Category Archives: Catholicism

Am I my brother’s gatekeeper?

One afternoon, six years ago, I drove by my local, Catholic Church “just to see.” I didn’t stop. I kept driving. A few days later, I circled the neighborhood several times. Then one day, I daringly pulled into the parking lot. I was terribly curious and terribly terrified.

I remember there was a banner hanging on one of the light poles. Welcome, it said. Still, I wasn’t sure. Did welcome really mean welcome? So, I hunkered deep in my car and Googled the church office phone number. With shaking fingers, I dialed. A wobbly but matter-of-fact old lady voice answered: “Hello! St. Cecilia’s!”

I took a deep breath. “Um. Hi. I was just. Well, I was wondering if non-Catholics can go inside your church?”

“Why, of course, honey! Go right on in and pray!”

“Oh! You mean. RIGHT NOW? Like, the church is open right now?”

She cackled, deliciously. “Why of course it’s open! It’s only 2 o’clock in the afternoon!”

That was my first “real” time inside a Catholic church (read about what I saw that day on page 179 of my book). What I didn’t elaborate on in my book but what I realize now is that this discovery– Catholic churches are open almost all the time–was huge for me.

When I was a Protestant, church doors were locked up Monday-Saturday. We only opened for meetings. But in Catholic churches, the doors were always open. This became so meaningful for me, symbolically and practically.

Practically speaking, as a mother of five young children it was hard for me to get to church. I so appreciated that I could dash in for ten minutes between bottles and naps and laundry. I didn’t have to dress up or put on my Happy Church Lady face (back then, all I had was an Exhausted-Sleep-Deprived-Mommy-Face). Best of all, I didn’t have to wait until Wednesday night Bible Study at 7:30pm. Whether I went at 6:30am or 2:22pm, the Catholic Church was always open.

Symbolically, this openness demonstrated a posture of hospitality. The church didn’t expect me to come to God on its timeline. It just unlocked its doors, held Mass for whoever showed up and then stayed open for prayer and meditation.

This always openness seems like a small thing to me now. Of course the Catholic Church is open! But I need to remind myself that this openness, this posture and practice of generous hospitality was a huge and vital part of my first, real-life encounter with Catholic practice. Without that practice of openness, I might have never stepped foot into a Catholic church because I wasn’t ready to attend an actual Mass. I needed to scope things out first. Feel my way into it. Read my way in. Listen my way in. Watch EWTN my way in. :)

Even the process of entering the church was open, slow and careful. It took a whole year of discerning and inquiry. They called it RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults). I never felt like the church was trying to sell me something. Or get something from me. The priest never gave a sales pitch about All The Heavenly Prizes You’ll Win If You Join Our Church! We talked, instead, about suffering. And struggle. And giving to the poor.

For all the horror stories I’d read about the Catholic church and for all the terrible history I knew, the actual practice of ordinary, everyday Catholics was quiet, unassuming and welcoming. Yes, they had dogma but they weren’t dogmatic. Yes, they were welcoming but it wasn’t an Overwhelming-High-Octane-Welcoming-Committee. There weren’t any cheesy little coffee mugs given out to newcomers. Nobody got up in my space, shook my hand and demanded to hear my “testimony.” We were all just humans together. And that was enough.

True hospitality, I’ve learned, seeks only to serve. The spiritual practice of hospitality is kind of about invisibility–getting yourself out of the way so others might encounter God. It’s not about enforcing codes, rules, stipulations and locking the doors of Heaven until everyone has met our requirements. We’re our brother’s keeper, not Heaven’s gatekeepers.

Jesus has already unlocked the door and flung wide the gates of Heaven. All we need to do is welcome people in.

How to lay aside habitual sins (hint: trying harder doesn’t work)

I came across the following meditation recently and it was such a sweet relief. I’ve spent so much of my life analyzing my character defects, obsessively tracing my patterns of sin and trying so hard to Be Good. When really, all God asks of me is just to “stay in the boat” and He will restore my calm. I hope this meditation encourages you, too.

