Saturday, March 21, 2015

None of the News is Fit to Print

When Brent died, a fellow widower recommended I eliminate from my life any TV shows and/or movies of a dark, emotional or intense subject matter as well as certain music and the daily news. For some time I got used to simply enjoying the silence, being quiet and focusing my thoughts on beauty, friendships, poetry, joy and my beloved Lord - who is the author of LIFE.

This is not pie-in-the-sky, ignorance of the world around me, but rather an intentional choice to soak myself in peace instead of angst, getting to know who I am, rather than listening to the cacophony of competing viewpoints, terror and tension of a world gone mad. For what else is reported on the daily news than horrific acts and extraordinary evil?

I missed absolutely nothing.

How, really, do any of us benefit by being externally stimulated to horror or anger or whipped up into a frenzy of activism? We can spend all of our emotional energy trying to change the world, or shut down out of despair that we cannot change the world, or numb ourselves by over-consumption of mass-market entertainment, but in the process, no matter the choice, we completely drain ourselves of any capacity to affect our own life or the lives of those right beside us.

What do you need to say "No" to today so that you can say "Yes" to your own responsibility and capacity to live in peace?

Photo: Carburn Park, Calgary, personal collection

Friday, March 20, 2015

Intercessory Prayer for Awakening

I'm currently involved in doing a study with my women's group. This week's lesson was very powerful for me and I would like to share with you one excerpt from the study as we seek awakening to the Spirit of Christ for those who have not yet come to follow the only One who has the words of eternal life.

Intercessory Prayer for Awakening
excerpt from “Children of the Day”, Beth Moore, p. 128-129

And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.

Matthew 13:58

He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.
Mark 6:5-6

Perhaps one reason awakening waits is that we are afraid for God to do whatever it would take. We fear the uncertainty of revival. We don’t trust God with the work of his own spirit. What if he embarrasses us? Or makes us change our minds? God won’t work contrary to his word but perhaps our greater worry may be that he could work contrary to our tastes. He may not use our methods. Perhaps many reasons cause a fresh awakening to wait.

The following prayer is offered in humility, in lack and in want. We cannot put words on a tongue detached from a heart. If this is not you and if these sins are not yours and these aches find no place in your soul, please don’t own them. If, on the other hand, these words could flow from your own pen, pray them with me.

Most glorious, all-powerful, merciful God:

Your son died for more than these. We thank you for what you’ve already done, but we beg you to do infinitely more. Look upon this ailing planet, pulsing with the hopeless, the helpless, the hiding and the dying. You have willed that people would not die in their sins but be saved and redeemed through your son, Jesus Christ. You promised that the cross was big enough for us all, with everlasting arms reaching to the ends of the earth. We know what your word says you can do and we confess to you that many of us have not yet seen it with our eyes, but we feel it stirring in our souls. Hosanna, Lord! Save now!
We willingly confess to you our sinful arrogance. We have prescribed to you by what means you should heal souls. You , the solitary healer have refused to sign your name to our prescriptions. We ask you this day to write your name across our sky and bring revival! Save by whatever means bring you glory. Bring it any way you like, but bring it, Lord. We free you from using our methods. We free you from using our denominational names. We free you from using our buildings, though we welcome you to them. We free you even from using us, though we cast ourselves before you at your complete disposal and beg that you would. Use none of us. Use all of us. Use whatever people and whatever means honor you most, but do it, Lord, Please do it!
We confess to you our appalling narcissism in asking you to mirror us. We confess to you our oversophistication and snobbery. We confess to you that we are terrified of your Holy Spirit. We confess our pathetic arrogance for having forbidden signs and wonders when there could be no greater sign and wonder than a tidal wave of salvation rolling on our dry banks. Oh, Jesus, that we would not leave you to marvel that you could do so few miracles among us because of our unbelief.
We repent this day for not trusting you with what revival should look like. We repent this day from prioritizing our dignity over your downpour. We confess to you that we have torn pages from our bibles and handed them back to you and demanded that you work through what was left. We confess to you this day that the tent pegs of scripture are vastly wider than our imaginations and our expectations.
Lord, if souls are saved by the thousands of thousands and millions of millions, we pledge to you this day that we will not, in our sectarianism, pick apart the process and reason how it was not legitimate. We are ready even if it’s messy. Even if, atop the beautiful feet carrying the good news are bruised and broken bodies of willing evangelists.
Open heaven. Rain down, Holy Spirit. We repent for having asked you to respect our boundaries. We bow now to your boundless Spirit and make room over our lowered heads for you to fall upon us with power and might and a firestorm of your great affection. You have loved us so. You have loved us well. Carve our hearts with your cross and love through us, Lord. Oh, Holy Spirit of the living Christ, come without limit. We have known you were able but begged you to be willing. All the while, we have been disabled because we have been unwilling.
To what conceivable degree we could have held them in our hands, we turn the reins of revival back over to the rider who is faithful and true and we plead that you would not let them rest on the neck of that great horse but that you’d bid him run.
Do what you want, but we plead for you to do it now. Do it here. Make your name glorious. Save now!

