When hosting get-togethers, keep it SIMPLE

It was a Saturday and I was expecting guests the next afternoon to celebrate my 6-week old baby. I was staring at a tray of cake crumbs stuck together with blobs of icing. They were supposed to be Petit fours. I had followed Martha Stewart’s step-by-step instructions in a book on loan from the library.


But these didn’t look anything like the photos. These weren’t even these. They were a big pile of this.

Mom listened as I poured out my dilemma to her over the phone. I had several other dishes to serve, but this was going to be the showstopper. The ooh and ahh moment of the buffet table.

It was at that moment that my amazing mom calmly told me how to fix it.

She said, “Take a spoon and the dish into Russ and tell him to enjoy it.”

Then she asked, “Do you know the difference between hospitality and entertaining?”

I didn’t yet, but I was about to find out.

I don’t remember her exact words, but I have never forgotten the idea. Entertaining is about making yourself look important, hospitality is about making the other person feel important.

Wouldn’t it be great if I could tell you that from that point on I “got it”?

Alas, that would be as far from the truth. The truth is, I’m still getting it. It is still so easy to get caught up in hosting the perfect get-together. Impeccably cooked food on an elaborate table with all of the right guests. Everything would be served at the perfect temperature with no stress and a perma-grin plastered on my face.

What I can tell you is I have learned (for the most part) to keep it simple. That doesn’t mean I’m never daring. What it means is when I try new things, they don’t take too long and they don’t use a lot of ingredients.

Saturday morning, we invited some friends over for dinner and firepit in the yard that night. When they accepted, I threw a casual tablecloth on the outdoor table and wove a table runner through some paper lanterns. Grabbing some pork chops out of the freezer to thaw, I paired them with a peach/mango/habanero sauce and we were ready to go.

While everyone else sat around the fire, I ran into the kitchen. I quickly whipped up a berry cobbler, stuck it in a cast iron skillet and set it on the fire. It took forever to cook. We all took turns trying to solve the mystery of an outdoor cobbler in between telling each other our stories.

The cobbler never really got done. We finally gave in and dished it up. It was still delicious, albeit imperfect. What was perfect was the fun we had. The memories we made added to this new friendship. It built relationship, which is what having people over should be all about.

As we were putting things away that night, I remarked to my husband, “It’s fun to do just enough for people to feel special but not so stuffy that no one is comfortable.” It was one of those moments that I know would have made Mom smile.

It made me smile, too.


(This was originally posted at The News Review website)



The more connected the world gets the more disconnected I feel from others. Folks that were friends seem to split down the oddest lines of faith, politics, racial issues and gender. Friends who had enough in common to connect in the first place find themselves divided over ideology. Spend five minutes on Facebook and you’ll not only find someone you disagree with, there will be plenty of venom on both sides of the aisle to film a war scene in Lord of the Rings.

We used to be content knowing the names of kids and your favorite band. Kindness mattered more than being right and respect was a given. I would love to pour out the answers to what’s happened but I got nuthin’.

As sometimes happens on social media, I was alerted to a blog post by Beth Moore today. It wasn’t a direct link to the post itself. It was an apology written to women in the church as well as Beth Moore. The author, Thabiti Anyabwile makes a beautiful case for honoring the words of the piece but of the God who created both women and men. In his “Apology to Beth Moore and My Sisters“, Anyabwile admits to being inwardly dismissive towards women in ministry. In a beautiful gesture he asks forgiveness, not only from Beth but from the sisters in Christ who’ve also endured decades of being seen as less qualified strictly because of their gender.

It’s really so much more than women in ministry. It’s the devaluing of women in our congregations. I once attended a church where the men were finding their own sort of revival as they became intentional about knowing scripture and each other. They were breaking down strongholds and the women wanted in on the action. In the pastor’s own words he announced that he’d been asked, “When do the women get a turn to do the same thing?” He relayed to us his response, “When the men start leading in their homes.” Cue jaw drop…

When I become passionate about a topic, my voice raises a few octaves and I get animated. It’s quite possible I spit but not on purpose. “Why do other women have to wait until all the husbands get it together before ministry can happen in us?” I told a friend. It was grossly unfair to stall the spiritual growth of women because we were waiting on men. What about the single women or those whose husbands attend other churches? Why were we relegated to social events while the men deepened their relationships with God?

To be fair, it wasn’t meant as a punishment. It was just misguided at the most. There was no diabolical scheme to keep women unschooled in the ways of faith. It was just a long line of misconceptions about men, women and their ability to lead according to their gender. We found ourselves in a denomination where women even held some of the highest leadership positions but many of the churches were unable to embrace women as full partners in ministry.

In the past few years women have begun to raise their voices in all areas of life. Stories of being dismissed, ignored and even abused have  risen to the surface as shame has been given over for freedom. We’ve found the space to heal and move out of those old stereotypes as #metoo captured our attention. Even then, the thoughts and experiences were being shoved aside. Perhaps some found it easier to plug their emotional ears and sing LALALALALA to drown out the truth. The truth that many of us know, it’s not just men who grope and abuse that are culpable. It’s also the men who silence women or chose not to believe our stories because somehow that means changing more about ourselves than we think we can.

Three years ago I told a raw story of being molested by a man in leadership in our denomination.  I pointed out that there was more that could have been done to protect others but leadership found it more important to protect the denomination. Of course it was under the guise of protecting me but I never bought it. If they wanted to protect the women, they would have done something before he did something else (which he did).

