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?

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Simple Moments

Simply put, it’s the simple things of life I find steeped with meaning. Otherwise why do we go around capturing photos of trees full of colorful leaves, flowers blooming, steamy mugs of coffee and selfies with friends wherever we go? Isn’t it because there is something beautiful in the simple moments and pleasures? In a few still moments on a gray cloudy day I sit here wedged between two holidays writing about the simple things even though the world has attempted to siphon off all the simple joys from the season.

Just a little over a week ago I was checking the turkey, shaping the rolls and mashing potatoes on a hot southern California day with no air conditioning. Midst conversation, cooking and eating chocolate chip cookies as appetizers those special, simple moments happened. And the best memories aren’t the food. It was the moment I realized the candles had burned down and dripped all over the table runner. Sheepishly, my daughters informed me the damage was done when I turned on the ceiling fan. We had a good laugh! And another good laugh a few days later in the remembering of the incident.

It was the moment in the living room, coffee and dessert in hand, while discussions flew about settling into a healthy space of “agreeing to disagree.” Then it was by the fire pit where stories were told and laughter launched over the neighbors’ fences. And last but not least it was dividing up leftovers and doling out hugs, saying how glad we were to spend the time together.

I may not remember the new recipe I used to cook the turkey (nerve wracking) or what recipe I used for the rolls; because I am always trying something new, but I will remember all the simple moments for a long time. I will treasure them in my heart. You see, when changes happen in the family one often notes more closely the simple things – the things you want to live over and over again. My oldest daughter is moving to London, England to get her master’s degree at Central St. Martins and who knows where the winds of fulfillment will direct her. And so it may be a long time before we all sit around the fire pit and laugh together or quite possibly the same mix of people may not be around. I know there will be other beautiful, simple moments to treasure but I cannot help but savor these a little longer knowing things are changing.

The mere fact things are always changing forces to the surface the simple, precious moments we have with one another. It seems so many of us are working hard not to miss these moments with our photos and our posts. Photography is a wonderful way to focus on the simple pleasures of life, but I want to be present in them as well. My heart longs to squeeze out every drop of significance from time spent enjoying loved ones and the beauty around me. But there seems to be something even in the squeezing that leaves me deflated. Could it be that just being present and grateful is enough for receiving the blessings of these moments?

Simple pleasures weren’t designed to be held onto tightly until they fall flat. Gratitude is the one sure way to hold lightly to the meaningful moments, offering simple pleasure to the One who gives these good gifts in the first place. Gratitude serves up rest. When I am grateful, I realize I did not create the simple moments overflowing with meaning. I am unable to design and create such moments. All I can do is be present to receive and give thanks. Maybe this is why the simple, everyday moments seem to be the best; I am the receiver, not the creator of these moments. They happen by His design, therefore I can trust that even though things are changing there will always be simple moments to experience and treasure.

Richard Foster puts is well: “The discovery of God lies in the daily and the ordinary, not in the spectacular and the heroic. If we cannot find God in the routines of home and shop, then we will not find him at all. Ours is to be a symphonic piety in which all the activities of work and play and family and worship and sex and sleep are the holy habitats of the eternal.”

So while another holiday presses me to move forward, leaving behind the last, it is my desire to be aware of the greater things this season offers. It won’t be the big moments but the simple pleasures I can easily overlook if I get too caught up in the making big memories. What are the simple pleasures you and your family enjoy this time of year?

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Desert: A Place for Letting Go

I cared for you in the wilderness, in the land of drought.”
Hosea 13:5

October seven years ago, I sat like a squatter in the home of a family I had never met. These generous folks, friends of my mom, were traveling but willingly opened their door to me. It was hard to believe this was me – the girl who spent most of her childhood in one home and frightened to be home alone until I was well into my 20's. I was camping out in a stranger's home in the desert with a few essentials, 1300 miles from the community in which I had been immersed for the past 14 years. Everything else I owned was in a storage unit in another part of Tucson. It felt both incongruous with who I had been but freeing. I found myself in a place of unique tension: resting and waiting. This move, my first ever without parents, spouse or children, was the culmination of a decade full of difficult and significant changes.