In the holy name of Christ our King, Amen.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Punctuality Punch

I will apologize in advance if this post offends you. I hope not. I’m writing it because I’ve lived on both sides of this issue so I’m preaching to myself here. I have no particular individual in my mind other than myself. Feel free to add your perspective in the comments or on my Facebook page.

I don’t remember if I heard it, read it, or saw it in one of those random Facebook pictures. It struck me funny.

“Better to arrive late than to arrive ugly.”

I may or may not have re-shared it. It sure got a laugh in Cave Creek at the pottery shop when I said it to my husband as a quote that should be on a plaque and a couple women in the store overheard me. They laughed uproariously.

But is it true?

On a favorite blogger’s recent post I read something that sounds like it. She’s just had a baby. Her fourth. A bit of a “Surprise!” baby, but she was eager and ready and happy and fully immersed in the new mothering of her little one, but wrote: 
“Dashing into the shower in the early morning, determined to get dressed, put on make-up, brush my hair. I’m my father’s daughter: I believe in the small dignities to keep life steady in the midst of change and chaos. I hear his voice in my head, look good and feel good. So I make beds, I put clean clothes on everyone in my care, I empty the dishwasher, we eat at the table. Normal structures, normal routines, all around an extraordinary newness. It’s true, I do feel better but now there’s a houseful of people who all feel better when I feel better.”
Hold that thought while we go back to the triggering quote. Is it truly “better to arrive late than to arrive ugly”? Will the people to whom I’m arriving feel better because I feel good about how I look? Is that the right measure?

I’ll give you a hint. It’s an unfair question.

It’s a false dichotomy, only two choices. The question assumes you must pick one thing out of two bad options, when there are actually many more options available. Let’s break it down a little further: The question assumes that if I arrive on time, I will arrive unkempt. Or that I am ugly unless I arrive late? Or that to truly do what is necessary to make myself presentable, I must take so much time that I cannot possibly start it soon enough to finish promptly and arrive punctually.

I’m sure you and I both have seen many beautiful people arrive on time and behave quite graciously, so this isn’t about them. Let me just pick this funny little quote apart. I’m going to seek names for what it may be hiding. Is it a procrastinator’s excuse for tardiness? An insecure person’s defense for being disrespectful of other people’s time? A comedian’s means to a backhanded insult? Or just a sarcastic joke which I’m totally over-thinking?

A good friend of mine asks a pointed question when we hear, read or say something which is initially funny or self deprecating that eventually doesn’t sit quite right when you think about it or give it a sober second glance.

She asks, “What’s the lie in that?”

Is there a lie in the phrase, “Better to arrive late than ugly”?

Promptness and punctuality were emphasized from day one of elementary school. We were graded on it. Businesses emphasize honoring their open/close times and expect employees to be present and engaged in productive work during their assigned work hours. Social etiquette refers to arriving “fashionably late” as being no more than 8 minutes past the invitation time but not arriving too early ahead of the specified start. Since social settings are voluntary, do we give tacit approval to late arrival? If I were meeting the president or the queen, would I think it’s better to arrive late for any reason?

So here’s the lie. Neither option is better.

Truth is, arriving late is ugly. I know there are occasional times when circumstances cause unavoidable delay. But there was a point in my life where I arrived late all the time. Even if I had committed to an event or a rehearsal, I would often arrive late. I even wrote an essay on it, trying to understand myself and this behavior I did not condone, condemning myself in every possible way for not being able to move my consistent tardiness into dependable punctuality.

I discussed the hypothesis that to arrive consistently late might be done out of disrespect. I used terms like arrogant and inconsiderate. Or perhaps a passive-aggressive act to exert power by one who felt an obligation to attend an event but doesn’t really want to be there. Tardiness can give the self-centered impression that what I am doing now is more important or more interesting than what you want to do at your start time. Or perhaps a narcissist likes arriving late and having everyone notice me when I get there. Even bad attention is better than no attention, right?


