Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Rainy beauty

I headed out to drizzle and came home in rain. 

Red on red

 As we walked, I stuffed my pockets with beauty.


Sunday, I watched one-year-old Kinsey pick up fallen leaves
until her hands were full.


On the road to adulthood, it seems we forget to look around


to treasure the simple pleasures of God's abundance.


Even the leaves were dancing this morning.

Moss tray

Now my office moss tray is bursting with color.

Granddaughter Kinsey stops picking things up when her hands are full.
Her Oma stops collecting when her coat pocket won't zip shut.


**Oh God, thank you for beauty in the rain.**

Read more:
*O Lord, open my lips, that my mouth may declare your praise. Psalm 51:15 (NASB) 

*My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music. Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn! I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples.

For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth. Psalm 57:7-11 NIV 

*Praise our God, all you his servants, and all who fear him, small and great. Revelation 19:5

Moravian Prayer: Holy One, we thank you for blessings each day and we lift our voices to sing your praises. May our praise be acceptable to you, O God! Amen.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sorry from a distance

The American East Coast is being pummeled by Storm Sandy. In Burma, thousands of refugees have fled sectarian fighting. In Africa, radical Muslims have brought havoc to Sudan and Mali. Indian Hindus and Islamists decimate villages and kill people who disagree with them.

Here on the West Coast, we watch reports of possible tsunamis in Hawaii, sitting in a comfy chair. We see photos of flooded streets in New York, dry, rested, and fully powered up. We gaze at the dark rainy landscape that is October in Seattle through windows, from warm rooms. We read news of world dangers with the light of a computer screen shining on our well-fed faces.

Our sense of security is temporary and our control of circumstances an illusion but we normally react in three ways to others' traumas:
  1. We ignore everything outside our own experience. Life revolves around us and our comforts or discomforts.
  2. We become fearful that the world is only awful and dangerous, waiting to spiral out of control. Life seems dark and unsafe: God can't be trusted because He allows terrors, wars, and sickness. Though we may not follow God ourselves, we blame Him for bad decisions by governments or individuals, the spread of illness, and religious decisions that produce famine, deprivation, and violence. After all (outside of our own free will, which we don't want Him to touch), isn't God responsible for the world?
  3. We respond with prayer, care, and help for others. Jesus sorrowed with those who mourned and healed the sick. He took time out for the hurting and helpless. We have many opportunities to support those who go even when we cannot go to help. Choose prayerfully where and when to engage but don't ignore the needs around us, even from a distance.
What's your choice today?

Read more:
*He spoke and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm. Psalm 33:9

*The Lord has proclaimed to the end of the earth: Say to daughter Zion, “See, your salvation comes.” Isaiah 62:11

*Jesus said to the deaf man, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Mark 7:34-35

*Christ was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. 1 Peter 1:20

Moravian Prayer: Worship, honor, glory, blessing—you are worthy to receive! Great Creator and great Healer, we thank you for the gift of life. Open our ears and enable us to speak plainly the words of love and grace you would have us share with others.

 Holy Christ, you are the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. In you we find consolation, salvation and joy. We pause now to thank you for your graciousness and pray for a daily sense of gratitude. In Christ’s name. Amen.

Monday, October 29, 2012

How to advance

On our trip to Israel, we traversed miles of desert (virtually no rainfall) and wilderness (minimal rainfall that permits scrub and some grasses to grow). Israel is dry. dry. and more dry.

Our tour guide explained, "Before the current irrigation, inhabitants were utterly dependent on God for rain. The farmer would sow precious seed from grain needed to feed his family. If the rains didn't come at the right time, he and his family would starve. Israelites plead with God and pagans performed their rituals at sowing and harvest seasons for sufficient rain."One year might be abundant. The next could be devastating. It all depended on rain.

Likewise, war-craft developed slowly and unevenly. The Philistines, relatives of the great Greek sailors, had metalworking skills long before Israel did, giving them an advantage in battle. Egypt and Babylon had well-developed armies and threatened to overrun Israel and Judah, time after time.

Asa begins well
This morning, I read the story of Asa (2 Chronicles 14-16). He started strong, depending on God for his country's survival. Even when the odds were overwhelming, he went to God for help. Except...

...when he was old and experienced.

Asa's country was besieged by Israel's army after he had ruled 36 years. For some inexplicable reason, he didn't ask God's intervention like he had in the past. With a history of miraculous provision, of overcoming annihilation by enemy troops, and a peaceful reign attributed to God's favor, Asa requested help from neighboring Damascus instead of from God.

God sent the prophet Hanani to ask what Asa was thinking. Instead of repenting, Asa got angry and punished the prophet. Thereafter, Asa also oppressed his people. He went from being a successful king who followed God to becoming an oppressor who followed himself and human wisdom and desires.

