Hold on to Every Fragment

This is us, the ones who flew out together to fish camp, (Harvester Island, Alaska: my daughter and new son-in-law, a crewman (Jonah), and my assistant, Ashley. I’m wearing sunglasses because I’ve just had minor surgery on an eye. Oh, and that’s Sophie in my arms, who promised to be my seeing eye dog for this flight.

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I couldn’t see well, but good enough to catch my breath at the first glimpse of Harvester after a long winter:

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Already green. And the ocean, still, always magical liquid silver and blue.

But it hasn’t been an easy start to our commercial fishing season. I haven’t written here because our internet is intermittant, more Out-ernet than In-ternet. We’ve had a few people leave. We’ve had a medical emergency. I am under a book deadline (3 weeks left), cooking for 14. And something has happened I cannot speak about that presses so heavily on my heart . . . . Praying constantly for justice, mercy and light to come from this terrible dark.

Yet there have been many moments of happiness. Here, the delivery of our frozen foods! They come from Seattle, in bulk, by boat, to smaller boat, to tractor, to our hands to the freezer. We felt rich, like Christmas had come.

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(Will we really eat all this food? Ummm, look at who we're feeding! And how many homemade pizzas does it take to fill all these manly appetites? This many!)

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There have been kayak trips, hikes, and walks along the tideline. I always take a camera on my first beach walk after a winter of storms. There are a hundred stories wound up in the sea weed and kelp, which I love, twisted and dried, tossed high on the beach head. 

Death is always a part of winter's story. A fawn who didn't make it. Clam and mussels shells eaten by otters. And interlopers---cans and plastic that wash up.

 But there is always life as well. These oystercatcher eggs, perfectly camouflaged for the beach, soon to hatch. The shark's purse, prints of a massive mama bear, a Kodiak bear, and her cub as they patrol the sand, on a walkabout for dinner.

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Everything that washes up into our memory, onto our tideline is worth seeing and saving. Listen to memoirist Patricia Hampl:

“When I was a child, I had a powerful sense that I wanted to commemorate things. I even remember thinking at the time that it was a strange word for a twelve-year old to use. . . . it is the idea that every life is sacred and that life is composed of details, of lost moments, of things that nobody cares about, including the people who are wounded or overjoyed by those moments. I don’t think people allow themselves to value their lives enough.They ignore and discard these fragments. I would like my writing to be precise enough, detailed enough so that the attention I bring to bear on something unlocks a door to the reader’s life. In that way, by honoring one’s own life, it’s possible to extend empathy and compassion to others.”

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This summer, I am trying to honor this life and this place. May you too, honor your life this summer. Walk the tidelines, metaphorical or real to see what fragments wash up. In God’s economy, none of it is wasted, not the fall of a sparrow from your tree or the loss of a strand of your hair or the fall of a fawn goes unnoticed by God. And since the One who is Running All Things including galaxies takes care to notice lost sheep, dying sparrows, and fallen fawns, we should notice as well. 

In words or camera or painting or song or letter, send these holy fragments out upon the waters, that empathy, beauty and compassion may wash upon our beaches as common and as lovely as the weeds of the sea.  

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Georgette the Otter & Why I Am So Small

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Last week an otter tried to climb onto my kayak. Sea otters look like ocean-going koala bears so I wasn’t afraid. but I did fear for my water bottle.

Here’s a glimpse of Georgette, the friendly Kodiak koala. (This IS a wild sea otter but I have never seen one so fearless.)

In a few days I fly out to fish camp for the summer. One of the signs of the seasonal migration is always this: (whacking off my hair.)


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In some ways it’s hard to leave. I’ve only been home (Kodiak) about 10 days from my last trip and a whirlwind winter that took me to Texas, Spokane, Mongolia, Denver, Seattle, Atlanta, Mexico, California, British Columbia, the Yukon, and points in between. And now one more move? (Yes.)

I’ll be sharing my summer at fishcamp with you. Some of you travel with me every year and I love your company! Some of you may be coming for the first time.

I don’t love everything at fishcamp, this remote island in the wilderness of Alaska. Just many things. Here are some reasons I’m still excited to go——even after 41 years:


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I love it here because I remember who I am. I am a creature among creatures, as needy and hungry, as on-the-prowl as they are. I wake up every morning looking for food. I watch the skies, watch the water. I pray for fish, watch my husband and sons go out upon the waters for fish, to feed us, to feed others.

We run about in boats; the same ocean that lifts and sinks the puffins lifts us.

We fly in bush planes; the same winds that buffet and sail the eagles sail us.

I am not important. Just one hungry soul among so many hungry bodies, subject to the same forces that rise and swirl and storm around us.

And still we are fed, all of us. The Creator’s hand opens and we eat, just enough for the day.

Are they glad? Do they know deep in their creaturely heart that it is God himself who feeds them?

“All creatures look to you to give them their food at the proper time,” the psalmist wrote. “When you give it to them, they gather it up . . . they are satisfied with good things.”

They are satisfied indeed. I eat my own food, and I feast on their feeding, more than satisfied.

