Advent Week 1: Awake! (#SmallWonder Link-up)

I slept but my heart was awake.  Listen!  My beloved is knocking.
Song of Solomon 5:2

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.  For salvation is nearer to us now when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. 
Romans 13:11-12a

During Advent this year I plan to focus my weekly posts on the lectionary readings (Bible passages) assigned by the church calendar.  Vanderbilt Divinity Library offers a convenient lectionary overview online, just hover over the reading and the text appears on your screen, or click on the reading to see all of the readings for the week.  I find that following the lectionary from time to time exposes me to a wider variety of passages than I might otherwise choose to read.

Like many of my friends - online and in person - I found myself turning to the comforts of the Christmas season early this year.  JJ Heller's new album, "Unto Us" has been on repeat as I make dinner and the lights we hung outside last year (and didn't take down . . .) were ready to go and plugged in the day after Thanksgiving.  Many are struggling in the wake of a tumultuos election, others are worn and weary from carrying burdens of every shape and size and we long for the comforts of Christmas as the days grow short and cold.

But this week's passages reminded me that Advent brings more than comfort - it first brings disruption.  The prophets of advent speak of an overthrow of what is in favor for God's kingdom which is to come.  Advent seeks to unsettle us, to wake us up that we might be ready for the unexpected ways of the One who comes to turn the world as we know it - broken, beaten and rife with violence - into a place where the lion lays down with the lamb and swords are beaten into plowshares.  

This week's readings remind me that Advent brings revolution and bids us stay awake.  The temptation is fierce this year to use the distractions and delights of the holiday season to placate our longing and need for light in the midst of darkness.  Like the apostles waiting in the garden with Jesus, we are too easily lulled to sleep in the long, dark night of waiting.  

Let us stay awake this year, let us wait in darkness and with wonder.  Let us read old verses with new eyes, let us be willing to suffer the disruption that precedes redemption, the death that precedes resurrection's glory.       

What practices will help you Stay Awake in this season of waiting?

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Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.  

What if we chose to deliberately look for small moments of wonder, the small sparks of presence, of delight or sorrow, of true humanity in which we meet God?  

That's my proposal - that we gather here each week to share one moment of Wonder from each of our days.  You're invited to link-up a brief post about a small moment of wonder.  Don't worry if your post is too long, too short, or not just right - you're welcome to come as you are.  

While you're here, please do take a look around and encourage at least one other blogger with a comment.  Thanks for being part of our community!  

Gifts for Book Lovers on Your List

My oldest boy heads off to school each day with his backpack weighted down with books - it must weigh over fifty pounds.   These aren't school books, they're leisure books and I don't know why he needs SO MANY of them onhand all at once but it seems to mean something to him to have them, so I try not to make a fuss about it, aside from urging him to take a few out every time he crams another two or three in.  For some of us, my son included, the worst thing that can happen is to be left without anything to read. 

In that case, a book makes a perfect gift.  Here's some of my family's favorites from the past year.   

For the Early Readers:

I'm so happy about the new "Tales From Maple Ridge" series. These short chapter books with illustrations on nearly every page are perfect for the twins (age 5) at bedtime and I've caught the older kids listening in too.  Eight-year-old Logan Pryce lives on a farm with his parents, two sisters and a brother.  Set in 1892, Logan and two of his siblings attend a one-room school house and deal with everyday challenges.  Each book in the series retells a captivating adventure in which the children prove their compassion, creativity and ingenuity.  Written by Grace Gilmore, illustrated by Petra Brown.

For Middle Ages (3-6th grade): 

My daughter, Sophia (age 10) and I (age 10++) both fell in love with "Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard."  This is the second in the Peter Nimble Adventures and tells the captivating story of a young girl charges with saving all sorts of "nonsense" from those who want to destroy everything "irrational."  Sophie is a book mender and her love and care captured my heart.  The author, Jonathan Auxier, writes about the mysterious books Sophie is sent to save in such compelling language that the books themselves become like characters.  

We read this, the second book first, and while my daughter went on to prefer the first book, "Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes," Sophie Quire still held my heart.  Both offer a great blend of fantasy and adventure. 

Another family favorite?  Comic books.  The other night John and I went to bed at 8:30 and laid there reading Foxtrot by lamplight.  I turned to him and said, "What are we, eight years old?"  John and I started buying comic book anthologies when I was in seminary and reading heavily, but still needed a way to wind down at the end of the day.  Foxtrot, Dilbert and Calvin and Hobbes were just the thing to do the trick.  Years later our kids also love the books and John and I keep coming back to them too.  I enjoy watching the kids read Foxtrot because of the family dynamics it hits on.  My daughter also really likes "Baby Blues" by Rick Kirkman, which is also oriented around the humor of family life.  I foresee some comic books under our Christmas tree this year . . . 

For the Upper-Middle Grades (6-9th):

I recently discovered Laurie Halse Anderson's compelling Young Adult novels.  I started with "Fever 1793" which tells the story of a young girl living in Philadelphia at the time of the Yellow Fever epidemic. Anderson tells a compelling story combined with fascinating history.  Her trilogy that begins with "Chains" is just as compelling and tells the history of the Revolutionary war from the perspective of a slave girl and, in "Forge," a slave boy.  All three books weave drama and history and raise the compelling question of whether it's possible to fight for freedom for one group while suppressing the rights of another.  

For the Upper Grades (9-12):

The Steele Secrets series offers a lovely blend of historical fiction and modern conflict.  The protagonist, Mary Steele, is a normal teen who discovers she can see ghosts - not scary ghosts - but people in need of help.  Kind-hearted and idealistic, Mary is more than willing to help although she often misjudges how much her involvement will cost her and the ones she loves most.  I love these books for the gentleness with which they weave together historical and contemporary issues around racism.  

For Fun:

Sometimes you just need something light and fun.  Based on the true story of one of America's first female deputy sheriffs, this novel follows the adventures of Constance Kopp and her two sisters.  Set in 1914, the book follows Constance's quest to defend her family and confront her past, capturing criminals in the process.  I have yet to read this one, but started instead with the second book in the series, "Lady Cop Makes Trouble."  

And Even More Fun:

My first book, "Chicken Scratch" is on sale through Monday.  Hop over to Amazon and check out the reviews, then order one to keep and one to give away.  One reviewer wrote, "Chicken Scratch really touched me.  . . . one easy-to-read, touching and fun book."

So that's my list, what books are on your list this year?

Advent Has An Edge (#SmallWonder link-up)

In early November a dear friend mentioned her desire to offer a pre-advent Advent retreat, she even had a title picked out, "The Edge of Advent."  She wanted to offer a space for people to prepare for the season, to stand on its edge and determine ahead of time what practices, what questions, might steer their journey toward the arrival of the Holy One.  I loved the idea and when my friend's husband fell sick, I chose to offer the retreat myself, because I knew I dearly needed it. 

Yesterday, a small handful of people gathered at Still Waters Retreat House in Carlisle, PA to listen and reflect.  The following is a compilation of a few thoughts I shared about Advent's edge.  

Advent Has an Edge.  

An Edge can be sharp,
like a knife, or dull.
Cutting Edge is new and exciting,
Edgy is raw and unsettled, like the wilderness
where John the Baptist appeared,
and all the people went out
to meet him there.

An Edge is a place of transition,
liminality, and potential.  God
seems to prefer the Edge and
those who dwell in it; appearing
most often among and to those
who find their way there
by faith or fate.       

Advent boasts a warning sign: 
Traveler Beware, the journey 
from here will leave you 
On Edge. You will know 
you're on the right path
when you find yourself dislocated,
caught between comforts like 
Mary and Joseph of long ago.

Advent reveals the Sharp Edges
of things - the sorrow on joy's fringes,
the place where light and darkness meet,
and the way every possession positions us
for loss.  Advent’s prophets declare
upheaval, a great rending of the
tapestry of this world.  Those in power
tremble, but the humble rejoice.     

Advent has an Edge. 
It is a beginning,
it is an end.  

I'd love to hear what you're reading or practicing during Advent this year.  In particular, I'm looking for new Advent materials for us to use as a family.  Let me know in the comments below!

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Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.  

What if we chose to deliberately look for small moments of wonder, the small sparks of presence, of delight or sorrow, of true humanity in which we meet God?  

That's my proposal - that we gather here each week to share one moment of Wonder from each of our days.  You're invited to link-up a brief post about a small moment of wonder.  Don't worry if your post is too long, too short, or not just right - you're welcome to come as you are.  

While you're here, please do take a look around and encourage at least one other blogger with a comment.  Thanks for being part of our community!  

"Healing" (#SmallWonder Link-Up)

Early this week my lower back popped, some inward tension caused it to explode in pain, twisting and curling my hips, shoulders, even the arches of my feet.  Monday it was bad, Tuesday worse and I started wearing a back brace.  By Wednesday I knew I was in serious trouble and texted a friend, “Do you have any muscle relaxers?  Ibuprofen isn’t cutting it.”

She replied, “No.  Maybe you should go to the doctor.”

“I know,” I said, “but they’ll make me get a scan and probably go for physical therapy.” 

My husband had my vehicle that day and a trip to the Dr. would involve a ride in his rattly old pickup truck, waiting, and then a second trip for a scan of my back.  Walking and standing brought real pain and the thought of such a trip was overwhelming. Instead of heading to the Dr., I pulled out all of my back care tricks.  I rubbed pungent Tiger Balm on my clenched muscles, wrapped my brace tight and threw back 1000 mg. of Ibuprophen. Then, I laid down on the floor, flat on my back, which seems to be one of the simplest ways to relax and realign my muscles.   

This is what I know I need to do when my back gets bad.  But there’s so little I can do in that prone position.  I can’t write, can’t be online, can’t clean, cook or do laundry.  I can read for brief periods of time until my arms grow weary, I can scroll through Facebook on my phone.  It’s humbling, it’s frustrating.

But I laid on my back as much as I could on Wednesday, I took a two hour nap and did slow, gentle stretches.  By Thursday things were a little better, by Friday another bit improved.

Every time this happens (once, twice, three times a year?) I think, “I have to work on my abs, my back needs more support.  It wouldn’t hurt to lose a little weight either.”  But these thoughts arrive at a time when I’m in too much pain to embrace them, by the time I’m up and able I’m too busy with life to make good on my own commitments. 

And so the cycle repeats.


I’ve heard a lot of talk about healing this past week in the wake of the election.  “The time for arguments is past, the time for healing is begun,” the rhetoric goes.  I believe that’s what we heard four years ago too and four years before that also.  Yet we continue to run ourselves, every four years, through a gauntlet of vitriol, hate and ideological (as well as actual) violence.  I'm not surprised that the nation of America is trapped in this cycle, but I'm dismayed that the church in America is also. 

Something about this repeated cycle tells me we’re not really that interested in healing after all, but more interested in rearming and preparing for the next round like boxers gasping for breath, dripping sweat in the corner of the ring between rounds.

How often can we keep repeating this injury before the whole body is beyond repair?  How long can we limp along?

Despite chronic and sometimes debilitating back pain for ten years I don’t take muscle relaxers because I need the pain to tell me to make a change.  Maybe it’s time we as a country starting listening to our pain and the pain of those around us.  Maybe it’s time we stop rushing to heal when we’ve yet to identify the wound, to cleanse it and seek amends.  Maybe its time the church took the lead in this activity.


I’ve been thinking about this passage in Isaiah 1 this week,

“Hear, O heavens, and listen, O earth; for the Lord has spoken: I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. 3The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people do not understand. 4Ah, sinful nation, people laden with iniquity, offspring who do evil, children who deal corruptly, who have forsaken the Lord, who have despised the Holy One of Israel, who are utterly estranged! 5Why do you seek further beatings? Why do you continue to rebel? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.6From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and bleeding wounds; they have not been drained, or bound up, or softened with oil.”

The prophet calls creation to bear witness against the people of God who, though reared by God have become “utterly estranged.”  I love the prophet’s use of image after image to convey the absolute discord between what is and what should be.  According to the prophet, the people of Israel lack the basic common sense of an ox or donkey, they’re utterly tone-deaf, wracked with delusion. 

Isaiah is addressing the nation of Israel – God’s people - and so the accurate parallel to us is to hear this as a word for the church, those who identify themselves as the people of God today.  What I hear in this passage is a pleading, lovesick God seeking to speak sense into a people who no longer see, no longer comprehend the peril of their situation. 


I'm convicted this week by my own failure to comprehend the reality of my situation physically in regard to my aching back.  And I’m prayerfully wondering the degree to which I should feel convicted of a failure to understand the reality of my situation spiritually, by which I mean, as the prophets always meant – in regards to righteousness and justice.

Isaiah isn’t asking people to come back to church, in fact a few verses down he slams their religious practices altogether.  He isn’t asking them to pray more or attend Bible study more faithfully.  God, through the prophet, is calling people to a faith that bears fruit in the arenas of justice and righteousness, particularly on behalf of the poor and marginalized as Isaiah 1:17 makes clear. 


This week has revealed the depth of my back issues, I would be foolish to continue to ignore them just because they lessen for a day, a week, a month.

This election has revealed the depth of our issues as a nation, but more importantly as a people who claim to seek God’s face.  We would be foolish to ignore them even if they lessen for a day, a week, a month.

Let us not hurry toward healing that is merely hiding.

Let us listen to voices around us, but particularly those of the poor, the weak, the marginalized.

Let us pray and examine our hearts, where is our own justice, our own righteousness lacking?

Let us seek to love not merely in words, but in deeds.    

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Thank you to everyone who participated in the Rafflecopter last week.  The winners of a free copy of "Chicken Scratch: Stories of Love, Risk & Poultry" are (drum roll . . . ) AMY HERTZLER and JACOB LONG. Congratulations!  I'll be emailing you soon for a mailing address.

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Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.  

What if we chose to deliberately look for small moments of wonder, the small sparks of presence, of delight or sorrow, of true humanity in which we meet God?  

That's my proposal - that we gather here each week to share one moment of Wonder from each of our days.  You're invited to link-up a brief post about a small moment of wonder.  Don't worry if your post is too long, too short, or not just right - you're welcome to come as you are.  

While you're here, please do take a look around and encourage at least one other blogger with a comment.  Thanks for being part of our community!  

Open Heart : A Sneak Peak and a Giveaway (#SmallWonder link-up)

This is it, friends, Monday, Nov. 7 "Chicken Scratch: Stories of Love, Risk & Poultry" officially launches into the world.  It's exciting and a little bit scary and so, in honor of that, I want to share an excerpt from the book - a story about love and risk, pain and joy.  Enjoy and when you're done reading scroll down to see my free launch-day giveaways.

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Cold winds and thunderstorms settled into the area over the weekend.  Saturday came and went in a fog of post-birthday-party exhaustion, and the sunny morning turned dark and windy by late afternoon.  In the morning, our sleepy kids stayed inside playing on the Wii, and I walked down to the fence, hoping to talk awhile with our neighbor Ann. 

I spotted her husband, Don, in the yard first, closer to the fence.  Based on two years of over-the-fence observation, I’ve reached the conclusion that Ann and Don’s yard is governed by a neat division of labor – Ann tends her teaming flowerbeds and Don putters in his vegetable garden.  Both the beds and the garden put ours to shame, but John and I comfort ourselves by remembering that the Ann and Don are retired and not raising four young children. 

I’ve noticed a similar division of labor in their approach to the neighborly business of fence-side small-talk – Ann engages freely in extended conversation over a wide range of topics, and Don does not.  Drawing Don to the fence to even ask a question is like pulling teeth.  Attempt more and he’s clearly uncomfortable.  

One day last summer, when we were integrating our second round of chicks into our well established flock, the twins discovered one of the chicks named America, trapped tight in the far corner of the run.  “She’s dead!  America’s dead!” they cried, running into the house and pulling me out into the yard.  Bending down to examine the chick I discovered a large bloody gash in her neck.  It looked, in fact, like she’d been decapitated.  I wasn’t sure what to do, and, more importantly, I didn’t want to deal with the dead bird alone while Isaiah and Levi ran enthusiastic circles around me. 

Standing up, I looked down toward Ann and Don’s yard hoping for help.  I caught a glimpse of Don and approached casually under the guise of commiserating but seriously hoping to convince him to take care of the dead bird.  Don, however, proved resilient in the face of my woman-in-distress ploy. 

“Oh,” he said, “that’s too bad.”  He didn’t offer to help, and, knowing it wasn’t his responsibility, I couldn’t bring myself to ask.  I would deal with the bird myself. 

When I got back to the chicken tractor I bent down again for a closer examination.  The twins, bored already with death, had wandered off and in their absence, I noticed the rise and fall the chick’s fluffy feathers.  She was still breathing, a clear sign she had not, in fact, been decapitated.  I walked into the run and reached into the far back corner where she was huddled.  Pulling her out and tucking her to my chest, I realized she was pecked up pretty badly but likely to survive.  After a few days of isolation and over-the-counter antibiotic ointment, she was on the mend, and I had learned not to expect Don to play the Knight in Shining Armor.   

So I wasn’t looking to talk to Don Saturday morning, I was looking for Ann.  I spotted her on the far side of their yard wearing shorts and tall black polka-dotted rain boots.  Easily forgetting she’s close to 70 years old, I watched as she pushed a wheelbarrow full of mulch around to her flower beds.  Seeing my approach, she made a bee-line to the fence, and we chatted about summer and the gigantic addition being added to a house on the hill behind our house.  While we talked, Isaiah and Levi ran over yelling, “Miss. Ann!  Miss. Ann!”  They climbed briefly up and down the fence, lapping up her attention, then trotted off to play again. 

The reason I walked down to the fence was that I needed someone to talk to.  The night before John and I had found out that dear friends of ours were separating, and our hearts were broken.  When our chit-chat wound down, I told Ann about it.  She affirmed the real pain of a marriage ending and how sad it is for everyone involved, sharing stories from her experience with the divorces of people she knows. 

So many of the married friends John and I share got married at the same time we did.  We knew, even then, that the odds were high that many of us would not stay married.  And yet now, some 15 years later, it still seemed impossible that some of our friends were entering into a post-marriage stage of life.

“Maybe we’re na├»ve,” I said, “I’m almost 40.  I don’t understand how these things still catch me by surprise.”  What I really couldn’t understand was why it hurt so badly – hurt to see our friends in such complete and utter pain, hurt to be unable to fix it for them, to only be able to stand by watching, listening, and praying. 

Turning back to face our yard, I noticed the Polish hens and asked Ann if she’d seen them.  She said she had but couldn’t really tell much about them since they were penned up in the run on the far side of our yard.   “Do you see the fluff-headed ones?” I asked, my eyes following the Polish hens as they pecked along the perimeter of the netting. 

“Yeah, kinda,” she said, “but not very well.” 

I described them for her in detail, painting a picture of their fluffy white pom-pom heads and lacy gray-black feathers.  As I talked, I felt love for them rise in my chest despite the distance between us. 

Later in the day, I told John about my conversation with Ann, about how I thought maybe we were just naive.  But I also told him something I had realized while standing at the fence watching those baby hens from a distance.  “I loved them,” I said, “even from all the way across the yard, and I guess if you’re the kind of person who can fall in love with a Polish hen, then life’s gonna hurt.” 

“What do you mean?” he asked. 

“There’s no separating the two,” I said.  “It’s like the words on that painting hanging in the upstairs hallway, “Love wide; make your way with an open heart.”  Loving a Polish hen is loving with an open heart, and an open heart’s gonna get hurt.  But an open heart also has access to the kind of joy that helps in the middle of the hurt.”

Some days, I think that’s the most we can hope for – enough joy to carry us through the hurt.  Maybe also, if we’re lucky, we might find a sturdy fence to lean on and a neighbor willing to listen for a few minutes or more.

(Like this story?  Want to read more?  Pop over now to order a copy!)

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Today, I'm giving away two Prize Packages.  Two lucky winners will receive a signed copy of "Chicken Scratch" AND a "Chicken Poop" lip balm.  (For the record, the lip balm contains NO poop and only natural ingredients like avocado oil, beeswax and jojoba oil.)  Check out the Rafflecopter below to enter to win.  Winners will be announced next Sunday.  

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.  

What if we chose to deliberately look for small moments of wonder, the small sparks of presence, of delight or sorrow, of true humanity in which we meet God?  

That's my proposal - that we gather here each week to share one moment of Wonder from each of our days.  You're invited to link-up a brief post about a small moment of wonder.  Don't worry if your post is too long, too short, or not just right - you're welcome to come as you are.  

While you're here, please do take a look around and encourage at least one other blogger with a comment.  Thanks for being part of our community!