Holiday Anticipation

“The way my family anticipates Christmas feels different from the way we look forward to almost anything else. For other things, we’re excited about learning, seeing, or exploring something new. But Christmas is different. We look forward to it all year. We count down the days, just to experience it nearly exactly as we always have.” Joanna Gaines, Magnolia Journal, Issue 9~

Every year, the stores seem to decorate earlier. Santa arrives earlier. Online shopping decreased the hustle and bustle–at least in public. The early decorating seems to be a quest to set the mood–to draw buyers into stores.

Last year, the stores in my locale weren’t crowded. I shopped in the traditional way–but without the crowds. 

It was great. But I wonder if online shoppers felt like they were missing something–if something about their Christmas experience seemed incomplete. 

Last week–one week before Thanksgiving–we received 10.6 inches of snow. 

Thursday and Friday were snow days–closed schools with some businesses following suit. People stayed home and stayed inside except to clear their sidewalks and driveways. Those who had to went to work on Friday. But anyone who could did not venture far. 

Saturday was different. On Saturday, the snow had done its magic and there I was digging out Christmas music and lighting a balsalm fir candle. 

Then I went shopping (after extinguishing the candle) to discover the crowds had returned. Lines weren’t too bad. But traffic was heav

The snow (and perhaps some early retail discounts) called us back to a time when shopping was an adventure requiring movement, planning, navigation, and socialization.  

The forecaster I married assures me the snow will be gone before Thursday and may not return for Christmas.

No matter. The weather has evoked memories of white days and glowing trees in years past. We are drawn to the season of peace–a respite from the world of bitter politics and bad news.

We anticipate, count the days, and wait. We work, buying, wrapping, cleaning, decorating, cooking, and baking to relive and recreate a day to carry with us through the year.

Our lives are threads tying generations together. Holidays are exclamations.

Proclaim God’s goodness. Happy Thanksgiving. 

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Welcome Winter

It’s our first real snow. An unusual storm for November. My husband calculates it’s been 23 years since we had a snow day in November in this part of Pennsylvania.

The day represents an interruption of routine. Plans dashed. Progress shifted from outside errands to inside chores too long overlooked.

Yet the day also provides time to reflect. To enjoy quiet on the cusp of a season full of noise. 

I linger over a book and enjoy a second cup of tea. It will be a while before shovels call us outside.

There is time before the world calls us back into the noise.

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More than One Way to Give Your Life For Your Country

He was helping me carry my packages to my car. I was buying some items for a church group donation. We were collecting for a men’s group home in a nearby town. Most of the men there are homeless veterans making their way back into their communities.

This man was a veteran from Iran. That caught my ear. I’d never met a veteran of Iran before.

We talked about the 1979 hostage crisis when radical Iranian students invaded the US embassy and captured 52 US citizens. They remained in captivity for 444 days.

In 1979, I was a young mother with two young children and a newborn. My younger daughter was one week old when the embassy fell. She was nearly 15 months old when they were freed.

This man helping me with packages had been part of the failed rescue mission. He said it was his “Benghazi”.

I could tell he had an edge to him. Couldn’t be bothered with small talk. Had seen too many big things in life to talk small.

He mentioned PTSD and some other disorders in quick succession. He had seen things. He had done things.

He said that until he got this job, where he’s worked for five years, he’d had trouble staying employed. This company understood him. Perhaps what they understood was what he’s given for us. Perhaps they understood better than we know.

There is more than one way to give your life for your country.

We say it. We tell them thank you for serving. What we need to realize is that sometimes we are talking to the walking wounded who have truly given their lives for us. They are not the same people we sent off to fix a crisis.

He left part of himself over there.

We can’t thank him enough.

We can’t thank them enough.

Continue reading “More than One Way to Give Your Life For Your Country”

The Power of a Sister

The little sister came home last week. She is the youngest of three: herself, an older brother, and the eldest, another sister. They are all grown, the oldest in her mid-thirties.

Mary, the youngest, has accomplished a great deal in life. With an undergrad degree and a master’s from Notre Dame, she’s been a teacher to the children of some of our national leaders. She now leads a large pro-life ministry in the heart of our nation’s capital. But she always looked up to her big sister.

Mary came as the keynote speaker for a large community breakfast that celebrates human life every October. Her sister was in the audience with their parents. I was there too.

Mary talked about some of her heroes. On her list was the sister who sat listening silently. The sister who did not get an education beyond high school. The sister who has never held a job.

Mary admires the sister whose life limitations many would mourn. But her sister is one who finds joy in living every day. 

What Mary is doing is important. And her sister inspired her to press us toward a higher way. 

“We must work toward a culture of life where abortion is not only unthinkable, but also unimaginable.”

Because it is thinkable and imaginable, our world has lost too many heroes to inspire us to celebrate life and to live every day with joy.

