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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 Present to the Moment (22)


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


stress and prayer

Today Sam grinned his half-snaggle-toothed smile at me and asked me: “Are you coming to the bus stop with me?” Typical of me, I was running late. But I did not hesitate to nod in the affirmative.

The walk to our bus stop includes wet grass. Matt has started a habit of giving him a back ride across the grassy sea. My heart fills up when I watch the two of them gallop off in the mornings. But today I was up to be the horsey.

So I grabbed my rain boots and hitched Sam up. About three-quarters of the way over the sea, Sam yells out, “My helmet!” 

The horse stops. What helmet?! He had packed in a small lego super hero to take to school. The helmet came off in the grassy sea. A moment of panic threatened us as we realized the small lego helmet is out in this grassy sea. I prayed aloud, “Jesus, help us find the helmet” because I am trying to remember to invite Him into my stress and anxiety. 

Stress threatens not only our peace but does a number on our bodies as well. I am learning about the neurotransmitters in the body. When we perceive a threat, the amygdala (a walnut-sized part of the brain) sends out a virtual army of helpers. These neuro-messengers allow us to run fast, see in the dark and have a load of glucose dumped in our blood for quick energy. 

Problem is that even if the threat is small (like a lost lego helmet), our bodies do the job with precision and consistency. Over time our adrenal glands wear out. The adrenals sit like little helmets themselves atop each of our kidneys. They manufacture some of these stress hormones. When they tire, the picture is not pretty. We fatigue. We keep asking our bodies for energy, but none is there. It’s like the boy who cried wolf. The message goes out but nobody is responding. 

My adrenals are worn out. Thus the need to invite Jesus. I am reminded of my creature-hood. I can ask for help. My frontal cortex (the part of the brain reserved for higher reasoning just behind the forehead) says to my amygdala and adrenals, “Hey, it’s a helmet. And the Lord is with us even in the small details. Relax.”

Guess what! We found that pea-sized helmet. “It’s a miracle!” I yelled! Sam danced. I thanked Jesus who is involved in the details. Yes, He is.


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


nearness: 40 words in 40 days

It is a frightful thing to contemplate the nearness of God. In the Old Testament, men fell dead when they touched the ark. As priests worked in the Holy of Holies, a jingle bell sewn in the hem of their robe alerted the ones outside that the priest still breathed. He also worked with a rope tied to one ankle. If he fell dead, the others could drag him out without having to enter to retrieve him. 

When Jesus came, he healed by his touch. When Mary wiped his feet and anointed him with oil using her hair to dry them, he said that her story would be told wherever the gospel went. John reclined on Jesus’ chest and heard his heartbeat. Jesus touched. The blind, the lepers, the bleeding, the dead - all were healed. 

Today, are you afraid of the nearness of God?

What if Jesus touched you?

His Spirit resides in us - in our bodies. You can’t get much closer than that. Yet so many days, I go about life and forget about His nearness. My breath is His breath. I can use touch to heal or hurt. My words have the power of life or death. 

Am I a vessel of the Spirit? 

I want to remember that He is always near.

“...they delight in the nearness of God.” Isaiah 58:2


be: 40 words in 40 days

“Be still and know that I am God.”- Psalm 46:10

“Be.” What does that mean? The focus is not on doing. It is on who I am inside. Who am I? The scary thing about being is that you have to face the question, “who am I?” In “doing”, we are satisfied with being defined by what we do. Sometimes we use the things we do to avoid the question of who we are. “Who am I” looks beyond the tasks, the image, the roles and gets at the very soul. 

When we cease to be defined by what we do, we have to face the darkness of our own souls – the insecurities, the sin, the addictions, the compulsions. 

Our identity in Christ is the key to our conundrum. In Beloved, Henri Nouwen writes

 “Being the Beloved is the origin and the fulfillment of the life of the Spirit. Becoming the Beloved means letting the truth of our Belovedness become enfleshed in everything we think, say or do. As long as ‘being the Beloved’ is little more than a beautiful thought or a lofty idea that hangs above my life to keep me from becoming depressed, nothing really changes. What is required is to become the Beloved in the commonplaces of my daily existence and, bit by bit, to close the gap that exists between what I know myself to be and the countless specific realities of everyday life. Becoming the Beloved is pulling the truth revealed to me from above down into the ordinariness of what I am.”

I want to wrap up who I am - my “be”- in belovedness.