For the next four months at fish camp, I will remember my true place in the universe: Small. Mostly unseen. But quietly gathering my food, feeding others, and growing in gratitude.

I hope you’ll come with me. I promise to send it on to you, that you too may be fed and filled.

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Where will you be feasting and gathering this summer?

How to Go Home--and Survive! (And 10 Book Winners)

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"You Can't Go Home Again" was the title of a novel by Thomas Wolfe. We say this sometimes, don't we? We mean it can be hard to go home once you've been out in the world a long time. It's often not the same place we remember. (In the novel, the protagonist George Webber writes a book about his hometown. The book is a best seller but the town people so dislike his portrait they send him death threats. Sweet [and familiar] yes?)

But I've come home twice in the last week. I am finally back in Kodiak and it is MORE beautiful than when I left. And this week my sister and brother are here with me. (We're half of the six siblings.)

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Remember? we say to one another. Remember the long bus rides? Remember the mile long climb up the hill every day with books in our arms, no matter the weather?

Yes. I remember.

Remember all the houses, scything the hay field, cutting down the bamboo all day with machetes, the goats, the belt across our legs, the fish bake, the times we ran into the woods and stayed all day? Remember that school we hated, the mountain hikes, all the ways we ran away?

Yes. We remember.

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I met a new friend last month whose childhood and early adulthood  no one would believe, full of such isolation, violence and suffering. She said to me, "I'm not going to let the enemy have those years. I want to write about all that happened to bring light from that darkness. I want it used for God and for good."

She is right. We must remember. We must remember all of it: the beautiful, the heartbreaking, the sad, the infuriating, the wondrous.

 Without remembering, we won't know who we are.

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There are so many places God calls us to remember. When the Hebrews were about to enter the land God had promised them---a new life and land where milk and honey flowed from every ravine! So much anticipation! BUT even after wandering and longing and salivating for their new home for forty years, they're not ready to cross the threshold yet. They're not to cross over without these words:

 “However, be careful and watch yourselves closely so that you don’t forget the things which you have seen with your own eyes. Don’t let them fade from your memory as long as you live. Teach them to your children and grandchildren.”

 In many places God tells them specifically what they're to remember: “Tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson what signs I have done among the Egyptians, that you may know that I am Yahweh.” (Ex. 10:2)

         They're to remember their own story: who they are and where they've come from and how they've gotten there. And their story is completely wrapped around God's story: who He is and all he's done with them, for them. Without this remembrance, they are lost.

 

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         And so they were! The whole history of the Hebrew people in the Old Testament is the story of the rise and fall of kings who did evil because they forgot God, and then occasionally a righteous man will emerge who "remembered" God.

 

          I know I'm going all preachy here, forgive me, but this is monumental. (Yes, this is the book I’m writing now . … due in 6 weeks!) The past is not done. It lives on in us, no matter how cleverly we disguise ourselves, no matter how fast we try to run from it. When we don't turn and look behind we lose our way. Even our very selves. Renowned psychologist Dan Allender writes,

 

         "Rather than living a life of freedom and creativity that finds meaning even in the meaningless places in our past, we purpose to forget. . . . Forgetting is a wager we all make on a daily basis, and it exacts a    terrible price. The price of forgetting is a life of repetition, an insincere way of relating, a loss of self. "

        

But know this: we remember and write and speak of our memories not to be the heroes of our own story. Not just to offer up to the world our own gutteral howl and yelp to the moon. We’re after more than “our truth,” aren’t we? 

We're after growth, yes? We're after a better understanding of this crazy human existence. We "remember" that we may find ourselves in God's story and He in ours. We remember the past to find our way into the future.

 

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Friends, don't lose your way. You CAN go home again (I hope). Call a brother or your father. Go visit your sister. Have coffee with a childhood friend. Remember together. Listen to one another. Laugh. Don't be afraid of tears.

 

In recovering the past, no matter how dark, you get to live it again. But this time you are awake, alive, whole. This time you can remember with hope, with gratitude, with the brilliant presence of God, who can redeem anything.

Who already has.

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What has God redeemed in Your Family and past?

BOOK WINNERS! (Books are on their way!)

Janet Kirk
Briana Almengor
Shelly Brown
Sophia DeLonghi
Sheri Reeve
Tracy Moore
Jenny McHenry
Brenda Veinotte

Susie King

Mother's Day Giveaways (And--Stop Trying to Make Your Kids Happy!)

 Dear Friends,  It’s almost our day, the day to celebrate ALL who mother! (Which means every woman I know.) Today, I have a gift for those mothering and grandmothering——I am offering one beautiful freeing truth, (and 10 books.)

How do I dare to give mothering advice? Because I’ve been through the mill, the flood, the fire and the storm with my six kids, and we have all emerged on the other side. (Here, photos from the last 3 weddings, all in the last 8 months. Proof that we’ve all survived——intact and loving each other!

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(No, we’re not perfect. We’ve been through a ton of stuff—just like your family.) And——we only dress up for weddings. Here’s our more usual garb:

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Here’s the problem. Listen to these words from a teacher I met last year:


"I have a little girl in my classroom who never obeys me. It's a huge problem. So I called in her parents and told them about her disruptive behavior. They looked at me blankly for a moment, then said, 'We never tell her no. Your rules aren't important. Our daughter's happiness is more important than your rules!'

