My dad is the most generous man I know. When I was living at home, there were several stretches when my dad didn’t take his salary because the church was having trouble paying the bills. A time or two, this went on for months, but I only found out afterwards (and by accident) what the family had endured. We had food on the table, and I never saw any letters from the bank stamped in red. Being a dad now, I can look back and see some of the strain my dad carried. But he never let on. Our house didn’t traffic in glum. Whenever I’d ask dad about money problems, he’d say, “God will take care of us, Winn.” That was it, God will take care of us.

Hearing this refrain, my sister Vonda decided she wanted to give an extravagant gift to God, something that would cost her dearly and require great faith. My sis was four, and she didn’t give a hoot about money. Bubble gum, however, was her gold bullion. So one Sunday, with firm resolve, she carried her treasured pack of Bubble Yum to church. When the deacon brought the collection to our row, Vonda set her face like flint and solemnly pulled the pack from her pocket and placed it in the plate. Even the widow with the mite would have stood hushed.

Months later (which is like decades to the four-year-old memory), our family was in St. Augustine, Florida touring the grounds of the Mission of Nombre de Dios, built in 1565 as one of the first Spanish missions in the new world. Near the old ivy-covered stone chapel stood a shrine of the Virgin Mary cradling baby Jesus. My dad walked with Vonda, hand-in-hand, when she stopped abruptly. Vonda stepped closer to the statue and, with arms resting on her hips, spoke directly to the babe: “Jesus, what did you do with that bubble gum? You eat it?” We give, but we do not forget.

One more thing you should know from this story: back on the afternoon of that Sunday when Vonda made her momentous gift, a women dropped by our house. She knocked on the door, and when my mom answered, the woman handed mom a bag. “I was at the grocery story,” she said, “and remembered how much Vonda likes gum. I thought Vonda should have this.” In the Kroger bag was a family pack of bubble gum, totaling forty or fifty sticks of awe and pleasure for my sister.

You can say coincidence if you want. Maybe. And certainly God is no bubble gum machine. But I imagine God bent over, with great jowls of laughter, as Vonda buried her hands in piles of gum knowing, in ways only a four-year-old can, that God will take care of us.

Brueggemann says abundance is the truth; scarcity is the lie. With God, there is always enough. I want to believe that. I need to believe that. God, help my unbelief.


Dear Shiny-faced Kids,

We sent our two boys off to school today (as well as our nephew Micah, who’s part of our family for his senior year). But I saw a number of you, piling into cars and waiting at bus stops. Let me say: all of you looked grand.

I saw your not-yet scuffed shoes and your slicked-out hair (to the young fellow with the gelled spiky thing going on, with the Vans and the sweater vest – very nice). All the new backpacks are splendid, if not a tad over-stuffed (24 pencils? really? do they eat them?). Superhero themed packs are popular, as always, though I’m not seeing Superman much. That’s a travesty. What are they teaching you kids in school these days? It does seem that Ninjas are big this year. That’s nice. Better than Sponge Bob, may he one day rest in peace.

I noticed your bright eyes, your eagerness. I saw a little nervousness too. Those butterflies might make you queasy, but they’re a sign of new days and uncharted adventure. I love the butterflies.

Mainly, I just wanted to say, Go get ’em. You got this. And don’t forget to stir up at least a little mischief.


Rooting for you,



calvin-miller-websiteSeveral years ago, the publisher of Holy Curiosity invited me to a dinner. It was a large gala held at the Georgia Aquarium. The location was stunning, with a twenty-foot high glass wall separating us from the massive tank where sharks circled ominously, an appropriate image for some of us trying to find our way through the world of books and booksellers and marketing plans and dismal sales numbers.

I knew almost no one and had no entourage. I was low on the totem pole. I wandered alone around the hall, not in the mood to push my way into any conversations. Then I spotted Calvin Miller standing near the sharks. White hair, three-piece blue and white seersucker suit. He was classically distinguished, the old-world gentleman with a colored hanky in his jacket’s front pocket. Calvin was an elder Atticus Finch.

I’d never met Calvin, but I recognized him immediately. I’ve always loved that Calvin and Eugene Peterson look like brothers. They are, in many ways, cut from the same cloth. Calvin is a pastor in the old, true sense. Calvin writes with imagination. Calvin creates space for others. Calvin speaks of God in ways that make you want to sit down quietly over in the corner and listen.

