and maybe even salvation?

That’s what millions of children have found in simple shoeboxes delivered to them through Operation Christmas Child, a project of Samaritan’s Purse that has delivered shoebox gifts to more than 113 million kids in over 130 countries since 1993. But those are just numbers. To get to the heart of Operation Christmas Child, you need to hear the stories.  The stories move me tears and fuel my passion for this amazing ministry.

And the stories are miraculous. There are the ones of children who had been praying for one simple item — the very thing that ends up in the shoebox they receive from halfway around the world. Like this story  posted on the OCC Facebook page recently:

Nebojsa had epilepsy and often went to the hospital for treatment. When he received his box in the hospital, he opened it impatiently. Inside, he found a hat and gloves, candies and a school set including a compass and ruler. When he saw this, Nebojsa started crying. His mother explained that he was failing math class because he told the teacher he forgot his supplies, but the truth was that his family didn’t have the money to buy them. He held the supplies in his arms for a long time, with tears in his eyes.”

There are stories of redemption and forgiveness, like Alex Nsengiman, who received a shoebox as an orphan in Rwanda after the genocide. The shoebox reminded him that he was loved at a time when he desperately needed that reminder. Then there are children whose lives were so changed by the gift of a shoebox, that they now fill and donate shoeboxes of their own to kids who were just like them.

The truth is it’s not the gifts in the boxes that alter the lives of these children forever. It’s that many of them hear about Jesus for the very first time when the shoeboxes are handed out. The local ministries who deliver the boxes share the Gospel with the kids, and then walk them through a discipleship program. Now they not only have small gifts to call their own, but they have the true joy of discovering Jesus Christ and his redeeming love for them. Very often, those children take the good news back to their families, sometimes even their community.  All because of a shoebox.

These are things on my weekly Target list, not indulgences. But when basic survival is your main priority each day, these things are extravagant.

When I read these stories and watch these videos, the childrens’ gratitude humbles me. I know what goes into shoeboxes. My family puts several together each year, and I’ve volunteered at the processing center where I’ve peeked inside hundreds of shoeboxes. We’re not talking high dollar items here — simple toys, a toothbrush, a bar of soap, lollipops, coloring books, crayons, pencils, socks, a stuffed animal. These are things on my weekly Target list, not indulgences. But when basic survival is your main priority each day, these things are extravagant. Read More

If God wired us to move, why does he make us wait?

By Leigh Sain

“Waiting rooms and baseball dug-outs are a lot alike.” My oldest makes this observation glibly as we race into yet another doctor’s office, late.

“How do you figure, that?” I question, wrangling the five-year-old, who has somehow entered the waiting room without his shoes, and with a whistle?

“Well, in both places people have trouble sitting still,” he nods towards his brothers already blowing that whistle and chasing each other around the room.

The waiting rooms and the dug-outs of life are a lot alike. They are hard places to be when you’re wired to move.
“And no one ever really wants to be in either place, plus you never know how long you’re going to have to stay!” he concludes. I confiscate the whistle, grab one running boy by the elbow, and agree with this profound analogy. The little one escapes my grip, though, and heads for the glass bird cage that decorates this particular waiting room. He begins pounding on the glass. Panicked chirping suddenly breaks the silence of the room, and that’s when I notice a huge sign on the outside of the cage: DO NOT TAP ON THE GLASS.  Oops.  I try to redirect my glass tapper. But he’s determined to entertain these frenzied feathered friends and an all-out meltdown ensues, agitating the birds even more. Apparently pitching fits in front of the glass cage should also be prohibited.

This circus is interrupted by my middle son who asks loudly: “Hey Mom, how old do I have to be before I can shoot a gun?” He holds up a magazine picture of a hunter and points to said gun, “I want to shoot deer like that guy, that would be awesome!” Seriously? I let go of the crying five-year-old and shush the loud mouth. The quiet glares of the patiently waiting people intensify. One poor lady with an enormous leg cast even lunges forward, gently trying to keep my little guy from continuing his harassment of the crazed birds, who are now flying head-on into the glass, screeching like mad.

“I think the dugout might be quieter though,” the older one muses. Thankfully, the nurse calls our name just before the middle one asks if you could shoot people or just deer with this particular gun. I have no words to answer that question.

The past six months have been full of waiting room debacles like this one, due largely to a plague of injuries that’s besieged our oldest boy. A freak sledding accident last winter broke five bones in his foot, a bad pass in a basketball game broke his finger, and a barefoot kick to a metal stake cracked his toe.  Add these to the normal ailments of three kids, throw in two sets of braces and, yes, we have spread our chaos into many a doctor’s office waiting room lately.

And these injuries, they have happened in the middle of two consecutive baseball seasons for my 11-year-old sports fanatic. So, much of his waiting has been done on the lonely, dusty bench of a baseball dug-out. It has seemed endless. This waiting. This healing. And his observation is right on: The waiting rooms and the dug-outs of life are a lot alike. They are hard places to be when you’re wired to move. Read More

Our parents are going to die. Are we ready?

By Mary-Evelyn Starnes

“How’s your mom doing?”

I get that question a lot these days. Sometimes it is posed by friends who journeyed with me through my father’s illness and death, and understand what a trial these months have been for my mother. So they want to know how she is coming along.

But other times this is really a segue for friends who want to ask about my dad’s death — and also about me. Do you want to talk about it?  What was it like?  Are you ok?  That’s what they are really asking.

This week a year ago, my father was already infected with the bacteria that would kill him six weeks later.

