Redefining Terms — For SheLoves, May, 2018

Anyone who has read my work for any length of time will know that the content of this month’s essay at SheLoves has appeared, in slightly different form, here and in an ebook I put together about five years ago. It’s a BIG topic for me, essential to my spiritual and emotional health and sanity and I’m happy to have another venue in which to speak it true. I believe this to be one of the most important truths of our faith, one that can help us navigate any misguided theological input from our past. I’d love it if you would click over and join in the conversation at SheLoves.

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When I was a little girl, faithfully attending Sunday school each week, we had a little saying that went like this: “Jesus, Others and You – that’s how you spell JOY.” And I inhaled that sentiment like it was the sweetest of perfumes. YES! We should always be last on the list, giving ourselves away to Jesus and to other people. That’s how you live like Jesus, right? That’s how you are a good girl, a truly good girl.

As I got older, that simple phrase became a little more complicated, and the scent of it a little more cloying. This time, it went something like this: “He must increase, I must decrease,” lifting the words directly out of the mouth of John the Baptist near the end of chapter 3 in John’s gospel. From there, it morphed into, “More of Jesus, less of me,” and the older I got, the more terrified I became when I heard those words.

I didn’t recognize it as terror initially. In fact, I didn’t know how deeply this message had affected me until I began to be interested in spiritual direction. I first learned about direction by reading a series of novels, of all things. In the late 80’s and early 90’s, British author Susan Howatch wrote a great bunch of stories about priests in the Anglican church and I devoured those books when I was in my 40’s. They were earthy, to be sure, but they were also rich and filled with beautiful tidbits of theology and ecclesiology. Throughout the entire series, some of my favorite characters were spiritual directors.

So I began to look for a director, and the first woman I interviewed handed me the beautiful Prayer of Abandonment by Charles de Foucauld. It’s a beautiful prayer, filled with love, joyful submission, and trust. But I could not pray that prayer.

I tried, but I’d get to the word ‘abandon,’ and start gulping great gasps of air. I prayed about it, I talked it over with the woman who had given it to me, and her immediate response to me was this: “Diana, you need therapy. Not direction.” (Did I mention I was in seminary at the time and beginning to hear God’s call to professional ministry? What??? Pastors might need therapy? Well, that’s a great big YES.)

I spent the next twenty years trying to unpack what happened inside me as I read that prayer and, in the process, I have taken a long look at that old Sunday school saying and the use (or mis-use) of that verse from John 3. And I’ve done a TON of personal work on all kinds of important things. . . all because I gagged on the word, “abandon.”

There is lots more to these thoughts — come on over and join us at SheLoves!

A Wide Believing — For SheLoves, April 2018

I took a month off from SheLoves in March, but I’m back in the April edition, pondering some words that I found in the memoir I reviewed here last week — “Forgiving God,” by Hilary Yancey. Come on over to their site to finish this reflection. Click here.

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“If I could ask anything of us, this ragged band of us looking for a way home, crossing the Jordan River, it would be to believe wider for each other.” — Hilary Yancey,
in “Forgiving God: A Story of Faith,” pg.57.

 

I have heard the truth that ‘thoughts and prayers’ are not enough. This is a phrase shouted by voices around the world in recent days, words that flow from the painful experiences of those who are oppressed, victimized, traumatized, ostracized, threatened, abused and neglected. And these words are true. Thoughts and prayers are too often not enough, at least in the way ‘thoughts and prayers’ are so often understood and defined.

I find myself wondering if we have allowed our language about prayer to descend into the realm of cliché because we have not fully grasped what prayer is and what prayer can do. I am in the late autumn of my life and I still do not fully comprehend either the definition or the experience of prayer. It is an idea we use (and abuse) far too easily, I think, a word better saved for deep times of soul connection and firm commitment. It is no small thing to promise someone that you will pray for them; no, it is not.

Hilary Yancey’s words, quoted at the top of this post, are from her new memoir . . .

Please do click this link and come join us at SheLoves. After a month off, I’m back in that good space today with some thoughts about prayer, about widening our understanding, definition and practice of it. Just click here!

