Sunday, December 18, 2011


“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” -G.K. Chesterton
I missed the “I’m thankful for...” blogging boat that sailed in late November.  Bloggers near and far wrote beautiful, humorous, challenging, profound posts about things, people, events, experiences, opportunities, etc. that they’re thankful for, inspired (appropriately) by the Thanksgiving holiday.  Even those one-point-five-posts-a-year bloggers jumped on board and blogged about their gratitude.  I, on the other hand, for a variety of reasons, did not.  Slack blogger that I am, I missed the “thankful” boat, but guess what, faithful readers?  All four of you are about to read a belated (but no less sincere) post on gratitude.  There.  The closure I know you’ve been waiting for.  You’re welcome.    
Back in August, I wrote a post in which I listed some of the abundant blessings in my life that sometimes overwhelm me with gratitude.  Some were "big ones" (family, husband, home, etc.), and some were less obvious (but no less amazing) "little ones" that do to my life what chocolate chips do to a batch of brownies: take what was already unbelievably delicious and somehow make it even sweeter.    
Yes, I am hungry and, incidentally, craving chocolate.  Ahem. 
Anyway. Take a look at the partial list of blessings, believe me when I say that I meant every word I said in the post, and please be graceful with me in this confession:  I sometimes go days at a time without taking a moment to pause and be really, truly, deeply, intensely thankful.  
Isn’t that crazy?  All those tangible and intangible blessings, many more than I listed, so many things I didn’t earn and don’t deserve, gifted to me to experience on a daily basis.  How do I not spend every waking moment overcome with gratitude?  How is it possible that I only feel it in fleeting instances?  Can you believe it?  
My hunch is that many of you can, because I don’t think I’m alone on this one.  I think it’s really easy to get accustomed to having these gifts in our life.  It’s really easy to convince ourselves that we are still somehow slighted in spite of them.  It's really easy to become bitter.  Really easy to slip into an attitude of entitlement--an attitude that I often notice all too often in others but fail to recognize in myself, though it is certainly there.  It’s really easy to get fixated on life’s inconveniences, unfortunate coincidences, and difficulties, and become blind to its beauties and deaf to its songs. In the words of writer Aldous Huxley, "most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted".  
We are blessed beyond belief, beyond merit, and beyond measure, in the truest sense of the phrase.  It’s impossible to count our blessings, because they’re innumerable.  And yet, some days, I often don’t even count enough of them to use both hands.  Here’s the craziest part, too: Even if I had nothing--no possessions to enjoy, no family or husband to love, no education to pursue, no horses to ride, no mountains to climb, no chocolate to eat (sorry, stream of consciousness)--even if I had none of those things, I would still have one gift that is undeserved and unearned and strong and beautiful and gentle and precious and freeing and life-altering and earth-shaking and eternity-changing enough to overwhelm me with gratitude to the point of tears.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, ask me sometime.  It’s one of those gifts that you can give away and still not lose.  
Yes, it’s really easy to slide into ungratefulness.  It’s a sneaky, gradual process, but thankfully (thankfully!) it is neither unavoidable nor irreversible.  I don’t pretend to have it all figured out, since by my own admission I’m certainly not the paragon of a thankful person, but I’m beginning to think that ungratefulness is a disease of the mind that affects the heart, and then flourishes in some kind of feedback loop. (Side note: I’m sure there’s been tons of research done on this stuff, and psychologists would probably cringe if they read this blog, but hey, I never claimed to be a professional).  For the sake of argument, let’s assume I’m at least partly right.  It follows, then, that if we are to cultivate a spirit of thankfulness, we must be careful to “guard our minds”, so to speak--to be really aware of the kinds of thoughts we allow to make themselves at home up there, and to distinguish between the real truths and the lies that our minds have confused as truths.  And because it’s so easy to lose perspective and confuse the two, I think if we are to cultivate a lasting lifestyle and sincere spirit of gratitude, we need to ask for help from something, someone, outside of ourselves--someone full of grace and truth--to help us change from the inside out.  
I think I'll take a moment now to pause and just be thankful.  Join me?  

