Vacations Become Part Of You

My parents were pastors who loved to take small struggling churches and nurture them to wholeness.  We learned to live creatively on very little income, yet because mother was an artist, a designer seamstress and a decorator, and Daddy was a fine carpenter, our parsonages were always beautiful and comfortable when they finished their renovations.

Gloria in Toronto at historical fort

Gloria in Toronto at historical fort

Mother was always up on current styles, too, and made my sister’s and my clothes so that we always felt well-dressed and never self-conscious.  Mother had been a model in Battle Creek, Michigan, before they became ministers, so she thought it was important to teach us girls good posture, good manners, and ways to make others feel at ease.

Daddy always planted a huge garden and out of its yield, mother created beautiful meals.  Our house was full of guests (ministers, missionaries, evangelists, and families in our church) and lots of teen-agers from the youth group.  Now I wonder how we fed so many so often on so little.

But one thing my parents always prioritized, no matter how careful we had to be with our money, was the family vacation.

Every summer we loaded up the car with produce from the garden, and groceries to last two weeks, plenty of bait for fishing, our tackle boxes and fishing poles, and off we’d go to some beautiful Michigan lake or a cabin in the northern virgin pine and white birch forests.

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Daddy hauled many a soggy rowboat in and out of marrow-bottomed lakes because mother loved to fish.  Often, we’d clean our catch after dark by the light of battery-operated lanterns, then fry fish and sliced potatoes and onions for an almost-midnight feast which we’d enjoy to the symphony of crickets and cicadas that filled the woods and then lulled us to sleep through the screened windows of our open-raftered cabin.  What contentment!

One of my favorite memories is a vacation we spent on Little Manistique Lake in the Upper Peninsula where we stayed in a wonderful log cabin with a fireplace.  I remember, too, a huge four poster bed in the room where my parents slept.  The side trips from this vacation spot were great adventures.  We visited a place called Big Spring where from a glass-bottom boat one could see the lake being fed from a deep dark hole that seemed to go to the center of the earth, a huge fresh water spring gushing from a depth we could only imagine.

At dusk, we would drive (after dinner and ice cream cones) to the edge of the small town where the city dump was like a wildlife exhibit.  We’d turn off the lights of the car and wait, and soon we’d see the great bulk of brown bears lumbering out of the woods with their cubs to search for discarded food.

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As the week went on, we learned that the solid log house in which we were staying was the first home of a German immigrant who had come to upper Michigan more that fifty years before with his young bride.  The immense hand hewn bed we had so admired they had brought from Germany – their only piece of furniture from “home.”

The man still lived on the property, and all of the cabins and the resort were now owned by his son and his wife.  He had been, all his life, a teacher of English literature, but had for many years been retired.  His wife was gone by then, and he had moved into a two-room cottage near his log library.  Mother, a lover of great literature, struck up a friendship with him, having long discussions about their favorite authors.  One night she invited him to come over for dinner and treat us to an evening of reading around the fire.  He selected Shakespeare and Browning for the evening’s readings, and we all sat mesmerized as this learned man with the voice like a great Shakespearean actor, interpreted passages from the plays and sonnets of Shakespeare and the poetry of Browning.

To this day, I love those two important writers and can still hear the booming voice of an old German schoolmaster, wrapping me in the music of words one cool Michigan summer night.

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I Remember Daddy

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Daddy was a Pastor, and he was perfect for that work.  Like the father I knew at home, Daddy was caring, steady, dependable, responsible, and righteous.  I say righteous in the best sense of that word, for he had a passion for right, and right guided his decisions, whether those were spiritual, social, domestic, or financial.  He tried in our family, in the church, and in the community to “do the right thing”.

Daddy loved my mother and was extravagant in appreciating her.  He always said God ordained for them to be together because she had all of the gifts that he lacked and together they were an effective and formidable team.  He was thorough and loved research and study; she was instinctive and creative.  He was social and loved to experience fellowship; she knew how to do everything—and I mean everything—with beauty and flair.  She could pull off a happening!  Both of them loved people and were generous with their time, our home, and what finances they had.  They both loved deep philosophical concepts, were thrilled with new insights, and enjoyed nothing better than a challenging discussion.  Our dining room table was the place to be if you wanted to learn, be challenged, or hear some great stories.

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To this day, I think of going to the phone to call them to come across the creek to our family room to hear the newest song we have written, especially if it contains a deep theological truth.  If I had one wish, it would be that they could be in our life for a day or two to experience what God has done with our songs and to hear what our children have created since they left us when the kids were young.  Maybe God has made provision for them to at least hear some of the praise and rejoicing that has been sent heavenward from concerts and from the private hearts of believers as they worshipped through the music.

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I always thought my dad was the strongest person I ever knew, that nothing could get him down.  But one time in his life I saw him almost lose his faith and his joy.  He was in a very discouraging pastorate fraught with problems.  He couldn’t seem to see any change taking place in the lives of people he poured his heart out to teach and lead.  It was a real wake-up call to me to learn that good and Godly men were vulnerable to discouragement and even despair.  I knew I had been one of many in my father’s life that just assumed he was impervious to defeat.  I realized after I was more mature, that everyone needs encouragement and soul support. 

Out of that experience came a lyric to which Benjy wrote music and Amy recorded on the CD Some Things Never Change.  The song was titled “My Disheartened Old Hero” and maybe it is a good song for Father’s Day—to remind all of us who are fortunate enough to have had a great dad to say so!  And to be specific about all of the things we appreciate about our “righteous” fathers.       

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I Then Shall Live

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In 1976 Francis Schaeffer wrote a very important book posing the question:  How Should We Then Live?  I was deeply impacted by that book and the many questions the book asked of the thinkers of that decade.

Over the years that followed the question presented itself to me as a serious Christian, as a young parent, as an American, and as a citizen of the world community.  How would Jesus ask me to live given the culture and circumstances – both personal and global – in which I was living out my life?

Having always loved the music “Finlandia” written by Jean Sibelius, I sat down one day in the 80’s to listen to what I felt it was saying to me.  This is sometimes a difficult task when a piece of music has been the setting for other familiar texts, but as I listened it seemed the music was saying, “I then shall live as one who’s been forgiven…”

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If I wrote that line, what would follow?  How does one live forgiven?  Certainly, gratitude would be the first response.  But what then?  What would be the “living out” part of being treated with grace?

As the music played, I wrote quickly what I felt the Spirit was dictating to my soul.  When the words were on the page, I read them and had to admit that these were words easier to write than to faithfully live out in all areas of my life on a daily basis.  Again, Francis Schaeffer’s questions had intersected with my life and I was held accountable to answer, not just with words, but with my days.

The song found its way into choral arrangements and hymnals, but not until the Vocal Band and Signature Sound men began to sing it did it reach so many regular people like me.  If we could all begin to believe that each of us is “where the buck stops” if the world is ever to be changed by the beautiful message of redemption – not just in what we say, but in who we truly are – I believe something amazing could happen.

The problems of the world are huge: hunger, war, crime, betrayal, devastation.  The issues each of us deal with as individuals are huge:  inadequacies, past failures, wasted opportunities, physical limitations, financial reversals, broken relationships.  If we looked at the problems of the world and our own personal challenges as a whole, we would be paralyzed by the immensity of it all.  How could we possibly change anything? 

