The Best Gift

The list continues, counting in the hundreds now and always seeking, always looking for a well. I write this evening in solitude, alone in the house for a time while the family is busy elsewhere. They bustled out only an hour ago, me tucking herbed chicken into Ciabatta just out of the oven, wincing at the heat and quick-wrapping sandwiches while Dancer waited at the door trying to be patient at the delay. I was worried they’d be hungry.

I am hungry, always hungry, but it isn’t a craving for sandwiches. Fresh, soft, warm bread is a good gift, but this is a longing for more of God, for more awareness of His presence, for more gratitude for every good and perfect gift from His hand. Always for one more thing to number among the others in my gratitude list journal. How glad I am to have it always close at hand.

I don’t want my family to have hungry tummies, but I do want them to hunger after the Bread of Life, to always be aware of Him, grateful to Him, in love with Him, seeking to know His heart better with each moment alive.

That kind of hunger drives me, drive us all, to keep reaching and noticing and thanking. It is well with my soul. My very soul is a well that can only be adequately filled with His spirit, His purpose, His love flowing from me outward to all whom He loves. To simply love is a very big thing. The best gift of all.

131. Heather Roemer, for sharing Ann with me
132. Computer fixed by amazing friends
133. Love notes left for me to find
134. Homemade teriyaki chicken with broccoli and green beans, green & red peppers, mushrooms, and red onions over rice
135. Dishwasher humming
136. French vanilla coffee, very sweet
137. Ciabatta fresh from the oven
138. Homemade chocolate glazed donuts
139. Homemade chocolate icing, right out of the bowl
140. Coffee sipped from my Dick and Jane cup
141. Warm February days
142. New tap shoes for a beautiful dancer
143. My beautiful friend, Giselle
144. My husband’s arms snug around me
145. Gold bracelet and watch, gifts from Mama
146. There is always a well. All is well. (Ann Voskamp)
147. Dance costumes in colors bright, sequins, bustle, hats, nets, sparkles, shoes…and the ability to alter and embellish where needed
148. Pats taken that I thought were mistakes
149. Note to my daughter from one of her friends: “You are the serenity in my life.”
150. Moments to calm and focus on peace deep down
151. Cookies
152. Italian meatballs in sauce with shredded Mozzarella on fresh Ciabatta packed with love in husband’s lunchbox
153. My “I love my mommy” pencil cup
154. Places of discomfort that open our arms (and hearts) to God’s comforting
155. Ben & Jerry’s Karamel Sutra


Ch. 7: All is Well

I felt Ann’s heart breaking in this post, my own reaching out to hers mother to mother. Ironically, looking back over 30 years of mothering there haven’t been many times when I felt that deep ache over my children’s choices and behavior. But one particular time came quickly to mind when I read this chapter.

Trevor and Matt were probably 10 and 8, and they were messing around and horse-playing like boys tend to do. We’ve always ignored the advice of others to allow their horse-playing to escalate to fighting, letting them “duke it out” and settle their differences, like they would be better for the altercation. So this time, when things did escalate to a shove and a hit, I came onto the scene with shock visible on my face.

“What are you doing?” I looked from one to the other, both heaving big, angry breaths.

They explained that things had just heated up from their horse-playing and they got angry.

“Angry enough to really hurt one another?” I couldn’t keep my voice from shaking. Their faces mirrored my sadness as they realized how deeply their fighting had affected me. I swallowed hard and looked at one boy. “You shoved my son. Why?” He dropped his head. My gaze shifted to the other boy. “You hit my son. How could you do that?” Eyes pooled and lip quivered.

“Sorry, Mama.” They both muttered together. I explained that it was God they needed to apologize to, and then one another, but that I appreciated their contrition and hoped that would never happen again because that isn’t the way we solve our issues or process angry feelings. There was discipline to follow, but now ten years later they still say it was the look of horror and sadness on my face that shook their hearts and made them never want to hurt one another again.

The truth is, we have had a relatively easy time of it with regard to our children’s behavior overall through the years. With the exception of our firstborn (who has turned out to be a fine young man who loves and serves God, just for the record), there hasn’t been much in the way of rebellious or defiant behavior. But then such behavior is but a small part of the central point of this chapter.

