A Few of My Favorite Things {November 2017}

I had a lovely Thanksgiving Day with my family (including some Joma pumpkin pie), a Thanksgiving evening with dear friends, as well as a separate Thanksgiving celebration with our team. We are now fully into the season of listening to Christmas music and watching Christmas movies. I’m also busy getting ready for my sister’s wedding, so this month’s roundup will be relatively short, and I’ll meet you again at the end of next month. ~Elizabeth


The Sword Bearer by John White. I couldn’t put this book down. It’s a faith-based action/fantasy book that some have compared to Narnia. Like all alternate worlds (I’m thinking Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga here), it takes a while to “get into” the world and get used to the rules of the world. (In fact I think the only reason Narnia and Middle Earth don’t seem strange to us is their familiarity, because they are definitely strange.) I plan to read the rest of the series. Eventually.

Death by Black Hole by Neil DeGrasse Tyson. I returned to this book and am actually making progress on it. It’s a collection of lightly edited magazine articles from over the years. I stopped reading it last year because the material is so dense. I wanted to understand simply everything before moving to the next chapter. But I’m reading it differently this time around. I’m looking for the bits I do understand or that spark my imagination and reflecting on those. Or I note the bits I don’t understand but find particularly intriguing and look them up later. What’s also really fun is talking about the new ideas with my oldest son, who loves astronomy right along with me. A caveat about Tyson – he’s not a believer and is quite skeptical of faith and religion. So while he’s extremely knowledgeable about astrophysics, a discerning Christian reader has to know the limits of listening to him.

I also just finished John Clayton’s The Source and am starting Hugh Ross’s Navigating Genesis. I love John Clayton’s “Does God Exist” ministry. I grew up listening to his videos, have attended several of his seminars, and have shared their links before. While this most recent edition of the book was good, it wasn’t quite meaty enough in the science or theology departments for me. Perhaps that’s because I’m so familiar with his material, having heard him several times already. So I felt I needed more. I do think Ross’s book delves deeply into both science and theology and I am looking forward to finishing it. (I try to balance my reading of non-believing scientists with believing scientists.)

Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens (free on Kindle!). I’ve wanted to read this book for a while and decided to just take the plunge. I am currently less than a fifth of the way through (it’s a long one). The language is not too terribly difficult, and the story is immediately engaging. (But what else could one expect from a writer of classics??)

Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins. A delightful read-aloud from our Sonlight curriculum. Subtly feminist and definitely pro-family.



Why I’m Basically Fergie by Katie Kleinjung. All about a massage gone wrong. If you’re like me, you just might be rolling on the floor laughing with this one.



We’ve been watching Studio C lately. As I’ve mentioned before, Studio C is a comedy group who’s squeaky clean, so the kids are completely safe watching it. Not all of them strike me as funny, but some of them are hilarious. Three of my personal favorites are: Channel SurfingInternational Relations, and Republicans vs Democrats.

The Song. I watched this movie again for the third time. It’s so refreshing to see a Christian movie both artistically done and also unafraid of the grittier aspects of our lives. The storyline is based on the life of Solomon.

Mother’s Morning Basket with Jennifer Mackintosh and Pam Barnhill and related blog post. I was inspired to keep my Schole books in a (Sonlight) canvas bag so they’re always handy around the house.

The Use and Misuse of Charlotte Mason’s First Principle with Brandy Vencel. Short but meaty, like all Brandy’s Aftercasts. (As a side note, Charlotte Mason’s 6th volume on education, A Philosophy of Education, is excellent.)

A Conversation with Katherine Paterson at Read Aloud Revival. Only 30 minutes and definitely worth your time.

Parable of the Polygons by Vi Hart and Nicky Case. An interactive module on diversity, segregation, and choice. See also Vi Hart’s YouTube channel for many hours of mathematical fun.

The Stable Marriage Problem (and many others on the Numberphiles Youtube Channel).

Securing Food for Millions in Cambodia — a 13-minute featurette on the importance of the Tonle Sap Lake here in Cambodia.



