Friday, October 19, 2018

Finding God Between Here and There, Part 2

From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere!”
Dr. Seuss, One Fish, Two Fish Red Fish, Blue Fish

In between here and there life is filled with lots of experiences but not all of them are funny as Dr. Seuss suggests. Yet most of life is spent traveling between here and there. It is my guess we spend more time living between here and there than in arriving and being. Frustrations can mount in between. It rarely crosses the mind to consider a place of transition as significant, a place in which we are invited to regard the possibilities, and not to dismiss such place as inhospitable. It is hard to accept the value found in living life as a process and not an achievement. Living is an investment in the life we’ve been handed; and we are either actively immersed in embracing this space in our lives between here and there or we are withering in the want of something more. I have experienced both.

The transition between our dream and it’s fulfillment can be a bit like a tipsy walk across a log bridging two sides of a river. Waiting to get from here to there can make a person feel unsettled, wringing out doubts and questions about decisions made and halfway crossed off. Neither forward nor backwards seems a good option. How can I experience God in the in-between moments, months and years? Some of the places in between here and there are more difficult to navigate than others. How can the in-between be as meaningful or possibly more so than arriving? It seems impossible.

I am aware I am in-between but of what I do not know. I get glimpses but in the process, what I think is the end result goes all wonky and then the from here to there stretches out like an endless, bumpy dirt road in a foreign country. One day this week I felt like crawling out of my skin because of this uncomfortable in-between place in which I found myself. In April it was as if I was dropped down a rabbit hole like Alice, and I found myself pressed to contortions navigating from there to here to there. I’m not sure where. But this last week in August I let go of something I worked long and hard to attain and while I don’t know what’s next, I am learning to recognize God in this clumsy transition.

It seems I am to let go of more than something I worked hard for; I am invited to let go of the form in which I find significance. And so like Alice in Wonderland, I must transform to move through an unfamiliar space. This place I don’t traverse alone; I need support. The Holy Spirit is my guide, and I find my support within the Christian community. I need a discerning spirit when choosing people to walk alongside me in this journey. Not just anyone is able to provide healthy support without trying to fix the uncomfortable fit as if it is a problem.

I’m more certain than ever that prayer is at the heart of transformation. And also that God’s will has a lot more to do with inviting us to become more than we previously have been than about getting us to a specific destination.” Shauna
Niequist, Savor
I agree with Niequist; I am certain we are in-between to become and not so much to arrive. At least while living this earthly life. I find Him here when I release my expectations and open up to the possibilities in the midst of the all the unplanned moments. I am learning to be more intentional about listening to what His Spirit has to teach me; I find Him in solitude and prayer. Surrendering to Him and His transforming grace isn’t easy, but it is where I find the One who surrounds me with His love and makes more of my life between here and there than I ever could.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Finding God in My Circumstances (Part 1)

North of Chicago in a little town called Mundelein there is a small lake in the woods. As I walked around this small lake, crossing over several bridges, I spied the shaggy bark of a hickory tree. Scattered on the ground were tightly closed, light green husks. After all these years, my brain pulled up a distant memory of hickory nuts. I was so surprised that I used my phone to research the hickory nut tree confirming I had correctly identified it. Being in the presence of this tree brings back memories of gathering hickory nuts. Joy bubbles up inside me as I recall a sunny autumn day on a neighboring farm; grandma had been invited to harvest hickory nuts. A handful of cousins, my brother and I helped gather nuts and played underneath the tree.

The hickory nut is a small delicious nut worth the great effort it takes to crack and extract the meat inside. It was worth the effort back then because grandma did most of the tedious work and added them to chocolate chip cookie dough. Chocolate chip cookies loaded with hickory nuts are a beautiful autumnal combination of flavors and a favorite of mine. It has been years since I have tasted a hickory nut.

Throughout the woods around this small lake were other reminders of growing up in Ohio: lichen, puff balls (a type of fungus), tree bracket fungus, red maple leaves, gray squirrels and cicada. Why does this thrill me so? Maybe it was because I was the girl who talked to trees and found comfort in nature. A small ranch house plopped down on an acre shaded by 100 trees taught me to fall asleep with the raucous sound of the cicadas and to wake early in the morning with enough bird calls one would think I lived in an aviary.

Under the trees I imagined myself living a different life than the one in which I had been planted. Isn’t that the way we are – often looking for a dreamier, better life and missing the best of life we are meant to be living. Though my family lived in chaos, I was given the gift of experiencing the woods in every season with each of their distinctive qualities. And I could often be found outside no matter the weather. On the far side of mid-life my childhood behavior of re-imagining my life has become a bad habit and has planted weeds of discontent.

In recent months I read a passage in Jeremiah 29. Those of you familiar with this chapter may have jumped straight to the popularly quoted passage of verses 11-13, “For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.’”

