Why We Give Up on Jesus (and 3 Giveaways)

I went fishing with my daughter a few nights ago. She was here at Harvester Island for a visit. Just five days. This is the trouble with children. They grow up and leave and only come back to visit, like guests. Sometimes you can hardly stand for the wonder of it: the babies you birthed from your body become your nearest friends, no matter how far away they live. How does this happen? It only takes a lifetime. 

We went out fishing one night. We have fished together many times, she and I, over almost 30 years. Mother and daughter out on the ocean, one skiff of women among many skiffs of men. We do the work quickly, hardly talking about the net, the tide, the fish, the kelp, the task at hand. We don't need words for any of this. 

We were out until 11 pm, as is usual. It was a kelp-y night, the nets full of roving bands of bull kelp, finger kelp, rockweed, the gardens of the ocean uprooted by storm and high tides. We have to pick the nets, then, of these unwanted vegetables. It takes hours.

 

Shall I tell you it is fun? Not for the ones who do this nearly every day. Three of my 5 sons are here for the duration of the season, until the end of September. It's a very  long season of nearly unending work, with no days off. 

But there is still so much to discover here---beyond perseverance. In my better moments, whether I’m riding a wild sea, walking the beach or mending net on shore, I remember the disciples. I feel a special connection to those men fishing and washing their nets two thousand years ago by the Sea of Galilee.  Jesus chose fishermen as His very first disciples, and Peter was chief of them all. Yes, sometimes I feel it—this life on the shoreline, on the water, in the storms, has grown my faith immensely. But after 39 seasons here, in the middle of this life, I need to see Jesus again. I need to hear Him again. Maybe you do as well on whatever island and in whatever waters you sail every day. I am more than guessing this. I have met so many who have left their faith, who have left the church, who have given up on the Bible, who have “unfollowed” Jesus. 

 

How many? I have found numbers that describe what we’re all seeing and experiencing. In their 2014 book, Churchless, George Barna and David Kinnaman report that 43 percent of Americans are “Unchurched,” meaning they do not attend any church or have any kind affiliation with a church. Thirty-three percent of the population is “De-churched,” meaning they once were active in church but are no longer. The Barna Group has also found that the numbers of those who are skeptical or agnostic toward the Bible, who believe it’s “just another book of teachings written by men that contains stories an advice” has doubled in just the last three years. Even the 49 percent that fall into the “Actively Churched” category includes those who attend church as little as once a month.

Clearly, many are struggling with their faith, with the church, with Jesus Himself.

Even those of us who are sure we are followers of Jesus, we have issues too! We’ve read the Gospel countless times. We’ve heard about Jesus’ miracles in more Sunday school lessons and sermons than we care to recall. We can instantly extract a moral lesson from any of the parables and miracles. We’ve got it down. The suspense is gone. The surprise is gone. We know how it all turns out. Yawn. And then when we do wake up, we’re sodden with guilt and failure. What kind of “followers” are we, anyway?

Maybe we need to go again, then, all of us. One more time. We need to be surprised again. We need to live and breathe the words of Jesus as though they matter, as though they're real--because they matter and because they're real. Crossing the Waters: Following Jesus through the Storms, the Fish, the Doubt and the Seas takes us there. You may have read it already.  Wonderful and thank you. If not, in these next weeks in this space I'll give a taste and a fresh look into this island life and the ways it reveals Jesus to all of us.

 

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Lest you are afraid of boredom, don't worry. You can't be bored in a storm when you know you're going to die. You can't be bored when one fish explodes into a boatload that breaks your nets. And maybe you think you already know this man Jesus----or you're sure he's just a fable? Yes, of course. I used to think both of these as well. I hope you'll follow me these next summer weeks as I show you why I've changed my mind. 

Here are a few small hints:

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I hope you'll come along! Meanwhile, I will be giving away three Crossing the Waters books this week, (and more in the coming weeks.) I hope you receive one! Here's how to enter the draw:

 

1. Share this post on your social media,

2. Let me know in the comments below,

3. include your email address so I can get your address

 

Blessings on your week, dear friends!!

Leslie

Christian Male Rompers, Arrogance and Holy Fun

Last week after the two shootings in our country I urged you, Don’t despair of despairing. This week I am urging you, Rejoice! We must do both because the times call for both. This week, I’m pretty sure, we could all use a little holy fun. 

The Babylon Bee is ready to help. 

Thanks to this new publication of Christian satire (by christians) I can finally catch up on the  news that matters: Here are a couple of my recent favorites:

Article HERE

Article HERE

We’ve earned it. We’re a pretty ridiculous lot much of the time. The Bible tells us so. Paul reminds us that God chose “the foolish things of the world to shame the wise,” but here’s the catch. We’re not supposed to remain foolish. 

One day last year my radio dial landed on a Christian radio talk show I actively avoid. But the two hosts were laughing. That caught my attention: Christians laughing on a news show? How refreshing! A break from the usual doom and gloom of Christian political commentary. I listened closer.  They were discussing upcoming peace talks with two warring nations. How timely! They quoted the Bible’s prophecies that these nations would always be at war and then broke into derisive laughter and jokes at the leaders’ upcoming attempts to forge peace. Yes, that's truly funny. The entire show was a smug preemptive I Told You So.

Too many Facebook posts from Christians are equally presumptive and arrogant about a "Christian perspective" on national and world events. I don't read them anymore. We only lose friends and neighbors through such posts.

How did we get to be so arrogant and so humorless? I know we’re all caught up in what is probably the most tumultuous first year of any president. The stability of nations feels perilous. Wars are raging, slavery is rising, the environment is degrading. And so has it always been! In the midst of worse global events, endemic slavery and brutality, two men sat in a prison one night, both beaten to a near-pulp, and out of bloody mouths they sang praises to God. With shackles around his ankle and his own execution impending, that same man wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I’ll say it again---rejoice!”

Paul was one man armed with the dangerous gospel of the relentless love of Jesus Christ for the entire world. He was stoned for it, shredded for it, shipwrecked for it, imprisoned for it, and he never stopped telling us to Rejoice! Again I say, Rejoice! Not in the world, not in the news, not in wars, not but Rejoice in the Lord!  (And every time we say "Lord!" We must think of the crucifixion. So we're to glory and be joy-filled before images of that Roman instrument of torture. That's the power of redemption!)

 

Yes, crying is often easier. And yes, Jesus was “ a man of sorrows.” Yes, Jesus wept. But there’s no doubt that Jesus also laughed. He feasted with sinners with such gusto and joy—he was accused by the Pharisees, a sober lot indeed, of gluttony and just generally having too much fun. I imagine some serious laughter there as well at the wedding feast when he waved water into the best wine anyone had ever tasted. And have we forgotten his hilarious hyperboles against the Hyper-Religious: you strain out a gnat and swallow a camel; A camel can squeeze through a needle easier than a rich man can get into heaven.  You try to pick out a sawdust speck from your neighbor’s eye when you’ve got a 2x4 jutting from your own!

I’m with Jesus and Paul. Rejoice! Laugh at least occasionally! Count it all joy! And with that, get some historical perspective! Even if you’re a last days gloom-and-doomer look around. How many of us are in prison?  How many of us have been beaten for our faith and face execution? We think we live in the worst of times, when by many measures we live in the best of times. Both times are causes for joy in the Lord. And maybe we can turn off the media long enough to remember that we’re the messengers of the greatest happiest news ever: God is on His throne. He rules over the nations. Death has been conquered! All of creation is being redeemed!

 

 We’re living in a comedy, friends, not a tragedy, that ends with a massive jubilant wedding between Christ and his bride, the Church. We’re going to sit down to a giddy feast with our sisters and brothers. We’re going to sing songs, tell stories and jokes. But I’m not waiting until then. Jesus didn’t. I’m starting now. And I'm starting by laughing at us, because we are crazy-funny people.

Any good jokes to share, friends?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of Killer Whales and Killers

The day of two shootings in our country was the day my kids were followed by killer whales. It was 10 pm, light as day, near the end of the day’s work on the fishing nets. A pod of 8 orcas appeared, a family, with two babies right beside their skiff. They watched their massive black and white bodies as they dipped and rose around their boat, enthralled. Then one of the orcas surfaced, spun and gulped down an unsuspecting sea otter in one crunch, right before them. A rainbow arched overhead. (No, there were no unicorns.)

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I saw the rainbow. It chased me out of the house where I was unloading 25 boxes from the last shopping trip. Where I was listening to NPR news about the shooting at the baseball practice, when the announcer broke in with news of a new shooting in San Francisco.

