Category Archives: The Church Year

5 Favorite Things About Fall

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There are so many reasons I love this time of year–it’s hard to choose, but here are my top five:

  1. Pumpkins Who knew there were white pumpkins and bumpy pumpkins and sorta-blue pumpkins and well, all manner of heirloom squash family members?? God’s creativity abounds in the gourd department, no? The displays at Trader Joe’s and elsewhere are a delight for the eyes. (But no Pumpkin Spice anything. Sorry Starbucks. And sorry, Hostess. Pumpkin Spice Twinkies? Um, no.)

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2. Half-a-pie moons in the night sky, crisp, clear mornings. Dew on the leaves in the garden.P_20180920_095150 Purple asters, full, ripe raspberries, colors beginning to creep up the foliage in the Japanese Stewartia.P_20180920_123823The world is getting ready to sleep.

I praise God for the way He speaks to us in creation. As nature is cycling through her seasons, the picture outside my window sends a visual message that murmurs just below the surface: I need to s l o w down. The waning hours of daylight are a subtle hint.P_20180919_081748From Websters, ‘Dormant’–asleep or inactive, latent but capable of being activated. From biology, a relatively inactive or resting condition in which some processes are slowed down or suspended. It is good to not always be in a hurry, the world whizzes by fast enough as it is. Tarrying awhile inside or out helps us to see that while we sleep God is still at work. Capable of being activated.

3. Cool nights mean fragrant candles, warm socks, and cozy fires. 

Burning Candles

There are fewer hours of daylight, forcing us inside to rest and redraw boundaries. Again the period of dormancy and slumber outside provides a reflective way to re-center ourselves physically. While my nature is to please everyone and Do All the Things that people ask of me, the natural environment moves me to a mental and spiritual process of gathering myself in. I’m grateful for the natural slowing down of Autumn when we’re inside more and attentive to the quiet. This posture leaves me more margin in my life to say ‘yes’ to God and what He’s called me to do, instead of overextending myself when I shouldn’t.

4. Cooking, Baking = Creativity.

We’ve had some humdinger, hot summers in Seattle the last couple of years and the last place I’ve wanted to be is in the kitchen. Now that the days are much cooler, I relish the chance to return to cooking and baking, especially on Sunday. That probably sounds odd, but it’s how I sabbath in the Fall. Rest to me looks like creativity–make something or organize something. I spend most of my days working with words, which requires a lot of attention to this old brain. Working with my hands leaves my mind free to process, another way to build white space and margin into my days. Plus, banana bread. It’s a win-win.

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My daughter Leah and I in the kitchen. A very long time ago. (I mean, look at the floor. Can we talk about the floor?)

5. Fresh Starts

Rosh Hashanah–When I taught in Hebrew school several years ago I welcomed the immersion into Jewish practices surrounding the beginning of the year. Rosh Hashanah literally means ‘the Head of the Year’ and signals the beginning of the Jewish New Year. How interesting that this head of the year coincides with the first day of school, a time for new beginnings, no matter whether it’s Kindergarten or college. When I read back through my journals each year I find a record of God bringing the most dramatic changes in my life in each successive September. As a Christian I love the way God weaves the Hebrew festivals into our New Testament understanding of Scripture. Our lives as believers in Messiah Jesus are a reflection of the type and shadow of those festivals God gave His people from the very beginning. I love being part of that. 35a52-sam_0246

You can find out more about Rosh Hashanah here.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God has set eternity in our hearts. I think that’s why we sense God’s call to us, soul-deep, in this season. How about you? What are your favorite things about Fall?  I’d love to hear in the comments. And as always, If you’ve liked this post, would you consider sharing it with a friend? Email, Facebook, Twitter buttons are right down below. Thank you ever so much!

Remember to sign up for my bi-monthly newsletter “Random Acts of Writing” (next edition in November.) You can sign up right here.

Worry & Wonder–Holy Week

“Only in those moments of vivid experience that made her come alive was she at home in her own country.”    –Marianne in Green Dolphin Country, Elizabeth Goudge, Hodder & Stoughton, 1944

Friend T and I were chatting on Instagram the other day about my favorite author (see above). There’s no writer I can recall whose stories have deepened my vision of the Gospel and my appreciation for the beauty of language quite like Elizabeth Goudge.

But my heart is also quieted today, a heaviness at the back of my bones, weighted down by worry for the world and the myriad of ways we are messing it up. I’m afraid to read the headlines (we’ve canceled our daily paper) and when the news scrolls across my computer screen I click through to a different page. There is it the present reality of war and famine afar and the deranged antics and societal injustice at home. Big heavy sigh.

