Friday, February 28, 2014

Sprouting all over the place

British accountants, having fun for charity
Even accountants like to have fun! Our CPA d-i-love is one of the most creative people I've met. Rebekah's clothes and hats are bright and beautiful; her taste in music and movies is far-ranging. (Not to mention her fabulous cooking. Lucky Jer!) You could hit me over the head with her spreadsheets and they'd make as much sense as when I look at them. And Rebekah's personality is as different than mine as are our interests and education.

That's a good thing! By design, each of us has a unique personality. Even among those who share similar gifts and education, our personality makes us stand out or step back.

Here's Wiki's definition: Personality is the particular combination of emotional, attitudinal, and behavioral response patterns of an individual. In other words, the way you react to life IS your personality.

If you've been encouraged and cheered, you probably have a fairly stable look at life and expect good things. If someone constantly berated or put you down, chances are you withdraw until you feel safe. That's one part of personality.

Einstein got it right. (From ZsaZsa Bellagio)
Our attitudes toward faith, work, and play determine how we define ourselves and how people see us. Born into us is the desire to be big. To do things. Some people love to puzzle and craft. Others like physical labor. Still others prefer to grab a book and study. None is better than another.

Sometimes curiosity makes us sprout out all over the place. Our interests, shaped by where we are and who we are, draw us into new things. We may feel exhilarated by what we find. Peaceful. Fearful. Happy. Terrified. Breathless.

But our exploration of God's world surely pleases the One who made us all adventurers.

In several situations, I felt squeezed into a "smaller-please!" mode. The "accepted" box felt constraining. Limiting. Uncomfortable. I couldn't keep the lid down. Couldn't conform, no matter how hard I tried to please others. Finding myself losing my soul, I ran away. Escaped. Whew. Still me. Bursting out all over.

A happy art accident in 10-minutes of play during
worship at the NWMN Women's Conference 2013:
print, paint and collage (10"X12")
Today I have a few questions for you dear readers: feel free to answer one or more.
  • Do you see yourself as a creative personality (whatever that means to you)? Why/ why not?
  • What parts of you are creative and curious?
  • Where has your curiosity led you? Has that been positive or not?
  • What boundaries do you put on your curiosity?
  • Who's the most creative person in your life now - and what do you like about them? What irritates you? (Someone told me once that my "very grateful" remark on a card irritated them. I asked why. "Well, can't you just write that you're grateful? Why do you have to be very all the time?" HAHA)
  • What parts of your relationships, job, ministry, or play would you like to expand?
Personality develops through our responses to people and life. Having choices (God's gift of free will) means we won't always have positive experiences. We hurt and we get hurt. Step out and withdraw. Test the waters. Swim the seas. 

Why not start today, to be the best, most creative personality - the most "you" and the most "me" - as God intended us to be?

Read more:
*The Lord says, "You have seen how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself." Exodus 19:4 ESV

*The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1 ESV

*Let each generation tell its children of your mighty acts; let them proclaim your power. I will meditate on your majestic, glorious splendor and your wonderful miracles. Your awe-inspiring deeds will be on every tongue; I will proclaim your greatness. Everyone will share the story of your wonderful goodness; they will sing with joy about your righteousness. Psalm 145:4–7 NLT

*Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life, righteousness, and honor. Proverbs 21:21 ESV

*But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit. Jeremiah 17:7-8 NLT

*[Love] does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:6-7 ESV

*Paul writes: 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 ESV

Moravian Prayer: Lord God, Comforter, Protector, and Savior, our hearts are filled with joy as you hold us close to you. Never let us go. We thank you for your precious son Jesus, whose blood was shed to cleanse us of our sins. Keep us close to you Lord God, always. Amen.

C. S. Lewis, on conversion (from The Weight of Glory): Before I became a Christian I do not think I fully realized that one’s life, after conversion, would inevitably consist in doing most of the same things one had been doing before, one hopes, in a new spirit, but still the same things.

What a month!

What a month it's been. We've put a lot of miles on the car, driving on weekends and between.

The best thing? Meeting people who are interested in following God. We've seen how God repurposes many of us who think we're going in one direction - but then God sends us in another.

