Natasha’s New Book, Mentor For Life

I have to admit being a bit in awe of people who go to military academies. Natasha Robinson is one of them. They emit a burning efficiency which singes us lesser beings who actually spend our moments at a stoplight daydreaming rather than crossing off the to do list. For the last several months I’ve been meeting a gal in Panera who is a new friend, new Christian, and new to the church as in first time in her entire life new. I love this ray of sunshine and freshness friend. We always order the same thing, dress in whatever and hug each other coming and going. I guess you could say I’m her mentor although I’m not entirely equipped to be her mentor so I’m ordering Natasha’s book, Mentor for Life. If you have a desire to mentor and want to know how to do it well, this is a book you’ll love. Here’s a bit of Natasha’s cool, focused face, her beautiful book published by Zondervan and some of her own thoughts about it. You go girl!

Why did you want to write the book, Mentor for Life?

Natasha: The process for Mentor for Life came about quite organically. I was leading a mentoring ministry in my local congregation and it was the type of ministry I wanted to be a part of my whole adult life. I was growing my faith, meeting new people, having interesting conversations, and reading thoughtful kingdom-focused books. The ministry was important to me so I would frequently talk about it and I wrote about it on my blog and in some of the leadership articles I wrote for Christianity Today. When I would share what we were doing and how I was watching God change people’s lives through mentoring as intentional discipleship, I started hearing people say, I want to be a part of something like that or I wish there was a ministry like that are my church. I would get messages on my Facebook page, notes in the comments section, or emails from my blog asking for a resource or my curriculum. When I saw this was a need in the church and people were sincerely asking for help, that’s when I sat down to write this book.

How has mentorship impacted your life?

Natasha: Mentoring has had in invaluable impact on my life. I grew up in a small town in South Carolina, in a community of people that understood the African proverb, “It takes a whole village to raise a child.” I always had mentors in my formative years in the form of coaches, teachers, community servants, and pastors. Everyone was collectively speaking into my life. The lessons I learned from these mentors taught me discipline and helped me confirm my identity, which later guided me to the United States Naval Academy.

The Naval Academy’s mission is to make leaders who are committed to making a career in the naval service. The institution cares about the moral, mental, and physical development of their midshipmen (students), and mentoring is naturally built into the leadership structure of the school. From the time you walk on campus, you’re being mentored by several and being groomed as you advance so you are able to mentor others. My time at the academy was very important to my professional development and the honing of my leadership skills.

With regards to my spiritual life, I was raised in a church but really didn’t start walking with the Lord in a personal relationship until I was in college. At that time, I was discipled and mentored by a woman who shaped me. I had many spiritual influencers at that time who built me up and helped me become who I am today.

Mentoring has become a passion of mine, because of the impact it’s had on my life, but also because of the transformation I’ve seen in other people. I believe mentoring is my service to God and to His church.

How do you think the church will benefit from the message of your book?

Natasha: I think the church will be challenged by Mentor for Life, specifically because it is not a how to book. It is a book that calls us back to the priority of our primary calling to make disciples who follow Jesus with their entire being by laying down their lives for the sake of the gospel and this great kingdom mission God has set before us. I think the church has relevant concerns and challenges in today’s culture, but we are not without hope in this world. I believe in the vision of the Lausanne Movement: “The whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world.” We can do that whether we are going out as missionaries to other parts of the world, or whether we are faithful and credible witnesses to the various people groups God has already put in front of us. Any devout believer wants to make disciples of Jesus, yet in our daily lives we become distracted, and what this book does is it resets our priorities and challenges us to allow everyone to overflow out of Jesus’ prayer for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in Heaven. Mentor for Life challenges and equips the church to focus on the gospel and Jesus’ simple call to “follow me” and we do that by making disciples through relationships in an intimate small group of intentional learning.


How can someone seek out a mentor at church? How can you prepare yourself to be a mentor at church?

Natasha: How can someone find a mentor: ask! Just make sure that when you ask, you’re specific and make your motivations and intentions clear. This gives the space for conversation. For example, my mother passed away during my sophomore year of college. When I entered into a mentorship with an older woman at my church, one of her early questions to me was, “Are you trying to fill a ‘mommy void’ with this relationship?” That was certainly a valid question. I thought about it and confidently replied, “No.” No one would ever be able to replace my mother. I had a wonderful relationship with her and I have no regrets.