On the heel of completing a master's degree, the last day of September, 2010, my brother flew to Kansas City to drive the moving truck. That ride was the longest time we'd spent alone together since our teen years. We drove all night, stopping in the early hours of the morning at my sister's home for a rest. On the following day we arrived in Tucson where several of my brother's friends met us at a storage unit and unloaded the truck. That night I stayed with my family.

Desert living never appealed to me but to the desert I had gone. For what? I didn't have a job or a permanent residence. First, coming was about being near family. Both of my girls lived in San Diego, just a six-hour drive from Tucson; this was both closer and more affordable than San Diego. And being near San Diego gave Jim and I an opportunity to see each other and determine if our long distance friendship was meant for deeper commitment. I spent so many years considering this move that my arrival seemed surreal, more like a vacation.

All those years of longing to move closer to family and coming to the desert soon became so much more than I anticipated. For one month I camped out in a stranger's house, looking for a job and exploring my new community. I lived on a dirt road populated with coyotes, quail, and bobcats, though not all on friendly terms. The haunting sound of coyotes howling in the night was strangely comforting. The murmuring of quail in the early morning hours invited me to sit on the porch and sip coffee. It seemed years since my body had been able to sink into such a calm, restful space.

But the calm ebbed and flowed. I found myself wrestling against this luxurious time of restoration. I had gotten used to being hyper-responsible as a single parent, caring for my girls and planning for a future alone. Like a person being pulled from side to side, two trains of thought yanked me between rest and responsibility: find a job or let myself be cradled in renewal.

I began looking for a place to rent. Having the blessing of living in this empty house temporarily, I had no desire to impose on the home owners upon their return. It was my niece who found my next residence, a nice granny flat just down the road from where I was staying. Crystal and her husband owned the granny flat and lived next door; we became close friends. They allowed me to move in without a job, paying rent from savings. It was more than I could imagine: built-in book shelves, a walk-in closet, a big bathroom with a large jacuzzi tub, a dreamy kitchen with an island, tile floors; all this without leaving behind the coyotes, quail and bobcats.

All my goods were gathered from storage and moved to this new haven. It was November so I set up the Christmas tree early. In a window by the door its twinkly lights welcomed visitors while in some small way mimicked the vast amount of stars seen from my patio in this dark, desert community. I felt safe. Days were doled out in increments of job hunting, networking, reading, walking, colorful desert sunsets, and long phone conversations with Jim.

Jim and I became engaged four months after my move. The biggest, riskiest move I ever made alone left me sitting on the edge of another. He was deeply rooted in his community and I was simply finding my way around, so it made more sense for me to move to San Diego. Happy to say yes to life with him; and the idea of living in the same city as my girls seemed more than a “happily ever after” ending. I was torn about leaving the cocoon in which I had wrapped myself – the environment, my darling home, the people and the change of pace. Friendships had slipped on easily here, like a worn, comfortable pair of jeans.

I began collecting boxes and packing again; my stay here had been reduced to six months. The last eight weeks I was freer to drop into a more relaxed space; job hunting had been postponed. It was like living on an island of time saved just for me. In conjunction with nurturing new friendships, an appreciation for the desert blossomed. Even now as I think back to my time in the desert a calm envelopes me.

My move to the desert evolved into an unexpected, leisurely pause and there I was given a surprisingly new experience with myself and the natural world. In the desert I learned about letting go and embracing. Coming to the dessert required paring down – giving away or selling much of the bulk that comes with marriage and raising kids. Alone in the desert my life was simplified. The anticipation of another move and a new relationship offered an opportunity to reconsider the things I was holding onto still – things supporting a single life. I sorted, releasing items and packing others.

I was making room for a new life. At the same time I was taking more control of my own self-care: walking, eating healthier and spending time alone refueling, and in new relationships I found expansion. Not only had my collection of stuff pared down, so had I. For the first time in years I felt good in my clothes and had a tan I didn’t work on. In the desert I was free to be outside all winter in spite of one surprising snowfall. I was free to move toward others and away as needed.

In the desert, far from my deep mid-western roots, I found myself anew. I was a long way from where I had come and a long way from who I had been. It was as if I left one world, passed through a tunnel, and came out into another. I hadn’t forgotten who I was or all those who had been there for me; I just simply was more myself and starting a new adventure. One brave step released me of a life outgrown to move into a life I hadn’t fully imagined.

