December 18, 2010

The Nativity Story: A Digital Retelling

I just received this from a friend and thought it was so clever that I had to share.  
Have a Merry (Digital) Christmas!

December 15, 2010

To Tree? . . . Or Not to Tree?

Trouble’s brewing in my family.

It started in November when my mom declared she wasn’t putting up a Christmas tree this year.

What?! No tree?” I stammered. “But why?!”

In my shock and dismay all I recall is, “Because, blah blah blah, time involved, blah blah blah, getting older, blah blah blah, Christmas.”

For weeks I’ve tried whining/coaxing/coercing/guilting my mom into changing her mind. (Very adolescent of me, I know.) I’ll give her points for consistency—she’s not budging: “I’ll decorate the house, but I’m not putting up a tree.”

Her decision would perplex—but not bother—me if we weren’t planning to spend Christmas day at my parents’ house. Perhaps I’ve carried on a bit too much because my exasperated mother finally said to me, “You of all people know that Christmas isn’t about a tree!”

Ouch! More points for Mom.

Introspective as always, I pondered why I’m so disturbed by her lack of a Christmas tree.

As I lay on the metaphorical therapist's couch, my inner shrink probed, "Tell me about your childhood."

A memory triggered of a Christmas we spent in Florida when I was about 13. It's not-so-affectionately been named the Worst Christmas Ever (WCE for short). My family and I drove 20-some grueling hours from New Jersey straight through to Boca Raton (which in itself is a traumatic memory) and arrived at my grandfather’s house exhausted but excited.

“Where’s the Christmas tree?” my sister and I asked as we looked around the small house—as if it one had to search hard to find a large evergreen covered in decorations and bright lights.

“It’s out there on the patio,” my grandfather’s wife Minnette said.

My sister and I ran to investigate. And, there it was—a citrus tree strung with white lights. No decorations, no tinsel, no star on top. In a room that technically wasn't even part of the house. We were crestfallen.

“No Christmas tree?!” my sister and I stared at each other in disbelief.

It didn’t help our already battered Christmas spirit when moments after opening gifts on Christmas morning, Minnette announced, “OK kids, pick up your presents and put them away. Company’s coming.”

I still feel the sting of the Christmas that wasn’t. (Although, in all fairness to Minnette, she was Jewish).

The other day my sister and I talked on the phone about Christmas plans and commiserated about my parents’ lack of a Christmas tree.

“It’s like Christmas in Boca,” she said. Turns out I’m not the only one who still feels the sting.

So, is Christmas really Christmas without a tree? (Or decorations or carols or cookies?)

That’s when I had a revelation—which was probably more a stating of the obvious than a deep insight. Understand, I love Jesus and I’m excited about his birth. I’m truly filled with awe and wonder that God sent Jesus as He did—every day of the year. But Christmas as I know it IS about more than the baby in the manger.

It’s an emotional touch point of my year. A cozy blanket of memories I snuggle into. A binding of family and friends. A revisiting of old traditions and making of new ones. It’s not so much about the presents, but the experiences.

Experiences set on a backdrop of Christmas decorations and twinkly lights, music and mistletoe, candles and cookies. And the center of it all is a Christmas tree. Our Christmas tree.

Since before we were married, Dan and I have collected ornaments from our various travels. As we unpack them each year, we unpack two decades of memories. Of life lived well. Our tree is the story of us—first two, then three, now four. We choose "to tree" with enthusiasm.

But, my parents are entering a new phase of their lives. It's likely they'll make more "cut backs" that will upset my traditional expectations. Maybe one day, Dan and I will choose to scale down Christmas or (gasp!) even forgo a tree.

For now, while I'm disappointed I'm not such a fool as to think we're heading toward WCE: The Sequel. Christmas in New Jersey (at my parents') will be nothing like Christmas in Boca. It will be festive and beautiful and lingering—and Jesus-focused. And no matter what emotional attachments I have toward the "props" of Christmas, I realize it's our being together that will make Christmas joyful.

Tree or no tree.

December 8, 2010

It's beginning to look a lot . . .

Every year, it seems, the days go faster and faster. The seasons turn one into the other—from barrenness to fullness and back again. I find myself trying to catch the sands of time and stuff them back into the hourglass. To no avail.

While this year I eagerly welcomed the coolness of fall after a blistering summer that overstayed its welcome, it seems that just last weekend we celebrated Labor Day at the pool with our friends. How did we get from back-to-school to apple picking to Halloween to Thanksgiving in record time? And when did Halloween (a holiday of demons, monsters, fear and dental nightmares) manage to garner so much attention and hoopla? While every year poor Thanksgiving has to fight harder and harder just to get noticed: I feel it wanting to yell, "C'mon people! Just one day of thankfulness is all I ask. One day!"

Yet, no sooner do we push back from our collective tables stuffed with turkey, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie, than the gun sounds and we're off—rushing headlong into Christmas.

By the time my family and I got home from our Thanksgiving weekend at Grandma's I felt like I was already behind. "Only 29 days until Christmas," my inner elf proclaimed. "There's so much to do, decorate, buy, bake, wrap and make merry."

"But, I don't even 'feel' like it's Christmas." I complained.

"That doesn't matter. Time's a wasting. Get busy." He/she replied

"Wait a second!" I countered. "First of all, I don't think elves are that bossy. And second, I'm not heading down that path anymore. I learned two words in the last few years that have helped me get off the treadmill of Christmas crazy—simplify and refocus. I don't care if everyone around me is freaking and stressing out, I'm not going there!"

"Scrooge!" My inner elf accused.

You see I've finally figured out, to the depths of my being, that while the "extras" do make Christmas bright and beautiful, they're the icing on a marvelous and spectacular Christmas cake.

And the Christmas cake without a doubt is a baby. And not just any baby, THE baby.

The God of the universe, set aside His majesty and power to send his only son as a little baby. Born not in a castle to royalty, but to a teenage mom and a blue-collar worker…in a smelly barn…without fanfare or pageantry.

No matter how hard I try to understand, it doesn't make sense. And yet this happened exactly as God decided it should. His perfect plan—thousands of years in the waiting—perfectly fulfilled as God intended. In Jesus. Light of the world. Emmanuel. God with us.

But why?

Because "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." (John 3:16-17)

We make Christmas so complicated and stress-filled. Was that really God's intention when He sent His son? The words of John 3:16 remind us of how simple, yet how profoundly life-changing God's gift is.

While I have decorated for Christmas, and it's beginning to feel a bit like Christmas, when I pause to ponder the baby in a manger it's then I'm filled with awe and wonder and amazement. A little gift that changed us, changed me, forever. Christmases come and go, but the wonder of Emmanuel—God with us—is never out of season.

Two years ago Advent Conspiracy ( and their original video totally changed my outlook on Christmas. Here's their updated version.

November 29, 2010

Worth Fighting For

It’s been a while since I’ve written and I’ve missed it. I’ve been busy with this …and this … and that. And in the process I’ve gotten out of the habit and have moved my attention to others things. It also doesn’t help that I’m one of the world’s slowest writers and it takes a good deal of time to write each post, story and article.

But the practical excuses are only part of the reason. Perhaps the truest reason is that the fruitful connection I've felt with the Holy Spirit—my muse—has gone dark. It's like someone's turned the radio station between channels and I hear mostly static with occasional snippets of communication. Without the "urging" to write I haven't. Without the writing I've gotten out of the practice of listening. Without the listening I've lost the connection. It's become a chicken and egg kind of thing.

While this isn't a new struggle, for a time I thought I felt the peace of victory and reconnection with God (like “the old days”). But an inner battle continues and I feel the pull of apathy overtaking the pull of passion.

It seems that writing—continuing with it or walking away—is the tipping point for me.

