I Like You

PB and I exchange cards on Valentine’s Day.
That’s it.
No flowers, no candy, no fancy dinner out.

Even buying a card seems extravagant these days. Next year, I’m going to take my love to Walmart and peruse the valentine section, pick out a card, have him read it, then put it back on the rack. I may even give him a kiss right there in aisle three. We might hold hands as we walk out to the parking lot. With the money we saved, we could pick up a burger and fries and eat it in the car on the way home. Sounds perfect.

This year, however, we did splurge on cards
and PB found just the right one for me.

Forty-two and a half years ago,
we promised to love and cherish each other.
I’ve never once doubted PB’s love for me since that day.
We never promised to like each other though.

And there have been many days since August 25, 1979 that I’m pretty sure he didn’t like me too much. I know that because there were some days I didn’t like him either. But we loved each other still.

Love is a given.
We vowed to love each other
and every day we choose to make good on that promise.

But to be liked?
That’s different.

It means he would choose me for a friend even if we weren’t a couple.
It means he appreciates my quirky ways, even finding delight in them.
It means he’s genuinely interested in what I’m doing and where I’m going.
It means he would rather have me along than go somewhere alone.

He doesn’t just put up with me.
He likes me.

I think it’s possible that my Valentine card is a reflection of Divine Love.
Sure, God loves us. He has to. He promised He would.
But I also think He really, really likes us.
He chooses us,
delights in us,
is interested in us,
desires us to join Him.

“This is what the Lord says… You are mine.” Isaiah 43:1

How sweet it is to be liked by You. ❤️

An Ocean of Ink

Last week I came across the words of an old hymn,
“The Love of God”.
It was written by Frederick Lehman in 1917.

Lehman pastored several churches in the midwest, but what he really loved to do was write songs. At age 50, he came up against some hard times and moved his family to California where he got a warehouse job packing oranges and lemons into wooden crates. After hearing a rousing sermon on God’s love one Sunday evening, he couldn’t sleep. Words to a song began to form and he continued composing as he packed fruit the next morning. Soon two stanzas were complete. He felt it needed a third verse, but nothing came.

Several days later, he opened a book and a handwritten poem fell out. It had been a gift from someone who explained that the poem had been found 200 years earlier, written on the cell wall of a prison. One of the guards had found it after the prisoner died and he jotted the words down before painting over it.

When Lehman read the poem,
he knew immediately it was his third verse.
It was a miraculous, perfect fit.

Later, it was discovered that the poem dated back to 1000 A.D. and was written by a Jewish Rabbi. Somehow the Hebrew was translated to English and found its way to a prison cell. Somehow it was preserved by a guard and passed through hands until it landed in a book on Frederick Lehman’s shelf. Somehow the rhythm of the poem matched the meter of Lehman’s song exactly.

The hymn was completed in 1917, while these world events were being played out:

  • America declared war on Germany, sending the first combat troops to France
  • A world-wide influenza pandemic struck, killing 20 million by 1920
  • 15,000 African Americans silently walked down 5th Avenue in New York to protest racial discrimination

Things haven’t changed much.
We still need the love of God desperately.

“Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made;
Were every tree on earth a quill,
And everyone a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure;
The saints’ and angels’ song!”

10 Things I Learned in January

As much as I love the start of a new year, I don’t mind waving bye-bye to January. It’s cold. It’s dreary. It’s too soon to think about digging in the dirt. The fun holidays have passed. However, I do like sitting by the fire with a book on a winter’s night so it’s not all bad.

Here are a few things I learned (or re-learned) in January.

1. Spending a whole week in isolation wasn’t as much fun as I thought it would be. One morning in January I tested positive, so I packed up a boxful of books and left PB at the parsonage and went to the house in the woods. After four days of feeling miserable, I perked up and expected to relish hours of quiet. What a surprise to find I missed people, especially PB. He seemed to fair much better, enjoying control of the TV remote way too much. Never again. Next time, we get sick together.