Whatever can I say in order to stop the multitude of your thoughts?
Don’t try, excessively, to heal your heart, as your efforts would only make it more infirm.
Don’t make too great an effort  to overcome your temptations, as this violence would only make them stronger….
Keep Jesus Crucified present in your imagination.
Stay in the boat in which he has placed you, and let the storm come….
at the opportune time He will awake to restore your calm. –St. Pio of Pietrelcina

I am Martha. I slay dragons.

St MarthaI am Martha and anxiety is my dragon. I am constantly worried by All The To Do Lists. I fret. I hurry. My Anxiety Dragon barges around the house, nagging at children, tossing together lunches, keeping everyone on-task and on-time. Hurry up, get dressed, get going AM I THE ONLY ONE WHO CARES ABOUT LIVING AN ORDERLY, CHRISTIAN LIFE?!

In the Gospels, we are told the story of Martha who scolds her sister for not helping with household chores. But Jesus praises Mary’s choice to simply sit and listen to Him. The interpretation I heard growing up as a Protestant was that Martha needed to repent. Get her priorities straight. Quit being so anxious.

Essentially, the message I heard was: Hey, Martha, be more like your sister, Mary!

Today I found a particular glee in learning that the Catholic Church gives Martha a feast day and not Mary. Neener-neener.

Forgive me Father, for I am gloating.

Because honestly, Mary has always kinda annoyed me. She reminds me of those useless, mystical types floating around composing spiritual poetry while utterly oblivious to the fact that there are DIRTY DISHES IN THE SINK. Which is to say, Mary reminds me of me–when I’m not Martha, that is.

Most of the time, I’m Martha. Most of the time I’m trailing chaos and to-do-lists and then when my husband, for example, tells me to just “relax,” I feel like screaming: I WILL RELAX AFTER ALL THE CHILDREN ARE PROPERLY RAISED AND OUT OF THIS HOUSE.


What gives me hope in times like these is that the Church is quite tender toward Martha. She is not remembered for her human mistakes but rather for her mettle, grit and courage. Yes, she had her very human moments of Bossing Her Sister. But that wasn’t what defined her. The Church honors her she spoke up. And she went on to do great things.

There’s even this ancient legend that claims she was a dragon slayer. Yeah. St. Martha The Dragonslayer.

During the persecution of the Church shortly after Jesus’ ascension, Martha came across a village that was being terrorized by a dragon. The villagers said they would convert if she was able to slay their dragon. So, she did.

Oh, this makes me chortle with glee. St. Martha The Dragonslayer. Because OF COURSE SHE IS. That bold, brave woman who spoke her mind to Jesus went on to kick some dragon-tail. Yeah, she did!

I mean, I don’t really care whether it was a literal dragon or not. The point is, Martha wasn’t narrowly defined by her human mistakes. This is QUITE a different view of Martha than I ever learned about during my Protestant upbringing! And I DIG it.

Because I have my own dragons, oh yes I do. And despite all my fumbling human mistakes, I take heart in knowing my story isn’t done yet. I’ve slain some pretty serious dragons. I’ve crushed them under MY FEET. I’ve broken chains and sundered vicious cycles of pain. And yes, even when I fail and make mistakes, I can still go on and live a victorious, dragonslaying life!

I may be Martha, cumbered about with much serving. But I shall yet slay dragons!

How a Protestant Learned to Pray Like a Catholic (and actually started LIKING prayer)

IMG_6974The only reason I pray is because it makes me feel better. There I said it. I’m not very happy about this. I really wish I was one of those people who prayed because it was the good and godly thing to do. Because their hearts were heavily burdened for the poor. Because they liked praying.

I don’t like praying. It’s uncomfortable and difficult. No matter WHAT time of day it is, praying seems TOTALLY inconvenient. I have this iPhone alarm set on my phone and every time it dings, reminding me to pray I’m like: What? Pray? NOW?! But NOW is inconvenient!!!

But then I pray anyway because prayer is like a shot of WD-40 into my brain. It unsticks things. It loosens things up. I run more smoothly after I pray.

It wasn’t always this way.

Growing up Protestant, I’d been rigorously trained in the practice of prayer. Which meant: lots of THINKING. Lots of PLANNING. Lots of PROPER TECHNIQUE.

Praying was sort of like giving a well-prepared speech: 1. Insert 1-3 Scripture references, 2. Glorify an attribute of God, 3. Give thanks for 1-2 answered prayers and most importantly, always always use proper format when opening and closing prayers. We prayed to “Dear Heavenly Father” and we closed with “In the Name of the LORD Jesus Christ, amen!”

