Unexpected

How are you holding up during the pandemic? I don’t typically experience anxiety, but I have during the five weeks the San Francisco Bay Area of California has been under shelter-in-place (SIP). Some days, or at least some hours, I’m fine, and others not so much.

I do typically seek out gratitude, and this discipline has become even more important these days. It has helped to hold me steady. So the unexpected feelings of anxiety have me looking for unexpected things I can be grateful for during this extremely unexpected experience.

Unexpected things I’m grateful for during SIP (beyond things I’m regularly thankful for, like walkable neighborhoods and blooming spring flowers):

Not having to rush everywhere
Our church has learned how to broadcast services and Sunday school resources, and folks who haven’t been attending church have been finding their way back
All the people we meet face-to-face (at a safe distance) while walking
Cleaning out closets, the pantry, the fridge/freezer, vacuuming under the bed, etc.
Family projects–both kids worked with their dad to create/update pet habitats and Q15 has a new live edge redwood desk with redwood legs
People rediscovering the art of correspondence
Also, rediscovering playtime–puzzles, games, hobbies, toys that had been outgrown and tucked away have been pulled out
New cooking/recipe groups on social media and time to try new recipes
Bartering–a friend swapped me two bottles of wine for homemade hummus and granola
Artists and musicians sharing their gifts and humor freely, and amateurs dabbling creatively
My overflowing (and occasionally crazy-making) bookshelves + our local online library service + more time to read and I will never run out of new material
Technology meeting the demands of new restrictions and reminding people that we can be connected even if we’re far apart
People have been leaving whimsically painted rocks along the trails and roadsides for others to find–like discovering Easter eggs all spring!

I’m also grateful for the opportunity to write Bible studies like the one below, in which Jesus showed up to His grieving friends. I’m grateful for the reminder that I don’t have to have it all together for Jesus to be with me, to love me just as I am.

Connect
What unexpected things have you discovered you can be grateful for during shelter-in-place?

Study
Read aloud John 20:1-18.
What did Mary, and then Peter and John, expect to find at the tomb (vv1-3)?
What different responses did Mary, Peter and John have as they approached the empty tomb (vv1-9)? Who do you most relate to in this scene and why?
Why do you think Peter and John went back to where they were staying while Mary remained at the tomb (vv10-11)?
Why didn’t Mary recognize Jesus (vv9-16)? What did it take for her to recognize Him?
Describe the interaction between Jesus and Mary (vv15-18).
What instructions did Jesus give Mary, and why is it important then and now (vv17-18)?

Live
How do you typically expect to approach and interact with Jesus?
How has Jesus recently surprised you by bursting beyond your expectations?
When coming to God, are you more of a “clean it up first” or “bring the whole mess” kind of person? Explain.
What does it sound like for Jesus to call your name? How do you respond?
How has Jesus met you in the grief and disappointments of life?
What difference does the resurrection make to your life today?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Pray for eyes to see the Lord.

Family Share Questions
Use these questions to reflect on John 20:11-18 individually and with your family:
What makes you sad?
How can Jesus comfort you when you’re sad?
Pray for eyes to see Jesus.

If you’d like to hear a sermon based on this passage, my husband preached a grace-filled message for our church today. You can watch here.

Cover Image by TC Perch from Pixabay

Lent 2020: Walking Like The Wise Men

The three Wise Men…rode their camels across endless desserts, up steep, steep mountains, down into deep, deep valleys, through raging rivers, over grassy plains, night and day, and day and night, for hours that turned into days, that turned into weeks, that turned into months and months, until, at last, they reached…Jerusalem.

During our church’s Christmas Eve Family Service, we use The Jesus Storybook Bible as our Scripture readings while children in costume act out the roles. The Wise Men’s scene makes me laugh as kids follow the leader this way and that, up and down and around the aisles, back to front and front to back, and back to the front once again.

These days I feel like the Wise Men, walking my dogs endlessly through our neighborhood—up and down steep hills, across bridges beneath which gentle streams flow, past neighbors’ green lawns or along the paved golf cart trail at the local country club. This way and that, day and night, day after day, weeks turning to months, changing it up to keep us all interested. It’s the only time we leave the house during shelter-in-place.

Walking feels necessary, a balm to body and soul, keeping anxiety at bay. Enjoying the blooming of flowers, the sun and breeze on my skin, the repetitive movement. Laughing at the pleasure my dogs take in endless loops.

Even as I walk away, I know my road will always lead me back home. Still, as I read again this description of the Wise Men on their journey, I realized that my walks can lead me to Jerusalem. To Jesus. To a treasure hunt for gratitude right smack in the middle of a world-wide crisis.

