Archives for April 2011

5 Minute Friday: If I knew I could, I would…

Ah yes, it’s Friday once again.  Joining with Lisa Jo at “The Gypsy Mama” on a very intriguing topic this morning.  And I wonder what I’ll say!  5 minutes of unedited, unstoppable writing.

If I knew I could, I would…

I would live my life on tiptoe, 
ever expecting something wondrous to behold!


…dance like crazy, letting my body go where it wills – just because I can;
…write like crazy, words that would bring encouragement to others and tell interesting stories because I’ve had quite a ride so far;
…travel without worry or complication to as many of this planet’s beautiful places as I possibly could while still…
…spending as much time as I could at or near my home, which I love;
…save  the people I love from pain and heartache – I’ve seen so much of it and they’ve lived so much of it… but then again…
…even more than that, I want for them to be whole and holy (in the truest, best sense of that word) people and sometimes (but not always) heartache is a vehicle for producing precisely that;
… know in my heart of hearts that God isn’t done with me yet, that there is more to do and even better, more to be for however many years stretch ahead of me;
… love my mom with Jesus’ kind of love, showing patience and kindness and soothing her fears as the ravages of age and confusion move in with a vengeance.

Photo and caption added a bit later…

Journaling Joy

Joining Bonnie over at Faith Barista tonight with one of the most fun assignments thus far in this venture into blog-world.  Using photos and words, we are to comment on where we’re experiencing joy these days.  Go over there and check out some of these collections of pictures and words – AMAZING.  


What brings me joy these days?
The list is long, despite the heaviness of worry about my mom, despite the myriad details still to be sorted through as I finally clear out my large, corner office at church and re-settle into my tiny one here at home, despite the unsettled feeling of these early retirement days with no set schedule…that joy-list is long and I am grateful.
The Monastery of the Risen Christ, San Luis Obispo CA
Traveling 115 miles north once a month to meet with Abbot David, my spiritual director, never ceases to bring fresh reminders 
of the joy of the Lord.

The Mission Renewal Center, Santa Barbara CA
Finding out that this summer I will be attending the School for Spiritual Direction that meets at this retreat center 
brings me joy, just the thought of it!  
I will be able to complete my certification process begun in Chicago in ’09, interrupted by some serious health issues last year – and I’ll be able to do it right here in my own hometown.

Remembering our delicious Easter dinner brings me joy, too.
But then good food tends to do that with regularity!

Flowers of all kinds and colors remind me of the creative genius of our good God.  I love to have cut flowers indoors, to have lots of flowers in the garden 
and to drive to local fields to see them growing wildly, 
in all their painterly glory.

Fields of poppy and lupine, Figueroa Mountain outside of Los Olivos, CA

Carpets of color at Corrizo Plain National Monument, about a three hour drive from home.

Other than the gift of life itself, 
my family brings me the deepest joy of all.
A retirement trip to Maui in February of this year.

45 years and grateful for every single one.
Last summer, at a cabin we rented near Yosemite.
Three amazing kids, all grown up with kids of their own.
 Our kiddos range in age from 14 months to 20 years. And we had six boys in a row!

And 8 grandkids – each one unique, 
each one adding another layer of joy.  

The youngest ones don’t mind having their pictures taken and each of these three seemed to arrive in our family circle at just the right time.  (Well, they all did, didn’t they?  These three stand out somehow…)  The two five-year-olds were born the year our much-loved son-in-law became critically and chronically ill, bringing life and hope to us all as he was dying.

And our newest (and likely last) little one came into our lives soon after the biggest one was out on his own.

 And the newest joy in our family is our eldest daughter’s brand-new engagement.  We’ll have a summer wedding after a long siege of sadness and loss.  

And this was the view out my bedroom door as I began compiling this list tonight.  The gift of a home, a comfortable, welcoming home is something we never take for granted.
And it is a source of joy on so many levels:
family gatherings,
spiritual retreats for women,
meeting with directees,
hosting friends and strangers,
finding space and permission to be silent and alone,
sharing space with a lifelong partner.
I’ll leave this reflection with shots of some of God’s winged creatures who regularly speak to me of grace, beauty and yes…joy!

“Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?”  Matthew 6:26
a visiting oriole in our side yard – shot through the window and the screen!

a mocking bird watches over the wildflowers

a brilliant red cardinal sings his lovely song on Maui

a greater egret wades in at sunset


a great blue heron, hunched position

wading in, standing tall

 and taking off with those great wings and long legs
 a curlew, reflected in the water with his head up
 and with his head down, making a perfect circle of himself

the big birds settling in for the night in the very tops of the eucalyptus trees which stand all along the Goleta Slough, just north of us

the sunset majesty of the ocean as it folds into the slough

Looking Back on the Weekend…

 It is tough to remember the last time we went to 
an Easter service in a church not our own.
My mom was with us for the week, 
so we opted to re-visit the most ‘formal’ of those we have visited these last few months, the big Presbyterian one downtown.
And we are so glad we did.

LOVED the massive arrangement of calla 
(rather than Easter) lilies.
Loved the pipe organ (even got the Widor “Toccata” as a postlude).
Loved the choir – two anthems, including Handel’s “Hallelujah!”

Loved the stained glass all around.
Loved the sweet older couple in front of us who 
warmly greeted us the moment we walked in.
Loved that the pastor sang the psalm once again, 
as he had the last time we were there.

And we loved that sermon.

Here are some highlights – at least for this listener:
Text:  Matthew’s account of the empty tomb – 28:1-10
Title: “Fear/Joy/Galilee”
Standout thoughts:
The New Testament re-telling of the resurrection story is surprisingly low key, understated and not terribly dramatic.  
Using a charming story of a little girl eagerly raising her hand in answer to the question, 
“What was the first thing Jesus said after his resurrection?”  
she happily blurted:  “I know, I know!”  
Standing to spread her arms wide and bowing royally:  “TA DA!!!”
Yeah -that’s what WE would have done.
But not Jesus.
Yes, there was an earthquake.
Yes, the angel’s clothing was blindingly white.
Yes, the guards shook and ‘became like dead men.’
But Jesus himself?
His first words to the stunned disciples?

21st century English equivalent?
“Oh, hi.”

Oh, hi??

And then there was this – “Do not be afraid; 
go and tell my brothers (and sisters) to go to Galilee; 
there they will see me.”
Basically, he told them – “I’ll meet you at home!”

But…home…Galilee…is a place of purpose and meaning.
Our Galilee is where we meet Jesus – 
in that place that holds purpose and meaning for us.

And this simple message, these words of Jesus to those first disciples on the scene, seems to say something like this as well:
that as important as it is for us to believe in Easter, 
in resurrection –
it is equally important to realize that Resurrection Jesus 
believes in us.
Go home.  Go to the place where you know me best.  I have work for you to do – 
I believe you can do it because I’ll meet you there.”

And here’s a direct quote which I just loved:
“God lifts us from every place of pain and gives us purpose.”

And calling these men who had abandoned him his ‘brothers?’
Another example of our ‘modest, glorious Jesus.’

This pastor also noted that it’s about 100 miles from the tomb in that Jerusalem garden to Galilee – so we are called to a long journey, not a quick look-see.  And best of all,
Jesus is already in our Galilee,
wherever that may be for each of us.
We are called to a journey of commitment, honesty, hope and joy – 
because Jesus is joy.

Will we take the next step?
Oh, I hope so!
Because Jesus is waiting there.

Doing a double post with Michelle this week at “Graceful.”  This one is probably a bit more germane to the meme:

My Girl…

After trying unsuccessfully and repeatedly to insert the button from Ann Voskamp’s “Walk with Him Wednesday” meme button, I am resorting to this:  Please travel over to Ann’s lovely website to read other inspiring and reflective stories of resurrection living during the month of May:

This post was originally written on the Monday morning after Easter Sunday.  It is not so much a description of a resurrection practice as it is a grateful reflection on resurrection glory in our family story this year.  After about six years of critical health issues, two terrifying wildfires, and the deaths of 3 close members within our immediate family we are living into the reality of the empty tomb with this sweet story.  I have shared it elsewhere as you will see below – but for me, it’s the shining, shimmering ray of light at the end of a long, dark tunnel.  So it bears repeating this Eastertide season.

