Archives for October 2016

31 Days of Paying Attention — DAY THIRTY-ONE!!!

We made it! THIRTY-ONE DAYS IN A ROW. My deep thanks for those who have followed along on this daily journey, and my sad farewell to some who said, ‘enough,’ and unsubscribed. I have really enjoyed this year’s challenge and I hope those of you still reading have enjoyed it, too. Here’s the last one:


Yesterday, we had a party. A really big party. Our church community gathered to celebrate our senior pastor and his wife. They have been with us for eleven good years and yesterday was their last day with us. They’re making a big move, in two parts, to get themselves closer to retirement in a few years. We will miss them very much, but are grateful for their service, commitment, good humor, skill, and love.

A small steering committee gathered to plan this farewell — for which we had only about five weeks notice — and had a grand time figuring out gifts for them that might bring them happy memories of their time with us. We had that photo up there blown up BIG, got a special write-on-able mat for it and then invited everyone to sign it on their way into luncheon and a fun program following our farewell worship service.

We chose this photo because Butterfly Beach became a favorite place for both of them —  especially for Don, who used this glorious spot for his own private swimming hole on a regular basis. They are now heading for work in Minnesota (for him – interim work) and establishing their new, permanent home in North Carolina (for her — a beautiful setting, to be sure . . . but one without a glimpse of the ocean to be found anywhere). 

There were other gifts as well, things we came up with as a group of friends who have tried to pay attention to what moves them, what makes them smile, what brings them a feeling of satisfaction. I hope we paid attention well.

Giving gifts can be a risky thing, you know? We hope we’ve guessed right. But I’ve learned over the years that sometimes that is really tough to do. So money is a fabulous smooth-over-the-unknown-spots kind of gift and we did our best to gather up a bit of that as well. 

Godspeed, Johnsons! We’re grateful for you, we bless you, we send you off with love and thanks.


31 Days of Paying Attention — Day Thirty


The last of our ‘touring quartet’ of would-be poets was a woman I’ve known for the last several years. She is a Catholic nun, currently residing with and caring for her aging father. She is feisty! Smart, efficient, well-organized, she was often the only female in the retreat center where she was the resident director for almost twenty years. That’s how I knew her initially — she was the check-in person when I resided at that Mission retreat center for two weeks each of the two summers I was in training to become a spiritual director. Sister Susan was a no-nonsense, quick-to-smile, energizer bunny in that setting.

And then we were classmates at a writing seminar I went to earlier this year. I hadn’t seen her in about five years and it was an absolute treat to get to know her in an entirely different context. So when I walked into that library at the Museum of Natural History last month, I was delighted that she would be in the same walking group I was.

This tree was her silent selection as we made our way from point to point on our metaphor-seeking journey. Look at it closely and tell me what YOU see there. This is what I saw:

each one a story,
a souvenir
of life,

We all bear scars, don’t we? Life isn’t life without making marks on us, all kinds of marks. I’m working on seeing my particular scars as lovely things, reminders of a lot of living — some of it pleasant, some of it not so much, but all of it . . . GOOD.


31 Days of Paying Attention — Day Twenty-Nine


Our community lost a good friend two weeks ago. A teacher and an artist; a husband, father, and grandfather. He was kind, gentle, loved the outdoors, supported UCLA football (even though he never went there), and enjoyed being part of a large, extended, slightly crazy family-by-marriage and the even larger and crazier family that was his by virtue of being a long-time member of our congregation. He and his wife are almost exactly the same ages as my husband and I, so to us, his death felt decidedly premature. I was able to visit with him a couple of times after he went on hospice care and both times, I was blessed simply to be in his presence. 

Leaving behind people you love is not an easy thing to do. He admitted that. And facing into death is a scary prospect for all of us. He acknowledged that as well. But he was confident of the outcome, secure in his position as a child of God. I am so grateful that Arvid was a part of my story, that he was an encourager to me and to so many. I miss him now. I will miss him always.

