Alaska's Disaster & Swooning Over Swans

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This week I am in Texas, speaking at a large church in Victoria. So glad and grateful to pour out the words God has given. And going, always, in weakness rather than strength.

Last week, my husband and I escaped town and our relentless schedules and the flood of bad news on our screen. The national news is so constantly jarring, and now this week, Alaska’s news is just as bad. We didn’t go far——just an hour “out the road,” the one road out of town that winds for 60 miles into breathtaking country.

We were lucky. It was foggy, making our disappearance complete. No one knew we were there. It felt like we were a million miles away.

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What were we escaping? What is “Alaska’s Disaster?” This is not my space to talk about politics, but I’ll give it quick nod. (Fellow Alaskans who disagree, let’s agree on grace toward one another, even if we have different views?) Our new governor got elected by promising every Alaskan a check for $3,000 in their mailbox, their full Permanent Fund dividend. (this is complicated and I won’t explain it here.) He did not, however, while running, ever give us his plan to balance Alaska’s budget, which has been in trouble for some time.

Now he’s threatening a 40% budget cut. What gets cut? Education. Headstart and preschool programs. Forty-one percent of the state university budget. Medicare and Medicaid. Farmers. The state ferry system—-which Kodiak and every coastal community depends on. And so much more. They want it all gone. As if there is no other way . ..

So we get in our car and go.

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We go for a walk along the rime-edged shores of Lake Rose Tead, surely one of the most beautiful lakes in Alaska.

There are bald eagles here in scores. One immature eagle let me walk to the base of her misty tree before she lifted off. Glory!

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And the tundra swans are there. They’re new in the neighborhood. They’ve come down from the north, discovering our Kodiak rainforest, our waters thick with food. Our temperate climate.

Sometimes we drive out to and there’s not a swan to be seen. Today, there were 100. We counted.

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And a funny thing happened. The first flock of swans saw were such wild creatures. So skittish. I snuck and slid and hid among the alders, camera around my neck, wanting just a peek. Just a shuttered moment to catch them. And I did. Four sailing swans stayed long enough to let my lens watch them run, rise, and arrow straight into the foggy skies.

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But the rest of them? The 96 others? I slipped surreptitiously along the edge, noiseless, hunched low . . .. and there they were. I crept closer, expecting them to startle and flee, as the others did. Then closer. They did not attend to me at all. Then I stood at water’s edge, a stone’s throw away and they regarded me not at all. I called to them. They just kept pluming and swanning as if I was not there. For ten minutes I stood there, close, feasting on their wildness wondering why they would not flee from me . . ..

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And then this poem by Mary Oliver, which maybe tells me why.

WILD SWANS

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

——-Mary Oliver

I do belong. Even in the wildest of places. Even in whatever protest I join, to protect Alaska’s elderly, the needy, our kids.

The world and the Spirit of God calls to us all.

This is our family too.

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Love's Record of Wrongs & How Do We Keep Loving?

Oh sweet roses and chocolate, it’s almost V-Day, which is not short for Venge-ful Day! This is about Love! I have many reasons to be smiling this Valentine’s Day. It’s my 41st

with my husband. (And I'm hoping for a 42cd---so I'm also hoping he won't see this post.) 

Here it begins, Love’s (mercifully short) record of wrongs, like this:

#1.

(

Three, count them! coats on the bannister, next to the coat closet. Everyone knows that men are genetically unable to hang up their coat, yes?)

    #2.    If a truck (or a tractor or tires or anything) was good 50 years ago, and it might be good for something else again, why would anyone want to get rid of it? It’s the Alaskan male way:

(Don't be distracted by the beautiful sky. It's still a 50 year old rusty truck full of junk buoys)

#3. Kitchen crimes! Here, notice the position of the silverware?

(Should be

down!

 So they stay clean when you take them out.)

       (Kitchen counters used as office space! Wrong! For further kitchen crimes, go here: 

Who Will Save Us From the Kitchen Wars?

)

And then there are the “Things That Happened”---like, 

#4. When I  was “volunteered” to ride behind an ATV on a piece of plywood on the ground heaped with the mess of offal from two beasts. (We raised our own beef for 35 years out on our fishcamp island.) I hung on for dear life, face inches from the warm guts, trying to keep them from spilling while Duncan roared the ATV down to to beach for disposal.  (no photos of that traumatic event. Here, as close as I get to cattle guts now.) 

#5.  The Banya. The banya,

 a kind of sauna, is where and how we bathe in the summer. But the year we moved to this uninhabited island to build a house, we didn’t have time to build a house AND a banya AND an outhouse.  So---someone in the marriage proposed a temporary solution: Ta daaa!!! A Two-Fer: To combine the outhouse and the sauna in one tiny building.  Yes, flies and smell and all.  I laugh now (after the eyerolls) when I think of hauling all my babies and children out there to get clean, while swatting away the outhouse flies . ..  And don’t worry---it was only for 12 summers.

      (How we bathed before the banya, oh so long ago! .. ..This is part of the record of wrong because when Duncan used to give slide shows of Alaska, he'd sneak this photo in, not telling me of course until I was blown up on the wall in front of 100 Ohio farmers. "Red" was not a bright enough color to describe my face.)

#6. The last: the storms. Yes, all the storms we've fished in, and what happens to the voice and to the marriage in such storms? (We don't fish together anymore. At all.)

      So, how DO we keep loving one another? How DO we keep forgiving one another? We all bear 1000 wounds. All of us. But don't take them back, though sometimes I want to. Sometimes I want to erase whole years. But I can't---and I won't even try. Who are we without those wounds, the places we've been, even the ways we've hurt each other? 

     Even now, it's not 

too late to forgive. It is not too late to heal memories. It is not too late to “remember well.” Each time we return to our past, we have the wonderful chance to reclaim it and tell a truer story. (Okay, I

did

 volunteer for that gut-ride, masochistically). We each can tell a truer story that begins with our human failing (Mine: my failure to communicate.  Yours: not wanting to listen.) A story that sees all the ways we've hurt each other. That recognizes we are sharers alike in what L. Gregory Jones calls the “universal disaster of sinful brokenness.” 

When we "remember well," we will find the presence of God even in the outhouse/banya, and especially in the dark and stormy places. Even in memory, we can find Him there shepherding us toward a better love, a love that can finally disarm the haunting and the hurt of what others have done to us.

Why, my friends, would we choose an emptied past over a healed, reclaimed one? Because we know, even with our mouths stuffed full of chocolate on Valentine's Day, that it is not pain itself that diminishes us; it is our response to it that determines the kind of lives we will live, the kind of people we will be, the kind of loves we will possess and give away.

How do we love each other? Let us count the ways. 

#7. 

Tell us, bless us with one way you have "remembered well"---or loved well this week??!!

An Open Letter to Celebrants of the New York Abortion Bill

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Dear Celebrants,

This week I saw and heard the collective cheers, the triumphant shout in the house, the pink lighting on the One World Trade Center, the smiles as Gov. Cuomo signed the new bill. Wow. Maybe you were cheering for women like me, who found themselves in an unplanned pregnancy at the wrong time of life. Maybe you are imagining how much suffering you can alleviate. Maybe you are thinking this is the ultimate empowerment for women: to free them from the physical and psychological strain of birthing and raising a child.

I know you're proud of this hard-won victory, that now women in New York can end the life of their child at any point in his or her formation for the sake of their own health. That we no longer have to even use the word "abortion," but rather we can speak of it all as "reproductive health choices."

I don't want to argue about the child, the human being in question here. I'd like to think for a moment about your main concern: the health, well-being and empowerment of women, because I believe in this as well.

I’m going to say this straight: I believe you think too little of us women. Are we so weak we cannot bear and birth a child, even in difficult circumstances? When I wrote Surprise Child: Finding Hope in Unexpected Pregnancy I interviewed 100 women from all kinds of backgrounds during and after their unplanned pregnancies. Every woman pressed on past her fears and concerns. Even when they despaired, they did not end their baby's life to end their own anxieties. Through the crisis, they emerged richer, deeper, wiser, more loving. Ask any woman how she feels about her child on the other side of a difficult pregnancy, and she'll tell you: "I can't imagine life without her." Don't exploit women at their weakest. Believe in their strength.

I saw a lot of men in that cheering company. In fact, the New York politicians and lawmakers are mostly men. Perhaps this is an even greater victory for men than for women? No child support payments, no fatherhood responsibilities, which go on for decades. Many women I talked to felt great pressure from their boyfriends, even their husbands to abort their baby. A few did. Is this more about men's empowerment and freedom than women's?

I know you are a supporter of women's rights, and as such I believe you also have a firm conviction against racism. This is a great time in our country, seeing so many working together to eliminate race-based injustices and violence. It's troubling, then, to discover that in New York more African-American babies are aborted than born. I am concerned for that community and all they are losing. Maybe you are as well.