So we start with my mom, and sometimes we do just stop there. But usually I feel ready to talk about how I’m doing too. Those weeks when my dad was sick and dying were complex, and I am still processing a lot of it. So when people ask, I am as curious as they are as to what I will say.

This week a year ago, my father was already infected with the bacteria that would kill him six weeks later, though he showed no symptoms yet.  Those weeks were like traveling on a hilly road.  Only after going for some time were we able to get a glimpse of what the next portion of the journey would look like and how the road would end. Read More

This could be the best YES you say today … (+ a free giveaway!)

By Abigail McConnell

The requests, they fly at me all day long.

Can we have a popsicle?
Can I try out for the travel team?
Can I have an iPhone?
… and now often heard in our house:
Can I take the car?

There’s no dodging them, because I am the parent.  Which means I am The Decider.  Raising kids is an endless series of yes’s and no’s — each one a doorway to yet another set of yes’s or no’s:

Can we have another popsicle?
Can I have 80 bucks for travel team spirit wear?
Can I get unlimited messaging?
… and also recently heard in our house:
Can you please come get me? I just crashed the car!

Who hasn’t looked back and said, “If I’d have just said NO, then there never would’ve been the popsicle vomit/empty wallet/texting addiction/wrecked car?”  It is so tempting to think that if we limit choices and outcomes, life will somehow be easier to control.

Saying yes is hard, because there’s a good chance it’s gonna get messy. That’s parenting.

But what about when the requests are from our friends, our school leaders, our church, our co-workers? What happens when they need our yes or no? (This is becoming a theme around here.)

Saying no is hard, because we feel less valuable when we’re less visible.

Will you join the committee?
Will you take on the fundraiser?
Will you lead the project?

Those decisions are just as tough, especially in our hyper-involved culture where action and leadership are revered, and where nothing — I mean n-o-t-h-i-n-g — is just plain simple (as in, can kids really not play soccer for an hour without needing a full round of CapriSuns and fruit snacks for the whole team after?)

But saying no is hard, because we feel less valuable when we’re less visible.  And we feel our worth by what we do — not by what we don’t do.

But here’s what I have found: In this suburban sea of endless choices, doling out yes’s and no’s is a confusing, stressful mess UNLESS I first have said yes to God:

Do you love me?
Will you feed my sheep?
Will you follow me?

Saying yes to God is when our true worth takes root (though it still might get messy). And that is what this blog is all about: You can say yes to God and be assured that you’re not left all alone to figure out what that means.  Throw your doors open and invite him in, and invite others in with you. Right there in your cul-de-sac.

We hope the things we write will get faith conversations started at your bus stop or in the bleachers — whether it’s about anxiety over our kids or slowing down or what to do when life’s not fair.  We think online community is good, but we’re pretty sure that in-the-flesh community is really where it’s at.


And because we believe this so strongly, we want to share an awesome opportunity with you. (Heads-up Atlanta-area readers!)

THE ROOTED WOMEN’S CONFERENCE, happening in East Cobb Oct. 24-25, will bring together women just like you.  Women who yearn to be rooted in Christ’s love and filled with his power and purpose.  Women who want to say yes to God and who need to explore together what that means. Lysa TerKeurst, best-selling author of the new book The Best Yes and president of Proverbs 31 Ministries, will lead us for the weekend. You’ve probably heard of her. If not, look her up.  She’s a huge deal.

Here’s the fun part. We really want you to come to Rooted with us, so we’re giving you (and a friend) a chance to come for free and read The Best Yes. ($90 value!) To enter, just help us spread the word about this blog and The Rooted Conference:


Step 1: TYPE “YES!” in the comments section below (your email will be required), then …

Step 2: CLICK ON  The Cul de Sac’s Facebook’s page, and “LIKE” or COMMENT on the link to this post

**Both steps must be completed for entry!**

If you’re an overachiever, you can EARN ADDITIONAL ENTRIES when you also doing the following:

Like The Rooted Women’s Conference on Facebook
Retweet this post

Hurry, entries accepted only until Saturday Oct. 4.  Winners will be randomly selected and contacted via email (the one you used to enter your comment).  If you already have your ticket, enter anyway to bring your friend, mom, sister or neighbor, and please share this post on your timeline to let your friends know about The Cul de Sac and Rooted — and so they can enter, too!

So let’s do this, people! 

Think of The Rooted Conference as one big cul-de-sac, where everyone’s coming out to talk and laugh and sing and be real together with Jesus.  It’s too easy to live divided up in our households or church circles — sometimes it even feels like you’re choosing sides.  But here’s a chance to gather with your people, the ones who get tangled up in their yes’s and their no’s just like you do.  The ones who feel caught shuttling kids or shuffling papers, but who said yes to God and now need to know what to do next.  Those people. You and me. God meant us to seek him together.

Please say yes.

*For more information about The Rooted Conference click here.

On choosing sides, and choosing love

By Jennifer Graham Kizer

Among my classmates in elementary school, there was an unkempt girl with no friends. She lived in a dingy, haunted-looking, Victorian house behind a metal fence. This was in a northeastern suburb where most of the residences had manicured lawns and private tennis courts, and The Preppy Handbook on their coffee tables.

This girl—I’ll call her L—was also tainted by the rumor that some boys in our class had once asked her to pull up her dress and show them what was underneath, and she complied. This produced a stigma that followed her around for years.

My eight-year-old heart ached for her, and I puzzled over how I might show her kindness—without besmirching myself. But this seemed like an insurmountable challenge. Maintaining my own social standing was hard enough.

Then one day in the lunchroom, L said something ugly to me, and I felt absolved of the burden of helping her. Read More

Copyright 2014 The Cul de Sac.

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