Are You Sure About That?

From palm trees to pine cones. I’ve been at a three day retreat in North Carolina. This year my birthday coincides with the glorious turning of the leaves into burnished bronze and amber gifts. I’m brazenly thankful.

Like a good introvert, I’ve stayed back from one of the outings to be silent and think. My thoughts dance around perspective, provoked by the visual richness around me.

I was sitting here drinking my green tea when I obsessed just a little with this. Take a look at the photo below. reflection_cropped

See the reflection of the windows… cute, little, inaccurate?

They look like this in real life (IRL!):

windows_cropped

If I only stare at my cute, little, inaccurate view, I’ll never know that the windows frame a tranquil forest, a fire pit, inviting chairs, a carpet of leaves and so much more. What’s more, if I continue to sit and stare at my cute, little, inaccurate view, I’ll never know that the windows open, that crisp air will clear my mind. That life is inviting.

I challenge you to remember this–that your perspective, my perspective, every single day, is limited.

Live life looking around, noticing details, looking for the REAL everywhere.

Don’t ruin relationships, or miss out on adventures and growth opportunities, or let bitterness weigh you down like cement shoes on a defunct wiseguy (where’d that come from?), because you failed to look around for the greater perspective on people and events in your life. Look up or turn around. Dig. Dig deep if need be. Ask. Question.

Everything of the best,

~B

Streams in the Desert

“Streams in the desert”–take a moment to visualize them… mmm. Feet burning in the sand, then stepping into coolness and salvation.

Streams in the Desert is an old school devotional that I love.

I meant to share this with you the other day, from August 3:

Do not pray for easy lives! Pray to be stronger men. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you shall be a miracle. ~Phillips Brooks

We must remember that it is not in any easy or self-indulgent life that Christ will lead us to greatness. The easy life leads not upward, but downward. Heaven always is above us, and we must ever be looking toward it. There are some people who always avoid things that are costly, that require self-denial, or self-restraint and sacrifice, but toil and hardship show us the only way to nobleness. Greatness comes not by having a mossy path made for you through the meadow, but by being sent to hew out a roadway by your own hands. Are you going to reach the mountain splendors? ~Selected

Be strong!
We are not here to play, to dream, to drift;
We have hard work to do, and loads to lift.
Shun not the struggle; face it.
‘Tis God’s gift.

Be strong!
Say not the days are evil–who’s to blame?
And fold the hands and acquiesce–O shame!
Stand up, speak out, and bravelly,
In God’s name.

Be strong!
It matters not how deep entrenched the wrong,
How hard the battle goes, the day how long,
Faint not, fight on!
Tomorrow comes the song.
~Maltbie D. Babcock

How I Learned to Make a Cup of Tea – an early Father’s Day post…

tres leches“the kind of dad I have goes to the store at 10pm to buy me tres leches (or other random cravings) when I’ve had a not-so-great day such as yesterday, and he’s been doing that since I was knee-high to a grasshopper (tall people, am I still knee-high to a grasshopper?) thanks Daddy.”

That is a recent facebook post from our daughter, @sadpotatoes… Yesterday had been a bit of a rough day emotionally for all of us, for various reasons… When I saw her post and the comments on it today,  it reminded me of how I learned to make a cup of tea!

So, at the risk of embarrassing Peter even more, and with the excuse that Father’s Day is not too far away, here goes:

When we were first married, I resented the idea of getting my British-influence South African background husband a cuppa, mostly because of the machista culture I was raised in, wherein brothers and men in general expected to be served… “Mija, ¡¿ya está la comida?!”

cheesecakeOne night many years ago, Peter, my sister, and I were hanging out just before ten, watching tv, when the words “I feel like cheesecake!” popped out of my mouth. I just sort of said them to the universe. Without hesitation, he jumped up off the sofa, got his shoes and said he would go get some.

About half an hour later he returned with an entire cheesecake. The story? He’d gone to the local Marie Callendar’s, which had just locked its doors for the evening. He knocked on their door until they let him in and sold him a cheesecake.
And that is how I learned to make a cup of tea.

It’s all about what my pastor in Chile (Alf Cooper!) used to call “mimo mutuo.” Mutual pampering. I discovered that getting a cup of tea (or hunting down a cheesecake) for someone isn’t about control, or anything that complicated! It’s just a nice thing to do. It’s a kindness. Peter is not perfect. Nope. Not at all. Trust me. But he has always modeled kindness for me. And something as simple as that has helped me to begin to know love… And probably helped us to stay married!

Mother’s Day Hurts for Some

I woke up this morning to a silent house – Peter with his headphones downstairs, watching the news, the kids in a deep sleep. And in that silence, the thoughts that came bursting into my head first thing were for my friends who are not mothers, and this not by their own choice, and are struggling quietly today because of the hoopla and Hallmark.

To you I say, You are not incomplete. You are not “less than.”

I don’t have time or space here to delve deeply into the complexities of humanity’s love/love/hate/buyflowers/deride/canonize relationship with motherhood. And chances are high this writing is going to be clumsy, because of the delicate nature of the theme. And kinda sorta deep cause I usually go there… so sorry ahead of time! But still…

I am thinking of a gorgeous loving girlfriend whom I once callously asked at a baby shower,  “So, when are you guys going have one?” – only to be stopped in my tracks by  immediate overwhelming tears that brimmed her big eyes. “We can’t.”

And others, who would make amazing mamas, but are battling with health issues or life circumstances so their future in that regard might be uncertain. And amazing couples that are moving forward in their adoption process, after an agonizing soul searching and decision making process.

I just woke up wanting to hug all the women who can’t have kids and tell them the truth.  I write this because it seems tradition and society subtly conspire to make a woman feel “less than” when she hasn’t biologically experienced “the miracle of birth.” That – to put it eloquently – is crap.  I say you’re “more than” – more than amazing and inspiring, creative and beautiful and full of power to change lives and grow lives and be an agent of redemption. I salute you!

Yes, motherhood is amazing. And yes, I have often gushed over the miracle of it. But motherhood is not the most amazing experience in the world, and I mean that. I believe the most amazing experience in the world is connecting at the deepest levels with the human and the divine.

Bearing children biologically, and raising them, does allow us to experience that connection. But having a child is not the only way, doesn’t even guarantee it.

What do I mean by “connecting at the deepest levels with the human and the divine”? I wish I was a good enough wordsmith to flesh it out… Here’s my clumsy (I warned you), and admittedly limited, attempt:

Impacting another life – true, when you are raising a child you are literally molding another life. That is power and responsibility. Yet I can think of teachers, mentors, and relatives that helped mold my life. If you have that innate instinct to mentor, to impact, to help a person discover who they were meant to be, pursue it!

Agonizing heartache – one of my abiding ponderings is the mystery that heartache and joy are two sides of the same coin. The journey with another person through bad and good is the connection with the human to which I referred. Kids will absolutely sear your heart; some of the greatest pain in my life has come watching my children go through bad times. That feeling is matched in intensity by the joy of watching them make right decisions. All of us, to grow, have to connect at that level – and you can have that connection with a lover, a sibling, a kindred spirit…

Self-sacrifice – laying down your life for another is the beginning of connecting with the divine. This is another abiding pondering for me – self-actualization often only happens through self-sacrifice, because that is when you discover who you really are. Losing myself has helped me to find myself. Self-sacrifice means doing things when you just don’t feel like it; it means going on when you want to give up; it means being misjudged.  I promise you, there is someone out there who needs a hero like you today.

Redemption – a third pondering: the dynamic tension between my choices and my destiny (in religion-speak, free will vs. predestination). As life unfolds one day, one year, eventually one decade at a time, there is a matching revelation – things work out. With children you can see how a choice you felt forced to make (and feared would hurt your children) – say, to move to another state – ultimately leads to very good things for them… There’s something about the helplessness of parenting that ultimately helps you surrender to redemption. You already know about helplessness and surrender. And everywhere in life we can witness goodness and redemption working out, both despite and because of, the decisions made. With eyes wide open and an attentive spirit, we can see this redemptive grace at work everywhere.

Bottom line – it’s rough. The ache may never fade. But just in case you have subconsciously bought into the lies, be free. Motherhood is not the be all and end all of womanhood. Connecting with our fellow humans and our God, and channeling life through those connections, is the essence of womanhood.

“Tell me what you are afraid of”

This is an excerpt from The Shack, an allegory. The setting is a dock, on a small lake, out by a secluded country cabin. Mack is the main character, a man struggling with some serious pain and injustice (more than most of us will ever know). Jesus, in simple human form, is chatting with him. He’s invited Mack to walk with him on the water.

“Tell me what you are afraid of, Mack.”

“Well, let me see. What am I afraid of?” Began Mack. “Well, I am afraid of looking like an idiot. I am afraid that you are making fun of me and that I will sink like a rock. I imagine that – ”

“Exactly,” Jesus interrupted. “You imagine. Such a powerful ability, the imagination! That power alone makes you so like us. But without wisdom, imagination is a cruel taskmaster. If I may prove my case, do you think humans were designed to live in the present or the past or the future?”

“Well,” said Mack, hesitating, “I think the most obvious answer is that we were designed to live in the present. Is that wrong?”

Jesus chuckled. “Relax, Mack; this is not a test, it’s a conversation. You are exactly correct, by the way. But now tell me, where do you spend most of your time in your mind, in your imagination, in the present, in the past, or in the future?”

Mack thought for a moment before answering. “I suppose I would have to say that I spend very little time in the present. For me, I spend a big piece in the past, but most of the rest of the time, I am trying to figure out the future.”

“Not unlike most people. When I dwell with you, I do so in the present – I live in the present. Not the past, although much can be remembered and learned by looking back, but only for a visit, not an extended stay. And for sure, I do not dwell in the future you visualize or imagine. Mack, do you realize that your imagination of the future, which is almost always dictated by fear of some kind, rarely, if ever, pictures me there with you?”

Again Mack stopped and thought. It was true. He spent a lot of time fretting and worrying about the future, and in his imaginations it was usually pretty gloomy and depressing, if not outright horrible. And Jesus was also correct in saying that in Mack’s imaginations of the future, God was always absent.

 

Four Ways That Fear Creates What it Fears

“Never do anything out of a motivation of fear.”
Some of the best advice I have ever received!
Why? Because fear creates what it fears.

  1. Fear of rejection: If you are afraid of being rejected by colleagues or acquaintances, you become clingy and petty – possibly creepy – causing otherwise friendly people to want to steer clear of you, i.e., to reject you.
  2. Fear of losing a lover: If you are afraid of losing a lover to another, you become irrational and  jealous, controlling – potentially driving the person straight into your rival’s arms.
  3. Fear of discovery: If you have a guilty conscience, you become accusatory and defensive, arouse suspicion, and provoke others to dig into your life until you are exposed.
  4. Fear of betrayal: If you fear betrayal, you will consistently  misinterpret actions, become petty and treat others as unworthy of trust – a pattern of behavior that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy culminating in (you guessed it) “betrayal.”

It’s just how it works. I’m not sure why. But fear does create what it fears.
So now – before I take action or respond in a situation, before I pick up the phone or send the text or say yes or no to a request for help, before I censor myself on Twitter or Facebook – I try to remember to ask myself “why?” Why am I doing or not doing this? Am I acting out of fear?

Just might be the most important question we can ask ourselves today.

The Gift Within You


I love campfires. We were gearing up for the day. I was making coffee on the Coleman.

The night before we’d had a roaring campfire in the fire ring, and had watched it burn out. Now the kids were poking around in the remains with some sticks. To their astonishment, the ashes started smoking.

Peter went over, and showed them how to blow into the embers that were deep inside the ashes – quickly flames erupted. With just a bit more kindling, once again we had a roaring fire.

I told the kids how cool it is that God helps us do the same. We all have gifts within us, and we are supposed to “fan the flame of the gift of God that is within you…” (that is in the Bible, in 2 Timothy 1:6).

You have some very unique abilities and perspectives. You might be feeling insecure, or be afraid that it is too late for you…

It’s not!

Make a plan, share your dream, take a class, break out the study books, do whatever it takes, but blow on what looks like ashes! It’s up to you, and no one else. Put some kindling in there, and just watch – the embers are still hot, they are just hidden!

You can do it. The gift is within you. The world needs to see your fire.

Living in the Now

 

Ever find yourself (or a friend) struggling with unresolved questions? I recently came across this intriguing quote:

“I beg you, have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given you now, because you would not be able to live them, and the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without ever noticing it, live your way into the answer…” – Rainer Marie Rilke

So now I’m thinking about what he proposes. The way I see it, he is saying to embrace the questions, they contain the answers. Give them time to incubate the answers… eventually the answers may in fact reveal themselves. That requires living in the Now.

Hmm… definitely going to meditate on this…

When the Emotional Tsunami Hits

The Japanese man clings to the rooftop of his home, adrift ten miles out to sea. The tsunami has swept his house and his wife away, and that bit of roof is what is keeping him alive. Miraculously, after two days tossed about by waves, he is rescued.

I have never had to overcome anything physically and materially as challenging as Hiromitsu Shinkawa faced. But I have had some very heavy blows in life. We’ve been talking about “how to deal” when life blindsides you and you are nearly destroyed by an emotional disaster. After the first key – Don’t Panic – the second key is this: Find the Rock.

God as a concept can seem overwhelming. It is difficult to think of Him in “manageable” terms – in a way our brains and hearts can understand. When someone tells you to “trust God” or “turn to God” in hard times – how do you know what he (God) is thinking? Do you cry out to him in desperation (as we have all done) saying, “Please God, please God, help me?”

And then what? Do you hear a reply? When your emotions are in turmoil, does he seem inaccessible? God’s Word, though, is always beautifully and easily accessible.

When life blindsides me, I cling as tenaciously to the words God speaks to us as Hiromitsu clung to that rooftop. Those words are my Rock, my stability. I read them, pray them, repeat them… and feel my spirit regain its strength.

Index cards have been a great tool for me. I carry them with me for easy access. When anxiety or fear starts to creep back in, I can pull out the verses, read them, resist the negative emotion and move on with my day.

Below are some samples… I highly recommend you make your own set of cards. Hold tight to the truths found in the Bible. They will keep you from drowning.

How to Deal

Ever get hit by something unexpected? A sudden setback, an abrupt souring of a  relationship, an illness that snuck up and pounced, a long held dream smothered without warning?

It’s hard to deal, isn’t it, when something blindsides us? I think it feels so wrong because these instances come with no warning, no margin for transition, no time to “get used to it.” They feel merciless, and they give us emotional whiplash.

So, how do you make it through without having your spirit broken, or losing the essence of who you are?

Here are a few touchstones I have found helpful in surviving these stealth attacks from life:

Don’t Panic
I always remember something Rudy Giuliani shared. He said that his father taught him:
“My father, when I was very young, used to say to me, ‘If you are ever in an emergency, if you are ever in a fire and everybody gets very excited, very emotional, then you become the calmest person in the room.'”

Find the Rock
In order to be calm, and – very importantly – stay calm, you have to know you are standing on a very solid rock. God is my Rock, and his words to me are beyond comforting. They literally give me physical, emotional and spiritual strength. There are key Bible verses that have made me strong.

Use Your Lifelines
You shouldn’t go through these shaky times alone! In a wise way, ask for help. I believe with every cell in my body that prayer works. There are people in our lives put there strategically by God. They have been gifted with the right words to pray for us!

In the next few posts we can talk more about these points… In the meantime, I wonder how others cope? How do you deal?