Archives for January 2015

Gathering the Pieces – SheLoves

A new year, a return to a loved and familiar place. It’s the fourth Saturday of the month, and I’m up. When you read this, I will be away from home, celebrating a milestone birthday with my family gathered round. It was their idea, and I am blessed to be with them. I’ll try to sneak back here and interact with anyone who wishes in the comment section over at SheLoves. You can get there by clicking here.



Some ‘gathering’ friends of the mind I’ve met online and IRL.

“She is a friend of mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order. It’s good, you know, when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind.”  —  Toni Morrison, Beloved

Who do you know that ‘gathers you?’ Who are the women in your life who see you, all of you, the pieces of you? The ones who can help you gather them up, the ones that help you to stand straighter, walk smarter? Who are the women who are ‘friends of your mind?’

We all need friends like that, don’t we? But man, they are hard to come by. I’ve been pondering why that is true and have built quite a little list of probable contributing factors. But at the bottom of it all, I keep coming back to this one: we are in a perpetual hurry. And friendships-of-the-mind require time, intention and attention.

But we’re so busy, aren’t we?We’ve got so much to do, so many people to see (very briefly, of course!), and an unending list of things to see/do/make/find/improve/ change/understand/ begin/finish. Am I right?

All of which leads to one central truth: we are habitually tired. And in the midst of chronic fatigue, who has the internal space or the emotional energy to build relationships that gather us, especially when there are deadlines to be met, crying babies to be tended, demanding bosses to be dealt with, and astronomically high expectations to be realized?Those expectation, I might add, are almost always self-imposed.

I am writing this in the middle of December, smack dab in the clutches of all things crazy. And I am feeling a sense of loss in the center of me as I try to navigate it all. My husband was sick last week and I found myself in possession of two tickets to a Christmas concert. And I could not, for the life of me, come up with someone to call and say, “Hey, can you join me?”

So now, as I carve out a few hours to be quiet and attentive to this particular writing deadline, I am wondering: how can I do my life differently in the year that is rising before us? How can I become a woman who ‘gathers the pieces’ of others and who finds friends who can gather the pieces of me?

Please join me over at SheLoves Magazine – one of my favorite spaces out here in cyberville.

How to Live When the End Is Near — Deeper Story

It happens to all of us. I’m here to tell you, this is the truth: we all get old, some of us a lot older than others. And that day is here for me. Sigh. Truth be told, I still don’t quite believe it! You can start this little reflection here and then follow me over to one of my favorite places in the entire web, A Deeper Story.


Four generations on Christmas Eve, 2014

This is a big year for me, one of those milestone numbers. It’s the year that my 3rd grade self decided would be the year I became really old. This is that year — 2015. I was born on January 23, 1945 (which means my birthday shorthand reads like this: 1-23-45. My father was convinced I’d grow up to be a mathematician, just like he was — but I fooled him. Big time.)


Yes, this is the year — in fact, this is the month — that I turn 70.


But I have something important to tell you right here: that number no longer feels old (as in decrepit). Yes, it does feel old (as in a lot of years), but inside this lined face and underneath this white hair? I feel like I’m about 45.


Aging is a strange phenomenon. The longer you live, the further out ‘old’ becomes. When I was 20, I thought 50 was ancient. But when I was 50, and still two years away from a new job that would keep me busy for a decade and a half, I thought 70 sounded old.


Now I’m 70 and you know what? 90 sounds ‘old’ to me these days.


So as I listened to the end-of-the-year sermon last month, a sermon focused on two of my favorite characters in Luke’s birth narrative of Jesus, I thanked God for every one of these years. For the privilege of walking around on this planet, with people that I love nearby, good work still to do and relatively good health and humor to enjoy. And it was the old codgers — Simeon and Anna — who helped me to say that ‘thank you,’ loud and clear.


