“To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair.” Isaiah 61:3

“I smell snow”, I said, channeling my inner Lorelai Gilmore, as I await tomorrow’s possible storm. Snow always evokes a sense of wonder for me. It coats the dead brown grass with a white blanket that sparkles with the sun’s reflections. It outlines the tree branches, more starkly defining their shapes. It muffles all the noise, creating serenity with a bit of magic. Lewis Carroll asks, ‘“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up so snug, you know, with a white quilt, and perhaps it says, “Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.”’ Like Carroll’s description, snow conjures a sleepiness with the hope of summer flitting through my dreams.

A few days ago, two little girls and I made paper snowflakes. As we folded the paper, cut out the intricate patterns, and decorated them, I shared with them that God made every snowflake unique. I later read to them the Caldecott Medal Award picture book, “Snowflake Bentley” by Jacqueline Briggs Martin. The book tells the story of Wilson Bentley, a young Vermont farm boy who loved snow. He later grew up wanting to document individual snowflakes through photography. After many failed attempts, he is credited with the first photographs of individual snowflakes. He also discovered, over the course of years, that no two snowflakes were alike, despite most having six branches. He believed that wind, temperature and humidity all shaped the design of each individual snowflake. He spent his whole life trying to document snow because he “found that snowflakes were masterpieces of design. No design was ever repeated. When a snowflake is melted…just that much beauty was gone without leaving any record behind.”

Wilson Bentley’s beautiful photographs of snow didn’t happen by luck. He studied his craft, learning to use a knife to cut away all the dark parts of the negative. He also recognized that his own breath could destroy the perfect snowflake he was trying to document. He was devoted to his art, telling friends he couldn’t miss a storm because “he never knew what treasures he would miss.” He also didn’t count the cost, spending almost $15,000 on his craft, while only earning about $4,000 from the sales of his book and slides. Yet, his work has endured, influencing future photographers and naturalists.

Bentley chose storms over comfort. His life ended after walking six miles in a blizzard to capture more snowflakes and later developing pneumonia. Storms were not his enemy, but rather opportunities to see something beautiful and unique. Considering how Wilson Bentley lived his life, I doubt he would have regretted that final walk.

All too often, I fail to live my life like that. Yes, a cataclysmic storm of abuse and trauma raged through my childhood. But after becoming a Christian, I believed I would face only minor storms. I planned and had contingencies protecting me and my loved ones from any major storms. I falsely concluded that if I did A and B, then C would automatically result. Yet, as carefully as I planned and as rigidly as I controlled, major storms have happened. My only options were to let the storms destroy me, or let God, through the storms, create something unique and beautiful. Ultimately, the type of change they made in me was my choice.

Isaiah prophesies about the Messiah in chapter 61, foretelling that Jesus would heal those who are oppressed. He then tells what Jesus would do with that oppression, exchanging beauty for ashes, joyous blessing for mourning, and festive praise for despair. He also talks about rebuilding, reviving, and possessing “a double portion of prosperity in your land and everlasting joy”. The chapter is full of the good news of Jesus despite storms and oppression.

Mary, a friend of mine, was diagnosed with breast cancer last October. By all accounts, she would be the first to testify that she had the best-case scenario for a positive outcome. Yet, this storm has caused her discomfort, pain, and unbelievable fatigue when going through radiation. She is in her final days of radiation, but still faces a few hard weeks of side effects along with a new medicine with its own potential side effects. Despite all the pain, Mary shows up for church and life group with a smile on her face. She and her husband, Dave, worship God with “festive praise”, trusting in God’s goodness. Neither of them would ever have chosen this journey, yet, they believe it has increased their faith and trust. The design of this intricate snowflake they are allowing God to create in the midst of this storm is a testimony to their daughters, grandchildren, and friends. They can truly tell others about the goodness of God!

But in the case of my mother-in-law, Eva Jane, who was also diagnosed with breast cancer six years ago, her outcome was not a best-case scenario. After a double mastectomy and radiation, my mother-in-law died under hospice care five years ago this February. I vividly remember my last phone call with her. I was about to let her go, thinking she was too weak to carry on, but she asked me to stay on the line. Whispering, she asked me to talk about God. I shared with her the impact her prayers had on my life and on my children. I thanked her for raising her son, my husband, to be a kind and generous man of God. I reminded her about how she had remained strong in all of this, believing in God’s faithfulness. I told her that this wasn’t goodbye but see you later. In her rasping voice, she started repeating her signature phrase that every family member can remember her speak in her distinctive tone, “Thank you, Jesus.” She, too, was a beautiful snowflake created during her storm through this simple phrase. It is reflected in those of us who loved her by leaving us with a joyous blessing instead of mourning.

