What we learn from vacations and hospitals

One of the hardest things about living 1,200 miles from home is knowing which emergencies are worth packing up the kids and the van and starting the drive.

Some situations are obvious, like heart attacks and funerals. But others, like my brother-in-law’s motorcycle accident in February, left me second-guessing myself for days. The emergency room doctor said he was OK. Bruised and scratched, but miraculously OK after being pushed off the road. We already had a trip planned to go home in a week, so we stayed put.

Then, there was the second trip to the emergency room because he wasn’t acting quite right. I started the laundry and had Brian get the suitcases out, just in case. Again, the doctor said he was fine and sent him home.

And he was fine, until my sister had to call the ambulance because he collapsed. She was in tears when she told me that night that the brain injury was more severe than they thought. We started toward Oklahoma the next morning, a few days earlier than we had planned. Along with the usual vacation excitement, we felt nervous. Anxious. Worried.

When we got there, we went to the hospital right away instead of going to get our favorite ice cream or stopping to play at a park. There were several other trips to the hospital and eventually to the rehabilitation center as we watched my brother-in-law gain strength and memory, and all the while I tried to keep vacation feeling like vacation for our boys.

This was our best shot to comfort my brother-in-law and our best shot to enjoy Oklahoma. And we could do both.

It meant that there were plenty of days when I felt like sitting still. Going to bed early. Sleeping in late. But I knew that I had to make time for what we had come for — what we had planned for. I knew I had to make time and space for joy.

So, we went to the aquarium and hiked at Keystone Ancient Forest. We had cheese fries at Eskimo Joe’s and rode an elephant at the circus. We did the fun things that we had planned, even though pain and worry were nearby.

Joy didn’t flee when the tough times came. It stuck around to strengthen us. To let us see the full picture. To remind us of our purpose.

When we loaded the van to come back to New York, I made sure to pack that lesson, too.


An easy way to teach kids to pray

The third book in our summer series

Ever since I can remember, I wanted to be a parent. I knew it would be rewarding, but I had no idea it would be so humbling — that there would be so much I wanted to teach and so little I knew. That’s why I appreciate books like A Spoonful of Grace. In it, author Annette Hubbell has compiled more than 350 prayers and Bible verses that are meant to be shared before a family meal and discussed.

Annette Hubbell

A Spoonful of Grace is also great for grandparents and caregivers, busy people who want to add more Bible reading into their lives, or people who would like to say grace with others but don’t know how or where to begin,” said Hubbell, who came up with the idea for the book after noticing that a friend led grace differently than she did. There must be other prayers she hadn’t heard, Hubbell thought, so she began to ask others about their traditions.

“What I received back surprised me,” she said. “It seems that there are, in fact, only a handful of ‘standard’ graces; most are impromptu, made up according to how the day unfolds. Even more surprising were the responses of those who didn’t regularly say grace but wished they did—and would if they had some structure.”

So, Hubbell earned a certificate in apologetics from Biola University, immersed herself in Bible studies, traveled throughout the Holy Lands and began writing.

The result was a book that could help us all because prayer and family time are both still important.

We are fast becoming a society that communicates more through electronic devices than through the spoken word,” Hubbell said. “Twitter- or texting-sized attention spans and social media interactions don’t lend themselves to developing minds or bonding opportunities, and family time (sans electronic devices) becomes more important than ever.

“I also believe that there is (at least) one thing that kids should see their parents doing every day: praying! What better way to develop a deeper relationship with God and to strengthen family ties than to eat and pray together? With A Spoonful of Grace families have an opportunity to pray together, to say meaningful things to each other, and to get to know one another.

“… I hope this book will help turn mealtimes into fun- and faith-filled conversations about issues that count—like sharing, honesty, friendship, respect—and, of course, God.”

What to do when you're longing for more Christ in Christmas

IMG_6111Years ago I had a pin that I wore on my coat that said, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” But the phrase has become a bit worn and faded – not just on my pin but in my heart.

I know I want to keep Christ in Christmas, but I want to invite him in a new way, a way that is deeper than a slogan. So, I started asking others how they made room for Jesus in the most hectic time of the year, a time when calendars and to-do lists are full.

One friend bakes and makes things with her hands. Slowing down and giving of yourself sounds a lot like Jesus to me. Another friend goes each year to visit a living nativity scene so that each year she can see the story come to life. And her small decorative nativity scenes? She places them throughout her house so she has a bit of the Jesus story in every room.

IMG_0591My co-worker buys each of her children three gifts and wraps one in gold paper as a nod to the gifts from the three Wise Men. Others make birthday cakes for Jesus or set a place for him at the table. So often I talk about the spiritual – the unseeable – and there is value in traditions like this that we can touch, see and taste.

Person after person told me that they give to charity as a way to honor Christ, who cherishes us all. I heard of a family that allots a certain amount of money per family member and each person decides where to donate his or her portion. On Christmas, they gather to tell where and why they gave. Can you imagine the joy in the room?

Then, there’s the church that delivers boxes of doughnuts around the community on Christmas Eve. They make stops at places like hospitals, hotels and homes for veterans, and they include a card with a simple message telling people that they are loved. Is that really so different than the message that came to the manger?

I have no idea what became of my pin, but my heart already feels better about Christmas.


Announcing the ‘Simply Faithful’ book

Can you keep a secret from my mama? I’ve put together a little Christmas present for her and for you, too.

It’s a book made up of my favorite newspaper columns, and it’s called “Simply Faithful: Finding the sacred in everyday life.”

SFbookcoverThe book – and all of these columns, really – happened almost by accident.

I was leaving the newspaper business for something with steadier work hours, something more suitable for my growing family. But as I turned to go, my editor asked if I’d keep writing, asked if I’d share my stories and opinions about faith and what people find sacred.

I was terrified, but I stumbled and started.

I’m so glad I did because in the last six years these columns have become a way for me to sort out what is happening in my heart and a way for me to capture my life with the people I love. If you read the pages of this book, you’ll meet many of the people who mean the most to me, and you’ll know this book is for them… and for you, dear friend.

When I started pulling the columns together I was shocked at how much I had shared about myself in 350-word bits, surprised at how well my readers might know me. It seems I covered everything from fear, comparison and success to prayer, hope and mothering.

This book isn’t fancy or perfect, but then again, neither am I. I just pray that my personal stories always point to the Greatest Story. May you know God loves you more than you can imagine.

If you’d like your own copy of “Simply Faithful,” you can find it on Amazon for $11.99. You can feel free to tell your friends about it, too – just not Mama, who lives 1,200 miles from me in Oklahoma. She’ll be surprised when she gets her own box of books in the mail in a few days, and I’ll finally be out of the doghouse for forgetting to send her copies of my columns in the newspaper…

A quick giveaway: Christmas books

12Great news! You have a chance to win six Christmas books from the generous folks at Zonderkidz. All you have to do is visit the Simply Faithful page on Facebook and tell us what your favorite Christmas book is by Wednesday, Nov. 18, at 9 p.m. Eastern.

Easy, right?


(Also, we are all already winners because we can get  30% off ALL kids books and Bibles from Nov. 17 to Dec. 1. To shop, visit www.Zondervan.com, click the tab at the top that says “Children,” and choose the category on the left side that best fits what you are looking for. Once you’ve selected and added all of your items to your cart, click Checkout. Type CHRISTMAS2015 as the discount code. Enjoy!)


4 5

Using what you have to welcome the King

imageWhen I talked my mom and my sister into helping me sew Advent calendars for our three boys, I must not have been thinking about the 75 gifts it would take to fill all of those little pockets we designed. I guess I just got caught up in the glittery snowflakes and colorful buttons and ignored the hidden cost of three Advent calendars.

So, I’m starting early this year – not to rush the season, but to be better prepared to enjoy it. I thought some of you might also be looking for low-cost, low-clutter ways to prepare hearts for the gift of Christmas, so I’ll share some of the ideas I’ve been gathering. 

imageI knew we’d be visiting with out-of-state family, so I made a tiny notebook for each boy and asked family members to write something they love about each one. I used about eight small squares of scrapbook paper and bound them with a spiral, but you could keep it simple and use a hole punch and yarn or even a paperclip. You could do the same thing with favorite scriptures or holiday memories.

I also plan to upcycle some business card magnets by covering them with sayings and pictures that the boys would like, and I’ll cover some of our tea tins in paper or paint them to look like garages and houses – or maybe use one to make a stable for a nativity scene.

imageI love watching the boys create, so I will have a Lego-building challenge for them and print instructions for folding an origami star to remind us of the shepherds’ journey. I may also use some of our waiting-to-be-recycled cardboard and cut it into ovals for the boys to paint and then write on with chalk. Messages like joy and hope would be perfect on any Christmas tree.

I’ve also heard of families tucking in Christmas puzzle pieces as daily gifts and others using Advent as a time to do acts of kindness. Over the years we’ve collected plenty of Christmas books for special reading times, but for those just getting started, most local libraries have a wide selection if you visit early in the month. Some of our favorite holiday books came from thrift stores, so consider checking there, too.

Hopefully this year we’ll all, from the youngest to the oldest, enjoy the journey to the manger.

What to do when faith is inconvenient


A few weeks ago I was chopping carrots for soup while my mind stewed over hurts, over wounds and worries.


I wasn’t ready to forgive.


How would this turn out for him two years from now? Twenty years from now?


How many times must I, the one who knows what is best, reach out?


I knew many of the answers, even before the questions were finished. Of course forgiveness matters as much for me as for the person I am angry with. Of course I need to trust God with today — and with tomorrow. Still, I couldn’t help but feel that day that real-life, practical faith was inconvenient.

I like faith better in theory and at a safe distance. I’ll pray for those in prison and those far away who suffer from drug addictions. I’ll talk all day long about the beauty of grace and God’s love for all of us, and I will tell you how I love a great redemption story.

But can I be real honest here? Faith can be inconvenient when the one who needs grace and compassion lives in your home, when the one who hurt your feelings is a person you usually hug. And, yes, I love a good redemption story, but we broken and bruised humans can make a lot of mess before the story makes its turn for the better.

There, in the mess, is when it seems easier to walk away, more convenient to hold a grudge and tally the score. That’s where I was that day chopping carrots.

I was right, and I had been wronged. I could teach him a lesson about his mistake, or I could show him how to live in grace and help him write his redemption story.


I could be right or I could do what’s right.


By the time I moved on to chopping the celery, I had my answer: faith — even though it was inconvenient. Because when it is most inconvenient, it is probably the most needed. For others and for me.

The cost of saying yes

the cost of yes
the cost of yes
the cost of yesIt is surprisingly easy to fill a wagon with apples when you have three boys and a husband picking from the trees. Enjoyable, even.

It’s not like harvesting low-to-the-ground strawberries or itchy okra. The apples are beautiful and many are shoulder level, or at least they were the first time we visited an orchard to pick our own.

I think that’s why we accidentally picked more than 100 pounds of them.

Sure, I look back at the pictures now and it seems obvious that we had overdone it, but I really hadn’t noticed how heavy the load was, physically or financially, until we got to the counter to pay.

When we loaded the boys and the apples in the van, reality started to sink in. We stopped on the way home for a book on canning and if I remember correctly, some more jars. Then, the next day, we made one of the wisest decisions of our married life: We purchased an apple peeler.

I made apple pie, applesauce and cinnamon apple jelly, which we even gave as gifts that year at Christmas. And we ate a lot of apples.

Then, the next year we were more cautious when we visited the orchard because we didn’t want to overburden ourselves again. Each boy had a limit he could pick, and when that limit was reached, we stopped. If we needed more apples, we could always come back.

That simple principle worked, and I suspect it would work in lots of other cases where I get overloaded, where I add just a little here and there until my commitments and burdens are hard to carry by myself. The cases where Lysa Terkeurst, author of “The Best Yes,” says we don’t think about or admit our limitations, and “All the while the acid of overactivity eats holes in our souls.”

So often I keep piling things in the wagon without thinking about how it will weigh me down, without realizing the spiritual peace I’m giving up – because even the good things we say yes to come with a cost. But here’s to picking only the best, only the things that feed my soul, and leaving the rest.
the cost of yes

The importance of a kind word

The importance of a kind word

IMG_8448When Jessie first came to live with us, I was scared that I would go to register him for sports or school and people would ask me questions that I didn’t know the answer to. I wanted us to blend in with the other families so I actually practiced over and over again.

He was born in 1998. At Tulsa Regional Hospital. Like Benjamin, he weighed right around 8 pounds. He’s crazy about apples but hates apple cider.

It wasn’t that I was ashamed of adoption or of his past. It’s just that I didn’t know how much of his story he wanted to share – or whom he wanted to share it with. I figured those were his decisions, when he was ready.
Even now, years later, I find myself tongue-tied. That’s why I didn’t say more when Mr. Wickham gave Jessie a dollar for entertaining and exercising his golden retriever.

“He’s a really good kid,” Mr. Wickham said, tipping his head toward Jessie. “And he’s great with Abby,” he added, just as Jessie tossed Abby’s toy for another round of fetch.

“He is great,” I told Mr. Wickham, “It’s nice to come out to the farm and watch him relax. He can be noisy and run around,” I said, trailing off because I wasn’t sure how much to say.

While Jessie played with Abby, I picked tomatoes and kale and flowers. Other families came and went, all of us part of the Wickham Farms CSA. I could hear Jessie laughing across the field.

For Mr. Wickham, the compliment was a small thing. A kindness that came naturally.

But for Jessie and I, it was an acknowledgment of the good inside. A respite from lectures about missing homework assignments and running in the house. A moment where he was just an average kid, not one who has nightmares and more emotional baggage than people four times his age.

Just an instant where someone saw Jessie as Jessie – joyful and playful.

We all need that, regardless of age. Regardless of background. We know we need the people in our lives to stand with us and for us. But occasionally, it sure is nice to have people who aren’t as close to us offer a kind word, too.

We can all do that for one another. We can notice the good. And we can make a world of difference.

Day 23: Loving someone enough to connect the dots

Bittle (13) resizeI have a beautiful friend from high school who pours her heart — and her recipes — out on her blog. You’ll see many wonderful articles at Read My Chicken Scratch, but there are two posts that I can’t recommend highly enough.

If you can, make the time to read these today. May they bless you as much as they have blessed (and challenged) me.

The first, Connect The Dots, talks about practical ways to support people when their loved ones are sick.

The second, Introducing: Josie, is the story of how my friend came to pray differently for a cherished daughter.

Josie collage resize