Joining with this fun and visually stunning blog hop:
Monday, May 30, 2011
No, not really.
Not so much grudgingly grateful...
but rather... um...shall we say..
resistant to this list-making idea
that's become so popular since Ann's book
(actually the blog came first)
invited us all to take up our pen and write down
what we see and experience that makes us grateful
for our unique lives.
Please don't get me wrong!
I think this is a great idea -
I've sponsored small groups at our church
that are centered around gratitude;
I have preached on the power of gratitude to change lives;
I have experienced how gratitude begins to alter
I'm a believer - I really am.
But ... I'm also a bit rebellious by nature.
(Probably not the wisest thing for a pastor -
even a retired one - to admit, but hey - it's the truth.)
And this exercise began to feel a bit like the latest 'fad,'
the newest formula for deepening our faith
and widening our outreach.
And, as a rule, I resist fads like the plague.
Generally, they're not helpful
and tend to burn themselves out
after exhausting church leaders and congregants alike
But as I've watched and waited,
it seems to me that perhaps
there is really something to this idea.
And Michelle DeRusha's lovely photo list last week
pushed me right over the top
and made me want to think through my week
with photos of those things that God has used
to bless me in unique ways in the dailyness of my life.
So...I guess you could say,
I joined the Ann Voskamp club!
I've followed her blog for a long time now
and have always appreciated her words and
most especially, her pictures.
So here are a few of my own -
which don't begin to match the
artistic gentleness of Ann's,
but which do speak to the life God has given me,
far from the Canadian heartland.
I am a rank beginner at this kind of gratitude list-making,
but the gratitude itself is far from grudging.
It is deep and heartfelt
and very much an expression of my blessed existence.
1. The first red roses from the garden.
3. An inviting space in which to ponder God's goodness.
4. Inviting friends in to hear stories of God's goodness on secular college campuses; stories told by a long-time friend and former pastor with a great new call on his life.
5. Our 1st harvest ever (in 45 years!) of fresh green beans!
6. A new magnolia tree to replace our old friendly oak that went down in the rains of March.
7. Getting to love this little one every Wednesday.
8. Our grandson's jazz concert - fabulous!
9. My 2nd office - and, truth be told, my favorite. :>)
10. The arrival of our eldest daughter's wedding invitation - finding love, joy and grace after loss, heartache and suffering.
God is good. All the time. Isn't that the best news ever?
So...finally joining in with Multitudes on Mondays:
Sunday, May 29, 2011
Joining with Michelle at "Graceful" for her wonderful weekly invitation to hear it/live it:
They say the third time's the charm. Oh, I hope that's true! It began to feel that way today, finally. This was the third week we have worshipped with our home community since my retirement at the end of 2010. It's been decidedly odd to drop back into a place which was so central to my own identity and yet has not been a part of our life in any real way for five months now. Each visit has felt slightly less strange and today felt the most decidedly familiar.
Great music. Oh my, I love to hear people I know and love leading in worship. A couple of great hymns from what I consider to be the finest hymnal on the market today (well, it's now about 20 years old, I guess!) - The Covenant Hymnal: a Worshipbook, both of them done with a more contemporary tempo and arranged well for voice, guitar, bass and piano. And a couple of my personal favorites in the contemporary repertoire, including, "Everlasting God." 'Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord, we will wait upon the Lord...'
And one of the strongest praying voices in our congregation led in community prayer - a published poet and novelist, he teaches English literature at a nearby college and his prayer could have carried me home right there and then. "The Spirit blows across the world, may we blow with that Spirit, opening our umbrellas to catch the current and rise..."
And a strong sermon on a familiar but difficult passage - the parable of the unforgiving servant found in Matthew 18. Forgiveness is a huge topic for most of us, for a whole host of reasons, but here are my notes from today's reflection:
"We no longer think of forgiveness as something powerful enough to change our lives because we live in a culture that has pretty much therapeut-erized and eliminated sin.
But a good biblical reading of the gospels shows us that
Jesus proposes forgiveness as our new mother tongue,
our new currency;
it is the language of the Trinity and is modeled over and over by Jesus in the pages of the NT.
Forgiveness is the 'innovative gesture of the Trinity to break the logic of vengeance' which so permeates our world.
