Advent, Christmas, Family, Grief, Trauma recovery

Newsletter December, 2022


Holidays require a lot of time, preparation, and work. A focus on things that often don’t seem to matter especially when life is full of loss, sorrow, and pain. Whether you are in grief healing or trauma healing or both, our extended holiday season from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day can feel relentless. Accompanied by either a cacophony of increased social activity, gift expectations, feast preparations, religious services, family gatherings, scheduling complications, and hectic travel experiences or the agitated silence of isolation and anxiety. Either way, this time requires increased amounts of energy directed toward avoiding emotional triggers, traps, and anniversary issues. Output so often wasted because we cannot continue suppressing the emotional flooding or hijacking regardless of our hypervigilant efforts.

So, what if? What if instead of fastening our seat belts, praying to make it through, and dreaming of the time when this extended performance ends we did something different? What if we embraced these weeks as a time for having difficult yet necessary conversations with ourselves and our loved ones? The conversations which more often than not just simmer below the festive surface. Leaking out regardless. Creating outbreaks of varying levels during a time when we all are supposed to look like one big happy family and community.

What if this dreaded time was an opportunity to say what needs to be said? Speaking into our fears of this time of gathering and reliving what changed our lives without our permission. Emotions named and expressed minimizing the accrual of resentments and anger that we usually either numb with alcohol, food, or drugs or explode out into those gathered.

What if the holidays became more a time of shared reflections of what we’ve healed in the past year, the work we still want to do, and the compassion we are able to give ourselves and each other?

What if these holy and sacred shared revelations became as important as pumpkin pie, beautifully decorated holiday cookies, and holiday sweaters?

What if we looked forward to these yearly conversations, held over a period of six or so weeks? That somehow these conversations felt more needed and less obligatory than the annual fest of too much food and drink, concerts, parties, carols, and movies? Because we came to realize that being fulfilled by our relational transparency with ourselves and others led to deeper connections with the people we both love and need, including ourselves?

What if Emmanuel, God with us, included or even was these connections we made each year with one another? Making the real gift of this season of piled up holidays, each with their own set of implied expectations, an ongoing act of fostering and strengthening human relationships? What if?

Blessings on your holy connections this holiday season. ~Jennifer


“Just Hold On…When Grieving at the Holidays.”

“Dealing With Grief During the Holidays: 28 Ways to Cope.”

“Stress and Loss During the Holidays


Grief Life List

“I’m not getting a tree,” I announce in early December.

“What? We always have a tree,” Ricky counters voice climbing into combat. Cave into his insistence.

Drive south, to the edge of Iowa City. Snow storm brewing across grey streaked sky. Sons grumble as they pick out and cut down tree. Farmer saws end off making rough places plain. His sons tie tree to roof of our car. Drive back home. Snow whirling around us. Beautiful. Scary.

Decorate tree. After Epiphany, thought of taking tree down makes head swim. Sends me back to bed. Remember year before. Ricky, in pain from losing his dog, his dear friend to the ravages of suicide, and his mind to a medical mystery screamed at us for trying to take down the Christmas tree. All Tony and I could do was soothe our beloved son. Once again feeling helpless in the face of this unknown something eating him away. Promised again and again we would keep the tree up forever. While he sat on the sofa staring at shedding, browning branches and listening to the Charlie Brown Christmas CD until Spring. When there was now no doubt that the tree needed to leave.

This year, in a trance, put away ornaments. Strip off lights. Ask sons to haul tree outside to curb. Vacuum up mess. Sit on same sofa gazing at empty spot left by tree, by Tony.


A good read in which religious historian and author Karen Armstrong brings together the thinking and practice of many of the world’s religions on growing compassion for self and one another.


If your organization, church, podcast, conference, library, or literary festival is interested in inviting me to speak, preach, or lead a workshop, please click here: Invite Jennifer to Speak.


A Time to Mourn & A Time to Dance made the list of Best Christian Grief Books for 2022 at Choosing Therapy!

© December Newsletter, 2022: All rights reserved by the author.

Image by Monika from Pixabay.

Family, Food, Grief, Healing, Newsletter, Trauma recovery

NEWSLETTER November 2022


Eleven pounds. Eighty-six ounces. Fresh. Organic. Not too heavy for me to lift into my grocery cart. Remember the brussel sprouts. Forget the cranberries. Because I burned my orange, cardamom, cranberry sauce in the crock pot yesterday. Making sauce no one will eat. Because really what we all want are good lingonberries with our feast. The hard-to-find ones costing seven dollars a jar. But I like the smell of simmering cranberries. Warms up our home with thoughts of holidays’ past. Until berries remind me of their fragility and burn. No longer evoking memories. Just another failed cooking attempt.

