Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Sweet, Healing Words


Once in awhile when I am reading a passage of Scripture, I like to put myself into the scene and imagine what it would have been like to be there. I ask myself who I most identify with and try to see the story from that person’s point of view. Recently I was reading Luke 18:15-17; parents were bringing their children to Jesus so He might touch them. The disciples were trying to shoo the people away as if Jesus shouldn’t be bothered with their children.

Jesus rebuked His disciples and invited the children to come to Him. Even now I tear up as I imagine myself as one of the children in this scene. What would it be like to run into Jesus’ open arms, to be held, prayed for and to see the love in His eyes? What a beautiful place to be – a child, fully freed to be with Jesus, receiving His love without reservation!

As children clamored to be near Him, Jesus said to the disciples and others standing nearby, “. . . do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

The parents brought their children seeking something for them which they couldn’t give without Jesus. Jesus invited – they went into His arms to be touched, prayed over and blessed. It began as an ordinary day for these children and in just a few verses their significance increased as He wrapped them up into His story. And when I place myself into this scene, I am a child running into His arms; fully myself – free to trust and rest in His love. To imagine myself as one of these children is such a comforting thought.

Whispers of Rest, beautifully written by Bonnie Gray, is a loving invitation to come like a child into the presence of Jesus and rest. This 40-day devotional gently takes us on an interactive journey to deepen our intimacy with Jesus. I found myself growing more aware of His presence, as well as His love for me. Here in the space of a daily devotional I experienced Jesus in His Word, through prayer and creation. Like a child wrapped in His arms, this journey helped me enjoy His presence without reservation and discover my identity in His unconditional love. Whispers of Rest will help you create space to know Him better and see yourself through His loving eyes.

Bonnie writes of her first time being among the redwood trees, “As I jumped off the bus with giggling classmates, I felt what half-pint Laura Ingalls might have felt. Happy. Free. I looked up in the trees and felt small and safe. I could breathe.” This is so often how I experience Jesus; I feel small but safe. And the more I get to really know Him the more freedom and joy I experience. Prompted to experience this safe smallness, and to deepen my relationship with Jesus; I walked out of doors, sat by the ocean with my girls, took photos of His creations, picked flowers and explored His whispers in a journal.

Many times we allow our disappointments and feelings of shame to shut our hearts from His healing presence. Yet even, and especially in these moments, we need Him and are invited into His presence. Encouraging us, Bonnie nudges us with her words, “Experiencing shame won’t keep Jesus from you. He wraps his healing love around you. Keep stepping forward.” The children in Luke’s story didn’t withhold themselves, heads down, eyes to the ground; they were brought, He invited and they went. You have been invited by Jesus to receive His rest. 

Come along with us on this 40-day journey through Whispers of Rest. It is my hope and prayer that you allow yourself to experience Jesus with a child-like faith and enjoy His presence in the life He has given you this day. When we throw ourselves into His sweet presence we find our stories make more sense wrapped in His grander story. So, bring your heart and mind to Jesus and be prepared to experience restoration, joy and so much more than you can imagine. www.whispersofrest.com

Friday, May 5, 2017

Lessons From a Sweet Pea

There is something to be said for volunteers; people and otherwise. Volunteers just don’t get enough appreciation. I know I haven’t been very appreciative of some of the volunteers I have encountered, particularly the ones in our backyard. Since we compost, we have different plants voluntarily grow in our yard every spring. My husband is thrilled when a volunteer shows up and I am skeptical. I want to know what it is and how does it fit in with the everything else. I love to plan flowerbeds and my husband likes to put plants in random spots. Our yard is a blend of planned and random but the hardiest plants seem to be the volunteers – the ones for which neither of us can take credit.

A few years ago we had to cut down our huge, old pine tree; the California Five Spined Ips beetle killed it. Just a little over a year ago a bush, a type we had seen on our hikes, started growing in the ground next to the stump. Jim looked it up. It is a Laurel Sumac. I thought he said it would grow to about six feet, but it keeps growing. It took our yard two years to recover from the loss of shade when we took down the pine tree, and since then I have planted succulents requiring sunshine. The Sumac continues to grow and has gotten quite large. I looked it up and it can grow up to fifteen feet.

Have you had unwanted volunteers pop up in your life? Sometimes it is the small, unexpected disruptions that throw me off. But it usually takes a biggie to usher in skepticism toward God, planting doubts as to whether or not He cares about me at all. Things like cancer, the loss of a loved one, an old car in constant need of repair draining every spare dime from the bank account, not being able to get pregnant, a fractured relationship – not all of these things are equal but none of them are the seeds of hope I planted for my future.

