Archives for September 2011

Shifting Gears…Moving Towards Retreat

We’ve been on a journey the last week or so.
A journey across time and geography,
and a journey that’s taken some interesting
twists and turns.
Tomorrow, that journey heads inward
and things will take a definite change in direction.

The first journeying days were spent crossing time
as well as half the country.
We spent 5 days in Nashville, 
visiting some good friends from many years ago.
Friends whose lives have taken them down different byways
  than they could ever have foreseen – 
some of them wonderful, 
some of them hard and thorny.
It was good, really good, to be with them,
to see how their lives have unfolded,
to realize their children have grown to adulthood,
only one of their three left to fledge,
and he’ll do that at the end of this school year.
Wasn’t it only yesterday that I was the coordinator
for their wedding?
And then another yesterday when their daughter
was flower girl for our eldest daughter’s?

Then we flew to San Antonio.
Good question.
Our plans got changed and I think maybe
God might have had some small thing to do with that.
And no, I’m not going to get all 
weird and woo-woo-ey on you here. 
It’s just that there are those times when
things come together in surprising ways,
ways beyond your control, ways that cause you to
take a deep breath and ask,
“Really, Lord? Really?”

The result is that tomorrow morning,
we drive from this very hot, but beautiful city
out into the Texas hill country.
We’re searching for a place that could probably
only be found in Texas:
a retreat center that lies at the base of a
canyon and whose main access road
is literally ‘through the river.’
There’s this writer’s retreat, you see.
And I thought it might be a fun thing to do.
It also terrified me to think about being there,
and that little frisson of fear coupled with
excitement has often been the nudging of
the Holy Spirit in my life.
If it scares me to death, it’s probably something
I ought to be doing!

So, we’re going.
My husband is quite content to explore
on his own while I am in workshops.
Both of us are looking forward to seeing a place
completely new to us,
and I am looking forward to learning
more about writing well – 
using fewer words and more heart,
showing rather than telling.
At the request of my workshop leader,
I am allowing my very feeble submission
to be ripped apart by the group.
Talk about terror.
But I am game and here is why:
I don’t really have a clue what I’m doing out here,
writing a couple of times a week on this blog.
I love words,
I love communicating with others,
I have been writing nothing but sermons and prayers
and notes of encouragement for the last 15 years.
Now I need to know how to write 
for completely different reasons,
and with a broader set of tools in my box.
So, I told him, ‘have at it.’
And I meant it.
I think.
Big gulp.
Away we go.
 Today was Alamo day here in San Antonio.
It’s a very small building.
It was a very hot day.
Enough said.
 But today was also the day to ride the riverboat 
  around the Riverwalk area where we are staying.
Now that was right up our alley.
On the water, in the heat,
enjoying the beauty of trees and brightly colored umbrellas.
 This was the river view of the restaurant at our hotel, where we have enjoyed breakfast every day.
 It was a lovely way to spend 40 minutes.
Then we came back and crashed, hot and sweaty and
surprisingly tired for not much activity.
But taking a dip in the rooftop pool helped a bit.
The water felt great – but it dried SO quickly.
Folks, it was 97 degrees at 8:00 p.m. last night.
Now that is hot.
We hear, however, that it has been raining buckets 
out near where we’re headed,
so here’s hoping for a bit of relief from these 100+ degree days.
It was too hot to eat lunch, so we opted for an early dinner and had that lovely patio all to ourselves.
We did, however, ask the waiter to leave the door to the inside open,
which allowed some air-conditioned breezes 
 to waft their way around our table.
The dinner was delish, the setting peaceful,
but the very best thing about this early evening
al fresco experience?
Seeing this gorgeous guy join the ducks
for a little drink of cool water!
Owls are not usually out and about at 5:30 –
but there he was, staring right at us.
My big lens was up in our room,
but we still got a full face,
looking inquisitively our way.
Somehow it seemed fitting.
This big bird was out of place here and he knew it.
So did the ducks!
But eventually, everyone made him feel welcome
and he hung around for a bit,
eventually heading up into the trees and drawing quite a crowd of people 
 whipping out their phones for a photo.
Maybe we’ll eventually feel at home, too.
At any rate, we are outta here at 11:30 or so tomorrow morning.
Prayers much appreciated.

