Friday, July 23, 2021

A Season of Reflection

 


Last week we parked our camp chairs in the shade at a nearby lake. It was a time for connecting, relaxing and reading. I went prepared (this is unusual) with a few questions for the two of us. I wanted to hear from my husband’s heart. I didn’t want us to just talk about work or the heavy stuff we carry, which we often do. It was nice. These kinds of conversations really help me feel connected to our being a couple, being best friends. We can get lost in care giving and in ministry. Those are things we do but not who we are. My questions were designed to reconnect with forgotten places within ourselves and to hear my husband’s heart.


  • What has been life-giving for you in this season of life?

  • What has been life-draining for you in this season of life?

  • What are you longing for?


After sharing we both tucked into our books but I found myself watching birds, listening to their conversations and reflecting on our season of life. I suggested to Jim we should come to the lake once a month for a year and document the changes. When we first arrived we saw 3 osprey circling. One eventually perched in a dead tree – we have often seen one there – while the others disappeared. We saw numerous red-winged blackbirds flying from one location to the next. Before their shift was over we saw a flock of 40 or 50 red-winged blackbirds. I enjoy taking notice of the natural world around me and am always mesmerized by the variety of flora, fauna and wildlife God created.


In my relaxed state while enjoying nature I wrote down a few questions for processing in my journal when I got home. Here are the questions.


  • What season of life do I (we) find ourselves in right now?

  • Are we in the beginning, middle or end of the season?

  • What are my feelings about this season?

  • What are some limitations of this season?

  • How might I welcome this season and lean into what God is teaching me?

  • What matters to me during this season?


And I think I would add: What gifts have turned up in this season?


Some of my responses were quite personal but here are a few things I recognized: we are in a season of care giving. Actually my husband is in a season of care giving and I am in a season of taking care of the care giver. Both are a privilege and both are challenging. My husband has a hard time not doing everything else as usual even when he is in a significant season of transition – a change that requires so much more of you than the everyday, ordinary responsibilities. And this season was plopped into the middle of his cancer season, which has ended except for the intense side effects.


I am very much a part of his seasons but I have a little season of my own sitting alongside the bigger transitional season of care giving. I am in the beginning of some portions of my season and the middle of others. The beginning is a little nerve wracking. Well, sometimes a lot nerve wracking. You, the reader, are a big consideration for me during this season. I show up to encourage you and help you find God in your everyday life. I am very interested in what season you find yourself in and how you are being effected. What are you needing in this season?


Take some time to consider the questions regarding your season of life.

  • Do you find yourself in the beginning, middle or ending of a season?

  • What is sustaining you?

  • What is draining you?

  • What’s God’s invitation to you?

  • Have you made plans for something to look forward to in the not too distant future?


I am in the beginning to middle phase of considering how this blog might serve you best going forward. How can I best support you? I want to bring a sharper focus to the things I write for you. I am also considering an email list so I can offer a newsletter for people interested in something more than a personal essay, and with a deeper spiritual challenge and a few reflection questions to help deepen your connection to God. Another consideration, scarier, is I do short talks on Instagram. What is your preference: reading or listening? I would really appreciate your feedback.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Home: A Place for Holding the Suffering

 

All that’s required of us refugees of the broken cosmos is a willingness to come home. To be made welcome by God and to let our belonging transform not only the inward rooms of our hearts but also the outer rooms of our lives, so that where we are we dwell in heaven, though we yet live in the broken earth – our lives a refuge for the sorrowing in hungry search for love.”

Sarah Clarkson, This Beautiful Truth


We have a visitor coming in a couple of weeks. I am excited for her to stay in our home for the first time and for an opportunity to enjoy the companionship. What fun it is to prepare for guests, to think of ways to create an experience that nourishes a person’s body, mind and spirit. Being a care giver of our home and sharing it with others is the sweetest hospitality without doing anything extraordinary. The ordinary simplicity of taking delight in the rhythm of homemaking naturally creates an environment of hospitality. Welcoming others into a space you care about is an invitation for them to breathe deep and allow sore places to be soothed. A spirit can be uplifted by the opportunity to rest from chores and the little extraordinary details are icing on the brownie (I like my brownies frosted).


How have I elevated ordinary chores of keeping home so as to bring joy and rest to the two of us living here? This is where I begin, not when I company is coming. This is not a post harping on women to be great home makers but we (men and women) are privileged to be keepers of home – stewarding well the place we’re gifted for sanctuary and the people within. The attitude in which I enter into these tasks can infuse them with a sense of meaning and nurture, or begrudging duty.


