How to Hear God’s Voice (& maybe your own)

Site of ‘Dwell’ Retreat–Grunewald Guild, Leavenworth WA–Textiles Room

The weekend of October 16-18, 2016, was a Heaven-come-to-earth occasion at ‘Dwell’, an intimate (5 of us) Writer’s Retreat co-led with my friend Kimberlee Ireton. We ‘Glory Writers’ camped in Psalm 37 for the weekend, particularly verses 3-7, and meditated on all those verbs–‘Trust’ ‘Delight’ ‘Commit’ ‘Rest’ and the tough-to-do ‘Fret not.’

“Dwell” means to stay where you are so you can hear what you need. Here’s what I heard when I returned home.

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 room to speak (see ‘Dwell’ above) He will
    • When God gives you ‘food’ to eat, He might use it to feed others
    • But it will be in your voice and your view from where you stand

Part of my conversations with Jesus lately have been about story—mine, in particular.  My random thoughts run all over and it’s hard to rein them in.

"Vanna, I Have no Vowels" & why we need Words with Friends

My four siblings and I were raised by a scrappy, resourceful mom who loved words. Dad was around, too; he was into crossword puzzles–the Sunday New York Times. In ink–and taught us to play Scrabble.
When my mom wanted to keep the five of us out of her hair, she’d grab 5 small slips of paper, write a jumble of letters on each one and hand it to us with a, “Go figure out this word!” to give her a few moments of peace.
My siblings and I have been playing word games ever since.
Words with Friends is the online/phone app of choice now that we’re separated by many miles, some of us, and it provides a platform of connection around our love of puzzles and vocabulary.
     Even though I am the oldest child, I am by no means the sharpest pencil in the box. My four brothers and sisters regularly beat the pants off me in the game (my English degree is worthless).  Until this week—woohoo—I’m ahead of one of my sisters by 100 points.
Why? Because, as she said in her accompanying WWF message, “I have no vowels, Vanna.”  (I threw her a couple of ‘o’s in the word ‘snook’ to set her up. Let’s see if I keep the lead.)
Sometimes we just need some vowels in our lives to play words with friends.
     In the space of less than a week I had the chance to do just that, connect with my people over words.
     I made a whirlwind trip from my home in the Seattle area to Vancouver/Portland where I planned to meet up with 3 different friends for lunch, coffee and dinner AND squeeze in a visit to see my son and his family and my five grands.
     First on my crowded dance card was lunch with the lovely Elizabeth Stewart—who blogs at Just Following Jesus (link on my sidebar under ‘Glory Writers’). Elizabeth and I carpooled to the Faith and Culture Conference in 2014 and have been friends ever since, online and in real life.
     After a delicious St. Patrick’s Day lunch, she tricked me into going on a walk along the Columbia River. (It was no trick—she’s just in better shape than I am). Our fellowship along the path on the beautiful Spring day was a balm to my soul.  A holy heart-to-heart where we shared life and ministry and words. (Elizabeth and her husband pastor a church–the ministry part is who she IS.)
     When our time came to an end, I headed across the river for an early dinner reunion with Cornelia Becker Seigneur, Founder of the Faith and Culture Writer’s Conference in Portland. I attended FCWC in 2014 and jumped in as Volunteer Coordinator last year. (you can read my post about that experience here.)
     Our team’s time of planning spanned an entire year and I ended up doing extra duty (with the amazing Bethany Jackson) when Cornelia was in a horrific accident from which she is still recovering.
     The bonds I have with Cornelia run deep and I’ve been looking forward to the day when I could visit her again in person. Almost one year since the conference, our lives and schedules finally allowed us to sit down at Happy Hour before we headed off to the Writer’s Connection meeting later in the evening.
     Over cilantro-laced tostadas, Cornelia and I reaffirmed we are kindred spirits, both committed to encouraging other Christian writers in their gifts, connecting people with each other to see them grow and communicating via our blogs in our little corners of the internet.
     “Hey,” I said, “we’re midwives!” (look for the book title some day….) She clasped my hands and agreed.
There is nothing like this kind of friendship—deep and holy; I am forever grateful to God for it.
     When we finished our meal I caravanned behind her to our writer’s meeting; there were some nervous butterflies about the occasion. I would be reuniting with other friends, attendees and committee members from FCWC as well as sharing a five minute ‘Inspiration’ message.
     There was less than 24 hours to prep for this, so I was a little verklempt. The Holy Spirit helped me pour some words out that had been ruminating for a while and they all came together.
     My little message reiterated the importance of sharing our small but extravagant offerings right in our corner of the world. Whatever our internet reach, the scope of our voice doesn’t matter-small is often Very Good in the blogosphere. Our extravagant sacrifices—like the woman’s anointing of Jesus’ feet—are never wasted.

     The sentiments shared by another team member echoed our speaker’s—Paul Pastor—author of “The Face of the Deep.” Paul was sure the two of us had somehow read his little green notebook prior to the meeting—there was such a seamless fit of God’s message to all of us.

