Oct 19 2011

{Day 19} Cultivating a Relationship with Your Home, Part 3

When I think how close I came to not taking my apartment, I marvel at God’s patient persistence and the grace gift of faith.

I’ve moved nearly every year for the past decade and when I moved back to Seattle to write my dissertation, I gave myself a month to find a place, and my constant prayer was…please, a place I won’t have to leave for a while.

But the rental market skyrocketed that summer and rents rose to near Boston levels. I despaired. Slowly my faith in God’s provision was replaced by a willingness to pay more.

Finally, I just had to admit that a higher rent was not the answer and I took the whole project to God in prayer, made a list of the things that I longed for in a living space, things that I knew from experience would be helpful as I worked at home and lived day to day:

From my journal:

1. Below $900 (this is hard, I don’t believe it is possible).
2. A place I can spend my days in without going stir crazy. A home. Peaceful. Retreat. Aesthetically easy on the eyes.
3. A cat
4. Washer and dryer–I really like having a place to do laundry.
5. Trees
6. Fireplace
7. A deck for tea on pretty days
8. Near a bus that will get me to Bethany without too much trouble.

I walked into the place a week later (and no, it didn’t come with a cat, but it did, unlike many other places, allow for the possibility. I wonder sometimes if a cat will turn-up on my doorstep one day–I already have all the supplies).

It also had a view and a dishwasher, things I really wanted, but felt I couldn’t ask for.

It was also strangely, delightfully coincident that that building and street names are the same as my middle name.

The curious thing is that I almost didn’t take it. Every other place I’ve moved, there were no doubts, I felt certain and made the decision. In this case, even with all the rightness of the place, I didn’t have that confidence.

I sat in the apartment–the landlord said I could take a couple days to decide, and visit as much as I wanted. I sat some more until my rear hurt from sitting on the stone fireplace seat. And the next day, I sat some more and finally started to pray. Yes or no? Should I or shouldn’t I?

I asked for prayer from friends. I spent a lunch with my friend Cathee listing all the pros and cons. Then I went back to my temp place and prayed some more. And it struck me: I was being asked to make a choice based on God’s leading, as near as I could discern it, let go of my concerns and my pride, and simply trust HimThis was a gift being held out, I had the freedom to say no, but I was scared to say yes.

It became critical to ask one more question of God: Will you be there, in this new place, no matter what?

(I think there was little bit of a chuckle).

Yes, Susan. Of course.

It is easy to forget that this world is more than trees and soil, concrete and wood, atoms and molecules, that there is a spiritual world woven in and through and around us, and a God who promises presence. As we consider our homes, as places where we are vulnerable, places for rest, love, and laughter, or places of tension and anger, all homes are places of God’s healing and loving presence.

“For in him we live and move and have our being.” –Acts 17:28

Practice: Walk around your home and reflect on how you see, feel, and meet God in this place, and how you would like to know God’s presence in your home, in its atmosphere, among the relationships of those who live there, in the logistics of money and upkeep, in the role it plays as place of hospitality, and in any other ways the Holy Spirit inspires you to pray.



Oct 5 2011

{Day 5} Welcoming Back Hope

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For many years, I took Amtrak everywhere, rather than flying. There were many reasons for this–I enjoyed seeing the beauty of this country and crossing timezones at a slower speed. I loved getting to know fellow travelers, many from distant countries where train travel was the norm.  I also was terrified of flying, which thankfully, has been healed.

One of my favorite things about train travel was the anticipation. When I got on the train, it felt like the beginning of an adventure–new sights, sounds, and people to enjoy. Everything was interesting, everything called to my attention.

At night, sleeping on a moving train can be challenging–it is much more turbulent than a normal plane or car ride–so I would find myself staring out the window, watching the darkened landscape zip by, wondering about the souls asleep in houses tucked away just beyond the tracks.

One December, I traveled from Boston to Texas via Chicago and as I kept vigil in the dark, speeding through Western Massachusetts, I saw something beautiful: houses miles apart bejeweled with holiday lights. These farms were far from towns, major roads and even sight of each other, and I wondered why they put up lights. Certainly, their occupants no doubt enjoyed coming home to the bright splendor on dark winter nights, but in this one long lonely stretch of farmland and trees, it was a regular sight. Even random outbuildings were lit up.

Then I realized. Near as they were, they could see the passenger trains and knew we could see them, if we looked. In the time-honored tradition, that still happens in rural America, you wave at trains–and during the day those on the train wave back.

That night, every shining house was waving, hoping to be seen, giving a gift of beauty if we on the train would but look.

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Contemplative living is an odd mix of both paying attention without expectation about what will be noticed, and hope that there is something and someone to notice, maybe to even receive a glimpse of the deeper Love that holds everything together.

But sometimes what beckons to be noticed is not lovely or beautiful or desired.

Sometimes what we hope for is dampened or destroyed in disappointment. And when this happens, I often ask: Why keep paying attention? Why live contemplatively–to look with and for God in the world–when all I see are disappointed hopes?

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The author of Proverbs writes, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when longing is fulfilled, it is a tree of life.” (Proverbs 13:12)

Our hopes point us to the Author of All Hope, and while we live in a world where hope is often deferred, to live in hope is to live abundantly in God.