What I learned from Asa's story:
  1. Our accomplishments are rooted in God's favor. Good seasons are cause for worship and thanksgiving to God.
  2. God gives success to those who cry out to him when life seems impossible. God is strong enough when we cannot find a way forward. When the odds are against us, God knows how to direct life so we can survive and thrive.
  3. God responds to our prayers. When we encounter opportunities and crises throughout life, God gives those who ask him wisdom and supernatural resources--in good times and bad.
  4. God responds to our decisions with blessings for obedience and difficulties for idolatry. You may "have fun" sinning but you won't live an abundant life. You hurt those around you by aligning against God's love and justice: all of Judah suffered when Asa walked away from what he knew was right.
  5. Though God warns us, he allows us to listen or reject his advice. All of us have suffered because of others' bad choices. 
Typical landscape in Israel
When we seek God, he promises to make our paths straight. It might be unclear to me whether to take one job or another, whether to move or stay put in a house, or whether or not to invest in one company or another.

Yet I can choose as best I can among such "minor details" of life. The principles of scripture demand integrity, allegiance to a holy God, and alignment with biblical principles. When I live that way, God can bless me in any job, house, or company.

So how to we advance through life? 
  • We must choose to follow God with all our hearts, as best as we can understand. From START to FINISH and everywhere between.
  • We listen to wise counsel and accept rebukes or commendations that God sends.
  • And we constantly realign to do what is right rather than merely what is in our own interests.
Then--and only then--God promises we will finish as well as we started.

Read more:
*Thus far the Lord has helped us. 1 Samuel 7:12

*At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him, “Because you have relied on the king of Aram and have not relied on the Lord your God, therefore the army of the king of Aram has escaped out of your hand. Were not the Ethiopians and the Lubim an immense army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the Lord, He delivered them into your hand. For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His. You have acted foolishly in this. Indeed, from now on you will surely have wars.”

Then Asa was angry with the seer and put him in prison, for he was enraged at him for this. And Asa oppressed some of the people at the same time. In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa became diseased in his feet. His disease was severe, yet even in his disease he did not seek the Lord, but the physicians. 2 Chronicles 16:7-10, 12

*[God says] “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. Isaiah 43:18-19 NIV

*The Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed. 2 Timothy 4:17

Moravian Prayer: You are with us always—guiding, comforting and challenging us to continue our journey with and to you. May our steps today bring us closer to you. We pause before you now in gratitude and supplication. Amen.

Friday, October 26, 2012

How-to: Become part of decision-making at work

"Get to be part of the meeting-before-the-meeting," Stan told me. "Before we even get into the room, our boss has decided the agenda and what's going to be done."

My background of discussion and collaboration means I love the push and pull of a team, manipulating ideas and possibilities before coming to a decision. I'm happy with consensus, even if the decision reached by the group is not my first choice. I instinctively resist pronouncements by top-down controllers who impose their will on others.

I've been in opposite types of meetings. At the first type, like the one after which Stan explained the apparent deafness of the leader to others' ideas, the decisions have been made and the group simply affirms the boss's wishes. At the second, team members function in their strengths and giftings, bringing all their information and experience to guide the direction of the company or church.

The first kind of decision-making -- dictatorial or hierarchical --  is quicker and more efficient in the short-term. The second kind -- consensus reached by a well-functioning group -- produces holistic planning that is broader and deeper and anticipates the future.

The first results in head-down worker bees who are afraid to stand out in case they get knocked around. The second produces a company culture of "I want to help" and possibility-thinking.

If you're in a strong hierarchy, (typical in most offices and easier for a boss to manage,) how do you influence the decisions before their pronouncement?

1. Listen carefully for the boss's values and note his or her goals. Match your own goals to theirs and point out your accomplishments in light of the leader's targets. If you become a trusted achiever, the boss may invite you into the loop of her decision making ... or just leave you alone to accomplish your goals.

2. Examine where the leader meets with others.
  • Does the boss live only in her office? 
  • Does he frequent a coffee shop or conference room before meetings?
  • If the guys are walking down the hall when a question comes up, the team leader may instinctively point out a favored solution. It's a done deal for those privy to the conversation. 
  • The gals may be refreshing their makeup at the bathroom sink when an issue comes up. "Call so-and-so and do this..." says the woman in charge. And the decision is made without men's input.
You can't do much about such impromptu cause and effect besides bringing the boss' attention to the implications for the rest of the team. BUT you can plan to be around if there's a clear pattern of interaction. As Stan told me, most decisions are made through casual interactions between (not at) formal meetings.

3. Is there an insider culture? Do office influencers golf, craft, hunt, attend the same church or club, or eat lunch together in the company cafeteria? Consider ways you can become included in those interactions.

