Asking: Am I ‘All In?’

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I was invited to participate in worship leadership yesterday, the first time in a while I’ve been asked, and the first time in a longer while when I felt I could reasonably say ‘yes.’ We enjoyed a relatively quiet weekend for the first time in too long, so there was space, both on the calendar, and in my spirit, to think creatively about a passage of scripture and attempt to lead God’s people in prayer.

The sermon was from a short text in Ephesians 6 — the two verses immediately following that long list of ‘armor’ that every follow of Jesus needs to live fully, carefully and creatively in this world of ours. The verses that talk about Paul being an ‘ambassador in chains,’ the ones that talk about being  full-out followers of Jesus, the ones that encourage us all to be people of prayer. . . all-the-time prayer, not just special-event-as-the-needs-build-up prayer.

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As always, the altarpiece helped us to ‘see’ the passage, and Pastor Don’s sermon unpacked those words very well indeed. After the sermon, the worship team led us through 3 rounds of that wonderful, small Taize chorus, the one that goes:

O Lord, hear my prayer; O Lord, hear my prayer.
When I call, answer me.
O Lord, hear my prayer; O Lord, hear my prayer.
Come and listen to me.

And then we prayed a community prayer in three parts, the first and last from me, the middle one from Don, with the chorus sung liturgically between each part. It was good to lead in prayer again; I’m grateful.

We’ve heard a word from you today, Lord.
A good word, but also, I must admit,
a hard word.
It’s hard because today you’re asking us to be ‘all in.’

All of us, all the time, everywhere.

Gulp.

Somehow, it’s easier for us to be partly in, you know?
Especially on days like today, when we can come here,
to this beautiful space, and specifically focus on you —
on who you are, on who you call us to be.

It seems simpler for us to do that when we gather with your people,
when we sing the songs and pray the prayers and hear the words.

But today, your word is asking something else entirely.
And that something is important, and inclusive,
and — let’s be honest here — more than a little bit demanding.
It feels uncomfortable, maybe even disorienting,
because you’re asking us to be ambassadors, out there, in the world.

The world we live in, and study in.
The world we shop in, and work in,
the world where we converse with other people, all kinds of other people,
some of them really difficult.
The world where too many problems seem to have no answers,
where ugly things happen — things that scare us and overwhelm us.

But that is the world you made, the world you have set us in, the world you love.
And if we’re going to call ourselves your friends, then that’s the world where we must be.

Will you help us, please?
Lean in close and whisper words of truth and courage,

remind us of the depths of your love,
tell us the truth of who we are as your called,

and gifted
and empowered
representatives.

We have good news to share, to live, to offer.

Make us bold in our living, wherever we are,
from the kitchen to the boardroom,
from the study hall to the golf course,
from the baby nursery to the retirement home.

Wherever we are, whomever we’re with,
help us to radiate your love and grace,

in every conversation,
transaction,
encounter,
and circumstance.

Help us to be all in.
Lord, hear our prayer.

Part Two.

Lord, we confess that we are not always prepared for the battle.
We expect things to be nice and polite and to go our way.
We confess that we get wounded too easily and fight with others too harshly.

And the weapons we use to do battle just don’t get the job done.

So today, O God, would you re-arm our lives with your full armor?

  • Would you belt our lives with your eternal truth?
  • Would you cover our hearts with your breastplate of righteousness?
  • Would you put on our feet those fast shoes that spread the gospel of peace and reconciliation anywhere and everywhere we go?
  • Would you put in our hands that strong shield of faith that can absorb and quench the fiery attacks that often undo us?
  • Would you cover our heads and minds with that strong helmet of our salvation that cannot be taken away?
  • And give us your sword, your Word, anchored in our hearts, that Word which can fell and undo Satan and all his lies.                                                                     Lord, make us strong.                                                                                                     Hear our prayer.

Part Three

Some of us, Lord, have been doing this discipleship thing for a long time now.
Others of us are newer to the journey.
But all of us still have so much to learn about prayer.

About settling into that place where we do what the epistles call us to do with that impossible sounding phrase: “pray without ceasing.”

Maybe we find prayer difficult because we’ve misunderstood the richness of this gift, this means of communion with you.

Maybe we’ve been stuck in a rut of list-making,
and detailed itemizing.

Or maybe we think prayer is some strange specialty that’s better left
to the pastors and the wordsmiths.

Whatever the reasons, Lord, will you help us, right here and right now,
to just relax?

To sit here, in your presence, and say as little as possible.

Maybe a, ‘thank you!’
Or a, ‘bless them.’
Or a, ‘you’re amazing, Lord!’

Because that’s at the heart of it all, isn’t it?
Moving through our days with an awareness of you,
with a spirit of gratitude,
with an eagerness to find you, already at work in the midst of the details
that fill our time and our minds.

So as we sit here in this quiet space, and as we sing this lovely small song,
will you help us to unkink,
to let go of our need to be ‘good’ at things,
and just discover the simple joy of
being quiet, with you?

Thank you, Lord.
Bless us, Lord.
Praise you, Lord.

Amen.

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We visited with some old friends and met a few new ones, too; we picked up some mail at our former home, and then we turned the car around, drove further than we’re used to on a Sunday morning, and spent the rest of the day enjoying the quiet beauty of our new space. I sat on a chaise lounge, in the sunshine for two hours, just being grateful for the ways in which we have been blessed in this life of ours. Not many words were said. And I was happy to be ‘all in,’ if only for an afternoon.

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Doubters Welcome Here

DSC01761 They call this week “Low Sunday.” It’s the Sunday after the biggest feast in the Christian year, and every associate pastor in the world knows about it. This is a Sunday when associates are often asked to take the pulpit, providing an opportunity for the lead pastor to take a breather after the heavy push of Lent and Easter. And our fine associate stepped right up today.*

On the Orthodox calendar, this Sunday — which comes 8 days after Easter — is also known as the Sunday of St. Thomas, and the usual passage in their lectionary is the very one we used today. We have devised our own lectionary for this past school year, working through the gospel of John, and we are almost to the end. Serendipitously, Pastor Jon worked through these six verses from the end of chapter 20 in this morning’s meditation.

Here are John’s words, in The Message:

But Thomas, sometimes called the Twin, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.

The other disciples told him, “We saw the Master.” But he said, “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.”

Eight days later, his disciples were again in the room. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus came through the locked doors, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.”

Then he focused his attention on Thomas. “Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe.”

Thomas said, “My Master! My God!”

Jesus said, “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.”

Anyone who’s ever been to church knows this passage, right? That infamous stretch of scripture which has given rise to the descriptor, ‘doubting Thomas?’  How about ‘doubting Diana?’ Or ‘doubting _______ (fill in your own name?’ Because we all struggle with doubt, don’t we?

There are days when I not only don’t know what to believe, but I don’t know IF I believe much of anything at all. And almost everyone I’ve ever walked with on this following-after-Jesus-journey will admit to similar periods of wrestling, of questioning.

Madeleine L’Engle used to call it viral atheism, like a bout of illness. 

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Barbara Brown Taylor’s most recent book, ‘Learning to Walk in the Dark,’ speaks of her wrestling and wondering, of her deep desire to re-define the whole idea of darkness. She asserts that the darkness fairly shimmers with the presence of God Almighty, reminding me that God inhabited the darkness in the opening words of Genesis 1, long before any of the glorious universe we live in was even created.

Yes, there are good things to be discovered in the dark. And maybe, just maybe, doubt is the doorway to some of those good things.

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Today, Pastor Jon also referenced Mother Theresa’s writings, writings culled from her personal journals, writings in which she, too, talked about doubt and an often overwhelming sense of God’s absence.

Interesting, isn’t it? My own devotional reading, conversations I’ve had with a wide variety of people — both IRL and online, and the sermon this morning were all connected, touching on the same basic topic, and providing a week of deep personal encouragement for me.

Why? Because I’m beginning to think that I may be in very good company indeed when I admit to doubt. And now, I find myself wondering what there is to be learned from this particular season of walking in the dark.

Thomas is a fine teacher, that’s for sure. He’s a toucher, is Thomas. A believer in the flesh, the in-your-face presence of another to confirm what his mind struggles to hang onto. He wants to put those hands on the scars of his Savior. He needs to see with his eyes, and touch with his fingers.

The hard part is that Thomas had to wait a while for his Resurrection experience, didn’t he? His friends celebrated right away — they heard and they saw and they touched. But Thomas was absent on that first remarkable day, for some reason, missing in action.

And hearsay was not going to cut it for this man. No way, no how.

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When they gathered again, on that eighth day, Thomas made sure that he was there. And when Jesus appeared — in that mysterious, other-worldly way of his — he turned those laser-like eyes directly in Thomas’s direction.

Read that paragraph in the gospel reading one more time.

Do you hear any word of critique in Jesus’s invitation to Thomas? I don’t. He looks right at him and invites him to come and touch, to come and see for himself.

Caravaggio’s depiction of this scene was on our screens this morning. Look at this painting. Do you see how dramatic this encounter must have been? Look at how the hand of Jesus grips the wrist of Thomas so firmly, directing his fingers straight into that scarred chest.

No wonder Thomas cries out, “My Lord and my God!” Here is the proof he longed for, the touch he needed.

And then Jesus says something rather amazing. Amazing because I believe that Jesus was speaking those next words directly to me. And to you. And to any disciple who did not have the gift and the privilege of touching the resurrected body of the Lord:

“Blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.”

I cannot touch that wound in the side of Jesus, nor the nail marks in his wrists. But there are other wounds in this body of his, aren’t there?  

So, I wonder where are the scars that need touching today? Because I believe that invitation given to Thomas is wide open for me, right here, right now. “Diana — are you wondering? Are you struggling? Then, come. Touch my side. Touch my hands.”

Here is where I am finding the wounds of the Savior these days: 

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This is the invitation for me right now. She is old. She is frail. She is blind and deaf and increasingly dumb, as words are harder and harder to find. So the touching of the wounds in this place is a primary point of ministry and of obedience these days; not one I chose, but one that is right in front of me, nonetheless. 

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She loves the ocean and she loves to take drives and she enjoys eating pizza once in a while. So today, in the middle of this current bout with doubt, with all this wondering and wrestling, I find myself  looking for the wounds and trying my best to tend them a little.

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We wrestle the walker into and out of the car and we sit across from one another at California Pizza Kitchen. And slowly, with lots of waiting in between, I hear pieces of her heart. I hear the words of old gospel songs. And I hear the phrases that she latches onto with all her might, phrases to keep her going during this terrible time of confusion and loss:

“The Lord’s been good.”

“We’ll just keep praying and believing.”

“Life is like a mountain railway . . . blessed Savior there to guide us.” 

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And so I am refreshed.

I am reminded that Jesus welcomed Thomas, doubts and all.

And Jesus welcomes me, too. 

You can read the full text of Pastor Jon Lemmond’s excellent sermon here.

Joining with Michelle, Jen, Jennifer & Laura this week:

Q & A: Week Eight — The Book of Love

We have arrived at the end of the journey, this exploratory willingness to sit in the middle of the hard questions and LIVE them a little. You’ll notice that I’ve picked up the surfing image once again, ever grateful for all that I learn about God and faith when I watch them do their thing! I thank each of you for coming along with me down this road, for your contributions to the rich conversational threads spun by each week’s topic. You can find links to each of my reflections in this post. Each individual post listed there holds the links for your contributions to that week’s conversation. And if anyone wants to add further to the conversation, please do so by linking your post in the comments section of whichever weekly question you want to reflect on.

I have one further resource of my own, one that applies specifically to this final question, which is, What do I do with all the hard/weird stuff in the Bible? Seven years ago, I was invited to be a writer for a denominational resource paper on how we read scripture. I offer it here, if you’d like to read it, as a more detailed and somewhat more academic approach to the whole topic of our relationship with the Word of God. I also commend to you these fine posts, written within the last week or two, by Morgan Guyton and Ed Cyzewski. Both men did stellar work on these biblically related themes: Here’s the link to Morgan’s and here’s the one to Ed’s post at Micha Boyett’s beautiful blog. Lastly, I cannot recommend too highly Eugene Peterson’s beautiful tome called, “Eat This Book: a conversation in the art of spiritual reading.” He says everything I would say and he says it so.much.better. 

DSC01029It was stormy last week. Much-needed rain fell by the bucketful, and we were thoroughly and delightfully doused. From my perch on the bluffs, I could just barely make out a couple of surfers, trying valiantly to take advantage of the buffed-up waves. They were heading into rough water, with swells extending well above their heads.DSC01032

Depending upon where they were located in relation to the development of the wave, these surfers only had a couple of options. They could quickly turn their boards around, climb on top and try like crazy to stay upright. Or, they could duck their heads and dive underneath the wave as it broke heavily above them.

On this stormy Sunday morning, I saw a whole lotta ducking!

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Sometimes, that’s what we have to do, too. Maybe this is particularly true in regard to this week’s — or any week’s — question about the Bible. I do not pretend to have all the answers about this book of ours, about its origins, its contextual issues, its multiplicity of genres. I do have some answers and I’ve enjoyed all the learning I’ve done over this life of mine to get to those answers. But there are times when I truly do not know what to do with some of the strange or difficult things I find in scripture.

That’s when it’s time to duck myself beneath the wave and swim through. Because if there’s one thing I know about our holy book, it is this: we are meant to place ourselves under its authority. 

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This does not mean blind obedience, nor does it mean adhering to a strictly literal interpretation of what we find there. It does mean that the Bible is primarily designed to be a book of revelation and of transformation. It is not a book of information, not a list of facts to be digested mentally. It is not a science book, nor is it a history book in the sense that we currently define the subject of ‘history.’

It is, I believe, a love story. A love story that is meant to be ‘eaten,’ thoroughly ingested and lived into. And it is a story told in words. Genesis 1 and John 1 each tell us that the WORD of God breathes out all that is, calls it, and us, into being. And the words that fall off the pages of scripture are words that are designed to be taken in, not simply read and filed. They are words meant to change us, from the inside out.

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I was raised by a mathematician father and a word-gifted mother in a home where arguments over inerrancy were simply not important. The Bible, I was taught, is the word of God, the ‘only infallible rule for faith, doctrine and conduct.’ It is God-breathed, in partnership with human authors, and tells us all we need to know about who God is, who we are and how we are made whole. Although I’ve had to wade through, and eventually discard, some pretty lousy theology in my life, my early understandings about what the Bible is, what the Bible does and how the Bible does it have remained steady. 

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In my faith community, we look to the word of God to show us Jesus, to guide us into truth and to tell us how to live. We love the Bible and we offer multiple opportunities to study it and learn from it.

We also offer twice yearly day-long prayer retreats, monthly Taize services, weekly prayer gatherings — all because we believe that the Bible, under the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, is meant to change us, not just teach us. There is a difference there, you see. A big one. Yes, there is a wealth of fun and challenging information to be gleaned from our holy book. The stories of beginnings in the first 11 chapters of the book of Genesis. The patriarchs and matriarchs, the exodus, the monarchy, the prophets, the exile, the wonderful, story-laden gospels, the letters to young churches. It is wonderful, rich and true and we love to learn it all!

But beyond learning, beyond memorizing, beyond making and keeping lists or rules, the Bible is a powerful force for inside-out transformation in the human soul. Reading it reverently, intentionally and slowly can change our DNA, if we let it. We must read scripture with ALL of who we are, not just our brains. And that task? Well, it pretty much takes a lifetime.

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By Tuesday morning of this week, the sun had returned and the water had calmed. There were no surfers this day, only walkers and lookers, soaking in the sea air and enjoying the blue of the sky. But as the previous weekend had taught us, not every day is a sunny one. 

We don’t get to decide if the day is going to be sunny or stormy, do we? Maybe that’s because WE are not the center of the universe and not nearly as powerful as we sometimes believe ourselves to be. And some of our experiences with scripture feel more closely akin to sunny days than others, don’t they? Sometimes our reading brings us glimpses of God, glimpses of ourselves, glimpses of grace. But then, of course, there are those other experiences, the ones that descend when we come up against a difficult passage. Some days, it feels like the storm clouds have moved in on us, bigtime. 

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And there is not one thing wrong with butting heads with the word, with arm-wrestling God about how hard it is, with asking questions. This entire series is based upon the necessary goodness of questions, of living them well and heartily as we limp our way down the road called faith. But there is one very important truth that we need to hang onto in the middle of all of our questioning: our experience is not all the truth there is to be found. It’s important to explore our feelings, responses, reactions and to try to sift out what’s going on inside of us. 

But we are not the final arbiters of much, truth be told. And sometimes we have to remind ourselves that our personal experience-of-the-moment is not at the top of the pile when we’re searching for truth. What we’re wrestling with needs to be placed, as Eugene Peterson puts it, “under the authority of the Bible and not over it. . . the Bible, all of it, is livable; it is the text for living our lives.” 

We are invited INTO the word.

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And we are invited to let the Word into us. There are always going to be mysterious and strange pieces of story in our book. There just are. Happily, there aren’t all that many! Most of what we have, when we take the time and care to understand nuances of language, culture, changing societal norms, the development of the canon of scripture, and the variety of literary genres included in this collection of ours — most of it is readily accessible to us. There are so.many.resources available to help us work through the tough spots, the weird stuff, the question marks. And if there are specific texts that are troubling you, I encourage you to look at the commentaries, to speak with  your pastors and teachers, and to see if you can find answers that satisfy.

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But here’s the thing: please don’t lose God in  your efforts to understand the things that trouble you in the Bible. Some of the things I read on the internet make me wonder if the writer has ever encountered God in the pages of scripture. Have tears been shed, jaws dropped, realizations appeared like a bolt of lightning? Because sometimes excursions into questions can quickly become intellectual exercises — a parsing of verbs, a splitting of hairs, and way too much proof-texting. 