Then they left. I’ve heard the same story from youth pastors, from other teachers, from all around us--and I know you have too. Scary stuff!  

   Most American parents say,  “We just want our kids to be happy.”   

How many times do we hear this? Especially now in relation to sexual identity. (Your 6 year old daughter says she’d be happier as a boy? Let’s consider hormone therapy. Whatever she needs to be happy!)

We see it on nearly every front. Kids 8 – 18 now spend an average of 7 hours a day on electronic gadgets---because we let them----leading to obesity, mental illness, Addiction, aggression and more, according to experts

Many of us go into debt for our children, providing lavish birthday parties and exotic vacations. We fix the foods our children clamor for instead of what they need, while childhood obesity rates soar. We don’t allow our kids to fail. We don’t allow their sports teams to lose. We threaten our kids’ teachers with a lawsuit when our (lazy) students flunk a class. Keeping our kids "happy" is exhausting--for everyone. Even them.

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Here’s the truth: Our job as parents is not to make our children happy, but to help them become “good: ” compassionate, honest, responsible, hard-working, kind. Trying to procure our children’s happiness is like trying to catch a river with a sieve. We need to do for our children what they cannot do for themselves: distinguish between their short-term happiness and their long-term good. What is that long-term good? It’s the same as the way God parents us: for our growth, goodness and holiness rather than our immediate happiness. But of course it’s not an either/or. Ultimately, goodness and Holiness IS the way to happiness.

How do we get there? A few suggestions: Give your kids meaningful work to do. Real work that takes time and muscle. Do hard things yourself and enable them to do hard things as well. Model compassion. Require perseverance. Delay gratification at times. Discipline them when needed. Love them always.

If we make life too easy for our children, they’ll fall.

        My sister-in-law planted a Japanese maple in her yard one year. Because she lives on a windy, stormy island, she staked it out so it had full support against the winds. But it began to sag. By the third year, it completely collapsed. The nursery owner from whom she had bought the tree told her, “The tree is too protected. It needs the wind to strengthen its fibers. It needs the wind to make it strong.”

    Do any of us want our children to topple? Don’t we want them to be like the tree in Psalm 1, firmly rooted in the banks of a gushing, living stream? These gorgeous trees yield bright, bursting fruit through every season of its life.

I pray that we can love our children enough to parent them toward THIS kind of happiness!

And we can.

 

Giveaways!

I’m giving 10 books away this week! Five parenting books (which just may save your life as a mother!) AND—five of The Wonder Years: Forty Women Over 40 on Aging, Faith, Beauty and Strength. I'll do it the usual way.  For everyone who shares this post on their social media, please let me know below----and I'll enter your name in the drawing. And DO leave your email as well so I can get ahold of you!!

(Sorry—-Offer only good in the U.S. )

Thank you!! I am so excited at the freedom God can bring to us as we love and raise our children! AND the freedom that comes to us as we sail over that 40 mark . .!)

with Love to you all,

Leslie

 

Easter Flight: Crucified in the Middle Seat

Not long ago, I was stuck in a middle seat on an airplane. Groan. I shrunk into the tiny space, strapped between two large men. I did not want to be there.

Sometimes I do not talk on the plane. At all. Especially in the middle seat. But this night, for some reason, I did. I spoke to the man on my right.  His name was Jerry. He was warm and conversational. We talked about our families, our kids, our work, where we were going that day and why. It was not long into the conversation when he discovered I was a person of faith. I don’t usually hide this, but neither do I make my seat a soapbox.

As soon as he heard me say “Christian” he charged in. “I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in any of that hocus-pocus,” he said, firmly, shaking his head.

“Really? Wow, that’s interesting. How did you decide that?” I looked at him with curiosity.

He told me. He was raised in a charismatic church, he said. His parents were heavily involved. He was in church all the time. “It’s baloney. All of it. I have a great life. I have a wife and three beautiful grown daughters. I don’t need God. My life is every bit as good as theirs. No, better.“

I listened intently, wondering what to say. Before I could think of a single apologetic, he answered my next question: “I don’t even want to talk about it anymore. I don’t do debates or arguments. I just know there’s no god. “ He smiled at me. I smiled back.

The man on the other side of me did not speak for the first hour of the flight. He listened to our long conversation in silence. Finally he spoke. “I was raised Baptist. I’m not anything now. I’m not sure what I believe. “  Then, in the next thirty minutes it came out. He had two sons. No, he had one son. The older one died just 2 years ago. He was bipolar, and became addicted to drugs and alcohol, which killed him.

“We tried to help him. We did everything we knew to do. We followed the expert’s advice. He would come back and live with us, and we’d help him start over. But nothing worked.” 

 

We talked for a long time about his son, about grief, about mental illness. I did not mean to cry, but tears came. I know some of this story as well. But there was more.

