Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters Most in the End
Atul GawandeWhile I admit that I was drawn to this book because of the work I do, this is a book for everyone to read. In easily readable and understandable language, Gawande helps us to see that we will all die and the way we deal with aging in our country needs to be changed. He shares stories of people who felt like they had lost all control as they aged and the frustrations family members faced as they tried to be caregivers and keep their loved ones safe. In these pages you’ll see the author change his own understanding of how those in the medical field help us throughout our life. I hope this book will give you the courage to have difficult conversations with your loved ones. What are your hopes and fears for the end of your life? What does your best day look like and how can we help give you one more best day?

In my work, I see first hand the challenges of caring for family members who are ill. Many people prefer to remain at home and do not understand the challenges of caregiving. Others live in facilities with all the challenges associated with not being in one’s own home. I loved reading about the reformers who offer alternatives to these two options including the first assisted living home and Chase Memorial Nursing Home with two dogs, four cats, and 100 birds. Although Gawande shares different options being tried across the country, he does not sugar coat the difficulties that these places face as they try to care for people as they age.

I loved this book because I love what I get to do for living. I dream of a day where people aren’t afraid of the word hospice because everyone has already had conversations about end of life wishes and goals with their family members. While I know this type of conversation is not easy for most people, I encourage you to read this book and talk with your loved ones about what you want, what is important for you in your life and also in your death. I hope that reading this book and meeting the people on these pages will give us all the courage to speak honestly about our limits, our hopes, and our deaths.

Book Review-Let’s Take the Long Way Home

Let’s Take the Long Way Home
Gail Caldwell

This is the book I wish I had written after my friend died, and I’m sharing this book review on what would have been her 45th birthday. It is a chronicle of grief and friendship. It is beautiful and heartbreaking. You’ll be privileged to learn how these two met, how they spent their days together, Caroline’s diagnosis, illness, and death, and how Gail copes with the death of her best friend.

Every time I read this book, I cry. I know what is going to happen. On the very first page, we read, “It’s an old, old story: I had a friend and we shared everything , and then she died and so we shared that too.” I hope you’ll read this book. I hope you’ll read this book with a friend or a book group. I hope reading this book will inspire you to reach out to those you love and tell them how much they mean to you. I hope this book will remind you that death is part of life and even though it is hard, we do not need to fear death. I hope you’ll read this book and encourage other people to read it too.

“The belief that life was hard and often its worst battles were fought in private; it was possible to walk through fear and come out scorched but still breathing” (78).

“It’s taken years for me to understand that dying doesn’t end the story; it transforms it” (123).

“The only education in grief that any of us get is a crash course. Until Caroline died I had belonged to that other world, the place of innocence and linear expectations, where I thought grief was a simple, wrenchingly realm of sadness and longing that gradually recede. What that definition left out was the body blow that loss inflicts, as well as the temporary madness, and a range of less straightforward emotions shocking in their intensity” (150).

“I found myself doubting or dismissing the intensity of our friendship, as though I could discard the love and therefore skip the pain. This worked for about twenty minutes, or until I would say to someone we both knew, ‘Oh well, maybe we weren’t that close,’ and the listener would burst out laughing. I started trying to remember all the things I didn’t like about her. There weren’t very many” (153).

“I know now that we never get over great losses; we absorb them, and they carve us into different, often kinder creatures” (182).

These last two quotes remind me of my dear friend, Kristi, who died when she was only 39 and who would have turned 45 today. No longer do I attempt to dismiss or diminish the intensity of our connection, there is no point. And even though she has been dead for 5 1/2 years, I am not over her death. As long as I live, I will be holding on to the memories we made and working to make the world a kinder, more fun, and more eco-friendly place.

My Book of Mean People Journal

My Book of Mean People Journal
Toni and Slade Morrison
Pictures by Pascal Lemaitre
This book was a gift many years ago from a dear friend. She knew I was going through a rough patch and bought this book to cheer me up. It is a place to share your feelings using words and pictures when you are struggling with mean people. I will admit that I have not yet written in the book. I pull it out regularly and imagine what I would write and draw when people are mean.
This journal gives you space to write about actions of mean people, times you are mean, what you would say to mean people, and what you wish mean people would stop doing.
This is a perfect gift for anyone who is having a tough time and needs a safe place to share their feelings. I like it much better than the book by the same name because the journal acknowledges that we can be mean too!

