Earth crammed with heaven?

It’s an old joke daddy loved telling his aunt. The joke about St. Peter giving a newcomer a tour of heaven and as they passed this one area, St. Peter says, “shhh, they’re Church of Christ and they think they’re the only ones here.”

Daddy’s eyes sparkled with mischievous fun telling his Church of Christ aunt this joke more time than she would have cared to hear it. Him a preacher in a different denomination, him a believer heaven would be filled with believers not denominations.

Before you get all up in arms about Church of Christ beliefs, I’m not up on their doctrine and know that in any given denomination there are many different tenants taken to heart. This isn’t about that.

This is about a book title I saw: Earth Crammed With Heaven by Elizabeth Dryer.

This is about the beauty of those turn of words and the possibility that earth could ever possibly be filled with heaven.

But what if our view of heaven is a place with rooms like the old joke suggests?

There’s the post-modern wing with Rob Bell and Brian McLaren readers. The stadium sized area for praise and worship lovers and the acoustically formed concert hall for those preferring the old hymns.

Surely there’s an incense filled area with icons and candles and there must be a street corner somewhere, gold-paved of course, for the likes of William Booth and the Sally bandsmen.

This is ridiculous, of course. Except, except sometimes we live like this. We live thinking more about being right than right living and we make no room in our lives for those different from us.

So if earth were crammed with heaven? This is the only quote I’ve seen from the book, the one that is resting on my mind today:

“In a profound way, our intentionality is a key ingredient determining whether we notice God everywhere or only in church or only in suffering or nowhere. It all depends on how we choose to fashion our world.” Elizabeth Dryer

street preacher sepia

Bethany Children's Home 2399





It was a question asked when I was in Haiti two years ago. Where did you see God today? And what Ms Dryer says requires intention.

It seems natural to see God in church or while we’re doing churchy things. But if we believe God is all around us, are we looking for him everywhere?

We often mention seeing God in nature but do we see him in spider webs as much as we see him in sunsets? In gnarled roots as much as swaying Palm trees?

I need a redirection, a realignment of my eyes and my views to see a God I believe created the universe. The God who loves the one struggling with faith as much as he loves Billy Graham. 

This is what keeps me in awe with the only One whose love is without conditions or boundaries. He alone gives hope for an earth being crammed with heaven.


Five-Minute Friday {when}

When will you be home?

When can you call?

When will you grow up?

When will the pain stop?

When will my prayers be answered?

When do we need to leave?

When do you get the test results?

When are you going to change?

When am I going to change?

And Van Morrison sings the words, “when will I ever learn to trust in God?”

The numbers on the clock seem to creep at an agonizingly slow pace when we ask, when? 

“When we’ve been there 10,000 years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first begun.”


That’s his favorite verse of the old hymn we sing every week at the close of our community worship.

It’s a progression like those good old hymns are. Theology set to music and words we sing as a sending out of these men who have asked, “when will I stop the cycle of addiction, of abuse?”

The first line reminds us of this amazing grace that make the blind see in that metaphorical way. Make us see, Lord, make us see your love for us.

We sing on and the pause comes, the pause before the last verse when he says, This is my favorite. I want to see you there, singing into eternity, singing praise to God.

When we see God, acknowledge his presence and claim that He Is God, when we love him and accept his love for us, when can be now.

Linking up with Kate Motaung and a host of word-hungry, flash mob loving bloggers writing furiously for 5 minutes on the word Kate provides. Stop by Kate’s and join the party.

He Names Miracles

It is the ordinary that God turns into extraordinary.

The ordinary day, ordinary word, ordinary photo.

Every year we take pictures of the residents of our Center and hang them on the Christmas tree in the activity room. A simple grade school project of gluing the photo to a construction paper background, punching two holes to thread ribbon through and hang. I’m not sure why we started doing this. It just seemed to be a good thing, the right thing to do.

Often the men send the photo to a family member; a child, a parent, a proof of life photo.

This year we did it differently and their pictures were put side by side, staff mixed in with residents to fill in an outlined Christmas tree.

