This Marriage of Ours



“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

- C. S. Lewis

On a warm summer’s afternoon thirty-six years ago today, I married a good friend.

We’d met in October, had our first date in February, married in August.

He did not sweep me off my feet.

It was not love at first sight.

He was in every way, the unexpected.



He had this vocabulary – words I’d never heard anybody use – not even professors at OSU.

And he was obsessed with basketball. Our first date? A basketball game at his old junior college – Judson – a Portland-based Bible college.

I grew up halfway between Athens and Auburn. Football was the sport I knew, kinda, sort of.

His parents were former missionaries.

My mother kept Valley of Dolls on her nightstand.

He was not my type. I was not his.

We are still polar opposites in many ways, although, my vocabulary has improved somewhat.

He was toying with the idea of seminary. Maybe preaching one day.

I was going to teach. Maybe travel the world telling stories of Jesus, Ann Kimmel-style.

I never once imagined I’d write.

He probably never thought he’d spent 30-plus years teaching.



Here’s the things we didn’t talk about before marriage:

- Kids

- Money

-Where we’d settle down
You’d think those would be important things to consider, when you’re marrying and all.


Here’s the things we did talk about









- Education



Following that first date, I called the girl in the blue dress – Karen Mendenhall Clark – and told her I’d met the man I was going to marry. It was midnight in Oregon, 3 a.m. in Georgia. Yes, she took the call.

“What makes you so sure?” she asked.

“I just know,” I said.

Brother John is the one who told me that when the right one comes along, you just know it.

I don’t know if that’s the case anymore, what with Social Media and Online websites being the go-to-place for dating.

I would hate that, I think.

I’m pretty sure if it had been that way back in our day, neither Tim nor I would have picked each other from an online match-up. He wasn’t what I had in mind. I wasn’t what he envisioned. What drew us together went far beyond what either of us thought we would end up with.

What drew me in was the way he thought. His ethics. His integrity. His love of all things God.

I fell into respect first. Love followed.

Not to say it’s been easy.

Marriage is hard work.

There were years when we both came close to quitting, walking away.

It was the prayers and counsel of a Redheaded friend, and maybe some others, who kept us together during those times.

Sometimes marriage is like a Lindy Hop, a lot of fevered side-stepping.

Sometimes marriage is like a waltz, beautiful synchronicity.

Thirty-six years into it, we are still working out the dance.

It has been the most unexpected delight of my entire life, this marriage of ours.







Book Karen

James Wright Foley: Truth-Teller




He had been taken hostage before.

In April, 2011, James Wright Foley, a freelance journalist, was held captive in Tripoli by militant forces. They released him 44 days later.

While imprisoned, Foley worried about his family most of all. He wrote about that for Marquette University’s magazine:

 Myself and two colleagues had been captured and were being held in a military detention center in Tripoli. Each day brought increasing worry that our moms would begin to panic. My colleague, Clare, was supposed to call her mom on her birthday, which was the day after we were captured. I had still not fully admitted to myself that my mom knew what had happened. But I kept telling Clare my mom had a strong faith.

Notice, Foley didn’t say his faith was strong. He said his mom’s faith was strong.

The strength of his faith was drawn from the strength of his mother’s faith.  God shaped us like that, to draw strength one from the other.  How we live out our faith matters not only for our welfare but for the welfare of others. 

While being taken hostage, Foley had witnessed the death of fellow journalist Anton Hammerl, a friend he had much respect for. That was the hardest thing, he said later, trying to deal with that survivor’s guilt and the grief. Foley said while he was held captive he began to pray that his mom would know that he was okay. Prayer was the only hope he had of communicating with his mother.

I began to pray the rosary. It was what my mother and grandmother would have prayed. 
I said 10 Hail Marys between each Our Father. It took a long time, almost an hour to count 100 Hail Marys off on my knuckles. And it helped to keep my mind focused.

Clare (Clare Morgana Gillis, one of the other journalists captured) and I prayed together out loud. It felt energizing to speak our weaknesses and hopes together, as if in a conversation with God, rather than silently and alone.

The act of praying with others builds our faith – it empowers us in ways that praying alone does not.

I’m not talking about those who pray for show. I doubt that either one of these journalists were concerned about looking more spiritual than the other. They were in a desperate situation. They had witnessed one of their fellow journalist being shot down. They had been beaten and battered by their captors. They had no idea if they would get out alive or not. Prayer energized them and kept their spirits alert.

Eighteen days into his captivity, James Foley was taken out of his cell, and into an office, where his captors told him he could make a phone call. Foley only knew one phone number. The number home. He said a silent prayer that someone would be there to answer it.

His mom picked up on the other end.

“That was a miracle. That was God right there. It was the day before Easter,” Foley said. “I had no idea what people were doing for me. You are in a cell, it’s like being in a submarine. You are trying to stay sane, through prayer…”.

“Mom, can’t you feel me praying to you that I’m okay?” Foley asked.

