Big Event Edinburgh: The Pilgrim Way

Interested in coming to Scotland with me? We can be pilgrims together!

I’m thrilled to announce my first international speaking event.

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The above is a screen shot — here’s the link to more info.

If you’re a clergywoman, I hope you’ll consider it! I would love to see you there. Thanks to Martha Spong, the Director of the RevGalBlogPals for making all the arrangements. What a blessing the RevGals have been to so many of us!

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9 Things Pastors Can Do Besides Pray for Gaza

The conflict in Gaza occupies hearts and minds right now. I know you’re praying for peace. But how else can a faith leader respond? So often we feel forced to choose a side. Are you pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian? The topic always seems to boil down to this question which (reasonably enough) results in paralysis.

When I pitched my book (Chasing the Divine in the Holy Land) to Bill Eerdmans, Jr., he quipped: “Remember that Christians don’t like to read about the Holy Land. They only like to argue about it.

Zing!

Yet, there is so much more for faith communities to do than argue. I continue to believe that one of the most valuable aspects of life together is the opportunity for vigorous study and discussion — whether in Sunday morning adult classes, evening forums, midweek “Supper & Study” events, or some other venue.

Please don’t be afraid of a spirited discussion on a touchy topic. Most folks desire a safe place to explore things that matter. Where else can we wrestle with current issues and relate them to our faith? If we begin the discussion with prayer and open hearts — and ground rules about listening carefully and speaking in love — the Spirit will bring us along. Here are some discussion/study suggestions, each of which takes a tiny bite from an enormously complex topic. You know which ones will best appeal to your folks:

STUDY THE BIBLE –

1. Tackle the Hebrew Scriptures: Study Abraham and Sarah and the promise of land (Deuteronomy 1). Or revisit the story of Isaac and Ishmael (Genesis 16 and following). What did the text mean then? What does it mean now? Does it have anything to do with the current conflict? If so, exactly what?

2. Tackle the Christian Scriptures: Study what Paul says about faith as a devout Jew turned Jesus-follower. Or revisit a passage from Romans or Galatians. What did the text mean then? What does it mean now? How are Christians and Jews and Muslims related today?

3. Use a Resource: I trust the Thoughtful Christian resources, some of which are available as downloadable single-session studies. (Feel free to suggest others in a comment.)

EXPLORE THE HISTORIC CONTEXT –

4. Create a Timeline: Have folks create a timeline of significant events leading up to the current confrontation in Gaza. Create a safe space for people to add to their knowledge without feeling embarrassed by any areas of ignorance. Read 9 questions about the Israel-Palestine Conflict you were too embarrassed to ask.

5. Investigate the Crusades: Use Wikipedia to review the facts of the crusades, then watch Kingdom of Heaven together. Ask: What, if anything, connects the Crusades with current events in Gaza? Or are the only significant conflicts the ones between Jews and Muslims? Or don’t any of these religious conflicts have a thing to do with Gaza?

6. Learn about Zionism: How many hymns can you list that include the word Zion?Define Zionism from the point of view of Jews, Muslims, Christians. How does Zionism affect what goes on in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories? Is there such a thing as secular Zionism? Make a timeline of Zionism, it may be different than what you imagine it to be.

SEEK OUT OTHER PERSPECTIVES –

7. Invite a Speaker: Is there a Rabbi or Imam or Palestinian Christian you could invite to your church? Is there someone who has traveled extensively in the Mideast? Is a policy expert available? Is there a pilgrim among you? Each of these persons will have a unique lens.

8. Investigate what your Denomination is Doing: As a Presbyterian, we have a great deal of energy (i.e. controversy) about the Middle East currently. Our General Assembly voted to divest funds from three American corporations providing material support for Israel’s ongoing occupation of Palestine. Here are FAQs.

9. Cultivate a Pilgrim Heart. While Israel is the scene of much violence, it’s also the Holy Land, a land pivotal to our faith. It helps to approach that land with a pilgrim heart, open to the sacred presence in all of its manifestations. I’m excited about a new video resource that can help us become pilgrims vicariously. It’s being launched via a free webinar Thursday, Aug 7, at 7:00 EST (4:00 PST). Come explore many holy sites at JerusalemExperience. The creator of the videos, Eran Frenkel, has approached me as a colleague in this venture, which I find enormously heartening in this time of conflict.