I am grateful: for the beauty of nature right here in our walkable neighborhood. For my dogs. For my husband who often walks with me. For the many, many neighbors we have met along the way—at a six-foot distance (a leash length)—people we don’t regularly see in the middle of the work-a-day week. For acts of kindness. For time to rest. For laughter. For our health. For all those who serve others selflessly. For technology that keeps us connected when we can’t meet together face-to-face. For online yoga and library resources. For family. For home. For Jesus.

During Lent 2020, I’m reading and reflecting on The Jesus Storybook Bible. If you don’t already have it, I highly recommend it. You can purchase it here. Please note: as an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

Lent 2020: The Wonderful Stories

All day they listened to stories about the wonderful things God had done for his people….How he rescued them — no matter what, time after time, over and over again — because of his Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.

Stories are my favorite. I love to read. But during scary times, I can’t read scary stories. Or sad stories, for that matter. During scary times, I need happy, playful, light stories. Stories of love and laughter.

Ezra read the Law to God’s people and they cried as they recognized how far they had strayed from God’s intentions for them. When Ezra saw their tears, he changed his approach. He read the happy stories, the stories of God with them, protecting and providing for them, loving them no matter what. And they had a week-long party, a festival in which they ate and drank and shared with those who didn’t have food and drink, celebrating God’s goodness and love.

It’s not our job to tell people what to do and not do. That’s God’s job. But when we hear from God that we’ve blown it, we’re also not to wallow in shame and self-pity. Acknowledge your sin and move along. Celebrate God’s forgiveness. Celebrate God’s presence with you. Celebrate God’s love.

Because he has loved and forgiven and protected you once again. So get on with that celebration, because God is good all the time. All the time, God is good!

During Lent 2020, I’m reading and reflecting on The Jesus Storybook Bible. If you don’t already have it, I highly recommend it. You can purchase it here. Please note: as an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

Lent 2020: Receive

I’ll take this emptiness…and I’ll fill it up! Out of the darkness, I’m going to make light! And out of the nothing, I’m going to make…EVERYTHING!

These lines specifically refer to God’s original act of creation. Yet God continues to create, every minute of every day as we experience them.

Sometimes we feel empty, dark, alone in the nothingness. Sometimes life hurts, or simply feels mundane, repetitive, unexciting.

Ash Wednesday begins this liturgical season of Lent, in which believers world-around and throughout the ages have focused on the suffering of Jesus leading up to the cross and, in God’s final word, resurrection. Talk about a time of emptiness, darkness, and nothingness…Jesus in the grave. How the disciples must have mourned. How we join them during these six weeks.

Enter God. He says, I see your emptiness, and I will fill it. I see your dark, and I offer light. I see your nothing, please accept my everything.

God holds His hands out, full of grace and truth, and we only have to receive.

It helps to know that even when we feel empty, dark, and nothing, that’s not reality. God is always with us. He longs to comfort, to be our constant companion. If we will recognize His presence and receive.

Receiving sounds simple, but we have trouble with that one, too. It reminds me of one of my favorite prayers in the Bible, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”

Lord, I receive. Help me receive more fully.

 

During Lent 2020, I’m reading and reflecting on The Jesus Storybook Bible. If you don’t already have it, I highly recommend it. You can purchase it here. Please note: as an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

Lent 2020

I’ve been reading, studying, digesting, listening to and learning from the Bible over my entire life. I’ve been glad and mad, confused and convicted, by its words. I’ve had conversations and arguments with God and others about what it says and doesn’t say. I’ve read scores of books about the Bible. I’ve attended Bible studies, taken classes on the Bible—I have a seminary graduate degree—and written about the Bible.

One of my goals for 2020 is to interact with a different translation of the Bible. I need to shake things up. I’m still studying and reading and writing about the more traditional/adult versions of the Bible, but the Spirit is nudging me to bring some joy back into my dedicated time with Him.

So here I am, during Lent, picking up one of my very favorite Bibles: The Jesus Storybook Bible.

We discovered this Bible when our youngest son was four years old. As I read the first few stories aloud to him, I delighted in the words and illustrations. This is no ordinary kids’ Bible. This is a work of art.

I have since recommended this Bible to everyone I know who is even slightly at all interested in the Bible. Because of my enthusiasm, our church preschool gives one to every graduate and our sanctuary pew racks contain copies, indicating to families that children are always welcome. It is also our go-to new baby gift.

This Lent, I’m going to read for five minutes a day, as many stories as that allows, and then write for another five minutes about what stood out to me, and then I’ll share posts a few times a week. A sort of lectio divina light, playing and creating with God. Play with me?

Please note: As an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases. 

Reconnect

I graduated from a small, private, liberal arts college in Santa Barbara, California, in the early 90’s. During those college years and for a while after, I lived with a fantastic group of gals. This weekend, for the first getaway since graduation, nine of us gathered in Santa Cruz, California, to reconnect.

In so many ways, we picked up right where we left off. It helped that some of us have kept in better touch than others, but our essential personalities and ways of interacting were established long ago. 3 decades x 9 women = a lot of ground to cover. We may only have scratched the surface, but we went deep fast.

We shared stories of marriage and divorce, birth and kids, jobs and pursuits, loss and death, home and travel, where and how we’ve found meaning in life, and lighter topics such as favorite books and movies and Saturday Night Live skits. Tears were shed, but we enjoyed way more laughter.

My family asked, “What did you do?” Simple: walked on the beach and talked. Ate and drank and talked. Walked and talked some more. Mostly we talked. We slept a little.

Though we are the same age, our children range in age from 4 to almost 25 years old. We are mostly married, some divorced, some blended families. One child is married and another engaged, a couple more in significant relationships.

I’m impressed with these gals, what they’ve done with their lives, the families they’ve grown, how they’ve invested in society, and how they’ve handled life’s inevitable challenges. I’m amazed we coordinated nine schedules to get time away, and I’m grateful for the chance to listen, to exchange ideas, to encourage one another.

My heart is full, and I can’t wait to do it again.

Exact

The one-word writing prompt—exact—reminds me that I am not one for exact-ness. Numbers require precision, and I am a Word Girl who prefers not to deal with numbers. Even when I’m looking for just the right word(s), I could be convinced of any number of synonyms that would carry the meaning and lend a nuance. When I dabble in art, I try to stay open to the creative process which almost never looks exactly like what I had in mind. It’s part of the joy.

And yet, there’s one Exact in my life for which I am forever grateful: my Guy. I have the exact right husband for me. He’s it, my one and only.

He’s been my Valentine for 30 years. We had our first date a few days before Valentine’s Day. Thirty years ago, he gave me three yellow roses and one red. A nice guy, he gave a few yellow roses to other friends as well, but I was the only one who received a red rose. He’s been bringing me flowers ever since.

Today I received a delivery of 50 red roses.

He’s not perfect, but obviously neither am I. Still, we compliment each other in all the necessary ways. He’s an extrovert and I’m an introvert. He engages with everyone, and I remember their names. He gets me out, and I keep him grounded.

We share the same interests (animals, the outdoors, stories) and values (God, family, friends). We expand each other’s perspectives in important ways. We make each other laugh and dry each other’s tears. We’re best friends and we hold each other close.

I cannot imagine having done life with anyone else. My exactly right for me, darling Valentine.

Ponder

I read today’s one word writing prompt yesterday—ponder—and woke in the wee hours pondering the word, chewing it, twisting it this way and that. It reminds me of wonder, only one letter different, and the comparison delights me as word play often does. I see ponder in neon flashing through the dark night, leading me to wonder, to wander, to meander.

Now daylight, I leash up the dogs and meander our wonderfully walkable neighborhood. I notice two hawks, spiraling through the sky above me. NorCal is experiencing a remarkably early spring; likely it happens every year but it always surprises me with joy. I don’t even need a jacket. A light breeze sometimes strokes my skin, yet warm sunlight permeates everything. The grass is green. Trees have buds, and bulbs push their green fronds through the ground. Those lucky to have sufficient exposure already bloom in yellows and pinks. I stop to take pictures.

Ponder: to think about carefully, to consider, to meditate. Ooh, I like that last one. I sometimes refer to my dog walks as “moving meditation.” I ponder, wonder, wander, meander, meditate. I pray.

Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them. —Psalm 111:2

Love Strength

Sleep used to be my superpower. I could fall asleep within minutes of my head hitting the pillow. Even if the pillow itself were on a couch. Or in a car. Even if the pillow was a wadded up sweatshirt.

These days, sleep toys with me. Either I can’t fall asleep, or I fall asleep without trouble and wake up too early, too hot or cold or a little of both, mind flooded with a litany of adulting concerns.

Our bedroom clock broke and we haven’t replaced it, because we haven’t gotten around to it and because checking the clock in the wee hours isn’t helpful. So I have no idea what time I awoke, but I know it was darker than it should have been. I tossed. I turned. I put my arms over my head and pulled them back under covers. I kicked a foot out, then rolled over to kick the other foot out, then pulled them back in as well.