The reason I had sought out this woman at my church was because she was a prayer warrior. So after she asked me why I wanted her as my mentor, I told her it was because I wanted her to teach me how to pray. This taught me the importance of being specific in your “ask” of a mentor and to not be afraid to ask and make your expectations known. Putting all your expectations of a mentorship out in the open also gives you the opportunity to check your motives as a mentee. I still have a mentoring relationship with this woman today and I value it greatly.

With regards to preparing to become a mentor, most of the time you are just not ready. I do not want to discount the importance of training. I am an advocate for training and equipping leaders so they can serve the body of Christ and others well. That’s why I have written this book. That’s why I offer free downloadable information on my website. That’s why I have written a mentoring leadership training manual and accompanying videos. That’s also why I offer leadership consulting and mentoring coaching. However, I feel like this feeling of “not being ready” is what a lot of people use as an excuse to not commit to mentoring. I am saying very clearly that is NOT a sufficient excuse. “On the job” training is a big part of being an excellent mentor. There’s only so much you can prepare for. In mentoring, there’s always more to learn. There’s no “arriving” when it comes to being qualified to mentor. Prepare what and where you can by praying, being in the Word, listening and learning from others, and taking advantage of the tools that are available to you, but don’t wait on fully accomplishing those things before saying “yes” to being a mentor.

For mentors and mentees, it is imperative that both parties be open and honest up front about expectations and boundaries. Laying everything out at the beginning will help keep your time together focused, and will also provide accountability for both parties. Many times, the expectation of the mentee can lean towards being completely unrealistic. When that expectation is ultimately not met, the mentee ends up checking out of the relationship. Having affirmations can clarity expectations, build trust, and cause the mentoring relationship to flourish.

Mentorship is oftentimes all about “me,” when it should really be all about Christ. He is the mentor both for those who offer mentoring and those being mentored. For mentors, this means being open and willing to serve when called upon. For mentees, this meaning being open to change and willing to learn from a mentor. Both mentors and mentees need a humble and mutually submissive posture, and both need an attentive ear and teachable spirit. Shift away from focusing on yourself and your needs, and see how God wants to teach you and use you to influence the lives of others.

What makes Mentor for Life unique?

Natasha: Mentor for Life is unique because it does address mentoring from a perspective of 1-on-1 relationships. It clearly defines mentoring from the kingdom perspective of intentional making disciples, and we do that within a small group of approximately six mentees and we invest in building quality relationships through intentional learning over a longer period of time (approximately a year). The book is kingdom-focused, it engages the biblical texts, there is opportunity for theological reflection, it is missional (not just about what we do in the church but how we live among people), and it is challenging. It is also personal and relational. Throughout the book, I share about my faith journey, along with the leadership and mentoring lessons I learned while attending the United States Naval Academy and serving as an officer in the United States Marine Corps.

How do you imagine the book will be used in both an individual and group setting? 

Natasha: I love to read so I have grown to love books. In some ways, I see myself being shaped and formed through the books I read. So I pray for the individual that this book will be transformative for the reader. Mentor for Life is not necessarily a book to rush through. It is a book to ponder. I have included questions, opportunities for personal reflection, and exercises at the end of each chapter. I encourage the reader to complete those, and I pray that as they go through the book they are not only thinking about starting a mentoring small group or ministry, but they are also asking themselves, “How can I be more intentional in how I live?” So I pray that Mentor for Life is spiritually transformative for every reader and it’s my hope that they will share and model what they learn with others. Mentor for Life is a leadership book, so it was written in mind to lay a solid foundation for those who do want to start a mentoring group or ministry. Reading this book will be a good first step for a small group ministry or leadership team, and they can follow up the reading by accessing the leadership training resource and videos to accompany this book.

Does spiritual mentorship have any effect on a person’s professional life? Can spiritual and professional mentorship work hand-in-hand?

Natasha: Yes, the two absolutely work together. I’ve experienced this in my personal life and I’ve been able to be a mentor spiritually and professionally for others.

