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.

Surprise

Some surprises you do not want. The extreme opposite of entering a darkened room to discover it filled with expectant people ready to shower you with love, my friend returned to her car after a fun night out to find someone had broken the window and made off with her valuables. Invasion. Destruction. Hassle on so many levels.

We cancelled a long-planned get-together for the next day, which we made up last night. With a grimace, she showed me her car window. I had a Sharpie. I asked for permission…

…and I drew little hearts all around the window tape. Maybe it seems silly, but I wanted to do something to help redeem the wrong. The broken window reminded her of disaster, one she has to deal with, but I know her heart sinks each time she sees it. My hope was that my little hearts would remind her that she is not alone. That she is loved. That she can choose to respond with grace and love.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. —1 Corinthians 13:6-7

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

They Made It

Two weeks ago today my Guy, Son (C21), and Brother-in-Law (BIL) returned from their adventure in Tanzania, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and enjoying a safari through the Ngorongoro Crater.

They made it to the summit, 19,341 feet above sea level. It took six and a half days up and a day and a half down.

Guy said it was the hardest thing he’s ever done, physically and mentally. The key word is polepole, Swahili for slowly. You go up slowly, one foot in front of the other, allowing your body time to acclimate. Guy said he never felt the physical exertion one experiences on a typical hike, where you move quickly to cover mileage and get to your goal. This hike wasn’t about the sweat. It was all about reaching the summit.

Their group of 12 hikers had 49 porters, carrying not only their backpacks but also sleeping and dining tents, tables and chairs, food and cooking supplies, and a port-a-potty (pity the guy who carried that). As they got closer to the summit and met up with other groups ascending along different trails, camp held as many as 500 people. Apparently, this hike is more popular than most of us reckon.

Summit day begins at midnight and hikers climb through the dark to reach the top at dawn. While hiking in the dark seems counter intuitive, apparently reasons include limiting the time spent at extreme altitude, the incredible dawn view from such a great height, and the possibility of storms at the peak later in the day.

By far the most difficult leg of the trip, Guy said it required more mental than physical strength. He stumbled several times. He had hot tea and caffeinated snacks and forced himself to sip or nibble every few steps. Fatigue and altitude working in tandem to shut down his brain, he wasn’t sure he’d make it. Yet he did. Their whole team made it to the summit.

And then, the best souvenir beyond achievement itself: group pictures at the summit.

After all the hard work, the remainder of the trip makes for a satisfying reward.

They trained for and achieved a personal high. They shared the experience with family and made new friends. They’ve experienced a part of the world they’d never seen before. They returned with greater self-confidence and a richer sense of what it means to be alive. Their lives have changed. Guy is ready to go back. C21 think he’s done with Kili, but talks about what else he might do.

Those of us who stayed behind feel solidly convinced that the only part of this adventure we’d choose would be the safari. However, we’re having conversations about what might be next. Challenged by their achievements, I have my own goals, physical, mental, professional. Guy and Q15 may take on a Scouting high adventure trek this summer. We all may take on shared endurance efforts of some sort.

We inhabit a great, big, wide world. Let’s explore!

How to Be Great

What does it look like for you to be at the top of your game?

Maybe you’ve won a championship, or an award, or you hold the top position, or you make the most money. Or maybe you just truly enjoy what you do.

We all like to be the best. Still, I think the bigger question we have to ask ourselves is how we live out being our best selves. Do we become proud, power-hungry, demeaning others beneath our status? Or do we remain humble and serve everyone, not assigning status at all?

We’ve all seen examples of both attitudes at play. Frankly, I don’t ever want to be The Best if it makes me into a worse version of myself. I don’t respect and refuse to become someone who condescends.

When the disciples argued over who among them was the best, Jesus put a child in the center of their circle. A child, who has no status (at least in Jesus’ time, before the Glorification of the Child), who hasn’t done anything to deserve anything. The child just is, and that child is welcomed and loved just for being.

Even at the top of our game—because Jesus is not at all against us using the gifts He’s given us—our job is to serve and welcome and support those who can’t do so for themselves. Which requires humility, not pride.

Obviously the disciples didn’t get it, because a few verses later we see them sending away parents seeking Jesus’ blessing for their kids. So again, Jesus stresses His priorities: the Kingdom of God belongs to children and to everyone who will receive it as a child.

Not earn it, because we can’t. Key word: Receive. God gives grace, grace, and more grace.

