Tuesday, January 5, 2021

 

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

 


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


We all wear clothes.

These clothes

tatter,

tear,

split,

run,

rip,

unravel,

spring holes.

Things fall apart.

But we are gifted with hands that

sew,

mend,

fasten,

pin,

glue,

weave,

darn.

Things come back together.

Wounds heal.

Hearts forgive and deepen with compassion.

Mending is a part of life.


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


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


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


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

 

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






Colossians 1:20 (The Message)

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


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

Friday, November 13, 2020

Beauty From A Different Angle

 


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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




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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Two Little Boys and Dirty Pool Water

 

When the world conditions so debase our imaginations into a devaluation of place, we no longer have context for faith in Jesus Christ. . . . It would never occur to us that the actual place in which we live and labor is adequate to support large spiritual enterprises like salvation and sanctification. And so it is necessary that a love of locale be recovered: this street, these trees, this humidity, these houses. Without reverence for the local, obedience floats on the clouds of abstraction.” Euguene Peterson, Take and Read


If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you know I’ve tried to understand more fully what it means to be a neighbor in a community in which I struggled to feel at home for a long time. God’s invitation to me has been to be present in this neighborhood, consent to be where He placed me and pay attention. I am slowly learning. But the learning isn’t from any good I have done, it’s been through His orchestration of events in this season of life.


Two little neighbor boys and a very large wading pool needing emptied have created a greater connection between us and the neighbors on the east side of our home. Let me back up a bit. Just before everything shut down from COVID-19, the mom next door and her two grown daughters came over to tell me they were taking in two nephews, ages 3 and 1. And could I babysit the boys for a couple days until they enrolled them into daycare? I was dumbstruck. My head started reeling with thoughts of these two babies moving into new circumstances without their mama, and the first day they would be with me – someone they never met. Their whole world was changing. I said, “Yes” of course but by the time the little ones arrived everything was shut down and these uprooted little ones had lots of time to be in their new home and adjust to the changes without my help.


Our neighbors are close in proximity here in Southern California making it easy for me to hear and delight in the mumbled toddler prayers around meals and ABCs sung. New sounds drift across the fence: laughter, tired fussy sounds, toddlers screaming in frustration, and the oldest calling out “Jim.” We met the two boys when the neighbor brought them over to introduce us. Then there were birthdays. Upon delivering gifts I found myself gifted by the nudge of a one-year-old wanting me to hold him. I sat him on my lap with his back facing my chest and he put his fuzzy head against my face. How precious!


And then in the heat of summer they got a pool – a giant wading pool! Splashing in cool, clear water for hot days. Shouts of ‘Marco Polo’, squeals and laughter were heard day after day. In a few week’s time we noticed a water flow under our fence into the succulent bed and up onto the patio. We let it go. Since we live down slope from them it would be hard to empty a pool without it draining into our backyard. Days later the pool water turned dirty and murky from all the play and was emptied into our succulent bed and the patio.


My husband is a resourceful person, so with his idea planted in my brain for sharing, I made a visit. I kindly let them know our succulents will die with so much water. Who knew that plants could be over watered in the coastal desert? I presented the idea: Would they be willing to let us know when the pool needed draining and Jim would siphon it through a hose and water plants in greater need. They agreed and we did.


But after we started siphoning the way we worked evolved. Jim recognized it was a lot more water than he expected and it would take a long time at a slow drain. He borrowed his Dad’s pump and sped up the process. We hauled water in buckets where the hose didn’t reach. The three-year-old, Hugo, came and helped Jim water plants. And the daughters assisted on their end keeping things going.


One time the pool was so full, it was more water than we could use on our whole yard. So we asked the neighbors west of us if they wanted to fill up their rain barrels. Their whole yard is produce and they were happy to take the water. So two hoses stretched across our back yard connecting neighbor to neighbor. It was a wonderful thing. Being at home more with COVID-19 restrictions, we have interacted with our neighbors more.


