Discovering the Best Tools


Photo by Pam Ecrement

If you walk into my home and start checking the drawers, you will discover some that are neat and orderly while others are definitely not! A careful observation will give you clues as to what tools I find most helpful whether in the kitchen, den, or workshop. There are lots of gadgets and devices out there to help you accomplish almost any task you want to do, but some of them are more hype and trendy than helpful. (Those are the ones I need to pitch out of those cluttered drawers.) And as my husband would say, “You need the right tool for the job.”

One of my goals is to improve my photography. I want to discover something new each time I look through my lens even if I am focusing on something I have seen many times before. To that end, I took a photography workshop with a gifted professional photographer not long ago.

I learned a great deal and left the workshop encouraged and inspired. I wanted to immediately try a few things I learned and some of my efforts are the photos with this post that I took on a walk at a park a few days after the workshop.

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Of all the many things I learned at the workshop, one of the things that lingers was a list of four tools that will enhance your photography skills: silence, listening, observation, and patience.

I am aware I have much to learn to reach my goals in photography and these tools will help, but what struck me as I reflected on them this week is how powerful these tools are in every area. I realized that I used every one of them when I was a teacher and also when I worked as a clinical counselor. But more importantly, they offer the very best skill set for any of us in our relationships.

How much of a difference would it make if you utilized those with your friends when you were meeting for coffee or your spouse or your children?

How could they impact your relationship with the Word and deepen your sense of connection with the Lord?

I know from experience that I can only listen well when I silence the internal conversation running on the conveyor belt in my head that never seems to stop. Only then can I truly listen with my whole being to what someone might be saying, to what the Lord might want to say, and to what the Word is trying to say to me.

What do I observe? What do I notice about the setting, the tense of the words used, the tone and texture of the words used? That helps me engage my curiosity and when I am reading in the Word, it brings the story into three dimensions. How much are we missing by simply reading for information, not putting ourselves in the story?

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I was reminded of that as I watched the funeral of Billy Graham and heard Anne Graham Lotz talk about how her mother taught her to read scripture by always putting her name in it. Then she added how in reading scripture with her dad, he included questions and thinking and dialogue. How much richer the truths of the Word became as a result of these two ways she learned from her parents, rather than simply reading it as we most often do. I think the truth found in scripture must have been woven into the fabric of Anne’s life as well as her siblings as a result of these ways of interacting with the Word.

I think recognizing the Hebrew word for truth is emeth, which is fundamentally defined as relationship, could help us. Judith Kunst describes it as “knowing truth the way you know a person. And not just static knowing, in the sense of acquaintance or identification, but the back-and-forth, unpredictable, sometimes terrifying knowing that comes part and parcel with our deepest commitments.”

If our deepest commitment is with the Lord, investing ourselves in the interaction with Him is central.

At Billy Graham’s funeral we all heard that John 14:6 was inscribed on his tombstone. John 14:6 (ESV) reads:

“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Many of us nod in affirmation and agreement with that verse. Sometimes the focus lands on the second sentence, but if we use the tools of silence, listening, observation, and patience what would we come to understand about the first things Jesus says?

What if we put ourselves in the story we are reading from Genesis to Revelation and observe? What would it really be like to walk up Mount Moriah with Abraham, to be the woman at the well, or to stand at the foot of the cross when Jesus was hanging there? What would the weather be like? What would the path feel like beneath our sandal-shod feet? What aromas would we smell?

To discover that level of relationship and truth requires silence, listening, observation, and patience.


The Sacrifice of a Father


This weekend we pause to pay tribute to our fathers. We remember them through the lens of our childhood and all the years after that. The lens may color those memories in all shades and colors because none of our dads were perfect. They were first of all men, born with a blend of each of their parents, seasoned with the family life they experienced, and mixed with their own skills, gifts, personalities, and interests.

Depending on how those things were stirred and combined throughout their lifetime, they became the dad we knew. We may have idealized them or berated them for the ways they disappointed us, wounded us, or abandoned us. We may never have even known them except through the stories and eyes of someone else.

Nevertheless, they became one who influenced our own selves and who we are today, whether good, bad, or somewhere in between.