Earlier, when leaving for the store, gazed at sparkling crystals covering drive. Made mental note to sand upon return and remind sons to scrape mid-afternoon. Ensuring safety for myself, my mother, the delivery people. Before late November sun sets to soon.

Now arriving home, the back seat full for our upcoming feast. Sand our drive, pock-marked by your overuse of salt. Wanting once, a lifetime ago, to make sure I did not slip on this descending slope. Throwing grit down now. Missing you. Not because I do your chore. But because I simply miss you. Today. Yesterday. Tomorrow. Miss you on this sunny Sunday day.

Hours later sit with strangers in writing workshop. Flowing tears shift them in their seats. Like so many others blindsided by our pain. Spectators more comfortable with emotions on the page than in living truth. Curious voyeurs hoping against hope to keep covered their own pain while not empathizing with a slice of ours.

Tears emanate from truth told through poem written here and shared. Today, this Sunday before Thanksgiving, I bought my first Thanksgiving turkey since you died. We, no longer qualifying as refugees, welcomed at others’ Thanksgiving tables. Released this third Thanksgiving to celebrate on our own. The stuffing mine to overcook. The cranberries mine to burn. The gravy mine to whisk into lumps. The pumpkin pie mine to forget the sugar. Like the time my sons will not forget.

In following days leading up to event make another phone call asking to have your name removed from some bill, piece of mail. Like I have so many times these past twenty-seven months. Never ending, this removing you from our day-to-day business of living. Realize as this holiday approaches though that I must (once again) slow down. Be good to myself. Take care. Cease all dissassociations and denials. Just be in what was, what is not now, and what can be despite it all. A paradoxical trifecta of sorts. The holy trinity of living after trauma and death.

Third Thanksgiving. First turkey. Wonder what we will be thankful for this year. The brutality of what happened to us compounded by sons’ illnesses, mysterious and hard to treat? No. Will we be thankful for knowing and loving you? Will we be thankful for what we have accomplished in healing grief, trauma, illness? Will we be thankful for mercies still to come? Will we feel hope this day, our first alone. The first we trust ourselves to be alone just sons, me and my mother. Who will bring Norwegian lefse made with gluten free flour, thick instead of thin. Making us all remember when wheat lefse smeared with real butter rolled up easily. You wanting to sweeten yours with brown sugar. Me telling you this way is incorrect in purist lefse culture. You carving the turkey. Looking at me with silent words of, “I really do not know how to do this…”

Me believing you will figure it out. Like now I believe we will continue to figure out life without you as I dish up food. Light candles. Gather us into the grace of this day.


If your organization, church, podcast, conference, library, or literary festival is interested in inviting me to speak, preach, or lead a workshop, please click here: Invite Jennifer to Speak.


A Time to Mourn & A Time to Dance made the list of Best Christian Grief Books for 2022 at Choosing Therapy!


I love metaphor. I embrace metaphors for God in my own theological imagination, my own thinking about and encountering God. Rabbi Toba Spitzer’s new book is a welcome addition to my wonderings about God. Here is a small bit of her wisdom:

“There are two elements found in every spiritual and religious tradition that resonate with the power of Voice: music, and the sound of silence. Each of these modalities offer opportunities for transformative spiritual experience.” (109)

God Is Here


Recognizing the Hidden Suffering of Addiction, Faith+Lead.

Devotional in Rise & Shine: 2022-2023 Devotion Book. ELCA School and Learning Centers. 

October 1: Tara Eastman and I talk on her podcast, Holy Shenanigans.

October 4: Book Club with St. Mark Lutheran Church in Davenport, Iowa

October 10: “Being a Spiritual Writer,” with author Lori Erickson at the Iowa City Book Festival. Our session is at 6:30 PM at the Coralville Library.

October 22: “Trauma-Informed Worship” with Faith+Lead. (10-12–Online Only)

November 1: “Spiritual Care for Trauma” with Faith+Lead. (10-11:30–Online only)

November 8: “Spiritual Care for Trauma” with Faith+Lead. 10-11:30–Online only)

November 15: “Spiritual Care for Trauma” with Faith+Lead. (10-11:30–Online only)

November 29: “Spiritual Care for Trauma” with Faith+Lead. (10-11:30–Online only)

December: Essay (print/online) in Sundays and Seasons: Guide to Worship Planning, Year A 2023 (Augsburg Fortress) 


There are a number of exciting possibilities incubating for 2023. Stay tuned!


