On Writing in Your Own Voice

“Come away with me by yourselves and get some rest.” Jesus, Mark Chapter 6

Pushing the patio chair into place undercover, I scan the deck for my little table. I want to sit a while and take advantage of the peace and quiet to listen.
Not read my Bible, read a book, look at my phone, just sit with my journal and pay attention to what I hear, what I see, what my heart wants to tell me.
But I need my footstool first.  My legs are too short to touch the decking and I can’t relax ‘til my feet are in place. Ah, there it is hidden under the plastic tablecloth out of the rain.
Now I’m settled. My eyes train on the birds at our feeders. I grin at their acrobatic antics, bouncing marionette-like from feeder to tree, swooping like jets coming in for a landing. I’m quite certain the only reason God created birds was to delight us and him.
Instead of writing anything, I begin to read the lines I penned over the past year; little conversations with Jesus and I show up on the page. ‘Aha’s’ are circled or highlighted, questions I pondered and the answer that came after it are underlined. There are pencil scratchings in the margin, messages from the Spirit of God right to my soul.
Someone asked the question recently, ‘What is saving your life right now?’
And here’s what I have to say–the spiritual practice of listening, stopping to hear God’s voice to me, and hear my own voice.  This is what I know:
  • When you give God time to touch you, He will.
  • When you give Him space to speak, He will.
  • When you give Him room to move, He will.

 

Part of my conversations with Jesus lately have been about story—mine, in particular.
Story that includes things like the day job I have and how it affects my understanding of God.
Or the love I have for books and their power to move me. And maybe others.
Or the passion I have about social issues and shining a light in dark places.
My random thoughts can run all over and it’s hard to rein them in.
At the end of the day I sat with my bedside journal–I have lined volumes in many, many places in the house. I scanned the lines I’d written, finding over and over again the truest parts of me on the page.

The line that caught my eye before I turned out the light was, “Trust your voice.” I felt the Holy Spirit say, “I have a story to tell of my goodness and love through your life alone. I have a way of encouraging others through your testimony and your story.  Stop trying to be like everyone else and write what you know, tell the world what you hear.”