As I ponder the preparations for our guest’s arrival I relive a time or two when I felt nurtured by another person’s welcome. There is a story in Sarah Clarkson’s new book This Beautiful Truth: How God’s Goodness Breaks into Our Darkness that expresses the heart of this type of hospitality. Sarah’s book is about her struggle with mental illness, doubts about God, and how beauty brought her to a place of wholeness. Her struggle carries her through oppressive loneliness and deep doubt to hope in God’s redeeming beauty. There are glimpses woven throughout her larger story of beautiful love-filled moments with others who held her through a long journey of hopelessness.

 

This book is layered with pain, hope, reflections on great literature, God’s redeeming beauty and so much more. My small bit of relating one experience in Sarah’s journey doesn’t do justice to her book and it certainly isn’t the whole purpose of her story. But I do hope this one window of hope will stoke your curiosity to read the book. The redeeming qualities Sarah experienced with a stranger turned friend, and the healing power of being invited into the beautiful simplicity of this woman’s everyday life moved me to tears.


We are called to courageous creation, for the making of beauty

is our own gentle and holy defiance

of the forces of disintegration and the powers of darkness.”

Sarah Clarkson, This Beautiful Truth


I will do my best to share portions of her experience hosting with a healthy rhythm of nurture and nudging – an invitation to receive – a soul toward hope and restoration. Sarah describes herself as wandering from one friends’ house to another while in Scotland doing research. There was a dark shadow of loneliness stalking her when she found herself waiting alongside the road to be picked up by a friend of a friend, a stranger to Sarah.

The wait ended: “. . . a hobbit-sized dark green hatchback jolted to a sudden stop in the front of me, and a slim-faced woman in an old sweater with dark, curling hair rolled down the window. ‘Are you Sarah?’ she said in a gentle melodic Scot’s voice, with just a hint of a smile.” What Sarah thought would be an inconvenience was a nurturing encounter with a stranger. The moments were filled with surprise and beauty.


Sarah writes about her view from the car window as she is whisked off to this stranger’s home. “I looked out and saw the delicate thread of a waterfall glimmering through a meadow starred with purple and yellow flowers.”


We pulled up to her home at dusk. A painter’s sunset of purple and rose brushed the sky, and the white cottage shone out, friendly, in the coming dark. She showed me to a small, upstairs room . . .”


From the window of her room she looked out at an “inlet from the sea,” “navy hills,” “an old stone Celtic cross” and “laundry flickered on the line in the patch of garden below me.” The cozy amenities included a “thick duvet on the bed, and a tray with china cups, a kettle, and two pieces of shortbread.”


Sarah writes how she was affected by the beauty surrounding the cottage and the welcome of thoughtful home keeping. “I was lulled into the quiet enjoyment of a moment I’d not been able to manage in days.” What a healing gift such simple administrations can have on a person. On one hand it all seems so ordinary, and on another it is compelling and life giving. The visit included little shops and lunch in another village after which she was dropped off at a footpath to walk home – a walk for own good.


When I got home in the gloaming – and it did feel like coming home with the windows golden and my friend waiting with a wave at the door as she brought in the wind-fresh laundry – I found she’d made a rich, spicy curry, and I ate two bowls before I blinked. There was sticky toffee pudding after . . . I ate two bowls of that too, and we talked, late and long. She was gentle and curious, and met the difficult bits of my story I told her with a soft clucking of the tongue that eased and comforted me.”

As soon as I finished reading Sarah’s lovely experience of staying in this stranger’s home, I thought, “I want people to feel this way when they walk into my life, into my home.” I don’t want to be overwhelmed making everything perfect for a visitor; I want to live my life in such a way that a guest can step into my home as is and feel welcomed and enveloped by love. Am living so those who are hurting find shelter in my home, in my presence?


This Scottish stranger turned friend was thoughtful of Sarah’s needs without hovering. She nudged Sarah towards simple pleasures she needed for her healing: walks in nature, little shops, nourishing food, as well as offering a listening ear. Her new friend interlaced her need to run an errand and do laundry with Sarah’s need for shelter and beauty. This is real hospitality, being with others in their suffering. So often I let my need to be needed, feel important, that I do not consider and encourage a guest to spend time alone. How might we offer hospitality that creates a different kind of experience – that allows a guest/stranger time alone, as well as the gift of entering into the cozy created for your own family?


I knew that every one of us was a living picture

of the Love who has come among us,

our lives, His portraits, painted in the vivid hues of redemption.”

Sarah Clarkson, This Beautiful Truth


As a disciple of Christ I am called to hospitality, to bear a brother’s or sister’s burden, to be with others in their suffering. I am challenged by the relaxed way in which this thoughtful hostess moved through her ordinary task and still managed to offer Sarah hospitality. How many times have I felt too busy to invite a lonely person in? What if I was willing to invite another to join me as I went about my ordinary tasks, offering an encouraging article to read or handing them clippers to cut a bouquet when I needed to take care of something requiring concentration? There is an art to this requiring practice.


