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?

 

On God’s Timing (and Rejection Letters)

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will

reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

Why does it always seem like the final hours of a long trip last forever when all you can think about is your comfortable bed? My husband and I had just spent a recent weekend with our son and his family so the two of them could work on car repairs; their family van was kaput primarily because of a timing belt.

Clearly life and car repairs mirror each other often—timing is everything.

Now, I have no idea what a timing belt does but I’ve heard my husband moan more than once about the challenge they represent when something is off. I realize we are beyond fortunate that he can repair our vehicles (and our kids’) but sometimes the task is easier than it sounds.

As our tires lapped up the miles in the dark, I began a conversation that would keep Mr. Mechanic occupied while he drove. It was a simple question. “So honey, how’d that all work out with Aaron’s van? Obviously you guys got it running…..”

Thus began an explanation in my husband’s usual animated style, making a long story longer. Smile. I pretended to listen to his response; all I know is he talked pretty much nonstop for at least 30 minutes about pulleys and rotator thingys and notches and tension belts and… Well, he lost me at “top dead center” and “serpentine.” My innocent question prompted way more information than I bargained for.

You get the picture. In fact, I was so impressed with his auto repair recitation, I actually pressed the recorder app on my phone to document the conversation. Feigning attention, I have to confess I had my own running dialogue inside my head. “How does he remember this stuff? He can’t remember six things on a grocery list once he’s gets to the store.”

Then my thoughts turned to timing of a different kind.

I was thinking about writing in particular and the dream or desire of many people to be well known for their words. Since I’m currently working on a book, this is a frequent thought of mine. Imagining my name of the cover of a book, stopping shoppers as they pass by in the bookstore. Oh, the power. The fame. The glory.

Then there’s the other voice in my head, God’s voice via the Apostle Paul, reminding me that all good things take time, not just recognition for a well-written book.

Sometimes when you’re doing good, it may be awhile before people notice. Actually, you can count on it. Whether that ‘good’ is everything from sharing what God’s given you via voice or writing, serving others, teaching and investing in your kids or grandkids. The list is a long one of good and noble endeavors.

There’s no magic formula to “success” and if success is what we’re after, we will come up empty. If there’s to be any recognition for our accomplishments at all, they manifest only when we show up and do the next right thing, whatever it is.

And showing up, whether it’s for an audience of 1 or 10 or 100, is what we are called to do with the gifts we have. The holy spirit reminds me often, “what you have came from God to begin with. Just offer it back to Him with an open hand.

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As a writer, I haven’t had a lot of rejection letters (yet) in the short time I’ve been serious about my work. Okay, I’ve had three. I know those “Dear Jody” letters are an expected part of the publishing process, but it doesn’t make it any easier. When I feel a little discouraged, I’m reminded of my hero and inspiration, author Laura Ingalls Wilder who published her first “Little House” book at 65. Sixty-five. I imagine she had a few rejection letters along the way. Talk about perseverance. She then went on to write 7 more books. Seven.

I read a comment recently by a Christian writer who said it took her eight faithful years of writing and blogging until the time was right for her first book to be born. This perspective encouraged me; in fact, she strongly urged new writers to keep a file of their rejection letters as a way to later recall God’s faithfulness when the fruit of their work showed up. I liked that idea; sort of like a paper trail, but the best kind. I’ve got my three.

/ / / / /

Positive results are always about timing—the message I have to share will resonate and reach people when God makes the way for them to hear. There’s preparation that needs to take place first, not only in my life in the process, but in the lives of whoever will read the message. And in the publishing business especially, it is often the simple fact of the words falling on someone’s desktop or laptop, when your gift meets the need and the timing is just right.

An old French proverb came to mind last week when I thought about how we build our lives and our work and our words.

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“Petit a petit, l’oiseau fait son nid.”

Little by little, the bird builds its nest. (from the French)

One piece of straw at a time, some yarn or spent leaves, (eraser dust? wadded up paper?) moss or downy feathers—they’re all part of the perfect environment for something to be born, all in God’s perfect time.

Keep on, my friends, whether you’re writing or painting or singing. Keep plowing, investing, pursuing….for in due season you will reap if you faint not.

A Prayer for America

I wrote this poem the week of the Inauguration and it appeared on my poetry blog ‘another facet’. The words seem fitting again, in this week that we are reminded of our freedom and how we need to look up to our Creator for His help alone.

~~~~~

I wish I could collect
the light, landing its shadows
on this page as it creeps
ever brighter through the gray.
Pour it out to wash my heart,
salve the wound of this
present heaviness, the sighs
that never end.Hold it lightly aloft, praying
no sharp wind or
quiet, steady breeze
snuff it out, for we
need it so.

Father, carry us,
ferry us through storms,
silent and proud as we
shine hope in the right
direction–people-ward
up ward.

Send us, spread us
like the daily sure rising
of your sun, that moves ever
on into the distant dark.

——
In this holiday week as we celebrate the country’s independence it seems that all manner of circumstances would give us reason to despair. I’m choosing more often than not to turn off the news and turn to prayer over my kitchen sink instead.
May God Bless America.

Everyone Needs Some REST

I wish I could paint a lovelier picture than the one I’m about to share. I’d rather talk about the bright side of summer, the pool party we’re going to tomorrow or my grandkids’ play recital, but the truth is, summer has a dark side, too.

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Here I am propped on the couch with an ice pack on my knee, resting as my doctor suggested after a straining injury. Volume 5 of Classical Favorites CD is playing in the background; I just finished humming along to a selection from Gustav Holst’s ‘The Planets.’ Windchimes on my deck message me along the afternoon breezes and birdsong floats through the window.

While I sit thusly reclined, I also have time to read my mail. There’s a brochure from a non-profit we have supported in the past; they say they miss me. After I read their stories, I realize I miss them, too and my eyes well up with tears.

The letter and brochure in my hand are from REST Ministries—Real Escape from the Sex Trade—an outreach in the greater Seattle area where I live. REST is a partnership between law enforcement and other agencies that rescues women caught in the sex slave industry. Reading about the work they’re doing leaves me an emotional wreck.

The program director’s letter has this quote from a recent resident, “When I called the REST Hotline, my whole life changed. REST has become my family, giving me the support I never had. This place has saved my life, and I didn’t think I could be anything but a prostitute before I met REST. Thank you.”

Women trapped in the sex trafficking industry don’t have the luxury of time to sit and listen to music they love while reclining on a comfortable couch with summer breezes blowing in through their living room windows.

No, they do not.

“Over the last year, we’ve seen our biggest increase in requests for help since REST began in 2009. Over 400 new individuals reached out to REST for help. And in just over six months over 1350 nights of safe shelter were offered.

The brochure tells the story of Alaina. Recruited by a pimp at the age of 16 after running away from home, she was exploited through strip clubs and on the streets until meeting a team from REST.

“I am so thankful that REST came into my life. The help I received impacted me in powerful ways that I didn’t fully realize until much later. Now I want to do the same for other girls who are trapped like I was.”

Here are some of the outcomes REST ministries shared via this brochure in my hand:

  • 3,142 nights of Rest provided
  • Approximately every four days someone new experienced an interruption from commercial sexual exploitation
  • 231 found community through the emergency shelter, the REST house and other services
  • Clients achieved various goals including earning their GED, finding housing, getting a driver’s license & more

REST’s continuum of care goes from “Prevention to Intervention to Restoration.” Their current phase is moving from an emergency center to housing, for which they are asking funds. Hence the Director’s letter; they need money for housing and shelter. For rooms with couches and soft pillows and open windows…and maybe a windchime to hang near the window.

So I consider the disparity of my rich, full life and the darkness that exists in the bright middle of a June day because women are still trapped and enslaved, sold for sex and degraded because of greed. It breaks my heart as it does our Lord’s.

So–I take this broken heart feeling, get up off the couch and head down the hallway. I have some extra funds from an unexpected source—sitting in my dresser drawer for who knows what?

I think I know who.

I think I know what.

I think about now.

~~~~~

More information about the work of REST ministries is here. Even $10 a month can help. Or find a non-profit in your area that is doing the same good work and pray about how you might support them.

 

 

 

How to Live Hungry

I was going to subtitle this, “Will Jesus Still Love me if I Don’t Have ‘Quiet Time?” ‘cause I’ve been thinking about that question a lot lately.  Don’t get me wrong—I’ve studied Psalm 119—I know God’s word is the compass for my life, that I can’t live without it.

But sometimes life goes in a different direction.

