Category Archives: Being Sam

Fourth Sunday of Advent

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Love is not in the Christmas story. Not the word, “love,” anyway. The word love is not typically included in those statements one gets from the Social Security Administration, either, and yet I once found love there. Curious, isn’t it? Let’s start with that bureaucratic document.

I was around 20 when I came across one of those statements the Social Security Administration sends out a month or two before a person’s birthday, listing income earned in each year worked. It was my mom’s statement, and though it was none of my business, I read it. I noticed a particular year had markedly more income than the years around it. I remembered that my mom had worked through the summer that year, in the run-up to opening a new school. Then I remembered Christmas that year. I remembered my jaw dropping that Christmas morning as I saw the gifts we received, including a go-kart that we used for years to dig ruts in the yard. I was old enough at the time to wonder how our family could afford the gifts we received that year. I felt a mixture of gratitude and a sense that we didn’t deserve what seemed like extravagance. (You can see in this picture that my only visible feeling was surliness. This is but one proof that there is more to middle schoolers than meets the eye.)

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When I found the social security statement years later, I felt those things all over again. I also felt loved. It was crystal clear: when my mom had gained extra resources, she used them to give. As with all love received, it had nothing to do with deserving, and all to do with the heart of the giver. And, though I felt the love in the form of a go-kart one Christmas morning, I didn’t really understand it until I saw that statement. The pieces came together when I looked backwards.

What does that have to do with love and the original Christmas story? Perhaps it illustrates how we simply don’t see the whole picture of any story as it is unfolding. Sometimes, there is a need to look backwards to discover the love.

I’ve been thinking this week about two people looking back on the story of Jesus: Mary, His mother, and John, His disciple.

Consider two statements about Mary found in Luke’s story of Jesus’ birth and childhood. After the shepherds visited, “Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often” (Luke 2:19, NLT). After losing Jesus in the shuffle of travel when He was 12, and then finding him engaged in earnest conversation with the rabbis, “…his mother stored all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51b, NLT). But if she stored all those things, and thought about them often, how do we know? How did Luke find out? We have a clue in John’s Gospel.

“Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, ‘Dear woman, here is your son.’ And he said to this disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from then on this disciple took her into his home”
(John 19:25-27, NLT).

Mary lived with John after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Luke interviewed the eyewitnesses and written accounts of Jesus’ life (Luke 1:1-4). He alone included details that only Mary could have known. Though Catholic and Protestant, and Eastern and Western churches have different traditions about how long and where Mary lived after Jesus’ resurrection, the fact that she lived with John is clear in Scripture. So, either Luke interviewed Mary directly, or he interviewed John, who lived with Mary for at least some number of years. We know she cherished all those moments in the Christmas story because she told someone that she did. We know those details because she told the story in hindsight, after everything else in Jesus’ earthly ministry was accomplished. I wonder how often, in the years of Jesus’ ministry and afterwards, Mary caught her breath as she understood in some new way how all the pieces fit together. How did all the knowing and not yet knowing play out in the rest of her earthly life? I love to imagine her telling the story of her visit to Elizabeth, or Jesus’ birth, or what it could possibly have been like to watch Him hang on that cross when she had once held him as a baby in her arms.

I have thought about John this week, because he wrote the Gospel that shows the love in the Christmas story. To us, the four Gospels are finished works, parts of a whole, but that is not how they came to be. Matthew, Mark, and Luke were all written near the same time, almost certainly within 30 years of Jesus’ departure for Heaven. John wrote His Gospel around 90 AD. So, will you imagine that with me for a moment? For years after Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, His story was first passed on through the oral teachings of His disciples, and then recorded by eyewitnesses and Luke, who interviewed the eyewitnesses. But there was no Gospel of John. That means there was no love in the Christmas story for a really long time. John seems to have written purposely to supplement the original Gospels, and to tie all the pieces together with love. Matthew, Mark, and Luke mentioned the word love an average of 9 times each. John used the word love 39 times in His Gospel. Including these…

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins” (1 John 4:9-10).

If those things were true at the cross of Christ, they were also true at the manger. John looked back across time and saw love all through the story. What do you see?

Here is a thought experiment for this week. Slowly read each scene in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2. At each one, ask yourself, “where do I see love in this story?” So, for example:

  • In the angelic announcements, where do I see love?
  • In Joseph’s decision not to leave Mary, where do I see love?
  • In Mary’s response to the angel, where do I see love?
  • In the shepherds, where do I see love?
  • In the magi, where do I see love?
  • In Zechariah and Elizabeth, where do I see love?