But verse 14 says, “I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back from captivity.’” Captivity! That turns my head and eyes back a page to the beginning of the chapter. Israel had rebelled against God again and we find them exiled in Babylon – enemy territory. Jeremiah sends them a message from God, chapter 29 verses 4-7 (NIV) are the first portion of this message.

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’”
This place God has planted me is not a place of captivity; I am no longer a child trapped in an alcoholic home. I am married to a godly man who is like home to me. But I have been discontented with my neighborhood, my city and sometimes my church. This is a place the enemy loves for me to camp out – this place of deception and self-pity. I don’t like it and am not proud of my struggle. But when I read this passage in Jeremiah I was jolted out of my complacency and recognized I have some serious work to do. As I read, I felt the Holy Spirit challenge me to quit looking beyond this place.

I am to put down roots and to pray for the good of my neighbors. It is easier to grumble about them, but nothings changes when I do. Nothing changes with the neighbors and nothing changes inside me. Have you ever lived in a difficult neighborhood? Loud music and screaming, a dog yapping in the middle of the night are some of the irritations. It is loud, and sometimes disturbing noises, salted with cursing that affect me most. Some of these sounds take me back to the harsher memories of childhood, the painful years of growing up in an alcoholic home. I can let the memories hold me captive or I can take them captive by His Spirit and seek to have compassion and mercy for my neighbors.

It is essential for me to look for God in my neighborhood; to see His work, His calling and His beauty. I only have to walk a few blocks east of my home before I have a view of the Pacific Ocean. On an evening walk I may get a glimpse of a beautiful coastal sunset even though I don’t live on the beach. What is my turquoise table on this street? This is still unsettled. I am seeking God’s direction. I enjoy baking and am wondering if sharing baked goods will be the way of blessing my neighbors and inviting my heart to care. What is going well for me here and now? My own home life. Also, God is working to transform me in this neighborhood.

Brokenness breeds brokenness unless someone decides to do some mending. Mending is hard, tedious work, even more tedious than grandma cracking hickory nuts, and many do not recognize mending as an option to wholeness and peace. Living in brokenness is hard work also but the payoff is pain. So I am learning to pray for neighbors who scream and curse at one another, and to recognize the neighbor whose car alarm goes off nearly everyday is struggling to make ends meet and get kids to school on time. These people aren’t here to make my life miserable. This isn’t my childhood. These are the people around me who need Jesus; there is hope for them just as there has been hope for me. I am to make a garden in this neighborhood. I am to make home in this neighborhood. And I am to pray for this neighborhood to prosper – for God to bless these people and bring hope and healing into their lives.

In what ways have you seen God in your situation? What is He teaching you? I have added a link here to a podcast that moved and inspired me to be content and live fully in the blessings He has given me for this time.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Stablilizing a Wonky Summer

I looked out the car window while we waited at a stoplight. There was a tree in the medium draped in generously large yellow blossoms. And all around the tree, yellow butterflies flitted about as if they recognized how perfectly well-matched they were to the flowers. A day or so later I noticed a large yellow butterfly touring our backyard; I waited for it to settle somewhere hoping to get a good look. It didn’t settle on my watch. The days have been rather warm and muggy causing both plants and humans to wilt, parched while waiting for the dry, cooler air to come. It hasn’t and we are left waiting. Meanwhile all through the house, fans whir creating artificial breezes giving the illusion that it’s not so bad.

These summer days have been a bit like watching for the large yellow butterfly to settle someplace; I check weather apps in hope of a change in the weather. Instead of the weather changing, the topography of our lives comes to a sharp turn. It has been a transitional summer – one leaving us searching for a new normal to organize our days around. Nothing feels quite settled yet and I wonder if we will ever find our days held together by the scaffolding of regularity again. I don’t expect humdrum but right now it is as if we are on an endless moving walkway. We aren’t, but it feels so. It is as if the rhythm of our days seems a bit unstable – a bit wonky. We wait for a recognizably new blossom to come forth as Friedrich Schiller wrote in Act IV, scene III of William Tell, “What’s old collapses, times change, and new life blossoms in the ruins.”

I find myself restless in the midst of lots of little decisions wrapped around a few bigger ones. The big decisions seem to get made; it is the little decisions that ruffle my feathers and drive me to escape into a more comfortable space in my head. As the decision/action list increased I found myself reading about making home and rethinking what nesting means to me. Just when life seems less than normal I rethink something solid under my feet, but the rethinking doesn’t cause a cosmic reformation of my days; it merely helps me feel some sense of control. The way I cook, do laundry, clean house and maintain order is something that grounds me in the midst of change. The big changes and the zillion little time consuming decisions may settle with the dust when I get my homemaking done, but I design and control the homemaking. It isn’t helping me make decisions, but it does help me keep my sanity.