But we can take on this day.  We can affect the lives around us where we are.  We can choose our attitudes toward those with which we interact.  We can forgive today’s offenses, live gratefully today, rejoice in the progress we’ve made so far.  We can choose to live outward toward those who are in need in our neighborhood, extended family, pockets of poverty in our area.  And we can do what we do today as “unto the Lord” with no “keeping track” or ulterior motives.

In time things will change – in ourselves and in our world.

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Plant A Tree

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If you want to make it home, plant a tree!  Trees are our statement of faith in the future, our daily journal of the present, the repository of memories of days gone past.  Trees are an invitation to birds and wildlife.  Trees are the budding promise of spring, the cooling shade from summer's scorching heat, a circus of color in the fall, and in winter, the stark reminder of the necessity of bones and framework to the form and shape of our lives.  Trees are a metaphor for the cycle of our own days – and those of our parents and our children. 

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And what is it about trees that are so irresistible to children?  Certainly, every yard worthy of the name must have a “climbin’ tree” where a kid can scale to the heights to get perspective on life, escape a bully, or hide from siblings.  A great tree is a “jungle gym” and a hut where the Mowgli in each kid can come to the surface.  It should have one great horizontal limb from which a swing can hang with long ropes that lets a kid (or a grown-up) swoop out over the hillside to survey all his or her domain.  When Bill and I first built our house fifty-two years ago, we planted trees, many of which were saplings we rescued from the creek side when we dredged out our pond.  One was a silver maple which we planted because we knew it would grow fast.  By the time the kids were ready for school, the tree was ready for them.  They would hide notes in the knothole in the trunk, use it as a launching pad for Star Wars invasions, and climb high enough to eat peanut butter sandwiches out of our collie’s reach.  Soon they were good enough climbers to be on a first name basis with the black squirrels and the blue jays. 

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These days the silver maple has made the upstairs porch seem like a tree house and our children’s children have claimed it for their own.  The twigs that blow down when we have a storm are still collected to start fires in the kitchen fireplace, while bigger limbs are trimmed back and used for bonfires at the creek.

Many an afternoon nap has been stolen on an old quilt we spread under the tree.  Sometimes apple slices, graham crackers and white icing sandwiches and cold glasses of milk turn the quilt under the tree into an impromptu picnic.

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The willow tree by the pond marks our favorite fishing spot; the magnolia by the garden swing is a great place to hide.  The pines shelter the tall steel swing set while the “sweet pea trees” attract honey bees and hummingbirds.  The English walnut that arches over the pool and the orchard began in a coffee can from a seed planted by a teenage boy named Michael, and the spruces came to our yard as seedlings from my parents' “Christmas tree farm” churchyard in Michigan.  Bill’s grandpa Grover saved the hard maple seedlings along Hanna Street by tying white rags across them back when the bulldozers were shaping our home site four decades ago.  Now they form an arbor over our street like a welcome arch.  And the two hundred arbor vitae that formed a green thirty-foot hedge on the east property line were planted when they were barely 12 inches high by Bill, his dad, and his grandpa.

The lilacs were a gift from a friend, and the pink dogwood down by the English Garden fence came from my parents because its blossoms remind us of the cross.  The apple tree in the English Garden came up on its own from seeds I shook out of my tea towel on the days I sat on the garden bench peeling apples and reading James and the Giant Peach to our children.

Friends who come to see us will likely as not get you a tree tour.  Every tree has a story.  And those stories are so woven into the fabric of our family’s sense of place that we can hardly tell where we stop and the trees begin.

When someone we love builds or buys a new home, we usually send a tree.  We know that no matter where you live, it will never be “home” until you plant a tree.

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Free To Be Grateful

I was born three months after Pearl Harbor was bombed. I remember (barely) rationing of certain materials and food stuffs, gas, and metals. I can recall my mother’s friends talking about “the war effort” and “rolling bandages”.

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I grew up with a cousin (born in the same month as I) whose father, my father’s only brother, was wounded in action in New Guinea and was given a “purple heart”. At four years old I wasn’t sure why the real heart he had wasn’t good enough, but my family spoke about it like it was an honor to have the purple one. When he came home to claim his little daughter from my grandmother and grandfather who were caring for her, he brought a new wife who was the army nurse that had tended to his wounds in the army hospital. As it turned out, she was from Mississippi and had the only real southern accent in our family.

My uncle finished his education in literature and theater with a civil defense loan and taught in the Chicago area until he retired. He and his army nurse wife had four more children. Phoebe, the cousin who was like a sister, still keeps in touch, and Jeannie, one of the other four children, came to spend the day with me when we were singing at Willow Creek Church.

My father never served in the military, but became a wonderful pastor who with my artist/writer mother built strong congregations in Michigan. Both of them had a passion for people and instilled in my sister and me a love for God’s kingdom the world over.

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One of Bill’s earliest memories of his sixth Christmas Eve, when, at his family’s Christmas gathering, word came that his Aunt Lillie’s handsome son Glen had been killed in Germany only a few days after he had been deployed. This bright young man was engaged to a lovely girl and had hoped to go into the ministry of the Nazarene Church where he had been active in the youth group. 

From then on for years, there was certain sadness for Bill about Christmas Eve and the Gaither family celebration. Maybe that is why we tried to make new memories with our children on Christmas morning.

Like most families, ours has been affected by the loss or injury of one of our own who served in the defense of our country.  For Aunt Lillie the fracture to her soul caused by losing a son never fully healed, though she lived to be in her nineties. And my family was changed forever by “the war”. Many men and women who have experienced the horror of war carry deep wounds. Scar tissue of the spirit finally forms, and life goes on. But nothing is ever quite the same. There are emotional sacrifices that go on long after “Johnny comes marching home”.

The freedom that we treasure in America is unique in all the world. As we begin the summer season traveling, gathering, worshipping and celebrating with our families, let us take time to savor our freedoms. Let’s use these freedoms—rare in the world—to do good things.

We are free to help others,
     free to assemble,
          free to be generous,
               free to pray,
                    free to learn,
                         free to criticize and question.

Let us always be aware that freedom is not free. It has come at great cost, a price that should cause us to live aware and grateful. And may we never misuse this precious freedom or use it as a license to take away someone else’s freedom.

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I Remember Mother

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Her hands.  I remember her hands almost before I remember her face.  Before I can remember remembering, I was aware of her hands that could always do what was needed to be done—smooth, caress, warm, mold, paint, decorate, plant, harvest, demonstrate, sew, press, write, admonish, hug, comfort. Her hands never seem to rest.  Even when she slept it seemed her hands didn’t; they were always “on call” even when they were motionless.

I used to ask her about her hands, and she would tell me stories of the scars and dents and mishaps that shaped and marked her hands--like the time she got her fingers caught in the ringer on wash day feeding dish towels into the double rolling cylinders that squeezed the water from the cloth. And the time she sliced her thumb with the butcher knife or shut her finger in the car door.  “Beauty marks,” I used to hear people say about the little brown moles on the upper lip of some movie star.  But I thought the term was better suited to the adventure scars on mother’s hands.

