Archives for October 2011

It’s For the Birds (or Should I Say ‘From?’)…

So, I’m really truly sorry for the whiny post last week about our multiple days of fog here on the central coast. Those to the east of us this weekend have suffered far worse weather-related angst.

And to make matters worse (in comparison to the right coast early snows – but in reality, lots better for me – personally) – we’ve had our usual weather-of-perfection-in-the-month-of-October for about five days now. Sunshine, crisp air, blue skies. The mountains which were invisible now look like this:

So, large chunks of my weekend were spent outdoors – walking or sitting, praying, reading or writing…or just plain looking. And as is often the case in quiet times, I was visited by some neighborhood friends. 

Friends who always remind me of what is true and good and right about life on planet earth. Friends who do what comes naturally, with ease and grace. Friends who live in the moment and don’t borrow trouble. Friends who relish the warmth of sunshine as much as I do and who definitely make hay while it shines. These friends are curious, active, like to eat and to bathe. Who could ask for more?

First to come by were the smallest members of the ‘hood. We’ve got a trio who have buzzed our backyard for years and I always welcome them into my space – or should I say, they always welcome me into theirs? This one chose to sit and spy for a while, calmly ruffling his feathers, getting rid of the dust of life.

 And then he and his cohorts buzzed the Mexican sage, which is like nectar of the gods for them. They dined with casual elegance, occasionally buzzing my head just to let me know, “We see you over here. Too bad you can’t taste this stuff!”

Then the big, noisy, colorful – and very greedy – guys joined the party, essentially chasing the small buzzers away. I set out about 9 peanuts on the small table next to my chair and watched as each and every one of them was grabbed, flown away with and buried somewhere in our lawn.


There were two jays squabbling over those nuts and it didn’t take them very long to carry them all away. But then, I noticed something different. The bigger of the two began to search around a bit. “Now, where did I put that thing?” He hopped on the grass, turning his head, now this way, now that way. “I know I just shoved it in here. Where in the world is it?”

 He flew across the yard and perched himself on the back of a chair, giving himself a better vantage point for the hunt, I suppose.

Eventually, he flew straight up over my head, to the top of the gingko tree and spent a few moments taking a gander from that spot.

 Then suddenly, he swooped down, taking precise aim with his opened beak, and SUCCESS! He’d captured what he’d just hidden and carried it away to enjoy in privacy.

Then this morning, my husband beckoned me over to our bedroom window to peek at the fountain which stands just outside our door. The sun had burned off the very early fog and about six small finches were cavorting in and around the stream of water that keeps the fountain fresh.


They stood in the sunlight, they dipped their beaks for a small drink, they pushed each other away from a favored spot, they flitted happily back, down, up and around. And sometimes, they just flew all caution to the winds and got good and stinkin’ WET. Fun was the name of the game and they thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

There is such joy to be found when we make time to do the things that nourish us. Whether it is spent sucking up the nectar of life, buzzing by to say ‘hi’ to trusted friends, hiding and then finding our treasures, or being just a tiny bit wild and woolly – life is meant to be savored as well as endured.

Joining with L.L. and Laura on thie Monday afternoon before All Saints’ Day.On In Around button

And with Emily and Bonnie at week’s end. Yes, I know this makes 2 for Bonnie – but I’ve missed a few weeks there, so this is a make-up round!


When God Asks the Questions: what do you want me to do for you?

Light at the end of the tunnel…
The Old Biltmore Hotel, Santa Barbara CA October 2011
 This reflection comes from a sermon by Pastor Don Johnson on Luke 18:35-43 – the healing of the blind man by the roadside. You really need to read verses 31-34 as well. 
It’s quite a story. I’ll paste it in for you at the bottom of this post.

