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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 story (4)


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.


sense of place

Friday we loaded our van with three guns, two boys, six electronic devices and one frozen fish on board for his last ride to a taxidermist. We headed west then south to the land of my childhood - the Mississippi Delta. As we descended the last hill for miles, I rolled down my windows to smell the Delta and involuntarily my body danced to “Pride and Joy.” Stevie Ray Vaughn heralded our arrival home at sunset. 

As the blue moon rose over the flattest place on earth, I snapped photos of the landscape, cotton crops white in the fields and, of course, the moon. It felt like a blue moon since I had last put my feet on this flat ground of home. 

The first time I heard the phrase “sense of place,” I mopped sweat and took notes furiously in a southern studies class. Barnard Observatory at Ole Miss must have been the last classroom at the university to get air conditioning. I listened mesmerized for a semester as my professor told me things in words that my soul already understood. 

 Rarely does an academic truth ring so true in your bones. 

Yesterday as Sam and I rolled into the dove field on the gator driven by my step-brother Justin, these words came back to me and my soul testified. We motored by the house where I grew up and I was 5 again watching the cotton pickers from my playhouse window. We bumped along the banks of the Sunflower River on the dirt turn row where I practiced my long jump and took second place in fifth grade. A turn row is a dirt road where the tractors turn around. I pointed to the spot to show Sam where I had seen the alligator. He’s heard the story a hundred times. Now he could add the texture of geography to it.

We turned west away from the river and snaked through a labyrinth of dead sunflowers.  Row after row covered the terrain and called to the doves. My daddy had lovingly and meticulously prepared the field. Turn rows divided the dove field into plots. Hunters stationed at each plot sat above their kill on camouflaged stools and chairs. We rounded the corner, and I could hardly make out Joshua, 12. He mixed right in with the dead sunflowers. He and Matt had been hunting since sunrise. 

Something like satisfaction filled me up seeing my son and his daddy hunting so close to where I roamed as a child. We were nearly on the exact spot of my one and only duck hunt. My sisters and I had pestered my daddy so much that he finally took us. When we complained of being cold, my daddy had us sit on the dead ducks for warmth. We wished for the Schnapps that kept the men warm. We were cold enough to comply and tentatively placed our rumps on those poor ole birds. It worked, but we never asked to go again. 

In contrast, on this day we would’ve traded an arm for a cool breeze. The sun beat down and the doves skated in and out of the sunflowers playing a deadly game of hide and seek. When Justin came back with the gator, his daughter Ann Lamar had the wheel. I won’t divulge her age and tempt law officials to issue a warning. What age gives you the right to drive a gator? We piled back in and headed across the street from where I spent the first 17 years of my life. 

I lingered in the sunset playing with labrador pups and taking my children to see the river. The bridge in the distance saluted and I told them again of the shenanigans of my youth. Watching through the cracks in the bridge for the pigeons’ nests full of eggs. Riding bikes fast as we could by the fisherman. Playing in the abandoned house right across the bridge.

As I snapped the last photo of the day, I looked westward and noticed that the clouds seemed to form a path. My future awaits. Stories yet untold.



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





Tears pooled around her deep brown eyes and slid over down her cheeks. She told the seminar leader how thyroid disease had wrecked her life. One day she felt great, she said, the next she was exhausted. Brittle hair. Dry skin. Thickened middle. The room grew quiet. We looked to the doctor leading the seminar. With gentleness he proposed a risky thought. Perhaps, he began and his eyes held her gaze, this is a different path but a better one. 

Sometimes God picks you up from one path and places you on a different one, a better one.

I thought of the things she had lost. Her health. Her energy. Her youthfulness. Her sense of control. What had she gained? Better eating habits benefiting her family and her. Powerlessness. Unanswered questions. No promises of a cure. Gratitude for things she once took for granted.

Often God radically changes our paths. Sometimes the world changes just by a few words. 

Has your life ever changed as a result of a sentence?

When this happens, the path we find ourselves traveling seems anything but safe or friendly or good. As I listen to my story and to others’ stories, I see a pattern of God re-creating circumstances. At first glance, this seems cruel. But seen through the grid of God’s goodness, they become opportunities for healing. 

I met a woman whose three year old son recently went through chemo for leukemia. She lost her mother to cancer when she was 8 years old. She is courageously living this traumatic season with an eye for what God may do to bring her healing in her inmost being - not just as a mother desperate for her son’s healing but also as a girl who lost a beautiful mother. 

God baffles us by these stories. What do we do with a God like that? What do we do with the wildness, the unpredictability of God?

Redemption’s work is making up for loss. I cannot author my own redemption. When I attempt to orchestrate my own circumstances to build a scene for redemption, I am in a dangerous spot. Redemption rarely, pretty much never, looks like what I think it will look. Most of the time we look around and say “chaos” or “disaster” not redemption. 

My experience and hope tell me that at those times, God is nearest. He is often poised in the wings to blow your socks off with how He brings His presence to the broken. It happens in the heart. What changes is your spirit. You are able to say with the saints of old: He is enough.

In Him we have redemption through His blood... Ephesians 1:7