One sister lives a life that many would say lacks value. She contributes no great ideas and produces nothing we can buy.

But the younger sister finds inspiration in the joy in which the elder one thrives. And carries the banner of life for them both. For us all.

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Thinking Outside the Box on the Gun Debate

He had come to speak at our Toastmaster’s meeting as a guest speaker. When I realized what his topic was, my stomach clenched. He was going to talk about gun violence. Inwardly, I rolled my eyes.

I am a gun owner–a proponent of gun ownership–that people need to own guns to protect themselves–that only the armed have the means to defend themselves.

My view reflects the rural influences around me. Those influences differ vastly from a view often seen in the city–that guns are the tools of those who deal in drugs and crime.

I thought my view was one of only two ways of seeing the issue of gun violence.

But he came to our meeting from a city about an hour away, a city that doesn’t quite have daily murders, but sometimes sees shootings weekly or at least monthly. 

My job was to evaluate his speech–hence, the clench in my stomach. I thought he would roll out the only other perspective–the old idea of eliminating guns.

I thought there could be no third way of seeing the problem.

But there is a third way. And the third way works.

Here’s the plan that is already reducing violence, already transforming some places in America (from a news report)

1. Detect and interrupt [retaliation after an act of violence has already occurred].

A. Work to prevent retaliations: If a shooting occurs, teams of trained workers go into the community – even a hospital where a gunshot victim is being treated – to work with anyone impacted and help “cool down” emotions.

B. Mediate ongoing conflicts: Identify ongoing conflicts by talking to key people in the community about ongoing disputes, recent arrests or prison releases, using mediation techniques to resolve them peacefully.

C. Follow up with conflicts as long as necessary.

2. Identify/treat the highest risk – Trained, culturally appropriate outreach workers work with the highest risk to commit violence – often people they hang out with –  to make them less likely to act violently. Provide them with support to help high-risk individuals instead find drug treatment or jobs and lure them away from street gangs.

3. Mobilize communities to change norms – Engage leaders in the community as well as community residents, local business owners, faith leaders, service providers, and “high-risk” individuals, conveying the message that residents, groups, and the community do not support the use of violence.

Here’s a program that’s working. It’s a fresh way of looking at an issue that’s divided our country–among many other issues that divide us today.

There will be places this third way won’t work because enough people won’t step up and do what they have to do to become part of this solution. 

The solution requires people to involve themselves–to immerse themselves in people and problems that are difficult.

The solution requires us to think outside the box, to find the third way. And to invest ourselves in putting the third way into practice.

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Welcome Fall

It’s finally come. The crisp cool air. We’ve had only our second wood stove fire. Warming our house instead of trying to cool it down.

The sun rises and sets earlier. I find that comforting. It draws me home to comfort and good foods. To hot tea and a peaceful solitude that feeds my spirit.

But this is also the time many family traditions kick in.

This week, my preparations continue for trick-or-treat night proceed in earnest. I plan to purchase several bags of locally made candy. 

For years, I’d forgotten that we have a candy factory right here. And buying candy there supports local jobs.

But I’ve already bought some candy from the grocery store this year. Just a couple of bags. Just for the grandkids. I found glow-in-the-dark packaging wrapped around chocolate. That’s perfect for the new tradition begun last year–the trick-or-treat scavenger hunt–conducted in the dark hallways of my house.

Last year, it was glowing paint on wiry spiders that I found on clearance. This year, the grandchildren can go hunting for treats.

Welcome fall. Welcome to this time for traditions and memories. And for new ways to make new traditions, new memories. What are some of yours?

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A New Season

We’re on the cusp of a new season.

It’s taken a long time this year for fall to arrive. In fact, the temperatures of autumn are not settling in until tomorrow. 

Most of the leaves are still green. A few are red or yellow. When the cold air finally hits, the colors should become vibrant and plentiful–unless we get wind and rain from the hurricanes.

If that happens, most leaves will just fall off in their green state. We may be moving from the balmy temperatures of summer to the grayness of winter without the beauty in between.

As cooler weather settles upon us, my husband will achieve his final day of employment before he retires to a small business venture. So it’s more like he’s switching jobs than finishing his career. 

Yet, it’s a new season. One we expect to hold shorter commutes, less travel, and more sleep. Certainly, it’s a season of change.

Sometimes change is scary. Sometimes it lacks color. Sometimes the colors are beyond our remembering. Always the God who turns our paths walks with us whatever the new way may bring. 

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Restoring the Shattered: Illustrating Christ’s Love Through the Church in One Accord now available in e-version on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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Mountains, Mallo Cups, and Train Whistles

“When a community loses its memory, its members no longer know one another. . . How can they know one another if they have not learned one another’s stories? If they do not know one another’s stories, how can they know whether or not to trust one another? People who do not trust one another do not help one another, and moreover, they fear one another. And this is our predicament now.” (Wendell Berry, qtd. by Rod Dreher)

When I wake up in my brother’s house, eight counties away from my home, the sound of train whistles reminds me of home. But those rails are so close, the sound so much louder, I know I’m not home. An early morning visit to the deck off his dining room confirms the conclusion. No mountains. A low horizon.