It seems foolish and insensitive to trivialize the trials of this day and age by attending to other simple joys: the gentle breezes waving fir branches outside my window or the way a chickadee alights on a bird feeder, the bright burst of daffodils against the grey. But the mundane holds a bit of miracle this week before Easter. Indeed, the miracles are there in all our days if we but look.

Attending to the richness of words in a good story is another way to pushback the unseen edges of this cool, gray day, much like reveling in the bright color of the salmon-y pink blossoms of quince bush in my back yard. (this is a friend’s clematis by the way, not my quince.)

Remarking on such simple joys may seem frivolous to some. Blossoms, books, birds.

But it’s not frivolous, no. For one, noticing the glorious passages in a good book can call us to remember that beyond the bleak and gray of the day in front of us there is Easter on the other side. For, if an author does it correctly, resurrection will show up in the language and in-between the lines of a good story.

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“All good stories lead to God,” my friend Laura opines. I’m inclined to agree.

But really, why discuss the finer merits of a passage of literature when these are such somber, serious times? Shouldn’t we be d o i n g something?” Well, yes these are somber, serious times. It is Holy Week after all, the days we dwell on Christ’s passion prior to His resurrection.

But often the wisest recourse we have is to remember to fill up our own souls with the staying power of beauty and truth.

So, I give you this, in addition to the joy of remarkable, inspirational language, there are also the right-in-front-of-us gifts: days of new sunrises, friends and family nearby to laugh and pray with, the morning’s hot coffee in a special mug, a favorite book on my lap.

These are also days when the word of God holds out hope, our very breath and life. The one and only Good Book.

When we have the companionship of others on this journey–always with its terrors and triumphs–we can often find a common denominator to lift us up and keep us in place with the anchor of a well-loved book. A favorite line or passage in a poem or paragraph, the sing-song of dialogue that makes us laugh, an author’s way with language as she paints a picture of a season’s wonder and discovery. Together we remember there is beauty above the here and now. We remind each other, “Let me tell you about something I read….you’ve got to hear this.”

When we share the good news of a great story, lines that comfort, encourage and inspire we are partners of a piece of small joy, if even for a moment.

My prayer this week and in the weeks ahead is that you would find a good story to sink yourself into (alongside the Source of all good stories, The Book of Books, of course.)

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The promise of Easter is the power to change how we see the world through God’s eyes. There is victory on the horizon, whether it’s right now or in the not yet.

May you find a good story to anchor your life, not because you want to escape this world but because in its pages you might find what you’ve been missing.

And if you need a place to start for recommendations–good fiction and Christian non-fiction, Sarah Clarkson (aka ‘BookGirl’) has her recommendations here.


Tell me what you’ve been reading~I’d love to hear in the Comments. Maybe I could read over your shoulder?

 

 

How to Lent-Spiritual Practice for the Rest of Us

The city of New Orleans has a singular reputation for “laissez les bon temps rouler” (“let the good times roll”) no matter what time of year. During Mardi Gras, though, the celebrations take on an over-the-top frenzy that is hard to match. It is also somewhat hard to believe unless one is actually there in person to witness the city’s crazy times.

We lived in New Orleans in the 1970’s and saw this dress-up carnival cum Halloween celebration firsthand. Mardi Gras (French for ‘Fat Tuesday’) offers the citizens and umpty zillion of their best friends to dress up, dance and drink, throw candy and don beads. There are parades uptown, downtown, in the suburbs, everywhere.

I think I still have some beads (certainly none of the candy) from one of those parades. I also have snapshots of folks in the crowds during one bawdy celebration—I’ve never seen so many grown-ups in costume. In New Orleans many of the folks live for Mardi Gras, its year round preparation and presence synonymous with their fair, old city.

In theory, Mardi Gras (on February 13th) is a day to indulge one’s senses, for the next day—Ash Wednesday—is to be one marked by ashes and repentance.

Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent, the forty days of prayer and fasting observed by many faith traditions. The juxtaposition of Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday is a bit of a conundrum this year since they fall on the same day. Lenten practices are intended to prepare our hearts for the celebration of Easter, but like the candy and costumes on Mardi Gras, the overwhelm of the world has overshadowed the meaning of Lent. All that Valentine’s candy doesn’t help.

When I was growing up, Easter Sunday meant See’s candy eggs and Easter baskets and new dresses, complete with hats and gloves. My siblings and I probably went to church for the occasion–obviously, look at these cute photos–but my memories of that holiday have much more to do with fashion, not my faith.

When I became a Christian in the 70’s, the reflective period of Lent was not included in our non-denominational worship. I missed out on those early church practices that take us from the darkness of Good Friday to the light and glory hallelujah of Easter. But it is good to remember that joyous Sunday comes at a cost—the death and burial of Jesus—on our behalf.