There is only one week left.
One week before that fateful ride into Jerusalem.
One week before everything turns upside down.
Jesus knows the time is near; his disciples haven’t a clue.
They’re on their way up the road, climbing to the city,
to the temple, to the festival.
And the ancient crossroads city of Jericho is on the way.
As usual, the teacher is dropping dark hints 
about what’s coming.
As usual, the disciples don’t get it.
 So instead of engaging Jesus in conversation about this  
 mysterious word of prophecy,
they change the subject.
“Wow, guys – look at these crowds!
They’re lining the roadside!
See them whispering to each other about Jesus passing by?
Why in the world is he being SO negative 
when it’s clear as day that what we’ve got going here 
is a regular ‘Jesus Fan Club!’
Good thing we’re the founding members.”
Then, up ahead – there, by the side of the road.
Do you see him?
Can you hear him?
My word, that beggar is noisy!
What’s that he’s yelling?
“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
“Shush it up, man! Can’t you see we’re going somewhere?  Keep it down – don’t bother us, we’re leading the parade here 
 and we don’t need some scruffy, blind beggar 
getting in the way.”

But the man shouted all the louder:
“Son of David, have mercy on me.”

And that pretty much stopped the whole climbing party.

Jesus, almost angry, demands that the beggar be brought  
 right in front of him. And as he approached, 
Jesus asked the man an interesting question:
“What do you want me to do for you?”
He didn’t say, “Well, what’s all the shouting about?”
He didn’t say, “So, whaddya want?”
He didn’t say, “Shazaam – your problems are over.”
He looked him in the eye – those eyes that saw nothing – 
and he asked him a deeply personal question:
“What do YOU want ME to do for YOU?”

And a simple answer came: “Lord, I want to see.”

And Jesus does that Jesus thing again:
“Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.”
What faith?
Hey, wait a minute. Just a doggone minute.
We’re the ones following in your wake.
We’re the ones who’ve been with you every step 
of the last three years.
And he’s the one with faith?
Yes, boys.
HE’S  the one who gets it.
As soon as he’s told that Jesus is on the road,
he calls out the truth,
the truth that so far no one else has understood.
“Son of David” – a title for the Messiah, and the Messiah alone.
“Have mercy on me” – a prayer that is offered to God alone.
And immediately, his sight is restored –  
and he joins the Fan Club. 
As a true disciple, one who praises God for gifts received, 
 one who recognizes in Jesus the promise of God fulfilled. 
 One whose witness draws others into praising God, too.
So, I guess the question is:
What do I want Jesus to do for me?
Do I see who he truly is?
Do I believe what I see?
Do I believe deeply enough to get real when he asks me:
What do you want me to do for you?
I want to see, too, Jesus!
I want to see like you see.
I want to have your eyes for the world, 
for the people I love, 
for the people I don’t love. 
I even want to have your eyes for me.
Jesus, Son of David – Son of God, have mercy on me!”
Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.”
The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.

As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?”
“Lord, I want to see,” he replied.
Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.

Joining with Michelle and Jen today, and also with Emily , if she’s still open!


Family Portraits: #2 – Auntie Mae

I don’t have a photo in my computer files of Auntie Mae, but this is me, my mom and her sister (the famous Aunt Eileen from Family Portrait #1) on the day of my youngest brother’s funeral in October, 2009. Still trying to follow the guidelines set out by The High Calling’s Community Writing Project – 500 words or less, rich in detail, describe a family member who influenced me during childhood.
Bird-like, slightly mischievous, eyes a-twinkle, heart afire, Mary (Mae) Thompson Alsup Nichols managed to leave a very large footprint, despite wearing a size four shoe. And she was proud of those feet, happy to tell you that she was among the select few who could purchase the shoes displayed in the store window. Because every shoe looks ever-so-much better in a size four, right?

Left motherless at age three, never to have children of her own, she ‘adopted’ her sister’s kids – my mother and her siblings. Mae had energy to spare, loved to laugh and was cute as a button, right up until she died at the age of 102. She married and buried two husbands, both of whom she adored, and lavished love on all the various children of all the various cousins in my extended family.

To this day, my 90-year-old mom and her 88 and 86-year-old siblings give thanks to God for Auntie Mae. Their parents worked full-time during the depression and were seldom home. But my grandmother’s kid sister and the two female cousins with whom she and Mae were raised – they were always available for comfort, fun and companionship. These three attended Angelus Temple and were fervent admirers of Aimee Semple MacPherson. When Mae married and moved across town, she attended The Church of the Open Door in downtown LA, but she never forgot the drama of the Temple.