His mom replied:  “Jim, can’t you feel all your friends and all the people praying for you? They are having prayer vigils for you at Marquette.”

Foley replied: “I guess I can.”

The prayers of the people transcended the walls of the cell where Foley was held. It was his mother’s “absolute belief in the power of prayer” that enabled Foley to know that he was not alone.

Foley drew strength from his mother’s faith and her prayers. From the faith and prayers of his family. From the faith and prayers of his friends. From the faith and prayers of those he did not even know.

“Prayer was the glue that enabled my freedom, an inner freedom first and later the miracle of being released during a war in which the regime had no real incentive to free us. It didn’t make sense, but faith did,” Foley said. 

Foley was taken captive again in 2012 in Syria. His mother, Diane Foley, a woman of great faith, has confirmed that her beautiful son was beheaded by the militant group ISIS.

Journalists working the comfort of newsrooms barely make a living wage. Freelance journalists like Foley make even less.  Journalists like Foley aren’t doing what they do for money or fame. Foley was compelled by something beyond.

In the wake of the news that ISIS reportedly beheaded journalist James Wright Foley, I read a tweet addressed to the militants: “If your religion calls for jihad, beheadings, the rape of women and children, then who is your devil?”

The answer is obvious:  Truth is the enemy of those pursuing evil. Evil people hate truth and truth-tellers.

Jesus said, I am the way, the TRUTH, and the life. 

James Wright Foley was a conflict reporter. Truth was his inspiration. He drew his strength from prayer. He trusted in the God of miracles.

His devotion cost him his life.

When nothing else in the world made sense to Foley, faith did.

“In my darkest moments, I could feel love,” he said.

Prayer is never the least thing we can do – it is always the best thing we can do.

Pray for peace. Pray for the Foley family.


Karen Spears Zacharias is author of After the Flag has been Folded (William Morrow).



Book Karen

Masters of Outrage



It’s not that words have failed me. It’s just that silence seems a more fitting response to the news that has bombarded us, all of us, over the past several weeks.

Outrage is our go-to response. I confess that it has been too often mine, and I repent for it. I hope you will forgive me for the countless times when I’ve turned to outrage when I simply should have shut-up and chosen silence instead.

We are masters at outrage in this culture of ours. There is very little that we don’t get outraged about these days. And, yes, I agree, the outrage is often preceded by some horrific thing that makes us deservedly upset.

The situation in Iraq.  In Gaza. In Ferguson, Missouri of all places.

Injustices abound all around us.

And should we be silent in the face of such glaring evils? Every fiber of my being says no. Evil prevails when good men and women say nothing. Those of you who have read this blog long enough know that I am the flag-bearing Queen of outrage against wrong-doings. I have written so much commentary about the evils of war, about the inhumanity of child abuse, about the injustices perpetrated upon the marginalized. And I’m not sorry for speaking out. Nor do I think you should be. We need to speak in unison about inhumanity in every situation in which we encounter it.

But it’s the outrage that has me stupefied. This notion that the way one ought to go about righting injustices, wherever one finds them, is through the use of more violence and more outrage. It’s as if there is some moral justification for hatred and ugliness in the face of hatred and ugliness that seems to drive us, compel us.

We are still getting it wrong, don’t you see?

If the thing that drives us to speak out against wrongdoing is our anger and outrage, we are only dousing the fire with gasoline.

And, yes, I am guilty, so very guilty of that.

So for now, I sit by quietly, so very saddened by the events in Ferguson and Iraq and Gaza, and the suicide of a man who made me laugh when I so badly needed to laugh.

And it’s not you I am holding the mirror up to, but me.

I was wrong not to have done better by you. I didn’t use my words more carefully. I haven’t encouraged you enough towards peace and forgiveness and prayer. I have failed to be a good steward of the gift God gave me. I’m disappointed with myself over that.

You don’t need another writer working you all up into a slather over this wrongdoing or that. You need a writer who can come alongside you and weep when you are weeping and laugh when you are laughing, and most of all encourage you to put your head into the wind and press on.

It’s not that we should ignore the events in Ferguson, or Iraq, or Gaza. That’s not what I’m saying. Of course, we can and must talk about them. But we should do so in ways that makes us all walk away from the conversation equipped to do better.

It’s not outrage we need.

It’s insight.

Until we become a people compelled by compassion, and not fueled by rage, we can’t possibly do better by one another.

Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.

Proverbs 29:11 



Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Mother of Rain. 




Book Karen

Harvest Magic



It’s harvest around these parts. Farmers working day and night making hay. We are surrounded on all sides of town by wheat farms.



Harvest is a crazy busy time. It’s been hot as blazes around here, too. Not that it matters to those who have air-conditioned combines which is most of the farmers around these parts. Still, all that heat, all that work, it can make a person go cross-eyed.

It can make a person downright delusional, all that heat, all that work.



So it might be understandable, this seeing the most magical of creatures hanging out in the Wal-Mart parking lot in the morning so early most people hadn’t fried their bacon yet.

Maybe it’s the heat.

