So You Survived a Global Pandemic. Great! Now What?

“What were some things in your life that were hard or painful for a little while, but then when it was over, there was celebration?” Lydia asked, reading the question from the night’s devotional entry.

It is Holy Week. We (I) decided for Lent this year, we would strap in, buckle up, and get through the second volume of The Family Bible Devotional together as a family. I confess that every single time I reach for this book, I hesitate, expecting that one/some/all of my family will look at me like I’m the lamest mother on the earth for making them read about Jesus. 

This has never happened. Our family cracks jokes, reads Scripture, answers vulnerable questions, and frequently weeps together over the stories in the Bible and the corresponding conversations. I will be forever grateful to Our Daily Bread for making me write a devotional, if for no other reason than the joy and intimacy it has brought to my own family.

OKAY, enough of the cheesy sales pitch. 

A couple of the entries we’re reading right now align almost perfectly with where we’re at in the church calendar, coincidentally traveling through the encouragement and prayers Jesus spoke over his disciples during their last hours together right smack dab in the middle of Holy Week.

At first, the kids struggled to come up with answers to this question, what hard or painful things eventually turned to celebration. In John 16:16-33, Jesus tells his disciples that “very truly, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.”

“What about moving?” I suggested. We’ve moved several times over the course of our kids’ lives, and each move was hard and painful at the time, but in the end, we’ve been able to celebrate new experiences, new friends, and new memories. They listed several other experiences then, relationships and injuries, illnesses and diagnoses that were all hard and painful at the time, but later brought rejoicing. 

“I can think of a lot of times,” I said, because of course I can. I am an overflowing bucket of rainbows for every rainy day.

Jesus uses the analogy of a woman in the pains of childbirth. “When her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.”

In the midst of all of that pain, women are able to bear down and believe, hope for, and expect life on the other side.

“What about Grandma Rose’s cancer?” Elvis said.

“That was hard and painful,” I agreed. “And I think even harder and more painful than your birth.”

One of the other questions in this evening’s devotional prompts parents to share their children’s birth stories, including adoption stories. Elvis knows his story intimately, how he spent so much time in the NICU, how he was near death, how his existence is a miracle. All of my children’s births are miracles, really—in any other age, it’s likely I would have died, or Lydia would have died, without medical intervention.

When it comes down to the circumstances and mechanisms that have to go just right in a woman’s womb, every birth is a miracle. It is miraculous that we survive that whole process.

Elvis survived respiratory distress syndrome and pulmonary hypertension at birth. “I always knew and hoped that you would live,” I told Elvis, refraining from sharing again the overwhelming sense of peace that It will be okay, words I’d hear years later quoted by Julian of Norwich but sensed first as if they were spoken into my ear, driving back to the hospital before Elvis had made the turn toward life. “I never dreamed or hoped that my mom would recover from cancer.”

And yet, here we are, one year removed from the good and unexpected and miraculous news that my mom’s battle with stage four kidney cancer is over. The cancer is gone. The cancer is gone! In the last year, it has shown no evidence of returning; there is no evidence of disease. 

When you’ve walked daily through pain, suffering, and the ever-pressing reminder of your mortality, what do you hope for on the other side? Is there hope? 

And when what has pressed down on you is suddenly removed, life reborn, tomb cracked open, how do you live on the other side of that miracle?


If you are reading this right now, congratulations! You’ve survived a global pandemic!

For three long years, we’ve done whatever it takes to try to survive, some of us more diligently and maniacally than others. Some people didn’t make it, and some of us have been permanently scarred and damaged by it, but here we are. Alive. We did it! 

All of that protection, all of that care, all of that work, what was it all for? What was on the other side of survival?

Maybe Life is curious to see what you would do
With the gift of being left alive
How love, how give
Spread the higher purpose
And cut through all the shuck and jive… 

Marc Cohn, “Live Out the String”

Yes, the virus rages on. Wars and rumors of war rattle and destroy lives around the globe. Gun violence takes the lives of the shooter and the shot. Plants and animals are going extinct, the planet is heating up, the oceans are filling with plastic, and forests are turning to deserts. Teens and adults alike are popping pills and filling all of their hollow wounds with alcohol to numb their nerves so they can just exist, on the verge of their own extinction. And every single hour, someone pours their pain and rage into someone else. 

And yet we survive. What for? 

David Von Drehle addressed this recently in his column, “We’ll never solve our many crises without this one ingredient:”

Joy is becoming countercultural; in fashion instead is a heavy coat of doom. Anxiety and depression are endemic, psychologists tell us, and why wouldn’t they be, when optimism and cheerfulness are taken as signs of obtuseness? When happiness is a dead giveaway that someone either doesn’t know, or doesn’t care, how very bad things are?