And color? The brighter the better. She learned to crochet in her late 70’s and promptly began creating anything and everything imaginable. Afghans, sweaters, hats, novelties – I lost count of how many ‘dolls’ she created with crocheted skirts to cover the extra roll of TP on the back of the toilet. Unfortunately, she also went through a ‘neon’ phase. One year, she made coats and hats for my daughters in vibrating fluorescent colors so intense they never made it out of the closet, except for photos to send with thank you notes.

When I was five, I had my tonsils out in a local doctor’s office. Something went terribly wrong and I landed in the hospital for a week, fighting for life. When I was released, I went to Mae’s home, because it was closer to the hospital than our little 40’s house in the valley.  She cared for me as if I were her own little girl, bringing me ice cream at the demand of my bedside bell, encouraging me to talk gently through that ruined throat.

It was a two-week stretch of time that only we two shared. Even though I badly wanted to be in my own home, with my parents and brother and my own safe bed, I somehow knew Mae was special. The gift she offered with her kindness and care was an important one, one that breathed Jesus to me even before I could fully grasp who Jesus was. Mae truly loved the Lord. And she lived a gospel life while creating fun wherever she went.

A Foggy Day…

Joining with these friends tonight with a bit of free writing – so free that I’m not at all sure where it’s headed. Shall we find out?On In Around button

If I had my druthers, 
THIS is the kind of day I would choose.
Every day. 
Yes, I am that picky.
And yes, I am that spoiled.
But I don’t get my way with the weather.
And I suppose that is a good thing.
We do need rain on occasion,
and rain is actually rather nice.
Refreshing, cozy, turning things green and greener.
I like a bit of drama in the sky at times.
Yes, I do appreciate a good rainstorm.

Blue skies, billowy clouds – great.
Thunder once in a while, sheets of wetness – yes.
But the weather that defeats me,
that visibly lowers my spirits,
that makes me want to crawl under the covers 
and never come out – 
well that’s the kind of weather we’ve had for over a week now:
Thick overcast.
Gray skies.
Gloom and darkness.
I cannot even put into words what this goop does to my spirit.
I move more slowly.
I smile less.
I have this deep desire to veg.
Completely veg out.
And today, that’s what I did.
Not too proud to say it, either.
Didn’t veg all day – but a good portion of it.
I taught a Bible study this morning.
I went to lunch alone at a restaurant where I wanted to get a gift certificate for my son and his wife,
who celebrate 15 years of married life tomorrow.
I bought a couple of orchids at a local warehouse, 
one to give and one to keep.
And then I came home, flopped on the bed
and turned on the Tivo.
I cannot remember the last time I did that – 
with nothing else in my hand to do.
Usually, I’m tending a sleeping toddler,
or answering email,
or checking facebook or twitter,
or making a to-do list.
Not today.
Today I watched police procedurals – 
three of them in a row, 
fast-forwarding through the commercials,
sighing loudly from time to time,
glaring at the sky out my bedroom window.
I really don’t like gray skies.
Really. Don’t. Like. Them.

But here’s what kept flitting through my memory as I felt sorry for myself and indulged by laziest desires.
When I opened the door to the orchid warehouse today,
I expected to be awestruck by the wild array
of colors and shapes and sizes of plants.
Just as I was the very first time I walked in 
on Ash Wednesday, 2002, after
being marked by the cross at the 
Old Mission in Santa Barbara.
That day, I felt as though I had moved from one sanctuary to another, as I gazed on the brilliance of God’s creative genius and the marvelous ingenuity of the human beings who bred and cross-bred these glorious flowers.
What I did not expect today was what hit me 
as the door rolled open:
the heavenly fragrance that filled the entire, cavernous space.
It was simply delicious.
About 90% of the time – orchids have no fragrance.
There is a Miltonia that smells like chocolate.
But this was sweet, flowery, refreshing and beckoning.
Immediately I asked the clerk where to find them,
picked up two of the chartreuse and lavendar Zygopetalum 
 and packed them into my car.
I deliberately bought ones with buds rather than full flowers, 
 so the fragrance is yet to come here at home.
But when it does, I will remember the
leap my heart took as I inhaled.
At that moment, the greyness of the day did not matter.
Not one bit.
Surprised by grace – through my nose!
Wish I could tell you that it cured my serious case of the blahs – but alas, it did not.
Writing this down, however, has helped a whole heckuva lot.


