Leslie Leyland Fields

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!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 
 

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

With love and always with hope,

Leslie

Are We Aging, Sagging or "Saging"? And The Wonder Years Giveaways!

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I send this from Slovakia, still on my pilgrimage, but this is a very special week. Finally! The official launch week for The Wonder Years: 40 Women Over 40 on Aging, Faith, Beauty and Strength (with Luci Shaw, Elisa Morgan, Kay Warren, Lauren Winner, Jeanne Murray Walker, Joni Tada, Madeleine L'Engle, Elizabeth Elliot, Margot Starbuck, Jen Pollock Michel, and many more) 

 

https://www.amazon.com/Wonder-Years-Women-Beauty-Strength/dp/0825445221

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https://www.amazon.com/Wonder-Years-Women-Beauty-Strength/dp/0825445221

 

We need this book!  (I NEED this book, which is why I spent the last 5 years compiling and editing it! And maybe your mother needs this book for Mother's Day?) Come and have a taste!  Book giveaways at the end. 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

 

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I am looking into the mirror. Not the mirror, mirror on the wall, which kindly tells me whatever I want by a quick dim and flick of the light switch, but the far scarier one: the mirror in my hand that magnifies my face by a factor of ten. Under this painful scrutiny, I skip over my pores and crow’s feet and go right for the brows. I count a record number of greys. With jaw set I pluck them ruthlessly, realizing I’ll soon be brow-less at this rate. Thankfully, the mirror is minute enough to keep me from cataloging all the other marks of age upon my body. Today, it’s just the brows.

Tomorrow it might be something else, especially if I have given in to my secret online obsession of celebrity slideshows. Particularly the “Where are they now?” slides, documenting actors’ unforgiveable lapses into middle and old age. How dare our movie icons age like that? The disgust is palpable. Those galleries are usually linked to celebrities trying to escape that ignominy who end up instead in the next slideshow: “The Worst Plastic Surgeries Ever.”

 

 

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Who wants to age, really? We fight it in so many ways, some of which are downright silly. Recently I saw an enticing online headline that had gone viral: “The Hairstyle That Will Get a 38-Year-Old Carded.”

I clicked on it, of course. There she was: a woman obviously in her late thirties, peering goofily from behind long, blunt bangs once popular among tweens and teens. At least they weren’t pigtails! But this obsession is hardly new. Remember Twiggy, the seventeen-year-old super model-waif from the sixties, who suddenly made mature women everywhere long to look eleven years old?

 

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Are we so youth-obsessed that we long to be children again? Perhaps. Who wouldn’t love another chance at childhood, to do it right and thorough with the proper joy next time? But maybe all this is more than the universal human hunt for the fountain of youth and innocence. Maybe it’s something more modest, more possible. Maybe we older women just want to be seen again.

 

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In 2013, Salon.com ran a provocative article by Tira Harpaz with the headline, “Women Over Fifty Are Invisible.” The essay made significant waves—among women over fifty but was, predictably, ignored by others. The author’s thesis was simply this: “If you want to make a person invisible, just put her in the shoes of an over-fifty woman and abracadabra, watch her disappear.” Harpaz, herself in her late fifties, described aging and its accompanying invisibility as a kind of fading away into irrelevance, including “a loss of attractiveness and sex appeal, the end of fertility, a glimpse of a slow, lingering decline.”

I thought about women ahead of me, women I admire two and three decades older than I: Doris with her glowing red hair and killer figure. Luci with two new books coming out this year; Vera who still teaches dance classes; Kay, still speaking around the world. I thought of Iris Apfel draped in turquoise or orange with layers of massive ethnic jewelry lighting her tiny figure. When she attended Paris Fashion Week, she was treated like a combination of “a rock star and Queen Elizabeth.”  She is drop-dead gorgeous. And she is ninety-four. And not least among them, Merle with her servant’s heart and generosity to all.

All of these women are well past eighty. I am agog not at their age; there are plenty of nonagenarians and even centenarians knocking around. But a ninety-four-year-old setting new fashion trends? A ninety-ish woman who is still making new friends? An eighty-eight-year-old still creating stunning poetry? An eighty-three-year-old opening fresh biblical truths to hungry audiences? Beauty and age have too long been enemies and antitheses. But times are changing. And so are we. Dozens of models over sixty grace fashion runways and magazine covers, flaunting their wrinkles, wearing their grey hair long and flowing as they pose elegantly among women young enough to be their granddaughters. Even in this dizzying technological age, which prizes the nimblest brains and the quickest adapters, we women over forty are proving again and again that innovation and imagination can flower all the way into our nineties.