“O Worship the King” by Robert Grant. This song just came to me one night as I was fixing dinner, and it was exactly what I needed to hear and what I needed to sing. I belted it out for the rest of the night, most especially the third verse which is my favorite:

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
in Thee do we trust, nor find Thee to fail.
Thy mercies, how tender, how firm to the end,
Our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend!

You’ll Find Your Way by Andrew Peterson. For children and parents. How does Peterson do it over and over again, sing both what we most need to hear and what we most want to say?

We Are Hungry written by Brad Kilman and performed by Jesus Culture. This song played on my ancient little iPod Shuffle while I was on my way to oral surgery, and I sang it to myself the entire time. It got me through the procedure.



I heard a message from Renay West on healing. Two things stood out to me: 1) Healing is a process and 2) Healing is something we must pursue. I don’t think either of these two points was brand new to me. I think I knew them on some level of my soul. But I needed to remember these truths. Too often I am impatient for healing (whether spiritual or physical). I don’t want to wait. I forget healing is a process. And I need to remember that I must pursue healing. It’s an active waiting. I’m thinking here of both my physical body and my mind/soul. I need to pursue healing by taking care of both as best as I can and trusting God to take care of the rest.

This passage from Kathleen Norris’s The Cloister Walk on apocalypse caught my attention, after having spent some time last month reading Alyssa Wilkinson’s How to Survive the Apocalypse:

“We often use the word ‘apocalypse’ to mean catastrophic destruction, and cosmic upheaval is evoked in Daniel and the book of Revelation, and several gospel passages, in images of earthquake, fire, and plague, of the sun and moon darkening, the sea turning to blood, and stars falling from the sky. But destruction is no what the word ‘apocalypse’ means, and it is certainly not the heart of its message, which is hope for persecuted or oppressed communities in crisis, hope for those on the losing end. . . . It asserts that the evils of this world are not incurable, that injustice does not have the last word.

Apocalypse as a form of prophecy not only reveals the fault lines of the status quo, it takes our true measure with regard to it: the discomfort we feel when the boundaries shift is the measure of our allegiance to the way things are.”

The Questions of God, Hagar, and Genesis 16

Learning to ask good questions is a Christlike thing to do. Here’s a discussion about the questions God asked Hagar. These questions form the basis of my pastoral counseling ministry. Recorded at ICA, Phnom Penh Cambodia, November 2017.

Click here to listen to the mp3, or find this message on the trotters41 podcast here.



The True Myths That Keep Me Coming Back to God {Velvet Ashes}

Elizabeth is over at Velvet Ashes today . . . 


The word myth often conjures up the idea of epic fantasy tales or of commonly held beliefs that need debunking. In fact, the Oxford Dictionary defines myth as both “a fictitious or imaginary person or thing” and “a widely held but false belief or idea.”

The dictionary also defines myth as “a traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining a natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events.” The word derives from the Greek mythos which simply means “story.”

And that is what I think of when I think of myth: I think of story. I think of narrative. So when I use the word myth to describe the Bible, I’m not saying it’s not true – because I most certainly believe it is true. Rather, when I say the Bible is myth, I’m saying that it’s full of stories that infuse meaning into our lives and that it is, in actuality, one overarching Story.

The God of the Bible audaciously makes a world, joyfully populates it with creatures, and then willingly redeems those creatures from sin and death. This story is unlike any story humans have ever told. Indeed, the Bible’s uniqueness among world myths is one reason I believe it, love it, and base my life on it.

Finish reading here.

When We Said “I Do” {the first in a three-part series on marriage}

by Elizabeth


At eighteen years old I really wanted to write my own wedding vows. I was hopelessly in love, and I didn’t want to say the same old words everyone else had been saying for years. That was stale, passé. I wanted to be original, unique, special. (Perhaps there was a bit of pride there too?) So my fiancé and I wrote our own vows. Ten years and four children later, we renewed them — with the same minister and in front of the same congregation.

Lately I have been thinking about those seventeen-year-old vows. How they were somehow incomplete. Not that they were insincere — they were so very sincere. But they were incomplete. And they were very, very young.