I woke with that in mind, full of a confidence that God will guide my thoughts , that I’ll hear Him speak not only to me, but through me, as I continue to give Him space and time to speak.
How might you take some time or space to make room for God to speak to you this week? Trust what He says…and trust your own voice—we need you.
~~~~~~

Linking with Modern Mrs. Darcy and 

Kelly for #Small Wonder Link up

DWELL–Retreat Announcement–Join Us?

I’ve been waiting to share this almost-a-secret for two months–ta da!

After last fall’s Abide writing retreat, which Kimberlee Conway Ireton and I both felt was a little glimmer of Heaven, we were very excited to hold another retreat. This one will be different, of course but we’re going to try to keep the same spirit of waiting on God and communing with one another that characterized ‘Abide.’

This September, we’ll be heading back to Grunewald Guild for a weekend of worship, writing, sharing, prayer, and community. Our desire is to create a quiet, relaxed retreat for women writers—space to write and create, to pray and worship, to connect at a heart level with other women writers, and enjoy the beauty of the natural world.
For those who want to be social, there will be plenty of time for connection over meals, over an art activity, and during the sessions. And for those who want to be quiet or alone, there will be lots of time to simply be (or write or hike or sleep)—we are intentionally keeping the retreat slow-paced and contemplative. We want you to come home refreshed and rested and energized for the work ahead.

Our theme for 2016 is ‘Dwell: How does Jesus live through our art?’

We dwell in Christ—and He in us. How then does He live through our art? Over the weekend we will prayerfully consider this question and explore a variety of possible answers.  

Our key Scriptures will focus on Christ indwelling us, and our dwelling in God. 
 
We’d like to spread wide our narrow embrace to encompass more—more possibility, more creativity, more beauty. More God. We hope and pray that this weekend, like last year’s retreat, will be the beginning of that wider embrace. If you’re interested in joining us, here’s everything you need to know:

WHAT: a weekend of worship, laughter (and maybe some tears), and camaraderie among women writers of faith. Kimberlee will facilitate lectio divina with our Scripture passage, plus a writing activity or two (at least one involving POETRY, of course.) There will perhaps be a guided writing time led by Jody as well.
WHO: YOU, we hope. (Well, and Kimberlee and I 🙂
WHEN Friday, September 9 – Sunday, September 11, 2016
We’ll start around 5 on Friday evening and finish up around noon on Sunday.
WHERE: Grunewald Guild (http://www.grunewaldguild.com/), near Leavenworth, WA

HOW MUCH $$: We have several options for lodging that affect the price. All prices include 5 meals (dinner Friday through brunch on Sunday).
Option 1: Shared room (one roommate): 
            $219 early bird (by March 1); $259 regular (after March 1)
Option 2: Private room (your own slice of silence): 
            $259 early bird (by March 1); $299 regular (after March 1)
Option 3: Dorm-style room (up to roomies; twin beds, 1 bathroom downstairs–rooms are above the Library) $159 early bird (by March 1); $199 regular (after March 1)
All shared and private rooms have a sink in the room. Toilet and showers are shared among all residents on a floor. Towels and bed linens are provided. (Toiletries are not.) Please note there are a limited number of private rooms and limited beds in the dorm. We’ll be handing them out on a first-come, first-served basis. For that matter, there are a limited number of shared rooms, too.
All meals are eaten communally in the Dining Hall in the Main Centrum Building.
We’ve got room for 20 people, friends, so get your registration in ASAP to reserve your spot!

How to sign up: Shoot me an email (heyjode70atyahoo dot com) with your ‘Yes’, along with your name, snail mail and email addresses, phone number, and room preference. I will be setting up a Paypal account this year, so payment will be easy.

Your spot is reserved once we’ve received your email 
AND your payment in full. 
(Keep that early bird deadline of March 1 in mind!)
Please prayerfully consider whether Dwell is a place that God would like to meet you.
It’s not for everyone, but maybe it’s for you?

Why we need to Slow Down


I spent three days last week—Thursday through Sunday—on a trip to Southern Oregon from my home in Seattle.  It was a LONG drive over mountains and through valleys, across highways and mountain passes, complete with wind and rain and snow. I took a few photos as I rounded the curves and the corners along the way (very carefully–really).  When I stopped for coffee and stretched my legs, God showed me something. This is what I wrote:

There are two ways to slow down on a mountain highway—you can either put on the brakes or let up on the gas.

One, if you have to brake it’s because you’re going too fast—there’s danger ahead if you speed and you could get hurt.

However, letting up on the gas means you have more opportunity to respond which means there’s safety ahead.  You’re confident negotiating the curve and even better, you’ll be able to maybe see something you’ve never seen before.

It’s also easier if you want to take a detour off the road to make the turn you need.
Nooooooooowww, if you’re a semi truck with a tractor trailer rig behind you, it takes a TON of energy to stop.  When the speed is too great and there’s no possibility of stopping, speed ramps are provided for drivers on very steep downgrades.