“The week after he died, my wife and I were sitting in the back yard, just empty, hollow. A pair of doves, white doves came to our bird bath. My wife and I had never seen doves there before. Ever. They came and bathed in the water for the longest time, two of them. Pure white. We watched, astounded. Then they flew off. We’ve never seen them again. It was a visit I think, maybe from angels? Maybe it was his spirit?”

“It was a message from God,” I whispered. “Don’t you see? That he loves you and is with you.  He never left you and He never will.“ 

He looked at me. We sat 3 inches apart. He nodded. We closed our eyes, hardly able to look at one another in the holiness of that moment. The man on my other side listened and said nothing.

 

 

This week, Friday, many of us will watch a man  take that middle space for us, the place no one wants, He will climb onto a cross, to hang between two men, a disbelieving mocker and a penitent thief; to hang between judgment and mercy, between the past and the future, between law and grace. In that space, he will not shrink, but will spread his arms wide, encompassing all our rebellion, all our disbelief, all our tragic obsession with trivia, and all the death that results.

He will hold us there in that bloody embrace until all is accomplished.

 

I was with him there that day. And you were too. We were there. In his mind, his heart, our deadly sins, our names on his lips as his life drained out of him. 

"For we have been crucified with Christ, and we not longer live but Christ lives in us. The life we all now live in our bodies, we live by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us."

 

Because of that day 2000 years ago, because of that man on the middle cross, we can step into dreaded in-between spaces every day: I could love the man on my right who insists there is no God. I could cry with the man on my left who lost his son. Who might believe again some day. Because of that day, we are reconcilers, standingwhere we must---in the midst of those who are suffering,  opening our arms to the only way out.

 

Dear Friends, wishing you a day of great rejoicing as you celebrate our crucified and RISEN Savior!

HE IS RISEN!!

Palm Sunday--What One Woman Saw

Friends, Would you come with me today? Across time and culture, beyond distraction and schedules that enslave us? I send this dramatic monologue to you today——the words I will speak this Sunday in our service. Maybe they will help us enter into that day?

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I was there that day.  There were so many people there---- but it wasn’t that. Jerusalem, what a city it is for people and crowds!! And it wasn’t even the procession, the parade.  These last two years-----there have been so many parades, trails of stumbling, lisping, broken, drooling people  rolled, pushed, carried, slung hoisted to him. Yeshua.  No one would dare to believe  in healing----except it was happening. To EVERYONE! Even the sorriest among them . .. .

 Everyone became like----new born!  Legs straightened and muscles strung right.  Women who were mute----now they are singing and adding a little dance too!!  And crippled men are running and leaping!!

 So—yes, we’ve been watching these  parades for many months now.

 

But this time--- they finally saw WHO he was! Everyone ran to pull down branches from the trees.  Whih means----Victory!  Triumph!  When was the last time we were victors of anything?  And we all took off our cloaks, our outer robes---and just laid them at his feet and at the feet of the donkey he was riding.

We knew what we were doing because ------Finally we all saw it.  He was the king!!   He was the one we’ve been waiting for since . …..  since we were a people.

 

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And the singing!  Everyone was happy! We are not ----we have not been happy people. But this day!

“HOSANNA! HOSANNA!”

Children singing and old men, my grandpa,  the young mothers----everyone!  Cheering laughing shouting! Hosanna. And you know what “Hosanna” means, yes? It means, Please Save us! Save us!

 Finally----a king to lead us! To lead our people. We can be a nation again—not servants and slaves to the Romans …

 And we said---we turned to one another, all my friends, my neighbors, my cousins, we were all standing and shouting together, and we said, “We will follow him anywhere—- even into battle!” 

 But we didn’t.

We could not guess what would happen next. And if we had, no one would have been there that day. But I saw it. How those same people---not all of them, but some of them---my neighbors, my relatives, my  uncle and cousins----they were there just days later. How many days?  They were shouting again. Just yelling this time—not singing, and not waving palm branches but waving their fists and shouting——

 

CRUCIFY HIM!!

 

How did this happen?? From  O Save Us Our King, Our King!

 

To   CRUCIFY Him,  blasphemer!

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HOW? 

But maybe I know.  They wanted a king, a MAN king who acted like a god.

 They didn’t want a king who WAS God.  

 They never really wanted God at all.

 

I wonder how many of us want God to enter our world and become king over our lives? We think, foolishly, that we will give up too much.

But here is what I know now: that day of singing and celebration and triumph was true.

And real, more real and more true than anybody every knew: 

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

 

And then very quietly,

through lashes, fists and nails  

               

  He did. 

           

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Write here…

   

 

 

 

 







Stop Saving Your Life! (And Tell a Better Story)

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I’m home in Kodiak now. A few days ago, flying home, I sat next to a beautiful woman with mournful eyes. I pulled out my computer, as I nearly always do, and began working. (I'm on deadline for my next book, "Tell a Better Story.") And I was just leaving an intensive weekend leading a "Tell a Better Story" seminar in Atlanta. (There’s our beautiful class above.)

            We began to talk. We opened our lives. Finally she said, "If you asked me the one thing I need most in my life right now, it's to learn how to tell my story. I've been through some horrific things. Everyone who hears my story tells me to write it, but I don't know how. I can't believe God sat me next to you."  

