That Time We Realized We Were Old ... and also, Still Here.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I had the opportunity to attend a special concert here in Nashville for one of our favorite artists, Michael W. Smith. Set up as a sort of tribute event (a well-deserved one, to be sure), the stage was like a running movie of so much of our lives. There’s the first contemporary Christian song I ever heard— the one that let me know I wasn’t really completely alone in the universe as a believing teenager; that’s the one that let us know we were headed the right direction when we were considering our first cross-country move; there’s the song I broke down listening to the year after I met my dad for the first time and realized all God had been teaching me over the preceding four decades—mostly about Himself.


The lineup was somewhat of a surprise as the complete list of artists hadn’t been released before the concert, and we found ourselves gasping and squealing (okay, I did most of the squealing) as bright star after bright star took the stage. I’m talking stars, people—Wynona Judd, Steven Curtis Chapman, Kathie Lee Gifford, Charlie Daniels—so many folks from all sorts of arenas, all gathering to fete a friend who had inspired us all for decades. It was quite an evening.

I kept thinking about what it must feel like to be Michael, watching all these folks, these friends, honor him with his own beautiful music. What it must be like to know you’d used your life well, managing to encourage and challenge and gladden literally millions of people for decades. It made me think, in other words, about the way I was using my own life.

There was also a revelation which sunk in slowly, as I watched these talented brothers and sisters take the stage; one I hadn’t anticipated. You may want to sit down and clutch your pearls before I tell you what we realized, just in case you’re a contemporary of mine. Okay, ya ready? Here goes …


It’s true. All these beautiful people we listened to so many years ago? Years have gone by for both of us. They are still incredibly talented. So many have held the light high faithfully for many years, They are also, dare we say, grey. Some are a bit wrinkle-y. Some are walking with canes. They sing their own songs just a hair more slowly than they used to. And as I sang along and watched, it became clear: me, too.


My oldest princess used to be 2.


And then two minutes later, last month, she looked like this.


A few days ago I got a phone call: my sister-in-law, who is my age, had collapsed at work and been hospitalized, awaiting a mitral valve repair. We are considering every moment a gift, and there it was again …

Momento Mori.

Remember, you’re going to die.

“So teach us to number our days, that we may present to you a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12

The message is insistent right now, it seems, from the sudden passing of well-known leaders to the death I read of a few days ago on social media, of a four-year-old boy struck by a falling tree while riding a four-wheeler in his front yard. We are guaranteed nothing; not next year, not tomorrow, not five minutes from now. It might come as a shock, but for most of us, the evidence is in the mirror, and on the scale, and in our catching breath at the top of the stairs.

Number your days.

Number your days.

Number your days.

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. ~ Annie Dillard

Several years ago, in the middle of lamenting the fact that I’d never earned a college degree and if I wanted to do it at this stage of my life, it would probably take twice as long as if I’d done it at a more “normal” time, I read something that would change my perspective on lots of things permanently: the next eight years are going to go by, regardless. No matter what I chose, 2020 would come, and I would have either done the work … or not.

I enrolled a week later. And am on track to graduate next May, these years having indeed gone by, with more life and death and ups and downs than I ever could have imagined.

So today I want to ask …

What are you putting off, friend? What are you not doing because someone told you it was too late?

I want to say something important to you, today, because maybe someone needs to hear it:

If you’re still breathing, it’s not too late.

But every breath is a gift, and you’ll only know the last one from the other side. Years will go by. Who do you want to have been? What do you want people to feel when you walk into a room? What do you want them to think about—to miss—when you’re not walking into rooms any more? Who should you call? Who should you forgive? Of whom should you ask forgiveness? Where should you move? Where should you return to? What should you write? What should you say? What should you go see?

Number your days. And ask God why you have this one, and what to do with it. I have a feeling He might have some ideas.

Of Tangled Hair, Beauty, and the Inevitability of Suffering

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“You have to suffer to be beautiful.”

This was the sage advice offered by my mother years ago when I knelt in front of her chair on Saturday nights for the weekly ritual of Dippity-Do gel and pink foam rollers that would force my hair into some semblance of pretty for Sunday morning church.

This, the only “saying” I remember from my childhood, made sense as I gritted my teeth, fists pushing into the floor in mute protest as the comb yanked through the inevitable tangles fine hair made when it had grown thick and long. I knew Suffering, indeed; of a trivial yet visceral and immediate sort to a young girl. Beauty, too—because I desperately wanted to be beautiful, and what could possibly be better than the ringlets that miraculously emerged the next morning?

I’ve said it in jest to my own grimacing daughters as they’ve complained of hair-brushing over the years, making me wonder if this experience of pain as we have our hair “done” is perhaps a universal one among women. Maybe it’s just foreshadowing, birth-pangs of a truth it will take us a lifetime to learn.

I used to think it was a ridiculous statement, one perhaps accepted years ago by fifties and sixties moms with their high heels and skirts in the kitchen, maybe by today’s nip-and-tuck or even the hit-the-gym crowd. I don’t think you could get away with saying it publicly today anywhere, not even across a magazine page from teased and microbladed and starved-into-that-size beauties staring off into space with vacant eyes.

“You have to suffer to be beautiful.”

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of traveling to Oxford to spend time with dear friends. One particular morning, after everyone else had gone home, my dear mentor and I ambled down narrow, cobblestone streets with sidewalks so small we often had to step into the roadway to maintain our companionable arm-in-arm walk. Sometimes, it was easier to remain behind or ahead as she asked questions and then spoke truth, difficult proclamations that brought areas of my life and heart into focus I would have preferred remain in the dark; ways I’d justified rebellion in sharp relief as her words and my heart’s responses brought tears to my eyes. It’s interesting how we can know things, deep down, while we pretend we don’t know them, and it takes someone else daring enough to shine the flashlight deep into our hiding places to uncover what’s there.

What was there for me was a stubborn, heels-dug-in, curly-head-shaking little girl refusing to give up her own way.

Somehow, somewhere, right in the middle of Bible study and church and ministry and pouring my heart into my house, I’d managed to nurture an untruth: that if someone didn’t behave the way I wanted them to, I couldn’t be mean to them or anything but I *was* allowed to be permanently unhappy about it. That I could claim a right to be a bit miserable (okay, sometimes a lot miserable) because something in my life was really hard. Now, I wouldn’t have explained what I was doing that way; I had no knowledge of purposefully choosing my overall attitude—and yet the correlation was obvious when the truth was pointed out by someone I knew had my best interest at heart.

My friend said, “You’re right. It’s all hard, and that situation is incredibly difficult. But you have a choice to make. You can’t base your happiness on other people. You have to find joy in your obedience to God in this difficulty, and stop expecting anyone to change. You must show your children, who will face their own difficulties one day, a model of happiness. You have to do things that will sustain your soul, and be happy because you are doing what is right. You need to apologize for the ways you’ve failed, and be grateful for all that is truly good in the situation.”

And I cried, because she was right.

crucifix, Pusey House, Oxford

crucifix, Pusey House, Oxford

Here’s what it boils down to … When we respond to difficult circumstances and people with unhappiness and dissatisfaction; when we nurture discontent in our hearts; when we sigh and grumble and strain against our given puzzles … we become ugly.

Later that night, we attended a lecture in Pusey House, a beautiful space in Oxford dedicated to be a house of sacred learning. It was the display above the wonderful lecturer’s screen pictured above, though, which caught and held my attention for the night.

In my day-to-day life, I don’t come across many crucifixes. The churches I’ve attended focus on an empty cross, one Christ has already emerged from—and honestly, in most cases, not even an empty cross anymore as our worship bands have taken center stage in blank warehouse-style surroundings. Empty crosses make sense; we want to remind people that He has risen—and He has risen, indeed.

Yet, as I sat there that night, it struck me that most of life as we experience it finds its truest reflection in a crucifix, not an empty cross. Christ has risen, and we are seated with Him in heavenly places. He took our place on the cross. And yet …

"If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”

Luke 9:23

“Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.”

Luke 14:27

So here’s the thing: I’ve asked God to make me more like Jesus.

Why did I think He could do that without there being a cross involved? Why have we forgotten that we are following Jesus, and that is where He is resolutely heading?

What if the reason God has allowed there to be many difficult circumstances in my life (yours, too?) over the years is that He sees how much I truly desire to be like Him and to love Him well, and these difficulties and people are the very tools He is using to make that happen for me?

“You have to suffer to be beautiful.”

What if rather than the thwarting of all my greatest, deepest desires, these difficulties are actually precision instruments, with just the right edge on them to remove all the ugliness I know resides in my heart and soul—because, after all, I, too am a difficult person? What if rather than being problems, they are really answers? Could I not find joy in the issues themselves, if I develop a more long-range view of where I really want to my heart to go?

Draw me nearer, nearer blessed Lord,
To the cross where Thou hast died;
Draw me nearer, nearer, nearer blessed Lord,
To Thy precious, bleeding side.

Frances J. Crosby

altar at Christ Church, Oxford

altar at Christ Church, Oxford

Could I not smile at problematic events, trying personalities, insurmountable predicaments, embracing and accepting them with some measure of joy? He is a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, and I want to be like Him, who loved well through it all.

I know I’ll still get frustrated sometimes, still be sad or angry, still be disappointed that in some ways my life doesn’t go as I’d hoped or planned or even worked for—because I’m still a human being in a broken world. I’m determined now, though, to take another step: to sit with the frustration and sadness and anger that is common to all of us, and remind my soul that when I thank God for all that is truly good in my life, when I respond with love in spite of my negative feelings, I’m becoming just a tiny bit more like Jesus, and a tiny bit more of His image is showing. And that is where deep happiness lies.

Because what I want most of all is to be beautiful.

Do You Know Who You Are, Mama?

