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One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are
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Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
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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 Matthew (15)



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.



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


the launch

I posted this three years ago. Today I am honoring those of you who are launching children to college. Here is our story.

On the day that we moved my oldest son to college, I walked into his room among the boxes holdinghis future. “Hey, want me to help you make your bed?” I asked smiling. We tidied the covers and I tucked his teddy bear in among the pillows. 

We drove east into the rising sun and Vol-land. The pit of my stomach turned and rumbled as I joined the throngs of parents pushing loaded carts vying for elevators. The dismal and exhausted dorm room has welcomed students since 1965. We packed as much warmth into it as we could leaving the white walls a blank slate. 

A college friend of Matt’s from Knoxville offered us respite in his beautiful home. Some of the most tender steak I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating settled my rumbly tummy. The fellowship warmed my weak heart. A few months earlier we had spent the weekend with Woody and Jennifer. We had told him Matthew may be attending UT. He smiled, took a sip of his cold beer and said, “You know if he does come to UT, he’s mine.” I’ve never heard such comforting words. 

On Matthew’s first night in the dorm, I spent a long and restless night at Woody’s with Matt and Sam. Awake from 3-4 a.m., I listed the things we could do to bring some life to the cell of a dorm room. Up to now, the males had given me a lot of flack. Being as I am outnumbered in this family, it added up to quite a bit! Boys don’t care about a dorm room. Boys don’t need it to be beautiful. Mom, (eyes rolling) I don’t care what comforter I have or if it matches Sean’s! But now everyone was brainstorming!

Sunday morning early, we arrived to the dorm early and dragged Matthew out of bed. We headed to the equivalent of Mecca for new dorm residents: Walmart. Zealous parents and students had ransacked the place. No hangers. No cork boards. A kind employee dug in a box to find shower curtain rings. 

Back at Alcatraz, I mean Massey Dorm, we added the Walmart-touch and the place livened up. As I placed pictures on the wall, Matt said, “It’s time to go.” Matthew’s tour of campus began in 5 minutes. “But can’t we just stay here and work on the room while he’s gone?” 

“No,” Matt said. No explanation.

“Is it against the rules?” I stammered.

“It’s time for us to go,” he gently reassured. 

We all rolled out the door into the hall with the force of a tsunami. There next to the elevators sat 8 or so freshman young men with the RA, Hunter. Awkward. We quickly hugged goodbye and I boarded the elevator with Rhode Island in my throat. I had been told not to look back. Afraid of what may happen if Rhode Island broke up, I checked my flip flops. On the ground, I kicked the gravel and spit out, “That was just awful.” Matt agreed. 

“We don’t have to leave on that note,” we both agreed. We decided to eat and return for a better goodbye. Now, if a parent had asked for my advice in this situation, I would have said, “Leave. Go on home.” Reason did not have the wheel.

Amidst tears, we found our way to the Old City, a quirky and whimsical part of Knoxville. “You have not told me about these shops,” I accused Matt. 

“These were not here when we dated 20 years ago,” he said.

“Yeah, right.”

I texted Matthew: We have a gift for you. Can you meet us after the tour to pick it up?

Shameful. We had visited the bookstore and bought him a lanyard for his keys. For me visiting the all-orange store traumatized me even more. I am an Ole Miss girl by heart. 

We proceeded as planned since we did not hear from him. Funny how my texts and calls are not answered even though the phone grows out of his right palm. He may have been strategizing: how can I get them to leave?

At last, the phone rang. “Mom, I’m pretty busy. I have something else at 4.” 

“We just wanted to say goodbye over. That goodbye was terribly awkward,” I explained. “It will only take a second.”

Our Odyssey roared back to campus. There on the corner sat Matthew with his tour. He hurried over to our car. We tried to park out of the way and out of sight certainly out of earshot. I said the things I wanted to say without an audience. Hugged him. Touched his face. Matt gave him a huge man-hug. We drove off. Again. 

Tomato Head Restaurant offered yet another respite. Good food is a comfort. Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan Ale is brewed in Kiln, MS. From the first drop on my tongue I felt the love. Apparently, it is the only beer in the world made with roasted pecans. I needed a Mississippi touch. Outside, Sam danced in the water fountain. Then, we headed west: home. 

Some things remain private. The ride home. The tears. The talk. The snorts. 

The family who kept Joshua lives on one of the most beautiful stretches of road in the country. We rounded Del Rio and the stunning sunset bade us welcome.

The next morning I awoke before the sunrise aware of an emptiness in my gut. I’ve been reading a book about getting in touch with the gut: the seat of emotions, the home of the soul. I stealthily stole out to the patio. As I wrote in my journal, the pages turned golden under the sunrise. I checked in with the gut. Warmth, fullness, life. The emptiness is true: I miss Matthew. 

The life is truer. 

So much of parenting is negotiating endings, the unceasing process of disconnecting the strings that tie our children to us, preparing them for a life on their own. That has always been the ache and beauty of it for me – taking the deep breath and trusting somehow in the goodness of life, in God, in something beyond myself. – Sue Monk Kidd


full heart

They grow up fast. 

This may be the understatement of all understatements. For the first time in weeks, I have all my boys under the same roof. Since they are spread out from ages 22 (Matthew) to 13 (Joshua) to 7 (Sam), we get to see our parenting change. We get evaluations from time to time from Matthew. Last night at dinner, we had an opportunity for feedback. 

Matt grilled salmon. I had agreed to cook pasta for Sam since he is not a salmon fan. We tried to convince him since it is so close to his name: Sam-man. Nonetheless, he broke down like a kid exhausted from the first week of school. 

I said, “Tell him, Matthew, what would have happened to you if you had refused to eat what we cooked.”

“Well,” he began in the seasoned voice of a story-teller, “I would have been told to eat the fish or go to bed hungry.” This did not comfort Sam at all. Still hiccupping tears, he softened his daddy. Matt agreed to cook the pasta but said it would take 15 minutes. Matthew’s brows furrowed. 

Joshua said, “Just try it, Sam. It’s been a while. You haven’t tried Dad’s grilled salmon.” 

Sam cut the tiniest piece and plopped it in his mouth unbelieving. “Bad,” he spit. 

Undaunted, Joshua said, “That piece was tiny! You need to try a bigger piece to get the taste!” 

Sam didn’ t argue but quickly scooped up the rest of the fish on his plate. Joshua screamed, “You like it!” A big grin stole Sam’s face. He could not resist the delicious fish even at the expense of his pride. 

“I knew it! You didn’t argue about eating a second bite!” Joshua said. 

We laughed exhaling relieved by a resolution to the dinner drama. I felt spared of a failing parent grade. And I relished this moment like Mary treasuring it in my heart.

Later several of Matthew’s buds came over to play a board game and then hit Nashville. I hadn’t seen these young men in some months. They kept us up with their loud hoots and occasional music streaming through the open doors when someone sneaked downstairs for one more helping of blueberry crumble. 

This morning at the busstop Sam found a leaf bug. He named it Cornbread Maxwell. Sam is the Finder at our house. If something is lost, this kid can round it up.  For the next 20 minutes the bug delighted all the kids at our busstop climbing over Sam then fluttering off to someone’s backpack. Once the bug flew over to a bike tire and nearly met an early death. Sam rescued it and held on to it for dear life. 

Guess who had to take the bug when the bus came? I happened to have chosen a green coffee mug that morning. Cornbread rode home in the mug.

Then I carefully staged a home for him in an old salsa jar. Finding the right size shell for water and putting some leaves in for food enchanged my inner child.


  This afternoon we will likely let Cornbread loose. But the beauty of the moment will live in our hearts. Is that too lofty a purpose for Cornbread? For a bite of salmon? For laughter of 20-somethings? I don’t think so. 

We are told, after all, to consider the lillies

Beauty is all around me. If I don’t open my eyes to His Presence in the Moment, I am likely to miss it. I have to open my soul to find the beauty sometimes.

Don't fuss about what's on the table at mealtimes or if the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your inner life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the ravens, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, carefree in the care of God. And you count far more. Has anyone by fussing before the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? If fussing can't even do that, why fuss at all? Walk into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They don't fuss with their appearance - but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them. If God gives such attention to the wildflowers, most of them never even seen, don't you think he'll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? "What I'm trying to do here is get you to relax, not be so preoccupied with getting so you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Don't be afraid of missing out. You're my dearest friends! The Father wants to give you the very kingdom itself. Luke 12: 22-32


ordinary days

What if our days are strung together by memories hanging side by side to make a life?

This past weekend we traveled to Knoxville for a soccer tournament for Joshua. His good buddy F traveled with us. This could have been just another weekend of soccer away from home. 

Matthew lives there and attends University of Tennessee. He is finishing up his junior year. My garage is full of coffee tables and dishes he will need soon enough. This average weekend brightened considerably by his presence with us.

On Sunday after both Joshua’s and F’s teams lost, we veered off our path to show F Neyland Stadium in the heart of UT’s campus. In the south football is a religion. Neyland is the third largest stadium in the country. Now F is a die-hard Tarheels fan. We secretly committed to changing his loyalty. Who could resist this kind of devotion to football?

As we neared the stadium, we realized the gates were not locked. Quickly we ducked in. The sun shone brightly from a bluebird sky and warmed us as we sat in awe. Tennessee weather could not decide if spring or winter ruled the day. We reminisced football games of the past and how the McMurrays have already left a mark on Neyland Stadium.

At the top, we peered over the orange (what other color is there?) bars to see the ground far below. Joshua commented how easy it would be to climb those orange bars and take out on the larger steel beams. If I was Catholic, I would have crossed myself at the thought. 

“Please!” I begged, “y’all don’t ever do that.” 

They looked at me like I was crazy. I reminded them that just last summer one of them had gotten out on a roof and jumped from balcony to window. Raising boys is not for the faint of heart. 

Someone lamented that if we only had some paper we could fly paper airplanes off the top. Another spotted orange flyers from the Orange and White game of the day before. We grabbed up eight or so pages and went to folding. 

Matthew’s design - simple yet sophisticated - won the best air time. The jets dove straight down for the concrete sidewalk. One stealth design flew all the way over to the parallel roof. 

As I reflected on the weekend, this moment stood out for me. Releasing those paper flying machines off Neyland held hope and play. It was an unexpected adventure built by togetherness and creativity. 

I think it is a moment we will store in the scrapbook of our hearts. A moment strung next to the others making life.