Wednesday’s Encouraging Word

Today’s word was suggested by my friend, Deborah Helm Liffick.

I want to apologize for not getting this out on Wednesday (1/6/21). I don’t know how your day went, mine was an emotional roller coaster. My husband had to return to Ohio. We had a wonderful visit. He also accomplished several “honey do” items that will make my stay here easier. But good byes (even for a few months) are hard.

Then there was all the insanity in Washington with the attack on the Capital. I was up until after midnight watching the news. I grieve the loss of life and the loss of our ability to engage in civil discourse. Accountability and consequences for deplorable and illegal behavior is a thing of the past.

But I had determined that I was going to establish a weekly post utilizing the encouraging words given to me by friends. I couldn’t allow yesterdays emotional obstacles to deter me from my goal.

So, here it is. The post. I don’t feel all that great about it, but the feeling may come as I build upon the weekly achievements and prove to myself I can finish this goal.

Hopefully that’s what we’ll see together.

Stepping Back on Goals

My mind is churning on creating goals. I’m feeling good about it and then I read this in my morning devotions: “Have you ever “gone out” in this way? If so, there is no logical answer possible when anyone asks you what you are doing. One of the most difficult questions to answer in Christian work is, “ What do you expect to do?” You don’t know what you are going to do. The only thing you know is that God knows what He is doing. Continually examine your attitude toward God to see if you are willing to “go out” in every area of your life, trusting God entirely. It is this attitude that keeps you in constant wonder, because you don’t know what God is going to do next (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest, Special Updated Edition, edited by James Riemann).”

So I sat there on the floor of my bedroom wondering. Maybe I struggle with setting goals because I’m a very strong P on MBTI. (If you don’t know MBTI, that means I “fly by the seat of my pants.” This also describes my writing preference: I’m a ‘panster’ not a ‘plotter.’)

What if I’m not wired to map, plod, plan, or calendarize everything? Oh, don’t get me wrong, I know how to do those things. I can keep a calendar, sort of. I can function on a schedule—I have to work harder at it, but I can do it. I don’t like it. I feel confined, and like I’m not at my best. I resist and procrastinate until I have no option but to capitulate…so I do.

Serendipitous, free-floating, unscheduled, unplanned, unfettered. The very words make my heart happy.

I can teach others the steps to creating goals, and writing vision/mission statements. I can help them peal back the layers and really get to the heart and meat of their goals—who and how they want to be and function. But I suck at it for myself.

For example. Yesterday I mentioned in my worksheet the goal of riding my bike 50 miles a week. It’s a totally SMART goal. If goals were attractive to me at all. The problem for me is that as soon as I quantify and feel I have to measure up, bike riding loses all it’s joy for me. It’s a job. It’s something I have to check off my list and resent it. (Okay. Right now there are tears in my eyes as I think about this—I must be getting close to my truth).

That takes me back to the OC quote and something I talked about in my message last week. One thing. In the Bible there are 5 places where we’re told that God seeks one thing from us:

One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple (Psalm27:4).

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me (Mark 10:21).”

“…but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her (Luke 10:42).”

He replied, “whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see (John 9:25)!”

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).

Matthews George in an internet article (Five One Things in the Bible, mathewsgeorge.medium.com, April 4, 2017) shows how these 5 verses help us know God: Psalm 27:4 helps us know God through a heart of prayer; Mark’s verse helps us know God through a heart of surrender; Luke’s helps us know God through a heart of service; John’s helps us to know God through a heart of witness; and Paul’s directing us to a hear of ambition.

What if (I’m doing a lot of that right now…) my goal is to focus on having a heart for God and to do that I’m to incorporate prayer, surrender, service, witness, and ambition. And to do this intrinsically—to come from within instinctively and naturally. Instead of having x amount of goals ranging over an array of time, to live daily. Live with eyes wide open for how and what God wants to teach me, or use me. Then at the end of the reflect, thank, and rest.

Okay, I’ve meandered and pondered enough on this for now. More to come.

New Year! New You?

For several weeks I’ve been thinking about how I want to be different next year, how I want to be better, and what I want to bring with me into 2021.

Do you set goals or make resolutions? I used to. And they would last until about the third week of January. I know I can be disciplined and include routine in my life, but so many of the things I try to add just don’t stick.

So I began to dig into why. Why don’t they stick? Why can’t I pick goals I can achieve. Goals need to be SMART:


(I couldn’t find a graphic that included everything I wanted to put here, so I made my own—forgive the raw nature, but that’s how I’d teach it.)

Going back over this information, two words stuck out to me: relevant and attractive. This is probably where my goals failed. Realizing this reminded me of when I failed my oral exams for my M.Div. so miserably that they suggested we act as if the horrible showing never happened and schedule to do them again next time around.

Regurgitating information merely to demonstrate an array of facts didn’t work for me. How was I going to figure this out? Then without even knowing smart goals I realized I needed to find a way to make my accumulated knowledge both attractive and relevant.

At the time I was trying to figure this out I was engaged in the learning/training experience called Clinical Pastoral Education, CPE for short. Each quarter (I took 10) I had to identify my learning goals. What did I want to learn? What learning would enhance my skills and move me along in my long range plan?

The way this all worked out, I began to link my learning as being under an overarching theme. Everything began to fall into place, become connected, and make so much sense that when I went in the second time the committee commented on how confident and clear I seemed—two words that never would have described my first time before the committee.

Thinking of that brought me to my lightbulb moment. The goals I had been setting were goals I felt I should set. They were goals that had greater meaning to others than to me, so they were neither relevant or attractive to me, and therefore unsuccessful.

With this awareness, how will I set some goals for this year?

First, what is my appealing over arching theme? I landed on the scriptural call to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. Here’s my worksheet so far:

So…I need a little time to live with these, but I’ll be back by Wednesday to let you know how this has developed for me.









































What Makes You Weep?

This morning I have had everything from moist eyes to full-out sobs.

The first tears came as I was reading material for my message on Sunday. I am continuing my series on “Continuing the Work of Jesus, Simply” by focusing on Jesus’ compassionate invitation to learn from him the “unforced rhythms of grace (Peterson’s translation Matthew 11:29 in the Message). During my study this morning, I came across this quote: “But they had limited evidence. They did not see the end from the beginning. They drew their conclusion only from what they saw, not from the infinite wisdom of God. And, even so, they looked at the evidence through prejudiced eyes. The Christ must behave according to their own pattern, or else He was not the Christ. It is no wonder that they came out with the wrong answer.” (An Exposition of the Four Gospels Matthew, Herschel H. Hobbs, p. 141)

How like today? We still don’t get it. Tears.

Then I read a Facebook post from a high school friend. Yesterday was her birthday. Two weeks ago one of her dogs died right in the middle of playing out in the yard. This morning they had to put their other dog down because they discovered bladder cancer. My heart broke. I sobbed. (Typing this now even a couple hours later, I wept all over again.)

How like today? Sorrow, disappointment, aching. Tears.

I had just gone back to reading when Mom tapped on my door. She brought me a section of the paper. The USA Today published an insert, “Women of the Century, 100 Women Who Changed the World.” In January they invited nominations of notable women. Then a committee put the list and bios together. As a woman who felt a calling from a very young age to a predominately male occupation, christian minister, I have experienced prejudice, nastiness, and discrimination for forty years. I shed many tears and sometimes begged God to remove this calling from my life. But I have also been supported by other women clergy who understand in multiple denominations. I have been encouraged remain faithful. Reading over the names and bios, seeing their pictures, reminded me that I am not alone in this battle, and there’s still much work to do. Work I have been and will be given to do.

How like today. We are still fighting: to be heard, to be recognized, to make a difference. But we do not fight alone. Tears.

Tears. Why do I cry this day?

I cry because some days I still don’t understand the “whys” of my life. Why I’m here and my husband there. Why I had to quit the one job in my life I loved like no other. I don’t want to come out with the wrong answer. But I will lament…release…and keep seeking to serve even when I don’t get it.

I cry because loss is a part of living. I cry because sorrow can blindside us. I cry because losing the things I treasure, value…love hurts. And to say that it doesn’t is a lie. To hurt indicates that we had something special and now it’s gone. How fortunate we were to have those things. But that doesn’t mean something else, possibly more perfect or valuable won’t come along. Grieving, acknowledging what was lost, enables me to keep living—treasuring the memory and making room for whatever is next.

I cry because others have to struggle. Being gifted, intelligent, and motivated doesn’t guarantee an easy road. The prejudice of others, the insecurity of others, the selfishness of others can throw painful blocks, detours, and frustrations in our path to fulfilling our callings. But clearly, we do not walk this road alone. Others have gone before us. Others walk alongside us. Others are placing their trust in our faithfulness.

This morning I wept. And oddly, I feel a clarity and strength, a desire to keep on. I’ve laid that burden down. And look ahead.

Soggy Pages

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“They” tell us to bleed on the page. That somehow if we will let our pain ooze out onto the pages we write that we will draw readers in—because everyone is bleeding and looking for healing. If we bleed, our words will release a relatedness that will draw others in.

I have no blood today…but I have lots of tears.

This morning my husband video called me. He was on his way to a friend’s house with our little dog. Our lives are in such a state of upheaval with me here and him there emptying our home of years of collecting, that the pup wasn’t getting the attention he needed or deserved. We came to the painful decision that he would be better off in a more attentive home. So Nelson called so I could say good-bye.

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I haven’t been able to stop crying.

The lesson I continue to learn: what’s best is not always easy. (The second lesson is to keep a tissue/hanky close by because tears aren’t the only thing that leaks.)

I came out to the patio to read and write after I ended the call with Nelson. I could barely see the iPad screen through my tears. My heart was aching and I just wanted pick up the stones in the yard and just start throwing them.

But I knew I couldn’t. Mom would have a cow. My mother cannot tolerate or handle intense emotions. I guess I know where I honed my skill at encouraging people to move beyond pain to healing. Like ticking items off an emotional checklist. Can’t let them get stuck in the anger…or the grief. Move along. Keep moving.

But today no amount of self-taught and practiced platitudes is unsticking me. I’m tired of rushing myself through hurt to healing.

I read a bunch of scripture. Nice as it was to know I wasn’t alone, that I could trust God’s presence and his promise, it just didn’t bring me the comfort I hoped for. The ache didn’t go away.

I feel the need to apologize here. I’m not meaning to be a Debby-downer (and sorry to all the Debbys in the world—you don’t deserve that moniker). I guess I’ve just realized that I had been pushing down all the hurt. Ignoring all the grief. Doing other stuff to keep from acknowledging how mad I am that I have to be the one making sacrifices…again.

Everything inside me wants to delete that last paragraph…at least the last line. It sounds icky. It feels selfish. I don’t want to be a petulant child, pouting about not getting my way. I realize being a servant comes with sacrifice. Today just brought it all to the surface as I saw that scruffy little face being driven out of my life.

I bristle when I hear people say, “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” I don’t believe it. I don’t agree. In fact, the Bible teaches just the opposite. There are two passages I need to be reminded of when life gets painfully soggy for me.

First, Paul writes to the Corinthian believers a very clear lament. You will find it in 2 Corinthians 1. He tells them that life was so bad, that he was “crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it (2 Cor. 1:8b-9).”

Of course the main reason Paul was writing this was to share the lesson learned: that we are not to rely upon ourselves but God who will continue to rescue us…again and again and again.

In our pain, loss, and overwhelming times God is with us, he is reliable, he will rescue us.

But even if he doesn’t…that leads me to the second text. It’s tucked away at the end of Habakkuk’s prophecy. In Chapter 3 we find God getting good and mad. The prophecy scared even the prophet. But in the end his faith enables him to go to difficult place. He says: “For even if the fig tree doesn’t blossom and no fruit is on the vines, even if the olive tree fails to produce, and the fields yield no food at all, even if the sheep vanish from the sheep pen, and there are no cows in the stalls; still, I will rejoice in AdonaiI will take joy in the God of my salvation. Elohim Adonai is my strength (Hab. 3:18-19)!”

Even if everything I hope for is gone, or doesn’t happen, I will rejoice int the Lord. Several translations insert a “yet.” It’s the same concept as nevertheless. That’s what Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego said when they faced the fiery furnace. They fully believed God would save them, but even if he didn’t they still believed, and wouldn’t change anything. It’s the same way Jesus prayed in the garden: “Is there not another plan? Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done.”

These are overwhelming days. Loss comes in waves. We will have our soggy days. We don’t have to ignore or deny our hurt. Jesus felt the pain in the garden so intently that Luke says he sweat drops of blood. Jesus never faked “fine.” When he was sad, he wept. When he saw injustice, he got angry.

Feel the anguish…but keep your “nevertheless” (and a box of tissues) close. That’s how we find healing. That’s how we keep from being stuck.

Pleasing My Father

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I went out to get the mail. I knew it probably wouldn’t be there, but I needed some fresh air…and steps…always steps.

It wasn’t there.

I wasn’t ready to go back into the overheated house. (One of the challenges of living with an older person with no insulation on her bones.) I knew that older people kept their homes warmer. I just wasn’t ready to be in a house where the furnace ran most of the day. The air was warm and sometimes hard for me to breathe.

Fresh air would do my brain some good. I sat in my chair and soaked in the sun and bird songs around me. My eyes closed in a moment of sweetness.

As soon as my eyes opened the sweetness was gone. No longer did the bluest sky fill my vision. Nope. All I could see was the dirt and debris. And the song of the birds was replaced by my father’s voice. I was transported back to high school, I found Dad in the garage cleaning and grousing. Dad took great pride in his well manicured lawn and clean garage.

The image barely passed and I found myself looking for a broom and dust pan. Items found, I quickly set about the task of sweeping the garage, porch, and front walk.

Sometime around my third pile of sand and stuff, I thought, “Dad would be pleased.”

My dad died in 1989. I never felt like he was proud of me. Not proud that I was fourth runner up to Miss Teenage Columbus. Not proud that I was a First Class Girl Scout. Not proud that my class elected me to student council as I was entering High School. Not proud that I graduated in the top 10% of my class of over 30. Not proud of anything I did, or who I was.

Once he told me I’d never write anything anyone would ever want to read.

And yet, here I was sweeping out a garage in a house he never lived in…hoping he would be pleased with me, with the job I had done, that I’d even thought to care.

When I was all finished I sat back down in my chair. I felt a brief wave of sadness flow over my heart. But just as quickly as it was gone, I felt a warmth—the warmth of a smile. In that mysterious way of knowing, I knew it wasn’t a smile from my dad. This smile came straight from my Holy Father. The One who knows me, loves me, walks with me, stays right by my side. The One who created me, sustains me, encourages me, strengthens me. The One who is always proud of me.

My name is written on his hands.

So is yours.

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Second Glance, Second Chance

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I read a post this morning by my friend Tammy Whitehurst (look her up on Facebook, she’s an awesome communicator). It made me cry. Happy tears. Finally, I found someone who’s Easter experience resembled mine.

Most of what I’ve been reading since yesterday is more lament. Sadness over what we missed: big choirs, lots of celebration, surrounded by a warm sense of community, family feasts—all the good stuff Easter evokes and offers.

I had very little of that. But what I did had touched my heart deeply. Please don’t miss the blessings that came while you pine for what wasn’t.

The message that was laid on my heart to share from the Easter story was the word of the angel to Peter…including Peter. The Easter message is a message of hope and restoration. Peter’s story is our story. Peter, after his pathetic personal performance (aka betrayal) was being offered a second chance.

Don’t miss the second chance you’re being offered.

It seems to me that when the people of God have gotten too comfortable, God shakes up the pot. Ask Job. Check with David. Look at Paul. And don’t forget those wandering former slaves who just couldn’t get it right…take another lap around Mt. Sinai.

Before this current pandemic went down. Before you were ordered to stay home. Do you remember wishing you had more time to read your Bible? Do you remember wishing you could have more time to dig deeper, move deeper spiritually?

How’s that working for you? How much TV/movies etc have you binge watched? I’m not saying it’s bad but I wonder how good it is for your spirit?

Confession. I found I was reading “news” articles on line far more than I was reading things that would encourage my faith and spirit. I felt myself sliding down a slippery slope into cynicism and despair.

Fortunately, after a long conversation with a friend (face to face and safely distanced, thank you Louise Waller) I was able to pull myself out of the nose dive. But I’m going to tell you, it was like what you see in the movies when the pilot is pulling back on the control with all their strength—not sure if they’re going to make it.

I made it.

You can too.

But second chances, like what Peter got, like what God has for each of us, are a gift we have to receive. Intentionality is involved. Want to is mandatory. We may not be able to choose your circumstances or situation, but we choose our response.

Peter could have heard the message and not believed it could be true. “Yeah, right. Maybe for someone else—not me.” Or like the rich young ruler in Jesus’ story (see Mark 10:17-31) walk away empty handed, empty hearted.

If all we see is what we didn’t have this Easter…then we walk away empty handed.

What did I learn? You take away all the trappings. All that is familiar and comforting. All that I count on. And I can still find so much to be thank-full for. So much room for praise. And a joy this world cannot take away.

What blessing did you receive in this unusual, but very special holy season?

Strength For Shaky Times

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Psalm 121 1-2 I look up to the mountains;
    does my strength come from mountains?
No, my strength comes from God,
    who made heaven, and earth, and mountains.

3-4 He won’t let you stumble,
    your Guardian God won’t fall asleep.
Not on your life! Israel’s
    Guardian will never doze or sleep.

5-6 God’s your Guardian,
    right at your side to protect you—
Shielding you from sunstroke,
    sheltering you from moonstroke.

7-8 God guards you from every evil,
    he guards your very life.
He guards you when you leave and when you return,
    he guards you now, he guards you always. (The Message)

Negative news. Fake news. No news. Too much information. Confusing and conflicting words coming from sources that should encourage us, solidify us, comfort us…direct us. Who do we believe? Who can we believe? What do we want to believe?

If my peace, my strength, only comes from external and world-based sources, I will always be tossed about, unsettled, and lost.

My strength, my peace comes from a source that is consistent, unshakeable, and always right on time.

The One who is my strength will not allow me to stumble, not from weakness nor in the dark. None of the confusion swirling around me occurs without the awareness of the One who created everything and promises to make all things new.

This One, this creator, is also the shield providing relief and protection. The promise rings true: God is not going anywhere—whether we are close or running, struggling or resting. This One who knows us best and loves us most guards us now and always.

Find your peace there. Find your strength there.

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Finding Community

When I stop in at my favorite local coffee shop I see a group of women huddled over the newspaper working the daily crossword puzzle together. While searching for words they share stories and coffee. Their laughter is sweet music. Their focus on each other blesses me. So I finally stopped enjoying them from afar and went to their table.

“Hi. My name is Tina. I write about the things I see, and I have watched you each time I come in. And I want you to know how much you bless me by faithfully meeting together. May I take your picture? And would you mind if I wrote about your little coffee shop community?”

They agreed on all accounts.

During Super Bowl LIV, Facebook paid the big bucks and had a commercial highlighting their different groups:

Why is Facebook and all the other social media sites (Instagram, Twitter, SnapChat, et al) thriving? Probably for the same reason it’s sometimes hard to get a seat at one of our local coffee shops, or why McDonalds is packed out before the sun comes up with seniors drinking coffee and chatting—and trust me it’s not about the coffee!

Whether it’s coffee, beer, or the daily crossword, we all crave a sense of community: we want to feel like we belong. We need to know that if we reach out someone will be there. That someone will care.

Now before the introvert and hermit crowd get all in a huff, and mumble something about not needing anyone: the bottom line is we really do need each other. Even introverts need people…just in small, controlled, selective doses. 

I believe that human beings were created by a loving God to be in relationship: relationship with the creator…and with each other. That’s why in the manual for living (aka, the Bible) there are so many instructions to work on the relationship with the creator (Love God), and to love one another. It’s both and. Love God—vertical relationship. Love each other—horizontal relationships.

So I’m wondering, how are you, how are we, doing at creating and maintaining healthy relationships, holy connections?

More thoughts on this will follow…let’s stay connected. 

Advent: Give Big

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Day Eight: Go and Sell All…And Give

Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21, NLT)

One day a well-to-do young man came to Jesus. He wanted to know what good deed he needed to do to guarantee eternal life. In the conversation that followed the man was quick to point out his perfect keeping of the Law—I assume he was pretty proud of himself and expected Jesus to give a free-pass into heaven.

I wonder if Jesus was smiling…stifling a laugh at his arrogance and pride…and his self-absorbed confusion about what was truly important. The purpose of the Law is to make sure that we are loving God supremely and caring for our neighbor. To point out how clearly confused the wealthy man was, Jesus gave him an instruction that struck at the heart of his problem: he hadn’t done either requirement. 

Truth for the rich young man was that his amassed wealth was his god, and he wasn’t willing to part with it for anyone…even if it meant missing heaven.

Some of the saddest words in scripture (in my opinion) are attributed then to this man: he went away sad.

This Advent season we have looked into the scriptures to see  the “good thing” we need to do. We have thought about how God values small things. In a time when bright lights, sweet treats, cozy parties serve to cover our real need, we have taken time to focus on God’s valuing of honesty.  Finally, we have pondered the greatness of God’s gift in his son, our savior—and his invitation to be cheerful generous givers.

My prayer is that we have learned what “good thing” we have each needed to address, that we have made sure God is supreme, and our neighbor is cared for.

Because I don’t want any of us to go away sad.

PRAYER: O come, o come, Emmanuel. O come let us adore him…and share the joy he wants to bring to our lives, and to the world. Amen. May it ever be true. Make it true precious God. Make it true.