Bare: A 5 Minute Friday, Embellished + A Photo Essay

I have a love-hate relationship with the wind.
It’s a California weather feature that no one talks about very much.
You hear about the sunshine. Or the smog. Or the fog.
But the wind?
Not so much.

But it’s here and it’s sometimes huge.
When it comes in the dark of night, howling through the canyons,
I detest it.
Sleep becomes impossible, yard furniture tumbles across the lawn,
tree branches click against the windows, power flickers,
often going out for hours.
Demons can loom large in such weather.

When it comes in the light of day,
and the day is hot and the season is dry,
I fear it.
Wildfires are endemic to this climate and they are terrifying.
Massive damage in moments,
families displaced, memories lost, even lives,
if it’s bad enough and fast enough.

But when it comes in the middle of winter,
as storms are brewing and blooming,
the wind is an entirely different thing.
It’s a friend, a welcome, bracing blast of cold, clear air.

And I remember what it felt like when I was an early adolescent,
old enough to be taller than almost everyone I knew,
but young enough to allow a rich imaginative life.

We had a back porch that was nothing more than a steep staircase with a landing.
We had milk delivered to that porch, twice a week,
and I often put the empties out in the case
to be picked up in the morning.

When the wind blew in the wintertime,
I would go out to check on the bottles,
imagining that they might be lonely or frightened,
and I would tell them that everything would be all right.
And I would stand up tall, spread my arms,
lean my head back and close my eyes,
and present myself to the force of that wind,
standing bare before it, willing it to blow me over.

And it never did.

Instead, it reminded me that there was much in this life
that is so much bigger than I am,
and beyond any feeble ability of mine to control.

I was reminded of that feeling yesterday,
and it was wondrous.

I took a walk on the bluffs, following the paths to Coal Oil Point Reserve.
And the wind was blowing mightily.
My jacket zipped to my chin, a brimmed hat holding wispy hair
firmly in place, I walked in wonder,
dressed from head to toe,
yet bare before the beauty.

I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by my life of late,
trying hard to control all the pieces that are coming together
in this month of February.

I am back at work for three months,
something I never planned, nor even thought about,
to tell you the truth —
yet here it is.

My mother will move to my community next weekend,
and various family members will help me make that happen.
That’s not something I planned, either,
even though I have done all the legwork,
checked out the options,
taken my mother to see them all.

Still, I didn’t plan to have to care for her in these late years of her life.
I didn’t plan for her to have dementia.
I didn’t plan for her to lose her eyesight,
her son, her self.

But here we are.

Why, I wondered, did I say ‘yes’ to this job right now?
Am I crazy?
(Don’t answer that.)

I’ve been laying out Lenten services for the last couple of weeks,
enjoying the feel of it, not sure about the weekly commitment
of leading them all, but pondering, with what I hope is an open spirit.
Yet I haven’t felt any strong confirmation that
this decision was one I should have made,
thinking only it is one I have made.

Yesterday’s walk opened something in me.
I guess that’s what being bare can do, isn’t it?
Standing on the edge of a cliff, the wind blowing wildly all around you,
staring off into the wonder and beauty and complete untame-ability
of this world — well, that can strip away a lot of things.

So, as I got in my car to drive home,
after taking these pictures, and saying, “Thank you! THANK YOU!!”
with my arms outspread, my head bent back, my eyes closed —
after that. . .
I drove down the ramp to the 101 Freeway,
I thought about the intense privilege it is to be
asked to pastor anyone, anytime, anyplace,
and tears of gratitude spilled.

I GET to do this.
I am invited to do this.
I am welcomed to do this.
I do not, in any way, have to do this.

I cannot put into words what a gift that experience was to my roiling
spirits and troubled heart.
What’s happening in my life right now
IS beyond my control. It just is.
But it is not beyond God,
it is not beyond hope,
it is not beyond wonder,
it is not beyond joy.

It is gift.
ALL of it.

Thank You. 

Joining late with Lisa-Jo’s community over at the 5-Minute Friday link-up. Five minutes took me to “beyond any feeble ability of mine to control.” Another ten minutes took me to the end of the words. The pictures and the techno stuff with formatting?
Well that took another 45 or so. 

I just read this through, after plowing through HTML to figure out why the font keeps shrinking every time I insert a picture. Finally, the preview matched the draft. And as I read, I wept again — grateful for the windy day, even more grateful for the ways in which God chooses to reveal love and grace to me, despite my anxious heart and control-freak nature!!

Five Minute Friday

adding this tonight to the Monday crowd – Michelle, Jen, Laura and Ann – with thanks for the invitation to think about how God is working in us, how we’re learning through play, and how gratitude changes everything.

An African Journey: Post Six – The Gift of Sight

A continuing series of reflections built around newly-scanned photos from long ago. From 1966-1968, we lived in Choma, Zambia, teaching school, running a ‘book-room’ (a small book store with a surprising reach, providing educational resources to the entire southern province), living in close quarters with missionaries and other volunteer workers and enjoying wonderful opportunities to travel and explore the great continent of Africa.

We were so young and our eyes were not as finely tuned as they are now. Too often, we didn’t know what we were seeing, we didn’t value what came to us as gift and treasure because of the remarkable place in which we were living and the truly gifted and committed friends who shared that living space with us. 

But when we took the time to move out from the schedules and the commitments, to travel and see the sights — that’s when our eyes finally began to open and we enjoyed brief moments of insight, clarity and wonder.
Driving through a wide variety of ‘game parks’ was a visual delight, a smorgasbord of color, imaginative creative detail and environmental adaptability.
From long-necked giraffes to graceful gazelles,
to the realities of ‘nature, red in tooth and claw,’
a beautiful impala, recently killed by a mama cheetah who had three hungry cubs to feed
we developed a deeper appreciation for God’s created order
and for the realities of wildlife conservation and its importance.
Almost our first weekend there, we traveled out into the bush for a baptism ceremony, staying overnight in this grass hut.
One night.
My husband was sick the entire night
and I was pretty much terrified.
Yet people around the world live in spaces like this all the time. How blessed we are to live with the creature comforts we do — and how valuable it is to experience even a little bit of what everyday life is like 
for so many people in this world. 
Watching a crew of strong African men create the building blocks for homes and hospitals brought the sober realization that our friends could not take a trip to the nearby home improvement center and purchase everything they needed for a DIY project. These adobe bricks required hard work, several days in the sun to harden up, and then the actual building could commence.
We were newlyweds while we lived in Zambia and it was important for us to remember that from time to time.
When our friends lived nearby, we took a couple of short trips together, just for fun and exploration.
This one was to the capital of Lusaka, enjoying the closest thing to a department store within a couple of hundred miles, admiring ‘curios’ being sold by the side of the road and making a stop at a beautiful roadside garden.
This is the president’s mansion just outside of Lusaka. Kenneth Kaunda was the first president of this new land and he remained in office for nearly 30 years.
After Lisa was born, we took that corrugated dirt road a lot further into the bush for a weekend with a sports-master friend who lived and worked 100 miles into the back country, near the Kafue River.
Dick was the sports-master at Choma Secondary School.
He also taught civics and a beginning business class called ‘commerce.’
This kind gentleman (whose name we have forgotten) came from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to work and support his family.
His family, however, did not make the move.
We enjoyed a great soccer match and a wonderful curry dinner, which he made for us in his small kitchen.
This bridge crosses the Kafue River, either just south of Lusaka or out further into the bush. Since the road is paved, I’m guessing we’re nearer to city life in this picture.
But this is a river shot from further in the back country
and this cheerful young man played us a tune somewhere off the paved road.
Early in our time there, we went with our friends to see Kafue Dam, one of the more modern wonders of this new country.
We were too naive to realize that swimming in a reservoir is not a great idea AND that the waters in this place contain really harmful parasites. Fortunately, we did not become infected.

While he worked in the bookroom, before he began teaching, my husband took a trip to the mining towns of Ndola, Broken Hill and Kitwe.
Copper mining was hugely important and the rise and fall of copper prices has wreaked havoc with Zambian economy for decades.
When he did begin to work at the secondary school, it turned out that my husband was an excellent teacher, investing heavily in his students. He found a series of exams published in Britain, designed for commerce and business students, and he helped his small class of about a dozen students prepare for and pass them. This provided them with some important certification of excellence as they prepared to move out into living in the 20th century, finding a job and supporting a family.
He also took his students on some excellent field trips.
A larger group went in the back of a big truck to see Victoria Falls, almost all of them for the first time in their lives.

And he took his civics class to the capital city to tour the governmental buildings and see first-hand how their new democracy was working.
It was his job as the sports-master, however, that brought him the greatest joy and enabled him to travel to a variety of different secondary school settings in our district. We had two champion distance runners, pictured below — and their names were Hercules and Samson. No kidding. 
And they were great runners.
We have tried several times to discover what became of these young men and others of those we loved while we lived among them. We kept track pretty well for about five years. And then the AIDS epidemic began in southern Africa and many of the students we knew were lost to that dreadful disease, most of them in the earliest years of its scourge-like impact on the continent, before we even knew what it was.

To this day, we are grateful for the experiences of 45 years ago, and we have been marked in deep and significant ways by our time living 
and working in a cross-cultural setting. 
At some point, I hope to write more reflectively about the missionary sub-culture and its impact on our thinking 
about how we did church in the mid-20th century.
There is much to criticize and regret.

But there is also much to celebrate and treasure,
chiefly the faithfulness of previous generations who came and built schools and hospitals as well as churches and chapels. Workers who believed that to be true to the gospel meant living it out in a holistic way, taking the good news to people who needed to experience it as well as hear it, 
who deserved education and health care 
as well as gospel tracts and evangelistic sermons,
servants who took Jesus’ own stated commission from the pages of Isaiah, who brought sight to the blind, health to the sick, hope to the downhearted.
The good work that continues in that place is built on that sturdy foundation and we thank God for it, and for them.

An Advent Journal: Stop, Look, Listen – Day 2

“I, Paul, together here with Silas and Timothy, send greetings to the church at Thessalonica, Christians assembled by God the Father and by the Master, Jesus Christ. God’s amazing grace be with you! God’s robust peace!

Every time we think of you, we thank God for you. Day and night you’re in our prayers as we call to mind your work of faith, your labor of love, and your patience of hope in following our Master, Jesus Christ, before God our Father. It is clear to us, friends, that God not only loves you very much, but also has put his hand on you for something special. When the Message we preached came to you, it wasn’t just words. Something happened in you. The Holy Spirit put steel in your convictions.

You paid careful attention to the way we lived among you, and determined to live that way yourselves. In imitating us, you imitated the Master. Although great trouble accompanied the Word, you were able to take great joy from the Holy Spirit — taking the trouble with the joy, the joy with the trouble.

Do you know that all over the provinces of both Macedonia and Achaia believers look up to you? The word has gotten around. Your lives are echoing the Master’s Word, not only in the provinces, but all over the place. The news of your faith in God is out. We don’t even have to say anything anymore — you’re the message! People come up and tell us how you received us with open arms, how you deserted the dead idols of your old life so you could embrace and serve God. They marvel at how expectantly you await the arrival of his Son, whom he raised from the dead — Jesus, who rescued us from certain doom.  — 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, The Message

There are times in life when the sight of one beautiful red leaf in the middle of a rain-soaked sidewalk is enough to carry you through all kinds of puddles ahead. The day may be grim, the majority of the leaves dried up and rattling in the wind, but there it is. That one thing of beauty, the one that makes you gasp and say, “Thank you!” The one that makes you remember the joy. 

It’s not that the puddles disappear or that the brown leaves are suddenly green again. No. The ugliness remains. But somehow, all that is dead and dying is more bearable, a kind of balance has been struck. I cannot explain it, I only know it when it happens. “Taking the trouble with the joy, the joy with the trouble.” 

And into the middle of gray days and bone-chilling winds and too-early darkness comes. . . Advent. A small candle flickering against the gloom, a beacon of hope and promise. A time to wait, yes. But a time to wait with hope. 

Where is your red leaf today? Where do you find hope?

Adjust our vision, Lord. Help us to see the trembling flame, the single shining beacon that will lead us to the center of the fulcrum. Help us to find that balance between trouble and joy. And then embolden us to help others find it, too. It doesn’t take much, does it? Just something the size of a red leaf. 

31 Days in which I Am Saved by Beauty – Day 24

Yesterday was an amazing day.
Startling, sometimes confusing,
interesting and humbling.
In the middle of this 31-day blogging craziness,
I put up this small post to tell you about an essay 
I wrote over at A Deeper Church.
In that brief post, I also urged you to 
read my friend Emily’s post in which 
she asked some questions about the very
topic I was speaking about right next door to her.
The comment thread, especially on her essay,
was pretty overwhelming.

But here is what I feel about it,
late this night,
after spending about 14 of the last 36 hours 
in the car, driving up and down this
magnificently beautiful state of ours:

I feel profoundly grateful.
And humble.
I would happily wash Emily’s feet,
and I believe she would do the same for me.
And that? THAT is a beautiful thing.

I slept last night in a retreat center in Burlingame, CA,
run by the Sisters of Mercy.
Our meeting room there contained about a dozen
magnificent prints by a Japanese artist from the 20th century
named Sadao Watanabe.
I tried to take photos of them all,
but a few of them showed too much reflection from
the hideous (why oh why??) florescent lighting.
These two, however, are perfect.

Two different interpretations 
of the same seminal event
in the life and ministry of our Lord, 
     our Savior, 
          our Christ.

Jesus – the Son of God,
the Creator of the universe,
the only fully Human Being who ever walked
the dusty roads of this globe –
washing the feet of his disciples.

And then telling us to do the same for one another. 

THIS is who we are, dear friends. 

We are the ones who follow Jesus.
We are the ones who share in the bread and cup.

And we are the ones who wash one another’s feet.
Whether we agree with one another on every doctrine or not.
Whether we work at home or outside the home.
Whether we homeschool our kids or send them to school
Whether we even like each other or not! 

We are the ones who wash each other’s feet.

And that – 
     because Jesus did it,
          because Jesus 
               continues to do it through each of us – 

that is BEAUTY. 

Humbly joining with Michelle, Jen, Jennifer, Ann, Duane, and OF COURSE, Emily:

The Mystery of Faith…

There are days when I think that God has an
interesting sense of humor.
Today is one of those days.
I am writing in another space today,
where I write today about the very center
of my call as a pastor.
And, in a way, for me,
it all comes down to one question:
What are you going to do with me?
Maybe I’m oversimplifying,
but somehow, I don’t think so.
Because if you struggle with the issue of women
in ministry, at some point you’re going to
have to do that struggling with a real-life,
flesh and blood, Jesus-loving, Jesus-following human person.
Please click over and see what I mean, okay?

And while you’re doing that,
I also want to encourage you to read
She and I are at very different places on this particular journey. 
Yet I can honestly say that I love her very much, 
I respect her opinion and I welcome her voice.
I trust and I hope that she can say the same about me.
The comment sections at both places are very interesting 
and hopeful to me. If we can keep a civil conversation going,
loving each other, even when we land at different places,
then there is indeed real hope for the Kingdom moving forward.
Do you know what I think?
I think that our amazing God is doing some very wonderful things 
through the vehicle of the internet.
And she has offered grace to all of us awkward speakers, inviting us to share our experiences and our ideas and our points of struggle. My prayer is that the discussion underway at her site and at the various channels at A Deeper Story can be heartfelt, honest, hopeful and welcoming – even when we disagree.
Can I hear an amen??

The Talisman: a Writing Prompt

I am a person who wrestles hard with major transitions in life.
I never want to move too quickly, to make big changes
in the routines and patterns I am used to
without a lot of thought, prayer, and discussion
with trusted friends and family.
I surprised myself when our senior pastor was hired in 2005,
midway through my time as associate pastor.
I thought I would retire; that had been the plan.
But then . . . he came, with his high energy,
and his working style that was so different from anything
I’d ever experienced before,
and he knew so much about the liturgical calendar,
and, and, and. . . 
I realized I could learn a lot from this man,
things I hadn’t done, in ways I hadn’t done them,
so I decided (and he graciously agreed)
that retirement would go on hold for a while.
 By July of 2009, it was becoming increasingly clear 
to me that my time as a member of a church staff 
was coming to and end. 
What, I wondered, comes next?
Who am I without this title, 
this role, 
this connection to the 
community of faith 
I’ve worked alongside all these years?

So, I took a leap of faith – gasp! –
and enrolled in a post-graduate learning
experience, this one in Chicago,
to see if spiritual direction might be what the Lord
was moving me toward in this last stretch of life.
I flew to Chicago for a very intense week.
A good week, a rich week, an exhausting week – 
“Like trying to drink from a fire hose,” 
is how I described it to my friends.
And at the very beginning of that week,
we spent a day on retreat, in silence,
with periodic worship times spaced 
throughout the day.
I took a walk around the grounds of that retreat center,
discovering a small gift shop with jewelry for sale.
Almost immediately, I spied this Jerusalem cross 

(second from left above) and snatched it up. 

Somehow that small, silver ornament became a

picture of God’s promised presence amidst all the
things that were shifting in my life.
I wore it daily for the rest of that year.
It became a sort of touchstone,
a reminder that I was not alone as I
navigated the changing scene before me.

And I began adding other symbolic pieces to the chain.
The small bee, which says, “just be,” on the reverse
and the beautiful spreading tree,
with, “free spirit,” on the back.
Both of these, plus the charm with my first initial,
reminded me – as I caught sight of them 
in the mirror or fingered them while
reading or praying – 
that my deepest need is for stillness,
for practicing the presence of God,
for sitting in the silence, 
in the Mystery.

About a year later, six weeks after my retirement
became official, my husband and I took a 
lovely trip to Hawaii,
a place of my heart for the last 32 years.
So I added the heart with the palm tree on it. 

That summer,

after being too ill the previous year to continue
the program in Chicago with my own denomination,
I stepped into training with the
Such a gift. 

So the last piece added was the medal
of St. Benedict.

Taken all together,
this set of charms,
of talismen,
speak to me of who I am becoming,
of where I am finding space and gift and grace now,
without the title,
without the role,
but with a life. 
A rich, wonderful, Spirit-graced life. 

During the hardest months of

this time of change – from about October of 2010
through May of 2011 – I took it off only to shower.
Somehow, the weight of it called to mind
the immensity of this time in my life,
this move from active ministry
to a more quiet and quotidian way of doing life. 

Gradually, this way of living became the new normal,

and as it did, the necklace sat on the counter more and more often.
I still love to look at it. 

And I still tend to wear it when I’m 
feeling uncertain or anxious.
I wore it every day during my

last two weeks in community with the Benedictines
in July and August. 

And I’ll likely wear it every day that I’m on 
retreat at Laity Lodge.
But I don’t wear it to bed anymore.

I don’t wear it every day or even every week. 

Because I’m here.

I’ve settled – as much as it is possible for
a person of my personality to settle anywhere!
And I am grateful,
so, so grateful for what I’m learning,
what I’ve been invited to do,
how God is working through me
and in me and around me
even here, even now.

I’m glad I took that particular route as I walked around 
the grounds of that retreat center in 2009.
And I’m glad to have this tangible reminder
of God’s faithfulness in the midst of major life changes.
It’s just a necklace.
But it’s also a story, an Ebenezer of sorts,
a marker of how the LORD has been here,

right through the shifting sands of change.
I look at it and say,
“Thus far, the Lord has helped me.” 
And I say, “Thank you. Thank you.”

My thanks to Amber Haines and her new writing prompt each week. The word this week was ‘necklace.’ I cannot write in poetic majesty as she does, but I very much enjoyed thinking about this one. So, thanks, Amber. You can click on this sentence to find her beautiful reflection and to find links to others who have taken up her challenge.
I will also link this to Jennifer’s, Emily’s, Duane’s, and Ann’s gatherings tonight.


An African Journey: Post Five – The Very Best Part

There we were, minding our own business,
getting to know this new country,
these new friends,
this new work . . .
and then the world shifted.
Well, maybe not the entire world,
just our tiny corner of it.
And it took a while to sink in, too.
On the 4th of June, 1967, 
I wrote to my mom and dad and said this:
“I have been feeling lousy the last 2-3 weeks.
Attacks of nausea at odd times, extreme sleepiness
and a late period. I am going to see the doctor next week
to find out what the trouble is. Will let you know the results.” 

What can I say?
I was young and . . . naive? 
Let’s just say it . . . 
I was plain old stupid about the process of reproduction.
Yes, thank you very much, I did know how it happened.
I just didn’t have a clue what happened when it happened.
So . . . stupid?
Yeah, that about covers it.
My mother just laughed hysterically when she read that letter,  
and her diagnosis arrived about the same time the doctor’s did:
you are two months pregnant.
About four months along, sipping a Coke on the Garden Route in South Africa.
My husband’s parents and younger sister came to visit us and took us on a wonderful three week trip to game parks and other beautiful places south of our home. I will write another journal entry about our travels to other parts of Africa while we lived in Zambia.
About 6 months along in these two faded black & white photos.
So. We were pregnant.
DEEP breath.
And so, the thinking and the wondering and the planning
and the gathering began.
My doctor was an American,
a member of the denomination with which we served,
and his work and his hospital were 40 miles away,
over a very, VERY bumpy dirt road, out in the bush.
I saw him three times during my pregnancy.
My everything- you-wanted-to-know-about pregnancy reading was limited, 
to say the least.
A friend who was a nurse had an old ob-gyn textbook,
filled with pictures and descriptions of 
all that can go wrong in pregnancy and delivery.
Fortunately, there were women living in our 
neighborhood who had borne babies before.
In fact, over the next four months,
four other women announced that they, too, were pregnant.
It was an epidemic!
Those of us who were newbies learned from the old hands,
and somehow, we muddled through.
Our baby was due on January 9, 1968,
and I worked as a teacher through the end of the term in
mid-December, grateful for papers to grade,
students to love and exams to prepare.
We found treasures to be repaired and painted,
I created curtains out of fabric bought in our town,
friends sent me maternity clothes and baby clothes
from home, carefully folded into 9×12 envelopes.
Over the next few months,
the reality began to sink in:
we were going to be parents.
January 9th came and went.
January 19th came and went.
My 23rd birthday on January 23rd came and went.
I lay on the bed, weeping, convinced that I would have this oversized basketball in my body for the rest of my life.
At about 6:30 in the morning on Sunday, January 28th,
I woke up with a strong back ache.
I went into our bathroom/laundry room and
sat on the edge of the tub, folding clean towels.
I remember being overwhelmed with
the realization that my life was going to change
by the end of that day.

I was, however, still stupid.
I stood in the middle of the lawn at about 9:30 a.m.,
watching my stomach ripple under my dress,
begging my cross-the-street neighbor 
(who was pregnant with #4) 
to tell me if this could possibly be labor.
She just looked at me and said,
“Diana, get yourself into the car and drive to Macha.”
So that is exactly what we did.
If you ever find yourself wondering how you might speed things along in early labor, I have a suggestion for you.
Find yourself a very bumpy dirt road and drive on it for about an hour.
I guarantee that things will pick up nicely.
We arrived at the hospital about 10:30 in the morning, went to a very nice room with a bath and my husband proceeded to talk to me about our travel plans for the summer, 
when our term of service would be ending.
I think I may have thrown the notebook in his face, 
but I can’t be certain. 
It’s all a bit of a blur.
At about 11:45, they wheeled me into the delivery room. 
Only, it wasn’t really a delivery delivery room,
it was a surgical suite.
The doctor was a thoracic surgeon and he did a whole lot of chest surgery out there in the bush.
They didn’t have a delivery table as such, 
just a surgical table,
and that sucker was hard.
His favorite nurse, who happened to be his wife,
gave me a small mask to put over my face with each
pain, a gas called Trilene.
I had no other medication.
At 12:12, just after noon on a glorious sunny summer day,
Lisa Ruth Trautwein entered the world,
a thick head of dark hair and a great set of lungs
announcing her presence.
And I distinctly remember sitting up on the table and
shouting, “This is fabulous! I want ten of these!”
As I said, stupid.
Winnie Worman, the doctor’s wife and an excellent nurse, holding our 1 day old daughter.
I stayed at the Mission until Thursday, eating in their home. Dick spent the first night with us both and then returned to school on Monday morning to greet his students.
The doctor himself (Robert Worman) with our beautiful girl.
With Winnie and Lisa, outside my room. The government asked them to add 5 private rooms and I got to be in one of them. The entire birthing experience cost us about eight dollars.
We had a rocky first night.
Because my husband was with me, the nursing staff left the three of us alone that night. I very quickly learned how much I did not know about mothering, 
and, once again, how much I did not know about being a woman who carries babies and gives birth.
My baby cried non-stop. Nothing would soothe her.
 And I was more than a little bit weak and wobbly from very normal blood loss that scared and surprised me.
Because, as I’ve said . . . I was terribly uninformed . . . 
Yup . . . stupid.
By 6:00 the next morning, 
I greeted the nurse on duty like a super-hero of some sort. She took one look at our girl and said, 
“Oh, this one loves to suck. I can see it. Try this pacifier.”
Glory be! It worked. From there on, it got easier.
In the picture above, Lisa is about 22 hours old.
I’d been up, showered, shampooed, curlered and combed out, (there were no portable hair dryers in the entire country of Zambia!) and in this picture, I am figuring out how to bathe an 8 1/2 pound human person.
Fortunately, she loved it. . . and so did I.
We brought her home and introduced her to our room and to the space that would eventually be her room.
Dick and I were both ecstatic, overwhelmed with gratitude,
sometimes anxious, but basically simply delighted
to be living with this entrancing creature.
She was, of course, the most precocious child in the history of humankind, smiling at 10 days, laughing big at two months, growing blond hair with dark tips.
Our African students adored her. I think she was the only newborn baby they had ever seen who had longish, straight hair, 
and they loved to touch her, to hold her, to stroke her head.
A Zambian friend loaned me her baby carrier and I used it as a pattern to make this one for Lisa and me.
There were no Ergo carriers in the 60’s.
In fact, American and European parents 
knew nothing about carrying babies on their bodies.
I learned about it from my African friends 
and I used this sling all the time.
From the time of Lisa’s birth until the time we left five and a half months later, I was called Bina Lisa by my African colleagues, most of whose first names I never really knew, as they were always called Bina —- (insert the name of their first-born child). I have been unable to find even one picture of Lisa with our African principal and his wife or with the students who earned pocket money by helping me with my ironing twice a week. (Remember ironing??) They are among a small set of pictures that we haven’t been able to locate as we’ve been scanning old memories into our computer.  But I have strong and happy memories of their warm acceptance of our baby and of the gigantic leap of respect our becoming parents engendered in the attitude of our students toward us.
This was Lisa’s favorite position, hanging upside down, sucking vigorously on that pacifier.
All five new babies near the end of our time in Zambia. 
Lisa was the only girl.
Our next door neighbors, Rosemary and Harry King, holding Lisa at a staff gathering. Harry took the black and white photos you see in this and other of these African Journey posts.

The Kings were from Virginia. Millie and Dave Dyck, our neighbors on the other side – and the parents of Michael, born 2 weeks after Lisa and pictured above and below, were from Canada. He went on to become the head of the Mission Board of the Mennonite Brethren Church in that country.
Michael must have been teasing Lisa to make her pout like that. 
Mom and babe on Easter Sunday, 1968. Is she not the cutest thing ever?? 
(Until her sister and brother were born, of course. To say nothing of all the grandkids…)
We did take a trip on the way home.
But by the time we actually left in June, that trip
had been shortened considerably.
We spent one week in Kenya, visiting some friends who were teaching there, then about 10 days in Switzerland (pictured above) and Germany, visiting my cousin and some friends from UCLA.
We were so smitten with our girl that we wanted to get her back to the arms of our loving families just as quickly as we could. And she was a great traveler, too . . . until our very last flight. From Copenhagen to Seattle, she cried almost the entire way, then settled down as we made the last leg into LAX. 
That little one was just plain done with airplanes.

We were greeted at the airport by grandparents, a great grandmother and a small horde of aunts, uncles and a smattering of cousins. 
It was a deliriously happy time and
I think we brought home the very best souvenir imaginable, don’t you? 

 Becoming a mother changed me in ways that are profound, 
in ways that I cannot articulate.
Carrying, birthing, nursing and tending three small persons is soul work, 
down deep living-life work, sometimes terrifying, always gratifying heart-work.
Meeting Lisa was my introduction to that work
and that meeting took place a long way 
from the only home I had known to that point.
There is a very real sense, however, that birthing her in that wonderful place cemented in my spirit, 
my heart, 
even in my body, 
this truth:
home is not a geographical place 
so much as it is an emotional space,
a spiritual point of connection and commitment.
All of her life, Lisa has been able to say,
“I was born in Africa.”
And we have been able to say,
“Africa was our home.”
And those two things go together.

I will happily join this long story with Jennifer and Duane:
And one week later, this will be my first entry in the Parent’Hood synchro blog, joining through Joy Bennett’s blog:

Five Minute Friday: Opportunity

For the first time in a very long time, I’m joining with Lisa-Jo at The Gypsy Mama for her 5-Minute Friday link-up. Five minutes for free-writing – no editing, no over-thinking, no re-do’s. JUST WRITE.

Today’s prompt? OPPORTUNITY

 A recent opportunity came knocking in the form of a week on St. Thomas with our son and his family. Glad we heard that one!


They say it only knocks once – but I remain unconvinced.

Seems to me, it comes ’round the door on a regular basis.

Question is: Do we hear it?
                       Do we see it?

Sometimes I’ve been paying attention and I grab onto it for all I’m worth.

Like the time I met this brown-eyed guy at a college mixer and said, “Yes. Yes, indeed.”

Or the time that same brown-eyed guy said, “Hey, I’m heading to Africa for two years. Wanna come along?” Oh, yeah, that one was definitely not to be missed.

And then there were those three surprises – well 2 out of 3, anyway. Each of them the most golden of all the opportunity-knocking I had yet encountered.

Then there was this weird kind of soft tapping that began somewhere inside my gut and gradually spread to my heart and my brain. A tap-tap-tap that said, “Come with Me, dear one. Test your wings – try seminary. You’ll like it.”

And I did.

And then maybe the scariest one of all came while I was enjoying the student life after 22 years. This one came gently, in the voices of others, in the words of scripture and finally, as an almost visible LED readout across my forehead: “I want you to be my minister.”


And now, even now, I hear that tapping from time to time. Opportunity keeps showing up.

May I have the wisdom to see, to hear. And the courage to say, “Why, yes! I’d love to.”



Why I Am Hopeful for the Future of the Church: a Photo Essay

Four days at one of the most spectacular Catholic retreat centers in the country, just outside the great city of Chicago.

Four days of some of the most intense work I’ve done since my retirement at the end of 2010.

Four days living in a small dormitory, individual rooms, shared bathrooms, one large living room with a fluorescent light buzzing loudly enough to wake the dead and a heater occasionally cranking out warm air with a deafening whoosh.
Four days with nine other people, only a few of whom I knew at all, each with their own ideas/opinions/working styles/life experiences/biases/favorite talking points.

The work was exhausting, confusing, challenging, amorphous, multi-layered, intense, demanding and important. It was also rich, rewarding, exhilarating, and very, very good.

While breathing in a glorious whiff of springtime in the Midwest, walking to the dining room, finding long-time friends by accident, discovering shared connections with new friends, hearing stories of gospel good news from all corners of this country we share, somehow – by God’s grace – we became a team. 

Not always in agreement, sometimes dissatisfied with results, often overwhelmed by the task – we joined hearts, heads, prayers, and vision to do the work before us.

Our task? To create a weekend retreat experience as part of our denominational tool-kit; something that could be led by a trained facilitator in a variety of church settings; a brief slice of time in which people might begin to discover what it feels like to truly listen and to be fully heard.

How often do we come together with other followers of Jesus and feel as if we are invisible? Not seen, not heard, not understood. Very little in our day-to-day living – filled as it is with tight schedules, too much ‘should’ and ‘ought’ and ‘How are you?’ and ‘Oh, I’m fine…just f.i.n.e’ – very little in our lives allows enough space to practice listening well. 

We wanted to create something that would help people to find and nurture true spiritual companionship as we journey together through life. Something that would introduce the basics of attentive listening, something that would encourage the thoughtful sharing of stories, something that would include an enlivening thread of liturgical worship, a shared meal, the sacrament of communion.

We hammered away at it from Sunday night through Wednesday noon, sampling things like dwelling in the word, taking a Cleopas walk, using art or music to fill in the gaps, thinking about lifemaps and technology and crafting a blessing. 

It was tough sledding at a few points and there is much still to be done. 

But here’s the greatest gift of this time away, this intense stretch of little sleep, lots of questions and not quite enough answers:  

I discovered a beautiful sprouting thing in the center of my spirit – a thing with wings and light-filled, buoyant beauty. And it’s name is HOPE. 

And right here is where much of that hope is centered: three women who are pastors. Three beautiful-to-the-core, loving, creative, committed, intelligent, Jesus-loving, kingdom-building, forward-thinking, open-hearted, life-giving leaders in our denomination who will change the church as we know it. ALL FOR THE GOOD. Becky from Ohio, Diana from Illinois, Michelle from Massachusetts – each of them gifted by God and called ‘for such a time as this.’ Each of them eager to follow the Nazarene wherever he may lead them, each of them fearless in their faith, pushing the envelope of ‘that’s how it’s always been done,’ seeking the pearl of great price, no matter the cost.

So, as I flew home on Wednesday night, I gave deep thanks for the work of the Spirit in our midst. I basked in the afterglow of new-found friendship. I rested in the knowledge that the God we serve is ever-faithful, ever-present, ever-guiding and guarding the church.

As the California ground got closer and closer, I marveled at the rich communion just enjoyed in Chicago, all of it centered around our shared commitment to the deep ways of God. I rejoiced in the wisdom of older saints, in the commitment of denominational leaders to finding new ways of going ‘higher up and further in,’ and the energy and probing thoughtfulness of the entire group. One woman ran a marathon on Sunday and flew west that night. One man participated in a spiritual directors’ graduation ceremony on Sunday and took the red-eye east to join us on Monday morning.

We all thought this was important work, creating the last in a set of three retreat options for the broader church, this one focusing on leaning into and learning from one another. That sense of shared values and high commitment fueled each piece of the discussion and experimentation of our time together.

Over the next two months, I must assemble all our notes, all our thoughts and prayers and goals and guesses into some sort of cohesive whole. This will be a work in progress for a number of months, with pilot experiences in the fall.

We hope to end up with something that encourages people to journey more deeply together. For if there is one thing I know at this end of life’s twists and turns, it is this: there truly are NO ‘Lone Ranger’ Christians. We need each other, we are better together, we are meant to be a living body of believers, connected 
by the binding, energizing power of the Holy Spirit, 
by the shed blood of Jesus Christ who shared our flesh, 
by the creative, living presence of Almighty God.

My deep thanks to Doreen Olson, Executive Minister of the Department of Christian Formation of the Evangelical Covenant Church, to Millie Lungren, Director of Covenant Resources and overseer for Prayer Ministries for the DCF, and to Diana Shiflett, spiritual director and Associate Pastor at Naperville Covenant Church, for her skill and grace in facilitating this experience.

The rest of our team consisted of:
Ron Ferguson, Associate Pastor, and spiritual director from Keene, New Hampshire
Jim Gaderlund, retired pastor, spiritual director, coordinator for Re-Visioning and Sabbath Retreats for the denomination from Mountain View CA
Letha Kerl, spiritual director and Regional Co-Director for Missions in Europe and Africa from Lyons, France and the Seattle area while on home assignment
John Kiemele, spiritual director, Founder and Director of Selah Contemplative Retreats, Seattle WA 
Becky Przybylski, Associate Pastor, Toledo OH
Michelle Sanchez, Associate Pastor, Medford MA, in training for spiritual direction 

I will be posting this with Michelle at Graceful, with Jen at Finding Heaven, with Laura at The Wellspring and with L.L. at Seedlings in Stone. You can find their buttons on the sidebar to the right.

Working Toward Retreat…

It’s been almost a full year since I’ve done any speaking or teaching for a women’s group of any kind. For a while there, I was doing something with and for women on a regular basis – I facilitated a women’s Bible study group at church twice a month for about seven years, participated in four different women’s retreats for our own women (two as speaker, one as worship leader, one as communion celebrant) and spent a weekend here, a half-day’s worth of interaction and input there. I spoke at a ladies’ tea, and I offered communion to a Bible study leadership team every fall for several years running. I like working with women – I also love preaching to and teaching groups which include both genders and a variety of age groups. But there is often something rich and remarkable that happens when a group of women gather somewhere away-from-the-usual for the express purpose of drawing closer to God.

Two days from now, I’ll get that opportunity again as I lead a group of women from Brentwood Presbyterian church at their annual women’s ministries retreat – right here in Santa Barbara at la Casa de Maria. We’re looking at the book of Esther – which is the same material I used at the very first retreat I ever led by myself almost 10 years ago. My good friend Karen Jobes has written an incomparable commentary on this marvelous book and I have enjoyed re-reading it the last few weeks. (In case you’re wondering…this is the only commentary I have ever read from cover to cover!) Over the course of this weekend, we’ll be talking about and reflecting on:

The Hidden Presence of God in Our Story

“…for such a time as this…”

Session One – Friday Evening, January 26, 2007

Making Things CLEAR…

…the need for consent and clarity.

Session Two – Saturday Morning, January 27, 2007

Keeping Things CONGRUENT…

…the importance of consistency and community.

Session Three – Saturday Afternoon, January 27, 2007

Living with COURAGE…

…the need for conviction and commitment.

Session Four – Sunday Morning, January 28, 2007

Responding with CELEBRATION…

…moving through confession to cooperation.

Throughout the course of these sessions, the women will spend some time in individual reflection, some time in small group discussion and some time in large group learning. It is challenging and fun to lay out a series like this, and I am grateful for the opportunity. And I am especially enjoying wrestling through this topic at this particular juncture in my own life and ministry. I gave the leadership team at Brentwood a list of about six topics and this is the one they chose. After listening to a bit of their corporate story of the last several years, I can readily see that it is also a great topic for them to wrestle with for a while.

It’s a good and relevant topic precisely because God so often seems hidden to us. There aren’t too many miracles to be had, these days. Indeed, I believe that God chooses to work through the ordinary, non-remarkable circumstances of daily life far more often than God chooses to intervene with a miraculous event – and I believe that’s true in any day. There are far more stories like Esther’s in this life than there are stories like the Exodus. Perhaps a better way to phrase it is that there is more often a “miraculous quality to the ordinary” (a Jobes’ phrase) than there is an ordinary quality to the miraculous! The only problem with this truth is, of course, that we so often fail to have ‘eyes to see’ and ‘ears to hear’ the wondrous ways in which our God is at work in, around and through the ordinary stuff of life. I am praying that together, the women from Brentwood Pres and I will have our eyes and ears opened in new ways this weekend.