Date: 01/08/14
Reading: The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry
Author: Kathleen Flinn

“I sink into the water and consider Chef Bertrand’s comment that pastry is like people. You can’t hurry love, and you can’t rush puff pastry, either. You can knead too much, and you can be too needy. Always, warmth is what brings pastry to rise. Chemistry creates something amazing; couples with care and heat, it works some kind of magic to create this satisfying, welcoming, and nourishing thing that is the base of life.”

I read a lot. I mean a lot a lot. So often I am reading a novel while at the same time also hip deep in some book that is intended to help me in either my professional, emotional or spiritual growth. And yet it wasn’t a book on growth that brought me back to an awareness of an area in my life where I am selling myself short.

Instead it was a conversation with an old flame and a memoir about studying at Le Cordon Bleu.

In the conversation I was reminded, by a man who has been in love with me, that I am spectacular in a relationship. That I am the best version of myself when I feel comfortable, intimate, and passionate about my partner. He believes this is also true of me in my closest friend relationships…when I am working at a job that I am in love with…or when I am mentoring, writing, teaching or doing any of the number of things that light my soul on fire.

Then this morning I remembered the above quote in the Kathleen Flinn book that I just finished today. I went looking for it in the earlier chapters and shot my friend this text. And he said “Yup…you are a puff pastry.” Which made me laugh at the same time that it sent a little shock through me.

I am a puff pastry damn it. I am not some stupid convenience store doughnut or a vending machine cookie. I am worthy of time, effort, interest, and care. All of us are…but we sometimes in life we act like a fast food value meal instead of a gourmet morsel to be savored.

I am the puff pastry of friends
I am the puff pastry of daughters
I am the puff pastry of girlfriends
I am the puff pastry of employees
I am the puff pastry of leaders

So take your doughnuts and stuff ’em because I’m waiting for the “nourishing thing that is the base of life.”

Date: 01/05/14

Reading: The Monks and Me
Author: Mary Paterson

“If I am fully present as I walk on the earth, how can I cause destruction to it? If I am mindful during all of my activities, how can I not create excellence? If I know my lover is a supremely complex being, how can I not want to know everything about–while recognizing the impossibility of that as stimulating? If I am aware that I will die someday, how can I waste a single moment? I cannot. I will discover beauty and complexity as I become fully cognizant of my relationship with all living beings and the mysteries yet to be discovered.”

I often think of the Buddhist tradition of thanking anything that sustains them…the sun…plants…animals. And I wish to be more mindful of this practice. I appreciate God’s grace in giving us a beautiful and abundant place to live. And I appreciate the sustenance that we can all take from living on this planet. My hope is that in the coming year I am mindful of these blessings and that through conservation, my voting privileges, my vegetarianism, and being a good steward with what I have that I can have a positive effect on my surroundings and limit any negative impact. I have chosen to be a pescatarian…though my home is primarily vegan and my consumption of fish is limited to a few times a year. I have opted for this lifestyle as a way to honor living beings, sustain my life, and maintain/improve health. My hope is that all of us…especially westerners of privilege…would examine where our food comes from, how it is sourced, and any people, animals, or land that are harmed in the process.

Date: 12/29/13
Reading: Jesus Feminist
Author: Sarah Bessey

“This is the mark of a soul in pursuit of Jesus: we recognize him. He’s there in the stuff of the soul, the tendrils of the spirit. We’re like those who dream of home, but, like Anna, we know–the truth is there in our hearts the whole time. We see glimpses of him, and we have a holy hunch. He drifts like smoke or storms in like flashes of lightening insight or takes our breath when he appears even as a tiny baby in our own temples. We have these moments of transcendence, as if the thin veil between heaven and earth is fluttering in the most normal and ordinary moments of our lives, and then we can’t breathe for the loveliness of the world and each other, and just like that, our souls remember something: we recognize him here.” 

Sarah is writing of Anna in the temple. Old Anna whose life had not turned out the way she wanted or intended. Anna who recognized the baby Jesus and held him. And praised his name. And whose waiting was made purposeful.

Redemption.

God is in the redemption business. As a person who is still wrestling with what my faith looks like…what to call what I believe…how to use the holy gifting The Divine has given me…the redemptive work of God is critical. It’s massive. It’s so very important.

And I know that God is still at it because I have those moments. Holy Moments. Moments when I’m standing in the hallway with a friend crying and sharing life changes. Moments when the sun hits the water on The Sound just right and I think “whoa”. Moments when despite all the lonely moments of a solitary life, I feel buffeted, blanketed, surrounded, held, and protected.

Jesus is in that. Redemption is in that. No such thing as wasted time. All of it means something and Jesus is in the thick of it with me. Handing me a towel to wipe my sweating wrestling brow…then tagging in to take over the match…then giving me another shot in the ring. Always always always redeeming the lost moments, the tears, the struggles, the sin, the hurt, the past, the tomorrows that don’t look like I intended them to, the yesterdays that still rise up to bite me on the ass.

Redemption. Ordinary moments. Holy Hunches. All of it rings full of humanity. Here now. Not up there then. Redemption.

Date: 08/31/13
Reading: Salvation on the Small Screen
Author: Nadia Bolz Webber

“He (Brian Fleming, Purple Heart Recipient) tells of his vehicle in Afghanistan being blown up by an IED. Saying that prayer is what saved him, he tells how God answers prayer, because his wife and mother were praying fervently for his return, and here he is. This, of course, begs the question. ‘Do the wives and mothers and husbands and fathers of those who have died in our current wars not pray hard enough?’ What must people who are mourning the deaths of their loved ones be feeling about this particular line of theological thought?”

NOTE: Before you criticize me as a liberal who doesn’t support the troops…hit the little x in the corner of this page and go troll somewhere else. This is not a post about war or the troops. It is a post about bad and sometimes hurtful theology.

I admire Bolz-Webber’s commentary of a show she saw on Trinity Broadcasting (TBN). And even more than that I am grateful to have my own thoughts and feelings reverberate back to me about the potential hurt that this sort of theology can create for those who don’t win the prayer lottery, as I’ve come to call it. We Christians, myself included, have often attributed winning, war, safety, and fame to God’s favor because of our prayerfulness. This is a dangerous theology. One that can hurt. One that can wound. One that can make people feel as though they are not getting the recipe for getting God to do what they want correct. One that can push people out of community with us and right back to a community that will accept their loss and offer consolation in other forms.

It’s stupid stuff like saying that you won a football game because God loves you more. On that I call BULLSHIT. I’m not saying that you can’t pray for God’s favor, support, and strength. But if you win and there are Christians on the other team who prayed too does that mean God loves you MORE than them? Seriously…help me do some sort of logic math on this.

Let me bring it to a personal level…so you can trust that I’m not just sitting on some liberal soap box being preachy.

I once questioned the wisdom of a family member who allowed the person who molested me during childhood into her home…specifically around her children…her daughter. My family member said “We believe he no longer struggles with that sin and needs our love and mercy. And we pray daily for the protection of our children. Yes, we are watchful but we also believe God will protect our daughter from harm.”

That family member and I have never recovered from that statement. It’s not their fault, but at the time the implication of that statement was a pickax to my fragile healing heart. See…I knew Jesus during the years that I was being molested. I prayed…for protection…for deliverance. And still for 5 years there was abuse. So the implication that the prayers of parents for keeping danger at bay is somehow stronger than the prayers of an innocent child begging for mercy was more than I could take.

Prayer for me has become more about intimacy with the God…meditation…finding a quiet space in the noisy world, than about my wishlist…for myself or others. I do pray about the many things that my friends ask me to pray for because it is an honor to be asked and because God is a friend I like to talk to about my friends. I celebrate when a  prayer “win” happens. And I hurt with those who cry out “Why won’t God help me?” in the midst of their own prayer “loss”. Prayer is personal…and powerful…because it is personal…even when it is corporate. (Whoa…there’s a lot of nuance in that last sentence that I don’t have time to unpack today.)

