What to do when you’re busy

Sometimes it isn’t the bad weeks that make my heart race – it’s the busy ones.

The late-night work events. The meeting with the higher-ups. The talk at church. The paperwork piling up at home and pushing against a deadline.

All good things. All things I wanted to do.

Still, I woke up last week feeling nervous and rushed. My drive to work came to almost a complete halt about the time I reached Holy Sepulchre Cemetery and its neighboring road construction. I drummed my fingers and tapped my foot, urging the cars ahead of me to move. I wanted to be really early for work so I could move a few things off my to-do list before my meetings even started for the day. Maybe then I could relax my shoulders a little. Maybe then I could settle in to a comfortable pace.

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.

For when you need to be overwhelmed by grace

IMG_9027IMG_9014For almost two years I talked to the boys about the Great Salt Plains in Oklahoma — how we would leave the trees and hills of Tulsa and trade them for the red dirt and flat, fertile plains to the west.

I described to them how you can watch a thunder storm careen across the sky for miles without buildings and lights spoiling the view and how, when we got to the salt plains, we would see the white stretch out all the way to the horizon.

Still, when the dirt road ended and we passed through the gate, they weren’t sure what to make if all that salt. It was overwhelming.

We brought out our borrowed shovel and began to dig shallow holes. We poured water down the sides and caught glimpses of sparkling crystals. The boys filled one plastic cup with treasures and started on another while I looked at their smudged faces and their shoes caked with mud and salt. Our tires were white. The knees of Jessie’s black jeans were white.

Everything was white because there was an abundance of salt. Not a salt shaker full, acres and acres full.

The Christian scriptures tell us that people of faith are to be light and salt in this world, and in all these years that I’ve been reading that verse, I’ve pictured salt on my dinner table. I’ve thought about salt’s importance in preserving and seasoning, but I’ve visualized it as small and scarce. I forgot that it fills oceans and seas and mines — even a portion of the plains in my home state.

I forgot that there is plenty of salt for purity, for sharing the flavor of compassion and grace. If we want, the salt that was once used to bind people in an unbreakable covenant of friendship could overflow on our tables and in our lives.

And the light that shines in darkness? The symbol of God’s love and hope? It’s plentiful, too, year after year after year.

That changes things for me. It shifts my thinking and my fears.

Unlimited love. Hope. Purity. Healing. Grace.

And suddenly, like the boys, I’m overwhelmed.

For when you need to start


IMG_5451Each fall a beautiful day arrives with just enough chill to remind me of Friday night football games. Of new notebooks and pencils for school. Of a new season and a chance for new beginnings.

A chance to remind me of my one-word theme for 2015: start.

In January I realized I had saved my favorite journal – a treasured gift from my husband – for seven years without writing a single word in it. What if my penmanship was messy? What if all I could think of to write was a shopping list?

I vowed to start a project that really stretched me and to start kicking fear out the door. I told myself I’d start acting like this life here is a gift, and I really don’t have a moment to waste on worry or self-doubt or unforgiveness. I would simply have the faith to start.

So, as insignificant as it sounds, I gave myself permission to use the journals I loved but had been saving. I even took some to work, and I filled them with to-do lists and story ideas. Each time I turned a decorated page, I smiled at God’s gift of artistry.

I started writing a book with a friend, and we’re beginning the process of trying to get an agent to represent us. We had talked about this project for a few years, but this was the year to take that first step. The year to start.

It’s also the year to start paying attention to the things that make life harder and begin to find solutions. I panic about driving in the snow, so maybe when our oldest graduates from high school, we should move closer to where I work.


I knew it was a good word. I just didn’t know how much it would shape me. I didn’t realize it would give me the OK to try, and I didn’t know how powerful that would be.

In a few days, when the sun shines and the breeze is just the right temperature, I hope you’ll recognize the beginning of this new season. I hope you’ll start, too.

When perfection really means being punctual and present

13Nancy Gullo will tell you she isn’t a great gardener. She bought azaleas and put them in heavy shade, for goodness’ sakes.

And she didn’t spend much time decorating the old coffee can she has sitting on her bench in Bloomfield, NY. Just a simple white label that she wrote on in cursive: Leave your prayers to be lifted to God.

So, in her eyes, the sliver of her yard that touches the post office’s parking lot isn’t perfect, but it welcomes all of us even in our imperfection and brokenness. It offers a respite from the sun, the sweet scent of flowers and a place for a weary soul to rest.

It meets the need for hope and grace, and it meets that need now, today.

Gullo has a theory that if something like visiting a friend comes to mind more than once, she should probably go visit that friend. She shouldn’t put it off or wait for an invitation.

I tend to hesitate. I want the right words for the sympathy card, the right recipe for the meal. I worry and fret over being perfect when I should really be concerned about being punctual and about being present.

Showing up at the right time to carry part of the burden. Showing up to say how proud I am of an accomplishment or a milestone. Showing up in time to grab my friend’s hand and walk the road together.

