Hope is a word the faith community uses all of the time. It has become almost cliche so when I did a simple "google" search for the definition, the obvious meanings came up but a secondary meaning caught my eye - a feeling of trust.
A feeling of trust. So simplistic and intricately disrupting.
In Over My Head (LIVE) Jenn Johnson/ /We Will Not Be Shaken
Every part of my life is being stripped down and it hurts. I want to run; I want to hide; I want to stop the spilling out of the insides of me and yet, in the midst, there is only God. God mopping up the broken pieces. But, lets get to the lighter things:
Today I went to a memorial service. I wore a black and white delicately printed dress, heals, nylons and the Kate Spade purse I only occasionally use. I was thrilled when I found it (and the tags that remained) at a second-hand store. My heart was humble, not only because another person died suddenly within days or of the overwhelming work-load this week but I was raw with the rubbing down of glass that is my life right now.
I arrived 15 minutes early but it seemed suspiciously quiet albeit the mariachi van with someone on their cell phone. I walked toward the open doors but the wooden pews seemed to be adorned with small bridal bouquets. I turned around and googled the date; I was one day too late.
I got in my car and drove directly to my friend's house - spontaneously, urgently. With abandon, I wanted her to know I had intentions of being present. My daughter had texted me earlier this day, that if she had not been out of the country, she would have been there too; I was to deliver her wishes as well.
I wanted the family to know.
Plenty of cars outside and the front door was opened (with a screen) this early morning. At first her husband was reluctant to respond and most of the house was still sleeping but sensing my sadness, he asked that I remain a moment. When his wife came out, tears brimmed past my lashes; explaining why I was dressed the way I was, her husband from the background said, "WOW - that is something I would do".
And, we all laughed. His words were a balm to my spirit; she and I laughed and cried and shared stories. I needed to laugh. I needed the momentary intimacy of a shared friendship in a world of disconnect. It is a subtle shift of not having everything together but being a mess in the midst.
The flight attendant holds up the oxygen mask and gives it a little tug; the piped in words across the speakers are a disconnect to the expression on the faces of men/women who have done this gesture thousands of times. I open the laminated card in the pocket in front of me and locate my exit point while expressing the same look of doubt whether a flotation seat will really help me if the plane goes down but I obediently follow along.
"I aways get to where I'm going by walking away from where I have been" Winnie the Pooh.
If we are in a constant state of motion: new seasons, new chapters, new doors then it is essential we practice endings well. But, where does the word trust stand in the midst of beginnings.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9
In a tidy little gift, if we have been surrounded by people in our life who have consistently been trustworthy, then we are golden. If as adults, our circumstances and experiences have paved the road for a deepening of the roots of reliability then we are set. My maturity, however, has made me see with clarity how trust has been eroded through the years. It is only through a deeply trusting relationship, that a new lens emerges.
We are surrounded by the cross. Not just the symbolic esoteric type but the profound life-changing intimacy of faith intertwined with people and circumstances so when the words: have I not commanded you echo repeatedly through the chasm of bells rung: be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, the words are shouted through the battle cry of the beating of our hearts. Loss - have I not commanded you? Disappointment - have I not commanded you? Uncertainty - have I not commanded you?
Trust then has to be a part of the conversation.
"Be decisive. Right or wrong, make a decision. The road of life is paved with flat squirrels who couldn't make a decision."
While studying abroad in So Africa, my daughter bungee jumped the Bloukrans. For months she adamantly proclaimed it was the one thing she would not do but when push came to shove, she did not want to the the ONLY student not to go. As luck would have it, she was one of the last to jump and did not do it well as she heard loud gasps in a fall akin to an eternity but tied to a rope.
A rope, a life-line and a command to be strong and courageous:
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord. "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11
"Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not more valuable then they? Matthew 6:24
Trust mingled with our ability to make choices (some right, some wrong) and the painful reality that life is difficult and yet, we hear the words, "WOW- that is something I would do" and we laugh and cry and feel the community of imperfect people living in an imperfect world.
I love this time of year because of what happens in my backyard. Buried beneath the Creeping Charlie and ivy on the ledge of a slope are seeds nobody can see. For close to 365 days, I wouldn't know they are there until in late August I look outside and one tall stalk emerges with a stunning pink flower. It is the first one of the season and it makes my heart sing. Then over the course of the next 10 days, they will multiply until many, many tall gorgeous flower litter the backyard with the brilliance of the unexpected.
Hope - built upon trust that the seeds will take hold. Trust in a living God that is more concerned about the details and condition on the inside and trust to do ending and beginnings well.
Coupling (pairing of two items)
The air outside had been stifling. With well over 100 degree weather, the respite was a natural cooling down of temperatures at dusk. A portable air box and fans helped to keep the air inside moving but without forced air conditioning, it was hot.
With a southern exposure, the sun stretched it's light in full saturation. The shades were drawn; squelched stillness permeating the soul. Two little ones (aged 3 and 18 months) were playing inside. Toys: wooden train and tracks, dolls and clothes, nesting shapes resting in one another, a stuffed turtle whose babies zip into a pouch, rattles with rings - all were strewn across the floor. A benched cabinet whose top is made from old wooden stadium bleachers alongside crisp, white doors and clear crystal knobs make a perfect contrast of color and texture while acting as an indoor climbing apparatus.
Walking outside into a subtle cooling down at dusk made it feel like a literal breathe of fresh air. The first stop was the outdoor swing and then a venturing out into the yard. Because the view is breathtaking at this hour, the interlude from the heat seemed even more palatable. Beyond the tall hedges of Oleander, past the houses that sit below, past the river bed is an open field that rests against the hills. I could see some deer in the distance. Deciding to include the 3 year old into a conversation, I brought out the large indoor telescope and placed it at the yard's edge. I focused the lens and scope toward the deer. Mom hoisted the small child upward to peer into a dime-sized hole - nothing. As I began to follow the 18 month old younger sibling around the yard, hoping to deter him from putting any and every small item into his mouth, mom continued her patient intent of trying to get her child to notice the objects in the distance. Until ... what seemed liked an eternity, wide-eyed and a facial expression that showed tremendous delight, reindeer! she said.
Recognition - the view was clear
The heat was rising but not just in temperatures. Because of a variety of books and an on-line, interactive class I'm taking, it just so happened that all had a common thread of examining the sub-conscious thoughts, beliefs and judgements people make at an early age. At first, the books were meeting unmet needs but then it prompted an internal dialog that went deeper.
I believe God, through the holy spirit, reaches out for the purpose of relationship. In the midst of one door closing and another one opening, God was ordaining a faith meeting in which he could drive the conversation a little deeper with precision timing and scalpel-like precision.
The same day a life-long faith friend was moving out of state, I coincidentally reached out to a new friend through a card of encouragement. The card came before the sadness and I realized God was working "behind the scenes" in a path moving forward. The new friend met me a week later for lunch. Oddly, the conversation naturally progressed to a deep conversation about faith and relationships. It was anything but the superficial introductions that often take place with strangers. She encouraged me to read the book, Boundaries by Dr Henry McCloud and Dr John Thompson. Originally published in 1992, the book has expanded into marriage, dating and kids and has numerous awards and accolades. I ordered it on Audible.Com and truly prepared my heart and mind for the journey. It just so happened that I had an impending 8 1/2 hour drive that was a perfect time to meander back into the depths of me.
Some things are too personal for words to adequately convey their meaning but several times, I wept ... I wept at the hurt and disappointment, I wept at my utter and complete lack of healthy boundaries; I wept into the pain. God needed me to have a new lens! The lack of control of my own life is my responsibility and mine alone. There existed quiet and faulty beliefs just below my surface. They originated from the early formative years of growth and with years of experiences, it was a slow progression of a crock-pot stew of emotions and judgements.
It was clear, God was disassembling the parts of me that needed a little tweaking. The combination of books, a class, a difficult season at work and I was raw. I reached out to two friends where the black soot bubbled up; they reached out in a deep conversation of love and acceptance.