 

That morning I watched a bald eagle snatch a salmon from the sea. Sometimes we see them scoop ducks from their innocent feeding, lifting them to their nests, plucking their feathers before they eat. I saw two orcas round the corner of our island below me, scanning for sea lions, otters, seals, any warm body to feed their own.

Two summers ago we boated past a sea lion rookery. One rock still flowed with blood, where an orca had nabbed a sea lion and sunk into the depths.

 

We are enmeshed in killing, all of us.

 

I don’t know what orcas or eagles think when they are killing.  Or eagles when they impale a warm squirming bird and feed it to their young.

 

I don’t know what a man thinks as he points a gun and squeezes the trigger to kill another human being. This is when we are most like animals: brute, unfeeling, predatory.

 

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Is our country unraveling? Fellow Countrymen have become enemies.  Anger rules. Words are arrows, and when insults are not enough for rage, guns take their place. What kind of wisdom or solution can be spoken into this spiral? I have only cold comfort this morning, but comfort nonetheless.                  I am immersed in the Psalms these days, each day writing out a Psalm in my own best hand, word for word. Letting its phrases, poetry, complaints, longings, laments and praises run through my body, through my fingers to the page. Here is what I know so far.  The court and the nation of Israel three thousand years ago is little different than ours today. The King, the man on the throne was often under siege. Violence erupted constantly. His enemies lay in wait for him. The righteous were attacked and embattled.

 

So has it always been. 

It’s a story as old as humankind. (Yes, not much comfort---yet.) How can we not, then, run out of sorrow and righteous indignation? Sometimes I’m just fresh out. But somehow King David never seemed to run out. He did not deny the harsh realities around him. He did not shrug his shoulders in resignation. He did not grow numb and cloister himself in a sanctuary. Nor did he mount his horse to kill his enemies. Instead, He did the two most powerful things possible: He took up his pen and his harp. And he fell on his face before God. Again and again. 

He continued to long for righteousness. He prayed unceasingly against evil and beseeched toward good. He cried tears of frustration and despair. He kept calling upon God’s righteousness. He continually praised and mourned and sang to God in every moment of need. 

This is the narrow way. It’s the harder way. It’s easier to accommodate, to adjust, to adapt, to accept creeping incivilities and outright evil as normal. It’s easier to give up. To rely on ourselves. To fall silent.

 

This is all I'm saying: Don’t despair of despair. Don’t grow weary of longing. Don’t give up mourning evil. These are signs of life. If we did not know the light, we would not see the dark.

But we can’t carry this darkness or it will kill us. Carry it to our Lord, our King who alone can bear it.

And If you’re out of words, use the Psalmist's. God gave him those words, because he knew

we would need them too.

Like this, we will not give up on our country.

Like this, we will not forget all that is Good and Right and True.

 

When the Fog Rolls Down and the Wind Blows High

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It was a mad dash out to fish camp. I had less than a day to get ready. I was supposed to stay in Kodiak and clean our house for renters. I was supposed to do the shop-till-you-drop at Safeway (remember last year's shopping cart entirely full of tortillas?) But the salmon season opened early----surprise!! About a week sooner than anyone expected. Duncan and I jumped from one plane to another then to a boat and here I am. Again. My other life. My "Crossing the Waters" life. 

 

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But I am not always smiling. Yesterday the fog rolled in. A strange fog that arched and rainbowed over the fishermen as they drove home to our island. It's message? No, you will not die by flood, but you will get very wet. And so it came. We woke this morning to a North East wind, blowing 40 mph, making fishing out of skiffs on the open ocean-----hard. Messy. Very wet. Sometimes impossible. Here, the waters in the channel, where they begin, are the calmest the seas will be for the next three days. They will head out from here into high galloping seas.

 

And here it is. This life on this island, in these waters. Not simple. Not easy. It's war sometimes. I watch them go into the storm, three of them my sons, and two nephews. Some just kids. But not really. Not after a lifetime of doing this. And for me, it's been a lifetime of watching them go, or joining them. Thirty-nine seasons. Yes, nearly a lifetime. Is there anything here I haven't yet seen or done? Is there anything new under this fish camp sun?

 

 

 

The Preacher in the book of Ecclesiastes wonders this too. He opens with a wail and a moan, and both eyes wide open:

“Absolute futility,” says the Teacher.
“Absolute futility. Everything is futile.”
 What does a man gain for all his efforts
that he labors at under the sun?
 . . .  All things are wearisome;
man is unable to speak.

 What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done;
there is nothing new under the sun.
 Can one say about anything,
“Look, this is new”?
 

Some commentators and readers over the centuries have insisted this “wisdom book” could not be canonical, could not be inspired by God. Where is the cheer, the victory, the triumph of the Christian life? (“The hearts of people, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead.”)

No one is spared. Even writers get a dose of reality:

         The more the words,
         the less the meaning,
         and how does that profit anyone?

 

What DOES profit us here in the midst of this furious cycle of life? He answers this question three times in the course of his book. Here, my favorite rendition:

Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do. Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil.  . .  and Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.
 

 

Soon it will be lunch. Ten men, my sons, nephews, husband and crewmen will lumber through the door soaked in salt water, muscles weary, hungry. As they have done for decades. Soon after lunch they will go out again. And then after dinner, they will go out into the storm yet again. But right now? Right now the carousel stops. Right now we gather around the table. We gather dressed in work clothes that shine with fish scales and sweat.  We shall eat our meat and homemade bread and drink our tea with gladness. We will laugh. For God is with us. For we are working with all our might. For God approves the work we are doing.

 

 

Like this, I will make it through today. Through another fishing season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kodiak Spring, Beauty in a Time of Bombs

Spring shot its first green on Kodiak this week. The earth has awakened and we must too. 

All of creation speaks the good news: it is time to be born. It is a time to bloom, grow, feed and rest.

But this is also the week of two terrorist massacres---in Manchester, and the bus of Coptic Christians in Egypt. I cannnot turn away. I make myself look at the tender faces of the innocents, the teenage girls, the Egyptian families, of 8 year old Saffie, and I do not stop the tears. If we run out of tears for the evils done in this world, we shall all surely die. 

But in these days of spring, when there is so much light in the sky yet so much darkness in the world, what shall we do? The question has come on the heels of every tragic headline: the Sandy Hook massacre, the Orlando night club bombing, killing 49, the shooting of nine African American congregants at a prayer meeting in a Charleston church.  I pick up my sorrowing hands and try to write, even today. But in the face of such evil, what good is my own tiny art? What value is a frail craft of words sent out on such a terrible black sea?

But I have seen an answer. 

When my daughter graduated from college, she moved to El Salvador where she lived alone in a concrete rowhouse in a small city. She worked for an NGO committed to addressing El Salvador’s endemic rates of domestic violence. Every other day, Naphtali, alone, would walk or jump on the back of a truck and grind down dirt roads to three tiny villages strung along the washed-out tracks. The families were subsistence farmers who lived in dirt-floor huts dizzied with chickens and hungry dogs. Some of the women could not read; all the women bore many children who worked in the corn and bean fields. Men wanted sons, not daughters. Her assignment was to gather women and young people into groups that would meet weekly. The women would be given micro-loans and would be taught how to manage them. More, Naphtali would use theatre workshops to help the women and youth unravel the vicious cycle of violence. I worried about her safety, and I wondered, what could theatre do against such poverty and oppression?

 

 

I flew down to El Salvador twice in those two years, standing with my daughter on the truck as it slowly growled its winding way to the thatched bamboo houses. One of those days we went to a party Naphtali had planned for weeks, an Intercultural Fiesta she called it. We played charades, each of us acting our our lives before the others. The women had practiced songs and skits they had written themselves. One skit was about a girl born to a poor mother. The mother decided to pass her daughter off as a boy, so she would be valued. The daughter grows up as a son. No one knows her true identity. One day she solves a crucial problem for the community and after, reveals her true identity. She is accepted and valued by the male leaders of her village.

 They were awkward. They mumbled their lines, shyly glancing and smiling at the audience. They had never acted before. No one had ever helped them tell their stories before. But that day, standing on a dirt stage, they saw themselves; their children saw them; we saw each other.