But Arvid paid attention well. He fought hard to live as long as he possibly could — eleven years of treatment for lymphoma, four different re-occurrences. Finally, he said, “Enough” to chemo-therapy and he and all who loved him got ready for him to be gone from this life. Yes, it was too soon. But it was also exactly right. 


The service was filled with family and lovely in every way. In Arv’s memory and honor (he was fluent in Spanish and loved Mexican food), the family provided a delicious taco dinner for the entire group that assembled that evening — about 300 of us. We sat under the fading sun and laughed and cried and talked about how good life is, how glad we are that Arv was part of it.

It was a good evening. Very good. 

And now we — and especially his family — learn to live without his physical presence among us. Hopefully, we learned some important things from this good man. Things like paying attention to the things that are most important — family, good work, creation, friendship, good food. 

Thank you, Arv, for paying attention so well.

31 Days of Paying Attention — Day Twenty-Eight


We had an entire school day with these lovely ladies earlier this month! Because we are the grandparents who happen to live in the neighborhood, we sometimes get to enjoy their company when there is a school holiday for them which their parents do not get. This was Columbus Day, I believe, and they came sleepily into our living room at a few minutes before 8:00 a.m. 

Whenever they come, I try to plan some easy treat for us to make together. That day, we made Rice Krispie Pinwheels, which are messy, fun and delicious! I gave them those aprons for Christmas and their mama knew enough to pack them in their carry bag, so on they went. So cute.

I have so enjoyed paying attention to my grandchildren through the years. They are each themselves, totally unique individuals. Yes, we bear a strong family resemblance to one another, but their interests, talents, accomplishments, struggles are all distinct and quite wonderful. Our eldest is now 25, making his way as a cinematographer in the Hollywood scene; his next younger brother is in grad school in PA — in mathematics! The next two — one a freshman in college and the other a senior in high school — have very different interests and majors in mind. You get the message, right? Every one of God’s children is their own, special person and our task, as adults in their lives, is to help them realize and celebrate those uniquenesses.

The older of these two sisters is artistic, loves to read (for hours on end, much like I did at her age!) She is also quite good at tennis (not like me in the least, thank you, God) and has a long list of friends. The younger is more energetic, flitting from one thing to another, loving it all. She especially loves playing small-cramped-house with Poppy when she comes to visit:


Poppy is laughing hysterically because trying to get into this space was just about as much as his almost 75-year-old body could manage! But he did it — bless him! — and they had a ball. We love the opportunity to be with these wonderful creatures and feel it a God-given privilege to be able to point them toward their best selves and to encourage their gifts.

Are there children in your life to whom you feel called to pay attention? Tell me a little about them!

31 Days of Paying Attention — Day Twenty-Seven



Perhaps one of the reasons I am attracted to birds is that this bird is often used in Christian imagery: the dove as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. I like that. A lot. And when I read this lovely quote on my morning stroll at Mater Dolorosa Retreat Center last month, I thought about this window in the chancel of our sanctuary.

When we built our worship center eleven years ago, our window designer had a tough time coming up with what he wanted (and what we wanted) for this small space. What he gave us, we love. It includes the colors of the liturgical year around the border, and a striking, almost art nouveau representation of the Spirit. Because the window faces east, we get the morning sun streaming through it when we are together in worship, and a beautiful rainbow of color is created at different times of the year, showing up in various spots throughout the sanctuary. I love it best when it lands directly on parishioners in about the third row of the center section. To me it is a stunning picture of the indwelling presence of the Spirit in the lives of believers and in the body communal. 

The question I want to always ask myself, and others who come to me for direction and listening, is this one: am I yielding to the sovereign direction of the Spirit of God as I live my life, day by day? This gentle Comforter of ours never leaves us, but the Dove is also patient to wait for us to invite that sovereign direction, never forcing us, only reminding us — if we pay attention to that still, small voice — that there is Power available to us whenever we submit ourselves to it.