Walking in the Jesus Way: A Lenten Journey — Day Two

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Psalm 25:1-10, The Living Bible

To you, O Lord, I pray.
Don’t fail me, Lord, for I am trusting you.
Don’t let my enemies succeed.
Don’t give them victory over me.

None of those who have faith in God will ever be disgraced for trusting him. But all who harm the innocent shall be defeated.

Show me the path where I should go, O Lord;
point out the right road for me to walk.

Lead me; teach me; for you are the God who gives me salvation.
I have no hope except in you.

Overlook my youthful sins, O Lord!
Look at me instead through eyes of mercy and forgiveness,
through eyes of everlasting love and kindness.

The Lord is good and glad to teach the proper path to all who go astray;
he will teach the ways that are right and best to those who humbly turn to him.
And when we obey him, every path he guides us on is fragrant with his loving-kindness and his truth.

 

It really is all about the path,
isn’t it?

Finding it,
choosing it,
following it
staying on it,
trusting it.
Thank you for showing
the way,
and inviting me
into it.
Thank you for being
the way,

and for leading
the way,
for providing
the way,
and paving
the way,
and loving me
in the way that you do.

 

Please consider subscribing to this series by subscribing to the blog — the box is in the right sidebar. That way, these daily devotionals will show up in  your inbox each day of Lent, right up until Easter.

Walking in the Jesus Way: A Lenten Journey — Day One

This year, I am repeating a series I wrote three years ago — the last time the liturgical calendar brought us to Year B. This is a different kind of reflection than my usual photo/scripture/prose/prayer of the last few seasons. This one was more free-form. I find that appropriate for where I am in life just now — standing, somewhat unsteadily, in the aftermath of a horrendous community trauma. I’ll re-edit, add new photos here and there, but basically, these meditations will be the same ones I wrote then. And somehow, that feels wise and good at this moment in time. We begin here . . .

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Today, the calendar moves away from the season of Epiphany into one of preparation for the next great feast of the Christian church — Easter. We have arrived at Ash Wednesday, that beautiful beginning of the wilderness season, the season of Lent. 40 days plus 6 Sundays of thinking about how we live before God, looking for ways in which we can be more generous and eliminate clutter, both physically (fasting) and spiritually (carving out more time for silence and reflection).

Each day of Lent, I will choose a scripture lesson from the daily lectionary, find a photo that in some way connects to that passage (at least, for me) and offer a few brief words of reflection, trying to do so in a somewhat poetic form. This is a season that seems to call out for poetry. And brevity.

My own daily practice will be a form of lectio divina — a quiet reading of the text, multiple times, asking for words/phrases that speak to me in that moment . . . a word from the Lord. The reflections, which may often seem like prayers, will flow from the reading and/or the photo.

Will you come along with me, into the wilderness? I do believe that’s the place where God does good, good work in us. 

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Isaiah 58:1-12, The Message

“Shout! A full-throated shout!
Hold nothing back—a trumpet-blast shout!
Tell my people what’s wrong with their lives,
face my family Jacob with their sins!
They’re busy, busy, busy at worship,
and love studying all about me.
To all appearances they’re a nation of right-living people—
    law-abiding, God-honoring.
They ask me, ‘What’s the right thing to do?’
and love having me on their side.
But they also complain,
‘Why do we fast and you don’t look our way?
Why do we humble ourselves and you don’t even notice?’

 “Well, here’s why:

“The bottom line on your ‘fast days’ is profit.
You drive your employees much too hard.
You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight.
    You fast, but you swing a mean fist.
The kind of fasting you do
won’t get your prayers off the ground.
Do you think this is the kind of fast day I’m after:
a day to show off humility?
To put on a pious long face
and parade around solemnly in black?
Do you call that fasting,
a fast day that I, God, would like?

“This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
to break the chains of injustice,
get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
free the oppressed,
cancel debts.
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry,
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’

“If you get rid of unfair practices,
    quit blaming victims,
    quit gossiping about other people’s sins,
If you are generous with the hungry
    and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,
Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,
    your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.
I will always show you where to go.
I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—
firm muscles, strong bones.
You’ll be like a well-watered garden,
a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,
restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
make the community livable again.