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"Everybody knows that a good mother gives her children a feeling of trust and stability. She is their earth. She is the one they can count on for the things that matter most of all. She is their food and their bed and the extra blanket when it grows cold in the night; she is their warmth and their health and their shelter; she is the one they want to be near when they cry. She is the only person in the whole world in a whole lifetime who can be these things to her children. There is no substitute for her. Somehow even her clothes feel different to her children's hands from anybody else's clothes. Only to touch her skirt or her sleeve makes a troubled child feel better."
~Katharine Butler Hathaway

We've been on vacation this week; a long-saved-for trip to Disney. When we lived in Florida, of course, it was much easier to pop in on the mouse and "my castle" more often, so my children have loads of memories there, but it had been many years since our last trip. My youngest, Nicholas, doesn't remember much, and cars full of people disappearing into dark, unknown spaces were overwhelming to his eight-year-old senses, this time.

He was afraid.

Of Peter Pan.

It took a lot of inner wrestling to decide what to do, along with a call (or ten!) to friends for some mama backup. I've never forced my children to do things they were terrified of, and he was pretty close to terrified. Putting my arm around him and drawing him close, I explained all I could about the ride; the lifts and drops, the scenery, the slow pace, the music I knew he'd enjoy. And I kept him moving toward it because I KNEW there was nothing to actually be afraid of. About halfway through the long line (did I mention we were at Disney IN THE MIDDLE OF JUNE, which is when the rest of the world also is on vacation? *slaps forehead) the shuddering stopped, though we stayed hand-in-hand til we disembarked back on the other side of London and into the Florida sunshine.

He just needed me to stay close. To reassure. To explain. To lend him some courage.

We mamas, we are the ones who let them know they can make it through the dark.

We smile at the child who spills milk on the floor, letting him know it's okay and the mess can be cleaned up.

We are patient with the one overwhelmed by the complexities of algebra.

We take time for the story of the broken heart, the misunderstanding between friends, the dreams deflected.

Oh, dear mom, do you know who you are?

To the tired one, you are rest and peace.

To the struggling one, you are an inspiration to stick with it; encouragement to go on.

To the brokenhearted you are the listening ear, a sounding board, the voice of hope.

You are more than you see in the mirror.

The world is a confusing, difficult place for a child sometimes. You have a marvelous opportunity before you: to create a haven for your children; a place where truth is taught and grace reigns and ideals are upheld; where hearts can be safely bared and dreams nurtured and talents developed; where acceptance is constant and loyalty is always sure and the prodigal is always welcome home.

Don't buy the world's lie. Don't believe them when they tell you that what you're doing doesn't matter--that you're not using your talents, that you need to do something bigger and brighter to really succeed.

Those precious souls in your keeping ... they will last throughout eternity. When you stand before God He will call you to account for your stewardship of them, and you will not regret your great investment.

You are a keeper, a molder, a treasurer of souls.

“To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labours, and holidays; to be Whitely within a certain area, providing toys, boots, cakes and books; to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can imagine how this can exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it. How can it be a large career to tell other people about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one's own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone and narrow to be everything to someone? No, a woman's function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute.”
~G.K. Chesterton

The Man Who Invented Christmas (And a Giveaway!)


It's still a week until Thanksgiving, yet it has already begun.

A few weeks ago, my second daughter and I stood in line at our local WalMart for THREE HOURS (a moment of silence, please) to meet Ree Drummond, request an autograph, and give her a copy of Sally's book, The Lifegiving Table, which I thought she'd enjoy. Half of the line-time ended up being a winding path through the garden center, now filled with--you guessed it--all things Christmas.

Now, Christmas is my favorite, but I have a pretty hard and fast rule about not even LOOKING at Christmas paraphernalia until the day after Thanksgiving (okay, often the second after we've placed our forks down on the table around the turkey for the last time). And so, my friends, I found myself stuck. Stuck in a world of glittered snowflakes, woodland creatures wearing plaid scarves, myriad versions of blinking lights, and Christmas trees.

All of the Christmas trees.


At first, I attempted the defense systems usually effective when encountering the inappropriately premature Christmas sales so prevalent in this evil day: I tried averting my eyes, but let's face it, I was surrounded. I tried looking only at Savannah, but after standing in line already for two hours, we'd pretty much used up our buckets of Conversation Apropos for Long Lines.

Reader, I broke.

(I should have seen it coming when the words "peppermint mocha" slid out of my mouth so smoothly, so ... semi-unconsciously that day in Starbucks back in September, clearly well outside the range of Christmas drink season.)

And so, there has been a breach in our Christmas defenses. More than one Christmas song has been played. I put candles in the downstairs windows a few days ago. And last night, when I sent my little boys to their room to "work it out" after overhearing them arguing in the living room, I heard gleeful yelling and went upstairs to find they'd used the time to put up their own Christmas tree.

But there's still one thing I'm waiting for: movie tickets to a brand-new take on an old favorite: A Christmas Carol. I'm so excited to be sharing a bit about this new movie opening next Wednesday (just in time for a family trip to the movies Thanksgiving afternoon!) The Man Who Invented Christmas.

Film Synopsis:

The Man Who Invented Christmas tells the magical journey that led to the creation of Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim and other classic characters from A Christmas Carol. Directed by Bharat Nalluri (Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day), the film shows how Charles Dickens mixed real life inspirations with his vivid imagination to conjure up unforgettable characters and a timeless tale, forever changing the holiday season into the celebration we know today.

But it gets better. Scrooge is played by ... wait for it ... Christopher Plummer, our favorite handsome-yet-cranky father from The Sound of Music!

And ... breathe ... Dickens is none other than Dan Stevens, also known as Matthew from Downton Abbey/Beast from (what else?) Beauty and the Beast.

My countdown calendar app may or may not be labelled "The Man Who Invented Christmas" rather than "Thanksgiving."


THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS releases in theaters on November 22.

I hope you'll join me at the theatre next week for this amazing film!  And now for a bit of Christmas magic ...


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The makers of this movie have been so kind as to offer me a package of three favorite movies which I am to pass along to one of you! The Sound of Music, Beauty and the Beast, and A Christmas Carol. Hurrah!

To enter, please share this post, and leave me a comment about your favorite Christmas movie. <3

Bloom Where You're Planted: Reflections on Moving, Burial, Acts of God, and Pithy Statements

Bloom Where You’re Planted


I wrote this piece last November, and decided perhaps it was time for it to see the light. <3

It’s mid-November, and the bulbs haven’t been planted yet.

Shaking my head at the calendar on the wall and reassuring myself with one last google query that it’s technically not too late, the search for a shovel commences. I have no idea where anything is, anymore, and make a trail looping around the backyard, through the gate, back out to the front of the house, looking behind the strange bush no one knows the name of and finally winding up in a dark corner of the garage where the rusty tool leans, looking almost as abandoned and exhausted as I feel.  Adding it to the bags of bulbs I’m already carrying in one hand, I put the rake under the other arm and grab a bag of compost in the second, trundling out to the front yard with my load. The “flower bed” is fairly good-sized, but we’ve only been here a few months and it currently boasts just a few lonely sprigs of monkey grass and a ton of tired, greyed mulch. I shake my head, grit my teeth, press the blade into some approximation of design with my foot, and, finding the ground hardened by lack of rain, jump onto the head of the shovel, forcing it deep into solid ground.

"Bloom where you're planted." Someone said it to me a few weeks ago and it’s been turning itself round in my head, ever since. I’ve decided I hate that phrase. In the afternoons I sit with my nine-year-old’s English class and learn why; it's an imperative sentence, a command; the "you" invisible but implied. Which is pretty much how it feels when I hear it, some sort of flippant injunction, tossed out as a simple solution when one person thinks someone else is asking too much of life by wanting it to be different than it is.

“Bloom where you're planted.” Easy for them to say, whoever they are.  I wrinkle my nose and shake my head at the thought, turning over surprisingly dark dirt and jump on the shovel again, forcing it deeper. What does that phrase even mean? Blooming means flowering. Which has to be preceded by growing. Which has to be preceded by rooting. Which, as the stupid sentence already says, implies having been planted. The now-familiar pain comes back, and I realize this is why this command is frustrating me so. Lucky bulbs. Here I am, out in the cold, making a bed for them (we call them garden beds, don’t we?) So I make the bed, choosing just the right spot, carving out a particular place, adding nutrients to the soil, gently setting these bulbs in position with forethought and design and plans to water them in.



Me? I’ve just landed here, in this new place, this new house, this new community and culture, by chance; no forethought or planning or careful tucking in sight.

These bulbs, they’ll grow (if I’m not too late getting them in, anyway). They have no choice; they’re bulbs, after all, and rooting and growing and blooming is what they do.

Will I do the same?

There’s a Bible story niggling at the back of my mind, and it comes with a picture, a man with a bag of seeds slung over his shoulder, his hand full and scattering, seeds falling to the ground in a shower, landing a little bit of everywhere…

And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying, “Behold, the sower went out to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. And others fell on the good soil and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear” Matthew 3:3-9 (NASB).

Maybe I really have been tossed, after all.

And now what?

I’ve planted bulbs before, and I know what’s coming. Tears come now as I remember the others I’ve left behind, the bulbs planted in the Colorado dark another cold nearly-winter night years ago, when the snow warning came and the bags of bulbs under the sink called to me and I knew it was that night or not ‘til the next fall. Six months went by before I knew if I’d missed the window, but finally April brought rows of green blades poking through snow, followed by yellow and purple and pink saucy heads which danced on every spring breeze. I flip the shovel over and pull the displaced dirt back over each hole, patting it down, making my own declaration of belief, defiant of the evidence around me that everything is decaying.



The trees here in the south are still gold and crimson and burgundy, fancy ladies hesitant to take off their finery though the wind is insistent. Is it any wonder that these leaves are so beautiful only because the trees have stopped their work for the season, the chlorophyll fading to reveal all this glory? Are we more like them than we think, with true colors only showing when we rest?