Five Minute Friday: Growing…

Yes, I know it is Saturday. But life loses its structure a bit when you’re traveling. So, I’m joining the chorus late this week. Interesting prompt, let’s see where it leads…


I want to grow until I die. I want to keep reaching up to the light, searching for water, sending roots down deep. I want to bloom wherever I’m planted, as hackneyed as that phrase has become. Growing elicits only positive images for me (most of the time, that is – until someone I know is afflicted with cancer – then I don’t like the idea at all!) Growth is about lots of things, isn’t it?

It’s about learning.

It’s about trying new things.

It’s about learning to adapt to new environments.

It’s about opening your heart, your home, your life to lots of different kinds of people and experiences.

It’s about pushing against the edges of the ‘pot,’ about sending feeler roots deep into the earth, searching for nourishment, soaking up what is necessary for green leaves and blossoms above the soil line.

It’s about leaning into the sunlight, reaching for it, sometimes from behind barriers, corners, or larger, thornier plants.

It’s about keeping the parts of yourself connected – roots – stems – flowers – fruit.

It’s about being grafted into the vine, espaliered against the Rock of Ages, trained to go up and out and around and through.

It’s about life, thirsty and hungry for it, lapping it up, drinking it in, celebrating, enjoying, weeping in the seasons of drought as needed, but always, always ALWAYS searching out truth, meaning and love.


When God Asks the Questions: who do you say that I am?

I am quite late this week in joining with Michelle at her lovely “Graceful” blog, hooking into her weekly invitation to “Hear It on Sunday/Use It on Monday.” And the soli deo gloria sisterhood at Jen’s blog, “Finding Heaven,” where the community is thriving. I’m late because we left CA this a.m. on a 12-day trip, landing in Nashville tonight for a 5 day stay with some long-time friends. Then to San Antonio for 3 days of sight-seeing, then to Laity Lodge for the writer’s retreat there and home again on Sunday, October 2. 

As always, the ideas you find here spring directly from the pastor’s fine preaching, sifted through my memory and life experience. This week, Don Johnson brought the word.

We jumped to the New Testament on Sunday, to the 8th chapter of Mark – the very center of this gospel. Up to this point, the rapid story-telling of Mark has been focused on the things Jesus did in his ministry; now the focus zeroes in on who Jesus IS. He gives the disciples a bit of a mid-term exam at this point, asking them a string of difficult questions, most of them centered around this idea: “Hey, do you guys get it yet?” 

The question under the spotlight this week is actually about question #11 in this chapter – most of them indicating a bit of impatience, even annoyance. There is an all-too-familiar feel to this line of questioning, leading to a rather paradoxical conclusion: those who profess to know Christ the most often significantly misunderstand him. 


Have you seen this happen to others? To yourself? A developing rigidity of thought, a desire to keep God in a box of our own design? If so, then this question is of central importance to you. The answer might well determine the trajectory of your entire life:

Who do you say that I am?
Holy and anointed One.
Risen and exalted One.
“Honey on my lips.”
“Water to my soul.”
A lamp unto my feet.
A strong and mighty tower.
A shelter like no other.
My light.
My salvation.
God’s only Son.
Binder of broken hearts.
Counselor of the confused.
“I will be who I will be”
These are some of the names for God we offered in worship this past Sunday – 
 in song, in prayer, in scripture.
But the question of the hour truly remains:
“Who do YOU say that I am?”
As Jesus began to ask his closest followers about what they were learning 
about him,
about the kingdom of God,
about the purpose of the life they’ve been living with him,
he asked first:
Who do PEOPLE say that I am?
And the disciples were at the ready with some great answers!
“Some say John the Baptist,
some say Elijah,
and still others, one of the prophets.”
Not bad, right?
A prophet, a teacher, a powerful speaker of truth, 
one who calls others to repentance.

Jesus pushes in a little harder, doesn’t he?
“So…who do you say that I am, friends?”
As he is often prone to do,
Jesus gets up-close-and-personal,
cutting to the chase,
and putting his friends on the hot-seat.
And Peter – bless him! – Peter
has a moment of astounding insight,
a rare ability to immediately 
come up with the best of all  
possible answers to that question!
“You are the Messiah!”
The chosen one,
the anointed one,
the one sent by God,
the one promised of old,
the one with true authority,
the one who shows us God.

In that moment of divinely inspired speech,
Peter lays it out there.
You, Jesus – you are the ONE.
But here is the rest of that reality:
Peter – and the others with him –
do not yet understand what it means to give Jesus this title.
Their ideas of “Messiah” are miles away 
from who Jesus truly is,
why Jesus came to this earth.
They haven’t a clue what is coming for him – and for them.
So, from here on in Mark’s gospel,
Jesus is very intentional about showing them,
teaching them, living with them, modeling for them
what God’s Messiah looks like.
And they don’t like it.
Not one little bit.

