From My Reading

Living a spiritual life requires a change of heart, a conversion. Such a conversion may be marked by a sudden inner change, or it can take place through a long, quiet process of transformation. But it always involves an inner experience of oneness. We realize that we are in the center, and that from there all that is and all that takes place can be seen and understood as part of the mystery of God’s life with us. . . .  Poverty, pain, struggle, anguish, agony, and even inner darkness may continue to be part of our experience. They may even be God’s way of purifying us. But life is no longer boring, resentful, depressing, or lonely because we have come to know that everything that happens is part of our way to the Father” (Henri Nouwen, You are the Beloved).

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All true worship has [a] deep rhythmic movement of man’s service to God and God’s service to man. Man builds a tent, and God fills it with his glory.  Man constructs a church; God’s cloud of providence covers it.  This is no quid pro quo, this rhythm of our service to God and God’s service to us.  It is not a matter of his rewarding our worthiness or our hard work.  It is rather the rhythm of life in God’s system.  He gives, we give, he gives more, and we respond in gratitude (Eugene Peterson in Every Step an Arrival).

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God wants to give us virtue, but He’s designed us with such terrifying dignity, that we cannot receive—even good things—against our will. As George MacDonald explains, “Man finds it hard to get what he wants, because he does not want the best; God finds it hard to give, because He would give the best, and man will not take it.” We must “have a capacity to receive, or even omnipotence can’t give” echoes C.S. Lewis. The challenging work in the spiritual life is making ourselves ready to receive” (Jonathan Bailey in jonahanrbailey.com  (3/24/9).

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“I’m a ‘contemplative by catastrophe.'”  My wake-up calls generally come after the wreck has happened and I’m trying to dig myself out of the debris. . . . Regret can be turned into a blessing and strengthen our resolve.  Whenever we feel certain that the human soul is no longer at work in the world, it’s time to make sure that ours is visible to someone, somewhere. Those are some of the fruits that can come from being a “contemplative by catastrophe” (Parker Palmer in On the Brink of Everything, Grace, Gravity and Getting Old).

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“The soul lives forever. It is precious beyond imagining. Investing deeply in even a few folk will count for all eternity. Sure, many in today’s religious climate will go on to other “more interesting” topics. We bless these folk and pray for their well-being and growth in grace. But, there are plenty (vast numbers, in fact) who are committed to the long haul. They really want to be like Jesus with all their heart and soul and mind and strength. These are the ones we invest in. And, believe me, investing in these precious lives will take all the energy and all the time and all the prayer and all the weeping and laughing and singing and hoping we can possibly muster” (Richard J. Foster in Renovare Weekly Digest, March 18-22).

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Three Dreams Deferred, by an Anonymous Blogger

We all have dreams – work we want to do, influence we’d like to have, places we’d love to see, children we’d love to raise, people we’d like to meet . . .  Sometimes these dreams come true; sometimes they don’t. And sometimes they are deferred or delayed. This group of blogs shares the stories of dreams deferred by members of two writing groups I lead in Holland, MI. In this post, our anonymous guest blogger three dreams, one rather whimsical and two that are life-changing.  For other posts in this category go to the home page and click on the category A Dream Deferred on the right hand sidebar.

As I was sitting at my desk, thinking of a dream that had not become reality, I realized I was looking at one. (I say this with a smile.) This is the fact: I cannot keep my desk clean. It is always full of stuff – clutter or important papers – never clear. I am believer that if there is a flat empty area near or on your desk it should be used. Something should be on it otherwise it is wasted space. All things creative or just plain work should be nearby and handy.  And so a clean desk is a dream of mine that is always and forever a dream delayed.

A clean or cluttered desk does not, however, quality for the intensity or the importance of what it means to have a dream that is deferred. A dream deferred is about life. Maybe a it is path not taken, not by your will but because of circumstances you cannot control. 