When God Asks the Questions: do you see this woman?

A Prayer for the Brokenhearted
Offered in worship at Montecito Covenant Church
Sunday morning, October 23, 2011
in recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month
Luke 7:36-50

“Show your face, God of grace,
Enter in, enter in, enter in.”

Even as we let the last echoes of that song 

rise to the rafters of this room, Lord God,
our hearts continue to cry:
“Show your face, God of grace…”

We sit here in these pews,
reminded as we have been this morning
 of unjust and oppressive acts
of violence,
of judgment,
of hatred and disdain,
of objectification and condescension
and perhaps most of all,
of blindness
that psychological and spiritual
blindness which is the root cause of it all.

We sit here and we try to take it all in,
and we might be tempted to either brush the whole idea off
or to quickly lay the blame for it all
at the feet of others.
All those others out there –
those others who lack
our insight and education;
who lack
our resources and opportunities;
all those others.

But before we get too far down either one of those roads, Lord,
the one that leads to a quick shrug of the shoulders 

or the one that leads to rage against the machine –
we need to take a really deep breath.
And we need to ponder
our own complicity in this whole cycle.

Help us, then, as we begin with a time of
honest personal reflection,
acknowledging the ways in which:

we are impatient and uncomfortable with
this whole topic and wish it would
just go away;

the ways in which we are sure this has nothing to do with us! and the ways in which we’re beginning to think it has everything to do with us;

the ways in which
we are like Simon the Pharisee in our sermon story,
 so quick to judge others first, last and always by
how they look,
what they’re wearing,
what others say about them;

the ways in which we so easily look right past people –  
 sometimes even the people closest to us – 

failing to see them
for who they truly are,
failing to recognize how very like us they are,
and how very like you;

in short, Lord, we need to ponder and acknowledge and confess the ways in which we are dishonest, uncharitable,
mean-spirited and blind – so unlike the One we profess to follow.

So, hear our prayer, O Lord. Hear our prayer.
Forgive us our trespasses,

As confessing and forgiven people, Lord,
we are now bold to ask that you give us hearts that are tender –  
even as you did for the woman with the perfume in Luke’s gospel.
Will you give us hearts that are broken for your sake?
Hearts that will help us look beyond the surface,
beyond the first impression,beyond the…
“How are you today?”
“Oh, I’m fine, just fine…”

to see YOU in the broken hearts of our friends
and our neighbors,
the broken hearts of our wives
and our daughters,
the broken hearts of women and men everywhere.

Because the truth is, Lord,
there isn’t a whole-hearted person
on this planet.
We’re all wounded.
Help us to own our pain and then
to allow that pain – baptized and blessed by your Holy Spirit – to change us.

We are your people, O Lord.
At least we say we are.
And we want to see each other as you see us,
as human beings created in your image,
created male and female,
two sides of the human coin,
designed to work together as partners,
reflecting the fullness of who you are.

So I want to thank you today for Jesus,
who came to show us the way,
who came to save us from our worst selves,
and who asks us every single day,
“Do you see this woman?”
“And this one, and this one and this one…?”
Oh, may we hear and answer!
May we answer with our words and with our actions,
with our hearts and with our minds,
with our wills and with our pocketbooks,
with our eyes open,
our ears in tune,
our spirits in sync with your own.

If we don’t do this, Lord, who on earth will?

