Praise

Dancing in Zimbabwe (and a snake for Holy Week?)

We have been in Zimbabwe and Botswana this week, talking to so many people, learning as much as we can. Which meant visiting a snake rehab center where a python took a liking to my hair. (This was a "haaaa!" and "yuck" moment both at the same time.)

leslie with python in hair2.JPG

(No, at this point in the encounter, I think I'm well on the yuck side of the scale . ..)

But the best day was Sunday. In church. A Baptist church, of sorts. Some very kind people gave us a great gift there. They don't have much. They don't have cars; many don't have jobs. They don't have a church building of their own. Some live without electricity. But let me show you what they do have!

 

 

We got to be part of this joy and worship for 3 hours. We walked a long way in the hot sun to this gathering with the woman who cleans the house we are staying in. By the time we entered the church, in a concrete block building with concrete benches, the congregation was already in full voice.

They sang in several languages, only once in English, but I knew who they were singing about and I had some idea of what they were saying. No one could stay silent. There were "Hallelujahs!" and "amens!" everywhere, even trilling ululations floating high above it all. Nor could anyone sit or stand still. I felt at home here, shuffling, clapping, singing, swaying song after song. How else to praise the Lord but with our voice breath and bodies?

 

africa worship--woman.jpg

After an hour of singing and testimony, and after being greeted with a hug and a handshake by every person there, the pastor called us down to the front: “Come down and share some words with us, Fields family!” 

 

Family photo-botswana.JPG

And he thrust a microphone in our faces.

Duncan started, thanking them for welcoming us so warmly. Thanking them for their music. Then it was my turn.

I talked about where we’ve been, about how we find God’s people everywhere. About the Apostle Paul, and how he suffered the most of all the apostles, but he also praised God the most. I finished with something like this:

“I have heard that things are difficult here, that the economy is very bad. I know there is much hardship. But I see how you worship God. It is so beautiful! We go to a Baptist church in Alaska. We sing too. And we praise the Lord. But we hardly ever clap. And we don’t dance! I think you are right.  We need to praise God with ALL that we have and are, and that is what you are doing! I’m going to tell my church back home about you and how you praise the Lord!”

Everyone clapped and cheered. As we sat down the worship leader said, ‘Thank you very much! We’re going to give you a gift right now. This is for you!”

And he called a few people to the front and the music began again, and here it was:

 

I will not tell you that the music was professional, or that the dancing was elaborate. Here, everybody sings. Everybody dances. It’s not about who is gifted in this or that. This wasn’t about talent. This was about celebrating God-with-us. God who died and rose again for us. This was about loving him back with all we are.  

After the dance, there was a sermon. A powerful sermon from the gospel of Mark. They knew the Word of God, these people.

Writing this now, watching the video brings tears. I think about the American church. And I wonder where our joy is.  I wonder why when it’s testimony time the same few people speak and everyone else is silent. I wonder why pastors have to work so hard to move an audience. I wonder why we’ve professionalized the “Praise Team” and sidelined the congregation’s voice. I wonder why our services are run by the clock. I wonder why sports and and every other activity we cram into our Sunday takes precedence over worship.

Maybe I’m wondering how much we need Jesus. We have so much of everything else, we Americans, we have only a little room left for a little bit of Jesus. That’s all we want, I think, just a scant sprinkling of a tiny touch of Jesus, an itty-bitty cherry atop our hot fudge Sunday.  . . .

Many of you reading this have lived and served in other cultures. You know about this far more than I do. But I too have seen in so many countries how those who need Jesus the most know Him the most. Love him the most. Praise him the most.

I’m thinking now of this Holy Week before us. If you don’t need Jesus then Jesus didn’t come for you. He wasn’t hammered to the cross for you. He didn’t rise from the dead for you. He didn’t bring everlasting life to you. He came for the sick, the sinners, the poor in spirit, the down and out, the sinners, the have-nots. But if you don’t have Jesus, you "have not." The poorest of all are those who do not know the God of All That Is.

What if you said yes to Jesus? What if you finally said a full, real "Yes" out of the deepest pocket of your soul? I think if you did, you might sing. You might feel as free as these dancers. You might find joy everywhere, (even in a snake curled in your hair.) The serpent, after all, IS defeated!

 

Leslie with python in hair1.JPG

He is Risen!

 

Do you know someone who might need these words, these joyous videos? Pass it on?!

So Gratefully,

Leslie

Breaking Silence: Let Me Now Praise Good Men

S1220016.JPG
Gallery Block
This is an example. To display your Instagram posts, double-click here to add an account or select an existing connected account. Learn more

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

 

Hero #1

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

 

RV stuck in rising tide.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

S1220019.JPG
Praise-God-Faith-Stock-Photos1.jpg

Hero #2

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

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

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

 

S1230001.JPG
S1230006.JPG
 

Hero #3

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

woman-lips in foggy mirror.jpg

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

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

I almost didn’t speak to Karon.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Who do you need to thank and praise?

DSC_0240.JPG
IMG_5916.JPG

Giving Up Your Child (and Measuring Presidential Grief)

Travel--spokane hiking in snow.JPG

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

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

 

Travel--naphtali with paddleboard.JPG
Travel--on spokane river.jpg
fallen autumn leaves.jpg

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

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

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

 

Mother comforting son.png

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

 

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

Here are some of the words she sings and prays:

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

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

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

Travel--Spokane-leslie+Naphtli in woods.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

autumn colors-mine.jpg
Travel--4 of us in spokane forest.JPG
autumn-colors.jpg
stone steps with autumn leaves.jpg

April Snows & The Magnificent God of the Trivial




Yesterday I woke to this our my bedroom window. And went to bed to the same. This is the season of impatience and wonder. Week after week we wonder---are we stuck with this forever? Snow shifts to rain, then sleet, then a sunbreak turns our faces to the sky in shock and gratitude 





and for just a moment we bask, open-mouthed

                         (Mark Balsa Photography)


for twenty minutes, when the clouds turn and our mouths are filled with snow, then gale-ing winds, then hail. We learn to shut our mouths when we go outside. We get depressed.




All day and night, the ocean sucks at the foundation of our house . . .



       This is the season of unending winter, and this is a week like every week of the glorious and inglorious, all mixed up together: A Recitation Contest at my sons' school, then another at another school. Today an hour long radio interview on the hardest subject ever. Days in bed, and a doctor visit for my 12 year old son's ingrown toenail while I am hoping not to heave, still recovering from a week-long virus. 




This was the week in our Home Group when we made sandwiches for the homeless shelter. 







And the week for visits with a hurting friend. A meeting with the Arts Council for an upcoming play, and calls to my brother who is desperate for help with his son, and 




and in and among all this it's time to clean my refrigerator and scrub the burnt meat off the grill and change the sheets and feed the dog and take out the trash . . .  I don't want to do any of this. I want only to do the important things. The things that matter . . . 




 And while this week sweeps me up in its skirts of the trivial and the necessary, friends are diagnosed with cancer and husbands are leaving wives and terrorists are killing believers . . .    





           I have to learn not to repent of my trivial life while others are sick and suffering. I must go on cleaning my refrigerator and making spaghetti and bandaging my sons' toe---because this is what God wants me to do. God has not given up on any of this---not the suffering of the families who lost their fathers and husbands and sons, and not any of us as we whirl through our quotidian hours---and the weather reminds me of this. 






The weather around the world, from drought to torrent  is but the flick of his eyelash, a thought, a word spoken that holds back a storm-risen sea and lets loose a deluge or keeps the sun burning warm. But never is His eye dulled or inattentive. His daily word keeps atoms spinning around invisible matter, holds the earth in orbit, keeps the sun in its place.




        And He is the God over late-stage cancer and ingrown toenails, who gave His people laws about cooking, mildew and skin infections. He is the God who counts every hair on your head and who mourns  the fall of a sparrow no one else sees, who delights in the thighs of the behemoth, who counts the days until the doe in the thicket gives birth, watching intently as she labors. He is the God who says, "Everything under heaven belongs to me!" 

And that includes us. And every silly scrap of our lives that we think too small for this great God: that, too---the trash, spaghetti, sheets, leaky roof, sick dog, sticky refrigerator---that, too. From Him. And God desires that we are present to Him in these details just as He is present to us. With Him. 






Don't let the terrorists win. Don't let despair, cancer, the suffering of others steal the joy God has for you today even in the tiny places of your life. The battleground is not just overseas---it's right here in front of you: the basket of dirty laundry, the mold in your bathtub, the stacked dishes beside the sink, the sandwiches for the shelter, the child awaiting your attention, the report that's due tomorrow.  



Offer it all back in gratitude and joy. Refuse guilt. Know God is at work here as surely as He is work in Palestine, in the terrorist camps, in hospitals. Yes, feel small and insignificant, but know He is the Magnificent God of Tiny Things. That's us.    



"Love this day," my friend Laura says. Tomorrow as it blows and rains, I will see God in it, and I will Love the God who made it, who showers all of us daily with the tiniest tasks and the greatest salvation. 



"So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, 
continue to live your lives rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught,
and overflowing with thankfulness."
























Stormy Crossing, The Last Place We Look for Beauty




                                 (Photo by Wallace Fields)

Two summers ago, I was scared before the skiff even launched. The NE wind had come down. It had been blowing 40 mph, ripping the ocean to white, but now it was probably down to 30 mph. I hadn’t run a skiff yet that season. So this was my first run, in these shuddering seas? 



I was fully dressed, as we always are when we step into a skiff: I was wearing full commercial grade raingear, a life jacket, a hat, my fishing boots, but I forgot my gloves. My hands were already so cold it wouldn’t matter when they got wet.

And they did get wet. As did the rest of me, even through the small opening at my neck. We all stand in our open skiffs when we travel to see over the bow. Like lightening rods, the water finds us first. Whole sheets of water pelted me as I rose and fell in the swells, my knees braced against the seat in front of me to stay upright, my arm on the tiller. Gasping for air between waves, I quartered my way from one island to another.



I have made this crossing many times and been out in storms far worse. I was not terribly afraid once I left shore---I was mostly awake, all of me. What I saw! The deep blue heaves and lifts me like breath; the whitecaps under the wind are my gasps. The grey clouds that sweep the mountains and troughs, spilling their water, and the sun that breaks between them, lighting the fires . . . All this exploding in water and howl of wind and motor, eyes blinded by the force of so much being and existence. . .


PHOTO OF ELISHA IN STORM

And more astonishing, even this on the island I just left. That island is a working island where everyone is head-down on task, where there is no shelter from the wind, where the nets are splayed across the grass, and the island is covered in tractor-roads. 






















Our island too is a working island, where nets and tractors, skiffs and machines cover grass and beach.




This day of mending net in the wind, it was hard to speak to anyone and I was cold and wet ---but what I saw! Let me tell you about the colors of this work! The colors of all this gear on land before it is dropped into the sea to catch fish.



Let me tell you about the blue-green nets and the yellow corks and the pink buoys and the endless coils of line ready to do their work for us.






















 Let me tell you about yellow and orange raingear hanging in the gear shed waiting for the bodies to give them life and the rusty anchors sunk in sand to hold our boats. 







Courage lives here, and endurance, and a brotherhood of fishermen. But can you believe that beauty lives here as well, even when it is not intended or sought?

“We walk by faith, not by sight,” we often quote, but just as often, it is our sight that awakens our faith. Even when we do not intend it, in our busiest hardest labor, beauty and order and color emerges from our hand and pours forth speech that brings praise out of silence---for those who see it. 

I see it. I hear it. I am sure you do as well. Even here: 






















                                  (Photo by Tamie Harkins)

Where do you see strange beauty in your world?



Praise Him, the Father of All Beauty and Good,

Who can be found in storm and sea,

Who can be seen in the work of ordinary, tired hands,

Who yet will be praised

By babes and fishermen and women late

at the sink or deep in the soil:

Praise Him for bringing Loveliness out of our 

commonest Labors.









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





And, I do not forget the eaglets, Calvin and Maddie (as named by my youngest sons), who have doubled in size. Here, too, is strange beauty forged from odd feathers and dinosaur faces. Here, too, we watch and praise . … 





Look! I can almost fly!




Praise Him.