Category Archives: On Faith

When God Disrupts Your Christmas Plans on Purpose

Emmanuel. God with us. That’s the core of Christmas, that God the Son left his place in Heaven and came to us as a baby in a manger. What an unlikely beginning for a King. Talk about a disruption.

Our pastor spoke last Sunday of just what that Incarnation looked like, how God came into the world at Christmas. There was a visual he mentioned of Jesus putting his hand on peoples’ hearts to “stop the bleeding.” Not physical bleeding, but that dissipation and dissolution that leads to pain and hurt, often making us act like the broken people we are.

Sometimes just being kind during Christmas is all someone needs to transfuse them with life. I know it’s all I need. Which is why celebrating the birth of Jesus is an act of defiance, to choose to live like people who know that He came.

To notice others, speak kindly to them, acknowledge their worth as people made in God’s image. Wish them a “Merry Christmas” but also ask how they’re doing when they look harassed and harried. During this season most of all we are challenged to incarnate Jesus to the world in the face of all that would cause us to do otherwise.  To choose joy in spite of what we see around us.

“Incarnate” means to embody in the flesh. Sometimes (most times) the way we act is more important than what we say. We don’t have to even mention Jesus’ name, but simply act in order that a door might open someday for a conversation about Him.

Of course, there is an enemy of our souls who wants to steal our joy and hijack our message, so it makes sense that it might seem like all Hell breaks loose in the weeks before Christmas. I know, I probably shouldn’t say ‘hell’ in the same sentence where I’m talking about Christ’s birth and all. But I think when God’s kingdom is advancing in the small ways we seek to honor him, there is always pushback.

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What’s in a Name? Only Everything {an Advent Post}

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There can be no manner of doubt a name is more easily remembered when its meaning is understood.      –A.J. Macself, from the Foreword, “Plant Names Simplified”

I forgot to plant my amaryllis bulb the week of All Hallow’s Eve. I wrote about the practice in my Christmas season book, how planting a crinkly, brown bulb with antenna-like roots can be a lesson in patience and waiting during the Advent and Christmas season. But I was too busy to remember. Goodness.

So, I potted the inglorious bulb the other day after soaking the accompanying ground-up coconut shreds in warm water, watching them miraculously expand and nearly overtake my 32-ounce glass measuring cup. Amaryllis duly snugged into plastic container, I pondered something while I cleaned up the mess in my sink.

What does ‘amaryllis’ mean, anyway?

I’m fond of learning the Latin for plant names, shrubs and trees. As an amateur gardener, I pride myself on the pronunciation and meaning of the various denizens of my yard and garden. And some of the names are not Latin at all, but simply named for people or a place.

–Susan Magnolia

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-Japanese Stewartia

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-Shindishojo Maple

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-Lonicera (Honeysuckle)

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Ready for the Sights of the Season (sort of)

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!”― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol   

I’m sure you’ve noticed….the fervor of the Christmas season often assaults us from September’s end all the way until December. The other day while shopping at Costco I felt just that–overwhelmed by an onslaught of Christmas music, faux decorations and mountain of toys two aisles wide. While I rounded the corner next to cases of hummus and casserole fixings, I sighed and pondered our desperate need for a slower walk into the coming season.

I wish more folks in the world ordered their lives around the church calendar and its feasts rather than the calendar of consumerism. Along with harvest decorations and the Halloween costumes there’s mechanical Santas and fake flocked Christmas wreaths at nearly every department store around.

I suppose Costco prescribes to Dickens’ philosophy above, that of keeping Christmas (almost) the entire year. While I support the spirit of this sentiment–being filled with peace and goodwill towards all men–the crush of gift-giving and pressures of picture-perfect holidays miss the point completely. We would do well–I would do well–to remember the need for a slow walk into the season; Advent is the perfect place to begin.  

After All Hallow’s Eve (Halloween) we observe All Saints Day on the church calendar, an occasion for remembering all the saints, known and unknown. After that is the last church feast day in Ordinary Time-the Story of the People of God, Christ the King Sunday on November 24th. We are then ushered into the season of Advent and the months that encompass the Story of Jesus from his birth until the celebration of Pentecost. This graphic below is helpful to me, a clueless Evangelical, when it comes to understanding the church year. Perhaps you’ll find it an aid to your understanding as well.

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photo credit-Renovare.org

As with much of Christianity, the church year can be radically countercultural, a much-needed light showing a better way to live. In a culture that is often too hurried and distracted, the church year helps us pay attention because it draws our focus continually back to Christ.    -K.C. Ireton, The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year Continue reading

When God’s Word Goes Haywire {Operator Error}

P_20181111_130112You know how it is when you’re clicking around online and you visit a website link looking for information and up pops that 404 Error message?

I was stuck in a rabbit hole kind of like that recently, stewing for weeks over an issue (always the battleground for me, the ol’ noggin) and could not seem to get past it. I had worried the situation to death, played scenarios over and over again about a particular Terrible Thing that I needed to pray against and it wouldn’t go away. I woke up with it on my mind and went to bed mumbling about it in my prayers.

There was spiritual warfare going on like crazy, fighting principalities and powers, pushing back that stupid devil/destroyer/stealer. I was in a battle for sure.

So~one night in the shower--the land of ‘aha’s’, we all know this, right?–I heard the first half of John 10:10 running through my head, “The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy….” and the next thing I heard was the Holy Spirit saying, “Um, there’s the abundant life part. You forgot the rest of the verse.”

The problem with memorizing Scripture, if I may be so bold, is that sometimes the wrong parts stick. I’d been so uber-focused on the steal/kill/destroy part of the verse in John that it had overshadowed completely the fact that God is a good and abundant God.

He is aware of what is needed and able to take care of those we love. He is not blind to what’s going on in our lives and the lives of others. He’s not caught by surprise with the challenges we face. He is rich in mercy, lovingkindness and grace. And he’s like superpowerful, to use the theological term, capable of accomplishing what seems impossible.

So, in my head, I made up a counter-ditty for the God Team.

Ready? 

The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy. But Jesus comes to heal, build and give joy.  Heal, build and give joy. That’s what He does. That’s what He’s all about. That’s who He is, what His character contains. Resurrection power, unending love and unlimited resources.

I’d like to work on memorizing t h a t.

Here’s a picture I made in case you need to remember, too. heal, build and give joyThis week look for Scriptures as you read that focus on God’s capabilities, his care and his concern. See how it turns your prayers around and then let me know how it goes;  I’d love to hear about it.

10 Reasons to Smile–A Photo Essay

I heard someone once say that “art is a way of seeing.” I think learning how to pay attention is an art, too. There is so much remarkable beauty all around us, inside, outside all around, particularly here in the “upper lefthand corner” of the United States where I live. My bi-monthly newsletter talks about the ‘miraculous to mundane’ parts of our days, because that’s where we live. Here’s what I saw when I was looking.

I never tire of this view from our upstairs deck, the way the trees frame the clouds and the horizon. Even when I’m standing at the kitchen sink there’s a far away scene to fill my soul.

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The other day I purposefully took a crazy long way home from the grocery store (talk about mundane). But this made up for it, a tree-lined winding drive right off one our main highways. I literally stopped in the middle of the road and snapped this photo. Wouldn’t you?

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My friend Kimberlee and I were walking on a path around a lake in Seattle last week and stopped to photograph these mushrooms. One of the locals pointed out they’re s u p e r poisonous, like don’t even touch them poisonous unless you wash your hands afterwards. But they look like there should be gnomes or fairies hiding right next to them, don’t you think?

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This is beautyberry in my front yard after last week’s rain. Aptly named, yes? I love the purple against the green.

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These fuschia blossoms land on the stairs below the basket hanging on our deck. They looked like resting ballerinas to me. Sometimes there is remarkable, delicate beauty right at our feet.

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The colors in our backyard this time of year always catch me by surprise. The russet colored tree that’s aflame with reddish orange is a Japanese Stewartia. It blooms with white flowers in the summer, another happy surprise.

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I took this photo the other morning on my walk. I was captivated by the way the light shone between the trees, like Jesus might be coming right through the sky.

P_20181011_134337This is Greenlake in Seattle,which should be called Golden Pond, yes? Look at the mirrored reflection on the surface of the water. It looks like a painting.

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I remember a line in Laura Barkat’s book, God in the Yard–Spiritual Practice for the Rest of Us, “smallness permits attention.”  I’m also reminded of a phrase from Seamus Heaney when I look at this photo about the “diamond absolutes.” Can you see the diamonds?

One more miracle in the middle of the mundane. I was walking through the Wal-Mart parking lot yesterday and looked up at this supernatural sight–a lake in the air? A feather in the sky? Only God. Only God.

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I’m so grateful every day for the beautiful place where I get to live. I’m grateful, too, for the way God has tuned my eyes to pay attention to miracles–big or small–from lakes to fuschia blossoms.

May He grant you one or two moments of glorious ‘aha!’s in your day today.

((If you’d like to sign up for my newsletter–next one is in November--just click here.))

3 Non-Profits That Champion Women & Families

P_20180513_170950_vHDR_OnYesterday in my daughter’s backyard we celebrated Mother’s Day. Hanging out under her hawthorn tree, iced drink in hand, listening to jazz tunes in the background, I felt richly blessed and grateful.

Not all women have children and therefore not technically mothers, and may not have their own family. For that reason, Mother’s Day is awkward and sometimes a sad day. But mothers or not, a l l women should be valued, for they are all made in God’s image.

That image of God’s likeness in the beauty of women is often lost in the chaos and destruction of life. Sin and disease, heartbreaking poverty and inadequate care all play a part in that loss. But there is hope to be found in the work of three non-profits championing the worth of women and families.

  1. Lulu Tree–Founder Emily W.–Uganda and Sierra Leone, AfricaMother with baby Uganda

The Lulu Tree’s mission is to prevent tomorrow’s orphans by equipping today’s families through the local church.  This is accomplished by partnering with pastors so that they can care for their own families and their church families.

The church can then equip villages by providing community training including soap-making lessons, prayer clinics and community clean-ups, and health, hygiene and nutrition classes. Individual families can then be helped through micro loans, business training, and educational assistance.

The most vulnerable are protected when communities are equipped to care for their own, in the name of Christ. Strong families with roots in the local church form the foundation for thriving, happy children.

  • To learn more about Lulu Tree, click HERE. Donating to Lulu Tree includes support for teen moms to attend school, mama kits for pregnant teens and microloans for vulnerable women in the church.
  • To learn more about the origin of the Lulu Tree name, here is a short video with Emily. 

2. Mary’s Song Restoration Center for Women–New Orleans (founder Parris Bailey)

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Mary’s Song Restoration Center for Women is a rehabilitation program that offers an opportunity for women to permanently change lives by Power of God. Mary’s Song is located in Metairie, Louisiana and is an exclusive faith based drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility.

From their website: We specialize in the treatment of women ages 18 to 55 that struggle with substance abuse, alcohol addictions, and/or with other life controlling problems.

Mary’s Song provides a multi-faceted and personal alternative to standard free drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs. Housing 12 women during the first four phases of the program and only 4 in the fifth phase enables us to provide a home-like atmosphere with ample access to Pastoral counselors.

Mary’s Song is focused on individual attention, personal relationships, and the care of the whole woman, including:

    • Abstinence-based treatment
    • A total-wellness focus that includes nutrition and fitness
    • Celebrate recovery 12-step faith based program
    • Weekly individual therapy sessions
    • Weekly group therapy sessions
    • Completion of GED
    • Exercise and Nutrition Classes

For more information about supporting Mary’s Song through purchasing their organic skin care products, click HERE.

3) Sew Powerful- Seattle, WA (founders  Jason and Cinnamon Miles)

Sew Powerful started by my friends Jason and Cinnamon Miles. It has been a privilege and a joy to partner with them in their work. If you are a seamstress and want to contribute to their purse making program, click HERE.

Sew Powerful’s mission (from their website):

We exist to combat extreme poverty in a very challenging place called Ngombe Compound in Lusaka Zambia. We do that by equipping community members with jobs as well as training, tools, and technical skills to make what we call “Purposeful Products”. Products that can bless local children and empower their academic success. Our current Purposeful Products include school uniformsreusable feminine hygiene padsfood, and soap. Our overhead rate in 2017 was 1.35% and in 2016, it was less than 4%. When you give financially – you are helping create jobs and empower academic achievement – two powerful ingredients for combating extreme poverty. Learn more about our mission.”

There is so much joy in the world and beautiful work being done to help

women and children all over the world.

I hope you’ll consider what y o u might do to help–and now you’ll know where to start.