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Her face. My second memory was her face and the way it felt when I ran my tiny hands over its flawless smoothness to put myself to sleep.  Most children have something soft and smooth like a blanket or a fuzzy toy, but I touched my mother’s face, ran my small hands over her cheeks, and went to sleep knowing she was holding me.  At naptime, she always read to me and was still reading when I dropped off to sleep, and I knew she would doze off for a few minutes, then quietly slip away to finish some job she couldn’t do with me awake. The last day of her life, I said “good-bye” by touching her soft face and singing into her ear her favorite of our songs:  “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, there’s just something about that name….”

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Her bearing.  I remember her dignity, beauty and self-respect.  We used to kid her about being short, though she’d always lie enough to make her driver’s license read 5’4”. Daddy would stand mockingly tall beside her and put his arms around her shoulders as if he had to stretch to reach that far down.  She’d pretend to punch him in the belly and say, “Well, I’m as tall as anybody!”  And so she was—straight and tall as anybody. And she was always dressed pretty and well groomed.  I never remember her in a soiled robe or sloppy slippers.  When I came downstairs in the morning to the smell of bacon frying in the kitchen, I would find her looking put together with her make-up on, her hair combed, her sassy self dressed for the day and wearing her high heels.  She even worked in the garden in her heels and refused to wear what she called oxfords or even flats. Even when she was dying of cancer she made me promise to not let people see her without her hair in place and her dignity intact.

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Her mind.  As I search for an adjective to characterize her mind I think of “hungry”.  I remember a piece of sculpture’s clay she once shaped in an art class. It was birdlike. The body was small and insignificant in relation to the head, the beak open and lifted skyward. “This is my soul,” she said. Her mind was always seeking something to fill her soul, and it would not be stilled.  It would not be tranquilized or pacified.  Relentless as the tides, her mind rolled and heaved, casting perplexities up on the beaches of contemplation.

Her hands, her face, her “presence,” and her mind—these I remember.  They are symbols of a working, playing, laughing, scolding, thinking, encouraging, preaching, modeling, praying mother—a mother who stood tall, endured with grit, created out of nothing, refused defeat, served God and the world, and spoke her mind.  I must keep telling my grandchildren that I remember mother.

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Beautiful Feet

When you are young, a pedicure is a luxury, one most young mothers can’t afford.  Things like beautiful feet take a budget backseat to groceries, diapers, dentist co-pays, and an occasional night out with the one you love, to remind each other why you got married in the first place.

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But after 50, pedicures move into the absolutely-worth-it category, and after 65 they join the list of necessities to be scheduled.  For me, years of standing in 3-inch heels for 4-hour concerts plus a couple hours of meet-and-greet opportunities have taken their toll on my feet.  By this age I have become acquainted with words like corns, callouses, bunions, ingrown toenails, and hammertoes.  And pain.

I remember the day I went through my closet and ripped out 40 pairs of great shoes--cute high-heels, sandals, and gorgeous boots—I had accumulated to accommodate the several lives I juggle:  professional, educational, community, and, of course, stage formal.  It broke my heart to give away all this classy footwear, but I determined that day to never wear anything higher than 2-inch heels and nothing that hurt!

By then, my feet gave witness to the years of abuse I had given them trying to be stylish and, well, beautiful. 

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Enter Karen.  This angel from heaven now periodically soaks, pumices, massages, and polishes my feet.  She smears some “elixir of the gods” on my aching feet and wraps them in steaming towels so that the fragrant oils penetrate deep into the tissue.  She brings me a cup of herbal tea with honey and plays music that calms my weary mind.

And Karen is a metaphor, too.  She represents to me the amazing truth from Isaiah 52:7:
       How beautiful on the mountain are the feet of those who bring good news,
       Who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who
       Say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

 It was Paul the apostle who quoted Isaiah’s musical statement to the Romans, who, by the way, walked that hot and dusty city of Rome in ill-fitting sandals.  But both Isaiah and Paul were talking about a lot more than calloused and bunioned feet.  They were talking about what Karen’s sweet spirit is to me when I climb, exhausted in mind and body, into her pedicure chair. 

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And it’s not just Karen.  I have often been healed at some deep place by the ministry of feet:
--the miracle of the tiny feet of my babies who have survived the valley of the shadow of death to explode squealing into the world, covered with the velvet of natal powder, perfect and whole,
--the willing feet of my precious 5-year-old who would run back and forth across the room to fetch the diapers, the powder, the towel…when I was caring for two babies just 13 months apart
--the stomping feet of teen-agers, keeping time to the music of their garage rock band practicing in the playroom above my kitchen,
--the aching feet of Teri or Patty or Angela or Sharon who work in the office or the house, or the garden to make our crazy multifaceted life work.
--the beautiful feet of our expanded family, running down the hillside with kettles of sweet corn, pots of green beans, trays of hot dogs and buns so that we can laugh and sing our way through one more cook-out at the creek.

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Oh, yes!  Beautiful are the feet that minister to feet!  Beautiful are the feet that dance, run, tap to music, serve and are the transforming glory of the very spirit of God!

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Just Be

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Being is life’s most articulate monologue.  All other statements must fall in line behind what we are.  Being what we truly are at the core of our character makes no appointments for convenient times to be seen.  There are no “on” and “off” switches to the way we live our lives, though we may have times when we “look good” or “act nice” or “perform for the camera.”  But even then when we may fool a stranger or con a novice for a while, sooner or later a roll of the eyes, a gesture of the hand, a sigh or our body language will give us away.

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The place where we are most often what we truly are is at home, for more of our true being is done there.  Home is where we can and do shed our protective facades.  It is where we can “relax and just be.”  So that is where our true selves speak loudest of all.  It is where the interaction between differing personalities is more intense and goes on for the longest time, making more demands on our character at a deeper level than between more transient and temporary relationships of the school or work place.

John O’Donahue put it this way in his lovely collection To Bless the Space Between Us:

Most of what happens within a home unfolds inside the ordinary narrative of the daily routine. Yet later on in life, when one looks back more closely, it is quite incredible how so many of the roots of ones identity, experience, and presence lead back to that childhood kitchen where so much was happening unknown to itself.

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But being, that makes a difference, at home or anywhere, takes being fully alive--plugged in and aware.  Those who bring joy seem to notice everything.  The simplest things bring them joy—the exuberance of children, the raindrops on the holly leaves, the way the sunbeams through the window cause rainbows to dance on the wall, the first blossoms in the spring, the taste of the first ripe apple—everything brings them joy and that joy is infectious.

Perhaps this ability to be tuned in is what Jesus meant when He said, “I come that you may have life, and have it with abundance.”  Being “alive with His life” is a wonder in this pessimistic world.  It is, well, a light!  No wonder the gospels seem to use the terms “light” and “life” interchangeably!

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Think of the people in your life that seem to be the “presence” to brighten the space wherever they are.  They seem to be light—walking.  They are the ones that seem to not only bring the joy, but they also bring hope when there is pain.  They are the calm in the storm and the wisdom in chaos.  It’s not so much what they say (although these are the ones we are drawn to for great conversations and bits of wise advice) as what they are.

They are the silent “yeast” that makes the bread of life so delicious.  They are the flame the children go to to ignite the sparklers of their dreams. They sing the lullabies that calm spirits and bring us to rest.  They are the ones who can build a shelter out of scrap lumber, create a masterpiece from left-over paint and a piece of old canvas, or sew a designer suite with the fabric of our days.  They show us that to live is a blessing but to be is holy.