4. Are there a select few who have the ear of the boss? Befriending them may get your ideas on the table. I managed my department at one company through interaction with the leader's friends. They claimed my best ideas as their own and I got my work done. Note: If you intend to climb the corporate ladder in such a culture, document your ideas before presenting them so you can reclaim them as your own.

5. Reverence God and stand for what is right. Trust Him to make your path straight.

Biblical examples point out that influence happens close to the powers that be. How have you found this to be true?

Read more:
*When [King David] crossed over to Gilgal, Kimham crossed with him. All the troops of Judah and half the troops of Israel had taken the king over.

Soon all the men of Israel were coming to the king and saying to him, “Why did our brothers, the men of Judah, steal the king away and bring him and his household across the Jordan, together with all his men?”

All the men of Judah answered the men of Israel, “We did this because the king is closely related to us. Why are you angry about it? Have we eaten any of the king’s provisions? Have we taken anything for ourselves?”

Then the men of Israel answered the men of Judah, “We have ten shares in the king; so we have a greater claim on David than you have. Why then do you treat us with contempt? Weren’t we the first to speak of bringing back our king?”

But the men of Judah pressed their claims even more forcefully than the men of Israel. 2 Samuel 19:40-43 NIV

*But I, by your great mercy, will come into your house in reverence will I bow down toward your holy temple. Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness because of my enemies—make straight your way before me. Psalm 5:7-8 NIV

*Their houses will be turned over to others, together with their fields and their wives, when I stretch out my hand against those who live in the land,” declares the Lord. “From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace. Jeremiah 6:12-14 NIV

*Paul wrote: I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6

Moravian Prayer: Compassionate God, we come to you with both sadness and joy. We are filled with sadness by the many ways that we fall short: by our hard-heartedness and by unhealthy self-preoccupation. Yet we are filled with joy, because we trust you will complete your work within us by your mercy and grace. Strengthen us! Amen.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Reflections on regret

This morning I woke up regretting a decision. I awoke gasping at the lost opportunity (until reality set in.)

I did not attend a course. My name tag sat unused on a desk. Administrators had worked for nothing to set up my registration. I missed a class on spiritual formation, a topic that really interests me. And I didn't get to network with a great group of doctoral students.

Many of my best decisions come from impulsively showing up. And so it might have been with this one: I heard about the class Friday (it started the following Monday). I called to ask if I could attend and got permission, along with links to the syllabus and required reading. Ronda even got my student name ready.

But Monday I just couldn't do it. I'd helped pull together a reunion Saturday and gone to a 5-hour workshop Sunday. I facilitate a study on Tuesday evenings and babysit our granddaughter on Fridays. The class just wasn't calling me.

Until this morning, when I realized what I missed and what I could have learned from the prof and wonderful class members. "I could have squeezed it in," said my regretful self. "You need this information for teaching next summer. The Tuesday class was cancelled. Friday's not here yet."

The logical self replied, "Would I have had Monday and Wednesday for research, time needed to start on existing papers? I would have missed lunch with Julia. I needed to decompress after the weekend. Thursday I play piano at the hospital ... and Friday is coming, with or without Kinsey. And look how much time I would have had to take to catch up on reading."

I'm still bummed about missing the week. But here's how I'm facing my regrets:
  1. Admit that I've missed a potential opportunity or messed up.
  2. Recognize my limitations. We can't be everywhere and do every good thing. No. We really CAN'T!
  3. Focus on what I have not what I don't have. This week's research has been very productive, if not creatively stimulating.
  4. Make it right if there's transgression on my part. I put a busy administrator through needless work but I can email my appreciation and explain my absence. If I say something awful and hurt a friend, I can apologize and reconcile. I may miss an appointment but can reschedule.
  5. Plan ahead to redo something I've missed. Or just let it go. Maybe this great chance didn't belong to me from the get-go.
  6. Revel in God's daily presence in the here-and-now. He promises to use each day and every experience for good. We don't live perfectly. But God forgives us. He weaves life's beauty AND imperfections together for his pleasure and our good. 
  7. I learn more about myself through the experience. I find I most regret what I don't do rather than what I jump into. While I dislike scheduled obligations, I revel in the surprises and unexpected joys of art workshops, idea exchanges, and mentoring. Since this life is finite, I need to embrace the ways it comes and goes.
How do you deal with regrets and missed opportunities?

Read more:
*For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledgethat you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:14-21 NIV

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

How-to motivate the working self

Moss, baby tears, and mulch from
the yard = a mini-woodland
The office lights are on, the moss tray on the desk gleams with mist. Its earthy fragrance fills the room. I don't mind water on the ground. It's when water plummets through the air, soaking me and making the dogs stink, that I object.

What to do? What to do with my long list of must-get-dones today? I promise myself a break after I research for an hour. "There will be fresh hot tea and breakfast," I say to the reluctant me.

