Weekend One Word: Hand

Lake with verse

Reflecting on these words from Isaiah today – I think a lot of us feel this way sometimes:

“But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing, and to no purpose. Yet I leave it all in the Lord’s hand; I will trust God for my reward.”

Can I get an Amen?

Peace for your weekend, friends.

That Time I Dreamed about the Pope {or, How I Desire to be Known}


We’re just back from my favorite place in the world: the North Shore of Lake Superior, where we have a cabin on the edge of the lake that looks like an ocean. I’ve loved this place ever since my very first trip there with Brad more than 20 years ago.

Up on the North Shore, you can walk through a birch grove and hear nothing but the sound of the wind through the leaves, the call of a chickadee, the crunch of pebbles beneath your hiking boots.

You can underhand toss a smooth-as-butter rock into the glassy lake and watch the ripples expand further and further out until they disappear, blending into the great expanse of water that stretches as far as your eye can see.

You can leap wild and carefree with a yelp that echoes into the cavernous space, a split-second moment of blood-roiling exhilaration before the cold tomb closes over your head and you emerge sputtering and flailing.

You can sit on a boulder, your feet tucked in tight, and watch the water swirl around your fingertips as it burbles toward the thundering falls.

You can dip a paddle into strands of lakeweed wavering like snakes. You can laugh till your sides ache when your mom’s marshmallow erupts into flames and slides into the coals in one goopy glump. You can perch on the rocks and watch as day ebbs into night and the sky and the lake become one.

birch grove

Lake Superior

Brad and Rowan Leaping




Kelso Loop


Jeanine in Kyak


Lake Superior at Dusk

Lake Superior at Dusk2

I love all these things about the North Shore, but on this trip, I realized there’s one thing about our cabin on the edge of Lake Superior that I love most of all:

There’s no wifi. No computer. No Dish, cable or DirectTV. On some days, depending on who knows what, there isn’t even a proper cell phone connection.

At the cabin, I am truly disconnected. For one week out of fifty-two, I let it all go – the likes and comments; the Amazon rankings; the who’s arguing about which issue and which movie star is getting divorced from whom and whose blog post went viral and whose book is coming out when and why did she get an advance copy and I didn’t and I don’t think Kate Middleton should have chosen that hat and maybe I should try to pitch the Huffington Post again and did you hear about Whitney Houston’s daughter and why did I only get 11 shares on that blog post it took me four hours to write and hey I had no idea capri pants aren’t in style anymore.

Gone. Off the radar screen entirely with nary a second thought. It all melts away, and I don’t even notice it’s gone. Until, that is, I recognize what’s slipped into its spot, what’s taken its rightful place in the forefront, in full, crystal-clear focus:

My life.

My people. My place. My real thoughts, emotions and deepest desires.

My real life.

I know, I know these things should always be first; these things should always take priority. I mean, how pathetic, right, that my online life takes precedence over my actual, real, in-the-flesh life? But that’s the honest, ugly truth. It does. Not always, not all the time, not every minute. But often enough. Too often.

“I live my life in widening rings which spread out to cover everything.”

That’s the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. I read that line in one of his poems while I was up at the cabin, and it stopped me in my tracks. Because the hard truth is, I don’t always — or even often — live my life in widening rings. When I choose social media, when I choose to let social media dictate my life rather than living and being fully present in my real, actual, in-the-flesh life, I find myself living in an increasingly smaller and smaller space. More often than not, social media and my online life press in on me from all sides and crush the very life and breath out of me.

This, friends, is a quandary. Because as much as I dislike it, as much as I find that social media zaps the life right out of me, it’s an integral part of a writer’s professional life these days. Now, I could be brave like my friend Shawn Smucker, who recently closed his Facebook and Twitter accounts entirely, but frankly, I’m chicken. My platform stinks like giant rotten tomatoes as it is; can I really afford to step off the grid?

Or, here’s another, more difficult question: am I simply offering the platform rationale as an excuse? Is the real truth that I won’t step away from social media because it feeds my need to be known?

While I was on vacation in Minnesota I had a dream that I recalled in intricate detail when I awoke. In the dream, I was in charge of a visit by the Pope (it was not Pope Francis, but Francis’s successor, apparently). When I met the Pope, I extended my hand and introduced myself, and as he shook my hand, the Pope looked at me closely, and then said, I kid you not, “Hey, don’t I know you from somewhere? You look familiar…Oh! I know! I read your articles in the Journal Star!”

