“This book will make you feel better about your life”

I’ve been feeling a bit like a prisoner in my own home lately. And you? Tired of reading article..article…article…article…, I knew I needed a shot of bigger perspective.

So I picked up a book I’ve been meaning to read for a long time–One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

Written by Russian Nobel Prize winner Alexander Solzhenitsyn and based on his own experience in the Gulag, Siberia’s network of “corrective labor camps,” I thought it might afford me a bit of a reality check on what it really means to feel like a prisoner.

And it has. But not by pounding me with horrific word pictures of torture, despair and madness.

Rather, with the artistry of understatement, irony and even wit, One Day, while written in big print and prison slang, offers great thoughts and deep meanings that gently percolate in my mind throughout the day–so different from the jangle of texts, Facebook posts and articles that leave us feeling over-stimulated and unfocused.

One Day is an easy read with a psychologically gripping ending I never saw coming. It makes me think. And give thanks.

Researching it a little more online, I discovered that when a movie based on the book was released in ’76, the narrator of the trailer hooked me with exactly what I was looking for: “This movie will make you feel better about your life.” So will the book. Much better.

Missing My Crowd, Unemployment: A Passion Week Lament and an Easter Challenge to Trust

from Robert Doares’ Immanuel: The Life of Christ

It just feels wrong to spend Palm Sunday and Easter at home. I wished I’d been on my way to church yesterday instead of listening to a sermon on line. I so missed seeing our kids waving palm branches. Singing praises and hosannas in a room full of voices blending so strongly that my own is submerged in a sea of praise.

My morning began with a silent reading about a day of praise. Jesus riding in, gently, peaceably down the Mount of Olives through the Beautiful gate and the streets of Jerusalem.

What was missing yesterday was the crowds.

Can you imagine lining up behind Jesus 6 ft. apart? Walking down the Mount of Olives in single file? It really puts a damper on the joy. Sucks all the energy out of the scene. We were meant to worship in crowds. Multitudes. Singing loudly to our God and king.

It was just not the same singing along with the TV. Or even with a few neighbors on our decks/balconies.

Want to watch women laughing, learning and cooking together?

(the perfect primer for holiday cooking)

Take a peek at our Apples of Gold power point below. Based on the invitation (in Titus 2) for older women to mentor younger women in kindness, loving their husbands and children, hospitality and other big issues, we gathered for 7 weeks this fall for cooking lessons and Bible Study.

Liisa and Judi, our cooking mentors taught us how to make everything from pulled pork to cheesecake, how to choose olive oils and knives and whip up a perfect mug of frothy coffee. Then, after Bible study and discussion, they served up the yummy lunchtime results of their labors–the perfect setting for going deeper on our topics.

Eclipse Photojournal: Our trip through totality

(with a little help from my friends)

Ours is truly a privileged planet. That’s what I was thinking Monday as the moon slid over the sun here in Columbia, South Carolina. Could it just be a co-incidence that…

…the moon perfectly, PERFECTLY blocks the sun’s fiery ball?

…the moon and sun are both perfect circles? (Some moons are shaped more like a potato)

…the moon is 400 times smaller than the sun, but that is perfectly offset by the fact it is 400x’s closer to Earth?

“For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited!): “I am the LORD, and there is no other,” (Isaiah 45:18).

I was thinking, He formed it so that we would have a front row seat to see his glory on display like this.

Guillermo Gonzalez, an astrophysicist we interviewed for our radio program and co-author of the book Privileged Planet, said he studied all 65 moons in our solar system.

A Window on the World of C.S. Lewis

Photo journal of his places and spaces in Oxford and Cambridge

Just returned from Oxford where part of the delight was seeing where C. S. Lewis lived, worked and loved. In spite of his superior skills in reasoning, writing and history, Lewis struggled to gain entrance to the great Oxford University. He was pitiful at math.

The central Oxford landmark, The Radcliffe Camera (left, 1749, part of the Bodleian Library), and All Souls College (right).

Two Reasons We’re Celebrating Forty Years Together

June 25, 1977

We were young and deeply in love. Making big promises we had no idea what it would take to keep. Maybe that is part of God’s grace. We don’t know what we don’t know. But before long we began to get an idea.

Jack and I share so much. We are both strong personalities. (“This will not be a boring marriage,” said our pre-marriage counselor-pastor.) We are both thinkers. I love discussing books, movies and ideas, talking theology and politics with him. We both enjoy travel adventures together, and back when I could ski we delighted in riding the lifts and swooshing down the mountains together.

But in other ways we were so very different.

If I Ran the Zoo: A Visit To Noah’s Ark Encounter

On our way up I-75 into northern Kentucky I found myself thinking about a Facebook friend, a Christian and a movie critic who works in Hollywood. Heading into a newly released faith-based film, she’ll post a little movie-critic prayer, “Dear Lord, please help it not be cheesy.” We were on the first leg of my Mom’s bucket list trip, headed to the Ark Encounter, a theme park with a Biblically scaled ark.

I’m happy to report this ark is not cheesy. From the outside it’s too big to be cheesy. It looks…epic.

And a little too gleaming?

God told Noah to build the original out of wood and cover it with pitch inside and out. I doubt it looked as impressive as the 300-cubit, three-keeled, silver-timbered ship perched in the Kentucky hills. 

A Vacation Opportunity to Love God with All Your Heart and Mind

Join me at The C.S. Lewis Foundation’s Oxbridge Summer Institute 2017

punting on the river Cam in Cambridge

Some vacations recharge us with rest and recreation. Some with natural beauty. And if, like me, you love to learn, some vacations renew our souls with a feast of iron-sharpening-iron teaching and discussion.

Maybe you could join me this summer in England for a week (or two) in the company of kindred spirits who delight in Lewis and treasure both his intellect and imagination. Oxford. Cambridge. Days of speakers and panels. Nights of music, dance and drama. And it only happens once every three years. Even if not, I hope you’ll enjoy these pictures.

From the time I first heard of it, Oxbridge went on my bucket list. (Is it a bonafide “list” if you only ever had one item on it?) In 2008 my sweet Mom gifted me with a trip to the Cambridge week, where these pictures were taken. This summer I’m deeply honored to be invited back as a speaker at the Oxford week. Other speakers will include Larry Crabb and Joseph LaConte. Info here.

4 Ways Lent Can Give You Far More than You Give Up

Growing up, my church didn’t celebrate Lent. But years ago I caught the vision from a friend and I’ve come to value it. Here are four ways Lent can deepen our life with Christ and enrich our celebration of Easter.

Except for my Catholic neighbor getting her forehead smudged on Ash Wednesdays, Lent wasn’t even on my radar. We didn’t celebrate Palm Sunday. Or Good Friday. Much less 40 days of fasting, sacrifice and repentance. But I’ve learned we have so much to gain from observing Lent.

If your church doesn’t observe it, you can embrace it in your own way, just as the church developed its own way over the years, stretching its observance from two to three days to three weeks to 40 days. It doesn’t matter how long we engage with it, the important thing is that, in honor of his inestimable sacrifice for us, we embrace a season of sacrifice of our own for the Lord Jesus. 

Missing Our Roots

In today’s culture it is rare to live our lives in a community where our great grand-parents on both sides lived, served and loved.  A recent visit to our roots in Paris, Texas challenged me to consider what we’re missing…and what we’ve gained.

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When my Mom’s cousin was diagnosed with an aggressive form of dementia in January, Mom intended to go visit her. But Sarah died in July, before Mom, at 84, could arrange the trip.  Last week, when I took her to visit her cousin’s grave, they told us that 500 people had showed up for the visitation for Sarah, a 5th grade teacher and tour guide. It had stretched out the door and around the block of the Victorian funeral home in Paris, Texas.

Not many of us live our lives like Sarah, dying in the community where we’ve loved and served and our family goes back for generations.  Instead of deep roots and strong branches, our families are more like dandelions–spreading seeds across a windblown landscape. My Dad’s family is from Quebec and up-state New York. I was born in Houston, Texas. Moved to Austin to attend college, then to Dallas to begin my teaching career.

The Best Antidote to Summertime Boredom and Distraction

Summer gives us an opportunity to slow down. “The livin’ is easy; fish are jumpin,’” and all that. Without so many activities on the calendar we have more time to take trips, watch TV or kick back with friends or a good book. We all need seasons of restoration, but the cultural pull towards having fun and lazing around can make room for boredom and distraction to settle in like a fog.

Cow Appreciation Day: proof of the power of generosity and creativity

"Create living art out of love, in the form of kindnesses--food, hospitality, photography, writing..."

P1020676 (960x1280)Who doesn’t love the cows that advertise the food service franchise built on Christian principles of “hard work and creativity”? So to honor them once each summer (this year it was July 12th) Chick-Fil-A invites customers to experience the power of generosity and creativity to change your day.

We stumbled into Cow Appreciation Day four years ago. Walked in looking for one of their new desserts and cracked up at all the “cow-like” people—some in T-shirts colored with black spots, others fully decked out in cow ears to hooves–all rewarded with free food.

P1040294 (1103x1280)Some floppy cow ears dangled earrings. One guy, a youth pastor (somehow not surprising) spouted udders on his lower abdomen. “You can pull down templates off the web,” two cow-Moms and 4 cow-kids told me. And evidently they had spent some time printing and tracing, coloring, cutting and pasting. One boy had combined a Luke Skywalker outfit with the cow motif. Wish I’d gotten a picture of his Star Wars helmet with a cow nose pasted on it, winning a meal and a new dessert.

Ah what creativity (and free food) does for the energy level. Customers who didn’t know each other were laughing and talking. Comparing costume stories. We, who had unwittingly dropped by for a new brownie sundae, laughed and visited and snapped pictures.

Creativity generates life and laughter. It reminds me of what one of our contributors to Faith and Culture said at an International Arts Movement conference about giving art as a gift. Christian artist Mako Fujimura inspired his audience: 

In a Culture of Never Enough, a Culture at War–The Secret of Contentment

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Contentment and I have a troubled history. Many reasons: physical limitations, a vivid imagination, a propensity to live in the future… In addition, our culture of More and Better torches our desires with the gasoline of glossy mags, dark theaters, Facebook vacation pictures, clothes we’ll never need for a life we’ll never live…

Election year aggravates our struggles. Each side is spending billions to cast their vision of the better life we’ll live once they are elected. Between now and November we will be subjected to an endless parade of speeches, promises, ads, polls and robocalls designed to inflate our expectations so we will vote for change. It’s all even more frustrating if we are disappointed with the options for change.

The Apostle Paul said, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content…I have learned the secret of facing abundance and need” (Eph 4:11-12). I used to read those verses and think, “Good for you, Paul. I wish.” I still think that sometimes. But I am further into contentment recovery. Maybe I’ve even learned a little of the secret of contentment.

Celebrating Father’s Day with a Difficult Dad

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I know my Dad loved me and always wanted the best for me. He never, ever abused me. But as I grew older, when it came to nurturing a heart to heart relationship, he just wasn’t that into me.

When I was still small enough to sit in his lap he would read to me. And he would swing me in a big swing he made for me. For a season he made up wonderful bedtime stories about Broussard the Dragon who, when Dad lost interest, died tragically in a cave in. When I was older he would play the chess-like board game Camelot with me. (And usually slaughter me.)

But pretty much every night after dinner my petroleum engineer dad preferred to spend his time tinkering in his electronics shop. I could go out and talk to him in the garage, and he would explain to me how his gadgets worked, but I was the one who needed to find my way into his world.

In his defense, my dad came from a family of thinkers, not feelers. He lost his dad when he was 13. For whatever reasons he didn’t seem to know how to find his way into my world. 

One of the Great Ones Is Gone: Going Full-throttle to the Finish

And a counter-cultural way to think about those "retirement years"

Harry and statueThe only way to get to San Rafael Pie de la Cuesta is to drive down a dry riverbed.  We bounced so much down the boulders in outback Guatemala that I arrived brain-rattled and bruised, but laughing because of the great company we were in.

On a missions training trip, we had come with our new friends Harry and Patty Larson to encourage and equip the leaders of a small church there. Together with their young son Peter the five of us bedded down in a tiny room off the back of the church, “air conditioned” by a 12-inch gap between the walls and ceiling.

Lying there in the dark we could hear the soft flapping of something swooping through the gap, in and out of our room. Unsettled, I asked, “What is that?” From his bed Harry began singing in a perfect Sesame Street Transylvanian accent, “One bat hanging in the steeple, One bat flies in through the door….” Patty chimed in, “That makes two bats in my belfry, Wonderful!”

We giggled at The Count’s perfect tribute to our adventure and drifted off to sleep. I was awakened by dogs barking and a rooster crowing. In the middle of the night. And then the bed started to shake.
“Jack,” I half-whispered, “what is that?”
“It’s just a big truck going down the street.” And he rolled over.
As if a big truck could have made it down that riverbed.

The shaking grew worse. And worse. Earthquake!!
I sat bolt upright. “What do I do?!”
Harry responded, “It’s ok. You’re ok!”
The shaking grew worse.
“What do I do?!!”

Walking Away from Baseball: $13 Million │ A Little Divine Affirmation: Priceless

Adam 2014

Jack and I visit with Adam before a 2014 game at Turner Field in Atlanta.

A friend and a timely dream encouraged White Sox hitter Adam LaRoche in his decision.

“I had the strangest dream,” my husband Jack told me at breakfast last Tuesday. “I dreamed I was walking with Adam down a long corridor headed to the field and he told me he was retiring from baseball.

“It was unlike any dream I’ve ever had, extremely vivid and high-def. Adam was sad so I put my arm around him to comfort him. I prayed for him. Then he walked on down the corridor and out onto the field to make his announcement.

“After all these years that would be sad,” I said.

“And then I woke up. It was only 5:30 am so I took it as a prompting from God to pray for Adam.”

Jack and I have known Adam since his family joined our church back in the 90’s. He baptized Adam and took him on his first hunt, a squirrel-control patrol. We’ve attended his Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals games. His mom is one of my best friends. So we didn’t think it all that unusual for Jack to have a dream about Adam. Until later.

Praying for America with Franklin Graham in SC: Frustrated but Hopeful

Undeterred by the 40° weather, we stand in front of the South Carolina capitol, thousands of us, joining Franklin Graham to pray for our nation. It’s the fifth stop on his Decision America Tour to all fifty capitols.

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No other speakers. No political endorsements. The only piece of campaign literature I see is underfoot.

Another Dad is Gone. Giving thanks in sorrow.

Jim wout glassesMy Dad died in June. Jack’s Dad died last Tuesday. Monday evening we receive a call: He’s been feeling bad for three days and finally consented to go to the hospital. Monday night we receive another call: He’s in ICU. At 4:30 am we receive another call: He’s gone. Just like that. Irrevocably. Permanently.

We will fly to Dallas for the funeral. We will walk in the door, but there will be no hearty hello hug. No booming voice asking, “What’s up, hoss?” No great presence filling the room, enthroned in his recliner, a book in his hands and one eye on the TV. No one will want to sit in that empty chair.

Jack’s Dad was a fair minded, honest, no nonsense type of man. We will always remember him for his many Dadisms, such as, “You are the only one who can ruin your day.” You can read his obituary and see the visitation slide show here.

As Jack and I processed the news on that still-dark Tuesday morning we were overwhelmed with gratitude. God had given us a priceless gift: time together. Although we lived 1,800 miles away, we had spent the previous Tuesday with his folks. And the Wednesday before that.

Fighting for Love in Columbia, SC

It rained over twenty inches in our fair city last weekend. This weird radar-red and yellow arm reached way up out of Hurricane Joaquin , pinned Columbia down and kept pouring water on our heads. Coming on the heels of over a week of soaking rains, this final unrelenting round of Joaquin waterboarding threatened to drown us. We spluttered and coughed, but thankfully, we survived.

flood Justin

Creeks and streams filled to overflowing Saturday night. Dams on neighborhood lakes liquified and began to breach. On Sunday morning our friend Justin launched his fishing boat down a nearby street in his subdivision and began rescuing people whose homes were quickly filling with water—one family huddled together on top of their kitchen table. Where else do you go when your car is already under three feet of rising water and there is no dry land in sight?

Gun to Your Head. “Are you a Christian?” What would you say?

We can never know how we would respond to the ultimate threat. But a thoughtful heart check sheds light on what we treasure most.

Pray for RoseburgWhile our choices matter to God, he tells us our motives matter even more. God is always looking at our hearts.

Thinking of what I would say to a shooter pointing a gun at my head was not nearly as revealing for me as pondering why I would say it. As you read these wildly different responses from the candid crew over on Reddit how does it clarify your motives?