And I don’t want to walk away. I don’t want to look back on writing with fondness as something I used to do. No. I want to press on. To keep writing as a way to talk with God, to experience Him and to share His Good News. And I want to rediscover the passionate love for God that energizes my spirit in a way nothing else does.

So, this morning I looked for inspiration outside “the voices in my head” and found them in God’s word. In Acts 17. (It's amazing how much that book speaks to me!)

Paul and Silas were in Thessalonica preaching the good news of Jesus. Crowds gathered to listen. Some Jews, God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women came to faith in Jesus. But the other Jews weren't at all happy with the happenings in their town. In fact, they were jealous. So jealous that they "rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city.” (v. 5)

These Jews felt threatened by Paul and Silas. By their popularity. By the excitement that surrounded them. By their success. And by the way their message of Jesus contradicted with their understanding of God. They wanted to protect their position, status and they started a riot. 

I love that the Bible isn’t an allegorical tale, but a real story of real people. People from whom we can learn a lot about humanity. In this story, the Jews shine a mirror on our own lives and show us a facet of ourselves we’d rather not see—or admit to. Jealousy.

Who, me…jealous? I’ve never rounded up bad characters and started a riot. I’ve never dragged someone out of his house and thrown him into prison. I’m nothing at all like those Jewish people.

Or am I?

According to, jealousy means:
  1. resentment against a rival, a person enjoying success or advantage, etc., or against another's success or advantage itself.
  2. mental uneasiness from suspicion or fear of rivalry, unfaithfulness, etc.,
  3. vigilance in maintaining or guarding something.
  4. a jealous feeling, disposition, state, or mood.

Well, if you put it that way…

I might never have gathered a mob, but I’ve certainly created a riot in my own mind. I’ve been suspicious or uneasy of ideas that differ from mine. I’ve drug someone’s reputation through the mud because I felt threatened. I’ve felt the burn of resentment when someone received attention/recognition/position I aspired to. Sadly, the list goes on.

As the story continues in Acts 17, Paul and Silas secretly left Thessalonica and went to Berea where the “Bereans were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day...” (v. 11)

Meanwhile, the Thessalonian Jews’ jealousy devoured them like a cancer.

As much as I’d like the opposite to be true, I relate more to the Thessalonians (at least initially) than the Bereans. My flaws are plentiful and my natural character isn’t so “noble.” Far from it.

But this is what makes the Good News such great news—for you and for me. It doesn’t matter how numerous our imperfections or how impure our actions or how broken we are, the grace of Jesus meets us exactly where we are. And accepts us exactly as we are.

Naturally I might be more like a Thessalonian, but supernaturally I want to be like a Berean. And while I am so much of a work in progress, I have faith that the same Spirit who turned Paul from a murderer to an evangelist. Who fueled the Thessalonian church to stand firm in their faith despite intense persecution. And who has been transforming lives for two thousand years can transform mine as well.

Is this a truth to cling to and a hope to keep fighting for? I sure think it is.
"I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." (Ezekiel 36:26)

November 16, 2010

I Think I Need a Chiropractor

I'm writing over at Internet Cafe Devotions today. I hope you'll join me over there.

“You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit!” (Acts 7:51-52)

I’ve always had an independent streak.

Some might call me stubborn, difficult or rebellious. Others might say I’m self-sufficient, creative and non-traditional.

One thing I know is that I don’t like to be boxed in and told what to do. When this happens I stiffen and resist the perceived oppression.

Ancient farmers knew a thing or two about this. They plowed their fields using oxen harnessed to a yoke. Sometimes an independent-minded ox fought being restrained. It stiffened its neck to resist getting attached to the yoke. Hence the term stiff-necked.

This chronic condition appeared in God’s people, and throughout the Old Testament the Israelites were frequently labeled stiff-necked. From generation to generation they stubbornly chose their own way and refused to yield to the “yoke” of the Lord.

Chronic stiff-neckitis continued to afflict the Jewish people in the New Testament. In the beginning of Acts, as the church spread with an unstoppable fire, some received a Holy Spirit-induced adjustment and accepted Jesus. But many religious folks, especially the elite, felt challenged and threatened by this new way of looking at God. They reared up and resisted.

Caught in the cross-hairs of their anger was the apostle Stephen who was accused of blasphemy and brought before the powerful Sanhedrin to stand trial. <<Read more...>>

November 11, 2010

The Church Has Left the Building - Part Two

Today's entry is a continuation of yesterday's post. Go here to read that one first.

On Sunday, Woodside Church (the church I belong to) cancelled morning worship services. Not so our pastor could sleep in, or because we have attendance or finance issues. They cancelled church so that we—all of its members—could BE the church.

When I first heard this idea I liked the concept, but I wasn’t keen on stepping outside my routine or being told to “do” church differently. But eventually I signed up for one of the dozens or outreach/service projects that had been arranged by our members.

When outreach Sunday (aka The Church Has Left the Building) rolled around, my daughter headed off with the senior high kids to make lunches and hand them out to homeless people in Philadelphia. Dan, our son and I went to help lead a worship service and serve lunch to a group of recovering addicts.

Any reservations I had about the outreach concept vanished as soon as I entered the church that was letting us use their facilities for our outreach. It felt right and comfortable to be there. Our Woodside group of about 15 gathered to organize the food and discuss last minute details of the service. Guests started to arrive—men and women battling addictions, some living in a local area recovery house; recovery ministry leaders; members of our host church; and passersby. Soon the small chapel was filled to standing room only.

Now, when I say our group ran the worship service, I mean just that. Our pastor was present and led the music, but the rest of the service was left to us—the “unqualified.” None of us were ordained pastors or worship leaders. But having participated in plenty of worship services in the prison, I’ve seen first hand how none of those “qualifications” matter one bit to God.

Sunday proved that truth once again. In our raggedy, sincere and intimate worship service, songs were sung, testimonies were shared, prayers were prayed, a message was given,and four people came forward to give their lives to Jesus. The power of the Holy Spirit was awesomely evident.

Afterward we served lunch to our guests and chatted with them over homemade lasagna, salads and desserts. I met Leroy and Pat and Lydia and Mike and Billy. Each at different places in their recovery journey. Some on the other side of it, others just beginning. All clinging tightly to the hope that only Jesus offers.

The only hope any of us has.

Dan talked to more folks than I did and neither of us wanted the day to end. Even our son seemed engaged and listened intently to the stories, especially as one man shared his battles with crack cocaine and recent rescue by the Holy Spirit.

We left filled with joy and such an overwhelming sense of purpose and God’s goodness. That afternoon the body of Christ set aside its differences—denominational, ministry, demographic, experiential—and joined together in the name of Jesus.

Sunday “church” has never been so remarkable.

Even the leader of the recovery ministry with whom our group partnered was blown away by the outreach and said, “It’s so unusual for churches to act this way. It just doesn’t happen.”

That night all of Woodside gathered together to worship and share outreach experiences. The turnout was fantastic. Enthusiasm bubbled as stories were told. It seemed just about everyone—men, women and children—had done something that day. We:
  • Did yard cleanup for single moms, a nature center, a food pantry and a hospice
  • Painted, organized and did house repairs for elderly neighbors
  • Visited patients in hospice care and pediatric wards
  • Held worship services for nursing home residents and recovering addicts
  • Fed and cared for the homeless on the street and in camps
  • Picked up litter on the highways and sports fields
  • Made corsages and delivered them to nursing home residents
  • Collected canned food for the food pantry

Woodside is only a medium-size church, but in just one day we directly touched thousands of lives. I looked across our worship service and was deeply moved by the immensity of our outreach. By stepping out of Sunday routines and comfort zones we put the gospel in action. We fed Jesus’ sheep. And we loved our neighbors. I heard Jesus whisper, “This is what my Church should look like.”

