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.

Remembering Her — Kathryn Ruth Byer Trautwein, January 3, 1916 – May 25, 2014

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It was a strange feeling to walk out of that room for the last time; it had been her home for the last five years, with just enough space for a few personal belongings, a private bath, and a small view of the lovely patio outside. Yesterday afternoon, we closed the door of Room 80 at the memory loss center where she lived, where she died.

We picked up the last of the furniture, filling both of our cars to do so; some of it will go to her eldest great-grandson, who will soon be setting up his own place.

It was a graduation weekend, you see. In every sense of that word. 

We got the call on Friday night. The Hospice nurse, who had been so faithfully checking on my mother-in-law each week for the last two and a half years said, “Something has shifted. This is the weekend and I just wanted you to know.” An hour later we were there, and it was true. There is a ‘look,’ an other-worldly sense that someone is not long for this plane. And we saw it.

We felt it. 

I took out my small prayer book, the gray one that I carry in my car at all times. The one with the beautiful prayers, the particular scriptures, and I made the sign of the cross on her forehead and I read the words I love so much, to this woman that I love so much:

Into your hands, O merciful Savior,
we commend your servant, Kathryn.
Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you,
a sheep of 
your own fold,
a lamb of your own flock,
a sinner of your 
own redeeming.
Receive her into the arms of your mercy,
into the blessed rest of everlasting peace,
and into the 
glorious company of the saints in light.
Amen.

May her soul and the souls of all the departed,
through the 
mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
– The Book of Common Prayer

And the next morning, we made the 140 mile drive south to celebrate Ben’s graduation from Chapman University, Dodge School of Film and Media Arts. And we congratulated him on winning Cinematographer of the Year and a lovely grant for his next project. We hesitated about going, but decided that if Mama were able to talk it over, she would say, “Go! Celebrate. Give Ben my love.”

And so we did. We gave him her love.

So much love.

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Kathryn with her first born, Richard, 1942

We have lived such a blessed life. We have surely had our share of pain and struggle; we have endured wildfire and near-flooding, burglary and accident, disease and death. 

But we have had so much love.

Our children were the only ones in their circle of friends who had all four of their grandparents still living and active while they were students in college. At the time of her death, my MIL had fifteen great-grandchildren, one of them named for her, many of them with stories to tell about her great laugh, her delight in them, her fabulous cooking skills.

We know how rare this is.

And what a great gift.

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On a warm summer evening in 1968, soon after that first born,
his wife and infant daughter returned from two years in Africa.

I suppose on the strange and twisted scale of celebrity and fame that captures the minds of so many, Kathryn Trautwein was not a ‘big’ name. She never caused a scandal, she never made a ‘name for herself,’ she never wrote a book. From the outside, there wasn’t much that seemed the least bit big or celebrated about her.

But she was big in the hearts of her family. She was big in the hearts of her many friends. She was big in faith, big in love, big in laughter, big in commitment and joy and service. 

She was a remarkable mother-in-law. When it became clear that her son was getting serious about this younger student at UCLA, she called, and made an appointment to meet me. We had tea together in the living room of the small Christian sorority to which we both belonged, and she asked me some good questions. I think I was 18 years old when we met.

I passed muster. Because from then on, I was included in every family gathering – and there were many family gatherings! – and assumed to be part of the tribe. I was never criticized for anything, even though I’m sure she must have had a lot of questions about decisions I made and the way I raised my kids. 

They lived 5 minutes from us, she in the house she shared with her husband for 62 years, we in three different homes, the first of which she found for us. The only time I can ever remember her saying ‘no’ to me about anything, was to a house I was considering that had a pool in the backyard with no fence around it. She never learned to swim and hated getting wet, and she could not imagine her grandbabies surviving such danger!

I’m glad she said ‘no.’ I trusted her judgment and God had a much better house in mind for us, one where we raised our three for thirteen good years. A house she loved and enjoyed, too.

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 Mama & Papa with our son, 1972, in the house that she found for us.
It was his surprise arrival, bringing our brood to three, that pushed us into house-hunting again.

