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The Book Thief
One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are
On Gold Mountain
Bread & Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter
City of Tranquil Light: A Novel
The Distant Land of My Father
The Paris Wife
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
Fall of Giants
World Without End
A Stolen Life
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption
The Pillars of the Earth
Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation
The Road
Trials of the Earth: The Autobiography of Mary Hamilton
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, a Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal
Cutting for Stone

Gigi's favorite books »


Impermanence means the property of not existing for indefinitely long durations. Everything in this world rises, and everything passes. 

Ecclesiastes says it differently: 

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born , and a time to die ; a time to plant , and a time to pluck up that which is planted ; A time to kill , and a time to heal ; a time to break down , and a time to build up ; A time to weep , and a time to laugh ; a time to mourn , and a time to dance ; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace , and a time to refrain from embracing;  A time to get , and a time to lose ; a time to keep , and a time to cast away ; A time to rend , and a time to sew ; a time to keep silence , and a time to speak ; A time to love , and a time to hate ; a time of war, and a time of peace.

I want to fight for permanence. 

The other night I worked over the stove busily preparing our dinner. I use a black iron skillet because, well because is another story. I had about four things cooking on the stove, and I needed to take the top off of the skillet. I reached for it and hastily placed it on our island. Our kitchen island is a butcher block reminiscent of the one I grew up around. It is made of birch and beautifully calls all visitors to come round and partake of rich food and fellowship. 

Later while cleaning up after dinner, I lifted the heavy top to find a perfect black ring on the butcher block. The rest of the night my stomach knotted around a nauseated center. I even said the word out loud. “Impermanence.” I said it softly like some magical mantra could raze the stain. 

Often God uses these daily consternations to teach me something. I thought now I am going to have to go around this island the rest of my life with this stain because I was in a hurry and careless... among other things. I tried several things to erase the stain. That stain was permanent. I told Matt. He took it pretty well. Josh and Sam came in to look at it and add their two cents. We discussed the rest of our lives with the black circle hawking all the attention from the beautiful wood. 

Before bed I tried one more remedy. Lemon juice. My mama taught me a lot about laundry. If lemon juice will take a stain out of white linen, maybe I have a chance with this wood. 

In about 45 minutes the circle was broken. I came in to the kitchen to see the beautiful wood without the disfiguring circle. 

See, I want what I want. I’d like some things to be permanent and some to change. I think God gets a good laugh at my bossing from down here. And I’m grateful for the lesson on impermanence.


Final Word

When your parenting spans 22 years, you learn to cherish things like basketballs sitting atop the kitchen island and stinky socks in the corner. You stop getting ruffled by armpit odors that will not come clean and 30 minute showers that drain hot water heaters. You take a deep breath when the Wii has been roaring for several hours. You treasure and ponder in your heart the way they grow and how the years feel like minutes. 

Saturday we decorated for Christmas. I tried to shake the feeling of being rushed since I had not even digested the turkey from Thanksgiving. Joy cannot be brokered but mine took a dip when I had to string the lights on the tree twice. As we listened to Sara Groves sing Angels We Have Heard on High, Sam’s expression turned pensive.

“Why,” he asked with his head slightly tilted, “is she singing Oreo over and over?” 

Gloria and Oreo sound distinctly alike and I am certain if the angels had ever tasted double-stuffed they may have considered singing Oreo. But, dear child, they are sounding the praises of their Christ, the Messiah. The story unfolded of shepherds in a field and the nearby birth of the Savior of the World. 

Not too  much later as I stood stringing lights in the den (my position for most of Saturday and Sunday), the boys were watching Avatar, a cartoon favorite. This amazing story spans several 100s of episodes. But I “happened to be” there as the Avatar was coaching Kora (the next leader). And I swear to you what he said was exactly what I had been hearing the Lord say to me in the quiet space of our times in recent mornings. 

When I heard this with the clarity of a soul-ear attuned to the Shepherd’s voice, I laughed out loud sort of like Sara did. Gladness filled my spirit and the pricks on my hands from the tree stung less. 

He will speak. And sometimes we hear Oreo when it is Gloria. He has spoken through asses (by that I mean donkeys and sometimes foolish people) and he has spoken through cartoons. 

This Advent, I honor the Final Word. Jesus. I pray to use my mouth to utter the story, the good news. No doubt I will complain about traffic and prickly trees and God-forsaken lights. But above it all, I pray my tongue will shout to the top of my lungs: GLORIA!

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. John 1:1



What makes the difference in my view of this heap of dirty laundry? 


Matthew is a senior at UT Knoxville. He doesn’t get home often. So when he rolls home bearing gifts of baskets of dirty clothes, I am elated. His presence far, and I mean far, outweighs the downer of hampers of dirt. In fact, when he comes in this house, this mother’s heart fills to capacity.

In part, the reason for this shift is that he was not here before. The joy of his presence is made richer by his absence. The house was emptier before he came. I missed him. Now it is fuller. 

As I sip my coffee and reflect on Thanksgiving, the whir of the washing machine fills the silence. The yeast rolls sit atop the oven. I have increased the thermostat in our home to 73 degrees. The oven, open-doored, is blowing out hot air to coax them to rise in this sub-freezing weather. 