2. We’ve given away the same $75 nine times. Back in 2014, PB and I loaned Costa Rican Juan Vicente $75 through Kiva, a nonprofit organization that helps people in underprivileged areas get a business going through crowd funding. Juan needed fertilizer for his coffee crop. When he paid his loan back, we sent it out again — this time to Soelia in Columbia. She needed a cow. The same $75 keeps making the rounds: Farilia in Haiti, Yesinia in Nicaragua, Grace in Kenya, Reynaldo in Peru, Tigran in Armenia, Nelly in Kenya. Nelly is a single mom who needs to buy some milk cans so she can sell the milk from her cow. Best $75 I’ve ever spent.

3. Trees can live without people, but people can’t live without trees. I’ve been reading a lot about trees this month. They are much more amazing than I ever imagined. Author Matthew Sleeth points out that trees provide the oxygen our lungs need to breath. What we didn’t know until recently, is that God created our lungs to look like trees.

“Have you ever looked at an image of the bronchial tubes and branches of a lung? A cast of our respiratory ‘tree’ is indistinguishable from the shape of a bare oak tree. Yet for almost all of human history, we hadn’t a clue that we are actually breathing trees.” (Reforesting Faith, Matthew Sleeth) 

4. Green velvet is not my style. We are storing a couch for our son in our living room. It is mid-century modern and did I mention it is covered in green velvet? Nothing about this piece of furniture appeals to me. I tried to cover it with a white blanket, but the green still showed. Lately, I’ve been looking at it a little differently as I’ve had two people walk into our house and offer big money for the “awesome” sofa.

5. I can paint. Back in 7th grade, we had the choice to either go to art class or skip it and go to study hall. I chose study hall. Mrs. Z was relieved. My stick men didn’t even look like sticks. It was clear I didn’t have the gift. Fifty some years later, I’m rethinking that snap judgment. A group of ladies gathered for a fun afternoon with canvas and paint. I surprised myself. My moon looked like a moon. My hill looked like a hill. My trees even looked kind of like trees, with sticks. Maybe there’s hope for me yet.

6. My word for the year is a doozy. “Hesed” is a Hebrew word that is basically inexpressible and untranslatable. The best we can do in English is “lovingkindness”, but that doesn’t really come close. Tim Keller says hesed is “the steadfast love of a covenant God who cares for us, not because we are perfect but because He is.” Michael Card spent ten years studying this word and this is his definition: “When the person from whom I have a right to expect nothing, gives me everything.” Gotta think about that for a while — like maybe a year.

7. Speaking of Michael Card, he has an album called “To the Kindness of God”. After writing a book about hesed, he wrote nine songs about hesed. Go listen to “That Kind of Love”. I mean it. Go do it.

8. Losing hurts worse than winning feels good. The Packers lost yet another playoff game to the 49ers. This was supposed to be “the” year. Oh well. I refuse to allow 11 men who make millions of dollars running around on a field affect my level of happiness. I choose to focus on the 11 little people who run around in my house from time to time. That’s a whole other level of happiness.

9. The word “retirement” feels weird coming out of my mouth. PB announced his coming retirement to our congregation and he only choked up a few times. The process has begun. It’s the right decision but it feels monumental, scary and a little exciting.

10. Jesus used the word “love” 29 times in His final message to the disciples, as recorded in John’s gospel. I think they got the point. I hope we do, too.

Love Mandate

“A new commandment I give you: Love one another.” John 13:34

Mandates are not real popular these days. It seems nobody likes being told what to do. Some people expend enormous amounts of time and energy either supporting or opposing mandates that come down from places of authority. The debate rages on between standing up for our individual freedoms and laying down our rights for the good of others. I’m not about to wade into those murky waters. Our silly arguments pale in light of Jesus’ final words to His followers.

The night before Jesus was killed, He issued a mandate to His disciples:
Love one another.

Growing up Jewish, the disciples were used to commandments. They knew the Big 10, they were well versed in the 613 precepts found in the writings of Moses, and the hundreds of added Pharisaical laws were familiar to them. There hadn’t been any new commandments for hundreds of years. The people had their hands full trying to obey all the old ones.

This command was different.
It was not a suggestion.
(“You guys might want to try getting people to love each other.”)
It was not based on emotions.
(“Love people when that ooey-gooey feeling overtakes you.”)
It had no conditions.
(“Love people, but only those who are lovable.”)

This command was new.
Love was to be the distinguishing factor in the movement that was about to take over the world.

This begs some questions:

Can you command someone to love? Apparently, yes.
Do we need to be commanded to love? Evidently.
Does Jesus have the authority to command this? Yep.
Is this commandment optional? No siree.
Who are we commanded to love? Other believers.
Why do we need this commandment? Because it’s not our natural default.
Does God expect us to obey this mandate? Absolutely.
Where can we find an example of this? John 15:13

Do Christians have the right to not love?
I say no.

What say you?

The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved

I once read a true story about a mom and her three sons. She had a terminal illness and before she died, she wrote each of her boys a letter, to be opened in private after her passing. Each message held her special thoughts about each son. All three letters ended with the same line: “Don’t tell your brothers, but you were my favorite and I loved you most.”

Five times in John’s gospel, this mysterious phrase pops up: “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” The fact that those words aren’t used anywhere else in the scriptures raises suspicion that John may have been referring to himself, while trying to stay humble. Why does John tag himself as that disciple Jesus especially loved?

John’s Gospel uses the word “love” 39 times, more than the other three gospel writers put together. (Matthew–15x, Mark–7x, Luke–14x) But John doesn’t use the word until the third chapter. In the middle of a discussion with a Pharisee about the Kingdom, rebirth, and believing, Jesus drops an astounding truth. God loves humans. “God loves you so much,” Jesus told Nicodemus, “that He gave you Me.”

God loves the world, yes.
But somehow, He also loves each of us.
So don’t tell anybody,
but today He wants you to know this:
you, who are especially loved by the Father,
you are His favorite.
You are the disciple whom Jesus loves.

Be Like a Tree

When I was a young girl, I used to love the apple tree that was in the horse pasture by our house. It had a low hanging branch that made it easy to climb. I would take my Nancy Drew book, jump over the fence, and then hoist myself up to sit on a limb, resting my back against the trunk. Reading a book while sitting in a tree was magical.

These days, I might sit under a tree with a book, but my climbing days are over. Still, trees hold an allure for me. I’d take a walk in the woods over a stroll on the beach any day. (Unless it’s February — then a stroll on the beach can’t be beat.)

The opening song in the Hebrew book of prayers, Psalm 1, tells me to learn from the trees.

“…be like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither…” Ps. 1:3

There are some instructions on how to be this kind of tree:

  • Get planted in a good place
  • Be still to let living water saturate the roots
  • Pay attention to the seasons
  • Graciously share what develops
  • Stay refreshed and vibrant

So I’m asking myself some questions:

  • Where do I plant myself most days? In ungodly counsel and in the seat of mockers (Ps. 1:1), or in God’s Word, meditating day and night (Ps. 1:2)?
  • What am I soaking up? Fresh springs of living water from the Lord, or the lifeless stagnation of worldly advice?
  • Am I willing to accept seasons of dormancy and stillness, or do I constantly push for peak productivity?
  • During times of prosperity and growth, will I be generous and eager to share, or will I hoard the bounty for myself?
  • As I grow older, how will I keep myself from withering up and being blown away like chaff (Ps. 1:4)? Will I abide in the Vine, remaining in Him, bearing much fruit (John 15:5)?

A children’s Sunday school song runs through my mind every time I read Psalm 1.

I’m gonna be like a tree, planted by the water,
Trusting in the Father to keep me strong.
I’m gonna be like a tree, planted by the water,
Trusting in the name of the Lord.
The deeper the roots grow, the better the fruits grow,
The blessings bloom out for all to see.
The deeper the roots grow, the more my life shows,
That Jesus is the Lord of me.

Integrity Kids Worship

What kind of tree will I be?
With over 60,000 species in the world,
there is plenty of room for variety.

I have no visions of becoming
a tall pine
or a stately oak
or a majestic redwood.
I would like to be an apple tree,
with a low hanging branch,
in a green pasture,
inviting small ones to crawl up
and sit a while with a book,
munching on the sweet fruit
of a life lived in Jesus.

My Word for 2022

This is going to sound extremely nerdy,
but I chose a Hebrew word for 2022.
The word is “hesed”.
I did this because I’m setting out to spend a year
on each fruit of the Spirit in my personal study time.

But the fruit of the Spirit is
love, joy, peace, 
patience, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. 
Galatians 5:22

Yep, that’s nine years.
I like to plan ahead.
(Kinda glad self-control is at the end.)


The first fruit for year number one is love; but that seemed too general, too obvious, too broad. One of the ways our word “love” is translated in Old Testament Hebrew is the word “hesed”. Don’t be fooled by its simple appearance. It is long, deep, high and wide. Author Michael Card decided to take a year to write a book on this single word. It took him ten.

Hesed is possibly the most unique word ever uttered. That may sound like an exaggeration, but consider the following: this one Hebrew word is translated into English in over 100 different ways, making it practically untranslatable. There is lots of room to crawl inside and rattle around in this two syllable treasure for a year.

Back in 1535, when Myles Coverdale was working on an English translation of the Bible, he invented a new word to try to capture what “hesed” meant. Lovingkindness. But that doesn’t even come close to covering the depth of this word. Don’t take my word for it. Here is the list* of ways we come across it in our Bibles, compiled by a man who spent 10 years studying one word.

That should give us enough to chew on for a while.

* “Inexpressible: Hesed and the Mystery of God’s Lovingkindness”, by Michael Card

Have you picked out a word for the year? Please share!

A Final Thought on My Word for 2021

My word for this year was ASK.
I intended to steep myself in good teaching on prayer.
And I did.
I determined to establish a more consistent prayer life.
And I did.
I set out to ask, seek and knock.
And I did.

Now, as the year winds down,
it seems God has one more lesson for me on asking.

I tend to think of asking as always asking for something. I add to my list of prayer requests week after week, hoping for a positive outcome — to get what I’m asking for. I am looking for a result with a good benefit and it doesn’t get checked off my list until I receive that answer. Even when asking for “spiritual” things, the desire is still there for action, change, fulfillment.

Then God began to ask me some questions.

What if there is another kind of asking?
The kind that isn’t focused on results?
What if you asked different types of questions?

Like:
God, what do You want me to know before I go into this day?
Should I buy this ____, or wait?
What books do You want me to read?
Where would You like us to go on vacation?
Who do You want me to reach out to today?
What should we write about today?
Lord, what other questions do You have for me?
What are You asking of me?

A year spent exploring prayer, and the whole time my emphasis was on my words — how to pray, what to pray, when to pray. And I learned so much. But the fact that this new insight didn’t come up until the end of the year makes me wonder if God couldn’t get a word in edgewise until now.

I’m grateful for the invitation to ask.
Ask and it will be given to you.
Seek and you will find.

Knock and the door will be opened to you.

I’m grateful for this new invitation to ask better questions.
And learn to be a better listener.

Top Movies/Shows of 2021

Here are my top picks for movies and TV shows that PB and I watched this year. It’s getting harder to find television that is praise-worthy. Maybe you noticed. I went over my list and checked it twice to stretch this favorites list to ten. I didn’t include two carryovers from last year’s list (“The Great British Baking Show” and “The Chosen – Season 2”) even though they received a star in the margin of my journal.

1. Miss Potter (Amazon Prime) — This is the story of Beatrix Potter, the author of “The Tale of Peter Rabbit”. It takes place in Victorian England and is charming from start to finish. A little romance, a little comedy, and a look at the creative process of an absolutely delightful writer/artist. (PG)

2. The Repair Shop (Netflix) — This is a British television reality series that follows expert craftspeople who restore family heirlooms. They all work together in a barn in the English countryside. It is all very proper, but not in a stuffy way. These people are genuinely nice and polite to each other. It’s a wonderful escape from a world that has not been so nice and polite lately.

3. Get Low (Amazon Prime) — Robert Duvall plays a crusty old hermit in the mountains of Tennessee who throws his own funeral, where he uncovers a long-held secret. (PG-13)

4. A Week Away (Netflix) — If you’ve ever been to church camp in the summer, you will totally get this. A bad boy gets sent to camp and meets a good girl. Completely predictable and cheesy, but it’s like they know it’s cheesy, so it’s okay. Super fun music and dancing (it’s a musical!) with cameo appearances by Amy Grant (camp nurse) and Steven Curtis Chapman (lifeguard).

5. The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix) — This series is definitely a departure from my usual wholesome picks. It is rated Mature for many reasons, so beware (language, suggestive scenes, addiction and abusive behavior). It is the story of an orphan who is a chess prodigy. She grows up to compete at the highest level, but self-destructs. It’s pretty dark, but gave me compassion for people struggling with addiction.

6. Fatherhood (Netflix) — The previews to this movie led me to believe it was a comedy. I cried through the whole thing. Kevin Hart plays a widowed dad who has to raise his baby girl alone. There are some lighter moments, but grab a box of tissue. (PG-13)

7. Marvel Movies (Disney+) — I’m lumping several Marvel movies into one category. They are pure entertainment. We watched “Guardians of the Galaxy” (volumes 1 and 2), “Ant Man”, “Ant Man and Wasp” and “Dr. Strange”. (PG-13)

8. All Creatures Great and Small (PBS) — This Masterpiece Theater production is set in the 1930’s in England. It’s based on a series of books by James Herriot, a veterinarian in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales. The characters and the filming all make for a really enjoyable experience. Season 2 is coming soon!

9. Awakenings (Netflix) Robin Williams stars in this remarkable story about a doctor who discovers an experimental drug that effectively brings catatonic patients out of their unresponsive state. Based on a true story, Robert DeNiro awakens after 30 years of sleeping-sickness. (PG-13)

10. Sports — I can’t overlook the fact that PB and I watched a lot of sports this year. Between the Brewers playoffs, the Bucks championship and the Packers run to the Superbowl, we logged in lots of hours. Plus, I can read a book while there’s a game on, so everybody’s happy. Full disclosure — I’m the only one who stays up when games go long. But I yell loud enough to wake up PB when there’s an exciting finish.

That’s it! Happy viewing in 2022.
Or read books, knit sweaters and bake bread instead.

My Top Books of 2021

I like reading end-of-the-year posts that reflect back on favorite things, especially books. Sometimes I find a few titles to add to my TBR list. Sometimes I shake my head and screw up my nose at people’s taste in reading. These lists are pretty subjective and mine is no different. So take what you want and feel free to leave the rest.

I read 53 books in 2021, 12 of which were fiction, which is a new record for me. Because I focused on prayer this year, there are several titles on that topic. Here we go!

10. How to Pray: A Simple Guide for Normal People, by Pete Greig
Pete is the head of the 24/7 Prayer Movement. Back in 1999, a simple student-led prayer vigil in England went viral and people all over the world joined in to pray. And it never stopped. Twenty-two years later, Greig has learned a thing or two about prayer. This straight-forward, approachable guide was a good reminder of basics that I needed.

9. God On Mute: Engaging the Silence of Unanswered Prayer, by Pete Greig
What happens when the head of a global prayer movement doesn’t get an answer to his prayers? Greig’s wife suffered a series of seizures that almost took her life and she continues to live with a debilitating disease, despite prayers for healing. In this book, Greig gets personal and honest about his own struggle and helps us wrestle with the hard reality of unanswered prayer. He reads the audio version of his book — you can hear the pain and the hope in his voice.

8. Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep, by Tish Harrison Warren
Drawing on her own painful experience of loss and doubt, Warren was grounded by liturgical prayer when she had no words of her own to pray. She writes about going through hard seasons in a way that helps us see the beauty in the midst. Her book opened up to me the world of ancient prayers given to the church through the centuries — rich prayers that are deep and vibrant.

7. The Whistling Season, by Ivan Doig
One of my reading goals this year was to find a novel set in Montana in the early 1900s. Why, you ask? My great-great-grandparents went to Montana in the late 1800s and homesteaded near Lewistown. I have a pile of letters written by Great-Great-Grandma Harriet to her daughter Kate (my great-grandma) in Wisconsin. I have long idealized what life was like for them out in Big Sky country. This novel helped me enter into their world. Plus, it’s a really enjoyable story.

6. Reading Ruth, by Leon Kaas and Hannah Mandelbaum
Our church did a women’s Bible study this summer on Ruth, so I downloaded this short volume to read along. It is written by a Jewish man and his granddaughter, which I thought was charming. Although Kaas is not a Jesus follower, his insights into Jewish tradition and the Hebrew meaning of words really enriched the study.

5. Night Driving: Notes From a Prodigal Soul, by Chad Bird
This is the story of an arrogant pastor and driven seminary professor who destroyed his marriage and career with affairs and addictions. With his life in a heap of ruins, he started driving a semi-truck through the Texas oil fields at night. After ten years of bitter struggle, grace and healing finally won his heart. He was a prodigal soul who found his way back to God. Chad Bird became a humble servant who now writes like no one else. Other books by this author that I read this year include: “Your God Is Too Glorious”, “The Christ Key”, and “Unveiling Mercies”. I will read everything this man puts out there.

4. Pray Big: Learn to Pray Like an Apostle, by Alistair Begg
This book caught my eye at a radio station where PB and I were doing an interview. The host told me to take it home with me and since I can’t turn down a free book, I slipped it in my purse. I was afraid this little paperback would turn out to be one of those “name-it-and-claim-it” kinds of things. I was skeptical. I was wrong. This small gem held many nuggets of truth that I’m still thinking about.

3. God of All Things: Rediscovering the Sacred in the Everyday World, by Andrew Wilson
At the time I read Wilson’s book, I thought it was okay. But then I kept taking it off the shelf and referring back to it over and over. He takes the simple, ordinary things of this earth and weaves them around scripture, tying the holy to the common. My favorite chapter was entitled “Pigs”, but each short chapter holds its own treasure.

2. A Burning in My Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene H. Peterson, by Winn Collier
Collier was given the privilege of perusing all of Eugene Peterson’s personal diaries and journals, as well as compiling notes from hours of interviews with the famous pastor/writer before Peterson died in 2018. This biography doesn’t leave out the uncomfortable stuff, yet captures the remarkable life of a man of enduring faith, boundless creativity and lifelong devotion to the Word.

1. Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer, by Eugene Peterson
My number one book this year combined the theme of my year (prayer) with one of my favorite authors (Peterson). This book was a turning point for me in my quest to better understand prayer and become a better pray-er. “We cannot bypass the Psalms. They are God’s gift to train us in prayer that is comprehensive and honest.” Here is his recommendation: “That’s it: open your Bibles to the book of Psalms and pray them — sequentially, regularly, faithfully, across a life-time. This is how most Christians for most of the Christian centuries have matured in prayer. Nothing fancy. Just do it.” Most of my copy of this book is underlined. If you’re at all interested in falling in love with the Psalms, or learning to pray like Jesus did, this is the book for you.

As always, I’d love a good book recommendation!
I’ll add it to the 200 titles on my TBR list.
Here’s to a happy reading year in 2022!