I was becoming the same little girl that stood in my backyard trying to peer through a telescope. At first I couldn't see anything. I moved the lens up, down and from side to side - nothing ... until finally, reindeer!
I purposely use the word reindeer because that is the word I heard from the mouth of a three year old. It made me smile - out loud, if that is possible.
I might of gotten distracted for a moment later, the dog poop went into the mouth of the 18 month old little boy I was supposed to be watching. It was a quick swoop and moments later, his mother and I were quickly responding with water. Washing up the mouth and hands of a little one, reminding me of a parallel in life: distracted, the crap enters swiftly.
I purposely use the word reindeer for another reason, however. It conjures up, for me, the image of Santa and his reindeer and flying through the sky on moon lit skies and leaving gifts for small children to receive. It is a perfect word because of the word that naturally follows - mystery.
It is not by accident God calls us to a childlike faith. Mystery. I think we get so "hung up" on being "politically correct" or instilling a complicated narrative in the lives of children that we forget they need to believe in innocence.
From the lens of a seasoned pilgrim, the larger narrative in our current culture, has been a progression toward kid sized shoulders carrying the weight of adult sized problems. If you introduce complicated concepts of gender inequality, racism, discrimination, biases, hatred BEFORE they have sprinkled Leprechaun dust or smelled the gingerbread man baking or the thought of marrying his/her prince or princess under the snow filled branches of an overgrown forrest surrounded by beautiful little creatures, you rob them of simplicity.
If you begin with "there is no such thing as Santa", and introduce them to divorce, disease, and division, their inherent value and worth gets skewed. I think that is why children's books, imagination, dreams hold a vital ingredient to a healthy narrative. Too often, children are used as pawns on a chess board to make grown-ups suffer.
Before the bad, the GOODNESS needs to exist.
God is in the process of transforming us into the likeness of himself and in order to make subtle shifts, sometimes the best recipe is going backwards before going forwards. I must believe there exists people that care for me in the deepest (indescribable) meaning of the word. Weird - because I am surrounded by people. No, this is something different. It is so deeply personal that NO WORDS could possibly convey it's meaning. In faith, God moves toward the muck in order to replace the soot of our souls with pure oil.
Spermaceti, a rich substance found in the head of a sperm whale, for example, is essential to the whales survival. Although it's exact purpose still baffles, the larger meaning is not lost: the design of a whale is so brilliantly delicate implies that we too possess the qualities of being both hugely complicated and finely simplistic.
Further, if God is redeeming us through careful precision, then we understand that those around us are moving toward a deeper faith; the path is both complicated and simplistic. Like a patchwork of colors, we are in the process of becoming.
This week at youth group, we talked about the fourth watch as being significant in scripture. Whether you are new to faith or not, it is the early morning hours of 3-6am. I am not a biblical scholar so you will need to do your own research on it.
It resonated with me on a personal level: frustratingly, I often wake at that time and cannot go back to sleep, beginning a menagerie of tactics (unhealthy) antics or I reach for my cross, literally holding it in my hand as a tangible act of releasing my worries into the hands of Christ, praying silently and allowing rest (healthy) to take hold of my body, mind and heart.
This week, I accepted the youth group challenge of opening God's word and hearing his voice at that hour. I silently prayed. I would not set an alarm but if, however, I awoke at that time, I would turn on the light and allow a personal relationship with the Lord to permeate my being toward a tangible act of worship.
Sure enough, I woke naturally and looked at the clock: it was 3:30am. I turned on the light and allowed scripture to direct my eye site, then opened my journal and wrote a letter to me of what I sensed were the loving words of Christ. At first, I included those specific words in this month's blog post but in closer reflection decided to omit them in order to replace the burden on you, the reader. I invite you into my heart as an act of obedience but the faith part is allowing God, to do the work in your heart and life. My hope is that God will use my personal transparency in order to prick your heart toward the sticky, ugly parts of you for the purpose of transforming you toward the likeness of Him. His truth, His promises breathing life into those dead places of your heart.
Church is changing but His great commission is not: to love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind, soul and strength and to love each other as Christ loves His church. Matthew 22:37 We will fall short, period. Let me say that again: we will fall short because of the fallen nature of our humanity but if you are faithful to confess your sin, He is faithful to cleanse you. You are forgiven, you are loved, He has a purpose for your life. If you make the tangible step of inviting Him in, He is faithful to respond. Revelation 3:20 He will be BOTH present in the broken places of your heart and life AND and in the celebration and praise of your blessings. He does not promise an easy road but a journey of becoming ... love.
At the end of the day, there is only ONE NAME, Jesus.
This month's post is about a telescope. If you are reading this, you live in a a fast-paced, ever changing world of technology and producing and climbing the ladder and being the best, most beautiful, athletic, philanthropic, environmentally aware, politically steeped, religiously affiliated, leader, student of life.
Sometimes ... you just need to slow down.
You need to be hoisted up ... not just lifted from empty, unloving arms but with arms that intrinsically love you to YOUR core of your being toward a telescope. With patient persistence, the lens is gingerly tweaked from side to side, up and down.
Until ... what seems liked an eternity, wide-eyed and a facial expression that shows tremendous delight, Jesus! you say.
Coordinates brings the different elements into a relationship that will ensure efficiency or harmony
At work, I am responsible for a myriad of projects including paying the monthly bills but before I do, I must enter the exact coordinates (literally 19+ digits) for every invoice. It tells the broader story of where the money is coming from.
In life, there is a beginning story of you. Added to that are your experiences which is then added to your age. In God's perfect love for you, the exact coordinates to the core of your being is dialed in. God, with precision timing and lazar sharp vision, focuses the exact location of the single most pure gold of you. It is love. It is the place where there is NOTHING that could separate you from being loved. You, in perfect uniqueness are completely and wholly loved ... period.
The purest oil - you. Unimaginably complicated and breathtakingly simplistic, there is nobody like you and God, the father, takes great delight in that. So much so, that he calls you to step onto a chair in order to look through a telescope.
Psalm 139 (1-6)
You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and and my lying down;
you are familiar with all of my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue;
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before;
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
too lofty for me to attain.
Squelching heat out on the porch - it has been a long day in the sun. Men and women fan themselves with whatever makeshift hat or paper they can make suitable for the job.
Play the instrumental beginning (first 1.3 minutes) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lnXLVTi_m_M) Summertime by Louis Armstrong & Ella Fitzgerald. Summertime - heat. Not long ago, I was having a conversation with someone on the difficulties facing the western world today. She said, are you kidding? Post Depression, WWII, Racism, Vietnam: her perspective was right. Her view was seasoned with 80 years of age and circumstances.
I LOVE this song because it whisks the fresh air of nostalgia and life like a breath through the keys of social media. Politics - lots of division on both sides of the table. Religion - lots of division on who is in and out. Technology - lots of division on globalization. It depends upon your perspective, your age and circumstances. The heat gets turned up as the ebbs and flow of life sweat expectations down your spine.
The sweat on the front is down shirts and dresses; this is the song of summer. It is the indescribable mystery of love that sweeps through sun-drenched porches of wood and nails past the problems of the day. It is the language of humanity where music calls - and the generations of thousands of years melt into a single melody where everyone understands it's song.
It was a fundraiser I attended. It was a usual crowd of philanthropically minded men and women dressed beautifully and with the thought of blending music with education. The setting was stunning, the clothes exquisite, the music melodic, speeches engaging, stories inspiring and yet, I couldn't describe one single detail. This particular fundraiser blended with other ones that came before and others yet to come but a subtle non-verbal communication between an older man and woman lingered in my memory as a sweet perfume. There was something intangible and indescribably intimate between them. We were gathered at tables of 10-12 and the light introductory chat was what you would expect at an event such as this. An hour into a multi-course meal, I wandered closer into the investment of other peoples' lives.