Suffering is coming?
Ah no, Jesus, that can’t be right!
Peter – the very one who spoke such beautiful truth – 
  pulls Jesus aside and rebukes him!
And that’s when the famous line,
“Get thee behind me, Satan!” 
flies from Jesus’ lips as he looks at his disciples, 
focusing particularly on Peter.

A cross?
And an empty tomb?
Nah, Jesus – that’s just lousy marketing!
Let’s jazz it up a little, talk about defeating those Romans,
create a high profile.

And Jesus will have none of it!
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves 
 and take up their cross and follow me.”

Jesus wants so much more from us than pretty words and classy titles. 
 He wants so much more than pat answers, 
 attendance at weekly worship services, 
paying of a regular tithe.
He asks faithful, thoughtful discipleship.
Openness to the brokenness of this world.
An embrace of the difficult and the troublesome.
A willingness to make the hard choice because it is the right choice.
A desire to go deep,
deep in the Word,
deep in prayer,
deep in service,
deep in devotion.
No matter what. 
 Because that’s what he did.
He lived a life of prayer, 
he left healing and wholeness in his wake, 
he came to show us how to live outside the box,
and inside the fellowship of the Triune God, 
connected at a soul level with others 
who are on the same road.
Jesus came to be our Savior, oh yes, he did.
But Jesus also came to be our Lord.
To be the one who counsels us on how we
spend our time
spend our money
spend our lives.

So, I guess the question to me (and to you) is this:
are we willing to step both outside and inside with Jesus?
Outside the box we too often build around our understanding   
of who he is and what he asks of us,
and inside the eternal fellowship of our God,
 learning what it means 
to wrestle it out,
to lean hard into life,
to take the teaching of Jesus, 
the living of Jesus,
the suffering of Jesus,
the rising of Jesus,
the intercession of Jesus at the right hand of God,
all of it! –
to take all of it, embrace it with abandon,
smile inwardly and shout loudly,
“Ah, yes, THIS, this is living.”

Who do we say that he is?

Five Minute Friday: JOY

This week’s topic is bittersweet. Lisa-Jo has written about her friend Sara Frankl in her intro to this week’s theme and all of us who have participated in her Friday invitation are very aware of Gitz’s wonderful contributions each week. They will not come again. As I posted earlier today when I wrote this post, Gitzen Girl’s chosen blog title is “Choosing Joy.” Each and every one of her blog posts over the last three years is a reflection of Sara’s intentional posture of doing exactly that – despite the restrictions, pain and isolation of a serious chronic disease. Over 600 folks have commented on yesterday’s post, compiled by Sara’s dear friend Shannon, where it was announced that Sara is now on hospice care and will not write again. I will try to do this topic justice tonight.


In all my years of pastoral ministry, I did both weddings and funerals; not often, as I was never ‘the’ pastor, but with some regularity. And typically, we think of weddings as occasions for laughter, high spirits and yes, joy. 

And that is usually true. But if I’m being honest, I would have to say that some of the most remarkable experiences of my life happened at funerals, not at weddings. I’ll try and ferret out why in this space, only skimming the surface in the alloted five minutes. 

Certainly funerals, graveside services and memorial services are reason for tears, for sadness, for regret and for grief. BUT, they are also amazing times of celebration, story-sharing, deep connections between people who may not have seen each other in a long while and also – an acceptable place in which to worship God through lament. And what I love about lamenting is that it is REAL. And it almost always leads to thanksgiving and to praise. 

Check  it out in the psalms. There are more laments than any other type of psalm in our psalter. And every single one of them except one (I believe it’s 88) ends with rejoicing of one kind or another. That to me, is the essence of joy: turning the corner from sorrow to praise. 

Because let’s face it, life sucks sometimes. Life sucks a lot of the time. It’s hard to be human.* People and relationships break, wear out, get sick, die. But see, here’s the thing: if you come together in community when those things happen, if you come together in worship as a community, little miracles start to sprout up. People laugh in the midst of tears. Memories come flooding in, both good and bad, but most often, the good ones win out. Grief is not an easy road – but oh, it’s so much better to walk it with others, and to walk it with God. 

Joy comes in the morning. And joy comes in the mourning, too. Oh, I want to choose joy!