May your kingdom come!
May it come with power,
and justice
and grace.
May it come to us,
and in us,
and through us.
For Jesus’ sake.
For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

It was strange to stand up in the pulpit again after 11 months away. Very strange. It was a rich worship experience in every other way – the sermon, the scripture readings, the music! Oh, the music. I want to include here the words to a hymn which was new to me and quite powerful. The text is by Brian Wren, an extraordinarily talented hymn writer who penned this wonderful multi-verse story of women in scripture way back in 1983. This version has two verses in addition to the six we sang and it is just plain gorgeous. I offer it, along with the prayer, in lieu of other reflections on yesterday’s service. And I share it with Michelle and with Jen, as I try to do each week in response to their kind invitations: 
“Woman in the Night,” anthem and hymn; text by Brian Wren, 1983. Set to a Methodist hymn tune by Charles Webb, 1989. 

Woman in the night, spent from giving birth,

                   guard our precious light: peace is on the earth!

Refrain (sung after each verse):
                   Come and join the song, women, children, men.

                   Jesus makes us free to live again.

                  Woman in the crowd, creeping up behind,

                   touching is allowed: seek and you will find!

                  Woman at the well, question the messiah,
                  find your friends and tell, drink your hearts desire!

                  Woman at the feast, let the righteous stare;
                  come and go in peace; love him with your hair!

                  Woman in the house, nurtured to be meek,
                  leave your second place: listen, think, and speak!

                  Woman on the road, welcomed and restored,
                  travel far and wide; witness to the Lord!

                  Women on the hill, stand when men have fled!                                             
Christ needs loving still, though your hope is dead.

                  Women in the dawn, care and spices bring;

                  earliest to mourn; earliest to sing!


Five Minute Friday: Beyond

Another of Lisa-Jo’s weekly invitations to stop and drop – 5 minutes of unedited writing on a theme. This week the one-word prompt?  BEYOND. Who knows what will come out?? FIVE minutes – that’s all I’ve got. Why don’t you try it, too?


Can you see beyond what’s in front of your face? I’m thinking specifically about people you meet, converse with, interact with on a daily basis. People who irritate you, who push your buttons, who exasperate and frustrate you?

One of the most important life lessons to hang onto is this one: everyone has a story. Everyone has some pain they’re dealing with somewhere. Everyone is more than what you see.

One of the advantages of living a long time is learning this truth – over and over again. There is always something ‘beyond.’ Beyond the crankiness, beyond the odd behavior, even beyond the surface tranquility. There are stories bubbling beneath the surface, stories of joy and sorrow, life and death. And part of our role as followers of Jesus is remaining open to all the possibilities of that truth.

Women sit in my office and slowly unpeel themselves – telling me, in ways they don’t even realize, of their invisibility, their need to be heard and seen, most especially by the people they love the most – their husbands and children. This is a growing concern of mine as I sit and listen, as I ask the Holy Spirit for guidance and wisdom and words. There is pain there for so many, so many. 

Do you truly see the people that are right in front of you? Do you see beyond what they present? Do you see the truth that they are real, flesh and blood individuals with unique gifts and unique faults, with a very particular voice and a much-needed individual presence in this world? 

More and more, this is my prayer: 

Lord, help me to see the whole person – show me what YOU see. Help me to see beyond the surface.




When God Asks the Questions: do you want to be made well?

 Reflections and ripples on the Frio, September 2011

Thirty-eight years, I’ve laid on this mat.

Every day, this same spot.
Weak and waiting.
Wondering if today might be the day.
My body simply will not do what I will it to do.
I want to move,
just a little.
To move closer to the water.
The water that has the power in it.
The power to give me strength,
to help me stand,
to make me move again.

But, here I sit; here I wait.
There is no one who cares enough about me
to offer a hand.
Not one.
So I lie here.
And I watch.
And I wait.

