Why I Stopped Having ‘Quiet Time’ {for all the right reasons}

“…the resolving of the conflict between sacred and the secular (or, better said, the repairing of the damage done by divorcing them) has been billed as the major problem of modern theology.”

-Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb, 1967

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The writer of those words penned his thoughts 50 years ago, and while the current world of practicing Christians may have different theological problems, I think Capon’s got a point. I have looked high and low in my Bible the last few years and I can’t find any mention where believers are encouraged to develop a daily “quiet time” or spend time having “devotions.” There is no mention in Scripture of a particular time of day that is more sacred than any other—so why do we make the separation?

Now, before you go yelling at me through your screen or hitting the ‘delete’ button faster than bees buzz, let me say this, yes: we ARE urged to study to show ourselves approved indeed. Don’t get me wrong; I know God’s word is my daily bread and living water, I need spiritual food like I need physical food, like I need air to breathe. And yes, Jesus modeled for us how to get alone in a quiet place and pray.

But we get into all kinds of unnecessary shoulding all over ourselves when we say, “First thing in the morning you must meet with Jesus, read God’s word, pray and write in your journal. THEN you can head into your day.”

In God’s kingdom all of time is sacred.  When we belong to Jesus, all of our life is sacred.

If your ‘day’ begins at 3:30 in the morning because you work as a cameraperson for a television station, like my worship team, bass-playing friend K, I’m guessing it’d be hard for her to fit in a ‘quiet time’ first thing in the morning. Then there’s the barista at the local coffee shop, pulling espresso shots for all the weary folks heading into their mornings. (Raising my hand. Espresso-drinker, not barista). How does said barista balance the want-to of a time with Jesus with the have-to of a job?

And what if you’re not a morning person?  What if when you wake up, there’s 6 things on the to-do list that must be out of the way before you can even t h i n k  about a set-aside time to focus and settle in and listen to Jesus? Things like getting your kids off to school on time or cleaning the kitchen floor or paying the bills or writing an email or calling your mom?

When we do come to a more focused part of our day—whether 4:30 a.m. or 4:30 p.m.—we can look at it, as my pastor recently said, not like a “quiet time” but a listening time. A time of coming and settling in before God’s presence, whether it’s only 10 or 15 minutes. (Many days, that’s all I’ve got).

We talk about active listening being the better part of communication; it is the same when it comes to our time with the Lord. Listening half the time, writing ¼ of the time and talking (praying) the other ¼.

That attitude of listening time translates to a more balanced living time, where there’s no division in our days. Scripture’s clearest model is to walk in an integrated way—spirit and soul inside lined up with our actions on the outside.

We have much to learn, not for knowledge sake, but to show that what we know about Jesus makes a difference in the way we live.

I think we forget the Apostle Paul’s admonitions about walking in the word or John’s encouragement to abide in Jesus. Walking, abiding (or dwelling) are continuous, ongoing states of being. Even the Pentateuch reminds us as we “lie down and get up and when we walk along the road, that we are to teach our children.” (Deuteronomy 11:19). We can only teach our children what we already know, and this makes it clear–God knows a lot of our lives we are on the move. Moving in the car, going on a walk, strolling through the store….teaching/talking/singing to and with your spouse, your kids, your friends.

Here’s what I know is true about spending time with God: He doesn’t care WHEN we come to be with Him, but THAT we do. 

How about you? When do find time to be with God? What does that look like for you?

Please share in the Comments. I would love to hear.

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I think it’s interesting I would be writing this post now, as if God wanted to remind what I wrote exactly four years ago for (in)courage. I guess I needed to hear this as much as anyone else. 

When the World is Broken Along With my Heart

I hardly know where to begin these days, to write down my heart’s cry and soul’s sigh.

The world is splintering, shattering it seems, on every side. All I can do is re-center myself with a song. Thank you to my friend Laurie Klein for the nudge.

Here’s “Alleluia” by Fernando Ortega from the Odes of Solomon CD–Ode #40. It’s actually a YouTube link; there’s over an hour’s worth of his worship music. Good for the soul, I promise.

That’s all I have this week friends.

Peace.

 

The Body of Memories

I met a friend recently for lunch at a park near my home, desperate for her company and encouragement. Nerves were frayed, emotions out of whack, reserve tanks anything but reserved.

I apologized in advance for my undone condition. As I attempted to articulate my very frail feelings, blaming my 4 am wake-up call after a night of worrying about my new book, her simple response was, “You’re exhausted, Jody. No wonder you’re on the brink of tears.”

“Plus, it’s almost September 11th.”

Until she voiced the obvious, I wasn’t aware that, too, was weighing on my mind.

“Our bodies have memory and you’re remembering that day.”

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In September of 2001, my daughter and I were going to celebrate her graduation from culinary school with a trip to New York City. We’d arranged a 10-day visit with my nephew who lived in Brooklyn and also a meeting with Ruth Reichl, then Editor of Gourmet Magazine and author of 3 of our favorite books on cooking. The first five days in and around the city were glorious. A drive to the beach and back, subway-riding to Manhattan and the New York Public Library. Strolling through Central Park and jaunts all around Brooklyn. On the evening of September 10th, we met my nephew after work for drinks at a restaurant high atop the Marriott Hotel.

 A tremendous thunderstorm came through that night. We watched in awe from our cloud-high window seats at the lightning strikes, rain storming down in buckets. When we ventured back to the street, we found the air charged with heat and pressed on through the rain. Although we got soaked, we dried out on the subway ride home. (I wrote about the kindness of the people we met that night in this poem.) 
The next morning was the day of our appointment with Ruth back in Midtown at 30 Rockefeller Center.  I remember the voicemail from her assistant,  ‘See you at 11 on the 11th.’ The morning broke with a crystal clear blue sky, scrubbed clean from the previous nights’ storm.

And then the earth moved, the sky filled with ashes and paper glitter and we were forever changed.

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As an educator I know that we remember 10% of what we hear, 30% of what we see, 50% of what we see and hear, 70% of what we say, but 90% of what we do. (Romain Rolland, 1866-1944).

In other words, our deepest memories are those that come via our body, the muscle, skin and bones that take in those experiences.

With ashes falling this week throughout the Pacific Northwest region where I live, the sight of black and gray dust landing like powder on the hood of my car take me back to that morning, standing in the street while pulverized concrete and the dust of singed papers fell through the sky.

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I’d rather not remember, but I can’t separate my mind from my body.

It is impossible to forget that day, which is a gift, really. Not everyone has the experience of that kind of tragedy, chaos and destruction. Sixteen years ago a generation of children weren’t even born–all they know about September 11th is what they have heard and read.

 Those of us who live to tell the tale need to remind the rest of the world about those days, not because of what has been lost, but because by God’s grace we are still here, while so many, many people are not.

When I talk about the day the sky rained down glitter, I can never identify it with the shorthand of “9-11;” the day deserves every syllable of sound in the phrase—“September 11th.”

Our bodies remember.

 

August 29th All Over Again

Psalm 29-A Psalm of David.

‘Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over many waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
11 May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!”

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Every year in August I remember that day in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina unleashed its fury on the city of New Orleans. We have life long friends who live there– pastors Frank and Parris Bailey, who were displaced for more than two weeks when the waters rose. And rose. And rose.

Several days passed before we knew where they were and whether they were safe. By the time I finally I heard from Parris via a message on my phone, I wept for joy. I kept that voicemail for several weeks. When my husband and I visited four years later and drove around New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, the devastation of what too much water can do really sank in. Witnessing the blank slates and empty lots of neighborhoods, the decimated vegetation in City Park, the destruction of so much history, brought things into very painful focus.

It seemed chillingly appropriate when I turned to the 29th Psalm that day as I did once again this morning, only this time with the unprecedented power and destruction of Hurricane Harvey in mind.

I don’t like August 29th. I’m guessing my dear friend doesn’t, either, as Hurricane Harvey is dumping on their precious city again.

I do not mean to diminish the loss, the grief, the displacement, any of it, that Texans are facing. It’s incomprehensible. But the scars are still there for my friends and thousands more like her who had to rebuild and took several years to do so. New Orleans actually “never came back,” as the locals will tell you.

There are losses in Texas that will never be recovered. Homes, loved ones, keepsakes, places of family and friends lost forever that will carry deep, deep scars. For nothing carries scars like the land.

May God give us the wisdom and grace to serve those around us, near and far, touched by natural disasters and life disasters of every kind. Those that threaten to rush in like a flood and drown the unsuspecting. May we pray at all times and in every season to be ready to help in time of need when the waters rise.

Dear God, help us bring the arks that are needed for deliverance in your time. Keep us above the waters that threaten to drown us. And when we need a lifeboat, send one our way. Amen.

Bob Goff, Keith Green & Gratitude

“We’ll know we’re living gratefully by seeing how our love multiplies itself in the lives of the people around us. People don’t follow vision; they follow availability.”