I walked over to the shark tank and introduced myself. Calvin greeted me as though I were an old family member he hadn’t seen in ages. We chatted for a while, and Calvin was never rushed. He wasn’t hurried, glancing off to the next person he should gladhand. Calvin’s easy way said, I’ve got nowhere to be. Want to grab an RC Cola? This legendary author could have spoken to anyone in the room, but he spoke to me.

Calvin died on Sunday. I will miss him.

boys on tubes at Carolina Beach
Watching our boys from the shore, as they gathered their courage for the ride into the wall of waves, these words came. For my boys, for me, for my friend John. For all of us who must brave a life unknown.


Two boys atop rubber tubes
Point into wild waves —
Eager, and a little afraid.
Not much changes over thirty,
Or seventy, years.

You know your marriage has weathered well when love brings you to the place where you bear the other’s sharp word or dark mood, knowing as you do that these raw places cover a weary or wounded soul and require tenderness, not scorn or assault. Forgiveness is given, easily, before it’s ever asked, the scuffle brushed away, no more bother than a stray piece of lint.

How many times have I come to Miska, heart in hands and a bit embarrassed, only to find the woman who said yes to me eager to say yes again? I barely form the words, and she greets me with, “Yes, of course, yes.”

An essential to good marriage, good friendship – to good life in human communities – is the commitment to discovering the truth in another and then believing that truth with them and for them – and sometimes in spite of them. However, in our gotcha culture, we look for opportunities to score points and exploit wounds and pounce on others’ failings. If you have any doubt, stay tuned for the political commercials or facebook postings soon coming to a screen near you.

I once viewed God this way: scrupulously judging my every move and every belief, eager to send a jolt my way when I missed a step. With this misguided vision of God, too many of us defend “truth” in ways that are at odds with the One whose self-giving love defines Truth. However, what if God sees our true self and our best efforts and, rather than growing angry over our missteps, chuckles and smiles and says, “Yes, of course, yes.”

C.S. Lewis welcomes me with these words: “This is the courtesy of Deep Heaven: that when you mean well, He always takes you to have meant better than you knew.”

Most Sundays, I write a blessing to speak over our church. I speak the words before we depart, hoping that God’s Spirit will take plain words and lodge them in places I could never reach. It is a great joy, to speak a blessing over friends. My preference is to write the blessing myself, but there are words in Scripture that just blow any blessing I’d write to smithereens. This is one of them, from St. Paul. Breathe in these words. Open your hands and receive them.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirt. And may it be so. Amen.


The introductory offer of Let God: Spiritual Conversations with François Fénelon @ $2.99 for Kindle (and Kindle apps on other devices) ends this weekend.


I asked Miska to marry me (the first time) on a snow swept mountaintop, under the stars. I think she saw the proposal coming, but the mind and the heart do their own thing in moments like this, and Miska’s instinctive response was to ask, repeatedly: Are you sure? Are you sure? She clutched the ring and echoed the question: are you sure? Seven times, if I remember correctly.

She couldn’t have known, as I didn’t even know myself, but those three words sliced into a hidden, wounded place. Those three words put language to one of my deepest fears: that I might be wrong, that I might be foolish, that I’ll miss some of the facts or hold a wrong belief or opinion and will, in the end, be uncovered as a fool.

The quick story is that she said yes, but her question unnerved me. I freaked out. Three days later, she gave me back the ring. A month after that, I got my crap together, and Miska was kind enough to roll the dice on me one more time. However, the themes in that story have grown to be annoyingly familiar.

I have friends who seem to have never known a doubt, never second-guessed a conviction or belief. I have no idea what that would be like.

For folks like me, however, it’s a mistake to think that because our mind wavers and absolute certainty remains eternally illusive, this means we must forever waffle, never stand firm. We may have to endure a perpetual, nagging “what if?” playing in the background, but this only means our beliefs require more courage. The ground on which we stand may be harder won and our ground will most likely be a smaller territory than others triumphantly claim – and surely, we’ll move our flag from time to time (a virtue, if you ask me). But if we’ll learn to trust the things we know even if we don’t know we know them (we might need to chew on that for a moment) and if we’ll allow ourselves to live more playfully and more whimsical, we will find our steady ground. And we’ll discover than being foolish ain’t all that bad.