Maybe your focus is larger, more environmental. Perhaps you are worried about overpopulation, about depleting our resources. Our annual population growth rate right now is .7%, less than 1 percent. (In 2016, there were just 62 live births per 1,000 women of childbearing age, an historic low.) Immigration is down as well. In terms of population density, out of 215 nations, the U.S. is 177th in population density. Demographers and economists are deeply worried: Who will fill our jobs, pay taxes, keep our economy viable?

But maybe it's all about women after all. I have no doubt that you would have looked on me with compassion 17 and 19 years ago, when I had a house full of four children already and then found myself in two unplanned pregnancies. You would have wanted to liberate me, to help me act on my fears and insecurities: how could I possibly love and provide for another, then another? How could I birth a baby safely at the ages of 43 then 45? What would happen to my teaching and writing career? My husband is a fisherman and travels much of the time--how could I raise six kids on my own half the time? How can I deal with two more babies out on our Alaskan wilderness island every summer, without toilets or showers? And I would be raising kids into my mid-60's. How could I possibly persevere?

I confess to you that I thought about abortion. If you had escorted me to the doctor at any point, he or she could have easily signed off on my poor health. (The New York law doesn't define what they mean by the mother's "health," but in a companion case, Doe v. Bolton, the U.S. Supreme court defined the mother's "health" as a composite of "physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age" . . . ) I'm glad you weren't there to bring me, at my weakest point, to that doctor for my "reproductive health options."

I'm 61 now. I teach writing workshops around the country. I travel and speak around the world. I'm signing a contract for my twelfth book next week. But none of this is nearly as important as my kids. My two unplanned pregnancies, Abraham and Micah, are now 16 and 18. They’ve enriched my life beyond any system of accounting. They are the bright lights of our entire family. They are creative, generous, kind, smart, hopeful. They are as beautiful and talented as all the other children whose lives have been taken.

Let our children live. Let their mothers grow fierce and strong. Let fathers know their children. Let our country protect all its people again.

(And if you are one of the many whose son or daughter was lost through abortion and you sorrow over that loss, my sympathies are with you. Know that God offers forgiveness and grace. And I offer you prayers and hope.)

Most Sincerely,

Leslie Leyland Fields

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In labor.

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My two surprises, who surprise me still, every day.

If this resonates, would you consider sharing? (Facebook is not allowing me to boost this piece.) thank you!

10 things to Love & Fear (Instead of the 2020 Elections)

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I will not lie to you. It’s been a hard two weeks. I have been mostly silent on social media. Sickness, crummy winter weather, a crazy schedule with too many responsibilities, the January blues times two. (And many of you right now are turning into icepops at below zero temps. Please stay warm and safe!)

And to top these woes, which are likely yours as well, already it begins: the drums are beating for the next presidential election. (Oh no! Please not that! we all say, twitching, blinking, post-traumatically, still scraping slime from our skin, digging mud from our ears.)

When the walls close in this way, I face it like any other spiritually minded person: I make cookies. Then I eat too many. My next strategy, to get me away from the cookies—— I go for a walk or a drive. Would you like to come with me for a moment? Let’s escape to an island in the North Pacific, with just one road out of town, and see what we can see. (Anything but a screen . ..)

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The beauty of this earth reminds me what is real. And what to properly dread and fear.

It is not weakness to fear. We are human, not gods so it is right for us to fear. There are thousands of fears to choose from. And If you do not choose them, they will choose you. So let us choose our fears well.

Because I cannot control others, especially politicians, Here are the fears I choose:


Fear an Impervious Heart,

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that gathers all its muscle into stone walls and safety, refusing to see, to hear, to enter into other’s rejoicing and sorrows, a heart that gains sad strength through dispassion, protection through disaffection, contentment through ignorance.




Fear Hate

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especially the kind that seeps in under your skin and twists your words, clouding your eyes, making all people look alike, turning your hungry neighbor into a far-away stranger, turning the far-away stranger into a faceless apparition, turning every politician into a demon, and everyone who disagrees with you into an enemy.

 




Fear Self-Importance,

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who lies in wait around every corner and soapbox, insisting on attention, elevation, the proper introductions and prostrations---or at least some brief public acknowledgment that we are, in many ways, just a little superior to others. (Oh sigh, Lord forgive me!)










Fear Comfort,

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the sly insistence on "quality," our slavery to the choicest foods, the softest beds, the shortest trails, the plushest cars, the happiest feelings, the brightest churches, the best retirement, the easiest death. 


Fear Authenticity

when it preaches a loyalty to the “true self” above loyalty to any other, and when it finds that self more lovely than any other.

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Fear Satisfaction,

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so much contentment with who we are and how we live we will allow no risk, no change, no growth, no relinquishment of our American rights and our goods, no sacrifice, no reduction in all we know we are entitled to—-because we’re old. (In all we know we're entitled to---because we're middle-aged. In all we know we're entitled to---because we're young.) 


Fear End-Time Prophecy and Despair,

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those clever routes to excuses, that all is  hopeless, nothing can be done,  we can’t help anyway, God is sovereign, the world is soon to end, ignore the human crises, the toxic health of the planet; camp out like Jonah over the world and wait, with gloomy hands folded, for the inevitable (whew!) fiery end. Yes. fear this.

Fear Patriotism

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and its prophets and evangelists who offer national salvation through their political party; who threaten national damnation through the other party; who teach us we love God best by serving our country first. Who blind us to the only kingdom we are called to give our lives to.



Fear the enemy of our body-and-soul

who wants us to believe this life is all there is, so don’t withhold whatever we need to make our short passage safer, happier, more exciting, more successful, more enriching and, above all, more American, meaning, more individually free, prosperous and authentic, no matter what it costs.

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And above all,

Fear the Maker of our Body-and-Soul,

 which is to say, LOVE the Maker of our body-and-Soul.

He is our Father, our Redeemer, our Brother, our Savior,  

our Breath, our Light, our Bread, our Blood, our Hope. Our Lord. 


Fear Him. This is the only fear that dispels death

and every fear

not born of love.

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“Where God’s love is, there is no fear, because God’s perfect love drives out fear. “ 1 John 4:18

Friends, we’re okay. We’re going to make it through the elections.

(If you find some truth here, would you consider sharing?)

wIth love and gratitude,

Leslie

Our Alaska Highway Journey: The Last (and Worst) Leg Home

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I am home in Kodiak now but my spirit is still on the road. I have to show you what the last two days looked like. Maybe this is what it looks like when God is dreaming . . . or was it me?

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But there was no dreaming to be had the last night on the road—-and it wasn’t on the road. It was on this: our regular ferry to Kodiak, the Tustemena (known affectionately as the Trusty Tusty”).

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We left from Homer, 2,800 miles from where we started in Washington the week before. At 8 pm we drove our van on along with a handful of others and sailed out in a nearly empty ship by 10 pm. (January is not a popular month to ride the ferry.)

It’s a 14 hour sailing to Kodiak, with stops in two villages along the way. We booked what is euphemistically called “a stateroom,” which is more specifically a 6 x 9 shoebox you can barely turn around in, with stacked beds and a diminutive sink.

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I did not sleep 40 winks. Or 20. There was little wind, but there was sea. So there we were, plunging our way through open seas like a bedeviled rocking horse. I did not last long in the shoebox bunk, rolling from side to side with every sink and rise. I climbed down and found my way through the nearly empty ship to a chair in the dark. I rode that horse all night across the sea with one hand over my mouth, the other over my stomach, while a man noisily coughed and spewed in the restroom nearby. It wasn’t fun.

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(And the seas weren’t nearly as rough as in this crossing.)

As the bow plunged in the swells, the spray would shoot to the third level windows beside me and instant freeze. The next morning, light came by 10 am, revealing some evidence of our trip.

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By noon, the waters had calmed. Kodiak’s shores were approaching. We steamed past the dry dock, to the city dock. Home. And maybe sleep.

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I slept 12 straight hours that next night.

THANK YOU to the many friends who prayed us home (through many a danger, toil and snare!)


HOME. Over the years, I have thought about home a lot, since I am often coming and going from it. No matter where I am, no matter what country I’m in, or what boat or plane or house I’m inhabiting, come night fall, I am looking for home. I am wanting home. I am needing home. And maybe you are too?

So we prepare. As evening comes, we empty our hands of tools, we leave our books, our screens; we close the check book. We rid ourselves of every little thing then lay our bodies down. If we can, we exercise our greatest leap of faith: we let loose our muscles. We still our brains. We give ourselves up, we give ourselves over to the hardest work of all: we fall. With arms outstretched we slip backwards into the sea.

How can we do this? Who will hold us above the waters, the waves, the icy spray? Who will keep us breathing? Who will carry us? Who will ferry us across?

God will. Every night we fall into the sea of God’s love and mercy, and we are held. We are home.