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Packing for Alaska: the One-Bag Approach

I like to keep things simple, including packing, but a cruise to Alaska raises inevitable complications. The weather is varied, and so are the activities, from very outdoorsy to very formal. I aspire to the freedom of one-bag travel. (Did you see this hilarious guest post on one-bag travel some time ago, I still love it!)

On this recent trip, my husband and I had a pretty typical Alaska itinerary:

~ a week on land (Fairbanks to Denali NP to Anchorage to Seward)

~ a week on a cruise boat (Seward to Glacier Bay to Haines to Juneau to Ketchikan to Vancouver)

Instead of showing you the clothes laid out on a bed, here they are on the scene, with a bit of commentary:

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESFOR DAILY ADVENTURES: a T-shirt layer (brought 4), a long-sleeve layer (brought 2), hiking pants, hiking shoes.

I loved these hiking pants. Lightweight, comfy, look like real pants. Bought them at the last moment and SO GLAD I did, I wore them nearly every day.

I also brought a pair of khaki capris that I wore a couple of times when it was warmer (Anchorage, Vancouver).

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESGLACIER WEAR: a warm layer, a rain-proof shell with a hood, ear band, fleece hat.

This may seem like a lot but we wore it all. I loved my purple zip front which layered well with my purple rain jacket

 

 

DINNERS: black knit pants, nicer tops (brought 3), sandals.

FORMAL NIGHTS: a little black dress, a wrap, jewelry (for Doug, a suit, dress shirt, tie, good shoes). Some people opt out of formal nights, which is perfectly reasonable. But we enjoyed them. Plus Doug re-wore his wedding suit. And my friends, this was our 30th Wedding Anniversary!

Denali National ParkALSO IMPORTANT: sunglasses and hat, a daypack (the foldable kind with strings), a passport pouch.

Binoculars, camera and recharger, Kindle and recharger.

Insect repellant, a sleep mask (it is never dark!) and Dramamine.

And yes, a purple bandana.

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Kayaking at Tatoosh Islands, Ketchikan, AK

NITTY GRITTY: We did laundry at the hotel after our first week. I purchased a package of 3 drip-dry (non-cotton) underwear for each of us so we didn’t have to cart around dirty laundry, and that worked really well.

Also, the cruise people took our bag of formal wear and put it on the boat so we didn’t have to deal with it during the land portion of the trip. (Nice to know that when you’re packing.)

BROUGHT BUT DID NOT USE: a swimming suit, shorts.

ACQUIRED and WORE THERE: an Alaska cap! Alaska T-shirts! A couple extra pounds!

ONE LAST THING: SUNSCREEN: Why didn’t I know about this grownup product before? This stuff has zinc oxide in it, so it is very effective but the tint keeps it from looking white on your skin. It goes on like a lightweight foundation and blended easily into my  fair skin.

Have you been to Alaska? Feel free to leave a comment about your experience.

Are you going to Alaska? Lucky you! I hope this helps with your packing and I hope you have a fabulous time!

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Friends: Silver & Gold . . . & Bronzed?

Make new friends, keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.

Our daughter learned that little ditty in Brownies, and I’ll confess it came to mind on our trip to Alaska (and not just because of the gold-panning).

This was the first time my husband and I have traveled with someone other than family. Our companions were a writer friend who I’ve known since 2002, and her boyfriend. We were able to spend plenty of relaxed time together, often comparing experiences at day’s end, but giving each other lots of room in between.

The McKinley Explorer

All Aboard! The McKinley Explorer.

Here we are, ready to board the McKinley Explorer, which took us from Denali NP to Anchorage. We were lucky to have fabulous views of Denali along the way, a real treat since the mountain had been hiding behind its own weather system the day before, when we were actually in the park.

Besides sharing the trip with these friends, Doug and I visited some old friends whom we hadn’t seen in 25 years. This couple had been in the back of our mind as we planned the Alaska trip — they’ve lived in Juneau for 25 years.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESThis is a very special woman — she introduced me and Doug. We owe her forever! She had started dating her husband about that same time and they married two weeks after we did. We had only seen each other once since then.

