Touching the Holy

Every once in a while, life grants me a transcendent moment. Often, this happens when I am out of doors, gaping at the sea, the mountains, a redwood forest; snorkeling above coral reefs, standing in the wind on the deck of a ship, or staring down at the world from 35,000 feet. These moments are gifts, glimpses of the Mystery, those thin places between earth and heaven, a place/person/? which I choose to believe is much nearer to us than we can imagine, close enough to touch.

And once in a while, we do.

Music is often an entryway to heaven for me. Especially choral music. I’ve written before about my lifelong love for choral singing — listening to it, but mostly, singing it. Standing with a larger group of singers, making Beauty together is a privilege and a joy; I do not take it for granted.

Here is an example of a small piece of music that was instrumental in my own deeper awakening to the Spirit about twenty years ago. It is an audio recording of a piece that hit me right between the eyes when first I heard it up in the tower office that was mine when I worked on staff in our home church. I have listened to it hundreds of times and always, always  it moves me to tears and wonder. I had the privilege of singing it (though we did not sing it very well, I fear) in the choir I joined last year. This is one piece of nine that are part of a spectacular requiem mass written by Maurice Durufle, a French composer from the early-to-mid 20th century. There are frequently changing time signatures and many different keys throughout the entire mass, but this piece is one of the simpler ones, as written. But it is the most difficult to sing exactly right. Robert Shaw and his famous Chorale got it exactly right. Close your eyes and let this music wash over you.

“Sanctus” – by Maurice Durufle, using the text of the requiem Mass:

Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth,
pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua.
Hosanna in excelsis! Benedictus, qui venit in nomine Domini.
Hosanna in excelsis!

Holy, Lord God of hosts.
The heavens and the earth are full of Thy glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is He Who cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.

Do you see what I mean? Or perhaps this particular piece doesn’t lead you across the threshold in the same way it did me. I’m willing to bet however, that somewhere in your life there is one piece — or perhaps several — that help you to do just that.

Last week, our choir met again to prepare for our spring concert. We are doing a variety of anthems and folk songs, about five of which we’ve looked at so far. Of those five, two of them, TWO OF THEM, opened that door to the Holy in me as we sight-read them. The act of sight-reading is exhilarating, all by itself. It is one of my favorite things to do in the world: to take a stack of unseen music and work through it for the first time. So fun.

But these two? Oh, glory! The words simply stopped me. STOPPED me. And the close harmonies and moving choral parts? Well  . . . that was three days ago and I am still awash with gratitude and glory.  This first one pretty well sums up what I believe and have experienced with music . . . sing me to heaven, indeed.

“Sing Me to Heaven,” words by Jane Griner, music by Daniel E. Gawthrop

In my heart’s sequestered chambers lie truths stripped of poets’ gloss
Words alone are vain and vacant, and my heart is mute
In response to aching silence, memory summons half-heard voices
And my soul finds primal eloquence, and wraps me in song
If you would comfort me, sing me a lullaby
If you would win my heart, sing me a love song
If you would mourn me and bring me to God,
sing me a requiem, sing me to Heaven
Touch in me all love and passion, pain and pleasure
Touch in me grief and comfort, love and passion, pain and pleasure
Sing me a lullaby, a love song, a requiem
Love me, comfort me, bring me to God
Sing me a love song, sing me to Heaven

And number two? Yes, yes. This is the cry of my heart for me and for all those I know and love who are struggling to see God in the midst of their pain, to believe in the midst of crushing doubt, to take a step into the unknown when it feels dark and murky and above all, lonely. 

I invite you to take steps into the holy, my friends. To look for thresholds in your day-to-day living, to ask for eyes to see and ears to hear. May you find small moments when loneliness recedes and hope rises, rises, rises.

“Even When He Is Silent” – music by Kim Andre Arnesen
          The text for the piece was found in a concentration camp after World War 2:
          The key signature encourages director and singer to set the metronome for 54 per quarter note and adds these remarkable words, ‘with hope.’ Indeed, indeed.
I believe in the sun, even when it’s not shining.
I believe in love, even when I feel it not.
I believe in God, even when He is silent.

“What Is Your Hand Made For?” — SheLoves

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As I faced into the writing deadline for this month, I found myself on vacation, resting with our family on the island of Kauai, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, far away from the demands of our busy life at home. It was good to be there, to be quiet and laid back — because ‘laid back’ is a particularly good state of mind for wrestling with the idea of grit.

