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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 Perspective (3)



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



Holy & Precious Lord, You are my strength & my song... my salvation... I look to You & You alone for healing. I trust that You use hurts & pains, ruins & trials to bring about Your will for Your children.My finger traced the smooth wooden grooves. With my eyes closed, my soul lead the way. One way. To the center of the circle. I did not worry over which way to go. Peace invaded my anxious body. 

Tranquility is the gift of the labyrinth.

Later on Joshua, 11, asked me about this strange-looking wooden disk. “It’s a labyrinth,” I said. “Trace it with your finger with your eyes closed.”

He smiled, closed his eyes and began the journey. 

“What are you feeling?” I asked.

“Peace.” His smile expanded.

A few mornings later as my eyes opened to the sunlight streaming through the curtains nearby, I became aware of how the bed held me up. This mattress, I thought, holds me up and I don’t have to do anything. Just relax my body and let it hold me. Then this thought careened through long-crusty neuropathways: What if I am exactly where I should be right now?

I worry. Am I in the right place? Is this where God wants me? Did I do the right thing?

When tragedy has visited my life, I clung to some control by making it about my choices. If I had listened... If I hadn’t made that turn... If I had only... 

Reality implores me to drop the myth that I am sovereign. Only One is Sovereign. 

The wonder of life with God is that He can even use my bad choices to bring glory to Himself.

“Everything in her life that was happening was exactly what was supposed to be happening and it was all opportunity for her healing,” writes Kitty Crenshaw and Catherine Snapp. Betty Skinner lived a hidden life which is now exposed in the book The Hidden Life. Betty mentored the authors, and they captured her thoughts and journal entries in this book. 

Labyrinth lends me the understanding that this path leads to the center and God is there. When I am walking this path, tuning my ears to hear His Voice, telling the truth about the present;  I will find Him. My experience speaks of times when I have listened poorly or rebelliously gone my own way, even then He has found me. 

I am exactly where I am supposed to be. He has given me everything I need for this moment. Even when my story folds back on itself with pain and tragedy, He is orchestrating my healing. 


“The chaos around us never changes. What changes is that we begin to view the world and ourselves differently. When we are finally able to live from a place of hope moment by moment, we don’t see the chaos as frightening anymore - it becomes an opportunity to offer love, presence and compassion in the midst of it.” The Hidden Life, p. 120