Saturday, September 21, 2019

Joy is Found in Joining

Ideals and expectations can be killers of joy. Yet sometimes I have a hard time letting go of what seems ideal to me. There is often a guilt-laden wrestling match before I lay down the stress-filled version and take up the lighter and more joyful way. I don’t know exactly why that is – maybe some influence of days gone by or books read filling my head with perfectly carried out plans. But life happens.

We have just gone through months of stuff – the kind of stuff making it difficult for me to remember what I did last week. The months have been intensely focused but I am learning to choose the simple way and release the guilt. We recently returned from a beautiful but tiring trip only to bump into making time to celebrate my husband’s birthday. Before the trip he couldn’t decide how he wanted to celebrate and I had nothing planned. Torture; we are both planners.

So I found myself, one week out, wrestling with myself over whether or not to prepare a birthday dinner for the family or go out to eat. It seemed right and ideal to cook and have everyone over to our house where it’s quiet and we could hear one another talk. Looking ahead to the best evening for celebrating, I realized we were also attending a memorial service earlier that day. My overwhelmed self went to war with my ideal self.

Thankfully my husband decided on a restaurant – a new eating establishment experience for the family – and I made reservations. I made dessert and after dinner the family gathered in our home for coffee, dessert, gift giving and conversation. It was a lovely evening and I was able to enjoy it with minimal stress. I forget how simplifying things can result in some of the best experiences. It’s not so much what we do but the coming together that truly matters.

I need to take cues from my my daughter, Emile. The aforementioned beautiful but tiring trip had been for the express purpose of attending Emile and Isaac’s wedding in Vermont. A destination wedding can be expensive. Emile and Isaac wanted to bring their families together for a beautiful celebration without breaking the bank. The focus on relationships paid off. Staying focused on what really matters helped them simplify and cut costs – eliminating ideal for a sweet and meaningful experience.

I recall all the months spent looking at venues, photographers, florists and bakers. Thousands of decisions sifted through and let go – releasing trends and some personal ideals – for the simple beauty of relationships mixed with a little DIY. They could not have had a more endearing and beautiful wedding if they had been given the best florist and a high end wedding planner.

Floral preparations evolved into 8 buckets of fresh cut flowers and 8 women scurrying about to make bouquets on Saturday morning, the day before the wedding. It was a big, beautiful noise of creating and collaborating. Maid of honor, sister Laura, and bridesmaid Meredith put together the bride’s and bridesmaids’ bouquets. All were delicately placed in various refrigerators in the rooms of wedding guests.

Antique jars were given over to Grams, cousins Hilary and Gabby, Aunt Roni Kay, mother of the bride and friend Monique to make mixed arrangements for the reception tables. Instead of paying several hundred dollars for flowers, Emile purchased flowers from a local grower. The end result was the making of a memory: creative chaos with family and friends and amazing, lovely bouquets. And Jim came in after cleaning up all the scraps of stems and petals.

The morning of the wedding all of us, plus a few other family members and friends, met in the reception hall and decorated tables. Flowers, greenery and candles were purposefully positioned on each table. There were plenty of flowers leftover so the maid of honor and a bridesmaid created a floral wreath to hang behind the bride and groom table. The overall effect was as naturally beautiful and celebratory as a fancy English picnic. There was such freedom and fun without rigid ideals. I believe I understand Daphne du Maurier’s idea for bottling memories...

If only there could be an invention that bottled up a memory, like scent. And it never faded, and it never got stale. And then, when one wanted it, the bottle could be uncorked, and it would be like living the moment all over again.”

Better yet, I need to have a built-in reminder to focus on what matters most – people and leaving a little room for creativity – the kind that lends itself to great enjoyment. When I consider this and all the times I have not opened my home to others because I didn’t have a plan, it’s rather disheartening. Nothing too deep here but just a reminder to me and maybe to a few of you:

  • Life is short
  • Relationships matter most
  • Beautiful celebrations can be simple
  • There is freedom when rigid ideals are left behind
  • Creativity awakens in the freedom
  • Memories are made – and people are drawn together when included in the process

Monday, August 19, 2019

Wishing Away This Season

One day last week, a sudden urge to give into daydreaming about Autumn came over me. I started thinking how midsummer is the time when those of us who love Autumn begin wishing away summer and longing for cool, crisp days. This is a strong urge, one I have experienced every year since I was a little girl. It hits about the time Christmas overtakes the shelves at the craft stores. Who cares about Christmas in July? I am longing for sweater weather, bonfires and golden leafed trees.