In preparation for the book launch, I am having a kickoff event at my church. This event has been designed as an educational opportunity for church members and the public to have a better understanding of mentorship as intentional discipleship. Part of the event will include a panel discussion with mentors of mine, past and present. It was important for me to have these mentors present, because I wanted to show the different sides of mentoring and how everything works together.

One of the ladies that will be on the panel was my boss when I worked at the Department of Homeland Security. When I decided to leave the military and pursue a career, I had three job offers. All were good, which made my decision a little more difficult. I called an alumnus of the Naval Academy and sought her counsel regarding my decision. She had actually worked for one of the companies that was offering me a job, but advised me to go work at the Department of Homeland Security because of the skill set and influence of the woman that would be my boss.

During my interview for the job, my future boss seemed to sense (more than I had) how unsure I was about the job. I’m typically a confident person, but after having been in the military for eleven years, that was all I knew. The thought of starting something new was unsettling for me. My boss seemed to understand this fear, and she told me, “I can sense that you aren’t sure about this. But let me tell you this. Come here and do a good job. Network and meet great people, and use this job as your ‘transition’ job to figure out what you want to do.”

Having that freedom and support gave me a great sense of safety about this job and new career. It was about this time that I began writing for Christianity Today. I sent my boss the first article I had published, and she ended up calling me into her office and talking with me for a good half hour about it! It was so encouraging to hear from her, this accomplished woman, how much she’d gotten out of what I’d written. She encouraged me to keep writing, and later, she encouraged me to pursue going to seminary.

I’m so blessed to have this woman as a mentor and friend. She is an amazing example of how to be a Godly influence in a secular environment. Whether they knew it or not, everyone who came in contact with her saw Jesus. What better example of marrying spiritual and professional mentorship could there be?



Climbing Kilimanjaro for Esperance and All

Today I’m praying for my friends and sisters who are climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. A handful of women, two from the Redbud Writers Guild, are trekking up Kili as a fundraiser for women who are demeaned by their culture simply because they are women. This movement, One Million Thumbprints, is a “movement of peacemakers overcoming the effects of war on women.” It sounds peacenik, like a bunch of 1960’s retro-gals who let go of Hendrix and got ahold of the idea that real change can be won one woman at a time. That’s not all bad, particularly if you’re stuck in America chained to the election blather and wondering if God has anything good left for our country. Presidential candidates joking about yoga during a debate? As we say in Lent, “Good Lord deliver us.”

When I learned about this trip last fall I wanted to go and represent the Afghan Women Writers whom I mentor. These Afghan ladies walk an hour to an internet hot spot trying to sneak a cry of truth out into the world. Highlighting their voices from the mountaintop would raise awareness and funds to help support them and all women marginalized by the effects of war in their respective countries. I even have a picture of Kili on my Pinterest “Dream” board so I qualify. My sons have researched climbing Kili and it takes 4 -6 days depending on the route. Hopefully, they’re taking the six day journey which provides the most time to adjust to the altitude, meaning less altitude sickness. I know from experience that you don’t go out one October morning and run the Chicago Marathon, training helps. Alas, my day on the mountaintop awaits. My son’s last high school musical is running and papers need grading.

Instead, I’m here on my knees for these brave climbers, who give voice to women like Esperance and the hundreds of women who are raped every day on the front lines of sectarian conflict. You can learn more about them at Please add your thumbprint, buy the devotional guide or even give to the cause because you know that healthy girls, thriving women, and educated mothers bring good into our world. As you walk into Marriano’s to buy your fresh squeezed orange juice at the ridiculously low price of $3.99, think of Sudanese women walking miles for water or Syrain women boiling dandelion greens to keep their families alive. I’m not trying to motivate you out of guilt. I make this grocery store trek weekly and I also don’t think of them while on my suburban pilgrimage, although I should.

If you have a yearning to change the world, hang out with people who share your heart. Another one of my favorite organizations which educates young girls in the third world is  John Wood started Room to Read by collecting books in his garage and then taking them via a train of yaks up into the Himalayas to a school that kept their few books under lock and key, fearing they would be taken. Room to Read is changing the world for good.