My older brothers were the adventurers. The eldest did a stint in the navy that took him to the Mediterranean. He settled in Texas. My next brother only moved across those eight counties that separate us.

I have traveled. But my zip code never changed.  My residence remained where the mountain ridges surround me, the train whistles serenade me as they have since my birth, and the Mallo Cups are as fresh as fresh can be because the Boyer factory is right in town.

I can’t say I made the better choice. They journeyed with opportunity. My roots grew deeper. But my brothers planted roots too. They became part of new communities. It isn’t just the sights, flavors, and sounds of home. It’s community. It’s people.

Americans are famous for being movers. Horace Greeley admonished the adventurous to “Go west!”  And westward we turned. But today most of us stay put. Fifty-four percent of us live near the place where we grew up.

Thirty-five percent of us left and then came back.

Rod Dreher is one who came back. The author had hit the big time in large northeastern cities. But after his sister died from cancer, home beckoned to him. He penned The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, chronicling her life and death as well as his journeys away from home and back.

But Dreher had another book to write. Coming home was not what he hoped. In How Dante Can Save Your Life, he recounts that the return from his odyssey did not produce the peace he sought but instead brought him a stress-related illness.

Dreher found peace partly through the pages of Dante’s journey through the eternal regions. But even more important, resolution came through the relationships that developed through his faith in Christ. Companions walked with him through the stress and illness to eventual healing and wholeness.

He told his sister’s story. He shared his own. He learned the stories of others. He found those he could trust. And those who could trust him.
Dreher says, “I came back to Louisiana looking for my family and my home. I found God and this church” (278).

Dreher traded in his professional quest for a personal one. He ended up on a journey he did not foresee. He did not get what he hoped to find.

What he got was so much more.


Restoring the Shattered: Illustrating Christ’s Love Through the Church in One Accord now available in e-version on Amazon and Barnes and Noble

Photo Credit: Joe Calzaretta, Blue Knob Mountain, Central Pennsylvania

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Chance or the Dance: A Review

“The myth sovereign in the old age was that everything means everything. The myth sovereign in the new is that nothing means anything. Thomas Howard~

Chance or the Dance: A Critique of Modern Secularism by Thomas Howard
is a book for those searching for meaning in life–for an alternative to the secular view that we are here by chance and live without lasting significance.

It is also a book for those of us who already believe in God. We know His presence. And we see His work in the world around us. We ponder His ways and see in them the meaning that infuses every moment of our lives. 

Howard explains this way of looking at the world:

“It is a way of looking at things that goes farther than saying this is like that: it says that both this and that are instances of way things are. The sun pours energy into the earth and the man pours energy into the woman because that is how fruit begins–by the union of one thing and the other” (Howard’s emphasis).

Howard points out that, in spite of the world’s acceptance of the new myth, deep within ourselves, the old myth lives on. It is part of us–and we can only pretend to deny it. 

Everything has meaning.

Howard analyzes our partiality for poetry and art, the rhythms and patterns of language and image. The new myth presents a common experience in “order and harmony and serenity, and hence joy [as] a most rewarding fiction” without meaning. The old myth presents the “supreme reality: the way things are.” And that way is full of meaning.

We act out the old myth through a ceremony of meals that we mark by setting the table and arranging the food on the plate in an orderly way.

And we embrace freedom, which is more than “mere self-determination . . . [which would be] tragically limiting.” “Your freedom in the Dance is to be able to execute your steps with power and grace, not to decide what you feel like doing.”

Howard’s book is a delight. It was originally published in 1969–at the height of the sexual revolution. Yet it comes to us in this second edition with a foreword by Eric Metaxas. Metaxas read the book as a new Christian in 1988 and calls it “a kind of prose symphony” and a “rambling yet manicured and sweeping lawn” full of things “you will simply never forget.” 

It’s a book you’ll want to read slowing–to savor the ideas–since such beauty is not to be rushed–as in fruit taken too soon from a vine. 

And through your savoring, may you come to the Dance–to the idea that all we do has meaning now and into eternity.

“In this view, there is no hiatus between what we are given to do in life and what life is ‘really about.’ There . . . a synonymity. All this commonplace stuff is what life is really about.”

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Tea, Friends, and Defining the Important

We drank tea once a week and talked about important things. Specifically, we drank peach tea. And generally, we discussed life.  

It was the early 1990s and my final semester at Penn State. I was commuting about 40 or so miles five days a week with a heavy class load. At times, I struggled to stay awake on my way to my friend’s house. But I always left invigorated, refreshed.

