One word for 2017


That’s my one word for 2017.

I started hearing God whisper the word to me a few weeks ago. (He’s known for a while now that I don’t respond well to subtle, so the word obedience showed up on my heart like a billboard.)

Now, obedience is not a popular word these days, and it hasn’t been for a good while. I remember thirty years ago when friends who were getting married began taking it out of their wedding vows because they were offended by its implications.

But when I began to search the Bible for the word “obedience” in the Hebrew and the Greek (y’all knew I was a big nerd, and I absolutely love word study), I was convicted of not only its importance, but of its beauty as a follower of Jesus.

The word for obedience in Hebrew is shâmaʻ, defined as, “to hear intelligently (often with implication of attention, obedience, etc.; causatively, to tell, etc.):—× attentively, call (gather) together, × carefully, × certainly, consent, consider, be content, declare, × diligently, discern, give ear, (cause to, let, make to) hear(-ken, tell), ×indeed, listen, make (a) noise, (be) obedient, obey, perceive, (make a) proclaim(-ation), publish, regard, report, shew (forth), (make a) sound, × surely, tell, understand, whosoever (heareth), witness.

Shâmaʻ occurs 1,161 times in 1,072 verses in the Old Testament, and not only in stories where the man or woman was called to action. Interestingly, it is used many times to describe how the Lord hears the cries of His people. This is why I love the original language, because a word like obedience is blown wide open, far beyond the action of doing something.

It seems to me obedience means leaning into the will of God with a palms-up posture of careful attention and diligence.

Always listening for Him.

And if I can’t hear Him, then trusting what He says in His Word.

Because shâmaʻ indicates–incredibly–that the Lord is in fact listening attentively to us.

And even more incredible than that, this seems to imply that obedience isn’t about a distant, unapproachable being putting the smack-down on humans, but rather a relationship, a back-and-forth, the result of a real and active and compelling love.

The verse in the Old Testament containing shâmaʻ that stuck out to me personally is Zechariah 6:15:

“And those who are far off shall come and help to build the temple of the LORD. And you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. And this shall come to pass, if you will diligently obey the voice of the LORD your God.” (Zechariah 6:15)

In the Greek, the word obedience is hypakoē, defined as, “attentive hearkening, i.e. (by implication) compliance or submission:—obedience, (make) obedient, obey(-ing).”

Hypakoē occurs 15 times in the New Testament, and again, I was struck with the fact that by this definition, obedience is more than an act.

Obedience is first and foremost paying attention, making the act of obedience a response to what my attention has discerned. 

The verse containing hypakoē that again stuck out to me personally is 2 Corinthians 10:5:

“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

I don’t know what tomorrow, let alone all of 2017 will hold for me. But I can be sure that if I listen for Him with my whole heart, He will surely and gently guide my steps.

The beloved Eugene Peterson wrote an entire book about obedience (one of my all-time favorites) called A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society. In it, Peterson writes:

“There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.”

Another very favorite book of mine is Mudhouse Sabbath by Lauren Winner, in which she describes her path from Orthodox Judaism to Christianity and how those religious practices and shape her faith. In chapter three she talks about Judaism and mourning, how the congregation through specific practices simply will not allow a grieving person to be alone. More than that, Winner describes the practice of mourner’s saying a prayer called the Kaddish:

“Not only is the community present for one’s mourning, God is present too. God is ubiquitous in Jewish bereavement because of the Kaddish…a curious mourner’s prayer because it says nothing about mourning…It is not a prayer of rent garments and commemoration, but rather simply four verses of praise to God…Even in the pit, even in depression and loss and nonsense, still we respond to God with praise. This is not to say that the mourner should not feel what he feels–anger, disbelief, hatred. He can feel those things (and shout them to God; God can take it). You do not have to feel praise in the intense moments of mourning, but the praise is still true, and insisting upon it over and over, twice a day every day, ensures that eventually you will come to remember the truth of those praises.” ~Lauren Winner, Mudhouse Sabbath


Let that sink in:

“You do not have to feel praise,” she writes, “…but the praise is still true, and insisting upon it over and over, twice a day every day, ensures that eventually you will come to remember the truth of those praises.”