I couldn’t tell you much of what people said in the blur after Daddy died, but almost 14 years later, I still remember being surrounded by love and carried by the strength of others in the days and months that followed.

Gullo’s garden is beautiful and serene, and it is perfect.

It’s perfect for all those who have sat with heavy hearts and asked for the healthy delivery of a baby, for their husband to find work and for their friend to feel better.

It’s perfect for the kid who wanted a prayer to pass a test and for the old biker who was thankful for a place to sit for a spell.

It’s perfect because it’s perfectly timed and perfectly placed.


Summer books: Two Steps Forward

Sharon Garlough BrownEditor’s note: This is the final piece in a series of four author interviews.

I first fell in love with Sharon Garlough Brown’s story in Sensible Shoes – a work of fiction full of spiritual truths. That book introduces readers to four strangers who meet at a spiritual retreat center and begin to learn the value of community and of spiritual practices like walking a labyrinth and praying the examen.

Hannah is a pastor on a forced sabbatical. Meg is a widow haunted by her past and struggling with an empty nest. Mara has experienced a lifetime of rejection and now is in a difficult marriage. And Charissa is a graduate student who desperately wants to do what is right.

Their stories continue in Two Steps Forward, which releases in October and offers plenty of truth of its own.

I feel like your characters in Sensible Shoes became my friends, and I’ve been wondering about how they are all doing. Are they all included in the sequel? If so, do they share the spotlight like they did before – or does this book focus in on one character in particular?

Yes, Two Steps Forward follows the stories of each of the four main characters in Sensible Shoes. It picks up right where Sensible Shoes ends, with Meg on the plane to England.

In your first book, we saw how each character had struggles and spiritual lessons. What are some of the issues we’ll see them deal with in the sequel?

One of the differences with Two Steps Forward is that the characters are no longer participating in a retreat together. So the question is, what will they remember (or forget) about what they’ve learned, especially when life falls apart? The primary theme of Two Steps Forward is persevering in hope and trusting that somehow in the midst of the mess, Jesus comes to reveal his presence. Since transformation is a slow and non-linear process, you’ll see the characters wrestling with some of the same issues they struggled with in Sensible Shoes: perfectionism, anxiety, rejection, grief.

One of the things I enjoyed about Sensible Shoes was that it combined a great fiction piece with solid spiritual practices that I could put to use in my daily life. Is there more of that in this book?

Yes! Though Two Steps Forward does not contain teaching handouts like Sensible Shoes, the spiritual disciplines are embedded and integrated into the story. You’ll get to watch how the characters are practicing the disciplines they’ve learned. A study guide is included at the back of the book, with opportunity to engage with reflection questions and spiritual disciplines.

How to fight fear

how to fight fearWhen Benjamin was 3, he asked for baby alligators for Christmas. Then, around the age of 5, he wanted a bat house for our back yard. And now, at 7, he’s interested in having his own beehive.

Outwardly, I play the role of supportive and inquisitive mom but my husband can tell you how I threatened to put our home on the market four years ago when a bat got in our house and how last week I screamed and ran from a creepy silverfish that I promise was coming after me. But since Benjamin’s interests are great and noble, I downplay my fear and try not to taint his opinion.

Fear is tragically contagious, and it can drain the joy out of life and take years to recover from. I don’t want to be the one who introduces that in his life, or in the life of anyone else. That’s why I reached out to Sweet Beez, a nonprofit that puts bee hives on roofs in the Rochester area, and asked if they might let a curious 7-year-old come see what they do.

A few weeks later we found ourselves with about a dozen people on top of a once-bustling warehouse tasting honey and listening to volunteers talk about the importance of bees. It turns out not all of their bees made it through the rough winter, so they would be adding new bees to a hive that night.

Would anybody like to put on a jacket and veil and help?

how to fight fear
how to fight fearMy son was the first to reach the jackets. A few other adults followed, but none got as close as Benjamin, who wore man-sized gloves that went well beyond his elbows and helped empty the bees out of their traveling case.

Bees flew all around his head and hundreds more buzzed mere inches from his fingers. But Benjamin wasn’t shaken. He had listened to the seasoned beekeepers, and they told him he wouldn’t get hurt if he put on the protective suit.

It made sense to him to trust those who really knew. It made sense to choose faith over fear.

I was glad we had come – and glad that confidence and courage are contagious, too.
how to fight fear

Your dance matters

Your dance mattersWith a husband motivated to sample European cheeses and little boys itching to be outside, we found ourselves at the public market on a Saturday winding through the booths of apples and leeks and spicy pickles.

The crowd flowed by the bell peppers and the pineapples and the asparagus and eventually pooled in a small circle around a man singing and playing the guitar. A woman with red hair and bright blue leggings started to dance, her movements as wavy as her hair. Even though she drew our attention, she seemed to not need an audience. She seemed to just need to dance.

A little girl, I’m guessing about 6 years old, made her way closer to the musician. At first she swayed in her long, dark coat. Then, she danced, too. Sometimes she imitated the woman across from her, but mainly she moved her own way.

A toddler in a stroller started smiling and then waving his arms at the woman and the musician. And his mom sat next to him and tapped her feet.

Isn’t it always this way?

One brave soul begins to dance and that gives others permission to take a chance, permission to be vulnerable and share their art. One man takes to the podium and shares with the world his dream of a day when all are equal and that gives others confidence and direction.

One mother says no more to addiction and abuse and generations are changed. One co-worker pulls up a chair and tells us we can do better than this I’m-rushing-but-I-can’t-keep-up life, and we all sigh and relax our shoulders. We start to spend more time and money and grace on people.

One person issues the invitation and others, buoyed by her courage, begin to dance. It works in a group of millions, or hundreds or two because when we share – our art, our story, our truth, even our struggles – it strengthens us and our faith.

It reminds us we aren’t alone and our dance matters.

It matters among the beets and the carrots at the market. It matters at home, in the coffee shop and in the cubicle. It matters in the pews, in the studio and in the seat of the tractor.

It’s always this way. Your dance matters.

your dance matters

When you need guidelines for your faith

guidelines for faith
I’ve been driving for more years than I’d care to reveal, but it wasn’t until I moved to the great frozen north that I learned about winter parking.

By winter parking, I don’t mean the complicated calculus-like formulas that you have to use to figure out what side of the street to park on in the city. (Let’s see, on odd days that have a vowel after the third consonant, I believe I park on the south side after 2 p.m. and before 3:18 a.m.) I mean the winter parking that should be easy – the kind where you pull your car into a lot that has snow on it and park without being able to see the yellow lines.

I just had no idea how difficult that was for some people. Sure, they can battle gnarly rush hour traffic and make it to work safely day after day, but parking without lines? That, apparently, is too much to handle for some folks.

For years I’ve secretly made fun of those people, the ones I affectionately describe as line-dependent. But this winter I felt a tiny pang of guilt, followed by a thought that insisted on worming its way through my brain: What if I’m like them?

Sure, I’m a confident enough driver to figure out how far to park from someone else’s car, but there are other times – when I can’t clearly see or feel God in the way that I’m used to – that I just freeze up and don’t know what to do.

God may have walked with me through miles of troubles and mountains of grief. But the instant the snow falls and blurs my view of things, I suddenly forget how simple it is to park between the lines. I forget to have faith and to trust what I know is true.

I guess I could handle it the way I do in my car: leave enough room for others; be careful not to hinder anyone from coming or going; try to be a good neighbor; and believe that warmer days will come and the lines will still be there if I need them.

When you think God's not there


Rachel Whaley Doll, author of Beating on the Chest of God

front onlyFriends, I believe we’ve all been touched by miscarriages and infertility. Even if we haven’t experienced it ourselves, we’ve held the hands of friends and family who have been devastated. And if we’re honest? There were times we didn’t know what to say or how to help. My brave friend Rachel Whaley Doll has opened the pages of her journal and the depths of her heart to help us all — to remind us all that God is with us. She is hosting a book launch from 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday, June 8, at A Different Path Art Gallery in Brockport, N.Y. Would you join us there and come meet Rachel? Will you share the news about this important book so others know they are not alone?

A glimpse at her beautifully honest writing…

Quite often, people are uncomfortable questioning God or admitting to being angry with God.  I’m not sure what we are afraid of, but I felt I needed to hold in all the questions and frustration, and say prayers to God that were “proper.”  It was so powerful to reach the end of my rope and literally scream at God until I was hoarse.

What I discovered is that God was still there.

In the midst of my miscarriage, I had a very vivid image of God.  I was in a waiting room, and had been there so long that the faded salmon-colored plastic chairs seemed comfortable.  There was a figure leaning against the wall wearing an overcoat, and scrunched down on the floor.  I realized it was God.  God was this regular-looking person many people walked by without ever noticing.  This figure simply sat, never looking around, never trying to reach out or help in any way, just sitting.  The picture initially added to my anger. “Get up!” I thought.  “Fix this!  Hold me while I cry!  Do something! You won’t even look at me!”

But then I noticed the pain in God’s eyes, the disheveled appearance.  God had been by my side the whole time, tired and angry, feeling my pain with me.  I reached a point where the answers to all my ‘whys’ wouldn’t even mean anything anymore.  I didn’t need a reason, I just needed help dealing with the pain.

I cannot say enough about how important my family, friends, nurses and doctors were in helping me through this time.  It was so hard to reach out at first, to tell people what was happening, but it truly made all the difference, spiritually and emotionally, for me.

If you are the friend of someone living with infertility, please hear me: we know you can’t fix this!  It is the hardest thing to sit beside someone you love and watch them suffer, unable to roll up your sleeves and come to their rescue.  But what we need more than anything is your presence.  What we need is to know that no matter what, we are not alone.  Even when we are quiet, let us know we are loved.