Archives for October 2016

31 Days of Paying Attention — Day Twenty-Three


And then, it was my turn to point to something as we walked in the gardens of the Natural History Museum during that poetry workshop last month. I went immediately to this potted plant, which was drawing both humming birds and bees to its blooms. I was attracted to its vibrant color first of all — if you haven’t figured this out already, I happen to love clear, bright colors. It sparkled in the sunlight of the late afternoon and I could see why the hummers and the bees found it appealing.

But as I stared at it for a minute, and waited for the words to come, the metaphor to take shape, I was struck by this particular bloom, which was more than half gone. So am I. That is both a hard truth to acknowledge and a lovely piece of truth. My journey is more than half done. 

But there are parts of this half-done plant that are still vibrant, colorful, and attractive to God’s creatures. Yeah, that’s what I want to be, please God. That’s what I want to be:

magenta bracts
gray-green leaves
reaching every which way
all in place —
hanging on,
hanging on.


31 Days of Paying Attention — Day Twenty-Two


Late last summer, my husband and I took a walk at one of our favorite spots — Coal Oil Point, on the campus of UCSB way out in Goleta. Actually that neighboring town is only about a ten mile drive from our home, but I may have adopted the attitude of so many Santa Barbara folk, an attitude that I detested when I first moved here. There is this pervasive air of complaint about getting in the car and going anywhere other than here. Somehow, driving to Goleta is like heading out to the boonies! You know, I lived in the San Gabriel Valley for almost thirty years and thought nothing of driving ten miles or more to visit a favorite store or restaurant. But here? Somehow, the distances are more bothersome. I’m workin’ on that one!

This spot is high on the bluffs, with gravel pathways for foot traffic and bicycles, pathways that lead to an isolated surfing beach with a stunning view. I’ve used pictures from this place before. In fact, they were the primary illustrations for the first e-book I published called, “Living the Questions.” That small book grew out of a blog series I did several years ago and used a surfing analogy to get us into the topic.

But this particular shot was taken from a different location than most of my previous ones. In fact, I had to look at it for a while in order to correctly identify where it was taken. Almost all of the beaches that I photograph are distinct and I can tell immediately which one I’m looking at. But this picture showed me a little bit different slice of the beauty out there at Coal Oil Point.

We can become so accustomed to the usual, to the expected. Changing the parameters of that viewfinder can reveal all kinds of thing, don’t you think? Where are you focussed right now? Is there something in  your field of vision that is consuming you these days? Do you need to switch it up for a few minutes, turn that focus slightly to the left or right and look at things with a fresh eye?

This whole idea of changing perspective, angle, viewfinder seems to be a recurring theme in this series. Maybe it’s really, really important.


31 Days of Paying Attention — Day Twenty-One


There is one word that jumps out at me from this lovely quotation, the longest one I found on those four stone obelisks at the Mater Dolorosa Retreat Center when I stayed there in September. Can you guess which word it is?

Lively, that’s the one. I’m a big believer in meditation and imaginative reading of scripture truth. And I believe that the practice/exercise described here is one worth doing, on a regular basis. And the central question to be asked during this practice? Oh, yes! This is the center of it all, isn’t it? “For whom are you suffering, my Jesus?”

For me? For us?

Yes, yes, and yes. 

Clearly, the entire quotation speaks to my heart, on multiple levels. But it is that small adverb which has truly captured me. “LIVELY.”

Is my faith lively? Is my love? That is exactly the right word. One I want to remember, to cling to, to ask for grace to live out. I desire a faith and a love that is lively. Full of LIFE — interesting, not stodgy; crackling, not dreary; curious, not stagnant; honest, not dissembling; open, not closed; lively.

What do you think?



31 Days of Paying Attention — Day Twenty


And then there was this magnificence! On our way north to the retreat, we saw a small sign when we stopped for gas: “Pinnacles National Park, 9 miles.” National Park? we wondered. So I looked it up. Pinnacles was recognized and set aside as a National Monument in 1916 — a good long time ago — but it wasn’t made into a National Park until 2012. Score! A new park, one we had never seen before.