Really, obedience is about trust, then, right?

Hearing when I don’t want to hear.

Doing when I don’t want to do.

Believing when I don’t want to believe.

And yes, praising when I don’t want to praise.

img_7153This made more sense to me during a recent conversation I had with Dad. We were talking about my Grandpa and his hobby work as a lapidarist, polishing rocks and designing and cutting gemstones. Grandpa’s work was a large part of the inspiration behind my novel, Then Sings My Soul, as was the heritage of our ancestors on that side of the family, who were by all accounts Jewish refugees in the late 1800s.

The facets of gemstones are so small and so precise, and I was remembering how Grandpa wore pretty thick glasses.

“How in the world did he do such minute, precise work?” I asked.

Dad explained that Grandpa had a special magnifying glass he could move over the top of his machinery to see, and that he used a loupe.

“But really,” Dad explained, “he trusted the measurements.”

That’s it, I thought.

Grandpa had hundreds and hundreds of gemstone designs full of numbers and graphs and measurements. By setting the machine with those carefully calculated measurements, even when he couldn’t see the surface he could (and did) create hundreds and hundreds of beautiful gemstones and cabochons.

So many times I feel blind to where I am going, to what I am doing. So many times I feel so inadequate–or like a straight-up failure–to love, to parent, to forgive, to work, to write, to trust.

But if I trust the measurements–the Word of God and the gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit which are there not to brow beat me into modern culture’s view of obedience, but to love me and tenderly shepherd me into green pastures–then my heart will always return to Him.




Below are some of the hand-written measurements and designs Grandpa used, including the ones for the Star of David cut used on the stone that graces the cover of Then Sings My Soul. (Click here to read more about that in a previous post.)

Here is that stone in real-size:


And here are the measurements Grandpa used to create it:

And here is an extraordinary photograph of the same stone (courtesy of B. Vukovich):


The Mary Jane Design is a cut Grandpa created, and then named after my grandmother (also published in the December, 1991, issue of Lapidary Journal).

Here is the stone:


And here are Grandpa’s measurements:

Obedience might not be your word for 2017, but maybe you’re intrigued by it.

Maybe like me, you struggle with it.

Jakob, the main character in Then Sings My Soul, he struggles with faith and obedience, too. You might like to add this book to your 2017 reading list.

In the meantime, what’s your word for 2017?

Let us know in the comments section below.

And have a blessed, happy New Year!


Home Sweet Farmhouse Home Episode 5: Fireplace Surround Part 1

Hello, dear readers!

Summers are busy, aren’t they?

Maybe that’s why they never last as long as I want them to.

About the time I feel settled in to the less scheduled, longer days, back-to-school begins to loom on the horizon like a bad summer storm. I don’t know about you, but I’m the sort of mama that loves summer. I love having all my boys home in my nest.

Which might be why I’m always feathering ours…the projects and art I create in summertime are a way to express the joy that overflows when my family is all near. It’s a tangible–albeit annoying to the four precious men who tolerate it–way for me to love on them without getting (too much) in their way. 

This fireplace renovation is a perfect example.

(Friendly reminder: I’m just a girl having fun, so please don’t rely on what I say here as the final word on your own home improvement projects. Be sure to consult with a professional before starting your own.)

I LOVE this project.

It’s not an easy one, though, and so I’m dividing it in to two parts. Part 1 today will show you inspiration and how I’ve done the bottom half of the work. The second episode will talk about the top half and the final REVEAL. 🙂

So here’s what I started with, the “before” picture of our fireplace.

It’s a beautiful fireplace as-is. But since I’m in love with the farmhouse style, it needed some major work.


While the woodwork is beautiful, the tile is boring and over ten years old. And the wall above the mantel has been begging for something more for as many years.


Enter Pinterest.

I’m not an original decorator.

I fully admit I’m a copy-cat-er. I search and search and scroll and scroll Pinterest until I find all the pictures I can that are similar to the dream in my head.

Here’s one of the many that are the inspiration behind the re-do I’m sharing with you:
IMG_1752 (1)

It’s gorgeous, isn’t it? I went back and forth and back and forth between doing all stone, all the way to the ceiling, but I decided (because our family room isn’t very big) that would be too much. Besides that, I wanted to incorporate some shiplap.