 

To all appearances . . .’
Ah, yes . . . appearances.

Why are they so important?

Lord, deliver me from snap judgments,
reactive interactions,
defensiveness.

Give me eyes to see to the heart
of the person in front of me —
beyond what they look like,
beyond what they act like.

That’s how I long to be seen!

That’s how I am seen . . .
by you.

You ask a lot.
But then . . . so do I.
On this journey,
may I
ask less,
receive more,
give more.

Do your work of restoration
in me, through me.

 

 

Please consider subscribing to this series by subscribing to the blog — the box is in the right sidebar. That way, these daily devotionals will show up in  your inbox each day of Lent, right up until Easter.

“Open Your Eyes to the Light” — SheLoves, July 2017

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Benedict of Nursia:
          “However, late, then, it may seem, let us rouse ourselves from lethargy. That is what scripture urges on us when it says: the time has come for us to rouse ourselves from sleep. Let us open our eyes to the light that can change us into the likeness of  God. Let our ears be alert to the stirring call of his voice crying to us every day: today, if you should hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

 If we trace it back, the root of lethargy is often fear. And this is what I know about fear: it slams the door on light. When we are afraid, anxious, worried, preoccupied with all that is wrong, evil and difficult in our world, there is no room for the light to shine.

So let’s talk about fear, shall we?

I see it everywhere these days — on the news, in the headlines, spreading its tendrils all across the internet. Some days, it is downright palpable. Even more alarming, I see it creeping into conversations within the broader Christian community. It often takes the form of suspicion, accusation, bullying and labeling.

            “How can you call yourself a Christian if you believe ________
“If you welcome
those kind of people, then how can you be true to scripture?
             “The sin of person “A” is so much worse than the sin of person “B” that s/he                                     must be excluded at all costs.”

Words are flung around like darts, leaving wounds wherever they land, lines are being drawn, battle cries sounded. And curling around every shout, every barb, every accusation, is the acrid smoke of fear.

We are afraid that the Bible will be mistreated.
We are afraid that our standards will be lowered.
We are afraid that our doctrinal stand will be softened.

And most of all, we are afraid that if these things happen, our image of God will be forever altered. The bottom line, if we’re really honest, is that we are terrified that our understanding of who God is and how God behaves and whom God loves will slip out of our ‘control.’ We have given in to the fear that the foundation will be shaken beyond recovery and that the slippery slope will lead us all straight to hell.

Whoa!

Can we take a breath here? Can we step back from the precipice and re-focus our attention on the God we meet in the work, words and person of Jesus Christ, the one who is revealed to us in the pages of our scripture and in the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in our world?

“Let us open our eyes to the light that can change us into the likeness of God.”

 Read that line out loud, would you? Several times.

If you breathe in those words, focus on them, meditate on them, I think you will discover them to be the antidote for all the fear we carry . . .

Please follow this link over to SheLoves today and join the conversation about the power of fear and how we so often get things backwards!

31 Days of Paying Attention — Day Nine

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Do you see that lovely arch out there? It is the source of the name of the state park in which it is located – Natural Bridges. We drove out there from our retreat center fairly early in the morning of our first full day. Discovering that it would cost us ten bucks to drive onto the campground, we opted to go in the opposite direction, toward the parking lot right at the edge of the cliff that overlooks this rock. From that viewpoint, this is what we saw:

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Do you see any sign of that lovely arch from this angle?

Nada. Zilch. Nope. 

Your point of view, your perspective, your position makes a huge difference in what you can actually see. I’ve had days, I’ve had seasons, I’ve had YEARS when parts of my life looked like a solid, dark wall. And then, a simple shift in my viewpoint, a slight difference in my perspective, a new angle of vision made all the difference in the world. 

