Hi friends! Time’s flying and I’m in the middle of my second trip to Iowa for an intensive as I seek to complete my Masters of Divinity degree in the distance program at University of Dubuque Theological Seminary (UDTS).

Last semester, I completed a Theological Research class, a Spiritual Formation class, and Foundations of Worship during the August Term and Old Testament and Missions/Evangelism during the semester (distance learning). That turned out all right.

This semester, I am taking Spiritual Formation and History and Confessions of the PC(USA) during the January Term and I will take New Testament and Presbyterian Polity during the Spring Semester (distance learning).

Things are going well. We’ve had some adventures here. I arrived in Iowa on Saturday (January 3) at supper time. Around midnight, I got in the passenger seat of classmate Krista’s vehicle and we drove to Moline to pick up Jennifer when her flight landed at 1:00 a.m.



Jennifer had an interesting time getting to Dubuque. Starting on Friday night with her original flight, and then several attempts at other cities that would get her close to Dubuque, every flight got canceled. Just when she was setting up a permanent living space in the Denver Airport, she got on a flight to Moline. Krista commemorated this with the following sign that greeted Jennifer at the Moline airport:



On the way back to Dubuque, it started snowing:



If you’re reading this, you might get used to weather related observations. There is a lot of weather in Dubuque, Iowa. In fact, let’s just get this one out of the way:


I have taken several photos of the weather app on my phone this week.

Finally, come Sunday night, most of us had made it to Dubuque, and come Monday evening, all of the first year distance cohort (minus Evelyn, who is not able to join us this time) had finally, safely made it to Dubuque. Everyone got scarves!



Living in a hotel is interesting. When you volunteer to cook dinner, there are limited options. Our standards for where it is acceptable to prepare food are lowered here. For example, a rather popular place to cook and prepare food here is the bathroom. I gave that a try on Monday. The result was a Hawaiian Chicken that is now known as “Bathroom Chicken.” Yum, yum!


Class is going well. As I mentioned, I’m taking my spiritual formation credit with my wonderful Spiritual Formation Group and I’m taking a class with Dr. Gary Hansen on History and Confessions of the PC(USA).



My mother has pointed out that it appears coffee is very important in my spiritual formation. I do consume a lot of coffee normally, and it seems to be a much higher level of consumption when I’m in Dubuque. First, coffee is hot and it’s pretty cold here. Second, coffee has magical powers to keep my eyelids open, which is pretty important when one is in class and Chapel 7-8 hours a day.

On Monday, it snowed.



(Yes, that photo is jarring for many reasons. I think the camera on my phone was shivering when I took this.)

We bundle up when we go to class. Or anywhere else. Especially those of us from slightly warmer climates. It’s cold here.


Ben from Georgia



Carolyn from Florida

 Our classes are interesting and fun, for the most part. I’m very much enjoying the things we are learning. There are breaks that include dance parties, prayer and song, and other shenanigans (like this selfie with John Calvin).


Jennifer and John

I’m working some on my bubble and block letter techniques, but at least I’m keeping it relevant.



I think John Calvin is pretty impressed.



kneelingThis is it! The last book on my Empty Shelf! This means I’ve averaged a book a week for the last year. I definitely read more than I read in 2013, and that was the point!

Title: Kneeling with Giants

Author: Gary Hansen

Date Started: December 23, 2014                                Date Finished: December 28, 2014

Number of Pages: 316                                                  Total for 2014: 16,020

What It’s About: This book is a wonderful exploration of prayer throughout history as taught and practiced by a variety of spiritual giants. Starting with St. Benedict and closing with Andrew Murray, the reader also learns the prayer practices of St. Teresa de Avila, John Calvin, Martin Luther, St. Igantius, and others. This book presents the history of the prayer practices as well as tips to getting started with each one. Prayer doesn’t have to be a one-size fits all, and Hansen encourages readers to try a variety of ways.

Why I Read It: It’s assigned to my Spiritual Formation Group for J-Term. Also, I have Dr. Hansen for History and Confession this semester and this will help me schmooze. (Just kidding about that last part.) (Kind of.)

minivanTitle: Don’t Lick The Minivan

Author: Leanne Shirtliffe

Date Started: December 22, 2014               Date Finished: December 26, 2014

Number of Pages: 304                                Total Pages for 2014: 15,704

What It’s About: Parenthood! Leanne and husband Chris give birth to twins while living in Thailand. What follows are six years worth of hilarious stories about raising two inquisitive, bright, active children.