So we made a mental note to take the road out to see it on our way home three days later. It was SO worth the trip, even though the road was narrow, twisty and steep and we were almost two hours later getting home than we had originally planned.

This particular terrain needs to be seen to be believed. Strange looking rock formations thrust their way out of the earth in an area barely 45 square miles wide. There is no road through the park, but there are two entrances, one on each side. The one available to us took us to a new Visitor Center which featured this view in its backyard. And then, we discovered a picnic area two miles further. So we drove, down, down, down and stopped there for about 90 minutes. We pulled out our fruit, cheese and crackers and just savored the view.

Sometimes paying attention means discovering things that have always been there, yet you’ve missed them. This was one of those times. One of our daughters used to live in the Monterey Bay area and we drove north to visit her little family regularly. The Camp we went to on this retreat is a spot I’ve driven to probably ten times over the past twenty years.

Yet we had never seen that sign.


Paying attention to small things can sometimes produce miraculous results! The sign was small; the park was glorious. Now this is a park for hikers, which we are not. And for spelunkers, which we also are not. But it’s also a space that can be appreciated for its beautiful strangeness — and that, we can do! We are appreciators of beautiful strangeness from way back!

This particular set of rocks is the result of a massive earthquake many thousands of years ago which caused a 200 mile shift in both directions. The strange chemical make-up of these crazily shaped rocks is only seen in one other place in our state . . . 200 miles to the south. But those don’t look like these physically — in fact, there is nowhere else on earth that looks quite like this place. 


The flowers here are the ones of late summer and early fall. Can you imagine what it must look like in the spring? California’s wildflowers are one of the most beautiful things on this earth. Now, because we caught sight of one small sign, because we took one small risk and went down a new road, we have discovered a brand new place to go looking for them.


You know, that gas station we chose to pull off the road and visit was not a very nice one — not clean, had only outdoor toilets because their well had run dry and it was not well-maintained.

But. That sign nearby it? Absolutely priceless! 


31 Days of Paying Attention — Day Nineteen


Even in the midst of drought, things grow. Our trip back home, heading south, was much more scenic! The details were sharp, as though someone had turned the focus lens on the camera and we could see everything shimmer. Family farms, industrial farms, small towns, groves of trees, rolling hills with shadows and pockets — all of it standing at attention for us to enjoy. 

What a difference a day makes.

If you don’t like what you see around you, wait a while. Breathe. Look closer in when the distant view is bleary. See if you can smell anything pleasant, or touch something soft, or eat something delicious. 

There is beauty to be found. Are we looking? Really looking?

Tell me what you saw today — or smelled/tasted/touched?




31 Days of Paying Attention — Day Eighteen


The second stop on our Poetry Walk (noted first on this day) was this fascinating plant. Our silent leader this round was a young woman, a college student who is a current member of Dr. Willis’s senior Honor’s Class. Each of our four stops took place in a very small space, maybe 30 feet from beginning to end. There is something to see with each step we take, you know, even if our world is small and circumscribed.

This sage-colored, pointy-leafed plant is a succulent of some kind, maybe a member of the aloe family? It’s color is muted, like most succulents, and the play of light and dark across its surface brought these words:

sunshine and shade
    play peek-a-boo
with your prickly arms,
each one shorter
   than the one before,
all ridged by
      stay away!

please don’t find me

Sometimes I have prickly arms, too. Do you? There are seasons when I don’t particularly want others around me too much. This doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I try to pay attention. I ask myself why I’m choosing isolation, trying to suss out where there is fear or anger inside. Those are two emotions that can rule us too often; sometimes we need to look at them, to let them breathe and dissipate. Then those thorns can rest, retract, retreat.

Wow — this paying attention business can get right up IN my business, it seems!