Every year the rolls make me slightly neurotic. Will they rise? What exactly did I do last year to coax them? Will they be tough? I usually make a phone call to my grandmother, 89, in Mississippi about what I need to do next. She loves answering these questions. She taught me to make these rolls. Very few holidays in my life have passed without the aroma of her rolls.

During holidays more acutely than other days; we are aware of losses, of tensions, of emptiness. May we hold those things in tandem with the fullness we receive. 

I am learning to give thanks for the seasons. Everything rises and everything passes. We empty to be filled again. We are filled to be emptied again. This is the lesson of the seasons.

“Every breath’s a battle between grudgery and gratitude and we must keep thanks on the lips so we can sip from the holy grail of joy.” Ann Voskamp, 1000 Gifts



Forgetfulness is the mortal enemy of gratitude. 

I must say the older I get the more forgetful I become. I’ve missed meetings. I have missed meals. I have even missed jury duty. 

But I am talking about spiritual memory here. When I forget what all God has done for me, I can easily become focussed on my circumstances. With my eyes on the problems at hand, I quickly begin sinking like ole Peter trying to walk on the waves. 

Today I burned myself while getting the sweet potatoes out of the oven. I got all my cooking done today for Thanksgiving. I averted a catastrophe narrowly by holding on to the full pan of sweet potatoes even though my hand was frying. 

Several hours later I was trying to think of what I could put on the burn. Then it hit me. I had an aloe plant! I bought it back in August specifically for treating burns in my family. When we lived in Honduras, we had a large aloe plant just out the back door. It is like a wonder cure for burns. 

Sure enough when I applied the balm of the aloe plant, my burn eased immediately. I had suffered for hours needlessly. The plant sat there all day long. 

This is how my forgetfulness works spiritually. I don’t apply the balm of faith to my circumstances. I forget that God has worked before to bring about good from chaos, character from calamity, and even reunions from broken relationships. 

Today I remembered a time when the Lord prepared me for a difficult circumstance through a dream. A dream! Now picture my head cocked to one side, my nose scrunched up and my voice emphasizing the words: A DREAM. As I reflected on that time, I told the Lord how thankful I was for that dream and the other ways He worked through that horrible time. 

Without walking in gratitude my faith flounders. When I apply the balm of gratitude, my faith inflates and my eyes rest on my Provider. 


wrecks, rainbows & reality


v. ex·pect·ed, ex·pect·ing, ex·pects

1. a. To look forward to the probable occurrence or appearance of:     
expecting a telephone call; expects rain on Sunday.
b. To consider likely or certain: expect to see them soon. 

2. To consider reasonable or due: We expect an apology.

3. To consider obligatory; require: The school expects its pupils to be on time.

4. Informal To presume; suppose.


1. To look forward to the birth of one's child. Used in progressive tenses: His sister is expecting in May.

2. To be pregnant. Used in progressive tenses: My wife is expecting again.


“This is not what I expected.”

How many times have we uttered those words? Or how many times have they remained inside and lodged in our throats sitting heavy above our hearts?

It doesn’t take long to mentally walk through our circles of friends and find many levels of unmet expectations.

I thought I’d finish college sooner. I thought I’d get married and wait several years to have kids. I thought I’d live longer. I thought my kids would grow up and be mentally healthy. I thought he’d be faithful. I thought they would be fair.

I expected them to come home for Thanksgiving. I expected to see them at the wedding. I expected my cholesterol to go down. I expected to be able to buy my kids’ Christmas presents.

Our expectations stack several inches or feet or millimeters above reality. And the gap between them - expectations and reality - is disappointment. And sometimes life feels like one long series of disappointments. 

And when we feel like we are being hit by one after the other with no time for recovery, finding gratitude can be very challenging. Or impossible. 

Yesterday I picked up my new glasses. They are progressive lens. My vision had changed, and my life at 2 feet around me was blurry. The optometrist put these new lenses on my nose and made the necessary adjustments. Voila! I could see. I could read the close up and see the computer screen and then look around and see the shoppers lumbering through Costco. 

My spiritual eyes need adjusting sometimes. 

Henry Nouwan offers just such an adjustment in The Prodigal Son. 

 I am challenged to let go of all the voices of doom and damnation that drag me into depression and allow the “small” joys to reveal the truth about the world I live in. When Jesus speaks about the world, He is very realistic. He speaks about wars and revolution, earthquakes, plagues and famines, persecution and imprisonment, betrayal, hatred and assassinations. There is no suggestion at all that these signs of the world’s darkness will ever be absent. But still God’s joy can be ours in the midst of it all. It is the joy of belonging to the household of God whose love is stronger than death and who empowers us to be in the world while already belonging to the kingdom of joy.

I drew the above illustration in my journal in 2009. It was a season of feeling the waves of disappointment - one after another. I kept expecting the rainbows and flowers and the bombs and wrecks kept coming. I wrote, “I live in the ‘not yet’ looking for signs of God’s grace. Yes. He shooed us from the garden, but He has not left us as orphans.”

I still need to be reminded that this world is not our home, that disasters and disappointment are part of life, and that in those joy is not absent.

Tell fearful souls, "Courage! Take heart! God is here, right here, on his way to put things right And redress all wrongs. He's on his way! He'll save you!" Isaiah 34: 5

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