God is Not a God of Dead-Ends & Dashed Hopes

Back Patio Newsletter readers: you already read a version of this post, so feel free to skip this one. :)


Check this out – I snapped this picture with my phone on the way to the post office a few weeks ago:


Yeah, it’s a publishing contract! I know! I know!

After eight long months of wilderness wandering, I’ve finally stepped onto a new path – though it’s not the path I anticipated or perhaps even initially desired.

You might remember that my original book proposal was turned down no fewer than 15 times over the past several months. The hard truth is that Spiritual Misfit simply didn’t sell well enough for publishers to risk another memoirish book from me right now, and so I had to put the dream of another memoirish book on the back burner. That was tough. Really tough.

But here’s the good news:

God is not a God of dead-ends and dashed hopes; he is a God of promise and new beginnings – though  we don’t always recognize those new beginnings at first.

A few months ago, my 50 Women editor Chad and I chatted, and as a result, we came up with an idea for a book. The problem, though, was that initially I didn’t want to write this particular book. This book felt too big for me; too smarty-pants; too important. I felt under-qualified and just plain not smart enough to write this book. I imagined a professor-type writing this book – someone who wore tweed and smoked a pipe and listened to opera on NPR.

So I sat on the idea. I didn’t write the proposal. I didn’t pursue it. I told my editor I would “think about it,” and then I swept the idea under the rug.

Until, that is, I happened to mention the idea to three close friends…all three of whom said, “Um, Michelle, I hate to break it to you, but I think God might be in this. I think this might be your next book.”

I hadn’t seen it that way at all.

My own ideas and expectations of what my next book should look like blinded me to the opportunity looking me square in the face. I didn’t recognize the opportunity, I didn’t see the path, because it didn’t look exactly the way I’d imagined and expected it should.

Thank God for friends who show us the path when our own expectations blind us to God’s abundant gifts.

Thank God for friends who encourage us when we feel inadequate, unworthy and afraid, who remind us that we don’t have to be a tweed-wearing, opera-listening, smarty-pants to write a particular kind of book.

Thank God for friends who say, “This, this right here, is the way; now walk in it.”

So yeah, I’m walking a brand-new path, friends – an unfamiliar, mountainous path, full of twists and turns and potholes.

I’m writing a full-length biography of Martin and Katharina Luther’s marriage – an “insider” look at their lives together, not just as reformer/theologian and run-away nun, but as husband and wife, man and woman. It will be released by Baker Books in early 2017 – just in time for the historic 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.


I am equal parts excited and terrified (actually, more like 90 percent terrified, 10 percent excited). My desk looks like this:


The first time I went to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln library and gazed at the floor-to-almost-ceiling shelves of books, hundreds of books by and about Martin Luther (half of them written in German for pete’s sake), I cried. Hidden amid the stacks, I actually cried.

Because who am I, right? Who am I to write a book about Martin Luther when So. Many. Books. have already been written about him? What in the world do I have to say that could possibly matter? What can I possibly add to the thousands (millions?) of words already written?

Honestly? I don’t know. But I do know this:

Three friends, my husband, my editor and perhaps even God believe that I can and should write this book, that it does matter, that I will have something to say and that in its own little way, it will make a difference.

And so I said yes. I signed the contract, I dropped it off at the post office, and I checked out the first of dozens and dozens of books about Martin Luther from the University of Nebraska-Library. I stepped onto the path, even though the path doesn’t look like I thought or even hoped it would.

I stepped onto this unfamilar path, trusting and believing that God is not a God of dead-ends and dashed hopes, but a God of promise and new beginnings.

Q4U: Have your own expectations ever blinded you to a new opportunity? Could it be that you are looking at a new path right this minute and simply don’t recognize it because it doesn’t look like you expected or hoped it would? 

Where’s Your One Square Inch of Silence?

swim raft in the sun

I picked up the magazine from my neighbor Karna’s table. “Shhhhhh…Everything you always wanted to know about peace and quiet: The Silence Issue,” the cover headline read.

Well, yeah, sign me up for silence, thank you very much.

