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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 Samuel (22)



When a newborn enters the world, the first milestone is that first breath. It’s as if all movement in the room stops and waits... is he going to breathe? 

Imagine going from a warm, dark environment where sound is muted and movement buffered by amniotic fluid to this world. The bright lights of a delivery room must be traumatic and that baby must feel frigid. And then he has to breathe on his own. Oxygen is no longer delivered via a nice placental tube. No, no, buddy. Breathe! On your own!

Breathing is our first response to our first trauma.

How is it, then, when I feel stress, I forget to breathe? Recently a dear friend reminded me to breathe. When you exhale, she said, you surrender. Upon inhalation, receive. I’ve been practicing this using that handy but often forgotten and under-rated muscle: the diaphragm. 

When you inhale, the diaphragm should push out and your belly looks full and round like a pregnant lady. When you use the muscle to exhale properly, all the air is pushed out of the bottom of the lungs. Frequently when we are stressed, we breathe out of the top portion of our lungs. 

All this musing of breaths and breathing landed me in Genesis 2:7. 

Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being. 

So getting back to the basics of breathing sets us up to remember that we are creatures. God breathed us into life. His breath became our souls. We are spiritual beings with our spirits given from the Creator of the Universe.  

My breathing is primal and it reminds me of that first breath when God placed his lips upon mine and delivered life into me. 


up side of shame

This is Sam - artist, philosopher, motorcycle rider.To live with regret is to be human.

Regret means a feeling of sadness, repentance, or disappointment over something that has happened or been done. It can refer to sorrow over the loss or absence of something. The opposite of regret is shamelessness. To live without shame or regret is to deny being human. 

As I look back on 2011, I have some regret, even shame, to be sure. I look at some areas and postulate, “well, that was just not at all perfect.” Some places I had resolved to “fix” or “address” moved about like a glacier. Frankly, I failed in some areas. 

I’m thankful for cycles or seasons that the Lord gives us. Every morning, He says, His mercies are new. A heart that won’t admit regret can’t open up to receive mercy. Conversely, a heart that is willing to feel healthy shame (admission to limits) is poised to receive a showering of grace and mercy. When we admit our failures and humbly reach out for Someone bigger, we can ask for His help and admit that His plan is better. 

This morning my six-year-old, Sam, woke up crying with a sore “frope,” his word for throat. As I ladled honey-laden tea into his mouth, he stunned me with a question. He is full of questions these days like “What is your favorite word” or “planet” or “number.”  He sputtered between sips, “Do you have to get hurt?” Groping  for context I asked a few questions. He gets so frustrated when I don’t understand. I asked him, “Do you mean generally, in life?” He shook his head yes. 

“Yes, Sam,” I said, “living in this world, everybody gets hurt at one time or the other.”

Today I want to recognize my human limitations and accept the help of a God who is infinitely bigger than me and mysterious.


like a child

If I am not poor in spirit, Christmas will not come to me. The other morning, I sat reading from my journal of 2011. I felt sad and perplexed that some of my goals had not been realized. I asked Jesus what is up with that. He answered me in my Advent readings with a quote from Oscar Romero. The poem is below:

No one can celebrate
a genuine Christmas
without being truly poor.
The self-sufficient, the proud,
those who, because they have
everything, look down on others,
those who have no need
even for God - for them there
will be no Christmas.
Only the poor, the hungry,
those who need someone
to come on their behalf,
will have that someone.
That someone is God.
Emmanuel. God-with-us.
Without poverty of spirit
there can be no abundance of God.

Christmas is a time of giving. We like to think of ourselves as givers. I have been motoring about buying presents, flying through cyberspace bargain hunting. But have I thought of myself as a receiver? 

In Sam’s oral presentation about Christmas for kindergarten, he gushed about how opening presents is our favorite Holiday tradition. He has no misguided self-concept of being a giver. This boy knows how to receive. Tear open the package and dig in. 

As I have grown up, I have forgotten what it is like to receive. If I want Christmas to come, I must open my arms wide to receive the bounty that Christ brings. I must empty myself of all my vein notions and haughty thoughts that I am generous. The truth is that I am needy, broken, destitute. I need grace. 

I want to recover the child-like joy of receiving the Present this Christmas.


broken angel

Things break.

Here on earth, everything breaks, wears out, corrodes. This morning I found this favored angel from the nativity scene with his wings discarded nearby. Sam owned up to wrestling with Gabriel. A new Christmas scene is written in the McMurray house. 

Last month goes down in history as one of the most horrible in my life. My mother landed in the hospital with a life-threatening MRSA infection. A situation with a family member sat in my gut and my mind constantly replayed the scene. What if I had said that? What if I had pointed out this? Friends in crisis. Conflicts. Disease. Death. Dreary grey weather. November had it all.

Through all of this, God called my heart heavenward. Confident of his presence with me, I breathed prayers like the Jesus one. Inhale and say, “Jesus Christ, son of God.” Exhale and say,  “have mercy on me a sinner.” One day as I ran to my car late to meet someone, a rainbow appeared through the gray dreary clouds. I gasped aloud. Awe. 

On the same day, I drove down a gorgeous Tennessee back road and something at the tree-line caught my eye. A horse? No. I saw the antlers. It was the biggest buck I have ever seen majestically ruling ore the plain. I pulled over and watched it from a distance. Awe.

To see something extraordinary and to try to put words around it is to muse.

Awe is the first step to worship. If I understand something, I will never think myself smaller than it. I am learning that life is hard and there is good in the hard and hard in the good. 

The angel proclaimed peace (wholeness) on earth, good news to men. His wings dazzled the shepherds. They fell on their faces in worship. 

Things may break here on earth but there will come a day when it will all be new.


letting go

On Sam’s first day of kindergarten, I joined the throng of parents trudging down the hall to the room where our babies would spend roughly 1,200 hours over the next ten months.

When the children stood for the pledge of allegiance, the teacher shooed the parents from the room. As you can imagine, I was the last parent out of the room. Literally walking backwards, I observed Sam standing at attention, hand over heart just like I taught him. One red-nosed little girl snuffed out large sobs. Some children just sat at their tables staring into oblivion. Some still worked on the sticker game the teacher had put out. The teacher held a small American flag in one hand and patted the sniffling girl with the other.

I’ll never forget the sea of faces as I turned around my back towards the kindergarteners. With a smorgasbord of expressions, parents gathered around the open door stuck to the floor looking for one last glimpse of their babies. Sadness. Horror. Triumph. Fear. Anticipation. Brows furrowed, eyes spilling over each parent gazed back at the blur of the past and into a future of unknown.

Because I have a 20 year old, I know a little about what this future holds: losing teeth, bad haircuts, break-outs and break-ups, first dates, proms, senior trips, college visits, career choices. This moment frozen in time held both the past and the future.

My friend, Hillary, hugged me and my tears spilled over.

I had cried off and on all morning. Earlier as I sat on the patio with Bible and coffee, Sam found me just like he always does. He came over with sleep still on his breath and the lovee still right up at his nose. He climbed up on my lap and said, “Mommy, I’m scared.” 

“What are you afraid of?” I asked.

“I am scared to go to kindergarten,” he said with the sage wisdom of an 80 year old.

“I know,” I said as I cuddled him up as close as I could. “Let’s get some chocolate milk.” 

I settled him in on the sofa and headed to the kitchen. As I stirred the chocolate into the milk, I let the sobs come. Soft. Quiet. Aware that I needed to show Sam a strong front, I cried quickly in the other room. 

Last year we launched Matthew, my oldest son, to college. Now this launching of a different variety continues the stretching of my mother-womb. For nine months, mothers nourish and shelter their babies. Then, starting with birth, we have to let them go. 

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