At no point in time can we see every possibility that exists in a given situation. WE don’t have the power, the ability, the intelligence, the vantage point to make such a thing possible. But . . . there is Someone who does. There is Someone who can. Sometimes the most important thing we can do is to wait. To trust that with the passage of time and the accumulation of more experience, the gathering of more facts, the readiness to engage in more of those ongoing conversations in life, we will begin to see an old, impossibly bleak problem with freshness and new insight. Maybe that blank wall has a lovely big hole in it! Maybe we can sail our small craft of a life right on through it and come out the other side with a deeper appreciation for the beauty of a brand new view.

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Looking at the Whole Truth

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“Oh, Diana,” friends tell me, looking into my eyes with tenderness and concern. “You are so lucky to have your mom still with you!”

I offer a small smile, nod my head and reply, “Yes, I know that I am.”

And I do know that. I do. But there is also this other truth, ever-present and insistent. The hard, hard truth that the lovely old woman inhabiting my mother’s body is not at all the mother I have known for most of my life. She is beautiful to see, kind to everyone around her, breaks into old hymns multiple times an hour, and loves to visit the outside world.

But she is not my mother. At least, not in the ways that I wish she could be.

That woman, that mama, has been slip-sliding away for nearly a decade now, steadily losing pieces of herself. And as she drifts further and further from me, I feel as though there are large chunks of me fading into the ether right along with her. Huge chunks of my own history are gone forever, never to be found again. 

I miss my mother. I miss being known by her. I miss sharing history with her, I miss swapping stories, wrestling with hard truths, reading books, going to the movies, taking trips, making fudge, having her give me driving directions, watching her interact with my children and grandchildren, marveling at her insight into people and situations, laughing at her ribald jokes. 

She is here with me in physical form, and for that I give thanks. But she is not here in any of the ways that make her my mother. She is a beautiful, loving, sometimes forlorn, and very old woman. On July 6th, she will be 95, a fact that startles her every time I tell her. Last week, she turned to me and asked, “I wonder who I am?” 

I wonder who I am! 

Ah, Mom. I wonder, too.

 

As I stood under the shower’s spray this morning, I offered small prayers of thanksgiving:

     “Thank you, Lord, for hot water and plenty of it.”
     “Thank you, Lord, for my good husband and his careful attention to our finances.”
     “And thank you, Lord, for my sweet mama . . .”

And with those words, I found myself sobbing. Not gentle tears these, but hard-wrought, heart-felt, gut-wrenching sobs. “Where is this coming from?” I wondered. Most of the time, the tears are far away these days, leading me to believe that I have come to some place of peace and acceptance about the way things are. But today’s meltdown reminds me that below the surface, my own emotions about mom’s situation are deeply unsettled.

My only brother arrives today and I will be glad to see him and his wife. But we four aging children must have a difficult conversation this afternoon. We have a scheduled meeting with the finance guy at Mom’s care facility, that place where she is safe, well-cared for, loved. The cost of her care is climbing while her small investment account is diminishing, so we’re looking for answers today. How can we best manage her care? Will she be alright?

The better, and I hope bigger, part of me is not worried about this, trusting that there will be enough, that God will provide a way for this daughter, this faithful Jesus-follower, this disciple. But I found myself crying out to the God we both love this morning, asking how long? and, are you there? and, why? 

No answers appeared in the shampoo bubbles. Not one. Nothing but the strong sense that the invitation continues to be this one: trust meTrust that I see your mama, that I love her, that she is safe. Trust that your own love and care for her are enough, that you are doing the best you can, that she has not been abandoned. Trust that there will be enough.

Enough.

And so I will choose to do so. We four will be as careful, mindful and loving as we possibly can. And God will carry us through. 

In the meantime, I will call to mind that image I was given over four years ago now* — that image of my small mama, held safe within the immense sacred heart of Jesus Christ, the One who was present before the universe was breathed into existence, the One who sees each of us with eyes of love and concern, the One who is the only place of true safety any of us will ever experience.

I am trusting that that image will carry me through whatever lies ahead.

 

*I wrote a lengthy post with lots of photos about how that image was given to me here.

 

Own and Share Who You Are — SheLoves Magazine

I got bumped up early this month over at SheLoves, for their October theme of ‘power.’ What a great topic to reflect on. You can begin my essay here and then follow the link over to the best women’s magazine on the web, okay? Always good conversation in that place!