If we give the tardies the benefit of the doubt, perhaps they just attract roadblocks. I recently decided to attend my nephew’s band concert in an unfamiliar city. The GPS said ETA was 12 minutes, but that didn’t take into consideration it was rush hour and the GPS said to go north instead of south and the traffic in both directions was at a standstill. Exiting on a side road, we pulled over and it took a few minutes to reassess an alternate route that didn’t include the freeway. We were fine. Calm. Not worried because we still had lots of time, so we stopped for coffee at McDonalds. The clerk said they were brewing a fresh pot and it would be three minutes – no problem, we went to the washroom and returned, waiting while they served the two people now in line.

You know this isn’t going to turn out well, already, don’t you?

The second person was ordering for an entire basketball team, apparently, then didn’t have quite the right amount and had to make alterations to the order. When we finally stepped up to get our coffee order processed (we didn’t use the drive thru because we did need to use the facilities) and while she was taking our simple “two large black coffees” order, the clerk stopped and answered an interruption from the previous woman, then a second question from another patron who wanted more dipping sauce for his chicken fingers and we listened to the entire policy explanation as to why they were going to charge him $.16 for each one in addition to what’s given with his order and their warning to him about not being verbally profane or abusive with his language. Once our coffee finally arrived and we got back into our vehicle to continue our journey, it was a full fifteen minutes we hadn’t calculated into our transit time.

Then in the next block, after we exited McDonalds, a train is stopped across the road. Dead stopped. No movement at all. With a police vehicle already blocking access with lights flashing (on both sides of the train), I make the quick assumption that it is stalled for an indefinite period of time and we proceed with a quick recalculation again on the GPS for a second detour.

The address he gave was for the main office of the college campus where the concert was taking place, and as we arrived, we get a phone message from my brother with more detailed instructions as to how to find the concert hall, a full two miles further from the main office. All the while, I had been texting my brother about our ETA, updating him, figuring out how to meet for getting the concert tickets, which he eventually left at Will-Call so he could sit down as the concert was already starting.

We arrived late and were seated between songs as my nephew’s band began playing the last of their set. They were terrific. Small consolation, the following two bands were terrific as well and we got to go out for coffee with the family afterwards. But we were late. Oh, so late, for such very good reasons that were not at all our fault.

These are not the kind of tardy arrival incidents I am discussing in this post, but it was a “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” kind of a story, don’t you think?

Sigh. Even explaining why we were late took me on a long rabbit trail that has delayed my next paragraph.

Yes, even if I wanted to be at an event, I would still sometimes be late. Sometimes just because I couldn’t get my act together or took too long or didn’t leave soon enough. Sometimes, they couldn’t start without me. They still loved me and it made it easier when I could explain all the ridiculous and unexpected, unavoidable reasons for delays outside my control, but when it was due to my own negligence or impertinence, I made it just a smidge harder (and believe me, I am deeply grateful for the true friends who heaped forgiveness on this and many other flaws).

How did I eventually change? I learned from personal experience - when I’ve been on the receiving end: leading a rehearsal that requires me repeating instructions for the latecomers (one of the joys of working with volunteers) or hosting a dinner party that required closely timed guest arrival with placing the success or fail entrĂ©e in front of them.

If I arrive late to the theatre for a live show or concert, I’m not allowed in until a suitable break between acts or songs. If I arrive late for an airline flight, I miss it. We are penalized. What’s a person to do when someone arrives late to a dinner party or a rehearsal? Starting without them may drive the point home to them, but it doesn’t seem to make a difference for chronic latecomers.

My father wanted one of my brothers to be more punctual. So my father asked, “If we were to take a hymnal with us from every church we sing in, would that be okay?” My brother says, “Of course not, it would be like stealing.” My father’s point: “And when you take five minutes or more of our time while we wait for you to arrive, you are stealing our time. Nine of us waited five minutes for you, that’s 45 minutes you have stolen. It is time that is not yours to take.”

Some of the things I did to overcome my own chronic tardiness was related to realizing how I was impacting my relationships with those I cared about. I had a choir member ream me out for “expecting more of the choir than you expect of yourself.” She was right. I didn’t want to be kept waiting but there were times I as the director had kept them waiting.

Some practical things I learned:
  • allow extra time
  • leave earlier
  • start getting ready earlier
  • shorten the to-do list
  • eliminate all but the most essential tasks
  • set aside perfectionism
  • get used to saying: "That's good enough"
  • stop being overly optimistic about how long something will take
  • build in a buffer in case something happens along the way
  • leave when planned
  • discipline myself to NOT multi-task

I know all this. You know all this. But still, I push it. I’m no longer a chronic tardy, but sometimes I still arrive late. I see others do the same. Why?