In the last couple months circumstances have conspired to distress us on many levels. (Jesus wasn’t joking when He told us we would have trouble in this world.) But in the midst of these recent difficulties, I’ve been drawn to the beauty and majesty of traditional vows. Vows in which we acknowledge the sacredness of the marriage covenant. Vows in which we promise the same things married couples have been promising for centuries.

When a bride and a groom promise “to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death,” it’s beautiful and romantic. But when we are young, we do not imagine we will ever be sick or old or poor. We imagine we will be young, healthy, happy, and wealthy — for always. We imagine that loving and cherishing will be easy. We say these vows, and we mean them, but we do not know the fullness of what we say. We do not imagine we will need to live them out sacrificially.

Young couples promise each other, before God and before the congregation, to “live together in holy marriage, to love, comfort, honor, and keep, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, be faithful as long as we both shall live.” In that breathtaking moment we can’t imagine that any better “other” may ever come around, but nonetheless we vow to forsake the others. These are grand promises that we make. And they are promises I intend to keep, even if I didn’t make them in so many words.

My own personalized vows skirted around these issues. I promised to respect and support my husband in a generalized “in everything I do, in every season God gives us” rather than specifying any potential struggles with “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.” One sounds gentle and all-encompassing. The other is harsher, more abrasive. But I wonder now if the second one is more exactingly truthful when troubles start to rain down on a married couple: we committed for just such a time as this.

Instead of vowing to forsake all others, I told my new husband, “I pledge my faithfulness to you, my best friend and one true love.” My youthful version almost assumes that because my 18-year old self considered Jonathan my best friend and one true love, that I always would. That faithfulness was a mere matter of friendship and finding one’s soul-mate.

Now, I still consider my husband my best friend and one true love, but what if that changed? What if we grew apart? What if our relationship were strained? Would I still owe him my faithfulness and my fidelity? I believe I still would — especially in a situation like that. But I’m not sure my personalized vows were specific enough. “Pledging my faithfulness” sounds pretty, but “forsaking all others” much more accurately describes the turning away from temptation that all married people must do.

Seventeen years after I said “I do” (metaphorically speaking of course, because we didn’t actually say those words), I understand more fully the weight of these lifelong vows. And I also know what it means to live in holy matrimony with one person through the various seasons of life. It’s a big deal to commit to a single person, regardless of what happens from that point on. And a lot can happen in a life. A lot of tragedy. A lot of heartbreak. A lot of things that can threaten to swamp a young marriage (or even an older one). A lot of reasons to remember and fulfill the specific promises that we made to each other.

I want to renew our vows again on our 20th wedding anniversary. But I’m not sure whether I want to repeat my initial vows or say the traditional ones. I think about these traditional vows often, and I’ve come to consider them my own. I didn’t say them on my wedding day, but I’ve said them to my husband since then. And I’ve come to understand that there’s a reason traditional vows have held up over time. They distill the essential aspects of a holy institution down into just a few sentences. They are guidance and they are wisdom. And they are a picture of what true love looks like.

The traditional vows are hardy. They can apply universally to Christian couples. At the same time I love listening to people’s personal vows; they are lovely and heartfelt and meaningful. But they necessarily apply to only one couple. Perhaps, though, we need both universality and specificity in our marriages. Perhaps we need both unity with other married couples throughout time and a sense of uniqueness in our own love story. It makes me think that if one my children ever came to me and asked me for wedding advice, I might suggest saying both traditional vows and personalized vows. Because maybe a marriage can use a bit of both.


For any concerned readers, infidelity is not something our marriage has dealt with. I’m only reflecting here on the magnitude of the promises we make at the altar.

Sources for traditional vows and their history.

A list of the other marriage articles we’ve written.

Communion as the intersection of all things

by Elizabeth


I didn’t grow up with the Sacraments. Sacraments were for liturgical traditions, while I was a proud and happy member of Restoration Movement churches. I did, however, grow up with physical commemorations of spiritual truths — for that is what sacrament means. Of course, I didn’t know that back then.

I like to talk about these things when I get together with my friend Heidi, whose husband is an Anglican priest. When I asked her what sacrament means, this is what she told me:

 “The Anglican Book of Common Prayer uses this definition of sacrament: a sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given to us. There’s also the pithy phrase ‘Matter matters.’ It relates to the way God comes to us through matter (water, the bread and wine, etc) and to His value of matter (our physical bodies themselves and all of creation are precious to him – not evil or something to be escaped as in Gnosticism).”

“Matter matters.” As someone who has been running away from her physical body since early adolescence, this was novel concept to me. But as I reflected on my spiritual history, I realized that my church tradition did observe two sacramental practices: baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Baptism celebrates our union with Christ through death, burial, and resurrection and is intended to occur once in a lifetime. The Lord’s Supper, on the other hand, is a regular occurrence and a reminder of how much we are loved. We are loved enough for Christ to pour out his very blood and allow his very body to be broken for us and for our eternal home.

(I like to designate corporate singing as a sacramental practice due to the fact that in singing we join the physical sound waves of our voices together to worship our Triune God and to declare spiritual truths over ourselves, but that’s another conversation entirely.)

Some people call it the Eucharist. I usually call it communion. Whatever its name, this meal of bread and wine is our feast of love. It is where we learn and remember our belovedness. It is where God speaks to us. It is where He calls us: every particle of every person in every place.

God communicates His call in every conceivable human language, for in His wisdom He created communion as the intersection of all things.

It is the intersection of the physical – bread and wine – with the spiritual – the forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life.

It is the intersection of the deeply personal – what Christ did for ME – and the incredibly communal – what Christ did for ALL of us.

It is the intersection of the Old Testament sacrifices and the new covenant where no more sacrifices are needed.

It is the intersection of the ancient and the far future as we look back to the Exodus and the Passover – the central story of the Old Testament – and eagerly await the wedding feast of the Lamb.

It is the intersection of the ordinary — a regularly repeated act — and the ceremonial — a special event.

It is the intersection of celebration – our God is victorious and we are free — and mourning – our God suffered and our sins caused it.

The Lord’s Supper is the intersection of the marriage invitation and the acceptance of His offer. It is the intersection of being chosen and the act of choosing back.

The Table brings together all human experiences. At the Table He speaks to each person’s particular history and particular language and particular longings. At the Table He places us in a community that will never end.

So come to the Table where there’s always room for more.

Take, eat: the Body of Christ, broken for you.

Take, drink: the Blood of Christ, shed for you.

Come to the Table and remember. Come to the Table and celebrate. Come to the Table where there’s always room for more.


photo source

To the Returning Missionary {A Life Overseas}

by Elizabeth 


You have walked with God in this place a long time, and He has walked with you. He has been beside you and inside you this whole time. The same Spirit remains in you and with you in your new place.

This place has changed you, and you have changed this place. Do not be distressed if you don’t understand everything that has happened and that is happening. Remember that the stories God writes are always long. They unfold over generations, not days or weeks or even months.

You have been here long enough to understand some of what God is writing, for both yourself and the people you’ve served, but some things may not make sense yet. Do not fret, and do not fear. The Father will show it all to you One Day. Until That Day, remember that you leave with our love, even as you live within God’s love.

Many years ago you came to this place as a foreigner, and the place you’re going now may also seem foreign to you. Everyone and everything has changed, including you.

So in the days and months and years to come, when you feel misunderstood, remember that no one understands your foreignness like Jesus, the One who came to the most foreign land to show his beloved creatures Truth and Light. He will understand your sorrows like no other.

You have seen so much change in your years here. Change in the people around you, change in yourself, change in the people you’re returning to. And you are tired. So tired. No one can work and live as long as you have and not be tired. Remember that Christ is your rest. (And on your journey, also remember to sleep.)

Circumstances change, and communities change, and in the end, He is all we have to hold onto. So don’t lose hope: He IS our hope. Hold onto Him, and remember that His love never fails. It will never fail you.

Though organizations may fail you, though supporters may fail you, though cultural acquisition may fail you, though years of experience may fail you, though people you love and invested in may fail you, though you may even feel you’ve failed yourself, still one thing will not fail you: the love of the Great Three in One will never fail.

And One Day, this squeezing in your heart and this aching in your bones from all these years and all these travels and all the years and travels to come, it will all be undone. Everything will be made new. Remember this.

Originally appeared at A Life Overseas.