Book Review-Water Bugs and Dragonflies

Water Bugs and Dragonflies
Explaining Death to Young Children 
Doris Stickney

Explaining and understanding death is complex and difficult for adults. How can we help children when someone they love dies? Although there is not one easy answer, I highly recommend this book. In this short storybook, water bugs are changed into dragonflies. The water bugs do not know where their loved ones have gone. The dragonflies cannot go back to explain all is well to the water bugs. It is a simple and beautiful way of explaining that our loved ones are fine and one day we’ll be changed too. The story ends with a prayer for the one who has died that can be prayed together with a child. And at the end of the book, you’ll find helpful words for parents as they’ll most likely be grieving too while trying to explain death to their children.

I recommend every house of worship keep some of these inexpensive books on hand to share with families when needed. This book works for all ages. It is good for adults to read when you need a reminder that we will change from water bugs to dragonflies one day. It could make a great prayer station or discussion starter for youth. And what child won’t want to snuggle in your lap to hear this story?

Paddington Movie Reflection

I have fond memories of spending part of every summer with my grandparents. When we would stay with G and P, my sister and I would sleep in the bedroom with the red carpet on the bed that was my Dad’s. I loved this bed because the headboard was a bookshelf. And on that bookshelf was a set of Paddington Bear books. Grandma used to read to us every night. When I got bigger, I got to be the reader. I’m not sure how many times we made it through those books or if we ever finished one before it was time to go home. I remember the note around his neck, “Please look after this bear” and how Paddington would get into trouble accidentally of course.
When the Paddington movie came out a few years ago, I wanted to see it in the theaters. Sadly, I did not see the movie until this week. In the comfort of my own living room I was transported to Darkest Peru where Paddington lived. I saw as he met the Brown Family. I watched him make mess after mess. And I smiled and laughed. It is silly and fun and reminded me of evenings spent reading books at 510. If you imagined what Paddington Bear would look like on the big screen, give this movie a try. You’ll be reminded that home and family do not look the same for everyone, and that’s okay.
The movie ends with this line by Paddington Bear, “Mrs. Brown says that in London everyone is different, and that means anyone can fit in. I think she must be right-because although I don’t look like anyone else, I really do feel at home. I’ll never be like other people, but that’s alright, because I’m a bear. A bear called Paddington.”

Book Review-Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home

Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home
Traci Smith
A wonderful book that should be in every home. In these pages you find ways to celebrate and live out your faith with whomever makes up your family. You’ll find a new spin on ancient traditions (Advent: Make and Use an Advent Wreath, 63) and new practices (Starting a New Journey: Moving, 86). This is a book you can read from cover to cover very quickly or you can use as a reference guide and pull out a practice when needed. 
Near the end of this book you’ll find the Special Event Guide. On these pages you’ll find everything you need to provide a 90 minute workshop for families in your church to introduce some of these practices to them. If you were giving this book as a gift to families in your church, this workshop would be a great way to show off how user friendly this book is!
I highly recommend this as a perfect gift for churches to give families as a baptismal gift or any other occasion when a gift is needed. This book should be on every pastor and church staff member’s shelf because it is full of great ways to encourage your church members to practice their faith, and it contains ways for those working in the church to practice our own faith. And although this book is written out of the Reformed Tradition, families who want to create meaningful rituals in their homes can use this book even if they do not have a church home or consider themselves religious.  
I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review-On Living by Kerry Egan

On Living Kerry Egan
If you’ve ever wondered what the work of a hospice chaplain looks like, read this book. In fact, I almost didn’t read this book because I feared it would feel too much like a day of work. While her stories resonated with me, I didn’t feel like I was working. I felt like I met someone who understands what I do and why I do it. I’m so glad I read this book.
In my time with hospice, I’ve heard stories from people in their 20s, and those who have passed the century mark and every age in between. I’ve met people who have never lived far from where they’ll die and people who arrived here shortly before their deaths. I’ve met people who have spent their whole lives worrying about money and people who have never worried about money. I’ve congratulated couples who have been married 40, 50, 60, even 70 years, and I’ve sat with people who saw the hospice team as their family because they had no one else. I tell you this because what is written in these pages is not unique. All hospice chaplains hear stories. As one of my favorite social workers says often, “We love to hear your stories.” And that is what I do, I listen to stories and help those entrusted to my care make meaning for themselves.
This wonderful book gives you an insiders view into life as a hospice chaplain. You’ll read about joy and heartbreak. You’ll see that it isn’t easy to be present as another’s life nears the end, and you’ll see that it is so worth it. I highly recommend this book to you!
It was difficult to pick only one quote to share with you because this book is filled with so many beautiful words. I’ll leave you with the words used to end the book.
“If life were like a novel, and I could tie things up nicely with a bow, I would claim it was Gloria [the patient we meet on page 1] who gave me my parting advice. But it wasn’t. It was a little old Jewish lady who gave me a blessing every time we met. She’d fled Poland with her parents and brother in the 1930s arrived in the United States ten years later alone. A woman whose story I haven’t told here, and will instead keep bundled in my heart with hundreds of other stories. I’ll leave you with it, as she left it with me: “Promise yourself,” she said that last time we met, “promise that you’ll have a great life, no matter what happens'” (206).

