Welcome to My Paradox Party!

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

 

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

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

 

Amen!!

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Paradox.

(And a pair of ducks)

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 that leads,

     before we know it,

(softly and surely) 

        to apathy

which is to say,

                to destruction.

 

 

(LORD, let it never be!!)

 

  

 

What paradox tale would you bring to the party??

God Answers My Valentine Whines

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

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


 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

                    

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t feel loved or worthy of love. 

 

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

Not even you.

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UNDAUNTED! Respite for the Weary Wounded

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

                               ________________________________

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

(Registration here)

Love is Hard, but Hate is Harder

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

I have not the strength to do this.

 

Do you?

 

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

 

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

Maybe we can open our doors

to one another

again.

 

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

Confessions of a (Repentant) Warmonger

I am in Florida for a few days, leading the New Smyrna Beach Writers’ Retreat. (Yes, it is joyous to be here!) But my heart is still heavy. I flew thousands of miles on three planes to get here, and still it followed me. All the way. I couldn’t escape.

 

The War is everywhere, it seems. On every media. On Twitter. Facebook. The radio.

 

We're destroying one another. We need to put our weapons down.  How? We are, each of us, trying to defend what must be defended: truth, justice, righteousness, equality, mercy, compassion. The gospel. 

Yes. I know. But do you know that we are all equally convicted, on both sides of these issues? Do you know that your arguments and vehemence are not going to change anyone's mind?

So--What do we do with all the hate and anger? We start with the only thing we have control over: ourselves.

 

 

Confessions of (a Repentant) Warmonger

 

 

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*Let us have compassion for one another, for we are all living in tumultuous times. We are all saddened and confused as we suffer deep divisions within our country, our community and among our own families, neighbors and friends.

 

*Let us confess our own complicity in the uncivil and vulgar discourse that continues to pollute our media, our political process, and even our homes.

  

*Let us admit that at times we have seen others, even family members and neighbors as a kind of enemy, simply because they belonged to another political party---and we have not loved them. We have not even listened to them.

 

*Let us confess that we have spent too much time digging out the speck in our neighbor’s eye and very little time on the log in our own. 

 

*Let us acknowledge that we have delighted in the mistakes and failures of those on "the other side" and have not extended grace.

 

*Let us repent of caring more about the advancement of our own political party and its agenda rather than the advancement of the kingdom of God.

 

*Let us repent of continually trying to convert others to our point of view, forgetting that we are all called to be peacemakers and reconcilers, ambassadors between God and man.

 

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 *Let us confess that at times we have fought so hard for "social justice" we have ignored our neighbors in need around us.

 

*Let us believe that whatever side we choose on any particular issue, that our brothers and sisters of another view have wrestled with their conscience, too, and all are doing their best to seek God and act with integrity.

  

*Let us remember that God calls all of us to unity in diversity, that the body of Christ itself is composed of vastly different members, all of whom are needed for the body to be healthy and whole. 

 

*Let us recognize we share a common enemy and it is not a political party, a government or a person. Our true enemy is sin and death, and Jesus decisively won that battle 2,000 years ago. This is the flag of freedom that we wave.

 

 *Let us recommit ourselves to praying for those in authority over us, for they are God’s representatives, whether they know God or not.

 

*Let us not forget that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ nor silence us from the good news of the gospel, not persecution nor famine nor sword nor presidents nor politics nor demons nor all the powers of hell, nor anything else in all creation.

 

For the Kingdom is His,

        the Power is His

        the Glory is His

 

Forever, world and time

Without

End,

 

Amen.

The Beautiful Truth about Loving and Killing and Eating

I don’t know if you will believe me, but I love deer. I love our Sitka black-tailed deer. Not in the abstract, but in the daily presence of the four deer, two does and their fawns, who lived on our island all summer, bedding down each night just outside my writing studio, grazing serenely as we walked past, just feet away. They share our paths. I spoke to them every day this summer. They are not afraid of us.

And then it is fall, and I do not speak to them. I come with a gun.

 But not for them. We did not hunt them, those mothers and babies. Just the lone bucks off on other beaches.               I know, you wonder—how can I be so cold? How can I kill such beauty? It is not easy. But, too, don’t we often kill what we love?

 

 

Duncan and I are simple hunters. We hunt out of a boat, the same boat we pick fish from. And we prowl not woods or hills or corn fields----we scan the beaches. When the snow hits, the deer move from the hills and mountains down to the beaches, to feed on kelp. And often to launch out into the frigid ocean to another island, another beach where more food might lie. They are swimming deer, these Kodiak deer.

 

 

This late December day, it was clear and cold, the wind at home, not stirring the sea, as usual. But a storm was coming, so Duncan and I knew this was the day to find our deer.

 

We traveled miles of winter beaches, huddled in our coats, thankful for the sun. We saw deer on every beach. There are too many this year. The winterkill would be high.

 

 This is not sport for us. Nor entertainment. Nor a hobby. Nor interior decorating---we don’t mount heads, horns or hides on our walls. This is about food. It’s about working for our own food. It’s about thinning the massive herds of deer, to lessen the winterkill.  It's about spending ourselves to feed ourselves. It’s about living in place, from what the land and sea and God provide.

 

 

And He did. By nightfall, at 4:30, we had the deer we needed. Now the real work began, the work of transforming a body into food.