         I send these words on to my new friend on the plane, and to all of you. Why do I spend so much of my life teaching others to write? Here’s a tiny piece of what I want to say to you:

Many of us come from the Land of Secrets, where everything must be buried and hid away. The buriers think they are staying alive, not knowing how much has already died in the dark.

Stop saving your life. Spend it. Tell it. Write it. Be generous, profligate with it bcz your life is not yours to keep, horde or hide.

Everything that has come to you: the ugly, the lovely, the break-ups and tear-downs, the crushes and crashes, the grieving and groaning, the riddles and   the cancers and healings----however secret they have come, under whatever beds and closets they hide---they do not come for you alone. Bring them out to life and light. And send them on. Comfort others, pass on whatever you have seen and heard for their sake as well as yours. Weep with those who weep. Rejoice with those who rejoice.

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         Tell your story because not a moment is wasted in God’s economy, not the fall of chickadee from your tree or the wandering of a rebellious sheep or the fall of a strand of you  hair goes unnoticed by God and we should notice too.  

I remember the day I sat in my father’s room with notepad in hand describing the red carpet, the furniture the wolf blanket on the wall, the books over his bed. I was capturing that moment forever----and here it is still. I remember. And I pass it onto you, that moment, waiting, when he was dying and I knew that I would not see him again, ever. (And that he wouldn’t care.)

         Who else knows as you do how it felt to hold your mother’s hand after her fall, and how you had to argue her onto the gurney, all the while knowing she doesn’t even like you, that you are not one of her favorite children but you do it anyway because you still love her?

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Remember first time you ever danced with your son——at his wedding?

And remember the time you climbed that mountain near sunset and an eagle sat in a tree in silhouette and your son lost his shoe over the cliff and you ended up piggybacking him down the rest of the trail while you both sang “Deep and Wide”? Who else knows how that feels?

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Oh the things you have done and seen in this life!! Don’t hoard it. Don’t stash it in some cache to keep it from those who need these stories the most.

And those who watch and listen and write and speak, those who are looking for God in every minute of their life------will find him.

 But don’t write or speak your stories to gain love or acceptance. Because when you write the very best you can, which means that you tell the truth and you tell it straight and kind, and that you do not write to exact revenge, only to scatter grace and light in graves and closets---some will dislike you. Some will reject you. Some will think you’re an egomaniac for daring to put marks on a page from your own life. Some may call you a liar and a thief. It happens to writers and truth-telling speakers all the time. But it’s okay, because you are honoring the life God has given you.

  Why am I telling you this? I have seen so much lost. When you seal your lips and your memories, you will lose not just pieces of the past and pieces of yourself, which is tragic enough, but you will lose seeing God Himself. Jesus would not waste the crumbs after 10,000 people ate, and I don’t want you to lose an entire basket, even a single crumb. If you stay silent, someone will not be fed, and the first someone is you.

The rest is all of us.

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         In the end, writing and sharing our stories is not about my father or the little children running away or the mother carrying her son down the mountain----it is that in all of those moments God is present in ways we are blind to, and we have a chance to live those moments again, this time wide awake. 

Dear Friends: Don’t hide your life underground. Spend it!

Tell and live a better story, a richer story, a truer story.

It can raise the dead to life.

(It already has.)

 

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Friends, There are SO many other reasons to find and share our stories with one another. Anyone have another reason? Or—-something wonderful that happened when you shared your story with someone else?

(P.S. HOW do we Tell a Better Story? Let me show you! A few spots are still open: The Lake Michigan Writers’ Workshop and the Harvester Island Wilderness Workshop.)

Crossing Mexico's Border and Tearing Down Walls

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All this week I have been crossing borders. So many.  The hardest border was across an airplane seat-----but the longest border was in Tijuana.  It was just Duncan and I, the two of us on spring break together (Really? Like real grownups?) Driving into Mexico at the San Ysidro border, through San Diego, wasn't even a blink.  No stop. We had our passports in hand and no one was there to stop us anywhere.  We were in the U.S. one moment, then driving along the border wall the next and there we were.

           Coming back wasn't so easy. It took three and a half hours of idling, in a snaking line, waving off gentle peddlers with serapes, aprons and churros at our windows. Waiting for border guards to pull off panels from a truck in front of us.

"Is it this busy because of Spring break"? my husband asked a border patrol guard along the way who looked friendly.

 "It's always like this," he said. 'It's the busiest land port of entry in the world." Later I look it up. 70,000 northbound cars and 20,000 pedestrians cross every day. I’ve crossed borders in more countries than I have counted, and never like this.

 

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But the hardest border crossing was the closest. I was in the dreaded middle seat on a flight from Seattle to California. A small woman with a cane sat against the window. I buried my head in my computer, for so many reasons. It's exhausting talking to a stranger two inches away. And always the book deadlines. But somewhere over Oregon I spoke.  I don't remember what I said, but we ended up talking for over an hour.

            *Sally was a recovering alcoholic and meth addict. "I've been clean for four years," she said smiling. Her face showed the wear.