Think about three Bible examples:
Abraham: 75 years old and content in Harran. But God called him to become the father of many nations in a foreign land. He put a few miles on his sneakers before he was through.(Genesis 12:1-4)

Moses: 80 years old and sidelined after 40 years of education and influence in the royal palace. God asked him to lead a nation from slavery into the Promised Land. Moses had all kinds of excuses, but he went - and became a great leader. (Exodus 3)

Saul / Paul: an influential and upcoming Jew in the political and religious system of Jerusalem. God yanked him from his religious misdirection, pointing Paul's zeal and desire to please God in a new direction. (Acts 9:1-22)

W and I head to Indonesia in a few months. We are astonished. We never expected life to take this turn. God has used everything from the past to secure the present and design the future. Our days are full of wonder and mystery.

Where have you been? What have you seen? And where are you headed? Be prepared for surprises along the way!

Read more:
*I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life. Deuteronomy 30:19 ESV

*Oh, praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, you who serve at night in the house of the Lord. Lift up holy hands in prayer, and praise the Lord. May the Lord, who made heaven and earth, bless you from Jerusalem. Psalm 134 NLT

*Don't just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.

Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God's people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. Romans 12:9-13 NLT

*Be reconciled to God. 2 Corinthians 5:20 ESV

*God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. Ephesians 1:20-21 ESV

Moravian Prayer: Lamb of God, we adore life because we may live and love you. May we listen for your voice, be reconciled to you, and grow in righteousness. Although we sin daily, we know that if we come to you, you do not count our sins against us. Thank you for loving us so freely. 

Almighty God, you have loved us so much. We thank you that you made your Son the head of the church, the body of Christ. Make us faithful servants. As part of the body of Christ may we offer our talents in love and service to your people. Amen.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

What a fast feels like

Do you fast? If so, how - or why? 

Scripture instructs us to do most disciplines in private. However, sometimes it's good to know what we can expect during those disciplines. In a country of food overabundance, fasting food is considered difficult and even impossible.

As Lent approaches, many of us may consider leaving out something in our routines. Food fasting is not impossible, but it can be difficult at times. Here are some insights from a recent 3-day food and tea fast:

Day 1: I'm hungry and looking away from food all day. This is the day of distractions. I purposefully must find things to do, reminding myself of the importance of the discipline. This fast was in conjunction with my breath-prayer: O Lord, free me to love you. The fast's purpose - freedom from the love of food to love Christ more - helped me through the day.
Day 2: I feel nauseated, cold, and have headaches as my body detoxes. I plan work that requires focus on this day. My walk seems longer, the air fresher, and the rain soothing on my face. My thinking is a bit clouded.
Day 3: Today requires mental stamina and determination; my early morning checklist develops clarity and direction about what I need to do. I wake up dizzy and cold. After a few glasses of water, my stomach settles down and my dizziness diminishes. A low-grade headache persists. I'm really hungry, but knowing I'm going to eat supper helps. (I start a fast after supper and return to eating at supper on Day 3 = 72+ hours total.) I have to run some errands, which helps pass the final longest hours.

A funny sign on the side of a building
we walked by in Baltimore
Afterwards, it's a relief to eat again. My legs ache for a day or two and I don't have energy for long walks. Gradually things return to normal.

I'm hungry, but my eating and tea intake comes under control. I gained 10 lbs last year, 5 of them on our eat-the-best-food-ever! binge in Switzerland at Christmas. I couldn't shed those pounds: my continual craving for food - especially sweets - needed resetting.