I am reminded of Jesus’ answer when questioned by a teacher of the law, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”


Jesus didn’t answer the question but He expanded the answer with the second most important commandment. Though our next door neighbors are included in this passage, a neighbor isn’t just the next door neighbor. Jesus is referring to whomever the Holy Spirit brings across my path and tugs at my heart to love: see, hear, and help – give value in the way Jesus would. It can seem so ordinary at times. It can look like:


  • Giving a heavy duty grocery bag to a homeless man on a bicycle whose thin grocery bag has broken open


  • Genuinely asking the cashier how her day is going and saying a few encouraging words

  • Baked goods for a neighbor’s birthday or just because

  • Giving your two homemade cookies to the young woman at work who is looking for a vending machine where there isn’t one

  • A hot meal for a struggling family

  • Going the extra mile when returning a borrowed car, not only filling up the gas tank but also washing the car by hand and vacuuming it


Neighbors come in all shapes and sizes and acts of neighboring can touch upon any need. We can do this because we serve an all sufficient Shepherd. We lack nothing. We can never out give our Lord. How have you connected with people during COVID-19? Who’d you help and in what way? Who has neighbored you well? Can you recall a particularly wonderful neighbor – one you never wanted to lose? What made that neighbor so special? The neighbors of my childhood – the longest standing neighbors of my life up to this pointwas my maternal grandparents. And I could write a book about the wonderful ways in which they neighbored those around them. Consider how living fully where God has planted you might increase hope for yourself and others. Paying attention and responding to the people who intersect with lives is a gift of hope.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Transitions

Last week we celebrated Jim’s 65th birthday. This week we transitioned into another season: autumn in the northern hemisphere and spring for the southern hemisphere. While I wait for hot days to move out and colder days to move in, somewhere, someone else in the world waits for snow to melt and for warmth to arrive on a gentle breeze. There are times when a season changes suddenly and dramatically, other times a change of season moves in gradually. We live where autumn never makes a grand entrance and I really have to pay attention to notice the early arrival of the season.


Are you a bit like me, finding yourself thinking as the seasons change, “I can’t wait for life to get back to normal”? Then I check myself. What is it I really want to go back to? God is doing a new thing. Do I trust God in this strange time, trust everything is under His control and His eternal plan will not fail?


Shelly Miller writes in her new book, Searching for Certainty, words to challenge my wishful thinking to go back to normal. “When uncertainty triggers the fear of scarcity, we grasp on to the familiar as comfort. Hoarding is often a first response to forecasts for which we have no control. . . . If we are honest, most of us will admit that we long for certainty more than the uncertain new things God has in mind for us.”


Draped over the back of Jim’s recliner is a quilt. This quilt, made for us when we married by a few women who attended our church, is patched together in a pattern called Transition. After the quilt was pieced, sandwiched with batting and backing, bound and quilted, it was displayed in the church foyer a few weeks before our wedding. On Sundays, many hands tied knots in the threads pulled through the beautiful fabrics and many heads bent over in prayer for us. Transition, an appropriate quilt block since we were making dramatic changes in our lives to get married.


And over these past nine years of marriage much has changed. There have been losses, unexpected hardship, and delightful surprises. In all, when I have been willing to surrender – to consent to what God has allowed – even the most difficult experiences brought good into our lives and to go back to the way it was would be to lose all that was gained. Shelly Miller continues by saying, “In fear, we can miss the obvious – that your uncertainty is God’s opportunity to reveal his great love for you.”


I sometimes become afraid. Don’t you? The world is transitioning and I do not recognize it. So much has changed – some for the worse and some for the better. People want change and often the requests for change are viable but sometimes the means undermines the desire. Groups of people being fought for are often overlooked in the fray. Are we fighting to win something or to truly change how we treat one another? These are thoughts rattling around in my head when I feel alarmed by the violent reactions, when I feel afraid and confused. Some days I feel overwhelmed by the anger and hate, by news that seems hopeless.


In her timely and relevant book, Searching for Certainty, Shelly Miller speaks into my difficulty. “Transitions are rife with awkward, uncomfortable, and offensive details that make the promise of a new season a mockery of hope. . . . Overexposure [as in photography] is defined as too much light shed on the topic. Spiritually speaking, excessive media coverage headlining wealth of bad news makes it difficult to discern God’s presence. And overexposure to bad news often leads to apathy. Like the Israelites, we begin to paint the future through the lens of what we don’t have.”


I don’t have answers or know what new normal will evolve. All I know is I have people around me, people whose lives I can share the hope of Christ. I live in a diverse community and this is the space in which I need to grow in love – these are the people I need to embrace. I have to begin here and it is really the only thing I know to do besides pray and vote. My hope is not in government but in God. To live in hope when surrounded by so much despair is to live by faith. Minnie Louise Haskins wrote these words, a picture of walking in faith and hope.


And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown. And he replied: Go out into the darkness and put thine hand into the hand of God. That shall be to thee better than light and safer than a known way.” M. L. Haskins


I reach up into the darkness and take His hand as we transition into an unknown season. I hope you will join me. We need not despair; the darkness does not overcome the Light.


Monday, September 14, 2020

Planning For Sustainable Dreams

 

The summer break is over. I only know this because I asked the teenager next door when she started back to school. The middle school around the block is silent. There is nothing indicating school is in session. I usually hear announcements, the Pledge of Allegiance, and loud music throughout the day. I’m not sure what the music has to do with education but in our neighborhood it is a sign school has begun. It’s been a long time since I’ve had school-aged children in my home but still the rhythm of my life wraps itself around the first day of school. This is a signal I am in transition; it’s a new season.

September is for me what January is for others. The beginning of the school year I reorder my life; it is a summons to take a hard left on this journey. When school supplies are advertised in the grocery ads, I am invited to begin again. This year I am a bit behind and am thrown off kilter for a couple of months. I have been on an unplanned hiatus from writing and posting on my blog. Writing has been difficult throughout the whole COVID-19 season. So many changes and not enough time to recover equilibrium. I am a slow processor. Change requires recalculation. Lots of changes requires lots of recalculating. All of us have been doing a good bit of recalculating. For a slow processor, as you can imagine, I can get stuck like a scratched record during lots of change and need a little bump to move from skipping in my head to humming a song.

It’s been a slow start. I write and scrap it, then I write some more. I have struggled to complete more than a few coherent paragraphs. I have doubted myself, my purpose and the value of writing a blog. It comes down to this: I enjoy writing, I feel a call to write, and for the those who are uplifted or encouraged by words I have strung together, it is worth it. It helps to talk with other creatives who have limped along through such a season with little to show for it.

I haven’t given enough value to the process. Just like Sabbath rest. This will make sense in a few sentences so please hang in there with me. For years I have studied and practiced Sabbath rest. But recently I read Dan Allender’s book, Sabbath: The Ancient Practices, and was smacked with the reality that I haven’t planned for the Sabbath. Not really. I haven’t planned for a time of celebration and delight in His presence. I just stop working, so I have missed a lot of the real meaning of Sabbathing. It has become the same way with writing. I work at writing, I learn what other authors do to keep going, but I haven’t really planned for writing long term. It is planning for sustainability.

But I’m gently transitioning to another season with Autumn Spice (dƍTERRA essential oil) wafting from the diffuser in the kitchen. I listen to music that reminds me Autumn trips to southern Missouri. It’s an invitation to move into the next season with a map – a well prayed over and thought out plan for

writing. It makes me nervous; with a plan comes greater commitment. I am in! How about you? What is it that you want more of but you’ve not made space for it? What dreams would you like to make come true but you haven’t planned for them. It requires discipline and the ability to know how and when to say “no” so you can say “yes” to the one

thing you long to invest in. Join me; let’s move forward with renewed commitment and a plan well prayed over about how to best to use our gifts and follow our dreams.

