36 Hope Expands:

36hopeexpands(36 Hope Expands. A series of 36 ways to expand compassion in our daily lives.)

I saw a project on Pinterest. Thanksgivings have passed, and I never followed through. (I’m awesome at pinning- very not awesome at completing something that looks/tastes normal.) Ever seen this website Pinterest Fail– where good intentions come to die, also Epic Pinterest Fails? This is me, every day.

Yesterday we finally made our thanksgiving tree for the month of November. Every night at dinner each one of us will add one more leaf for something we are thankful for.

I want to live in gratitude.


No, this is not pin-able. It is our little tree.

I know being thankful has a way of re-shaping our hearts.

What seemed impossible softens. What once went unnoticed becomes meaningful. Mostly, the grace of God becomes a consolation that draws you to your knees.


My first leaf was this: Ellie’s art work.

When the kids were little, my writing desk was in the living room. Now that they are growing up, I moved it to our little extra room upstairs. It’s snuggled up next to our guest bed, and that is about all that fits, the bed and the desk. I was so excited for my own space, but something happens every time I enter. Another presence is there watching me edit over my shoulder, laying her magazine pages over the bed, dropping markers, rifling through the desk. The minute I started creating the thanksgiving tree, someone was next to me cutting like a mad woman. Sometimes I come upstairs and find things like this paper clipped to my folders.


My ingratitude for not having a quiet space softens. I know this is more important. I know that God’s grace has been so good to me… that we have layers and layers of purpose.

What would your first leaf say? 

Students Speak Thanksgiving

Students Speak Thanksgiving! 


Thankful for “mommy, me, and daddy”

IMG_3225Evan 10, Dannan 7, and Kellen 4 with their thankful lists!

thanksAmelia (our friend Diane from Australia’s daughter!) is thankful for everything in the whole wide world!

Bella likes her new wheelsAndrew and Barbara Budek-Schmeisser provide sanctuary for rescued dogs. “One of these is Bella, whom we found drowning in a ditch, her back broken. Now she has a safe place, lots of pals, and a wheelchair. I’m sure she’s thankful, but I am perhaps more thankful for her, because she came and showed life and spirit at a time when my heart was heavy, and my hope dimming. For her – and for all the others – we are truly thankful.”


A great list from M- age 5!

IMG_20131124_172259Another great list from E- age 7.  M and E’s  Mom is a kindred spirit in teaching families to serve!

Thanks so much for these special reminders of what is important! What are you thankful for?

Fading Summer, Open Space and a Thankful Heart

Disney 2013 312

Another summer has faded behind us leaving piles of sand, grass clippings, half emptied suitcases and piles of memories.

This week we reset ourselves for a new school year. {Which means earlier bedtime… if you hear crying kids all the way from Michigan, they are mine.}

I am so thankful for another beautiful summer and especially for the time we spent with family and friends.


The end of summer is a nostalgic time for me. I love long summer days and extended time with family that we do not see often enough.

I miss the laughter.

I miss my nieces and nephews, and my siblings.

I miss the happy play times with long known friends.


The changing of seasons makes each period of time sweeter in some ways too. The shifting rhythms help me appreciate special moments even more.

This summer we spent a week with our Iowa family in Minnesota. We ate a lot, drank even more pop, circled the campfire and soaked up the kids. It’s an annual event, planned by Dad and Mom Van Engen. The summer week we spend together always moves past too quickly

minnWe also traveled to Disney World with my family. It was a ten years in the making trip by my Dad and Mom.  Who worked really hard to get our whole family there. It was a gift full of smiles, special moments and lots of laughter.

dis collageI am so very thankful for the gift of these special times.

Like all of us, I look ahead to the coming season. I think we can all trust that space will be made for more heart-expanding moments and new opportunities to place ourselves in the proximity of renewal. God is faithful that way.

I can’t wait to experience it all with you. I’m very thankful for each and every one of you. God did more than I could have imagined on this little blog last year, I can’t wait to discover where we will go next.

1150286_10153147751980088_391102945_nI want to hear from you! How do you approach changing seasons?

Bread and Wine


Bread and Wine a Love Letter to Life around the Table with Recipes.  By: Shauna Niequist

I wanted to give this book away, but honestly was intimidated to read it.


I would not describe myself as a foodie, maybe a burn the food person. I do like food though, does that count? In the locker room at the Aquatic Center I saw a brown loofah and thought it was a bag of tortilla chips last week. Sometimes I slap down fish sticks a’la Betty Draper of Mad Men for dinner, I really do. What I’m saying is I loved this book, even though I am not a foodie purist.

In this book each chapter is an essay ending with a recipe. Shauna invites us to her own table of her childhood and her present, a table shared by family and friends. Reading the book feels like being offered a warm invitation into the home of a life-long friend. As a writer her words speak wisdom and humor. She possesses the gift of hospitality and offers it up freely to her readers.


She shares transparently her own struggle with infertility and how around the table friends uphold one another.

But it isn’t about perfection, and it isn’t about performance. You’ll miss the richest moments in life- the sacred moments when we feel God’s grace and presence through the actual faces and hands of the people we love- if you’re too scared or too ashamed to open the door.

doorEven deeper, she writes about the Eucharist, the bread and wine and God’s invitation to all of us.

Every time we eat and drink should be a reminder that:
he's here

I shut this book and am changed.

To: appreciate each meal as a gift from God’s hand.

To: be encouraged to open my door and feed those I love.

To: archive memories of gathering together when the days are hard.

To: slow down.


leave a comment and be entered to win this book in hard cover. 

what is your favorite meal to fix when you have company? 

This Grateful Heart

Dear God:

I need you to know my heart is grateful. 

Even though I show you this with smallness sometimes. 

I know deep in my heart where I would be without you. 

You pick me back up everyday. My heart is grateful. 

That Love changes everything. Absolutely everything. 


“Right now Jesus is watching us, His disciples, to see if we are fit for bigger responsibilities.”  ~Keith Green


Thank- Full 

Full of awareness

Full of gratitude


If we are able to offer back thanksgiving to God despite what we live, he notices. 

He sees our expressions of thanksgiving. 

He will offer greater joy and responsibility.  


{This week Tuesday- Friday Students Speak Thanksgiving! I am so blessed by their hearts and voices.

They inspire. Thank you so much to all who participated.}

The Relief of Crying

When I was in college, I sometime didn’t have large chunks of time to journal. I liked to write my prayers so when the days did not allow it, I would make sure to at least write down five things I was thankful for. Reading back through those entries are so much fun. Here are some funny memories:

Thank you for~

  • giving me that English 305 title, The Shaping Nature of Constructed Roles, I have no idea, but I got an A.
  • the funny youth retreat, were kids drew marker goatees and created a mosh pit for Jesus music.
  • protecting my finger while I was cutting up those thousand oriental vegetables for stir fry. I’m thankful I only needed a band aid and not the first aid kit. (I was an oriental vegetable cutter in college at a café.)
  • that the lady I am supposed to be counseling in the generalist practice book’s name is Mrs. Wonderbread?!


My eyes read over one thanksgiving that caused me to pause:

Thank you for the relief of crying.

Have you ever had that moment, where well-contained tears finally find escape?

Afterwards, the relief feels palpable. Your heart feels like it was cleansed and you breath sighs deeply.


Jesus went to wash the feet of the disciples, serve them in the most humble of ways. Peter told him never would he allow him to do this for him.

Jesus replied, “You don’t realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

In those moments of not understanding, we can trust that somehow God knows.

He longs to hold us close and he gave us others to hold us close.


You don’t always have to be strong.


Thank you God,

for the relief of crying.