New Neighbors and a Change in the Landscape

When I stand on my front porch, I can’t see a single house. Trees, soybeans and corn stubble populate the landscape. I like it that way.

But around the curve to the north, there’s lots of activity. I have new neighbors.

A small dairy farm up the road has been sold to an Amish family. Earlier in the week, with a light drizzle wetting my car windshield, I saw the lady of the house optimistically hanging laundry on the clothesline outside her back door. I’m used to seeing Amish dresses, trousers and solid-colored shirts waving in the breeze as I drive through my rural county, but I wondered at her choice to taunt the weatherman.

In the farm’s pasture, beautiful brown and tan Haflinger horses graze peacefully. On the other side of the barn and house, sheep gather around a feeder. Both are a welcomed new sight on my trips to town.

Further north, sows and their litters have moved into the neighborhood. An industrious livestock farmer recently purchased the empty pasture beyond the Amish farm. He is expanding his hog operation. Little metal Quonsets dot the field and wend their way into the woods. I know some of these pigs will show up on the menu at high-class Chicago restaurants, along with the organic, free-range poultry the farmer raises. For now, I count the hogs among my new neighbors.



Stay in one place long enough and there are bound to be changes. Most, like new neighbors, are pleasant and welcomed.

But sometimes, change comes unbidden, heralding a shift in the status quo that threatens to rock my world. How I respond to change that’s unsettling is actually more significant than the change itself.

Being unsettled isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s awfully easy to get comfortable — in a rut, so to speak. Doing the same thing the same way again and again doesn’t challenge my creativity or cause me to think outside the box. But throw me a curve ball, and I just might learn a new skill or gain a fresh perspective.

I’ve been given some new responsibilities lately, asked to do a few things in a different way. Just when everything seemed to be running smoothly — in my job, in my church, among friends, with my kids — it appears there are changes afoot.

It’s been disconcerting. In some ways, a little painful. But mostly, its just been different.

So what do I do with that? I think I’ll roll with it, because if I accept the shift in my personal landscape, I might begin to see things with fresh eyes.

Besides, experience has taught me that to resist change means I might also slam the door on something really interesting or exciting, something with the potential to enrich my world and cause me to grow as a person.

Even when it comes to welcoming new neighbors. The reality is that as much as I’m enjoying the horses, sheep and hogs I pass in my travels, the aroma they contribute to our neighborhood reminds me that I live in the middle of farm country. You can’t have one without the other.

I guess every change has both pluses and minuses. I’d rather look for the opportunities than count the inconveniences.






What’s Brewing? On Hipsters, Conservatives and the Power of Coffee

What's Brewing- Blog badge. (2)Coffee’s just coffee — right? Maybe.

I spent the weekend in Nashville, Tennessee recently, visiting three of our four sons. Yes, all three left Indiana to live in that great little city to the south and I love going there. Nashville has a unique flavor that has very little to do with country music. There’s just this wonderful creative vibe that really does vibrate from the riverfront, down Broadway, through the Batman building (look it up) and out into east and west Nashville.

Every time we visit Nashville, I try to convince my sons to take me somewhere new. This time, however, I was there just to see them and our only trips outside their neighborhood were to Target, a book store, a couple of thrift stores, favorite restaurants, a dog park and a couple of coffee shops.

Coffee shops. I love them. I work in one. Let me catch a whiff of a new coffee house brew and my barista antennae go up.

Two of the guys aren’t coffee drinkers, but on Saturday afternoon, I convinced my youngest (a college student who sometimes resorts to coffee) to stop with me at Headquarters, a quaint shop I visit whenever I’m in the city. There, I got a stout, highly-caffeinated pour that lasted me well into the evening, and was even better later over ice. Nice.

On my second morning in the city, I headed down the road to the nearest spot for really good coffee — Star Bagel on Murphy Road. I was hopeful, but it was Sunday morning and the place was packed. Young couples with kids in tow, single professionals carrying laptops or books, neighborhood regulars in jogging clothes or with a dog on a leash — all of them had already queued up for their morning java and bagel.

It looked like a long wait, so I drove further down Murphy Road toward a coffee shop I’d spotted earlier.  Dose Coffee and Tea is in a corner strip mall right by the interstate. It was busy enough, but looked more promising than Star. My patience was rewarded with a fine vanilla latte (half the syrup) and a delicious gluten-free cinnamon scone (and a banana).