When we practice forgiveness,
we enter the 'sweet logic of the Trinity.'
This brings us back to the beginning of chapter 18 -
where Jesus calls forth a little child as a living illustration of what a disciple is to look like.
And though children can at times be prime carriers of vengeance - their basic language is forgiveness.
It comes easily and naturally to them.
So now, as grown-ups, we need to un-learn our habits,
our cycles of behavior and our language.
And that begins with confession,
continues by living in healthy community -
practicing forgiveness in work relationships,
the church's community life,
and is undergirded by realizing daily
the power of sin at work in us
and celebrating that the power of God's love is greater."
And then we stood and read together this beautiful confession of sin, written by Richard Baxter in the 17th century
(this may not be the exact wording of what we read together, but it's the closest one I can find in a Google search!):
O most great, most just and gracious God; you are of purer eyes than to behold iniquity; but you have promised mercy through Jesus Christ to all who repent and believe in him.
Therefore we confess that we are sinful by nature and that we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God.
We have neglected and abused your holy worship and your holy name. We have dealt unjustly and uncharitably with our neighbours. We have not sought first your kingdom and righteousness.
We have not been content with our daily bread.
You have revealed your wonderful love to us in Christ and offered us pardon and salvation in him; but we have turned away.
We have run into temptation; and the sin that we should have hated, we have committed.
Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father! We confess you alone are our hope. Make us your children and give us the Spirit of your Son, our only Saviour. Amen
It was a good morning and we are grateful.
Joining with Laura B and Laura B at:
So, we took a road trip last Monday,
one that we take almost every month.
We drive the 101 Highway 120 miles north of here
to visit the Monastery of the Risen Christ,
down O'Connor Road,
off of Foothill on the way out to Los Osos
through San Luis Obispo.
If you've never traveled to this part of the world,
may I encourage you to consider it?
This drive is perhaps one of the most beautiful I have ever taken -
and it's in our own backyard.
We've lived in Africa,
we've traveled to multiple gorgeous places in Europe,
we choose to go to Hawaii as often as we can save up
airline miles to make the trip.
But there is something about driving along the central coast,
then turning inland to this rolling countryside,
with its thousands of oak trees,
small farms and large ones,
small towns and mid-sized ones,
that soothes the soul
the brain chemistry.
Whether it's the spreading gold of fall or winter...
...the riot of wildflowers and grasses
of early spring...
...or the deep emerald green of mid-spring...
...it's a gorgeous place,
and it's a wonderfully relaxing and refreshing drive.
And when we get there?
This welcome greets us:
This small house of one room awaits me,
(and this sign means what it says.)
I took a few pictures this last visit,
just to give you a glimpse of some small
blessings to be found in this peaceful space.
...a floribunda red rose, which stretches over my head -
and I'm 5'10"...
...Abbott David's favorite - a wild profusion of iris...
...a peachy gold rose outside one of the brother's bedroom window...
...some new iris stretching to the light...
...and this dark velvety beauty right outside the door
of the Holy Spirit House.
Even the weeds are at peace in this place, from tiny ones...
...to tall, willowy ones.
This one seemed to radiate the light of the midday
Then, if we're traveling at the right time of the year,
on the way home,
we might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse
of the setting sun,
casting a glow over the tracks for the Coast Surfliner.
And if the calendar is just right,
we might even see the rising moon just ahead,
while the sun sets behind us.
I am grateful for every single mile of this
journey and it never gets old.
The God we serve is a God of beauty and
creative imagination - and we are blessed
to live in a place that shouts that truth.
One year ago this week...
I was minding my own business, getting up and out of the house to hear the third in a series of three lectures from one of my favorite theologians (John Weborg, retired professor of theology from North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago).
And I realized I was out of breath - taking a shower! Then I talked to my daughter on the phone while walking through the house to my car and got breathless again.
Drove across town to attend the lecture, got out of my car, walked up the same hill I'd walked up the previous two mornings, and WHAM, I could not breathe, and my heart began to pound nearly out of my chest.
So I turned around, got back in my car, and drove myself to the emergency room, which happened to be less than a mile from the lecture site.
Our hospital is in the long process of being completely rebuilt, so there is valet parking for the ER. Sort of strange to hand over the keys to your car and have them ask, "Who are you here to see?" Well...just me...I guess.
