The Advocate


Last Monday I grappled with the concept of the Holy Spirit, and this week I got another dose from John 14:15-20. We read the NRSV version, in which Jesus describes the Holy Spirit this way:

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth…”
When I first read the verse in church on Sunday, the word “Advocate” leapt off the page, so later I looked up other translations, interested to see what additional word choices are used to describe the role of the Holy Spirit. I found these: Comforter, Helper, Counselor and Friend. All descriptive words; all provide a nuanced interpretation of the Holy Spirit. But I have to say, I think I like “Advocate” best.

I like to imagine the Holy Spirit standing beside me at Heaven’s gate, advocating to God on my behalf: “Really, Lord, she did well, all things considered. I know it was touch and go for a while, but I think we should let her in.”

Yet I don’t think God intended the Holy Spirit to advocate merely at the eleventh hour, but daily, too, through the dozens of decisions we make in the everyday. After all, the word “advocate” comes from the Latin word vox, which simply means “voice.” And I like to think of the Holy Spirit, my Advocate, literally as that little voice inside my head, the voice that knows best.

It’s there, that voice; I hear it from time to time. The trouble is, I often fail to listen. I hear my advocate gently prod in one direction, yet I choose to do exactly the opposite.

How often, for example, as tensions and frustrations escalate with my children, do I think, “Okay, Michelle, breathe…relax…be patient.” As the voice of the Holy Spirit cascades through the chaos, occasionally I choose to listen. Sometimes I inhale deeply, sit down with the boys, talk the matter through reasonably. But sometimes, even when I consciously know exactly how I should react, I allow caustic words to erupt from mouth like bubbling lava.

Or take gossip. I’ve heard myself preface a remark this way: “I shouldn’t even say this…it’s not very Christian, but…” That’s right. I know what I am about say is wrong. And I say it anyway. As the Holy Spirit advocates for loving kindness, I blatantly disobey and spout malicious gossip instead.

It’s one thing to err unintentionally, but blatant disregard? Suppressing that voice to embrace anger and cruelty instead?

It’s frustrating, this business of being human. This flawed life. It’s disappointing. Discouraging.

But look again at that passage from John. Jesus doesn’t suggest we have a temporary Advocate. He doesn’t imply we get the benefit of a counselor for a limited about of time. He doesn’t threaten us, tell us that if we blow through our pile of “get out of jail free” cards, we’ll be out of luck. No, Jesus tells gives us an Advocate, to be with us forever.

A lifetime warranty, unlimited guarantee. No matter what.

Quite a deal, God’s grace. Quite a deal indeed.

Which word do you prefer for the Holy Spirit? Advocate? Counselor? Helper? Friend? Something else?

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Sundays are for Remembering

"You can see that there is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountain tops of our desires."

Nelson Mandela, "No Easy Walk to Freedom" speech, 1953

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The Sweater


My column in the Journal Star is a bit lighter this month...about a silly sweater and a lot of love.

Click here to link over...

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Owl Eyes


My neighbor Karna helped out at the Raptor Recovery Center last week, and she snapped a few photos of these baby screech owls for the boys. Brad thinks they are cute-creepy, but I disagree – I love these guys!

And I love and appreciate my neighbor, Karna, because of the kindness and care she shows all God's creatures, from raptors to rambunctious boys!

I'm linking up with Beki at The Rusted Chain for Fingerprint Friday.

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A Promise of Something Greater: A Guest Post by Jennifer Dukes Lee

I've been reading Jennifer Dukes Lee's blog Getting Down with Jesus for about eight months now, and I was wowed right from the start. As a former newspaper reporter turned journalism teacher, Jennifer wields a powerful pen – she has an impressive command of language, a flair for description and an ability to capture character and narrative in a way that's poignant and compelling without being sacharine sweet. Jennifer also has a rock-solid faith which shines brightly through her eloquent words.

Earlier this month I got the opportunity to meet Jennifer when she, her sister and sister-in-law were in town to run the Lincoln Half Marathon/Marathon. Jennifer cranked out 13 miles with courage and grace...and raised more than $7,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society doing it.

Blogger pals: Deidra, Jennifer and me!

Jennifer, Deidra and I spent about an hour or so in the Cornhusker Hotel lobby, chatting away like we've known each other for months...and in a way, we have. All I can say is that Jennifer is even more genuine and beautiful in person as she is online. Plus she brought chocolate-covered soy nuts from her family farm – it was love at first sight (and taste).

Jennifer describes herself as an Iowa farmer's wife, mama to two girls and an imperfect pilgrim who is stumbling her way Home. You can read more of her wonderful writing at Getting Down with Jesus and at Internet Cafe Devotions, where she's a regular contributor.

Here's Jennifer on faith and writing...


He was laid out on creamy velvet inside the bronze, 18-gauge steel box at the front of the Baptist church. The air was heavy with the perfume of roses and gladiolas.

He was only 14.

A woman wearing a wide-brimmed yellow hat played the organ. I shuffled down the aisle in the procession toward the casket, with my reporter's notebook tucked discreetly in my purse.