We put it in the most visible place possible. We wanted everyone to see the smiles and joy this collage of faces, including two dogs and cat, brings to everyone passing by.

We posted it to Facebook and the comments started with Carlos saying this was a tree of miracles. Miracles with names.

xmas tree of photos

There are named miracles in the bible, The miracle at the Wedding at Cana. The miracle of the bread and fish, Lazarus raised from the dead, the various healings: the blind man, the lame, the leper, the woman with an issue of blood, and so on.

Except for Lazarus, these names are impersonal. The names describe more the event than the person.

What makes a miracle?

reading scripture

“reading” (signing) scripture

Carlos M

former program graduates join us for worship

former program graduates join us for worship

Is it a drug that cures hepatitis C or cancer? Or Is it a drug that takes away the headache you’ve had for days with no relief?

Is it a little girl who walks away from a plane crash that killed her parents and sibling?

Is it finding your keys?

Are all miracles the same size? Big?

I’ve never known a person to have been healed from a disease in a miraculous way. Meaning, I’ve not known a person riddled with cancer one day and cancer free the next moment. I’ve heard others telling those stories but I’m not a witness.

I’ve prayed for that kind of healing, for family and friends I’ve prayed with an earnest heart for God to heal them and he answered no. No in this physical, earthly life.

Prayer walk on the new property

Prayer walk on the new property

Henry and the guys are Tebow-ing

Henry and the guys are Tebow-ing

Three years ago we walked the property recently purchased, land that will give us space to build an updated and expanded Center for rehabilitation, and prayed for every part. We prayed for the future, for the possibility, for the funding. The money needed is huge and I think to myself it will take a miracle for that so we keep praying. Three years plus, we keep praying.

Are miracles always worked instantaneously?

Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller’s teacher, was called the miracle worker. She taught this deaf and blind girl to communicate. Not in an instant but over time, she worked a “miracle” and gave future generations hope.

I lean toward belief that God is the miracle worker. The only one who can do what is thought impossible.

Maybe I’m being too generous when I call them miracles. Maybe telling them they are miracles is a stretch. Maybe. But I’m willing to take the chance.



I want Dean and Matt and Steve and Sean and Johnny and Eric and James to know they are miracles. I want Mike and Chris and Art and Randal and Blair and Jeff to know what they tried to change in their strength was done in God’s power.

I want Carlos and Wilbert and Ramon to know what man can’t do, God can and he’s doing it in them.

I want to call His miracles by name and announce that our God is a miracle worker every day.

“Jesus looked hard at them and said, “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off yourself. Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it.” Matthew 19:26 the Message

When we see His miracles, we see Him. He is tall and short. Black and brown and white. He has  a Jersey accent and Philly and he says Feliz Navidad as clearly as he says Joyuex Noël, Merry Christmas or Happy Chanukah.

“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.” John 1:14 the Message

This God who is too glorious to be seen by human eyes, has made His word flesh and blood and moved into our midst. We tell of His glory that is around us. We pray you will see and know this Everlasting Father, this Prince of Peace, this Savior who is Christ the Lord.

Here we go again

Last year’s calendar has been tossed and the new one hangs or glares as if to say, ‘here we go again’.

At the close of last year I was digging my heels in wanting to slow the earths rotation as if doing so would result in the slowing of time rather than atmospheric calamity.

Things were feeling too fast but once I slowed, once the last party was over and the house stood quiet for a day, I was ready for the break in rushing and doing and performing. I could breathe in freshness of a new day and look expectantly for family to arrive.


Sunset in Memphis, TN (via my son) #livewonderstruck

Jonathan, Heather, Henry, Debby

It seemed the new day had barely dawned when the talk was about the new year and new words and new habits and resolutions few would keep and fewer make. I brushed them aside as if swatting at flies but, again, time stood up and I took notice.

The last two years I chose a word for the year. The idea sounded good and simple. One word. Easy enough. Until I forgot it just like the assigned prayer partner I forgot several years ago. It happens.

The issue isn’t the word. It’s the expectations I put on myself and resulting let down and failure I feel and for what? I can be hard on myself. You too?

Not learning my lesson or hoping I’m a wiser person because of the failed attempts, I have another word. It may not be for the year (thanks Cindy) or for any specified time. But it is for now.



Listen without formulating my response while another is talking.
Listen with focused attention.
Listen to the roar of the ocean and the silence of the sandpipers on the shore.
Listen to the words read allowing them to break or mend my heart, both parts of being whole.
Listen to the words I don’t like, the ones I don’t want to hear. Listen with quiet, slowing my breath to digest and allow God’s spirit space to speak. This will be a test I will fail, often. But one I will repeat again and again.
Listen to the rhythms of life and learn to distinguish between the voices of will and want and the voice of my maker.

As I write those words this one small word seems suddenly bigger. Too much? Perhaps. I know there will be failures but I know there will be victories. Not small victories because how can triumph ever be measured anyway but big?

They will not be my victories. Not alone because they will not be won alone but only with Him. The One who listens each time I call and hears my every breath.

Best of the Week

A few things have caught my eye this season and this week.

In no particular order, here are a few of them.

Seth Haines series called MY COMPLETELY IRRATIONAL, UNSCIENTIFIC, ORTHODOX, FRINGE SYSTEM OF BELIEF  in which he offers some thought-provoking questions that made me realize how much I want this kind of belief.

My favorite picture of the week sent from my daughter, taken while they were in Philadelphia earlier this week. The granddaughter makes 5 generations of Salvation Army volunteers demonstrating an old slogan, Sharing is Caring.

The granddaughter "doing the most good".

The granddaughter “doing the most good”.

My most liked image on Instagram this week:

Debby Jonathan

My son and I at the beach on Christmas Eve. As one of my friends commented, it’s only fitting the Hudsons would be at the beach.

My favorite recipe that I’ve made three times in the past week sharing it with family, neighbors and employees. They are especially good when warm. Or so I hear ;)

red velvet bars recipe

My favorite promise that rings loudest each Christmas:

For a child has been born—for us!
the gift of a son—for us!
He’ll take over
the running of the world.
His names will be: Amazing Counselor,
Strong God,
Eternal Father,
Prince of Wholeness.
His ruling authority will grow,
and there’ll be no limits to the wholeness he brings. Isaiah 9:6-7 the Message

My favorite quote:

“The gifts had been opened, the Shepherd’s went back to watching their sheep – but they knew everything had changed.” Bob Goff

As we go back to our jobs and our routines, may we know that everything has changed because God is with us.

Repeat the Sounding Joy

It was as if someone pressed the repeat button. “fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la…..”, “We wishhhhh you a Merry Christmas, we wishhhh you…” over and over they sang, warbled, mouthed the words to those holiday favorites . They held words to four more songs in their hands but these were their comfort spots (words, not the tunes).



The men didn’t go because they are singers. They aren’t and Miss Shirley will tell you.


Ms Shirley

She was in her wheelchair at the end of the hall. The men had been caroling in rooms and she sat at the other end watching. John saw her and went to talk with her. “Would you like them to sing for you?”, he asked. “No. I’ve heard them. They’re not good.” We couldn’t help but smile, laugh a little. At 85 you get away with bold truth and it was true.

Still, they gathered around her and we exchanged spoken words rather than sung (to be respectful of Ms. Shirley, of course.) “What’s been your best Christmas?” we asked. “Oh, I’ve had so many I couldn’t say just one. Many good ones, some bad ones but the good outweigh the others. I’ve had a good year.”

She didn’t know her audience was men who have had a bad year or ten. She didn’t know the power her words held in their lives.

“Your smile is a gift to us, Miss Shirley”, we said. “You can’t go around like a sour puss!” she said and the men roared in laughter, heads nodding affirmation. They live in a dormitory jockeying for space in line to the showers, to meals, mandatory meetings and curfews. Sour puss faces? They know them. Smiles? Always a gift of joy.



Chris C caroling

“Spanish….he only speaks Spanish” the activity director told us. Ramon, Wilburt, Chris…front and center. “Feliz Navidad…..” they sang and all joined in on the English words, hands waving in the air a smile coming across the face of the man. He made his way up from his bed, grasping the hands of the men surrounding him. Does he know the joy he’s given? The broken hearts he’s mending?

There is so much more but just one more, one more story of a night spent hanging out with a bunch of guys living at the Salvation Army looking for a new kind of celebration this year.

Ramon caroling

caroling group framed

We were led into her room, her small self layered with blankets while quietly she began to sing. The tune familiar but words were Spanish, was it the national anthem? Ramon leaned down to listen closer and then he sang to her, again words we didn’t understand until the end when he said, “I love you, I love you…” and we all stood quiet watching this exchange between strangers whose hearts had connected brought together by this love God shares with us. Another smile, another gift we take away with our treasures of this night.

We bow our hearts to this Christ Child, thanking him for this joy, for filling us to the point it overflows and spills on to others and we ask, we plead, Lord, keep us filled with your joy. Let every smile be a gift of your love that settles in our soul. And let us return to others gifts of forgiveness and grace as you generously give to us. Let our lives repeat the sounding joy of Emmanuel, God with us. 

Advent Week 2: When Love Comes to Town

nativity when love comes to town

We talk about childbirth, the hours in labor, the pain that is soon forgotten for most. We share our stories of being 3 weeks overdue or a month early. Of how unprepared we were and the wonders an automatic baby swing can do to induce sleep.

We are filled with questions the books don’t seem to answer and can we trust the advice of an earlier generation?

What we do know, is that in the midst of sleep deprivation, smells you thought impossible from someone so little and cute, and the 5th time you’ve wiped spit up off your shirt in one day, in the midst of all this chaos and mess, love has come.

You are smitten beyond words. There aren’t enough synonyms to describe the deep feelings you have when you look at the, sleeping, face. The eyelashes that are as delicate as snowflakes. The skin softer than any silk you’ve run your hands across and those fingers….especially the crooked pinky fingers like your dad had. Those. The visible sign she’s mine. Ours. Love has come and won’t let go.



Neighbors have wrapped palm trees in lights. Inflatable Santa’s and Snowmen list in the wind. A few have nativity figures on their lawns. A display is advancing down our street. Signs of a season begging for signs of love.

It’s been a tough week in our country. Violence, protests, sadness and grief and questions of why. Love seems silent.

At times, the silence is closer. Grief and loss, unanswered questions that strike deep in our lives. Cancer, addiction, divorce, Alzheimer’s, death, financial devastation, job loss. Our hurts scream louder than love. We want a Jesus, a Savior who will save. “Save us from our hurt and pain and disappointment!”, we cry.

We want that magical love that grips our hearts like the way our baby took hold and never let go. The love that could kiss away the tears and scrapes and make it all better. That’s what we want from this babe, this Christ child on that silent and holy night.

“Jesus didn’t come to fix it all. He came to be with us in it all.”Jamie Wright

Love is here. Quiet, in hushed tones, begging our cries to soften so we can hear love’s presence. Immanuel. God with us. 


We will celebrate this with our men today. Another candle will be lit and words read. John will make his offering as he rat-a-tat-tats  on Little Drummer Boy.

This is our worship, our ushering in Love not just in the decorations but in our lives. Right into the chaos and pain we will pause to still ourselves and welcome Love, Immanuel, God with us.


When hope is hard

You think it’s just the way you are, the way you don’t have big dreams and hide behind calling yourself a realist. It’s been years since things fell apart and you tell yourself, year after year you keep telling yourself it shouldn’t matter now. When are you going to get over it? When are you going to quit hiding behind that excuse?

What feels worse is it feels silly. Silly to carry scars and shame from the action of others. Silly that 40 years later their divorce still fractures your world.

You hate to admit it but it makes hope hard.

So you carry on and it doesn’t get mentioned much these many years later but it’s always there. Always there how the family was ripped apart from one end of the country to another and ripped apart in ways teenagers can’t understand, even 40 years later.


We lit the hope candle this week. The first week of Advent is about hope, the hope that appeared in a baby whose birth ripped apart expectations and split open the darkness with His light. Of hope.

Ann Voskamp writes: “No matter how we’re hurting — it’s only when we lose hope that the real horror happens.”

It’s hard to cling to something that seems too good to be true. It’s hard to cling to things unseen when you’ve been crushed by what was in front of you. It feels safer to curl up in the cocoon of cynicism that has protected you so long. Even when you failed to see the cocoon was a thin veneer made of fear.

xmas tree hope

Hope. Real Hope in the person of Jesus. Hope who came from his safety to a world that would crush his body but never His spirit. Hope that is real because His love is real and He is love.

Save me, Lord, from my fears to know your hopes for me are greater than I can imagine. Save me from the past that is my shadow and split the darkness with the light of Hope. In You.

“Look at my Servant.
See my Chosen One.
He is my Beloved, in whom my soul delights.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
And he will judge the nations.

He does not fight nor shout;
He does not raise his voice!

He does not crush the weak,
Or quench the smallest hope;
He will end all conflict with his final victory,

And his name shall be the hope
Of all the world.” Matthew 12:18-21 Living Bible

All this glory…here

I knew the words they were going to read. My breath caught, wondering if it would be too much. The weight of the words penned for this first week of Advent.

Every year holds a challenge to communicate a truth we find simple: God sent His son, born of a virgin, to be Savior of mankind. When you grow up hearing the story told and retold it’s as familiar as Jingle-bells. To us.





So much is intertwined with this season and much of it centers around a place, a literal and figurative place. Where they are. Where they aren’t. I fight my own struggles with this but these men in our charge, for them it’s more than I can fully understand.

“In the middle of the mess, there is majesty”

It was a song, again, that stirred that place in me, the place that says listen closer. Listen again. I hit repeat, and again and the words sunk deeper in my heart and this is what we would share about the gift given by God. The gift of His Son.

“To the middle of our plight came the King of Kings”

Christmas decorations

Christmas is about expectations. So that was our reading this first week.

They were expecting a King not a baby.

I was expecting a mom and dad, not a father I never knew.

They were expecting a Kingdom, not a stable.

I expected a home not a jail cell.

They were expecting peace, not animal noises and itchy hay.

I expected a loving marriage, not one torn apart by addiction.

They expected majesty, not a mess.

I expected to be a better man, not a drunk.

In the middle of darkness came His majesty.

In the middle of my darkness came His grace.

Yes, my breath caught when they stood to read those words. Is it too harsh? Too real? Too true?

“While we were waiting on Your love to come along, light broke in, coming like a Son…..All this glory…Jesus, God with us. Jesus Christ has come and I’m undone.”


*Words in italics from All This Glory by David Crowder on his album Neon Steeples

We Gather Together


Lord willing, we have gathered for another Thanksgiving with our Florida family in the Panhandle. We’ll crowd around the table, extended to fit our number. The weather looks to be cool for an outside feast as we’ve had other years.

Thanksgiving 4306


annual gathering

annual gathering

thanks 6900

There will be warmth from the cooking and warmth from the laughter. I cannot imagine another family who laughs as much as we do and I’m happy it spreads so freely from generation to generation.

My cousin and her oldest will do most of the cooking. She is in her element hosting this crowd again. The crowd whose numbers shift year to year, some due to distance and travel constraints and some we’ve lost to their eternal heavenly feast. My uncle and in-laws all held places around this table, places that have now been handed down to sons.

Younger ones have been added and it takes some of death’s sting away seeing them extend the family’s joy.

Wherever this Thanksgiving finds you, by choice or circumstance or obligation, may you know God’s love. May you know you are enough. You failures, your mistakes, your disobedience, small faith, big pride, your addictions and imperfections, your hurts, habits and hang-up’s are enough.

His grace, mercy and love are big enough to cover our biggest sins. He loves us not because, but anyway.

For this, I give thanks.