“Ordinary” Jesus Loves Turkey and Sinners

By Amanda Cleary Eastep

As I looked around our family table at Thanksgiving, I imagined Jesus sitting there. Probably at the head of the table, and after dessert, in Dad’s chair, because my father would so give up the microfiber recliner for his savior.

We would have offered Jesus one of the drumsticks (before my young nephews claimed them). I think Jesus would have kindly complimented me on the turkey but would have avoided using the word “moist”, knowing it would instigate a secret drinking game between my sons that involved downing a beer every time the trigger word was innocently employed by well-meaning guests.

He would have laughed at our usual sharing of favorite memories while breaking bread with grandma and grandpa, siblings and cousins, agnostics and adulterers, doubters and drinkers of wine. We would have temporarily been on our best behavior; at least until his presence made it impossible for us to keep up any facade and instead accept his grace after simply saying it before dinner.

Grace tells me Jesus was at the too-wide table my parents got so they can squeeze as many people in as possible…the grace he offers and the grace my son said while we clasped hands and invited Jesus in. I hope he stayed after dinner despite our attention to the Bears game (they were WINNING), our inability to fight tryptophan comas, and our failure to recognize our abundance, which the following day we referred to as “leftovers.”

It’s easy to imagine him there, because Jesus regularly did “ordinary” things like having dinner with loved ones and resting from his labor.


Today concludes what is known on the liturgical calendar as the 34th week of Ordinary Time, a stretch of days in between seasons like Lent and Easter and Advent, which begins tomorrow. (Thank you to my pastor for explaining this since I don’t pay attention to church-y calendars.)

Ordinary Time is actually the “largest season of the liturgical year.”

Ordinary time is pretty much everyone’s largest season. Day after day lived between births and deaths and weddings and holidays. 

That isn’t to say the ordinary is without meaning.

The term ordinary, or “ordinal”, according to my Catholic sources, refers to a time that takes us through the life of Christ. Like us, Jesus had his big moments–birth, baptism, suffering and death–and his in-between days  were spent serving others through his miracles, but also escaping the crowds to rest (Mark 3:31) and gathering with his friends to eat and drink.

He even got in a little trouble for all that “gathering.”

33 They asked him, “John’s disciples are well-known for keeping fasts and saying prayers. Also the Pharisees. But you seem to spend most of your time at parties. Why?”

34-35 Jesus said, “When you’re celebrating a wedding, you don’t skimp on the cake and wine. You feast. Later you may need to pull in your belt, but this isn’t the time. As long as the bride and groom are with you, you have a good time. When the groom is gone, the fasting can begin. No one throws cold water on a friendly bonfire. This is Kingdom Come!” Luke 5:33-35 The Message

I imagine Jesus at lots of other Thanksgiving tables, too. Maybe the ones with sparse meals and strife. Or the ones where people don’t believe he’s the person to thank, yet he still waits patiently to be included because he loves them anyway.


Ordinary Time counts down to Advent, the season leading up to Christmas. Similarly, our ordinary days count down to the day Jesus comes again, and, if we invite him, takes a seat at the table for real.

That will be a different kind of Thanksgiving. A doing away with the boundaries of calendars and religion, a celebration that extends far beyond the perimeters of tables and traditions, and anything but ordinary.

Don’t forget to breathe! Hooking into the Big Breath

by Amanda Cleary Eastep

I was lying on my side on the floor and toning my outer thighs alongside 10 other women, including my best friend, who was totally supportive of hitting Dairy Queen after our aerobics class.

Our instructor, a petite and perky woman with saddlebags like…well, saddlebags…convinced me that if no amount of leg lifts or exercising until my shins sweated was going to make much of a difference, neither would a Dilly Bar.

I concentrated on the precise leg movements that tensed my glutes and peroneus longus into what I imagined were cellulite busting contractions but were just cramps. Then the instructor said something stupid.

Don’t forget to breathe!

But I realized she was right, as foolish as it seemed, I was indeed holding my breath.

I was focusing on my efforts and not feeding my muscles and brain and heart.

Good lord, can there be a better analogy for our need to breathe deeply throughout the exertion of our lives?

What that breath looks like is different for each of us.

blue ridge parkway

It could literally mean sitting quietly and doing a bit of “in with the good air, out with the bad.” Or it could be taking a break from the rote exercises of the day to utterly change up the routine.

Recently, my husband and I drove up the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, and I hiked up a muddy trail to reach the summit and see the world from a completely different perspective.

And I breathed, even when the awe would leave me breathless. I turned in a slow circle and took in a wide world spread out around me in forested mountains and valleys hidden beneath the clouds.