You can see we had lots to talk about, 25 years later. We couldn’t be quiet long enough to get a picture!

 

IMG_1357Doug was also able to connect with an old friend, someone he’s known since 7th grade and rarely sees. This connection was fun because it was so unexpected — a longer-than-anticipated layover at the Minneapolis airport had us hopping on the new (at least to us) transit system. We headed downtown, texting madly on the off-chance he could meet us. And he did.

 

Mary Tyler Moore

Who can turn the world on with her smile?

Bonus: This one is neither silver nor gold, maybe bronzed? I got to say howdy to the woman responsible for bringing me to Minneapolis, where so much of my life unfolded. If you didn’t watch sitcoms in the 1970s you might not recognize this woman. But she had everything to do (subconsciously) with my move to the city as a young single woman in 1980. Yes, MTM is an icon of feminism!

I don’t know when the city put up the statue, but I hadn’t seen it before and it was a blast to throw my hat up beside hers.

On top of all that, while in Alaska I had the chance to meet two “virtual” friends IRL. Each shares a particular passion with me — one is an “unclutterer” and the other is a “RevGalBlogPal.”

What friends are you meeting up with this summer? Old friends or new, or maybe both at once? Because, really, nothing stays the same, and everything is always new. Yet we are still the same people we used to be. And only an old friend can remind us of that.

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Book Review: John McPhee’s Classic Work About Alaska: “Coming Into the Country”

This book is really 3 pieces under 1 cover. The first piece describes a trip on a remote river in a beautiful section of Alaska, bordering the Yukon territory. The language is poetic and the focus is on the ecological beauty of the area. The second piece is more sociological, describing characters in Alaska’s history, and some of the trends of settlement. Interesting stuff. The third piece is the one the book is named for, a collection of stories about people who have “come into the country,” meaning, entered Alaska.

I read this book while I was in Alaska, and since returning. It was a wonderful partner to the trip and increased my appreciation of Alaska’s rich resources: natural beauty, history, and characters! McPhee manages to have a literary style without getting mired down, a real feat when there is not one plot thread for the reader to hang onto throughout.

I invite you to join me on Goodreads!

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Getting Wild About Alaska

My husband and I were packing for our long-awaited trip to Alaska. People had warned us to pack lots of layers so our bedroom was strewn with clothing, the detritus of indecision.

It occurred to me that I still needed to print our boarding passes. I went to my study and opened the airline email. I looked at the email, then looked again. There was a mistake. There was definitely a mistake. The flight information showed the wrong date. The wrong flipping date! Our flight left exactly ONE DAY LATER than I thought.

How was this possible? I had put this on my calendar six months ago! The land/cruise tour, the itinerary, the flights. Not only that! When I realized we could get to Fairbanks a few days early, I planned a bonus for my outdoorsy husband. I rented a remote cabin through Air BnB, a “dry cabin” only accessible by river, and an inflatable boat to get us there.

Here Honey: Wild Alaska!

Now that entire plan would have to be scrapped. I almost couldn’t breathe. At least I thought I wasn’t breathing until Doug came rushing into the room. Apparently I was shrieking.

And that, my friends, is how our 30th Wedding Anniversary celebration ended our marriage.

At least, it could have. If I were married to a different guy. Or if we hadn’t learned how to back up and see the big picture. When you’re in the middle of this kind of thing, it really CAN seem like the end of the world.

We tried to fix it, of course. We called Delta, who could have put us on an earlier plane for an additional $1,000. Each. (Um, not happening.)

Then we called the guy I rented the cabin from: “Would it be possible to do the trip as a single overnight instead of two overnights?”

“Sure,” he said.

So we did.

And yes, we will soon begin Year 31 together.

Chena River, North Pole, Alaska

The Chena River, North Pole, Alaska.

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Going Dark: Alaska Bound

Like many of you, I’m headed to a Scenic Place soon.

Doug and I will celebrate our 30th Wedding Anniversary in August, an occasion that seems to call for something special. Journeying to Alaska is a two-week trip we always hoped to take together. Now is the time.