If there was a Chicago Manual of Style for Prayer, we had it. And used it exclusively. Only lesser Christians (read: WORLDLY, PAGAN, HEATHEN, CATHOLIC etc.) prayed outside THE STYLE.

But praying like this was exhausting. Also, it lent itself too conveniently to spiritual pride and showboating. Every time we had a church meeting, you could count on some guys engaging in what could only be described as Competitive Praying.

You know, some zealous bro would burst out in a prayer incorporating Old Testament types and shadows, only to be loudly followed by another bro reciting a bunch of verses from memory and then a third bro booming out a mini-exegesis of the book of Daniel culminating in the ETERNAL FULLNESS OF THE TRIUNE GODHEAD, forever and ever amen.

It was like Dueling Pianos except minus the pianos and minus the awesomeness.

When you grow up that way, learning to pray like a Catholic is almost like learning a foreign language. You gotta unlearn a whole bunch of stuff. And by that I mean, you gotta stop thinking and sorta just feel it.

The first time I heard the Rosary, I was breastfeeding newborn twins. They were eight weeks old and pretty much I’d been stuck in a rocking chair 24/7 feeding them. I was worn out. No, that’s an understatement. I was a ZOMBIE OF EXHAUSTION.

I was flipping through the TV channels and came across EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network) 10401726_1428455147417535_1232132536_sand saw a group of nuns praying together. Their voices soothed me. It felt like listening to a gentle lullaby.

And in my achey, exhausted, postpartum state—that was exactly what I needed.

So it began. Every morning after I’d gotten my babies all “plugged in,” I flipped on EWTN and just let myself sink into the rhythm and cadence of the nuns’ lilting, gentle voices.

It was like relaxing into a warm, bubble bath. Except it was a bubble-bath for my mind.

I mean, on the one hand I was pretty sure Catholic prayer was TOTALLY blasphemous because they kept Hailing Mary like every five seconds. But frankly, I didn’t care. It felt good.

Eventually, I started murmuring along with them. For the first time in my life, praying felt good.

There was no thinking involved. It didn’t stress me out. I didn’t have to get all freaked out planning my prayers. There was no showing off for God–or anyone else.

Catholic prayer was accessible. For an exhausted mother of five, this was EVERYTHING.

But even after I’d begun praying along with the nuns on EWTN, I still felt a little guilty like maybe I was doing that whole “vain repetition” thing. I had this idea that my prayers didn’t really “count” unless each one was a unique, original composition. I’d been taught that saying the same prayers over and over was empty, meaningless, borderline irreverent. A mockery of true, authentic prayer.

If that were true, why did I feel so much better afterwards? Why was the Catholic way of praying making me calmer and more peaceful?

So, I decided not to worry about it and just kept praying. The more I prayed, the better I felt.

The Catholic way of prayer, I discovered, was only vain repetition insofar as ANY prayer is vain repetition when uttered indifferently, from wrong motives or without heart. I came to treasure the simple, Catholic prayers because they were beautiful, succinct and relieved me of the burden of trying to invent something new every time I prayed.

What a relief to discover I didn’t need to re-invent the prayer wheel. Jesus had already taught His disciples how to pray. And the Church had built on that foundation, providing me with a treasure-trove of readily accessible, written prayers. Prayers for every occasion! Patron saints who prayed for specific requests! HA-HA-AT LONG LAST A PRAYER FOR FINDING MY LOST KEYS! YESSSSSS.

Learning to pray the Catholic way–sometimes only half a Rosary or a scrambled-brain-Rosary–even those imperfectly prayed prayers have changed my life. The biggest change of all? A renewed love for Jesus. 

No way THAT would have happened if praying like a Catholic was just “vain repetition”!



I believe in God the Father…{why Christians use “He” when referring to the First Person of the Trinity}

This past week there’s been some Internet talk about whether Christians can rightly refer to God as a She, as God our Mother. I find this conversation fascinating. I also find it troubling–especially since Christians can’t seem to have this conversation without throwing around the word “heretic.”

I don’t find it helpful or loving for Christians to call each other heretics. I think it creates an us vs. them mentality and does not advance the cause of love in this world. So, let’s not do that here, k?

Allow me to preface this post by saying this: God is big enough to find us anywhere. It’s OK to be wherever we are on our faith journey. You will have no judgment from me in that regard. Peace and love and light be with you as you travel! If your journey takes you outside Christianity, I still have nothing but love and acceptance and big, warm hugs for you! :) 

I’m writing this post is for those of us who have found our way back to Christianity. I’m writing this post for those of us who DO affirm the Nicene Creed. For us, there DOES come a time when we defer our preferences (and for me, my FEARS!) to the teachings of our Christian faith. With that in mind, I’ll share my thoughts on why it’s important for Christians to be careful to how we refer to God.

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As Christians, we have been taught how to refer to God by Jesus Himself.

I find it only respectful to defer to the pronouns God has chosen to use about Himself. Which is to say, God calls Himself Father. And when Jesus taught us to pray, He told us to address God using the words: “Our Father.”

Yes, throughout Scripture, God uses traditionally feminine imagery to describe facets of His nature and His behavior towards us. But figurative descriptions are not the same as literal statements.

When Jesus teaches us about His Father, speaks about His Father and prays to His Father, He always uses male pronouns. Why? Because the First Person of the Trinity is God the Father, not God the Mother.

I’ve had several people tell me that Jesus taught us to pray to a Father because, in a patriarchal context, a female pronoun would have scandalized the listeners. That doesn’t seem right to me.

I mean, what are we saying? That Jesus was just trying to make His words relatable to a certain time and place? This can’t be true because if Jesus’ Words are Truth then they transcend time, place and context–patriarchal or otherwise.

Furthermore, by claiming the use of male pronouns as contextual to patriarchy, we are saying that the Holy Spirit was bound by time and place. By dismissing “God our Father” as the result of patriarchal society, don’t we diminish the power of the Holy Spirit?

Patriarchy wasn’t (and isn’t!) more powerful than the Holy Spirit.

Patriarchy isn’t the boss of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus didn’t bow to patriarchy’s preference for male pronouns. The Holy Spirit didn’t check in with patriarchal society and get its pronouns approved before letting Jesus teach us how to pray!

The work Christ did was for all times and places and peoples–and His Spirit was at work then just as it is now.

And through the power of His Holy Spirit, Jesus chose to use the word Father. Jesus used a male pronoun all the time when referring to The One Who sent Him. If nothing else, I think it’s wise for me to respect the pronoun Jesus chose to use when addressing His Father.

Furthermore, it’s a fallacy to claim Jesus used “Our Father” because He didn’t want to scandalize His followers. Jesus never shied away from scandalizing His followers. In fact, scandal was the very definition of His ministry! After all, His scandalous claims got Him crucified.

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Still, I agree that God–as expressed in The Trinity–contains both male and female. This is why, in Genesis 1:27, we are told that both male and female are created in God’s image.

I also completely understand the desire–no, the NEED–to be able to relate to God via my God-imaged femininity. As a woman who has experienced severe spiritual abuse at the hands of men, I completely understand the pain of being forced to relate to God through a male-dominated narrative.

It took me a very long time to be able to call God my Father again. It’s a sad testament to the abuse I experienced that I am often triggered by “alpha male” language–especially when it is used in conjunction with Scripture.

However, what I’ve discovered is that my reactions are often sourced in reactions to prideful POSTURING and not MALENESS, per se. I am triggered by swaggering, bigger-than-you posturing. I have been bullied and abused by behavior like that.

And to be quite honest, I also suffered the same kind of abusive posturing and behavior at the hands of women. Abuse isn’t mutually exclusive to men. Both men and women can engage in abusive behavior and posturing.

But as I’ve found a gentle mother in Mary, she is teaching me about the gentleness of my Savior. Her merciful, sweet love has gently led me back into an increasingly trusting relationship with God my Father.

I am discovering God my Father delights in me. He loves me with an everlasting love. He provides for me, loves me unconditionally and cares for my every need.

God is doing for me what I could not do for myself; mainly, heal from the abuses of men. Earthly fathers may have failed me, but God my Heavenly Father is demonstrating His abounding faithfulness to me.

It is my honor to call Him Father, Daddy, Abba.

His arms are thrown wide to welcome me–to welcome us all.

My comment box is a safe space. Conversation and discussion is encouraged. Disagreement is allowed. Disagreeable behavior is not. All unkind, baiting, name-calling, hurtful comments will be deleted. I appreciate your help in keeping my site a safe place for people of ALL different persuasions and opinions. Thank you! xo. EE.


photo 2

Samuel then took a large stone and placed it between the towns of Mizpah and Jeshanah. He named it Ebenezer–the “stone of help”–for he said, “Up to this point the Lord has helped us!” I Sam. 7:12, NLT

As soon as my feet touch the sand, I feel myself relax into this space–this holy space.

The ocean and seashore have always felt like my soul-home, a place where my spirit finds rest. The rhythms of tides, the sound of rolling pebbles and crashing waves. I can breathe, here.

photo 3

My children scatter in all directions. The twins run back and forth along the edge of the foamy whitewater. They open their arms like birds, running full hearted and free into the wind. The boys dig for crabs and write silly messages in the sand with long sticks of sun-blanched driftwood.

My ballerina dances barefoot ballet, her body moving lithe and graceful beside the sea.

photo 4

Me, I just watch the ocean and breathe. Exhale pain and the past. Inhale peace and grace.

I sink my toes and body into the sand, grounding myself.

And then I build a little altar of rocks, my own Ebenezer.

The children come by adding bits and stick, several feathers. James draws lines around my Ebenezer using his toes–a sort of Zen sand-drawing. One by one I ask them what they’re grateful for and why. I ask them to remember how far the Lord has brought us. I ask them to remember this.

Remember this.

Remember God loves you, always and unconditionally. Remember God with us. Remember God has a beautiful plan for your life and no matter the pain, suffering or abuses we suffer–LOVE is stronger.

And then, I stand and dance myself. I dance for freedom, I dance for hope, I dance for the future.

My feet make a question mark in the sand.

And so, I dance the question.

I embrace the mystery.

photo 5

I am Elizabeth Esther. I am courageous. I am a survivor. I am free and I am strong. My story is broken for you.


This evening at Easter Vigil, my three oldest children will enter the Catholic Church through baptism, confirmation and First Communion. Tonight is a milestone in my family history, another Ebenezer. Your prayers for peace, unity and continued reconciliation within my extended family would be deeply appreciated. Much love, EE.



How Loving Mary Helps me Love Jesus #StoriesofEaster

This year, as I journey toward Easter, my eyes are fixed on the ultimate act of love: Jesus giving His life for us. But I also remember to see the whole picture, and so I look to the foot of the cross.

There I see the Mother of God kneeling before her Son, staying with Him, suffering with Him.

As a mother, I can relate to her pain. For me, there is nothing worse than watching my children suffer. I want to kneel beside Mary and comfort her. I want to thank her for raising such an amazing Son. I want to walk each painful step with her. I want to love Mary, for she is my Mother, too.

This Easter, I believe what St. Josemaria Escriva once wrote: “The beginning of the way, at the end of which you will find yourself completely carried away by love for Jesus, is a trusting love for Mary.

READ MORE ON THE CONVERGENT BLOG…plus! Write your OWN Stories of Easter and join us for synchroblog on Good Friday!

Nourishment for your tired soul this weekend #EEGentleLent

I really can’t thank you enough for sharing your Gentle Lent stories with me this past week. I’ve read every post and I’m sitting here all warmed, filled, comforted. Your words, my friends. They HEAL.

Since my Lenten practice includes encouraging others, I wanted to share a little collection of Internet goodness to inspire, refresh and make you laugh this weekend. Enjoy.

1. Nineteen year old Finnish YouTube user speaks gibberish to show how we hear a foreign language. Brilliant! And funny!

2. WWII widow waits 60 years to find out what happened to her husband. What she eventually discovered is just so beautiful. Inspiring.

3. What Legos taught me about Lent: All at once I understood.  This is why we observe Lent.
It’s not about punishment, and it’s not about denial.  It’s about righting our hearts, creating space in our lives for the things that matter.  Most of the time I don’t see that my life is out of balance until it is too late, and I’m spent, exhausted, a heap of remorse on the floor.  Lent is a chance to disconnect from the things that consume us.