The first thing that came to me upon reading this month’s theme was the word, ‘stubbornness!” I remembered that when I was raising our two daughters, I told myself often that any evidence of stubbornness in their nature would serve them well in later life; it was my job to help them learn to control and channel it. Women often need to have more than a little stubbornness to make it in life, to pursue their calling, to become the fullest selves they can be. I believed this to be more true for them than for my son, and I still do. Women need a little something extra, even in this age of egalitarianism. The years since my kids were little have taught me to redefine what that ‘something’ is, however. And our vacation in Hawaii helped me to put words to that definition, and gave me a good question to ask myself, and all those whom I love and counsel.

I learned it at a small slack-key concert, of all places. Twice a week, the little town near our vacation condo offered that lovely music, along with stories and reflections, at the local community center. My husband and I forked over the fifteen bucks each and thoroughly enjoyed our two hours of listening and learning.

Somewhere in the story-telling time, the question that titles this post was offered to the audience. It’s an old idea in Hawaiian culture, and it’s a rich and thoughtful one. Young adults are asked to consider this question as they make decisions about their life work, and I think it’s a question worth asking for all of us.

“What is your hand made for?”

 When we know the answer to that question, everything else somehow comes into clearer focus, don’t you think? What are YOU meant to do with your ‘one wild and precious life?’ How has God formed you? Where should you invest your energies? Who are you designed to be?

Wrestling out the answer to that question is one of the primary tasks of life; it is so worth pondering and exploring. Once we have found the answer to that life-query, then we need to find whatever grit is necessary to move toward it.

Because grit alone will not do the job. There must also be a deeply-seated desire – a desire that is directed, intentional, and God-given — in order for grit to do it’s good work. Without a clear sense of where we’re headed, all the grit in the world will not get us where we want to be. . . 

Like to know what else I think you need? Read the rest of this piece over at SheLoves today. Always a good conversation happening over there!

Do You Believe This? — SheLoves

Wonderful themes going this year over at SheLoves. This month? Permission — a topic I absolutely loved writing about because I think it’s so important, especially for women. Please start that piece here and then follow the link over to one of the richest places on the internet.

Henrietta Mears

I had a boss once who used the phrase, “Better to ask forgiveness than permission.” That little sentence used to bother me a little, having lived the formative years of my life as an oh-so-obedient eldest child, one who asked permission for everything. I spent way too many minutes (years?) of my life worrying about where to go, whom to ask, and how to find permission to try most anything and everything.

But if there is one thing I’ve learned well in the past few decades, it is this: permission is highly overrated. Too often, the word has been dangled over our heads (our female heads, most especially), and with eyebrows raised and fingers pointed, we’ve been asked, “Who said you could do that?”

I grew up at the tail end of the ‘behave like a lady’ thinking that permeated North American culture for generations. Like children, women were to be seen, but not heard, ‘respected,’ even revered, but not fully included nor even invited into the story of the 20th century church.

But in 1950’s southern California evangelical circles, there was one woman who changed that trajectory dramatically. Her name was Henrietta Mears and she was a dynamo. She broke through barriers right and left. Though I never knew her, her life made a mark on mine. And then there was Roberta Hestenes, an ordained Presbyterian pastor and seminary professor who singlehandedly began to change the way many streams of evangelical mid-twentieth-century Christianity viewed women. She never asked permission for anything, she just quietly followed God’s lead and taught us all some valuable lessons about personhood, calling and obedience.

 

So in the spirit of solidarity with such women through the ages, I’d like to pause a moment and remind us all of what we do not ever need permission to do. Are you ready?

Click here to join the conversation – it’s a good one today.

God Is in the Business of REDEMPTION! Can I Get an Amen?

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I WANT YOU TO HEAR ME WHEN I SAY THIS, OKAY?

I want you to hear me in my preacher-voice, my emotional voice, my truest voice. I want you to hear me cry out with conviction, to see me raise my hands in benediction and thanksgiving, to believe me when I tell you this powerful, life-changing, life-saving truth:

OUR GOD IS IN THE BUSINESS OF REDEMPTION!

Can I hear an ‘amen?’ Maybe a ‘hallelujah,’ even if it is the middle of Lent? Oh, yes. I’m standin’ in the need of a great big hallelujah over here tonight.