Early Monday morning, as I pointed myself north for the journey back to Indiana, I swung by Star Bagel again and this time, I came away with tall dark roast and a gluten-free lemon blueberry muffin. Perfect.

So, what did I learn on my coffee shop tour of Sylvan Heights in East Nashville? Location is everything and coffee-drinking folks of a certain stripe tend to congregate where they’ll find their tribe. You can learn a lot about human nature just hanging out in a coffee shop.

Headquarters is a quiet, hip joint, squeezed into what was once an alleyway with just a few tables, an exposed brick wall and outdoor seating off the back stoop. I get the feeling I’m invading someone else’s space when I walk in the front door and I stand out like the out-of-towner I am. It’s usually not very busy and the service is good. I just don’t hang around very long.

Dose is definitely a hipster watering hole and, if I’d taken a poll, I’m betting most of the clientele would like to see a certain 74-year-old gray-haired Socialist in the White House.

Star Bagel on a Monday morning was an entirely different shop than on the weekend. The young professionals and families were replaced by tables of graying regulars or plugged-in students. Standing in line to place my order, I heard this opening line in a conversation between a retired couple and a dark-suited businessman.

“Rick, Ben Carson needs your help.”

The older guy, who had been reading a newspaper, proceeded to tell his friend what the top conservative candidate for president needs to do to cinch the nomination.


Coffee is just coffee and we can certainly make our own at home. Maybe it’s the folks who share your favorite coffee-drinking spot that make going to a coffee shop worth the effort.

An astute American businessman about my age (Howard Schultz) said this:

“I was taken by the power that savoring a simple cup of coffee can have to connect people and create community.”

Me, too. Something to think about on a weekend trip to the city.

Nashville at Night. Photo by Jamison Shaffer
Nashville at Night. Photo by Jamison Shaffer





A Product of the Company We Keep

Waves tumble across the surface of Lake Michigan, creating a constant thrum that provides background music for an afternoon of writing. It’s taken me a few days to derive comfort from this intrusive sound in what is an otherwise a peaceful setting.

Water striking a sandy beach isn’t a common sight in my world of soybean fields and slow-moving rivers. Sitting here, at the intersection of three tall windows that afford a panoramic view of the lake, has caused me to consider whether my view of the world at large will be altered when I return to Indiana farmland.

We are a product of the company we keep, and I think that must also include our physical environment. I remember the thrilling and frightening freedom I felt standing at the edge of The Grand Canyon. The expanse of it made me brave as I stepped out for a robust hike on the canyon trails. In the same way, standing at the edge of a wooded path can carry me into quiet contemplation as I wind my way through trees.

I am drawn to water. It’s always been so. I feel more alive when there is moving water within view. One of the features that I love most about the little farm my husband and I bought months before our wedding is the spring-fed creek that runs year-around along our driveway. I can hear the creek bubbling and tumbling over rocks and roots whenever I walk out our front door. It’s a constant sight and sound that gives a specific character and essence to our rural life.

So here, yards from the narrow strip of beach that holds back the tumbling surf, there’s been an awakening of sorts. Not just to the sound of surf, wind and moving water, but also to the beauty of women from diverse backgrounds who carry in their hearts a love of language. The hours we’ve gathered in a circle before a roaring fire to break open the gift of words has opened a door into their worlds.

Our days at the lakeshore have been but a moment stolen from a busy life occupied with family, work, responsibilities and other equally worthwhile activity. But perhaps we’ll each carry a broader view of life back into our everyday worlds.

I have photographs of the lake that will remind me of this respite, though I know it won’t be the same as being here. Still, I hope the images might inspire me to look at life from a different angle, even when I’m sitting on my porch across from the bean field or catching a view of red barns through the window by my desk.

I’ll also carry home with me photos of the women I’ve come to know in our retreat from the world. They’ve inspired and expanded me during meals around the table, words shared amidst tears, songs lifted in harmony, laughter ringing in the rafters, hikes through dunes rising above the shore.

If we are indeed defined by the company we keep, the waves and the water, the smiles, tears and stories have left their mark and I’m driving home tomorrow a different woman.