I vacillate between frustrated and unhappy about the weather, and grateful I have a roof over my head with electricity to run those fans. A nice breeze moves in through the screen door as if to remind me it gets better. The breeze stirs up the wind chimes and the sound calms me. I fluctuate between concern about the cost of changes reshaping our lives to experiencing the flutter of anticipation waiting to see what God is doing in all this. If I could I would be out and about floating around with the butterflies, but here I sit rock solid without wings. In the ordinary corners of my day the Spirit meets with me and lifts me from this heavy place.

I ride on the wings of joy and hope in expectation of my life direction being turned this way and that until it is refocused. The Spirit helps me to be brave when I am not naturally brave. In a way it is like changing plots in the middle of a story. No surprise to God, though. How do you handle change? Do you find yourself in an unsettled place right now? What, if anything, do you do to help normalize it? I have a wonderful support system: my husband, friends, daughters, my mom and most of all my Heavenly Father. What about you? The people who wrap me in their love and encouragement in the midst of change increase my sense of peace and joy in spite of all the unexpected surprises and waiting.
Have you found a loving bunch of people to support you?

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Organic Work of Transformation

We do what we can to invite nature into our yard, and often we’re given surprises. I spent the greater part of my childhood living on an acre occupied by 100 trees, mostly walnut and oak. To my delight upon marrying Jim, I found we are in agreement, our southern California yard is a nature preserve of sorts. We invite birds, butterflies and a wide variety of plants onto our property, a slightly larger piece of land than the average postage stamp lot in our city. Visiting friends enjoy watching the birds splash about in our birdbaths and dine from the various feeders, but these same friends usually don’t want the mess in their backyard.

I have to say birds are very messy, but oh so entertaining. The regular entertainers are hummingbirds, sparrows and hawks, though they are not all compatible. Apart from bird doings, a thriving plant also brings great satisfaction. A recent post on Instagram expressed the writer’s concern for the survival of her plants when leaving town for an extended period of time. It seems no one else in her family is aware of the of plants the way she is, offering them the care needed to keep them alive. This is a BIG concern when we take a vacation!

A few weeks before embarking on a trip I asked my husband who is going to take care of our plants? Now we don’t have just a few house plants and a little bit of landscaping to water; we have PLANTS. We have heavy drinkers and drought tolerant plants all needing different kinds of care. So it is a relatively big task to take on and I don’t envy the person doing it. Jim knows our plants and even under his fastidious care we occasionally lose one. The mourning that goes on around here when we lose a favorite plant might make some wonder if we have a life outside of our yard.

When tuned into the details of nature, God’s creation, the surprises never end. Jim and I delight in walking around the yard together and taking inventory of the latest changes. We dote on our plants like grandparents with grandchildren. For instance, I planted various flower seeds saved over time a couple of months ago. We misted the seeded areas waiting and watching for something to happen. I don’t normally do well with seeds, so I looked online to find out how to plant seeds for each of the following: Hollyhocks, Cosmos, Zinnias and Sunflowers. The Hollyhocks emerged and disappeared. No Cosmos. The Zinnia’s came up and seem to be doing well. I dug deep and loosened the soil for the Sunflower seeds and added compost as suggested.

I was so excited when I saw tiny plants emerging where I made the extra effort planting Sunflower seeds. As they grew larger Jim noticed something unusual. He asked me, “Are you sure you planted Sunflower seeds?” Sunflower seeds are rather distinctive. I was sure! “They look more like tomato plants,” he said. They sure did and they sure are! The Sunflowers didn’t emerge at all, but the rotting tomatoes in the compost sprouted. We have 5 thriving tomato plants and they would not be doing so well if I had intended for them to grow there. Tomato plants have always started in random places in the yard as a result of using compost to enrich our soil. But I now have a nice line up of tomato plants looking exactly as if I planned it.

Jim introduced me to composting seven years ago when we got married. It is a marvel! Compost is a great way to make use of organic waste like eggshells, vegetable scraps, dried leaves, etc. Mixed together, occasionally watered and stirred, then left to marinate; this results in a rich humus attracting worms making it perfect for adding to the poor soil in our yard. Nature has much to teach us about living richer lives.

It seems what we grow depends on two things: whether we bury our hurt in dark places or whether we give them up to God for compost. When life hits us with pain and hardship we need to invite God into our pain and give Him these experiences to be composted – “accumulating experiences and letting them ripen into the rich soil” (Janice Elsheimer) – as opposed to being buried deeply into our spirits.

All of us have gone through difficulties, been hurt and even suffered at one time or another. When I think about composting I often consider how the hurtful mess of life can be composted and then worked into our lives to transform us like scraps can be transformed into rich soil. There have been times when I allowed the pain of life to dictate negativity and hopelessness. But when I choose to come crawling up into the lap of the Heavenly Father and let it all out on His shoulders something different happens. When I see Him as for me and not against me in the difficulties, over time I am transformed. Rich growth unimaginable takes place and I am released to become more the person He designed me to be. It is the beautiful side of pain.