Being an author, especially a spiritual author, means also being my own marketing director. And I admit I have all sorts of feelings about being tied to the social media self-promotion cycle. Yet there has always been a business side to writing. So here’s what publishers, book sellers, and writers know about getting books into readers hands, eyes, and hearts:

NEWSLETTERS: The more people on an author’s newsletter email list, the more the author sells their books. You can be on my newsletter list by simply following my blog. To do so, press the SUBSCRIBE button on the upper left side of this page.

REVIEWS: The more online reviews a book receives, the more a book sells. Please consider reviewing my book on Goodreads and at my Amazon author’s page. 

TIKTOK: If you post on TikTok, say something about my book AND use the hashtag #BookTok.

Thank you!

© October/November Newsletter, 2022: All rights reserved by the author.

Image by Couleur from Pixabay

#parenting, Family, Grief, Healing, Parenting, Trauma, Trauma recovery

Releasing Heart

Day after day friends and family post photos. Captured images of beloveds in various stages of growing. Openly signified by first day photos–first day of kindergarten, first day of high school, first day at college, first day of new job.

Smiling faces drift past me on our way to more immediate needs: Traversing an unknown community. Foraging for housing in an insane rental market. Assisting my beloved son in his move into life at a major university three states away.

Outside lens of our timing imprudent, illogical, poorly planned. Lagging behind typical preparation for such moves. Yet everything in our reality these past seven years holds an alternative beat. Our truth, and that of so many others like us, a fierce accuracy of life’s veritas catching our family’s soul in knotted twine.

This current shift for us, son from family home to college, includes messaging a hundred or so people about sublets or rooms. Negotiating congested roads full of large cars pulling rental trailers. Shopping emptied shelves for necessary, forgotten items,. Dispersing last minute warnings and advice, laughing, talking, sharing truths, and one or two small meltdowns.

Each task, each moment woven with threads of what it took for us to be here. Until we realize we’ve been wandering in this coveted dessert for nine days. Culminating on day ten with a longer than usual hug and the closure words needing voicing so the next can begin.

“Goodbye, I love you.”

Publicly proclaimed in a parking lot on the edge of campus. Large brown eyes staring down at me from above for a mutually held second. Before turning, hitching up his backpack, and walking away.

From me.

As my heart, joy, hope, sacrifice, and one of two reasons for doing healings’ work distances himself. Head held high. Facing another unknown, this time without me. Without his brother. Once again without his father.

Morning, misting eyes witnessing. Silent voice embracing courage–his, mine. Body ready to follow in an act of beholding.

Instead standing, still.

Watching as the one who grew the beginnings of this young man in my soul. Bore him one Winter’s night. Raised him with Tony, then alone. Now experiencing this supposed typical moment. Heart filling with sadness, balm, and gratitude. As I leave. Tears flowing. Knowing I am now closer to my own death than to his. Which is a gift in and of itself.

Image by Manuel Alvarez from Pixabay

Domestic Violence, Grief, Healing, Hope, Newsletter, Trauma recovery


Hypervigilance. Stuck on high alert. A symptom of unhealed traumatic experience. Leading to constant control of environment, self, and others. Seen in perpetrators of domestic violence, sexual violence, and organizations, governments, and families who follow intense sets of rules. What if those who are trapped by their internal demand for control healed instead?


The last days of June urge us into July. A month when after eleven years in our home we pack our belongings, load a large truck, and transport all that we have across town into a temporary living space. In 2011 we moved to this area full of hope. In July we don’t leave this house in despair. But we do acknowledge all that happened to us as a family, individuals, the country, and world while living in this place called home. We also leave not knowing the future. Because my call into ministry moves painfully slow. And because the world shifted while we lived here in this place. Some shifts make us more truthful. Some shifts tore our hearts open. Some shifts are still healing.

So, we leave. Not feeling metaphorical or poetic. More practical and realistic. Turning faces toward this thing called now and another thing named future. Praying for soft landing at the other end. Knowing life, in its mixture of joy, pain, and sorrow, still claims its essence as worth living.

Behind the scenes for Faith+Lead’s Book Hub event.


Article: “Where Faith and Trauma Recovery Meet,” at Bearings Online.

Article: “Heal Self, Love Others.” at Faith+Lead.

Television Appearance: “Childcare in Iowa,” on Ethical Perspectives in the News. Sponsored by the Inter-Religious Council of Linn County.

Taped Workshop: “Beyond Job’s Friends: Accompanying Those in Trauma’s Pits.” Faith+Lead Book Hub Event. Listen to the podcast here.

July 16: “Beyond Talking About Trauma.”  Wild Goose Festival in Union Grove, North Carolina.