. . . time deliberately set aside for keeping house is never just about

making a home for my family.’ Of course housework is about making a home,

but a Christian home, properly understood, is never just for one’s own family.

A Christian home overflows its boundaries; it is an outpost of the kingdom of God,

                    where the hungry are fed and the naked are clothed and there is room

enough for everyone. . . . housekeeping is about practicing sacred disciplines

and creating sacred space, for the sake of Christ as we encounter him

in our fellow household members and in neighbors, stranger, and guest.”

--- Margaret Kim Peterson, Keeping House, A Litany of Everyday Life



With the help of the Holy Spirit I accept the challenge to move toward a more organic hospitality. Anyone else interested? I would love to hear if you have experienced such a stay at someone’s home or if you found yourself able to give someone else such a burden free experience.





Friday, May 14, 2021

Junk in the Cellar of My Soul





Cellars are creepy places. Have you ever been in one? My grandparents had a cellar – the kind you enter from the outside. I don’t recall ever going in alone. It was dark, damp and smelled musty. Reaching into the darkness to turn on the light could involve contact with a spider web or worse a spider. I imagined all kinds of creepiness lurking in dark corners.


It isn’t until the light goes on that you actually see what awaits in the darkness. It is the same when the Holy Spirit lights up a dark place inside a soul – a soul with unacknowledged moldiness lurking in the corners. I remember a day when the Holy Spirit shined a light in the recesses of my soul exposing an unnamed sin. The light exposed a conflict in my relationship with God – feeling unloved when life turned sour and wondering how I disappointed Him. I felt I couldn’t do anything well enough for God to be pleased with me. I couldn’t find a way to finagle a good life from the hand of God. I was unable to receive His deep love of who I am or recognize His love which held me in the storms of life. Instead, I felt as if I broke a rule I didn’t know existed.

I will never forget the realization that I served a God I misunderstood. The truth of this unhealthy relationship was pushed through my conscience while reading a novel – a story woven with an understanding of right relationship with God. Author, George MacDonald, wrote to his 19th century readers about the glorious love of God – the truest love ever, a love that holds fast no matter my circumstances. MacDonald writes about the God of the Bible, the God who pursues us and loves us unconditionally.


 

Have you experienced a conflict in relationship to God? Maybe I’m the only one to ever put my broken human relationships template smack dab on top of my relationship to God… but I doubt it. Most of you are just like me. You’re trying to live wrapped in God’s perfect love but can’t seem to shrug off patterns of dysfunction that twist your perception of His love. I lived as if God owed me something when, in truth, He gave up His very life for me.

Dallas Willard sheds light on this struggle in his teachings on the 23rd Psalm. Willard says, “The experience of life without lack depends first and foremost upon the presence of God in our lives, because the source of this life is God himself . . . we must think about God in ways that match what God is like. Without harmony between our ideas about God and his true character, we will never be able to make the kind of contact with God that will give us confidence, grounded in our experience, in the complete sufficiency of God to provide for our needs.”


Willard continues, “ . . . until our minds are informed by the right view of God, we cannot put our minds on God in the right way. . . . All the things that we know about God that ‘ain’t so’ destroy our lives, poison us, throw our lives out of kilter, and throw our bodies out of appropriate relationship to reality. Wrong ideas about God make it impossible for us to function in relationship to one another. We are not able to love one another because we do not have our minds filled with an accurate vision of God” (Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23, Dallas Willard).


There I was, 24 years old and 15 years into my Christian journey, standing in the middle of my apartment startled as if I had been slapped across the face. I saw for the first time how wrong my understanding of God was and how my perception of Him got in the way of intimacy with Him. I cried out in confession, seeking His forgiveness. I confessed to God that I had it all wrong about Him. I asked Him to show me the truth of who He is, ridding me of my distorted view of Him. And then I was compelled by the Spirit to ask Him to show me who I was – the truth about me. I longed to see God and myself through His eyes and not my own blurry vision. I had some awareness that my life story gave me a distorted lens from which to view God; I wanted God to adjust the lens with the Truth. This began a tremendous healing within me and it continues.


My passion for helping others know God more truly and intimately grew out of the recognition and healing of my unhealthy idea of what it means to be in a relationship with God. Do I hear murmuring? Some of you are wondering if it’s true – that we can be in an unhealthy relationship with God. Let me clear up one thing: God is always in a healthy relationship with us. We often don’t realize we bring our unhealthy ways into our relationship with God and interact with Him as we do in unhealthy human relationships.


