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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

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Entries in Asking Why (5)


unpacking rome

The view from our Fiat once we got going...

For the enchanting days of our trip, stay tuned. 

Oh, how I was tested on those words about faith and flying. The day we flew to Rome we actually never made it to Rome. We sprinted to the airport in Nashville and sat for three hours because of bad weather in Chicago. We missed our direct flight to Rome and barely made a re-routed flight from Chicago to London. Everything that could go wrong did - well, except we didn’t crash. I am grateful for that. We were harassed by flight attendants. Lied to by American Airlines staff. Sent on a wild goose chase. Flightless in Heathrow in England. Bagless in Rome when we finally did make it. We missed one entire day of our anniversary trip. And we missed the part I was anticipating the most.

A charming Bed and Breakfast awaited us in Tuscany. My friend Erin Tumlin had insisted we stay there. She had visited it when in Italy a few years ago. Le Due Volpi is run by Heidi and Lorenzo Flores. Heidi speaks several languages including English. I called her and she warned us not to attempt the trip at night. A good word. 

I hadn’t cried when my bag never chugged around the carousel. After the reality soaked in that we would not make it to the bed and breakfast, we rented our car and drove into Rome. The finest red wine and homemade ravioli my tongue has ever known staved off the disappointment for a while longer.

I had warned Matt all day of the impending breakdown. One disappointment after another eroded the dam of emotion until nothing stood to hold back a flood of tears.  

The final blow came when we returned to the airport to pick up my bag. Our rental car came with a navigator. Let me include here that the iPhone is the finest navigator made. No GPS can compete with its genius. The “navigator” Hertz gave us kept taking us to the train station. A deluge encircled Rome and hail threatened to pound the tin can we were driving into so much scrap metal. I thought, “I am going to die on the freeway in Rome trying to find the airport. How romantic!”

In a fit of rage and the precursor to the tearful breakdown, I flung the navigator to the backseat hereby rendering it broken as well as useless. When we finally found the airport at 11:00 p.m. Rome time, we had been without sleep for over 24 hours. I am counting the five hour nap on the flight over.

The airport halls swallowed us as we searched for American’s Land of Lost Baggage. We turned back when the area we needed to enter was blocked off. Deflated, we headed back to our tiny rental car. As we pulled out of the parking area, Matt said, “I’m going back in.” He pulled back in and parked. 

“I’m done,” I said. And I was. 

I sat in the car while Matt re-entered the Land of the Lost. The floodgates opened forth and I cried over every disappointment that day. I may have even covered some disappointments from the past 20 years. I realized the ambivalence I had experienced before the trip was supposed to “protect” me from just such disappointments. Yet here I sat sorely disappointed and red-eyed.

“Would the entire trip go this way?” I asked God. “This is what I feared,” I admitted.

I rehearsed the words I had written on the morning of our departure:

Even though I don’t understand and, frankly, will never understand, why God does what He does; I will get on the plane and in faith believe that He is taking me somewhere. And that it is GOOD. And that is the strength and hope I share.

I even regretted writing them. Am I being tested, I wondered. Had I stirred up some demonic plot to make me want to take these words and eat them on a cracker?

In this moment I named my little g god, aka idol - the god who disappoints.

As I sat beneath the lights of the airport and strangers walked by my car, I let the truest part of my soul come out. The Doubts. And I met that idol and named it. And then I said, “That is the lie of Eve.” 

Matt returned from the dark cave of the airport lugging my mammoth bag. My puffy eyes confused him. I attempted an explanation. Mostly, we needed sleep. 

We drove 30 minutes in the wrong direction before I pulled out my iPhone and found us.  We headed for Italy’s autostrada to get a jump on travel the next day. We grabbed our ticket and entered the toll freeway. Just 100 feet into it, we spotted a hotel. The bright lights nearly blinded us in Vegas-like mirage in the desert fashion. Matt wheeled around and headed back out of the Autostrada. The Autostrada in Italy is second to the Vatican in holiness. They think a lot of it. And charge dearly for the privilege to use it.