My own father was born as the youngest of six children, one of only two boys. His older brother could have been his father since he was nineteen years older than he. In many ways, he became a model for my dad because his dad, my grandfather, died when my dad was only five years old. He was so young that he didn’t have any real memories of his dad.


He grew up on the farm where the family lived with a keen awareness of how hard his older brother, four older sisters, and mother had to work. He grew up with those values and that kind of work ethic. He also grew up with a considerable appetite for learning and education as well as a commitment to the Lord.

At age thirteen, something happened that changed the direction of his life forever. His older brother fell from the barn roof one day and was killed. With this tragedy came two very difficult things. My dad was needed at home to step into the role of his older brother to handle the farm and he would need to leave school and his love of formal education behind.

Since the farm he grew up on (as did I) was adjacent to farms of his uncles, they stepped in to help mentor him in the things he needed to learn for the survival of the farm and his family. His sharp mind and courageous heart soon became a hallmark of his character. Not only did his own family and extended family respect him, everyone in the community did as well.


His social life centered around his church and “the Grange”. I have more than a few memories of the stories he told about them and how he met my mother and postponed marriage until he could stop using his beloved team of horses to help him farm and purchase a tractor.

Even though loss had marked his life early, he never showed anger or embitterment. His gentle voice and quiet ways gave glimpses of the heart shaped by the Lord’s love for him who became the only father he would ever really know.

That heavenly Father would stand with him through the death of his first child a day after his birth. He would be there when his second son was born with several handicaps and disabilities. He would walk with him through job loss and the shame that clung to him as a result of never being able to finish high school.

Yet all these things he suffered forged his character and values that went deep into the soil worked up and fertilized by the Word he read daily. They created the unwavering commitment for me to be educated and go to college even when there was no evidence of the financial provision to do so.


His life was marked by his focus on his faith. His legacy is remembered as one of great integrity and considerable faith.

He was not a perfect man, but the One whom he trusted early in life paved the way for this fatherless boy. This One understood more than any of us can comprehend the meaning of the word “sacrifice”.

This Father’s Day I will remember his humor, the stories of an era long gone, the beauty of his singing voice as I stood beside him in church, and how he loved my mother. I will also remember the shape and feel of his hand when I held it and sought to memorize it as he lay dying almost thirty years ago.


It has been said that a true hero cannot be measured by the size of his strength, but by the strength of his heart.

The strength of my father’s heart grew throughout his lifetime as the Lord he loved continued to put more and more of Himself into him. That will also always remind me of the sacrifice of the Father who is perfect and walks with and strengthens my own heart each day by sacrificing his own son, Jesus, for my sake.

“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son.” John 3:16 (MSG)


Mom & Dad

A Snare We Easily Accept


They were enjoying their favorite lattes when her friend asked if she were going to the party next weekend. Unaware that a mutual friend had not invited both of them, a cool breeze quickly blew over the cordiality of their conversation leaving an awkward silence fall between them.

Those painful moments when we are not chosen or feel left out are impossible to avoid in this life. Even when there is no intent for harm, wounds come. It is often even harder to know how to respond when it happens by accident and you discover a relationship is not what you thought it had been.

No matter what we may say in the moment, our heart shrinks back a bit not unlike a turtle pulling back into its shell for protection when sensing danger. In that one moment in time, things change and shift, crumbling within us. An explanation may come, but it cannot cancel the moment.

Our mind can be fertile ground for all sorts of imaginings about the person who has wounded us as well as us.

We easily go off on rabbit trails reviewing the relationship, but with the filter of the wound coloring every memory and turning even the sweetest ones sour.

Whatever trust we have had shrinks a bit, but too often it doesn’t happen with just the one person who wounded us. We trust ourselves less as well and wander off the path wondering what we missed and why we missed it.

We tend to be more cautious in all our relationships, more tentative about what we say or share, hesitant about reaching out.


Little by little our world gets smaller and we can be tempted to begin to close ourselves off from others except in the most superficial ways. At its worst, we can distance ourselves from the Lord as well at the time we most needed to run to Him.