All that to say, I once was so conflicted in my relationship to God that I can’t imagine why I remained a Christian but by His grace I did. I think it safe to say this journey of discovering the truth of God’s love, the purity and the power of His unconditional love, continues to transform me. Over the years the reality that I am in a relationship with the Creator of the universe changed how I approach God’s Word and relate to Him. If you long to grow in intimacy with God but something seems in the way, be assured God longs to be known by you. He is not hiding; He is inviting you to intimacy. God’s Word guides us in all things true about Him but He can speak to us anywhere, anytime. This morning I recalled and sang a song I loved as a child, “This Is My Father’s World.” The last line of the second verse says, “In the rustling grass I hear Him pass; He speaks to me everywhere.” He desires intimacy with you so much that He shows up in surprising ways – even in the reading of a novel.


If you desire to know your Heavenly Father more intimately, ask the Holy Spirit to prepare your heart to hear His voice. Then pay attention; He has an invitation for you that will transform your life. He will prepare you and free you from things in the dark hindering you from flourishing in your relationship with Him.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Joy in the Mist

 




The marine layer limited the morning sunshine to a dim, indistinct glow as we began the climb. The location we met to walk the previous weeks looked so different. Since mid-February my friend Doreen and I walked this trail increasing our strength and duration until we could reach the goal she set for her 60th birthday. But the day of her birthday hike it looked as if we were somewhere entirely different. We could see the trail in front of us and the plants along the trail; we couldn’t see our goal. The plants looked softer in the misty gray.


It was if no one existed except the hikers around us and the trail before us. Those coming down generously assured us sunshine was at the top to greet us. I enjoyed being cocooned in a visually smaller world. It was calming and less stimulating. Gradually there was a sense of light filtering through. All the time ascending, some looked for the sun while others enjoyed the misty view, but all had a common goal – to reach the top. When we emerged into the bright sunlight, below lay a thick, gray marine layer over the city like a down comforter.


We pressed on until we reached our destination. Weary worn we rested. We celebrated. We took photos. Soon the marine layer thinned and we saw a filtered view of the world below, as if looking through a veil. Oh, but Doreen wanted everyone to have a clear view – the view she delighted in just two weeks before when she and I first reached the top. I found a different kind of beauty looking through the veil.

As we descended, the heat of the sun pushed the marine layer back toward the ocean. The view opened up before us and all took joy in seeing everything below as clearly as we could from far above. We looked forward to the end; it would be a celebrated moment of accomplishment and an opportunity to eat a big breakfast.


The hard seasons of life – ones we know are temporary but with an unknown expiration date – often feel like days of preparing and making the final ascent of a celebrated climb on a gray covered day; for awhile it seems endless. These times lack the hushed quiet of a gray morning but are like the sun beating down on me. I gravitate toward a minimally stimulating schedule/life. I prefer being cocooned in a quiet, calm rhythm with the outside world softened behind a veil. When the gray comes in the form of hardship and blocks the view of my desired destination, now that’s a different story. Then I desperately want to be above it in the sunlight. But this is not the life Jesus called me to, a life where I design my days of joy. I need to live a life of joy both in gloom and in light. He tells us in His Word that the darkness doesn’t overcome the light. This is hope. His light always penetrates and overcomes the darkness.


It is interesting and so like our Lord to invite me into joy the year of 2021. There are days when it has been a steep ascent to encounter joy and on other days it can be a gentle walk. Though the last three years have been challenging for our household, this year seems the most challenging for me to experience joy in the midst of it all. I understand why joy is the invitation; I must not lose joy no matter what. The verse my heart is set to navigate the year 2021 is Romans 12:12.


Be joyful in hope,

patient in affliction,

faithful in prayer.”


And then the Spirit added a P. S. from James 1:2.


Count it all joy . . .”


The truth of His Word challenges me to believe the joy I experienced in the midst of a marine layer on that hike can be found in the gray days of living love in the hard places. The long view can’t be seen; it’s as if the trail disappears in the gloom and the end is uncertain. I love the phrase: “Be joyful in hope . . .” What we hope for is unseen, but oh so certain.


Jerry Bridges writes these truths about joy in The Fruitful Life; I am convicted and inspired. “The fact is, only Christians have a reason to be joyful, but it is also a fact that every Christian should be joyful. True Christian joy is both a privilege and a duty. . . . we are not to sit around waiting for our circumstances to make us joyful; but we are commanded to be joyful always (1 Thessalonians 5:16). . . . joy is not an option available to those whose temperament is conducive to it. God intends that every one of His children exhibit the fruit of joy. Just being joyful is not enough, however; we should be continually growing in joy.” Joy, a distinctive quality of being a disciple of Jesus, is expected of me.

 

It is by the power of the Holy Spirit I grow in joy regardless of circumstances; it is not something I can talk myself into. Joy comes from a place of surrender and trust. Though we could not see the flag that marked our goal at the beginning of the upward hike, we knew it was there; we had been there before. The climb may be difficult and the view closed off in gray, we can, and did, take joy in the journey. I desire to look at my current life through joy in the same way I delighted in the soft, limited view of the first half of my friend’s birthday hike.


