In which I write about 2020 even though I don’t feel like it, favorite books of the year, 2021 TBR list, a new release, and my One Word.

New Year’s Day, 2021.

Outside, ice pelts the window and slicks the sidewalks, and the gray skies wrap my little world with a gloomy sort of comfort as I sit on my bed with my pup and my brand new calendar/planner.

The ambivalence of looking back over the unimaginable past year causes a wrench in my gut I’ve grown accustomed to…an ache of dread, my whole body overwhelmed with the lactic acid build-up of a year of bracing myself for whatever hell is looming around the next corner.

When my husband and youngest son and I watched the ball drop in Times Square last night, the relief felt strange and temporary. After all this time spent emotionally—even physically—hunkering down against the 2020 tsunami, I’m finding it difficult to straighten myself enough to look up, let alone ahead.

One of my all time favorite books is Mudhouse Sabbath, by Lauren Winner. In the chapter on grief, Lauren describes the Jewish tradition of praising God in the midst of grief and mourning, even and especially when you don’t feel like it. By continuing to speak truths about God’s goodness and faithfulness, we eventually come around to feeling that goodness and faithfulness again.

Today, I don’t feel like celebrating. I don’t feel like writing my annual turn-of-the-year blog post. My soul is just plain raw from being a healthcare worker in the midst of this pandemic, from the normal, everyday effects of this pandemic, from the heart-rending social unrest in our country, and from a few other significant and personal losses of 2020. And yet, my head knows God has been so good and merciful to me and my family through it all.

So I’m writing this blog today anyway.

I may not be steadfast, but my God is.

First off, my favorite reads of 2020.

Frustratingly, I fell far short of my 75 book goal for 2020. I read over 90 in 2019, so I thought 75 was modest and obtainable. But I only got around to 41. Even then, I regret that I didn’t even really like most of the ones I read. Maybe in another year I would have liked some of them better, but I doubt it. Picking up books in 2020 felt like picking chocolates out of a Whitman’s Sampler box and getting all the nasty ones.

They weren’t all bad, though. Seven stood out to me:

1. Cutting for Stones, by Verghese: This one actually made it to my all-time favorites list. Just so beautifully written and engaging and thought-provoking; even life changing.

2. The Dutch House, by Patchett: Beautiful, descriptive prose, and set in Brooklyn, NY, which I had the chance to visit on the verge of the pandemic. Loved the story. Love that city.

3. A Time For Mercy, by Grisham: Pure entertainment, consistent with his earlier and better work. Also, the return of Jake Brigance. how can you not love a book that makes you picture Matthew McConaughey as the protagonist the whole time you’re reading?

4. The Guest List, by Foley: Again, pure entertainment. A great mystery that kept me guessing. It’s rare that I find a book I can’t put down, and this was one for sure.

5. Such a Fun Age, by Reid: A solid story and enthralling plot that spoke convictingly to the societal, racial issues of today without being preachy. Loved it.

6. House Calls and Hitching Posts, by Hoover: A heartwarming read when I needed my heart to be warmed. The true stories of a doctor to the Amish that reminded me all over again why I love being a nurse.

7. You Can’t Touch My Hair, by Robinson. In a year in which book sellers bombarded us with must-read books on race (many of them very angry and not even written by POC), I found this one to be at once convicting, honest, and inspiring, because it really helped me see what life is like for POC. Robinson made me feel like she was talking to me as a friend, and at the end of the day, that is the kind of language that will help heal our nation.

These seven were definitely great reads.

I’m looking forward to more and better books in 2021…

…and here is my stack of priority reads on my bedside table. Strout, Robinson, and Kingsolver are three of my all time favorite authors, not to mention inspirations behind my writing.

I am continuing to read more books on race, and the parts I’ve read of Memorial Drive and I’m Still Here are really, really good so far. There are also a couple of nature books and books for research for a new novel I’m beginning to write.

This stack of books alone is good reason for me to look forward to 2021.

New book release!

What I’m most excited about is the release of THIS book in early June, 2021: 40 Days of Hope for Healthcare Heroes! I literally cried my way through writing this book of devotionals in the height of the pandemic this summer. It is a prayer and an offering to every health care worker I have ever had the privilege to work alongside, and I cannot wait until it hits the shelves! (Available for pre-order now from your favorite book seller!)

And finally, my One Word for 2021.

I enjoy the tradition of choosing a word as a sort of umbrella of conviction and inspiration for my year. For a long while I didn’t feel like I’d be able to identify one, but then RESTORE jumped out at me and I am clinging to it.

What better word for 2021, after all? The weariness is multifaceted for all of us, isn’t it? We long for restoration for our bodies, our minds, our spirits, our souls.

The best part of this word is that it just so happens to be the theme of my all-time favorite Bible verses, Joel 2:25:

“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—the great locust and the young locust,
the other locusts and the locust swarm…”

Years ago I went through a dark time and planted a locust tree in our back yard as a way to remind me of this verse. Skinny and sparse at the time, it now provides shade across our entire patio, allowing us to sit outside in the heat of the summer.

The whole chapter of Joel 2 speaks to how God redeems a time that seemed irredeemable and inescapable for Israel. Not only does He redeem, he pours out His love and grace and peace out on His people on the other side of that time.

If you’re like me, maybe you don’t feel right now that any part of 2020 is redeemable. Maybe you feel like the doom and gloom of it are clawing at your heels in their attempt to cling and hijack their way into the new year.

But feelings are fleeting, friends.

Our God is faithful.

He will restore and redeem and renew.