So, how are we to Lent? (I realize Lent is a noun, not a verb. I borrowed that from my friend Seth Haines.)

It is good for us to sit in the dark sometimes while we contemplate the light of Jesus that has come into the world. It is also good for us to contemplate our own dark places. Where have we let sin creep in? Those shortcuts we use to circumvent God’s work in our lives? I often fall into the trap of meeting my needs my way, attempting to satisfy God-breathed longings with works and ways of my own devising. I’m thankful when the Holy Spirit reminds me of that.

What else can we do?

Sitting in silence while we seek the Holy Spirit’s still, small voice and dedicate ourselves to listen is a first step. Be aware of God showing you what practices you can leave or lay down to turn your focus back to God. Fasting and prayer can also be part of the equation.

But fasting doesn’t  have to be from physical food. Consider those soul-filling ‘foods’ that have taken the place of God’s presence. Is there something getting in the way of hearing Him? Fast from the noise of social media—my frequent nemesis. (My word for the year is ‘listen’, the same letters in the word ‘silent’, as a friend pointed out.)

Put down your phone and take a walk.

Go outside, sit on your deck, look out the window.

(Talking to myself here.)

Put off, lay aside, turn off–all are ways to deny our flesh, that Christianese phrase for fasting. But the beauty of fasting is the welcoming way those spiritual practices create space for God to to be the One who feeds us and fills us.

When Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day coincide (collide?) with each other next week, how about this? “…celebrate your love by committing to a season of intentional preparation for your Love of loves.” -Seth Haines

When you sign or send or see a paper or candy heart, think about giving your heart to God, wholly and completely. Just like He gave to us.

That’s how to live in the season of Lent.

——-

*You can read Seth’s thoughts in their entirety here

Merry Christmas, Dear Readers

It seems very fitting that Christmas Eve should be on a Sunday, when we gather for worship, wherever that is. A morning to set our hearts right in a posture of worship and thankfulness is a good way to ease into the gift giving and receiving activities before us, whether we gather tonight or tomorrow with family and friends.

As I prepared my head and my heart this morning for church I found Handel’s Messiah on Youtube and through the miracle of livestreaming from my tablet, was able to listen on my Bluetooth speaker while I put on makeup in the bathroom.

Yay, technology.

There are 4 sections in the Messiah oratorio based on scores and scores of Biblical passages. The tenor was heading into a familiar part, “And the glory of, the glory of the Lord, shall be he he he he he he reveal-ed.” He carried out the trills and notes as the music called for and I just shook my head as I listened.

What men and women can do with their voices.

The Messiah’s most recognizable musical passage is, of course, the Hallelujah Chorus. There’s a Messiah Sing-along near our house every year at Christmas time and I’m bound and determined to participate one of these years, just to join in the fun of that chorus. The thought of standing next to other vocalists of all abilities and stripes while we attempt to do justice to the music has always appealed to me.

Of course, we can never do justice to that great music here on Earth, altho’ we may try. It is said Handel saw Heaven itself opened up while he was composing each part. I’d like to ask him about that some day….

My favorite actually-singable Christmas songs change from year to year; sometimes it’s James Taylor’s Christmas or Jewel or Pentatonix or the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree jazz quartet. Then I listen to Josh Groban’s ‘Noel’ or Andrea Boccelli singing with the Muppets and think, “That’s my favorite.” But I forget the classic Peter, Paul and Mary PBS Special recording and there I am humming along with a smile on my face.

They’re all beautiful and inspiring pieces of music, but nowhere near the Messiah. And while I aspire to be able to sing along with Handel (maybe in Heaven?) I am grateful for the more down-to-earth folks that allow me to join them via the magic of recorded sound.

I hope your hearts and homes are full of song and sound this special time of year, dear friends. May I say I appreciate you reading along this year and appreciate your kind words always in this place? I appreciate you more than you know.

Merry Christmas!~

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love,

Jody

 

Why I Didn’t Give up Anything for Lent

My mother in law is 93 years old and lives downstairs in our finished basement apartment.  She’s still got a pretty agile mind (when she remembers her hearing aids and actually listens to what is being said) but her body has pretty much given out.


We help her with meals during the week, bringing down extra casseroles and soups, salads and an occasional dessert.  She doesn’t mind being reminded to eat (that being a precursor to staying alive and all) but she is so over it when it comes to being bothered with meal preparation.

“I’ve cooked so many dinners in my lifetime, I’m just tired of even thinking about it.”

That’s the thing about our daily lives–as someone said, they’re so daily.  If you are breathing again each morning you wake up, Jesus has made it clear He still has a purpose for your being here.  
“But really, you wonder, do I have to cook dinner again????”