Take the Big Breath

Author Anne Lamott, in an interview with two Jesuit priests, once talked about how crazy bad and good life can be and the dire need for us to just STOP. That begins with getting outside of ourselves. [@ about 14 minutes in the video]

“Hell is being stuck in your own mind,” she says, “in the I-Self-Me.” Lamott later goes on to talk about a book called The Wisdom of No Escape, written by Buddhist monk Pema Chödrön, and how to live in the face of our mortality.

Lamott summarizes in her own wonderful way:

“Maybe sit down, maybe have a glass of water and breathe. Maybe that is what heaven would be like, to have a glass of cool water and just stop. You realize that heaven will be about somehow hooking into something so much bigger than your own scared, little thinky self, something more to do with the breath or rhythm of something bigger and lovelier.”

Maybe heaven will be like that, but we don’t have to wait for the afterlife to hook into the breath of God in this life.

I did it as I stood on top of that mountain, thinking I should probably be weeping over the beauty of it but instead just taking it all in like air (and then taking the obligatory selfie).

When I start to focus on all the work I need to accomplish, all the bills I have to pay, all the sad news in the world, I will try to take the advice of my old aerobics instructor and a Buddhist monk and breathe.

Better yet, I’ll think of that mountaintop, of the hills and valleys, of the strain of climbing, of the 360 degree view of Something bigger and lovelier, and I’ll breath it in.


What it’s really like to quit your day job and freelance write

By Amanda Cleary Eastep

I spent the first-month anniversary of my full-time freelance writing business on top of a mountain.


OK, it’s not Mount Everest. But the symbolism in the act of driving down the winding Blue Ridge Parkway, seeing the seasons change before our eyes in the veins of a trillion leaves, and climbing a slippery slope to the summit is almost too obvious. (But I love obvious. I have to think less.)


I had cleared my project list for five days (thank you, freelancing) to explore a few towns my husband and I envision moving to in the future…or at least until God shakes us and yells, “Wake up! You have a physics test today that you didn’t study for. What? You were dreaming of a view of the mountains? Foolish mortal! You’re late for the bus!” Until then, we keep pursuing ideas and possibilities, goaded by nudges and why-the-hell-nots and the promise of milder winters (jeez, that makes me sound old).

Since I quit my day job on Sept. 30 and launched full force into freelance writing after three years of working hard toward that goal, supportive friends and curious onlookers have asked me “how things are going.” 

I imagine the underlying sentiment may be, “Do you need us to donate a block of cheese and some hardtack to get you through the winter?” But, also, it may be, “Do you mind if I watch how this works out for you before I take a leap, too?” 

First, I’ll clarify something. I’m not making a living writing stuff like this blog post. (Please refrain from answering, “Duh.”)

Let go of visions of a writer sitting at a fancy desk (although my husband found this one on Craigslist for $50, and it is lovely!) and pounding out best sellers as she contemplates the universe and a view of the mountains.


Freelancing writing looks more like:

  • profiles, internal newsletters, and web stories for colleges
  • blog posts on innovative trends in the insurance industry
  • copy that translates highly technical engineering jargon into regular people lingo

Romantic, huh?

The transition has been interesting. Here’s an insider’s view…

Week 1: I am not on vacation. I have to remind my daughters of this but also myself, because being home all day just feels weird. I have no problem being disciplined; I’ve had to be to get to this point, but the day is completely unstructured unless I build a framework with to-do lists, scheduled meetings, and calendar deadline alerts.

Week 2: Create a schedule (what?!). As free as “lancing” may be, I wake up early, dress smartly in jeans and a sweatshirt, and start writing by 7:30. I find this is kind of like homeschool without children; I can often accomplish so much by noon that it feels wrong. However, I have to remind myself that the time it takes to organize files, communicate with potential clients,  and create estimates and invoices is NON-billable.

Week 3: Buy a desk from an elderly woman who is selling all her possessions and moving in with her daughter…and then leave it in the garage for three weeks in case you decide to paint it. Continue to use couch as main workspace.

Week 4: Get organized, update your website portfolio, plan for new client acquisition. This last one is huge, because as busy as one month may be, you may suddenly find yourself wondering when the next project will be assigned and if it’s time to start rationing the cheese and hardtack.

4 a.m. on random days: You did it!!! You DID this! You did this to yourself. What are you doing? What in God’s name did you do?

Week 5: Take a vacation to North Carolina. Tell yourself you deserve it for the 10 years of dreaming, the three years of working in the wee moonlighting hours to make this happen, and just in case you have to find another desk job next month.

Ongoing: Fight the urge to type “job” in quotation marks or pronounce it as if in italics: “Why, yes, I quit my day JOB [i.e. legitimate career] to pursue a new ‘job’ as a freelance writer,” she said almost apologetically.

So, as of October 1, 2015, this is my career. This is what many writers dream of doing. And this leap has been a big part of my Year of Living Courageously.

As a way of recording the early stages of this journey, I note a WIT (What I’m Thinking), beside the task list I write in my fancy legal pad. 

These notes range from “Good pace, keep going” to “Breathe.” They keep me centered, or what I like to call, “keeping my WITS about me.” :)

Today, I’m sharing this WIT even though I didn’t write it. It’s a gift from my friend and former co-worker Jackie, and this plaque was one of the first things I set on my new desk.

(front row) Rocks I took from the top of the mountain

(front row) Rocks I took from the top of the mountain

“I am not afraid. I was born for this.” Really, this bold saying is not even about freelancing or leaping or climbing small mountains.

It’s about doing what you’re gifted to do–whether that happens at your day job or in the wee hours, whether you do it for the CEO of a big company or a few faithful blog readers, whether you do it for a paycheck or for no reward at all except the joy it brings you…


The disquiet that calls you back to the fire

by Amanda Cleary Eastep


My grandmother told me she could see their fires at night, dotting the dark rise of the bluff as her family’s wagon passed along the dirt road after the summer church revival.

She told me you could hear their music, too, the strings weaving their way down the wooded hill. Music like joy, but different from the hymns at church where the elders thumped the heads of sleeping children with a doorknob stuck to the end of a long pole. 

She told me that when she was a girl growing up in Southern Illinois in the 1920s the gypsies would come through town to trade horses with the men who weren’t afraid of the evil eye or their own Pentecostal wives. And no matter how many times she told me this story over the cluttered after-Sunday-dinner table when I was a child, I never tired of it.

The vision of that hill fed my already restless spirit, which longed for something as wild as gypsy fires…

Read on … the gypsy fire is lit over at the Mudroom blog.

Leaping in Faith: A willing suspension of disbelief

By Amanda Cleary Eastep


I’ve always wanted to skydive. To feel my heart about to come out of my mouth, to stop myself from vomiting upward into my own face, to fall and be yanked back in the nick of time.

But leaping didn’t happen that way. I decided it would be way more fun to quit my day job and freelance write full time. Like the guy in The Shining.

I’ve never jumped off anything before. Except the jungle gym on the grade school playground. I remember sitting on the edge of the parallel ladder thingy and looking at the ground far beneath my dangling feet…

Read more about the LEAP at Overflow where I’m honored to be writing the anchor post this week and joining other great bloggers for the continuing #wholemama series.

What Your Purpose Is Not

Purpose. No topic is too big for the #wholemamas. Follow us over at Erika Shirk’s Overflow blog.

By Amanda Cleary Eastep

Every night I take it to bed with me, wake up with it, and feel it breathing down my neck when I’m not giving enough attention to it.

(No, it isn’t an overly affectionate labrador.)

It’s my purpose.


Sometimes purpose manifests itself in many ways throughout our lives and sometimes as one activity that drives us, brings us joy, and is the hardest work we do.

What is it for you?

Maybe parenting or preaching or growing a business…

For me, it  has always been writing, even in the midst of more important work, like raising my children.

Poet and scholar Francesco Petrarca expressed his relentless need to write in a letter to a friend:

This inexorable passion has such a hold upon me that pen, ink, and paper, and work prolonged far into the night, are more to my liking than repose and sleep. In short, I find myself always in a sad and languishing state when I am not writing, and, anomalous though it seems, I labour when I rest, and find my rest in labour.”

Purpose, obsession…whatever.

Even with the exhaustion and pain brought on by writing, Petrarca said his “tireless spirit” seemed to be “reclining upon the softest down.”

That is how I’m feeling right now as I type. Despite the strain on mind and emotion, I sense a soft euphoria.

I recently asked my family and friends about their sense of purpose. The answers ranged from crossing tasks off of a list — to caring for pets — to helping others — to not really knowing at all…

Screen Shot 2015-09-04 at 7.51.10 AM

Their responses confirmed that purpose is deeply personal and unique to each. But they also revealed what purpose is not.


Purpose is NOT

Our aphrodisiac–My husband, a missionary to India for 20 years, said he and other young Christians became passionate at one point about sharing Jesus with a tribal gypsy group. “Yeah! Let’s spread the Gospel among the Banjaras!” they rallied, their good intentions punching the air like cheering fists. But they never did. Likewise, we may feel called to a task, like writing or evangelism, but we become more enamored with the idea of it. We pour our efforts into dreaming and discerning and planning but never act. 

All about us–The other day I interviewed a college student for her school’s alumni magazine. She compared her college life to a line-up of dominoes. “What I do in the place God has set me will touch the next person and the next and the next.” Ultimately, the work we are purposed to do affects a broader community.  Our responsibility is to carry out our purpose, to work hard, and to trust that it means something to someone someday, like Pertrarca’s words surfacing hundreds of years later and inspiring me in my writing.

About being Moses–Most of us don’t have a “burning bush” moment. No hot minute in our desert when a voice comes out of a flaming shrub and proclaims, “Hey, you, I’m God, and I’m sending you on this mind-blowing mission that will alter the course of humanity!” Even after this supernatural encounter, Moses doubted. I imagine that one more irritating “but Lord” from Moses, and God may have moved on to the next sandaled guy. Which makes me ask myself, Have I answered God’s call with a resounding Yes! or am I squeaking out a response that prompts God to not ask so much of me the next time?

Whole Mama

Graphic: Caris Adel

Read more from this series:

What He’ll Be When He Grows Up

Dance of the Elders

Why Life Between the Lines Matters More than You Think

The Spaces that Hold Our Gardens and Barbs

How to Pray Like a Refugee

What He’ll Be When He Grows Up

[AUGUST 26, 2015: I’m updating this post from 2011 for this week’s #wholemama link up, which has moved over to Erika Shirk’s blog, Overflow. I love this post and feel it fits so well with this week’s theme, BE.]

By Amanda Cleary Eastep

At 7, my son is in earnest. Gripping the back of the seat as we drive to the grocery store, he asks, “What should I be when I grow up?”

This is not a “why is the sky blue?” kind of question. The almost pleading tone in his voice begs me to answer; not a “well, uh, you see…” kind of answer either. THE answer.

This may be a pivotal moment in my parenting of this being, not really a boy at all, but an Energy in boy form that I must help to channel.

Insurance salesman.



This is the list that began to form in conversations among my family members about this child’s future path. (Three years later my mother bought him the book Super Lawyers for his 10th birthday.)

I’m weighing my answer. It will say something to him about what I think about him. What I believe him to be capable of.

When I’m helping him with math homework, he wonders why I sometimes have to go back a few chapters to review. Don’t I know everything? Now I’m slow to answer again. But it’s not because I don’t have an answer. Some of his gifts are already very evident.

I glance sideways at the small hands gripping the top of the front seat as we drive. I remember those fingers four years earlier curled over the pulpit during my friend’s wedding rehearsal. At 3, my son is hidden behind the wooden lectern. Only his hands are visible, as with a pronounced inflection that makes me wonder if he has been tuning in to the black, Southern preacher early on Sunday mornings, he proclaims “Haaaa—lle—LU—jah!”

“You can be anything you want to be,” I say. This is not an answer.

He offers multiple choice.

Pizza maker.

Toy maker.

Remote control maker.

I decide this is not a hard act to follow but want to acknowledge his selections. “Yes, those are all possibilities,” I assure him. But I’m thinking of his entourage of friends and how we’ve taken to calling him the Pied Piper.

I’m thinking of the way he has of conversing with complete strangers, mostly adults, who look first startled then amused then engaged.

And there are the capes. He has several that he wears around the house and even one for the grocery store. In fact, he has insisted on my wearing one, so I tie a red handkerchief on for our trip to the store.

So if I am the mother of a super hero, I guess that makes him…

A super hero. Will telling him he can be a super hero make him think he can jump off of the roof?

“Use your powers for good,” I tell him. (Not for the last time.)

Over the years, I have been fervent in encouraging the gifts I see in all three of my children. In truth, I thought even then he would be a leader, but I knew that wouldn’t resonate with him at 7.


Fast forward to the age of 22. He is a theology student and a youth group leader.

The previous year he texts me late one night. “What do you think God is calling me to do?”

I text him a long answer but want to simply say, “You are a leader.” Will telling him he is a leader make him think he can jump off the roof and others will follow?

I don’t have THE answer, just like I didn’t before. At least not the definitive one he’s looking for again. I can only review the past few chapters and tell him again what gifts and talents I recognize and that he should use them for the good of others.

Actually, I don’t believe there is a THE answer, except for maybe d. all of the above. There are many things he can do and will do. To steal advice from former Franciscan priest and writer Brennan Manning, I will tell my son to DO THE NEXT THING IN LOVE.

So, Son, this is always my answer:

If you must jump off of a roof—with or without a cape—do so to save a another.

If you lead, you be led by love first.

If you counsel or preach or make pizzas for a living or for a moment when it is needed or for the purpose of answering “yes” when God calls you to a lifelong task, do all of the above in love.