Yes, there are so many terrible things in this world, but, Von Drehle says, how can you work for something better if you have no vision for a more hopeful, joyful future? Von Drehle begins his article observing a cardinal out his window, which brings him joy and reminds him of people he loves, despite the threat to songbirds globally. He continues:

Here’s where that cardinal finally lands: One cannot usefully address a threat to birds if they do not delight in individual birds. (Maybe not all of them, but some.) One cannot meaningfully answer the climate crisis if they lack excitement about the human capacity for invention and reinvention. One cannot make progress toward equality and inclusion if they don’t see and love the potential of humankind — enemies included — and one cannot build the future if one fears the future.

If, upon surviving this global pandemic, all we do is shift our eyes to the next global pandemic, lurking in the unknowable future, or zoom in on this pain and that source of anxiety, hunkering down with no vision beyond this current reality, what hope do we have? We have no hope, except to continue plodding through our own daily, menial lives, eating and drinking meaninglessly. What is it all for? What was it all for? What do we persist in living for?

You cannot heal what you do not love.

This is the countercultural message of the cross. You have to walk through the valley of death to reach the city of life. Jesus’ way of suffering is the gateway to everlasting hope, hope that doesn’t disappoint us, because he modeled for us the heart of God’s love, love for Pontius, love for Judas, love for the mockers surrounding the cross, love for his fleeing disciples, love for his helpless mother, love for the secret followers, love that is so patient and so kind and so merciful it was willing to bear the weight of death on an unjust cross to show the way of love to us. 

He invites us into that same human journey, to feel all of the feels, to allow pain to bind us to each other, to use our inflamed grief to burn away lies to reach the tender heart of justice and love, to cause us to live, to act, to move on behalf of the hurting, the broken, the oppressed, without fear, without shame, with only love and hope and joy. That is the way of the cross, from suffering to death to resurrection to new life to freedom. 

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free! 

Jesus came to give you life, and life abundant!

You are the living and breathing result of miraculous survival. Life is wondrous. Life is beautiful. Life is real and throbbing with the pulse of love in every fern’s tendril, in every unfurling seedling, in every formed memory, in every blink and breath and tear. If you do not treasure life in all its forms and fashion, then what are we living for?

What are you living for?

Von Drehle concludes:

It stands to reason — doesn’t it? — that the answer is not greater and greater attention to more and more crises. It is more time spent by each of us on the nurture of joy and the cultivation of hope. 

Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are the seeds of hope, the joy that is only possible because it is born from suffering. We have suffered much, privately, intimately, and universally. Those sufferings are just birth pains, forgotten in the midst of this new morning, this sunrise, this day in which you still breathe, still blink, still weep. There in the future, we vehemently hope for restoration because we love, because he first loved us.

Live out the string
a little longer darling
raise your voice and
make a joyful noise
there ain’t no guarantees
of anything
but live out the string

“Live Out the String” Marc Cohn

Cover Photo by Rifqi Ramadhan

Particle Physics, Evolutionary Biology, and Being a Christian

Let’s talk about particle physics, my past crisis with evolutionary biology, and being a follower of Christ. Those are simple topics for one blog post! 

My daughter, who is clearly smarter than I am, recommended The Particle at the End of the Universe: How the Hunt for the Higgs Boson Leads Us to the Edge of a New World by Sean Carroll. I am pleased to say that I finished this book. Finally.

I started off feeling like I maybe understood 7/10s of the words in the book. Eventually that figure eroded away. Today, I can confidently say I grasped about 3/10s of what Carroll was putting down, and that’s only because he wrote in such a casual way about neutrinos and photons, bosons and quarks, like they were Legos and Lincoln Logs, making me feel like I actually knew what he was saying, when actually I did not.

Outside of the awe, wonder, humility, and fascination I felt while trudging through particle physics, here’s my big takeaway: the Higgs boson, or the “God particle,” holds everything together.

“The Higgs field is like the air, or the water for fish in the sea; we don’t usually notice it, but it’s all around us, and without it life would be impossible. And it is literally ‘all around us’; unlike all the other fields of nature, the Higgs is nonzero even in empty space. As we move through the world, we are embedded in a background Higgs field, and it’s the influence of that field on our particles that gives them their unique properties.”

Carroll, p. 136

The Higgs field / God particle sounds an awful lot like this…

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

Colossians 1:15-17 NIV

So despite my lack of comprehension of all things particle physics-y, I am just delighted in how God’s “Big” Book of Creation keeps smashing into God’s “Little” Book of the Bible, telling two sides of the same Truth-y coin, revealing God’s nature in creation and God’s nature in special revelation. (If you aren’t familiar with the Two Books Metaphor, there’s a wonderful article about it on the BioLogos website, and if you aren’t familiar with BioLogos, you should be. Go follow them.)

Speaking of the Two Books Metaphor for special and general revelation, I’ve been hanging out with the finest young minds at our church on Sunday nights to work through BioLogos’ Integrate Curriculum with high school students, and it’s so fun. I’ve been geeking out on all things science and faith for longer than I’ve been a Christian, and being able to share this nerdy love with others gets me all energized. 

