Tune In

Over the last few years I’ve been learning to develop healthy boundaries around the voices I listen to.

I stopped listening to the news and read carefully instead.
I implemented care in my use of media and social media.
I made the difficult choice to walk away from relationships that had become crusty, toxic, bullying.
I also tuned out the voices that lingered in my head, refusing to have conversations with people who weren’t physically present.

And I’ve done some serious relationship work with my inner critic. I call her Grumpamonk, sometimes Grumpamonkey, because either name makes me laugh and helps me take her less seriously.

So those are the voices I’ve tuned out. I’ve also tuned in to other voices, voices that speak encouragement, motivation, justice, and love. I’ve allowed myself to feel uncomfortable when necessary for the sake of learning and growth. Even my Grumpamonk’s voice has changed her tune, surrounded as she has been by a choir of voices singing in harmony.

The most important voice I’ve been listening to? The voice of the One who sings love over me.

Image by Manfred Richter from Pixabay

Since Holy Week, I’ve been using the free version of the Ritual phone app to practice lectio divina several times a week. Lectio is a way of listening to the Spirit through the reading of a short Bible passage. You listen for a word or phrase that stands out, and then invite the Spirit to tell you what that particular word might mean to you. You listen to the passage three times (it’s short, so it doesn’t take long) while having a quiet conversation with God. I’ve done lectio with groups, but I’m thrilled to have this simple tool guiding me regularly at home.

During Holy Week, as I listened to the passages from Isaiah commonly called the Suffering Servant passages, I anticipated challenging words related to my sin for which Jesus died. Instead, I heard that God is pleased with me.

Other times I have heard words such as: have life, come to me, see the Son, become, and complete joy. All encouraging, all relational invitations.

This has led to a significant realization: as much as I believe that God is love and God is good and God has good plans for me, I have also expected to hear judgment. I have expected to hear that I’m not measuring up, doing my best, or living as fully as God intends. Each time I’ve been surprised to hear God’s gentle voice loving me and calling me forward because somehow I’ve been anticipating rebuke. I know God doesn’t weigh our sins on a balancing scale, but if sins could be weighed, I’m sure my bad attitudes and inactions could get heavy.

Where did my presupposition come from? How had I internalized the voice of an angry, at least annoyed, God? I don’t know, though I can guess. All the voices of spiritual leaders who have emphasized personal sin without challenging the fallen systems within which we commit those sins, wagging fingers generally and sometimes pointing directly, combined to make my humanness seem a bigger deal than God’s love. It shouldn’t need a spoiler alert: God’s love is way bigger than any word or action on my part. Or yours.

Talk about spiritual seismic activity! I’ve been following Jesus since childhood. I have degrees from a Christian liberal arts college and a theological seminary. I can teach and preach and write about God’s love from here to Jesus’ return.

Yet I’m learning anew to hear God’s voice, the voice of love, a voice I want to hear again and again. Thanks be to God.

Cover Image by CSTRSK from Pixabay

Reading: April 2021

Last month I told you I would share some delicious books that I began reading but couldn’t finish in March. They wouldn’t be devoured. They insisted on being savored, slowly, bite by delicious bite. You might want to wait until next Lent to read Where the Eye Alights by Marilyn McEntyre, though you sure don’t have to. It is a book of Lenten meditations, but as Lent is also life, you will find applications whenever you have the opportunity to crack its cover. And I recognize that Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer will not be everyone’s cup of foraged mint tea – even with the gorgeous writing that helped me fall deeper in love with our Mother Earth, I still glossed over some of the scientific details – and yet I recommend it whole-heartedly.

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

Photo from Unsplash

Where the Eye Alights: Phrases for the Forty Days of Lent by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a lovely book of Lenten meditations based on phrases drawn from scripture and poetry and life. I expect to return to this book annually.

“When we pray, we rise or descend; we invite and ask and receive; we listen or submit; we wait; we quiet our minds; we leave behind the noise and haste; we settle into or approach with fear and trembling; we resist but are overcome. Sometimes we suddenly realize that, ‘bidden or unbidden,’ the Spirit of God has come upon us and all we have to do is say yes.” 91

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“I dream of a world guided by a lens of stories rooted in the revelations of science and framed with an indigenous worldview – stories in which matter and spirit are both given voice.”

