Inviting Folks for Dinner

Tonight we host some new friends for dinner. I know it’s strange to gather on a Monday night, but why not? Everyone needs to eat, and this way, the family coming doesn’t need to worry about cooking or cleaning. It’s a weeknight break!

They come. They eat. They go home. It’s a quick, fun weeknight thing. The children will love it because I finally found a meal that everyone loves, no matter what the ages. (If you need a gluten-free version or something dairy free, I’m no help here. Tip: Ask in advance for food allergies; in this case, everyone can have gluten and dairy.)

If you want a menu for your own weeknight gathering, I’ve included it below. You can make the lasagna and cookies on the weekend or anytime you have a moment. They both freeze well.

  • Pioneer Woman Lasagna (my favorite for company!)
  • Garlic Breadsticks of any kind cooked from frozen
  • Caesar Salad from bag salads (easy!) 
  • Fresh fruit salad (strawberries were on sale)
  • Dessert of Chocolate Chunk Cookies (your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe but use bars of chocolate cut up) 

Enjoy a weeknight dinner with friends!


The Books You Never Publish

Sometimes I go back and look over all my hopeful prayers about books I wrote that nobody published. I recently read in my prayer journal how certain I was that God was leading in this way or that way, with this novel or that nonfiction book. I just knew He’d grant all my dreams to publish all my novels. I just knew it.

I told God exactly how it would go. I could see it all in my mind.

Maybe you see exactly how it will go for you. You can see it clearly like I thought I could.

Once, I was even convinced I’d be a poet as my career. That’s what I knew God was doing.

Since I keep such a record of prayers and convictions–both in journal form and in the actual pages of my Bible–I come smack against my own history every time I sit down to spend time with the Lord. What my past teaches me is that we produce the work God ordains for our lives, but He is in charge of where, how, and when the harvest occurs. He ordains the fruit. He might use our writing powerfully and widely, in published form. He might not. It doesn’t ultimately matter. What matters is Jesus and what it meant to work alongside Him in worship and joy. What matters is how God used the writing to make me more like Jesus. My publishing plan can never matter more than Jesus.

(This is why, in my book Chosen for Christ, my favorite line is that we’re chosen for a Person, not a plan. Don’t you love that?)

And, what if our books have nothing to do with publication but everything to do with the healing that comes through narrative, as if we wrote stories we had to tell for our own benefit? What if our books were for the few and never the many? What if that book you hold in your hands is something to be kept between you and God forever?

As I continue now, all these years later, to publish and speak, I see what it meant to release the harvest into God’s hands. The harvest He ordains is perfect, on time, and for our good and His glory. I can release my work into God’s hands.

And my novels stay for the few. They stay between me and Jesus for now. And when I remind God I was supposed to be a poet, I write down the poem that only He can see.


Back to Country Music

This semester, my students who arrive early to class to hang out request their favorite country music videos. For the last sixteen weeks, I’ve listened to more Kelsea Ballerini, Luke Bryan, Miranda Lambert, Thomas Rhett, Sam Hunt, Brett Eldredge, Raelynn, and Blake Shelton than I’d like to admit.

I learn the genre country pop. One student tells me to please just try the Kelsea Ballerini on Pandora.

I do it.

And now, it’s all I do. It only takes one good country song, and you’re hooked. Every five years or so, I return to country music, and it takes over. I play it in the kitchen and in the car. I listen to the stories and smile. There’s something about country music that hits your heart at the right time, in the right way.

So I’m back to country music.


Long Term Joy: The Art of Bonsai

For Easter, we gave each daughter her own bonsai tree kit to grow little trees from seeds to then prune and shape for the next several years. It’s a skill we decided to learn together.

We laughed when we realized that, by the time we begin our pruning, Sarah will have left for college and Kate will be in her senior year of high school. But thinking this long term has brought us a new kind of joy. It’s a waiting, patient kind of anticipation of the bonsai trees coming.

Just this last week, a few of the seeds we planted on Easter morning have sprouted. Some will take several more weeks.

Every morning, we check our seeds, assess the moisture of the soil, and live in the long-term joy of bonsai trees.


“I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.” –Louisa May Alcott

This little line in Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, makes me smile today. I don’t know much about sailing, but I love the idea that sailors don’t fear storms because they know how to sail in them. They know how to harness the power of the wind and make it work for them to push or pull them in the direction they wish to go.