“Be thankful in all circumstances.” -1 Thessalonians 5:18
“...be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” -Romans 12:2
“God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today.  Have you used one to say ‘thank you?’” -William A. Ward

Monday, September 26, 2011


Welcome to another poetry Sunday... on Monday! I intended to post something yesterday, but then... well, then I didn't. While I'm breaking rules, I'm actually going to post song lyrics for this week's poetry:

Awake My Soul

Arches of reaching limbs
Crickets sing secret hymns
Over all of us

Tickle across our palms
Lit up like diamonds drawn
From the black above

Awake my soul to live this moment
Awake my soul, 
give thanks and hold it
Dear now
God is here now
Awake my soul

Day ends
And brown eyes smile back at me
She wipes my kiss from her cheek
After last “Amen”

Hush away the hurry
Put to rest the worry
Come to quell and quiet me
In this moment given
Slow and fully live it
Drink up all the passing peace

Awake my soul to live this moment
Awake my soul,
 give thanks and hold it
Dear now
Be here now
God is here now
Awake my soul

-Shaun Groves © 2011 Simplicity Street Music/ASCAP

Oh, to find peace and beauty in every passing moment. To be truly present. To be here, now. To not anticipate. To simply be. Each moment invites us to slow, to be awake, present, alive. Grateful. I've heard it said that we should "practice the presence of God". I still don't fully grasp what that means, but I think these lyrics have something to do with it. Be here, now. God is here, now. Here as we walk across campus and feel the sunshine on our faces, here as we smile at the woman behind the counter at the coffee shop, here as we sing, here as we wait, here as we work, here as we sit and listen to crickets and catch fireflies, here as we grieve, here as we celebrate.  Be here, now, because God is here, now. Slow and fully live.  Awake.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


"No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. " - C.S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis was a wise man (not that you needed me to tell you that). When my brother died in 2008, I experienced a lot of emotions, all of which I suppose I could have anticipated--except for the fear. It came in various disguises, expressed itself in various ways, and showed up unexpectedly at the strangest times and places. Just a few nights after Kevin passed away, it came in the middle of the night: The fear that I would forget him. So immediately, I got up and started writing--stream of consciousness style--all the random memories and thoughts and associations and feelings that came to mind.

Today, Kevin would have turned 30 years old. I want to celebrate his birth, his life, his influence on my life. I want to remember. And so, here it is--a selection of a few of the memories I scribbled down on a notepad that night almost 3 years ago.
Kevin loved pumpkin spice coffee with honey.  He smelled like cologne and cigarettes, and had dimples when he smiled.  His eyes were unbelievably blue, and his skin was tan from working outside.  He was a metal roofer. 
He came to watch Dad and me perform at a New Year's Eve event and stayed for our entire show.  He told us it was really good, and I think he meant it. 
He loved to give things to people to make them feel special, like expensive earrings he bought for a girl who had never been given anything nice, even though he didn’t really have the money to do it.  Our last Christmas together, he gave me a teacher’s calendar because he wanted to give me something that fit me personally.  He was proud of me. 
He was a wonderful usher in our wedding.  He was so handsome, and I was proud of him walking Mom down the aisle in front of all those people. 
When we were little, we used to stay up on Christmas eve and talk to each other from our rooms over an intercom.  We used to make “wood carvings” late into summer nights under the street lamp by the woodpile in our backyard.  On hot summer days we’d eat orange juice popsicles on the steps of the back porch.  We were rivals at piano when we were first learning how to play--he could memorize music better than I could.  When we visited family in southwest Virginia, he and I explored the countryside together.  In our own town, we braved the woods and creeks of our neighborhood and others nearby.  We took hikes to Wolf Creek with Mom and our dog.  We built ramps for our sleds when it snowed and had "collision wars" while we raced down the hills.  We played spotlight tag, baseball, basketball, and smear with the neighborhood kids--all boys.  He was my big brother. 
Growing up, he did Aikido-Jujitsu.  He especially liked doing the rolls.  He was a great swimmer, and my goal was always to beat his times. We went rock climbing together in West Virginia one summer, and we went white water rafting as a family almost every year.
He once put a dead scorpion in my rabbit’s cage as a joke.  When we were really, really little he tried to get me to eat rabbit poop in the yard by telling me it was raisins. 
As an adult, he liked to show off the roofs he installed--especially the frighteningly steep ones.  He was always a risk taker, always pushing the limits. 
He always loved me. 
He liked Stephen King novels, moose tracks ice cream, and spicy food.  He bought a jet ski that quit working on its first trip out.   He once rode one of my horses while simultaneously smoking a cigarette.  I was so mad, but he just laughed and told me to quit worrying about it. 
The last time we went skiing, he skied down the toughest run over and over and over again, as fast as he could, barely in control but loving every second of it. 
He was so, so intelligent and analytical, so perceptive and observant.  So sensitive to the smallest, subtlest looks and comments.
I remember his hands--strong, rough, sturdy, and always warm.  I remember when he said “I love you” at the end of a phone conversation when I was upset.  I remember him texting me to say "Happy New Year!" the last New Year’s Eve we had together.  I still have that text.  I remember how he would come over to the house for dinner after he'd moved out, and how he would always hug me before he left the house. 
He was my big brother, and I was his little sister, and we loved each other.  Always.  

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Poetry Sunday: A Future Not Our Own

It's Poetry Sunday!  I read this poem when I was a junior in college, and it really connected with me. Last week I was going through some old boxes of stuff in preparation for our move, and I found a copy of it. It speaks to me now just as much as it did then, and I hope it will speak to you as well. It's written by a former archbishop from El Salvador, Oscar Arnulfo Romero (1917-1980):

Prophets of a Future Not Our Own
It helps now and then to step back and take a long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a small fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us. 
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything. 
This is what we are about:
We plant the seeds that will one day grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities. 
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it well.
It may be incomplete but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest. 
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.  
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. 
We are prophets of a future not our own.
I love it… we cannot do everything, but that is liberating rather than disheartening. We're workers. We're ministers. We're not the master builder. We're pieces of this great, huge, complicated, beautiful, messy story. So let us plant seeds, let us water seeds already sewn, let us lay foundations, let us do something and do it well. Let us dive in head first with full hearts and clear eyes. And even in the midst of serving and loving and reconciling, even as we pour ourselves into the roles set before us, even as we focus keenly on making a difference in the here and now, let us be ever mindful that beyond the clear and vivid present is the blurrier "long view" on the horizon--a future that is ultimately not our own.

"I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow." -1 Corinthians 3:6

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Times Like These

This morning my heart is full of the many beautiful, good things in my life.  I’m thinking of these things, dwelling on them, because otherwise I might get lost in a sea of questions and worry.  Many areas of my life are changing--some too quickly, some too slowly, a few not at all--and these kinds of weird, out-of-sync, sort-of-transitional-but-kind-of-not periods of life have a history of messing with my head.  This time is no different.   My mind gets overrun with panicky brainwaves sprinting back and forth and in circles, getting me nowhere but exhausted.  What if... what do I... when should I... where should we... but then... and what about... This brain of mine has an astounding ability to freak itself out in times like these.  It started doing it again a few weeks ago.  
The great thing about brains, though, is that they keep a record of the past--the past which is full of times just like these--times like these that turned out fine...better than fine, even.  Did you know that it’s actually possible to slow down, maybe even stop, those frantic, worried brainwaves?  I’m slowly (ever so slowly) learning how.  This morning, I decided that when crazy thoughts are running rampantly back and forth and side to side and ear to ear, I will take a breath and try to direct them backward.  I will send them on a gentle stroll down memory lane to visit previous “times like these” that have resulted in a stronger faith, a more compassionate heart, deeper relationships, exciting new experiences, and better character.  
I decided that when I start worrying about where we’re going to live in a few weeks, I will choose to remember that God provided every time I worried about the same thing in years past.  When I start worrying about where we’re going to store our stuff if we have to move somewhere small and/or furnished, I will choose to remember that in the not-so-distant past we didn’t have much stuff at all--and we were just fine.  I will choose to remember what a blessing it is to have stuff to worry about storing, be grateful for the potential opportunity to share our stuff with others, and take advantage of the chance to simplify.  When I start getting overwhelmed by the responsibilities, commitments, and activities in my life, I will choose to view them not as obligations but as opportunities to serve, learn, love, and live more fully.  I will choose to focus on things that I am passionate about, things that I’m great at, and things that God has clearly asked me to be a part of, and I will let the other things rest.  When I start to worry about finding the perfect job in the perfect place, I will choose to remember that I'm part of a bigger story than my own, and simply trust things to come together as they should.  
I will choose to dwell on the gifts I have in my life: A husband who loves me more every day, and tells me so.  Fresh produce provided by friends.  A job where I have the daily opportunity to support the college’s mission to “improve your world.”  E-mails and handmade cards from old friends who helped shape me into who I am, gave me the best memories I could ask for, and helped me grow through hard times.  Coffee with new friends who inspire me.  Thesis work that challenges me and forces me to make a choice--either stick with it and figure it out, or give up and have nothing to show for it.  Family who love, encourage, and support me.  A rich ancestry of amazing people with amazing stories, and a great aunt who cataloged and recorded it all with great care.  Cool summer evenings.  Horseback rides at dusk through the hayfields on a crazy thoroughbred who has captured my heart.  Journals and pictures from past experiences in Appalachia and Honduras that changed my entire outlook on life, the world, possessions, and happiness.  A lovely guitar.  Musical ability that allows me to play, sing, and worship, but little enough of it that I am constantly humbled and reminded that it’s not about me.  Really good coffee.  The chance to be involved with projects helping revitalize the city economically, socially, and environmentally.  Waking up to Brooke Fraser music on the alarm clock.  Homemade granola.  On and on and on and on and on...
I will dwell on these gifts, be thankful, and remember that “times like these” help make us who we are.  

"I know the plans I have for you…. They are plans for peace and not disaster, plans to give you a future filled with hope." -Jeremiah 29:11
"We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" -Romans 8:28

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Three Questions with Shaun Groves

Yesterday on his blog, Shaun Groves offered an exciting opportunity to bloggers and everyday folks like me: "To spread the word about the music and message of Third World Symphony I'm offering any blogger a limited interview opportunity.  Three questions.  About anything you want, but only three questions."

Game on. 
If you've never heard of Shaun Groves, or if you only know him as that-tall-musician-guy-who-wrote-that-Twilight-song-back-in-the-day, then it's my pleasure to introduce him to you now!  He is a talented singer/songwriter, as well as a speaker, writer, and Compassion International blogger, among other things.  You can read his story here to get a fuller picture of who he is and what he's about, and then check out his answers to my questions below.  What he's saying is important, thought-provoking, and challenging, so take a while to mull it over (and then preview and consider ordering his newest album, which is infused with some of the themes of this interview).  There's a lot more to chew on today than I'll ever be able to provide in my own blogging, so… enjoy!

Me: What are the 2-3 most important things that we (middle-class US citizens) could learn from Compassion children and their families?

Shaun: What  great question. Thankful for the humility behind this question. I wish I'd learned earlier in life how much those we aim to help can really help us.
Let's see. The three most important lessons...

For me personally I'd say gratitude, joy, and gospel. That's what Compassion children and their families have taught me about most. If everything is a gift from God, manna and quail in the wilderness, used by God to guide us to God, then God is paying a lot of attention- my life is full of His gifts. That first breath in the morning. Daily bread. A body and mind that work as well as any other thirty-seven year-old's. Air conditioning. And to hear a mother with less than all this- in twenty-four square feet, with a sick child, with no work, ninety-eight degrees inside and outside- to hear her thank God for just Jesus is convicting and inspiring all at once. So, gratitude is the first lesson- that if I have Jesus I am rich, blessed, and have reason to give thanks.