After my marriage, I headed down the road of planning a family only to find that road blocked. The dream of bearing children was not only deferred but dried up like a raisin, festered like a sore, sagged and exploded. To begin a family by bearing children was a blocked road. I had to go back to somewhere to start over.

This deferred dream has in many ways defined my life, re-framed my attitudes, and gifted me with new vistas. Occasionally, I will clearly see the end of that road as I did when I was first faced with it. But, a lifetime of living with that deferred dream has also lent a clearer and brighter visual field for my mind and heart.

My third deferred dream is not a dream but a conversation. And it was not deferred; it never happened. It was a conversation that I never had, but will never forget.

On a Sunday evening twenty-nine years ago, when I was thirty-eight years old, I was at the home of my parents. My Mom had gone to church and I was staying with my Dad who had been diagnosed with cancer and was facing his last days. It was a beautiful summer evening and we were having casual conversation. The weather, church, family, garden, trees, farming, music, these were all topics we enjoyed talking about. I remember his sweet smile and soft voice.

Then he wheeled his wheelchair next to me and with a little grin he said, “You know, we have to get that big tree cut down on our cemetery plot before the next person has to be buried.” I remember his eyes meeting mine. He had opened the door wide open for me to say anything. Anything about dying, his death, about how much I would miss him, how much his family would miss him. There was a moment as he waited for me to say something meaningful, anything meaningful for him, meaningful for me. I don’t remember if I said anything or if there was silence. Either way, the door closed on a possible loving and tender conversation. I have never forgotten how I felt as he looked away and backed up his wheelchair. His gentle way of knowing I was not courageous enough to talk with him about something that was on his heart and mind. The moment was deferred and gone forever.

Three dreams deferred. One is silly, one changed the direction of my life, and one has taught me the importance of being ready and brave enough to have certain conversations. Deferred dreams are real, and the direction we take after them can make all the difference. “What happens to a dream deferred?” Does it dry up or does it explode into another direction?

Posted in A Dream Deferred

It’s April – Again!

When I checked my blog views a day or two ago, I saw that someone had “liked” a post called “It’s April.” I was confused; did a “like” for someone else’s post somehow find its way to my blog? Realizing that since more than 830 posts have come and gone, I might have forgotten this one, I did a search – and there it was on April 1, 2015.  Thanks to my reader I’m whisked back to a time when I still lived in a house instead of an apartment, when I had no garage but did have a yard full of flowers. I loved the memory and decided to re-post the blog on as  we will soon be turning our calendars  to April 1.

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Last night I turned the page on the calendar in hopeful April  anticipation. This morning it’s April!!

Our family has been left gasping after a West Michigan winter of unrelenting cold and gray skies mirrored a siege of unexpected serious illness. But today, a literal and metaphorical sunny day, is raising our spirits.  Outside the window of my writing room, the crab apple tree still holds tight to deep red berries.  It was a lovely companion when the deep white snow provided the backdrop. But now peering through its branches at blue skies and a serene pond gives me a new perspective.  I am beginning again to be serenaded by the call and response of birds in early morning and on through evening. Perhaps they are wel- coming each other home as I am.

In the front yard, demure  crocuses proudly show crocusoff now that I have finally lifted dead chrysanthemum stalks that had been weighing them down since fall. Daffodil stems are pushing up; I can see the tinge of their bright yellow flowers.

As I think about taking the road much traveled to the library this afternoon, I sense freedom. No boots or heavy coats.  No careful step-by-step descent down the stairs. No treading anxiously through drifts of snow or on ice-covered sidewalks.  No shoveling the driveway. No scraping the ice off the car!  I can just walk to the car and go!

Now begins the annual month of anticipation.  I live in Holland, Michigan. Every May hundreds of thousands of tourists come to see hundreds of thousands of tulips planted in beautiful parks and in boulevards all around the city. For my entire life, early May has meant Tulip Time – even when I lived far away from Holland. And every April as I look at leafless trees and brown grtulips 2ass and seemingly lifeless tulip beds I have said, “We’ll never be ready for Tulip Time!” Every day I look for new signs of growth and  suddenly the world is in bloom.

