New Boss...and a Giveaway!

“Restructuring,” “reorganization,” “downsizing” – not words you want to hear at the office. Change at work is hard, unsettling. As we endure organizational restructuring at my workplace, I find myself biting my nails, driving to work with a hollow pit in my stomach.

I have a new boss. I haven’t exactly been as helpful as I could be during this transition. But a passage in Acts is [slowly] helping me change my attitude. Click over to The High Calling to hear how my crabby work attitude has turned around...

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But wait…before you do that – leave a comment here to be eligible for my One Year Blogging Anniversary Giveaway. I have two copies of Susan DiMickele’s brand-new book Chasing Superwoman: A Working Mom’s Adventures in Life and Faith. And I want to send them to two lucky readers!

I met Susan a few months ago, and we’ve since become online friends (another REAL online friendship!). I love and appreciate her honesty and dry wit. She’s a power attorney, a mom of three and a published writer – and she writes candidly about managing this treacherous balancing act. Susan doesn’t shy away from everyday grit – the section in her book about grocery shopping with her three kids had me laughing out loud. Whether you work outside the home or not, you'll be able to relate to Susan's real-life stories for sure.

Read more about Chasing Superwoman here…check out Susan’s blog…and don’t forget to leave a comment here. I’ll draw two names next week and let you know who gets the books!

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Lessons from The Hole, Part 3: Who is My Neighbor?

Gary and Marge, Karna and John, Marion and Jay, Linda and George. These are my neighbors. We chat over picket fence; sit on front stoop; crunch chips and salsa together on back patio. Karna feeds my fish and waters my garden when we travel. Marge drives Noah to school when I’m stricken with a stomach bug. I bake an extra loaf of banana bread for George, just because. We take care of one another.

My neighbors include my greater community, too – my colleagues; my church; my friends; the moms and dads I chat with at the school entrance as amber leaves fall. We care for one another, too – lug crock pots of meatballs down linoleum hallways on parent-teacher conference night; offer comfort next to whirring copier as coworker confides.

“Love God and love your neighbor,” Jesus said, and I nod my head yes, I do that, I love my neighbor.

The trouble is, I’m beginning to think my definition of neighbor is too literal.

Richard Stearns asks me, “Who is your neighbor? In the world of haves and have-nots, are we to view poverty-stricken people ten thousand miles away as our neighbors?”

That’s a radical question, if you think about it. A question that challenges me to expand my definition of neighbor.

Stearns goes on to cite some shocking statistics in chapter nine of The Hole in Our Gospel. Consider this:

More than 26,500 children died yesterday of preventable causes related to their poverty, and it will happen again today and tomorrow and the day after that.

Almost 10 million children will be dead in the course of a single year.

Ten million children. Dead in one year.

“Even though we have the awareness, the access and the ability to stop it,” says Stearns, “why have we chosen not to? Perhaps one reason is that these kids who are dying are not our kids; they’re somebody else’s.”

I admit, when I first read this statement, my first thought was: “Whoa now. That’s not fair. You’re judging me, Richard. You’re making a hugely unfair judgment. Of course I care about dying children. How dare you accuse me of not caring.”

But I thought about that statement for a long time, and I realized that Stearns is at least in part right.

Our family sponsors two young women in Africa. Neema and Mary Christian have lost their parents to AIDS. They are orphans. They live at their school, and the checks we send provide their food, clothing, shelter and education for one year.

I can feel good about myself right? I care about poverty-stricken children, right? Because I send money? Because I sign my name to a check once a year and hand it over to my church?

The problem is, Neema and Mary don’t always feel real to me. We exchange letters three or so times a year. Noah and Rowan draw them pictures that I tuck into envelopes. I pray for them. Their photographs hang on our refrigerator.

But I have never wrapped my arms around their shoulders. Never felt their skin against mine. Never looked into their eyes, touched their hand or cheek.

As Stearns points out, “The plight of suffering children in a far-off land simply hasn’t gotten personal for us.”

Neema and Mary feel far less real to me than Marge next door and Karna two houses down.

Don’t get me wrong. Loving our immediate neighbors is important; Jesus was speaking literally when he commanded that we love our neighbors. He was talking about the widower next door; the grieving coworker; the homeless person holding the wrinkled cardboard sign in front of SuperSaver.

But I’m beginning to think Jesus also meant more.

Honestly, I don’t know what this means for me. I struggle, turning these questions over in my head and heart. But I do know this:

I have. I have a lot. And others have not. And this truth, for me, is a start.

“Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written: ‘He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.’” 2 Corinthians 8:13-15

“The most serious and universal problem is the growing chasm between the richest and poorest people on earth. Citizens of the ten wealthiest countries are now 75 times richer than those who live in the ten poorest ones, and the separation is increasing every year.”
President Jimmy Carter, Nobel lecture, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, 2002.

What do you think about Richard Stearns’ declaration that the plight of suffering children hasn’t gotten personal for us? Too radical? Unfair? Right on the money?

This post is Part 3 in my five-week series "Lessons from the Hole" (a response to Richard Stearns' book The Hole in Our Gospel). Click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2.