*And I will add quickly here that life is also wonderful, beautiful, glorious and rich…at times. I took two minutes extra tonight to finish and added italics and photo after the buzzer.


This Strange World of Cyber Friends


How do I explain these tears?
They leap out of my eyes, coming from someplace deep inside.
They are hot and painful, coming in waves,
sometimes accompanied by heaving sobs.
This makes no sense.
At least not in the way I have always experienced life,
relationships, connections, community.

Until, of course, I began exploring this thing called the ‘internet.’
‘The Web,’ we used to call it in its earliest days.
And that’s an apt description for what I have learned since January of this year.
There is an immense, tangled, wonderful web of connections
out here on the cyber waves.
Lines crossing every which way,
connections showing up in the strangest,  
most serendipitous places.
I have tried many times to reconstruct how it happened.  
How did I become entangled in this massive silken structure?
I simply cannot follow the threads back to their origins.
I think it started with Ann.
Voskamp, that is.
And Gordon.
One of them led me to the other and I can’t tell you who at this point.
But I know I was reading Ann a lot during the last year of my pastoral life,
printing off blog posts, passing them around at centering prayer retreat days.
And I know I sent the link to Gordon’s former website to my colleagues, saying, “Here’s someone who speaks the truth with love (and humor!) – check it out!”

So, when I discovered all this ‘time’ on my hands in early January,
I began checking out things like:
The High Calling and
And, in an effort to see what was really out there,
I’d follow comments I liked back to their author’s websites.
And somewhere, very early on, I discovered The Gitzen Girl.
Sara Frankl,
an angel in human flesh.
Living the most contained, boundaried life I have ever read about,
never leaving her condominium home,
(for the last three years!)
seldom leaving her bed,

Sara had the miraculous audacity to title her blog,
“Choosing Joy.”
Because that’s what she did, that’s what she does,
every single minute of every day:
she chooses joy.
Accompanied by the wondrous Riley, a white puff of a dog who always knows exactly what to do to bless his sweet owner’s daily life, this woman has written powerful truth, 

sometimes with tongue firmly planted in cheek,
sometimes with heart bleeding visibly on sleeve,
always with depth and truth and love. 

So I explored her blog, peeking into the three years she has been recording her life, 
 answering the questions of her readers, 
 posting photographs of her lovely small nest.
And I learned about her dreadful health situation.
And her amazing singing voice..
And her remarkable way with words. 

I felt my spirit brighten every single time I saw her name in my inbox, and almost always, I read her blog before any others.
Her story was simply remarkable, almost not to be believed –
and yet there it all was, in black and white and living color.
Using arm braces and immense powers of will and spunk,
she wrote life-filled words and took lovely, informative photos.
Though no longer able to lift her voice in song,
her written words sang to so many of us.
They sang of a good and generous God,
even through a life of constant difficulty.
They sang of a faithful Savior, a gentle Shepherd who worked in her a series of real, deeply true miracles.
Not physical ones, but spiritual, emotional and mental miracles,
helping her to discover, within the confines of her limited life
that the human spirit can indeed be limitless
when relinquished to the care of a loving and ever-present God.
The closest parallel I can come up with is Anne Frank –
both young, beautiful women whose lives speak of intense suffering.
Both writing of hope, with humor, vulnerability and love.

Her name didn’t show up a couple of weeks ago on Thursday night.
She is always among the first to respond to Lisa-Jo’s Five Minute Friday posts, and being a night owl (as I am), she generally wrote hers in the very early morning. When I didn’t see her smiling face, I got this funny feeling in my stomach:
I wonder if Sara is all right.”
Several days later, a friend posted that she was taking a
‘sabbatical’ to rest for a while, as her body was  struggling more than it usually did.
Yesterday, that dear friend, using Sara’s words from a previous post, wrote the most eloquent announcement of her impending death.
She is on hospice care,
friends and family have gathered,
she is peaceful, able to talk (carefully), and listening to her loved ones read to her from the hundreds and hundreds of comments that 

 ‘Heading Homeward’ post has received.
I subscribed to the comment feed and they are pinging with regularity, all last evening, all during the long night, all day thus far (nearing 600 at this moment).
Friends gathered outside her window with candles and sang hymns last night.
Sarah in Vancouver, Lisa-Jo in the suburbs of D.C., me in Santa Barbara and dozens of others lit candles during our own evenings, thanking God for this life.

