The Details Matter

A dear friend sent a text this morning on a group thread that reads, “Merry Christmas! First Sunday after Christmas! Mary recovering. Joseph worrying. Shepherds amazed. Kings traveling. And 2000 years later, the world still baffled and rejecting and rejoicing and marveling.”

A thrill of hope.

A few weeks back, in a staff meeting at work, we talked about what pieces of the nativity story bring us the most wonder. I knew immediately. It’s right there in Luke 2.

” 20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

21 Eight days later, when the baby was circumcised, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel even before he was conceived.”

There is a gaping hole between verse 20 and 21. There is a lack of information that makes my imagination run wild. I thought about it for days after that staff meeting. And then again this morning after my friend texted.

What happened in those days? The shepherds left. The heavenly host of angels returned to the heavenly places from where they came. Mary and Joseph and the newborn baby finished the night in the barn.

I gave birth to two babies. Not simultaneously, mind you. Separately. Eighteen months apart. Both deliveries were fairly easy – as far as deliveries of humans go. But I stayed in the hospital, where nurses took my babies to a nursery so I could rest. They brought me sterile garments and walked me to the bathroom so I could rinse off and change clothes. They sent in a lactation consultant to help me when nursing was difficult. They brought me food to eat, water to drink, and changed my bed sheets.

When I arrived at home, the kind people of the church brought me casseroles for days on end. And I had teenagers who volunteered to come hold my babies while I showered and napped.

I know how blessed I was. I know there are women around the world who give birth today in situations incredibly similar to Mary’s birth story over 2,000 years ago. But I still wonder.

Mary and Joseph were in a barn because the government had issued a decree that every single person had to go to the city of their ancestral town to register for a census. Joseph had to leave Nazareth and travel to Bethlehem. They had to walk, just under 100 miles. According to scholars, they would have headed south along the Jordan River, west over the hills surrounding Jerusalem, and then into Bethlehem. And when they got there, they didn’t have a reservation at a hotel, a hostel, or an Aunt Lois’s house. It would have taken them days to get there, and they had to be exhausted. When I was nine months pregnant, I got tired walking up the stairs. I can’t imagine walking 100 miles. Frankly, I can’t imagine walking 100 miles not pregnant! But to do so, and then have to sleep on the ground, in a barn? No thanks.

Did a room open the next day? Did they find a place to rent for the next couple of years until the wise men showed up? Did the innkeeper’s wife bring Mary fresh blankets? A King Ranch Chicken Casserole? Did Mary’s rush of hormones make her cry for days? Did Joseph worry about her tears? Did the ladies from the temple rally around, not because the Messiah was born in their town, but because a young couple just gave birth to a baby boy in a barn? Did anyone even notice?

I imagine the details don’t matter as a matter of faith, or God would have seen fit to include them as Luke put pen to paper. One day, though, when I get to heaven, I’m going to ask Mary to tell me the entire story. I want to hear every detail.

In John 9:39, Jesus said, “I have come into the world to give sight to those who are spiritually blind, and to show those who think they see that they are blind.” There were so many who were blind to the miracle that happened in the little town of Bethlehem the night Jesus was born. There are so many still blind today.

And while I’m not blind to the reality of God sending His one and only son, I’m often blind to what He’s doing in my life. I’m often blind to my weaknesses, my bad habits, my addictions. I’m blind to my hurts – both the ones done to me, the ones I’ve done to others, and the ones I’ve done to myself.

Jesus came to be the light of the world; the truth. I pray that in my weariness, I won’t be blind to all the reasons I have to rejoice. I pray I won’t be blind to the opportunities God gives me to love others. I pray I won’t be blind to the people who love me. I pray I won’t be blind to the ways God is refining me. I pray I won’t be blind to the miracles happening around me every day. I don’t want to miss the details, because the details matter.

An Anchoring Prayer

Whew! October was such a long month! Every year since my girl was prematurely born – in October – October has felt like a month known for being a busy month, like May or December.

There’s just a lot in October, and this year, it all seemed to fall in a ten-day time frame. A work retreat, Homecoming, my girl’s birthday, a charity walk we do every year, and the Fall Festival at church. And because God has a sense of humor, bronchitis.

I’m not blaming God for the bronchitis. If the blame goes to anyone, it’s me. I know I have COPD. I know it. It’s a fact of life. I know I should not expose myself to chemical fumes like bleach for prolonged periods of time. And yet, as most Houstonians know, tile showers don’t get clean down here without bleach. We have a big shower. That means lots of bleach.