Next week's topic: Less Than $1 A Day.

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Gone Before We Know It


Feet padding soft, silhouette standing bedside while storm crashes. He crawls in, asleep in seconds, arm flung over head, hair frizzled flat, thighs pale-moon soft. I watch him sleep, drinking in that bit of baby still left.

He cries while we watch Free Willy, worried about the whale – brow crinkled, tears brimming lashes, mouth agape in wailing oh.

“We forget he’s still just five,” says Brad as I shush and console, stroke sunset curls, murmuring reassurances that Willy will indeed prevail.

It seems I’ve forgotten all along, so bent was I on surviving the trials of mothering infants and toddlers. And now, on the eve of too-late, I grip tight, finally not wanting to let go.

I'm over at Ginny's place today...join me at Make a Difference to One for the rest of my story...

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Blindsided by Delight


I turned away from the counter, steaming mug in hand, and stopped short. I recognized her right away, that stylin’ pixie cut, the mega-watt smile. That she was fashionable – bright scarf wound round to ward off chill, dark-wash jeans, boots – was no surprise. I knew she would be, could tell that right away from her teeny-weeny blog profile shot.

“Deidra? Deidra?” I said, walking toward her. “It’s Michelle, Michelle from Graceful.” It took just a split-second, and then she recognized me, too, and we laughed and laughed at the coincidence of it – that she and I would meet one random, mid-week winter night in a Lincoln coffee shop.

We embraced before we parted ways that night with promises to meet again. We hugged like old friends, and in a way we were. I already felt like I’d known Deidra my whole life.

We met again for lunch at a swanky spot in town. Deidra prayed over our meal, which was good, since I forget to do that a lot – and then she asked question after question over salads and sandwiches. It was a little bit like an interview, which was fine by me because I love to talk about myself and Deidra’s questions were insightful, probing…but not too much. She asked good questions, questions that made me think. And she listened thoughtfully, putting down her fork to look me in the eye.

Lunch lasted long. I don't think either of us wanted to return to our offices that day.

Later, as winter thawed to spring, Deidra and her husband came to dinner at our place. The boys were quite taken with her – those movie-star shades, that windchiming laugh. Even better, she came bearing gifts – kites and bug puzzles, things little boys love…this Deidra knows, having raised a boy grown to man herself.

Rowan still asks when “the lady with the sunglasses” will come to visit again.

We laughed so much that night, two couples, four histories, four lifetimes communing over candlelight. After they left I danced a little jig in the kitchen and squealed to Brad, “I love them! I love them! Aren’t they totally great?!” Brad agreed, though because he’s more subdued than I, his response was of the jigless, head-nodding variety. But he nodded vigorously and agreed that he enjoyed them so much, too.

I admit, I began blogging with one purpose in mind: to build a platform in the hopes of launching a writing career. It was a business initiative, really. Phrases like “building readership” and “target audience” and “site meter” occupied my thoughts. Friendship didn’t enter the picture, at least not at first.

I didn’t expect to find a community here – genuine relationships, real friendships, rich and fruitful and uplifting. But community is what I've discovered indeed – unlikely friendships with farm wives and college students and marketing gurus. New friends in Ireland, Peru, California and South Carolina.

I never expected friendship. I was blindsided by delight.

We’re talking about a picnic next, Deidra and I, if the crazy Nebraska weather will comply. Whatever it is we decide to do…I can’t wait. Being with Deidra is real. Being with Deidra makes me smile.

Sharing this story of meeting Deidra with the wonderful community over at High Calling Blogs. Click over to read more lovely stories of real life, online.

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Today is my one-year blogging anniversary – and I can't think of a better way to celebrate than writing about Deidra and this wonderful, nurturing community I've found in this online world! Come back Friday...I'm giving away two books [hint: newly published by another online friend – a working mom and woman of faith].

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Prone to Wander


I’ve read the parables about the lost sheep and the lost coin before; I’ve heard them read in church; I’ve even read them on my own. And the message hasn’t been lost on me. Distanced from God for more than two decades, a skeptic at best, it’s not hard to see myself in these stories – the lost sheep found, the lost coin rediscovered. I’m grateful God didn’t give up on me; that he came looking, even when I didn’t care whether I was found or not.

But I never noticed the joy that’s so obvious in these stories. As Pastor Greg pointed out yesterday in church, the words “joy” and “rejoice” are mentioned five times in just ten short lines. That’s a lot of joy over just one person.

The funny thing is, I’ve never thought of God as being particularly joyful. Businesslike, yes; efficient, most definitely. Glad, certainly, to have brought another wanderer back into the flock...but at the same time personally distant, removed, onto the next task. “Okay, looks like we’ve saved another one, gang,” he might say to his legion of angels. “Who’s next on the list?”

But a close look at these two parables reveals joy, intense joy, experienced by God each and every time a person turns back toward his love.

Joy – such a human emotion – experienced and celebrated by God himself? I’ve never thought about God quite like that.