There is a convenient gravel laden slope to the right of the road as you’re careening down the hill. The slope rises to a 45 degree angle in about 2 seconds as the rig leaves the road.  And then it rocks and wobbles back and forth and back and forth until it is still. (I have seen this before).
Slowing is a sure thing, stopping takes much longer but at least no one is injured.

And I wondered, Which kind of driver am I? Which kind of driver are you?

And more importantly, what kinds of roads are you traveling?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Linking with Laura for Playdates, Kelli and the new community at Unforced Rhythms
and Jennifer Lee for Tell His Story.

Deck Time–When God Reminds You He is More Than Enough

I know my Heavenly Father is rich. Yeah, yeah.  I know.  He owns the cattle on a thousand hills and all that.
I’m a Christian, have been for over 40 years, but wow, you can carry some crazy, mixed up buried kinda feelings into your life with Jesus if you’re not careful.
I was sitting outside on the deck the other day—a favorite place of mine where I’m learning God will show up to speak if I’m still and ready to listen.  
A lightbulb came on illuminating some of the dark thinking that had permeated my mind in a most sneaky like way.
I grew up pretty poor in the 60’s—the oldest of 5 children with a dad who worked sporadically and where our income varied accordingly. Needs were barely managed. Wants were never considered.
 
My memories include varying degrees of poverty in my childhood–My mother made my sister’s and my dresses out of curtains or hand me down fabric.  There were fights each year on Christmas Eve because the presents under the tree would be next to nothing.  My high school years were spent pining for wardrobes just like all my girlfriends’.
And could I please, pretty please……have a coke?? (Cokes were 10 cents a bottle at the time.) Pretty much out of the question.
I realized this mindset of not-enough-ness in the physical realm had been driving my thinking and actions in the unseen areas of my life–in my thoughts and attitudes. God graciously whacked me over the head about it as He and I sat outside in the quiet.
It was a quiet whack.
I was reading the book of Ecclesiastes (hadn’t been there for a while) and a conversation from the night before came to mind.  Sort of like this:
~~~~~~~~~~
I purposely did not say, “Hi, how are you?”  Purposely.  We were walking up the same path towards the same place, stepping aside in the dark and the rain as we approached the door.
I was exhausted.  The last four days were spent camping out on the floor of my son’s house, staying over to help with last minute repairs and painting before his family moved out of their home to a new place.  There was exactly one hour between my arrival home and my about face to get to This Next Thing. I was at the end of my rope, and I was feeling needy. 
Like I wanted to someone to ask ME how I was doing.  Oh, please, let me launch into a tale of sleepless nights, crazy grandkids and donuts for dinner.  You just wouldn’t believe the last four days. 
Yep, it was all about me.  Selfish with a capital “S”.
I even made up a little song as I sat there: (to the tune of ‘I feel Pretty’ from ‘West Side Story’)
I feel stingy
Oh so stingy
I feel stingy
And selfish and sad.
But my Father
Knows that giving all
Will make me feel glad
As I looked back over the evening I realized my body was there but the rest of me—soul, mind and spirit were not. I never got any closer to this sister whom I was sharing space with, as if the Not Talking When We First Met breach had caused an invisible dividing line between us and I refused to fill in.  I never inquired about her week, withheld my precious brain space and emotions from her because I did not have enough.
But the only loser was me.
Funny how the Holy Spirit can speak so clearly when you ‘just happen’ to read something you haven’t read in a while:
Ecclesiastes Chapter 11
“Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.
Give a portion to seven, yes, even divide it to eight, 
for you know not what evil may come on the earth.” (vv.1,2)
Give with a capital “G”.  Give with hands wide open expecting nothing in return.
When I thought about my actions the night before I realized what I had been doing–I decided to close my hand and hold on tight to my reserves.   I wasn’t about to honor a friend with the time of day because I expected her to honor me first.
(I can’t believe I’m typing that, but it’s exactly the way I felt.  I know Jesus and I should know better.)
 “He who observes the wind (and waits for all conditions to be favorable) 
will not sow and he who regards the clouds will not reap.” Eccl 11:4
I was so busy being selfish with my eyes on my own stuff I couldn’t see past my nose and my needs to even consider someone else. 
I was too busy looking for “favorable conditions.”
The result?  I certainly didn’t reap anything.  At the end of the day, there was no joy shared, no life exchanged, no ministry to my spirit or my sister’s.
Just plain old see-through emptiness.  
And to cap it all off, in case I wasn’t really listening, God continues:
“In the morning sow your seed, and in the evening withhold not your hand;
for you know not which shall prosper,
this or that, or whether both alike will be good.” V. 6
“Withhold not your hand.”  In plain English?  “Open your hands wide and I will fill them. Even when you’ve nothing to give. Especially when you’ve nothing to give.
God’s gentle voice continued,
 