Although I often malign the weather outside my window, I love living in a place of seasons. Seasons are a symbol of the orderly and utterly predictable nature of a creative God. Seasons come and seasons  go. That rhythm helps me understand that seasons of life change, too. And each season of life with its joys and sorrows helps us appreciate the next.  After winter comes April.

Posted in Living as Apprentices

Even the Small Things

Most of our world is living in a time of chaos, emotionally if not physically. Getting up in the morning can be overwhelming. Following through on our agenda for the day AND keeping a loving spirit while we take each step is difficult. Even the simplest details can feel like pressure.

For the first two-thirds of my life I was fearful of every thing: a new experience, a new place, a new teacher, a new job, new encounters with new people. Even the smallest issues tied me up in knots. I was even nervous about going into a supermarket with which I was unfamiliar because I was afraid I was would look stupid if I couldn’t easily find the checkout lanes – as if anyone were watching!  I’ve overcome most of that anxiety, but last week I noticed a familiar twisting in my stomach and traced it to the need to take the car in for a new air bag. (Obviously this is not a difficult task for most, but it played into my lifetime biggest insecurity – not knowing what to do.)  In some despair because an elderly false narrative was taking over my serenity, I prayed that the Holy Spirit would help me deal with this.

I drove into the car lot and to the location where the service entrance was located. I didn’t see it.  In confusion, I parked the car. As I got out, I noticed an old friend standing by a van with the dealership logo on it. He immediately hurried over to me. “I thought that was your car!” he said. “Good to see you!”

We spent some time catching up (as I got more nervous because I would be late for the appointment). Finally he asked why I was here. I told him about the air bag and confessed that I was confused about where to go to get it fixed.  He smiled, nodded, and told me that everything had been changed around. He walked me to the end of the building, pointed out where to turn, and advised me to just drive up to the service door and it would automatically open so I could drive in. We said our goodbyes, and I thanked him for being my angel. My day had instantly brightened.

This is such a small, insignificant experience that I debated writing about it. But then the importance of seeing God’s love and protection in all of our small, seemingly stupid, experiences is worth writing about. Marking those small blessings in our hearts over and over again helps us relinquish our huge experiences and wait expectantly for the Spirit’s guidance. 

Today I saw a quote that reminded me of my Al-Anon training which encouraged me to practice living one day (or hour or moment) at a time:

Today is only a small manageable segment of
of time in which our difficulties
need not overwhelm us.

When we are overwhelmed, we can stew about it or we can choose to turn it over to God and  expect and await God’s solutions.

Posted in Living as Apprentices | Tagged ,

Praying with Scripture: Acts 20: 22-24

The Spiritual Formation Bible comments that “the book of Acts contributes to one of the most interesting spiritual biographies in Christian history.” That biography is the story of Paul. In Acts 20, we pick up Paul’s journey at the end of his stay in Ephesus. Paul has been  preaching in Ephesus for two years when his denouncing of the goddess Artemis causes a revolt of artisans who create statues of the goddess. They are worried about losing business. When the ruckus settles down, Paul heads for Macedonia and then  to Greece where he stays for three months. From there he heads to Troas and Miletus where he makes the momentous decision to head to Jerusalem.

Use the questions below the following verses to help you focus on Paul’s story of being “compelled by the Holy Spirit” into an unknown, possibly dangerous situation.  Pray about how that story relates to your story.

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Acts  20: 22-24  (CEB)

Now, compelled by the Spirit, I’m going to Jerusalem. I don’t know what will happen to me there. What I do know is that the Holy Spirit testifies to me from city to city that prisons and troubles await me.

1.Have you ever felt “compelled” by the Spirit? (Other translations use “bound by the spirit” or “captive in the spirit.” Contemporary Christians may claim to being “led” by the Spirit.) Is there a difference in being compelled or bound or captive or led by the Spirit? 

