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Best Ever End-of-the-Year Teacher Gift

Best Ever End-of-the-Year Teacher Gift

We have just under a month left before summer break, but I know for my friends in the south that means you have even less time. So today I’m sharing my favorite end-of-year teacher gift that has been excitedly received by our teachers the past few years. We have been blessed with amazing public school teachers that give and love and teach my kids in wonderful ways that we could never ever repay – but this gift is simple, thoughtful, homemade, and practical and a winner in my book.

A quick pinterest survey will yield hundreds of ideas for teacher gifts, some small and simple, to more extravagant. You’ll find posts from teachers telling you what they really want (cash, lol!) and cute stickers you can download to put on a bottle of wine. But I wanted to create a gift that was a real blessing after a long year of work.

Enter: the new mom meal. You know how new moms are blessed with dinners from friends and family members as they adjust to life with a baby? Well, what if we made a meal for the teacher to bring home the last day of school? A nice dinner so that she can relax, put up her feet, and have one less thing on her mind that day?

Here’s how to pull it off:
1. Email the teacher a few weeks before school is out. I let her know that our family would like to bless her with a dinner for the last day of school, but if there is another day that works better we are flexible. I ask about allergies/preferences and how many people will be eating the meal. (This past year both our teachers were grandmas who lived with their husbands, so I only had to prep for two, but the year before Dani’s teacher had three teenagers at home so I made a bigger meal.) Confirm the time of day for drop off as they may have after-school meetings, but are likely able to put things in a staff fridge until they are ready to go home.

2. Decide on what you’ll cook. One of our current favorite recipes is this healthy broccoli/chicken/rice casserole so that’s what we made last year. (And I planned ahead and made three casseroles at once so we had one to enjoy too.) We decided to add a nice roll of bread, some fresh berries, fancy chocolate bars, and fizzy drinks too.

3. Purchase tossable containers so the teacher knows she doesn’t have to return anything to you. As an extra bonus, we added paper plates, and plastic silverware wrapped in napkins. The fewer dishes the better!

4. Cook what you need to cook and package it all up. I used an aluminum baking pan but a box would work just as well. (The first year we did this gift only Daisy was in school and I bought a cute cooler tote to package the meal up in.)

5. Print cooking instructions. Last year I downloaded this printable and added our meal instructions to the menu. I think it turned out really cute.

6. Let your children help deliver the meal and enjoy the feelings of a special gift given and received.

One last thing: to make the gift extra special have your children include a thank you note. You can download adorable fill-in-the blank ones (what I’ve totally done) or practice writing skills with a traditional note.


There you have it: our very favorite teacher gift. Let me know if you decide to do something similar this year and how it works out for you.

Finding GRACE in a Foreign Land

Finding GRACE in a Foreign Land

On Sunday morning I woke up for the first time in a while feeling thankful. I was thankful to be alive. I was thankful for the sun shining through my window. I was thankful for a good night’s sleep that had followed a special evening out with my oldest daughter.

But mostly I was thankful to be headed to church.

It probably won’t come as a surprise to you that I have spent many years wrestling with the church. I was baptized United Methodist, and spent my college years in a Jesuit University, but my spiritual life has been primarily shaped by the theology and culture of evangelicalism. As a young adult I began to realize that my values, my understanding of who Jesus is and the life he calls his followers to, didn’t always match up with the messages and the culture of my church.  And as the years went by I drifted farther and farther and fought harder and harder to cling to anything that would let me stay.

It took an act of God to get me to leave.

I had to. I was dying. I was trying to be something I was not and it was killing me. The day I walked away I felt a lightness that only comes with Holy Spirit freedom and liberation.




I know that many of you out there are watching the events unfold around you and wondering if you have a home among your evangelical culture anymore. You are struggling daily to find Jesus there. You are so exhausted by the work it takes to fit. You weep with sorrow over the view your beloved church is presenting to the world of your even-more-beloved Savior and Friend.

For me it took leaving, and then a season of wilderness wandering, of cynical thinking, of grief-filled praying, before the Lord led our family to an Episcopal Congregation. Our first Sunday there were so many things that felt foreign, and so many that felt familiar. It didn’t feel like coming home, but God was so clearly present and working that I was desperate to keep going back and finding Him there.


This post-election week tore me up something fierce, but I woke Sunday morning grateful to be headed to a church where feelings would be acknowledged, grief would be honored, and unity around the one thing that matters—the body and blood of our Lord—would be celebrated.

We sang about peace. We prayed for peace.

We heard a gospel reading that had never felt so scary or so relevant.

We heard from two members of our community who shared that in the middle of the mess they still held out hope, because of the witness of the people of God found in that room.

We looked each other in our tear-filled eyes and without words reminded each other that while the bottom felt like it had dropped out, like we were falling and flailing, that we would be caught. That we would catch each other and that our God was holding us close.

We stepped forward to eat the loaf and drink the cup, not knowing how our neighbor had voted or why. Instead, knowing that in that moment it couldn’t matter less.