We don’t need to travel to a third-world country. Or quit our jobs and enter the mission field. We just need to open the door and leave the building.

What if Woodside did this again? What if we made it a habit?

What if you and your churches joined in?

God's children are waiting for our answer.

November 10, 2010

The Church Has Left the Building - Part One

They were Jesus’ last words. The ones uttered before He left his disciples forever. His final instructions.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Then Jesus was taken up into the sky and disappeared in the clouds. Even after He was out of sight, the disciples stood looking at the sky. Can you imagine the emotions that crashed like waves in their spirits? Disbelief and shock. Awe and wonder. Sadness. Excitement. Anticipation. And a whole lot of “What in the world just happened and what was Jesus talking about?!”

The answer started to come a few days later. At Pentecost God poured out the Holy Spirit on the disciples and surrounding crowds. In an awe-inspiring display of natural and supernatural power, eyes were opened, spirits were filled and the Church was born.

It grew exponentially—3,000, 5,000, 10,000 and upward. As the disciples navigated through inevitable conflicts and growing pains, it seems they imprinted Jesus’ final words upon their hearts: 
“Be my witnesses...go and make disciples of all nations ...baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ...teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
This became their mission statement. The place they returned to to regain perspective when things got fuzzy or overwhelming or stirred up.

As a result, in the early days of the Church,All the believers were one in heart and mind. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them.” (Acts 4:32, 33)

The early church—the bride of Christ—was Spirit-led and -filled, passionate, active, generous, bold and unified. One body with many members, personalities, talents and cultures. Joined by one common goal.

One church.

What’s happened since then? How did we go from one to over 33,000 different denominations?! We’ve fought, fractured and fled over every conceivable reason. And in the last few centuries churches and church-goers have become increasingly insular: My denomination. My church. My pastor. My ministry. My Bible study. My way of interpreting.

But what would it look like if we set aside our preferences and focused less on form and invested more in function? If we stepped outside our barriers to spend less time inside our churches and more time outside them? If we stopped doing church and started being the church? What if every church put Jesus' instructions first and foremost in their hearts? Be filled with the Holy Spirit…Go…Be my witnesses…Make disciples…Baptize…Teach…Feed my sheep…Love your neighbor.

What would our churches look like?

This weekend I got to see the answer for myself.

...To be continued tomorrow 

October 26, 2010

There IS Joy in Mudville

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and little children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out.

There is no joy in Mudville (aka Philadelphia) today because the mighty Ryan Howard has struck out. But unlike Casey, he didn’t even swing. He just stood there looking. Low and outside. Strike three.

And thus ended the Phillies’ run toward the National League Championship and a spot in the World Series. This team was so good that sportswriters and fans concluded victory was not only expected, it was a sure thing.

Yet, it was not to be.

I’m no baseball fan and don’t care much if the Phillies win or lose but I can’t help notice that fingers are being pointed. Heads are being hunted. And the person in the crosshairs right now is Ryan Howard. Here’s what folk are saying about him:
“Grossly overrated”
“Got what he deserved”
“He choked”
“He’s primarily to blame for the NLCS loss to the Giants.”


It makes sense that when you get paid millions of dollars to hit baseballs you better do that—especially when the stakes are so high. And when you don’t there are consequences.

Yet the fate of one man’s reputation was decided in a crucial moment. His worth and perceived value completely contingent on his performance. Hit a home run, we’ll throw you a parade. Strike out and we’ll run you out of town. It’s like this with any athlete.

“We’ll love you if…”
“We’ll cheer for you if…”
“We’ll praise you if…”

But if they fail, falter, fumble mess up or let us down—watch out! Cheers become boos. Esteem turns to disdain disdain. Adoring proclamations morph into scathing criticisms.

Oh how fickle our affections. Not just for sports figures, but for one another as well. Our actions—if not our words as well—say, “If you earn my love/affection/devotion/dedication/respect, I’ll give it to you.”

It's no wonder we have such a hard time comprehending the true meaning of grace.

Grace is God’s unmerited love for us. He offers this gift to ANYONE who accepts it, without ANY strings attached. Grace costs nothing for the recipient, but everything for the giver.

Philip Yancey says, “Grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more and there is nothing we can do to make Him love us less.”

Nothing. At. All.

The idea that God’s love comes to us free of charge seems to go against every fiber in our beings. We’ve been brought up in an environment of ungrace and every day we breathe its polluted aroma. Everything and everyone around us expects us to earn our favor.

Except Jesus.

Grace is illogical. It’s counterintuitive. It’s radical. And it simply doesn’t add up. That’s what makes it so amazing!

The apostle Paul says:
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God..” (Romans 5:1-2)

It doesn’t matter how often we strike out, screw up or miss the mark. In Jesus, there is NO condemnation. Ever.

That’s good news for you and me. And it’s good news for Ryan Howard, too. Something tells me he could use some loving right about now.

October 21, 2010

Midnight in the Habitrail of Good and Evil

It started during the incident that will hereafter be known in our family as The Bunny Massacre of Summer 2010.

Let’s just say a neighborhood rabbit decided to make a nest for her new arrivals in our yard. And then let’s say our dog “noticed” this nest in HER yard and was excited to discover a bundle of “squeaky” toys just for her. And then let’s say my kids were witness to the aftermath of this discovery.

There was much drama around these parts. Rescue efforts ensued. Life-saving efforts, including an eventual trip to a local wildlife rescue, were taken.Yet the fragile little bodies could not overcome the damage done. Tears were shed. The circle of life/survival of the fittest/Shakespearian tragedy played out on our backyard stage. The sound of Taps lingered in the distance.

Amid the emotion and angst, I developed a soft spot for small furry creatures. In a moment of weakness and in an attempt to assuage my kids’ sadness I uttered words I immediately regretted: “What if we get a hamster?” (Was I nuts? We already have a dog and a cat!)

My son, who recognized my temporary insanity, latched onto this unexpected, yet brilliant idea. His mantra became: “When can we get a hamster? Can we get one now?” I finally conceded that my stall tactics wouldn’t work and knew I had to make good on my “promise.” We headed to the pet store.

We returned home with a little hamster, a cage with a spinning wheel and all the necessities a growing hamster needs.

It wasn’t long before the other four-legged residents of our house noticed the new arrival with great interest.  Tess, our yellow lab, came to inspect the goings on. Her eyes sparkled with excitement, her ears perked and her gaze fixed determinedly on the hamster with great anticipation—“Really? For me?” she seemed to say. Later I caught our cat sitting on my son’s dresser peering into the hamster cage, plotting her next meal perhaps.

I warned my son, “Make sure you always close the cage because if the hamster gets out it doesn’t stand a chance in this house.”

Without a doubt, that little hamster was brought into a hostile environment.

The hamster, however, doesn’t seem to be aware of the danger that lurks. It doesn’t hide when a big, wet dog nose sniffs at it. It doesn’t cower when a cat bats at the exercise ball it’s running in. It's just blissfully unaware.

I’ve been thinking our lives are a bit like the hamster’s. We were born into a hostile environment. However our enemies aren’t a yellow lab or an orange tabby cat but a far more powerful adversary.

There is an epic, cosmic battle that preexists the creation of the heavens and the earth. When Satan tempted Adam and Even and they aligned with him, rebelling against God, that battle came to earth. “From that moment forward, human history is marked and marred by satanic, demonic sin, folly, rebellion, destruction, and devastation. And this epic, cosmic battle rages. We are each born into it. And furthermore, we see the effects in the lives of average, ordinary, normal, everyday people.” (Marc Driscoll, from his sermon “Jesus vs. Satan”)

It’s a scary thought. One we’d rather not delve into. But whether we acknowledge it or not, we’re players in the battle. The devil is deceptive, sneaky, relentless. He aims to trip us up, tantalize with temptations, fill with fear, douse with doubt, blindside with busyness and do whatever it takes to keep our eyes off God. 