And if there are times you cannot leap, you cannot fall, if there are times you sit up all night on a rolling sea, gripping the arm rests in the dark,

even then, still

God will ferry you Home.

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Write here…

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Friends, how do you experience the presence of God at night while sleeping (or not)?

Report from 40 Below (and some kind of miracle)

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We’re in Tok, Alaska tonight. It’s -35. But our car temp hit an even lower number this morning. (see below) The radio station in Whitehorse, where we stopped last night, kept issuing Extreme Cold Warnings. Yes, we are driving the Alaska Highway in the coldest week of the winter. (That was not part of the plan. Do you know how long you can walk briskly at -36 before you go numb, even with double and triple layers? Ten minutes.)

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The sun did not rise until 10:30 and it set by 3:00. Yet such beauty in those few hours! It is magical country, this, and I am glad to see it in the winter. I have been as breathless as the air is still. And such silence. We have been nearly alone in it. All day today we passed maybe 10 cars.

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But we are worn out from these miles and so is our car. We have two divots in our windshield. It’s stressful driving on snowy, icy roads, yet still needing to make time because the daylight hours are short and we MUST make our next destination. We are trying not to think about breaking down or sliding off the road. The margins are thin. We are leaning toward home—-hoping to walk through our front door in 3 days. (And I am praying, “Please, Lord, calm the waters for that infamous 12 hour ferry ride to Kodiak??)

But we have not been alone. I must tell you about a little miracle that happened along the way.

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I was driving. We were passing through Fort Nelson and we needed gas. I pulled into a Husky station but then saw it was “full service.” Thinking the gas would be more expensive, I was just about to pull away when Duncan said, “Oh never mind. Let’s just get gas here.”

Duncan got out and began to fill the tank. A young man approached, ‘Hey, how are you?” Duncan tried to wave him off, but he persisted. A minute later I hear, “What’s this in your tire?”

Duncan and I come over and stand beside him, peering. I could hardly see it, but there was indeed something red, jammed between the tire and the rim. What on earth?

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We gaped for a moment, puzzled, then he said, “I’d get that checked if I were you. There’s a tire shop right over there” and he pointed.

What if the tire shop wasn’t open? What if we had to wait for hours? It would be dark soon and we’d miss covering all those miles. We had to try. The shop was open. And——-they had room for us just at that moment. They gestured us on through the sliding door into their warm bay.

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The young man popped our tire off effortlessly and came back with a sideways smile holding out something in his hand.

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A pen. And it was no mystery where it came from. The guy at the Tire-Rama in Spokane who mounted our new tires wasn’t paying attention. A pen fell from his pocket while working. That pen lay in the bead of our front tire for 1200 miles, 1200 frozen miles over bumps, ice, sharp corners, from Spokane, Washington to Fort Nelson, British Columbia.

I know what could have happened. What maybe should have happened with a pen in our tire. The tire should have leaked. It might have blown out anywhere along those miles. Two days ago we passed a car beside the highway. On it’s side, half-crushed with the roof off. They had to cut off the roof to extricate the people.

Every day as we have been driving, we are reading to one another. We’re both doing the One Year Bible this year, so we’re reading in Genesis, in Matthew, in the Psalms. About the God who uttered the world into beautiful molecular existence and sighed, “Very Good” when it was done.. About the God who saves and protects. About the God who dared to enter this fractured world as an infant, come to rescue us. And while we are reading, our tires whirling on ice and snow in the frigid wilderness, somehow the compromised tire holds. Somehow the bead holds. Improbably the tire holds. Then I pull into a full service station—a place I would never have chosen—-where an attendant saw what we never would have seen.

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I have been rescued and delivered so many times in this lifetime, over tens of thousands of miles of travel around the world, in a tiny boat alone at sea in a winter storm, at gun point in Guatemala and everywhere in between. And so have you, no matter where you live or where you’ve traveled. And we have no idea how many more times we’ve been saved from disaster without even knowing it.

Dear friend and reader, Do not doubt that your life has purpose. Do not doubt that you are alive because God desires it so. He has good work still for you to do. And He has so much of his own goodness and wonder to delight you with even on this side of heaven.

Are you watching? Are you seeing?

What a Very Good year lies ahead of us! Yes our cars are overloaded. Yes the roads are sometimes lonely and long. Yes, we are driving through tumultuous political times. Yes, we are all riding on compromised tires! But we’re all headed home.

And we SHALL arrive.

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(But maybe calm the seas just a little on the ferry?)

(Yes, this is our ferry arriving in Kodiak a few years ago.)

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After the Wedding, Driving into Alaska and the (Scary) New Year

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My daughter, my eldest and only daughter, just married an amazing man.

From start to finish it was an utterly unique and worshipful wedding. Naphtali designed her own dress. Her brother Abraham composed and performed a wedding march written just for her. I (and some stalwart assistants) made the wedding dinner (yes, involving salmon!). Aaron’s family made the dessert (A Maine staple: Whoopie pies). The week of celebration was glorious in every detail. 

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The ceremony ended with Aaron and Naphtali shedding their wedding shoes for workboots: (hers, Xtra Tuff, of course. His, Wolverines.) Together now, man and wife, they walked out of the church shod for the beautiful labor of building a life together.

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And now, the wedding is over; the new year begins, and another adventure begins for us as well: Duncan and I are driving home. We'll start in Spokane, Washington and will take the Alcan highway to Homer, Alaska, where we'll catch the overnight ferry to Kodiak.

 It's somewhere between 2,600 and 3,000 miles. Not so far, but it's winter, the dead-heart of the dark of winter in the coldest of countries.  Our route will look something like this. 

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I LOVE road trips, (even after our 15,000 mile road trip last year) but this trip is mostly about need: we bought a used van in Washington (because our 22 year old van has used up it's Vehicular Resurrection Quota) and now we need to get it home.

 This is my 4th or 5th journey on the Alcan. We drove it once from Florida to Alaska in December, when I was pregnant with my daughter, 31 years ago. We hit -40 temps all through the Yukon. As we prepare for this trip, everyone ends their goodbye’s with the words, “travel safe.”

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 I suspect that most of you are not drooling with envy as you envision our shivering journey North. But standing in the first week of this new year, I am thinking about more than this. This odd-numbered year looms like a distant frigid country with few roads and many glaciers and threats along the way. Our car is so small, the snow is so deep, the temps are so low, the sun is so dim and the destination is so far. 

 Will we really travel safely?

Who doesn’t want to be safe? In God’s Book, so many men wrote about safety, about rest, about deliverance and comfort. Drink these in (again) because they are true, so true:

King David: “I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. . . my body also will rest secure.”

Paul: “But the Lord stood with me and gave me strength . . .  Yes, and the Lord will deliver me from every evil attack and will bring me safely into his heavenly Kingdom.” (2 Timothy 4: 17-18)

Jesus: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.”

Daniel: "My God sent His angel and shut the lions' mouths and they have not harmed me . .”

Peter: “ . . . you . . .through faith are shielded by God’s power . . .

David: “I cried out to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy mountain. I lay down and slept, yet I woke up in safety, for the Lord was watching over me. I am not afraid of ten thousand enemies who surround me on every side.”

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But the men who wrote and believed these words about safety were chased and hunted by sword and horse. They were stoned and imprisoned, encircled by ten thousand enemies and hungry lions. Some were tortured and killed.

No one in God’s Redemption Story lived a safe life. And yet every word they spoke about safety was true.

 They could not know about safety unless they knew about danger.

When we sit huddled in our locked houses behind our gated walls, if safety is our first concern, even then we will not feel safe enough.

Dear friends, our greatest need as we journey through 2019 is not to feel safe. Our greatest need is to be secure.

And because my security is the explosive power and love of Jesus, that overwhelms my own weakness and fear, I can go anywhere he leads. I can do anything he asks.

And so can you.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;

and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.

When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned;

the flames will not set you ablaze.

——-God

This is the life we’re meant for.

Let’s make 2019 a year of boldness, of courage, of crossing fires, rivers and oceans in the beautiful name of Jesus.

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What are some ways you know God is calling you out of safety into security?

What is one “river” you now God is calling you to cross in 2019?





Light into Night: The Monstrously Human God

Welcome, new day. 

It is a December day like most December days. A month like any other month. Yet into this grey breaks a cloud hovering, a cloud glowing beneath. Hark. Halt. A piece of light, a shiver of sun glows the sky over the spruce. Maybe Christmas will come today.

And it does. I found him again this morning---no, he found me. 

He crooked his finger and drew me close, close enough for tears close enough to steal breath. "You? You did this? You did this---for us?"

Incarnation

by Amit Majmudar

Inheart yourself, immensity. Immarrow,

Embone, enrib yourself. The wind won't borrow 

A plane, nor water climb aboard a current,

But you be all we are, and all we aren't.

You rigged this whirligig, you make it run:

Stop juggling atoms and oppose your thumbs.