I have felt God moving me toward this declaration for a few days now. I think maybe it started with these flowers, these dying flowers. They were headed for the trash can, after many days of gracing our table with their beauty and color, twisting their pretty heads toward the light, bending and dipping in the breezes created by people walking by. The sunlight on their last day happened to catch them in all their radiant, lingering, grace-filled glory. And I was reminded that even death is a beautiful thing in God’s world. A hard thing, yes, yes. But beautiful in its own way, bringing with it a reminder of our mortality, our inevitable end, the cessation of life as we know it now, in this place.

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Oh, yes. Even dying things carry the beauty of creation and the mark of redemption-in-process. Even dying things.

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And I am a dying thing, too. I don’t mean to depress you (or me) with that pronouncement), only to underline the truth of the matter. We are all dying. We forget it too easily, I think. From the moment of our very first breath, we are headed in only one direction. For some of us it will come painfully early. For others of us, it will feel too late. But it will come — it is part of us, every day. 

We have lost this truth to our peril, I believe. We need it near us, we need to hold it inside, like a precious gift, a coming reality. These bodies that carry us around are dying, they are fragile, they are not meant for eternity as they are now.

BUT — these bodies also carry within them the seeds, the heart, the soul of that forever place, our home-to-come. Case in point: healing and recuperation. It’s a miracle, I tell you. An incredible, day-by-day, minute-by-minute miracle, no matter how limited, no matter how slow, no matter how frustrating. When healing happens, it is a dang miracle, every single time. 

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I posted this picture on Facebook in the afternoon of February 21st of this year. I was in the emergency room after a terrible fall, face-first, onto asphalt while walking strongly across our local cemetery. I spent a night in the hospital and I was frightened. Hence, the picture-posting and the heartfelt request for prayers — which were quickly forthcoming, bringing hope and peace and rest — thank you all so very much.

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This picture was taken two days after I got home, with the bruising in full bloom. It hurt, it looked frightful and I felt every bit of this. At the time, I was very nearly convinced I would carry these colors around with me for the rest of my life. But day-by-day, minute-by-minute, things began to improve. Color is fading, swelling is gone, stitches are out, scars are smaller.
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The remnant remains, and will be around for a few more days, I’m sure. I’m thinking that perhaps the color will last as long as the post-trauma watchfulness period of one month required for every person on blood-thinning medication who experiences trauma to the head. Only one week left for that.

But here’s the point I want to make: I carry within me the seeds of eternal life, you see? And so do you. The body’s ability to heal itself is amazing. There is no other word that will cover it.

Both the flowers and the face are leading to the real story I want to tell you tonight. The most powerful picture of redemption, of healing, of God’s Spirit made real — the most powerful picture that I have seen in a long, long time was on display in our sanctuary tonight. It’s a grand tale, filled with woe and brokenness. But at the end? Victory! Challenges met, lives turned around, healing from the inside out. These bruises may not have been as visible as the ones on my face, but they were every bit as real, every bit as painful, every bit in need of deep, deep healing.

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This night, our church was fortunate enough to host the graduation service for four women and eleven men who have successfully completed the one-year residential program at the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission. My dear friends, if you want a visceral, heartfelt reminder of the ongoing work of God in this world of ours, I strongly encourage you to find such a service wherever it is you live. The work of rescue missions in this world is one of the surest ways to experience the power of grace and the goodness of God that I know anything about. 
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These photos were taken during the closing moments of a 90-minute celebration of worship that gave testimony to God’s redemptive power at work. Our small sanctuary was filled to the rafters with excited, supportive, grateful people. People who don’t look a bit like the usual crew that fills these pews. Muscular men, covered in tattoos, gloriously redeemed women with high, high heels and even higher hair. Skin tones across the rainbow, very mixed educational levels, not one thing homogenous about this congregation. 

AND IT WAS CHURCH. Church like we rarely experience it. Loud hollering, clapping, stomping, singing. I mean LOUD. I got up to offer a word of welcome and an opening prayer after the graduates had walked in to the tape-recorded music of “Pomp and Circumstance,” each one greeted like a rock star by friends, family, alums of the program, staff and co-residents. I asked the entire center section to please consider coming to our worship service in the morning because — I’ve gotta tell you! — we’ve never heard anything like that before. 

Now if you’ve read this blog before, you know that I love our church. I love our worship times, I enjoy the preaching, I’m grateful for the community. None of that is changed by my experience tonight. I love who we are and who it is we are in the process of becoming. 

But tonight, I got a glimpse of something we don’t see very often. I got a peek behind the curtain, a look a the work of the Wizard, the kind of work that isn’t nearly so dramatic in our usual community. That usual work is real and deep and I’m grateful for us. And yes, I see God’s redemptive power in all kinds of ways and places in the midst of our life together.

Also? I’m grateful, right down to my toes, that I don’t have a story like the ones I heard tonight. Yes, I’ve lost loved ones and friends to addiction. But the stories I heard tonight are not part of my day-to-day life. And yet. . . 

I need the stories that I heard tonight. I need to be reminded that God is about so much more than what happens in my world, my very small and intimate world. I will write again about God in the details, God in the everyday, God in the goodness and beauty of creation, God in the midst of my own personal story. This is the truth of my story — I love it, I live it, I share it, I’m grateful for it.

But these stories? Oh, my. Out-of-the-pit kind of rescue stories, finding salvation in the midst of death, jail, addiction, estrangement, abuse stories. Oh, my friends. GOD IS IN THE BUSINESS OF REDEMPTION. May we shout it from the rooftops once-in-a-while!

Hallelujah, thank you, Jesus. PRAISE YOUR NAME.

And may we all stand shoulder to shoulder with the people who carry these stories around inside them, offering our hands/arms/hearts in blessing, solidarity, encouragement, thanksgiving. Because these are our stories, too, aren’t they? All of us who claim the name of Jesus are related to the people in these photos, all of us are sinners, standing in the need of grace. All of us are broken up, broken down, torn-up, messed-up, needy people WHO ARE REDEEMED. Every single one of us. Praises be!

 

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Added one day late — photos of the altar piece, which was planned to go along with the scripture passage for Sunday. And which — and this is SO like God! — fit perfectly with the celebration we enjoyed on Saturday night:

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Because each member of our current pastoral staff was committed to other activities on this Saturday evening, I was invited to stand in for them in welcoming the Rescue Mission crew to our facilities and to open the service with prayer. Don kindly sent me an description of the altar piece in advance and I was able to help the 400+ people in attendance understand why they were looking at a collection of ‘dead’ branches and broken pottery. Our Sunday morning text was superbly preached on by Associate Jon Lemmond today — the story of the birth of the first board of deacons in the early church. Out of brokenness (the immigrant widows were being ignored), came beautiful service (members of that immigrant community were ordained and commissioned to be the careful servants of those in need). Out of brokenness, comes new life!

And these are the words God gave me yesterday afternoon as I prepared for the opening prayer. As always, God provides what needs to be said, graciously picking up threads that even I don’t know are there:

Our great and good God, maker of heaven and earth,
the one who calls us from darkness to light and brings us from death to new life, we greet you tonight with full hearts and open arms.

Thank you for showing up in the lives of these graduates, for walking with them, and with all of us, through the tough stuff of this life and for redeeming every single struggle that we’ve somehow, by your grace, managed to survive. We know that the grace that brought us to this evening’s festivities continues to prepare us for the promise of new life to come.

Thank you, Lord God, for each graduate,
for each family member,
friend, loved one,
staff member, cheerleader,
trusted sidekick;
for those who’ve shown tough love when it was needed and have shown your love, no matter what.

Thank you for the gift of hopes realized,
of dreams come true, 
of a future where once there was none.

Thank you for calling us to celebrate,
for always inviting us to the table of your grace,
for clothing us in the righteousness of your Son, Jesus,
and for filling us with the fresh Wind of the Holy Spirit.

We give tonight’s service to you as a gift of love and worship, and as we do, we want to remember
who we are:

We are, every single one of us, your children,
          deeply loved,
          highly valued,
          and richly gifted.

We are the beloved.

Help us never to forget that, to cling to that strong statement
like the lifesaving, world-changing truth that it is.

And help us, through the words, music, prayers, tears, laughter and love shared tonight to see you in the faces of one another. Because you promise us that is exactly where you can be found.

All praise to the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, whom we know and love because of Jesus, Amen.

Stepping into the Shoes — SheLoves

It’s the last Saturday of the month – so it must be my turn to offer a contribution over at SheLoves Magazine! You can start that piece right here and then follow the links over to finish it off . . .

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I’m not quite sure how I got pegged as a leader, but somehow, it happened. Not in my school or social settings, however; it happened at church, after my family moved and we began attending a church with a large youth ministry.

And I went to everything.

I loved church. I felt safe there, secure, even confident. Church attendance was always a part of our family story. Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, Wednesday evenings, social events, weddings, memorial services. Yeah, we went to it all. I was an eager middle school learner with a sweet, college-aged Bible leader on those Sunday evenings. And that woman was among the first to identify leadership and teaching gifts in me.

Those gifts got put on the sideline after college, at least for a few years. We served overseas together and had our 3 kids pretty quickly. And when they were 7, 5 and 3, we shifted to a more local congregation, and it was in that place that my gifts were recognized, affirmed, identified and labeled as gifts belonging to a pastor.

A pastor? Me?

I had never seen a woman lead in worship, unless it was a visiting single missionary or the local leading layperson in youth ministry. Never.

That idea, which was in many ways the natural progression of what began when I was twelve years old, never entered my mind.  So my decision to go to seminary in my mid-forties was based on what I experienced as a call to seminary, a desire to become a better Bible teacher, a more experienced worship planner. Even while there, I honestly never thought about leading a congregation in a pastoral role.

But two of my male professors called me out on that. “We see the gifts, Diana. Why not pray and consider whether or not God might be preparing you for exactly that?”

And so a long discernment process began during the second of my four years in school. And one late afternoon in year three, while taking a long walk around my neighborhood and earnestly seeking God’s wisdom and will, 

Please click here to join me over at SheLoves . . .

What a Woman Is Worth — Launch Day!!

The Big Day is finally here! A wonderful collection of essays, edited and organized by Tamara Lunardo, is releasing today on Amazon! I am honored to be included — in fact, to contribute the final piece in the collection — with a remarkable group of women writers, speaking to the truth that women matter. No matter how life has treated us, we matter to God and we matter to one another.

Here’s the beautiful cover of our book and at the end of this post is a shot of the back cover, too. As those of you who read here with any regularity will know, this essay was written quite a while ago! Almost exactly two years ago, to be exact. Lilly is now 4 years and 2 months old; in this piece she is not yet two. But the truth of who she is is always the same. Here is the first section of the final essay in this fine collection:
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Lilly is 22 months old, and a real pistol. Funny, charming, inquisitive, secure in herself and in the love of her family. She plays with us two days each week – one of the perks of grandparenting and retirement. And every time she’s here, I celebrate who she is becoming.

Last week, she climbed up onto my bed (where all good computer work is done in this house) and begged to see ‘pichures, pichures!’ So I opened iPhoto and went directly to her favorite event: her older sister’s 6th birthday party. Each time we look at this set, we scroll through all 90 photos, identifying as many people as we can, usually lingering longest at the pictures of the ‘happy cake-cake.’

Lilly has not quite grasped the truth that these ‘pichures’ she loves so much are only 2-dimensional representations and not actually tiny versions of the people she sees every day. Sometimes she will cup her hands next to the screen and say, “I pick her up! I pick her up!” puzzled that she can’t quite make that happen.

But one day last week, she surprised me with words that marked my heart in a powerful way. She surprised me with what she did understand. She saw a close-up of her own face. And she patted the screen gently, saying, “Oooh, that’s Rirry [still working on those L’s]. She so cute. I love her.”

“She so cute…I love her.” I wrapped my arms around her small body and kissed her on the back of the neck and said, “Oh, YES, Lilly. You are so cute and I love you, too. I hope and I pray that you will always be able to look at yourself in exactly this way. Always.”

What is it that happens to us between early childhood and adulthood? Why is it so easy for us to lose that clear, common-sense, of-course-I’m-loveable-it’s-just-so-obvious-I’m sure-you-can-see-this-too sense of our value, our worth, our intrinsic ‘rightness?’ And what, as parents, aunts and uncles, siblings, cousins, grandparents of girls – what can we do to foster an atmosphere in which little girls will always see themselves this way? When we look in the mirror at age 16 or 21 or 35 or 50 or 75 or 90, why shouldn’t we be able to see ourselves through eyes of love?

Is this not the message of the Gospel? Is this not the Truth that Jesus saw and taught and modeled and lived? That fundamentally, to be a human person is a good, good thing. So good that God chose to be clothed with our flesh, to walk through the steps of our life, to eat and sleep and laugh and cry, to connect with others and to spend time alone, to hang out with all different kinds of people and see each of them as interesting and important and valuable? Yes, I think so. . . 

