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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

*Give the truth.

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

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

 

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*Give Stories.

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




*Give Generous Words Generously

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

"I love you."  

"You're amazing."  

"You're such a good father."  

"You're an incredible son."

 "I'm sorry." 

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

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

"I'm so proud of you."

"I forgive you. Will you forgive me?"

 "I'm always here for you."

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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(Wonder Years Winners Below!)

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

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

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

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


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Our Father who art in heaven,

Glorious, honored, loved, hallowed be your name.

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

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Reveal your kingdom among us, here, now,

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

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

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

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

the debts we owe, the ways we have hurt others 

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

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

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

Please rescue us from the destroyer, that evil one.

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We ask you all this

because you are the King

and this holy kingdom is yours,

power and majesty and strength is yours

glory and honor and praise is yours.

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Forever and always,

 Yes and amen.

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Amen.


THE WONDER YEARS WINNERS!

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

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

*Karen Worley

*Lula Cobb

*Jane Stewart

*Yvonne Mollica

*Katie Husby

*Lance Aldrin

*Darrell Davis

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





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

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

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

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

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

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

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BEARS!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Oh Lord, save me!

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

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

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

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

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GIVEAWAYS!

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the OT, Samuel writes,

He brought me forth also into a large place: 

       he delivered me, because he delighted in me. 

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

But Samuel's words go on:

The Lord rewarded me according to my  righteousness: 

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

 For I have kept the ways of the Lord, 

           and have not wickedly departed from my God.

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

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

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

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

I am ready.

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

But Bent gladly. 

Spilled gladly.

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

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

It’s not too late.

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

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

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

This will not be us.

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

more, a hundred more glasses, and like that, 

never will an end come to the feast 

begun by One.

Cheers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It’s impressive.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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But I am not in Mongolia anymore.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ONE

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

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TWO

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

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THREE

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

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

So Gratefully,

Leslie










Can You Really Have Church in a Yurt?

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s not too late to recover that faith.

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

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

the only Love.

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

Awake, Alive (and Exhausted) in Mongolia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that itself is a grand adventure.

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

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

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

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

And He did.

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

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

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

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

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

And He is with you.

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

And watch what He can do through YOU!!

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

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

Why I'm Flying to Mongolia this Week

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


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


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

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

Why would I want to leave this?

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 
 

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

With love and always with hope,

Leslie

After the Wedding, the Richest, Wildest Life I Know

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

 

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

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But never for long . . .

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

 

"Better you than me!"

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

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

"What's this, baby # 10?"

 

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

And I am.

 

 All my kids!

All my kids!

 My new sister!

My new sister!

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 And it has.

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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But it was an extravagant week.

 

 

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

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

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

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

 Have you heard this?

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

What IS this abundant life?

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

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

 Will you try—-and tell me about it?

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

Surviving Your Island of Grace

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

I waited.

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

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

I saw and understood.

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

 

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

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

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

Don't do that.

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

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


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

 

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

Three Weddings and Six Funerals: Love and Death and Love

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July blew hot across our island; August has blown cold.  In the sharp winds, my sons and crew wear winter gear while mending the nets, huddle to keep warm on snack break. Our cooler month, July, was hot. Our warm month, August is cold now. The deer run tame. In the clouded skies, the island glows green and the bay sings blue even in the darkest light. I feel unsettled.

 

 

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In this beauty, I wanted to write of weddings this week. That was my plan. But this day, this very hour I sit to write brings news of death. In the storms this last week, one fisherman drowned at the south end of Kodiak. I just heard another man took his life in a village not far from here.  My brother-n-law, just back from the salmon season in Bristol Bay said four fishermen died there during this year’s mad season.

Six deaths. Six funerals. All tragic. But I cannot claim grief---I did not know these men. I can only claim sadness at the losses. Even from a distance, death stings.

But here on this island, close-up, there is joy. 

My daughter, my eldest just left, after two weeks on Harvester with her intended. They got engaged on the shores of the island she loves as much as I do. And, of course, in the skiff as well. (How can a fisherwoman become engaged without a fish or two?)

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It is just weeks now before my son marries the beautiful love of his life.

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And next spring, another precious son marries a woman of greater worth than rubies. 

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Three weddings in eight months. Their cups overflow. And my cup is a gushing well.