And after I have exposed my lungs to fumes like bleach, I know I should not spend time in the great outdoors, blowing the pine needles and dirt off the driveway. But the driveway refuses to clean itself, and the HOA likes to send letters so…


Then there was chaos surrounding Fall Festival planning. The bounce houses were coming, and then the bounce houses were not coming, and then we had to find bounce houses from somewhere else. And the band was coming, but then someone got sick, so the band wasn’t coming, but they got someone to fill in, so the band was coming. And no one could do hot dogs but then someone could do hotdogs and then they couldn’t. It’s fine. Everything turned out great because apparently, God loves children and loves to see them dress up in costumes, play games and laugh hysterically over candy.

This week has been a time to slow down, catch up, and reflect. I was reading a devotion this morning and was struck by this quote:

“If you’re going to anchor your soul to something that never changes, then you need to treat God’s Word as a gift.” – Rick Warren

I try to anchor my soul to so many things – my marriage, my kids, my friends, my job… all gifts from God, but not where I need to drop anchor. Those things are growing and changing, and ebbing and flowing, and one should never drop anchor on a moving target.

God has given us His Word for instruction and promise, and it never changes. His Word gives life – reminding me that I am made in His image, He loves me, and I can share His love.

When life is hectic and changing, I don’t know if I’m coming or going, God’s Word is dependable and true. There is no error in it, there is no confusion about who it is for, and it is perfect. I get so caught up in doing all the things, being in all the places, and making all the people happy. I often forget who I am and, more importantly, whose I am.

James 1:17-18 says, “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession.”

If God sees me as his prized possession and has given me His Word as a gift to constantly show me how much He loves me, I am not sure why I don’t sit down with it more often. I don’t know why I don’t leap from bed every morning, racing to the pages of my Bible, to witness the new offering He has for me that day. Instead, I roll out of bed with a grumpy thud, going straight to the back door to let the dog out, and make a bee-line for the coffee pot. And while I love my dog and I really enjoy hot coffee, neither love me with the unparalleled passion of my Father God.

My prayer, moving into November, for both me and you, is that we would ground ourselves in God’s Word every morning. I pray we would seek His truth and light for our day before the clock starts tick, tick, ticking away and reminding us of our filled calendars and many to-do lists. May we sit in His love and bask in the warmth of His goodness before the world comes at us with its lies, hatred, and betrayal. May we know the gift of being anchored in His Word.

Parenting From Fear

There were a few brief minutes after my daughter was born, when my husband had signed all the paperwork at the hospital, gone down to get our car, and come back to get me, that she and I were all alone. It was the first time I’d been able to look at her and whisper in her ear when no one else was around to see or hear.

I kissed her forehead and placed my lips close to her ear and whispered, “I have no idea what I’m doing and I know you have no idea what you’re doing either but we will figure this out together.”

I felt as if I were at a disadvantage because my mom had died several years before, and truthfully, I was bitter about it in that moment. She should have been there to help me figure it out, to bounce the crying baby girl when I needed a shower, or to just tell me I was going to be okay. Realistically, I know most women feel as if they have no clue, whether they have a mom to help or not. We all kind of look around and wonder, “Are they really going to let me take this baby home with me? Shouldn’t there be a test?”

For the first five or six years of parenting my two babies, my girl and my boy, I did it with a stomach full of anxiety and a fist tightly gripped on a set of rules I had made up in my head of what “good moms” did.

I yelled a lot – at them, at my husband, at passing cars, the pharmacist, and anyone who didn’t do what I said, when I said it, or how I wanted it done. I cried a lot. I didn’t just burn the candle at both ends, I lit several candles up and did a baton routine with them. I was living in fear, and I was parenting from fear. I couldn’t label it or put my finger on what the problem was at the time, but looking back, I now know that’s exactly what was happening.

I finally sought help. Not on my own, mind you. Quite a few people recommended it, and after a particularly hard day in the middle of a vacation, I collapsed and admitted I needed it. I am so grateful I was able to receive the help I needed to break several bad habits but to also look back at my life, figure out where many of my fears were coming from, and be honest about how my behavior was effecting my parenting.

I wasn’t enjoying my kids; I was trying to make them perfect. I didn’t have fun with them because I wouldn’t allow myself to have fun. That’s not to say there weren’t fun moments – there were! But overall, my anxiety was holding me captive. My worry of messing them up or worse, allowing them to mess up, was like a set of iron handcuffs. When I look back at pictures of me during those years, I was skinnier than I should have been and my eyes had a dark and empty glaze. My fear had convinced me I would never be a good enough parent and therefore, my kids would never be good enough.