The husband started choking - not the type that involved the Heimlich maneuver but one that nonetheless necessitated removing himself from the table. It is what the wife didn't do that caught my attention. She didn't jump to her feet and try to fix it, she didn't raise her voice in concern; it was her quiet subtlety that spoke to me. It was as if I was privy to a private and intimate conversation.
Where I am overflowing with words, she had none. It didn't feel like the "silent treatment" or a "lukewarm" response where little things just didn't matter. No, my intuition told me it was something else ... respect.
"There are all kinds of love in this world, but never the same love twice." F Scott Fitzgerald
I have written before about my parent's divorce but now after three plus years of writing and a deepening of my roots into the ground of faith, I see love through a different, more mature lens. It is agape - the rich and melodic song that satisfies the soul. It is not without tears but it sustains and refreshes the deepest part of a person in the heat of day on a sun-drenched summers' afternoon.
It was an explosive ending to a long story and one many kids bounce back from - divorce. My parents ended the relationship in much the way I always knew it to be - filled with dramatic emotion, heated words, dishes flying, closed doors for loving, a roller-coaster of feelings sweeping through open doors and windows as an air gasket on a loud tea kettle beneath a heated burner. I was a shy, awkward kid of fifteen. I did what most kids did in a generation before helicopter parents were invented, I stuffed any and all feelings down deep where only trap doors existed; sub-consciously, choosing to forget the roots of pain and disappointment.
Life would soon take a dramatic turn - i would have a step-father six months later but that first day I met him, he swept in on a scary day and brought me home. His love for my mom was abundant. So much so that I gave him a copy of a song by Singer/Songwriter, Kenny Rogers, Lady as a tangible expression of an intangible emotion. It was rare for me to dig deep into that locked cellar door to be vulnerable and real with someone I barely knew but I was relatively new on the journey and this felt decidedly real.
My mother was his - his to cherish; he never seemed to tire of her walking into an empty room, saying "have you ever seen anything so beautiful." That is always how I remembered them.
Thirty years later, he had every reason to survive the neck surgery but had an insurance policy of sacrificial words, just in case. "I want you to love again" he told my mother because he didn't want her to "to do" life alone. His life ended abruptly weeks later in a tender expression of love. And, she eventually found love again.
A rare white flower in a field of color.
There was fallout from the explosion. People were hurt; love was soured, emotions were broken and trampled. It was a highway of sub-conscious chaos and a wrinkled up map where kids had to be "quick on their feet" to keep moving forward. More emotions stuffed behind the cellar door. Then came a new high school, college, work, marriage, kids.
A game of jacks on the floor.
A dabble of red (his blood) and a bunch of fragmented metal pieces (lives), Christ enters the story for those courageous enough to enter the church doors of a relationship between your heart and his through the truth of His word. The doors creak open slowly at first among the wooden pews of grace and mercy until the chipped exterior paint gets worn and tattered and finally, a person is ready to listen. For some, the waiting may be a 40 year desert and for others a quick and responsive move.
It's fragrance is soft and sweet: it's sound is the embrace of arms whose shoulders have been strengthened through life's weights.
I want to rest in this place, if only to breathe in slowly - the window's light. God enters here.
When Job's three friends, Eliphaz the Termanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was. Job 2:11
The symbol of the cross - vertically and horizontally is an example of Christ in the midst. Depth and width demonstrated without words; it was in the subtlety of what the friends did not do that day. It was the non-verbal cues of a companionship marked by love, demonstrated by example through the scriptures.
I am guilty of being impatient. I don't want to carefully sift through the silver and gold jacks; just a quick swift swoosh, a pile of jacks and a quick catch of the ball after it's bounce and the game is finished. God, on the other hand, has strength through the quiet and subtle waiting. Refining gold and silver within us, taking pristine precision and care through the intricacy of lives, weaving people and himself though the blood of the cross. Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." and they divided up his clothes by casting lots. Luke 22:34.
A worship song turned prayer - I hope that I search for the giver of gifts rather than the gifts themselves. I don't like the pain part - just the redemption and neat and tidy story part.
The movie version of our lives needs a scapegoat; it is the "bad guy" character to every story that completes the fairy tale chapter. Have you ever played the "good guy", the "victim", the "martyr"; these are just a few of the sub-titles to the stories we write.
I am no exception. In the divorce, it was easier to align nobly and proudly with a narrative that my father was the ills of all trouble or when my husband moved several hours away for a lucrative job, a postponement of how I contributed to the loneliness in the marriage was negated. Taking ownership for the pain - courage to open the tightly closed cellar door in order for God to breathe life and "wait quietly" in the suffering.
This past spring, I had the opportunity to begin to change my sub-conscious judgements of my biological father through the washing of God's perspective of love. It was lemonade made from lemons on a hot summer's day.
To be honest, my step-father's example of authentic love helped me to have a reservoir of love to pour into my own biological father's cup. It wasn't in God's design for my parents to divorce but in the midst of the story, He was still there... He is in yours too.
I think it was the words not spoken that articulated a new narrative. Because of a myriad of steps, I was to pick my father up from LAX. If you have never been to the Los Angeles International Airport, it is a city within itself and the perimeter of commute traffic during the 4-6 pm time slot acts as a type of moat to get there.
My father was due to board the plane in Sacramento at around 4pm for less than an hour's flight to Los Angeles. The driving distance was about 6 plus hours. Having two 1/2 brothers about the ages of my own son, their work schedules in the film industry made it impossible for them to pick up dad. That started my waiting.
Taking into consideration the variable of traffic and maneuvering unfamiliar highways, I exited the freeway toward LAX around 4pm, about the same time the flight was scheduled to depart. My father's phone call set in motion a series of waiting.
With a diversion, I stumbled upon a nice neighborhood to get something to eat and browse before entering the LAX spin cycle. Once at the airport terminal, I discovered the seating in baggage claim, where my father would eventually exit the plane, was sparse and drafty. Using a make-shift dog-blanket from my car as a jacket, I found a wire bench and with a borrowed pen from a security card, settled in and began the wait.
Hours 1, 2 and 3 went by quickly. Hours 4, 5 and 6 moved slower. When I thought my patience had run dry, a woman sat down beside me. It wasn't long before she told me of her "near death experience" and how she changed her life toward Mission's work as a result over 30 years before. The conversation seemed tailor-made for me; it offered just the amount of water on a sun-drenched evening in a cold airport terminal.
And then, just past midnight, a frail man with a cap and small bag arrived at LAX. Nervous at first, my judgements were transformed into a rejoicing over a shared story of perseverance. That set the tone for a memorable weekend. It was less about me and more about understanding who my father is through a lens of faith. We read about ancient mythological stories of heroes and heroines but God tweaks perspectives into tales of redemption - conquering giants - our own. This is dad.
Faith does that - turning judgements upside down which causes us to search, not through our own understanding, but through a lens of love.
How much does God love you? With outstretched arms on a cross, Jesus replies, this much.
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come alongside him and eat with him, and he with me. Rev 3:20
We, as a culture, has lost the value of grieving well. Avoiding disappointment, the masks are perfected because we are afraid of feeling.
What is buried behind your trapped cellar door?
God longs to breathe life ...
into us and through us
for the sake of
I pray my vulnerability invites you into your own intimate conversation with a living God.
The sun filters in softly through morning's stretch of light. It is a contrast to the night where my mind has wandered through unfinished words and thoughts but this morning, there are no words - just a quiet settling. Light makes its way in almost a straight line, through a window, across piano keys toward a small vase of a single bud.
Heart and Soul (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WmsKqfxTwcE) - (first 37 seconds) plays across my mind like keys on a piano board. It is not an accomplished sound but a distant memory of when I first learned the notes. I was eighteen or nineteen and this moment was a single yellow brick in a journey – or a running away; it was a soft hue to a brash sound.
The dad was borderline genius and a lot odd. Life had chiseled him down from war veteran, pilot, writer, musician, husband, dad into a solitary man with a dog. Five sons, one a little older than I, showed me how simple it was. I could play 45 seconds of either part of a piano duet but I really needed another person to paint the colors … then and now.