I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.

When I’m discouraged by my circumstances or fearful of any of life’s storms, I want to remember what it means to live as a sailor who knows how to use the storm to sail.

And maybe this strong, fearful wind has come into my life to get me where I’m supposed to go.


Special Moments with Barbara Bush

When I heard that Barbara Bush’s journey here ended, I pulled out two old photos.

In the first, I stood beside her at a special gathering of school children in 1987 to celebrate her Reading is Fundamental Program. In the second, the teenage me stood by Barbara Bush during a party at her vacation home in Kennebunkport, Maine because my best friend at the time had a father in the White House Press Corps. We tagged along.

I remember how special I felt. I remember thinking about Barbara Bush as a role model and inspiration back then, and I’m grateful for these moments as a child and as a teen.


It’s Just a Day

When my daughters aren’t having the best day, we often say, “Well, it’s just a day.”

It’s just a day.

It’s OK that we needed to nap all afternoon or that we just wanted to watch TV till bedtime. It’s OK that we ate too many cookies or didn’t finish our homework. It’s OK that we shouted at our sister or never made our bed. It’s OK that everything went wrong at lunch or during an exam. It’s OK that our hair looked awful and we felt uncomfortable in our clothes.

It’s just a day. Tomorrow is a new day.

We hug each other and say, “It’s just a day.” Let’s snuggle up and start a new day tomorrow.

It’s just a day.

It’s just one day out of thousands of thousands of days.


The Snare Has Been Broken

Yesterday, I spent time considering Psalm 124 and David’s praise to the Lord. He writes in verses 7-8:

We have escaped like a bird out of the fowler’s snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped. Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. 

I took a few moments to think about all the “snares” God has broken in my own life and all the ways He has allowed me to escape that which would have destroyed me. I thanked God for breaking the snare of despair and bitterness. I thought about being set free from bad relationships, harmful activities, and a whole list of entanglements that might have suffocated me.

God releases you from the snare. He gives you power, resources, and insight to do so. He sends wise counselors to help. He strengthens your faith to make hard decisions. But first, He shows you where and what it is that’s beginning to trap you or already has you in its grip. I read God’s word daily for this very reason: it exposes lies, deception, and dark and slippery paths. God’s word heightens my sensitivity to the Holy Spirit and helps me hear the voice of the Shepherd directing my steps. I often ask Jesus to show me any hidden snares, especially as I embark on new projects.

God breaks the snare. We cannot do it alone. So many times in my life, I’ve cried out to Jesus, “Only you can release my foot from the snare!” as David does in Psalm 25:15.

The snares hide. They disguise themselves so the birds cannot know. But God can open our eyes–even right at this moment–to know what will ensnare us. And then, He provides our way of escape. He breaks the snare.


Instantly Regained

Today I read something that reminds me of my research on shame all those years ago. Hannah Whitall Smith writes about sin and how, instead of collapsing under discouragement that “all is lost,” we come to God in repentance and start fresh again on the journey.

Yet so many of us live as if it’s “game over” when we make a mistake or find ourselves entangled in sin. We hide in shame. We don’t talk about it. We stop connecting with people because of our shame. I’ve seen this behavior in my own life and in the lives of so many students in my role in campus ministry.

Sin is, indeed, serious. I would never undermine its destruction and pain. It’s so great that Someone died for it, to bring us to God, to make us holy before Him. We stand condemned and guilty apart from Jesus. But in Christ, our guilt is gone.

But shame lingers. We keep punishing ourselves for our failures.

If you find yourself punishing yourself and believing you’ve destroyed everything by your sin, Smith helps us think of it as that which “momentarily disturbs” your journey on the path of sanctification. Smith says it like this: “We may for a moment turn aside from the path, but the path is not obliterated by our wandering and can be instantly regained.”

In parenting, we “start fresh” after arguments, disobedience, or bad attitudes. We repair any damage and get right back on the path. We don’t hold grudges or punish ourselves for our shortcomings.

We turn back to God, and we instantly regain the path. He makes everything right; He points the way back; He can turn our wandering into something beautiful. Day by day, we return to Him in confession and repentance. We don’t live in shame. We live in intimacy with a Savior who already forgave us and knows we are much worse than we can even imagine. Yet, He loves us!

He walks beside us on the path, and He’s never surprised by the fact that we’re human.