 “Beauty can save the world,” Dostoevsky has famously written. Is this our best weapon? Can Art really defuse bombs, mend the blasted bodies of children, heal the blindness of misogyny? I am learning the answer is sometimes “yes.” Even simple pantomime opens our eyes to one another, revealing the stranger as our neighbor.  I suspect that terrorists and the violent must vigilantly guard their hearts against it. Music and dance could enlighten and humanize. Tender, true stories could loosen the grip on a gun. Theatre could reveal that the "other" is much like you. Thoreau asks, “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”

 

Now, I write these words that you may see the shy brave women on the dirt stage, that you may see Saffie and her bright brown eyes, that you may see our Christian brethren. In this time of guns and bombs, get busy. Use the weapons of love and Art to keep our eyes wide open.  

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Thank you for being here, dear friends. Thank you for seeing with me. 

To Graduates: 7 Reasons NOT to Change the World (Yet)

My youngest son will graduate from Eighth Grade this week in Kodiak. (Three cheers!) My fourth child graduated from college last weekend in California. O Happy Day! We froze. It was cloudy, cold and rainy, fantastic weather for wild fires, but not for open-air graduations, California clothes and open-toed sandals. The faculty marched out in procession wearing those cheap clear rain ponchos over their elegant regalia. We huddled under a blanket. We were miserable. But we were thrilled.       

(And weren't you little just yesterday, son??)

   We celebrated the whole weekend, and not just my son's completion, but his wonderful girlfriend's and my other son's girlfriend's graduation. I was so proud of them all.  It was a weekend of worship and inspiration. A time of calling, dreaming and commissioning to go out into the world as leaders and servants.  All good. All Biblical. A beautiful and necessary upending of a rival dream, the American Dream, which has come to mean riches, power, total personal freedom, your own reality show and a million followers on Twitter. 

BUT. In this season of graduations, I get weary sometimes. We Christians have created a parallel dream with, paradoxically, it's own emphasis on power, greatness and success: Every student is charged unendingly with "Change the World!"  "Make a Difference!" My son's university did not overly indulge in this, but the Christian world as a whole overspeaks, over-guilts, (and over-asks for money) nearly every graduation season. May I offer my own hopes and suggestions for new graduates?

 

 

7 Reasons Not to Change the World (Yet)

 

  1.    If you grew up in America, recognize how big the world is and how little you know of it. Get out and experience some of it before you try to change it. Leave your comfortable bed and safe neighborhood and hang out on the other side of the tracks, on the other side of the world for awhile. Live on $10 a day in Laos. Volunteer in an orphanage in Indonesia or at a homeless shelter in Houston.
 

2. When you go out into the world don’t call it “missions” and spend all your time and energy convincing people to give you money rather than working and raising your own funds. Yes, dedicate your experience to the Lord, but remember, this is your trip, your travel, and while you may indeed help others, the main beneficiary here is you. Which is fine. Just don't ask others to pay for it. 

 

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3.  Yes, go out and love the stranger, but how will you love the stranger if you don't love your own family first? Start your new life and new mission right at home. Be kind and show gratitude to your siblings, your parents, your teachers, to all who have invested in you and suffered through your growing pains and rebellions. If you're not able to do this yet, you're not ready to go anywhere. You will not successfully love the stranger without learning to love your real "neighbors" first. (Thank you for doing this, Elisha!)
 

4. Consider your diploma a L.H.M. degree: a degree in Listening, Humility and Mercy. Whatever else you have learned, surely you have learned how little you actually know. Those of us who have been around for awhile, with other degrees behind our name, have learned that this is the only degree that counts. Practice your L.H.M. skills often: Speak to many kinds of people. Read a lot. Keep asking questions. Be compassionate to all. When you do this, you'll find the world is better and smarter than you knew. 

 

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5.   Be an Apprentice. The most valuable skill you have gained in school is the ability to learn. Now, keep learning. Rather than seeking immediate power, position and paycheck, look for a master in your field who will mentor you. And no matter how obscure or menial your job, invest it with diligence and love, as if you were serving God himself (which you are). Be the kind of worker who honors his boss, who respects his co-workers, who devotes himself to the success of others. You won’t change the world: just maybe your workplace.
 

 

6. Know your own strengths and weaknesses, but resist the culture of self-fascination. I know you've taken several personality tests since they are often required in college. But don't be fooled by the impressive names, numbers and labels every test-taker receives. Don't keep yourself in that box. And don't mistake your "score" for achievement. The purpose of knowing yourself is not to "know yourself" but to "grow yourself" into a better self. Exercise your strengths and please address your weaknesses. If you can change and strengthen yourself, maybe you'll have a shot at some bigger piece of the world later. 
 

7. Give up on “greatness” and aim instead for Goodness. Yes, a few men and women through the ages have changed the course of history, but the best ones did not consider themselves “great” when they were doing it. In the moments they are most known for, they often labored in obscurity and mostly tried to do what was good and right. They suffered. They paid a heavy price. But they didn’t give up, even when no one was tweeting or instagramming their efforts. Now more than ever we need leaders committed to goodness rather than greatness. 

 

 Contrary to a well-known graduation speech, you are wonderful and special—and so is everyone else. Your singularity is what you share with the rest of humanity, which entitles you to serve these wondrous others, and to do it as beautifully as only you can. Go to it, then! And God WILL be with you!
 

What graduation advice did I miss?

(And when you comment, be sure and subscribe so you'll see my response!)

 

And may I recommend a book to you? A brand new book just for this season: Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life  by some very wise people, including Byron Borger and Richard Mouw.

 

 

 

6 Irresistible Reasons to Forgive Your Mother this Mother's Day

Dear Friends, here comes the most fraught day of the year, I believe!! Some daughters and sons have marvelous relationships with their mothers. Many don’t. When Mother’s Day comes around, way too many people of every age struggle with conflicting feelings. Hurts, past and ongoing, often cripple our relationships. How do we get through this day? More, how do we move forward without getting lost in the past?

Here is how and why. (And be sure to make your way to the last one, because maybe it's the most compelling reason of all?)

 

 

1. She chose to give you life.

When we’re hurt and disappointed, often we compile a list of all that our mother didn’t do for us, forgetting to count all she did. Did she provide food, water, a bed, clothing, rides to school and after school events?  Did she make lunches for us, take us to the beach, buy us Christmas presents? Even if she did none of these things, and even if your mother didn’t raise you, remember this: she chose to keep the pregnancy and bring you to light and life.  She could have chosen otherwise.

 

2. She tried her best.

Even without knowing your mother, I know this is almost always true. Our mothers---birth mothers, stepmothers, adoptive mothers-- all came to parenting with their own loads of baggage and circumstances. Some of our mothers were not mothered themselves. They simply did not know how to do it. Some were trapped in very difficult marriages, or were alone without support. All of our mothers struggled with more than we knew as children, and even more than we know now as adults. I think of how my mother led us through years without any family income, her resourcefulness in making our clothes, in making all of our bread and growing most of our own food. While we were often unhappy about our food, clothes, the houses we lived in, our mother did all she could with the resources she had at hand. Likely your mother did as well.

 

 

3. She cannot repay her “debts” against you.

When we forgive, we release the offender from the hurts and “debts” they owe us. We do this because it is impossible for them to pay back what they “owe” us. They simply can’t. They’re unable either by temperament, by circumstances, by their own human limitations. We’re either stuck trying to exact from our mothers whatever debts they have incurred----or we let them go.  We give the gift of mercy. When we do this, we not only free our mothers, but we free ourselves from acting as judge and jury over them.  Those years are gone, and while you and your mother may wish to take them back, it’s not possible. Realistically assess what happened. Seek counseling if you need help with this.  And begin to move forward with the wisdom the past is now able to give you.

4. Your negative emotions affect your own children and family.

Your children may be missing getting to know their own grandmother. Not every grandmother is safe to be around; sometimes boundaries are needed. In most cases, though, even imperfect people have qualities and life experiences that your children can benefit from. While you want to protect your child, be careful as well not to superimpose on your children the relationship you had with your mother. She is older now, and likely will interact with your children differently than she did with you. 

 

 

5. So your children will forgive you.

As hard as we try to break generational cycles of dysfunction with our own children, we are still imperfect mothers ourselves who have hurt our children at times. We will want and need from them a spirit of love and forgiveness, particularly as they become adults. If we are not modeling this toward our own parent, they are less likely to extend the same toward us.

6. So you can become the kind of person you want to be. It’s too easy to get trapped in anger and resentment, but most of us don’t like ourselves this way. You may not have to live with your mother, but you can't avoid living with yourself. 