And second, is joy. We could parse Greek on this but how boring for a word like joy! Call it security based on dependence upon God or call it spiritual happiness- I don't care. I just know it when I see it. And I see it in mothers walking miles to gather in a church to learn how to make formula for their babies, laughing together in a circle on the floor, dancing with their babies and singing songs to God at the close of the meeting. I see it in an eleven year-old in Kolkata, India who sang Lord I LIft Your Name On High while walking through an open-air brothel- a firefly in the darkest darkness. There is joy that comes from God only, from trust and dependence, from seeing each meal as evidence of His presence and love. Joy in all things because Christ is with us in all things.

Lastly, gospel. In America we mostly preach a gospel that is Christ crucified, buried and resurrected for the forgiveness of sins and defeat of death. I affirm that. But it is only half the gospel. If this is all the gospel then the poor can only wait for death to come- this is their hope, their only relief. But Jesus preached a gospel that he declared was "Good News to the poor." Elsewhere he said it was "God's will on earth as it is in heaven." Why is this gospel good for the poor? Well, Jesus said it would bring sight to the blind, freedom to captives, release to those oppressed. The pastors of the poor preach this- they call it "the kingdom of God" because, well, that's what Jesus called it. Jesus, through His people and by the power of the Spirit, can reign and rule now, defeating not only sin and death someday but this day. This is why I heard a pastor in Ethiopia pray for justice, food, good rain, jobs and on and on. Because He believes God cares about these physical temporal needs and not just the spiritual and eternal ones. 

Me: Have you ever felt a desire to move to one of the developing nations you've visited with Compassion, and if so (or if not) what has led you to stay here in the states

Shaun: Another great question! Yes. The first trip I took with Compassion International was to El Salvador back in 2005. And I wanted to move there. We've even talked over the years of splitting our time between Nashville and San Salvador- living here most of the year but spending summers there.

We've decided not to do this for a couple reasons. First, not everyone should go overseas- especially to nations where the church is strong and growing. Missiologists generally agree that the most effective and longstanding ministry is done by indigenous people- Salvadorans ministering to Salvadorans. And there are plenty of Christians in most of the nation to successfully spread the gospel in this way. What we looked at doing was serving these believers in some way behind the scenes that would make their ministry possible. We're still pondering this and maybe someday we'll move.

The main reason we have not gone yet though is because of Compassion International. Their ministry- through local churches- is extremely effective, the gold standard in holistic child development. As I've sought advise from friends at Compassion they've continually asserted that I'm more help to them by being one of their voices to the churches in the first world than I'd be doing anything else in the third world...at the moment. But that could change. And I'm ready if it does.

Me: What advice would you give to 20-somethings who want to use their lives to help build the kingdom?  

Shaun: A couple things come to mind. First, start with what you have where you are. I've met college students who ask me what they should do on the mission field when they graduate. And I always ask them what they're doing on their mission field at college right now. Most college towns have a rundown neighborhood, a homeless shelter, a family assistance center, a poorer school, a nursing home. Most campuses have students in abusive relationships, tangled up in addiction, non-Christians, new Christians in need of mentoring, depression, doubt, anxiety. There's plenty to be done with what you have right where you are. And neglecting to do what you can with what you have right now- I feel terrible saying this- makes me wonder about your motives for wanting to be a missionary someday. We love because we've been loved. Because Jesus is in us loving through us. If we've motivated by a loving Jesus inside us, then why not start now.

Second thing that came to mind is to think. It's cool to care right now. What's happening now with today's college students was predicted by sociologists many years ago. This generation was predicted to be "civic" and they are. Activism is in. But thinking before and during acting is much more rare. My fear is that this generation will do a lot of stuff to help a lot of people and then, someday, look back and see that they didn't make the difference they thought they would and get as cynical and apathetic as the last civic generation- the Baby Boomers- did. What a missed opportunity that would be! So I applaud your love, your passion. I admire your creativity and energy. But I beg you to think. Don't buy a RED t-shirt before researching how much of that price tag goes to help people. Don't go on a construction mission trip without asking if the work you're doing is taking work from locals. Don't do and give without first thinking. A great place to begin is reading When Helping Hurts by Brian Fickert. Great thoughts on compassionate living that does the most good and no harm.
Thanks so much, Shaun, for sharing your thoughts with us, and thank you especially for letting God use you in a big way.  Lives are being changed.
And one last reminder to readers: be sure to check out a preview of Shaun's newest album, Third World Symphony, which you can order here.  

Monday, July 4, 2011


Today is a day that commemorates the United States’ independence and celebrates its commitment to freedom.  I am humbled and grateful for the privilege of living here... truly, truly thankful.  With everything and everyone so focused on our political freedom, though, I’m reminded of the many other ways that we and our brothers and sisters around the world can still be enslaved.  I’m haunted by the chains that threaten to bind us and them again and again--some a result of our own decisions and choices, some a result of circumstances that are no fault of our own.  Injustice, poverty, depression, bitterness, addiction, withheld forgiveness, past regrets, oppression, pride... so, so many chains.  

I was thinking of these chains when I remembered a similar internal conversation I had with myself a few years ago while working in a poor area outside of Tegucigalpa, Honduras.  I had been there for a couple of months helping with community development work, and I was feeling overwhelmed by the unspeakable physical need and the constant threat of gang violence I saw in the colonia where I was working...overwhelmed by the poverty and oppression that threatened to imprison the people who lived there.  Anyway, the conversation went something like this (excerpted from my journal... it’s a bit of a roundabout journey, inspired by a time of worship I’d had that day with my new Honduran friends, so bear with me): 
Portrait of joy sprung from 
despair in Villa Franca
“....God gave us an amazing blessing when he gave us the gift of music.  It’s such a wonderful gift, because whether you can sing or play an instrument or not, music has a way of touching souls and speaking to hearts in a way that not many other things can.  This morning I was reading about Paul and Silas’ imprisonment in Acts 16.  After being stripped and beaten severely, they were bound and thrown into prison with hardened criminals.  And there, trapped in a dark, dank, gray, hopeless prison cell, they began ‘praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them’ (16:25).  In the midst of those disheartening, discouraging circumstances, with the eminent threat of death or, at the least, additional beatings, Paul and Silas found joy and peace in singing songs that declared the glory of their Lord.
My friend S____, in her awesomeness, sent me a letter today with some quotes from Shawshank Redemption (a movie that takes place in a prison... if you haven’t seen it, then stop reading right now--seriously, stop--and go watch it.  Amazing movie).  One character, Red, is remembering a day when another prisoner somehow managed to get his hands on an Italian record, which he played over the loudspeaker.  Red says, ‘I have no idea to this day what them two Italian ladies were singin’ about.  I like to think they were singin’ about something so beautiful it can’t be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it.  I tell you, those voices soared.  Higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream.  It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away...and for the briefest of moments--every last man at Shawshank felt free.’
I imagine that’s what it was like when Paul and Silas were in prison, only the feeling lasted more than ‘the briefest of moments’ because they knew, and I think the other prisoners could sense, that their freedom was eternal. 
Friends in Villa Franca
I want the same thing for Villa Franca, and I felt a piece of it today while singing with my new friends. It’s not a literal prison, of course, but surely it must feel like it to live there sometimes...struggling to survive, living amidst gangs and constant violence, oppressed by poverty, trapped in a life in which there seems to be no rest.... The people of Villa Franca need the kind of music that can set them free forever.  They need a sweet melody to come and free them to dream.  That song is coming, and indeed, it’s already here, growing louder and stronger, piercing those  crumbling gray walls and echoing off the scrap-metal ceilings.  That song is moving through Villa Franca, bringing hope and helping hearts soar ‘higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream’....”
Freedom's rising, one changed
life at a time.  
Sitting here in a comfortable house on a beautiful Independence Day, Villa Franca seems words away.  But you know, I want the same thing today as I wanted then.  I want it for this city as much as I want it for Villa Franca.  And we *need* it just as much as Villa Franca.  Our chains may be different, but they’re there nonetheless--able to be bind, but able to be broken.  
I want the intensely beautiful melody of real, lasting freedom to pierce the walls of my heart, and I want to join in a song that grows louder and stronger until it is heard, felt, and experienced by this city, this region, this nation.  Let us thirst for real liberation.  Let us desire and pursue freedom that can’t be given or taken away by anything or anyone in this world.  Let us experience it, and let us share it.  
“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.  Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken.  At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.” -Acts 16:25-26
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” -John 8:36

"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yolk?" -Isaiah 58:6

Sunday, May 29, 2011


Sultan, a fun, smart, sweet, spastic,
sometimes brainless, neurotic
A random collection of thoughts I had today: 
  1. How do I already have a farmer’s tan (read: burn) when it’s not even June yet and I live in the City of Perpetual Cloudiness?
  2. Lilacs smell amazing.  
  3. Those miniature lava cakes that are crispy/fluffy out the outside and gooey on the inside are crazy good.  The apple muffins I just made are just like those miniature lava cakes.  Only difference is that they’re not crazy good.  Quite gross, actually.  
  4. Showing sincere appreciation towards someone goes a long way towards earning that person’s respect.  Bonus if it’s done in actions, not just words.  
  5. Thoroughbreds are fun, smart, and sweet as can be, but also potentially spastic, brainless, and neurotic.  That’s why I love them.  
  6. Memorial Day actually lasts for at least 3 1/2 days.  
  7. I must get out on a river in the next couple of weeks, or... well, I don’t know.  But I need to do it. 
  8. PCs are pathetic.  So are their commercials.
  9. They say hot whiskey makes a sore throat feel better.  I wonder if drinking it cold will do the same thing.  (Trying it currently.  I’ll let you know how it works out).  
  10. The last couple of inches of liquid/sludge in a homebrew bucket looks a lot like the water/muck in a vernal pool.  
  11. Everybody needs to be loved.  So many of the world’s problems exist because people don’t feel loved often or deeply enough. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011


It might seem strange, but I really enjoy rainy days, especially this time of year.  I love the slow, soaking, persistent rains that permeate deep into the soil, saturate the empty pore spaces, and nourish the wildflowers that are finally making an appearance after a long, cold, reluctant spring.  I like watching the drops fall on my car windshield, course down the glass in small rivulets, and carry away the pollen clinging to the glass.  I love the smell of wet earth and the way the sugar maple leaves glisten as they twitch with each little breeze or raindrop.  If we've had a long dry spell, I get to see the hardened soil become soft, and watch as gaps and depressions fill with water and soil particles become an indistinguishable slurry of mud.  Few things are as relaxing to me as lounging on my loveseat with a window cracked, listening to the rain and the occasional chirping bird while I write, read, or in this case, type.  There’s something quite peaceful and soothing about it.  Something that encourages reflection and introspection.  Later, when the heat of summer arrives, there’s nothing more refreshing than standing outside in a downpour and getting absolutely soaked to the core. 
I was sitting here enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells of a high-quality rainy spring day while I worked, and it made me think about love.  Real, unconditional, transformative love.  Love a Father has for his child.  Why?  Because it seems to me that that kind of love is really a lot like a good, long, soaking rain.  That kind of love permeates us.  That kind of love fills up the empty spaces in us and between us, drowns our independence, and connects us to what we were once isolated from (let’s just pretend that preposition isn’t there).  That kind of love cleanses.  That kind of love makes hard things soft... hearts, for example.  That kind of love is endless; it’s abounding.  That kind of love just keeps coming, gently but persistently.  Pride slowly crumbles under the relentless flow of that kind of love.  And then, when we’re soft and ready, that kind of love brings healing, growth, and renewal.  It nourishes new life.  That rainy-day kind of love is transformative.    
Love works just like the rain.  Have you experienced it?  Have you been changed by it?  Maybe it’s time for us to let down our guard...put away our umbrellas, so to speak...and get soaked to the core.  

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Big Picture

Hiking to Mt. Whitney, CA
Do you ever get overwhelmed at the enormity of the world?  It’s mind-bogglingly huge to me.  Mountain peaks, canyons, grasslands, valleys, oceans, caves, plateaus, forests, deserts, and tundra, each impressive in its own right, are combined into a planet that is unfathomably gigantic.  I won’t even get into the galaxies, and certainly not the universe; pondering it makes my head explode.  There have been a few times in my life when I was particularly struck by the vastness of the planet we call home-- for instance, climbing the steep, jagged mountain walls of The Whitney Zone; peering over the rim of the Grand Canyon; laying in a field staring at millions of stars in a black abyss (see, there goes that universe stuff again.. Gah!); trekking across the deceptively expansive Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park; and backpacking deep in the Linville Gorge with mountains hugging close around me.  Each of these experiences left me feeling inconsequential, insignificant, vulnerable... small.  “They” say that’s when we feel true humility, right?  When we’re standing in the presence of greatness?  I think “they” are absolutely correct.  Don’t believe me?  Then get out... I mean really, truly OUT.  Spend some time in the wilderness, and you’ll know what I mean.  

Either that or rent a few of the Planet Earth DVDs.  
A little piece of the complexity
It’s not just the world’s physical size that gets me, though.  It’s also its complexity.  All these teeny tiny parts combine to make slightly less teeny tiny parts, which combine to make tiny parts, which combine to make... well, I suppose you get the point.  And once those parts combine to make a whole--an organism, say-- there’s the next level of complexity:  those organisms’ interactions with one another and with the non-living parts of their environment.  It’s a tangled, interwoven mess of relationships that somehow just... works.  Crazy!  Beyond the enormity and complexity of our planet, there’s also the unbelievable power, the incredible force, that pulses, grows, ebbs and flows through a world that is at once incredibly strong and incredibly fragile.  
And yet all of these things, while difficult to grasp, still don’t compare to the feeling I get when I consider all of the lives lived on this planet, past and present... all of the stories, the losses, the celebrations, the journeys taken by each individual to set foot on the earth from its inception.  When I was younger, I remember riding in the backseat of my parents’ vehicle past downtown and seeing a parking lot full of cars outside of a hotel.  At that point I hadn’t experienced Mount Whitney or the Grand Canyon, I didn’t know what quarks or symbiotic relationships were, and I wasn’t really aware of cultures other than those that existed in my own hometown.  Even then, though, I was overwhelmed at the realization that each car represented at least one human being.  So many people!  How different their life experiences must be!  How varied their worldviews!  How unique their day-to-day experiences!  And in that moment, I remember wondering if, despite those differences, they all still desired to feel loved, valued, and cared for.  I wondered if they felt it.  Did they sense a connection to the people living, working, and even parking next to them?  Or did they live their lives autonomously, isolated in their personal bubbles, offices, and sedans?  That day, as a 10-ish year old girl with a limited perspective on life, I remember feeling overwhelmed with curiosity about all those people represented by all those cars, and overcome by the great need I already sensed for us to love each other well.  

Refugees from 5 nations graduating
from our job training program
Those feelings have stayed with me through the years, becoming both deeper and broader with time as I’ve had the privilege of interacting with people from all sorts of backgrounds.  I am still overwhelmed, but now I’m also awed by the gift of diversity God has given us through his great, divine creativity, and I’m honored by the responsibility entrusted to us-- the responsibility to serve, to bring healing, to recognize the beauty in one another and help it grow.  
I think it’s important to remember the very, very big picture, and to appreciate the vastness of our creator and his creation (including but not limited to the human species).  We need to live our lives in constant awareness of the greater story.  But let’s not forget that this great story is told one sentence, no, one word at a time.  It’s our daily interactions, our moment-to-moment decisions, that make up each phrase.  It’s our daily commitment to step outside of our personal bubbles, lift our eyes up from our own affairs (Philippians 2: 3-4), and love one another that gives each sentence meaning.  And running through it all, a constant, steady thread linking each tiny piece of the narrative, is grace-- without which the complicated, messy story just wouldn’t make any sense.