I love Deborah DeFord’s picture of this in her book, The Simpler Life. “Personally, I prefer to consider old, outdated thoughts and actions along an organic model. They’ve had their day, for better or worse and now they’re like a garden’s stubble. We can plow them under and allow them to decompose without rancor. In that way they come to enrich the living material of our present and future.”

We can plant one thing and harvest another with compost. It was Sunflowers I planted, but I was given produce to enjoy throughout the summer. My desire was for a bloom that would not last long and I was given nourishment instead. How has God enriched your life when difficulties were given over to Him to decompose and transform into something beautiful and meaningful?

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Closed Door of Opportunity

Last weekend we were wrapping up vacation; back home putting things in order and attending a family birthday event. Upon returning home, as soon as we inserted the key in the front door, endless activity began. Yet the scent of home filled the air welcoming our return, and we felt great appreciation for this place in which we find sanctuary. I feel much the same coming back to this blog; I have been a bit absent. Today I take a deep breath, roll out the welcome mat and invite you to join me again at Out of the Woods.

Writing is like coming home to myself; I love words. When I thread words together, like beads on a string, I find it challenging work as well a form of play. And it is also an opportunity to create a safe place to recognize our humanity bearing the thumbprint of the Creator. How unbelievably wonderful!

Currently my life looks like an unfinished finger painting. In recent months I drifted away from writing publicly; a lot of personal writing has been going on behind the scenes. Sometimes life gets messy and I am one who needs a lot of solitary time to process the big stuff. Change in the early stages almost always seems undefined and difficult to pin down. My emotions can also get wonky. Eventually it
comes together and I begin to see a clearer picture of the next step and then I inch my way toward embracing and getting comfortable with my new norm. But only for awhile. Change is a constant in life, big or small.

We all experience change, some more than others. For my husband, change is a relatively calm lake fed by an underground spring. There is movement but it is quiet and undramatic. But change clings to me, this ordinary, country girl who couldn’t dream past being a homemaker and a mom; and I have loved being both. God has a way of expanding me, stretching me to fit His grand design. And that always involves change. I guess I am one of those people who need lots of stretching; I’ve a natural bent toward finding a comfortable little nesting space and settling in. A number of changes in my life have looked more like white water rafting.

Several years back on a family camping trip in Colorado, my brother-in-law signed us up for a Class 4 white water rafting adventure. None of us had ever gone white water rafting. During the training I thought, “This shouldn’t be too bad as long as I follow the rules.” When we started out, we drifted along easily through Poudre Canyon (short for Cache la Poudre River Canyon). The Poudre River begins high up in the mountains along the Continental Divide. Just as we were learning how to remain in the raft, using our feet to hold on while bouncing about on the river, our guide warned we were entering a tricky spot. The turn was full of rushing water and we would pass between two boulders. If we tipped up just right way, we would come out of the rapids right side up. In my wildest dreams I did not imagine it happening any other way.

We tipped. Completely over. It was like being in an angry washing machine. Water was swirling around me and I panicked a little, or maybe a lot. I grabbed for anything and got nothing. Struggling for air and to free myself from the river’s grasp, twice I bumped against the bottom of the raft; all potential air gaps were filled with water. I knew I shouldn’t panic but my panic increased. I could easily drown right in front of my family. And then suddenly I bobbed out of the water into the sunlight gasping for air and choking on water. It was a frightening experience and I wasn’t sure I wanted to finish the ride. The guide assured me I did not have to finish, the bus had been traveling parallel to us.

While attempting to compose myself, I considered what was best for me to do. Everything in me wanted to give it up and play it safe. No one could blame me; after all I was the last to surface from the rushing water. My mind went back to when I was in early elementary school and my dad had gave me a Shetland pony; it was stubborn and uncooperative. Many times that pony bucked me off and my dad would say, “If you want to get over your fear you have to get back on.”

If I didn’t complete this river trip I might never get over my fear of the water. I agreed to stay in the raft. Thankfully, the remainder of the ride was rewarding and without mishap. Sometimes change is exciting, sometimes challenging, and at times painful. Change can require a lot of mental and emotional energy. There are some people who can publicly write their way through the pain. At this point in time I lack the skill. The shared pain of watching my mother-in-law die was hard enough but one day after her burial I experienced a different sort of loss.

The envelope I had been waiting on was dropped in our mailbox. Like my rafting experience, I expected nothing less than a favorable response, instead a proverbial door slammed in my face. It rocked me. I worked very hard a number of years to bring this work to completion and ended up searching for a place to curl up, grieve and pray. Some difficult decisions had to be made. Was I going to get back in and slug it out or take this as an opportunity to move in another direction? I had to get to a place of calm in order to hear the Spirit’s leading and not my own reaction. Out of it all comes this glorious upheaval of personal change. Maybe closed door open to something new like what Lucy (from The Chronicles of Narnia) discovered as she climbed inside the wardrobe.

