Surprised by grief

C. S. Lewis wrote a book titled, Surprised by Joy. I must admit, I’ve never read it. Only excerpts. I’m sure it’s great. I mean, it’s Lewis, right? I know I should read it…but the thing is, I’m an optimist. Joy never really surprises me; I expect it.

What surprises me is this grief.

I mean, okay, my mom died. I’m supposed to grieve. It’s okay. It’s normal. It would be bad to not grieve. On several levels. But what I wasn’t ready for is this “hit-me-out-of-the-blue” grief. The concept is not new to me, that of grief hitting at unexpected moments. But the reality is rough.

I’ll be going along, doing my own thing, and suddenly there it is: tears, welling up in my eyes. Maybe I saw a reference to Mother’s Day. Or a recipe she would have clipped. Or heard a song she loved.

Or, as the last time this happened, simply being in church.

Thank goodness it was the Maundy Thursday service — always a favorite of mine — and the lighting was dim. Thank goodness I was in the back row. Thank goodness it was acceptable to have our eyes closed.

My grief built up as the service progressed. I mean, it was Easter week – so that’s emotional right there. It’s Jesus forgiving, dying, rising. How can I not get emotional about that?

Says the girl who cries at the drop of a hat.

But usually when I cry in church it’s subtle. It’s silent. It’s perhaps even expected. Of me, anyway.

But this was different. As the service progressed, the emotions were building but still within acceptable levels and then there we were, singing My Jesus, I Love Thee and the dam that kept the waters at bay burst.

“My Jesus, I love thee, I know thou art mine / for three all the follies of sin I resign; / My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art thou: / I ever I loved three, my Jesus ’tis now. / I love thee because thou hast first loved me…”


“and purchased my pardon on Calvary’s tree; / I love thee for wearing the thorns on thy brow;”


“If ever I loved three, my Jesus ’tis now.”


“I’ll love thee in life, I will love three in death,”


“and praise thee as long as thou lendest me breath;”


“And say when the deathdew lies cold on my brow:”





“If ever I loved thee, my Jesus ’tis now.”




I was surprised by the extent, the moment, the depth of my grief. Cue wondering, now, in this moment, how long this will continue? If I haven’t yet wept as I ought. If I will be like my mom herself, who, in the stress of Christmas Eve preparations 11 months and three weeks after her father died and approximately nine months after her mother died, when she fled the house in tears and wept to the heavens on the absent neighbor’s deck because she’d kept the emotions in check for all those months. Being strong. Being brave. Behaving as a Christian ought, she thought, who knows that her parents are in heaven, who believes that worldly grief is wrong, who must set a good example for her girls, who does what’s right. Always.


Oh, my dear mother.

Cue realizing that I’m more like my mother than I ever realized.

I think Micah 7:7 came as a gift to me today. I’d forgotten about this verse, but suddenly there it was, as I was looking for a photo. “But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.”



God hears me. When I sob in public places. When I cry in the reaches of the night. When I contemplate the thought of Mother’s Day. As I watch in hope for the Lord.

As I wait for God my Savior.

He hears his cue. And he never comes in late.

And God saw that it was good. Friday, that is.

It’s Holy Week. My favorite holiday approaches.

Now don’t get me wrong: I love Christmas. It has gifts and cherished decorations and wonderful promises of good things to come. Not to mention the birth of the Savior of the World.

But as much as I love Christmas, I love Easter even more. Mostly because there’s less stress, which is huge. All I have to do for Easter is cook one big meal and fill Easter baskets…as opposed to planning food for a week, filling giant stockings, wrapping (and mailing), decorating and baking, baking, baking.

Yes, Easter is less stressful and the promise of spring makes everything seem a little more light-hearted. Not to mention the death of the Savior of the World.

Ummm, excuse me? Death of the Savior is a good thing? That’s not very Hollywood.

No, it’s not.

Resurrection, now that’s Hollywood!

But Good Friday is not a misnomer. Good Friday truly is good.

When I was a kid I didn’t really understand that. How can you call it “good” when Jesus died, for goodness sake? Well…just that. He died, for GOODness sake. For the sake of goodness everywhere. For the sake of goodness for all time.

For the sake of us.

Even though we are far from good.

The thing is, if he hadn’t died, we wouldn’t have been saved from our sins.