I learned at least 10 things from my
latest fast:
  1. Fasting is a progressive discipline. You decide, then you determine to do it, then you do it. At any point, if the discipline breaks down, you'll cave in to the craving for food.
  2. Fasting is hard work. Our bodies protest the change of pace. Our minds try to fend off hunger and food preparation. Our spirits feel deprived unless they are filled with grace by spending mealtimes with God. Emotions roller-coaster from highs to lows and back. Initially, fasting is an unpleasant chore.
  3. Fasting requires rerouting our habits. Our days are regulated around meals and food. We start with breakfast and may pause for a mid-morning snack. We sip a cup of coffee or tea at our desks. We break for lunch. Later, we eat supper with friends or family. Those of us at home cook and plan the rhythms of the day or evening around the table.
  4. Fasting points out longings that are excessive or unhealthy. In my case, my worst physical craving was for tea. I counted 11 teabag wrappers in the catch-bowl by our kettle. I'd had that many 14-16 oz cups of tea in two days, not including 3 teas drunk away from home. I was shocked. That's too much and became the catalyst for examining my food intake. I wanted to know if there was something behind my need to hold a cup of tea. What comfort? What provision? What habits did it reveal?
  5. Fasting requires focus and redirection. My spiritual craving is to know God, to follow him beyond the routines of eating and drinking. My mind was scattered; I had to willfully redirect my mind to a to-do checklist because my thinking was fuzzy. Without clear goals - seeking God and accomplishing work at home (thinking through the agenda for a meeting, writing mission newsletter and an article), public meetings that followed would have been less effective.
  6. Fasting is more than a physical deprivation. It reminds me that my appetites serve me; I do not serve them. Food fasting frees up time and mental space: when you don't eat, you don't have to decide what you're hungry for, hunt up a restaurant or prepare meals, or spend time eating. 
  7. Fasting is detoxing. You're more aware of your surroundings in the smells, textures, sounds, and sights. The physical symptoms - which may include hunger, nausea, bad breath, headaches, dizziness, or feeling cold - are a reminder that the body is cleansing itself. I drink only filtered water (and during other fasts, herbal teas) which help process the toxins.
  8. Fasting bring spiritual focus. If you offer your fast to God, he comes near to you. Not every fast is a spiritual high. Sometimes it's slogging hard work, like crossing a desert rather than refreshing one's self at a riverbank. Sometimes it's pure joy, offering up food to God as a sacrifice of praise.
  9. Fasting can be creative. Not every fast is food-related. You can fast from addictions like TV, novels, computer games, or compulsively being with/out people. Listen to hear what God would like you to give to him for a day or longer. Then listen for what you want to accomplish: intercession for others? refocusing self on God's will? direction for the future? Keep that focus in mind, whatever the fast requires you to give up.
  10. Fasting is rewarding. After a fast, you know you can go without. You have given yourself space to meet with God. That challenge you're facing? It may feel less daunting after you've persevered through a fast. If you've focused on hearing God's voice during the fast, you may receive clarity about priorities, how to proceed, and expected outcomes for your next tasks. 
Have you fasted? If so, what did you give up? What did you learn from your fast/s?

Read more:
*Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him. Deuteronomy 30:19,20 ESV

*Yet I planted you as a choice vine, from the purest stock. How then did you turn degenerate and become a wild vine? Jeremiah 2:21 ESV

*Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. Joel 2:32 ESV

*Jesus says, "Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you." John 16:23 ESV

*For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:37-39 NIV

*Paul wrote: I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel. Galatians 1:6 ESV

Moravian Prayer: Loving Savior, you know that too often we stray from the way you would have us to go. We confess that we follow things of the world; we fail to seek your will for us; we do not do the things we know to do. Lord, we ask your forgiveness. Give us strength to live as you would have us live. 

Merciful God, we know that we sin and that we are in need of your saving grace. Thank you for reaching out when we call upon you. Draw us closer to you, and may we joyfully serve you. Amen.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Breathing prayers

Do you know what a breath prayer is? This short phrase or sentence is repeated while breathing in and out. The most famous is the "Jesus Prayer," prayed over centuries.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.

I've prayed that short prayer to the rhythm of walking, of crying, and of desperate silences when other prayers drifted like fog on the air. I've prayed it in confession, adoration, and utter joyful abandon to God.

Different seasons bring different breath prayers. We petition God. Worship Him. Give thanks. Lay our burdens down.

Under our conscious thoughts, breath prayers acknowledge our dependence on a Good God and our trust that He is in control.