 

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Even more than this, as I look around my faith community, I see older women serving. I see them beginning new ministries after their retirement, finding new ways to alleviate suffering and lighten others’ loads. Here are the real radicals, women who reject the prevailing notion of our culture that age delivers a license for freedom and self-indulgence. How many times have I heard celebrities and acquaintances alike, on the eve of their fiftieth or sixtieth birthday, proclaim to the world, “Watch out. It’s my time now. I’m gonna say and do whatever I want.” And in the next breath, when asked for their newfound wisdom, they invariably say something like, “I’ve finally come to love myself just as I am. Now I don’t have to please anyone but myself.” Is that really all there is? Did we survive childhood, adolescence, and our twenties and thirties to arrive on the doorstep we left as children? Surely not.

 

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I’m not saying aging is a breeze. Vanities and losses remain, I confess. This book is something of a coming out for me. I’ve vacillated over the last few decades over making my age public. Sometimes I deliberately hide my age or even lie. A few months ago, I changed my birthdate on Facebook to a full decade younger, thinking, Why not? Why should I reveal that I’m almost a senior citizen? I speak to university audiences often and would rather not be perceived as their mother, or worse, their grandmother. But it didn’t stand long before I was spasmed by guilt and tried to change it back, only to find the date uneditable. (It seems you can only change your age twice before the FB police come after you.)

So again, this book is a kind of coming out for me. Like many others, sometimes I am mistaken for someone ten or even fifteen years younger, given good lighting and the just-right dress. But other times it cuts the other way, which feels like the ultimate defeat. But why?

Why do we feel as though we’re racing against time? And as if time were not an inequitable enough racing partner, some of us, mostly subconsciously, lace up our shoes next to Photoshopped magazine cover models who regularly go under the needle and the laser, who work out four hours a day with their personal trainer, nibbling salads devised by their personal chefs. For a few, their own postmenopausal youthfulness has become their single raison d'etre.

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It’s a rigged, impossible race. Mostly, we know it. Our best claim, then, is to look or feel younger than our actual age. Here, finally, we’re crowned a winner in the lifestyle sweepstakes, which is not so much about cheating death—we’re not concerned with that—yet. But to cheat Time itself, and even more, to cheat Nature, who, by the time we’re over forty, we know for sure is not our Mother.

 

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How then do we respond to the passing years that make their inevitable marks upon our faces, our bodies, and our abilities?

A thousand different ways. Look around. Look and listen to these forty women, most of whom are just like you and me, women who are growing, beginning new ventures, casting off old shadows, whose own passages through life and time have yielded great fruit, even when aging saps health, energy, and abilities. Yes, even then. Welcome to the party!

But we’re serious, too. Aging is not for the thin-boned or the faint of heart. As we climb year by year, whether it’s a mountain or a ladder, we need to stop for a long moment and consider the view. We need to ask questions. Maybe we should even check our ladder. As a number of writers have told us, we could spend our entire lives climbing the ladder of achievement and success only to discover, once we mount those upper rungs, that we’ve leaned the ladder upon the wrong wall. It takes courage to stop and take stock of who we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going. It takes strength to keep our hearts open. It takes fearlessness to keep questing after the good, the beautiful, the true. We’ll do exactly that in these pages, knowing that no matter our age, it’s never too late to keep becoming the women God wants us to be.

 

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These are indeed The Wonder Years. In writing and compiling this book, I have been astonished and inspired by my fellow writers. I know you will be as well, but we have another audience in mind too. We’re taking up the mantle the apostle Paul gave us in Titus 2:3–5, for “older women” to “teach what is good” to “younger women.” All of us in these middle and later years have gained a storehouse of memories and experiences that surprise us in their depth and breadth. We find ourselves, unexpectedly at times, experts in a whole host of areas: we’re mothers and grandmothers, wives, mothers-in-law, and stepmothers. We’re professionals. We’re farmers and fisherwomen. We’re pastors, writers, teachers, ministry leaders. As we have learned, stumbled, and grown, we must pass on all that is good and true to those coming behind us. Many of us had no such encouraging voices as we lurched through our own earlier years. We send these notes on to you, our younger sisters, with joy and love. We commit ourselves to easing your passage as well!