Why I Read It: Just because I needed something funny to read over Christmas break!

jarsTitle: Christmas Jars

Author: Jason F. Wright

Date Started: December 7, 2014       Date Finished: December 9, 2014

Number of Pages: 122      Total for 2014: 15,400

What It’s About: A young journalist, who has recently lost her mother to cancer, arrives home on Christmas Eve to find her apartment burglarized–items, emergency cash, sense of security all stolen. As the police are collecting information for their report, she spots a jar of money left just inside her door. It is filled with coins and a couple $20 bills. She begins and investigation into who might have left the jar and what it means. Her search leads her to the Maxwell family and a beautiful story about generosity and hope.

Why I Read It: For book club tonight!

You can find more information about the fun project this novel has begun at christmasjars.com


copyright Jason Durham 2014

You may or may not know that my husband Jason is a writer.

He’s decided to start publishing some of his work online at his new site.

He’ll mostly write about his adventures on the trails he hikes and bikes, but it will also be filled with life lessons one can learn on such trails…or the people one can meet in some pretty amazing places…or the pictures one can take in the great outdoors (sometimes while trekking off the trail to pee, he likes to remind me)…or the funny things that happen when you venture out where most people won’t.

Take a moment and check out his site!


poehlerTitle: Yes, Please

Author: Amy Poehler

Date Started: November 7, 2014    Date Finished: November 12, 2014

Format: Audio Book

Number of Pages: 328

What It’s About: This is Poehler’s memoir and it’s fantastic! She writes about everything from her start in improv comedy, to her time on SNL, to her character on “Parks and Recreation,” to her divorce, to her Smart Girls At The Party project, to her children, and about everything in between. She’s witty and fun and fierce all the way through and listening to her read the book is way better than reading it.

Why I “Read” It: I had an Audible credit and really wanted to hear this book!

gaffiganTitle: Food: A Love Story

Author: Jim Gaffigan

Date Started: November 5, 2014    Date Finished: November 10, 2014

Number of Pages: 352   Total for 2014: 15,278

What It’s About: Food. So much food. Everything from specific types of food to fast food brands to special food occasions. Jim Gaffigan writes from experience in his hilarious manner. Favorite line: “I don’t know much about grammar, but I think ‘kale salad’ is what they call a ‘double negative.'”

Why I Read It: My brain needed a break.

newbiginTitle: The Gospel in a Pluralist Society

Author: Lesslie Newbigin

Date Started: September 15, 2014     Date Finished: November 16, 2014

Number of Pages: 276   Total for 2014: 14,926

What It’s About: How can Christians relate and share the gospel in a pluralist society? Lesslie Newbigin Christians understand how they might be able to practice and confess their faith within the current cultural context.

Why I Read It: For my Missions and Evangelism class!

ValhallaTitle: Invitation to Valhalla

Author: Mike Whicker

Date Started: October 17, 2014   Date Finished: November 11, 2014

Number of Pages: 492     Total for 2014: 14,650

What It’s about: Erika Lehman is a cold-hearted, cold-blooded German Spy and family friend to Adolf Hitler during World War II. She’s sent on a mission to Evansville, Indiana in the middle of the war, not long after the attack on Pearl Harbor. FBI agent Charlie Pulaski is sent to stop her. German Agent Axel Ryker is sent to kill her. Local Jewish Mettalurgist Joe Mayer just wants to date her.

Why I Read it: Book Club!

Did I like it? Yep! It was a great book!

I bet you thought I forgot about Empty Shelf! I did not. It’s just that this semester, I’m reading pretty much only books for class (there’s so much reading) and I’m about halfway through the semester. This is the first book we’re finishing!

SannehTitle: Whose Religion is Christianity: The Gospel Beyond The West

Author: Lamin Sanneh

Date Started AND Finished: October 25, 2014

Number of Pages: 150   Total for 2014: 14,158

What it’s About: Think Christianity is a dying religion? It’s not. It may be struggling in Western nations, but it is thriving in the global south and east. Christianity has become a worldwide religion. In this work, Sanneh uses the form of self-interview and explores themes such as inculturation, language, and translation of Scripture and how these have moved the gospel beyond the Western church.

Why I Read it: I’m taking a Missions and Evangelism class and right now we’re studying cultural contextualization and how the gospel is shared in a way that crosses boundaries and respects culture.