THIS is the News: Holding Hands with the Mexican Gardener

          My last day of Spring Break---Friday---I  made a mistake. I started the day reading the newspaper. Soon, I was sunk in a slough of despond:  the crashed plane, airstrikes in Yemen, airstrikes in Tikrit,  Nigeria's impending conflict, melting ice in Antarctica . . .  But one hour later I stood 20 feet from that spot, holding hands with the gardener, the roofer, and my husband. The headlines for the day changed completely.

             It happened like this. It was our last day in California where we were visiting our sons. The doorbell rang. The gardener had come, and he brought with him a man to repair the roof of the house we were staying in. We've come to this house for three Spring Breaks now. I know the gardener, "Carlos," originally from Mexico. I know he is a pentecostal Christian. Each time we come, we talk about the Lord joyfully, stumbling between English and Spanish.  

            Today Carlos brought "Juan," a man originally from Guatemala, to come look at the roof.  Juan was wearing a t-shirt with a verse from Psalms. We began to talk.  Out under the sun, by a ficus tree full and lush, green grass under our feet, we asked about Juan's church. His face lit up. "Pentecostal," he says, eyes bright. "God is real!" he says, leaning in closer to me, with excitement and authority. "I was born again in 2008. I found the Lord. It was a miracle." 

             Now He is just back from his first trip to Mexico to share the gospel. "We went on a campaign, my first! I preached the gospel!" he says, blinking, as though he can still hardly believe it. "People came forward to know Jesus!" He shakes his head in wonder. "I preached the gospel! But----I am nothing. We are nothing. It is all Him. It is the Holy Spirit."

              The Holy Spirit is moving even now. "Yes, yes," I say, nodding vigorously. I tell him I have just returned from Chicago, preaching the gospel as well. And how the Holy Spirit moved. We stand there, bathed in wonder together that we are each doing this. That we get to speak the word of God. That God is so great He can use even us, even us . .. . 

             But all is not well. Carlos is not well. He stands with his head down. He is sad, unresponsive, his eyes lidded, his brown face a mask. We ask him what is wrong. He tells us. 

         He stopped going to church. Something has come between him and his pastor. He broke up with his girlfriend. He did wrong. He feels guilty. God is far away. 

       We shake our heads in sympathy. Juan looks at us standing there. "This did not happen by accident. God is with us---God is with us NOW!"

"Yes," I say. "Can we pray for you now, Carlos?" 

             He nods his head. I put my hand on Carlos' shoulder, hold Duncan's hand. Duncan holds Juan's hand, Juan puts his hand on Carlo's shoulder. Carlos prays, his voice beautiful and lilting, Juan repeating every phrase after him. For minutes I cannot count, they chorus the most beautiful words in Spanish that I know, these kinds of words, and many more: 

Jesus, tu eres el Senor
(Jesus, you are Lord)

Te queremos
(We love you)

te encantara esta hermano
(You love this brother.)

Ayudar su hijo.
(Help your son.)

Curese. Perdonan. Restauran.
(Heal. Forgive. Restore)

a traves de la sangre de Jesus Christo
(through the blood of Jesus Christ)

Por el honor y la gloria de Dios.
(for the honor and glory of God.)

Carlos silently weeps, his shoulders shaking under my hand. 

           When he leaves a few minutes later, he is standing straight, his face open.  

      I go back into the house. I put the newspaper away. It wasn't the news of the day. Here is the news, and here are the headlines every day of our lives:

You are not alone. 

God's people are everywhere.

God's spirit is so strong it joins gringas and roofers and Alaskans and gardeners, North and South, brown and white into a circle of prayer. 

Nothing can separate you from the love of God.

God loves you and wants you back. Always. 

God is ready to heal and restore any who are broken and lost---and He wants to use YOU. 

                             But this is not done. I am home in Kodiak now, just arrived last night. I come home to read the local headlines and find this----broken relationships, abuse, trust betrayed, a faith community unraveling, splintering, dissolving  . . .   

       I am saddened, confused, angry, heartbroken. But I will not stay there. I will not forget Juan, Carlos, Duncan and I under the tree, hands tight, hearts joined. I will not forget this truest of all news:

No one is alone. 

God's people are everywhere.

Nothing can separate us from the love of God.

God loves you and wants you back. Always. 

God is ready to heal and restore any who are broken and lost---and He wants to use Us.



Get Out of Your Prison!

