The Trap of Cordiality

The Trap of Cordiality

“Jem and I found our father satisfactory: he played with us, read to us, and treated us with courteous detachment,” said Scout in the classic novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.[1] Scout’s description gave me pause. In our crass and quarrelsome culture, a little respect and good manners might go a long way. We need some good old-fashion cordiality.

But are there unintended consequences among polite types of people? I thought of religious circles or Christian families that strive to have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and self-control–under control at all times. Courteous detachment could be the kind of cordiality that keeps others at arm’s length.

Have you ever experienced that? I have. Maybe I’ve even done it to others!

Illustration depicting cutout printed letters arranged to form the words think before you speak.

In Marilynne Robinson’s moving story, Home, Jack, the black sheep of the family comes home to his dying father after twenty years. The father, a retired pastor, works hard to say all the right things, to give the benefit of the doubt, to believe the best, but there remains unimaginable tension in the atmosphere. The prodigal son is a sin-sick soul, looking for restoration. He wants to believe he can be a good man. The father wants him to “get saved.” They resort to polite conversation at first, bottling up their history of hurt and disappointment.

Deep wounds form when cordiality prevents real connection—maybe even more so than an outright fight.

Glory, the younger daughter in the story, has also returned to care for her father’s basic needs. She too is longing for healing within the family. She loves her wayward brother, Jack. All the other siblings seem to have perfect lives.

“(Glory’s) father told his children to pray for patience, for courage, for kindness, for clarity, for trust, for gratitude. Those prayers will be answered, he said. Others may not be…So she prayed again for patience, for tact, for understanding—for every virtue that might keep her safe from conflicts that would be sure to leave her wounded, every virtue that might at least help her preserve an appearance of dignity, for heaven’s sake. She did wonder what the neighbors thought…”[2]

Young lonely woman sitting in glass jarSafe from conflict…the appearance of dignity…what will the neighbors say?

I have come to believe these fears areContinue reading

As promised…Chapter One

As promised…Chapter One

BHMcoverfinalI am not old, but I’m no longer a child. Sometimes I’m brave enough to think about those days—days of suffocating fear and weeks when sadness had no end, and I lived with many questions tapping on my brain like a relentless woodpecker. Each new bend in the road of twists and turns thrust me into the unknown like a wild mustang ride—snorting, rearing, and trampling my simple world. And when the quiet came at night, my heart seemed as cold as the bottom of the great lake.

Yet Nana’s gentle hand on my arm, or the look in Skeets’ kind eyes, well, they kept something muffin alive in me. They made me believe a greater thing could happen, something I’ve never quite been able to explain—that calm knowing inside, the surge of boldness I felt, and the certainty of where it was from. I sometimes wonder at how easily I could have ignored it. I could’ve been distracted and missed it.

But I didn’t. Somehow, I didn’t.

Chapter 1

How graceful is your grace?

The first time I heard God speak was in a school parking lot. I was ten years old.

My heart flipped violently. The words were unmistakable, as if He stood right behind me and whispered in my left ear. I twirled a complete circle but found no one. Chills rippled across my skin like electric current. I sank to my knees. God sounded calm. Still I gasped, because Mama said He didn’t lie. A perfect summer day had become a muted fuzzy dream.

The morning had started with warm rays through my bedroom window and the fresh earth smell that follows a summer rain. I bounded down the stairs like a cat that smells tuna in the air, but I stopped short on the landing.

Our only happy-family picture hung on the wall, slightly askew. I tilted my head. There, in black and white, we huddled on our sailboat with the mainsail for a backdrop. The wind had played with our hair, and we were all smiles. Grace, or Mama as we called her, held my little brother Tuck on her hip. My older brother Wyeth posed behind me. He made bunny-ears at the back of my head, which he later claimed was just a peace sign. Being the only girl, I remained an easy target. Our father, Hank, looked rather handsome but towered over us with a firm grip on the tiller. Somehow, his smile didn’t belong to his face.

My chest tightened. I turned away.