To read the rest, you’ll just have to buy the book!

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Iced Tea, Decaf, and the World Changing on Its Axis: A Deeper Story

My monthly contribution to the wonderful collection of essays at A Deeper Story is up today. Click here to continue reading:

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The California sunlight was angling in the window, scattering itself, checker-board style, across the shiny surface of our table. I could feel its warmth on that crisp fall day as she and I visited, chattering about life and family, checking in.

The woman across the table from me was twenty-plus years my senior, a spiritual mentor for most of my life. I had a glass of iced tea that day, she a cup of decaf, and we were splitting a piece of pie after enjoying some soul-warming soup.

I remember that I was animated as we talked, excited about something I was learning in school. I was midway through a 4-year seminary experience at that point in my life, tentatively exploring whether or not God might be calling me to ministry.

She was intrigued and a bit cautious, wondering if I had bitten off more than I could chew. Mostly, though, she wanted to hear me talk. Always a learner, she couldn’t help but be excited by my enthusiasm for lectures, large books, and hard questions.

At some point in our conversation, she sat back with a big smile on her face, dropping every bit of caution from her voice. “Diana,” she said. “I am so excited for you! I’m so glad you’ve gone back to school — I remember when I did that for a year and how much fun it was to be in the classroom again.”

“Exactly,” I replied. “It ifun. It is exhilarating.”

And then I felt the sting of tears. She looked at me with concern and asked what the tears were about. And this is what I said:

“I love what I’m doing. I love it. And I believe more and more each day that this is exactly where God wants me to be. More than that, I think God may be pushing me into ordination, to a job, working as a pastor.”

“Ah,” she said. “A job. Is that what brings the tears?”

“No, not really. This is what makes me feel sad: that I would never be doing this, never, if my husband were not making enough money for me to pay the tuition costs. And to pay them easily, without any member of my family having to sacrifice one thing for me to be in school.”

And then she began to cry. She understood this kind of thinking all too well.

After all, that’s how she raised me. 

Women are the ones who sacrifice for their families. Not men. Not children. Women. In her world, God could not be calling any woman to do something that would cost her family anything. Not.Possible.

Please follow me over to A Deeper Story to continue reading about this life-changing event/realization. I’d love to interact with you in the comments over there.

Ribbons ‘n’ Roses — Reflections on Creative Arts as Ministry for The High Calling

This essay was written several months ago and shifted between editors at The High Calling. It’s posting today during a week of emphasis on visual and creative arts as ministry. Click here to read the entire piece. . .

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The sun would just be coming through the early morning clouds as I drove through the quiet, on my way to the Flower Mart in downtown Los Angeles. It was part of the ritual, the dance, of doing this work that I loved. I only did it part time and I only did it for seven years, but I loved it.

It began with our eldest daughter’s wedding. We were on a budget, I enjoyed working with flowers and I saw an opportunity inviting me to leap. So I jumped in with both feet. I applied for a resale number from the state of California, hired a friend to design a logo and business cards, and “Ribbons ‘n’ Roses” was born.

I worked with a good friend to produce beautiful floral décor for about two weddings or parties every month. I loved the creativity, the people, and the beauty of each arrangement, but I suppose my favorite part of all was that early morning drive to the Flower Mart, a place packed with rich delights and unholy confusion. Most of the mart is contained in one enormous, two-story warehouse with scores of individual flower vendors and one large supply center. Driving into the garage while it is nearly dark and then emerging into this brightly lit, bustling activity center is an exercise in delightful cognitive dissonance.

Carts and trucks are loaded, advice is given, cash is handed over, packages are wrapped—all of it infused with the sweet scent of flowers. With the car loaded and my bills paid, I would usually end the morning with breakfast at the adjacent Chinese diner. I would listen to conversations between buyers and sellers as they ate their char siu pork, rice, and eggs, absorbing as much information as I could.

I had no training, you see . . . 

Come on over the The High Calling to find out more . . .

Show Me the Way — Reflections on Retirement for The High Calling

I’m writing at one of my favorite places today — The High Calling, working this time with Sam Van Eman as part of a series on transitions. Join me there to read the whole essay — and engage in the conversation.