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It’s taken me a lifetime to inhabit this skin of mine. In truth, I believe that habitation to be one of our primary tasks in this life — to realize who it is we’re created to be, to own it, to live it, to share it. It takes time, it takes intention, it takes attention, and it takes oodles and oodles of trust to get anywhere close to realizing any one of that little list of verbs, much less all four: realize, own, live, share.

Despite the great strides that have been (and are being) made on behalf of equality for women in the western world, this particular piece — this piece called ownership — is still so difficult for many of us. And sadly, more than difficult, it is impossible for far too many of our gender, born into repressive cultures at various places around the globe.* There is work still to be done, isn’t there? Even here, even now.

I believe that those of us who follow the rabbi from Nazareth are invited to lead the way. Everything about the ministry of Jesus spoke to the beautiful truth of the good news Jesus brought, the good news Jesus lived out while walking our earth, the good news the Holy Spirit continues to whisper in our ears. And here it is: we are loved by, wanted by, seen by and have the choice to be filled by . . . an Almighty God. A God who calls us friends, even children.

Which makes us — children of the King.

Just let that wash over you for a minute or two.

This kingdom God invites us to enter is not like any kingdom we’ve studied about in history books. It is marked by humility, service, even suffering. But it is also a place where healing happens, where goodness rises, where power is available from one moment to the next, no matter how difficult any particular one of those moments may prove to be. It is a place of hope, and justice, of valuing one another and also? Of learning to love ourselves as we discover who we are in the light of God’s redemptive, empowering love.

So . . . who are you? What are the gifts that God asks you to pour into this world? Where is your primary ‘playing field,’ the place where the power of God can be released through you?

Please join us at SheLoves and help us reflect on what it looks like to fully realize who we are, and God loves and empowers us.

The 31-Day Write: 31 Days of Aging Gracefully

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2015 marks year 4 of the 31 Day Writing challenge for me. First was 31 Days in Which I Am Being Saved by Beauty (2012), then there were 31 Days of Giving Permission (2013), and last year, it was 31 Days of Looking for the Little.

This is a year of facing into reality for me. I turned 70 in January, I landed in the hospital in February and again, at the end of April. I traveled to Kauai in July with our entire clan to celebrate FIFTY years of marriage, and in August, my husband and I moved, downsizing after 18 years in a much-loved larger home with a huge yard.

Yeah, it was time. It IS time.

I am old and getting older by the minute, and if I’m going to have even a tiny chance of doing this aging thing well, I want to be intentional about it. So that is what I’ve chosen to write about for the next 31 days.

I’m nervous about this, to tell you the truth. I happen to find myself at a somewhat painful juncture, realizing I am beginning to be invisible in some ways. Do you know that about getting old in this culture? Elders are not always seen, even in their own family setting. I’m not sure this is intentional, but it surely is reality. Maybe it’s because we’ve been around so long, we’ve become part of the furniture, always available. Maybe it’s because we serve as somewhat painful pointers to the future for those who are younger. Maybe it’s because as we age, we tend to slow down a bit, to measure our words more, to give up the drivenness and hungry ambition that are so much a part of mid-life in 21st century western culture. Whatever the reasons, I am choosing to step out of the invisibility cloak this month and put some words out into cyberspace about how I’d like to live these last years of my life.

I am hoping that these reflections will be both highly individual — reflections on my own aging process and what I’m learning — and at that same time, universal in their application. After all, none of us gets a ‘pass’ from this stuff, do we? If we’re fortunate to avoid accident or early terminal illness, we all must face into the reality of bodies that grow old and weary, of choices becoming more limited. And hopefully, of enjoying the benefits of wisdom gained, gratitude grown, joy multiplied, insights deepened. 

I’ve got a list, and will do my best to work ahead a little. I’m hoping to have a post up every day, but if I miss a few here and there, extend a little bit of grace, okay? After all, I’m OLD. (said with a smile)

In the meantime, please grab my button and follow along!

Just Wondering

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.