Keeping in Step with Jesus (Vlog)

In the middle of all that goes into releasing a book and talking about a book and promoting a book**, it’s easy to lose sight of what matters. This entry from Oswald Chambers “My Utmost for His Highest” (October 12th) was encouraging to me; I hope it encourages you. (forgive my cough; of course, as soon as I began to speak, my voice got all scratchy).

 

**Living the Season Well-Reclaiming Christmas

 

 

#On Beauty, Books & A Birthday-A Photo Essay

No matter where I live, I recognize the song of a red-winged blackbird. In rushes near the shore’s edge of a California beach, along the canals and waterways in the San Joaquin Valley, the tall grasses along a Louisiana bayou or deep in marshes along Washington’s coast, the voice of the songbird is the same. There’s a trilling like no other, punctuated by startled flight and appearance of dark black wings dotted with a circle of scarlet. Once you hear the voice of red-winged blackbird, you will know it anywhere.

When I first began this blog, I was introduced to a writer whose work became a song of a different kind, with words that sang and soared right off the page. My friend and I have swooned over this writer’s work for several years now. We compare notes about the ways in which she speaks to the depths of our souls, the longing we share for rich literature, the tapestry of language that weaves the glory of God’s kingdom into a piece.

I recall sitting in my living room last year reading one of Lanier Ivester’s essays, “Songless.” I had a printout in my hand and the piece featured the color print of a red-winged blackbird. When I finished, I sat for a few moments in silence; I was literally struck speechless with the way the words were woven together.

I can either do one of two things when I encounter writing that is lightyears beyond mine (don’t we all have a different measure of what “better than I can do” looks like?) I can either throw down my pencil or close my laptop and give up. Or, I can drink from the rich deposit in my soul, be inspired to go on in my own work, and keep looking for beauty, order, design, clarity, whatever facets of God’s creativity I’ve been given to show to the world.

/////

I’m turning sixty five this week. It’s a daunting milestone and one that is bittersweet; I’ve officially lived ten years longer than my mother. Cancer took her at 55 when I was in the throes of raising two children who now have children of their own; I miss her a great deal. Turning 65 also prompts its own kind of contemplation—what is my contribution to the world? Have I achieved my dream(s)? What legacy am I leaving? Is it too late to make a difference?

I set out at the beginning of this year to write a book about the season of Christmas. When I discovered that Laura Ingalls Wilder published her first Little House book at the age of 65, I was greatly heartened. So, for my birthday, I’m giving the world a book. Sort of. Living the Season Well-Reclaiming Christmas won’t be released until the end of October some two months or so away, but it will still be in The Year I Turned Sixty-Five.  

/////

Besides birds and a book and a birthday I’ve also been contemplating the stunning beauty of blown glass.

0804171345_hdr.jpg

My sister visited recently and we wandered through the Chihuly Glass Garden in Seattle. Chihuly’s work is housed inside in quiet, cavernous rooms and outside in wide open, bright spaces.

0804171347_HDR.jpg

The glass sculptures that took my breath away were those inside, where uplighting pierced through each installation and shone through the dark in glittering rainbows.

0804171329

0804171329a.jpg

0804171333

We were spellbound. “How does someone even dream up these ideas? Where does this kind of creativity come from? I could never do that.”

No, I can’t. But I can visually absorb the power of each piece, the scale, the variety, the brilliance. I can let it soak in just a little bit then take it as fuel for inspiration. What kind of creativity can I bring to the world? What’s in my hand? What’s in my heart? What’s in my head?

In 1699 Jean Haudicquer de Blancourt wrote a book about glass blowing which uses ashes, not sand. (I have no idea how old he was.) “The art of glass: showing how to make all sorts of glass, crystal, & enamel” details in great length the way to transform beauty from the ashes of hearths and homes across de Blancourt’s native France. People looked beyond what they saw in their chimneys and someone figured out a way to melt it into glass. Glass which provided people with a way to see.

/////

I began this post telling of a writer whose work is a tremendous inspiration to me, someone who finds beauty in ordinary things like gathering color from her garden or sharing a cup of tea. In a tragedy that defies all that makes sense, this beauty-bringer recently experienced the loss of her 100 year old farmhouse when it burnt nearly to the ground. She and her husband were left with ashes.

In the shock and trauma that have followed since then, the community of writers whom she calls friends have rallied around her–not by sending cash or showing up to help rebuild. No, many of us sent a gift for her soul—lovely china tea cups, plates and saucers for daily use. While time perhaps does not allow for the ‘taking of tea’ in this season, and indeed might seem a preposterous undertaking given the weight of the tragedy she’s endured, Lanier believes that beauty matters. The pattern on L’s new tea set? The Phoenix.

It is good for us to stop and enjoy the weight of God’s glory that shines in the sway of flowers in our garden, the glance of sunlight on the water or birdsong out our windows. We also can live as purveyors of goodness and beauty, shining our own gifts through the ‘glass’ God gives us.

Can you draw or paint? Write a song, play a tune or dance?

Have you a pen in your hands you can yield to God as you write through your pain?

Is speaking your gift?

Bring beauty from your ashes, write the words, fashion a glass and help us see. 

*****

Lanier’s post “Songless” is here.

 

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.

/ / / /

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.

0719171311

“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.

Why Your Story Matters

Some friends and I were having lunch the other day, discussing various challenges to find the time to write—caring for children, caring for our homes, talking with spouses, all manner of delights and duties. Then there was the other ‘D’—distractions.

In between bites of fish and chips, I lamented the ease with which I am sucked into all sorts of social media vortexes. That particular morning it was Instagram—and decried the slippery decline away from what I actually set out to do—write an original thought or two, unhindered by all those other voices.

My friend Holly told us about what she called a ‘download’ earlier that week straight from God’s heart to hers—a message that everyone’s story matters, especially the stories of those who feel they have no voice. (She’s drafting a six-week workshop on just that very thing—such a needed message.) Each one of us chimed in with our individual roadblocks to writing and the ways we fall into listening to all the other noisy gongs out there. Then we circled back to the truth–we each have a story to tell that is uniquely our own. Adoptive mom, recovered trauma victim, heart transplant survivor, grandparent and over 60 book author….a vastly diverse group.

When I sat with our iced tea and lunchtime conversation running through my head the next morning, I heard the Holy Spirit remind me what we writers do: tell the world what we know from where we are in our own way. But the white noise of other voices—actual flesh & blood ones, or virtual via Facebook, Instagram or other writers—can drown out the voice of our Shepherd Jesus.

Then I thought of the words about Jesus in John 10:3, “…and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls out his own sheep by name and leads them out.” And verse 4 “…and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.”

I find myself often battling not only the subtle shouts of other people’s words but the shoulds. “I should write about this,” “I should sound like this,” and so on.  But that’s a way of being pushed, not led.

Jesus leads us out, the enemy of our soul prods and pokes and pushes. I want my words to take me where God leads. I don’t want to make up content or manufacture an idea—I have all I need with the life I live to write from what I already have. My life experience is different from your life experience and the way I flesh out my walk with God may be an encouragement to you. I want to write about that.

Another thing about sheep (face it, baaaaa…) sheep are confined; they know their boundaries—and they only go somewhere else when the Shepherd moves them. I often want to be in a different pasture than my own, different circumstances, a better place. But the problem with looking over fences at other peoples’ ‘property’, real or imagined, is I’m left dissatisfied and there it is again, distracted, from the words God has given me to share.

There is only one voice, one vision and one view from where I stand. That’s all I can tell you about. As I stay where I am, nibbling on this ‘grass’ from God, I want to hear Him the way Holly did that day, to get a regular ‘download’ of ideas and words to share. And I remember I can.

When we belong to God we can all hear from Him if we are open to listening. I want to keep tuning into His voice.

What about you?

*~*~*~

My lunchmates and I are part of an online and in real life group called Glory Writers. Find out more about joining us in our Facebook group here. 

Why Rear View Mirrors are Better Than Windshields

“The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn,

Shining ever brighter till the full light of day.”

Proverbs 4:18

When I began this year, God gave me a word–“adjust.” Last year I spent time ‘abiding’, year before that it was ‘dwell’ (very similar) and the year before that, my word was ‘fit’–how does what I’m doing in my walk with Jesus fit with what He says?

When I heard the Holy Spirit say “adjust,” I had the sense that I’d be moving in a particular direction–writing a book this year–but as I was moving God would have to make some course corrections.

About the same time, our pastor’s New Year’s message was from the book of Nehemiah about the rebuilding of the walls around Jerusalem. The rebuilding task was overwhelming, but Nehemiah was undeterred. As a result of that word, “start small, start now” became my mantra. I couldn’t make overnight changes in any of the areas I wanted to see growth or movement–my health, my writing, my spiritual walk–none of it. But I could see change over time.

At the end of each day, I document what little steps have been taken in those areas on my “foursquare.” Some days I write one or two things down, some days it’s blank. The areas of growth have changed over time as well, now one of the square says “heart & soul”, one says “body”, one says, “writing” and one says, “spirit.” It’s not a journal so much as it’s a recorder.

20170309_095542

Little by little, there’s progress.

~*~*~*~*

I’ve also been documenting the progress of the perennial flowerbed out in our yard—one photo a month since January, on the 20th day of the month.

I had the idea because, come June, no one would ever believe that the explosion of greenery and color that is my flowerbed was once an empty spot of soggy, blank dirt. I would like to encourage myself along the way that one, something beautiful WILL grow out of that unsightly rectangle and two, it will take some time.

20170120_132501

This first photo makes it glaringly clear just what a ‘winter view’ is in my Seattle suburb—with no foliage on shrubs and trees, you can see miles away. Of course, the shades of gray, brown and silver bark in front of me leave me with an impatient ache. They’re hard on the eyes; I long for them to bloom.

But I need to wait a good six months.

The next month, February, I chose a different angle, illustrating the size of the bed, and giving one the impression with my rake propped against the bird feeder, that I was actually working out in the mud. Smile. There are a few suggestions of greenery against the dirt, but they are only suggestions, an ounce of earth being displaced by life.

20170220_095926

You’ll notice the Yellowtwig Dogwood shows up nicely against the monochrome background of the greenbelt. There is hope in the color of those bare branches, a bit of golden against the sky when we’re desperate for something to keep us going.

A few days ago I took Month Number Three’s photo—March.

20170327_081608

Can you see the gradual growth, the mini fireworks sprouting from the dirt? When I stand back and look from this perspective I can see a difference from last month’s photo-something is happening! Look at all the yellow–forsythia! And, if you were able to get up close, you’d see new leaves curling out in the asters and clematis at the base of that dried up piece of driftwood by the gazebo bird feeder.

You have to look closely, though.

*~*~*~*

I am always learning lessons from my garden—long, slow lessons about life.

Right now I’m preoccupied with writing a book. I told you about that last week and God’s gentle (not) way of getting my attention in the process so I could readjust my expectations.

I am reminded again that anything difficult, beautiful or creative requires three things—work, attention and time.

I cannot expect to be finished with the process unless I put in the time and attend to God’s words to me along the way. And I need to remember that although I am bounded by the constraints of the rising and setting of the sun each day, God is not. He sees the end from the beginning all at once. He knows where we’ll be….maybe we need to pay attention to the getting there rather than the being there.

Maybe you’re working through something like that now—a challenge or promise or project that is taking a frustratingly much longer amount of time to bring any progress.

May I encourage you? Rather than looking at the emptiness outside your window every day (figuratively speaking) check once a week or once a month or once a quarter and ask God, “How are things going now? How about now?” Or, “God, please give me patience for this process.”

You may find when you look back at the end that whatever was preoccupying your thoughts or worrying you went more quickly than expected. And some day you’ll look out your kitchen window at the vines and shoots and branches spilling all over the back patch of dirt and wonder, “Wow, how did those flowers come up?”

A lot of work, paying attention, and giving things time. God’s time.

~*~*~*~

For what are you waiting on God? Share in the comments.