And so on. Count on the fact that John was right, and look backwards to find God’s love in the story of His Son.

And then, in light of that story, look back over your own. Where do you find love? Where is it missing? The season of Advent calls us to savor the love and lament its absence. May we be faithful this week to do both.


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Second Friday of Advent

Christmas is for Idiots…and for the Women They Harm

I didn’t understand sexual harassment until I experienced it. I started my career in a public school system in the 1990’s, and I sat through multiple trainings about how to spot sexual harassment and what to do if it happened. At the time, I shook my head and thought a bunch of rules weren’t going to stop truly harmful behavior. And they didn’t. But I came to see that they were needed.

I was an earnest, even zealous, young teacher. I cared about making a difference and doing the right thing no matter what. I expected the people around me to care about the same things. I was naive. Into that naiveté stepped an idiot. A young, aspiring administrator, he stopped me in the office one day to “ask my opinion” about a particular student behavior. I remember how seriously I took his question, and how carefully I began to listen so I could help. It was a setup. His next line revealed the whole thing to be a crude, sexually-oriented joke. I remember freezing, feeling foolish that I had let him trick me, and feeling disgusted. I did nothing and I said nothing in the moment. He suffered no consequences. He took advantage of what he knew of my character and personality and spoke words that, looking back, were a violation. How I wish I would have slugged him, or marched straight to the principal’s office, or told him off right there in the teacher mailroom. But I didn’t. And I can feel the sting of it nearly 20 years later.

That sting gives me the smallest of windows into the wounds of women who have suffered sexually at the hands of men. As both a friend and a therapist, I have listened to women tell their stories of abuse, rape, and incest. I have heard the shame and powerlessness with which they struggle for years. I have watched them wrestle through what it means to both hold the perpetrators accountable, and forgive for the sake of their own souls. If ever there were an area in which the darkness of our world was clear, the terrible realm of sexual violence is it.

That realm includes women in the genealogy of Jesus. I summarize them here, but I urge you to read their stories in Scripture. What they suffered should be remembered.

Tamar (Genesis 38) was married to an evil man. He died, and, by the custom and law of that time, she was then married to his brother, a self-serving man. He died, too. The next brother was not old enough to marry, so her father-in-law, Judah, sent her back to her parents with no means of supporting herself beyond their care. Years went by, and nothing changed. Finally, Tamar posed as a prostitute and slept with Judah, though he didn’t know who she was. When she became pregnant, he declared she should be burned for being unfaithful.  She revealed to him that he was the father, and, finally, he understood: “She is more righteous than I…” (38:26). The greater treachery, the greater betrayal, was on the part of the man who had power and responsibility enough to provide for her. Her children, born from this complicated and fraught union, carried on the line that led to Jesus.

Further along that line, Bathsheba also suffered at the hands of a powerful man. She was married, and her husband was away at war. King David, who should have been away at war (2 Samuel 11-12) saw her bathing and commanded that she be brought to him so he could have sex with her. In that culture, in that time, Bathsheba’s choice was to comply or die – the king’s word was law. That is not really a choice. Can you imagine what that was like for her? Can you imagine what is what like as she walked back to her house afterwards? Or when she discovered she was pregnant? The consequences she suffered because of David’s wicked choice were dire: she lost her husband and mourned for him (2 Samuel 11:26); she became David’s wife whether she wanted to or not (11:27); she lost the baby born of that disastrous encounter (12:15-24). The writer of 2 Samuel is clear about the responsibility for all of this: “But the thing that David had done was evil in the sight of the LORD” (11:27b). Bathsheba’s next child was Solomon, a great king and also part of the lineage of Jesus Christ. She was also presumably present for the ongoing wreckage that David’s sin caused in his family as the years went by. Incestuous rape, fratricidal revenge, civil war (2 Samuel 13-19). I struggle to imagine a life more acquainted with darkness than Bathsheba’s.

Tamar and Bathsheba are part of the genealogy of Jesus Christ. So are Judah and David. The family tree of Jesus Christ includes some people one might describe as, “good,” and those one might call, “bad.” It includes perpetrators and victims. In many ways, it is a jumbled mess, full of darkness. I believe that is because the genealogy is a mirror of every individual human heart. King David is described in Scripture as, “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14), as well as one who did what was, “evil in the sight of the LORD.” How can that be? The idiot who told me that dirty joke in the office was created in the image of God. That wasn’t exactly what I was thinking about him in that moment.