 

Friday, July 24, 2020

The Hope of Something New

 
Now I am revealing new things to you
Things hidden and unknown to you
Created just now, this very moment.
Of these things you have heard nothing until now.
So that you cannot say, Oh yes, I knew this.
Isaiah 48:6-7 (Jerusalem Bible)






Our vacation evolved into a stay-cation. I am usually conflicted when we choose to stay home instead of going away and even more so considering we have been home a lot during the pandemic. As we approach our first day, I prefer to think of it as a retreat. Not the kind of retreat one takes with a group – filled to the brim with teaching sessions but a restorative and restful retreat.
I do need a retreat. I read this wonderful phrase in Lisa-Jo Baker’s newsletter, “You eat for the hunger that lies ahead.” I’ve no idea what’s ahead but the surprises of this year have been things for which none of us were prepared. One would think with all the social distancing we would all be filled up to pour out. Whether or not you have been working from home, working away from home, or caring for your family and household during the pandemic, we’ve all been navigating our jobs differently. I don’t know how you deal with your world being upended but I need to pause, listen and begin to recognize this isn’t just one big disappointing season, though sometimes it feels like it.

Sarah Clarkson writes, But once lockdown struck, once we found ourselves confined to the spaces of home, and unkempt garden, we began the work of ordering and creating. Thomas rebuilt the beds stone by stone. We fought those stubborn weeds. We put fresh soil in and whenever we found a plant for sale in any store we were allowed to visit, we plopped it straight into the ground. Day by day, we searched for new leaves and tiny shoots and buds. Day by day, we fought back the weeds. Day by day we watched until the first rose bloomed like a crimson sunrise and we felt as if a blow had been struck for joy in the world. To garden became our strange way of resisting... lethargy and disorder, loneliness and darkness.”

I plan to fight back the weeds of my thinking, my one way of looking at things, and make room for something new in the everyday space of our lives. If I believe God’s Word, and I do, He is doing a new thing. I want to press the pause button and pay attention, to luxuriate in His rest and “eat for the hunger that lies ahead”. God is doing a new thing and His grace will be available for us moment by moment carrying us through today and into the days ahead. This is true whether or not I retreat but to retreat is to reorient myself to the truth of Him and turn from the words of the world – words that undermine hope and peace. To retreat is to cultivate the soil of my soul so new hope will sprout strong.

As we enter into our nine day retreat at home I start to feel a bit claustrophobic. I have this fear it will be a spin off of “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” only now it’s “Honey I Shrunk the House”. I feel like a claustrophobic giant in our shrunken pandemic life but I desire to look at this from another perspective. It’s as if our home and yard are shrinking around me, choking out my desire for wide open spaces and being with family I haven’t seen in a long time. But just maybe God is doing a new thing. I believe He is even if I can’t identify it; I can rest in Him and His Word.

To push back the limitations of our retreat I chose to move into this week in a posture of simplicity. I do not plan to wrestle time and squeeze all I can out of it so I’ve made space to receive. The balance will be precarious since we are home. I have gathered art supplies for art journaling, a new author to read, and a few lovely places to quench my need of nature. Georgia O’Keefe, a pioneer of modern art, had grown tired of replicating what she saw in nature. Though she painted buildings and skulls, she is well known for her enlarged flowers. Each flower feels as if it is being seen through a magnifying glass.

I desire to allow God to enlarge my view of our home, yard and nearby spaces as retreat worthy. I want to tend to the details around me, not as a home project but as play, celebration and rest. I plan to pay attention and listen for the new thing He is revealing. I long to think on these things – whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy. The intention of this personal retreat is to rest, renew, pay attention and recognize the work of God around me. He is revealing a new thing and I don’t want to miss it.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Expand Your Borders

In the height of social distancing I spent some time culling photos. There were photos of places I couldn’t name the exact location nor did I recall the circumstances that placed me there. These were photos of beautiful places but dull in color due to old equipment and novice photography. The photos were finally released to the trash bin partially because of poor quality and I no longer had any personal connection to the story in the photos.



It came to my mind this morning that the gaping wound of racism is caused, in part, by our lack of personal connection to people different than ourselves. I have moved away from listening to the media and what the culture is telling me to believe. I am spending a lot of time alone seeking God, reading His Word, praying, confessing my own sin, and grieving about how we as a culture are leaving God out and mistreating each another. I seek to grow in awareness of my own biases, to confess them and seek to see others through the eyes of Jesus.



This may not seem enough for some. With the grand scale of information or misinformation, and visual stimuli on the news and social media, I know this is a bigger problem than I can handle. But acknowledging this does not relieve me of personal responsibility. So what is my responsibility?



The first and best place I must go is to the Word of God. Everyone has an agenda – some for the greater good and others for evil. Absolute truth comes from God, not the media or the government. There is great danger in allowing ourselves to be manipulated by the culture and to sort through all the propaganda without the truth of God. God’s way is perfect love.



I have been meditating on Philippians 2:1-16 and Luke 10:25-37 (The Good Samaritan). In Philippians 2 we are charged to have the same mindset as Christ Jesus. What is His mindset? I am to “in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others” and “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Jesus Christ”. Jesus made Himself nothing and surrendered to death on the cross. In love, He gave up His life for us. I am to give my life for Christ and in loving service to others no matter their ethnicity or plight in life. I cannot do this without the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. But I must be willing to be transformed.



As I read and prayed through these passages over the past two weeks, I was reminded there is no room for me to say who is worthy and who is not. To love as Jesus loves, I must be willing to love everyone; all are created in the image of God. I must be willing to be inconvenienced; love costs – I must lay down my needs, my desires for comfort, my plans, my money, my time, my opinion, etc. And Jesus makes it clear there are no national boundaries to His love and to the love He calls me. So how is this being worked out in my life these days?



I am beginning with a Biblical worldview, not a political worldview, not any organization’s worldview, not another person’s worldview. I must begin with God’s view. I grew up in during the 60s and 70s, the Civil Rights Movement, and I believed things were much better than they were. Maybe in some ways they are but not enough to bring healing and unity between blacks and whites. What can I do to make a difference? It’s beyond me.



God has been challenging me the last several months to remember that my love for Him and for others must be sincere. How am I becoming more sincere? If my love is limited only to those I call friends, those who are like me, or those who make me feel comfortable with myself, then I have a sincerity issue. Paul writes in Romans 12:9, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” Paul also wrote 1 Corinthians 13 – the Love Chapter – the better way. God is sifting me through His Word. To love with sincerity I must allow God to examine my heart regularly. When I love others in my own power it is not beyond me to love with wrong or selfish motivations. This is not sincere love.



The deep rumblings of anger in our country around racism challenged me to take a closer look at my heart and listen to the true life journeys of black brothers and sisters. I do not want to react to the culture with an insincere, grandiose gesture. I want to listen, in relationship, as individuals share their experiences. But I must also consider anyone I may have a bias toward or feel uncomfortable with because of differences. It comes down to my heart. What’s in my heart towards another? We are to love one another. To love our neighbor as ourselves – not meaning just the people next door but everyone God puts in our paths. How do I show the love of God all day to everyone I meet regardless of skin color, position in society, their sin, etc? Love does not equal agreement. But love is respecting others, considering others better than myself and loving others as I love myself. This is a hard challenge, but I am not left to my own devices.



I need to pause here and make sure I am clear about a few things. First and foremost, as a Christian, I want to live from a Biblical worldview. That does mean I have to study and pray to keep purifying my mind from the culture’s influence. Second, I need to love others period. I cannot love sincerely without God – He is love and His love is pure. Third, the greatest changes will happen within the context of relationship. I need to consider how relational I am to those God brings into my life. Am I genuinely interested in them or just trying to look good or keep the peace? Am I hospitable to those around me? I love what Jan Johnson has to say about hospitality:



To welcome strangers means to cultivate an invitational spirit and offer a sense of ‘home’ to others (see John 14:23). We pay attention to others, inviting them to be at home with us as they unfold themselves before us. ‘To merely welcome another, to provide for them, to make a place, is one of the most life-giving and life-receiving things a human being can do.’ Some call this discipline ‘hospitality,’ but unfortunately hospitality has become limited to inviting others to eat with us or stay in our home. . . . the core of hospitality is to be open and vulnerable to a person’s need. . . . A stranger . . . Anyone we’re tempted to exclude or ignore.”






We have a lot of problems in our country and some are race related. Am I hospitable? Am I loving others as I love myself? Am I reflecting Jesus in my relationships and in my treatment of strangers? How have I contributed to division? How am I helping bring about healing? I will find myself indifferent if I do not get out of my comfort zone and diversify my personal relationships. Just as old photos without signs or people in them become meaningless so will my attitude become toward people groups in which I do not bother to hear their stories and learn their names and be a friend.



NOTE: Among some of the online things I’ve read, contemplated, or listened to, here are a few I would encourage you to check out:



Look up and consider Dinah Roe Kendall’s painting: Good Samaritan. Would you be the Samaritan? What gets in the way of you helping people different than you? Can you allow yourself to be the wounded one here, the vulnerable one?






When studying for my master’s degree I met Sherry Puckett. Sherry is a godly woman and wonderful person. She gave permission to share this portion from her Facebook page about her family history as long as she is tagged. Thank you Sherry.


My family history story during slavery.
My great grandmother was a big part of my life growing up. Her parents were slaves in Virginia and my father’s family were slaves in Georgia.
My great great grandfather (a slave) was friends with the slave owner’s son. When the slave owner’s son was old enough to go to school, he refused to go without his best friend, my great great grandfather. After throwing a real fit, my grandfather was permitted to go to school with him but had to sit in the back of the room and could not talk or interact with the other white children. My grandfather learned to read before anyone else, and ended up teaching the slave owner’s son how to read and write! Only God could have orchestrated this! It was illegal for slaves to read. Years later when the slaves were freed, my great great grandfather started a church and began teaching the Bible to newly-freed slaves! I often think of this when I look at my boys and their thirst for learning. When I had to discipline my oldest son, Jeremiah, I would have to take away our trips to the library as punishment. Worked every time! Lol
When I think of this story I feel connected to my great great grandfather because I also love teaching God’s word.
Most stories of slaves in my family tree were too painful for my great grandparents to pass on. We only heard about divine interventions and answers to prayer. Slaves were punished for praying, so I’m certain that their groanings uttered in the middle of the night ascended as incense before the throne of God. I’m sure they prayed for freedom and a better day. And God heard, and He still hears.
Today I am a woman of faith because of those who suffered at the hand of their oppressors. In spite of it all, I was taught the power of love. Love for everyone! I was taught that my destiny is safe in the hands of almighty God. No one has the power to rob me of my Destiny when I trust Him. Like my grandma used to say with a beautiful smile on her face, “Remember, Ain’t nobody God but God.”



Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Not the End of this Story

Our walks throughout our neighborhood usually (depending on the route) require walking uphill for most of the first mile and a half. At the top of the climb I pause and look out toward the ocean. Sometimes the marine layer lies waiting just off the coastline, hovering out over the Pacific Ocean. When the marine layer comes in the early evening it brings the cool air and blocks out the evening sunlight. It’s a bit like pulling down a shutter to block out the sunset.

There are times when the marine layer comes like bits of fluff torn from a pillow, disguised as clouds. The pieces eventually join together and form a great, gray mass dulling the light. This misty May gray quietly moves off shore before I have taken my last sip of coffee in the morning. It is a bit unusual for May to be so sunny in southern California. Usually the morning feels sluggish as if the sun had overslept. But it hasn’t, it never does. The sun climbs high above the cool, gray warming the air and pushing the marine layer back and out over the water until it looks like a great gray wall floating over the ocean.

Things aren’t always as they seem, are they? Though I may not see the sun until late morning, it rose above the marine layer hours before. Nothing is as it seems. Even when we move through life with great certainty we are in control, we are not. God is in control. Things don’t always go as planned. God’s plans are good and perfect, and we stand in the midst of it all without seeing – like the sun behind the gray. But we must hold onto hope – hope in the midst of uncertainty, in the midst of confusion and in the midst of a darkness blocking the SON. Keep looking up; He is always there.

Leanna Tankersley described hope this way in her book Brazen, “The invitation I kept hearing over and over was to identify an area of my life that needed a resurrection and then BELIEVE that a resurrection could be possible. In other words, hope. Not the noun hope, the verb hope. To hope. Actively. The ability to hope comes from the idea that what we believe is the end may be only the beginning.”

Some days the light seems snuffed out. But His light is never overcome by the darkness. In the Gospel of John chapter 1:4-5 we are told, “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
The Light of Christ always shines in the darkness. We may not recognize His light. We may not see how any of this can be under His control. We have doubts but His plans “stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations” (Psalm 33:1).

We may wonder how God will manage the insanity of this world and how things will come right in the end. But remember Jesus’ words in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that you may have peace. (Oh, do go back to John 16 and read all those things He told them.) In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
It may seem everything has gone all wrong but remember things aren’t what they appear to be. “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire.’” It will all come out right in the end. We have not been forgotten and His Kingdom will not be shaken.

I choose to believe the Word of God. Are you with me? How much more life-giving is His truth than the words of man. I choose to keep turning my face back towards His when I get side tracked. The darkness cannot overcome the Light no matter how dark it seems. And those who believe in Jesus are always in the Light even when surrounded by darkness. Hold onto hope!

I love these hope-filled words spoken by Samwise the Brave:
“I know. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were, and sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. They meant something. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. Because they were holding on to something. That there's some good in the world, Mr. Frodo, and it's worth fighting for.” – J. R. Tolkien

I am writing today to encourage you to fight for the good. You and I have a choice. You and I can choose not to despair, be angry, bitter or to fear. Of course, we’re human and we all become afraid now and then when we forget Who is really in control. I encourage you resist giving your energy to the confusion, the fear, the darkness, the hopelessness. This is just a rumbling, it’s a reminder that things aren’t what they seem. God has a plan and He claims victory over the end of the story. We don’t know the outcome of our current troubles but we do know the end of the story. Pray, absolutely. Pray for the lost to be found. Pray for courage and reorient your thoughts toward the Light.

In her book Begin Again, Leanna Tankersley writes these words, “Luckily, our image-bearing soul cannot be crushed in the same way other parts of us can. It can’t be wrecked—by us or by others. It’s that part of us that God ‘created . . . godlike, reflecting God’s nature,’ so pain only serves to wake it up, if we will allow ourselves to awaken to the discomfort instead of dulling it.

“We are allowed to escape. We are given the freedom. But those who have sat in the discomfort and listened and waited know that an even deeper freedom awaits those who will discern an ending instead of devise an escape.

“Escapes are almost never in our best interest (unless we’re talking about a burning building or an abusive relationship). Endings are about surrender. Escapes are about control. Discernment is belabored and holy work. Devising is a quick-fix territory.”

You and I have a choice. Whether or not we believe the sun is above the dark clouds doesn’t change the fact that the sun still shines. And whether or not we believe God’s got this; He does and He has even given us a hopeful ending. Hold onto hope and fight for the good.

In the words of Dallas Willard, “The gospel means that this universe is a perfectly safe place for you to be. It means that the soul is simply not at risk. Not even from cancer (or pandemic, etc). What else could Paul have meant when he said nothing can separate us from the love of God? Why else would Jesus have advised us not to worry?”

Worth considering.