2. Ask God if there is some collaborative act he would like you participate in with him. Ask him to make your role clear. Would you follow through on a direction from God that includes the idea that prisons and troubles await you?  Pray that the fear of the unknown will not deter you from joining God.

3. Consider how Paul’s life was transformed by his interaction with Jesus and how he in turn transformed his world. Ask God to transform you in whatever way is necessary so you to can transform your world.

  But nothing, not even my life, is more important than my completing my mission.  

1. What mission is Paul talking about? How do we know that his mission was more important than his life? 

2. What is your mission today?   What mission do you think God is preparing for you in the future? Is any mission God would ask you to join more important than your life as you envision it? 

This is nothing other than the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus: to testify about the good news of God’s grace.

1. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you bring to mind instances of God’s grace in your life.  Thank the Spirit for the memories. 

2. Thank God for gracing your life with goodness and mercy. Commit to watching for  other examples and giving thanks.  Think about how the grace in your life can become a ministry to others.

Posted in Praying with Scripture

Becoming Michelle Obama

Becoming,Booksamillion

Many months ago, before the book was even published, I put a hold on  Michelle Obama’s autobiography, Becoming, at my public library. This week, it was finally my turn be immersed in one of the best autobiographies I have ever read. I finished this 421 page triumph in less than three days. I usually recommend books on the home page of my blog, but this one is worthy of the attention of all my readers, no matter what their political persuasion might be.

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Why do we read autobiographies? Because we are interested in the way other people create and live out their lives?  Because we want to observe other people’s families and say either “At least mine wasn’t that bad!” or “I wish I had that kind of family” or “Wasn’t I lucky to have a family just like that? Because we are interested in reading about other places and other times? All of these reasons are usually fulfilled in good autobiographies, but the best autobiographies also help us see and understand ourselves and our worlds better.  Michelle Obama’s autobiography is one of those.

The book is divided into three sections:  Becoming Me, Becoming Us, and Becoming More. Each section is funny, warm, engaging – and brutally honest, just like Michelle. It is also full of fascinating details of her life before Barrack, with Barrack, and as First Lady and beyond. Her determination to be true to herself and her upbringing through all the changes and challenges in her life are inspiring. Her commitment to Barack and her children and their life as a family is often challenged by her own career, his long-distance career, his entry into politics. Her responsibilities as a wife, mother, executive,campaigner, and finally First Lady battle with each other and cause internal conflict. Her willingness to grapple with all this and change as needed is an example for all women. Her honesty about being a woman in public life, especially a black woman, challenges us all.

BECOMING ME

Michelle Obama lived her early if an upstairs apartment above her aunt’s home and piano studio. She says, “My family was my world.  .  .  . Everything that mattered was in a five block radius.”  Her “stay at home” mother taught her the value of self-sacrifice as well as the need to be direct and speak up for yourself.  Her father, disabled by MS, taught her the meaning of hard work, doing your best, and loving your family. Her brother older brother Craig modeled studying hard, seeing the optimistic side of everything, and also treated her as his best friend. Michelle was a planner, thrived when her life was organized and everything was in its place.  In spite of her warm family life, Michelle describes battling a sense that even though she was smart and popular, maybe she wasn’t good enough. May-  be she had to work harder than everyone else to get where she wanted to go.

 BECOMING US

When Michelle and Barack Obama meet, she is already a successful lawyer. He has lived a totally different life, but seems to have found himself in the process. He is brilliant, constantly in his head, spontaneous, loving – and ambitious. They are as different as they could be – and adapting to these differences result in much of her personal growth. This section of the book is my favorite. Michelle’s internal battles to be a good mother, to have a warm and close marriage like that of her parents, and her desire to succeed at her ever-escalating career – all at the same time – are honest as well as fascinating. Her insights into Barack’s character and intelligence and growing desire to make a difference in the world (a desire she had been nurturing in herself since childhood) are just as fascinating.  

BECOMING MORE

This section is about a woman coming into her own.  Anxious about being a black woman in the most public job of the nation, she became a role model for us all. Determined to speak to issues that were important to her, she created initiatives that advanced the health and nutrition of children, the needs of military families, and the education of girls around the world in creative and enduring ways.  Determined not to let President Trump’s hateful and bullying language go unchecked, she popularized the phrase “When they go low, we go high.”  Leaving the White House determined to continue to make a difference, , she writes:

For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim.  I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self.  The journey doesn’t end.  I became a mother, but I still have a lot to learn from and give to my children. I became a wife, but I continue to adapt to and be humbled by what it means to truly love and make a life with another person. I have become by certain measures a person of power, and yet there are moments still when I feel insecure or unheard. It’s all a process, steps along a path. Becoming requires equal parts patience and rigor. Becoming is never giving up on the idea that there’s more growing to be done. 

So, this is why I read autobiographies: to be enlightened, challenged and inspired. If that’s your goal,  I encourage you to make time to read this book.

Posted in Living as Apprentices | Tagged , | 2 Comments

From My Reading

“Miracle. It is badly identified when it is thought to mean that which we don’t understand.  That’s the popular way the word is used, but it’s not the Christian way. . . Miracle, through the biblical tradition, is not what we don’t understand but what is done for us that we can’t do for ourselves. Miracle is functional.  It’s what God does for us or does for us through other people that we can’t do for ourselves.  It’s possible you could understand it, but if you did, that wouldn’t make it stop being a miracle” (Eugene Peterson in Every Step an Arrival).

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“In a world so torn apart by rivalry, anger, and hatred, we have the privileged vocation to be living signs of a love that can bridge all divisions and heal all wounds” (Henri Nouwen).

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“Every day, I get closer to the brink of everything. We’re all headed that way, of course, even when we’re young, though  most of us are too busy with Important Matters to ponder our mortality. But when a serious illness or accident strikes, or someone dear to us dies- or we go to a class reunion and wonder who all those old people are – it becomes harder to ignore the drop-off that lies just over the end of our lives.

I’ll be nearly eighty when this book is published, so it shouldn’t surprise me that I can sometimes see the brink from here.  But it does.  I’m even more surprised by the fact that I like being old.

Age brings diminishments, but more than a few come with benefits.  I’ve lost the capacity for multitasking, but I’ve rediscovered the joy of doing one thing at a time.  My thinking has slowed a bit, but experience has made it deeper and richer.  I’m done with big and complex projects, but more aware of the loveliness of simple things: a talk with a friend, a walk in the woods, sunsets and sunrises, a night of good sleep.

I have fears, of course, always have and always will.  But as time lengthens like a shadow behind me and the time ahead dwindles, my overriding feeling is gratitude for the gift of life” (Parker Palmer in On the Brink of Everything, Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old).

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“Most of us can identify with the intoxicating feeling that comes when we are the center of attention. Solitude is a discipline that gets behind those feelings to who we are when we feel invisible and unrecognized. Who are we when productivity and recognition fall away and God is the only one watching us?” (Adele Ahlberg Calhoun in The Spiritual Disciplines Handbook).

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“When I asked an Indian pastor what the church in America might do to help spread God’s word in India, he replied, ‘Print it on bread.’ It is not God’s will that people go hungry. The gospel is never offered for as a substitute for the basic needs of human survival. Jesus longs to satisfy the multitude’s deeper, spiritual hunger, but he doesn’t ignore their physical hunger” (Lou Lotz in Words of Hope.)

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A Dream Deferred – The Gift of Granddaughters, by an anonymous blogger

We all have dreams – work we want to do, influence we’d like to have, places we’d love to see, children we’d love to raise, people we’d like to meet . . .  Sometimes these dreams come true; sometimes they don’t. And sometimes they are deferred or delayed. This group of blogs shares the stories of dreams deferred by members of two writing groups I lead in Holland, MI. In this post, our anonymous guest blogger shares how disappointments can fade into blessings.  For other posts in this category go to the home page and click on the category A Dream Deferred on the right hand sidebar.

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As a young girl, I played with dolls.  I enjoyed picking out their outfits, pretending I was taking them to church, and teaching them as my students in a make-believe classroom.  Thinking back, I realize they were all girl dolls.  My paper doll sets and coloring books also featured girls or women movie stars.  I always assumed I would have a daughter someday, someone who would be interested in, and value, these sentimental childhood experiences and memories.  I even saved some of my original dolls, paper dolls, and coloring books.

When each of our sons was born, I was so grateful for a healthy child, especially after two of them needed surgery as infants, but there was also a twinge of longing when I realized that many of my parenting experiences would be different than I had thought years ago.  Little did I realize how different!  Boys love to wrestle and play rough.  We spent one New Year’s Day in the ER when one of our sons fell, cutting his lip and needing stitches.  This same son fell off a swimming pool slide onto concrete.  Still in my swimsuit, I remember wrapping him in a towel and taking him to the nearby doctor’s office.  Another son’s nose was broken during a wrestling match.  Another son was climbing a tree with his GI Joes and fell.  The fall knocked him unconscious, and his little friend came running to the front door telling me, “Michael fell out of a tree, and he’s dead.”

Maybe it was because I had no daughters that I would not allow the “boys will be boys” rationale to guide my parenting.  I tried every day to guide them toward being sensitive and empathetic to others and didn’t excuse bad behavior because they were boys.  I know it sounds sexist to characterize boys as rough and tumble and girls as loving dolls and tea parties; I am speaking only from my experience.  

Raising Sons and Grandsons

I now realize that my sons are not as interested in the many sentimental items that I have inherited from my mother and my mother-in-law as a daughter might be.  I need to be realistic about what I will be able to pass on to them.  With one son living thousands of miles away and the others living in homes with little storage space, I must get rid of many parts of my history.  I cannot expect my daughters-in-law to care as much about her husband’s family heirlooms as she does about those of her own family.  I realize, looking back, that I was more invested and interested in finding out about my family’s history than about my husband’s.  I cannot expect it to be different for my own daughters-in-law.

An advantage I now see from having raised boys is that I can (at least partially) understand my grandsons.  Their need for speed and rough play does not surprise me, but I still find the words, “Be careful” all too familiar.  I have to trust that God knew best in sending us sons, not one of whom I would ever have wanted to be someone else.  Even though our youngest son sometimes says, “Yeah, I know I was supposed to be a girl,” there is no way I would want him to be anyone other than who he is. 

A Dream Deferred Becomes a Blessing

Yes, the dream of having a daughter has not been fulfilled, but part of it was only deferred until I was able to experience life with granddaughters.  They now range in age from a preschooler to teenagers, so one still loves being read to, and another has a blog and dreams of publishing her own book someday. 

Although I imagined that raising girls would have been a very different experience, now having several granddaughters has shown me some specifics.  They have loved coming over to play with those dolls and paper dolls from long ago.  Our annual tea party has been a highlight. They dress up for the occasion and used to bring their dolls along.  We pour tea from a tiny teapot and eat bite-size pastries on fine china. They enjoy their annual birthday shopping trip and lunch in a restaurant of their choice.  They are interested in old letters and photo albums.  I am truly grateful for these opportunities and hope that I can be a meaningful part of their lives well beyond the years of dolls and tea parties.

Living longer gives us the privilege of reminiscence and reflection. It allows early disappointments to fade somewhat and perhaps be balanced by more recent experiences and blessings.  I have found this to be true when I think back to those early playing-with-dolls years and then realize that God had a different plan.  I am grateful I have lived long enough to see much of it unfold.

Posted in A Dream Deferred