I think it is because the darkness of our world is also the darkness of our hearts, whether in this realm or any other. And there is the longing of Advent and the wonder of Christmas again. Isaiah prophesied, about Jesus’ birth,

“The people who walk in darkness

will see a great light.

For those who live in a land of deep darkness,

a light will shine” (9:2, NLT).

John, writing of the first Advent of Jesus, said, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it” (1:5, NLT).

There is hope, and warning, there for everyone.

If you’ve been an idiot, or done evil, in the realm of sexual violence, you have contributed to the deep darkness. If you want to turn back, the light shines at Christmas for you.

If you are subjecting others to that realm of sexual violence, you will not be able to extinguish the light. It is stronger than you, and it will shine into the tiniest crevices of your soul, exposing you for who you are.

If you have been harmed in this realm of sexual violence, the light shines at Christmas for you. What happened to you was not your fault. The darkness it caused was not your fault. Bring the harm, and the wreckage, and the fear, to Jesus this Advent. He will be the gentlest of lights for you. And the darkness can never extinguish Him.


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First Friday of Advent

Copy of Rahab in Advent

Matthew begins his record of the life of Christ with Jesus’ genealogy. In a long list of men, he names five women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary the mother of Jesus. I decided to read each woman’s story in the Bible from the perspective of Advent, looking for waiting, longing, what needed to be put right but wasn’t yet, and perhaps where each found hope, if the Bible records that she did. These stories fit well with the themes of Advent. There is much darkness to them. Let’s take the Fridays in Advent to think about the lives of these women, and then our own lives, as we wait for glimpses of light.

I have always liked Rahab’s story (see Joshua 2 and 6) because it has a happy ending. The prostitute helps the Israelite spies. In return they protect her when they invade the city. She becomes part of the nation and culture of Israel, marries an Israelite man, and gives birth to the great-grandfather of King David. It even has that great, seemingly symbolic element, of the spies instructing Rahab to tie a scarlet cord in the window of her house, so the Israelite army knows not to harm her. Scarlet, like the blood on the doorposts at Passover, like the blood of Jesus on the cross. Rahab, redeemed from a life of sexual sin and likely violence, to a life of marriage and children among God’s people.

Do you see what I did there? As I told Rahab’s story, I re-made it in the image of that modern Christian-American idol of Hallmark-romance marriage, dressed in church clothes. Bad girl turns good, and is rewarded with a husband, at least one child, and lives happily ever after in the lineage of Jesus. I didn’t even realize I was doing that over all those years. But I was. Some of it may even be true. Who’s to say that Rahab didn’t find a much happier life with the Israelites? The thing is, I don’t know. It would be better to just read what the Bible says about her and name all the rest for what it is: speculation and perhaps some cultural debris that could be discarded.

When I read Rahab’s story this week, I was struck by the terror and the decision in it. Look what she says to the spies as she helps them hide:

“I know the Lord has given you this land,” she told them. “We are all afraid of you. Everyone in the land is living in terror. For we have heard how the Lord made a dry path for you through the Red Sea when you left Egypt. And we know what you did to Sihon and Og, the two Amorite kings east of the Jordan River, whose people you completely destroyed. No wonder our hearts have melted in fear! No one has the courage to fight after hearing such things. (Joshua 2:9-11a, NLT)

To the people of Jericho, probably a small city-state in the ancient world, the mass of Israelites approaching was terrifying. Rahab seems to have looked at that fear, and the information available to her about Egypt, Sihon, and Og, and made a shrewd evaluation:

For the Lord your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below. (Joshua 2:11b, NLT).

The New Testament labels that evaluation as faith, showing itself in actions:

It was by faith that Rahab the prostitute was not destroyed with the people in her city who refused to obey God. For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies (Hebrews 11:31, NLT).

Rahab the prostitute is another example. She was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road (James 2:25, NLT).