4. The Road to Everywhere: why you can’t put off that trip any longer.  I didn’t exactly know what to do with my dad’s Elantra. So I drove. I got in the car and took my first independent road trip. It was the only thing I could do to both honor my dad and escape the overwhelming pain and death at home.


A Gentle Lent Linkup #EEGentleLent


Lent is a penitential season in the Church year wherein we attempt to draw ourselves closer to God through repenting of earthly entanglements and giving ourselves to prayer and service.

This year I’m making a Gentle Lent–read more about WHY a Gentle Lent, HERE and have invited you to join me.

Today, I’ll share a brief reflection about prayer and then open up the conversation to YOUR posts and conversation (LINK-UP WIDGET BELOW!). I’m looking forward to sharing this season with you.

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Prayer is very difficult for me–as I suspect it is for many of us. My ADD makes it difficult to sit still for ANY length of time and my ADD brain makes it difficult for me to focus. For most of my life I’ve felt like a Prayer Failure not a Prayer Warrior. Last week I found this advice about prayer:


Doesn’t that just make you heave a sigh of relief? No strife. No wracking the brain for something Important and Eloquent to say to God. Just a few words spoken whole-heartedly. Now, THAT I can do. (Feel free to grab the above graphic for your own use!)

In his book, Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales speaks of a very gentle yet devout spiritual practice that uniquely serves our own individual vocations. In other words, I am not a nun. I am a busy mother of five. I can’t spend hours in prayer each day because my vocation is motherhood. But I can pray a “few words with my whole heart.” Thank God it’s OK to be me!

This Lent, I’ll be spending five minutes each day in silent meditation. I’ll speak a FEW words whole-heartedly and keep it simple. I’m giving up R&B music and listening exclusively to classical or worship music. As for service, I’ll be writing notes of encouragement each week. I’ll also continue reading Introduction to the Devout Life.


How about you? How are you making a Gentle Lent? Feel free to share posts via the link-up or start a conversation in the comment box.

Part of my service this Lent is to speak encouraging words and/or answer your questions so I’d love to converse with you in my comment thread and read your reflections on your own site. Much love. EE.

Here’s how to participate:

    1. Paste a link to your specific “penitential” or “reflective” post in this linkup (not your home page)
    2. Spread the word: tweet using hashtag #EEGentleLent, share on FB, invite others to join
    3. Engage the conversation in this comment box or others.
    4. You can also add THIS BLOG HOP CODE to your OWN blog post: get the InLinkz code

I look forward to reading your posts and comments and sharing a Gentle Lent with YOU.

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Do All The Things! All at Once! {How NOT to do Lent—from someone who’s learned the hard way, aka: fiery crash-n-burn}


Remember last year when I tried to go whole-hog-100%-all-sold-out-for-Paleo? Yeah, that lasted a whole seven days at which point I crash landed into a jar of Cookie Butter. 

I do the same thing with exercise. Someone mentions they’ve started doing yoga and I get all inspired, rush off to the store to buy All The Yoga Outfits, mats, blocks, stretch bands and DVDs because apparently I’m planning on becoming a yogi. Overnight.

I do the same thing with spirituality. I rush in, dive-headfirst, make Big Promises to God and then ICHABOD! the glory departs and I find myself weeping and wailing and gnashing mine teeths.

I’ve burned out so many times that I’m finally ready to do something different. 

In his precious little book, Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales gently cautions against Doing All The Things. In fact, after providing a few suggestions for placing oneself in the presence of God, he concludes by saying:


One at a time. Briefly and simply.

What a relief to know I don’t have to make my spiritual practice some huge, complicated thing. I can keep my devotion brief and simple. I can do just one thing at a time.

This week? I’m going to go see the doctor because I can’t shake this fatigue after being sick for two weeks. It’s time for me to take care of myself. ARRRRGH! *plugs ears, la-la-la* *wants to pretend there is nothing wrong* #denial

But, I’m going to do this ONE thing. Please ask me about it by Tuesday, k? Accountability! WOOT!

Also, are you thinking about your own Gentle Lent? Don’t forget to join us on Ash Wednesday for a linkup and conversation. Feel free to share the graphic invitation above and invite your friends. All welcome. xo. EE.