The Integrate curriculum is designed to follow a high school biology textbook as supplemental material to a student’s biology units, so there is a LOT more information here than we’ll ever be able to cover together. 

My greatest hope for our time is that our discussion dissolves the assumption that faith and science are incompatible. Perhaps by having this discussion, they’ll have one less stumbling block to navigate along their faith journey.

The Origins of My Journey with Faith and Science

Science—especially evolutionary biology—was a significant stumbling block for me when I was first exploring Christianity. People’s insistence that all things that existed were created in seven days according to the first chapter of Genesis drove me nuts. “How could all of this” I’d say, gesturing to the trees and the air and the stars and the sun and the ground, “have been created by some god, in just one week?” P-shaw, I thought to myself, because, science. 

Then, one day, I was driving along in my parent’s Ford Thunderbird, mulling over all things faith-y, and the rays of the sun became entangled with a thousand leaves dancing in the treeline, and the clouds were shrinking and growing, and a million blades of grass shuddered, and billions of people around the world breathed in and out together at once, and I gasped, “How could all of this,” I said, gesturing to the world around my car, “have not been created by one God?” The interconnectedness, the complexity, the wonder of it all mystified me, and in that moment, everything I believe flipped upside-down.

It was as if in an instant God changed my vision. Nothing anyone had said and nothing anyone had written up to that point had really convinced me to believe; I just did. 

However, I loved science, and I was beginning to love God. Most of the people in my life saw these two worlds as incompatible. In order to believe in God, I was told, I had to believe in the literal 7-day creation account at the beginning of Genesis. If I didn’t believe this, I wasn’t a real Christian.

Over the last 20 years, I have fought for and against various origin accounts, sometimes with other believers, sometimes with people who aren’t Christians, but mostly internally, warring over the “right” interpretation of all of these things in my heart. It wasn’t until about a decade after I first became a Christian that I encountered a Christian who was a practicing scientist, someone else who had had their more fundamentalist faith in God challenged by science. Karl Giberson’s book, Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution, I can safely say changed my life. Here was someone that had found a way to embrace both faith in God and faith in science. It was possible! I knew it!

Since that time, I’ve continued to love science and go deeper into the world we love, the world that has been given to us, the world that is filled with more wonders than we could ever fully grasp, even if given ten thousand lifetimes. And I’ve continued to go deeper into the Word, the Word I love, the Word that has been given to us, the Word that is filled with more wisdom and truths than I could ever fully grasp. Both places reveal truth. Both realms have been given to us by the same Creator as ways for us to know the character of God.

BioLogos Integrate Curriculum

Which is why I am so excited to share about BioLogos’ Integrate Curriculum. Let me tell you some more about this curriculum. Integrate includes 15 Units, each of which is composed of 5-9 distinct Modules that can be taught individually or consecutively. The units are also grouped into four topical Bundles—Strong Foundations, Human Biology and the Big Questions, The Bible and Origins, and Creation Care.

The units are flexible and modular. They can be completed in any order, or they can stand alone.

The content features interviews with leading Biblical scholars and scientists, with theological and scientific instruction that has been vetted by qualified professionals in their fields. 

It is this word—and—that excites me the most. There is excellent theological content out there in the world that grapples with these subjects, and there is excellent scientific content out there, but this curriculum is the first I’ve seen that seeks out the best of both worlds and brings them together into one curriculum. Faith and science.

On the Topic of Origin…

As I’ve discussed this subject with our high school students, the topic of origins has inevitably come up, and thank God it does. Our teens are grappling with Big Questions; shouldn’t we encourage and support their pursuits? It turns out we have a diverse set of students with diverse beliefs about origins, ranging from Young Earth Creationists to Theistic Evolutionists, and that’s okay.

Although the Integrate curriculum is written from an evolutionary creation perspective, its fundamental goal is not to advocate for a particular view on origins but rather to help students see acceptance of evolution as one among many faithful Christian perspectives on origins. Integrate treats all Christian perspectives on origins with respect and grace.

I’ve long been an advocate for allowing teenagers to ask questions, of their faith, of their church, of their culture, and of their world. I believe that God loves our curiosity and designed us to want to know God better and to know more about the creation God loves. Integrate is doing just that. It seeks to create a space for students to ask questions and engage in gracious dialogue as they explore what they believe and why.

This coming Sunday, I’m going to continue the conversation with our high schoolers at church, talking about humanity’s impact on the planet and what we’re called to do as stewards of God’s creation, and I can’t wait to hear what is on their hearts and minds. Ask all the questions, sweet souls. Ask all the questions.

This endorsement is part of a paid partnership with BioLogos to promote Integrate. If you’re interested in exploring the Integrate curriculum for yourself, visit to subscribe to the Integrate email list. Your subscription comes with a free trial of Unit 1. If you’re ready to use Integrate for the students in your life, use my promo code SARAH30 for 30% off any product or bundle – visit

Cover Photo by Pixabay.

