Broken and Giving Thanks

 “Eucharisteo–thanksgiving– always precedes the miracle.”

~Ann Voskamp

There are people who speak God’s truth to me in my language. Not just my native language, but my heart language. Ann Voskamp is one of those people for me. And, once again, not only were the words right–the timing perfect. The title drew me in: “How to live through anything these holidays when you’re finding it hard to even breathe.” She actually posted it yesterday on, but I read it today. Good thing, too, because yesterday was already full up with emotion.

So I’m reading along, and I come to it there in bold print. And I stop. The tears waste no time coming. For a minute, I see nothing but the words:

“What you think you can’t handle–might actually be God handing you a gift.”

Ann, come on. What are you doing to me?

I know she’s right.

She’s right, and I believe what she’s saying, but I cannot for the life of me understand it. I’m thinking I should. I should have some lofty wisdom by now. I’ve followed Ann on the journey through counting our blessings in 1,000 Gifts and not being afraid of broken things in The Broken Way. I’ve even led studies on these books with our women’s groups. But I gotta tell ya–preaching and practicing–they’re two different things.

Life’s been bumpy lately. I look at the broken car on the screen and the image of the adult-kid who was so tired he allowed his life and that shiny new car to swerve off-course. He walked away unharmed but also seemingly unphased by the miracle. This kid with the broken heart even his mom doesn’t know how to fix. I look at broken dreams and broken families and shake my fists and stamp my feet and wonder how on earth can these things be gifts?

I’ve talked to people and heard their stories of God redeeming their shattered lives. Taking the years the locusts have destroyed, all the times they allowed themselves to be led astray, and redeeming them for their good and God’s glory. I have heard these things. I know God is in the business of miracles. I believe it. I pray that God will help my unbelief. What can I do in the meantime? Until he restores another tiny morsel of my faith, what actions can I take to propel me through the mire? Sure, I can listen to my life verse, Psalm 46:10:

“Be still and know that I am God.”

That’s all well and good, but I’ve physically sat here and prayed, and my mind is still antsy. What is that stillness going to look like this time ’round? What actions can I take to be still? Then I remember my gratitude journal, and the way it changed my perspective last year. Yes, that’s what I need, a change of vantage point. I’m stuck in the quicksand of doubt and dread. I want to be up out of the spirit-sucking muck and up on eagle’s wings getting a God’s-eye view. I make a list of the parts of this tragedy that I am grateful for. Maybe I can’t be thankful for the whole kit and kaboodle right now, but I can find pieces, tiny blessings embedded in the muck.

I’m thankful that:

  • he’s ok
  • my mother was praying for him before she even knew what was wrong
  • no one else was involved the accident
  • we have phones
  • my husband loves his family
  • my son loves his family
  • we are healthy
  • love perseveres

I listed even more blessings, and then I looked at what I had written. I was surprised that even though this was a terrible, traumatic thing that happened, if I looked for it, I could find God’s hand at work even in the emergency.

When I looked up the origin of “emergency,” I found that it comes from the Latin emergere meaning to “rise out or up.” It is widely understood that emergencies are occurrences that arise and require immediate attention. We know that. But what if we also knew deep in our souls that we are the ones doing the rising up and out and seeing “emergencies” as God does–as gifts, as opportunities to give thanks? When I remember to practice naming the gifts, a little more of God’s truth sinks in. I need that. I think you do, too.

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Golden Bowls

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

~Psalm 51:17

We’ve had a rough week. Yeah, another one. This time I actually shared my heart with some more people than I did last time. Interesting social experiment, I’m realizing (although that wasn’t my intent). I’m finding that when one shares the details of some family drama or crisis they are experiencing, the responses from the listeners will fall into one of a few different categories: some will offer their own advice on what they would do if their kid had screwed up so royally, some will maybe find the issue too big and scary or too alien to their own experiences that they can’t relate so they just offer a sympathetic shake of the head and an “I’m sorry” or “You’ll be in my thoughts,” some listen with their hearts and then share their own stories with you letting you know that they (or their kid) has also led a dark and dangerous life at one time and made it through to become upstanding, respectable citizens. Then there are the people who do all that they can to empathize and even take it a step further by offering prayer and scripture. Finally! Something I can use!

A good friend sent me a blog post written by a mother in a situation very similar to mine. It was so similar to mine, I’m now beginning to wonder if she hijacked my story or plagiarized it or was following me around for the past three years. No, just kidding. But still. . .one has to wonder. Anyway, my friend loved me enough to send me this post that didn’t “should” me but gave insights into her own experience and what worked for her and, even better, what God taught her through it. She quoted Revelation 5:8:

“. . .the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down  before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.”

How beautiful is that! How did I not see it before? Do you know who those saints are? We are the saints. Followers of Christ are those saints. This verse says that my prayers become incense in golden bowls. Those prayers, my prayers, flow up to God when I offer Him the concerns of my heart. I had never considered my prayers in this way. Over the years, I’ve changed the way I pray. I’ve learned that God is not some cosmic Santa Claus waiting for me to send Him my wish list so He can give me everything I want without regard for what God deems best for me. I’ve learned to seek His will before my own (“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” Not my kingdom come, my will be done). I’ve learned that his thoughts are higher than mine, His ways not mine. So hopefully, I’ve progressed to the point where I’m not pestering Him too much or throwing spiritual temper tantrums. Ok, who am I kidding? I have my own book of lamentations. Point is, forward is forward, right people?

So I read the verses about golden bowls and wanted to hold fast to that image, wanted to have it ever before me, wanted to plaster it as my background image on my laptop screen. So I googled it. A number of images came up of shiny ancient golden bowls, and then a picture came up that I didn’t expect. It was a picture of the famous photo “Grace” by Eric Enstrom. Somewhere around 1918, Enstrom photographed an elderly man who appears to be praying over a simple meal. Why did this image appear when I searched for images of golden bowls? Because Google seemed to make the connection between the Revelation reference and the photo. That man sitting at the table offering thanks for the loaf of bread and the bowl of soup or asking God for forgiveness or lamenting a prodigal child is filling golden bowls. If he has faith, he knows that God will honor those prayers even as they offer Him, our Heavenly Father, a sweet aroma.


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A Long Way to Go with NaNo and Frodo

“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

~E.L. Doctorow

It was pouring. I stood outside the grocery store still wearing my church clothes and ballet flats, my cart full of the week’s provisions. The car was so far away. When I had arrived, it wasn’t raining. I had considered bringing the umbrella. But it was a large golf umbrella. A ripped one, at that. It wasn’t really going to be worth the struggle to maneuver the umbrella with a full cart, so I left it in the car. I wondered why they didn’t make grocery carts with canopies.

Taking a deep breath, I realized I didn’t have a choice. I’d have to go through it. It reminded me of the children in Michael Rosen’s kid’s book Going on a Bear Hunt. In search of a bear, they encounter tall grass, a river, mud, a forest, and a snowstorm. Realizing they can’t go over or under these obstacles, they bravely proceed through them. Like many well-crafted children’s books, that one carries a profound message for adults as well: Be brave. Of course, I ventured out to the car with the full cart in the pouring rain. That was the only way I was going to accomplish the task.

Now I’m facing another challenge–NaNoWriMo. I committed to writing 1667 words a day over 30 days to end the month of November with a 50,000 word novel. Yes, there are other things I’d rather be doing. Come to think of it, I’m fond of sleep and sanity, but this is a promise I made myself. I knew it would be difficult, but I didn’t realize how difficult it would be or why. Now I know. It sounds juvenile, but it’s difficult because it’s a lot of words to write in a day. I’m writing fiction, and I don’t usually write fiction at all, let alone a long work. But I had an idea that wouldn’t let go, so I decided to see what it had to say. The thing is, it develops as it is written.

So, I sit down and I know I have to fill my word quota for the day, but even with an idea and an outline, I have almost no idea what I’m going to write. Most of it is a complete surprise. And most of it is terrible. Even as I write, I think You know this is terrible, right? You know when you finish you’re going to have to revise the whole thing because this stinks, right? Yes, I know all that. But I’m doing it anyway. Yes, I want the 50,000, but I’m also learning things I wouldn’t have learned if I didn’t do it, and it’s only been a week. If I stick with it, I’m bound to learn even more.

I have a greater appreciation for writers. Even the bad ones. It’s so easy to criticize someone else’s work when you haven’t attempted the thing they’ve done. Once you’ve tried it, you can see what they went through. Maybe they didn’t do a great job of it, but at least they completed it.

So far, it’s been seven days. I’ve written over 11,000 words in 27 pages. I’ve never written that much before in a single document. It reminds me of that scene in The Fellowship of the Ring where Frodo and Sam are setting off on their adventure and Sam says if he takes one more step it’ll be the farthest he’s been from home. I hear ya, Sam. I passed home about 8,000 words ago. I guess if I’m accomplishing things I’ve never done, that’s progress. The only way to do it is to go through it. Butt in the chair. One word after another.




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NaNoWriMo? Yes!

Psst!. . .I’m just sneaking over here to let you know that if I’m not blogging lengthy tomes this month it’s not because I’m not writing. Au contraire! For the first time, I am participating in NaNoWriMo. Oh! Never heard of it? Check it out:

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Renewing our Vows


(I read this at our wedding vow renewal ceremony on October 13, 2017.)


“Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Genesis 2:18


I often quote this verse in jest when DJ loses his keys or the glasses he now has to remove to read anything or put them back on again, or take them back off. He asks “Where are my keys? Where are my glasses?” And I pull myself up to my full five foot two and ask “What would you do without me? See? Even God knows you can’t be alone. He wrote it in His Book.” I joke, but I know it’s as true for me as it is for DJ. I have also found in this verse affirmation that I am the perfect wife. For DJ. Listen again:  “I will make him a helper fit for him.” Fit for him. I think over the years I’ve learned how to be a wife fit for DJ, just as he’s adjusted himself to take care of me. He does things for me that maybe other women don’t need their husbands to do. He knows what to say to make me feel better when I’m down. He knows how I react (or don’t react) when a crisis arises. And he knows my triggers. “If I said that, you’d blast me.” Yes, you’re right, I would. Because he knows me. And the amazing part, he loves me anyway. And isn’t that just like God with us? He knows it all, good, bad, and grotesque and He loves us, Adores us, anyway. That’s looking with love on another person. That’s grace. DJ, thank you for showing me grace.


Paul said: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situations, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:12


This Scripture applies to marriage, too. Together we can weather the storms of life when we draw strength from Jesus.


My friend Diana asked me what I was preparing for tonight. I said I wasn’t exactly writing my vows, I was more like summing up our life together. Briefly. She asked me how I was going to be brief about summing up 23 years and three kids. I tossed “brief” out the window and promised I would try to be entertaining and throw in a dash of mild hysteria. Welcome to our life.


I’ve never been to a wedding vow renewal ceremony, but I always knew I wanted to do it someday. When I broached the subject over the summer, DJ asked me a common question–why now? “It’s only been 23 years. I thought we’d wait until our 25th anniversary.” When I asked “Why wait?” he didn’t really have a good answer, so I won, and here we are.


I was also thinking about how broken relationships seem to get so much air time and healthy ones, well, maybe they’re not as interesting? Or we take them for granted? Like “yeah, mom and dad and mom and dad have been together forever, and. . .?” Well, it’s a wonderful thing! And all those wonderful things should be celebrated. So let’s do that tonight. Like the apostle Paul said in Philipians 4:8: “Whatever is  true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy,think about such things.” That’s what we’re doing here.


More than anything, I see tonight as a time to just stop and breathe. A time to stop and say, “Hey, look at how God has been faithful to us.” A time to reflect with gratitude on His goodness. A time to say Thank You to Him and to all of you for being here and supporting us on this journey.


So I decided since this was a ceremony with which I have no experience, I hopped on Pinterest for some ideas. Some people go out and buy new dresses. Some buy new rings. Some even take a second honeymoon. Even if we could afford to do those things, they seem like they would detract from the purpose of the vow renewal ceremony–the actual renewing of the vows. Having said that, I would not be offended if we did this again in twenty years at our Tuscan villa. You’re all invited to that one, too.


But this one is streamlined, without the frills. I remember when DJ and I were dating and something difficult came up, I can’t remember what it was, but I remember my mom saying that “The only thing that matters is what you two say to each other.” There was a lot of wisdom in that; that’s probably why I remember it even now. To me that’s the point of this–what we are saying to each other. It’s what we said 23 years ago, but to me it means even more today because we’ve got some life under our belt and we are still saying “yes” to each other.


When we got married twenty-three years ago, in front of about two hundred people, without knowing what the future would hold, we made promises to each other. Then we walked out of the church and started our life together. DJ got a job at EHS Engineering. I got a job teaching preschool at St. Thomas School. We started to understand “plenty” and “want.” Then, at different times, we both contracted Lyme disease. God saw us safely through it. And then one night DJ ended up on the floor in excruciating pain because he had thrown his back out. I could have sworn I saw angels attending him in the back of the ambulance. Thankfully, that was the only time in 23 years, we’ve had to call the ambulance to our house. We learned about “sickness” and “health.”


We had Tim. It was then, when we became parents, that we began to get the slightest inkling of God’s immense love for His children. If we as flawed humans, could love this little blonde-headed bundle so intensely, how deep and far and wide must be the Father’s love for His children?


In 1998, we had the house fire. God protected us by keeping us safe at Scot and Ginny’s picnic until we got the call from my sister. I crumbled, but I remember DJ holding it together pretty well. It’s pretty cool the way God doesn’t often have both of us losing our minds at the same time. Kinda works out, you know? Good thing because it was another lesson in “plenty” and “want” and displacement.


We lived with Jan and Darry for a year and a half and Darry and a crew of angels helped us build a house bigger and better than before, and I just loved it. I loved it so much, we had another kid. David came along and blessed us with his imagination and blessed Tim with a brother. Thanks for filling the position, Dave. I believe you’re the right guy for the job. I’m sure Tim would agree.


I left teaching full-time after the fire. DJ switched jobs a time or two–or ten–I’m terrible with numbers. He served in the Navy. That was a little scary, but God kept him safe there for us, and that herniated disc kept him out of active duty and good thing, too, because along came the beautiful baby girl he had pictured filling in that empty space next to the boys in the Sears photo. It was time to add a room to the house but it was dwarfed by the room in our hearts taken up by our three children. Remember how the Grinch’s heart burst out of that gold frame and nearly exploded out of his chest? PING! Yeah, it was like that! Still is. Goodness, when I hear these kids together, laughing, playing music, goofing–it doesn’t get any better. And that gives me hope. It reassures me that one day when we are old and senile, you three will still remember each other (so you can remind us what your names are when we are too old to remember).


We’ve seen cats, followed by fleas, a hamster, up to forty chickens followed by rats, tens of thousands of honeybees (and evidence of one greedy bear.) We’ve attended four different churches. And, Char has informed me held fifty children’s birthday parties. (Tomorrow will be fifty-one)–how many chocolate cakes is that? We’ve lost all our grandparents, but, look! We both have both of our parents. And their memories are better than mine, what does that say? AND our parents are still the originals. I’m so glad they have staying power.


It looks like we have it, too. And it’s not just because we made those promises to each other. It’s not just because I’d follow DJ’s aftershave to the grave. It’s because God knows how hard this life can be, and He helps us every day keep those promises.


We promise to always be here for you, to love you and to listen.





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Phlox of Patience

“Weeds are flowers, too, once you get to know them.”~Winnie the Pooh

It’s the middle of August. The garden phlox are out in abundance. When they were still growing tall and before they flowered and unleashed their glory, a friend thought they were weeds. As much to say “Why don’t you cut those things down?” I was aghast. As defensive of those flowers as a mother of her children. “No, no, those are phlox. Give them time. You’ll see.” And so they grew and grew, their green leaves outstretched bilaterally all the way up their stems, soaking in the sun’s radiant energy. Some stems almost reached my shoulder. Their little buds appeared one day, swirled up like closed umbrellas. And then finally, the unfurling.


Now the garden is a riot of pink. Bumblebees, hummingbirds, hummingbird moths, wasps, they all love the phlox. The rain comes and bends the stems. We brush past the blooms on the brick walk, a dozen flowers confetti to the ground. Compliments abound. “These are pretty. What do you call them?” “Oh, these are phlox,” I say, matter of factly, like the mother of some of the fairest maidens in all the land. We take in the wonder and the fragrance and revel in the pink party. And all because we were patient. And waited. Love is patient. It knows how to wait.


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No Snow Birds

(This story was published in The Green Mountain Trading Post on August 23, 2017.)

It’s misleading for people who only come up here one week a year–Fourth of July week. Everything’s pretty and blooming and green, temperate and comfortable. Gentle breeze. Nothing to do. Living is easy. And you daydream. . .wouldn’t it be nice to live here? And you think about it the way you know it–in summer. Knowing all the while, there are three other seasons and, coming to your senses, you know winter lasts six months or more up here in the Northeast Kingdom. Maybe it’s because of those tough winters that it’s so beautiful up here.

Like watching an older married couple dancing at a wedding. You admire the way they move together, instinctively anticipating the others’ moves. Together for forty years? Fifty? And you think How nice! Wouldn’t it be nice to sit across the same breakfast table from each other all those years. Same coffee cup. No need to speak. She knows how he likes his coffee. No need to ask. Her hand on his shoulder, his turn of the head and slight smile were passionate kisses twenty years prior. Oh, they still have those, too. But not every day. And it wasn’t forty or fifty years of peaceful coffee mornings and easy, seamless dancing. There were upheavals. When you saw them dancing at the wedding? That was the cottage-at-the-lake-in-July glimpse everyone else saw, too. The real work comes the other three seasons. Summer love, like summer living at the lake, is easy.

The pastoral winter photos in the tourist-trap gift shop seem idyllic. But you know it’s also cold and unfriendly even while you’re lost in the reverie with its crystal clear brook babbling by, the log cabin tucked between snow-covered hills, a curl of smoke rising out of the chimney from what must be a cozy fireplace inside. What you don’t see are the blizzards, the bone-chilling cold that doesn’t leave you, the kind that can’t be melted with wool socks. You just can’t shake it until that first spring thaw when you dare go outside and shed the cloak and soak in the once again warm sun and leave behind the twenty-six below zero nights, the busted pipes, the silence except for the lonely loon on the lake after Labor Day when the merry-makers  have gone, the fireworks have faded, the burger grease on the grill is all that’s left.

So, what about that old couple floating gracefully around the dance floor? There were times, especially just starting out, when they felt the chill. Maybe not quite twenty-six subzero, but days when they weren’t quite in sync. He stepped on her toes. Maybe she protested. Maybe just grinned and bore it. But they figured it out. And sometimes he’d lead, and sometimes she’d lead, but eventually they fell into step. At times, they were so close, they couldn’t see themselves. Then they’d remember to pull apart a bit to see the other more clearly. Careful not to drift too far apart and lose sight of the other.

Summer’s all but gone now. Folks will be packing their souvenirs and memories, taking a final glance around at the mountains loaded with balsams, taking a deep lungful of that northern air, and heading down the interstate. As I look out at the lake, I wonder about that old couple. They move so well together, but what did it take to get to that point? There’s time for that. See, my guy and I, we’re still new to this. We’ve only been together thirty years. The water on the lake’s getting a little choppy. The wind’s starting to pick up. We snuggle closer. The colder it gets, the closer we get. It keeps us warm. Let the water get rough. Let the cold wind blow and the temperature plummet. We’re not the type to fly south for the winter.

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