The boy's mother said I ought to come to the funeral that day. I remember her words: "If nothing else good comes of my son's death, maybe someone will read your story and lock up their guns."

Knees weak, I reached casket's edge. They say news reporters aren't supposed to cry, but grief tumbled wet down these cheeks.

He was part man/part boy, dressed up in navy-blue. His mama had tucked a threadbare, stuffed bunny into those boy/man hands. And the people shuffling down the aisle groped for words of comfort: He looks so peaceful. He's in a better place.

The mother – steely strong in those high heels – shook their hands.

I took my place in the back pew, a spectator at the funeral of a stranger. I cried for a life interrupted by an errant bullet; for the mama in the front; for my own children, yet unborn; and for a faith I had yet to fully grasp.

My writing changed that day, because for the first time I can remember, I wrote from the same place that held my tears.

***

Robert Frost once said, "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader."

And as I've grown in my vocation of writing – and as I've grown in my faith – I know deeply the truth Frost speaks. I've softened in my "older" age, and when I write, the tears flow more easily than they once did. (I'm only 38, and I cry almost every day. I fear I might drown in these tears by age 62!)

As writers, we take snapshots that reveal more than "just the facts" that we've uncovered at the side of the casket, or during bedtime prayers, or behind the cubicle walls, or in the hospice house.

We reveal very life. In snippets and moments caught in freeze-frame, we capture ordinary experiences that speak to extraordinary truths. And this can never be done with a cold recitation of facts. And it can rarely be done if we back away from stories that evoke deep joy or sorrow or longing within us.

For me, this sort of writing can be painful, both for what it reveals and what it fails to. Writing can sometimes feel like the bleeding of self onto the page – even in the most joyful of stories. For we often fall short in finding the right words to capture the deepest parts of the human experience.

Other times, the impassioned words spill as readily as the tears – or tumble as ferociously as the laughter.

I admire writers like the Apostle Paul. Because even he cried as he wrote.

He wrote to the Philippians: "For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears ... "

These words we write? They draw from a well where faith and tears and laughter and words are all intertwined. Whether we write in newspapers, or blogs, or journals, or Hallmark cards, our words and emotions are interconnected.

Because we draw from a place that can stand at the casket's edge to see more than death. Indeed, we know the promise of something greater.

***

Yes, my writing changed that day in the back pew of a stranger's funeral. And you know what? My faith did, too.

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Thank you, Jennifer, for participating in my series on Writing and Faith – your words astound!

And here ends the four-part Writing and Faith series. If you missed the other guest writers this month, click here for Deidra, here for Jo and here for Susan. And thanks for reading along!

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She Said, He Said

If you’ve ever read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink you’re probably familiar with Dr. John Gottman, the psychologist made famous for his ability to predict divorce in couples with close to 94% accuracy, based on just a few minutes of observation.

When I read about Gottman’s research several years ago it unnerved me. To be honest, I was completely undone. To make matters worse, the findings sparked a heated dispute with my husband. “I wouldn’t want that guy to come anywhere near us,” I insisted to Brad when I explained Gottman’s research to him. “We’d be totally doomed! I just know he’d condemn us to divorce!”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Brad replied, clearly irritated I was so quick to torch our marriage based on the latest New York Times bestseller. “Why would you even say that? You can’t define an entire marriage and a shared history on 15 minutes of observation.”

Commence argument.

The problem was that I was hopelessly wooed by the science, which in my mind proved everything without any doubt. Gottman was a highly respected, highly educated psychologist who’d studied something like 14 trillion couples. Of course he was right, and Brad was just plain silly – in my mind – to disregard proven, scientific fact. I didn’t consider, of course, that Gottman had never met Brad and me, had never studied us as a couple. I just assumed that if he did, we would fail his test.

Did I ever mention I’m a bit of a pessimist?

Since Blink was published, a number of studies have poked holes in Gottman’s theory – it turns out his divorce prediction rate may not be nearly as high. Despite that, I would argue that there is still great truth embedded in Gottman’s theory, truth that can be found in one of the most-repeated verses in the Bible: 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7.

You see, after years of research Gottman concluded that the four negative behavior patterns continuously prevalent in troubled marriages were criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.

Avoid these destructive behaviors, Gottman concluded, and you avoid divorce – which, if you ask me, is exactly what Paul has told us all along:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

Look at those negative behaviors again: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, stonewalling. And ask yourself, how does your relationship fare when you employ those tactics?

I’m guessing not well.

There was a time, not long ago, when I used contempt as my weapon of choice. Here’s how it worked. Tone laced with sarcasm, my voice would imply contempt and disdain in words unspoken. What I left unsaid hung in the air like a razor-sharp scythe. Brad called it the “Implied Dumb Ass.” We’d laugh about it sometimes, but the truth is, it wasn’t really funny. My tone, the implied “Dumb Ass” I left hanging unspoken on the end of a curt statement to my husband, was hurtful and rude. Critical and contemptuous. A Gottman red flag.

When I read Gottman’s study I recognized that negative behavioral pattern in myself. And I worked to change it. My tone rarely implies “Dumb Ass” anymore (although to be really honest, I can’t be sure I haven’t transferred it to communications with my kids).

I’m not saying my marriage is perfect. I'm not saying I'm perfect in marriage – oh, far from it. Frankly I still wouldn’t want Dr. Gottman sitting across from me in Burger King, eavesdropping as I conversed with my husband. But I’ve learned something these last few years. I don’t need Gottman to tell me how to nurture my marriage. Paul said it 2,000 years ago, and his truth remains the same today. I’m finally listening.

Each Wednesday Ann Voskamp at A Holy Experience encourages us to write about a spiritual practice that brings us closer to God. This week she suggested we write about the practice of Holy Matrimony.



holy experience

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The Jury


I sighed heavy and groaned as I slid the folded paper from the envelope and read the opening lines:

“Michelle DeRusha, you are hereby summoned and notified that you have been selected to serve as a juror during the two-week jury term beginning May 10. You are required to appear in Lancaster County District Court as instructed below.”

Jury duty.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always viewed jury duty as a giant pain in the neck. One simple letter and my well-oiled life turns upside-down. Now suddenly there were arrangements to make with my employer, childcare to schedule, transportation to and from school to arrange – to say nothing of the hours and hours of sitting in a stale, airless courthouse waiting room.

So how did I fare? Meet me over at Make a Difference to One where I'm guest posting today to find out...

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Wind, Fire, Tongues




I’ve always had a problem with the Holy Spirit part of the Trinity.

Jesus I get. He lived; there’s historical evidence for his existence – I can relate to him as God who came to Earth in human form.

Then there's God. God is more amorphous, certainly, but God is so vast, so big and unfathomable, that I simply accept his existence (on most days) on faith and tradition.

But the Holy Spirit is another story. Baffling, mysterious, vaguely defined, the concept of the Holy Spirit is a particularly challenging one for me.

When I was young I often heard the Holy Spirit referred to as the Holy Ghost. I’d observe my grandmother’s lips silently form the words, “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost,” as she dipped fingertips into cool holy water and made the Sign of the Cross on forehead, chest and shoulders, water droplets glistening.

Later, use of the term “Holy Ghost” faded into antiquity, replaced by the less ominous but no less mysterious “Holy Spirit.” Spirit, rather than Ghost, may have sounded more comforting, but the murkiness didn’t evaporate with the name change.

Reading the description of Pentecost in Acts 2 a couple of years ago didn’t help me much either. As a violent wind blew upon the disciples and tongues of fire “came to rest on each of them,” they were suddenly filled with the Holy Spirit and began “to speak in other tongues.” The crowd, amazed and perplexed, turned toward one another asking, “What does this mean?” (which frankly, given the strange circumstances, seems a fairly rational, civilized question). Some onlookers wondered aloud if the tongue-speakers had drunk too much wine.

I know there are plenty of people today who continue to speak in tongues, but I have to be honest, this description of the Holy Spirit doesn’t resonate with me. I simply can’t relate to it. I can’t imagine such an experience happening to me.

So it’s not surprisingly that I empathize with the disciples’ befuddlement over the Holy Spirit, as described in yesterday’s reading from John 14:1-17.

Jesus tells the disciples in a simple and straightforward manner that he is going to his Father’s house to prepare a place for them, that he will return to get them at a later date and that they know the way to place he’s going.

Thomas logically responds: “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Thomas is confused, puzzled – perhaps interpreting Jesus literally, wondering where Jesus is planning to travel, and how he will know how to get there as well.


Jesus patiently responds to Thomas’ question: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Yet Philip, still not understanding, asks again, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

In these verses Jesus speaks metaphorically, and yet the disciples still interpret his words literally. Jesus tells them, “Follow me in mind, heart and spirit – do as I do, do as I have taught you,” and the disciples still insist, “Follow you where? Where are you going?” It makes me laugh a bit to think of the disciples still not getting it after all this time with Jesus. I can relate. I’m sure that’s how God feels about me sometimes.

Jesus responds patiently to his disciples, reiterating his message no fewer than five times and altering his language only slightly:


“I am in the Father, and the Father is in me. The way to the Father is through me.”
Sometimes I wonder if Jesus sent down the Holy Spirit out of pure exasperation. Perhaps, in the midst of that fruitless conversation with his disciples, he realized, “They just don’t get it. They aren’t going to get it! I need to take radical action here!” Maybe that’s when he decided we humans needed the Holy Spirit breathed directly into our souls:

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.”
I’ll be honest, I still don’t think about the Holy Spirit much. I pray to God, I read the Bible and try to learn from Jesus’ message, but the Holy Spirit is sorely neglected.

That said, I’ll never forget the first time I ever spoke to Pastor Greg one-on-one. It was several years ago, just as I was beginning to touch a tentative toe into the waters of faith. I made an appointment to speak to him privately in his office, specifically about the fact that I didn’t feel I believed in God, in my heart. That I hadn’t for many, many years.

As I left his office that afternoon, Pastor Greg said this: “I believe the Holy Spirit brought you here today, Michelle. I believe the Holy Spirit is working within you."

I didn’t quite know what to make of that statement when I left Pastor Greg’s office, and to be honest, I didn’t think about it much. But today I believe that comment lit a spark of hope deep within my heart. And God has been fanning those flames every since.


How do you understand the Holy Spirit?

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Sundays are for Spotting Swallowtails

We saw our first yellow swallowtail of the season. We drank in her bold color and intricate design as she sipped sweet nectar from fragrant lilac.

Simple sweetness...drink it in.

My life goes on in endless song
Above earth's lamentations,
I hear the real, though far-off hymn
That hails a new creation.
Lyrics from the hymn, "How Can I Keep from Singing?"

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Noah and the Rubber Fichus


Noah is more and more interested in the blog these days. "What are you writing about now?" he'll ask, peering over my shoulder at the screen. I'll answer, "Jogging" or "coffee shops" or whatever the topic is at the moment, and he'll inevitably ask, "What does that have to do with God?" knowing that I blog about faith. And then I'll explain – or try to explain – the connection.

Last week Noah had a suggestion for me. "Why don't you write about my rubber fichus tree?" he asked, as he gently rubbed each waxy leaf with a damp paper towel to remove the dust and grime left over from winter's dry heat.

"Well...what exactly would I say about it, honey?" I responded skeptically. "What does the rubber fichus have to do with God?" I asked, turning the tables on him.

"Write about how I take care of my plants as a way of taking care of the Earth," Noah explained. "And because it's God's Earth, he likes when I take care of it. That sounds like something good for your blog."

I couldn't agree more.


Then God said, "Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seeds in it, according to their various kinds." And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing their seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it, according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:11-12)
Linking up with Beki at The Rusted Chain for Fingerprint Friday.

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Writing: My Mid-life Crisis...A Guest Post by Susan DiMickele

I came across Susan DiMickele's blog, A Working Mother's Daily Rant, about three months ago. I saw a tweet by her literary agent Rachelle Gardner, who announced that one of her authors had launched a new blog. Curious, I clicked over.

I love Susan's blog because it's real life. She works full-time as a trial attorney, is a wife and mom to three young children, maintains the house, runs the errands, cooks dinner...and she writes. Every day. In fact her first book, Chasing Superwoman: A Working Mom's Adventures in Life and Faith, releases in just a few weeks.

Wow. That kind of motivation and life-balance astounds me.

Read more about Susan's daily musings about parenting, work, faith and life at her blog...and be sure to check out her book there or on Amazon, too!

I'm so pleased to feature Susan DiMickele as part of my Writing and Faith series. Here's what she has to say...


I’ve had a diary since the fifth grade. From adolescence through adulthood, I’ve written myself out of more than a few slumps. Broken hearts. Broken dreams. Family illness. Spiritual highs and lows. The ups and downs of marriage. The joys and heartaches of raising children. There’s something magical about putting on paper the things that my head can’t always process and my heart can’t always feel.

A couple of years ago, my writing journey took a new turn. Not surprisingly, it was in the middle of a crisis. From the outside, everything looked fine. I had just made partner at the firm. Abby – my third child – had just turned one. Doug and I were happily married and remodeling our home to add that extra bedroom. I had the kind of life that most people could only dream of. But inside, I was struggling. And I was restless.

I was burning the candle at both ends. Working hard, sleeping little, and running on empty. What was I trying to prove anyway? Who was I – a lawyer, a mother, a wife? And where did being a follower of Christ fit into the many hats I was wearing?

In the midst of my personal identity crisis, I cried out to God. “Is this it? What purpose could you possibly have in this crazy yet incredibly full life I am living?” I knew there had to be more. And if I didn’t do something about it, I would implode.

So I started writing. I mean really writing.

When I started writing my first book, Chasing Superwoman, I had no idea if anyone would want to read it – let alone if I would be able to get it published. It was my personal rant. I was tired of being Superwoman, and I had to get it out of my system. I guess you could say it was my mid-life crisis. Some people buy a sports car, go blonde, or have an affair. I wrote a book instead.

As I wrote, something wonderful happened. Yes, I was able to secure an agent and a publisher, but more importantly, I experienced a new-found freedom that I hadn’t felt in years. God used writing as a match to ignite my faith to action. I finally came to terms with the person that God created me to be. And I finally let go of Superwoman.

How has God used writing on your faith journey? If he’s telling you to write your way out of a slump, just do it!

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To read other posts in the Writing and Faith series, click here for Deidra Riggs and here for Jo Myles. And next Thursday don't miss the fourth and final writer in the series!

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I Could Be Wrong


"I could be wrong."

It's a simple phrase, really. But honestly, how often do you use it? Or even think it?

Pastor Sara preached on the topic of unity last Sunday, based on the reading from John 17:20-26 [I wrote about these verses on Monday...but I have more to say!]. In the middle of the sermon, she asked us to turn to the person sitting on either our left or right and say, "I could be wrong."

It was a simple example of how to create a path toward unity, rather than divisiveness – a path toward openness and acceptance rather than disdain and judgment.

Since I was sitting alone on one end of the long pew, I didn’t have anyone to speak to, which told me something I’ve suspected all along: that I am never wrong.

Seriously though, Pastor Sara’s question really made me think about the innumerable opportunities I have each week to utter the phrase, “I could be wrong.” And what impact that innocuous sentence might have on my interpersonal relations.

Take my job, for instance. I work with a group of intelligent, professional, ambitious people. They all work hard at their jobs and perform exceedingly well. And many of them are highly opinionated about their work and the way we do business – myself included.

What if, in the midst of our next heated discussion, I was to concede, “Well…I could be wrong.” Would that not shift the whole tenor of the discussion, the whole dynamic of the interaction? Would that not open communication, rather than close it off like a stalemate surely would?

What about my marriage? I would risk killing him on the spot – death by complete and utter shock – but I’m guessing that admitting, “I could be wrong” to my husband in the midst of our next dispute might defuse rather than ignite the argument.

Or take my children, for example. Let’s just say, hypothetically speaking, that if Rowan were to “accidentally” spray the inside of the sunroom with the outside hose through the sliding screen door, and I were to go absolutely insanely berserk – hypothetically speaking again, of course – that perhaps later, an admission not only of “I could be wrong,” but “I was wrong to yell at you like a howler monkey” might be the best course to pursue.

Hypothetically speaking.

My point is that in admitting, “I could be wrong,” we encourage harmony rather than discord, conversation rather than stalemate. We promote unity amongst our fellow co-workers, neighbors and family members, rather than self-righteous stubbornness.

After all, we are all wrong countless times, time and time again, whether we admit it or not. We are all fallible. There is only one who is not. And we learn from him how to practice unity and love.

When was the last time you admitted to someone that you could be wrong?


holy experience
 
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Don't forget...another talented author on Writing and Faith here tomorrow!

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My Town


It’s not a pretty picture. I snapped it from my mini-van during a rainstorm, as I waited for the right moment to dash into the coffee shop. The photo doesn’t do it justice, but there was something about that sky, cumulonimbus crashing into cerulean, that begged to be captured.

Later when I looked at the picture I noticed something else besides sky: my town.

That’s how I think of it now. My town. With its low-slung Midwestern buildings; its ferocious, biting, Plains-driven winds; its weather-battered behemoth grain elevators, peeling-paint concrete.

Yes, this is my town.

I hadn’t wanted to move here, to Lincoln…to Nebraska. I took one long, hard look at the landscape as we drove across I-80 and into town, and I deemed it ugly. Wide, vast, oppressive sky squeezing breath from my body like a vice. I deemed it ugly.

Barren. Empty. Dull.

You may not see beauty when you glance at that picture. But I do. I see beauty now.

You may see bland buildings, but I see community – the coffee shop where I chat with fellow writers one night a month, poetry melding with rain patter on porch awning. The coffee shop where I sip Columbian decaf, crunch almond biscotti, pour heart into willing ear of pastor. The coffee shop where Brad, the boys and I sometimes stop for hot chocolate, big cup topped full with bittersweet after December drive through twinkling lights.

You may see lackluster street, but I see quiet peace. Doors left unlocked. Traffic, none.

You may hear nothing – boring, dull, no razzle-dazzle. But I hear cornstalks whispering like gossipy old ladies; cottonwood leaves sizzling like bacon in a skillet; leaves turning inside-out, pearly underbelly exposed.

You may not see much at all. But I see my town.

I see home.

Sharing this snippet with Emily at Chatting at the Sky.

tuesdays unwrapped at cats

And with Darcy at Life with My 3 Boybarians.
Sweet Shot Day

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Unity


I’ve written about my tendency toward self-righteousness here before. Sometimes it’s easy to justify – I assume because my opinions are related to a moral issue (most recently about support of Haiti after the earthquake), that I am justified in my self-righteousness.

Yesterday’s reading from John 17:20-26 tells me self-righteousness is never acceptable; that I should never place myself above anyone else, no matter what the issue. Jesus tells me I should simply aspire to be unified with my fellow humans through God’s love:

Wow. I must say, that’s quite a vision…a vision that frankly seems unattainable in our fractured, contentious world.
I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one – as you are in me, Father, and I am in you…I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.


On a personal note, think about the hot button issues that rankle you the most. And think about putting those aside for the sake of unity.

This means pro-lifers must embrace pro-choicers…and vice versa.

This means Democrats must embrace Republicans…and vice versa.

This means those in favor of universal health care must embrace those who don’t…and vice versa.

This means heterosexuals must embrace homosexuals, and vice versa.

When Jesus commanded that we love God and love our neighbors, he didn’t just mean the people who are easy to love. He meant the people we disagree with the most, too. The people who hold political views that make our blood boil. The people who lead a lifestyle we consider immoral. The people who practice customs we don’t understand. The people who commit outrageous crimes.

He meant we must love even the people who don’t believe in God. Or who believe in a God who is different from ours.

Look again at what Jesus says in John 17:20: “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message.”

It’s a radical prayer.

Jesus doesn’t merely pray for his disciples – the Christians who already believe in and follow him.

Jesus also prays for anyone who will ever believe in him. Notice the word “ever” slipped in there. Doesn’t this open the possibility of everyoneall people on Earth? Every single person who walks this Earth fits into the broad category of "anyone who will ever believe."

In short, Jesus’ prayer is a global prayer – one with no limitations or boundaries. Jesus’ prayer is inclusive, not exclusive. Jesus prays for you and me…and for all those who may ever believe. And that includes every man, woman and child on Earth.

How do you practice inclusiveness and unity in your life? How do you love your neighbor...even the neighbors who are least like you?

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Sundays are for Sitting


A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot!
Rose plot,
Fringed pool,
Ferned grot –
The veriest school
Of peace; and yet the fool
Contends that God is not –
Not God! in gardens! when the eve is cool?
Nay, but I have a sign:
'Tis very sure God walks in mine.
Thomas Edward Brown

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Grateful


I am a complete and total ingrate for accepting but not acknowledging these awards from fellow bloggers and friends. I am grateful...just immensely lazy!

So, without further ado...I am bestowing these awards on a several very worthy bloggers. The awards typically have all sorts of requirements – like naming a certain number of recipients – but I've sort of lost track, so I will make up a few of my own rules.

For each of the three awards – the Beautiful Blogger, the Versatile Blogger and The Sunshine Award – I will name three recipients. And, as is often the case when receiving a blogger award, I will also reveal five little-known details about myself in this post.

Heartfelt, though much-belated thanks, goes to Alita at Da Maniacs for The Beautiful Blogger Award.

And...drumroll please...The Beautiful Blogger Award goes to:


1. Katie at Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness – for her beautiful heart.

2. Kim at Kimmy Does Denver – for her beautiful friendship.

3. Dawn at Beyond Grace – for her beautiful encouragement.

Equally heartfelt thanks goes to Esther at For Such a Time is This for the Versatile Blogger Award.

The Versatile Blogger Award goes to:



1. Heather at All A Flutter – for her creative versatility (photography, home decor, writing – she's got it all!).

2. Katdish at Katdish – for her quirky versatility (she features great writers, has a great sense of humor, and offers compelling questions and thoughts about faith).

3. Susan at A Working Mother's Daily Rant – because she wears so many hats so well: mother, attorney, blogger and published author.

And finally, thank you to Sitka (and Sitka's Mommy, Andrea) at All God's Creatures for the Sunshine Award – my first award from a non-human species!

The Sunshine Award goes to:


1. Deb at Talk at the Table – because her gorgeous writing and breathtaking photography bring light into my heart.

2. Sassy at Sassy Suppers – because she makes the best-sounding food!

3. Rachel at Finding Joy – because this mom of 7 amazes and inspires me!

Awardees: If you choose to do anything with your honors, here are some official rules (vague, because I don't recall all the details).

1. Nominate at least 3 other bloggers.

2. Leave a comment for those you choose to award, letting them know they have a treat to pick up on your blog.

3. Thank the giver with a little mention on your blog.

4. List 5 little-known details about yourself on your blog.

And now...the moment I know you've all been waiting for, like you haven't heard enough about me in the past 9 months...some little-known details:

1. My favorite restaurant is Louie's Backyard in Key West.

2. I am dying to visit Cinque Terra, Italy (maybe I'll get there by the time I'm 65).

3. My favorite place is my lounge chair on my back patio on a mid-summer evening, as the cicadas buzz and the kids sleep.

4. One of my favorite hot-summer-day activities is having a full-out drenching water fight with Brad and the kids in the backyard [warning: do NOT mess with Rowan; he will soak you in a heartbeat].

5. The person I long to see most right now: my nephew Oliver.

I know I've listed a lot of blogs here, but try to pop over for a visit in your "spare" time. They are all gifted in their own unique ways and bless me immensely.

Happy Weekend!

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Easy Breezy

[In case you're wondering...yes, that is food on his face]

Do you ever have a day when you felt light and airy, free and jubilant for really no reason at all? Me? Not so much. I'm prone to crankiness. But occasionally I wake up with that indefinable feeling of happiness and contentment, feeling easy-breezy, carefree.

Yesterday was such a day.

While I'm inclined to chalk it up to hormonal imbalance, I can't help but revel in the simple delight of that feeling.

So here's to an easy-breezy, happy-go-lucky day. Roll with it. Run with it. Embrace it. Take a breath. Drink it in.

Linking up with Beki's Fingerprint Friday over at The Rusted Chain.

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Belief: A Guest Post by Jo Myles

Jo’s blog Mylestones was one of the first blogs I encountered in my meanderings 9 months ago when I first started blogging. I was drawn to her immediately, not only because she lives in Maine – envy! – but also because of her unique voice and her enchanting photographs. I was instantly smitten. Jo just seemed like someone I’d want to be friends with, had 1,500 miles not separated us. I wanted to pour a cup of coffee, set out a plate of scones and chat with her all day. When you visit Mylestones, I’m sure you’ll feel the same.

Jo writes at Mylestones, where you'll find her attempts to navigate the wild ride and chart the memorable moments of life with her family in Maine. Married to her high school sweetheart, this mother of two (ages 5 and 3) dislikes writing about herself in the third person, and especially despises writing bios. She is a recovering corporate hamster wheeler, a naptime freelancer, a sometimes runner, and a frequent recipe-butcherer. And, with a move to the Midwest in her near future, she is fast becoming a cardboard and bubble wrap connoisseur.

Here's Jo on writing and faith...


I read about him again today, this father to a demon-wrecked boy. He said it first, before the words became mine, before I began mouthing them day after day until I forgot where it was I first heard them. They are as much mine now as they were ever his:
Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief. Help my unbelief.
For that man, who lived a father's nightmare, the opposite of belief was despair. If not Jesus, if not this very last hope, then who? Then what? His boy might die at the hands of demons.

But me? I have long lived with the luxury of unbelief, under a solid roof that shelters drawers of clothing to rival the lilies. I ignored Him during long stretches of my dark-to-dark career, putting Him off until after the merger, the IPO or the annual reviews. I turned to a weekly church service to temper the guilt, to beg for mercy without repentance. I sang with a heart that wanted to be whole but wasn't. I tuned in and out of the sermon, making lists on my bulletin.

For months at a time, it might have been the only heartfelt prayer I prayed.
Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.
And then came despair, showing up in my own story. If this Gospel wasn't true, not true enough to change my life, then the grief, the suffering meant nothing.

When again it became my prayer, now choked with urgency and heartbreak, I asked because I couldn't fathom the alternative. If not Jesus, then who? Then what?
Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.
::

Six years have passed since I whispered that prayer, at the end of myself. Shortly after, I began to write again. For seven years prior, I had written nothing but memos and business copy, barely a word in my journal, rarely a prayer or a quote or a thought.

I attributed my abstinence from the pen to lack of time. But it was more than that. I avoided the one habit that forced me to dig deeper, the discipline that pressed me to admit the truth to myself. And in those laconic years, the truth was my heart was hard with unbelief, even as my lips spoke eloquently of faith.

As I began to write, I began again to pray--beyond the request for faith. I became freshly aware of my desperate need to be rescued, to be healed, to be made whole. I became reacquainted with the God who could meet each need.

Madeline L'Engle writes in Walking on Water:
Wounds. By his wounds we are healed. But they are our wounds, too; and until we have been healed we do not know what wholeness is. The discipline of creation, be it to paint, compose, write, is an effort toward wholeness.
Writing, for me, is an effort toward wholeness. It is the discipline of talking myself into truth. It is the process by which I find my faith strengthened, by which I pour out my heart and gather it up again with greater courage.

When I lend words to my doubt and fear, I see how flat they read compared to His truth. Even as I articulate my own story, I see His redemptive pattern taking shape, turning despair into hope, unbelief into faith. And I find myself now, on more days than not, able to write and to whisper in truth, simply: Lord, I believe.

* * *
Tune in next Thursday for another great voice in the Writing and Faith series.

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On the Brink of Grace


A couple of months ago my small group read a book by Tim Keller called The Prodigal God. Have you read it? Although I didn't talk about it much here at the time, the book made a big impact on me.

It's a slim volume, not very intimidating, but don't be misled. Keller delves into Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son in great detail, sifting layers of language, history and narrative to reveal profound meaning and depth to a story we often brush off as familiar and over-taught.

While many of us relate well to the "lost" son – the one who runs away and then returns, begging forgiveness – Keller concentrates much of the book on the older son, the moral, upright, "good" son. As he deconstructs the "good" son's behavior, here's what Keller concludes:

“Elder brothers obey God to get things. They don’t obey God to get God himself – in order to resemble him, love him, know him and delight him. So religious and moral people can be avoiding Jesus as Savior and Lord as much as the younger brothers who say they don’t believe in God and define right and wrong for themselves.”

This is radical. As a highly responsible older sibling myself, I spent much of my younger years doing the "right thing" – serving and caring for others, following the rules, praying, attending church, confessing – not necessarily out of a love for God, but out of a sense of duty or obligation. As my relationship with God has grown in recent years, my motives have shifted, imperceptibly at first and then more noticeably – from obligation to love, from "have to" to "want to."

But yet here is where I still go awry. As Keller notes:

“To truly become Christians we must also repent of the reasons we ever did anything right…we must learn how to repent of the sin under all our other sins and under all our righteousness – the sin of seeking to be our own Savior and Lord.”

He's right, you know. Even my best, purest intentions – those motivated by love rather than mere duty – are flawed.

Several months ago, after watching images of the devastating earthquake in Haiti hour after hour on television, I climbed upon my soapbox. "Every single American who is financially able should be on the computer or the phone right now, pledging money to these suffering people," I ranted to Brad. "I don't care if all you can afford to give is a dollar, I don't care if it's a handful of change. Everyone is morally obligated to do something, anything, right now. And any person who chooses inaction right now is despicable. Inaction is unforgivable."

Brad let me continue my tirade, which ended with this proclamation: "I'm going to blog about this right now. I'm going to write this, right now." I stood up, poised to put fingers to keyboard.

"I don't think you should do that," Brad advised quietly. "I think your message might be misinterpreted; I think your readers might even view you as self-righteous. I don't think that's the approach you should take."

I rolled my eyes. "I am not being self-righteous. I'm just simply right," I retorted. I was pretty steamed at Brad for throwing a wet blanket on my zestful activism, but it took only a moment or two for me to realize that he was right.

Caught up in my desire, my need, to "do good," I had climbed upon my high horse. I had placed myself above everyone else. I had defined myself as better. My actions, which had originated in love, had quickly morphed into self-righteous preaching.

Granted, I may be a hair more inclined toward self-righteousness than the average woman, but still, it's frustrating, this flawed brokenness, this unrelenting sinning, this sinning masquerading as service. The fact that I sin even while I'm trying to serve – well that just feels like a great, big rip-off. That just makes me feel like not caring at all, like embracing apathy instead. It all feels so hopeless, so burdensome.

Until, that is, I remember grace.

“It is only when you see the desire to be your own Savior and Lord – lying beneath both your sins and your moral goodness – that you are on the verge of understanding the gospel and becoming a Christian indeed,” writes Keller in The Prodigal God. “When you realize that the antidote to being bad is not just being good, you are on the brink…this, however, only brings us to the brink of Jesus’ message, not to its heart.”

And what exactly is the heart of Jesus' message? It's simply grace –that we are saved, not because of who we are or what we do, but because of who he is. Jesus himself is grace.

 * * *
Every Wednesday Ann Voskamp at A Holy Experience encourages us to write about a spiritual practice that brings us closer to God. Today, every day, I'm thinking about grace.



holy experience
 
* * *
And don't forget to tune in tomorrow for the second guest post in the Faith and Writing series [read the first post by Deidra Riggs from Jumping Tandem here]. Many of you may be familiar with tomorrow's guest poster, and you won't want to miss this one – her writing never fails to inspire!

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Experiments


Last Friday morning I threw out my back in the act of placing a dirty dish into the dishwasher. That’s always how it happens – one time I sneezed; another time I grabbed the milk jug from the fridge; yet another time I set a bowl of oatmeal on a table. Thankfully my lower back problems rear up only biennially or so, but when they do, it’s catastrophic.

While I lay on the couch, heating pad cranked to max, the boys conducted experiments in the kitchen. Snippets of conversation wafted into the living room.

Noah: “Whoa. You made a big mess!”

Rowan: “Let’s see what happens to those floating pepperonis. I hope something good. I used a lot of that cinnamony stuff.”

Rowan, peeking his head around the corner of the kitchen into the living room: “I won’t use any food coloring. Cross my heart.”

I surveyed the living room from my supine position: Rowan’s pajamas, balled into a heap beneath the foot stool; breakfast dishes piled on the coffee table; a strawberry Yoplait container, tipped onto the side table; rumpled skeleton Halloween costume discarded in the corner like a crime scene.

Continuing conversation from the kitchen:

Noah: “Huh. It’s turning white.”

Rowan: “Yuck. Why does the pepperoni experiment smell like peppermint?”

Noah: “Ahhhh, coooool. It actually looks like silly sludge.”

Rowan: “I have a feeling something creepy is going to happen.” [frankly, that makes two of us]

Sounds of vigorous mixing, liquid sloshing against Tupperware. Humming.

I check in, feebly, from the couch: “Hey…hello??? How’s it going out there? Is it really messy? Do I need to come out there?”

Noah: “It’s fine, Mommy. I don’t know what he spilled. A weird solid that sort of looks like kitty litter [note: we don’t own a cat], but it’s fine.”

Rowan and I converse as he rushes upstairs:

“I’m going to get a Tinker Toy to mix it up.”

“Wait honey…why don’t you use a spoon?”

Pause.

“Well…I don’t want to get it all flobberly you know.”

Later, when the boys have moved onto another activity, I roll onto my side and gingerly raise myself to a semi-upright state and hobble into the kitchen. I am afraid. 

The kitchen is spotless, save a few dishes piled in the sink and tiny spatters of an unidentifiable white substance on the faucet. The boys have done well. And life has rolled on, relatively seamlessly, despite my inability to control it.

An exercise in letting go. Resting. Listening. Being still.

Noah: “All experiments are a little messy, right?”

Yes, indeed they are.


"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me." (John 14:1)

tuesdays unwrapped at cats

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