Priests and Prophets… and Eating Paleo

In January, we almost mostly completed a Whole 30 reset together as a family. We’ve been here before, a couple of times, and although there were fewer bad habits to break this time, it’s always good to reassess and begin better habits over again. Looking back on these various endeavors, I think my most favorite advice to myself from 9 years ago is to “stop idolizing food,” which I probably should have listened to the next year when I developed a bout of food anxiety

Here are my takeaways from this go-around:

  • Everything works better when I don’t eat cheese or ice cream
  • It’s a lot more expensive to eat without pasta and rice in your diet
  • Yes, you can get tired of mashed potatoes, no matter how much you think you love them
  • Alcohol gives me headaches and it’s dumb for me to drink it

It’s good to know these things. My hope, moving into February and onward with the rest of the year, is to remember these things and to make smart choices based on these observations. We’ll probably try to maintain some semblance of the Paleo diet we used to adhere to a decade ago, except with a lot more rice.

Sometimes, I will eat ice cream. Sometimes, I will have a glass of wine. Sometimes, I will eat cheese. And maybe, just maybe, I will make mashed potatoes again someday.

In other news, I started last year with a plan to read all of the prophets in Robert Alter’s beautiful translation of the Hebrew Bible, but it turned out Alter begins his translation of the prophets alllll the way back with Joshua and Judges, the Samuels and the Kings.

Viewing these books as prophetic literature revolutionized the way I read these confusing and mostly terrible tales. I finally finished the last of 2 Kings with its laundry list of kings who did evil in the eyes of the Lord and made the turn into what I had long considered the beginning of the prophetic books—Isaiah—at the start of the year, and Lo and Behold, Richard Rohr is calling for 2023 to be the year of the prophet. Would ya look at that. It’s the Year of the Prophet everywhere.

The other day, Lydia was watching the show A Series of Unfortunate Events. I listened from the other room to a lot of the dialogue. It seems to me that Joshua, Judges, the Samuels and the Kings (that’s my new band name) are a very long and ancient series of unfortunate events. They are tales and histories filled with warnings about what happens when people move away from love of God and love of neighbor and instead do whatever they want. These, for the most part, are not people or behaviors to emulate, especially when held up to the Light of Christ, the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

The prophets are earth shakers and doomsdayers who aim to wake up the slumbering. Wake up! There are injustices, there are prejudices, there are sins wreaking havoc on people’s hearts and bodies and souls. What are you going to do about it? How are you going to move? Where is there need, and how will you address it?

I read somewhere, probably in Richard Rohr’s emails, that it is difficult to be priest and prophet simultaneously. Priests are the keepers of the peace, the managers of organized religion, the Professional Christians. They count on a tithe and an offering for their wellbeing. But prophets are wild-haired, wild-eyed, carefree seers who are most notably unemployed by the church. I don’t think you can have a Professional Prophet. The power of our need to be sustained is too great to challenge the status quo, and really, is that the role of the priest/pastor/minister/father/shepherd anyway? The priest is supposed to care for its flock, nurture and lead it, ideally away from harm and into the shelter and refuge of the Father.

The prophets challenge the priests. It’s what they did in the Old Testament and New, and it’s what they do today. The prophets hold the priests accountable to their mission so that the allure of riches, comfort, and contentment don’t poison their ministry and kill their flock. Unfortunately, most people don’t really like prophets. Prophets challenge people to walk closer to God and care for others and stop hoarding cash and ignoring widows and making orphans, etc., which, let’s be honest, if you’re doing just fine thankyouverymuch you don’t want someone to come up in your business with all of that senseless grace, just mercy, and divine love.

Being a prophet sounds exhausting.

I love to read and discuss what I’m reading with other people, so I decided to start a book club at church this year, and what I’m realizing, two books in, is that I’ve chosen books by modern prophets. 

Our first book was How to Fight Racism by Jemar Tisby. It generated a lot of excellent ideas and healthy dialogue among those who participated, especially about how those of us who live and interact in a community that is so white can make our non-white friends and neighbors feel welcome. It’s easier to maintain the status quo and assume everything is just fine, but is it really? Shouldn’t we examine our history, our culture, and our community to see where people are suffering and how we can make it better?

If you’re interested, the book club meets online the last Monday of every month, and everyone is welcome to join. February’s book is The Making of Biblical Womanhood by Beth Allison Barr, and it’s already rocking my world.

Join the Facebook group and future online discussions here.

Who are your modern-day prophets? What are you reading, and how is it challenging you, entertaining you, encouraging you, or inspiring you? And, most importantly, what is the one delectable dish I must eat now that I can eat all things again?

Photo by Ray Bilcliff

What’s Ahead, What’s Behind

The kids go back to school tomorrow, which means winter break is officially over and the new year is about to begin. If you’ve been sticking around these parts for a while, you know that I love lists, resolutions, words, and goals. It’s that time again!