One discussion carried itself over several visits as we sharpened our thinking through conversation.

Much political talk of the day was of values–such as family values. It was a term politicians bandied about freely–a term Friedrich Nietzsche had coined.

Nietzsche used the term as something relative–that morality is something ever changing–or at least something that had changed in modern times–and was subject to change depending on social conditions.

The dispute my friend and I had with that use of the word was its application in moral terms. My friend pointed out that Christian morality specifically is based on standards rather than values. Standards are unchanging, absolute. A cup is a cup. A mile is a mile. And adultery is wrong. Always.

On the other hand, values shift from day to day–as in the value of a dollar or a commodity like, soybeans or pork bellies or bitcoins, which are up one day and down the next. 

Consequently, holding moral standards means that something that is wrong today was also wrong yesterday and will remain within the realm of wrong tomorrow. Relative moral values can shift with the wind. They can become matters of convenience and expediency.

That was our analysis of the political jargon of the 1990s.

Using values rather than standards to discuss moral issues was another way of disregarding the notion of sin. We’d lost our ability to discuss sin.

Yet today, our language has shifted once more. Unfortunately, it still does not allow room for discussion of sin. To do so is to judge. And above all, we must not judge. Even so, the current discussion of values makes room for what is important. And discerning what is important can lead us to moral standards.

In today’s vernacular, values sit on a continuum of priorities. They can be flexible without violating–even while upholding–moral standards.

For example, a business or ministry entity can hold its associates to a standard of integrity. Leaders can expect those under supervision to always be honest and act with integrity in all their dealings. 

Yet these entities can value productivity, hard work, and camaraderie among those supervised. The value of camaraderie might present itself in social events occurring during or after the workday–inside or outside the workplace.

Good leaders value good fellowship among all associates and realize that even while they are on the clock fueling friendship enhances productivity instead of reducing it.

Barbara Corcoran writes: “Employees who regularly gather together trust each other more, which contributes to better teamwork. It also makes them more loyal to the business as a whole. Camaraderie strengthens communications within a team, and these all contribute to the bottom line of the organization.”

Such a workplace can value employee fellowship and teamwork. The team can come together to help a co-worker struggling with illness or a family issue thereby strengthening the team.

Moral standards remain constant. Family and workplace values are a moving target. Yet such values point us to what is important.

And what is important–the relationships we have in our families and at our places of employment–can only hold together as we embrace the unchanging standards God asks of us at every moment.

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Revisiting the Election Year of Grown-Up Mean Children

When I was in fifth grade, I suffered a humiliating episode of isolation. Something had happened between the two most popular girls in the class causing them to hate each other with a previously unparalleled venom.

Each girl began to draw allies to her side and against the other girl. Soon two distinct groups formed with all the girls in one group hating all the girls in the other group and vice versa.

Somehow, I managed to miss the drama of how it had all unfolded.  Maybe I had been sick at home or just not paying attention on the playground.  I wasn’t part of either group. But sadly, not for lack of trying.

Once the groups coalesced, I tried to join first one, then another.  Neither group would have me.  It was nice that nobody hated me enough to form a club of Nancy Haters, Inc. But I was sad that I couldn’t get into one of the clubs.  I didn’t even care which one.  I just wanted to fit in too.

Continue reading “Revisiting the Election Year of Grown-Up Mean Children”

The Cross of Waiting

“It’s the waiting, the not knowing, that’s driving me crazy.”

“The waiting is the cross,” [Mother] answered.” Colleen Carroll Campbell from My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir~

Sometimes it feels like we’ve been waiting for something all our lives. I remember as a teen waiting for my father to pick me up from school and wondering how many hours I’d spent waiting for him in my life. But he always came. I always knew he would, and he did.

Having to wait through the unknown is its own cross–sometimes the heaviest. The test or surgery results, the diagnosis. We dwell on the outcome. The thing that will determine how the rest of our lives plays out.

Colleen Carroll Campbell waited for God to send her a child. She endured the agony of the wait, medical treatments and the monthly realization of yet another failure to conceive.

What weighed most heavily on her was not knowing whether she would ever be a mother.

She and her husband asked God again and again to send them a baby. Yet years of striving and never achieving had convinced her that her dream would never materialize. And in one way it never did. (Spoiler ahead!)

(Spoiler ahead!)

He didn’t send them a baby. He sent them two.

But they had to wait. And in the time of waiting, they grew closer to God and closer to each other.

God says, rest. Wait. Trust me.

We sense we are standing still in that time. But we are not. And God is not still either. He works through our times of waiting. He works in us. 

Rest. Wait. Trust. And watch for the outcome. 

It will be worth the wait.

Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord. Psalm 27:14 NASB~

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A Prayer for America Today

We are a divided country today. Righting ourselves begins with the Church. The following excerpt from Restoring the Shattered explains the role of repentance is rebuilding the image of the Church to the world.