            "Congratulations!" I cannot imagine the difficulty of this. And I find out that Sally has MS, diagnosed 15 years ago. And there is more. She is recovering from brain surgery.

            We talk about her disease, her surgery, our children, her father. We talk about God. Sally lights up.

            "That's why I'm alive. I wouldn't be here today without God. He's saved me so many times. The aneurysm should have killed me."

            At some point, she takes my hand and guides it to the back of her head.

            "Do you feel that lump? That's from the surgery."

            I cringe with her hand on mine, then my hand behind her head feeling the lump. This is a border I didn't want to cross. Ever. But here I am. Near the end of the flight, when she finds out I'm a writer, Sally tells me, "You can tell my story. I want people to know how good God has been to me."             

 

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            A few days later I am in line at a Starbucks. A young latino man skips in line behind me. He speaks to me almost without taking a breath.

            "Hi, oh it's a beautiful day, and I'm so happy to be alive, aren't you? I mean look at this, we're all here, alive in this place," and he gestures to the 30 or so people with coffee in hand, poring over phones and books.

            "Yes, I'm happy to be alive too," I smile back. I too have felt this, suddenly looking around wondering if anyone notices that we're all breathing and having these moments together in this place.

            "My name is Angel and I want to be an angel. What if everyone here was an angel?"

            And off we go into a weird labrynth of conversation I cannot begin to recall. The line is long and we talk a long time. I think Angel is manic or high right now, but God is here anyway. We talk of heaven. How we should be grateful for every moment of life. Now he is telling me his favorite book of the Bible and I'm saying mine when a grizzled man in a yellow t-shirt and red hat passes us.

             "I read my Bible every morning. You gotta read your Bible," he admonishes us as he passes holding a bag he pulled from the trash.

            Behind us stands a 6'5" African-American man in a tight beige miniskirt and a long red wig. He smiles at me as I turn. I smile back. I would love to talk with him, to hear his story.

            I order my coffee and pay with a gift card and wait. Behind me, Angel orders. "Just water please."

            I'm about to walk away and I can't. Someone gave me the coffee card I'm using. I know it's not just for me.

            "Angel, order a coffee, whatever you like."

             "Really? Are you sure?" After, with his iced coffee in hand he asks, "Why did you do that?"

              "Because Jesus would."

            We high-fived.

             

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            Some flights and some days I'm cranky. Sometimes I build a Trump-sized wall around myself. Sometimes I need to. But when I pull the wall down, one small word at a time, I have found people who need to be seen and heard. Who maybe need a coffee and even a hand behind their head to feel the lump.  And in those minutes, whether we find our way to God or not, I am (mostly) happy. Because Angel is right. Here we are all alive together and breathing together, all of us created in the image of an incredible God and maybe if we cross the borders past our own thick skin, we can bless one another? I need it as much as they do.

Many in our country want to build more border walls. I want to tear mine down.

 

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Dear Friends——Have you torn down a piece of a wall lately? Would you bless us all and tell us about it?

Dare to Laugh; Dare to Lament (And Wonder Years Giveaways)

Welcome Friends! I need to laugh this week. I’ll bet you do too. The Babylon Bee always does it for me. (If you’re new to this rag, it’s brilliant Christian satire, about us, by us, which is good for all of us. We are so worthy of self-parody.)

(Wonder Women, please enjoy the post and at the bottom you’ll see what to do!)

HORTON, ND—It was time to eat dinner at the Kendall household and Gregory Kendall, who had just come home from a long day selling auto parts, was in no mood to pray.  “Would anyone else like to pray?” he asked his family, but he was met with blank stares, his children not jumping at the chance to pray for the meal. Gregory looked at his wife, Roberta and she returned a look that said “not today.”  Finally, the Kendalls’ Amazon Echo device offered to lead the prayer after the always-listening device determined the awkward silence was probably never going to end until someone stepped up to bless the food.  (See how  Her    secular prayer    ends!

HORTON, ND—It was time to eat dinner at the Kendall household and Gregory Kendall, who had just come home from a long day selling auto parts, was in no mood to pray.

“Would anyone else like to pray?” he asked his family, but he was met with blank stares, his children not jumping at the chance to pray for the meal. Gregory looked at his wife, Roberta and she returned a look that said “not today.”

Finally, the Kendalls’ Amazon Echo device offered to lead the prayer after the always-listening device determined the awkward silence was probably never going to end until someone stepped up to bless the food.

(See how Her secular prayer ends!

One more?

HOLLYWOOD, CA—A new filtering service aims to make films more acceptable to a Christian audience by replacing every actor with Kirk Cameron.  KirkView, an upstart tech company founded "by Christians, for Christians," is trying to help believers watch filthy movies by digitally imposing Cameron over all the actors in the film. Previous streaming services have replaced cuss words and suggestive scenes, but now Christians can watch movies the way God intended: by only seeing Kirk Cameron in every role.  The service has levels ranging from "baby Christian," where Cameron only replaces a few of the actors, to "Holy man of God," where Cameron replaces absolutely everybody. ( more here.)

HOLLYWOOD, CA—A new filtering service aims to make films more acceptable to a Christian audience by replacing every actor with Kirk Cameron.

