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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 gratitude (8)



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


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



I’m writing this post with a precious 7-year-old head resting on my shoulder. We are lounging on the couch. Sam’s body is covered by a UT snuggie. (Side Note: two things I would never have dreamed could be in my life: UT orange and a snuggie.) Cartoon Network blares in the background. A softer sound emits from my iPhone: the sound of hold music from Apple. My iPhone 5 is smarter than I am. I need help conquering it. 

Every now and then Sam fires a toy gun with an annoying electrical bullet sound. He could be a Storm Trooper. It also has a sound for cocking as well as firing.

Occasionally my phone gets a text. Mama had surgery yesterday. I am staying connected to her by some thin phone wires and cyber stuff that I cannot understand.

So much stimuli. 

Sam has a stomach virus, hopefully the 24-hour variety. Yesterday he swam his first ever IM in the swim meet. The IM is the Iron Man but it actually stands for Individual Medley and consists of all four strokes. It is a rite of passage and I’ve seen many young swimmers exit the pool in tears from exertion and exhaustion. He won’t let me out of his sight.

Here I sit tethered by a computer cord and an invisible but just as real umbilical cord. Mothers sit by their sick children with bowls and cold wet rags. We mop foreheads and kiss fearlessly praying that we won’t get the bug.

This morning as I sat on my patio and watched the sun rise along with the temperature, I read familiar words. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. II Corinthians 4:18

My reading this morning shifted my focus from the seen to the unseen. The seen, it says, is temporary. The unseen is eternal. Why do we do this? Verse 16 says it: so that we do not lose heart. 

I read that and in about 10 seconds my focus is right back on the now and the things jangling for my attention. I need to come back to it again and again throughout a day. What is unseen?

Our souls, our spirits. Relationships. The forces in spiritual realms. As we live like this, grace reaches more and more people. Thanksgiving overflows. And we start all over agin. Unseen. Grace. I’m not losing heart. I see it. Unseen. Thanksgiving. Grace.


22 years of marriage

The sunrise on our twenty-second anniversary of marriage took my breath away and sent me running outside with my camera (iPhone 5) in the twenty-eight-degree weather.  The scene unfolding before me reminded me of how God holds the universe together by his grace. It also reminds me how He has held us together for twenty-two years.

We have spent two days at a refuge spelunking the past year and eyeing the future with optimism and hope. Each year (almost) we have made it a priority to get away for our anniversary. This time affords us the opportunity to gather the blessings of the past year and to set some goals for the next one. After a few years this practice became habit and now it has become second nature.

We picked a verse for the next year. Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” 

Click to read more ...


1000 gifts

The tiny journal the color of a robin’s egg snugly fits in my hand. I open it and write the number one, then “underwear.” 

A new friend gave me the journal at our book club - my first book club. I love words and I love books. How I never got in a book club before now is a mystery. Our first book in my first book club was One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. 

On this morning, I rushed to the gym. I have reached a new level of commitment to re-conquer my body and health. This includes a grueling 30 minutes with Joey at Temple Fitness three times a week. As I drove down Del Rio, I realized I had forgotten a towel. I needed to shower there at the gym in order to make it to book club on time. Walgreens is on the way, I’ll just pick up a towel, right? Then it hit me, I had forgotten underwear. 

What to do?

In accord with this new commitment, I pointed the  grey Odyssey toward Temple Fitness and did not look back. I finished the book on the treadmill at times groaning aloud as my spirit absorbed these hallowed words. After one hour of walking and holding on to the rail and not being able to tear my eyes away from the page, I stumbled outside in the sun to finish it. I bawled aloud as the Tennessee sun baked the back of my neck. 

I collected myself and found the shower. Let me spare you the details but just say that I am not made to shower at the gym and then walk out glowing and ready for the next meeting. I need my space and my stuff. Obviously. 

I arrived a little early to two of my new friends with margaritas sitting in sunlight. My necklace in my hand, I sat down and explained to them that I was still getting dressed and my hair was still wet. Kim says this makes her like me even more. I think, “if you only knew.” 

We enjoyed green corn tamales and shrimp tacos and grazed on Voskamp’s words. Can we live a life of gratitude? Can we thank when God chooses to blow our minds and our expectations? Can we trust when our hearts are blistered? And we even touched on the last scandalous chapter... Can we union with our God? 

What an honor to attempt to map out the heart with these women and to be known. I did not tell them about the underwear. But I busted through the door at home and before I ran to my dresser, I opened my new notebook and gave thanks. Number one of one thousand things I will find.

Opening the hand to receive the moments. Trusting what is received to be grace. Taking it as bread... We take the moments as bread and give thanks and the thanks itself becomes bread. The thanks itself nourishes. Thanks feeds our trust. -Ann Voskamp