Resilient

 

 

 

 

Today’s Word: ‘RESILIENT’ as in… I want to tell you about a small group of spectacularly resilient high school students.

We’ve been meeting once each month to explore the seven rhythms of thriving young lives. Taking each one in turn as we go, we’ve been exploring what it means to move with thoughtful purpose toward a deepened sense of identity—that we are spirited, creative, and connected, called to be present and grateful as we become more generous and missional people. The intention is to discover more of what it means to live with intention into this particular series of life rhythms that help us bring our best to each day, our best to each moment, and our best to each other as we encounter the world around us.

I don’t want it to end. These young people have breathed so much life and aliveness into me and one another through this experience.

But lately, they’ve had their lives interrupted. Again!

They’ve had to adjust to the world around them and do everything differently, which they do seamlessly. Even in the midst of the current challenges, they’ve shown such resilience! Again!

I ran across a post on social media recently that I haven’t been able to shake. It’s a huge ‘Shout-Out’ to the Class of 2020. Here’s the content of the post:

“Class of 2020… you entered the world in the wake of 9/11. You graduate during a pandemic. No doubt these events will shape you. You are more empathetic than any other generation. You are independent, yet you are inclusive. You are hopeful, but realistic. You understand that the celebrations might have to wait, and you’re ok with that. You are mature beyond your years. We are so proud of you.”

Profound, honoring words for this year’s graduating class who have, once again, had their plans interrupted. I’m so glad I ran into this now so that as the next 12 weeks unfold—we can all watch in amazement how our young people lead us into new ways of showing empathy and independence, inclusivity and hope, realism and maturity. #100days50words

Phones

PhonesToday’s Word: ‘PHONES’ as in… let’s try this together: let’s turn them off. Let’s shut them down. Let’s see what happens!

I woke up to the gentle sound of a strumming guitar from an alarm app I use. I picked up my phone, turned off the alarm and headed downstairs to feed the pup and take her outside. Back inside, I opened a weather app to see what it was like outside as I lit a fire in the family room. I brewed some coffee, sat on the couch and put in my earbuds. Looking for the Headspace app, I got distracted by a news app. After reading the first four headlines about Covid-19, US tourists stranded in Europe, a shortage of hospital beds, and another nursing home in lock-down, I continued looking for Headspace. Distracted, I opened a sports app. I wondered what might be going on there. Absolutely nothing. I checked FB and IG, and was just about to launch Headspace when I noticed an alert from my weather app. I opened it. I read it. Never mind that I had just been outside.

Finally, opening Headspace I was greeted by “The Wake Up” which posed this question: “When was the last time you went a day without your phone?” A short video featured a number of ‘Headspacers’ sharing their responses: “Can’t remember…” “Don’t think I ever have…” “Traveling without my charging cord…” “Hiking, and out of range.”

This got me thinking: how would I answer that question? Most of us are up to our eyelashes in technology every day; dawn-‘til-dusk-and-beyond. Giving ourselves a sabbath; not merely a break, but some intentional time to rest, renew, and restore could be the single best thing we “do” all week. I knew I was in trouble when I opened the weather app after just being outside.

So, here’s the challenge for Sunday: decide on a duration of time that you’ll just turn it off. Can you step away from it for an hour?

Let’s try this together. Let’s turn them off. Let’s shut them down. Let’s see what happens!

#100days50words

Rodeo

RodeoToday’s Word: ‘RODEO’ as in… this really isn’t our first one, as far as disease goes. We’ve been here before. Maybe that’s the good news.

I know I’m equipped with an inordinate, even maddening amount of positivity (“there’s a pony in here somewhere…”), but this “plague” that we’re dealing with isn’t the first one on record and probably won’t be the last.

Well, now, that wasn’t very positive, was it?

If you think back 493 years or so, give or take a couple, the people of Wittenberg, Germany were scrambling to stay out of the way of a virus that had already seriously impacted countless lives around the world. Martin Luther, monk, priest, theologian, professor, pastor, and hymn writer had some prescient things to say about social responsibility in dire times. Digging deep into his faith for some answers—or, more accurately, some responses, he came up with a plan for moving ahead. It’s a good one.

Here is Martin Luther’s 493 year old manifesto:

“Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely, as stated above. See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”

(Luther’s Works, Volume 43, page 132)

Prayer, social distancing, a strong sense of community responsibility, service – it’s all there. And it’s all right here as well. So let’s press on, take heart and remind ourselves early and often that this isn’t our first rodeo.

Now, go wash your hands.

#100days50words

Motivation

MotivationToday’s Word: ‘MOTIVATION’ as in… “What’s your motivation for doing what you’re doing right now?”

Andy Puddicombe is a brother from another mother and another friend whom I’ve never met. I call Andy my “friend” because he and I spend time together every morning. Andy is the co-founder of Headspace, a meditation app launched in 2012 which has millions of followers and subscribers around the world.

(The premium version of the app is now free for all US healthcare professionals working in public health settings).

I’ve used Headspace for a couple of years, but it’s been particularly helpful lately. I’ve found that by making a commitment of 10 to 15 minutes each morning helps frame my mind for moving through the day. Centering into the exercise by focusing on the rhythm of breathing, Andy asks, “What’s your motivation for doing today’s meditation?” I’m paying closer attention to that question.

More broadly, “Why do we do what we do?” My natural inclination, of course, is to do pretty much everything for myself. But challenging me to really think about my motivations gives me that opportunity to step into a different, far more healthy and whole place: our relationship together. I’m doing this right now to create wider margin for clearer doing, thinking, and being.

My motivation for sharper awareness is to learn how this unique time in our shared history can teach us to live differently; to be different each day for one another. I want to be spirited differently, be creative differently, be connected differently, be present differently, practice gratitude and generosity differently so that as a missional child of God I’ll live differently. My hope and expectation is that when we all do this together, when we’re all paying attention to our “other-and-outwardly-focused” motivations for doing what we’re doing, it will be like a drop of water in a pool, rippling all the way to the edges.

That’s some good motivation! A favor, please? Would you be willing to hit the “share” button wherever you read this and let’s widen the circle? Go ahead and “Share” this. Thank you friends!

#100days50words

Patience

A frayed rope unraveling against a white background.Today’s Word: ‘PATIENCE’ as in… when patience runs thin, what happens next becomes vitally important.

It’s safe to say that the human race is doing pretty well navigating through this challenging time.

For the most part.

We’re doing pretty well navigating things we haven’t had to navigate before, in spite of describing it with words and phrases like self-quarantining, social distancing, schooling from home, working remotely, national emergency, unprecedented global event, pandemic, to say nothing of the absence of toilet paper. But we’re doing alright.

Aside from the occasional not-quite-so-subtle-sideways-looks from someone wearing a mask toward someone not wearing a mask, or the not-quite-so-subtle-double-take from the person who happens to get within six feet of someone else who is reaching across a five-foot high pallet of paper towels at Costco, we’re doing rather well.

Except for the public, online chastising of apparently the entire boomer population (all 73 million members of the “gray tsunami”) for not appropriately quarantining, by a writer apparently writing on behalf of the entire millennial population (roughly, ironically the same number), we’re doing pretty well.

But I still need some help.

And here’s what I need to keep in mind every day: patience.

Patience allows us to give others the same benefit of the doubt as we need. We’re in this together, so when we’re running low on patience maybe it’s because we’re fearful of what we don’t know. And we don’t know a lot. If we’re looking sideways at someone because they’re running errands and coughing in aisle 14 instead of maintaining a stricter sense of self quarantine, maybe it’s because they needed to pick up some medication from the pharmacy and we just happened to walk past them in the dog food aisle. And speaking of dogs, maybe they have a dog or two and they’re down to their last three scoops of food. When we’re on our last three scoops of patience, we do all kinds of things.

Let’s work at creating a generous amount of space for others to enter in.

And let’s pause, breathe in, and welcome each other with patience.

#100days50words

Gesture

GestureToday’s Word: ‘GESTURE’ as in… when a grocery store asks the community to just pause, to step aside and let those on the edges come to the center, that’s an amazing way to embrace one another in love!

Yesterday I posted the guiding narrative for thriving generously. Just in case, here it is again: “We thrive as generous people by seeking lavish interactions with the world around us so that the abundance of the few can transform the scarcity of the many into a feast of blessing where all have enough.”

Soon after, I received an email from a local grocery store taking big steps toward generosity. What they’re suggesting is absolutely biblical:

At this time, we are asking all customers to respect our request of having the opening hour of 7 to 8 a.m. each day reserved for those shoppers who are at a higher risk of severe illness by COVID-19, which includes older adults and those who have compromised immune systems. In doing so, our intent is to provide an opportunity for those individuals to be the first to shop after our overnight cleaning and stocking so they have increased access to essential products.”

This takes me right into the fantastic book of Leviticus (like it does!):

“When you harvest your grain, always leave some of it standing around the edges of your fields and don’t pick up what falls on the ground. Leave it for the poor and for those foreigners who live among you. I am the LORD your God!” (Leviticus 22:23)

In challenging times it’s easy to overlook others. Challenges have a way of narrowing our vision to the point where we’re not looking at the edges where the most vulnerable are. It’s easy to overlook those who are not as mobile, or technologically equipped, or socially nimble, or emotionally agile or savvy as the next person. So when a grocery store asks the community to just pause, to step aside and let those on the edges come to the center, that’s an amazing way to embrace one another in love!

What a beautifully generous gesture!

#100days50words

Generous

Generous 1Today’s Word: ‘GENEROUS’ as in… the guiding narrative for a generous life goes like this: “We thrive as generous people by seeking lavish interactions with the world around us so that the abundance of the few can transform the scarcity of the many into a feast of blessing where all have enough.”

I’ve worked with three different small groups over the past two years pulling apart this narrative (along with the other six Thriving Rhythms narratives) in an effort to understand how living into these seven specific rhythms creates a deeper sense of thriving in our lives. I’m convinced that by exploring what it means to be spirited, creative, connected, present, grateful, generous and missional people, we’ll have what we need when global challenges present themselves locally.

There’s an enormous amount of fear swirling around what we know and what we don’t know about Covid-19. Fear is always a response to what we can’t see and don’t know. But as that fear begins to wane—and it will, we will encounter more stories of generosity as they begin to surface. Already stories are beginning to bend the narrative from fear on toward a more generative, generous rhythm of life: people are checking in on others who are not just isolated, but insolated.

Those with financial resources are coming to the aid of others who are vulnerable on just about every level.

Parents with flexible work schedules are reaching out to families with inflexible work schedules and providing not just child care, but tutoring and mentoring with encouragement.

Seth Godin nailed it again today in his blog. He writes,

Staying at home and sheltering in place is not selfish, it’s generous! Practicing social distancing helps keep the virus from infecting and impacting others and at the same time it flattens the curve of the spread of the pandemic, giving healthy facilities a chance to provide care over time.”

If you need a mantra, here it is: “As a child of God, I am a ‘generous’ human being; I’m free to live open handedly and open heartedly.”

This can change everything.

#100days50words

Quarantine

QuarantineToday’s Word: ‘QUARANTINE‘ as in… maybe just another word for sabbatical.

My good friend Greg, having just returned from Norway, is just beginning a 14-day quarantine.

Three nights ago, Greg and his traveling companions were notified at 3AM that they had a very small widow of time to leave Norway in order to return to the United States. That very small window of time included scrambling to rebook new flights for a party of eight, then driving some pretty gnarly, ice-covered roads through the Scandinavian countryside in the dark to get to the airport. But they’re back, safe and sound. Well, they’re back, anyway. And Greg’s summary of the whole ordeal: “…bottom line, all is well and we’ve got some great stories to tell.” I love that about Greg, he’s got ‘Positivity’ in his Top-5. I just know it.

Isn’t it amazing what happens when our plans are interrupted, when we’re forced to take an alternate route, leave at another time, go in a different direction? Stories. Creativity. Perspective. Quarantine. Sabbatical. The quarantine means that Greg now has a bit of “discretionary time” on his hands. And because it’s impossible for Greg to work remotely, he’s got some time to play, create, and gain some new perspective.

When I asked him what he’ll be doing during the quarantine, he used the words “creative juices,” “Northern Minnesota,” “Cabin,” and “The Milky Way” all in the same sentence. That’s another thing I love about Greg.

This got me thinking about how quarantine is not unlike sabbatical. The gift of quarantine is time to step away from the normal routines. Usual rhythms of life are interrupted and we’re able to tap into new opportunities that we wouldn’t have had. So as long as all of our schedules are a bit wonky, which for some, admittedly, will feel like driving some pretty gnarly, ice-covered roads through the Scandinavian countryside in the dark to get to wherever it is we’re going, we might as well embrace it.

What kind of creativity can come out of your next 14 amazing days?

Big shout-out to @gregash28!

#100days50words

Dis-Ease

Dis-easeToday’s Word: ‘DIS-EASE’ as in… the Coronavirus Disease is indeed causing some significant “dis-ease” among us locally and certainly globally.

But let’s pause for a moment, let’s get our wits among us.

Instead of languishing in fear and foreboding and feeling overwhelmed at every turn, let’s be reminded that we are well-equipped to move ahead in ways that breathe life back into us and those we know, near and far.

While exercising a healthy amount of caution, we know that fear and foreboding—which seems to be everywhere, won’t get us anywhere. This is not the end of the world as we know it; far from it. Every day we’re learning new things about how to implement healthy practices that help people thrive. Caution is always a good response to moments in life when the very ground underneath us seems to be shifting. Caution allows us to pause for a moment and get our bearings, check our footing, even more importantly, to educate ourselves and one another about best practices for creating and sustaining healthy communities. We have the choice to move ahead cautiously, yes, but with healthy intention and purpose.

So how can we move forward?

In our community we’re asking important questions about how to live positively into the days and weeks ahead. Let’s begin by being encouraging.

Let’s be hopeful and positive in every interaction. Let’s continue to focus on gratitude and generosity. Doing so helps us reframe things in helpful ways. When businesses, schools, and public places of worship close, see it as an act of love for the most vulnerable; ways of caring for all God’s children.

This gives us a new way to trust one another and trust God. Encourage others to check on people who might be isolated.

This provides a way for people to practice service. Let’s be reassuring. Reassure people that life continues to move ahead in different and creative ways. And above all, let’s reassure one another that God is with us.

This will go a long way in bringing a deep calm to the dis—ease among us.

#100days50words

Claim

ClaimToday’s Word ‘CLAIM: as in… hey friends, it’s time to claim the good news of our baptisms!

Seriously, I know things are a little dicey out there, but let’s not forget this: you’ve been called, named, claimed, loved and treasured into each new day.

And today is no different.

And because of that, fear no longer will rule this day. Or any day, for that matter. We celebrated three baptisms last night at WoW Worship. And once we were reminded of this:

In the sacrament of Holy Baptism we are set free from the power of sin and death and are joined to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. No matter what our circumstances may be, in times of joy or sorrow, crisis or calm, the sacrament of Baptism reminds us that our God is faithful. We stand confidently in the promises of God!”

That’s some good very good news! Many people are waking up each morning with a tremendous amount of fear. That fear rides along with them through the morning into the early afternoon and then into the evening. For some who may be consuming far too much ‘news’, that fear becomes overwhelming.

But there’s a better way to live; a far better way.

So let’s just pause, and take a big deep breath. Let’s be diligent. Let’s be smart, wise and prudent. And then let’s remember this:

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns. The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge!”

Let’s claim that!

#100days50words

Shake

ShakeToday’s Word: ‘SHAKE’ as in… shall we shake hands? Or is there another way to greet one another?

Seth Godin, a brilliant author, speaker and blogger suggested recently that handshaking may just be on its way out. “In the future” he writes, “there are no handshakes. Star Trek, Star Wars or even Spaceballs. No one shakes hands.”

The custom of shaking hands is really only about 500 years old. It was introduced by the Quakers who reasoned that handshaking was far more egalitarian than tipping a hat or bowing. Seth Godin goes on to point out that “along with being a vector for disease transmission, handshakes reward a certain sort of powerful personality and penalize people who might be disabled or uninterested in that sort of interaction. And judging people by the strength of their grip doesn’t make much sense anymore. Until a week or two ago, deciding not to shake someone’s hand was seen as odd and a bit insulting. Today, it comes across as generous.”

So what to do?

An alternative practice for intentionally greeting one another in a way that acknowledges the health concerns of many, honors the preferences and practices of a wide number of people and still maintains the integrity of actually greeting one another might look something like this: When we encounter one another individually or in a group, instead of reaching out to take a hand, we might instead simply place our hand on our chest – over our heart, look one another in the eyes, and say “Peace be with you.”

How refreshingly lovely! In the context of a faith community, we could say, “May God’s blessing be on you” or “May the peace of Christ be with you.” I

’m captivated by the generosity of this very different sort of greeting and the kindness that it conveys. It seems to me that we could all use more kindness and peace. And if doing something as simple and yet as different as looking at you with my hand on my heart does that, then I’m all for it.

Let’s shake on it.

#100days50words

First

FirstToday’s Word: ‘FIRST’ as in… what’s first on your list of things that you’d grab if your house was on fire? If you had less than a minute(!) to grab stuff that mattered, what would you choose?

Here’s a hint just in case you need one: whatever you grab should have a beating heart.

And yes, there must be a better way to ask this question without having to imagine something on fire. I’ll work on that.

Every Monday evening, Tuesday morning, and Wednesday at noon, many of us gather together to plow our way through the Gospel of Mark. This past Tuesday morning we did a deep dive into the story in Mark’s gospel about a scribe who was uber-willing to step out of his comfort zone to ask Jesus a question. And I don’t believe for a second that this is a test question; he really wanted to know: “Rabbi, what is the most important law?” I imagine him alternately looking over his shoulder to see who’s watching him, and trying to get a quiet moment with the Rabbi to simply ask, “Teacher, of all of these laws – all 613 of them, which one is the most important?”

Now let’s use our imaginations with this: Jesus looks at him and thinks to himself, “Two-for-One!” Then Jesus says,

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might, and with all your strength. Basically, give it all you got! And then some! And just as long as I’ve got you here, and while your buddies over there are still watching from a distance thinking that you’ve got me all tied up in knots—here’s the second one, the second first one, which you didn’t ask for, but I’m going to give it to you anyway: Love your neighbor as yourself!”

It’s no secret that loving God with all we’ve got—with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength will find its clearest, most compelling expression in how we treat others, how we give ourselves away and invest ourselves in others.

#100days50words

Guest

GuestToday’s Word: ‘GUEST’ as in… sometimes we’re simply guests of the transcendent… as is beautifully expressed by today’s Today’s Word Guest Writer, Nancy Lee Gauche.

“I am cuddled on the couch with our sweet little two-year-old granddaughter, Emily Joyce. We’re also joined by Shelbui (pronounced ‘Shelby’) the Staffordshire Terrier, also known as Shelbui the Wonder Dog, also known as Shelbui the Pitbull. It’s nap time.

Here’s the scene: Emily is clutching her “sippy cup” of milk with one hand while her other hand is gently patting Shelbui’s shiny, brindle coat of fur. I’ve just finished reading “Lulu and Red,” the wonderful children’s book about of two birds – two red cardinals who love each other. “Okay Emily, it’s time for Nana to lay you down for your nap. Tell Shelbui ‘night-night.’”

Emily lays her head on Shelbui’s back and kisses her up and down her spine. “Night-night Shelbui. Sleepy tight.” I’m holding Emily in my arms as we step into the den where her “Pack ‘n Play” is set up and ready for her. Her teddy bear is nestled among the blankets, waiting patiently. Standing there for an extra moment or two, we sing a song together, and then I speak a blessing over her.

And then, just before laying her down, Emily places her two sweet little hands on both sides of my face; one on each cheek. I feel the warmth and preciousness of her little fingers as I look right into her angelic little face.

And she looks right at me and then says: “I love you Nana.”

I receive her love with a wash of gratitude for a two-year-old who gives and receives love. And I pray for her life to be a love story beyond what this world knows. “And Nana loves you too, Emily. Nana loves you too… all the way to the moon and back. Twice.”

Sometimes we’re simply a guest of the transcendent.

#100days50words

Spirit

Spirit - Coffee Steam

Today’s Word: ‘SPIRIT’ as in… the same Spirit that filled Jesus in his baptism just prior his Wilderness experience, breathes into us and fills our lives.

The rising and falling of our breath is the constant reminder that Spirit is always present; we are never alone in our hunger, in our agitation, when we’re lonely, when we’re tired.

In the third temptation of Jesus, the ‘tempter’ takes Jesus to a very high mountain and shows him all of the kingdoms of the world in all of their splendor. And the voice of the ‘tempter’ makes yet another false promise that it can all belong to Jesus—all of it, if he puts the ‘tempter’ first before everything else. Of course, as with everything else, the ‘tempter’ makes only empty promises. But before another breath is taken, Jesus turns toward him and says, “Shove off!” Or probably something more along the lines of “Be gone!” And what’s truly remarkable is that at that very moment, the ‘tempter’ leaves Jesus.

Jesus speaks the words: “Be gone!” and the ‘tempter’ is gone.

Jesus then follows that, as he has in the other two temptations, by speaking the strong promises of the Word. In the face of all three temptations the front line of defense in this otherwise offensive confrontation is the Word of promise. Jesus claims for his response to any and every temptation the living, hope-filled, powerful Word of Promise:

It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ It is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

The word of Promise is always our best defense in every offensive moment. Trying to satisfy our own appetites without the Spirit as Provider and Protector in our lives is like circling that knife in the snow thinking it’s just harmless popsicle.

Thankfully, the rising and falling of our breath is the constant reminder that Spirit is always present in us, at work through us, bringing life and more life to every living, breathing moment.

#100days50words

Abandon

AbandonToday’s Word: ‘ABANDON’ as in… God will not abandon us. Ever.

To think otherwise, while part of our natural and normal wiring, is the second temptation in Matthew’s archetypal story of temptation in Matthew 4:1-11.

In this second of three temptations the ‘tempter’ takes Jesus to the highest point of the temple and casts doubt by saying something like this:

If you really are who you say you are, and if God really is who we think God is, then let’s just put God to the test by creating some havoc. Let’s see if God can rescue you. After all, it says right here…”

Jesus interrupts. “Uhhhh, we’re not doing that. God’s promise of faithfulness counterchecks any thought that I’d have to test God.”

When we’re in a bind; in that tight spot between a rock and hard place, it’s easy to default to the really odd reasoning that if ‘God is God’ and ‘God is in control’ then this certainly wouldn’t be happening. Hence the bind: Either God is not in control or God has abandoned me. Or both. If those are our only two choices, then we’ve really got a problem.

Binaries are always troublesome.

When we’re hungry, agitated, lonely or tired, Everything-Adversarial-to-God gangs up to cast doubt on God’s ability to show up when the going gets tough.

But when is God ever not present? When life gets nutty, it’s easy to wonder where God is. When we feel knocked down or abandoned we’ll do just about anything to get ourselves back up and on our way. But we know this about ourselves: we don’t choose very well.

When the ‘tempter’ says, “Jesus, throw yourself down from the highest point and let God come to your rescue!” it’s an attempt to get Jesus to put God to the test instead of trusting the promise that’s already been given. We’ll always have to deal with the seeds of doubt that creep in on us and suggest that “God is nowhere.” But the really good news for us today is that “God is now here.”

God will never, ever abandon us. Ever.

#100days50words

Power

PowerToday’s Word: ‘POWER‘ as in… the first temptation is always to rely on our own power to get something for which we are already trusting the Divine.

Let’s jump back into the temptations for a moment, figuratively speaking. Matthew’s gospel gives us a stark picture of Jesus in the wilderness without his usual life-support systems: he’s without food and water, without friends and family, or even a stone for a pillow.

Jesus is alone. Except that he’s not quite alone.

The Spirit is present and leading him through his Wilderness while the presence of the ‘tempter,’ the adversary seems to be everywhere. This is where the universal gets very particular: we’re never without the presence of the Spirit even though we’re also surrounded by an adversarial presence most, if not all of the time. That’s the nature of temptation: it’s nearly always everywhere. Always.

The first temptation in this story is universal and archetypal, one with which we probably resonate deeply. If not, we’re doubly in trouble because not recognizing temptation is often more problematic than the temptation itself. “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

Again, the first temptation is always to use our own power to get something for which we are already trusting the Divine. Seriously, if The Source of all life is “for us,” who or what can be “against us?” Jesus is in the-Wilderness-of-providing-for-his-own-physical-needs.

Go ahead and read that once again… I’ll wait.

Always trying to provide what God can provide is truly a Wilderness endeavor. All kinds of sketchy things happen when we’re hungry, agitated, alone and tired. When our whole-life-support structures are not in place, we’re prone to all manner of temptations including the everywhere-present-and-persistent-lure of loving things and using people instead of loving people and using things, which is threatening on so many levels.

We probably don’t need a reminder of how the temptation to satisfy our own appetites without the power of Spirit acting as Provider and Protector in our lives is like circling that knife in the snow thinking it’s just harmless popsicle.

#100days50words

Forth

ForthToday’s Word: ‘FORTH’ as in… march forth!

I have an annual reminder set for the fourth day of March to do just that: to march forth!

“This is your day, buddy! Go for it! Just get out there and be in it! It’s March 4th so go do that: march forth!”

The challenge of March 4th is to take the next step, put a shoulder into apprehension, stare down fear, and maybe even just say “Nope! Not today!” to that little voice that says “We can’t, so we shouldn’t, so let’s not.” March 4th is the day for choosing to march forth with “vim, vigor and vitality.” It’s not always easy, so we love one another, live well together, and carry each other when we need to. But it’s March 4th, so we should!

That’s why when I woke up this morning at 5:30 to welcome the day and witness the sunrise, I raised my hands into the air and said “Thank you, God, for creating this! You’re amazing! I’m here to march forth into this!”

That’s why when I express gratitude for Nancy Lee, our kids and their families, I raise my hands into the air and say “Thank you, God, for sustaining this family! You’re amazing! I’m here to march forth into this!”

That’s why, right before leading several hundred heartbroken people through a memorial service for their loved one, I opened my hands and said “Thank you, God, for gathering us! You’re amazing! I’m here to march forth into this!”

That’s why after any number of instances that cause me to pause for a moment before going on that I opened up my hands, raise them into the air and say “Thank you, God, for providing life, health and breath, so that living and breathing I can march forth into this day, this life expressing gratitude to you! You’re amazing! I’m here to march forth into this!”

Let me encourage you: this is your day, friends! Go for it! Just get out there and be in it! It’s March 4th so go do that: march forth!

#100days50words

Déjà vu

Deja vuToday’s Word: ‘Déjà vu’ as in… it’s really easy to want to say, “Call me crazy, but I’m sure I’ve been here before!” while reading the ancient/once-and-future story of the temptation of Jesus.

The story recounted in Matthew 4:1-11 is certainly our story. Jesus is alone in the wilderness without his usual support system: food, water, social interaction with his community of family and friends, and a place to lay his head at night. The chances of Jesus becoming hungry, aggravated, lonely, and then tired of being tired, lonely, aggravated and hungry go up exponentially. But while common, this is also a complicated story. Matthew tells us that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the Wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Alrighty then. Luke conveys the same thing but makes a long story super-short. Mark, whose prevailing ‘vibe’ is one of urgency, spins it this way: “the Spirit immediately drove [Jesus] out into the wilderness.” All three versions could easily leave us wondering about the intention of the Spirit. If we’re honest about our usual way of understanding this, with a friend like that, who needs enemies? Right? But let’s consider a different way of thinking about this. In each version of this story Jesus moves from what we’re calling “The River of Life” (his baptism in the Jordan) directly into “The Desert of Temptation.” And the Spirit is behind it all. But instead of viewing the Spirit’s presence as adversarial, as dragging Jesus kicking-and-screaming, could we rather understand the Spirit as simply and profoundly leading and guiding Jesus – along with the rest of us – through the once-and-ever-present-and-future Wilderness places of life? The Spirit’s presence with us in our Wilderness is a very present help in time of trouble, and not, as a misreading of the passage would lead us to believe, the source of the temptation. It’s as if Spirit says, “Hey, you’re going to need some help in this and every Wilderness place of your life. I’m going to be right here with you; right here with you all the way through it.

#100days50words

Temptation

Temptation Cobbler Full

Today’s Word: ‘TEMPTATION’ as in… it’s such a normal part of life, but what’s abnormal is how we allow it to steal our lives from us.

For as advanced as the human race is, most of us are only one spoonful of Marionberry-Cobbler-à-la-Mode away from gaining back those pounds that we worked so hard to lose. But just because we can dig into the cobbler doesn’t mean we should dig into the cobbler.

Legends tell of how Inuit hunters were able to kill a wolf simply by coating several layers of frozen blood on a sharp knife sticking out of the frozen tundra. Apparently the wolf picks up the scent, and after cautiously circling the knife begins licking the frozen blood. The wolf licks faster and faster as the desire for blood grows ever greater. The craving is so great that the wolf never notices the sting of the frozen blade on the tongue as the blood being consumed gradually becomes its own. As day breaks, hunters find the wolf lying dead in the snow.

The insidious nature of temptation is that it has a way of commanding our attention and clouding our thinking simultaneously. Not every temptation in life is going to lead to such a dramatic demise.

But it can.

The season of Lent provides an opportunity to consider the power of temptation. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus moves immediately from his baptism in the Jordan to the wilderness. Jesus literally goes from The River of Life into The Desert of Temptation where he’ll soon be hungry, alone, and tired. Rather than trust the Source of Life, he is tempted to rely on himself.

Temptation Cobbler EmptyThis is a universal story, a narrative archetype in which we find ourselves. Temptation is a normal part of life. What is abnormal is how we allow it to steal our lives from us. One minute we’ve got everything under control and the next minute feeling a strange kinship to the wolf.

This raises a legitimate question: When are you most likely to encounter temptation?

When you’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired? The acronym there just might be very, very helpful: HALT.

#100days50words

 

Healing

Healing (Suicide)

Today’s Word: ‘HEALING’ as in… speaking honestly creates much healing.

One of the gifts of this season is the opportunity to self-reflect. The ability to “think twice” to “think again” about who we are, what we’re doing here, where we’re going, and how we’re going to get there is part of what this season intends. If we’re unwilling to self-reflect; if we’re not up for taking a good honest look how we’ve hurt others by what we’ve done or said, we’re apt to continue making the same mistakes again and again.

Let’s not do that.

Let’s do this instead…

We live in a culture that – at best – doesn’t quite know how to process life’s most bewildering, perplexing issues; the hardest issues of life. We’d rather sweep them under the rug. And at worst, we can be remarkably judgmental when struggling with the issues of mental illness, mental health, PTSD, depression, and suicide.

And that’s just our culture in general.

In particular, through the centuries the church has been spectacularly guilty of missing the mark of grace and mercy by heaping guilt and shame on those who struggle.

Specifically, many have grown up with the message that those who take their own lives somehow place themselves outside of God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness and love; that somehow, when life seems darkest, when life seems utterly unbearable that God is willing to add insult to injury by utterly abandoning a broken soul.

Let me just be as clear as I can: nothing could be further from the truth.

The biblical witness reveals a God who is tenaciously in love with us, who went to extravagant lengths to show us the extent of unconditional love. There isn’t one place in either the Hebrew or Christian Scriptures that supports the notion that God’s back is turned away from anyone in their deepest pain, in their darkest hour, at their most dire moment. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Lent is the journey with Christ to the end of ourselves in order to reveal the beginning of who we’re becoming: recreated, living, breathing, resurrected people.

#100days50words

Reframe

ReframeToday’s Word: ‘REFRAME’ as in… pausing again to reframe our thinking about fasting.

I want to reimagine, rediscover and reframe how this ancient practice of fasting can be much more than dieting, or not eating chocolate, or giving up cream in my coffee or not drinking coffee at all from now until the middle of April.

Fasting is an ancient practice; the human family has been at this for a while. Including Jesus. Including many before him. Including Isaiah, the prophet.

In Isaiah 58 there is a very clear reframing of fasting that is insightful. Yahweh, speaking through Isaiah to “all the people of God everywhere” says,

This is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke, setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke, sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and homeless, clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.”

This is the challenge to fast in a way that has little or nothing to do with our chocolate or our coffee. It’s a challenge to consider new ways to love God and love others whom God has placed in our lives.

We’re set free to fast from our fear of others, to fast from the ways we include, exclude and separate people into categories, to fast from wasting resources, to fast from limited methods of reading ancient wisdom in ways that are self-serving.

Let’s allow our fasting to help us become more aware of systems that are in place—perhaps deeply in place that overlook the voiceless and powerless, the hopeless and, well, those that we might say are simply “less than us.”

Perhaps the best gift of Lent is to allow our own hunger—however we understand and experience hunger—move us ever more toward being fully human, fully free, alive and fully resurrected people.

When we give ourselves to that, our fast just may help us “…remove from our midst oppression… so that the light will rise for us in our darkness, and the gloom shall become for us like midday…”

#100days50words

Fasting

Fasting 1

Today’s Word: ‘FASTING’ as in… the season of Lent, sometimes understood as a fast, is bookended by two feasts.

The feast on the front end acknowledges that life, as we know it, is coming to an end. Shrove Tuesday marks the end of “life as we know it” at least for the moment.

The feast on the far end acknowledges that death, as we know it, is also coming to an end.

Put another way, Easter marks the beginning of life as we can know it, do know it, will know it, as resurrection comes to life within us more and more each day, each moment. In between Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday and Easter, the season of Lent offers us an opportunity to observe the discipline of fasting. In our modern consciousness, fasting might most readily be understood as a preparation for lab work where we would go for twelve hours without food consuming only water before a member of the medical community draws blood for testing.

For centuries, people within the spirit(ual)ed community have practiced fasting by going without food in order to heighten the awareness of their need for spiritual support. Hunger does that: it heightens the appreciation of one’s need for food.

A powerful image of the season of Lent is the desert. Mark’s narrative of the life of Jesus doesn’t take long at all to show Jesus going from the waters of his baptism in the Jordan River directly into the desert. For forty days and forty nights (a powerful ‘wilderness’ image), Jesus faces his own hungers. During that wilderness time, Jesus turns away from the normal systems of support that protected him from feeling his vulnerabilities so that he might trust God for sustenance.

During Lent we spend forty days in our own deserts “doing without” so that we too, might trust God for what we need.

Fasting gives us a taste of life as we know it coming to an end, so that death as we know it can bring us back to life and more life; back to resurrection.

#100days50words

Ashes

Ashes

Today’s Word: ‘ASHES‘ as in… “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

It’s fascinating to consider how many times these words will be spoken today. Around the world, millions of Christ followers will gather together in order to take the same first steps on a journey that each one will experience in vastly different ways as we begin the season of Lent.

The word “Lent” comes from an old English word for “lengthen,” and refers to the lengthening of the days of spring. We express gratitude for how the season of Lent gives us a few extra moments of light each day to consider what spring, new life, hope, and promise – what resurrection means for us and the way we live with one another in the world.

In the past six days I’ve officiated at two funerals. And each time I spoke these ancient words, they had a fresh meaning. “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust” is a powerful reminder of our essence; of who we truly are, of our ancient connection to the Creator who created us once, and still continues to create us to be a blessing to others.

Something rather dynamic happened at noon today. When the cross was traced on my forehead and those ancient words were spoken once again, I actually felt the physical pressure of the pastor’s thumb against my forehead. As I felt that pressure against me, I had to think about my footing as I absorbed that cross on my forehead. And it reminded me of all of the things that push against me in my daily life: fear, misunderstanding, selfishness, brokenness, my ability to often make an utter mess of things.

And yet… “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; remember you are dust and to dust you shall return” was the message that intends to turn all of us toward Jesus who invites us to come along on a journey; a journey with him to the end of ourselves in order to reveal the beginning of who we’re becoming: recreated, living, breathing, resurrected people.

#100days50words

Shrove

Shrove

Today’s Word: ‘SHROVE‘ as in… it’s Shrove Tuesday, so get out your sackcloth and ashes!

“Shrove” isn’t a word we use much anymore. Either is “Shrive” or “Shrovetide,” to say nothing of “Shriving.” But just because these words no longer find a place in our day-to-day vocabulary doesn’t mean there isn’t something powerful at work through it.

“Shriving” is the act of confessing one’s sins, and being granted forgiveness. This takes place just one day prior to the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday.

And Shrove Tuesday can be quite party. Beth Bevis, a writing instructor at Indiana University reminds us,

“Over time, as the entire season of Lent came to be devoted to the practices of confession and repentance, the imperative to confess before Lent was downplayed, and Shrove Tuesday, along with the preceding week, came to be more focused on feasting and merry making, practices restricted during Lent. In this way, Shrovetide was similar to his European counterpart, Carnival … as a pre-Lenten period of feasting and frivolity, culminating on the Tuesday before Lent.”

Simply put, it’s like this: If you know you’re going to start the Whole30 on a Wednesday, there’s a good chance that you’re going to head to Culver’s for a Cheddar ButterBurger on Tuesday night.

With Fries.

And a Chocolate Malt.

But let’s go back and revisit confession. Confession is a powerful act. Confession is being honest with ourselves about ourselves with someone else. Clearing the air, getting the ‘gunk’ out, creates room for Lent’s work in us. And we do this knowing that forgiveness actually precedes confession and that’s what frees us up to be honest with ourselves, one another and with the Divine. We speak our confession with boldness and confidence knowing that it’s already covered. We speak it out of ourselves, we bring it up from the deep places where we’ve stuffed it way down and we let it fly into the universe where it no longer has power over us, in us, or through us because forgiveness is the first word and grace is the last word.

Shrive on!

#100days50words

Anticipate

AnticipateToday’s Word: ‘ANTICIPATE’ as in… as we prepare for the season of Lent, we have much to anticipate; forty days (not counting Sundays, which are known as little Easters) to wrap our hearts and minds around a journey that has the potential to take us to the end of ourselves in order to reveal the beginning of who we’re becoming: living, breathing, resurrected people.

But not so fast. We’ll have to die first.

Or at least let die those things that stand in the way of life and more life. And let’s remember that the more we embrace the journey, the more the journey will embrace us. These are very small steps we’re taking; daily steps into days filled with thoughtful searching, a good bit of wilderness and even hunger, a deeper look inward. But through these days we’ll thrive!

We’ll thrive as spirited people by affirming that we are inspired, animated and enthused by the Source of all life, and that every breath is a gift.

We’ll thrive as creative people through the discovery of our identity and purpose in the world, exploring our creative impulse, delighting in the wonder of imagination and the power of innovation.

We’ll thrive as connected people by nurturing healthy relationships, practicing intentional acts of kindness and showing hospitality as ways of creating trust and building respect which sustains community.

We’ll thrive in the present moment as people who practice rituals rhythms of sabbath, seek margin, welcome silence, pause to listen, acknowledge thin space, and immerse in what each moment has to teach.

We’ll thrive as grateful people who practice gratitude as a spirited discipline, remembering with joy and thanksgiving that all we have is a gift of grace.

We’ll thrive as generous people by seeking lavish interactions with the world so that the abundance of the few can transform the scarcity of the many into a feast of blessing where all have enough.

And we’ll thrive as missional people who embrace a vision of life and aliveness by creating a momentum of healing and unity by pursuing movements of hope and wholeness.

That’s a lot to anticipate!

#100days50words

Baptism

Baptism 3Today’s Word: ‘BAPTISM’’ as in… baptism reminds us that God is faithful, and we stand confidently in the promises of God.

For centuries the Christian church has framed baptism in a couple of distinct and deeply meaningful ways. Whole books have been written on this, but let me give it the “Today’sWord-350-word-limit” try:

Baptism is God’s action. Baptism is the means by which God sets people free from the power of sin and death, grafting us into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our ancient Hebrew brothers and sisters were held captive, in bondage to oppression in Egypt. They were rescued, saved, delivered, set free as they passed through the waters of the Red Sea. They went from a life of bondage and oppression to live freely and wholly in a new land by passing through the waters of new life.

That’s a powerful story. Our story is remarkably similar.

Baptism is also our action. Baptism is our call to embrace new life each day; to be born again, again and again, constantly being grafted into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

We’ve all got our own “Egypt,” we’re all on that journey from bondage and oppression into a new land flowing with life and more life. Baptism is the reminder that rescue and freedom have already been accomplished; renewal is already at work within us. We commit each day to walk with God, following the rabbi Jesus, animated by the Spirit as we live in a new land.

The details vary: dipping, sprinkling, immersing, large crowds in big churches, small gatherings in homes, lakes, oceans, hospital rooms, bathtubs, water from the Jordan, the faucet, a lake in the Boundary Waters, the Salish Sea. Yet, one thing is constant: God’s promise to be with us and for us, to never ever let us go, to be alive in us. That promise is constant, unwavering, enduring.

So no matter what our circumstances may be, in times of joy or sorrow, crisis or calm, baptism reminds us that God is faithful. We stand confidently in the promises of God.

#100days50words

Cranny

Cranny

Today’s Word: ‘Cranny’ as in… nook and cranny, as in a space, a gap, some leeway, latitude, some margin in our otherwise “brimmed-out-and filled-to-the-top-with-no-more-room-to-add-anything-more” schedules.

Creating some ‘cranny’ in our lives is an ongoing challenge which takes effort and discipline. How counterintuitive is that? The season of Lent is approaching; a season which offers us much, if only we’ll let it. But “letting it” will necessitate some understanding. Frederick Buechner writes this about Lent:

“In many cultures there is an ancient custom of giving a tenth of each year’s income to some holy use. For Christians, to observe the forty days of Lent is to do the same thing with roughly a tenth of each year’s days. After being baptized by John in the river Jordan, Jesus went off alone into the wilderness where he spent forty days asking himself the question what it meant to be Jesus. During Lent, Christians are supposed to ask one way or another what it means to be themselves.”

If we’re going to give ourselves half a chance to understand what it means to fully human, then we’ll need some cranny. I’m more and more convinced that Lent is not so much about giving something up: chocolate, coffee, cream in my coffee, sugar, technology (even one day a week!) as it is about creating some space, a gap, some margin, — some cranny in our busy lives so that we can think differently about all of these things we usually do without thinking about them.

As we move into the weeks ahead, I’m inviting you into some deeper thinking about the remarkable journey through the season of Lent. If this is going to be helpful at all, instead of giving up some behavior, let’s just create a little cranny to ask ourselves what it means to be our truest God-breathed, Spirit-inspired selves. A few moments each day to explore how, at the end of it all, or rather, at Easter, at the new beginning of it all, we’ll have discovered how we too have been brought back to life, renewed, restored, reinvigorated, resurrected.

We’ll only be able to do that if we find some cranny.

#100days50words

Remember

RememberToday’s Word: ‘Remember‘ as in… remember who you are and whose you are.

There’s something wonderfully poignant about being in a familiar space decades after the space first became familiar. The Chapel of the Cross on the campus of Luther Seminary in St. Paul is one of last untouched spaces on a campus heading toward significant change and transition. At one time it was a central gathering point for students being trained for ministry. It was “a place apart” where people could find quiet moments of worship in an otherwise bustling community.

One of the truly remarkable features of the Chapel is the sculpture, “Crucifixion”, designed specifically for the chapel by the late artist, Paul Granlund. Placed in the midst of the worshippers, the sculpture created a strong response from all who viewed it. Almost no one was neutral to the piece. Granlund’s hope was that people would be able to confront the horror of the crucifixion “up close.” For decades that has been the case.

Not long ago I had the opportunity to be in the chapel with two of our three granddaughters. They had me sit in the ‘pew’ while they ‘did’ church. One of them welcomed the congregation (me), the other read “the Gospel” from the 8th chapter of Job (with a little help with words like ‘Bildad,’ ‘papyrus,’ and ‘gossamer.’) We enjoyed great music: the three of us sang Jesus Loves Me. Hymn 436.

But the real poignant moment came on our way out when we walked passed the baptismal font. I reached into the basin of water, then traced the sign of the cross on my forehead, then did the same on the foreheads of my girls. They wondered about that. So, “dipping” way back into a worship class held in this very space 38 years ago, I said,

“Whenever we come into this special space, we trace a cross on our foreheads to remember who we are and whose we are; that we’re named, claimed and loved, a bunch.”

“Can I do that?” Ryann asked.

“Yes, Ryann, absolutely!”

What goes around comes around.

#100days50words

Remodel

Remodel

Today’s Word: ‘REMODEL’ as in… when our hearts get remodeled, there’s more room for gratitude.

We have a house guest with us these days. His name is Boris. We’re in the midst of a small “up-do” on a couple of small spaces and we’ve got our new friend Boris doing some remodeling; turning an older space into a new space. Sometimes when people remodel their homes, much more than the home gets changed. I sure experienced that! Last weekend, our house was full of hoopla and hilarity: a sleep-over with the Hoonies. We were on our way outside to play when our remodeler arrived. It was a fascinating few moments trading introductions all around. “Ruby Grace, Ryann and Emily, this is our new friend! Boris is doing some work for us, and he’s going to be here with us all day!” The girls said hello.

Then Boris said “hello girls” to them, and that’s when they heard it: a Russian accent! When Boris said “hello girls,” the house was suddenly filled with sunlight, color, culture, and poetry! Nancy Lee asked if he would mind sharing a phrase of the Russian language with them. Without skipping a beat, Boris asked if he could pray for us.

(Again, just go back and reread that last sentence. I’ll wait for you here.)

Absolutely!” I said. And once more, the house was filled with the most remarkable, poetic, artistic, lyrical, mouth-full-of-beautiful-sounds that I’ve heard in a long time.

I had my eyes closed, but I’m sure everyone was smiling.

When our friend came to the end, he said something that sounded a lot like “Amen!” We all chimed in with our “Amen.”

Boris then told us that he was giving thanks for the new day and for new friends. He asked for safety as he worked and as we played. And he asked God to bless our home and the people in it.”

In that very moment, I realized that some important remodeling had taken place inside me. My whole heart had expanded to hold a lot more gratitude for a moment like that, and for a new friend like this.

#100days50words

Unexpected

UnexpectedToday’s Word: ‘Unexpected’ as in… you just never know.

Ivy and her husband Don had made dinner plans with some friends, but the normal frenzy of the unexpected changed everything. With a “To-Do” list which included cleaning the house, picking up toys, and vacuuming Cheerios off the couch, this was just the beginning. Don was stuck at work, so Ivy had to pick up the boys, return home to feed them, and then get ready for their guests.

Ivy was just heading the table with “meatloaf-peas-and-corn” when the doorbell rang. On her way to the door, Ivy realized that her youngest wasn’t wearing his diaper and in the excitement of the moment, decided that right there was as good a place as any to illustrate that fact. Ivy quickly cleaned him up, then went to the door to greet a young woman.

Thinking she was part of the guest list, the boys yelled, “Come in!” Ivy was desperate to tend to her dinner plans, but what else could she do? Her name was Marta, and she was selling kitchen cleaner. Feeling compassion, Ivy invited her in as the two boys asked, “Are you going to eat with us?” Ivy shuddered, but in a bold and unhindered moment, found herself asking, “Can you join us for dinner?” Ivy recalls, “There we were eating warmed up “meatloaf-peas-and-corn” on a table set for three, in a messy house, expecting company from out of town in less than an hour. And my crazy, loving children had invited this stranger to dinner.”

Long story short, Marta did stay for dinner. The boys asked if Ivy was going to pray, and in another bold and unhindered moment, Ivy simply prayed,

Dear God, thank you for new friends. Amen.”

As it turned out, it was a beautiful dinner! Marta and Ivy talked for an hour until Don came home and found them talking about life, family, cleaning products, and laughing like they had known each other forever. Just as Marta left, skipping down the sidewalk, the other dinner guests called to reschedule. You just never know!

#100days50words

Tune

TuneToday’s Word: ‘Tune’ as in… it’s so important to be in tune in order to play well together.

The room was filled with remarkable music! But as the brass choir and the pipe organ launched into the stirring introduction, and the grand piano added beauty from at least five different octaves, and several hundred stood eager to sing, it was Matt who caught my eye. Matt was tuning his instrument, using a little device that measures the frequencies produced by vibrating strings on his guitar.

The device, a tuner, then aligns those measurements with the corresponding notes in the scale. As Matt fine-tuned each string, the tuner displayed the name of each note on an LED display. Voila! The guitar is in tune! I was sort of geeking out that Matt was able to accomplish this with all of the other music going on in the room, but that’s another subject.

As the room was filling with some truly extraordinary music, two thoughts occurred to me. First, how truly amazing it all sounded. And second, how in tune it all had to be in order to sound that amazing.

For a moment I wondered what this would have sounded like if no one paid attention to the tuning. It would have been a mess; it would have been a wall of sound that made no sense, had no distinctive quality, and was far from appealing.

Another life lesson!

It’s safe to say that in life, when we’re in tune with one another, when we’re aligned with things that make for peace and justice, when we’re supporting efforts that benefit those who don’t have a place in the choir, or even a voice, or don’t have any food, or even a seat at the table, then we’ll probably create some really great music together.

In that beautiful musical moment, Matt reminded me, as I watched him tune his guitar, how important each voice, each string, each key, each pedal, each stick, each individual part is, and how, important it is to be in tune in order to play well together.

#100days50words

Someone

The Creation of Man by Michelangelo Sistine ChapelToday’s Word: ‘’SOMEONE’ as in… Imagine someone who loves you deeply, cares for you, knows you completely, embraces you fully; someone who laughs with you when life is a circus, cries with you when life is a crisis; someone who adds hoopla-and-hilarity to your breezy life when your life is breezy and walks deeply with you into your deepest questions, your raw doubt, and utter disbelief.

Imagine someone who knows just what to say when saying something is important; someone who will sit in the silence of your not knowing, not understanding, not comprehending; someone who helps you make sense of the senseless.

Bring to mind that person. Safe. Right? Yes. You’re safe.

Now imagine that you’ve come down with a bad cold. Or worse; a serious flu virus.

You’re done. You’re “stick-a-fork-in-me” done. Your temperature is 102. You can’t keep anything down – or in.

Life is miserable.

Yet, with whatever bit of human strength you still have, the next-to-last thing you would do is place the blame for that on the person who loves you. Right? The last thing you would say is that this one—the one who loves you, cares for you, knows you, and embraces you; the one who laughs with you, cries with you, doubles your joy, and divides your sorrow; the one who knows when to speak and when to keep silent—the last thing you would think or say is that this one–the one who loves you gave you the flu–or even worse, that this one gave you the virus in order to test you, teach you a lesson, make you stronger.

And the very absolute very last thing you would say is that your pain, sorrow, heartbreak, struggle is part of some Larger Plan that someone who loves you has for your life.

This reminds me of these ancient words:

“Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, as downright nasty as you’re capable of being, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

Whatever Cosmic Plan is in place, it’s only love.

#100days50words

 

 

Message

MessageToday’s Word: ‘Message’ as in… Psalm 27.

“Light, space, zest—that’s GOD! So, with him on my side I’m fearless, afraid of no one and nothing.”

Nancy Lee was reading a passage from our late, dear friend Eugene Peterson’s life’s work, The Message. Specifically, Psalm 27.

“Listen to this; this is just captivating!

“Alright, captivate me!” I said.

“Light, space, zest—that’s GOD! So, with God on my side, I’m fearless, afraid of no and nothing.”

Captivating! I grew up with another version:

“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?”

Those Hebrew poets were hitting on all cylinders, for sure, but I’ve just got to tell you, “Light, space, zest” really works for me!

When I think of light, I think of the power of light; what it does. It literally pushes back against the darkness, both physically and figuratively. If you were to walk into the darkest room you have and turn on a flashlight, or the light from your phone, you’d see how the light forces the darkness to the edges of the room. And when you’re in a dark space, physically or metaphorically, you’re probably more aware of the light than the darkness, no matter how dark it is.

Space. I think Eugene was teasing out the word ‘stronghold’ when he landed on ‘space.’ Think of the places in your life where you feel strongest, most confident. Whether it’s a small or a large space, it’s still a place where you are and where God promises to inhabit. Space. Stronghold. It sounds solid, even if I don’t know how much space there is!

Finally, “Zest!” Seriously, Eugene! Zest! Think about those moments in life when we’re full of love, surrounded by others who “get us” know us, love us, care about us. Like on a day like today, Valentine’s Day, when we’re just a bit more aware of all of the love around us. I like to think that’s a place full of light, space and zest!

#100days50words

Ornery

OrneryToday’s Word: ‘Ornery’ as in… I’m the least ornery person I know. Honest. I oughta know, I’ve lived with me for a long time.

But being ornery and being honest go together. I was blessed with an abundance of positivity. ‘Positivity’ is in my Top 5 Strengths right along with ‘Adaptability’ which means that when I’m up to my eyeballs in “farmyard fruit,” I’m the one saying, “There’s just got to be a pony in here somewhere!”

I’m also an Enneagram 7 which means I’m always bringing the party! At my best, I focus my talents on worthy goals, becoming appreciative, grateful, and satisfied. At my worst, I’ll do what I can to avoid pain.

Last week I had the spectacular opportunity to ‘swoop’ my daughter after work and head to our favorite caffeine palace. With Chai lattes in hand, we talked about our day. Actually, I talked about my day. And, dang, was I ornery! For seven minutes, I dumped the good, bad and ugly, but left out the good. So it was just bad and ugly. When I finally stopped to take a breath, I realized what I had done. For seven minutes I’d dumped a whole load of “farmyard fruit” on my sweet daughter. And because she and I have always felt completely safe and understood with one another, I even sprinkled in a few colorful adjectives that she and I picked up from watching Blair Witch Project years ago. At the end of my rant, I apologized.

That’s when she said the most lovely, transformational thing to me: “Papa, you don’t have to apologize! Thank you for trusting me with that! Really, I feel very loved and honored that you’d be willing to be that honest with me. It reminds me that you’re like me; I feel that way at times, too! We don’t ever have to hide that stuff from each other!”

Marvelous! (You sweet girl, of mine…) Simply marvelous!

Healthy relationships bear the weight of our honest life experiences.

And at the end of the day, we can certainly be ornery. But let’s also certainly be honest.

#100days50words

Dwell

DwellToday’s Word: ‘Dwell’ as in… we get twisted into emotional knots avoiding the reality of pain when the most human thing we can do is just dwell in it.

In 2010, Brene’ Brown presented a TED Talk entitled “The Power of Vulnerability.” It’s safe to say that one TED-Talk launched a thousand different conversations (okay, millions!) around the planet on the difference between empathy and sympathy. To date, there are over 13 million views of Brene’ Brown’s powerful talk.

Sympathy says, ‘I see your pain. Want a sandwich?’

Empathy says, ‘I feel your pain, I’m here with you. Sandwiches can wait. In fact, right now, search for “Brene Brown Empathy Video” or click the link above and watch it.

Go ahead, watch that now. It’s that good. I’ll wait.

In some recent conversations about our general disdain for and discomfort with entering into one another’s pain, we identified some choices: We try to “fix it,” “fight it,” or “flee it.”

First, we try to “fix” the pain. We often do this is by trying to cover it up, pretending it’s not there, hiding it. It’s like using a Band-Aid which is a quick and temporary solution to a problem which calls for more in-depth caring and problem-solving. When we try to “fix” pain, we never get close to the heart of it, or even understand it.

Second, we try to fight pain. If pain hurts us—which is by nature what it does, we’re naturally conditioned to fight against it. But fighting pain always takes an enormous amount of energy. It actually takes less energy to simply be in it; to dwell in it!

Third, we try to flee from pain. Someone says, “I can’t talk with so-and-so about their loss. I’ll cry. So I’m not going to try.”

But sitting with someone who’s in pain, and sharing tears with them is one of the most human things we can do! Pain has so much to teach us if we’ll just let it. We get twisted into emotional knots avoiding the reality of pain when the most human thing we can do is just dwell in it.

#100days50words

Pain

PainToday’s Word: ‘Pain’ as in… entering our own pain allows us to enter into other’s pain.

The next time you’re playing Trivial Pursuit and you get the question, “What’s the shortest verse in the bible?” You’ll know the answer, right?

In most English versions it’s “Jesus wept.” But this is certainly anything but trivial. There’s far more going on here than simply a rabbi weeping over the death of a dear friend. This is a profound teaching moment about what it means to be honest about pain and suffering, about brokenness.

The story that gives us this poignant look into the heartache which drove Jesus to tears, and probably to his knees, was the death of his friend Lazarus (in John 11). What does it mean to be a community of faith that weeps? As long as most of the human race is dealing with at least one heartache a day, we might want to understand this.

One of the core insights is that to be a community that’s able to weep with others, we need to be able to weep ourselves. If I’m not able to be in touch with, or express my own grief, I’m not going to be any help to you. I can’t enter into the honesty of the brokenness of in your life if I’m not honest with my own brokenness.

In the midst of all that breaks our hearts and causes us to weep, we say the darnedest things, don’t we? When trying to console someone whose lost a loved one, why would we say, “Well, they’re better off now!” or “God needed another ‘fisherman, grandparent, or baseball fan in heaven!”

Really? Does God look around and think, “You know, we could sure use someone who loves dogs ‘up here’ because all dogs go to heaven!”

If God could create the Grand Canyon, then certainly God is more creative than that.

The truth is, we say these things because we’re uncomfortable with weeping and grief.

How about you? What keeps you from walking deeply into another’s pain? Why is grief difficult to share?

#100days50words

Promises

ProcessToday’s Word: ‘Promises’ as in… we speak our promises to out loud and then, however high and lofty they may be, we walk into them with our whole selves.

“I take you to be my wife/husband/spouse/partner in life, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to care for, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn promise.”

Over the past 35 years I’ve stood with over 400 couples who have made these, or sometimes similar, or sometimes even wildly different promises. It’s always a profound moment: the couple turns toward each other, takes each other’s often times trembling hands, and having either flipped a coin, or rock-paper-scissored themselves into deciding who’s going first, launches in:

“In the midst of our families and friends, and in the presence of God, I commit myself to you as your spouse. I promise to love you and to be supportive of you as we both continue to grow and change. I promise to help you achieve the goals that you set for yourself and for our marriage, and I promise to give you the freedom to be all that you were intended to be. I promise to be faithful to you, to join with you in both sorrow and celebration, sharing all that is to come until death parts us.”

And every time I’m astounded at how remarkable daring these promises really are! And that’s the point!

Making promises isn’t a static endeavor.

Making and keeping daring promises is a dynamic and daily adventure!

We make promises and then live into them with our whole selves every day. We speak them, then we walk into them. We say them out loud, then give our whole selves to making them a reality. We speak our promises to out loud, we state our plans, we articulate our purposes, we craft our goals, we say our vows and then, however bold and daring they may be, we walk into them every day with our whole selves!