After much wavering, I’ve decided not to bring my laptop. As much as I love writing on this keyboard, my laptop IS a work tool. This vacation is about Doug. And our love. (Cue an appropriate theme song.)

Possibly some moose and bears and grizzly and whales. We shall see about that.

I will bring different writing tools: a notebook and pen. They can be powerful tools. Actually, that’s how my pilgrimage book began — with a notebook and pen and lots of scrawled thoughts and images, stirred by a place I was seeing with fresh eyes.

Enjoy summertime and I’ll see you in mid-July!

Posted in Family Fun, Travel: Alaska | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Why I Support the Presbyterian Church’s Vote to Divest from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions

People say that denominational decisions are like law and sausage. If you love them, you don’t want to see them getting made. But I love the way we Presbyterians govern ourselves. I geek out over our historic principles. Have you heard these beautiful, high-minded words from 1788?

~ God alone is Lord of the conscience

~ Truth is in order to goodness

~ It is our duty to exercise mutual forbearance

When the General Assembly met this June, in Detroit, it was the 221st time that the Presbyterian Church has assembled to figure out how to be the church together. We assemble because we believe that the Spirit moves in an unique way among groups of people who seek the Spirit’s guidance. We don’t allow absentia voting. If you’re not in the room to feel the Spirit, you’re not part of the process.

Sometimes I wonder what John Witherspoon would think if he knew that thousands of people watched the meeting via live stream, all over the country. Could anyone at the first meeting of the General Assembly in Philadelphia in 1789 have envisioned such a thing? Times change. (The electronic voting is different today than it was in 1997 when I was a commissioner to the 209th in Syracuse.)

But in other senses, the Presbyterian process hasn’t changed all that much in two centuries. The process is still an orderly one: motions, minority reports and amendments, all with the goal of “perfecting” a motion which then goes to a vote. Underneath the order there is ardor. That’s a quip you’ll hear repeated, because it’s true. Each commissioner cares deeply about our church. Otherwise would they spend a week in a convention center in Detroit, clicking on voting gizmos? The stockpiles of Legos and Twizzlers on their tables don’t offset the grueling schedule these folks endure. Yet they know it’s an honor to be there, and to be entrusted with a vote.

I watched (via live stream) the discussion about whether or not to divest from three American companies whose products are used to support the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, particularly in illegal Jewish settlements. Commissioners stated passionate convictions. Others stated equally passionate, but perhaps opposite, convictions. Each person got their one minute. Watching the process moved me. Part of me thinks that this is what the Kingdom of God looks like, a parade of people using their brains and hearts and paddles and pens — and even their commas — to get it right for the church they love.

The vote itself was mesmerizing. When the graphic popped up on the screen, it was apparent that the motion had passed by a razor thin margin (310-303). There was a moment of shock and disbelief. And then the people stood to sing a hymn about peace.

I wasn’t a commissioner, so I didn’t cast a vote. I can’t say what swayed the individuals who voted. But I can say what swayed me:

~ Presbyterians believe that money is a moral matter. We do not invest funds in corporations involved in weapons, alcohol, tobacco, or gaming. We have begun discussions about how to divest from fossil fuels. We talk about money as a moral matter because Jesus talked about money. A lot. Ever so much more than he talked about sex.

~ It’s not disputed that the products of these three companies are used in an oppressive occupation, or as was repeatedly said, “for non-peaceful purposes.” We heard the voice of Palestinian Christians and want to be a witness to their pain and suffering, and to stand beside them.

~ The committee members charged with Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) said that all attempts to dialogue with the three companies in the past years have failed completely.

~ A commissioner from South Africa (Andries Coetzee) thanked the body for divesting from his country in the early 1980s. He said: “When you divested from apartheid in South Africa you invested in my humanity.” That was powerful testimony.

~ Rabbi Rick Jacobs said that he could arrange an audience with President Benjamin Netanyahu if we voted down divestment. I believe that invitation backfired. In fact, the plus/minus margin (4 votes) may have evaporated right there.

I’m a pastor and I care about interfaith relationships. When I went on a pilgrimage to Israel and Palestine, it was so personally transformative that I wrote a book about it. I wondered if my pilgrim experiences would be helpful to others.