This spectacular book has nudged me to fall ever deeper in love with Mother Earth. While the book is science and story, memoir and treatise, the most practical advice for me comes from the idea of The Honorable Harvest – “to take only what is given, to use it well, to be grateful for the gift, and to reciprocate the gift.” Never take the first gift for it might be the only one. Humbly ask for permission. Only take half, or less if that’s what you need. Honor the gift by using it well and sharing it freely. How different life on earth could be for us now if we all heeded these simple directives.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had never heard the term “portal fantasy” until I got to the interview with the author at the end of the book, but it makes sense. Think Narnia. Also, my favorite novel of 2020 was The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, so when January encountered her first door, I thought, oh no, here we go again… But January’s door leads to different lands. This book is a fairy tale involving many quests and I was happy to tag along for the journeys.

“Doors introduce change. And from change comes all things: revolution, resistance, empowerment, upheaval, invention, collapse, reformation-all the most vital components of human history, in short.”

“I hope you will find the cracks in the world and wedge them wider, so the light of other suns shines through; I hope you will keep the world unruly, messy, full of strange magics; I hope you will run through every open Door and tell stories when you return.”

The Other Half of Church: Christian Community, Brain Science, and Overcoming Spiritual Stagnation by Jim Wilder
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had some helpful conversations with this book. I had more conversations with my pastor-husband about this book. Our brains are wired for relationship – and neuroscience proves it. The gospel of Jesus centers (and recenters us) on love, and to be honest, it makes me more than a little sick that church – or at least, a lot of churches – has become so focused on ministry that we have misplaced the proper emphasis on love.

Love, joy, relationships all ought to be at the center of every interaction related to church. Instead we stress theology and structure and wonder why people don’t grow. Or walk away dissatisfied.

My biggest concern with this book, however, is the emphasis on “healthy shame,” loving correction within a relational community. I don’t think the idea is wrong, but I haven’t encountered many church communities with enough emotional health to use shame as anything but a weapon. The authors admit that our churches may not be safe, and acknowledge that the first step is to create a culture of love, joy, community, etc, but they don’t go far enough in telling the people in the pews, or even the people in low-level leadership, what to do if the top leadership isn’t already leading the way in creating that culture.

Humor, Seriously: Why Humor Is a Secret Weapon in Business and Life by Jennifer Aaker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“Laughter releases many of the same neurochemicals as a good workout, resulting in a feeling akin to a ‘runner’s high.’ Beyond feeling similarly pleasurable, both also prime us for greater personal connection and resilience to stress. So in a way, Jillian Michaels and Amy Schumer have the same job.” p37

I love to laugh, though I am only ever unintentionally funny. I am funny by vulnerably being my weird self and creating safe space for others to be themselves and make mistakes, too. This book gave me permission to laugh long and hard, especially at myself, in work and life.

While it was full of practical insights, the most helpful bit for me was the distinction between levity, humor, and comedy. We can create a mindset (and workplace) of levity even if most of us will never do stand-up comedy.

We Run the Tides by Vendela Vida
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“Maria Fabiola is a noticer, but also a laugher.”

I am nearly the same age as the characters in this book and, though I grew up in Southern California, I now live in the Bay Area – so much of this book is easily relatable to me. I also had a sparkling Maria life-of-the-party friend who brought me forward or left me behind on her whims, although never to the heights of this drama.

Maybe that’s why I finished the book feeling tired. I enjoyed reading the book, but I didn’t enjoy the book. It’s well written and a quick page-turner (or kindle-flicker?), but not a single character in this book is actually likeable. They create or ride the drama to no good end.

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Dr. Christine tells me I am learning to deal with a life I cannot control. What she doesn’t say, what she doesn’t have to, is that I’m failing at it.”

We’re all learning that same lesson, and most of us are failing at it. Or flailing at it. The book hinges on the question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” It’s a helpful question as we clarify and work toward our goals. But it can keep us stuck if we hold on too tight.

