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.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Freedom From Fear

For over an hour I lay frozen in fear; I dare not reach across the bed for the phone to call for help. I kept hearing the sound of creaking. I was certain a stranger was in the house creeping up the hallway toward the bedroom. My shallow breathing was an attempt to be as quiet as possible. I tried to reason with myself, “If someone is in the hallway they would surely have reached the bedroom by now.” There is no reasoning with fear when its talons have dug deep into the brain. Eventually I was able to reach for the phone to call someone and the crazy power of fear ebbed away, leaving me muscle sore and ashamed. Slowly I became aware of the rhythm of the sound – over and over it creaked; unbeknownst to me the numbers from the flip clock beside the bed, changing and dropping every minute, made a creaking sound.

I was in my late teens when I first realized I was afraid when home alone. By the time I was 20, married and living in a different state than my parents the fear had escalated. I didn’t want anyone to know; it seemed so childish. My husband was working nights and going to school. I spent a lot of time alone and found myself depressed. Slowly I began making friends which presented a new challenge: how could I go out at night with friends and return home to an empty house? I couldn’t.

Eventually I broke down and told my friend, Deb. Her husband also worked nights and she would invite me over. To go out in the evening, especially for any length of time meant I needed to find a way to stay out until my husband returned home. I refused to go home alone. Nights were the worst, but even in the daytime I often looked over my shoulder when I vacuumed for fear someone would come up behind me taking me by surprise. It was illogical but I could not talk myself out of these overwhelming fears. The humiliation of calling my husband several times a week at work just so he could stay on the phone while I checked the house kept me in such bondage. I never told my parents but my brother knew.

One time when I was home alone, I fell asleep and had a bad dream. I called my brother in the middle of the night. When he came, I pulled the mattress off my bed so he could sleep in the same room with me; I slept on the box springs. It was a maddening way to live and I was constantly in conflict with my need to socialize and the fear of going home alone.

After living in the area a few years, we made friends with a couple: Bob and Sharon. Sharon started attending a class at our church about healing prayers. We were visiting with them when Sharon excitedly told me about what she was learning. I took the risk and told her about my fears; I was desperate. Sharon assured me I could be healed. She invited me to describe the first time I remembered being alone and frightened. As I described the setting she began praying over me and invited Jesus into the setting. Making sure I was fully aware of His presence in the memory, she continued praying over me. There was no evidence that evening anything had changed in me.

But the next day I knew. I knew I was free! I didn’t look over my shoulder while vacuuming. I was no longer unreasonably fearful. Time proved this to be true. After this healing we moved to the country and I often found myself alone in our big house. I was able to work around the house even when no one was there without calling for someone to be nearby. I am now nearly 60 and am still deeply grateful for the night His Spirit delivered me from paralyzing fear. There are so many wonderful adventures I would never have experienced if I had remained imprisoned by fear.

Is there something in your life holding you back: fear, anxiety, depression, etc? Over the years God has brought healing to other areas of my life through both counseling and prayer. Sometimes we need to seek professional help on the journey of healing and sometimes we need a friend who can pray over us believing we can be healed. Often we need both. But I believe our God is a God of freedom and He means for us to walk in freedom whatever route the journey of healing takes us. I encourage you to reach out to a safe, godly person who will walk with you on the journey of healing; resist the lies of shame. I hope you will not give up. God cares.

Transformation and healing always begin in a place of desire. There needs to be some deep inner willingness to take a risk on Jesus and begin again and again. . . . The struggle for wholeness is not simply happening on a physical level. To RSVP to God’s invitation to be well is to walk straight into the mystery and responsibility of desire. When a desire for change is awakened within us and shouldered in the presence of God, we risk a new ‘normal’.” --Adele Calhoun

If you have a story of freedom to share as an encouragement to others, please share in the comments. If you need prayer to be set free from something that has you bound and imprisoned I pray you will be given courage to seek help and the desire to do whatever is required of you to be set free.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Normal Is Just Dust

When I was a child every classroom had a large chalkboard hanging on the wall. At the end of the day the chalkboard was wiped clean with chalkboard erasers. To clean the erasers you would pound them together until the air filled with white dust, which then settled on everything around you. I always think of New Years as an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and make a new start, but I now recognize I have deceived myself. Rounding the corner into a new year is a bit like cleaning chalk boards at the end of the day. The old year has been neatly packed away along with the Christmas decorations. Or has it? This is a good time to start anew, but the old year doesn’t just vanish as if nothing happened. I’ve pounded the erasers but the dusty residue of the previous year clings to me still. I can do a new thing but the old year holds on and rides in with me.

Someone posted on Facebook that they hoped this year would be back to normal. I have
been considering what this might mean. I have said this very thing. What is it we hope for when we long for life to go back to normal? I think we imply that we want things back to the way they were before some big, disruptive event happened: like Christmas, a death, illness, a deadline, etc. What would normal look like for you?

Whatever in my life that has interrupted my normal has also certainly changed me in some way, therefore my normal will never look the same. I suspect normal is a wishful idea, it is illusive, always changing. I wear last year’s dust; I have been permanently impacted by last year’s experiences and I am not the same. There is no going back to the way it was. I wouldn’t fit in that space any longer even if I recognized it for what is once was, my idea of normal.

Feel free to disagree, but I don’t believe “normal” is a real thing. I believe it is something we created in our minds to make ourselves feel safe, but life is always changing and we can’t pin this thing called normal down to one place. According to Merriam Webster, “normal” means: “conforming to a type, standard, or regular pattern”. Some people manage to conform to a regular work schedule for a number of years and that becomes their normal. We need routines and standards to keep our lives from falling completely apart and spilling out all over the place.

But overall how many people do you know who have a “normal” life that stays the same, one they can go back to? Someone whose kids never grew up or moved away? Someone who held the same job, without having to learn new skills? OK, this may be splitting hairs, but why do we want to go back? And why are we convinced that the “normal” of yesterday still exists?

Recognizing and embracing change can be challenging. But whether or not we recognize it, the dust of all we experienced the year before hangs about in the air and rests upon our very souls. We can’t shake it. We can spend all our energy denying it and wishing it away, which in itself changes us, or we can expand and step into our new space. It is a space that enlarges us and increases our trust in God. Going back to what we consider “normal” shrinks our very existence to the limits of the past – long past anything exciting, scary, sad, tragic, wonderful, or adventurous ever happened. Though I may wish to go back to normal; I can only imagine it because in reality I am not sure what it looks like.

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up in you: do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19). How do I forget the former things and move forward into the new, especially if it is painful? I have found no other way than to grieve what was, lay it at the Savior’s feet and seek His comfort. In the five stages of grief the final stage is acceptance. It is the painful movement from loss to acceptance that brings us to a place of embracing what is new and shedding sad or angry feelings toward what I may experience as a loss. I speak from my own hard work of letting go of what was and embracing all things new.

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentation 3:20-23). Knowing Him more profoundly increases trust. A deep knowing of who Jesus is and how the Father works in our lives, and recognizing His never ending love and compassion for us carries us forward and holds us up with hope when we move into a new year, new neighborhood, new anything. Living in the reality of His love and His kingdom is the only way we can embrace the truth of transformation and our inability to return to “normal”.

Lysa Terkuerst (Proverbs 31 Ministry) wrote on Instagram: “Dust doesn’t signify the end. It’s often what must be present for the new to begin. . . . Dust happens to be one of God’s favorite ingredients. After all, He had access to every ingredient and He chose to make [His] favorite creation, mankind, from dust. From the dust came new life. And the same is true for our circumstances as well.”

I challenge myself and anyone else who cares to be challenged, we are wearing the dust of last year and there is no going back. Embrace the journey Jesus has placed you on. He means to make us into His likeness and this isn’t meant to be a comfortable or normal journey. What are you doing to cultivate a closer relationship with Jesus? What are you willing to sacrifice in order to experience the new thing He longs to do in you? Can you embrace the dust leftover from last year? Watch Him do a new thing!

Friday, November 30, 2018

From the Quiet

It’s raining. A rare and beautiful thing in southern California. The last hours of November are closing in on us as our late afternoons are swallowed up in darkness. I find myself yearning for a soft blanket, a cup of tea and a good book. Autumn rustled up old memories needing to be penned in ink before the slippery slide into winter and the Christmas season. I give Autumn the opportunity to linger a few more days before brushing aside its warm colors to make room for winter and Christmas decorations.

As the light burns out of another month I sit and sift through the meaningful moments Autumn handed to me. With the mind’s eye, like clicking through the story reel of a View Master, I look at the highlights one by one: the first Spiritual Formation retreat in Mundelein, seeing classmates for the first time in 42 years, Ohio during harvest, the new red tin roof on grandpa and grandma’s home (now my cousin’s), opportunities to walk in the woods, a road trip to Arizona and all the words spoken, snow, a husband waiting at the airport upon my return.

There have been stories pieced together like a patchwork quilt. “Boro” mending done by the Japanese is a beautiful representation of how tattered pieces of others’ lives can be stitched together, bringing support and strength to places worn thin from ruminating over them alone. It wasn’t something we could see or hold in our hands, words mending a story, the gentle repair of asking and receiving.

Today a rough version of a centerpiece owns the dining room table, books stacked to represent a tree. Bromeliad (Spanish moss) collected from my yard encircles the books like a wreath. Air Plants will be tucked into the gray-green moss. I study the display to consider what may be missing. This takes place in preparation for the first Christmas event. I hold tightly to my calendar, not willing to add one more thing claiming to be necessary to the Advent season.

This full week between Thanksgiving and Advent is a rare gift. Easing into Christmas is counter-culture; there’s been a Christmas aisle in many stores since mid-summer. Each year I make adjustments to how I approach Christmas. Approaching it slowly appeals to me. Christmas calls to me this year from the quiet, to listen. The light penetrates the darkened corners with hope and deliverance. Arms open wide to maintain balance as I cross the thin line between the humanistic “should” of the season and the sentimental sweetness to reach for and accept an invitation to wait. It is in the anticipation of more, something I cannot see, that frees me.