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Repentance is how we start to restore the image of the Bride [the Church], not in a public relations sense, but in a biblical one. And repentance begins with the faithful.

Why the faithful? Isn’t repentance something for the unbelieving population to grasp—those we perceive are messing up the world and dragging our culture into a downward spiral? Yes, it’s something they need to do to become part of the Bride, part of the picture. But the kind of repentance that can turn the world around is for us. It’s for his people already in the church.

I didn’t come to this idea on my own. I’d been praying for our nation to turn back to God, but in my mind that always involved something someone else needed to do. I’ll pray. I’ll watch. I’ll work when I can. I’ll cheer when it happens.

At brunch one day, my longtime friend, Renee, dropped a brick of truth on my head. “He calls his own people to repentance—my people … called by my Name.”

That is me.

That is us.

*****

The first two kings of Israel, Saul and David, are a study of contrasts. Each king had a prophet. Each one sinned. Only David repented.

Saul’s prophet was Samuel. Impatient Saul carried out a sacrifice, refusing to wait for Samuel who was supposed to perform it. Afterward, he explained to Samuel that he acted “Because I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the appointed days, and that the Philistines [the enemy] were assembling at Michmash.”

Saul listed his motivations; maybe they sounded reasonable to him. Maybe they sounded silly as he listed them aloud for Samuel, who said, “You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you, for now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever.”[i] Saul stepped out of his role as king and into the wrong role of priest. But instead of confessing and repenting, he tried to justify himself.

David had a prophet too. When David committed adultery, impregnated the woman, and then arranged to have her husband killed to cover his crime, the prophet Nathan confronted him. Unlike Saul, David did not give a list of excuses. His response was, “I have sinned against the Lord.”[ii]

Saul and David both offended God. Saul made excuses and wore a false face before the people. David was transparent before God and Nathan. That difference set in motion the events that would remove Saul’s line from the throne of Israel and establish David’s in the line of Christ.

Many churches have turned the volume way down on the discussion of repentance and are blasting the message of God’s love. But we won’t find blessing unless we refuse Saul’s methods and adopt David’s.

Our news sources daily spew stories of atrocities accompanied by many excuses and little repentance. Sometimes we are aghast at what people try to justify: mass shootings, rape, looting, riots, and the list goes on.

There is a sense that my rights are sovereign and yours are nonexistent. Many in the church have bought into that message. Instead of confessing our sins and maintaining transparent lives, we justify our sins, deceiving ourselves that they don’t exist or simply don’t matter.

We can’t expect the world to exhibit behavior we don’t model. When we model repentance, others see David instead of Saul. Repentance is the first step on a life journey when we determine to follow Christ, but it’s also a frequent stopping place along the way—a place where we check our direction and retool our priorities, letting him reshape our attitudes.

Repentance produces changed people.

Repentance produces anointed, effective ministry.

Rather than being a negative burden, repentance is an overtly optimistic act.

God commands us to “confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed.”[iii] Sin and life’s burdens weigh us down. On top of those burdens, we add the pressure to appear perfect.

Acknowledging our reality and letting others into that reality is uncomfortable, but that is where healing happens. There is no other way for us to “bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” [iv] That’s important, and we often overlook it. Sharing our burdens with one another fulfills the law—not just our prayer requests for that new job or relief of our child’s ear infection—but our burdens, what weighs us down and holds us back. Letting each other know our sins is uncomfortable. But confessing our sins to each other brings healing.


[i] 1 Samuel 13:11–13.

[ii] 2 Samuel 12:13.

[iii] James 5:16, emphasis added. The rest of the verse says, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” Righteousness follows repentance, not the other way around.

[iv] Galatians 6:2, emphasis added.


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Christ’s Prayer for Us

In the garden before his trial and crucifixion, Christ asked for his followers to “be one.” He prayed for those who followed him then and for all who would believe later on—the universal church throughout history.

Many times Jesus prayed to the Father and we have no idea what he said. We’re simply told such things as “Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.”[i] Christ and the Father had many moments of communion that the Word does not disclose to us. So every time God’s Word lets us eavesdrop on Christ’s side of those conversations, we should pay close attention.

Jesus taught us how to pray with the Lord’s Prayer. And through his own prayers, he illustrated his connection and communion with the Father. We hear him blessing the fishes and loaves before crowds and the bread at the Last Supper in the upper room, speaking to the Father before raising Lazarus, before choosing the twelve apostles, and before his transfiguration. We also know he prayed in the garden before his betrayal and arrest. And we hear his prayerful cry from the cross.[ii]

Jesus’ prayer found in John 17 is the supreme biblical call for accord among his followers. And unlike Paul’s letters to singular, local churches, Christ’s petition encompasses the worldwide church, for all “those also who believe in Me” through all time.[iii] Jesus directs us to love him, each other, and those outside our churches’ doors.

Through a series of that/sostatements, he tells us what should be (that) and what will result from it (so).

  • That we would “all be one” as the Father and Son are “so that the world may believe” that the Father sent the Son.
  • That we “may be perfected” in that oneness “so that the world may know” that the Father sent the Son and that He “loved [us], even as the Father loves the Son.”
  • That we would be with Christ where he is so that we would see his glory, “which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.”[iv]

As Jesus makes clear, the world’s ability to know God’s love relies upon we who are Christians loving one another in unity.

But it’s crucial that we consider what accord is and is not. Christian unity does not mean we dilute our doctrines and abandon our traditions. It does not mean we dissolve our church constitutions and form one gigantic doctrinally devoid church. It means we embrace a visible cooperation with one another—yet without compromise.

“Some suggest [that in his prayer] Jesus is only referring to a nebulous spiritual unity; however, Jesus emphasizes a form of unity that is visible to the watching world, and thus must be referring to a relational unity that can be observed. This does not mean we have to agree on every point of doctrine—we don’t! Nor does it mean we are to adopt some sort of fuzzy ecumenism in which we compromise the truth of the gospel or overlook sin within the church.”[v]

Journalist and cultural commentator Rod Dreher in his book The Benedict Option encourages interdenominational relationships—what he calls “an ecumenism of the trenches.” “To be sure, the different churches should not compromise their distinct doctrines, but they should nevertheless seize every opportunity to form friendships and strategic alliances in defense of the faith and the faithful.”[vi]

Accord means we form friendships and alliances, and we respect each other’s differences. It means, as C. S. Lewis wrote, we may “go on disagreeing, but don’t let us judge.”[vii] It means that, at the end of our weekly church services, we join hands to meet real needs and help hurting hearts find healing in Christ—that we be the visible church.

But we can only increase our ministry by learning how to meet people in their need.

Likeminded Christians of various denominations acting in accord will enhance ministry. We are the sand the Master turns into colored glass. He restores glass pieces cracked under the pressures of life. And he puts them together in a big picture that shows the world his great love.

We can shine the light of the Master on the hearts of the broken and lonely and invite them to become part of God’s big picture.

If you are broken, he can restore you. And once he restores you, he can use you to restore others.



Excerpted from Restoring the Shattered: Illustrating Christ’s Love Through the Church in One Accord. E-version available October 2. Paperback, January 22, 2018. 

[i] Luke 5:16.

[ii] Jesus teaching the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9–13), his prayer intimacy with the Father (11:25–26), his blessing of food (14:19; 15:37; 26:26), his prayer around raising Lazarus (John 11:41–42), and his prayers before choosing the apostles (Luke 6:12–13), before his transfiguration (9:29), during his time in the garden (Matthew 26:36–44; Luke 22:39–46), and from his position on the cross (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:37; Luke 23:34, 46).

[iii] John 17:20.

[iv] John 17:21–23.

[v] S. Michael Craven, “Practical Unity: Living Out the Words of Jesus to ‘Be One,’” Christianity Today, May 14, 2014.

[vi] Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation (New York: Sentinel, 2017), 136.

[vii] C. S. Lewis, Letters of C. S. Lewis, as quoted in an email from the C. S. Lewis Foundation, January 23, 2015.

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To Love Ourselves

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this:  “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12: 30-31a

It’s the part of the passage we too often gloss over “as you love yourself.” But do we really?

We speak to ourselves in negative ways. We tell ourselves we have failed. We aren’t smart. Others are better.

I remember in high school watching another girl assess herself in the girls’ room mirror. I thought she was beautiful. I wished I looked like her.

Then she stuck her tongue out at herself and walked out the door. 

That stunned me. How could she think herself ugly? Then I realized. She is just like me. She thinks of herself the way I think of myself. 

We were alike in our disdain for ourselves. Perhaps it has always been so. And perhaps more so among young women.

Yet today, it’s worse for young women who speak to themselves in that same negative voice as the girl in the mirror did.

As we did then, they compare themselves to airbrushed actresses, women on magazine covers, and other girls pondering their images in the mirror as their minds replay the negative echo of social media.

There is a solution. Loving our neighbor as we love ourselves requires us to love ourselves–to stop the negative talk–to affirm ourselves.

This affirmation is not an acquisition of pride–but of seeing ourselves as God sees us. We are people Christ came to die for. We are imago Dei–people of his image who walk in his way. 

Imperfectly. Awkwardly. Stumbling at times.

But in the beauty of God’s love, we can see ourselves as the unique creations we are. The girl in the mirror is not ugly. She is specially designed for a purpose–an important purpose.

She is here to love herself because she is who he made her to be. And in loving herself–showing regard for herself–she affirms the God-reflection she finds others.

Love God. Love your neighbor. Love yourself. 

And so fulfill all the commandments. 

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Echoes of 9-11

“Notwithstanding the beauty of this country of Faerie . . . there is much that is wrong in it. If there are great splendours, there are corresponding horrors; heights and depths, beautiful women and awful fiends; noble men and weaklings. All a man has to do is to better what he can.” 
George MacDonald, from Phantastes.

Horrors and splendor. That’s what we find in life. The horrors include bad things we do to each other and bad things that happen by chance. Yet, life also consists of splendors, God’s expression of beauty, His beauty within our hearts that sometimes comes out through our hands.

Splendor is often our response to horror.

On Tuesday, we mark 17 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks that claimed nearly 3,000 lives in Pennsylvania, Washington, DC, and New York City.

It happened in my third year of teaching when I was overseeing a class of seventh and eighth-graders. A plane hit the first tower in New York City. The moment marked us all.

Over the last several years, the number of students who can remember the day has trickled to a drip and nearly stopped. Few young people who recall that day sit before me.

September 11, 2001, brought Americans wall to wall coverage of debris and devastation. There was the relief of joy and the devastation of loss. This person was saved. That one was gone.

Today, it is the fading event that echoes in our days, no longer shaping our times. Yet, we are different–sometimes missing the beauty of that day. Often missing the beauty of each other.

Forgetting the horror of the day means forgetting that there was beauty even in the loss. The heroes of Flight 93 challenged horror when it looked them in the eye. They said no. We felt horror at their deaths but beauty in their heroism.

President George W. Bush reminded us that “One of the lessons of 9-11 is that evil is real and so is courage.”

Horror happens at the hands of people who choose to bring it. And, as I’ve mentioned, it comes by chance as well–a different form of fiend. We can’t know why this person didn’t come home at the end of an otherwise ordinary day and that one did.

But we can marvel at those who fight the fiends of evil and chance still today.

This week, we remember the horror and celebrate the beautiful heroes. We celebrate the heroes of today–soldiers, police officers, firefighters, and caregivers. We mark the beauty of those who strive to better what they can. 

May all of us find a way to count ourselves, somehow, among the beautiful. We can work to see the beautiful. And make better what we can.

To grant those who mourn in Zion, Giving them a garland instead of ashes, The oil of gladness instead of mourning, The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified. Isaiah 61:3~


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Endorsements for Restoring the Shattered

Nancy Head’s Restoring the Shattered leads the reader through a compelling and emotional story of the life of a woman who has experienced the best and worst moments of the modern-day church. At the same time, Nancy artfully weaves the surprisingly fascinating history of the church’s theology and its politics in a way that will challenge all of us to walk worthy of our calling.

—Bob Gresh, husband of best-selling author Dannah Gresh (nearly half a million books sold)

In Restoring the Shattered, Nancy’s account of her life experience, intertwined with historic events and lessons from faith leaders of many disciplines, mirrors the personal problems and societal tensions present in the Christian church. Ironically, as the Reverend Billy Graham came to Altoona in 1949 and found discourse in the church strained enough to test his commitment to evangelism, Nancy sees the same discourse today stretching well beyond the city limits of her hometown. Fortunately, through faith and determination, the difficult times strengthened Billy’s and Nancy’s resolve and both were better equipped to encourage others in their journey with Christ.

—Pennsylvania State Senator John H. Eichelberger, Jr.

Since the beginning of Christendom, believers have not only engaged in the discussion of difference versus agreement on the doctrines we find within the Bible but have often found themselves participating in the nature of disagreement that brings hurt to individuals and to the church. In her book Restoring the Shattered, Nancy sensitively traces the history of division and encourages the church to focus on those doctrines that bring both harmony and light. She does this through sharing her struggles of separation within her own family and uses the images of shattered glass to illustrate our brokenness. It is a subject that we should not neglect and one that will benefit the church and individuals.

—Stella Price, author of Chosen for Choson (Korea) and God’s Collaborator

When I met Nancy, she served a university-appointed role as a mentor-teacher to me. She gave every impression of a whole person, a great look for a mentor to have. But like all of us, the external appearance of perfection exists only on the surface. Yet Nancy does have an internal assurance of completion—one which comes from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Restoring the Shattered offers readers a chance to examine breaks on every layer to see the combined work of restoration on which Nancy and Christ have embarked and offers hope and advice for those who wish to traverse that same path with him.

—Reverend Adam Shellenbarger, pastor, Joppatown Christian Church, Joppatown, Maryland

Restoring the Shattered is a wonderful first-person perspective of a person on the path of Christianity. It shows the commonality of Christian beliefs that can be shared in our confusing world.

—George Foster, businessman and lay Catholic

I’m a pastor who Nancy gets to hear all the time. It’s been a joy and a privilege to read her and hear what she has to say. She is the real deal! Her passion and insight come through in everything she does, including in her book Restoring the Shattered. This is a joy to read, and it can help you on your life’s journey.

—Reverend John Collins, First Church of Christ, Altoona, Pennsylvania

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Paperbacks available later this month. E-version available October 5. 

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The Lost Art of Craft

“We’re increasingly constrained by computers and a pixelated abridgement of reality that serves only to make us blind to the truly infinite complexity of the nature world. Most critically, our physical movements have been almost entirely removed as a factor in our own existence. Now all we seem to do is press buttons.” Alexander Langlands (review by Gracy Olmstead)

My friend and I were at the fabric store–a place we haunt when we don’t go to a coffee house for tea. Our meeting places most often involve tea and/or fabric and sometimes food, over which we discuss our lives–husbands, kids, grandkids, other friends (in a non-gossipy way), current events–and our perceptions of the workings of God in our circumference.

Sometimes we even discuss our crafting–and what it means to us.

Pieces of us stitched together to pass along to others or enjoy ourselves.

Crafting takes time. Investing time in a project teaches us diligence and patience. There is no such thing as instant gratification when you are handcrafting something.

Time and craft add meaning to the final products.

And time, craft, and meaning add value–to a point of pricelessness–for something handcrafted matches nothing else. It is unique, the only one of its kind.

In his book, Langlands quotes a definition of craft (from the ancient term craeft)–“the organizing principle of the individual’s capacity to follow a moral and mental life.”

To craft is to contemplate–to plan and work the plan. And the contemplative life, Aristotle said, is the only kind of life that can be happy.

As Olmstead asserts in her review of Langlands’ book Craeft: An Inquiry into the Origins and True Meaning of Traditional Crafts (now on my Goodreads’ “to read” list) balance is the key today. It’s what Aristotle called the Golden Mean–the balance of a virtue between its excess and its deficiency.

From Olmstead’s review: “Langlands argues for a revival of cræft throughout this book, as a response to the toll that industrialization and consumptive living has taken on our world. Who knows whether slower, more laborious rituals will become a godsend to our broken world in future years?”

Who knows? One does. And godsend? Indeed.

The ultimate Crafter/Creator who gave us time, thought, and art.

Slow, laborious work can be a rite of contemplation as we ponder him and his power to make beauty through work. As we see our work become beautiful over time. As we see ourselves as his image–imago Dei. And as we find ourselves anew by emulating his creative ways.

Here’s to time spent happily crafting.

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More than One Way to Give Your Life for Your Country

He was helping me carry my packages to my car. I was buying some items for a church group donation. We were collecting for a men’s group home in a nearby town. Most of the men there are homeless veterans making their way back into their communities.
This man was a veteran from Iran. That caught my ear. I’d never met a veteran of Iran before. Continue reading “More than One Way to Give Your Life for Your Country”

Feed Your Neighbors: Buy Local

Next Thursday is our community’s Trick-or-Treat night. On that day, my husband, with all the enthusiasm and anticipation of an eager child, will carve our pumpkin. Then, he’ll light its candle. And even before dark, our porch light will alert our neighborhood munchkins that our house is Trick-or-Treater-friendly.

In previous years, we had stockpiled candy from the grocery store, candy shipped in from far away factories. A few years ago, it occurred to us that in our very own community is a candy factory that employs many local people—our neighbors.

Almost daily, we would drive past the factory store as if it were not there. Then one day, I went inside. Yum!—fresh, locally produced extravagances that my neighbors sell to me. Here were the treats of my youth—forgotten in the busyness of adulthood.

As a child, I would traipse around our neighborhood with my older brother. One year, it snowed, and we were the only ones knocking on doors, braving the wind blowing giant flakes sideways. Such was our devotion to confections.

Many neighbors dropped the locally made candy into my pillowcase sack. But I grew up to be a mother who valued the convenience of one-stop shopping. I heeded the sirens of nationally marketed sweets.

Yet, as other local enterprises closed their doors, the candy factory stayed.

My neighbors worked there for decades before I was born.

You might not have a candy factory in your community, which—considering the way some of us feed our sweet tooths—should keep the large corporate candy makers from toppling any time soon. But there are other ways to shop locally and bless our neighbors.

It’s a simple matter to search out locally owned stores, restaurants, farm stands, bakeries, and other businesses. Buying locally allows us to share the resources that we might otherwise distribute far and wide. And there are other advantages besides helping to employ our neighbors.

Locally grown food is fresher, tastes better, and is healthier. And we don’t have to buy everything locally to make a significant difference in our community.

According to loyaltolocal.com, “If every family in the U.S. spent an extra $10 a month at a locally owned, independent business instead of a national chain, over $9.3 billion would be directly returned to our economy.”
It may be a bit more inconvenient to shop locally. It may even cost a bit more. But investing in a local business is ministry.

Feeding our neighbors as we feed ourselves is a creative way to love your neighbor.


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