“‘This must be a simply enormous wardrobe!’ thought Lucy, going still further in and pushing the soft folds of the coats aside to make room for her.”

The wardrobe seems never to end. Lucy comes to the end of the fur coats and finds herself scratched by tree branches and being covered by snow.

“Lucy felt a little frightened, but she felt very inquisitive and excited as well. She looked back over her should and there, between the dark tree-trunks, she could still see the open doorway of the wardrobe.”

It was just an ordinary wardrobe door but once opened and stepped through it led to Narnia. An opening may not lead where it seems but in His hands it will take you where you need to be. It is the beginning of something new; too soon for all the details. Like Lucy, I am curious, excited and a bit nervous. It is a beautiful thing when change draws support from old and new friends. It buoys me to have learned this truth: God wastes nothing on our earthly journey. When we seek to live in His will, one experience flows into another, feeding into eternal life and His plans for each of us. Do you experience change like an unpredictable, raging river or like a slow flow from a spring? What helps you embrace change? Would love to hear from you.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Paying Attention

The first Monday after daylight savings time, having lost an hour, I decided to wake to an alarm and begin my day in the morning darkness – to pay attention and listen.

To pay attention this is our endless and proper work.”
Mary Oliver

It is just a small challenge, really; I am only getting up at 5:30 am. A need has sprouted in my soul for some sort of practice connecting me to my creative center. The Spirit tugs at my heart with whispers to write more, which means I must listen more. I scratch words onto a page in my journal attempting to know what my life is speaking to me, or rather what I need to hear from my thoughts and feelings I tucked away in the busy moments of living. I am learning to love commiserating with the morning darkness. Nothing great comes of it, yet something good opens inside of me when I make more time for solitude and listening.

Some solitude is uncomfortable, hard work; but more naturally suited to my personality. I feel quite at home in solitude. But still I must tend to it; I must make space for the necessary solitude. In the quiet I am able to listen, write and pray while something awakens in my spirit. I don’t always know what awakens, but experience a sense of my own blossoming in the silence. I am learning to listen in the chilly darkness while snuggled in a fluffy blanket. At first I write whatever comes to the surface and then I use writing prompts.

I like how Leeana Tankersley describes her own early morning ritual in her book Begin Again,
My subconscious mind has not yet been interrupted. Nothing has intruded my senses. Out the windows is only stillness. I sit and drink black coffee and listen and write. Undistracted. I write on the top of my paper: God, what do you want to say to me this morning? And I just listen . . .”

By 8:30 am, the neighbor’s tiny dog, wound up and hyper-vigilant, consistently emits a high pitched bark directed at everyone passing by (or so it seems). The nearby middle school makes their morning announcements so loudly I’ve heard each syllable of The Pledge of Allegiance (grateful they still say it) and I know whose birthday is celebrated on any given day. It takes a lot more energy to infuse my time with quiet while neighborhood sounds bust through all barriers: doors, closed windows, walls and sometimes ear plugs (truly). And yet I embrace solitude whenever I can grab hold of it.

The beauty of growing older is the freedom to drink deep from the quiet when I so choose. So later in the morning, after having breakfast and coffee with my husband, before I take a stab at my to-do list or prepare for clients, I spend time reading and meditating on God’s Word and praying. This discipline opens a tender space in me, tuning my heart and soul toward the work of paying attention and being directed. There are times when I feel like a field left fallow; nicely plowed with nothing planted. But I have learned over the years this time is not wasted. The daily practice of showing up and paying attention scatters seeds I do not recognize, but not before the dark places in me have been laid open and exposed. Unaware in the ordinary dailiness of being and doing, life germinates.

The cultivation of attentiveness to God’s presence should be the soil out of which all prayer arises.”
Opening to God, David G. Benner

I have carried more guilt than I care to admit over the amount of time I have invested in “being” over “doing.” But surprisingly I still get a lot done – a lot of the things that truly matter to me. Last fall, my brother walked Jim and me through the process of developing a life plan, leaving us with one significant phrase summing up our purpose and focus. And we both knew without a doubt this one thing matters greatly to both of us. But we left with a stack of papers graffitied with our thought processes which were condensed into a one sentence directive. We had no idea how to sharpen our lives to that point. Out of the quiet places of my day ideas, thoughts and possibilities have been breaking ground. And just the other day, after I shared with Jim, things coming to life in me he said, “Maybe this is meant to be a part of our life plan.” In my spirit I sensed he was right.