I am not a morning person but, since this morning began in pitch black, I decided I might as well get up when the alarm sounded even though at that point I could have tumbled back into slumber. Instead I tugged on multiple layers of workout clothes, slurped down a quick mug of coffee, grabbed keys and leashes, and off we went, the kiddo to school and us to walk dogs in the park.

On the way, I read Biblegateway’s verse of the day: But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble. Psalm 59:16

Emerging from our warm car, my skin tingled with cold. My cheeks felt like they might shatter. My ears ached. My fingers numbed when I couldn’t hold them in my down pockets (and I live in California…). And yet I felt alive.

I felt grateful for God’s love and protection. Grateful for dogs that need a walk as much as I do. Grateful for my husband. Grateful for our town and neighbors and a beautiful morning. Grateful for the hawk perched on a branch; silly, scampering squirrels; a canary, yellow as a canary should be; dew shimmering on the long winter-green grass like confections; the blue sky.

Hours later and this day hasn’t gone as expected, which makes me even more grateful for the good, if early, start. God’s love encourages me to rely on His strength.

Oh, and the dogs pulled me over to a plaque I’d never noticed before. It read: Nature stretches out her arms to embrace man. Only let his thoughts be of equal greatness. Ralph Waldo Emerson

This gal can’t think of much greater than focusing her thoughts on the evidence of God’s love revealed in nature.

Advent 4: Stand Firm (2019)

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. How are you doing in the whirl and swirl of holiday preparations?

Our tree is up, lit, and half-decorated. I was at work when Guy and Q15 got that much done; C21 still has his box of decorations to add, if he gets around to it.

The mantle is decorated, but the boxes that hold the decorations eleven of twelve months clutter all the corners while awaiting their return to the attic.

Later today the boys and I will brave the mall for one last gift. The college kid had finals one week, the high school kid had finals the next, and either I or the college kid have worked most nights…coordinating our schedules has been ridiculous, holidays aside. Honestly, I had stress dreams about trying to park amidst the holiday crowds, only alleviated this morning when I realized my son who works as a valet can park my car.

No presents have been wrapped. I’m not even sure what we’ve purchased.

My refrigerator looks like an explosion went off and we haven’t finished shopping for the holiday meals. Guy called an hour ago to say we’ll have four extra guests for Christmas Eve, all good and now it actually does matter if a) the house and b) I am ready to receive guests.

I tried to make a list of all the things that need to be done by tonight so I can enjoy tomorrow, and it’s incomplete because I’m not even sure what needs to be done. It’s that overwhelming. I will just do one thing and then another until I collapse into bed.

Oh, and Q15 fell asleep with his glasses on his face, which tweaked the frames, so we have to fit in an emergency visit to LensCrafters. Meanwhile, he’s wrapped them in scotch tape.

So, no surprise that the Advent mediation I’d meant to write yesterday didn’t happen. Instead, I took the dogs on a walk, cleaned myself up, and went to a lovely holiday party to connect with friends for an hour. Both the walk and the party felt more important to the state of my soul than the sorry state of our house or my self-imposed deadlines.

(Having read about my disorganization, does anyone feel better yet about their own life? You’re welcome!)

Yesterday’s Advent invitation was to “Stand Firm.” The beach is my favorite place to wiggle my toes, and I love the feeling of shifting sand under my feet as the flowing water pulls at the grains. I love less the metaphorical feeling that the sand beneath my feet is shifting, that change is coming and is now here and I don’t know what that means for today let alone tomorrow.

How to stay calm, how to stand firm and resist the all-too-easy temptation to worry? Jesus. Yes, it sounds cliche, but it’s also true. I have been hanging on to the prayer I wrote last summer, that Jesus would plant my feet on solid ground. And the only true solid ground is the knowledge and experience of His grace and love. I don’t deserve it. I can’t earn it. And still, He offers Himself. As Max Lucado writes, “…when the world goes wild, He stays calm.”

What matters most is not that I get my house perfectly clean and organized, or that I put on the best-ever holiday meal, or that the presents are beautifully wrapped. I am not a Pinterest-perfect mama. What matters most is that I take a few deep breaths, do what I can do, and then enjoy the company of Jesus and my family and friends.

May we all, today and this week and into next year, allow Jesus to set our feet firmly on the solid rock of His loving presence with us. Merry Christmas!

For your own set of the cards I’ve used as an Advent calendar, which can be used throughout the year, please click here.