Favorite Things

Sing along…

Raindrops on roses And whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things

While I’m a big fan of dew-dropped roses and kittens, my favorites list includes different items:

My family, my marriage (coming right up on 25 years!), our home
Our menagerie of pets, and animals in all their wild and wonderful weirdness
The beach

Well-told stories, and a library system with access to more books than I will ever read
Sharing a crisp sauvignon blanc with girlfriends on a warm summer evening
A fire in the fireplace on a cold winter’s night, and candlelight all around
Cooking healthy and delicious food to share with people I love
Walking our neighborhood and hiking trails, especially with family, friends, and dogs
Meaningful work
Adventures in exploring the world near and far
Beautiful home-grown flowers
Farmers’ Markets overflowing with fresh produce
Laughing so hard I cry
Heartfelt conversation
Quiet moments of awe, wonder, peace
Cheering on my people as they do what they love
Art and creativity in oh-so-many forms

I recognize all these things (and so much more) as gifts from God, examples of the riches of His grace which He lavishes on us.

But sometimes I don’t. Sometimes, I get tired and cranky, disillusioned, caught up in my own frenzied spirals or the harshness of others and the world’s brokenness.

All the more reason to keep reminding myself of the good gifts God pours into my life…

When the dog bites
When the bee stings
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad

Abundant Life
Week 1: Lavish Generosity
John 10:10-11 & Ephesians 1:3-8a

Connect
Reflect on a generous gift you have given.

Study
Read aloud John 10:10-11.
Contrast the thief and the good shepherd. What happens to those who are near them?
Read aloud Ephesians 1:3-8a.
What has God done for us, and why?
How would you explain “every spiritual blessing” with which God has blessed us to someone who doesn’t feel blessed (v3)?
What does it mean that we are “in him” (vv4, 6-7)?
How does this passage describe our relationship with God? What difference does that make?
Which of God’s blessings depend on us? Which change or affect us, and how?

Live
Why do people choose to follow the thief instead of the good shepherd?
Name some of your favorites of God’s lavish riches. How do you respond? How can you share them with others?
“…worship and praise are so crucial [because] they give opportunity for us to tell the truth about ourselves and God” (Klyne Snodgrass). How are worship and praise appropriate responses to reflecting on what God has done for us?
How can you hold on to the truth of the abundant life God has designed for us in light of the daily realities of a messy, pain-filled world?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Read aloud from Psalm 145 as a hymn of thanksgiving to our lavishly generous God.

Known

Talking with friends last week I mentioned that I’ve taken just about every personality test out there, including the silly ones on Facebook. “Ooh, which Disney princess are you? [beat as Friend examines my face] Never mind, you’re Belle. Definitely Belle.”

Spot on.

I have seen Beauty and the Beast twice this month, three times if you include Crosswalk: The Musical (even if you don’t watch all of it, watch some. It’s silly and hilarious!). Our amazing high school put on the stage play, and yesterday our family saw the live action movie.

I may be prettier than James Corden, though not as breathtaking as Emma Watson, but Belle is my Disney princess doppelganger. Like Belle, I am bookish and odd, with my head in the clouds. Belle is outcast for her unusual priorities. The Beast is feared for his appearance. While Gaston, the handsome doofus, receives the admiration of everyone–women want to be with him, men want to be him–even though he may be the scariest character of all.

One line in the movie version caught my heart: the curse caused everyone who loved someone in the castle to forget they existed. Beyond the castle walls, they were no longer known. So sad!

Every human being wants to know and be known. It sounds simple enough. Yet too often we allow our own priorities and our judgments to obstruct how we perceive others. We get in our own way and miss the beauty and love of others who are not like us.

Yesterday I received a message from a friend I’ve known most of my life. I haven’t seen him in person in years, but we’ve kept up through online conversations that sometimes last days and go surprisingly deep (less surprising if you know either of us personally). He had been reflecting on something flippant he’d said about our friendship, something that reverberated. Which compelled him to share it with me.