When I met with Bill Eerdmans, Jr., who agreed to publish the book, he commented, in his dry way: “Remember — Christians don’t like to read about the Holy Land. They only like to argue about it.”

We’ve certainly been doing our share of arguing. Others are watching and have joined the fray. It’s a mess. Still, I’m trusting the process and praying for the church. Join me?

Shalom, Salaam, Peace!

My Open Letter to the PCUSA (posted before the meeting) is here. It begins: Why are Presbyterians fixated on Israel?

The text of the resolution can be found here.

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What the PCUSA actually said about the Middle East

Here’s the full text of what the PCUSA just passed at the 221st General Assembly. Don’t miss #7. You’re welcome to comment, as long as you disclose your identity. I delete anonymous comments.

The PC(USA) has a long standing commitment to peace in Israel and Palestine. We recognize the complexity of the issues, the decades-long struggle, the pain suffered and inflicted by policies and practices of both the Israeli government and Palestinian entities. We further acknowledge and confess our own complicity in both the historic and current suffering of Israeli and Palestinian. Yearning for justice and reconciliation, the 221st General Assembly (2014) recommends the following:

1. Reaffirm Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign nation within secure and internationally recognized borders in accordance with the United Nations resolutions.

2. Declare its commitment to a negotiated two-state solution (two states for two peoples) in which a secure and universally recognized State of Israel lives alongside a free, viable, and secure state for the Palestinian people.

3. Instruct the Presbyterian Foundation and the Board of Pensions of the PC(U.S.A.), to divest from Caterpillar, Inc., Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions, in accord with our church’s decades-long socially responsible investment (SRI) history, and not to reinvest in these companies until the Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee of the PC(USA) is fully satisfied that product sales and services by these companies are no longer in conflict with our church investment policy. This action on divestment is not to be construed or represented by any organization of the PC(USA) as divestment from the State of Israel, or an alignment with or endorsement of the global BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanctions) movement.

4. Reaffirm PC(USA)’s commitment to interfaith dialog and partnerships with the American Jewish, Muslim friends and Palestinian Christians and call for all presbyteries and congregations within the PC(USA) to include interfaith dialogue and relationship-building as part of their own engagement in working for a just peace.

5. Call for all foreign aid given by the U.S. government—including aid to Israel and the Palestinian Authority—to be comprehensively and transparently accounted to the American people and held to the same standards of compliance with all applicable laws.

6. Call for church advocacy for foreign-aid accountability to be directed toward its universal adherence rather than targeted for selective application to some recipients and not others.

7. Encourage Presbyterians to travel to the Holy Land, and give broad support to the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim communities throughout the Middle East.

8. Affirm the importance of economic measures and cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians that support and advance a negotiated two-state solution.

9. Urge all church institutions to give careful consideration to possible investments in Israel-Palestine that advance peace and improve the lives of Palestinians and Israelis.

Posted in Israel & Palestine | Tagged , | 7 Comments

What Do You Regret? An interview w/Michelle Van Loon

MichelleToday I interview Michelle Van Loon about her new book If Only: Letting Go of Regret.

The book launches on July 1. This interview is part of her blog tour.

If Only Letting Go of RegretI only met Michelle once IRL — for the briefest of hugs — but I often read her blog — it’s called Pilgrim’s Road Trip, so how could I not! I am frequently struck by Michelle’s authenticity. I thoroughly enjoyed reading her book.

Ruth: Regret is a very personal topic. Why did you decide to write this book? Was there a particular event that was the genesis of this project?

Michelle: It seemed as though I kept having variations of the same conversation with dozens of people who were smack-dab in the middle of their transition into midlife. They would say things like “I wish I could re-do my kids’ childhood now that they’re leaving the nest”, “I should have finished college”, “What a mistake it was when I married/divorced”, or “If only I would have spent more time with my parents while they were still here.” Spiritual growth at midlife includes coming to terms with the fact that there are no real do-overs in life. I also realized that these deep regret had the seeds of spiritual growth and potential for maturity sown into them, but few of us seemed to have the tools for processing those regrets well. In the church, we create space for confession of sin during many worship services, but rarely deal with regret in a meaningful way. The unintended message from this is that we should be able to move on once we’ve confessed. I was dealing with my own life list entitled “If Only”, and discovered that God could redeem and repurpose my regrets if I was willing to go beyond simply acknowledging that they existed. My own experience and those conversations with my midlife peers sparked my writing, but I realized that the topic had universal appeal. We all have regrets.

Ruth: The topic of regret applies to both men and women, but you often address a woman’s experience. I found this to be affirming. Did you intend for the audience to be mainly female, and if so, how do you hope the book gets used?

Michelle: You’re right – regret is an equal-opportunity “employer” in terms of gender! However, I did imagine I’d be speaking to women with this book, and wrote with a female audience in mind.

Ruth: Your writing style is fun. It doesn’t belabor a point and often uses a fresh image or turn of phrase. I suspect that you write many words that are edited away to achieve this. As a fellow writer, I want to ask: What’s your writing process, overall?

Michelle: Only a fellow writer would recognize that I wrote many words, deleted most of them, rewrote some of them, then deleted three-quarters of the new crop of words. I wish I could turn off my internal editor to spin out a lousy-but-functional first draft, but those lovely times of “flow” are very rare for me. I write at an excruciatingly slow pace, and surf the internet too much as a master procrastinator at the beginning of every writing project. That endorphin-releasing flow happens for me when I’m editing a second or third draft.

Ruth: You cover many biblical stories which are quite familiar, for example: the Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan, David and Bathsheba, Jesus and the Woman Caught in Adultery. You do a good job of quickly setting the context of these stories. As a preacher, I know how shaping it is to live with a text in our heads. So let me ask: Which of these stories has the most resonance in your own life at the moment, and why?

Michelle: Great question, Ruth! I love how God’s Word reads each one of us. Whenever I walk around with a passage for a few days meditating on it, that passage is my new favorite. But if I had to select just one story from If Only that continues to resonate with me, it would have to be the account of the prodigal sons in Luke 15:11-32. I can be like the rebel son and the goody-two shoes son; I want to be like the father in the parable. I want to reflect the kind of love my heavenly Father has for me to the prodigals of both kinds he has placed in my life.

Ruth: Two phrases recur throughout the book: the Holiness of God, and our Divided Heart. Would you say these are pivotal ideas for you? I’m curious if there’s some connection between them, or perhaps a story you’d like to share?

Michelle: I have had a prayer partner named Meg for over a decade. We once lived in neighboring towns and could meet for prayer. For the last several years, we meet by phone most Friday mornings. We began to realize during the course of our conversations with one another and with God how compartmentalized and fragmented parts of our lives were. Those compartments were a handy coping mechanism, at least for me. I could keep painful childhood experiences in one slot, a bad break-up in another one. And it worked for me, as it does for so many of us. But what was I supposed to do now that the Holy Spirit showed me the contours of those compartments? Meg and I began praying Ps. 86:11 (“Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.”) out of simple conviction that those compartments were hampering our respective maturity – and likely harboring sin, too. God has been answering that prayer – in his wholehearted purity, in his unfailing mercy, in his truth-telling love. The book is the fruit of some of what God has taught me as Meg and I have continued to pray that prayer.

Ruth: This book is deeply personal. In chapter nine you talk about your own mother, and her spiritual legacy, in a way that is very honest. Since your relationship was conflicted, that must have been difficult to write. What is it that you hope readers will take away from that section in particular?

Michelle: I don’t think I could have written that story one moment earlier in my life than last year, to tell you the truth. But I knew it was time to share this story, as it created a template for regret in my life that shadowed so much of the way I’d learned to live. So many families have secrets, and the effects of those secrets echo for generations. They keep us from experiencing the flourishing life Jesus promised to those who followed him. I hope readers will consider their own family stories, and the way in which shame and regret have shaped those stories. I also hope readers can discover the way in which God is at work in their lives, rescripting and repurposing past regret into new life.

Ruth: The last question seems rather obvious: Do you have any regrets about writing this book?

Michelle: Not a single one! I am praying that If Only can encourage readers to face their regrets and discover that God has been there with them, every messy step of the way.

Posted in Reviews: Books & Movies, Writing: Fun with Words, Writing: Self-Promotion | Tagged , , | 1 Comment