It's Spring Break. I should be writing about hummingbirds and daffodils, which are here in abundance these few thousand miles from Kodiak (glory!!). But I'm writing about prison instead. I was there last night. In my semi-sleep. I was remembering something very painful that happened 2 years ago. I was plotting a way to hurt this person back. (What, me? The woman who wrote Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers: Finding Freedom from Hate and Hurt??  Yes, me. I need to forgive and be forgiven as often as I need my daily bread.) 

But I wasn't there in prison alone. Someone else was there with me. Just before I left Kodiak, someone sent me a message----secretly. Anonymously. A passage highlighted from a text. Who? Why? I pondered it for awhile. And then I knew.    

I knew who sent it. I’ll call her Debra. I know Debra’s story. And, strangely, Debra has sent this to me not about my own sin this time, though God knows there is plenty to choose from. (She has let me know about these as well.) But this time someone else’s mistakes and sins. Debra hopes I can pressure a friend we hold in common, I’ll call her Sheila, to confess her wrong-doings against Debra, so Debra can be healed and move on. This is not Debra’s first attempt to extract a confession from Sheila, through me.

I write this now to her and to all of us who are stuck sending desperate notes and jabs anonymously from an underground prison. Because most of us have been there---or are there now. In one form or another----we are there waiting. Waiting for those who beat us, who tricked us, who yelled at us, who spilled their human failings upon us . . . we are waiting for them to come forward out of the shadows of the past,
waiting for them to fall to their knees in sorrowful confession for what they have done.  Ah, the sweetness of that moment! To see them humbled! To be vindicated! Who doesn't want that?

And while we are waiting, we are not standing still, of course!  We’re  working very hard at hiding. We’re nursing our hurts and bruises. We’re busy making poor decisions in other areas of our lives. We huddle there in that cell …..  "safe." 

But what happens there, in that safe place of memory, where we can relive the bruising and gashing as long and as often as we want? The worst thing possible. We switch places. We become the torturers exacting our own sad form of "justice" from our offender. 

And---we're going to keep at it until that person comes back and apologizes, confessing her crimes against us. If she would just do that, then look who I could be!! Look who she's keeping me from becoming!!

I could be this lovely Christian who forgives as she has been forgiven.

I could move on with my life.

I could be whole and happy again.

I could love God again.

I could be myself again.

You can be fully yourself now. You can be more than yourself by forgiving. Instead, you're holding yourself hostage, pinning all your hopes and your life to come on a person so much more broken than you are. On a person who has herself borne other’s anger and failures.

Dear Friend. Listen. For God’s sake and all of our sake’s, pry your hand open and look what is already there in your hand. Look. Yes, it’s a key.  You’ve held it in your hand from the very start of all this.

That key was given to you the moment you found Christ and he set you free from your sin-bent heart, when he freed you from your selfishness and wont to use and hurt others. Just as he did for me. For all of us. We are all the same this way.

We once walked out of those barred walls, rejoicing. But we’ve crept back in, under our own power. And locked the door behind us. And wailed in our misery, “Let me out!”

I cannot say it any plainer.  Let yourself out of the prison you have built.

The prison is real. Ravensbruck was a real prison as well, a Nazi concentration camp for women, where 92,000 died . . .  A prayer was found here in the clothing of a child's body, 

"O Lord, remember not only 
the men and woman of good will, 
but also those of ill will. 
But do not remember all of the suffering 
they have inflicted upon us:
Instead remember the fruits we have borne
 because of this suffering—
our fellowship, our loyalty to one another, 
our humility, our courage, our generosity,
 the greatness of heart that has grown from this trouble.

When our persecutors come to be judged by you, 
let all of these fruits that we have borne 
be their forgiveness."

I don't know if I could ever be like Christ enough to pray this prayer. But I can write these words:  Through Christ, 
we’ve been given all that we need to be whole people, people of peace, a forgiving people who won’t allow others’ sins to crush or smother us or imprison us.

This morning, when I woke up from whatever kind of sleep that was, because of Christ, I forgave him again, this man who so grieved me two years ago. I opened his cell door---and mine. And I thought of Debra, prayed that she too could open that door . . .

Dear Debra, I pray this for you. 
Dear Readers, I pray this for you. 
Dear me, I need this too. 

Walk on out of those bars and walls. 
Do you feel the wind on your cheek, 
the sun in your eyes, 
the love of God in your heart? 

Do you know how much he has forgiven you?

Do you see how sad and beautiful your offender is now?

*Would you help me help others out of prison?I will send a book to any bloggers who repost this on their blog. Email me here to let me know: or FB me with the link. 