Well, to be honest, she’s not exactly a girl anymore.  And she’s not the only wonderful female who blesses my life by calling me “Mom.”  But…today, tonight…as I sit and savor what the Lord has given, she is still (and always) – my girl.

She came as a bit of a surprise to us – young, idealistic couple that we were, living thousands of miles from home.  But come she did, and this girl (and her two siblings) changed our lives in ways that were profound and wonderful.  Our first-born was always a study in interesting contrasts: full of energy, but loving to sleep; cute as a button and surprisingly petite for such tall parents; winsome and thoughtful, yet sometimes stubborn and hard to read; an artistic soul who was also gifted at mathematics and logic.  A huge, compassionate heart with a deep-rooted desire to be a wife and mom – all of this we witnessed with wonder as she grew to young womanhood under our roof.

She met the man she would marry just before her 16th birthday, at our dining room table.  He was the son of a long-time friend and we had invited their family over to celebrate his 2-year remission from childhood cancer.  Their eyes met over the dessert and love was born. 

Six weeks after that first meeting, her young man entered into a serious 2nd go-round with cancer and began about six months of heavy-duty chemo, followed by major surgery and radiation.  All of this served to push their emotional connection into fast forward, and they were married just after her freshman year of college.

They took out loans and both finished school – he with a master’s in IT and she with a bachelor’s in anthropology and an art minor.  They moved 400 miles away and began to produce beautiful grandsons for us to enjoy and marvel at – something they were never sure they’d be able to do, given his medical history.  Three boys and about 18 years later, her sweet man began to suffer from a whole series of difficult after-effects from all that life-saving but terribly hard-on-the-body treatment.

And she walked right with him through all of it – a trial by fire for them both.  When the end came, it was swift and sudden.  A widow at 40, with boys aged 17, 14 and 10.  Their bedroom door stayed firmly closed for a full year, collecting odds and ends as she and her kids moved through their grief and sorrow.

On the one-year anniversary of his death, she went from the small den where she had set up a single bed and a big desk for herself into the bedroom they had shared.  She looked around and thought, “It’s time.  Time to remodel this space and make it lovely once again.”

So she found a gifted contractor – on the recommendation and introduction of her associate pastor.  He was gentle, gifted, artistic and they had a really good time working together on the details of house and yard.  It was wonderful to see her creative gifts being set loose again and we all marveled at the transformation in her spirit as she made plans and chose colors and began to move into this lovely space.

And last Easter, she invited her builder to come to dinner – “Because he has no where else to go, Mom.  Don’t make a big deal out of this.” And so we met him, this man, the builder.  And we liked him immediately.  Her boys liked him, too.  And we all wondered…is God doing a new thing here?  

About two months later, she called and said,  “OK, Mom.  You can make a big deal now. I think I’m in love – and it feels like a gift straight from God to me and the boys.”

So.  It was Easter again yesterday.  And we all gathered again at her home.  The meal was lovely – this year completely vegetarian. After all, this builder has been a vegetarian for 25 years!  And as we gathered in a circle to thank God for the food, for the reason for the day, for the gift of forever life because of Jesus, she said:  

“Thank you all so much for coming.  And before we begin to pile our plates, I have an important announcement to make.  Last week, my builder proposed and I said yes.  We are so thankful to God and to all of you for loving us through this journey.”  And then she asked her builder to pray.  And he did.

A favorite blogger of mine is writing today about new life being birthed from the womb of darkness – everywhere we look, this pattern is true.  And from the darkness of a difficult and terribly sad time, we are witnesses to the power of resurrection life in our girl’s story.  And we are so very thankful.
And here are some pictures from yesterday’s celebration:
Her ring – which will serve as both engagement and wedding ring.
Two shots from the slide show they used to celebrate this special part of their story – one of the builder, one of the two of them with her younger boys – big brother is studying in London this term and was deeply missed yesterday.
The two of them, glowing for the camera.

Joining tonight with Michelle and LL.  Not exactly a typical “hear it on Sunday…” post, but somehow it fits.
And this is most definitely where my thoughts are ‘on, in and around’ this particular Monday!
On In Around button

Triduum, 2011: Reflections on the First Holy Week of Retirement

Wildflower watch, between Santa Maria and Bakersfield, spring 2010

 It’s been a strange week. 

Our ‘home’ beach, 2 miles below our house on a wintry late afternoon, 2011

       1st Holy Week in many years where I have not been up to my eyeballs in worship planning and leading.
       1st Holy Week we have not been worshipping with our usual community of faith.
       1st Holy Week in which I’ve seen and experienced some devastating changes in my mom’s ability to interact with her world and with me as she spends these days in our home.

These are the ‘holes’ in the fabric of my life just now as I sit in the quiet, reflecting on Good Friday, Holy Saturday and the coming of Resurrection dawn.

Looking out from the inside of Hanalei Church, Kauai, Spring 2010

But here are some of the shimmering new threads that are beginning to criss-cross their way into, around and through those holes in the year of our Lord, 2011:

       A noon-day Good Friday service that was far different than any I have previously attended, planned or led – one that was moving, intriguing, lovely.

       A Holy Saturday filled with COOKING of all things.  Really, I thought I had given up cooking for Lent about 15 years ago and just extended that ‘sacrifice’ through most of the rest of the year(s).

       An Easter Sunday in a different church than usual, followed by traveling in a car which will be loaded with way too much food for our crowd of two dozen, gathering this year at my eldest daughter’s home one hour south of here.

Sunset over the inlet, Saanich peninsula, British Columbia, summer, 2007

       And each day laced with some time here at this keyboard – reading blogs, editing pictures, trying to figure out how to make my own blog work more effectively when I have ZERO knowledge of HTML, ‘buttons,’ ‘subscription widgets,’ ‘sidebars,’ and no clue whatsoever how to post a video of any kind.  

What I am observing about myself through these days are these things:
   – I am feeling well and strong for the first time in many, many months;
   – I am finding deep, almost profound, enjoyment in writing and thinking about writing;
   – I am willing to relax into the rhythms of kitchen and laundry without feeling overly stressed about it all;
   – I find myself in a spirit of almost constant prayer – not prayer filled with lots of fine-sounding words, but rather prayer consisting of these simple, important ones:  thank you, thank you, thank you.  Or your grace through me, Lord; your grace through me.  Or beauty all around, Lord, beauty all around.

Layers of sunset beauty in the Pacific northwest, Whidby Island, summer,  2007

All in all, it’s a good place to be.  I haven’t done much reading during these first months away from work – a wonderful memoir written by a friend, a couple of books on prayer.  Not a lot of mental energy these early days.  But I think I’m okay with that – it will do for now.  I wait with growing expectancy for what will come.  And as we head out for worship in the morning, I look forward to joining God’s people in yet another new-to-us congregation as we joyfully shout, “Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!”

Looking through the gateway at Butchart Gardens, Victoria, British Columbia, summer 2007
Written in the pondering moments of late night on Holy Saturday, but linking tonight with Jen 
at the Soli Deo Gloria sisterhood:

5 Minute Friday: Hard Love

Once again, it’s Friday.  And that means it’s time to try and link up with Lisa-Jo over at the Gypsy Mama.  Five minutes of unedited writing, this time on the topic of hard love.  For me the topic today is about 180 degrees from where Lisa-Jo went with it…

She waits in the guest room, right next door to me as I type these words.  I can hear her shuffling things around, waiting for me to emerge from my Good Friday afternoon nap.  We’ve been to a remarkable service today at the local Episcopal church where we heard a male sextet sing an Atakhist – a song of deep thanksgiving written by an Eastern Orthodox monk while living out a difficult life in a Russian gulag in the 1930’s.  It was gorgeous – such a contrast to the events we were there to commemorate – and yet such a powerful reminder of the glorious gifts of God in this world, this place, this home of ours.