Last year, my word from the Lord was “recover,” and when I look at 2022 in the rearview, I can see the beautiful and constant work of healing and recovery.

It was also my 40th year on the planet, and I had a whole pile of resolutions, some more ambitious than others, most of which I didn’t reach. But when you resolve to do something, you set your sights on it, you hope for it, you drive toward it. Despite leaving behind or missing the mark on over 75% of my resolutions, I walked in the direction of light, health, peace, and joy, and that, my friends, is a successful trip around the sun.

I thought it might be fun to recap some of the best/favorite moments from 2022. Forgive me, there are many, many things I am grateful for in 2022, and many, many favorites.

Favorite Books of 2022 

(I read so many good books this year. Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order):

  • Bewilderment by Richard Powers – this novel was heartbreakingly beautiful
  • At least five books I read this year had something to do with rest, or Sabbath. If you are exhausted, burnt out, and anxious to experience the presence of the divine but feel as if God can’t be found, these were wonderful books: Sabbath As Resistance by Walter Brueggemann, The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence, An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor, Grounded by Diana Butler Bass, and The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel
  • Two books that changed the way I see the world were Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones and That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation by David Bentley Hart 
  • Three novels that were delightful, thought provoking, and granted the reader insight into other people’s lives were This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel, Phantoms by Christian Kiefer, and The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
  • Atlas of the Heart by Brene Brown and Walking the Bridgeless Canyon: Repairing the Breach between the Church and the LGBT Community by Kathy Baldock are two books I have referenced at least a dozen times each since reading them because of how clarifying and important they are

I read 40 books last year, which was one of the few resolutions I hit out of the park. I did manage to also write two essays, routinely compost kitchen scraps, and read Scripture daily. Oh, also, I have one paragraph toward my second novel. That’s all.

Favorite Songs of 2022

I mentioned at the start of December how I began a playlist called “Little Joys” back in May, when I was waiting to learn whether or not I had breast cancer. Songs have always defined seasons of my life. When I hear them again, I am instantly transported back to whatever core emotion I was feeling at that time, and I remember what pain, what loneliness, what joy, and what truths I learned. This handful of songs captures my 2022:

  • “You and Me on the Rock” by Brandi Carlile
  • “We Can’t Make It Here Anymore” by James McMurtry
  • “Old Pine” by Ben Howard
  • “Little Joys” by Tom Rosenthal
  • “A Simple Song” by Chris Stapleton
  • “Two Of Us” by the Beatles
  • “One” by Birdtalker
  • “Unconditional 1 (Lookout Kid)” by Arcade Fire

Favorite Documentaries and Films of 2022

I watched and reviewed somewhere around 24 or so different films, TV series, and documentaries for Root & Vine this year. If you go on the Sabbath journey of books I listed above, you might find yourself discovering God in all things. One of my favorite places to discover God is in the creative visual projects of filmmakers and documentaries. I loved many of the shows I reviewed, but these were some standouts (I’ve linked to my reflections on them for your enjoyment):

  • Spirited – A knockout rendition of A Christmas Carol. I friggin’ loved this movie.
  • The Trouble with Wolves – I definitely enjoyed this documentary, but the reason I’m listing this one is because God took me on such a delightful journey through the evolution of wolf imagery in Scripture because of this film. 
  • The Biggest Little Farm – I was so inspired and moved by this project to farm sustainably, in cooperation with the natural ecosystem. The film captures the delicate balance of harmony and disharmony in the universal body of Christ (I know, I’m getting a little woo woo about everything God made. I don’t think it’s going to get any better. Or worse?)
  • Electric Jesus – This is a super niche film for people who are especially familiar with the 80s Christian heavy metal band movement. Because of this film, I often find myself thinking, “You don’t have to make Jesus famous. He already is.”
  • Honeyland – I think this was probably the most obscure film we reviewed this year, but I was captivated by this ancient way of being, the simplicity of the main character’s life, and the hyper-local ecological economy that is entirely universal. 

Favorite Moments with Jesus in 2022

As I’ve been writing this, I am feeling overwhelmed by how much happened this year. Here are a bunch of my favorite moments with Jesus this year:

  • After my mom called me to tell me that she is cancer-free following seven long years of having stage 4 kidney cancer. I cried for joy and celebrated with Jesus and the people in the coffee shop where I was working. I wrote about it at God Hears Her in “The Resurrection Life.”
  • Living in the unknown of May, waiting for answers to diagnostic mammogram tests right on the heels of my mom’s cancer news, and being held and carried by Jesus and friends and family through fear and worry. Also, again, for “Little Joys” by Tom Rosenthal.
  • The healing balm of God’s comfort and long vision in the face of my grandmother’s death, and the way he spoke through me to my family at her graveside service. I wrote about that at God Hears Her, too.
  • The long hours spent in awe and wonder with Jesus in the wilderness of national parks and miles and miles of roads on our Out West trip this summer. I want to write about all of that, and maybe I will begin this coming year, or maybe I’ll just wait and let it marinade a while. I haven’t decided.
  • Watching Jesus walk with Brandon through the first six weeks of seminary and the dozens of times the Holy Spirit decided to say the same thing to each of us separately. So spooky! 
  • Being disciplined by the Lord one Sunday morning during a meditation class.
  • Every single time I was moved to tears by every single moment of gratitude and joy in every single day. I have gotten kind of embarrassing to be around. Super gushy. I’m weeping constantly. I don’t think it’s going away.

Looking Ahead to 2023:

When I was praying and thinking over 2023, I thought at first this year might be defined by the verb version of “treasure,” as in “Mary treasured all of these things in her heart.” Lydia will begin her senior year of high school this year, and because of this, I am aware that we are on the precipice of major changes in our home. We will also celebrate our 20th year of marriage this year, and while I don’t know what is in store for us in terms of celebration, I am ready to celebrate this landmark. I’ve been with my husband longer than I have not. 

I want to treasure all of these things.

However, I kind of already do this (see gushy, weepy, grateful blob comment above), so maybe “treasure” isn’t the right word. 

This morning, I read Richard Rohr’s email for the start of the new year, about his theme of “The Prophetic Path.” In it, Rohr writes:

“We’re going to use the meditations this year to try to illustrate that the Christian way is a prophetic path… There is a third way beyond fight or flight, conservative or liberal, and it probably is a way of ‘kneeling.’ Most people would just call it ‘wisdom,’ which is always distinguished from mere intelligence. It demands a transformation of consciousness and a move beyond the dualistic win/lose mind.”

Ah ha! Kneel. This is the word the Lord has for me in 2023. I felt a leap in my heart and goosebumps rise when I landed on it. 

I’ve been granted several new leadership roles in 2023, serving on the regional leadership team for the Brethren denomination and serving as the moderator for our local church. These roles are a little intimidating and a little exciting at the same time. I am glad to be trusted with the responsibilities of these roles, but I also sense the burden and deep desire I have to lead well, to live up to any expectations for wisdom and discernment.

How can I do that? By kneeling.

A man with leprosy came and knelt before Jesus. A synagogue leader came and knelt before Jesus. Jesus knelt down and prayed for God’s will to be done in him. 

The kneeling posture is one of submission. It is a posture of prayer. It is a posture of hope. It is a posture of expectant waiting.

Kneeling makes my knees ache. My feet often fall asleep when I kneel. I am a woman of a certain age, an age that sometimes requires preparation and assistance in order to stand from kneeling. Can you give me a hand? Kneeling reminds me of my mortality, of my dependence on others, of the time and energy that is necessary prior to making big decisions.

The temptations of leadership and authority are to charge ahead, to make grand plans, to leap into the what comes next. I could do that. I am a great strategist and planner—I can justify and implement whatever schemes we can dream of. But before there is a strategy, before there is a plan, there has to be a vision, and as a follower of Christ, vision comes through submission to the Lordship of Christ.

I think it will be important for me to kneel this year. I think it will be important to submit to the authority of the Lord I love who loves me, who seems to have grand plans and is doing new things, who has invited me into these spaces, who has disciplined me back from my own scheming ways into his faith, his joy, his provision, and his peace. 

Jesus knelt in prayer, listening for the word of the Father, and then he said to go and do likewise. Jesus knelt to wash his disciples’ feet and then told them to go and do likewise. I want to sit open and ready for whatever God has for me, kneeling at his feet, kneeling at the feet of others, listening and preparing to serve.

Resolutions for 2023:

I have some other resolutions for 2023. I probably won’t meet or keep all of them, but I will do my best to use them to walk in the direction of the light.

  • Read 52 books. What the heck, let’s go big and stay home and read all the books.
  • Reestablish an exercise routine. Practice yoga at least once a week, and walk or go to the gym at least three times a week.
  • Visit and explore one new place on the globe.
  • Do something wonderful with my husband for our 20th anniversary.
  • Keep seeking an agent for Some Bright Morning.
  • Incorporate some of the “little joys” from December into my second essay collection and revise it some more.
  • Complete a first draft of my second novel.
  • Ponder and maybe begin writing a road trip memoir.
  • Maintain Scripture reading daily and add in more time for meditation.
  • Be present for my children in their moments of need, their moments of joy, and their moments of flight.
  • Be a vessel of shalom for the people in my life.

Thanks for hanging in here and journeying with me through this vast and miraculous place. Isn’t it wonderful?

Photo by Pixabay:

Little Joys—Books

This year, I’ve traveled through the desert on horseback with a shepherd and an alchemist. I’ve fished the lakes of Canada by canoe, attended a boy’s boarding school, learned the dance of the herons along a river, sat in the kitchen of a distressed and impoverished wife in Michigan, explored vocation, followed a friend as she sought out her origin story, listened to veterans returning from foreign wars, walked from refugee camp to refugee camp with my older sister in Rwanda, played with magical creatures within view of a cerulean sea, smuggled my Jewish friend to safety, searched the globe for a safe place for a transgendered child, sat in isolation after sordid affairs, sought the Virgin Mary statue of my youth, magnified Ohio’s natural landscape, surveyed a century of macroeconomics, hurried across the Mexican border with a heroin dealer and observed a doctor prescribe painkillers along the Ohio River, and delighted in the minutiae that makes life marvelous.

Every book is an expedition into a meticulously crafted, imagined world that was born in the mind of a writer. Books are a glimpse into other people’s souls, a portal into other people’s minds. Not only do I experience far more than my own life is able to accomplish, I get to do so with at least one other companion, the author who journeyed to that foreign land first. What surprises, what delights, what challenges they encountered as they set out to create something that did not exist before! 

Then, after many rejections and negotiations, drafts and delays, that author sent their final manuscript to print, and an editor reviewed it, and a publisher forwarded it to the printing press, and a press operator programmed the press, and the pages came, and the ink dried. The paper was folded and cut and glued and bound and boxed and shipped, and now, finally, anyone can enter into one author’s story. Anyone can enter into one author’s mind.

Above me while I write are probably 400 different books, 400 different tales, 400 different angles and perspectives, 400 different journeys that took years to live and years more to write before they became these bound volumes honoring fragments of life that come together to form a mosaic of humanity.

I love books.

#advent #littlejoys #books #reading

Little Joys—Reruns

I’m still recovering from whatever bug decided to bless me with a head cold the last couple of days, so don’t expect anything brilliant here. Do you know what’s great? Reruns. Reruns and streaming TV with vast catalogs of movies I’ve already seen. Comfort food TV. That’s what’s great.

I watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” again on Saturday for the second time, forgetting what an awful movie it is. It’s so depressing. And then it’s so good in the end that it makes all the ugly crying I do throughout it worth it. I don’t remember what else I watched but I feel like I watched 873 hours of television this weekend and may never watch television again.

Our go-to comfort foods lately are The Office, Parks and Rec, and Friends. What do you return to over and over again? 

That’s all I’ve got today, folks.

Photo by KoolShooters

Little Joys—Long-Term Memory

This morning, my devotional referenced Elizabeth and Nathaniel’s pregnancy experience, and it got me thinking about the words recorded about Mary in both Luke 2:19 and Luke 2:51. Mary treasured the startling events and moments in Jesus’ early life. She tucked them away in her heart for safekeeping, to ponder and remember later.

There are lots of miraculous birth stories in Scripture—Sarah, Hannah, Elizabeth, and Mary, to name just a few. No matter what the backstory, once these promised babies arrived in their miraculous ways, they had to be nursed and weaned. They had to be rocked and shushed and sung to sleep. As they grew, they needed to be taught everything, just like my children, from how to hold a spoon to how to drive a car and everything in between. You have to teach children everything. Without long-term memory, it would be easy to lose the sense of the miracles each of these creatures are amidst the rubble of everyday life.

There is a sliver of miracle in every birth story, but some seem to have overcome even greater odds. Our son, Elvis, is one of those births. In the monotonous and normal days since his recovery and release from the NICU, the things that were said about him, the coincidences and synchronistic moments that nurtured those fragile days, I’ve treasured all of them in my heart.

Sometimes they slip out in conversation. I am compelled to say again what a miracle you are. Let me tell you once more how it was when you were born.

Memories of past events like these have a way of surprising me when I least expect it. Some aroma, some turn of phrase, something a friend or family member says will trigger the release of that memory, and suddenly I’m taken back, taken aback, to that moment in time. And now that the memory has surfaced again, it is being manipulated and transformed once more, by whatever is happening in the present, so that what I remember of the past and what I have made of the past evolve over time, changing even as they change me.

There are so many different moments that happen in any given day, and yet only so many of them make the transition from short-term to long-term memory. Some long-term memories are bizarre details I can’t make any sense of—why, of all things, do I remember that day? That moment? But most of those memories have shaped my identity. They have helped me to understand how I became who I am. Some are the origins of my worries and fears, while others serve as the touchstone of my self-worth and sense of being loved.

Where would we be without long-term memory, without the ability to pluck these moments out from all of the other ones and remember who we are? What a gift, what a joy to be surprised again by the treasures in our hearts, the treasures of early days, the treasures of the wondrous things that have been and have been said to shape ourselves and our loved ones.

Photo by Bruno Scramgnon

Little Joys—Old Photos

One of the fun outcomes of this “little joys” project is that I’ve had to keep adding other ideas to my list as I’ve gone along. I don’t think I’ll be able to cover all of them during advent. Perhaps I’ll have to keep at it until I exhaust my list. 

Hopefully, I will never exhaust my list.

This is the bookshelf above my desk. Besides books (another little joy to come), most of my shelf hosts photos and mementos. These three photos are from my dad’s side of the family.

You can tell any story you want from old photos, but the true magic of these frozen moments are the facts and memories of the lives that animated those images. I like surrounding my office with these black and whites. They had their own stories to tell, their own ambitions and regrets, obligations and dreams, some of them realized and others never revealed to anyone else. The secrets each heart keeps could fill volumes.

Two of these photos showcase my grandma and grandpa when they were young, before they had children. The third is of them when they were older, but probably not much older than we are now. In a way, they are before and after shots of those ambitions and dreams, dreams that manifested in the form of descendants to outnumber the stars, in place of a Nashville stage.

Tonight, our advent activity is to go through our annual family albums, to travel into nostalgia, to remember when. Someday, these three photos will just be two dimensional glimpses of a grandchild’s ancestry—a distinct nose, a knowing smile, the certain shape of an eye—with no stories attached to explain the young man and his band, the tall girl in the cowgirl hat standing by him in a crowd, the cluster of children surrounding them. Someday, even the thousands and thousands of photos I’ve collected in photo albums will become mysteries to a descendant.

But for now, I still hold their stories. For now, they are still as real as they ever were to me when they were living and breathing beings. I can almost hear the two of them singing.

Little Joys—Bodies That Can Heal

One of our kids stayed home sick after we stayed up super late seeing Hamilton last night (It was so good!). With so many viruses floating around lately, I was hoping our immune systems would prevail through yesterday so we could all enjoy the show. We just made it.

My guess is that Elvis was already fighting off a bug of some kind, but not enough sleep and hearty, German food, plus multiple steins of Coke at dinner last night must have made his body finally give in.

It is amazing that our bodies can heal. Think about it. Is there a single object that humans have made that can mend itself when it breaks? No phone screen, computer, light bulb, or battery can just automatically fix itself when it senses something is wrong. Sure, you could install a virus protector (which is essentially an immune system for a computer). So I guess there’s that. But our bodies can actually break, with broken bones and torn nails and burnt skin, and through the mighty power of blood and neurons and time, our bodies can heal themselves.

When our kids have had small scrapes or scratches that make them complain about their pain or feel sad that they’ve been injured, I have often reminded them, but isn’t it amazing that God made our bodies so they can heal?

I’ve never appreciated this more than after recovering from a chronic illness. I say “recovery” with a little hitch in my breath, because generally speaking, once you have POTS, you always have POTS, but sometimes your body will recover to the point of normalcy again. Also, it might take longer to recover from other illnesses with POTS, or other illnesses can trigger a POTS attack and set you back again. 

All of that being said, today, and in the days and weeks preceding this post, I have felt myself again. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t dip down to pick up something I dropped and marvel that I could do that without my head spinning or without losing balance. Instead of the little beaten soldier in charge of vocabulary having to trudge back into the folds of my brain with a flashlight and a limp in order to find the word I know I know, sometimes it just surfaces, there it is, the word I knew I knew and didn’t even have to think so hard to find. Eureka, you found it! I shout with glee to my battered but recovered Captain Thesaurus, who grins with unabashed pride.

Maybe that’s the best part of having journeyed through this long stretch of Covid recovery: doing things again without having to think about them. POTS is a form of dysautonomia. Dysautonomias disrupt all of the automatic functions your body normally does on its own. It was made to breathe, beat, sweat, and heat without your conscious mind doing anything about it. Your autonomic nervous system is the man behind the curtain you normally don’t have to pay any attention to; he just makes Oz go.

When you can’t stoop down, spin around, reach high, or stand up from bed without consciously preparing yourself for whatever might happen next (dizziness, headaches, blackouts, weakness), everything has to be done carefully.

But now, now, everything I do I can do care-freely. I can do all of those things, stoop, spin, reach, stand, and even more, and when it just happens and I don’t even have to think about it, it feels like magic. Wow, I think to myself in wonder, you’re better. You have a body that can and has healed. It’s miraculous in the way every little thing is miraculous if you look close enough.

I say bodies that “can” heal because of course sometimes they don’t, and when they don’t, we’re left to grapple with the finitude of all things, how all things pass away, how even the stuff of miracles eventually dies… even if it rises again. So, even if… even if this body doesn’t heal next time, even if healing isn’t physical, all things are being made new, all things are being regenerated, all atoms and elements are disconnecting and reassembling into the next new thing, and that, too, is miraculous, a whole universe of interconnected miracle.

Photo: Portrait bust sculpture of young woman with hair up by sculptor Billie Bond. Inspired by the ancient Japanese art of Kintsugi – the repair of broken ceramics with gold and a philosophy of making something better than it was before – seeing beauty in imperfection. Ceramic, resin and gold. Life-size.