 

It was cold in our warehouse at fishcamp. Just 18 degrees the first day. While we cut and diced and packaged, hour after hour, winter played its cold hand. We couldn't keep warm.

 

 

 As we cut, what did I see inside the harp of those ribs, the cave of those bones?  What do I see other times when I am bloodied with salmon, with cattle, when I am filleting the reddened body of a halibut? I see the marvel of muscles, ligaments, the purity of the meat. I see friends sitting around our long crowded fishcamp table passing platters of food. I see the eagles and gulls feeding on what we can't eat.  I see people being fed and filled and warmed.  

 

 

 

But my own hands and body cannot forget: Death is hideous and bloody.

We hold both truths on our plates, on our forks every time we lift food to our mouths: something has died to feed us.

 

 

This is the way this living world works. Some of you choose otherwise. You are vegetarians and vegans. I applaud you for practicing heaven now and here. And I too wish for the Garden again, when lions lusted after cantaloupe instead of antelope, when wolves chewed straw instead of chasing lambs, when not a single beast snapped at a mouse or gnat . . .  I too am hungry for no-more-dying.


But death is not wasted. My friend Ann Voskamp, in her essay in The Spirit of Food connects the moments around two tables when we remember and celebrate the bloodiest of all times, the  Eucharist.  “The agricultural act of eating food, like eating Christ, is no different: we eat, entering into death, and come back rejoicing. The daily eating of food is but a way of remembering death, a way of experiencing resurrection.  The living dead, we eat of the dead, and the miracle happens again: we revive.” 

 

 

 We are not cheap. We cost a lot, don't we?

On Sunday, in church, we will have communion.

Tonight, we are eating deer.

We are fed this miracle again.

We are revived.

Again. And again. 

(And always . . )

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Unforgivable Sin (Especially for Mini-van drivers like me)

So many rescues in Kodiak this week!! A fishing boat was adrift in 22 foot seas. The Coast Guard braved the 50 knot winds and rescued the fishermen off the boat. Then the Coast Guard ship, while attempting to tow the fishing boat, was disabled and adrift as well in gale-force winds and seas! Other cutters came and rescued them.

 

Danger. Near-death. Drama. (This is why so many reality TV shows are set in Alaska.)

But there's more: 

A few days later, a friend from church watched a car sail off the road at 55 mph and crash in the deep trench below, then burst into flames. My friend ran and without any concern for his own life, pulled the unconscious driver out of the flaming car. He saved his life. The headlines ran:

 

 

I know about rescues, too. I have been rescued from storms, from blizzards, from boats adrift on the ocean multiple times. Today, in an interview for Crossing the Waters, someone asked me, “Okay, so you live in Alaska. You have this exciting life and all these rescues. I drive a minivan and go the office and pick up kids all day. My life is boring. How can I get to know the real Jesus through my boring life?”

 I drive a mini-van too. (And it's 20 years old, hideously ugly and falling apart. Not quite this bad, but close  .. .)

 

 

But dear readers----THIS is the unforgivable sin: Boredom. Yes, I hunt and fish and have Alaskan adventures, but may I tell you about the greatest adventure of my week? Are you ready? Hold on!!

I took an elderly woman out shopping for a winter coat.

 

That's it. There were no flames or gale-force seas, but it was an adventure so grand, so miraculous it made me cry.

 

My friend Sophie (not her real name) was not doing well. The stresses of her life had eroded her memory and abilities. Just months ago she had been a vital, warm friendly God-loving woman who always greeted me with joy. Today she barely recognized me. Her eyes were wide, sad and clouded. She did not respond to my pleasantries. She didn't want to talk.But she knew she needed a coat. And she knew she wanted to go to the local consignment shop. I was dubious. The chances of finding the right size coat that she liked at a consignment shop in Kodiak were slim indeed.

 

We shuffled in slowly together, my arm in hers. The saleswoman, “Pam,” greeted us warmly, recognizing Sophie. But Sophie did not remember her. We asked Sophie her size and whether she wanted a short or a long coat. She said her size quietly and then motioned to her knees. Pam brightened. “I think I have a coat just that size that came in a few days ago. It’s in the back room. I’ll go get it!”  I followed her, and in a whisper, Pam asked what had happened to Sophie. Then she confided,  “I was saving this coat for myself. But I think maybe God has another idea.”

 

The coat emerged. It was long, black, thick, warm, with a hood. It was perfect. And it looked like new. And it was only $40. The saleswoman and I raved about the coat as we helped Sophie put it on. We guided her to the fitting room. She looked at herself in the mirror with a blank expression. “Look, it fits perfectly! And see how warm it is! Do you like it?” I enthused, overwhelmed that this coat would be here.

 

She turned me to slowly. “No.”

 

“You don’t like it?”

 

“No.” She shook her head almost imperceptively. Then she turned from the mirror, stood a few inches from my face and said in a tiny voice, looking me full in the eyes, “I’m scared.”

 

My heart seized. I put my hand on her arm and leaned in close, speaking as softly yet as firmly as I could. “It’s going to be okay, Sophie. Your husband is getting better at the hospital.  You have friends helping you every day. And Jesus is with you, Sophie. He will not let you go. We won’t either.” I held her arm and held her eyes as long as she would let me. She looked so lost I almost started crying. 

 

Then Pam spoke up. “That’s right, Sophie. You have lots of friends. We’ll help you." She paused. "How about if I hold onto the coat for a few days. If you change yourmind it’ll be right here!”