I am hoping for snow tomorrow. I look forward to going outside, walking in the crunchy snow, catching a flake or two on my tongue. As I shovel our driveway, I am going to thank God for his goodness, his ability to create beauty in storms. And I am also going to thank God for both Mary and Eva Jane, and so many more, who allowed God to create beauty in their storms.

Logs vs Slivers

“And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32

I introduced Moses and the burning bush to my Sunday School students when I noticed a few of the boys looking at my feet. I looked down and instantly realized what they were staring at: the knobby bunions protruding out between my sandal straps. One boy, without any guile, blurted out, “Do you have tumors on your feet?” I decided to set the record straight that I had an autoimmune disorder that affected my joints, including my feet, resulting in bunions, hammertoes, and nodules. I spoke without shaming the boys, knowing that this was an honest question and, as one boy stated in the past, “Wow, I thought your feet were uglier than my mom’s.” Children are naturally curious and draw conclusions without understanding possible underlying medical conditions or social protocols. I wanted to be honest and talked for a few minutes and then moved on in the lesson. Soon the students’ attention was back on the burning bush, not on my deformed feet.

I am conscious of my feet and their deformities. Often, after wearing shoes all day, the bunions can be painful and swollen. I have difficulty finding shoes that are comfortable yet stylish. Surgery is an option, but even that has its potential pitfalls. But despite all these challenges, I am thankful that my feet are still able to get me from where I need to go.

It’s easy to be conscious of something obvious like the two-inch bunions on my feet, but harder to be aware of some of my internal shortcomings like selfishness, a judgmental attitude, and labeling of others. Like the boys in my Sunday school class, it’s easier to point out what I see as a fault or character flaw in others, than it is to look at myself and see my own faults and flaws.

Several times in the last few months, God has quietly addressed some of my personal shortcomings while I have been venting to my husband or friends about some frustrations. Every time I spewed unkind or judgmental words from my mouth, God, in his kindness, gave me some epiphanies about myself. While complaining about someone’s lack of generosity with their time, He reminded me that, although I am generous with my time, I can be selfish with my limited finances. While expressing judgement of an expensive purchase someone made, despite their complaints about their limited budget, God reminded me of foolish purchases I have made. And when someone misread my expression as frustrated, I was reminded of the times I have mislabeled my husband as angry or moody. In all these situations, God, in his kindness, has led me to repentance.

God calls us to sacrifice even out of our limitations, to pray for others and show grace, and finally, to show curiosity instead of labeling someone. All these actions require us to be honest about areas where we find it hard to give, pause before talking, pray sincerely for others, and take the time to really listen to others. Yet, instead of those things, my judgmental attitude erupts quickly, just like the young man who blurted out about the “tumors” on my feet. But instead of acting out of a place of innocence, these attitudes flow from years of me thinking that I am right. I easily draw conclusion about others, without internally evaluating myself.

The Bible addresses this failure with a harsh but true word: hypocrite. Even the sound of the word is harsh and staccato to my ears. As a teenager, I recognized the demeaning nature of that word when I hurled the insult at my stepfather, calling him a hypocrite because he was against drugs but had an obvious alcohol problem. Jesus, the only one who can legitimately use this word, uses it to address those of us who point out the “tiny speck” in a friend’s eye when we have a beam in our own eye. My husband envisions a person walking around with a log sticking out of their eye, banging into everyone around them while pointing out a sliver in someone’s pinky.

It may be funny, but this comedic image reflects the sad state of my heart. I discussed this rigid judgmental attitude in last week’s post, “Views” but it prevails across all areas of my life, not just my views on social justice issues, but also how I treat, or think about, others. Empathy is a trait I have consciously cultivated over the years. But in moments of frustration, or when I feel misrepresented, my judgmental heart comes out swinging and I “vent”!