I do not know this woman personally.
I have never spoken to her or seen her.
She has replied kindly to a couple of comments I left on her blog.
That is it.
And yet, finding those words late yesterday afternoon caused the most spontaneous and deeply felt grief – it literally hurt to read them.
I know she is heading home, home were she will be whole and free
and filled with joy.
And I am joyful for her and with her.
But I am also so, so sad.
I will miss her very much.

And that, my friends, is a very good thing.
Can you see it?
This wonderful, amazing web:
it can most assuredly be used for much that is evil and wrong.
But, oh my – it is being used by our God for
the sharing of beauty and grace, courage and hope;
there is a real and meaningful co-mingling

 of laughter and of tears,
there is community.
I don’t understand it.
I just know it’s very, very real.
Thanks be to God.
 I wrote this post this afternoon because somehow – I had to. But I’m sending it over to Bonnie the Faith Barista’s link today, the one on friendship. This is not exactly that – my relationship with Gitz was not two-sided in the traditional sense of the word friend. Yet, I am indeed gaining friends via this unique and expressive information highway. Some of them I will actually sit in the same space with in just a couple of weeks. And some of those dear folks ARE actual, real-life friends with Sara. 
So call me a shirt-tail friend – I’m proud to be one!
Also sending this one out via Richella’s Imparting Grace and Emily at Imperfect Prose: Imparting GraceFaithBarista_FreshJamBadgeG

Guest Post: Dancing With God

A couple of weeks ago, I left a comment on my blog friend Deidra’s site. Linda Thomas read it and asked if I’d be willing to expand it into a full-on blog post for her. I was delighted to help because I love all of Linda’s encouraging and practical words about writing spiritual memoirs as a legacy for our families – what I try to do in this space, actually. Here’s a snippet and a link on over to her spot where you can read the rest…

As is my habit, I took a walk around my driveway one evening last week. And afterward, I sat in our tree-swing to cool down, looking over this property and home that we love, and I asked myself a hard question: “Why, Lord? Why do I have so much while so many others have so little?” Each day as I walk, I try to be thankful, specifically thankful, for the gifts of the day. And always, always, I am thankful for this house, this yard, this place that feels like gift every single day we’re here. And on this day, this particular day, after reading beautifully written and poignant posts about starving children in the Horn of Africa and children needing sponsors through World Vision or Compassion International, I was feeling overwhelmed by the discrepancy between my life and theirs.

And then, I remembered some of the bits and pieces of my story.

Hop on over to Linda’s to read the rest…

When God Asks the Questions: where is your brother?

Joining with Michelle once again over at Graceful for her thoughtful invitation to HeartItonSunday, UseItonMonday. And also with Jen at FindingHeaven and the soli deo gloria sisterhood. This is the 3rd in a series of questions from God to us (usually asked of a particular person in scripture, but the applications and implications of each question apply with a very broad brush to all of us!). This 3rd sermon was preached this morning by our Associate Pastor, Dr. Jon Lemmond, who is a personal favorite (for lots of reasons, not least of which being that he now does some of what I used to do!) and whose thoughtful words never cease to mess with me. As always, my reflections here are my summary and response to the lovely and provocative ideas presented in the sermons I hear and the scripture I read with new eyes after having heard them.
I’m also adding this to the lovely ladies at Scripture and a Snapshot this week:

Ah, Cain. 
My brother from another mother.
So adored by his own mother – 
“I have brought forth a man!” 
she exclaimed when he was born.
So full of himself,
as most young men are.
So sure he was doing the right thing,
so used to being praised for his efforts,
so ill-equipped for a come-uppance.
But that’s what he got.
He brought his offering to the Lord – 
the first time in scripture that a religious ritual is described.
He even inspired his younger brother to do the same.
Some” of the fruits of the soil – 
that’s what Cain brought.
“The fat portions from the firstborn of his flock” – 
that’s what the kid brother brought.
They both brought a part of themselves, didn’t they?
They both brought some of their own sweat and tears, right?
But for some reason, 
one was more acceptable to the LORD than the other.*
And Cain was not happy.
He pouted.
And his pouting soured within him,
stirring up angry, poisonous thoughts.
And God engages him at this point…
“What’s the problem, Cain? Why the long face? 
I assure you that if you do the right thing, 
you will be accepted.
But if not, beware. Sin is at the door…”

And right there, the jig was up.
Because Cain was unwilling to listen, to hear, to understand.
The result?
Stunning violence. The first murder in scripture.
From glowering shame and disappointment,
to festering anger and jealousy,
to vicious and deadly action.
Abel, the kid brother, lies bleeding in the field.
Cain, the murdering big brother,
feigns ignorance.