KirkView, an upstart tech company founded "by Christians, for Christians," is trying to help believers watch filthy movies by digitally imposing Cameron over all the actors in the film. Previous streaming services have replaced cuss words and suggestive scenes, but now Christians can watch movies the way God intended: by only seeing Kirk Cameron in every role.

The service has levels ranging from "baby Christian," where Cameron only replaces a few of the actors, to "Holy man of God," where Cameron replaces absolutely everybody. (more here.)

Kirk Cameron’s face does NOT appear, however, in our local production of NEWSIES! The hit Broadway musical is on our main stage this week and next—-and my two youngest sons are in it. Pure joy. Pure laughter.

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It takes faith to laugh sometimes. It takes courage. It takes daring. Because our screens, the news reports, the headlines and even the fine print beneath them shouts Fear. Insecurity. Instability. National politics unrelentingly sicken and sour us. Neighbors across fences keep lobbing tomatoes and stereotypes. Young people keep leaving the church and its God-and-Country politics. Americans seem to be in a permanent state of Outrage and depression. And Christians aren’t doing much better. Is the light we’re lifting the light of Christ or is it the sputtering flame of our own brand of politics? (Can we please lay down everything that isn’t of Christ?)

I want to fix our nation. I want God to fix the world. I want clear answers and immediate solutions.

But when those don’t come, we can laugh. We really can. We can laugh because God laughs.

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.
(Psalm 2)


We can laugh and “shout to God with cries of joy.” And there’s a reason we can do this: ”For the Lord Most High is awesome, the great King over all the earth.” (Ps. 47) Nothing and no one will alter His purposes and plans.

So laugh!

But if you cannot dare to laugh, then dare to lament. We need lament as much as we need laughter. Aubrey Sampson’s new book, just in my mailbox this week, reminds me of the importance of lament:

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She writes, “What’s remarkable about Christianity is that we have a King who is also a steadfast, loving Husband and friend. He not only permits lament; he gives us the language of lament.”

In the Lament Psalms, and there are many of these, God invites us to question him. He invites us to cry out, “O God where are you? Why have you hidden yourself from me? Why do you sleep, O Lord? Why do you forget our affliction? How long, O Lord?”

What kind of God does this? What kind of God inspires writers to pour out their doubting hearts to Him?

A God who knows the end from the beginning. A God who says, even when we mourn, we are blessed, for our mourning will be turned to laughter. A God who knows that daring to doubt is better than pretending to believe.

Wherever you are—-waiting for the results of that biopsy; searching for your runaway daughter, planning funeral arrangements for your father, lamenting the state of our nation, praying for a dear friend who just had a stroke—— try lamenting with this powerful musical liturgy. As Sampson writes, lament “creates a pathway between the Already and Not Yet. . . . between current hopelessness and coming hope.”

And—-when you cannot lament any more, then remember God has not moved from his throne——and laugh! Not at evil, but Laugh at us, because we’re secure in Jesus——and because some of the time, we’re funny. (I’m definitely the “window washer” here.)

 

And sometimes we’re downright hilarious. (Thank you John Crist!)

Dear Friends, May we laugh or lament with you? What are you lamenting this week? What has made you laugh this week?

AND——I’m giving away 5 Wonder Years books this week in honor of International Women’s Day. Leave a comment below with your EMAIL address, and I’ll do a drawing. I hope you win one!!

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7 Ways to Love Your (Online) Haters

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Flying home from Texas——-I never tire of this land and sea and ice scape.

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And then flying to Kodiak . . .

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I brought back with me hugs, words, stories, so much shared with the women and men of Faith Family Church in Texas. There is nothing like Southern Hospitality! They really know how to do it!!

Here are a few of the beautiful women I got to share the weekend with.

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AND—the fearless and tireless Miss Tamara, the vision-er and force behind the ANCHORED conference.

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My cup was emptied out—-and filled again with love.

But how do we live a life of love in this Age of Outrage? Even the most peaceful people-pleasers among us pick up a few haters along our way. Especially online readers, followers and “friends.” What do we do?

How do we love these PIP’s, the Perpetually Irate People in our lives? And love them we must. They are our neighbors, even our onscreen neighbors. (But love doesn’t always mean what we think.)

Here it is, Sweet and Short: 

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7 Ways to Love Your (Online) Haters

1. Love them by doing for them what they have not done for you: listen respectfully before reacting. Align yourself with their words first rather than against their words so you can hear them first. Despite the hate and the hurt, there may be truth and corrective there that you can profit from. IF so, then----

2. Love them by thanking them for their interest and time, and for that helpful piece of advice or corrective. Identify what was helpful. (I’m not talking about someone telling you there’s lipstick on your teeth . ..) Shower grace upon gracelessness (Yes, this is HARD!)

3. Love them (and love yourself) by sometimes staying silent, no matter how outrageous the accusations against you. Don't feed their dis-ease by responding. Most of the time, they cannot hear you and they are not interested in your experience of those events. Some of these are dear people with mental and physical health issues and trauma in their own lives. If you respond, you’ll likely prolong your pain and theirs.

4. Love them by listening between the lines for the real issue, the deep hurt that they're speaking and acting from. If the Holy Spirit prompts, respond kindly and with concern, not to the issue at hand, but to their own experience and well-being. “I’m sorry you’re struggling with difficult feelings right now. Is there some way I can help you?” They’re expecting a fist fight. Give them a hand on the shoulder instead.


5. If this person has contacted you on social media, Love them by calmly and respectfully inviting further dialogue with them through email rather than a public site. But only if prompted by the Holy Spirit, only if you believe further communication can help THEM (not you) and only out of concern for them rather than for a righting of your own reputation.

6. Love them by reminding them you are a real human being with a family, a dog, a broken dishwasher and kids you're trying to get through school. Help them recognize you are not a disembodied issue. You are not a political position. You are a human being with feelings and struggles just like anyone else. (And make sure you see them the same way!)

7. Love them by praying for them. Yes, really. Their inappropriate response makes it clear that they are likely more hurt and damaged than you are. You’ve been given the Holy Spirit. You’ve been given all you need to do this. They likely have few resources, while you have many.

HOW do I know these 7 ways? Partly from failure. When I’ve lost it, when I’ve fought back teeth and nails, I’ve truly lost, even when I “win.”

(BUT—-do NOT let haters shut you down from speaking truths you know must be spoken. If I listened to all of mine, I would have stopped writing 20 years ago.)


The whole world is gasping for grace and love. Who needs it more than anyone? Yes. The haters. 

As the Lord has flung his profligate mercies upon us, let us do the same for them.

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Friends, would you share a time when anger or enmity was met with grace? These real stories SO encourage us all!

Thank you,

Always,

Leslie

Alaska's Disaster & Swooning Over Swans

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

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

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

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

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

So we get in our car and go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WILD SWANS

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

——-Mary Oliver

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

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

This is our family too.

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

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

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

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

#1.

(

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

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

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

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

(Should be

down!

 So they stay clean when you take them out.)

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

Who Will Save Us From the Kitchen Wars?

)

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

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

#5.  The Banya. The banya,

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

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

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

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

     Even now, it's not 

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

did

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

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

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

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

#7. 

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

An Open Letter to Celebrants of the New York Abortion Bill

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Dear Celebrants,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most Sincerely,

Leslie Leyland Fields

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In labor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Fear an Impervious Heart,

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




Fear Hate

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

 




Fear Self-Importance,

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










Fear Comfort,

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


Fear Authenticity

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

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Fear Satisfaction,

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


Fear End-Time Prophecy and Despair,

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

Fear Patriotism

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



Fear the enemy of our body-and-soul

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

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And above all,

Fear the Maker of our Body-and-Soul,

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

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

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


Fear Him. This is the only fear that dispels death

and every fear

not born of love.

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

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

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

wIth love and gratitude,

Leslie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I slept 12 straight hours that next night.

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


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

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

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

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

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

even then, still

God will ferry you Home.

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Write here…

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

Report from 40 Below (and some kind of miracle)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you watching? Are you seeing?

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

And we SHALL arrive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Will we really travel safely?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so can you.

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

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

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

the flames will not set you ablaze.

——-God

This is the life we’re meant for.

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

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

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





Light into Night: The Monstrously Human God

Welcome, new day. 

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

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

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

Incarnation

by Amit Majmudar

Inheart yourself, immensity. Immarrow,

Embone, enrib yourself. The wind won't borrow 

A plane, nor water climb aboard a current,

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

You rigged this whirligig, you make it run:

Stop juggling atoms and oppose your thumbs.

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

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

Yourself so we can rise onto our feet

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

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

Encrypt in flesh, enigma, what we can't

Quite English. We will almost understand.

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

There's secrecy aplenty in appearance.

Face it, another word for skin is hide.

Show me the face that never lied.

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

We have met.

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

He is enribbed like us,

his eyes are bright as suns, like us,

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

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

And so comes the light.

The world cries, newborn.

I cry. New born.

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

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

                      Always,

Leslie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

*Give the truth.

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

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

 

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*Give Stories.

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




*Give Generous Words Generously

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

"I love you."  

"You're amazing."  

"You're such a good father."  

"You're an incredible son."

 "I'm sorry." 

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

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

"I'm so proud of you."

"I forgive you. Will you forgive me?"

 "I'm always here for you."

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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(Wonder Years Winners Below!)

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

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

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

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


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


Our Father who art in heaven,

Glorious, honored, loved, hallowed be your name.

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

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Reveal your kingdom among us, here, now,

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

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

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

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

the debts we owe, the ways we have hurt others 

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

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

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

Please rescue us from the destroyer, that evil one.

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We ask you all this

because you are the King

and this holy kingdom is yours,

power and majesty and strength is yours

glory and honor and praise is yours.

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Forever and always,

 Yes and amen.

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

Amen.


THE WONDER YEARS WINNERS!

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

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

*Karen Worley

*Lula Cobb

*Jane Stewart

*Yvonne Mollica

*Katie Husby

*Lance Aldrin

*Darrell Davis

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