The ways God can communicate with us are infinitely more creative and diversifies than we could imagine.”
Opening to God, David G. Benner

In the evening light as birds chatter loudly in the tangerine tree, the “what ifs” press in on my spirit planting doubts. Have I exposed too much hopefulness in these written words? Quickly I am reminded this hope is not in me, but in the One Who made me, the One Who “began a good work in [me].” Sigh. I relax. This is His doing, not mine. All I had to do was pay attention.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Transforming A Meltdown

How can an application for a licensure exam be cause for a meltdown? But it was. There I was laying on the rug in the living room, tears in my eyes and asking God where this all went wrong. I had started the day in the Word and in prayer; how could I be in such a dark place now? My husband laid down on the rug with me. He said, “It seems like you need help holding down the rug.” This was his way of showing empathy; it was best for him not to risk saying too much. In that moment everything in my life seemed to have gone wrong (tell me you’ve been there), when really I was just being challenged by paperwork and experiencing some anxiety about not getting it right.

It isn’t like this was the first time I attempted the process of filling out this paperwork; no it was actually the third. It seems drilling a website on my own through several links and form options is not one of my strengths. But there it is – paperwork took me down. I was feeling alone in the process, but there was my sweet husband holding down the rug with me as I ranted about everything while feeling incompetent and like a failure, when in actuality I was afraid and anxious.

For all the healing God has done in my life, there are still things that trigger feelings of inadequacy and in the struggle I may be found wrung out limp on the rug. Prior to wrestling myself down before God in my helpless state, I wasn’t able to give myself grace until I beat up on myself a bit. Or maybe a lot. Then the Father takes my hand and guides me away from the ugly abyss of self-loathing; He pries my fingers from the edge and doesn’t let me fall and drown. He reminds me it is OK not knowing how to do all things well and He does not want me to give up. More than anything He wants me to learn to lean on Him and listen to His whispers of reassurance.

In her book, Begin Again, Leeana Tanksley writes “We do not punish ourselves into transformation. We do not begin again by refusing to forgive ourselves. I’ve come to believe that we make lasting changes because we know, somewhere inside us, that we deserve something better, that we are hardwired for wholeness. . . . We don’t make lasting, constructive changes in our lives because of shame or self-loathing. We finally decide we were made for something more. This might come to us in a very small sense of knowing, but it’s a change in perspective, and it is the soil for new life.”

In her introduction Leeana explains how the phrase, ‘Always we begin again’, from the Rule of Saint Benedict became her lifeline. “It was permission to be unaccomplished, to be a beginner, to be brand new. More than permission, too, a sense that I was right where I should be and that the beginning space was actually a holy space, not just a layover on my way to something better.”

To be in uncomfortable spaces like: beginner, new, unaccomplished, puts me in a place of vulnerability. In this place the Father isn’t looking down on me in disgust; He wants me to look to Him for help. He wants to take hold of my hand and walk alongside me with support, love, encouragement and strength. This isn’t me just being weak, it is me leaning, surrendering and trusting. It is the grace space; I don’t have to know it all or be able to do it all. I must look up and fix my eyes on Him.

I am reminded of words from the Jesus Calling calendar by Sarah Young. “Link your hope not to problem solving in this life but to the promise of an eternity of problem-free life in heaven. Instead of seeking perfection in this fallen world, pour your energy into seeking Me: the Perfect One.”

Had I stopped filling out forms when I started getting anxious and sought Him I may not have ended up collapsed in despair on the rug in our living room. But I did. And from a real person who was willing to turn herself inside out to help others in the journey toward wholeness, I am reminded it is absolutely OK and incredibly life-giving to Begin Again. I am grateful when I read a book that reminds me I am not alone on this rugged human journey, and I cannot and need not figure it out perfectly. I am and we are “perfectly imperfect.” How do you navigate the situations in life where you find yourself feeling defeated by helplessness, inadequacy or incompetency? What do you do to support yourself in those moments? How have others come alongside you? I would love to hear your story.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Life I've Been Given

Somewhere I read, “Things are not as they should be.” This statement fits so well as I look out the window of the ICU ward and view the expansive beauty of the Pacific Ocean. On this clear, sunny day I can see downtown San Diego and Point Loma. In room 10 on the 5th floor my mother-in-law stares, unable to speak with a tube down her throat. She has pneumonia, along with an unknown bacteria. We wait. We watch for signs of improvement.

And while our family rotates in and out of room 10 throughout the day, waiting for our loved one to heal, a car pulls up in front of the hospital and a young man steps out and returns carrying a newborn baby. While one struggles to breathe and hang onto life, another has wrestled free from the womb and breathes oxygen deep into newly formed lungs letting out a scream that brings a whole family to attention. Things don’t seem to be as they should be, but they are what they will be. While an aged couple faces the struggle to rein bodies giving out, an engagement is announced by a younger couple with most of their life seemingly still ahead of them.