It feels wrong to be happy while others are grieving, to plan weddings while others are planning funerals, but we are all dying, too. Every day, another page pulled from the book of the days of our lives. So I take this moment, this sad funereal news as a "memento mori" a sign to once again remember this fleeting piece of life we're given. What shall we do with the hours we are given, if we have that much time? 

You know what I'm going to say today, with my cup spilling over, with these photos of half of my family and the new families that will begin from them. I'm going to say "love." Because that is the strongest weapon I know against Time and against death. There is another kind of death that is equally tragic. We all know people who live for themselves alone. We have seen them. They are already dead. They are breathing, but deceased. And we know people cast off by others. Considered unlovable. Killed by neglect. It is tragic and pitiful and heartbreaking and it's all around us. it could be any of us. (And maybe it is you right now.) Not-loving kills us and it kills others.

But Loving kills us too. We all know this, yes? It kills our self-preservation. It smothers our pride. It slays our self-obsession. It leads us to gladly lay down our lives for others. We can drown in love. We can disappear. We can be swallowed whole.  

(If you have children, you know this. If you are single and have served many, you know this. If you are long married, you know this.)

My words this week are simple and you've heard them before. But I say it again.

We're all headed for the grave. We have no choice. But we have this choice:

Which death shall we die each day?

I pray we choose the beautiful daily death that raises us up each morning, 

against all selfishness,

against all sense and flesh,

to love again the other,

the lovely and unloved,

(the husband, the wife, the father, the brother,)

until death do us part.

And if Love kills us first, death shall have no part. 

 

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Friends, have you, too, found this true? How has love overcome death in your life this last year?

Do People Have to Believe What I Believe?

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Most of this month our fishing nets have been empty. But the bushes are full. Salmonberries burn ripe and red, ready to fall from our hands into our buckets. Ready to be hauled from the hills to the kitchen to the pots to the jars to our table. And some days there are fish we catch to eat. We brine and smoke them and eat them together at the table.

How does any of this happen? We did not till or plant. We did not shield or tend. We reach into hillsides and pluck from the green; we reach into oceans and pull from the blue. We come and gather and go home rejoicing, thanking God.

 

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But not everyone does.

Early this summer, while still in Kodiak, I ran into someone at the grocery store I hadn't seen for awhile. "How you doing, Leslie?" she boomed in an inviting voice. I came closer. I never know what “Raya” is going to say, which is part of the fun.

One time, at a picnic, with my youngest in my arms, and my other five playing with the other kids, she asked me, "So, how many kids you got now?"

"This is my sixth and last."

"Ohhh!" she exclaimed with a shake of his head. "That's too many!" and then she walked away.

But Raya had other things on her mind this time. "So, how’s all this religion stuff workin’ out for ya’? I’ve read your stuff. I know what you do.”

I was doubtful on both counts. But I had no time to respond. She followed with his own spiritual resume, which included "I've never hurt anyone in my life," doing lots of good things for people, not bothering God except when she got in trouble, which wasn't very often, because she could pretty much do everything on his own. And the grand finale, "Why do people have to believe what you believe?"

 I marveled that she had managed to make it through all those decades without hurting anyone. She was clearly better than me. And, she was much stronger than me. She only needed God occasionally whereas I needed God continually. Like, every minute. (Like, right now.) Clearly I was the weaker person. No wonder I’m religious and she isn’t!

This happens all over the earth, in every city and island. The sun shines on us all. The same winds blow our skiffs up water mountains. The same rain drips from our hair. And the same berries and fish fill our buckets and spill onto our tables.

And some families sit down at their table together, happy. They will bow their heads and bless the Maker of all the fish and berries. They will thank him for health. They will confess their weakness, ask for strength for the storm, for endurance for the rain. They will go to bed at night marveling at the goodness poured out upon them, undeserved.

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And other families will sit down at their table, happy. They thank themselves; maybe they thank the earth, the sea, the stars. Then they eat. They are proud of their name, their dominion, their strength. They laugh at the storms, they capture the rain, they sleep well at night knowing they deserve all the goodness they can find.

I have many brave, strong friends like this. God bless them. And He does. 

 This is a God who grows wild grapes and blueberries in the yards of men and women who deny him. This is a God who gives children to the loveless, who heals the bodies of agnostics, who pumps the hearts of those who worship science, who fills the lungs of those who ridicule faith. This is a God who lights the night with stars, who warms our houses with sun, who lavishes his enemies with mercy, surrounds them with birthday cakes, grandchildren and feasts.

This is a God who imbues every molecule of the universe with his love, inviting us to choose Him. 

It's an invitation my friend has missed----or she's refused. 

And many say no. Many choose themselves over God.

But I am greedy and needy. I am small hearted and narrow minded. I want more, not less. I want the God of Everything, not the me with nothing.

 So I choose Him. 

After Raya's "sermon", she left, onto her next task. I like this strong blunt woman very much, but she is not the listening kind. 

May God keep blessing Raya. 

Maybe someday Raya will bless God. 

 

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(And, maybe someday I'll get to ask Raya, kindly, back, "Why do people have to believe what you believe?")

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

 

Friends, I know you've all had interesting encounters with people of various faiths. I'd love to hear about one of those moments from your files. (Thank you!)

 

 

 

Why I'm a Happy Prisoner (& Wonder Years Giveaways)

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Last week you should have been here on Kodiak Island. The sun shone like the Sahara and people ran around in sun dresses and tank tops. These are people usually dressed to the chin and ankle in multilayers of Grundens, Carhardts, X-tra Tufs and Guy Cotton (and therewith I name the four clothing groups of Kodiak). 

 

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Sally has freckled legs? Gus has calves? Mara has tanned shoulders? Andrew has ankles? And someone please put pants on that fisherman in Bermudas with luminously pale hairy legs! (Oh wait. Those are my legs.)

 

But of course what a miracle, for Kodiak Island to have sun like this!

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I haven’t been out in it though. I’ve been living like a prisoner. I’ve spent the last 5 days alone, inside, writing 11-12 hours a day, until my brain, fried, fell out and my eyes swelled to slits, and my hands cramped. I stopped long enough to cram scrambled eggs down my throat and to pump coffee and kombucha.

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But look what I’ve got!

 

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I finished the first draft of a script and the outline of a new book. I can't wait to tell you more about it as it starts. (It involves a film crew out on our island taping Ann Voskamp and I--and 20 writers.)

 Here’s what I've come to say this week. Most people think being religious, going to church, being  “Christian” means following rules. They think it means voting for a certain political party. They think it means living a mean hard intolerant life, like the grim characters cast in Hollywood’s movies, when their movies include a token “Christian.” They’re either that or they’re just plain from-Mars cuckoo. Either stereotype concludes the same: Not fun people. Not a fun life. An abstemious life. A harsh suppressed virginal life. At best, a dutiful life, not a spontaneous joyful life.

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But I am joyful. I am buoyant. And I know lots of Christians who are. I am joyful though I have such stacks and loads of work to do---people waiting for words, classes, food---and I give up Kodiak sun to do it. Happily. I’m giving up some of my favorite summer things this week, this month.

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I am working like a prisoner, like a slave. I do this often----and I love it. Even when I'm tired and hating it. Because I get to speak to people and share the best news I know, news that keeps changing my life--and maybe others' too?  And because maybe I will write something that lightens someone else’s load?

 

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The Apostle Paul called himself "a slave for Jesus Christ," and if we're lucky, we're all His slaves. And Here is just one piece of the strange happy news of the gospel. Everything God asks us to be and to do, he enables us to do. He gives us joy to do. It’s what we want to do. I want to give stuff up to do better stuff. This work that overwhelms me often is yet a glad burden that wakes me up each morning and skips me through my day.

But it’s not all easy, being a Jesus-person. Especially for Christians in other countries who are routinely persecuted and killed because of who they love and serve. This is the ultimate price to pay.  For us, in the West, our struggles are smaller. But still, Forgiveness is not easy. Loving our enemies is not easy. Going the extra mile for a stranger is not always easy.  But so much of what our Father asks of us, he makes easy.

(Remember when the baby cried in the night----again? You thought it was so hard to get up----again. And it was. But it’s harder to stay in bed, yes? Remember forgiving your husband---again?And deciding you would not build walls against him. No, not easy, but this is what Love does. It turns us inside out and sideways-over so that obeying and doing for others is our delight even when it hurts.)

We’re Christians because we believe Jesus is real and true, and it also happens that it’s the best life we know.

It can be yours as well. Jesus wants to take your burden. He wants to make a swap with you. 

 “Come to me, all of you who are tired with heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Accept my teachings and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit, and you will find rest for your lives. The burden that I ask you to accept is easy; the load I give you to carry is light.”

                                                                 Matthew 11:28-30 New Century Version (NCV)

 

I hope you'll do it. There's no better life.

 

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It's been awhile since I gave away some Wonder Years! I'd like to give FIVE away this week!

 

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(Thanks to you all, "The Wonder Years" is headed for a third printing!)

To enter, would you do this? If you know people who need messages of hope, photos of wild Alaska, honest words from this pen, cultural commentary and hands pointing to Jesus, would you subscribe them to these weekly notes? Or just send their emails to me (leslieleylandfields@gmail.com) and they can be added to the list. But please, ONLY with their permission!

Thank you friends. It is always a joy to share this space with you.

As the Nations Rattle and Roil

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Friends, hello again! What news this week?  I flew into Kodiak for a couple of days. We skiff for 25 minutes to the village of Larsen Bay, the home of our cannery, Icicle Seafoods. Then fly out on a bush plane. 

It was a minus tide that day. All week we've been in the highest and lowest tides of the year, from -5.8 to 21.6, a tidal range of 26+ feet. We walked our luggage (always in boxes) across the ocean floor only rarely exposed. I feel shy and illlicit, as though I am treading on the undergarments of the sea.

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I love the cannery at Larsen Bay. We meet old friends here, fellow fishermen. We eat ice cream. We talk weather, fishing, politics. The day Trump and Putin met in Finland, I was here.

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I don't have radio at fishcamp and internet is limited. I am unplugged from the world news mostly. But suddenly I hear the news. The radio is on. The screens are flickering.

There is disbelief. Anger. Outrage. Defense. Attack. Surely it's unprecedented, the words spoken then denied. What a wicked new world! we say as we shake our heads and our fists at our politicians, our heads-of-state, the media, whoever we are blaming.  

But listen, nations come and go. Leaders come and go. America is not very great right now, and it shakes my faith not at all. America is not very great right now, and in truth, my faith is stronger. I'm not gloved up in the ring of the Culture and Politic Wars fighting to make America Christian again, no matter the cost. I'm not interested in trying to recover or create a "Christian nation." I am more interested in what Jesus was interested in: living and enacting right here the great good news of another country, another kingdom, another king, who rules by Love. And Justice. And Mercy.

Who is this king? A king who counted his life as less than mine. Less than mine. And less than yours. And who were we when this King hung up his life for us? We were slaves, ragmen, washerwomen. Prisoners. We were nothing. But not to Him. He counted us worthy. He counted us worthy when no one else did. 

As the nations rattle and roil, I am not shaken. Remember this?

 Why the big noise, nations?
Why the mean plots, peoples?
Earth-leaders push for position,
Demagogues and delegates meet for summit talks,
The God-deniers, the Messiah-defiers:
“Let’s get free of God!
Cast loose from Messiah!”
Heaven-throned God breaks out laughing.
At first he’s amused at their presumption;
Then he gets good and angry.
Furiously, he shuts them up:
“Don’t you know there’s a King in Zion? A coronation banquet
Is spread for him on the holy summit.”
 Let me tell you what God said next.
He said, “You’re my son,
And today is your birthday.
What do you want? Name it:
Nations as a present? continents as a prize?
You can command them all to dance for you,
Or throw them out with tomorrow’s trash.”
So, rebel-kings, use your heads;
Upstart-judges, learn your lesson:
Worship God in adoring embrace,
Celebrate in trembling awe. Kiss Messiah!
Your very lives are in danger, you know;
His anger is about to explode,
But if you make a run for God—you won’t regret it!

(Psalm 2, The Message)

 

My message this week is simple.

As our nation shakes and totters, we need not be shaken.

Because we're with Him.

We're living in His kingdom now. Already.

And if you're not, the doors and gates and window are open to you

Now. Already. Just enter.

(And listen to this version of Handel's "Who is This King of Glory?" Can you keep your hands from rising?)

 

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How do YOU stay grounded, sane and loving in the midst of political turmoil?

Eating with the Chinese and God (AND---special invitation!)

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It is a week of harvest. My eldest son and his beautiful wife are here. We are twelve at the table now. But yesterday we were 26. Twenty-six people including 10 from China, seafood professionals here on a tour to see Alaska wild seafood at its source. 

What do I feed them? Salmon, yes of course, but how? I fixed "Peroke" (per-awk'), a traditional Russian-Alutiiq fish pie that is the signature dish of Kodiak Island and other coastal areas where the Russians settled. 

It's a messy, tactile, glorious multi-day affair that starts with putting out a net, wrestling the salmon from the net, then knives are involved, pie crusts, steamed rice, sauteed vegetables, rhubarb, a lot of smoke (I use smoked salmon in mine) and a host of aprons. There is blood too. Creatures die for our table. But many are fed. 

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If God made this whole ball of earth and wax, and if God is watching the daily news, surely he is too busy (and too angry) to care about food. Jesus came down and he had a lot to do in a short time. Surely he was too busy to care about something as trivial and earthy and earthly as food!

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But no. Of course. 

Jesus came as "the bread of life," and he spent a lot of his time feeding the hungry loaves of real barley bread. He taught us to pray for "our daily bread." He ate and drank so freely he was known among the disgruntled as a glutton and drunkard, as crazy about food as they were about their own brand of righteousness.  

He spent his last  hours on earth at a dinner with his friends, where he chose homely bread and local wine to mark his death and his promised undying life within us. He told us to eat and drink remembering him. 

When he returned after his death, he cooked fish on the beach for his astonished friends who did not know of any body who could rise from the dead. And who among them could even dream of a God who could kill death then show up calmly after as their breakfast cook? 

Food matters.

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I'm saying this to myself as much as to you because food is . .. food is not always my ally. Food consumes so much of my time, my life. Especially this week with my hands and arms flesh deep in fish flesh. Yesterday I filleted 35 salmon, and then there will be berries and rose petals and so many jams and jellies to be made. I will be busy all summer with this work. 

But God doesn't tire of feeding us, thank God, and he feeds the world through us, at least in part. It is work to be sure, but it is joy to take part in God's feeding of the world. God allows us to be the answer to others' prayer, "Lord, give us this day our daily bread." 

For that, for that great joy, yes, I will dirty my hands with blood, go to bed with fish scales in my hair, remembering each night the gladness at my table, which is your table, Lord.

Thank you for feeding me the daily bread that feeds others theirs.

Amen. 

 

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Would you like to join me on Harvester Island next summer to make peroke, smoked salmon, and whatever else our hearts and appetites desire? I am hosting the first ever "Spirit of Food Retreat" July 14 - 20 with world renowned theologian of food and ecology, Norman Wirzba and Melissa D'Arabian, a chef on the Food Network. We'll forage, fish, gather food from our gorgeous wild environs. We'll cook together, learn about the theology of food and creation care. We'll eat out on the beach, watch whales, go ocean touring and just generally celebrate food and our loving Father who feeds us so well. I can't wait! I hope to see some of you here! Couples welcome. More here: (Space is limited. Taking applications now. ) 

 

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Making History on Harvester Island: Our First Flushing Toilet!

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Big things have been happening on our fish camp island this week! No, not fish, which have yet to show up. And yes, every night a gorgeous flaunting of God's glory. But this week----more!  I have a short video to show and tell.  

 

 

I still can’t believe it.  It’s in my writing studio where the Harvester Island Wilderness Workshop is held. Several times a day I’ll go peek in and marvel at it.

I did nothing to install this technological wonder. It was these guys who dug the trench for the pipes. It was my husband who did all the engineering.

 

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We’ve entered the brave new world of the turn-of-the-century.  I am used to being behind a century or two. For ten summers I carried all our water, up a hill, up a steep set of stairs. For twenty summers I washed our clothes in a wringer washer. For two winters out here, I washed them outside, rinsing by hand, hanging them out on the line, prying them crackly and frozen from the line, carrying them in like pieces of wood. I washed my 6 babies in aluminum tubs in the banya, the Russian steambath. I took them out fishing with my husband and me. We all do whatever is needed, no matter what.

 

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And now, 40 years since I came, we have a toilet. God is good.

 

It will likely be the only toilet on this island of multiple buildings. We don’t have enough water for more than one. I don’t mind our two outhouses, surely the fanciest outhouses in all of Alaska , featuring spectacular views, original artwork, curtains, an entryway, an extensive magazine library, and Maggie's Farm flyspray.

 
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God is good. 

 

And God was good that hard cold winter we were building our house, carrying every piece of lumber from the beach up the hill on our backs, the winter when we didn’t have even an outhouse. And God is good not because it was easy, but because He put it in our hearts to do this, and he blessed us with strength and joy, and he bound my husband’s will and mine together to settle this island, to make a house and a home here, to fill it with children, to work the fishing nets together. And every blessed wrenching step of the way, God was good because He didn’t let us give up. He didn’t let us give up on this island. On our children. On each other. Though so many times it would have been so much easier to walk away from it all.

 

We’re not done building. We have one last building to go. We’re building it for our grown-up children, who will all be married in the next year and who all come to visit. We’re building it for writers and retreaters. For God, who changes lives here. Especially mine.

 

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(View from the new building)

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None of this should have happened. But when I was a teenager, living in a house with closed doors and unheated rooms where no one was welcome, God burst in. He swept into this sparse heart with one rickety chair, and he set up house. A couch, a soft bed, a large open table where all were welcomed, and so many rooms, a mansion of rooms, where so many children would live. He has done it. 

 

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And now among all these rooms there is one with a flushing toilet and it makes me cry. 

 

Because we have not done any of this perfectly or even well at times. At times we utterly failed, and our house should have come crashing down. But it didn’t. For long.

 

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I'm writing all this to you, reader, because maybe that's you hauling the water or the bucket of fish up the steep hill. Maybe that's you right now, with babies on your back and you're strong with love but you're tired. Maybe you're in the middle of building and there are too many rooms. You know it is impossible.  

It was for me, too. There are a lot of rooms, and babies are heavy, and hills are steep but God is capacious and bountiful with a wild plan for our lives. He pours out more upon us than we can bear at times, but it will be good. It will become good if you don't let go of the bucket, or the baby or the load of lumber on your back. 

Tell Him you're tired. And believe these words:

Why would you ever complain, O Jacob,
    or, whine, Israel, saying,
“God has lost track of me.
    He doesn’t care what happens to me”?
Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening?
God doesn’t come and go. God lasts.
    He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine.
He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath.
    And he knows everything, inside and out.
He energizes those who get tired,
    gives fresh strength to dropouts.
For even young people tire and drop out,
    young folk in their prime stumble and fall.
But those who wait upon God get fresh strength.
    They spread their wings and soar like eagles,
They run and don’t get tired,
    they walk and don’t lag behind.       ---Isaiah 40 (The Message)
            

God is building something magnificent and unimaginable right now.

Through you.

And if He can make a toilet flush on Harvester Island,

He can do ANYTHING! 

       

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What has He done for you?

Listening to Alaska's Crazy Days of Light (And Book Winners)

I am writing this on the longest day of the year. It’s crazy here in Alaska, where the sun takes only a two hour snooze (between 1 and 3), but otherwise the shining show goes on. Even here, near midnight. 

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 From this tiny northern island, I pass it on to you, then, some of this long long light. 

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I'm sending more light than words this week. These last two weeks, I've spent most of my words. On a new book proposal. On a script that I’m writing for a film crew this fall.  On a particular social issue. On a theological issue. (About one mega-church's "Patriotic Worship" Sunday, where everyone brings flags to church to celebrate first: their freedom as Americans. Second: their freedom in Christ. Did Jesus call us to worship freedom? Or our nation? Didn't he call us to worship him alone?

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(What if we visited a Christian church in say , Slovenia, and they all brought Slovenian flags for "patriotic worship"? I think we might whisper, "Idolatry"?)

And now I've done it.  I didn't mean to. We all have SO many words, don't we? Our world is all a-twitter, each one proclaiming his truths and her cause to anyone who will listen (as I just did). So many good and right causes worth speaking and fighting for. Yes, let us use our words for this!

But words are tempting, dangerous. Because WE are dangerous. They make us feel powerful. A man who lived more than 2,000 years ago looked around him and saw people speaking, using words amiss. They were counterfeit creators who sculpted statues and tried, like the Creator God, to speak their creations to life:

Woe to him who says to wood, “Come to life!”

  Or to lifeless stone,”Wake up”

Can it give guidance?

It is covered with gold and silver,

There is no breath in it.

But the LORD is in his holy temple;

Let all the earth be silent

before Him.

 

We don't need to fashion idols and beg them to speak. The problem is not that God doesn't speak. Our problem is we are too busy speaking to listen to Him.  If we listen and look, what will we see?

"For the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord"   

"The earth will be filled with the Knowledge of the glory of the LORD,

              As the waters cover the sea." 

                                                   (Hab.2:7)

From this land of long summer light, may I pass on to you today just a bit of it? Can we sit here together, wordless, listening before this holy God? (Maybe with a little music?)
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"The earth WILL be filled with the knowledge
of the glory of God, as the waters cover the sea."
Do you  hear it?
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 This week, Lord, let me practice silence. Before I speak a word,
Let me listen long and well to you in all the light you have given. 
Amen. 
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                                                *****************************************************

 

I'm happy to announce the winners for Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers: Finding Freedom from Hurt and Hate

Lorna, Patricia A. Lynn Hyman, Sheila Smith, Cindy Lavoie,  and Rosemary! 

Your books are on their way! 

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What My (Terrible) Father Taught Me About God (& 5 Giveaways!)

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If my father were still alive, I would call him on Father’s Day. I would not lie. I would not thank him for being my father, because I could not do that honestly. But I would send him photos of our Alaska island, our boats, the ocean. He loved the ocean and dreamed his live-long life of sailing around the world. Here, Dad, is the island we live on in the summers, where we fish.

 

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He never came to visit. Not because I lived in Alaska, but because he had no interest in visiting any of his children and he didn’t.

 

But I visited him. Finally. After 50 years of caring nothing for a man who cared nothing for me, God rattled my cage of a heart and sent me from Alaska down to Florida to see him. He was in his eighties then and in a nursing home. I couldn’t believe what I found. 

The 4 day visit did not go well.  On the first day, my father, with all of his teeth gone, but his 88 year old face still unwrinkled, proclaimed his atheism again. In halting breathy words he made it clear he still didn’t believe in God. And he thought I was a fool because I did.

I was defensive. I sniped back. I  remembered why I had never liked him. But didn’t I come here to try and love him? I wasn’t doing a very good job.

But slowly, slowly, I began to see beyond my own hurt and dislike. He was so very alone. Did anyone love him? I calmed down, just focused on being with him. Giving him space when he needed it. Helping him eat his dinner in the dining hall. On the last day, knew, after 30 years of absence from his life, I knew I would come again. I wanted someone to love him. More, I wanted him to know about a love so much better than mine---the love of God. Had he seen it in me? If I asked him, he would look at me blankly, I am sure.

 

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It was time now to leave. I inched toward the exit doors, my heart tight and heavy. A woman sat at a table near the door smiling at me. It was Sally. My father had introduced me to her that first day as she hobbled down the hall, her body twisted with arthritis.

I hesitated, then came over to her table. “Sally, I’ve got to go catch my plane. But I’m so thankful that my father has a friend here. “

“Oh yes,” she smiled back, her eyes on mine.

“Does my father talk to you?”

“He doesn’t say a lot, but yes, we talk.”

“What do you talk about?”

“Your father and I and Bill, we meet out back in the smoking shed every day. We talk about God. Your father says he doesn’t believe in God, but I’m not so sure.” She lifts her eyebrows and looks wise.

My eyes widen. “You talk about the Lord with my father?” I did not even know she was a believer.

“I sure do,” she says, smiling her beatific smile.

I see Sally and my father out in the smoking shed sharing cigarettes and the gospel.

I grabbed her hands, curled mine over her swollen, curled fingers. ‘You’re the answer to my prayers.”  We talked for five more minutes, then hugged, promised to pray for one another. I walked out, my mind ablaze.

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Are God’s mercies really this vast? Narrow is the gate that leads to heaven, and so shall it always be, but wide are God’s mercies, so much wider and vaster than ever I knew. This was his love for my father. And had I not seen this same love even toward me? 

 

And this is how it went: Jesus, the hound of heaven, lovingly dogged my father’s heels all his days, even at the last. 

A loving witness was constantly present with my reclusive, renegade father who had no friends.

I don’t know if my father ever yielded to the God he was unsure of before he breathed his last lung of air.  But I got to go visit him two more times. I got to love him. I got to live out Mercy. I got to see these staggering displays of God’s character and heart. How narrow, yes, is the gate, but how inclusive His invitation, how wide and never-ending are his mercies.

 

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This Father’s Day, Go and be mercy to any father who needs it.

 

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Every Father's Day it is my joy to give away 5 Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers: Finding Freedom from Hurt and Hate. (It tells the rest of my story with my father---which ends so differently than I imagined. It's been translated into 8 languages and by God's great mercies has led to much healing.) 

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How do you enter?

1. Please share this hopeful message with others on social media---and let me know below in your comments that you've done this.

2. Include your email info so I can contact you if you win!

That's it. Friends, a Blessed merciful Father's Day to you all!

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