How Will You Enter the Door?

Day 3. 5 at St. Davids Christian Writers Conference

I was walking to breakfast this morning, and I began to notice I was walking differently. I felt alive. The air was invigorating. I felt an unusual spring in my step. I must have grown at least an inch taller. And then I heard my mother’s voice, “Stand up straight. Put your shoulders back. Walk with confidence.” The memory made me chuckle.

Why was it always so important to walk confidently, to walk like I was getting ready to enter into an important meeting?

As I reached for the door to enter into our gathering spaces, with this memory and question fresh in my mind, a new awareness came to mind: Mom was encouraging me to always be ready. I couldn’t know who I would meet. I wouldn’t know what important contact would be waiting ahead. The what or who didn’t matter as much as the how.

Our keynote speaker, Eva Marie Everson, drew her morning message from Exodus 3 and 4, The Calling of Moses. There were so many good points, but the one that struck me was the reference to Moses’ response to God in 3:4, “Here I am.”

Moses wasn’t giving a childlike response to a school teacher’s role call. Moses’ answer was clearly, “I’m ready.”

As much as my mother would deny her admonition was God’s message for me, I heard it that way this morning. God used that memory, that feeling as I walked to breakfast to remind me how each time I enter a door I need to be ready. This reminds me of the wise counsel of an elder pastor speaking to a group of us newbies, once upon a time, how we should always have a sermon, a prayer, and a song ready each time we enter a church.

At the very first writers’ conference I attended one of the people I heard speak was Torry Martin. Torry is an actor, writer, comedian, and very wise speaker. He introduced me to the phrase, “divine appointments and holy introductions.”

What would happen if we would walk through every door, enter every interaction with an “I’m ready God for whatever divine appointment or holy introduction you bring my way” attitude? Imagine for a moment that God has people who need your readiness, your message, your encouragement waiting for you to arrive. Truth is: they are there, and they need what you bring.

Home Again…Part 1: Adjusting

Two years. So much can happen. So much can change. I’m sure I don’t have to explain that to you…you lived the last years, too. If you’re reading this you survived them, too.

Two years ago I went to the best conference of my life. Connecting with other women clergy within my denomination energized me and encouraged me. I was excited to get back to my congregation. But first a quick visit to get my Scrabble fix with Mom.

Two years ago she got sick and never really bounced back. Her breathing issues were complicated by her anxiety. Or was it the other way around? The cycle was vicious. Then the natural progression of age related dementia began to show up unannounced. Another severe lung infection and we called in support from hospice. She had several infections, but they cleared up with medication…except for this last time.

The day before Christmas Eve was a typical day. Sure, her appetite was off a little. But she was scolding the officials and coaching the teams from her chair as she watched a couple bowl games. Before that we managed to get in a game of Scrabble. All in all, a pretty normal day.

Until bedtime. As she was completing her usual bedtime routine she began to have breathing issues which switched on the anxiety. A dose of morphine, holding her hand for a bit so it could kick in, and then walking her to bed and tucking her in seemed to quell the attack. But her sleep was restless, and she cried out for it all to end. More hand holding and gentle words. I called hospice and was directed to use a med that would help with the secretions. This seemed to bring a little relief and she fell asleep. And then she was gone.

My husband and I had dreamed of somehow being able to purchase Mom’s house and live out our retirement in the beauty and warmth of Arizona. Not having enough means and Nelson needing to be in Ohio for his mom brought me back to Ohio.

In one of our conversations on the long trip home, I tried to express part of what made this obvious choice so difficult for me. I’m nearly sixty-five years old, and this is the first move I’ve made, we’ve made, without knowing where or what, without having purpose or direction. Limbo. Waiting. Trusting. Wondering. I’m living an unsettled sort of peace. And I’ll confess, I’m not particularly fond or comfortable with this strange mix of circumstances.

But I’m home. And we’ll continue to work out all that means, and where that goes. Because that’s what we do.

Cooking and Writing

(I wrote this several years ago, but find the truth still applies…at least for me.)

Recently, a friend of mine warned me not to sit on my gift.  Just prior to that, she had asked me if I had written anything lately.  I hadn’t.  I haven’t felt inspired to write.  It was like I had nothing to say.

Last week I was going through emails and I came across one that was advertising next year’s Writers’ Market.  I remembered back to January of this year.  I had begged Nelson for an updated copy.  I told him that if he would buy it for me I would send out at least ten pieces to publishers.  He did and I didn’t.

In the past few months, I have begun to enjoy cooking.  Not long ago, Nelson posited that I was cooking to avoid writing.  Seemed ridiculous to me.  He had cooked most of our married life—mostly because he was very good at it, but also because I worked non-stop.  Now, Nelson is working long days and it just makes sense for me to pick up that responsibility.  I dove into the task by hunting for potential recipes and then began experimenting with combinations that I knew we liked.  I went quickly from having three recipes that my family enjoyed to a couple dozen.  It felt good.