Autumn leaves, past their season, let go and scatter about in the street as I drive by on my way home from the store with a bouquet of daffodils in my shopping bag. Life is full of incongruity and things are not often the way we hoped they would be. Life is far from ideal; the sad packages we are given can be wrapped in joyous moments and vice versus. All the signs we are human: babies, weddings, aging bodies and death are the ordinary stuff of being human. The joys and struggles of our everyday lives are the things God uses to draw our attention to Him. Like colorful leaves letting go out of season I sometimes wonder if the events of the day are all out of place, and I sigh hoping this isn’t real. But it is.

This has been a year for learning how to pray. It’s not like I had no idea how to pray, but how to be present to His presence and to listen for His voice. And in the midst of learning about prayer I see this part of me that spent a lot of energy wanting to get on with the life I am really meant to live – wanting to get past the hard things and onto what is joyful and rewarding. But I am learning a few things as I sit in His Word and open my mouth to pray and shut my mouth to listen.

This is the life I am meant to live, here in the midst of sickness, unfinished projects, babies, weddings, meals and laundry; it is here where He leads and speaks and loves in and through me. He is using everything – even things seeming not as they should be – to transform me. Though life experiences don’t come tied up in nice, tidy little packages with bows; there is beauty in letting go and leaving room for the unexpected. There is freedom in accepting things will not always be as they seem or as I wish them to be.

I am learning to let go of having things the way I want and to live the life I have been given. And trust me, it is not easy. I am a work in progress and return to this place more often than I care to admit. Always, when I show up again on His doorstep with a pout on my face that lets Him know I hadn’t expected life to look this way, I find grace. There I can fall into His arms, let it all go and be loved. Then He turns me around, as He did with Elijah, and tells me to go back the way I came. For even though “Things are not as they should be” life is exactly as it is meant to be in His kingdom and He gives me everything I need to live the life I have been given.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

It's All In the Fight Pattern

The Sharp-shinned Hawk sits in the bird bath; all the smaller birds have taken cover in the trees, all except the Black Phoebe. The Black Phoebe is a Flycatcher – a pretty black bird with a white belly – looking as if dressed for a formal event. The Phoebe sits bravely on top of a stump or a bare branch. I am in awe of its courage. After discussing why this little bird is so brave when all the other birds flew to cover, my husband and I concluded the Phoebe’s boldness is due to his flight pattern. A more knowledgeable birdwatcher may know the scientific reason, we were satisfied with our conclusion.

The are several species of North American Flycatchers and according to Wikipedia, Peterson’s Field Guide states, “The flycatchers are the largest family of birds on earth, with over 400 known species." The Black Phoebe is medium-sized and usually perches in low exposed areas (the log in our back yard) near fresh water (the bird bath) with tail bobbing up and down. A Flycatcher is known for its acrobatics in flight – useful for snatching flying insects (main diet) right out of the air. I have watched from our back door as a Black Phoebe winged this way and that to catch its supper. Flycatchers also have the ability to hover and snag an insect directly from a leaf.

The Sharp-shinned Hawk, smallest of the hawk species, are quick and agile. We do not see them year round in southern California, but they arrive in winter. I am back to wondering why the Phoebe sat so bravely on a bare branch when this hawk sat nearby. Doesn’t the Phoebe identify its enemy or recognize this to be a quick, agile Sharp-shinned Hawk? Now I am all about getting a mini-lesson on birds, but my purpose in exploring this curious situation elicits questions about my own skills and confidence in facing down the enemy of my soul.

Those of us who claim to be disciples of Jesus often buckle under when the enemy shows up and threatens to take our peace, our families, our homes, etc. I am not claiming we can take away anyone’s free will, but we can certainly do battle in the Spirit against evil. I recently sat across from a young woman I care about and listened as she shared the intense battle going on in her home. I asked if she was familiar with spiritual warfare (fighting in the spirit with God’s power and not in the flesh – our own limited strength) and she said, “Yes”. I strongly suggested she start praying protection over her home everyday.

For some of you reading my blog this may be unfamiliar. If you are interested in learning more about spiritual warfare there are many verses in the Bible teaching how to fight the enemy of God, as well as good books on spiritual warfare. Spiritual warfare involves praying the Word of God and claiming His promises. The movie, War Room, is a good example of spiritual warfare, along with Priscilla Shire’s book Fervent. I also like John Eldredge’s book, Waking the Dead. All believers have access to the power of the Spirit, the same power that rose Jesus from the dead, but we often forget. I know I do.

Priscilla Shire writes, “Praying with precision is key. When we pray about the places where we seriously suspect the enemy is at work – that’s how we keep our prayers focused, not only on particular situations but on biblical truths that are consistent with maintaining victory in the midst of them. It’s how our praying stays integrated with reality, rather than aimlessly wandering . . . Prayer is the portal that brings the power of heaven down to earth. It is the kryptonite to the enemy and to all his ploys against you.”