We can take our longings to the God who holds us and weeps with us, and live again in hope for how he will redeem our disappointment (and oh, yes! How wonderful is his redemption revealed in Christ.)

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Yesterday, we considered how a way to find out what you love is to pay attention to what breaks your heart.

Today, I’d invite you to tenderly and gently pay attention to your disappointment in order to find your hope.

Follow the bread crumbs back to that fragile hope, to the house bejeweled with light in the darkness, and to the Love waiting there to hold and heal and cherish you.

God is waving at you in your hopes, look out the window and see.

31 Days


May 11 2011

Resurrecting Hope

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The past couple of months, as the trees leafed out and the wildflower seedlings poked their tiny heads through the soil, I felt the chill of winter.

It could be that Seattle had it’s coldest, grayest April on record.

But as the joy of Easter seeps slowly in, I realize Lent just lasted a bit longer for me this year.

I planted my blue morning glory seeds over four weeks ago and kept checking for signs of life, even as I checked my own heart.

Hope had gone into hiding.

Is anything growing?

Will anything ever grow?

And if it does, what’s its purpose?

I wait in hope that the lifeless seeds will one day bloom. It’s seemed to take forever, just to get this far, and I can’t see the end.

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This morning, asking my questions, I picked up a book by Richard Sterns, The Hole in Our Gospel. Sterns is the president of World Vision.

I  randomly opened it to an amazing story of seed planting.

Edward Kimball taught Sunday school in Boston and invested in the lives of boys and young men. One of these teens was particularly challenging, so Kimball visited him at his family’s shoe store. He spoke about the love of Christ (actually mumbled it nervously, not sure what to say), and surprisingly the young man committed his life to Christ then and there. This teen, Dwight L Moody, would ultimately share the gospel with over 100 million people during his life, as well as start inner city ministries and a college in Chicago.  In 1879, F.B. Meyer was influenced by Moody’s witness and became a minister, he in turn mentored J.W. Chapman, who ministered to professional baseball players. One of those players, Billy Sunday, became one of the most known evangelists of the early 20th century.  Sunday’s ministry of preaching led Mordecai Ham to follow Christ,  and Ham became an evangelist as well. Ham’s preaching and invitation to follow Christ was heard by a young teen, Billy Graham.

Richard Sterns writes: “Do you sometimes feel that you have nothing worthwhile to offer–that you are a nobody when it comes to doing great things for God? I wonder if Edward Kimball felt the same way. He never did anything spectacular or particularly newsworthy. He just showed up out of faithfulness to God, an hour or two each week, to teach the boys in his class. And yet Edward Kimball’s dedication to teaching Sunday school faithfully and caring about those boys changed the world.”

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Our daily work of love is a seed. Loving one person near us cannot but unleash God’s love in some unique way into the world.

And that amazing transformative Love will sparkle and spiral and twirl as it touches the lives of countless others down into the future.

We may never know to where and to what just showing up and sharing God’s love will lead.

But knowing that God’s Word of Love created the universe and raised his Son from the grave, we can hope for a garden of abundance to spring green.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;

my soul waits for the Lord

more than those who watch for the morning,

more than those who watch for the morning.

–Psalm 130:5-6


Dec 8 2010

Love or Fear

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This morning I pondered 1 John 4:18.  When I say morning, I mean 2am, the standard hour when anything that might worry me shakes me awake and starts whispering. The past six months, since moving to Seattle, I’ve been very grateful for the strength to roll over and go back to sleep.

But this time, it was about writing a dissertation chapter, due this coming Monday. Everything from general incompetence to the lack of future job opportunities to silliness like, “I don’t know how to form coherent sentences anymore,” listed themselves in my thoughts. Needless to say, it’s a vulnerable area.

I’ve asked many times in the past five years whether this path toward PhD-ness is really God’s call or my ego. I’ve asked many times in the past six months, so-totally-joyfully-wonderfully-grateful to be back in Seattle and at my church, whether I can eke out 200 pages of academic writing, battling the fears that steal sleep and energy, or whether I should raise the white flag.

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To surrender to fear doesn’t seem the best option. It might be the easy way, but not the way, as a daughter of the King, to live “to the praise of his glory.” Fear is not our inheritance in Christ. I can write this chapter, this dissertation, with God’s strength. To give up in the face of fears that tell me I can’t write it would mean calling that truth into question.

However, battling the fear, plowing through, doesn’t seem to be a good option either.  All the energy goes into the war and leaves little for much else. And the past year has shown me how much more there is. This Advent of Joy is overflowing with abundance.

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” (Romans 8:15)

I don’t want to live focused on winning a battle.

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So, in comes 1 John 4:18:

There is no fear in love [dread does not exist], but full-grown (complete, perfect) love turns fear out of doors and expels every trace of terror!” (1 Jn 4:18, Amplified)

The focus is on the Love, not the fear. When Love draws me on, fear cannot repel me.  And God is Love, so God casts out the fear. Not me.

Rather than focusing on all the fearful whispers, I’m focusing on Who is the Love that beckons and all the ways He comes into daily life.  Those people, those experiences, those realities which are Love made flesh, Immanuel.

What this means for the chapter, I’m not sure. Somehow in following the Love, rather than focusing on the fear, an answer about writing the dissertation will become clear.

But for now, this gives me a much better response to those 2am anxious whispers.


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