If I needed help with the kids, she was there. If I needed advice about cooking (NEVER about sewing!), she was there. If I needed advice about gardening, she was there. And she was there for a long list of other people, too. She was intelligent, well-read, loved crossword puzzles, made the world’s best short ribs and a magnificent 3-layer cake.

She was an active volunteer at their church and at Christian Women’s Club, where she taught and mentored younger women, and she helped with the Women’s Auxiliary of Fuller Seminary, where I later became a student. That was probably the decision of mine that caused her the most inner anguish. She did not come from a tradition of women in ministry and she wasn’t quite sure about it. But she never doubted God’s call on my life and after my installation at Montecito Covenant, she said the most interesting thing to me: “Now, you belong to the people here.”

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 At our daughter’s wedding reception in 2011, one of her last outings anywhere, with Dick’s sister Jean,
on the patio of Montecito Covenant Church. Such a happy day, but she struggled to be there.

And she was right. For fourteen years, I belonged to those people, as one of their pastors and as a kind of through-line during a lot of challenging transitions. 

But I also, and always, belonged to my family. And she was such a central part of my family, such a central part of me. I will be forever grateful for her love and encouragement. And I will miss her until the day we meet on the other side.

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On Mother’s Day this year. She died two weeks later.

Driving into the driveway at 11:00 on Saturday night, after the graduation festivities and the long drive, we called to check. “She’s still here.” “Good,” we said, “we’ll be there tomorrow.”

And so we kept vigil all day Sunday. What a privilege to sit in such holy space, to wait while the angels gather, to greet family as they come to say good-bye, to say ‘thank you, thank you’ to the amazing aides who loved her well during her time in this place.

Our nephew came and brought his three young children. Our daughters made the long drive and brought their husbands. Our son had been there the day before. All of her ‘local’ grandchildren came by to say farewell. At 5:00, we checked out for the evening, gathering good Mexican take-out food, and eating it on our patio with our girls and their men. Just as we finished, the phone rang. 

“I went into her room to check on her . . . and she was gone.”

Just like Mama, to leave quietly, no fuss.

We returned to that space, met my friend Sherry, who is the chaplain at The Samarkand Retirement Community, said a few more prayers, picked out some clothes to send with her body, talked with the hospice nurse who made everything official.

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THIS is who she was – a beautiful, caring, faithful woman of God,
who loved her family and lived well.

Kathryn Trautwein was a true gift to this world. A brave woman, a strong one and a good one. She loved us well. We are grateful for her long life, and we are grateful for her release from it. I find myself saying ‘thank you, thank you,’ just under my breath; drifting off to sleep at night, waking in the morning, these are the words in my heart and on my lips.

She will be buried on Monday, in a crypt in Ontario CA that she will share with her husband of 64 years. Jean, Dick and I will make the long drive and I know our rich memories will carry us all the way there.

Like her father before her, she was an occasional poet. These are two of my favorites, ones we will include with her memorial folder at a service of celebration in the Chapel at The Samarkand Retirement Community in Santa Barbara on Sunday afternoon, June 8th, at 2:00 p.m.

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How like God to have His 
lamb be born in a stable.
Be announced to and first
worshiped by shepherds.
Be dumb before His
accusers then be
sacrificed for me and
be risen as my Good Shepherd.
Now I the obedient sheep do
follow him!
–  Kathryn R.B. Trautwein

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I am God’s
    signed, named, original
    not cloned with many likenesses,
    one of a kind,
made in His image,
    treasured by Him,
    valuable in His sight.
A simple earthen vessel but
Indwelt by eternity.
— Kathryn R.B. Trautwein

31 Days of Giving Permission . . . to RE-CONNECT

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Today, we are traveling from this . . . 

to this.

We’re winging our way home after two weeks on the road in New England.
And that followed four weeks on Kauai.
And that followed two weeks on the Elbe River.
And that (for me) followed one long weekend in Lincoln, Nebraska
with the amazing #JTreat team.

It’s been a year of airplanes and rental cars for me.
And each time, I’ve had to dis-connect when I leave,
and re-connect when I return home.

And I’m not just talking about social media here,
I’m talking about life.
Everyday life.
In my home, in my church, in my family.

There is an adjustment period,
increasingly short as the years add up,
every time I return to our home after an absence.

The mail, the bills, the grocery shopping, the laundry.
The family dinners, the visits with my mom,
the committees at church, the directees I meet with each month.

And this place, too.
When I’m at home, this space is somehow
more comfortable and more accessible to me.
My heart is easier to reach,
I have more quiet time and quiet space.

And I am given the wonderful gift of signing on again,
of opening these pages and feeling at home here.

I’m grateful for that.
And I’m grateful for you,
the faithful friends who stop in here and read,
sometimes leave comments,
even occasionally engage me in conversation
about what I’ve written here.

I am grateful.
And I look forward to being at home for a long stretch.
I look forward to re-connecting.

Where do you need to re-connect right now?
Is that a good thing or a hard thing? 

The Gift of Travel — Part 10: Prague Views & Re-Entry — A Photo Essay

Before we left home, we purchased one optional tour
and it was scheduled for our last day in Prague.
With that tour, we had lunch, enjoyed a spectacular 25 minute concert,
and enjoyed the museum-quality collections of the
Lobkowicz family at their personal palace
located on the grounds of the large
castle on the hill.

We had gorgeous weather that day and this palace
provided views of the city that were breathtaking.

To re-trace our two-week trip, you can click through
to all parts of it here:

Part 1 is here,
part 2 here,
part 3 is right here, friends,
part 4, here,
part 5, here,
part 6, here,
part 7 is just a click away,
part 8, here,
and part 9, here. 

At the end of day 2, we walked down from the fortress/castle to the trolley,
and enjoyed the views from atop the hill and through
the trolley windows as we headed back to the hotel,
and then enjoyed a fine dinner at The Imperial Cafe,
with its glorious tile work on all surfaces.

On day 2, we also had lunch in this quiet cafe we found off to the side in the castle complex.
The food was so-so – but the views?
Amazing.

Trolley views!!

Loved the reflection of the sky on our hotel as we returned to it at the end of
exploring day 2.

Dinner that night and below, lunch the next day at the Lobkowicz palace.

This small room was where we ate ‘traditional Czech goulash & dumplings.’
You’ll see a photo of it below the ones of the view from the window of that room.

It almost looks like a different city from the hazy view of the day before.

The menu and the host – who grew up in Boston. When the wall came down,
his dad sent him to Europe with his savings – not enough – but a start.
They gradually have recovered many of their homes and possessions,
but live in a 1-bathroom rented apartment
and offer these special tours to try and make their treasures
available to the public. It was outstanding.
They own two original manuscript copies of Beethoven symphonies,
and a hand annotated script of Handel’s Messiah by Mozart
when he re-orchestrated it.
Also lovely artwork and a fascinating family story.

The best view of the Charles bridge that we had while there,
courtesy of our telephoto lens.

And the old Town Hall from miles away.

The dumplings look like plain old white bread to us.

On our way to the concert, admiring the ceilings and the view from
one floor further up.

Outstanding music – violin/cello/piano.

Private chapel.

I loved the concert room after it was all over – the light was just right.

Our last night we walked to a different MacDonald’s
and had TWO burgers and ice cream —
perfect way to end our time on the night we had to PACK.

Driving to the airport (courtesy of Viking),
we enjoyed one last view of the hill where we spent most of our time in Prague.

Leaving Prague, some reminders of the beauties we’d enjoyed the previous two weeks:
Yellow rape-seed fields, charming villages, shifting clouds and sun.

And landing in Zurich 90 minutes later, we saw similar views. . . through rain.

A two-hour layover, with only our backpacks to worry about. Going home, we checked those bags we’d carried with us from LA.

It was wet out!

Saying good-bye to Europe.

A glimpse of Greenland.

The TV screen that was in my lap for 12 hours while the guy in front of me kept
his seat fully reclined the entire trip. Ugh.

Coming into California.

And into Los Angeles.

These two books (gifts from our daughter) were terrific.
We highly recommend the Top Ten books for any travel.

 Here’s a postcard of that diamond I talked about in the post about Dresden.

And the downright gaudy toy-like setting August the Strong had in his collection.

And last, but not least, a 3 foot high carved piece of ivory, also in August’s collection.

Our son’s family came for a cook-out over the weekend of our return,
and the girls enjoyed the puppets we bought them in the Prague castle,
a charming toy shopped carved out of the rock.

Within 10 days, we were swept up into lovely family celebrations,
like Joel’s graduation from middle school and our son’s
and 2 grandsons’ birthdays.

Lisa, Joel and Karl prepared a gorgeous yard/house and table for
about 60 friends and family to enjoy as we celebrated everyone.

Traveling is truly a gift.
But home is an even greater one.
We are grateful for all of it!!

When Reality Intervenes — Prodigal Magazine

 

 

I’m writing over at Prodigal Magazine today, just a small essay about the ordinary stuff of life . . .

So much of life is just plain ordinary. Day in, day out — do the tasks at hand, follow the routine, learn to maneuver the ins and outs of relationships, see to the commitments on the calendar, slide in a little bit of self-care. Yeah, just keep on walking, one foot in front of the other.

That’s why a change in the ordinary can feel like a welcome reprieve, opening the windows of the soul to let the good fresh air of the unplanned blow things around a bit. A change in scenery can do wonders for those ordinary-blues.

Unless, of course, it doesn’t.

We’ve gotten very used to our current state of ordinary. We’re both ‘retired,’ though busy with lots of different commitments and activities. We’ve got the daily routine thing nailed – each of us in separate areas of our home, pursuing our individual commitments, coming together for dinner and bits of conversation throughout the day. After a dozen years of living apart for a piece of each week, this is how we’ve been learning to do life together 24/7.

 And it’s a good, rich life . . .

 

31 Days in which I Am Saved by Beauty – Day 31

We’re at the end of the month,
All Hallow’s Eve,
and fall is definitely in the air.
We lose the light this next weekend
and I, for one, will miss the longer afternoons.
Living in a Mediterranean climate,
the signs of fall are more subtle than
in many parts of this great country.
You see it in the changing angle of the light,
you see it on country drives,
as hay is harvested and rolled.
You see it in the bigness of sky,
the sharp horizon line, unmuddied by summer fog
lying just off shore.
Around our home, you see fall in some of our trees.
The birches, just outside the front door, 
turn golden,
shimmering and shaking 
their heart-shaped leaves
in the afternoon breeze.
And you see it in the gingko tree,
that ancient traveler across time,
found in fossil form
around the globe,
its fan-shaped leaf distinctive
and lovely.
Our tree is misshapen and not large,
but its leaves are magnificent,
whether on the tree or off.
The birds love it either way.
We have a small, octagonal window with beveled glass,
one that we salvaged when we added onto this house 
about ten years ago.
We placed it at the peak of the high ceiling in
our bedroom,
where I can look up and out
as I wake each morning.
The gingko branches against the sky
tell me what season we’re in.
I love that.
Bare branches in winter,
nodules bursting into chartreuse in spring,
deepening, thickly-covered branches in summer,
and bright, bright yellow in fall.
As they fall from the tree,
I find them in the nooks and crannies of our yard 
and I marvel.
They die every year.
To make room for new life.
And they scatter themselves everywhere,
in one last hurrah.
I was here!
LOOK at me.
And I do.
I do.

I am a beauty-hunter,
seeking always for evidence
of love and hope and joy
in the world around me.
A friend had this quote on his blog 
last week and it has stuck with me
ever since.
“As soon as beauty is sought not from religion and love,
but for pleasure, it degrades the seeker.”
– Annie Dillard
But here’s what I believe:
if we seek to find beauty around us
because we are indeed 
looking for signs of the Source
of that Beauty,
then we will also find pleasure.
Yes!
I believe that.
Pleasure is not the goal,
but it is the by-product,
the glorious gifted by-product. 
And in exactly that way,
we are saved by beauty.

Thank you, Lord.

This has been a challenging month on many levels, but I have enjoyed looking for beauty each and every day. I will join this last post in the 31-Day Challenge with Jennifer, Duane, Ann and Emily on this Wednesday and Thursday:








31 Days in which I Am Saved by Beauty – Day 29

I find myself being saved by beauty 
in interesting and various ways of late. 
On Thursday night, in answer to an invitation
from a friend, I hosted a table
at the fund-raising event for our local
Young Life organization.
I was never a part of Young Life as
a student and neither were any of my kids.
But I believe in the work they do,
and I especially believe in 
what our local leadership is doing.
This was the first time I had seen the 
new area director in action.
And let me tell you,
this woman is a ball o’ fire.
Her name is Tanita.
She is beautiful in every way I can think of,
exuding the love of Jesus with every breath.
The youth of this city are in very good hands, indeed.

Then on Friday evening, after a difficult phone 
conversation with my increasingly confused mama,
I took a walk.
Bent over in frustration and worry,
I cried out for patience,
and forgiveness,
and deep reservoirs of love.
And then I looked up.

And this is what I saw:
the mountains glowing pink,
reflecting the setting sun.
And the full moon rising,
shedding its quiet light over the landscape.

Sometimes a quiet light is what is needed.
Just enough illumination for the next step,
the next curve in the road, 
the next smooth space to put your foot. 
I’m not sure I want to look very far down
the road ahead for my mom.
I think it’s going to get increasingly rugged
and difficult and 
a little moonlight
will be just about right. 

As I rounded the driveway and headed away 
from the reflective hills and the rising moon,
I was struck by another view:
this strong, clear silhouette against the dying sky.

Three tall, straight Washington fan palms,
three shorter, sturdier date palms —
quintessential California sentries.
I love them. 

I have not always loved them.
Growing up, I thought they were strange,
sort of purposeless, actually.
Where was the shade?
Where were the finely shaped leaves? 

Somehow, I grew into them. 

I love the rustling sound they make
in the evening breeze. 

I love that birds of all varieties
make their home buried at the 
bottom of those massive fronds. 

These trees speak to me of my own history,
driving to my grandmother’s house,
across concrete roads with asphalt stripes,
clickety-clack, clickety-clack,
every street lined with one variety or another. 

They speak to me of warm, sunny days
and cool, soughing midnight stirring.
They speak to me of continuity,
of presence,
of stability. 

They are long-lived and impervious to drought.
They don’t burn easily, either. 
In fact, it’s really hard to get rid of them
once they’re in place.
We have an upstart next to our backyard shed,
and the fire department is suggesting
we eliminate it.
It breaks my heart,
even though it’s one of my
least favorite varieties. 

I think maybe I need these reminders of longevity
around me right now.
Life can seem fleeting when
you watch your parent slowly disintegrate,
when you see ones you love struggling with
debilitating, life-altering disease,
when you hear the years
creaking in your own bones as you move. 

So I say thank you for palm trees,
and night skies,
and full moons,
and family history.
I say thank you for young women,
picking up the slack,
carrying the torch,
loving Jesus and pouring love into others. 
I say thank you for beauty,
in the world around me,
in the people I meet,
even in my own faltering love for my ailing mom.
Because all of it. . .
every bit of it,
reflects a Beautiful God,
the One who stirs in me,
in all of us,
this longing for beauty —
anywhere and everywhere we can find it.
It is that longing that speaks to
the imago dei within.
It is that longing that leads us to Love.

Joining this reflection with Michelle, Jen, Ann, Laura and Laura – with deep gratitude for their faithful invitation to keep community growing.

On In Around button
    





31 Days in which I Am Saved by Beauty – Day 13

When I spend time in my daughters’ homes,
I am reminded of many things.
First and foremost,
of how very well they mother their sons.
And secondly,
how they have taken some of my
patterns and traditions and
greatly improved upon them.

I was – once upon a time – a great
seasonal decorator.
I saved art work for years and put
up my children’s creations
for every holiday.
I shopped the sales at Michael’s
and gathered a lot of 
decorative detritus
that we used for a long time.
Joy is doing the same thing.
And she is doing it so much better.
Her sons love this tradition
and beg her to pull out the bins
and put up the cute stuff.
Take a little look.
The manzanita branch
is used with a different set
of hanging ornaments for Halloween,
Thanksgiving, Christmas,
Valentine’s Day,
St. Patrick’s Day,
Easter.
And every one of her Mission style door frames
has a decorative object or arrangement
that fits the season.
These photos only capture a little of the fun,
and in about 3 weeks,
they’ll be switched out for 
Thanksgiving decor.
This is the beautiful family room they added
about 10 years ago.
A lot of good memories have been made here.
Their home is always open for 
friends,
family, 
church youth groups,
neighbors.
They are superb hosts,
unfazed by groups sized anywhere
from 3 to 50.
I stand in awe.
And pictured below is our home-away-from-home
whenever we come down to see my mom,
who lives about 30 minutes from them.
This is where Dick stayed from Tuesday through Thursday
every week for ten years while he worked
in southern California before he retired in 2010.
Here is one of the really great things about retirement:
our schedule is flexible.
Packed and ready to return home last night,
we discovered that two of our grandsons
would be playing basketball games
as part of the YMCA fall season
this morning.
So, we unpacked,
enjoyed dinner & some good conversation,
and woke up just in time
to go to Griffin’s game at 9:00 a.m.

Griff plays with the 5-6 year old team –
half court, no score,
frequent substitutes.
He is one of the older members
of his 4-person team
and for the first time in his life,
one of the tallest.
He is a dedicated b-ball player and
it shows.
Good game, Griffin!

 This is his team.

 Holding his team treats after the game.

Colby is 11 and one of the younger and 
smaller members of his 11-12-year-old team, 
but he is scrappy and quick
and played well today.

Big brother Wesley and little brother Griff on the sidelines,
otherwise occupied.

Colby had a bigger team, they played the full court,
they kept score.
And they trounced the opposition.

 Colby played most of three quarters,
and in between
sat on the sidelines
sucking down water.

 And a picture of Colby with his after-game snacks,
but apparently,
an 11-year-old is a little too sophisticated to smile.

The trip home was spectacularly clear after that volatile
thunderstorm blew threw the area on Thursday.
These are the foothills in Ventura,

and a quick shot of a small slice of Halloween on the highway,

This is our favorite 20 acres on the side of the road north,
where we’ve watched strawberries,
lettuce,
tomatoes,
beans,
and now berries-under-plastic
thrive for sixteen years now.

 And then, around the next bend, we begin to see the coast,
and we know we’re almost home.

Every single time I make this trip,
I am grateful 
to live where I do.
Close proximity to the ocean
is nourishing to me in ways
I cannot put into words
and I am still amazed
that God brought us to this place.

I have loved every place we have lived – 
six months in a 1-bedroom apartment 
in Santa Monica as a newly-wed college student;
six weeks in a single room at a
Christian camping center
right after graduation;
a concrete block 3-bedroom house
on the savannah of central Africa
for two years;
an apartment in West Los Angeles
and a rented house in Eagle Rock
when we returned to California;
three homes in Altadena,
each with memories and beauties
all their own.
But this one?
This ranch house we’ve pushed and pulled
and added onto and made to fit us,
this space that God led us to
just as we were ready to
purchase another,
far less desirable place –
this place is a gift of grace
and beauty
that God has used
to save me day, by day, by day.

31 Days in which I Am Saved by Beauty – Day 12

This weekend, we are traveling,
heading south to be with family,
in parts and pieces,
for just a day or so.
And as we leave,
the first storm of the season
is building in drama
and beauty.
As we round the curve on the 118,
heading into the hills and canyons
that separate the valleys
San Fernando and San Gabriel,
we can see what we’re heading into.
We have splashes and splitches
on the windshield as we drive
the two hours,
listening to a play-off game on the car radio.
But after we are safely ensconced in our
daughter’s small, cozy guesthouse,
the clouds burst their seams,
pouring water,
hail and something new to our ears,
graupel
all around us,
looking for all the world like
small pellets of styrofoam packing material.
Time with mom is good.
My brother has made the long trek
from northern CA
and she is delighted to
have her two remaining
children (and her daughter’s husband)
in the same space,
making her laugh til her sides hurt –
even when she can’t quite understand
everything that is being said.
I take a walk in the late afternoon,
around my daughter’s beautiful, old
neighborhood,
filled with Victorian cottages,
bungalows from the turn of the
twentieth century,
and a bounteous buffet
of doors and porches.
This old codger was somehow

both delightfully out of place
and quite comfy
in this collection of 
oldies, but goodies.

