Eight Months and Counting

My camp speaking schedule has prevented me from posting regularly this week—sorry! And I’m a few days late on Samuel’s 8-month birth anniversary, so I need to get cracking! Happy belated birthday, dear one! You are deeply loved! 💙 💙 💙 Here are a few shots of the SamJam, who now loves to army-crawl, giggle, drool, and “sing.” (He did not want to sit still for this photo shoot!) Oh, and he still loves to play “Samuel Sandwich.” 🙂

Both camps have gone very well, so thanks to all those who have been praying. As a left-brainer, I don’t typically emote during messages, but I lost it three times last week during a 2-part sermon on Yom Kippur. All seven feasts powerfully point to Christ and what he has done for us. 

I’m commuting daily for this third camp gig, so I get lots of time in the car to think, pray, and worship. My playlist is so uplifting! Last night I was worn out after the evening session, so I vegged out to Enya’s Dark Sky Island on the way home. I forgot how much I like this album.

Enjoy the rest of your week…and for those in this neck of the woods…I hope you can endure the sweltering heat!

Always Christmas but Never Winter

* Ramble Alert! * I tend to get pensive, ponderous, and poetic at the end of the year. So, there’s no need to read further, as you probably have better things to do with your time. I’m just processing my own musings as the calendar gets ready to flip again. 

1. I shaved off my December goatee. As I was doing so, I had flashbacks to some hurtful insults I received during my school days. I once was described as having a “beaver chin” and “a weak, unmanly profile.” Because of a “face-plant” fall I had as a young child, I developed an overbite that was only partially corrected by my (terribly uncomfortable) retainer. My classmates in fifth through seventh grade were particularly cruel about how I looked. Only one kind girl out of hundreds my age thought it made me look cute. Even when I was at peak physical condition in college, a photographer doing a local hairstylist’s spread featuring a few of us chiseled swimmers kept telling me to grind my teeth or somehow produce a stronger jawline since mine was too wimpy. (Why, then, did you ask me to be in the picture in the first place?) The good news is that these insults no longer sting like they used to. But I do wonder sometimes why I remember them so vividly. Maybe it’s because they led to so many insecurities that would later cause me to overcompensate in other areas of life (e.g., athletics, academics, etc.). Whatever the psychology behind it, it’s a good reminder for us to speak kindly to one another, especially those who are in their early formative years. Let’s not allow our careless words to do unnecessary damage. Lord knows, I’ve had to repent of many unkind things I’ve said over the years.

2. It’s always been our family tradition for me to read the story of the Magi from Matthew 2:1-12 on Christmas morning before we open our gifts. It’s our way of trying to keep the focus on what the day is all about. Problem is, my family always takes bets as to how far I’ll get in the passage before getting too choked up to read any further. (The Incarnation never gets old, and it wrecks me every time I ponder it.) I knew in advance that there was no way I’d be able to get past the first verse with a newborn in the room this year. Samuel wasn’t even a month old on Christmas Day, so it just wasn’t going to work for me to read the text without brutzing. So, this year I carved up the passage and gave each of us a few verses to read. It went well, and everyone enjoyed doing it that way. I think we’ll do something similar in future years. No more betting against me! 🙂

P.S., I got to take SamJam on a walk in his stroller yesterday. He was curious about the world around him, and I was overwhelmed with delight in watching him! (Yes, we got him the hat. Totally appropriate, right?!)

3. The 20th-century British novelist and poet Robert Graves once said, “There is no such thing as good writing, only good rewriting.” That’s why I find the process to be both exhilarating and exhausting. I’m seldom happy with what I’ve written. “It can always be better, sharper, clearer,” I tell myself. And maybe this perfectionistic tendency is rooted in what I (imperfectly) wrote above in #1. Either way, it’s a great hinderance to finishing an academic dissertation. We’re trained to anticipate objections and opposing views as we write, and the “lawyerly disposition” in me always wants to create an unassailable argument. That’s not humanly possible, so please pray that I get over myself and write something defensible, even if not incontrovertible. The best dissertation is a done dissertation. Thanks!