Dig into what you’re passionate about. Learn and live it. When I climb Kilimanjaro I’ll let you know and if you write and say you want to climb for the cause near and dear to your heart, you’re welcome to come along. What issue is burning in your heart today?1MTClimb4Peacefront

We’re All Spring Ephemerals

While walking my yorkie-poo this morning I spot these early harbingers. Tufting out of the last fall’s rotting leaves a sunshine nugget shoots forth, one blossom so tiny you could miss it. After looking right then left, I reach down beneath my big toe and pick one. A single winter aconite (Eranthis). Six transparent yellow petals surround a burst of stamen rays, all clustered together to protect themselves from what might be tomorrows predicted snow. They belong in the ranunculus family (my favorite flower), but they look like summer buttercups. Ephemeral – transitory, short lived. Like us.

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We’ve been admiring “Bobby’s winter aconite” since our kids piled into double strollers and headed down to our neighbor’s corner. All of us longing for a blast of fresh air and someone to kick their new spring ball. You know the ones Target keeps in corded cages that you wrench the ball free from revealing its pastel glory, knowing that in about a week, POP! MOMMY(sobbing, hitting). Winter aconite makes a yellow carpet in Chicago’s February sun. Our eyes stare at the vivid swath of ground level warmth after months of twiggy grey, white and black. Color, all too short lived burns our retinas with newness of life.

The single stem now sits in a tiny bud vase on my writing desk, actually a Sanbitter bottle from the grocery store. Lifting it for a sniff propels me through today’s writing projects with a dose of perspective. We are all Spring Ephemerals. Our lives start out every bit as fresh as this bud, no wrinkles, unfocused blue eyes, cradle cap heads in need of nurture by caring, mature hands. We unfurl, for good or bad. With grace we’re given our day to bloom. Our eighty years is an hour equivalent in the life of this unassuming flower. Yet despite its hiddenness, the silent beauty of winter aconite dependably bursts upon us, leading us into the full spectrum of color which is there for the taking every year.

“What is all this juice and all this joy?

A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning

In Eden garden.”

from Spring by Gerrard Manley Hopkins


Polar Plunging Into 2016!

As the LARGE bearded men gathered in their white robes on the beach of Lake Michigan, I had second thoughts. We’ve attended the January 1st Polar Bear Plunge over the years and laughed at the pounds of searing red flesh exiting the water and half naked people of all sizes standing in coolers of hot water to revive their frozen feet. This year was my year. No ice to be chopped up means no ice cutting through your shins and knees as you fly out of the water as fast as your near hypothermia muscles can get you ashore. Another edge, our friends who are seasoned plungers were going in and they knew the tricks, e.g. HOT water coolers, clothes waiting on chairs so they don’t get soaked, must wear shoes so you can run out more effectively and most important, go out in the front of the crowd to avoid the back up of tiptoers into the water who slow down the process to a polar crawl.

While festing at a New Years Eve party the night before a yogi was asked what she thought of the plunge, “I think it would be great for your lymph system.” Of course, this is the main reason to do it. All my lymph nodes will be excruciatingly squeezed and therefor detoxed for about two minutes. Sounded like a good idea, but then I could enjoy this benefit at my local juice bar while waiting for my cut of locavore salmon. Another compelling reason was provided by my girlfriend who served in the Marine Corp., (the real one, not the 35 degree water marine corp. we were about to dip into) “It propels you into the new year like nothing else. It kind of sets the tone for your whole year.” Hmmm. What might my whole year be like if I plunge? Visions of conquering new, unforseen heights and depths of creativity came to mind. Now that’s a benefit.


The “Jump Around” music blasted out of the speakers and we got psyched up by jumping around. The new years day countdown to plunge sang out and off we all charged into what might be our end. There are several ambulances and firefighters who stand waiting to retrieve the weak and frail, or the many Packer fans who are overloaded with holiday cheese curds and Cherry Bounce, yes they go in too and you can smell them on the beach before you hit the water. Here’s what I learned:

– 35 degree water is easy to run out in but it makes it hard to run back. Your system is so shocked that you can’t breath, but your muscles need oxygen to get you out. This is why the kayaks and fireman are in place so no one goes out too far.