A deadly war is going on and like any warrior in such a time, the smoke and din of battle result in our inability to see or hear, to know the direction we are to take or even how we can summon the strength to move.

In the last part of the incredible trilogy of The Lord of the Rings in the Return of the Kings, the movie version gives us a poignant picture that depicts our situation.

Frodo and Sam are near the end of their journey to Mt. Doom to destroy the ring of power that has blanketed the world in darkness. Both lay exhausted on the slopes of the mountain scarred and worn by their travels to this point.

Sam, the ever-faithful friend, seeks to encourage Frodo and to pull his mind and sight from the relentless and frightening image of the ring of fire and “the eye”.   He asks Frodo, “Do you remember the shire?”

I love this scene!

Sam is reminding Frodo of his history, his moorings, and the reality that he can no longer see.

That is why we so desperately need not to walk alone, especially when we walk in darkness and exhaustion. We need a friend that sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24) to remind us of what we have forgotten, to help us to see more clearly.

We must not fall prey to the snare that would tempt us to walk alone where we can be more easily seduced to the power of darkness.

In Ecclesiastes 4:9-11, we are admonished again about the dangers of traveling alone.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up.” ESV

We are admonished because the Lord knows well our weaknesses and has designed us for fellowship, to be with one another and for one another. We see it when Jesus sends His disciples out two-by-two. He knew the risks and dangers, the warfare they would face.

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So in these scenes on the slopes of Mt. Doom, Sam senses his dearest friend has lost sight of everything precious and good, right and true. He begins to tell Frodo about the shire and he asks if he remembers the taste of strawberries.

With what little strength he has left, Frodo tells Sam that he can’t recall the taste of food, the sound of water, or the feel of grass. He says he sees nothing but darkness, the ring of fire, and “the eye” whether his eyes are open or closed.

Sam, who is also exhausted, looks at Frodo with tears in his eyes and says, “Let’s be rid of it. I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you.” Sam picks up Frodo and step-by-step carries him up the mountain.

“And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken”. Ec. 4:12


The Key to Trust

Photo by Pam Ecrement

Trusting can be so difficult for us.

Our life experiences oppose trust.

The reasons are many. They echo off the walls of pastors and counselors’ offices. They fill the pages of books and journals, and they are the subject of conversations over coffee between close friends.

Inside of us there are mixed messages about whether we should trust. The messages come from training and teaching about so many people or things we should not risk trusting. They also come from disappointments and betrayals that cause us to question whether anyone or anything is trustworthy.

It is very difficult to feel safe when we cannot trust.

At present, we live in a world where we feel increasingly unsafe. Terror lurks around the corner haunting our steps. Deceit and untruthfulness are common coins of the realm. Failed promises and guarantees leave us filled with doubt.

One of perhaps the hardest things is how often those we have deemed trustworthy turn out to not be. It happens with spouses, parents, bosses, companies, organizations, governmental officials, and even pastors.

As these things, these experiences, stack up, our mistrust grows as does our doubt and uncertainty. Gradually we find it difficult to trust even those we want to trust or those we need to trust.

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Photo by Pam Ecrement

Even defining what trust is becomes foggy and blurred. 

Trust is defined as the firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.

As I was reading in Romans 10, I saw Paul shares some significant truth about what gets in the way of trust.

“But how can people call for help if they don’t know who to trust? And how can they know who to trust if they haven’t heard of the One who can be trusted?”

Romans 10:14 (MSG)

Clearly in the context of this verse, Paul is talking about the importance of hearing the gospel and the value of being sent to preach it. Otherwise, the conflicting messages disguised as truth could result in distrust.

The key to the issue of trust begins with listening and more specifically, what we are listening to.

You see, the root word for listen and obey come from the same root word. In Latin, obey would not exist without listen.

Our heart and our thoughts tend to follow what we hear or what we are listening to. Most of us would recognize we hear a lot of “junk food” for the mind, heart, and spirit. Over time, it becomes background noise, “elevator music”, but it seeps into us and can slowly erode the truth that should be guiding us.

How can we learn to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ if what we are listening to is cluttered with static from ingesting things that are like “junk food”?