It comes down to being able to see each other as Christ’s creation. He says the church is his bride. What if you went to a wedding and they didn’t let the bride speak? What if she had no say in the music or vows? If she were in the shadows or the background we would wonder if she’s there willingly. If we believe that marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church as in Ephesians 5:32 , then our focus will be love, not allowing women to be devalued.”

We need to get down to the business of discipleship. We can’t win hearts to Christ if we can’t join our hearts in the church. Reconciliation is a beautiful thing. It doesn’t require us to be perfect or know everything, it just requires us to move forward and respect each other’s gifts along the way.




What Hope Can Do (New Post at The Glorious Table)

Just a few months ago, my dear friend passed away after a relatively short illness. It has depleted my heart in ways I didn’t expect. I’ve felt loss before, but this ache is different, and although I hold the hands of others through pain, I didn’t expect to respond the way I have. The layers of emotions left to sort out are piled high, my soul is drained, and my body feels weak.

Sherry had the gift of hospitality, inviting everyone into her home and serving delicious meals with a side of laughter and honest conversation. She didn’t want a traditional memorial or what she referred to as “a big hullabaloo.” In lieu of a formal service, we hosted an open house to encourage friends to drop in to tell stories, comfort the family, and pay their respects. The family requested my help arranging the food. Her daughters and I pulled out beautiful serving trays from the closet, and my husband brewed pots of coffee to welcome her guests.

As I was standing in the middle of the kitchen halfway through the open house, Sherry’s niece Tiffany leaned over and said, “Jemelene, you need to breathe.”

Read the rest at The Glorious Table.


Dear World, From Roseburg – Part 2

Note: The day after the shooting at UCC on Oct. 1, 2015,  I wrote a letter to the world that quickly went viral across the globe. Two years later, this is my sequel to the original commentary. This post was featured in the New Review and at nrtoday.com.


Dear World,

Two years ago you were introduced to Roseburg. On October 1, 2015, our tranquil valley became known for the tragedy that the face of evil brought to our town. Our name became part of a list of cities whose schools became the seat of violence, and like all cities that bear the same mark, we didn’t want to be known for the horror of that day.

We hoped you’d see us for the way we came together and for how deeply we care. We want you to know that we are stronger than ever, and our resolve is rooted as deep as the Douglas fir that covers the hills throughout our county.

Like most of our community, I didn’t sleep that night. When the unthinkable happened, I couldn’t shut off my brain. Instead of sleeping I began to process grief. At 4 a.m. I shuffled into my husband’s office and penned a piece, pouring my troubled heart onto the page. My message began a discussion between friends and strangers. It became evident that there were far more people who love this peaceful community than those who feel trapped by this small-town life.

As details began to unfold, stories of those we lost became our stories. We sat in a collective waiting room for those whose wounds weren’t fatal but still, we recognized that bits of their lives were stolen. We prayed with the families of both survivors and victims. We baked cupcakes, welded yard signs, printed decals, poured coffee, lit candles and held vigils.

Local churches opened their doors for the countless volunteers who came simply to comfort. Home-grown businesses donated, collected and sacrificed while the world watched us grieve for a short while.

During that first week, I had several conversations with different media outlets. From a local Seattle station to a reporter from CNN, the question was the same: What makes Roseburg different? The question was merely for the interview because they had already noticed on their own.

As the list of tragedies he had covered was recited, one reporter told me this, “No one has ever been as kind and cordial to us as the people here.” He wondered if we were anxious to have the media lights dimmed. I nodded and assured him that the first order of business was to create a safe place to heal.

As often happens during times of grief, there are those who return to their lives as if nothing happened. Media loaded their trucks and moved on to the next story. Through memorials, prayer vigils and fundraisers, we leaned on one another and those who had reached in when it was too painful to reach out.

We woke up soon after to a “new normal” where the quiet left us feeling raw and disoriented. So much loss so fast, and to this day, there isn’t a part of this that makes sense.

We’re here two years later and still standing. We’ve come together in ways we hadn’t before and survived the pain as well as the controversy. When public figures and outside forces tried to change the conversation, we stayed strong. As the reports of the investigation were released just a few weeks ago, opinions of how the information should be handled varied. We still have our own viewpoints and passions to be sure, but we still have our community.

We have inspiration from the lives we lost and the wounded who fought to stay alive. From the first responders to the emergency room personnel to the long-term caregivers, their stories have become our stories. The pastors and neighbors who have sat with the tearful have offered comfort through unimaginable loss. Community leaders continue to meet in order to chart a course in hopes that we can continue to heal and grow.

We’re here, caught in a place where we’d like to forget that day and mindful that there is so much we need to remember, like being kind and gracious to each other. We can disagree and be angry yet find it in our hearts to be civil. We can actively give and peacefully listen to those still carrying the scars of that day.

As time moves forward, so will we. There will always be hearts that need mending and victories to celebrate. Our friends will continue to heal, and new classrooms will be built, and we’ll be right here. We’re ready to listen, bring meals for some, and for others, save lives and comfort souls. We’ll continue to welcome visitors and new neighbors. We’ll work hard to improve our community and teach our children what it means to stand strong and proclaim, “We’re still here!”


How To Live Out Your Dreams Without Boundaries (New Post at The Glorious Table)