You might call me a hopeless case.
A cock-eyed optimist, always thinking,
“Today might be the day!”
But I am actually more of a realist.
Really, I am.
I know my limits.
I know my needs.
And I’ve lived long enough in this crippled body to know 
that there is nothing to be done for me in the city streets,
in the medical community, such as it is.
So I’ve chosen to believe the stories I’ve been told.
The stories about this water – this
special water, this pool by the Sheep Gate.
The place where the rams to be offered on the altar
are washed clean of any dirt or grime,
made clean, spotlessly so – before they are 
slaughtered and burnt for the sins of our community.
Every so often, the water in this pool bubbles up.
Maybe it’s a spring with the hiccups,
I don’t know.
But every once in a while,
if you’re watching very carefully,
you can see the bubbles and the ripples.
My people believe those ripples are caused 
by the beating of angels’ wings.
Colorful picture, isn’t it?
The heavenly visitor stirs the water –
and if you’re quick enough to be the first person into
the water after the stirring –
well then, your troubles are over.
Your disease is cured, your injury healed,
your dignity restored.

So, this is my chosen place.
There has been no help, no ‘success’ thus far.
Yet I continue to hold out hope that one of these
water-rippling days, I shall be the first one in,
the one who leaps for joy on my way back to the city,
back to life.

So I guess that’s why the rabbi’s question just now 
startled me a little.
I watched him come into our little circle,
the circle of lay-abouts, waiting for the water to move.
And I watched him asking questions,
questions about me, of all things.
I could hear the whispers of reply,
“Oh yes, that one has been here a very long time.”

And then he looked at me.
He looked at me with such intensity, 
I almost had to avert my eyes from his gaze.
“Do you want to get well?” he asked.

Do I want to get well?
Is it not obvious?
“I try, sir, I try with all my might to be the first one
into the water. But there is no one to help me, you see.
And someone else always beats me to it.”
I almost expected a rebuke of some sort,
a ‘buck-up, lad’ sort of response.
But I didn’t get that,
not at all.
Not. At .All.

But here is what I did get:
“Get up!  
Pick up your mat and walk.”

And that is exactly what I did.
I did not hesitate, not for a second.
I kept looking into those eyes,
those tightly-focused, blazing eyes
and what I saw there was all I needed:
deep concern,
total commitment to my well-being,
and hope – 
more than enough hope to match my own.

So I got up.
And I picked up that oh-so-familiar mat.
And I walked away from the pool,
free for the first time in decades –
free to decide where to go,
whom to see,
who to be.

Today was my day, you see.
The heavenly visitor arrived and spoke directly to me.
He delivered a prescription,
and I chose to take it.
He asked and I answered.
Hallelujah. Amen.
How about you?
My thanks to Pastor Don Johnson for his challenging sermon on this text from John 5 yesterday. Linking with Michelle at Graceful and Jen at Finding Heaven this Monday afternoon, with thanks for their weekly invitations:


Five Minute Friday: Catch…

Ooooh, a really off-center prompt from the Mama this week. Don’t have a clue where to go with it. Hmmmm….just write – that’s the idea. Just put it down there – no edits, no second thoughts. Just write. Five minutes is the limit – join Lisa Jo over at the Gypsy Mama and see where five minutes will take you today:

 Sadly, this is the only illustration I could find for any of the phrases that jumped to mind at the prompt ‘catch.’ #3 below.


1.  “Catch me if you can!”

2.  “I feel like I’m constantly playing catch-up.”

3.  “Did you catch what she said?”

4.  “Can I catch that (meaning is it infectious or not)?”

5.  “What’s the catch-of-the-day?”

6.  “Wanna play catch?”

7.  “She had a catch in her voice.”

1.  There have been too many days in my life when I’ve played the game from that first quote – running too fast, in too many different directions, running away from my thoughts by filling my hands with work to do.

2.  There have also been too many days when I’ve felt hopelessly behind the 8-ball, wondering if I will ever make headway – in learning a new skill or in clearing a stack of un-filed paperwork, or in making sense of what’s happening in the life of someone I love. 

3.  And, of course, as I get older – there is a little bit more of that third question. Gotta work a little bit harder to pick up every nuance in a multi-sided conversation. 

4.  Probably haven’t spent enough time worrying about catching bugs of different kinds – I am not a neat freak, seldom use hand sanitizer, will pick up a morsel of food off a restaurant table top. Nope, I don’t worry too much about that kind of catching. 