No lie. I dreamed that the Pope recognized me from my articles in the Lincoln Journal Star.

Once I was awake and had stopped dying of laughter, I realized the gravity of this funny-but-not-really-funny dream. It pointed in technicolor clarity to my desire to be known. Recognized. Dare I say, famous.

This, friends, is my be-all and end-all idol: I want to be known and valued.

Now here’s the point where, if I were a good Christian writer, I’d tell you that I am known – known by the One and Only One who matters. But I can’t do that, at least not honestly, because even though I believe and know it in my head, I don’t always believe and truly know it in my heart. And so to go down that road right now in this blog post, with relevant Bible verses and encouraging words, wouldn’t really be truthful or authentic.

Maybe this is where we come back to my struggles with faith. Maybe I haven’t been transformed as much as I’d like to believe. Because the truth is, if I truly believed and knew in my heart that God knows me and loves me and values me, and that’s all that really counts or matters when all is said and done, would I really continue to struggle day in and day out with this idol? Wouldn’t this problem be solved by now if I really believed I am known by God and that being known by him is the only being known that matters?

And how about this: if I don’t always truly believe and know in my heart that I am known by God and that’s all that matters, can I say I really, truly believe in God?

Oh boy. We’ve gotten ourselves down into one big ol’ rabbit hole, haven’t we? And you thought this post was going to be all Minnesota pretty pictures, didn’t you? {yeah, me too – thus the trouble with writing…sometimes it leads you where you don’t expect and where you don’t really want to go}

It seems I’ve been doing this a lot lately: leaving you with more questions than answers, more unsettled than peaceful. I’m sorry about that, I truly am. I guess though, for what it’s worth, questions and unsettledness go hand-in-hand with real life, and maybe even with real faith. At least that’s the way it seems to be for me.

For now, I’ll leave you with that Rilke quote again, because I think there’s something there that’s relevant to all the topics and questions I’ve touched on here: social media, being present, asking questions, wrestling with idolatry, living out faith. Friends, together let’s ask ourselves this; let’s sit with this question a bit today:

Are you living your life in widening rings? And if your answer is no, like it is for me, how might you begin to change that?

church window

What Are We Building?

Kimberly Coyle has been here as a guest poster before, but I just can't help myself: she's such a beautiful and talented writer, I had to ask her again. Please welcome Kimberly here today, and be sure to visit her blog for more of her wise insights and gentle, lyrical writing.   After … [Read More...]

kate's closet2

A Change of Clothes

I've "met" Katie Andraski (online, but perhaps someday in person?) only in the last few months, but already her wisdom and insights into life, the world around us and the Kingdom that is to come have impacted me deeply. She's a teacher (newly retired), an author and a woman with a beautiful heart … [Read More...]

Prayer is the Attention that Comes First

A few weeks ago during the Q & A session after a book reading, my friend Kori asked me what I thought about prayer. I stumbled over the question, admitting that my definition of and approach to prayer is broader and more fluid than it used to be. These days, I told the audience, my prayers … [Read More...]


Even Now, Peace Like a River

A few weeks before Spiritual Misfit released to the public, I mailed out a bunch of advance copies to people - "influencers," as they are called in publishing lingo. Some of these people I knew a little bit from the Christian blogging/writing world, some were people I didn't have a personal … [Read More...]

fern and verse

Weekend One Word: Paths

I know it's not always easy to glimpse those paths. Sometimes they are obscured by dense brush. Sometime they don't look like they think we should, or point in the direction we think we want. When in doubt, simply take one, single next step. Don't try to envision the whole path, the whole plan, but … [Read More...]

blue dragonfly

Dragonflies, Quiet, Hot Prairie Sun

Mountains, forests, farms, shore – New England’s landscape is as varied as its seasons, which present a fresh palette like clockwork every three months: delicate pastel crocus in spring; summer’s emerald rolling hills; autumn’s sapphire skies and raucous sugar maples and sassafras; the pristine … [Read More...]

bird nest with egg

When God is a Shard of Glass in the Gut

I heard him first before I saw him. Three chirps in a row, again and again, the same three chirps I'd heard the afternoon before, when I spotted the robin fledgling fluttering helter-skelter onto the branch of the honey locust tree. I'd sat on the front step and watched for mama bird to arrive with … [Read More...]