This morning as I was washing the pot that I had made a really good soup in yesterday, I had an epiphany.  It was about cooking and writing. When Nelson and I got married I was afraid to cook.  I was such a novice that my mother-in-law bought me an illustrated cookbook.  My repertoire included macaroni made in a hot pot and peanut butter sandwiches.  To avoid embarrassment, I acquiesced to Nelson’s expertise and over the years discovered three recipes that I did well and stuck with those.  I was afraid to do any more than that because if I couldn’t do it perfectly I wouldn’t do it all.

What I realized as I stood at my sink scrubbing dishes was that Nelson was right in part.  I needed to cook so that I could write.  I hadn’t contacted any publishers with my writing because, though I knew I could write, I didn’t consider myself a writer.  Throwing myself into my cooking showed me that.  For years I had avoided cooking because I didn’t see myself as a cook and therefore I couldn’t.  It wasn’t enough to say that I could cook, I had to be the best cook.  I knew I was far from that so I didn’t, and wouldn’t cook.  This was reinforced by the ridicule I took when I tried to cook.  I was the brunt of many a family joke.  Why should I continue to prove them right and give them something new to laugh at?

My recent successes at cooking have forced me to rethink this.  I may not be a “James Beard Chef”, but I can cook.  Nelson has really enjoyed my newly found and developing love for being creative in the kitchen.  He raves about the meals and shows them off at work.  I’m not going to be Top Chef anywhere, not even in my kitchen.  That honor will always be Nelson’s.  But it’s not going to keep me from cooking and experimenting.

I still have a few months left in this year.  I will probably never win an award for my writing, but why should that keep me from developing my craft and sharing my thoughts?  The obvious answer is that it shouldn’t—and based on what I learned from cooking recently: it won’t!

Oh, and while I’m at it, I realized something else about my writing that makes it more imperative that I push past my reluctance to face rejection.  Recently while I was preparing for a retreat I led on spirituality and personality, I read that most devotionals are written by “N” types (think MBTI).  I mulled that over for a while and realized that is one of the reasons I feel so compelled to create a devotional series, one that is more appealing and appropriate for “S” types.  Not everyone relates to the intuitive style and needs to engage their senses more completely to engage them spiritually.  Maybe I’ve found my niche!

In Rembrance…In Unity

Today is Worldwide Communion Sunday. I love this Sunday. I loved it when I was a pastor. I observed it in all the denominations I worked with. The thought and feeling of partaking of the Lord’s Supper along with believers all over the world moves me, encourages me, humbles me. Today was no exception.

Today I worshipped outdoors with a group of people I have only met with twice before. The weather was perfect. The message clear and inspiring. Two of the pastor’s points stuck out to me.

First, he described a study that was done in which people were asked what their favorite phrase in the English language were. The number one response was, “I love you.” Understandable. Don’t we all love to hear that? Also high on the list, and pertinent to the message, “Dinner’s ready!”

Time to eat. Come and get it. Come and dine. Come to the table. Do you remember how you were called to dinner as a child? I don’t have particularly fond memories of dinnertime as a child–but oh how precious those shared meals became when shared them with friends in college, and later with community in the church.

The pastor’s text was Jesus invitation to the crowd as recorded in John 6. Everybody was invited. Everyone was included. Y’all come.

Who doesn’t want to hear that? We may need a bigger table.

The second thing that hooked my heart was the concept of remembrance. Living with Mom I’m daily dealing with issues of memory: odd rememberances, distorted memories, lost memories. Hers and mine!

As I sat in the gathering on Sunday morning, one question percolated to the top: What do you want me to remember today God? It seemed like a simple question, but it brought on a whole slew of recollections. They came in waves: communion services from across the years; faces of clergy mentors and friends; different places; and different times.

Sitting alone, in a gathering where I knew no one, I drew comfort in the sense not only of God being present, but with me–speaking my name. Just as the bubbling memories spoke to the how there had been people all along in this journey of faith, the Spirit gave clear assurance that even now when I felt so incredibly alone…I was not, and would never be.

Remembering this, hearing this, feeling this prods me to wonder if you, dear reader might be feeling alone. Jesus calls you to the table. There is clearly not just space, but a space for you. As you take your seat, please remember the times and places where God has brought you into the company of others as a means of assuring you of your place in the family, and God’s great grace and provision for us all.

yes magazine.org

Y’all, come.

Purpose

(I wrote this during Lent in 2009. Even more true today)

For a while I thought I was depressed.  Life changed drastically for me when I lost my job.  In part, I think the trauma was due to the to the fact that I found my identity in what I did.  The challenges of the work gave me purpose.  I felt vital and alive.  Losing my job meant I lost my sense of purpose.

I used to teach groups of people how to write their mission statements.  We didn’t start with that.  We would back up and talk about finding their passion in life and for life.  When it came to putting that passion into a working purpose or mission statement, I would teach to the difference between a goal (short term) and a mission statement (life- long driving force).  A mission or purpose statement is something you can see devoting your whole life to.  It is true now and will be true in twenty, thirty, even fifty years.