4. I recently finished my latest binge, How to Get Away with Murder. The story arc spanning six seasons was engaging and unpredictable. The progressively expanding flashbacks—while confusing at first—were intriguing and captivating as the episodes unfolded, serving as teasers to keep watching and assemble the pieces yourself. The screen writing was sharp overall, and the plot twists were uncliched. Moreover, the casting was brilliant, the acting was superb, and the emotional impact was notable. As was the case with Scandal, the scene cuts were a bit hyperactive at times, though they were much more manageable. Ironically, the hyper-talented Kerry Washington from Scandal made a few appearances in Murder, which was a welcome addition. Aja Naomi King made a strong case for being the new generation’s Kerry Washington. Her portrayal of Michaela Pratt, an ambitious and overly confident lawyer in the making, was one of several acting standouts in the production. It will be fun to watch Aja’s career unfold. Unfortunately, some of the moral values promoted in the series were disappointing, and part of the socio-political agenda was executed in selective and prejudicial ways. But that’s what Hollywood does these days in their “ends-justifies-the-means” approach to progress. Create a straw man and then give yourself high fives for ripping it apart with ease. We tend to write fiction to suit ourselves because it’s much easier than honest debate. The West Wing and other shows of that ilk often follow the same playbook. In an attempt to get back to cinematic sanity, where I don’t have to keep fast forwarding past the raunchy parts, I may return to Endeavor next (since I’m a Morse fan, and the series was filmed in charming Oxford), but there will be no more guilty pleasures until the dissertation is finished.

5. C. S. Lewis described pre-Aslan Narnia as “always winter but never Christmas.” That is, a fallen world without a Savior is devoid of hope. It’s just an icy darkness that shatters the soul and renders people zombie-like until they breathe their last. But because there is a Savior in this world—one whose magnificent mane was shaved in humiliation on our behalf, only to grow back in resurrection glory after the stone table cracked—eternal life can now be described as “always Christmas but never winter.” Believers bend but never break in a world where Aslan is on the move. Here is a poem about how this particular image helped me through a difficult time in my life. It’s not great art by any means, but it’s an honest portrayal of what I was feeling at the time. Here’s the context:

On Saturday, July 1, 2000, my father-in-law, Rev. Keith Moore, resigned as pastor of Baker Heights Baptist Church in Martinsburg, West Virginia. He was only six months away from retirement, but he could no longer shepherd the flock. The awful effects of radiation and chemotherapy had rendered him virtually lifeless, nearly brining him to the point of death in order to spare him from it. It was a painful time for the whole family. That same day, Pastor Keith got a haircut. It turned out to be his last one. The clippers came out and the hair came off. “Better to do it myself,” he said, “than to let the chemo do it.” I was present for that awful event, and when it happened, I sobbed. I was no stranger to the humming of the electric razor. In the 1980s I would often shave my head as a high school or collegiate swimmer to prepare for the big meet at the end of the season. But those silly haircuts had a purpose. They helped me swim faster. But this haircut was nothing but shame and humiliation. It had no purpose at all. Or did it?

Razed to Life

Before the chemo waged its war on blood and scalp alike,
The ravenous razor snarled away, leaving a head full of spikes.
In the other room I lost my nerve and filed a complaint with the Lord;
Comforting words I had given to others suddenly felt like a sword.

“Why, dear Lord, this man of God, who faithfully fed your sheep—
“The same day losing his pulpit and hair, craving nothing but sleep?”
“He’s frail and weak, Lord, wracked in pain; what does the future hold?”
“Where is your power, God; where is your love, if I may be so bold?”

And then in my gloom a beacon of hope fastened upon my soul:
“Aslan’s razor,” came the reply. “That’s all you need to know.”
Aslan’s razor—what could that mean? Where have I heard that before?
A gem by Lewis, for children, and me, where a Lion loses his roar.

Where they crop off his mane and stab at his heart and leave him for dead in the mud;
Naked, ashamed, and lonely he dies with scoundrels mocking his blood.
But why was he captured and horribly killed, and strapped to a table of stone?
The witch said, “For justice,” but Aslan, “For love—for a treason not my own.”

Well, the world, like Narnia, has children around with questioning tears in their eyes,
Yet the world, like Narnia, has a table that cracked, and a Lion who knows how to rise.
So the death of death in the death of Christ laces every trial with hope,
And the empty tomb declares to us all that the grave will not be our home.

While some use pain to bludgeon our souls and scratch away at our faith,
God in his infinite wisdom and love uses faith to scratch at our pain.
So even today a Lion is heard whenever the gospel is shared,
Telling the story of Christ and his love, showing that God really cares.

“Come!” says the Lion to children of faith. “Ride on my back, and we’ll soar.”
“Come!” says the Lord to children of grace. “Enter my heavenly door.”
“I have a surprise especially for you: I’ve built you a grand destination.”
“A land of delight with no more tears—and evil’s humiliation.”

“Look at my mane! Touch it again! Only one scar remains;
“I keep it around to let people know that death has lost its claims.”
“And look at his hair, flowing again; the razor bows to its glory.”
“Yes, I let you feel pain, but only on earth, to maximize your eternal story.”

6. Here’s a good word from Jon Acuff to end the year. Let it be a micro-motivation for us all: “If you picked up any bitterness this year, don’t miss your chance to put it down this week. Don’t carry last year’s rocks into next year’s garden. Don’t paint next year’s canvas with last year’s colors. Don’t write next year’s story with last year’s words. You might need to choose it 100 times, but leaving bitterness behind is always worth it.” Amen.

7. Two albums today for me to finish out the year in mellow reflection: John Michael Talbot’s Simple Hearts and Enya’s Shepherd Moons. “God Alone is Enough” in the former is a great place to park the soul (as Teresa of Avila captured the best and wisest approach to life), and “Marble Halls” in the latter is a fun place to unleash the imagination (as there’s so much more to this life than riches and material wealth). Love is everything. So, perchance to dream. Also appropriate today is Enya’s “My My! Time Flies!” though we’re way past 2010. 🙂

Stay safe tonight, and Lord willing, we’ll see you in 2022.

Edit: Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem are outstanding as Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in Becoming the Ricardos. Watched it last night on Amazon Prime after our company departed and the house got quiet for the first time in a long time.

A Little Bit of This and That

1. Happy birthday to my mother-in-law, Lorena, who turned 83 a couple days ago. Family from North Carolina came to see her this past week, and more will be coming from Delaware this Memorial Day weekend. Nancy Reagan once described Alzheimer’s Disease as “a long goodbye.” I might add, “a long and sad goodbye.” Lorena is most like herself when she prays. That’s why we secretly hope she never says, “Amen.” Alas, all prayers conclude at some point, and the mundane tasks of life resume. Those tasks are now exceedingly difficult for her, but she can still experience the love and joy of family, even inside the fog of a mind devoid of all short-term memory. 

2. National Conference was inspirational this year, in large measure because of the Grace Community Church (Willow Street, PA) worship team, led by David Julian and Alyssa Mayersky. This pair is Southeastern Pennyslvania’s answer to Kari Jobe and Cody Carnes. I’m so glad they use their incredible gifts for the glory of God. Note to Dave and Alyssa: When you sing Goodness of God and The Blessing back to back, it just leads to some “ugly crying” on the part of us delegates! 🙂 Keep up the great work; we appreciate it! (Thankfully, Alyssa has a YouTube channel.) Dr. Doug Buckwalter’s devotionals were also insightful, inspirational, and uplifting. What a blessing to be his student many years ago, and now his colleague on the seminary faculty. And, as always, Bishop Bruce Hill was the picture of competency, joy, and common sense.

3. “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” So said the esteemed poet Maya Angelou. This week marks the anniversary of her death in 2014. Thankfully, Amanda Gorman is well on her way to reaching a similar stature that Angelou enjoyed. Political quibbles aside, I love her ability to capture a moment with energy, flair, and creativity.

4. I’m loving the meat smoker I got for Christmas in 2019. Applewood chips are the best for smoking chicken, which I think I’ve nailed—if I may so myself. Ha! 🙂 With my brother-in-law’s rub recipe, it’s the best way to prepare it by far. Alas, I’m still learning the best techniques for pork and beef. Those meats are a little harder to get just right. I guess I’ll just have to keep trying!

5. Life has apparently come full circle. I’m heading out soon to a dance recital for my daughter, who first tapped in public many years ago as Minnie Mouse. Today she’ll be a grown-up “Momma Mouse” of sorts. I’m hoping her flair for dance will help the little guy (or gal) inside her to inherit much better rhythm than I have. 🙂

6. Today’s weather reminded me that Enya sings a lot of songs about rain. One of these days I may compile them all into a single post. “Echoes in Rain” from Dark Sky Island is the one pulsating through my head right now. One reviewer describes the piece as featuring “a buoyant optimism due to the marching rhythmic ostinatos and pizzicato strings.” That’s an apt description—which is really saying something since most critics give us little more than piffle and perfidy when they’re deconstructing other people’s art.

7. Here’s a song that’s new to our congregation, based on a question from the Heidelberg Catechism of 1563. It’s called “Christ Our Hope in Life and Death” by Keith and Kristyn Getty, and Matt Papa. I’m loving it!

What is our hope in life and death?
Christ alone, Christ alone
What is our only confidence?
That our souls to Him belong 
Who holds our days within His hand?
What comes, apart from His command?
And what will keep us to the end?
The love of Christ, in which we stand 

O sing Hallelujah!
Our hope springs eternal
O sing Hallelujah!
Now and ever we confess
Christ our hope in life and death

What truth can calm the troubled soul? 
God is good, God is good
Where is His grace and goodness known?
In our great Redeemer’s blood 
Who holds our faith when fears arise?
Who stands above the stormy trial?
Who sends the waves that bring us nigh
Unto the shore, the rock of Christ 

O sing Hallelujah!
Our hope springs eternal
O sing Hallelujah!
Now and ever we confess
Christ our hope in life and death

Unto the grave, what shall we sing?
“Christ, He lives; Christ, He lives!”
And what reward will heaven bring?
Everlasting life with Him 
There we will rise to meet the Lord
Then sin and death will be destroyed 
And we will feast in endless joy
When Christ is ours forevermore

O sing Hallelujah!
Our hope springs eternal
O sing Hallelujah!
Now and ever we confess
Christ our hope in life and death

O sing Hallelujah!
Our hope springs eternal
O sing Hallelujah!
Now and ever we confess
Christ our hope in life and death

Have a blessed holiday weekend!


UPDATE: Bethany’s group did a tap dance routine to Aretha Franklin’s “Think.” It was a marvelous performance, even though it looked exhausting. The choreography called for heel clicks but no wings, which she really wanted to do. Watching her on stage brought back memories of past recitals, not to mention the emotions that go with them. (“Is this the little girl I carried? Sunrise, sunset….” Ha!) Anyway, the song is another example of why Aretha is the real Queen of Soul.

You need me (need me) 
And I need you (don’t you know?)
Without each other there ain’t nothing either can do
Yeah!

Throwback Thursday: My Little Cherubs

So, here we have a Minnie Mouse and a mini me. I couldn’t tell you what the ages of my kids are in these two shots, but I know my own lifespan has been shortened by including them here. I won’t disclose Andrew’s likely weapon of choice, but I’m fairly certain Bethany will sic her cat on me. Still, what an overload of cuteness. Best of all, they both love Jesus and seek to honor him with their lives. I am blessed. Can’t help thinking, though, where have the years gone? In that spirit, I’ll throw in Enya’s “Time Flies” today, too.

Winter Came, and I Almost Missed It!

I already miss not blogging on a daily basis, but duty calls. Today would have featured glistening pics from the all-too-brief dusting we had this morning in south central PA. It was stunning, yet I almost missed it! I got up at 5:15 a.m. but didn’t discover until around 8:30 a.m. that it had snowed. So much for my powers of observation. By the time church was finished, we were just walking around outside in a slushy mess as the temperatures went above freezing and it started to drizzle. All the more reason to make it a hot chocolatey kind of night. 

Instead of pics, I’ll share a vivid piece I came across while studying for today’s message. It’s Frederick Buechner’s description of Zacchaeus and his encounter with Jesus. It was originally published in his Peculiar Treasures, the second book of his popular lexical trilogy, where he profiles more than 125 of the Bible’s most holy and profane people—and one whale. It contains lively and witty prose, and the other volumes are going on my wish list pronto!


