Archives for October 2014

Designed for Work: The High Calling Synchro Blog

There are seasons in life, I am learning. And sometimes the rougher seasons are the very ones in which the work we do can be a source of inspiration and solace, a place of ministry and renewal. The details of this part of my story have been shared before, but it’s good for me to remember and to celebrate.

The six year stretch between 2005 and 2010 was a tough one for us. At times, it felt as though my family was riding a dangerously out of control roller coaster, careening from side to side, tilting on one very narrow edge as we rounded some treacherous turns and corners.

Here are a few ‘highlights’ from that season:

My dad died in February of 2005, leaving my mom both exhausted from care-giving and desperately lonely for her partner.

My husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer two months later, enduring painful and debilitating surgery and a long, rocky recovery. 

Our son-in-law was applying for long-term disability, literally fading away before our eyes. His wife, our eldest daughter, was beginning an intensive 12-month master’s degree program in special ed — after almost 20 years of being an at-home mom. Their three boys were struggling to find their bearings in this new universe.

Our middle daughter’s 3rd boy was born in distress, tiny and in the NICU for 5 days.

Our daughter-in-law needed a slightly dicey C-section for her first-born, just weeks after her cousin’s difficult entry into the world.

Our son-in-law entered the last year of his life with multiple hospitalizations, and a miraculous six-month respite, giving us all some memories that were lovely and lasting. That year, 2008, ended with a devastating pneumonia that took his life in a matter of hours.

My youngest brother landed in the ER with a severe leg infection, requiring a long list of care-giving efforts from all of us.This began a hard, downward spiral of missed diagnoses, homelessness, sober living residences, heart surgery and eventually, sudden death in 2009.

The very next month, our beautiful town was hit by the first of two wildfires requiring evacuation from home and church, plunging our worshiping community into emergency mode for months on end.

As I said, it was a difficult few years.

And every week, except for vacations and emergencies, I went to work. Many people wondered why: why do you want to step into other people’s difficult situations? Why do you want to visit the sick? Why? Haven’t you got enough on your plate already?

I don’t know that I can fully answer that ‘why’ question, but I will try to write a coherent list of possible reasons here:

work grounded me;
work reminded me I was not alone;
work taught me about community;
work provided an external focus;
work brought at least the illusion of order to my terribly disordered world;
work brought relief from the weight of worry that
was a constant companion;
work allowed me to stay in touch with the
creative parts of me as well as the care-giving parts;
work gave me a different place to look,
a different place to reflect,
a different space in which to be me –
the me that was called and gifted and capable.
As opposed to the me that was helpless, impotent and

My life was spinning frantically out of control,
at least out of my control,
heading down deep and dark crevasses that terrified me.
Work was more easily containable,
expectations were clear,
contributions were valued.
Work was grace for me during that long,
long stretch of Job-like living.

Work was a gift,
a gift of God to a weary and worried woman.
And it brought me into contact with people
who could bear me up,
who could tend my gaping wounds,
who could be as Jesus to me,
even as I tried to be as Jesus to those
I loved most in this world.

I did not do any of it perfectly. Lord knows, that isn’t even possible and it surely wasn’t true.

The end of 2010 brought the end of my ‘official’ work life. I have missed it at times. But I am discovering that even in the different structure, schedule and, yes, ‘work’ of retirement, God is underneath. And around and in between. Just as God has always been. And somehow by the grace and goodness of God, we are still here, clinging to the sides of that coaster car, doing our very best to enjoy the ride.

I am linking this with The High Calling’s bi-weekly synchro blog, this time on the theme, “Designed to Work.” Please check out the other posts in this link-up, and while you’re at it, read the fine articles published by THC this past week. They do such good work there!


31 Days of Looking for the Little: Remembering

As this 31-Day Challenge draws to its close, it seems fitting to go back to where we began: with a picture of my littlest grandgirl’s shoes.
They’re not resting on our warm wooden floors in this shot. Instead, they’re sitting on the concrete deck of the swimming pool at the condo we rented on Maui. You can see some mud stains from all the rain puddles left over from tropical storm/hurricane Ana, which almost truncated our trip before it began. 
I remember when that original photo triggered the idea for this entire series, and when I do, I am grateful for the inspiration, and even more, for the process of writing each of these small pieces. I cannot remember a time when I’ve had more fun blogging than I have this past month.
It’s a really good thing to remember, isn’t it? Scripture admonishes us to do that very thing — over and over again. To recount our story, to tell it to our children and our grandchildren.
And it’s that idea which is behind the Ignatian practice of examen, a daily discipline that has been adapted in all kinds of ways by all kinds of people in the last few centuries.
Because of the particular journey I’ve been on the last few months, my nightly version is short and sweet. As I drift off to sleep, I call to mind every blessing of the day just past, beginning with small things and moving through to the bigger ones — like my husband and my family and my faith. 
It’s just a small thing, this nightly remembering, but it has been the single biggest part of my own recovery, both physically and emotionally. Spending those few minutes being grateful has done more to restore health and sanity than any other single thing I’ve done. 
And it starts with remembering . . .
Just Wondering

31 Days of Looking for the Little: Shared Moments of Delight — a Guest Post!

One of the sweetest things about this internet world is the connections that can be made — connections across time and distance, life experience and life stage. One of my dearest ‘finds’ has been Kelly Chripczuk, who writes beautiful words over at “A Field of Wildflowers.” Turns out she is a licensed pastor in the same denomination in which my husband was raised and with whom we served in Africa over forty years ago. She wrote this sweet, small piece and asked if I thought it might fit in with this 31-Day series. YES, indeed, it does! Delightfully. Thank you so much, Kelly.
858632_556242587728338_1323787Kelly photo  138_o
Kelly Chripczuk is a Spiritual Director, Writer and Speaker who lives in Central Pennsylvania with her husband and four kids.  She writes and speaks on the topics of identity, anxiety, transition and the practice of noticing and receiving the love of God in the midst of daily life.  You can find her blogging at or follow her on facebook at

It’s a rare Sunday evening with no school on Monday.  To celebrate, we’re having a “pizza party” in the living room, the six of us gathered around the lap top with paper plates filled with pizza and chips.  The older kids, my husband and I line up along the old leather couch and the three-year-old twins sit in front of us in little plastic chairs, their plates resting on the old scarred piano bench. 

The kids watch the movie and my husband I alternate between watching the movie and watching our children.  We share looks over their heads as entertained by their perceptions of the show as we are by the movie itself.  Then this little exchange, so precious and sweet, takes place between the twins:

“Yours yummy?”  Isaiah asks, holding a sour cream and onion potato chip in one hand, his faced turned toward his brother who doesn’t hear him.

“Yours yummy, Yevi?” he persists, raising his already loud little boy voice and replacing the unpronounceable “L” of Levi with a “y.”

“Huh?” his brother finally replies, turning to look him in the eye.

“Yours yummy?” Isaiah wants to know.

“Yeah, yummy!” Levi replies with unmistakable enthusiasm.  “Sometimes me dip it on my pizza like this,” he adds, demonstrating his method of scraping a chip across the top layer of pizza.

“Yeah,” says Isaiah, turning back to the show with the satisfaction of their shared pleasure evident in his voice. 

Witnessing this from behind, my husband I smile with our hands over our mouths, our hearts savoring the bond of companionship so deep, so sweet, in ones so little.  We’re delighted by their delight, our hearts awakened to joy through this small moment of pleasure shared.


What small moments of delight have you experienced lately?  

Just Wondering

A Deeper Story: Stepping Into the Holy

I can’t even begin to put into words how grateful I am to be a small part of the Deeper Story community. Ours is a rare and wonderful space on these cyberwaves, filled with honest story-telling and great conversation. Please follow the link to read all of this post over there . . .

IMG_3614 KITCHEN - Version 2

It washed over me in a flood yesterday afternoon: I really love my life. Even when it’s hard, even when things I did not choose interrupt my forward progress on the way to where I thought I was going, even when I’m tired or sick or injured — I love my life.


I wasn’t doing anything particularly memorable at that moment. On the contrary, I was doing the usual — pulling together something resembling a meal for me and my husband. But there was this lovely, cool breeze flowing through the open kitchen window, the sun was shining, the wood floors were warm and smooth, the pantry was full, even the fridge was relatively well-organized and clean.


We’d had a surprise connection with our son for lunch earlier in the day, my mom was stable and smiling when I’d seen her the day before, the rest of our family was well and relatively happy, my foot was slowly healing. And, out of nowhere, I experienced a holy moment, right there in the middle of my green kitchen. So I stopped for a moment and I breathed a heartfelt, “Thank you!”


But here’s the flip side: even when I’m flooded with thanksgiving and delight like that, I too often find myself waiting for the other shoe to drop.


Do you know that feeling? That insidious inner warning bell that says, “Yeah, you be careful there, honey. Don’t be too happy. Sure, you can be grateful — but do it with a note of caution, all right? Things are going well right now. But just you watch. Right around the corner, something terrible is going to happen and then where will your ‘happy song’ go?”


And that sad little ‘ding, ding’ inside my spirit can sometimes keep me from fully appreciating the beauty that is right in front of me. That anxious feeling, that superstitious thinking, can too often torpedo my contentment, IF I let it.


And way too often, I do let it. I tone down the enthusiasm, I look for the hard/bad things in my life to offer as a counterweight to all the good vibes, I try to ward off impending doom with a strange kind of interior bargaining, struggling to keep the cosmic scales in balance.


Why is that, I wonder? Deep down, do I think I don’t deserve happiness? Am I living in a state of perpetual angst-ridden anxiety? Do I think “God is out to get me?” I’m not sure of all the deep-seated psychological and/or spiritual issues that come into play to create this strange little interior dance. I just know I’ve grown very, very tired of it. . . 

To read more, just follow this link and join the discussion.

31 Days of Looking for the Little: Finding Rainbows

It started small. And sort of unsure of itself. It was our last morning in the lovely, large condo we had rented with our son and his family for our 9 days in Kahana, Maui. They were scurrying round, packing to fly home, and we were waiting to leave for our next, smaller place to stay.
Then we looked out from our lanai and watched the rain pour down into the channel between Maui and Moloka’i. Soon, just for a second, a rainbow started to form. Hawaii usually sports many lovely rainbows, but this trip we had seen very few. 
We called to the girls to come and see as it began to spread across the water. The arc was forming quite low over the water, but the colors were clear and bright. 
And then, there it was! In all its glory, giving testimony to the wonders of light and shadow, water and reflection. And of course, to the Giver of the rainbow, the Keeper of promises. It felt like a blessing on our time together, a beautiful mark in the sky to say, “I see you, I love you.”
It was just a small patch of color, hanging between sky and sea. But soon, it was a long, low arc of delight, a picture of love and beauty and joy.
What small pieces of beauty have you seen lately?
Just Wondering

31 Days of Looking for the Little: Serendipity


Because we are traveling the last half of this month, I’m working way ahead on these October posts. And it’s been so much fun! 

We’ve been experiencing a particularly harsh heat wave here in southern and central California as I write, and sleep is sometimes difficult. The French doors in our bedroom face east, and they are usually closed with blackout shades in place. But because of the heat, we kept one door open all night last night, and the light streaming in woke me earlier than usual.

I am not a morning person. Let me repeat that. I am NOT a morning person. But every once in a while, I get a glimpse into why it might be a good thing to be one. 

When I grudgingly cracked open my eyes today, this is what I saw. The rising sun coloring the clouds, silhouetting the trees behind our home. 

It was just a minute or two — sunrises never last as long as sunsets — but it was pure glory all the while. A small moment of serendipity, wouldn’t you say?

Maybe I could get used to this early morning routine. . .


Just Wondering

31 Days of Looking for the Little: Monotones

DSC02567 green berries


When I am in a garden space, I’m used to looking for the most brilliant color I can find. I love colors! And lots of them, too. But one day a couple of weeks ago, I was feeling tired and little bit blue, so I went outside for an hour or so.

I sat in a comfy chair, put my feet up and laid my head back, talking to God in a very general way. And then I was quiet.

I often find it helps to stop talking. Somehow it makes room for the other, maybe especially so for the Other. 

So I began to practice one of my favorite quiet meditative practices — I took out my camera. And I just looked around my yard for something interesting to shoot. These berries caught the sunlight at just the right angle, and I was mesmerized.

Sometimes my desire for lots of color robs me of the opportunity to enjoy God’s gift of one color. Monotones, I’m discovering, can be very restful. Try looking for something in your yard that has different textures, but is all one color. Then sit and stare at it for a few minutes, contemplating the angles, the way the light falls, the innate quiet of a single color.

What did you discover? 

Just Wondering

31 Days of Looking for the Little: Sparkles

DSC01103 sparkly water

What is it about sparkly things? Little kids, even babies, will instinctively reach for things that are shiny and sparkly. And I’ve never outgrown that. 

I love to wear jewelry that sparkles. I enjoy fireworks, as long as they aren’t too loud. And I adore watching the sunlight play across the breaking waves of the ocean. Adore it.

I love the ocean in any kind of weather. Truly, I do. But when the sun is high and shining brightly? When the waves are breaking just so? When the birds are calling and dipping into the midst of the sparkles? Well, that’s heaven right there.

Sparkles are by definition little things. But when you see a whole lot of sparkling going on, that shiny stuff can seem very large, indeed. 

I want to be a sparkly person. Not a fake one — human beings need to experience all kinds of weather, too. And they need to be honest about it, always. But overall, I’d like to sparkle. It’s just a little thing, but I think it’s quite wonderful. 

Just Wondering

31 Days of Looking for the Little: Baby Steps

IMG_0058 - Version 2 mom in the surf

If you’ve followed this blog at all, you just might recognize the woman in this photo. This is my mother. The mom I remember, the one who loves the ocean and sometimes takes amazing physical risks.

She was in her 60’s when this picture was taken. And she had a ball that day. I think it may have been the last time she ventured onto a boogie board, but she loved every minute of it! 

My memory of this picture told me that she was laughing uproariously. But, as you can see, she is not exactly smiling. She looks more than a little bit worried, truth be told! And I get that!

I have long admired my mother for days like this, for making life an adventure and taking a chance. These were baby steps to be sure; she didn’t venture out into very deep waters. But I didn’t care. I was thrilled that she went out at all! If I could figure out a way to do it without having to wash up onto the beach and then get these knees of mine to get me up off the ground, I’d try it again, too!

Baby steps are still steps, right? Yeah!

Just Wondering

SheLoves: Tuning In

Once again, it’s the last Saturday of the month and I’m joining the amazing crew at SheLoves Magazine. This month, we’re writing about listening. I took a very personal slant on that idea this time around . . .

I took a short walk at the beach today, the first time since early June. I was slow, my stride was short, my right hip hurts, my left heel hurts, but . . . I took a walk at the beach today. You have no idea how much freedom is contained in that short sentence.

I took a walk at the beach today.

I’m sitting in the shade this afternoon, enjoying the clarity of the water, the light fuzziness of the skyline, the crowds of local people, enjoying the beauty of the beach. It’s very nice to be back in the school routine, not the tourist routine. There is parking!

There is room for me once again.”

These are journaling words from mid-September, written about 48 hours after being released from a heavy boot and the restrictions of a walker. I was finally able to wear TWO shoes after a long stretch (almost 14 weeks) of one-footed-ness while in various stages of recovery from foot surgery in early June.

It was that day that I knew I had turned a corner. Why? Because something about being near the ocean invites me to listen differently. To listen to the scene around me — the rhythm of the water against the shore, the call of the gulls, the splash and squeal of children getting wet, the gentle conversations of friends and family in different configurations along the water line.  And to listen to the sweet voice of God, reminding me that I am seen, I am loved. All of it was welcome, familiar, comforting, a reminder that there is a bigger world than the confines of my bedroom. There is a bigger God than the one I had been imagining while confined!

When you are ill, or in the midst of a long recovery of some kind, listening well becomes problematic and strangely difficult.  There is solitude to be found, that is most certainly true! But it’s a strange kind of solitude, not intentional, but enforced by circumstances beyond your control. And sometimes that enforced solitude can mean turning inward in ways that are not always healthy.

I am discovering that there is a difference between turning inward to hear from the gentle voice of the Spirit and turning inward to be assaulted by the anxieties and struggles of my own sick self. Finding my way through that particular thicket has not always been easy during this stretch of time.

 Please follow the link on over there, won’t you?