Tuesday, December 31, 2013



"Use it up. Wear it out. Make do. Do without."

The point is: don't be wasteful. Be resource conscious. Get maximum use out of a product or item before discarding or replacing it.

Generally speaking, this is pretty good advice.

But have you ever known someone who approached relationships with this mentality? I have. Trying to engage with someone who operates with a "reduce-reuse-recycle" mentality is exhausting, frustrating, even heart-breaking.

These relationships absolutely suck the life out of you. It's like going from being someone's favorite snuggle blanket, to the rag they use to dust furniture or wash their dirty car, to the forgotten bit of trash crammed in the dark, cobweb-filled corner of the closet in the garage. Before long, you feel completely worn out, used up, and taken for granted.

Of course, the obvious way to not have your soul sucked out by these exhausting relationships is to avoid them. If you discover that someone is a "joy sucker," that they drain you emotionally and bring nothing to the table but drama, strife and negativity, scratch them off your friend list. Life's too short and too precious to waste it on people who take-take-take and who are so small-minded that they can't see past their own noses. People who have no thought for the needs or feelings of others - who needs them?

Except that sometimes, these very people are the people closest to us. They are people we love. A relative. A co-worker. A neighbor. Yes, relating to them is exhausting, but no, we don't want to be rid of them. We are committed to loving them in spite of the fact that they drain us of energy and enthusiasm.

What do we do then?

One approach to dealing with such people is to refuse to play the complaining game. You know the scenario: Lena always has some little negative comment to make about what you're wearing, the way you've decorated your house, how dry the chicken was at dinner, that she'd rather have chocolate cake than the apple pie you're serving, etc. Or she feels compelled to recount to you all the offenses she's suffered that day - the driver that cut her off on the interstate, the server who got her order wrong at McDonald's, how long she had to stand in line at Wal-Mart, the co-worker who talks too loudly and gets on her nerves, etc. Or she creates stressful situations for herself, then expects you to help shoulder her self-induced anxiety. When Lena begins the all-too-familiar litany of what's-not-right with the world, nothing you can say or do will fix her problems or make her feel better. She doesn't want to feel better. No, she wants to revel in her afflictions.

When someone like Lena begins a swamp fest around me, I try to change the subject completely; or, if that doesn't work, I just put my brain in neutral and let Lena vomit while I contemplate the scenery outside the window or doodle around in my head with ideas for tonight's dinner. I do NOT encourage or acknowledge her complaints. No sympathetic looks or sighs. No commiseration. Nope, I'm just not going to join in the drama if I can help it. I don't know if these strategies help Lena any, but it makes it possible for me to be around her without being drug into her muck pit myself. I just don't want to be part of her festival of negativity.

So, what advice can you give, Dear Reader, for dealing with folks who are emotionally draining? How do you cope with the "reduce-reuse-recycle" types in your life? How do you engage without letting yourself feel used up or burned out?

I'm sure I'm not the only one who could use some help in this area, so don't be shy about sharing helpful advice!

Monday, December 30, 2013


This Christmas, my sister gave me a copy of  Michael Hyatt's book Platform:  Get Noticed in a Noisy World. I'm reading with notebook and pencil in hand - lots of great tools and information to process as I face the challenge of marketing my first book (Yay!). Platform would be a great book for anyone who has a small business, or for someone who wants to connect with others to promote a cause, or for someone like me who has a little, long-deferred dream that is just beginning to unfold.

In Chapter 5, Hyatt lists several obstacles that we often face when pursuing our goals and dreams. We run out of time. We don't have enough resources. We don't have the experience we need. We give in to the dream-squishing negativity of others who don't share our vision. But, Hyatt writes, the biggest obstacle that we face is fear.

I really identified with that. In throwing this first book out into the world - for other eyes to see and other voices to comment on - I have to admit there has been a good deal of trepidation. What might others think and say about it? What if it doesn't "fly"? What if I mess up this first flight into the world of fiction writing so badly that it handicaps any future opportunities or projects?

But I think one of the greatest fears I've identified in my own experience is - What if I succeed? How would it change my life if Book #1 led to Book #2 and then Book #3, and what if one or more of them actually did very well out there in the big wide world?

Sure, positive consequences of success as a writer are easy to identify: meeting new people and having opportunities to engage with others outside my present circle. Being able to pay off a few debts or to give financially to ministries I'm excited about. Fixing things around the house. Maybe even a vacation!

But surely there would be a down side to success, such as greater demands on my time and schedule, deadline pressures, sales pressures. Travel - which sounds exciting, but also a bit intimidating for a house mouse like me. PR - which I think I would enjoy, but which, again, opens a person up to negative or hurtful comments. What if people read my book and perceive me one way, when I am actually very different from what they imagine? Worse yet, what if, through my writing, I dishonored God? What if I wrote and promoted things that weren't true?

I spent my wee-morning-hour wakefulness pondering the question, "What am I afraid of?"

Then I remembered a conversation between a couple of friends a few years ago. Debbie was explaining how she was afraid to talk about her faith with her family, who are not Christians. Her biggest fear was that she might say something wrong that would hinder her family's ability to understand the Gospel, something that would turn them against the God she had grown to love. What if she didn't get the message exactly right? What if she got upset, and her emotions hindered the conversation? Debbie longed to share her faith with the people she loved, but she was crippled by fear.

Mark, a dear brother in Christ who had been listening to Debbie's concerns, simply replied:  "You're a Calvinist, damn it! What are you afraid of?! Stop cowering in the corner and get out there!"

Yes, his reply was like a slap in the face - but he was spot on. Mark went on to explain that, if God is indeed sovereign (which He is) and if salvation is entirely by His grace (which it is), then we don't have to be afraid of "getting it wrong" when we share our faith with others. Yes, we should be gracious and thoughtful in our conversations with unbelievers, but the pressure is NOT on us to save lost souls - that is God's work. Our work is to faithfully proclaim the good news that Christ saves sinners. And if we don't get it exactly right? God can handle our mess ups and our failures. He can redeem our weak efforts and fumbling words.

I've recalled that conversation so many times over the years, when faced with some soul-sapping fear that left me hesitant, timid, incapacitated.

I recalled that conversation again last night (very early this morning, actually). What am I afraid of? Yes, I am a Calvinist - I truly believe that God is Sovereign, that He is good, that He loves me very much, and that He redeems sinful, fearful, clumsy me and everything about me.

What are the secret dreams of your heart, Dear Reader? Have you, like me, been held back from pursuing those dreams because of fear - fear of failure, or fear of success? I pray that we - you and I - will fix our eyes so firmly on the loveliness and sufficiency of our great God and Savior that we will be strengthened to step out of fear, into courageous living.

Let's stop cowering in the corner and get out there!

Friday, December 27, 2013


Every year for Christmas, my husband gets me a calendar for the upcoming year. For 2014, Steve picked out a John Sloane "Country Seasons" calendar, featuring beautiful paintings of country life. For my birth month - July - there is a girl in an apron, feeding a mixed flock of fluffy multicolored chickens. Appropriate!

I love new calendars, and I love beginning a new year. For starters, we are on our way back to summer - the days are already getting longer. The chickens are up earlier and out later than they were a week ago. I love summer and sunshine and long, warm days - they'll be here before we know it!

Also, I love the sense of new beginning. Was last year a rough year? Finally, we can say, "I'm glad that's over!" Was last year a great year? Makes you wonder what new adventures and delights await in the year to come! (With all the sighing and pining going on around my house these days, I'm thinking there may well be some pretty significant events and changes for my family in 2014.)

My weight goes up and down and up and down...but always more up than down. The beginning of a new year gives me fresh incentive to try to move the pointer on the bathroom scale to the left instead of the right.

Best of all, the beginning of a new year means:  Genesis! It's time to begin again, reading through Scripture. There is something so very exciting about turning the last page of the book of Revelation, then opening the next morning to Genesis 1. This story never gets old. Every January 1, it's like opening a brand new present.

Right now over at Ligonier Ministries, they have links for several Bible reading plans for 2014. You can check them out HERE. Read through the Bible in a year, or in two years, or at your own pace, or chronologically, or read through it multiple times in a year. In 2014, I'll be using the Tabletalk Bible reading plan, with two readings each day: Old Testament in the morning and New Testament in the evening. I can't wait to get started!

With only four days left in 2013, why not make plans now to join me in this adventure? Grab your Bible, get a plan, get excited, and let's start reading - 2014 is going to be an amazing year!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


Only God can save sinners.

Sinners can't save themselves, by praying a prayer.

Christians can't save sinners, by hammering them for their wickedness and reminding them of God's holiness.

Only God can save sinners.

There are people in my life whom I love dearly, who today live in bondage to self, sin and satan. Yes, I labor to show them their need for a Savior and to communicate to them the Gospel. Yes, I invite them to church. Yes, I ask them all kinds of questions - where is their security? what do they envision for the future? what motivates them?