So, happy new year, dear friends!

Praying peace and RESTORATION for each of you in 2021 and beyond!

Quarantine journals: April 30

When I was younger, I had a terrifying, recurrent dream. I can’t recall the circumstances, only that we were standing in a line at a school waiting for MREs, our only source of food. It was the sort of dream where your conscious is telling you in the midst that “it’s only a dream,” but you are so scared that you fight your way awake in the middle of the night.

This morning I drove by a local elementary school, and I was struck by how much it looks like the one in that old dream.

I know, it’s ridiculous, right?

We’re going to make it through this, right?

Some moments of my day, usually when I’m building or painting something, I don’t think about the virus. I don’t think about my patients at the hospital who were sick and anxious enough without COVID-19 to worry about. I don’t think about how so many of us are months, or weeks, or even days, of needing help to pay bills and get food.

But many moments–too many moments–I do think about it.

I wonder if my grandparents and great-grandparents felt like they were free-falling when the Great Depression hit. Because that’s how I feel–like I’m free falling. Like I’m in a dream and I know I’m in a dream, only this time, I can’t make myself wake up. I can’t make it go away.

I want to be able to get my nails done again. I want to get back to the treasured Saturday morning breakfasts out with my husband. I want to hug my patient who just received devastating news. I want to hug my friends again. I want to know that we aren’t headed toward bread lines and MREs and another Great Depression and things won’t get so bad that we’ll have to sell our house or go bankrupt or lose everything but the shirts on our backs.

I had anxiety and PTSD before all this, and I just wish it would all go away.

Now, I’m fully aware that a lot of the things I listed above are #firstworldproblems. By and large my family and I are doing okay. But everything is relative for everyone. A crisis to one person might appear as a blessing to another. We can’t judge the things that make each of us unravel.

We can only acknowledge that we are, each of us, unraveling about something in the midst of this madness.

So what can we do?

There are the obvious: acknowledge that your hurt and worry are real, and more importantly, valid. Seek mental help–most doctors are taking virtual visits, if not seeing serious cases in person. Do things–even one thing–to take care of your soul, whether putting up a bird house, reading a long-neglected book, trying a hobby you’ve been putting off, taking a bubble bath by candlelight.

One thing is for sure: We are not all in this together.

Some are suffering significantly more than others. Many–too many–are dying.

But we are all in this with God.

He has not changed.

He has not left us.

He has seen us through wars and famines and plagues. He has never promised us escape from these challenges, but He has promised us victory over them–either here on earth or in Heaven.

“…fear not, for I am with you;

be not dismayed, for I am your God;

I will strengthen you, I will help you,

I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Isaiah 41:10

The other day, I had the privilege of being at my cousins’ dairy farm when they opened the north pasture to grazing for the first time this season.

The gate opened, and the pretty jersey cows with their big, brown, puppy dog eyes just stood there, blinking, ankle deep in muck.

“Go on now,” the farmer hollered, encouraging them.

Still, they stood there and stared.

It’s as if they’d forgotten all the springs before and the freedom and sweet, honey taste of the emerald green pasture.

“Go out before them, walk all the way back over the bend of the hill,” my farmer cousin said to me.

The cows blinked some more, postures guarded, as they watched me walk farther and farther out into the pasture, my legs shin deep in the lush, green grass.

But then slowly, one by one, they walked toward the pasture.

They picked up their pace, little by little, until one, and then another, started to run–skip, really–their impossibly enormous frames light with glee when they finally realized what the farmer was offering them.

Freedom.

Honey sweet nourishment.

Goodness.

Love.

It was a Malachi 4:2 sort of day:

But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture.”

The sort of day the Lord has in store for each of us, when this winter, this virus, this season lifts.

Be safe, dear friends.

Know you are loved and beloved.

Know that you are not alone.


 Lead Me Home is a novel inspired by my cousins’ dairy farm. It’s a story of two families and a town faced with immeasurable loss,  and how they find hope in the midst of it. You might like to give it a try, if you’re looking for the same:

Quarantine Journals: April 11

I’ve always liked Holy Saturday.

Is that what it’s called?

The in between.

Good Friday and Easter get a lot of attention, and then there’s Saturday when nothing happens.

Silence.

Can you imagine being one of the disciples back then?

Abandoned.

Confused.

Hopeless.

Bewildered.

Utterly disappointed.

The One who was supposed to save was gone.

Dead.

Buried.

But then…

We know what happened.

We know that Sunday’s comin’.

We know that.

And yet,

we’re living in the middle

of one of the great *Saturdays* of our generation.

Death and despair surround us.

We feel frustrated. Afraid. Anxious. Lonely.

Defeated.

I imagine that Saturday some 2,000 years ago, Jesus wanted more than anything to tell his despairing disciples to lift up their eyes, to remember that He had not and would not fail them.

I imagine that if we quiet our trembling hearts long enough to listen, truly listen, we will hear Him again.

We will feel the tender touch of His nail-pierced hand under our chins, lifting our countenances.

We may feel that we’re surrounded, but

we’re surrounded by Him.

Saturday is deafeningly silent, but oh the sound when that stone rolls away tomorrow!

Sunday is comin’.

It always does.

Look up, dear friends.

Not to the hills. Not to the government. Not to hospitals or banks or experts or pundits. Not to our own feeble ways of coping.

Look up to His faithfulness.

Look up to His Word.

Look up, dear friends.

Because Sunday.

Because Sunday is a-comin’!

What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole.

I Peter 1:3-5 TMV