The street just to the west of our children
is filled with magnificent
old jewels like this shingled glory,

mixed nicely with smaller, more modest
abodes.

This lovely avenue positively defines
the term ‘tree-lined street,’
and is always deliciously inviting.

Turning the bend below the elementary school,
brings a bright row of small charmers,

and the delightful surprise of a healthy,
blooming plumeria plant,
six feet tall and thriving in this
decidedly non-tropical environment.

And this is a garage.
Oh, my.

This small gem, with its bright red door,
stands diagonally across the corner
on the street where we are staying.
When I see it,
it always seems to call out,
‘welcome!’

 One more small Victorian on the way up the hill,

and then I’m back where I began,
the charming Sears & Roebuck bungalow,
which our children have tastefully and carefully
enlarged and improved,
and where we are always received
by grace-filled, loving hearts.

 I think this front door is my very favorite of all.

The beauty found in
thunder storms,
architecture,
history,
neighborhoods,
city streets
and warm welcome
is saving me 
right here, right now.
And I am thankful.

Much longer than usual for the weekend quiet hosted by my friends Sandy and Deidra, but this is what I’ve got for now. I hope to do a simpler one for Sat/Sun, which means I will not quite make all 31 of the 31-day challenge. 


31 Days in which I am Saved by Beauty – Day 9

This circle walking.
And circle praying.
Tonight I was a little distracted.
This is the season for the acorn drop,
and there are hundreds of them,
all over the paving stones of our driveway.
Can you see them in this picture?
The one below these words?

Earlier this fall, my grandgirl Gracie and I picked up a few,
and put them in a bowl on my china cabinet.
We don’t usually see their small caps,
just the cylindrical bodies.
But this year, early in the dropping season,
we found a hundred or so that had their hats.

My husband believes that 
the number of acorns on the driveway
is a good predictor of how rainy it will be during 
the winter months here on the coast of California.
So far, he’s been right. 

I think maybe we’re in for it this year.

They’re in every crevice, 
cracking underfoot as I turn circles,
round and round.
And when our cars drive over them,
they break open,
revealing the nutmeat inside.
Tonight, 
a small brown bird hopped out
from his hiding place under the
oleanders,
jumping into the space I had just left.
He began busily picking at the broken pieces.
When I’d get within about 15 feet of him,
he’d hop away into the bushes again.
He did this on almost all of my 36 circles this night. 

I like the crackling sound these acorns make as I walk.
That noise, these small objects – they remind me
that it is now fall,
even as the changing angle of the light
helps me remember that the seasons
are shifting.
We don’t have a lot of other clues in 
central California, 
just these subtleties, these small things.
To me, they are beautiful
and evocative,
reminding me of how things
stay the same,
even as they are changing.

If I have planned well,
and begun my walking early enough,
I can finish my time outdoors
by sitting in this swing,
which hangs across the yard.
It’s a beautiful spot,
sheltered under the oaks,
and the swing is strung up by sturdy chains,
wrapped around a large, twisting branch. 

If I have planned well,
I try to spend between ten and twenty minutes
in this swing,
centering,
focusing quietly on one or two words
from scripture.
I breathe carefully,
purposefully,
with awareness, trying to stay
in rhythm with both the words
and with the swing.
It always feels to me like I am
held.
Secure, cradled.

Even when the words are these:
“Mercy, Lord.”
Which is what came to me tonight,
for a long list of reasons. 

I choose to believe that God hears and answers.
And even when I don’t particularly like
the answers,
there is still mercy to be found. 
Selah.