ZACCHAEUS APPEARS JUST once in the New Testament, and his story is brief (Luke 19:1-10). It is also one of the few places in the Gospels where we’re given any visual detail. Maybe that is part of what makes it stand out. 

We’re told that Zacchaeus was a runt, for one thing. That is why when Jesus was reported to be en route into Jericho and the crowds gathered to see what they could see, Zacchaeus had to climb a tree to get a look himself. Luke says the tree he climbed was a sycamore tree. 

We’re also told that Zacchaeus was a crook—a Jewish legman for the Roman IRS who, following the practice of the day, raked in as much more than the going tax as he could get and pocketed the difference. When people saw Zacchaeus oiling down the street, they crossed to the other side.  

The story goes like this. The sawed-off shyster is perched in the sycamore tree. Jesus opens his mouth to speak. All Jericho hugs itself in anticipation of hearing him give the man Holy Hell. Woe unto you! Repent! Wise up! is the least of what they expect. What Jesus says is, “Come down on the double. I’m staying at your house.” The mob points out that the man he’s talking to is a public disaster. Jesus’ silence is deafening. 

It is not reported how Zacchaeus got out of the sycamore, but the chances are good that he fell out in pure astonishment. He said, “I’m giving everything back. In spades.” Maybe he even meant it. Jesus said, “Three cheers for the Irish!”

The unflagging lunacy of God. The unending seaminess of man. The meeting between them that is always a matter of life or death and usually both. The story of Zacchaeus is the Gospel in sycamore. It is the best and oldest joke in the world. 


Buechner’s description reminded me of a bit from George Target, as quoted in And Jesus Will Be Born. It highlights the ridiculousness of the “mutterers” in Luke 19:7—those religious up-tights who were against all the right things, but you somehow knew they were missing out on the abundant life that Jesus had promised.


They don’t smoke, but neither do they breathe fresh air very deeply;
They don’t drink wine, but neither do they enjoy lemonade;
They don’t swear, but neither do they glory in any magnificent words, neither poetry nor prayer.
They don’t gamble, but neither do they take much chance on God.
They don’t look at women and girls with lust in their hearts, but neither do they roll breathless with love and laughter, naked under the sun of high summer.
It’s all rather pale and round-shouldered, the great Prince lying in prison.


Jesus was the key to Zacchaeus’ prison door, but he wasn’t the only person in Luke 19 who needed to be sprung from his cell.

Be blessed in the beauty that is winter!

Image Credit: pixels.com.

Still Humming: The 20th Anniversary of Enya’s ‘A Day Without Rain’

Soft. Soothing. Ethereal. Diaphonous. These are words that come to mind when I think of the music of Eithne Ni Bhraonain, more commonly known to the world as Enya. I like the style of this gifted Irish sensation, not because her tracks are lyrically sophisticated but precisely because they’re not. They don’t need to be. Her unique translucent sound often transports me to new and wonderful places. Gently and contented I go, as if floating on a cloud without a care in the cosmos.

Even when the tempo picks up with her signature cello burps, pizzicato riffs, and other rhythmic pulsations, the effect is still light, airy, and non-threatening. Amidst the noise and nonsense of this broken and complex world, it’s nice to glide somewhere rather than be shoved, musically or otherwise. The world would be a better place if all of us took a healthy dose of musical Xanax once in a while.

Enya’s fifth studio album, A Day Without Rain, was released twenty years ago this week. It was a commercial succes with its lead single, “Only Time,” a piece that found much resonance in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. How revolting to see her breezy meditation resurrected in a Kraft Mac & Cheese commercial this year. That misalignment comes close to warranting a boycott of the international food conglomerate.

My favorite Enya album is her most recent, Dark Sky Island, which was released in November 2015, fifteen years to the day after A Day Without Rain. The lyrics are more substantive, and the musical style is quintessential Enya. In it she’s both clever and clandestine. As one would expect, she’s haunting, spellbinding, and cathedralesque from start to finish. Her explorations venture from the seen to the unseen realm (e.g., from “The Humming” to “The Forge of the Angels”). Bridging the two realms is “Sancta Maria,” a devotional to the Mother of Christ. No part of the universe exceeds the reach of her curiosity and musicality.

Also finding poignant expression in Dark Sky Island are the universal themes of love, heartbreak, and a journey’s end (e.g., “So I Could Find My Way,” “Even in the Shadows,” and “I Could Never Say Goodbye”). The most delightful and adventuresome piece is “Pale Grass Blue,” named for a small butterly in southern Asia. Both the lyrics and the melody are razor sharp as they capture something of the dance and flutters of nature.

Enya is truly one of a kind. All told, her career has been steady and impressive, recluse though she may be for long periods of time. New albums from her small studio team, however, are always worth the wait. Aren’t we due for another one soon? Who can say? Only time.

Now, what’s an evangelical like me doing listening to New Age music? In short, I like some of it. Not all of it, but Enya’s version of it—yes. Sometimes it helps me relax. Sometimes it helps me reflect. Sometimes it trips me into the boundless. And not once has it ever lured me into consulting crystals for guidance. Spiritual discernment doesn’t evaporate when the music around me gets all soundscapey. 

Besides, this is my Father’s world. “All nature sings and round me rings the music of the spheres,” as Maltbie Babcock put it. And that’s the theological issue here. It’s called “common grace.” More on that neglected doctrine in a future post. Until then, I’ll be listening to my favorite Enya tunes, translucent though they may be.

Image Credits: enya.sk; walpaperflare.com. 

Random Thoughts from Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina

Spent a lovely day at Wrightsville Beach today, reading and relaxing one last time before the next dissertation “push” consumes my life. The crisp, gentle breeze and bright sunshine made for a lovely outing. Here are some random ruminations with no rhyme or reason—just some nuggets that wafted in and out, sort of like the waves at my feet.

1.  Walking on the sand always reminds me of God’s promise to Abraham, “So shall your descendants be.” That metaphor was all around me today. He is faithful as far as the eye could see—and then beyond. I may have to do some stargazing tonight and celebrate the same truth (cf. Gen 15:5, 22:17, 26:4, etc.). Apparently there are more stars in the universe than grains of sand (roughly 7.5 x 1018 vs. 1 x 1022). Either way, the message is clear: “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it” (1 Thess 5:24).

2.  Scrunching my toes in the sand reminded me of those swimming training trips we used to take in college. Whether it was in Florida or St. Croix, our days consisted of triple sessions, with the middle block of agony featuring long runs on the beach. Running on the sand is a lot more difficult than running on hard surfaces. Those jaunts were grueling, and I don’t miss them. Then again, I do miss having chiseled calves.

3.  I also miss those days when the media were (mostly) honest and evenhanded. Indeed, there was a time when our national news outlets were content to be our eyes and ears on the events of the day. Now they try to be our brains, too, telling us what to think. No thank you. We can do that ourselves. Who do you think you are? You’ve done more to polarize our country than any politician. And now you’re playing censorship games to aid and abet certain candidates. This is a flagrant corruption of journalism. Knock it off.

4.  The undulating waves reminded me of Enya’s song, “The Humming,” a clever musical reflection on the cycles of the universe. The ending (“Then all of this begins again”) makes me think of the references to nature in Ecclesiastes chapter 1. There’s a rhythm to the cosmos. A pulse. And, more importantly, a story. “The heavens declare the glory of God,” said King David. As Max Lucado put it, “Nature is God’s first missionary.”

5.  I started re-reading Michael Heiser’s The Unseen Realm, which is a good and necessary corrective to those branches of the faith that have been so modernized as to be devoid of anything supernatural. Kudos to him for helping the church rediscover, as Hamlet put it, “There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” 

6.  I polished off a bag of Mint Milanos, my favorite non-homemade cookie. I mentioned that fact in class two weeks ago—just in passing—and this past week a bag magically appeared in my classroom. How kind of that particular student. (She’s an auditor, so there’s no possibility of grade inflation in this case!) And how kind of the Lord to give us taste buds, especially when flavors like chocolate and mint can swirl together inside a cookie. And then inside my mouth.

7.  Speaking of cookies, it’s probably time to mortify the flesh a bit. Chiseled calves don’t come easily. Likewise, I should probably finish my Alias binge this weekend, too. Dissertations don’t write themselves. The road ahead is long and lonely. I trust it will also be rewarding.

Enjoy the journey!