I can’t decide to only eat (or not eat) certain days of the year; I can’t give up something for just 40 days of Lent–a vice of some kind, a bad habit, a fleshly indulgence–I need to decide to give things up for LIFE

I was not raised in a Christian home and when I found Jesus (or He found me) I began worshipping in a very evangelical Protestant denomination. We’ve never followed the Church calendar when it comes to liturgies, we don’t ‘do’ Advent or any of the organized observances like Lent. (Frankly, it’s much to our loss, as those rituals can often bring a deeper meaning to our faith.)

However, I still wanted to read something this year about the season of Lent, words that fit my mindset and the way I worship. Kris Camealy’s book “Holey, Wholly, Holy” seemed to fill the bill. The book’s subtitle is, “A Lenten journey of Refinement.”
From ‘Why Lent?’ page 8:
“This is the hard refinement, the journey from holey (broken in sin) 
to wholly (surrendered) to holy.
Kris’ words resonated,
“It occurred to me that perhaps what God calls us to give up, really, is ourselves.  
The paltry offerings we prefer to give up, 
(less TV, no chocolate, shopping for clothes), 
while they feel challenging, are perhaps less pleasing 
because we fail to give up the one thing that stands between us and Christ. 
Ourselves.”
‘Why Lent’, p. 8, italics mine.

Yes, giving up myself and my wants and my fleshly desires and my sin (for that’s what it is) will be a lifelong journey. My daily life provides me ample opportunity to do the same thing over and over again, to repent anew each day, to be reminded of how much I need the Cross and God’s salvation–not just preceding the Easter Season, but every day of my life.

While I’ve been reading HWH, I’ve also been memorizing Isaiah 55 with the online group at Do Not Depart (see my sidebar….the gurgling fountain picture 🙂
The word ‘behold’ begins many of the verses in that chapter, and I’ve been meditating on ‘beholding’ Jesus and ‘being held’ by Him.  

:When we turn to Him, he holds us.  When we behold His face, we are changed.:  

A quote from Alan Redpath opens the Introduction to HWH:
“Give up the struggle and the fight; relax in the omnipotence of the Lord Jesus; 
look up into His lovely face and as you behold Him, 
He will transform you into His likeness.  
You do the beholding–He does the transforming. 
There is no shortcut to holiness.”

If there are no shortcuts, clearly this WILL be a lifelong process.

I will have to find new manna every day.  
I will have to come back to God’s table to be fed. 
I will have to come back to the feet of Jesus and lay my sins and 
shortcomings at the cross.
In the week before Easter, this seems a fitting focus for my life.

Kris writes in the last chapter,
“The journey through Lent is a journey that doesn’t end at the cross.  No!  
This journey ends at the empty tomb when we realize that He’s beaten back death.  This journey ends in the victory of grace for sinners and redemption for those who believe.”

Oh, I say Hallelujah, for that.

As we move into the Holy Week preceding the Resurrection,
I pray that you and I will have a heart of thankfulness that rests in the daily assurance
of God’s grace 
that gives to us again and again and again,
the grace that causes us to say, “I give up!” for Life.
~~~~~~
Linking with my sisters Jen
               Finding Heaven
Jennifer, Emily and Lyli

A Very Married Christmas

We’re standing in the kitchen.  I move fluidly from dishwasher to counter, bending, stacking–bowls, dishes, cups, goblets.

Husband is at the cupboard behind me.  I rotate, wordless, and hand him his favorite glass-he replaces it to the shelf and continues swallowing his vitamins.

I interrupt his healthy intake once again, this time with the rainbow-colored stack of Ikea cups.  Without a word, he fits them on the shelf next to our stash of kid-safe plastics.

I love this morning routine–coffee pot steaming and gurgling, the bird clock chiming it’s 8 am hour–the robin, I think–and the garbage truck outside our window beep-beep-beeping.

It all feels so safe–full of comfort and joy.  The silent, sure sounds of an easy morning, a gift to me.

How restful to be here, next to my humming husband, confident of his presence, his help, his silly whistling to the birds, the all-of-it that makes this early quiet time feel like we been doing this for a thousand years.

God reminds me of a soul prayer I had at the beginning of Advent , not a spoken request, a written non-lament (in the book I never finished).  It was a prayer of wondering, “I don’t know what I want, but this is what I think I need”–and I realize the answer is standing right here next to me.

The quiet feeling like a well worn pair of old warm slippers, pouring my juice while I make the coffee, humming ‘Frosty the Snowman’ while I unload the dishes…It’s a quiet symphony of comfort and joy, a gift to my soul from my Saviour–a married Christmas.