“Where is your brother?”
“Where is your brother?”
The question hangs in the air
And the door is open, 
ever so briefly, 
for a different outcome.
God, who surely knew where Abel was,
broken and bleeding so profusely that  
‘his blood cries out to me from the ground,’
this God creates a small space for Cain to confess the truth.
How might things have been different if he had done so?
Instead of playing the cool dude,
the one with the alibi sewn up,
the kid who can’t stand playing second fiddle to anyone,
so he eliminates the competition –
what if he had owned his crap?
What if he had fallen to his knees,
sobbing out his grief,
his regret,
his brokenness,
his ugliness,
his SIN?
What if?

We’ll never know the answer to that.
Because Cain chooses – 
and continues to choose for the entire narrative – 
    to prevaricate,
to cover,
to refuse to receive any blame,
or to own up.
He refuses to confess.
And the price for this refusal is enormous.
The price is homelessness.
The price is deliberately moving out and away from the presence of God.
The price is continuing to carry the weight of that  
unconfessed sin for the rest of his days,
his forehead forever marked –  
as a sign of the grace that Cain refused when he answered God’s question with:
“I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”
YES, Cain, yes. 
You are your brother’s keeper.
We are all responsible to and for one another.
And we need so deeply to release the weight of our sins 
against each other, and against God.
We need to confess, to admit our need for a Savior,
to admit our complicity in the violence of this world,
to say, “I am so, so sorry. Can you forgive me?”
And the story of Cain and Abel highlights three important reasons that this is true:
1. We need to learn the difference between
honesty and truth.
Because it’s one thing to say we believe ‘the truth’  
about a certain set of doctrines 
and it is another to learn about and practice real honesty:
honest admission of our flaws and weaknesses, 
our points of struggle and doubt,
our personal foibles and demons.
If we cannot find safe places in which to be honest,
even if it embarrasses us,
even if we are forced to acknowledge our own participation 
in the problems we deal with,
then all ‘the truth’ in the world is not going to change us from the inside out.
Confession IS good for the soul!
2. We need to understand that the confession of sin is intimately connected to our responsibilty to and for other people. 
“Where is your brother?” comes before 
“What have you done?” in this powerful narrative.
It’s not primarily about us.
It’s about how what we say and what we do 
impacts our relationships – 
with God and with one another.
The fact that Cain becomes a wanderer – in the middle of a land which means ‘wandering’ – comes directly out of his refusal 
  to confess the heinousness of his actions;
it comes from that place almost 
as much as it comes from the actions themselves.
Cain took his brother’s life – he broke the web of relationship  
that was so tenuously being established ‘east of Eden.’
And then he compounded that act by refusing to engage God  
at an intimate level, with honesty and contrition.
The sin crouching at the door devoured him. 

3. Confession is the necessary precursor to the reception of grace. 
 NOT that confession brings about grace – 
God’s grace is always first, always.
But…we must be willing to put down our sin (confession)
before we have space for the gift of grace.
My husband and I saw a powerful movie this weekend that played out for us something of the price of unconfessed sin. It’s called “The Debt,” and while God is never mentioned in this story, the weight of sin carried over many years is almost palpably present in every gritty and violent detail of the tale.
And our sermon this morning ended with an illustration from another movie, one where God’s presence is acknowledged throughout – “Dead Man Walking.”  
 In one of the closing scenes of that magnificent film, the condemned man – on the verge of public execution – finally confesses to the nun who has become his advocate and friend that he did, indeed, 
 commit the crime for which he has been sentenced.
“Now,” says the nun, “NOW, you are a son of God.”
Confession opens the door to grace,
which has been standing there all along.
Thanks be to God.
*Because it was not the point of this particular sermon, the reason for God’s approval of Abel’s rather than Cain’s offering was not discussed today. I have to wonder, however, if it isn’t somehow connected to what we learn later in scripture, in the Levitical code, about the fact that God was to be given all the fat of any animal offerings. Perhaps this signifies the abundance of the flock? And the overflow of abundance (the fat!) is what is to be offered back to God? I don’t know, but it’s interesting to ponder! I have to think that the attitudes of the heart that we see displayed in the narrative following these offerings has something to do with the approval of the Lord as well.

Five Minute Friday: In Real Life…

I swear there’s a hole in the week!  These Friday encounters seem to be coming round in ever faster cycles and I can barely stay afloat. This has been a strange week of writing – not really wanting to do much of it. Maybe because I goofed with the writing retreat I’m terrified/excited to be attending in a couple of weeks and didn’t figure out how to sign up for a workshop. So…now I have an ‘assignment’ in a workshop that is more terrifying than any of the others!!!  I’ve spent some time trying to rough out what I might submit. Therefore, the blog has gotten short shrift. I will try to dig back in soon – I promise.

In the meantime, I will do my best to cooperate with Lisa-Jo’s weekly invitation to just write it out, without worrying whether it’s right or not. The theme this week? “In real life…” You just might find out a few things you’ll wish you hadn’t. Who knows?? 



In real life, I’m a sucker for a happy ending. In fact, I might just have to admit that I’m a bit of a romance-aholic. I adore anything Jane Austen, including “Becoming Jane,” which many critics panned. The original BBC 5-hours+ “Pride and Prejudice?” Don’t even get me started. I cannot tell you how many times I have watched that one. 

But then, I adore the newer versions of these things as well. In fact, I may one day have to blog about the spirit-raising power of a well-told/acted/filmed romance. In the midst of the deepest personal anguish I’ve about ever walked through, my drug of choice? Yes. Jane Austen movies – over and over, fast forwarding to the good parts. Sighing and crying and thanking God for beautiful writing, beautiful acting, beautiful cinematography. 

I mentioned this once to a colleague, many years my junior, who had lost her dad while she was in college. I felt sheepish admitting this pattern, but she just smiled a sad smile and said, “I distinctly remember coming home from the hospital during that last week, putting Sabrina into the DVD player and hitting ‘play’ at least 5 times. It was better than sleep and it brought a tiny measure of relief.” 

Don’t ask me why this is so, I just know it is. 

So while I’m admitting things here, I might as well add – ahem – that I think Tivo is one of the best inventions of the last 50 years. Yes I do, too. I can record the things I love and fast forward through all the gunk in between scenes.

And you might be very surprised by what I love.

However…the 5 minutes are now up.


P.S. In addition to police procedurals (yes, I am addicted to reading detective fiction, too), there just might be a show with the initials SYTYCD on my Tivo list. Thankfully, it has a very short season.  :>) 

So if any of you lovely and loyal readers happen to be fans as well, here is a clip from the older BBC P & P – the lake scene.

P.P.S. In reading this over, I find myself astounded to see that I have responded to a prompt about ‘real life’ with reflections about fiction! Just about as far from reality as you can get, eh? Hmmm…wonder what that says about me??

When God Asks the Questions: who told you that you were naked?

Joining with Michelle at Graceful once again (HearItonSunday/UseItonMonday) and with Jen at Finding Heaven, (soli deo gloria sisterhood):

From the day we are born, we are destined to deal 
with the voice of shame in our lives, with the glare of guilt.
It is true that sometimes shame and guilt 
can be true feelings, helpful and humbling, 
drawing us in contrition to our loving God.
But most of the time, that guilty voice, 
 that shame-filled voice clangs inside our heads 
like an ugly echo of the serpent in the garden. 
The serpent who tells lies, 
lies that are buried within partial-truths. 
The serpent who twists and turns inside our heads, 
telling us that God cannot be trusted, 
yet encouraging us to ‘be like God…’ (Genesis 3:5) 
Do you ever wonder how the story might have turned out 
 if Adam and Eve had answered God’s first question differently?
Remember, the one from last week?
“Where are you?”
What if they had said, 
“Here we are, Lord. Naked and ashamed. 
We did what you told us not to do – 
can you ever forgive us?” 
Instead, their ‘eyes were opened, and they realized they were naked… 
 so they made coverings for themselves.’ (Genesis 3:7)
And when God came looking for them,
looking for them because he missed them,
looking for them because he loved them,
what did they say?
What did they do?
Basically, they blamed God!
“I heard you in the garden,” Adam says, 
  “and I was afraid because I was naked and I hid.” (Genesis 3:10)
Say what???
They’ve been naked all along, right?
So just what was it that happened when they ate that weird fruit?

