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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 grace (39)


what mothers do

Friday Matthew arrives home from UT. I hug him while chastising him for not returning my phone call. The old iPhone bad battery story silences my objections. Turns out he had a blow-out on I-40, changed to the spare, drove over to buy a tire. Changed that tire and headed home. A whole lifetime lived in one day. This, of course, justifies a mother’s worry when the phone battery dying and the tire blowing out coincide in one afternoon. I jot down a to do list topped with “buy car phone charger.”

As I pluck the 50-pound laundry basket from his arms, I see the faded blue IGBOK sweatshirt and make a mental note to lift it and take it to Italy with me. 

The next morning as Sam watches cartoons and I slice apples, Matthew gave me a blow by blow of the chick flick he and his girlfriend, Lily, watched the night before. Since I NEVER get to watch Chick Flicks, he spoils the plot for me right then and there. While I scoop out peanut butter into bowls, he captures the plot in eight words: Love and fame cannot live in same place.

Joshua bursts through the back door and demands a snack. “I’m working on it!” I say.

Then Matthew describes precisely the moment when the main character decides to take her own life. He googles the theme song stuck in his head and plays it for me right then and there. I don’t think to marvel at his astuteness until now because Sam hollers from the den, “another one!” This means he wants me to put another cartoon from the On Demand menu. To be a child again!

I chase Sam outside because who wants to watch tv on a gorgeous Tennessee morning?

These are the moments of motherhood that weave together and make a beautiful story.

And there are the other moments...

Matt and I sit in fold-up chairs on the sideline watching our third soccer game of the day. Joshua grabs at his hair after watching the ball land in the opponent’s goal. He turns and walks away from the goal toward center field as our goalie throws in the ball. I scream a little too loudly and harshly, “JOSHUA, WATCH THE BALL!” Matt points out not so gently that the ball is not live. The goalie is just returning the ball to mid-field for the kick-off. 

I cope with being exposed as one of THOSE parents by taking out my iPhone and studying my Twitter account. 

I’m at one of those crossroads as a mother when you begin to focus less on the ways your own parents harmed you. With maturity comes the realization that I will undoubtedly inflict pain upon my own children. An important rite of passage, this transition adjusts my vision much like the reading glasses I am needing recently.

 I am human. I will likely hurt my children. My mother was human. Even the wounds, perhaps ESPECIALLY the wounds I carry glorify my Heavenly Father.

Can I trust Him with my own humanness? Will I let go of the idol of Perfectionism? Will I live full out and acknowledge my ability to hurt or harm my children while giving everything I have to the task?

I will relish every moment of this journey and run fast to the one I have harmed to ask for forgiveness. And sit quietly and enjoy the one who is talking. And give myself space to be able to love from an overflowing heart. 

Today I thank God for my story. I give the stories of my children over to the Story Teller and admit that He knows better than I. 



poor in spirit

Lately I have had a lot of chances to say “you are right” and “that was my fault.” And I’m not talking about a co-dependent whiney sort of victim line. I mean to speak the truth and mean it. It is somewhat difficult. Try it right now if you dare. Say: “I could be wrong.” Try: “That was my fault.” It kinda gets stuck in your craw, doesn’t it? That’s southern-girl talk for hung up in your throat. Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” The phrase “poor in spirit” is only used once in the Bible, here in the beatitudes found in Matthew 5.

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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


a tribute to my grandmother

Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances. Like an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear.  Proverbs 25:11-12

In this verse the wise reprover is a person who gives practical advice based on divine revelation and her own experience and observation. The word can refer to the skillfulness of artisans which explains the analogy to jewelry. This is my inheritance from my grandmother. 

I’d like to honor her today by telling you of a time she, the wise reprover, blessed me like a skilled artisan. This story is just one interaction over the course of a long life. The story represents her life.

The apples of gold are delivered in just the right circumstances. There was a day in my life when everything changed. It was a critical juncture. The choices I had been making had been disappointing many. And I had a choice to make about my future. I was lost, disoriented. The entire map of my future lay crumpled on the floor in a heap. 

I called Momice to tell her of my circumstances. I don’t remember the exact words she gave me but one phrase sticks in my mind. She said, “You have never disappointed me.” Through those words and others I have forgotten, she breathed life-giving oxygen into my deflated soul. She spoke words of blessing when I really least deserved them.

Momice’s words pointed me to the path ahead. In so many words she said, “Remember who you are.” I don’t exaggerate when I say that the conversation changed me forever. It marked me and 19 years later I draw strength from it. At a point when I thought all was lost - when I was exposed, naked, and vulnerable - she spoke words of tenderness and kindness. She spoke words of eternity. Her gentleness was and is a compass for me.

The message resonated with my soul because she had spoken it to me all my life – in words, actions, in silent acceptance. She loved me without condition. That was her life. For those of us lucky enough to be loved by her – that was her investment. And she is honored today by us as she lives on through us. 

Her investment in my life is best portrayed by this conversation. Think about it. How many times have you received a rebuke or correction that marked your life or that picked you up off of a path of destruction and set you back on the path of life? Not many. Maybe not even one. A rebuke is best delivered with a lightness of heart, a twinkle in the eye and a soft snicker of hope for the future. I think that is how Momice lived her life. 

Momice gave me a taste of redemption. It left me hungry for more. She showed me that true redemption is when you are struck dumb by the enormity of your failure but struck even dumber by the enormity of God’s heart to cancel our debt. When you experience that, you are grateful. And this gratitude frees the heart to dole out to others what has been freely given to you. 

Zelda means “woman warrior.” Bernice adds some spice meaning “brings victory.” I did not find this out until later on in the year that she died. The meaning of it has hit me like waves over time. That is what she leant to us – the ones she loved. She taught us to fight. She taught us to win. Femininity was not lost on her because her victories were sweet without violence. Her gentleness was a compass to us. But make no mistake; she was a warrior for her family. 

The love Momice had for me enlarged my heart. 

I wrote about the conversation I had with Momice in my journal the week before she died. It is a privilege for me to honor her today and to share her golden apples in settings of silver with you. They are my inheritance.

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