Matt put in the ticket. “63 Euro” read the digital screen. This equals $100. The computer running the autostrada at 2 a.m. thought we had traveled the entire toll-road in 30 seconds. Matt and the automated voice began a series of arguments. Apparently the digital guy did not understand Matt’s English. Matt put in a 5 Euro bill. The little gate blocking us from SLEEP popped up to allow us to drive through. Then a flash and they took Matt’s photo. We burned rubber through the gate and literally washed up on the curb of the hotel. 

The teenage attendant spoke no English but a little Spanish. In rusty Spanish, we bargained for a lesser rate seeing as it was 2:00 a.m. We literally fell into the bed and did not open one eye before 10 a.m. the next day. 

Really, the next morning brought me a little clarity. I could see the lie I was holding in my right hand. The lie that God holds out on me. He disappoints. He baffles (well, He does do that). He leads me on wild goose chases. And that morning, I confessed my need of a Savior - One Mighty to Save. The God Who Gives Me the Desires of My Heart powerfully convicted me on that morning in the lobby of a Vegas hotel in Rome, Italy.  

And hope rose alongside of the steam of my espresso.


faith is...

Can you see the discussion? Here the questions? Should we JUMP?

Today Matt and I will board an airplane and fly across the Atlantic Ocean to Rome, Italy in celebration of our 20th wedding anniversary. All the jitters of a new bride have been at work in me these past weeks in preparation. 

I will walk in and sit down on thousands of pounds of fiberglass, metal and who knows what else. Then that large craft will climb thousands of feet in the air. Do I understand how? No! Will that lack of understanding stop me from “trusting” it enough to get on board? No!

I am not missing the analogy of this and faith. Now, I can study aerodynamics and the physics of flying and perhaps understand why the airplane stays in the sky. The analogy breaks down because I will NEVER study enough and understand how God works. 

A friend was telling me about her recent struggles yesterday. Literally the chaos of life this side of the garden is threatening to take her down. Well, really, it has taken her down. She is floundering. With tears in her eyes, she said, “I cannot find the logic.” In other words, “Why, God?!”

I get that. I have uttered those words. I have pounded my fist. I am lucky she did not hit me because I said, “You will never find logic. And you will drive yourself crazy looking.”

We spoke of how God engineers our stories so that we circle back around on ourselves and the pains we have buried are resurrected. This is our chance to bring them back to Our Father. And if we don’t believe in His healing for ourselves, we cannot with authenticity believe it for our children.

I don’t want to circumvent the process of asking WHY! These little and big why question marks are the very breadcrumbs that lead us home. We must pick up each and every breadcrumb and own the question. God already knows they reside in our souls. And they take us to surrender, home. 

Even though I don’t understand and, frankly, will never understand, why God does what He does; I will get on the plane and in faith believe that He is taking me somewhere. And that it is GOOD. And that is the strength and hope I share.

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1


i want to see

I live in a garden. This garden, while beautiful, is ravaged by the Fall. The thunder outside reminds me that danger is imminent. I am not safe. Children in this garden get brain cancer and die. Adolescents are plagued by eating disorders. Some take their own lives. Mamas get breast cancer. Daddies drink themselves into an early grave. Danger is everywhere. The effects of the Fall, of the day when the Woman took the apple because she did not trust her God, are evident every moment in this garden.

I live in a garden. This garden holds the possibility of rebirth. Every spring astounding beauty is birthed. Blooms like banners of a million colors crawl out of green balls. New life is everywhere. The rain feeds these buds. The green in the grass sings to my eyes of a Creator. I connect to a Mama in trouble. I offer her my hand because she has offered me hers a few years ago. I offer her companionship on this treacherous and breath-taking path called life. My heart swells when my love picks up his son and dwarfs him in big arms cradling him in LOVE. Smiles the sizes of watermelons speak to me of wonder and mystery. Laughter fills my halls and I know that LIFE is more powerful than destruction. Hope lives in this garden.

I live in a garden. We groan for new life. The flowers and the rocks and me and the Mamas in trouble, we ache and we groan. We beg God to have mercy. We beseech Him for new LIFE, for grace, for help. We ask for eyes to see His Presence in this garden.

I live in a garden: in the now and the not yet. He is RISEN. Victory is mine, ours. Yet I struggle, fumble and fall. One day pain will end. One day death will be defeated. One day sin will not afflict my body. But that day has not yet come. Yet it has. The knowledge that Jesus won by losing fills my bones and my lungs with a scent of the promise. 

