In which I consider the Mary in all of us this Christmas

Can you imagine being Mary?

A shameful, out-of-wedlock pregnancy. A fiance’ who stays with her out of pity. A long, painful, obligatory journey to Bethlehem in her ninth month of pregnancy, and for what? To be counted in a census.

And the inn–there were no private rooms at the inn. We’ve seen the movies with the sweet cows and donkeys and drummer boy and sheep. But if you’ve spent any amount of time on a farm, then you know mangers are only useful in a barn that also contains bugs and straw and snotty-nosed (albeit adorable) calves, and the essential fragrance of feces.

Those aspects of Mary’s story, although over-romanticized, are at least familiar.

What might not be as recognizable, what you may not have imagined, is the Mary that lies within us, or at least, the Mary within those of us who are willing.

Maybe you can relate to Mary.

Maybe you feel like you have nothing going for you.

Maybe you feel like everything–and everyone–are stacked against you…

…a society…

…a family…

…a world…

…all of them bewildered by you and your calling.

Maybe you can feel something turning, like the press of a tiny hand or the quickening of a tiny foot against the stretched tight womb of your heart, something knit deep and strong in your most intimate places.

A dream.

A hope.

A light.

Now more than ever you may feel that the Noël of your purpose is at the trailhead of a dusty and barren, hoof-pitted path. Misunderstood, you face a starless night, destined for a jarring, unwelcoming, and foreign place that has no room for you, and no rest for your contracting purpose. Lies that scream you’re unworthy lick at your heels like rattlesnakes in wheel ruts.

But you.

You kick them aside and forge ahead. Doubt hangs heavy like a cloak around your shoulders, shame threatens and taunts you to turn back.

Still you go, an unexplained call pulling you like a fetter.

The manger is a mess.

The birth is painful and public.

The Promise arrives wet with fluid and tears.

The questions, rather than answered, are just beginning.

Infant.

Toddler.

Adolescent.

Man stretched tight on a wooden cross.

The reason is not always, if ever, realized.

But still.

Light comes.

Light always comes, when a servant is willing.

Light always comes, against all odds.

We are, each of us, called to carry Jesus into the dark, into the scary, into the places and to the people that misunderstand, that cannot see, that will not see, that hate and that have no room.

When you light a candle at your Christmas Eve service, consider the Mary place God is calling you to go. Consider the Bethlehem ahead of you. Consider the Luke 1:37-38 promise that with God nothing [is or ever] shall be impossible.

Like, Mary, be willing to be the Lord’s servant.

One foot at a time.

Down the path of peace.

He will never leave you.

And the world desperately needs your light.

*************************************

Merry, blessed Christmas, dear friends.

Favorite books of 2019!

I was incredulous at the number of books I was able to read–nearly ninety! Much of this is thanks to my library’s audio book service, as well as having three sons in college and frequent road trips to and from their schools. Having an audio book going while I drive, do housework, walk my dog, and more, has enabled me to read far more than I could have otherwise. Do you use your library’s audio book services?
You can check out all the books I read over at my GoodReads page. (It’s so much fun “talking” books over there with friends!)

Did you read any of the same books I did?

Narrowing this list down to my very favorites was really tough. So many of them were soooooo good, and for many reasons. Some were “meh,” and others, well, I just couldn’t finish. Overall, though, it was a delightful year of reading. I’d love to know what you thought if you read any of the same ones.

Here are my top ten eleven (because I couldn’t whittle it to ten!) in no particular order:

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett Beautifully written. A must-read for anyone who writes or loves writing.
Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder Incredible story of survival, strength, and the heartbreaking realities of what the wars in Africa have done–and continue to do–to people.
eden I’ve loved Of Mice and Men since I read it in high school English class, and Steinbeck has long been one of my very favorite classic authors. Grapes of Wrath recently made it on my favorites list, too. I’m still reading this one, and already it has become another favorite.
The Hate U Give by Angie ThomasA powerful and important book for anyone who wants to know what the reality of racism is like for far too many in America. This book broke–and is still breaking–my heart.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi A beautiful and achingly real story of someone faced with a terminal illness and their struggle to find hope and make sense of it all. As a nurse, I especially appreciated Kalathani’s raw and honest story.
Promise by Minrose Gwin I read this book early in the year, and it has stuck with me. It’s the fictional story of a family that survives a tornado that hits Tupelo, Mississippi, in The Great Depression. Thoroughly enjoyed.
Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson What a wild ride this one was! Terrifying suspense, mixed with Jackson’s trademark gifts of sarcasm and humor. Loved it!
The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger Intriguing, super well-written, and ultimately heartbreaking, because this could easily happen (and does) in many a suburb in America.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens  This one is probably my very favorite of the year. The story reminds me of the sort of books and characters I like to write, infused with nature, a little mystery, and a lot of hope. I’m so glad to see so many other readers have liked it, too.
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson I read this shortly after a family vacation to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where we walked a few feet of the AT. Absolutely loved this story of this man’s try of it!
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward I can see why this one was awarded the National Book Award in 2011. A heart-rending story of a motherless family in Mississippi, and how they survive Hurricane Katrina and so much more in the midst of desperate, rural poverty.