And I think she got most of it.  It’s very hard to tell.

She is nearing 90.  16 months ago, her youngest and most troubled child died in his sleep.  Six years ago, her partner of 64 years died after three years of a lingering, wasting illness in which he became unable to say to his wife, “You’re wearing yourself out caring for me – let’s find me a place to be where you can rest at night and I can be tended.”  In the last 5 years, she has slowly, agonizingly lost almost all of her vision to macular degeneration and she’s also lost an increasing amount of her ability to hear conversations.

She has lost a lot of her independence.  And most hard for me, most difficult for her, she has lost the ability to respond to life as she once did: with spunk, fiestiness, joyful laughter and an amazingly creative ability to rise to the challenge.

It is sometimes very hard to love her as I once did.  And it is very hard for her to love anyone as she once did.  So we rely on a long history of shared affection, commitment and memories to get us through the rough times.

In some ways she reminds me of my 5 year old grandchildren – volatile emotionally, insecure at times, frightened by abrupt changes in life or schedule, confused by what’s happening around them.  So I am learning that the best thing to do to show her my love is what I do to them – wrap my arms around her, kiss her soundly on the cheek and say something like.  “All better now.  I love you.  You’re the best (kid) (mom) I know.  I’m here to help.  What can I do?”

She’ll be heading home again on Easter afternoon, to that little apartment at the retirement community about 2 and a half hours south of me.  And I will be both sad and relieved.   That’s what’s hard about love right now.


Jesus and Prayer

Reposting an older reflection for this Maundy Thursday, thoroughly re-edited for today.

What a topic. The text is Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane – Mark’s version. The assignment is to confine my remarks to 20 minutes or less, to capsulize the teaching and the modeling of Jesus about prayer, and to do it with truth and love.

How did I ever get myself into this???

The preaching task is always an overwhelming one. An intriguing, challenging, convicting, enormously rewarding one, but still….to think that any human person has the right to speak on behalf of Almighty God, to bear the good news to the church, to parse sacred text…yikes.

And, of course, living with the text over time means that the preacher is the first to hear the sermon. If the text doesn’t knock me to my knees, shouting truth into my own heart and spirit somewhere in the process of reading/researching/thinking/praying/talking it through with others, then I will have nothing to say to anyone else. And this one has just knocked me flat.

And as always, I am impressed at how the Spirit weaves together the study and research I do in my office with the conversations and experiences I’m having elsewhere. To illustrate – a brief, but deeply thoughtful conversation with our son and daughter-in-law about prayer – about how we so often view prayer as another in a list of tools to help us manipulate God, to work ‘magic,’ to utilize (in the philosophical, utilitarian sense) our faith to bring about a desired end. Yet the text before me was anything but manipulative, and everything about relinquishment. Hmmm…

Illustration #2 – a wonderful gift from my friend Anita, a small, brilliant book entitled “Everything Belongs,” by Richard Rohr, about contemplative prayer, a book that touches on some of the same ideas that are flitting round this brain of mine. Like…the 3 fold admonition to ‘watch’ given to the sleepy disciples. Isn’t that a lot of what prayer is truly about? Placing ourselves regularly, preferably continually, in a position of prayer, of watchfulness, of presence, of paying attention, even more than it is about saying the right words – or even saying anything at all.

And all of these lovely serendipities of daily life help to thrust me back again into the text before me. As I read through Mark’s account, again and again I am blown away by Jesus’ wrestling match in that olive garden on the night in which he was betrayed. Such a powerful study in contrasts:

….from warm fellowship in the upper room to the cool solitude of the garden
….from the comfort of the reclining supper chair, to the hard reality of the rocky ground
….from a place of acceptance and understanding of what was to come, to a place of resistance and fear about the painful death ahead.

I am humbled by this story, I am moved by it and I am deeply, deeply grateful for it. It gives me great hope to read that the Savior of the world wrestled with the harsher realities of this life, that, if possible, he wanted to avoid pain; that he struggled with the dark stuff, the hard stuff, the ugly stuff. It helps, of course, to know the end of the story, that end toward which we have been moving during these weeks of Lent. It helps to know about and to firmly grasp the reality of the empty tomb.

Yet what I truly cherish about this passage in Mark 14 is how it shows us the fullness of Jesus’ humanity in ways that many of our Jesus stories do not. Here we gain insight into some of his emotional and spiritual struggles. Just days before this time of pleading prayer, Jesus was able to speak prophetically about the restoration of the ‘temple’ of his body in 3 days. Yet here, he begs God to let this cup pass. It seems that Jesus was frightened by the prospect of suffering and death on that night when he stared directly into the abyss. All of us human creatures resist death, we deny it, we cry out against it. Even Jesus cried out for deliverance from the painful unknowing-ness of it all.

Many biblical scholars tell us that this struggle in the garden was about Jesus’ fear of his coming separation from the Father. Maybe. But maybe he was just plain scared of the pain, scared of the suffering, scared of the unknown, just like the rest of us would be. And there is something strangely comforting to me in that idea. To think that the son of God, our fully human, fully divine savior, was frightened by what lay ahead of him somehow helps to relieve my own fears. It’s a paradox, maybe even an oxymoron, to say that. And yet it’s true. There is a wonderful way in which Jesus’ wrestling in the garden helps me to lean into my own humanity a little bit more willingly and easily, to accept my own feebleness and fearfulness with less self-condemnation and disdain.

But here’s what truly, strongly cheers me in this story: after the struggle, after the tears, after the first of what would soon be an avalanche of disappointments and betrayals from his friends – after all of that, Jesus moves out in confidence and trust to meet his enemies, to meet his future. “Rise. Let us go,” he says to the speechless, feckless disciples. “Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners.”

At the end of the day, at the end of that long night, Jesus chose to trust God.

Jesus chose to believe that God was at work, even in the ugliness of betrayal and conflict, even in the midst of false accusations and illegal trials, even in the brutality of torture and death. Even there, God is.

Once it became clear that God was not going to intervene in the way that Jesus wanted him to do, he made a conscious, deliberate choice to trust God anyhow. To trust that God would take the mess and work a miracle in the midst of it. To trust that God would accomplish something so beautiful, so powerful, so filled with hope and promise that the world would never be the same again.

“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known,” the apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth. I believe that for the period of his ‘tabernacling’ with us here on earth, Jesus gave up his right, his divine ability, to see ‘face to face,’ to ‘know fully.’ Jesus lived within the limits that we as humans experience.

But here’s what our truly human Savior learned through living a life of prayer, prayer that came to fruition in that garden across from the temple mount:

He learned to trust that he was fully known,
he learned to trust that the one who fully knew him, fully loved him,
he learned to wrestle through his fears…in the presence of the God who knew and loved him…
and to emerge on the other side with a confidence and a courage that challenged every definition of confidence and courage that his world had constructed.

Oh, may I learn from his example!

Crossing Cultures – Two at a Time

This reflection is written for the community writing project at “The Higher Calling.”  Check out the others at

Oh my goodness, we were young.

Married all of 8 months, recently graduated from college, heading across the country, across the Atlantic, halfway up the continent of Africa.

We went as an alternative to military service during the Vietnamese war – to work for peace in a place that was strange to us, paying our own way except for about $150/month in ‘allowance.’

But we had a great house to live in, located on the campus of a secondary school in the southern province of Zambia.  Far larger than the tiny apartment we left behind in West Los Angeles, it was set amidst the rolling hills and curiously flat-topped trees of the high savannah that would be our home for the next two years.  The same home we brought our first-born back to after her birth in a bush hospital five months before our term was up.

And we had good work to do – distributing educational supplies to the entire province the first year, teaching eager students, some of whom were older than I was, during the second year.

I remember standing in the train station in our town – the kind of station where an actual steam engine pulls in about 3 times a day – and looking out over a crowded sea of African faces.  Beautiful faces, interesting faces.  But faces that looked distinctly different from our own – a sensation that was at one and the same time slightly disquieting and curiously satisfying.  That was our first experience of what it felt like to be members of a minority culture – and it changed our lives forever.

We came in with high ideals, youthful enthusiasm and a commitment to make a contribution of some kind.  What we didn’t fully understand going in was that we weren’t just crossing one set of cultural expectations and experiences – we were crossing two, each with its own share of complications and adjustments.  We were surrounded by an African culture – and we were surrounded by a missionary culture.

And I would have to say that the first one was far easier to deal with than the second.  Although sometimes we were puzzled and challenged by the strange realities of teaching students who were literally making the jump from one century (at least) to another – the weirdnesses of the missionary life around us were much tougher to figure out.

Over those two years, we came to deeply appreciate the slower pace, more practiced art of paying attention to the now, and gentle sense of extended family that characterized the mindset and lifestyle of our African friends.  It was the legalistic and sometimes judgmental attitude of many of our missionary neighbors that rattled us.  Too often, we thought, the promise of an education – the deepest desire for most African children – was held out in exchange for certain behaviors and ‘right’ answers to questions about faith and commitment.

And there was too often a whiff of entitlement that seemed to go along with being a missionary in those days.  My somewhat lofty, middle-class American sensibilities were offended by the idea of hired labor, especially live-in help.  But I was brought up short by the comment of a young man seeking employment as a gardener when he angrily asked me why I did not want him to be able to help his family.

How do you navigate the tricky waters of offering people honorable work to do without either exploiting them or upsetting the economic dynamics of a neighborhood by paying more than the ‘going rate?’  How do you maintain a Jesus-like respect for each person’s dignity and worth if your primary relationships are more like master/servant than neighbor/friend/colleague?

Nor was I at all easy about the fact that almost every one of our missionary neighbors sent their children to an all-white international school over 500 miles away, beginning at age 7.  And the single exception, a couple who kept their only son at home and sent him to the primary school in our town, were somehow seen as less-than fully devoted in the minds of their co-workers.

What do such choices say about the priorities of those in ‘full-time Christian service?’  Work over family?  Others’ children of more value than one’s own?  Discipleship and personal mentorship for students but not your own kids?

Wrestling with questions like these during our two years in Zambia proved to be profoundly formational  for us – as a couple, as a growing family, as followers of Jesus.  We would not trade the experience for anything – and we always encourage young couples, including our own kids, to have some kind of cross-cultural experience – mission trips, travel, sponsoring a third world child – even if they don’t ever live cross-culturally as we did.  Learning that Jesus is Lord in any and every place on this planet – and that the Jesus journey quite often doesn’t look like what we’re used to as western disciples – this is a priceless lesson and a gift beyond measure.

Holy Week: And So It Begins…

This reflection is written in response to yesterday’s serendipitous worship experience.  
In a neo-Gothic sanctuary, and a very ‘liberal’ congregation we had not planned to attend, 
my husband and I experienced a dramatic reading of the entire Passion narrative 
as found in Matthew’s gospel.
It was stunningly beautiful and we are grateful.
Joining tonight with Michelle at Graceful and 
LL at Seedlings in Stone.


The holiest week of the year begins with the shouting…

…and somehow the garden seems to know…
…even the fruit trees put on their brightest show…

…and the bearded ladies join the throng of all who cry, “Hosanna!”
The biggest, boldest, brightest blooms…
…and the smallest, densest bits of branching glory…

…join the noisy, brilliant flow.

The very trees of the field clap their hands and shout for joy!

The Lord of Glory comes!
Striding through the streets of Jerusalem,
weeping over the city,
teaching his friends of love til the very end.

silent before his accusers,
shouldering his own cross,
enduring the scorn,
the loneliness,
the darkness of death itself.

Why this willing self-sacrifice,
this bold movement up that hill?

For me.
For you.
For the world he
so carefully crafted,
giving us full freedom to take it or leave it,
to take him or leave him.

So let us join the glad array,
and sing a song of Christ the Lord;
let us move through our dismay,
as Love is freely poured.

And when the third day dawns again,
we’ll sing and shout once more.
But this the song of transformed hearts
now shaken to the core.

May Jesus Christ be praised!

A blessed Holy Week and glorious Easter celebration to all.
 On In Around button

“Like a Sweet Perfume…”

Linking today with Jen at her 24-week anniversary of the soli deo gloria sisterhood:

“But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God…”
2 Corinthians 2:14-15a

The wind is blowing fiercely tonight, another evening of sundowners on the central coast of California. I can hear the hollow notes of our bamboo wind chimes as I sit here listening to a wonderful discussion at Krista Tippett’s “On Being” – an interview with Rabbi Avivah Zornberg on the story of the exodus.

And as I raise my hands near my face, I can still smell the perfumed oil from this afternoon’s solitary experience. Slowly, slowly I am moving out of my former office at church. Books have been sorted and most of them are now sitting on the bookshelves in our office hallway, available for anyone to use for research, study, devotional reading.

Now I’m digging into the contents of my cupboards and the collections in my files. Slower, less dramatic work….and somehow more deeply personal and often, surprisingly moving.

I find old notes of encouragement, reminders of where we’ve been as a community and where I’ve been in the midst of that community.

I find the detritus of life in an office – paper clips, hole punchers, yards and yards of scotch tape.

I find pieces of myself, pieces even of God, it seems. Small things that remind me that God has been powerfully at work in the midst of the messiness and dailyness of church life.

I find old sermons, some of which almost stun me with the deepness of their dive beneath, around and within the text.

Did I write these?

My fingers did the typing but sometimes, every once in a while – I can sniff the sweet fragrance of a miracle as I read through these old words.

Every sermon I’ve ever struggled to write has been bathed in prayer, offered to the winds of the Spirit and then released, often in exhaustion, to the act of speaking.

But every once in a while, there is something unique and remarkable that happens. Times when the Holy Spirit moves in and around the work I’ve done and pulls it together in a way that seems to have very little to do with me.

Those are the times when the sermon feels as though it writes itself. And I thank God for those times and for this written record of them. They’ll be with me until my kids toss them after I’m gone.

I also find folders that are easy to let go, giving me a sense of lightness as they hit the recycle bin. Most of these are filled with scribbled notes from meetings of one kind or another – council meetings, staff meetings, conference meetings, committee meetings. There are so many meetings in the life of a pastor! I save a few, again to remind me where I’ve been – but most of them bounce into the bin with an almost joyful hop.

Somewhere in the middle of the day, I stumble across a small vial of scented oil, the kind I use to anoint the sick, to comfort the distressed, to pray with and for dear friends as they ask God for discernment.

“The Spirit of our Triune God is nearer to you than this oil is to your skin,” I say as I make the sign of the cross on their foreheads or their hands. “Lean into God’s presence and be blessed, be healed, be refreshed.”

The scent of the oil continues to rise all around me the rest of the afternoon, bringing sweet, pungent reminders of God’s gracious call to me to do this work. How grateful I am to have been in this place! How powerfully I have seen God do the work of redemption and transformation in and through these dear people, in and through me.

I began this part of my journey more than halfway through my life, entering seminary at 44, beginning this job at 52, retiring this year at 66. It’s been amazing – tough, exhausting, frustrating, even mind-bogglingly boring at times. But only at times.

Most of the time it’s been sweet. And I have inhaled the fragrance of that sweetness, the strong, sure scent of Jesus himself, as we have worked together to be the church in this place. This is a perfume that saves and changes lives, a sweetness that wafts its way into the deepest corners of pain and struggle, of fear and loneliness. It brings with it hope and life and love. It fills me with joy and gratitude to dab a little on my wrists and elbows and tap it into the small crevasses behind my ears.

“Oh!” I find myself praying, “May others catch just a whiff of Jesus when I’m nearby!”