Seed: What stood out to me was how Ann allowed God to calm her in the midst of a circumstance of great pain and conflict and anger, processing not only through her but from her through her child, to learn the harder lessons of eucharisteo.

Water: I continue to stay vigilant, ever on the lookout for ways to allow thankfulness to be my processor for every moment, every circumstance, every occurrence in my life. “There is always a well. All is well.” I can draw from the well at any moment, and each time I do I am brought a little bit closer to His plan for my life–my beautiful, abundant life.

Bloom: Thankfulness always as my response, always gratefulness rather than resentment, always aware that a miracle could happen at any moment because every moment alive is a miracle all by itself.

Ch. 6: Wanting to See God

There is so much in this one chapter, I felt like my head was spinning. I read it in an hour, but could easily have taken three days to let it all sink in. Perhaps it was good that my main computer was down for several hours between yesterday morning and about an hour ago; I had time to really ponder several things.

I had never given much thought to the fact that God used a serpent in the desert when He said the Israelites must look upon it to live. Then follows the irony of  Jesus telling His disciples that just as the serpent was raised up so the people could look on it and live, so would they look on Him raised up on the cross and live.

In this chapter Ann talks about what it means to see God. Where do we see Him? How do we look upon Him? Are we always looking for Him?

And then comes the real question: Can I see God when I’m not in the field under the moon, by the seashore listening to the waves, standing in awe of mountain majesties? Can I see God in my everyday?

If the only way to pray without ceasing is to pray with eyes wide open, then that means I must see Him in every moment, in every detail. In every detail. But do we really want to see? I mean truly see?

“I have profaned the sacred, treated the holy in an unholy way. There are times, I still do. But I am prayerfully purposing to walk towards all of life as sacred ground, all of life as hallowed–because God is here, everywhere.”

The beauty we observe is a reflection of God, who is Beauty Himself. Do I see the beauty in everything?

There is one thing that stayed with me the whole way through the chapter, and I’m pretty sure I know why. It is this: What of Darryl? His role in this Run For the Moon is veiled but vital. Why did this haunt me? Because what Darryl did for Ann is what Steve does for me, has done for me every day since we met when I was fifteen. He has always supported, always celebrated who I am deep-down. He has seen it even when I didn’t see it myself because he took the time and effort to truly know me. I was touched when at the end of the chapter Ann wraps the whole thing back around to an awareness of the beautiful gift her husband had given her. What a selfless, Godly thing to do. We are wives blessed of God.

Almost poetically, I turned a page in chapter 6 and a note from Steve fell out of my book.

“I love you. You are so wonderful.” 

Sharing the study of this book with him is one of the greatest blessings of discovering it.

I have discovered such beauty in the writings, in the faces, in just the meeting in this tiny way, of so many lovely women from all over the world in the study and discussion of this book. I have seen beauty I didn’t know existed in the thoughts shared by these women I didn’t know existed only a month ago. I read of their shadow moments, of their calling out to God, of their hope and their joy rising up from the ashes of tragedy and loss and illness and pain, and instead of shrieking “Curse God and die!” they swallow hard and softly whisper, “I want to see God and live.”

I want to see God and live.

Seed: I feel like I am being urged to look with new eyes, with eyes healed by the Gentle Healer, at all of life, each and every moment. To look for the good, to look for the God in all of it.

Water: Each time I share the beauty and transformation of this book with another soul, I feel as though its truths take deeper and deeper root within my heart. The awareness of His presence, of His good and perfect gifts, of His goodness in all things at all times, has become so acute that it’s almost palpable. I shared it with several people this week, and find myself giddy with excitement when I read passages to them and their eyes light up and I can see they are instantly hungry for more. We all have holes that only His beauty can fill. Sometimes we just need to be reminded to look for it.

Bloom: I am different. I can feel it in many ways, the most obvious of which I notice in the deep inner peace that has settled over me. Along with that has come a deep longing to grow kinder, more gentle, more compassionate, more graceful toward others. I am watching negativism ebb away, my words becoming more aligned with His Word, my joy being made more and more complete.

There is so much to learn, so many ways to grow. This is my time to bloom.