I find something of myself and how I view life when I am outdoors interacting with the natural world. The garden is wonderful place to allow the Creator of the universe to dig around in my soul and transform me. My grandma once told me she used weeding as a time of confession and prayer; yanking weeds mirrored the removal of wrong thinking. The best way to fight against persistent, wrong thinking is weed it out and plant right thinking by meditating on the truths of God.

It goes without saying that weeds are persistent volunteers, as you pull a handful, ten times as many sprout behind your back. After a truly rainy winter the weeds had a party and invited all the relatives to our yard. It has been a struggle to rescue our yard from their takeover. In an attempt to attack one large patch of weeds, Jim decided to lay a tarp down. There must be certain types of plastic for killing weeds because I looked out our window one day and the weeds had lifted the tarp off the ground; underneath it the weeds had grown stronger. Jim had created a green house in which the weeds thrived.

It reminds me about a question I was asked recently concerning an unresolved hurt – a hurt undermining trust in a relationship. The question was: Should I just put it in the past like others have told me or work through it to a resolution and healing? Sometimes we cover up deep hurt and we truly believe we won’t ever face these ugly things again. Hidden hurts store energy and volunteer to come up at the most inappropriate times, like at a family dinner when your brother says something that triggers a mess of ugliness. Consider whether or not you can just let it go without creating a green house for strengthening hurt feelings and making an emotional hot house.

Jim saves seeds from our Sweet Peas. Early this spring he planted dozens of the seeds. They grew, but he didn’t thin them out right away, so no matter how much care he gave them they seemed to have stopped growing. But in the succulent bed... that’s another story. Sweet Peas volunteered and are snuggled up with the prickly plants, and it certainly looks as if the Sweet Peas rule. Two years in a row a Sweet Pea plant has controlled the succulent bed with its beautiful blooms and leggy, messy vine sprawled out over the succulents like a giant net holding everything in place. In spite of its lovely, fragrant blossoms I find myself frustrated by its audacity to show up where it wasn’t planted/planned.

Sometimes our lives get choked by excess and captured by the unplanned. How do you deal with an overloaded schedule? What resources do you have for coping with an unplanned event spreading out over all your days making it difficult to remember this is only one chapter, not the whole of your life?
Nature is designed for recovery and so are we. Scientists have discovered our brains are capable of developing new neural pathways. We were designed for recovery, for healing. When a fire destroys a forest, over time new plants grow up out of the ashes. Some plants only grow after a fire and not before; it is the great heat of the fire that brings life from these seeds lying dormant and waiting. We don’t like admitting it, but beauty often bursts forth from our lives when we invite increased intimacy with the Father on a painful journey. As we come out of a dark place, one in which we have held tight to His hand, we are transformed. Beauty truly can come out of the ashes of our lives when He holds the ashes in His hands.
In Romans 1:20 we are told, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” God has many ways of revealing himself to us and speaking to our hearts, but in this verse, it is made clear that we should not be able to miss Him when we are spending time in the created world. During these beautiful spring days make time to go outside and meet your Father there. You will not be disappointed, as a matter of fact you may be enlightened. You may even discover a volunteer that brings new beauty, fragrance, healing and grace to your heart.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Remembering Gives Hope to Perspective

Seasons are not as distinctive in southern California as in other places, but we do have them. We had the rainiest winter since I moved here 6 years ago, and the results have been impressive. We live in a part of the United States where flowers bloom all year, but this year is the bloomiest (my word); the hills are layered in lush green and glorious golds. Looking out from the car window the beauty draws from me the most satisfying sigh of pleasure. Sometimes there are no words to describe how moved I feel by the brilliance of this well quenched bit of earth. Weeks before the calendar declared it, spring arrived in San Diego full force. And during these joyous days I have been involved in a difficult chapter of life: doing something I found unpleasant and stressful.

Some things I find myself involved with have seemed incongruent for the journey I am on. I mean have you ever been required to do something that will take you from point A to point B, but feel all the while like you are heading to point Z? In the midst of leaving what seemed to be a detour, I was challenged by Margaret Silf’s words (The Inner Compass) to: “Take a walk around the field of your life. Notice the blessings, the gifts and the fruitfulness, and give thanks to God for that ‘crop.’” I allowed myself to sit for a long time and remember the blessings, like blossoms, scattered all over the pathway of the life I’ve lived thus far.

In the quiet moments, I sifted through memories starting with my childhood. It was a comforting way to close the door on this current season punctured with anxiety and stress. I was overwhelmed with gratitude as I remembered the many ways God sustained me and enabled me to grow up. The experience pushed forth one of those pleasure-filled sighs absent of adequate words. I found myself sharing a little of this with some women from my church, particularly the more recent decades of going through divorce, single parenting and getting an education. One of the ladies asked how I knew what to do in the midst of it all. I didn’t, not until “my ears heard a voice behind me, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it’” (my paraphrase of Isaiah 30:21).