I have learned one thing through all these years of wishing away the present for what comes next; what I wish for isn’t always better than what I wished away. Actually the wished for something rarely lives up to the longing stretched–out–thin and reaching til it tips over and spills out into a future time. How many summers have I wished away only to land in a square space on the calendar claiming the Vernal Equinox has arrived, and then discovering it’s just as hot and miserable as the day before?

There are often long, hot Indian summers. And sometimes there are dry Autumns where the leaves on the trees brown the color of mud and blow away without any glorious, golden moments. There have probably been more disappointing Autumns than not. I have experienced enough glorious Autumn days though to recognize when Autumn isn’t living up to the its overblown reputation. All this to say I decided to reign in my Autumn thoughts and find something to enjoy about summer.

But what about when the things I wish away are more difficult to endure than a hot summer passing by? On the way to get frozen yogurt after my third oral surgery this year, I found myself wishing I wasn’t going through all this dental drama. Instantly I realized we are all going through something and my wishing away one challenging season could lead me into worse trouble. Not because this is how God works, but life is a revolving door of good and bad. Wishing away isn’t like mail order – we can return it for something better. My wishful thinking is a lack of acceptance that life is often hard, and there are all kinds of hard. In spite of my current challenges I have much to be thankful for today.

Some of us may be willing to admit wishing away isn’t just a seasonal activity; it has become a habit and is a result of discontentment or entitlement. I cringe, but yes I said entitlement. I recognize that when I think I should have it easier than others I am acting entitled. I keep bringing this up in my writing because it is a real struggle for me at times. And just maybe it is for you too.

Christine Valters Paintner writes, “Contentment calls for a release of our resistance to what life brings us. It can be a very subtle opening. . . . Contentment doesn’t mean we are always happy about life events or deny the reality of pain. We cultivate contentment by cultivating the inner witness who is able to respond to life from a place of calmness, peace, and tranquility. It means we honor that what is given to us in any moment is enough. . . .the call is to celebrate the sufficiency of what one already has. Contentment is closely connected to the practice of gratitude . . .”

How often have I missed the glory of God in my difficulties by attempting to tear this chapter from the story of my life? How many wonderful moments have I missed when I was poised on the edge and gazing into the future? How much of my life has been exchanged for an imagined ideal – a dream unable to hold all the expectations and hopes poured into it. POW! It bursts like a water balloon.

I have been through greater difficulties than oral surgery, and I have experienced God’s goodness when I was willing to turn toward Him in the midst of hardship. He has gifts for me each day when I pay attention. He longs to hold me and soothe me when I am hurting. I cling to the truth of Zephaniah 3:17.

The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you,
He will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”

I believe Him when he says He will never leave me or forsake me, but my wishing even one day of my story away exposes the doubts. I want my belief in Him to stand up strong in the midst of my struggle, instead of wavering in faith through wishful thinking. I am not judging your wishful thinking moments. We are human, we have weak moments, and we forget we don’t have to do this in our power. I am convicted by those who live through great hardship with exceptional faith.

My friend went on a mission trip to Jamaica. There she met a woman in extraordinary poverty. This woman had several children and was raising them alone. This Mother told my friend about a time when God provided food for her starving children. She had taken a pot of water, a limited and valued resource, and put it on the stove to boil. She prayed in faith that God would bring her food to put in the pot to feed her children. The water evaporated as she prayed, but her faith did not vaporize. She filled the pot again with the last of the water and prayed believing God would fill the pot with food to feed her children. While the water evaporated a group of people made their way to her door bringing food. I was moved by her faith in the midst of dire need. And here I am just wishing away Autumn and challenging dental drama.

How can I take the energy I use for wishing my days away and pour it into a fervent prayer of faith? Romans 5:2-5 in The Message comes to mind when I think of holding my difficulty or disappointment before God and living expectant of His care right here, right now.

Romans 5:2-5 (The Message)

We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.
There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!

In the uncomfortable places of life I must turn to God! And in everyday gives thanks; He is more than enough. How is God making himself known to you in a place or experience you had been wishing away?

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Our Home: A Roost

Last month our long time friends Bob and Sondra stayed in our home for a night. When asked if they slept well, both said it was the best sleep they’d had their whole vacation. I was pleased. Roost comes to mind. I know a roost is a supportive place where a bird can rest. Sometimes I can be stingy about sharing our home but I desire for people who come into it to find a place to let down, just be and rest. After they left I thought about the things people can count on when they come to our house. A little ditty popped into my head and I wrote it down in my journal.