The stillness that calls in quiet pearls of dust settle serendipitously upon the old vintage wood floor where creaks and cracks hint of a song played before. In a brief moment, it passes into a lazy fragrance filled morning of past, present and future. It is a surrendered falling into the arms of grace.
A cardboard box with a label sent through the mail. It looked like any other normal junk pile but the contents were anything but ordinary. It was a world in the making – architect, builders, planners, a boss and workers. It was a hardwired blueprint to a lifestyle unchallenged and predictable. It just wasn’t for me.
It just wasn’t predictable to me. Plexiglas, sand, life and food, the contents of this box represented something more complicated than the piles of paper that cluttered my space. It was an interesting project toward a common goal. Without question, they did their work as a cog in a wheel of progress. Sand poured into a narrow channel of plastic, a few kernels of food and the dormant ants dropped in, they immediately began to accomplish the miraculous.
Many rooms and an intricate line of communication. It was a common busyness to build. I realized there was a whole universe I did not understand which subtlety bled into a larger world of faith both inside and outside the walls of a church. To an outsider, the liturgy sounds like piles of paper cluttering the space of an internal drive to build. Within the walls, insiders carry the busyness of the cross and even abhor the new sand being poured in, quickly channeling newcomers to the appropriate chambers. I stand perplexed.
While both challenged by watching these ants over time building rooms and chambers and in awe of the intricately woven complexity of a simple creature, my heart gravitates toward a larger question: do we, as a culture, matriculate similar patterns? Are we wheels on a cog grinding through the minutes of a clock as we build? Neatly formed judgements in safely preserved chambers ... until we have been touched softy by a downy white light.
Whether that light is found through the soft hue of keys played on a piano or a worship song or the tender hand of a friend's words, a stained glass window in a church or the majesty of a sun soaked sky, faith in a living God wrestles the predictability of people into crumbled papers of the unfathomable and unforgettable whisper of a name. God, through faith, calls us to a stretching of wineskins into a widening welcoming of all who hear Yahweh.
I have carried this note in my daily work calendar for a few months. "Since payment is cash, could you please provide some sort of receipt to verify the debt is paid?" And so, it is true in faith.
We are a culture that needs proof. Was the debt of our sin really paid for with the crucifixion of Jesus on a cross? I am as guilty as the outsider (and insider) of the church walls. I often go into the sanctuary alone. I walk to the church with my worship music on in hopes of meeting, through the holy spirit, a living God. I stop at the doors and turn the music off. I enter His gates with a touching of my forehead, my heart, my left shoulder and my right; I make the motions as if touching the cornerstones of a cross.
I sit in a pew and wait - for a word, a hymn, a prayer, a light, His presence, His word. I wait in anticipation for an unwinding of my soul. Faith is anything but predictable and ordered. It is a softening of my busied, chambered thoughts, judgments and facts into an unknown world. It is a world where He is the architect, builder, planner, a boss, a worker and most importantly, a father who, through the cross, uses me to reach others and others to reach me through the power of the Holy Spirit to spread the good news of the gospel.
There are many stones at the front of the church but only three have been shipped from the holy ground of Jerusalem and so it is those that I reach for, softly touching with my fingertips. In the Garden of Eden, God said to Adam and Eve, they could touch all the fruit except for one, knowing full well, they would reach. We need His grace.
And, so it is ... a flawed humanity washed by the touching of his light upon our souls.
A hundred plus year old piano, the keys are covered. A small golden hole is etched with a delicate script. I carefully lift the door. This piano has played the song of music through church, weddings, recitals, classes, lectures, speeches, funerals; it represents the stories of many who have gone before and most likely, will come after me.
I begin to play with Heart and Soul - one part of a duet as God whispers his grace through a yellow bricked pathway. I stand humbled.
The bargain is the price paid. The journey is accepting the unpredictable. The tune is a softening.
"Then those sheep will say, "Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And, when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you? Then the King will say, "I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me - you did it to me. Matthew 25:40 The Message.
It is a soft light stretching our wineskins into something new; it is a greater reflection of Jesus. As the light travels, we move not in a straight line, but in a side to side motion forward; His touching mercy slowly settles into the depths of our soul. The song (our story) becomes transformed into something we could never had fathomed; it is a soft watering of dew onto petals of pure white love because the debt has been paid.
Pictures are my own or purchased through Adobe Stock; the stories are my own.
Baby owls were recently born in a nest where I work. For weeks, we watched. First, the observance of an adult bird hovered over eggs. Next, the emergence of tiny heads barely peaking out from a nest high in the trees. Flimsy and exposed, the branch swayed freely in the wind. There were no leaves so I thought it was an odd choice for a home. Crows darted and screeched near the imperiled nest as the exchange of male and female owl provided warmth and protection for the tiny birds beneath their wings.
Empty spaces soon filled with leaves giving the impression of camouflage. The first thing in the morning, I found myself looking up. Most of the time, I couldn't see much but knowing they were there gave me pause. On particularly windy days, I glimpsed the nest moving freely as if rocking babies to sleep in a soft rustling lullaby. Cool mornings or sun-soaked afternoons, I found my eyes looking upward toward the clouds of heaven.
Early Monday morning amid piles of papers, busy phones and people, I received a phone call from a neighbor that a failed flight attempt left one of the birds in a refuge nearby but only two days later, at the end of a work day, the baby owl was returned. Covered with a yellow blanket, I watched as the bird was exposed. Much larger than I had anticipated, it's large round eyes, perfectly formed triangular beak and large claws were split second impressions.
The best place, said the bird rescuer, was with it's mother as she returned the baby to a low branch beneath the nest. I took this picture, (see above) seconds upon freedom launch. Staring into it's eyes, I quickly looked up toward the nest. My gaze was met with two very large, round eyes looking straight down. It was mother owl.
Crows - the wolves of the sky aggressively make their presence known. Their pursuit was anything but subtle: dropping nuts to the pavement, they dove down for content. Their jabbing sounds embed the echo of cackling noise, if only I tuned my ear to hear.
The sound drew me to an exterior courtyard. I had just gotten to work but the sound high in the trees was less of a symphony and more of a bullying sound from an assemblage of crows. There were two babies: one in a lower branch and another much higher. In some adjacent green trees farther away appeared to be both male and female mature owls trying to distract the large group of crows that were darting through leaves and branches.
The storm that brewed had less to do with weather than it did for survival. As I checked the scene throughout the day, the crows pursuit was relentless. The wind grew. The baby owl I had befriended in my mind was much higher in the tree which told me, not only had it survived the night but, it's wings were strong enough to carry it into flight. I looked up. "Don't stretch your wings now", I whispered softly. Through wind and crow, "I can only hope it will be spared", I supposed.
Each of the three babies placed in my arms at birth left me in awe and wonder. It gave moments of pause - beyond words, really. It was in the quiet, still of mornings or the wakening cries of night that I drew closer to God. The rest of the time was a flurry of activity; it was a yearning to build. As I look back, I smile for the breathes between the pause as a mother owl swooping in to protect what was hers.
In Acts 27:13, a storm arises. "When a gentle south wind began to blow, they thought they had obtained what they wanted; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete. Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the "northeaster" swept down from the island. The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along."
(20) When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved."
Only days within being placed upon a low branch, I watched the baby owl now perching itself up high in a tree; it stretched it's wings into a gale force and teetered back and forth as if it was going to be swept into the influencing wind.
We know storms will arise - that is easy to predict but what about the ones that are a little more subtle? They are the ones that gnaw at our protective coating. They masticate the marrow of our souls. Like crows, they dive deep into the interior of heart and intellect in order to move us closer to redemption.
When the wind begins to blow, we teeter on branches. We have worked so hard at perfecting our nests through the homes, careers and churches we build. We stretch our wings like arrogance announcing our identity to the world through an outward lens. Christ, through the Holy Spirit, stirs our souls and topples us off our perch directly into the storm for the purpose of becoming more like him.