How are you experiencing joy in your ordinary life? How are you finding joy in hardship? How are you experiencing God these days, whether in or out of hardship? What is God’s invitation to you in 2021 for spiritual growth?







Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Shifting From Purpose Driven to Purpose Living

 

Sometimes I forget my purpose and am tied up in knots to rediscover it. Those are times I get sidetracked by a search for significance. My purpose isn’t that complicated to find. And my significance comes completely from the One to whom I belong. My significance comes from being in relationship with Jesus – spending time with Him. When I return to this one important, rock solid truth, the passion He placed within comes to the surface. This passion drives my purpose. I am passionate to help others fall in love with Jesus, to know Him more fully and learn what it means to walk with Him. I don’t have this perfectly figured out but as I follow Christ, I want to bring others along.


It makes me think of the phrase said by Erin Napier at the opening of the show Home Town, “You don’t have to be an expert to save your town, you’ve just got to care enough to get up and do it.” My purpose as a follower of Christ is to care enough to get up and follow where He leads – to do the things He puts in front of me. I have to care enough to get up and do the work of His kingdom so others may know Him. And it really looks quite ordinary much of the time.


But there are days when I might not look like I care enough to get up and serve however and wherever He invites me to serve. And if I am honest with myself, I sometimes don’t care or I would be living in love toward Jesus and others and not fixated on myself. Sometimes I am afraid to move forward for fear that no one would respond. Here again, I have returned to a place of self-importance and a need for validation, not service.


I am being vulnerable. Are any of you with me? Do you ever find yourself looking for a position of importance or the having the illusion of being valuable because of your busyness? I am learning to do what I can where I am at the moment with what has been given me. I do look for ways to use the gifts He has given but I must seek the Savior first and follow His leading, surrendering the temptation to live in self-importance and learning to be “like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose” (Philippians 2 NIV). I am to have the same attitude as Christ – not grasping for position but becoming a servant. I am not always comfortable with this. You?


Emily P. Freeman spoke with Christian comedian Michael Jr on the The Next Right Thing Podcast. I highly recommend listening to it.

 https://emilypfreeman.com/podcast/the-next-right-thing/164/

Emily and Michael Jr talked about how complicated we make finding our purpose. Michael Jr says it well using the language of his occupation: we have a set up – our story, our training, our living situation, our relationships, our woundedness, it’s all fodder for the punchline – the act of service – what we can deliver. In Michael Jr’s words, “But people don’t always understand what their line is and they’ll feel there is a void. Like there is something missing. And what people do more times than not to fill that void, they think that what they need is more set up. (ex. Better training, a new car, cool clothes, etc.) . . . What you really need to know is what is truly your punchline . . . even your setbacks in life are part of your set up so you can deliver the punchline you are called to deliver.”


Dallas Willard writes in The Divine Conspiracy quite succinctly, “The kingdom disciple teaches from his or her storehouse of personal experiences of God’s rule in the commonplace events of real life.”


This brings to mind the words of poet Enuma Okoro (Passing Ordinary Time):


“This ordinary time is

gifted in its quiet, marked passing

Christ slips about

calling and baptizing,

sending and affirming,

pouring his Spirit like water

into broken cisterns,

sealing cracks and filtering our senses,

that we may savor the foolish

simplicity of his grace.”


He goes about doing kingdom work in quiet, uncomplicated ways. I long to follow in His footsteps. So much of kingdom work is a response to what we see, to what is pressed upon our hearts. How can I move about in this rhythm of purpose without making it such a big deal? It requires abiding in His presence, being sifted by the Spirit, confession, humility, and doing life in relationship to Jesus. This is a relationship and all my doing is better when motivated by walking with Him day in and day out. Abiding in His presence and listening helps me grow in awareness to His Spirit’s leading throughout my day.


Christianity and being a disciple of Christ isn’t designed for my significance, that thing I look for when I am fixated on my purpose. This is a life of sensitivity to what the Spirit places before me. And sometimes that might mean serving my husband while he carries a heavy burden in the midst of side effects as a result of cancer treatments. It might be a meal for someone, letting someone go ahead in a line, or posting a blog no matter how many people read or don’t read it. My purpose is to glorify God in whatever I set my hands to this day and that means my eyes must be fixed on Him. The following interview on Fully Expressed by John Dembeck of my husband, Jim Joiner, challenged me anew to live a life of faithfulness to God in the present moment. I hope you will take time to listen to it.

 Fully Expressed episode 23


Erin Napier is passionate about saving her town by restoring neglected houses and giving others a welcoming home. What is my passion? How has it fueled my living the life of a disciple in the kingdom of God? Am I motivated to get up and do, in love, whatever brings others to the kingdom of God, to shine the light in my community? I desire to shift from searching for a purpose to living purposely.


None of us does this life of purpose alone. We have Jesus and we have each other. Where are you today on your journey of living purposefully?




Sunday, January 31, 2021

Accepting An Undesirable Invitation

 

Even if what you are doing today isn’t visible, it’s still valuable.”

Holly Gerth


From my writing desk in our little guest room I look out the window to the tangerine tree. We are blessed to have beautiful, ripening tangerines grow in our yard. There aren’t too many this year but it’s always a sweet treat. The day is gray and chilly and I am struggling not to be distracted by frustration about something that seems unfair. If I look at the big picture – God’s eternal plan – then the energy put into fuming over the interruption is not worth a second of my time. Yet here I sit, scrunched brows, fighting to let it go.


This requires facing the elements. I head outside for a walk in the blustery weather. I need to release the tightness in my body and talk to Jesus. As I pour out my frustrations and ask Him to help me to see the situation in a better light I am reminded of foot washing. Yep, cleaning stinky feet. The task that felt unfairly placed on me is an opportunity for “washing feet”. These undesirable invitations for serving aren’t always delightful nor do they always come at an ideal time but the job needs done.


Timothy Keller preached these words, “Washing feet has to do with showing a concern for peoples’ comforts and concern for peoples’ needs.” This past year I have prayed for God to help me consent to whatever He brings, not just resign myself but actually trust Him with what is best and take it on willingly. In this situation it means I have to let the one other person who could have done this off the hook with a big dollop of grace.



The kinds of tasks equal to washing feet aren’t hard. They are usually easy and ordinary. It’s just that sometimes, or maybe often, I don’t like to be inconvenienced. I don’t want to give up doing what I want, to do what God invites me to do. But it’s an invitation. Invitations are usually a sign that something purposeful and meaningful will happen. I may not see fireworks or make a toast in acceptance of this invitation but it’s a blessing to serve. It is an opportunity to glorify God because these are simple acts that reflect Christ in us.


Ordinary (adj) lacking special distinction, rank, or status: commonly encountered


One day last week I was meditating on Jesus. Pictures floated through my mind as I thought of various stories of Jesus’s ministry. Later I wrote about what I recognized; Jesus did lots of ordinary tasks during these years. He cooked, He made arrangements, He fed people, He washed feet, and He held children in His arms and blessed them. As He moved from town to town sharing the kingdom of God He was stopped numerous times by someone calling out to Him, touching His robe, dropping in front of Him to pour out a need, and He was intercepted by a funeral. All these “interruptions” mattered to Him. This is Kingdom work.


Jesus notices. He sees. He stops for conversation. He looks directly into eyes. He touches. He eats and tells stories around the table. Why are these simple, loving acts so hard for us to consider worth our time? So often acts of service go unnoticed. I don’t know about you but I enjoy being appreciated for what I do. The desire howls within me insisting I take the most important job. Over time I have discovered when I do the necessary ordinary not only do I bless someone but I am transformed in the process; my love for others grows and life becomes more meaningful. It’s within these tender acts connection is formed.


In recognizing I was invited to “wash feet” it occurred to me the many ways Jesus provided a “foot washing” for me. I remember Jesus washing the disciples feet, a necessary tasks no one else was willing to do. Jesus even washed the feet of one who betrayed Him. I am not above “foot washing” tasks. I am not too good for them. More and more I want to embrace these interruptions as meaningful acts of service. I am undone when I picture Jesus kneeling before His disciples’ dirty feet, before my dirty feet, and lovingly washing them. How can I do less?


I have been in and out since beginning this post and what came of the walk that blustery day was a willingness to serve a need that first felt like an interruption. The experience left stretch marks as my attitude, with the Spirit’s help, was transformed. Not only did I consent but my awareness of the Spirit’s prompting was sharpened. It isn’t my doing. Yet the daily discipline of being with Jesus, reading the Word and prayer are the disciplines opening me to His work. Without these I would quickly become dull and numb to all around me. He has invited me to pay attention and spiritual disciplines tune my heart to His so I am moved to joyfully receive those invitations.



Some may ask, “How do you know when the invitation is from God?” I seek the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to know if it is God’s invitation and not someone else playing god in my life. If someone is putting pressure on me and manipulating me it is not from God. God does not guilt us into serving; He invites. There are opportunities that arise which are genuine needs in someone’s life and I am the only one aware and available to help. I know these are of God.



What interruptions have become invitations for “washing feet”, opportunities to tend to the needs of those around you? I would love to hear how God is shifting your thoughts on the value of ordinary tasks. Every invitation accepted to serve willingly glorifies God and draws others into His eternal kingdom. Oh how I long to be more willing.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

 

It has been awhile since I posted. With all the challenges of the pandemic, the horrendous political climate, and deep sorrow stirred in 2020, so much of the time I found it difficult to write something coherent to completion. Which is sad; I love writing, especially writing to you. I appreciate all of you who read this blog. Thanks for being here. I thought I would get this out before the end of the year but as you can see I did not. So as we slip into 2021 hoping for life to get back to normal, whatever that may be, I want to share some gentle thoughts with you.

 


This post is inspired by The Mending Life: A Handbook for Repairing Clothes and Hearts by sisters Nina and Sonya Montenegro. The book opens with these words:


We all wear clothes.

These clothes

tatter,

tear,

split,

run,

rip,

unravel,

spring holes.

Things fall apart.

But we are gifted with hands that

sew,

mend,

fasten,

pin,

glue,

weave,

darn.

Things come back together.

Wounds heal.

Hearts forgive and deepen with compassion.

Mending is a part of life.


Right away I was moved by their expansive view of mending. Does anyone else tear up thinking about 2020 and all the pain that exposed old wounds as well as inflict new ones? So many turned away from one another ripping big holes in hearts and relationships and in our nation. This is not about government; it is too personal. It’s about how we want change but often are not willing to sit down and mend torn places.


The Montenegro sisters say it so well. “At first glance, mending may seem inconsequential, but not only does it mean buying fewer clothes (thus slowing down the fast fashion cycle), it also invites us into a new way of being. Mending is a powerful act of restoration, both for our clothes and for our relationship to the world. . . . Making something whole again is also a form of healing, and we have a deep desire to heal what is broken. . . . We may even begin to see opportunities for healing: we can make amends with someone we’re at odds with, we can restore fertility to degraded soil, we can create a thriving urban oasis for pollinators, and with each small act, our broken hearts begin to heal in turn. . . . We need more fix-it shops! Owned by moms & pops. Places of resurrection, second lives, second chances, thirds, fourths, fifths . . .”


The Bible has a few things to say about mending. In Colossians 1:19-20 Paul writes, “For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross.” Christ’s tattered skin pressed up against the splintered wood of the Cross restored our broken relationship with God. Restore means “to repair, rebuild, renew. To restore is to return something to it’s original or usable and functioning condition. Restore can mean to return to life; get or give new life.” Believing Jesus to be God’s Son and following Him gives us new life. Through Christ we are restored to our original condition – in relationship with God.


The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:18, those of us who have been reconciled in Christ are given the ministry of reconciliation. Reconcile means to restore and restore means: “to restore by replacing a part or putting together what is torn or broken (Synonyms: repair/mend).” Mending is a part of life.

 

Mending cannot restore to the original condition but it does restore to a usable and functioning condition. This personal act can only be done one to another. Though scars may remain from a mended tear, mending can restore a relationship – making it stronger. This plays out in our torn and tattered culture. How can we begin to make steps towards mending? What can each of us do to make amends in the communities in which we are planted? What a difference it would make if we all recognized that mending is part of life and each has a part to play restoring relationship with God, with one another, and with the natural world.






Colossians 1:20 (The Message)

. . . but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe – people and things, animals and atoms – get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood poured down from the cross.”


Believers aren’t better but we are given the responsibility of leading in the ministry of mending. I am praying about how I can be one who mends in 2021 and taking the next step. Want to join me? Let’s put a new face on 2021 and invest in healing, reconciliation, and repairs. What will this look like for you? What are some things or relationships you mended in 2020?

Friday, November 13, 2020

Beauty From A Different Angle

 


Isaiah 61:1-3 – “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”


Before Etty Hillesum was deported from the Netherlands to Auschwitz, where her life ended, she wrote these words: “Sun on the balcony and a light breeze through the jasmine . . . I can’t take in how beautiful the jasmine is. But there is no need to. It is enough to simply believe in miracles in the twentieth century. And I do, even though the lice will be eating me up in Poland before long. It is possible to suffer with dignity and without . . . I am in Poland every day, on the battlefields, if that’s what one can call them. I often see visions of poisonous green smoke; I am with the hungry, with the ill-treated and the dying, every day, but I am also with the jasmine and that bit of sky beyond my window; there is room for everything in a single life. For belief in God and for a miserable end.”


I am moved to tears as I think about Etty surrounded by fear, hatred, dehumanization and helplessness declaring that a life can hold both suffering and beauty at once. Etty Hillesum was able to hold onto her belief in God and delight in the jasmine all while serving the suffering. Underneath it all she accepted the reality of her own death at the hands of the communists for her services.


That anyone at all in the world would set their sad heart and tired hands to working beauty out of chaos is a monument to Grace. It reminds us of light and high beauty, and it laments the world’s great sorrow. It gives the heart language to rejoice and language to mourn.” – Andrew Peterson


Hope is infused throughout Isaiah 61, the prophesy of the coming Christ. It’s the year of the Lord’s favor. Twenty-twenty hasn’t looked or felt much like a year of favor. The world around seems to be turning inside out and we have scrambled to reinvent how we gather and celebrate. We also had to learn to grieve division and hate. Many of you have posted, with gratitude, the good discovered within the difficulties of 2020. God doesn’t promise static lives of ease, does He? But He gives us the hope of beauty from ashes. He [God] “causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (NASB2020).


I love the clarity of this passage. God causes all things: loss of safety, hurtful words spoken in disagreement, uncertainty, unfairness, injustice, kind acts, provision for medical care, healing; all these things He works together for good. How? I don’t know; He is God and the powerful mystery of Him is far greater than I can begin to understand. He is able to work all for the good when our lives are sunk deep in His love. He doesn’t just take the good bits of life and make something of it; He uses everything within a life, kneads it together, and raises up good for those committed to Him. And He causes all things in the greater world to work together for the good of His people and His eternal plans. Nothing happening in this universe thwarts God’s plans. Nothing!


Have you longed to be stoked by the fire of joy only to find yourself left without a spark and lulling about in ashes? Is it hard to imagine any beauty coming out of gray, lifeless ashes – scorched dreams and ideals. There are days it seems all beauty has been puffed away by the breath of bad news bearers. Then again, maybe you are like me and lose beauty in your idealism. There are times when just an inkling of restlessness and disappointment whisper into my ear and I steep myself in some idealized life; I fight against the yoke of reality believing I can choose to create a life of beauty. In doing so I lose track of the beauty in my current life. Idealism isn’t based on reality. I will not find my need for beauty out there; I only find it in the present moment. And I must be intentional about embracing and holding hopeful expectation that the Creator is knitting all of life into something for the greater good. That’s hard to take in because we often think about our own good.


My friend Terri and I spend 2-3 hours a month in conversation on Zoom sharing how God is working in our lives and offering one another nudges toward growth. I recently shared with her how I crave beauty. I sometimes wonder, when does beauty become an idol or a source of discontent? Obviously I’ve had some issues with this. Terri challenged me to reframe my meaning of beauty. She said, “Sometimes I think we should have beauty journals, like gratitude journals.” She suggested I expand my idea of beauty and think about each day as a treasure hunt – an invitation to pay attention. This idea really appeals to me. Here are a few small adjustments to my idea of beauty. I have a lot to learn about expanding my idea of beauty.




  • The neighbors across the street blare loud, obnoxious (in my opinion) music while under the eaves of our roof, on the phone lines, and in the Orange tree, birds sing lovely songs as a buffer of beauty.

  • To my great joy, a bag of colorful autumn leaves (rare in Southern California) were delivered by my friend, Alice.

  • Though creepy, a large green spider guards its egg sac at the top of our Norfolk Pine. The spider blends in with the green pine. It is a beauty I do not want to encounter too closely.


In Julia Cameron’s book, The Sound of Paper, I read these words about the making of a pearl, “At root, a pearl is a ‘disturbance,’ a beauty caused by something that isn’t supposed to be there . . .” An unexpected irritant becomes a thing of beauty. Can the harsh music blaring be a disturbance to create beauty? What beautiful change does God want to create within me and between my neighbor and me due to the disturbance? Can I allow the disturbance to form a pearl in me? What about for the greater good of the neighborhood?


Frank C. Laubauch in Letters by a Modern Mystic wrote, “Sometimes one feels that there is a discord between the cross and beauty. . . . there is in the universe a higher kind of beauty. It is the beauty of sacrifice, of giving up for others, of suffering for others. . . . The beauty of sacrifice is the final word in beauty.”


Jesus came to earth. Isaiah and others prophesied this great hope – the Messiah. Jesus suffered and died a torturous death before He was resurrected and returned to His heavenly home. In spite of how it seems there is great beauty in Christ’s sacrifice. I am moved by His great love. In John 15:13 Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (NASB). It is often hard for us to make sacrifices; they are inconvenient and often uncomfortable. Can sacrifice be a thing of beauty? The sacrifice Robertson McQuilkin made for his wife when she had Alzheimers has been told countless times. It is a rare human to love so much. You can follow the link below to read his story and watch the video of his early retirement speech – the one he gave in order to stay home and care for his wife.


https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2016/june/died-robertson-mcquilkin-columbia-president-alzheimers-ciu.html


I have accepted the invitation to expand my idea of beauty. I have accepted the invitation to pay attention and live expectantly. God is the Creator of all Beauty and He creates beauty from ashes. What is His invitation to you? Are you dissatisfied with your life? Are you overlooking the pearls being formed in the midst of disturbances? Ask God to give you eyes to see – to see the beauty He designs using every bit of your life.