The bulbs have no choice but to rest now.  After the burying and chilling each will break open all on its own, unseen. Each was created to break on its own; all the splitting hardwired into its being. And after they break, they will begin to grow-- but first down. Before any bloom is possible, there must be breaking. Then the growing down-- the rooting. Then the growing up of the stem. And then, only then, the bloom.

decide blooming is the last thing I should be thinking about doing, me, new to this place I wonder if I’ll ever know as home. I’ve been flung here, tossed, and I’m still a bit stunned.  The phrase needs a makeover.

Maybe we should say, “Grow where you’re tossed.”

Perhaps just “Root where you’re flung” would be an improvement.

I think about seeds and bulbs, how they’re not sitting in the ground concentrating and trying really hard to bloom, striving and working and putting effort into growth—they’re just doing what bulbs do.  Jesus said, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me” (John 15:4). Perhaps if we acknowledge that sometimes we feel tossed, we should say, “Abide where you land.”

Maybe we need to dial it back even more, and it would be grace upon grace to admonish one another (and ourselves!) this way …

“Be where you are.”


Maybe when it’s cold and dry and everything looks dead and I’d never planned to be here—when I find the world strange and myself strange in it—maybe that’s really all I need to do, too.

The water is cold and it’s the bulbs final humiliation. I’ve thrust them deep into a hole, covered them with dirt, and now they’re chilled and wet.


New Heart Day: Incision


That was the word I choked on as I tried to repeat the anesthesiologist's telephone report to my husband. It's a ridiculous word, one we don't usually use, one you're certainly not supposed to hear applied to your child. He'd called and asked me to repeat Josiah's birthdate to confirm my identity, and then calmly said, "The first incision was made at 10:01. Your next update is scheduled for 11:30." As if that were a normal thing to say, and the earth hadn't just stopped under my feet; as if I could breathe in a hospital cafeteria while my baby was cut open down the hall.

We'd all done well that morning; a 5:20 alarm urging us out of bed, packing bags, brushing teeth, letting the dog out.

It was the first day in a week that we'd had rain, and I nodded at the sympathetic sky.

In effort to avoid falling apart in a waiting room filled with curious eyes, we'd gathered to talk and pray and cry a bit in our own quiet living room before making the drive to Vanderbilt and starting the routine: Leave the car with the valet. Sign in. Repeat the birthdate a zillion times. Put on bracelets with his name on them. Wait to be called in, handed a hospital gown (he calls his dad from the bathroom to say, "how *does* this thing go on, anyway?"), then get in a bed and wait some more.

The staff was amazing. They asked Josiah about his plans for the fall and he said, "Africa. I'm going to Africa on a mission trip." We kept things light, and were all laughing as they rolled him away toward surgery at 8:30, already loopy on medication just starting to kick in.

My plan to get the crying part over at home had worked well, I thought.

Until that 10:02 call.

Remember what Simeon said to Mary, when she came to present the infant Jesus at the temple?

"And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed—and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed." Luke 2:34-35

It is a great and grave thing to be a mother. I'd wondered if it might be like this; if I might feel the blade from the waiting room. I'd been taught these words of Simeon were a foreshadowing of the future; a warning to Mary of the pain she would go through at watching the crucifixion of Jesus. Now I believe it was more.

Now, especially, I think Mary, watching, felt in her soul the sword that pierced Christ's side as only a mother could.

It felt like a weight, an elephant, a pain in my chest unable to be resisted, forcing tears to the surface.

For the rest of the day, the calls came every hour and a half.

11:30 "Everything's going well. We're going on bypass now."

Ah yes. Now his heart has stopped beating; now blood is being pumped out of his body and chilled and sent back through the system but skipping the heart so that this amazing work can be done through a six inch incision.

I finger their names around my neck.

We try to eat lunch with minimal success, move from one room to another, waiting.

1:00 "We're getting to the nitty-gritty of the surgery now; the homograft is thawing and the doctor is preparing to sew it in."

His broken aortic valve is removed and set aside for research; his pulmonary valve is removed and then sewn in place of the aortic valve, and now, whose loss has been miraculously changed into gain on our behalf?

2:30 "Things are good, but when we went off bypass, we saw a slight leak so we had to go back onto bypass to repair it."

This should have been the call that the process was over. Instead we learn they've done this crazy thing of stopping and restarting his heart, not once, but twice, and it wasn't perfect, yet. I frown til the next call comes.

4:00 "Things look good. We're closing up now, and the doctor will come out and talk to you when he's done."

I breathe more deeply than I have in the past eight hours. The exhausted doctor meets us in the waiting room to report a job well finished; the leaks repaired, valves in place and an expected full recovery. He puts his hand out, and I hug him instead.

There is more waiting ahead; it's three hours before he's finally settled in his room in intensive care. I tell Rob I'm nervous, he says he's only excited, then proceeds to almost faint when we walk in the room and are confronted with tubes and wires and an IV pole that looks like it could power all of Nashville. There's something here for every function of his body, it seems, while it learns to live again.

Three hours later, twelve after the call that turned me into a poor copy of the sky, my baby returned to the world, opened his eyes.

They were watery, blinking, having a difficult time focusing under all the bright lights--just as they'd been as I watched them open seventeen years before. This time, they were beautifully deep brown rather than murky baby blue. It was like he'd come back to life, come back to us, and when I put my hand on his he moved his thumb over mine and squeezed. It was 10:02 pm, Wednesday, May 24th, 2017, and one of the best moments of my life.

The incision was closed.

This One with the Broken Heart

He first broke apart right under my heart, this one with the broken heart.

And there was nothing I could do about it.

We mamas, we are made to shelter. Our babes make their first homes in us before we are even aware, the date on the calendar known only to the One who wrote it in His own before the earth's first turn. Once they are not, and then the next moment they are, an invisible dot full of concentrated, particular potential. And then the dot expands, and each child grows, pushing organs aside and enlarging our ribs and causing our own hearts to expand in return, the blood pounding heavier in our very veins.

But first the breaking.

As a mama, I'm wired to surround and protect. We spend lifetimes building foundations of love, shaping and crafting outer walls of security, layering on roofs of understanding. We want our children shielded from all that could harm, and we're determined to build that shelter out of our very selves.

Yet each person begins as this split right down the middle. All human life, then, is built of breaking. One combination, and then hundreds, thousands of splittings--millions and billions over time. Every scraped knee accelerates the process, every new thing learned, and it doesn't stop until we die. We grow, not because our cells enlarge, but because they break.

He was born in our little house on a cloudy Monday morning after hours of erratic, irregular labor. We'd called the midwife to our home and then sent her away once already the day before, sent the kids away to a friend's and brought them back home again as hours ticked by with no baby. Finally, there was no question the day had come, but after many hours of labor, he still hadn't. It took all my strength and a word from his daddy to finally free him from a tangled cord wrapped around his neck and chest, ten pounds and two ounces wedging shoulders in tight. I'm not sure who cried hardest when it was all over, but a few hours later we all realized it wasn't.

We'd wrapped him in a blanket, wondered at his size, his deep blue eyes. Passed him brother to brother and back to mama. He'd nursed and slept, and everything looked good ... except the thermometer. He wasn't holding his temperature, no matter how we wrapped and snuggled him. And when he cried, his color looked off to me. Finally, we headed to the hospital knowing something was wrong and we had no idea what.  I didn't cry then until my best friend from high school called as we got into a hospital elevator and asked if I was okay.

I wasn't.

They weren't quite sure what to do with us since he hadn't been born in the hospital, and when it was obvious to everyone I wasn't letting this baby out of my arms they finally tucked us into a children's room where I could climb into the bed, though he was the patient. Doctors flurried in and out looking at this and that, running this test and the next. Tests finally showed what was going on; the hole between the chambers of his heart had not yet closed. It happened occasionally, and they expected it would close on its own in the next day or two.

But there was something else on the ultrasound that we would have missed otherwise and maybe never known: he had a bicuspid aortic valve. Normally three leaflets, his was made up of two. It appeared to be functioning well, but the cardiologist explained that one day, it wouldn't. He couldn't tell us whether we'd be back in two weeks or fifty years, but at some point, that valve would give out. We'd need to monitor it weekly and then monthly for awhile so we'd know when the deterioration began and replace it before that giving out happened.

Two weeks after he was diagnosed, the valve currently in use as a replacement in newborns was recalled. Apparently, it had a tendency to stick shut. My own heart stumbled over the words. Because what do you do when the thing you've used to fix your baby's heart sticks right shut?

The hole closed on its own within the first 24 hours, we brought our perfect baby with the hidden broken home, and God and I began wrestling. What on earth was this about? Why was this happening? And what on earth was I supposed to do about it? Because if there was something to be done, I was going to do it. I was on a hunt for answers, and I wanted them now.

Most of the wrestling matches took place late at night and early in the mornings, coffee on the table and open Bible and often Josiah himself on my lap. The first clue came from a passage in Exodus chapter four. After being called to speak to go back to Egypt and plead with Pharaoh for the release of his people, Moses argues with the Lord about that calling ...

“Please, Lord, I’m not eloquent. I never was in the past nor am I now since you spoke to your servant. In fact, I talk too slowly and I have a speech impediment.” Then God asked him, “Who gives a person a mouth? Who makes him unable to speak, or deaf, or able to see, or blind, or lame? Is it not I, the Lord?"

I unraveled a little. Because I'd been looking for someone to blame.

What had happened? Was it the devil who had gotten in somehow and caused this problem? He'd certainly be the convenient one to pin the problem on.

But here in Exodus, God upset that idea. Right here He took ownership of the situation, reminding me that He was the One who had made Josiah. Which could mean only one thing ... this broken heart in my precious baby? He'd made it that way. 

Deep breath.

So Jesus said to the twelve, "You do not want to go away also, do you?"
Simon Peter answered Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life"  John 6:67-68

There was nowhere else to go, so we'd have to get through this together.

Somehow brought to my attention next came the story in John 9, where Jesus heals a man who was blind.

"His disciples asked Him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?'" Looks like I'm not the only one looking for a place to lay blame. Jesus replies... "It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him" (John 9:2-3).