We can choose to remain blissfully unaware like my hamster—at our own peril. We can try to fight the battle on our own strength and willpower—but it is one we simply cannot win.

We must recognize our need for protection, but where do we find it?  Here's what the Bible says:
Be strong IN the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Therefore…Stand firm with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions then, with the with all kinds of prayers and requests.” (Ephesians 6:10-12, 14-18, emphasis mine)

The good news is we know the end of the story. When Jesus died on the cross and rose from grave, he overcame death. He won the battle. But until Jesus comes again, Satan is fighting for dominion of the earth. Wisdom says we must recognize our situation and enter the battle prepared for victory.

There’s a gospel song we sing when we visit the prison.

In the name of Jesus
In the name of Jesus
We have the victory (v-i-c-t-o-r-y)
In the name of Jesus
In the name of Jesus
Satan will have to flee (f-l-e-e)
Oh tell me who can stand before us
when we call on that great name
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus
We have the victory
In the the Lord. In Jesus. In the Spirit. We are protected. And we have the victory. (Thankfully we have furry friends to keep us company.)

October 15, 2010

On the Road Again

Thanks for your insights and heartfelt comments to my last post. It was a tough issue and I truly appreciate your honesty and passion for friendship. God spoke to me through each of you.

Just after midnight he opened the door and drug his tired, weary body into the house and heaved his overstuffed suitcase onto the hallway floor.

"Tough trip, huh?" I asked.

"Yeah, the storm delayed our takeoff for two hours and when we finally landed we sat on the tarmac forever because there wasn't a gate available."

But instead of sitting down to relax he started scurrying about unpacking and repacking. Confused at the flurry of activity I asked, "Why are you doing all that now?"

"Because I have to leave at 7:00 tomorrow morning?"

"But you just got home! I thought you weren't leaving until later." My warm feelings at his return quickly chilled.

Such is life with a husband who travels. The ups and the downs. The comings and goings. The schedule and the complete lack of it. The swirling unpredictability.

Business travel is part of Dan and my life. It's the path we journey on. I'm proud of my husband and what he does for a living. I try to be a loving, supportive wife—really I do—but sometimes it's just plain hard to be "the one" on the home front 24/7. Sometimes the tensions build and I act...well...not quite so loving and supportive.

As was the case last week. It was not my finest hour. Or the finest hour/day/week in our marriage. Let's just say things were kind of tense.

A while back (when all was relatively calm) Dan knew he'd have a free weekend during his West Coast travels and suggested I come to Seattle for a visit. I'd never seen that part of the country jumped at the opportunity. But last week as I simmered, I wondered if the trip was really such a good idea.

I waited for God to miraculously answer my prayers for a softer heart. But departure day neared and the hardness remained. Yet, despite the fog of emotion even I could see that staying home was a foolish choice. So I packed my bags, kissed my kids and headed to Seattle.

And boy am I glad I did.

Amid the backdrop of a fantastic city, wonderful food and beautiful scenery God did answer my prayer, slowly. And then on Sunday Dan and I walked to the downtown campus of Mars Hill Church and God used that place and their pastor (Marc Driscoll) to reach into both of our hearts and leave us breathless. Shaken. Convicted. "Wow!" we exclaimed as we left.

No marriage is easy. Some seasons are more challenging than others. But I have seen time and again how important it is to take time to get away. Together. Even when it's not convenient or all that desirable. And more recently God has shown me (and I think Dan, too) the truth of His words:
"Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken." (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

So with the lemons of business travel we've made lemonade with some great trips together. Here's a look at our latest... 

The original Starbucks!
Totally enjoying Pikes' Place Market...and our one afternoon with sun
Will you?
A walk around Bainbridge Island
Do we look as cold and wet as we were?
A brief but awe-inspiring peek at Mt. Rainier

Do you need to get away with your spouse? I encourage you to make the time and just do it! Where will you go?

October 6, 2010

Stay?...Or Go?

Friends are one of God's greatest blessings to us.

The Bible teaches a lot about them. It teaches that iron sharpens iron, that a friend loves at all time, that we should love our neighbors and that peacemakers are blessed. It teaches that we're better together, we need to hold one another accountable and we need to speak the truth in love. It also teaches lots more.

However the Bible doesn't advise (at least not that I've seen) when or if we should end a relationship. And if doing so is loving...or selfish and prideful. (I'm not talking about marriage which Jesus certainly talked about.)

The story of Paul and Barnabas is the closest I could find.

Paul and Barnabas were ministry partners and best friends. Yet in Acts 15 they had such a sharp disagreement they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus and Paul chose Silas and went through Syria and Ciliicia (v. 39-40). I'm guessing hurt feelings and wounded pride traveled with them as well.

Even though this story occurred 2,000 years ago, it could have happened yesterday--probably because things like this DO happen every day. Our humanity gets in the way and friendships end.

Yet what surprises me most about Paul and Barnabas' parting is that God used the schism to strengthen the church and it grew as a result of their separation. It seems the dissolution of their friendship was actually a good thing.

Certainly you can think of a friendship that ended badly—perhaps to be reconciled later, but never to be the same. Maybe you were the one who walked away or maybe you were the one left behind. Rejection hurts. It's hard to see how good can come of it.

But what is one to do when sharpened iron cuts more than strengthens? When love, even with the best intentions, hurts. And when personalities cannot arrive at peace?  Is it a loving thing to separate? Or does it still come down to a matter of pride and selfishness?

What would Jesus counsel us to do?

What would YOU do?

September 23, 2010

I Will Never Forget -- part two

I know you’ve been waiting on tenterhooks for part two of my 9/11 recollections. At long last here it is. In case you missed part one, you can read it here.

It’s been nine years since that infamous day—September 11, 2001. Two weeks ago, my kids had off school and we decided to spend the day in New York. For a change from our usual Midtown excursion, we took the Staten Island Ferry which landed us a the bottom of Manhattan. My mom joined us and we started our day with a visit to Ground Zero and St. Paul’s cathedral.

While still a working church, St. Paul’s has become a place of remembrance visited by millions of people each year. The exhibits memorialize the amazing place of hope and healing St. Paul’s became for rescue workers, firemen, policemen, families and a city in mourning. During the eight month relief ministry, nearly every surface of the more than 200-year-old chapel was covered in well wishes, cards, and banners sent from around the country and the world. And over 5,000 volunteers from all over the country staffed St. Paul’s 24/7.

Emotions are still close to the surface and many who walked among the 9/11 displays in the chapel became teary-eyed and a few wept openly. I, too, was transported back to the emotions I experienced while working at St. Paul’s on that one January night. The shock. The disbelief. The devastation. But the overwhelming sense of goodness, love and God’s presence.

One exhibit highlighted the herculean task of coordinating the army of volunteers. Since our church had sent teams of volunteers I was especially interested. The enlarged volunteer planning calendar on display was from January 2002.

Wait, Dan and I were here that month.

I scanned the dates and saw my church, “Woodside Presbyterian” listed three times. I called over my mom and kids to share my findings.

“Look at the 6th. That’s when Dad and I came here to help. And Woodside’s listed two more times this month.”

I was proud for the reminder that I was there and that I’m part of a church that's actively Jesus' hands and feet. In a small way we made a difference. I know my efforts during my 12-hour shift were just a speck in the relief effort, but I saw what I saw, and it changed me.

A quote on the display says it better: “People went in there and worked for 12 hours, and then walked out and said, ‘This may be the most important 12 hours I’ve ever spent in my life.’”