God often moves us out of our comfort zones and into a space requiring us to expand and become more than we imagined. Though the desert days were short, they were meaningful and necessary. In the desert I was buoyed for the next step of faith. Most often our desert experiences take place inside our souls. Have you ever had a desert experience? What did God teach you while you were waiting for Him to release you from this challenging space?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Stitched in Rituals

Autumn has always awakened in me the need to take in hand favorite rituals I’ve let go by the wayside, give them a good fluffing and then wrap them around my days for comfort. September is my January, a time to re-calibrate. And as a child, September represented going back to school, purchasing school supplies and new shoes. I loved going back to school. Older now, I still find myself considering a box of new crayons or a pretty binder each year when Labor Day pushes back summer. Seasonal rituals vary from household to household, but most families have them whether they are aware of it or not and these rituals are incorporated in going back to school, holidays, planting gardens or summer vacations. There are thousands of ways people mark the passing of time from one season to the next with rituals.

Rituals are of great value when it comes to relationships. Ellie Lisitsa, staff writer of the Gottman Institute writes:

  • Rituals symbolize cultural identity and values we share with our families”
  • Rituals ensure that people take time for emotional connection”
  • Rituals can help us to process our feelings as we move through life’s transitions, and to stay connected despite our conflicts”

Annie Dillard’s words from The Writing Life speak to my heart on this topic, “What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, or course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is the net for catching days. It is scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.”

For me rituals are like doing the outside of a puzzle first; it’s the framework of my day. A day without rituals makes me feel harried. The rituals I do consciously or unconsciously hold me together when a day comes apart. Rituals create rhythms that seam together the patterns of my days. Some rituals have become so habitual I hardly recognize them to be rituals until I am faced with a big change. Some changes are known to tear a hole in the flow of my schedule and then I become discombobulated.

Recently I was thinking about what it must be like for all the people who have been misplaced at the mercy of hurricanes and earthquakes. Some of them have lost everything but their lives. I wonder if survivors of these disasters feel most lost without their stuff or their routines and rituals. I know we all have personal items with significant sentimental value and losing them would be quite sad. It isn’t my intent to minimize what folks in these places are experiencing, but when I imagine what it would be like I find myself thinking I would long for the everyday rituals. I would desperately desire to have my ordinary life back.

  • Morning rituals: washing face, brushing teeth, breakfast, coffee and devotions with husband, my quiet time in the guest room studying the Word and spending time with Jesus
  • Homemaking rituals: cleaning, laundry, planning and prepping meals
  • Evening rituals: Exercise, shower, go to work, home to read and sleep

How does one go about creating rituals to stitch a life back together when one is living in a shelter or on the street? I have no experience, no answers. I have this tiny memory of moving – nothing like a disaster, but uprooted. We had moved from California to Missouri in the month of January. Our furniture wouldn’t arrive for a week, so we stayed in a hotel. We had a new home totally empty without towels, dishes, or anything personal. Our daughters’ first day of school started in a hotel room. It was weird and challenging. I don’t remember how we fed them breakfast, but we had the usual morning rituals of washing up, brushing teeth and praying. The evenings included homework and reading a story at bedtime. We parents were confined to the girls’ schedule – to bed early with lights out.

It was a temporary inconvenience. Still it felt a little strange without our things and a normal routine. After awhile, a new place begins to feel ordinary and everyday, but with daily rituals the ordinary soon becomes extraordinary and appealing. I would love to hear about your rituals – the ones holding your days, weeks, and seasons together. And maybe even your sanity.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Power of Home

Home. It is the place we look forward to returning after work, and with greater longing after vacation. Even when I am not quite ready to leave the freedom a rambling road trip, home still tugs at my heart. And I love that moment when we first open the front door after a long trip and a musty, closed up scent seasoned with the smells of the life we live here envelopes me with a comforting welcome. I am at peace embraced by our space and reassured everything is OK. There is something for each of us, whether it be good or not so good, that triggers memories of home.

Kenneth Graham describes this so well in The Wind in the Willows. Ratty and Mole are trudging through winter weather to return to Rat’s home by the river. As they pass through a village, cozy scenes seen through windows increase their longing and they are spurred onward. Outside the village in the open field, Mole’s senses are jolted, “Suddenly the summons reached him, and took him like an electric shock. . . . It was one of these mysterious fairy calls from out the void that suddenly reached Mole in the darkness, making him tingle through and through with its very familiar appeal . . . Home! . . . Now, with a rush of old memories, how clearly it stood up before him . . . the home he had made for himself, the home he had been so happy to get back to after his day’s work. And the home had been happy with him, too, evidently, and was missing him, and wanted him back . . .”

Mole’s home is described as, “Shabby indeed, and small and poorly furnished.” Yet Mole wept with longing to return to his home. I find it intriguing that Graham gives it such a dowdy, but desirable description. Those of us fortunate to have a place to call home, particularly if we feel welcome there, experience a longing to be home whether humble or grand. I am inclined to believe the thing that makes a home homey is different for each one of us even if some things may be the same for all of us.

The study of homes has been a pleasurable past-time for me since I was a teen. I am most intrigued by the various ways people bring their own personalities into their home environment. Creating home is really more about creating an environment, isn’t it? Decorating is an art form, but a home can seem sterile if the kind of environment we hope to create isn’t considered. When I married Jim, a fifty-five-year old bachelor, it was a special challenge to create home together. We had both accumulated a lot of stuff. When I first moved into our home I went antiquing and found a Linotype drawer made into a coffee table. Jim’s years of working for the newspaper instilled an appreciation for this unique piece. And I had longed for a Linotype drawer for years. This little table has become a place to gather together scraps of individual histories, as well as memorabilia collected on hikes and road trips we have done together. Though just a table, it is an endearing expression of us within our home.

One of my favorite books on homemaking was written by Edith Schaeffer, The Hidden Art of Homemaking. She had a lot of wonderful things to say about the value of being creative when making home. “I am sure that there is no place in the world where your message would not be enhanced by your making the place (whether tiny or large, a hut or a palace) orderly, artistic and beautiful with some form of creativity, some form of ‘art.’”

The house is just a shell; it is the transformation of the people and the environment inside the shell fashioning a home. The hermit crab comes to my mind. Hermit crabs have a large, soft, curvy abdominal area and so they carry their home, a seashell, on their backs for protection. As the crab outgrows its shell it must move out and quickly find another one. Without consideration of the unique personalities and needs of each family member as they grow and change our homes are more like shells – easily left, forgotten and quickly replaced. Making home is an important consideration, and for the Christian it can be taken into a more personal space – your own person.

How is it that I as a person can be considered a home in and of myself? Here is what John and Paul have to say about my being a home:

John 14: 23 (NIV)
Jesus replied, ‘If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.’”

Ephesians 3:17 (NIV) Paul’s intent as he prays:
so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. . . .”

Footnote in (NIV) Reflecting God Study Bible:
3:17 dwell. Be completely at home. Christ was already present in the Ephesian believers’ lives. (cf. Ro 8:9). hearts. The whole inner being.

John says when I love Christ and obey Him, He and the Father, responding in great love, will move in and make home within my very being. I love the footnote from the Reflecting God Study Bible on the Ephesians passage. The idea that Christ could be completely at home in me is astounding. And yet God created us in His image – we are meant to be bearers of His image and it is Christ in me reflecting the Father to those around me when invited to make this shabby vessel into His home. And He isn’t just moving into a corner or a room; He is transforming my entire inner being into His home.

My willingness to allow Him to rearrange everything and make my inner being His own impacts other people. I am a home environment – a dwelling place for God – and in turn God in me ignites a longing in others for Him to dwell in them. No matter where our eternal home will be, we are responsible for the environment we create for those around us by our attitudes, words and actions. Edith Schaeffer, The Hidden Art of Homemaking, addresses the self as an environment and the affect we have on one another.

There are various art forms we may or may not have talent for, may or may not have time for, and we may or may not be able to express ourselves in, but we ought to consider this fact-that whether we choose to be an environment or not, we are. We produce an environment other people have to live in. We should be conscious of the fact that this environment which we produce by our very 'being' can affect the people who live with us or work with us.”

Author Emily P. Freeman fans to life the excitement of the glorious task stamped on our hearts to be image bearers of our Creator God. “Every moment is packed with artistic possibility because, as an image bearer with a job to do, there is potential to reveal the glory of God in every circumstance, no matter how I feel, who I’m with, what my hands hold, or what’s gone wrong. God with us lives within us. And he will come out through us in a million little ways.”

Home! It is a place we are drawn to physically and spiritually. So many layers of living go into making home the kind of place to stir the senses into an emotional frenzy of longing and to awaken forgotten memories worth sifting through. But it is my inner being filled with my Father who dwells within and shines forth that triggers within and beyond a profound longing for all things eternal.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

An Ear Full of Hospitality

The value of stories has been woven into just about every part of who I am; I am motivated by stories. I am not speaking only of well-written fictional stories, but of real stories about real people. Eugene Peterson wrote, “Stories are radical acts of hospitality.” When I read this simple phrase a picture pops up in my mind: I see someone leaning in, looking into eyes and listening to the heart of another telling a story. How else can stories be equated with hospitality? If I am present to your story, listening and being with you in your story, I can be hospitable to you anytime, any place. Don’t you think?

I am not sure if I am writing about hospitality, stories or something else. Maybe I should first tell you how stories have their grip on me. It began with being read to, memorizing the rhythmic cadence of a rhyme and sounding out words to read. As a child it was the beautiful stories of hope and happily ever after buoying me up in the midst of a messed up family. My mind and heart were captured by words woven into stories. And at the time I didn’t see the value of my own story.

It was the true story of Jesus told in Vacation Bible School – His love for me – that drew me forward to His forgiveness and gave me real hope. Over the years I have been challenged, encouraged and strengthened by the true stories of God’s Word. As I grew in my relationship with Jesus I began to see value in my personal story.

Words fascinate me. I love reading stories of people who have overcome great difficulties and I love playing with words – writing real stories people can plop themselves into and find some encouragement along the way. Bit by bit I began sharing my story. It was in the tangled chapters of dysfunction and confusion I felt God inviting me into a place of healing, not only receiving healing but receiving a call to facilitate healing into the broken places of other people’s stories.

So when I read Peterson’s words I began to see in me a hospitable place. Kristen Schell, writer of The Turquoise Table, says, “. . . learning to listen and be present is paramount if we are to take every opportunity to open our lives and homes to others.” Henri Nouwen’s words confirm the link between listening and hospitality, “Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends, to get to know their inner selves more fully, and even to dare to be silent with you.” I have never considered myself as gifted with hospitality, but this gives me hope: hospitality comes in many forms and one is being present to others through listening.

Of course my job as a counselor requires me to lean in, be attentive and fully present. I know this doesn’t get me off the hook from offering other forms of hospitality, but it seems imperative I consider how well I am listening to those most important to me: my husband, family, friends and particularly God. I decided to ask my husband to rate how well I listen to him; he gave me an 8. I think there is a lot of grace in his answer. When asked if he felt I listened better to others he said, “Yes, but with me you have all the unspoken marriage expectations in there.” There have been times he has said, “You aren’t even listening.” When I am with family it is hard to say how well I do. Sometimes I am very attentive but in the family I am often quicker to interrupt and have my say in a matter. Some of my friends have told me I am a good listener; I can only take their word for it.

Sometimes I think I make people uncomfortable with my inquisitive nature and desire to learn about their stories. When a vulnerable heart lets go and shares bits and pieces of a tattered story my own heart leaps in response to make a safe place to hold their story. This all sounds good, but am I giving my dearest the same gift of hospitality? And what about Jesus? Does my heart open up to His Words – fully listening and believing the story He tells me of His love for me? Do I listen and participate in the story He tells of my life line by line and chapter by chapter – adventures of faith? I long to be hospitable most of all to my Savior in the form of listening; I long to be tuned in to His voice at all times. This requires me to spend time everyday in stillness, listening. I am certain I could fine tune my listening skills with all my loved ones.

So if stories are important to hospitality, then listening is as well. And whether or not you and I are especially gifted in hospitality we can all learn to listen better. I encourage you to develop a curiosity about other people’s stories; people have a deep need to be known. Kristin Schell offers tips for becoming a better listener in her book, The Turquoise Table. Here are a few:

  • Maintain eye contact
  • No interrupting
  • Don’t solve or fix the problem
  • Pay attention to what is being said
  • Don’t be afraid of silence

And sometimes use the phrase I have found to be helpful in counseling: “Tell me more.” The speaker will feel welcomed when invited to elaborate on his or her story. Telling our stories to a good listener can be healing. Offer an ear full of hospitality to someone today.

Some last thoughts about the value of stories. Philip Pullman writes, “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” In Whispers of Rest, Bonnie Gray writes, “Your story is the portrait in which God’s light of love shines.”

As we come together in genuine fellowship, offering one another a place of hospitality, know that our shared stories are vessels for His greatness to shine through. So my challenge to you and to me, not only to offer hospitality by listening to others’ stories but to be open to sharing how God’s love has brought hope and healing into your own story.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Embracing My Life In This Place

The pain draped around her story like a heavy, tattered coat. There was confusion and hurt and a desire to please. In the midst of these moments I began to realize how so many of us enter our adult lives with unrealistic expectations – ideals of what being loved looks like and expectations of a life perfectly wrapped in happiness and beauty. Once upon a time her story was my story; I am healing. When I was a child, adults would talk about keeping up with the Jones, meaning the neighbors next door; now we are trying to keep up with just about everyone on social media. I have begun asking myself why fitting in with people I don’t know well, or at all, matters? Why care if any of these social media folks are pleased with me?

In the end, don’t you think all we really want is to belong, to have a tribe of people with whom we experience meaningful connection? When it comes down to it, don’t we care more about being known and loved by those taking this journey with us than whether or not they are invested in meeting all our ideals? It is stressful for everyone when perfection is where we hang our values; friendships are no longer real or meaningful when we strive for or expect perfectionism. Healthy relationships have boundaries of respect wrapped up in grace. Wouldn’t you much rather have people enjoy being in relationship with you than perfectly please you?

Sometimes, like many of you, I focus on what is missing – that elusive, perfect life. I find embracing the life I’ve been given increases contentment, peace and joy. As I take steps toward embracing my life – one that doesn’t live up to all my expectations – I find more of what I truly need. Embrace is a word that has captured me in the past couple of months. A question I came across in a book study my sister and I did together was, “What do you want more of?” I knew instantly I wanted more meaningful interaction with the people who matter most to me, like my sister. I want to make it a priority to prioritize the people I love and long to know better.

The realization began growing, like a snowball rolling down hill, as one situation after another presented itself with opportunities to connect. But first I had to ask God: What is this life you have given me? I sought to discover what He wanted me to embrace and where He wanted me to invest my time. And then I found He led using the desires He had given me. He invited me to look at what’s available, not what is lacking. It began with spending time with my sister.

From there God gave my husband and I a wonderful opportunity to hike with my nephew, his fiancee and their baby. We met early in the cool of the day. They had packed a picnic and drove us to a canyon where we enjoyed surprises like an old cowboy dugout, wild turkeys strolling with a road runner, and genuine fellowship. Upon our return home from the visit with family in Texas my friend, Crystal, came to spend a weekend with us; saying she needed time with me. I had not been aware of my own need to be with her, but our visit left me filled and overflowing as we prayed together before she left.

In May I began reading Bonnie Gray’s book, Whispers of Rest, and knew I wanted to take this 40-day journey of rest with others. I opened my home and invited women from my church, as well as a new friend, to join me in experiencing more intimacy with God and deeper acceptance of His love for us. It has been a sweet time of heartfelt sharing and genuine connection. As I attempt to live life where I’ve been placed, God is teaching me to embrace what He has given, and I am experiencing more contentment. There is a place inside of me bursting forth into full bloom as I endeavor to embrace this life here on my street, with these people and in this community. I can’t fully explain it but I feel myself opening up and expanding.

Have you ever found yourself trying to adjust to a place and not quite figuring it out? Have you struggled with unrealistic expectations? How have you embraced the space in which God has placed you? I would love to hear about your experience.

Early summer reading:

What are you reading?