– There is a camaradarie that comes with doing something stupid. My son plunged with me and we are now proud members of the Polar Bear Club. The organizers give you a certificate if you sign the waiver saying you won’t sue them if you die. I wonder how many plunges you need to get one of those white robes with the official polar bear patch on them? Those were impressive. If my son gets one before I do, I will be jealous.

– 25 degree air feels like 25 degree air whether you are wet or dry. The difference is that your body becomes stiff when wet so park your car CLOSE to the beach.

– Hot water filled coolers provide the difference between life and death.

I hope this inspires many of you to plunge next New Years Day! Here’s the video of our graceful water ballet if you need more motivation. God bless your 2016 with healthy lymph nodes and the fulfillment of all your resolutions. Check out the lady in the white bikini holding the two stuffed polar bears. Now that’s Wisconsin!

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A New Year, A New Life and Love

She’s never been to Starbucks. Never stayed in a hotel. Never heard a bedtime story and now she’s living with us. Our new year began on Janurary 2nd.  We drove a quiet 11 year old girl from Boston to our home, arriving at 2:00 a.m. to be greeted by welcome notes and lavender macaroon cookies left out on the counter by our other kids.

On December  10th, 2014 we were going about our lives, getting ready for Christmas. We snuggled into our cozy beds and drifted off to sleep as the street light shone through spyrographic ice on our bedroom window. At 4:00 a.m. God woke me up, to the sound of my own voice yelling, “Hurry!”  At first I wasn’t sure it was God, it was “just a dream,” a dream about an adorable girl we know in our Sunday night Bible study in the refugee apartments. “I’m going to be adopted,” she said in the dream, working her small rough hand into mine. “I want to show you where I’m going to live so you can meet them.” We flew through the air and landed in the rugged courtyard of her new apartment complex. Several young, jobless or homeless men gathered around burning trash barrels to stay warm. The icicles dripped rust from the balconies. “It’s that one up there on the end, next to the stairs. I’ll be able to come and go as I want to.” She smiled as she pointed out a lacquered black door on the second floor. We began to creep across the courtyard toward the staircase, arms locked so we didn’t crash on the ice. The circle of young men in “wife beater” t-shirts, gangsta jewelry and flannel coats approached, questioning me. “What are you doin’ here?” Danger slashed across their faces. We began to back up. I whispered to my little friend, “I think we need to get out of here. Hurry!”

This dream, so vivid, spoke of impending doom and urgency. Something was wrong. Reaching over the edge of the bed for my computer, I immediately emailed the Bible study co-leader. It was 4:00a.m. “Is she o.k.?” I just needed to know. Her response back, “I think your dream was from God. Her father is moving her to Boston on December 16th. She doesn’t want to go.”  In six days!  We started praying. My husband agreed that perhaps God was showing us something in the dream and we should speak to her dad about the possibility of her living with us. Her dad agreed, but first she would go to Boston for Christmas. We checked out the neighborhood they were moving to. From a crime perspective, it’s one of the worst.

Many miles later, we sit in Starbucks and sip hot chocolate. I’m teaching her to play the piano after school and she is singing in our church children’s choir. We’ve read Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, Number the Stars and tonight, The Witch of Blackbird Pond at bedtime. She’s getting fat eating American food rather than Liberian pepper soup. She laughs with her brothers who live nearby and our kids and we’re all learning together; learning to make room, to share, to sacrifice our personal schedules, to listen to 103.5fm instead of our favorite stations on the way to school. We are learning to live with and love someone new every morning and every night.

As I walk the dog after getting everyone to school, I’m thankful. I thank God that he still speaks in dreams and visions. I thank him for always doing something new, so thankful that her father said, “yes,” and as we walk toward Valentine’s Day, I thank him that he is still teaching us all how to love.

Watching and Waiting with Wonder

Watching and Waiting with Wonder

Signs and wonders. A phrase so common in the Bible that the word “wonder” appears 109 times. Wonder is defined as:

The feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.