September 11 was a tragedy of unfathomable proportions. We as a nation and as a people became a shining example of the Church in action. God’s people were in need and we, collectively, rose up to respond. If nothing else, 9/11 demonstrated our capacity for selfless love. For sacrificial kindness. And for generous compassion.

I saw with my own eyes our ability to do the incredible.

Yet, isn’t this what Jesus calls us to do EVERY day? Not just in response to catastrophes like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the earthquake in Haiti or the latest crisis du jour.

We are still those people who dropped everything and said, “Here am I. Send me.” But where are we? Where am I?

The world needs us. They need our kindness. Our compassion. Our generosity. And our love—in the name of Jesus. We don’t even have to leave our communities to find God’s people crying out—in poverty, homelessness, hunger, AIDS, addiction, illiteracy and sickness. How are we responding to these everyday tragedies that don’t garner headlines or media attention?

In the 16 hours (including travel time) I ent usiastically volunteered at Ground Zero couldn’t I:
  • Bring a bag of groceries to a single mom
  • Build at Habitat for Humanity
  • Volunteer at a food pantry or soup kitchen
  • Tutor children at a homeless shelter
  • Visit a shut-in
  • Write a letter to a prisoner.
  • Send a card of encouragement to a friend with cancer.
What could you do?

Heroic responses to catastrophes make great storytelling. They inspire and excite. Yet aren't our small, seemingly unremarkable acts of love every bit as extraordinary to a Savior who calls us to love in His name?
In a parable He teaches His followers: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’”

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”(Matthew 25:35-40) 

Isn’t this the very thing we must never forget—and act upon?

September 17, 2010

Confessions of a Praise-o-holic

I'm writing at Internet Cafe Devotions today. I hope you'll read on and join me there. 

“…for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.” John 12:43
Applause. Recognition. Accolades.

I crave kudos. As a writer, graphic designer and creative type, much of what I do is on display. Like a second grader during craft time, I retreat to my creative cubby wielding a keyboard and computer instead of crayons and construction paper. Hours, days or weeks later, I emerge proudly proclaiming, “Look what I made!”

Others aren’t usually as excited by my “masterpieces”  so I’ve learned to temper expectations and savor scraps of praise like gold stars on a spelling test. When I work as a professional, the money I earn speaks for itself. When I voluntarily use my skills as a ministry, payment comes in other ways. A nod in my direction, a “wow” or “well done” is typically all the affirmation I need to live another day—creatively speaking.

A while back I tackled a ministry project bigger than any I’d ever done. It challenged me to use all my creative talents, plus master some new ones as well. I poured myself into the project. I missed meals. I lost sleep. Weary, exhausted and emotionally spent I pressed on to completion and dragged the project across the finish line. And then I waited for the applause.

“Thanks, this is great,” they said. “We really appreciate it.”

Inside I railed, That’s it?! Do you realize what I’ve accomplished? Do you have any idea what it’s worth? Can you see the wounds this project inflicted? I want a parade, a marching band, a float with me on top, a banner proclaiming my greatness. (Perhaps I got a bit carried away.)

And that’s where the enemy spotted an opening. He planted seeds of grumbling. Seeds of discontent. And seeds of anger. My logical side cautioned against nurturing them, but the emotional side eagerly supplied the watering cans.  Read more...

September 14, 2010

I Will Never Forget -- part one

It was a spectacular early fall morning. The sun sparkled in a cloudless sky. Low humidity and a light breeze hinted at the cooler days to come. I’d just dropped my son off for his first day of preschool and headed off to meet friends for coffee. We gathered to catch up and celebrate our preschoolers’ first day of school—and the few hours of free time we’d now have three days a week.

We eased into comfortable conversation. Customers came and went, and the time passed pleasantly. Life was good in our comfortable suburban community.

Little did we know that as we chatted about our kids and play dates and how to get a fussy eater to eat anything green, 65 miles north of us, a tragedy of unfathomable proportions was happening. And we’d remember this morning for the rest of our lives.

At 8:46 a.m. a hijacked airplane crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Seventeen minutes later a second plane crashed into the South Tower. These never-before-experienced acts of terrorism altered our country forever.

I’m sure you, too, know where you were that day.

Seventeen people in our community were killed in 9/11 and my church family felt deeply connected to this tragedy. In the months following they sent teams of volunteers to St. Paul’s Chapel.

Front gate of St. Paul's Chapel. Photo:
Situated on the edge of Ground Zero, St. Paul’s became a pilgrimage site for the grieving and seeking. Weary construction workers, policemen and firefighters sought refuge inside as an army of volunteers provided meals, counseling, supplies, chiropractic/podiatry care, and sometimes just a hug and a smile. The chapel was transformed into a place of peace, rest and reconciliation.

In early January 2002, Dan and I went with a team from our church to work the overnight shift at St. Paul’s. For twelve hours we helped serve food, distribute supplies and control entry into the chapel. I remember little of what I did that night, but I will never, ever forget what I saw.

Ground Zero exuded raw emotion. Grief, shock and despair intermingled with hope, compassion and peace. The fence surrounding St. Paul’s had become a tribute to 9/11 victims. Loved ones, friends and strangers covered the iron fence surrounding the property with flowers, candles, cards, stuffed animals, pictures, flags and mementos. Inside the chapel, sympathy cards, pictures, posters and banners—made mostly school children—covered every bit of wall space and the backs of pews. Children even donated teddy bears to comfort workers.

The relief ministry of St. Paul’s testified to a remarkable and interwoven story of selfless giving, random acts of kindness and unending compassion. Thousands of people came to volunteer, and it seemed that every family and every school child in America had sent some expression of comfort in response to 9/11. It wasn’t a New York or an East Coast tragedy. It was a universal one, and the entire country shared a collective shock and grief.

It would have been so easy for Ground Zero to become a place of hate. Of bitterness. And revenge. Surprisingly, and incredibly quickly, it became the opposite. It became a place of grace. The unlikely reaction to acts of pure evil was an outpouring of pure love—love that set aside religious differences, racial prejudices, economic inequities and socio-economic divides. Love that came together to mourn, to console, to feed, to soothe, to cry and even to laugh. Love that showed the best of humanity in response to the worst of it. There was no question of where God was. He was there in that church. I have never experienced the totality of His perfect love in such a powerful way before or since.  

If I hadn’t witnessed it with my own eyes I might not believe it. But I did. And I do.

To be continued...

September 7, 2010

Where Are You?

As a toddler, my son was a runner. Not as an athletic endeavor, but as a personality trait.

You know those calm, self-amused toddlers you encounter in the grocery store who sit contentedly in their shopping carts while their moms shop—endlessly amused with their surroundings or the stray cheerios they found clinging to their sleeve? The ones with whom you exchange smiles and whose moms you secretly award "good parenting" medals.

This was not my reality. Ever. From the moment he learned to walk my son wanted OUT! Shopping trips became wrestling matches with me trying to keep the prisoner—I mean, son—contained in the stroller or shopping cart for as long as possible. "Here! Play with this," I'd say as I frantically snatched items from the store shelves, trying to keep him entertained.

We'd make it through the produce section okay because there were snacks. But by aisle three my son would be squirming out of the seat restraint, trying to stand up. I tried to remain calm and in control but the beads of perspiration gathering on my brow gave me away. Halfway through the store we'd be engaged in a battle of wills as he tried to climb out of the cart and I tried to keep him in there. Shrieking was involved. And the dairy section at the end of the store taunted, "You'll never make it this far!"

I'm quite certain no one ever bestowed any parenting awards upon me!

Needing to finish the shopping, but wanting to end the torture as soon as possible, I'd eventually relent and let him out.

"Stay right here and hold onto the cart." I'd instruct.