How do you find a short prayer that prays your heart now, to steady you when life feels abundant, overwhelming, or unbalanced? Ruth Haley Barton's book Sacred Rhythms suggests the following:
  1. Listen to what God is saying to you through scripture, prayer, the Church, circumstances, and people.
  2. Listen to your heart's deep desires - what do you want God to do in you? For you?
  3. What name of God speaks to you at this time?
  4. Combine the name of God with the longing of your heart - into a 6-8 word prayer.
Then pray often, not thoughtlessly or carelessly. Breath in and out, telling God how wonderful He is (His name) and what you need from Him. The prayer becomes part of waking and sleeping, a meditation on God's provisions and greatness.

What is your breath prayer? My current prayer is:
   Lord, set me free to love you.

Read more:
*All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:6 ESV

*Your sins have deprived you of good. Jeremiah 5:25 ESV

*As Jesus went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Mark 6:34 ESV

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Romans 5:1-5 NIV

*See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God. Hebrews 12:15 ESV
Moravian Prayer: Lord, we often go about our daily lives forgetting to seek your guidance. Turn us back to you and forgive our waywardness. Help us to live in peace with all people and to share your message of grace.

Blessed Jesus, you came to earth for us and you took upon yourself all our sins. Thank you for that great sacrifice. Daily we need your care, your leading, and your protection. Thank you for watching over us and loving us. Amen.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Memories of a fine mess

In Valentines past, our house was a mess. When the kids were little, we cluttered the place with toys, half-finished projects, and living. We often had books stacked everywhere, laundry to fold, and dishes in the sink. I just couldn't keep up.

Now our place is neat and picked up. There are things we still have to sell in our office and storage area. But for the most part, it's clean around here. We vacuum and wash the white concrete floors a few times a week. It takes a half hour to go top-to-bottom through the living areas.

Moms with grown kids told me, "Don't worry about maintaining a tidy house" while our kids were youngsters. They assured me that they'd grow up and leave sooner rather than later. Then I could have order and organization.

The day has come. Dare I admit it? "I LOVE IT!" We enjoy visits with our kids and grandkids. We love having friends over. But we breathe peaceful sighs when we walk through the door ourselves, to an apartment that's picked up. Cleaned up. Quiet. Relaxing.

In this matter, "empty nest is not a syndrome but a vacation." I'd encourage all young families to enjoy the creativity of kids around. Have fun. Try stuff. Make a mess. Clean up as much as you can but don't sweat it. Have people over anyway. (Your guests won't care: we're just happy your chaos doesn't belong to us.)

Your day is coming, when your kids have families and homes of their own. Just be forewarned: that day just may feel happier than you think!

Read more:
*I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication. Zechariah 12:10 (NASB)

*For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 ESV

*A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35 ESV

*Jesus says: "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth." John 16:13

Moravian Prayer: Eternal God, you sent your Son as promised. Your grace is freely offered to us. Open our hearts that we may we be transformed by your Spirit of truth and grace. We do not have words to adequately thank you for blessing us with your Spirit. May our gratitude be shown in our daily walk with you. Amen.

*C.S. Lewis, On comfort

God is the only comfort. He is also the supreme terror: the thing we most need and the thing we most want to hide from. He is our only possible ally, and we have made ourselves His enemies. Some people talk as if meeting the gaze of absolute goodness would be fun. They need to think again. They are still only playing with religion. 

Goodness is either the great safety or the great danger—according to the way you react to it. And we have reacted the wrong way. . . . Of course, I quite agree that the Christian religion is, in the long run, a thing of unspeakable comfort. But it does not begin in comfort; it begins in the dismay I have been describing, and it is no use at all trying to go on to that comfort without first going through that dismay. In religion, as in war and everything else, comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it. If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end: if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth—only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Three checklists: to-dos, maybe-to-dos, and R&R

Today's relaxation: creating my Valentine's bouquet
The coaching session this morning was really helpful. By the end, I'd drawn three lists for next week. (I'm thinking of them with the vocabulary of food, since I'm writing before supper.)

1. The first is a "to-do"list of things seriously on my plate. I must "eat" these before next weekend.

2. Then come the "maybe-to-dos": these items are more like side dishes, nutritional but not essential. They don't have to be consumed next week. I'll slot those projects into the days as they come, according to appetite: "Do I have time to eat this? Do I have enough energy to burn this off?"

3. The final list is "relaxation" = dessert. What would de-stress the day, refresh my spirit, or make me feel like I'm on vacation - or at least on Sabbath?

I prioritize List 3. Without relaxation and refreshment, I don't think creatively. Part of the list includes engagement with others; a significant part focuses on withdrawal to do things I prefer to do alone.

How can we determine the priorities of our to-dos over our "eventually" important tasks? What gets urgent or immediate calendar time vs. more flexibility for long-term events or processes? I used these criteria to create my three lists:

  1. List 1: What needs doing? These things have definite consequences if left undone before a deadline - to me personally or professionally. They may also impact others if neglected.
  2. List 1/2: What longterm projects need to be started? Some of these go on the "to-do" list, while others are a "maybe," to be done as I have time.
  3. List 2: What would I like to get done? These important things may have some consequences but don't significantly change the future without a hard deadline.
  4. In scheduling things for the calendar (mostly to-dos), how much time or effort will it take? (Break some things into smaller chunks for better digestion!)
  5. List 2: What can I postpone? These "maybe"s are options. They seem to move me toward a goal but are not important enough to prioritize. For instance, some take 15 minutes; if I have that slot of time, I may jump on them and get them out of the way. If not, no big deal.
  6. List 3: What refreshes me? For example, I have a coupon for Aveda Spa that expires at the end of February. On my relaxation list is, "Call Emma about going out for a girls' day out." I penciled in a book I've meant to read. And I've noted, "Finish that Korean drama." I don't have to do any of these items, but even writing them down already makes me smile and feel more relaxed.
My new tabletop bouquet of plants
and ceramic painted mushrooms (assembled
after a visit with W to Molbaks Nursery)
When we'd finished the coaching session this morning, I had a clear picture of what a great next week would look like. List 1 would be completed. List 2 would have some checkmarks. I would have done at least a few things from List 3.

How do you decide on your to-dos, maybe-to-dos, and time-outs? If you've found an effective routine or method, please share it with us!

Read more:
*You save humans and animals alike, O Lord. ... With you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. Psalm 36:6, 9 ESV

*Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. Psalm 139:23-24 NLT

*Jesus said in a loud voice, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink." John 7:37 NIV

*The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. Romans 8:21 ESV

Moravian Prayer: Jesus, Light of the world, thank you for your unfailing love. Help us to put our trust in you. May we look to you for living water and for the Spirit to guide us. In your name we pray.

Creator God, who made us and every creature, the Psalmist tells us that in your unfailing love you preserve both human and beast. Thank you for watching over us and protecting us. We offer praise that through your Son's birth, death, and resurrection we are given freedom from the power of death. Our hope is in you and in the life to come. Amen.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

WRAPPING IT UP: Day 4 with my accountability group

A beautiful bedroom view
The sun's frosting the white slopes of Mt. Baker when we wake. Strangely, the best vista is from the downstairs "throne" (the toilet.) The house juts into the junction of Penn Cover and Puget Sound so the ocean views from three sides of the house are spectacular.

Willy scrambles eggs and cooks apple oatmeal. "This is like two complete breakfasts," exclaims Phyllis. We planned the portions a little better this week, unlike a few past retreats that seemed to have as much food coming home as we initially brought.

We used to stay at a house where we spent four hours on the last day washing sheets and towels, scrubbing kitchen and fridge clean, dusting all three stories, and vacuuming. We'd be happily tired on the way home. This house comes with maid service after we leave. We strip the beds, do our dishes, and pack. What a relief.

Patti's glasses. By consensus, "just right" on Patti
Once dishes are done, I clear my inbox and begin to focus on the weekend's assignments. (I usually pack as I get up, so my suitcases are at the door by breakfast.) However, it's 10:50 a.m. by the time everyone comes to the living room, makeup on, clothing just so, and ready to go. They pray over me, one at a time. When the landlady comes at 11, we drag our suitcases to the car and get underway.

Willy is Dutch so she's looking forward to a stop at a Dutch grocer in Coupeville. Patti and Phyllis spot a handbag consignment shop and within 15 minutes, find just the right travel bag. On the way home, lunch at Five Guys Burgers in Everett fills us to the brim. The gals drop me off at home before Willy (driving) chauffeurs the others to their houses.
Miss K and JoNaLu

Before long, our granddaughter Miss K comes downstairs for a visit. Apparently she asked for me a few times while I was away. To our delight, she does a little dance with the German JoNaLu troupe on Youtube.

From my start in my late 30s, through life to where this grandma is today, I'm grateful. As we were wrapping up the week together, our accountability group marveled at God's grace and favor over the past 20 years. He is good. And we are thankful.

Is there something in your life that you're wrapping up? That you wish would carry on? Something new emerging? An ordinary grace that takes on new meaning and significance during times of transitions?

The WPPRs have been the constant voice of Jesus to correct, instruct, and encourage each other. I'll sure miss them as we wrap up life in Seattle for the next season in Indonesia.

FAITHFULNESS: Day 3 with my accountability group

Wilhelmina gets her Tiffany bracelet,
celebrating 20 years together
The sun's out! Mount Baker is glowing in across the Sound, and we've woken to the final full day of our retreat. Wilhelmina and I wake early.

After Patti, Phyllis, and I started to meet in the fall of 1993, we sensed a larger group would hold us more accountable and expand feedback for personal growth, handling life's challenges, and doing ministry. Our criterion were the two markers for finding each other: we were looking for women who 1) would give their lives to please God and 2) those who were - or had husbands in - positions of authority where confidentiality was paramount.

In other words, we dreamed of a circle where we could share our deepest longings, our dreams, our struggles, and our hopes. One gal declined - none of us knew she was headed for missions within two years. But she heard clearly that this wasn't her time to join us.

Wilhelmina completes the WPPR circle
On the other hand, when Wilhelmina got our call she wanted to make sure we would keep each other's secrets. She was in transition - and felt this was God's timing and provision for her. When she said yes in January 1994, my mind's eye saw a quarter circle locking into place. The whole circle was complete: no others would be invited.

A few years ago, we admired Patti's Tiffany bracelet. Then the girls bought me one to celebrate completing my doctorate. We bought Phyllis hers before a major surgery, a reminder of God's provision and our prayers. Yesterday, we presented Wilhelmina with hers to recognize 20 years together. (We never take the bracelets off. This WPPR memento stays with us 24-7.)

20 years after our initial meetings, God's faithfulness continues to astonish us. We originally agreed we didn't have to be friends but we would remain longterm companions. God had His own plans: these women have become my dearest friends, faithful throughout the years.

Throughout today, our Day 3 on retreat, we share our deepest concerns and fondest memories. Sometimes we're confrontational. At other times we console. We pray together. Or we hug and reassure one another: though we're moving apart physically this year, we're connected at the heart.

The food is great, as usual. Salmon. Steak. Fresh vegetables. Dark chocolate. Raspberries.

Christmas in February
We become so wrapped up in what God is saying about our futures in light of the past, that we forget to take a walk. We talk and talk. And listen and listen. Instead of shopping as we'd planned, we leave the house only to bring in wood for the fireplace.

We've not been able to meet since November. So in the evening, we open our Christmas presents. Patti and Phyllis unwrap their birthday gifts, too. It's very late when we head for our rooms. Sweet dreams, girls!

Who is faithful to you? Whose heart are you faithfully guarding. For whom do you faithfully pray? Who is praying for you?

Read more:
*Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is the LordFor he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit.The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?

I, the LORDsearch the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds." Jeremiah 17: 7-10 ASV

*Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.  God, the LORD, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer's; he makes me tread on high places. Habakkuk 3:17-19 ESV

*I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. 

If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. John 15:1-11 NEV

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

LAUGHTER: Day 2 with my accountability group

Who on earth are you? Asian facials
 Oh did we laugh!

