Bloom Your Beauty

Between the seasonally-grassy yard and the narrow porch walkway facing our NorCal single-story ranch-style home we have a border of three white floribunda rose bushes, Valentine’s Day gifts from my Guy many years ago, that bloom May through November, spring through fall.

Every summer, as blooms explode among the greenery, I commit to bi-weekly dead-heading; every summer I fail and trim them back only once a week, often less. I believe if I had more discipline I could keep them from getting leggy and they might fill out and produce more.

However, by the time I remember that my sweet roses require attention, often they have grown taller than my head, some of them top the roof line, and many sky-high branches hold handfuls of buds. I’m a sucker for rose buds; no matter how tall and spindly the bush becomes, I will not cannot trim back rose buds. I have to wait for them to bloom, then wither, before I reach for my pruning shears.

The other day I glanced out the kitchen window and gasped: a watermelon pink rose had bloomed on one of the reaching-for-the-(finally blue again)-sky canes, with an equally pink bud next to it. Pinker than pink roses on my white rose bush, standing up tall as if to demand my admiration. Did the Queen of Hearts arrive in the night with a step stool to carefully apply nail polish?

I know it happens sometimes, probably something to do with pollination. And these white roses have had a rebellious pink streak for a while, some of them pinkish-white in bud still bloom snow white while others bloom mostly white with a single pink streak, like a blonde teenager who dyes a neon stripe into her shoulder-length hair. Prettier than that, though, as natural variations outshine our mimicry.

As much as I adore our white roses, I am grateful for these pink surprises. They stand out. They delight me and make me laugh. They remind me to take care of the plants my husband purchased and dug into the ground.

They also remind me to bloom my own beauty, my own Siv-style of watermelon pink on a white rose bush. I don’t have to be like anyone but myself.

Bloom your beauty, friend. Be you, your one-and-only glorious self. The world needs what you have to offer. You don’t have to fit in. Cast off whatever holds you back, including your fear. The spotlight is yours and we’re waiting to cheer you on.

9 Prayers to Squelch Pandemic Panic (aka, anti-anxiety prayers)

A few weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic shelter-in-place, I knew I needed a different kind of spiritual discipline, one that focused my creative writing on Scripture God could use to lift me out of the sudden onset of anxiety. I began searching God’s Word for promises related to anxiety and fear, and what I needed most, peace.

From there, I wrote short prayers following the tradition of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury during King Henry VIII’s reign of England and author of the first Episcopal Book of Common Prayer: an address for God, a characteristic of God, a request, an intention, and the name of Jesus. While I used a traditional form, I also personalized it in ways Cranmer couldn’t have imagined.

Listening to God through the Bible and then listening for what my heart wanted to say in response has helped me channel my energy into making something meaningful. Praying these prayers resets my anxious mind, centering my focus on God’s presence here and now. I pray they’ll also share some peace with you. Please feel free to share with friends who might want to pray along with you!

Psalm 40:1-3 I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.

My Rescuer, always listening and quick to respond, rescue me now. Lift me up to new, safe heights so that I may bellow your praises. In the name of Jesus Christ I sing, Amen.

Psalm 94:18-19 When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.

Loving God, though I fall, you never fail; you extend comfort when anxiety topples me. I’m slipping, Lord! Catch me in your strong arms of love and hold me so tight that, instead of fear, I am squeezed by joy in your presence. In Jesus’ name I squeak love, Amen.

Psalm 139:23-24 Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Creator God, who sculpted my heart and knows me inside and out, excavate the junk I can’t, or won’t, admit. Take my hand and direct me in better ways to better days with you by my side forever. In your Son’s name I pray, Amen.

Joshua 1:9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Lord my God, you who have been with me since before the beginning and will be for eternity, dress me in your strength, your courage, your nearness, so that I am prepared for the adventures of brave living each day. In the name of your Son who is the Way, Amen.

Matthew 6:25-27, 32b-34 Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? …your heavenly Father knows [what] you need… But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Provider God, who feeds the birds and cares even more for me, give me what I need for body and soul. Set my eyes so firmly on your kingdom and plant my feet so firmly in today that my faith in you motivates my every step. Thank you, Jesus, Amen.

John 14:1, 27 Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Faithful Savior with arms full of offered peace, sprinkle your sparkly glitter dust of peace over the messy glue of my heart to create a down-to-earth and still frame-worthy work of art entitled “Confident Belief.” In your name I pray, Jesus, Amen.

John 16:33 I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

Hey Jesus, my Comforter, the world is in trouble and I feel stuck in the world. Wrap me up in your peace and show me how you are overcoming so that I can move forward into this braveheart life. I pray in your name, Jesus, Amen.

Philippians 4:4-7 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Jesus Christ, my near and gentle Lord, fill my mouth with rejoicing and drench me in peace so that your gentleness, rather than my anxiety, becomes evident to everyone I meet. I rejoice in you, Jesus, Amen.

1 Peter 5:6-7 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Servant Savior, who loved us fully by showing us how to be humble, I am tossing all my anxiety at you like a sack of dirty laundry–I don’t want it, please take it. Thank you for gently loving me, for cleaning up my messes and holding me tight. Humbly your child prays to you, Jesus, Amen.

Cover image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay 

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