I read the whole issue of Ode magazine cover to cover before I realized it was dated July/August 2008; but in the end, that didn’t matter – the content was timeless.

Like the story about “acoustic ecologist” Gordon Hempton (listen to a terrific podcast with Hempton here), an Emmy Award-winning documentary sound recordist who cares very deeply about quiet – so deeply, in fact, that he’s made protecting quiet his mission on Earth.

Hempton, who’s been called “America’s foremost guru of quiet” by USA Today, claims that there are less than 10 naturally quiet places left in the United States and zero in Europe. He’s identified the quietest place in America as a spot in Olympic National Park’s Hoh Rain Forest in Washington – a place he calls One Square Inch.  Hempton believes in soundscape management – that is, protecting our wild places from the intrusion of manmade noise.

When was the last time you were surrounded by a silence uninterrupted by manmade noise? When was the last time you took the time to be quiet?

When was the last time you heard not Twitter chirps and cell phone beeps and garbage trucks, the swish of the dishwasher, rumble of the dryer, scream of the jet overhead? But instead, the taptaptap of the downy woodpecker, the hush of wind in your ears, the gurgle of water over river rocks, the click of a beetle’s wings?

When was the last time you heard only that and nothing else?


leaves and rain2

reflections on the Frio

Frio kayaks

Ordinarily I’d tell you I couldn’t remember the last time I experienced that kind of quiet. But recently I enjoyed exactly that – a rare moment of absolute, natural quiet, untainted by manmade sound.

Spotting the emerald green, I stepped off the dirt path, skirted around wizened trunks and spiny prickly pear cactus, and jogged down the matted grass toward the bank.

I heard it first – a splash, then a flurry of wings thrumming the still air. A second later I glimpsed the bird itself, magnificent and regal, rising above the malachite water – a Great Blue Heron, its wings dipped in steel, neck tucked tight.

He was quick, too quick for my camera, so I simply watched, one hand shielding my eyes from the glare, as he soared around the bend and out of sight, spindly legs held straight under his elegant wingspan.

I sat on pockmarked rock on the bank of the Frio River, my back to the skyscraping canyon wall. The sun warmed the top of my head, and the cool wind dried the sweat to salt on my skin. Chin on my knees, I stared at the water, at its emerald green, at the rock shelves suspended eerily like eons-old ghosts below the glittering surface.

I listened to the unfamiliar call of a bird, piercing and shrill, hidden in the scrub brush on the opposite bank. The water flowed silently, occasionally meeting the cave-like rock of the bank with a hollow gloink, like the sea beneath a wooden pier.

I waited, still, for the Great Blue Heron to return. But even when I knew he wouldn’t reappear, I sat longer, listening to the Earth beat in perfect quiet.

This is a repost from my trip to the Frio Canyon in 2012. Thank you for patience and grace this week as I scramble to meet a couple of deadlines and celebrate the beginning of summer break with my boys.

Jesus Doesn’t Chuck Us into the Trash

I've kept an orchid in my office for two or three years now, the most profusely blooming orchid you could possibly imagine. In the last couple months or so, its spray of prolific yellow blossoms grew so heavy, I had to fasten the stem to the window frame with a hair clip, just to keep it upright. … [Read More...]


Weekend One Word: Open

Friends, God desires us to step into his ever-present grace, to step into the wide, open space of his love. Let's not live our lives closed in, cramped and small. Let's open our lives to the wildly expansive grace God offers us. Amen. … [Read More...]


When You Can’t See God

No matter how many times I read the story of the road to Emmaus, I always get hung up on one verse: "God kept them from recognizing him." (Luke 24:16) It wasn't that the two travelers simply didn't recognize the risen Jesus come alongside them, but that God "kept them," or prevented them from … [Read More...]


Sometimes It’s the Littlest Things

It's one of those months, friends. We're winding down the school year here in Nebraska, which means cranking up the end-of-year school activities like orchestra performances and choir concerts and extra rehearsals at the crack o' dawn and field trips and field day and soccer games and "Mom I need a … [Read More...]