Whatever game we play, whatever position in that game, however hard we’ve worked to make it to that place, we must remain humble. To recognize God’s gifts for what they are: gifts. To serve others freely and generously with those gifts. To receive with open hands the grace God desires to pour out on us so that we can share it with the world.

Dig Deeper

Connect
In your opinion, what makes someone “great”?

Study
Read aloud Mark 9:33-37, 42.
How does the little child serve as an illustration to Jesus’ lesson (vv35-37)? Who or what else could illustrate Jesus’ point?
How would someone cause a little one to stumble (v42)? Why is that so bad?
From this passage, summarize what Jesus wants His followers to know about power and service.
Read aloud Mark 10:13-16.
What do you think motivated parents to bring their children to Jesus (v13)?
Why would the disciples rebuke parents who desired Jesus’ blessing for their children?
Put Jesus’ response in your own words (vv14-15). What did Jesus want His followers to learn about life in the kingdom?
What does it look like to “receive the kingdom of God like a little child” (v15)?

Live
We all want to be at the top of our game, great at what we do. How is that like/unlike what Jesus teaches His disciples in this passage?
Share an example of someone who excels at being first and last, servant of all.
What’s your favorite type of service? Which kinds of service do you practice most?
What would it look like today to welcome “a little child” in Jesus’ name?
How do Jesus’ followers today get caught up in competition with one another? What could it look like to serve each other instead?
How do God’s people continue to get mixed up regarding God’s priorities? With humility, share examples.
How might someone hinder a child’s approach to Jesus?
How can we encourage children—everyone, including ourselves!—to come to Jesus?
What does it look like for Jesus to bless children (and adults) today? How have you experienced His blessing?
How can you cultivate childlikeness in your life?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Pray for the children in your church and community and then pray for childlike receptivity to God’s kingdom among adults.

Family Share Questions
Use these questions to reflect on Mark 9:33-37 & Mark 10:13-16 individually and with your family.
What makes someone “great”?
What do you think Jesus likes about you?
Thank God for Jesus’ blessing on your life.

A Daily Prayer

Faith comes easily to me. For as long as I can remember, I have believed down to my toes that God loves me, Jesus died for me, and the Spirit guides me.

And yet. As an emotionally-driven individual, my attitudes and actions may tell a different story. Too often, I don’t act like I believe a loving God cares about my life and the world I inhabit.

Life is good, and hard. Life is beautiful, and brutal. As Glennon Doyle puts it, Life is brutiful. Faith—trusting that we’re not alone or left to our own sometimes pitiful resources—helps.

But it’s easier declared than lived on the daily.

Of course I try. Yet as I think of seasons in life where we have faced significant challenges—illnesses and injuries, job stress which increased financial stress, losses of one sort or another—I know I prayed, and still what I felt smacked more of grief than hope. (Interestingly, I also recall several people telling me during one of those difficult seasons that I glowed with hope; God is good).

During desperate times, faith can be hard-scrabble, tooth-and-nail dug deep.

When one son vomited for weeks on end, repeat every few months for years, missing school and eluding (for a long while) diagnosis. When another son suffered a severe concussion that not only affected his abilities but changed his personality, again for too long. When help seems unavailable and despair unavoidable, then what?

That’s when I turn to one of my favorite biblical prayers:

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

God knows I believe, but I need to grow in asking Him to help me believe all the time, in life’s common nonsense and torrential storms alike. Pray with me?

Dig deeper…

Connect
Share about a recent power-full experience.

Study
Read Mark 9:14-29.
Describe the scene Jesus returns to (vv14-20).
What do you think the disciples and teachers might have argued about (vv14-16)? How might their argument have affected the disciples’ ability to help the child?
How does the crowd respond to seeing Jesus (v15)? How does the spirit respond (v20)?
Who do you think Jesus intends to include in His rebuke of the “unbelieving generation” (v19)?
Put the father’s interaction with Jesus in your own words (vv17-24).
Read Mark 3:14-15 and Mark 6:7, 12-13. Since the disciples have received from Jesus power to cast out spirits and have done so previously, what else might be going on (vv28-29)?

Live
What can we learn from this story about belief, prayer and power?
How do you hang on to faith in desperate circumstances?
How can others’ faith or doubt affect your own belief?
If you can, share about a time when you experienced Jesus’ power.
What might change in your life if you daily/regularly prayed the father’s prayer?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Ask God to increase your belief.

Family Share Questions
Use these questions to reflect on Mark 9:14-29 individually and with your family.
When you think of someone “powerful,” who comes to mind?
How does Jesus help the boy and his father?
Ask God to help you believe.