He didn’t have to share, but he did. Others might have felt too vulnerable. He wrote about me, and the (in his opinion, uncommon) love and gentleness I’ve shared with him. That I am unlike others has been my strength and has had an unlikely effect on him. Though we disagree on core beliefs, my sincere hope and willingness to love him no matter what has allowed him to feel safe to meet me on common ground. He sees in me strength I don’t always feel, and he believes in me.

Reading his words, I felt seen, known. He knows me essentially in a way others with whom I regularly interact don’t. Despite the rejection I sometimes experience, his confidence inspires me to feel newly confident.

This might surprise the crud out of him, but I think God sent my friend at just the right time with just the encouragement I needed to know that God, too, sees me, knows me, and loves me. I don’t have to be afraid. I am not alone.

If I can leave you with a thought: take time to truly see people and acknowledge the best of who they are. Encouragement is a gift you won’t regret.

Jesus: Our Shepherd
Week 4 – Known: John 10

Connect
What sets apart someone you would follow from others you wouldn’t?

Study
Read aloud John 10:1-15.
Describe the difference between the shepherd, thieves and robbers and the hired hand.
What does the shepherd do for the sheep?
Why do the sheep follow the shepherd and not a stranger?
How is the shepherd good?
Retell this scene in a contemporary setting: who would be the shepherd, thief and sheep?Read aloud John 10:28-30.
What does Jesus promise, and how can that be comforting?

Live
How do you get to know the Shepherd?
How do you keep focused on the Shepherd’s voice when there are multiple voices calling for your attention?
Who are the “thieves and robbers” or “wolves” threatening the sheep today?
What can you do differently this week to tune your ear to your Shepherd’s voice?
What is Jesus saying to you through this study, and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that you will continually listen for your Shepherd’s voice.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Jesus: The Way

As we planned and lived last year’s Costa Rica summer, guides took on an importance like never before. Before we left we had maps and guidebooks and websites, all of which we continually referenced throughout the trip. But once on the ground, we also relied on new friends and strangers to point the way; just after we picked up our rental car a friend of our new landlord met us at a major landmark so we could follow her to our summer home. We would never have found it on our own.

We would have driven in perpetual circles without the GPS we bought for our rental car; Costa Rica has no street names or addresses; roads to major tourist destinations are two-lane, seemingly insignificant, and ill-repaired – without the GPS we definitely would have thought we were going the wrong way and, even still, sometimes we were. More than once we came to roads overrun by streams and in one case a river had completely washed out the road to a highly anticipated hiking destination.

We never left home without our copies of Fodor’s See It Costa Rica to direct and inform our itinerary and The Wildlife of Costa Rica to help us identify the magnificent creatures we encountered in air, land, and sea. It’s a wonder we didn’t wear out the covers of these books as each one of us thumbed through them almost daily. The kids in particular used the wildlife book as a treasure hunt, ticking off the animals they’d seen and setting goals to see others. Another important reference book: our Spanish-English dictionary. Its heft made it unwieldy to carry around so we made note of words and looked them up when we returned home.

Of course we also had tour guides. We went to several animal rescue centers, including Proyecto Asis near Arenal Volcano, and the Jaguar Rescue Center and the Sloth Sanctuary, both on the Carribean coast. These amazing people are working to make Costa Rica – and the world – a better place by serving animals and educating people.

Carlos & spider monkeys at Proyeto Asis

Carlos & spider monkeys at Proyecto Asis

Staff & guide at the Sloth Sanctuary with an injured 3-toed sloth

Staff/guide at the Sloth Sanctuary with an injured 2-toed sloth

We visited several ministry sites (Abraham Project, La Montana Camp, Roblealto Children’s Homes) and met with followers of Jesus serving the people of Costa Rica.

Phil at Abraham Project and the site of their upcoming stadium sanctuary/skate park - no kidding, this is out-of-the-box creative ministry!

Phil at Abraham Project and the site of their upcoming stadium sanctuary/skate park – no kidding, this is out-of-the-box creative ministry!

We spent one remarkable day with Prudencio and his five-year-old son Leandro in Yorkin, a community of the indigenous BriBri people. Entirely in Spanish, Prudencio spent the day explaining to us how his people live: schools, organic farming, chocolate production, making thatched roofs, hunting and fishing by bow and arrow.

Prudencio at the entrance to Yorkin

Prudencio at the entrance to Yorkin

Prudencio & Leandro teaching us to thatch a roof

Prudencio & Leandro teaching us to thatch a roof

You can’t travel to Costa Rica without adventure, so we also had adventure guides – white-water rafting guides, scuba and snorkeling guides, tranopy and ziplining guides, and hiking guides. Stanley, our snorkeling guide, offered to take us on a true locals-only Costa Rica frog ‘hunting’ hike: his goal was to find three frogs, one found only in that particular region of Costa Rica, and indeed he did find all three on our hike. Greivan, our host at the Jaguar Rescue Center’s La Ceiba jungle house, took us hiking three times in two days looking for animals. A PhD candidate in herpetology, he was a special gift from God for our budding herpetologist.

Grievan & a kinkajou at La Ceiba

Grievan & a kinkajou at La Ceiba

And finally, it took us a while to figure out that the people barking orders at us as we arrived at different destinations weren’t beggars but parking guides, a culturally acceptable way for people to make money in a country sorely lacking good parking. We had a unique encounter with a parking guide at Guayabo National Monument, an archaeological site. He directed us to park along the street (typical), but the spot was on an odd angle. When we tried to leave the car slid sideways towards a rock wall. We had to climb out of the car and wait until the folks parked in front of us returned to their car, and then several men came and helped to push the car out of danger. Only then did we notice that the parking guide was blind!

All this thinking about the importance of guides for life in Costa Rica caused Guy and I to reflect on important guides for the life of faith. We need a guidebook, the Bible, and other reference books/websites can be of great help. We need a GPS, the Holy Spirit who directs us even (especially?) when the road seems out of the way. We need tour guides, mentors and friends to walk the way with us. We need adventure guides, people who help us take new steps of faith in service or mission. We need parking guides, the church in which we regularly park our patooties to worship and learn and engage in relationship.

All of these guides point us to The Way, Jesus Christ (John 14:6).

In An Unhurried Life, Alan Fadling writes:
“What if, instead of a road map, God is offering to be my guide? What if I let him decide where we are going? … He would prefer to guide me as my companion for the journey rather than hand me directions that I’d be tempted to run off with, leaving him in the dust. Maybe I could learn to ask less for God’s guidance and more for a sense that he is being my guide; to ask less for help and more for the awareness that he wants to be my helper; and to ask less for strength adn more for confidence that he is my stronghold” (p176).

In Matthew 7:13-14 Jesus said:
13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

And then in John 10:9-10 He said:
I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Jesus Christ, true God and true man who lived, taught, died, rose again, and reigns at the right hand of the Father, is the way to abundant and everlasting life. His road may be bumpy and pot-holed, out-of-the-way and not well-traveled, but I’d rather walk His road to life than an easy road to destruction. Walk with me?

Connect
When you meet someone new, do you introduce yourself by who you are or what you do? What do you say, and why?

Study
Read aloud Colossians 1:13-20.
What does Paul tell us about what Jesus does?
What does Paul tell us about who Jesus is?
Describe Jesus’ role in salvation (vv. 13-14, 20); in creation (vv. 15-17); in the church (vv. 18-20).
How does Jesus show us God (v. 15ff)?
Jesus is “the head of the body, the church” (v. 18). What does Paul’s description of Jesus say about what might be Jesus’ priorities for His body, the church?

Live
When you think about Jesus, do you think of Him primarily in terms of God (Paul’s cosmic description in Col. 1) or human? Explain.
What most stands out to you from Paul’s description of Jesus, and why? Which, if any, are most difficult to accept, and why?
How might this description of Jesus change or challenge your view of Jesus? Your relationship with Him?
Read Matthew 16:13-18. Who do people today say Jesus is? Why was Peter’s answer such a big deal? Who do you say Jesus is? Who does Jesus say you are?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that you will grow in knowledge of and love with Jesus.