Reflecting on this, I wasn’t really depressed.  I was just adrift and going nowhere because I had taken my eyes off the map.  I thought that without the job I wouldn’t be able to follow my purpose and mission.  I forgot that the job wasn’t the only vehicle to get me where I needed to be.  I forgot that the whether I’m teaching or cleaning toilets, it is the purpose or mission God has for my life that matters and he will provide me with the opportunities I need.  I forgot that it is God who gifts me and directs me to use those gifts.  

I was reading about John the Baptist in Mark’s gospel.  I don’t think there are many who would sign up for John’s job—especially if they knew how it was going to end for him.  Yet, even in the briefest of ministries, John paved the way by preparing the people for the emergence of Jesus’ life-changing ministry.

It reminds me of relief pitchers in baseball.  They will never pitch a whole game.  That’s not their job.  It’s not why they were hired.  Some of those guys will only throw a few pitches and the next thing we see is the coach headed to the mound.  Those couple of precisely placed pitches are what the reliever gets paid the big bucks for.  It’s their purpose.  

Now, dust off your imagination and try to picture this: your favorite baseball team has made the playoffs!  They did this not just on their bats, but because of their pitching.  But now that they’ve made it to the biggest games, the team’s relievers and closers have decided they want more playing time and have threatened to not play at all if they don’t get the opportunity to pitch a whole game.  How crazy is that?  How dare they hold the game hostage for their whims?

The apostle Paul, in his discussion of gifts, makes this statement: But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it (1 Corinthians 12:18, NLT).  Right there with the assurance that we all have a part, we’re told that we are placed right where He wants us. 

That’s why we really need to bloom right where we’re planted!

Prayerfully ponder: How’s the soil where you are? Are you focused on how you want to use your perceived talents? Are you more concerned with what you want than what God needs from you? Are you discouraged because you feel like you’re riding the pine and you can’t understand why God is wasting your abilities? Are you aware of what God’s doing around you so that when the time is right (God’s specialty) you’ll be ready to pitch your inning?

Lessons Learned From Mom: Control Is An Illusion

How many people do you know who try to control everything? Who have meltdowns when things don’t go according to plan? Who micromanager their lives and the lives of others?

How many meltdowns have you had this week because you couldn’t orchestrate things the way you wanted?

I’ve had a couple.

Yesterday, I mentioned how Mom let me put her calendar away. Relinquished a little control.

Today it was the bathroom scale.

For as long as I can remember, Mom has been obsessed with her weight. The issue was never the size of her clothing, it was how much she weighed. Her second husband was just as obsessed, and I saw him shame her for eating too much or not being active like he was.

I bit my tongue on more than one occasion and sat on my hands (a technique I learned in school to keep from talking, because everyone knows I can’t talk without using my hands…but I digress.)

Mom had to move the bathroom scales to accommodate her new shower bench. She wasn’t happy with what felt like crowding. I asked her if she really needed to keep the scales in the bathroom. She stopped talking, and became pensive. I could tell there was an inner dialog raging inside. I waited.

Then she looked at me and instructed me to take them out of the bathroom. They have disappeared into the bottom of her closet.

Letting go of habits is hard. Especially if they have been life-long. When Mom came home from the hospital last January after a very serious bout with pneumonia, she had lost some weight. She was weighing about 92 pounds. She was ecstatic. It was like she had finally reached her life goal. Over the year she put on eight pounds. Somehow, in her mind, it was too much.

Giving up the scale was huge. For her.

I wish I could find that kind of freedom.

While I was still in high school, Mom wrote in the baby book she kept our milestones in a prediction that impacted my thinking in the most damaging way. She declared that I would weigh 140 pounds when I turned 18. I remember hearing the statement as a negative pronouncement regarding the horrendous direction my weight was trending. I fought against her vision. I fought and I fought and I lost and I lost.

I want to be healthy. I want to feel better in my body. I don’t want to constantly be battling to achieve a number.

But like Mom…I’m not sure I know how to be another way. Maybe control comes more by not trying so hard to control.

Wednesday’s Word: Miracles

Today’s word comes to you courtesy of my dear friend, Mary Hofacker.

When I think of miracles, I am reminded of a song Nelson and I heard at a Steve and Annie Chapman concert way back in the 1980’s. Living far from family with two toddlers and very little income, we felt desperate and prayed for God to miraculously reveal his power and grace. The song was a constant ear worm: things are looking right for a miracle.

When I went to WordSwag to create the pic for today’s post, I used a font I rarely use, but it fit perfectly. Miracles quite often come in very plain and obvious ways: a miracle healing, the perfect job, etc. But sometimes the miracle we need comes disguised as something else and we appreciate the gift or improvement to life, but we don’t see God’s intervention coming in a way we couldn’t have imagined or even begun to ask for. We missed the backstory completely, claimed the gift, and moved on.

I think that’s why I appreciate Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians (see Eph. 3:20): Now to the One who is able to do exceedingly, abundantly, above and beyond anything and everything we could ever ask or even imagine…

And that God knows me best and loves me most. You, too.

Things are looking right for a miracle.

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.









































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