Forgiving a parent of her deficiencies and hurts against you will bring healing to your mother---and to you. It will begin to mend your broken and bitter parts and bring you closer to the woman you want to be: someone who is wise, not easily offended, compassionate, quick to forgive. Take this step toward becoming the kind of person you want to become, and start becoming her this very day.

Amen.  Love and hope and grace to you all!!

If you want a longer journey through forgiveness, with warm counsel and friends at your side, including the amazing Dr. Jill Hubbard, this book is waiting for you (at a special price right now on amazon)

O Happy Ruins! And, Why I'm Going to Quit Complaining

I am back from the ruins, back from tromping through dead cities and temples scattered across Turkey, Greece and Rome. Back from following the sandal prints of the Apostle Paul and his Middle East journeys.  The trip has been fruitful in so many ways.  For one thing, I managed to NOT be the for-real woman who asked the tour guide, after touring the remains of ancient cities, "Why did the Greeks and Romans build so many ruins?"

I managed to take notes slightly better than that . . .

I would love to gush about my stalwart kind and intelligent travel companions who made ruin-romping a ton more fun than had I done it on my own. But----I'll gush at them privately.

I have 1,000 things I'd like to share with you, but  after traveling 15,000 miles the last 2 weeks (and traveling still) my brain is like semifreddo, the half-frozen dessert we ate in Rome our last night together: mushy, partly crystallized, tart, and melting fast. 

So quick, before I fall into a coma in this hotel may I share one thought with you? You know I was in Israel a few years ago, tracking Jesus. This time, Paul. I have to be honest. I never thought much about Paul. I love his letters. He's written some of the most eloquent and moving words in the Scriptures, but he wasn't quite real to me. I never longed to walk in the footsteps of Paul. Until recently.  After scuffling and roaming what's left of Ephesus, Pergamom, Athens, Corinth, Colosse and other cities where Paul began churches, I can glimpse him now. And what I see astounds me. 

You remember what happened to him in these cities? He faced unimaginable peril at every turn. He opposed a culture sunk in idolatry, sexual depravity, pagan worship, human sacrifice.  His message, that "Jesus is Lord" equally threatened his fellow Jews. After just two weeks immersed in the mere ruins of this ancient world, Paul's courage became nearly tangible to me. Here is the price he paid, in his own words: 

"I have been in prison . . . I have been hurt  in beatings. I have been near death many times. Five times the Jews have given me their punishment of thirty-nine lashes with a whip. Three different times I was beaten with rods. One time I was almost stoned to death. Three times I was in ships that wrecked, and one of those times I spent a night and a day in the sea. I have gone on many travels and have been in danger from rivers, thieves, my own people, the Jews, and those who are not Jews. I have been in danger in cities, in places where no one lives, and on the sea. And I have been in danger with false Christians. I have done hard and tiring work, and many times I did not sleep. I have been hungry and thirsty, and many times I have been without food. I have been cold and without clothes. Besides all this, there is on me every day the load of my concern for all the churches. I feel weak every time someone is weak, and I feel upset every time someone is led into sin."

Paul is not our Savior. He did not suffer all this with our names in his mind and heart, as Jesus did in His sufferings. But---Paul, under Jesus' leading, opened the door of the synagogue to us. To us Gentiles, us non-Jews. And nearly everyone wanted to kill him for it. He was executed, finally, in Rome, likely by beheading. His life and death was shaped by the same extravagant sacrifice of Jesus. 

(AND---this is a word to our cushy American church. How whiny we are!! How soft and spoiled, how quick to claim "persecution." We know NOTHING of persecution!!)

Paul is not my Savior, but he is my brother. He did all this that WE---the unwanted, the unqualified, the far-off---might be delivered from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, that we might be for "the praise of His glory."   (And OH how I praise His glory!!)


I can't wait to thank him. 

I'm not tired anymore. (And I'm going to quit complaining about my "stuff"--at least for a little while.) 

And I'm ready to keep going. 

Untying the Knot in Turkey

It is warm and sunny today in Ephesus, Turkey. Coming from Alaska, I cannot get enough of the sun, but I am missing the wind. Three Muslim women in head scarves and silky dress coats stand before me, conferring. Then one turns and asks, anxious, "Are these waters holy?"  I don't know what to say to her. A man standing near hears her and answers "Yes, many believe these waters are holy."  She looks relieved and steps toward one of the three faucets spouting from the stone wall. What will she pray for as she washes her hands in the water?

We are here together, Christians and Muslims of all kinds, from Asia, from the Middle East, our small group from the U.S.  We're at the House of Mary, where many believe the  mother of Jesus lived out her last days with the disciple John. (And who is not moved to remember that Christ, hanging crucified and close to death, looked upon his friend John and his beloved mother and gave them to one another as mother and son. From then on, the gospel tells us, John "took her into his house.") 

Muslims are here because Meryem is the mother of the prophet Jesus, and so is holy in some way. I go into the House of Mary where a statue stands in the center of the wall, a candle burning. Muslim women in headdresses bow, kneel in prayer. There are maybe 11 of us in this room. In the quiet I feel the heaviness of these women's needs. No one speaks. 

Is this tiny stone chapel, this two room shrine the place where John and Mary lived together, living out every day the words and new life Jesus taught them? No one can know. There is a long story behind the choice of this ancient nondescript dwelling, but I will not tell it here.  I have stopped my travel this day to write these words, to show you this one more thing, this one place where dreams and wishes and prayers become a wall. 

It is called The Wishing Wall. Prayers and hopes are written on napkins and tissues and tied to the iron grating. I see words written in Korean, Arabic, Chinese, English, Spanish and many others. There are ribbons tied here too, as well as socks, plastic shopping bags, whatever people brought, whatever they pulled from their pockets.  

A priest, a friend, traveling with us, tells us that Mary is sometimes called "The Untier of Knots."  It was St. Irenaeus in the second century who wrote that "the knot of Eve's disobedience was untied by the obedience of Mary; what  the virgin Eve bound by her unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosened by her faith."

I think of the Turkish rugs made by thousands of Turk women in small villages, women sitting before cotton strands, knotting every thread of wool and silk twice. Twice, so the knots cannot be pulled out. 

This day, standing before the Wishing Wall, I am grateful for Mary, but I did not knot a tissue for her. I said a prayer instead to her Son for all the broken choking hearts longing  for what Jesus came to give. He gives it still, his forgiveness flowing like water from a faucet, his love freeing knotted hearts to float  like tissues on a vast warm wind. 

Easter Uproot

This Easter Sunday, while my family and church sing praises to our risen Savior near the waters of Kodiak Island, I will be somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, trying desperately to sleep. On the most precious day of the year, I will be uprooted from my beloved sons and husband. I do not go lightly. I am joining a small group from a seminary and flying to Turkey, Greece and Italy for 2 weeks of research on the Apostle Paul. 

As I go, I will remember the Cross. Maybe you don't believe in the Cross or the man who hung there. But please come for a moment and consider these words, given to me today. All of Creation is changed because of that day. Pain shall some day be turned to joy, all harm shall finally be turned to good because of this:

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I will send photos and words to you while there, as well as I can.

But most of all, this Holy Week, find the branches of this tree:

build a nest, rest and feed. 

 

With love, joy and gratitude,

Leslie

 

Surfing a Storm and Launching a King

It's been blowing and raining unceasingly for five days. The seas surge and lunge to the rocky shores. We watch the violence from our windows, the shattering and gathering, the water exhausting itself and we who watch.

   

 

 

This morning, beyond a cliff and the foaming curls I saw him. A man or was it a seal? Among the waves, black, smooth as a rock polished by water, but he did not sink. Each time a wave swallowed him whole, he emerged moments later, at home in the winter water.  

 

Who wants to interrupt their warm dry feet and cozy life in the winter, launching off into frigid furious waters? Not me. Not many of us. But I know, if I asked him, this winter surfer on this island in Alaska why he goes into the teeth of a storm, wearing nothing but a rubber suit, he could not answer. How could he speak of the marvel of that oceanic force, a womb he chooses, and every launch a cyclonic baptism that washes him free? 

He would look at me with pity. The life I was missing!!

We miss a lot of living. Most of us prefer our lives just as they are, even when they're miserable. On Palm Sunday and the events that followed, most of them missed the life that was offered. I didn't leap onto a surfboard into the stormy waves, but I've launched out today into that event 2000 years ago, wondering  how it could happen. Wondering why so many turned away from that parade. Here is the story I found, from a woman who might have been there. Come with me now . . .   