Children own wonder. It’s engrained in the purity of their hearts and expressed through their senses.  How often I’ve watched my own children see and interact with the created world differently. While sitting in church, I remember a fat, sticky hand caressing my face with such intimacy and adoration that I flinched. The gesture was borderline embarrassing. Our toddler son once exclaimed, “Mommy, I have a sunset on my mouth,” as he caught a glimpse of his grape juice moustache in the mirror.


What would it take for me to walk out this Advent season of preparation in a state of unencumbered wonder?


In pursuit of truth and beauty we must remain children all our lives,” wrote Albert Einstein. He recognized the need for us to seek after the true and the beautiful as children. Seeking takes time and focus, the ability to slow down and see the world both at ground level and in the expanse of the heavens, to stand in front of the unopened box and wonder what’s inside. Children have the capacity to do both these things simultaneously. I’ve watched countless little league t-ball games freeze as the commercial jet flies overhead. One minute they’re missing the drive to second base because of ants in the grass and the next, dropping the ball out in right field because of American Airlines. Children see the wonder of creation down low, in the individual blade of grass and then they roll over and see the majesty of the sky. They do not rush to get up and get on to the next thing. They gaze.


I have to retrain myself to experience the world anew, to open my eyes and see, taste and touch for the first time.


I’m learning that the key to experiencing Advent with the wonder of a child is found in seeing Jesus. He is the source of beauty, truth and wonder: “As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him” (Mark 9:15). These words offer comfort and hope for the weary commuter and the exhausted, nose-wiping mother. It says “all the people.” We who are waiting and watching for him are part of that glorious group of “all.” We are in the crowd and the children are with us. And we too, can be overwhelmed with wonder.


Still, in Advent what do I usually wonder about? Finding the right Christmas gift, paying the bills, year-end giving choices, gaining weight, projects that were New Year’s resolutions that I probably won’t get to? Instead of worrying about these earthly realities, I’m shifting my focus this Advent to waiting on him.


I grew up with a simple countdown to Christmas peppermint rope that my mother grabbed at a church bazaar. My brother and I read a little poem as we took turns untying the peppermint candy from its red yarn bow. Like an Advent calendar, this colorful tool made bedtime tasty, but the waiting was endless. Our three-year old daughter learned about the pain of waiting while watching the Nutcracker ballet for the first time. She reveled in the opening battle scene and Clara’s escape to the Kingdom of Sweets. As the second act journey took us to tea parties in Arabia, she grew fidgety and bored. For her, it was all about seeing the Sugar Plum Fairy dance to her celestial music. In a whining whisper she leaned into me, “WHEN is the plum sugar going to come out?” Impatience, almost tears, consumed her.


What if we felt this way about waiting for the Lord’s return? Would a single experience of wonder make us wait differently?


I have a habit of praying before getting out of bed in the morning. It starts out with a simple prayer our children learned in Sunday school, “Good morning Lord, this is your day. I am your child, please show me your way.” This Advent, I’m adding to the prayer. “Give me eyes of wonder and a heart of love to see what you have in front of me today.” Come Lord Jesus. Give us your heart, Lord.  Give us your eyes.



Thank You Note to God

Dear God,

It’s been awhile since I’ve written to you. Usually we’re just talking. I don’t know how many letters you get, but since Thanksgiving is coming up it felt like a good time to say thank you in a different way. I’ll try not to make this too long because you have tons to do. As I sit back and think about it, you’ve been really busy this year.  Causing the sun to rise everyday must be exhausting, but then again you’re God so you don’t get tired.

Thank you for giving me life and for healing me from Lyme disease. Thank you for meeting me in the middle of those July nights when I felt like might burn a hole through the bed. Thank you that our goldfish (Goldie and Arthur), are still alive after one year and seven months. Thank you for all our friends who listen so still and so well, even when we’re crying and can’t get the words out. Thank you for the success of our eighteen year old friend’s stem cell transplant who’s now on the way to living out all the good plans you have for his life. Thank you for a beautiful, WILD garden this year, despite the lack of time to weed it. Thank you for all the help we receive from Super-Sod Landscaping because we don’t have time to cut the grass. Thank you for the people you’ve given me a chance to share my writing with. Thank you for the out-of-the-box creativity of my publisher, Koehler Books. Thank you for the Redbud Writer’s Guild. Thank you for the Afghan Women’s Writing Project. Thank you for my wondrous students and their profoundly good hearts. Thank you that I was born in the United States of America and I still live here. Thank you for Church of the Resurrection and the hope of being transformed every Sunday. Thank you that you are always doing a new thing, even when we can’t see it. Thank you for seeds, those planted and those waiting in drawers to be planted. Thank you for the chance to see baby eagles in their nest this past summer. Thank you that both of my parents and my brother are alive and for all the JOY and challenge they bring to my life. Thank you for Wydemere retirement community. Thank you for my big family and the times I’ve seen them this year. I miss my cousins. I wish could see them more often than at funerals. Thank you for the writers that you’ve used to inform my life this year, especially Luci Shaw, Richard Foster, Margaret Hasse and Mary Oliver. Thank you for our dog, Snuggles, her speed, and her hunger for adventure. Thank you for mentors who live to see their 80th birthday (C. Grissom that’s you, oh blessed OCTO!) Thank you for the colorful palette of our children’s lives. Thank you for Door County, Wisconsin, especially High Pines, Mud Lake and Toft Point. Thank you that I’m 52, can still run and sprint the finish. Thank you for my husband – so many thank yous here I could fill the page – you already know them all. Thank you for your sacrifice in giving us Jesus and the chance to get to know him.

I think that about covers it. Happy Thanksgiving God and thanks for being you!



New Ivy in San Antonio

Amidst a cluster of sunbaked, red brick buildings, new shoots of lime green ivy are emerging. Unremarkable and common, of the English Hedera helix variety, it is reaching out beneath a Texas live oak tree on the campus of Trinity University. As I walk up the Laurie Auditorium steps, I stop to touch it and wonder at the cool, supple color against the backdrop of crinkling, older leaves. The students walking the campus today in their Greek lettered t-shirts and flip flops look the same as we did thirty years ago. Casual, confidence exudes from their long boards as they cruise to the library. Following them into the new Center for Sciences and Innovation, it occurs to me that I am now the old ivy, my edges are fraying and the veins are visible.

During my college reunion, we ate too many bean and cheese tacos, talked about gentrified development at the Pearl Brewery and how happy we are to still be alive. My friends had me laughing to the point of almost throwing up as we steered the “Tally-ho Tahoe” rental car in between the rusty low-riders and stray dogs that are perennially San Antonio. I thought about my own children, strolling their Indiana college campuses and prayed that they would have this to come back to in thirty years: a group of friends who know one another fully and can’t wait to share the next inane antic memory while also reflecting on how blessed we’ve been in growing up, an eighty year old professor who in a single  speech can still inspire us to create, to love and to give the little we have to improve the world, a city and community culture bursting with vivid color and diversity and at the end of it all, the desire to go home and do more.

There is an intangible unity in sharing how blessed we are. Thanks to Gena F. for serendipitously leaving her collection of alumni reflections in the Tahoe, I was able to read through the thoughts of my classmates on the plane. The common theme throughout was gratitude. Many said they wouldn’t change anything about their time at Trinity. They now recognize how much those four years gave them. A few said they wish they would have studied more and drank less, or stopped to take it in – to slow down, take notice and revel in the beauty of a college education. There are irreplaceable components of going to college that an on-line education can’t deliver. No matter how much we parents grumble about paying tuition, the long term benefit of rich, inspiring community for a lifetime is priceless.

So to my own lime green ivy college students, savor the gift you are receiving today. Stop on your campus and look at those fall leaves against the blue sky, hug your friends and tell them how much you love them, spend time with your professors and thank them when you leave class, divert from your to-do list and make a list of what you are grateful for in living this day of college learning. In your pliant freshness, remember the words of Trinity poet Naomi Shihab Nye – “Walk around feeling like a leaf. Know you could tumble any second. Then decide what to do with your time.”

p.s. Gena – I’ll mail the alumni collection back to you! Thanks!