Crying out to God for help and seeking the advice and teaching of people in a position to help me was the best decision I have ever made for my family. God delivered a peace to my soul and a healing balm that soothed me from the inside out.

It didn’t happen overnight. It took years of hard work and dedication to being a parent who offers love and grace. And truthfully, I’m still working on it. God opened my eyes in a whole new way to see the love and grace He offers me every day. He showed me how to rely on Him and to rest in His arms. He pointed me to loving people who could stand in the gap for me when I needed a mama of my own.

I memorized Psalm 56:3, “When I am afraid I will trust in You,” and whispered it over and over and over. I realized the enemy wants nothing more than for me to live gripped in fear. When I ask God to remind me of what is good and true, He does it. He takes away the lies the enemy throws at me and disintegrates them immediately. And when those lies sneak back in, I whisper again to the Lord and He always answers.

These days, my kids and I enjoy each other a lot. We can have fun together, laugh at each other and with each other. We laugh at their dad a lot! They talk to me about life and love and faith and I talk to them, too. I am able to give them appropriate amounts of freedom because I don’t live in fear of them making terrible choices. I trust in God. I trust in the faith we have taught them. I trust in their hearts and minds to do what’s right. Will they mess up? Of course! They mess up all the time! But so do I! Messing up is part of living and I finally learned that no matter how tight I grip my kids, they are still going to grow up and fly away from our nest one day. I want them to feel like they have been loved well and taught well and can come back any time they wish. I don’t want them to feel the need to break free from a prison I built for myself and them.

If you have been living a life filled with anxiety and fear, know there is hope. It doesn’t have to be that way and it’s never too late to seek the peace our Heavenly Father offers. I got involved with Celebrate Recovery and see a therapist regularly. You may find other ways of receiving help. Whatever you do, I encourage you to reach out to someone today. You are worth it. And your family is worth it.

Surprising Tears

I had, what some might call an over-reaction a few days ago, to what should have been a small, every day inconvenience. I share because I have a suspicion I am not the only one having surprising reactions lately to what we otherwise might believe incidents that need little reaction at all. I share because, at the moment, I felt quite absurd but, later, after asking myself a few questions, was able to uncover the underlying feelings.

To say I am an HEB fan would be a slight understatement. If you live outside of Texas and don’t know what HEB is, my heart is a little sad for you. You might even be confused as to why one would have a need to be a fan of a grocery store, which is not fully describing what HEB is to Texas.

HEB is technically a grocery store. Our local HEB is what some might call a mega-store. It has food and drinks, a pharmacy, kitchen supplies, a really nice seafood department, bakery, etc. It also has a florist, and a sit-down barbecue restaurant with some of the best banana pudding you’ve ever tasted. The service is always friendly and the shelves are always stocked. (At least as much as they can be during a global pandemic and world-wide shutdown.)

HEB does smart thinking and amazing community care when it’s hurricane season or when a storm has blown through an area. They halt production and delivery on frivolous items and bulk up items people tend to reach out for – white bread, hot dogs, buns, toilet paper, bottled water, etc. They do what they can to love their neighbors and care for their customers. It’s a rare thing you don’t see in a lot of corporations anymore.

One day, when my kids were toddlers, I was waiting in line at the pharmacy when a full blown fight broke out between my son and daughter. I had run into the store quickly, only to grab prescriptions, and had put both of my children in the basket of a cart – despite the instructions on the cart clearly stating it was not a safe place for children. But I was only going to be a couple of minutes and I didn’t need the giant car cart, with its bright red car on the front for the kids to drive while I filled the tiny basket with groceries. I was only picking up our prescriptions. I simply needed to keep my children wrangled.

The fight exploded faster than I could contain it and my son fell out of the cart, head smacking the linoleum tile. To this day, I can still close my eyes and hear that terrible smacking sound of his little skull on the floor. He cried and cried and cried and I picked him up quickly to try to assess the situation and soothe him. There was no broken skin, no bump, no indention…only screams. (I could write a book on the injuries that child should have suffered over the years. He was clearly born with a tough skull, thick skin, and a very strong and swift guardian angel!) The pharmacist ran out from behind the counter, passing all the customers in front of me, bringing me a soft ice pack. I’ll never know how she moved so quickly. She then asked the customers ahead of me if they minded if she took care of me first, she handed me my prescriptions, gave my hand a squeeze, and told me to go home and rest.

Two days later, I received a card in the mail from that pharmacist. It was a “thinking of you” type card, and she wrote the sweetest message inside. She told me she understood the late afternoon trials of being a mom to toddlers, and that I was doing a good job. She reminded me to take deep breaths and know that kids are resilient and bouncy, and that she just knew my son was going to be okay.