31 Days of Paying Attention — Day Seventeen


We are exceptionally D R Y here in California. At this end of a five year drought, one of the worst on record, everything looks and feels like tinder. Our drive north last month, usually one of the most beautiful stretches of road in the world, was marked by exceptionally hazy weather, making visibility difficult. The thick air was the result of wind-driven smoke from the wildfires about 30 miles to the west of us, over on Highway 1. For most of the way north, we could barely see the lovely, low foothills to our east.

And then we came around a bend and found this loveliness. Yes, that ripe golden color is evidence of the dryness I’m talking about. Yes, I hope and pray it will green up this winter and spring. BUT. Right here, right now, it made me catch my breath. I am sure that row of very green oak trees helped that gasp along, but the hills and the roadside alone — seen without the dreary filter of smoke and haze — were beauty enough.

Cleaning up our filters is a big part of paying attention, isn’t it? Releasing negative thoughts, buried anger, fatigue — all of the very human stuff that sometimes gets in the way of our really seeing things clearly. 

“Lift the smoke, Lord — the stubborn embers of my frustration, judgment, fear and grief. Help me to see the beauty right in front of me, right now, right here.”


A Prayer for Those Who Worry

It was my privilege to lead the congregation in prayer this morning. Our texts for the day included Proverbs 3:1-8, 1 Peter 5:5-9 and Matthew 6:25-34. The song just before the prayer was a lovely arrangement of James’ Ward’s “Consider the Lilies,” which is based on the gospel text of the day. 


“Seek first the kingdom,
keep the righteousness of God in view;
(you better) seek first the kingdom —
he said, all of these things will be added to you.”
                    (from ‘Consider the Lilies,’ by James Ward)

Such truth, Lord. Our songwriter this morning has borrowed the words of our gospel lesson and written truth. Good truth. Necessary truth. But such hard truth for us to live!

“Do not let loyalty and faithfulness forsake you,” says the writer of Proverbs, “bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart . . . Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.”

 Again, Lord. Truth. Good and necessary and hard.

And one more time today, we hear your word to us in Peter’s letter: “Cast all your anxiety on him,  for he cares for you.”

 We’re gettin’ it from all sides this morning, Lord God. It seems what it all comes down to is this idea of trust, isn’t it? It’s about getting our priorities in the right order, about paying attention to what we look at, it’s about remembering who we are, and — most importantly — it’s about remembering who YOU are.

Why is that such a tough thing for us to do? We are puzzling creatures, Lord, choosing, time and time again,

     to look in the wrong direction,

     to follow our worst instincts,

     to try like crazy to keep some kind of ‘control’ over our lives,

         our loved ones,

         our plans,

         our minds,

         our circumstances . . .

Yet what we really know to be true . . . what we really know is this: there is not much in this life over we which we have any real control.

You know us so well, don’t you? You know our penchant for anxiety, our desperate need to hold onto the reins, our yearning for all those puzzle pieces to fit together perfectly.

And so you teach us this good, necessary and oh-so-hard truth over and over again:

Trust.         Let go.         Believe in your goodness.

Relinquish our conniving, and all our anxious plotting, and rest in the truth that YOU are the one who sees the end from the beginning. YOU are the one who cares for us, who promises to walk with us, no matter what life throws our way.

We lost a good friend this week, Lord. We loved Arvid and now he is gone from us. Too soon — at least to our way of understanding. And we have other friends who are walking through difficult times, facing things that are hard and that we do not understand. Maybe we ourselves are the ones hearing news we did not plan on and do not want to hear.

And, of course, everything we see in the media causes that anxiety level to mount, from the election carnage to the wars in the Middle East, to the storms threatening the west coast this week, and the continuing, deeply rooted and festering racial tension, prejudice, and fear that rise up like the sins they are and seem to shake the foundations of our union

When these hard things happen, our go-to mode is almost always exactly the opposite of what our song and your word are saying to us today. We do worry; we are anxious. We do forget to trust you, only you, to set things right with this world of ours.