Because I don’t want to have to be the one waiting on the latecomers. What a lame reason. Seriously? That’s a whole ‘nother blog post all on its own.

Back to the blogger’s paragraph. She felt looking good and keeping routines for her family (even in the face of being the mom of a brand new baby) would help her whole family feel better. She took the responsibility to keep routine and beauty and tidiness in the middle of all that change and upheaval. She was choosing beauty over ugly. Peace over chaos. Punctuality over procrastination. But later in her blog, she confessed, “the laundry will never be done” so we know she isn’t one of those uptight perfectionists, nor is she blowing smoke, creating a false image of how organized she is. She simply wants to help her family feel as normal and safe as possible as they integrate a new little one into their family.

I find from experience that late arrivers (including myself) begin to feel like unsafe people. I can’t count on them. Well, I can count on them to be consistently late. They signify by their repeated tardiness that they are not going to respect another’s time.

In the world of those who follow Christ, it doesn’t seem very loving. But then again, neither does my forensic dissection of the issue. I’m preaching at myself here. I’m just a writer trying to figure out how to live in this world in a way that will help others feel safe around me. 

I want to be a woman of my word. I want to be able to trust myself and be confident that I will honor time commitments of others and help them succeed by being prompt. I want to be respectful of others, honor their time, be a good steward of this one precious life. Help the entire production or choir or dinner party look better and feel better because no one is worrying about when the last person will finally arrive and things can get started.

It’s ugly to arrive late.

I want to redeem the time, arrive calm and collected so that I (and all the others with whom I am in community) will look and feel better. I want to make room for time, for others, for sanity. To maintain small dignities to keep life steady in the midst of change and chaos.

There’s no present like the time.

Photo Credit: 2354469, Standard License

Friday, March 13, 2015

In the beginning...

Sometimes I think I would like to go back to the beginning, to tell my story because I keep seeing posters and blogs and quotes that tell me how important my story is and how much it needs to be shared so that others can benefit. (Yours too!) Yet I’d rather curl up in the fetal position under the duvet and sleep it off. My story includes stupidity, joy, success and failure, shame and forgiven sin, brokenness and healing, struggle and dis-ease, sickness and health, riches and revoked credit cards, conflict, reconciliation, addiction, freedom, rage, serenity, horrific loss and a heart overflowing with gratitude. Yes, my story covers the gamut, as does yours. But I should start at the beginning.

Trouble is, how do I know? Where is the beginning?

Is it where I was born the youngest and only girl to a family already full with seven rowdy rollicking boys? To a preacher dad and a would-have-been-a-missionary-to-Africa mom?

To that house on 3056 W. Madison that now has been renovated and belongs to another family that somehow decided six bedrooms and a two-room annex would suit them? 

circa 1965
circa 2000
circa November 2013
Was the beginning of my life that 19-year family road-trip every weekend and every summer to sing in 200 churches a year and stay in as many different homes of total strangers and come out of it aware of how completely normal dysfunction can be?

Or is the beginning when I went to school at Westport in grade one because kindergarten was optional? Where I fell in love with reading in Miss Snyder’s grade three class, learned to sing “Supercalifragilisticexpealidocious” in the hallway, discover that sweeping compound can clean up vomit, learned to dislike corn from a can, forgot to collect the milk money from the machine to put in the safe and it was stolen, prayed every day that I could learn how to “just be nice”, discovered how much those soft red dodgeballs hurt when they hit your face, how good the honeysuckle and gooseberries tasted on the other side of the playground fence, where I was one of the best female softball players, often the fastest girl runner and had my first poem published on the grade six bulletin board?

Westport School
Or was Junior High at Study the beginning, since it was mercifully close to Dairy Queen and the donut factory which we only stopped at occasionally after Wednesday night prayer meeting, but school ended up being a place where I made a complete and total fool of myself in front of the entire student body trying to be a clown? Or where I played piano accompaniment for the national anthem at an assembly, shaking and terrified and didn’t make a fool of myself but only mom came to watch, not dad, and where I won a spelling bee and played guitar at our grad while singing a duet with my best friend?

Harry P. Study Jr. High School
Or was high school the beginning? A freshman while my brother was a senior, learning to drive his ’71 3-speed Camaro, where I took three years of Home Ec as a practical science instead of natural sciences because my first year biology and mutilating that poor frog didn’t help me understand anatomy at all? Where I was told about erections in cooking class from the senior girl with whom I later double dated? Where Mrs. Bilyeu let me sing solos and trios and madrigals and how the trio with Diana, Lori and I got #1 ratings at State Music Festival but my solos never made it past City Festival? Where I fell in love every year with a different boyfriend and I worked part time and kept a 4.0 GPA and then got robbed at gunpoint in my driveway after grad while on my only date with the valedictorian? Where my friend told me I was part of the popular crowd but I didn’t know that? (Isn’t perspective an odd thing?)

Central High School
Or was it the church I attended, recommitted my life to Jesus, got baptised and was eventually married in? Where I learned to play percussion in the band and sing alto in the choir and where a Junior High Sunday School teacher gave me The Way (a Living Bible paraphrase) which kept me company every single night for the next seven years and moved me to want to be a missionary and taught me that I am complete in Christ? Where some in the youth group were using drugs but I never knew until one of them got convicted during revival meetings and decided to give his joint away.

Or was the beginning going to college, thinking I was finally out from under my parent’s strict rules and discover that the college rules were worse? Where I became a rebel while studying why I believe what I believe, learned which liquor I did and didn’t like, and also against the rules - watched my first movie, Camelot, on a 70mm screen? Can I just say Lancelot (Franco Nero) was magnificent? (Apparently Vanessa Redgrave thought so, too.)

Or was the beginning when I began to live in community with others at college, in the pseudo-sorority house with my brother’s ex-girlfriend, and four years in the dormitory both with and without roommates and living across the hall from two Canadian girls who are still my friends? Or was it singing in oratorios, concerts and tours with the Chorale, where I first did an air for alto (He was despised) which brought some to tears, being the first one to solo in radio chapel with a recorded accompaniment track, or was it being in the quartet that traveled to recruit new students and counsel at camps? Or was it becoming a youth leader in my brother’s church clear across town, singing in their choir and introducing one of my young people to my boyfriend’s best friend and they get married five years later and are my friends to this day? Was it having a new job every semester, cleaning houses, toilets and soiled laundry for demanding rich women to pay tuition, or selling office supplies or making photo copies or monitoring alarm systems or serving in a bridal salon? (Completely out of my depth but did I ever get a good deal on my wedding dress!) Or was the beginning realizing that at college, I learned to believe for myself what I found to be true about God?

Or could “going back to the beginning” be the day I said yes to Brent’s proposal, finished my degree in music and then married him and moved to Canada? Yes, this seems more like the beginning of “my” story. For there and then, I was without family, without friends, and began – for the first time – to live life as an individual and as an adult.

Now that we’ve determined the beginning (thank you for sticking with me this far, it’s helped!), I think about where the story ends. As any writer knows, for good story you need a beginning, middle and end, with significant conflict and crisis to add interest and tension, with a satisfactory resolution or surprise twist. Well, I have all of that. Some you know, much you don’t. What to include and what to keep silent – this is the dilemma of the memoir. Readers tend to shy away from those who indiscriminately open their emotional trench coat to reveal every shocking, naked detail of their story. Can we say “TMI”?

So the story ends, we assume, with my death. So I can only write about my life up till now and how the life verse I chose from the epistle to the Philippians when I was in college seems quite appropriate to interject at this point:

“God, who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.”
(my paraphrase of Phil. 1:6)

God continues to shape, delight, love, teach, guide, relax with and comfort me. I trust in that, and am grateful for the place in which I find myself at this moment, despite trauma, despite being orphaned and widowed, despite gaining and losing jobs, buying and selling homes, and figuring out how to be an adult in varying degrees of success and failure. 

I am healthier now physically, emotionally and spiritually than I have ever been. Primarily because of God's grace and love, and partly because of an intentional practice of acceptance and gratitude (which isn't constant, but getting better). That brings me to the best attitude of my life so far, despite still struggling with ghosts from my past. I have a wonderful future ahead, my son getting married to a lovely young woman, my new husband and love sharing life with me for, oh, 50 years or so and then we'll re-negotiate...

I will begin at the beginning – at some point – and tell my story, but God says there’s still some “tweaking” that needs to be done before that day.

Thanks for being my friend. You’re part of my story and I am part of yours. Let’s write better stories together, yes?

To be continued…

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

What Gets Me Out of Bed

quote by Chris Gardner (The Pursuit of Happyness)

I have little use for George Burns. He belonged to the prior generation and I never got his humor. However, he did say one thing I remember. When asked what advice he would give about what it takes to live a long, productive life, he simply replied “Don't stay in bed.” 