He was.

This is one of more than a handful of examples I could give you of ways the pharmacists at my HEB have loved me well over the years. So when I found out this week that our prescription insurance would no longer pay for our medications unless we went to the pharmacy they required, I sobbed.

You may think, “Sobbed? Really?” and I would answer you, “Yes. I sobbed.” And truthfully, at first, I was incredibly embarrassed for myself. It felt so silly, so dramatic, so unnecessary.

But because I am learning to lean into my emotions, my feelings, and my reactions to certain situations, I started to ask myself questions.

What was this really about? Was I sad about the pharmacy or the people? Did I doubt the capability of the new, required pharmacy? When else had I felt this emotion lately?

Ah-ha. That was it. When else had I felt this emotion lately? That’s when the answer clicked.

This last year – actually more than a year – has been a time of government, doctors, businesses, friends, and even strangers online, telling us all what we can and cannot do, where we can and cannot go, how we can and cannot dress, who is safe, who is not safe, how we love our neighbors and what isn’t loving to our neighbors. We’ve been told that if we vote this way it is loving and if we vote that way it is hateful. We’ve been told if we support this we are righteous but if we support that we are selfish. We’ve been told we must accept this but not that, that but not this, and the idea that me, a grown, educated woman, could make a decision for her own life or the lives of her children has been criticized.

And then my insurance told me I couldn’t fill my prescriptions where I wanted.

It was one more domino in a long line of tumbling dominoes in this world and I, apparently, had reached my threshold. So I cried.

I realized in that moment I wasn’t crying for the inconvienience of having to switch pharmacies, although I really was sad about doing so. I was grieving the loss of one more piece of the “before.” This pandemic has been more than just a health scare; it’s been a reckoning. It’s changed so many policies, so many friendships, so many families. It’s shown false colors and true colors and turned so many issues into black or white, leaving no gray in between. I was grieving the loss of “before.”

I took a deep breath and allowed myself to sit in the sadness for a few minutes before asking God to step in and soothe my heart.

Philippians 4: 6-7 says, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Jesus Christ.”

Acknowledging and allowing space for grief is so healthy. It’s a fact I’ve known for years, but only recently have I allowed it to be true for me and not just for other people. Sometimes, grief can spiral into worry and fear, and I don’t want that to happen. When I worry, I rob myself of the peace and joy God offers me so freely in amounts that far exceed my own understanding. Grief, however, is a different bird than worry. Grief acknowledges that something has changed and may not ever be the way it was before. It’s important to grieve the changes in life, to cry for them, and then set them free…even grief as small as a pharmacist change. I’m learning that the more freely I acknowledge the tiny grief moments, the easier it is to see the big ones for what they truly are. I can talk about them, thank God for His presence amidst them, and ask Him to take them from my open hands.

It sounds so simple when I type it out but, experience has taught me my tendency is to hold tight to grief. My personality is one that likes to hold the sadness close because it proves I have been hurt or wronged or mistreated. When God offers to take these grief moments from me, I allow Him in to sit with me and then I shoo Him away. I hold tight to the sadness and try to comfort it all on my own.

The thing is, my own brand of comfort never works. So my prayers lately are shifting from “Dear God, please take away…,” to “Dear God, help me release…” He has always been and will always be willing to take away what is harmful to me. I, however, have rarely been willing to hand it over. I want to take my cue from Jesus, who showed grief when on this earth. I want to shed the tears my body needs to shed, sit with the people who want to hold my hand, and then allow God to do the work needed to bring glory to His Kingdom. Again, it sounds so simple as I type the words. I know it will take a God-sized miracle for me to do it. But then again, those are the exact size of miracles He performs.

When the Body Remembers

In the first few years after my mom’s suicide, I dealt with trauma daily. I had nightmares and crying spells and anxiety attacks all the time. It was common for something to trigger my memories and my body and mind would shut down for the rest of the day.

It’s been twenty-four years since I last saw my mom and, while I have done an incredible amount of therapy and healing, my body still reacts this time of year. I get sad and my chronic fatigue syndrome flares up. I can’t get enough sleep. I ache all over. My digestion slows down. I cry at the drop of a hat, even when I’m not able to pinpoint my sadness.