Paul Pastor reading from his book about the Holy Spirit,
“The Face of the Deep”
   It was good to be among friends—excited/nervous/happy—and hear of the ways Jesus was living through people’s work. We were also ministered to–Paul is a gifted and anointed storyteller! From Lyla in the motorized wheelchair to Linda with her poems ‘only five people might read’ it made for an exhausting but encouraging day.
    The next morning I met another long distance friend for coffee—Carol—a writer who lived in the area and is part of Glory Writers.
This is the first time Carol and I had sat down for a heart-to-heart and the time went by way too fast. We talked about writing—practical stuff, dreams we have, avenues we’re pursuing—but when I drove away my heart sang. Words and writing brought us together but the fellowship was the greatest gift.
     Closer to home is my bosom friend Kimberlee Conway Ireton. I first ‘met’ Kimberlee online when I began blogging four and half years ago and was delighted to find she lived near me. Yippee! Because I was brand new to blogging and faith writing I wanted to connect and ask her a million questions.
     There was also a chance to give some encouragement to this new mom and author who was juggling life with 2 year old twins and a 6 and 9 year old. I’ve had the opportunity to do so during lunches, picnics, coffee dates and visits to the park. I adore her kids.
     Kimberlee’s and my friendship has grown over these last three years as we’ve discovered a similar soulful response to the way we share our words and want others to be encouraged in their writing. Out of our shared convictions and commitment to this cause, Kimberlee and I co-lead a writer’s retreat last year called ‘Abide’. Out of THAT retreat came the birthing of Glory Writers, a Facebook group–open to anyone–and a place for ministry and fellowship and sharing words with friends. (click on the GW photo, also on my sidebar).
     Kimberlee and I met for coffee the other night to discuss our upcoming retreat, (“Dwell”–see page tab above), alternating clasping hands and bowing our heads, waving our arms in the air (that would be me) as we poured out our hearts about our dreams, our delights and a couple of dares. We discussed writing, the power and presence of God’s Holy Spirit and we talked soul deep about the books that were speaking to US.
     I have waited over 20 years for a bosom friend like Kimberlee, someone who shares my passions, who understands my tears of joy or my laughter and song. A friend who will grab a book to make a point and announce, “let me read you this,” and I match it with a passage of my own from the book in MY bag.
     The connection is our love of language, our love of the Creator and our love for each other. Because sometimes the words that sing the song in your heart are written and said by someone else.
I’m so grateful to God for my words with friends.  Who are YOUR vowels?
Take heart….it may take a while to find them.

That September Day


The soft and subtle glow of the sun sits right side of my shoulder. Bumper by bumper, we move at a close and constant pace while I relish the music washing over me. Grateful to not be harried and hurrying homeward,  I turn up the volume and conduct the air while I make the most of the slow wheels, asphalt-wise.

The twang of guitar, the soft snare and notes weave together, while a piano taps out a tune as if played by a nimble kitten.  A single voice enters the song, sending me back to a time when my mother sang these very same words. That was a long time ago, but the words are just as poignant today.
I wonder at my fellow drivers, if they’ll shake their heads while I agitate the air in time with the song.  I am moved, inside and out. Broadway lyrics are often deep, deep wells if you listen outside the lines.
                                Try to remember the kind of September
                                When life was slow and oh, so mellow.
                                Try to remember the kind of September
                                When grass was green and grain so yellow.
                                Try to remember the kind of September
                                When you were a young and callow fellow,
                                Try to remember
                                And if you remember
                                Then follow…
And while the world is remembering, as it should, that September Day, I would like to argue that it is good to remember simpler times, happier times, whole-er times. 
 Any September….the kind where the joy of the first day of school and crisp plaid dresses and black and white oxford shoes heralded the season ahead.  The season of fall and school carnivals and hide-and-seek and bike rides and roller skating.
The Septembers where neighbors herded and fed each others’ children, shared swimming pools and picnics, phone lines and fenceline conversations. 
At least that’s what I remember. And maybe your world has that kind of joy in it; I rejoice with you, for it is more and more rare. I daresay you are aware of that and praise God for it often.
Why sing? Why remember? 
Because our right here/right now world is tenuous and taut and fraught with fear. But there is a just-as-real and unseen world all around us, a kingdom where those Septembers and Mays and Januarys are beautiful, peopled with whole and happy citizens. 
Try to remember when life was so tender
That no one wept except the willow.
Try to remember when life was so tender
That dreams were kept beside your pillow.
Try to remember when life was so tender
That love was an ember about to billow.
Try to remember, and if you remember,
Then follow.
     So, in this right here/right now life we move forward because of faith—faith in what we know can be so. Faith that remembers how our God is with is, was with us, and will be with us in all of our Septembers.
     Not because there is no pain or horror or violence, but because there is a healer and a helper and a holder. And we can sing along with rich and full musical lines that help us remember.
                    Deep in December, it’s nice to remember,
                    Although you know the snow will follow.
                    Deep in December, it’s nice to remember,
                    Without a hurt the heart is hollow.
                    Deep in December, it’s nice to remember,
                    The fire of September that made us mellow.
                    Deep in December, our hearts should remember
                    And follow.
Let’s sing to each other. Let’s remember. Let’s follow.
I have written about the experience of living through September 11th with my daughter Leah when we were visiting New York City.  I wanted to share this today because my mother died on September 11th. In 1984. And she loved to sing.
“Try to Remember” is from the Broadway musical, The Fantasticks, 1960.
I was singing along with Josh Groban’s recording from his ‘Stages’ album, cranked up loud. 
Very loud.