When We Build Fences :: 31 Days of Selah

Who doesn’t regret something in their lives? You can’t be in this world, have any sort of history, and not have regret.

Over choices you made. Or didn’t make.

Over people you hurt. Or didn’t love enough.

Over misunderstandings, missteps, mistakes.

It’s tempting to hang onto the regret, to coddle the remorse we feel, to believe that living with regret makes us a better person.

Our life’s address could be The Land of Regret.

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I’ll just build a fence here and live safely with my regrets.

But doing that might also fence out the possibilities.

Lead women in studying Scripture? Oh, can’t do that. There was that season when I turned my back on God.

Help a young mother overwhelmed by life? Not qualified. I didn’t always do it so well myself.

Pray with a friend whose marriage is in trouble? Been there, failed and had to start again.

Make a new friend and invite her into my world? I’ve lost friends because I couldn’t give enough.

Take the hand of a child in danger of stepping off the path? But what do I know? I once took a path less traveled and paid the price.

Heed the call to leadership? I’ve stumbled before and it hurt. Safer not to put myself out there.

We’ve failed. We’ve messed up. We’re not enough. We have regrets.

So we build fences.

no trespassing

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I’ll only go this far, and you can only come this far, because this is where I am safe. It’s where I know what to expect and where I won’t mess up.

But then I’ve got to ask — who do I think is in charge here? Who cleaned up my messes in the past? Who covers it all, forgives it all? Who has a plan and will work that plan with or without me?

And who am I to say I won’t go and do and be all that the God of the Universe says He wants from me? God works His perfect plan most perfectly when he uses His broken, stained, imperfect creation to touch the broken, stained, imperfect people in this world.

Now, why would I not want to be part of that. Why would I not trust the One who is most trustworthy to pick me up when I stumble and clean up my messes.

I can build my secure little fence and stay here nursing my regrets, or I can fling open the gate and let the world in. Or better yet, step out into the world and join God where He is already working. I’m betting that in the process of taking down that fence, flinging open the gate, I’ll see the regrets flee as well.

And in their place? Possibilities.




In the Matrix of Doubt and Fear :: 31 Days of Selah

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

Romans 8:15

God speaks to me through many avenues — nature, music, the written word, people’s lives. Is it the same for you? I read scripture and pray and listen for God’s voice, but often it isn’t until later, when I’m “doing life”, that I hear from God.

I’ve been going through a Bible study with a group of about a dozen women from our community. Different churches, different ages, various walks in life. It’s wonderful. The study, written by Jennie Allen, is called “Chase”. It’s about chasing after the heart of God and we’re looking at the life and faith of King David.

This week, we considered the strength of our belief and shared our doubts that lead to fear. Jennie numbered her own doubts, then she said this:

“If we are honest, there are moments or seasons we all doubt because every foundational thing about us depends on invisible stuff.”

It helps to know I’m not alone.

Then yesterday, as I was driving through our beautiful autumn weather running errands, I listened to a podcast from The Rabbit Room featuring a conversation between musicians Andrew Peterson and Ron Block (great spiritual discussions here — check it out). Both are followers of Christ and their faith informs their music. Andrew shared a time Ron told him about carrying cards in his pocket with specific verses of scripture on them. Ron described how the verse cards, when held in his hands, helped him battle dangerous doubts and fear, much like the character Neo in The Matrix movie series deflects deadly rays with his hands. Pulling out the scripture cards and reading them was how Ron deflected the rays of doubt and fear during a trying time in his life.

Yeah. I get that. I need that. Deflectors of Doubt.

Jennie Allen pointed to five promises from scripture in our study this week that hold her up and drive her when she has doubt.

“These promises are made even more beautiful because they are not hinging on some spectacular performance from me while I am here on earth. God promises these things, and I am just a recipient.”

God’s promises = Deflectors of Doubt.

I have been asking God to lead me through my valleys of doubt and fear, and he showed me that I need promises I can hold in my pocket and in my heart. I’ll bet you do, too.

These Deflectors of Doubt are not some sci-fi fantasy. They are real. Today, I’m sharing Romans 8:15 because these words are a promise I need to hear and know, words I need to hold in my fist as I fight the attacks of the enemy.

More to come…..


Love Does Not Dishonor :: 31 Days of Selah

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I am sharing this post (first written in February) on the web site for our local domestic violence agency, Elijah Haven. This agency assists victims of domestic violence by providing safety, counseling, guidance and other types of assistance.

The graphic above is a drawing made by a little girl who came to the agency with her mom. Children are the innocent victims of domestic violence. I’m sharing this post here, in the middle of blogging for 31 days, to help spread awareness.

Last February, I watched The Grammy Awards and about mid-way through, I saw my President encourage all of us to create awareness and help women out of violent relationships. His message was followed by a moving statement from domestic violence survivor Brooke Axtell and Katy Perry’s performance of her song “By the Grace of God”, which she admits is autobiographical and which alludes to suicidal thoughts because of abuse. In it, she sings these words:

“By the grace of God (there was no other way) I picked myself back up (I knew I had to stay) I put one foot in front of the other And I looked in the mirror and decided to stay Wasn’t gonna let love take me out that way.”

I had to wonder, am I the only person who sees the sad irony in this very commendable Grammy performance coming days before the Valentine’s Day opening of a much-heralded, pornographic movie about sado-masochism and abuse?

Neither our President nor Katy Perry referred to the very obvious contradictory message displayed in the popular book and movie “Fifty Shades of Grey” (in the past eight months, the movie has grossed over $500 million). I only wish they had been so brave.

For anyone unaware (as I was until I did the research), “FSOG” tells the story of a man who seduces a young woman and lures her into violent sexual acts. His actions are justified because he was abused as a teen, she consents, and the story is all wrapped up with a redemptive outcome.

Sadly, many young couples spent their Valentine’s Day date night watching pornography. And they came away believing this is love.

For three years, I worked for Elijah Haven with local youth to produce a drama about teen dating violence — shedding light on behaviors that lead to domestic abuse . We took the drama to local high schools, churches and youth groups and presented it in public performances. Along the way, I heard stories from teens about ways they had been abused in dating relationships — mentally, emotionally, physically and sexually.

And now we, the supposedly responsible adults, are telling them that such abuse is excusable, even desirable, depending on the circumstances. Sexual abuse and violence in the name of love are never excusable or desirable.

There are several ways we can work to counter the damage that has been done by “FSOG”.

  • Boycott the movie. If you haven’t already seen it, don’t rent or buy it.  If you want to see a good movie about true love, consider renting “Old Fashioned”, a movie that “offers a romance where sex will wait until marriage and God is a crucial part of its hero’s journey.”
  • Educate yourself. We need to be able to discuss the topic intelligently and learn how to combat the movie’s negative impact. Visit for more information.
  • Talk openly with your children and grandchildren about sex. If they walk through a shopping mall, watch television or pick up a magazine, they’re going to see explicit sexual images. The ongoing conversation about this book and movie has added to the need to address the subject of sexual sin with our children and grandchildren. You have no choice but to meet it head on.
  • Support efforts to combat domestic violence. If there’s an agency in your community that works to assist victims and rehabilitate abusers, that’s a good place to start.

The worst thing we can do as moral individuals in a culture that glamorizes abuse is to deny the attitude exists. It obviously does. Turning our backs will not prevent this movie’s message from impacting our world. Talking about and living out real love can make a difference.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

1 Corinthians 13:4-5

Beautiful In Its Time :: 31 Days of Selah

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

Ecclesiastes 3:11

Autumn is pressing in all around us here in the valley. Every day, everywhere I turn, there’s a new feast for the eyes.


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Awe. Wonder.

What other words could I use to describe the emotions that rise up when I stand in the middle of my small world and take it all in?

I am enamored with the October sun. The perfect slant of sunlight at different times during the day brings me joy, even on the busiest, most difficult or frustrating days.

Illuminating a vibrant maple at sunrise, shining through leafy fronds of tall grasses in late afternoon, bathing a field of stubble and a tree line in evening warmth.

Every image I capture with my eye or with a lens declares the glory of God. How could man doubt the Creator when his eye is filled with such beauty? I have marveled at the grandeur of mountains, the breathtaking beauty of the ocean and the roar of a waterfall. But I am also wonderstruck by God’s fingerprints even here, even in this humble valley.

And standing in awe, I breathe in the essence of eternity.


When Purpose Prevails :: 31 Days of Selah

Many are the plans in a person’s heart,
 but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.

Proverbs 19:21

Life gets crazy sometimes, doesn’t it? Just when you think you have a plan……well, you don’t.

This is the week I decided to get serious about writing the novel I’ve been researching for the past two years. I shared the decision to “just write” and the awakening of my “wonder” on the Breathe writers’ blog this week. The Breathe Conference last weekend was life-changing for me and I’m excited to begin this story-telling journey.

So, I spent most of one day writing. It was wonderful!

Then life took over.

On Wednesday, a text from a friend alerted me to the fact there were three fire engines and an EMS vehicle at our business site 10 miles away. A quick call to my husband assured me it was just a minor fire, but could I come over and take care of some things for him?

Of course. It’s what I do. We’re business partners.

That was a long day.

My siblings and I have been trying to get our parents moved from their home of 25 years to a cute little apartment at the edge of town. They have a lot of “stuff”, so I spent a couple of afternoons helping with that.

In between were a doctor’s appointment, a meeting at church, leading a Bible study and work on other writing projects. The bonus in my week was  lunch with a couple of friends — I really needed that.

My point is, I still have plans in my heart to write the Great American Novel, but God also has a purpose for my days. Lots of purposes, in fact. What I rest in is the knowledge and assurance there will be time to write, because God’s Word also says this:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

I think it’s important that we actively pursue God’s plans, that we don’t simply sit by and wait for things to happen. I need to get a handle on my own schedule and pray that the Lord helps me set aside time to write. I know it’s what He has called me to do and I’m excited to see how how He brings it to pass.

If God calls me to it, I know He’ll equip me to do it. We’re “partners”.

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Your Shade on Your Right Hand :: 31 Days of Selah

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
    From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
    he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
    the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
 nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
    he will keep your life. The Lord will keep
    your going out and your coming in
    from this time forth and forevermore.

Psalm 121 ESV

Aren’t we all travelers, pilgrims on a journey? Psalms 120-134 are referred to as the “Songs of Ascent” or the “Pilgrim Psalms”. They were sung by those who journeyed along the road to Jerusalem as the faithful made their pilgrimage to the temple for three annual feasts.

These verses, beginning with Psalm 120, take the reader on a quest to draw closer to God, not just physically, but also in their knowledge of Him and His attributes. They are sequential and build toward a final blessing in the closing verse of Psalm 134:

“May the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth, bless you from Zion.”

Receive this blessing from the rich heritage of pilgrims who have gone before you and ask God how these words can draw you closer to Him as we begin preparation for Advent.


When We Are Led By Fear: 31 Days of Selah

“Saul said to Samuel, ‘I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.’ “

I Samuel 15:24

What do you fear?

My Bible study partners and I have been reading in I Samuel 15 about a king who feared displeasing his people more than his God. When given detailed instructions to wipe out a nation, King Saul went halfway. He destroyed “everything that was despised and weak” but preserved the best for himself and his kingdom. He did not fully obey God.

Led by author and teacher Jennie Allen, we’ve taken an honest look at the ways our obedience might look like King Saul’s — kind of “half-baked”.

So, what DO we fear? Most of us can give the “right” answers — we fear God’s disapproval, His disappointment. And, if we’re honest, we fear His wrath because we know God hates sin.

But don’t we also fear our co-worker’s disapproval, our best friend’s disappointment, a loved one’s wrath? And aren’t we sometimes offering God “half-baked” obedience if it means we can keep everyone happy.

King  David was “a man after God’s own heart”. He was also a liar, a murderer and an adulterer. David sinned, big time. But he acknowledged his sin and repented, and he obeyed. He feared God more than man and he loved God with all his heart.

Obedience is not confining, it brings freedom. David knew that. Saul did not.

Proverbs 1:7 says “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

Obedience is possible when we humble ourselves to receive wisdom and instruction and respond with healthy fear toward the One who delivers knowledge.

Giver of all that is good, I pray that I’ll learn to love the freedom of obedience and that my fear of man will be replaced by faith and trust in the goodness of your commands.   Selah

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