Before you give me a “God’s ways are higher than our ways” message or start quoting Garth Brooks “unanswered prayer” lyrics at me…believe me I know. If i didn’t, I would not have kept breathing during the roughest years of my healing. I get that much of the mystical nature of God is beyond my comprehension.

And for those who don’t believe…hear me when I say that I totally get why you are mind-screaming “THEN WHY DO YOU BELIEVE IN GOD AT ALL???” (That’s more than I can unpack today as well.)

But I will tell you…friends of any religious faith…be very very cautious about how you claim victory through prayer. For every soldier, abuse victim, car accident survivor, cured cancer patient, etc. that gets through because of prayer, there is one who “lost” despite the prayers of the righteous on their behalf.

Date: 08/30/13
Reading: Creativity-Where the Divine and the Human Meet
Author: Matthew Fox

“Creativity takes courage–courage to explore one’s deepest self and to let in the depths of the world’s struggles and joys, torments and agony. Rilke puts it this way: ‘Works of art always spring from those who have faced the danger, gone to the very end of an experience, to the point beyond which no human being can go. The further one dares to go, the more decent, the more personal, the more unique a life becomes…This sort of derangement, which is peculiar to us, must go into our work.” The artist, he dares tell us, faces derangement itself. Artists need encouragement, the building up of courage, the community can lend us. The artist in each of us needs and deserves attention in order to build up the heart.” 

When I read this I thought of all my very creative friends. Their struggles. Their stories. Their ability to pour the past…drop by drop…work by word…stitch by stitch into their writing, their baking, their sewing, their art work, their photography, their singing. Each one, unique, and able to stir the heart of another by telling a story with their art.

I am honored by their courage. I am grateful to be counted among those who count me. I am satisfied that the Divine will continue to create, build, and inspire through the miraculous hands of those who have lived a life. Those who have a story to tell and must speak it…else the rocks will cry out.

Date: 08/27/13
Reading: Creativity-Where the Divine and the Human Meet
Author: Matthew Fox

“Art is not something done for another or to another. Art is everybody participating, that is, when ritual is real, when the whole community participates. No one can pray vicariously. No one can sing or chant or dance in our place. We are all meant to participate because each of us must find the ‘center,’ the ‘eye of God,’ wherein the true peace flows. We are all meant to tap into the creative energy of the Holy One, the Artist of Artists, and the Source without a Source.” 

We live in a society that raises their collective fist to the air and says “ENTERTAIN ME DAMN IT!” And then when we don’t like what is done, we bitch, moan, complain, and carry on like spoiled children. For 36 hours now I have endured (for that is the only word I can think of) all this ridiculous talk about Miley Cyrus and I’m so tired of it. It’s boring.
Look…I’m not here to defend her. But I would like to point out that we created this problem. Us. Yup…the finger is pointing at you and me. We are not guiltless in any of this. We raised our fists and demanded to be entertained. The woman looked around at our bigoted, misogynistic, racist, pornography-laden, over-branded, driven by marketing, overtly violent, purely consumeristic, gimme gimme gimme world and said “Provocation sells. That’s what this culture calls Entertainment. I can do that.”
Maybe we should all take a deep breath. Think about how we can bring creative energy into the world. As Fox says “Tap into the creative energy of the Artist of Artists.” Make something. Write something. Paint something. Dance. Sing. Create. Build. Give time and ideas to children, animals, serving the less fortunate, running for a cause, creating awareness and change. And for god sake only take in those same creative energies from others who come from a place of deep creativity and not those playing to our voyeuristic lazy tendencies.
For me this means declaring a moratorium on books, TV, movies, and music that have any of the consumeristic characteristics I rattled off above. And yes…this is a subjective decision because each of us comes at our “entertainment” from different angles. But even more important than the moratorium…I commit to creativity. Finding ways to create every single day…to tap into the Holy One and into the gifts of creativity given to me. I see lots of people doing this in their crafts, poetry, writing, singing, dancing, painting, photography, technology…so I think I’ll join them.

Date: 08/26/13
Reading: Creativity: Where the Divine and the Human Meet
Author: Matthew Fox

“7. We Are Not Lazy. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heshel says that humankind will perish not from lack of information but from lack of appreciation. How right he is! When gratitude reigns, energy reigns. When thankfulness is real, praise happens. Praise is never lazy. Praise extends itself, sacrifices, gives away. Praise is effusive, it goes out to others. At the heart of all creativity there lies praise, there lies a hidden “thank you,” a yearning to return blessing for blessing. This is how the great psychologist Otto Rank defines the artist: “one who wants to leave behind a gift.” Why would one be intent on leaving a gift behind if one had not intuited that life, for all its woe and troubles, is essentially praiseworthy and deserving of our gratitude? Gratitude is the ultimate enabler. Gratitude moves us from apparent laziness to heroic giving. Never underestimate the power of gratitude.”

Matthew Fox begins his book on creativity as a connection between the Divine and the spirit of humanity by listing 8 things we are not. The list is magnificent (see below) and after reading his descriptions of each I felt a resurgence of my desire to create. I watch my friends…who create…and know that Rank’s statement that the artist is one who wants to leave behind a gift is so very true. I know that when I step out of my own malaise and the haze of disappointment I’ve allowed myself to feel, and I look at all the things I’m grateful for, it becomes impossible to be lazy. It becomes impossible to NOT create. It becomes impossible to throw in the towel.

One afternoon on a sailboat and freedom returns and I want to share pictures I’ve captured and write in such a way that others feel the wind on my face and the freedom of being on the water. One morning hiking a small trail with an elderly parents and I want to paint a picture of Mt. Rainier so that you all know what it is like to see those beautiful blue skies and smell air so fresh you had no idea air could be tasted. One evening of perfect kisses and warm embraces and I want to tell a story so breathtakingly romantic that you will all feel the flush of my skin and lower your eyes knowingly in remembrance of your own perfect nights.

How do I know that we are not lazy? Because one brush with wonder and a pinch of praise and gratitude flows out in pictures, song, written word, beautiful clothing, woodwork..art of all kinds.

Remember these words? “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” (Philippians 4:8 NLT) The next verse proves Fox’ premise…”Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me–everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.” (Phil. 4:9 NLT)

Date: 04/29/13
Reading: The School of Essential Ingredients
Author: Erica Bauermeister

“It was a clear, cold evening in early February, the end of a miraculously blue day blown in from the north like a celebration. People in the Northwest tended to greet such weather with a child’s sense of joy; strangers exchanged grins, houses were suddenly cleaner, and neighbors could be found in their yards in shirtsleeves, regardless of the temperature, indulging a sudden desire to dig in rich, dark dirt.”

I don’t think I’ve posted lines from fiction before on this page of rambles. But this paragraph in Bauermeister’s book, set in Seattle, says something that only someone who has lived in the Pacific Northwest understands.

The love of the sun is different up here. The sun is a mysterious traveling lover. One without a published itinerary or agenda for 8 months out of the year. Then for 4 the lover shows up to stay for weeks on end. But during the 8 dreary and gray months, when the sun shows up…all bets are off. Plans get cancelled in favor of sitting on balconies. Meals change from quiet dinners over a glass of wine to events served on patios. Thoughts of working late hours are exchanged for a walk in the park or a stroll near the water.

I am a lover of the sun. It is one of my very favorite things about New Mexico. Days on end of sunshine. But here…I am a worshiper of the creator of the sun. Because should the sun peak it’s face out for an afternoon…or even just a moment…the millions of us in this part of the world lift our faces in praise and adoration. We smile. We laugh. We are still.

Date: 04/25/13
Reading: The Gifts of Imperfection
Author: Dr. Brene Brown

“Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.”

After I read the paragraphs ending with this sentence I said aloud “Yes!” See for months I’ve been having some form of the following dialogue with my boss.

Me: It has definitely been a challenge for me to fit into the culture and feel like part of the team here.
My Boss: No it hasn’t. You are a great fit. You are loved by the team. They all really respect your work.
Me: I know that, but it has still been a struggle to feel like I belong.
My Boss: <crickets>

The problem is that we are talking about two different things. Three important things strike me about fitting in vs. belonging.

1) We all need to understand this because we are in groups and relationships all the time. We often assume that everyone feels like they belong simply because everyone is getting along or even has fun together. If we are trying to create community we need to understand the difference between belonging and fitting in and strive for the former. Lives aren’t often changed by fitting in…but lives are transformed by belonging.

2) Most groups also have a dynamic around the rules to fitting in…even if they are unspoken. In corporations we often call this “company culture.” Really those are just buzz words for “what it takes to fit in and thrive around here.” And that is not bad…it’s just not the same as belonging. Belonging has an element of flexibility and change. Belonging shifts and leaves room for the people who belong to change, grow, hurt, and stretch themselves that fitting in doesn’t have much tolerance for.

3) As individuals we need to know that it is okay to have places where we fit in but don’t belong…and belong but don’t fit in. Sometimes belonging might take time, or a shift in dynamics, or quite frankly a shift in people. And sometimes it never happens but you can achieve your goals, make an impact, and add value by being yourself, fitting in, and finding other places to BELONG. 😉

3a) If someone says “We need your style and personality to come in and help us shake things up a bit here. We need your influence.”…you likely have a long lonely road ahead of you. Just sayin’ 😉

Date: 04/22/13
Reading: The Gifts of Imperfection
Author: Dr. Brene Brown

“We can talk about courage and love and compassion until we sound like a greeting card store, but unless we’re willing to have an honest conversation about what gets in the way of putting these into practice in our daily lives, we will never change. Never, ever.”

Courage, love, and compassion…those things are timeless right? We all do them all the time…right? After all ..some of us are Christians…or Buddhists…or just really really nice folks. So of course we are full of courage, love, and compassion. RIGHT?

What does an honest conversation about what gets in the way of courage, love, and compassion in your life look like?

For me it looks like asking myself some tough questions about what I’m still afraid of…why I still have doubt that love can’t win…what I have to be honest about in order to show more compassion.

These are hard conversations. Hard to have with yourself. Harder to have with another. But damn it…we need to start talking about it. In case you aren’t aware (she said sarcastically), the world can be an ugly, mean place. And it needs more of us to have the courage to bring love and compassion to our interactions. That requires us to really stop promoting our own agenda and start being in the moment.

I can only speak for myself but I struggle to stop struggling. Dr. Brown calls this “the hustle”. I am always hustling…even more good things.

I hustle to be more loving. When really I just need to love myself and let the overflow wash over everyone else.

I hustle for more courage…and then am paralyzed with the fear of not being courageous enough or not having it at the right moment. If courage is being afraid and doing it anyway…then the trick is to move my once paralyzed feet in the direction of the “thing” (whatever it is)…even if it is just one baby step at a time. (Yup…I just got a visual of Bill Murray “Baby-steps down to the sidewalk. Baby-steps to the door” from What About Bob?)

I even manage to hustle for compassion. I want to read my way to a new solution. I want to zen my way to a place of loving-kindness and acceptance. What I really have to do…which takes courage…is stop and listen. Really listen to others. Hear them. Be in the moment. When I listen I almost always hear myself in another’s story. And when we recognize ourselves, we are able to offer compassion because we know the hurt of not receiving it.

Listen…live the other way if you want…I can’t stop you. Fear, ambivalence, and judgement. It’s a strategy. You can make it your life code. If you want to…I guess.

But don’t we have enough of that? Aren’t there enough scared, unloving, judgey jerks in the world? Let’s move the needle back towards the healthy, good stuff.

Join me???

Date: 04/17/13
Reading: The Places That Scare You
Author: Pema Chodron

“Rejoicing in ordinary things is not sentimental or trite. It actually takes guts. Each time we drop our complaints and allow everyday good fortune to inspire us, we enter the warrior’s world. We can do this even at the most difficult moment. Everything we see, hear, taste, and smell has the power to strengthen and uplift us.”

I have been keeping a gratitude journal for about 9 months. The symbolism is deep there as I feel I have been on a journey to birth a new season, a new adventure, a new me. Some people have said nice things like “Your gratitude journal makes me feel good despite what I’m going through” or “It’s nice to see that you have such good things in your life.”

Often the comments are heartfelt and sincere. Occasionally the comments are jabs at what the other person thinks is my seemingly simple or uncomplicated life. Either way…here is the truth:

I started the gratitude journal to survive. I was unhappy and missing my friends, longing for the man I loved, and most importantly missing myself. I’d lost my sense of wonder. I’d begun to focus on making it from one sleep to the next. And I was losing sight of all the beauty in the world…in people…in myself.

My gratitude journal has given me back my joy…one post at a time. One word at a time. One small mercy at a time.

Yes…there are days when I lose heart and hope and want to just forget it. But when you know you have to find a few things to be grateful for, you dig deep, carry on, and live eyes wide open in expectation of grace on display. And when you live that way…grace finds you.

Date: 04/16/13
Reading: The Shack
Author: Wm. Paul Young

In light of everything that happened yesterday I was reminded of an amazing conversation between Papa (God) and Mackenzie towards the end of “The Shack”. I’ll make no commentary but just let it stand on it’s own.

“But if I understand what you’re saying, the consequences of our selfishness are part of the process that brings us to the end of our delusions and helps us find you. Is that why you don’t stop every evil? …” The accusing tone was no longer in Mack’s voice. 

“If only it were that simple, Mackenzie. Nobody knows what horrors I have saved the world from ’cause people can’t see what never happened. All evil flows from independence and independence is your choice. If I were simply to revoke all the choices of independence  the world as you know it would cease to exist and love would have no meaning. This world is not a playground where I keep all my children free from evil. Evil is the chaos of this age that you brought to me, but it will not have final say. Now it touches everyone I love, those who follow me and those who don’t. If I take away the consequences of people’s choices, I destroy the possibility of love. Love that is forced is no love at all.” 

“Also,” she interrupted  “don’t forget that in the midst of all your pain and heartache, you are surrounded by beauty, the wonder of creation, art, your music and culture, the sounds of laughter and love, of whispered hopes and celebrations, of new life and transformation, of reconciliation and forgiveness. These are also the result of your choices, and every choice matters, even the hidden ones. So whose choices should we countermand, Mackenzie? Perhaps I should never have created? Perhaps Adam should have been stopped before he chose independence  What about your choice to have another daughter, or your father’s choice to beat his son? You demand your independence but then complain that I actually love you enough to give it to you.” 

“Mackenzie, my purposes are not for my comfort, or yours. My purposes are always and only an expression of love. I purpose to work life out of death  to bring freedom out of brokenness and turn darkness to light. What you see as chaos, I see as fractal. All things must unfold, even though it puts all those I love in the midst of a world of horrible tragedies–even the one closest to me.” 

“You’re talking about Jesus aren’t you? Mack asked softly.

“Yup, I love that boy.” Papa looked away and shook her head. “Everything’s about him, you know. One day you folk will understand what he gave up. There are just no words.” 

Date: 04/15/13
Reading: The Places That Scare You
Author: Pema Chodron

“This is the path we take in cultivating joy: learning not to armor our basic goodness.”

Dear Lord…this simple sentence hit me like a piano falling from a window in a cartoon.

Boom

Thump

SMASH

Some days…many days over the past couple of weeks…I suit up. And I’m not talking about getting dressed for work (though I do that)…or even putting on the “armor of God’ from my childhood Sunday school days. No I am talking about stepping into a full body suit of armor to protect myself from the people around me.

It would be simplest to blame my environment…an unknown and sometimes icy city or a stuffy and stiff work setting. But be those things as they may, I suit up because most days I’m just afraid to be vulnerable in a world where vulnerability isn’t safe.

Despite what I know about not making assumptions and trying to believe people have good intentions, I find that I am struggling to unveil my basic human goodness. Instead my inner dialogue goes something like:

“Be nice. Be funny. But hold back the parts of yourself that they will use and abuse.”

“Stay guarded. There is no one in this room that you know well enough to trust.”

“Whatever happens…be vigilant. If you aren’t, getting hurt will be your own fault.”

We’ve all told ourselves this story. Sadly it is sometimes true that if you leave your suit of armor at home, you will get hurt. But just as true is the fact that in doing this…in holding back…in keeping myself in check and in reserve at all times…I do not share my basic goodness with the world. And that is sad because my goodness has more potential to change the world than my words, my work, or my leadership. My basic goodness is what empowers all of those things…and when I bring armored Leah to those tasks, they are done half-heartedly and without the full extend and power of my voice and truth.

In Conclusion:
I must go to battle in my underwear instead of my suit of armor!

(PS—Sounds kinda fun…and cold!) 😉

DATE: 04/03/13
Reading: 2 Corinthians 5 from the Bible
Author: Paul

My dear friend Amanda and I have just started dwelling in this passage together long distance. This is our third day and I’m stunned by how much stuff there is in these 21 verses. Today I read the following:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. –2 Corinthians 5: 18-20

Over the past few weeks there has been a heated debate about issues that divide families  churches, and this country. Let me restate that…over the past few YEARS the debate has been constant. I know none of this is new but in a world of 24 hour news, internet updates, and social media the arguments are louder, more constant, and seemingly less polite.

This year I’ve made it my goal to try to really see the humanity of each person I interact with. To do that I have to sometimes look through the vitriol  the agenda, and the message they want so desperately to send and try to see the person…the real person on the other side of the argument and the words. This is not always easy for me because I have opinions, beliefs, and a strong desire to see love and justice play out. But I know that my definition of love and justice differs from some of my friends and I have to choose…yes CHOOSE…to see through our different opinions and see their humanity.

I do this because I honestly believe that I am a new creation with a ministry of reconciliation. I believe that comes from my relationship with Jesus and from my connection to living creatures and creation all around me (dare I say universal consciousness…yes…I dare!). 🙂 I believe that reconciliation is not a keeping of score but an act of making things right. But making things right doesn’t mean that I have the answers and need everyone to line up like good little ducks so that I can reconcile them to my checklist.

When I think of a ministry of reconciliation…I get a mental image of walking through a messy room, and righting things. Picking up that lamp and setting it gently upright on the table and straightening out the lamp shade. Fluffing a pillow there. Putting a stack of books away on a shelf. Reaching up to tilt a picture back to it’s squared up position. Plucking a fallen piece of paper from the floor and placing it back on the top of the right stack.

And when I imagine this in my life it looks like…sending money to a friend who is having a tight month and is nervous she won’t make her budget. Or speaking an apology over someone that I didn’t listen to very closely when they needed it. Stopping to look someone in the eye who needs to be seen. Bending down to rub the ears of the nervous puppy at work who wants to be calmed. Joyfully celebrating the engagement of a friend who will be marrying their partner. Smiling at a baby in the line in front of me who is watching me with her big eyes wondering who I am. Speaking up and using my words when someone or a group of someones is dismissive of my talented female friend who is gifted for amazing and nontraditional things. Making someone laugh who could use a chuckle. Handing my apple to the guy on the street who is hungry.

Ministry of reconciliation…love in action…a choice to be an agent of kindness, love, and peace…representing the best of the Jesus that I’ve come to love so deeply. Offering light. Choosing grace. Extending mercy. Reconciliation of others. Reconciliation of myself.

Date: 03/25/13
Reading: The Places That Scare You
Author: Pema Chodron

“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”

When I read this phrase I immediately think of the transforming relationships that are built between volunteers and guests under Burnside Bridge on Thursday nights in downtown Portland at Night Strike. Nothing closes the distance between you and a girl living on the street more than when she tells you a story that sounds like your own. Equality of spirit happens when shame, fear, and violation pour out of the mouth of a woman and you can honestly look her in the face and say “I’m so sorry that happened to you. It isn’t fair. That happened to me too and some days the remembering is overwhelming.” Under the bridge there are people who spend their days wishing that someone would just look them in the eye…see them. People needing to be seen can be the guests who are living on the edge of society or the volunteer who holds a prestigious spot in a major corporation or is the senior class president at her high school.

Not certain you can feel like an equal with a homeless person, a single mother, an abuse victim, a drug dealer, and addict? Listen to their story. Look into their eyes. Ask them about the people they love or have loved. As them what their dreams where as a child. Ask them what thoughts or ideas bring them joy or comfort or peace.

Listen…You’ll hear something in their story that rings true with your own.

Listen…And the God in them will commune with the God in you.

Listen…Because compassion is born of that acknowledgement of Spirit to Spirit.

**Hey, want to volunteer or donate to this amazing organization. Go to the site that follows and give…every penny you spend will be used well. I promise! http://bridgetowninc.org/environments/nightstrike/ **

Date: 03/06/13
Reading: The Voice of Knowledge
Author: Don Miguel Ruiz

“Once I discovered that people are creating and living their own story, how could I take anything they think of me personally? I know that when they talk to me, they are only talking to the secondary character in their story. … I don’t waste my time taking anything personally. I focus my attention on creating my own story.” 

People are complicated.

We can never fully know what is going on in the mind and spirit of another. Sure, we can know some people better than others. But we always know them based on the filter with which we view them…which is not necessarily reality. We assign roles to people, we write lines for them in our heads, we make assumptions, and when they don’t act the way we expect we are offended. (Of course I have been guilty of this as well.)

I have always struggled with others who want to write my story-line  I resist the notion that someone can watch me, size me up, claim to know me, tie a neat little bow around the box they put me into, and then actually expect me to behave in accordance with their boxed version of me.

I repeat…people are complicated.

Recently I’ve struggled with being frustrated and flustered by the story-lines that other people have tried to write for me. I’ve taken it personally. I’ve lost sight of the truth of what don Miguel says above… I’ve taken my role as a secondary character in their story far too seriously. Meanwhile I’ve let the plot of my own story get muddy, boring, and undefined.

Not anymore! I’ve got my fancy story writing pen out and the Author and I are going to leave behind other people’s story-lines and take up some far more intriguing plot developments of our own design.

People are complicated…but complicated it interesting.

Date: 02/27/13

Reading: The Idolatry of God
Author: Peter Rollins

“The churches have made God a commodity, attempting to ‘sell’ him as an answer to all of life’s problems and anxieties. In a capitalistic, market-driven world, God is just one more product to satisfy our needs.”

There is so little and so much I can say about this quote. It is so true that it breaks my heart. I want to say “NO! That can’t be true!” But then as I read on, Rollins makes an excellent case for this statement. We sell God to people as the grand solution to every problem and then when their lives don’t perfectly fall into place, we accuse them of not bearing fruit or being held back by their own doubt. When the people who try to purchase a little satisfaction on a Sunday morning don’t find it and remain HUMAN…and therefore screwed up…we don’t ask ourselves different questions. We point at those people and call them the problem.

I get this vision when I read this quote of a Carnival trickster selling expensive ring toss games that are rigged to keep people from winning the big Teddy Bear hanging in the corner. I’ve stepped into a season of my life where I’m finally saying “Is this game fixed so I can’t win?”. The guy running the game is like “NO!!! Of course not. Shut up!” And the people around me are staring at me…then at him…then back at me. Some think I’ve lost my mind to question the fairness of the game because why would such a nice guy trick us. Others have the same question but have been afraid to ask it because the answer may mean they have to do something different…like NOT play. While still others are sure it is indeed rigged but find it ridiculously annoying that I would point it out and ruin everyone else’s fun.