 

May I speak this woman's story to you as well? Click here:

 

This day was unlike any other.  There were so many people there---- but it wasn’t that. And it wasn’t even the procession, the parade.  There have been parades----marches and trails of stumbling, lisping, broken, drooling people rolled, pushed, carried, slung hoisted to him. Yeshua.  No one would dare to believe  in healing----except it was happening. To EVERYONE!! Even the sorriest, lost-est sinners among them . .. . 

You should have seen them. Everyone now-----new born!  Legs straightened and muscles strung right. Women who were mute----now they are singing and spinning with gladness! And crippled men are running and racing and like deer!

So—yes, we’ve been watching these parades for many months now. But this time was different. Everyone ran to pull down branches from the trees. Palms, those fronds---do you know what that means? We have almost forgot ourselves what they mean and how it feels to wave them up high:  Victory!   Triumph! When was he last time we were the victors of anything? And we all took off our cloaks, our outer robes---and just laid them at his feet and at the feet of the donkey he was riding. We knew what we were doing! Because ------finally we all saw it! Yeshua. He was the king!!  He was the one we’ve been waiting for since . …..  since we were a people.

 

And the singing! Everyone was happy!! We are not ----we have not been a happy people, but this day!! " Ho—sanna!  Ho-sanna!" children were singing and old men, the young mothers----everyone!!  Cheering laughing shouting!! "Ho---sanna----O Save us!! O Save us!!"

 

Finally----a king to lead us!! To lead our people. We will be a nation again—not servants and slaves to the Romans …And we said---we turned to one another, all my friends, my neighbors, my cousins, we were all standing and shouting together, and we said, “We will follow him anywhere!!”  That’s what we said . ..

But we didn’t . .. 

because we didn’t know what was going to happen that next day

Nobody knew what was going to happen next. But I saw it. I saw how those same people---not all of them, but some of them---my neighbors, my cousins----they were there a week later. They were shouting again. Just Shouting this time—not singing, and not waving palm branches-----"O our glorious king"—but waving their fists and yelling        

 Crucify him!!

 

How did this happen? From O Save Us Our King!! Our King!!    To  CRUCIFY Him,  blasphemer!

HOW?    But maybe I know. 

They wanted a king, a MAN king  who acted like a god.

They didn’t want a king who WAS God.  

They didn’t really want God.

I wonder how many of us really do want God to enter our world and rupture our lives . . . 

But here is what I know now: that day of singing and celebration and triumph was true. And real, more real and more true than anybody every knew:

"Ho-sanna!! Praise to the King! O Save us!!" we shouted.

And then very quietly,

              through lashes and spikes

                         He did. 

 

 

 

 

May your Palm Sunday be full of Gladness and Salvation.

The Secret Path to Gladness (and Missing Socks)

Today an enormous weight was lifted. My son Abraham (16) slumped downstairs sleepily this morning with an announcement.  “I just figured out where socks go. Washers and dryers are portals to the cosmos. They get flung into outer space where they become stars and cluster into galaxies.”

         “Oh that makes so much sense,” I enthused, passing him a tall smoothie.  

         “Yeah,” he nodded sagely, barefoot. 

   The sun rose red through our windows as we readied for the day, collecting our papers, our lunches, our fragmented selves for the day. Micah, 14, would deliver his memorized speech today (Winston Churchill's "Never Give In" speech); Abraham would have a dentists' appointment midday, then play practice after school. I would be writing this post, editing essays for my next book, mailing off boxes, and maybe even squeezing in a walk to tend a bruised spirit. And still thinking about those socks orbiting the sun . .. (You know how they sway on the clothesline? They've heard stories of their brethren launching out, and they too yearn to be free . . ..)

 

 

I am still practicing joy. I am reading through the Bible this year, which plants the Psalms in front of me every morning. Here I have found great gladness mashed up with grave realities. Take Psalm 57, my favorite this week. 

David is writing. And he's in trouble (again). He wrote this about fleeing from Saul, who was  hunting him down like a dog, this young man, this harpist who made the unfortunate mistake of loving God and serving his king a little too well. He won some battles, slayed some giants, just a few too many, remember? Exhausted, desert-dry, weary-eyed, and not a little bit wounded in his spirit, he did the only thing he knew to survive: He wailed out:

Have pity on me, O God!!  Have pity on me,
    because my soul takes refuge in you.
        I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings
            till the storms of destruction pass by.

Why does David bother to spend his voice and his strength calling out to a God he cannot see or hear? Because-----

I cry out to God Most High,
    to God who fulfills his purpose for me.
 He WILL send from heaven and save me;
    he WILL put to shame him who tramples on me. 
God WILL send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness!

And here is the pattern of this short Psalm (and many others): The crushing reality of THIS time and place--- 

My soul is in the midst of lions;
    I lie down amid fiery beasts—
the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows,
    whose tongues are sharp swords.

Then the soaring reality of a God beyond time and space:

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
    Let your glory be over all the earth!

Careening again between Here:

They set a net for my steps;
    my soul was bowed down.
They dug a pit in my way,
    but they have fallen into it themselves. 

And there:

My heart is steadfast, O God,
    my heart is steadfast!
I will sing and make melody!
    Awake, my glory!
Awake, O harp and lyre!
    I will awake the dawn!

Nothing has changed for David, but everything has changed. By launching into heaven through his words, David enters the other reality: God is as near as the words on David's lips and pen. Can God love him that much? How can he not burst now with gladness? How can he not how see God and speak of Him EVERYWHERE?


I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
    I will sing praises to you among the nations.
For your steadfast love is great to the heavens,
    your faithfulness to the clouds.
 
And now he remembers what he wants most of all, even more than his own deliverance. 
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
    Let your glory be over all the earth!
 
 
What else is there?
 

In the midst of your trouble, Don't wait for relief to mysteriously appear. Go to the Psalms. They're a portal to Heaven, given for us, for the Church, for all ages. This year, I am doing more than praying the Psalms; I am writing out every Psalm in my own hand. Those words are becoming mine. 

 

  Like this,  every morning, I launch out far beyond our missing socks; I am spun from complaint to praise,                                                        from trouble to calm,                                                                               from mourning to gladness.  And you can launch out as well!   

 

Like this,  every morning, I launch out far beyond our missing socks;

I am spun from complaint to praise,

                                                       from trouble to calm,

                                                                              from mourning to gladness. 

And you can launch out as well! 

 

 

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
    Let your glory be over  ALL  the  earth !!!!

March into Gladness!

This week I wanted to speak face to face with you and share a moment of great conviction that pierced me--and then led me into a new place of freedom. Maybe you need this too?? 

Before I start, Here's the Israelites-in-the-desert moment of whines and delusions!!

4 Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. 6 But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”

7 Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its appearance like that of bdellium. 8 The people went about and gathered it and ground it in handmills or beat it in mortars and boiled it in pots and made cakes of it. And the taste of it was like the taste of cakes baked with oil. 9 When the dew fell upon the camp in the night, the manna fell with it.

 

 

Thanks for watching!! (Can I take a tiny survey? Do you miss the photos too much, or do you like this change-up once in a while?)

Learning to Praise and walk in the Freedom already given,

Gratefully,

Leslie

 

For those with deeper work to do, I'll be leading another live webinar April 11, 7 - 9 CST: UNDAUNTED! The Jesus Way to Healing and Peace.   No matter our woundedness, God desires to heal us and make us ALL instruments of His peace.      Christ's peace to you, dear friend.

You, Me, Philip Yancey and God: Finishing the World!

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Last week in Denver, Phillip Yancey and I had a blast.  We were talking about one of our favorite subjects: Creativity.  It went beautifully well (except I was having a bad hair night and was trying to ignore a raging sore throat.)         

(Phillip and I will be teaching together at the next Harvester Island Wilderness Workshop.)

 

There’s SO much I want to sing and dance about this topic----but who has five years right now? So----let me give you this, just this, because you need to know it. Because it will make your day brighter, and you will make someone else’s day (life??) more radiant.

You do know, don’t you, that the world needs you? 

 

Shall I prove it? Listen: God spoke and created All That Is: Let there Be: and bing-bang-baboom-Look! The violent blooming of Life Everywhere!! Then He spoke again, this time, admiring, announcing it was all “VERY GOOD.” 

 

Why only “VERY GOOD”? Why not “Perfect”!?? Why isn’t all that God made in that Genesis explosion of striped beasts, white roses, elephants, kangaroo mice, Fir trees and fin whales----why wasn’t this oh-so-holy just-made shiny creation named------PERFECT? After all, HE had made it; No human had yet marred or disturbed it with their clumsy, imperfect efforts.