You remember those two, right? The oldsters who were in the temple in Jerusalem? The ancient ones, the ones who had been waiting for the ‘comfort’ of Israel to show up. The ones who spent their days praying and hoping and looking, both of them described as righteous, devout and faithful. Those two may have been old, but they were still paying attention to the zeitgeist, they were two strong and deeply centered people, ever on the look-out for God’s promised one. . .



Come on over to ADS to reflect with on all three old people . . . Simeon, Anna and me!



The Day the Angels Fell — A Book Review


It all started with a tree, didn’t it? And that theme of trees winds its way throughout scripture and throughout our lives, unfolding in myriad ways — as metaphor, sustenance, shade, comfort, even horror. The tree.

Shawn Smucker has woven a fantastic and beautiful story about a particular tree, a re-imagining of the story of the tree of life. The story begins unpretentiously, maybe even a little slowly, but if you’ll settle in, let the beauty of his words flow in and around you, I will guarantee you that you’ll be hooked.

Hooked, I tell you!

This is masterful story-telling — intriguing idea, fascinating characters, great conflict and an empathetic look at how very difficult it is for us to lose someone we love. This is, in many ways, a story about death. But do not be deceived: the book is definitely not a downer. It’s a grab-you-by-the-throat, make-you-think-as-well-as-feel, turn-our-ordinary-ideas-on-their-heads kind of book and I highly recommend it to you. Highly.

Samuel is both an old man and a 12 year old boy in this story, an old man looking back at a pivotal summer in his life. A hot, drippy, menacing summer in the valley between two mountain ranges in central Pennsylvania. He has a good friend, a girl named Abra (which happens to be the name of one of Smucker’s daughters, as Samuel is the name of one of his sons). And there is a mysterious neighbor, an even more mysterious stranger, a grieving father, and the memories of a beautiful and loving mom. There is also a carnival, three very strange old women and an antique store, to say nothing of thunder and lightning and ancient, broken trees here and there.

And there is a search here, too, a search that reveals the true hero of this piece. There is also an epic battle between good and evil, and like all good fantasies, some dang good, nail-biting, cliff-hanging scenes sprinkled throughout.

I LOVED this book. And there is just a hint, at the very end, that there just might be more of them in the future. Oh, glory!

Get thee to a bookstore or over to Amazon and order this one ASAP. And carve out some weekend time to devour it. Because I’m here to tell you – it’s a tough one to put down!

Slowly, but Surely . . . and My Word for the Year


Already, this has been an interesting year, marked by events both painful and rich. 

And it’s barely three weeks old.

A dear friend is facing into a difficult cancer diagnosis — for the third time. A young father I love just endured surgical removal of a cancerous body part, prognosis very hopeful. . . but still, difficult and frightening. Another friend discovered some challenging news about her unborn child. My mom forgot where she lived the last time I took her back to her room. And I am swiftly approaching a milestone birthday. 

On the brighter side, we have these tidbits: A grandson is off to Budapest for a semester. BUDAPEST! We have a great family vacation coming in July. I am walking, gradually building up strength and endurance, and managing about 1.5 miles every other day. This after six months of either NOT walking at all or moving very slowly and carefully everywhere I went. Also? I am swiftly approaching a milestone birthday. (Some things are both painful AND rich in this life.)

And so we inch along, moving from shadow to light, putting one foot in front of the other, one day at a time.

Life is like that, isn’t it? A crazy quilt of the hard and the lovely, all of it forming us, shaping us, sifting us. And it’s that sifting part that we resist, not at all sure we want to release the things that need releasing, to let that chaff be winnowed out and blown to the wind.

I’m wrestling with a few small personality issues in my life these days, letting my feelings get hurt too easily and worrying excessively about the underlying agendas at work in some of the smaller groups I belong to. I spend way too much time wondering what I should say, how I should intervene to insure that everything turns out the way I’d like it to turn out.

But here’s the truth of it: it’s not up to me, is it?

This much I know: I am asked to reflect the Savior I serve wherever I am and whomever I find there. And in each and every situation, to trust that ultimately, ‘all things will work together for good,’ that God knows what God is doing, and as long as I enter each tender place with my heart in the right space, nothing further is asked.

But I gotta tell you — for a control freak, like me? Someone who has long believed that competency, clarity and harmony trump just about anything? Yeah, well. Sometimes, it’s hard to let go, to trust that things will work out just fine, even without my intervention and/or feeble attempts at manipulation. It’s tough to keep my mouth shut when it needs to be shut and to speak when I need to speak and leave it at that.

I am a slow learner, it seems, because these are lessons I have to keep learning over and over again. This letting go stuff requires a daily — sometimes hourly — response in my spirit. Will I cease and desist from obsession, over-worry, hyper-sensitivity? Will I breathe in and out, and with each inflation and deflation, make space for the Spirit to rule? Ah, yes. THAT is the question.

So when I asked for a word for 2015, it took a while for me to hear it.

Last year’s word was obedience,  and that proved to be a tough one for me on many levels, perhaps beginning with the very physical act of relinquishment required for that foot surgery mid-year and the long recovery that followed. But there were other areas of life where I watched God do God’s thing in me, asking me again and again, “So . . . is you in or is you out??”

So in the midst of all of this, the word that came to me for 2015 was a strange one, at least to my ears. I like it, but I’m not quite sure what to make of it, and I haven’t a clue what to expect because of it.

So you wanna hear it? Here goes . . .


After a year like the last one, that particular word felt wonderful, to tell you the truth. Yes, yes, yes! I want to stretch myself, to reach out physically, to walk more and with greater confidence. To take more trips, see more of this grand world, enjoy these years of retirement and relative good health. Goody, goody!

And then I began to remember that stretching, as great as it as, as good for me as it is, can sometimes hurt. Sometimes it’s difficult to reach for something just beyond your grasp. And God has this way of pushing against the very places in me that are resistant, that curl up in a ball and hide away from the light, that whisper self-protection, isolation, and fear. 

Maybe I’m going to be asked to stretch in ways that are scary, to step outside my very familiar comfort zone and do some things that I’m afraid to do. 

Am I willing?

I want to be . . . I think. 

Interestingly, the very first way in which I think I’ve been asked to stretch is to take a step back, to unsubscribe from a long list of blogs that I’ve read for the last 4-5 years. Not because I no longer wish to read what I find there, but because I sense I’m being asked to simplify, to pare down.


Because I am being ever-so-gently-but-ever-so-firmly pushed to tackle some things that are (to me, at least) big projects. These are major challenges to me, they are the Large Overwhelming Anxiety-Producing Things. And in order to stretch into those areas, there has to be some give in my schedule, and in my spirit. 

I promise to keep you posted as the year progresses. Should be interesting, right? Let me know your word for 2015, if you have one, and tell me what you think it means now, as the year is new. Maybe we can check in again at mid-year and in December and see what we’ve learned. What do you think?

Linking this with Bonnie, the FaithBarista 

A Prayer for the Weekend — and for this year


I am blessed to be part of worshipping community that I love, where the music is varied, the preaching is solid, and the lay leadership is invited to participate. Each week, our community prayer time is led by a member of the congregation — old, young, male, female, erudite, humble — we get a rich variety. And each one is a blessing, an invitation to remember that we belong together, as different as we are. That we stand together, in the presence of a Holy God who chooses us, over and over and over again.


Our pray-er this morning was Dr. Richard Pointer, Professor of History at Westmont College and an all-around great guy — known to us all as Rick. He took the three scripture passages for the morning – Psalm 139:1-18, John 1:43-51, and Philippians 2:1-11, plus some words from a favorite old hymn, and wove them together into a beautiful tapestry of petition and praise. It is with his permission that I post it for you tonight. (May I humbly suggest that you pray it aloud? Speech that is written feels different when we hear it than it does when we read it, don’t you think?)


Lord God, the Psalmist tells us that you search us and know us.  You know all about us — that’s very good news. You knew us from before we were conceived; you will know us to our final breath; you will know us for all eternity. You knew Nathanael enough to call him into discipleship.

Lord you are acquainted with all our ways and with all of our needs. You know I.J. in his need right now for healing from cancer surgery.

You know A. and A.B. in their need right now for a new measure of strength to face a third round of cancer.

You know dozens of hospice patients across Santa Barbara right now in their need for mercy and peace.

You know thousands of beautiful kids and teenagers in Uganda and Kenya right now in their youthful exuberance and promise but also in their poverty and need for hope.

You know the Christian believers in Niger whose churches have been burned in the last few days and their need for courage and perseverance.

You know every one of us gathered here for worship today better than we know ourselves.


Lord God, you search us and know us, and know all about us – that’s very scary news. You know all our insecurities, all our anxieties, all our small jealousies and not-so-small prejudices.

We confess that we don’t always want to be known. Lots of times we just want to run and hide from you and ourselves. But this Psalm reminds us that we cannot go anywhere where you are not with us. Your love and grace and forgiveness pursue us even when we don’t want to be found – and then when we do, your love rescues us.

And then Lord, in this text from Philippians you audaciously ask us, command us to be like you – to have the mind of Christ. How is that possible when we are so broken – broken in spirit but even more broken by our sin?

Some of the time we think too little of ourselves; save us from forgetting that we are your beloved.

Much of the time we think too much of ourselves. We are swelled with foolish pride that we are better than others — better because of what we own, or where we live, or how we look, or what we’ve attained, or how much we know, or the color of our skin, or the national heritage of our family.

What could be more different from your example, Jesus, than us proud ones who have allowed our pride to make us so arrogant, so complacent, so silent, and even worse, who have created systems and structures of injustice that look to our interests and not the interests of others? Forgive us, Lord.

On this holiday weekend, may we be inspired anew by Dr. King and countless other believers who have cried out, “Let your justice roll down and let your glory and righteousness fill the earth as the waters cover the sea.”

And then like them, let us go and actually do something to bring about more of your kingdom reign on earth.  Save us from our self-absorption, from our selfish ambitions, from our vain conceits – set us free from being captives to the trivialities of our lives, to the banalities of our culture, to the false idols of our age.

Instead, help us to put on your mind, the mind of Christ.

Re-shape our attitudes.
Purify our motives.
Teach us what to think.
Refine our beliefs.
Show us what to value.
Help us to know the truth.
Make us wise enough to obey.

Lord, we know we can’t do any of this on our own. I can’t do any of this on my own. So this morning I simply pray:

“May the mind of Christ, My Savior, live in me from day to day, by his love and power controlling, all I do and say.”



The morning light blazes through our east-facing Holy Spirit window, creating a beautiful reflection on the wall. Yes, it’s distorted, wavy, not as crisp and sharp as the original. Yet, is still beautiful, in its own unique way. Every week when I see it, I am reminded that the Light shines through Jesus to us, and though our reflection is incomplete and inaccurate,
it is still lovely.

Do you know how lovely you look with Jesus shining through you? 

Everyone Has A Story


Oh, man! I can so easily forget this truth. Yes, it’s very true — people do cruel things, betray others, or otherwise make me wish I weren’t human. And too often, my first response can be negative, judgmental, and critical; I can find myself making snap decisions about people based on a moment or two of difficult behavior.

But you know what? Everyone has a story that they carry around inside themselves. And some of those stories might help me to understand why a person is acting the way they are — if only I knew what they were.

Slowly, slowly I am learning that when I feel frustrated, impatient, even angry at someone’s behavior or their choice of words, saying this simple mantra inside my spirit somewhere can make a difference: everyone has a story. I’m finding that simple discipline to be both important and helpful — psychologically and philosophically profound on the one hand, and plain-ole practical, on the other. In my ongoing (and never-ending) journey away from reactivity and toward responsiveness, this simple 4-word phrase is slowly changing me from the inside out.

Two small examples:

Example Number One: 

I meet with several people monthly for spiritual direction, some in person and some by Skype. All of them come with such rich stories, and many different life experiences. The discipline and training for becoming a director has helped enormously in my own journey as I learn how to listen prayerfully to each person I see.

Sometimes, it takes many months before the most important pieces click into place and light shines with fuller depth and beauty on who they are and how they’ve gotten to this point in life. Details rise with time, with prayer, with intentional listening and learning. Suddenly, perhaps many months into our relationship, there it is: the missing piece, the small story that helps me to see more fully who they are and where God is moving in them. I cannot tell you what a privilege it is to sit opposite these remarkable people, learning from each of them how to more fully inhabit my own story, my own life. “You never know,” I tell myself quietly. “You just never know.”

Example Number Two:

I’ve been going to the same nail salon each month for several years now, a place that is fully staffed by immigrants from Vietnam, many of them related to one another. Each and every person I’ve had the delight of working with fairly brims with story. This morning, I heard two — from people I’ve worked with before, and with whom I’m slowly building trust and confidence. Their life stories are so completely different from my own — except — they aren’t.

ALL of us come from families, some of them healthy and connected, some of them, not so much.

ALL of us deal with professional woes of one kind or another — even those who have never been paid for a job must learn to get along with those who are not related to us in some kind of ‘work’ setting.

ALL of us carry both pain and sorrow around in our bodies, our spirits. And it is when we find the courage to share some of those pieces with an empathetic other that we can begin to know who they are, and who we are. We can rehearse our own story as we listen to someone else telling theirs.

Today I spoke with a gentle young woman who is pursuing a PhD in depth psychology — yes, you read that right. She and I talked carefully as she did her best to help my feet look and feel better. I don’t have too many pieces of her story yet, but today she told me something, very quietly, that helped me begin to better understand her reserve, her cautiousness. She carries a wound, one that is not yet healed.

Don’t we all? And yet . . . we forget what we know so quickly!

The middle aged man who worked on these gnarled hands told me more of his own immigration journey today. He talked matter-of-factly about fleeing his home, landing in a refugee camp in Indonesia, going to Singapore when U.S. Immigration gave the green light, then flying across the Pacific with his younger sister at the age of 22.

He began college here, then returned to his homeland to find a wife. “How many kids do you have?” I asked. “Two,” he replied, “my son is 19 now and attends our local community college.” Something about him has always radiated competence and efficiency, the ability to quietly take charge and get things done. Now I have a little clearer understanding of how those qualities came to be.

Some of us can point to one or two defining moments in our lives that have permanently shaped and changed us; others of us have lived a life with a little less drama, but can talk about a steady accumulation of small things telling a story of movement and growth.

Some of us have gotten stuck along the way — maybe because of illness, or hardship or the untimely death of a loved one. And getting stuck is a story in and of itself! But how will we ever learn these things about one another if we don’t take the time to listen, to ask careful questions, to learn from each other?

This is one of the things I love about the internet, this blogging community we’re all a part of: we tell stories. And, believe it or not, the simple act of commenting, of offering encouragement to the storytellers we read, is a step in the direction of becoming a better listener. Taking the time to read carefully and then respond with a word of thanks and/or hope — this is good stuff. Important stuff. 

Which is exactly why I do not have plans to close down my own blog (even if it might feel that way on occasion, when I take a L O N G break!) and why I hope the rumors of blog-death are exaggerated and misplaced. Yes, of course, it is important to be listening to one another IRL — in person, by telephone, in email conversations. But writing in these funny spaces called weblogs is a great start, filled with potential — if we take care with our words, tell the truth, and release expectations.

So, I hope you’ll continue to join me here. And though I won’t be reading as many blogs as I have in the past (got a bigger project or two that need more time), I fully intend to continue to read several and to engage in conversations when I do.

Because everyone has a story,  right?