“Yes, we’ll go to that other store, then we can come back if you want to. How does that sound?” I asked, gently.

 

She nodded. We gave the coat back. The saleswoman and I exchanged gestures of gratitude and hope, and Sophie and I shuffled out.

 

At the next store, we moved from rack to rack. I showed her jackets I thought maybe she would like, but each one was a “no.” I realized that Sophie was not able to make a decision today. But she needed a winter coat. But how could I force one on her?

 

 

Discouraged by this conundrum, I gave up. I finally urged her out of the store and back to the car. We drove back to the hospital where her husband was. Just before we got out of the car, Sophie broke the long silence. ‘That coat” she said, and then began reaching for her money.

 

“Would you like that coat, then, Sophie, the long black one?” I asked, hopeful.

 

“Yes,” she said softly as she gathered her purse to leave.

 

I went back the next day the moment after the store opened and claimed the coat. The shop owner, on hearing the coat was for Sophie, gave a further discount.

 

I don’t know if you believe in God or not, or if you believe in the stars, or luck or random chance. But I have seen God at work in so many places and so many ways. The stars don’t care about Sophie. But God does. That coat came in and Pam tucked  it away for herself until that moment when Sophie came---and Pam and I knew God had sent that coat for her. For her, one of his lambs who is cold and scared right now. This is what God does every day. He brings friends to comfort. He dresses his lambs and keeps them warm. No detail is too small. No one is beyond the scope of his mercy. And I got to be there to see this beautiful provision.

 

Boring? Jesus came to rescue us from a boring self-serving life. No matter who you are and where you live, in a crowded urban highrise, in the suburbs, in your mini-van filled with kids, on a dirt road in rural Virginia, on a fishing boat in Alaska: every day we say “Yes” to following Jesus, we launch out into adventures, storms, dramas and miracles. “Love your enemy” (boring?) “Forgive your offender” (boring?), Show mercy to the woman who doesn’t like you, take dinner to your sick friend, go visit your cranky neighbor in the nursing home, stage a Bible play for kids . . .   All of this, any of this is as real, as exciting, as miraculous, as life-saving as pulling a driver out of a burning car.

 

 

 

 

Jesus has rescued you so you can rescue others!

 

(Bye Bye boring life!)

 

What adventures have you been part of lately?

 

 

 

 

 

The Ten Best (and Worst?) Posts of 2016

 

 

 

 

It's a wind-stormy day today in Kodiak, when the wind lifts the ocean like a veil, spinning me around. The calendar tells me as well: it is time to remember.

 This first week of January, who can resist the retrospective “Top Ten” lists which take account of even things that can't be counted? (For a shortcut to all things best and worst, try this from Time magazine, the Top 10 of Everything, 2016 .

 In the spirit of imitation, enumeration and retrospection, I humbly offer my own, as determined not by me but by YOU---by the most comments, email notes and social media shares. 

Perhaps I should also include "My 10 Worst Posts of 2016"? My worst writing is anything that emerges from obligation, resentment, small-mindedness, a desire to impress, and/or a beat-the-clock kind of panic. I try to eliminate those kind of words before they're posted, but I'm sure some sneak by. Feel free to contribute your nominations for that category! (smiley face---sort of.) 

Here they are. 

 

ONE

Why Your Sin Makes You Perfect 

 You got a dark sinful heart and you know it? Welcome in, Brother! Come on down, sister! Join this boatload of sinners! (See why your sin makes you perfect for God.)

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TWO

When the New Year Storms In

"We are all  in the same boat in a stormy sea, and we owe one another a terrible loyalty." 

 

 

 

THREE

For All Insomniacs & Artists After Midnight Besotted with Their Brilliance

Answering the age-old question: Why are we so brilliant at 3 a.m. and so painfully average when we awake? 

 

 

 

FOUR

180 Packs of Gum: Shopping the Warehouses of the World

 The antidote to our obsession with shop-till-you-drop   Buy-Now-Pay-Later,  Super-Stuff-Me,  Pay-Less-and-Shop-For-More gigantic ground-to-sky warehouses of STUFF.

 

 

FIVE

Stop Trying to Make Your Kids Happy!!

How to parent our kids toward REAL happiness.

 

 

 

 

SIX

Extravagance and Exhaustion

When we are called to love and serve so many, how do we keep going?

 

SEVEN

A Party for Words and Laying Down My Idol

How do we know we’re doing what God asks of us?

 

 

EIGHT

Why is Some “Christian Art” So Terrible?

There’s bad art everywhere, but how can we make sure that our art is worthy of our calling?

 

 

NINE

The Trouble with Wine, Body and Blood

 

Christ gave his life, which is to say Christ gave his ankles, hands, back, clavicle, knees, wrists, neck, forehead. He gave his hunger, his thirst, his cramping legs, his aching lungs. Christ gave his breath, his spit, his skin, his blood.   WHY does this matter to us?

 

 

TEN

Surviving Your Island of Grace

When I felt like I could no longer survive my faraway island in Alaska, here is what I finally learned. 

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Next week, maybe I should post the Top 10 Comments from YOU, beloved readers and writers!???   You all share such wisdom with me. When I read your comments, I often stop, sniffle, cover my hands in wonder, thank God,  pray for your blessing and good.         

Thank you.

 

May God continue to make this space a holy place where all are welcome, where all open their hearts to Him who made us and loves us.