The voice came during an ordinary task of mowing our large yard with a small electric
mower, adequate for the days when I lived in northern California. This required an extra long, orange extension cord from house to mower. I had to stop at the end of each row to flip the cord to the other side so as to not mow over it. Mow a row, flip the cord and mow another. In the midst of all this mowing and flipping I was pouring my heart out to God and asking Him how I was going to do it all: be a good mom, work full-time and go back to school to finish my degree. As I handed up my fears and concerns to Him I was handed back a thread of direction to grab hold, “this is the way,” and it helped me begin pulling free of my anxiety. When I tried to figure it out on my own it was a lot like the Towhee tugging at the Spanish moss on my faded turquoise metal gate. She turned this way and tugged, and then went to the other side and tugged; it was just too tangled for her to loosen even one small piece for nest building. But my heart’s cry to the Father loosened up a place in me so I might know the next step while standing in freshly mown grass.

I could go on for hours telling you all the ways God took care of me in the midst of the pain and brokenness of my life. I still had to go through so many hard things, but He never let it destroy me. Quite the contrary, He strengthened and transformed me. Remembering; it is important to stop and remember. There are places in our lives where we must set up markers for remembering how God carried us through. I needed to remember how He was glorified in those overwhelming and painful days of divorce, to see the trail of blossoms so hope is affirmed in me for this day. I have had a great deal of anxiety about the situation I find myself in; it just might be I need a good electric mower and a long stretch of grass that needs mowing. This memory reminds me He hasn’t forgotten me and He has my life all mapped out; I just need to give it over to Him and grab hold of the thread He hands me to get out of what looks to me a tangled mess.

I hope the Towhee finds the loose threads needed for nest building and no longer wastes time on the Spanish moss tightly wrapped together. While I rest and wait I work on nesting too. Every season brings out the nesting instinct in me, but spring takes it beyond the walls and into the yard where I dig, weed and plant. It is here hope is nurtured.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

There's So Much More in a Minute

My brain bounces from topic to topic trying to settle on one to write about with the intent of posting on my blog. Lacking a definitive theme leaves me a bit disconcerted; I read part of an article recently about how blogs without focus won’t sustain readership. This makes me think I am supposed to care about how many read my blog as opposed to who may be encouraged or befriended after a visit. Let me say this: I write first of all because I love to write, and this blog is a wonderful outlet. There is another reason I write. Of course I want people to read this blog but it isn’t as if I am selling something. I write so those who come here might find a sip of something cool to bring down the temperature of a tempestuous day, or choose a sweet morsel of encouragement to savor in one’s spirit, discover a soft cushion on which to relax – a place to discover they are not alone and find focus readjusted on beauty, inspiring awe and gratitude. I want this to be a beautiful gift enticing the reader to explore the mysterious relationship between God, self and the place they find themselves living this very moment.

It is in the moments we live, is it not? Whether or not I am aware of it, my life moves along with moments marching by at a steady pace. I can either find my rhythm to match those moments or time slips past without a backward glance. And if I don’t invest in these moments, I may miss something important. I have been reading a lot about rest, pausing, being present and opening up space for all that is truly important; and I am discovering the really important things happen in the small space of the sixty second moment.

There is a spark of hope lit inside leading me to believe I can somehow lure you, with a few well placed words, into following. Not following me as the writer of “Out of the Woods”, but follow me, another struggling human being, on a journey to find His presence in the ordinary space of a moment in time. The moment may be the hardest ever experienced or the most beautiful to behold, but always He is there revealing Himself to us – teaching us, transforming us and loving us. I bring you along, not so you will want to live my moments, as we often do through social media; I bring you along to inspire you to pay attention to the moments in your life.

A rather challenging task has been placed in my hands over the past several weeks. I admit that throughout the process there have been times when anxiety has had a choke hold on me and I nearly threw in the towel. The whole experience has motivated me to be more intentional about savoring moments shaken lose from an intense schedule. I have learned you have to take hold quickly or a few spare minutes will flit past like a hummingbird darting in and out for a drink at the feeder. Here are some of the ways I have delighted in the moments and made the most of my difficulties.

  • I let my senses do the work. For example, before entering my work place, I watch a hummingbird sipping from a Bird of Paradise while birds in a nearby tree sing lovely, good morning songs.
  • I gave myself to help my husband with weeding the yard after all the heavy rains. Standing back after only a few moments of weeding and enjoying cleared spaces lifts my spirit.
  • Planting new plants throughout the yard and in pots. Just a little here and there makes a big difference to me.
  • Organizing the day so I can take time to chop fresh vegetables and cook us a nice meal.
  • Stealing away for a few minutes to read.
  • Bringing order to my desk.
  • Take a minute to breathe in the delicate, sweet scent of the Pink Jasmine in bloom.
  • Pausing to feast my eyes on the beauty of hand made pots found at a great discount. The beauty reminds me of the fun of taking a pottery class with my husband. The colors lighten my mood.
  • Appreciating the strength of my husband’s hands and being thankful for him.

These little things take just a minute or two but it helps lighten my mood when I feel weighed down with the craziness of busy. I am reminded there is more to life than the doing and there is beauty and joyful moments all around to be embraced even when I feel I am pressed for time. Let these moments wash over and refresh you for all they are worth. They do add up. I also encourage you to plan for longer periods of time for rest, but when the day is busy, seize the moments. Pause, breathe and look around. What do you see, hear, smell, feel and taste. I would love to hear about the moments you experienced this week.

P. S. Since I haven’t been able to get a regular write/post schedule going, if you are interested in receiving my blog in your email please take a moment to sign up below.

Monday, February 13, 2017

A Blustery Life

A cup of tea barely serves to keep me grounded on this windy, gray day. It is the sort of bright gray teasing one into believing the sun may peek out any minute. But it doesn’t and the gray presses down on my spirit pushing out the joy. I do what I can to find a sweet spot: drink Good Earth tea, read a delightful book, look for places to go on vacation, and then give up. It is challenging to keep myself braced against a blustery, fast-paced year pushing me so totally out of a comfort zone I may not recognize it if ever I see it again.

I feel like Piglet, in The House at Pooh Corner, being blown about by the wind right past Eeyore; and Eeyore shouts, “Good-bye. Mind you don’t get blown away, little Piglet. You’d be missed. People would say, ‘Where’s little Piglet been blown to?’ --really wanting to know. Well, good-bye. And thank you for happening to pass me.”

I do feel blown about, hither and thither, right past the small life I find meaningful. I am dotting i’s and crossing t’s to be able to do the work I love, and feeling oh so disconnected from people, missing all of you terribly. The life I keep trying to create seems to have been torn to shreds, blustery days whipping it about as I cling to any remnant I can of my normal life in hopes of not losing it altogether.

And to think I thought last year was busy. The details of all this craziness has become quite laborious in the sharing, so I will spare you; but I will say the challenges I am pressed up against are taking a toll. I miss having time to write, see friends, go to Bible study, take care of our home properly, work in the yard, spend time with my husband and so forth. I miss my normal life. I find myself saying in a small voice, “Is it ever coming back?” Will all my days be blustery ones? Will there ever be a gentle spring zephyr filled with the scent of jasmine and hours in a hammock under the tangerine tree listening to the song birds?

About now, some of you are saying, “You think you’ve got it bad,” and others are feeling sorry for me. My woes are probably not worthy of either reaction, but I am lapping up the pity; it is so much better for you to be feeling it for me than for me to be wallowing around in this alone. In the gloom of it all I believe God has been trying to get me to stop all the striving and allow Him to break down walls and open doors. It is hard for me to get my head around the balance of letting go and the responsibility of required steps to move forward. I would love to just sit on a log and wait for things to get done right before my eyes, but I don’t think that is how it works. Where does one go for the perfect recipe between resting and responsibility?

At this moment I think of the Israelites busting up walls with marching and circling seven times around a city and blowing trumpets. I ask God how I’m to deal with the challenging forces in my life. A light finally sparked and lit up a neon sign of truth in my heart this week, and I was reminded: I am trying too hard to please people; and He has given me the power to choose and prioritize. It isn’t easy, but I began by saying “no” more to people whom I had given power over my future. LOL! How can anyone hold power over the future I had placed in God’s hands? Placing this calling and all it requires back into His hands, I am reminded this is His deal, not mine.

Then I opened up space for ordinary tasks. Chopping, stirring, cleaning, baking a birthday cake, weeding, planting and (the cherry on top) with the help of my husband, rearranging the living room furniture. We opened up space which allowed more light into the room. It is exactly what I needed in the living room and in my soul: space and light.

Spending time with the Father, seeking His face, has braced me against the strong winds of change. In the seeking I have strength to endure what my fragile, scared self says I cannot endure. Of course I have to return to look into His eyes several times a day for reassurance and to listen to His reminder He’s got this or I quickly slip back into striving and feeling as if I have been buried under a load of bricks.

What helps you put off working too hard to please others? How do you find your way through all the things you feel you should do to a place of strength taking the next step He has called you to?

P.S. Photos taken by my husband, Jim.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Piecing Together Community

Standing in front of the 17x20 inch friendship quilt, windmill blocks in gray, red and yellow; my husband says, “I am wondering if the names will last?” The names were of women I had built friendships with years ago; we all liked making quilts and collecting fabric. These women stitched together the blocks of this sweet little friendship quilt and signed their names. Whether or not the writing on the quilt fades, their names hold a precious place in my heart. This quilt is a reminder of the kinds of activities I found helpful in piecing together a community of friends.

My photo album has a page dedicated to this small group of ladies. There we sit, all but one, on the church pew in my little house in Antioch, CA. It brings a smile to my face. Where is Cathy B? It could be she is taking the photo. How sad that I didn’t think to trade places with her and get a photo with her in it. The quilt draped across us was the friendship quilt we pieced for Dori H.

Dori was wise; she chose a larger quilt for us to contribute to and it graced her bed for a number of years. We have all moved away from the Bay area. Cathy and I have reconnected in the past year since we live closer to one another now. She told me she still has her quilt, each block a bear, hanging on her guest room wall. Ladies, I think we need a reunion. Can we work on that?

Our fellowship was comprised of Cathy, Deena, Dori, Karen and myself. It seems we tried to meet once a month, and I only remember us gathering regularly just long enough for each of us to receive a quilt. At least I hope all of you got one. I am not sure whose idea it was, but I loved it! It was one of the ways I enjoy building friendships with girlfriends.

It wasn’t the first time I had a group of friends who gathered as such; it was like being in a club. When I was a child I loved the idea of having a club, so I started one; the old, abandoned chicken coop out in the woods at grandma and grandpa’s farm was the club house. Of course I was president of the club; I cast the deciding vote. It was short-lived, maybe because I wouldn’t allow anyone else to be president.

Growing up I left behind the club without purpose in the chicken coop (I know some of you are laughing) and started forming groups around shared interests. When I was in my 20s I found myself in a lonely place. So I invited all my new friends to gather with me once a month to do hand work and eat. Each month we took turns hosting and feeding the group. Each lady brought a project she was working on and we created while yakking it up. It was memorable for me. I loved those evenings of eating what someone else cooked, planning a special meal when I hosted, getting to know each other better and making progress on a project. It gave me a sense of belonging.

Another time the need for connection drove me to start a Bible study in my home. I looked forward to seeing everyone each week, breaking bread and encouraging one another in prayer. My friendships deepened. There were years of gathering with a few to do pen and ink or sorting photos and designing scrapbook pages.

It seems those lovely years went by so fast. There are times now when some fun idea for connecting begins to bud in my mind and quickly dies before bearing fruit in the struggle to find a slot on the calendar and squeezing it in. Yes, I still get together with others for fellowship, but so many don’t seem to have time to commit to a monthly gathering. It’s like we work, serve, sleep and start over. Making time for meaningful fellowship and having fun together seems nearly impossible these days. It’s sad. My life has be sweetened by these gatherings. Throughout the years I have had occasion to reconnect with women who were part of one of these groups and we always pick up where we left off.

There are times when each of us is presented a gift of spontaneity. For example, three women friends of mine were trying every which way to get together. One had to live out of a hotel while her home was being repaired. There were so many complications she couldn’t find a way to meet. So we decided to meet her at the hotel with picnic basket in tow. I purchased some delicious salad kits (as opposed to the not so delicious kind) and dark chocolate. I put it together in a picnic basket, along with my grandma’s depression ware plates. We had a lovely time on the lawn eating our picnic and visiting.

Working around such diverse schedules can be a challenge, but we have to think outside the box. What are some ways you have found for bringing friends together? How do you make meaningful connections when it seems no one has time? Not only do we need to take advantage of the moments presented to us, but maybe it is time we make more room in our schedules to build relationships. Really, everything we do for anyone is multiplied in worth by the time we have invested in building the relationship. What do you say, shall we try being with others more than doing for others?

P.S. Cathy is a superhero when it comes to quilting. When we first met she was working on this quilt. Cathy made this quilt completely by hand -- piecing and quilting. If I remember correctly, this was her ten year quilt. Thanks for the photos, Cathy.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Corrective Perspective Creates Contentment

It was confession time. When I announced with frustration, “This is the year I was supposed to be working on becoming more content,” my husband practically choked on the water he was drinking. He knows how much trouble I have had accepting circumstances and focusing more on what I have instead of what I don’t have. It isn’t really about having the right stuff. Here are some of the things on my discontentment list, things I allow to rob me of joy and contentment in the present moment:

hot weather
high humidity
noisy neighbors
dying plants
a crazy schedule
unreasonable expectations for licensing

And there are things I am ashamed to mention. I let these kinds of things keep me wishing away my life for an ideal future, and it doesn’t exist people! A few things have set me on a corrective course. Again. When someone I love was diagnosed with cancer it gave me a new perspective. I mean really, how does hot, muggy weather compare to the difficulty of all the uncertainty cancer brings into a life.

As complaints rise to my lips like bile in the throat, the sign I had seen just ahead of me in the Walk for Alzheimer’s San Diego flashes across my mind. It was a sign bravely worn by a woman, one of many walking for someone they love(d). Her sign read, “I walk for my husband Mike. He has Alzheimer’s, age 66. Behind my sunglasses tears rolled down my cheeks as I cried for her, for her husband and the difficult challenges they both face. I come from a family of longevity; sixty-six seems quite young.

Today I want to live grateful; I just finished reading I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb. So now I tell myself this is just a noisy neighborhood, it isn’t the sound of bombs and gunfire that press one down with fear. It is all in the perspective. You see whatever it is that makes me dissatisfied with any aspect of the life God has placed me in turns out to be nothing compared to the things others face. But were I in a community of gunfire and bombings, God still wants me to find my contentment in relationship to Him, not my surroundings. I find this a bit tough, particularly when I consider those who truly suffer.

For so many of us, like me, discontentment nibbles away at us as we dwell on the least significant imperfections – the minor dis-satisfactions. I am not minimizing the importance of changes and difficulties many must wrestle down each day to find peace and contentment, but some are greater than others. I live a blessed life and it seems cruel and unkind when I am all down about the noisy neighbors or the hot, humid weather when someone down the street just lost a child or a woman in another part of the world cannot leave her home for fear of being attacked because she is a woman.

I love Alana Dawson’s illustration of how God brings life into the hard places. The situations that are cause for our discontent God uses for good in our lives. I found this encouraging and a good reminder to be open to see all He has provided and not all I want. Read her blog post at 

In Traveling Light author Max Lucado unpacks Psalm 23. He asks this question, “Are you hoping that a change in circumstances will bring a change in your attitude?” In his chapter addressing contentment Lucado reminds us we “need to learn a secret of traveling light. What you have in your Shepherd is greater than what you don’t have in life. . . . You have a God who hears you, the power of love behind you, the Holy Spirit within you, and all of heaven ahead of you. If you have the Shepherd, you have grace for every sin, direction for every turn, a candle for every corner, and an anchor for every storm. You have everything you need.” I want to live as if I believe, which I do, Psalm 23:1, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

We are flooded with the promise of a perfectly happy life if and when . . .

If what? When? It is a daily discipline to live the truth: in Him I have all I need. I’ve not discovered any other way of being satisfied. And you? Have you discovered a corrective perspective to the nagging itch of discontent?

Friday, October 14, 2016

How to Get Your "Awe" Back

One would think we were giving birth to a child that morning when my husband shouted out, “It's coming out! Get your camera!” I asked, “Where's my camera?” He replied, “In your phone.” I think I knew that, I needed to know where I had laid my phone down. Scrambling for cameras was preceded by Jim's discovery of a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, the second of three we borrowed from the Fennel plant in our backyard in hopes of observing the metamorphosis of a butterfly.

We had both been working intently on editing a book in our spare time. In the midst of our challenging schedule we decided to make space for three caterpillars to crystallize and become butterflies. We were not disappointed. Several times a day we would check on the caterpillars to see the changes in progress. Some days we just missed it by minutes. It was our second caterpillar, formed chrysalis, causing the excitement that morning. Jim saw the butterfly in the process of emerging from the crusty shell in which it transformed from caterpillar to butterfly. It emerged all scrunched up and little by little its wings unfolded.

Now one might wonder how two busy adults could make time keeping tabs on the life cycle of caterpillars. I have to say it was a nice diversion. Have you ever found, when you were buried in a project, coming up for air and doing something totally different can clear your head and refresh you? When I allow myself to take a little time to enjoy the blessings of life in all the tiny details it helps put things into perspective and I get my awe back.

Even as I write this I am so bound in tiredness it is a struggle to do anything productive; I am uninspired. It is in the middle of this fog when I most need to take a break and go outside, or at the very least watch an inspirational nature video. Check out this amazing story of a humpback whale.

You may wonder what I mean by getting my awe back. It means being present to enjoy the moment, an awareness of all things beautiful in the world and people around me, taking time to marvel at all this goodness, and being grateful. You can count on me turning negative if I don’t take time to live in wonder and grow in gratitude. These mini awe-inspiring experiences lift my spirit out of the doldrums. Not only does this help change my attitude, it also helps me focus on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable” (Phil. 4:8) when I allow myself to be present in these beautiful experiences.

Recently we had our house treated for termites. I was home the day Miguel came to do the trenching around the foundation. It was a nice day and I had all the windows and doors open. Eventually I heard whistling, then singing. This brought a smile to my face. Miguel was singing a beautiful song in Spanish, and though I did not understand the words I understood the melody. Pausing to listen brought some awe into my busy morning. What a lovely experience! It was the first time I had ever heard a stranger singing while working around my home. My spirits were lifted.

Paul tells us in Philippians 4:8, “if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” So when it comes down to it all these beautiful moments should move my heart to worship. The greatest awe factor is the Creator who designed all these beautiful details and moments for me to enjoy; it is sad to think I miss some of them when I am accomplishment driven and disconnected from my heart. I am ever so grateful for His patience toward me. He continues to bring moments of inspiration into my days even when I fail to pay attention.

It has been at least two months since I have posted; I miss writing and sharing with you. I would love to hear about the beautiful moments you’ve been given to wake up the awe in your life. Feel free to leave a comment below. And may you find your spirit lifted today and your heart in an attitude of praise.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Living Hope

Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul
and sings the tune without words and never stops at all.”
Emily Dickinson

A lovely breeze blows in through the window of our guest room, and I hear tree branches rustling against one another as if celebrating something wonderful. And it is wonderful to have such a breeze on a warm, August day. It's peaceful and it seems sad to exchange this time to write about all the concerns stirred up in our world by the self-serving. So I won't directly address the issues choking out peace and pitting us against each another. We do get our fill.

Though it is important to stay informed and most of all to pray, I find myself saddened by the loss of hope. I find it extremely challenging to find the balance between staying informed and maintaining hope. You see, while I don't recommend Christians keep their heads in the sand (though how I long to), I do believe we have a responsibility to remind others this may be a chapter in the book, but it isn't the whole story.

What I am concerned about is how the political climate of our culture has us so tied in fearful knots, we may find our eternal view blurred. I do not mean to criticize anyone, just challenging the possibility our focus may be pulled to the wrong thing since we are up to our necks in the sludge of propaganda. Be informed, know what is going on in the world but live in hope.

Ann Voskamp writes this about the importance of the hope habit, “Habits are small gears that leverage your life – and the habit of hope can resuscitate anything.” Can it? Can hope resuscitate this painfully twisted world, a world in which there is no safe place to hide? Can hope hold us up above all that seems to be going wrong, high above in the safe place of the Father's hand? Do we truly believe this world is temporary and our home is a place of eternal hope and peace?

Sarah Young's perpetual calendar, Jesus Calling, offers this, “Hope is a golden cord connecting you to heaven . . . Hope lifts your perspective from your weary feet to the glorious view you can see from the high road. . . . I am training you to hold in your heart a dual focus: My continual Presence and the hope of heaven.”

Our hope can never be held up by the right candidate, if there were one. In hope, I challenge myself daily to think on the truer story – His story. Our Father has not forgotten us. At this moment, we are all part of this difficult chapter in our world, but our focus must be on the war not the battle, on the Prize not the present. We must take the long-view not the short-view. Oh but we are to be battling in prayer – this is spiritual and not at all about first appearances or what it seems to be. The darkness in this world would so like for us to focus on the defeat we often feel in our flesh as we struggle upstream against the current of the world. But we are just passing through this mess as one might pass through a terrible storm crossing the mountains. Our focus must be on the pinhole of light we see guiding us as we inch our way through the black night of this world until the Light increases, until there isn't even a speck of darkness – until all is Light.

Do we truly believe in this Hope? Because if we do, I have to ask the hard question. Why does it seem we speak more about the enemy's works than we do of hope, a hope built strong from an eternal perspective. I care about the hurt, the damage and the losses suffered by those on the front-lines of the fray. But I want to be one holding up arms in prayer, focusing discouraged hearts on Jesus, the overcomer of the world, and encouraging others not to give up hope.

On August 9, 2016 John Stonestreet posted the these words on Breakpoint Daily:

Our deepest problems aren't political ones, and the state is not able to address them. Looking to the state for hope is always misguided, but every four years we seem to fall for it. . . . Look, the Church is not reliant one bit on the state to do the life-giving, Gospel-proclaiming, brokenness-restoring work God has called it to do. The Church is the most effective institution of social change, period.”

While living as responsible citizens on this earth, remember our real citizenship is eternal. Embrace Hope. Hold onto the “hope [that] does not disappoint us” (Rom. 5:5 NIV). Hold onto the “living hope [given to us] through the resurrection [of Jesus, God's Son]” (1 Peter 1:3 NIV). We aren't home yet and we have a responsibility to encourage one another, to help keep one another focused on what is real, the hope we have in Christ. Encourage one another to focus on: “whatever is true, . . . noble, . . . right, . . . pure, . . . lovely, . . . admirable, . . . excellent or praiseworthy” (Phil. 4:8).

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness” (Hebrews 3:13).

Monday, July 18, 2016

A Hole in the Trunk

Last day of vacation so I decided to run out and pick up lunch. I was driving home when I saw a car with a gaping hole in the trunk exposing lots of personal property once hidden inside. And it was full of stuff, an ugly mess. I think I may have gasped at the sight of it; it was a bit shocking. Seeing inside the trunk of someone's car in this way made me consider what kinds of things I store in my trunk. Sometimes my trunk is filled for weeks on end with things I mean to donate to the thrift store. Other times my trunk holds the basics: back pack for work, car emergency kit, spare tire and a pop up bag for groceries, which rarely gets used because I forget it is there. I often have something in my trunk to return to someone. Putting something in the trunk seems to have a way of wiping it from my memory temporarily. If I have something of yours, you might check the trunk of my car.

While I was thinking about what people might see if my trunk was bashed open, it occurred to me most of us have an emotional trunk where we stuff feelings and memories we want to forget or don't know what to do with, things we don't want others to see. OK so I am a counselor and yes I have to tie the exposed trunk to our psychological mess. Please bear with me. I do believe a lot of what we try to ignore in our emotional trunks keeps us trapped and unable to live in freedom.

Without making a full disclosure of all we hide in our trunks, let's consider the bottom line: shame. Maybe shame isn't all, but shame seems to be the big white elephant we all stuff into the trunk and lock it in tight; we for sure don't want others to know how much shame we feel. Here is the interesting thing I have discovered in my work, most of what we are ashamed of aren't things we did wrong (though there is some of that). People are most often ashamed of things out of their control. The big snow ball of shame begins as a child by the things others did or said to us and it keeps on building from there. Shame is based on the lies we believe and shame paralyzes us. I love this reminder in Psalm 34:5 (NIV).

Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.

Brené Brown, an expert on shame, wrote, “Shame is that warm feeling that washes over us, making us feel small, flawed, and never good enough. If we want to develop shame resilience – ability to recognize shame and move through it while maintaining our worthiness and authenticity – then we have to talk about why shame happens.”

Oh no! We have to pull shame out of the trunk and into the open. Brown goes on to write, “Shame is basically the fear of being unlovable . . . There is a real fear that we can be buried or defined by an experience that, in reality, is only a sliver of who we are. . . . Shame needs three things to grow out of control in our lives: secrecy, silence, and judgment. When something shaming happens and we keep it locked up, it festers and grows. It consumes us. We need to share our experience. Shame happens between people, and it heals between people. . . . Shame loses power when it is spoken.”

Like me, many of you may be wondering: “Aren't we supposed to feel ashamed of some things?” Brown simply explains the difference between shame and guilt in this way:

Guilt = I did something bad.
Shame = I am bad.

We all have stories that have shaped us for better or worse. Shame can keep us from seeing any good, anything of worth in our stories. Shame can make us hide and pretend until someone rear ends our emotional trunk and our pain gets exposed. Ultimately we each have a choice in whether or not we allow our stories to be used for good or buried inside to decay and shame us. I am learning it is better to embrace the story I've lived, sift it for all the good God has brought from it, be a humble encourager of others from a truer place, than have my protective bumper ripped away and all my stuff instantly and violently exposed.

Peter Scazzero writes in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, “Our fear of bringing secrets and sin into the light, however, drives many people to prefer the illusion that if they don't think about it, it somehow goes away. It doesn't. Unhealed wounds open us up to habitual sin against God and others. . . . You see, even the worst and most painful family experiences are part of our total identity. God had a plan in placing us in our particular families and cultures. And the more we know about our families, the more we know about ourselves – and the more freedom we have to make decisions how we want to live. We can say: 'This is what I want to keep. This is what I do not want to bring with me to the next generation.'”

Of course we cannot make such healthy decisions without looking in the trunk at the things hidden away. We don't look to blame and we don't look to dwell; we look to expose it to the light and to be set free. Shame tells us not to look. Being whole and healthy requires us, not only to look, to sift through and expose our lives to the light of truth. It is only by truth we are set free.

All this to say opening our emotional trunks is not the same thing as exposing hurt and hurtful people on social media. We have dulled our senses from overexposure and do not realize this has the same effect as ripping open a trunk and exposing everything at once. This is not healing, not useful and is not without shame. Our stories aren't meant to be weapons. It is through the grace of God we are able to expose our wounds in a healthy way, bringing all the ingredients of our lives, and allowing our stories to be woven into His beautiful message of love and redemption to the world.

I find hope in the words of Henri J. M. Nouwen, “There are two ways of telling your story. One is to tell it compulsively and urgently, to keep returning to it because you see your present suffering as the result of your past experiences. But there is another way. You can tell your story from the place where it no longer dominates you. You can speak about it with a certain distance and see it as the way to your present freedom. The compulsion to tell your story is gone. From the perspective of the life you now live and the distance you now have, your past does not loom over you. It has lost its weight and can be remembered as God's way of making you more compassionate and understanding toward others.”

Maybe it's time to inventory your trunk. How are you doing as you sort out what is usable and what is not? Are you willing to give shame the boot so you are free to offer up the mess for God to use? If the idea is overwhelming, don't do it alone. We are to encourage one another and bear one another's burdens. Find a trustworthy person to buoy you up in the process.