We can often say that we aren’t really listening and that might be true if we were given a quiz on the content of what we hear. The problem comes from the reality that what we hear is going through that sensory organ into our brain. Our brains can process something threatening in less than a second. Even if we cannot recollect the words or the lyrics or the music exactly, it’s all in there and potentially impacting us.

Is it any wonder that we find trust increasingly difficult?

If I am going to learn perceptive trust that helps me wisely discern what I am listening to, I need to choose a nourishing diet of truth daily that can sustain me when doubt assails me, when my world falls apart, and when I don’t know which way to turn.

It means I need to silence the voices within that have picked up lies and distortions that can play unendingly without action on our part.

We all have a tendency of replaying old tapes and these very tapes can keep us mired down and isolated from healthy relationships with others and also with God.

Listening to truth will then be what influences what I believe and act upon. It will lead me to trust wisely.

“A Lord who speaks truth to me is good and right; a Lord who listens to me is grace and mystery and glory.”

Adam McHugh

That is the key to building or rebuilding trust…listening to the One who is Truth.

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Photo of Butterfly on Coneflower by Pam Ecrement

The Secret Book of Flora Lea

Uncertainty about the possible bombing attacks over England in 1939 led the British government to a difficult decision as WW II escalated in an effort to protect the children of their country. It would mean relocating children from places where bombing attacks were likely to low-risk places in the countryside. It would be called Operation Pied Piper that we get glimpses of in the C.S. Lewis’s epic Narnia story, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

What not everyone knows is that after this declaration was made in September 1939, more than three million children were evacuated in just four days and that number swelled to more than three and a half million before the operation concluded. Some were sent into the English countryside while others were sent to South Africa, Australia, the United States and Canada.

Can we even begin to imagine the emotional impact on the parents who made this decision or on their children? The C.S. Lewis story shows us how a fantasy story helps Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy handle that challenge, but what about the real children standing with luggage name tags and gas masks around their necks? Untold stories of these children give us various answers to that question.

Patti Callahan Henry’s newly released novel, The Secret Story of Flora Lea, takes us on an adventure of two sisters, Hazel, and Flora Lea, who were among those who left London and lived in the small hamlet of Binsey outside of Oxford with a mother (Bridie) and son (Harry). The story transports you into all the emotions such a move meant for each character involved and how a fantasy story Hazel created helped them cope with the uncertainty of that time. Over and over again the sisters visit the magical place of Whisperwood that Hazel creates and brings comfort to Flora Lea.

Hazel would begin each adventure in Whisperwood this way: “Not very long ago and not very far away, there once was and still is an invisible place right here with us. And if you are born knowing, you will find your way through the woodlands to the shimmering doors that lead to the land made just and exactly for you.”

The tales of Whisperwood would accompany Hazel and Flora Lea as they explored the meadows and woodlands around Binsey and was a secret the girls shared. Their new home seemed to be a magical place as well with the artistry of Bridie and Harry and kept the horrors of the war and bombings from haunting them despite glimpses of those things when their mother was able to come visit them.

This favorite author of mine does not disappoint in her newest book as she develops the relationships of the main characters in the midst of the sisters’ magical tale of Whisperwood that sometimes blurred the real with the fantasy. Page by page the story weaves a tale beyond the story the girls make up. Twists and turns deepen into a mystery when Flora Lea disappears from a blanket near a river without a trace leaving Hazel in guilt-ridden grief for failing to protect her younger sister.

Not until the very end of the book will Flora Lea’s mysterious heart-breaking disappearance and the story of the other characters be fully revealed. The author keeps you in suspense in ways few authors can do and in the end in the author’s notes, it becomes clear that Patti Callahan Henry succeeds in the goal she sets as she tells the wondrous story.

In The Secret Book of Flora Lea, I wanted to tell a tale in a mystical landscape that echoed with the enchantment of storytelling, a story of sisterly bonds, and first naive love, of innocence lost and maintaining hope against all odds. I wanted the girls to live in a magical land of both their imagination and of nature…”

However you are spending your summer, this book would be a great companion to enjoy. Your heart will connect with Hazel as she looks for her sister and agonizes over her loss.