“Suffering nourishes grace, and pain and joy are arteries of the same heart—and mourning and dancing are but movements in His unfinished symphony of beauty.” 
–Ann Voskamp

Ch. 5: All is Grace

I struggled a bit through chapter five, not because of the numerous shadow moments I’ve endured throughout my life, but because of the depth of truth and revelation in the words.

I think back over my life at what the world would consider the darts, the darkness, the dangers.

If I came through

  • Parents divorcing when I was two
  • Being taken from one parent at three
  • Being beaten black and blue by an angry step-father
  • Being kidnapped from the other parent at four and hidden away
  • Living on the run for two years, blue lights always flashing
  • Waking up in a different jail every morning
  • Being given a fake name my memory has since blocked out
  • A car accident that left my skull fused back together with a metal plate
  • Abuse by a family member for six years 
  • Living with far too much freedom for a preteen and paying the price
  • My father dying when I was 12
  • Being told Daddy’s death was my fault because he died of a broken heart
  • Being convinced I didn’t deserve to live
  • An older step-sibling shoving me into drugs and alcohol at 13
  • The first guy I dated at 15 thinking no meant yes
  • Getting pregnant at 16
  • Miscarriage at 11 weeks
  • Watching our newborn daughter take her final breaths in my arms
  • Losing my brother, then my mother 11 months later
  • Half-siblings who just weren’t interested in having a little sister
  • Betrayal by those I called my best friends 
  • Church abuse that left me reeling and confused and broken
  • Grief-triggered depression that threatened to drown me

How can I not focus on the fact that I came through them all?

Was it not His grace that brought me safe thus far?

And how can I not focus on the beauty that God has brought from these ashes?

  • I am healed and whole.
  • I do not carry weighty baggage from my past.
  • I am married to the most precious man God could ever have dreamed up for me.
  • I am a mother–what I always wanted more than anything in the world to be–of five sweet children, and now a grandmother to two.
  • I have had an opportunity not every woman gets: the blessing of homeschooling our children for the past 23 years.
  • All five of our children walk with God.
  • I face each new day knowing I have faced grief and walked through it to the other side.
  • I am a daughter of the Most High God.
  • I have amazing, genuine friends.
  • I have seen brokenness mended and relationships healed and reforged.
  • I have a family that loves and supports one another in ways that are difficult to word.
  • I am supported and celebrated in who I am and encouraged to do what makes me smile.
  • I have experienced a body of Believers who truly “get” what being the Church is really all about.
  • I have enjoyed good health for most of my life.
  • I have known love that I never knew existed.

How could I not say, “All is grace!”?

Seed: God reminded me through chapter five that I have a strong foundation on which to build the belief that my God is with me always, in times of excruciating pain and mountain-top bliss, and all between.

Water: I am seeking out Scripture that bears out the pervasive Grace of God in every moment of life.

Bloom: I am stronger, calmer, and more complete than ever. I feel His presence with me every moment. I’m noticing more and more the difference these changes are making in how I live, how I speak, how I act, how I approach and respond to life. Like the sunrise comes the dawning that His grace truly is sufficient for me.

Scribbling In the Sand

Does a life ever run out of words? Could I ever run out of things to write? Sometimes I feel like there is no ceasing. I write in my head all the time. All the time, the thoughts rush through and dance around my face and through my hair daring me to catch them. I love catching them.

I can’t stop. I can’t stop. I smile at the way my mind wanders and races and slows to ponder and weigh out a thought.

Ann’s words are sometimes too much to measure at once. I read a paragraph, a few sentences, a singular thought and my mind screams, “Stop! Don’t go on yet. Savor. Read again. Understand.”
And so I do. I take the time, much longer than it has ever taken me to read a book, and I quietly pray that God will show me everything He wants me to see. It’s so much more than just me seeing. It’s me sharing. It’s me sowing.
And the mind wanders to how they might have found me. “We found Mama sleeping in her chair, her hands stilled and pale and her writing staring back, the breeze blowing off the Gulf and all the words she had caught and arranged so carefully now floated past where we all as we stood numb.” I grimace at the morbidity and then grin at the whimsy of being an artist and with an over-active imagination.

I can’t imagine not writing any more. Odd how that is harder to imagine than not living any more.