And that’s, unequivocally, good.

Yes, the birth of Jesus is fun. But it’s the death of Jesus that was the point of the whole birth thing. He was born to die. Not many of us come into the world with a known purpose. A few do. Heirs to the throne. Perhaps siblings, born with the hope that their blood or bone marrow or other such thing can help a brother or sister. But most of us are born for the simple reason that, hopefully at least, our parents loved each other and we came as the result of that love.

John 1, however, points Jesus in another direction. He came “not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (vrs. 10). God had a plan for Jesus from the start. A good plan. A plan for good. A plan, as Jeremiah 29:11 puts it, to bring hope for the future.

Without that good and hopeful plan, our world would be stuck. Stuck under the law. Stuck with the consequences of our sin.

Easter falls, always, on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the first day of Spring. Passover – bear with me, this does connect with God’s good plan – falls on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan. This is always a full moon, but about 15 percent of the time, that full moon and the Easter full moon are not the same full moon.

Clear as mud?

Back in the year that Jesus died – 2023 years ago – Jesus was celebrating Passover on the weekend that he was arrested, crucified, buried and rose again. And so that first Holy Week was also Passover week.

What does this have to do with God’s good plan for us? It’s inextricably linked. Passover celebrates the exodus of the ancient Hebrews from their enslavement under Pharaoh in Egypt. Talk about a good – albeit convoluted – plan!  The Salvation that enabled their exit from Egypt was brought about by the death of a pure sacrificial lamb. It’s blood protected them when the Angel of Death “passed over” their homes, ultimately leading to their escape, straight through the parted Red Sea.

It was entirely right that Jesus and his friends were celebrating this salvation, this most Holy of Holy holidays, at the time that he fulfilled our ultimate salvation. As they celebrated this ancient story of Exodus, Jesus wrote the next chapter of our salvific story. He became, for us, the sacrificial lamb. The perfect sacrifice. For all time and all people (Hebrews 10:10).

And that, my friends, is really why I like Easter better than Christmas. Yes, it took the death of Christ – which, at first blush, seems “bad” – but that death is the ultimate good in the world. Without that death we’d be dead, too. In our sins. Eternally. But because of that death – and the resurrection that followed – we live.

And that’s, unequivocally, good.

I don’t like the word “eulogy”…

I don’t like the word “eulogy”. But like it or not, this is what this is. And if this is too long or feels too personal, please feel free to close this window right now. But if you’re interested, here it is. The things I said about my mom at her memorial service. Plus a few pictures…

How does one wake up and say, “thanks for this day” on the morning when one faces saying goodbye to one’s mother? 

I try to wake up each morning and have the first words out of my mouth be, “Thanks for this day and I give it to you” but I got stuck this morning on the “thanks for this day” part. But then I realized that I can say thanks for a life lived in light of eternity. Thanks for the example that one need not be perfect to be loved. By us. By God.

When Mom was three years old, she learned to read. Before she turned four, she came down with Rheumatic Fever and the doctor confined her to bed. She spent so long in bed that she had to learn to walk again. She survived the time by reading. Thus began a lifetime of devouring books. 

Several years after this event, Mom moved to a new town – one of many, many moves in her life. Starting out in a new school part-way through the year is neverfun, but it was made worse by the fact that a school program was scheduled to take place and all the girl roles were filled. So young Kathy was given a boy part to play. She was the only girl on a stage full of Junior High boys. She prayed desperately that Jesus would return so that she wouldn’t have to do this horrible thing. 

But God didn’t answer that prayer, for which I am thankful. 

Despite the fact that Dad was is taking photographs, there are some pictures of Mom that are only in my mind. 

Mom: walking into the living room and calling, “The Mountain’s Out!” We’d come galumphing down the hall and sure enough, there was Mt. Baker, peeking through the overcast haze. Mom taught me that views matter.

Mom: reading out loud with me up until I was 16 years old. We never did finish IvanhoeMom taught me that words matter.

Mom: at checkpoint Charlie, the border guards scrutinizing her passport, looking at it, looking at her; looking at it, looking at her. Apparently she looked itimidatable. All it did was make her cross. Mom taught me that there is a time and a place to stand up for yourself. Facing Communist guards is not one of those times. 

When I was small, there were a lot of things I didn’t understand about my mother. I didn’t understand her dislike of noise. I didn’t understand how her love of classical music could include Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition but so rabidly exclude Ravel’s Bolero. I didn’t understand her obsession with tea. Winter cold or summer heat, emotional turmoil, or mid-afternoon pick-me-up; tea was a necessity. She was Scottish, after all. 100%. First generation. Tea and shortbread and tartan and scones. Not scOnes…scawnes.

I also didn’t understand Mom’s enjoyment of “Ducks” having something to do with the “U of O”. But by the way she talked about it, I knew that I wanted to be a Duck because Mom was a Duck. 

Mom was a saver. She saved every single card and letter that Dad ever sent to her. Birthday, Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Easter. For six and a half decades. She kept ideas: for stories, for Bible studies, for crafts. And she kept recipes because she loved to cook. She especially enjoyed trying new recipes. They say that if company is coming over you shouldn’t make a new recipe. Mom didn’t ascribe to that philosophy. She taught me what it is to be fearless in the kitchen.

She also taught me to eat my vegetables. I’m fairly certain that every dinner she ever made – excluding Sunday night Popcorn, of course – 

included vegetables. Every. Single. Dinner. The next day, she could take a fridge full of those leftover vegetables and turn them into delicious soup.

Yes, Mom served us, and served God, with food. Up on Orcas Island, if a child broke a bone or was ill, she would call the kid’s mother to find out their favorite dessert and then she brought it to them, freshly baked. It was part of her firmly-held belief system, one which she called “Banana Bread Evangelism”. 

If a new person moved to their neighborhood, that person received a loaf of banana bread and a sincere welcome. Likewise, when Mom and Dad moved to a new town, she’d bake some bread – once the loaf pans were unpacked – wrap it in foil, and set out to introduce herself, to begin a relationship which, prayerfully, would later provide opportunities to live out First Peter 3:15. Mom was prepared to give an answer to everyone who asked her to give the reason for the hope that she had. And she did so with gentleness and respect. Because it wasn’t reallyabout the bread, it was about the message that went with the bread. 

The very day they moved from Silverdale, Washington, to Arlington, Washington, she and my son walked across the street to ask their neighbor, one last time, if she knew Jesus, because this might be the last chance she’d ever have to hear about God’s love. Mom taught me that if you claim to love Jesus, you talk about Jesus.

Mom loved a good theological discussion. To find a question in Scripture and debate the ins and outs, the why’s and wherefores. She had a lifetime of knowledge, but more importantly, a lifetime of love for the Lord.

Of course, that didn’t mean she agreed with you if you tried to convince her that Christian Rock music was a legitimate thing, or that drum sets belonged in churches. Choirs belong in churches. And if there was a choir, Mom would be in it. 

Another love Mom had was gardening. We had a large garden on Orcas. Every winter Mom and Dad eagerly anticipated the Burpee Seed Catalog; planning and refining their order for weeks. Then, once the seeds arrived and the conditions were right, all of our daily saving-of-the-coffee grounds-and-egg-shells-and-rotten-tomatoes suddenly made sense as Dad tilled in the compost and the dirt became rich and dark and perfect for those fortunate seeds. They planted, they watered, they waited and they weeded. 

Our mother, weirdly, loved weeding. Up until the end of her life. Weeding was a joy to her.

Finally, after all that preparation, came the first signs of buds, the growth, the harvest. And then came the canning, the freezing, the storing-up-for-winter. I had no idea what a sticky, sweaty mess that was until I tried it myself, years later. Once was enough for me. But every year her shelves glittered with golden peaches, purple plums, cream-colored pears, cinnamonny applesauce, verdant beans. 

I could have done without the beans. 

And let me tell you, if Mom could have preserved zucchini, she would have. 

If Mom wasn’t weeding or cooking or singing or dreaming of new ways to feed us zucchini, she was sewing. Dresses for us girls, shirts or ties for Dad, dolls or stuffed animals or Raggedy Andy’s or Ann’s. She sewed quilts from the leftover scraps and tied them with yarn in the church basement. She lived out Proverbs 31: we were clothed in scarlet and had no fear for the winter because she took care to make sure we were prepared.

She and Dad were a team. Sharing dreams and kisses and our best interests. Dad was gone a lot with the Air Force or with Pan Am or flying helicopters into snowstorms to rescue lost hikers, but Mom carried on; knowing Dad would back her up in her decisions. She knew he’d step right back in when he returned, she knew he wanted to be with us but also wanted to provide for us, and flying was how God called him to do that. And in the lean years, when flying didn’t always cover the bills, she stepped in; to substitute teach, to work at Darvills bookstore, to tutor or to help watch kids at the daycare down the road. 

Yes, they were a team. For 65 years. They barely knew each other when they got married, living as they did on opposite sides of the nation. But they knew enough to know that this union was right. So when Dad proposed over the phone, Mom said yes. “Yes” to whatever may come. “Yes” to living their lives in the presence of Emmanuel, God With Us. 

Mom is now with Emmanuel. Absent from the body, no longer present in their cozy home, reading her books and her Bible – I should say Bibles, plural. Underlined, worn, creased, cherished. Memorized. Sung.

She’s no longer up at 4a.m., praying. Praying for me, for Kris and Jenny, for our husbands, our children, and our grandkids – even the ones not yet bornPraying for all of you. Praying for missionaries, whom she felt she knew. Praying for – and with – Dad. 

One more photograph that is only in my mindMom praying before bed, years ago, when they lived in Wisconsin. I was staying with them for a few months. It was late in the evening, and I walked past their open bedroom door and there she was, kneeling at the side of the bed, like a little child, hands clasped together in prayer. I’d blundered into a sacred moment, but she didn’t mind. She opened her eyes, stood up quickly, and hugged me good night. 

She could stand up quickly then, 13 years before the cancer, before the stroke.

After the stroke, not too long before they moved to Arlington, we were visiting them in Silverdale. Mom was having a hard day. I don’t know what triggered it, but tears began to flow as we sat at the table. She was frustrated with her inability to sew and sing and serve as she had for so many years. 

All I can do is pray,” she finally managed to say.

“Mom!” I said, in the middle of the busy years where a quiet day when all “I could do was pray” was nothing but a dream. “Mom, that’s not an ‘all’! That’s your job now.”

But it wasn’t enough. She wanted to be doing. She did not go gently into her waning years.

But thanks be to God, she went gently in the end.


One month ago, today, my mama stopped breathing.

And never started up again.

She moved from this world into eternity.

She slipped her mortal coil.

Why are all those phrases easier to say than the actual word?  All those poetic euphemisms to avoid the stark reality. I guess because even thinking the actual word makes me cry.

She moved on. She gained her heavenly reward. She went to be with Jesus.

It happened early in the afternoon of Christmas day. (“It happened”…still avoiding the word.) We’re two hours ahead of my family on the West Coast, so we were done unwrapping gifts, done snacking (temporarily), and the kids had even moved their loot into their respective rooms. My husband, Colin, was on his ipad, doing whatever it is that he does on his ipad, and I was sitting in the middle of the mess, reading a beautiful book that a friend had given me, a book full of kindness and wisdom and love. I was feeling sentimental. Cozy. Thankful.

Colin’s phone rang. I could tell by his voice that it was family. I expected a, “Yes, she’s right here,” but instead there came, “Ah. Uh huh. Okay.”

Colin hung up and turned to me.

“They’re giving your mom CPR.” He said it gently. But really, there’s no way to gentle those words. No euphemism for breathing air into your mother’s congested lungs.

I looked back down at my book, automatically, as if to make sure that the world still looked the same as it had before this monumental shift. But the words before me blurred. The whole room, really, faded away to be replaced with a distorted mind’s view of my sister’s living room, gifts unopened, children’s excitement turned to confusion, my medically-trained sister and brother-in-law doing all they could, my dad…oh, dear, Lord, my dad.

Colin told the kids, who wandered, empty-handed, full-hearted, to sit, awkwardly, in the living room again, wrapping paper still strewn about, stockings unhung by the chimney with care. Somehow I stood, moved to the mudroom for something, I have no idea why, talking of I know not what. Colin joined me, let me finish my words, stepped to me and took me into his arms.

“Your mom’s gone,” he whispered. “Patrick texted.”

Gone. Another euphemism. Another way to gentle the concept that the world as I knew it had ended.

I don’t blame Patrick for texting. Words are easier to write than to say. I’m thankful he’d called to give the first news.

It all happened so quickly. Ten minutes? I don’t even know. Fast. Gone. Such short words that say so much.

Our son read some Scripture. I made tea, because that’s what Mom would have done. We hugged and cried and made more tea. Mom’s parents were Scottish, and tea cures all.

Only it couldn’t cure this.


This = death.

There. I said it.

I’ll say more, later, but for now I leave you with this…

This = hope:

“’Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 Corinthians 15:55-57

No, tea can’t cure death.

But that’s okay. Because Jesus already did.

That Holy Shadow

I love Christmas. I love the surprises. I love the scents. I love the giving (and, I must admit, the getting). I love the decorations and the music and the events that are unique to the rest of the year. I love Advent calendars and I love the general feeling that this is a special time. Something is different. This is a time set apart to celebrate.

Spiritually speaking, to be “set apart” is to be sanctified. To be holy. And indeed, the very best thing about Christmas is that it’s a holy season, a season to step back from the usual and focus on Jesus.

And I don’t just mean the baby Jesus. That cute little infant in the paintings; the Jesus of the nativity scenes and Sunday School programs and youthful memories. No, the Jesus I mean is the grown-up Jesus. The Jesus who has hard teachings. The Jesus who threw out the baby with the bathwater when it came to following rules and obeying the traditional law. The Jesus who gave up his right to be right, humanly speaking, because he knew he was right, spiritually speaking.

That Jesus is harder to embrace. That Jesus is rejected. That Jesus is spat upon by Romans, Ancient Hebrews, and modern day philosophers, be they suit-clad in higher institutions or blanket-clad in gutters…or flannel-clad in cozy homes and offices and check-out counters and yoga class.

That’s the Jesus the little baby turned into.

I know that Easter is the “hard Jesus” season. The season with the brutal images and the repentant sinners, hanging upon their various crosses. But the truth is, I want to live my Christmas in the far-reaching shadow of Golgatha, because that’s what this sanctified season is truly all about. The baby came because the man was going to die. He knew that from day one. From minute, from second one. He didn’t come into this knowledge as an adult, he told his parents as a 12 year old, “didn’t you know I needed to be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49). They didn’t fully understand, yet we know that Mary, “treasured up all these things in her heart” (vrs. 51). All the little things. The annunciation: “you’re going to have a miraculous baby”; the telling of her news to Joseph: “Surprise!”; the birth in a stable, the shepherds and angels and eventual Magi; the growing-up years; the ultimate revelation of who he was at the wedding at Cana; the final days and hours and minutes, standing at the foot of the cross, watching her son die for the wicked world which did not understand.

Those are the moments she treasured up. It didn’t matter that she didn’t really “get it”. What mattered was that she treasured. She contemplated. She put two and two and one million little things together and came up with belief in a man who was the Savior of the World. Belief that this human being, whom she had birthed, was also God. Deity incarnate. The Devine human.

Sanctified. Set apart. Holy.

And so, I live in that holy shadow at Christmas. Yes, I love the season. Santa Claus, candy-cane-stripes, presents, songs about red-nosed reindeer. But the reason I love it all is because it has been made holy by the presence of the man upon the cross. The man who forgave — and continues to forgive — me of my many sins. And, equally true, who forgives you of yours.

Merry Christmas, dear friends. May the joy and the shadow co-exist in your celebrations this season, pointing you to the one who loves you more than you can possibly imagine.

The heart of Christmas

My earliest Christmas memory — a memory I know is mine and isn’t just from family stories or photos that make me think I remember — is me, age 10, I believe, so impatient and anxious to get to the important business of unwrapping gifts but having to wait for my sister to get off of the ferry boat because she’d had to work the night before on the mainland and therefore couldn’t arrive home to Orcas Island, Washington, until Christmas morning. I must have been quite a pest because Mom sent me with Dad to drive the 35 minutes to the ferry dock to pick up Kris, knowing that the enforced hourish away from the beckoning Christmas tree would give her peace and me something else to think about.

I’m not sure that it did give me something else to think about because I remember pouting all the way there and all the way back, but then, finally, oldest sister returned to the fold, we were home, breakfast was ready, and we could get down to the agenda of the day.

I can’t tell you most of what I received that year. Books, for sure. Puppets, possibly. Probably some Lego. Clothes, handmade by Mom, and that could have been the year I received an Instamatic camera from my grandparents with film that was two years expired.

But I do know for sure, that was the year I received my dollhouse. I had been banned from the loft above the kitchen for weeks, knowing that something more than just secret sewing was going on as sewing machines didn’t make sand-paper noises, or require anyone other than Mom to shut themselves away for hours at a time. I imagined all sorts of things — a book shelf, a birdhouse (though why I’d have been receiving one of those I’m not sure) — anything to keep me from imagining a dollhouse because what if it wasn’t that and Christmas morning would come and I’d be heartbroken because my imagined house wouldn’t be there, waiting in all its glory beneath the Christmas tree.

But it was a dollhouse. Three stories high. A kitchen off to the side. Wallpapered with wrapping paper and inhabited by tiny people my mother made and furniture made from upholstered match boxes. It was all I had secretly dreamed of and more, even if it was incomplete. That just meant I was able to help put it together, which was also fun.

I kept that house for years, finishing some architectural details that the arrival of Christmas had thwarted, installing new furniture over time, adding dishes and doormats and plastic chickens. I borrowed baby Stevie from my Sunshine Family dolls and he lived happily in a second story bedroom. I finished painting the front railings just about the time we had to put it into storage, the year I turned 16. I knew I’d miss it in my new German bedroom.

Four years later, having left West Germany behind and returned Stateside, a truck arrived with Mom and Dad’s things that had been stored away for all that time. A huge box was placed upon the grass, DOLLHOUSE scrawled across the lid in bold Sharpie.

“Where do you want this?” the man asked, indifferently.

“Just leave it right here for now,” Mom replied, handing me a box cutter. I think she was as excited as I was.

We sliced the tape, folded back the lid, and there it was.



Literal sawdust.

Literal holes.

I turned away, unable to face the shock on Mom’s face. I brushed past oblivious moving men, went into the upheaval of my room and shut the door, flinging myself upon my bed. I cried that day. For far longer than one might think a 20 year old should cry for a broken dollhouse.

It had been a cherished hope. A wonderful surprise. A time-consuming art piece. A creative outlet. A miniature world. The one thing I had missed the most, and looked forward to with the coming of that great big van.


I wonder, sometimes, if that’s how God looks at His world. He anticipated it; He made it; He saw that it was good. He cherished it; He watched it; He set it up to succeed.

Yet still it fell. Still it failed. Still sin entered in.


And so He sent the angel.

So He sent His Son.

So He came to save us.

And as we fling ourselves upon our beds in our misery, we fling ourselves upon His mercy, and that wee tiny baby takes hold of our hearts.

“What shall I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would give a lamb. If I were a wiseman, I would do my part. But what I can, I give Him. Give my heart.” – Christina Rossetti

(All photos curtesy of my dad. The angel is me, by the way, circa 1976?)

The bone maker

I’ve been thinking a bit about bones lately. Aching bones. Turkey bones. Dem bones. 

As far as aching bones are concerned, my fingers sometimes remind me that I’m almost 51 and it’s going to rain, only it’s been a dry year, so I’m not sure if I’m imagining it or if I really am getting arthritic in my (not so very) old age.

When it comes to turkey bones, however, I have a better grip on my knowledge. My mom was a magician when it came to turkey bones. The day after Thanksgiving she’d be back in the kitchen, removing every last vestige of meat from the once glorious turkey and plopping it into the largest cooking pot we owned along with an onion or two, celery, carrots, a bay leaf, salt and peppercorns and a whole lot of water. That thing would go on the back burner and simmer all day, coaxing out the goodness of the bones.

It always amazed me how Mom could make something out of nothing. 

This year I cooked down the turkey bones, too. I don’t do it every year. Sometimes I stick it in the freezer, meaning to get to it later, and then, along about Memorial Day, I disinter its forgotten and freezer-burned carcass from the bottom of the deepfreeze, give it one look and toss it in the garbage. 

But not this year. 

I pulled out my largest cooking pot. I wrestled with the greasy remains. I chucked in onions, skins and all, along with some celery seed because I was out of celery and all the other mystical ingredients and seven hours later I, too, had made something from nothing.

Last night we had turkey soup with dumplings. I’m pretty sure it was the best such thing I’d ever made. There is a pitcher full of broth in the freezer for another day. A few smaller containers for recipes. Each one gelatinous, healthy, magical.

Something from nothing.

“Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones…” I don’t know if that song is politically correct these days or not, but I like it. Ezekiel prayed and called an army of bones into the service of God! Talk about something from nothing. It’s a little-recalled Old Testament Bible story, but wow, it’s a good one. My guess is it’s not taught often in Sunday School these days – too strange, too scary for children – but the truth of it is golden: God can take dried up old bones and turn them to His service. Rheumatic old bones. Freezer burned bones.

Kinda makes me realize that even stuck at home in the middle of a pandemic, there’s a place for me in God’s plan. It’s never too late. We’re never too old. God can use our dusty selves.

He’s the maker of our bones, after all.

“Now hear the word of the Lord!”


Closed doors and open windows

So I have a few thoughts this morning. Random, perhaps, but here they are nonetheless.

– I said I’d post every Tuesday. That hasn’t happened! From now on, I will post when I am ready to post. Today, for example, in a crazy shift from the Tuesday format, I am posting on a Friday! I know. Wild. Don’t let yourself get dizzy from this radical change.

– In a total change of subject, it’s a strange feeling to be a time-bomb. Perhaps you can relate. “Do I or don’t I? Will I or won’t I? How bad will it be, if it be at all?” Those are the questions I felt when I was possibly exposed to this stupid virus until we heard that the person I was near did not have it, thankfully. Her husband did, though. And he died. Which is horrible and tragic and shocking. His death has made me want to just stay home a lot more than I did before because what if I have it and I don’t know it and I give it to someone? That scares me more than the illness. Though I’m not exactly wanting to be ill, either. It’s spreading around our town. A lot. Maybe it’s just in different factions than were affected last spring, so I notice it more, but it seems more real now. School is going all online again which is sad, but also good, but also stressful.

– The weather is turning, the leaves are falling, the ice makes nightly appearances on the lake and I haven’t yet worn a hat but I sure have worn my gloves. The cat likes me now that it’s chilly. She jumps in my lap (as long as I have a blanket over my legs) and deigns to grace me with her presence. Everyone in the family is jealous.

An autumn sunset over our point.

– I have begun reading through the Psalms again. One a night. I like some of them and I can’t really relate to others but there are some beautiful words. Psalm 39:4,5 (NIV) really stood out to me, thinking of my friend’s husband. “Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure.”

Yes, even those who seem healthy, strong, unlikely to be badly effected, are not secure. God is showing us how fleeting our lives are, and it’s not comfortable. I am intrigued by God’s concept of time, though. I look forward to understanding that when I get to heaven.

In the meantime, we press on. “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13,14 NIV





Let’s Talk about “Essential”

What? I’m actually posting? Yes! Here I am!

I feel as if I ought to apologize. I have been absent from the “blog-waves” (is that a thing?) for weeks now and I said I’d be here weekly. I feel both bad about that and defensive about that. Bad because I said I’d do it. Defensive because, by golly, life is hard right now and some things have had to be set aside in the interests of mental health and that just has to be okay.

Honesty is good, yes?

I wrote a whole paragraph about the stress of living during a pandemic and then I erased it. You all know about that stress. I’ll just leave it at that and say that I hope you don’t mind that I won’t appear here every week because I just can’t handle it every week. 

‘Nuff said.

So…on to more theology and less dishevelment, how about?

I recently looked a little bit at the story of Dorcas in the Bible. Remember her? In Acts chapter nine we read that Dorcas, aka Tabitha, had died and a lot of people were very upset about it. Apparently she had been a great servant for the Lord, especially known for making “robes and other clothing”. 

Shortly after she passed away, Dorcas’ friends asked Peter to stop by to see if he could help. I guess they held out hope that they’d witness a miracle and turns out they weren’t disappointed. Peter “got down on his knees and prayed” for Dorcas and then said, “Tabitha, get up.”

And she got up. She was dead, washed and ready for burial, and she sat up.

People die all the time. We mourn them and we grieve for them and we wish that God would work a miracle to bring them back to life but for all of the millions of times that has been wished, it has only occurred a small handful of times that we know of from the Bible. 

Dorcas, for some reason, was deemed indispensable. Perhaps her sewing skills or something else we don’t know about made God put her on the short list of “the dead raised to life”. Her absence created a hole that no one else could fill. 

God decided she was an essential worker.

Kinda rings a bell, doesn’t it? 

We have heard plenty about “Essential Workers” during this pandemic. But what about poor Dorcas? Here she was, dead and in the presence of God, and she’s brought back to life for reasons we don’t know, put on hold from her heavenly reward, only to come back and sew a few more “robes and other clothing”. 

I kinda think that she’d much rather have been deemed “unessential” at that point and been allowed to remain in the presence of God. Yet God had His reasons. We don’t know them. But we can trust that they were made with far better wisdom than our reasoning can understand. 

That’s the thing about God. We don’t always understand His ways. Let’s face it, we often don’t understand His ways! But we always can trust that His ways are best. 

“As for God, His way is perfect;” says 2 Samuel 22:31 (NKJV) “The word of the LORD is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him.” Or, in a different version (NIV) and a different reference (Psalm 18:30) it says, “As for God, His way is perfect: The LORD’s word is flawless; He shields all who take refuge in Him.”

So if we believe that God is who He says He is, and if we believe His word, then we believe that His plans are perfect, tested, true and flawless, and that He protects us when we run to Him. 

And that means that we can trust Him. We may not always like where He leads us, but we know that anywhere He takes us, He is right there with us, protecting and shielding those who trust in Him.

And that, my friends, is essential.

Oh, the humanity of Christian leaders

I was in early middle school the first time that I was terribly disappointed in a Christian leader’s behavior. I didn’t fully understand what was going on at church, but I knew that my parents were embroiled in some sort of issue with the pastor, and many other people at the church were, too. We ended up leaving that church it got so bad, and since we lived on an island — Orcas Island, Washington — where the only other church available was Episcopal, my parents and others started a new church which met in homes for a while and then in the local high school. Quite a few years later — maybe 20 — the two churches reunited, which was a lovely ending to the old hurts.

Though I saw the hurt that my parents’ suffered in that situation, it didn’t impact me a whole lot personally. I didn’t have strong feelings about the pastor either way other than I disliked him for hurting my mom and dad. A few years later, however, when I was in college, I experienced two separate hurts from Christian leaders who were closer to me. These weren’t moral failings, or even theological failings, as the situation with our pastor had been, these were personal hurts. I was hurt because, with one of them, she left the church — as in the extended, universal Christian church — entirely. I couldn’t believe it. How could she? The other hurt was because I expected too much from a person and was horribly saddened by what I saw as a personal rejection of me as a disciple of this person’s teaching. I wanted more of their attention but I was given less.

I learned several things through these three situations. I learned that my expectations of people were often wrong and possibly even ill-advised. But more importantly, I learned that Christian leaders fail us. They don’t meet our expectations of who they should be. They prove, over and over, that they are human. Whether through moral failure, rejection of the church, or failing to meet our expectations, they make their own choices and those choices don’t always line up with what we think they ought to be.

But the core truth that I learned is far deeper: people will fail us, but Jesus never will.

In all of those years when I felt disappointed in God’s people, never once did God himself fail me. In all of those times when I compared people to God’s son, felt cynical over human behavior and wept metaphorically or truly over my hurt feelings, never, ever, did Jesus fail to live up to what he promised to be.


It was good to learn at a young age that Christian leaders are fallible, because it has kept my eyes open and my heart more attuned to the infallible Jesus. A church — or a nation — should not be filled with people who are there only for the leader. That becomes a “cult of the personality”, a group there not for a higher purpose (that of serving God) but there because they think the leader is such a great guy (or gal).

Christians are called Christians because we are named after Christ. Not after any human being. Jesus is the only sinless one, the only perfect one, the only one worth following. He will not disappoint. He will not morally fail. He will not change like shifting sands.

The hymn “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less” came to mind this morning as I saw the headlines in the news. “My hope is built on nothing less that Jesus’ blood and righteousness: I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand: all other ground is sinking sand; all other ground is sinking sand.”

If your faith is built on people, it will sink.

When my faith was in people, even my very world seemed to crumble, but Jesus was solid. That was a good lesson to learn given that today, when the world truly is in massive upheaval, I know and have seen through 50 years of living, that Jesus is unshakable.

Set your mind on Jesus, friends. Build your hope, your faith, your life on His unchangeable love.

“Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

Such a high priest truly meets our need — one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever” Hebrews 7:23-28