How do we motivate ourselves when we don't feel like working? I'd love to hear your tips!

Happy in the office window:
tilandsia on bogwood
Here are a few of mine:
  1. Deadlines are our friends. I'm more likely to persevere with a hard date for completing a task.
  2. Break big jobs into smaller goals. Celebrate (or at least acknowledge) when you achieve even the smallest milestone as progress toward the finish line.
  3. Intersperse tasks you don't enjoy with those you do. I dislike researching the pages of old writing but like reviewing the information I gather in my notebook.
  4. Make your workspace a pleasant place. My office is light, bright, and filled with plants and art. I like coming to the space. I look at pictures of the last few places I worked: each of them made my heart sing when I walked in the door.
  5. Work for rewards. If you're an employee, you work for money. Doing less than what you're hired to do means you're stealing from the company. If you're self-employed, your boss must make the job worth doing. For me, it's tea breaks, walks, and time off to read and write whatever I want.
  6. Ultimately, God is your boss. Focus on his pleasure while doing good work.
Read more: (Thanks, Tillie!)
*Surely God is my salvation;
    I will trust and not be afraid.

The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song;
    he has become my salvation.”

With joy you will draw water
    from the wells of salvation.

In that day you will say:
“Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name;
    make known among the nations what he has done,
    and proclaim that his name is exalted.

Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things;
    let this be known to all the world.

Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion,
    for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.” Isaiah 12:2-6 NIV

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Accepting honor where it's due

Someone says something nice abut you. Something true. Something wonderful that you've worked hard on ... or that comes naturally and easily because it's a cultivated talent or gifting.

Should you feel honored or uncomfortable?

Do you feel you have to slough off compliments and achievements? Or can you celebrate what God has allowed you to do?

This past weekend, we noted milestones in lives of our choir peers. 35 years later, some have pastored churches. Others have raised good children. Many have influenced their communities through non-profits and community service. A few attained graduate degrees. I felt like I was in the middle of spiritual giants, listening to the tales of God at work in good times and bad. The gals dressed beautifully. Everyone seemed comfortable and at ease, having learned to speak in public and interact with others. These are not social skills to be taken lightly!

Many of us - including I - continue to struggle against our childhood church culture, which emphasized that pride comes before a fall ... so we had to deny any nice remarks about ourselves.

I listened to the interchanges at our reunion. We were surprised and thrilled to reconnect with each other after 35 years apart, because we have become adults with stories of God's abundance and faithfulness.

"Congratulations on a job well done." Response: "Could have done better."
"You're beautiful!" Response: "Wish it was true."
"You reached your goal!" Response: "Took more time than I thought."
"Wow, that's cool!" Response: "Anyone could do it."

I wondered if God felt disappointed at hearing us fend off others'  kind acknowledgements. He gifted us, gave us unique personalities, and allowed our experiences with the intent of forming and shaping us into useful and amazing persons. Would you be hurt if your kids rejected your parenting, claiming that they were nobodies and refusing to see themselves as worthwhile?

How do we admit who we are and celebrate our accomplishments without becoming self-promoting or prideful?
  1. Did you solicit the compliment? Are you trying to overcome a sense of inadequacy with reverse pride (you are no one unless you're noticed by others)? If so, behave yourself and stop fishing! Your value comes because God likes you, not because of what others say.
  2. Know yourself. How are you unique and special? Every person is needed on the planet or we'd be redundant and God would not have made us. Admit God's creativity: you are fearfully and wonderfully made!
  3. Admit your giftings. What comes naturally and easily that others might struggle with? Celebrate how God has blessed you with talents and personality.
  4. What have you worked hard to achieve? Be happy with how you've developed spiritually and trained a skill-set that is out of the ordinary.
  5. What is the person trying to say? Are they genuinely pleased with you or with what you've done? Or are they buttering you up (flattering you) so you compliment them back or give them what they want? Accept the former with a smile, "Thank you, I appreciate that." Ignore the latter with a polite thanks or "Hmmm" and move on.
  6. Would God agree with the compliment? When God says you are special and finds you extraordinary as his child - especially when he is glorified by your attention to his blessings - receive the compliment with grace and humility. We understand that it's God's work in you that makes you amazing. Your partnership with him is what we find so special about you, whether it's your sense of style, your gracious speech, or your great accomplishments. Agree with us, already :-)
I'm sending a warm "I celebrate you!" and "So glad you're in my life!" to my wonderful friends and family this morning. You know who you are! (All of you!)

Read more:
*In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Romans 8:37

*For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen. Romans 11:36

*Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.1 Corinthians 8:6

*But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christthe righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 3:7-11 NIV

Monday, October 22, 2012

A weekend on memory lane

Bill and Sue Berger of All Saints
I saw friends at three events this weekend. The first honored Bill Berger, pastor in Seattle. Bill, who go Northwest's Regius Award, has been an inspiration because of his spiritual perseverance and love for his community.

Julia Young
Friday morning during NU's chapel, Julia Young, semi-retired faculty and student favorite, was given the Didaskalos Award, which annually has recognized outstanding professors over the last few decades. A scholarship named for TJ Bulger, who started the alumni department at NU, made the event a done-deal for me. TJ consistently offered encouragement, hugs, and good counsel during my tenure as Alumni Director.

ThoraJean Bulger (left), being thanked by students and
friends for her work in securing alumni scholarships
The highlight of the weekend was my all-day college choir reunion. Our conductor flew in from Ontario and many of us came some distance. We attended the alma mater over 30 years ago so we're in our 50s and 60s.

W and I picked up supplies and food the night before, and drove up early Saturday to set up and cook lunch. We ate lasagne, salad, garlic bread (except for my vegan option) - and consumed salty and sweet snacks to fuel the afternoon of stories and prayers.

Betty-Lou, Rosemarie, Melody, Sylvia, and Don
My mom and dad stopped by for a few hours to hear how those kids who dropped by their house became adults. It took a lot of cooking and cleaning by many willing volunteers (thanks to my mom, too). Rod Bitterman, first-year Harmie and current pastor, opened his church in Chilliwack, BC, set up tables, and made sure we'd cleaned up afterwards. (We would have donated to the college if they had made room for us.)

Elmer and Sherry Komant,
missionaries to Rwanda

Looking at the faces of friends and faculty, it's plain to see that life has taken unexpected turns. There have been great accomplishments, spiritual highs, and rewards. But there have also been devastating losses, surprises of pain, illness, and grief, and challenges that could have ruined our walk of faith.

Here we are, by the grace of God. "Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, blessings all mine with 10,000 beside," says the hymnwriter.

Praying with and for each other
Through every dark valley or steep mountain climbs, whether overlooking the beautiful vistas when life seems whole and perfect ... or thinking the next step would plunge us into an abyss, God has accompanied and blessed us with his loving presence. Each day, he provided strength and grace enough.

Alumni directors from secular universities complain about the drinking and carousing that happens at alum events. (Mind you, drunk alumni are more generous than those who are sober.) Those of us from Christian institutions gratefully honor our own alums, faithful people who impact communities, raise good citizens, and spread God's love wherever they go.
From 1974-77 faculty and students to 2012 friends:
WPBC Harmonnaires

Read more:
*It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you—for you were the fewest of all peoples. It was because the Lord loved you. Deuteronomy 7:7-8

*(Boaz said,) "I … know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers. May the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done."
Ruth 2:11–12

*When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? Psalm 8:3-4 NIV

*God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduced to nothing things that are. 1 Corinthians 1:28

Moravian Prayer: O God of wisdom, God of love, you have chosen us and we are your people. Enduring God, may the world see that we are yours by the love we spread into our communities. Amen.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A year with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus

Joanna and I, celebrating together a few years ago
It's cool to know that Jesus had good friends. Not just those he traveled with, that bunch of disciples and women who supported them, but a family where he could hang out, bring friends, and feel comfortable.

The three siblings who took him in, fed him and his disciples, and provided a respite close to Jerusalem were Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. The Bible talks about them a few times - and their stories are compelling. One was a homemaker who got tired of getting stuck with all the chores (while her sister hung out with the teacher). Another was an eager learner, pouring out her most precious possession to honor Jesus. The other was a beloved peer who came back to life because of Jesus' intervention.

I'm giving a rare shout-out for a book by one of my friends, best-selling author Joanna Weaver. In her latest book on the family, Joanna offers a year of reflection and devotion with humor, insightful stories, and deep love for God: At the Feet of Jesus.

One of the things I like about Joanna and her writing is that she's real. No pretenses. No masks. I treasure her passion to know God and follow him with all her heart. BTW: She's also really funny in person; I love that she makes me laugh while we're talking about God and the adventures of faith. She's become well-known as a speaker over the past decade, too. Find out more about Joanna at

Enter here.
Note: Joanna is hosting a webcast on November 8. She's got some cool prizes, including an IPad and some of her books for a lucky participant. You might want to check in with her that day. Click here for more info.

If you're looking for a special birthday or Christmas gift or just need a treat for someone worthy of recognition, Joanna's book will be a year-long blessing. Order by clicking here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

What to do when you're not your mother (or your father)

I like pretty things. There. I admit it. That's no surprise to those who know me. I get that from my mom.

Growing up, I tried to be like my mom and like the things my mother liked in clothes, decor, and social interactions. Yet I consistently fought off things that were feminine and frilly. I was impatient with her attention to detail. It's still not my style to dress up and put on makeup, though it's become my habit (after a lecture from women I trust: "Your makeup isn't for you. It's for those of us who have to look at you all day long." Ha ha. I got the point.)

I eventually gave up and realized I'm not my mom. I've learned a lot from her but I'm more like Dad. That's not a bad thing, eh, Dad? But once in a while - even today - I wish I were more like my mother.

Classic 1960s French roll
My mom kept her house in perfect order. She still works like a slave to dust and cook and clean. She actually likes doing laundry and finds ironing soothing. She's kept Dad's clothes spotless and pressed so he looks sharp. (Sure, once in a while he escapes in his flannel plaid shirts to his workshop.)

Mom dressed up. Always. Her hair was twisted in a French bun, immaculately held in place by a few bobby pins and hairspray. We all wore our "Sunday best" to go to the doctor's or dentist. Mom attired my brothers in little suits for church. She sewed amazing dresses for me, many of which I disliked because the colors and patterns didn't feel good to me. Even then, I knew what I liked, right, Mom?

I look at those photos of us as a family, beautifully decked out in the current fashions - and admire my mom. She has classic taste with her own chic twist. She was always in style, trendy and fashionable in minis in her 30s and early 40s. (Those were the 1970s, after all.) And she has classic beauty today, in her 70s.

I'm as happy in jeans and ugly sweatshirts as I am dressed to the nines. (Maybe happier.) I don't care much if my hair is cooperating or not. I cut it myself in the shower, where I can feel the wet shape I'm sculpting. I look in the mirror in the morning and hope for the best thereafter, ignoring the huge mirrors throughout my home and office that reflect light and space.

I've wished I were more like my mother when I've given in to my natural inclination and find myself ignored by customer service: "She's plain." To me, "What do you want?" Yup, it makes a difference to show up fully armed for retail with makeup and decent clothes.

My mom's special on the inside, too. She loves God and seeks to follow him closely. She's friendly, kind, and a caring servant. SHE has the gift of mercy and not an enemy in the world, the peacemaker in her family and among her confidants.

Me? Not so much. I often ask myself, "What would Mom do?" when I feel like rushing into war with a battle cry, as is my inclination. Ok, I admit I'm not always good at asking that ... and find myself and others bloodied around me. Lord have mercy!

How can we benefit from knowing others with admirable traits that we don't have ... without becoming envious or feeling belittled?
  1. Keep admiring. You become what you behold. (Or you get closer, anyway.)
  2. Thank God for that person and pray for them. That way you add to their strength rather than comparing yourself unfavorably.
  3. Learn every lesson you can. Imitate the good in others to grow stronger yourself.
  4. Believe and rejoice in a God who loves variety. He made me different than Mom "because you have a different job to do," as she's told me more than once.
  5. Live as yourself. God lavished his loving creativity on us; we have unique abilities, experiences, and momentum to live large and beautifully in our own life and space.
  6. Look around to see who you can boost, people like you and not like you.
 Who's your hero? Whom do you admire?

Mom, you're definitely high on my list. Love you! and I still want to be like you, even in my 50s.

Read more:
*When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord; because of these same detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the Lord your God. Deuteronomy 18:9-13

*Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church. 1 Corinthians 4:15-17

*... our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 1 Thessalonians 1:5-7

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Up all night and the coming cure

It's 4 a.m. and I've been up for an hour or two. Insomnia. Feeling out of sorts. But I knew that was coming. In fact, I chose to bring it on. Silly me.

Typical Western buffet
Yup, I ate meat and dairy yesterday, after returning to vegan (plant-based) foods when the grey skies and rain arrived in Seattle last week. The worthy occasion last night was a 70th birthday party, after all. Congratulations, BJ! The food was abundant, very Western (heaps of meat and cheese), and tasted GREAT! Worth a cheat? Seemed so at the time though I got a hot flash within 10 minutes of eating the meat slider. (The flush is my first sign of oh-oh!-here-we-go-again.)

I consider my system's rebellion as a food intolerance rather than allergies. Call it what I will, my body signals its unhappiness within a few minutes of eating eggs, dairy, honey, meat, etc. Anything animal-based is out when the weather turns foul in fall. In summer when the sun is out, my system seems more tolerant (though I gain 5-10 lbs within a week or two of returning to a meat-based diet.) In the winter, my choice of food becomes a spiritual discipline, allowing me to function at capacity.

Vegan buffet (not an oxymoron)
Friends seem shocked when they hear what I DON'T eat. Their first concerns are: "Do you get enough calcium? Protein? What can you eat if you don't eat meat or drink milk?" It's incomprehensible that plant-based foods contain nutrients in abundance.

What do I eat? "Everything else!" including grains, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits. I sub potato flour, bananas, or tofu for eggs in baking and cooking. And there's nothing as tasty as muesli in the morning! (keeps me full until noon.)

The longest-term and most comprehensive research on the relationship of food and diseases was done by top Cornell (USA), Oxford (UK), and Chinese scientists and published as "The China Study. It's worth a download for reading. Here's part of a review:

"The New York Times has recognized the study (China-Oxford-Cornell Diet and Health Project) as the "Grand Prix of epidemiology" and the "most comprehensive large study ever undertaken of the relationship between diet and the risk of developing disease."

The China Study's researchers examined and reexamined their findings because the results were unexpected and counter-intuitive: evidence clearly showed that plant-based diets warded off cardio, diabetic, and cancerous diseases. Dairy and meat-based diets fostered them. (BTW: The highest ratio of osteoporosis is in countries with the highest protein and dairy consumption.)

"Growing evidence is showing that calcium in milk does not protect against osteoporosis. For example in a 12-year Harvard study of 78,000 women, those who drank milk three times a day actually broke more bones than women who rarely drank milk. Similarly, a 1994 study in Sydney, Australia, showed that higher dairy product consumption was associated with increased fracture risk: those with the highest dairy consumption had double the risk of hip fracture compared to those with the lowest consumption,"

Every culture has its own dearly-held myths. Many of ours are deeply rooted in tradition but some of ours are fostered by modern advertising and commerce. We now admit smoking is unhealthy but remember that in the 1950s and 60s, some family doctors promoted it in tobacco ads. Perhaps our desire for extreme fat and protein-rich diets will go the same way, as scientists ponder why eating traditional Western foods makes us sicker rather than healthier as we age.

Warm and deeeelicious! a typical
vegan lunch for me. Recipe: click here.
That said, it's back to bed this morning for me. And back to vegan foods when I get up, occasionally blogged at the Impulsive Foodie (my food blog).

Let's eat with care - our bodies depend on the wise stewardship of this most precious personal resource. "You can have all the money in the world but without good health, you'll be miserable," says my mom.

Whether or not plant-based foods become your choice or you decide to limit rich food intakes, please choose your food wisely. Note what gives you abundant, positive, and sustainable energy. What drains you or makes you feel sluggish and bloated?

God lavished us with his abundance here in North America. Whether we garden, farm, or buy our foods at the grocer's, we have lots of options. Enjoy feasting on his goodness while taking good care of yourself and those you love.

And keep in mind that food is a tool to empower our service of the King, not our focus. It is fuel for our mission, not the mission itself. Peace to you and yours!

Read more:
*The LORD is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him. For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust" Psalm 103:13–14 NLT

*Do you like honey? Don't eat too much, or it will make you sick!" Proverbs 25:16 NLT

*Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. John 3:6

*Jesus replied, 'Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.'" John 4:13–14 NLT

*For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Romans 14:7 NLT

Monday, October 15, 2012

Unexpected danger

Cat attack!
We got ambushed this morning. The dogs and I were walking along like usual when a cat ran across the road in front of us. Ziggy, who loves to trot behind me, is the heavier dog. He keeps Missy, who loves to run and roam, in line beside me. Zig kept Miss Missy from running after the cat, who disappeared ahead.

Except that -- oh ferocious feline -- pouncing -- hissing -- scratching -- THAT CAT jumped out from a fence and attacked my dogs!

Having had a cat, I automatically hissed and pulled the dogs away. The cat retracted the claws she'd caught in Ziggy's raincoat and stalked off, sitting in moody defiance by the roadside as we walked away.

First, I found some red leaves and
a hydrangea someone had tossed
I laughed to myself as we made our escape. Lucky us -- she could have put out an eye, torn up my beasties, and inflicted damage. A cat. Attacking dogs. Two dogs. On a leash with a person.

Who knew? It was a more dangerous morning than I'd suspected and we'd gotten away Scott-free. I celebrated by gathering a gorgeous bouquet of leaves and flowers from the sidewalk.

Sitting at my desk, I'm thinking about a job I had once. My manager would call me into her office and I'd skip down the hall, expecting kudos for a job well done. Almost without exception, I'd get slammed. "That was too small. Too big. Not enough. Too much. What were you thinking? Were you thinking at all?"

I'd leave her office, shaking my head, wincing at the unexpected blow. I'd go back to my desk and think about my lucky escape. I hadn't died. Hadn't been severely wounded even. I'd try harder, look around more carefully, and do my best.

Then I gathered wind-tossed needles, a mossy branch,
and three heads of clover
Eventually, the scratching penetrated my skin. I began to muddle, to second-guess my decisions, to retreat instead of advancing.

I've pondered those interactions. Here are a few things I learned about being a misfit:
  1. Danger lurks in unexpected places. Even if you're walking along, doing the work assigned, surprises can jump you. 
  2. Blows from a friend can be trusted. Hits from someone defending or defining their turf should be avoided whenever possible.
  3. There's a time to stand. When my manager first started attacking, I went back to my office, rethought my ideas, and presented a better proposal.
  4. There's a time to hiss back and shake off the attack. After a few unpleasant interactions, I returned to my desk, worked my hardest, and just ignored the lack of helpful input.
  5. There's a time to walk away. When my strengths shriveled into defense mode, I quit. I shouted for joy the first morning I didn't have to go into the bunker. I gloriously changed my employment to something where God' gifts and calling reemerged and I could do good work. I bet my manager was as delighted as I.
  6. It's important to reflect after a major change. Consider what God is doing in you, what he's teaching you, and how he's disciplining you by failure as well as success. Did you sin? Did you work from weakness rather than strength? Did you cooperate or resist good counsel? 
  7. Don't move on without admitting your part in attracting danger. I've considered the weaknesses and flaws in myself that brought out aggression and frustration in my manager. And I've avoided such negativity and similar miss-fits for how God made me: I realized that I work best in a freewheeling, interactive environment where ideas and possibilities are welcomed and encouraged. If you feel thwarted and are frustrating others where you work, would YOU be a better partner elsewhere?
  8. Know yourself and your strengths. Find complementary partners. I'm an activator, an idea person, and a resource magnet. My many weaknesses include maintenance and accounting. In fact, the "fiddling details" that go on and on or going round and round during execution of ideas saps my energy. While my guess-timates usually hit close to the bulls-eye, balancing accounts to the penny drives me wild. However, shifting colors, possibilities, and new connections feel concrete, energetic, and hopeful. 
Currently, I seek out partners who revel in management, who love to work out details, and trek along happily toward a goal. I may plan a fundraiser, but he asks for funding. I may design the table and bring the resources, but she tugs the tablecloth into perfect folds. I may find the cheapest U-haul and arrange pickup, but he drives the truck from A to B. I may write copy, but she edits the commas and semi-colons. Meanwhile, we're both ecstatic at doing our job well, working in our strengths rather than weaknesses.
The final bouquet: beauty on my desk

If God is pleased with us and he's our boss, we're happily using our talents, education, and previous experience to do His good work. How about you?

Read more:
*"Things are far more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD himself has raised his fist against me. … Don't call me Naomi," she responded. "Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the LORD has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?" Ruth 1:13, 20–21

*He will bring me out to the light; I shall see his vindication. Micah 7:9

*Sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. Romans 6:14

Moravian Prayer: Light of the world, when we sit mired in darkness or distress, come again to us. Come to our aid, grant us your grace anew and be our morning star, our cheering sight! Amen.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Below the surface - Before & After dog story

Spike. Before.
Ugly. Desperately ugly! That's what Spike looked like in his pet adoption photos.

I looked at the photos many times, thinking what direct and honest eyes this dog had. Could a haircut save him from perpetual "awfulness?" Could visual-me stand to have him around? I was in the throes of deep depression and thought walking outside would help. I was completely unmotivated by myself. Maybe a dog could get me moving. I started to browse Petfinder and SPCA websides.

Ugly and strange-looking.
Spike's second photo (right) nearly put me off. If the first shot looked questionable, the second was creepy. In the end, I capitulated to my gut feeling. W and I drove 100 miles to pick up 3-yr.-old Spikester from the animal shelter.

Turns out that he was black, not brown. The white patch looked smaller when his hair grew out. And since I clipped him once a month, he looked like a perpetual lab puppy. He never shed, loved all people, and was great with kids or adults.

After. What a difference a haircut makes!
Spike was so cute that people stopped us on the street, outside Starbucks, and in the park, asking how old our pup was.

Under Spike's calm exterior lurked a terrier, not a poodle as advertised. After two years of trying to adjust to his constant pacing (during my dissertation work), I had to rehome him. Friends who are mad walkers mercifully adopted him. He happily found his forever home!

Faithful Spike in his
car seat, ready to hit the road
Our family was sorry to see him go. Some days I still miss Spike, who "started it all" re: dog ownership at this stage of life.

I often think about how God cares for creatures and provides them good homes. Spike had a good life with us and found a great home with our friends. He helped get me out the door when I could hardly get out of bed in the mornings. I'd groan to myself, "Spike has to go outside. Let's for his walk!" and clip the leash on him, shrug on a raincoat, and stagger out the door. Spike was God's gift to me at the right time, as I was to him.

Ever had a special pet? Do you remember an animal fondly because it reminded you about God's faithfulness or lovingkindness? How did your care make a difference for one of God's creatures? I'd love to hear about it.

Read more:
*The earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord. Psalm 33:5 

*Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you." Jeremiah 32:17 NIV

*You know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9 

Moravian Prayer: How unshakeable are your ways of love and truth, O God. The earth abounds with your goodness and grace. As beggars we come, as kings we depart; richly blessed and filled with all good things from your hand. Amen.