July 30/31: Reading, Q&A, & Book Signing at St. John Lutheran Church in Rock Island, Illinois. Stay tuned for more details!

July 31: Preaching at St. John Lutheran Church in Rock Island, Illinois.

August 6-7: Preaching at Faith Lutheran Church in Eldridge, Iowa.

August 11-12: “Trauma Informed Ministry.” Door County, Wisconsin

September 1 @ 6:30 PM: Book Reading at Beaverdale Books, Des Moines, Iowa.

October 22: “Trauma Informed Liturgy,” with Faith+Lead.


If your organization, church, podcast, conference, library, or literary festival is interested in inviting me to speak, preach, or lead a workshop, please click here: Invite Jennifer to Speak.


Whether we like it or not, there is a business to writing. Every author relies on readers to write online reviews. Please, please, please consider reviewing my book on Goodreads and at my Amazon author’s page. You have my gratitude!


I’ve studied compassion from the clinical researcher point of view and also some of the Buddhist practices of compassion. Now I’m diving into the compassion of Jesus.


CP chalice only  Put A Time to Mourn & a Time to Dance on your bookshelf! My book is currently available (on sale!) at Chalice Press.  Also available at Prairie Lights, Barnes & Noble, Coralville, Iowa, Barnes & Noble Online, Books-a-Million, Target,, and Amazon.


From my journal

June 2, 2017. Iowa City, Iowa

On a clear day in late spring when the air cleared of Iowa humidity and big white clouds hung in a seemingly simple blue sky, on a day when grief’s pain hit me again and again, I sit in the living room of an senior living apartment listening to a man in his late eighties tell me the adventures of his life. As he does, thought fills my brain. What will I write about once grief is no longer the subject of my morning outpouring of words?

On this day, and I tell the man’s wife so, I think maybe I will write other people’s stories or maybe stories of being a pastor. Because on this clear day, I once again love hearing someone else’s story. Or perhaps I tire of my own. Acceptance of which sprouts in my soul.

JUNE/JULY Newsletter, 2022: All rights reserved by the author.

Faith, Grief, Healing, Trauma, Trauma recovery


From my collection of unpublished pieces circa early 2018.

When it came time for our oldest son to attend Sunday School, I balked. My late husband was no help because the concept of Sunday School was completely foreign to him. Tony was a product of parochial school. In his mind, we simply attended worship on Sunday. Religious education was taken care by the nuns during the week. Except in Ricky’s case there were no nuns at the private Montessori school he attended.

My own reservations were two-fold. So many things about God, Christianity, Jesus, and what seemed to me the veneration of Jesus’ violent death made me uncomfortable. My mother calmly clarified things for me one day when she stated, “All young children need is to know that God is love. The rest can come later.”

Her seemingly simple statement centered me through more years of questioning my own faith, changing congregations twice, parenting my children through much turbulence, and beginning seminary.

I think a lot about life, faith, and God since Tony died. Sudden death forces the living to recalibrate every moment of every day. Yet in the beginning, I lived in trauma’s shock. My mind struggled to think. My body shook from any number of reasons. Left-over adrenalin, fatigue, and lack of food being the most common. My sons felt in losing their dad they had also lost the me they had once known.

But early one morning in the pit of this mess I had a brief wave of clarity. My job was to love. Love my sons, Love myself. And in loving the three of us through this unbelievable time, love God as well (Matthew 25).

Something opened within. Allowing the wonderful work of child development theorists to creep back into my brain. Combine with this quirky need to read Tony’s professional library, particularly the texts on love, relationships, and trauma. Discovering once again how human development theory and research mirrors God’s message through scripture. Even though I couldn’t really read scripture again yet. Only that funny line Job utters in chapter seven which now made complete sense to me: “Will you not look away from me for a while, let me alone until I swallow my spittle?“

And eventually the book of Ruth because, let’s face it, three strong widows in one story is wildly amazing and attractive to someone yearning to be a strong widow full of self-agency.

Now after twenty-one years of marriage, twenty years of parenting, and fifteen months into grief and trauma recovery, I know this about my life: I want to center in love. And if nothing else makes sense (which it doesn’t right now) somehow the greatest commandment does in its “all you need to know is that God is love and the rest will come later” kind-of-a-way.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’  The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31 NRSV

Words I see interpreted every time I drive north on Interstate 35 near Lakeville, Minnesota. There on the West side of the road a billboard reading “Love God. Love Others,” catching both eye and heart. Adding two more words: “Love God. Love Others. Love Self.”

Love anchoring me like a plumb line.

Image by M. Maggs from Pixabay