5.  But I LOVE seafood and ask that 4th question a lot when dining out. Love me some salmon or sea bass or scampi. Oh yeah. 

6.  And I NEVER play catch – can’t catch a ball of almost any size to save my life. A source of huge embarrassment growing up, but not so much any more. I seem to be more at piece with my klutziness these days. 

7.  But that last one – well, that’s something I’ve become quite skilled at picking up. That catch in the voice when someone is nearing a tender topic, when something of great import is about to be shared, when the past weight of some great sadness bears heavily in the moment. That skill comes with time, with intent, with experience. 

But there are wonderful catches in voices, too – times when joy overflows and needs to be shared. That’s my very favorite kind of catching – and I ask God for ears to hear both kinds of vocal catches, to pay attention to what is being shared. I ask God to fill the space between me and the other person, guiding me into careful words, caring presence and loving attention. That’s a kind of catch that does get better with practice.


Went long tonight. Sorry about that. About double time, I think. (numbers & photo added afterwards)


Wednesday Wonderings: of crickets, moons and grandgirls


 Picture taken last night, in our front yard just after the moon’s rising.

The air is still tonight, warm and balmy after an exceptionally hot day on the central coast of California. Ninety-five degrees. Rare for October, but not unheard of. Fourteen Octobers ago, we moved our furniture into this house – and it was over 100 that Saturday. Thankfully, such temperature extremes are rare here.

There’s a cricket outside the window tonight, a particularly noisy one, singing his song into the warm night air. And the moon is full, gloriously so, making the yard look beautiful, in an unearthly, dappled-light sort of way. Every once in a while, the cricket takes a break from his outrage against the night, and I find I am relieved for a few seconds. Relieved not to have to hear that high-pitched whine, the one that is finding its way into the bedroom much more easily than usual because of all the open doors and windows. 

We had our grandgirls today. The little one all day long – her with the wild and crazy hair, the ever-present binky, the extreme physicality of an almost twenty-month old. The older one joined us after her kindergarten class ended at 3:00. She goes to school just down the street from us, so it’s easy to pick her up on the days we care for her sister. Today, we let them swim – the bigger girl in our very old built-in swimming pool, the younger one in a wading pool I set up on the lawn. The big pool was COLD – we have no heater and today’s temperature was a blip in the usual cool weather for this month. But girl and grandad had fun anyhow.

And baby and I? We enjoyed splashing – me with the hose, she with her water toys. Every so often, she’d climb over the edge of the plastic pool and run like a crazy girl around the lawn, then jump back in, ready for more wet stuff. She makes me laugh out loud. Sometimes she surprises me with whole sentences; sometimes I struggle to understand what she’s trying so valiantly to tell me. All of the time, I love being with her. Her small, strong body is beautiful to me. The ease with which she inhabits it, the limits to which she pushes it – and me. All of it is delightful.

 These pictures are from this last summer, on vacation in Santa Cruz. No pictures today.

But I’m glad it’s only one or two days a week. A full day with a busy toddler leaves both my husband and me just about done in. So we say to each other, at the end of each Wednesday and each Friday: “I’m so glad we had our kids when we were young!”

Maybe that’s what the cricket’s song is all about – an expression of fatigue at the end of a long, good day. Maybe I’ll choose to believe that. And maybe it won’t sound quite so much like a whine after all.

Joining with these friends tonight, some of them long-time and long-neglected! And one of them new to me this week:

On In Around button

When God Asks the Questions: why do you see the speck?

 Trinity Lutheran church steeple, LBJ Ranch, Stonewall, Texas
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say, ‘Let me take the speck our of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from the other person’s eye.”
– words of Jesus in Matthew 7:1-5
Oooh, Jesus is really messin’ with me now.
Whaddya mean a PLANK in my eye?
I’m a ‘good girl.’
(Okay, okay, maybe not a girl anymore, but I’m sure as shootin’ 
a good person, aren’t I?) 
I mean, really, isn’t it my Christian duty to help people see their faults, their foibles, their flaws?
Isn’t that what accountability is all about?
Isn’t that what it means to be a flag-bearer for the good, the true, 
the right way to do things?
Isn’t that what any good, church-going Christian believer would and should do?
Ummmm….that would be a ‘no.’

