Everything Here is Beautiful – a review

Everything Here is BeautifulI remember hearing the term, “Schizophrenia” as a high school student but didn’t understand what it meant. A few years later, as a freshmen in college, I’d sit in a Psychology 101 college class reading about mental illnesses and watching videos of the person afflicted with the illness, as well as their families. I silently prayed that wouldn’t be me or anyone I knew. It seemed like torture.

Twenty years ago, no one really wanted to talk about mental illness. The diagnosed, if they were diagnosed, received drug cocktails and families were lonely. There was no one waving a banner to talk about mental illness in public or otherwise. It was quiet, except for those who were left to deal with the loss, the medications, the relapses and the questions.

It is here in the novel by Mira T. Lee, Everything Here Is Beautiful, we find the fictional story of two sisters dealing with mental illness. Having immigrated to America from China with their newly widowed mother, Lucia, the younger sister, vibrant and adventurous, begins to hear voices, and later recalls the “First time it happened. ‘It,’ the zing.” (168)

Keep reading over on Englewood Review of Books here

Delighting in Sustenance and Company

This seems to be the norm these days. I get home a little early in the day from work, just sit down to what I think will be a quiet hour or two, and then the garage door makes its ascent. What? It’s 2:00pm and my garage door creaks and groans against the old chain pulling it into the ceiling. And my guard goes up, the quiet dreams are literally sucked out the open window and I’m in another full-blown conversation.

This isn’t as upsetting as I’m letting on. My oldest is in the last year of living at home full-time (at least that’s the plan), so I’m pleased with any moment we get together. She showed me who the next Bachelor will be, we exchanged a few comments about our day and she floated out of the room. I barely noticed.

I thought about returning to my plan to rest a while, sit a while, be contemplative for a while, but instead, marched out to the kitchen, through on an apron and went all domestic on my household of six.

It’s uncharacteristically cool for this time of year. Beginning of September in the Midwest won’t typically find you frantically pulling out sweaters and sweatshirts, and bare toes in sandals I’m not ready to put away quite yet, are a little on the shivery side. Knowing this change in temps was coming, I was prepared with everything I needed for my masterpiece, Beef Bourguignon. This recipe makes an appearance twice a year because it takes forever to make and soils piles of large stove top items. I love to cook, but love it even more when someone else does the cleaning up!

This is where I dream I’m cooking this meal – on this red range.

Still, when we sit down to eat, everyone sighs and savors each bite. We actually eat slower because we actually enjoy everything about it. We sit longer, talk longer, laugh longer and our evening spreads out over the course of hours. There’s delight in making this dish and dreaming about time spent together over steaming hot bowls of it.

My eldest knew I was making this, but as she so wistfully made her way into the abyss of her bedroom for the next few hours, I was chopping, browning, pouring, stirring and planning out how to get this done before leaving to pick up my middle son from middle school football.

Her appearance in the kitchen caught her off guard.

Looking around the kitchen filled with dirty pans and the noticing the beginning smells of what would become dinner, she noticed the French bread rising, the stew bubbling in the pot, awaiting its final phase in the hot oven for the next two hours, and the scrubbed potatoes that would eventually be mashed into a delectable fluffiness.

“What did we do to deserve this?” my oldest daughter asked.

“Absolutely nothing!” I replied. Then we both laughed and squeezed each other tight.

Life with a family of six active people doesn’t allow for this kind of meal nightly and not even weekly. I literally prepared our dinner for four hours, interruption free!

It was completely undeserved and completely satisfying in every way. I think I said something about hoping God will serve this dish in eternity every day between bites of tender beef mercifully floating in a bacon infused dark gravy. Words just can’t do this justice.

Earlier today, I told a friend I had read back over a journal of poured out prayers of lament. It was a little depressing how far back I could go with these pleas, these admissions of sin, how I wanted to change but seemed to be fighting a different battle everyday, although some were the same. I confessed to her that there is much to learn in a season of lament, and the hope I have that even in these times of confusion and wondering, there is still joy and delight in the Lord. There is a trust that He will provide.

And as I kneaded, stirred, browned and nearly singed my eyebrows off while pulling crusty French bread from a 450 degree oven, I delighted in the smells of good food filling my house, I delighted in the time around the table that would ensue, I delighted in the God who created it all, the sustenance and the company.

He created it all and He delights in me, even when I am grieving, especially then, as well as when my pride-filled heart spews onto pages once white and clean and pure. Here He meets my deepest need to be honest, humble and heard.

And what have I done to deserve this? Absolutely nothing!

My middle child, home from a long day of school, then volunteering at the local library, then a leadership meeting at church finally gets to eat her brief bowl of culinary heaven on earth. Bursting into my bedroom, I’m met with full on hug and exclamation, “Mom, it’s just the best!”

And I smile, undeservingly with delight in all He’s perfectly given me to enjoy.

The lament, the grief, the sustenance and the company.

What She Was Saying – a review

woman 2

Each day we cross paths with someone that is saying something. It may be an actual conversation with audible words, but sometimes, there are no words –just signals, signs or even silence. The experiences of a life, the beautiful and the tragic, can become tangled in a mind, showing itself in the actions, attitudes and behaviors of a person. And because there is this event, sometimes with words, sometimes a memory, sometimes with subtle speechless revelation, the only way we can know is to notice, to remember and to give honor to what is uttered out loud or in silence…

Wrestling with these stories based on real life events and scripture, I found myself wondering about the lives of those I pass and what they are really saying to me. Read the rest of this post over at Englewood Review of Books, by clicking here.



“O death, where is your victory?

O death, where is your sting?”

 1 Corinthians 15:55

There was blood everywhere. The ground was covered with dark, red blood. You could see it staining the rubble, the broken pieces of what was once an Egyptian church. This was the news the day after Palm Sunday. Two churches bombed, 44 killed. I have no frame of reference for this, but I’m imagining a unbound fear runs freely. I’ve heard Easter services are cancelled.

And I wondered about this victory?

A few months ago, a different bomb went off in the lives of a family I know. A phone call told me a young man I cared about had died, an overdose the cause. There was an overwhelming anguish in my spirit. And then memories; he knew Jesus, he was baptized, he was loved. I told myself, “He is safe now.”  And while I know there is victory, it’s hard to say it. It’s too early to see it.

It can take a long time for our hearts to catch up with our heads to catch up with our souls. Graciously, God is patient with us. We know Jesus has won. He has utterly vanquished the sting and permanency of death forever. We know this, and yet, death hurts us deeply. It’s violent separation can be unbearable.

It is for this very reason, this separation from our loving Creator God, that Christ died, crushing the eternal sting of death, giving us the victory to live in this day. That’s the victory – with Christ, there is no more separation, there is no more death for those who call on him as savior and friend.

So while our hearts catch up with our heads and catch up with our souls, we can cry out, stand up to our fears, and move on in our grief, because Jesus Christ won. He is our Victory!

Starting With a Gray Smudge

ash wednesday:

Somewhere in my little girl, growing up years, I began to believe my Baptist church was “doing it right. I placed a high value on being “right” in my faith, overlooking and often ignoring Jesus’s plea for righteousness through him.

And so that little girl mind of mine grew up with some pretty self-righteous thoughts about what the church should believe and do. And I was going along just fine, until I fell in love with a boy whose family was Methodist on one side and Catholic on the other. I wasn’t worried, the Methodists were ok. They had a fabulous midnight Christmas Eve service.

Read the rest of the story  here on the Fourward blog.


Where We Are Meant To Be


In Christ there is no east or west, in Him no south or north, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth.

 John Oxenham

It’s a nice thought isn’t it?

This great fellowship of love stretching itself around the world, making loops and crisscrossing the globe, touching everyone.