All right; so God also would get glory somehow from this situation. That was a bit easier to get my head and heart around; light at the end of this tunnel. Every week we brought him in and the doctors stuck the monitors onto his little chest, passed the monitor over a baby ribcage throwing pictures onto the screen, and told us what we could see without them--Josiah was doing fine; this broken valve looking strange but functioning perfectly.

Finally, I went back and read the scriptures which had given our Josiah his name; the ones about Josiah the long-ago king of Israel. Their words described him like this: King Josiah “walked before the Lord with his whole heart.” That's what we wanted: I told the Lord that obviously, Josiah would have to HAVE a whole heart in order to walk before God with it, so that was what we would believe for.

And so we have. Eventually the visits were stretched to every two weeks, then once a month, and for many years we only made an annual trek to the hospital. His heart continued to work well without surgery, without medication, without any of the expected interventions.

Until about two years ago, when things began to change.

Fifteen years had gone by since we were first told a breakdown of the valve was inevitable, and one day he began to have some chest pain. Over the next few weeks and months, occasionally his heart would pound hard, and exercising could make him a bit light headed. We found his blood pressure had started to go up. Doctors frowned at the screens during his checkups, noting some leakage of the valve, a bit of bulging of the aorta itself. "Aortic insufficiency," they called it, and called for an MRI. Six months later, numbers showed progression of both issues, plus an enlarging left ventricle. Our recent move brings us to Tennessee, to Vanderbilt and a new doctor, and someday has finally become an actual date on the calendar.

We're not really ready. I wonder if it's possible to be prepared for such an unnatural thing?

How's a mama desperate to shelter supposed to wrap her mind around knowing her child is literally being built of a zillion tiny breakings she can't even see?

My baby towers over me now, and confides that he's anxious mostly to have it over with, and I can relate to that. To have had this hanging over his head for many years has been a weight I understand only from a distance.

And so the unimaginable imagined is about to happen. We'll report for pre-op on Tuesday morning, May 23rd, and I suppose they'll tell us then all the details we've heard from far away and tried not to pay too much attention to. We're still watching for a creative miracle as I know God is capable of showing off. However, if that's not the story God's writing here, surgery is expected to be an all-day affair May 24th, with two or three days in ICU and a few more on the cardiac floor to follow, probably a week total, before they send us home for several weeks of quiet recovery.

I still wonder if I'll feel the blade from the waiting room.

"It's not that your heart isn't going to break; it's how you let the brokenness be made into abundance afterward." ~Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way

And so, we wait a couple weeks to be broken and remade. The calendar is thankfully full of events competing for our attention; we've had graduation and there's a dance recital for his sister this weekend, and then we'll all escape to Florida to dip toes in the sand and splash in the ocean, squeezing in a week of vacation and one last bit of hyper fun at the cusp of summer so we don't lose all of the season to recovery. 

If you think of us, we would certainly appreciate your prayers. And if you see me, you might remind this mama to breathe. And to keep watching for the glory I know must be coming.

"God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?" Numbers 23:19

Pray that our Josiah comes out of this experience with a truly whole heart. And that my own would expand in the breaking.


What's in Your Hand this Easter week?

The Story is loud this week.

You can't really escape it, and no one bothers denying that Jesus Christ of Nazareth was crucified one Passover some 2,000 years ago.

The only thing in question is, will you wave a palm frond or a hammer?

If you turn your nose up at Him; turn away to yourself, your intellect, your addiction, whatever "god" you've made for yourself-- be assured, we all worship something-- the hammer's in your hand. The problem is, you may have killed Him but you leave yourself still in need of saving, because nothing and no one else can ever do the trick. The responsibility and guilt for all your flaws and failings remains on your shoulders.

It's no wonder so many of us are tired.

This Easter season, would you consider again the story of Jesus? Would you ponder the stories you heard as a child, the stories that have compelled millions to find shelter in His sacrifice, the normal people turned saints through no good works of their own, who have been freed from the unbearable weight of sin and guilt and the desperate loneliness of thinking themselves some individual cosmic mistake?

Would you look deep into the life of this Christ who weeps, and find yourself there; Him longing to bring you home?

Beauty from Ugliness

At the end of last year, this meme was going around. 

Last year seemed to be more than a little rough for most people I talked to.  There were lots of people with cancer diagnoses and other sicknesses, some marriages and other relationships crumbled, celebrities (and loved ones) died, and let’s not even mention the political season.

As we entered 2017, so many people around me breathed a sigh of relief to be starting fresh in a new year. Sadly, depending on who you ask, 2017 hasn’t shown much improvement so far. This New Year was born screaming -  and appears to be colicky. What if this year is no better than the last? What if it’s worse? How much of this can I take?

Tired of my griping, I sat with a friend of mine and nearly wailed, “I don’t want to be so negative!  How can I be joyful when there’s so much ugliness and grief?” And my friend very gently said, “You have to go search for it!” And, she’s so right!

We used to say we live in a fallen world with only a slight shrug. Now, it seems, we say it with the same resignation as a cancer diagnosis. Ever since the first sin, this world is bent towards pain, ugliness, and destruction. Maybe we’re just becoming more aware of that ugliness. But as those who belong to God, our focus doesn’t need to be so downcast. We look towards Christ who conquered the world; and not just the ancient world, but every desperate hopeless point in history from then through now and on to when He comes again. We need to keep our focus on Him and not on the world. How can we do that when things seem so bleak? This is what Paul said that we should do: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Phil. 4:8)

Let’s think about times when God turned ugly situations into something beautiful. When the sin on earth became so bad that God decided to send a flood to wipe out the majority of mankind, it was a beautiful rainbow that He chose to show Noah and his family to remind them of His promise. When mothers go through the pain of bringing life into this world, they have the sweetness of a baby at the end of their very literal labors. We’re constantly told that things will be hard for us here, but at the end there will be rest. (And to this mama, rest is a beautiful, beautiful thing.)

Since we will go through trials and troubles, is it okay to be upset? I think so.  Jesus Himself got distressed, but He remained focused on the Father. But the Bible says to “take every thought captive to be obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5) This isn’t a command for God, but for US. God desires that we not be burdened by things here on earth, and focusing on the negative, ugliness of this world takes away from the salvation that God has already given us.

So, give yourself time – A few minutes?  A few days? A year? --every situation is different--to feel the pain of a situation.  But be sure to turn these thoughts back to God, who is always ready to turn our mourning into dancing. (Psalm 30:11) There may be pain in the night, but joy comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:5)  But joy doesn’t come while we cross our arms at it and scowl, daring it to be as bad as the night before. 

Regardless of the circumstances, we are called to see and to be the beauty in them. Either the beauty of gratitude, the beauty of being a blessing, or the beauty that God will bring out of the situation.

How might reminding yourself that beauty is coming change your own bad days?


She cried when she told the story, and we listeners, we cried, too. She'd had a discussion with her sweet preteen son, who struggled with learning differences, and what he'd said cracked hearts wide open around the room ...

"Mama, it's hard when I'm with other kids.  I never say the right thing, and I'm not sure anyone likes me. I'm so glad you listen to me and know me.  Really, you're my best friend."

Could there be a greater compliment?

They're a mystery sometimes, these bundles of joy who so quickly wriggle out of their wraps and take off running into the sunset.  Each child is a complex combination of talents, personality, learning strengths and weaknesses, interests, preferences ... the list goes on and on. Each is singular, unique, different.

Some seem more different than others.

Those of us raising children who struggle with particular brands of outside-the-box-ness so often feel alone. We know mental illnesses exist, and yet they still tend to carry a bit of a stigma, as if a diagnosis implies we've done something wrong, somehow.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Sally Clarkson writes, "I did not have all the resources available now to understand his (Nathan's) differences. I mostly had a lot of critics who made me feel like a failure as a mom."

Sally and Nathan Clarkson know this fight from the inside--the fight to not only define but embrace differences; to find the help necessary to tame the harsh edges that so often cut on both sides, to encourage rather than give up in frustration as a parent trying to train a child in the way he should go.  This book is a window into their own struggle, and also an invitation to enter into our own more fully.

After years of studying Nathan, listening to him, finding ways to reach his precious heart, they finally had their list of letters--OCD, ADHD, ODD, plus a handful of learning issues and of course his own personality!  But every person is, of course, much more than a list of letters. Sally writes,

"Our boy was not a diagnosis.  Not a problem to be solved nor a disorder to be fixed. He was a child to be guided and trained and gloried in. And Nathan's differences--yes, even the ones which sometimes exasperated him and us--were, like Nathan himself, also part of the gift he is to the world and to us." 

If you're the parent of an outside-the-box child, the wife of an outside-the-box husband, a friend to another mama who's parenting an outside-the-box son or daughter--or even if the outside-the-box one is the face looking back at you from the mirror--I believe this book will bring insight, encouragement, and inspiration. Find it at .

Choosing to See

I will NEVER, as long as I draw breath, forget the feeling that hit me like a two-ton elephant sitting on my chest and sucking every bit of air from my lungs the day the sonographer looked at my eyes and solemnly confirmed my already anxious suspicions; “There is no heartbeat, sweet heart.”  Hopes, dreams and expectations were incinerated in one second and I felt a breaking in my soul.  The storm was upon me, and all the spiritual muscle and faith I thought I had was put to an ultimate test that I began to lose rather quickly. 

After five years of infertility, I had given up the hope of having another baby, and I threw myself into homeschooling and raising and loving well the three awesome kiddos I was already blessed with.  I never could quite shake the feeling that our family was incomplete, but I tried to give it to the Lord and set about my days with purpose and joy.  After a successful year of adhering to a healthy eating plan and losing a little bit of weight, however, I was pleasantly surprised and overjoyed to discover I was expecting!  Joy quickly gave way to insecurity, and I was plagued with unexplainable fear, worry, and anxiety my entire first trimester.  I had never fought this before, and there was no reason or explanation for why I would be feeling these anxieties this pregnancy.  I tried so hard to pray and cast all my cares upon the Lord, but the fear kept coming back with a vengeance.  And then, at 14 weeks, those anxieties turned into a reality there was no escape from.

I was sent home that awful Monday afternoon this past September with some decisions to make.  I was numb as we went through the motions of telling our children and family.  I was numb to everyone else's tears and hugs and "I’m sorry"s, enveloped in a blanket of sadness and depression that very quickly began to envelop and smother me.  It was almost a particular color; a color that filled my eyesight so that everything I saw filtered through it.  Instead of running to the Lord, my refuge, the One I’d professed I’d follow and worship no matter what so many years ago as a twelve-year-old girl, I pulled the blanket of my despair closer and tighter around myself.  

My husband, Chris and I decided finally to have a D&C, which the doctors scheduled for Wednesday morning.  On Tuesday I had to return for a final ultrasound, wanting to hold out hope that they had made a mistake somehow.  After getting back home that afternoon, I began having slight cramping.  In my exhaustion it didn't even occur to me that I could be going into labor, but within forty-five minutes of that initial tummy cramping, I found myself in the bathroom delivering my precious baby boy into my hands.  What followed was many hours of a traumatic miscarriage at the emergency room that left me quite literally empty, emotionally and physically.  Due to the amount of blood I had lost, I was required to stay in the hospital overnight.  At about 3 in the morning when my husband and I had finally been given a tiny, sterile, white little room to sleep in, I found myself wide awake, staring at the ceiling in the darkness.  My husband was beside me, trying to doze in a very uncomfortable plastic recliner.  I remember lying there, re-playing the events of the past hours. I tried to remember every detail of holding my tiny little baby in my hand.  He had appeared perfect in every way, and of course he had fit in the palm of my hand.  As fresh tears began go fall, I grabbed my now hollow-feeling tummy and wept.

"Where were you, God?"

This question screamed at me in deafening tones.

I am now fully convinced that God, in His grace, allowed me to deliver my sweet boy the way I did, rather than having the procedure we'd planned. For as I lay there in the dark, quiet, aloneness at the absolute end of myself, I was able to see through the fog and haze and realize a truth that ultimately set me free.  I woke my husband up, grabbing onto his hands as though for dear life, and through tears I admitted to him that I didn't want to be mad at God.  I wanted to trust Him!  It was a simple statement, but one that held such release for me that just saying the words made everything change inside my heart the moment I spoke them.  I had no flowery, perfect prayer in me.  I wasn't able to even process all the correct verses or hymns or prayers that could or should be said when one is surrendering everything to the Lord.  All I could sob out was this one, simple statement of truth: I want to trust You, God.

The anger and despair that had filled me was instantly lifted, and God showed up in that little hospital room and became strength for me.  All my anger and despair turned into genuine, healing mourning.  I began to feel His presence, and I began to feel held. I began to SEE Him. And a new level of intimacy and trust was reached. 

Have you had any of those ‘Where were you, God’ moments? 

Are you having them now?

Do the questions fall and soak tear-stained pillowcases night after night?  Do the words fall angrily off the tip of your tongue like they did off Mary and Martha’s,  “Lord, if you’d been here…”

"Where were you, God?"

His grace, if we allow it to, floods in and becomes every answer to every question we’ve every asked!  He has, and never will, leave our side.  His answer to our desperate "Where were you?"  is that He has filled us and surrounded us and enveloped us every second of every day since before the foundation of the world was laid out.  We must choose to see.

In Matthew 14, Jesus sent His disciples out into the boat and across the sea ahead of Him.  He gave them their orders.  He told them exactly where to go.  They were acting in obedience and walking in His will for their lives.  Yet, the winds still came against them.  The storm began to surge all around them.  On their way to a new shore, a new season, new opportunities and ministry and fresh ground to harvest, their vision became shattered and a storm became bigger than their mission and purpose.  The bible says as Jesus comes to them walking on the water, the disciples were terrified and thought He was a ghost!  They could not recognize their Savior, their Lord, the Master they'd walked with day after day!

And this blinding is what storms are so competent at doing.  The wind and sea-spray clouds our eyesight and blurs our vision, causing us to choke and sputter so our cries and praises become silenced.  We lose sight of the fact that the One in command of those very winds and waves is the One who walks on water to rescue us, time and time again.  The One who always comforts us and shows us greater wonders and miracles and signs than we'd ever see if life were always steady and calm and peaceful.  The disciples couldn’t recognize the miracle they were witnessing – Jesus walking on water towards them.

We must remember that in this life, we WILL have trouble.   We WILL face storms.  But the one who walks on water says He is greater than this world and that He NEVER leaves us or forsakes us.  When we long to never have a storm, we forget we're asking to miss the opportunity to see Him walking on water--or to walk on water with Him.

A dear friend recently told me something that sent my mind reeling:  she reminded me that when we worship in the midst of sorrow, tragedy, trial and difficulty, that is true worship and a type we will not be able to give to the Lord when we leave this life and go to eternity in heaven. How profound! I have the opportunity, but only while living here in this fallen world, to lift my hands to Heaven and cry out to the Lover of my soul when all hell is coming against me. I have the privilege to lift my dirty, tattered, weary, tear-stained soul to the Creator of the Universe who placed every single star in the heavens and offer up praise to Him when my heart is broken and my world is falling apart. To open my eyes and see Him walking on stormy seas towards me, breathing God-life into the broken, dead, shattered spaces that are being wrecked and ravaged by the wind and waves of my storms!

Where was He?

Where was He when you lost that job?  That opportunity?  That dream?  Your reputation?

Where was He when your heart broke from losing that dear loved one?

Where was He when the doctor delivered that life-changing news?

Where was He when the adoption fell through and the infertility doctor said there was nothing else they could do for you?

Where was He when your marriage fell apart?  When that wayward child began traveling paths not intended for them and breaking your heart?  When home became reduced to a broken mess of brick and timber?

The answer:  He was and is, ALWAYS and forever, right there with you.  He sees you!  We have to choose to see Him.

The moment I stopped asking God where He was, and instead asked Him to let me see Him where I knew He was--right next to me, right in the midst of losing my baby boy--a peace that passed all understanding invaded my heart and mind. Suddenly, I began to see Him everywhere.  There was still grief and longing and many tears, but pervading all of that there also a sense of lightness that I cannot explain!  I wasn’t enveloped in the suffocating darkness anymore; I was aware of being carried gently in His everlasting arms. 

I chose trust.  I chose worship.  I chose to see Jesus walking on the water in my storm. And He did.

I am praying you, too, will see some water-walking miracles this Christmas season, and that all your own "Where were you, God?" questions are answered with the fullness and assurance of His faithful and life giving presence.



To All the Mamas Carrying Christmas ...

I was probably a few years into being a mom when I first realized it: the change that had come to my Christmas.

I’ve always loved Christmas.  Loved the lights on the tree, the beautiful songs, candlelight, gifts, snow and cookies and surprises and glitter and just … the whole shebang.  Nearly every year, we made the trek over the river and through the woods (well, I think there might have been a river, anyway) to both of my grandmothers’ houses, heading to Christmas Eve services where every year I cried my way through at least the last three verses of Silent Night as the flame and scent of drippy wax being passed from candle to candle slowly made its way down each pew, finally to the one clutched tightly in my own little hands, and I wondered at both the glory of holding my own burning flame and the sheer beauty of the story of Jesus’ coming, each sinking deep into my childish heart.  We’d trek the few blocks home then, boots crunching through snow, walking carefully to make the flame last as long as we could, not willing to let the flame go away.

The next day at my other grandparents’ house, snowy footprints across the carpet announced Santa’s surreptitious visit, and presents piled under the tree were gleefully unwrapped much too quickly, I’m sure.  It took at least the whole day to work our way through playtime with each gift, and then we’d sit down to a table glittering with china and snowy napkins and piles of food.

All in all, it was a wonder; just how Christmas should be, to my childish mind.

Then came my own children, stockings lining up every year like we lived in Who-ville or something.  And Christmas?  Well, it was different, somehow.

Christmas used to be something that happened to me.

Now, it was something I needed to make happen … or happen, it would not.

The beautiful lady on the donkey, heavy with Child? Probably should have been a tip-off.

The pretty tree?  Yummy food?  Candles burning bright?  Hand crafted decorations?  They didn’t just appear out of nowhere, some Christmas miracle.  No, if Christmas was to come, it would come because I worked to make it come.

For the wonder and beauty to come to our homes, a mama must carry the weight of Christmas.

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.”

Luke 1:26-38

My husband doesn’t spend November-December in a dither over how to get gifts to the cousins in Texas.  He doesn’t labor over whether we should decorate in red or gold, or try to figure out which stationery to use for the Christmas cards, and most likely, your husband doesn’t, either.  No, those are things we, the mamas, will ponder this season, an unseen army bringing Christmas again, these multiplied centuries after Mary first carried her precious Burden over the rough roads to Bethlehem.

The cinnamon rolls, the delightful tree, the Advent stories read and loved, the very memories your children carry into their own adulthood? You.

You are the bearer of your family’s Christmas, sweet mama. And you’re in good company.

So rejoice!  You’re not alone, you’re not the first, and you won’t be the last.  Embrace the gift of being the bringer of Christmas in your own precious home.

The truth is, when we embrace this season as a glorious weight, but reject it as an oppressive burden, we can lay down the heaviness of it and pick up the glory.  Your children won’t remember how perfectly decorated your tree was, and they won’t recall which stationery you finally picked out.  They will remember the wonder, the joy, the beauty of it all.  And when the weight falls heavy, remember the point–Jesus has come!  This is a celebration for you to share and enjoy, a season of remembering all He has done.  If you’ve picked up the weight of comparing your Christmas to someone else’s, if you’re worrying over your child’s long list of wants and your short list of wrapped gifts, if the cinnamon rolls came from the bakery instead of the oven … let it go!

Glory in the beauty and enjoy every moment as the gift it is.  And if I see you in the store, balancing cranky babies and a twenty-pound turkey, I’ll smile and you’ll see it in my eyes:  Carry on, fellow Christmas-bearer!

In what ways do you find the weight of Christmas heavy?  How can you lay the burden of it all down this year?

Of Words, Brokenness, Thanksgiving, and Jehovah-Jireh

I run into her as I turn tail and head for a quiet corner, me a guest so grateful to be invited to this space where I know only my hosts and they within community have many relationships to warm themselves by, anxious to be out of the way and breathe a bit, this introvert wishing for the superhero trick of invisibility once again.  Lanier Ivester is as lovely as her unique name portends, and when we find ourselves face to face in the theatre aisle which is my only path to a quiet corner she says hello, graciously inviting me into this circle which belongs to her, too, though I don't know it yet and hadn't heard of her work before (so grateful I have, now--find Lanier here).  We circle, trading bits of our stories and selves, and looking back it's easy to see what we're doing, this dance old as the hills in my imagination, taking turns revealing ourselves, trying to see if any of our pieces match: we learn we are both writers; she tends goats and chickens on a farm and I miss the ones we had years ago; we both love England, though she from actual memory and I from afar.  Somehow the conversation turns to the difficulties found in writing, or not writing, or wrestling words to the page or whatever it is we call this thing we do (or more often, don't do) and suddenly I am telling secrets, things I hadn't even said to myself though I'd pondered them many times.

I tell her how I love words but they feel scarce to me; how so many race through my mind in a day I seldom find time to catch and write them down and yet I'm sure there must be a limit to them somehow.   Deep down I'm afraid there's no way I have more than a few good stories to share, a few good ideas happened upon, a few things to say worth anyone's time to read, that there's a quota and I'll quickly reach the end of mine.  So perhaps the truth is that it's not merely a matter of all the *things* in the way of me actually writing--not just the kids and laundry and cooking begging doing--maybe I'm guarding my words jealously, hoarding ideas, afraid I'll be poorer for the pouring.  She smiles and nods. I'm not alone, its seems, and I'm grateful as I walk away thinking I've found a new soul- friend.

Our church congregation took communion this past Sunday as we do every week, and as I stood in the crowd sharing this deep remembering and looking forward to Thanksgiving, the words washed over me again ... "While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it.  “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them (Mark 14:22-24). And the place Paul looks back and instructs the church ... "the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread;  and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes." (1 Cor. 11:23-26). Do this in remembrance of Me ... whenever you eat this bread and drink the cup.  When I read these words I can't help but believe that He was commanding more than ten minutes during a formal church service. The disciples, after all, were gathered in a candlelit upper room, feet freshly washed, reclining before a table laden with food, as they had done many other nights and would do many more nights in the future.  "Whenever you eat this bread."  How often do we eat bread? To me this statement expresses Jesus' intention for us that every meal is to be a reminder.  Not just the nibble and sip at church, but every. single. time.  Every time we gather to be nourished around a table, we are to remember.

Because we are prone to forget.

Ann Voskamp's new book, The Broken Way, reminds us of what happened in that room.  Jesus gave thanks, and then He broke the bread so He could pass the pieces around. She reminds us that brokenness is an imperative step in the process--His as well as ours; that brokenness is the common thread of the human condition and if embraced and entered into wholeheartedly, a key to the healing of our world--just as Jesus intended. This passage left me undone ...

"In His last hours, in His abandonment, Jesus doesn't look for comfort or try to shield Himself against the rejection; He breaks the temptation to self-protect--and gives the vulnerability of Himself.  In the sharp edge of grief, Jesus doesn't look for something to fill the broken and alone places; He takes and gives thanks--and then does the most counter-cultural thing: He doesn't keep or hoard or hold on--but breaks and gives away. In the midst of intimate betrayal, He doesn't defend or drown Himself in addicting distractions; He breaks and is given--He gives His life. Because what else is life-giving?"

He doesn't keep or hoard or hold on--but breaks and gives away. There's a lesson in there for me.

A lesson for all of us, perhaps, this Thanksgiving, as we gather around tables nationwide, with family and friends and neighbors who are themselves broken because they are human, who have perhaps broken us for the same reason ... to have the best and truest Thanksgiving doesn't require the best hospitality, the best china, the best recipes, the best decor, but a willingness to break open and give.  Because this is how we remember best; the way we honor His broken -and -given -ness; by resisting the fear that we will run out.  By denying the enemy's lie that our time, our love, our talents, our bread are limited--because we have come to know ours may very well be but His are not, and He has given us all things, swung the doors of heaven and the storehouses wide.  Jesus has passed the broken pieces of Himself, His very body, round a table as big as the world for thousands of years and there is still more, always more, always enough.


Thanksgiving Helps--a Timeline Plus All Our Favorite Recipes!

It's nearly time for that most wonderful of holidays ... Thanksgiving! Family, fall, and feasting all rolled up into one fantastic day.  And so in the spirit of everything in one place, here's my place for all my Thanksgiving planning!  First up, our Thanksgiving planning timeline (click for a pdf!)

Ready to have the best Thanksgiving? Here we go!!!

As you perhaps can imagine, I've tried multiple methods of turkey roasting over the years. Long before we got married, my husband's mama gave me this tip: "Cooking a turkey is easy.  You put it in a pan, put it in the oven, then take it out." Well, I've found there are a few more steps involved--and if you believe some people, MANNNNNYYYYY more steps involved! But it truly is *almost* that simple, so if you're this year's appointed turkey roaster, be not afraid. Several years ago in the midst of a particularly crazy season, we decided to make Thanksgiving as simple as possible. In the quest for simple I ran across this recipe for turkey cooked -- wait for it-- in a bag.  Now, I've brined turkeys in 5 gallon buckets, I've wrapped turkeys in bacon and doused them in maple syrup and cooked them upside down and even let someone else dunk one in a vat of hot oil in my backyard (pretty tasty, but I can't recommend the cleanup.)  This one, though, was the best we'd ever had, and I've made them this way every year since.

Celebration Turkey

  • 1 16 pound whole turkey, neck and giblets removed
  • 3/4 cup butter, cubed
  • 2 apples, cored and halved
  • one or two whole sprigs of rosemary and thyme
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 (750 milliliter) bottle champagne
  • 1 turkey bag
    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
    2. Rinse turkey, and pat dry. Gently loosen turkey breast skin, and insert pieces of butter between the skin and breast. Place apples and herbs inside the turkey’s cavity. Sprinkle with garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Place turkey in a roasting bag, and pour champagne over the inside and outside of the bird. Close bag, and place turkey in a roasting pan.
    3. Bake turkey 31/2 to 4 hours in the preheated oven, or until the internal temperature is 165 degrees F (85 degrees C) when measured in the meatiest part of the thigh. Remove turkey from bag, and let stand for at least 20 minutes before carving.

Recipe originally adapted (barely!) from this one:

I’ve used this recipe with larger turkeys–up to 24 lbs since we generally have guests, and it’s always wonderful–just add a touch more of everything and double check that cooking time! Your measurements needn’t be exact. This is quite easily the simplest turkey recipe I’ve ever used. The gravy is absolutely divine.  Of course, if you need even more turkey, you could always make two!

Next up … mashed potatoes.  Ahhh, I love mashed potatoes!

I mean really, I could probably live for a very long time on just mashed potatoes. Couldn’t you? The only problem is, they take a long time to make! And don’t reheat quickly. Which means they’re a challenge for Thanksgiving, when you have lots of people to feed and too many things that need to be reheated!

Not anymore. I give you … overnight crockpot mashed potatoes!

Well, you’re gonna have to make them for yourself unless you come to Nashville, so I suppose I’m not really giving them to you … but still.

Overnight Crockpot Mashed Potatoes

16 medium potatoes

2 cps sour cream

16 oz chive and onion cream cheese

8 Tb butter

1/2 cup chives

3 tsp salt

4 minced garlic cloves

1 tsp pepper

3 tsp onion powder

1 cup thinly sliced green onion

4 slices crumbled bacon


Boil potatoes 10 minutes or until tender. Beat cream cheese and sour cream in crockpot until smooth. Beat in potatoes, adding milk as needed. Add other ingredients through onion. Dot w butter, sprinkle with paprika. Place in refrigerator. To serve, heat 3-4 hours on low. Sprinkle with bacon before serving.

Also, this makes approximately nine zillion people. So if you have a more normal amount of people, like say under twelve, you might want to cut it in half!

Next up: sweet potato casserole. Here's mine ready to go into the oven last year ...

I didn’t think I liked sweet potatoes.

And then one day, we went to Boston Market (they’ve since left our area–sniff, sniff!) and I ordered my favorite … turkey dinner. I couldn’t decide what to get as sides, and then, unexpectedly, the sweet potatoes beckoned me with their brown sugar topping. One bite, and though we’d never been friends before, oh, my gracious, I was smitten. Yummo! So since I had family who liked them, I hunted down the how-to, and it’s now a favorite Thanksgiving recipe regular! Try them. I promise; they might be the ugliest “vegetable” in the produce section, but prepare them this way and you’ll be won over, too!

Boston Market(ish) Sweet Potato Casserole

  • 4 large sweet potatoes
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Cut potatoes into chunks. Boil chunks until fork- tender, about 15-20 minutes (test with a fork). Drain and slip skin from chunks when cool. Place in large bowl, adding sugar, eggs, butter and vanilla. Whip until fluffy. Pour into greased casserole dish.

  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

Combine these ingredients until crumbly; sprinkle over top of sweet potatoes. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving dinner without cranberry sauce!

Easy-Peasy Cranberry Sauce

1 bag cranberries (12 ounces)

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup water

zest and juice from one orange

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook until berries begin to burst and sauce thickens–about 15 minutes, then chill several hours or overnight. Bam!

Serious desserts are necessary. So here’s my favorite Thanksgiving pie:


Pecan pie

This is the pecan pie recipe we’ve used for several years. Simple, and a definite favorite … perfect with a scoop of ice cream!

  • 9″ unbaked pie shell
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 C. dark corn syrup
  • 3/4 C. sugar
  • 2 Tbs. melted butter
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1 C. chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Beat eggs slightly. Stir in corn syrup, sugar, melted butter, vanilla, salt, and pecans. Pour into shell.

Bake at 400 for 15 mins. Lower heat to 350 and continue baking 35 more minutes.

Here's to a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Longing for the Shore (Or, Life on the Sea)

When she took her life, mine flew off the rails with it.

Of course, she didn't mean for that to happen. Wasn't thinking about anyone else or anything but the pain that had grown too big for her to bear, somehow; at least that's how I imagine what must have happened the day our landlady taped a note to her door and ended the existence grown too heavy to bear.  I sat with her friends and family a few weeks later, souls all stunned and broken a bit, wounded by her wounding in ways they'll never quite shake, and wondered, If she had any idea how many people felt so glad about her life and mourned the loss of it so much, would she have thrown it away?

It's a question that will, of course, go unanswered. I have to shake my head when people nod wisely, as if they understand exactly what led to such a desperate decision--or what follows it.  I know God is gracious, know the Good Shepherd doesn't lose a sheep, know He loves life and know we are trusted with guarding this Imago Dei and there's nothing the enemy would love more than to snuff out that image which must shout with every breath of his own imminent final defeat.  But that is all I presume to know in the face of such mystery.  I am grateful I'm not the one in charge, and I don't have to have answers. 

The ones left behind, we let go of balloons her favorite color and they rush away from us into the clouds.

In the wake of this tragedy, the house we loved had to be sold, nullifying what would have been our second two-year lease. So in the past two months, our family has been uprooted from the place we loved; the place I'd declared, "I could live the rest of my life in this sweet town!" the place we wrapped and carried our first grandbaby to the park to listen to concerts every Friday night; where our second son married his lovely bride in the backyard amidst roses and lights; where we had neighbors who popped over with cookies and donuts and sometimes gathered with wine and music in the grass for no reason at all; where our best friends were there for crises and joys both small and great; where the kids finally had sweet "neighborhood friends" and could barely be found for their constant playing outside; where the weather was somehow perfect and the mountains that had called to me all my life loomed majestic; where summer meant too many trips to the ice cream store just two blocks off; where winter meant twinkling lights in all the trees downtown and piles of glittering snow and horses blowing puffs of warmed smoke from their nostrils as they pulled carriages down our street.

Had to pack up and pick up and go, had to leave all we loved there; and it all started because the lie of the sea became too much for our friend. 


I don't blame her, certainly.  And I know God is orchestrating my life and is the Conductor of this symphony and everything comes filtered through His hands. Neither of those knowings, though, are making any of this any easier, this tearing away from all we knew and wanted so much to keep knowing. The day we drove away and so many people I loved and this wonderful place were left behind felt like having part of my soul torn away, roots pulled raw from the ground, dirt still clinging, broken pieces left exposed to the drying harshness of the air. 

The truth is, life is hard to hang onto, sometimes.  Wild and unpredictable, as if we are unwitting passengers on some sort of sketchy, barely-sea-worthy vessel in an unending, ever-changing ocean which can throw us about like so many rag dolls on its tumultuous waves, threatening to pull us right under its salty depths some days.  My legs, so unsteady, tell me I'm not made for the roiling deep; I'd prefer land, thank you very much, but as that isn't possible, it certainly would be nice if we could have more sunny and calm days out here. Because there are those, too; brief days, it seems, when things go our way and we look out to a horizon full of diamonds on the water, playing hide and seek with the sun, and lie down on the deck to be rocked to sleep, that sun's penetrating heat soothing our very souls right through.

Maybe that's the problem: on the stormy days, all we can feel is the sea. It presses, insisting it's the only reality, that nothing else exists.  Below us, tossing us where we don't want to go; above us, rain bearing down; all around us, soaking our clothes and our skin and our souls with its brine, making us believe the sun has abandoned us and will never reappear; that we are doomed to the waves trying to take us under.  The stormy days hide the sun behind the sea which has taken up residence in the sky, salty clouds blotting it right out 'til we wonder if we ever saw a sun before at all; was it only our imagination that we remember once feeling warm, feeling safe, feeling still and able to see something besides all this water threatening to bury all we know?

And something within us, longing for the peace of a calm, storm-free day.

We are people living on the sea, longing for the shore.

I want to go home.

We read it in Genesis, the explanation: we are a people displaced.  We were meant for the garden, meant to have feet and hands in the dirt we were birthed from, walking with the One who made us. We read that our great-great-great-parents rejected that authority,  preferred to hold the position for themselves (just as we would have--just as we do) and so we have all been launched onto the water, too often tossed and overwhelmed by the sea. 

The feeling of being stuck in a place we don't belong, it stokes our unsettledness; we are not yet at home, though we're not sure we can explain what we mean when we say that.  But somehow, there's enough knowing to unearth a longing.

C.S. Lewis said this:

"If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world."

Maybe that's why home is so hard to find.

We filled boxes with books and dishes and clothes and our calendar with last-minute must-dos ...  and cried. A lot. All that brine so full it spilled right through our pores.

One last trip to the groomers (and Starbucks next door), one last gathering with friends, one last neighborly hug, one last deep breath as I squeezed my sweet grandbaby and clung for one last moment to the kids staying behind ... and then by sheer force of will and desperation we let go and drove away, bits of our hearts surely clattering noisily to the ground in the wake of the moving truck.  I wondered that the sky didn't open right up.

The clouds rolled dark even though the sun was shining, salt rolled down, and the road swam under me, this sea tossing all I hold dear two different directions, a shattering loss we weren't ready for. 

My son says the Brazilians have a word for what we're feeling: Saudade.  It's Portuguese and means "the physical ache of missing someone." Exactly.  If I've felt it before, I've never felt it quite like this.

This breaking, this ache, this longing for the shore. 

Creamy Chicken Chili

This recipe is one that I make at least a couple of times a month, and my family is always happy when I make it!  I usually have everything in my kitchen that I need to make this. It’s also incredibly versatile, and it can even be prepared in a slow cooker! Here’s the original recipe that I got over at

Doesn't that look delicious??

Doesn't that look delicious??

2 chicken breasts (frozen is fine)

1 (15 ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 (15 1/4 ounce) can corn, undrained

1 (14 ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained

1 Hidden Valley ranch dressing mix packet

1 teaspoon cumin

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 (8 ounce) package light cream cheese, cut in chunks


Place chicken on the bottom of the cooker, then cover with the canned vegetables. Top with seasonings and ranch mix. Stir together. Cover with lid and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours.

Use 2 forks to shred chicken. Stir cream cheese into chili. Cook for an additional 30 minutes.

Makes about 5 or 6 servings.


The outcome is a deliciously creamy southwestern-style chili. Serve it over rice.  Or with tortilla chips. Or cheddar cheese.  Or cornbread.  Or just a spoon, for goodness sake.

I’ve also made this with a pound of ground turkey instead of the chicken breasts.  Ground beef would work too. 

Also, I have made this into a warm dip by using ground turkey and substituting the cream cheese with the same amount of Velveeta.

If you do make it into a dip, drain the corn before adding.  Conversely, if you like a thinner soup instead of a thicker chili, add an extra can of water when adding the vegetables.

Don’t have black beans?  I’ve used kidney beans as well as great northern beans as substitutions.

Want to spice it up a bit?  Add a can of Ro*tel instead of the tomatoes.

Want to spice it up a lot? Add some chopped jalapeños.

Do you have a family as large as mine? (About 3 adults and 5 kids on a regular day here in my house.)  I add an extra can each of corn, tomatoes, and beans to add another 2 servings.  I don’t add more meat, and it’s not missed. In fact, this chili is hearty enough without adding any meat at all, just in case you want it to be vegetarian. Although, you might want to add more seasonings if you’re making a double batch or more.

In fact, now that I'm thinking about it, go ahead and make a double batch.  Or a triple batch.  It freezes like a dream.

I should mention that a member of my family doesn’t care for cream cheese.  So, I take out a serving of the chili before adding it.  I can attest that this chili is still amazing without the cream cheese.

I hope that this versatile recipe blesses the bellies of your family and the heart of your home!

Homeschool Mom's Summer: Focusing on the House

Summer!  Woohoo!  It's finally here.

When we first began homeschooling, we stuck to a year-'round schedule and just took breaks whenever we felt like it.  As my children got older and had more summertime activities available through church and with other friends, we decided following more of a traditional schedule would work better for our family.  My favorite school year scheduling plan now is to spend six weeks focusing on our typical schoolwork and then take a week off, along with a long break between Thanksgiving and Christmas and then a couple of months off in the summer.

A throwback pic--many, many summers ago in Florida!

A throwback pic--many, many summers ago in Florida!

In order to make sure this whole summer season doesn't just slip by, I've found it helpful to write down a few fun activities to do every week (besides the usual hanging out, reading a zillion books, and running through the sprinkler!), as well as a few things I really want to see accomplished around the house.  I'm not as good at multitasking as I used to be, apparently, because over the course of our school year it always seems things get a tad out of control.  By the time summer rolls around, I definitely have closets needing to be sorted, kids' rooms needing attention, and appliances crying out for a good scrubbing!

And so ... this summer, along with the summer fun list, we're also taking just about an hour a day to work on the house.  We focus on one area/room each week, which gives me plenty of time to sort, scrub, reorganize, paint, or whatever needs to be done in that spot.  So far we've managed to weed the flowerbed by the driveway, clear all the extra *stuff* off our front porch, and find a good place for the kids to store toys in the backyard.  I'm hoping to buy some flowers to brighten things up out there before the week is out, and we even made a major change with a new, bright paint color for the front door. 

Ahhhhh ... blue!&nbsp; This reminds me of Caribbean water.&nbsp; It's a great improvement on the former burgundy, which felt too dark-hole-ish to me. &nbsp;I'm planning a beach-themed wreath with some starfish and shells and maybe some burlap ribbon; stay tuned.

Ahhhhh ... blue!  This reminds me of Caribbean water.  It's a great improvement on the former burgundy, which felt too dark-hole-ish to me.
 I'm planning a beach-themed wreath with some starfish and shells and maybe some burlap ribbon; stay tuned.

Next week, we'll move onto our entryway; I need to find a better way to store all the jackets and shoes that congregate just inside, as well as creating a new sitting area and touching up the wall paint behind the boot tray (does anyone else throw shoes into said tray from across the room, or is that just me?)

The girls' bedroom will be done while they're off at camp a few weeks from now, and the loft will hopefully have a new wall put up next month.  By the time schooltime rolls around once again, everything will be in good shape--or at least dramatically improved shape!-- and we'll be ready to plunge in!

How do you keep your summers from drifting away completely?

It's a Beautiful Life. That's a Statement of Defiance.

There are crimson roses in the front yard and glistening rainbows in the dishwashing bubbles.  My nine year old wanted to hold hands most of the time we spent at the zoo today.  A tower of multi-colored vegetables lends jewel tones to my counter, ruby strawberries topped gaily with green caps nestle in the fridge, and on our drive home tonight there were beams of light shooting down from the sky into the mountains that I'd swear you could climb straight to heaven.

Life is beautiful.  But that's not all it is.

The truth is, I am grateful so many pieces of life are so beautiful especially because of all the parts of it that just ... aren't.  Each one of us lives a kaleidoscope of color and light, darkness and shadow, and the crazy thing is that most moments are wildly layered concoctions of both.

The end of the school year found my family spinning, a crash unlike any I could have predicted or expected, leaving me desperate for answers and absolutely unsure we'd ever find any.  Weeks later I'm no closer to pulling in all the loose pieces, and to be truly honest (is that a thing we can be, here?) there have been many days I'd have liked to stay in bed (and a few afternoons I did spend an hour or two of retreat with a pillow and puffy comforter.) 

And here's what I know ... I'm not alone.  It's a big world and it's all broken, which means others of you must be hurting, too.  Faithful friends have listened and prayed for me, held my arms up, pointed out the beautiful pieces in the piles of shards.  Might I step into that place for you, today, friend?

The writer of Ecclesiastes was said to be the wisest man who ever lived.  After years of study and exploring many philosophies and ways of life, he said this:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
    says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.”~ Ecc. 1:2 (NIV)

Well, then.  That's helpful ... not!  I'm so glad these words are in my Bible!  The BIBLE, y'all.  When you're down or things feel dark, when you feel like you want to hide in a pile of pillows or all the towels you've thrown in, you can know this: you're not the first one to feel that way.  Solomon said it long before you cried out from your own tile floor, from behind the bathroom door, from the open window as you sped down a flat stretch of highway.

What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless. ~ Ecc. 2:22-23

I don't know about you, but when the piles pile too high and start toppling over, I'm so tempted to believe that it's all been meaningless.  The enemy slithers, whispers, shouts, "Your work has meant nothing.  These situations are awful and will never change.  This is hopeless and you have wasted your life."

He's a liar.

I'm grateful to live on the other side of the cross from Solomon. 

Grateful to be one of the Sunday morning people, the ones who know darkness is part of the rhythm of life and seeds only grow after they've been shoved down, down, down, into dark dirt that has been cut open and tilled apart, the seed unable to breathe and then covered til there's nothing but seemingly endless dark between seed and sun.

We want life to be at least somewhat fair, don't we? Want things to add up, to make sense.  We want all our effort to produce something and we want that production to happen NOW.  When it doesn't work quite that way, we wobble.  Solomon wrote the truth about the way things often occur instead ...

The race is not to the swift
    or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
    or wealth to the brilliant
    or favor to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all.~ Ecc. 9:11

Time and chance.

And yet ...

There's an applesauce cake cooling on the counter, ready for tomorrow's first-week-of-summer breakfast.  The sun will rise and new blossoms will open.  Bubbles will glisten in the dishwater before the dirtied water runs down, down the pipes.

And we will begin again.

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

     a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
     a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
     a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
     a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
     a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
     a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
     a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace. ~Ecc. 3:1-8

It's a beautiful life, even though it doesn't always look that way.

Let's make a deal, shall we?  You point out the mountain climbing light-ladders to me, and I'll point the breaking-through leaflets busting through dirt out to you.  Let's look the ugliness in the face and declare "It's a beautiful life."  It's a statement of defiance.  Let's point to a ram caught in a thicket and an empty tomb and a Prince riding on a white horse to bring us home and let's declare that in the end, He will make all things new--

He has made everything beautiful in its time. ~ Ecc. 3:11

If it's not beautiful, it's not over.  Hold on--dawn is coming.

~ Praying for you and watching for the sunrise,


Mothering and the Broken ...

Being a mom hurts sometimes.

Lets face it ... it hurts a lot of times.

I used to think that if I did it right, it wouldn't.  If I came up with the right philosophy and managed my children correctly and followed the rules and did all the right things, somehow they'd never hurt and neither would I.


We can forget this is the broken place.  We can look at lists and read books and listen to lectures and think we've "got it sorted," as Edmund might say.  And then, we actually begin parenting, and our children start to grow up.

And they hurt.

And so do we.

It is then we must cling to the promise that God's stories never end in ashes, as Ann Voskamp said at a gathering I attended a few weeks ago, the words landing like rain on this mama's broken and bruised and bleeding heart. 

If all you see are ashes, the story isn't over.  But that's a story for another day, because we're still sitting in an awful lot of ashes right now.  I've written a bit about regret and motherhood at The Better Mom this month ...

"An awful lot of years have gone by since my gifts first arrived.  And I've learned a thing or two that I didn't expect.  Children can be handled "right" ... and still not "act right."  I was determined not to cause any breaking-- and yet we all arrive in this broken place bearing scars, some very obvious, some invisible; some internal, some external; some physical, some mental.  Falling through heaven to here can cause cracks we can't see 'til our children are under pressure, and even the tenderest of handling from a mama can't erase every fissure or seal every hurt place.

And of course, having children reveals we have a few cracks of our own...

Please join me at The Better Mom for the rest of this article!

Setting Our Children Up For Failure

My kids are weird.

It’s true – I can’t deny it. I love them.  They are precious to me. But, they don’t fit in with most other kids their ages.

They’re schooled at home.  They don’t follow fashions.  They don’t know popular music, movies, or video games.  And, if it’s not a television show on PBS, they probably don’t know what it is.

They get stared at when we’re out with other families.  A lot.

But, this seems to be the case for most moms these days who are trying to raise their children apart from the world while they are living in this world. (And I should clarify; just because your child is in school, knows about popular music, television programs, video games, or is a fashionista, those things certainly don’t exclude your child from the kingdom.) We’re training our children to move towards Christ. We’re trying to move our children out of the world.   Which means, seemingly unfortunately, we’re setting our kids up for failure – at least where the world is concerned.

Let’s face it.  Being different in the “wrong” way, is a near death-sentence to our kids these days.

Look at what the world is selling our kids:  the fashion fads where less and tighter clothing is more acceptable.  Sleeping around is commonplace; even expected.  “You wouldn’t buy a car without test-driving it first,” is not the shocking attitude that it once was!  The ease of technology these days puts the danger of inappropriate, and sometimes violent, images into the hands of our youngest children.  As tech gets more prevalent, the amount of quality time that parents actually spend with their children is dwindling, making that the social norm. I have to admit, my kids see me bent over my phone a lot more than they should.

Look at what the “American Dream” is telling our kids. While the "Dream" is shifting away from the old corporate climb to get the best house/car/spouse/lifestyle on the block, and toward something that simply guarantees that we will finally have the all the leisure that we think we deserve, the fact is that the greater Culture that we live in never stops discipling us to value ourselves and our circle of friends above all, and to cast away with a flourish anything that would cause us annoyance. This discipling starts working on our children very early, and continues well into adulthood.

All of this is completely and utterly against the Mission of Christ.

Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave.” (Matthew 20:26-27)

And then Peter wrote this: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own peculiar people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9, emphasis mine)

And then this kicker from Jesus: “If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:19, again emphasis mine.)

The world HATES you.  Hates you.  Hates. You.

And this, THIS, is what we’re training our children up for. And there’s the struggle of our children to walk their paths on this earth without conforming.  Thankfully, we have the truth given by this proverb (22:6): “Train up your children in the right way, and when they are old, they will not stray from it.” But, if we train them in this way, the world, and those people of it, will hate them.  Sadly, that scripture is not merely a proverb, but a promise--albeit not the sort that's to our obvious benefit.

In some countries, Christian persecution is rampant. Brothers and Sisters are being killed every day around the world for the cause of Christ.  And, like the serpent he is, Satan is slowly and stealthily making his way further into our area of the world as well.

So, what should we do about this? We can’t change the world, but we can give our children courage to stand against it, and a hope to fight for, and a covering to protect them from it.

I think our children NEED to know what they’re up against.  Tell them over and over again that this world is only a temporary one.  That we’re working towards a heavenly home.

Some parents recite Ephesians 6:10-18 with their children every morning.  It tends to get everyone prepared for the day’s work, or battle. Because, this life is truly a battle against darkness:

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.

We should also remind our children that Jesus promised that he would always be with us regardless of how hard the circumstances get. “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” Matthew 28:20.

And although Jesus promised that the world would hate us, He also loved the world. And so must we. And we are to teach our children that they too are to love the ones that Jesus promised would hate them. How else can we hope for them to be "called out of darkness into his marvellous light," just as we were? This is not an easy thing. It takes intention and strength that only the Spirit can give, and only we can model for them. And, although there are so many more scriptures about being strong in the Lord, I’ll leave you with this final one from Paul, that says so much about how our children’s walk - and our own as well -  should be:

Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” 1 Corinthians 16:13-14