Will you forgive us, please? Forgive our faithlessness and our disloyalty. Forgive us for allowing our fears to push us into trying to manipulate people and circumstances, to pull strings, to work behind the scenes in a feeble attempt to make everything turn out the way we think it should.

Hear our prayer, O Lord!

And help us to bind your goodness and your loyalty and your faithfulness around our necks, like a beautiful, shimmering shawl, one that can wrap our worried hearts and over-anxious minds in warmth and release. One that can help us learn to trust.

For Jesus’ sake,










31 Days of Paying Attention — Day Sixteen




We have a small fishing industry here in Santa Barbara. I love to see their small boats sitting just off shore during the various seasons of the year — lobster, crab, salmon. halibut, even sea cucumbers!


They look tiny against the horizon, don’t they?


This one was checking traps last week — you can see the trap markers to the left of the picture.
Working boats and pleasure craft share our marina space and each type brings its own unique kind of beauty to our waterfront. I love to watch a graceful sloop or a sturdy looking catamaran sail by. But it is the working boats my eye is drawn to most often. Some of those boats have been part of the story of our town for decades, holding deliciousness in their freezers and hard working men and women at their helm.

Fishing is work. Yes, it is often pleasurable. But it is work, first and foremost. And somehow the phrasing of today’s quote from St. Paul of the Cross stirs in me a deep reminder of that truth. To fish in the sea of Christ’s sorrow is work, plain and not-so-simple. It does not come naturally to us to reflect on sad things, to step into another’s suffering and see what nourishment we might find there. But oh! It is good work. And necessary work.

Once again, the key word in this quote is ‘love.’ If we can firmly hold onto that powerful truth, everything changes. Christ willingly stepped into that sea of suffering because of divine love — divine love for human persons. This is the kind of ‘atonement theory’ that resonates with me at the deepest level: for God so loved the world. This is the bedrock truth of our faith and taking time to fish in these good waters is one of the healthiest and most life-giving things we can do.


Credo — for SheLoves, October 2016


When I saw the topic for this month — ConfessionTime — I must admit that my heart sank a little. Most of what I write is, in one way or another, a confession of who I am, what I think, how I’m feeling. I don’t have any deep, dark secrets that must be brought into the light at this stage of my life — the dirty linen has pretty much been hung out there for anyone to see. I’ve written here and elsewhere about my struggles with food and weight, my mixed emotions on this journey through dementia with my mother, my wrestling through the powerful grip of anxiety in my life and the fact that though my 50-year marriage is good, solid, rich and wonderful — it is far from perfect. Somehow, admitting that I frequently play one too many games of solitaire or Block Puzzle or that I occasionally binge watch British murder mysteries didn’t quite seem interesting enough for 800-1000 words!

And then it hit me: there is another way to define the word ‘confession.’ There is such a thing as a confession of faith, and I remembered that I have one, written down — a piece that is always a work in process. Each of us who tries to follow in the footsteps of Jesus has one of these — there is a ‘list’ somewhere inside us of what it is we truly believe, what we stake our life on. This is mine:

I believe . . .

in God the Father Almighty,

God who is bigger than anything I can think or imagine; God who is small enough to become a human embryo; God who lives forever in community as three Persons,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

I believe . . .

that all truth is God’s truth; that nothing science can discover makes God any less than who God is; that human creatures were designed to reflect the glory, intelligence, compassion, creativity, beauty, tenderness, and strength of this Great God and that we are invited to partner with God in the life-giving, freedom-granting, sin-forgiving, brokenness-healing good, good work that is the Kingdom call of the church.

I believe . . .

that the grace of God is grander than anything we know, broader than any idea we can conceive, wider than any ocean ever seen, and fully beyond our ability to comprehend. This means that anyone and everyone is welcome, that anyone and everyone is loved, that anyone and everyone is offered abundant, forever LIFE.

I believe . . .

PLEASE come on over to SheLoves and join the conversation. I’d love to know what things would be included in your own personal confession/credo! Just click right here!