I devoured this book. Seriously, if I could have stayed up any later reading, I would have finished it in one go. It might be the smartest book of its genre that I’ve read, thoughtfully considering the ins and outs of life and love and friendship.

“You mistake love. You think it has to have a future in order to matter, but it doesn’t. It’s the only thing that does not need to become at all. It matters only insofar as it exists. Here. Now. Love doesn’t require a future.”


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Cover image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Love is the Remedy

Five Minute Friday prompt: REMEDY

Today I am two weeks post-second COVID vaccination. Which means I should be about as safe as I can be.

The vaccine is a specific remedy to a world-wide problem that has shifted our lives more than we currently recognize. I don’t need to rehash the overwhelm of this past year: we’ve all lived it, experiencing its terrible specifics at different levels. The vaccine helps, sure. I am exceedingly grateful for the vaccine. But the real remedy to what ails us? I’d say it’s love.

Love looks like doing unto others as we’d like them to do unto us.

Greeting people cheerfully. Looking them in the eyes. Letting the smile radiate through our eyes – if we’re masked, that’s all they can see anyway.

Love looks like listening long, deeply, well. Listening with a desire to hear someone’s heart. Asking questions rather than making assumptions. Putting aside agendas. Being willing to admit we don’t know, we don’t have all the answers, maybe we’re wrong. Responding with humility and grace. Praying throughout.

Love looks like seeking out those you haven’t heard from in a while. Offering to help. Showing up with warm homemade cookies. Sending snail mail. Serving others’ needs. Serving sacrificially.

Love looks like sharing abundantly. Giving freely. Spreading joy, singing loudly, dancing exuberantly, belly laughing.

Love looks like being together. Accepting flaws and quirks. Admiring gifts and uniqueness. Love also looks like setting healthy boundaries.

What could someone do to love you well today? Once you’ve got your answer, go do that for someone else.

To quote the famous song, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love.” Love is the remedy we need.

Not Broken, Human

Five Minute Friday prompt: BROKEN

Years ago I stopped using the words “sinful” or “sinner” to describe myself and others. While they are biblical terms to describe a spiritual reality, I realized those words only played nice on the church grounds. Those across the street couldn’t hear the good news of a loving God because as they walked by some well-intentioned soul slapped them with a label. Maybe those words don’t play nice on church grounds, either.

I substituted the term “broken.” Most people know they’ve made mistakes, whether intentionally or not. They might begrudgingly admit that they aren’t living their best life, that they – and the world in which they live – are capable of so much more.

Lately, I’ve noticed myself moving away from “broken.” I prefer “human.”

Human includes every last one of us, wherever we are in the journey of life. Humans are imperfect and make mistakes. Humans sabotage and self-sabotage. Humans also have the capacity to grow and change. Humans can learn better patterns for living well. We can develop healthier habits that nurture our lives and foster loving relationships.

Broken is disparaging. It’s objectifying, as if we are toys that got played with too roughly and no longer pop – eliciting a heart-thumping shriek of laughter – when the timer goes off. Broken doesn’t work. It requires fixing. If broken can’t be fixed, it might as well get tossed with the trash. If humans are broken, has our capacity to learn and grow cracked? Maybe we’re hopeless. Maybe we’re beyond love.

Psalm 51:17 says, “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” A broken spirit recognizes our need for God and leads us to worship. I argue that a broken spirit is actually whole, a whole-hearted gift of our whole self offered to a God who receives and loves every atom of our being and moment of our lives.

A cursory examination of broken in scripture: We’ve broken covenant with God and each other. Broken faith, commands, and treaties. In the purity laws, broken skin was unclean. First Samuel 2:10 says “…those who oppose the Lord will be broken,” but that refers to judgment against those who reject God, not to God’s people who struggle to do right.

There are broken vessels and walls, broken necks and arms, broken wheels and sandals, broken cisterns and gates, broken branches and horns. Broken empires and idols. Another reference to a broken spirit depicts grief and brokenheartedness. A cord of three strands will not be quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12) so braid God into your human relationships. God will deliver his people from their enemies by breaking “the rod of the wicked” (Isaiah 14:5). The prophets often use the word broken as judgment against God’s enemies. Jesus also broke bread and fish to sustain the multitudes.