That's what we like, we like our rich to slum.

The rich, it may be, like it too. Enmeat

Yourself so we can rise onto our feet

And meet. For eyes, just take two suns and shrink them.

Make all your thoughts as small as you can think them.

Encrypt in flesh, enigma, what we can't

Quite English. We will almost understand.

If there are things for which we don't have clearance,

There's secrecy aplenty in appearance.

Face it, another word for skin is hide.

Show me the face that never lied.

And I see it. Or at least, the sun that comes from that face. It rises this morning, over the sea, the houses, the spruce. The audacity of sky finally blue, and we remember again-----

We have met.

He has shared all of these atoms from his whirling hands with us.

He is enribbed like us,

his eyes are bright as suns, like us,

He is altogether a bony bloody contraption as monstrous and wondrous as us . …. 

Oh God! That you should BE a baby. For us. To come and meet us so.

And so comes the light.

The world cries, newborn.

I cry. New born.

Light into night. Light into flesh. Light upon light. 

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Dearest Friends, from my house, my heart to yours: May Christ be born in us today.

                      Always,

Leslie

This Season, What to Give When You Have Nothing to Give

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Do you feel a bit bereft of Christmas Spirit this year? Or—-just wondering what you can give that would be meaningful? This is for you. First, a story.

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When I was 12 I went reluctantly to a birthday party. Karen was two years younger than me and I didn't know her that well, but there were few parties in this tiny town and there would be cake. Which meant sugar, and we didn't have much of either at my house.

         We sat around the kitchen table, six of us. After the birthday serenade, I ate my cake slowly, letting the frosting melt in my mouth. Karen began tearing open her presents. I stopped eating my cake. The gifts were lavish, to my eyes. Model horses, a dollhouse, toys from department stores. The kind of toys we didn't have. I wasn't jealous—-these were things for other people, not for us, but I sat in dread. And then--there it was, my present. It was a book, a fifty cent paperback I had just received from Scholastic Books. It was meant for me---a book about a horse. My family had no money for a present and I had nothing else to give her. Karen’s family wasn't rich but they owned the local store. I knew it was a pathetic present, almost an insult. But I had one more thing to give—-I had a dollar. That was all the money I had right then, one limp wrinkled dollar bill and I had no way of making more. I placed the dollar in the middle of the book. I had wrapped my entire fortune in newspaper, tied a ribbon I had found somewhere around it all and brought it to the party.

Karen held the book indifferently, flipped through it, saw the dollar, "Thanks Leslie" she said perfunctorily and it was over. But I felt the heat of shame flush my face. It was the worst gift at the table, just like at every birthday party I went to. And--I had given it not out of generosity, but out of fear and embarrassment.

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 In this season of giving. what if you have little to give?

 What if you're sad, dealing with the death of someone you loved?

What if you have few resources to buy gifts this year?

What if you're not jingly with merriment this month of wintry dark and cold?

What if you don't decorate for Christmas this year at all?

What if you're a tiny bit resentful for the thousand things you're supposed to carry off this holiday season for everyone else?

What if some of your gifts are given out of obligation and avoidance of shame rather than love?

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That makes you just like everyone else. And if you’re on the other end, if you’re a Christmas magician and a godly fairy-mother, this is for you, too. Because these are three things we ALL need this season. These are three things we all can give this season:

 

*Give the truth.

Last night a dear friend called and asked how I was. "Kinda lousy, actually," I told her. I told her why. I told her about not sleeping, about the rain and the dark, the book, teenagers, the season. I had to say it. It costs too much to pretend. She heard me and spoke back. I was not alone.

 I'm not telling you to cry on every shoulder you see. I'm not telling you to wallow in self-pity. But allow yourself to speak the truth of your struggle to your nearest friends. Pema Chodron writes, "How did I get so lucky to have my heart awakened to others and their suffering?" Let trustworthy hearts be awakened. Truth in all its forms is a gift. Friendships don’t survive without it.

 

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*Give Stories.

No matter how old they are, tell your children stories of when they were young. Let them love the stranger who is their younger self and let them see your love for her too. Tell your own growing-up stories---about Christmas, about school, the memories that make you laugh. Without family stories, we are exiles in the present, marooned without context, without history. Even sad stories can contain beauty and comfort. Pass it on. When there is only silence about the past, we wander, homeless searching for somewhere to belong. Giving your children a heritage is giving them a home.




*Give Generous Words Generously

No matter your bank account, no matter if you live in a travel trailer at an RV park or a mansion on the mountains, you possess something priceless: the power and the ability to speak even the dead back to life.  You know the words we wait our whole lives to hear. Maybe these are words you yourself have not heard. Don't make people wait as you have had to wait. Tell them now:

"I love you."  

"You're amazing."  

"You're such a good father."  

"You're an incredible son."

 "I'm sorry." 

"You're the most caring person I know."

"You're so beautiful: outside-in and everywhere."

"I'm so proud of you."

"I forgive you. Will you forgive me?"

 "I'm always here for you."

*And, there’s a fourth. Maybe the most important:

GIVE the reason for the hope that is within you, especially if that hope is Jesus.

When we do these things, we’re doing something that echoes that first Christmas: we’re giving a touch of Jesus.

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This year, in this space, I hope I have done this for you, friends? I have tried—-To speak the truth, the truth of my own life and struggles, and more essentially, the truths of God; to Tell Stories that help us all find home, and to speak Generous Words, to let you know you are heard and seen and loved.

And, remarkably, you have done the same for me.

I thank you, I thank you from a holey and grateful heart.

 

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What did I miss? What else can we give, though we are poor in purse or heart? 

 

 

How Alaskan Animals Pray (and 7 "Wonder Years" Winners!)

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(Wonder Years Winners Below!)

Some animals get all the luck. This time of year, think of all the attention given to donkeys, camels, sheep, goats and any other creature whose likeness attends and protects every baby Jesus, every Nativity scene. Were they even present that night that God broke into the world through the screams and the body of a teenage girl?

I don’t know, nor do I know if dogs and cats go to heaven, but I do know that animals are beloved. I know that creatures high and low, hairy and slithering were spoken into being before us in that resplendent first garden.

So this Christmas season I am thinking of animals, the animals around me in Alaska. Most mornings I sit over the ocean, reading my Bible, watching the eagles and otters. I tire of human antics and long for something purer. This is the real news of the day, not the Internet news, not the radio news. When I am watching these creatures I feel as though I am watching bodies and beings at prayer. They seem to be praying the words that I love and stutter nearly every day.

Here they are, my animal neighbors who move me to pray with them.


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


Our Father who art in heaven,

Glorious, honored, loved, hallowed be your name.

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(May we always cherish it in our hearts and keep it holy.)

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Reveal your kingdom among us, here, now,

in ocean, tree, bush and sky.
Cause your every purpose to be fulfilled on earth,
 just as it is fulfilled so perfectly in heaven.

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We acknowledge you, Father, as our generous Provider
  so we ask, would you give us each day the food that we need—

(but no more, no less so we live by trust more than by food?)

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And would you forgive us the creaturely wrongs we have done,

the debts we owe, the ways we have hurt others 

as we ourselves forgive and free those who have wronged and hurt us?

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Please rescue us, deliver us when we face tribulations, temptations,

when we are drawn away from you rather than close to you.

Please rescue us from the destroyer, that evil one.

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We ask you all this

because you are the King

and this holy kingdom is yours,

power and majesty and strength is yours

glory and honor and praise is yours.

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Forever and always,

 Yes and amen.

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

Amen.


THE WONDER YEARS WINNERS!

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Friends, it was SO wonderful to hear from so many of you last week! What a treat! I know I said I was giving 3 books away, but I’m giving 7 instead. (I would give you ALL a book if I could! But maybe it would make a great gift to your over-forty friends for Christmas?)

Please contact me here (Leslieleylandfields@gmail.com) with your mailing address and I’ll get a copy to you asap!

*Karen Worley

*Lula Cobb

*Jane Stewart

*Yvonne Mollica

*Katie Husby

*Lance Aldrin

*Darrell Davis

Congratulations!! May the words in those pages enrich and prosper your soul!





Surviving Earthquakes, Volcanoes, Bears, and Birthdays (& "Wonder Years" Giveaways!)

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Oh my, It was a busy week, complete with yes, all of this in one form or another. Every one of these can kill you (yes, birthday’s included!) First, the earthquake. It was 9:30 am. I was sitting on my bed writing. Somewhere between sentences——a jolt! Then a rattle and shake. In the first half second my body is all nerves and senses. Washing machine or earthquake? The second second—-Earthquake!! How long? I count . . . “three, four . . .” and then it’s over.

It was a 5.7. The epicenter was very close to Kodiak but it was felt all the way to Eagle River, 300 miles away.