 

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But that’s exactly what God wanted. He wanted our clumsy hands, our awkward feet in the ground, on his peach trees, pruning his roses. He wanted First Man’s and First Woman’s eyes, taste, thought, measurement,  to take the “very goodness” of what was given to make it better!! To Make it ----yes, perfect. Not perfect aesthetically----were they capable of this? Are we? But perfect as in: finished. God and man, art-crafting together, in the light of one another, co-creators delighting one another with their handiwork. All of it done out of love and joy. And, I am sure, a lot of laughter and fun. (Can you see this?)

 

So we’re all farmers.  We’re all cultivators, we humans made of humus. We’re all made-in-the-likeness-of-God artists and creators, designed and charged to make something out-of-this-world beautiful out of all the stuff of this world. This is who we are! We who are ourselves God’s poeima, God’s poem.

 

 

 

But----where is our joy? Our creativity? Sometimes Christians are so engaged and enraged in the Culture Wars, we destroy more than we create. (Because it’s easier? Yes. Because we think we’re the moral police-of-the-world? Yes.) Why aren't we tending Creation rather than rending it?

Imagine what would happen if we were known for what we create rather than for what we crush?!?

 

Imagine what could happen if we were known for what we design rather than for what we destroy!

 

Imagine being known for what we joyfully proclaim rather than what we angrily denounce?

 

Imagine being known for our imagination rather than our condemnation?

 

Look how many are already doing this!

Max McClean in The Screwtape Letters

Max McClean in The Screwtape Letters

Return of the Prodigal Son by Carravaggio

Return of the Prodigal Son by Carravaggio

Because, if we don’t sing out----if we don’t paint, write, weave, dig, draw, bake, woodwork, carve, dance, garden, build,---all to the glory of our Creating God, we’ll miss it. We’ll miss joining the chorus of all Creation which is already singing, shouting, clapping, creating; for the heavens themselves are declaring the glory of God; day by day pouring forth speech.”  When WE don’t proclaim the coming of the Lord to every area of Life and Creation, the rocks themselves will shout out!!

Don’t make the rocks grow tongues and hands. Use yours!

God values our human making. He asks us all to make something beautiful of the world he has given to us---for our joy, for His delight, for the "perfecting" of Creation. And yes, even for the "perfecting" of ourselves.

 Go forth this week and bloom beauty into this undone world!

 

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What will you bring into bloom this week?

Storming God's Peace (and Books to Send)

It's a bright freezing day here in Kodiak. The wind is whirling the waters. It's hard passage for the winter fishermen, whose boats can ice and sink. Even in the summers, these waters can be hard passage for us as well!

 

(photos by Carol Scott)

(photos by Carol Scott)

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But come on in anyway. You'll be safe, dry and warm. Though we're sailing treacherous, real waters, I promise a happy ending, and I'm giving away some “Crossing the Waters” .

                                         ********************************

 

When I first came to Kodiak so-long ago, when we were young and ready for anything, Duncan told me a story I didn't want to believe. It had happened just a couple of years before I came. It's Dave's story mostly to tell. And he does share his story with many. But here is the heart of it, and the tiny piece I was honored to experience. 

 

 

Dave and his son Skeeter were winter watchman at a cannery fourteen miles from our island. His father, seventy-one, was living there with him that winter. His father was a Jesus follower who lived as a missionary in the Aleutians in a village of a hundred people, living out Christ among them.

Skeeter was excited his grandfather was there for the season. The two had a special bond. This day was Skeeter’s fourteenth birthday. They took one of the dogs, a black lab, and two rifles to go hunting. It was a calm day. Just a little wind chop on the water. Nothing to even pay attention to.

 

But hours passed and they didn’t return. Dave found their skiff drifting, with the dog and the rifle still in it, and nothing else. They were gone. They had slipped beneath those quiet black waters, waters without a hint of storm or danger that day.

 

On this same day, forty years later, I was there on Dave’s fishing boat. I was visiting Dave, doing research for my new book. I had no idea I would be there on that anniversary. We sat together in the wheelhouse, sailing the waters of the bay they had died under, and talked about God, about why bad things happen.

“I don’t know why I lost my son. I’d been looking forward to having a son since I was twelve years old,“ Dave says calmly with his resonant voice. “I have a friend who says it was Satan. Who says every bad thing that happens is from Satan. I don’t believe that.”

Then in a quieter voice he says, “I found my dad’s body the next day. Where we found their skiff, drifting, down there close to the cannery, there’s a patch of forget-me-not’s that bloom on the beach every year. There, just there and nowhere else in that area. That’s a holy place,” he says, as I close my eyes for the tears. We are silent in the wonder and fear of it.

 

 

Before I said yes to Duncan, that I would marry him and make this island and its waters my home, this was one of the very first stories Duncan told me. He wanted me to know that this place was dangerous. That people could die here, just like that. Just by falling out of a boat on a calm day. He wanted me to know that living here had a cost. Duncan was right.

But no one warned me about the Christian life, that pledging my whole self to this Jesus would not change my world. That life would still be dangerous. That storms would still come. There are so many storms.

What about the storm of fire? Can we trust him through the pain and loss and storm of fire? Because there was a fire. It started in the kitchen in the early hours of the morning, long before anyone was up. But one person, up in the night, saw the house aflame. And my mother-in-law was inside. I wasn’t there, but others were, her eldest son, a handful of crewmen, her youngest son a mile away. They broke the window to get in. One climbed inside, keeping low to the ground. He could not see for the smoke. He could not find her and he could not breathe. He fell back out of the window, heaving. He tried again in a moment, after his breath came back. He could not find her again, and now he might die too, the flames were closer and no air was left to breathe. He fell out for the last time and the house was nearly gone.

 

She was a follower of Jesus. She had loved and served him her whole life, without pause or question. Church organist, church everything, generous, always thoughtful. She loved her life out at Bear Island. She loved the wildflowers, the beaches. What peace could be spoken into this storm?

 

 

From the start, I knew Jesus as a rescuing God who saved me from my self, from my lonely and loveless life, from my own proud and self-sufficient heart. I believe he is with us in every storm, but how many boats have gone down just in this corner of the sea? How many men and women lost when the flames were not quenched, when the waters were not calmed? Yes, so many saved, but so many lost. Even those who knew Jesus. I know he told it straight and often, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” I know that “take up their cross” means to be ready to die. But who can do this?

 

 

I think Wanda could. She lived a life of such service and love, I saw it daily: how she died to self. How in that dying she brought life to so many.

Who knows how God will decide to bring us home? I am trying not to fear that death. My greatest fear is that I will refuse the cross and insist on a private self-adoring life, and I won't even know it. That is the death I fear.

 

 

 

           

There is more to say about this. There is a deeper brighter answer to this question: "Why do bad things happen to good people, to God’s people?" And there is a larger question that lies at the heart of  Crossing the Waters: Following Jesus through the Storms, the Fish, the Doubt and the Seas": "       What IS Jesus calling us to? And---If we decide to follow Jesus with ALL of our hearts, what should that life look like? "  Maybe not what you think.  If you haven't made that journey yet, I hope you will.

 I do want to send some books out this week. If you are part of a Bible study group or book club and you're considering your next read, I'll send one to your group! Just email me (leslieleylandfields@gmail.com) and let me know what your group is and where to send it.  (I also will come and "visit" your group by Skype!)

 
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.        -----Jesus
                 
Dave and I at Harvester Island this last fall. 

Dave and I at Harvester Island this last fall. 

Welcome to My Paradox Party!

Wouldn't it be fun to throw a Paradox Party? When it came time to tell our paradox tales, here would be mine:  

 

"Last Sunday, I led our Home Group in a study of James:

'Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to become angry. For the wrath of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God.'

 

Amen!!

Monday through Wednesday I was gliding on Holy Spirit spirits-----Doing radio interviews (one on parenting), writing articles about Faith, making food for hungry people, pouring love and sweat into my first webinar (on forgiveness), visiting the sick and being such an obsessive, overscheduled sleepless frantic little Church-girl that I woke up this morning grumpy, exhausted, in angry meltdown mode with a Mt. Sinai sized headache, and proceeded to carp at my teenage sons all morning, through the breakfast I didn't fix, and all the way to school, issuing decrees and making the morning just as miserable as possible for everyone. I didn't kick the dog, but I thought of it.

 

Yep. That's me. Holy Bible teacher and Mother extraordinaire!!

 

My only defense is that as soon as I drove home, ate something, took a long nap, woke up, wandered around in my Bible---I felt immediately guilty. Deeply guilty. So guilty I drove to Walmart and bought one son the new underwear he needed and the other his favorite juice (100% cranberry) in the gallon size. AND that night I made their favorite dinner (halibut enchiladas). Thank the God of grace for guilt!!

 

 

 

This is my lifelong struggle, and I cannot quite seem to land on the right spot. It seems I have to careen from an all-in heart-bursting ache to spend every muscle of strength for the half-the-world in so much need (though, God knows, I don't always do this well), to ------Leave-me-alone hibernation. Silence. Retreat. 

We need both, of course. We cannot dwell for long in one without the other.  Maybe today you need what I have craved, and what I have allowed myself these three successive Saturdays, and this next one too, I hope. I want to take you into the mountains, where God has met me and fed my soul such rest . . ..

 

These Saturdays, I traveled through these Kodiak mountains my favorite way:

 

One day I hiked 10 miles into the mountains. Another eight miles. Another nine. These are my prayer walks. I have needed rest that much . . . 

But even here, there in this spectacular land and snowscape, I find it:  

 

Paradox.

(And a pair of ducks)

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Massive mountains scaled by tiny people, small bundles of bones,

 

who are yet unafraid to climb an hour to the summit,

for an hour of snow-stomping, heart-pounding bushwhacking----an hour of sweat for ten minutes of slide. 

Look how we all seek the mountains, their size, that we may disappear into our own insignificance.  (Ahhhhh! how mighty it feels to be small!!)

Here is what I am slowly earning from all those miles.

I'm giving up on the ideal of of a steady, balanced life, a life-on-the-plains kind of life. You know, a life that is regular, orderly, without mountains and valleys, without the high peaks of ecstatic servanthood and the plunging valleys of exhaustion. A life of perfect consistency and regular order. A life without risk. A life without paradox. 

 I wonder if that "regular life" is possible. Or even desirable?

Paul described himself as "sorrowful yet ever rejoicing;" He was "more than a conquerer" who  was often imprisoned. He boasted in God's strength made perfect in his weakness. He led thousands to freedom while he remained a "slave." He preached light in the darkness, love in persecution, grace rather than law. Always, he struggled to serve a mighty God out of a frail human body.    

Isn't this us?? I'll take it ALL, then. The mountain peaks of grace and the pits of my own guilt. The ecstasy of serving God and the agony of my own frailties. I'll take it all. It's hard, this Narrow-gated trail through high mountains, but is there any other path?

 

Yes. There is another way. The path I dread: the wide open gate and the gentle even path

 that leads,

     before we know it,

(softly and surely) 

        to apathy

which is to say,

                to destruction.

 

 

(LORD, let it never be!!)

 

  

 

What paradox tale would you bring to the party??

God Answers My Valentine Whines

Will you get a Valentine this week? Yes!! Here it is! It's fat-free, sugar-free, gluten-free, flavor-free, organic-free, and calorie-free----and, it's free!!

 

(I'm making this lovely chocolate mess for my honeys tonight--except it will be frozen, with ice cream in the middle. Definitely calorie-free!)

And here's another valentine, actually 10 valentines, but this one costs just a little bit. It cost me some honesty this morning. It was a small price to pay though, because God wrote back. I found his answer in the book of Valentines He's already given us.

 

 

 

 

Dear God, where is your peace?  I have no control over anything in my world, not even my own anxiety.

 

                      I will hold you in perfect peace if you fix your mind on me. Don’t be anxious for anything, dear one. Pass it on to me in prayer and with gratitude. If you love my law you will have great peace, and nothing will cause you to stumble.

 

                                                       *****************************

                                                       *****************************

 

 

 

 

Lord, I am afraid; every morning the news delivers turmoil and uncertainty. Where do I run?

 

     "Listen, beloved. I shall cover you with my feathers, and under my wings you will take refuge; My truth shall be your shield and buckler. You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, nor of the nor of the arrow that flies by day, nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, nor of the destruction that lays waste at noon. My right hand will save you.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Father, I am faulty, imperfect, so quick to mess up, to do my own thing.

 

            I know. But I am perfect; and I give my perfection to you, through my son. You stand before me and I see only your beauty. I see you faultless, blameless, pure, righteous.

 

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Jesus, I am uncertain where to stand, where to go, who to be with, how to plan.

 

          I shall direct your paths, daughter, if you trust in me with all your heart. Don’t trust in your own understanding. Acknowledge me in everything you do, and I will lead you saying, “This is the way. Walk in it.”

                                                  ****************************

 

 

 

 

Lord, I am lonely. Does anyone see me? Does anyone understand?

 

I see you, daughter. I know you, son. I see your comings and goings, when you sit down and stand up. I know you entirely. Every one of your days is written in my book. I am your Maker, even your husband. The Lord of Hosts is my name.


 

                                                         ********************************

                                                         ********************************

 

 

 

 

God, I am so needy, just a whirlpool of unfulfilled hungers and vacancies.

 

      I will supply all that you need, precious one. I did not spare my own son, but gave him up for you. Shall I not also freely give you grace and glory? No good thing will I withhold from you as you walk my paths.

 

*********************

 

 

 

 

 

I am trapped, addicted, imprisoned and I don’t know the way out.

 

I have come just for this, to let the captives free. If I free you, you are free indeed. You’re a new creature, child, and because of Christ Jesus, there is no longer any condemnation! But you must walk and live not by the flesh, as if you were still in prison, but by the Spirit.  Look! All things are new!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Father, I don’t spend enough time with you. I’m sorry.

                    

And I never leave you. I am with you always, in all that you do. Whether eating or drinking or walking on the road, you are always in the palm of my hand. I will never let you go.

 

 

 

 

 

I am tired, dragging my daily cross. It’s too much for me to bear.

 

                         I have given you my cross, my yoke, but you are not carrying mine; you are carrying your own, dear one. My yoke is lighter, my burden easier than yours. Come follow after me, do not be afraid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t feel loved or worthy of love. 

 

            Ah, my beloved! I loved you before you were born. I chose you before the earth was made. I have wanted you and loved you always. Nothing can separate you from my love, not heights nor depths, neither demons nor angels, neither fears nor worries; nothing in all of creation can separate you from my love.

Not even you.

 

                                            *************************************************

 

 

SO much more was written, but these words will fill this day. Until tomorrow, when I will need to feast again.   To you, my dear friends, happy week of love!

 

 

 

 

 

Guest Post: Once Frozen, Now Thawed: How God Makes Marriages Beautiful

 

I'd like to introduce you all to Dorothy Greco, a writer who has just released a book on marriage: Making Marriage Beautiful: Lifelong Love, Joy and Intimacy Start with You.  I would buy this book  on its title alone! I wanted to give you all a taste of Dorothy's book, and her wisdom, her honesty which is so rare in marriage books!. (Just read the first line. You'll be hooked!) There's one sentence in particular among these words that slays me and helps me onward in my 39 year old marriage. I think you'll see it as you go.  Many thanks to Dorothy for sharing her wisdom with us today as well as her gorgeous photos. (Dorothy is also a professional photographer.)

 

 

 

There have been seasons in my 25 year marriage when I have not liked my husband. Seasons when our differences became like sandpaper that rubbed holes in my facade, allowing my limitations and flaws to seep out.

One such memorable season happened at the ten-year mark. Due to the onset of chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia, I was floundering in my efforts to homeschool our three young sons and work a few hours a week. My husband Christopher was on staff as a pastor in a growing, urban church. We gave each other crumbs.

But the fault line actually ran much deeper than the circumstances of our life. I entered marriage with unrealistic expectations and as a result, battled chronic disappointment. Growing up, I dreamed of being both romanced and idolized by a man. Christopher equated romance with sappy sentimentality and thankfully, had no intention of idolizing anyone. Because I clung so tenaciously to my wish list, I was unable to see all that was good and godly in him. 

One night as we were on the way to see a movie, we clashed again over my frustrations regarding his lack of romance. He responded defensively and I remember feeling so angry that I contemplated getting out of the car when we stopped at a red light. After the film, which was about a highly creative man (not unlike like my husband) who was serially unfaithful (totally unlike my husband), Christopher communicated that we needed a new script. He too was a writer and has his own idea of what he wanted his role to be. 

Thus began an exceedingly painful season in our marriage. As the weeks turned into months, stubbornness, anger, and pride encased our hearts in ice. Though we shared the same bed, we were on different sides of the Continental Divide. We functioned like a business partnership, avoiding  incidental touch and any semblance of tenderness.

We knew better. We had walked with dozen of couples who were teetering on the brink of divorce. Couples for whom infidelity or addiction or bitterness had ripped a gaping hole in the fabric of their covenant. We were well aware that only a few bad choices separated us from a similar fate.

In the midst of this deep freeze, I had a conversation with a friend who struggled to forgive her husband for his ongoing harshness. One morning as she vented to God about the pain he caused her, she sensed the Holy Spirit ask, “Can you forgive him for my sake? Maybe he doesn’t deserve to be forgiven, but can you do it out of love for me?” That question broke through her resistance and allowed her to move toward her husband again.

My friend’s admonition was like a blow-torch to the ice that surrounded my heart. By God’s grace, I discovered a willingness to let go of my anger and disappointment—not because circumstances had changed but because I loved Jesus. 

It took months of hard conversations, forgiving, and extending grace before all the ice finally melted. I began leaning in toward my husband and then started the hard work of creating reality based expectations which ultimately freed me to appreciate his strengths rather than focus on his weaknesses.

Spring seemed particularly glorious that year. Every flower, every tree reminded me of God’s faithful promise to make all things beautiful—including our marriages. 

Dorothy Greco writes on how following Jesus changes everything. Her new book, Making Marriage Beautiful, is available wherever books are sold. You can find more of her work by following her on Twitter (@dorothygreco), Facebook, or by visiting her website (www.dorothygreco.com). 

UNDAUNTED! Respite for the Weary Wounded

Sometimes the load is too heavy to bear. The load of hurt, the load of not being loved by the ones who are supposed to love us. My heart is heavy this week seeing so many divisions in our nation, and so many struggling in broken families. I know this struggle deep in my joints and bones. Would you like to lay that backpack of concrete down, finally? Here is when I began:

 

 

 

 

 

Three weeks after my father had a stroke, I flew down from Kodiak to be with him, just the two of us. He was in a rehab facility by then. I flew into Orlando, rented a car, and drove to the facility, wondering who I would find, what would be left. The last time I saw him, a few months before, he had all his faculties. He walked painfully slow with a walker, but he was upright and cogent, though he never said much. He barely spoke to me my entire life, or to any of my siblings. I knew something was wrong with him, though I had not yet found the name for his detachment, his inability to love others, even his own children.

 

 

 

This time, I inched down the hallway as I approached his room. I peered around the doorway and saw it was a room for two. A figure lay curled on the bed, and then, through a half-open curtain, I saw another man in a wheelchair. I entered tremulously.

My father was lying on his side, curled knees to chest. He was wearing shorts. His jaw hung open, all his teeth gone now. He was much thinner, yet his legs were solid still, muscular. What do I do? What do I know about this—visiting the sick, the elderly, a father? I felt as if I was supposed to know, but I didn’t. Do I wait? I had come  five thousand miles, and my time was short. I didn’t want to wait. I inched closer to the bed, deciding . . . yes, I would wake him, if possible.

I touched his shoulder through the thin jersey, lightly, and watched his face. I held my fingers there for a moment, and he blinked; then eyes opened. He looked directly at me without moving his head. Seeing me, his eyes filled with tears and, still looking, he began to weep, a silent, shaking weeping, his whole body shuddering as he sobbed, his head still lying on his hands. I froze. I had never seen my father weep—or even teary or sad. He seldom showed emotions. I was torn in half. My face crumpled. I kept my hand on his shoulder to comfort his racking body, and there we were, bodies touching, both shaking in silent sobs, our faces lost in sadness and grief. I knew he could not speak or name the sorrows that shook him, but it seemed to me we wept, the two of us, for his life, for his long, sad life, for his breaking body, his tangled mind, and a tongue that was now nearly stilled. I cried that I had not seen him sooner. I cried for thirty years of absence from his life. We were crying for all that was lost to us both.

 

 

Later, I could not but wonder at this: the stroke had rendered him more fully human than I had ever seen him. I had not expected this: I saw my father through eyes of mercy and kindness. And I was sad as well.

Did it really take a stroke to render him worthy of pathos?

                               ________________________________

Look across now at whatever terrain separates you from your father, your mother, your mother-in-law, your stepfather, even your grandparent. Is it possible that someone is there on the other side of the road, someone like you, stripped, knocked out, unable even to ask for help? Might that person be the wounded also?

I am not insisting as you look that you feel a flood of emotion, as I did in those moments. I am not even insisting on warm feelings. Instead I am inviting perspective.

As you look into your parents’ lives, consider the words of Jesus on the cross as He struggled for breath, His body so bloodied He was unrecognizable. He had done no evil, no wrong at all, ever. Yet He was executed as a criminal. Jesus hung there, pinioned like a dove, and uttered the most startling words ever: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”

 

 

 You may not be able to pray that prayer right now, but consider where it leads us. It schools our hearts in empathy and “trains our spirits in compassion,” as Eugene Peterson has written. More than this, he continues, it allows “for the possibility that ‘they know not what they do.’”8 How many of our parents intended the harm they caused? How many acted in ignorance and are ignorant still? How many are stuck in their woundedness, unable to see, to move?

       This is what we’re doing now. We are training our spirits in compassion. When we do this, we discover or remember again the frailty of our parents, the burdens they bore, the weight of their own parents’ sins upon them. And we’ll find something much larger happening. When we truly see others in all their humanness, we become more alive, more awake, more fully human ourselves.

 

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                                                   *********************************************

(Excerpted from Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers: Finding Freedom from Hate and Hurt

 

 

There is so much  more we can do. Even in just 2 hours. The Lord has moved me to offer this Live Webinar Feb. 22. I'm offering it as affordably as I can---$20 for early registration---so all can attend.    (This is the material I have used in my own life, and in prisons, workshops and churches around the country, with much fruitfulness.)

Would you join us, and lay down that impossible weight of hurt, anger and unworthiness?

(Registration here)

Love is Hard, but Hate is Harder

 

The news passed us by those four days. We did not look or listen. We listened to each other instead. This is one of the joys of writing retreats. (This one the New Smyrna Beach Writer’s Retreat.) 

 

 

We read. We wrote. We sang. We prayed. A room of 12 strangers became a room of friends and confidantes, sharing our highest hopes, our ragged hearts, our quiet dreams to one another. But it could not last. Soon after we parted, the world lobbed its bombs: phone calls, frantic emails, the latest protests, the news from faraway and nearby.

 

Anger crashed in with it, like a fist pounding on the door. And there was hate, too. For entire groups of people, far and next door and out on the street; and you and I became Us and Them and No More. And Over There is Right Here and no one is at home in this strange land anymore . . .

 

If that isn’t enough, Anger calcifies like a rock and goes personal. A fist curled around a rock with your name on it is raised and hurled through your window. Sometimes you don’t even know why. Maybe you posted the wrong picture? Maybe you said a little too much truth. And though you have spent more than your whole life trying to love the rock-throwers, their stones pelt your house now more than ever. And the stones just keep getting bigger.  

 

This is nothing new. King David knew about this. And Abel, and Jeremiah and Stephan and Paul and Jesus and every ancient prophet and man and woman who tried to live right. The stoners were always nearby, poised and armed. 

 

But however ancient this battle, I am tired. I know you are too. In these daily storms, Love is too hard. Love disappoints. Love does not bridge every chasm. My own love wears out. It is not returned. It is misjudged and maligned. I want to give up on loving my neighbors. I don’t want to love the ones who think I am their enemy. I want to give up.

 

I have considered it. But surely hate is harder. How unrelentingly tight you must shut your eyes to the image of God in others! How much Truth you must suppress to give in to fear! How vigilant you must be to guard your heart against compassion! How tiring to believe every conspiracy! How deaf you must be to the voices of children! How hard to shield your soul against the stirring of the Spirit! How loud you must shout to drown the whisper of mercy! How ruthlessly you must pirate every grace and kindness of God to claim as your due! And all those people you’ve locked into boxes, how all-consuming to keep them in that prison!

 

I have not the strength to do this.

 

Do you?

 

How do we keep on loving in the midst of such conflict then? Here, these women and men remind me. If you too are tired, rest for these moments and remember with me what Love can do. And where it comes from. 

 

Maybe we can bend down and pick up that shattered glass.

Maybe we can open our doors

to one another

again.

 

"If there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, being in full accord and of one mind. "     Phi. 2:1-2