At our house there will always be coffee.
At our house there will always be creamer.
At our house there will always be chocolate chips.
At our house there will always be hugs.
At our house there will always be toilet paper.
At our house there will always be conversation.
At our house there will always be books, clean towels, fans, extra toothpaste and toothbrushes, prayer before meals, plants, something blooming, peanut butter and oatmeal.

I could go on. Some things not listed that I truly want people to always find at our house: the love of Jesus, comfort, encouragement, prayer support and laughter. I have no need to be considered a great hostess. I am rarely comfortable hostessing but care about what people experience and what they go away with when they are in our home. It is important to me they are ministered to whether it be with prayer or clean towels.

I want people to know they are seen and heard in our home. And Father, forgive me when I am wrapped up in my own junk and don’t see or hear the person sent through the front door of this place you have given us to call home. But aren’t these qualities of home something we carry about with us like a hermit crab’s shell – a walking home? Edith Schaeffer wrote in her book, The Hidden Art of Homemaking, “...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. The effect on them is something they cannot avoid. We should have thoughtfulness concerning our responsibility in this area.”

This is not only about the place I call home. I am not just speaking here about an invite to an event. This is an invitation to a Presence, His Presence. These are the things people need to be able to count on whenever I am present. Not because of me but Jesus in me. As I move about my day and interact with people here and there, the environment of me has an impact on the environment of whoever crosses my path. The things I want people to experience in my home should also be experienced in my presence wherever I am: the love of Jesus, comfort, encouragement, prayer support and laughter.

Can our home be a roost? Can we offer a place for others to find support and solace? What does that look like? Could it be we first offer it to one another in our families? A created support of rest for our own people can release a warm fragrant invitation – here is a place to be heard, to be seen, to find support and peace, to be loved. People are drawn to restful environments – to places where they are embraced and loved. How can you and I become a roost for others?

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Gifts of Encouragement for You

In June, on our wedding anniversary, Jim gave me a notebook filled with printouts of all the blog posts I had written. He offered up the page count and said, “See, you can write a book.” From the very beginning my motives for writing was to encourage you and be a reminder “You are not alone.” For my own good it was to process my life journey and practice my craft – a gift from God.

Hebrews 10:25 (NIV)
Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

We are to encourage one another in a personal way – in relationship. In my writing I attempt to be personal by exposing my own humanness and remembering the things that are true of all human beings, no matter how deeply buried in our messes. A blog post is encouragement from afar. One of the ways I love to encourage people is by resourcing them. Today I want to share with you some resources I found helpful recently. Under each topic you will find the links for these resources. I hope you find your hearts lifted and eyes focused on Jesus.

Friendship: I have found, when listening to others, people are lonely. People are struggling in this social media driven age to figure out how to have real life friendships. Jennie Allen's four podcasts titled Made For This has healthy, Biblical teaching on friendship. She also offers a free downloadable Friend Guide.

Decision making and finding direction: I am sometimes better at making big decisions than small ones. But not always. There are times when making a decision is torture. I am not talking about where to eat tonight, though that can be a challenge too. I am talking about decisions like: What is God’s will for me? Who am I supposed to invest in at this time? Do I need to change jobs? Should I go back to school? Emily P. Freeman does an excellent job of gently walking us through the winding road of decisions. The Next Right Thing podcasts are generally short (12-20 minutes) but packed full of wisdom and encouragement. When I listen to her podcast it is as if a heavy backpack has been lifted off my shoulders. Emily also wrote a book called The Next Right Thing. I have listened to every one of her podcasts and still found the book helpful.

Grief: I have spent a lot of time listening to people and discovered that one of the most neglected feelings is grief. The normal human journey of grieving loss is avoided by most people; it’s painful and uncomfortable. But buried grief resurrects. Grieving eventually frees us to move on, otherwise we get stuck. Leanna Tankersley and Elaine Hamilton talk about their grief in Life After Loss: You're Still You. They share what healthy grief looks like, what is normal and how to care for yourself in the process.

Books: I want to share the titles of two more books I am reading. Walking with God, by John Eldredge, is an honest and profound book on deepening intimacy with God through prayer. This book is so helpful that I am reading it a second time. I shared this book title with a friend; recently she told me many people in her life have been helped by reading this book.

Run with the Horses by Eugene Peterson may be my favorite Eugene Peterson book. This is a book about Jeremiah the prophet of God. In his writing about Jeremiah, Peterson delivers a powerful personal connection. “If we are going to live appropriately, we must be aware that we are living in the middle of a story that was begun and will be concluded by another. And this other is God.”

Though God has gifted me as an encourager, nothing comforts, soothes, fills, encourages and restores like the love of God. My wholeness is dependent on where I have placed Him in my life. Deep restoration and repair happen when I get alone with Him. I hope you are finding time for quiet and rest this summer.

If you are willing to share with others your resources for growth, healing and encouragement leave a comment below. Or maybe you are in a hard place and need prayer. If you feel comfortable leave a message sharing your prayer request so others may pray for you. Right now I am praying for all of you to know you are being held in His love.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Here But Not Present

Attending – being present to – is much more important than I am sometimes willing to admit. Attending means I am, not only present physically, but engaged. This requires both discipline and effort. It’s work. But I am being challenged to pay attention to my thoughts and attitudes toward others and toward the landscape of my life. I have been reading about community – the Body of Christ – and what it looks like to live a generous life. I have been asking myself some hard questions.

In Romans 12:13 Paul writes, “Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” What does being attentive to the needs of others look like? How am I creating space for community and building relationships in the Body. In Acts 2:42-47 Luke describes the early church as people who “devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to the fellowship . . . They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” I am nettled by these words.

I confess familiarity with this passage but have not been attending to it’s message. In the details I discover a group of people forming a powerful attachment to one another as they cultivate roots in the kingdom of God. Daily they were devoted to attending to the of the Word, to nourishment, and to worship. This resulted in new people becoming followers of Jesus every single day.

Here is what I notice in my own life and attitude concerning the community we call church – followers of Christ; often I am looking for something instead of bringing something. Can you relate? I may look like I am attending church on Sunday morning – fully present – but I am often thinking about what’s missing or what could be done better. Forgive me, but it’s true.

It is so easy to show up, greet, check in with a few people, and warm a pew during worship and the message. But to really engage with the Body of Christ, to fully see and hear someone’s story and make space to get together with them requires a lot more from me. And my poking holes in the fabric of the doings of the church where I see things wearing thin isn’t productive for increasing the kingdom of God.

The attention given to the landscape of my own thinking on this requires something of me. I must be willing to see the truth. I can continue to ignore the fact that I see needs, and maybe even problems, but I am unwilling to be a solution. Or I can put into place some practices or disciplines to calibrate my heart. The first thing required of me is to confess and repent. Second, I need to seek the Holy Spirit’s leading as to how I am to be present and what I am to bring to the church fellowship which I attend.

How can I attend – be fully present? Here are some specific ways I am working on changing the way I do church. These are things I am practicing. I say practice purposely; I don’t have this down. And I do not mean this to be a form of getting praise for what a good girl I am. I share as a way of confession and a renewed commitment.

  • I am making it a practice to pay more attention to the women on the fringes, and to make time for them instead of seeking to be seen and heard.
  • I am making it a practice to disciple others. This has been one of the most rewarding things I have done; Jesus is changing me as a result. For years I have noticed the lack of discipling in churches. Why did it take me so long to see I am part of the solution. We are all called to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20).
  • I am making it a practice to recognize someone else’s contribution is not a threat to mine. There are many gifts in the Body and many needs. The diversity means more people and needs are tended to when everyone is using their gifts. This is not a threat to me; it strengthens the Body. I am making efforts to resist the scarcity mentality. When I compare what I am doing or not doing with what someone else is doing or not doing, a divide is created. We serve a God of abundance and when I recognize the work or gift of another does not annihilate the work or gift God has given me, I am walking in abundance.
  • I am making it a practice to spend time with other believers in vulnerable conversations about how God is working in my life.

For so long I desired significance instead of attending and serving. I am a work in progress but here is my prayer. “Let me die to the desire to choose my own way and select my own cross. You do not want to make me a hero but a servant who loves you.” (A line from a prayer by Henri Nouwen, A Cry For Mercy)

Do you find yourself wrestling with attendance at church without being fulling engaged? It is so easy to practice detachment instead of forming attachments. We come to church tired, burned out, overstimulated and full of our own needs. Is there one small practice you can put into place – something that opens your heart to the people you worship with from week to week?

I would love to hear how God is revealing Himself to you concerning community. Do you relate in anyway to my struggle with finding fault and withholding myself from being part of the solution? Do you long for meaningful attachment within your church fellowship? What is one small step you can to take to move toward connection?

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Tending to All Things Life Giving

My husband will nurture a plant until is has absolutely proven itself dead beyond measure. Our backyard is a rescue mission for struggling plants. We are even willing to buy plants at a discount when we discover them on the “Help, I am barely thriving!” rack at the nursery. Jim worries I will throw him out when he is old and not so lively anymore just because I am more apt to say, “The plant is dead and won’t revive, I am tossing it.” I am discouraged by dying plants, where my husband is inspired to pour more love into them. I may desperately want them to live but I am tortured watching the struggle. And lets face it, a dying plant isn’t pretty.

Thriving plants and beautiful blossoms are life-giving for me. Little vases scattered about the house with snippets of blooms from the Hydrangea bush, finally filling out after 8 years of an inordinate amount of tending, bring me joy. Though vases filled delight my husband as well, he is inspired just as much by the efforts of nudging life into a plant determined to die.

When we walk around the yard to see how the plants are doing, we are delighted by a few overcomers. We thought we were losing the Kangaroo Paw, but this year it has blooms stretching up to the sky. The Sweet Pea shrub I bought Jim last year in honor of his mother has recovered wonderfully. I like to plant things in pots and it just wasn’t having it, so we put it in the ground. I thought it would never recover from the transplant. And so, on it goes. We celebrate, after all the extra care, when a plant recovers from a near death experience. We mourn when one is lost.

While we may not always be in agreement about whether or not a plant is worth saving we both share the same desire to come alongside people to encourage and mentor. So many people are feeling the great gap between being followed on social media and being known. Jim and I both feel privileged when being trusted with another person’s story, and everyone has one. We want to hear how God is working in a life that had once been on the “Help I am barely thriving” rack. People need to be seen and heard. This is the life-giving encouragement they need.

I have felt the Holy Spirit pressing me to make more space for people – inviting them into our home. This seems like an inconvenient time; Jim is tired from the current treatment and we don’t know from week to week what doctor’s appointments will open up for him. Planning is done loosely. But still my heart tells me to tend to relationships and make space for people and their stories. Maybe this draw to fellowship isn’t just about others, but about tending to our own need for meaningful fellowship. We all need to have friends, as well as be a friend.

I for one want to surround myself with a few people who will actively be in relationship with me. Gordon MacDonald writes in A Resilient Life, “There is a certain ‘niceness’ to a friendship where I can be, as they say, myself. But what I really need are relationships in which I will be encouraged to become better than myself. Myself needs to grow a little each day. I don’t want to be the myself I was yesterday. I want to be the myself that is developing each day to be more of a Christlike person.”

We don’t do life well alone, nor were we meant to. Jesus calls us into relationship, first with Him and then with others. In order to have strong, healthy relationships we must be intentional and invest in them regularly. We can build relationships by taking time to linger over a meal or a cup of coffee, really listening to one another and praying together. To know and be known. These kinds of friends love us when we are strong and when we are weak. An intimate friend holds you accountable and encourages you to become your better self. This type of relationship happens with only a few. This type of relationship doesn’t just happen; it is tended and nurtured until death do us part.
I believe the nudge for me currently is two-fold: make space for others and encourage relationship building by seeing and hearing, as well as investing in intimate relationships. The intimate relationships nurture life through being known to one another, challenging one another, listening to and praying over one another. These close friends are the people with whom we laugh and cry. These are the people who do life with us.

When I walk out my front door I bump into the roses hanging over our entry and every time I have forgotten about the bees. Often by jostling the rose I disturb a bee sipping nectar. He buzzes around my head in frustration as if I just woke him from a nap. We are on good terms. He doesn’t sting and I don’t swat. Almost no time passes before he has buried himself once again in the delicately scented blossoms. Relationships can be that simple – we are on good terms or they can be an act of service – giving value to another human being by seeing, hearing and giving a helping hand. We need a bit of both, but we all need the one or two or more who are truly known by us and by whom we are truly known. These are the friends who don’t give up on us even when we are wilting.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Uninvited Guest

Heavy, gray clouds weight the sky. No rain. Even on a sunny day in our southern California home there would be a lingering bit of gloom; an uninvited guest has taken up residence and we don’t like it. By mid-March trees and flowers had been blooming for weeks. The beauty all around us was incongruent with the news my husband received from his doctor. It’s prostate cancer but the biopsy (Gleason numbers) marked it aggressive. Weeks and months after changing insurance, before we knew, left us in long periods of waiting for a new primary doctor, urologist, biopsy, scans and finally an appointment to see the surgeon next week – all this after waiting for another scan that never was approved.