“I am not like your father, My supply does not depend on anyone’s performance, anyone’s job or ability to provide.  I.Just. Am. You can count on me.
I am not limited, my resources will never run out.”
I want to remember to just give.  Give with an open hand, knowing and trusting that not only will God meet my needs but that He has enough for me to give away. And the seeds I give away will bear fruit. 
Fruit like friends and friendship. And even silly songs.
~~~~~~~~~

Push Through–Notes from My Journal


I was sitting outside on the deck last week, writing my ‘Sabbath on the Page’ (LL Barkat phrase) and thinking about our family’s recent journey through a very difficult season.
Here are the notes from my journal that day:
~~~~~~~~~~~
Sit outside on the deck in the drips of a dreary day and you might be gifted with a glimpse of sunburst through the clouds.  

But you’d miss it if you went inside too soon (avoiding the chill and the gray).

Why don’t we stay through the gray to get to the other side of the hard and heavy, like steel, that would steal our joy?

We are too quick to turn rather than be tried and then miss the gift of telling others of the Light that was seen through that small crack.

We’d miss the glimmering hope 
that can become blinding joy–
we’d never see the bright glory in it at all if it weren’t
for the darkness revealing the shining gift on the other side.

Push through.
~~~~~~~~~~~
Linking with Emily for Imperfect Prose

photo of Elliott Bay, Seattle by my daughter Leah Johnson

Sabbath Equation

my perennial bed

I drag the green plastic chair across the lawn out to the garden.  The orange bucket is upended and covered with an old towel–my ‘end table.’  I place my fresh cup of warm coffee on top and settle in with my camera over my shoulder.

I am waiting for the hummingbird.

I’ve noticed her from my kitchen window, stopping at the tall spikes of Cardinal Flower, relishing her nectar feast as she drinks from the red trumpets.
I am determined to capture this in a photo.

There are so many other things I could be doing–organizing papers and kid files from school, entering the obligatory data in the computer program for teachers.  Computing, typing, printing, copying.  Necessary school tasks that have spilled over into the weekend.

However.

However, it is an amazing, glorious, sunny last day of summer day.  And there is this book (‘God in the Yard’ by LL Barkat–which I’ve written about here and here).  Because of what I read…because I am learning to slow and listen, I hear a still, small voice say, “just stop.”
Get off the wheel–savor this Saturday sunshine, sit and soak in the sights and sounds. The work can wait.

The hummingbird never comes.

But oh, there’s a show–chickadees swimming through the air, breast stroking their way from the trees to my deck.  Clusters of busy bees swarming the purple asters, feasting and gathering, doing their bee-like job. 

purple asters

A dragonfly zooms close to the ground, his right angle flight pattern cutting the empty space above the grass.  He’s landed and I lose him….probably on the rhododendron.

From this vantage point I can easily glance up at the trees.  My eyes register movement.  There are two young gray squirrels playing trapeze with the clusters of maple tree “helicopters.”  The seed pods provide handy hanging places for playing.  Suddenly the young’uns are stopped and stretched on a branch, their feathery tails at rest in the shadows.

My eyes drink it all in–I snap photos up close and personal of the summer-end colors in my yard.

Not once do I think of the work I must do that awaits me inside. 

coreopsis (tickseed) and seed pod

borage

cotoneaster berries
I am fully in the moment, confident this Sabbath time is the rest and refueling I need for the task ahead.

There’s an equation in LL’s book which makes no mathematical sense but works ‘on the Godward side’ (Spurgeon? Murray? Edwards?). 

“In a way, this is how Sabbath works.  One day out of seven, or 1=6 is an unexpected equation,
but it seems to work miracles in our lives.  Still, many of us have difficulty
granting even one day of rest to our six days of work.
Just why do we shun giving up one day? 
Are we in need of claiming all the accomplishments for ourselves,
when Sabbath suggests they might come from God and open space as well?
Sabbath relieves us of our illusion and burden
that we are the center of all our accomplishments.” “God in the Yard” p. 79

So how did all that weekend work work out in with this new math? Tasks accomplished? Jobs completed? Welllllll….
Pretty much all the t’s were crossed, all the i’s were dotted, AND I had time left over. I found the equation held true with God in my yard….and my Sabbath stop was the proof text.

How about you? 
~~~~~~~~~

Linking for the first time in a long time with Michelle and Jen and the Soli Sisters,
where friends are talking about living or existing….I choose living.

His Matchless Unbroken Companionship

Isaiah 30:15-18 Amplified Bible

15 For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel:
In returning [to Me] and resting [in Me] you shall be saved;
in quietness and in [trusting] confidence shall be your strength.
I’ve read those verses in more than one place this week.  
Quoted them, prayed them over people, shared them at church. 
Seen them paired with stunning, still, restful photos and said ‘Amen!’

God has been speaking to me the last several months about Sabbath.
And I have had to find rest in the middle of a whirlwind lately, so these verses really spoke to me.
But I needed to look at this passage for myself because of, well, you’ll read below.
Here’s the rest of the verse:
16 “But you would not,
And you said, No! We will speed 
[our own course] on horses!
Therefore you will speed [in flight from your enemies]!
You said, We will ride upon swift steeds 
[doing our own way.”
“I would not…” Wait, God, “I would not?” 
I would not rest? What does THAT mean? How?”
And I heard the Holy Spirit say,
“By leaning on yourself, and not on me.”

And here is how He drove the point home in the last 72 hours:

  • I have had to meet my sister-in-law (who just flew in from New York) at the hospital to welcome her for her ‘vacation’ with the news that her mother (who lives with my husband and I) had broken her hip and required emergency surgery and our vacation plans for fun and visiting the next two weeks were changing drastically
  • I was informed (reading my email on my phone at the hospital) that the new school I will be working at (which isn’t finished yet) will be open finally this week for the teachers and I get to move into my classroom.  (And I haven’t met my co-teacher or my colleagues. I have no idea what I’m teaching ’cause it’s a brand new job. And school starts on September 3rd.)
  • I found out my precious brother’s wife, my sister/friend for over 30 years, suddenly lost her father last night (while we were at the hospital.) And she had planned to visit him in two weeks.  And I found out at church this morning.  On my brother’s 60th birthday.  When I was standing up front with him and his daughters and our church was presenting him with the gift of a (large print 🙂 Bible. 
  • Because, well, my brother’s the Pastor.
And I laid my hands on him as he was prayed for, anointed by our precious Pastor Richard, turning my head away because, although I should be rejoicing, 
I was shocked and grieved and tears were spilling down my face.
I had to cut the birthday cake in the fellowship hall and smile and be happy and then sad, depending on who I spoke with and about what.
As we drove away from church, I was shaking my head at the roller coaster ride of the day, muttering….
“Oh, Jesus, you are driving us to those still waters,
how you want us to lean into you, to
be carried by you as you remind us,
‘I am in charge.  I AM IN CHARGE.’  
And there is nowhere else we can go.
NO.WHERE.”
Here is what the rest of this Isaiah passage says (my still waters for this week):
“And therefore the Lord [earnestly] waits 
[expecting, looking, and longing] to be gracious to you; 
and therefore He lifts Himself up, 
that He may have mercy on you and show loving-kindness to you. 
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed (happy, fortunate, to be envied) 
are all those who [earnestly] wait for Him, 
who expect and look and long for Him [for His victory, 
His favor, His love, His peace, His joy, 
and His matchless, unbroken companionship]!”
Pathway to a wedding—June 2013
It is Sunday evening.  My sister called to listen to my story of the last 36 hours.  She lives two states away and I saw her for my nephew’s wedding in June. But she also had some news she was over the moon about–my nephew and his new wife are expecting their first baby–my sister’s first grandchild.
I can’t think of a greater, more gracious gift from my Father in Heaven that He would bring me such joyous news at the end of this day.
Friends, our griefs, our joys, our sorrows, our rejoicing, all force us to lean into and rest with the Saviour, to share a piece of the pain He suffered on our behalf, that we may know His matchless, unbroken companionship. 
I am clinging to that this week.
How about you?
~~~~~~~~~~
Photos–Crescent Lake, WA, L.M. Johnson (my daughter), Johnson Estate allee by the Author

Sharing with Jen for SDG