June 8, 2014

ABALONE GUY




For my dear brother Joel.
(2/26/63 - 2/1/2014)


Abalone Guy
Life has got you clinging to a rock
Your muscular foot firmly agrip.
Tides & waves & other creatures
Cannot move you.
Your underwater life gives shape to your shell:
Irregular, rough, indescript greys & browns -
The sea has got you.

Abalone Guy
Your vulnerable side was cut off the rock,
Sliced off aggressively, netted, to be used by others.
They took out your insides & sold them for profit.
Your shell was tossed in a heap
Valuable only to those with a special eye -
A dark world has got you.

Abalone Guy
Your pristine colors glinting in the sun,
Reflecting your most real, inner self.
Smooth as glass, iridescent pastel hues;
A perfect melding together of colorful juxtaposition -
Beauty has got you.

Abalone Guy
Your history has distinct parts, like layers in your shell.
Your family & friends have left their mark,
The sea has touched you deeply.
Beauty & love have left their mark on your soul.
Your time underwater was cold & dark,
And we could not reach you, though we tried -
History has got you.

Abalone Guy
I will remember you for your beauty,
For your inner shell,
For the colors that were you,
For the brother that you were,
For the kindness of your soul,
For the laughter in your eyes,
For your love of peace & quiet.
For these things & much more -
My memory holds you,
My heart has got you.

Abalone Guy
this is how I choose
to remember you.



April 28, 2014

CONNECTING WITH GOD IN CRISIS






I have seen in myself and in other friends that what works for us spiritually during normal times of life is not the same as what works in crisis.  Sometimes we act as if God must be limited to or rigid & demanding about the practices that give us the sense of nearness & connectedness with God.  While it seems logical that we change under stress & crisis, often we don´t realize why the same practices that have worked before don´t - and we can feel guilty & confused because of that.

In ¨normal¨ life circumstances I really enjoy reading the Scriptures, doing different studies and reflecting on them in a journal.  When I am in crisis, I find my concentration is so short that reading more than a few verses at a time is a monumental challenge!  Understanding my own physiology - that a short attention span and difficulty concentrating are common symptoms of stress - has helped me to accept my new - and temporary - reality.

The first time this happened in a major life crisis, it was very upsetting to me.  My inability to read the Scriptures with delight made me feel like a spiritual failure...I didn´t understand why what had always brought me joy & insight now made me feel frustrated & inadequate...not to mention far from God because my point of connection was not working!  It took me years to reconcile this within myself and to make healthy adjustments - and to see, to my surprise, that He blessed those adjustments!  It wasn´t the same; it was different...but it worked and I learned to experience Him in new ways in the midst of the storm.

Concentration in prayer was also a failed experience. Although I could still pour out all I was experiencing to Him, it seemed that prayer had become reduced to me and my crisis...the difficulty took on a protagonism that was disturbing!  When under great stress, I had little energy to cope beyond the situation at hand and to look outward to others...I felt curled up in a survival mode and unable to move out at times beyond myself.  Talk about feeling ugly & self-centered!  Again, when I could understand that physiologically, that basic need to survive is God-given, and the preservation of energy for the battle at hand is a coping mechanism,  then I could accept the changes that were occurring.  It helped to remind myself often that this was temporary.  It was also an important step for me to understand that I was the one putting these pressures on myself - not God.

What I am NOT saying with all of this is that crisis gives us license to leave the Scriptures behind or to ignore others.  What I AM saying is that making adjustments during crisis is necessary, healthy,  encouraged and blessed by God.  There is freedom!  We are not limited or trapped by what is usual, normal, acceptable or practiced by ¨everyone else¨.  God is bound by no one nor to any one practice.  We can be pretty sure that He is the One most open to creative approaches to being connected with Him.

Over the years I have experimented with having ¨quiet times¨ with God in shorter intervals throughout the day instead of in one large block of time, praying while walking or reading right after exercising when my mind is clearest (sometimes that´s the only time its clear all day!)  I have released myself from big commitments to Bible studies and have taken to meditating on a few verses at a time, imagining myself in a Bible story and experiencing Christ there, writing out my thoughts & prayers - especially my own laments - and listening to music to drown out anxious or negative thoughts.  Enjoying art & nature in fresh ways have also successfully taken me to His presence. Having others pray for me when I lacked words & strength was sometimes the only way I could pray.  Pursuing new methods has opened my heart up in new ways and deepened my experience of Him in ways I never dreamed.