I’ve come a long way in my relationship with God. I don’t imagine him, as I once did, with clipboard in hand, placing a checkmark in the “bad” column for my every sin. I’m not afraid of God, leery of him waiting in the shadows, watching for my slip-ups. I don’t think he’s bent on punishing me anymore.

But this passage reminds me that I still have a long way to go; it reminds me that I still keep God at arm’s length. I've never imagined that he could have that capacity for personal joy – exuberance, excitement, rejoicing just for me. I struggle to wrap my mind around that kind of God-joy, even after reading this passage three or four times straight.

It’s hard to know what to do with this contradiction. Joy seems like such a human emotion, but yet God is so much more than human, so much larger than simply human. Is he really so happy about me – a single, flawed human among billions?

This passage tells me yes, unequivocally yes. I read the words, those words about joy, and I pray he’ll help my heart and mind believe.


Oh to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be; let that grace now like a fetter bind my wand’ring heart to thee. Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; prone to leave the God I love. Here’s my heart, oh take and seal it; seal it for thy courts above.
Come Thou Font of Every Blessing

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The Back Story


I have a confession: I was not entirely honest in this post, the one I wrote a couple of days ago about worry and Psalm 121.

You see, I’d written the first half of the post – the part about the worry – earlier in the day. I’d thought a lot about the letter we’d received from Mary, the student we sponsor in Africa, and I’d read and reflected on Psalm 121. The problem was, I’d only had time to write the first half of the post, so I figured I’d finish after the kids were in bed that night.

You can probably guess what happened. Plans went awry.

For starters, a raging sinus headache jabbed like an ice pick in my right temple – not exactly conducive to writing. Then Rowan decided he required 26 sips of water (not quite…but you know what I mean) to settle in properly for the night. By the second glass I clenched my teeth and breathed through flaring nostrils. But the third glass I yelled. But the fourth glass – this last one dropped and spilled across hallway and dripping down stairs – I yelled and Rowan yelled.

When I finally thumped back downstairs – Rowan still wailing – and threw myself into my desk chair – Rowan still wailing – and tore open the Bible, fuming, to Psalm 121 – Rowan still wailing – I realized I couldn’t possibly write about hope, comfort and peace when I didn’t feel one bit of it, not one iota. Not only would that make me the world’s biggest hypocrite, I simply couldn’t write, period. So I closed my Bible, thumped back upstairs and threw myself into bed. At 8:45 p.m. Still mad.

The next morning, alarm blaring at 5, all was quiet and dim, save chirping songbirds splintering dawn’s grey. I padded downstairs, sat in the desk chair and opened my Bible to Psalm 121 as the lamp glowed soft and the sun rose. I read God’s words again, and they were right and true.

It was a new day. I was in God’s grace, still. And I wrote.


I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
Therefore I will wait for him.”



Lamentations 3:19-24

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Lessons from The Hole, Part II: Are You Willing to Be Open to God's Will for Your Life?

This was the question a headhunter posed to Richard Stearns – "Are you willing to be open to God’s will for your life?"

At the time, Stearns was president of Lenox, had a wife and five healthy children and a beautiful home in Philadelphia, and was an active member of his church. He was happily ensconced in his comfortable life when a headhunter for World Vision called and asked him The Question.

I appreciate Stearns’ honest response. “What a terrible question to ask someone,” he writes candidly in The Hole in Our Gospel. “What a rude question to ask someone! And what an uncomfortable question for someone to answer.”

And I love the list of selfish “buts” he gives in response to the question – “Yes, of course I’m open to God’s will for my life…but…”

Stearns lists all the reasons why the World Vision job is not for him: he loves his current job at Lenox; he’d just made it to the top of the corporate ladder; he earns a lot of money, money he’s worked hard for; his children have friends and lives of their own in school there…why should he move them across the country?; he and his wife live in the house of their dreams; he drives a brand-new company car, a Jaguar!

There are deeper “buts” too: “I don’t want to do this; I can’t do this…not poverty, slums, hunger, disease, dying children, grieving parents – don’t ask me to go there, God.”

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I hear a lot of talk in Christian circles about “the calling.” Christians often refer to their “calling” – what God’s called them to do, what their God-driven mission is in life. And I don’t doubt for a moment that most of these people are genuine – that they believe they’ve been called by God for a particular purpose in life.

The problem is, I don’t hear the calling myself.

I mean really, God knows me pretty well; he knows I’m a concrete, cut-and-dried, tell-it-to-me-straight kind of girl. Why can’t I get an email with “The Calling” in the subject line? Why can’t I get a phone call like Richard Stearns did? “Sure,” I think. “Easy for Richard. He got a call from World Vision, one of the largest Christian-based, non-profit organizations in the world. Now that’s a calling.”

Not only do I not know if I’m open to God’s will for my life…I’m not even sure what God’s will for my life actually is. Frankly it’s a little disappointing. After all, everyone else seems pretty confident about what their calling is. How hard can it be?

Stearns poses a good question, but he doesn’t tell us how we might find an answer. Most of us aren’t going to get a call from World Vision’s headhunter, begging us to take a CEO job. So how do we, the regular people, figure out our calling? How do we discern what God’s will might be for us, those of us living ordinary, everyday lives?