Today what got me out of bed was poetry. My dad’s. My own. A woman wrote from Maryland this week asking for music for one of my dad’s songs. She and her sisters had learned it from listening to one of our record albums and it would make a good theme song for an upcoming women’s retreat and would I be willing to allow them to have a copy of the printed music. Of course I said yes, and multiple copies were fine, and off I sent a PDF version I scanned out of my dad’s song book.

As I mused on it this morning, I realized the song was my father’s take on Psalm 23, which he named the Good Shepherd Psalm.  What’s more interesting is, the day before, I had written my own version of this psalm, in part, for my husband, who is drawn to the old westerns and grew up reading Louis L'Amour paperbacks.

A poem started to rise about all this, and what gets me out of bed, but now that I’ve posted both my dad’s poem and my own, the original poem I rose to write has gotten tired of waiting and left me sitting here stranded.

So, enjoy my Dad’s view of Psalm 23 here.

and my quirky take here.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

More Uncommon Prayers

"Oh, my Father, I have moments of deep unrest—moments when I know not what to ask by reason of the very excess of my wants. I have in these hours no words for Thee, no conscious prayers for Thee.

"My cry seems purely worldly; I want only the wings of a dove that I may flee away. Yet all the time, Thou hast accepted my unrest as a prayer. Thou hast interpreted its cry for a dove's wings as a cry for Thee, Thou hast received the nameless longings of my heart as the intercessions of Thy Spirit.

"They are not yet the intercessions of my spirit; I know not what I ask. But Thou knowest what I ask, oh my God. Thou knowest the name of that need which lies beneath my speechless groan. Thou knowest that, because I am made in Thine image, I can find rest only in what gives rest to Thee; therefore Thou hast counted my unrest unto me for righteousness, and hast called my groaning, Thy Spirit's prayer."

Rev. George Matheson, 1842-1906
in More Uncommon Prayers

Photo Credit: Depositphotos 26333899

Thursday, January 08, 2015

The Shack - a book review of sorts

Originally released in 2007, this book created quite a stir in certain circles. I wasn’t ready to read it then, for the simple stated reason that I refused to read fiction (but that’s another blog post for another time). Not even when one of my closest friends begged me to read it because she was desperate to discuss it with me, I held firm in my resolve. The deeper, underlying reason was that I was in a dark period of doubt regarding God’s love and goodness. I didn’t need some off-the-wall view of a different sort of divine presentation to mess with my carefully constructed fort of self-protection. I avoided mystery. I wanted “Just the facts, ma’am!”

The protagonist in the book, Mack, was a black and white kind of guy. A pretty average husband and father with average nice kids. He’d had some pretty painful experiences though, like many of us, as he was growing up and they colored his view of God. This was only compounded when his youngest daughter was kidnapped and murdered. The character development and this part of the story takes about the first eighty pages. His heart snapped shut to grace. He considers suicide. At this point in the book, the story turns to how he encounters God in a completely different form than his perceptions had previously allowed.

So how did I come to finally pick up this book? I started in a cohort to become a Spiritual Director. I began to engage in Listening Prayer. What startles me most is the very clear experience of hearing, sensing, seeing, feeling and encountering God in ways far different than anything I had previously known. 

My most significant encounter with God to date (which turned me on my ear) was immediately following Brent’s suicide. It was trauma, similar to Mack losing his daughter. But God’s presence was immediate: an aura of light, consuming love and promised provision were clear and physically tangible, coming and going over the next few days and weeks. I was held. My doubt was gone. God is good and God is love. I don’t understand it, but I’m willing to embrace the mystery. I am carried and cared for.

Since then, I have come to hunger for a more intimate knowledge of and relationship with this God who has made known to me the reality of Presence.

So, I thought, why not read the book? Why not stretch my imagination to include a God that might possibly show up in all sorts of unusual ways? After all, God's “ways are high about our ways" and God's "thoughts are not our thoughts.” And as it says in the book of Hebrews, “God spoke in diverse ways at diverse times”.

If you have trouble grasping the idea of a God that could show up as an older, pleasant, loving, black woman, or you read the book and hate it, Mack says “Sorry…but it wasn’t primarily written for you.” Then again, maybe it was.

I wasn’t ready for it in 2007. I was ready for it this week.

There’s a little bit of story and a lot of dialogue. As far as writing goes, there’s a lot more “telling” than “showing” but there is very descriptive language. There are some terrifying scenes involving a serial killer, kidnapping and the resulting devastation on a family. There are impossible to believe encounters with the Trinity in bodily form (remember, it’s fiction), and yet those encounters seem not only plausible but they articulate complicated truths and make them accessible in a way that goes far beyond any theologian I’ve ever heard wax eloquent in a pulpit or on a blog. It’s written respectfully and lovingly and I closed the book in awe-struck wonder, fresh with child-like faith at the possibilities of how God can reach into our world, come as a baby, grow up as a human, setting aside the right to exercise the power of deity and become our redeemer and life-giver.

Some of the questions about God’s appearance are the first subject to be addressed when Mack encounters the Trinity: “…I am neither male nor female, even though both genders are derived from my nature. If I choose to appear…as a man or a woman, it’s because I love you… To reveal myself as a large, white grandfather with a flowing beard, like Gandalf, would simply reinforce religious stereotypes.” (p. 94). Mack admits all his stereotypes of God were very white and very male, but because of his negative experience with his own father, he would have been resistant to God appearing as Father. That God appeared as a black female showed compassion and skirted Mack’s resistance to God’s love.

I’ll leave it to you to read the book to discover how God the Son and God the Holy Spirit take tangible form. Remember, this is the writer’s imagination and yet I found it intriguing and delightful to imagine along with him.

As I continue to read, I appreciate the dialogue and interactions between Mack and the members of the Trinity. Mack, of course, can’t believe what is happening. Yet, the author creates a warm and welcoming series of scenarios in which I found it quite easy to imagine myself in Mack’s place.

There are well-articulated explanations on all sorts of subjects. I began making notes, because I want to be able to go back and reference some of the quotes on these various subjects: the humanity of Jesus,  the concept of “being” vs. external appearance; how God’s sovereignty and human free will intertwine and happily co-exist; punishment vs. discipline; the problem of evil, pain and suffering; man’s independence from God exercised in creating power-based institutions like religion, politics and economics; true freedom, the appropriate place for judgment; the nature of heaven; and so much more.

I have learned long ago that God, the creator of the universe, the one who knows my name and numbers the hairs of my head is far beyond my understanding. I cannot create God in my image and no one on earth can conceive the expanse of God’s character, form and being.

What I do know is that God is a verb. Active, living, dynamic. And God is a noun. Three persons, distinct yet One. The trinity has invited me into fellowship. Christ has given me his life. The Holy Spirit is present in me, with me, around me, working through me to live the perfect life of Christ out of my humanity. God speaks and I want to tune in to hear; to surrender to this Love, this Goodness.

This gives me great confidence and I often sing and speak out of these truths. I am learning to rest and wait on the Lord, depending on the leading of the Spirit in both large and small ways. Do I have it figured out? Ha. No way! I still have bouts of fear, on occasion, in short bursts. Anxiety triggered by a current event that causes fixation on what should be a simple, uncomplicated issue which I cannot comprehend. I make choices or speak words that may hurt others, unintentionally, when I act out of my core issues of abandonment, insignificance, unworthiness. But I’m learning to tell myself the truth: that God is with always with me, God is especially fond of me (and of you), and considered me (and you) worthy of redemption. Most importantly, I am surrendering to God’s love, opening my heart and mind to God’s truth through the scriptures, through my pastors and counselors, through my spouse and friends, through nature, through circumstances (both satisfying and difficult) and through stories like The Shack.

But most intimate of all, in addition to all of these, God speaks to me in personal relationship, through listening prayer, through meditation, through impressions, through imagination, through reason, through feelings, and sometimes through dreams.

“I am come that you might have life, and have it to the full,” Jesus said.

So, while I have breath, my prayer was, is and always will be, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth (in me, right now, here, today) as it is in heaven.”

The best way – the only way – to know God is to be in relationship.

If you are curious, read the book. Visit the website. Read what others think. Read what the author has to say.

As for me, I’m just a girl, standing here in front of you, asking you to believe God loves you and that God is not at all what or who you think. This book might just help you understand why.

But if you don't like it or don't get it, that's okay. God will go to any length down any road to find you. And when that happens, I kind of suspect you may just find everything you've been looking for.


Tipping the Scale toward Health

A friend fell off the wagon regarding her diet. She said “I blew it,” and asked how people stay motivated. What follows are some of the thoughts I shared with her, since I’ve found some limited progress after carrying extra weight for many years.

Please note: I'm not telling you what to do or whether any of this will work for your particular body, personality or metabolism. I'm just sharing some of the things that make a difference when I do them. I don't always do them but I do them more often than I used to. Every effort I make increases my quality of life. I am healthier now physically, emotionally and spiritually than I have been in decades and I live with an overall sense of well-being far beyond anything I've ever known. Try what you like, discard the rest. Listen to your own body. Perhaps you’ll find something in this that twigs for you.

A few years ago, I realized I needed to get healthy. I wrote about the entire process in my last post but didn’t elaborate on detail regarding the physical side: fitness, weight reduction, nutrition. In the past year I’ve dropped 30 pounds, slow and steady, without really “trying”.

What finally made the difference?

I decided to focus on feeling good and becoming healthy, rather than weighing a certain weight or wearing a specific clothing size. Being healthy and fit brings lasting satisfaction. Clothing and image are only temporary ego boosters and don’t meet the deeper need of self-respect.

I began to practice self-kindness. My friend didn't "blow" it. One day off track does not signal failure. Watch the language you use when you talk to yourself. Would you talk that way to a colleague? A friend? A spouse? Encourage yourself the way you encourage them. Be respectful of yourself and your own emotions. Think of one thing you've accomplished and express gratitude for it. Treat yourself to non-food rewards. 

Examine nutritional choices. Proven methods bring predictable results. Eat a broad spectrum of food from all food groups but just in smaller portions. Eat balanced meals at regular intervals made from whole foods (anything that doesn’t require an “Ingredients” label), drink lots of water or non-caffeinated teas. Certain foods bring physical cravings and can cause emotional crash. Be careful with the carbs and sugar. They mess up my head and my emotions when taken apart from protein. Like drinking liquor on an empty stomach, eating carbs or sugar without protein gives your system a sucker punch. And speaking of liquor, most alcoholic drinks are high in calories and serve little to no nutritional value. They also remove inhibitions and make self-control more difficult.

Be aware of your body’s monthly cycles. Weight and bloating increase during certain days. Your body is affected by something you can't control, but you can learn to be aware and manage it more effectively by soldiering through the few days when your mood swings are worst.

The bottom line is, you must spend more calories than you consume. Get your body moving, even if it's just a short walk and do short bursts of exertion. Even ten minutes a day or taking the stairs instead of the escalator all add up over time.

Learn to calm or energize yourself to break the habit of emotional eating or eating out of boredom. When you eat, sit down and savor every bite rather than absentmindedly chewing while watching a show or working or surfing online. Try to sleep at least 8 hours per night. Our bodies rebuild and reset themselves in sleep. Watch a movie, write a poem, listen to quiet music, sing, have a long bath or hot pounding shower, meditate, draw a picture, call a friend, take a walk, read a novel, whatever engages your mind and relaxes your body so you are able to focus on something other than your diet.

Get professional help, if needed. 1) See a naturopath to test food sensitivities and nutritional deficiencies. Our bodies crave what we aren’t getting in our diet. I dropped wheat and soft drinks and lost 18 pounds. 2) Engage a trainer to help you find the most effective exercises for your body type and problem areas. I didn’t lose much weight from this but it built muscle mass and increased heart health while sculpting and toning my shape. I still have a long way to go but I'm much more able to move, bend and exert myself now than before. 3) Find a psychologist who can help you work through things that cause emotional eating or binge eating. Many compulsive habits have their roots in old wounds. You can't heal what you don't acknowledge. This was a big one for me. I try not to "emotional eat" any longer. And here's a thought: If you intentionally eat alone or hide what you're eating from those around you, that's a red flag. When you do this, you're only hurting yourself.

Allow for cravings. Denying myself doesn't work. If I crave a Snickers bar, I have one. Just one. Or even just a bite or two. Not often. But I have found when I drink a glass of water and/or eat a healthy item first (apple, orange, banana, small piece of cheese, a few nuts and/or raisins) and I rarely still crave the high sugar option. I ask myself, "Am I really hungry or am I eating out of boredom, habit, compulsion?" Occasionally, I still eat the sweet treat. I savor it but I don't reach for the second or the third like I used to. If you eat absentmindedly, measure out a portion and put the rest away. One naturopath suggests being strict six days per week and eating whatever you want on day seven. I’ve not done this, but she swears by it. Perhaps it would work for you.

Focus on something other than food. Avoid calorie counting or detailed tracking systems – it just keeps you fixated on food. Only weigh once per week and use it as an indicator, not an alarm or measure of success. If you're always thinking about your diet, it's self-defeating.

Hang out with people who are where you want to be, who have proven success, rather than people who are struggling with the same issues or people who don’t respect your restrictions and try to get you to indulge. Keep in mind, everyone is unique and what works for one may not work for everyone. Don’t let anyone tell you there’s a “best” way to do something. Listen to your body.

Remember that every day is a new beginning. New mercy. New beauty. New start. You can do this. One day at a time.


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