The reason I experience all these symptoms is that my body is remembering the trauma of my mom’s suicide even when my brain isn’t thinking about it. Every cell in our body has the ability to remember trauma, even when our mind doesn’t. I have done a lot of work to process the memories of Mom’s death; of finding her body and the story that surrounds those memories. But I have only recently begin to understand body memory. I am learning ways to connect my mind and body to help release the tension when it begins to build up. Here are a few things that are working for me:

Be in the moment and feel the feelings. It’s easy to try to hide from or numb tension, stress, and anxiety. But when I acknowledge that something is happening in my body and am honest with myself, it’s easier to give myself what I need; which is usually a cold drink of water, a nap, and a hug from someone I love.

Make self-care a priority. Our society tends to reward those who never take a break and always put themselves last. When dealing with post-traumatic stress, these behaviors are not rewarding for the body. Slowing down and simplifying my day is often the best thing for me. Turning down the lights, lighting a candle, taking a bubble bath, listening to soft music are all ways I can connect my body and mind. For some, exercise is the way they connect mind and body. For others, walking in the grass with bare feet. Everyone has to figure out the method that works best for them.

Talking to my therapist, my friends, and, most importantly, to God. When depression rises up – in my mind or my body – I have to resist the urge to isolate. Isolation does not allow my brain or body to connect joyfully with others and joy is the exact thing I need when my body is trying to protect me from my past trauma.

Overcoming trauma is a long process, but thankfully, I serve a God who is bigger than my pain. He created my mind and body to be a miraculous work of art; one that does things even the most intelligent doctors don’t quite understand yet. He not only sees my past, my present, and my future, but He cares about all my days. He is the healer and His love for me allows Him to collide with my pain – and My God always wins.

“He will cover you with His feathers. He will shelter you with His wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection.”

Psalm 91:4 NLT

Starting Over. Again.

If I had a dollar for every time I said I was starting over on something, I’d have, I don’t know…a lot of dollars. And if I had a dollar for every time I started a health journey over, I’d have enough dollars to buy some really nice Spanx.

And yet, here I am again, starting over on a health journey. Again.

Every time I do this, I swear it’s not a diet. I promise myself it’s going to be a lifestyle change. I vow it will be the final time I need a reset because I will take care of myself from here on out. I look myself in the eye and tell myself I am worth it; that I am worthy of the love I am showing myself by taking care of my health. I pray to God, repenting of the sin of treating my body, his creation, like a dumping ground. I ask for forgiveness for making food an idol; the thing I run to for comfort instead of my Heavenly Father. I jump in with both feet, both hands, both chins, and I make changes needed to become the healthiest version of myself.

So what is my problem? Why am I carrying more weight than I’ve ever carried in my entire life? Why are my hormones out of control? Why is my skin a mess?

I could give the laundry list of health issues I have working against me losing weight. I could speak of health issues I have because I haven’t lost the weight. I could talk about menopause. I could give all the reasons and all the excuses. Sometimes I feel like it’s such a vicious cycle I want nothing more than to throw up my hands and pour a glass of red wine. Or white.

The reality is I have never, in my entire life, had a healthy relationship with my body. Growing up, I was tiny. I was petite and muscular and adorable, but I never saw myself as such. I lived my life in constant fear of gaining weight because my mom was overweight. I remember learning about the food pyramid in elementary school (the old version with bread on the bottom row) and keeping copies in my room and on the fridge in order to track what I was eating. I believed if I could control my diet and keep it within the pyramid, I would be alright.

Something in me never allowed me to see myself as beautiful. Was it boys who made rude comments? Maybe, but kids are just kids, right? Was it comparison to other girls? Maybe, but I knew I wasn’t much smaller or bigger than girls I thought were much prettier than me. Was it teen magazines making an ideal out of waif models in the 1990s? Possibly, but I also accepted my bone structure alone would never allow me to look like Kate Moss.

I don’t have one particular answer as to why I couldn’t grasp the idea of loving myself or, more specifically, my body. What I do know, however, is that I am not alone. I know it is more common that not for women to have some sort of body dysmorphia. I know the rate of eating disorders for women is so much higher than any of us want to admit. But I also see more and more women coming into a place of loving comfort with their body; a friendship with the casing carrying around their heart and soul…and I want that.

I want to take care of myself because I am worthy of love. I want to treat myself with love because I am valuable. I want to look at my body, as she is, and remember her strength and resilience. She has done amazing things! I am proud of her, and she deserves to be celebrated. I want to treat her like the friend she is instead of some separate thing to be hated and abused.

So here I go, starting over, again. It’s a health journey and not a diet. It’s a lifestyle change. Actually, no; it’s a mindset change. Actually, no. I don’t want to label it. I’m just learning some new ways of living that include speaking to myself with gentle love. I’m learning to feed myself what I need, when I need it, but not hate myself when I mess up. I’m learning to lean into Jesus instead of food. Again.

Thank You, For Giving to the Lord

This week marks twenty years since I took a job in ministry. Twenty years feels like a long time but I still remember my interview like it was yesterday. Twenty years means a lot of kids, a lot of families, have passed by, but I can still remember most of them. But twenty years can go by in the blink of an eye.

Bob Wagner spent more than fifty years in ministry. He was the pastor at Second Baptist Church in Marion, IL for thirty of those years. He wasn’t my pastor; I went to Third Baptist. But that doesn’t mean his ministry didn’t touch my life.

Bob’s church was the first in our town to go to Camp Lookout, a summer church camp on Lookout Mountain, TN. After Bob’s church went a few summers, taking most of the teenagers in town, my church decided to go along, taking some of the last few who had never attended. Camp Lonestar is where I, along with most of my friends, made a commitment to follow Christ. Camp Lonestar is where my mom made the decision to rededicate her life and promised to follow through with baptism when we got home, despite her crippling fear of water.

The touch of God’s Call on Bob’s life didn’t stop with church, though. In fact, for me, it wasn’t where it began.

Bob and, his wife, Sandra, had three kids. The baby, Stefanie, was my very first new friend in junior high. When my mom dropped me off at the corner of West Main Street and South Russell Street on my first day of 6th grade, I started across the lawn, heading towards the school building, where a large herd of kids gathered. Stefanie was the first person to smile and wave at me. In fairness, lest I make her out to be an angel, she thought I was someone else and when I got close, and she could see me better, she stopped awkwardly. But, also in fairness, she didn’t let the awkward get the best of her. Stefanie and I were inseparable from that day until we got our driver’s licenses and could take ourselves elsewhere.

Stefanie and spent every weekend, for years and years, at each others houses. When I wasn’t at her house, she was at mine. We vacationed with each other’s families. She knew my people and I knew hers. We were never apart. My parents were her parents and her parents were mine. This is where I got to know Bob Wagner.

Bob wasn’t an easy man to know and I didn’t understand that when I was twelve but, after twenty years in ministry myself, I sort of get it now. Now I know what it’s like to give everything you have to a family in need that isn’t your own. Now I know what it’s like to allow the Holy Spirit to pour through you so fully in order to reach one kid that you get home and don’t have much left for your own. Now I know the pressure of worrying about people relying on you to have all the right words in public and coming home and having no words left. It doesn’t make it right and it doesn’t make an excuse and I don’t know any way to explain it. Bob gave his all to the ministry to which God called him, just like so many others do every day.

Please hear me. I don’t say any of this to say Bob wasn’t there for his family. He was. Bob loved his wife, and he loved his kids, and he loved his grandkids, and his great-grandkids. Bob was few on words at home, but those words were often hilarious. Bob could walk through the room and drop and word and keep walking, while everyone else broke out laughing. Bob could drop truth bombs when needed. Bob could comfort the hurting. And Bob never stopped cheering for the Dallas Cowboys.

Bob left this world last week, but he is not gone. Bob went home to be with Jesus, but he left a legacy of lives touched by the ministry to which he devoted his life. God poured love and life into Bob for many, many years and, thankfully, Bob allowed it. And because Bob submitted to God’s will, thousands of lives were touched; including mine.

There was a song that was made popular among Christian circles in the late 80s/early 90s by Ray Boltz, called “Thank You.” The chorus sings, “Thank you for giving to the Lord;
I am a life that was changed. Thank you for giving to the Lord; I am so glad you gave.”

Because Bob gave, because God opened Bob’s heart and life and, allowed Jesus to work through him, there will be thousands of people in heaven one day. One day, we will all walk in Glory and bow at the throne of God. Bob will be there with us, thanking Jesus for the people who gave of themselves, so he could be there, too.

I Love a Good Book

Those who know me, know I love a good story. I love to hear stories, to tell stories, to write stories, and to read stories. I think part of my love for country music is that most country songs tell a story. No singer tells a story like Garth Brooks, George Strait, or Reba. I miss the old days of music videos telling the story of the song; unlike the new trend of making a random, artistic video that has zero to do with the lyrics.

But I digress.

I love reading. Self help books and educational books are not usually my first pick but I do read them. My true love is a good story about someone’s life – a memoir, a fictional story, even a biography. But my greatest love is historical fiction. And because I often have people ask me for recommendations, I thought I would share some of my most recent joys. I read a lot of books over the last year. Quarantine certainly allowed me the time. These are just a few of the stand outs. I’m always happy to share more if you’re interested.

Last fall, a friend shared with me that someone gave her this book, and she couldn’t remember who it was. She had started reading and found the story incredibly moving and recommended it to me because she knows my love of story.

Dr. Edith Eva Eger is a world renowned psychologist and one of the few remaining survivors of The Holocaust. Edith was sent to Auschwitz at the age of sixteen and only hours after arriving, she watched as her parents were sent to the gas chambers.

Dr. Eger treats people suffering with traumatic stress issues and speaks around the world about the choices we all make to hold on or let go of anger. This book is her life story but it’s also an encouraging word. Dr. Eger’s words inspire us all to confront the stories in our own past – the stories we hold onto and the stories who have made us who we are today – and find freedom.

When I finished reading The Choice, I was led to this next book because I had heard so many good reviews. My mind was already wrapped around the horror of Auschwitz and I wanted to know more.

Heather Morris tells this beautiful story based on real life accounts of a young man, Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov, plucked from the prisoners, and forced to tattoo identification numbers on the arm of incoming prisoners.

The story is full of heartbreaking tales of everyday life in a German death camp but reads more like a love story. I found myself rooting for Lale and Gita, the young woman who steals his heart, and wanting to believe their future would be one of love and prosperity, freedom, and chocolate – lots of chocolate.

Cilka was the best friend of Gita, and I was introduced to her in The Tattooist of Auschwitz. She received special treatment in Auschwitz for her beauty but, if you know anything about this evil, horrible place, you know that special treatment doesn’t mean you were not still treated like an animal.

Cilka did what she had to do to stay alive and, because of that, she survived the German death camp; only to be imprisoned in a Siberian camp after that. Cilka’s Journey brings to light the vibrancy and resiliency of the human spirit and made me question what I would do in her shoes. It made me think about women all over the world who fight against evil day after day and continue to wake up and choose to live.

Alina Dziak was a small child, living in Poland, totally oblivious to the Nazi invasion that was about to change her life forever.

Alice is a young, modern woman, juggling a child with special needs, a busy life, and a dying grandmother.

As Alice tries to uncover her grandmother’s past, we see the convergence of her life with Alina’s. We see old and new, past and present, devastation and reconciliation. It’s a story of love and loss, life and death. This is a beautifully written story that will stay with me for a long time.

Now, lest you think I only read WWII novels, I want to share this gem with you.

“Share Your Stuff. I’ll Go First. 10 Questions to Take Your Friendships to the Next Level” is like sitting down with your best girlfriends, over nachos and margaritas, and telling stories from childhood. The author, Laura Tremaine, shares ten chapters of stories about her own life, personal, deep, funny, sad…real stories of who she is and how she came to this point in her life. But she doesn’t just stop at talking about herself. Laura, who I feel like I am on a first name basis with after reading her book, gives the reader a list of questions, at the end of each chapter, to ask your sisters, mom, girlfriends, daughters, or whoever you want know on a deeper level.

Reading is one of the great joys of my life but, in all honesty, I don’t always “read” the books I devour. I’m also a huge fan of listening to books. My point here is to say that however you take your stories – hardback, paperback, digital, or audio – I hope you will take time for yourself to enjoy a good story. Let it take you to a land you’ve never visited, to introduce you to a culture you’ve never experienced, and meet people you’ve never met. Let it open your mind, expand your thinking, and stretch your beliefs. Allow your heart to be touched, softened, warmed. Do it for you because you deserve to have something just for you.

Family Touchstones

Whew! 2020 was a crazy year!

I actually wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve said or heard that phrase. I’m over it. I’m over the year, over the crazy, and over talking about it. I’m ready to move on.

There was a lot of grieving last year over the loss of normalcy, loss of traditions, loss of celebrations, loss of… everything. The grief was real. It actually still is real. I’m still grieving and I’m sure some of you are, too. I think somewhere in our hearts we were hoping 2021 would start, and we would realize 2020 had all been a blip. Like maybe the world had slid into some kind of alternate comic book universe, and we would slide back into place with the ball drop. Or maybe that was just me and I’ve been watching too many movies.

I have to say, we are only seven days into this year and so far, I am not impressed. If this was a free ten-day trial I would already be deleting my credit card information and cancelling. I have decided, however, to lay this year out ahead of me with some family touchstones. I don’t want to waste another year grieving what we missed doing.

I’m going to share some of these touchstones for you. They’re nothing radical, just family ideas and activities we can do together so when we reach the end of the year, we won’t feel like we missed out. Some of these are things we have been doing for many years and some are ideas I’ve only now decided to implement. Take what you like, add your own, share with your friends, or come up with your own list!

Creating touchstones doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, or any money at all. The idea is that you create moments of joy with your family. These moments can be called upon any time a little joy is needed! And most of these moments can happen any time, even during a world-wide pandemic. So when days seem crazy and nothing feels normal, you have moments of joy to reach for and remember that normal is relative – it’s joy that matters.

2020 In Hindsight

We had no clue.

They say that hindsight is 20/20 and I imagine we will forever remember 2020 as the year we wished we had seen coming. Or maybe not. If someone could have warned any of us of what was coming, I doubt we would have believed.

We cheered 2020 in by attending a Roaring Twenties New Year’s Eve party. We had no clue what we were welcoming into our lives.

Cherished Friends

I truly believe if you make it to the end of your life and can count more than one person as a friend who is as dear as family, you are truly blessed. We have a handful of those people in our lives, so it is really hard when jobs take them to live in far away lands – like Ohio. We were so sad for them to move but knew that God would keep our hearts bonded for life.

The year wasn’t all bad; we actually found lots of ways to experience joy. Before the world shut down, I got to be a part of our church’s women’s retreat. We spent a weekend in nature with beautiful friends learning how to slow down, to be still, and wait for God. None of us had any idea how much we would be using these skills in a matter of weeks!

Chuck and I celebrated our 21st wedding anniversary only days before the whole world shut down. We went to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, one of our favorites, for a night of fine dining.

Chuck shot a hole-in-one as a birthday gift to himself. He was so excited and I had the ball and photo framed for him.

COVID changed everything this year for everyone. We all had to learn how to work from home – the kids, Chuck, and me. We spread out in rooms across the house with our computers and made the best of it.

Palm Sunday and Easter hit us hard – like most of you, I’m sure – because we had never experienced isolation like that on a holiday.

Relaxing with good friends in
my home town.

By May, we were stir-crazy. We talked to our good friends in my home town and decided to make the trip north to visit. They were all living in a “quarantine bubble” together, so we felt like we were being safe. We stayed in a camper instead of staying at anyone’s house, and we grilled out, swam, boated, and watched some of the most beautiful sunsets God has ever painted in the sky. Chuck and I were both able to work remotely, so we could stay on top of things. That trip was so good for our souls and was a healing balm for our mental health. I am so glad we took the time and that our friends welcomed us.

Camp Lone Star

Texas opened up a bit in June and the kids were able to go to one of their favorite places on earth – Camp Lone Star. They spent the week swimming, hiking, completing high ropes courses, and learning about the peace that passes all understanding – God’s peace. Unfortunately, CLS was only able to offer two weeks of activities for campers. They were forced to shut down when some of their counselors tested positive for COVID.

Seth’s confirmation was postponed from May to August and the church did a special ceremony just for confirmands and their families. It was really nice and I’m so glad we were able to have it. So many ceremonies and dances and reunions and so on and so on had to be cancelled this year. After Seth and his classmates studied and learned for two years, it was a blessing to be able to celebrate the faith of their baptism in a public way.

We had high hopes for school to start in person, but alas, like much of 2020, everyone had to pivot. Fortunately, our school district did an amazing job of getting teachers online and getting students into virtual classrooms. Our kids did a few weeks online and then were able to transition to split learning; with virtual classes and face-to-face learning rotating ever other day. It was stressful for the kids, stressful for teachers and administrators, and stressful for parents. But again, I can’t sing the praises of our district enough. They did, and continue to do, everything they can to keep kids safe while they’re learning.

As we began to adjust to this new way of life, which we all pray is only temporary, we continue to seek time with the people we love. Any time we can have with family or friends feels brings a sense of appreciation like never before. Logically, we all know that we are not promised tomorrow, but living through a world-wide pandemic really changes the way we think about life.

We lost my granddaddy this year, not to COVID but to old age. He was 101 when he passed, and we had to postpone the funeral until a time when it would be safer for everyone to gather.

This loss, combined with the pandemic, made Thanksgiving feel so much more precious this year. We were blessed to be able to spend a long weekend with my family in our tradition of feasting outdoors in my cousin’s barn. It was so good to laugh and cry and share stories and recipes and feel “normal,” if only for a weekend.

And now, days before Christmas, I offer a blessing for my family, your family, and all the families of the world:

May God bless and keep you. May you know peace in your heart and your home. May you be blessed with health and surrounded by loved ones. May you know the love of our Savior, Jesus, and experience the joy and hope of a life lived with Him. May you offer grace to all you meet, knowing you can give it freely because of the unending grace poured over you by God.