How shall we do this, then? Our lives seldom divide into neat packages, but the three sections of this book make enormous sense to all of us in our “years of wonder.” Along with the passage of time comes courage, a wise sort of adventuring that knows how fleet the passage of time and how ripe the moment for new experiences, so we begin with “Firsts.” The wisdom that launches us into new ventures also relieves us of burdens and obligations we no longer need to carry. The next section is “Lasts,” where fourteen women cast off the weight of regret, fear, judgments, and perfectionism. Finally, though we’re constantly changing and growing through the embrace of the new and the loss of the old, we arrive as well at our “Always” convictions. We discover again the core of who we are and who we vow to remain, no matter our health, our abilities, or our age.

Welcome to the Wonder Years! Get ready for break-out joy, indulgent abundance, heart-stopping wisdom, and never-let-go faith!

 

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(Some of the contributors at the book party in Grand Rapids last week.)

 

I’m giving away 5 copies of The Wonder Years this week! Here’s how to enter (and don’t forget Mother’s Day is near!):

 

1.   Share this post on your social media outlets. (Thank you, friends!)

2.   Leave a comment here telling me this---AND, share why you too need this book. (thank you again!)

 

3.   Include your email address so I can contact you if you win.

 

That’s it. A huge hug to you all. I’m so grateful to you all---more than you know! (YOU are the reason I write.)

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

And you'll be glad.

 

 

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

Yes, it was worth it. 

 

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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.

 

 

The 22 Hour Day+The Secret of Discontent



Last night something amazing happened at fish camp  It was 11:30 pm. We were finishing our work, our games, whatever the 9 of us were doing, all in the room together, when someone exclaimed, “Look! The sun!”  We all jumped up and ran to the window. Yes! There it was! At the roof of the warehouse, on the top of the spruce tree! Remember that? In the 3 weeks we’ve been out at fishcamp, we’ve had maybe two days of sun? 



I grabbed my camera and hit the hillside. Yes, open sky to the south and there it was, that glorious ball of gas and fire shot warmth and light and brilliance all around, just before it began to set. Here in the longest light of the year, we see the sun just before we begin the season of losing light, 4 – 5 minutes every day.




Even now, daylight isn’t enough. In this maritime climate, under cover of clouds and rain, the sun visits, yes, occasionally for a week at a time, but it does not live here. We can get depressed, anxious, even in the summer. 










But of course, sunshine is not enough either. When we have more than a week of sun in Kodiak, many of us are ready for the rain and fog again. Tired of frantic celebrations, gathering our rosebuds while we may, we’re relieved when the sun disappears and we can go about our normal lives again. Until a week of rain, and we pine again for sun . …





And here we are in all our little human condition, pinging between sun and gloom, winter and summer, light and dark, solstice to solstice, from ecstasy to depression, blown about by every season and weather.












Why can’t we be content in whatever state we are in?
Who will deliver us from the fickle weather-weak body of this death? 

And I say---no one. No deliverance required.  Do not look to end every winter and season of discontent. Why not long for sun in the long gloom of dark? Why not wish and pray for rain in the drought?  Why not long for what we know we need?

We are afraid to confess our longing, afraid that the heavenly accountants will mark it down in their books as NOT joy—and we will be, gasp, complainers---unspiritual, earthly, one of those.

Listen. It’s allowed. Being human is allowed.

Whatever is going on in your life, there’s no reason to pretend all is jolly and sweet, (and while you’re at it, please give me points for my spirit-filled smile.)



Where would we be without longing? Who would we be without honest hope and need? We misunderstand contentment. Contentment is not a Buddhist-like dispassion and detachment, an uncaring above-it-all removal from life. Our goal is not pretense or protection from feelings. Our goal is full, abundant life in Christ and it is found not in denying our true needs and hopes, but in entering into them fully—and finding Christ there within them.  









Don’t you know? Longing,  need and questions are necessary to the God-ward life! If you walk about denying your own hunger, thirst, mourning, doubt, meekness and persecution and all other kinds of holy longings---you will miss what comes now and what comes later through that longing:

You shall be filled.
You shall see God’s face.
You shall be comforted.
You shall inherit the earth. 
You shall be like your Father in Heaven.


Jen Pollack Michel writes in her brilliant new book, Teach Us to Want,  "The failure to want may not be contentment at all. It may be cowardice. We could be profoundly afraid to place our bets on God." 


Can we rid ourselves of this cowardice? 

I want to join God in all He is doing on this small island where he has placed me, among these people I share my life with--with no escape. With nowhere else to go, and with days of rain ahead. 



I wait with everyone else for deliverance. I wait for the breath-stopping colors of the world to appear again. I wait for the well-being of vitamins and warmth, for the joy of barefeet and the lightness of being to return, at least for a few days. I wait for the storms to end.  

And this is the secret to beautiful discontent: 

The honest waiting and the needy watching 

bring Him near. Now. 







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