As I have sat still with Rahab’s story for several days, I’ve kept coming back to her fear, her shrewd calculation, her faithful decision, and then her actions. There is some speculation in this re-telling of her story, too. I imagine that a prostitute in the ancient world had to be shrewd, or calculating, to survive. Surely not everyone who came to visit her was a physically safe person. Like any other person in Jericho, she had others she loved and for whom she feared (see Joshua 2:12-13). Seen in that light, her decision to help the spies could be seen as a logical decision after a risk-benefit analysis. Maybe it was. Maybe she looked at the data available to her and decided, “This God is the real God. He is able to save all those Israelites. He must be able to save me, too.” But the logical explanation forgets the terror. Rahab was in a life or death situation, and she knew it, and she decided to place her faith in God in the middle of all of that. Once she made that decision, she had to wait weeks, perhaps months, before anything at all happened. It took the Israelites a while to get there, and then there was the week of very odd siege tactics, and then the battle. Rahab had no guarantee except the scarlet rope that they would keep their word and protect her. She had no guarantee except her belief that this God of the Israelites was the real God, able to save her and her family. She helped the spies, she tied the cord to her window, and she waited.

As I have thought about Rahab’s story this week, three questions have floated to the surface of my heart.

  • What do I see approaching that stirs my fear or anxiety?
  • What do I believe Jesus can do about that?
  • If I really believe that, what is the next thing for me to do?

If you’re reading this, you’re not a prostitute in a little ancient city-state. Me, neither. While it is possible that you face a life or death kind of fear today, it is more likely that we both face fears or anxieties that return again and again, maybe ones we have known since we were kids, ones that sometimes catch us off guard and cause us to panic, inwardly or outwardly. The God who saved Rahab can also save us. Even today.

May we wait for Him with hope. May we be like Rahab.







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Elizabeth, Part II

“When (Zechariah’s) time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. ‘The Lord has done this for me,’ she said. ‘In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.’” Luke 1:23-25, NIV


Elizabeth was from a family of priests. She married a priest. Earlier in the story, Luke told us that she was, “righteous,” and, “blameless.” Here was a woman who seemed to have lived well her whole life. And yet, to this point she had never experienced what her culture defined as proof of that rightness – offspring to continue her family. Her response to her pregnancy tells us that she had suffered disgrace, reproach, or shame among the people in her life and community. We don’t know exactly how those people expressed it, but I imagine in that way they were not very different from the people you and I will see today, in our workplaces, in our kitchens, or in our mirrors.


As I thought about it just now, it occurred to me that Elizabeth’s situation, like ours, is one small re-telling of the story of humans from the beginning. In the first book of the Bible, Genesis, God told people how to live a good life and gave them what they needed to live it. They looked around and decided that there was another way, that they could determine what was good. That didn’t work out. Shortly thereafter, they experienced the first shame (Genesis 3:7). That story has played out in every life and every culture since then. In Elizabeth’s culture, perhaps it was nice to be righteous, but a “good life” meant plenty of children, or at least one child. Elizabeth and Zechariah didn’t fit the mold. So they experienced shame.


One rather amazing thing about them is that they apparently kept on being righteous in the midst of that shame from other people. What would make someone do that? In that way, they are the exact opposite of the Genesis account: when God’s definition of “good” didn’t line up with the culture’s definition, and when they suffered because of it, they still turned to God as the source of goodness. I suspect that, in all those years, they had experienced the goodness of God, and they somehow knew that all other substitutes were no longer options.


I wonder where we have experienced shame or reproach from other people, or from ourselves. Where have we done everything, “right,” only to receive none of what we or others expected that would bring?


For me, that kind of reproach or shame has often shown up in how I think about being single. I bought into the lie of the American Christian sub-culture in the 1990’s and early 2000’s as it idolized marriage. The thinking seemed to go that if one followed Jesus, and behaved oneself sexually, one was promised – even owed – a loving spouse and cute children. I exaggerate, but not much. Perhaps it would have been good for us to examine whether God ever owes humans anything. In any case, I really did love Jesus and try to follow Him. I really did, outwardly, behave myself sexually. And no husband appeared. In the condescending comments of well-meaning others, in the gradual disappearance of a “plus one” listed on wedding invitations, and in what I sometimes believed about myself, I experienced the shame of believing all of that was because I wasn’t doing life right, or maybe because I was just too pathetic. The story is a lot more complicated than that, of course, but the feeling of shame, based on those lies, was real and often present.


Do you see how something like that might have gone for Elizabeth? Or maybe how it has gone for you, in some area of your life?


Both Elizabeth’s years of “rightness” and her response to her pregnancy offer a beautiful way through, and out of, the shame we may have experienced. Elizabeth, over decades, chose the goodness of God, and the good life God offered, over what she and her culture had defined as “good” results. She kept on practicing righteousness, without the tangible result for which she hoped. She doesn’t seem to have thought that God owed her anything. When she became pregnant, after all hope was lost, she attributed that gift to the kindness of God. It wasn’t the delivery of something she had earned. “How kind the Lord is!” she exclaimed. “He has taken away my disgrace of having no children” (Luke 1:25, NLT). In the cosmic story being played out inside of her and around her, with the birth of John, she could see the goodness of God for her. God did not have take away her reproach among people. But He did.


In what sphere of life can you and I turn away from our culture’s, or our own, preconceived notions of what “good” is? What would that look like today?


Whatever it looks like, may God, in His kindness, make us like Elizabeth.



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Waiting in Advent


Several years ago, I discovered I loved Advent. I was teaching a women’s Bible study in a church that doesn’t recognize Advent – just Christmas. Having grown up with an Advent wreath in church, and having observed Advent in my own spiritual life as an adult, it made sense to me to teach from that season in the weeks before Christmas. What I didn’t anticipate was how much it would resonate with the women in that class, and in my own heart.

Advent, as practiced by Christians through several centuries, looks little like it does in American culture today. The main focus of Advent, historically, is looking forward to the Advent of Jesus Christ that is still in the future. It is a time to recognize that this world is not as it should be, as well as the sure hope that someday it will be put right. It is to state the ache of living in bodies and families and countries that fall so far short of what we long for and need. It is to own up to the fact that, sometimes, as we feel those longings, God seems silent and far away. Finally, it is to surrender those longings in hope that someday we will see the face of Jesus, and all of those aches will be wiped away in an instant, for we will see God.

Advent is located before Christmas on the calendar because Christmas tells the story of Jesus’ first Advent, when He came as a baby after God’s people had heard nothing from Him for about 400 years. Generations of people had been born, lived, and died, without the promise of a Messiah being fulfilled, without any updates from God via prophets, with nothing but silence. Those 400 years of silent anticipation mirror our own gap and silence. Jesus said He would come back. That was over 2000 years ago. What the heck?

But you won’t find “What the heck,” or anything stronger than that, on so-called Advent calendars or Christmas cards in America in 2019. Advent calendars count down to presents, or maybe to family, both of which can be dicey, and neither of which have guarantees. Maybe, “what the heck?” would be more honest. It would be for me. As I’m writing this, my next-door neighbors are 3 days into life after the loss of their 28-year-old daughter. She had children who are 10, 8, and 6 years old. Her funeral is the day before Thanksgiving. What kind of Christmas are those children going to have this year? What kind of Advent calendar isn’t repulsive and insipid in the light of that kind of loss. What the heck?

Advent comes into that kind of sorrow and longing. Jesus comes into that kind of sorrow and longing. Just as His birth shattered the silence of God and ushered in hope the first time, His presence now, and His future coming, call us to drop our, “What the heck?” laments at His feet, to weep the tears we have locked away, and to stubbornly hope in the One who promises peace, joy, and love to people who desperately need Him.

When I taught that Bible study years ago, this tension of ache and hope brought tears and laughter to that little group of women. We found solace in the outward traditions of Advent – the wreaths, the Nativity scenes, the hymns. The tangible things helped us truly witness the joy of Christmas in our terribly imperfect world. I have seldom experienced the presence of Christ as I did in those weeks with those women.

This year, I have had a growing sense of longing to return to that joy and peace via writing about it. I’m setting about to write from the perspective of someone waiting through the ache to the hope. I don’t know which one will surface on any given day. What I know is that I want to live and write truly of both. I want to have a heart with room for joy, peace, and love this Christmas. I want to wait for Jesus to break the silence of my longing with Himself.

Would you like to join me?

I’ll be sending out something that I write, plus a suggested spiritual practice for that week, on each of the four Sundays of Advent: December 1, 8, 15, and 22, as well as Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. In between those times, I’ll be posting occasional short pieces to this blog.

If you’d like to receive those emails, you can sign up here.



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BCI sat in the drab airport, swiveling my head from side to side, checking my phone for texts every 30 seconds or so, trying to breathe deeply and relax. I wanted to see him first. We had had months apart, and then a 2-day visit that stirred all our grief. Then, two weeks of mostly silence as far as he knew; for me, two weeks of desperate advocating with those who, humanly speaking, held his future in their hands. Finally, there I sat, and then stood, and then sat again, looking for him.