Kodiak (and Alaska in general) knows all about earthquakes, since we sit on the Ring of Fire. We had a 7.9 last February in the Gulf of Alaska, prompting everyone in low-lying areas in Kodiak to evacuate to higher ground—at 1:30 am. Earthquakes are just a part of life here. In 1964 downtown Kodiak was wiped out by a Tsunami, generated by the second largest earthquake ever recorded—-a 9.2.

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(UPDATE: 3 days later: Another earthquake, 7.0 then 5.3 near Anchorage. Tsunami alert—-sirens going all over town to evacuate. We evacuated to the high school—-wandered the high school and admired everyone’s dogs . .. then home 45 minutes later. But tons of damage in Anchorage.)

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Volcano! This last week, while we were thawing our turkeys, one of Alaska’s eight active volcano’s erupted. Mount Veniaminof is down the Aleutian Chain. It spewed ash 15,000 feet into the air, sending a plume of ash 250 miles—-not a big eruption, but enough to say “Hey, don’t forget about me.” Alaskans roll their eyes when volcanoes erupt—-that means not only harmful ash fall, but grounded planes. Most of us have been stuck for multiple days because of eruptions.

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BEARS!!

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We lock our doors at night for 2-legged and 4-legged thieves. I talked to a police officer this week who said last year he went out on just a handful of calls the whole year for nuisance bears. This year they respond to multiple reports every night. The bears are refusing to hibernate it seems, especially when there’s a fresh supply of garbage offered right out on the street for them every week. (WHY and whose fault is this? I talked about this here ).

The bears are everywhere around town—-near schools, stores, in people’s garages and hen houses. An elementary school went on lockdown when a wounded bear was on the loose nearby. No one walks in the dark anymore. It seems nearly everyone has had an encounter. Rubber bullets no longer work.

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And birthdays!! We had two this week, the day after Thanksgiving. My youngest son was born on my 45th birthday. This year Micah turned 16 and I turned 61. (Every 11 years we have an inverse birthday!) And THANK YOU to all who sent me good wishes and non-caloric photos of yummy cakes, which I was happy not to eat!

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I am happy to be 61. I’m excited and grateful to be 61. I am still a child. My life is just beginning, whether I live for 5 or 35 more years. I have SO much still to learn!

The death I fear is not by earthquake, volcano or bear attack. The death I fear is by birthday. I don’t mean catching fire from the blaze of 90 candles aflame on the cake. I mean the slow sad sink into despond, into isolation, Into cynicism and bitterness for all the world did not deliver to my door. THIS is death: when I separate myself from the love of God and the love of others. When I forget who my Creator is and all He has done in my life. When no one is my neighbor but me.

This death can pounce with razor claws at any moment. It can rattle our beds, shake down our walls, erupt in an explosion of choking ash. Or it can creep silently, one candle at a time until the house burns down.

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Oh Lord, save me!

Let us remember, as long as the Lord gives breath and heart, that

The JOY of the Lord is our strength. The MISERY of our reclusive heart is our death.

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Ps. 73:26)

(Tonight, as I write these words, the skies echo their truths.)

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********************************************************************
GIVEAWAYS!

Maybe some of you need this book, The Wonder Years: 40 Women Over 40 on Aging, Faith, Beauty and Strength? It tells the truth about aging AND cheers and guides all of us onward into a richer fuller life, no matter how aflame our cake!

If you’d like a copy, tell me why—-and leave your email address in the comments below. I’ll draw 3 names on next Tuesday! Happy birthday? Love to you all!

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This Thanksgiving, Why I Need Your Wine (I Really Do!)

I am home for Thanksgiving this year, back from a lot of wanderings. So begins my winter life (Soon this will be my view out my kitchen window). 

In the travels of the last two years, people have been so kind. I have feasted and been fattened. By all of this, I am flattened.

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        This time, for once, I am not emptied and exhausted, thinned to a reed of need----but full. Overflowing. Wine running down the cut-glass sides.

In the OT, Samuel writes,

He brought me forth also into a large place: 

       he delivered me, because he delighted in me. 

I have felt that delight, though so often I doubt (God delights in me, in us??? My stubborn Calvinism protests. My bone-deep unworthiness refuses . ..)

But Samuel's words go on:

The Lord rewarded me according to my  righteousness: 

according to the cleanness of my hands hath he recompensed me.

 For I have kept the ways of the Lord, 

           and have not wickedly departed from my God.

My Calvinism protests even stronger.  No, not according to my righteousness has He rewarded me! No, not according to the cleanness of my hands. Have I really kept the ways of the Lord? I know myself too well . ... . No, it is nothing but mercy, nothing but astonishing mercy that He attends to me, rescues me, drenches me. 

(And so much of the time, He does this through YOU! Through ALL who have fed me)

And here I would rest---savoring and greedily gulping, swallow by swallow, all I had been given. 

Then the phone rings. Then the email. Another email. Another phone call. 

I am ready.

The cup tips. Wine spills. Prayers fall out, for healing, for a friend's daughter in the hospital, for a struggling son, for the victims of the fires, for a friend pouring out Jesus in a hard, far-away place. Cookies are made. A package mailed. Tears spent. My heart bent with the hurts of others. 

But Bent gladly. 

Spilled gladly.

Here is what I have to say this week of Giving Thanks, today, though surely you know it already. Don't cover your cup. Let others pour in. Receive as from the Lord. (Yes, He DOES delight in you! Never mind your Calvinism that delights in groveling unworthiness.) 

And then don't hoard it. Especially this week. Don't drink it all. It's been given to you so you have something to give to others.  Invite them to your table. Even now. (Even AFTER Thanksgiving.)

It’s not too late.

The freed man standing before the King who would not free others? 

The blessed man kneeling before the King who would not bless others?  

The glutton given a feast with the King will not share with starving others?

This will not be us.

As you tip your cup this week, the drink you pour will fill ten 

more, a hundred more glasses, and like that, 

never will an end come to the feast 

begun by One.

Cheers!

(And pass it on here! How have you been emptied and filled this week? You may yet fill an empty glass even now . . . )

The Biggest Boot in the World, the Let-Down of Missions, AND--3 Invitations

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I don’t want to talk about Kodiak yet, where it’s raining and blowing, and where we barreled in for a rocky landing in the midst of a storm a few days ago.

And I don’t want to write about the elections. (My guy lost.)

My body is still in Mongolia. Today we’re all about superlatives and world records. So—-here it is. The biggest boot in the world! You’d better sit down for this . ..

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Of course it’s a Mongolian boot. You’ll find it housed beneath the biggest equestrian statue in the world featuring the national hero Genghis Khan, who conquered and ruled over the second largest empire in the world, EVERYTHING about this monument is gaspingly massive and impressive, including the horizon-stretching steppes the Khan presides over.

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(You can see that late October is a very good time to visit the sights. There were about 10 other people there.)

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(Are you still thinking about your candidate who lost? Okay, then, on we go! There WILL be a point to all this!)

THEN—-there is the Gandan monastery in Ulaanbataar, housing an 82 foot gold-covered statue of “The lord who watches in every direction” (Megjid-Janraiseg). It took five years to build. It weighs more than 20 tons, is covered with brocade embroidered with gold, and with more than 220 pounds of silk. The statue contains 2286 precious stones, 27 tons of medicinal plants, 334 sutras and 2 millions mantras.

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It’s impressive.

People come, bow, give money, spin the prayer drums, touching every one of the hundreds of barrels, each one rolled tight with scrolls of holy writings . . . The writings are written and chanted in a language the listeners and drum rollers cannot understand—-Tibetan.

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So You don’t have to pray. You just spin the drums.

And you don’ t have to listen to the monks chanting the Sutras——because they’re chanting in a language you don’t understand (Tibetan)

But people come anyway. They come and bow and pray and listen and give money—-because they have so much hope. So much need.

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Everything in Mongolia feels massive. Singular. Special. Record-breaking. And heart-breaking, too.

This most of all——-this longing to be known, to be seen, to be heard . . .. This is why so many there are finding Jesus, this personal God who wants to speak to them, who wants to hear from them. A God who forbids statues of Himself because he is living, not dead. He inhabits not idle idols, but the living hearts of his people. This God comes that close.


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But I am not in Mongolia anymore.

I am home now, cooking salmon dinners, cleaning toilets, herding skittering dust-bunnies off the floors, trying work and write. It’s a let-down, you know? Back to the same old ordinary life. And that let-down can feel as overwhelming and huge as the statue of Genghis Khan, (without the metallic shimmer).

We love going out on mission trips. We love it because we go in Jesus’ name and in his heart-conquering love. We brave the days of planes and eat strange foods we’d never eat at home. We fall in love with another culture, fearlessly proclaim the truths of God’s words, watch Him work in astonishing ways. And when it’s over we fly home and scrub floors and clean toilets wondering, “Did that really happen?”

