The Example of Lary and Nina

My dear friend, Missy, was unabashedly weeping as she spoke of her precious mother. She told me how her mom doesn’t bemoan the future while she watches her husband’s lungs fill with scars, knowing she is sojourning into the path of a widow. Instead, she is living in the moment, rejoicing in what she has right now.

Sometimes suffering is like a window into the soul.

I want to be like Nina when I grow up. I want to be like the wife, whose been married for 60-something years to a tremendously loving man, knowing she will likely have to live out her remaining days without him. I want to live in the moment. Rejoicing in the present.

For the rest of my own days, whether long or short, I will remember the example of Lary and Nina. I will remember Lary, lungs full of scar tissue, unable to walk across his living room without panting into his oxygen tank… yet perpetually reminding us that “at least it doesn’t hurt”. Refusing to complain. I will remember Nina, losing her husband, savoring his sweetness during every step of the journey. They will shape my own journey. They will teach me, long after their journey is over, of the beauty of a cup half full, and a God who transforms suffering into glory.

And I will remember Missy’s sweet and tender tears, and weep right along with her, both for the pain of loss and the joy of what she’s had all these years. And for the gratitude of a legacy left in the wake of two sweet saints who saw the gift in the midst of the struggle and chose to embrace it, without complaint. Thank you both, for showing the world what holiness looks like.

Space 7/6/21

P.S. I promise I didn’t misspell Lary, although everything within me wants to add a second R.

Jesus Is King!

I watched a video of a pastor being interviewed from a country where his faith is illegal. He lays his earthly life aside for the heavenly Kingdom daily, and goes right on preaching the Gospel to anyone who has ears to hear. Because the worth of the Gospel surpasses the worth of our lives. He said when he was first living in whatever country he lives in (he didn’t say, due to risks involved), he’d say the name of Jesus and 8 out of 10 people would come to Christ, right then and there. But persecution hit, and people’s faith couldn’t stand up to the fire. He prayed and asked God why people were falling away. God told him it was because they knew Him as Savior, but not as King. If people knew God as King, they would know they needed a Savior.

He didn’t say it, but I will. When we see Jesus as only our Savior, but not as our King, it makes our faith anemic. It gives us the false impression that we can shove the Creator of galaxies, earthworms, and everything in between in our pocket and take Him with us wherever we go, like a tag-a-long. But God is not a tag-a-long. He’s a Lion, wild and free, untamed and untamable. To many of us that causes our knees to knock, and it should. But to those of us who know Him well, we know that He also uses His magnificent power to protect His loved ones, and that this is part of what makes Him glorious. Part of what makes Him God!

This theme of Kingship seems to be intercepting my brain-o-sphere on a daily basis. And every time it does, it fills me with awe and worship, because I do know God as King. If He weren’t King, this entire world would feel like the biggest pile of chaos and confusion right now. And I would be full of crippling fear. But I’m not. Even knowing that this nation I love and grew up in might just be on the brink of capsizing. Yet, I can read things like Psalm 46, where it says “Come, behold the works of the Lord, Who has wrought desolations in the earth. He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariots with fire. Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” And this passage fills me with peace. Because I can stop striving, stop wrestling, stop worrying, and let God stand resolute in His proper place… as King over creation!

Because God is my King, and my treasure is stored up in His Kingdom.

At the root of why I am waiting with breath-baited to see if our nation really will capsize, is because I’m wondering if we’ve figured it out, yet. I wonder if we recognize the holiness and majesty of the Eternal One, yet. Honestly, long before 2020 struck us at the knees, I knew this time was coming. I had no clue what it would look like, but a lot of my prayers had to do with lamenting over the state of our nation, and recognizing that severe judgment was headed our way if we didn’t repent of the ways we’ve forsaken righteousness, and turned our backs on truth. The ways we’ve made ourselves out as gods and God Himself into a demigod. We have been absolutely stupid. Like toddlers trying to drive a car, smacking our parents hands away when they help us steer. But just like toddlers who can’t drive cars, we are ignorant, foolish, and unable to steer our own lives, or even keep breath in our lungs without the help of the Most High.

So, America, you beautiful nation who has made herself ugly with sin and shame, this is my plea to us all… Let’s reinstate the Lord to His proper place as King. If we are to survive, rather than fall headlong into slavery and exile, we must, must, MUST become, once again, “One Nation Under God”!!!

Space 5/6/21

Discipleship Is Not Condescending.

I once knew a family who thought of people like investments. They would “pour their lives out” for others, but didn’t know how to just be-friend them. It never felt safe or genuine with them.

There were others in my life, however, who nourished me in every way thinkable. But they were just my friends. Older, wiser folks who let me walk alongside of them, camp out at their kitchen table and listen to them teach their children, sort through my issues, and told me about their’s. There was authenticity, vulnerability, and simple, roadside, Deuteronomy 6:6-7 kind-of teaching. I don’t know if they really thought about the fact that they were discipling me, but they were.

It took me a long while to understand how to be on the giving end of the relationship. We moved to Ohio, leaving our long list of mentors on the West Coast, and I lamented. I feel ill-equipped to stand on my own two feet. I was whining to God one day about the lack of older, wiser folks we could lay eyes on, and the Lord spoke to me, saying “I didn’t feed you so you’d get fat. I fed you so you would give it away.” Ahhh! I understood (or so I thought). Discipleship isn’t an isolated relationship. It is both giving and receiving. It is a link in a chain between spiritual generations. We ought to have folks pouring their wisdom into us, so we can pour ours into those younger than us.

It’s interesting how the same water has cycled the planet since the beginning of time. It evaporates, soaks the clouds, pours back onto earth, then evaporates all over again. Maybe it’s like that with wisdom. It goes from one mouth, one example, one soul to another, until the end of time.

After realizing I needed to not just be a consumer in this journey of discipleship, I began searching ravenously for people who wanted to learn all the stuff I had learned from those I had revered as mentors in my own life. The problem is, no one wants you to push your agenda on them. Even if your agenda is to help them grow. That feels condescending, like you see yourself as teacher and them as student. Have you ever noticed that most teachers don’t even let students speak unless they raise their hand? Like the teacher has nothing to learn from the student. The relationship feels like a one-way street, where you’ll get pulled over if you go the wrong direction.

A wise friend told me, as I was wrestling between hearing from God about my need to disciple others, and discovering what that looked like, that “People don’t look for people to mentor. People who want mentored look for people they want to emulate, then start following them.” This was the wisdom I needed. I just needed to get it right between me and God. I needed to grow into the kind of woman that could be an example for others, then let God sort out the details of whatever He was calling me into.

The awkward thing about discipleship relationships is that there’s always a teacher and a student. Someone whose usually lived longer, or especially walked with Jesus longer, and someone who hasn’t, yet wants to grow in the wisdom this older brother or sister possesses. I used to have a big problem with this, because as I passed from not only student, but also teacher (although a wise person will never stop being a student). I didn’t know what to do with that. It felt like pride, to think I might have wisdom that someone else has yet to learn.

I still struggle a little with admitting it out loud when I find myself in these kinds of relationships. I also struggled for the longest time with knowing how to just say “Thank you” when someone gave me a compliment. Maybe you don’t have these issues, but I do. And I am still growing in this regard.

But what I’ve learned, that has freed me to embrace the roles I find myself in, is that having wisdom and age doesn’t make you any better. No one is more or less precious in the Kingdom of Heaven. First of all, I didn’t choose to be born when I was, nor did my friends who are older or younger choose their birth year. There is something about age, especially when it comes to how long you’ve been walking with Jesus, that grants wisdom. I didn’t even choose my life circumstances, and they have taught me a whole, whole lot of wisdom. I don’t get credit for loving the Bible, or even for loving the Lord. That’s also a gift of grace. In fact, when you boil the fat off, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). If I have anything good to offer and I think that somehow makes me better than someone, that’s pride. I am trying to take credit for grace. But simply acknowledging that I have learned some things that someone else may benefit from, and I’d like to be-friend them, help draw out their gifts, talents, and shape them in wisdom: That’s called love. And acknowledging that I still have things to learn, and people to learn them from: That’s wisdom.

I have a younger sister (spiritually speaking), who we will call “Mary”, because I haven’t gotten her permission to write about her yet, and also because she is learning to be like Mary of Bethany, who had such rich intimacy with Christ! She and I spend a lot of time together. I see things in her that are so vibrant and glorious. She has wrestled through some of the same faulty views about God that I have. When we first began meeting, she was still really wrestling. A year later and I see so much freedom in her. She is walking fuller, brighter, more awakened, and more ready to use her gifts than ever before. When I saw her, I didn’t see a project. I saw beauty to awaken, and I wanted to take part in God’s display of majesty in her life. So I asked her if we could be friends. If we could spend time together. What a gift our time and conversations have been! But this is friendship, which is give and take. Sometimes she teaches me things. Sometimes she cooks me dinner. I don’t see her as any less than me, just because I’ve lived longer and learned things that put me on the other side of some of her struggles (that she is thankfully on the other side of as well, now). Instead, I saw someone longing to know the things I had learned, and was joyfully willing to sacrifice the time to teach them to her. Along the way, I think God used her to grow me just as much, even if it was simply due to externally processing the things God has spent the last couple of decades teaching me. If I ever get this book published, and you happen to read it, much of what is written was also what Mary and I sat on the porch swing talking about.

There’s no shame in embracing these kinds of relationships. Only beauty. They are vital. This is how we keep the wisdom cycling until the end of the ages. We must live with hands open to both giving and receiving. At the very end of Jesus’ time on the planet, He tells His disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19). He doesn’t say “Make converts”. He says “disciples” because discipleship means we co-journey together, passing wisdom and delight back and forth. We share our spiritual resources, passing them from one generation to the next, until the end of time. I have been so blessed with people who took the time to teach me what it means to sojourn with Christ, and now I have the sacred privilege of sharing that wisdom with those coming up behind me in this race.

They call people like me “middle-aged”. I straddle the middle of the road and see the need for every generation. We need the zeal of the younger and the wisdom of the older, the innocence of youth and the knowing of age, the agility and the steadfastness, the passion and the peace. I am a link in a chain, bound for Glory! I rejoice that God would see fit to place me in community to both give and receive. To disciple and be discipled.

I continue to seek out relationships with those who are older (or at least wiser) than I am. Like my friend Tawn who weeps whenever she talks to Jesus. I don’t even have to ask her for wisdom. She wears the wisdom of intimacy on her face, and in her prayers. Or Vicki, who knows the beauty of stillness, and who makes my heart still when I sit on her porch. She teaches me how to listen, and doesn’t teach me with words so much as her example. She has simple, precious contentment, and in the context of our friendship, I have been transformed simply by spending time with her. My mother, who embodies graciousness. My aunt who lives contentment, pushing deeper into Christ as she adjusts to widowhood and an upheaved life. Shari, who has always taught me how to live and love with the joy of a child, full of wonder and a deep delight in Grace. Larry, who doesn’t complain. Ron, who doesn’t either. And their wives who love them like gentle, faithful warriors. Greg and Ruthann, who steady the hand to serve well. Dave and Sandy who are watering the earth around them as they suffer courageously and contentedly. John and Phyllis, who would adopt the world if they were able. Missy who opens her table like it belongs to anyone who happens to be sitting at it. Monte who always points me to the perfect, obscure Verse that will save my life, and who is always a safe person to be a complete disaster in front of. Meade and Rosemary, who have shown the whole lot of us younger folks what faithfulness looks like, and how to love the Church until the end of time.

The Church is the best place to find saints who will lead and guide us into the deepening places of Christ, and the wisdom of a transformed life. I have a whole cartload of wiser friends (too many to remember everyone) who show me how to adopt any and everyone within reach, the value of simple, pure, childlike faith in the Word of God, and the preciousness of being with Him. They teach me how to live generosity that affects generations. I am a student at the feet of spiritual giants, who have no titles of accolades and are known by very few, but deeply known by the One who matters most! It is these folks who water my soul, and enable me to water the souls of others. Because the Living Water must keep cycling the earth until the end of time!

Space 4/25/21

America: Jonah or Nahum?

It appears as though we are watching, in real time, the collapse of America the Great.

It’s easy to read that as a political statement, and although we can see the unseen war of the heavenlies playing out on the battlefield of earth, this is not intended to be taken as a political statement. We may just have front row seating to the collapse of a nation who has been blessed tremendously by God with tons of favorable gifts. And we, like Hosea’s wife, have used it for idolatry.

We have given credit to anyone, but God. In fact, we have lied to our offspring about the existence of God, and let the public school system indoctrinate them away from believing He is the Giver of all the good graces in their lives since they were malleable five-year olds. We turned our faces away, while deception was pouring into their minds about some catastrophic “miracle” of an explosion creating all they can see, morphing their ancestors from apes into humans. Rather than just giving credit where credit is due.

We were born in a first-world country, and decided it was our right, rather than spending each day basking in gratitude for how easy we have it. But now, it’s not so easy. And the deception is no longer as convenient to look away from (although many are still blind to it).

Over and over again, I read in the Bible that when nations rejected God repeatedly, He extended a whole lot of grace and patience, but their came a time when He was done. Kind-of like good parenting. We extend grace, but there comes a time when extending grace is actually just enabling our kids to act like selfish heathens, and we are practicing lazy, apathetic parenting. That’s not really grace, it’s just us abdicating our role. In this case, we are the obnoxious, disobedient, spiteful children, and God is the wise parent, who is about to pull the spanking spoon off the wall.

Today, I stood in the kitchen, sipping delicious coffee and dumping ingredients in a crockpot, when Smiles told me they had just found two new scraps of papyrus (or whatever it was written on) at the site of the Dead Sea Scrolls. On it were written Zechariah 8:16-17 and Nahum 1:5-6. These read, “These are the things which you should do: speak the truth to one another; judge with truth and judgement for peace in your gates. Also let none of you devise evil in your heart against another, and do not love perjury; for all these are what I hate,’ declares the Lord.” (Zechariah) “Mountains quake because of Him and the hills dissolve; Indeed the earth is upheaved by His presence, The world and all the inhabitants in it. Who can stand before His indignation? Who can endure the burning of His anger? His wrath is poured out like fire and the rocks are broken up by Him.” (Nahum). Seriously? Thousands of years and these two scraps of paper were preserved for THIS moment in history!

This is a stern warning. We have traded justice for deception. Righteousness for perjury. And ultimately, in doing so, peace and prosperity for judgment!

I sat in the church house, a few nights ago, skimming this obscure book in the Bible, Nahum. Funny it should come up again, twice in one week. The book of Nahum is where Ninevah is finally judged and overthrown.

I have been thinking a lot about the book of Jonah lately, the first part of Ninevah’s story. And wondering which we shall be like… Ninevah in Jonah’s day, or Nahum’s? In Jonah’s day, Ninevah was an incredibly wicked city, but God went to great lengths to warn them of their impending doom. They were just about to get wiped out, because of how far they’d swung the pendulum (and I dare say, like America has). But there was repentance and revival. Even the king of Ninevah tore his royal robe and covered himself with sackcloth and ashes (a sign of remorse and repentance). As a result, God turned His wrath away. He is a God who loves to show mercy and compassion. Like a good Father, who disciplines His children to train us, not to destroy us. To teach and help us, not to get revenge. Ninevah was humble, and that was the goal. They didn’t need destroyed, because they turned back towards Him, instead of continuing in their violent rejection of Him. Later, however, they went back to their wickedness, and finally were overturned in Nahum’s day.

About a week ago I was reading Joel (what is it with me and these minor prophets, lately?). In it, God is prophesying His impending judgments. Half way through the book, as I am wading the trenches of God’s prophesied wrath being poured out on humanity, I stumble on this passage, “Yet even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘Return to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, weeping and mourning; And rend your heart and not your garments.’ Now return to the Lord your God, For He is gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness and relenting of evil. Who knows whether He will turn and relent and leave a blessing behind Him, even a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God? Blow a trumpet in Zion, consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly, Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children and the nursing infants. Let the bridegroom come out of his room and the bride out of her bridal chamber. Let the priest, the Lord’s ministers, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, ‘Spare Your people, O Lord…” (Joel 2:12-17a).

This is my trumpet blast. I am not good at organizing things like a communal fast, but I can tell you with a bold, unashamed face, that we, as a nation, deserve the wrath of God, and if we have any hope of receiving mercy (and by the way, mercy means to show pity or compassion), we need to get real honest with Him about the ways we have sinned. Our entitlement. Our apathy. Our deception. Our selfishness. Ezekiel says “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me. Therefore I removed them when I saw it.” (Ezekiel 16:49-50). If we don’t see America in the mirror of Sodom, we aren’t being honest with ourselves.

So I plead with my brothers and sisters, as Joel did: Fast! Weep! Mourn! GATHER THE CHURCH! We are bleeding out, and if God doesn’t have mercy on us, we will soon perish! But just like Joel, we cry out “Spare Your people, O Lord.” And perhaps, He will have mercy, and leave a blessing behind Him!

Space 4/23/21

The Pacemaker Queen

I received an email from my stepdad a couple of days ago which caused all of us recipients to start praying hard and fast. It said that my mom’s pacemaker had shifted and broke through her skin. As though it wasn’t enough that my mom, in her mid-60’s, had to get a pacemaker put in.

I started praying, not only for my mom, but also for my stepdad. I could read the anxiety in his words. And my sweet husband could see it on my face. I know there are plenty of folks who have lost their mom by now, and I feel a little guilty with how much I dread that day, but if you knew my mom, you’d want to keep her around too. I tell everyone she should be canonized, and I mean it.

Speaking with her on the phone today, I was reminded of all the reasons I am so blessed to have her. From the very beginning of our conversation, she was laughing jubilantly. I don’t mean the kind-of laughter that covers a wound. I mean deep-hearted laughter. She began telling me of all the great news she had received from the doctors. So far they haven’t found any infection, which means no infection near her heart. Thank God! Only 3 more days of checking for infection, and if they don’t find anything that means she is set to have surgery. There was not a single complaint about having to have the surgery, about the botch job the last surgeon did, or any fear in her voice. Come to think of it, it was the same voice, same joy, same peace, she had a couple of years ago when the pacemaker was first put in. I was the one who was anxious then. And it was the same peace she had a couple of nights ago, before receiving any good news about her plight whatsoever.

Having the mom I have is sort-of like having front row seats to a miracle. If you knew all the things my mom has suffered in life, you’d be amazed. She is a sage warrior at putting her trust in the Almighty when things look bleak. She has learned, in the furnace, the art of transforming any complaints she might have into surrendered rejoicing in suffering.

My mom, lingering in the space between a shifted, protruding pacemaker and the surgery to remedy it, is shining like a radiant saint. It reminds me that every small choice we are given to chose joy, to chose trust, to chose surrender, transforms us into the kind of people we grow into. I hope, with all my heart, that I am just like my mom when I grow up… because there are very few that are as holy and beautiful as she is!

If you are the praying type, can you please pray I get to keep her around a little longer? Because I am still sort-of selfish, and she is one of my best friends in the universe! When she goes, it will be into the arms of Jesus, and I will learn to follow her example of joy in that, but in the meantime I really like being able to pick up the phone and hear her voice. Because her voice is always full of sweetness, joy and other-mindedness. Like I said, she should be canonized!

Space 4/7/21

P.S. This was written on the 30th anniversary of her mother’s death, and my mom is now the same age my grandma was when she flew up to Gloryland!

Accepting My “Inadequacy”

It seems silly, on Good Friday, to tell you about someone who is neither Jesus, nor any of the posse of hooligans who followed Him around a couple thousand years ago. Instead, I am going to tell you about a modern day disciple. My friend, Beth. Many of you may know her. She’s pretty great.

Beth is a dear friend of mine. Her and I are planning a local IF:Gathering together for late April (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, look it up). I keep getting texts from Beth, asking if I like the Evite (I think that’s what it’s called) she created, or if she should start up a fb group to invite folks to. She keeps checking in with me for perspective, but all the managerial, hands-on-practical work, she just keeps doing… like a rockstar! And I am beyond grateful, because those things (anything technological or organizational) are NOT my areas of giftedness.

Years ago, I used to feel like having things I wasn’t good at made me inadequate. Like I had to be good at everything to be enough. Finally it occurred to me that God just didn’t make me that way. And that’s a blessing. I have other gifts. Ask me to teach a group of folks about the Bible, I’m all in. Or write about it. I’m your gal. But ask me to make some computer-generated flyer for it. Whaaat?

I’ve learned to see the beauty in this. Some old dead guy (I think it was Thomas Merton) wrote a book called “No Man is an Island”. I confess I’ve never actually read it (though I think it’s on my shelf, so maybe I should), but the point stands. We think we have to be good at everything, because we are bred for independence and self-sufficiency. But God made us for community. He made His Church to be one Body. A body has a whole bunch of different parts with different functions. I am more like a mouth, and my friend Beth is more like hands. And neither is more important. Nor can either get along very well without the other.

So I’ve learned, when Beth is shooting me texts of the awesome invitation she created on Canva (or wherever she manifested her Jedi-ness from), I just say “Thanks, you amazing lady!” and I move along with gratitude, rather than feeling guilty that Beth is happily exercising her gift. I am freer to exercise my own gifts because I’m not bogged down trying to be someone I’m not.

And you know what?… Self-acceptance is really freeing! I can enjoy living in my own skin, when I stop feeling guilty that I’m not gifted in every, single area. I can discover what I am good at, and what brings me joy. I can lean into community when I embrace my own incompleteness apart from others. I can rejoice in having dear friends who are gifted in ways I am not. And once I’ve learned not to feel ashamed of how I am made, or pressured to perform beyond my realm of giftedness, I get to exercise the gifts I DO have. The ones that infuse me with joy. Because usually, when we’re living fully and freely in our God-crafted skin, and not trying to be somebody we’re not, we can sense our own gifts because they are usually the things we’re good at, that give us joy.

So, how’s that for a Good Friday message? Don’t forget to rejoice in that cross today. Because Jesus is what matters most. But He sure does love His Church, and He made us to live in unity together. And one of the ways we do that is by leaning into one another, and sharing our gifts and our needs.

Space 4/2/21

Ode To Theresa

A dear friend passed into Glory the Wednesday before I loaded a plane for Alaska. Her funeral was a couple of days after we landed back home. A silver urn sat among brilliantly colored flowers, and a collage of vibrant photographs, symbolic of a life lived brilliantly.

The microphone was offered and many of us spoke of her jubilant life. But it seems unfair that all those words fell on only a small room of people who already knew her to be the Light she was, and that the rest of you who didn’t know her would miss out on hearing about a life well lived and a joy that spilled over into abundance.

We were fast friends, her and I. I could tell you of a few things we had in common, but for the most part it’s hard to put words to it. When your soul finds home in another, it’s a deep, surreal thing, not easily encased in language.

The day I met her, she showed up at our church. I knew she was extra special, because of her brightness, and also because I saw the pride and delight shining in her son as he, with arm draped around her, introduced her to us. I would continue to watch this relationship, with her sons, her daughter-in-laws, and her grandkids. They all adored her to pieces. As did the rest of us.

Theresa moved to Ohio only a few short months before she woke up in the isolation of a hospital where, thanks to covid, she was estranged from her family. The diagnosis of cancer absorbed in solitude. She was soon shuffled to a nursing home where our church family crowded outside her window to comfort and strengthen her with songs of praise to the One who made her body, and knew suffering beyond any we will ever have to endure. She pressed her face to the window to listen, with a smile which never abandoned her all the way until the end.

Theresa was a gracious receiver. I had the honor of taking her to some of her chemo appointments. She was easy to serve, because she neither rejected it (as we often do, not wanting to be a burden to others in our weakness), nor demanded it (as is the fallen nature of man to feel entitled). Instead, she received with humble gratitude, even her lot of cancer.

She found delight in the simple things. After one of our chemo-dates, she told me that her family had given her money to go get us some ice cream, her eyes wild with the glee of a child on Christmas… even after walking out of the oncology department of the hospital. We drove across the street, ordered our frozen trophies. She ordered her’s. Chocolate with cherry dipped topping. I ordered mine with pecans. She told me that pecans were her favorite food, but she was allergic. I immediately turned to the lady to ask her not to put pecans on mine, so Theresa wouldn’t have to watch me eat her favorite forbidden food. She caught me, saying “No! I want you to have pecans. I can’t eat them. But I would love to watch you enjoy them for me.” And that was Theresa, never cursing her own lot, but rejoicing in the joys of others! I will probably never eat pecans again without missing her.

Theresa made my soul feel buoyant. Even when her name was mentioned at a prayer gathering, and the news was discouraging, I saw faces in the room light up at the mention of this dear, precious, vivacious woman. It was though we could all see, with our mind’s eye, the radiance of her smile, and it warmed our souls from within.

On her final day, I was given a gift. An invitation to sit at her bedside and read Scripture to her. She was sedated, yet I knew she could hear me. I read her some Psalms. Psalm 46, 16, 1, etc. I read the chunks of Revelation that speak of the Celestial City, where I knew she would soon be headed. And shared joy over the fact that she would soon be dancing in the Kingdom, and listening to the legions of saints and angels singing endless praise. She had told her daughter-in-law that she really wanted to be at church dancing with me. But I knew then that we would have to dance together in heaven. Then, I read her Psalm 84. It might be my favorite Psalm, and it honestly reminds me of her. It speaks of one whose strength is in God, whose heart is set on the highway to Zion (to Heaven). It speaks of the glory of God’s house. And it says this “Passing through the valley of Baca, they make it a spring. The early rain also covers it with blessings. They go from strength to strength and everyone of them appears before God in Zion.” This is Theresa, passing through the desert lands, yet bringing life and vegetation with her wherever she goes. God pouring His blessings of those whose lives intercepted with her’s. She moves from strength to strength. Perhaps not of body, but of soul. Of the soul of one who never stopped smiling into the face of God, even as her body lay dormant under the sheets of a hospital bed in a living room.

Later that night, as Smiles, Simon and I were pulling into the driveway with a guitar in the trunk, ambitious to have a bedside worship service, my husband prayed these words “Lord, please usher Theresa into the place You’ve been preparing for her in peace.” It was as he was exhaling these words, with her children encircling around her bedside, that she breathed her last and the Lord ushered her into His very presence!

Theresa’s joy is now made full. And now you know the story of a woman whose legacy will live on in those who knew and loved her. I hope that, should I ever suffer the way she did in her final year on earth, that I would suffer with the same joy and graciousness, the same gratitude and surrender, that I watched my dear friend exhibit all the way until her final breath… where she went from strength to strength and now is appearing before God in Zion!

Space 3/24/21

Aurora Borealis

Standing outside, encircled with snow mounds, bundled in a down jacket and wool pants, hands stuffed deep to stave off the burning cold, I stared wild-eyed at the sky above, watching clouds-made-of-light dance in a spectrum of colors.  Mostly green.  Sometimes white.  A hue of red lining across the bottom.  A little blue tinting.  It changed as fast as I could notice.  Spanning wide across the sky, often tucking itself into both horizons, and swirling like soap at a thick trace overhead.  A patch of light suddenly appeared where darkness had resided before, and sends it shooting orb of misty, dancing light across, and overhead.  It begins to shimmer and I hold my breath in anticipation.  

I pull the phone out of the pocket of my green, down coat, to take a picture for all those back home who knew we were chasing the Northern Lights all the way to Fairbanks, Alaska.  We had found them!  Those elusive lights worth flying nine hours and driving twelve (from Soldotna) to get to.  We had rented a cabin twenty minutes out of town, though we didn’t plan on sleeping much if it meant missing out on all that glory.  

Looking through the screen of my phone, it was nearly black.  A dim spread of color crept through the center of the screen, but not enough to really see without getting a headache trying.  It looked nothing like the sky it was aimed at.  I sighed, and tucked my phone away.

Smiles heard me, and remarked, “Maybe we’re not supposed to be able to take pictures, so we will just be present.  Maybe you just have to come here to see them!”  I smiled, knowing this magnificent light show was for us.  That God wasn’t going to let me miss the majesty of the moment by trying to capture it, to put it in my pocket and take it back to Ohio.  I couldn’t have captured the dance anyways, and as beautiful as the colors are, the show isn’t complete without the dance.  

I remembered Tabitha, as she watched me snap pictures of everything within eye sight, during my first moments in Nepal telling me, “The best pictures are the ones in your memory.”  And even though my pictures take me back, the moments I was most present are the ones that mattered most.  You can’t be very present when you’re looking at a screen, even if it’s through a screen to capture a more permanent glimpse of what’s on the other side.  

I often remark that we are only promised two moments: Now and Eternity.  When I say it, it’s usually because I also need the reminder.  In the 90’s or so, there was a phrase that went something like “I’d rather be here now”.  I think they made bumper stickers out of it.  I don’t recall.  I did a lot of drugs in the 90’s and messed up my memory.  The problem is, our minds are often not very present with our bodies.  We are thinking of all there is to do, envisioning our future, or perhaps worrying about it.  We are elsewhere, when we ought to be here now.  This is not an accusation so much as a confession.  I am altogether too guilty of doing this.  That’s why I know you probably do it as well.  I think it’s human nature.  

Yet I recognize that it’s also one of the things God is changing in me, because I am so often convicted about it.  He is in the business of transforming His people, and when He convicts us of sin it is not to guilt us but to grow us.  God is growing me in the art of being present.  

So, when I am standing with my jaw slung open and my neck craned back to not miss a moment of all this splendor, next to a husband who can’t stop exclaiming a refrain of “wow!  wow!  Wow!” I know the cold cannot chase me indoors, because there is something far more spectacular to see, and I have traveled a continent to see it.  I don’t want to miss a micro-speck of these Northern Lights.  

I have a friend named Hugo, who is just shy of his second birthday.  On Sunday mornings, I follow Hugo around so his blessing-of-a-dad can play drums, and he won’t have to worry about his son’s safety.  But I also follow Hugo because he is my teacher.  And because I simply adore him.  Hugo teaches me about wonder.  One Sunday morning, I followed Hugo all throughout the sanctuary and into the kids’ room, where he told me about every set of eyes and tails on any animals he could find.  He counted the offering plates, and told me (repeatedly) which coat was Monte’s, and that Roger was still home.  Hugo’s vocabulary recently expanded exponentially.  Listening to him fills me with joy.  Because he is full of joy.  

Hugo is present with the moment.  He is full of wonder.  

I want to be like Hugo.  I want to act like a two-year old gawking at the sky, waiting for a shooting star to dazzle me, or some wild, dancing Lights to pierce through the dark and spread like wildfire across the abyss.  I want to rejoice in the Now.  

There are so many things vying for my attention.  So many projects.  So many loose ends.  So many concerns.  The whole world feels very, very vulnerable and unstable, like someone has shaken a snow globe and we are standing in the midst of it, without any ability to make it stop.  But there is Aurora, just waiting to greet me under her Alaskan sky, dancing free above the mountain peaks, like a hippie dancing between the circle of drums and the pit of a campfire.  I am full of childlike wonder once again.  

She reminds me that I can trust and surrender and relinquish all my pent-up fears and frustrations.  No matter how unstable the world is, I belong to an unshakable Kingdom and a faithful, true, unchanging King and Creator.  The One who invented the Northern Lights and invited me to go see them.  

But I didn’t have to fly to Alaska to see His majesty!  He also gives His cherished people eyes to see the mundane-magnificent.  To notice hot, running water, and a washing machine that works for me.  A sunset painted across the sky at dusk.  Smiling eyes and friendly faces.  Fingerprints and dimples and freckles and warts.  Tree bark and the first springs of growth in Spring.  We see this ordinary majesty when we give thanks.  All of creation is majesty, because all was created to sing His praise.  I was created to sing His praise.  When I am present and full of wonder in both the everyday and the spectacular, in washing dishes and Aurora Borealis, in each moment given, I am harmonizing the refrain of my life among the chorus of His worshippers, dancing in the firelight of a heavenly drum circle, to exalt the One who puts each and every breath in our lungs so that we can be full of wonder and gratitude and praise.  That we could be present with His Presence, and radiant with delight in Him!  

                                                            Space 3/16/21 a.d.

Nebuchadnezzar’s Pride Smashing

Sitting in a rocker in the sunniest corner of my room, I just read Daniel 4. It reminded me of myself… and Job… and America. But I better begin with Nebuchadnezzar, the main (human) character in Daniel 4.

Nebuchadnezzar was king over Babylon at the time. Babylon was the world super-power, the kingdom over all the kingdoms of earth. Pride was a great pitfall for Nebuchadnezzar. As was trusting in himself. This isn’t speculation. This is observation of the chapter. Having a conversation with himself, he accidentally admitted his own pride by saying “Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?” (vs. 30)

The story begins with God giving Nebuchadnezzar a really disconcerting dream, which the prophet Daniel translated for him. In his dream, the kingdom of Babylon was to be taken from him for seven years, during which time he was going to lose his mind, end up eating grass in the fields like oxen, and after seven years, he was going to suddenly realize Who the true King is, and his authority over Babylon would be restored to him, along with the humility to rule it well.

It’s really easy to skim this and not ponder what this would actually mean for a kingdom and a man. That’s seven years. It’s a few words in print, but about 2,556 days in real time. That’s a long while for an entire kingdom to be flailing while their king acts like a wild beast. I’m sure someone else was ruling in his stead during this time, but that someone else was not expecting to, and likely not equipped to. “Someone else” can do a lot of damage to a kingdom when they start making executive decisions without any long-term vision, or goals that involve the betterment of the kingdom.

Yet, God had a long-term vision. He was going to give the kingdom back to a humbler Nebuchadnezzar. It would soon be a much greater kingdom because, although Nebuchadnezzar was obviously a very gifted leader, he was not submitted to or in awe of the One who rules over the entire universe and breathed everything we see into existence! One can only be the type of leader to rule well when submitted to the authority of the Most High.

Here’s why I thought about myself… because I make a million tiny decisions every day, involving ruling over my own little domain. If my moment-by-moment decisions aren’t under the umbrella of surrender to, and awe of, the one Whose “dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation” (vs. 34), then I will make countless short-term decisions that will deal with that moment, but not be a blessing beyond. I will be working from a place of pride in myself, rather than trust in the Holy One. I will make a tangled mess out of all the things I am responsible for: myself, my family, my business, my relationships, my home, my time. Whereas, if my sights are set on the Most High, and I am looking to Him for counsel and directions day-by-day, my legacy will be one of blessings upon generations. Each generational blessing begins in the unseen, microscopic decisions we make in the mundane moments. Today, I had to choose to postpone dealing with the duties of my day to crease the Bible, get inspired, and write this post. I hope it blesses generations. And it might, because it was an act of surrender to God.

I am reminded of Job, who suffered more than just about anyone but Jesus. And yet, if you read the grand finale of the book, you will find that Job’s healing came from a deeper sense of awe of God, and a humbling of self. No longer did his tragedy of extreme loss invoke a pity party, because it was no longer just about himself. It was about the One who sits enthroned forever, and what eternal worth He would bring of Job’s suffering. This was Nebuchadnezzar’s healing as well. Both men got their stuff back, but both men caught a glimpse of the Majesty of heaven and it transformed them from the inside out, so that they were more equipped to rule their own domain well, because they knew that it was God’s domain they were being given. And God is a magnificent God.

And finally, it reminded me of America. We are a tangled-up mess right now. Our kingdom is crashing. There is so much disunity, misinformation, and… well, I am very hesitant to say too much, because I don’t particularly want to start a forest fire. But I will say, it seems like we are on the Titanic crashing into an iceberg. This past year has felt like that. And honestly, I have seen it coming for most of my adult life.

I have been watching this world unravel, due to our pride. Not only is it our personal pride, but our communal pride. We have spent decades indoctrinating our kids and their kids and their kids to believe God is increasingly invisible. We’ve omitted him from the public school system (where children are taught what they should believe), lied to them about the creation of the world, the value of human life, the purpose of their existence. And now, the whole world seems to be imploding. It seems like, as a nation, and maybe even as a globe (but I really don’t know enough to say), we are losing our bloody mind. It may remain like this for a season. It might be a reset for humanity, as it was in Nebuchadnezzar’s day. I hope we get to the humility-surrender-and-awe phase quickly, so this doesn’t last for 7 years or longer. A whole lot of damage can be done in that time.

But the glory is that, at the beginning of Daniel 4, as Nebuchadnezzar was beginning to tell his story, he introduced it with these words “It has seemed good to me to declare the signs and wonders which the Most High God has done for me. How great are His signs and how mighty are His wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom and His dominion is from generation to generation.” (vs. 2-3). Those of us who survive this trial, this pandemic, this up-ended nation and globe, may we someday soon be proclaiming the might and majesty of the Most High, and giving thanks for the ways He ushered us through this time of trial and brought us out into the Light where we will see His glory and worth! The only way we will heal is by laying ourselves low. As individuals, and as a nation. Or globe. It all begins in the details… in the hearts of individual men and women who are willing to be honest with themselves about how little we matter in the grand scheme of eternity, and how great and mighty the One is who created all things!

Space 2/25/21

Sensory Bliss

For some bizarre reason, I was thinking about senses. Realizing (and lamenting) how much we take them for granted, when they were invented to stir our hearts and minds to worship and wonder. Oh, the feeling of a gentle breeze kissing the skin, or the tenderness of a loved one’s hand on our arm. The smell of pine needles and honeysuckle, or a lavish bar of Lavender soap. The taste of Bacon-wrapped Venison loins and Brussels Sprouts, or a bowl of rich, delicious ice cream, or a decadent cheesecake slice. Oh, the glories! The sounds of children’s laughter, or even just their sweet voices, or the sight of their pudgy cheeks and curious eyes.

All of these wonders ought to fill me with wonder. Yet most of the time I am unaware. I am so trapped up in my mind, and all the stuff I think I have to be thinking about, worrying about, tending to… that I lose that sense of wonder and awe that all these sense were created to invoke. It is though our mind steps in the way of our heart and shoves it to the side… when both mind and heart are vital organs. Sometimes I think we aren’t supposed to analyze, but rather stand in awe. Life is so much fuller when it’s full of pauses!

Yesterday evening I called my Grandpa. He just turned 89 years old, and has 89 years worth of stories and wisdom to share. He talked a lot about how he used to love to hike in the woods, and go backpacking. I believe he is one of the reasons I love hiking… because when I was about 10 years old, he took me and my little brother deep into the wilds of California, to a place past the tree line, where you pitched tents on giant boulders made of granite, and watched the sunset cast shadows on rugged mountains of grey and white with glinting sparkles. Ever since I have been captivated by nature.

He told us of his old hiking buddy, and how he used to notice the smallest things. Once, my Grandpa was hiking next to him, when his buddy suddenly yelled “Stop!” Thinking he had seen a rattlesnake or something of the sort, my grandpa began looking around for the danger. Instead, his friend pointed out the tiniest flower, so delicate, petite, impeccably designed. They had to nearly lay on the ground to admire it. “You almost stepped on it” his friend told him. His buddy would often see things like that and say, “You know, God didn’t have to do that. He did it just for our pleasure!”

And this is just it, isn’t it? God invented all of this sensory bliss around us. Taste. Smell. Touch. Sight. Hearing. He didn’t have to do that. But He did. And He did it for our pleasure! It ought to stir up all our affections for the One who spun galaxies and spoke amoebas into existence. The One who hung stars like ornaments in the sky. The One who made dimples and freckles and curly hair. Who made an orchestra of different kinds of music, and bodies to feel rhythm in the bones and move like a musical instrument pounding out every syllable through the pads of our feet. He made majesty in the mundane! And it ought to stir us to wonder and worship. Because behind every great invention is an Inventor… and in this case, He invented the entire universe to proclaim His glory, and to fill us with awe and delight!

Space 2/20/21