Of Swamp Monsters, Men and a Baby God: A Christmas Story

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I am shocked to discover it is already the Christmas season. We have managed to avoid it thus far in our long far travels. While most are deluged with the relentless avalanche of Rudolf and Frosty, we've been underwater swamped---In the Louisiana swamps, beyond the reach of Christmas cheer, where holiday ads don’t play and Santa cannot sleigh, thank God.

We took a boat, five of us, into the Honey Island Swamp for an afternoon. It was creepy, haunting and beautiful, this swamp, twenty miles long and seven miles wide, considered the least altered river swamp in the U.S.  The labyrinth of cuts, bayous, ditches and rivers was astounding, circling us ever deeper into an eerie world. Alligators abound here, and herons, ducks, nutria, deer, raccoons, And people. As we chugged past their stilted houses, I imagined them with soggy webbed feet, with bedraggled hair and scraggly beards like Spanish moss. 

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A monster also lives here--the Honey Island Swamp Monster. Reports and sightings date back to 1963. There's even film footage and casts of footprints. He is reported to be a two-legged seven foot tall, extraordinarily hairy creature with yellow eyes and a four-toed foot who wafts the disgusting smell of rotting flesh everywhere he slumps. One of the origin stories, my favorite, is of a turn-of-the-century traveling circus riding a train that derailed in the swamp. All the animals escaped. The Chimpanzees mated with the alligators and somewhere along this fleet evolutionary tale some homo sapien got mixed in. 

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Ahhh, don't we love our monsters? We want them: Bigfoot, Yeti, King Kong, The Fouke monster, the Loch Ness monster, the Swamp monster.

We want something big, hairy, scary, wild.

We want something beyond us, wiser, stronger, native

                   who slinkily  instinctively navigates the swamps and fields.

We want a creature we can't kill off, who has survived us, our guns and human wasteful ways.

We want a creature lurking in the dark. We want to be afraid; we don’t want to be alone.

We want to know we don’t know all there is to know.

 We must have mystery. We must have monsters. 

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Maybe it’s easier to believe in them than Christmas. What is this story?

An unknown girl in a backward town played host to the holy ghost?

The fierce untamable God came near, came tame and mild, as an infant child?

That God squalled for his mothers’ milk, wore diapers and a peasant’s rag?

That he grew and healed the dying, wholed the sick, sang the mute, taught the truth?

And all this story to end in a gory death on a cross to take our place? 

God born for all to die for all to set all free, at no cost?

 

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 So many won't believe it. They say instead,

"Who can bear or believe such a myth, such luck, such a god, such light?

Give us back our swamp,  our night, our glorious fear. 

 We’re more at home here."   

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 "Light came into the world, but people loved darkness instead of the light . .."

But I do not give up hope, that some even this Christmas will see the light that shines for them . . ..

 

Breaking Silence: Let Me Now Praise Good Men

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This week, I’m breaking silence with my own expose of men: A tale of three heroes.

 

Hero #1

I was stuck in the sand. No, not quite this:

 

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But this behemoth we’ve named Benson, our 32 foot home-on-wheels was stuck in the sand near a beach. I just wanted a spot for the night that wasn’t a truck stop, a Walmart, or a movie theatre parking lot, our usual (free) haunts the last two months as we’ve bounced and toiled from Washington across the northern states to the Midwest and now down to the Deep South. 

Micah warned me: “Mom, you’re going to get stuck.” I waved him off, imagining our sleeping bodies being smashed in the night by an only slightly errant car. I had to move further off the road.

I took precautions. I’m not a complete novice. Years ago, I helped push an expedition truck across the Sahara, using sand mats and shovels when we sunk to our rims. But despite my sand mats and boards under the wheels, in 3 seconds the beast was heaving and groaning. Stuck.

Out of the dark, just at that moment, a man appeared at my window, “Oh wow, you’re really stuck. Here, I can pull you out!” I blinked. How could he just appear like that? I was stuck for literally one second!

He had a black 4 wheel drive truck. He was wearing a blue t-shirt and beige shorts. “You’re in luck cause I’ve got a pull rope!” He seemed very happy. He sprang to the back of his truck and came out with a thick yellow strap. He dropped to the pavement, first on his back then on his belly under the carriage while I squirmed to be in such need as to require this kind of grovel. In the dark. On a road. By a stranger.

Then he popped out and called behind him, as he rushed to his truck, “Turn your wheels slightly, not too hard.”

I got in the drivers seat. Ignition on. His truck pulled, our wheels spun, something crunched, our little house swayed---and in a few grinding seconds, Benson was free!

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Hero #2

We spent that night in a little dog park beside the beach. The next morning I saw a woman picking up trash. I watched her for nearly an hour as she pulled a wagon, down on the beach, beside the road. I gathered my courage and went to speak to her. Her name was Karon. She told me this:

“I have a good retirement, so this is my job. I spend an hour or two every day, however long it takes to fill up my wagon. The plastics are the worst. The turtles try to eat the plastic bags and it kills them. The straws too. That’s why I do this.”

When I drove away from that brilliant white beach, I saw her in my rear view mirror still  bending tover a pile of trash.

 

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Hero #3

The next day I woke up sick. The temperature dropped to the forties. It began to pour. We packed up and I drove through the rain to Biloxi, Mississippi, grumpy, tired and chest-achy. I decided to splurge and stayed in a park with actual plug-ins. Except our electricity didn't work. Again? I just wanted to sleep. I just wanted a little power. A little light. A little warmth. Maybe I wanted even to be back home in Kodiak without all the daily stresses of traveling. I did’n’t want to deal with this again. I sat slumped on the seat, too tired to move or even to care.

Then Patrick showed up. I didn’t ask for help. When he discovered I didn’t have power, he spent the next two hours tooling and poking and checking, all narrated in a thick Mississippi accent, until our lights were on. Until everything worked. 

 

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When this trip started, I called it a pilgrimage toward praise.  Praise is easy to write. Praise is easy to give to my children. But to speak praise to strangers? Even to God? When I was growing up, praise—for man, child or God---was a foreign language no one spoke. A language I didn’t know existed. I am still learning to find my tongue.

That night when the man pulled me out of the sand, just as we parted, he looked up at me in my cockpit seat and said, ‘Now that’s what I call luck, me being here. “

It was Sunday. I had taken communion at church that morning. I had sung songs about the coming of Jesus, had cried at the altar up front. And now out on this beach, this man who pulled me out of the miry sand was pulling me toward luck, away from God, toward silence.

 

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I took a breath, then: “No, not luck. Providence. God was with us. I thank you and I thank God,” I said as lightly as I could.

The man laughed a bit nervously while coiling the yellow line. “Oh of course. Yes, Him, of course. Always that,” he said in a way that I knew it was probably never that. But he was a brilliant angel anyway.

I almost didn’t speak to Karon.

I almost didn't say thank you to Patrick. When I pulled out of the park in Biloxi, I almost snuck away in silence. But something tugged. I parked and went into the office.

“I just wanted to thank you and to thank Patrick for all his help. He didn’t have to help me. But I’m so glad he did. We’ve been having trouble with our power for awhile. Just thank you so much.”   

I left amid hugs, talk of God, kind goodbyes.

 

 Now, so many women are speaking. They're breaking their silence to expose corrupt men---just as they should. Let truth be heard. Let all wicked men fall. But I need to speak too. I am breaking my silence here to praise good men and women who keep appearing everywhere I go around this country. Don't let the headlines distract you from all the praiseworthy women and men around us. 

And I am breaking a longer silence: to praise the God who gives each of them breath, strength, and love for the stranger.

Behold, God is my helper;
    the Lord is the upholder of my life. . . .

I will give thanks to your name, O Lord, for it is good.
For He has delivered me from every trouble.”

 

Who do you need to thank and praise?

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Turning 60: Hear Me Roar (and whimper)!

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I had a birthday this last week. On Thanksgiving Day, actually. And my son did as well. Long-time friends in Georgia invited us in off the unending road to a long table wide and high with feasting food and more love than can be counted. And a cake. A chocolate cake, my favorite. It was a big birthday, one of the ones with a zero in it. Since you already know the number let me dispense with the drama.                           (But I'm still practicing this number. I am----gulp. 60.)

This is a coming-out for me. I have not told my age in this space before, let alone using the number in the title. I know what I’m supposed to say here: that I love being this number. That I embrace my new wrinkles, the thickening waist, that I’ve earned every spot, wrinkle, roll and varicose vein, so hear me roar, you dewy-faced wasp-waisted superficial babes----I got wisdom! I got sage! I’ve got 94 year old Iris Apfel on my stage!

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I know the message well because I’ve been reading and consulting many others on this whole aging thing (I’ll have a book out on it in the spring.) I’ve heard some of the over-forty crowd crow, triumphantly, as they jam another candle in the cake, “I don’t care what anyone thinks anymore! I’m free!”

When Oprah turned 60 she announced, “I’ve earned the right to be just who I am.” Another guru pronounced the high duty of loving herself “purely and truly” every day. A TV star who hit the ripe age of 44 dispensed her life’s body of wisdom by saying, “I’ve come to love my body just as it is---curves and all.” One woman in church told me, laughing,  “Watch out for me, ‘cuz I’ve paid my dues, honey. I’m gonna say whatever I darn well please.” 

 

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She was turning 50. And she leads a ministry in her home church.

Hooray for self-acceptance rather than diets and plastic surgery, but the rest of this? Now that I’m a card-carrying 60 year old with a license to say whatever-the-hell I want (see, like that phrase right there! My 59 year old self would never have said that!), here’s my truth. Here’s my rant:

Can we women-of-a-certain-age just grow up?

Do we see the irony here?  When we’re raising our kids, we knock ourselves out to grow them past the squawling infant, the demanding self-centered toddler. We teach them share your toys, play well with others, apologize, be kind to strangers, say you’re sorry, let others go first. As soon as our kids launch, on their way to “responsible adult,” we throw ourselves a party, speak our truths, quit teaching Sunday School and go play golf all week.

How is it that we raise our children to become responsible, kind adults, and as soon as they do, we become kids again?

 

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But I’m not really mystified. I’m starting my third decade of raising kids. That's an exhausting parade of serving and loving. And by the time we get to this point in our lives, we’ve weathered huge storms---probably some we did not expect to survive. We’re tired of being nice to everyone. Here we are, still standing, with who know how much time remains so let’s Carpe Diem the heck out of what’s left! Just do it! Leave your husband, galavant and rant, Be angry! BE HAPPY! Speak your Truth! And most of all, love yourself unconditionally. (If you’re having trouble doing that, you can take a course by Deepak Chopra on Oprah’s channel, “How to Love Yourself Unconditionally.”)

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Yes, love yourself, do, but do we really think so little of ourselves, I wonder. Do we really believe this is the best we can do----that the image of God in us, and the eternity in our hearts will be satisfied with the tiny shards of a single self when all the world and God is offered to us if we would just reach for it?

 We imagine freedom and happiness lies in serving ourselves rather than everyone else. But haven’t we learned by now that the self is a smiling beguiling despot? We are our own worst tyrants. If I had to get up every morning with the dictum “I’m going to love myself unconditionally all day long,” I think I would kill myself (metaphorically) after a week.  I am my own worst enemy at times, but I am never my own best friend. Because I have actual friends who are smarter and far more interesting and helpful than I am. Not to mention Jesus, whom mostly I can’t see, but who keeps showing up in the most astonishing ways.

Like this. The day before I turned 60, I get an email from a stranger. Someone who has survived a traumatic childhood, who met Jesus last year and who has decided to get baptized because of a book I wrote. And who now has hope that God will heal her of her past. I spent two years writing that book, giving up most of my free time. I cried when I read her email. I am wildly and deeply happy.  Still.

Today I go to visit a couple in their mid 80's who, instead of playing golf,  fly to developing countries teaching pastors and building libraries.

At 60 I don't know much, but this I know for sure: 

All we have is one little life that passes too fast. We can guard the contents of our own tiny thimble or fling it out joyfully, recklessly, filling a hundred, a thousand other cups.

I choose to fling.

May all our cups run over. 

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(Thank you for reading! If this resonates with you, would you consider sharing?)

Road Warrior Thanksgiving

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It's been 7 weeks since I left Kodiak. I write this now on the road, in the midst of a bonzai from Ohio to Atlanta where dear friends we haven’t seen in a long time have opened their doors to us. We are thrilled to give thanks together this week. (Yes! Thank you that we’re not eating alone in a restaurant!)

But one of the best Thanksgiving feasts I ever had was in a restaurant just a few years ago. I need to remember this now.

The restaurant was tiny, just one room, with sparse wooden chairs and tables. My new friend Ben brought out one more dish to my table, and the two of us sat there with the Sea of Galilee sunlit beside us. We were the only ones there. He had prepared Shakshuka, a Middle Eastern dish of eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce. Cumin taunted my nose. Fresh flatbread and tahini, a carrot salad, a dish of various olives, pickled fish, and espresso completed the spread.  We were about to start eating when a white-haired man in wild pajama pants sailed through the door.

“David!” Ben shouted. “You are just in time for our feast. Come, sit down.” In five minutes I learned that David was a man of great enthusiasm who cursed as often as he laughed and both were done at high volume. I loved his love of life. Now we were three. We ate and talked and laughed. A half-hour later, another man and his dog entered to the delight of both men: “Aaron!” They shouted, and somehow we made space for one more plate, one more chair.

The four of us, a middle-aged woman from Alaska and three Israeli men, ate the same way we talked: hungrily and eagerly. As we piled the food on our plates, creating a riot of deep colors and flavors, we discussed food, our families, politics and God.

 

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I sat in wonderment. I stumbled through these doors two hours ago, sweat-drenched and weary from hours of hiking and longing for a cold can of Coke. I had been hiking alone for days. It was not long before Ben was serving me coffee from his new espresso machine and telling me I was staying for lunch.

The day before I went out on a fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee. Just before I left, the crew presented me with a gift: five fish, the biggest ones of the day, carefully laid out on the deck before me. I protested.

“Thank you, but I can’t take these. I’ve got five miles left to hike tonight.”

“Oh no, these are good fish. You must take them!”

“What will I do with them?”

“You just take them and give them to whoever you are staying with. They’ll cook them for you.”

I was about to remonstrate again, and suddenly, I got it. “Thank you! I’d love these fish,” and in the next minute they were wrapped carefully in newspaper and handed to me. 

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The rest of that day, I carried five fish in my backpack, thinking of the miraculous feeding of the 5,000. That evening, weary from the long day, I arrived at the Golan Heights, where I had arranged to stay at a bed and breakfast.that night the hosts invited me to their son’s home for Hanukkah. Another feast around the table of others I did not know.

While I was there, Ezra drove me around his orange groves, showing off the fruit that had just turned ripe. I ate four whole oranges before we were done. As I prepared to leave, he filled a bag with 10 pounds of fruit and handed it over to me. I

 

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At home, on a typical Thanksgiving, my house is full. The turkey is huge, the table long and wide. But that particular year, I was the stranger, and they invited me in. I was hungry, and they fed me shakshuka and oranges. I was thirsty, and they gave me espresso and Diet Coke. And as I left, they gave me fish and grapefruit for the road, though I had nothing to give in return.

This year, we are road-weary and stressed. We have had near-misses, high winds have blown us all over the highway, our home is a box on wheels, the bed is hard, and we have nothing to give back but we have been invited in.

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We often ask God to “give us this day our daily bread.” And He does. Our cupboards are full. Our tables are heaping. So much so that I often feel guilty for all I have. But the pure generosity given in Israel---and soon in Georgia---reminds me that there are hungry people walking and driving by our doors every day. And the hungers we carry most are not just for food but the need to be seen, to be known.

God answers our hungers and our prayers for daily bread not just for our own needs and appetites, but for others as well. We can be the answer to their prayers, even those who don’t yet know how to ask. I know this because our friends this year are the answer to our prayers . . . 

So put the extra leaf in your table, go to the door of the cranky lonely man down the road, invite the woman and her children whose husband just left them, ask the whole row of widows in your church to come over. Tell them you’re having a party and it won’t be fun without them.

Do especially this week what we've been charged to do our lifelong lives: 

Feed my sheep.!

And have a blast while you're at it!

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Have you ever been the stranger who was invited in? Could you tell us about that??

 

So thankful for every one of you,

Leslie

 

 

 

 

When SPAM Saved an Alaskan Pilot's Life

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We are near Chicago now. En route from the West, highway dazed, we spied the SPAM Museum in Minnesota and stopped. Not because we are frivolous people, and decidedly not because I am on a pilgrimage of praise. If I were to praise SPAM it would go something like this: "I thank you Spam that your global ad campaigns have not penetrated the walls of my kitchen---beyond breakfast." 

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Or---I thank you Spam for feeding our troops during WW2 (but your time is up, Bub!)

The stats on this meat-ish canned contrivance are astonishing. And, their global reach.

Did you know there are more than a dozen flavors of spam? Cheese Spam, anyone? Garlic Spam?

Did you know there are more than a dozen flavors of spam? Cheese Spam, anyone? Garlic Spam?

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Let me state my feelings straight out: I hate SPAM. I scorn SPAM. Despite my subtle feelings,  I have been related to SPAM now for almost 40 years. I am related to it through my husband, a true SPAM fan, who serves it occasionally to his family for breakfast, and secondly, among the 50 states, Alaska and Hawaii, per capita, are the highest consumers of SPAM. (Because many Alaskan villages and fish camps had no refrigeration.)

AND---I have my own SPAM story to share.

Years ago, I was flying from Anchorage to Seattle and sat by a friendly man.  He was the Pacific NW sales rep for Hormel meats (the maker of, you know . .. ). He had been at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer manning the SPAM booth and presiding over the Alaska SPAM bake-off. While sharing this fascinating information, to my surprise, he reached under the seat and pulled out a SPAM cookbook and gave it to me. Clearly he had no idea who  he was sitting next to: a woman raised on whole wheat flour, soybeans, blackstrap molasses and goat milk. And someone who could have rattled off all that was seriously wrong with SPAM at age 11. But I am not a total snob. I took the cookbook graciously (also recognizing a possible opportunity for satire at some future date.) 

 

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But the real meat of our conversation was a story, a testimony, actually. At that state fair, a man had approached his booth with a gleam in his eye: “SPAM saved my life,” he started. The story went something like this. He was a bush pilot in the interior of Alaska. That winter he was flying between remote villages when his plane malfunctioned. He crash-landed on the tundra, in the middle of forty-below zero God-forsaken nowhere.

 

What would he do? How would he survive? He did have a survival box, and in it was-you know what. But you can’t eat meat at forty below. Forty below turns meat into rock-ice. But----

 

“I opened that can, and would’ja believe at forty below I could slice that stuff? Yep! Forty below and SPAM still slices!  It saved my life!”  the sales rep said that he said.

 

I joined in my seatmate’s excitement, mentally filling in the rest of the story, which was, of course, that SPAM slices at forty below precisely because----it’s not meat. It’s mostly lard.

 

But I’m happy for that pilot. I’m happy for that sales rep who probably secretly longed to “make a difference” in the world, and maybe now he had, in some remote, tangential way.

 

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This is my story this week from life on the road. But I want to feed you more than SPAM. I want to end with a blessing. I want to bless you as I was blessed this week after teaching two intensive writing workshops in Wisconsin. A beautiful writer from our group sent this Psalm (150):

“Hallelujah!

Thank God! Pray to Him by name! 

Tell everyone you meet what he has done!

Sing him songs, belt out hymns,

translate his wonders into music!

Honor His holy name with Hallelujahs,

You who seek God. Live a happy life!

 

Can we do this---Dare a "Hallelujah"!  "Tell everyone you meet what He has done"? Can we Dare to live a happy life!!??

I'll be filling my mouth with SPAM this week (Duncan bought 5 cans of it!!) ----AND with Praise! 

 BOTH will save our lives----even at forty below. 

 

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Worshipping at the Church for Dogs

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I had never been to a church for dogs. I was expecting something else when we went to church this Sunday. It was a tiny little community church Out West, in a village tucked into a steep valley. But when we got there at 11 and the parking lot was nearly empty, we heard those little “Uh-oh” bells chiming in our heads. Should we run?

I’ve visited a lot of Uh-oh churches all over the States. Ten years ago, we traveled around the States and Central America for nine months (seven of us then, including five boys) and visited a different church every Sunday. There were high church churches and basement churches, movie theatre churches, store front churches and everything in between.

         On this trip, the last two Sundays we were in my daughter’s new church, an African Methodist-Episcopal church where I got to stand and clap and praise and move just as the Holy Spirit in me wanted to move. (Amen, thank you brothers and sisters for that freedom and joy!)

            And this Sunday. Yes, to my story. A very nice woman greeted us at the door closely attended by----two dogs. Two labs in blue collars who seemed quite happy we were there. The greeter introduced one of the dogs as Beetle. I glanced at Duncan with eyebrows raised and considered turning back, but I decided to have an open mind. Why not welcome parishioners with the extra enthusiasm of wagging tails and wet noses pressed into your hands? It’s not like the dogs are in church or anything.

 

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            But then they were in church. They came in with her as she ushered us into the sanctuary. (Maybe they were service dogs?) But there were bigger problems. Three minutes before the service was supposed to start, the sanctuary was empty. Well, there were three people in the pews. We made seven. And of course the dogs made nine. We took seats in the back row in that hesitant way church visitors always sit, with their haunches slightly raised and one eye on the back door.

            Soon a pleasant looking middle-aged man in jeans came and stuck out his hand with “Welcome folks!” to each one of us.  But I was looking at who came in behind him----a massive Bassett hound. I tried not to gape but I couldn’t help nudging my sons who were taking this far better than I was. “This is going to be the dog church from now on,” I whispered to Abraham, who shushed me immediately.

 

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After the nice man shook all our hands he strode to the raised platform, Hound close behind. He motioned for Hound to lay down on his blanket up on the podium.  What next? Church for eleven, counting the third dog?

A few minutes later I heard voices---phew! Seven more straggled in, people that is, to my relief. But no more dogs, to my disappointment. Now I was all about the dogs. We began.

The worship leader’s Bassett hound presided on the podium with his tragic eyes, occasionally looking back lovingly on his master, while the woman who met us at the door, a large elderly woman, not only was the drummer in this “band,” but she played with her two pups beside her. Well, just part of the time. Sometimes they roamed the aisles and while singing “Come Thou Fount” I got to pet Beetle as he passed.

            Yes, this church was odd. The guitar-playing worship leader couldn’t carry a tune. At all.  He didn’t even seem to know the songs. The elderly drummer tinked her sticks off beat. No one moved a muscle during this worship. Not even in their faces. I couldn’t hear anyone else singing besides me and my family. And don’t forget the dogs. 

(Note: Not the actual praise band.)

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(Note: Not the actual praise band.)

At first, I wanted to run out screaming or plan B was to grab the mic from the leader and take over. But we stayed. And here’s what happened. The pastor preached from Ecclesiastes, one of my favorite books. And he had studied. He moved us. He challenged us. He prayed with his whole heart. And at the end, I discovered this handful of people serve at a food bank, and a dozen other places in their tiny community and the world at large. And they’re going to pack and send 500 Operation Christmas Child boxes. Yes, 500.

 

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            This wasn’t a dog and pony show. This wasn’t a show at all. It was real---a handful of people coming together for hours on a Sunday offering giving what they had to each other, to God. Yes, it was ridiculous and pathetic, all of us, trying to praise God with little talent, bringing dogs to church. I felt sorry for God for a few moments, thinking of Him as a kind of lordly teacher having to endure his kindergarteners bumbling through their first show and tell. But then, in the midst of singing “God of wonders beyond the galaxies”  I looked out the church windows.  I saw the elk grazing on the brown lawn and the snowed mountains hulking over us in brilliant sunlight.

Two hours later I stood 50 feet above a waterfall that plunged 200 feet into a 1000 foot canyon. With the roar and force of the water, I could hardly walk to the edge, overwhelmed, knowing if I got too close I would be swept away.

And later, after the river and canyon, the sun wrapped a scarlet scarf around the neck of the Tetons as it departed.

 

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It’s outrageous. It’s absurd. You have to be crazy out-of-your mind to believe that the God who designed and lovingly tends this kind of world sees us. Hears us. Loves us. Is delighted with us. Attends to us. Died for us. Little ragged-voiced stumbling awkward stiff off-beat dog-loving us.

But He does.

That river thundering into the 1,000 foot canyon that I knew would sweep me away. It has.

 

That’s His mercy. His mercy. All mercy. For us. 

 

(Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow!)

 

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Waking Up Sore in Butte, Montana (and my film debut)

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At Garnet ghost town, Montana. 

At Garnet ghost town, Montana. 

I woke up this morning in an 8'x 30' space with a cranked neck and sore throat. It was 25 degrees last night in Butte Montana and we're having heating issues with our just purchased (old) motorhome. Every time one of my sons rolls over, our new house shakes. "Earthquake" my Kodiak brain assumes---then I remember where I am. Where we are----On a magical mystery tour of Many Places Around the World for 8 months. We'll be here in this motorhome for 10 weeks before flying overseas. (Will I ever sleep in these 10 weeks?)     I have already thought nostalgically of my bed in Kodiak---its comfort, the heating system that always works, the shush of the ocean beneath the windows.

And then this morning my sister-in-law sent me these photos of Harvester Island, the place my heart lives. This is what I'm missing right now on our fish camp island:

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I cannot be homesick yet! We've only just started! 

We are traveling perhaps 25,000 miles this year. My vagabond soul is happy----but I will pine as well---for the spruce trees, the cold ocean, the whales, the sweet community spirit of Kodiak. But I have learned long ago that when our heart is given to God, we can live in many places. Our feet straddle earth and heaven and everywhere in between. We do not have one home: we have many.

Wherever God's people are: this is home.

The gospel stories and the wild watery world of healings and feasts: this is home.

The islands I live on in Alaska, where God displays His outrageous passion for beauty: this is home.

Wherever my family is: this is home.

Wherever two or three gather to pray and praise God: this is home.

Wherever my eyes and ears are opened and I glimpse the world beyond this one: this is home.

Butte,  Montana, where we are about to tour an underground mine: this is home.

Spokane, Washington, where we rode the river currents on paddleboards and sang praises to God in a leaf-blizzard: this is home.

My restless heart has indeed found its rest in God, and He lives everywhere. May I show you what I have seen of Him out on our Alaskan waters?  (And Here, finally! is what I and the RIghtNow Media film crew were doing this summer:)

I AM inviting you all to travel. Yes, to travel with me this year, but also, to come to my island through 6 video teaching sessions that also tour us all through the gospels---a destination that can utterly save your life. Meaning---your heart and soul and mind and strength!! (For church or small group or individual use,  More info here)

 

Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
    to be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you’re there!
    If I go underground, you’re there!
If I flew on morning’s wings
    to the far western horizon,
You’d find me in a minute—
    you’re already there waiting!
Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
    At night I’m immersed in the light!”
It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you;
    night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you.

                                                         ---Psalm 139

 

My wandering soul has found its home in God, and everywhere He is, (everywhere!) thank God---is Home. 

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Even underground?

Even underground?

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Giving Up Your Child (and Measuring Presidential Grief)

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We are in Spokane, Washington this week, Abraham and Micah and I, staying with my daughter. After work each day, we get outside and move. One day we hiked in the snowy mountains. Today we paddle boarded down a river beneath orange elms and yellow oaks. The wind beat us backward, and sent the leaves spinning and wheeling like gulls around us. Abraham caught a leaf on his tongue.

 It is too soon for the leaves to leave. But in such wind, the trees have no choice but to let go of their flaming clothes, their brilliant robes. All that is most beautiful is taken, scattered.

 

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Here, in the company of three of my children, I think of parents whose children were taken from them, by fire, by bombs, by war. This week we face headlines about fallen soldiers and presidential phone calls. Boastings and accusations abound, proving that nothing, nothing in this country is now safe from politicization, competition and denunciation. Even grief will be tallied and wound into a political club. Have we lost sight of the reality that sons and daughters have died?

My reading this week takes me to Hannah, to a woman who lost a child, but not quite. She gave up her child entirely, willingly. How can this be? 

Remember her story? Hannah was infertile for many years, while her husband's other wife bore him many children. Bereft, she asked God with deep sobs for a son. And she promised that if He gave her a son, she would give him back to God to serve Him in the Temple all his life. When God does indeed give her a son, she does it.

 

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Can you see the child crying there as she gives one final hug, prying his fingers from her shawl as she sets him down? “Samuel, all will be well,” she comforts even as her own eyes well over and her body shakes. Then she turns away, her son’s voice behind her, “Mama! No! Mama!” and she keeps walking, for days, until she arrives home, childless again.

 

But something truly strange happens in this story. When she leaves Samuel in the Temple, she sings a song of praise. What? Praise---not lament?

Here are some of the words she sings and prays:

“My heart exults in the Lord;
“There is no one holy like the Lord,
“The Lord kills and makes alive;
He brings down to Sheol and raises up.
“He raises the poor from the dust,
To make them sit with nobles,

The Lord will judge the ends of the earth;
And He will give strength to His king,
And will exalt the horn of His anointed.”

Who is this holier-than-moi mother who gave up her only child and then sings joyously to God because of it? I have only had a taste of infertility. My husband and I waited 8 years before trying for a child, and when we finally felt ready to begin-----nothing. When our daughter finally arrived years later, after much fervent prayer, I am pretty sure I wouldn’t have left her at a church. Or anywhere.

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But maybe I am beginning to understand. Hannah’s heartbreak was achingly personal and deep, but I believe Hannah had the entire nation of Israel in mind when she prayed for a son and vowed to give him to the Lord. In those days, “there was no king and everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”  Eli the priest was little better. He had two wastrel sons who violated God’s temple daily and he did nothing about it.

I believe Hannah was so distressed by the rebellion of God’s people she was ready to do everything to counter it. And she did. She gave all she had. That son, Samuel, grew up to be a righteous priest who heard God, who chose and anointed Israel’s greatest King, David. Her words looked forward, even, to the coming of a Messiah “the anointed one.”

Yes, Samuel sobbed as she left. And her own heart cracked and bled. But her pain was swallowed up in praise. How?  Hannah so filled her eyes with God, she wanted most to join His redeeming work in the world. And she did. At great cost, but with great joy.

  It seems we are living in days like those, when everyone does what is right in their own eyes. What do we do? The story is too rich for simple cliche's but surely this is true:

Give your pain to God--your personal pain and our national pain---as Hannah did that day she emptied her heart before Him. 

And whatever you ask for, be ready to receive it and to give it back to God----for the good of the country. For the good of the world. For the good of God's kingdom.

 

When we join God's redeeming work in the world, our pain can be turned to praise. I believe it.  Do you?

 

 

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Crossing the Bottom of the Sea

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I left my beloved island in Alaska last week. I miss it already.

 

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This morning I woke up in Denver. I’m not supposed to be here. I’m not supposed to be sleeping on the couch of my beloved son Noah and his new wife Lizzie. I’m supposed to be reunited with my family in Spokane, Washington. But a delayed flight from Grand Rapids (Thank you, United Airlines!) delivered this 24 hour gift. I haven’t seen Noah and Lizzie for almost a year, since their wedding.

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This will be my family’s life these next 8 months, every day setting off in a car, train, boat or plane, and ending up somewhere else at the end of the day. Maybe somewhere completely unexpected. But isn’t this the simple truth: whether we’re on a year long journey or simply swinging our legs over the edge of our bed to plant our feet on the cold floor of a new day----Every day is a trek into the unknown. And that can be scary. Especially now.

We now know the truth:

we can stay home most of our lives cause we’re afraid of flying;

we can avoid subways and trains because of the bombings;

we can keep our kids home from school to protect them from armed intruders  

(today the Kodiak High School was in complete lockdown after a threat);

              and one day,  to reward ourselves for our safe but claustrophobic life, we take our kids to a music festival for a few fun hours of country music and . . . . a man is waiting by the window with an arsenal of guns.

 

So we go out into the wide world because we must. And, because of something that happened thousands of years ago----------the spectacular defeat of Pharoah’s army and the march across the dray-as-bones bottom of the sea. That day, God defeated the most powerful army on the face of the earth on behalf of a ragged horde of helpless slaves. That day God set all the captives free.

 The Hebrews were ecstatic. This god was nothing like the Egyptian gods they had known about for 400 years. Slaves win? The mighty are drowned? The imprisoned are freed? They could do nothing less than writethe first praise song recorded in the Scriptures. Can you see the glad riot it must have been? Half a million women following Miriam, dancing with tambourines, with feet kicking high and voices laughing and loud:

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“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
    the horse and his rider[a] he has thrown into the sea!

 
They sing and shout and dance all the way to the ending: 
“You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed;
    you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode.
 You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain . . .
 The Lord will reign forever and ever."
 

And on it goes today. Our rescue from slavery to freedom is already accomplished. And still, deliverances come to us every day! Have you seen them? Sometimes you can’t miss them—you and your family are saved through a devastating cyclone and flood. Just before the rent was due, an envelope came with just the amount needed. The bullet missed the vital organs by an inch.

And so many times they are tiny and tender: Today my lunch with my faraway son. The Uber driver who took me to the airport---our conversation about forgiveness, this heartbreak she has just endured. Yes of course SHE was the one that came to pick me up.  At the Breathe Writer’s conference this weekend, a friend surprised me with my favorite candy and a card with a quote exactly for this year:

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I have no tambourine right now, but I have a pen. So I write this:

Every morning we are all travelers (and secretaries), waking and treading a trail into hours and moments, valleys and places we’ve never been before. We don't have to be afraid. Every day our God leads “in steadfast love the people He has redeemed.”

And even when the bullet doesn't miss,

                      and the flood sweeps us away,

we’ll wake on that mountain, God’s holy house,

          now ours as well,

a tambourine in one hand and a pen in the other:

And we will sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously!

 
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Amen.

Your turn with the pen! (Either that or post a video of you dancing with a tambourine?)

One tiny or huge deliverance that came to you this week?

Leaving Alaska: the Crooked Path Toward Praise

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On Monday, I left Alaska.  I am going to keynote the Breathe Writers' Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan this weekend----and then I’m not going home. For a long time. I don’t know exactly where I’m going, or exactly when I’m coming home but I’m not going alone. My two youngest sons, 14 and 16 go with me. And my husband will join us when he can. (Someone in this outfit must be gainfully employed.)

 

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We’ll be gone for 8 months traveling throughout the U.S., Europe and southern Africa. 

I wanted to leave rejoicing, singing. Remember my March into Gladness last spring, the long winter hikes, leaving sadness and griefs behind? This is that same travel, just longer, further, deeper. But I could not know this would happen: I left the day the news broke of the Las Vegas shooting. 

We have all had too much practice living with horrific headlines. We are all too acquainted with grief. And we must sorrow, lament and grieve in these times. We must go to the Psalms, many of which include gut-deep howls and wails to the God who often feels absent, silent, in the very times we need Him most.

Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord?
    Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever!
 Why do you hide your face?
    Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?

O God, why do you cast us off forever?
    Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture?

How long, O God, is the foe to scoff?
    Is the enemy to revile your name forever?
Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand?
    Take it from the fold of your garment and destroy them!

Don’t cut it short. And hold your place there in those grief-songs because they will surely be needed again. I cannot say that better days are coming.

But I also know there is more to speak and sing than sorrow. This is not the whole of human life even now in the aftermath of 59 dead and 523 wounded. Nor is it the whole of the Scriptures. Again and again I read words that speak of something else, something that is foreign to our tongues, especially now:

The apostle Paul writes from prison, “Even if I am being poured out like a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice withyou all."

David writes, "Every day I will praise you
    and extol your name for ever and ever."

Paul admonishes us, "Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name."

The Psalmist writes, "As for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more."

 

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Do you hear this? The imprisoned Paul is GLAD?  I will praise you more and more? Every day I will praise you?  Let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise?  I rejoice with you all?”

I want to be like this: glad, always hopeful, continually offering praise, but I am not good at this.   I am good at lament and complaint and poor at praise.  I have excuses. I don’t want to be the loony woman in a flowered hat pasting a red lipsticked “praise the Lord! PTL!” all over every life event.  I don’t want to be the bright-eyed ever-chipper front pew-sitter ready to slap an upbeat Bible verse on every bent back. I don’t want to be the silver-lining addict pulling golden threads from every disaster.  I don’t want to be the church clown handing out tracts and balloons at the door while the neighborhood burns.  

This is gross hyperbole and stereotype, I know. But I want to be real. True. Authentic. Human. I want to own my feelings. AND I want to be true to what is most true of all---that no one is more worthy of our worship than Jesus, the bread of the world, our Savior, our Creator, the lamb of God who has died for us all. (Praise him!)

I want to be the kind of person who praises God with more than occasional parenthetical inserts (see above.) I want to be the kind of person who offers “The sacrifice of praise” the way He deserves to be praised. (But also surely praise is more than saying “praise?” And surely praise is more than singing praise songs at church.) And can’t we do this in a way that doesn’t necessitate a Bible verse every minute, that doesn't send the sane running for cover? Yes, many of the prophets and disciples were thought mad. Does it take a kind of madness, then, to praise "continually"? (Please, no!)

This is my quest this year.  This is the path I am pilgrimming this year. I am following the footsteps of the apostle Paul (again). Where he lived, died, started churches. While on the road, I am also journeying into the Psalms and the life of David. There will be many detours and hijackings along the way. I will probably have to report on chocolate somewhere, and on getting lost, and breaking down, and running out of money and arguing with my sons and meeting strange angels and dangerous seatmates. Because that’s exactly how the crooked path toward praise and gladness goes. I hope you will come with me?

 

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So there it is, my announcement. If you’ve signed up to visit Alaska every week, I hope you’re not disappointed. I am returning. And I'll likely use some of the 1500 photos I took this summer at fish camp along the way, especially when I'm feeling homesick. Like now:

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But now----I am in the air, on the road, seeking to enlarge this poor heart, to teach this lame tongue real gladness and praise. 

Don't we need it? Doesn't He deserve it?

 

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Leslie and Philip Yancey Talk Jesus & Politics: Are We Missing The Good News?

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Dearest Friends, I have to share this with you. These are some of the wisest words I have heard about our place in politics. These words will strike deep, and bring clarity and healing. I promise. Please listen.  (Transcript below)

 (12 minutes, filmed at the Harvester Island Wilderness Workshop this month.)

 

Leslie: I’m here with Philip Yancey. He and I have been having some really interesting discussions about the American church, the church in japan, the body of Christ around the world. One of the things I see in the American church is that our first concern is about safety. I hear it in my own prayers. I hear it in the prayers of many around me: comfort and safety. When I look in the scriptures, I don’t see a lot of prayers concerned about that. Are we losing our way a little bit?

 

Philip: I’ve been to the underground church in China. They’re in a society where the government is actively hostile to them. I’ve interviewed pastors who have spent 20- 30 years in prison because they refuse to sign a statement renouncing their faith. I don’t speak ask Chinese so I’ve asked my interpreter, “How do they pray for their government?”

 She said I’ve never heard them pray, Lord change our government, deliver us from this hostility. What they pray is “Help us to bear the burden that we face.” 

Frankly I think in America we’ve been spoiled. It’s been a great blessing to have a Christian heritage. That’s changing. Our society is growing much more diverse. The media, especially the media is growing somewhat hostile. It’s a divided society. Everybody knows that. The elections showed that. A lot of people, a lot of Christians especially get concerned about that. They think we’re losing the way things used to be. And that is true.

But I have a different take on that. I get to travel overseas. I get to go to China, Japan, where the government is not hostile to it, but it’s just a ministry. And frankly I have found that Christians there are more like the situation that Jesus, Paul and the early Christians faced. Think of the hostile Roman empire.  I go back to the images that Jesus used of the kingdom. They’re all small things. There’s salt, a little bit of that keeps a whole hunk of meat from going bad. There’s yeast that raises a whole loaf of bread. It’s the smallest seed in the garden, not the largest, but it grows into a great bush and the birds of the air come nest in its branches. That’s what we can offer as Christians.

Leslie: Sometimes we have this language about changing the world. I feel for young college students at Christian colleges because they’re charged to go out and redeem the culture, change the world. I know for many of them they feel this impossible burden, that it’s their responsibility to change government, to change the culture. The kind of pictures that Jesus was painting were not, “Turn the world upside down, and “Get out there with your sword!”

Philip: Yes, I joke about this when elections come along. You hear such things as, “Who should be God’s man in the White House? Who should we vote for?” There were no elections in the Roman Empire. Go back to Paul’s day. Let’s see, should it be Nero or Caligula?  And yet, that was when the church blossomed. Why? Because it stood out in great contrast against the society around it.  

I believe America is at a hinge moment. it’s a divided nation. You cansee it on an electoral map, the center versus the coasts. It is very easy to join that division. Christians should be over on that or this side.  We represent something that can heal that division. That can bring people together. Even if we strongly disagree with people over there. Jesus teaches us a new way to handle these people says, “Love yr enemies.”

Leslie: The question is, are the people on the other political side really our enemies? I don’t think so! But even if they were, we’re to love them!

Philip: I believe that Christians Artists have a crucial role to play, and not just writers like I am. People who do plays, movies, art. We represent that universality. Artists don’t buy into the natural either/or divisions. They’re always trying to find a third way, a different way of looking at things, the universals of humanity that speaks to both sides that can bring them together.

Jesus certainly did this. People tried to pin him down. Which side are you on? This side or that side? Is this God or Ceasars? He comes up with these mystifying statements: Render unto Ceasear, to God what is God’s. That clarifies a lot! You can’t pin him down on these things.   He throws it back on us and says, find a creative way under the leadership of the Spirit and show the world a different way.

Leslie: Blessed are the peacemakers. I look at the church right now. I’m not seeing a lot of peacemaking. I’m seeing a lot of warmongering in the name of politics and in the name of God. That really grieves me. I’m afraid of what the culture at large is seeing from us.

Philip: It’s true. I get the question sometimes, “How can you possibly still call yourself an evangelical?” But I do. Because the word evangelical means “bearer of good news.”  But the media at large views evangelicals as a political lobby group. That’s it. That’s not what the good news is all about. The good news is something that speaks to every one of us, especially the marginalized, especially the weak, the alcoholics, the sinners, the people Jesus was hanging around and getting criticized for it. That’s the good news. Jesus never bought into the divisions that society creates. “Oh, I want to be one of these people.” He goes against that and reaches out to those who aren’t in that group.

Leslie: I think at first the disciples were really disappointed too because they expected Jesus to come andsave them from their political situation. They expected Israel, a suppressed oppressed nation, they expected the Messiah was going to deliver them, to “make Israel great again!” They discovered, at the end of those 3 years when he died on the cross, that Jesus’ plan was to win by losing.

Phillip: Absolutely. At least one of the disciples we know was a zealot. They were the terrorists of their day, against the occupying empire of Rome. A lot of scholars think thatmay have been Judas’ motive for betraying Jesus, because he didn’t fulfill that promise, the hopes that he excited.

Jesus shows us a different way. Through brokenness. Through losing. Through crucifixion comes the resurrection. Our job is not to manipulate that. Only god can do that. Our job is to be faithful, to reach out, to sacrifice, to go against the cultural mainstream by showing the world a different way. 

I look back on the Roman Empire. We think our country is losing its moorings. Go back there. We have violent football games. They would go for paid entertainment and see people kill each other. We have abortion. They were far worse; they would let the babies be born and then abandon them by the sides of the roads and let the weather, wild animals take them. No question is this a human being. They were out of the mother, living infants and just abandoned. This was infanticide. Scholars say a third to a quarter of all babies born in the Roman Empire were treated this way.

What did the Christians do? They didn’t primarily respond by lobbying. There were was no political action committees. They responded by saying, “lets show the world a diff. way to live. Romans would abandon their babies, the Christians would come and adopt them. They had platoons of wet nurses who would keep them nourished until they could adopt them out within  the church. When plague would hit a Roman town, everyone would flee into the hills; they didn’t want to die. The Christians would stay behind and nurse not only their own families but their pagan neighbor’s families. After awhile, it took a couple of centuries, but people thought: I like the way they live better than the way we live.

I think that’s what were called to do, to create a third way,  to be a city on the hill. To show people we don’t have to live that way, that violent divisive way.

Leslie: That power hunger, always trying to access and accrue more and more power.

Philip: The Church, when it gets too close to the power starts acting like the power. It’s just like everything else only moreso, because it’s got this religious impulse.  When they’re close to power as they were in the middle ages, course that’s what sparked the reformation. They just started acting like the roman gov. the medieval government. And that’s when the church is no longer good news, not evangelists, no longer the bearers of good news, but we’re like everyone else. Our job is to show the world a different way.

n the US, politics is an adversary sport. We see that in the U.S. Congress. If the Republicans propose something, all Democrats oppose it. If Democrats propose something, all Republicans oppose it. There’s no crossover. No one’s saying, “What’s best for the country?” That’s not a third way. That’s not the Jesus way. The more Christians identify with either side, you join an adversary sport, which is not what Jesus taught us.

How to Fall, Rise, Be Caught and Be Freed

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Fall begins this week.  I feel it. I have fallen.  I've just left Harvester Island after four months. I have leaped from outhouses and banyas and wilderness to land back in Kodiak, to roads, Walmart and flushing toilets. I didn't want to leave. Especially as the colors blazed orange and pink, the skies blue, yellow and black. Even the tideline kelp bloomed red under Autumn's burnished light.

 

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Leaves are falling, school schedules are filling and falling. So much falls during the Fall. Even animals fall.

Last year I watched as a squirrel fell from a tree and landed on a raspberry bush right in front of me. 

As Fall begins, as I leave one island for another, one life for another, I want to began again. Is it possible for any of us to start over? Trevin Wax, who wrote the words below, is right: This is what we are missing, dear friends, readers, and anyone confused, hungry, weary with themselves. We need a Start-Over,  a Do-Over. And here's how to begin: with Repentance.

Re-what?? We are not a repentant people. We run from guilt. We don't want to forgive. We don't want to submit to anyone. We fear all of this will rob us of our power. But here is our greatest power: the power of smallness, the power of humility, the power of weakness, the power of falling.  

Are you ready? Take this short ride with me, and I promise clarity, catharsis and arms to catch you!

(Words by Trevin Wax, images by God as seen by my camera)

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

Christians, We Are Repenters---------

                                    

We repent of all the good things we have failed to do, and so we ask God to open our eyes to the opportunities for us to shine His light in a dark world.

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We are repenters.

We repent of serving ourselves and our own interests, and so we ask God to empower us to serve others in the name of His Son.

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We are repenters.

We repent of making God out to be more like us, and so we ask God to change our hearts and make us more like Him.

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                                   ----------------------------

We are repenters.

We repent of our silly attempts to justify ourselves before God and make ourselves pleasing to Him through our own efforts, and so we ask Him to save and sustain us in His unwavering grace and help us rest in Christ’s work on our behalf.

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We are repenters.  

  We repent of our hypocrisy and self-righteousness, and so we ask God to deliver us from doublemindedness and help us seek His righteousness above all.

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We are repenters.    

We repent of valuing most what other people think, and so we ask God to help us value most what He thinks.

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We are repenters.

We repent of withholding areas of our life from God’s command, and so we ask God to invade and overcome every part of us – our hopes, our desires, our dreams, our thoughts, our actions – and show us how to love Him and love others from a whole heart.

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We are repenters.

We repent of seeking a life of ease and comfort, and so we ask God for the courage to pick up our crosses and follow Christ no matter the cost.

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                                   -----------------------------

We are repenters.

We repent of taking pride in our own repentance, and so we ask God to remind us that salvation is all of grace and to humble us before the cross.

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This Fall, my life is about to change. (More on this next week.)  Maybe yours will too?

And it begins here.

Not until you let go        and

         (finally)        fall

will you be caught

 by the Everlasting Arms.

"Then shall the fall further the flight in me. "

                                   ---George Herbert

 

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Naming the Wild and Hungry World w/ Philip Yancey & Friends

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*Loaves and Fishes---a Poem

This is not
the age of information.

This is not
the age of information.

Forget the news,
and the radio,
and the blurred screen.

This is the time of loaves
and fishes.

People are hungry,
and one good word is bread
for a thousand.

               -----David Whyte

 

21 people parachuted down onto this faraway Alaskan island last week (including Philip and Janet Yancey.) What kind of world would we create? In boots with backpacks men and women from everywhere clomped tremulously down the pontoon into the water onto the beach, through the open garden gate. Each one came freighted with apprehension, with the weight of their families’ worries, their own burden of words.

What would we make of this island this week?

 

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 We gathered around words every morning. Not so much to fix them. More, to listen. Sprung from our closets, where we write, all of us, utterly alone, here, now, every class, every meal is a feast of presence.

We were FOR each other, not against. We were not competing with one another but collaborating. We never went hungry. We could hardly stop.

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Do not say “Of course! Of course!”  This is not the usual world. I have been in classrooms, universities, workshops with dire shortages of food and water. In these deserts, honor and kindness were bargained or stolen, yanked from the uncertain, the humble, the seeker, the meek. Just one or two were the lucky ones, the smart ones. The desert got only one queen.

 

But not here. Nor anywhere people gather whose hearts are not theirs but their Makers. When the bread and fish kept breaking and breaking, and thousands lugged home their bursting stomachs---this was us too. Abundance, excess, overflow, love.

 

What is this open-gated place? Where do we find it? What do we name it?

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This is the body of Christ.  This is the economy of heaven. These are the metrics of the “Kingdom Come” life . Here. Now.

(But how did you do it, God? Did you really turn it all over to us, your just-made red-dirt beings fresh-hatched from your hands? How did you turn your Very-Good world over to them, to us, to know-nothing Us? How did they dare to begin?)

Your love made them brave, those two: first man and woman of the new earth who set about settling, naming and harvesting with vigor and joy.

 

Your love makes US brave too, brave enough to leap out of floatplanes, to sail rainy seas, to inhabit a wilderness island, to see fully into another’s dark closets of pain, to harvest true words. To make of a desert, a wild and profuse ocean-garden of love . . . .

 

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And it was all very very good.

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    Friends, we will be gathering again next September with Ann Voskamp. (More info and application here ) How I wish I could fly you all up here to join us!! Sadly, I can accommodate only 21! (But that's part of the joy of it---this intimate family that's formed.)   

But you have been called to the same work no matter where you live-----naming this wild world, and taming it with love. I pray you seek and speak sweet true words all this week!!

    Always,

      Leslie

*Special thanks to Carol Lee, poetry-spotter extraordinaire

The Prayer I Cannot Live Without

(Welcome to Focus on the Family listeners! Other friends, if you've not heard the FOF broadcasts on Crossing the Waters airing this week, you can listen Here. (I will not listen. I hate hearing my own voice!) Tell me how it goes?)  I do tell the honest hard mothering truths of raising children on the ocean---as well as that we're-gping to-hit-the-mountain story that slays me every time . .. .)

But now!!! 

I start with Cute. I start with Love. Because who does not want this right now, this very moment??

When horrific storms loom, and as we enter the next round of political losers, braggers and ousters----shall we turn to the otters? 

Here, the dear creatures who swim around my island so languidly, so full of love and protection for their babies.

 

Do you see that little baby face?

Do you see that little baby face?

 

I am joyful as I write this---because of a prayer.  (I can even follow the daily news because of this prayer.) A prayer spoken in the spring, before I came out to Harvester island. I prayed this prayer because I did not think I could do it. Again. Another fishing season out on this island. Building another cabin. SO much work. So many people. Never alone in my own house. (And next week, a film crew from RightNow Media comes, to film a video study of Crossing the Waters.) No margins. No downtime. Four months of round-the-clock work.

And those days of, another pregnancy? Another child? Another book? Another death? Another more of everything I haven't got?

And for many of you, another illness? Another prodigal child? Another foreclosure? Another fight?

We ask, "Are you really asking MORE of me again, God?"

I think Jesus might join us in this refrain. In the gospels, when he and the disciples find out that the one they all loved---John the Baptist---had been murdered, they fled in a boat across the sea to find some lonely quiet place to grieve this unspeakable act. They arrive at this "desolate place" but look---thousands, yes thousands are there before them, the worst kind of thousands: the sorriest neediest lot of humanity ever seen, and all of them shouting, milling, crying out for help. All wanting the touch of this magician's healing hand.

This grieving Jesus, what did he pray as he stepped out of the boat??  Oh Lord, not the pathetic masses again? Father, just give me some peace and rest for once, would you?

If Jesus was fully a man, surely he prayed something like this under his breath.

 Why does God keep calling us to things we cannot do? More than this, his messenger Paul had the gall to implore us to rejoice in the white-hot center of our worst stressed-out mess! "Rejoice in the Lord Always!!"

But No, He is not cruel. Two and half months into a summer I was on-my-knees about, I am rejoicing. Fourteen and sixteen years after birthing those mid-life babies, I am rejoicing. Six years after multiple deaths, one month after finishing another book, I am praising God. For God has done it. God has answered my face-down prayer again and again, even when I did not see it at the time.

 And the words of that prayer? Not Jabez’ prayer

'Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain.
 

No, not that. As I climb out of the boat each time facing multitudes and messes I have no strength or ability for, what do I pray? Not "enlarge my territory" but 

“Lord, increase my capacity.”

They are not words from Scripture. They are not holy inspired words. They are simply the words from an often overwhelmed heart and body:

“Lord, increase my capacity.”

Because my natural heart is  a one-seat leaky dinghy with broken oars and a rotting line that will not cross the sea, and will not throw out a line or an anchor on any hillside hospital for anyone. So----

“Lord, increase my capacity.”

And He does. The years spool by and the boat slowly lengthens, the hatches open, the galley seats two, then five, then dozens;, the engines rumble across a pond then the ocean, and soon the ferry carries more than I can count sometimes. And each one is a wondrous marvel, easy to love. There is even room for me. 

How does He do this? The same way he does all of this: 

 

He cannot not fill the impoverished, empower the weak, beautify the plain, overflow the destitute, make peaceable the angry, make bounteous the miser, dazzle the dim.

It is His very nature. As nature itself shows us.

All we need do is ask. Each morning we awake and step out of our sleepy boat to a needy throng on a hill we thought was ours alone, Let us breathe,

 “Lord, increase my capacity. Make me more like you.”

 

And He does.

 

(And my prayer for our contentious leaders: "Lord, Decrease their territory. Make them more like you.")

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Your turn!! What's the one prayer you cannot live without??

 

The Fishing Storm that Killed My Cameras (and my gods)

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I don't have many words this week. Not just because the Harvester Island Wilderness Workshop is about to begin (very excited to have Phillip and Janet Yancey with us for the next 10 days)

 

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But the storm. I will let the photos and videos tell the story, mostly. 

 

The storm blew in three nights ago. We have at least one of these a summer, sometimes more. And we have many of these storms in the winter. I'm sorry you won't hear the language of this blow-----the howl and scream of the wind, the whistle of the water, the splat and slash of the spray and rain pelting our faces, the slam of the skiff into the roiling seas. I heard it. 

Everyone was out to get the salmon in the nets. that's what fishermen do. That's what my husband and 3 sons and the crew were doing: going after the fish before they were ruined. Me, I didnt go for the fish. Nor did I go because I'm a thrill seeker. I went because I'm a God-seeker. I brought my camera. Two of them. Surely I would catch Him somewhere in this storm.

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My nephew Ryan was out with his camera too. We never do this. We never act like tourists or pilgrims when the seas are high and the nets might be full and danger is all around. But we did this time, the two of us. We knew what we were looking for.  We know what counts.

Here is Ryan's video of this night.  (Hold onto something steady---or better, sit down.) 

Near the end, In the midst of these water mountains, a rogue wave caught us unaware. I was sitting in the stern, sheltering my cameras and filming when a massive hand of water broke over us. One camera washed out of my hands. The other was deluged. I didn't have time to do anything about it.

   BAIL!! Duncan screamed at Levi and me. We let go of the net and, struggling to keep our footing, scrambled to empty the gallons of extra water that weighted us down. One more wave and we'd swamp. The wind keened yet higher, spray whipped our faces. But we are no strangers to storms. Duncan and his brother have ridden these waves for 55 years. I have been here for 40.  

 

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We live too much in a too human world, most of us, surrounded by the work of our own hands, cossetted and comforted and cozy most hours of the day and night. We fashion our lives and our prayers around safety, success, We cannot escape ourselves or our own small desires. But enter a storm, climb a mountain, sail the sea, wander an old-growth forest---be afraid---and you will so suddenly and gloriously disappear. You will feel the wind blowing through your clothes and your soul. If you are lucky you'll be terrified and you may cry like Peter, "Lord, I am a sinful woman, go away from me!" Your little household gods will die, and part of you will die with it.

And you'll be glad.

 

 

The end of my story? Both of my cameras died (though I salvaged these images). And my little household gods. 

Yes, it was worth it. 

 

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

 

Missing the Eclipse & What the American Church Needs Most

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I missed the eclipse. Entirely.  My son came in from fishing saying, “Wow, did you see it? I watched the eclipse form the boat, through the clouds! It was really cool!”

My eyes went wide. “You’re joking! We’re not supposed to be able to see it in Alaska. I’ve seen the maps! Oregon is the furthest north to see it!” Now I am slightly angry. I love all things celestial and seeing this eclipse would have soothed my earth-and-politics-ravaged heart.

“Well, I saw it!” 

I conferred with nearby experts, my nephew and his wife, both science-smarties and sure enough, they watched it too, but safely, through a pin box.

I felt betrayed that I had missed it.

But that night, that very night,  the sun went down in flames, torching every mountain and sea around my island.  I grabbed my camera and for an hour, I breathlessly tracked its path across the beaches, up on the hills, on the cliffsides, over the water. 

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I

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I wish everyone I know and love had been there with me. And I imagine people gathered by families and communities to watch the eclipse together. What is better than this, for all of us together to tip our heads skyward, to remember we are creatures under the same sun who spin in the same orbit of the same planet. We are people who get wet under the same rains and who parch under the same summer sun. When we take our eyes off our hysterical screens and look at each other and peer together beyond our tiny roofs to the canopy of heavens above us-----maybe we will remember who we are.

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Maybe I have been burned by last night’s gold fire, but I hope for so much more than this. Because I must. Because otherwise I will despair.

I spent the last 3 years writing Crossing the Waters ----about following Jesus. This last week a film company flew up to Harvester to film a 6 part study based on the book. With multiple cameras in my face, I was immersed in those Scriptures, those moments when Jesus called those twelve men from their occupations, from their families, from their politics (Simon the zealot, who wanted to overthrow the Romans through violence. Matthew, through tax evasion.)

Again, I traced Jesus’ life through the gospels----from storm to feast to crucifixion to resurrection to his last words to us all: “Go and make disciples of all nations.”

Are we doing this?

While the (amazing) 5 person film crew was running circles around me, Charlottesville happened. After the week of filming, I felt deeply Holy-Spirit moved to say something. I joined my voice with thousands, millions of Americans exposing racism, neo-nazi-ism and white supremacy for what it is (here) because any form of any of these is in violent opposition to the gospel.      

But there was blowback on this basic human affirmation---from fellow Christians. Everywhere I see this: the drawing of lines, jutted chins, defiant gestures. From Christians.

Our obsession with politics has divided the Church and stolen our mission, and it worsens every day. Right now, we are not making disciples of all nations, we are losing disciples.

But a divided church is not new. It  happened in Paul’s day too:

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”;another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 

 

 Paul’s rhetorical question should be ours as well: Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Was President Trump crucified for you? Was Hilary Clinton or Barak Obama or Joel Osteen or any other religious or political figure crucified for you? 

There is only one man who went to the cross to defeat sin and death. There is only one name that will drop every body and soul to its knees at the end of time. There is only one man worthy to open the scrolls of judgment at the end of the ages. There is only one man sitting at the right hand of the father.

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Those who love and follow this Savior bear His name: We are Christ-ians, “Little Christs.”  Our identity is not as republicans, democrats, liberals, conservatives. We are not Americans, Russians, Cubans, Koreans.  We are not Trump-ians, Clintonians, Reaganites, Sanderites or anything else. If we have been “baptized into Christ,” then “there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

I am praying the Church would be unified---around Christ, and no one else.

I am praying that we would remember our calling to disciple-making.

I am praying most of all that our anxious divided hearts would be overshadowed entirely by Christ.

Entirely.

That's the total eclipse I am praying for.

Would you join me?

 

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What We All Get Wrong about Racism

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Friends, I have been immersed in filming this last week, but I have not missed the events of Charlottesville and the aftermath. Finally I have a moment to speak. Here’s what I must say:

We are all racist in some ways. We all make judgments based on externalities. We all categorize—it is the mind’s natural state to sort and order and try to contain all the disparate information our brains are constantly receiving , which means we all place people in boxes with labels. This is the means whereby we attempt to order a disordered world. This is our means of trying to control a world too big for us. This is the human condition.

It is also the human condition to prefer ourselves over others. To make ourselves look better than others. To seek our own well being above the wellbeing of others.

We are also often willfully blind, preferring to suppress and ignore God’s glorious image inherent in every person of every color, shape and nationality. Our view of God is too small.

We are also lazy, preferring clichés and simple labels that allow us to ignore the true complexity of the world and its peoples.

We are also afraid, that goodness and abundance will run out. That others’ success will diminish our own.

We are all racist in some ways.

To say this is not a statement of despair but rather a statement of hope. For there is no hope for us until we see ourselves as we are. There is no rescue from our condition until we recognize the immensity of our lostness and darkness.

“Lord I am a sinful man! “ Peter cried out when he glimpsed the holiness and perfection of Christ.

And so are we all. There is no hope for us until we can say these words: “Lord, we are sinful people!” Now there is hope, because these are the very people Jesus came to rescue.

There is no rescue from our terminal human condition apart from Christ. He alone frees us from blindness, captivity, self-adoration. He frees us to see the beauty of God in every human being. He frees us to love all others and to recognize them as sisters and brothers. He frees us to joyfully lay down our lives for one another.

Let us live, then, not in our human condition but in our rescued condition: as the freed, redeemed, loving people of God.

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The Prayer I Cannot Live Without

I start with Cute. I start with Love. Because who does not want this right now, this very moment??

When horrific storms loom, and as we enter the next round of political losers, braggers and ousters----shall we turn to the otters? 

Here, the dear creatures who swim around my island so languidly, so full of love and protection for their babies.

 

Do you see that little baby face?

Do you see that little baby face?

 

I am joyful as I write this---because of a prayer.  (I can even follow the daily news because of this prayer.) A prayer spoken in the spring, before I came out to Harvester island. I prayed this prayer because I did not think I could do it. Again. Another fishing season out on this island. Building another cabin. SO much work. So many people. Never alone in my own house. (And next week, a film crew from RightNow Media comes, to film a video study of Crossing the Waters.) No margins. No downtime. Four months of round-the-clock work.

And those days of, another pregnancy? Another child? Another book? Another death? Another more of everything I haven't got?

And for many of you, another illness? Another prodigal child? Another foreclosure? Another fight?

We ask, "Are you really asking MORE of me again, God?"

I think Jesus might join us in this refrain. In the gospels, when he and the disciples find out that the one they all loved---John the Baptist---had been murdered, they fled in a boat across the sea to find some lonely quiet place to grieve this unspeakable act. They arrive at this "desolate place" but look---thousands, yes thousands are there before them, the worst kind of thousands: the sorriest neediest lot of humanity ever seen, and all of them shouting, milling, crying out for help. All wanting the touch of this magician's healing hand.

This grieving Jesus, what did he pray as he stepped out of the boat??  Oh Lord, not the pathetic masses again? Father, just give me some peace and rest for once, would you?

If Jesus was fully a man, surely he prayed something like this under his breath.

 Why does God keep calling us to things we cannot do? More than this, his messenger Paul had the gall to implore us to rejoice in the white-hot center of our worst stressed-out mess! "Rejoice in the Lord Always!!"

But No, He is not cruel. Two and half months into a summer I was on-my-knees about, I am rejoicing. Fourteen and sixteen years after birthing those mid-life babies, I am rejoicing. Six years after multiple deaths, one month after finishing another book, I am praising God. For God has done it. God has answered my face-down prayer again and again, even when I did not see it at the time.

 And the words of that prayer? Not Jabez’ prayer

'Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain.
 

No, not that. As I climb out of the boat each time facing multitudes and messes I have no strength or ability for, what do I pray? Not "enlarge my territory" but 

“Lord, increase my capacity.”

They are not words from Scripture. They are not holy inspired words. They are simply the words from an often overwhelmed heart and body:

“Lord, increase my capacity.”

Because my natural heart is  a one-seat leaky dinghy with broken oars and a rotting line that will not cross the sea, and will not throw out a line or an anchor on any hillside hospital for anyone. So----

“Lord, increase my capacity.”

And He does. The years spool by and the boat slowly lengthens, the hatches open, the galley seats two, then five, then dozens;, the engines rumble across a pond then the ocean, and soon the ferry carries more than I can count sometimes. And each one is a wondrous marvel, easy to love. There is even room for me. 

How does He do this? The same way he does all of this: 

 

He cannot not fill the impoverished, empower the weak, beautify the plain, overflow the destitute, make peaceable the angry, make bounteous the miser, dazzle the dim.

It is His very nature. As nature itself shows us.

All we need do is ask. Each morning we awake and step out of our sleepy boat to a needy throng on a hill we thought was ours alone, Let us breathe,

 “Lord, increase my capacity. Make me more like you.”

 

And He does.

 

(And my prayer for our hot-tempered leaders: "Lord, Decrease their territory. Make them more like you.")

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The Biggest Sea Lion, the Wildest Heart

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
    or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;
 or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
    or let the fish in the sea inform you.
Which of all these does not know
    that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life of every creature
    and the breath of all mankind."    Job 12

Nearly every day at fishcamp is a day of life and birth and blood.

In my house, my dog Sophie brings forth young, birthing each into my hand.

The spider in the corner window lures the fly, wraps a wicked cocoon around the buzzing struggle, and soon he moves no more.

Fish are caught and gutted and walked up the hill to my kitchen, where my knives and hands parse its red flesh into lunch.  

I leave the house to sit and watch the eagles, young and old, 

who spin the sky blue, and watch for fish to feed their brood. 

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Out in the bay, I hear fin whales spouting, He rises and falls, feeding. 

Sea lions skirt the nets, shopping for fish, blasting sea from their nostrils so loud I can hear it on top of the hill,

then haul out on rocks and reefs, argue and fight over king of the rock, rule by force and heft and roar.

(And isn't he the ugliest, most massive sea lion you have every seen?)

 

Everything on the hunt. Everything looking to kill.  

Which means, everything looking to feed and live.

And I am the wildest thing out here, I know.  

Me with my camera, stalking and shooting their beauty and 

blood, me with my untamed heart

that wants not to yield to another. 

(Not even

sometimes to You, O Lord.) 

And can't I kill with a single word? 

Can't I maim without talons or teeth?

Just to speak or withhold speech alone

can do someone in. How powerful 

the tongue, how wild and dark this wandering heart!

But these creatures live as they must and as they should, as they were made. 

They set out each day to do all that God has put

in their thumping animal heart to do.

And they do it well, 

so boldly and so thoroughly, 

they are never not praising You, O Lord.

 Simply by living, flying, breathing, roaring, swimming and

spinning 

they speak the language you have given them.

They delight you,

they love you

and you love them back. Entirely.

(Even that king-of-the-rock sea lion!)

They are all you created them to be.

Would you grant us this, too, Lord?

Would you so inhabit our wild hearts that we only want

to do what You have created us to do,

So that we please you, 

we delight you, 

And in all we do we love you back?

Would you do this in us?

Even now? 

"In his hand is the life of every creature

    and the breath of all mankind."   

7 Reasons to Cling to Hope When Your Storm is Not Calmed

Friends! Is your boat leaking right now, in choppy seas?  May I throw you a lifeline??

 

 

When I think of the “storms of life” I remember twelve men in a boat on high waters who couldn’t get home. They fought the winds and seas with nothing but arms and oars. For nine hours they rocked and pitched, but barely moved. Another time, in a worse storm, they nearly sank, which would have meant death to all. I’ve been out in storms like this, with nothing but oars against the ocean. Storms aren’t always prayed away. But hang on, because even when the storm doesn’t end, there’s still hope and good news.

 

1.    God seldom calls us to jump out of the boat.

 

We’ve made much of the story of Peter jumping into the stormy sea to walk on water toward Jesus,  but we may have gotten it wrong. It is more likely that Peter jumped not out of faith, but out of doubt. Jesus clearly identified himself in the storm three times: ‘Take courage. It is I. Do not be afraid.” But Peter did not believe it could be Jesus. “IF it is you, Lord, tell me to come to you.” Peter is lauded for jumping into the water, but God had already given him a boat, oars and friends to row with. Jesus didn’t ask him to leap into the waves. So with us. God has given us friends, family, a church, doctors. God often works powerfully through these daily providences. Use them!

 

 

 

2. No storm is random, trivial or without purpose.

God doesn’t waste any storms in the Bible—or in our lives either. Both of the Galilee squalls revealed to the terrified disciples their own physical and spiritual limitations. From that place of need and desperation, they witnessed Jesus’ true identity as Lord over all of creation and as Rescuer and Deliverer. We cannot reduce or dismiss suffering as simply a means of “teaching us lessons,” but God has genuine purposes for our struggles, including his desire to display his love, mercies, and power.

 

 

3. When the storm is relational, God has equipped us to love and forgive. Some of the biggest tempests come within our own families. We have little control over other people’s response, but we do have control over our own. When your mother disowns you, when your father cannot love you, when your son rebels---God can enable us to love and forgive. The person who has wounded us may have no resources beyond herself, but we do. Christ has shown us the way, that we are to forgive others as our Father has forgiven us. When hate and hurt are met with love and forgiveness, the storm may not end but we will find calm and peace.

 

 

4. Even when it seems that Jesus is “sleeping” in your boat, He is still with you and for you. This is one of the hardest parts of this storm narrative, when Jesus is stone-cold asleep while the disciples are sure their boat is about to sink. It appears that Jesus “sleeps” through some of our cyclones as well, particularly when they go on for years. But where did we get the idea that Jesus’ presence in our lives would assure smooth sailing? Not from the scriptures. Jesus pronounced blessing on our neediness—our hunger, our mourning, our persecution---knowing it would not end until heaven came down to earth. The apostle Paul assures us that nothing----not danger or sword or famine or persecution or life or even death---none of these calamities separate us from the love of God. God does not abandon us in our suffering. Ever.

 

 

 

 

 

5. Don’t Wait to Call on Jesus.  Those twelve terrified men waited until they were sure they would drown before they awakened Jesus.  Of course. Because they didn’t yet know who he was. (I rather think they awakened him so he could take a turn at the oars. They certainly did not expect him to shout down the wind and seas.) But they suffered and struggled in their ignorance and aloneness far longer than they needed to.

 

 

 

 

6. Deliverance often looks different than we expect.  We always want the storm to end, but The ultimate deliverance from our greatest enemy—sin and death—came in a shocking act: the promised long-awaited Messiah staked out on a Roman cross. From violence and death springs life, hope, and redemption.

 

 

 

 

7. Even if our boat sinks and we go under, we’re still safe. I felt this truth so powerfully one day when our boat was about to sink.  My husband and I were in rough water along an empty stretch of ocean. Our boat was disabled, taking on wave after wave. We were about to sink. But I knew in those moments that no matter what happened, even if we should die, we were still safe. My husband and I knew Jesus, knew He was with us and even death would not separate us. The disciples in both storms that night were not safe---because they didn’t yet know who Jesus was. I believe Jesus rescued them both times not so much to save them from death, but to save them from a worse fate---from disbelief. Nothing can separate us from God’s love----except our own disbelief.

Nothing.

 

 

 

Have you found this to be true as well?? Share with us how and why!?

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Congrats to Crystal S. and Jean F. who won some smoked salmon and wild rose petal jam this last week!! (Mailing soon!!)  

This week, I'm giving away some copies of "Crossing the Waters:Following Jesus through the Storms, the Fish, the Doubt and the Seas " to anyone who emails a request, explaining why they want/need a copy.  leslieleylandfields@gmail.com

May Jesus calm you in every storm this week!