Archives for October 2013

31 Days of Giving Permission . . . TO TELL YOUR STORY

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And so, we come to the end of these 31 days.
These days of giving/finding/taking permission:
to disconnect,
to learn,
to lean,
to laugh,
to listen,
to lament,
to let loose,
to re-connect,
to sleep, perchance to dream,
to change,
to say no,
to take a break,
to see,
to be seen,
to read, read, read (1)
to dive in deep,
to remember,
to create,
to stop,
to dance,
to imagine,
to read, read, read (2) 
to take a day off,
to get angry,
to be outrageous,
to breathe deeply,
to surrender,
to write a psalm,
to read, read, read (3) 
to tell the truth,
and now,


Because, when it comes right down to it,
that’s our job on this planet:

to tell the story only we can tell.

To speak of the extraordinary ordinary,
to trace the ins and outs of
and being found. 

Ah, yes.
That last piece,

that being found.
That unique way in which we link arms
with every other person,
across time and geography,
who has known the love of God. 

Because no one else’s story looks like ours.
We know the same God,
we serve the same Savior,
but our stories are our own.

And they need to be told.

So. May I give you permission,
if you need it,
to speak out your life?
To tell the tales that show us the truth?

My own is long and full of twists and turns.
Yours is, too.
But there is a thread that connects them all,
a scarlet thread,
that shimmers in the light,
and whistles in the wind,
and takes every abuse we can hurl at it
as we struggle our way to maturity.

That Thread is strong beyond measure,
tensile, tough, unyielding
and yet so very forgiving.

Right now, the Scarlet Thread of my story
weaves its way along the central California coastline,
and these palm trees mark it out.
These long shadows help me know
who I am,
this mighty sea reminds me
of Whose I am.

And  the people I love,
the neighbors I live with,
the work I do —
these are the hooks that hold me
in place and through which
this part of my story is being told.

What about you?
How is your story being told right now? 

31 Days of Giving Permission . . . TO TELL THE TRUTH

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We’re almost at the end of this giving permission cycle,
 this recognition that sometimes,
we need someone else to say,
“Yes! That’s a grand idea!
Go for it!” 

And today’s topic is a tricky one, isn’t it?
Because sometimes when you want to tell the truth,
you can feel as lonely as this lighthouse,
out there all by itself,
trying to keep the ship off the rocks,
all by its lonesome. 

Because the truth about the truth is this:
There are always more layers than we know.

Life is complicated,
and understanding what has happened,
why it has happened,
and who made it happen
can sometimes take a while to suss out.

This is most especially true when it comes to truth-telling
about anybody else — we cannot know all the pieces,
all the layers of their story, can we?

Maybe that’s why I want to emphasize personal truth-telling
in this post: telling the truth about yourself,
as well as you possibly can,
with care and caution and concern. 

There are a lot ‘catch-words’ about this truth-telling stuff
making the rounds these days.
Words like ‘authenticity,’ ‘vulnerability,’ ‘telling-it-like-it-is.’
And those are fine words, good words, important words.
But sometimes, in our efforts to tell the truth,
we can find ourselves standing out there, all by our lonesome,
a bright red tree against a sea of green,
calling attention to ourselves,
and not always in the way we intended, either. 

So, I want to give you permission to tell the truth,
to tell your truth.

But I want to give it with  a caution.
Tell it first to a small group of like-minded people,
people who know you, who love you, who want the best for you.
Then you won’t feel like so much of a stand-out —
you’ll be one among several.
Sometimes we need to practice truth-telling
in a safe environment,
with people who know us,
before we make any declarations to the universe
about who we are and what we’re dealing with. 

Then, when the time comes
to tell the truth in a bigger pond,
a pond where you really might be the stand-out attraction,
you’ll have that experience to help you tell it.
You’ll shine, and you’ll begin to reflect
the Truth with a capital “T” to all who listen.
And that’s the kind of truth-telling that changes things.

Authenticity is a very good thing;
just make sure you know your truth very well indeed
before you share it with the wider world. 

31 Days of Giving Permission . . . TO READ, READ, READ #3

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This marks the 3rd Tuesday since I first offered permission to read, read, read. On each of those days, I have offered a book review for you to consider. Today’s entry was written by a friend and former neighbor and it is lovely.

I think I need to put a disclaimer on this review, right up front: I know Carolyn Weber and I love her. And for some reason, she chose to talk about me in this book. I knew about it ahead of time, even read a chapter or two before publication, but I was still surprised to see my name, right there.

So, that’s out of the way, okay? And the truth of that first paragraph has absolutely NOTHING to do with what I’m about to say, just so we’re all straight about that. 

And here’s what I’m saying: if you like intelligent, lovely, sometimes funny, sometimes achingly honest writing, then this is a book that should go on the top of your stack. This second volume of personal reflections (coming on the heels of the beautiful conversion narrative of “Surprised by Oxford”) picks up her story several years later than the end of volume one. If you’re expecting (or hoping for) descriptions about courtship and wedding, and blissful early years of marriage and teaching, they are not here.

What is here is the story of a transition time in her life, a scary tale of later-in-life pregnancy, labor and delivery, a decision to leave academia and move back to her hometown in Canada, taking a gigantic leap of faith to start over again. It’s a beautiful story, beautifully told. It’s also filled with hard truths, exhaustion, anxiety, disappointment and challenge. And she weaves all of it together with biblical reflection and the ongoing work of the Spirit in the life of a disciple.

Each chapter begins with a life story — a hospital delivery room, journal-writing as therapy, reaching out for help when illness strikes, sitting with a friend for tea, a trip to the beach with her children, a sabbatical move, hiking a mountain trail, a season of struggle in her marriage, a hoped-for new pregnancy and its complications, a prayer walk. And each personal story flows gently into reflection on a biblical story. It’s an interesting amalgam, this memoir/devotional, and I like it very much. Very much, indeed.

Carolyn Weber is a force to be reckoned with, offering a keen intellect, fascinating life experience, and a heart longing after God with every word she writes. I commend this book to you with no hesitation.

Herewith some gems you might enjoy:

“Irreverence begins in not paying attention. And yet, I think, it can also stem from counting too often and too closely. The eternal cannot be insisted into a measurement.” – pg. 61

“Throughout the day, the clock ticks, and I tick with it. A ticking bomb. Sometimes, I am successful at being calm, at being present. At being attentive to the children, the husband, the paperwork, the household chores, the friends, the family, the many gifts, even in demands, around me. But often I am not. I am harried and hurried. I keep time with adrenaline rather than with affection. I multitask and fret and race and miss: there is a rush in the rush, and in doing so, I forget to breathe, the breathing so central to running a race, to giving birth, to inspiring others, to living life itself. . .” pg. 147-148

“Scripture, prayer and fellowship show us, again and again, how we live the heart of the metaphor into the very most real. As a literature professor, I have come to admire how God uses even the most skeptical of secular minds to expose the most sacred of truths; nothing lies beyond the glimmer of his salvation, not even cynicism, which I find to be a shocking grace, in and of itself.” – pg. 157

31 Days of Giving Permission . . .TO WRITE YOUR OWN PSALM

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I’m writing today at A Deeper Family, continuing a series on my journey
with my mom through dementia.

Our weekly lunch last week was a tough one for me,
and I tried to write it out as the psalmists did.
It’s an interesting exercise — I encourage you to try it.

A reflection on Psalm 56

“Be merciful to me, my God,
    for my enemies are in hot pursuit;
    all day long they press their attack.
My adversaries pursue me all day long. . .”

I watch, helpless and adrift.
The enemies are winning, O God,
the wormholes are growing.

The past is but a whisper,
the present, lost in the whirlwind,
those swirling terrors of fear and confusion.

Where are you, O Lord?
Where are you?

Come and rescue us, return to us the days
the locusts have eaten,
the swarming hordes
or forgetfulness,
devouring her memories,
erasing her story.

I watch and I weep, tears my companion day and night.
They sit, just behind my eyes, waiting to ambush me,
to gut me, knock me to my knees.

And she slips away, Lord.
Every single day,
she slips away.
Piece by piece, slice by slice, word by word.

Please join me at A Deeper Family to read the rest of this post. . .

31 Days of Giving Permission . . . TO SURRENDER

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If he, who has surrendered himself on our behalf
can be so very generous,
then we, too, must learn of surrender.
For it is, as St. Francis said so many years ago,
“in giving that we receive.” 

Even as the trees surrender themselves
to the changing of the seasons,
to the dying that bright color signifies,
so we, too, are invited to come and die.

In the very best sense — we die to our sinful selves,
and live to Jesus Christ.


“What shall we say about such wonderful things as these?
If God is for us, who can ever be against us?
Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all,
won’t he also give us everything else?
Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own?
No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself.”

-Romans 8:31-33, New Living Translation

31 Days of Giving Permission . . . TO BREATHE DEEPLY (A Photo Essay)

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 It’s Saturday, friends.
If you’ve been racing down the highway of life this week,
traveling at 70 to 80 miles per hour,
can I encourage you to just take your foot off the gas? 

That’s right, just slow that car right on down.
In fact, why don’t you pull over to the side of the road,
for just a minute or two? 

 Now. Step outside the vehicle.
That’s right, just climb on out of the car.
And take a look around,
really look at your surroundings. 

Find a focal point of some kind,
something that stands out in your field of view.
For the next five to ten minutes,
just look at it, all right? 

And, while you’re looking,

B R E A T H E.

Just BREATHE, deeply.
In and out, in and out.
Yes, that’s it!
You’ve got it! 

 I promise you, the more deeply you breathe,
the more you’ll see. 

 And the more you see,
the more you’ll relax. 

And the more you relax,
the more you will find yourself in tune —
in tune with life,
in tune with yourself,
in tune with the God who made you. 

Who knew just B R E A T H I N G could reap such rich rewards?

We were barreling down the road to get from Maine to New Hampshire on the first
day of this wild month,
when we spied something pretty off on the other side of the road.

We turned the car around and stopped.
And we looked. And we breathed it all in, deeply.
And the rest of that trip just flew by! 

For the first time in many, many weeks – joining this with Sandy King’s Still Saturday group, hosted this month by the fabulous Patricia Hunter:

31 Days of Giving Permission . . . TO BE OUTRAGEOUS (once in a while)

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I never cease to be amazed at what I learn from my grandchildren.
Two of the younger ones, a duo I’ve written about before, the ones that were born

during one of the darkest seasons of our family story,
those two turned EIGHT years old this fall.

Born one month and one day apart, Griffin and Grace
have been a source of blessing and joy to all of us
during their short lifetime.

And today, Gracie is eight.
Full of fun, great questions, imaginative ideas,
artistic skills and a voracious reading appetite,
she is delightful and delicious.

We met them at a local restaurant for pasta dinner
and then came back here for ice cream and presents.
I noticed our pretty girl’s cute bun on the top of her head
and thought she looked particularly fetching as the evening unfolded. 

Most of the time, Grace poses for pictures willingly and easily,
and she provided me with two lovely smiles
as I snapped away with my iPhone. 

Then I asked her to turn sideways for the camera.
Because this girl – well she loves to do something
fun and wild and a little bit crazy every once in a while.

She asked her mom to come up with a brand-new hair treatment
for her day at school.
In a school that demands uniforms,
there isn’t a lot of individuality allowed.
But hair-dos?
Oh, my! Let the outrageous ideas roll!

Her mom found this do on the web and it’s called a bun-hawk
(like a mohawk, but without the shaved sides!)

Too cute! 

Sometimes I think it’s good for the soul to just do something
completely flamboyant, creative and new, don’t you?
I’m not sure I would have thought of such fun things for my hair at her age,
but I’m sure glad she did.

Griffin turned eight last month
and he opted for a big party this year
(Grace had a sleepover with a small group of girlfriends last weekend.)

I wanted a picture of him with his cake, and he did what he often does:
he put a pose on.
We all begged him to relax, to be himself,
and he couldn’t quite find that look, though he did try! 

So somebody in his immediate family, either a brother or a mother,
started tickling him,
and immediately, we began to see the true Griff, shining through. 

So, I got the picture I wanted — our sweet boy,
looking relaxed and natural,
showing the world what eight looks like on a blonde-haired boy. 

And then, of course, it all went to h**l in a handbasket!
He totally cracked up and couldn’t stop!

And isn’t that a fun thing to do once in a while, too?
To laugh until your sides hurt.

I do believe it’s good for the body as well as the soul! 

So, when the timing is right, don’t be afraid to be a little outrageous —
to wear something wild, to sing a song when least expected,
to laugh until you’re too tired too move.

Outrageous looks good on you! 

31 Days of Giving Permission . . . TO GET ANGRY

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There are days when it’s good to be the bright, angry flower in the midst of those without much color. Not every day, not even very many days. But more days than most of us are comfortable admitting.

You know what I mean? Sometimes, you gotta speak up. Take a stand. Tell it true, and clean, and hard. Because sometimes, life demands it. The injustices, the inequities, the ugliness — sometimes the best response is this one:


I’m not talking about reactivity, or defensiveness, or pique. I’m talking about good ole righteous indignation, the sense that someone done someone else wrong, and the only thing for it is truth-telling. Now.

Where did we ever get the idea that to be Jesus-followers, we had to be a milquetoast group of people? And why did the word ‘nice’ become for too many people, both inside and outside the church, the word that epitomizes Christianity?

Jesus certainly wasn’t ‘nice’ a lot of the time. He was kind, generous, interesting, intelligent,
empathetic, powerful, but nice? It doesn’t quite fit, somehow.  How did we lose sight of the prophetic voice of Jesus, the straight-talking, cut-to-the-chase, tell-it-like-it-is Jesus? Or the Jesus who saw people suffer and die and responded with ‘indignation,’ literally with a tightening in his guts, the kind of tightening that we’re all familiar with, if we’re honest.

Because here’s the truth — anger, in and of itself, is a neutral thing. It’s an honest emotion, triggered by a wide variety of circumstances and situations. It’s what we do with the anger that adds moral valence, right?

We have all seen anger misused, exaggerated, overplayed and misplaced. Those are times when the emotion of anger gets all tangled up with pride or fear or jealousy. But pure anger, honest indignation when things are not right, are not just? That kind of anger is a powerful thing, a force that can change the world, when it’s submitted to God, focussed on justice and used to motivate people to change for the better.

If you’d like to read a post that takes that powerful emotion and channels it directly through the Holy Spirit to challenge the hearts and minds of others, hop on over to Sarah Styles Bessey’s post and see what I mean.



31 Days of Giving Permission . . . TO TAKE A DAY OFF

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So, have you ever found a day?
Like a pearl in an oyster,
or a late rose in full bloom?
A day, appearing like a gift before you?

I had such a day yesterday.
A last minute cancellation,
and suddenly —
there it was.
An open day.

Well, I thought.
I could write ahead on my blog posts this day.
I could get some errand-running done.
I could start reading blogposts
until I go bleary-eyed.

But I didn’t do any of those things.
I chose to take the day OFF of the things I usually do.

It ended up being quiet, uneventful.
I had laundry to do,
so I did it.
And I actually enjoyed it.
(Sometimes, I’m weird like that.)

And I found a recipe for Crock-Pot Apple Crisp.
My husband thought that sounded swell,
and he set to work carving up our Granny Smiths
while I assembled the rest of the ingredients.
And the house smelled heavenly all afternoon.

I got a little bit caught up on some Tivo’d programs
while I folded laundry.
Felt absolutely decadent, too.

And then I ordered dinner from a restaurant!

Oh, the sweetness.

I had myself a day off.
Off from the usual,
off from driving around,
off from meeting with people,

Don’t get me wrong.
I love what I do.

But you know what?

EVERYBODY needs a day off once in a while.

How about you? 

31 Days of Giving Permission to . . . READ, READ, READ, #2

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Quite simply, this is a stunning book. Filled with laughter, tears, searing honesty and gorgeous writing, this is one of the best reads of the last year or so. Kimberlee Conway Ireton is a ferocious writer. Thoughtful, lyrical at times, straight out funny at others, she weaves together the story of an unexpected pregnancy, after she thought her family was complete.

The pregnancy itself was enough of a shock, but then she found out she was carrying twins.

When, she wonders, will I ever get to write again? How will all these very needy, very small
human beings, each one needing care 24/7  leave any space for me to do what keeps me alive?  

Because for Kimberlee, writing is akin to breathing. This is more than sadness, it is existential angst, cutting deep and leaving scars.

And so, the long journey through a very dark valley begins to unfurl. The pregnancy is difficult at points especially with two young children to care for, and a newly published book that is tanking. Delivery day arrives, and Baby A is delivered surprisingly fast – and easily. But Baby B? Again, birth is relatively easy, but crisis looms within hours. The story is harrowing at points, and serves as a portent of things to come

Because the darkest part of the valley shows up slowly, but steadily over the next six months. Kimberlee has advised others to seek medical help much earlier than she did and that is sound advice. Postpartum depression is not a thing to be trifled with, and as I read of the endless fatigue, the early weeks of deep anxiety about Baby B, and then the relentless cloud of anxiety that covered every waking minute of her life, I found myself yelling into the pages, “Get to a doctor, Kimberlee! Get some help.”

All the way through, she journals her faith, even when she isn’t sure she has any. And all the way along, she writes exquisitely. Her deep love for her children, all four of them, shines
through these words, even the hard words, even the longing words, the longing for the life she once had, that is no longer possible. She gives both explicit and implicit testimony to the depth of her commitment to writing, to the truth of the nourishment she finds there, and to the grief she carries because she simply cannot do it all.

But lacing in and out and in between and through is the shimmering story of her connection to God, of her love for the church, for liturgy, for the language of faith and the steadiness
it provides, even in times of disequilibrium. Of special note is the undergirding presence
of family and of so very many church friends who helped to shoulder the burden of this hard, hard time. 

Kimberlee prays Psalm 63, a lament, all the way through the darkest part of these months of upheaval and pain. And in so doing, she joins a long line of the faithful across the centuries who choose to turn toward God rather than away when life overwhelms. Because God is not overwhelmed by our fear, our sense of loss, our pain. In fact, God is the only safe place to carry all that weighs us down, all that shuts out the light.

She practices gratitude, faithfully. She clings to hope, fiercely. She finally seeks help, almost unwillingly. And when she does, she finds God there, too.

This is a remarkable story, beautifully told, Threading together journal entries, blog posts,
prayers and reflections, Kimberlee chooses the structure of the church year to tell this tale. In the end, rest comes. Help comes. Light dawns. Life does not become miraculously easy, that’s not possible, nor even desirable. But it does become bearable. It becomes breathable. Livable.

And I, for one, am deeply glad that this story made it out her fingertips and onto the page. I would not have missed it for the world. 

“Each day,” she notes, our children grow a little older. . .
“I somehow didn’t expect it.
They forget to tell you when you’re pregnant that motherhood is a long,
slow process of letting go, a daily dying to what was in order to
embrace what is. They forget to tell you how your heart breaks
and breaks and keeps on breaking.
They forget to tell you how much it hurts to love a child. . .
[but] . . . I wouldn’t have it any other way. This ache,
these tears say to me that my heart is still soft, and love grows
in soft, broken places. . . “ (pg. 129)