It is scary, exhilarating, lonely, confusing; it is a softening.
"They thought they had obtained what they wanted." so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore. With adult children, the breeze seems easy - sail into comfort and happiness where the years of hard work has finally paid off. When I signed up for religion, however, I didn't gain an assembly of community but an anchoring. It is the piercing of flesh through the blood shed on a cross.
Where I once had thoughts of rocking chairs, grand-children and a slow fading into the sunset, those thoughts have become, instead, a yearning for the power of a humble prayer whispered many years ago; do my children have a compass firmly pointed to you, Lord? Will the God of heaven and earth honor the promises made, "train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it." proverbs 22:6? Will the quiet prayers uttered over newborn babies provide strong wings for flight?
If you turn to the gospel message, Christianity was never about the comfort of our nests but in the deepening of our relationship with him and a widening of that message to others. It is love spilled out for you and me.
The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind so they gave into it and were driven along. Where culture tells us it is time to rest; scripture tells us the story is just about to begin. Like wise owl, the gospel message has only begun to be perfected in us; we only need wider wineskins to carry it. The message of the cross is NOT to be driven along but to anchor our souls more intentionally in Him. Through the power of the holy spirit, our prayers are more impassioned and our pursuit more intentional.
Where many men and women my age our feathering their nests, God is calling a few to put their trust in Him - the scary, unknown of faith that the gospel message is not only true but vital. It is an eternal truth through the power of Jesus to weather any storm.
When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved ... the breathes between the pause.
Will the next generation be equipped to spread the good news? or will we allow the doom of this world to sour our perspectives? We hope for that which we cannot see. We have faith in the promises he has set. We trust in the perfecter of the good news.
We love, not in our own pursuits, but in the one who loved us first.
I looked up. "Don't stretch your wings now", I whispered softly. Through wind and crow, "I can only hope it will be spared", I supposed.
As I looked up ... two very large and round eyes looked straight down.
Beads of sweat, heart pounding ... I was but one person on a team to the finish line.
A light sprinkling of rain on and off for the past week has turned dry, dead grass into living blades of life. Droplets of water splatter vitality upon barren land. Celtic songs of lore ringing tunes across the province. They call us to the past and to the present in a whimsical melody in honor of those that have gone before and those yet to become.
It is a passing of the baton from one generation to the next; men and women who carry the gospel deep within their souls as lovers of the King.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning it's shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and loose heart. Hebrews 12:2 (NIV)
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses... So that you will not grow weary and loose heart. I think back to the grandmothers that went before me. Their faith carried them through a journey and so must mine but how do I keep my faith and my hope strong?
Life has chiseled enthusiasm into humility and I seem to know less than when I started.
Like a voyage ship, her sails are set to weather life's storms. God loosens her grip to an open hand and the promises he has set as a compass to solid ground; he will never leave nor forsake.
I was recently treated for a frozen shoulder - nothing that requires surgery but something that requires working through the pain. So true in life.
As I downloaded the NCAA basketball brackets for the first time, I sketched my winning combinations. 64 teams - I made a phone call.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses... Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that entangles. Self-sufficiency sanded down, I am not as tough as I seem. Sure - strong and independent but still human; my open hands close tighter the tattered silk cloth that makes me a woman. How do I remain strong as a mother and servant of Christ but reconcile my dependence on a holy God?
The sin that entangles and strangles my faith is the judgement of my father.
I was "frozen" in my own self-absorbed concept of who I thought he was. Only faith could perform a miracle. The problem I faced? The subtle nuances of not forgiving meant I couldn't entirely trust God with the plan.
God, through the power of the cross and the name of Jesus, broke through scar tissue and an inflammation of ego, and I ... must continually work through the pain.
I called my dad impressed with myself that I had completed the NCAA bracket selection for the first time and had something to talk about. I said my final two out loud. I read into his momentary silence; in my mind, I said aloud the "wrong" prediction. God wasn't concerned about the game of basketball but in the humility of reaching IN and reaching UP.
I learned something about him that day ... it wasn't about who won but in the dream lived out on a court for those young college-aged guys. The underdogs - the ones that nobody expects to get into the finals but are there anyways. Forever their lives are changed for it is a place where anything can and does happen on the court. Upsets and valid predictions, it is a twist of ups and downs.
I am pretty certain the prayers of an Irish grandmother permeated through the dew of a sincere heart through the generations. Irrespective of her absence, the prayers offered up in the last generation filtered down like sunlight streaming over water.
Our culture is set on the things we can see and control but faith calls us to trust the behind the scene practice shots nobody ever sees. But as I step out, God steps in and lifts up the underdog in unexpected shots. Miracles as a result of the power of prayer and the lifting up of one name.
That phone call was an invitation to enter the game.
Hebrews 12:2 (The Message)
Do you see what this means - all those pioneers who blazed
the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we'd better
get on with it. Strip down, start running - and never quit!
No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sin.
Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished
this race were' in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost
sight of where he was headed - that exhilarating finish in
and with God he could put up with anything
along the way: Cross, shame, whatever.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses... Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith and not grow weary and not give up.
The green hills of March. Is there anything so glorious? Dry, dead grass being changed with a bit of water into something new.
There were upsets this year. The lowest seeded teams beating the highest seeded ones. Because a little effort on my part, I was now invested in the conversation. March Madness, where anything can ... and does happen. The Madness spills into April.
Spring break - a 13+ hour drive to drop my daughter back at college.
While classes resumed, I needed to kill some time. I Can Only Imagine, film was playing; it is a current movie about redemption and the relationship between a father and his son and the faith that connected them. Coincidentally, the NCAA finals was later that night. Not a sports fan, I asked my daughter to go to a sports bar with me to watch the game. She brought a book; her presence, however, was a reminder that I was not alone on this journey.
Sharing the conversation with the bar owner opened the door for him to be invested into the story. He told me little facts about both teams. On text message with my two youngest brothers (about my son's ages), the spectators were growing. I called my dad during half time.
A quick chat, we connected like never before during the NCAA finals.
But that wasn't the end of the story - it was just the beginning.
As the "Bells of Ireland" rang throughout the generations, faithful men and women pray. Three point, all net shots, being played out throughout the years where anything can and does happen.
There is a name, One name and his name is Jesus. I pray with the depth of my being that you will hear the whisper from the one that calls you by your name.
Like the teams being eliminated, so were my judgements. Game time continued. My father had always wanted to visit the Egyptian Pyramids. My brother texted and began a symbolic basketball shot of his own. What if we flew my dad to Los Angeles for a surprise visit to the King Tut exhibit? Sure, it wasn't Egypt in person but on an IMAX theatre in the company of three of his five children.
What should have been a simple flight for a man who rarely leaves his home, turned into an exercise in perseverance where everything that could go wrong, did. After hours on the bench, 1/2 the flight exited the plane but my dad bore the heat and endured. it was his chance to play.
I now had the opportunity to sweat; would I allow God to change me?
Rather than be who I wanted, needed or thought him to be, I had the chance to take the shot - would I allow God to show me the good things, the everlasting things, the team uniform of faith, hope and love? Love is the great stripe worn on our behalf.
It is in the symbol of the cross and the blood shed that changes lives.
It represents the last supper, where ordinary men were changed. On the third day, Jesus rose again.
Jesus rose again! He exited the tomb. He conquered death.
God does not leave us to do life on our own but in the company of himself (through the Holy Spirit) and in the company of other believers of the faith. Men and Women transformed into something better where their stories are resurrected from the depths of our own judgements and perceptions into something newer and fresher. You and I have the life-giving ability to pull other people's stories into our own, weaving a greater story of redemption and transformation.
Perhaps we all need a little Madness of March to remind us of a promise for it is in the resurrecting of our souls through the washing of water IN and AROUND us that we live our lives in such a way that anything good and right and whole can happen. It is an invitation to get off the bench. Will you?
Inspiration: Song: Do It Again - Elevation Worship
May you feel God's presence
"My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials; knowing this, that the trying of your faith works patience." James 1:2-3 (King James)
I recently heard a story of a man that rescues dogs from "kill" centers. With a hope and belief the dog will be placed in a loving home, he must first assess, rehabilitate and earn the dog's trust: hours, days, weeks, months until suddenly and without provocation the dog walks closer and sits beside him. It is the beginning to a story.
The nominations for the best pictures of 2017 were recently announced - stranded, saturated, chronicled, resolute, amalgam, scary, elusive. These are the single words I am using to describe 7 of the 9 nominated for best films of the year. There are other award ceremonies: Golden Globes and People's choice for "popcorn" fun to watch but for pop-culture ones that poke into history, politics, religion and culture, the Oscars are the candy of choice.
The community in which I live has allowed me the opportunity to be around people of all ages and one little person (4 years of age) illustrated the conversation about movies today. He is a free-spirit where personality is already forming, he shows me three cards of dinosaurs where I engage in a conversation about sharp teeth and scary eyes but his response surprised me, saying, but he has beautiful feathers. Beautiful feathers? He was right but to be honest, I hadn't noticed them but once he pointed them out, I noticed they were delicate, fragile threads of color against hard, scaled skin. My mind was imagining prehistoric scenes but he saw something else, beautiful feathers.
Again and again we are called to live a child-like faith. Why? Not because we are weak or little or immature but because in the innocence and simplicity of a story, we dare to dream.
A number of years ago, I was rummaging through a high-end gift store past rugs and exotic things; my eyes wandered across the room in a hap-hazard way. Not in search of anything in particular and something I have done throughout my lifetime but I stopped. I paused. It was a tiny, fragile bowl. It didn't sit in a stack of others amid a variety of things. It was a true one of a kind, hand-made item in a crowded room. My eyes wandered a few more moments but kept coming back to one simple bowl. Careful not to knock things over, I knelt down and picked it up.
What was it about this one object that had me fascinated?
What was it about the delicate feathers that enchanted a four-year old little boy?
The edge of this bowl was smooth, it's muted color somehow calming. As I picked it up, it's smooth interior was deceptive against it's semi-rough exterior. It's size and texture fit so perfectly into my palm, it caused my hand to automatically cup it. The inside initials meant nothing and the underneath script I could not make out but the attraction was instantaneous.
That is what any artist, writer, film-maker, photographer is trying to do. It usually boils down to a simple passion of a private introspection with a courage to present a child-like imagination to a judging audience.
A one-of-a-kind story waiting to be told.
Enter God's redemption story -
There is scripture to admonish not getting entangled in the things of this world - warnings to stay guarded and strong. I turn on the tv, radio, computer and again and again tragedy and heartbreak strikes. It is a slippery slope reaching out and not getting sucked in and then I go to the movies.
Three of these movies fell into the historical events categories: Dunkirk (stranded), Darkest Hour (resolute), The Post (chronicle). On the dismal shores of Dunkirk, over 1/4 million young men are literally stuck in enemy territory. Dark and ominous, the audience hopes for a slimmer of light against seemingly impossible odds. Second, Winston Churchill, in the Darkest Hour weaves his story nicely into the movie, Dunkirk. Like threading a needle, Churchill navigates a position of leadership in churning waters of war. In one scene, he enters the story of everyday life on a train which shapes his action and helps to solidify his affection in trepidatious times. In the Post, Meryl Streep once again delivers a believable performance in telling a story of the responsibility of accurate journalism. Historical reference to Vietnam, and a foreshadowing to Watergate, a woman's voice in a male dominated industry digs into the notion that people can change the world through their inquisitive minds and poignant words.
The Post sent me on a treasure hunt to find a letter I received back from the White House many years ago. In grade school, (along with my classmates) I wrote a letter to the President of the United States. It was a classroom assignment to exercise our freedom of speech in the impeachment of President Nixon. A response under the leadership of President Ford came back. An isolated occurrence? This year, my daughter learned how to contact her government officials in a call for change - where an accumulation of voices can make a difference.
It is a revolutionary tale of change through a pen.
Ladybird (amalgam), Get Out (scary), The Phantom Thread (elusive) all fall in the human perspective category. In the backdrop of Sacramento, Ca a young girl distinguishes her voice from that of her mother's as she leaves for college. This movie was staying steady as 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. A temperature gauge, audiences favored the unique voice of a young girl maneuvering a roots and wings progression into adulthood. The character development of the protagonist in Get Out had me invested in his story early on. A likable guy, the audience wanted the relationship with his beautiful white girlfriend to work out. The breeze blew in at the outset and the yellow brick road made it clear, he was NOT in Kansas anymore (or even in this world) ... Wait! His voice was eluding to YES this IS his world in a black man's mind in the United States.
Let's just say, it IS scary! It didn't help that I went to Phantom Thread the next morning, which was scary, part 2. This film bothered me. Also dark, the elusive character development alongside hidden words in seams and the transformation of ordinary into extraordinarily beautiful fabric in one-of-kind dresses had me confused. The dissonance had me trying to connect dots in a dark place. Days later, it struck me: It was messing with the gift of "free will" and the ability to choose love over hate and freedom over manipulation. I didn't like it but it made me think about the beautiful subtle liberty of choosing our destiny of loving from a genuine and un-coerced way.
Arguably, Call Me by Your Name or Three Billboards from Missouri could be the best nominated movies but I haven't had time to see them.
The Shape of Water (saturated) wove nicely with my feather story. I wasn't looking for nominated films when I went to the movies with my daughters. With no expectations or pre-conceived judgements, I was open and vulnerable to a protagonist with no words against the backdrop of an alien monster with loose connections to oppression, violence and racism. I walked out having taken in the bait, hook-line-and sinker; my girls, on the other hand, beat me to the opinion, abhorring it at first. They saw sharp teeth, while I saw feathers.
I have spent a lifetime figuring out what a relationship with Jesus has meant. I have spent close to twenty years in some capacity of ministry. I have poured financial investment into providing higher education at a Christian school. I can list a whole bunch of checked boxes of faith. I have shed more tears than I dare say and have chosen joy when my boot-straps needed pulling. At times, I have segregated myself away from secular into the safety of a Christian net but time and time again, it boils down to my intimate and alive relationship with a living God who, with the power of the holy spirit, continues to pursue me with a redemptive arm of grace and restorative healing words of love.
Love - not that it only covers a multitude of sins (which it does) but because genuine love puts another person above oneself. Another person's reputation, dignity and well-being. It is a love beyond fear; it is a powerless ability to stand strong in God's truth and pursuit to trust His will for a plan. It is a plan not to harm but to give purpose and a hope.
Sure - the Oscars are a hollywood version of life but what are the subtle stories being told? Something is amiss in western culture and yet God pursues each and every one of us. My baby steps of reaching out is being vulnerable and like the writers in this year's nominated films, telling a story. The recent events in the news and in the stories being told at the Oscars tells me there needs to be more people listening.
Never a huge dodge ball fan, there comes a point when someone needs to pick unsuspecting, isolated people in order to gather them into a community where they are an integral part of a larger story. Yes, I would say there is an element of risk because it is easier to befriend those in a safety net but a bit more difficult outside our comfort zones.
God sent his only son, Jesus for that purpose. The significance of the cross is not lost on lovers of Christ. God pouring His love into you ... so you can pour it out to others. It is an honest blend of childlike faith with spiritual maturity.
What of that one-of-a-kind bowl?
There is not a single person on this planet that is exactly like you. Your worth fits perfectly into a cupped palm. I don't know your story but I do know, with all that I am, that it is not by accident you stumbled upon this website. Your story, your voice, your "you" has immeasurable worth in God's eyes. I can only tell you that I didn't trust God and yet through the days, months, years, gains, losses, mistakes, successes, failures, joys and sorrows, He waited patiently until one day, without provocation, I wandered closer and sat quietly.
Seek His truth through the scriptures. Worship through a tender prayer and love as though you are pursued with love. May God's peace calm your storm and his promise give you hope. Amen.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If i give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away, as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now, we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corin 13:1-13
They were not church bells ringing in unison but twelve distinct beats chiming through the quiet still of night. Their sound lingered ever so sweetly and hung suspended beneath a star filled sky. They strike at noon and on the hour but this time, they ring in something new.
Pin Action living for god/trust solely
Where have you been and where are you going? The usual myriad of resolutions and recaps sputter upon pages of calendars and excel spreadsheets with compartments of "to do" and "will do better" lists in the comments of hidden margins. A "pin action" is a phrase used when describing pins that hit one another and fall. Things we come to believe bumping one by one knocking pins over: some fall, some remain standing but either way, they create the frame of our perspectives.
Some years are easier than others; we each have the ebb and flow of a journey. By the shear nature of humanity, we are in a constant motion of change. As much as we would like to freeze a moment in time, we can't.
We don't get to control the early parts of our lives - the ones that set us on a course; we expect the ball to hit in the same place over and over again. This simple word called resurrection and the pins are set anew where the ball that travels down a lane is tweaked slightly from where it began and over time, it changes our perspectives too.
Faith in a living God means we are in the process of becoming more Christ-like. What does that mean exactly beyond the things we can control?
How does a simple wooden cross relate to a game of bowling and the start of a new year?
The story (a frame)
God enters the story exactly where you are. When younger, it was enough to figure out life: career, marriage, parenting, health, finances and the list goes on but then you add a 1/2 century of life, and the idea of figuring things out seems less likely from where I began. From the outside, things look pretty straight forward but I find myself going back to those early, impressionable, subconscious ideas of working hard and praying harder but it really had less to do about my being a good person and more about control and fear. Two things contrary to scripture. Surrender and trust are a lot more difficult but before I can go forward, I need to go backwards.
Now don't get me wrong, I like to rest and relax just as much as the next guy but a few things are at play: 1) I care deeply - which means I carry burdens that are not always mine 2) I am not necessarily the smartest person in the room - which means I work a little harder and am conscientious to a fault and 3) I never want to disappoint - which means I sometimes connect dots that are not entirely true. On the flip side: Jesus wept, God uses broken people and He knows the number of hairs on our heads.
This website is about faith: If I am in the process of an unfolding story, so are you. I rather like small attractive boxes with ribbons and religion would be a whole lot easier if it fit the bill but a relationship with Jesus was scandalous 2000 years ago and with the holy spirit, it is still today. Crucifying our desires to the transforming power of the cross means we don't get just one chance but the pins are lifted, loose ones swept to the "pit" and replaced for, yet, another opportunity at change deep within our being.
People don't like that. Money has no power. Influence has no control. Position has no dominion. The work of the Holy Spirit, the power of His name, the miracles and perseverance through prayer, the depth of our souls being changed from the inside out - now that is scandalous!
Clover living for god/trust solely
Clover - four strikes in a row, Dinner bucket, Double-wood left, Baby split, Big four, Greek (Cathedral) church, Dime store, Washout, a Flush, an Andy Varipapa or a Wombat- getting a spare after throwing a gutter ball. In throws, there is the Straight, a Hook, a Curve and a Back-up ball. There is a Sparrow - three spares in a row: all of these are terms used in the play of bowling. It is a shared language that communicates one game.
Our stories - these are the voices that articulate our experiences; they cross racial, gender, political, religious, cultural lines to enunciate one humanity. It is but one frame in this game called life. It is but one pin from where we have been and where we are going. The premise of the leisure sport of indoor bowling is there is ten frames to a game. Each player has two chances to knock down all twelve pins. In the tenth frame, a bonus shot is given to players who have earned it.
As in any sport, it is the mental attitude that wins and looses games. I like team recreation; the idea that one connects to another for the advantage of a greater goal. I think the trouble with society these days, is we are being suffocated by the busy-ness of our own lives. The marrow is being sucked out of the bones of a wooden pin. Bowling pins are constructed by gluing blocks of rock maple wood, shaped on a lathe, coated with plastic, painted and covered with a glossy finish. Natural and man-made disasters give us permission to ease the souls of our indentations but the day to day stories of our lives require our vulnerability to wear away the paint chips past the glossy finishes. We work on keeping the coating in place. Why? Because of exposure: 1) maybe people will learn we have more questions than answers 2) maybe we will screw up and 3) we are scared ... then God enters the story. We are a flawed people, created for relationship with a desire to trust in someone/something greater than ourselves.
This is where the wooden cross enters the game. Does it matter if it is in frame 1-12? No - as long as it happens. Who misses out if the change happens in frame 2 verses frame 8? You because God can use you to effect other pins (people). Jesus says on the cross, "forgive them for they know not what they do". We are left with a counselor and a plan and a hope.
Anchor living for god/trust solely
Unequivocally, I am a morning person. I would call my daughter, in contrast, my "cup of coffee" girl - even as a baby, she woke up slowly and did not want a lot of noise or action; she wanted to
"ease" into the day slowly. We are just wired differently. Why is this helpful information? Because my mental game is going to be sharper earlier, at the rise of a new day. The later in the day, the proponents of doubt creeps in. I get tired and weak and begin to play the "what if game". What if x happens? What if I had prayed on y a little harder?
An Anchor is the person who bowls last - it is the best or person who stays cool under pressure. I am pretty comfortable living in the symbolic, subtle philosophical parts of science and faith but if I want to bowl some strikes and spares late in the game, I need to do some tangible and proactive maneuvers.
God used Joseph, told in the story of Genesis, to articulate this point. Joseph had every reason to give up hope. Again and again his life demonstrated gutter balls: his brothers couldn't stand him and ended up dumping their own brother into slavery. He gets falsely accused of rape and thrown into prison. Each step of the way, he had every reason to believe the best he could get in life were a few scrappy points.
I have no substantial evidence but I believe Joseph was an "athlete" at heart. He had self confidence early on, along with a deep rooted belief that he was created for great things but life chiseled away at the paint-chipped marrow of his life. Through it all, his depth of character grew. He hung on to the belief that God had a plan for his life - he just couldn't see it. So he had to deliberately choose to exchange control for surrender and fear to trust.
If we believe in Kingdom living, we too, must make some tangible choices:
The fog was thick and heavy; it was as if tears welled up within the cloud of heavens. My eyes could not see where I was going but droplets of water falling on windowed glass precipitated thought - one that refused to escape. It was a journey it was a hope.
This was an excerpt from a post earlier in the year. Depending on my position on the "google" highway, you will either see it or not. Because of the direct use of music and video clips, I have revamped my website which essentially means starting over, which is precisely the meaning of this month's post. What frame are you jumping into in this story?
Even with 1/2 century of life, I am drawn back to frame 1. Could there have been a more favorable outcome had I prayed a bit harder or been a little less human? My mind subconsciously and subtly wanders toward a "butterfly" effect where Science is skewed to things we can't explain. Broken wings, can we create order of chaos? A great discussion for a job, or even Science, but not as beneficial in life and love, and certainly, not in faith which is exactly what makes the game so much fun. We just don't know when or where the next strikes and spares are coming or from whose story they emerge. More importantly, however, is God's story. Embrace it. It is a whole lot more unpredictable and interesting than people who have more money, more power and more influence. Instead our prayer becomes - Lord God, give me more of you, Amen.
We, on the other hand, become more agile in catching and throwing balls the more we exchange surrender over control and trust over fear and with the power of the holy spirit, lives are transformed - not just mine but yours; It is a scandalous journey called faith!
So what does that mean for me in a game of bowling - I have no idea what I am doing or where I am going but I know whose I belong to and in the process take baby steps of obedience in his word and in the worship of his holy name, Jesus.
He (Jesus) said to them, "Go into the World and preach the good news to all creation"
May you choose joy over circumstances. I pray blessings percolate from up within your core and that you get more strikes and spares than gutter balls. Thanks for reading.
Glossary of Bowling (wikipedia)
pictures and stories are my own: copyright 2018
The fragrance is pungent. It is a mixture of hay, leather and animal feces. It was a respite from a long and weary journey where the scent of doubt crept in. Was it the external circumstances that etched the road? Pregnant, unmarried, without a home and wandering on a lowly donkey, a teenage girl could only rely on faith. And, for her companion who stood beside on the mire trail, was it the internal road that clarified or confused the circumstances? He listened to the words of God through an angel and together they stumbled forward in trust and hope to a lowly stable to rest their weary heads. They could only look up - toward the anticipation of something greater.
Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
In our own toils and circumstances it is easy to adorn the external with the wrappings of a holiday, particularly when things are going well - jobs, neighborhoods, relationships, home, church, country but what if things are not going as planned?
Mary and Joseph arrive from a journey in the midst of a crowd. A crowd, who otherwise, had lives of their own in a busy, bustling community. It is in the midst of people that they seek respite from the brewing noise outside to the quiet and still stench of a stable where together they rely on the path God had set.
Both Mary and Joseph were human. They were flawed individuals in the midst of a crowd and yet God chose them to carry a blessing deep within the fabric of their souls. Did they pray? Did they hope? Did they doubt God's plan? I have to imagine they wrestled with faith as we all do. My religious background, deeply embedded in me both a sense of spiritual awe and fear. I've got the "anything bad that happens must somehow be my fault" thread. Guilt, condemnation and the not wanting to disappoint tangled in a ball of lights. Mingled too, however, are the bulbs of faith - God's word, His promises and the hope wrapped in a baby.
The culture has shifted but the frailty of humanity has not. A young teenage girl and a boy slipping quietly away from the people they would disappoint. The circumstances that pointed to a failed life. Did they toil with the elements of self-condemnation or walk with total assurance of God's love? We quickly brush over the miraculous story of Christmas in exchange for a feeling of Christmas. It was in the wait and anticipation of something far greater that faith grew. God's lens was in the journey. It was a faith to trust his plan, a hope that He would be faithful to get us through and a deep and authentic love in an intimate, intertwined relationship of the father, son and holy ghost.
On Sunday, I traveled from sunny, blue skies to dark and ominous smoke filled ones. It was eerie and as close to the movie setting of an apocalypse that I could imagine. The bright sunlight was replaced with warm, putrid gusts of forbidding air. It was almost as dark as night. The lighting was an abnormal, haunted one that allowed the proponents of dread to fill the space as thick as the smoke that enveloped it. The roads were sparse. The song of birds was mysteriously missing. Small children were wearing masks while holding the hand of an adult. The wind whipping their hair in a menacing movement of air.
With my daughter and a small dog, we traveled toward (not away) from the storm that loomed. The ash that fell rekindled all sorts of scripture verses in my head. I grappled toward the respite of life and love. We were 75 miles away from danger and yet the affects of the fire was as clear as the rain that could douse it. More disarming were the words that penetrated my mind. Less than a week before, I sought the community of prayer in a healing room here where the image of fire and the revival of faith kindled the image of Christmas and yet, now, I stood in the smoke-filled air of doubt and confusion.
No wonder God placed a bright star in a dark night to point the three wise men to Bethlehem where the savior in a baby was to be found. It was outside the noise and confusion of people hunting down a hope. It was in the obedience of a message to bring the elements of frankincense and myrrh - the oils to soften the road that lie ahead. The miracle of Christmas is as much about the people that trusted the light to guide them as it was about the baby to be born.
together, they represented the wooden beams of a cross
What of the fragrance of hay, leather and animal feces found in a stable outside the crowds of a bustling community? Yes, the journey had been on a donkey wandering away from the family and friends they knew and loved but through God's eyes, the more important one was the road traveled deep within their souls. They had hours of quiet reflection leading up to this moment of Christmas were the tangled lights of doubt, obedience, fear and trust were being unwoven into one string of illumination. So still, I would imagine, after the pangs of childbirth that a peace like a comforter wrapped them into the gracious gift of provision. Conceive for a moment, a still that was so quiet you could hear the rustling of a mouse under tender branches, the sight of the miracle of life held in human hands and the scent of earth and sky to lighten the darkest internal skies. The star pointed the three wise men to Bethlehem as clearly as a brilliant star-studded sky points us now to the quiet, provision of God's love.
I find comfort in the story of Christmas - the human condition of disappointment, failure, sin, temptation and doubt because in the journey, there is also found the ribbons of love, grace, forgiveness, hope and eternal life ... all wrapped in the arms of a father and his son.
The longer I live and the more I reach into another person's story, the more I see joy, provision and peace mixed with struggle, hurt and loss. For so long, I have wrestled with why I think the way I do; I have fought the deepest parts of me forgetting he had and has a plan in the unfolding of a story. It is the human condition where sometimes we are the bustling crowd and sometimes the lone soul in a stable reaching through the noise toward the quiet and still sound of a whisper - drawing hope through the light cracking through wooden planks.
I took the above picture of a gift I made for my daughter on her recent twenty-first birthday. Vintage vinyl records (some new and some old) to be un-wrapped over twenty-one days. What if this Christmas, we each imagine God's provisions wrapped in vintage albums for us - the gifts yet to be opened.
It is the feeling of Christmas - the anticipation of something far greater. May you, too, hear the distant and quiet sleigh bells of his love in a humble manger ... and believe.
May this Christmas, bring you faith in the quiet still night of your soul
where the trail is an unwrapping of a great story - yours.
... and may you find peace and joy along the way.
Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
To reach past the noise toward the quiet whisper ... is to feel the presence of God.
Pushing through the disappointment here and home.
Here: With Black Friday only days within reach, it seemed a perfect springboard for this month's post and the newness of this website. Have you ever stood in line for hours only to be turned away? Have you ever pressed the update button only to realize you have to begin anew?
It happens with our phones, software programs, video games; everything that seems familiar and comfortable is constantly changing. Next, you get the dreaded impersonal computer voice for help. We live on a fast pace technology highway where the road signs are constantly in flux.
Having worked really hard on this website, I pressed the dreaded update button which was a clause for software use. Basically it said I can no longer use music or video in my website. That seems a simple and straightforward policy for a business client. The only problem? This website was never about business or making money. My entire intent is to reach people for the sake of the gospel through music, video, pictures and stories. A personal investment of my heart to yours on the super highway of technology.
About the same time i pressed the update button for this website, I was tagged with a social media challenge:
Image strip or bitmap strip: My faith caused my heart to calm and reach into the deep reservoir sprung from writing for this website. In a quick snapshot of pictures, my life tells a story and so does yours.
Jesus replied, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." This is the first and greatest commandment. And, the second is like it: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Matthew 22:37
I was pretty disappointed when I pressed the pause button. At the same time, access to my purchased pictures disappeared too. So I went back to the old-fashioned way of doing things and took these seven pictures this week in a variety of locations. I also did the vintage approach to faith and dug deep into the well of truths. I am a beloved daughter of the King. My faith in Jesus Christ is deeper and wider than I had ever imagined. The love I have for a community of fellow sojourners on the jeep trail of discovery is more authentic than I could ever have imagined.
I realized I had two options with this website, give up or step out in trust.
We all are in a constant state of pressing the update button. This website is about inspiration, information and engaging in a relationship with Christ and a community of believers. I realize you only have seven pictures and a handful of words to figure out if this website is worth your time.
The only thing I can offer ... is my heart and my eyes toward a story much greater than my own.
May this Thanksgiving give you a smile, a hug and words of encouragement.
What else is there on a jeep trail? Welcome to the road; Jesus is the map.
... and my birthday wish?
that your pictures be illuminated with light, color and a quiet, loving, whisper of your name
and that I continue to walk with faith, hope and love
but the greatest of these is love
they never stopped preaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is Christ. Acts 5:42
A fellow point guard for the faith; a writer, deep thinker, music loving, jeep blazing ... follower of Jesus.