It feels like I have a list coming on, doesn’t it? Insert bullet points here.

I wish I could say I have the answer, that here are steps one, two and three for discerning God’s will for your life. But I don’t. All I have so far are a few muddy basics:

Passion: I love to write. I can’t wait to write every day, in every spare moment. Perhaps this passion is God’s way of telling me I can use this skill for greater good. Perhaps looking at where our passion lies is a starting point? What’s your passion? Can it be used in some way to benefit someone else?

Circumstances: It’s probably reasonable to assume that most of us aren’t able to hop on a plane and dedicate the next six months of our lives to the people of Sudan or Tanzania. Our personal circumstances may hint at what God wants us to do. He can’t possibly want us all in Africa. He probably needs some of us in our local soup kitchens, too. Or at the domestic abuse shelter. Or delivering meals to the elderly.

The Gut: Ever have an experience that stuck with you in your gut? Recently I drove past the same man, holding the same “Will work for food” sign, standing in front of the same grocery story for three weeks straight. And every time after I drove past, I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling in my gut, the feeling that I should do something (for the record, I did nothing). While my brain rationalizes, my gut speaks loud and clear. I’m beginning to wonder if that’s God’s voice, that pit-in-the-stomach feeling that won’t let me go. It may not be a whole-life calling, but could it be an in-the-moment calling? And really...aren’t they one and same?

So there you have it…my rambling post on discerning God’s will for your life. As you can tell, I don't have my thoughts quite together.

But here’s where you can help. Leave a comment or send me an email and tell me one tip, so to speak, for discerning God’s will for your life. Something concrete, if possible, because you know me...I'm nothing if not concrete.

What’s worked for you? Have you figured it out? Am I the only one who didn’t receive The Calling email from God?

This post is Part 2 in my five-week series "Lessons from the Hole" (a response to Richard Stearns' book The Hole in our Gospel). Click here for last week's post.

Next week's topic: Who is My Neighbor?



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Message in a Mailbox

Awakening at 4 a.m., clammy knees sticking beneath sheets, I grab pillow and trudge downstairs to couch, scarlet velour smooth. Pulling Grandma Hilma’s quilt to chin, cotton heaviness barring machine-made chill, I gaze out front windows. Streetlight glares tawdry. Half moon hangs nursery-rhyme perfect, framed by wisps of locust tree.

I fret.

Worry is my persistent foe. I go for days and weeks carefree, and then it’s with me again, like a malaria, rearing up, renewed. It claws in the hollow of my stomach deep.

I wish I could say I hand it all over, release beast to God. But not always. Prayers are empty, dry, distracted, unable to soften hollow clawing. I don’t always feel him here. I listen, but don’t hear. Grope blind but don't feel.

Clock ticks loud. Windchimes clink soft, jingling like a charm bracelet sliding down slender wrist.

His comfort feels far. I pray, still.

: :

Lifting creaking metal lid I see it tucked beneath bank statements and electric bill: “To my precious parents,” script in delicate blue on airmail envelope. Mary writes from Tanzania, where she studies to be a doctor. She tells us about her favorite subjects – chemistry, geography, biology – inquires about Noah and Rowan and our weather in Nebraska.

And then this, buried in the middle of paragraph two:

"I would like you to read Psalm 121. It gives hope to those who lose faith and those who face problems. I like to read the chapter before sleeping."

Lifting my Bible off the desk, I turn the pages. I've never read Psalm 121.


The Lord watches over you –
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm –
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
[Psalm 121:5-8]

When hollow worry descends, when spirit splinters, when hope falters, when sleeplessness stalks, he is there in the lonely darkness. Today, tonight, now and forevermore.

I may not feel him always; I may not hear him over ticking clock, clinking windchimes. But he is there. His words and voice are carried in a letter from Tanzania, neat blue script on single sheet folded twice, found tucked beneath the electric bill.

Thank you, Mary, daughter so far so close in Tanzania, for showing me the way.

Addendum note: Mary is not our biological daughter. She is a girl we sponsor through our church. As an AIDS orphan, Mary has far, far greater worries than I...yet she lovingly showed me the way. I find God so amazing that way...

This week Ann Voskamp at A Holy Experience asks us to write about the spiritual practice of listening to God.


holy experience

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This

Carpets sucked clean; floors swept; laundry washed, dried, folded, tucked away; cabinets stocked.

Restless.

I roam, room to room, fidgeting and futzing, straightening and smoothing. Sit on chair edge, spring to line countertop canisters side-by-side, sweep single crumb from laminate into cupped palm.

Pull cord tight to even window blinds. Tip picture frame straight, stash lone glass on rack.

It’s what happens, I think, when I decelerate from 180 to zero. Days suddenly yawn wide, and instead of glad relief, I feel anxiety descend. I am fragile, thin and hollow like blown glass.

I step outside, moist air heavy, thick on skin. There is just one fix for listless distress.  

This.



And this.


And this.


A riveting read. Sweating glass of sweet iced tea. Hammock swaying. Piece of sky.


How do you quell restlessness? Where are you finding rest this week?

tuesdays unwrapped at cats

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Prayer Everywhere


I’ve been thinking a bit about prayer again recently – wondering what I’m supposed to get, and give, out of it. I often assume other people’s prayer experiences are truer than mine, that they feel a deeper connection with God or that they hear his answers more clearly than I do. I fall prey to prayer envy. I conclude that everyone else has a clearer connection, a two-way Skype while I have rusty tin cans and a few feet of frayed rope.

Maybe I’m doing something wrong, I wonder. Maybe I’m too distracted, too shallow, too selfish to pray right. Maybe I don’t believe deeply enough. Or maybe I’m simply not cut out for it. Maybe God would rather I dust or sweep the patio and leave praying to the more contemplative types.

Just when I’m about to give up, though, just when I decide to organize the Tupperware drawer in favor of talking to God, we read this lesson, from Luke 11:5-8 in church:


Then Jesus went on to say: Suppose one of you goes to a friend in the middle of the night and says, “Let me borrow three loaves of bread. A friend of mine has dropped in, and I don’t have a thing for him to eat.” And suppose your friend answers, “Don’t bother me! The door is bolted, and my children and I are in bed. I cannot get up to give you something.” He may not get up and give you the bread, just because you are his friend. But he will get up and give you as much as you need, simply because you are not ashamed to keep on asking.

God has impeccable timing, eh?

The very same week I hear this passage about prayer from Luke, I read this by author and former Episcopalian bishop John Shelby Spong:

“Prayer is being present, sharing love, opening life to transcendence. It is not necessarily words addressed heavenward…the deity I worship is rather part of who I am individually and corporately. So praying can never be separated from acting. Prayer is the recognition that holiness is found in the center of life and that it involves the deliberate decision to seek to live into that holiness by modeling it and giving it away. ” [Why Christianity Must Change or Die, pages 145-148)

I admit, Spong’s fluid definition of prayer is difficult for me to accept. I was raised on memorization and recitation – The Hail Mary, The Lord’s Prayer, The Act of Contrition, The Apostle’s Creed. I didn’t talk to God; I simply regurgitated antiquated words and phrases. Spong’s way of praying sounds loosey-goosey at best, blasphemous at worst.

Prayer as presence. Prayer as action. Prayer as recognition of holiness everywhere, in the mundane, in the everyday. Prayer as living in that everyday holiness. A broad definition of prayer for sure, but wrong? Perhaps not. In fact, perhaps that’s just what I need – a broader, more fluid definition of prayer. One that encompasses praying through communing, praying through living.

“Keep on asking,” Jesus instructs. “Pray through living,” John Shelby Spong suggests.

Answers to my prayers.

What do you think of Spong's definition of prayer? Too loosey-goosey liberal? Or just right?

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To Market, to Market


The kids and I took a trip to the Lincoln Farmers' Market a couple of weeks ago, and despite the sizzling heat we had a splendid time. Icy snow cones helped, as did crisp-sweet kettle corn, but simply being surrounded by so much summer made us all smile.



Scarlet tomatoes, tender leeks, crisp cabbage and twisted radishes piled high on checkered cloth. Clanking windchimes, rippling fabric, beckoning baubles, pungent scent of lily.







Rowan returned home with a balloon hat shaped into the Pope's mitre by a frizzy-haired clown  and Noah with a new moss plant to add to his collection. Strangely I walked in the door empty-handed, save the sights and smells of summer in Nebraska settled snugly in my mind.

Where have you seen or smelled summer lately?

Linking up with Fingerprint Friday at Beki's place today.



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Lessons from The Hole: Part 1

A few months ago I read The Hole in Our Gospel. I’d borrowed it from my friend Nicole, and when I turned the last page, I immediately ordered my own copy from Amazon. It was that good. So good, in fact, that I needed my own copy to read and re-read, underline, highlight and absorb.

As a result, I’ve decided to write a five-part series here that I’m calling Lessons from The Hole. Read my thoughts on this book every Thursday for the next five weeks, but first, buy your own copy…and buy one for someone else. You’ll be glad you did.

First, a short recap of the book. Written by Richard Stearns, The Hole in Our Gospel is the personal story of Stearns’ journey from CEO of Lenox, the fine china company, to President of World Vision. It’s also a hard look at global poverty and a call to action to change your life toward what God wants and expects from you.

::

Part I: It’s Beyond Personal

Those of you who have read this blog for a while know that I’m a relatively new believer in God as well as a questioner, wrestler and sometimes doubter. I’ve struggled with my faith a lot in the past two decades. I still struggle. I write honestly here about faith questions, fears, doubts and concerns…and I spend even more time pondering and questioning my faith in my spare time.

That’s why these words by Stearns in the introduction of The Hole in Our Gospel stopped me short:

Being a Christian, or follower of Jesus Christ, requires much more than just having a personal and transforming relationship with God. It also entails a public and transforming relationship with the world.

Embracing the gospel, or good news, proclaimed by Jesus is so much more than a private transaction between God and us.

We are carriers of the gospel – the good news that was meant to change the world. Belief is not enough. Worship is not enough. Personal morality is not enough. And Christian community is not enough. God has always demanded more.

Living out our faith privately was never meant to be an option. (pages 2-3)

What? You mean it’s not all about me? It’s not all about my faith, my relationship with God, my struggles and concerns?

Richard Stearns has grabbed me by the shoulders and shaken me awake.

No, he tells me bluntly, it’s not all about me. And in fact, a cursory glance at the gospels tells me it’s about much more than me indeed – it’s about the poor, the starving, the sick, the homeless, the outcasts. And it’s about my personal relationship with them as well as with God.

So far in my faith journey I’ve focused almost entirely on my own spiritual growth. I worship, read the Bible, attend small group study and church classes and nurture a faith community with an eye almost entirely on my own growth. Sure God’s word, if I really listen to it, absorb it and apply it to my own life, inspires me to reach out to others in a positive way, but the impact has been pretty narrow, within my own immediate, personal community and comfort zone.

For example, when I read the Bible I often think, "What is God telling me here? What is the message for me, for my struggles and burdens today?" And that’s okay – it’s a place to start. But at some point, I realized when I read Stearns’ introduction, the words I read in the Bible, God’s word, must propel me beyond myself and into the global community.

Looking inward is the starting line. But at some point the gun must go off, and I must lift my head and move forward.

It might seem silly to most of you, that Stearns’ introductory message came as a revelation to me. And part of me is embarrassed to admit that yes, I’ve been this self-absorbed in my faith, that I assumed simply believing was enough. Frankly, for a while simply believing, or struggling to believe, was all I could handle.

But today, as I read and re-read The Hole in the Gospel, I realize that belief is simply the foundation, the starting line drawn in chalk. God wants more from me. God expects more.

Have you read Richard Stearns’ The Hole in Our Gospel? If so, what did you think? And where are you in your faith journey – inwardly focused, outwardly active…or a bit of both? (It’s okay to admit if you’re focused inward – you’ll be in good company with me!).
Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.
1 John 2:6


Next Thursday's Lessons from the Hole: Are you willing to be open to God’s will for your life?

Linking up with Peanut Butter in my Hair for Bigger Picture Moments today!

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A Spot on the Patio

I sigh heavy on the shuttle bus packed tight with tanned, disheveled travelers as it lurches from the Omaha airport to the econo parking lot. “I need a vacation from my vacation,” I mumble to Brad.

“What does that even mean, Mommy?” asks Rowan, and another mom – the one traveling with three young halter-topped girls and bulging pink suitcases – laughs with me as our eyes meet across the aisle.

Three days home from our ten-day trip to Massachusetts, and I am officially in PVR: Post-Vacation Recovery – sorting 167 emails, catching up on bills, watering withered plants, separating whites from darks.

I don’t do this well, this PVR. I don’t like to play catch-up; it stresses me, the routine chores, enough in their own right, multiplied seemingly ten-fold. It feels like I’ll never break even, never mind get ahead.

It’s no help that the vacation itself taxed me right to the edge. That’s always the case when I go back home. I run myself ragged – catching up with friends for coffee, or dinner or drinks; visiting missed babies; snatching bits of conversation with aunts and uncles at a family gathering. And this time there were the Fourth of July festivities as well – fireworks, barbeques, the parade, the carnival, plus a birthday bash – all in 100-degree heat. I was left dull and spent like a charred sparkler.

I fall prey to the same-old pattern every time – the frenetic must-see-everyone, must-do-everything pace. It’s hard; I make it back home once, at best twice, each year. Prior to each trip I prime myself with a pep- talk – Okay, this time let’s take it slow and easy. Let’s not over-schedule. Let’s just play it by ear and see what happens – and each time I fail, leaving myself brittle, edgy, exhausted.

Three days into Post Vacation Recovery I realize where I erred: I didn’t make even a bit of time for rest…or for God. My vacation was so socially full, rewarding in so many ways, but spiritually vapid. I didn’t sit quiet, even for a moment or two. I forgot to pray, collapsing head-weary on pillow each night. And I didn’t bother to lug my hard-cover Bible 1,500 miles – too heavy…what if it tipped my suitcase over the weight limit?

At home, in Nebraska, I don’t rest nearly as often as I’d like to, or as I should. But when I do, I replenish my spirit in the same way each time. It’s simple, really: I sit outside. Three days into PVR, this I remember.

In the corner of the back patio sits my lounge chair – I bought it as a birthday gift for myself two years ago. Next to it, tipping unsteady, sits a paint-chipped metal table, purchased earlier this spring for one dollar at a yard sale. It’s not fancy, this spot. But it works.

From my perch, reclined, knees raised, head tipped back, I watch river birch branches dance shadows over the striped umbrella. Glimpse downy woodpecker hop along knobby crab apple branch. Listen to cicadas saw, song of summer, as crack of ball against bat rings across field and alley. Gaze at line of army ants gathering evening feast from Rowan’s stale lunch crumbs.

It’s so easy when I make it happen, this rest, this communing with nature and God. All it takes is a simple chair tucked snug in a corner – and the willingness to sit.

"Aspire to live a quiet life..."
1 Thessalonians 4:11
So tell me, how do you rest amidst the everyday tumult of life?

* * *

This week Ann Voskamp at A Holy Experience is encouraging us to think and write about the spiritual practice of rest.



holy experience

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Summer Then, Summer Now


Windows rolled down, Medusa locks thwapping forehead, Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill blasting from the back speakers of Chris’s beater. Winding over back roads to Misquamicut Beach.

Rising at 9:30 a.m., sun shining hot on siding, just in time to catch Wheel of Fortune and The Price is Right before heading to the back deck. Laying out, hair spritzed Sun-In brass, limbs glistening in Coppertone SPF 8.

That was summer 23 years or so ago – long, lazy days sprawled flat on splintery deck or hot sand, punctuated by a few hours scooping Dutch Chocolate and Butter Pecan into sugar cones for tips in the local ice cream shop.

Not so now. These days I’m lucky to catch 20 minutes on the back patio after the kids are tucked snug, cicadas buzzing like saws, fireflies shimmering across clover.

Amidst camps, t-ball games, swimming lessons, barbeques and “vacation” (or as I heard someone put it recently, “It’s not a vacation…it’s a family trip”), rest, true rejuvenation, is hard to come by. Summer, at least summer as it used to be, is hard to come by, really. And the beach? I live in Nebraska. Enough said.

Still, you take what you can get. Last week Brad and I caravanned in 100-degree heat up to Kennebunkport, Maine, with my sister, my best friend and their husbands for 24 hours of salty-air R&R.



Sure, it was a far cry from one idyll day rolling into the next – the respite was a handful of hours rather than days spent at the sandy shore. Sure, I was tempted to bemoan the lack, rather than bounty – the time that seemed so paltry, so not-nearly-enough. The time spent howling in laughter, clinking glasses, gawking and giggling at overpriced lobster merchandise in swanky shop windows, ingesting far too much so-bad-for-you-but-so-good food – the kind of food that's pushed through a window, piled high in a cardboard box.





But then, I think...

Today, in this now, in this life, in this present…it’s enough, a bounty indeed. Enough to remind me that while my summers are certainly different now, they are no less joyful. Enough to remind me that different does not signify “less” or “worse.” Just simply different.



Celebrating summer then and now with Bridget at the One Word Blog Carnival and with Emily at Tuesdays Unwrapped.

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The Party


When I turned 35 I issued a proclamation. “Just so you know,” I told Brad, “I want a big, fat party for my fortieth birthday.” I wasn’t coy. I didn’t drop subtle hints. I simply announced my explicit intentions.

Five years later I had a big, fat fortieth birthday party. My sister and her husband graciously offered to host, and I dug out my address book. I admit, I went over-the-top with the guest list, inviting friends I hadn’t seen in a decade or more. But I figured why not pull out all the stops…it was a holiday weekend after all, who in the world would come?

As it turned out, just about everyone.


I stopped bustling for a moment in the midst of the party to breathe in the beautiful bedlam. I watched my friends’ kids – all 23 of them – splashing in the pool, whirling Frisbees across the grass, kicking back with cake.

I heard raucous laughter of aunts, good-natured ribbing of uncles.

I glimpsed friends reminiscing while keeping one eye on canonballing bodies.

These people have shaped who I am – from my mom, dad and sister and aunts, uncles and cousins, to my two-year-old nephew, to the girls I giggled with outside DairyMart every Friday night more than two decades ago. I’d be a far different person – far less of a person – were it not for each one of them.


We’ve weathered infertility, unemployment, grief, addiction, divorce, illness, relocation.

Celebrated births, promotions, new houses, adoptions, retirements, baptisms, marriages, anniversaries.

We’ve cheered as dreams soared and mourned when they fell flat.

I stood still, just a minute on the brick patio in my sister’s backyard. Just long enough to witness forty years flash. And then I moved on, stepping foot from brick to grass, back to the party and into the next forty years, ever grateful.

“We turn not older with years, but newer every day.”
Emily Dickinson

* * *

Many, many millions of thanks to my sister Jeanine and her husband Matt for hosting the best fortieth birthday bash a girl could ever want (and totally taking the pressure off my husband!). And to my mom and dad for helping to foot the bill!

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Back Soon

I'm enjoying salt water, sandy toes and sun, sun, sun. It's been broiling here in New England, but not even 100-degree-temperatures can keep me from relishing time with my nephew Oliver.  And it doesn't hurt that my sister has a pool at her house. I now have two fish for offspring. 


Hope you've enjoyed the guest posts by Kelly and Laura here this week. I'll be back Sunday with regularly scheduled programming!

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Looking Up: A Guest Post by Kelly Langner Sauer

Today I welcome writer and photographer Kelly Langner Sauer to Graceful. I met Kelly several months ago through the High Calling Blogs, and I was drawn to both her ethereal photographs and her powerful words. Kelly bares her soul on the page – her vulnerability, her flaws, her joys and above all her love for God are right there, shimmering on the surface for the rest of us to see and embrace. I love and appreciate that about Kelly.

Please stop by Kelly's website to breathe in her photographs and her words. You will be awed.

Here's Kelly on looking up...



I got up the other morning before the baby, an unusual turn of events. The light was up, my favorite light, the early morning kind, and I grabbed the camera while I had a hand free. I shot and shot and quite thoroughly enjoyed myself, ignoring a vague discomfort in my stomach. My head felt a bit light as I lay flat to take one photo. I always go to where the light is when I shoot.

I finished shooting and tried to get up. And I couldn't. Being a nursing mom and not eating every hour does take its toll on me. Being sick on top of it all charges an even bigger price.

So I lay there, camera in hand, waiting for my husband who was, thankfully, still at home.

And I looked up and aimed the camera at my current view and found light where I hadn't seen it before.

I've been collapsing off and on for almost ten years now. I don't know how long my body carried the Lyme before I went to college and the stress lowered my immune system so that it took over. I was initially misdiagnosed with MS, and then rediagnosed two years later in time for me to do something about it.

The collapsing adds a peculiar sort of drama to our lives, and we usually take it as it comes, instead of making a big deal out of it. But sometimes that extra helpless time on my back keeps my life in perspective. It gives me a chance to look up. To see what is important. To remember that living does not always mean hurrying and going forward.

Sometimes living means letting myself be helpless, laying flat on my back, and waiting. I think that is part of what it means for me to walk humbly with God, dust and weakness looking up into His light, seeing Him make it part of me, this weight of glory that I carry now.

Sure, I want to be healthy, just like the next person. But I can't say now that I'm not grateful for the moments on my back. I mean, look at what I get to see. Did you ever see a ceiling fan look so lovely?

* * *

When's the last time you were flat on your back, physically or metaphorically, and looked up to find God?

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Timeless: A Guest Post by Laura Boggess

I met Laura Boggess a few months ago via High Calling Blogs, and I was instantly wooed by her lyrical words. Her prose is like poetry. Her prose is poetry. And she has a way of digging in, really reaching toward heart and soul and grasping. Her words grasped me from the start. I'm sure you'll feel the same.

I'm thrilled to welcome Laura Boggess as a guest writer today. Please stop by Laura's blog, The Wellspring, and read more of what she has to say.

Here's Laura on timelessness...

We have been out all evening; and when we pull into the drive, bedtime is rapidly approaching. Older son must take out the trash. I am fussing with the dirty dishes left on the table…in the sink—abandoned in haste to not be late for evening appointments. That’s when she appears; lifting furry self from lazy sleep that occupies her time when family is out—doleful eyes seeking attention. Lucy Mae needs to go out.

Would you please run the dog around the house? I throw at smallest son, not wanting to break the rhythm of this scrubbing and shining.

His eyes grow big as he looks out the window at the fast approaching dark.

Not me! He exclaims. It’s dark out there.

He has been having these fears of late; fear of darkness, fear of burning house, fear of mom or dad being in an accident. I remember his brother going through the same at his age, and know we must ride this out.

But still, I sigh heavily as I put up the dishcloth.

Lord? Time is so precious.

He is more precious.

This the response I hear.

Mustering, I turn to small one.

Oh, one of my favorite things is to go outside at night. There is nothing to be afraid of. It’s so beautiful. It’s one of my best times to talk to God.

Really? Face is doubtful.

I gently take his hand. Together we go.

When we step out onto the porch, I look up.

He looks up too.

The first thing I do when I step out here is look up at the sky. And I always say, “Wow, God!”

It is a beautiful clear night and the stars are showing off just for my son.

We walk around the house, Lucy Mae leading the way.

Touch him, Lord, I pray silently.

Darkness envelopes, but there is this Light.

What do you do next? He wants to know.

Oh, I just talk to God. I’ve been talking to Him this whole time.

He looks a bit skeptical.

Not out loud, of course. Usually when I am with someone, I just talk to God in my head.

He laughs.

Yeah. They might think you’re weird, otherwise.

But that’s one of the neat things about talking to God. Even when you are not alone you can talk with Him privately. He hears every thought in your head. I have amazing talks with Him when I am in the middle of people all the time.

Lucy pulls on leash. I move into the meadow, but Jeffrey hangs back.

I’ll stay back here if you want to talk to God out loud now, he says.

I move forward and look up. Praises soar.

I close my eyes and hear the sounds of night. But I hear something else too.

On the edge of the meadow, I hear his whispers.

He is talking earnestly to God.

When I move closer, he quiets.

Then he runs.

Around the house.

And back inside.

I stand.

Alone, but not.

The night air tickles my skin.

Dishes still sit in sink. Table needs cleared. Floor is sticky.

But I have just witnessed God’s touch.

And all these things can wait.

Because time is precious.

* * *
When did you last witness God's touch?

Photo: from photobucket.

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All material and photographs copyrighted Michelle DeRusha 2012

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