Painted in Waterlogue

For nearly 25 years, my life looked like this: raising three children, volunteering in church and community, editing school newsletters, teaching Bible studies, and hanging a whole lotta wallpaper (It was the 70s, remember wallpaper?). I think they called what I did then, ‘staying home;’ all I know is that it was the hardest and most rewarding work I’ve ever done.

In my early 40s, our family life began to shift. My kids were in college, with the eldest one married and the younger two getting closer to marriage every day. I attended a day-long retreat that offered interaction with career counselors, and began to dream about possibilities for the second half of life.

I thought about teaching. I began a small floral business in my garage. I talked to God, my husband, my children, and my friends.

And then there was this pastor/friend who gently suggested that I consider enrolling in the fine seminary just five miles down the hill from our home. That idea resonated deep inside me, and I began to ponder what it might mean.

About five years later, I began my life as a seminary student. There I experienced a direct call from God to pursue ordination and work as a member of a church staff. I graduated when I was 48, took an unpaid position for three years while I jumped through hoops for ordination, and then—at 52—began a 14-year commitment as Associate Pastor about 120 miles north of our home in the San Gabriel Valley. My husband and I made the move. He commuted to his own job until we both retired in 2010.

I’m not sure I can find words to describe how difficult it was to make that last transition. Retirement. I loved being a pastor. I had done hard work to become one, and I wasn’t sure what not being a pastor would look like in the community in which we now live. I had only ever been a pastor here; a member of the workforce. No one knew me as a family person, my former primary identity. Who would I be now?

So I did a lot of prayerful listening—listening to the Spirit’s words within me, listening to my family and my friends, to my co-workers, and to the deepest parts of myself . . .

Please click here to read the rest of this post . . .

 

The House That Hope Builds – A SheLoves Link-Up

This piece is a bit of a strange one, at least for me. I’ve been inspired by the prose songs written by Sarah Bessey and Idelette Mcvicker over at SheLoves Magazine. And this month’s theme was hope. So this is a song for the house that hope builds, using as inspiration two quotes, one from an author and one from a poet, both of whose words are genius.IMG_4114

“The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for.
And the most you can do is live inside that hope.
Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.”
– Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams

This is an essay of sticks and mortar, foundations and rooftops, sturdy walls, open windows and a wide, wide front door. This is an ode to life, in all its complexity and wonder, it’s murkiness and pain. This is a song of beauty, written in a minor key, one that resolves now and again to a glorious major chord. This is a hymn of praise and a psalm of lament. This is an acknowledgement, a breathed prayer, a testimony, a promise . . . that hope rises, even from the valley of darkness.

to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.
     – Ellen Bass

This is an encouragement to sing, to shout, to dance. And this is glad permission to weep, to wail, to wonder. This is a weaving of many colors, each of which enriches the whole; a smorgasbord of many flavors, some of them sweet, some decidedly bitter. This is a call to courage, a plea for patience, a painting done by candlelight, revealed in the brightness of day. This is Life, and this is where we live it. Right here, right now.

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Will you build this house with me? We have a ‘firm foundation,’ promised us from the beginning of time, known to us in the breaking of bread. We walk with the Master Builder, the one who knows our name, the keeper of the keys, the giver of grace.

Will you build it with me?

Will you come and stand by my side. Yes, wherever you are, imagine you are standing shoulder to shoulder with me and all those who build this place. Now, will you look up? What do you see? A starry sky? A cloudy day? A canopy of trees, a row of rooftops, a scarlet light wending its way through a blue, blue dome?

Whatever your view, stand with me and look. Let your gaze relax, your mouth drop open, your lungs deflate, and then draw in the freshness you need for the task ahead.

Are you ready to work?

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What’s that in your hand? What do you bring? A flagon of tears, collected from lost boys and girls? A bowl of laughter, flowing up and over the edge? A story of love and losing? A tale of lost and found?  A poem of love’s declaration, an ode to your broken dreams? A saga of satiety and fullness? A pitcher, poured out, yet ready to receive?

IMG_3624Everything is welcome, each piece necessary. For what we build is a glory. A crazy quilt of pattern and plain, a castle keep built on strength and also on weakness. These walls will withstand the wildest of winds, the roof will shelter and keep us.

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Come with me now, let’s dig in and do this. We’ll whistle while we work, and let the chips fall where they may. For this is the house that hope builds, the place where everyone belongs.

Shall we begin?

Linking this with the fine people at SheLoves, their January link-up on HOPE. Maybe you could do that, too? 

 

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