DSC01087BUT . . .when our honest, heartfelt questions help to open our souls and widen our spirits, they are very good things, indeed. They can lead us deeper into God and deeper into ourselves by leading us deeper into the word.

And it is the Word of God that centers us, anchors us, transforms us:

“Without this text, firmly established as the authoritative center of our communal and personal lives, we will founder. We will sink into a swamp of well-meaning but ineffectual men and women who are mired unmercifully in our needs and wants and feelings.” – Eat This Book, page 35

“But the words of Scripture are not primarily words, however impressive, that label or define or prove, but words that mean, that reveal, that shape the soul, that generate saved lives, that form believing and obedient lives . . . Having and defending and celebrating the Bible instead of receiving, submitting to, and praying the Bible, masks an enormous amount of nonreading.”  – Eat This Book, page 140

 

Just in case you missed seeing this on Facebook when Ann Voskamp posted it, this is a lovely small video clip of some Chinese Christians receiving Bibles for the very first time:


31 Days of Giving Permission . . . TO TELL YOUR STORY

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And so, we come to the end of these 31 days.
These days of giving/finding/taking permission:
to disconnect,
to learn,
to lean,
to laugh,
to listen,
to lament,
to let loose,
to re-connect,
to sleep, perchance to dream,
to change,
to say no,
to take a break,
to see,
to be seen,
to read, read, read (1)
to dive in deep,
to remember,
to create,
to stop,
to dance,
to imagine,
to read, read, read (2) 
to take a day off,
to get angry,
to be outrageous,
to breathe deeply,
to surrender,
to write a psalm,
to read, read, read (3) 
to tell the truth,
and now,

TO TELL YOUR STORY. 

Because, when it comes right down to it,
that’s our job on this planet:

to tell the story only we can tell.

To speak of the extraordinary ordinary,
to trace the ins and outs of
tedium,
wonder,
suffering,
learning,
unlearning,
wandering,
and being found. 

Ah, yes.
That last piece,

that being found.
That unique way in which we link arms
with every other person,
across time and geography,
who has known the love of God. 

Because no one else’s story looks like ours.
We know the same God,
we serve the same Savior,
but our stories are our own.

And they need to be told.

So. May I give you permission,
if you need it,
to speak out your life?
To tell the tales that show us the truth?

My own is long and full of twists and turns.
Yours is, too.
But there is a thread that connects them all,
a scarlet thread,
that shimmers in the light,
and whistles in the wind,
and takes every abuse we can hurl at it
as we struggle our way to maturity.

That Thread is strong beyond measure,
tensile, tough, unyielding
and yet so very forgiving.

Right now, the Scarlet Thread of my story
weaves its way along the central California coastline,
and these palm trees mark it out.
These long shadows help me know
who I am,
this mighty sea reminds me
of Whose I am.

And  the people I love,
the neighbors I live with,
the work I do —
these are the hooks that hold me
in place and through which
this part of my story is being told.

What about you?
How is your story being told right now? 


31 Days of Giving Permission to . . . CREATE

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In January of this year, our family gathered to celebrate birthdays. Fully 25% of our current family group was born in that month, and we decided to do something a little bit different to mark this year’s rite of passage.

Did I mention that I have a lot of creative relatives? Well, I do. And the fact that they’re so talented doesn’t intimidate me (most of the time!) — in fact, it encourages and emboldens me. It gives me permission to try a little bit of creativity myself. My daughter, her husband and all three of her sons love to dabble in painting – and their breakfast room looks glorious, decorated with their own work.

So for this birthday gathering, we all came to their house. Taking our inspiration from the art work surrounding us (while the men and children played and watched games), the women gathered around the sewing machine.

I had almost forgotten there is such a thing as a sewing machine. When we moved to Santa Barbara, I packed mine away and haven’t threaded a needle in almost 17 years! But my daughter has one, another daughter and I bought fabric. I found some feed corn, my daughter-in-law helped us measure, and we set to work. 

Our project? Making corn bags! Do you know what those are? Soft flannel pockets that contain kernels of feed corn, which you pop in the microwave for two minutes and then apply to any body part that needs a little soothing heat. Perfect for fall and winter days and nights!

We had so much fun! Why? Because it is fun to make something together – something that is pretty to look at, easy to handle and has such a wonderfully restorative and practical function. We made enough for every family unit to take home two or three bags each. 

And mine have gotten a real work-out ever since! 

And when it came time to celebrate those birthdays? We ALL enjoyed the creativity of our daughter’s youngest son. Joel, age 14 at the time, made this scrumptious and beautiful cake from a recipe in a baking book I’d given him for Christmas. And friends, it tasted even better than it looked. 

In the home in which I grew up, my dad was the admired creative genius — he played the piano exquisitely well. My mom was a talented decorator, seamstress and floral arranger. I, however, did not quite fit into that circle of creativity and felt inadequate and unsuccessful at every creative endeavor I tried.

Until I left home.

In college, I tried my hand at some homemade Mother’s Day cards and began to play the piano for my own enjoyment. I gave myself permission to try things and ‘fail.’ But here’s what I learned — if you try it at all, you automatically WIN. I discovered that the joy is in the process even if the finished product doesn’t quite measure up to expectations. I also learned that the more I did it, the better I got. No, I never reached the status of ‘artist.’ I found something even better — the fun of creating.

And I am delighted to observe that my kids and grandkids do this naturally and well, in all kinds of ways. From photography to baking, from piano playing to imaginative play — they all create. For the joy of it, just that. For the joy of it.


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? 

Making Poetry . . . Together


As we journey with our moms down this last leg of the journey, I find myself doing a lot of reading and research about dementia. There was a link this week to an absolutely beautiful video, a video that tells the story of an Alzheimer’s patient who began to paint lovely watercolors, whose right brain flourished even while the left brain was diminishing.

My mom used to draw occasionally, and if she had her vision, I would be loading up on artist’s supplies for her. But she can no longer see well enough to write her name, much less wield a paintbrush. So I began to wonder about words, and letting them flow when relaxed. Not words she was trying desperately to remember, but descriptive words, feeling words, reflective words.

We went to lunch yesterday, as we try to do once each week. She needs a break from the dormitory-like existence of a memory loss unit and I need time with her when she’s not focused on introducing me – yet again – to every aide, every resident. We crossed the parking lot outside her unit, rode the elevator up one floor and wandered down to the swimming pool and patio. There is small cafe where we can order lunch in a box, and after we had eaten our fill, I began to ask her some gentle questions and then to record them in my iPhone, using the notes app.

When we had finished, I read out to her what she had said, what she had noticed, what she had felt.

And it was lovely.

And uproariously funny at a couple of points, because . . . well, she has dementia, you know! And not everything connects to everything else in the usual way. 

Here, interspersed with photos from a gloriously beautiful afternoon, are my questions to her and her responses to me:

What do you see when we’re here having lunch by the pool?

I see that it’s wonderful,
that there is beauty here.

I love the tall and thin palm trees;
something about them reminds me
that I better get my hair done!

I appreciate the beauty of the day
because it is private here,
and the weather is great
And the tall trees surrounding
the swimming pool are beautiful.
I feel like putting on my shoes and walking.

I love sharing this beauty with you.

What do you hear when you’re sitting here mom?

Because I know there’s building going on,
I can hear that work.
Makes me want to take a walk
and see how far they’ve come.

I see my flag up there too.
And I stop and I think how blessed our lives are.
I’m glad that the flag is flying today.
There’s just enough wind so that it’s waving.

The flag is flying,
and it signals the comfort
of living in a good world.  

I enjoy all the green things.

I like to see the wind move
across the swimming pool.

Seeing the water makes me think that
God’s in his heaven & all’s right with the world.

And Yankee doodle is alright too.

Because she had mentioned taking a walk twice during our shared reverie, I suggested we walk by the new construction and over to the koi pond and magnificent, large magnolia tree that gives that section of the campus its name.

Sitting in the sun is good medicine, I think.

And so is making small poems together.

Foggy Morning: Ruminations & Photographs

I spent Thursday morning at the Goleta Slough last week,
and I spoke into my phone as I sat there.
This is the transcript of that speaking. (Pretty much!)
I’m thinking this was an artist’s playdate of sorts. . . 

Cormorants, beautiful black and sleek, yet they wreak such havoc.
The trees above these birds are sticks now.
Ashen, dead.


I sit, staring.
The tide ebbs and flows, the horizon fades away.
An occasional gull, tern, cormorant, or duck flies by.
I can hear the chatter of children far down the beach.

And the, low  guttural tones of the men who drive these weary motorhomes.
What must it be like to live like this, day after day?
Chatting in the parking lot, slugging back a six pack.
Suddenly a dolphin surfaces very close by.
Oh, have I ever told you how these creatures speak to me of God?
I see he has a companion.
Somehow life is better with a swimming partner.

Summer must truly be here, a lifeguard walks by,
carrying his bright orange rescue pad.

Summer in Santa Barbara is often gray,
as the heat from the central valley of California rises,
it sucks the fog up to the beach along the central coast.
But today, instead of feeling suffocating, this cool, moist blanket is soothing.

My husband is flying to Chicago, once again attending meetings.
He gets so nervous before he travels, and so do I.
Neither one of us likes to travel alone anymore;
I’m not sure we ever did.
We have surely done it often enough,
and once we arrive at our destination, most worries dissipate.
But travel days are hard — and the days leading up to travel days.

47 years is a very long time.
We’ve had adventures, raised children, cared for grandchildren,
moved several times, each dealt with the stresses of our own individual careers.
And we’ve done all of it together, growing up together,
growing into marriage together.
So separation is both good and hard.
It’s good for us to remember that we are separate.
Each of us is an individual, with different gifts and interests,
and those gifts and interests need nourishment,
encouragement, outlet.

Yes, we still need
to do those things which nurture us as people as well as a couple.
But the other reality is this one: everything else in life is better together.

I just saw a plane take off in my rearview mirror, perhaps it was his.
He flies first to San Francisco, then on to Chicago.
Meetings all day tomorrow, half a day Saturday, then home again Saturday night.


I look forward to his return, but I also look forward to some space and time alone.
Taking an hour to sit and stare at the ocean is something
I find more difficult to do when I know my husband is at home.
Why is that, I wonder?

I think I still carry a lot of baggage from my early life.
I still hear the voice of my mother in my head,
the one reminding me to be ever present and careful,
to look out always for my husband’s interests above my own.

I have come around intellectually and on some emotional level to the belief that
each of our interests and gifts are important,
that decisions are made mutually,
that God’s call is unique to each one of us
as well as unique to our marriage relationship.

But I still hear my mother’s anxious questions.
“Does Dick think this is okay?”
“Are you keeping your husband happy?”
And I still remember, clear as a bell,
her words about one of her very best friends,
after her husband betrayed her with a member of his congregation
and left their marriage.
I still remember these words:
“If only she had taken better care of herself.
If only she weren’t so smart.
If only she had kept all that intelligence in check.”

It makes me physically sick to write those words.
Yet this is what my mother believed, and this is what she raised me to believe.
How sad is that?

The cars are starting to pull into the lot now –
it’s a summer day at the beach.
People will be here in droves.

My clue that time is up.
What will this day bring next?

It brought a lot of loveliness and a fair amount of pain, actually. Leisurely shopping for the first time in ages; lunch out, every bite delicious, while reading a favorite author on my Kindle; time at the beach at the other end of town as the sun was setting. Unfortunately, on my walk there, my ‘bad’ knee acted up fiercely, requiring a trip to urgent care the next day. Three x-rays and 1 shot of cortisone later, I am much better. Undoubtedly, this relaxing day helped to move that recovery along.

Joining this with Laura, Michelle, Jen and Ann:



Playdate: a Photo Essay

For the last seven years, we have had the joy
and the privilege of
living within easy driving distance
of our youngest two grandchildren,
both girls.
Every Wednesday and almost every Friday for a little over two years,
we had the youngest one in our care.
Last September, Lilly began pre-school and our weekly visits
became fond memories.
But this week,
ah, this week was spring break,
even at pre-school,
so on Monday and Wednesday,
we had a little fun.
Wednesday, we hung around the house,
created a Princess Wand from a kit she
received for her birthday,
and watched a couple of movies.
On Monday, however,
we hooked up the car seat and went on
an ADVENTURE.

We were headed towards Santa Barbara’s excellent small zoo,
but got there before it opened.
So we took a little side trip out to the marina,
where all the colorful fishing vessels,
and more than a few pleasure craft
were lined up in rows.

It was cool and overcast and the tide was in, but we braved our way
partway out the breakwater pathway.

 A stiff breeze sent the flags straight in toward shore.

The waves crashed mightily right over the top of the wall, however,
so we turned back at the halfway point.

 I love the juxtaposition of the mountains against the masts
and the reflection of the boats against the water.

It was time for the zoo to open!
So we unloaded the stroller,
and hit the ground.
Lilly wanted two stops right off the bat – the koi fountain . . .

. . . and the children’s play area.

Because you know,
dinosaur eggs are the most fun thing in the world.

And Poppy just had to have his picture taken, there, too.

She checked out the spider web and the butterfly bench and then
we started on the animal circle.

 Colorful macaws.

Can you spot the boulder?
Looks a lot like whatever these animals are, don’t you think?

 Shooting through a glass shield, trying to capture
this golden monkey,
I got our girl’s reflection, prancing in her ballerina skirt.

 A very tiny fox with very big ears.

 The only difficult exhibit for me was this one —
not enough space for a small pride of lions.
Having seen these magnificent creatures roaming huge game parks in Africa,
this one was tough to see.

 But these guys?
Well, they’re just plain wonderful to watch.
These two are female and both are pregnant.

And Michael makes three.

 He moves gracefully, slowly, deliberately,
always on the look out for something to nibble.

These large creatures are surprisingly dexterous,
bending their front knees to grab at the grass,
reaching around to scratch an itch.

 So beautiful and gentle.
Can you see the ocean out behind him?

 So cute. And the eyelashes?
To.Die.For.

This zoo is a rehab station for large birds of prey, including
the California condor and the American bald eagle.

 Clivia, pincushion protea, cactus garden – geographical landscaping
as we moved through the exhibits.

 Our beautiful bird lagoon, not an official part of the zoo,
but adjacent to it. There is a family of gibbons on one of the islands.

 Lots of exotica — but barnyard animals are pretty fun!

A swing by the elephants,

 a quick move to antartica for the penguins,
and then. . .

 . . . a treat to end the morning.

 We love this girl so much and are always grateful
when she invites us for a playdate.
Try it sometime — I promise, it’s good for whatever ails you.

Signs of Spring — A Photo Essay

A winter heat wave gave way this weekend to the beginnings of a spring storm.
Somehow, this change in the sky, in the texture of the air around me,
matched a move in  my spirit.
We are midway through Lent, winding our way through the wilderness,
heading now for the Promised Land.
And the edge of it is in sight.
Can you see it, just there?
There is an undercurrent of hope amidst the sober reflectiveness of this season,
there is a sense of movement, forward movement, Spirit movement.

Ten minutes at my beachside office before church on Sunday,
about 50 deep breaths of tangy sea air.
Then onto worship, first-Sunday-of-the-month worship,
which means communion with the community.
The table was inviting, with four stations for intinction,
with its tearing of the bread, its dipping in the cup.
Myriad candles were lit, the worship team took their place,
two high school students adding keyboard and violin skills to this Sunday’s mix.
A strong, good sermon on a tough passage,
a passage that ended with the parable of the fig tree.
I like that fig tree, because I so often feel unfruitful.
I find it heartening to think that God is the gracious and patient gardener,
willing to cultivate and fertilize the reluctant tree,
hoping for fruit in the year ahead.

I wonder what that cultivation and fertilization looks like in  my life just now. . .

 Communion was  a bit chaotic, and I liked it that way.
It reminded me of meals shared in our home when our kids were growing up:
everybody wants to join in,
but no one is exactly certain where to go or what to do.
The spirit is lively, open, a little uncertain,
and that seems a good thing to me.
Eventually, a rhythm is found, everyone relaxes into this different way
of sharing the bread and cup.
Personal words are offered to those who partake,
the elements are both taken and received,
and sometimes that needs to happen –
we need to tear off a chunk AND we need to have someone else hold it for us.

 An afternoon walk around our yard served to underscore this new reality,
the truth that the season is shifting.

Later on, we enjoyed our monthly Taizé service in the early evening,
a quiet, candlelit time with lovely prayer songs, softly sung.

Somehow, these Sunday things – morning communion, afternoon walk,
evening music by candlelight —
they all felt like harbingers of hope,
reminders that fallow times yield rich harvests,
that Lent takes us to Easter Sunday.

We’re not there yet – there is walking still to do,
there is more sober reflection to come.
There is Holy Week before there is Resurrection Day.

But the blossoms are out! The light is cracking through, the colors begin to unfurl.


Summer plums, rich and dripping with deep,
dark goodness are now bright white flowers,
spreading their way along old limbs, reaching toward the sun.
The remnants of last fall’s apples make rich fertilizer for next summer’s crop.

And shrubs of unknown name, planted by a long ago landscape architect,
are flush with brilliance this year.
Deep magenta spikes, covering different areas of the yard.

The late afternoon sun catches just a glimpse of their glory, bouncing here, there, everywhere.

This has been a hard winter in some ways.
My mom’s move, illness and surgery for other close relatives,
more writing deadlines than I’m used to,
a return to work for a few months.
For all these reasons and more,
I’m glad to see signs of change,
to observe promises of the future.
In the middle of Lent, I appreciate reminders that this journey
has a magnificent end point,
and it is  coming soon!

I’ll have my monthly post at A Deeper Family this week and I’m trying to write three other deadline essays (welcomed by friends at other sites – my thanks to each and all!) in order to dig into my first sermon in over two years, to be preached on the 17th of this month. So I will not be writing much in this space for a while. I’ll put a link up on Thursday to ADF and I’ll join this one with some of my friends around the blogosphere tonight.
I am hoping that more frequent posting will come again soon!

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