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.

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





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

Unexpected Blessings



On a chilly morning early one spring, seconds after I waved good-bye to my husband and kids on their way to work and school, I received a text from my son.

“Pls get pics of moon! Dad says good camera not phone.”

“Oh, that’s right,” I thought, glancing out the window, “There’s an eclipse. And a blood moon to boot, whatever that means.”

Before I had time to remember what, exactly, that did mean, I received another text.

“Hurry! Setting.”

“Okay, okay,” I muttered – and texted – my reply. So while the moon proceeded on its downward course, I shoved on my shoes, decided I didn’t need a coat as it didn’t seem too cold, grabbed the good camera (decided to bring my phone along too), opened the door – ran back upstairs for the tripod – and then, slamming the door behind me, trotted over to the west side of the yard.

For several seconds I struggled to attach the camera to the tripod, but it was dark and I couldn’t get it. I finally gave up as the moon wasn’t stopping to wait for me, hopped for a steady hand, and began shooting pictures.

They turned out okay. Mostly it was neat just seeing the tail end of the eclipse in person without a viewfinder in the way.

Finally, feeling a little chilly and in need of some coffee, I picked up my gear and headed back to the front door. I turned the doorknob.

And discovered that the door was locked.

In the nine years of living in this house, this had never happened before. Optimistically, I tried all the doors – knowing full-well that they were locked too. Finally I sat down on the kitty house – the only dry spot on the deck owing to a light rain in the night – and sent a text to my husband.

After that I looked around the deck and felt the chill of the morning begin to sink in. I gazed longingly through the sliding glass door at the news, blaring away to an empty and warm house so close…and yet unreachable.

Seeing that only made me feel colder.

I checked my phone weather app. It was 39 degrees. I shivered and gazed around in growing despair. I had a moment right then. I could sit there and find things to complain about…or I could enjoy myself.

For a few moments I couldn’t decide which direction to choose – the way of self-pity or the way of hope. I looked around for the cats, feeling like their warmth might help me decide.

“Why do they always turn up underfoot when you don’t need them and when you do want a warm cat on your lap they’re nowhere to be seen?” I think I actually said this out loud.

Finally, I decided that cats or no cats, misery was dumb.

Then Colin texted that he’d be there as soon as he could. Okay. Awesome. I can do this.

I stood up and began walking around, snapping photos of frost on the grass and listening to the early-morning sounds. Cows in the field. Twittering birds. A Pheasant. Then a whole flock of ducks flew overhead, the sound of the wind through their wings filling the air.

I looked around my yard, across the street to the fields of corn, up at the blue, blue, sky. And I began to pray.

“Thanks that it’s not windy, God. That would have made this time pretty unbearable. As it is, it’s not so bad. Thanks that I grabbed my phone on my way out the door. Thanks for technology that can bring Colin back to rescue me without my having to walk a quarter mile to my neighbors in my pajamas. Thanks that Colin is not out of town like he was supposed to be this week. Thanks for the sounds, and scents, and beauty of this morning.”

I heard a car approach, heard it slow down. The garage door opened. One of the cats appeared.

I was saved.

But, really, I had been blessed already.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Why I go to church


I grew up going to church at least three times a week. Sunday morning. Sunday evening. Wednesday night. In between those expected church times there was Good News Club, or rehearsals for the girls singing group I was in, or Christmas program practice, church work days, Vacation Bible School…you name it, I was there.

And I was okay with that.

I knew the building inside and out. I knew where the janitor kept the garbage bags, knew where the extra visitor cards were stored, knew how many choir robes there were hanging in the downstairs storage closet. I even spent happy hours up in the steeple (a fully sanctioned visit) vacuuming up dead flies.

I must admit that I even knew the exact length of time it took for a six year old to wiggle on her tummy beneath the pews down the length of the sanctuary – long enough for Daddy to be able to come down from the choir loft during practice and haul that six year old off the floor and plunk her down on the front pew with dire warnings not to budge until choir practice was finished.

I didn’t mind going to church because it was a place of safety. Of acceptance. I knew everyone and everyone knew me. They encouraged, acknowledged, and probably even reprimanded me. I felt secure there. Loved.

And yes, the stuff about God was fine, too. It was all part and parcel of the warm atmosphere of the building and the people.

I suppose that’s why it was such a shock to me when a friend asked me one day as we were playing if I intended to go to church when I grew up. I was probably about ten years old.

“What?” I asked, puzzled by her inquiry.

“Will you still go to church when you grow up and aren’t forced to go there by your parents?” she repeated, looking down at me through the rail of the loft in my bedroom where we were playing.

I looked up at her, uncomfortable with her question yet old enough to understand that she did not understand why it was that I went to church, why it was that my parents “forced” me to go with them.

I didn’t answer her question right away. I remember pausing to consider my words, thinking even as I did so that this was a great opportunity to explain to my friend why church was more than a building, why God was more than a concept, a cosmic being out there keeping His thumb on the world.

But I wasn’t very old, and I didn’t have the words.

I simply said, “Yeah. I’ll still go to church.”

“Why?” she asked from the loft, looking down on me in more than one way.

“Because of Jesus and stuff,” I replied, shrugging my shoulders.

“Huh,” she said. “I wouldn’t if I were you.”

I remember that moment with mixed emotions. I felt like I’d failed God in some huge way, missing out on an opportunity to “witness”, whatever exactly that was. But I also recall feeling sad for my friend. Sad that she didn’t understand the good stuff about church, the nice people, and the truth of Jesus’ love.

I do go to church now that I’ve grown up. I’m not there every time the doors are open – and I sometimes skip meetings that I ought to attend – but I go because I still really like the people I find there. That and I still I love Jesus.

Some people say that religion is a crutch. I prefer to think of it as a hand to hold through the mountains and valleys of life. What’s the difference? Maybe there isn’t one. But it doesn’t matter. I go to church not because it’s a habit or anyone is forcing me or I’m trying to make someone happy or it’s the social thing to do.

I go because I believe.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8,9, NIV.




Not too long ago it was my turn to help serve communion at my church. This always makes me nervous. I worry that my hands will shake and I’ll drop the plate. I worry that I’ll somehow be a distraction. I worry that I’m not worthy. Which of course I’m not but Jesus loves me anyway.

Usually we pass the plate from row to row, the servers facilitating the process as we progress up the aisles. But on this particular week our pastor shook things up a little and had the congregation come forward to receive the elements.

I stood, along with three others, at the front of the sanctuary, holding a shiny tray filled with tiny communion cups. I kept my eyes focused on the tray, silently watching as each person’s hands moved toward their chosen cup, seeing their fingers rise above my focus then move past me to the bread.

Seeing the variety of God’s people in their hands.

There were small hands, unlined, unsure, untaught. The owners of these hands hesitated before choosing their cup. Perhaps this one is better? These were hands that wear Band-Aids like badges of honor. That boast ink stains that don’t easily wash off because they used indelible ink even though Mom told them not to.

Where will those hands go, over time? How will they find ways to serve the Lord? Will they always make the right choice? So many possibilities.

There were middle-aged hands, more worn and rough than the previous ones, which reached confidently for their cups before moving on. They had found their place in the world. Found ways to prove their worth through the years, serving God, serving their families, serving communion themselves, in their turn. Sure, they have made wrong choices, but yet here they are, taking communion amongst their peers, knowing that God’s grace covers over a multitude of sins.

There were old hands. Thin of finger and skin, lined and freckled with age. These were knowledgeable hands, slowed by the wisdom that sudden decisions can lead to regrets. They were strong hands, once. Skilled hands. Hands that have seen their skills betray them through tremors and frailty and age. Cool, dry, hands that take yours in greeting each week and give you confidence to carry on.

And there were farmer’s hands. Calloused, they were, and bent. Marked by deep lines and sun. Gnarled. Thick. Strong enough to endure the rigors of life. Scarred and marred by the hazards of their trade.
Not unlike Jesus’ hands, I’d imagine. Scarred. Marked by his trade as a carpenter. Marked by Roman brutality. Yet gentled by the grace of His father.

I wonder, if I held the communion tray and His hands reached for the cup, would I recognize His scars? Would my heart leap as His hands came into view? Would I know, without looking up, who it was that stood before me?

Or would I watch His hands pass by as the others did? Just one more hand in the line. One more face in the crowd. Not drawing attention to Himself. Not wanting to distract. Only wanting to serve.

Yeah, this church thing…it works for me. No, we’re not perfect. Yes, we have quirks and do weird things. Sure, there are Sunday mornings when I’d rather stay in bed, have brunch, drink my coffee out on the deck to the sound of birds chirping and my neighbor mowing his lawn.

But when it all comes down to it, all that weirdness is done for Jesus. All those raised arms and ageless hymns and tiny plastic communion cups. For Jesus. All the committee meetings and baby dedications and Vacation Bible Schools. For Jesus. All the rote recitations and misunderstood motivations. Jesus. He’s why I do what I do.

This is where my story is leading me.

“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:28