They hooked me up to heart machines, tested my blood oxygen, which was a little low, so I got one of those ugly tubes in the nose.
And thus I began the great adventure of the last 12 months.
I thought for sure I was having some sort of panic attack and I would be sent home with kind smiles and knowing looks. Now, mind you, I've never had a panic attack that I know of - but still...once I got quiet, with not much to do,the heart stopped pounding, the breath normalized and I wondered, "What the heck am I doing here?" I had an EKG, tons of blood work, a chest x-ray, and then I sat in that cubicle for about 5 hours.
Taking phone pictures of my feet? You know I had to be bored out of my skull.
I did say the Jesus prayer a lot, and, as usual, found it to be a source of peace and comfort while I waited. The nurse who tended me was just terrific, and she was the one who pegged it - "Don't like that low oxygen sat with the shortness of breath. Don't like it at all. They should do a chest CT scan."
Well, after a particular blood test was sky high, that's exactly what they did. And I was admitted to the hospital with multiple pulmonary emboli (blood clots) in both lobes of both lungs.
My pulmonary tree lit up like fireworks. And...I started the wonderful experience of taking blood thinning medication. Which always begins with...oh, joy... shots to the belly twice a day, shots of a nasty and very expensive substance called heparin. This stuff keeps your blood thin while the oral meds kick in, so I'm grateful for its effect, but really came to dread its application.
This is what just one side of my mid-section looked like about 3 days into the 6 days of shot-giving. And every one of those bruises (which multiplied like rabbits over the course of this treatment), every one of them had a large, hard knot underneath it.
By now, I'm a bit of an expert on all things related to this condition and the medication which is required to prevent it from happening again. That's because my husband had the exact same thing happen to him six years before!
Once they know you have blood clots, then they really run the tests, trying to figure out the source. Neither one of us turned up with cancer or visible clots in our arms or legs, so we're on this med for life - 'unknown etiology requires prophylactic treatment...'
Compounding things was the fact that my boss was leaving in a matter of days for his hard-earned six week break and I would become point person in his absence. I was scheduled to preach 10 days after this event and that did not happen, but I did lead in worship that week and each of the next 5, worked more hours than I probably should have and realized that I was exhausted through and through.
This is a hard thing for a perfectionistic, anxious to please, bred-to-the-bone caretaker personality to deal with: I couldn't do what I was used to doing. And my body let me know that, big-time.
It was a very difficult year on many levels: medication reaction, vertigo, palpitations, severe anxiety attacks, dental work (!!!), trying to finish well as retirement drew near - all of these experiences new to me and waded through with prayer and patience and loving support from my husband and family.
But as has been true for all the difficult years I've lived through in my long life, I have discovered again that God's redemptive power is never shackled, there are good and important lessons to be learned about life and how to live it. The transforming power of God's grace can slowly make its sweet and winsome way into the darkness and confusion of any difficult situation, and this long year has been no exception.
So I stand at this end of the year just past, and offer grateful thanks for health restored, for lessons learned (and being learned!), and for the presence of a loving God all along the way. I truly love my life and I am so glad to still be living it.
Friday, May 27, 2011
Oh, how I love these 5-minute Friday prompts. Kudos and deep thanks to Lisa-Jo for faithfully opening her blog to all of us who love to chime in. It's five minutes of unedited writing - "just write without worrying about whether or not it's just right." This week's topic is another doozy: On Forgetting
I'm downright curious to see where I go with this one.
Forgetting is such a bittersweet word for me just now. Sweet because it conjures up the wonderful truth that Grace forgets my sins as well as forgives them. Sweet because I love thinking back over my life and noting the things that jump to the front for attention, remembering love and laughter. Sweet because I enjoy creating unforgettable moments with those I love - celebrations, conversations, travel. Sweet because memory can be such a boost for the spirits - when those memories are easily accessible and primarily positive.
But bitter because I'm watching, in a terribly up-close and personal way, how memory can desert you as you age. How frightening it can be to not be able to bring forth a word, or a name, or an event, or a conversation - that just happened a few moments or days or weeks ago. Two women whom I love deeply are experiencing this kind of forgetting. One of them is aware of the loss; one is not. And I've gotta say - I think I'd rather be in the second category. It's tough to see yourself slipping ever-so-slowly away and feel pretty powerless to do anything about it.