Leave the harsh directives and judgmental accusations to others.  The “sermons” that really change us are most often unspoken but lived out by those who have learned to let the Holy Spirit do what He does while they do what they do best— delight in the Lord and just be.

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Lifeline For Doubters

There is a line in one of my otherwise favorite hymns that I am not able to honestly sing exactly as the hymn writer wrote it. It goes, “If you trust and never doubt, He will surely bring you out…”

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Thankfully (and mercifully), I have been rescued by another line.  This one was spoken by our Lord himself, and it was spoken to the most famous doubter in the New Testament whose very name has come to be a synonym for doubters —Thomas.  This line turned out to be the last beatitude, and it was not spoken in the “sermon on the mount”, but to Thomas himself where the disciples had barricaded themselves after the crucifixion. Jesus has appeared alive to several of the men and women disciples, but Thomas wasn’t buying their story and had said so in no uncertain terms!  “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

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Then in spite of the locked doors, Jesus showed up.  Not only Thomas, but also the others were there as well, but after greeting them with “Peace!”, Jesus turned his focus to Thomas. Thomas must have hoped that what he had said hadn’t gotten back to Jesus.  He probably expected condemnation.  But Jesus instead held out his hands to Thomas, reaching all the way to the core of Thomas’s doubts: “Put your finger here; see my hands,” he said.  “Reach out your hand and put it into my side.  Stop doubting, and believe.”

Thomas did believe.  “My Lord and my God!” he said as he embraced the evidence with his heart.  But that wasn’t the end of this episode.  Jesus then threw a lifeline to me and to all of us who can’t stop our minds from asking questions.

“Because you have seen me, you have believed,” Jesus said to Thomas and the others in the room.” (Now comes the last beatitude.) “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

Those outstretched hands tell me that whatever it takes, Jesus will lead us to the place where we can honestly trade in our questions and doubts for faith — even if we never see until He comes again when we can trade all doubt for certainty.

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Meanwhile, we are not condemned for our questions; neither is God intimidated by them.  He created the minds with which we are questioning, and I’m convinced we can’t come up with any questions He hasn’t heard before. 

I have a feeling that those who never have big questions may not have very deep faith, and sometimes the bigger the price we pay for our faith, the stronger that faith is to withstand the hard times that inevitably will come to test our faith into the next rung of spiritual maturity.

I still love the old hymn, but I sing the more honest words these days: “If I trust Him through my doubts, He will surely bring me out.” Now I’m working on the next phrase: “Take your burdens to the Lord, (I can do that) “and leave them there.” (Now, that is not so easy!)

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I Can See

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       Easter week has passed and I am living in the glory of the resurrection.  This is the week of glimpses of the risen Lord – the confirmation that he is alive in the daily of our lives. 

       We are walking home from work and he catches up with us – just some guy who wants someone to walk with.  We are intent on our own conversation but we pause just long enough to acknowledge Him, then go on talking.

       “We’re discussing the assassination,” we say. “We’re sure you’ve heard about it, how strange it all was.  This man called himself the Son of God, the King of the Jews, and the government ruled he was a blasphemous heretic.  But he quoted the prophets while he was dying and told the criminal beside him he’d see him later that same day – in paradise.  He forgave his executioners because of their naivety and made sure some man was given the responsibility of taking care of his mother.”

       Then our walking partner begins to point out things about him we hadn’t noticed ourselves, drawing parallels to what the prophets had said about the Messiah.  We were drawn to this fellow pilgrim like one is drawn to a child telling the truth.  We invited the guy home for dinner. 

       Then, at the table, our table, he stands up and takes the loaf of bread we’ve baked the night before, breaks it into pieces and serves it to us.  We both have this wave of déjà vu, like we’d been here before, and then he is gone.

       A bunch of our friends are hiding in a room because the inner city street vibe is very unsettling.  We are discussing again all we have heard him say and seen him do in the last few years.  The door is bolt-locked.  Someone even shoves a bench against it.  Then, all at once, he is there – with us.  Tom has no more than gotten the words out of his mouth, “Not me!  I’m not a sucker for rumors and tricks. I won’t believe he’s alive unless I can jam my fingers into the gashes in his hands and side…”  And there he is with us. 

       “Go ahead,” he says.  “If touching helps you believe, then touch.”

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       Upset by the grief and exhaustion of the whole execution thing, a bunch of us decide to go fishing.  Fishing always seems to get things into perspective.  We leave in the evening when the fish are usually starting to bite, and we stay out in the boat all night, talking and being still by turns.  When the light of dawn starts to break over the horizon, we start in with our catch.  There on the beach we can see a fire and someone hovering over it, cooking breakfast.  As we get closer to shore, the figure stands up, and we recognize the Lord. 

       “Come, have some breakfast,” he hollers when we get close enough.  It’s just like old times, like nothing ever happened on Golgotha.  He is grinning and laid back. 

       Then he has a very interesting conversation with Peter, asking him if he loves him.  Because of Peter’s behavior the night of the crucifixion, Peter is taken back at first with the questions and eager to let Jesus know he’ll do anything to make it up to him.  But Jesus just gives him responsibility for leadership and then hands him some hot fish and fresh bread, as if he wants to erase all the bad memories from Peter’s mind and make him know that he is still in.

       There are other times, too.  All of them involve doing regular things:  walking, talking, grilling, eating, fishing.  I think it is important that we all know that the risen Jesus is a part of our regular lives, so we won’t make some fantasy or legend of him, some religion or fable. No, this is the week of the real Jesus in real places.

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       For me, I see him walking across the yard laughing, helping the little ones find Easter eggs.  I see him in a long conversation about choices and options over coffee with our college graduate grandson.

       I sense him with me when I am trying to prioritize our schedule, choosing what to say yes to and what to eliminate.  I feel his wisdom when I am trying to wrestle into words ideas that can’t be said in words.

       I sense he is speaking when I am listening to two friends whose faith has been damaged by charlatans and feel him assuring me that all I have to do is to love them and be real.

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       He shows up alive and in person when I feel too afraid to trust him with my fears.  I give him our children – now grown – once again.  I give him Benjy’s anxieties about his film project and his excitement about recent auditions; I give him Suzanne and her many faceted writing.  I give him Amy’s acting and her trying to hold in tension all her loves—her husband, her professional choices, her almost-grown children, her heart.

       And Bill.  I trust this Christ to walk with him, too, and to lean on him when there’s no way to talk, to love him better than I can when he hurts.

       “Do you love me more than these?” I hear him ask.  “I do, Lord, even more than these.”

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Everyday Sacraments

The hot sun bore down on the holiday beach-bathers lined up on their oversized designer towels.  The smell of seaweed and ocean tides mingled with the sweet aroma of coconut oil and piña colada tanning lotion.  The breeze was welcome, but not quite enough to cool the bottoms of feet baked by walks in the hot sand.

            I was one of these overtired, over-scheduled escapees to the island.  I was lying on my stomach reading a book when I felt a gentle sensation trickling over my feet.

            “There,” said Jesse.  “I’m getting all the sand off, Mamaw.  I’m washing your feet.”

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            A quick glance over my shoulder and I saw my five-year-old grandson dipping water from a little green pail with his sand shovel, then pouring each measured portion over my sandy, burning feet.

            “All clean, Mamaw.  Now doesn’t that feel better?”

            The cool baptism was more than sacred to me.  It had been only 48 hours since Jesse had been rushed by helicopter to Boston Children’s Hospital.  Suzanne had been the only one allowed to travel the 30-minute trip with Jesse, her sweet boy confined in a neck brace and taped to a body board.  I had followed by plane with Jesse’s daddy, Barry.

            It had happened so fast.  Suzanne and seven-year-old Will had gone on to the hotel from the beach on their bikes; Jesse and Barry were to follow giving Jesse a bit more time to play in the waves.  Riding home Jesse got hot and thirsty and asked to stop for a drink.  After waiting for a safe place to leave the bike trail to cross the busy road, they started across to the small store.  “Come on, Jesse, let’s go.”

            But for some reason Jesse was distracted and didn’t follow right away.  By the time he had started across, a car appeared around a curve going too fast for the busy holiday weekend.

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            Barry had watched in horror as the car struck his child.  Like slow motion in a bad movie, Jesse’s little body had been thrown into the windshield then hurled about 12 feet to land face down on the pavement.

            “It’s Jesse,” the shaken voice had said on the phone when Bill answered the call.

            “What is it, Barry?  What’s happened?”

            “I think he’ll be alright.  Come to the hospital.  Bring Suzanne.  I couldn’t get her on the phone.”

            Now we were moving like a bad slow-motion movie.  Down the stairs, into the car, to get Suzanne and Will, through the tiny vacation-crowded streets, through the hospital corridors.

            “It’s routine.  We have no pediatric unit here.  We always life-line children to Boston.”

            But the reassuring tone in the nurse’s voice wasn’t nearly reassuring enough.  We awaited every X-ray, every blood test, every CAT scan with an anxiety we weren’t able to put at rest.

            I stood with Will and Barry and Bill to watch helplessly as our daughter and her little son lifted off in the helicopter.  She waved weakly from the window — a wave reminiscent of the one she gave as a child herself through the window of the tiny commuter the first time we all said good-bye to this island.

            Over the years our family had kept up a love affair with this magical place, and now we had returned with a new generation to make memories.

            But this was not the sort of memories we had hoped to make.

            “Please, God.  You go with them.  Go with us all.”

            In a short time that seemed like an eternity we were waiting with Suzanne for more test results.

            “Because of the mechanics of the accident, we need a few more pictures.”  We listened to that sentence over and over.  With the return of each piece of film, each scan, each test, the doctors would shake their heads.

            “You are a fortunate little boy,” they would say to Jesse.  “Tell all your friends to always wear their bike helmets like you did.”

            The doctors had wanted to keep him overnight, so we kept a vigil.  He slept like a very exhausted boy would and awakened wanting something to eat.

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            By noon the next day we had landed back on the island and were walking across the tarmac to meet Will and his Papaw Bill, overwhelmed by the miracle of legs that move, eyes that blink, a giggle that escapes from a mischievous little grin, and a wide little hand holding tightly to ours.  The next day we were lying on the beach again, and a little boy was baptizing my feet.

            “Do this in remembrance of me.”

            Jesse hadn’t come to quite understand those words yet.  But I understood what Simon Peter must have felt when the pure heart of God knelt to wash his feet.

            “All clean,” said Jesse.  “You’re all clean now.”

            And by some miracle, I was.

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Prisoner of Hope

       I woke up this morning humming “Whispering Hope”.  Where the quaint old song came from in the storage bin of my memory is anybody’s guess, but, there it was working its way to the surface of my consciousness as I opened my eyes.  Its presence in my mind surprised me. 

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       I’d gone to sleep somewhat discouraged with myself and by the expectations of others, certainly not the psychological breeding ground where one would expect to find hope.  And the old song itself had always seemed rather bland and shallow to me as a maturing, young questor.  Not enough edge to it, I thought, not enough content.  I’ve spent today revisiting those old lyrics and repenting for the hasty judgment of my youth, and my lack of attention to what I now realize is a profound and life-sustaining truth. 

            Soft as the voice of an angel whispers a lesson unheard,
            Hope with a gentle persuasion whispers her comforting word. 

            Wait till the darkness is over; wait till the tempest has past. 
            Hope for the sunrise tomorrow, after the shower has past. 
            Whispering hope, oh how welcome thy voice,
            Making my heart in its sorrow rejoice. 

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       A few years ago my friend Peggy lost her 34 year-old son, a tall, handsome, funny, strong, outdoorsy young man, who was about to turn out.  No one quite knows what happened, but, what began as a hiking expedition into one of his favorite places in the hills of Tennessee turned into the nightmare of a forest ranger on Peggy’s front porch with the news that Tom’s body had been found at the bottom of a slippery cliff. 

       Bill and I have a strong, funny, grown son who is as dear to me as Tom was to Peggy.  I try to imagine how Peggy could have ever climbed through the despair of such an unfathomable loss.  I’m not sure I could.  All the kind words, sympathetic letters, arms around the shoulders, assurances of continued prayer, admonitions to trust it all to God, all the good advice in the world would not make it possible to crawl out of bed another morning and face another day full of other people’s children and other families’ joy.  Yet over these years since I first heard the song I woke up singing this morning, I have seen the amazing power of the hope that is within us.  I saw it in Peggy, and I am coming to know that some of the most quiet, unassuming truths are the most life changing and the most healing. 

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       I am learning that things like hope are not to be conjured up by our will and grit.  No, hope, like faith, and love, and patience, and forgiveness are gifts from God.  As trite as this may sound, it’s more like waking up in the morning to the sound of hope whispering in your ear.  “Come with me, you can go on.”  Hope is a vision, a dream, an inspiration that is projected on the screens of our souls from somewhere else.  Hope – the fragile, gentle, whispering, tough, enduring, awesome stuff dreams are made of – is the gift of God to every fainting heart. 

       “Return to your fortress, oh prisoners of hope.” (Zechariah 9:12)

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Girlfriends With Grandmother Faces


Sometime in the 90’s I came across a book called Girls with Grandmother Faces, encouraging women to stay connected, curious, and active after being widowed, having the kids leave home, or transitioning from the busy career years.  It was an interesting book, but it is the title I most remember because when my closest friends first entered my life, we all sort of still considered ourselves “girls.”  We were young women with little children; most of us had college degrees, and were married to men with more entrepreneurial ideas than anyone could ever realize in a lifetime.  We, too, had dreams—some of which we shared with those creative men and some we only discussed and shared with each other.

We met because we were all connected in one way or another with the music business.  We all had to learn that “home” was portable, as we traveled a lot with babies and small children.  Peggy taught me to check an extra suitcase so I could set up “home” wherever we landed—in hotel rooms, busses, backstage dressing rooms, or locker rooms of sports arenas.  A soft throw, a candle, an electric hot-pot for coffee, tea or instant soup, a picture of grandparents or pets, a bouquet of Queen Anne’s Lace picked from behind the parking lot—these could turn a sterile (or not so sterile!) space into “home” in no time, because, as our family discovered, home is wherever we could all be together.

Joy confirmed and encouraged my passion for books—books for the children and for myself.  Sue made us all laugh at ourselves and at life.  Lois took us on adventures and was the only one we all considered “a lady.”  She lived in California, so we all went to the desert to write our first book together because she offered us a place “away” to write.  Lois’s boys and the Gaither kids were and are to this day good friends.


Over the years we shared laughter, pain, secrets, disappointments, betrayals, the death of spouses, and some great vacations with our families in tow.  We prayed each other’s kids through gains and losses, tragedies and triumphs.  We walked with Sue through breast cancer and the death of her precious redheaded and creative daughter to the same disease that Sue survived.  We held on to each other when Peggy’s Bob, Lois’s Fred, and Joy’s Robert slipped from our grasp into eternity.  We cried together when Peggy lost her handsome, outdoorsy son and when Sue’s beautiful Mindy was gone for a decade and we didn’t know if she would ever be found.  She was!  And we all treasure every precious minute with her now.

We’ve traveled together speaking for “Friends Through Thick ‘n Thin” week-ends and spent many an hour on each other’s porches talking about whichever one of us happened to not be present.  All of our daughters at one time or another have said to us, “I hope I can find friends that are as fun and as interesting and loyal as your friends are!”


Gradually, we all got “grandmother faces”, but we were still the same “girls” we’d always been—only better.  Better because we’ve known and loved each other through more than four decades and have been the Keepers of each other’s memories.  We all knew how important this well-earned trust would become in the coming days, for we knew there was a good chance some of us would be losing some memory of our own.  

Sweet Peggy is gone now. Joy has moved to the west coast to live near her daughter Shana and her precious only grandchild.  Lois just went with us on the Alaskan Homecoming Cruise, and what a sweet time we had!  Sue and I keep in touch through email, text, an occasional phone call and breakfast together whenever I happen to be in Nashville. Our friendship has seasoned like vintage wine, and we treasure our children together and the times we steal to giggle like the girls we still are at heart.

They say the things we learn to music are the most lasting, so when we all lose our memories and maybe even our lives, I am believing that we will always be able to meet each other in the music!  God gave the song!

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The Golden Invitation

       The summer before Bill and I were married, I went home to Battle Creek, Michigan, to work at Kellogg’s to earn enough money to return to Anderson University that fall. On weekends Bill would drive up to see me. When I got out of work at midnight on Friday, he would be waiting for me in the Kellogg’s parking lot. I’d come out in my ugly green uniform, a few cornflakes still stuck in my hair, and climb into his red convertible.

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       One night when I came out, he handed me an engagement ring. It wasn’t much of a ring, because he didn’t much like diamonds. But I wanted a ring so my friends in Michigan could see that we were engaged.

       When we got married in December, he gave me the matching wedding band, but he never liked those rings. He would always say something like, “Those are the dumbest-looking rings! Now, what I really like is a plain gold band. A plain band looks so . . . married.”

       One evening, after we’d been married two or three years, we were at Kmart. Bill went to the recording department, as he always did, while I shopped for what we needed. That night I saw they were selling plain gold bands at the jewelry counter for $13.95-- a “blue-light special.” (That was a long time ago!) I had some grocery money left, so I bought a plain gold band, took off my other rings, and put the band on my finger. I didn’t say anything about it until we got to the car.

       Bill pulled out his new recording and said, “How do you like this?”

       “Fine,” I answered. “How do you like this?” I held up my hand with the plain gold ring on my finger.

       “I like that!” he said. “It just looks so married.”

       So, for seventeen years I wore the plain gold band I bought myself at Kmart for $13.95. (I don’t even know if that’s legal!)

       In 1982, our group took a trip to the Holy Land just after Thanksgiving. The next February, one night when our family sat down for supper, instead of praying the blessing on our food, Bill said, “I want everybody to be quiet. I have a presentation to make.” He took out a small blue box and handed it to me. I opened it and found inside a most unusual gold ring with Hebrew writing engraved around it.

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       “I had that made for you in Jerusalem,” Bill said. “It is eighteen-karat gold and says, ‘Arise, my love, and come away,’ from the Song of Solomon.”

       I couldn’t believe it! He had thought of this all on his own. He even paid for it! Of course, I don’t read Hebrew. It could say, “Go away, my love,” for all I know. Or it could say, “Kmart.”

       But I believe him and I love my ring. I put it right on and have worn it ever since. Now, he didn’t say I had to wear it. I could have said, “I can’t believe you really want me to have this ring” or “I don’t know what you’re trying to pull. I paid $13.95 for this ring on my finger, and you’re not going to get me to take it off. No siree!”

       But that would have been crazy, don’t you think? Especially when I had an eighteen-karat-gold, hand-engraved invitation to be loved by this wonderful man who knows me pretty well. He knows all my failures and my shortcomings. He knows what I can and cannot do. He knows all my bulges and figure flaws . . . and he loves me anyway.

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       And Jesus says to us, “I come that you might know life abundant.” He wrote His love in His own blood on a cross. Then we say, “What will I have to give up?” We hang on to our little Kmart lives; we’re so suspicious, so fearful of letting go, while He holds out His arms and invites us to share in His “unsearchable riches.”

       If only we could all believe that it isn’t about our being worthy. It’s about our being loved. If we could dare to believe that we are loved, it wouldn’t matter what degrading thing anyone else had ever said to chip away at our self-esteem or to tear down our sense of worth. If we are loved, if we are valued by the God of the universe Himself, no one else’s opinion matters. Being loved by Him who knows us best--this is the opinion that matters most.  Accepting this Lover gives us the security to risk loving too, even loving ourselves.

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Love Like I'm Leavin'

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It is nothing new to be told to “live in the moment” or to “embrace the Now”.  Wise sages have been saying this for centuries, including the Psalms 90 account of the prayer of Moses that reminded us that our whole life span is like grass that is growing one day and mowed down the next, and the apostle James who observed that “life is just a vapor”—fog that burns off with the first bright ray of sunshine.

We know life is short and we should pay attention.  But why?  And how?  Why focus on right now?  Why live today as if it were your last?  What about the hurts and betrayals of the past that reach their nasty tentacles into this morning and disturb tonight’s sleep with nightmares of the days we thought we had buried.  And how can we live in the Now when the future looms like a colossus before us?

This may sound obvious—maybe even simplistic—but I believe the answer is because it is the only day we can affect.  “THIS is the day the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in IT.” And how about the advice from Matt. 6:34 as paraphrased by Eugene Peterson in THE MESSAGE?

 Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked     
 up about what may or may not happen tomorrow.  God will help you deal with
whatever hard times come up when the time comes.

You have to love that!

When Moses was trying to obey God by leading his enslaved nation out of bondage and into a yet unseen land of freedom, he found himself on one given day facing the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s army in chariots pounding down on him and a whole tribe of adults, teen-agers, and children hauling their possessions and expectations with them.  On that day, God gave what seemed like a ridiculous command: “Go back and make camp between Migdol and the sea…. Pharaoh will think the Israelites are wondering around in the desert.” 

So, on that day the people went camping, fixed supper, and loved their kids.  In the night it got really windy.  Second guessing the provision of the Lord, they started blaming instead of trusting. “Moses, did you bring us out here to die in the desert?”

But Moses had heard from God.  He told the people, “Stand firm, and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring today…. The Lord will fight for you.  Just be still.” The Israelites must have thought “Oh, right!  Stand still.  Really?”

But Moses said, “Break camp and let’s head for the sea.  When they got there Moses lifted what he had in his hand—his well-worn walking stick—over the water, and the unsettling wind from the night before began to stack up the water like a brick wall and to dry the exposed sea floor.  A whole nation walked on through, and when Pharaoh’s army followed in hot pursuit, the sea closed behind the Israelites destroying the force that had held them captive.  (See any metaphors here?)

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Maybe, just maybe, the only way to redeem the past and change the future is to live with all we have THIS day.  By living well today, we can change the past for our tomorrows. And, as someone has so well stated, “Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.”  By noticing and celebrating the blessings of this moment and piling up enough moments of joy and grace, we can alter the history we will hand to our children tomorrow.  By focusing on the beauty of this day, by making right choices this day, by purging negative energy this day, we can, over time, live ourselves into a fresh attitude-climate for tomorrow.

There is no grand formula for changing our own homes, our neighborhoods, our regions, our nation—no politic, no party, no legislation that will fix the problem or heal the illness of a home or nation or the world.  There is no social program or quick fix, no pill to swallow to fizz away past resentment.  There is no magic wand to wave to bring hope for the future.

There is just this moment, this precious, fragile, beautiful moment to fill with something powerful:  seeing, feeling, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting this vaporous gift of today.

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Valentine #1: When Did I Start To Love You?

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One Valentine’s Day in the 70s, I found myself at an arena parking garage in our tour bus without a Valentine for Bill or any way to get one. The children were little then, so I had their stash of art supplies—construction paper, scissors, glue, markers—in the bus.  I decided to make a Valentine and write him my heart.

We were in the thick of life with three children, traveling on week-ends, writing songs, and growing a publishing company.  It seemed I was wearing a different hat every day.  I was running kids to music lessons, cheering ball games, watching dance and piano recitals, listening to poetry contests, and going to play rehearsals and performances, while writing lyrics, writing books, cooking supper, packing for and unpacking from concert week-ends, and doing endless laundry.

Keeping romance fresh (or even breathing) and stealing moments for Bill and me to be alone together was demanding much more than a box of chocolates and a few long-stemmed roses. These lives we were juggling was the “fine print” of the marriage commitment. So, I wrote him this Valentine message in that construction paper card:

Does love have a beginning that a meeting’s measured by? 
Does it happen in a moment like white lightning from the sky? 
Can you tell me its dimensions—just this wide and just this high? 
When did I start to love you?

Tell me just how many dates it takes for love to really start? 
And just how many kisses will turn “love” into an art? 
When does the magic moment come to give away your heart? 
When did I start to love you?

Was the day we talked of Browning the beginning of it all? 
Or the time we walked the meadow and the fields of corn so tall
That we felt like naughty children hiding from their mother’s call? 
When did I start to love you?

I remember just how timidly your first new song you shared—
And by the way you grinned I knew that you were glad you’d dared,
Although my evaluation wasn’t worth much, still you cared.
When did I start to love you?

Was it when I went to meet you in a gown of snowy white? 
Was it when we signed the license and drove off into the night? 
Was it when I gave myself to you and felt that it was right? 
When did I start to love you?

When I feared you wouldn’t love me if you knew how I’d been wrong,
And I spent a week in mis’ry, but you’d known it all along,
And you loved me ‘cause you love me, and not because I’m strong!
When did I start to love you?

Was it when we knew for certain ‘bout the baby on the way? 
Did it start the day you told me I looked pretty—shaped that way? 
Or did something special happen as we waited that last day….
When did I start to love you?

Did it happen when we held her in our arms for the first time? 
Was it later when I nursed her, this creation—yours and mine? 
And I knew compared to what we held the world’s not worth a dime!
When did I start to love you?

There were nights we stayed and prayed by babies, fever burning hot, 
When we really didn’t know if they would make it through or not—
Then we’d face the dawn’s beginning, thanking God for what we’ve got—
When did I start to love you?

Was it rushing to the clinic with a bone in Amy’s throat? 
Was it nights you saw me shivering and wrapped me in your coat? 
Was it when I cleaned your bureau drawer and found you’d saved my note—
When did I start to love you?

Was it when I saw you showing Benjy how to be a man? 
How to sheath his strength in meekness—
How to gently take a stand—
How that only strength of character can salvage this old land?
When did I start to love you?

When you held me close in silence when there were no words for grief—
When the line of empty caskets gaped at all I called “belief”—
When the “amen” was so final.  I had you, and dared to leave—
Was it then I came to love you?

Photo by Angela Kellogg

Photo by Angela Kellogg

What is the stuff love’s made of that can cause the world to glow?
Is it that you made the segments that I brought you, well and whole?
Was it when I came to recognize the poet in your soul
That I began to love you?

It’s not of lace and chocolate that valentines are made—
All such things are lovely but disintegrate and fade.
But love—when once it grows to be—is richer far than jade—
I only know—I love you!


Photo by Angela Kellogg

Photo by Angela Kellogg


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I came from a long line of throw-away-ers, not collectors.  My Scottish Grandmother Boster on my mother’s side was a practical pioneering woman who actually sewed the muslin covering to stretch over the ribs of a covered wagon before she and my grandfather lit out across the prairie from Missouri to homestead in Wyoming.   There was no place for a “collection” hobby in a covered wagon or in the sod house they lived in once they got there.  When I was a child I do remember her collecting string, which she wound into a great ball for tying bundles wrapped in paper or feed sack cloth.  She also used the heavy cotton string to replace broken shoestrings, to attach to the kites she cut for us out of butcher paper, and to tie the trunk of the car down when it was full of suitcases or furniture.  She taught me to play cat’s cradle with it and to use it to make a big circle on the sidewalk or wood floor for playing marbles.

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My mother didn’t collect things either, and gave away anything she didn’t need and some things we did.  To this day I wish she had kept the service for twelve of Eva Zeisel Town and Country dishes, which by now would have been worth a fortune.  She also used what she had and was not one to “keep it for good.”  She used her Nobility quadruple plate silverware, her china, her Miracle Made cookware, and her best linens. She lit candles and used real napkins on regular days, because she didn’t believe there were any regular days.  She didn’t save things, including herself.  She often said, “If I’m half-way through, I should be half used up—and if I’m not, what in the world am I saving myself for?”

Maybe from them I inherited the deep belief that “we have this moment—today,” and that God’s will for my life is God’s will for this minute.  Mother often told me while I was growing up, “Do what you know to do today and do it with everything you’ve got.  That’s God’s will for your life.”

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If I have collected anything, it is art glass.  This may have started when I was in grade school and my Grandmother Sickal, my father’s Irish mother, gave me a set of very thin and delicate lime green sherbet glasses.  Since then I have collected some beautiful pieces of art glass, including a piece in sea colors Bill got when we visited the island of Murano in Venice, and two matching pieces (a heavy vase and huge platter) in all my favorite shades of yellow and gold that the gals in our Monday night Bible Study got me for Christmas one year.

But really, what Bill and I have collected together over the years has been people: funny quirky people, faithful friends, broken hearts, innocent children, the seasoned and wise, hopeful college kids, old farmers, dear widows who have survived enough pain to bend a weaker soul to the ground.  Our lives have been so enriched by the folks who have crossed our path, sat at our table, ridden on our bus, been in our classes when we taught high school and college, and worked with us over the years.  This collection is eternal, for only relationships will survive this life and open like a blossom into the next.

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Prayer: Just Do It!

Much has been written, taught, preached about prayer and why it does or doesn’t work.  By “work” most people mean “work to our advantage” or “get the sought-after result.”  There are prescriptions, prayer guides, and instruction manuals on prayer with tidy lists of what those who pray must do—and in what order—if they are to see results or, if not followed as prescribed, reasons why the desired result is not seen in good time.

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There are prayer requests sent out by mass mailings or social media blitzes rallying a power-prayer bombardment to sort of “gang up on God” to get Him to change his mind or to clear the way for some project or political objective.

I will readily admit that I don’t understand prayer.  I don’t know why sometimes we seem to “get what we want” and other times we don’t.  I don’t know why the God who breathed (and continues to breathe) galaxies into existence chose to penetrate our tiny planet with the seed of the Divine and make us “vessels unto honor,” promising never to leave us or forsake us and assuring us that He knows our needs before we ever ask.

I do know that if the walking-around definition of His character and being, his very flesh and blood persona—Jesus—is to be believed, God loves us and is moved to compassion by our issues, even when they are the result of our own unwise choices.

If I read the story of Jesus rightly, it’s more about our getting on God’s page than about God getting on ours.  After all, isn’t that why Jesus came? To let us know that God was on our page from the beginning, from the “foundations of the world”?  Didn’t Jesus come to let us know the true character of the Father and clear up any confusion about how "one" He wants us to be with Him and with each other?

And doesn’t every story Jesus told (parables, we call them, because they parallel life’s great truths) tell us that there are two systems in operation—the system of this world and its powers (both political and ecclesiastical) and the Kingdom of God?  And didn’t Jesus plainly teach that we will never accomplish Kingdom work with the earth’s systems?  So ganging up on God to get our candidates elected or defeated or our empires expanded doesn’t seem to be in line with what Jesus taught and exemplified.

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As I think back over my life, recalling the great people of prayer that I have known, the people I would call if I were at a hard place, they seem not to be all that visible to the masses, but instead have been those “embedded” in the fabric of regular life.  Come to think of it, the great Believers I have know have been “embedded”, too.  And that is what the media and the public seem to miss.  Doesn’t that sound a lot like metaphors Jesus used for those who would follow him, metaphors like “yeast” and  “salt” and “light”?

As I said before, I don’t really understand why this great cosmic all-powerful, all-knowing God would invite us into a co-op with Him, but He does.  I am so amazed at that and so grateful.

And about methods and systems and protocol for prayer, let me just say this:

Our three kids are as different as three can be.  One will plan your sox off and can think circles around us both, but hates being in the public eye.  One leads with her heart and absorbs everyone else’s pain, joy, and dreams.  She is amazing to watch when she works with people.  One gets everything on a visceral level and is seldom wrong about the internal character or motives of even the roughest character, though he may not always be able to tell you how he knows.  One writes, one dances and one makes music all day and all night.

When they walk into our farm kitchen, we don’t stop them at the door and keep them there at arm’s length until the thank us for our parenting  skills (or lack of them), give us due credit for all the meals, parties, cook-outs, vacations, homework help, sick-care, college tuition, deposits on first apartments, weddings and baby gifts we may have contributed to their lives.  We don’t withhold affection until they create the perfect atmosphere of praise for us to inhabit.

We are just so glad to see them that we run half-way to the drive-way to meet them and help shoulder their baggage, collect their children, kiss their sweet faces, hug their spouses, and pull them into this comfortable old place where the soup’s already on, the fire is crackling in the kitchen fireplace, the candles are lit, and the chill-down music is playing.

We’re just so glad they’ve come home again and hollowed out some time to just BE together, we can hardly stand it.  Conversations about anything and everything flow easily around our old oak table while I slice the hot cornbread and pass around the steaming bowls of soup.

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Sooner or later someone is bound to drift to the piano and someone else uncases the guitar. Songs they grew up singing start filling the house while little ones spread out their favorite puzzles and super heroes across the floor, content to bask in the noise and music and conversations so familiar.

Our kids are always our kids, and in between actual visits we keep in contact pretty much daily by phone, texts, emails and, well, prayer.  The relationship is long-standing and trusted.  But Bill and I love it when they come home and we can just be together. On purpose.

This God we love doesn’t lose track of us, either, for “in Him we live and move and have our being.” He just wants us home. He wants us present. We are always on His mind, and the minute we turn our full face in His direction, we find He’s already facing us.

So what is the secret of prayer? If this cosmic, yet personal God invites us to hang out with him and not be shy about it, as NIKE says about exercise, “Just do it!” You have to love Psalm 139, and I love it best in Living Bible:

O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord. You place your hand of blessing on my head Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand! I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; If I go down to the grave, you are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me and your strength will support me….You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book….How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of the sand! And when I wake up, your are still with me! …Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. (New Living Bible)

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Holy Meltdown

It breaks my heart, and it must break the heart of God, that for the last couple of decades the church has been preoccupied with what the popular press has called “The Worship Wars.”  Even that the two words “worship” and “wars” should appear together describing what is going on in the “ body of Christ” contradicts what Jesus said was the two greatest commandments:  love God with all our hearts and love each other because we have come to love the deep core of ourselves.


On the surface this “worship battle” seems to be over musical stylist preferences.  Lines have been drawn and walls built right down the middle aisle of our churches (and thus dividing them in two—or more), lines between old and young, traditional and contemporary, hymnals and screens, choirs and worship teams, for and against the musical instruments we use.

But these arguments are only a symptom of a much deeper issue.  These are symptoms of a lack of true worship, a falling on our faces before an awesome and present God, for in His presence hearts are melted, passion for purity of motive and expression is ignited, and compassion for each other in and out of the church drives us to respond with practical action.


How I long to be struck dumb because the “glory of the Lord fills His holy temple” and in the presence of the Almighty I find myself on my face saying, as did the prophet, “I am undone!  Nothing I say is pure!”  And how I long for coals of fire to touch my lips and to know my guilt is gone—taken away!  How I want to hear my own voice moved by something in the core of my being, volunteering to be the messenger God needs for this hour and to hear Him say, “Go. Go and tell.”

In the overwhelming presence of the Lord our petty squabbling over stylistic preferences are silenced.  We won’t be able to find enough ways to praise him!  We’ll be scrambling for instruments, pouring our revelations of His character into all kinds of songs, dancing our way into the streets, scooping up cold water to serve the thirsty, baking bread for the hungry, ripping the clothes out of our closets and off our backs if we have to warm those shivering from loneliness.


It won’t be “our way or the highway” in our worship committee meetings, and we won’t be haggling over whether we are addressing all our songs directly heavenward or giving personal testimony to how in the world we know that He is Lord and living out our praise in how we treat each other.  It will be all of the above and more.

Worship is an ego meltdown, and rising like a phoenix from the ashes of our shriveled old selves will be an awesome pillar of light that the sick old world can see a thousand miles away and will be drawn to like a magnet.  There will be music!  There will be joy!  There will be grace and forgiveness!  There will be mercy!  There will be Life!

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