Maybe they aren’t really there.

So you get out of your car, leave it running, because this is really strange and you don’t know when you might need to hop back in it and speed away. Maybe to the hospital to have your blood pressure checked. If you do go, don’t tell the doctor what you saw. Or what you think you saw because he will not like this. He will write down notes and ask you questions that have nothing to do with harvest or magical creatures in the parking lot. He’ll want to know what medications you have been taking. He’ll want to know when you last had your eyes checked. Or when were you last hit on the head or struck by lightening.


No matter how much  you insist you have never been struck by lightening, never even picked up a snake in church. Although you did hold that one python in the Mekong because if a person comes across a python in the Mekong, embracing it seems the polite thing to do.

A mother and child walk past. They are the only people in sight besides you. She points to the creatures and says something in a language you recognize but don’t speak or understand because truth is you barely understand your own native tongue, how can you possibly learn another? Those two years of Latin Class were useless, although the Toga parties were kind of fun, they were far too infrequent to have made those dreary days  of Eus & Tus worth it.

Poor Caesar, though. It was hard not to feel bad for the man who got stabbed in the back by his BFF. I could never get over the outright meanness of that.

I hope I never have a BFF stab me in the back and leave me bleeding in some public square. I hope I never have an enemy do that, either, come to think of it. I rather dislike the thought of being stabbed at all.

But I do enjoy encountering the occasional magical animals early in the morn before the sun rises hot enough to turn gold wheat into green money.

What’s going on in your neck of the woods?





Book Karen

When Women Gather Part II




My phone rang at 1 a.m.  this morning – August 10th, 2014. I grabbed for it quick, thinking even through dark slumber: This cannot be a good thing. 

Why do we always think that when the phone rings in the middle of the night?

Why don’t we default to: Wow, somebody has such good news they can’t wait until morning to tell us! 

It was Sister Tater on the other end: The baby is on his way. 

We’ve all been eagerly awaiting the birth of my sister’s second grandson, the firstborn of her youngest son.

Sister Tater said something else: You know what today is. 

Yes, I remember.

Exactly one week after the birth of my first grandchild, our mother was diagnosed with brain tumors due to lung cancer. Doctors gave her six weeks to live. It was August 10, 2012.

That wasn’t long enough for her. Mama wanted to live to see Linda’s first grandchild born. Landon wasn’t due until November.

Mama lived four months. She woke up Christmas morning and told Brother John that she was dying. She died the next day with all of us at her side.

When Mama was hospitalized – August 10th, 2012 – I wrote the piece, When Women Gather. 

Today women gather again. This time to welcome in the family’s newest member – Calvin Gregory Barnes.

He is healthy.

We are thankful.

A gift from Mama and Daddy sent from heaven above.

The memory of this day has been redeemed for good.



August 10th, 2012. When Women Gather 

A week ago I was in a hospital in Spokane, Washington celebrating the birth of our first grandchild. There were tears that day, too, but of a different sort.

Tears of joy.

I remember little from all those religion classes I took at University but the one thing I do remember is how eternity was once viewed not as a cloud to sit upon, or a harp to strum, but the passing along of one’s self into the next generation.

All those begets meant something of great import.

I caught a glimpse of all that as I held Sullivan during what now seems like such a long ago weekend as I sit in yet another hospital. This one all the way across the state from where Sullivan was born.

It is the granddaughters who are doing the cradling in Room 116.

“Here let me help you with that, Grandma,” says one as she pushes the IV out of the way lest someone stumble and fall.

“Do you remember the bathroom on that train car we took?” asks another. Never a fan of flying, Grandma took her then 10-year-old granddaughter on a trip South to the motherland.

“That feels better than any of those meds they’ve given me so far,” Grandma says as granddaughter moves her long fingers over knotted back and neck.

And I marvel over how mothers and daughters the world over know this silent dance, this movement of ministering. One steps into Room 116 and another steps out. One gets coffee, and another brings the phone charger. One prays and the other weeps. And then they swap, and the praying one weeps and the weeping one prays.

All the women gather like finches to a newly filled feeder when the Doctor says, “We will need more scans, to see if that which is in her brain is from elsewhere in her body.”

She who hates to fly, hates confined spaces of any sort.

And when the medical staff is tempted to speak to the women gathering and over the top of the woman about whom they are speaking you remind them — She was a nurse by profession.

Ah, they say. Then they speak to her in a language common to those who have cared for the dying.

You long to hand every medical professional present a copy of After the Flag has been Folded, the book that was once titled Hero Mama, so that they will understand the sacred honor of being in the presence of a war widow, and treat her with the respect that strong women like her deserve.

What a difference a day makes, people say it all the time.

On this day, you know exactly what that means.

There was a headache. That’s all.

But it was bad enough to cause her to ask to be taken to the hospital. A first for her.

What a difference a day and six tumors later can make.

Yes, there are tears of grief but there’s a sweetness to them as women gather and the healing hands of granddaughters minister to the grandmother who begat them.

Book Karen