That Still, Small Voice

One of the best things about teaching Elementary School as a substitute teacher is hanging out with second graders (my favorite grade–innocent, love their teachers, AND they can usually tie their shoes).

The other thing about Second Grade is that every February pretty much every teacher talks about penguins.  Were it not for this exposure to the subject, I would not be aware of the fact there are 17 different species of penguins in the world.

Seventeen. Each one is a remarkable display of God’s creativity–from fin size to breeding habits to habitat.  Penguins are amazing creatures.

Because of the documentary ‘March of the Penguins’, a life cycle depiction of the Emperor Penguin of Antarctica, I learned something about the roles of the parents in raising their offspring. Mothers and fathers raise their chicks together, keeping them warm, fetching food from far out in the ocean and returning.

This food gathering process is what astonished me. In a colony of thousands upon thousands of penguins, when the mother returns with the food, she can hear her chick’s voice above all the others. 

She can distinguish its cry in a crowd of wall to wall black and white, fur-finned squawking creatures.
No matter how many other sounds of despair or distress she hears around her, she hones in on the one that is hers.
I feel like I’ve been drowning in a sea of voices lately.
Facebook threads and Twitter feeds with information and input and overload, opinions large and small on the state of the world.
Blog posts from far and wide with heartfelt sentiments spread across the page.

They’re not bad. They’re not all good. There are just too many.

I want to get back to listening for that still, small voice of Jesus, to bend in close and hear what He is saying and what He wants me to say to you.

If it’s not beautiful or encouraging or uplifting…….well, I’ll keep it to myself.

So–I’m going to pull back from posting, lessen the pressure (self-imposed) of coming up with something each week to say (because I always have something to say.)
Instead, I want to focus on whatever is true, beautiful, noble and of good report.

And it might take me awhile to figure that out.

But whatever Jesus gives me is yours.  As soon as I hear His voice.
Linking with Kelly for the Small Wonder link up

Discovering Dreams {on #Writing}

It’s only March and my rhubarb is unfurling.
In the frozen, snow-covered parts of the country, Spring is only a word on a page somewhere near March 21st, but it has hit full force (early) here in the Pacific Northwest.

The rhubarb is pretty lonely. I had grand plans to get some spinach seeds in the ground last month but well, here it is March…. 
I have been pining over seedlings and seed catalogs since early December. Nothing got ordered.
No trips to the neighborhood nursery for the newest and best. 
So many good ideas.
So much work. 

The stray sweet pea seeds have already started twirling in the soil, I’m sure there’s a nasturtium seed or two. The mint is definitely trying to take over (I thought I’d pulled it all out!)
The garlic leftovers have managed to send up shoots–who knows what else might be lurking there?

My un-planted garden mirrors something I’ve been reading in  ‘A Million Little Ways-Uncover the Art you were Made to Live’, by Emily Freeman, founder of Hope*Writers.

Emily posits the idea (p. 59) of the difference between ‘discovering’ and ‘recovering.’

“More often than not, finding out what you love doing most 
is about recovering an old love or an inescapable truth 
that has been silenced for years, even decades. 
So instead of setting out to discover this thing you love doing, 
you’ve got to change your thinking and set out to recover it, maybe even rescue it.”Hmm….. Each season I check our area’s Plant Picks for the best and greatest that I want to have in my garden.
  • Something new.
  • Something different.
  • Something beautiful.

Instead of all that hard work, what if this year I simply set about uncovering the garden to recover what had been lost? Maybe rescue some things….?

It would be like a reunion with what was already there, but only hidden………like a treasure.

“Our passions aren’t the goal, Emily says, but they are signposts, 
like arrows pointing to our center.  
Here is the path to the deepest part of who you are, 
how you are made, the poetry of your soul.” (p. 60)

Maybe God is calling you (like He’s prodding me), to uncover some of the brambles and brush in my soul–the layers I’ve used to hide the real me.
Maybe He’s daring you to dig beneath the layers, expose the hidden things to the light and reveal the dreams that He’s put there in the first place.
Instead of being ‘suspicious of (my) desire’, or my capacity for making beauty, I’m learning to rest in the truth of my ‘image-bearing identity’ that glorifies God.
I’m daring to expose the soil of my barren soul, the ‘me’ that God made when I was created. I want to begin looking instead for what might be growing there already….the poem God has written on my heart that only I can live.

“Having a dream is a reflection of the image of God.” 
A Million Little Ways, Emily Freeman, p. 67
What dreams is God uncovering in you today?