#100days50words

Yir’ah

Yi'rahToday’s Word: ‘Yir’ah’ as in… the Hebrew word for fear. And awe, respect, and admiration!

Okay, so I have an equation for you: R÷T+F÷C×A+C=D.

That’s not fair. I admit it. You simply do not have enough information.

Let me help you: Risk ÷ Trust + Fear ÷ Courage × Adventure + Confidence = Discovery.

Now we’re getting someplace!

I know a guy who spent a year preparing to hike the Superior Hiking Trail from Canada to Duluth. He collected all of the best and most essential gear: boots, clothing, trekking poles, first aid, compass, maps, tent, food, sleeping gear, bug juice, waterproof matches. He had considered and planned for everything except what would happen if he slipped off the trail, fell down an embankment and had to lay there for hours until someone happened to hear him yelling—in one of the most remote sections of the trail. On Day #2.

Talk about fear of the unknown!

The Hebrew word for fear is the is the same word for awe, respect, and admiration! The Hebrew language has far fewer words than the English language, so when we encounter a word in Hebrew, there’s naturally room for imagination, creativity, wonder, and amazement. The English language has too many words for the same thing.

I don’t have many fears, but I have great amounts of awe, respect, and wonder. I don’t fear bears, snakes, or squirrels, but I do have a healthy respect for being careful.

In an ancient Genesis story, God told Abraham and Sarah to leave everything safe, secure, and known and head toward a completely new and unknown place. Embracing God’s promise of provision, they took off. They must have had great fear for what lay ahead. But they went. They must have been in awe of what was to come. They went anyway!

Risk divided by Trust plus Fear divided by Courage multiplied by Adventure plus Confidence equals Discovery.

They discovered that God was with them leading them into Risk, trust, fear, courage. So, what Discovery will you make by taking some calculated Risk?

What risks will you say “yes” to this next week? What Risk ÷ Trust + Fear ÷ Courage × Adventure + Confidence will equal Discovery for you?

#100days50words

Beethoven

BeethovenToday’s Word: ‘Beethoven’ as in… Ludwig van.

“Nailed it!” I said it out loud, driving home after my workout this morning. It was Ludwig van Beethoven. The piece was Piano Sonata No. 21, “Waldstein.” Because Beethoven is one of my favorite classical composers, I can usually identify his music. I was 6 years old when I first heard “The Moonlight Sonata” and I was hooked.

“Nailed it!” I said again.

Full disclosure: I only knew that I was listening to Beethoven. Identifying the name of the piece is a whole other deal.

I listen to Classical MPR every morning and, as I’ve indicated here before, the host is John Birge, one of my closest friends that I’ve never hung out with. I did meet him once, but the room was crowded just before a concert at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, so we didn’t have time to chat. We do email, though, and John always gets back.

Anyway, I was playing “Name That Composer.” I listen to the piece and attempt to identify the composer without looking at the radio display. It’s great when I can identify the composer as well as the name of the piece, but the real joy comes from simply listening. I feel positively affected when I listen to Beethoven. Or Brahms, or Shubert, or Rossini, or Mendelsohn, or Chopin, or Haydn, or Bach, or even John Williams. I also feel that way when I listen to Snarky Puppy, or Erik Mongrain, or Jay Stocker, or Jeff Lorber. But that’s another story.

The phrase “The Mozart Effect” comes from the fascinating studies that suggest that listening to Mozart’s music in general, and the Sonata in D for Two Pianos in particular, has a positive effect on the brain.

There’s a ton of research behind all of that, but all I know is that when I listen to any of these composers, all is well.

I feel more spirited, creative, connected, present, grateful, generous, even missional.

I feel more in rhythm with who I am and what I’m doing here.

So, who fills your heart with healthy rhythms?

#100days50words

Collaboration

CollaborationToday’s Word: ‘Collaboration’ as in… when everyone gives a little, big changes happen.

The plane backed away from the gate, taxied to the far corner of the airfield, and then stopped. If you’ve ever been on a flight that taxied to a far corner and then stopped, you know disappointment. The pilot then made this announcement:

“Well folks, I have bad news and some really bad news. There’s a storm coming and Denver is shut down. We’ve looked for alternatives, but there aren’t any. So we’ll be sitting tight until things open up. That’s the bad news. The really bad news is that we don’t have any food on board and we can’t return to the gate. We’ll see what we can do. I’m so sorry!”

Everyone groaned. Some passengers started to complain, some became angry.

But then, one of the flight attendants made this announcement:

“Hey everyone, we’re so sorry about this. For many of you this is a big deal. There are those on board who haven’t eaten in a while, others may have a medical condition and food would help. Some may not care one way or the other. So here’s what we can do together. We’re going to pass some baskets through the cabin and ask everybody to offer something. Perhaps you’ve brought some cookies, crackers, chips, or some fruit. If you don’t have anything edible, you may have something that might cheer someone else up a bit: a good book, a small toy, a collection of paper clips—something that you wouldn’t mind parting with. We’ll then we’ll pass the baskets around again and everybody can take out what they need.”

What happened next was amazing. The griping stopped. People dug in their pockets, opened backpacks and suitcases and produced all kinds of surprises. People were laughing and talking.

Everything changed!

The flight attendant transformed a group of people who were focused on need and deprivation into a community of sharing and celebration. Everything changes when people consider the health and wellbeing of the whole community.

When everyone gives a little, big changes happen.

#100days50words

Impact

ImpactToday’s Word: ‘Impact’ as in… that person who has deeply impacted you.

You know who it is, right? A coach, a piano teacher, a counselor, your best friend’s mom, a barber. For me, it was my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Helen Bean. Broadview Elementary School.

I’ll come back to her in a moment.

Let’s go back to those seven questions from yesterday (scroll down, you’ll find them). Seven important questions to dwell in when thinking about the connections that impact you most; seven questions that we’d probably do well to ask each day.

But it’s the last question that I’d like to linger on a moment further: “Who best modeled “connection” for you?

There’s a good chance that the person who modeled connection well for you made a huge impact on your life. I was talking with my seven senior high school “Thrivers” about the important connections in their lives—those who had impacted them most. And each one of them named a parent.

Boom!

In fact, each one of them named their moms. Now, they also gave props to their dads, but I was amazed at the powerful impact that their moms have had in their lives.

Okay, back to Helen Bean. Mrs. Bean was like a mom to me. Long ago and far away, I entered the 4th grade having essentially missed out on half of my third grade year. I went every day, but for only half a day. The student body of the school I attended was so huge that they had to cut the day in half to accommodate two shifts of students. So when I got to the 4th grade, I was half a year behind. That’s when Helen Bean, like a mom, scooped me up and poured all kinds of time, effort, and love into my life. By the end of the year I was caught up. I’ll never forget her impact. Years later I called her to thank her for impacting my life.

What kind of impact would you make if you made a call like that today? Make some impact!

#100days50words

Connected

Connected3Today’s Word: ‘Connected’ as in… we are, all of us, after all, connected to one another.

Since the Fall of 2018 I’ve been leading a group of seven couples through the Thriving Rhythms Project.

I call it “Thrivers 1.0.”

At our first meeting I was clear: healthy small groups have a beginning and an ending. We began in October of 2018, and agreed to end in June, 2019. We had a party to introduce the series, a party to end the series, and from November to May we met seven times to talk about what it means to be ‘Thrivers;’ spirited, creative, connected, present, grateful, generous and missional people.

At that June meeting the group told me—and this is the quote, “You can do what you want to do, but we’re still going to get together!”

Two years later we’re still thriving together!

So I thought to myself, “If one group is fabulous, then two groups, of course, would be spectacular!”

So since October 2019, I’ve been meeting with a spectacular group of seven High School students.

I call it “Thrivers 2.0.”

We’ve studied what it means to thrive as connected, relational young people who bear the image of the Creator; who find deep satisfaction in practicing intentional acts of kindness with all people; who explore the kind of hospitality that creates trust and builds mutual respect; and who know the level of connectedness that sustains the community that we all share together.

We then wrestled with seven questions:

  • What makes a good friend?
  • Why would your best friend say that you’re their best friend?
  • What “key ingredients” are necessary in healthy connections?
  • How does being connected to people we don’t know and may never meet impact the way we live?
  • How does one’s connection to the Divine impact connections with others?
  • How does practicing intentional acts of kindness and showing hospitality strengthen relationships.
  • Who modeled all of this for you?

Engaging in this level of reflection always leads to more thriving ways of being connected.

Because we are, all of us, after all, connected to one another!

#100days50words

Wells

WellsToday’s Word: ‘Wells’ as in… we can choose to drink from one of two wells.

I was standing in the Customer Service line waiting to return something when I overheard part of a conversation between two coworkers. Something had happened to one of them the afternoon before, and she was recalling the details. Her friend said, “Send me a text, I want to hear all about it!” The woman replied, “I’ll call you. A text would take forever.”

She then turned toward me. “How can I help you?”

“Wow, sounds like there’s quite a story there.” I replied,

“Yea, there is…” she said. Then she told me this story.

“I was in my car yesterday afternoon and I accidentally pulled out in front of someone. They came right up behind me, laying on the horn. So I pulled over to the side of the road to let them pass, but instead, the guy pulled in behind me, got out, walked up to my window, which was open, and he just spit on me. It was awful.”

We make choices every day.

We can drink from wells that only temporarily satisfy us, wells filled with anger, bitterness, hurt, unkindness and brokenness. When we drink from those wells, crazy things happen. And oddly, we keep returning to those wells thinking that we’ll find some satisfaction.

But like the saying goes, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again.”

Or we can drink from another well which promises life and aliveness. Drinking from this well fills us with love, joy, peace patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. And when we realize what drinking from this well does for the wellbeing of the entire human race, we discover yet another kind of thirst—a thirst for more and more of that living water.

Long ago, Jesus said to a woman at a well…

“Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

We get to choose.

#100days50words

Poetry

PoetryToday’s Word: ‘Poetry’ as in… Wendell Berry’s Poetry.

Wendell Berry is an American novelist, poet, essayist, environmental activist and cultural critic. Wendell Berry is also a farmer, which, when you read his works you discover that his commitment to stewarding the land drives all of those other passions. Search online for all things Wendell Erdman Berry, and you’ll be scrolling for days.

To scratch our Berry itch, Nancy Lee and I are looking forward to pairing Wendell Berry’s “This Day: Collected & New Sabbath Poems” with the coming Lenten season. We’ll use a resource from the fine folks at http://www.saltproject.org that uses his poetry to explore the Sabbath; giving things a rest, some space, some new life. We’re excited to let his writings guide our days and stir our thinking.

Just yesterday we were reading a poem from a collection called “Sabbaths 2013.” Whenever I encounter a poem, I usually read it twice. The first time I read a poem, I just get all of the words inside me. The second time through I begin to look for meaning. That’s usually when something special happens. Something very special happened when I read the last seven lines of the second stanza of “Sabbaths 2013.”

Before I take you there, let me say that jumping into the middle of a poem and trying to understanding what’s going on is nearly impossible. I get it. Berry is writing about a poet and the poet’s craft. He provides an image of what the poet (or writer) does with words.

Berry’s writes:

“He is a gatherer of fragments, a cobbler of pieces. Piece by piece he tells a story without end, for in the time of this world no end can come. It is the story of eternity’s shining, much shadowed, much put off, in time. And time, however long, falls short.”

I think of all the fragments we enjoy here; the fragments of the stories of our lives and how they create life and more life for all of us. What story are you telling today? What kind of poetry is being written into eternity through you today?

#100days50words

Hoops

HoopsToday’s Word: ‘Hoops’ as in… our Spirit(ed)/(ual) life is not about jumping through hoops.

I simply can’t write that with enough emphasis. I’d write it again, but I’d bust my 350 word limit here in my Today’s Word.

Recently, in a fascinating conversation, a lovely and ‘spirited’ young couple had questions about moving from one spiritual tradition to another; specifically about moving toward the Christian tradition. The word that was used was “convert” as in, “I want to convert” [to Christianity].

I thought to myself, “So do I!”

After all, isn’t the movement toward the heart of faith the daily conversion of our own hearts? Somewhere behind their very thoughtful questions was the idea that following The Way of Jesus somehow meant hurdling hoops, meeting metrics and entertaining expectations. Simply put, it’s easy to equate the Spirit(ed)/(ual) life with a long list of “dos and don’ts.”

But it was never intended to be that way!

Breathing the oxygen of the Spirit is simply and only a gift. And we don’t earn gifts.

When this couple asked what they needed to do to become Christian, I had this thought: What if I’d asked what I needed to do to become the love of Nancy Lee’s life. What would I have had to do to be loved by her, to be the object of her affections, to be called and known as Nancy Lee’s husband? What on earth would I have to do to earn any of that?

Not one thing.

So I told this sweet young couple that there really wasn’t anything they had to do. That felt counter intuitive. I admit. But if they really wanted to do anything, they could look for a community of faith near their neighborhood and simply enter into the full life of those people; to be in that community of faith and learn right along with everyone else what it means to love God and love others without reserve.

Seems to me that the Spirit(ed)/(ual) life is really only about loving God and loving others. I simply can’t write that with enough emphasis.

#100days50words

That

ThatToday’s Word: ‘That’ as in… I want to be like THAT guy!

Traveling home from the Dominican Republic, I arrived at JFK for a two-hour layover. Walking from “Gate-C-way-over-here” all the way out to “Gate-B-near-the-end-of-the-world” I worked up quite an appetite. So I stopped to eat something.

For several minutes I watched Darrell completing several orders at once. Like a dancer, he moved from his work station to the counter calling out the names on the orders. This was not without confusion: two guys named Dan got each other’s order. Shelly got a drink that should have been diet. Darrell handled it all with confidence, composure and grace. He was amazing.

But Paul Gauche being Paul Gauche simply couldn’t NOT say something.

“Hey, great job back there!” I said over the top of the crowd. Darrell looked up.

“You still waiting?” he asked.

“Yup, but take your time, I’m all good” I said, and then added, “I’m just here to cheer you on as my brother from another mother.”

Darrell looked my way again, smiled broadly and then went back to his task. Four minutes later Darrell walked to the counter and set my order down. He peeled off his purple latex gloves and said,

“I just want to shake your hand. Thank you for what you said. We don’t get much of that around here and I just want to thank you.”

I paused, then said, “Here’s what I’m going to do: tonight when I take a moment to say some Big Thanks, I’m going to say some Big Thanks for you.”

And I did.

I thanked God for Darrell because, while I set out to make a small difference in his life, he made a big difference in my life and in the lives of a dozen people who happened to be standing in line for a burger and some fries. He gave everyone a bunch more: he gave us joy, humor, a deeper sense of love, grace and gratitude. And he modeled hospitality.

I walked away thinking to myself, “I want to be like THAT guy.”

#100days50words

Vending

VendingToday’s Word: ‘vending’ as in… God is not a vending machine.

Here’s the good news: :God is always present. Here’s the really challenging news: God is not a spiritual vending machine.

Please let me offer this as gently as I possibly can, and with all due respect: We don’t “offer up” prayers for things we want or need like we dispense money in a vending machine, press a button, and have whatever we think we want or even desperately need delivered to us. It just doesn’t work that way. If it did, then when whatever we think we want or even desperately need isn’t dispensed, we’re left with frustration or even anger at the machine. We might stand there lost in a little disbelief and perhaps a lot of contempt. We might even give the machine a little nudge, a bump, or even something a little stronger. When nothing happens we feel robbed, slighted, cheated. God is not a robber, a fraud, or a cheater.

Maybe you’ve noticed that along with our own personal griefs, much of our culture is dealing with the collective sadness over the recent deaths of nine people killed in a helicopter crash in California. You don’t have to be an athlete or even into professional sports to appreciate this cultural grief storm.

In the depths of grief, life can certainly seem like a storm. We often feel helpless in the whirlwind of tragedy and loss, tossed about like leaves in the wind, landing here and there not knowing when the next gust will come creating more questions: “Why?” Why did this happen now, to this person, to those people?

These are good and helpful questions and the ancient scriptures continue to speak into these questions. And while they don’t speak to the “Why” questions, they certainly do speak to the “Who” questions.

The “Who” is the One who is known as the Faithful One, the Healer, our Rock, our Fortress, our Strength, our Helper, our Friend, the one who speaks powerfully and with deep comfort to us “from the midst of the whirlwind, the eye of the storm (Job 38:1).

#100days50words

Assumptions

Assumptions

Today’s Word: ‘Assumptions’ as in… whenever we mingle our grief with our spirituality—what we believe about the Spirit’s presence in our grief, or why we’re grieving, it’s easy to make all kinds of assumptions.

Our assumptions are usually based on long lists of questions that we have about whatever it is that is causing our grief. Why do we do this? There are many reasons, but mostly we do this because it’s easy and it’s safe. When we’re buried in grief it’s easy to assume God is AWOL.

We ask, “Where is God in this mess?”

We wonder, “Why is God so hard to find?”

The assumption, of course, is that that God is somehow absent; that God has to be found. But if we assume that God is absent and has to be found, then we’re faced with even more questions:

Does God really play “hide-and-seek” with us?

Does God have a schedule that gets filled up while we get squeezed out?

Does God really get too busy for us?

If we keep holding on to these assumptions, at some point we’ll end up here: either God is with us or God is against us. People have been bumping on these questions since The Beginning.

But as long as these questions have been mingled with our grief, this, too, has been true:

“When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears, and rescues them from all their troubles. The LORD is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD rescues them from them all.”

Powerful, ancient words for our present and future hope!

My late friend, Eugene Peterson heard these words from Psalm 37 a slightly different way:

“Is anyone crying for help? God is listening, ready to rescue you. If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there; if you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath. Disciples so often get into trouble; still, God is there every time.”

Let’s choose a new assumption: God is always with us.

#100days50words

Grief

Grief

Today’s Word: ‘Grief’ as in… it’s like trying to handle a basketball while wearing oven mitts.

In the past three days I’ve been having two different experiences with two different groups of people dealing with grief.

The first experience is with a small group of dear friends that I know and love deeply. In the space of just a couple of days, the news of the deaths of two life-long friends-one of which was somewhat expected, the other coming as a complete surprise. While I didn’t know those who had died, I was feeling deep emotions with and for our friends. News of these deaths brought moments of deep sadness and introspection mingled with love and gratitude.

Grief does that; it brings those experiences together. And we, for lack of a better phrase, float around in it. Maybe that is the best phrase.

The second experience has been with a group that is anything but small; the group is global. Whatever one may think or know of Kobe Bryant is secondary to the fact that Kobe was known and loved around the world. When I heard the news of the tragic accident which claimed the lives of 9 people I’d never met and will never know, I was caught off guard by how I responded. In both instances while I was receiving the news, I realized that I was holding my breath. For several moments, and without realizing it, I just held my breath. There was no breath left in me.

Grief does that. Whether it’s the death of someone we know well or simply know of, or it impacts those we deeply love, it can leave us breathless. Dealing with grief can be like trying to handle a basketball while wearing oven mitts. That it’s difficult to hold on to is an understatement. Death and grief takes us off guard; our emotional footing is challenged and we can stumble and feel like we’re falling.

That’s when it’s good to just find a bench to sit on and feel the love of others sitting around us, sitting with us.

#100days50words

Mountain

MountainToday’s Word: ‘Mountain’ as in… have you ever noticed that whenever Jesus wants to get clear about who he is and what he’s doing, he goes up on a mountain?

Time and again, Jesus “elevates” the teaching location when he really wants people to elevate their understanding. From the plains around the Sea of Galilee, Jesus takes his band of merry followers and “heads up” to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. It’s an elevation of about 1150 feet, give or take a few, just enough to alert us to the “heads up” moment that is about to happen.

“So, who do people say that I am?” Jesus asks his buddies. Did Jesus not know? Seriously. Is this a mid-course correction? Is this an evaluation? Is this an “If-you’re-going-to-be-my-disciples-then-you-have-to-pass-this-pop-quiz”?

No. Absolutely not.

There’s never a quiz. Never… A… Test…

What it is, I believe, is the first of two important questions that will lead us to seeing more clearly who Jesus is. There’s a good chance that what you believe about all things religious is part of a body of work that was handed to you over the years. This is what I’ve referred to before as The Theological 3×5 Card. This is part of the narrative about religious things that people have shared with us.

Who do people say that Jesus is? Well, Sunday School teachers, VBS leaders, pastors, parents, family, and friends say this about who you are.

But then Jesus turns the question just a bit and gets very personal: “Who do you say that I am?” It’s at this point that Jesus is not asking us to recite the list of popular opinion about him, or regurgitate knowledge of what others people believe. Jesus is inviting us into that deeper, creative, wonder-filled place where we actually explore out loud: “Who on earth are you?”

Peter, brave and robust Peter proclaims: “You are the Messiah!” It’s such a great moment of clarity and insight. But it’s also short-lived. In the next breath, Jesus tells his followers what it all means.

Good thing there up on that mountain.

#100days50words

Process

ProcessToday’s Word: ‘Process’ as in… Can you see anything?

When Jesus asked the “blind man” if he could see anything, something within me believes that Jesus knew the journey toward clearer understanding would be a process.

“Can you see anything… new?”

“Can you see anything… differently?”

To think that it took Jesus a couple of attempts just to get it right would probably be missing the point. If that’s you, that’s okay. Like me, you may have been taught that by someone who didn’t have a clear understanding of the bigger picture here. No judgment; that’s most of us.

But the piercing question, “Can you see anything?” is a really good question. We might want someone we know and love to be willing to ask us that question every day.

“Can you see anything new, differently, more clearly today that you did yesterday?”

I think this story is placed here on purpose: Mark has woven together several stories that necessitate us asking how we understand who he is and what he’s doing! 5000 people are fed. How were they fed? Well, people learned to share.

A storm on a lake is about how Jesus meets us in our storms.

Jesus eats with the “riff-raff” while the religious elite get all hoity-toity about it. Well, aren’t we all a little “riff-raff” at some point?

4000 hungry people are fed “on the Third Day” and the religious elite ask for a sign! Really? How about the massive picnics Jesus has been hosting?

“Can you see anything?” It’s such a good question!

“Can you see anything?”

Do you understand what’s going on here? Do you get it?

We should all be so lucky to have someone ask us this question each day: “Can you see anything?” By dealing with the question, we remain open to new ways of looking; new ways of seeing what God is up to.

Here’s some really good news: It’s okay if, when responding to that question, all you see is “people, but they look like trees, walking.” Seeing life differently is always going to be a process.

#100days50words

8:22

8.2

Today’s Word: ‘8:22’ as in… the Gospel of Mark, chapter 8, verse 22.

I had a really illuminating conversation with some friends last week. We pulled apart Mark’s ancient story about Jesus’ interaction with “a blind man.”

(btw… you’ll need to pay close attention to my use of ‘single quotation marks’ going forward. They’re there intentionally.)

When Jesus and his followers arrive in Bethsaida, Jesus is all about ‘making clear,’ ‘shedding light on,’ ‘illuminating,’ ‘furthering understanding’ (get it?) about who he is and what he’s doing there. See how it always comes back to identity and purpose?

Mark tells us that “Some people brought ‘a blind man’ to Jesus, and begged (implored!) him to touch him.” This reveals so much about this community of people.

Why did they do this?

Maybe, just maybe they wanted nothing more than to get this guy off the street corner. Begging day in and day out for absolutely everything he needed was most certainly a drain on the economy. But what if he had his sight back? Could he then potentially find employment, maybe even help others do the same, adding to the wellbeing of the entire community?

Maybe. Just maybe.

Or maybe, just maybe this tells us more about the depth of friendship, awareness, compassion and love among this small group of friends, than it does about the man who couldn’t see any of that (yet). This was a small group of people who ‘looked out’ for each other. They were ‘eyes wide open’ about the needs of their small community. They had ‘gained new insights’ about looking out for one another.

Maybe. Just maybe.

Compassion drove them to bring this man to the rabbi whom they had heard was healing people and helping people see. Maybe, just maybe this was a small group who had begun to ‘see everything about everything’ from a completely different perspective! They had become a community who discovered that compassion and love for others – whether they knew them or not – could change the dynamics of the wider community.

If this is merely a story about Jesus fixing this guy’s eyes, then we’ve lost sight of what the larger message is; we’re certainly not seeing all that is really there for us to see.

Maybe. Just maybe. Well, probably.

#100days50words

Rush

RushToday’s Word: ‘RUSH’ as in… what kind of rush are you experiencing?

On April 5, 2019, I introduced you to a phrase that continues to speak deeply to me:

“Sometimes you have to go far in order to come near.”

For me, this has always been about stretching myself into new and different experiences that demand that I think, behave, and live differently, so as not to get stuck. Sometimes you have to go a great distance – physically, mentally, spiritually – in order to arrive at what the moment is trying to teach.

It happened again this past weekend in the Dominican Republic. While hiking in the mountains around Jarabacoa with several Board members and staff from Doulos Discovery School, including my birthday girl, Nancy Lee, one of my fellow trekkers asked me what my Today’s Word was. It hadn’t revealed itself to me yet, but just that question sparked a deeper awareness of what was happening all around me. Moments later while standing at the foot of a waterfall, the word arrived: Rush, as in the rush of the mighty waters. As I stood at the base of the falls, I thought of all of the ways I was experiencing the ‘rush.’

The rush of the mighty waters was loud and powerful, dynamic and moving.

There was the rush of the wind and the rain that sabotaged our attempt to climb Pico Duarte, the highest point in the Caribbean Islands.

There was the rush of the moment that kept returning, again and again, reminding me that the rush of what I was experiencing was on “repeat.”

But by far the most important “rush” of all was the rush of the quiet reminder to not rush through all of these moments, to not rush from one experience to the next, to not rush forward without lingering in this present moment, learning what this has to teach.

Isn’t it ironic that by being in such a rush to get to the next moment, we often miss the rush of this moment.

Let’s not rush it.

#100days50words

 

20+C+M+B+20

20+C+M+B+20Today’s Word: 20+C+M+B+20’ as in… Chalking.

We’re still in the Epiphany season. It’s okay if that’s new news. It hasn’t been on my front burner either. Not like Advent and Christmas were front and center. Much of our culture got a running start on Thanksgiving, jumped right over Advent into Christmas, then briefly paused on New Year’s Eve, and is now leaning heavily into Valentine’s Day. After the chocolate is gone, it’s on to March Madness.

Epiphany began on January 6 and stretches into the gray days of mid-winter, right up to February 23, the Sunday before Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of Lent. But again, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

There is an ancient practice that is directly linked to Epiphany called “Chalking.” It seems to be making a bit of a resurgence, or at least I’m starting to notice it more; kind of like when you start noticing multiples of things after seeing just one, like when you notice red cars, or motorcycles, or perhaps even other guys wearing beautiful Carhartt shirts. “Chalking” begins either on the eve of Epiphany, January 5, or on the Day of Epiphany, January 6, when Christ followers around the world mark their door frames with this pattern: “20+C+M+B+20.”

Let’s break that down a bit. The ‘20’ on both ends refers to the calendar year. The crosses points to Christ. The three letters refer to the initials of the Magi: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, who visited Mary, Joseph and Jesus, as well as the abbreviation of the Latin blessing Christus mansionem benedicat, May Christ Bless this house.” And all of this, of course, recalls the Passover in Exodus 12 where the Israelites marked the door frames of their houses.

So why do this? It’s a home blessing that we share with those who visit. As hospitality was shown to the Magi, we’re called to show extravagant hospitality to all people as we invite the presence of God into wherever we live work and play.

What an Epiphany!

#100days50words

Connected

Connectedness

Today’s Word: ‘Connected’ as in… connected people connect people.

I was with some students and getting into our van when we heard someone yelling obscenities. These were full-bore, foul invectives backed up with a rage that really concerned me. Fifty yards away, someone in a car was screaming at an employee through a drive-through window. As I walked toward this ugly commotion, the car sped off and disappeared into the otherwise beautiful Saturday morning.

When I got to the drive-through window and looked in, I saw a small group of employees gathered around their coworker; the one who bore the brunt of the ugly experience. She was in tears. Approaching the window, I asked if everything was okay. What the manager told me revealed that everything was not okay. The 16 year old employee had accidently miscounted the change due back to the driver. He then looked at me with that “you’re-really-not-going-to-believe-this” kind of look:

“It was only 11 cents. She missed the correct change back by 11 cents.”

Let’s just pause a moment to let that sink in.

There’s a well-known phrase for moments like that. When someone deliberately hurts another human being, we say “Hurt people hurt people.” Neither the driver of the car nor the young woman whom he’d verbally abused had any sense of thriving in those moments. Yet, the connectedness between those workers began to reorient that young girl back toward thriving. And the thriving began to emerge from the connectedness that she had with her coworkers.

Thriving healthy relationships come from communities that are willing to invest in one another for the sake of deeper connectedness.

Those caring coworkers who gathered around their wounded sister were invested in showing her a deeper kind of hospitality. It’s the kind of hospitality that makes us aware of the similarity between the words ‘hospitable’ and ‘hospital.’ While they are different words, they are similar in the sense that the amount of trust and respect along with an enormous amount of care and compassion becomes part of the power of a connected community filled with rich relationships.

It’s where loved people love people.

#100days50words

Primary

Primary

Today’s Word: Primary” as in… another look at the primary questions.

Let’s take yet another look at John 1:1-14:

The Word was first, the Word present to God, God present to the Word. The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one. Everything was created through him; nothing—not one thing!—came into being without him. What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by.

The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out. There once was a man, his name John, sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light. He came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in. John was not himself the Light; he was there to show the way to the Light.