Up and coming 2020 books I recommend:

One of the perks–actually, privileges–of being an author is reading books before they are available in stores. The following three books will be released in 2020 by dear friends, and they are truly exceptional stories. Be sure to add all three to your TBR (to-be-read) list!

teachestThe Tea Chest, by Heidi Chiavaroli

Boston, 1773
Emma Malcolm’s father is staunchly loyal to the crown, but Emma’s heart belongs to Noah Winslow, a lowly printer’s assistant and Patriot. But her father has promised her hand to Samuel Clarke, a rapacious and sadistic man. As his fianc�e, she would have to give up Noah and the friends who have become like family to her–as well as the beliefs she has come to embrace.
After Emma is drawn into the treasonous Boston Tea Party, Samuel blackmails her with evidence that condemns each participant, including Noah. Emma realizes she must do whatever it takes to protect those she loves, even if it means giving up the life she desires and becoming Samuel’s wife.Present Day
Lieutenant Hayley Ashworth is determined to be the first woman inducted into the elite Navy SEALs. But before her dream can be realized, she must return to Boston in order to put the abuse and neglect of her childhood behind her. When an unexpected encounter with the man she once loved leads to the discovery of a tea chest and the document hidden within, she wonders if perhaps true strength and freedom are buried deeper than she first realized.
Two women, separated by centuries, must find the strength to fight for love and freedom. . . and discover a heritage of courage and faith. (less)
vogt

The Best We’ve Been (Thatcher Sisters #3), by Beth Vogt

How can you choose what is right for you when your decision will break the heart of someone you love?

Having abandoned her childhood dream years ago, Johanna Thatcher knows what she wants from life. Discovering that her fiancé was cheating on her only convinces Johanna it’s best to maintain control and protect her heart.

Despite years of distance and friction, Johanna and her sisters, Jillian and Payton, have moved from a truce toward a fragile friendship. But then Johanna reveals she has the one thing Jillian wants most and may never have―and Johanna doesn’t want it. As Johanna wrestles with a choice that will change her life and her relationships with her sisters forever, the cracks in Jillian’s marriage and faith deepen. Through it all, the Thatcher sisters must decide once and for all what it means to be family.

pawverbs

Pawverbs: 100 Inspirations to Delight an Animal Lover’s Heart, by Jennifer Marshall Bleakley

A charming and wise collection of lessons from Proverbs . . . taught by teachers with paws.

Many of us believe a house isn’t a home unless there is fur on the floor. 
Pawverbs, a collection of 100 short stories featuring real-life animals, presents the godly wisdom of Proverbs in a whimsical way–inviting us to explore deep spiritual truths alongside tales of our lovable pets. In this book you will meet:
  • Guinea pig sisters with celebrity status.
  • A street-smart cat who finds his way home.
  • A black Lab with a rap sheet.
  • A dog and dolphin who are best friends.
  • A bearded dragon who enjoys a good soak.
  • A lifesaving Great Dane, and many more.
Like little fuzzy, hairy, scaly, or feathery ambassadors, animals are a gift from God to point us to Himself–to the One who promises to never leave us, is always available to listen, and who loves us more than we can fathom. If you are looking for encouragement and inspiration, or even just a kibble-sized morsel of wisdom, Pawverbs is sure to delight your pet-loving soul. 

Here are most of the rest of the books I read this past year. Let me know what you read–and which were your favorites–in 2019!

teachest

The inspiration behind Lead Me Home

A lot of folks are curious about where an author gets book ideas.

You don’t have to look far to figure out where inspiration came from for my third novel, Lead Me Home. 

My cousins have a dairy farm about five miles from where we live. It’s been a place of intrigue and beauty, respite and fascination of mine for decades, and they were gracious enough to indulge my curiosity during the times I needed to do research for this book. Come tour with me today! Also, you can learn all about their brand new creamery, called Dandy Breeze, at their website.

This is me at the Dairy Barn at the Indiana State Fair.

And here come the cows, also lovingly referred to as, “the girls,” moseying in as they do each morning and evening like clockwork for their twice-a-day milkings. They don’t even have to be called or herded in, they know the routine so well.

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Occasionally they stop and stare at the obvious city girl taking pictures.

City girls can be quite annoying.

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“Mooooove along now, city girl,” she says.

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Linger too long and they’ll try and kiss ya.

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Mmmmm.

Cow kisses.

Once they get to the barn, they mosey right up to the stanchions and wait to be milked, happy to have their burgeoning udders emptied and to have a bit of hay for a milking snack.

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They really are happy to be milked.

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Really.

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The milk goes into the cooling tank in the next room, where it is stored until the milk tanker truck comes and takes it to the plant for processing into cheese and ice cream and YUM.

Did someone say ICE CREAM???

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Once they’re done with the milking, each girl gets her teats cleaned (if you’re a real farmer you don’t giggle at this phrase). Then she eases herself out of the stanchions and finds her way back out of the barn to where a hearty grain dinner awaits.

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Bellies full, the girls then take the worn path back to the pasture.

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And find a patch of shade.

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Meanwhile back at the barn, there’s much work to be done.

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The pre-teen and teen girls need tending.

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Hey girls.

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And the babies need to be fed their share of milk.

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I mean seriously.

Can you STAND the cuteness???

Why don’t my eyelashes naturally look like that?

Isn’t this somethin’??!

The work never ends on the dairy farm.

I’ve not even shown you the plowing and planting and cutting and baling, the sick cows and droughts and floods. I’m not even showing you the way the barn looks at 0400 and 1630 every. single. day. 24/7/365. And all the minutes in between when the cleaning and prepping and hauling and dirty, stinky, nasty parts of the job that happen every. single. day. too.

No, the work never ends on the dairy farm.

But along the way there sure are a lot of blessings.

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A harvest of hope and blessings, indeed.

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*****

“Meanwhile, friends, wait patiently for the Master’s Arrival. You see farmers do this all the time, waiting for their valuable crops to mature, patiently letting the rain do its slow but sure work.”

James 5:7 (MSG)

*****

What part of the dairy farm intrigues you the most?

What’s your favorite picture?

Can you see how there are so many parallels between a life of farming and a life of faith?

 

 

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