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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 parenthood (32)


see the unseen

It is quiet here at midday on the first Sunday of Advent. Only the sound of boys chatting and laughing, the sound of Fifa 15 on the Play Station, the sound of the Titans game low in the background break the quiet. My stomach is full of turkey sandwich and the house is littered with Christmas decorations. 

I don’t know how many times I have completely missed the first Sunday of Advent. It is easy enough to do, especially when leftovers from Thanksgiving still stock the fridge. I would get so frustrated with myself over forgetting that first Sunday. 

Today, though, we did not forget. Matthew (23) was home from college so we grabbed the chance to decorate the tree together.  I suppose I have a Norman Rockwell image in my mind of how this should go down. The scene includes hot chocolate and carols in front of a warm fire. Everyone is laughing and chatting. Everyone is engaged and eager to help hang those little ornaments on the branches. 

Today the distractions are endless: Nerf guns,  remote control flying helicopters, football on tv, iPhones and iPads. Matt and I goad the kids to help reaching a shrill tone of voice in desperation to get the task done. The lights take two hours and my back aches from holding light balls over my head. They are much more crowded up in one spot near the top of the tree. Charlie Brown may have done a better job! 

But more than anything,  one feeling prevails on this day. 


My eyes are focussed to see the camaraderie of the three brothers. My ears are tuned to hear the laughter and teasing and love. It ends soon enough with Matthew back to Knoxville and Matt to work. 

It is into the everydayness that Christ entered. He stooped down and made Himself a baby so that He could save us. I do not want to miss His incarmational Presence this Christmas. When I see the love of God or when Mystery cracks open my paradigm for life, will I run and hide? Or will I open myself to it? I want to say the same words as Mary. I am the Lord’s handmaiden. May it be as you have said.

Will I give up my notion of Rockwell scenes and perfectionism? Will I embrace the mysterious way the Lord has ordered my life? Will I surrender to Mystery? Will I keep  my eyes open to see the unseen?

For nothing is impossible with God. Luke 1:37


silent night?

Christmas 2005 with the Elrods All is calm. All is bright.
‘Round yon virgin, mother and child
Holy infant so, tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Bright, we got that covered. Calm, well not so much. 

Last night we read our Advent devotional book, and the shenanigans that surrounded the reading could have reached the heights of the angels rousing the shepherds in the meadows on the night of Christ’s birth. Matt and I were not as entertained, however, as the shepherds. 

“Stop it!”

“Don’t hit your brother.” 

“Move to the other chair, now!”

Maybe tonight we should begin with a few laps around the cul de sac before reading. 

I’m wondering if maybe it wasn’t so calm on the night of Christ’s birth. A lot was going on and I’m guessing some panic may have been charging the air. 

What! No room! 

A manger, really, Joseph?!

Please move the ox over so I can put the baby down!

And yet, PEACE must have flooded in with the entrance of the Prince of Peace. And so all the buzzing about focussed on this baby. A swaddling of vulnerability sent to change the world. 

And so we re-direct. Can I tell you the story of how God killed the first animal in Genesis so that Adam and Eve could have clothing? Did you know the shepherds were the poorest of the poor? The wise men followed this star all the way to Bethlehem... What do you think it smelled like in the cave where he was born? 

My mother tells the story of singing Silent Night growing up in Sunflower Methodist Church. She would sing, “Round John Bert, mother and child.” Her only context for that line was her neighbor John Bert. She didn’t know what a virgin was. Nor did she care that John Bert could not have been there at the birth some 2,000 years ago. She sang the song that made sense to her.

And so we go on filling in the gaps... sharing the story... giving context. This baby, well, He really did change the world.


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


blessing of God

The words of the Aaronic blessing offer us a powerful glimpse into the heart of our God and our own desire. All of us at our core wish to have God’s blessing upon our lives. We all wish to see God face to face and feel His love and acceptance of us. 

As I have been musing God’s gaze upon my life, I encountered these words in Numbers 6. The blessing goes like this:

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.

God gave these words to Moses to give to Aaron (the first high priest) and his sons to give to the Israelites. They were embarking on their journey through the desert. This is the first time the Israelites were “numbered.” They were numbered some 40 years later when they finally did go in and claim the land.

This speaks to me because God knew they would fail. Even with these powerful words of blessing upon them, they chose their own way and chose not to trust their God. God disciplined them for 40 years. 40 years. All the time with his face shining upon them.

Our God, an Artist, delivered this blessing in an artful poetic form to his children. The structure in Hebrew is important. Line one has 15 letters forming three words, line two 20 letters for five words, line three has 25 letters for seven words. The language builds in emphasis. 

And so God’s kids started out a journey doomed to “failure” with a poem. In my mind’s eye I see haggard and bedraggled old Israelites wandering the desert. Their shoes in tact but what of their souls? They must have wanted to give something to their kids, the next generation. Something different. I picture them kissing their children goodnight and uttering these words over them willing them to believe. I conjure up visions of them struggling through heat, snake attacks, human-eating earthquakes, plagues and clinging to this poem at the very center of their being. 

I imagine their last breaths surrounded by this next generation of warriors uttering the words of faithfulness. He is faithful when we are not. 

This poem held them together at their center. This poem grew around it another generation of believers who were courageous, obedient, conquerers. 

I wrestle with my flesh and the principalities and powers to accept these words. I desire to know deep down in my center that God loves me and his face is turned toward me. He is brimming with love perfected by the death and resurrection of his Son. I am becoming more and more aware of the places that don’t believe. I offer those parts a seat at the table of grace. Pass the poem. Munch on these words. Let them become a part of you. Believe. Pass it on.

And I say to my sons, He is faithful when we are not.


my keeper

A week ago Matt trimmed our bushes in the front yard under a blue sky. As he worked on a tall holly, he discovered a bird’s nest. Quickly he got away from it in hopes the mother would not smell human. Mother birds will abandon a nest if she thinks there is danger.  As he showed us the nest from a distance, we realized that one of the baby birds had fallen out of the nest. The scrawny, featherless bird hung upside down snagged on a limb. His beak moved open and shut as if to cry for help.

Matt tried using a rake to “catch” the bird and push him up to the nest. We finally left him there hoping the mother would return and pick up the bird with her beak and put him back in the nest. 

Today we realized the abandoned dead bird was still hanging there in the holly bush. His brothers and sisters chirped in the nest right beside him awaiting their next meal. 

It’s really a horrifying picture of this dog-eat-dog world. Is there a more dreadful picture of frayed humanity (avianity) than a mother abandoning her child/ren?

If I’m honest, this speaks to a core fear I have of God. Often in the midst of confusion, trials or hardship, I wonder where He is. Has He abandoned me? Will He? When will He?

And yet we have these promises in His Word. Hebrews 13:5 says, “Don't be obsessed with getting more material things. Be relaxed with what you have. Since God assured us, ‘I'll never let you down, never walk off and leave you.’”

It’s interesting to juxtapose this promise with the warning. Don’t be obsessed in getting more things, He says. Because when we are afraid, we grasp and grab and search about for guarantees. 

And so in the dark, as I honestly confess my fear, I reach for His hand. And it is there.