As St. O’Conner said in the Second Gospel of Wise Blood: “Faith is what someone knows to be true, whether they believe it or not.”


As a gesture to my Fénelon book being Kindle-available (and on sale for $2.99 for a few more days), I leave you with a pertinent line from one of the letters in Let God: “True faith never delivers the sort of human certainty we constantly look for. True faith won’t let us grab hold to safety or latch on to dry formulas…God is God, you know.”

In 2005, I read Father Joe, Tony Hendra’s memoir of his encounters with “the man who saved [his] life.” The opening lines sets the table: How I met Father Joe. I was fourteen and having an affair with a married woman.

Obviously, Tony was a troubled youngster. One awkward (but ultimately fortunate) day, the husband walked in on his wife and Tony in each other’s arms. Concerned for Tony’s well-being, the husband contacted an English Benedictine abbey and connected Tony with Father Joe who, for the following decades, became Tony’s guide, spiritual father and friend.

I believe all of us, even those of us with far less memorable prompts than Tony, find ourselves in need of wise spiritual guides, friends who will listen to our stories, learn the contours of our heart and then help us to see the truth and help us to stay true to our path. This world is confusing. And wearying. We need help.

I have a good father who I talk with regularly. He counsels me on any major decision, and he listens in on many minor ones. My dad is a man of integrity. He is a gift.

I also have a pastor. He’s retired now and lives a good distance from me. We converse via letters. It’s a slow, leisurely conversation that happens across miles and months. It’s not so much his answers to my questions that I find life-giving (in fact, answer would be a bit generous – he’s sparse on specific advice); rather it is the patient, plodding reminders he offers, simple nods toward what is true and beautiful and worthy of my love and energy.


Several years ago, I found another wise, spiritual guide, another pastor of sorts: François Fénelon. Two friends introduced me to an old volume of letters passed between Fénelon and those he was guiding in faith, most of whom served in the debauched court of Louis XIV. These letters, old as they were, touch on precisely the themes I wanted to explore: fear, doubt, faith, hearing God, prayer, loneliness, friendship, community, boredom, relentless noise, suffering.

I was so taken by Fénelon’s gentle (but sharp) voice that I wanted others to hear these conversations. I wanted others to find a guide in Fénelon even if they hadn’t yet found their own flesh-and-blood pastor or Father Joe. So, I wrote a book, and Paraclete was kind enough to publish it. However, it never was made available digitally. I’m pleased to announce that now it is, on the Kindle and the Kindle app on ipad, etc.

For the next 8 days or so, it will be available for $2.99. Then the price will jump. You may download it, and if you find that you like it, I’d much appreciate it if you’d pass the word to your friends, small groups — or even irreligious friends curious about matters spiritual. There really is something here for most everyone. And as you might know in this crazy book world, if friends don’t help me out, my work is dead in the water.

I was supposed to be at the beach today, feet buried in the cool sand and nose buried in the first of several good books. Wyatt and Seth riding the wild waves on their boogie boards and digging for hermit crabs. Miska breathing the air that has, for her entire life, provided balm to her soul. However…

Saturday morning, we loaded the car and began our 6 hour trek to the Atlantic Ocean. Though I’m more of a mountain man, I always look forward to the space and the beauty and the laughter — but the rest of the family, now they have a love affair with the beach. Miska actually has some mystical connection with the waves and sand. I’d attempt to explain it to you, but I don’t quite understand it myself. Her heart awakens, and her soul quiets. She hears things out on those sun-drenched shorelines. I’ll just have to leave it at that. All summer, we’ve been gearing for this week. You can imagine an 8 and 10 year old’s revved up energy, asking at regular intervals how much further?, how much further?, how much further?

We pulled into the driveway of the beach house and folded out of the vehicle, breathing our first salt air. We grabbed a load of gear and stepped into the house. To my horror, luggage and groceries filled the living room and kitchen. Everywhere, I saw all the things you’d expect to see from a family of happy vacationers just unloading into their beach house for the week, all the things we were just beginning to unload ourselves. No one was there. I suspect they were dipping their feet in the water and getting the lay of things.

We quickly exited and stood in front of our car, shell-shocked. I pulled out my phone and searched quickly for old emails. The short of it is that I made a dad-sized snafu. I had us down for the beach on July 28th. However, we are supposed to be there August 4th.

I don’t exactly remember, but Miska tells me I had to walk away from them for a minute in order to “gather my strength for enduring the weight of the family’s crushing disappointment.” If you know us Colliers, you know we never pass on a good existential crisis. If we see the ship sailing toward tragedy, heartache or impending drama, we don’t attempt to outmaneuver. We point straight ahead and raise the sails.

I walked back to the trio-in-mourning and told them I’d made a big, fat hairy mistake and that we were going to have to drive back to Charlottesville. Miska put on a brave face, but she was entirely deflated. Wyatt, true to form, had a barrage of frenzied questions, searching for some other resolution. Seth looked at me as though I’d just drowned his puppy.

We piled back in the car, and though I risk cliché, I can only describe my emotions this way: I wanted to cry. Of course, many have far greater difficulties than our luxury of having the option of a beach vacation to begin with, screwed up or not. But these days are important to my boys. They’re vital to my wife. We’d saved and skimped and held out through a weary season with the joy of this week in sight. Joy is an essential thing. And as we started re-tracing the road back home, there was little joy in our Honda.

Insult to injury is the $150 I blew for a trip that yielded nothing more than miles on the car and a story my boys will one day tell their own family on their own road trip. A royal, epic fail.

The sky grew dark. A rain storm moved in. Gloom settled around, and inside, our vehicle. The wipers fought against water, and my eyes did too. I felt shame over my forgetfulness. I felt foolish for dropping the ball. I have always hated disappointing people, and now I was knee-deep. I knew we would be okay. Life was not over. I don’t want to over-dramatize. But neither do I want to slough this blunder off for less than it was. We were sad, and I made us sad.

A little ways down the road, night now covering the lightning-illumined sky, Miska put her hand on mine. “Grace,” she said. She squeezed my hand, and I knew the words she had no need to speak: be kind to yourself. Some men have women who would use this occasion as arsenal for many a war to come. My wife is not one of those women. At the moment where she could easily castigate me (and with good cause), she squeezed my hand as we drove together through the dark rain.

The boys have learned Miska’s grace. Wyatt said, “Dad, it’s okay. This way, I get to stay up past midnight, and we get to eat out for dinner.” Seth, who needs to suck the marrow out of any tragedy, took a tad longer; but yesterday he walked up behind me to deliver a massive hug — and at various points throughout the day, he repeated: “Dad, thanks for everything you do for us.”

The good news is we’ve rearranged schedules so we will cue the trip again come Saturday. The better news is that grace came to me from the woman and the two boys who have long been, to my soul, God’s truest sacraments.


We dropped the boys off for summer camp, and I half wanted an invite to stay. Just after the entrance, we passed a paintball course and the archery range. Once we parked, I sighted a massive water slide and a 15 foot high platform from which you would jump, drop onto a wide rubber launch pad called “the blob” and then catapult into the water. Rock climbing wall, skate ramp, zip line. Mercy.

Before leaving, I noticed a small hut, painted funky blue, near the lake’s edge. Scribbled across the front, in psychedelic scrawl, was the shanty’s name: The Sugar Shack. I like the whole bohemian motif, but my boys first time away from any part of our family circle would be a week mixing it with young beauties at a place that has a spot, next to the lake no less, dubbed The Sugar Shack. Mercy.

Miska and I were undeterred, however. We were crossing our own threshold – that blessed (and for years now, entirely unfathomable) moment where we get a second taste of what life was like when there were two, not four, in the clan. The week would be all for pleasure: good books, vineyards, local culinary spots we’ve wanted to try, late mornings with premium coffee. I overheard Miska humorously describe our plans to a friend: “We’re going to pull down the shades and descend into hedonistic revelry.” Now those are words that would make any husband perk up. Our own sugar shack. Mercy.

Wyatt and Seth loved camp, everything about it. Yesterday, they regaled me with energetic tales of the Shack. It was amazing, profound, eye-opening. They had no idea what they’d been missing, and they were certain life would never be the same. I braced for the details: Apparently, The Sugar Shack serves snow cones with any variation of the available 50 flavors of syrup, all for 50¢.


Every summer – and every marriage – needs a place called The Sugar Shack.