It’s true. This is the way of Jesus, his love finding us wherever we are. His red blood dripping down on us, into us. We embrace it and say, “Hallelujah! I’m saved!”

And then what?

Because Christ restores the peace between God and us, we now go and, “…are Christ’s ambassadors…” to this message of reconciliation and peace, (2 Corinthians 5:20).

And some of us will go and tell, unable to hold back such a beautiful ministry of reconciliation. But for others, it is an uneven road, because while we are forgiven and reconciled, we have much to forgive and reconcile with each other. This world is filled with high rocked walls of entitled rights and petty preferences, abuse and forgotten-ness. Yes, even the church looks like this.

Read the complete post from Janna Lynas on the Fourward blog.


After Christmas Let Down

I was stuck.

This was just yesterday, but slowly,  I’m crawling out of the sinking hole I found myself in 24 hours ago.

And this is how I found myself in that hole:

There was the taking down of the tree which had to be done since the tree hadn’t taken on any water since the day we bought it. Evidently it was a big bother to everyone else, but mother prevailed and somehow managed to persuade the boys to come and locate their ornaments before my husband literally sawed it limb from limb from the middle of the living room.

There was also the taking down of two small artificial trees and a few other decorations around the house. The plan – to get it all done by noon and still have plenty of time to break out the new popover pan and planner I got for Christmas while trotting from my kitchen to my office with my new, cozy slippers. It would all be done and I would get all that I wanted.

It never happened.

The sun was consumed by the clouds by noon. The boxing and putting away of all things Christmas rested firmly on my shoulders while everyone else around me put puzzles together, played endless hours of video games and asked me when lunch would be ready. Seriously? Lunch? The grey clouds outside seeped through the vents and rolled over my attitude as well.

Late afternoon I thought I saw some clearing and perhaps God looking on me with favor, when my oldest quietly crept into the downstairs, heaved a long sigh, and said, “I need a hobby… (big sigh).” So, as her mother, I encouraged her to not just shop for things already made, but to try her hand at making those things instead. All of which earned me a trip to town. I did my best to want to be there, and I did really want to be there with my daughter, I just had things calling me elsewhere. Like here.

Dinner time magically appeared, made mostly by my husband. After twenty years of marriage, he can recognize when I’m feeling foul and need him to step up and care for me with barbecue chicken and mashed potatoes, cleaning the dishes and otherwise leaving me the heck alone.

And so he did.

And so I folded up my plans and my dreams for the day. Football bowling, video gaming and puzzling wreaked from the living room and still, even after being cared for, the grey cloud hung around, refusing to leave.

At this point, all that could cure me was a good talk with God and a documentary.

And so I did both. God and I met in the semi-quiet of my bedroom (I could still hear the reactions from the football game) with a plea for time and courage to put myself aside and be a wife and mother. Then I found a great documentary called Minimalism, which was just what I needed to help dig through the greed I witnessed before and after Christmas. I mean, who was more minimal than Jesus?

And as I went to bed last night, I was light. I looked back at all that was accomplished and remembered this life, it’s not just for me. This Christmas let-down heaviness that felt like wearing shoes with lead soles wasn’t something that lasted. There was a promise that ran deeper and fuller and clearer. I remembered what it was. This meeting the immediate call of my day and embracing it. The hope that tomorrow would be new and the work accomplished today for others might clear a path for the other unique ways I am made. God has declared that he has great plans for me and my future (Jeremiah 29:11), and I rested easy last night in the knowledge and grace of this truth.

It’s all blue sky and a brilliant sun today. I’ve made those Rosemary popovers and I’ve planned and looked ahead to the new year coming soon. I’ve reflected and wrote about where I’ve been and what I hope for in 2017. Mercifully, I’ve been given hours for this and I am thankful.

I know it won’t all be according to what I want (“We plan the way we want to live…), but I know it will be good (…but only God makes us able to live it.” Proverbs 16:9). And I wouldn’t have it any other way.