And when we passed the offering plate I raised my voice to join my new friends in the song who’s refrain I was thankful to have to sing five times. I needed to remind myself of this truth and to proclaim it again and again:

Although we sang “Love is Lord of heaven and earth” which somehow seemed even more appropriate. source


Earlier this week I had lunch with a friend and mentor who asked me how things were going at our new church. As I tried to explain the place of being welcomed and loved by a community that in many ways still felt foreign and that while I was grateful to know that I was safe and free to be who God has called me to be…well…the evangelical world was still my home. Turns out even when I’m frustrated or embarrassed or even honestly disgusted, evangelicals are still my people.

“You’re a bit of a religious refugee, aren’t you?” he asked me.

Yes. Yes I am. That is a perfect way to describe me. I am a stranger in a strange land. I am grateful every day for the noble people who took me in and bandaged my wounds and gave me a new picture of God’s goodness and grace and provision. They have welcomed me as an equal and valued member of their community. They are my people now too.

And yet my heart still aches for my first home, and my people there. I wonder if some day I will return. I hope someday to return.




If you are wrestling with your first home, wondering how far they can get from the Jesus you know and love, please know that my new friends will welcome you too. They will let you ride out the storm until it is somehow safe again. They will sing wholeness and healing, peace and love over you. They will show you grace. Buckets and buckets of grace.



PS: This post by Rachel Held Evans articulates things so much better than my stumbling attempts. Click through and find comfort that you are not alone.



She would have given up her seat

She would have given up her seat

A few weeks ago I was fighting with my husband. It doesn’t happen very often, and for that I’m very thankful. But as usually accompanies the change of a season, our schedules weren’t quite in sync yet and we were frustrated with one another. Add to that a scheduling conflict that meant we weren’t going to be able to attend an event I had been looking forward to for several months that made our faces grim and our words anything but kind.

We’ve been at our new church almost a year now, and this spring when they announced a “Field and Vine” homecoming celebration of harvest and friendship, I was all in. What a great excuse to book a sitter, get dressed up, and make some new friends at our new church. And after witnessing months of the incredible fare laid out at coffee hour, I knew the folks of this church were going to throw one heck of a party.

One amazing coffee hour spread!
One amazing coffee hour spread from this past year.


But Darin had a work thing for the same night, and even though it had also been on the calendar for months, both of us had missed the scheduling conflict. And even though there wasn’t anything either of us could do, I was sorely disappointed to have to miss Field and Vine (because you better believe this introvert wasn’t going by herself!). And so we fought about it, and then we moved on, because in marriage sometimes you just have to move on.

But then, God…

Yes, a miracle happened on Monday and Darin’s schedule changed! It looked like we might be able to go after all. I’d heard some rumblings that the event may have been sold out, and as I clicked over to the church facebook page, the worst was confirmed. Only 9 hours earlier they had posted that tickets were no longer available.

Fabulous for the event organizers.

Another disappointment for me.

But it can’t hurt to ask, right? So I sent an email to one of the event organizers and also posted a comment on facebook. Would there be any sort of a waiting list for tickets? And if so, could Darin and I please get on it?

A few hours later I had an email reply: “I was just looking over the [auction] catalog and saw the lovely item you have donated for the silent auction. Just come on Friday and your name will be on the reserved but not paid list.”

We were in!

Aunt Mandi agreed to take our kids for a sleepover, I bought a new dress and searched hair tutorials on pinterest. We got dressed up and took some pictures.


And had the most lovely time. The atmosphere, the food, the people, the auction, the décor…all meticulously presented. It was just as I knew it would be.

During dinner I excused myself to the restroom and ran into Jane, a woman in church leadership who we had met months earlier at a welcome brunch. She smiled at me and told me how lovely I looked and asked if I was having a good time. I leaned in for a hug and told her I was definitely enjoying myself, and how grateful I was to be there, that it almost hadn’t happened.

“I’m so glad,” she responded. “When I saw your name come through for a ticket request I thought to myself Nate and I will stand in the back if we have to. Those two must be at the party!

As I walked away from her I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face. She would have given up her seat for me. I thought the miracle had been in clearing Darin’s schedule, but the real miracle had been in us having our chairs. At a table named “laughter.”

I am still marveling at this interaction with Jane. To be welcomed, to be wanted, to be told “you have a place at the table, even if that means I’m giving up my seat.” What could be more of an example of Christ’s love than that? What could be a better example of Christ-like hospitality that welcomes the weary stranger as treasured guest, giving up our places of honor for their benefit? And oh, I felt it. I feel it. So very very loved.

What an amazing dessert spread! Our table won the "blackberry cheesecake galette" but also got the try the salted caramel cupcakes and the bailey's cheesecake when we traded with other tables. All three desserts were incredible but I think I had a spiritual experience with the bailey's one.
What an amazing dessert table! Our table won the “blackberry cheesecake galette” but also got to try the salted caramel cupcakes and the bailey’s cheesecake when we traded with other tables. All three desserts were incredible but I think I had a spiritual experience with the bailey’s one.


Thank you Grace Church for the gift. The food and wine and music and company was divine. But the welcome and the love were even more so. You are truly doing God’s good work. I am grateful to be a part of your family.