There are seasons in our lives for simply being held, for falling asleep in His presence, for sitting in silence, for creating rather dark poetry, art or some other outlet as our laments to God.  There are times the stress is so great, that our bodies cannot respond normally and we must overcompensate by sleeping more, exercising more and incorporating more of our spiritual practices into these physical outlets.  There are times our emotions are so drained or clouded or toxic or overwhelmed that we cannot reason or think very logically.  This presents an opportunity to know & experience Him on an emotional level that perhaps is new to you.  It may also be a perfect time to review key truths that provide a foundation for you during an especially emotion-dominated time.

Discovering new paths to God - through community, kindnesses of others, new hobbies, new kinds of literature, various styles of worship or prayer, exercise, work, service, quiet conversation, loud celebrations, fragrances, foods, art & music and much more - can bring a new freedom & depth to your relationship with Him.  When this happens we realize our slavery to our own concepts & practices of spirituality.  We become less demanding of ourselves & others, enlarging our capacity for compassion during others´ spiritual struggles when in crisis.

Are you facing a trial that has you drowning in your own attempts to find Him in it?  If something isn´t working right now, it does not mean that you are a failure or that it may not work again for you in the future.  Why not invite Him to Shepherd you through this valley in new ways?  Determine to be open to finding some new avenues of communion with the One who is always there.  Find what does work!  You will be surprised to discover new facets of your relationship with Him...you will be blessed to experience Him in new ways in some of your darkest hours...you will realize anew that He is so deep, so vast, that we could experiment for all of eternity with different ways of knowing Him and never know it all!  He is limitless.

I hope you will find, as I have, that connecting with God during crisis is not only possible, but it has the potential to provide some of your most memorable times of connection with God ever.  Give yourself fully to this new adventure!




Photo by:  ihu03141

April 16, 2014

MARY STAYED






It is Easter week already.

Today I was thinking about Jordan who just turned 13 last weekend and remembering a special insight he had 3 years ago at Easter time that still impacts me.  I wrote about it back then but I wanted to remind myself - and hopefully bless you all - with the special wisdom that comes from children.

On Easter Sunday three years ago, in a time of family reflection, we read the four gospel versions of that most amazing day in history - the one that divides the timeline into a before and an after.

You know the story.

But after reading the John version, Dad asked if anyone had any insights and our 10-year-old Jordan said simply:  ¨Mary stayed.¨  We were all quiet as the profound simplicity of this observation settled upon us.

¨Mary stayed.¨ 

And oh! to think what she would have missed!


In John´s version, Mary discovers the empty tomb and runs to tell Peter and John.  They run to see it and then ¨they went back to their homes.¨  But Mary stayed.  She stayed and wept.  She stayed and looked again into the tomb, saw two angels, had a conversation with them.  She turns around and speaks to a presumed gardener.  Jesus reveals himself to her.  She stayed - and has one of the most precious encounters with the Saviour of all time.

And I began to think of what ¨staying¨ harvests in us...

Desperate ¨staying¨in the Presence brings fruitfulness.  Holy living. Intimacy.  ¨Staying¨ in marriage harvests faithfulness.  Stability.  Healthy families full of integrity.  Courageous ¨staying¨ in times of stress or difficulty or even persecution harvest the very things the Kingdom of God is made of.  And ¨staying¨ in our host cultures long enough harvests language abilities, cultural skills and missional, redemptive influence.

I think this year I would have to add that ¨staying¨ in times of suffering - not just bearing them until they´re over - harvests a deeper leaning into truths about God we were previously unaware of.  It harvests a season of questions about our personal faith & theology.  It pushes us to struggle with dark places in ourselves we didn´t know were there.  It digs out compassion & love.  It moves us into the present moment because at times that´s all we have the energy for...and that allows us to be more present to the One who is there.  We still have so much more to learn about ¨staying¨ in suffering...

¨Staying¨ is not an absence of motion or passion.  While it is quiet, it is intentional.  Where it seems absent of movement, it is ripe with meaning.  It is a remarkably powerful action.

¨Mary stayed.¨


How about you?














March 25, 2014

LOVE IN THE BROKENNESS







There is an undeniable brokenness in each one of us.
We all struggle for wholeness, some sense of completeness.
Yet in the rawness of our stuff, there are shadows of fear.
Fear that our brokenness will be seen...
Fear that our brokenness will repel...
Fear that our kind of brokenness has no hope for healing...
Any revelation of self carries risk.

Our own lack of perfection terrifies us.
We sometimes go to unbelievable lengths to protect it and mask it.
Do we think that if no one else sees it that it is not really there?
Do we believe that if someone were to see it, they would really withdraw their love?
Or could we possibly become more endearing, more real, more human - even more lovable?

Oh, to be seen fully and loved fully anyways!
That is really our deepest longing...to be loved in our brokenness.

Some keep a façade with God, living their ¨perfectness¨ before Him.
As if the One who made you can´t see everything anyway!

Some keep a façade with themselves, unaware of their artful masking.
They´ve lived so long with it, they don´t even know it´s there!

To not be fully seen & yet be loved is not really love.
What value is there in loving an illusion? 
To be fully seen & not fully loved is not really love.
Who wants conditional love?
To be fully seen and fully loved anyways - now that is love.
This is how God loves -
And He has created in us a yearning for this kind of genuine love with others, too.

Are we not all on a lifetime journey of learning to receive and give love?
To receive His perfect love in our own imperfection and give it away with the same generosity?
Do we not all yearn for transparency & true intimacy with those we care about?

Then let us love in the brokenness.

Yes, it is scary business.
We are painfully aware that our very own ability to love is marred because of our own brokenness.
How can we, therefore, trust others whose love is marred?
This daring to love in brokenness takes great courage.

In family, there is the double-edged sword capacity for both 
the deepest kind of love and the deepest kind of hurt.  
In the very terrain where we know each other best - good, bad & ugly - 
is birthed an amazing potential for unconditional love - or incredible hurt.

Will we not dare to love & be loved because of fear of the potential hurt?
In brokenness, there is always that risk, because no, we do not love perfectly.
But what if we dare to self-reveal and discover a tender, unconditional love returned...
Will we not be transformed?

So therein is our dilemma.

Can we stand to reveal our own brokenness?  Will we choose to?
Will we let Him into those dark places to bring healing?
Will we let family into those dark places to bring healing?

Being fully known and fully loved is the most profound experience on earth.

Let us love in the brokenness...

...together.



Photo by:  TyGrr Babii



¨BROKEN TOGETHER¨
 by
Casting Crowns



March 12, 2014

DEAR GRANDMA, HAVE I TOLD YOU?





Dear Grandma,

Have I told you lately that I love your smile and your little laugh?  Did I remember to tell you last time we spoke that I love how you treasure friendship and have kept up in remarkable ways with many girlfriends throughout the years?  Did I tell you how cool it is that you still call your closest group of friends ¨the girls¨?  Did I mention I love how you´re always available to talk to someone & that you always would prefer company or that you can beat most anyone in a board game?  

Have I told you lately that I love your piles of books by your chair and the old Bible in the kitchen?  Did I remember to tell you that all your fragile collectibles around the house whisper stories to me of special people & moments in your life?  Did I say last time we spoke that it always touches me when it´s your turn to pray and you choke up?  

Have I told you, Grandma, that your teacups and quilts and pillows and pictures mean so much because you have shared them generously over the years with others in your home?  Did I remember to mention that I love your yard full of produce and flowers and the care and attention you have given them over the years alongside your husband?  Did I say last time I saw you that I hold onto the legacy of family & history because of your tireless protectiveness of it?

Have I told you recently that I am so blessed that you have received our family as weary travelers throughout 25 years?  That I am blessed by your daily sacrifice to Jesus to let us fulfill our call without complaint? Did I say lately that your loving commitment to your own children has not been lost on me?  And that your daily labor to lead them to God was not in vain?  Have I said, Grandma, that the son you raised has changed my life and given me adventure & love beyond words?

How could I have not told you, Grandma, that your steady commitment to your husband and his roles in the community, in addition to your own profession, took you into lives untouched by others?  Did I tell you how proud I am of your work as a nurse all these years and the tireless dedication to helping others with wisdom & excellence? Did I say to you that I so admire your hard work ethic, your commitment to remaining active through so many years while many alongside you retired?  Did I ever tell you that you are the oldest volunteer at a hospital I know?

Have I said of late that the church has been held together by people like you and Harold over the years, both the good and the turbulent ones? That your commitment to faith, people´s needs and the family of God is part of our legacy?  Did I mention that you are sorely missed in this tender time of physical decline, not just your husband?  You, Grandma.

Have I told you that I really admire the many road trips and hikes and camping trips you made as a family?  That perhaps secretly you may have sometimes preferred something else but you were always a good sport?  Have I said to you recently that your strong spirit has had a lot to do with holding the family together?  Did I tell you last time that we chuckle when we see glimpses of that in our kids?

Grandma, have I told you how eternally grateful I am for all you have given your three grandchildren?  And how no matter how crazy their overseas life was they could always count on 644 Vallejo Way?  Have I told you how much we enjoyed taking care of you in these last few years in the small ways that we could?  Did I tell you last summer that the kids will always be grateful that you let them climb on the roof and look at the stars at night?

Oh, Grandma, there are so many things to tell you that I am afraid I will run out of time and space!  Mostly, I want to remember to tell you as your daughter-in-law that I will always be grateful that you let me into your heart, your life, your home, your family.  That you let me capture your only son´s heart and yet still loved me!  

I hope I´ve told you that I love how your tender side has emerged in these last couple years.  That there is a sweetness, a new perfume in your life.  And I pray I have told you that as we have watched you bravely care for your husband, grieve for him when he passed into eternity and speak of him daily in this last year, we see your undying love for him.  But this letter, Grandma, is not about him, it´s for and about and to you.

Have I whispered to you, Grandma, that we have been witnesses of your eagerness for heaven?  That we have seen you read about it, think about it, speak of it for years?  Have I spoken to you that we have seen that tear in your eye that speaks of a longing - the longing for home - your real, final, eternal home?  Yes, we have seen it, dear Grandma.

Grandma, have I told you how much I envy that you know all the hymns by heart and that I have seen with my own eyes that hardly anything gives you more joy than singing them to the One who first loved you?   I don´t want to forget to say I love you, I will miss you when you go home and that you will forever have a special place in my heart.  I want to remind you, Grandma, that your legacy lives on in two proud children, a daughter-in-law and 3 grandchildren.  You are most dear to us.   

Have I told you lately, Grandma, that I release you to go home?  Go home, Grandma, go home.

Love you always & see you there!

Pam

March 9, 2014

2014: BOUNTY OR BUST?


Have you looked forward to 2014 as I have with a deep sense of expectancy?  My husband and I are moving into a new role in our organization of greater responsibility and we have seen God confirm through His Word, through our children, our co-workers and other leaders around us that it is the right time for this new season.  We have been sensing for a while that the Lord is drawing us towards a convergence in this season of life between our gifting, life experience and this new role.  While we are trembling a bit in light of all the heavy responsibilities, we are also charged up about this new challenge and direction which will give us wider and deeper influence in much admired cross-cultural workers in our region - a region we love and have given our lives to.

The Lord gave me this verse towards the end of 2013 and I had recorded it in my journal:

¨You crown the year with your bounty,
Your carts overflow with abundance.¨
Psalm 65:11

But 2014 seemed to start with anything BUT bounty or abundance...

I was mystified when 2014 started off in the hospital accompanying my daughter in test after test to find out where some ¨bad cells¨ were coming from.  Our kids have always been so healthy!  It was a shock to even consider that she could be seriously ill.  Most of you know by now that she was finally diagnosed with stomach cancer.  Our beautiful, 22 year-old firstborn about to graduate from university in Global  Studies and Leadership!  This news still doesn´t seem real - except that as I write this I´m sitting in a hospital room where she recovers from a total gastrectomy (removal of the stomach). In this room it has become very real - there has been real pain and a very real struggle to learn to eat again.  It is real that she is here in Spain and not on campus in Southern California. It is real that there is still chemo ahead...still a long road...and that it has completely altered everything about this year and will be a huge part of the ¨realness¨ of 2014 for our whole family.

On the 2nd of February, my brother died in an accidental death.  I didn´t find out about it for almost a week as it took a few days to identify the body, notify my Dad and then he was miserable not knowing if he should tell me or not as those were the days Jenna was in Intensive Care and we were completely absorbed with our own crisis.  In that initial wave of sadness, I asked God to ¨encapsulate¨ my grief for my brother because I absolutely couldn´t deal with it.  In His mercy He did that and as time passes, and only a little bit at a time, we go away together and talk, remember and cry.  I will write more about him & that process later.  I can´t travel to the US right now and so it looks like my grieving will be done here in Spain.  I wish I could be with my Dad...

In mid-February, my dear mother-in-law fell and broke her other hip.  She had broken the first one last summer and we went to care for her and eventually had to place her in a residential home with care.  Her husband of more than 50 years had died in March and her daily desire is to ¨go to heaven and be with the Lord and Harold¨.  To say that she has much less will to live and go through the difficult efforts of rehab this time is an understatement.  Thankfully, Bruce´s sister is there.  Unfortunately, the rest of us are committed to being here with Jenna´s situation and I am filled with uncertainty as to what this may mean for her, for my dear husband, for all of us who love her.

It is trivial next to these life issues but it doesn´t escape me that a change of cell phone company in February put me without my phone at a time when communication was at a premium!  Hundreds of hours have been spent trying to resolve this and unlock my phone - unsuccessfully.  I still don´t have it resolved; perhaps on the 31st of this month.  There could not have been a more stressful time for this to have happened.

I won´t bore you with more details but life has been far from easy this year.  It has been challenging to see ¨the bounty¨ as promised to me for 2014, but I have determined to look each day for His goodness, His movings, even though it hasn´t looked anything like what I thought it would!  Somehow, there will be fruit, abundance and bounty in our experiences of cancer, of death, of accidents, of sorrow.  He is in it, has permitted it and plans to work through it.  A promise is not annulled because of pain.

I am waiting and watching to see the carts overflow...because He doesn´t stop being good in any calendar year...because He will make good on Psalm 65:11...because ¨all the promises of God find their Yes in Him. ¨ (II Cor.1:20)  But mostly?  Mostly it´s because ¨God is my King from long ago...¨ (Ps. 74:12) - and I know these things to be true about Him.

2014 promises to be unforgettable.



Note:  If you would like to read about our journey with our daughter´s cancer or if you know of another parent who could benefit, please see our blog:   Thru A Mom´s Eyes.

www.thruamomseyes.com.




Photo by:  PhanMemGiaoDuc

January 20, 2014

AND OVER ALL THE GLORY...A CANOPY




"Then the Lord will create over all of Mount Zion and over those who assemble there a cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night; over all the glory will be a canopy.  It will be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain."
Isaiah 4:5, 6


Some days it feels difficult at best, and sometimes unattainable, to remain close to His presence.  Not the "He is always with us" type presence we can always be sure of but that sense of nearness that is palpable.  The sense of nearness that David called "his good".  The sense of nearness which gives us the ability to rest, to smile to ourselves confidently, to move about peacefully in the midst of even surrounding chaos.  That nearness also gives us a sense of what He's up to around us - and what His invitation to us might be in that. 

Perhaps like me, you have yearned for your own personal "pillar of cloud by day or a pillar of fire by night" to make His presence clear as He did for the Israelites.  Of course, there's one big difference between us and them - we have seen the Messiah and have been sent the Holy Spirit.  Jesus said this about the Comforter He was to send us:  

"But when he, the spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.  He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears...He will glorify Me because it is from Me that he will receive what he will make known to you."
John 16:13, 14

The Spirit is what we need to guide us into truth - truth for clarifying decisions, truth to know which way to turn next, truth to know how to engage in difficult relationships, truth to understand needs around us, even the truth about ourselves.  The Spirit is honest and clear and wholly uncompromising in His role in these verses: to pass on to us only that which comes from Jesus and to glorify Him.

Since I am convinced of this, I was a little surprised when I read the Isaiah passage above recently.  I thought those expressions of His presence were way back in Exodus 13.  And they are.  But additionally, in proclaiming a time of restoration for Jerusalem, Isaiah includes this amazing promise of these expressions around the place of worship, Mt. Zion. 

If you think Mt. Zion was for worshippers "way back then", think again!  We all have a place for worship "in spirit and in truth" - our very hearts!

"How blessed is the man whose strength is in You, In whose heart are the highways to Zion!"
Psalm 84:5 

We can be building in our hearts literal highways that take us to our place of worship.  Highways that facilitate the journey of turning to Him in love and adoration.  Highways that are well marked and well lit so we don't lose our way - or have excuses.  Highways that have been nurtured and maintained and used frequently.  Highways that move us closer, that lead us to that nearness.  Highways that are open 24/7. 

If we build these highways through time with Him, in our own personal Zion we will experience and see His glory.  This shekinah glory IS His presence.  And over this glorious presence, we will be sheltered by a canopy - one which is said here to be a shelter, a shade, a refuge and hiding place from any of the difficult things in life.

I am camping out there in my heart - under the glory and under the canopy!




Photo by:  flyingsails


January 15, 2014

THE PLACE OF INDIFFERENCE




There is a phrase in Spanish, ¨me da igual,¨ which means ¨It is the same to me.¨  It is perhaps closest to the phrase in English ¨I could go either way.¨ or ¨I have no preference.¨

This is the place I stand today as we go to the hospital to do the last exploratory surgery and get the results of a biopsy which could change the course of my daughter´s life.

I don´t mean indifference in the irresponsible or aloof sense of ¨I don´t care.¨  I mean the place of indifference that one comes to in the ¨Desert Fathers´ sense¨ of being at peace with whatever the road is.  Of being indifferent to my preference, to my logic, to my desire, to my viewpoint, to my will.  It is both a terrifying and sweet point of surrender to the will of the Sovereign God and His choice of a perfect, good and loving plan.

In the last few weeks of tests, wondering and waiting, the ¨wake-up¨ moment came when the Dr. finally said they had found ¨the source of the bad cells.¨ He seemed so sure.  I guess we had been hoping they wouldn't find anything besides the little umbilical tumor that had begun this whole mysterious search.  Today this will be confirmed or not.  The Drs. have absolutely no explanation as to why one so young would have this kind of illness - to be specific, stomach cancer.

In the 4 days between his sober announcement and today, there has been a swinging back and forth between fear and faith, reality and shock, hope and sadness...and waiting.

By faith, we have asked for healing, gathered faith-filled praying friends to exert their faith to pray for healing and have proclaimed our own mustard seeds of childlike trust in Rapha, the One who heals.

In the quieter moments of surrender, we have sat in His presence and whispered ¨not my will, but Yours.¨ We have acknowledged His right to choose whatever tools He deems necessary. We have expressed our trust and hope in His sovereign, complete vision of life and the kingdom.

In the more raw moments of struggle, we have cried, asked questions, fought off a fog of sadness and fatigue and challenged the logic and injustice in all of this - especially in one so young, in one who is one semester away from graduating from university with honors, ready to take on the world.

In our rebellious, warring moments we have raised our voices to proclaim the power of the Resurrected One over her, we have been furious at the enemy from whom all forms of evil derive, and we have taken out all kinds of ammunition in the The Fight:  Scriptures, prayers, fasting, anointing with oil, proclamations of faith and truths about healing and faith and the character of the New Testament Christ.

In the end, perhaps it could best be described that I have chosen an expectant peacefulness. Whether the road is a miraculous healing or a new journey in illness previously unknown to us, miraculously (I seriously mean miraculously!), I seem to have faith for it.

My indifference is a victory.  My indifference is a gift.  My indifference is a reflection of praying friends.  And my indifference is a reflection of the kindness of the God I have walked with since my youth and have come to know and love with all my heart.  He has proved Himself very worthy of this childlike trust.

Today as I accompany her into that hospital, I can truly say:

¨Me da igual.¨




Here is an old Ignatian definition or expression of ¨indifference¨:

¨For this it is necessary that we become indifferent to all created things so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what helps us praise, reverence, and serve God.  This detachment comes only if we have a stronger attachment; therefore our one dominating desire and fundamental choice must be to live in the loving presence and wisdom of Christ, our Savior.¨ 

Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Spanish founder of the Jesuits







Photo by:  hockadilly








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