We doubled over, shaking with mirth until the tears streamed down our cheeks behind the masks. We'd patted on Asian facial masks last night - and then couldn't stand the sight. We took goofy pictures and made faces at each other, while talking about our relationships with friends and family (between chuckles, of course.)

Laughter has always been part of our journey together. I first met Patti in 1992, when she was nurse for the children's choir camp I'd inherited at the last minute. Our camp manager reneged on his responsibilities, so leadership fell on me two weeks before camp started. We rallied volunteers, packed over 100 kids into busses, and had a fantastic week.

Our wacky friendships
Across the hall from my room was the nurse's station. Patti bandaged hearts and limbs as the children streamed in and out.

On the final night, Patti and I walked across the parking lot to the hall where parental volunteers were putting on a show for the kids. She'd painted a big red cross on a white girdle, perching it on her head as a "nursing cap." Over her thrift-store white tennis skirt, she'd pulled a blue cape. White knee-highs topped her white sneakers. Patti schlepped a little blue suitcase as a pretend medical bag. Honestly, she looked like a nurse from a madhouse.

We laughed so hard that we kept having to stop to cross our legs (first time I ever considered the value of Depends). We howled, and barely made it to the show. Oh, how that memory still makes a smile break out!

Hugs after dinner
Patti and I built a solid friendship over the next year, shrieking with laughter at IKEA in Vancouver, talking about homeschool, and studying scripture. In the autumn of 1993, we called Phyllis, a mutual acquaintance, asking if she'd like to form a group with us. "Is it confidential?" she asked right off the bat. "And why would we meet?"

"Yes," we replied. "Utterly confidential. And we'd meet for spiritual accountability." She was in. Then in January 1994, Wilhelmina joined us and the circle of four was complete.

We have laughed and cried our way through sicknesses and health, family transitions, relationship crises, and financial windfalls and reversals. We've showed up for showers, birthdays, weddings, funerals, and celebrations.

Last evening, I thought my heart would burst with gratitude, even as my belly was shaking, looking at the dear, funny faces of my friends.

The house where we laughed and cried
our way during 12 years of retreats
Who do YOU laugh and cry with? Can you trust them completely? Are you committed to praying for their well-being? Determined to keep their secrets safe, as they keep yours?

It took prayer and hard work to bond as a group. But the years of laughter and joy - as well as many tears - have more than repaid our efforts. We've done some pretty funny things over two decades.

Thanks be to God, who laughs - and cries - with us.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

COMFORT: Day 1 with my accountability group

At Hasty Lake road, an old haunt - a final visit
This is the first of four days with my accountability group. We're on our final retreat together before two of us move away in June.

Twenty years ago, God brought us four together to hold each other accountable to pursue a relationship with himself - and each other. What a ride it's been!

Comfort. That's the word that sprang to mind yesterday as we rolled up the driveway to the house perched on a spit outside Penn Cove. This Coupeville rental is surrounded by water on three sides. It's darling - decorated to the hilt with sea treasures and themes.

Why is our group special to each of us?

Leaning in: at the gates
of the house where we stayed for 12 years
The kitchen view, early this morning
Breakfast counsel and conversation
  1. We formed to journey together, with strict boundaries of confidentiality. These women know me almost as well as my husband does - and better in some areas than he.
  2. We are all married to our original husbands. The oldest has been married 50 years. I'm the youngster with a mere 36 years of marriage.
  3. Our ages span 15 years. That means we have a pacesetter to say, "This is what's coming." We observe culture and faith from different perspectives.
  4. We are reasonably fit and in good health. Each of us exercises and tries to eat wisely. We are still mobile and active.
  5. Our children have matured over 20 years. When we started, our youngest kids were in kindergarten. Now, the oldest are in their late 40s. We spiritual "aunties" have prayed them through their challenges in growing up, health issues, getting married, and having their own children.
  6. We are all hospitable. So we've had 20 years of fantastic meals together. At one point, we considered scaling back to minimize preparation as we hosted in our homes. Nope - we couldn't do it and the beautiful table-settings and delicious menus continued.
  7. Our group is a priority. The first 15 years we met every 3 weeks, with 2 weekend retreats a year. In recent years, we're all traveling so much that we meet less frequently - and we don't always schedule retreats. But these women are at the heart and soul of every other interaction - we've knocked a few rough edges off each other, cautioned each other when we became unbalanced, and prayed and counseled when we were confused or in transition.
A relaxing lunch overlooking the ocean
I am so grateful - and comfortable - with these women. They've become true friends of the heart over 20 years. For anyone who has no safe group for sharing the joys, triumphs, and traumas of your journey with Jesus, I'd say, take the risk. What could be more helpful than consistent, trusted perspectives and encouragement?

All I can think as I relax with these three proven friends, is, "Thanks be to God for his wonderful gifts! Love you, Patti, Phyllis, and Willy."

Monday, February 3, 2014

"What do you guys do on weekends?" someone asked.

Trusty tea thermos at the ready:
listening to Mel Ming teach
"What do you guys do on weekends?" someone asked. "Are you home? Do you speak at churches?

What they were asking is what missionary itineration looks like. Last weekend wasn't typical in activity, but it was pretty typically intense.

W and I were privileged to sit in on the first of four weekend sessions for a Church Planting course by Mel Ming, Wes Davis, and Dan Serdahl. I met W at 6:30pm in class - after his full teaching week at NU. I fell into bed about 11. W zipped out to the boat with the guys; they hit the hay about 1 a.m. (Maybe men do talk as much as women, but mostly to each other...)

Friends gathered from among Diane's many
interests and ministries
Saturday, we were back at 8:30. My head quickly started filling up with info. But it was time for a mid-day detour to grieve and celebrate the life of a special friend, Diane Larson, Mel's admin. She passed away in a hiking accident last weekend.

Diane, four others, and I were a women's group pursuing spiritual life through spiritual disciplines. Diane's posts were startling in their sharp focus and deep thoughtfulness. When she first responded in group emails, I was stunned at her brilliance and the intensity of her hunt for God's presence. Most of us saved her emails to reread them.

Don Detrich delivers a message of
comfort and consolation: God is with
us all our days and into eternity
Mel and I drove to the memorial service 30 miles away. What a wonderful tribute to a devout, smart, and energetic woman! It's the first funeral I've been at where so many articulate people got up to speak. Her acquaintances from Alaska and Washington reflected her many interests and engagements. Guests included classmates from her Masters degree cohort, coworkers, her accountability group, hiking friends, and volunteers from the community center where she served. What a broad swath this 36-year-old cut among us. The consensus was clear: Diane was open-hearted, devout, and a marvelous human being.

"Gone too soon," said one.

"We'll miss her!" said all.

Mel and I returned to class immediately that the service ended.

Then W and I left at 3pm to drive to Lacey, an hour-and-a-half south. We checked into our hotel and met with the Faith Assembly team at 5. By 6, service was in full swing.

Lola: a dear writing friend
View her blog here.
What a welcoming church! My good friend Lola Cain W and I both commented on the warmth of the people, not just the official greeters. They made us feel at home in worship and conversation. W and I spoke together about our calling and a passage of scripture, asking questions at the end of the service, as has become our custom. We love the mutual interaction, which takes the pressure off one speaker, especially when we're weary. Afterwards, pastors Peter and Dave hosted us for supper and stimulating conversation. We were back at the hotel just after 10pm.

Sunday morning started at 8:15, back at church, and concluded about 12:30 after two services. It's exciting for W and me to be with the churches; we're learning so much. Peter Degon's heart for his community and his love for his flock is reflected in every interaction. People streamed to the front for prayer in each service to embrace the sense of safety and Presence. We talked about that trust and loving community all the way home.

Then it was Superbowl time; we barely made it in the door for kick-off. W stuck it out - I joined him partway through and left when it was obvious who was winning. Then we caught up on emails and social media... and it was time for bed. This morning, I'm off to 4 days of a final retreat with my accountability group of 20 years. What a celebration that will be!

So now you know what missionaries do on weekends. Hope yours was as much fun and as great a blessing to you as ours was to us. Thanks be to God!