So here’s what I know about the Let-Down of Missions: If we can go out into all the world in Jesus’ name, then we surely we can come home in Jesus’ name, too. That’s what I’m trying to do. To inhabit this family, this house, my church and my town with the same fierce sweet intentions of Love as I left it.

This post is part of that intention. To make sure you know that your work and my work in our everyday houses is beautiful and good and brave as well. And as full of Jesus as a yurt-church filled with raised hands singing.

I’m right there with you, one hand on the broom, the other raised, singing.

“So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.”

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And YOU ARE INVITED THREE TIMES! There are some pretty great ways coming up for us to meet and eat and sing and sweep the floor together!

ONE

I’ve got a brand-new 4 day writing retreat happening in February in PALM SPRINGS (think—-desert beautiful sun in the middle of winter!). We’ll be an intimate group of 15 meeting in a lovely house on a golf course under the San Jacinto mountains. I’d love to see some of you there—from very beginning writers to advanced writers. (I’ll give a discount of $150 off for any of my wonderful blog readers if you mention this post!) More info here.

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TWO

AND—don’t forget Alaska! I have a Spirit of Food Retreat in July that’s going to be AMAZING! With Food Network star Melissa D’Arabian and Norm Wirzba, an expert on Food, Theology and Creation Care. We’re going to fish, forage, cook, sizzle, whale-watch, pray, sing, hike, learn to smoke salmon and so much more. And what are we going to eat? Fresh salmon, crab, scallops, shrimp, halibut . .. (Note: It’s already half-filled.)

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THREE

And of course the incredible Barbara Brown Taylor is coming to HIWW 2019 as well! (Also already half-filled.)

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Thank you friends. I very much hope to see some of you in one of these gorgeous places!

So Gratefully,

Leslie










Can You Really Have Church in a Yurt?

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I knew I was preaching in a church on Sunday but I had no idea I would be preaching in a yurt. I did not find out until we were in the far outskirts of Ulaanbaator, Mongolia and the car drove down a deeply rutted dirt path to park near a yurt. Here? I get to be here? This church was just a year old, and composed mostly of nomads who had left the Steppes for the city, in hopes of a better life. Most of the believers were new converts. There was nowhere else I’d rather be.

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I could tell the story of this day——of these amazing hours worshipping with these brothers and sisters. I could tell all about the singing, the prayer, the message, the laying on of hands and praying for the ill ones, and after, the feast of mutton dumplings, minced salad and milk tea in bowls. Everything about it was heavenly-humble, simple-beautiful.

 
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And how they hung on every word—- as if these words from Jude about “Keeping Our Faith” were bread, meat, milk, water and life. Because they are. And they know it. Everyone who could took notes.

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But I want to tell THEIR stories, and their questions because we need to remember from them. We need their stories and words perhaps more even than they needed mine. Are you ready?

This woman had been a a Buddhist her whole life—-75 years. She moved from the steppes here to this place, near the city. She had two goats and needed a place to graze them. But it’s not easy to find grass. She brought them to the yurt church because there was grass in the enclosure no one was using. She brought her goats there every day. One day the people of the church invited her in. She came. She had never heard of this Jesus. And soon she brought her husband. They have known Jesus now for almost a year.


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Another elderly woman was invited to church by her daughter. She heard about Jesus for the first time. She could not read but she memorized the Lord’s Prayer. She went to visit her son in the hospital, who had liver disease from drinking so much. He lay in bed for 2 years. The doctors could do nothing for him. She came and began to pray the Lord’s Prayer over him, because that’s all she knew. And he began to get better and better.

He left his bed. He’s one of the leaders of this church now. He was a bad man before, he told us. He drank all the time, fought, was angry, spoke bad words. I looked at his face, All that was gone, He was now a man of peace who loved Jesus and cared for the people in his church.

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One more. A woman who spent her life drinking, angry, fighting, desperate. A single mother with no job, then her daughter invites her to church and suddenly she hears a worship song for the first time. She hears about a God who is not far away, a God who is not dispassionate but who loves HER, who has come to be her LIFE. Her frozen heart melts for the first time. She could not stop crying. Now she is in full time ministry.

I have heard so many stories here of a saving God, a merciful God, a miraculous God who saved one life after another. And do you know the questions they asked of us this day? One woman has many grown children. They are all Buddhists, as are most Mongolians. “What happens to people after they die if they don’t know Jesus?” she asked, her one good eye fixed on mine. Another woman is afraid that after she dies her children will cremate her body and give her a Buddhist ceremony. “What will happen to me if they do this?” she asked, with worry on her face.

The men, all of whom were fathers asked us softly, “How do we become good Christian fathers?”

Wayne, Caron and I answer the best we can. They take notes of every word we say.

After these hours together, we leave, our hearts so full, my eyes overflowing.

Remember this? Remember your first faith? Those burning questions? Remember when you went to church because it brought life to you? Remember taking notes? Remember how it felt to truly KNOW you were God’s beloved? Remember when you trusted only in Jesus, nothing else? Remember when you had no hope but In Christ?

It’s not too late to recover that faith.

Please pray for these sisters and brothers in Mongolia. Their faith is strong, but there is much sickness, poverty and need.

And pray for us, the American church, that we would turn from our riches and our distractions, that we would return to our first love,

the only Love.

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(Do you know someone who would be blessed and fed by these stories and faces? Pass it on?)

Awake, Alive (and Exhausted) in Mongolia

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I am still in Mongolia, but I have heard the news from the U.S. this week: the shooting, the bombs, the black fruit of hate. I invite you to another place for a few minutes. I want us to remember that there is bigger news going on——-that the kingdom of heaven is breaking out all around us. And even in faraway places where His name is not known. Come with me for a moment to see something beautiful and good?

I left Kodiak Friday night, spent the night in Anchorage, then flew out early Saturday morning. The planes were delayed everywhere. We landed in Mongolia in blasting winds Monday, 3 am. after circling for almost an hour, waiting for the winds to lessen.

I did not sleep for a second in all those hours. But when I woke up later, I saw this.

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Three days ago we drove out of the city into the countryside, into the tawny brown hills and mountains that have already seen snow since September. But this day, the snow was gone. We saw herds of animals everywhere.

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Half the country lives on the steppes, herding animals. In a nation of 3 million people, there are 30 million animals. It’s a hard hard life. Every year 40,000 move to the city, to escape living in the lap of a bitter wintry mother nature who plunges this land into -40 temperatures. Some years more than half the livestock dies.

Many Mongolians still live in gers (yurts), even at 40 below. I cannot imagine this life.

I thought of all this as we drove. We drove to Turtle Rock in Terelj National Park, a place called “Little Switzerland” for its alpine views. But for us, who did not come in tourist season, everything was brown, dry dead. Still, I loved the sparse beauty of it.

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In the short 3 months of summer, it looks like this:

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I would love to road trip through ALL of Mongolia, but I did not come to tour. I came to teach, to share what little I know with my brothers and sisters of God here.

And that itself is a grand adventure.

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Yesterday, I went to the School of Ministry with the women of LifeSprings. It was going to be an easy day. I was going to attend Jan Johnson’s all-day seminar, watching the rhythm of it to prepare for my own all-day seminar the next day.

But that’s not what happened. Jan’s notes didn’t show up. 100 women were coming through hours of traffic, on trains, in cars and busses from far parts of the country. They had waited 6 months for these classes. And now there was no class. There were no notes. No notes for Jan. No notes for the students. (The why of this doesn’t matter . …it was no one’s fault.).

There was only one option: ”Leslie. I hate to even ask this, but can you teach your class today?” I had finished preparing it the night before. I had my computer with me this day, by chance. but I was tired so tired. I had taught a 3 hour parenting seminar the night before. I had jet-lag brain, which is to say, no brain at all. I even brought a pillow to sneak away during the day to rest. How would this be possible?

But It was almost time to start. The women were coming in the door. I felt butterflies, I felt dread. I felt unprepared. But It was clear. This was what God was asking of me today. I posted an on-the-fly “HELP!” to my Facebook friends, asking for prayer. (YOU DID!) And at that moment, Duncan was in Alaska on a bush plane and he said he had an overwhelming urge to pray for me. (He DID!) Then the Lifesprings women, my new dear friends, surrounded me, laying hands on me, praying. I cried tears of fatigue. But when the prayer was over, I felt ready. God was going to do this with me, through me today. I was not alone. And He only asked for what I could give. He would do the rest.

And He did.

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He blessed far beyond my expectations. Do you know why? Because God LOVES these women! Because God has miraculously saved every one of them from atheism, Buddhism, from hard hard lives, and they NEED God as much as they need breath. (And isn’t God the very breath in our lungs?) These women have NO Christian resources in their language—-except what we were bringing them. And this day was GOD’S design—-not mine. I only had to say Yes.

And now, just the day after, I am seeing ALL the reasons God ordered it this way. SO many reasons. Women keep coming up to me and telling what God did—-something entirely new. Something so so deep. I only had to get out of the way of my fear. I only had to remember that God’s plans for these women were far greater than mine.

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It was a good good hard glorious day. And the fruit will go on and on. Not because of me. Because of Him.

I will tell some of these stories next time. I just want you to know that God is on the move here in this country. In incredible ways.

I am awake. I am exhausted and I am so wide awake. Because God is among us here in Ulaanbator.

And He is with you.

The next time God overturns your plans and asks you to do something hard, say Yes. Walk into it. Know the eagle-of-his-strength is with you and over you!

And watch what He can do through YOU!!

(And if you don’t believe me, listen to this incredible song [this is one of my favorite bands]):

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Have you experienced the eagle-of-His-strength recently? I would love to hear!!

Why I'm Flying to Mongolia this Week

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I am headed to Mongolia on Friday. I knew nothing about Mongolia until a few months ago. Here’s what I knew about this mysterious place: Genghis Khan, nomads, high elevation, far, far away, cool Asian robes, the Gobi Desert, horses and maybe eagle hunters? No doubt you knew more than me!


Here’s a map for all of us waving a finger somewhere over Asia:


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What can I tell you in this space? Mongolia is about the size of Alaska (which means twice the size of Texas). Only 3 million people call it home. It was taken over by Russia from 1920 - 1990 and became a democracy after Russian rule collapsed. As a democracy, Mongolians enjoy freedom of religion. People are looking for God and embracing Christianity.

I’m not going just as a tourist—though I will certainly do some touristy things. And I am not going because I am tired of Kodiak Island. Rain keeps, ummm, raining from the sky these fall days, but on Saturday Kodiak was the most beautiful place in the world! Duncan, Abraham and I took a road trip that day, on the only road you can drive on for an hour.

Why would I want to leave this?

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I’ll be gone for two weeks, too much of that time spent in the air, and the rest in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city. I’m heading straight into winter. Here’s the forecast for the first few days:

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So—-clearly I’m not going to lie out on the beach.

I’m not going because I’m aesthetically starved for beauty in this world.

I’m not going because I’m running away from my DH.


Or running away from my kids. We all like each other.

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I’m going because of the power of a 3-letter word.

“Leslie, would you like to come and teach in our School of Ministry?”

I was asked this question while speaking in Slovakia last spring. I am not brilliant. I am not famous. Out of all the people possible to bring seminary-level training to these women in Mongolia, why did someone ask me to go?

I don’t know exactly. I only know I said “yes.”

It started when I was a teenager. A youth pastor asked me if wanted to know God. If I wanted to be loved by my Father in heaven. I had been looking for this all my short life. I said yes.

I said yes to school and travel. To marriage. To more school. To children. Yes to listening for the voice of God. Yes to being loved when others couldn’t love. Yes to pursuing wisdom and understanding. Yes to following a love for words and ideas. Then yes to living out all the other yesses: which meant locking myself in closets and studying. Writing when everyone was asleep. Yes to sharing these words with others, wherever it took me.

(I said yes to some of the wrong things too: yes to anger, to bitterness, to despair. Yes to cowardice. Yes to fearing man more than God. And then I said yes to repentance. And every day I say “please, yes!” to God’s constant offer of forgiveness.)

Now to Mongolia. Why here? One day a woman came to Janice, the director of Lifesprings International. We are desperate for training. Will you come and teach us? she asked. They are first generation Christians. They have very few resources. Whatever teaching resources come to the country, they come to teach pastors. They come to teach men, not women. Janice said Yes. Yes to leading two years of training, study, knowledge, love, and ministry experience to this group of 100 women.

So—-we go. Three of us. And parents have asked for a parenting seminar. A church has asked for someone to come and preach the gospel to them. (Yes. and Yes.)

But Yes is not a magic word. here is the most important thing to know about this word. It is not the power of our “Yes” that opens doors and shapes our lives and our future. It is the power of the one whom we say “yes” to that makes this happen.

For our God is a “YES!” God. As Paul wrote, “

“Whatever God has promised gets stamped with the Yes of Jesus. In him, this is what we preach and pray, the great Amen, God’s Yes and our Yes together, gloriously evident. God affirms us, making us a sure thing in Christ, putting his Yes within us. “ (The Message)


I will be so grateful for your prayers as we go! And I’ll share with you whatever I can of this time in Mongolia.




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I don’t know what people are asking of you. What God is asking of you.

But when you say Yes to God’s Yes, what can’t you do together?

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Ann Voskamp & Leslie (video): What Do We Do with the Broken Pieces of Our Lives?

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It’s storming today in Kodiak. I sit over the ocean, watching the water surge against the rocks. Fog lies like gauze over the spruce trees across the bay. I choose to watch this marvelous storm outside my windows rather than the vicious storm inside our nation. I’ve had enough of that.

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Our ship-of-state will sink if we don’t get our act together. By this, I don’t mean we’ll be saved if we elect all the right people to the right offices. This is so much bigger than politics and politicians. It’s about us, about who we are as people, as Christians, which should be our first and only identity. We don’t seem able to tolerate difference anymore, let alone “love our enemy.” Remember the hymn we used to sing years ago? “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love …. And they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

I wonder if this is what we’re known by right now . . . ?

I don’t know how to fix our nation, but Ann and I have some words to share about us, about what to do with the pieces of our cracked hearts, our lost dreams, our imperfect lives. If we ourselves don’t have hope, and if there is no way for us to heal individually, then our nation is surely doomed. Take a listen. I have 6 clips altogether from this evening at the Kodiak Convention Center, but sending on two today. Two are enough for today.

In one of them, I make my first public confession of a secret addiction (what I do when I’m really down . . .. It’s kinda pathetic. Worse than I admit here on camera . . .) And one more disclaimer: if you’re a Walmart employee or fan—-no insult intended!

(Quick note: Most of you know who Ann Voskamp is, this amazing fearless woman God has raised up as a voice for truth and compassion. Every book has been a NYTimes bestseller. She speaks all over the world. I was honored to have her as a guest at last month’s Harvester Island Wilderness Workshop. But never mind all that. Listen to this woman whose heart is truly after God)

 
 
 

Does anything here resonate with where you are right now? And——-how may I pray for you?

With love and always with hope,

Leslie

After the Wedding, the Richest, Wildest Life I Know

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Elisha and Maddi's wedding is over. They are now Mr. and Mrs. Fields. We are home in Kodiak again, but I have reached a new country, a new frontier. I've crossed over and I want to tell you about that other side. What it looks like.  It doesn't look like this every single day, but on these special days, yes, this is just what it looks like.

 

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 In the beginning, when all of this started, and in the middle of all this, we could occasionally round up the hooligans and pull off a semi-sedate family photo shoot . . .

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But never for long . . .

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 Our family and church supported us, even giving me a baby shower for baby #5 (Who does that?) But otherwise there was little support for the 4th, 5th, then 6th child. I was a professor for some of this time, at a college and then a university, and professors don't have 4 kids, let alone 5 or 6.  When pregnant (unexpectedly) in my forties with the last two, people said all kinds of not-kind things to me:

 

"Better you than me!"

"You've got too many kids, you know."

"Hey Leslie, you DO know where babies come from, right?"

"What's this, baby # 10?"

 

 This woman whom others dismissed as unprofessionally, unintelligently, inconveniently and eternally pregnant, now is called the most blessed of women.

And I am.

 

All my kids!

All my kids!

My new sister!

My new sister!

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Here's why I'm telling you all of this. Here's what I want you to hear. I know many of you are beyond child-bearing and even child-raising. Some of you are raising grandchildren. And some of you aren't married.  Some of you are married but God hasn't brought children. Ultimately, this is not about having children. ( So Please keep reading!)

 

Most Christians want what most Americans want. Prosperity. Security. Freedom. Independence. Most young Christian couples I meet today want to have two kids, a girl and a boy, two jobs, two cars in the garage, economic security, a safe, happy comfortable, predictable life. It all sounds so good. The American Way.

 

But maybe we should want more than that?  I remember when I was 28, bouncing on an expedition truck across the Sahara, winding our way into the heart of Africa. Duncan and I were living our dreams, hard though each of them was. We commercial fished every summer on a wild patch of Alaskan ocean. We had lived out in the Alaskan wilderness building two houses over two winters; we backpacked around the world. Went to graduate school. But finally, on that African truck we  knew, instinctively, that the greatest,  most extravagant, lavish, courageous adventurous life of faith was a life given----not to ourselves and our dreams, but to others. For us, the "others" meant first, children. We imagined a family of four kids. God gave us six.

 

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We soon discovered that the Land of Children is the Land of Chaos.  Of wrestling boys whose teasing was physical and unrelenting. A country where I woke, swung my legs over the bed and wearily laced up combat boots to drill-sargeant my way through another day.  I was stretched beyond my abilities every single day. I cried often. I counted every diaper change a prayer, every meal an offering to God, every nap a gift from God. And I wondered if I would survive that day, and the day after, if it came.