 

Hunting the Albino Eagle

We did not go to our fishcamp for eagles. Two days after Christmas we flew in the bush plane across Kodiak Island, over heavy-snowed mountains and then rode in a frigid winter skiff not for eagles, my constant neighbors, but-----for deer. (I will tell of that hunt later!)

 

Bald eagles are our messy crows, they with their haunting and hovering over anything dead or dying. They are thick as fleas on Kodiak and on Harvester Islands, their screeches like rusty hinges we hardly even notice. But I do. I with my camera still notice, still watch and catch them close, and far, and in between. I cannot help it. (VIDEO: Here an immature is feasting on the remnants of our deer. Watch for the dogfight near the end.)

 

 

 

This winter trip to Harvester held plenty of astonishments. I will share one with you here.

At the end of the year, the very end, when I am hunting for words to help us all onward, into another calendar, into another cycle of another year, without fear or dread, without apathy or ennui, without boredom or alarm, without terror or horror----I am also hunting for deer to fill our freezers. And I am watching eagles, all the regular customers, and then this appears, something I have never seen before:

 

 

I could not get a good shot---my zoom lens wasn’t working, but there it was among all the other brown immature eagles:

 

A white eagle. An albino eagle. Ornithologists will not be so dramatic, they will call it “dilute plumage,” or “leucistic” plumage, but I know wonder when I see it.  I have watched eagles closely for 40 years. My husband for 50 years and never, never this. 

 

In the bird world, albinos occur 1 in every 1,800 experts say. But no one I know in Kodiak has seen such an eagle. 

I believe in miracles, but I don’t believe in signs, and I’m a skeptic about visions, but here is this eagle on my beach for two days, and I cannot get enough of him. He haunts the beach for two days, soaring over my head, beside me. 

 

 

And these other eagles are so winter-hungry they let me walk close enough to nearly touch then. This daily eagle-watcher and dweller held her breath for hours  . . . 

 

 

I don’t believe in clichés either, but what do I do with these eagles whose wings nearly bat my face as I ponder the coming of another year? I will not miss this. I will not turn from the obvious, however familiar and rote we say it. Remember those words we sang 1000 times as kids and teens? But remember this, the larger frame for those words from Isaiah 40:

 

 

 


“To whom then will you liken Me,
Or to whom shall I be equal?” says the Holy One.
 Lift up your eyes on high,
And see who has created these things,
Who brings out their host by number;
He calls them all by name,
By the greatness of His might
And the strength of His power;
Not one is missing.

Why do you say, O Jacob,
And speak, O Israel:
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
And my just claim is passed over by my God”?

Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
The everlasting God, the Lord,
The Creator of the ends of the earth,
Neither faints nor is weary.
His understanding is unsearchable.

 He gives power to the weak,
And to those who have no might He increases strength.

 Even the youths shall faint and be weary,
And the young men shall utterly fall,
 But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.

 

 

 

 Do you believe it? I believe it. Because in all the decades of my life, God has kept this promise.

And He reminds me now, even as I quake on the precipice of starting a new book (which petrifies and overwhelms me) . . . 

And as I pray for my children and my suffering friends, 

 

If, after 40 years, God can bring a never-before-seen albino eagle onto my beach,

 

If the eagles can launch themselves without fear every day into the frigid wind,

 

If God can feed his hungry tired creatures in the middle of winter,  

 

If God knows the fall of every sparrow and the rising of every eagle,

 

then surely WE can enter this New Year

 

With confidence,

 

With Attention,

 

with Courage, 

 

With Anticipation,

 

 With Wonder and Astonishment:

 

What will God DO in and through US this year? What will He do HERE in this space? What wonders will He perform there in your house, your church, your city?

 

I can hardly wait to find out!

 

 

 

 

Starry Night, Kodiak Harbor Lights

It was worth waiting a year for this night. It was clear and cold and still, this night, already dark by 4:30. Hundreds came from their warm houses, filling cars with their bundles of coats and gloves. Coming to the Harbor, to the boats that fill our city of Kodiak and make a city of their own.

 

 

james brooks

james brooks

 

Christmas is contagious like this. It does not want to be contained in little boxes, even in our houses. It keeps spilling out . . . 

 

 

 

 

Who knew it could climb rigging like this----and twine around reels that sink lines into the deep? Who knew such colors could light up the waterfront night?

 

 

 

 

We strolled down each finger, drank hot chocolate, took photos of our neighbors’ boats. We  walked arm in arm. Stopped to talk. To get a (chocolate) kiss from Father and Mother Christmas . . .  

 

 

 

 

 

And wasn’t it true, that the brightest light of all came from each other, the way we passed, talked, held hands, smiled at each other . . .

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All of this a hint, just a glint, a tiny star that hovers over what we all need even when we cannot name it . .. .

but even there among the boats, the story shines . . . 

 

 

For this is why he was born that day, that long ago day in a cave, not a harbor.

And because of him, every place still tells his story,  

and everywhere the story plays,

 

it  lights the way.

 

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Friends, how can I say all that I wish for you?  

This Christmas season, may we all

“give glory to God in the highest,"

and on earth, may his peace and favor rest

on all who love him. 

 

 

The Story of St. Nick: A True-Life Dead-Dog Kodiak Christmas Miracle

I’ll tell you upfront: this is going to be one of those heartwarming holiday stories about a family dog---but this one is true. It involves a dog, a dentist, my kids, an accident, a Christmas show, and so much more! If you're tired of fake Christmas miracle stories---this one's for you!

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         The dog’s name wasn’t actually St. Nickolas; it was Sir Nickolas. The pup was knighted shortly after birth, I believe, by its 20-something owner. The dog came through our doors unexpectedly. I did not ask for this dog. I did not want a dog. Maybe later, but now I had four rowdy babes, one just a few weeks old, and the others older, and louder and always up to mischief. After my son's birth, I had no idea how I could care for four little humans. And then came the dog. Surprise!

 

My husband was rescuing him, the story went. Or rather, rescuing a young man. It was the strange-but-true case of a friend of a friend who was getting married, but his bride loved her dog (St. Nickolas) more than her groom. Friends staged an intervention shortly before the wedding, and I got the dog.

 

How can children resist a fluffy new playmate, especially one that looked like a miniature version of Lassie? (He was a Sheltie). Quite easily, it turns out. Sir Nickolas wasn’t interested in my children, unless they were moving about, which was most of the time. Their movement---running, playing, throwing balls and household items---signaled his movement: running in circles around them barking. Barking. And that was it. Otherwise he ignored them, as he ignored me. Ignoring an entire household can keep a dog busy, but Nickolas had time for lots more. He repeatedly peed on my bed, ruined my levelor blinds, and escaped often to play in traffic, which assured regular phone calls from furious neighbors and big money to spring him from the pound. But this was not his worst offense. 

 

Picture a middle-aged woman with a daughter and three boys, ages 2 months to 7 years old. Picture twice-a-night feedings, undereye circles, the daily schedule of a CEO. One thing kept her going----afternoon naps. As soon as she got the 3 year old and 5 year old safely in bed and then the baby snuggled in his crib, she ran to her bed and collapsed, breathing thanks-be-to-God in anticipation of a few moments of sleep. Now enter the not so saintly saint nick (whose name I refuse to capitalize at this point in the story.)

 

Naptimes were his favorite moments to exercise his one great gift: barking. I tried everything to make him happy and silent, but nothing worked. Nor was Duncan moveable. He liked the dog and wouldn’t consider giving him away. Desperate, I spent “naptimes” devising (humane) ways to get this dog out of my life. Then not-so-humane. Until finally, two months later, near Christmas, utterly sleepless, I fell into imprecatory psalms and fervent, though guilty, prayers. I had never before prayed for the disappearance of any living thing.

 

A week went by. This night was our school’s Christmas program. The elder two were in it, one had a speaking part. We couldn't miss! We scurried around excitedly getting ready, but Duncan took sick. He remained in bed upstairs, knocked out with a stomach bug. Luckily I had help: a friend was visiting for the whole week, and this night, he was wrestling on the floor with Noah, 5, while I put dinner away.  Suddenly I heard “Owwwww!” Ron was now flat on the carpeted floor, holding his jaw painfully. I ran to his side, helped him up. He shuffled to the couch, sat down, all the while holding his jaw.

         “What happened?” I asked, alarmed.

           “My jaw. Noah hit it. It’s out of place,” he spoke, muffled, through his hand.

        Ron was holding his jaw in pain; overhead, Duncan was noisily throwing up, the baby was crying and we were supposed to be at the Christmas program in 15 minutes. I stood paralyzed.

Then, the doorbell rang. What? Who could it be? 

I swung the door wide, then, incredulous, “Jim! What are you doing here?” It was our friend who lived in Anchorage, a plane ride away. But we hadn’t seen Jim for 5 years. Suddenly he’s on our doorstep, tonight?

“I’m in Kodiak to go deer hunting. I thought I’d stop by and surprise you!” he smiled.

The best thing about Jim at that moment was not just that he was here at my door, but-----Jim was a dentist.

 

 

 

“Come in, quick! A friend just got his jaw knocked out of its socket. Can you help?”

 He strode into the room, placed his hands on suffering Ron’s face, made a few subtle movements, and soon Ron was sighing with relief.

I turned to Jim, astounded, when the doorbell rang again. What was going on here tonight? I never had visitors.

It was my neighbor, Gretchen. Gretchen had two labs who terrorized me and my car every time I came and went. But something was wrong. Her face was white, her eyes pinched and red. “Leslie!” she said ominously, struggling for control.

“What? What happened?”

“I’m . . . I’m afraid it’s Nick.” She bit her lip.

My heart leapt with hope. “Nick?” I said, my voice rising.

“Yes. I’m afraid he was . ….  he was hit by a car.  I’m sorry. He’s gone.” She sucked in her breath, looking carefully at my face to make sure I was okay.

 “Ohhhhhh, that’s terrible, “ I lied.

 “He’s . ..  ummm, lying right near the turnout. I don't think he suffered.” She sniffed and wiped her nose.

My heart burst with shock and wonder. But I arranged my face into a mask of sorrow. “Thank you so much for letting me know, “ I said slowly. I looked meaningfully into her teary eyes, shook my head as though grieving, thanked her again and softly closed the door behind me.

Jim looked at me with deep concern. Our dog had just been killed. I didn’t want to scare him. I acted sad. But I was genuinely confused. I have a house guest, a vomiting husband, a crying baby, a recovering friend, and now a dead dog on my hands just minutes before the Christmas program started.

 But I wanted to dance. I wanted to shout the doxology then and there. My prayers!

 

 

And---what about the kids? The kids didn’t care a figgy pudding about Nick, but I decided not to stir the night up any further. I would wait and tell them after the program. But what now?

Jim put a hand on my shoulder. “I’ve got this, Leslie. You go on to church and I’ll find the body and take care of him,”  he said kindly.

I blinked with wonder yet again. I could have cried. Could this be so? In a few minutes we would go to our church to celebrate a God who came down as a babe to deliver his people. God-in-the-flesh who became God-on-the-cross to deliver us from sin, from death. And does God deliver his people from errant dogs? Does God deliver his people from broken jaws? He DOES!

 

The miracle is this. The dog did NOT come back to life, but I did. In a dark season of my life God heard the prayers of an exhauasted mother and came near, on a Christmas night, in a barreling car, in a wandering dog, in the nick of time, in an angel of a man sent to a faraway door to heal the sick and bury the dead.

 

God came that near. God came that far.

 

Is there anyone He cannot find?

 

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(If this made you smile---would you share  this post of hope with others? Thank you!)

 

P.S. Just so you know, I have always loved dogs. Just not that one, and not then. When my 6 kids were mostly grown, Sophie joined our family. She is our delight and goes with me everywhere! 

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Interview with the Incomparable Luci Shaw & 10-Book-Giveaway!

How do I thank you all for your response to my last post? Your generosity has overwhelmed me! And now, may I give back? As promised, ten books will be given away, with your help. AND---here is the promised exclusive interview with Luci Shaw (age 87), recorded on Harvester Island this fall during the Harvester Island Wilderness Workshop. But--for those of you who don't know Luci, here's a tiny sketch.

 

Luci Shaw is something of an icon in Art and Faith circles. I can't convey her whole amazing life in letters, but the thumbnail version is this: She’s a poet, with 11 volumes of wondrous poetry as well as a handful of beautiful groundbreaking books on creativity, the life of faith, the theology of Art (among others!) All are significant contributions to our understanding and practice of creativity. I'm grateful to Luci for many reasons, but one is her rescue of poetry from Church bulletins, releasing those poor strangled over-rhymed words back into the wild to range throughout God’s creation as freely as the Holy Spirit. 

 

photos by Luci Shaw

photos by Luci Shaw

 

And all along the way, Luci has mentored uncountable people stumbling toward the Cross. 

Here, Luci is, as always, thoroughly honest, thoroughly herself. She shares how she started writing; Clyde Kilby’s role in her career. She critiques Christian publishing; shares her spiritual awakening at age 86 and how that’s impacted her writing life. She speaks about death and dying. And, what body part does she choose to describe her role in the kingdom of God? You won’t believe it.

 Enjoy these 30 minutes with this wise and gracious woman, whom I love.


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Now, who can I send Crossing the Waters to? Do you know someone who needs a fresh encounter with Jesus, who is weary with life, who is ready for a adventurous trip to Alaska and the Sea of Galilee? And---you know they won't order a book---or they cannot. Would you email me their name and mailing address and I'll send out as many as I can. (leslieleylandfields@gmail.com) 

(And If someone has a very special need, let me know, and I may be able to send along some Wild Harvest salmon and jams as well . .. ) 

 

Now may the God of hope fill you

with all joy and peace in believing,

that you may abound in hope,

through the power of the Holy

Ghost!  

 

Amen.

 

A Wedding and a Prison

My son’s wedding is over (Was that a dream? No, just a beautiful answer to lifelong prayers. Photos coming soon! But---for now, these photos we shot between events)

 

Four of the groomsmen were my sons!

Four of the groomsmen were my sons!

How many times have Noah and I danced together? This is the first time. How long did we practice before rockin' out to Guns 'N Roses' "Sweet Child of Mine?" 15 seconds! But it was a great success!! (Meaning, I didn't crush his foot or fall!)

How many times have Noah and I danced together? This is the first time. How long did we practice before rockin' out to Guns 'N Roses' "Sweet Child of Mine?" 15 seconds! But it was a great success!! (Meaning, I didn't crush his foot or fall!)

Noah and my beautiful, amazing new daughter-in-law, Lizzie Fields!

Noah and my beautiful, amazing new daughter-in-law, Lizzie Fields!

 

These two weeks in California have been life changing. Yes, the wedding! My own family gathered together with much rejoicing--and two God-serving families now joined together with SO much joy! And if this isn't enough-----the prison visit. Some of you wrote to say you’ll be stepping out in new ministries this year. That makes me very very glad. There is no more amazing adventure than the risky beautiful walk of faith! 

 

And now I've awakened to discover it's nearly Christmas! In my next post, I'm doing two exciting things: I'm giving away 10 Crossing the Waters books to those who need them. (It's SO much fun to do this!) And---I'm posting a remarkable interview with the inimitable Luci Shaw filmed this fall during the Harvester Island Wilderness Workshop. It's a don't-miss post. Coming next!

 

 

 

Leslie

 

 

 

 

Going Back to Prison

Everyone in this prison is a felon. I try to remember that but I can’t when I look at the faces of these women. I am hoping to see someone from my last visit 8 months ago. But I do not know them. Some of them look no older than 18. A few are over 60. One is pregnant. Some are mothers with three children. Some are beautiful, even in their baggy uniforms and their white socks and sandals.

 

But the first class is hard. The women are sitting in a computer classroom. I am standing. They turn their office swivel chairs to me, standing in the front, but it is 9 a.m. and I am a stranger to them. Some look at me with curiosity, a few smile, some look blank, a few look wary. I know before I start there will not be enough time. They will not have enough time to see who I am, to be comfortable with me, to get over my intensity, the way I speak, the way I use my hands, my own me-ness that takes some getting used to.

 

I start. I talk about forgiveness. I ask them questions. I tell my story about forgiving my father from my last book. I tell the gospel through the story of the Prodigal Son. Some are with me. They know the story. They nod their heads. I stand there forever, it feels, spilling blood and truth, waving and risking everything. They listen. They do not turn away. A few ask questions.

 

One woman, with blue eyes full of tears, asks, ‘What do I do about my daughter? She was 6 when I first got here. She’s 30 now and I’ve never met her. She doesn’t want to have anything to do with me.”

 Another woman says, “I know I need to forgive both my mother and my father, cause they left me, but I don’t know them. All I know is that My mother is crazy, and my father is too, but I don’t know anything about their lives.”

I lead them in a writing exercise, an empathy building exercise. Everyone participates. When they are done writing, I ask them to read their pieces to one another, but they shake their heads. I look at them and see: they do not want their masks to fall. They are not ready.

 

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 When the class is done, two hours later, I leave discouraged. Did these women hear, really hear what was offered to them---complete forgiveness, a new start, the invitation to real freedom?

 

I don’t know. My heart is heavy.

 

For the next class, I am escorted by two women chaplains, one a friend from the last time I was here. We are sent to a tiny room, a closet of a room. 14 of us sit on dirty plastic chairs. We are nearly thigh to thigh. This closet is designated as a program room. The prison is crowded. They are expanding, and bringing in more prisoners from other overcrowded prisons. Some of the women are close enough for me to touch. But I cannot touch them. It is always a prison rule.

 

I start. “Hi, I’m Leslie. Would you all tell me your names before we start. I probably won’t remember, but I’d love to know who you are.”

 

“Hey Leslie, “ the woman on my left calls out. “You got lipstick on your teeth,” she points. “That’s gonna bug the heck outta me and distract me.”

 

I laugh. “Yeah, that would bug me too.” I use the sleeve of my sweater then turn and bare my teeth at her. “Did I get it?”

 

“Nope. Still there.”

 

I try again, then show her my teeth. “That’s good enough,” she says.

 

“Thanks,” I say to her, sincerely. “That’s what friends do.”

 

Then we start. And within five minutes I know----these women are open. (I decide I’m going to make sure I have lipstick on my teeth every time I speak.) I put my notes away. I talk, they listen. They talk, I listen. There are stories of abuse, molestation, abandonment, violent husbands. One woman with a house full of children and a husband who didn’t support them---took to stealing to provide for her family. Stories of drugs, mental illness. Fifteen minutes in someone reaches for a roll of toilet paper (we’re sitting in a supply closet) and passes it around, there are so many tears. I am not following my notes---we are speaking about the ways we lock other people up in our own prisons, the ways anger and hate destroy us. How we want revenge on the ones who ruined our lives, but we know revenge will kill us.  And we are nodding our heads at one another, listening to every word.

 

We write using my empathy exercise. This group wants to share their pieces with one another. After they read, the your-lipstick-is-on-your-teeth woman, my true friend, tells us all how it broke through her anger, her lifelong anger and helped her see her true issue. They all say how much they needed to hear each other’s stories and how they want to hear more.

 

“But I can’t forgive myself,” one woman says.  I stop. I look at her beautiful face, this woman who could have been a model. I don’t know why she is here, but who doesn’t know about the dark terrible force of guilt and hate, how it rages hardest against our own fragile selves? Who doesn’t know how desperately unworthy we are to be given any good thing from a Holy God? Who does not struggle to believe that the God of all Gods has stooped to our tiny sordid lives and so loved us he chose to die in our guilty stead? Who does not wonder at the craziness of criminals set free, the dirty named clean, the prodigals forgiven and welcomed home as precious daughters? How can anything this good be true?

 

I know. I know. I turn to her. “I hope we never get over the wonder of that. Our unworthiness---and His mercy. But you have to believe that it’s true. You have to believe that God IS that good.”

 

My time is nearly up now. I don’t want to leave. The older woman with many children asks me, pleading, “Can we pray?”  Another woman says, “I want church. We don’t get church enough here.”  The woman beside her says, “We need it. But no one comes.” The others chorus agreement.

 

My chaplain friend sitting beside me says to all of them, “Pray for volunteers to come. We need more. A lot more. But we don’t have them.”

 

The older woman asks again, “Can we pray?”

 

So I pray. We pray in this tight circle, knees practically touching and I cry and I pray. I pray for God's mercy upon us all, I pray for us to be freed through Christ, for us to pass on God's forgiveness to the ones who deserve it least, for heaven to break upon us right now. I pray for the Holy Spirit to wake up his people and send them here. I pray and I am not stopping, I have not stopped because all of this is a prayer, a prayer for them, and a prayer for you. I think of Jesus on the shore of the lake, commissioning Peter to “feed my sheep. Take care of my lambs.” That’s what we’ve all been sent out to do. And the lambs and the sheep in this fold are starving, begging to be fed. On the outside, where we live, most people are running away from real food. Even in Christian venues where I speak, there’s often little appetite for God. But in there, so many are starving. How can we turn away?

 

If your church has a prison or jail ministry already, would you consider being part of it? It won’t be a sacrifice; it will be a joy. If you’re far from a prison or jail, you can still be involved through Prison Fellowship

or through Kairos Prison Ministry.

You have been fed so much. Won’t you feed others?

 

That’s my story this week. So many of you prayed for me and for those women. Your prayers were answered SO powerfully and SO beautifully. You were a part of the healing and the heaven that broke out in that closet room. Thank you!!! If you think of it, would you keep praying for these precious women, our sisters in Christ?

My 5 Minute Recipe to Turn You into a Brilliant Cook!

It’s Thanksgiving this week and no one is more surprised than me about it.  

 I’ve flown to California for my son's wedding----and since we flew all those thousands of miles from Kodiak, by golly, we’re going to stay awhile! In the preparations for the wedding and the trip (and elections), I am only now realizing, “It’s Thanksgiving?” All my children are driving or flying in as well. There are also two birthdays the day before (mine and my lovely surprise child son born on my 45th birthday.)

 

 

I’m so sorry to say that I’m not going to be penitent or confessional or holy in any way here today. It’s been a long, unholy season these last months and I’m ready not only for some giving-of-thanks and for a wedding, but for a little leaven of levity. A little less gravity. And yes, I’ll take some gravy with that gratitude too.

 

I’m here today to help make us thankful, so, thankful. And to help us all feel confident in our culinary expertise. If you’re feeling a little shaky about the upcoming feast---about baking the turkey, maybe. About which kind of stuffing to make. If you’re nervous about your pie crusts, or creating a beautiful table, read and watch on! By the time you're done, you'll be gleefully running to the kitchen happy and thankful for whatever you have planned. 

 

Now, just because it's Thanksgiving, why should you be stuck with Turkey? There are so many tempting alternatives. Here are several sure to lure you away from hallowed tradition: 

 

What is it? you may rightfully ask. Of course, it's Lamb Meatloaf baked in Mini-pumpkins. Now that says "thanks!" all over it!

 

Or, on that special feast day, you can lead your dear guests, who have traveled for hours in heavy traffic, into your dining room and seat them around your table. You bow your heads to  celebrate the many gifts of God, and then you serve them this-----

 

The source recommends that you "Plop  them on each guest's plate for an individually sized main course they can enjoy one bite at a time."  It looks like maybe they'll get two bites out of these?

The source recommends that you "Plop  them on each guest's plate for an individually sized main course they can enjoy one bite at a time."  It looks like maybe they'll get two bites out of these?

 

Or (from the same legit source) what about Butternut Squash Lasagna, made extra special with chestnuts and gorgonzola? (I nominate this for the entree on the Day of Atonement)   

 

One more alternative. We do love to  mish-mash our food traditions, don't we? Then why not this:

 

Yes, of course: Thanksgiving Sushi.

 

Perhaps you’ve decided to stick with turkey after all. Good choice! But still, you have a flare for experimentation and creativity. You have a reputation to maintain! Consider these original approaches to the holiday bird:

 

Since turkey is famously dry, why not embrace this natural feature and go one step further?

 

 

Yes, Turkey Jerky! 

 

And for those who can't imagine any kind of feast without bacon, there's always this:

 

 

But if that feels too indulgent, scale back with one of these sophisticated creations:

 

 

Now that we have the main course covered, let's move on to savory side dishes!

 

Sweet potatoes are a must. So are marshmellows. Why subvert this ancient tradition now?

 

Cranberries, too, of course, must make an appearance. But the fancy table also requires candles---yet often there's not room for both. Poof! Solved!

 

 

There must be green vegetables, of course. There's always the beloved Green Bean Casserole, but some prefer their greens suspended. Looking as little like a vegetable as possible. For these people, Paula Deen has created "Geriatric Salad"

 

(The green is achieved naturally, by real asparagus and celery. Nothing fake for us!

 

Then there's always the question about stuffing. So  many choices! You've heard of cornbread stuffing, well, there's something even more American: Popcorn stuffing! (yes, for real. But becuase I'm a real friend, I'm not sending you to the recipe.

 

Looks normal enough, but don't let that fool you!

Looks normal enough, but don't let that fool you!

 

 

Finally----Dessert! For those who just can’t get enough turkey in on this special day, why not extend its reach all the way to the final course? We begin with none other than---naturally----The Turkey Cake!

 

Here's the actual fine print:

Warning: This dish is not recommended for people who require an inch of space between food groups. It’s a savory layer cake composed of an entire turkey dinner: ground turkey filling, mashed potato “icing,” with stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and more. before you begin, you’ll need to make the mashed potatoescranberry saucesausage stuffing, and gravy before you begin; the sweet potatoes can be made ahead as well. Rewarm everything except the cranberry sauce just prior to assembling the cake, so it’s all easy to spread.

That's cheating, of course. To turn a main dish into a fabulous (non)dessert. Better the REAL turkey cake,

 

which is made out of 3 cake mixes, filled with candy corn and fondant "stuffing."

(Which do you prefer? A turkey cake with real turkey for the main dish or a turkey cake with real cake and fake turkey for dessert? Ugh, so many decisions!!)

There is one final option in this category, an offering that brilliantly resolves the dilemma above, enabling you to finish off your sacred meal with the class and elegance it deserves: