Why do Bad Things Happen to Good People? Is That the Right Question?

“Harbor me in the eye of the storm I’m holding on to the love you swore.”  -John Mark McMillan, Love You Swore The other day on Instagram I asked: “How is it we never wonder why good things happen to good people? Or why good things happen to bad people?” My reflections were a version of that all-too-common question, “Why do bad things happen to … Continue reading Why do Bad Things Happen to Good People? Is That the Right Question?

The Body of Memories-September 11th

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 celebrated 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 three 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. Continue reading “The Body of Memories-September 11th”

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 … Continue reading On Beauty, Books & A Birthday-A Photo Essay

Nouns-Some Thoughts on People, Places & Things

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“…you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink

but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone

but on tablets of human hearts.”     II Corinthians 3:3

Last week I traveled to Southern California, the land where I grew up and lived until I married.  Five days of returning and rejuvenating was definitely good for my soul. Although I often visit there each summer to see my sisters—usually in August–this was my first trip in the month of May. (There are some definite perks to being a retired teacher). I knew the area had seen more rain than ever this year so I was looking forward to green hillsides, rich tropical flowers and blooms of the jacaranda trees.

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I was especially looking forward to eating fresh California strawberries.

As soon as I hopped into my rental car I headed down the freeway to one of the last remaining strawberry farms in the So Cal beach area. The bright colors of fresh produce were a balm to my eyes, if there is such a thing, and the aroma of fresh strawberries jogged a place deep in my memory.20170501_121438

After selecting three baskets of ruby red fruit, one of the farm’s owners and I chatted about changes we’ve seen in the last twenty-five years. The near disappearance of strawberry fields which dotted varying plots of land throughout Orange County, including several acres across the street from Disneyland. Also gone were hundreds of acres of orange orchards; the fragrant smell of orange blossoms on the evening breeze a thing of the past. No more open spaces, just tracts and tracts of homes on the hillsides, crowded beaches and ten-lane (!!) freeways. Yes, the land of my birth had changed drastically.

I was surprised to see signs between the airport and the ocean announcing “Tourist Information Ahead.” The place where our humble (poor) family lived all my growing up years was now a tourist destination. I wondered if there were maps for the movies stars’ houses (or maybe mine?) Continue reading “Nouns-Some Thoughts on People, Places & Things”

God Can’t Make You But You Can Let Him

Just when you think there’s going to be a breather between some professional sports championship or another, a new season starts. Remember the Sweet Sixteen in basketball? Done. Now we have baseball to think about. Our Seattle Mariners have already played several games—they’re about even for wins and losses—but I still can’t get used to it.  In my mind baseball is a summer sport, but … Continue reading God Can’t Make You But You Can Let Him

Why Rear View Mirrors are Better Than Windshields

“The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, Shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” Proverbs 4:18 When I began this year, God gave me a word–“adjust.” Last year I spent time ‘abiding’, year before that it was ‘dwell’ (very similar) and the year before that, my word was ‘fit’–how does what I’m doing in my walk with Jesus … Continue reading Why Rear View Mirrors are Better Than Windshields

Planting, Pruning & Other Acts of Faith

“The seed catalogues are a further promise of warm days to come. I class them as fiction and love to read them. Oh, the beautiful roses and tall spikes of delphinium and the flowering bushes-not to mention the carrots as big as telephone poles and the peas that practically shell themselves… We get some pretty fine vegetables and some nice flowers, but they definitely do not resemble the champion parade in the catalogues.”           Gladys Taber, ‘Stillmeadow Seasons’

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I am a Southern California girl, born and raised, transplanted 25 years ago to the Pacific Northwest near Seattle.  The weather is starkly different than my old Orange County clime. There are no, ahem, seasons in Southern California, only a variation on the words ‘sunny’, ‘partially sunny’, ‘mostly sunny’, ‘warm’ and ‘cool’.  Flowers bloom year ’round, vegetables can be picked at any time and trees never drop their leaves.

I’ve grown to love the weather changes here in this Northwest corner of the world where there are definitely seasons –fulsome Springs, rich, green Summers, colorful Autumns and the bare bones gray of Winter.

Of course, this particular location on the globe precludes a lot of extra care in gardening and upkeep. My husband and I spent a few hours outside the other day in unseasonably warm February weather to tackle the pruning of our trees. There are no buds yet on the empty, gray branches of our maples and magnolia, so the timing is right for this necessary husbandry. In the backyard, buds are just surfacing on the lilacs and the forsythia are threatening to burst into yellow like an invisible promise. We need to hurry–blooming is in their botanical blood and the flowers will come whether we prune or not.

Inside where it was warm I pondered the view to my back yard and the bare spot of my vegetable garden. I’m in more of a pondering stage about that space right now–do I REALLY want to invest in the time it takes to get that spinach in this year? If I do, should I add carrots and beets like last time? The lettuce worked well, the potatoes took off, there’s even leftover garlic and the Mint that Will Not Die. Continue reading “Planting, Pruning & Other Acts of Faith”

Why Gray is Better than Black and White

“It is possible to enjoy Me and glorify Me in the midst of adverse circumstances. My light shines most brightly through believers who trust Me in the dark.”   Sarah Young, ‘Jesus Calling.’ I grew up in Southern California, the land of pavement, palm trees and perpetual sunshine., All that blue and bright color became a backdrop for the clearly delineated cultural, political and religious … Continue reading Why Gray is Better than Black and White

“LaLa Land” & Other Revelations

Disclaimer: the following is a sort of movie review. This film was made in Hollywood. There are a couple bad words in it and people sleep together. They are fully clothed and nothing happens, but still. Just thought I should say that. My friend Jill and I finally got to go see “LaLa Land.” (Los Angeles has been called “LaLa Land for as long as … Continue reading “LaLa Land” & Other Revelations

When God Breaks Your Heart With Giving

      “…{the poem} raises an important and again characteristically modern issue about how faith is known and shared. In the end, everything depends on trustworthy human relationships.  A person who has been damaged and betrayed in one set of ‘horizontal’ or secular relationships may be genuinely prevented from opening in the ‘vertical’ dimension to the Divine.”  Malcolm Guite, December 11th reading from ‘Waiting on the Word’(emphasis mine)

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 My friend Jill and I volunteered six weeks ago to co-lead the charge of organizing, planning and staffing our church’s annual Christmas Store this year. This is a two-day, nine-hour event where we serve our community by providing an opportunity for guests to ‘shop’ for household and personal items, clothing and best of all, toys, completely free of charge.

All of the items in the Christmas Store were new donations to our church from the surplus of a large relief organization here in the Seattle area, along with toys and cash given by members of our church over the last few weeks. People gladly gave and we gladly spent.

Organizing, staffing and scheduling this kind of undertaking is an enormous task, but Jill and I know each other well and have complementary organizing and communicating gifts so we were game for pulling it all together.  There were hours on the phone, email conversations, texting each other, in person meetings with volunteers and our Pastor—all the necessary elements that go into an event this size.

Prior to the Friday/Saturday store hours things seemed to be going swimmingly. Volunteers stepped in to add their muscle—as only volunteers can do–of hauling boxes, moving furniture, schlepping tables and the like.  The Scripture about “outdoing one another in doing good” (Hebrews 10:24) kept running through my mind; some of the guys lifting tables and boxes exhibited a healthy competitive spirit in getting the job done.

Six hours into the unpacking and set up process, however, Jill and I sat back and watched as tables filled up with merchandise. Our stealth bomber sorting team were piling items atop tables that seemed to be spilling over into every available space, including the floors around the tablecloth-skirted tables.

She looked at me and said, “This was a lot more fun until right about now.”  We were both overwhelmed at the visual input of the space around us and I for one felt buried at the enormity of what we were going to do. There were plush blankets and 8 million pairs of canvas shoes and men’s body wash and all manner of balls and books and dolls and pillows and…..you get the idea.

I confessed I felt like crying myself.  I was waaaaayyyy outside my comfort zone—I like organizing things on paper, but in actuality, the stuffing and piling and sorting of STUFF made me feel like I was going to drown. When Jill made the statement she was actually an introvert who liked being alone, we both laughed out loud. We had 35 families coming with over 100 family members to serve, there was no turning back.

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It’s funny how God shows up to do what only He can do after you say that first “yes” then commit to serve  it out. The realization dawns you actually ARE in over your head; the only way out is to look up to let God do the work and get glory for doing the impossible.

When we opened our doors at 6 p.m. Friday night, there was a quiet kind of magic in the air along with the Cambridge Singers Christmas music in the background. The apartment residents we welcomed were also overwhelmed, but in a good way.

While guests shopped, we heard stories of hard times, challenging job situations, homelessness and want. But these people who seemingly had so little? Not only did they give back to us with their thanks and their hugs, but with the openness with which they received our prayers, inviting us into their brokenness with open arms.

Guite’s line above, that “everything depends on trustworthy human relationships” was certainly borne out in the time we spent with those folks we got to know while we all plugged in to that ‘vertical dimension.’

Continue reading “When God Breaks Your Heart With Giving”