He has paid the ransom. I am free. I can live free. Laughter is the music of hope. Hope is more abundant than despair in this garden. 

Today I can choose to see Him. If I need to, I can ask a friend to help me see Him. I want to see HOPE. 



grace under water, under pressure, under construction



Susan exemplifies the concept of God at work in the unraveling. She embraces it. If you want a fellow soldier in the bunker with you during an episode of unraveling, Susan’s your girl. She asks probing questions. She draws you to the truth. She envelops you with love and caring. And in a rare gift of humankind, Susan is present to those around her.


Inside at Fellowship Bible Church on Saturday, May 1, Lloyd Shadrach opened the Bible and taught on The Flood. Outside God illustrated. Sixty or so of us weathered the flood to hear about The Flood. On the way home from church, my friend Susan Babcock texted me. “Send Matt over. We are moving furniture upstairs.” I replied, “On way home. Be there in 10 mins.” She sent back, “I don’t have 10 mins.” 

Surreal. Is this really happening in Cottonwood? To a friend of mine? Will the water get in her home? Will it get in mine? Where is the rainbow?

It rained Saturday all day. And Sunday ALL DAY. On Sunday evening, we went to see the water line. While we were there, the National Guard drove up in its Amphibian Vehicle. We called our children back from the murky water. We watched with bug-eyes as canoes brought out downcast souls from their homes. Some people embraced these creatures crawling out of the water. Some said, “I’m sorry.” I wept as my friend, Charlie, waded out of the river with his phone held high over his head. 

The next day, we awoke to dry ground. The water receded! Now what?!?!???????

Matt and I took off to the Babcock’s house. A small crowd was gathering there. People looked around. What do we do? Charlie and Susan vacillated in and out of presence of mind to pinch-me-this-can’t-be-happening. One second, they had a home. Next one, they did not. How do you make that reality?

Phone calls were made. Experts showed up like J. Mac Brown and John Farkas and Rob Marrero and Brad Taylor. People brought food and water and drills and extension cords. Children pushed coolers with popsicles. The experts barked orders and warm bodies went to work. Some of us (I won’t mention names) sneaked next door and looked through the window to see what the paid experts were up to. 

I’ll never forget meeting a man named Matt. He climbed the front steps of the Babcock home with an orange extension cord adorned around his neck and waist like Clint Eastwood’s artillery in A Fistful of Dollars. (I watched it with my Daddy when I was 4.) His drill weighed down his left hand like a Colt 45. I stuck out my right hand to introduce myself. He smiled (no toothpick) and said, “What can I do to help?” 

He got right to work marking the walls, cutting the dry-wall, pulling out insulation. When everyone broke for dinner, he asked what time he should return. I mumbled something about being done for the day. He said, “I’ll be back tomorrow.” And he was. 

That is one story of sacrifice. One snapshot among millions of the way neighbors served neighbors personifying the “Volunteer” in Volunteer State. Words cannot contain the goodwill spilling over from Cottonwood during flood-week and for weeks afterward. 

While the newness has worn off and the mold has grown, many of the flooded are still without homes. Long-suffering, they eek out a life moving from pillar to post. Among these flood-victims are my friends Susan and Charlie Babcock and their beautiful children – Jacob and Anna. 

The Babcock family could have walked out of the pages of a J Crew catalogue.  Blue eyes blaze forth an inner light unveiling their LIVE SPIRITS. In other words, their spirits are even more gorgeous than their forms. Even as they endure the trauma of a natural disaster, they have exhibited grace and love. 

A few weeks ago, I ran into Susan. “Words,” she said, “are so important.”

Really? I told her of my difficulty. Truth is I had hardly blogged since the flood. Who has words for this event? Who can attempt to contain all of it in a blog entry?

“Words,” she said, “are so powerful!” She bore through me with her steel blue eyes. Some wayward path within me corrected on the spot. This is all I had been thinking about words: they are impotent. They cannot contain this. From then on, I plotted to bless her on this blog. 

She exemplifies the concept of God at work in the unraveling. She embraces it. If you want a fellow soldier in the bunker with you during an episode of unraveling, Susan’s your girl. She asks probing questions. She draws you to the truth. She envelops you with love and caring. And in a rare gift of humankind, Susan is present to those around her.