I saw him a moment before he saw me, before his cousin pointed in my direction. Whatever happened in that moment is lost, because the next moment he saw me, and he ran to me. There was my boy. His backpack was bigger than he was, bouncing all over the place as he ran across that cold tile, past those lines of people coming and going, and wrapped his arms around me as I knelt to hold him tight. Have I ever been so certain or so scared as at that moment? Who was I, that a sad, scared boy would run to me for safety? What would it mean, to take my new son back home forever? What about the baggage that was bigger than he was? What about my own? I needed a benediction, an utterance, a blessing, something to help me get my bearings in this new life.

I needed the joy and ache of the last time Papa called me by my name. We were walking through his yard, talking about the weather, the lake, the plants, and those blasted tumors on his right arm about which “they” weren’t doing enough, he said. He was dying. We all knew it, and we had told him. He faced it bravely when he grasped it, and then the dementia took that knowledge away, a strange and twisted gift for his last days. All of that ached as I stepped ahead for a moment, looking down at the grass, for some odd reason noting the spongey feel of it under my foot. Papa wanted to tell me something, but my back was to him. Then he said it: “Leanne.” I wish I had a picture of my face at that moment. Papa had called me by my name. I think I must have been about 5 years old as I turned toward him. He hadn’t called me by my name in a long time. He knew who we all were that summer, but often fell into frustration referring to anyone who wasn’t present, sighing and saying, “Your mother…” and pausing for us to fill in the blank of that person’s name. But in that moment, he didn’t just know who I was. He knew my name, and he spoke in the voice I had heard since before I was born. In that moment he was the man who taught me how to fish, the one who really believed I could be an astronaut. He was the one who lent me money when it grieved me to ask, somehow in a way that reminded me who I was again – someone he believed in, someone he loved and protected, someone worth loving and protecting. There would come a time in the following months when I cried out to God, “I don’t know how to live in a world with no Papa in it!” But in this moment, a kind and strong man called my name with gentleness, and somehow that was enough. Even in the moment, my heart lifted up with joy and I thought, “Oh, a benediction!”

That uttering of my name held 40 years of loving and being loved. I didn’t expect it just then, but it washed over me and lifted me up when I was exhausted and spent – and it came from a dying man. It was like another time of grieving, 14 years earlier. Papa’s wife, my Nana, had died. Somehow God had put it in my heart to speak at her funeral. I spoke about her chicken soup, and other less pleasant remedies she used to take care of us. I spoke about how she knew us, each of us, in ways that were uncanny and sometimes annoying. I watched their faces as I spoke, and I knew that Someone much larger and more gracious than I was speaking. I saw the wonder, and felt it, as we laughed in the middle of our loss. And then it was time to sit down. I said, “Amen,” and walked down the steps to the front pew. I barely knew what had happened, and had just started to wonder at it, when my brother put his arm around me. “That was the best speech I ever heard in my life.” My brother said that. Did I know, until that moment, how much I wanted him to think well of me? Did I know, until that moment, how much he loved me? I don’t think I did. He spoke the benediction to my eulogy, though I was the only one who heard it.

I don’t know what benediction may or may not have been spoken in the dreary airport that day last October. I’m not sure if what I’m about to write actually happened, or if I whispered it in my head. Somehow, the girl Papa called, “Leanne,” the woman Travis held at Nana’s funeral, took the hand of a little boy in an airport, and said, “C’mon, let’s go home.” Amen.


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A Long and Winding Road

My friend, Linda, has written a beautiful and tender book:


Release Date: July 1st, 2014

from Anaiah Press

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Buy Links: B&N | Kobo | iTunes | Amazon | GooglePlay


When I received my copy of Linda Brendle’s new book, A Long and Winding Road: A Caregiver’s Tale of Life, Love, and Chaos, I rejoiced, and I hesitated. I knew it would be good. I read Linda’s blog all the time, and she has been a friend and encourager to me since 2006, the year before the 7-week road trip chronicled in her book.

So why the hesitation? It was because I knew this story would be so much more than a travelogue. It would be both balm and challenge. There would be tears, maybe sobs, along the way. It would engage my heart in ways that would be painful, yet healing. I would laugh out loud…and then sigh. All those things were true. Linda has gently and skillfully told the story of her life and the ones she loves, and along the way she has written for every weary and uncertain heart that comes across her words.