Here’s what I know.

God is not a product. God is not for sale. God is a friend of mine. One that I’ve come to rely on for friendship even when I’m not sure what else is true. I also believe I’m special to God…and also that you are…and that guy…and that hateful lady over there…and that weird kid from the bus. Special does not endow us with privileged for riches, ease, and comfort.

Life can be hard.
And beautiful.
At the same time.

My relationship with God doesn’t change that life is hard. Instead the relationship makes it meaningful…and confusing…and meaningful…and…you get it right?

I’m not for sale. God is not for sale. This relationship is not for sale.

Date: 02/12/13
Reading: John 1:10-12
Author: John, the apostle whom Jesus Loved and an all around interesting dude

My friend Amanda and I have been Dwelling in John 1 together every day for over a week. We each read the chapter daily and then try to share whatever stood out to us. It’s been an amazing week in John 1 because there is a LOT going on in that chapter…like plot lines, character introduction, and the dramatic entrance of the fully realized Son of God hanging out with humans in a tent made of flesh. Super interesting stuff.

“He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.”

This morning, after reading John 1 in its entirety my eyes came back to verses 10 -12. As I read through it again the 4th time a thought occurred to me…

What if I built an estate. I mean REALLY built an estate. Every brick, beam, nail, and layer of paint in the house was cut, formed, and put in place by me. Every flower, seed of grass, tree, and pond was my landscape work something I’d grown and then planted with my own hands. Every ornate piece of the beautiful wrought iron gate was something that I’d forged and then put into place by my hands. Every stick of furniture…inside and out…all my handiwork. What if I poured my very soul into everything I built on this estate and then put a sign by the gate that said “Come on in.”

And what if thousands of people came to my estate each day and wandered the grounds, touched everything, felt everything. I would feed them. Ensure they had a place to sleep. Give them a beautiful place to rest the weary feet on the difficult journey to get to my estate.

Then one day I knock on the front door (you know…the one I made) and one of the visitors answers. They are dismissive and rude and not at all interested in my coming to visit. What if that visitor is even a member of my family and knows who I am? What if as I enter the party people some people are put off by my very presence and treat me as though I don’t belong in the house. Some might even be brave enough to try to run me off or scare me into leaving. What’s the reason you ask? I don’t know??? Maybe I’m making them uncomfortable. Maybe they are afraid of what it means when I show up at the estate since they’ve been coming for a while and I’ve never been here in person. How much would my heartbreak to see these people that I’ve really cared for…even my own family…treating me as though I’m the outsider…as though I am the one ruining their perfectly good time?

But…

What if there are a few people on my estate who recognize me. They smile and come to say hello. Some of them even want to hug me or just wander around the estate with me. The really interested ones ask me a million questions about how I built everything. And there are even a few who, although they like me ask (repeatedly in some cases) “WHY!?” “Why would you build this place?” “Why do you put up with those other people?” Why????”

And what if…just try to wrap your head around this…my love for the first group didn’t change just because the second group was nicer to me. What if the second group was precious to me because of their love for me, while the first group was precious to me because I know they are fearful, hurting, and need to be reassured that the estate owner did not invite them here just to kick them out?

What if I tasked the second group with loving the first group and telling them how generous and kind I’ve been. And what if the second group did JUST that…without ever telling the first group what jerks they are or scaring them more with stories of how I’m going to punish them when I come back to the estate? What if the second group offered to make dinner and were sincerely interested in the lives, thoughts, and fears of the first group? And what if…what if…the first group was blessed by the second and the second group found themselves astonishingly blessed by the first as well?

What if???

Date:01/03/03
Reading: Wonderstruck
Author: Margaret Feinberg

“How often do we mistake children of God for piles of bones? Rather than become involved, we retreat, recoiling at the scene and scent of the carcasses.    Yet the wondrous calling of God on our lives is to become conduits of a holy replenishment. As children of God, we’re meant to live on high alert, watching for this possibility of divine restoration in the lives of those around us. We’re called to look where no signs of life are found, where others dismiss its possibility. And we’re invited to speak life–words of encouragement, hope, and peace that embody the goodness of God–whenever possible.” 

Earlier in the reading, before this paragraph, Margaret is talking about Ezekiel’s encounter with God. God says to Ezekiel “Can these bones live?” in one of the creepiest and yet inspiring scenes in the old testament. God is not only in the business of animation but RE-animation. He takes dead things and brings them to life. We see this in the story of Isaac through Abraham’s belief that God could raise his son from the dead. We see it when Elijah raises the son of the widow of Zarapeth in 1 Kings 17. We see it when Jesus raises the son of the Widow of Nain and of course his friend Lazarus. And we see it when Peter raises Tabitha and Paul raises Eutychus.

But I’ve also seen it in the lives of my drug addict friend, my friend who has had 3 miscarriages, and in my own life. We see it all around us. Hearts do not have to stop beating for a person to be lifeless…dead to living…without hope of restoration. God can step into the lives of the breathing, eating, and walking dead and fill them with new life. Zombie restoration at it’s finest. 😉

And what Margaret is saying in the paragraph above is that when God get’s into the business of restoration to life in the people around us…he often does so THROUGH us. As God breaths life into each of us, we can exhale his glory, encouragement, presence  peace, and love over them. The only thing holding us back is usually our own fear or ambivalence. When we take our eyes off of our own troubles and listen…REALLY LISTEN…to the pain of another, we often can see a clear path to how we can offer life.

Look around you…who in your life is God pointing to and then looking at you and saying “Can these bones live?” Show up for the re-animation of your friends, loved ones, coworkers, strangers…and be amazed at what God can do with the lifeless.

Date: 01/02/13
Reading: Wonderstruck
Author: Margaret Feinberg

“Many of us say we want to experience God, but we don’t look for his majesty. We travel life’s paths with our heads down, focused on the next step with our careers or families or retirement plans. But we don’t really expect God to show up with divine wonder. God invites us to look up, open our eyes to the wonder all around us, and seize every opportunity to encounter him. This isn’t a passive expectation but an active one, the kind prompting us to elbow our way to Jesus, knowing he longs to meet us with a hearty embrace and sometimes even twirl us through the air.” 

As I struggled through the past 6 months of starting a new life…one that I’m not sure I even wanted…in Seattle, I had lost my focus. Or more accurately I had focused so narrowly, so single heartedly, on survival that I missed the chance to experience God along the way. Oh sure, there were moments. Moment when I felt His presence as I walked along the water or stood in the rain. There were moments when I felt Her come near in my pain or anguish or loneliness or anxiety.

But they were moments…and I missed so many other opportunities.

In my attempt to ‘survive’ I lost sight of the truth of the journey. The truth that every stop along the path is for a reason. It’s a part of the journey. It’s a moment in time. No where has ever been the final destination…not Tennessee, not New Mexico, not Colorado, and not Washington. The destination is a place of light and love inside of me. A place where I can connect to the Spirit of God no matter my geographic location. Or for that matter my financial status, my marital status, my relationship with my family, how many friends I have, if I have the job of my dreams, etc.

You get the point right? The destination is inside…it is the relationship with the One and Only. This home, these things, the car, that cubicle…resting places, pit-stops, and moments in time.

My vision increases. My focus is broader. The dream is bigger. GOD is bigger…and I’m in awe!

Date: 12/14/12
Reading: Matthew 12:33-37
Author: Jesus quotes via the writings of Matthew the Tax Collector

“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings for evil things. But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgement. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” 

As a child and a young person at a Christian college, I often heard these verses used to discuss why we shouldn’t use foul language and bad words. I honestly believed that I was going to give an account before the throne of God on the day of judgement of every slang or curse word I used. My parents, religious leaders, and professors wanted me to be a nice young lady with a nice clean mouth.

I’ll admit right now that they didn’t get what they wanted. I’m not all that nice (See: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=nice)  and I have a potty mouth.

When I think of the words I’ve spoken that have wounded others, the wounding word is never the F word. The word “stupid” can be as or more wounding as the word “bitch”. The phrase “You are weird” can be as or more hurtful and excluding as “Go away dumbass”. Words that sting like “If only you were as pretty as your sister” or whatever other comparison that we make between children, siblings, lovers, friends, etc. can’t be taken back even when we “didn’t mean it”. Dismissive, rude, unkind words singe the heart and yet we are shocked when those around us start to build fire-retardant walls around their hearts to keep the damage to a minimum.

Just yesterday I had a conversation with a dear friend where we both realized and admitted that we’ve been affected by our environment and surroundings and losing sight of the humanity of others. I find that sometimes even when my words are respectful, my thoughts are not. At times I’ve been so afraid of not being heard that I’ve stopped listening. Or so afraid of being hurt that I stopped being open or vulnerable. And if that is happening to someone like me who is relational at her core and loves people…why are we surprised when those that we haven’t trained to recognize the humanity in others hurt, murder, slay, or maim with word or deed?

Matthew Henry in his commentary on this same passage of scripture says:

“Men’s language discovers what country they are of, likewise what manner of spirit they are of. The heart is the fountain, words are the streams. A troubled fountain, and a corrupt spring, must send forth muddy and unpleasant streams. Nothing but the salt of grace, cast into the spring, will heal the waters, season the speech, and purify the corrupt communication.”

To the trained ear, my language, words, and inflection can tell the story of a girl from the West Coast who has lived among southerners and dwelt with the people of the Southwest. As Henry says you can “discover what country” I am of.

But I’m far more interested in being a person who’s words indicate what “manner of spirit” I am of to those who listen. I want my spoken words, written words, and body language to send a message of kindness, love, grace, and friendship. I so want my mouth to speak good, helpful, true, and beautiful things out of the “abundance of my heart”.  That doesn’t mean I won’t ever say something that hurts another because even the most sweetly spoken truth can hurt. But I want it to be the kind of hurt that builds relationship rather than breaking it down.

If we call ourselves Christians, may our Facebook posts, interactions in business meetings, and mornings words to our loved ones flow from a heart filled with love that would make Jesus smile. If we are Buddhists, may we speak peace into those circumstances. If we are Jewish…Muslim…Hindu…Atheist…etc. may we use our words to bless and not curse. (And by curse I don’t mean you can’t say Shit…because I do…Oh…I just did!) 🙂

XOXO my darling friends this Sunday. May you be loved beyond measure for being exactly who you are today!

Date 12/13/12
Reading: The Divine Conspiracy
Author: Dallas Willard

“Re-Visioning God and His World
Jesus’ good news about the kingdom can be an effective guide for our lives only if we share his view of the world in which we live. To his eyes this is a God-bathed and God-permeated world. It is a world filled with a glorious reality, where every component is within the range of God’s direct knowledge and control–though he obviously permits some of it, for good reasons, to be for a while otherwise than as he wishes. It is a world that is inconceivably beautiful and good because of God and because God is always in it. It is a world in which God is continually at play and over which he constantly rejoices. Until our thoughts of God have found every visible thing and event glorious with his presence, the world of Jesus has not yet fully seized us.”

When I woke up this morning I went looking for my copy of The Divine Conspiracy because I needed to read Chapter 3. It focuses on casting new vision about the world we live in…one where Christians believe in the JOY of God instead of only the WRATH of God. One in which those who claim to follow Christ know that this life is not about waiting for  rescue from this disgusting world…but instead about taking up residence on earth, planting our roots, and making improvements.

Oh sure…you can talk to me all day about how we are to be “in the world but not of the world” and quote Jesus’ prayer in John 17 at me. But don’t forget…that very same Jesus was the one doing the talking in Matthew 25. He said that we would hear “well done” based on how much we loved those who need something from us. How do you love them if you don’t LIVE here? How do you love them and create new meaning, intention, and opportunity if you are always focused on leaving and never focused on rebuilding?

I’m an excellent picture of this lately. I’ve been in Seattle for 6 months and I don’t love it. You know why? Because I’ve acted like a visitor. I haven’t acted like this is my home or that I belong here or that my covenant with God is to go where he sends me and make it better. Instead I’ve acted as though this is a temporary stopping point and that I’m just waiting for God to do something to rescue me from the darkest, wettest place I’ve ever been. See…THAT is visitor mentality. If I believed Seattle was my home, I’d tell you about all the beautiful things here like the water, the greenery, the architecture, the mountains, the city itself. THAT is resident mentality.

If we want people in our community to take us seriously when we tell them that Christians care about them, we have to stop acting like we are just killing time until the mothership arrives. Stop acting like a renter and act like a home-owner! Hang up pictures, paint the walls, get to know the neighbors. Unpack your suitcase and stay awhile weary traveler. Someone, somewhere, in your community needs a glass a water…and they need the glass of water served to them with a warm, invested heart rather than thrown at them as you sit on your stoop waiting for Jesus to return.

PS–Jesus asked me to remind you that your community includes gay people, single parents, the homeless, people of other nationalities (including illegal immigrants), those who worship differently than you, Atheists, the other political party, and people who don’t like Peyton Manning AND/OR Tim Tebow.

Date: 12/12/12
Reading: When I Am Among the Trees
Author: Mary Oliver

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks, and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.” 

I’ve taken myself too seriously. I’ve taken you too seriously. You’ve taken you too seriously.

We are a people who take things and make them serious. We are so consumed with not having our power diminished by being seen as easy-going, laid-back, or light-hearted that we’ve forgotten that those things are not crimes! Instead they should be aspirations.

When I am tense, I make other tense and rarely do I get from either them or myself what I want or what is most beneficial. When I am calm…or easy…other respond to that and often it provides a new level of energy and glorious tension that makes things happen and gets work done.

Today I will bring calm energy to each situation. I will be direct and intentional with my words and actions. I will not close anyone off with my body language or with expectations of their ferocity or perfection. Instead I will make space for conversation, collaboration, and allow all who wish to speak to be heard.

Today I will remember that I have come into the world to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine!

Date 12/07/12
Reading: Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now
Author: Dr. Maya Angelou

“Many things continue to amaze me, even well into the sixth decade of my life. I’m startled or taken aback when people walk up to me and tell me they are Christians. My first response is the question “Already?” It seems to me a lifelong endeavor to try to live the life of a Christian. I believe that is also true for the Buddhist, for the Muslim, for the Jainist, for the Jew, and for the Taoist who try to live their beliefs. The idyllic condition cannot be arrived at and held on to eternally. It is in the search itself that one finds the ecstasy.”

I haven’t read this passage by Dr. Angelou in many many years. When I read it as a college student in a stifling  ultra-conservative, and suffocating environment, trying to find my long-silenced voice for the first time, I made the note “Is this true? Bc (because) if so, I’m tired just thinking about living.”

I smile at that note now. Dr. Maya was right. It is true. And life has been tiring at points…but pure ecstasy along the path. I smile at the girl I was at 19 thinking that I was a Christian and that was that. I smile because here I am…nearly 18 years later wondering what on earth it means to be a Christian and trying to grasp it and hang on. While my parents, my professors, and my church were trying to give me all the rules for getting my Christianity “right” I was reading Angelou, Lewis, Eliot, etc. and finding out that it would be a process and feeling defeated before the battle had begun.

But I’m learning Ms. Maya…I’m learning.

The path is the important part. The journey is important. We spend so much time looking at “the destination” or “the goal” and we just flat miss out on the walk. The beauty around us. The joy of laughter. The agony and delight of being in community. The blessing and curse of being a relational creature trying to serve a relational God and be like his relational Son.

I have stopped being an “are we there yet?” Christian…always hoping for heaven and waiting to be made perfect. Instead I’ve tried to become a “Stop and smell the roses” Christian who laughs, serves, heals, hopes, and loves her way to the finish line of this incarnation and just enjoys the mystery of the next. The first makes us lazy, entitled, and checked out. The latter pushes us to love others, make the world better now, and keep the promise of seeing Jesus’ face in our back pocket as a treat to pull out on the very hard days rather than the inevitable, hum-drum, ho-hum thing we can’t wait to have happen so we can be rescued. Instead of waiting to be rescued…I’m along for the wild ride and have thrown caution to the wind. I’m living so that with my last breath on this earth I can say “Been there. Done that. Helped Her. Loved Him. Got the tattoo! NEXT!?”

“I suddenly began to cry at the grandness of it all. I knew that if God loved me, then I could do wonderful things, I could try great things, learn anything, achieve anything. For what could stand against me with God, since one person, any person with God, constitutes the majority. That knowledge humbles me, melts my bones, closes my ears, and makes my teeth rock loosely in their gums. And also it liberates me. I am a big bird winging over high mountains, down into serene valleys. I am ripples of waves on silver seas. I’m a spring lead trembling in anticipation.” 

Date: 12/06/12
Reading: Help Thanks Wow: The 3 Essential Prayers
Author: Anne Lamott

“God keeps giving, forgiving, and inviting us back. My friend Tom says that this is a scandal and that God has no common sense. God doesn’t say ‘I have had it this time. You have taken this course four times and you flunked again. What a joke.’ We get to keep starting over. Lives change, sometimes quickly, but usually slowly.” 

As I read this I was struck first by the fact that there are some lessons that I just keep having to learn…over and over. Like keeping my own counsel (aka not bringing other folks down). Or assuming the best intent with I think someone is acting like a jerk. Another good one is not believing in my own invisibility…I’ve been learning that one since I was 6. 30 years and I sometimes I still forget that I’m valuable, seen, loved, and important…and so I can stop acting out and being a brat? Seriously? 30 freaking years?

It is a good thing God doesn’t throw in the towel on us. It is a good thing that he doesn’t have any “common sense”. I need a God bigger than the ghosts from my past…tougher than my old scar tissue…and more generous than the most giving of the Forbes 100 richest people. I need a God who is a philanthropist…a kick-ass philanthropist (for you lovers of Seinfeld).

Anne’s friend Tom is right…God is scandalous.

I want to be scandalous like God. Someone who others look at and say “She has no common sense when it comes to loving other people. She doesn’t have very good criteria and she gives them so much space to be themselves. I don’t know how she manages to not get walked all over but still offers love unconditionally. I don’t understand why she just let’s people be themselves around her and doesn’t demand they follow the rules.”

I’m not there…but I’m working on it. The only way for me to do that is to turn fear away at the door. Fear of being mistreated, fear of being hurt, fear of not getting what I need, fear of being taken advantage of, fear of my own anger, fear of not following the rules. I have to believe that love is big enough to win and that God cares enough to bring me through whatever storm hits when I’m acting scandalously on his behalf.

God I believe…help me in my unbelief!

Date: 12/04/12
Reading: A Return to Love
Author: Marianne Williamson

“Sometimes people think that calling on God means inviting a force into our lives that will make everything rosy. The truth is, it means inviting everything into our lives that will force us to grow—and growth can be messy. The purpose of life is to grow into our perfection. Once we call on God, everything that could anger us is on the way. Why? Because the place where we go into anger instead of love is our wall. Any situation that pushes our buttons is a situation where we don’t yet have the capacity to be unconditionally loving. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to draw our attention to that, and to help us move beyond that point.” 

I am going through a growth spurt. Well…I’m not getting taller but I’m experiencing the messy growing pains of inviting the force that is God into my life. The Divine doesn’t mess around when given room to redesign you from the inside out. She is not a “slap some new paint on that mess and call it a day” kind of God. Instead God tends to do demolition first…taking you down to the beams and foundation. Only when you are able to see what you are made of…what is hiding under the clothes, makeup, and polish that we each take into the world every day…will God start to do reconstruction.

I’ve had this rework done more than once in my life but I think I shut down the job site before God could get to the bones of this house. Not this time. This time I’ve determined to stay the course. To let the one who created me, do some recreating. More likely it is a work of taking me back to the original finish. Over the years I’ve put up some shitty wood paneling and some ugly shag carpet. But what God knows, that no one else knows, is that when you pull that crap up there are gorgeous floors and walls that will shine through with some work.

I’m not at unconditional love yet. I still get angry when I feel invisible or not heard. I find it a struggle to show respect to a person who I feel doesn’t respect me. I can be mean spirited and say hateful things with a laugh. I struggle to let go of hurts when they come from people who I believed loved me.

I want enlightenment…and a loving spirit…and to release that positive energy flow into the world. I know the only way to get there is to release myself to the work of the Best Interior Designer in the universe.

Holy Spirit…come do your work.

Date: 12/02/12
Reading: Living the Wisdom of the Tao
Author: Lao-tzu & Dr. Wayne Dyer

“With the greatest leader above them, people barely know one exists.
Next comes one whom the love and praise.
Next comes one whom they fear.
Next comes one whom they despise and defy. 
When a leader trusts no one, no one trusts him. 
The great leader speaks little.
He never speaks carelessly
He works without self-interest and leaves no trace.
When all is finished, the people say, “We did it ourselves.” 

As a “follower” I’ve always believed that my job was to make the person who put me in my position look like a genius for hiring or choosing me. And as a leader I’ve always tried (though not always successfully) to make myself invisible while elevating those around me. Both acts are difficult because we are humans…we are prideful…and the world tends to look for the leader and ignore those in the trenches or doing the foot work.

Over the past couple of years I’ve been dismayed by the type of leadership I’ve seen…and served…in the workplace, at church, in politics, etc. These are not the leaders that people “barely know exist” that Lao-tzu speaks of. Instead they are leaders who are so “BIG” in their presence that it steals the air from the room. These are leaders who pay no attention and then swoop in to “save the day” making things more frantic than when they were disengaged. These are leaders who don’t engender love or fear and who no one can despise. These are leaders that instead create indifference, ambivalence  and frustration.

To be fair, for most of them this is what was modeled to them by their leaders past and present. These are not malicious and manipulative people in most cases. These are well intended men and women who are just sidetracked by their inability to lead while creating unity, consensus, and brilliance.

If you are a person (like me) who sometimes leads without trying, you must become more aware. Aware of how you treat those on the team. Aware of what you ask for from others AND from yourself. Aware of what you dare to hope can come from collaboration and unwilling to lower your standards to patriarchy, tyranny, or mediocrity. How will we begin to see beauty, truth, and produce needful things for the world until we step into leadership and ask those around us to step into it too.

There will always be enough people, projects, groups, governments, etc. to lead. Stop worrying about position and start worrying about output. Am I…is my team…producing something valuable, beneficial, and GOOD into the world? Can I lead others in such a way that when they get to the end, I’m no longer noticeable and instead they see their own talents or the grace of God over all things?

I have to ask myself…can I…will I…lead this way???

Date: 12/01/12
Reading: “Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers”
Author: Anne Lamott

“Most of us figure out by a certain age–some of us later than others–that life unspools in cycles, some lovely, some painful, but in no predictable order. So you could have lovely, painful, and painful again, which I think we all agree is not at all fair. You don’t have to like it, and you are always welcome to file a brief with the Complaints Department. But if you’ve been around for a while, you know that much of the time, if you are patient and are paying attention, you will see that God will restore what the locusts have taken away.” 

Funny how despite the discovery that pain and joy can come to us in equal…and sometimes completely UN-equal measure… we are still always surprised when it comes. Humans seem to think that figuring out one bit of your life and catching some relief means that there won’t be anymore pain. At least not for a while. But that is not how life works. sometimes we end up in a terrible tailspin of bad circumstances. And the lovely stays away too long

I’m learning that what we do in the terrible seems to be critical…for me and for others.

Am I grateful? Am I willing to be of service to those in need? Am I willing to look outside of myself, despite the pain, and offer what I most need as a sacrifice to others during these times? Am I learning the lessons during this season of ugliness that I’m supposed to learn?

What will you and I do while waiting on the lovely?

Date: 11/30/12
Reading: The Power of Intention
Author: Dr. Wayne Dyer

“Your imagination allows you the fabulous luxury of thinking from the end. There’s no stopping anyone who can think from the end. You create the means and surmount limitations in connection with your desires. In imagination, dwell on the end, fully confident that it’s there in the material world and that you can use the ingredients of the all-creative Source to make it tangible. … If imagination works for God, then surely it works for you, too. Through imagination, God imagines everything into reality. This is your new strategy as well.” 

Thinking from the end. That’s what a good Product Manager does. It’s what a good parent should be doing. It’s what a smart investor does. Jesus and the author of Hebrews both talk about thinking from the end (John 14 & Hebrews 12). Living life with an imagination that allows you to imagine finishing the marathon, raising the child, finishing college, being with Jesus in a new place, surviving Christmas, losing the weight, paying off the debt, owning the pet store/book store/bar…whatever. 🙂

The very act of all of those things and the details that go into each can be overwhelming and discouraging. But if you use your creativity and imagination you can see the end. You can feel the health, freedom, well-being, peace, etc. as it all comes together to match your intention. We get so caught up in just surviving the day to day that we lose sight of the end. We stop living abundantly and concentrate on the abundant effort it takes to live.

I once had a mentor who often asked me “Leah, what’s your end game?” or “Are you playing a short-game  here or do you have a long-game in mind?” (Note: He also spoke in Sports Metaphors a lot.)  That resonates with me. Recently I think I’ve lost sight of the end game. I need to go back to my imagination and start setting some intention…and imagine my way into the things that I want.

What’s your end game??

Date: 11/28/12
Reading: A Return to Love
Author: Marianne Williamson

“As uncomfortable as our life might be, as painful or even desperate at times, the life we’re living is the life we know, and we cling to the old rather than try something new. Most of us are so sick of ourselves, in one way or another. It’s unbelievable how tenaciously we cling to what we’ve prayed to be released from. … Lucifer was the most beautiful angel in Heaven before he fell. The ego is our self-love turned into self-hatred.”

Today I’m thinking of the ways that I am sick of myself. Sick of allowing my self-love to turn into self-hatred. I can think of several immediately…acts of violence against myself that I would never allow a friend to do to themselves. Things I’ve said. Things I’ve done or allowed to linger. Choices I’ve made in the name of self-preservation that have been in conflict with my true, divine nature.

I’m reminded that someone many years ago turned my beauty, vulnerability, desire to please, willingness to serve, and need for affection into something ugly. He turned it into something that he could use for his own pleasure and for my pain. I was a means to an end and the end was his gratification and my wounding. The stories abused children tell themselves are so difficult to unwind and reprogram. This is the ultimate in turning self-love (all the things that make me me…beauty, vulnerability, desire to please, willingness to serve, need for affection) into self-hatred (attempting to hide beauty with weight or plainness, hardness of heart, self-protection, distinct picky-ness over who I allow close.)

I’ve made a significant transition these last 5 or 6 years…but it isn’t easy. I can tell you from experience that when you begin to choose the things that are acts of self-love, some will turn away from you. The very people who you hope to win over by changing, will often be the ones who are uninterested in a changed you. We don’t like unpredictability…and even with a bad person we’d prefer them to be predictable to good.

What will I choose today…Joy or pain? Love or fear? Safety or risk? Will I be the best version of myself for others and for my own benefit? Or will I be unchanged in order to keep everyone quiet, comfortable, and in an unrocked boat?

Here’s to standing up in the row boat and dancing around a bit…it might make folks nervous and maybe even annoy them. But what’s the worst that can happen? They fall in and get a little wet!? No worries…I know how to swim. I’ll help you to shore! 🙂

Date: 11/27/12
Reading: A Return to Love
Author: Marianne Williamson

“Although we may not realize it, most of us are violent people–not necessarily physically, but emotionally. We have been brought up in a world that does not put love first, and where love is absent, fear sets in. Fear is to love as darkness is to light. It’s a terrible absence of what we need in order to survive.”

Lately…or maybe forever…I have been struggling with how to release fear and give in to love. It’s not that I like or appreciate fear. On the contrary, I find it to be debilitating and a thief of joy. But fear runs deep. Sometimes I do something completely out of what I believe is habit only to discover that I’m fearful of what will happen if I let go and just act from love. Love for myself, for others, for the planet. Instead I’ve asked fear to protect me and fear has been an utter failure.

Fear is comfortable. It’s like the pajamas of emotions. Except the pajamas are too tight or itchy or hot and they don’t help you sleep…but you think they will.

Love is the dangerous choice. Love will take you on adventure. Love will force you to look at yourself and other people in a new light. Love will ask you to change your words, your actions, your beliefs, and your methods. Love is not fearful…and because it lacks fear it is often reckless  joyful, and a little loony. But with love comes peace, healing, and relationship. With love comes a new way to move in the world and the ability to send fear on it’s way.

Today…maybe every hour…probably every minute or so…I choose love.

Date: 11/26/12
Reading: “Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers”
Author: Anne Lamott

“If I were going to begin practicing the presence of God for the first time today, it would help to begin by admitting the three most terrible truths of our existence: that we are so ruined, and so loved, and in charge of so little.”  (pg 27)

Once again dear Anne hits the nail so squarely on the head I can feel the hammer vibrate in MY hand.

We are so in need of a good redemption story. We are so in need of reconciliation…to the world…to our creator…to others…to ourselves. And yet we are so terrified of what it says to be an out of control, train-wreck of a person, who carries about inside of them the love of God. Oh…we are okay with being “love”…except that if we knew what that really means in terms of how we should treat others and ourselves, we might say “Never mind.”

But God forbid anyone recognize our stinky mess of a life. Most of us, on our best day, are still standing ankle deep in shit that we’ve created or inherited or been too dishonest to acknowledge or taken a shovel full from someone else’s pile. And all the spritzes and sprays of perfume won’t kill the stink. All we can do is say “Hey…you stink too? Terrific! Want to come over and talk about it? I’ll make some scones and a pot of coffee.”

Here’s to the friends who you share your shit with! May they be bountiful, a little crazy, and love you in spite of your stink!

Happy Monday!

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5 responses »

  1. I LOVE this quote “Fear is comfortable. It’s like the pajamas of emotions. Except the pajamas are too tight or itchy or hot and they don’t help you sleep…but you think they will.” Wow. Thank you for that analogy. It’s so funny when I act out of character and the root of nearly all anxiety and every argument with my soulmate spouse is rooted in my own fear or his. It’s so funny how quickly we resolve things if one of us can kindly ask in the moment and with love “what are you afraid of right now, my love?”. It’s like it shocks you out of the numbness that fear caused to settle in.

    • Exactly! In moments of peri menopausal ‘psychoses’, I have to ask not only what I am afraid of but why am I so afraid of not meeting my selfish desires which ultimately have no nourishment to either I or anyone else for that matter?

  2. My dearest friend. You. Are. Incredible. You speak and write what The Holy of Holiest Spirits gives you and in the most eloquent way. Aug 26th’s entry was like God lifting me up onto his lap, and Him loving & showing his little girl, who hasn’t been able to figure out what the connection between her creating and her dwelling on Phil 4: 8,9 is for the past 3 weeks. Finally, I now understand and have that peace he’s talking about. You are that channel or instrument of that provision of peace. Thank you. Thank you for not holding back.

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