Now, don’t think she is a saint. She would not want that. But she is a daughter of the King. She wakes up each day with a desire to live that identity out well. We’ve talked many times about how the unraveling leads us to freedom. 

Today or tomorrow, Susan, Charlie and a host of neighbors will begin to move in with couches and crayons, portraits and pots, linens and lamps. Keenly aware of the fact that none of these things constitutes a home, we will nonetheless place these things back into the shell of a house that has been virtually demolished and rebuilt. In the construction vernacular, they were “down to the studs.” Susan will tell you it is a metaphor for an inner process. A flood takes your soul down to the studs. The journey spotlights what is in there: some things to keep, some to cull, some to hold you up.

Sue Monk Kidd, author of Secret Life of Bees, once endured a hurricane. She penned these words. They beautifully convey the unraveling. 

It’s as if I am being pared down like a piece of fruit, stripped, peeled, distilled to a simplicity of spirit. The events are exfoliating. They shuck me down to some place that is thick with luminosity and resilience, an enduring inner ground. What comes rising to my lips is the word God, and in the next breath, home. The whole thing is so palpable it carries an actual physical sensation. 

I learned all over again that intensely fraying events in life, like hurricanes, sometimes have a particular effect. They plunge us into a mysterious, inward divestiture, a distillation we could truly call sacred, because for a while we know – in a way that we rarely know – what matters. I mean what really matters. We know it utterly. And this unimpeachable knowing ushers us once again to the authentic ground that resides at the heart of life. We seem to understand – if only partially – this is the Ground of Presence. It’s as if the foreground of life, where we spend the majority of our time, fades away, and we are left in the great background that is God, against which all life exists. 

Sue Monk Kidd, Firstlight


God's presence in confusion

Confusion happens when mystery is an enemy and we feel we must solve it to master our destinies. Gerald May

We were flying down the road on the way to freedom. I said to my friend, “we are safe.” In that moment, I realized I had left a child at McDonalds. We had been eating a Happy Meal when 15 or so enormous men with gargantuan guns  entered. In fear, we snuck out. One problem. A child was left behind. Upon realizing I had left him, I turned around u-turn style no braking. Then realized I was in reverse and traveling backwards. Then came the dead-ends. I did not remember my way back to McDonalds. Then I saw the tanks and more big men with big guns. I was frantic, screaming. I took out on foot. I sprinted through alleyways, houses, shrubs. Finally, I started up some stairs that ended in a room with insulation and naked people of all ages hiding there in the insulation. 

Even as I cleared the sleep from my eyes, the details of this dream sharply stung my mind. Since we returned from Honduras, I have had varying scenarios with the same theme: a lost child I cannot get to. 

God’s “no’s” are about our protection. Whose protection? In this scene, God (if He is sovereign and I believe He IS) separates mother and father from children. Brothers are separated. Four children are left behind. In another country. Ruins. Wounds. Weeping. Devastation. 

Where is God? Why did He say NO to this? How can He rebuild? Redeem?

Yesterday Lloyd taught on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God placed it in the garden (a limit, a no) along with the Tree of Life. His plan was for us not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We got to eat freely of the Tree of Life securing our immortality. Once we ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil we were cut off from both trees. And chased from the Garden. From that moment on we would grope, fight and chant our way back to God’s Presence.

Abundant Life flows freely from God’s Presence. So now I don’t need the Trees. I have Christ. His Life paved the way for me to know God’s Presence, Desires, Influence, Healing in my life NOW. If we were created to be priests in the garden cultivating and keeping His Presence in the Holy of Holies, I can return to that role at any point. My TASK is to live with that as priority numero uno. I am a Levitical priest in the Holy of Holies robes a swinging, bell a jingling, incense burning.

So even when the circumstances paint only a picture of CONFUSION. What is God doing? Where is He? I don’t see Him. I can’t find Him. I rest in MYSTERY. 

He is at work. He is sovereign. He is the Father to the fatherless. He is I AM. I am not.

I go to my Holy Place where He ALWAYS is. And I bow my knee to Him. I shake my bell. I burn my incense. I chant the Holy Scriptures about the Truth of who my God is. 

I believe.