-Bob Goff, founder of lovedoes.org

Last week I rewarded myself for five days straight of computer-gnashing a.k.a. book writing, by getting a pedicure. I dropped into my usual place downtown, grateful they had an open chair. Deciding to switch up my summer electric blue, I reached for a new color before I sat down, something closer to candy apple red, in honor of fall.

Instead of tapping on my tablet, playing Words with Friends (where my brother and sister always beat me), or checking Facebook, Instagram or email on my phone, I vowed to just be available, focus-wise, and opened the magazine in my lap.

As it turned out, there was a new gal taking care of me that day and we didn’t have any kind of conversation, per se. Instead, I found someone speaking to me through the pages of The Magnolia Journal (Joanna Gaines’ inspiring print endeavor).  The piece I read was entitled, “Time for Gratitude,” by Bob Goff. The article began with Goff’s retelling of how he wrote a letter to Keith Green one year when he was in college. And how Keith took the time to write him back.

Keith Green was probably one of the best-known Christian musicians in the late l970’s and into the 80’s; his music was a huge part of my newfound walk as a Christian.  Back in the day when the Jesus Movement was bursting the seams of Southern California, many, many musicians and singers were also being birthed. Every other weekend there was a Christian concert of some kind. (Free, I might add).

My husband and I were living in a Christian community at the time and the leadership decided to organize a weekend-long Christian music festival. Keith was invited and just like that, he and his wife Melody drove up to our Central California location, sharing their life and music with us.  Keith and Melody were part of a Christian community similar to ours in Southern California. We shared several conversations with them over the weekend about what it was like working and living in close proximity to brothers and sisters. I will always remember how the two of them took time to speak with us, exuding grace and giving, embodying the way Jesus would live.

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Goff continues, “Keith Green passed a few years later in a tragic airplane accident, but the few intentional moments of his life he gave to me blossomed into a pattern that has changed the way I connect with people who reach out to me.

“Each of us is a conduit of love … We have the ability to shape and transform one another thought acts of love. The reason is simple. God doesn’t pass us messages; God gives us each other.”

The words seemed to shout from the page, leaping right into my soul. “Yes! That’s how I feel.” I want to live with a grateful heart, available for those God connects me with in my corner of the world, living as a conduit of his grace and love. I want to live a grateful, expansive life, welcoming those God puts in my path, and pour out the gifts He’s given me.

That’s my want-to, an everyday, regular-Joe kinda gal, but sometimes I imagine my life as an Uber-Famous Author, Speaker Extraordinaire. Well-known. Important. I waste my days living into the future, unaware that the simplest acts of slowing down and being thankful for right now where I am can help me pay attention to the life I already have.

With my eyes ever forward I miss what’s already in my life instead of being thankful for the small but important ways I can take time now to live well. I want to to be intentional about noticing my neighbors, knocking on a door when prompted. I want to be attuned to blue skies and lovely breezes, knowing that both are from the hand of God.

All of life is from the hand of God, really, even pain and loss. Especially pain and loss.

Goff’s wisdom continues, “Pain isn’t graded on a curve. Whatever form it comes in, it just hurts. It will either take us out or lead us forward. Let gratefulness be your trusted guide. Follow its footsteps and it will lead each of us to kindness, patience and wisdom.”

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-Yosemite National Park, 2015

There are byproducts of gratefulness, changing our hearts to see all of life through the lens of Gods grace. I want to see the big explosions and the tiny miracles, too. “We don’t need to fire off a thousand fireworks to express our gratitude. Sometimes lighting one candle will do.”

“People who live their lives filled with gratefulness see more waterfalls.” 

I want to see more waterfalls and light more candles.

Join me?

Linking for the first time in a long time with Jennifer Dukes Lee and the #TellHisStory crew. So many great stories over there.

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#On Beauty, Books & A Birthday-A Photo Essay

No matter where I live, I recognize the song of a red-winged blackbird. In rushes near the shore’s edge of a California beach, along the canals and waterways in the San Joaquin Valley, the tall grasses along a Louisiana bayou or deep in marshes along Washington’s coast, the voice of the songbird is the same. There’s a trilling like no other, punctuated by startled flight and appearance of dark black wings dotted with a circle of scarlet. Once you hear the voice of red-winged blackbird, you will know it anywhere.

When I first began this blog, I was introduced to a writer whose work became a song of a different kind, with words that sang and soared right off the page. My friend and I have swooned over this writer’s work for several years now. We compare notes about the ways in which she speaks to the depths of our souls, the longing we share for rich literature, the tapestry of language that weaves the glory of God’s kingdom into a piece.

I recall sitting in my living room last year reading one of Lanier Ivester’s essays, “Songless.” I had a printout in my hand and the piece featured the color print of a red-winged blackbird. When I finished, I sat for a few moments in silence; I was literally struck speechless with the way the words were woven together.

I can either do one of two things when I encounter writing that is lightyears beyond mine (don’t we all have a different measure of what “better than I can do” looks like?) I can either throw down my pencil or close my laptop and give up. Or, I can drink from the rich deposit in my soul, be inspired to go on in my own work, and keep looking for beauty, order, design, clarity, whatever facets of God’s creativity I’ve been given to show to the world.

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I’m turning sixty five this week. It’s a daunting milestone and one that is bittersweet; I’ve officially lived ten years longer than my mother. Cancer took her at 55 when I was in the throes of raising two children who now have children of their own; I miss her a great deal. Turning 65 also prompts its own kind of contemplation—what is my contribution to the world? Have I achieved my dream(s)? What legacy am I leaving? Is it too late to make a difference?

I set out at the beginning of this year to write a book about the season of Christmas. When I discovered that Laura Ingalls Wilder published her first Little House book at the age of 65, I was greatly heartened. So, for my birthday, I’m giving the world a book. Sort of. Living the Season Well-Reclaiming Christmas won’t be released until the end of October some two months or so away, but it will still be in The Year I Turned Sixty-Five.  

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Besides birds and a book and a birthday I’ve also been contemplating the stunning beauty of blown glass.

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My sister visited recently and we wandered through the Chihuly Glass Garden in Seattle. Chihuly’s work is housed inside in quiet, cavernous rooms and outside in wide open, bright spaces.

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The glass sculptures that took my breath away were those inside, where uplighting pierced through each installation and shone through the dark in glittering rainbows.

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We were spellbound. “How does someone even dream up these ideas? Where does this kind of creativity come from? I could never do that.”

No, I can’t. But I can visually absorb the power of each piece, the scale, the variety, the brilliance. I can let it soak in just a little bit then take it as fuel for inspiration. What kind of creativity can I bring to the world? What’s in my hand? What’s in my heart? What’s in my head?

In 1699 Jean Haudicquer de Blancourt wrote a book about glass blowing which uses ashes, not sand. (I have no idea how old he was.) “The art of glass: showing how to make all sorts of glass, crystal, & enamel” details in great length the way to transform beauty from the ashes of hearths and homes across de Blancourt’s native France. People looked beyond what they saw in their chimneys and someone figured out a way to melt it into glass. Glass which provided people with a way to see.

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I began this post telling of a writer whose work is a tremendous inspiration to me, someone who finds beauty in ordinary things like gathering color from her garden or sharing a cup of tea. In a tragedy that defies all that makes sense, this beauty-bringer recently experienced the loss of her 100 year old farmhouse when it burnt nearly to the ground. She and her husband were left with ashes.

In the shock and trauma that have followed since then, the community of writers whom she calls friends have rallied around her–not by sending cash or showing up to help rebuild. No, many of us sent a gift for her soul—lovely china tea cups, plates and saucers for daily use. While time perhaps does not allow for the ‘taking of tea’ in this season, and indeed might seem a preposterous undertaking given the weight of the tragedy she’s endured, Lanier believes that beauty matters. The pattern on L’s new tea set? The Phoenix.

It is good for us to stop and enjoy the weight of God’s glory that shines in the sway of flowers in our garden, the glance of sunlight on the water or birdsong out our windows. We also can live as purveyors of goodness and beauty, shining our own gifts through the ‘glass’ God gives us.

Can you draw or paint? Write a song, play a tune or dance?

Have you a pen in your hands you can yield to God as you write through your pain?

Is speaking your gift?

Bring beauty from your ashes, write the words, fashion a glass and help us see. 

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Lanier’s post “Songless” is here.

 

How Books Saved Me

Some of the most delicious morsels we consume are not the meals we partake of but rather the nourishment of words which speak to our souls. When you are the oldest of five children with alcoholic parents, life is tenuous and uncertain, to say the least. Rocky around the edges and loosely glued together by the basic threads of food, shelter and clothing. Although my stepfather was often either unemployed when I was growing up (“I’m just in between jobs”) or underemployed, we did not go hungry.  God, via neighbors and friends throughout my young life, saw to it that we had enough to eat.

But the meals that really saved me soul-deep were the feasts I found in glorious stories, words that took me away from a chaotic and crowded household to a world of people and places that shone with beauty, peace and plenty.

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Nobody worried about ‘personal space’ when I was growing up—it would be decades before people considered that a thing. Whenever we traveled somewhere in Southern California circa 1960, we’d pile into the family station wagon, drawing invisible lines down the middle of the bench seat. Thus we claimed our personal space. There weren’t even seatbelts then to contain us.

Around the age of twelve or thirteen I was often left to babysit my brothers and sisters while my parents stepped out for the evening. (Times were different then, yes they were). When I was in charge, I simply left my siblings to play on their own while I escaped into the pages of a good book. (No one died. We are all still friends.)

During the long, slow summer days when everyone was at home, if I wanted any peace and quiet at all, I retreated to my bedroom with a book. There, away from the clamor and chaos, I could dive into the pages of a story to take me far away. Books became my solace, shutting out the noise and distraction, leading me to a pleasant world full of kind and caring people. I found beauty and gentleness, people who were just like me, getting by on little, yet living with happy hearts. I know this is the time that God planted the seeds of my love affair with words and writing.

One of those lovely books into which I escaped was Louisa May Alcott’s Rose in Bloom(c. 1876), a sequel to Alcott’s Eight Cousins. Rose in Bloom was a very old-fashioned coming of age story “with absolutely no moral” as the author stated in the preface.  The lines I read sounded like a fairy tale; splendor and parties, fancy dresses, adoring young men—all a young pre-teen girl could want.  I got lost for hours.

I also fell in love with Alcott’s classic Little Women and gravitated to the lead character of Jo (my mother’s nickname for me).  The heroine and I had much in common: both of us the oldest, bossy to a fault, and enamored of our absent fathers—Jo’s was off fighting the war, mine-a stepfather-was often away somewhere drinking or gambling.

Jo often dreamed at her mother’s feet of her father’s homecoming; perhaps the story resonated so with my young girls’ heart because I longed for that to be true as well—that my father would be present in my life.

I discovered Gene Stratton Porter’s classic Freckles which became like a sacred text to me; I have the volume I read as a 12 year old on my bookshelf today. Dreaming as I read, I envisioned Freckles’ cathedral in the swamp forest as a place of quiet wonder.  Freckles crafted a place of beauty from the forest at his feet, designed by God, where he was heard and understood.  Between those pages I found an escape like I’d never known, a place where silence spoke volumes.

I also found a kindred spirit with Freckles— a father who’d abandoned him (as my birth father had when I was five. Freckles had no one but he and God and the stunning beauty of the Limberlost Forest. Although Porter’s story never directly mentioned the Divine, God”s existence palpated between the lines.  I could sense a Presence in her words, the light glimpsing its way into the Cathedral in the woods, the chapters like a song calling me to a Somewhere Else far away. This longing planted the seeds of my search for a father who would never leave me–my Heavenly Father.

There are many other volumes that struck a chord as well—stories like The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, Margaret Sidney, 1881.

“Ben, Polly, Joel, Davie, and Phronsie, and their widowed mother are a loving family, full of spirit and adventure. Ben and Polly do what they can to support the family, but a bout with measles threatens the well being of the entire Pepper clan, especially Joel and Polly.” (from the book jacket)

Five children, an absent father and the measles, a threat to our family I remember very well.  The book had been written for me, I was sure. Another classic was The Boxcar Children, Gertrude Chandler Warner, 1942, first book. A tale of four orphaned children living in—imagine!—an abandoned boxcar, making do with little or nothing.  The common thread of happy children scraping by with little, making the best of what they had; the parallels rang true as a bell.

Through all these ‘bells’, the resonating tune I heard was God’s song calling me through tales of beauty, peace and provision, feeding my soul and tuning my heart to hear His voice. My friend Laura says that “every good story leads to God” and I am inclined to agree. I didn’t have ears to hear until many years later, heeding God’s call to come, a lost and lonely little big girl with an empty heart.

I am still drawn to the classics, the song and rhythm, the beauty of the language a magnifier of the beauty in that other world where I will live some day, with my God who will never leave, the Source of all I will ever need.

Books brought me a sort of salvation, carrying me to my Savior; they carry me still to this day.

What books carried you to the Savior, Jesus?

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This is an edited version of  post which appeared in August 2015 for the blog link-up “Literacy Musing Mondays.”