I sit here in a little copse of palm trees while Matt and Rosie tan on a quilt a few feet away, their laughter and playful banter breezing back at volumes going up and down. A friend told me on Sunday that he loves how our family loves one another, that he wants that for his own family—to love like we love. His observation could not have blessed me more.

Tiny granules of white sand accumulate near my computer screen, and I drape my jacket a little farther over it for protection. I can’t help but be a little bit amused at the sight I must present, seated in a chaise lounge under the trees, white sand all around and waves lapping the shore a stone’s throw away, clicking away on my keyboard in dotted sunshine. My mind takes in everything as I grasp at wording it all, feeling rather pitiful in my attempts as the fronds sway above my head and the gulls yawk and screech.

“Are you writing a book, Mom?” Rosie asks me.

“I think maybe I am.” I hear myself answer. And then I think about that. Am I? Steve has been asking me to write one for years, but I always assume it’s just an extension of his love and support of me. He has always celebrated who I am.
Not long ago when he mentioned it for the thousandth time, I quipped, “Ann already wrote it.” He leveled a glare at me and I dodged his playful swat.
And then I started thinking about the writing of a book, and could I do it, and would I have anything to say that others would want to read, particularly enough to want to pay for it in book form. And then I thought about what my “message” is, my approach. What would I write about? Then I thought about how Ann wrote her book on living fully alive every moment, and thanksgiving being the basis for that full living. What do I want to say? What do I want the world to know that is uniquely mine to share?
I’ve been thinking hard about that.
Counting up to a thousand and beyond…
101. New hair growing in where the old falls out
102. Mattie putting away clean dishes
103. Reading to my daughter, then talking about current events
104. Sharing Ann’s writings with people I love
105. The way Andrea thanks God for everything–EVERYTHING–all the time
106. My old trooper of a computer that is hanging tough and is getting a rebuild from good friends
107. Britt hanging out and chatting
108. My new friend Vicki @ A Wild Notion
109. The sweet white-haired angel-man who helped us unlock Luke’s car in the store parking lot
110. Found the tickets!
111. Steve rubbing lotion on my feet
112. Rosie started her own 1,000 Gifts journal

113. Sharing OTG with Lindsey
114. My new book club friend Amy
115. Skyping with Trisha
116. Ellen’s Chocolate Ecstasy recipe
117. Mattie will be home tomorrow for three days
118. You make all things new
119. You let us ask why
120. You write things through Ann and Bobby to show us how to distill the moments in our lives.
121. Your Word
122. My blankie
123. Awareness that everything is Yours
124. You chose me.
125. Scars that remind me of places you have healed
126. Jim and Laura
127. A peaceful heart
128. Beach with teens
129. Writing and reading in the warm sunshine on the beach in February
130. Seeing friends’ faces from far away

Making Sense

“Somehow, in the midst of our mourning, 
the first steps of the dance take place.
Somehow, the cries that well up from our losses
belong to our songs of gratitude.”
–Henri Nouwen

As has become common of late, Ann’s blog inspired me again this morning, her words reaching in, intriguing, drawing out wonderings and questions that delve into the mystery…for what? answers? or maybe just for thinking. Maybe it’s all for the thinking and the thanking and the dawning of some semblance of sense out of things that have happened in this life.

I’m finding that more and more things make sense when I slow down to thank Him for every tiny thing. Because I’m starting to wonder if maybe the “sense” it’s supposed to make isn’t the kind of sense I once looked for.

I’m wondering if maybe this is yet another facet of the paradox that is God.

In my questioning, have I always wanted His answers, or what made sense to my own limited little human brain? Have I sought after His will, His plan, His unfolding of the Mystery…or just some earthly explanation that fit the mores and the preconceptions of my own finite understanding?

I cannot understand God, but I can understand that He is God and I am not.

This is important, I think.

No Small Thing

”  It is no small thing
when they, who are so fresh from God,
love us.”
–Charles Dickens

I have always loved children. My own, other people’s, familiar, strangers, it doesn’t matter. I see a child and I love him or her, effortlessly. This does not make me special. This makes me grateful that I have been given the opportunity to love some rather amazing children throughout my life.

In the spirit of noticing the gifts in every moment, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how my children are no longer children. This is new territory for me. I’ve been a mother for 30 years, and it’s only been the past few that I haven’t had young children running around the house. I find I really miss that.

So I smile at all the kids in the grocery store and exclaim over the cool toys they are holding or the light-up shoes they are kicking in furious tantrum (which almost always stops them mid-fit, much to the relief of their parent) or tell them how epic it is that they are being so helpful to Mama while she shops and how lucky that mama is to have such a great kid. Yeah, I’m a total dork but at 47 I have not only come to accept my dorkiness but to embrace it. It’s part of my irresistible charm. At least that is what I tell myself.

I will always love those who are so fresh from Heaven, whether or not they carry my blood in their veins. So fresh from Heaven, they must still carry a bit of gold-dust in their hair, and it’s lovely glinting when the sun catches it just right.

You never know what these angelic creatures will say or do. Once when Trevor was two, he prayed, “Dear God, thank you for…five, six, nine.” I’m pretty sure God smiled. I did, too. My little prayer warrior is now nearing twenty and as I type is playing a screaming guitar solo and melting all our faces off from the rehearsal room. Now he prays and leads worship for hundreds at a time, still fresh from Heaven and delighted to lead others to the throne in praise.

Stylish Blogger Award

One of my favorite people awarded me the Stylish Blogger Award. Lizzy and I met several years ago through a journaling group, and I have enjoyed doing life alongside her (though at a great distance). I wish to thank her from the bottom of my heart for thinking of me, and for always being so outspokenly supportive of my writing.

Since this is the award that keeps on giving, I am to bestow it upon 7 of my favorite bloggers. It’s hard to pick only 7, but I’ll give it a go. I didn’t pick the more famous ones (who have plenty of awards from people much more important than me), but the ones who, like me, blog their hearts and do their best to stay real on the page so we can all take part in some small way in their lives.

Bev Brandon at The Fray
Bev is one of my favorite writers. I have only known her for a few short weeks, but I already love her. We met through the book study on Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts. Her comments alone read like poetry, so reading her blog is an extra special blessing.

Rhonda Schrock at The Natives Are Getting Restless
Rhonda captured my heart through a comment she made in a discussion of Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts. One visit to her blog was all it took to keep me coming back to read more.

Lady G at A Glance Into My World
Lady G is one of my best friends. We joke that we are twins separated at birth because we are so much alike. I adore her family and everything this precious woman stands for. She is also a vital part of RealHaus and I can’t imagine life without her.

Trisha at Just a Pastor’s Wife
Trisha is a very dear friend whose heart comes through her writing with an authenticity few possess. She’s been through a lot of disappointment in her young life, and reading her blog reminds me that God has our backs even (especially) in the hardest of times–and that we can trust Him always, even when His people let us down.

Carol at artmusedog
I met Carol in the Write, Pray, Love Blogfrog community. Her wit and wisdom are delightful, and I am blessed to have found her in the great big blogosphere.

Suzanne at Random Thoughts By Suzanne
I fully believe one day Suz and I will find out we are related by some bizarre genealogical twist somewhere back in our ancestry. She is dearer to me than I can find words for, so naturally I love reading the thoughts she shares, as random as they might be, as often as possible.


[This entry is still under construction while I gather the appropriate information for linking.]

Living in the Now (Gratefully)

As I wrote out my thoughts on chapter 4 of One Thousand Gifts earlier today, I could feel God here with me. The concept of slowing down, of noticing, of counting blessings, of naming Gifts…these are not entirely new thoughts, but they have certainly been presented in a whole new way. I feel challenged, inspired, invited. How could I say no to this?

My Gifts List Journal is well under way, lying open nearby and waiting for more gifts to be added, and then more and more. A thousand and more, because His gifts cannot be limited. They can, however, be named if we care to notice and put them into words.

I am comfortable alone. I love being with my family, make no mistake. I live for time together, all of us, the noise and music and laughter and silliness a wild and wonderful cacophony ringing through the house. But I also deeply appreciate solitude. I am comfortable alone, because even alone I am not lonely. I feel God with me all the time, talk to Him constantly because living in Him means the Amen never has to come.