Inevitably, as I compared prices of canned peaches or spaghetti sauce or toilet paper, he'd fasten his attention elsewhere. When I turned back to the cart, he'd be gone. Out of sight.

A search would ensue and I'd usually find him an aisle or two away, where he'd be frantic at the realization he was alone. Or I'd hear his voice crying "Moooom! Where are you?" His desired freedom didn't seem so freeing after all.

Despite the scare of "losing" me, he made this mistake many times. 

When it comes to my relationship with my heavenly Father, I'm a lot like my son. I don't want to obey or submit to His will. I want my freedom and independence. I want to follow my own desires. So I put on my running shoes and set out my own. Yet time and again I find myself lost and alone—and anything but free.

"God, I can't see you? Where are you?" I cry out.

This summer I found myself far from God. But instead of wandering around aimlessly, I decided to get intentional about finding Him—and keeping Him in my sights. For the month of August I spent thirty-ish days looking for evidence of God in my everyday. I recorded those observations here and here.

Last week marked the end of my Thirty-ish Days with God. While I haven’t been faithful about recording my thoughts on a daily basis, I have been deliberate about looking for God “in the moment.”

What’s surprised me is that this practice works. By intentionally looking for the Almighty—not in powerful displays but in small ones—I’ve experienced His presence frequently.

Here’s where I witnessed God most dramatically:

  • In nature. Whether savoring the spectacular views of bucolic New Jersey (yes, New Jersey!) atop of Sunrise Mountain during an all-day hike. Watching the purpose-filled fluttering of butterflies on a butterfly bush. Observing the subtle signs of impending Fall. Marveling at a dazzling sunset. Evidence of our Creator’s handiwork is EVERYWHERE!
  • In my faith-filled friends and family. We are definitely better together! God continually worked through the spirit-filled friends He’s placed in my life. Through them He offered encouragement and laughter, gave wise counsel and showed me love. What a gift you are!
  • In my husband. I have long appreciated my marriage, but in the last several years the Spirit has done a work in both our lives. I have a renewed sense of how blessed I am that my husband is a safe haven, that our relationship is anchored by our mutual love for Jesus and that despite the bumps in the road, we are truly walking together.
  • In time alone with God. Through walks, Bible reading, listening to music and time spent being still. Intimate, one-on-one time with my heavenly Father has helped me to know Him better—to gain insight, straighten out my thinking and better hear His voice.

I've re-discovered Jesus to be faithful, patient and oh, so very present in the details of my life. I'm not as lost as I thought and He's not nearly so far away!

However, unlike my son who will increase his independence as he matures, I need to maintain a childlike reliance on keeping near my heavenly Father. Not just for thirty days, but for a lifetime. And He promises that if we seek Him with all our heart, we will find Him. (Jeremiah 29:13) 

“God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:27-28)

Are you looking God? Where have you found Him lately?

August 31, 2010

Not What I Expected

"Point your kids in the right direction—when they're old they won't be lost." (Proverbs 22:6, The Message)

My kids went back to school today. The house is empty, the weather is beautiful and my computer and keyboard beckon. I should celebrate, right?

Don’t misunderstand, I’m thrilled my kids are back in school and we’re returning to more predictable routines. Lord knows their minds greatly need intellectual stimulation after a summer filled with far too much Facebooking, Sims creating, texting, iTouch gameplaying, and other forms of electronic gadgetry for my taste, and probably their own good.

Throughout the summer I suggested/implored/beseeched/commanded, “Why don’t you read a book/play outside/ride your bike/do a craft?”

“Moooom!” my tuned-out teens retorted in exasperation. “It’s too hot.” “No one’s home.” “I’ll be done in a few minutes.” “Later.” They’ve developed an impressive arsenal of evasion techniques.

So yes, part of me is doing the Wave to celebrate that my progeny are safely ensconced in their respective academic institutions.

But part of me is melancholy. I’m becoming increasingly aware that with each new step toward independence taken and each grade started, my little chicks are getting closer and closer to flying to coop. Sooner than I wish to imagine, they’ll be on their own. I want to freeze time. To savor our moments together. To hold onto life as it is right now.

I find it incredibly ironic the phase of parenting I dreaded most—the teen years—is the phase I’m enjoying the most. (Although technically my son isn’t quite yet a teen and I suspect his teen years are going to come with their own unique challenges.)

Next year we’ll start to look at colleges with our daughter. Didn’t we just choose a preschool? How did time pass this quickly? (*sniff*)

Before I break into full blown sobbing, suffice it to say the start of school this year is bittersweet.

It's our jobs as parents though, isn't it—to prepare our children to walk on their own? I hope and I pray that Dan and I are pointing them in the right direction...and that they continue to follow. For this we need to rely on God's guidance and faith in His provision.

In the coming weeks I'll be reordering my days, wrestling with my time management issues, reconnecting with friends and getting back to writing with enthusiasm and a new sense of purpose (at least I hope so).

What are your back-to-school thoughts and plans?

Today also marks the end of my Thirty-ish Days with God. Stop by tomorrow for my observations and thoughts on the experience. 

August 24, 2010


I have a devotion running at Internet Cafe today. I hope you'll follow me over there. 

It’s an endless summer. One sweltering, sticky day leads to another. Scorched lawns and withered plants gasp for mercy—and rain. Wilted shrubs join in the chorus. As do the pines, oaks, elms and maples.

Some trees stand emaciated and browned as if cursed by an evil Drought Queen. Alive one day, dead the next. With nary a green twig on their branches, there’s no hope of recovering. Soon workers will get busy with chainsaws and chippers to remove the blighted foliage from the landscape.

But only some of the trees have succumbed to the conditions. Many others remain green and vital. Curious, I asked a landscaper friend, “Why?”

He answered, “All plants are stressed by the intense conditions, but the trees that die were probably struggling before the hot weather hit. They didn’t set their roots deep enough so they’re susceptible to disease and can’t get enough surface water to survive.”

As I walked by some corpse-like trees recently I pondered my own summer of spiritual dryness. Will that be me in a short while? And I wondered why? Why do some Christians remain fruitful and strong through extreme hardships and passing years, and others succumb to a seasonal drought? Why does one’s faith keep growing and another’s withers? [Read more...]

August 19, 2010

Bliss in the Solitude

I. Am. In. Heaven.

My kids left this afternoon on a trip with my parents. My husband is on a business appointment. And I am home alone in a quiet house—with no one to carpool, no deadlines pressing and no interruptions. Just Tess and I hanging out—relaxed and carefree. (Although pretty much every day for our adorable yellow lab is stress-free and chill.) But, I do think she looks particularly pleased as she’s laying at my feet.

It’s been a long while since I’ve had this kind of solitude. And my heart is happy. I need this.

Plus, I’ve exercised, I’ve showered and the laundry is done. Even the dinner menu is planned. (Who says God doesn't do miracles!) So, what was the first order of business? To curl up on my favorite loveseat and finish my latest book…and enjoy a mini-catnap.

Now I’m reviewing my notes from the writers’ conference last week and planning my next writing steps. From top to bottom, the conference was a great experience. I have a book idea brewing and proposed the concept to a few editors/agents/publishers. Part of me wanted them all to say, “Forget it. It’s been done. Your idea is stale. There’s no market for it. You don’t have what it takes.” Seriously. I see how much of an uphill struggle book publishing is, and a big part of me says, Why would any sane person pursue that road?!

But the writing professionals didn’t dissuade me. In fact one of them said my idea was the only one that excited him from the entire conference. Of course, I was flattered and encouraged, but needed to remind myself that I haven’t even written one sentence of said book yet!

The whole experience made me question my gifts, my calling and my next steps. How does God want me to proceed? What gifts should I develop them more fully? Should I concentrate on ministry or look for paying opportunities? Should I stay in my small arena where it’s safe and relative success is guaranteed or venture out into the unknown and risk catastrophic failure?

I say I like adventure, and I do, but there is so much that scares and intimidates me about taking a next step. My weaknesses seem a glaring liability—my deficiencies a brick wall. I look around and see so many writers who write with far greater skill, humor, compassion and eloquence. I see writers who love the spotlight and speaking and platform-building (necessary for authors). I visit websites and blogs that show lives and families that resemble pages from the latest JCrew, Pottery Barn or Gourmet magazines. Who lives this way?

I hear the message, Only the exceptional need apply.

I know this mindset is a thorn (certainly one of many) in my side. And I know the enemy wants me to marinate in these feelings of inadequacy. But part of me believes I’m right— that I’m not good enough. That I don’t measure up. And that while I may be lots of things, exceptional isn’t one of them.

Thankfully, the Bible is filled with stories of unlikely, unwilling and unqualified people through whom God did great things. I call to mind the promise of the cross. If Jesus lived, died and conquered death, surely He can slay the demons of doubt that infest me. Surely He can fulfill His purpose in me, regardless of my confidence in the matter.

And He can do the same with you. I don’t know where your confidence lies right now or what insecurities plague you. I don’t know why women especially, struggle with feelings of inadequacy. But so many of us do.

But Jesus is our hope. He is our strength. And He is our peace. His grace covers our weakness, and overcomes the voice in our head and the lies of this world. “I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” (John 16:32-33, The Message)

I take these words to heart. I drink in their truth and promise. I press on, reaffirmed that I'm not going it alone. And I offer up a prayer of thanks for the gifts God's given me—starting with a blissfully, quiet house.

August 13, 2010

An Adventure in Writing

I’m on an adventure of a different kind this week—I’m at the Philadelphia Christian Writer’s Conference. I wasn’t even sure if I’d attend this year’s conference and waited until the last moment to register, but I’m so glad I did. These past couple days I’ve connected with old friends and made new ones. I’ve soaked in the teachings of authors, agents, editors and publishers. And I’ve lived, eaten and breathed the world of writers and writing. It’s a little corner of heaven.

Since I didn’t go to the conference with specific goals or plans, I’ve been free to survey the workshop offerings on the landscape. I’ve explored persuasive writing, justice and advocacy, building platforms, crafting book proposals and writing for teenagers. Each path has revealed new ways I might use my words. New ways I might minister. New ways I might grow…and help others too as well.

Two years ago this conference jumpstarted my writing journey. It’s gratifying to see how my writing’s developed, my knowledge has increased and my writing relationships have expanded since then (especially including my membership in a wonderful writing critique group, nine of whom are at the conference, Hey, Hawk Point ladies!)

Many of my colleagues came to the conference laden with book proposals and manuscripts, hoping to find a home for the words they’d so gruelingly birthed. Labors of love neatly bound for presentation. The hallways are abuzz with reports from appointments with editors and publishers. Some see doors opening, “He asked for my entire manuscript.” Others fear they’re closing, “If I talk about it I’m going to start to cry again.”

We writers pour our hearts, our spirits, our whole selves into our writing. Our words are a part of us. It’s hard to separate rejection of our words from rejection of ourselves. (Or vice verse.) But the publishing business is Darwinian. Only the fittest…best-written…and most marketable will survive. Not because publishers and agents are cruel people (they’re actually quite nice), but because writing for publication is a business.

This journey is not for the faint-hearted or thin-skinned. My heart aches for my fellow writers who are on the emotional, rollercoaster of a ride toward publication. Some are going to bed tonight affirmed and excited about the future. Others want to quit and go home. I pray that regardless of the feedback each of us receives this week, we maintain teachable hearts, we learn and grow, and we see God in this experience.

I especially pray that each of us writers recognizes that whether our words reach tens of readers, thousands or millions—we are writers nonetheless who have been given a holy gift. And more than that we’re children of God. And no negative (or positive) critique can change our true identity.

Nicki, I’m praying for you especially!

August 9, 2010

Thirty-ish Days of Experiencing God: Days 7-18

I've lost track of individual entries and forgot to be "intentional" a couple days, but I am determined to finish this thirty-ish day journey to see where it takes me. I'll save my big-picture insights until the end. 

Lord, I've missed a few days, but I've been looking for you . . . and finding you. It’s been a tough couple weeks and you know the battles I’m fighting. Mostly with myself. I’ve put up defenses and erected walls. Yet even still you have broken through and reached my stubborn, angry, prideful heart.

I have experienced You through my reaching out to friends for wisdom and prayer. I see You in the way they’re standing in the gap for me.

I’ve experienced you on walks with my iPod. Especially when you pierced my heart with this song, and bombarded me with your Word and showed me the answer I’d been seeking. How painful yet how humbling and freeing is your truth.

I saw you at the shore last week. In the ocean and the waves. In the laughter shared with my family. In my morning quiet time on the beach. In the comfort felt from revisiting childhood memories.

Even last night at worship your message pierced my stony heart turning the mirror I’d been shining on others, toward myself. Allowing me to see my own shameful wretchedness. Wretchedness I know only your grace can redeem. How I need gallons of it right now.

You revealed yourself as I lay on the trampoline last night, enjoying the stillness and marveling at the stars. An awesome backdrop for my disrupted spirit, swirling thoughts and fresh insights.

Though I’ve wanted to run far away, you’ve shown me there is nowhere I can go where you will not be. And what better choice is out there? You are my best option. My only option. I recall the words of Psalm 139 and receive perspective and comfort and hope.

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 

If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 

If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. 

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (v. 7-12, 23-24)

In the precious name of Jesus, Amen.

July 27, 2010

Thirty-ish Days of Experiencing God: Days 3-6

I don't want my faith to look like the tree on the right. Do you?
I thought when I posted my last blog entry on a Friday afternoon in the summer I'd hear crickets. Surprisingly I didn't. It seems I'm not the only one in a funk. 

While "misery loves company" I'm happily surprised that so many of you said you, too, were going to join me on my journey: Thirty-ish Days of Experiencing God.

Here's how I've experienced God in recent days:

Day 3: Friday, July 16
Lord, I'm humbled that you used my writing today to touch others. Thank you for helping me rearrange my thoughts from a spirit of complaining and grumbling to one of searching. I saw your presence in the many comments my friends posted on my blog. I saw you in the way you link us together not just in the really great times or the really awful times, but in the in-between times too. We are better together

Day 4: Saturday, July 17
Father God, I drew the short straw and had to get up early to run Mom's taxi. You know I'm not an early riser. Thank you for nudging me to not go back to bed, but to put on my sneakers and join the club of EMEs (early morning exercisers) instead. As Tess and I walked briskly in the only window of tolerable temperatures today, I felt your presence in my beating heart, in the blessed shade you provided, in the fellow EMEs I passed...and especially in the praise music I sang along to on my iPod. How awesome it was to worship with you in this way.

Day 5: Sunday, July 18
Lord, I saw you this morning in the leisurely breakfast with my the pressed-coffee, the easy conversation and the freshly-baked scones (aka, the bread of life). Thank you for this time to just be and to be together. 
     Thank you for safely bringing home the group of teens and grownups from Bahamas mission trip and for their great experience there. I saw you shining brightly in their stories—your glory reflected in their eyes and their smiles. Through their comments: "It was unbelievable...It was life-changing...I am so charged up and was the best trip ever...I can't stop talking about it," I saw your transforming Spirit at work. I thank you for this witness and that you are an up-close God who is alive and active in the lives of His people.