Writing with Lyme Disease

Most of July was spent promoting my novel and trompling through northwoods forests, running trails, spying on an eagles nest through binoculars and praying along the lakefront…pretty sweet , but deer ticks are not sweet. They are the size of a pinhead and unremarkable. When you go to the doctor and they give you the attractive photo of this pest, you will not recognize it. When you get a fever of 103plus for five days, you will think you have a virus. It is the ugly rash following the fever that should get you to the doctor. Antibiotics can kill this bacteria if you catch it early. Generally, I don’t go to the doctor, but generally I don’t get this sick. Dr. S. takes one look at me and tells me I have Lyme, take the antiobiotic and I’ll get better. I hate bugs more than ever!

So I think about Laura Hillendbrand writing Unbroken in bed because she suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome and I marvel. I couldn’t write anything last week if you offered to pay all my kids’ college tuition., room and board.  This week, at least I can read., (and write this blog post.)  The BIg Rich by Bryan Burroughs is a deep dive into the lives of the big four Texas oil families, the beginning of research for my next novel. It is pretty tragic stuff and Godless for the most part. I really feel sorry for these people.  Hassie Hunt sobbing over his father’s casket despite the fact that his father made the decision to ruin his life by approving a frontal lobe lobotomy to relieve his depression. Lyme Disease looks pretty minimal in this light. Lying in bed, looking out at the sun baking on our terra cotta roof, gives me plenty of time to think about these ghostly lost souls drifitng through the balance sheet of life. Despite so much money, they missed the “couer” of life, the heart, the joy. It’s good thinking inbetween fits of fever. By the way is it Lyme Disease or Lymes Disease. Could someone let me know? Stay healthy dear readers! God bless you!

What do Glen Campbell, Kris Kristofferson and Clare Cardiff have in Common?

While I was singing pop hits like “Memories” from the movie “A Star is Born” into my hairbrush, my mother was watching Glen Campbell TV “specials,” as we called them back in the 70’s. The “Star is Born” album cover had Kristofferson and Streisand gazing into each other’s eyes, their dissimilar profiles depicting true love. Campbell had a corny sense of humor and musical sincerity that mother loved. I think my father even sat in his “chair” and tapped his cowboy boot to Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy” on our pinkie length, gold shag carpet. They were free-wheelin’ music men who sang what they wanted and charmed many a suburban wife at 7p.m. or teenage girl playing records on her turntable after midnight.
As Shakespeare says, “Love’s not time’s fool, though rosy lips within his bending sickle’s compass come.” (Sonnet 116) Last month in Nashville, the ravages of time stealing away more than rosy lips premiered at the Country Music Festival in the form of an award winning documentary about Campbell’s descent into Alzheimer’s, “I’ll Be Me,” scheduled to release nationally later this year. Despite being placed in a memory care facility in May, Campbell’s music is still a joy to him and to his fans. He recently completed a farewell tour and was able to make it through most of the material. “More amazing were his pitch-perfect singing voice and masterful guitar work, which a doctor theorizes were so well honed, the parts of Campbell’s brain that control them will be the last to go.” OC Weekly Blogs, April 25th, 2014.
Kris Kristofferson is also confronting memory loss by continuing in his music and movie career and being thankful for the “blessed” life he has been given. A life that has allowed him to do what he loves since he began writing songs as a child, stay happily married for 33 years and share his blessings with his eight children. Although many facets of his cognitive life are flickering, the music still remains strong, “A couple of years ago my memory just started going but I can remember my songs so I can perform, but other than that…” Kris Kristofferson to Fox News, 2013
In my new novel, A Minor, Clare Cardiff experiences a similar phenomenon. Confusion is growing, everything is fading, but the music remains. Why this thread of cognitive continuity? Why is music so powerful that it can stay with us? It has to do with the hippocampus, neurons, dendrites, ketones, amyloid protein, possibly even glucose absorption. There are many scientific areas we can delve into and discuss, but the heart of the matter lies in the pages of A Minor, so you’ll have to read it to find your answer. A Minor, published by Koehler Books, releases June 1st. It is one of the first books to have a soundtrack included in all ebook formats and live music streaming through the publisher’s website for print readers. Available via your local bookstore (go there first), Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

A couple of years ago my memory just started going but I can remember my songs so I can perform, but other than that…” Kris Kristofferson to Fox News, 2013