When we celebrate the sacrament of communion, we remember that Jesus’ body was broken for us. His body was broken, but not the whole of his being. His body wasn’t broken for broken people. His body was broken for love of the precious human beings he created, those he loves and sustains and longs to be with in relationship from now until forever.

A ministry leader once told me that I was broken and it was his job to fix me. I cried in recognition of the sad truth that I had been harshly judged, evaluated and found wanting, kicked to the curb as something unloved and unlovable.

He was wrong, friends. You and I are not broken in need of fixing, but beloved human beings. Learning, growing, living. Becoming. Human.

Image by Platelicker from Pixabay

How to Honor Earth Day

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it – Psalm 24:1

Today is Earth Day. In 1970, the first Earth Day mobilized 20 million Americans to greater care for our planet. Now the Earth Day organizers say they have one billion people committed to the environment and 75,000 business partners working to drive positive action. And there’s so much more work to be done.

I’ve never intentionally recognized Earth Day before. However, given the apocalyptic wildfires in the American West over the last several years – those smokey orange skies over our NorCal home felt eerily oppressive – and the recent unseasonable arctic freeze in Austin, Texas, I have become increasingly convinced of the truth regarding the terrible trajectory scientists claim we are on toward environmental collapse in 2030. On the one hand, that date looks like science fiction, but so did 2001 at one point. It’s only nine years from now.

So I made a list of easy ways we can love our planet well, today and moving forward:

Walk, bike, or carpool to work.

Take a phone call or meeting outside.

Enjoy a plant-forward picnic in a natural setting.

Go for a hike.

Plant something, or tend to your plants, or volunteer in a community garden.

Eat meatless for the day.

Sketch something from nature.

Spend 10 minutes making a list of observations about one natural object (you think you won’t be able to fill 10 minutes – surprise yourself).

Buy a book (or check one out from the library) that will help you fall deeper in love with nature. Suggestions: Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimerer, A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, Wild by Cheryl Strayed, anything by John Muir. (Please note: as an Amazon associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases).

Watch a nature documentary. Two I highly recommend (both on Netflix): My Octopus Teacher and A Life on Our Planet (by Sir David Attenborough whose voice, to my ear, sounds like Winnie the Pooh in the classic Disney movies – lovable!). My son recommends Seaspiracy, also on Netflix.

Educate yourself about environmental groups doing good work, like WWF, Sierra Club, or Plant with Purpose (our personal friend is CEO). Check out this list of organizations, or this water-focused list. Consider making a donation.

Take a picture of something in nature that brings you joy – a flower, a tree, an insect – and share it on your social media.

Follow the social media accounts of individuals and groups working to preserve the planet. Instagram suggestions: NatGeo, NatGeo Wild, Mitty, Paul Nicklen, Tim Lamen, and Joel Sartore

Purchase a book or print from The Photo Ark to beautify your home and support their continued work.

Cut down on paper towel use by using reusable and compostable kitchen towels.

Switch one of your plastic disposable goods for an eco-conscious and reusable alternative, like this toothpaste or these makeup removing towels.

Stick a bucket in your shower and use that water to water your plants.

Have a close encounter of the friendly animal kind (i.e., walk your dog or your neighbor’s dog, pet a cat, visit an animal shelter, watch squirrels rollercoaster-ing through trees).

Contact your state or national political representatives and ask them to support pro-environment legislation.

Do one or more actions from this list, then forward this post to others so they can join the fun.

What ideas do you have to share about loving our planet well? What next steps will you begin to take on this Earth Day and beyond?

“Creation is call and response. When Scripture speaks of mountains singing and trees clapping, it’s not just metaphorical. If our range of hearing were a little better, we would hear the voice of God in every drop of water, every blade of grass, every grain of sand.” – Mark Batterson, Whisper

Permission to Stay Cozy

This week’s Five Minute Friday writing prompt is: PERMISSION

Friday was National Wear Your Pajamas to Work Day. Seems to me we’ve been living National Wear Your Pajamas to Work YEAR!

When California declared stay-at-home orders in March 2020 due to the global pandemic, I lost my job. I stopped sleeping, which meant I had little energy to exercise, and I developed anxiety. My kids are old enough to feed themselves, so I had freedom to move at whatever speed my body and soul required. Some days I got up and going like everything was normal, though nothing felt normal. Other days, I stayed not only in my pj’s but also in bed. With a good book.

In my adult life of trying to get all the things done, I had forgotten how restful it can be to stay in bed with a book. I read until I got bored of reading which, for me, is a feat unto itself. I read so many good books, though not all of them in bed. I moved around the house – to the couch, the green Adirondack chairs on our front porch, or the (also green) bistro table on our back deck. I sat in the sun or the shade, depending on the temperature. I stayed cozy. It had a healing effect.

Yesterday was a BIG day for me. I submitted my first book proposal (more on that coming soon). We also got our second COVID-19 vaccine.

I have heard from people whose shot experiences run the gamut from a sore arm to slight fatigue, from lightly flu-like symptoms to heavy. We heeded the advice to drink plenty of water, take D3, and take Motrin as needed. We planned a quiet weekend to have time to recover just in case.

So here I am today, cozy in bed with my computer on my lap, coffee mug and water bottle to my right. I’m feeling mostly fine. My arm is sore, but not overly, though it woke me in the night to tell me to shift to a different position. Maybe I’m a little tired, but that could also be allergies on this gorgeous spring day outside my open window.

Mostly I’m feeling grateful. Grateful to scientists who responded quickly and thoroughly to develop effective vaccines. Grateful to my husband for wading through the appointment-making systems online (our kids get their first vaccines today). Grateful to have a full stack of books on my bedside table. Grateful to have given myself permission to stay cozy.

What permission do you need to offer yourself, and how might receiving that permission feel healing?

STOP.

Photo by John Baker on Unsplash

Happiness as an Animal? Meet the Quokka

A writing friend sent me some writing prompts. One in particular caught my eye: “Compare happiness to an animal.”

My animal-loving son sat nearby as I read her email. I love animals, you may love animals, many of us love animals. My son takes loving animals to a whole different level. Like to an animal whisperer, animals emerge from the tall grass when he’s nearby so they can share an encounter. It’s a rare moment when I witness him learning about an animal he’s never heard of before. He can correctly name animals that have been misidentified elsewhere, for example, on a TV show. Once he even accurately described why an animal had been mislabeled in a natural history museum.

So I read the prompt to him. I expected he’d talk glowingly about his Bullseye Tabby cat, Phoebe. About the particular smell of her fur and its calming effect on him. The way she naps during the day on his pillow. How her belly wobbles side-to-side as she limp-toes through the house on arthritic legs. How she follows him room-to-room to be near him, like a dog.

He could also have talked about our three rescue dogs, particularly Rudy, who he calls Big Chicken for his large eyes that grow even wider when startled. Especially when he passes gas and jumps, looking accusingly at whoever is closest.

He might have talked about his ball python collection, or his newest snake-pet, a beautiful Reticulated Python he named Rhea because all his animals have mythological names. Rhea means “flowing” in Greek; in mythology she was the mother of Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, and Demeter. His Rhea will eventually grow to 25 feet in length, hopefully long after he has moved out on his own.

He might have described the simple lazy joy of a lizard basking in the radiant heat from a summer warmed rock. Instead, he repeated the prompt. “Happiness as an animal? Quokka.”

When I didn’t understand, he insisted that I look up quokka on my phone. He had to spell it for me.

Wikipedia was the first site to pop up. I summarized: “Oh, a quokka is a wallaby, specifically a short-tailed scrub wallaby!” I have long been familiar with wallabies from our many trips to the San Diego Zoo and from all the animal documentaries we’ve watched together.

He protested. “No, not a wallaby. Look at its face!” I glanced at the image again and shrugged. I supposed the quokka’s face might be different from other wallabies but I was looking at a side view and not a quokka version of a profile picture. I showed him the Wiki site and he got frustrated. He took my phone and searched for images, then flipped my phone around to show me one photo after another. He handed back my phone and I continued looking at images, flipping my phone towards him so we could laugh at picture after picture. We laughed so hard we almost cried.