We do our chores, we eat our meals, we go to church, we chat with friends and family. Life looks normal, but it is now a cover for the invisible alien in our home. We work around it as we wait for its removal. Others have had worse – we know some of those brave souls – but this is our journey. We are hopeful but nervous. Thankfully we know who keeps track of our days and has all the details of our lives in His hands – our Lord and Savior, Jesus.

It is a reminder our lives on earth are temporary. It is a reminder that we do not know what tomorrow holds. It is a reminder to be clear about how you want this day to be lived. It is a reminder to be grateful for the people in our lives, the life we’ve been given, and the simple things this ordinary moment holds.

We finish an ugly, difficult puzzle that has taken too much real estate in our house since Christmas. We watch episode after episode of The Great Interior Design Challenge, lunch with Dad Joiner, hem curtains, weed flower beds and take walks. Because, what else can you do when cancer silently creeps in and only makes itself known through your blood work?

You keep living and working, that’s what you do. You link arms with everyone you know and you pray. You trust God. If we truly believe all we say we believe about Him, then we can trust Him with this demand on the flesh. No amount of waiting on insurance can change God’s plan.

We make plans we know we may have to change when a surgery date is set. We look forward to sunny summer days, barbecues, and my daughter’s wedding. We celebrate significant birthdays. We will slow down for a bit while healing happens, but we live our lives the best way we know how, even in limbo. Isn’t it true we are all in between something – waiting. So it’s a good idea to live the best we can today. Though we are sometimes anxious not knowing, this is just a chapter in the narrative of our lives; it isn’t how the story ends. For that I am deeply grateful.

Saturday, April 20, 2019


I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.” (Psalm 130:5)

Waiting. We are waiting. We have been in a hold for several weeks – waiting for important results and directions. Aren’t we all waiting for something? We go in and out of periods of waiting. In the waiting I recognize I have a preference for how I want things to turn out. I also recognize I have a choice: make demands or express my desires and release my preferences to the One who knows best. In the waiting I often find myself doing battle with anxiety, not resting in trust. It’s like catch and release fishing. I release my desires and anxieties to Jesus, reel them back in, only to release them again. There are times when this goes on all day long, and at the end of the day I am worn out from the struggle. And there are better days – days when I don’t allow my longings to be cast out and hooked into anxiety; I rest in Him.

When I am in a spot of waiting, I would rather be in a position like Pooh Bear stuck in Rabbit’s hole. His friends came and read to him and kept him entertained while he waited. And so sometimes I find myself scrolling social media to forget my anxiety – to avoid the struggle of releasing – I go face down and numb out. But when I surface I meet my anxiety waiting at the top; and in addition, I’ve gathered a gloomy fog from boring into an unsatisfactory escape.

Unlike Pooh Bear who is shrinking while he waits in order to be released from Rabbit’s hole, I am enlarged in the waiting. “All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain through out the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarge in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy. Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along.” (Romans 8:22-26, The Message)

As difficult as it seems, much good comes from waiting, particularly if I don’t allow waiting to paralyze me. What have you learned from waiting? What do you do while waiting? It certainly depends on the type of wait as to what I will do. If I find myself waiting for an appointment, I read. If in a long line I may talk with people around me. My husband has been weeding like crazy while waiting – getting things caught up.

Here in this place of limbo, I cling to what I know to be true of God the Father. Nothing gets past Him and He is bigger than the wait. Worry says, “Things will grow worse if the wait is too long.” The Spirit reminds me no matter how long the wait, what God determines will happen; no wait will change God’s will for us. And so we wait trusting the news we receive will be what He planned all along, and He will make us able to persevere and glorify Him in the process.

I found these words from Adele Ahlberg Calhoun’s book, Invitations From God, helpful on the topic of waiting: “Waiting is how God’s people develop the conviction, humility and longing to know they need saving and that only God can save them. . . . To wait is not to sublimate or repress desire. God tells us to voice our desires. But expressing what we long for is different from demanding that God or someone else give it to us. Between desire and demand there is a space – a transformative space of waiting. This space is a litmus test of what’s in our hearts. Do we trust God’s goodness over the long haul, admitting that we don’t always know what is best for ourselves or others? . . . The space between desire and demand is a risky waiting place. It is the place where we go to wait with God and let go of control. The place between desire and demand can hold longings, disappointments, loss, unmet expectations, joys and deep gratitude. It is the place where we learn to attach ourselves fully to God’s will rather than our own so we can wait with open hands, and with hope and trust. . . . (Ps. 62:1-3) . . . waiting is not an empty moment but a moment in which a strong and comforting God dwells. . . . Waiting is that holy place where my heart can be converted, my character honed and hope focused.”

May you find yourself more fully attached to God and your heart enlarged in hope eternal as your wait comes to a close.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Nature Renewal

March was a challenging month bearing difficult news to process. The tight squeeze of the uncomfortable stuff of life delivered a sudden urge within me to be in open spaces. I had to find a reasonable place to satisfy it. I am certain the urge had been growing inside me without my giving it attention for some time, but suddenly I was overpowered; I had to take to the road and find a nature fix. The joy being out in nature brings to me is so surprising, and it makes me wonder why I wait so long to take my soul outside, clear outside the city, to be revived.

I have started two different blog posts in the last few weeks; stuck in each I chose to put them on hold. I will come back to them another day. It occurred to me I just need to write about the one thing that lifted my spirits above the trials of life and rejuvenated me. Life sometimes gives us heavy loads to carry, and my load has been a bit weighted. There are times when going outside to play in God’s creation is the only way I can release this load to Him and rediscover a joyous peace.

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my sense put in order.” --John Burroughs

Wednesdays, late morning and into the early afternoon, are generally our time to take as a couple to catch up with each other and deepen our relationship. It is not that this is the only time we spend together but this is a protected time just for us. Last week’s date involved going to one of my favorite outdoor spaces. Some may imagine it to be the beach considering where we live, but I desire a green space wrapped in a quiet hush. It is not exactly a wilderness, but the Ramona Grasslands (a preserve) is a spacious place of relative quiet, and I find it incredibly soothing for my soul.

Green is the color that represents life and according to Merriam Webster Dictionary, green as a transitive verb means to rejuvenate or revitalize. Green spaces rejuvenate and revitalize me. I experience wide open green spaces as life giving.

Last November we visited the Ramona Grasslands with my daughter Emile. Though the quiet space restored me, all around us was the color of drought. Everything was brittle and the pond was devoid of water. This water hole, once a home to egrets and cows cooling, exposed its underside lined with crusty dirt. Still I found the quiet there a balm for my soul.

We need the tonic of the wilderness. We can never have enough of nature.” --Henry David Thoreau

But this time, after a good rainy winter, the green laid soft over the hills. My eyes could not absorb enough of the loveliness around me. Tiny light purple and yellow flowers swarmed ahead of us covering the ground. Squirrels ran about, some perched on boulders soaking up the sun. Rabbits hopped across the trail at our approach. As we walked the trail I felt I myself expanding with hope; everything in me responded to nature’s invitation. We occasionally stopped to listen to the melody of nature’s soft sounds. A small stream forged new territory as it moved through the green grass. Wild sweet peas wrapped around shrubs and grabbed our attention with their hot pink blossoms. I felt all the tension drain from me in this generous space.

On the far side of our walk was the pond, the one that had been barren last visit, and this time it couldn’t contain itself. It had slurped up full and spilled out over the edges on the low end carving a tiny water fall and stream. Delighted! We snapped pictures and my husband walked the plank of a tree branch hanging out over the water. Ducks moved away from us to the other side. While admiring the fullness, relief washed over me. I am relieved for the ducks, the pond, the land and for the generous season of rain.
As we finished up the wild flower loop we heard an interesting bird call. Looking around we found the little guy sitting on the very tip of the highest branch in a small tree. Over and over he chirped, cocking his head back each time. We laughed. That proud little thing certainly demanded attention. I envied his lack of self-consciousness. Oh the lovely joys we’re given when we are alert to what is going on around us.

When I pay attention to the natural beauty around me I am reminded not only of its revitalizing powers, but of its power to bring me into the presence of God. We can’t miss Him while paying attention to the immense organized details of the beautiful world around us. We are told in Romans we have no excuse for not recognizing God’s power in all He has created. “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). Oh how He wants to be known by us, so much so that He created a world of great beauty and mystery to lure us into a sweet, life giving intimacy with Him. I experience a different kind of closeness to Him when I am outside.

How are you making space for life giving activities? What do you find to be revitalizing? Be encouraged by the joyous moments woven into the difficulties of life. The trials we go through are not the full purpose of this life. Life can be hard, but all of it gives opportunity to know Him more fully, to ripen our faith and to glorify God.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Rightside Up View of Neighbors

Neighbors are an important element of adjusting to a new community and calling a place home. Neighborliness generally comes easily for me but most of my neighbors through the years have been “good neighbors.” Neighbors. What comes to mind when you hear the word neighbor? Does it conjure up memories of sitting on the front porch drinking ice tea together, a home cooked meal dropped off when you are sick, or an extra pair of hands to lighten a task? Those were the neighbors of my childhood. Or is it loud music, arguments on the lawn, police visits, and borrowing or stealing from you? This is a bit more in line with some of my current neighbors. Though I do not fear my neighbors, I have been put off by their brokenness.

I say "their brokenness" as if I am not broken as well. I am not proud of my difficulty in embracing neighbors here; I have been ashamed. I am convicted when I consider what Jesus said about neighbors in Luke 10:25-37. A conversation between Jesus and an expert of the law ends with this question: “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus answers with the parable of the good Samaritan (the Samaritans were a hated race) and ends His story with this question: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert of the law answers, “The one who had mercy on him.” Then Jesus tells him, “Go and do likewise.”

Jesus didn’t tell the man who his neighbors were, He showed Him how to be a neighbor. Jesus seems more concerned with what kind of neighbor I am than who I call neighbor. Do I turn away when He drops an opportunity into my day to show mercy and kindness? Do I genuinely pay attention and show compassion? As expected when open to the Holy Spirit stirring up truth inside of me, a test is not far behind.

It was late afternoon and I was putting together a pot of chili. The beef was brown and I was adding the tomatoes and beans when it occurred to me one ingredient was missing from the pantry: a 4 ounce can of tomato sauce. Ugh! I did not want to make a drive to the store for one little can of tomato sauce; I was tired and running out of time to get things done before the evening closed in on me. I considered checking with my father-in-law since he is located closer than the grocery store. Bubbling up inside of me was the memory of neighbors borrowing from one another. Our neighbors have certainly borrowed from us but I have not felt inclined to beholden myself. This self-protective space I created was one of being needed, not needing. Being the one with, not the one without, choked out the possibility of humility needed to be a merciful neighbor in my neighborhood.

OK,” I think to myself. I will ask the next door family east of us. I felt within my comfort zone asking them for tomato sauce. But the only person home at the time didn’t speak English. Walking back toward our drive and reconsidering calling my father-in-law, I see the neighbor across the street (the one who often plays loud music) digging in her flower-bed. I sensed the Spirit nudging me with these thoughts, “What if being vulnerable and in need is a good place for you to be a neighbor?” This seemed opposite of what the parable spoke to, but I knew the haughty attitude I had toward this neighbor; humility wouldn’t come without me being vulnerable and in need.

I made a sharp turn south and crossed over to this neighbor’s drive. I greeted her and asked if I might borrow a can of tomato sauce. She yells into the house for someone to look in the pantry. The can was handed to me. I thanked her and promised to replace it when I next went to the store. She said, "Don’t worry about it, that’s what neighbors are for.” Knife to the heart. Tears stung my eyes as I crossed back over the street, humbled by my noisy neighbors’ kindness.

Learning the names of the trees in my community is another way I have learned to form an attachment to a new place. Christie Purifoy marries the topics of neighbors and trees so beautifully in her new book Placemaker. She writes, “A tree within a forest is included in a special, protective ecosystem. Nearby are other trees who will feed it in times of injury or sickness and help buffer it in storms. Forest trees are united in maintaining the forest canopy; it is their shared shelter from summer heat and winter squalls. The trees know what we struggle to accept: it is right and good to love my neighbor as myself. My fate, and my neighbor’s fate, are bound up together. No human and no tree is an island.”

I desire to become a merciful neighbor – releasing my self-absorbed ideals and embracing the “made in the image of God” people in my neighborhood. I want to collaborate with them to create a safe space to leave a burden or borrow a tool. I want to learn from them – the neighbors west of us who landscaped their yard with edibles only, the neighbor who enjoys thumping, loud music seems positively resilient fixing her own car, the family on our east side making ends meet by renting out their garage, and others up and down the street. We are an eclectic group and I may be the oddest one on the block.

Christie Purifoy closes Placemaker with these words, “If peace is a state of harmony, if it is a kind of wholeness or completeness, then we will never find it by running away from broken things and messy places. . . . We achieve harmony not by walling ourselves off from difficult neighbors, but by reaching out to them and opening our gates to them.” I weep with sorrow for wasted time closed off from my neighbors and for the generosity I do not deserve from people I have misunderstood.

In what ways have you closed yourself off from those who are different? How have you learned from these experiences? Who has surprised you with their kindness? I would love to hear your stories.

Note: Placemaker by Christie Purifoy is available March 12 and can be pre-ordered through Amazon or Barnes and Noble.