Why I Became an Ape this Winter

This winter I have let myself go entirely. Here in Kodiak, since 
January 6, I have spent nearly every night on stage jumping, walking on my knuckles, grunting, pounding my chest, leaping off of tables, grooming nits from my ape children---in short, being an ape. I and my two youngest sons, along with a cast of about 40, are in the local production of “Tarzan.” (Opened last weekend. Plays one more weekend.) 

I know. Yes, Tarzan. At this point, some people in the conversation snicker, start doing a "George of the Jungle" yodel, or---if they've been around a few more decades than  me, they do a passable rendition of the iconic yell mastered by Johnny Weismiller.

 I laugh with them. But let me update you a bit. This is not your mother's Tarzan. Here's what Tarzan looks like now (the Broadway version. Ours is not so different . . All the following photos are from our own production. Photos by me, Heather Johnson and Pam Foreman)  

 There's so much that is funny and ironic about this: that the first winter I'm in town long enough to join a production, it's Tarzan. That this woman-of-words has abandoned language (except when we sing) and gone primal, discarding all my dignity, (and trying to hide the fact that I'm the oldest ape up there by an average of twenty years.) 

   And I have given up center stage and a microphone, where I am used to standing, to disappear in a choral flurry of ape fur, indistinguishable from all the others. It's been humbling. It's been grueling at times. It's been refreshing. 


But I did not leap into this play lightly, simply for my own entertainment. During the months of rehearsal, ISIS was beheading Christians, destroying historic villages and artifacts, visiting a kind of terror and barbarism unknown in most of our lifetimes.

Like so many others, during the day I wept, prayed, felt guilty for my freedoms and comfortable life---and at night, there I was on my hands and knees again, aping from one scene to another, singing "Shoo-wop-de-wop" as we trashed the human camp, concentrating to get my part right.

I wanted desperately to do something more than clasp hands in prayer---and more than crimp my hands in ape gestures, leading my ape children into safety in the jungle. What kind of work and play is this when brothers and sisters in the faith are being captured, tortured, driven from homes, brutally killed?

   Yet I have remained in the play. Without guilt. Realizing I am doing something that matters, that my aping around, even now, when lives are being taken, matters. 

The message of Tarzan can be summed up in its theme song title, “Two Worlds, One Family.” Even in rehearsal, tears have come to many of us as the young boy Tarzan works so hard to be acknowledged as the ape-leader’s son.  Kala, a mother ape who lost her own son to a leopard, adopts the baby Tarzan, and is forced out of the tribe to raise him. The leader of the tribe won’t accept him as one of their own.

      The play is about how we respond to those different from us. It’s about taking a strange child into a mother’s heart just because the child doesn’t have a mother---and needs one.  The father comes to accept him—though it is too late.  Jane and her professor father come from England and are accepted and adopted into the gorilla family.

A gun is involved. A tragic death, love is born, the guilty are caught, and two worlds are joined into a single family. This is a feel-good musical, but don’t dismiss it so quickly.

We need this play today.  “Beauty can save the world,” Dostoevsky has famously written. Indeed it can. Beauty through Art can save us by opening our hearts to our neighbors, bridging divides between gender, class, faith. Beauty both enlarges our own world, and it shrinks it as well, revealing our common humanness and frailties.  Thoreau asks, “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” 

This happened every night in rehearsals:

       The best Art---all forms---instructs and moves our soul, both creating and feeding a hunger for the beautiful, the good and the true. I suspect that terrorists must vigilantly guard their hearts against Art of any kind. How threatening! Music, poetry, dance could enlighten, enlarge, and humanize. Tender, true movies could loosen the grip on a knife. Theatre could reveal that the "other" is much like you. Beauty can un-do us and make us new.

       I want ISIS stopped. I will not stop praying for the persecuted. But I am doing more than that. I will keep on working at what we've all been called to do since Adam and Eve: cultivating the garden in front of us, bringing beauty and goodness out of a weedy culture and a tangled creation. Discovering again and again that our neighbors are everywhere, and they look wonderfully different than us so we can learn the immeasurable shape of God's love.

Becoming an ape, dropping to my knees and my knuckles this winter, has reminded me of all this. 

Your culture making and neighbor-loving likely won't sound like this: 

Or look like this:

 But it will be beautiful. And it will bring Life and love to all who see. 



Friends, you've heard enough from me. Tell me one way YOU are Cultivating goodness in your house or neighborhood . . .