31 Days of Paying Attention — Day Twenty-Six


Our beaches are littered with bits of seaweed. All the time. There is a rich kelp forest in our waters, something that invites all kinds of marine life and keeps the oceans healthy. But seaweed is not a lot of fun to swim with and it tends to leave our beaches looking a bit sloppier than many! I’ve come to appreciate the beauty of kelp, however, and find myself looking more closely as I move my way down the waterline.


A couple of weeks ago, I saw this one and was dumbstruck with awe. Can you see how huge this is? All tolled, it was probably about twenty feet long. There was even a small root ball with this giant. Remarkable! Do you know that an ingredient found only in kelp is part of almost every container of ice cream in the freezer section of your local supermarket? Yup. And it shows up lots of other places, too. 


And here’s another thing I love about a particular kind of seaweed. Do you see that coil up there with all the teardrop shaped bulbs on it? Well those bulbs make the most delicious sounding POP when you step on them just right. SO satisfying when one is walking.

There are sweet, surprising, wondrous gifts all around us, my friends. Things that can bring us pleasure on all kinds of levels. Aren’t we blessed to live in such a world? Isn’t God good to us?



31 Days of Paying Attention — Day Twenty-Five


I love these funny shore birds. They’re called sanderlings and they have long, skinny legs and long, skinny beaks. And they use those beaks very effectively, hovering at the edge of the water, digging deep for yummy morsels of small clam or crab. They skitter back and forth, torn between wanting food and wanting to keep their feet dry. They move quickly and are usually in groups as they work and wander. 

They don’t inhabit all of the beaches of Santa Barbara, usually keeping to the far edges of those that are heavily populated by human sun worshippers. I see them most often when I walk down the beach a ways, beyond the sun-bathers and the swimmers. Humans tend to get in the way of lots of things in God’s creation and these guys choose to play it smart. If I get too close with my phone camera, they promptly abandon their posts!

They make a lovely silhouette against a sunset sky, their long, pointy beaks and legs making a nice sharp line in the semi-dark. See what I mean?



I pay attention to birds. I don’t know much about them except that I love to watch, to look at color, shape, habits, habitat and to listen to song, call, conversation. Something about their beauty, their ease and comfort with their very bird-ness, and their ability to both blend in with and make good use of their immediate environment speaks to me of God. And of myself, too. They speak to me of God’s creative genius and appreciation for beauty and diversity. And they speak to me as a living lesson to celebrate who it is God has created me to be. 

Which of God’s creatures speak to you of such things?


This Broken Life


It began with a glorious sunrise, pinks and purples spreading across the landscape, a low layer of fog sitting right over the city below us. We moved to this home, this new-to-us-home, because as we gazed out at the future, we began to see . . . brokenness, the brokenness that comes to each of us as we age, as we wend our way through space and time. The great gift that landed in our laps when we chose to step into rather than avoid that inevitable kind of broken is this: this view of mountain and sea, of city and sidewalk, of sky, sky, sky.

A few hours later, the glory of early morning gave way to a sweet, crisp clarity at midday. I slipped behind the steering wheel and drove down the hill to my mama’s ‘home,’ that room-with-a-bath in the dementia unit, the only home she has had for the past four years. “I’ll take her down to the beach today,” I said aloud, to the closed chamber of my Honda CR-V, maybe saying it to God, as well. “She’ll love that.” 


Mama and I have been living in the middle of a whole lot of broken for a long time now, the kind of broken that cannot be mended, this side of heaven. Our twice-weekly lunches out make her smile and because she cannot remember anything further back than the last two minutes, each trip is brand new to her, and therefore, quite wonderful. 

The conversational themes for this particular outing are a trio of repeated questions: “How did you come to find me and take me out today?” “How long has this place been here?” “Do you live near here somewhere?”

I pray for patience as I answer each query, over and over and over again. “I found you because I know you, because you are my mother and I love you.” “This town has been built over the last 250 years of so, Mama.” “Yes, Mom, I do live near here. Just a little ways up that hill.”

She is surprised, as she always is, that I am her daughter, that I have always known her. On this day, she does not turn to me with that anguished look and ask, “What is wrong with me, that I don’t know that??” This day, I don’t have to carefully tell her that her memory is broken and cannot be fixed. This day, I don’t have to see the sweet relief flash quickly over her face when she takes in the truth that something really is broken, broken beyond repair.


There is a table available, right on the concrete that abuts the sand at Leadbetter Beach; I carefully steer her walker towards it, pulling out the plastic chair, being careful to seat her exactly right and then pushing her safely beneath the table. She spreads her hands out in front of her, crying out: “Oh, lovely, lovely! The sun is so warm! I am so happy to be here. Thank you so much for bringing me!”


And just like that, the broken fades away for a moment and I can drink in her delight. Ann Voskamp, in her beautiful new book, “The Broken Way: a daring path into the abundant life,” talks about, “losing the day in love,” and finding a way to “break brokenness” by letting it fully come. 

Slowly, slowly, I am learning to let the brokenness of aging come. I see it in my mother, I see it in my husband, I see it in myself. And I am asking the kinds of questions that Ann asks: 

“Why are we afraid of broken things? . . . Why are we afraid of suffering? What if the abundance of communion is only found there in the brokenness of suffering — because suffering is where God lives? . . .What if I made a habit of every day pressing my wounds into the wounds of Christ — could my brokenness be made into a healing abundance for the brokenness of the world?” – pg. 34

I do not want to be afraid of aging, I do not want to be afraid of dying, I do not want to be afraid of the brokenness that is part and parcel of who we are as human creatures. I want to learn more about embracing the broken bits, about discerning the differences that Ann references between ‘good’ broken and ‘bad’ broken; I want to live into my identity as the Beloved for as long as I breathe. And then I want to celebrate the goodness of God in that place where every bit of our brokenness will be redeemed, transformed, burnished to a high gleam and offered as a gift of gratitude to our Triune God, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer — Father, Son, Spirit.

Mom and I enjoyed our lunch, even though, as soon as she withdrew her hands from the warm sunlight in the center of the table, she became vividly aware that the breeze was cool. At least three times she asked me if the visor I was wearing was helping me to stay warm by blocking that breeze. Three times, I tried to explain that a sun visor only works against the sun, not the wind. Finally, I took the visor off of my head and put it onto her lovely one. And she relaxed, convinced that now she would be warm enough.

On the way back to her unit, she began to sing, “What A Friend We Have in Jesus.” Most of the time, I join with her as she sings in the car. But this time, I listened. And I thanked God that broken as she is, my mother knows who she is. She no longer knows her own name, nor any of the details of her story. But she knows who she is — she is a friend of Jesus.

And there is nothing broken about that. Not one thing.


I received an Advanced copy of Ann Voskamp’s book in exchange for writing about it and featuring it on social media. It is my joy and privilege to invite you to read this book for yourself, to take your time with it, to read with a pen in hand and with fingers ready to turn down a page here and there. This one is a keeper.

A Prayer for Those Who Ask, Seek, Knock

Our worship service yesterday morning was filled with many lovely things, including a final song arrangement that was one of the richest worship experiences of my life the past dozen years or so. Our brand-new, quite young Interim Music Director took two songs we love to sing and braided them together, alternating men’s and women’s voices, including our singing the choruses simultaneously at one point. These two favorites were: “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” and “Great Is Our God.” 

Our prayer time was led by a long-time member, a Professor of Communication Studies at nearby Westmont College named Greg Spencer. The gospel text was from the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 7, and included Jesus’s strong words about our need to take care when we are judgmental. That passage ends with Jesus’s 3-fold command to “ask, seek, and knock.” Greg led us in a moving meditation on what that asking, seeking and knocking looks like in the dailyness of our lives. 

Several in the congregation asked for a copy of it, and as Greg does not yet have a blog of his own, I offered to post it here. It blessed us all very much.


Lord, we come to you for many reasons, to learn from you about how to live, to sit with you and talk about our day, to worship you—but we also come for gifts. We ask. We seek. We knock. And so we do this morning.

We’ve asked, Lord, and you’ve answered. We’ve asked you for help and help has come—to overcome our temptations, for help with our children and their foibles, for good diagnoses, and easy passage. And this is what we’ve been given: this power to overcome, this guidance in relationships, this fear of disease removed, this mercy in our travels. Thank you.

But we’ve also asked and you’ve given us this, this answer that seems like a question: this on-going struggle, this wandering in brokenness, this accident.

We trust that you will not give us a stone when we ask for bread. We pray this morning for friends struggling to overcome addictions, for strength to triumph over besetting temptations, for our family members in trouble. We ask, Lord, we ask.

We’ve sought you, too, Lord, and you have delivered this, this thing what we have sought: a marriage, a baby, a job, more love for you. Thank you.

Sometimes we have sought and you’ve given us this, this solitary life, this childless marriage, this unemployment, this dark night of the soul.

We trust that you will give us what we need, that our nets will be full of fish, not snakes. You want to set the best before our table, so we seek you this morning. We pray for work for those who need better work. We ask for wisdom for this church as we are in transition. We seek, Lord, we seek.

We’ve knocked, Lord, and you have opened the door. We’ve knocked, we’ve pounded even, about our pain, about our loss, about our worries—and you’ve given us this, this relief, this consolation, this hope and contentment. Thank you.

But sometimes we knocked and we received this, this increase of pain, this separation or death, this fulfillment of our worry.

We trust that you love us as a father does his children. Though we aren’t always sure of the immediate answer, we know the ultimate answer comes from your loving heart. So we knock this morning.

We knock about the pain in our Church body—for those who are sick or care for those who are sick. We knock on your door for those with loss, that you would comfort them and remind us to come to comfort also. We knock on your door about our nation and world, our angry citizens in this election. We knock about war and strife and refugees. Peace, Lord, we knock for peace.

We’ve asked you, Lord, for salvation, we’ve sought relief from our guilt, we’ve knocked on your door for redemption—and you’ve given us this, this Jesus, this substitution for us, this death for our life.

Thank you for keeping your promises.


31 Days of Paying Attention — Day Twenty-Four


As you may have guessed, I do enjoy the panorama feature on my iPhone. It’s fun to slowly move that phone from side to side and voila! You’ve captured a 180 degree (or more) view for posterity. I usually take them of views only, but occasionally, I like to include someone I care about in the photo. After all, the panorama of my own life is peppered with loved ones!

This one was taken on a warm summer morning when we walked on the waterfront and then out onto the wharf. The sun was shining brightly, the water was glistening, and just as we strolled over to the side of the wharf facing the marina, a lovely yacht began to motor out onto the open sea.

The sails were up, the wind was just right and as it neared the pier, I could see (and hear) that the engine had been shut down. They were going to hit the water with nothing but wind for power.

But you know what? On the right day, wind is all you need. No noisy outboard (or inboard) required!

Since our move to Santa Barbara twenty years ago, I have learned to fear the wind. Hot Santa Ana gusts of up to 60 miles per hour have whipped down the canyon where we used to live, turning over lawn furniture, rattling windows and scattering unkept firepits into blazing infernos. So I have reason to fear that kind of wind.

But the wind on this lovely summer morning? Gentle, water driven, sufficient to set that elegant yacht flying across the water. As I’ve noted before in this series, what a difference a day makes.

I can tend to catastrophize sometimes. Can you? Not all wind is bad. In fact, a cool breeze on a warm day is an absolute gift. It’s a matter of degree.

Lord, help me not to overlook the gifts that are sometimes hidden in potentially life-threatening things. Give me eyes to see the potential for good that just might be hiding in a scary thing.