But then again, maybe that's why I'm here. To help my mom remember. To tell the stories, at least the more recent ones, enough times so that they move over into her long-term memory, the part that still seems to work amazingly well.
For my mother-in-law, there is also space for story-telling but it feels different somehow. Because she doesn't know she's forgotten them, it doesn't trouble her as much. It's hard to hold onto the truth of who these women truly are, but I'm doing my best not to forget.
My mother-in-law Kathryn and my mom, Ruth
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Take a good look at this picture.
What do you see?
No ... really ... what do you see?
If you said,
"Why, that's a ferris wheel!
Anyone can see that - it's clear as day,"
then ... BUZZ ... wrong answer.
It's not a ferris wheel.
At least, not yet.
It's a pair of round metallic pieces held together
by spokes and held up by some funky pink braces.
But it's not a ferris wheel.
Because it doesn't have any seats, silly.
I saw this while making a left hand turn
across a busy intersection,
attempting to get into the freeway access lane
and getting stopped by a red light.
I whipped out my small point-and-shoot
and tried to take
a picture of it
(through about six car windows),
because I was so astonished to see
But in reality, I have no idea if it was imperfect or not.
I can only say with certainty that it was incomplete.
It's taken me most of my life to understand
that when Jesus told all those folks
gathered on the mount that
they were to be
"perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect...,"
he wasn't laying the weight of perfectionism
on them or on us.
He was using the term 'perfect' to mean
something different from
what we usually understand that word to mean.
Not so much flawless,
in the sense of fulfilling God's design for us
as human creatures.
I have lived far too much of my life
worrying about the details that create
at least the appearance of perfection -
the perfect outfit,
the perfect parenting technique,
the perfect state of cleanliness and neatness in my home,
the perfect ability to communicate what I want to say,
whether in a conversation,
or a sermon.
And all that worrying,
all that angst,
all that smoothing out the wrinkles
(both figuratively and literally!)
and robbed others,
and basically robbed God
of the things I could have been/done/said/thought
that would have moved me towards
Part of it, of course, was being a first-born child.
And part of it was being born female.
But a whole lot of it was a combination of
limited understanding of the true nature of the gospel,
and an internalized message that was both
false and destructive.
And I am sorry about that;
I'm sorry for all the time and energy
that went into trying too hard
to be all things to all people,
to keep everyone else in the world convinced
that I was the hardest-working,
most devoted and caring person they had ever met.
And I wish I had been:
more relaxed in my parenting,
more able to accept personality flaws in
myself and others,
more willing to take risks,
less afraid of failure,
more aware of the need to care for myself
in terms of health, fitness, solitude,
and just plain, old-fashioned
I've come to believe that dinking around is
one of the profoundest spiritual experiences
any of us can ever have.
Just looking with eyes that take the time to observe;
just listening with ears that take the time to
really, deeply listen;
just being fully and earnestly present to whatever and whoever is around me.
Slowly, s-l-o-w-l-y, I am learning.
It involves breathing in and breathing out.
It involves saying the Jesus prayer a lot,
sometimes almost non-stop.
It involves periods of deep contrition
for my impatience with the process,
my impatience with others
who are learning these lessons
differently than I am,
my impatience with myself.
It involves a growing conviction
that much of what I thought was
in this life we live is really
This little girl we get to watch every Wednesday,
with her wild and crazy hair
and delight at the world around her;
her 5-year-old sister,
with her funny faces, incredible vocabulary,
and a new gap in her mouth where a tooth used to be;
with their wide-ranging interests,
their good hearts,
their sense of fun and camaraderie;
who has survived two life-threatening illnesses
and still makes me laugh and loves me,
warts and all;
these walks on the beach
or around my yard,
that fill my soul with light;
these friends, who have traveled with me,
many of them for decades;
these words, written by so many talented,
insightful, deeply funny and wise women and men;
these dear ones who come and sit in
my office and who listen with me
for the movement of the Spirit
in their lives ---
these gifts of grace and goodness
from a graceful and good God -
these, these are what are
true and valuable and real.
Glory be and hallelujah
that I'm not perfect,
but I am moving in the direction
Submitted tonight at Bonnie's place: