Unbelievably Awkward Holiday Photos+ Cadaver Bones on My Tongue

I start with the photos, because most of us need a good laugh now and then. And after the holidays, we need the comfort of knowing our own family doesn’t own the corner on weirdness.  

 So---here is my entry in this Hall of Weirdness or, the Hall of What-Were-They Thinking? Of course, we're just deadly bores after all that fun:  

      And----that tinsel-y day is now over. For some of us, our houses are still full, though. The tree is still up. Russian Christmas comes soon after, for all the Orthodox and Russian Orthodox in our community. But eventually it all comes down. The kids get on planes. Families shrink. Quiet returns. Routine returns. And a kind of sameness that threatens to swallow us. Sometimes we look to the year ahead and see nothing, imagine nothing new or good or happy . . . This is a kind of death.

In the last two weeks, after my jaw surgery, between and among the festivities, I tasted death. A particle would make its way to my tongue. Something hard and white … I soon realized it was bone. Pieces of bone rising up through my lacerated gum. Bone that was grafted onto my jawbone to make way for implants later. Bone not mine. Bone from another who had died. It sounds better to say it this way than the other: “Cadaver bone.”

And so, in the season we sing about a Savior born to us, in the days we are thinking of the New Year, death is on my tongue, in my mouth. Someone has died and gifted me a part of their own body.  It is not as grand and dramatic as others----a young man dies and his heart is given to one who will die without it. Eyes given that another may see. Kidney, liver, organs gifted after death that others may live.   Not so dramatic for me. Just for teeth, that I may chew . ..  but it is powerful all the same. 

I remember again this truth: Death is ever with us. that baby in the trough has been born to us to die for us.  Even as we ornament the tree, music playing, a house filled with love on a cliff over the storming ocean, on ocean where fishermen have died. 

The year itself is gone, already becoming the past, history. Pieces of this year will rise to our tongues and our memories like pieces of bone . . . 

It is all mixed up together, always, the end of life in the midst of life. These would be  morbid thoughts, except, in the economy of Christ, death counts enormously, and it goes somewhere. Death leads to freedom. 

Remember this freedom? 

"There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death!" 

 Oh soul, yours and mine, do you know what good news this is??  I have been living in a kind of death these last two  months---and not just cadaver bone in my mouth. I mean that self-condemnation that annihilates us in all the wrong ways. The kind that consumes us, bones and all. And the law of death and sin, that feels inescapable---that leads us to do the very things we don't want to do, surely you too have known that kind of slavery as well . . . ?? 

But remember: Christ has set us free from all this!! And if we don't hear those words, hear these: "It is for Freedom that Christ has set us FREE! Stand firm the, and do not let yourself be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."

I have to say that again:"Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."

Maybe this freedom and joy leads to spectacularly ridiculous family photos----but I hope it bears better fruit in this coming year: the freedom to love, the freedom of open doors, the freedom of fearless servanthood, the freedom to give ourselves away. 

Like someone did for me in giving their bone. 

Like Christ did for me in the giving of his body and blood. 

Glory be! Don't waste this good death. We are SO Freed!! Would you live out this freedom with me in 2015?

A Tale of Two Fathers: The End of Hate

(Dear Friends,  next Tuesday, the 21st, my new book finally releases: Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers: Finding Freedom from Hate and Hurt . A project that has taken me 3 years to write---and a lifetime to live---with much pain and tears along the way---and deep, amazing mercies, above all. Here is a tiny snapshot of what God has done in my life---and a glimpse of what He can do in yours.) 

Duncan and I are alone in the kitchen, sitting at the table, tense. We are having words, the kind a long-married husband and wife have when they cannot agree. We are not calling each other names, but we alternate between frustration and anger as our words trigger painful memories. Somewhere in this exchange, I feel my stomach and heart soften.  I listen closely now to what Duncan is saying and what he is not saying. I begin to understand how he feels. I mentally close the door to long past hurts and relax into my chair.  It is not long before we are making tea together.

            Our disagreements don’t always end so easily, but it happens more these days. We are both becoming our real selves, the people we want to be, who put on the habit of forgiveness more often than the robes of bitterness. I have my father to thank. He was a supremely selfish, damaged man who barely spoke to me throughout my life. But God had something in store for me through him. It started with a phone call from my sister a few years ago.
 “Leslie, Dad was at the VA hospital last week.  They thought he might have had a little heart attack. I just found out today.”
My father was in his mid-eighties by then. In the then twenty-five years since I had left home, I had seen him three times, but I saw him then, lying helpless in a hospital bed. 
“How did you find out?”
“I talked to Dad on the phone today.”
“You’re talking to Dad?”
“Yes. I’ve been calling him almost every week,” she said, her voice calm and assured.
“Every week?  And he talks to you?” I could not hide my amazement and confusion. I couldn’t believe that out of the six siblings, she was the one calling him, the one who was consistently abused. We didn’t know it until decades later.  And my father had no relationship with anyone, as far as we knew. He showed no interest in his six children, nor did he have any friends.  When all of the kids left home, he moved 2000 miles to Florida to live on a tiny dilapidated sailboat. I was glad.
I was silent for a moment, then asked, “Why are you doing this?”
“I’ve forgiven him.”
I could not speak, astounded. His abuse of my sister was enough to justify my anger against him. But there was so much more. Throughout our childhood, he refused to seek any employment other than as a traveling salesman. But his detachment and his inability to fulfill simple tasks cost him job after job, until no one would hire him.  Without an income, we lived in unrelenting poverty.  Once he took the only money we had left to live on and drove away, leaving us penniless.  
“Dad ruined my life, you know?” Lora had said to me one time.  Yes, I knew. We all knew. I had never even thought to pray for my father, who was an avowed atheist.


A few weeks after this phone call, I was praying the Lord’s prayer, head down, eyes shut tight, and I hit the middle of the familiar words, “And forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” I stopped as though hearing those words for the first time. What did I just say? I mouthed the words silently, then ran for my Bible. What was that phrase doing there? “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”? How could I have missed that all these years? Was God really attaching, in some way, his forgiveness to our forgiveness? I could run no further from these words.
I have always believed in forgiveness, of course. Isn’t this the heart of the gospel? Don’t I know that God’s forgiveness of my law-breaking heart brought me this crazy life of freedom and joy and constant second chances? But---forgive my father?
            And so began my return to my father’s life. I flew from my home in Alaska to Florida repeated times to visit. After he suffered a stroke, I pushed him around the rehab facility in a wheelchair, helped him in and out of bed, took him on outings in a rented car, sat with him at mealtimes, watching him eat his baked beans with trembling hands.  I bought clothes for him. Sent him gifts on his birthday and Christmas. My children and I prayed for him. Constantly.  


These attentions were difficult and guarded at first.  He did not speak much, as always. He seldom thanked me.  He told me repeatedly and defiantly that he was an atheist.  And in the midst of my care and attention, I could never quite shake the awareness that every act of kindness I was showing him, he had never shown  to me.  

             But I began to see the pain in his life. I saw that few—maybe no one?—loved him and some had done violence to him. I realized that he likely suffered from schizoid personality disorder and was incapable of loving me as I hoped or wanted. I stopped crying for myself and was able to cry for the hurts he himself had received.                   
I could not ignore all the harm my father had done to me and my family; in fact, forgiveness requires an honest accounting of all that happened. But I was no longer fragmented by feelings of hate and hurt, nor even the more insidious feelings of apathy and numbness. I grew into an ever-deepening realization that God’s forgiveness of me, his release of all my debts against him---uncountable debts---could heal me to release my father from his much lesser debts against me.       

And I did. But this is no fairy tale. Forgiving my father’s debts did not turn out exactly as I hoped. 
 I hoped that he would reciprocate my actions; that he would  acknowledge me, thank me and even say he loved me. More, I hoped that my own forgiveness of him would lead him to seek God’s forgiveness before he died. None of this happened. Though his heart softened for a time after his stroke, as he returned to better health, he reaffirmed his unbelief and turned stonily from any mention of the gospel. Nor did he express concern or love for me, even on my last visit, when we both knew we would not see each other again.

I cannot lie and say this doesn’t hurt. But I have found God’s love so empowering, I believe we are enabled to love and forgive even those who have hurt us and cannot love us back. Here, then, is an ending I had not foreseen. Forgiveness of my father is healing the broken and bitter parts of me and bringing me closer to my real self, the person God desires me to be: whole, not easily offended, full of mercy, quicker to forgive. 
 It has taken me two fathers to truly know this: one who hurt and one who continually heals. He can do the same for you.

   Have you experienced this freedom yet, dear friend? I pray you will. The mercies of God are so much vaster than we can imagine. 


 Next Tuesday, on the release date, I'll be here again offering some copies to give away.  Would you all pray with me that this book will go out into the world waging forgiveness and peace and winning freedom for the captives? Thank you. Thank you.

 (The book is wonderfully inexpensive and can be pre-ordered now)

Climbing Salvation Mountain, Anorexia, and other Escapes to Freedom

Spring Break has brought me here this week, to the middle of a desolate California desert: Salvation Mountain. 

I climbed it a few days ago--this monument to the love of God, built out of hay and clay (not garbage) by one man and uncounted buckets of paint. Was he crazy, this mountain-builder? Was he crazy the way John the Baptist was crazy 2000 years ago, part-naked in a camel-hair cloth, eating honey and grasshoppers and shouting about repentance? 

Or crazy like crazy-like-a-fox, who really did know something true beneath all that weird obsession? Or is he the other kind of crazy—the just plain out-of-his-mind crazy?

I don’t know. (I do know that Leonard Knight, in his 80’s, is now in a care facility.)

 One more question: am I better off for having climbed his crazy creation, Salvation Mountain?

From the height of the cross, I could look out over all of Slab City, “The Last Free Place in America” the sign reads.

 No law, no rent, no taxes, no running water, no latrines, no garbage disposal, no fences, no lights.  Off-the-grid entirely, no so much unlike life on my island in Alaska. The population of homeless, free spirits, renegades and drop-outs  numbers anywhere from 100 – 200. Here is what this freedom looks like:  

We all long for freedom. In my life, I have looked for freedom in so many ways:  freedom from desire by giving up; freedom from hurt by numbness and absence; freedom from ignorance by education; freedom from my body by starvation. 

 Yes, I broke some laws along the way. I stole food. I lied. I cheated. I hid the guilty.

I didn’t find freedom through any of those escapes.

But somewhere along that yellow brick road I have learned the irony of freedom:  We find it when we no longer chase it.  

A musician and poet once wrote, some 3,000 years ago, “I run in the paths of your commands, for you have set my heart free.”

Leonard Knight worked on his mountain for 26 years through 100 degree heat every day---because he was free.  I too am released from my own pathetic attempts. I run because I know where to go.  The path is clear before me. And it is beautiful.

I wonder what Slab City residents think of Salvation mountain garishly looming over them. They likely think its creator was crazy. Maybe I do too. But I know freedom when I find it. I hope you find it too.

Someone is building a Salvation Mountain near you.  

Where is it? Have you found it?