This book will, perhaps, appeal first to caregivers, who walk alongside aging parents or family members with special needs, battling exhaustion and second-guessing themselves. If that’s you or someone you love, please let me tell you: Linda gets it. Early in the book you’ll find a few italicized sentences that echo the hearts of every caregiver I’ve ever met. Buy the book for those sentences alone, and then go on the journey with Linda and her family. I think you will remember the beginnings of your own journey, and the love that helps you put one foot in front of the other on the darkest and brightest of days.

Here’s the thing, though: this book is for everyone. I would recommend it if you are:

  • Married
  • Single
  • Divorced
  • A parent of an adult child
  • An adult child
  • Codependent
  • Wondering what “codependent” means
  • Someone who struggles with mental illness
  • Someone who loves someone who struggles with mental illness
  • Someone who knows your way around gray and black tanks, and 30- and 50- amp hookups.
  • Struggling to make sense of how the way you grew up keeps affecting you today

Yep, pretty much everybody.

My favorite thing about this book is the way Linda is both honest and honoring with her parents’ and other loved ones’ stories. She writes about real people: flawed and wonderful, broken and delightful, foolish and wise, weak and powerful, and she does it in a way that is winsome and tender. This is not a book of cliches or blame or too-easy spiritualizing. It’s a book by a woman who has experienced the wonder of knowing and being known, loving and being loved, no matter what that looks, feels, or even smells like.

My hope for you is that you don’t hesitate, but that you pull up a chair under the awning and savor every moment. May God bless you as you do.

(P.S. Sign up for the blog tour giveway!)
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Sometimes reality really bites. Alzheimer’s has wrapped Mom’s brain into knots, vascular dementia has attacked Dad, and, instead of carefree retirees, we have become caregivers. Regardless, dreams die hard, and we somehow stumbled into the purchase of a forty-foot motor home. That’s when all four of us set out on this seven-week trek across sixteen U.S. states. Now, Dad stopped-up the toilet again, Mom wet her last pair of clean jeans, and David just announced that he was hungry. My head is beginning to pound, and I know this isn’t going to be the easygoing retirement we’d imagined for ourselves.

Linda Brendle takes you on a roller-coaster ride of emotional and spiritual challenges that many families are facing right now. Co-dependency, mental breakdowns, and finding love after divorce are just a few of the issues weaved into this journey of caregiving. Whether you’re looking for an inspirational story to help teach you how to “let go and let God,” considering becoming the caregiver for one of your own parents, or are just looking for an entertaining travel book, this story is sure to strike a tender nerve.

About the Author:

Head Shot 1 (editor's favorite) photo

After 15 years as a family caregiver, Linda began writing to encourage, inspire and amuse other caregivers. She loves to travel and since retiring has traveled mostly by motorcycle and RV. She and her husband live in a small East Texas town where she gardens, writes and attends church.

Author Links:

Author Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads



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Forever Started in 2013

BC & meFor all its joy, bewilderment, love, anger, grief, laughter, wailing, mourning, exhaustion, jubilation, wonder, doubt, fear, questions, rage, surrender, and hope, 2013 was the year in which a little family was born. Forever took on a new and surprising shape as BC and I began to become son and mom.

How I pray 2014 will be a year of peace, as forever settles in our hearts.

For this child I prayed… 1 Samuel 1:27

Happy New Year to you and yours. May your New Year be one of peace, in which forever is settled and true. Amen.


Filed under Being Sam

Anger, Longing, and Hope for Advent

AdventWeek1For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.  Isaiah 9:6, NASB

This Advent, I’m living in the reality that a child has been born and then come to me, a son has been given to me. I nearly couldn’t read the passage above, about Jesus, as BC and I first lit our Advent wreath two Sundays ago. Unto us, a Son has been given, a Savior who is Christ the Lord. Unto me, a son has been given, a son with many wounds and much delight, all tied together in ways I can’t unravel.

Advent is a season for longing.  The candles we’ve lit so far have been for hope and for love. Though there is abundant and heart-rending love, I’ve struggled with the hope part of this season.  Maybe because I’m angry.  I’m angry to live in a world where a mother chose a violent man over her son. I’m angry that my son suffers wounds that affect every part of his life, and for some reason make school a nightmare. I’m angry at Christian cliches, thrown around ad nauseum — spare me the “he just needs…” and the, “you should just,” that end in syrupy sweetness. My boy has been broken by the sins of others, period. Don’t deny the awfulness of what he suffers in the name of making everything feel nice, neat, and tidy.  He’s been bounced around for five years and you expect him not to be defiant and angry? Two months is supposed to undo five years? Yep, I’m angry.