The Life-Light was the real thing: Every person entering Life he brings into Light.

He was in the world, the world was there through him, and yet the world didn’t even notice. He came to his own people, but they didn’t want him. But whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said, He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves. These are the God-begotten, not blood-begotten, not flesh-begotten, not sex-begotten.

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.

There are a number of “primary questions” that we continue to ponder. The first is this: “Who are you?” This is the “Identity” question. The 16th century mystic saint, Teresa of Avila probably said it best:

“You are the presence of Christ in the world—who has no body now but yours; no hands, no feet on earth but yours—yours are the eyes through which Christ looks with compassion on the world. Yours are the feet with which Jesus walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which God blesses all the world.”

That’s who you are. To continue to ask this question of ourselves will eventually make us better for one another.

The second question is this: “What are you doing here?” This is the “Purpose” question. You could also say it’s a question of mission. Again, Teresa of Avila:

“You are here to reach across the gap – across the chasm into the life of someone in need. You are here to be the hands, the feet, the eyes—the body of Christ, because Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

In what’s known as The Prologue from the first chapter of the Gospel of John, the writer is rather poetically connecting these questions to Jesus. John tells us that Jesus is the living, breathing, life-giving, breath-giving Word who exists from beyond time and continues to create in real time. John, the “one whom God sent” wrestles with these same questions. The fascinating layer here, though, is that by locating these questions in Jesus and John, they become our questions. Who are we and what are we doing here? We are the living, breathing, life-giving, breath-giving people of God who “tell about the light so that everyone might believe.” We are those who are constantly becoming children of God.” We are living out our “birth that comes from God,” and we are those for whom “the Word became flesh” in order to make his home among us!

#100days50words

Doer

Today’s Word: Doer’ as in… let’s be doers, not just hearers!

I recently had a conversation with a remarkable group of parents. We made a list of the character traits that we want our kids and grandkids to develop in their lives: compassion, love, empathy, kindness, joy, hope, patience, a sense of justice, self-control. We all agreed that they won’t develop these traits unless we are modeling them.

I was reminded of the challenge from the ancient writer James. I imagined him holding up his very practical letter (with whatever he used for ink barely dry) and saying something like this:

“Hey, it’s not enough just to hear this and think it’s a great idea. You’ve got to get into this so that this can get into you! Hear it, then live it! Make this so much a part of you that it impacts the whole community!”

My late, great friend, Eugene Peterson understood it this way:

“Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like.”

Those who embody this ancient gospel-good-news will naturally bear the image of the ever-present Christ. Whether we’re in middle school or high school, a college student, young adult, middle aged or older, when the good news of God in Christ flows out of every part of us, the world shifts a lot.

So how do we practice this? Three “Ls”.

First, Listen. This is about developing the discipline of intentional hearing. We have to actually decide that we’re going to listen well before speaking.

Second, Linger. This is about practicing the art of counting to 10. Counting was never so challenging! By withstanding the temptation to speak right away, we create common space for differing views.

DoersThird, Love. No one walks away from expressions of love and forgets what they look like.

#100days50words

‘ing-ing’

Ing-IngToday’s Word: ING-ING’ as in… yelling, waving, pounding, sputtering, freaking (out) gets us nowhere!

I’ve got this “quick-to-listen-slow-to-speak-slow-to-get-angry” business rolling around in my frontal lobe; that where decisions get made. Yesterday afternoon while driving home I had a “frontal lobe moment” with another driver. Something I did apparently “set” him off. Honestly, I have no idea what it was. He honked (beeped? Is there a difference?) his horn and pulled up on my right side. I thought it might be someone I knew, so when I turned my head and smiled, I realized that I didn’t know him. And it was obvious that I was no friend of his (I’m thinking that this is his loss!). My smiling probably didn’t help, either.

Man, he was hot!

As he matched my speed, he was “ing-ing” at me: yelling, waving, pounding, sputtering, freaking (out). For a moment it was rather comical; all of that “ing-ing” going on while driving 35 miles an hour, fifteen feet apart, our windows up, through two frames of glass and a lot of metal and road noise. Did I mention I had Snarky Puppy cranked up in my cab.

It was really funny. For just a moment. And then it wasn’t. That’s when I felt it kick in: Anger.

Let’s just pause there. Most of you who know me know that I’m really easy going; long fuse. I’m a 7 on the Enneagram (with two 7 wings!) and I’ve got Positivity and Adaptability in my Top Five Strengths. So I’m super-chill. Am I not? So why, on God’s green earth did I speed up when he went on his $&%%# way*?

I’ve clearly got some work to do.

Anger isn’t inherently bad, but it’s important that we learn to manage it well. There are a couple of kinds of anger. Destructive anger is reactionary and often creates even more anger which leads to the death of contentment, peace, and relationships. Constructive anger creates life and health and leads to deeper, healthier relationships.

When we’re slow to anger, we create some space between an action and the reaction; where we find anger dissipate-ing and peace expand-ing. Perhaps these are the healthier versions of “ing-ing” that would get us everywhere…

*merry

#100days50words

Challenge

ChallengeToday’s Word: ‘Challenge’ as in… back to “quick to listen, slow to speak” challenge.

I’m going out on a limb here, but there’s a good chance that most of us are more apt to get this twisted up. We’re far more inclined to be quick to speak and slow to listen. Even in our closest relationships, most of us would rather talk first and then listen, if we’re willing to listen at all. That’s when it’s good to remember that we’ve been given two ears and one mouth for a good reason: to listen twice as much as we speak. When we don’t heed that wisdom, things quickly go south.

Think for a minute about what is gained by taking an extra moment or two between listening and speaking. For instance, recall conversations that you’ve been in that have escalated into arguments. You know the moment when things become dicey, don’t you? The conversation is getting heated—and it’s heating up because everyone is speaking and no one is listening anymore. I usually stop listening because I’m so busy thinking about crafting my next really awesome thought. And when I stop listening because I’m creating a clever and insightful statement, there’s no way on God’s green earth that I’m going to hear you, let alone honor you and your role in the conversation.

This often happens when people are talking about things they‘re really passionate about: sexuality, religion, spirituality, politics, justice, peace, church doctrine, sports teams, March Madness. Whole30. I’ve got a perspective! You’ve got a perspective! And when we try to talk about those differing perspectives, we’re usually quick to speak and slow to listen and that’s when trouble starts and conversations come to a grinding halt.

There’s a lot going on in our world right now; issues that stir our thinking, ignite our passions, draw our ire. Finding common ground is difficult. Add to that the fact that we don’t always know how to talk through things about which we disagree. What to do? Let’s take a big deep breath. Let’s count to ten. Let’s listen.

#100days50words

#storiesfortheseasons

Stop

StopToday’s Word: Stop’ as in… It’s great to be able to stop when you’ve planned a thing that’s wrong, and be able to do something else instead.

It’s also really great when some ancient wisdom comes along from a wise sage, a respected elder, a learned teacher with a kind and gentle heart and leaves you wondering how you ever managed to get along without it. It’s even more remarkable when that wise sage, respected elder, learned teacher with the kind heart steps through the front door into your own living room, changes from a jacket into a cardigan sweater, trades his street shoes for some blue sneakers and welcomes you to a special place called Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood… and then launches into this:

“What do you do with the mad that you feel when you feel so mad you could bite? When the whole wide world seems oh, so wrong and nothing you do seems very right? What do you do? Do you punch a bag? Do you pound some clay or some dough? Do you round up friends for a game of tag? Or see how fast you go? It’s great to be able to stop when you’ve planned a thing that’s wrong, and be able to do something else instead and think this song: I can stop when I want to, I can stop when I wish, I can stop, stop, stop any time. And what a good feeling to feel like this and know that the feeling is really mine. Know that there’s something deep inside that helps us become what we can.”

I like how the ancient writer James puts it when he writes these ancient, enduring words:

“Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. Human anger does not produce the [justice, peace, well-being, peace, goodness] righteousness that the Divine desires for all people everywhere.”

Quick to listen. Slow to speak. Slow to anger.

I like how James says it. But I really love how Mr. Rogers said it.

#100days50words

#storiesfortheseasons

Theophany

TheophanyToday’s Word: Theophany’ as in… theophany and theodicy are two completely different things.

And here’s why we might care about that at all…

Frederick Buechner, one of my main theological squeezes, writes this:

“Theodicy is the branch of theology that asks the question: ‘If God is just, why do terrible things happen to wonderful people?’ The Bible’s best answer is the book of Job.”

Buechner goes on to remind us that Job was one of the good guys, if not the best guy. Not that it mattered, really. If God had been in the business of showing Job some favor because Job was a good guy, then God was certainly having what we’ve come to know as a ‘terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day…’ of biblical proportions.

In the space of just a few short heartbeats, Job lost everything that put him on the biblical map. Buechner describes it this way:

“…his cattle are stolen, his servants are killed, and the wind blows down the house where his children happen to be whooping it up at the time, and not one of them lives to tell what it was they thought they had to whoop it up about.”

If God is just, why do terrible things happen to wonderful people? That’s the theodicy question.

But there’s a different question.

I have a really dear friend who is wrestling with grief and loss; the deaths of two close family friends in the space of just over one year. It’s January and the grief is all coming back, as if it had ever left in the first place. With the new perspective that one year brings, she is discovering that the question isn’t about Theodicy: “If God is just, then why does God let this happen?” The question is about Theophany: “How is God continually being revealed, illuminated in all of this?”

When we wrestle with that question, everything changes: light is brighter, hope is stronger, grace is wider, love is deeper! Epiphany celebrates all the ways that God “locates” in our lives.

Theophany invites us to whoop it up without fear!

#100days50words

#storiesfortheseasons

Epiphany

Epiphany.jpg

Today’s Word: Epiphany’ as in… the Feast of Epiphany, the last full day of the Christmas season!

It’s not an overstatement to say that Epiphany is the most important feast of the Christmas Season.

Epiphany is observed around the world with much celebration; the day is like a Christmas stocking filled with treasures! We recall the arrival of the Three Kings, Sages from the East, the Wise Men (most likely along with their large entourage), and the remarkable gifts they brought. There was gold, gift fit for a king. There was frankincense, a gift for a priest to be used for much more than fragrance, it would have been burned in the temple and only by a priest of God; and myrrh, used in burial rituals as an embalming material.

And yes, of course, we do know that if it had been three wise women instead of the three amigos who came to visit the infant King, they would have asked for directions saving themselves about three years of searching, they would have arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole (gratin) and brought some diapers as gifts!

And yes, it is an old, tired, probably outdated attempt at humor. But what the heck.

Also known as Twelfth Night, Epiphany comes from the Greek word epiphineia, which get translated as coming, arrival, manifestation.

Epiphany celebrates all of the ways that the God of the Universe is revealed and located in our very earthy lives, all of the ways that God comes to us, shows up, arrives!

Epiphany celebrates God’s presence in our relationships and conversations with one another, “locating” with us wherever we live, work, and play!

Epiphany celebrates God’s presence with us in the tender touch of a friend or loved in in the midst of grief or in the joy of celebration.

Epiphany is incarnation (God with us) and manifestation (God for us!) all at once.

Epiphany is the good news that the Good News is for all people everywhere, no exceptions, no exclusions. Epiphany is lovely, extravagant, tangible grace.

What an epiphany!

#100days50words

#storiesfortheseasons

Drumming

Drumming1Today’s Word: ‘Drumming’ as in… Twelve Drummers Drumming, on this Twelfth Day of Christmas!

As a kid, I’d occasionally come up with a question that would set my parents back on their heels. Joyce would respond with something like this:

“Paul Eugene! What are you thinking?”

That, of course, was a mostly rhetorical question. I could tell, she used my middle name.

There were times, though, when I’d come up with a doozie, a real keeper. And that keeper would actually be kept. She would write it down in her journal. One of those entries seems especially timely on this particular twelfth day of Christmas. The conversation between my mother, Joyce, and me went something like this:

Paul: “Why don’t the drummers in those movies get shot?”

It was fascinating to me that in early American war movies, while uniformed soldiers ran around battlefields pointing guns at each other and firing, the drummers drumming their hearts out in the midst of all of that chaos and carnage, never got shot. To my recollection, they didn’t even carry a weapon. They carried drums. They never were killed. At least not that I saw.

Joyce: “Because they’re the drummers. They carry drums, that’s why nobody shoots them.”

Now, just imagine the mental gymnastics going on in the mind of a little kid processing that information: People with guns, shooting other people. Death. People with drums, drumming their hearts out. Life. Hmmmm.

“Paul Eugene, what are you thinking?” Joyce asked.

A deep breath… and then I said what I was thinking:

“Well, then everyone should carry a drum.” I said.

On this twelfth day, as the light of this waning Christmas season illuminates the approaching season of Epiphany – the revealing of Christ to all people, it’s a good reminder to find a drum and pound out Good-News-Rhythms of peace and justice. In this new year, in this new season, today, let’s resolve to live, work and play well together to create rhythms of hope, peace, joy, and love for all people everywhere.

This is the beautiful and enduring challenge of this Twelfth Day!

Let’s drum on!

#100days50words

#storiesfortheseasons

Piping

PipingToday’s Word: ‘Piping’ as in… Eleven Pipers Piping, on this Eleventh Day of Christmas!

Long ago and far away I played the trumpet for several hours each day. Ed Bridges, a beloved friend and musical director, had a passion for Sousa Marches. Every rehearsal and concert began with a Sousa March “just to warm up.”

In “Stars and Stripes Forever,” there’s a section that is affectionately known as “The Dog Fight.” It happens twice. You know it when you hear it. The Dog Fight is big, bold, and brassy. But there’s another section that features a piper; the piccolo. The piccolo player has a solo that is featured twice: first beginning at about 1:55, and then again at about 2:35. When you hear the high-toned descant of the piccolo/piper, there’s no missing the beautiful, powerful little refrain; it soars high above every other instrument. Finally, the band goes all in again with a repeat of “The Dog Fight” which sets up the final phrase of the march; everyone is playing like there’s no tomorrow.

Above all of this, above the tubas, trombones, French horns, trumpets, flutes, bassoons, clarinets—above every other instrument—you hear the piccolo/piper piping that beautiful, soaring descant. It’s unmistakable. It’s there. It’s steady. It’s strong.

On this Eleventh Day of Christmas I’m aware that the Christmas Story of a baby born in Bethlehem seems more like a piccolo descant than the big, brassy, melody it was eleven days ago. But Christmas Story is still being told. With the help of every piper, the Christmas Story continues to soar high above the rest of the orchestra and the crowd gathered to hear it, as well as those outside and beyond the concert hall.

So we might want to get piping. Or at least we might want to start practicing. Let’s pick up our instruments and play this powerful melody together. Who knows, there may be someone who hears this ancient, remarkable Christmas descant once again, or maybe for the first time, and wants to play along. Pipers are piping the Good News! Let’s join them!

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Leaping

LeapingToday’s Word: ‘Leaping’ as in… Ten Lords A-Leaping on this Tenth Day of Christmas!

There is general agreement that these ten leapers is a nod to the Ten Commandments. That’s worth considering. When Jesus was approached by a young lawyer asking him what the greatest commandment is, Jesus summed it up: “Love God, love others.”

I made my usual stop for dark roast this morning. Billy must have seen me coming because by the time I stepped to the counter, it was nearly ready.

“Hey Paul, Happy New Year! How’s it going?”

As he hands me the cup, I consider—just in that one very brief moment—how remarkably ‘present’ Billy is to the people he serves. Anticipating service is Billy’s gift and when he combines service with hospitality, something really remarkable happens: the Kingdom of God comes into sharper focus.

I’m not aware if Billy knows that; but that’s not the point.

The point is that the Kingdom, the Realm, the Party, the Dance, the Movement of God becomes visible in that moment – and ten lords are leaping!

Because of Billy, I’m more aware of the questions that lead to my “2020 clarity”: How can we be more present to the people we encounter? How can we anticipate more effectively the needs of others? How can we be more attentive to ways of serving vulnerable people? How can we learn to be more available to people we don’t know well or even at all? How can we serve others without any thought of how we’re being served?

These are good and challenging questions for this tenth day of Christmas! When we serve others well, isn’t there just enough joy in that? Of course there is!

When Jesus said over and over again, “The kingdom of God is at hand…” this is probably what he was talking about.

So today the ground shakes with joyous leaping to the tune of the good news that today we’ve been loved in ten different ways by ten different people giving us ten different opportunities to love others. And in ten remarkable ways the dream of God comes into better focus!

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Word(s)

Word(s)Today’s Word: ‘Word(s)’ as in… what’s your One Word for the year 2020, on this ninth Day of Christmas?

On New Year’s Day, my small group convened for our “Third Annual One Word Reveal Party.” For a couple of hours, nine of us gathered for dinner and a conversation to reveal our “One Word” for 2020. Having done this twice before, each of us is getting pretty good at discerning the “one word” which helps us get clarity about the more essential questions simmering in our lives:

  • “Who are we?”
  • “What are we doing here?”
  • “Where are we going?”
  • “How will we get there?”

Here’s how we do this: each of us chooses a word.

Or, as I like to say, “a word chooses each of us.”

This one word becomes a primary lens through which we view each day. For instance, my word for 2020 is “Clarity” as in… this will be a year of seeking clarity in the seven primary areas of my life as I explore what it means to be a spirited, creative, connected, fully present human being with a call to be grateful and generous while living as a missional child of God. I’m confident that by the end of 2020, I will experience greater clarity in every area of my life.

By the end of New Year’s Day, we’d had a marvelous conversation about leaning into a year of Spirited life together. Knowing each other’s word will help each of us bring our best God-breathed selves to each day, to each moment, and to each other. By pursuing strategies for living into words like “Opportunity,” “Explore,” “Stretch,” “Vivid,” “Congruence,” “Health,” “Accomplish,” “ Ownership,” “Gratitude,” and “Joy,” we’re better able to create more life and aliveness all around us.

This, of course, raises some questions. If you were to choose one word that focuses on what you hope to experience in the next year, what would it be? How does that one word bring clarity to your relationships? How does it illuminate your spirited life? How does it create more gratitude, generosity and mission within you?

What’s your one word?

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Yes

Yes1Today’s Word: YES!’ as in… a day of saying ‘Yes!’ to the Feast of Mary on this Eighth Day of Christmas Today! There’s so much here! Where do we begin?

In the ancient tradition of the Twelve Days of Christmas, today is all about “Eight Maids a Milking.”

According to some legends, this is a wonderfully subversive reference to the Beatitudes found in Matthew 5: the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the merciful, those who seek righteousness, the peacemakers, etc.

In other versions of The Twelve Days, the eighth day also references eight ladies dancing, hares a running, hounds a running, or eight boys singing. One ancient version even includes eight biting cows on this eighth day of the season! Let’s just let that all soak in for a moment. Okay, ready to keep going?

Whatever the case may be, in an even more ancient version of what’s known as the Liturgical Church Calendar, today is the Feast of Mary, the Mother of God. This is the young woman who said “Yes!” to the remarkable dream of God: the Incarnation—God with us, God for us, Christ among us, Christ in us. Mary’s response of faith and trust, her “Yes!” is stunning considering her young age, her vulnerability, her utter humanness. Facing that and in spite of that, she said “Yes! I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”

The old year has passed. The old decade is now behind us. A new year stretches out in front of us all with weeks and months already filled to the brim with ideas, hopes, dreams, and expectations as well as, perhaps, some fear and trembling! Yet, as this new year unfolds, let’s step into and through each day with Mary’s courageous “Yes!” ringing through the centuries right into each of our moments. Her ‘yes’ becomes our dream! Her faith becomes our hope! Her trust becomes our response! Her obedience becomes our model! And like Mary, we, in our vulnerability and utter humanness can keep all these things and ponder them in our hearts. Absolutely. Yes.

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Breathe

Breathing

Today’s Word: breathe’ as in… breathe in, breathe out. Again. Again. We’ve done this before, right? Let’s do it again with gratitude. It’s always good to keep breathing. Just sayin’.

We’ve come to the Seventh Day of Christmas! It’s also New Year’s Eve! And not just any New Year’s Eve. It’s a rather remarkable moment of “in-between!” We are in between two times: the (chronos) time that was 2019 and the (kairos) time that is yet to come in 2020.

During these past few days I’ve enjoyed so many conversations with friends and family about the in-between-ness of these particular days; the end of one decade and the beginning of another. I was thinking about how observing New Year’s Eve is like letting our breath out. An exhalation—a breathing out of what was. Let it all out, let it go, thankful for what has been. And then a pause. And-Then-A-Pause. Then on New Year’s Day, a breathing in! An inhalation—a breathing in of what will be! Ready to embrace all that is to come!

However, it’s in that one split second in between that inhale and that exhale when we consider where our breath comes from and where it goes.

And the gift, of course, is knowing from Whom it comes! Air, wind, breeze, breath, holy, spirit, Holy Spirit, breathing!

I’ve also been dwelling in John’s sweet poetry from the first chapter of his Gospel:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God. And the Word became flesh and lived (and breathed) among us, and we have seen his glory…”

We get to breathe that in and let it fill us completely! And this, of course, raises some questions. Are you in between? How would you describe the “in-between-ness” of your life right now? What are you content to let go? What are you looking forward to embracing?

Today, on this Seventh Day of Christmas, we breathe in the Word who has been breathing in us since the beginning!

Okay everyone, big breath in! Big breath out!

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Anna

Anna

Today’s Word: Anna’ as in… the Feast of Anna on this Sixth Day of Christmas!

We don’t know much about Anna, but what we do know is just enough.

She lingers.

She’s not in a hurry.

She knows what her jam is: Anna is focused on the good news of Christ for all who were and are waiting expectantly for the freeing of the people of God everywhere!

(Go ahead and reread that last line. I’ll wait here for you.)

Why is it important to pause and consider Anna on this sixth day of Christmas? Because when we linger, we don’t miss what’s important. Already our culture is yawning and thinking, “Christmas? That was so last week!” Yet, a week ago we couldn’t get enough, literally. Shopping, sales, parties, travel, eggnog, gifts, batteries, decorations, shipping, theater, orchestras, music, worship. This week it’s difficult to find a Christmas carol playing anywhere. And next week Christmas will be like “so last year.”

How fickle is that?

The Gospel writer Luke (2:36-40) tells us just enough:

Anna the prophetess was also in the Temple, a daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher. She was by now a very old woman. She had been married seven years and a widow for eighty-four. She never left the Temple area, worshiping night and day with her fastings and prayers. At the very time Simeon was praying, she showed up, broke into an anthem of praise to God, and talked about the child to all who were waiting expectantly for the freeing of Jerusalem.” Did you catch what Luke wrote? “Anna never left the temple, but worshipped there night and day. When she saw the Child, Jesus, she began to give thanks to God and to speak about the child.”

That’s what it looks like to linger! Which raises a few good questions: As Christmas continues, what’s your focus? What are you lingering on? How has Christmas already become passé?

Take a few moments today and linger on how the birth of Christ in you brings new life to you and everything around you.

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Simeon

Simeon

Today’s Word: Simeon’ as in… the Feast of Simeon on this Fifth Day of Christmas!

Simeon comes to the center of the Christmas stage and reminds us of those moments in our lives when we’re moved to say something like:

“Sheeeesh! My life is now complete! I’ve seen everything, I can die a very happy person!”

The Spirit had made a promise to Simeon, “that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.” Simeon held onto that promise until it was fulfilled. “My life is now complete!”

It’s a powerful, hopeful, even generative statement. It’s what we experience right after something remarkably transcendent takes place in our lives: a great vacation, a beautiful sunset, a tender kiss, a touch, some really good news, a hug from a friend, a smile from a child, a gift from a grandchild, forgiveness being spoken. I suppose you could even say it’s what you feel right after winning big on Wheel of Fortune or just discovering an unspent Chipotle gift card for twenty-five bucks in your wallet.

It’s all sort of the same thing which leads you to exclaim “Sheeeesh!” The Latin for all of this, of course, is not “Sheeeesh!” which people say all the time. The Latin for this is “Nunc Dimitis” which is the combination of ‘Now’ and a form of ‘to send away’ or ‘dismiss’ which hardly anyone (okay, no one) ever says anymore. But it’s what Simeon said: “God, you can now release your servant: release me in peace as you promised. With my own eyes I’ve seen your salvation; it’s now out in the open for everyone to see…”

So on this Fifth Day of Christmas it’s the exclamation of an ancient, wise old sage of a faithful man that reminds us of the presence of Christ, here, now, and finally! The Christ-child, Jesus, steps into our otherwise ordinary, even mundane, often broken-but-healing days with hope and peace and joy and love! And he reminds us of this good news of great joy: the Savior is born! And that changes everything.

“Sheeeesh.”

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Innocents

Innocents

Today’s Word: ‘INNOCENTS’ as in… the Feast of the Holy Innocents on this Fourth Day of Christmas.

Wading back through centuries of humankind’s inhumanity to humankind, we arrive at a faraway place in a faraway time that still seems far too close for comfort. The Gospel writer Matthew narrates the reaction of King Herod to the news that what the Prophet Isaiah had spoken centuries earlier had come to fruition.

Herod, the leader of the Jewish people under the authority of Rome during the time of Jesus’ birth was threatened by the Magi’s report that a child—an infant had been born in Bethlehem and would become king. Seeking to rid himself of the possible threat to his power, authority and throne,

Herod responds with violence, fear, jealousy and rage. He commands that all male children in and around Bethlehem, two years old and under, be killed. The darkness of his own small world closed in on him and backed him into his own dark corner. He failed to acknowledge the Good News of the coming of God-Light into the dark world as something life-giving and hope-filled.

And innocents suffered.

Yet, for as long as innocents have suffered, people have come together and proven that love wins. In the midst of death, sickness, disease and brokenness, human hearts filled with the power of life, health, healing and wholeness have gathered together to proclaim that love prevails, that faith stands in the light and creates hope where there is no hope, makes a way where there is no way, loves where there is no love, speaks where there are no words, breathes where there is no breath, lives where there is no life.

“A child has been born for us; a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore.”

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John

JohnToday’s Word: ‘JOHN’ as in… the Feast of Saint John the Evangelist on this Third Day of Christmas!

I’m not sure when this all first began, but for as long as I can remember, when I read the opening sentences of the Gospel of John, I hear an orchestra.

Honest, I do. I hear an orchestra.

And not, like, just in my imagination. I hear musical instruments: cellos, violins, harps, oboes, brass, percussion and reed instruments. It’s very tactile, experiential.

In very much the same way, when I sing the old hymn, “Children of the Heavenly Father,” the right side of my face warms.

Honest, I do. Not the left, just the right.

This is probably because when I sang that hymn as a kid, the morning sun streamed through stained glass windows on the east side of my home church touching the right side of my face.

I know, right?

Now when I sing that hymn I feel warmth. When I read the Prologue of John’s Gospel I hear an orchestra. A heated hymn and an orchestral poem.

John, known as “The Evangelist” was “The Bringer of Good News.” With words that are equal parts poetry and soaring theology, John created a symphony of Good News that has inspired poets, theologians and musicians right along with the rest of us. John reminds us of the early moments of creation when the silence and darkness were filled, first with the Word, and then with Light! John gives us just enough to imagine that moment that is, of course, beyond our imagination!

But then near the end of the first part of the passage, John writes what amounts to the sweetest of melodies, the most profound poetry. John, the Evangelist gives us this very intimate image of the Incarnation: “The Word-of-Promise became the Word-made-Flesh and moved into the neighborhood and lived among us full of this grace and truth.”

How poetic, how musically beautiful, how warm to our hearts that God would move into our neighborhood and live across the street, next door and right in our own homes!

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Stephen

StephenToday’s Word: ‘STEPHEN’ as in… the Feast of Stephen and the inescapable tension between good and evil, darkness and light, life and death.

Historically, the day after Christmas is set aside as the Feast of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Even as a kid growing up in the rhythm of the liturgical calendar, I knew this was a head-twister, incomprehensible, bonkers, even. I’d barely gotten batteries into whatever gift my parents had given me at Christmas (yesterday!) and there was talk of death. And not just a story of “old-age-he-really-lived-a-good-long-full-life” kind of death. But a violet death. It seemed so absurd.

And I wondered, “So the birth of Christ: it does change everything? Or doesn’t it?”

But as per usual, the community of Christ, the church takes the counter-intuitive approach by reminding us of the reality of brokenness and suffering hard on the heels of the joy of Christmas, the Nativity, the Incarnation.

This is illuminating! This seeming dissonance is deeply significant!

Advent reminds us of our longing for the light of Christ in the midst of our darkness. When we linger on this second day of Christmas – the Feast of Stephen to remember the connection between life and death, between the incarnation of Jesus and his crucifixion. Even at the cradle we’re forced to consider the trajectory of Jesus’ life toward the cross, a fact that is illuminated by the gifts of the Magi. Along with gold and frankincense, gifts fit for kings and priests, there was also myrrh, a fragrant spice used to prepare bodies for the grave. In the life and death of Stephen we turn the gem of the incarnation enough to see that Christ is born into our brokenness and suffering. That is the gift of the second day of Christmas! Christmas is about wonder, about the mystery of God entering our world. It is also about how the incarnation transforms our lives, so that even suffering and death can be endured with hope!

and so right along with Christ followers throughout the centuries, we celebrate and remember our redemption, but never forget the cost.

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Incarnation

IncarnationToday’s Word: ‘INCARNATION’ as in… it’s time! He’s here! The Word has become flesh and blood, and has moved into the neighborhood!

A Christmas Lullaby: “On A Night Such As This.” The last verse, a chorus and a tag…

“On this day as we worship “The Word Made Flesh” the messenger again brings Good News: “God is with us, God among us, Emmanuel!” “God is with us Emmanuel! 

Come and worship the Lord, let the heavens ring! For He comes to bring justice and peace! As the darkness is scattered we rejoice in the light, We rejoice in the light of the Lord! We rejoice in the light of the Lord! He is born! Christ is born! For all humankind!

Christ has come to make all things new! We rejoice in the news that our Savior is born! We rejoice that our Savior is born! We rejoice that our Savior is born!

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Cradle

CradleToday’s Word: ‘Cradle’ as in… every heart becomes a cradle for the Rebirth of Life!

I’ve always been intrigued with the image of our hearts becoming cradles for Christ. It was Martin Luther who gave us the image of the bible as the cradle of Christ – the place where we find him. And yet, it is in our hearts where we find deep connections with those whom we hold there.

When I wrote the second verse for A Christmas Lullaby, I hoped to capture the idea of both the mystery and majesty of Christ resting, abiding, living in our hearts. On this Christmas Eve, our prayer is that our hearts would hold the Christ Child.

Here is A Christmas Lullaby: “On A Night Such As This” Verse 3 and chorus…

“In the mystery and majesty of this night / we gather as one in this hope: That every heart becomes a cradle for the Rebirth of Life! A cradle for the Rebirth of Life!”

“Come and worship the Lord, let the heavens ring! For He comes to bring justice and peace! As the darkness is scattered we rejoice in the light, We rejoice in the light of the Lord! We rejoice in the light of the Lord!”

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Lullaby

KeepToday’s Word: ‘Lullaby’ as in… A Christmas Lullaby: “On A Night Such As This.”

Years and years ago when our now adult kiddos, Sarah and Soren were just little kiddos, I wrote this sweet little melody and called it “A Christmas Lullaby.” Each night during the last evenings of Advent and all through the Christmas season we’d tuck them into bed and then I’d go to the piano and play this tune for them. At some point I teased four verses of lyrics out of the Christmas narrative in Luke 2. You might want to read through Luke’s story as you listen to this melody. At some point we’ll put this all together.

For now, here’s verses 1 and 2, and a chorus…

On a night such as this with stars shining bright / the angel announced the Good News / “Do not fear, but behold, your Savior is born behold! / Behold, your Savior is born!”

Come and worship the Lord, / let the heavens ring! / For He comes to bring justice and peace! / As the darkness is scattered we rejoice in the light, We rejoice in the light of the Lord! / We rejoice in the light of the Lord!

Watching flocks on the hillsides with fear turned to joy / The shepherds were filled with wonder and awe / Praising God, they bowed down to honor the Child / They knelt down to worship the Lord!

Come and worship the Lord, / let the heavens ring! / For He comes to bring justice and peace! / As the darkness is scattered we rejoice in the light, We rejoice in the light of the Lord! / We rejoice in the light of the Lord!

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GDSNWHR

GDSNHR

Today’s Word: GDSNWHRas in… God is now here!

You might find it interesting to know that the text of the Jewish Scriptures, what we commonly call the Old Testament was written, at least up until about the year 1000, in all capital letters. To make it even more interesting, there were no vowels in any of the words—only consonants. And as if that wasn’t enough, none of the words were separated. So you could open a Hebrew bible or unroll a scroll and, reading from right to left, (or from our conventional perspective, from back to front), and encounter one long, extended, string of capital Hebrew characters.

So it became rather fascinating, for instance, when the reader got to the words “Help me Lord!” in Psalm 38:22 or Psalm 109:26 and the Hebrew text would appear as seven Hebrew consonants together and look like this:

“HLPMLRD”

That’s where some context became important. The reader could look at those letters, and without much deciphering or a trip to Scrabble.com, know that the phrase “help me Lord” was buried in those letters.

But it wasn’t always so clear.

Someone encountering the Hebrew letters “GDSNWHR” might—on a particularly tough day—easily conclude, misunderstand and mistake those letters to mean “God is nowhere” when in reality the intention of the phrase—not to mention the intention of the God of the universe is to communicate to you and to me the clearest, most profound message of all: “God is now here.”

You can see how important it is to get that right! Right? The clearest message of all is this: God is now here—God is with us!

The message that the season of Advent has prepared us for is this: God is now here—God is with us! The message for all who seek the light, hunger for truth, or thirst for hope is this: God is now here—God is with us! The message for every man, woman, and child looking for meaning and purpose in their lives is this: God is now here—God is with us!

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Turn

TurnsToday’s Word: ‘Turn” as in… first a twist, then a turn!

The King of kings was first introduced to the simplest of the simple: a young girl, a carpenter, some shepherds. The Lord of lords was first announced to the least of the least. But Matthew is almost casual about the divine details as he begins his own rendition of the sweet, cozy, neat, tidy, heavenly, somewhat simple story.

Matthew begins simply,

“The birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.”

Uh-oh. Talk about twists and turns! Life isn’t always so sweet, cozy, neat, tidy, heavenly and simple, is it? Can you imagine what was going on in the kitchens in their homes? Mary, who was probably something like 14 years old, give or take, is sitting at the dinner table with her parents and just before dessert, says something like “Hey mom and dad, can I talk to you about something? An angel showed up the other night and told me the most amazing thing. And, well, you’d probably better sit down for this…”

And then over at Joseph’s house, he can’t sleep a wink. When he finally passes out from fatigue, he has a dream in which he learns that the Holy Spirit is the Father of Mary’s baby. Try telling that one to the guys in the cabinet shop.

I suppose that if the first Christmas was filled with surprise and unexpected twists, why should we expect anything different today? It seems that God rather loves to fill the very familiar with surprise, wonder, and unexpected turns that take us from the twists of Christmas back into the mystery of the celebration!

The good news is that birth happens and can—and perhaps will change so much in all of us. Let’s not miss our turn this year.

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Twist

TwistToday’s Word: ‘Twist” as in… it’s a bit of an twist that when it comes to William Chatterdon Dix, most of us wouldn’t recognize his name, but we would recognize at least one of his achievements.

William Chatterdon Dix was the one who, over a hundred and fifty years ago, penned the words to the hymn, “What Child Is This?” It’s equally a twist that the same thing could be said, but in reverse, about the baby in the manger—Jesus, about whom the hymn is written. While many may recognize his name, many in our culture are not necessarily certain what he accomplished.

We are still in the season of Advent—a season which, as we have acknowledged almost daily, is filled with an extraordinary amount of expectation and wonder. But with only a handful of days remaining before we enter fully into the joy of Christmas, we are tempted to just “give in.”

I know I am.

To be honest, and at the risk of sounding like the party-pooper, the twist of Advent is that the expectation and wonder of this time of year, for many people, is simply too much. After weeks, if not months of Christmas ramp-ups, countdowns, sales and specials, many people have only expectations of struggle and disappointment, and the only wonder left in these days is to wonder if they will even survive this ‘holly-jolly-jinglebell-rocked-Rudolph-and-Frosty-and-shop-’til-you-drop’ season.

At this time of year people talk about being over-stressed, over-spent, over-drawn, and overwhelmed. That Christmas is the “hap—happiest time of the year,” for many, is just so many lyrics in a song.

For some, the suggestion that Christmas is “the most wonderful time of the year” is simply too good to be true.

But having said all of that, I want to make the bold reminder that we’re called to just keep asking the question and singing at the same time: “What child is this?”

This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing; the babe, the son of Mary, hail, hail the Word made flesh, the babe, the son of Mary.”

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Religion

ReligionToday’s Word: ‘Religion’ as in… the birth of The Child means less religion, more Jesus, baby!

I’m sitting with a couple, drinking coffee, planning their wedding. The groom leans forward and says,

Just so you know, we don’t want any religious stuff in our ceremony.”

I pause, take a sip and reply,

“Okay, tell me about that…”

The young man shares a painfully common story of growing up around “religious people” doing all kinds of “religious activities.” His religious context has been a hyper-structured, heavy-handed, binary environment of right/wrong, black/white, us/them, in/out. Deeply wounded, he’s honestly searching for meaning; deciding which pieces will fit into his religious puzzle.

Finally, he says,

Do you know what I mean? I just don’t want anything to do with that…”

Again, I pause, take a sip and reply:

“Absolutely. I don’t want anything to do with that either!”

For eons humankind has been searching for meaning by trying to “figure out religion.” We’ve learned about God’s profound promise to fill our lives – not just with meaning, but with meaningful relationships full of grace and truth. To model this, God’s promise became tangible in Jesus:

‘The Word-of-Promise became the Word-made-Flesh and moved into the neighborhood and lived among us full of this grace and truth.’

However, to understand this relationship, we created “a system of thinking and behaving” and called it “Religion.” Over time, this religion took the place of relationship with The-Word-Made-Flesh and the joy of relationships which once brought life, slowly degenerated into rules and regulations which ultimately brought death. Finally, unable to live by the relentless demands of the rules and complicated regulations, the original intent of relationship was lost, and we went back to searching for life’s meaning in the religious spin-cycle:

search for meaning,

glimpse the promise,

trade thriving for striving,

move from relationship to rules.

And after a lot of time in that spin-cycle, what we end up with is “too much religion and not enough Jesus.”

The Good News Advent points to the Good News of Christmas: the birth of the Child brings less religion, more Jesus, baby!

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Noise

Minolta DSCToday’s Word: ‘Noise’ as in… A Navy pilot returning to the airbase…

… was going through the checklist for a safe landing. One important item was missed: the landing gear remained in the “up” position. Alarms went off in the cockpit and the tower began frantic calls to the pilot. But there was no response. Fire trucks and rescue vehicles were deployed to the end of the airstrip. Everyone was ready for the worst. The plane hit the runway and after a long skid, came to a stop. Miraculously, no one was hurt. The plane was badly damaged, but the pilot survived. Later, the pilot responded to the question: “Why didn’t you respond to alarm or the tower’s attempts to contact you ?” The pilot answered, “I never heard you! There was a horn blaring in the cockpit! It was so loud that I couldn’t hear myself think!”

Ba-dum-bum.

Sometimes there’s so much noise around us that we miss the most important messages. This is especially true during the last days of the Advent season. The din of a frantic culture celebrating both holidays and holy days sometimes becomes so loud that it’s easy to miss the deeper meanings.

So … what if we listened differently in this last week of Advent? What if we invited a friend on a walk to truly listen to what’s going on in their life? What if we offered to shovel a neighbor’s driveway—the neighbor we really don’t know that well? What would happen if we focused less on giving ‘things’ and more on sharing ‘experiences’? What if the gift you gave was sharing the one thing you’re really good at with someone else: music, photography, cooking, skating lessons, software instruction, a listening ear, a helpful hand, a caring touch, the gift of unhindered time, the gift of presence. What if every encounter with every person becomes a meeting with Christ?

The message of Advent is that Christmas is coming. It’s not a thing; Christmas is a person and the person is Jesus!

Did you hear that, or was the horn blaring too loudly?

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Travel

Travel2Today’s Word: ‘TRAVEL’ as in… travel at this time of year is no picnic!

You’d think we’d have it down by now; the human race has been trying to crack the code on easy-peasy travel since “The Beginning.” Add celebrations like Christmas, or, say, a king demanding a census, and things get gnarly really fast.

Consider this ancient travel story:

“In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

Truly a remarkable story; one that’s certainly undergone some embellishment through the centuries, but profound, nonetheless. Setting aside sketchy details about donkeys, kings, camels, and a little boy with a drum, we do know that traveling from Nazareth to Bethlehem was no picnic—especially for a young pregnant teenager and her “somewhat-to-much-older-husband-to-be” traveling the 80 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

As inhospitable as Bethlehem might have been at the time, life-changing stories of welcome would emerge.

As incomprehensible as air travel would have been at that time, there would be a flight into Egypt.

And as sweet as the news of this ancient Birth would be through the centuries, there would be a cross pressed into the heart of every person who ever considered this young family and their story that has traveled through the centuries up to this very moment.

All of which raises some questions. Where will your Advent travels take you? In the days ahead as you travel, how will the story of these ancient, holy travelers impact your journey? Where are you going today and how will you practice grace with others along the way? How does the expectation of this birth bless the road ahead of you?

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Decoration

DecorationToday’s Word: ‘DECORATION’ as in… “This is the most beautiful tree we’ve ever had!”

I say it every year.

I’ve emerged from the crawl space with the Christmas tree box along with another dozen boxes containing decorations – reminders of past Christmases we’ve celebrated, places we’ve visited, people we’ve loved.

The decorations we use during Advent and Christmas actually reveal quite a bit. They convey meaning, tell a story, and provide a glimpse into the heart of our family. Each year, once our tree is up and decorated, there is that special moment when we pause to simply admire it. And in that moment of wonder we exclaim: “This is the most beautiful tree we’ve ever had!”

We say it every year. But then came yesterday afternoon.

On a walk with the pooch we noticed the heavily flocked evergreen tree toward the far edge of our yard. The sky behind it was rich with wisps of yellow, orange, blue, and white clouds. A mere backdrop to the majestic evergreen beautifully decorated with fresh snow; evenly draped, superbly flocked. It was magnificent! As the Advent season continues to unfold and as each day’s duration of light shortens, the lights on the trees in and around our homes seem to glow with more intensity.

As the afternoon shadows lengthen, as the days turn into evenings, and the sky continues to run through the palette of colors, we’re left with a few questions. Think for a moment about the collections of decorations you have for your tree.

  • What meanings do those decorations hold for you and your family?
  • What stories love and joy, comfort and hope do those decorations tell?
  • What one Christmas decoration, either for the tree or for your home, is most treasured and why?
  • How do the decorations you put up this year offer others a glimpse into your heart?
  • How do the decorations on your tree point to the one whose birth we’re preparing to celebrate?

Now go take another look at your Christmas tree. Could it be? Could it be the most beautiful tree you’ve ever had? Most likely!

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Joy

Joy1Today’s Word: ‘JOY’ as in… Immanuel, God with us, is coming!

On this Third Sunday in the Season of Advent, we getting closer to the celebration of Christmas! Pretty intense, isn’t it? So, how’s you “Joy-o-meter?” More to the point, how’s your “Stress-o-meter?” If you’re like, well, like a lot of people, it’s probably safe to say that the fine line between sheer joy and utter stress is beginning to blur.

This third weekend in the season of Advent is yet another reminder that while there still may be shopping to do and just over half of the chocolate in the Advent calendar has been consumed, the waiting is nearly over! In the Nativity scene under your tree, the donkeys, camels, sheep, angels and even the Wise Men are all present.

It’s almost perfect. All we need now is the birth of the baby, right?

All we need now is for Mary to deliver The Greatest Gift to the world and then it will be perfect. Christmas as usual, right? Isn’t that what we’re waiting for; Christmas as usual? The truth is, none of us is waiting for Christmas as usual, because for so many, usual Christmas is rarely what we hope for. While we do our best to plan it into perfection, more often than not we experience the opposite. We experience an emptiness that we’ve felt before.

But the story from the Gospel announces the Good News of a great joy centering in Jesus, the Savior of the world! The Messiah who is Christ the Lord is the one whose birth into our reality fills that empty place—all of those empty places! Immanuel—God is finally, fully with us which makes these word so joyful:

“Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

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Stories

StoriesToday’s Word: ‘STORIES’ as in… “Once Upon a Time” kinds of stories.

Advent is a season for telling stories. The stories we tell one another often have connections to the people in our lives. We tell stories about the last time we did this, the first time we ate that, the last time we went there, the first the saw those things. We tell stories about our plans to travel to see loved ones and the holiday meals we want to prepare together. We tell stories about the reunions we hope to celebrate, the restaurants we’ll visit, the plays we’ll see, and the concerts we’ll hear. These are all stories that in some way bring people together; they bind us together, they enrich our hearts and lives.

But there are other stories, too; stories we don’t care much to tell.

These are stories that we could only hope would be literally just “once” upon a time stories.

We have stories of grief and loss, loneliness and anxiety, job loss, struggles with addiction, depression and anxiety. All of these stories weave together to tell the honest story of our lives in this time, at all times, in any time.

But Advent is the season that reminds us that all of these stories are part of another story: a story of promise, hope, peace, love and joy. This is the season to tell the stories of hope; not just hope for the whole creation, but hope for our own lives! This is the season to tell the stories of peace; not just for peace on earth, but for peace in our own lives today! This is the season to tell the stories of love; not just high-level love for the entire human community, but for love in our own lives! This is the season to tell the stories of joy; not just joy to the world, but also joy to this moment, this day, our lives and all lives everywhere!

This is the Advent story that we can tell together: “Once upon a time…” and again, and again and again!

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Tension

Tension

Today’s Word: ‘Tension’ as in… Advent is a season filled with seemingly contradictory realities held together even by their curious differences.

Consider these tensions of Advent:

Already/Not Yet.” We pray, “Come, Lord Jesus…” Yet, even this prayer acknowledges that Christ is already present. We await his coming while already celebrating his birth!

“Infant/Ruler.” We hear the soft cry of a baby in a manger. Yet, and in the language of the church, that manger is the throne of a king who rules with equity, justice, compassion and boundless grace.

“Mystery/Majesty.” We experience the sights, the sounds, the aromas, the feelings, even the tastes of this ‘Waiting Season’ combining to create a sense of mystery that swirls around us, embraces us year after year. Yet, in that waiting there are those moments when the majesty of this season drops us to our knees in utter wonder and awe.

“Darkness/Light.” The days grow shorter and the nights grow longer. Yet, we live with the promise of longer days and shorter soon nights to come.

“Death/Birth.” In one verse we lament death: “Fast away the old year passes…Fa la la la la la la la la…” and in the very next breath we sing of life: “Hail the new, ye lads and lasses…Fa la la la la la la la la…”

This is the Advent tension.

We are living in the tension of the in-between-ness of life. Yet, at the same time we know that the promise of a new time has already come to pass. Maybe that’s what Isaiah was pointing to when he announced:

“The wolf will romp with the lamb, the leopard sleep with the kid. Calf and lion will eat from the same trough, and a little child will tend them. Cow and bear will graze the same pasture, their calves and cubs grow up together, and the lion eat straw like the ox. The nursing child will crawl over rattlesnake dens, the toddler stick his hand down the hole of a serpent. Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill on my holy mountain. The whole earth will be brimming with knowing God-Alive, a living knowledge of God ocean-deep, ocean-wide!”

Advent! Tension!

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Mystery

MysteryToday’s Word: ‘MYSTERY’ as in… that which cannot be known is coming to be known and to make known the mystery of God’s amazing grace and awesome love!

I grew up in a faith community where “What to believe” and “How to talk about it” was communicated by well-meaning pastors, teachers, leaders, and youth trip volunteers. Between hayrides in the fall, sledding in the winter, prepping Easter morning breakfast (waffles and strawberries), and bike trips in the summer, we spent time trying to capture, categorize, and contain what was essentially, a mystery. Our leaders were careful, thorough, and well meaning; but they gave us what had first been given to them. The mysterious narrative they handed on to us was the remarkable narrative that had been handed off to them and others before them. Not much thinking was involved. We weren’t taught to ask questions, and we never questioned authority. We’d just been handed a list of theological essentials that would be turned into concepts that would, in turn, be turned into dogma which was then passed along from one generation to the next.

Advent is a season of waiting and preparing. The beauty of Advent is in the anticipation wonder, and mystery.

But it’s also a bit counterintuitive.

Though what we wait for is certainly mystery, it’s not just any mystery. We wait for The Mystery! God made flesh; God moving into our neighborhood!

We wait for that which cannot be fully known. What a mystery!

The ancient prophet Isaiah reminds us to this day that this Mystery, this One who promises to know us fully cannot be fully known. This One whose birth we await has already been born among us.

Isaiah recounts the words of Yahweh:

“So—who is like me? Who holds a candle to me?”

The Advent Mystery is that no one, nothing can hold a candle to The Mystery who comes as Light to illuminate the whole world! That which cannot be known is coming to be fully known and to make known the mystery of God’s amazing grace and awesome love!

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Imagine

Imagine

Today’s Word: ‘IMAGINE’ as in… how do you imagine God? A baby? Really?

Respond with either True or False to these statements:

  • “I can trust God no matter what.”
  • “Sometimes God leaves us on our own.”
  • “God is patient with us even when we’re impatient.”
  • “When God seems distant, God really is distant.”
  • “God is always present in my life.”
  • “We can trust God even when we can’t ‘see’ God.”

Your responses actually say a lot about your image of God. When we try to imagine God, all kinds of images come to mind. We might imagine a grandpa or grandma, a friend or even a parent. We might imagine a teacher or a judge, or perhaps even something completely different than all of those things!

A friend of mine imagines God as the color blue.

For her, Blue is sacred, strong, nurturing; Blue is comforting and a creative way of “experiencing God.”

How do you imagine God? How was your image of God shaped, and who helped shape that image? Has that always been your image of God? Has that image ever changed? Do you have more than one, or even a few images of God? Honestly, how would you draw, describe, or paint God?

This is tough enough for adults! Imagine what it’s like for kids!

America’s Four Gods” is a website that examines the different ways Americans perceive God. The developers, Paul Froese and Christopher Bader contend that people in America see God in basically four ways: Authoritative, Benevolent, Critical or Distant. The website is set up to poll people on their views. It’s not very scientific; doesn’t need to be, but it is interesting to take the poll. One of the God-images displayed showed Jesus washing feet and I indicated that that image represented God to me “Very Well.” As it turned out, 54% of the people polled indicated the same.

As the season of Advent continues, we continue to make room for all kinds of ways to imagine God “moving into our neighborhood.”

But a baby? A baby in a manger? Really?

Yes, a baby, really.

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Empty

Empty

Today’s Word: ‘EMPTY’ as in… if we’re going to be filled, we’ve got to become empty.

I just switched up all of my music playlists. A whole bunch of stuff that I listened to leading up to Thanksgiving had to “go away” in order to make room for the Christmas Playlists: Bing Crosby, Chicago, James Taylor, Christmas Jazz, Christmas Quiet, Christmas with Gene, Cooking, Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. There’s also a playlist titled Christmas Goofiness (I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas).

After all, there’s just only so much bandwidth to go around.

Mother Teresa was more famous for what she did than for what she said. And while she would have most certainly balked at the thought of any notoriety that didn’t point to the nameless, faceless, even lifeless people she served, she did say some powerful things.

Mother Teresa often talked about praying that God would “enlarge her heart to make more room for God.”

She wrote:

“Prayer enlarges the heart until it is capable of containing God’s gift of himself: Ask and seek, and your heart will grow big enough to receive him and keep him as your own.”

Simply put, if we’re going to be filled, we’ll have to become empty.

Advent is about emptying in order to make room for the fullness of Christmas. In order to be filled to the Christmas brim, a bunch of stuff has to get deselected or even deleted. Advent is experienced most fully when we realize that we are in need of being filled, but cannot fill ourselves.

Christmas is experienced most fully when we are empty enough to be filled with the Holy One, God, birthed into the world, birthed into us as a child in the manger.

So, let me ask you just one question: What needs to “go away” in this season of Advent in order to make room for all that Christmas will bring? For me–if I’m honest, really honest, unplugging would be helpful. But then, what about all of the music, the playlists? Fewer playlists mean more bandwidth and less noise on my part, means more room for God to speak.

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Near

Near

Today’s Word: ‘Near’ as in… the One who is soon to come, is, even now, so near!

The second Monday of Advent challenges us to ask this honest and brave question:

“Where is God?”

God is near, God is here, God is in our midst as the One who is soon to come, yet even now, so near. Psalm 46 speaks powerful words of nearness. My late friend, Eugene Peterson, in his translation of Psalm 46 from the Message Bible understands it this way:

“God is a safe place to hide, ready to help when we need him. We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom, courageous in sea-storm and earthquake, before the rush and roar of oceans, the tremors that shift mountains. Jacob-wrestling God fights for us, GOD-of-Angel-Armies protects us. River fountains splash joy, cooling God’s city, this sacred haunt of the Most High. God lives here, the streets are safe, God at your service from crack of dawn.”

In our weakness, God is our strength; God is near to us. In our terror, God is our refuge; God is near to us. In our trouble, God is our Savior; God is near to us. When we’re going down, God lifts us up! God is near to us in our work and in our play, near us at school, in the broad daylight, in the dark of night! God is near to us among our family and friends, and when we fell alone, near to us when we laugh and when we catch ourselves laughing when not so long before we thought we’d never stop crying. God is near to us in the carols we sing, in the stories we read, in the sights, the sounds, the aromas, the feelings, the flavors of this Advent season.

In this second week of Advent, the light is just a bit brighter; two candles now, not just one. As we continue to wait; we wait knowing that all of our Advent anticipation points toward the Prince of Peace, the One who is soon to come, yet even now, so near.

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Peace

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Today’s Word: ‘Peace’ as in… let’s be still and give peace a chance on this second Sunday of Advent! A

s the second week of Advent continues, I’m still trying to catch up from last week! I found the Yule Log in a mislabeled box in storage, but the candles that go with it are still missing! Winter is here; it’s cold, but my favorite gloves are still in a plastic bin in the crawl space next to a box of lights that need to be tested to see if they work before I put them up! Christmas cards are filling the basket by the tree, but we’re still deciding if we’ll send cards this Christmas!

This “Holiday Season” already feels overwhelming!

Every year I promise to slow down, be still, and give peace a chance. But finding peace is always the greatest challenge. And to be honest, that’s probably because being still is always a challenge.

The Gospel writer Mark tells a story about Jesus, the disciples and a storm. It’s “dark,” they’re “going in a different direction,” they’re “alone” and they’re on “a lake.” One rich metaphor after another! It’s a perfect storm. So, of course a storm arises and threatens everything. “Peace. Be still!” Jesus says. Isn’t it fascinating how peace and stillness go together!

Here’s the story from Mark 4:35-39:

“When evening had come, Jesus said to them, “Let’s go across to the other side.” Leaving the crowd, they got into the boat. A great windstorm arose and the waves were tossing them. Jesus was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. So they woke him up and said, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Jesus rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.”

On this second Sunday of Advent we’re invited to be still and give peace a chance by considering the calming presence of the coming Christ who is always present, meets us in every moment, and invites us to be still and give peace a chance!

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Hope

Hope3Today’s Word: ‘Hope’ as in… Advent is a season of waiting with hope!

The challenge is that we no longer have to wait for much. We’ve lost something of the art of waiting, and because of that, we’ve lost the ability to wait with hope. If we want something, we just go get it. Whether it’s tangible goods and services or something less tangible like information, we have ways of getting those things without much waiting or hoping at all. Not long ago the idea of ordering something online today and having it in three days seemed like a big deal. Now, of course, we can order it this morning and have it this afternoon. Because of this, it’s easy to have an uneasy relationship with hope.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it best:

“Celebrating Advent means being able to wait. Waiting is an art that our impatient age has forgotten. It wants to break open the ripe fruit when it has hardly finished planting the shoot. But all too often the greedy eyes are only deceived; the fruit that seemed so precious is still green on the inside, and disrespectful hands ungratefully toss aside what has so disappointed them. Whoever does not know the austere blessedness of waiting – that is, of hopefully doing without – will never experience the full blessing of fulfillment.”

Centuries earlier, Isaiah wrote:

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.”

Our waiting is rooted in that hope.

A few questions: Can you identify something in your life that you’ve genuinely had to wait for? How did that waiting go for you? What is your greatest hope for today? Is there anything in this Advent waiting/hoping time that is teaching you something about yourself—or about the One whose birth we’re waiting to celebrate?

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Awareness

Awareness

Today’s Word: ‘Awareness’ as in… be aware on this first Friday of Advent!

You’re driving on a two-lane highway, the traffic is steady, 10-15 seconds between the on-coming vehicles. Occasionally, a semi approaches, and as it does you’re keenly aware of every detail. You know the distance between you and the cars in front and behind you, how far you are from the right edge of your lane, and the distance between your vehicle and the center line. As the semi get closer, your eyes are on the road ahead. But in that brief instant as the truck passes you, you’re also aware of a message on the side of the truck: a company logo, the name of a business, a product, an advertisement. The message is intended to create awareness in you. But because you’re traveling at 60 miles an hour, there’s nothing more than a fleeting glance at the side of the truck—giving you an awareness only of colors and shapes, while you count on your brain to fill in the blanks.

Awareness.

Was that a pizza or a playground? Were those pet supplies or garden tools? Were those windows or fences? Was that a hamburger or an airplane? With countless possibilities coming at you at 60 miles per hour, and a thousand different messages passing you at the speed of life, you’re left pondering what that message might be.

Advent is about awareness.

Awareness deepens as we hear about families making plans to celebrate together!

Awareness broadens while you take a few more moments to linger in a conversation.

Awareness heightens as you realize that your relationships are the best gifts of this season.

Awareness widens as each new day provides another opportunity to be grateful. Yet, in a moment, “in the twinkling of an eye,” to borrow a phrase, that message comes and goes.

So, a question, or maybe two, or even three: What messages are you seeing around you? Are you aware of the messages pertaining to your life today? How does those messages point you forward to these hope-filled days ahead?

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Wonder

Wonder1Today’s Word: ‘Wonder’ as in… there is plenty of wonder in this first Thursday of Advent!

Advent is a season of wonder! And as these early Advent days unfold, we wonder about a lot of things. We wonder about friends coming and going, about decorations and recipes, school and work schedules, weather and travel plans, money, spending and being responsible with resources. We wonder about so much. But the season of Advent, it seems to me, isn’t so much about finding answers to questions about things that are measurable by time and space, and money.

The season of Advent is more about the things that we can’t measure, the things that we can’t quite put our fingers on, the things that we can’t control like we tend to control everything else.

In this wonderful season of waiting and preparation, we may wonder about the age-old Birth Story and what it can reveal in a new way this time around. With lights and decorations, we can wonder about how the story began with a Great Light leading the way to our stable. As we sing old familiar carols and gather with friends and family, we can wonder about the new songs that we’ll soon be singing and the new friends we’ll soon be welcoming into those new songs.

The wonder of Advent is more about living with the questions than having all of the answers.

The wonder of Advent is more about looking boldly into the days ahead than squinting back into the past.

The wonder of Advent is more about living with a sense of anticipation and wonder.

Luke reminds us today that “There will be signs in the sun, the moon and the stars … now when these things take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:25a, 28)

So, a question for you: What part of the wonder is most captivating for you? How are preparing for the wonder of this Advent? What do you most fear about this season and what brings you the most joy?

I wonder!

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Signs

SignsToday’s Word: ‘Signs’ as in… don’t miss them on this First Wednesday of Advent.

I’m usually the last guy to appreciate any billboard or any sign advertising anything on any highway system anywhere. I know they serve a purpose and advertising seems to generate revenue, but you’ve got to admit that sometimes the signs can get in the way of things like, oh, trees and mountains, fields and lakes, the sky, eagles, wide open pastures, old barns, fields of wheat, soybeans, sunrises and sunsets—things like that.

But there is one particular sign—a big billboard along I-94 West, just northwest of Monticello, Minnesota that caught my attention several years ago. The sign along the freeway is a big welcome to the City of Alexandria, Minnesota. In big letters you see the words:

Alexandri-ahh

…then in smaller letters,

“Take Exit #103 – about an hour ahead”

Pretty catchy, for sure. But the name of the town and the number of the exit wasn’t what caught my attention.

In fact, I’ve never really ever noticed the words – all I’ve ever seen in the dozens of times I’ve driven that freeway is the large picture which serves as a backdrop for the sign.

It’s a summer scene of a yard; a picture taken from a boat on Lake Le Homme Dieu of some furniture on a lawn.

The picture features four pastel Adirondack chairs and a side table supporting a pot of red geraniums. The chairs and table are set facing the lake in front (which you cannot see) with a beautiful, lush, green lawn to the back (most of which you can see). It’s very captivating. It’s very compelling. It’s very inviting. It’s very beautiful, lush and green.

And it’s very much the front yard belonging to our friends, Vicki and Gary.

“Did you see that sign?” I blurted out as we passed the billboard going about 70. “Those are Gary and Vicki’s chairs! That’s their front yard! We’ve sat in those chairs a hundred times!” I yelled. (Why do we yell these kinds of things?)

“You don’t have to yell!” Nancy Lee reminded me as we continued on Interstate 94 West toward Alexandria, Minnesota, to Gary and Vicki’s home on Lake Le Homme Dieu, to spend a holiday weekend with them—sitting in those chairs.

What a moment!

We’re passing all kinds of signs in this season of Advent. We’re encountering all kinds of signs, large and small, obscure and obvious—signs of the season of Advent. And if we’re paying attention, we’ll see them everywhere. If we’re in tune with the season, with all of its anticipation and preparation, we’ll be in tune with the remarkable way the season finds us, captivates us, compels us, invites us—even calls us into the beauty of waiting and looking and watching for what we’re about to encounter—or what’s about to encounter us…just down the road of Advent.

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Stump

Stump

The Yellowstone Fire of 1988 remains one of the most dramatic, if not dynamic natural disasters in the history of the United States. When all was said and done, the statistics told a gut-wrenching story. Consider the outcome:

  • Nearly 1.2 million acres were scorched.
  • 36% of Yellowstone Park’s 2,221,800 acres were burned.
  • 67 structures were destroyed.
  • The estimated property damage totaled more than 3 million dollars.
  • Surveys found that 345 elk (of an estimated 40 to 50 thousand), 36 deer, 12 moose, 6 black bears, and 9 bison died in greater Yellowstone Park as a direct result of the fires.
  • A few small fish-kills occurred as a result of either heated water or dropping fire retardant on the streams.
  • Other surveys revealed that less than 1% of soils were heated enough to burn below-ground plant seeds and roots.

[source: National Park Service records data … http://www.nps.gov/index.htm%5D

At the time, many people thought that this was the worst possible thing that could have happened to this vast, beautiful wilderness. Today, however, we know that out of this “tragic” fire, new life is emerging.

From burned-out stumps, green shoots appeared as new forests began emerging. From scorched prairies, new grasses began to grow. From poisoned rivers, lakes, and streams, new habitats began supporting new life.

In this season of Advent, a season of waiting, hope and anticipation, these ancient words from the book of Isaiah point us to the same hope of new things rising out of old.

“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.”

The hope of Advent reminds us that that from the scorched earth of our relational terrain emerges the promise for new growth as we nurture new ways of caring and serving;

The promise of Advent assures us that in spite of the bridges we’ve burned there remains the power and promise of forgiveness.

The hope of Advent reminds us that from the poison we’ve let seep into the lives of others, we can grow into new ways of communicating grace and love.

The promise of Advent assures us that the damage done by destructive arguments that burst into flame in the heat of the moment will be soothed by the cool water of the spirit of wisdom and understanding;

The hope of Advent reminds us that in spite of the seeds of discontent and self-centeredness that choke the roots of healthy lives, the soil of life can be delightfully renewed.

The promise of Advent assures us that even out of the devastating losses in our lives comes the promise that we will be found, that we will be filled with hope and promise and new life!

#100days50words

#storiesfortheseasons

 

Shift

 

Shift1Today’s Word: ‘Shift’ as in… The First Monday of Advent.

Every year in Minnesota as the summer fades and autumn emerges with hints of the winter to come, several shifts take place.

The first, of course, is the shift in the weather. Sometimes subtle, sometimes forceful, but a shift, nonetheless. And this shift always points to something not-yet-here, but soon-to-come. Anticipation lingers as autumn leaves and winter comes.

Another shift can be found in marketing as retailers push, almost prod—okay, goad consumers into unconscious spending. Financial author Dave Ramsey describes this as a time when…

“We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.”

At least one other creative take on this painful perspective looks something like this:

“We spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need to create impressions that won’t last on people we don’t care about.”

What started innocently a generation ago with “Fall Sales” somewhere around the middle of October, now warms up just after Labor Day and runs hot all the way out to Valentine’s Day with several significant slow-downs for Grandparents Day, Constitution Day, International Peace Day, the Autumnal Equinox, Columbus Day, Halloween, Veteran’s Day, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, National Fruit Cake Day, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, Houseplant Appreciation Day, Groundhog’s Day and Super Bowl Sunday. Whew!

A third shift takes place with the change in music styles. The move from “Regular” to “Holiday” programming is perceptible beginning sometime in early November on at least a few radio stations. But the air time given to holiday music seems to multiply exponentially as the weeks move deeper into the calendar and as more radio stations join the musical momentum from andante to presto toward the 25th of December.

And just about the time we’ve become strangely comfortable with hearing Handel’s Messiah programmed between the mystically liquid voice of Karen Carpenter singing “Merry Christmas, Darling” and the improbable version of the Chipmunks singing “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” there will be that inevitable and anything-but-subtle-shift back to “regular programming” on the morning of December 26. We’ll awake on “the morning after” with the wonder of Christmas still wrapped around us like the fleece bathrobe we opened just a day before and wonder what happened to the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Somewhere in the shifts of the seasons and the rhythms of life with all of the challenges and celebrations of another year grown old, there is an even older song being sung. In the midst of despair and brokenness, it is the song of hope and healing. In the midst of war and feuding, it is the song of peace and loving. In the midst of death and dying, this is the song of life and living.

This is ancient song of Christmas.

Layered deeply on “Christmastime” an old ‘holiday’ record by Michael W. Smith is a sweet and gentle song entitled “Carols Sing.” The innocence of children’s voices combines with a haunting yet lyrical melody that seems to rise from the sanctuary of some spacious cathedral. The result conveys the simple and glad tidings of the Good News of Christmas to our lonely hearts.

And we are shifted.

Carols sing to the King, Jesus Christ our Savior;

Born this day, angels say, in a lowly manger…

He came down to the earth bringing us new birth,

Carols sing to the King; Jesus Christ our Savior…

Tidings bring! Hail the King! Shepherds did adore Him

From afar, by the star Wise men sought and found Him…

Son of God, Son of man all in all I see,

Carols raise, His name praise He shall reign eternally…

He came down to the earth bringing us new birth,

Carols sing to the King; Jesus Christ our Savior…

The promise of the Good News of Christmas wraps around us once again. It takes hold of us, lifts us up and moves us out beyond ourselves. Its promise is peace and it brings us hope that once again, these Glad Tidings—this Good News will do its shifting work in us.

How will it shift you? How will the Good News of the birth of Christ modify, change, alter, shift you today. As the day ahead unfolds, look for the ways that the unfolding season is shifting you.

Prayer~

Gracious God, I need to be shifted is so many ways. Shift me out of my old patterns and give me renewed vigor for the ways these shifts can move me into the lives of others.

#100days50words

#storiesfortheseasons

Invitation

Invited

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance …

Ecclesiastes 3:1-2, 4

I grew up with a strong sense of waiting and anticipation. My father was a pilot in the United States Navy for nearly 30 years. While we lived in several places around the country as well as a number of years in Morocco, Africa, my dad’s ‘office’ was the cockpit of an airplane and his ‘campus’ was the globe. Every deployment brought the hope of homecoming, and every homecoming included the possibility of another deployment. It was during the deployments that I learned to wait with anticipation, to prepare with hope for my dad’s homecoming. And when the waiting was over and he finally arrived, there was much to celebrate.

One homecoming stands out.

My dad had been gone for many weeks and, as I recall, was not scheduled to return for several more weeks. My mom measured the passage of time by counting holidays instead of months, weeks and days. Counting the three holidays of Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas seemed much more manageable than counting six to nine months. The way I measured time was far simpler. There was “right now” and there was “a long time from right now.” It was a Friday night and my mom and I were on our way home from The Big Josh, a favorite pizza joint not far from our home near McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey. I couldn’t have possibly appreciated the delicious irony of the name of that restaurant at that point in my life, but at some point near the last turn on to our street, I turned to my mom and said, “Wouldn’t it just be great if, when we got home, Daddy was there waiting for us?” It wasn’t more than a few moments later after that final turn onto the street where we lived that my mom suddenly stepped on the gas and sounded the car horn as the headlights of our car illuminated the tail lights of my dad’s car parked in front of our house.

He was home! The waiting and anticipating was over, the preparing had given way to the celebration.

Advent has arrived and with it the invitation to wait, anticipate, prepare, hope and prepare for the celebration of the birth of Christ. And the more we immerse ourselves into the season of Advent, the more meaningful the season of Christmas will be for those who invest the time. Having fully immersed ourselves in Advent and Christmas, the season of Epiphany takes on a whole new meaning. Conversely, if we simply ignore Advent—skip over it, get pulled into the vortex of the “Holiday Season”—into the fast pace of our culture’s take on “the-season-between-Thanksgiving-and-Christmas,” we’ll be left wondering, but not about the things that really matter.

In his book, Whistling in the Dark, Frederick Buechner offers a compelling image of what it means to approach the season of Advent:

The house lights go off and the footlights come on. Even the chattiest stop chattering as they wait in darkness for the curtain to rise. In the orchestra pit, the violin bows are poised. The conductor has raised the baton. In the silence of a midwinter dusk there is far off in the deeps of it somewhere a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself. You hold your breath to listen. You walk up the steps to the front door. The empty windows at either side of it tell you nothing, or almost nothing. For a second you catch a whiff in the air of some fragrance that reminds you of a place you’ve never been and a time you have no words for. You are aware of the beating of your heart. The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.

With that, it seems rather obvious that to miss that moment would be to miss most, if not all of the wonder of the season—the seasons just ahead.

The seasons of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany invite us into the rich details and rhythms of life. Among them: waiting, hoping, birthing, living, reflecting, and growing. Even dying and rising are part of the celebrating the details and rhythms of life as followers of Christ. These first three seasons of the Church year—Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, invite us into these details and rhythms and invite us to look more deeply at who we are and who God is in the midst of our lives.

As these seasons unfold meeting us in the midst of our hectic days filled with plans for gatherings and celebrations, we’re invited into something greater, something far more wonderful. We’re invited into the rhythms of life and joy that these days reveal. We’re invited in—not merely to observe. We’re invited in—not simply to watch the days go by—waiting for one day to end so that another day can begin. We’re invited to walk deeply into each of the coming seasons—not to find God, but rather to be found by the Mystery of the Story of God coming among us.

These are joyous seasons filled with waiting, hoping, birthing, living, reflecting, growing; even dying and rising. These are seasons of joy!

You’re invited to come along on a journey through the seasons of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. This will be a journey of waiting, anticipating and preparing for a celebration of light and life. This, in turn will point us toward the Epiphany, the revealing of Christ, God among us, God with us, God through us, God for us.

You’re invited.

Approach

ApproachToday’s Word: ‘Approach’ as in… coming near!

As we approach – as we come near the season of Advent, God approaches us. That’s the good news in all of this!

In his book, Whistling in the Dark, Frederick Buechner offers a compelling image of what it means to approach the season of Advent:

“The house lights go off and the footlights come on. Even the chattiest stop chattering as they wait in darkness for the curtain to rise. In the orchestra pit, the violin bows are poised. The conductor has raised the baton. In the silence of a midwinter dusk there is far off in the deeps of it somewhere a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself. You hold your breath to listen. You walk up the steps to the front door. The empty windows at either side of it tell you nothing, or almost nothing. For a second you catch a whiff in the air of some fragrance that reminds you of a place you’ve never been and a time you have no words for. You are aware of the beating of your heart. The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.”

With that, it seems rather obvious that to miss that moment would be to miss most, if not all of the wonder of the season of Advent—and the seasons just beyond Advent.

The seasons of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany call us into the rich details and rhythms of Advent life together: waiting, preparing, hoping, birthing, living, reflecting, and growing. Even dying and rising are part of celebrating the details and rhythms of life as followers of Christ.

These first three seasons of the Church year—Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, draw us deeper into life and call us to look more carefully at who we are and who God is creating us to be in the world.

Advent approaches! God approaches! Let’s approach with wonder!

#100days50words

#storiesfortheseasons

Seasons

SeasonsToday’s Word: ‘Seasons’ as in… Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany.

I have my mom to thank for my love of for these seasons of anticipation, celebration and manifestation and how one leads to the next as each builds upon the last.

There can be no Christmas without Advent. There can be no Epiphany without Christmas.

Joyce was all about creating anticipation during Advent. With daily visits to a small Nativity scene, we added angels and shepherds, sheep and donkeys, kings from the east and stars from the sky. One at a time, we added them. Each day each one was placed just so until finally the time came to add the baby, in the manger “because there was no room in the Inn.” Such anticipation! By the end of the fourth week of Advent with the anticipation at a fevered pitch, I was usually too tired to stay awake, yet too excited to fall asleep all at the same time.

The Christmas celebration was finally upon us! As Christmas Day turned into the day after Christmas Day and as most of the rest of the human race having already set its collective face toward Valentine’s Day, Joyce taught me to simply dwell in Christmas; to just “be” in each of the twelve, beautiful, wonder-filled days bursting forth with the good news of Incarnation: “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood,” as my late, dear friend, Eugene Peterson understood the Gospel writer, John. But just when the heart shaped chocolates were being replaced with chocolate bunnies, Joyce was just getting going with Epiphany, Christ’s manifestation to the whole world, shepherds and kings alike!

It was this attention to how each day made way for the next day, and the following day after that which made the daily-ness of the journey through these three seasons so magnificent.

So we’ll do that here. The days of Advent will prepare us for Christmas. And the days of Christmas will prepare us for Epiphany. And perhaps along the way we’ll learn something of the mystery of anticipation, celebration and manifestation.

#100days50words

#storiesfortheseasons

Numbers

NumbersToday’s Word: ‘Numbers’ as in… three numbers for Thanksgiving.

First, 365.

This the number of days in a year. The number of days since we last gathered for a feast of giving thanks for family and friendship, thanks for life, health and breath, thanks for the gifts of each one. Each day a gift, each day, a blank canvas to create something of beauty to bless the lives of others. At some point in our collective Thanksgiving celebration, it might be good to settle back for just a moment and consider all the ways God has been faithful. And then to commit to practicing this each day, not just once a year, but every day, giving thanks.

Second, 86,400.

This is the number of seconds in each day. It seems like a large number, but they go by so quickly, don’t they? In fact, in the time it took for you to read and then comprehend the previous two sentences, we’ve already spent 12 of those 86,400 seconds. So I’d better get to the point, right? 86,400 seconds in each day not only think about gratitude, but to express it. When we do that, things change. Studies show that practicing gratitude changes our lives. We’re healthier, we live longer, blood pressure goes down, quality of life goes up, and relationships are strengthened. When we tell someone that we’re grateful for them, that we’re so glad they’re in our lives, it’s becomes another way to say, “I love you.” When we express gratitude to God and one another, when we speak gratitude into the world right here and right now, we we’re making a better world.

Third, 1.

Let us be thankful boys and girls, for this one day, for this one moment, and for all the ones we care about and love, as well as for those we may not know, but with whom we share life

Let us be thankful and filled with love for the One in whose name we give thanks.

Let us be thankful for the One who gives us life and breath each second, each day, each year.

#100days50words

Familiar

FamiliarToday’s Word: ‘Familiar’ as in… when we know God’s ways, when we are familiar with God’s ways we know them deep down. We know them “with our eyes closed.”

Here’s the good news right off the bat: God fills us with wisdom to lead, guide and direct us in our lives. Have you ever been lost? Have you ever been someplace that was really unfamiliar to you? If you have, then you might know what it’s like to find your way back to more familiar surroundings.

Let’s try this: starting at one end of your house, walk to the other end of your house using some familiar route. Why is this so easy? It’s because you know the way. You’re familiar with the route. Now go back to the starting point and put on a blindfold.

Now walk the same route again, but notice what you do differently. You walk more slowly. You have to be more careful, more intentional. You use your imagination more; you imagine where you are. You imagine where you’re going. You run into things. You get disoriented. You get lost.

Let’s take a look at Psalm 86:11-12.

“Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name. I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever.”

When we know God’s ways—when we are familiar with God’s ways we know them deep down. We know them “with our eyes closed.”

Now go back and walk the same route again with your eyes wide open. As you walk the route through your home, read verses 11 and 12 once again. Think about how God has led you to this point in your life. Consider the ways that God might be leading you in some new, unfamiliar directions. You can trust God to show you the way!

When we know God’s ways, when we are familiar with God’s ways we know them deep down. We know them “with our eyes closed.”

#100days50words

Mint

MintToday’s Word: ‘Mint’ as in… a sweet reminder to give thanks!

We’ve got to begin with Luke 17:11-19.

It happened that as Jesus made his way toward Jerusalem, he crossed over the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten men, all lepers, met him. They kept their distance but raised their voices, calling out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

Taking a good look at them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.”

They went, and while still on their way, became clean. One of them, when he realized that he was healed, turned around and came back, shouting his gratitude, glorifying God. He kneeled at Jesus’ feet, so grateful. He couldn’t thank him enough—and he was a Samaritan.

Jesus said, “Were not ten healed? Where are the nine? Can none be found to come back and give glory to God except this outsider?” Then he said to him, “Get up. On your way. Your faith has healed and saved you.”

~ Luke 17:11-19 The Message

 

We’ve probably all been thankful for gifts and gestures of kindness we received. We can also remember those times when we forgot to say thanks when we should have.

The Healing of the Ten Lepers in Luke 17 is a story that teaches a lot about saying thanks.

On one level, it’s a story about ten people who were healed of a terrible disease, with only one returning to express gratitude. On a deeper level there are a lot of questions:

  • Why did 90% of the people healed fail to return to give Jesus thanks?
  • What motivated the one who did return?
  • Where did the other nine go?
  • What was the conversation with Jesus all about?
  • What does it mean to truly be thankful?
  • What is so powerful, or healing, or just plain inspiring about that little action of ‘turning around’ or ‘coming back’ to say thanks before getting on with the rest of our lives?

Imagine that you’re out for dinner at some nice restaurant. The meal is over and your server leaves the bill on the table, saying something like, “No hurry, I’ll take care of that when you’re ready!” On the little black, plastic tray, on top of the bill, there are several Andes Mints. You know, the ones wrapped in green and white foil. That’s your server’s way of saying thank you for eating at the restaurant and being terrific guests. It could also remind you of what a great job the server did; a reminder to leave a generous tip.

It’s at least a kind gesture. And we certainly need more kind gestures in our lives today.

The next time you are out for a meal and your server brings the bill and some Andes Mints, have each person take a mint and reflect on the things that stir gratitude. When you are finished, commit together to pray for the wait staff at that restaurant before you eat your next meal.

The mint: what a sweet reminder to give thanks!

#100days50words

Awake

Awake1Today’s Word: ‘AWAKE’ as in… Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme!

I first introduced you to John Birge in the Today’s Word posting for September 26, 2019. I explained that Nancy Lee and I begin every day with our favorite Minnesota Public Radio host. We love how, at 6:00 AM on the button, John begins his program by playing some version of “Sleepers Awake” by Johann Sebastian Bach which is based on the Philipp Nicolai hymn.

This morning was no different except that today is the anniversary of the first performance. Bach composed the chorale in Leipzig for the 27th Sunday after Trinity and first performed 288 years ago today, on November 25, 1731.

The text is based on Matthew 25:1-13 and tells the story of the wise and foolish virgins.

Here’s a translation of stanza One:

Awake, calls the voice to us of the watchmen high up in the tower; awake, you city of Jerusalem. Midnight the hour is named; they call to us with bright voices; where are you, wise virgins? Indeed, the Bridegroom comes; rise up and take your lamps, Alleluia! Make yourselves ready for the wedding, you must go to meet Him.”

Stanza Two continues,

“Zion hears the watchman singing,” and asks, “Now come, O Blessed One,/Lord Jesus, God’s own Son,” telling us that Jesus is that bridegroom. Zion hears the watchmen sing, her heart leaps for joy within her, she wakens and hastily arises. Her glorious Friend comes from heaven, strong in mercy, powerful in truth, her light becomes bright, her star rises. Now come, precious crown, Lord Jesus, the Son of God! Hosannah! We all follow to the hall of joy and hold the evening meal together.”

The final stanza culminates with this:

“Let Gloria be sung to You with mortal and angelic tongues, with harps and even with cymbals. Of twelve pearls the portals are made, In Your city we are companions Of the angels high around Your throne. No eye has ever perceived, no ear has ever heard such joy as our happiness, io, io, eternally in dulci jubilo!”

All of that amazing history and data aside, you probably want to just head on over to YouTube and watch and listen to this great jazz arrangement of “Sleepers Awake” by Jacques Loussier.

If it can be respectfully said that someone “crushes it” with regard to J. S. Bach, then Jacques Loussier and his musician friends certainly do that here.

#100days50words

Unlock

LockToday’s Word: ‘UNLOCK’ as in… this little exercise with a combination lock will actually unlock a new way of being reminded of the power of faith, hope and love in our lives.

Alright, this one’s for our young people.

Imagine standing in front of your locker at school. There’s a good chance that you’re not, at that very moment, wondering how to impact the world with faith, hope and love.

That’s okay. Not many of us are that intentional.

But just go with me on this: If your locker has a combination lock on it, spin the dial to the three numbers on the lock. (If you don’t have a combination lock, a key lock will work in three stages: put the key in, turn the key, then pull the locker open.) Spin the dial to the right, to the left, and then back to the right again. Now open the lock. How you feel when the lock actually opens? Now close the lock and spin the dial.

In 1 Corinthians 13:13 we read these words: “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”

I believe our greatest mission is to unlock faith, hope, and love in our lives so that we can help others unlock faith, hope, and love in their lives.

Now open the lock again. This time, instead of just thinking of each number, say to yourself, “‘Right to faith’, ‘Left to hope’, ‘Right to love’.”

Or say to yourself as you stop at the first number (or put the key in the lock), “I have faith in God.”

As you stop at the second number or turn the key, say, “I am filled with hope.”

As you stop at the third number and pull the lock open, say, “I am called to love others.”

Every time we open a lock we are reminded that faith strengthens our life with Christ, hope creates new possibilities each day, and love opens new doors in relationships.

Let’s lock in on that and unlock thriving life together!

#100days50words

 

Habits

HabitsToday’s Word: ‘Habits’ as in… we can always catch some new ones.

You’ll need some of those orange colored, cheddar flavored, fish-shaped crackers for this one.

Ready? Let’s go…

All of us have habits; some can be harmful, others can be helpful. Some habits, like brushing our teeth, expressing gratitude, or being on time for meet-ups and appointments can create order in our sometimes frenetically scheduled lives. Other habits, like not getting enough sleep, or gossiping can negatively impact our lives and relationships.

Our daily lives are filled with all manner of habits: we wake up, shower, eat food, gather our necessities, head out the door, and move through the day with relative predictability. We return home, interact with our friends and family, then eventually get some sleep.

The next day we repeat these rhythmic habits.

Occasionally, these rhythms are interrupted. That’s when life gets pretty interesting!

The story of the miraculous catch of fish in John 21:1-7 gives us a new twist on old habits. Let’s take a look at the story:

Later, Jesus appeared again to the disciples beside the Sea of Galilee. This is how it happened. Several of the disciples were there—Simon Peter, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples.

Simon Peter said, “I’m going fishing.”

“We’ll come, too,” they all said. So they went out in the boat, but they caught nothing all night.

At dawn Jesus was standing on the beach, but the disciples couldn’t see who he was. He called out, “Fellows, have you caught any fish?”

“No,” they replied.

Then he said, “Throw out your net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you’ll get some!” So they did, and they couldn’t haul in the net because there were so many fish in it.

Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his tunic (for he had stripped for work), jumped into the water, and headed to shore.

Jesus basically says, “Throw your nets to the other side…” We may have to pause and reflect on what that means for our lives.

Take a moment to quiet yourself. Close your eyes and imagine being in a boat on the water.

Now imagine Jesus speaking to you about throwing your nets on the “other side.”

What does he mean? What does the “other side” mean for you? What new thing is God trying to do in and through you?

Okay, it’s time to get crackin’ … or crackerin’ now. You’ll need those orange colored, cheddar flavored, fish-shaped crackers

Now set a few of those crackers in front of you, as if in a net. For each cracker, think of some word or phrase that identifies a habit that you’d like to “release” from the net.

Actually, you’re going to eat that cracker and all it stand for; this is not a “catch and release” exercise.

Think about the habits that keep you from fully enjoying the relationships you have. Think about the habits that keep you from experiencing a thriving life.

Today, be aware of all the ways you can throw your net in new directions. You may just catch something profound… like a new vision for habits that lead you to be more fully human today! (adapted from my writing in “Christ In Me: 30 Next-Level Encounters.” ©2002, Group Publishing, Inc., Loveland, Colorado)Christ In Me

#100days50words

Equipped

EquippedToday’s Word: ‘Equipped’ as in… Christ in us reminds us that we’re always equipped to do what God calls us to do!

Think about three things that you do really well. How did you learn those things? Who inspired that? Who helped you along the way? Do you know others who know or can do the same things?

Find a toolbox in your garage or ask a neighbor if you can explore their tool collection. Find several common tools like a wrench, a screwdriver or a tape measure. Take them out and set them aside.

Now look for some tools that are less common, like an oil filter wrench or a wire stripper or even a sheet rock saw.

Now look at each tool. Notice how each one is made for a particular purpose. You cannot use an oil filter wrench to tighten a bolt. You cannot use a screw driver to measure the length of a board.

(author’s note: It’s not a good idea to use a butter knife as a screwdriver, although most of us have tried).

You can’t use a sheet rock saw to strip a wire.

Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 12:4-11:

“God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful: wise counsel, clear understanding, simple trust, healing the sick, miraculous acts, proclamation, distinguishing between spirits, tongues, interpretation of tongues. All these gifts have a common origin, but are handed out one by one by the one Spirit of God.”

You’re equipped! You’re wise! You’re trustworthy! You’re faithful! You’re a healer! You’re discerning! You’re Spirit-led! You’re Spirit-filled! Thank God for the tools you have been equipped with to bless the world!Christ In Me

#100days50words

Overflowing

OverflowingToday’s Word: ‘OVERFLOWING’ as in… filled to overflowing with good news!

Do you ever watch television, listen to the radio or surf the internet and wonder why, after watching, listening or surfing, you feel empty, confused, hurt or even sick? Sometimes, dealing with the many messages that come from different sources can be overwhelming and even emotional.

Turn on your television or radio, or sit at your computer and navigate through the channels, stations and websites for just a few moments.

What kind of images to you see? What messages do you hear? Are they positive? Are they negative? Are they sad? Are the messages angry? Are the messages happy? Are the messages confusing? Are they encouraging? How do these images and messages make you feel?

Let’s look at another message from Psalm 107:1-9.

O give thanks to the LORD, for the Lord is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, those he redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south. Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to an inhabited town; hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress; he led them by a straight way, until they reached an inhabited town. Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. For he satisfies the thirsty, and the hungry he fills with good things.”

We’ve been created to bear the Good News of God: abundance of life, health and breath, and to embody the good news that God is with us and for us, and moving in us to bring light and life to the world. When our lives overflow with the good news of God’s goodness, mercy, justice and grace, it spills into the lives of others.

You are filled! So overflow! Christ In Me

(adapted from my writing in “Christ In Me: 30 Next-Level Encounters.” ©2002, Group Publishing, Inc., Loveland, Colorado)

#100days50words

Clay

ClayToday’s Word: ‘CLAY’ as in… you are the work of God’s hands, a priceless work of art!

If you’ve ever spent any time creating something; a picture, a model, a painting, a song, a poem, then you know the joy of creativity. Have you ever wondered what God thinks of you when God looks at you? You are the work of God’s hands and God continues to be creative with you!

You’ll need a hand full of clay for this.

Spend a few moments just holding the clay. Let it warm up in your hands. Now spend some time squeezing, pulling, kneading, twisting—just playing with the clay. When it’s really pliable, mold the handful of clay into the image and likeness of your most valued, precious, important relationship: a friend, family member, or even a pet.

After you’ve created your artwork, set it in front of you and read these words from Isaiah 64:8

“…GOD, you are our Creator. We’re the clay and you’re our potter: All of us are what you made us.”

Now close your eyes and say it from memory.

After you have read this verse and or committed it to memory, ask yourself why did you choose to make I did? Why is what you created so important to you? Look at the face (or where the face might go), what do you imagine that face looking like?

Is it happy?

Is it sad?

If this creation could speak to you, what would it say?

How would you feel if something happened to what you made?

God deeply loves and treasures what God has made. We are God’s creativity; created to do great things. When God looks at us God sees an amazing work of art!

Once you’ve put your clay away, look around your house for some finished pieces of pottery. Find a clay bowl, a clay vase, a plate, a mug, or even some finished art work. Think about these things and how they bring joy and satisfaction to you.

You are the work of God’s hands, a priceless work of art!

#100days50words

Heart

HeartsToday’s Word: ‘Heart’ as in… God is as near as near as the next beat of the heart.

Find a hand-sized rock and a dry sponge (If you can’t find a sponge, a dry wash cloth will work). Set each one in front of you and study them.

Are they smooth? Jagged? Rough? Soft? Hard? Pretty? Ugly?

Squeeze the rock as hard as you can. What happens to the rock?

Now squeeze the dry sponge. Squeeze! C’mon, squeeze it! What happens?

Now pour a cup full of water all over the rock and watch where the water goes. What would happen to the sponge if you poured a cup of water on it? Think about the last time you used a sponge. What were you doing? Were you washing? Playing? Cleaning? Working?

Let’s look at Ezekiel 36:24-28

“For here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to take you out of these countries, gather you from all over, and bring you back to your own land. I’ll pour pure water over you and scrub you clean. I’ll give you a new heart, put a new spirit in you. I’ll remove the stone heart from your body and replace it with a heart that’s God-willed, not self-willed. I’ll put my Spirit in you and make it possible for you to do what I tell you and live by my commands. You’ll once again live in the land I gave your ancestors. You’ll be my people! I’ll be your God!”

God fills our hearts with love. God pours all kinds of love and blessing into our lives. Do you ever feel like your heart is a rock and no matter what, God’s love seems to run off?

When you feel like your heart is rock-hard, guess what? God makes a new heart! God makes a heart that can soak up all kinds of love! God takes our hearts of rock and makes a sponge-heart and pours all kinds of love into us until we overflow!

God is as near as near as the next beat of the heart.

(adapted from my writing in “God Is Near: 30 Extraordinary Encounters.” ©2001, Group Publishing, Inc., Loveland, Colorado)Fruit - God Is Near

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Diamond

DiamondToday’s Word: ‘Diamond’ as in… beautiful, sparkly, strong, rare, valuable, treasured, bright, tested by fire!

Close your eyes and imagine a diamond. You can even find a picture of one in a magazine, online, or even see a real one that belongs to someone you know. If you described a diamond, you might use words like beautiful, sparkly, strong, rare, valuable, treasured, bright, tested by fire! Diamonds come from the earth and are made from carbon—the hardest material on the planet! It’s only after they are ‘tested by fire’ that they become so strong and beautiful.

Take a look at Romans 5:3-5.

“And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

Have you ever felt tested by fire? Have you ever felt really weak? Have you ever felt like rejoicing in your sufferings and hard times? That’s hard to do. But God says to us, ‘Trust me … I’ll never leave you; I’ll always be with you helping you grow stronger, brighter!”

We are God’s diamonds. God polishes us with love, grace, and mercy. When we have difficult times we continue to grow. God looks at us and sees diamonds and says:

“You are beautiful!” You are rare! You are sparkly! You are valuable! You are treasured! You are loved!”

How will you shine for today?Fruit - God Is Near

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Decorations

DecorationsToday’s Word: ‘Decorations’ as in… the stars above are God’s heavenly decorations, we are God’s decorations right here!

On a clear night, go outside and look up at the sky. Let yourself relax under this blanket of stars. Try to imagine how many stars there are and how far away they are. Now focus on the moon or some of the brightest stars you can see.

Can you find the Milky Way?

Can you see the Big Dipper?

Are you able to pick out Orion?

Look at the clusters of some dimmer stars. What happens when you look right at them?

Do they twinkle?

Do they disappear?

What makes them shine?

Can you imagine how they got there?

Now close one eye and hold your hand up between your open eye and the stars. “Hold” a star or the moon between your thumb and index finger and imagine God putting that moon or that star right there as a decoration for us to enjoy. Imagine God taking a handful of stars and flinging them across the sky letting them land where they did.

Psalm 8 is about God decorating the heavens…and the earth!

“GOD, brilliant Lord, I look up in wonder at your macro-skies, dark and enormous, your hand-made sky-jewelry, moon and stars mounted in their settings. Then I look at my micro-self and wonder, why do you bother with us? Why take a second look our way? Yet we’ve so narrowly missed being gods, bright with Eden’s dawn light. You put us in charge of your handcrafted world, repeated to us your Genesis-charge, made us lords of sheep and cattle, even animals out in the wild, birds flying and fish swimming, whales singing in the ocean deeps. GOD, brilliant Lord, your name echoes around the world.”

God has created you to be a decoration in the world; to bring beauty and grace to the planet, to bring light and life to the world.

Close your eyes again and say to yourself, “I am God’s decoration!

(With much gratitude to my canoe buddy, gregash28, for his spectacular IG photography!)

#100days50words

 

Stirring

Stirring (Still)Today’s Word: ‘Stirring’ as in… Christ in us causes all kinds of stirring in us and through us.

God is at work in us through the power of the Spirit. Even when we don’t feel like much is going on, God’s Spirit is continually moving and dynamic, bubbling, churning, welling up from the very depths of our lives.

Try this…

Take two pans and fill each of them with water. Set each of them on the stove and, being very careful, turn one of the burners on ‘high’ and watch it until the water boils. As the heat begins to warm the water in the one pan, finally coming to a boil, watch what happens to the water. What do you see? Bubbles. Steam. Movement. Condensation. Rippling water.

Now look at the other pan of water—the one without any heat under it. What do you see? What don’t you see?

Find an old-school bible or go online and read the story in John 5:2-9 about a man who was experiencing the love of Christ bubble up in his life!

Near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem there was a pool, in Hebrew called Bethesda, with five alcoves. Hundreds of sick people—blind, crippled, paralyzed—were in these alcoves. One man had been an invalid there for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him stretched out by the pool and knew how long he had been there, he said, “Do you want to get well?”

The sick man said, “Sir, when the water is stirred, I don’t have anybody to put me in the pool. By the time I get there, somebody else is already in.”

Jesus said, “Get up, take your bedroll, start walking.” The man was healed on the spot. He picked up his bedroll and walked off.

He’d been unable to “move freely about the country” for something like 38 years. Jesus encountered him and asked, “Do you want to get well?” The sick man said, “Sir, when the water is stirred, I don’t have anybody to put me in the pool. By the time I get there, somebody else is already in.” Jesus said, “Get up, take your bedroll, start walking.” The man was healed on the spot. He picked up his bedroll and walked off.

God wants our lives to be like water that is stirred up!

Look again at both of the pans of water. The more the pan is exposed to the heat, the more dynamic it becomes: With Christ in you, your life can bubble! With Christ in you, your life can shake! With Christ in you, your life can let off steam! With Christ in you, your life can move! With Christ in you, you can live!

(adapted from my writing in “Christ In Me: 30 Next-Level Encounters.” ©2002, Group Publishing, Inc., Loveland, Colorado)Christ In Me

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Alarm

AlarmToday’s Word: ‘Alarm’ as in… God is near, as near as your next alarm.

Set an alarm for three minutes from now. Lay down, close your eyes, rest and wait for the alarm to go off. While you’re resting and waiting, think about what alarms remind you to do: wake up, start something, finish something, be somewhere, go home, say thank you.

Alarms remind us to do important things. When was the last time your alarm went off? What did you do? Did you shut off the alarm and go back to sleep? Did you do what the alarm reminded you to do?

Let’s read Luke 17:11-19.

As Jesus went toward Jerusalem, he crossed the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers met him. Keeping their distance they called out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Looking at them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” They went, and on their way, became clean. One of them, realizing that he was healed, turned around and came back, shouting his gratitude, glorifying God. He kneeled at Jesus’ feet, so grateful. He couldn’t thank him enough—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus said, “Were not ten healed? Where are the nine? Can none be found to come back and give glory to God except this outsider?” Then he said to him, “Get up. On your way. Your faith has healed and saved you.”

Maybe reading this story is like an alarm: It’s time to thank someone! Do you need to thank someone? What was the greatest gift you’ve ever received? What are you thankful for today?

Before the alarm goes off, make a list in your mind of 10 things that you are thankful for and thank those people for their gift! God has given you the great gift of life today!

How could you call God today? How would you say thank you? What would you say thank you to God for today?

Now turn your alarm off, close your eyes and spend some time with God and share how thankful you are!

(adapted from my writing in “God Is Near: 30 Extraordinary Encounters.” ©2001, Group Publishing, Inc., Loveland, Colorado)

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Fruit - God Is Near

Veteran

Veteran

Today’s Word: ‘Veteran’ as in… Gene Gauche. Thank you for your service, dad!

Gene Gauche was born for adventure.

From his birth onward through his formative years in Lisbon, North Dakota, his 26 years as a Navy pilot, and on into the rest of his life, Gene loved the sense of discovering whatever was around the next corner. This was most evident in the fact that in his 62 years of marriage and life together with his wife Joyce, the two of them moved nearly forty times making a home wherever they were, including Coronado, California, Morocco, Africa, Beverly, New Jersey, Oak Harbor, Washington, Los Osos, California, Green Valley, Arizona, Edmonds, Washington, and Sun City West, Arizona, along with several summers on Lake Sallie, Minnesota. Gene and Joyce were married for 62 years before Joyce died in 2006 in Sun City West, Arizona.

That’s a lot of adventure.

Gene was active in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam conflict. Over the years he flew 14 different aircraft, was an instructor in the Hercules C-130 at Fort Dix and McGuire Air Force Bases in New Jersey and Wold Chamberlain Field known today as Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport. Among Gene’s many accomplishments during his 26 years in the United States Navy, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (for heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight); the Presidential Unit Citation (for extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy). Gene was also awarded the Air Medal with Four Oak Leaf Clusters.

Gene retired from the United States Navy on July 31, 1968 as a Lieutenant Commander.

Gene’s life was full and rich and he reveled in every role in life as a husband, father, pilot, hunter, musician, private and commercial real estate broker, private and commercial fisherman, a golfer (with a hole-in-one to his credit), a tennis player (with a state championship), a grandfather, a great-grandfather and a friend.

Gene was also known as a veteran.

And for that, today, and every day, I say, “Thanks for your service, dad!

#100days50words

Map

Map.jpgToday’s Word: ‘Map as in… God is near, as near as the address on your house.

You’ll need a map for this one. Go either old school with one of those huge atlases that don’t fit on any bookshelf you have in your home, or just use your computer. On the map, find your state and locate your city and your street. Now, for just a few moments, think about all of the people who live close to you; those on your street and in the neighborhoods around you.

Now imagine that you’re on a vacation. With your finger follow along all of the roads that lead you away from and back to your home. Think about all of the people whose homes you would pass as you traced those roads.

What do you think it’s like on those roads right now? Close your eyes and imagine what they might be doing as you passed them by. Think about what you might find along the way: stop signs, detours, lakes, rivers, closed roads, freeways, other vehicles.

How far from your home have you been? Have you ever been lost? Have you ever felt all alone? Have you ever felt like you needed some direction in your life? Were you afraid?

Did you find your own way back or do someone rescue you? What was it like to come home again?

Let’s take a look at Luke 15:11-24

The Parable of the Prodigal and His Brother 11 Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” ’ 20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

God wants to always be in a close relationship with us, but sometimes we feel very far away from God. But God is always near.

Put your finger back on the map on ‘your home.’ Imagine God saying to you. “Welcome home!” Say to yourself, “I am Home.”

Say out loud, “I am at home with God.”

(adapted from my writing in “God Is Near: 30 Extraordinary Encounters.” ©2001, Group Publishing, Inc., Loveland, Colorado)

#100days50wordsFruit - God Is Near

 

 

Fruit

FruitToday’s Word: ‘Fruit’ as in… God is near, as near as a banana.

You’ll need a banana or some piece of fruit that you can easily peel.

Pick up the fruit and hold it in your hand. What does it feel like? What does it look like, what do you see?

Hold it to your nose. What do you smell?

Now peel the fruit and taste it. Is it sweet or sour? Is it strong or mild? Is it what you expected, or are you surprised?

Often what we see on the outside looks much different from what we see on the inside.

People say that about the bible, too. What do you think?

You’ll need a bible. Pick up the book and hold it in your hand. What does it feel like? What does it look like, what do you see?

Hold it to your nose. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

What do you smell? Now ‘peel it’ open; turn to roughly the middle of the book and find Psalm 34:8. These words invite us to “taste and see that the LORD is good!” Our friend, Eugene Peterson translates it this way: “Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see how good God is.”

Do you ever wonder what God is really like? Can you see God? Can you smell God? Does God sometimes seem hard to get to know? Does God seem to be all wrapped up in mystery? Is your experience with God filled with drama, or maybe comedy?

We’re invited to go beyond the cover of the ancient scriptures and discover the amazing grace, the awesome love, the history, poetry, the love stories, the drama, and even the humor.

God invites us to peel back the layers of each page and discover how amazing the love of God can be!

The bible. Peel it. Open it. Taste it. See it. God is near. Now, as long as you’ve peeled the banana, go ahead and eat it.

(adapted from my writing in “God Is Near: 30 Extraordinary Encounters.” ©2001, Group Publishing, Inc., Loveland, Colorado)Fruit - God Is Near

#100days50words

Building

BuildingToday’s Word: ‘Building’ as in… the church should leave the building.

So here’s a question I’m wrestling with: When I “go to church” on a Wednesday, Saturday or Sunday, to give thanks to God for all that God has done, is doing, and will do in and through the people of God everywhere, when we “go to church” to sing, to listen, to pray, to give thanks, to share resources – all of that and so much more, is that all there is? Is that the extent of it? Is that the whole purpose?

Don’t misunderstand, great and important things go on and take place when the Body of Christ is gathered. Christ-Followers have been doing this for centuries, and the Body of Christ is strengthened greatly in this way. But at some point we have to ask ourselves what changes come about in our homes, in our neighborhoods, in our cities and beyond if just gathering together is all that we do?

I know, it’s a challenging question, but how does doing all of that really change the things that we all know need to be changed? I’m affirming without reservation that there are many ways and reasons that friends and family worship together “at church.”

What I’m challenging us to think about is how our being together ‘in the church’ changes how we think about ourselves ‘as the church’. How do we move beyond the walls ‘of the church’ so that we can actually ‘be the church’ for others who may not ordinarily – or even ever – darken the door of the church building?

Just a thought: “going to church” or “being the church.” I guess that’s a distinction that I’d like to make.

Kindness, acts of service, sacrifice, helping, listening, showing up, encouragement – all good stuff. It doesn’t always have to happen in a building.

So, may it be said of us: “The church has left the building!

#100days50words

Church

Church1Today’s Word: ‘Church’ as in… the church isn’t a place on the map, it’s not a building on the street. The church is a movement of the people.

(Read this one slowly, it’s is a little tricky.)

My conversation with the high school students revealed that being together in worship is a value that we affirm together as a church, as a community of faith. It is a value that runs very deep.

But it’s important to think about how we understand ‘church.’

Often, ‘church’ is understood as the building where people gather, where people go to consume ‘churchy’ things—“religious goods and services.” Church is sometimes described using phrases like engaging and entertaining worship, fun and lively music, inspirational and/or information-rich and/or data-heavy sermons/message.

Yikes! How did that happen? Aagghh! Never mind, I know. I’ve been part of the system.

But what if we helped each other think about church in a (really, it isn’t such a…) radically new (it hasn’t always been this…) way?

What if we began to understand ‘church’ not so much as a noun—a place or a thing, but more as a verb—a missional action that people live into; Jesus’ work, activity, presence, and power in the lives of people in our own neighborhoods, to say nothing of the world beyond the end of our street.

So then, when kids and parents and individuals and families begin to engage in the work of Jesus through their (brick and mortar) churches, they aren’t so much going to a (static) place, as they are actually becoming the (dynamic) hands and feet of Jesus in the world. They’re actually doing the work of Christ all around them.

The church from this perspective isn’t where we go to get something. The church is who we are when we’re giving something, giving ourselves away!

The church isn’t a place on the map, it’s not a building on the street. The church is a movement of the people.

#100days50words

Promises

PromisesToday’s Word: ‘Promises’ as in… our images of the Divine, of Jesus, of the Spirit really do inform how we live out the promises we make as followers.

I was talking with some high school students recently about their faith journeys. These young people were preparing to ‘affirm their baptisms’ which in our context is historically known as Confirmation.

We talked about images of God and what they ‘see’ when they imagine God’s activity in their lives. It’s always a fascinating conversation that reveals not only the images they carry, but the many different images that we, as their mentors, friends and guides, have suggested along the way. We talked about images of Jesus and ways of understanding the missional call to “be the hands and feet of Christ in the world.” We then talked about how the Spirit’s presence impacts people on a daily basis.

These were awesome conversations with some awesome young people. All of this was set within the context of five rich, layered and specific promises:

“…to live among God’s faithful people; to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper; to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed; to serve all people, following the example of Jesus; and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.

When I asked one young student how she understood these promises in her life, she talked about the importance of gathering with her friends for worship each week. She told me that the people that she worships with are some of her closest friends and that she really can’t imagine being without them in worship—to say nothing of life in general.

So many images, five promises. How do your images of God, Jesus, and the Spirit impact the promises you make as a follower?

#100days50words

Buried

BuriedToday’s Word: ‘Buried’ as in… if my nose is always buried in my phone I’ll probably miss the sunrise.

The baristas looked up when I walked in. Kacie, pulling shots like a pro, said “Good morning!” and Billy said, “Hey Paul, what’s up!” It’s become a near-daily ritual: swooping dark roast at the Caffeinated Palace. I greeted them back as I placed my order, scanned the app, then stepped aside to wait for the “sweet and intense” dark roast to appear.

My instinct, in this next moment is to look at my phone. I’m not looking for anything specific, and I don’t need any particular information. But the grooves I’ve cut, the behaviors I’ve learned lead me through a series of “gestures” that are now automatic.

With minutes to kill, extra moments to pass, and without any thought, my phone comes out, if it’s not out already. And with a tap, a flick, a swipe, a click, a pinch, or spread, or a drag, I’m pretty much lost in time that I’ll never have back. Much to my detriment.

But something different happened in this next moment.

I made the conscious decision to put my phone down, look up and notice the room; really notice the room. There were only four other customers in the store, and for one brief moment all five of us were buried in our technology. That’s a lot of tapping, flicking, swiping, clicking, pinching, spreading and dragging going on.

But as I looked around I began to notice other things: art on the walls, soft lighting in the corner next to a leather chairs, the smile on Kacie’s face, Billy’s ability to dance between the drive-through window and the Pick-Up counter.

And then there was the really beautiful sunrise going on outside.

The challenge I want to embrace is to be less a tool of my technology and more a student of my surroundings.

If my nose is always buried in my phone, and if my head is always down, I’ll never notice what’s going on all around me all the time.

And I’ll probably miss that sunrise.

#100days50words

Beginning

BeginningToday’s Word: ‘beginning’ as in… the Dream continues to create a new beginning. And that beginning continues with you. That beginning continues with me. That beginning continues with us; all of us together.

The Dream for health and wholeness that was imagined by a medical student who randomly picked up a book that was written by a writer sipping coffee one afternoon who heard a cellist playing melodies in the park where children flew kites with their families while a photographer snapped pictures, created hope because a record producer attended a dance recital while a crowd gathered to watch young dancers dance the Dream-Dance created by a dance teacher who was inspired at a dinner party by a drawing stuck to a refrigerator by a child who giggled and laughed out loud on a bus full of children on the way to school after a long night of dreaming the Dream-of-God-that-changes-everything.

Each month I gather with a group of parents preparing to celebrate the sacrament of baptism for their kiddos; the gift of God calling, naming, claiming, and surrounding them in love. They are joy-filled—every one of them as they hope for the “Dream of God” to be realized – unleashed – in and through their children. It’s only a beginning, but each time it happens it’s a new beginning! And that new beginning creates all kinds of life and more life! This new beginning continues with you. This new beginning continues with me. This new beginning continues with us; all of us together!

So let’s create the new beginning … again!

#100days50words

Healing

Healing (puzzle)Today’s Word: ‘Healing’ as in… when this Dream catches on, the hope for healing becomes a new thriving rhythm!

The story is illustrated, printed, bound and then published. The act of binding this book actually sets loose a new healing story!

Here’s what happens next: A young woman—a medical student at a university hospital, visits a local bookstore. She pulls the book from the shelf and reads the story written by the woman at the sidewalk coffee shop. Something is set loose deep within her. In that moment the disparate pieces of a medical mystery that has puzzled her and confounded her colleagues begin to come together. She drives to the laboratory. She gathers her colleagues. They organize their thoughts, they run new tests, they study the fresh findings. Finally, this young medical student and her colleagues realize that they’ve stumbled upon a possible hope for an impossible dream. It’s a new treatment for an old illness, a balm for brokenness, a remedy for a malady, a healing for heartaches. They discover a lifesaving response to a deadly disease and the Dream-of-God-that-changes-everything creates an awakening.

Something is happening: the Dream is catching on. When we dream this Dream, new stories are written and new possibilities are set loose. What’s happening is that the Dream becomes a new treatment which, in turn, could lead to healing.

And when this Dream catches on, the hope for healing becomes a new thriving rhythm.

#100days50words

Story

StoryToday’s Word: ‘Story’ as in… something happens when the Dream becomes a story.

The cellist plays music in the park; a large, green space in the midst of the city. On this beautiful day many people playing in the warm sun. A family enjoys a picnic, and as the cellist plays her music, inspired by Dream-Dance, children are flying kites. They are running, jumping, giggling and laughing out loud as their colorful kites dance in the breeze. All over the park people watch as the kites fill the sky with color and movement in this spirited Wind-Dance.

Something transformational happens as the kites dive and dance in the wind and soar to the rhythms from the cello.

Nearby, a photographer is taking pictures of the kites being flown by the children as they run, jump, giggle and laugh to the music from the cellist, whose friend in the recording studio shared the story of the Dance at a recital created by the teacher who saw the picture on the refrigerator that was illustrated with crayons and colored pencils by the little boy on the bus who overheard the little girl share The Dream.

As the cellist plays the beautiful melody, the music of the Dream-Song floats up and over the park until it reaches a young woman at an outdoor coffee shop. She is a writer. The music surrounds her, and the story that she has been struggling to create suddenly begins to emerge. In a flood of words and images, the story flows from her fingers into her laptop and onto the page.

A week later, after sharing the story with friends, one of them, a gifted speaker, retells the story to a large audience. This story is Dream-like; like no other story, like no other dream. In time, the story is illustrated, printed, bound and published.

Something is happening: the Dream is catching on. And when we dream this Dream, things happen. What’s happening is that the Dream is becoming our story. And when our story catches on, everyone begins to learn a new, thriving, rhythmic language.

#100days50words

Dance

Dance Emily JoyceToday’s Word: ‘Dance’ as in… once the Dream becomes a dance, then everyone begins to move into a thriving rhythm!

Months after the little boy’s picture winds up on the front of the refrigerator in the kitchen, his parents host a dinner party. They’ve invited some friends to join them. Several of them are standing in the kitchen, chatting away, sipping some really great wine (from the Marlborough region of South Island, New Zealand) when one of them happens to notice a drawing on the refrigerator. It is the little boy’s picture of The Dream.

One of the guests, a dance teacher, asks about it. She is inspired by the colors, the shapes, the grace and movement that she sees in this Dream-of-God-that-changes-everything picture.

Weeks later, still captivated, the dance teacher interprets the Dream-of-God-that-changes-everything picture into a Dream-of-God-that-changes-everything dance. She teaches it to a group of young dancers. One of them, a young man, dances the Dream-Dance at a recital. There is a large audience, including the oldest brother of one of the Dream dancers who watches with rapt attention. He is inspired, moved to tears by the Dream-Dance.

In time, back in the studio, he describes the Dream-Dance to a friend who plays the cello. Something is happening: the Dream catches on. When we dream this Dream, things begin to change.

What’s happening is that the Dream is becoming a dance. And when the Dance catches on, everyone begins to move in into a thriving rhythm.

#100days50words

Imagination

Imagination

Today’s Word: ‘Imagination’ as in… this Dream will spark some imagination.

Okay, so let’s imagine a room full of parents who have a life full of kids. The Dream-of-God-that-changes-everything unleashed in the lives of all of these kids is the bright, sundrenched, powerful, transformational, Spirit-breathed, other-worldly, and at the same time, very purposefully ‘this-worldly’ dream that God wishes to set loose in their lives. I believe that any one or all of the kids represented in any room full of moms and dads could, at any moment themselves, dream the Dream-of-God-that-changes-everything.

Let’s use our imagination with this.

A little girl crawls into her warm bed one night and falls fast asleep. She has a dream – it’s the Dream-of-God-that-changes-everything. The next morning she runs to the bus stop and tells her friend about The Dream. The Dream catches on as those two little girls sit together on the bus on their way to school. They’re giggling and laughing out loud, catching the attention of other kids around them. When one of the other kids on the bus asks, “What are you giggling and laughing out loud about?” the little girl describes The Dream-of-God-that-changes-everything in riveting detail and in living color!

There is a little boy sitting in a seat three rows back who overhears the ‘giggling and laughing out loud’ conversation.

Several days later, unable to get The Dream out of his head, he takes out a piece of drawing paper and with some crayons and colored pencils begins drawing a picture on that paper. It’s a picture of the Dream-of-God-that-changes-everything that he heard on the bus that the girls were giggling and laughing out loud about earlier in the week.

In time, the little boy’s picture winds up on the front of the refrigerator in his kitchen. It is held fast right there with a big magnet. The Dream catches on. Because when we dream this Dream, things begin to happen.

#100days50words

Dream

Dream

Today’s Word: ‘DREAM’ as in… we get to be Big Dreamers. So dream on!

Each month I gather with a group of parents preparing to celebrate the sacrament of baptism for their kiddos; the gift of God calling, naming, claiming, and surrounding them in love. These moms and dads have hopes and dreams for their mostly brand-new bundles of pure grace and joy that they hold so closely in their arms and so deeply in their hearts. They are joy-filled—every one of them as they hope for the “Dream of God” to be realized – unleashed – in and through their children.

During a recent gathering, I was nearly overwhelmed with the sheer sense of potential impact and transformation that any or even all of these children could have on the planet. “Following the example of Christ and empowered by God’s Holy Spirit,” these children could be the agents of hope and change, grace and newness of life that is borne out of the “Dream of God” among us.

Any one or all of them could be the ones through whom the “Dream of God” for a world at peace, the “Dream of God” for a planet free from the pain of brokenness of every kind, the “Dream of God” for the restoration of all things could finally come true.

Any one or all of them could be the ones through whom the “Dream-of-God” that brings peace out of war, love out of hate, trust out of fear, hope out of despair, truth out of falsehood, health out of sickness, wholeness out of brokenness, and even life out of death could become a reality.

It’s a big dream. And we get to be Big Dreamers.

Dream on!

#100days50words

Hoist

Hoist3Today’s Word: ‘Hoist as in… at some point we have to get up off the end of the dock, board the ship, release the mooring lines, drop the rudder, grip the wheel, hoist the sails and go.

The ancient book of Proverbs (29:18) reminds us, ‘Without a vision (revealing), the people perish.’ Written another way, “Without a sense of the future and the vision to go there, people will shrivel up and die; their dreams and visions will suffer atrophy and they find themselves ‘settling’.”

Without a sense of vision, people easily become like the three figures in N.C. Wyeth’s painting, cautiously looking over the side of the pier, not wanting—or even daring to look (to say nothing of actually going) beyond the safety of the breakwater to the open seas beyond. So let’s ask the question: what’s your plan for reaching your vision?

Personally, I know that it’s one thing to have a vision for nailing a commencement address, crushing a TED Talk, or even spending Christmas Eve in England with our whole family listening to the King’s College Choir sing the Nine Lessons and Carols. But if there isn’t a plan for how I’m actually going to accomplish the vision, it’s really not a vision.

It’s just a dream—a pipe dream (no pun intended).

Visions, dreams, plans, goals, they’re all important. But at some point we have to get up off the end of the dock, board the ship, release the mooring lines, drop the rudder, grip the wheel, hoist the sails and go knowing that nothing can hold you back.

So, let me just ask you again: What’s your vision? Close your eyes and imagine yourself at the helm, and for just a few moments consider where you’re heading today. It’s in those few moments, if you will take the time, that all kinds of opportunity, hope, expectation and vision will come to you.

So get up off the end of the dock, board the ship, release the mooring lines, drop the rudder, grip the wheel, hoist the sails. And go!

#100days50words

Questions

Questions1Today’s Word: ‘Questions’ as in… it’s okay to have a few. Or a lot.

Having a vision for the future is one thing. Actually getting to that future is another. Think about where you are right now and where your journey may be taking you. Are you asking questions? Now that’s a really good question.

Here are a few more questions in no particular order…

Where does my vision come from? Is my vision big enough? Am I ready for the adventure? Where will my journey lead? How will I get there? When will I get there? What will I accomplish? What will I discover about myself? What kind of impact will I make? How much will it cost? What dangers will I face? What will I risk by going? What will I gain by going? What will I risk by not going? What will I lose by staying? Will I survive? Will I thrive? Will it be dangerous? Will my ship sail? Will my ship float? Will I be afraid? Who will meet me in my fear? How far will I have to push myself? How can I turn problems into opportunities? What’s my next step? How will I chart my way? What does my head say about all of this? What does my heart say about all of this?

There must have been so much going on in Columbus’s heart; so many questions swirling around in Columbus’s mind on that day as he sat on the end of that pier gazing into his future with the conviction that nothing could hold him back.

Here’s what we know for sure: he went.

He got up from that pier, boarded his ship, and sailed out of the safety of the harbor into the open waters. Columbus’s vision took him from the end of that pier into places he’d never been before and it changed his life.

He went. Are ready to go?

#100days50words

Imagine

ImagineToday’s Word: ‘Imagine’ as in… let’s imagine what it would be like to actually be in this painting.

We can only imagine what it would sound like if we could hear it; if we could – as I asked my mother long ago, “play this picture.”

We can only imagine this one moment caught on the canvas of this mid-15th century digital image. We can only imagine the sounds of the harbor, the seagulls, the workers loading the ships. We can only imagine the voices of the people in the marketplace, the conversation among the men on the dock. We can only imagine the movement of the water drawing us deeper and deeper in the painting; drawing us closer and closer to the boy—this young man sitting on the end of the pier gazing longingly into the sun-drenched new day and the open water far beyond the safety of the harbor.

Near the very center of this painting is Columbus’s face. Tanned, yet tender, ruddy, and full of wonder, his face is full of the salty breeze of the Mediterranean. And we can only imagine what must be going on in his mind. What could Columbus possibly be thinking at this very moment?

Because it’s generally believed that Columbus began his voyaging career at around the age of 10, he knows he can do it! He trusts his sense of adventure! He knows that he has a vision for his future that will carry him confidently into the vastness of the sea beyond this safe harbor. But he must have had questions.

He must have had questions, right?

Having a vision, an idea, a hope for the future and then getting there are two different things. Think about where you’ve been. Think about where you are. Now think about where you’re going. What questions are you asking? Where will your journey lead? How will you get there? Just imagine!

#100days50words

Voyage

VoyageToday’s Word: ‘Voyage’ as in… we’re all on a voyage. Some of us are in the open water, others are still tied to the pier.

Back to the painting.

There are several components that, taken as a whole, add up to a remarkable story of a young man with vision. Most likely at the age of ten he’d already experienced the open sea and the thrill of the voyage. He then lived with that vision until the end of his life. But taken separately, each component has something to teach us.

First, there is the harbor.

It seems to be a safe place. The pace seems slow, deliberate, and calm. In the background, a ship is being loaded; readied for another voyage. We can imagine that a crew is working hard to supply the ship with everything the adventurers will need to meet the demands of the voyage ahead. But still, it’s safe, measured, and controlled; no storms are brewing in this harbor.

Next, there is the large iron ring in the forefront of this painting.

The ring is attached securely into the concrete pier. It’s there to securely hold any sailing vessel that would be anchored and moored. As Columbus sits directly over this ring though, it seems to add to his conviction about what he’s about to do. There’s a clear message: “Nothing can hold me back!”

Then there are the three figures behind Columbus.

20 feet away, three men are pondering the waters of the safe harbor. The juxtaposition between Columbus and the others could not be more striking. The three are huddled together in the shadows. They are turned inward, their faces are trained on the interior of the harbor, they are focused on the safe waters just over the side of the pier. Columbus, on the other hand is turned outward, his face is fully set into the bright sun; he’s looking out beyond the harbor to the open sea.

We’re all on a voyage. Some of us are in the open water while others are still tied to the pier. Where are you?

#100days50words

Picture

Picture

Today’s Word: ‘Picture’ as in… embracing a powerful picture of your future.

The wind blows gently out of the southeast into the safety of the harbor in the little village of Genoa, Italy. The foothills are brown in the late summer; brown against a mostly blue sky, except for the clouds that both soak up as well as reflect the soft rose hues of the sun dipping into the Ligurian Sea. Christopher Columbus sits on the end to the pier gazing into the west. And while the sun sets on another day of dreaming, a vision wells up within him as he stares into a picture of his future with fierce determination.

“The Vision of Columbus,” painted in the early part of the 20th century by the American artist N. C. Wyeth, depicts the young voyager sitting on the end of a dock in the harbor of his boyhood home. Wyeth has captured Columbus somewhere around 17 years old. His face is fresh. His expression is intent. His gaze is steady as he looks beyond the shallow waters of this familiar harbor to the open waters of oceans beyond.

I’ve studied this painting a thousand times. It comes from a music book – a collection of simple tunes and melodies for children that I’ve had in my possession since I was less than half the age of Columbus shown the painting. It was often, in my boyhood home, that I would open the book to this page and plead with my mother:

“Please play this picture!”

This painting has always stirred something deep within me. More times than I can count, it’s given me courage and reminded me of the importance of welcoming adventure and cultivating a sense of wonder.

Not long ago, after pulling the song book from the shelf and finding my way to this page, I realized that this single image represents for me a poignant sense of vision in my life.

Today as I look at this painting, a voice inside me speaks again:

“Please play this picture! Embrace the powerful image of your future!”

#100days50words

Release

ReleaseToday’s Word: ‘Release’ as in… it’s okay, just let go of it, you’ll be fine.

Nancy Lee and I are sitting on the deck, it’s late afternoon and we’re looking at two trees. One of the trees, an Ash, of some kind, has let go of thousands of leaves. Thousands. I didn’t count, but I know I’m super close. Thousands. We’ve raked, blown and mowed until the only thing left in the tree is a squirrel’s nest.

The other tree is a Maple. It’s a fiery, red maple with a tenacious spirit. The branches are still full. The colors are still vibrant, though changing. As we sit watching these two trees – one that my mom would have called “bare naked” (seriously, mom, are you kidding me?) and the other that we now have to refer to as “fully clothed” we notice that some of the leaves on the Maple are beginning to let go. One here, a couple there. Beautiful leaves are drifting, floating, falling. They are finally letting go. They’re letting go in order to do what leaves do after they fall: bring new life to some other part of the created order.

“Hmmm” Nancy Lee says, “that’s a good reminder.”

“A good reminder of what?” I ask.

It’s a good reminder when you see a leaf floating down like that, to ask yourself, what do I need to release right now? What’s holding me back or weighing me down, what’s keeping me from moving ahead? What, in this moment, in this day, in this week, in this season do I need to release in order embrace—or be embraced by life and more life?

Hmmm, it’s okay, just let go of it, you’ll be fine.

#100days50words

Blazing

BlazingToday’s Word: ‘Blazing’ as in… I looked and the bush was blazing away but it didn’t burn up!

The ancient story from Genesis 3 places Moses in a very holy, sacred space: Horeb, also known as Sinai. This was a place “where things happened; strange and wonderful things.”

This was where God seemed as close as the bush on the side of the trail. As the narrative unfolds, Moses sees the bush and it’s blazing! I mean, it’s on fire; it’s red, vibrant, alive, and exciting! And out of his mouth comes something like,

“What on earth is going on right here? I can’t believe this! The bush is blazing, yet it doesn’t burn up!”

It’s a remarkable story that stirs our imagination about how and where God “shows up” (as if there isn’t a place where God doesn’t show up).

I’m paddling with my “canoe buddy” Greg, and we see this bush on the shoreline. Because we’re in a wilderness place where things happen; strange and wonderful things, my imagination about God is already heightened. And out of my mouth comes something like, “What on earth is going on right here? I can’t believe this; look at that bush! It’s blazing, it’s on fire, red, vibrant, alive, full of excitement!”

You see, when we let the ancient story breathe a little – like it is supposed to breathe; when we don’t limit the story to ink on a page, or pages in a book, it has a way of speaking directly into our lives, into our days and moments right here, right now!

When we don’t settle for asking, “What does the story say?” but push it just a bit further and ask, “What is this story ‘saying’,” all kinds of new understanding emerges.

Maybe, and most importantly, we open up and our lives become wild places where things happen; strange and wonderful things, and we say things like, “What on earth is going on right here? I can’t believe this! The bush is blazing, yet it doesn’t burn up!”

What a remarkable, vibrant moment of blazing excitement this is!

#100days50words

Free

FreeToday’s Word: ‘Free’ as in… we haven’t been set free from the things that hold us back and oppress us just to be free; we’ve been set free from the things that hold us back so that we can move all things forward!

In the epic story of the Exodus – the freedom of God’s people from oppression in Egypt – God did more than just “get them out of there!” God didn’t merely set the Israelites free from something. God set them free for something. God set them free to be a blessing to the world.

The language we have for this is “blessed to be a blessing.”

It’s a temptation so live in one-dimensional blessing: “God has blessed me! Amen! Thank you God!”

That’s not the point. That was never the point. In fact, that just may be a little narcissistic.

God didn’t bless Abram just so he could have a great day. God blessed Abram so the entire human community could have a great day.

Three dimensional blessing acknowledges that God does set people free from oppression; God blesses – or sets people free in order to work toward setting all people free! The way that we live into that is to understand that we’ve been given freedom from the things that hold everyone back so that we can free everyone to move forward! What an epic story we get to tell together!

#100days50words

New

NewToday’s Word: ‘New’ as in… creation: we are a new creation, we are new today, we are new right now!

The biblical narrative carries the good news that everything is constantly being renewed.

Scripture begins with a new creation. The Genesis poem roots the beginning of all things in a new creation – a garden, of all things! On the far end, in the book of Revelation, the Genesis garden has grown into a New City, the image of a new heaven and a new earth.

The ancient prophetic voices were constantly calling people out from the old ways of being human into new ways of life and aliveness.

Jesus came to unleash newness on every level. His baptism is a reference to Genesis 1. His signs all point to the new creation. His resurrection reflects the new creation; the first day of the new week is a reference to the newness of all things, it’s an affirmation of this world – created good, everything coming alive, bursting forth right here and right now!

Let’s think about the implications for all of the ways we lean into thriving rhythms of life in our work, our play, our creativity, our relationships.

Let’s take some time today to consider how we can live and move, serve and love so that everything we do becomes an expression of the new creation.

#100days50words

Hineini

Hineini2Today’s Word: ‘Hineini’ as in… “Here, I am.”

This is a powerful Hebrew word which is best understood as a way of saying, “I am, here, now, fully present and fully ready to begin! Here, in this place, in this moment is where I am most fully and completely who I am!”

‘Hineini’ is a bold statement that the people of God used in significant moments of wonder, awe, and transition, in moments of fear and apprehension about whatever was coming next.

‘Hineini’ is a powerful word when we’re facing change, when we’re asking what it means to be fully present on the edge of or in the midst of significant transition. When you have no other words to use, you can say “‘Hineini!’ Here, in this moment, I am, I am fully me!”

In those moments when you’re watching the last breath of your loved one rise up into the air around you and all of the air is being sucked out of your lungs from sheer exhaustion, and the combination of both grief and relief and that deep, deep sense of loss collides with an even deeper sense of gratitude, and you have no others words to use, you can say “‘Hineini!’ Here, in this moment, I am, I am fully me!”

In those moments of ambiguity when you don’t know where the future is taking you, and there is mystery on the left and on the right, and you’ve got doubts and apprehensions and pain and weariness and you’ve got fear and loneliness, and inner critics and outer critics, and financial stuff going on and you have no others words to use, you can say “‘Hineini!’ Here, in this moment, I am, I am fully me!”

So go ahead, say it! Say it out loud! After all, here, you are!

#100days50words

Jolt

Jolt

Today’s Word: ‘Jolt’ as in… speaking the word ‘Hineini!’ awakens us to who we are and why we’re here!

In those moments when you’re speechless in the face of it all, you can say “‘Hineini!’ Here, in this moment, I am, I am fully me!” It’s like a jolt, a reminder to not fall asleep because this is the moment God has breathed into you; given you your life! It is the best moment of your life simply because you have it, right here, right now! And all of a sudden you realize that your own heart is still beating, you’re in sync, the sacred rhythm that’s been beating in you from the very Beginning is still beating in you right now, and you know you can face your future, with all of the mystery and ambiguity, the doubts and apprehensions, the pain and weariness, the fear and loneliness, because you can say you can say “‘Hineini!’ Here, in this moment, I am, I am fully me!”

#100days50words

Podcast

Podcast1

Today’s Word: ‘Podcast’ as in… yet another new episode of the Rhythms Podcast is now ready for you!

Navigate to www.paulgauche.com/podcasts to Episode 15 | “Missional” | Part 2 for some continued thoughts about thriving as missional-hearted, missional-minded people!

I’m sharing a poignant story about the death of a dear friend and how hearing some ancient words in a fresh, new way gives us a different framework for bringing our best to each day, our best to each moment, and our best to each other.

I’ll also offer up a different way to approach the evening news. Please don’t miss this.

Listen to Episode 15 | “Missional” | Part 2! It’s good stuff!

#100days50words

Covered

CoveredToday’s Word: ‘Covered’ as in… we are, indeed, covered, as with a blanket, with God’s amazing grace and extravagant love.

Have you ever been really chilled, really cold? Do you have a favorite blanket that you wrap up in? When we feel lonely, or tired, or even ‘under the weather’ it can be healing, comforting to wrap up in a blanket where we can feel warm, safe, secure.

Try this: find your favorite blanket, then find a place where you can be quiet and alone. When you’re still, settled, take that blanket and wrap it around your shoulders. How does that make you feel? Surrounded? Held? Known?

Now put the blanket over your head and let it come down around you as far as it will go. How would you describe the moment? Dark? Warm? Safe? Secure? Quiet?

Consider these words from Psalm 27:5…

“For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock.”

Have you ever needed to hide? Have you ever been in trouble?

Try this: put the blanket back over your head. Close your eyes and breathe deeply.

Ahhh… let’s do that again.

Okay, take another breath and, once again.

Once again, bring to mind the words from Psalm 27:5…

“For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock.”

I want you to imagine the warmth and light of God’s presence; Immanuel – God with us, God for us. Imagine an embrace; God’s arms wrapping around you. Imagine God holding you, protecting you, surrounding you, covering you with love, with grace. God surrounds you, God covers you – like the warmest, safest blanket.

Tomorrow, as you rest, reset and renew, let the words from Psalm 27:5 cover you.

#100days50words

Grand!

GrandToday’s Word: ‘Grand!’ as in… I wish I had a buck for every time a grandparent told me: “Grand parenting is just the best! You’re going to absolutely love it!” If I had a dollar for every time I’d been told that, I’d be a wealthy man.

Nancy Lee and I have just become grandparents. Again. For the fourth time.

Just days ago, a little life entered the world, entered our lives and found a home in our hearts. And in the way that something like this always does, this new little life changed me in ways I couldn’t have anticipated.

Birth should do that.

There’s something about the “beginning” and the “brand-newness” of a birth that changes everything in us. A birth brings wonder and awe, it stirs something in us. It creates new hope and deeper promise. The remarkable news of a birth calls us out of ourselves, out of the dark nights of our winter, and invites us into something brighter and warmer and wonder-filled. Birth—even in its grand mystery, should point us to the promise of new ways of knowing and being known.

Birth should do that.

Birth teaches us about waiting and preparation. It reminds us of the importance of gathering with friends and family to celebrate the expectation of a pregnancy.

Birth should do that.

Birth reminds us of the power of kind and loving words of grace spoken into the silence as well as the noise of our much-too-busy lives. Birth should be a sign of a greater invitation—even a song that we sing about the fullness of time.

Birth should do that.

Birth reminds us of the power of surprise, how we feel and what we experience when a child is born into our midst; the softness of her breath, the wonder of his voice, the joy the peace, the hope, the love that a child brings.

Birth should do that.

We have a grandson. This birth has done that.

#100days50words

Birth!

BirthToday’s Word: ‘birth!’ as in… Welcome to the world Emmanuel “Manny” Soren Gauche!

Born on 10/8/19 at 9:03pm. 8lbs 7oz. 20.75 inches! Congratulations Bethany and Soren!

We’re so very proud of you and so filled with gratitude to God for this gift of new life!

This is just grand! So let the granding continue!

#100days50words

Aha!

AhaToday’s Word: ‘Aha!’ as in… the third stage, after endings and the wilderness. Also known as the “New Beginning.”

New beginnings don’t typically begin with an epiphany, although an epiphany certainly could happen. More than likely, we’ll have an “Aha! Moment” that could be somewhat surprising. A whisper, a hint of some new direction, a bit of confidence, a moment of clarity, a meaningful experience alerts us to the idea that we’re on our way forward.

William Bridges, a leading voice in change and transition theory puts it this way:

“The lesson in all such experiences (of change and transition) is that when we are ready to make a beginning, we will shortly find an opportunity. The transition process involves an inner realignment and a renewal of energy, both of which depend on immersion in the chaos of the (wilderness). Much as we long for external signs that point the way to the future, we must settle for inner signals that alert us to the proximity of new beginnings. The first hint may take the form of either an inner idea or of an external opportunity, but its hallmark is not a logical sign of validity but a resonance that it sets up in us.”

We don’t usually think about it this way, but we can actually start something long before truly beginning it.

New beginnings are about internal developments such as coming to a new understanding about what the changes will mean for daily life, welcoming new attitudes about what you once feared, and exploring new identities that lead to important questions like “Who am I now? What are my new roles?”

As William Bridges reminds us, “New beginnings happen when people are ready to make the emotional commitment to do things the new way and see themselves as new people.”

Some questions for you: Have you had an experience of a new beginning? What were the ‘tip-offs’ that something new was about to take place? What helped you to land on your feet as you navigated change? What’s your best advice to someone in this stage?

#100days50words

Chrysalis

 

chrysalis

Today’s Word: ‘Chrysalis’ as in… a great image for understanding the Wilderness stage. The caterpillar turns into a chrysalis before emerging as a butterfly.

This is a good time to ask, “What am I doing?” “Where am I going?” “Why am I doing this?” But we must not rush this. For many, the natural response is to grab hold of something—anything—new, in order to get out of the discomfort. But if sufficient time isn’t allowed for the pieces to fall into place in their own way, unhealthy decisions can easily sabotage the entire process. The purpose of exploring “Wilderness” is to face reality, and creatively explore new ways of doing things. In spite of the instability, the “Wilderness” can be a time of great creativity, innovation, and renewal which requires time, reflection, experimentation—even disagreement. So when we’re in the “Wilderness,” the task at hand is to just be in it.

Here are 10 ways we can make the most of “The Wilderness” and perhaps even shorten it.

1) Shift your attitude by reminding yourself that this is a time of redefinition and not a time of meaningless waiting—even if it doesn’t look like it.

2) Readjust expectations and accept that this will be a less productive time – for now.

3) Limit additional changes; resist the urge to add more to your plate.

4) Expect uncomfortable emotions like fear, confusion, even despair.

5) Get creative. The Wilderness can be a good time to question, experiment, brainstorm.

6) Take time to be alone on a regular basis; seek solitude.

7) Set some short-term, achievable goals to give yourself a sense of accomplishment and forward movement.

8) Track your progress by journaling, going on a retreat, connecting with a friend or a coach regularly, or merely giving yourself time to reflect.

9) Resist the urge to skip this phase pressing prematurely for certainty or closure before you’re really ready.

10) Know that you can survive. It may not feel like it, but you will live through this and come out on the other side.

So hang on… the “Aha!” is coming!

#100days50words

Riddle

Riddle

Today’s Word: ‘Riddle’ as in… I have one for you: “What goes on four legs in the morning, on two legs at noon, and on three legs in the evening?”

In this classic riddle presented to Oedipus Rex by the Sphinx in Greek Mythology, Oedipus Rex was the first one to solve it—all the others who failed were eaten by the Sphinx—after which she threw herself down a chasm.

Wow. And I thought I had test anxiety!

The solution: Humankind.

As a baby, a human goes about on all fours (“four legs in the morning;” morning = infancy) until the child learns to walk (“two legs at noon;” noon = childhood) well into adulthood (“three legs in the afternoon;” afternoon = adulthood). Such is the picture of transition.

Now from Greek Mythology to the Scriptures: Themes of Change and Transition leading into the Wilderness are found in many biblical stories.

The central human figures in the Genesis poem move from paradise through guilt and shame toward a new point “East of the Garden” the direction of renewal.

Sarai and Abram move from Abram’s home country through the wilderness toward a land that God would show them.

Job moves from “having it all” (large family, huge flocks, strong name), through utter desolation (catastrophe, death, grief, loss) on toward restoration.

Jesus moves from childhood (teaching in the Temple at 12), through adolescence and young adulthood (a carpenter) toward his ministry in adulthood.

But the most significant picture of change and transition, however, is the Exodus. The Israelites move from oppression in Egypt through the unknown Wilderness toward the land of promise. In each case, people have grieved faced their losses, let them go, ready to move into the second phase—wilderness: that confusing in-between place where people are no longer who and where they were, but not yet who and where they’re going to be.

For most people, this wilderness is very uncomfortable. Yet, it’s also known as a place of exploration (adventure?) because it explains the movement that must take place.

Really? How puzzling!

#100days50words

Still

StillnessToday’s Word: ‘Still” as in… only through being still can we experience a renewal that will lead us to, and through, the next part of the journey.

Considering all of those questions I gave you yesterday… even if you took time for a handful, you’re probably feeling overwhelmed.

That’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a sign of health to be able to feel anything at that depth.

There are many ways to navigate “The Endings.” The most important first step is this: seek some stillness.

Find some solitude in the midst of your swirling world which seems to be constantly changing, demanding, challenging. People do this in many different ways. Some will set aside time every day to sit quietly and think, and listen. Others will write in a journal, still others will pray and meditate. A few will listen. Many will go for a run or a swim.

Whatever you do, seek some moments for your interior to slow down.

Tomorrow is a sabbath, a day of rest. Let’s do this together tomorrow. The point is that it’s probably a really good idea to resist—if not reject the demand to respond, act, decide what’s next.

Just be still.

Become aware of your drive to “sort if all out.” Trust me, only through this stillness can we experience the renewal that will lead us to, and through, the next part of the journey: The Wilderness.

For now, be still.

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Questions

QuestionsToday’s Word: ‘Questions’ as in… let me give you some questions to wrestle through:

Go back to your early childhood and recall some experiences involving endings. Some may have been overwhelming, perhaps a death in the family. Others may have been significant to everyone except you—your parent’s departure on a trip, the death of a pet, or a friend moving away.

Now ask yourself: Why is change important? What’s the benefit, what’s the downside? What’s changing in your life right now? What will actually change? What will you lose, what will you gain?

Think of a current change and respond yes or no: Have I defined clearly what is over and what isn’t? Have I let myself grieve and acknowledged the losses even when they seem like overreaction? Have I worked hard to unpack old baggage, heal old wounds, and finish unfinished business? Have I found ways to ‘mark the ending’, not to denigrate the past, to find ways to honor it? Have I said thank you to everyone who has contributed? What pieces of the past will I bring with me into the future? Have I equipped myself with the necessary information and knowledge I need to manage this aspect of the transition?

Now that this change has occurred, what old ways of doing things must I give up? What have I lost? What needs do I have that will no longer be met? How can I meet those needs in other ways?

Because of this change, what parts of myself and the way I see myself are now out of date? How can I grieve these losses? What can I do to symbolically say good-bye?

Acknowledging the losses and creating a way to symbolically or ritually let go of them can help us to end well and move on to the next phase of transition, the Wilderness.

Go ahead and spend some time with these questions. They’re important.

And so is working through them.

#100days50words

Dis

DisToday’s Word: ‘Dis—“ as in… ‘Man, did I get ‘dissed’ on that or what?

Let’s take a quick look at the five “disses” of the Ending Stage.

First, dis-engagement means to break with a familiar social pattern. It involves acknowledging that ties between people, structures and present roles are loosening. Disengagement is a frequent theme in ancient and modern stories: Jesus journeys forty-days in the wilderness. Harry Potter leaves home for Hogwarts. It is the part of an ending where we most experience loss.

Second, dis-mantling is the process of taking apart old mind-sets, habits, past behaviors and practices one piece at a time.

Third, we experience dis-identification through the loss of our old understanding of who we are.

Fourth, dis-enchantment involves the growing acceptance that the reality in which we blindly trusted is, in some crucial respect, false. Discovering the truth about Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, or when you discover that a leader, a lover, a best friend, a spouse, is not who you thought they were.

Fifth, dis-orientation is the disruption of the status quo when suddenly our orientation is altered. We feel like a vessel bobbing on the water without compass or star sightings. We don’t know where we are and we don’t know if we’re ever going to go somewhere ever again.

I watched all five of these movements happen in my dad’s life when my mom died in 2006. The following twelve months were an example of complete powerlessness. There was depression, denial, anger, listlessness, and confusion. A critical step in his healing process was first accepting the fact that something ended; it was the end of a 62 year-long companionship with the woman he’d known since junior high. He had to acknowledge that before he could begin to accept the new idea.

No easy task at all. This took much time.

If we don’t acknowledge the emotions that we’re going through, we’ll likely encounter resistance throughout the entire change process.

But this is a leap. This is a gigantic leap. This is a leap of faith.

More to come!

#100days50words

Endings

EndingsToday’s Word: ‘Endings’ as in… the first stage of transition.

All transitions have three stages: ending of something familiar, wilderness, and new beginning. It’s a time to assess where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going. But there’s always one constant: everyone moves at their own pace. Those who are comfortable with a change will likely move through wilderness to new beginnings more quickly; others will linger at stages one or two.

Endings are about leaving, losing, letting go, and every transition begins with an ending. You can’t start something new until you let go of the old. Whenever we experience change, we must acknowledge an ending. We also must deal with the pain and loss that comes with change. Depending on the situation, this can be extremely painful. Our default is to default to the past because it gives us a false sense of comfort and control. However, it is important to identify what is being lost, grieve those losses, and let them go.

Successful transition begins with grieving losses and letting go of the old situation.

So here’s the key point: we have to let go of the old thing before we can pick up with the new thing—not just outwardly, but inwardly, where we keep our connections to people and places that act as definitions of who we are.

Over the next couple of days we’ll explore five aspects of the natural ending experience: dis-engagement, dis-mantling, dis-identification, dis-enchantment, and dis-orientation.

These “dis-es” are closely aligned with the five-stage grief sequence Elisabeth Kubler-Ross identified: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. One can begin anywhere and move through the rest in any fashion, perhaps even circling back to certain ones several times. But unless one experiences all of them, one doesn’t truly end, and, therefore, can’t truly begin again.

So hang on, my friends!

#100days50words

Transition

TransitionToday’s Word: ‘transition’ as in… what we do internally with the external changes in life.

Transition is the emotional, psychological, internal response, the inner reorientation and self-redefinition that we go through in order to incorporate changes into our lives. Without transition, change is just a rearrangement of the furniture. In change we ask, “What just happened?” Transition helps us ask, “What will happen in response to change?”

While transition is a normal, natural and necessary human process, some people deny and avoid it. When we don’t have a safe, productive ways to express and process our feelings, we’ll internalize them. That’s when our emotions re-appear in denial, anger, fear, frustration, cynicism, skepticism. The result is often inward and outward resistance which slows down or stops the needed change in our lives.

So how do we know if we’re at a transition point? There are several hints: what used to be easy is now hard; our performance plateaus, neither getting better or worse; after losing our job we’re forced to rethink who we are and what we have to offer; we’re unhappy in our current life and work situation; we’re tired of doing the same thing over and over; there’s low motivation to create good things; our relationships aren’t working; we’re thrust into a life role for which we feel unprepared; we have a general uncertainty about life and work purpose; we’re angry all the time at the people who put us in this position; we don’t want to talk or think about the future; we just want things to stay the same; we’re afraid of what the future will bring – it can only be bad; we feel completely helpless, like we’ve lost all control over lives.

Whew! Take a couple of big, deep breaths. I’ll wait.

So where are you with all of this today? It probably feels unsettling. That’s okay. I’ll walk you through this. These are necessary moments. You can’t go around this; you’ve got to go through this.

Two things are coming: the Wilderness and then the New Beginning!

Stay tuned for some thriving!

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