Celebrating Earth Day with Faithful Families by Traci Smith

In my work with children, youth, and families, I was always searching for great ideas and resources to share with others. One of the resources that I highly recommend is Traci’s Smith, Faithful Families. In this new book, you’ll find all the information you need to create a variety of spiritual practices for your family or for yourself. My review of the book will be shared soon, and in the meantime, I’d like to highlight one of the practices from the book.

Earth Day is coming up soon and Traci does a wonderful job of helping us combine celebrating Earth Day with God’s love of creation. (In fact, all of the practices are ways of acknowledging God’s presence and our connectedness to God and each other in our regular, daily lives).

Earth Day-Feeding the Birds begins with a brief reflection and introduction. “This practice is designed to help children honor creation every year on Earth day by reading the creation story and making a bird feeder” (56). This practice is recommended for ages 4 and up and can be completed with only pipe cleaners and O-shaped cereal. You can make this bird feeder in about 10 to 15 minutes. You’ll want to gather your family outside on Earth Day with a Bible and bird feeder making supplies. Read Genesis 1 together. Next you’ll talk about creation as a family. You can use the question provided like “What is your favorite part of creation?” (56) or use your own questions. To create the bird feeder you simply string the cereal on the pipe cleaner and bend it into the shape of a ring. Place your bird feeder on a tree and say a prayer together.

Each practice includes notes and variations to help you. The practices are written as a script so you can easily follow along or pass the book to older children or other family members to share the reading responsibility. The script includes options for everything you need to say including prayers, introductions, and questions. As you can see from the Earth Day practice, the intention of the practices in this book is to make it easy for your family to find ways to “create sacred moments at home.”

I hope you’ll spend some time out in creation on Earth Day creating sacred moments. And I hope you’ll add the book, Faithful Families,  to your family library and your church library. For more information about this book and many other resources, please visit



I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review of this book.

Book Review-There’s a Clergywoman in the Pulpit

There’s a Woman in the Pulpit

Christian Clergywoman Share Their Hard Days, Holy Moments & the Healing Power of Humor
edited by Rev. Martha Spong
An excellent collaborative work by clergywoman of all ages from the United States and a few other countries. The essays are divided into Calling, Sacraments, Death, Experiences, Being a Pastor And ______, and Life Outside the Church. In these pages you read real stories by pastors who are just like you and very different too. You’ll laugh and cry as see yourself in some of the stories and wonder how this happened as you read others.
I hope this book give non-clergy a little insight into the life of a clergy person. And I hope this book will inspire you to support the future clergy people in your life. It isn’t an easy calling, and it is our responsibility to support the next generation so they can lead us.
On a particularly hard day, I read Rev. Robin Craig’s, “Preaching Ahead of Yourself.” She said, “Preach ahead of yourself. Preach what you hope to know again one day. Preach the confidence for which you long. Preach the promises awaiting fulfillment. Preach the peace that seems utterly elusive. Preach the practices you follow, despite the bone-dry life on which they leave no imprint” (147).
I encourage you to read this book at your own pace, and then to pass this book along to someone you know who needs to read it too.

Book Review-When God Was a Little Girl

When God Was a Little Girl 
David R. Weiss
Illustrations by Joan Hernandez Lindeman

The story of creation is told from the imaginations of a father and daughter in this beautifully written and illustrated book. You’ll want to read this one again and again with a child you love or you might find yourself reading it by yourself. The starting point for this story is the creation stories of Genesis. From that foundation, the words and images jump off the page as the joy of creation comes to life. God’s creative Spirit shines through this book. You will know in your heart that creation is good and you are loved by the God of all creation when you finish reading this book.