And that’s exactly where God zeroes in when he asks 
 the second divine question in the book of Genesis:
“Who told you that you were naked?”
 Who told them, indeed.
It seems that the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil 
 has a really short name – shame.
For it is here in the Genesis story –
which is truly our own story –
it is here that shame shows up.
It is here that we find the beginnings of embarrassment, 
 of fearful silence, 
 of feeling that we’re somehow inappropriate, 
just because of who we are.
Of looking at ourselves and seeing 
not the beautiful, exceptional beings that we can be –
creatures of cosmic dust, formed into the very image of God –
 but seeing only our nakedness.
Our inadequacies.
Our failures.
Our brokenness.
For in the Hebrew text, the word used for ‘naked’ at the end of chapter two – as in, 
 ‘they were naked and unashamed’ means exactly that: innocent, transparent.
But when Adam uses it in chapter three, it means something entirely different, something much more like:
“Oh, no!” – vulnerable, unguarded, exposed.
The shame of sin needed to come – deep sorrow for their actions, 
 contrition, cries of repentantance.
But shame over their nakedness?
That kind of shame comes straight from the serpent.
It is the kind of shame that can lead to hopelessness,
to endless cycles of ugly self-talk,
to an overwhelming sense of our fatal flaws.
It leads to hiding.
It leads to blaming.
Godly shame never takes us down this path.
 Good shame leads directly to the throne of grace,
to the foot of the cross,
to the gaping tomb of resurrection.
This kind of shame leads to redemption.

There is a gap the size of the Grand Canyon separating the response of: 
 “I am so, so sorry. May I receive your blessing?”
from: “I am no good, I am hopeless, I will never get anything right, 
 how can anyone, especially God, ever, ever love me?”
The latter is the work of the Holy Spirit within us, calling us gently to repentance.
The former is the work of that serpent, deafening us to the gentle voice of God.
Isaiah sings of trading ashes for beauty.
Colossians paints a word picture of new clothes, 
 the robes of righteousness with which we can 
 cover our nakedness and be made whole.
Can we choose to listen to the voice of Love rather than the voice of the serpent? Can we learn a new narrative – 
 a story of redemption and re-creation and beginning again?
Oh, I hope so.
Oh, I pray so.

Reflections on a Book: Rumors of Water

“The other important thing to remember is that the work will ask of us what it needs.
If everything seems like a big mess, at any point in the process, 
we can take that as a good sign.
The work is trying to speak to us, trying to tell us what it needs.
Our job is not to panic, but to listen and respond.”
 “Rumors of Water: thoughts on creativity & writing,” 
by L.L. Barkat, pg. 94Disguised as a small, digestible collection of memories,
rich with stories of mothering and growing up;
of woodland meanderings and local farm-stores;
of lighthouses and ailing grandmothers,
“Rumors of Water” is one of the of the most beautiful books 
on the art and craft of writing 
that I’ve ever read. 
Paying heed to the changes in the publishing industry, 
unabashedly admitting that it’s not easy to be either a writer or an editor, 
L.L. Barkat shares with her readers some of own journey as both. 

Weaving in conversations with her two daughters, ages 14 and 11, 
Barkat shows us what the writing life looks like 
while living creatively with her children, 
tending to the needs of her garden, 
keeping her fingers in multiple occupational pies.
Using snapshots from day-to-day life, 
she sets down a kind of diagram;
a diagram not just for the act of writing,
but for the art of living a writing life. 

Each of the book’s seven headings tells part of the story:
And within each of these seven, come the smaller slices.
In chapters no longer than two or three pages, 
each one built around a brief vignette from life, 
she expands the sectional headings, touching on things like:
“Write with What You Have”
“Nurturing Voice through Tenderness”
“Do You Cultivate Your Wild Side?”
“Making Details Real and Realer”
“Delusions of Grandeur”
“Writing the Truth”
“Writing Takes Time” 

I will admit to tears at two points:
reading about her younger daughter Sonia’s brave climb to the top of a lighthouse, each step marked by the stabbing joint pain of Lyme’s disease;
and reading her older daughter Sara’s exquisite essay, submitted as part of an application process for a distance-learning school. This young woman has clearly inherited much of her mother’s skill with words, structure and voice. 

I took this book out to the backyard today, 
a breath-takingly beautiful afternoon here in Santa Barbara.
I deliberately placed it beneath a book I was supposed to read – a biblical commentary for a study I’m co-teaching this fall, whose planning committee is coming to my house tomorrow to wrap up preparations. 
I needed to read that commentary.
But I chose to read “Rumors of Water.”
Turns out, I needed Barkat’s written beauty as much as I needed the warmth of the sun and the view of the mountains. And, at this point in my own particular life journey, I needed “Rumors” far more than I needed that commentary. 
And I needed it at a deeper level than even I knew.
I don’t – and I won’t – regret it, not for one single minute.