But…I don’t always get to the “but”…the anger is easier to deal with than the longing.  It’s easier, but it gets in the way of the hope. (And, really, the love, too.) I long for a world as it was meant to be — a world in which children are sheltered and delighted in, and in which hobbling adoptive moms don’t run out of energy and use anger as a spare supply.  Yep, I’ve been angry.  I’ve also been spent.  And humbled.  I gave up thinking I’d have a son a long time ago.  And now I have one. I long for the day when he looks back and sees amazing, startling grace redeeming his deep wounds. I hope for the moments when that brokenness is turned into something good, kind, and strong in him. I long to rest in the One who loves BC more than I do, who tends to his heart in ways far more helpful than what is so often my driven striving.

I hope for those things because to me a Son has been given. Hope and longing are painful and by their very nature require me to live in tension and the unknown. Jesus, the Son who has been given, brings comfort and joy into the tension and unknown. I believe Him, and I need help in my unbelief. I refuse to be comforted, and He comforts me anyway.  I’m cranky and unjoyful, and He surprises me again. His work in BC’s life and mine will most likely be as messy as the floor under His manger, as crazy as a baby Savior born in a food trough. In Him I will hope.



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cross1Today is Easter.  I’m celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, believing that it actually happened and that it changes everything.  I’m also aware that sometimes it feels more like that Saturday, when every human being thought Jesus was dead, and nothing seemed certain.  It’s a strange mix for this glorious day.

Last year, Easter was exuberant and joyful, loud even, as my family rejoiced that a baby we thought had been lost was very much alive.  This year, a child I love is facing loss he hasn’t even imagined yet, and I’m desperately hoping for years of resurrection for his heart and mind.  This morning, I took B.C., my foster son, to be with part of his biological family for Easter.  He’ll have a great time, and we’ll have a great time later at one of my family’s celebrations.  Then we’ll come home and probably deal with what seems like the confusing transition between families for him.  Tomorrow we’ll head back into our normal routine of school and work, bath time and reading stories, and every strategy known to boy for avoiding brushing one’s teeth.

Even as we do our normal daily things, slow movement is happening with B.C.’s “case.”  Given the system, it could all turn out very differently than it appears now, but at least for now it looks like B.C. will end up with a new home with loving, safe, fun, stable family members, several hundred miles from here.  I already love his family members — if we were neighbors, I think we’d be great friends.  And yet…there’s always this “and yet”…I know that for B.C. to grow to be a part of that family, he will have to endure the shock of knowing he’s not going back to his old home.  In addition to that, he won’t be staying in this home, where he has seemed to come to feel safe and secure.  There will have to be these losses.  Death — of what he knows and thinks and experiences every day — will precede resurrection.

The hopeful part of all of this is that I believe, that I know, that death always does precede resurrection.  To wish away the loss for B.C. would be to wish away the coming good of life with two loving parents, and siblings, and dogs, plus an ongoing connection with his extended family, and…maybe…someday…the opportunity for healing reconnection with his biological parents.  The anguished part recoils from seeing someone I love so much suffer so much.  I’ve only been a parent for 6 months tomorrow, but this week I’ve wondered, how did Mary stand there and watch her Son hang there and suffer and die?  How did God the Father watch His Son hang there and suffer and die?  There is a dread of the loss that’s coming that completely takes my breath away.  Most days it feels like Saturday more than Easter Sunday.

And yet…there’s a deeper “and  yet”…what Saturday felt like to Mary, and John, and Peter, and all the rest, what “Saturday” feels like to me and what it will feel like to B.C., perhaps what it feels like to you if this is a somber Easter — all of that is the middle of the story.  There are glimpses of a better end, of a glorious resurrection.  Jesus said He would rise on the third day.  Today, when I took B.C. to his family, one I’d never met hugged me, kissed my cheek, and said, “Thank you for taking care of my nephew.”  He’s the dad of the one who may be B.C.’s second father.  There is a sense of promise to the whole thing, and it takes my breath away just as much as the dread, if I pay attention to the reasons to hope.  I don’t always choose rightly, but today I choose the promise.  Amen.

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Filed under Being Sam, Family, Foster parenting, Jesus, Struggle