I fear that I miss many opportunities to share the Gospel with these people, and grieve that I completely mishandle other opportunities. I desire so earnestly for them to know the loveliness of Christ - for His sake and for their own - and yet they remain cold and unresponsive to the Gospel. Ho-hum, they just don't care. My heart is so heavily burdened for these people.

But I cannot save them, no matter how much my heart breaks for them.

And they cannot save themselves.

Which almost sounds like cause for despair - except that it brings me back to the truth that only God can save sinners. And God - He is able, willing, and sufficient to do just exactly that.

So, under the weight of a heart heavy with love and concern for the unsaved and wayward in my family, and jealous for the glory of God, I am bowed down, prostrate before the throne of grace, professing my utter dependence upon God to do that which neither I nor anyone else can do - save sinners.

And here, prostrate in prayer, I find joy to meet my grief, peace to calm my distress, assurance to quiet my doubts, courage to persevere, and very great hope.

God saves sinners!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


"Father, protect our servicemen and women standing post around the world, some in very dangerous places..."

This is a regular part of our corporate prayer Sunday mornings at Grace. The phrase "dangerous places" struck me anew this past week. Dangerous places...

My husband has served in combat. When his Marine unit shipped out to Saudi Arabia in fall of 1990, we were told to expect 80% casualties. We updated wills and powers-of-attorney and made plans for our men to not come home. Live fire, mine fields, air strikes...dangerous places.

When #3 son joined the Marine Corps Reserve last spring, he asked me if I had any concerns about his enlisting. I did. "Thomas," I answered, "I guess most moms would be worried that, as soon as you finish Basic Training, they'll send you to Afghanistan or some other hot zone, and you'll stand in very real danger of being killed. But I'm not so much worried about your dying - dying well is important, but it's really not too complicated...and then, we have eternity together on the other side. No, my biggest concern is: are you capable of living well?"

Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson once said:  "Captain, my religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me...That is the way all men should live, and then all would be equally brave." (Spoken like a true Calvinist!)

...to be always ready...that is the way all men should live...

To live well - that is a day in, day out, sometimes tedious, rarely heart-pounding endeavor.

We've all heard the expression: "There are no atheists in foxholes." When life and death are on the line, when faced with our own mortality, we are often gifted with extreme clarity of vision. A close call on the interstate, lying hooked up to monitors in a hospital bed...most of us have known terrifying moments when we stood on the brink of eternity, acutely conscious of the significance of the faith we have professed.

But today, warm and well-fed, going through my normal routine - work, school, laundry, Facebook, aerobics class, carpool, loading the dishwasher, bathing the kids, grocery shopping, etc. - today, my vision is not so clear. The demarcation between the holiness of the sovereign God of the universe and the wickedness of my sin is not so distinct. The necessity of relying completely on Christ for my righteousness, of being vigilant in guarding against temptation, of resisting complacency and apathy - today, in my "safe" little world, those things do not seem so pressing.

Crossing Jordan into eternity - that is but a small step. But walking this vale, sometimes for many years, before reaching the threshold of Glory - that is a great distance to cover. It is a difficult thing to live consistently in this world in a manner becoming the children of God. Too easy to think the real battle is far away, somewhere else. Easy to think a bullet or mortar round is more dangerous than the sin in my own heart.

Brothers and sisters, let us never forget: we all live in dangerous places, susceptible to sin and to attacks from our enemy. Let us be always mindful: our only security is Christ.

God, protect us in these dangerous places!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


I had the misfortune of being involved in a couple of long-term dating relationships as a young adult. Both of these relationships were incredibly selfish, on my part as well as on the parts of the young men involved:  I dated Mr. X because he made me feel special, because I liked going out on the weekends and having fun, because it was nice to feel like I "belonged" to someone.

In each of these relationships, we ended up taking one another for granted, using each other for our own gratification, and, eventually becoming tired, bored, disillusioned and terminating the relationship. It wasn't fun any more. I didn't feel special. That "loving feeling" was gone and it was time to look somewhere else in order to get it back.

Sadly, this is exactly how most of us relate to the church. I attend a particular church because it meets my needs, makes me feel special, gives me a sense of belonging. Then, when we lose "that loving feeling," we sigh and take our weary, disappointed hearts somewhere else. We have lost the consciousness of something bigger - both in our relationships/marriages, and in our church life.

God created and ordained marriage, and He designed it to be a billboard proclaiming the amazing love that Christ has for His bride, the church. Dating - or courting - has one end in view: marriage. But today, we play at dating like it's a video game, with no thought of marriage at all. We just run through a string of relationships, using people and allowing ourselves to be used by others, with no intention of committing to a permanent, exclusive, God-honoring, covenantal relationship.

We do the same thing with the church. If I was as committed to my marriage as most folks are to their local fellowship of believers, I'd probably be on my sixth or twelfth or twenty-second husband by now. But this is so contrary to Scripture, so against what we are called to as Christians, so outrageously ridiculous!

Steve and I will celebrate our 30th anniversary this next year. We are not still together because we have always loved one another well. We are not still married because we have each consistently respected and made the other feel special and appreciated. We are not still married because this has all been such unbelievable fun and so full of thrills that we were never tempted to go elsewhere.

Steve and I are celebrating 30 years because we are committed to something bigger than personal happiness or fun or fulfillment (although we have been blessed to enjoy seasons of those, too). We are committed to something as HUGE as God's love for His people. Marriage is God's institution and - in good times and in bad - He uses marriage to teach us about His redeeming love and to glorify Himself. We know things now, 30 years after the honeymoon, that we would never have understood if we had bailed out during times of trial or severe testing. Yes, there was much that was very sweet about those first idyllic years, but I wouldn't go back there for anything in the world, not if I had to give up what we've learned in the years since the I-Do's.

Christ doesn't love me because I'm beautiful - He loves me because I'm His. And, because He loves me, He is making me beautiful. That is the gospel, the gospel we are called to proclaim and model in our churches. We don't love the church because it's always pretty and well-behaved and makes us feel good - we love the church because it is Christ's. He loves the church - enough to die for it - and He is making it beautiful.

All of this to say - I LOVE my church, Grace Presbyterian Church in Troy. I am so thankful that God has brought us together, to serve one another and to labor together in kingdom work. To persevere through frustrations, trials and offenses. To encourage and pray for one another. To study together and learn what it means to be gospel people, to be Christ's bride. I thought I liked these people when we first began to meet together just over five years ago, but I had no idea back then just how truly beautiful each one of them would become to me.

If you say that you love Christ but testify by your words or actions that you have no love for the church, then you are deceiving yourself. One cannot long know and love the Bridegroom without also falling in love with His Bride. Christ has chosen a Bride - the church - and, as He does in all things, He has chosen very well.

If you are someone who has played at dating the church - you've been using the church for your own gratification, with no intention of committing to an active, intimate, long-term relationship (think, "marriage") - then I want to challenge you today to take the next step. The church is not your live-in girlfriend/boyfriend. She is not your Friday night date to the movies or your dance for the prom. She is the Beloved of Christ.

Stop messing around and marry the girl already.

Monday, December 16, 2013


"The power of a secret sin lies in the secret." The counseling professional teaching the workshop for a group of women's ministry leaders went on to explain that once the secret was "out," the sin would immediately begin to lose power. It's stronghold would crumble.

I knew she spoke the truth, because Scripture teaches us that "if we confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). Sin tucked away in darkness, hidden deep in our fearful hearts, begins to fester, to rot us from the inside out. But when our sin is brought into the light, laid out before the piercing gaze of our Father, true healing can begin. The Great Surgeon cuts away what is dead and infected, bathes our wounds with the life-giving blood of Jesus, and nurses us to health and vigor.

I knew she spoke the truth, because I have known the crippling power of secret sins myself. I have known the grief and despair of battling some hidden nastiness all on my own, determined to "beat this" before anyone found out, vainly struggling to maintain some outward appearance of godliness while drowning in absolute blackness on the inside.

I knew she spoke the truth, because I have been to that place of complete brokenness where all the pretty facades came crashing down. Where I could no longer maintain the appearance of being clean, of being good.

I can remember one such instance: a tearful confession to a dear college room-mate, a friend who met my horrible confession with grace and mercy. She did not respond to my nastiness by pouring on more guilt or by telling me to get my act together. Instead, she led me back to the Savior, to the Healer of broken hearts. My secret was out - and suddenly, it felt like the prison doors had been thrown open, like a beam of sunlight had pierced the abysmal darkness of a bottomless pit. Was I instantly free from ever having to struggle with this particular sin again? No, I battled it again repeatedly - but I battled it. It was no longer my master. It was no longer a secret, and it no longer had power to hold me captive.

My youngest asked me recently, "Where do your ideas for books come from?" Well, the ideas come from a crazy variety of sources. A conversation. A place. A personal conflict. A question I'm tumbling around in my head. A song on the radio.

Shortly after Steve and I moved back to Obion County, we were out walking on the winding narrow road that T's into the highway, just across from the Kendall driveway. We discovered a tiny family cemetery, a cluster of four or five gravestones tucked into a thicket of weeds and walled up by cedar trees. We wondered to whom these graves belonged, and how they had been "lost". Shortly after this discovery, we found gravestones in another nearby cemetery, some dating back to the 1700's. Wow! We tried to imagine what life here in the Tennessee hills must have been like for those earliest settlers. I wondered, "What if the ghosts of these people could be resurrected? Could walk among us and tell us their stories? Could connect us in some tangible way to a lost past?"

About the same time, I was adjusting to life back on the Kendall farm, right smack next door to my in-laws. I feared all the rumors I'd heard:  that multiple generations could not live together harmoniously, that mothers-in-law were destined to be grief to daughters-in-law, that conflict was inevitable. Thankfully, I can testify that those rumors were LIES. I simply cannot express in words how very grateful I am that I live just across the hayfield from Margie Kendall. She truly is one of the most beautiful, loving, generous women I have ever known. And, although I am sure I've probably vexed her occasionally over the years, she has never once spoken an unkind word to me.

And then, there was this business of secret sins. I knew from personal experience that my own secret sins could cripple me, causing me to implode under the weight of despair and grief. But there are other secret sins - sins that are not our own, but that are the sins of others - and those secret sins have the power to cripple us, too. These sins are even trickier to deal with, because, although we suffer the sometimes debilitating consequences of these sins, we do not feel free to confess them, to bring them into the light. These sins are someone else's to confess. Yet, the weight of these sins falls like a dark shadow across our shoulders, and it is easy to find ourselves in bondage to these "second hand" sins, as much as if they were our own.

Weave these ideas together, and you have the seeds for a story, Slow Sun Rising (see sidebar). What if the names on crumbling tombstones - what if these long-dead and forgotten people found fresh expression in the bright eyes and pink cheeks of a new generation of children? What if a young woman, desperate for family and for security, found a mother to love her...in the person of her mother-in-law? What if a person wounded by the sins of another, struggling against the hurt and bitterness in her own heart, dropped the facade? And what if she refused to define herself - or the other person - on the basis of the sins committed against her?

This life is messy and often painful, and it rarely comes with tidy answers to help make sense of our struggles. Thankfully, we serve a sovereign God who orchestrates every single detail for our good and for His glory! Nothing is wasted - not one hurt, not one tear, not one doubt, not one stumble. Nothing. It is all redeemed.

Every true story - whether lived out in your life or mine, or told through the life of a fictional character - is a story of redemption, of resurrection, and of hope. Are you, like me, excited about turning the next page?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


For I do not do the good I want... Romans 7:19a

Seems that lately at our house, we've been having a lot of conversations about intentions, and about the disconnect between thoughts and actions.

"I was going to..."

"Well, what I meant to do was..."

And, jumbled up among these conversations, I've been mentally wrestling with the idea of integrity. Wholeness. Or, as Dr. Pennington called it at the 2012 Reformation Conference, shalom-ness. Consistency of person - this is what I think, this is what I believe, and this is what I do, and each is consistent with the other. Being the same person - in thought and in deed, inside and out - regardless of circumstances, peers,  etc.

Sadly, I find that I lack this kind of personal integrity. I'm like someone who talks fiscal conservatism at the office, but who operates in the day-to-day without a budget. The ideal sounds good, but, practically speaking, it's not really who I am.

Yes, I say I believe that I should "hold every thought captive" to the Word of God, and that I should think on and practice whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, and excellent - but often, I find myself boobed out in front of the most offensive trash on the television. Or, I pray that God will grow me in holiness and conform me more and more to Christ - but then I resist Him at every juncture, stubbornly pursuing my own selfish purposes.

This great personal inconsistency between what I think I value and what my actions reveal about my true desires - this grieves me terribly. My actions betray me! They testify against me! Can I not bring my actions in line with my professed beliefs? If not, can't I at least be honest with myself and with others about what is truly important to me?

My memory is not what it used to be. It's not uncommon for me to fail to shut up the hen house at night - not because I've forgotten, but because I remember having done it last night. "Did I shut up the chickens already?" I ask myself. "Yes," I tell myself, "you were just out there with the flashlight, remember?" Because the thought of shutting up the chicken house is floating around in my head, I think that's as good as having done it.

Same thing for these greater issues. Because I think holiness is a good thing, that's as good as actually actively pursuing holiness, right? I mean, at least my intentions were good. It's not like I was desiring evil, after all. Surely it is better to mentally or verbally affirm what is good and right and lovely, even if I don't do those things, than to not even acknowledge them, right?

Except that, thinking I've closed the hen house - but not actually closing the hen house - leads to dead chickens. And thinking that I love God and desire holiness - but not actually acting on those thoughts - is simply me pronouncing judgment on myself.

A friend once explained it this way: "My want-er is broken." I want to honor God, really and truly I do - but right now, at this moment, I want even more to watch this movie, eat this cake, not eat this cake,spread this gossip, fill-in-the-blank. Who can deliver me from this battle between what I say I believe and my contrary actions?

I am so thankful for a Savior who has promised that He will finish the good work that He has begun in me. Thankful that He is faithfully breaking down the aberrant "wants," and replacing them more and more with a genuine desire to know and please Him.

Thankful that even while I stand here deceiving myself - telling myself that yes, I truly do believe and love God's Word, while acting in blatant contradiction to His precepts - that He is gently and persistently exposing the lies, opening my eyes to the deceptions I've embraced. Thankful that He is giving me eyes to see the truth and grace to repent, all in the context of a relationship that is so secure and loving that I need never feel afraid.

Thankful that in Christ, God is bringing all of my person into conformity with His perfect holiness and integrity. That in Glory, my want-er will be fixed, my practice will be fully consistent with my faith, my good intentions will have given way to actual goodness, and I will experience true, unpolluted, and lasting shalom at last!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


I was talking a couple of weeks ago with a sweet friend and sister writer who has been mentoring me through the book editing/rewriting/publishing process. Crazy hormones and menopausal mood swings aside, we both agreed that we are at a sweet season in life with so very much for which to be thankful.

Is my life today what I dreamed of as a bright-eyed child? Way back in the long-ago, I dreamed of being a veterinarian. I loved horses and thought maybe one day I'd own a ranch, perhaps one that served as a ministry to troubled youth. Hopefully I'd get married, and maybe even have a few kids of my own.

I am not a veterinarian. I do not own a ranch or even a single horse. (I do, however, have a flock of extremely silly chickens, if that counts for anything!) I am not directly involved in ministry to troubled youth.

But I am married to a man who works hard to provide for me and for our family. I have seven wonderful children. I live right next door to the most amazing in-laws in the world, on a beautiful farm in the hills of West Tennessee. I attend a church where Scripture is faithfully preached, where my faith is challenged and strengthened, and where I am able to serve my sisters and brothers in Christ.

So, what does all of this have to do with writing and publishing a book?

I love to write, and I am super excited to finally have my first fiction published and out in the big, wide world where others can purchase and read it. This is a BIG deal for me! But, it's not my whole world. My security is not based on the number of books sold, and my personal happiness is not a by-product of glowing reviews.

Yes, I would really like for this book - and the next, and the next - to do well. But, as Lisa put it, that would be "gravy on the biscuits...and I've already been served a plate of pretty darned good biscuits!"

Is my life exactly what I dreamed it would be as a girl? No, it's quite different than I could have imagined - and, I think, it's even better.

Makes me think of the passage in Proverbs 16:9 that talks about how we make our plans, but God orders our steps.

I am so thankful that God is sovereign and that I am not. I am thankful that, while I make my own plans for my life, it is God's plan that will be accomplished.

And I'm thankful for friends who remind me to stop and savor the biscuits. Mmmmm!

Thursday, December 5, 2013


I am super excited to announce that my first novel - Slow Sun Rising - is now available for Kindle!!! You can purchase and download a copy at Amazon by clicking HERE.

Slow Sun Rising tells the story of Jenna Taylor, a young woman who lives a postcard perfect life in the suburbs with her husband Mark and their two little girls, Maggie and Dora. But when Mark is shot one evening outside a Memphis strip club, Jenna's world is blown to pieces.

Forced by a shrinking bank account to accept her mother-in-law's offer of a free place to live, Jenna packs up and moves her young family to rural Tatum County. Here, Jenna must rely on Mark's less-than-welcoming family as she struggles to make sense of life in the midst of tragedy. Will Jenna be able to put her life back together and start over?

Bidi Marshall, a crusty, in-your-face neighbor, pushes Jenna to move ahead with life while challenging Jenna's understanding of what it means to truly love another. As Jenna adjusts to the slower pace and peculiar personalities of life in the country, she learns to live with her eyes and heart focused more on the people around her and less on her own grief. Yet Jenna wonders, will anyone ever truly love her in return?

Slow Sun Rising is a story of resurrection, of letting go of the deadness of a self-centered heart to make room for loving others, of grieving the dead while learning to embrace the living.

(Print edition now available - see sidebar!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


- Originally posted February 19, 2010

You already know I'm prone to overspiritualizing things. Today's confession: I also have an out-of-whack guilt mechanism. (Could it be those two are related? Hmmmmm.....)

When I was in the hospital after delivering Baby #3, the young nurse on duty instructed me to watch a series of short programs about infant care on the in-house TV. I was about half-way through the "How to Change a Diaper" film when my OB stopped in. He sat on the foot of the bed, looked up at the TV, and asked, "Do you really need to watch this?"

"The nurse told me I had to. She said they would mark my chart 'noncompliant' if I didn't."

Dr. Pierce rolled his eyes. He stood up and turned off the TV, then checked the box on my paperwork that indicated I had conformed to hospital requirements. Fortunately, the nurse never came back and questioned me on the matter - I know I would've cracked and given a full confession. Yes, I admit it - I'm noncompliant! Slap the handcuffs on me! Never mind that I had been changing diapers and nursing babies for years. I'm guilty!

One day last week was one of those especially guilt-laden days. I forgot to bring the piano teacher's check to lessons on the day it was due. I'm late again...Guilty! I passed up an opportunity to give a ride to someone who needed it on the principle that, to avoid "even the appearance of evil," I try never to ride in cars alone with a man who is not my husband or a member of my immediate family. When I told Steve about this later, he said, "Of course you should've given him a ride!" Aaaaah! I neglected to serve a brother in Christ, out of regard for some inviolable 'principle'. Guilty! School, piano lessons, errands in town - I never got around to exercising that day, PLUS I ate a whole bag of Riesen candies. What, are you just throwing your weight loss goals out the window? Guilty! I could go on, but you get the picture. It was not a very good day.

Sometimes my guilt is very real and undeniable. I DID eat all those chocolates. I really did, and I should not have. Sometimes my guilt is totally irrational. Like the time I felt so bad about the mothers in an Afghanistan refugee camp whose babies were wasting away, displayed on the TV screen during the evening news. I had a surplus of milk...just no way to ship my boobs overseas. I probably washed a pint of milk down the drain every morning when I took my daily shower, while their babies were literally starving to death. Wasting milk...Guilty! But real or not, what's to be done with all this guilt?

According to Scripture, guilt can only be washed away with blood. Hymn-writer William Cowper, like me, struggled with a sometimes overwhelming sense of his own guilt. He also penned the words to the familiar song "There is a Fountain Filled with Blood". I looked up the word fountain in the dictionary - it means a spring, a reservoir that can be drawn upon as needed. It connotes a supply that is constantly being replenished, that is gushing over in abundance.

Christ's blood has washed me clean, but some days guilt overshadows my consciousness of this truth. And so, I run back to the Fountain. Not to re-do what has already been done, but to bathe again in the truth of the sufficiency of Christ's work on my behalf. And I find there is always more blood, an abundance, enough to cover all my guilt.

There is a fountain filled with blood,
drawn from Immanuel's veins,
and sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
lose ALL their guilty stains.
- William Cowper

Monday, December 2, 2013


Do you occasionally, like me, look back over your life with heavy regret? I suppose my biggest regret is that I didn't pray for and with my children more. I did not often model joy in the midst of brokenness for them. I did not communicate well to them the freedom - the incredible sense of weightlessness - that comes with acknowledging undeniable and plainly evident inadequacy.

We had a rough start this morning here at Kendallville. Miscommunication, wrong assumptions, harsh words, hurt feelings, tears. Everyone was right and everyone was wrong - and no one was handling the situation very well. When the storm blew out the front door, I sat at the kitchen counter with my Bible, reading and praying and weeping. Several thoughts ran through my mind...

First, I grieved my failure to teach my children - to model for them - the ability to quickly admit, "Man, I really made a mess of that. Even if I was in the right, I did not honor God or my brother/sister in the way I handled the situation." Insisting on being right, it's like being the last man standing in a field of carnage where the slain bodies around you are not those of your enemies, but your family. There is no glory in that.

Second, I recalled a recent visit with dear friends who live lives of transparent brokenness. They do not pretend to be "good" people, in control and living fully-sanctified lives. They readily admit their past struggles with addictions and godless living, and their present struggles with anxiousness, depression, and fear. Yet, they are two of the most gracious, joyful people I know. One of them will say, "Man, I made a mess of that!" - and the other will say gently, "Yes, you sure did, baby. Let's stop right now and pray together about it." By freely acknowledging the brokenness and sin that clings to them, they also freely embrace the grace, mercy, hope, and strength that are theirs in Christ. They don't have to be right. They're not afraid of being wrong. They know that being wrong takes them back to the Jesus that they love.

That's the Jesus that I need today. That's the Jesus my kids need today, too. It breaks my heart when I think that maybe, after all these years, they still don't understand just how big and sufficient and good He is. That they think they have to be right, or defend themselves, or have the last word - like they can't trust Jesus to break through the frustration and anger and deal with their hearts, empowering them to lay down their swords instead of swinging them blindly.

I want to end with an excerpt from C.S. Lewis's book, The Great Divorce. This passage encourages me greatly, because it reminds me that God is sovereign over my past, not just my present and my future. In Christ, God also redeems my past, including all the missed opportunities, regrets, and failures. He is making it ALL beautiful - I don't understand how, and I may not see the beauty yet, but I have the assurance of Glory, when all things will be made plain.

C.S. Lewis writes, in a scene where the Teacher explains Time:

"Son," he said, "ye cannot in your present state understand eternity:  when Anodos looked through the door of the Timeless he brought no message back. But ye can get some likeness of it if ye say that both good and evil, when they are full grown, become retrospective. Not only this valley but all their earthly past will have been Heaven to those who are saved. Not only the twilight in that town, but all their life on Earth too, will then be seen by the damned to have been Hell. That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, 'No future bliss can make up for it,' not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say 'Let me have but this and I'll take the consequences': little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man's past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man's past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here and the twilight turns to blackness down there, the Blessed will say 'We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven,' and the Lost, 'We were always in Hell.' And both will speak truly."

Friday, November 29, 2013


We are completely out of cat food. How is it that I've been to town half a dozen times in the past week without realizing that we were running low on cat food? Am I really going to have to leave the house on Black Friday just for cat food?! Maybe Kitty would be willing to try to make it through the weekend eating left over turkey and dressing.

On the other hand, I doubt that our tiny town of Troy will be too crazy today anyway - picking up a bag of cat food at Dollar General should be a quick in-&-out affair.

I am not a very good shopper. Haven't had much practice, I guess, shopping for anything besides groceries. Thankfully, God has kept my family clothed and shod in spite of my lack of skills.

"Where'd you get that sweater? I like it," my husband asked a couple of weeks ago when I donned a "new" brown turtleneck before church Sunday morning.

"Out of a bag," I replied. I'm right at 50 years old and I still get most of my clothes out of a bag. Yep, I'm a genuine bag lady.

Several years ago, an older lady at the church we attended used to give me her cast offs whenever she cleaned out her closets. Not particularly my choice of style or color, but these were really nice clothes. One Sunday, I showed up at church in an emerald green sweater given to me by someone else. "Wow! I love that color on you," Pat exclaimed. "You should wear bright colors more often. Why is it that you almost always wear black?"

"Um, because the clothes you give me are almost always black, Pat," I replied.

I have found that having long legs can be a disadvantage if you're a bag lady. Having long legs gives one the illusion of being thinner than she really is. It's so disappointing to open a bag of hand-me-overs that a friend was certain you'd love, only to discover that everything is a size 8 or 10 or 12. Really? I haven't been a size 8 since elementary school! Yes, I have long-ish legs, but I also have a thick-ish girth.

I guess I should be pleased that folks think I'm so much trimmer than I really am.

If you're a bag lady, "shopping" for some items can be particularly difficult. I've had new bras on my shopping list for a year now. Over. A. Year. Yeah, you could say I was feeling a little droopy about the situation. Ba-da-bing!

Yesterday, after Kendall family Thanksgiving, Grammy handed me a bag as I headed out the back door. "These are some things Jettie thought maybe you or one of your girls could use." Some of my very favorite shirts hanging in the closet right now came from Grammy's friend Jettie - I like her taste, and, although she is much shorter that I am, we are the same size. "She bought these but then didn't like the underwire."

Oh, I thought. Well, that's a little weird. I've never inherited underwear from someone before. Imagine my surprise - and elation - when I got home and discovered that the bag from Jettie contained three brand new, high quality bras, just my size!

So, if you see me at Dollar General later this morning, braving Black Friday for a bag of cat food, I won't be complaining about the check-out lines or how long it took to find a parking place. Nope. I feel positively perky this morning, and not even Black Friday can make my spirits sag.

Amazing how a little bit of new elastic can be such a mood lifter, isn't it?

Thursday, November 28, 2013


"If you had an entire day to yourself to do whatever you wanted, what would you do?"

That question almost made me cry. I didn't know the answer. And, try as I may, I couldn't remember what it was that I used to enjoy doing way back in the days before babies and sleep deprivation and too much work and too little money. If I could do whatever I wanted, I'd probably just sleep!

The question made me sad, and it made me angry. Why even ask such a question, if a day to do "whatever I wanted" was an impossibility? Why stir up thoughts of neglected hobbies and forgotten dreams if they could not be acted on? Better to leave such thoughts dormant.

Then, many years after that first question, another friend asked, "What energizes you? What is that, when you're doing it, you feel completely alive? Like you wish you could just do this forever?" I could not remember. But, this time, I resolved to think - think hard. To try to dredge up some memory of a time when I felt awake and vigorous, instead of like I was clinging wearily to the edge of a narrow precipice above a dark and bottomless pit of exhaustion.

My friend prayed.

I thought hard.

And I remembered.

One large pink spiral-bound notebook after that second conversation, I want to report: I have enjoyed increasing opportunities to minister to and study God's Word with a growing circle of women. Growing in grace with my sisters in Christ is indeed an exhilarating journey! And I have finished Book #1 - makes me feel like a kid on Christmas morning.

So today, I want to say THANK YOU to Katherine, for pulling me back from the precipice, for asking the question, for listening, and for praying. Thank you for the big pink notebook. Thank you for the encouragement to look up, to dare to dream again. It is not an overstatement, my friend, to say that you saved my life.

And I want to say THANK YOU to Lisa, for brightening my world like a ray of brilliant sunshine. For repeatedly affirming and encouraging me as I've begun the challenge of learning how to dance on this side of the valley. For showing me anew how beautiful this life is.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


The holiday season is upon us. I ran to town early this morning to finish my grocery shopping before the crowds were out. Already, folks were setting up pallets of Black Friday specials in the aisles at Wal-Mart - I'm so thankful I don't have to be there in the midst of the craziness on Thanksgiving Day or the Friday after!

What will I be doing instead of running a cash register at MegaMart? Cooking, eating dinner with my family, washing lots of dishes, and probably taking a nap. If the weather's nice and my feet are feeling happy, maybe I'll even manage a walk on the farm - bet I could even wrangle some of the kids into joining me.

And hopefully I'll get to write. Book #1 is ready to load on Kindle - woohoo! I'm in the middle of the first re-write of Book #2. A third story is already percolating in my brain and is pressing to get out of my head and typed into the computer - if I don't get started on that pretty quickly, my kitchen will soon look like it's been wall-papered in sticky notes. And there is also this poor, neglected blog. I've been having some glitches with the blog the past couple of days and haven't had a solid chunk of time to sit down and try to figure out what I need to do to get it back up to speed.

On the menu for Thursday: turkey and dressing, kale, baked sweet potatoes (I like them plain, with a little salt and lots of butter), cooked apples, fresh cranberry sauce, pickles, yeast rolls, and Polly's pumpkin pie with whipped cream. Afterwards, a good loll in front of the fire, while everything digests. What's your family's traditional Thanksgiving fare?

A few random closing thoughts...

If I feed and water and tend 12 chickens every day, then why did I have to buy 3 dozen eggs at Wal-Mart this morning?

I'm thankful for those of my children who can be here for the holidays, and I reallyreallyreally miss those who can't be home. Love you!

My house is a mess and my floors need to be mopped, but, for some reason, cleaning hasn't made it on my To Do list. And I'm fine with that. :) If you stop by during the weekend, I'd appreciate it if you didn't say anything about the floors or the bathrooms. Thank you.

I love listening to Helen play the piano or banjo while I'm working in the kitchen or busy at my computer.

It is very difficult to think about what to have for dinner tonight and what to fix for lunch tomorrow when all I want to think about is cooking Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday.

It is also very difficult to do schoolwork when all I want to think about is cooking Thanksgiving dinner - right, Helen?

What's on YOUR mind as you head into the holiday season?

Thursday, November 21, 2013


You've heard of the "church" hug, right? You know, leave enough room between you and the person you're hugging for the Holy Spirit. Or for a pulpit Bible. Or for Jesus.

Several years ago, a friend who had recently gone through a divorce said to me with a very heavy sigh, "No one touches me any more." She no longer received any kind of physical affection from her husband - he had gone off after something better. Her kids were grown and living in other states. Her friends at church, who no longer seemed to know how to relate to her, avoided any kind of physical contact. This woman was starving to be hugged.

Another friend - a Christian brother - shared the same frustration when his wife left him. "It's like people are scared of me now, like they think I have the plague or something. They won't get anywhere close to me."

More recently, I was talking with a young single woman who is living on her own. Although she would like very much to be married and have a family, God has not yet brought a special, godly man into her life. Sure, she has friends at work and at church, but these friends are married and head home at the end of each day to their families. Sally, on the other hand, heads home to an empty apartment. "Is it not hard, living all alone?" I asked. Sally replied, "I am absolutely starving for companionship." Nobody touches her.

I've heard the same kind of comments from widows and widowers. "Nobody touches me."

These people are NOT saying that they want some kind of groper coming up and grinding into them. What they are saying is: they need to be hugged. To have a sympathetic arm laid across their shoulders. To be touched in ways that lovingly acknowledge their presence and their value.

But it's almost as if many of us in the church are so concerned about propriety that, in order to avoid even the appearance of evil, we keep these lonely, starving people at arm's length. Better safe than sorry! If I hug Mike or Susie, folks might start talking, you know, and I sure don't want to give occasion for gossip.

And so we relate to one another based on fear. Or based on legalism - keep at least twelve inches, or the width of a Bible, or  a cubit, between you and the other person. We fumble awkwardly as we encounter one another on Sunday morning - should we offer a hand shake? a pat on the arm? a "church" hug? Instead of children joyfully reunited at a family reunion, we behave more like a bunch of self-conscious, puerile adolescents at a high school dance.

I absolutely love this passage from Matthew 8: And behold, a leper came to him (Jesus) and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean." And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, "I will; be clean." (Matthew 8:2-3a)

Jesus could have given all sorts of valid reasons for keeping a little distance between himself and this man. But He didn't. Jesus reached out his hand and closed the gap.

Brothers and sisters, shouldn't we be doing the same?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


Tasked with preparing a devotional for a meeting later this week, I have been praying that God would direct my thoughts and show me how to best minister to these ladies when we gather. Several of these women have been suffering greatly in recent months - scary health problems, relationship issues, financial struggles. Not just the ordinary "yes, life is tough" muckety-muck, but heart-breaking, security-shaking trials.

These verses from Psalm 119 came to mind this morning: "It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes...Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice, because I have hoped in your word. I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. Let your steadfast love comfort me according to your promise to your servant" (verses 71, 74-76).

Maybe like me, you have cried out with Job - "Though he slay me, I will hope in him!" - not because you had great faith in the midst of your suffering, but because your faith was shaken and all you could do was speak defiantly against the doubts and fears that shadowed the goodness and faithfulness of God.

There are false prophets today who would tell you that faith in Jesus is a free pass to escape suffering, hardship, depression, pain. They are liars. Pain and suffering are realities for every single human living in this fallen, sinful world. The question for us is not if we will suffer, but how. And, will we honor and praise our good and sovereign God in the midst of suffering?

Which brings to mind a post from a couple of years ago, about praying in the dark valleys:

-originally posted April 14, 2010

A friend asked me once if there was any point in continuing piano lessons for her daughter if the child showed no potential of being a stellar pianist nor any desire to "do something" with her piano playing. Would her daughter derive any lasting benefit from piano lessons? My answer: Absolutely!

I, too, am a mediocre pianist - I play just well enough to be dangerous, not well enough for my "talent" to be any real blessing to others. In fact, I strongly dislike playing when others are listening. But the lessons my Mom drug me to week after week when I was a child have paid enormous dividends.

I explained to my friend, "There have been times in my life when I was so discouraged or so broken that I simply did not have the strength or the heart to pray. But playing the piano (even badly!) has pulled me through hopelessly dark seasons."

When I cannot even begin to pray, I play the piano. I play hymns. I read the words, which become silent prayers squeezed from the depths of a weary, broken heart. The words of these hymns remind me of the truths of Scripture - that God loves me, that He is sovereign over everything in my life, that even difficult places are ordained for my good and His glory. Consider these excerpts from a few of my favorite hymns:

Come, my soul, thy suit prepare: Jesus loves to answer prayer; he himself has bid thee pray, therefore will not say thee nay....Lord, I come to thee for rest, take possession of my breast; there thy blood-bought right maintain, and without a rival reign....Show me what I have to do, ev'ry hour my strength renew: let me live a life of faith... - Come, My Soul, Thy Suit Prepare (John Newton)

Whate'er my God ordains is right: his holy will abideth; I will be still whate'er he doth, and follow where he guideth. He is my God; though dark my road, he holds me that I shall not fall: wherefore to him I leave it all....Whate'er my God ordains is right: though now this cup, in drinking, may bitter seem to my faint heart, I take it, all unshrinking....Whate'er my God ordains is right: here shall my stand be taken; though sorrow, need, or death be mine, yet am I not forsaken. My Father's care is round me there; he holds me that I shall not fall: and so to him I leave it all. - Whate'er My God Ordains Is Right (Samuel Rodigast)

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; the clouds ye so much dread are big with mercy, and shall break in blessings on your head. Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust him for his grace; behind a frowning providence he hides a smiling face. His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding ev'ry hour; the bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flow'r. - God Moves in a Mysterious Way (William Cowper)

My oldest son explained to me recently the music "philosophy" of the campus ministry he attends. They do not sing contemporary praise songs or repetitive worship choruses. As Reuben put it, "A person who is truly struggling or even mildly depressed couldn't sing those songs. They are so clap-happy that you really have to be in a party mood to participate in singing them." Instead, this ministry has taken the rich, old hymns and set them to more contemporary music. This provides for a greater breadth of expression and emotion - everything from exuberant praise to gut-wrenching grief to crippling guilt. What this ministry may not realize is that by singing the old hymns (in a new way!), they are giving these college students a resource they will draw on their entire lives.

Steve has commented before that he can tell when I'm feeling especially discouraged or depressed....he finds me often at the piano. It's the place I pray when praying is impossible. Where I can wordlessly praise my Savior as an act of defiance against an enemy who presses me to denounce the beauty and sufficiency of Christ. Where the old hymnwriters, seasoned in this journey, walk with me through shadowed valleys and back to the light of the cross.

Behold the throne of grace! The promise draws me near: there Jesus shows a smiling face, and waits to answer prayer.
- John Newton

Monday, November 18, 2013


A devil's advocate is someone who, presented with a particular argument or idea, takes an opposing view for the sake of debate. His task is to test the original argument in an attempt to expose weaknesses or holes. The devil's advocate may or may not agree with the original argument:  the point isn't whether or not he agrees; the point is to test the soundness of the argument or idea.

If you are trying to clearly articulate a particular biblical doctrine, having a devil's advocate can be a valuable asset. His questions will challenge your thinking and require you to address issues you may have overlooked. If you are proposing a certain course of action, a devil's advocate can help identify weak areas in your plan. He may even propose alternative plans by which you can achieve your specified goal. If you are trying to choose between several options - Do I want to accept the job offer in Utah, or would it be wiser to take the position in Idaho? - a devil's advocate can help you find the benefits and liabilities associated with each option.

Yes, it is beneficial to have a devil's advocate on your team. Someone to ask questions from a different angle. Someone to help you see problem areas that you may have completely overlooked. Someone to help you anticipate opposition to your plan or challenges to implementing it.

You see, the point of the devil's advocate is not to belittle or demotivate you. No, his purpose is to make you stronger, wiser, and more effective.

Then there are those who simply "play the devil." Rather than strengthening and sharpening you, they drain you of energy and dull your enthusiasm for life. They don't argue or present opposing viewpoints for the sake of benefiting someone else; rather, they seem intent on simply wallowing in their own negativity and pointless criticism, while splashing their muck and discontent on the people around them.

Here is my attempt at illustrating the difference between playing the devil's advocate, and playing the devil:

Mary: I am going to try to initiate a relationship with Sarah. I think I'll invite her to meet me for coffee next week.
Lou (the devil's advocate): Sarah is very shy and introverted. She probably won't answer her phone if you call her.
Mary: You're right. Okay, Sarah will be at church Sunday morning. I'll wait and ask her then, in person.
Lou: What will you do if she says "No"?
Mary:  Hmmm, I guess I'll just keep trying. Then she'll see that I really do want to get to know her better. Maybe she'll eventually give in and say "Yes"!
Lou:  Sarah doesn't like coffee, by the way.
Mary:  Well, maybe we could meet somewhere for lunch then.
Lou:  What if Sarah can't afford to eat out?
Mary:  Good question. I'll offer to treat.
Lou:  Or, you could invite her to come over to your house for lunch one Sunday after church.
Mary:  Do you think she'd find that intimidating?
Lou:  Probably. How could you make an invitation to lunch something that she wouldn't be intimidated by?

You get the idea. The point of the devil's advocate is to help Mary develop a plan, to anticipate problems, and to look for ways to address those problems. The point is: getting to know Sarah might not be as easy as planning a coffee date for next week, so Mary needs to be prepared to persevere!

Now, Scenario 2:

Mary:  I am going to try to initiate a relationship with Sarah. I think I'll invite her to meet me for coffee next week.
Lou (the devil):  Sarah is weird. She never talks to anyone at church. She acts like she thinks she's better than everyone else. If you try to call her, she probably won't even answer her phone.
Mary:  Then I'll talk to her at church next Sunday, in person.
Lou:  Humph! Well, don't be surprised if she hasn't got time for you. I think you're nuts, wasting your efforts on that stuck-up recluse.
Mary:  Then I'll just have to work harder to show her that I really do want to get to know her better. Maybe I could treat her to lunch.
Lou:  You've never taken ME out to lunch. Harumph!
Mary:  Lou, we're eating lunch together right now! (sigh)
Lou:  Yeah, but we're just at your house, eating grilled cheese. I don't even like American cheese. Blech!

Can you just feel Mary's enthusiasm draining away?!

Sometimes at my house, negative and unhelpful comments start rolling off our tongues. It truly feels like there is an evil spirit hovering in the air. "That's stupid." "He's so messed up." "We're having soup for supper? Ugh." "You're wasting your time." Wicked, careless barbs - not intended to help or instruct, serving only to pollute the air and quench joy.

You want to play the devil's advocate? Let's sit down and talk.

You want to play the devil? Let me show you to the door.

Friday, November 15, 2013


"Estimated driving time:  56 minutes under current conditions."

That sentence at the top of my MapQuest driving directions totally cracked me up.The only town we would be driving through on this particular trip deeper into the boonies was Kenton. Kenton is sort of like my hometown of Troy - a one-horse town with one blinking red light and more grain bins than places to shop.

As I turned off Polk Station Road onto Highway 45 - you know, down there in the river bottoms, half way between nowhere and nowhere else - I wondered aloud how variable the driving conditions in the tiny town of Kenton, TN, could possibly be. "Think we might get caught in rush-hour traffic?" I laughed to my passengers.

This lonely ribbon of Highway 45 is a notorious speed trap. No wonder - it's just miles and miles of cotton fields and bean fields and river bottoms and more cotton fields, as far as the eye can see, with just about zero traffic. I think we passed two vehicles headed north before we reached Kenton.

This particular evening, I kept my eye on the speedometer as I drove south, joking that I sure hoped we wouldn't get caught in any traffic back-ups.

Then we reached the Kenton city limits.

Right behind two monster combines.

And a long snake of cars and trucks toodling along at an exhilarating 12 miles per hour.

There wasn't going to be any passing on that stretch of asphalt. The enormous heads of the combines reached from the white line on the right side of the road all the way over to the white line on the left.

Beats me how on-coming vehicles dealt with the traffic situation. All I know is: I was caught in rush-hour traffic in Kenton.

Looked like it was going to be a long commute!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


When the temperature drops outside, the mama bear in me comes out: I want to eat everything in sight, then curl up and sleep all day.

When I am conscious - as opposed to wandering around in a frigid state of semi-hibernation - my more rational side says that I should eat less, exercise more.

Yes, I'd like to lose some of the insulation around my middle. But, if my bank of blubber is to be whittled away, I'm going to have to practice consistent moderation, "habitual temperance" (a phrase I learned last Wednesday night at church).

Instead, I want to find the latest miracle diet pill, blame my genetics, and complain about limited access to the gym. Maybe if I tried that herbal supplement my friend recommended...or if I played motivational CD's at night while I'm sleeping...or if I won a free holiday at The Biggest Loser health spa.

Losing weight is not rocket science: eat less and move more. That sounds so simple, so ordinary, doesn't it? Funny how sometimes it's the simplest things that are the hardest to do. We just want a plan that sounds more sensational, more exciting. Wouldn't we get better results if we wrapped ourselves in cellophane and stood outside on a moonless night waving lit sparklers?!

This reminds me of Naaman, the Syrian army commander mentioned in 2 Kings 5. Naaman was a leper. He wanted very much to be cured of his leprosy. A maidservant of Naaman's wife told her mistress about the prophet Elisha, confident that Elisha could indeed cure Naaman.

But when Naaman was instructed by Elisha to go bathe in the Jordan River seven times, he was furious. Insulted. Stormed off in a rage. Had he traveled all this way with his servants and with loads of treasure to be told to do something as ridiculous as bathe in a dirty brown river? Were there not better rivers back in Naaman's homeland? Naaman wanted a sensational cure. He wanted Elisha to wave his hands and say a magic chant. Naaman wanted a bona fide miracle!

Naaman was only healed when he relinquished his desire for an exciting remedy and submitted instead to the very ordinary means Elisha prescribed for his healing. Naaman had to humble himself. In essence, he had to confess: "Not my will, but Thy will be done."

At the NW Tennessee Reformation Conference in Dyersburg a couple of weeks ago, David Strain spoke on the topic of revival. True spiritual revival is solely the work of the Spirit of God, and it is always accomplished on His terms. And God's way of accomplishing revival...well, it just doesn't seem very exciting.

We long for the abundant outpouring of God's Spirit on his people, but we want God to accomplish revival our way, on our terms. We want to have to do something exciting, sensational, extraordinary. Call in a famous evangelist. Revamp our worship music. Work ourselves into an emotional frenzy, like the prophets of Baal atop Mt. Carmel. We reprogram our entire corporate worship to be all about excitement and fun and Zing! Sadly, as Mr. Strain commented, this type of "revival" produces no real revival at all. Our methods produce no true conversions, and over time lead only to a church body that is starved and anemic.

God, on the other hand, calls us to do something very simple if we truly desire revival. God tells us to pray. From the Old Testament kingdom of Israel, to Pentecost, to the Great Awakening, to Charles Haddon Spurgeon's ministry at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, the great mark of preparation for revival has always been persistent, urgent prayer for God's Spirit to bless. Why? Because prayer expresses our complete dependence upon the only One who can affect true revival.

As Mr. Strain stated, "When God intends great mercies for his people, the first thing he does is set them a-praying."

God ordains very ordinary means to accomplish the very extraordinary work of true, spiritual revival: prayer, the faithful preaching of the Word, the faithful administration of the sacraments.

But that's so simple, we protest. So boring! Wouldn't something more exciting be more effective? Like bringing in pro-wrestlers? Or hiring someone to parachute into the church parking lot?

Like Naaman when told to bathe in the Jordan, we are offended by the simplicity of God's commands to pray and to preach. We do not want to have to admit our utter dependence on God by submitting to his ordained means of kindling revival. Lord, we believe - help our unbelief!

Do you indeed desire revival in your own heart? In your local church? In your county? In our nation? Then hang up the phone - you do not need to book a gig with Bikers for Jesus. No, you must do something very ordinary instead.

Get on your knees and pray.

All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer... - Acts 1:14a

Monday, November 11, 2013


When I was shopping at Wal-Mart last Thursday, I reached the front of the store with my cart full of groceries to find only four registers open and about a bajillion customers waiting to check out. I looked for the shortest line and queued up. When only one customer remained between me and my goal of checking out, I noticed that the cashier's light was off, indicating that she was trying to close down her register. Silly me! I backed out of that check-out line and started the waiting game over in a different line.

Another customer, undoubtedly frustrated by the long lines, commented to me, "Well, you'd think she'd at least finish checking out the customers already in her line!"

Which leads to today's post -

I used to work as a cashier at a mega-discount store, and I learned a few things every customer needs to know, especially during the busy holiday season:

That cashier who was trying to shut down her register last Thursday? If she would "at least finish checking out the customers already in her line," she would never leave her register. Never, ever, ever. Got that? As long as she stands there and scans groceries, someone else will be queuing up way down the line of customers. The line doesn't end, people, when you pay your bill and walk out of the store: there will always be another somebody behind you. Got that?

Registers at our local Wal-Mart - and I suspect at most larger chains - are connected to a main computer system that automatically locks the register if a cashier has been working a certain length of time without a break. Why? Because cashiers do feel pressured to take just one more customer - indefinitely - until they've worked way over their scheduled number of hours. Or until they've been standing in the same spot for four and a half hours without a bathroom break. As a cashier, if my register locks up and shuts down, I don't care how much you want me to check you out or if you've only got two items:  there's nothing I can do to help you, even if I stand there and press buttons until I'm blue in the face.

The scene I encountered Thursday afternoon is nothing unusual. Admit it: we have all asked the question, "If they have twenty-three registers, why are only two of them open?" The person checking out your groceries serves an endless stream of customers, most of whom are at least mildly frustrated by the time they reach her because they've been standing in line for 15+ minutes and they're in a hurry.

However, that cashier has zero influence over how many registers are kept open. She has absolutely no control over how long you're going to have to wait in line to check out. She does not choose when she will take a break or close her register. But, when customers reach that cashier, they invariably complain to her that more registers need to be opened, that the lines are too long, that service isn't fast enough, blah, blah, blah. Can you just imagine how edifying it is to stand at a register for five or six or eight hours and listen to this same negative litany over and over and over? You think your cashier is less cheerful than she ought to be? Have you ever thought that maybe there's a reason? (An aside here: if you want to express your frustration over the long lines and a shortage of cashiers, call the store's management department to voice your opinion, instead of griping to the cashier.)

One more note: the cashier checking out your groceries is a human being, created in the image of God. Don't forget that. Instead of standing in line thinking about how irritated you are because you're tired and things are moving so slowly, try to get outside of your own little head and see the situation from a different perspective. Try to imagine what it's like standing on the other side of the register.

In closing, when you go grocery shopping this week, or when you run by Wally World on the way home from work to pick up deodorant and cat litter, or when you finally tackle your Christmas gift list - treat your cashier with courtesy, even if you think you've been standing in line too long. Put away your cell phone. Make eye contact and say "Hello." Try to make pleasant, upbeat small talk. Ask your cashier how her day is going. When she hands you your receipt, tell her "thank you" or that you hope the rest of her shift goes well.

In short, treat your cashier the way you would like to be treated yourself.

You'll both be glad you did!

Friday, November 8, 2013


My family has a long-standing tradition called the Thankful Tree. November 1st, we make a construction paper tree trunk that we tape to the kitchen wall, and we cut out a bazillion brightly-colored construction paper leaves. Each day, we write on the leaves things for which we are thankful, and then we attach the leaves to the tree. Here is what this year's Thankful Tree looks like, on Day 8 of November.

By the end of the month, the tree will be completely covered with "thankful leaves." There will even be leaves all over the adjacent door and wrapping around the corner into the living area.

A couple of things about this tree: the overwhelming majority of the leaves have written on them the names of people we love. I find it interesting that when we pause to think, "Hmmm, what am I thankful for today?" - what most often comes to mind are the people we have been blessed to know.

Yes, there are some pretty silly things written on leaves, too:  "indoor plumbing," "my washer and dryer," "fire." If Tom were home, there would definitely be a "pizza" leaf, and probably another that said "explosions" or "toilets." It is a good thing to pause and say "thank you" for even the relatively small blessings that we enjoy and often take for granted! At the end of each day, I love looking over the tree to see what new "thankful leaves" members of the family have added.

We have some pretty amazing fall color out on the farm this year, too.
the lane to the back of the farm
I especially love the graceful limbs of the sassafras trees behind the house:

This morning, I am thankful for sunshine. I already have two loads of sheets out on the clothesline - they are going to smell and feel so amazing on freshly-made beds tonight!

I am thankful for the Women's Ministry Team at Grace. It is such a privilege and a blessing to work with Laura and Kerri, two extraordinary young women who encourage and challenge me in my own faith walk.

I am thankful I didn't suffer any serious harm when I took an impressive prat fall down the back steps this morning. (Judith Stormbrook would've been proud of my form - woo-eee!) Thankfully, I bounced down the slippery steps on some rather, ahem, substantial padding.

Thankful for beautiful weather, good health, gorgeous trees, and the wonderful people I am blessed to know.

What about you? What are you thankful for today?

Thursday, November 7, 2013


Okay, today's post is unabashed Mom soppiness...

This morning as two of my college men were shouldering enormous backpacks, getting ready to head out the door and hit the highway to Martin, they laughed and chatted with their dad and me. These two young men are so very dissimilar. One tallish and bean-pole thin, the other shortish and barrel chested. One, a little quieter and more introspective, the other a bit bullish and quick to express an opinion. They were laughing and talking about a message from their brother and about their upcoming drive. During their commute this week, they've been listening to a series of CD's by Sinclair Ferguson on the topic of biblical manhood.

Anyway, amidst the rush of getting books and coffee for the road and the laughter and banter and scuff of boots, I was very aware of just how much I enjoy these two young men. How much delight they give me. How very grateful I am for both of them, with all their differences.

I have seven children. Yes, they have some traits in common, yet each is very, very different from all the others. Hard to believe that with seven, we don't have any "repeats" - no Xerox copies. And every single one of the seven (now eight! now nine! ...) is such a tremendous blessing and joy to their mother. The two who headed out the door laughing and talking this morning, and the cool dude who says "I love you" by trash talking. The old soul whose eyes flash with an other-worldly fire. The fairy bird, her heart pumping beauty through her veins like blood. The shield maiden/warrior princess. The snugga-bunny. The sure and steady. The brand new eyes with which to see.

Such different souls. Each one wonderful and beautiful and a gift from God.

There was a day not too long ago when, contemplating my great herd of children, about all that I could think was, "I can't wait until bedtime!" They were so small and so needy, and I was so very tired and inadequate.

Today, thinking about these remarkable people, I think "Wow!" I am amazed at God's goodness to me, to give me such gifts, such treasures. I am overwhelmed with gratitude.

Thank You, Father, for these children. Thank you, Steve, for parenting them with me. Thank you, E and D and G, R and N and T, B and M and H, and you other sweet "children," too - you know who you are! - for being you.

Yes, I am blessed.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


Six of my seven children have attended or are attending the University of Tennessee at Martin. Our family feels truly blessed to have this excellent university practically in our back yard.

Over the years, several UTM faculty have become a type of extended family for us Kendalls - these are not just talented professors, but caring individuals who have invested in my children beyond the classroom. These men and women have shared their expertise in their particular fields, and they have also generously shared their time, counsel, and friendship. Teachers like John Glass, Chris Hill, Steve Elliott, John Bush, Phillip Davis, Chris and Merry Brown, Charles and Kyoko Hammand, Jason Stout, Diane Shaw, Elaine Harriss...extraordinary people who have fueled my kids' hunger to learn and who have challenged them to see further, think more deeply, and reach higher. To all of these teachers:  Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Most of my kids began their UTMartin experience by enrolling in dual-enrollment classes as high school juniors or seniors. In the November/December issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine (www.TOSMagazine.com), you can read more about how my family has benefited and learned from dual-enrollment classes at UTMartin over the years.

You can link to the article "Dual-Enrollment: Hello, Higher Education!" here. Or, you can read the entire magazine on your mobile device (Kindle, Android, Apple and Nook HD) by downloading the free apps at www.TOSApps.com.

I want to say a big "Thank you!" to Dr. John Glass, Casey Scarborough and Carrie Arant for their help in producing this article. My hope is that our efforts will encourage other homeschoolers in our area to take advantage of the wonderful opportunities - both academic and relational - that are available at our local university.

Also, a MONDO "Thank you!" goes out to my awesome kids, for sharing your educational journeys with me, both at home and beyond. It's been a pleasure!

Monday, November 4, 2013


At this moment, there are five guitars and a banjo dominating one end of the living room. Scrolls of artwork lining the bookshelves. Piano music stacked around the piano. Colored paper and markers on the kitchen table.

Reuben is working on a series of paintings themed, "What's In Your Cupboard?" If you are in Martin, TN, and have an opportunity to run by The Looking Glass on Lindell Street, you might want to check out Reuben's prints from The Enchantress's Cabinet series - awesome.

Half-bottle of Infant Leviathans

I am SO THANKFUL for the talented, "messy," beautiful children who have so enriched my life! A conversation this weekend reminded me of this post from a few years ago...

-originally posted February 8, 2010

I am a closet "cleanie", but you would never guess that by looking around my house right now. In the years B.C. (before children), I actually polished the fixtures in my bathroom regularly...no messy water spots there, just shine, shine, shine! My closets were neat and organized. I liked to make even strokes in the carpet with the vacuum cleaner, tiptoeing backward out of a freshly cleaned room so that it's pristine state lasted as long as possible. Okay, I know this all sounds very weird. Still, in my secret heart of hearts, I genuinely do prefer order and cleanliness.

But now on any given day, you can walk into my house and find...carving tools and wood shavings scattered on the kitchen table. An ongoing paper mache project taking up most of one end of the living room floor. Knitting needles and balls of yarn piled on the couch or the coffee table. Bowls of cloudy water and messy paint trays cluttering the computer room, a blanket of watercolor paintings spread across the bed beneath the window. Scraps of wax and homemade pots piled on the hearth, ready for the next session of candle making. Random pieces of clothing, "costumes" for an upcoming play production. Sometimes, all this MESS threatens to drive me crazy! What happened to my house?!

Well, what happened was...my house turned into an art studio. Creativity is messy business. And it's a drawn out, ongoing process. It is squelched when someone is always coming around straightening up or packing away the tools necessary for working on a new masterpiece. I am not an artist and I don't quite understand why creativity requires so much mess - but I do know that Thomas is more likely to play the banjo if it stays out of its case. That paint boxes stored neatly away in the closet get used much less than paint boxes out on the table. That fabric scraps scattered over the couch this week means all the Barbies will have new outfits next week. That a seemingly infinite clutter of papers covered with ink scrawls and doodles will magically transform into poetry that breaks my heart.

Maybe someday I'll have a clean house again. Funny thing is, I think that by then I'll miss the mess more than I ever missed the order. I've learned the mess brings with it rich, rich compensation...a spontaneous bluegrass jam session, a short verse that speaks powerful benediction to the calling of motherhood, a vision of trees dancing across a page...worth infinitely more than vacuum cleaner brushstrokes on carpet.

P.S. - Looking over this again before posting, it occurred to me that life in many ways is really an "art studio" of sorts. God is creating something exquisite - people who reflect His beauty and holiness, people who truly delight in and joyfully proclaim the Artist's glory. It's a messy process. Life is an art studio...and it is very messy. If we could put away all the yuck, if we could keep the paint boxes in the closet and the carving tools in the case, life might look neater, feel more comfortable, appear saner. But we'd be left with vacuum-cleaner strokes in the carpet, instead of the glorious, radiant saints God is creating. I am so thankful God isn't an obsessive housewife who shrinks from messiness - grateful for the vision of Glory He gives us in the midst of this wild and wonderful creative process!

Friday, November 1, 2013


We're getting ready today for a bonfire later this weekend.

For me, that means lots and lots of cooking. I'll wipe down the bathrooms, and maybe I'll clean my floors...if I can find them.

For others in the family, it means hauling tables and chairs over from the church and clearing the yard of miscellaneous debris that folks could trip over in the dark.

What is the difference between a campfire and a bonfire?

Well, a campfire is a small fire built out of doors (as opposed to inside, in the fireplace). It quickly burns down into a nice bed of coals so that you can cook your dinner over the fire. Folks can pull up a seat, prop their feet on the fire ring, and toast their chilly toes around a campfire.

A bonfire, on the other hand, is a conflagration used to signal astronauts on the International Space Station. At least that's what a bonfire is at our house. You are not going to roast any weenies over a bonfire, because you'd need a 20-foot roasting stick just to keep from singeing your eyebrows off. You can, however, toast your toes. In fact, you can toast your entire body:  stand at a safe distance and rotate slowly, kinda like a human rotisserie.

Is it because we have so many boys that our annual bonfire is such a huge inferno? My boys have always loved fire. On camping trips, they relished the challenge of keeping the campfire going for an entire weekend, bedding it down each night to be resurrected in time to cook breakfast the next morning. Could the first fire of the weekend be started with only one match? Oooooh, could the first fire of the weekend be started from the cold sooty remains left by previous campers?! Double bonus points!! And they don't cheat - forget using any kind of starter fuel.

Yes, these annual bonfires kinda scare me. I'm not the adventurous, risk-taking type, remember? Thankfully, I have a manly husband to complement my mother-hen personality. (This is why children need both a mother and a father, folks. They need a mom to say, "Be careful!" - and a dad to say, "Let's set this baby off!") Thanks to Dad, my sons know how to build and safely manage a bonfire, how to use a chainsaw, how to replace roof shingles, how to handle a firearm. They would have never learned any of those things from me.

Perfect weather this weekend for a bonfire:  chilly, clear skies, low winds, and we've just had a good heavy rain to soak the surrounding field. Hot dogs and baked beans, cider and hot cocoa, a little banjo pickin' and singing with friends and neighbors. Yep, time for a bonfire!