 

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We are now into our third decade of raising children. When our last two leave home, we will have been mothering and fathering intensively for 34 years.

Why would we put ourselves through so much struggle? Why would we choose such a long path? I take no credit at all, and neither does Duncan, but somehow we knew in our marrow,

that the narrow path would be the richest path, however much these kids would cost.

That all the life we thought we lost would somehow be given back.

That the narrow gate would some day open into a vast pasture.

That the mustard seed of faith, sown in tears, would yield an orchard of love, harvested with laughter.

 And it has.

 

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But I'm not telling young couples to have 6 kids like me. That's not my job, my business or my calling. This isn't about that. I want us all to remember we're called to so much more than a convenient life. To so much more than a calm, professional controlled prosperous American life. We're all called to live like this:

 

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

 

“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”

"Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

 

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

 

 “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

“For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it.”

“What is impossible with men is possible with God.”

 

 Duncan and I are nobody special. But God has done all this—-and more—for us. And He is ready to do the same for you.

Go ahead. Step outside that picket fence. Dare to live wild. Dare to die. In a little while, you will rejoice for a long long time.

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Who else out there has dared to live a different, hard, wild life? Please share something from your story!

How to Get MORE of Everything that Counts (Including Squid)

Finally, I am finding words. What happened in this most intense week of my life? Come and see.

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Here’s what didn’t happen. We didn’t see whales this time—the first Harvester Island Wilderness Workshop workshop ever without whales. Nor did we see Kodiak bears, though we tried.  But we saw a squid. Small, nearly translucent, with neon eyes and a weird affinity for us. He played around our boots for 15 minutes. We held him in the cradle of our hands.

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 I never know what’s going to happen this week when 22 writers from everywhere gather on our fish camp island in Alaska. We first met on Saturday, sitting in a circle, telling 2 minutes of our story. We did not know each other. I asked, “Why have you come so far? What are you looking for?” Before we even began, there were tears and raw hearts. I wondered, what will God do here?

 

It wasn’t a simple or easy week. One of our beloved crewmen was injured by a chainsaw (Incredibly, a float plane was nearby so he could be whisked to the hospital. He is well and healed now.) A film crew was there filming the classes—-which stressed me out. One day we shot three sessions consecutively, ending with headaches, exhausted. We had some crises in the kitchen so everyone had to cook. We ran out of veggies. Did I sleep that week?

And the aftermath? The 28 sets of sheets, the 15 rooms to be cleaned and closed up for the winter . . .

 

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But it was an extravagant week.

 

 

I know so many of you who want to come. But it’s far. And it costs. But I want you to know,

You don’t have to fly to a far north island in Alaska to live this way. You don’t have to fly in a float plane, walk in wilderness, ride in skiffs, to know this same joy.     

  Two thousand years ago a man said, “I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly.

The man who promised this was mostly homeless, born into an oppressed minority, despised by the religious authorities, distrusted by his family, misunderstood by even his closest friends, marked for death by his many enemies. And yet---he lived extravagantly, generously, sacrificially, joyfully, abundantly.

 Have you heard this?

 “Truly, truly I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.  I am the door. If anyone enters through Me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief does not come, except to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”

What IS this abundant life?

 It IS a life of more. Not Joel-Osteen “more.” Not bigger houses, fancier cars, better job, more expensive clothes “more.” “More” meaning a life beyond our lonely single selves. Meaning a life bound up, twined into the lives of others. “More” includes, yes, exhaustion, Yes, risk. Yes, wounding and betrayal. Yes, grief. Yes, failure. All of it. But it means, more than anything, MORE of one another. And MORE of God. And with this “more,” in the company of friends and God, a little squid playing in our hands is as wondrous as a whale.

 This is the fullest life I know. We can live like this wherever we are, every single day.

 Will you try—-and tell me about it?

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(Who’s coming for the next HIWW? Here:)

Surviving Your Island of Grace

  The summer is nearly over.  Ann V. (you know who) is coming in a few days. All is (nearly) ready for a week of filming, writing, laughing, wrestling God, feasting . . ..   But you want to know the truth? I have island fever. After the workshop  I will be leaving this tiny island soon----which slays me, but which also thrills me. You know, that love-hate cabin-fever thing?

You may not live on an island without a bridge, or on a fishcamp island without roads, but I know you have felt stuck, trapped. By a place. By your body. By your circumstances. Maybe you're there even now. Maybe these truths I have discovered in my own life on this rock of an island are for you as well? Listen, then, and see if there is space and grace for you . . . 

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         It was the end of my 20th season at fish camp. The day before I left the island, I woke early. The children were still sleeping. I untwined my legs from Duncan's, careful not to wake him, and went out to the front window to look at the day. It was a low minus tide, the ocean's cloak pulled back farther than I could remember.

I put on my boots, walked down near the water's skirt and made my way from rock to rock to a beach seldom accessible. From around the corner I could hear the hum of a boat; two ravens sat on a cliff above me, spatting. I waved them away and could hear now the water licking its lips, and nothing more.  

I thought about our conversation that night in bed. Was I sorry I had chosen Duncan and this place, and the very particular life that went along with it? No. How could anything be other than it was. But when I chose all this back in 1977, I did not know what I was choosing. (Who does?)

I looked off now and saw a glacier to the east, the mountains hovering over the bay, their ridges sawing the air.; I could almost hear distant rivers foaming to the wide grey Straits. It was a wild and clean and vast a place as when I first had come, but I hadn't known how or what to measure then. What if I hadn't come? I try to see who I could have been had I stayed in New Hampshire, but I can't see anything clearly, only the girl who used to be there. She is still not pretty; she is crying---no, she has decided she will no longer cry. Her face is blurred, but I know what she is looking for---wholeness and freedom.

 

       I came here at 20 certain I had found it in my new husband and in this clean, cold ocean and green mountain island. I know now that what I was looking for is not a something that can be found, not in a place or in a person---it must be made, and it is made out of whatever is around you, whatever is given to you. However much. However little.

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Was I happy here now, finally? I did not have an answer. 

I sat quiet for some minutes on the beach, hoping to hold these moments still, to keep my place on this rock. Then, what was that? A click, no, a popping. I leaned into my ears and suddenly, why hadn't I heard it before? It was all around me, a cricking and snapping as if the beach were waking from sleep, pores opening, tongues unsticking.

I could see no movement, could not account for it at all. I waited, my ears tracing the pattern to the largest boulder on the beach, about forty feet away. It was blistered in colonies of barnacles and mussels, blue mussels and thatched barnacles with tall volcano-shaped cones that are yellowed, and look like fossilized teeth.

 

I moved closer. Yes, it was here, the patter now inches from my face, yet I could still see no movement, no life beyond shells sealed tight.

I waited.

There it was again. This time I saw---a barnacle, the beak of the barnacle, like a telescope in rotation, was rounding the perimeter of its own shell, ticking the edges as it went. Then, scattered within my close range, I caught another tip, the orbit of another maw, and another.

Now adjusted to these dimensions, the whole rock came alive with the diminutive circuit of these beaks. They were not feeding---the tide had been out for hours. Was it It a preening session, or perhaps an early morning stretch, or the gyrations of digestion after a good breakfast? I didn't know. But I was struck with such vulnerability! This creature had no escape from attack. No escape at all. Such obscene limitations!

I saw and understood.

Here halfway between land and water, was the barnacle, a creature that literally grows its own cliffed walls. His own form---given by God himself---entraps him. It is his prison. It is his island. But I saw: it is also his mountain fortress, the very grace that sustains his life.

 

I'm still here, 40 years after saying yes, I do, I will, I am. I am still here on this tiny island every year for three to four months, with an outhouse, with unrelenting work, with stormy skies, with little movement beyond the edges of these cliffs.

I ran away a few times, but I came back. Everything I need is had been found---or made---here. 

I cannot decide for you. Maybe you need to leave your "island." I don't know. Maybe you're not safe. Maybe you've been hauled through too much hurt, poverty and meanness. Women endure so much . . . .  Go if God gives you that certainty. But I also know the world is full of abandonment, of escapes, pursuits of happiness and self, leaving ruin and wreckage behind.

Don't do that.

Dig deep. Plant hard. Hold on. A fresh tide is coming in. A new sun is rising. 

 
Many are saying of me,
    “God will not deliver him.”
3 But you, Lord, are a shield around me,
    my glory, the One who lifts my head high.


6 I will not fear though tens of thousands
    assail me on every side.
                                      (Psalm 3:2,3,6)
 
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(Excerpt from my memoir, originally published by St.Martins.The full story, including a boat-sinking, a runaway, lost in a white-out, buried by fish, etc.----more than ever I imagined when I came to this new country. Yes, it's a survival story. And it's most of all, about Grace. )

 

How have you survived God's (sometimes hard) grace this year?