Quokkas look like an adorably happy cartoon character. They smile for the camera, and their bright and shiny black eyes look delighted to see whomever is taking their picture. The size of a house cat, they stand on their back legs like a kangaroo which leaves their front paws available to reach out to you in what resembles a welcoming hug. They’re also available to receive a eucalyptus leaf on offer, or to hold your water bottle while they take a sip. In some pictures they appear inquisitive, like they’ve just asked what adventures lie ahead for you today and can they tag along? Or maybe they’ve just told you a joke and they’re giggling at their funny little selves. The joke might even have been a teensy bit dirty. They’ll never turn down your request for a selfie.

Photo by Natalie Su on Unsplash

We looked at pictures of quokkas and belly laughed till our sides ached. At one point in the night, I woke myself up laughing about quokkas. We’re still laughing about them today. I even followed an Instagram account dedicated to quokka photos and art that will continue to provide opportunities to smile in response to these darling creatures.

We have a small menagerie of pets that adds joy to our lives, cats and dogs, snakes and a rabbit. At this moment, an animal lounges in just about every room in our house and we couldn’t imagine it any other way. However, since reading aloud that writing prompt last night, quokkas have definitely increased the happiness quotient under our roof. We haven’t even met one in person … something to add to our life adventure list.

Cover image by Tracey Wong from Pixabay

Reading: March 2021

Two novels and two memoirs. That’s all I have to share this month, but that is not all I read. I began reading some delicious books in March that would not be devoured, that insisted on slow savoring. I’m looking forward to sharing them with you in the April edition of this reading series.

What are you reading?

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

Image by Bessi from Pixabay

Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“The mirror exposed time’s passage, yes, but eclipsed her heart’s true mileage. The lined face, the extra pounds, the hair chemically treated to hide its gray. Each year the body was hers, but her mind was out of sync with her reflection. Always playing catch-up, trying to rearrange the scrambled pieces of her life.”

I’ve heard it said – and it’s been true in my experience – that we are always every age we’ve ever been. That, as we age, we contain within ourselves the version of who we were at every age. This book is a clever working out of that idea, a complicated story with a simple message: “Notice more. Appreciate more.”

I tried too hard to figure it out for a while, and then I let it take me for a ride. But I didn’t love it, for three reasons. First, the only hint of explanation as to WHY things happen as they do is this sentence fragment in the first chapter, which never comes up again: “…every granted wish comes with a hidden cost, every blessing shadowed with a curse.” And then there’s the HOW: how does Oona leave letters for herself in years she hasn’t yet lived? Willing suspension of disbelief, sure, but this seemed like a missed opportunity to bring readers along. And finally, Oona herself… I had compassion for her, but I didn’t like her. She’s got spunk, she had to have spunk or the story would have ended with her in bed after the first jump, but she doesn’t have much depth beyond leaving big tips and donating mightily to charities from an impersonal distance.

This bit in the acknowledgements, though, is an encouragement to writers:
“I got a lot (hundreds!) of rejections in the years I’ve been trying to make it as a writer. Sometimes they buoyed me because of a bit of nice feedback, sometimes they left me indifferent, and more than once, they plummeted me into deep despair. But the rejection gave me grit and tested how much I wanted this dream. And it made this moment so much sweeter because it didn’t come quickly or easily. So to every agent and editor who said no, thank you. And to writers still trying to get their stories out there, keep fighting the good fight.”

Dakota: A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“…the Plains have been essential not only for my growth as a writer, they have formed me spiritually. I would even say they have made me a human being.” p11

Norris undoubtedly possesses a gorgeous way with words, but at times reading this book felt sluggish… I didn’t much care for small town mentality thirty years past. Still, parts of her reflection on living on the Great Plains + monastic life were oddly comforting in a pandemic, a strange and lonely frontier of its own.

Note: Dakota might be out of print. Check your local library.

Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God by Kaitlin B. Curtice
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“…the books I am writing and the words I am speaking are for the purpose of bringing peace.” p117

Curtice was raised in the Southern Baptist Church, though she was aware of her Native American heritage. As an adult, she has leaned into her identity as a member of the Potawatomi people and writes at the intersection of these two parts of herself, two traditions. She writes an important, prophetic book filled with wisdom.

And more often than not,
the hummingbirds should get
our full attention,
because they teach us what it means
to gulp the nectar of life.
They teach us to remember
that we, too, are small, thirsty things,
looking for the river to drink from,
or, at least,
a
refreshing
fountain. (p41)

The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Everyone lies about their lives. What would happen if you shared the truth instead? The one thing that defines you, that makes everything else about you fall into place? Not on the internet, but with those real people around you?”

This is a fun book about how a simple question written and answered in a green composition book winds its way through a neighborhood and pulls together the people who encounter it into a meaningful community.


View all my reviews

Cover image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Easter is Over

Jesus died for love of us.
Jesus beat death for love of us.

He is risen, He is risen indeed.

Easter is over … yet your season of grief may continue.
I’m sorry. Life is hard, and there are so many occasions for grief.

Jesus longs to turn our wailing into dancing, to swap our mourning clothes for radiant joy. But he doesn’t wave his hands over us and zap the grief like a bug in an electric trap. Sometimes we have to move slowly through the sorrow.

The good news? He is in the sorrow with you.

We are Easter people, but sometimes we walk through the valley of shadows. Still, he doesn’t leave us alone in the dark.

Jesus is sad with you.

That simple sentence was an earth-shaking revelation for me when I found myself in a season of sorrow. Jesus wasn’t just sad about what I had gone through, what I was feeling and experiencing as a result of the mess. He wasn’t just sad for me.

He was sad *with* me. He held me and wept with me. He walked with me and listened to me. We sat silently together. We walked and talked some more. It was healing. He walked me back into joy, though we put a lot of miles on a few pairs of shoes before we arrived.

Something I learned along the way: it’s okay to find, or create, a small bright spot of joy in the midst of pain. It doesn’t betray your experience, and it might be just the thing you need.

Sit outside. Look at pictures that remind you of joy. Listen to music. Pet your dog. Wash your face. Write or draw or paint. Read a book. Eat chocolate. Do one small joyful act every day. It will help. It will remind you that you’re not alone and that this season will pass. Because it will.

Tulips image by shannynkm from Pixabay

He Picked Up a Lizard & Taught Me a Lesson

Morning Dog Walk Day Bazillionteen

Dave stopped abruptly and bent over. What initially appeared to be a thick twig in the road at second glance became an alligator lizard, badly injured with two violent red gashes in its tail. Maybe it had escaped the claws of a neighborhood cat. More likely a hawk had snatched it and Lizard wriggled out of its talons, dropping to the road.

Nudging its side with his finger, Dave asked if it was still alive. Lizard arched defensively, understandably angry. I offered to take the dog leashes but Dave said he could manage. The dogs, surprisingly unfazed by our pause, didn’t even notice Lizard.

As Dave gently scooped it up in one hand, Lizard whipped its long neck around and bit Dave’s finger. Quietly he responded, “Yah, that’s okay. You can bite me. You’re hurt, I get it.” Like he would comfort a squalling infant. He took a few steps off the road and placed Lizard in some ivy, sufficient plant cover to hide it while it (hopefully) recovers in what must look to a small being like a jungle with a thick canopy of foliage.

Most people would have stepped around Lizard and continued on their way. On my own, I would have. That’s not how my guys roll, though. While this was an unusual encounter, it was not out of our ordinary.

What stands out to me, however, is that Dave didn’t even flinch when Lizard bit him. He allowed his own momentary pain for the sake of moving Lizard to safety. If only it were so easy with people.

Lizard’s injuries were obvious. The wounds most people carry are not.

If more of us could learn to respond with gentleness to the bites of others, understanding that they are acting out their pain, what a different world we’d live in. I’m not advocating that we allow abuse or become martyrs, but that we try to learn (for most of us it’s not a natural response) to take a deep breath. To handle others carefully. To move everyone a few steps toward safety.

Just a thought.