But, truth be told, it’s the default mode for most of us, most of the time. I spend way too much of my time and energy looking for the specks in my neighbors’ eyes…because that way, I don’t have to look at 
the honkin’ big log growing out of my own iris.

Jesus is using a funny word picture here,
but the laugh’s on me, I fear.
And, I venture to say, on you, too.
From Adam and Eve in that fateful garden, 
the two of them wanting to be cut in on the deal of full disclosure, 
wanting to be like God – ever since then, 
all of us have a heckuva time admitting that we are, after all,
We screw up.
We mess up.
We hurt each other,
we hurt ourselves,
we deny God,
we refuse to see what’s right in front of our faces.
Maybe, just maybe, that’s because of that big old plank sticking out of one eye!

Oh, we put a good face on it,
we pretend we can do far more than we’re equipped to do,
and we refuse to admit the depths of our own willfulness,
of our own designs on divine status.
In the words of one of my favorite preachers, 
Pastor Jon Lemmond,
“We are not God.
We’re not even a one-eyed God.
In fact, most of the time, we’re not even a 2-eyed human.
We put make-up on the specks in our eyes and call them eyelashes. 
We are play-acting, being actively deceptive. 
In fact, we are incapable of carrying out the task we have assumed (to ensure that everyone knows what the ‘right’ thing to do is, that they stand corrected with every footfall off the true path), but we refuse to admit it.”

Because we fail to recognize the true nature of sin.
Because under the guise of being the good guys,
we miss the gospel entirely and become like the Pharisees.

Double ouch.

We were reminded this morning that history is filled with horrendous stories of ‘good’ people who believed in their own righteousness, their own ‘rightness’ so thoroughly, that they committed absolutely horrendous acts against humanity.
The upshot of this q & a in the Sermon on the Mount is this:  
human beings can twist anything into a weapon and use it to hurt others.
When we become so consumed with pulling the specks out of our brother’s or sister’s eye – without first taking a darned good look at our own – we completely forget our dependence on grace, our need for rescue.
In trying to ‘save’ someone else,
we miss the Savior.
In gripping so tightly to our own idea of ‘right,’
we cannot grasp the true righteousness offered us in Jesus.
What to do?

Spend time in soul-searching and confession.
Ask the Spirit of God to enlighten us,
to forgive us,
to strengthen us for the journey of peace and reconciliation 
to which we have been called.
And always remember that the church’s real identity is this:   
the Community of Mutual Impairment!

Our text does leave room for gentle, caring correction of those to whom 
we are closest in the family of God.
BUT only after we have cleared out the sin in our own lives.
A beautiful example was given from the life of Gandhi,
a great teacher not known for being a Jesus-follower but
who never ceases to amaze me with his Christ-like wisdom and insight:
A mother brought her son to the great teacher and said:
“Papa, tell this boy of mine to stop stuffing himself with sweet things. 
They are not healthy and will harm him.”
“Come back in 3 days,” the quiet guru said.
Three days, later, mother and son returned, 
and Gandhi turned to the boy and said:
“Young man, stop stuffing yourself with sweets; 
they are not good for you and will do you harm.”
“Why, Papa, could you not have said that 3 days ago?”
“Because, my daughter, three days ago, I was stuffing myself with sweet things. I could not ask him to give up something I had not yet given up myself.”

Exactly. That’s the only way corrective advice/instruction/words of wisdom can ever be offered to another – only after we have done our own work on our own self.
And even then, we must always remember that, “even very small specks can cause a great deal of pain and that eyes are very sensitive places.” 
So, we must always, ALWAYS tune into the pain 
when we enter into this kind of conversation.
And ultimately, we must also remember that only God can declare what is good and what is not.

Time to go look in that magnifying mirror!

Finally getting back to the group at Michelle’s “HearIt/UseIt” meme and the soli deo gloria sisterhood at Jen’s place too: