Let Vulnerability Drive Your Meaningful Life

What drives you?

As we road tripped across the country this summer, we listened to audio books. Some better than others, and that one narrator who put me to sleep every time… Good thing Dave was driving!

Last week we drove from the San Francisco Bay Area to Oregon and back listening to two delicious books:

(Book titles link to Amazon for more info + easy purchasing. Please note: As an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases)

The Guncle by Stephen Rowley – a delightful story about a middle aged bachelor, semi-retired from a successful acting career, who finds himself care-taking his niece and nephew for a summer. Yes, the premise has been done before, and yes, this one is different. We laughed out loud and teared up on occasion. One chapter was so perfect I had to turn it off just to reflect on the writing.

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown – wow! This was so chock-full of interesting research and encouragement that I need to buy the book and read it with my eyes and mark it up and quote from it and share it with everyone.

In entirely different ways, both books preached the same message: vulnerability is the key to meaningful living.

I’m guilty sometimes (aren’t we all?) of hiding myself away and not letting people in. But that temptation keeps our lives small and safe. The Guncle wouldn’t have been a good story if our hero hadn’t allowed the children into his home AND his heart. There wouldn’t have been a story at all.

Same with us. Our relationships will be messy sometimes, but we can laugh and cry and grow our hearts three sizes when we’re willing to be vulnerable. We can live a more interesting story.

How about you? Does fear drive your decisions, or are you willing to yield the wheel to vulnerability?

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Five Minute Friday prompt: DRIVE

Cover image by Larisa Koshkina from Pixabay

Remain in God’s Love

“Remain in God’s love.”

That phrase from John 15 caught me. What does it look like to remain in God’s love?

According to the passage, we remain in God’s love by keeping God’s commands. But what does that mean? Do we step outside of God’s love when we don’t keep God’s commands? That can’t be right, because God is love; nothing we can say or do will ever change God’s love for us. We cannot make God love us any more or less. God loved us before creation, long before we were born. Before we had the capacity to say or do a single thing, God loved us. God’s love does not depend on us.

God loves us, every single one, from the beginning to the ultimate end, no matter what. (How many ways can I say the same thing? Though it bears repeating, since we’re so good at forgetting: God is love. God’s love never wavers, never changes, never ceases).

So what does Jesus mean?

I’m sure I’m not alone in this, but commands don’t motivate me. Many of us quaver under barked orders. Sure, I’m a rule keeper and a people pleaser and I mostly color within the lines. But I don’t wake up in the morning excited about commandments. The dos and the don’ts provide a helpful structure, yet they don’t cause me to jump for joy.

Love, though … that’s different. Love motivates me. I may not love washing dishes, I may not love doing laundry, but I do my share of the house chores (mostly) willingly because I love my guys and this life we share. We also never gave our kids an allowance tied to chores because chores are part of playing on this team we call Family, the calisthenics at the beginning of each practice. We participate in the work of Family because of love. It’s all about the relationship.

Keep reading in John 15 and you’ll see that the command to which Jesus directs his followers is relational: love one another. Always, it boils down to the all-important basics: love God, love your neighbor as yourself. Everything we do comes back to love.

We demonstrate our love for God as we continue in the way of love Jesus showed us. Because God first loved us, we respond to God’s love with actions motivated by love. Even when we’re not feeling especially loving, the truth of love motivates us to keep moving forward in loving action. And, I suspect, in keeping the command to love, we are also reminded that we do these things because of Love flowing back and forth and all around.

“Remain” … the word that first caught my attention. What does it look like to remain in God’s love? Let’s try something: I’ll offer a series of words that might, in this context, act as synonyms. You pick the one to which you feel most drawn and mull it over throughout the day. See what it might reveal to you about being in God’s love.

Abide. Move. Act. Hang out. Continue. Stand. Sit. Pause. Linger. Swim. Run. Walk. Work out. Garden. Grow. Serve. Play. Rejoice. Receive. Rest. Nest. Live. Love.

Which word stands out, or does another suggest itself? Take that word with you today, offer it to God, and see if it doesn’t influence your attitude toward loving others … and remind you of God’s always and forever love.

We’ve Been Everywhere, Man

I’m no Johnny Cash so I won’t try to rhyme all the places we’ve been, but wow did we ever go sauntering (read “the before” post here). We can truly sing along with Cash that we’ve crossed the desert’s bare, man and breathed the mountain air, man.

Santa Barbara, CA
Grand Canyon NP, AZ
Zion & Bryce NPs, UT
Santa Fe, Roswell, & Carlsbad Caverns NP, NM
Austin & Houston, TX
New Orleans, LA
Memphis & Nashville, TN
Mammoth Cave NP, KY
Gateway Arch NP & Kansas City, MO
Mt. Rushmore NM, SD
Devil’s Tower NM, WY
Billings, Great Falls, & Sheridan, MT
Yellowstone NP, Grand Teton NP, & Jackson Hole, WY
Craters of the Moon NM & Ketchum, ID
Home!

By the numbers … Eight thousand miles. Twenty-nine days. Fourteen states, plus a couple more that we quickly passed through. Twelve nights of camping in ten campsites. Eleven national parks and monuments. No more than three nights in any place.

We drove and drove and didn’t drive each other (too) crazy.

When we spent a sabbatical summer in Costa Rica, we called it our “God treasure hunt.” We attended an expat church and spent time learning about and volunteering with various ministries and animal rescue projects. We also collected pictures of hearts we discovered in nature – in flowers and foliage, once even at the center of an onion – as small reminders of God’s love.

This trip was entirely different. We set out to see the US, to encounter her beauty and the kindness of her people. After some ridiculously difficult years in this country, it felt like a redemption in the form of a road trip.

Of course we saw God everywhere: in the staggering beauty of the national parks, in caves and valleys and rivers, in stalactites and stalagmites and hoodoos, in elk and squirrels and fireflies. In the people we had the pleasure to visit, including my mom. In the unique experiences we had along the way, in art and music and food, in culture and history (never underestimate the power of proximity in bringing history lessons to life. History was never my favorite school subject and I saw so much that popped all those names and dates into place).

Bryce Canyon National Park

An overwhelming sense of ease I can only attribute to God pervaded every day. Remarkably, even when things didn’t go to plan, they turned out better. For example, Dave accidentally double-booked us for the same night in Houston and New Orleans. The Houston hotel graciously refunded the room charge, we saw what we’d landed in Houston to see (NASA), and we enjoyed one more night in New Orleans in the nicest accommodations of the whole trip. And let’s just call it a miracle that we never had an issue with the car.

We didn’t make it to Glacier National Park, and Quinn would like more time in Santa Fe, and we’ll just have to figure out how to take more trips. We have confirmed that we are excellent road trippers.

At our last campsite outside of Ketchum, Idaho, we were directly across from a river. Dave spent a couple of hours fly fishing while I sat in our campsite and wrote in my journal. My eyes occasionally rested on a flower to my left, a single tall stock of small white flowers. The same flowers had been everywhere for days, plain on their own yet pretty in abundance.

However, when I eventually stood up, I gasped: those tiny blooms formed a perfect heart. I laughed and imagined I could hear God laughing with me, like he had been watching and wondering how long it would take me to notice. Like God had sent me a token of his love, a perfect flower finish to a mostly perfect trip.

Let’s Go Sauntering

Before he departed for Sabbatical Adventure 1, Dave read to me a quote from John Muir:

“I don’t like either the word [hike] or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains – not ‘hike!’ Do you know the origin of that word saunter? It’s a beautiful word. Away back in the middle ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going they would reply, ‘A la sainte terre’, ‘To the Holy Land.’ And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them.”

Sainte-Terre, French for Holy Land. Which made saunterers, sainte-terre-ers, pilgrims.

Apparently this lovely idea originated with Thoreau. It’s likely Muir was referencing Thoreau, and it also gives me some small comfort that even brilliant thinkers can be less than 100% correct. Sadly, dictionaries and linguists largely reject this word origin.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) also rejects saunter as a twist on s’aventurer, which looks like adventure and means to take risks – and also holds appeal. It seems that the word at one point meant to muse, and later took on the idea of a leisurely stroll, possibly because one walked slowly while pondering their thoughts.

Yet one might argue that all land is holy. That Moses stood on holy ground, that the pilgrims walked on holy trails toward holy land, and that wherever we place our feet, you and me and all of us, that place is holy. Whether we hike – rather saunter – through the pure beauty of Thoreau’s Walden, or the staggering beauty of Muir’s Sierra Nevadas, or on the pilgrim trails through beautiful European scenery, or through the inner city look-for-it beauty of Oakland, we are on holy ground precisely because we are there and God was already there and God walks with us in all places.

In the next month, we will drive from California to Nashville, from Nashville to Montana, from Montana to California – approximately 7,400 miles. Depending on the length of the drive between destinations, we will spend one or two nights in most destinations. We know that’s not nearly enough, that we are attempting to cram too much in too fast. We’re taking the highlights tour. I’m sure some days it will feel like we’re flying through the country, watching blurry countryside flash by the windows of our (thankfully air conditioned) SUV.

We belong firmly to the camp of those ready to infuse God-sight and spiritual meaning into our activities and surroundings. So whether we drive through, stop by, adventure, hike, or saunter, we are ready to take it all in and encounter God in all of it. We will take some healthy risks. We will leisurely consider the landscape as we walk, pondering thoughts silently and aloud. We will warmly greet fellow travelers and those who call each place home (and I do mean warmly greet, as we travel through southern states in June).

Thoreau also wrote: “Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” We intend to live fully in this season of travel. Breathing, drinking, and tasting the deliciousness of our time together exploring the United States. I don’t feel at all resigned but rather wild about the possibilities of abandoning ourselves to the earth’s influence. After all, as Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”

I’ve been praying the prayer below each morning for a year, and it has taken on new meaning with Dave’s sabbatical and the playful planning for this trip. Pray with us?

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you : wherever he may send you;
May he guide you through the wilderness : protect you through the storm;
May he bring you home rejoicing : at the wonders he has shown you;
May he bring you home rejoicing : once again into our doors.
Common Prayer, Shane Claiborne

I will be away from my computer while we travel, so follow me on Instagram for more on our adventures across the United States.

FOON: Fear of the Old Normal

Do you have FOON? I might.

About a month ago, just as I was two weeks post-vaccination and the CDC guidelines changed again, I began to see articles about another phase of pandemic-related anxiety. One of the articles mentioned FOON: Fear of the Old Normal.

I leaned in hard to my introverted homebody-ness this year. No morning rush, no fretting over what to wear, fewer decisions overall… Life has been simpler. Also complicated but, you understand, some of these trade-offs have been positive:

Hectic morning hurry for additional sleep
Traffic for tennis shoes
Structure for flexibility
Noise – cars zipping by, school bells ringing – for bird song
Small talk with strangers for solitude and silence
Mostly anonymous crowds for neighbors sharing Friday 6 feet at 6pm cocktail hour
Busy-ness for togetherness
Going through the motions for reevaluating how we truly want to live

Reevaluation is the key. I’m not afraid, but I reject the Old Normal as a healthy way forward.

Of course I want to see friends, especially now that we can hug. And I recognize that going back to in-person school and work next fall will necessarily add back in some of the hustle that I haven’t missed. Not at all.

Still, I plan to be more intentional about my decisions. I expect to say no where once I might have said yes. I will prioritize slow over fast, small over large. At-home cozy comfort will continue to be my daily deal.

We lived the Old Normal because it was what we knew. Now we’ve experienced something different which gives us the opportunity to make different choices.

How do you feel about this transition? What different choices do you anticipate making?

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(Images from Pixabay)

Take All the Time You Need

Dave may have over-planted our front yard garden. In winter, he dug up all the plants and bulbs between the three white rose bushes. He put in new trim, amended the soil, and planted (or replanted) up to 100 bulbs – ranunculus, gladiolas, calla lilies, and dahlias.

The ranunculus emerged first, confirming our hope that their growth would stagger, one flower variety after another. This week the lilies and glads are beginning to open. We have in the past had dahlias blooming into fall. 

Meanwhile, we had a backyard surprise. A few winters ago, we planted a spent amaryllis bulb in an unused pot of soil … then forgot it. Last year it sprouted a few leaves, but no flowers. Then this year, over this month, above and below its green arch of leaves we have enjoyed one gorgeous red bloom after another.

Things take their own time.

Like my kids. One went from average to above average reader over a few first grade weeks, while the other taught himself to read in preschool. At their own pace they both became strong readers.

Like life. Slow and steady wins the race, though I would often like to speed things up. I would like all the details to fall into place, neat and organized, right now thank you very much. Maybe you relate.

Ecclesiastes reminds us: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…” As we come into summer, and slowly emerge from a strangely prolonged life season, it’s a good time to reflect.

Where do you invest time?
What pursuits are taking their sweet time?
How can you relax into the process?
What surprises would you love to see?

Patience, friends. Things take their own time. Take all the time you need.

To be honest, Dave may have over-planted the garden. But that just makes it easier for me to snip a whole bouquet to bring inside.