I remember the days when I was able to sit outside on my deck for an hour at a stretch, maybe three times a week, and just listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit speak. I wrote and wrote and wrote what I heard in those whispers on the wind to me.

I recall sweet moments at my desk reading Scripture or perusing a favorite devotional—Oswald Chambers, Andrew Murray, Charles Spurgeon. The words seemed to light up the page, resonating deep in my spirit.  Time after time there would be an ‘aha’ moment when I sensed God’s presence and His pleasure as I sat to soak myself in the Word.

But I wonder about those folks like myself who find themselves in a season where quiet time is pretty much non-existent. I’m writing a book, shepherding a small group of like-minded writer folks, editing for others and caring for my kids via phone calls and texts that come all hours of the day. I need to be interruptable for that; I wouldn’t have it any other way.

So, what about this question—is there really a divide between sacred and secular? A time that is not God’s (if we belong to Him)? Is He more pleased with me because I take time for studying the word or reading a devotion? Or is He okay (because He knows this season of my life) if I lean into Him when I can, stay hungry for His presence in all the hours of my day?

My son has a new job in a Frito-Lay warehouse (yay for all-you-can-eat Doritos) and he works 60 hour weeks these days. Even on a regular day (i.e. 8 hours) his moments of alone time or quiet time vanish as he communicates with his wife or nurtures his five children. His thirst is there for God’s word—he has a seminary degree, steeped in Scripture inside and out–but the chances to drink are few and far between.

Or what about my niece’s husband, new dad of two, who works nights, sleeps days and hugs his wife and babies in between? Where or how would he, could he, find moments to spend with Jesus? Would it be before or after worship practice, where he plays drums and/or guitar?

Or what about the baristas at Starbuck’s who get up at oh dark thirty to make sure our coffee-fueled world goes on? There are plenty of Jesus-loving espresso-making folks out there—how do they manage to fit in time with God?

And is God worried about that? Really?

Here’s what Oswald himself had to say about “quiet time”; May 12th ‘My Utmost for His Highest.’

“Your god may be your little Christian habit— the habit of prayer or Bible reading at certain times of your day. Watch how your Father will upset your schedule if you begin to worship your habit instead of what the habit symbolizes. We say, “I can’t do that right now; this is my time alone with God.” No, this is your time alone with your habit. There is a quality that is still lacking in you. Identify your shortcoming and then look for opportunities to work into your life that missing quality.

Love means that there are no visible habits— that your habits are so immersed in the Lord that you practice them without realizing it. If you are consciously aware of your own holiness, you place limitations on yourself from doing certain things— things God is not restricting you from at all. This means there is a missing quality that needs to be added to your life. The only supernatural life is the life the Lord Jesus lived, and He was at home with God anywhere. Is there someplace where you are not at home with God? Then allow God to work through whatever that particular circumstance may be until you increase in Him, adding His qualities. Your life will then become the simple life of a child.”

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Shaping the River Into Words

“My heart bursts its banks, spilling beauty and goodness.  

I pour it out in a poem to the king, shaping the river into words:”

Psalm 45:1, The Message

~*~*~*~*~*

Some people are artists who process their world through paint and pen, fabric, clay, paper. Thoughts become images or design, an expression of what’s inside or what inspires. Others are musicians, turning their experience or expression into lyrics and orchestration, poetry put to harmony and melody.

My experiences and ideas pour out in words providing a way to rein in my random, swirling thoughts.  Perhaps the swirling is because I am currently seated on the couch surrounded by other voices–poets and writers whose work inspires and informs my life. I am seeking for a way to borrow some of their expressions to describe my own because sometimes I’m not sure what I think or feel until I read it in the lines of another writer’s words.

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God gave me the Psalm 45 verse above many, many years ago when He confirmed my calling as a writer. I didn’t want to own it for many years, but I can trace the path of God’s hand on my life as a witness that this is so; I am beginning to live into that calling more each day.

~*~*~*

Psalm 34

I cannot tell a story more profound/than stars, a single blade of grass/a lilac breasted roller/painted by Your hand/all designed in perfection/for your pleasure

I ponder bones, flesh, blood/coursing through vessel highways/mechanics beyond human ability/eyes of sea green/topaz/aquamarine, variety for beauty’s sake/and glory shines.

-Karin Fendick, “Ashes to Glory”

~*~*~*~*

Life has been very ‘big’ lately; a new baby joined our family on Sunday night, a grandson turned 11 the same day (and he forgave me for wishing him a “happy 10th birthday” on his birthday card.) A dear friend is experiencing the gray days of loss as she mourns her father’s death and deals with her mother’s grief. My daughter is carrying her own kind of grief and seeking healing for the loss of yet another baby who has gone to Heaven, her fourth.

cropped-56a1f-dsci0354.jpgJune threatens to burst its banks with color and birdsong, skies the color of a robin’s egg and late evening views that put the most sparkling orange jewels to shame.  Sometimes it’s all too much to rein in, as if my senses can’t quite grasp the sights, colors and sounds. I need a better vocabulary to speak of what I see.

Perhaps you can relate.

Scripture tells us the skies have speech without a sound. Silent stars, magnificent, rolling clouds, cobalt blue sunrises. flaming orange sunsets shout with their own words, “there is a Creator.” After God made the world by His word He sent Jesus to become the living Word. John 1 says that Jesus ‘dwelt among us.’ How is that possible? How can the Word dwell among us, live with us or in us? I believe one way He does that is through what we say, speak, and write. Our words have power to bring peace to someone, to provide joy or comfort and create a way for someone to say, “that’s exactly the way I feel.”

“It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it.”    -Anais Nin

I’m living in a more cautious place these days as I reckon with the power of that gift to open a window for others to see God in a different way or provide a vessel to carry their own expressions when life gets too big.

My heart bursts its banks as I pour out my words to the King who has entrusted me with this one voice I have. My prayer is I will carry it well.

 

Nouns-Some Thoughts on People, Places & Things

“…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?)

Anticipating sunshine, warm temperatures and blue skies, I happily settled in after arriving at my sister’s house. My brother and sister-in-law also joined us for the week ahead. One great joy I had during the week was going out two different mornings to watch my brother the surfing pastor paddle out and ride the waves. (He caught two!) There may not have been any orange blossom fragrance wafting on the breeze, but with my back to the crowds and my eyes on the sea, I was at home; the sand at my feet and ocean view the same as I remembered.

Water and waves still form and crest as they always had. Shorebirds chased back and forth, rocks rolled towards my feet in the drenched sand. The water, waves, birds and shore were unchanged.

~*~*~*

The culmination of our visit was a ‘goodbye house’ party, thrown by my sister on the occasion of her upcoming move. My siblings and I, along with our spouses and children, have twenty nine years of memories in that house–hours in the pool, movie nights together, backyard barbecues. Baby showers, weddings, birthdays–years of special gatherings. Because my siblings are all close in age and went to the same schools, we also shared many of the same friends, some of whom were invited that night.

Life is weird in high school, to say the least. But it’s funny when you’re older how cliques and cool cars and the right clothes pale in comparison to true friendship. My sister had stayed close to a small of circle of classmates whom my brother and I also knew; most of us had been friends for (cough) fifty years. My heart overflowed with gratefulness as folks sat around the living room, desperately trying to follow varying conversations. The decibel level rose and fell, people were sharing photos on phones, telling old stories, laughing at “rememberwhens?”

As I stopped to listen, I realized most of the people in the room–all of the people in the room–had been there for my sister during devastating, difficult times, including a cancer diagnosis and the loss of a child. These were true friends, a rare treasure.

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~*~*~*~*

I thought about how orange trees form and grow only to be torn down, strawberry fields are ripped out, paved over open land becomes freeways….but what remains? Is there anything we can recognize, count on, remember by?

I’m mixing images here—waves and water and friends that anchor us—but I couldn’t help thinking about the Israelites setting up stone markers as monuments to God’s faithfulness over the years. Every time there was a deliverance or God intervened, the people were told to gather stones and pile them in place to remember.  Decades would pass, places would change and grow, populations would impact the landscape but one thing that remained were the markers of the goodness of God.

Sometimes people are those markers. When the land you’re born in is unrecognizable or you feel adrift, friendships that last through thick and thin, good times and bad are like the waves and water—constant, true, powerful when you need them.

No matter where I live or what it looks like, the friends who’ve stayed in place remind me of not only who God is, but who I am and where I am in the world.

Those friends are letters written not in stone, but etched deep in my heart.

 

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