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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 thanksgiving (5)



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



Forgetfulness is the mortal enemy of gratitude. 

I must say the older I get the more forgetful I become. I’ve missed meetings. I have missed meals. I have even missed jury duty. 

But I am talking about spiritual memory here. When I forget what all God has done for me, I can easily become focussed on my circumstances. With my eyes on the problems at hand, I quickly begin sinking like ole Peter trying to walk on the waves. 

Today I burned myself while getting the sweet potatoes out of the oven. I got all my cooking done today for Thanksgiving. I averted a catastrophe narrowly by holding on to the full pan of sweet potatoes even though my hand was frying. 

Several hours later I was trying to think of what I could put on the burn. Then it hit me. I had an aloe plant! I bought it back in August specifically for treating burns in my family. When we lived in Honduras, we had a large aloe plant just out the back door. It is like a wonder cure for burns. 

Sure enough when I applied the balm of the aloe plant, my burn eased immediately. I had suffered for hours needlessly. The plant sat there all day long. 

This is how my forgetfulness works spiritually. I don’t apply the balm of faith to my circumstances. I forget that God has worked before to bring about good from chaos, character from calamity, and even reunions from broken relationships. 

Today I remembered a time when the Lord prepared me for a difficult circumstance through a dream. A dream! Now picture my head cocked to one side, my nose scrunched up and my voice emphasizing the words: A DREAM. As I reflected on that time, I told the Lord how thankful I was for that dream and the other ways He worked through that horrible time. 

Without walking in gratitude my faith flounders. When I apply the balm of gratitude, my faith inflates and my eyes rest on my Provider. 


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



This black turkey appears ruined. We cooked it in a smoker Jason made from an old oil drum. Though we may have subtracted years from our lives, we enjoyed that turkey. Inside it was moist and delicious. Thanksgiving 2003. Tela, HondurasWhen Isaiah saw the Lord in the temple, he responded with an accurate assessment of who he was. Ruined. A man of unclean lips. A dead man. 

Then he transformed before us in the passage. As he lay on the temple floor in the posture of one dead, an angel flew over and touched his lips with a live coal from the altar. The angel said, “your sin is atoned for.” 

The voice of the Lord boomed, “Whom shall I send?”

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Grateful Instead

This Thanksgiving, as I contemplate the year and what I am grateful for, I am aware of a space growing in my heart. Two years ago, I drew in my journal a root of bitterness. Turns out, I wrote on that root for quite a few months. I attempted to name the things that robbed me of gratitude. These things have another name: resentment. 

Nouwen writes, “Along with trust, there must be gratitude - the opposite of resentment. Resentment and gratitude cannot coexist, since resentment blocks the perception and experience of life as a gift. My resentment tells me that I don’t receive what I deserve. It always manifests itself as envy. Gratitude, however, goes beyond the ‘mine’ and ‘thine’ and claims the truth that all of life is a pure gift.” The Prodigal Son.

In my thinking, resentment leads to bitterness. Resentment means bitter indignation at being treated unfairly. Entitlement is the thread in the fabric of resentment. I assume I know the “fair” way I should be treated. Over time, this entitlement weaves a web of resentment. And as these threads entangle us, a web of bitterness is cast. It binds us and deadens us to the miracle of life. 

I believe my resentment started with my parent’s divorce when I was 12. Shouldn’t I have two parents who love each other and faithfully stay together? I began to expect certain things in life (entitlement). I thought I knew the plan God had for me. This great web of deception became apparent to me upon our return from Honduras. We gave our lives away and I thought I knew the end to that. I thought I knew how things would turn out. When we came home, I was devastated on many levels. As I allowed myself to unravel before God, I came to Him with questions and wrestled honestly before Him. 

In my resentment, I had blamed God for the difficulties.

Only by God’s grace, I started to name the rhizomes. In the naming, they loosened. Finally, the root gave way to space.

The pulling up of the root of bitterness - the changing of the lens - the placing blame on evil, sin, and flesh instead of God - All created a womb-space in me, a place for God to come and dwell. Now this is surely not a one-time event but a life-time process.

As grace filled the spaces the root of bitterness left, new growth has bloomed. As grace fills the womb-space, I am seeing life as a gift. In the place of bitterness, I am grateful instead.

Mary's response to the angel changed her life to be sure. She said: “I am the Lord’s handmaiden. May it be as you have said.” Her yes grew from a microscopic zygote to a movement that has changed the world. May I have the courage, May you have the courage to say yes and create a microscopic space for God to come and dwell.

There is always the choice between resentment and gratitude because God has appeared in my darkness, urged me to come home and declared in a voice filled with affection: “You are with me always and all I have is yours.” Nouwen, The Prodigal Son