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-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?


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.




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 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?