Reading: May 2021

Ooh, have I read some good books this month! And school’s out here so now we’re on to summer, which means it’s time to stock up on summer reading. How do you pick what you’ll read next? I maintain my Goodreads “to read” queue as well as a holds list from our library. I usually pair something non-fiction alongside an engrossing novel as well as something light for just before bedtime. This month’s five books definitely fit those qualifications.

Book titles link to Amazon for more info + easy purchasing. Please note: As an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

Image by exieryu from Pixabay

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“How had it begun? Like everything: with mothers and fathers. Because of Lydia’s mother and father, because of her mother’s and father’s mothers and fathers. Because long ago, her mother had gone missing, and her father had brought her home. Because more than anything her mother had wanted to stand out; because more than anything, her father had wanted to blend in. Because those things had been impossible” (p25).

This book is so deftly nuanced and deeply insightful that it’s hard to believe it’s a debut novel. Wow.

I read this alongside my teenage son, who read it for his English class, so that we could discuss it. I’m so glad I did – we’ve begun ongoing conversations on many of the topics the Lee family couldn’t touch – but it also changed my reading of the book. I felt the dynamics differently in my gut knowing that my son was reading the same material. That he might identify with Lydia, or Nath, or Hannah. Am I more like Marilyn or James, or does he see me more like one or the other? This one is going to stick in my mind for a long time to come.

From the interview with the author: “Any act of writing is an act of empathy: you try to imagine yourself into another person’s mind and skin. I tried to ask myself the questions the characters would have asked themselves.”

Love Your Life by Sophie Kinsella
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A perfectly acceptable chick lit novel, though I found myself wanting to shout at the characters: “Knock it off! Stop the stupidity and just talk to each other.” Nothing earth shaking, nothing profound, but a nice, mildly entertaining story nonetheless.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“…a life without art, without wonder, without beautiful things – she would go mad. …
“What she needs are stories.
“Stories are a way to preserve one’s self. To be remembered. And to forget.”

This book sings a haunting melody to the wonders and beauties of life. It is an original, part ghost story, part love story, with some extremely well-written passages. I think it needed a little tightening, though, as some of the passages read like the same conversation in a different time/place. A little shorter and it would have built even greater suspense for the surprise ending.

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a fascinating book! We think breathing is automatic, that our bodies just know how to breathe. And yet, it seems we’ve all forgotten. One of the best things about reading this short book is that I grew increasingly aware of my breath. But really, it is a science story so well told, with real-life applications.

The Overstory by Richard Powers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“The best arguments in the world won’t change a person’s mind. The only thing that can do that is a good story.”

Here’s to hoping that this – not just good but – truly incredible story will change some minds. No wonder this book won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize! I’ve never read anything like it. At 500 pages and, according to Amazon, just over a pound in book weight, it’s a hefty undertaking worth every minute of your reading time. It combines ecology with the stories of nine diverse and fascinating characters who each in their own way become intertwined with trees.

One of the things likely to stick with me: there is a word, pareidolia, that means “the adaptation that makes people see people in all things. The tendency to turn two knotholes and a gash into a face.”

View all my reviews

Cover image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Recovery

Five Minute Friday prompt: RECOVER

This summer is all about recovery.

After a long, hard year of too many indoor hours, hunched over computers, struggling to work and learn and connect through Zoom. After a few long, difficult years of ministry. After a long slog through the worst school year ever. After anxiety and injury and illness. After injustice and trauma and differences about which we can no longer agree to disagree. After all, we seek to recover.

Recovery is key to sabbatical, a sabbath season. In sabbath we redirect ourselves to God, trusting him to take care of the details we necessarily let go of in order to rest fully. We let him fill us up, refresh our joy, lead us back to our best selves, and show us a way forward, maybe a new or different way.

Dave’s reveling in Sabbatical Adventure #1, a fly fishing trip in Montana with C22 and a friend. He’s immersed in nature where God has regularly restored his soul. Spending long days in the sunshine (and snow) and water, focused fully on the playful task at hand. (Thanks to our praying community!)

Adventure #2 is coming right up: Dave, Q17, and I will take an epic road trip around the United States. Over four weeks we’ll travel from the San Francisco Bay Area of California to Nashville, TN, and back again along a different route. We will camp and explore national and state parks. We will stay in a few boutique hotels and AirBnBs. We will wander through America seeking God’s goodness after some long, difficult years in our country.

U.S. States Map

We can’t wait to wave goodbye for a time as we wave hello to the road ahead. We have a good plan and we know to expect the unexpected, good and hard and God in all of it. We anticipate that we will recover our senses of adventure and humor. We will see old wonders, meet kind people, eat delicious food, create new memories, and have stories to share.

I have one more week to blog before we take off, and then I will be away from my computer for longer than ever since I first encountered a humongous PC as a high school senior. I’ll take along a brand new journal instead. And when I have WiFi, I will post on Instagram. Follow me there to keep up on our travels.

New Shoes

At one point, I couldn’t imagine wearing out two-plus pairs of shoes per year. Now each day begins with pavement pounding.

My junior high mile run time was slower than my current walking mile time. I loved school and books and writing, but hated PE. I snail-crawled my way through the mile “run,” followed by the humiliation of having to call out my time when the teacher took roll. Cue every teen movie scene of PE humiliation – like that, except worse, because it was me.

It occurs to me that no one ever attempted to help me find joy in movement. Maybe I wouldn’t have been receptive, but it’s so clear to me now that joy was the missing ingredient.

Raise your hand if you find humiliation motivating. Now raise your hand if joy motivates you. I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

Joy in movement now comes from fresh air and sunshine. Cleansing breaths and increased energy. Front yard flowers and waving neighbors. The company of my trotting dogs, tails wagging. Watching my miles stack up day by day, week by month, more miles so far this year than last year. I only compare to myself, the way it should be.

I’m still not sure I can run a mile. But I can run from this sidewalk crack to that silver Honda hatchback. I can run from St. Monica Church to the intersection of Canyon and Sanders. I can run many stretches of many miles, and all those steps – walking and running – add up.

Sure, some days exercise still feels like a chore. We all have to perform mundane tasks, like topping up the gas tank, picking up dog poop, washing dishes after a homemade lasagna, taxes. Still, those might be the pauses between the meaningful endeavors, and even there we can find ways to add joy.

Friends, if you find yourself slogging through an activity day after day, joyless, take it as a cue to evaluate what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. And if for whatever reason you believe that God has required something of you that you find joyless, then you have two options: either you haven’t yet found a joy-filled way of approaching that practice, or God hasn’t asked it of you.

Jesus came to bring joy, and anything worth doing is worth doing joyfully. I’m wishing you joy today in whatever you do.

Let’s share: how has adding joy changed your perspective on an everyday activity? Also, any tips on breaking in new shoes without turning my feet into raw meat will be most appreciated!

More Than These

Five Minute Friday prompt: Excuse

This morning I practiced lectio divina before I took the dogs out for a walk. From John 21, I heard “Do you love me more than these?” and “Follow me.”

It was the phrase “more than these” that really caught me.

The resurrected Jesus has appeared to his disciples on the beach after a long night of fishing. They caught nothing until he called out to them, offering instructions to switch their nets to the other side of the boat. That might have seemed crazy to experienced fishermen after so many fruitless (fishless) hours. Still, it worked. Of course it worked.

So what is Jesus asking Peter? Do you love me more than the other disciples love me? Peter couldn’t have answered that. Do you love me more than you love the other disciples? Unlikely he would stir up rivalry … the disciples have mastered that game so well they need Jesus’ help unlearning it. Do you love me more than fishing? Bingo! Because following Jesus will be harder, more challenging, more rewarding, and will cost Peter way more than fishing.

Like Peter, I’m certain Jesus knows that I love him. Like Peter, I repeat: I love you, I love you, I love you. I have followed Jesus since childhood.

But “more than these?” Hmm. What is my version of fishing, the things I could offer as excuses to not follow Jesus, or not follow as closely? What excuses do I put before him?

Anxiety. A hard day. Stress. Comfort. So many big emotions, all my drama. Other responsibilities on the To-Do list. Hobbies. Fatigue. Occasionally, even boredom. I have been around God’s house forever, have seen and done and heard it all, and sometimes it feels too familiar. Lackluster.

I can offer lots of excuses, but the real issue is this: what am I willing to put aside to demonstrate my love for Jesus more than anything else? Because nothing else measures up.

I cling to his promise: Jesus came to give life, abundant life at that. I want complete joy, overflowing love, a full life that only following him can offer.

I’m gonna make myself a note and tack it up as a reminder: More Than These.

What excuses do you make, and how do you remind yourself to put Jesus first?

Cover Image by Elsemargriet from Pixabay