The sound of running water in the kitchen sink spread uneasiness through my body. I always calmed myself down before entering the kitchen, because it was Father’s Command Central in the mornings. He had a set routine—making his coffee just so, arranging his spoon, sugar bowl, and Cleveland Indians mug in a line on the counter. He’d lay The Plain Dealer on the table with a freshly sharpened pencil for the crossword puzzle. I swore acid rain came out his pores if that pencil went missing. Mornings were not a time to be boisterous. Noise or commotion made him grouchy. I had learned that the hard way one time, when Wyeth gave my knee a horse-bite at breakfast. The tablecloth concealed the fact that he started it. Father shouted at me for kicking and shrieking, while my brother got off scot-free, the weasel. But none of that mattered now. Two weeks ago, Father had left us.Continue reading

Bird, Horse, and Muffin

Bird, Horse, and Muffin

Dear Friends,

After seven years, my second book—Bird, Horse, and Muffin—will be released in a matter of weeks. This time I wrote a novel. Here’s a short synopsis:


BHMcoverfinalTen-year-old Iris Somerset encounters a living God when her mother dies unexpectedly. She and her two brothers face a troubling future with an unstable father. His secret abuse of alcohol rips and tears at the sense of family Iris longs to keep. Yet God is there—speaking and moving.

Her budding faith carries her through frightful uncertainty, until her belief in God’s goodness is shattered by her father’s reckless choice one fine summer day.

As her world unravels, Iris and her older brother travel to post-Amin Uganda with their uncle, who runs a home for street kids. In a land of utter despondency, Iris’ heart begins to mend as she confronts her worst fears and experiences the wonder of God through the eyes of war orphans.


Believe it or not, I was one of those people who said, “I’ll never write a book.” That was before I wrote my spiritual memoir—Closer Than Your Skin.

Then, after eating those words, I said, “Well, I’ll never write fiction.” You’d think I’d know better. All I can say is that God surprises me every time I set limits. He continually stretches me far beyond my comfort level to speak and travel and write in ways I never imagined.

And this novel is a good example. It all started with my friend Kathleen.

I met Kathleen in 1997 when she joined my women’s group. One of those Wednesdays, she described her earliest experience with God: It was an ordinary day in a school parking lot. She was alone, waiting for her friend. Suddenly, out of nowhere, God spoke to her. He told her something she would not have humanly known—and it proved to be true. She was ten years old…and this remarkable encounter essentially inspired the beginning of my novel.

Secondly, music artist Don Potter performed a spontaneous song in Holland years ago. Fortunately, the event was recorded. When I heard the song and pondered its meaning, a story started to unfold in my mind. Here are the lyrics…

How graceful is your grace?

How much lovingkindness is forever?

How much mercy is there, when it comes new every morning?

How much love is there, when blood is the only cure?

How much fire of desire must be in my Lord.

How much anger is the wrath on injustice?

How much fear will come on the wicked man?

How much shouting will be done,

When a white horse comes through the clouds in splendor?

How much love does it take to save a man?

It takes it all, it takes it all, it takes it all.

Every bit, it takes it all.

Nothing held back, nothing kept in reserve, nothing kept for another day.

Nothing spent on something else that we don’t know about,

It’s all been spent and it was spent in a day.

It’s all been done, it’s all been said, it’s all been spent

And it was finished…yes, it was finished…in a day.[i]


For the last twenty-five years, I’ve collected many true accounts like Kathleen’s experience including some of my own. In Bird, Horse, and Muffin, I’ve woven true God stories into a fictional storyline with fictional characters so readers can see the variety of ways God is moving, speaking, guiding, encouraging, warning, and loving ordinary people like you and me.

I fervently believe that God seeks out points of contact with us. When it happens, we often think, that’s amazing! And yet, it’s not so farfetched when you remember this same God chose to enter the human race.

Still, everywhere I go, I meet people who are faithfully living the Christian life but say they have no real experience of God. Like me, they may feel touched at a candlelit Christmas Eve service. They may find countless biblical truths relevant to their lives. Still they shrug when it comes to any authentic experience with God. They’re leery of being called crackpots, yet they long for something real, beyond mere religious activity and rhetoric.

It is my hope that Iris’ story will inspire you to look for God’s fingerprints in your own world of divine happenstance—that you will take time to consider a dream, notice a seeming coincidence, look up that Scripture, ponder some song lyrics, and develop your understanding of symbolic, metaphorical language—believing that God wants to speak to you personally.

Next Sunday I will post Chapter One on my website so you can get a taste of the story.

In the meantime, I am gearing up to launch the book in the next month and wonder if any of you would like to be what some authors call their “Street Team”? Would you and some of your friends be interested in receiving a free copy of Bird, Horse, and Muffin? Write me at

More details to follow!


[i] “How Much Love” is a spontaneous song inspired by the Lord, done in Holland by Don Potter Used by permission. All rights reserved.