Day 6: Monday, July 19
Awesome Creator, wow! What a wonderful day. The oppressive humidity is gone, the temperature are so much cooler and the sunlight shines clear and bright. How could I not experience you and soak in your presence on such a marvelous day...such a welcome and unexpected relief from the past weeks. Just opening the windows and breathing in the air revives my spirit. 

What surprises me about this exercise is that my thinking is actually changing. I'm not "all better" or shouting from the mountaintops, but in less than a week my mind really is looking for God in each day. I'm more aware and mindful. And I'm looking in less and looking out more. 

Are you with me on this journey? How have you experienced God in these past days?

July 23, 2010

Enough already... Snap out of it!

I’m in a funk.

Maybe it’s because I can’t get a grasp on the chaotic schedule of the summer and it’s making me a little nuts. Whoever waxed nostalgic about the “lazy, hazy days of summer” was obviously under the age of 18, living at the beach and unemployed. With my kids’ drop offs and pick ups starting at 7:40 a.m., Mom’s taxi is “on call” all day—to and from the pool for swim team, the high school for theater camp and friends’ houses. I’m happy my kids are involved in wonderful things, but every day brings a new agenda. I struggle with time management on a good day so tossing about in an ocean of scheduling uncertainty has turned my brain into scrambled eggs.

Maybe I’m off-kilter because I’m not a huge fan of summer…at least not twelve weeks of it. I like the rhythm of my school-year days. Given my choice, I’d nip six weeks off this season and add the excess to fall and spring. Or I’d fill up the entire summer with non-stop travel and mission trips. During this in-between time I feel the loss of connections as Bible studies, activities and even friendships (my mom friends are pretty much in the same boat as I am) get put on hold until fall.

I’m adrift in a sea of ennui. An ugliness is creeping into my soul. It’s leaking into my spiritual life too. I feel blah—disconnected from God, from quiet time, from worship. I confess the vibrancy of my faith so often follows my emotions and circumstances. Of course I see this is where the real problem (and solution) lies.

Honestly, right about now I want to smack myself and yell, “Enough already, snap out of it!” (You might be thinking similar thoughts. I wouldn’t hold it against you.) I know I can’t really change my circumstances. And I know I can't fix this on my own. But I can't spend the rest of the summer with my head down waiting for time to pass.

"Coincidentally," a solution came to me the other day while reading a friend’s blog—deliberately seeking God every day for an entire month. It struck me as brilliantly spot on. 

So, for the next 30 days (give or take) I’m going to lift my head up and intentionally seek God in my day-to-day. I want to keep my eyes and ears open to see, hear and experience the Almighty in the quiet, the hidden and the ordinary. I’m going to look for those in-between moments where I get a glimpse of His holiness and my spirit stirs in recognition. I pray the attitude of my heart follows.

I started two days ago and you know what? God’s not so far away after all. I’m seeing Him and experiencing Him in ways I’d missed before. My goal is to record here daily how I’m experiencing our marvelous Creator, Savior, Redeemer and Bread of Life. I hope that in these small revelations you’ll get a glimpse of Him too.

Thirty-ish Days of Experiencing God
Here’s how I saw God today:

Day 1: Wednesday 7/21
Lord, today I saw You in an email from a friend—in her wise words and compassionate heart. I know you’ve brought this person into my life to speak truth and encouragement. Thank you for her friendship and for all the amazing Christian brothers and sisters you’ve blessed me with.

I also saw You in Bible study tonight…in talk of You as our hiding place…in Your names— Jehovah Jireh, Yahweh, El Shaddai …in the beautiful words of our closing prayers. Thank you for this study (and my sisters in it) that are manna all year, but especially right now in the drought of summer.

Day 2: Thursday 7/22
Father God, I saw you today while Connor and I walked home from his swim practice. Even though he wasn’t happy about walking all the way home, You used this time for us to talk and just enjoy each other's company.

I experienced your nearness this evening while listening to the missionary visiting from Haiti. I felt the love you’ve put in my heart for these people flame up. I felt your hand pressing me to continue to help them. Where I see an overwhelmingly hopeless situation, you reminded me of the impact of loving one person at a time. 

How have you experienced God today?

July 19, 2010

Can I Take a Shower Now?

I thought I knew "dirty." Yesterday I learned I had no idea.

Picture a mud puddle. Now make it a hundred times wider. And ten times deeper. Now add mud mountains and mud-filled gulleys. Got it?

Now picture 4,550 normally sane, sanitary (at least I'm assuming they were) men, women and children muddling through this mucky morass—voluntarily. And oh, did I mention... strategically place military men to assure no one runs through it. Listen for them shouting, "Why are you running? Get down on your belly!"  "You, in the red shirt—get down on your belly!" "Ma'am, yeah you. Get down on your belly!" Now picture everyone dropping to their knees, sliding on their bellies and crawling through it! Ugh!

The result? See for yourself.

This 10K and 5K military-style obstacle course event also offered an abbreviated version for kids. Our son was one of the 400 "Adventure Kids" who participated. They ran up hills and down, crawled under netting, scrambled over hay bales and ended at the pièce de résistance—the mud pit. Kids from four to thirteen mucked through the mire just like the grownups.

Here's our little guy going through it...

He liked doing the race but quickly discovered he didn't like being that filthy. "I feel like I'm going to throw up. Can I take a shower now?"

I don't think my son has ever asked, let alone practically begged, to take a shower. He's perfectly content to live with accumulated sweat, grime and dirt. Only when mud-saturated did the need become overwhelming.

This entire event may make you shudder with disgust or giggle with glee. You may want run as far away as possible or sign up for the next one. Regardless, one fact remains. Mud happens.

And sooner or later we all get dirty.

This got me thinking about what the Bible has to say about mud.

Generally mud is not well regarded in Scripture. It's a place of punishment (Job 30:19). It's the consequence of being vanquished (2 Samuel 22:43). It's something to be rescued out of (Psalm 40:2). It's what the wicked stir up as they toss about like ocean waves (Isaiah 57:20). Mud was associated with evil, punishment and human suffering. Apparently the ancients didn't have as much fun playing in the stuff as we do.

But in the New Testament Jesus gives us a new view of mud—as an ingredient to healing. In John 9, Jesus and his disciples encounter a blind man. Jesus ignores the why's and who's of their questions about the reason for the man's blindness and sets to work. He gathers dust from the ground, spits on it and makes mud. Then Jesus puts the mudcakes on the blind man's eyes. Miraculously after the man washes his eyes in a nearby pool, he can see. (John 9:1-12)

Now, I haven't found any commentary that specifically analyzes the mud so I might be off-base, but I'm  wondering about the mud's significance. Is it a visual reminder of the man's infirmity? Is it a metaphor for our suffering or spiritual blindness? Can our "mud" in Jesus' hands actually be a good thing?

As we sit in our clean houses, wearing clean clothes on clean bodies (at least relatively...I haven't showered yet today), it's hard to see that we're unclean, let alone filthy. But, our dirt usually resides far beneath the surface.

Maybe you're drenched in the shame of addiction, abuse or abortion. Caught in a quagmire of worthlessness, loneliness or despair. Muddling in bitterness, unforgiveness or anger. Drowning in self-sufficiency, pride or ego.Stuck in complacency, comfort or questions.

Look at the mud-covered runners in the pictures above. What covers you?

I need this snapshot right now. I need this mental picture of my own brokenness and sinful, but also of the hope of restoration. I'm not sure why I continually go back to the mucky morass from which I've been rescued and wallow around in it, but I do. I'm covered in it and I'm a mess. I feel like my son, realizing how desperately I need a shower.

How thankful I am that our God is alive and active in our lives. That He uses the mud in our lives to reveal His glory. And that He will "wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin...and I will be whiter than snow." (Psalm 51:2,7)

I wish I could say the same thing for my son's muddy clothes—washed four times and still far from clean!