I was thinking today about how much I love being at home. Maybe that is one reason why it isn’t difficult for me to notice and describe the simple blessings, the ordinary things that really aren’t ordinary at all: because right here, right now, in the moment, is where I live. Honestly, I think what Ann did for me more than anything was put into words what I’ve been living and feeling for most of my life.

Steve said something interesting to me this evening. “You know…and you can commence the eye-rolling any time now…this writing, this book…it’s what I’ve known you could write for years now.”

I tried really, really hard not to roll my eyes. But I did grin. “I’m not rolling my eyes,” I said. “And I have to say that while I wouldn’t dream of putting myself in the same writer’s camp with Ann, I do think her style is very me.”

He grinned a cute “Ha! I win!” grin.

“Not so fast, mister. I still don’t consider myself worthy to sharpen Ann’s pencils.” That is when he rolled his eyes.

I’ve never met this woman, and I think it’s a safe bet that I never will meet her in person. But I can say with complete honesty that I love her. And part of the reason for that is because she allows herself to be real, to be seen as she truly is. No pretenses or masks, just out there raw and open and vulnerable. No wonder we can all identify with her so completely. She is all of us.

And I really, really do want to be that real. As a writer, and just as a woman. Living in His grace and truth, there is only the real. There is only the now. I have to say it feels good to slow down and be fully present in the moment, thanking God for every good and perfect gift one by one. Ann is right: time really does seem to slow down.

And I like it here.

Ch. 4: Enough Time

God is weaving these happenings together just for me. I can feel it. The timing of what I’m reading, the words that cross my screen, pages of books, utterances of friends known and unknown. He brings these beautiful people who smile as they approach and wave as they walk away. I didn’t know them before, and now I feel as though I do.

I watch the photos change one by one, remembering each face as it comes, remembering even which ones come next on some frames. I know these faces, but I wish I knew their hearts. I long to read their words, all of them, to know what brought them to this time and place, their hurts and their celebrations and challenges and failings and dreams and fears.

Why would He let them come if I am not to know their thoughts?

I read of bubbles and light and children’s laughter and I remember. My throat constricts and I swallow pain wanting the release of weeping. Not yet.

He gave me this time. This time, right now.

Chapter 4 is where I started underlining. I’ve found plenty worthy of highlighting in the first three chapters, but the fourth is where I couldn’t restrain myself and my hand reached out and grabbed my pen and dove for the page.

I was struck while watching the video by the connection between Eucharisteo and Communion. We commonly call “communion” the “eucharist”. I hadn’t made the connection, until now, between what we call “communion”–the breaking of bread and drinking of the cup in remembrance of Him–and close, intimate communication with Him. Communion. Togetherness. In the here and now, this moment.

Life is an emergent sea.

He said, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”

I am all here right now, in this moment with Him, the I AM.

This is where true living happens.
This is where I learn why I live.
This is where I am free to truly love this life.

Ann said, “I just want enough time.”

I found the Family Journal yesterday and read quotes from the kids when they were little, and it hit me hard how precious each thought was and is, how valuable each childlike word. I suddenly feel old and a little lost as I ponder the little one of three quoted moments before now preparing to turn twenty. The years took wing and hurried on too fast and here I am at the dining table brushing teardrops off an old beat-up purple notebook falling apart at the spiraled edges and stained with chocolate.

Bubbles burst and float away. I only have these moments for a too-tiny bit of time. God, why do they have to be so fragile?

Wait. This focus feels all wrong. This isn’t about wishing I could go back and relive and appreciate more. Those moments had their time, and I did appreciate them in the best way I could with what I knew then. I think it’s okay to wish I had known then what I know now, but it won’t help to spend too many moments wishing for what is past, when I could spend those same moments appreciating the sunlight shimmering in the now.

I might be onto something.

Ann: “I just want time to do my one life well.”

What does that mean, “to do my one life well”? How does one live a life well?

Seed: I am gently reminded to grasp at, to be aware of, to describe in vivid detail, to capture and preserve in whatever creative forms possible, to be thankful for…each single moment and the multi-faceted gift it is.

Water: I am constantly, fervently, longingly praying for more awareness, more alertness to the gifts. I want to live fully awake. Fully alive. Fully aware.

Bloom: Thankfulness, joyful gratitude, the resulting grace. That, I think, is how one lives a life well.