So how can I be bold in the presence of the enemy like the Black Phoebe in the presence of the Sharp-shinned Hawk? I have to read the Bible daily and know the Word of God. I need an intimate relationship with God and to be aware of His power and presence in my life at all times. This is essential. To some degree I need to know how the enemy works, but he isn’t my main course of study. I don’t know about you, but I want to know how to access the power and tools God made available for me to use in the face of the enemy. I suppose in some way you might call it my acrobatic flight pattern, except I am not just wanting to escape the enemy but to overcome him. And that is exactly what I am able to do through the power of the Spirit.

I am reminded how often I sit hiding in fear like the small birds hidden in the trees while the hawk sits in the birdbath. I am not meant to live in fear or be a victim of the enemy; God’s Word – the Bible – tells me so. I shake myself and say, “Girl, what are you thinking? You have the power of the Creator of the universe behind you and His Spirit lives within you. You are not alone and you are not dependent on your puny self to fight this battle.” I am so grateful for His patience with me and His willingness to continue teaching me about prayer.

The Black Phoebe knows by instinct he can out maneuver the Sharp-shinned Hawk. My instincts are to hide and forget the power I have access to every day. This year I am investing time in the spiritual disciplines – reading the Bible, praying, studying, listening and being accountable – so I will be less likely to forget what I have been given to face down the enemy.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Starting Off on the Left Foot, Not the Wrong Foot

Some people might say I started the year on the wrong foot. I am looking at it through a different lens; I started the new year on my left foot, which isn’t necessarily the wrong foot. The new year didn’t start as I imagined or planned – the way I would normally begin the first day of the year. January 1 is for me what December 31 is for many – a cause to celebrate. But you won’t find me celebrating in a crowd with a drink in my hand; I am usually up too early for that sort of thing. You will find me still in pj’s enjoying a cup of coffee in the quiet morning hours. A journal and pen will be nearby as I pray about and process God’s direction for my life as I embrace a fresh start. I list out things I would like to do differently; these thoughts have been sprouting weeks ahead in anticipation of the new year.

I reminded myself of something I often tell clients while encouraging them in the process of moving forward into change: You don’t have to do this perfectly. Starting the new year imperfectly according to my standards doesn’t make it wrong. Actually being sick helped me to postpone some weighty “should’s” and to recognize the world doesn’t crumble without me.

When the calendar boasted a new year on January 1, 2018 I found myself sick and unprepared for the new beginning. I felt stalled out. The first full week of the new year my husband and I were both sick and still feeling a bit sluggish. Laying around reading, resting and watching shows seemed to be the best we could do most days. We craved vegetables, chicken noodle soup and juice. I mustered up the energy to keep us well fed and my husband bought the green juice to make us well. Bit by bit I found a renewed interest in the wide open space the new year held and how I might map it out.

Emily P. Freeman writes, “I don’t see Jesus calling me to excellence, I do see him calling me to himself. And sometimes, on the kingdom of earth, moving close to Jesus looks like failure and embarrassment.” I felt a little ashamed at first of my inability to push through the viral fog and think clearly about the new year – at least until I decided to embrace the extra rest and quiet. I finally allowed myself to enjoy the freedom from the constant care of others, and hone in on caring for Jim and I – us caring only for one another – only then did I begin to embrace being forced to slow down and rest. During this hiatus I remembered the Life Plan my brother helped Jim and I develop in October; the plan has grown out of the seeds of our life experiences, passions, spiritual gifts, strengths and callings. Words emerged directing me, not only in the year ahead, but the next and the next and so forth: intentional, focused, creative, nature, present, welcoming. Sickness limited the way I began the year, but the forced rest reminded me that the limits of the Life Plan make it so much easier to know what belongs in my life.

I love the way Kristen Strong processes limits in her book, Girl Meets Change. She writes, “Limitations are borders, boundaries that hem us in and keep us on the path God has prepared for us. . . . In one form limitations are boundaries. But in another, limitations are wide-open fields where I acknowledge my own weakness and accept I need Jesus to go the distance where I cannot. A limitation is grace space for me to lie down in and soak up God’s presence. It is a garden spot for me to reflect on God’s believability. When we spend all our energy wishing things were different, we have no strength to revel in the glory of the blessings right in front of us. Our limitations work for us, not against us. They also test to see just how genuine our faith is.”

I discovered the start of a new year can be just as good even when it defies tradition. It isn’t so much how I began the year as how I will live it. I was tempted to take the negative view of the delayed or different way I was forced to begin 2018. But then I began to realize that starting slow and restful was a good thing; it involved an extra week home from work. Jim and I enjoyed the time catching up with one another after an unusually hectic autumn. I was given more time to process how God wants to sift the direction of my life through the Life Plan He gave us. I can begin to consider what needs discarded. Slower has been a good way to start; I was given the opportunity to pace myself instead of rushing pell-mell into a new year as if my life and everyone elses’ depended on it. So whether it is the right foot or left foot that takes the lead it is still a step in the right direction. How has 2018 been for you so far?