Venting itself is not wrong. It’s important to have a good ventilation system in your home.  It keeps the air fresh and healthy indoors. Good ventilation helps remove unwanted moisture, odors, gases, dust, and other pollutants. And, on a personal level, we need to be able to talk about frustrations and problems we are experiencing. But I need to do so in way that is not tearing down someone else. This is hard and I am not always good at it.

What I am learning is that empathy is easy to apply when the situation doesn’t personally involve you, but less easy when it affects you. Those are the moments when I need to pause. I can address frustrations using “I” statements. I need to examine why I feel frustrated and get to the heart of the issue. In each of the above situations, I had what I deemed were legitimate frustrations, but in examining the reasons for the frustrations, I discovered some hard facts. In one situation, I had pride in the time I offered towards others. In another, I was frustrated that God hadn’t answered a prayer. I also discovered I had no problem labeling others, but I didn’t like having my expressions or actions being misinterpreted. In each of these situations, I discovered my own flawed humanity, placing me humbly at the feet of Jesus. This position of humility can only increase my empathy and keep my personal ventilation system healthy.

The last two books I read have shed light on the beam in my own eye. Sue Klebold’s “A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy” helped me see the other side of the Columbine Massacre. The mother of one of the shooters shares candidly the responsibility she feels and holds her son to with the unfailing love of a mother. It helped me see that good parents can raise children who do horrible things.

Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” is changing my view on those in prison and how they are treated. One story that stood out is that of a victim, Debbie Baigre. She suffered a gunshot wound to the jaw, resulting in losing some teeth along with painful damage. Her shooter, Ian Manuel, thirteen years old when he committed the crime, was tried as an adult and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. He spent the next eighteen years in uninterrupted solitary confinement. After calling Baigre to apologize for his crime, the two developed a relationship that resulted in her advocating for leniency and voicing that the conditions of his incarceration were inhumane.

When reading about these situations, I can see how I have misjudged and mistreated my friends in minor frustrations. Can I learn to be as vulnerable as Sue Klebold is in her book when facing harsh scrutiny? Can I show as much as grace as Debbie Baigre when I have been wounded? How do I choose not to be a hypocrite? The apostle Paul answers this question in his letter to the Ephesians by saying, “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you with all malice.” This is what my unhealthy venting sounds like. He continues with, “Be ye kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” When I remember how my God graciously forgave me, how can I, in good conscience, help but treat others with more grace? The answer: I can’t!


“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding;” Proverbs 3:5

It was dark as we headed to Rosendale, Wisconsin. Shadowy voids of farmland passed by, with the occasional flickering farmhouse lights to break up the lack of scenery. I stared out the window, with nothing to occupy my thoughts. Suddenly, we crested a mountain-like hill, and I stared straight ahead with wonder. Below me, the city of Fond Du Lac blazed with lights, appearing larger than reality. It was an amazing sight for a young girl growing up in rural Wisconsin. Not to disparage my friends who live in Fond Du Lac, but I no longer see this hill as one of the wonders of the world as did my nine-year-old self.

So often, our sense of reality is shaped by our experiences. At that point in my life, the farthest I had ever traveled was to Chippewa Falls in northern Wisconsin, and Milwaukee was the biggest city I had experienced. When our experiences are limited, smaller things seem larger. This distortion shapes our worldview and color our opinions. It also helps create divisions between us and others.

For two years, I have been wrestling with how my faith intersects with my political worldview. For years, I drank the Kool-Aid, believing that a certain party aligned more with the actions and words of Jesus. It shaped how I viewed marginalized people, immigrants, and issues like poverty. And as I listened to only one side of the debate, my views became more entrenched. I was convinced and spouted the dogma, without engaging in research.

But when the pandemic shut the world down and social justice issues came to the forefront, my beliefs were challenged. It was at this same time, that I was also reconstructing my faith. I examined my faith through the Bible, paying particular attention to the words and actions of Jesus and his followers. Jesus’ compassion for marginalized people jumped out at me. Time and time again, Jesus chose to spend time with those who society ignored, like the Samaritan woman at the well and the woman caught in adultery exploited by the religious leaders. His closest disciples were men and women who society didn’t hold in high regard: fisherman, prostitutes, and tax collectors. He broke social norms by elevating women through simple interactions. His followers carried on his mission by addressing how we should handle widows, the fatherless, and foreigners.

The more I pay attention to the life of Jesus, the more I desire to be like him. Last fall at a MOPS meeting, the speaker admonished us to pray, “Jesus, let my heart break for what breaks your heart.” Immediately, my mind jumped to Jesus speaking to his disciples about when the King came in judgment. He told the righteous, “when I was hungry, you gave me food, when I was thirsty, you gave me drink, and when I was a stranger, you took Me in.” The righteous were confused and didn’t remember seeing the King under those circumstances. But Jesus replied that when they did this to the least of them, the marginalized, they were seeing Jesus. Conversely, the King asked another group to depart, because they ignored those who needed food, shelter, and clothing for the same reason.

Jesus cares about those around us who are in need. He is not interested in my pontifications on my beliefs and philosophies on social justice issues. He wants me to act with compassion in tangible ways. He finds my excuses empty and stinky and finds my actions more representative of where my heart is. My compassion can’t be based on what I get from it, rather it needs to be done with a spirit of generosity. In 1 John 3:17, the apostle John asks how the love of God can be in someone if he or she doesn’t show pity upon others. In Hebrews 13:16, Paul reminds the church to do good and to share with others.

There are so many issues that break Jesus’ heart: domestic abuse, homelessness, rape, human trafficking, elder abuse, the foster care system, drug addiction, and so much more. It’s overwhelming and I sometimes don’t even know where to start. This month, I am spending some time in prayer, asking God to lead to me somewhere I can volunteer to help others, and then I will take my first step.

Additionally, I will continue to examine my views through a Biblical lens. There are a lot of Christians who are interested in social justice issues, and I need to open my previously closed mind to another perspective. I can do this through reading books and listening to podcasts that explain the other side of current social issues, including diving into the historical context.

So, where do I stand politically? How do I know where God’s truth lies when there are Christians on both sides articulating radically different points of view supported by scripture? Can Christians do good works and still be short sighted on issues of race, poverty, and immigration? How can I make sure I am not being deceived by one side or the other? And once I draw a conclusion or take a stand, what if I am wrong?

I don’t have answers for any of these questions. But I heard a thought attributed to C.S. Lewis that I have been unable to verify. The idea is to hold firmly to the truth we know today, but be humble enough that, when new information presents itself tomorrow, I can shift and be willing to change. I think it’s a good model to live my life.

Five Books, 2 Podcasts and 2 Shows

“An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.” Proverbs 18:15

Being old school, I don’t readily embrace fads or new technology. I didn’t get my first cell phone until 2011, I don’t know how to send a GIF, and I only recently started streaming media. This carries over into my reading life as well with a dusty Kindle on my nightstand beneath a stack of actual books. I also kept saying “no” to the idea of audiobooks, inwardly judging that listening wasn’t reading.

In June, I opened my Goodreads app to the notification, “You have read only 13 of the 70 books you set for your goal.” At the same time, my husband informed me that he was about to crest 200 books on his list of books read. He accomplished this partly by listening to audiobooks. Not happy with my reading life, I decided to give audio a try, putting aside my judgmental attitude.

With my earbuds in, I listened to my first book. I soon found myself enchanted with the spoken words, laughing aloud. I finished one book and quickly found another. I still have a stack of books both on my end table and on my nightstand. But I find listening to audiobooks is a way to fill in spaces where I would normally be unable to read, like car rides and house cleaning. I particularly enjoy modern fiction and memoirs as audio books.

I finished the year by surpassing my goal, reading 73 books. I love writing this annual post but had a hard time whittling it down to just five books. Overall, I saw a pattern in my reading. I am still reading cookbooks, exploring cultures through food, along with the addition of chef biographies. I read three books about death, all memoirs, that were sad but lifegiving as well. I discovered Louise Penny and her Inspector Gamache series, and I hope to become a completist this year. I continued my love of poetry by completing two anthologies.

I also noticed what I wasn’t reading. I read a few naturalist books, but not as many as in the past. I read no history or historical biographies. I also didn’t read any classics and my theological reading was light. Don’t get me wrong, I read the books my soul needed this year, but I want to widen my reading for 2023.

So, here is my list…insert drum roll or confetti falling from your ceiling. Remember, these are not in any particular order.

  1. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman. This book has two main characters, seven-year-old Elsa, and her eccentric grandmother. Both are quirky, along with the rest of the cast. The story had me laughing and crying throughout, sometimes simultaneously. The pieces don’t come together till the end, but I end up believing Grandma’s motto “Only different people change the world.” I loved Backman’s A Man Called Ove and intend to read the rest of his works. Note to sensitive readers, it does have some language.
  2. Know My Name by Chanel Miller. If I could require one book for every high school student to read before graduation, I would put this at the top of my list. This book chronicles the harrowing rape and aftermath of Chanel Miller by a Stanford athlete. This case hit national news when it went to trial and Chanel faced public harassment because she was intoxicated. It addresses the injustices of our criminal justice system and how rape victims are also put on trial based on their potential level of intoxication, style of dress, and whether she screamed “NO”. Chanel says, “My pain was never more valuable than his potential.” She described the effects of being raped in a poignant way that will resonate with all victims. “My damage was internal, unseen, I carry it with me. You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice.” With sexual assault statistics as high as they are, this book will surely resonate with you or a loved one. As a victim myself, it has helped me see how damaging the victim-shaming continues to be.
  3. Waymaker: Finding the Way to the Life You’ve Always Dreamed Of by Ann Voskamp. Voskamp remains one of my favorite writers with her carefully chosen poetic prose. Her vulnerability about her marriage and adoption resonated with me. Through this vulnerability, she leads you back to Christ and wholeness. She writes, “The deeper I trust the sovereignty of God, to accept and receive whatever He gives, the deeper my intimacy with God.” She helped me sum up my own marriage with these words, “There’s an old love that sees with a kind of holy double vision-that remembers a young lover in all their seeming infallibility and sees your aged lover in all their beautiful humanity.” This will be a reread!
  4. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver. This book was written in 2007 and still resonates today. Kingsolver is a fictional writer, but this non-fiction work is about her family’s commitment to eating local. Imagine giving up oranges and bananas, and truly eating seasonally. Her family did just that, and not only survived but thrived. Because they were not relying on packaged food and fast food, her family connected with cooking. She discovered, “Households that have lost the soul of cooking from their routines may not know what they are missing: the song of a stir-fry sizzle, the small talk of clinking measuring spoons, the yeasty smell of rising dough, the painting of flavors onto a pizza before it slides into the oven.”
  5. Rembrandt is in the Wind: Learning to Love Art through the Eyes of Faith by Russ Ramsey. I finished this audiobook on December 30 and knew immediately it belonged on this list. The book explores goodness, truth, and beauty through nine different artists and their works. Not academic in approach, Ramsey uses story to enrapture you with these faith principles, inspiring you to find a local art museum and explore. Furthermore, he helps convey a truth, that beauty can be created even within the broken lives of artists because they bear the image of a perfect God.

Honorable Mentions: In His Image by Jen Wilkin; Grandma Gatewood’s Walk by Ben Montgomery; I Guess I Haven’t Learned that Yet by Shauna Niequist; The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan; and Call Us What We Carry by Amanda Gorman.

I continue to be an avid podcast listener, often binge-listening to a new one I have discovered. I want to briefly share two that I have found inspiring.

  1. Confronting Christianity by Rebecca McLaughin and Ken Worley. This is a new podcast with only 12 episodes to date. They deal with hard issues the church faces through a balanced theological lens. It has helped me solidify some of my beliefs.
  2. BEMA Discipleship by Marty Solomon and Brent Billings. A dear friend recommended this podcast, saying it forever changed how she reads the Bible. They look at the Bible from the same perspective as it was written, exploring the Jewish world. This world is not based on logic like ours but on stories and experience. I have only listened to a few and am hooked. I highly recommend starting at Season One.

Finally, I am going to do something new this year. I am going to recommend two shows that I have watched that have made my life more beautiful.

  1. Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy. Tucci explores the twenty separate regions of Italy through their unique foods. It weaves together history, art, and folklore with beautiful cinematography.
  2. The Chosen. Recommended by enthusiastic friends, we finally downloaded the free app in October, and binged the first two seasons. It is a series about Jesus and his disciples. You get a glimpse of the humanity of Jesus and the brokenness of his disciples. It may take a few episodes to hook you, but I promise it well.

This is one of my favorite posts to write each year. As a reader, listener and now watcher, I am always looking for a new book, podcast, and shows. Feel free to drop your favorites in the comments and maybe they will find their way onto my list next year!