Learning to Bend — A Post for Amber Haines

There are some people you know instantly are kindred spirits. Amber Haines is one of those for me. I have read her blog faithfully for five years, have cried with her over the health crises of her youngest son Titus (virtually only, though I’d have been more than willing to do so in person if she didn’t live all the way across the country!), even won some beautiful Amber-made jewelry several years ago. She has a new book out – a beautiful book which I hope to review in this space very soon. I urge you to order your own copy of “Wild in the Hollow: On Chasing Desire & Finding the Broken Way Home.” This piece is one of a long series of guest posts that she has invited, each of them speaking to that broken way home in one way or another. An image she uses in her book is of the cold linoleum floor on which she was found by God one desperate night. And that’s where this piece begins.


That bathroom floor can be a cold and lonely place. I’ve been there, at the end of myself, done in by doing good, exhausted by my own refusal to ask for help, by my unhealthy relationship with food, by my misunderstanding of the gospel of grace. There are all kinds of ways to be broken and I am no exception.

All my life, I have been the good girl — obedient, careful, helpful, the one who takes care of things and people. I don’t think I ever went through a rebellious phase as a teenager. Maybe it’s because I’m an eldest child, maybe it’s the way my mother instilled certain fears in me at an early age, maybe it’s the way I’m wired. I never tried anything on the ‘don’t do’ list, I never quit going to church, I read my Bible and prayed every day, I toed every line put in front of me, generally without complaint. To most people looking in, I was a very together person.

Along the way, however, I never learned much about self-care, about healthy boundaries, about knowing when to stop. And I learned to use food as . . . well, just about everything: a pacifier, a reward, a comfort, a go-to, quick-fix for any emotional struggle, a boredom-satisfier, a crutch when facing a difficult situation, even a subversive way to be rebellious. And for many years, it worked pretty well.

Except for the unfortunate fact that I carried far too many pounds on this large frame. Despite the copious tears that I’ve shed over that truth during the last 40+ years, I now see that that my size was an important part of my story. Somewhere, deep inside of me, I needed to be big. Big enough to meet the needs of all the people around me, big enough to take care of three little ones who came faster than imaginable, big enough to deal with the busy schedule I always managed to set for myself, big enough to get through seminary at mid-life, big enough to handle whatever curveball my pastoral jobs might throw at me. Big enough.

Slowly, with time and experience — much of it difficult and painful — I am learning to lean into the biggest truth I’ve learned: it’s okay to be small. In fact, it’s necessary to be small — to recognize our own inability to ever be big enough, strong enough, good enough, devoted enough, loving enough, capable enough, sturdy enough . . . enough . . . unless . . . we learn how to bend.

Come along over to Amber’s place to read the rest of this and to join the conversation.


#Small Wonder — Looking for the Little . . . in Me


It was just a simple photo. A black and white shot of a young, blond girl staring back at the camera, honest, open, sweet, inquisitive. It was one of about sixty photos spread out on a table for our perusal and possible devotional use. I grabbed it, stuffed it in my bag and immediately took it back to my room at the retreat house.

There were eleven of us there, with not much of an agenda except to be quiet for a while, to follow where our hearts led and to sit with God. Sleep, walk, take photographs, try a little art, journal, read, pray, reflect, have a small conversation with one or two others. Just twenty-four hours — not nearly long enough, by the way — a gift from our denomination in exchange for being spiritual directors on-call for pastors/staff/spouses looking for partnership on the journey.

They were a gift, these hours away, in a beautiful place, with kind people. And I chose that photo of a young girl to take with me on my inward journey. She sat propped up on the desk in my room for a few hours, then on the bedside table. And she accidentally got put into my bag for the journey back home. I’ll return her to her owner soon. 

But not just yet. 

I need to remember her and to notice the ways in which the girl in my borrowed photo reminds me in of the girl in the picture at the top of this post, the girl who happens to be me at age ten.

Sometimes the little girl inside gets shoved to the sidelines and when she’s pushed over there, she can stir things up in ways that are important. She gets anxious, wondering if she’ll be overlooked forever. So sometimes, I need to stop, look for her and listen.

How are you today, honey? Feeling cared for? I want to take good care of you, I really do. I don’t want you to worry. And I don’t want you to worry me, okay? 

Most of the time, all she needs is a fond look, a pat on the head, a few loving words. That’s it. When she feels safe, she comes right back into the center of things and looks out my aging eyes with wonder and anticipation.

I need her, you see.

I need her to remind me that there will always be a part of me that is young, easily frightened and yet open to learn and be loved. She helps me to be young-at-heart, even when the bones and the joints, the muscles and the skin tone are showing their antiquity.

She is the wondering center of me, a key player in my own sense of self, a gift from long ago to today.

Joining with the lovely Kelly Chripczuk today for her wonderful series (just discovered by me) of short essays on small things each week. Thanks, Kelly.

An Advent Journey: When God Became Small — Day One

Happy Thanksgiving, dear friends.

It’s been quiet around here for a while; there have been very few words available to me for some reason. But as has been my custom, I am doing a daily Advent reflection this year. I cannot think of a year in which the spirit of Advent is more needed than this year. With the verdict in Ferguson coming on the eve of the season, and so many friends living with broken hearts and endless questions, we need to sit in this Advent space and intentionally ‘work out our own salvation,’ examining our hearts for ways in which we contribute to that sadness, those questions. May the Spirit speak to our hearts with hope and conviction. Most of these pieces were written in the early days of November, yet the breath of the Spirit is, as always, evident in the poignancy of the texts and the ways in which they have raised questions in me.

So . . . TODAY is the first day of Advent. Sunday is the first Sunday — the more familiar beginning marker in the minds of most of us — but today marks the beginning of the season, which extends through Christmas Eve. Each of these daily posts will include a photo, one of the scripture three texts from the Common Lectionary for that day, a brief reflection on a single phrase in the day’s passage, and prayer. That’s it. I so loved doing my October series on “Looking for the Little,” that I’m doing an Advent version of that — hoping to encourage myself (and maybe you, too?) to be intentional about keeping-it-simple during this crazy-making time of the year.


Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19, NRSV

 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
    you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
    before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
Stir up your might, 
   and come to save us!

Restore us, O God;
    let your face shine, that we may be saved.

O Lord God of hosts,
    how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
You have fed them with the bread of tears,
    and given them tears to drink in full measure.
You make us the scorn of our neighbors;
    our enemies laugh among themselves.

Restore us, O God of hosts;
    let your face shine, that we may be saved.
But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand,
   the one whom you made strong for yourself.

Then we will never turn back from you;
    give us life, and we will call on your name.
Restore us, OLord God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.

The picture at the top of this post probably should never have been taken. I was shooting directly into the light, something a professor in Photography 101 would say is a great, big no-no. But I loved what I was seeing and wanted to try and capture it.

Of course, it’s not possible to capture the sun. But this photo does capture some of its mysterious majesty and brilliance, I think. 

“Let your face shine,” the psalmist cries as we step into this waiting season of Advent. “Let your face shine that we may be saved.”

And here’s the truth of it: Jesus Christ is the shining face of God for us. He took the dive, made the leap. From the heavens to the womb of the virgin, from the cosmos to the molecular, from the divine to the oh-so-human. 

God’s face shines on us still, even though there are those days when it surely doesn’t feel like it. Over my life, I have learned that what it ‘feels’ like is never the end of the story and it is not always the truth of things. Because no matter how we may be feeling about life, God shines on us.

God shines on us in the face of that baby boy, the one who grew up to be a fascinating man, the one who gave his life away for the likes of us, the one who rose, victorious over death, the one who lives forever as Eternal Light in the heavenly places.

And also? In the smallness of our hearts. Alleluia.

Ah, Lord Jesus, light of the world. Illumine us as we take this walk again this year. As we move steadily toward the stable, help us to keep our focus on you, the one who became small for us. Amen.

31 Days of Looking for the Little: Remembering

As this 31-Day Challenge draws to its close, it seems fitting to go back to where we began: with a picture of my littlest grandgirl’s shoes.
They’re not resting on our warm wooden floors in this shot. Instead, they’re sitting on the concrete deck of the swimming pool at the condo we rented on Maui. You can see some mud stains from all the rain puddles left over from tropical storm/hurricane Ana, which almost truncated our trip before it began. 
I remember when that original photo triggered the idea for this entire series, and when I do, I am grateful for the inspiration, and even more, for the process of writing each of these small pieces. I cannot remember a time when I’ve had more fun blogging than I have this past month.
It’s a really good thing to remember, isn’t it? Scripture admonishes us to do that very thing — over and over again. To recount our story, to tell it to our children and our grandchildren.
And it’s that idea which is behind the Ignatian practice of examen, a daily discipline that has been adapted in all kinds of ways by all kinds of people in the last few centuries.
Because of the particular journey I’ve been on the last few months, my nightly version is short and sweet. As I drift off to sleep, I call to mind every blessing of the day just past, beginning with small things and moving through to the bigger ones — like my husband and my family and my faith. 
It’s just a small thing, this nightly remembering, but it has been the single biggest part of my own recovery, both physically and emotionally. Spending those few minutes being grateful has done more to restore health and sanity than any other single thing I’ve done. 
And it starts with remembering . . .
Just Wondering

31 Days of Looking for the Little: Serendipity


Because we are traveling the last half of this month, I’m working way ahead on these October posts. And it’s been so much fun! 

We’ve been experiencing a particularly harsh heat wave here in southern and central California as I write, and sleep is sometimes difficult. The French doors in our bedroom face east, and they are usually closed with blackout shades in place. But because of the heat, we kept one door open all night last night, and the light streaming in woke me earlier than usual.

I am not a morning person. Let me repeat that. I am NOT a morning person. But every once in a while, I get a glimpse into why it might be a good thing to be one. 

When I grudgingly cracked open my eyes today, this is what I saw. The rising sun coloring the clouds, silhouetting the trees behind our home. 

It was just a minute or two — sunrises never last as long as sunsets — but it was pure glory all the while. A small moment of serendipity, wouldn’t you say?

Maybe I could get used to this early morning routine. . .


Just Wondering

31 Days of Looking for the Little: Sparkles

DSC01103 sparkly water

What is it about sparkly things? Little kids, even babies, will instinctively reach for things that are shiny and sparkly. And I’ve never outgrown that. 

I love to wear jewelry that sparkles. I enjoy fireworks, as long as they aren’t too loud. And I adore watching the sunlight play across the breaking waves of the ocean. Adore it.

I love the ocean in any kind of weather. Truly, I do. But when the sun is high and shining brightly? When the waves are breaking just so? When the birds are calling and dipping into the midst of the sparkles? Well, that’s heaven right there.

Sparkles are by definition little things. But when you see a whole lot of sparkling going on, that shiny stuff can seem very large, indeed. 

I want to be a sparkly person. Not a fake one — human beings need to experience all kinds of weather, too. And they need to be honest about it, always. But overall, I’d like to sparkle. It’s just a little thing, but I think it’s quite wonderful. 

Just Wondering

31 Days of Looking for the Little: Baby Steps

IMG_0058 - Version 2 mom in the surf

If you’ve followed this blog at all, you just might recognize the woman in this photo. This is my mother. The mom I remember, the one who loves the ocean and sometimes takes amazing physical risks.

She was in her 60’s when this picture was taken. And she had a ball that day. I think it may have been the last time she ventured onto a boogie board, but she loved every minute of it! 

My memory of this picture told me that she was laughing uproariously. But, as you can see, she is not exactly smiling. She looks more than a little bit worried, truth be told! And I get that!

I have long admired my mother for days like this, for making life an adventure and taking a chance. These were baby steps to be sure; she didn’t venture out into very deep waters. But I didn’t care. I was thrilled that she went out at all! If I could figure out a way to do it without having to wash up onto the beach and then get these knees of mine to get me up off the ground, I’d try it again, too!

Baby steps are still steps, right? Yeah!

Just Wondering

31 Days of Looking for the Little: Small Gifts

DSC02442 Addie's gift box

I have some delightful friends that I have yet to meet. That is the glory of this thing called cyberspace. And about two weeks after my surgery last summer, I got this little box in the mail. I had no idea who it was from and happily ripped into it.

The delightful contents shown above are what the box contained, but this was the first thing I saw as I opened it up:

DSC02443 box of sunshine

And it was exactly that: a little box of sunshine. Everything in it was yellow, from plush tea towels to boxes of candy to smiley face stickers. All of it, yellow.

And I laughed out loud from the joy of it all. In truth, I received a number of delightful surprise boxes from a lot of my internet friends — my deep thanks to each one of you. But this is the only one that came from someone I have yet to meet IRL. So thank you, Addie Zierman, for making my day back then. And thank you for inspiring me to do something like this for someone else someday.

It is the little things, isn’t it?

Just Wondering

31 Days of Looking for the Little: Prickly Things

DSC02143 cactus flowers

On a drive last spring, I got out and took a walk at Morro Rock, about two hours north of here. And right there, in the shadow of that great rock, I found this glorious thing. A cactus, in full bloom.

The rock is huge, but this plant was just a small thing, almost in its shadow. But I took a picture of it — and not too many of that rock. It was too big for my viewfinder for one thing. And it’s just a big ole rock, for another.

But this? This was lovely. From a distance. I had absolutely no desire to get up close and personal with it, no urge to see if the flowers had a fragrance or not (some cactus flowers smell heavenly). It was just big enough that I didn’t want to chance leaning in too closely. Because those spines? They can hurt.

There are some good things in this life that are best seen and experienced at a bit of a distance, aren’t there? I loved the vibrant color of these blooms, and the quirky way they popped right up out of the edge of those leaves. But looking on from 15 feet away was just fine by me.

There have been times in my life when I’ve thought something was totally safe and it turned out not to be be. It was still good or beautiful or educational or helpful, but it was not to be enjoyed too closely or too much.

Life does have prickly things, you know? And some of them are little.

Or at least, littler than Morro Rock!

Just Wondering

31 Days of Looking for the Little: Support

DSC02837 crooked tree

This is an old eucalyptus tree, down by the beach where I love to walk or sit and look. I happened to notice it a few days ago, while I was resting after a good walk. Do you see how crooked some of those branches are? And how the one on the bottom is sort of holding up the bigger one just above it?

I’ve looked at this tree dozens of times, but this is the first time that I noticed how gnarled it is. And how the branches are helping each other grow.

And I reflected for a few minutes on all the ‘branches’ that have helped me to grow over this long life of mine. My parents, my brothers, my extended family, my husband, my in-laws, my children, my grandchildren, my close friends, my professors, my fellow students, my parishioners, my directees. It’s a long list!

So when I got back home and looked carefully at this picture, I just took a minute to say ‘thank you’ for all the good, sturdy branches God has put around me.

Who has supported you along the way?

Just Wondering