Who doesn’t need more shiplap in their life?

And their family room?

So I decided to do stone below and shiplap above.

Let the demolition begin.


This is the best, unanticipated part of having three baby boys.

They grow up to be big man-boys who LOVE demolition.

I learned the hard way that removing tile is neither fun nor simple.

And it creates a gigantic mess.

My oldest chipped and hammered for hours until at last we had a nekked fireplace surround.



REALLY nekked.

Like, studs and insulation nekked, which I had not anticipated.

Enter Friendly Mr. Lowe’s Guy.

I love this man. He has helped me so much with this project. If you’re a DIY newb like me, find yourself a Friendly Mr. Lowe’s guy. He’ll show you things like this lovely Hardiebacker cement board that we installed all around the fireplace. We had to do this, because we had to have something on which the tiles could properly adhere.

(By the way, HardieBacker does say on its website that it’s okay to use around a fireplace. Be sure to check for things like this before you attempt it on your own.)

The Hardiebacker is super nice because you can use a box cutter to score along the lines and snap it apart.

Don’t forget to measure twice before you cut! 😉


Once the Hardiebacker was screwed in to the studs, the fun really started.

I’ve always been smitten with the smooth river rocks on the shores of Lake Michigan. If you’ve read my second novel, Then Sings My Soul, then you know a little about my obsession with rocks. And I do enjoy decorating with things and themes I’m passionate about.

Here’s some pictures I took of rocks and boys skipping rocks from a family vacation to South Haven, Michigan, the setting of Then Sings My Soul:






As such, I was absolutely thrilled when I found these beautiful stones available (also at Lowe’s) as a tiling system.

The river rock tile is especially forgiving because…

…no one can tell if it’s crooked because none of them are straight.

Besides that, they have a mesh backing, and I was able to cut smaller and even individual sections of stone for precise placement.


IMG_1736 IMG_1738

I still have to grout, but here it is so far!

The grout is a darker shade of gray, and while everything I’ve studied indicates it will be the easiest part of this project, I’m terrified I’ll mess it up and these beautiful stones along with it. But I think/hope/pray the dark gray will be striking against them in the end.

I’m so excited.

This might be my favorite DIY project to date.

I wish I could’ve done more for you by now, but I have a fourth novel I’m editing, as well as my firstborn son going to college for the first time in less than a month, so I don’t have a ton of extra time for my projects. Thank you for your patience as I piece them together for you! I can’t wait to share the shiplap and grout results with you next time!

What about you?

Have you ever collected river rock?

Have you ever remodeled your fireplace?

What are you working on this summer?





By wisdom a house is built,

And by understanding it is established;

And by knowledge the rooms are filled

With all precious and pleasant riches.

Proverbs 24:3-4


A special month. A special book.

I’m going purple today, in honor of June, which is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month. 

My passion for this issue is related in large part to my work as an RN caring for patients suffering from this, but also because of loved ones who have struggled with it, too. As you might know, the main character in my novel, Then Sings My Soul, is battling his own form of age-related dementia. It’s a story of love and loss as Jakob and his daughter, Nel, navigate their days and learn to find hope in the midst of it all. 

The number of people suffering from Alzheimer’s and other brain/memory loss disease processes are striking. Chances are–and especially as our population ages–if you’re not related to someone who has it, then you know someone trying to balance the often overwhelming caregiving needs of these patients.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association

Worldwide, 47 million people are living with dementia.

The annual global cost of dementia is $604 billion in U.S. dollars.

The number of people living with dementia worldwide is set to skyrocket to 76 million by 2030.

In the United States, Alzheimer’s disease is a triple threat, which means that:

  • Every 67 seconds someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s.
  • Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
  • Alzheimer’s is the only cause of death in the top 10 that can’t be prevented, cured or slowed.

Do you or someone you know afflicted with these issues need hope?

Visit the Alzheimer’s Association website by clicking here to learn about steps you can take to join the fight against Alzheimer’s and other brain disorders. 

You can also pick up a copy of the novel, Then Sings My Soul, for you and a friend. 

Because even when it seems all hope and memory are lost, there’s always a story to be told.