I am a wife, mother of three (Seth-17, Lena-15 and Eli-12), ordained pastor, follower and vessel (albeit sometimes a broken one) of Christ. One of my other titles is that of homeschooler to my daughter (never saw that one coming!). Iced coffee, reading, baking, exploring, friendship, and musical theater are some of my favorite things. I enjoy speaking to and empowering women as they navigate various seasons in life. I hold a special passion for encouraging families with a child struggling with a mental disorder or other unique challenge.
Sometimes building bridges isn’t the solution. Crossing them is.
I stand in this sacred space. This is no longer video footage. Standing before me, lies a bridge meant to connect but symbolizes division, hatred, death. I struggle to breathe in the filthy air that pollutes humanity. Its toxicity flows deep into my lungs as I begin walking forward.
But I exhale. Releasing the fumes and breathe in the air of those I walk near. They are here in spirit. The silence of this somber walk is infused with the shouting of those on the other side. Those who refuse to let go of powers that oppress and kill. Evil stares us in the face.
My feet walk in their steps. I carry their energy in my being. Heavy legs, deep breaths. My body feels theirs ; resilient bodies move toward harm in order to claim restoration for themselves. Even if it means brokenness in the process. God’s Kingdom needs repair as it unfolds on this earthly one. And we all need to find our bridges.
I vow to continue to walk forward as they did. Because sometimes we need to cross bridges and confront evil face to face. I am determined to be a bridge crosser.
If only God would circle the right answer with a big black sharpie…
But, as we are all too well aware, that’s not how it works. Thankfully The Next Right Thing offers wisdom to navigate hard places. Emily P. Freeman’s book helps us answer the never ending challenging question which we encounter daily: What’s the right thing? Following the success of her podcast of the same title, this book is a lifesaver.
Emily writes, “What these next chapters will do for you, I hope, if you take action, is create space within your soul and on your schedule for you to remember who you are, where you live, and why it matters. In turn, you will learn to name the unnamed things within you, and discern with God what your next right thing could be.” She reminds us that making decisions doesn’t come through a one step process. It involves whole body listening to how the Holy Spirit is speaking into our lives.
Through weaving personal stories of decision making from her own life, she connects with the reader. She isn’t just sharing wisdom about a process; she has lived it. And is still learning. One of my favorite chapters is titled “Pick what you like.” Much of the problem with making choices is that we suffer from “decision fatigue.” Daily, we are surrounded by an abundance of options from which we make selections. From the most mundane to the most life changing. What cereal should I buy? Which bunch of bananas is the most ripe? What book should I read?Which doctor should I see? What should I do with my life? Gleaning from a situation in which she was discerning what plants to purchase at a nursery, her advice is that sometimes we have to “pick what we like” and see how it grows.
Emily emphasizes the importance of seeking God’s voice in all aspects of discernment. Clarity involves reflecting how we come to the point of making a choice. What has God been bringing to mind? Are there recognizable patterns when you think about the past few months? (Emily calls them arrows). Where I am investing my time that isn’t life giving? How do I see myself as God created me? As we cultivate habits of listening for God’s voice, clarity develops.
I cannot count how many times I have found myself repeating Emily’s words as I seek clarity. The wisdom shared through the chapters, prayers and reflection questions have blessed me in recent months. If only I had a photographic memory to absorb it all. I highly recommend “The Next Right Thing” as a permanent fixture on your shelf or nightstand (or under the couch in my case). You will find it’s pages looking worn quickly but that’s the sign that it is a good book.
Our eyes meet somewhere in the middle of the lake between us. She swam farther out than I. She strives to make her own way through the water as well as feigns embarrassment at the pink floatie on which I am perched. Even in this place we have come together, she desires independence. Yet, we keep an eye on each other from a distance. My nineteen year old daughter and I have ventured to one of our favorite places in southwest Michigan. Together, yet apart.
Restoration looks a lot of different ways. As the sun lowers on this hot warm afternoon, I find contentment in the waters of renewal. I bob up and down to the unpredictable rhythm of the waves, She finds refreshment in the water washing over her shoulders. We catch each other’s eyes for a moment. Enough to communicate that we see each other and that we are safe. As much as I would love to have her splashing near me, It’s not where we are quite yet. It will come. Today we are together yet apart.
Today I embrace the together moments. I do not take them for granted because life has not unfolded as I expected. Pain and struggle seeped into our bond and strained the connection between us. A lot of life has taken place since I first introduced her to the beach. Learning to navigate that space has, at times,been gut wrenchingly painful. Unexpected forces created unwelcomed waves that threatened to push us under and apart. Yet, we both held on for waters of restoration. Individually and together. I longed for us to bask in waters that breathed life into our relationship, not sucked us down. Together yet mostly apart.
Today we connect. We stop at the general store in town to browse and purchase road trip items: candy, snacks, beachtown themed apparel. And one pink floatie which garners rolled eyes yet muffled giggles of affirmation. We smell candles, make mental lists for “next time,” and stop for ice cream on the stroll toward the beach.
The water brings refreshment not only to our bodies but our bond as mother and daughter. I want to hold this memory with every part of my being and remember every taste, smell, and touch. This day celebrates how far we’ve come. We are together yet apart. However, I will receive this truth with gratitude because this in- between is as it should be today.
“The Gardener entreats us to step into the world he made and walk with him, to receive from his hand the daily bread our bodies, minds and hearts so deeply crave.” writes Catherine McNeil in her new book, “All Shall Be Well” However, as the author points out, we are missing the way the garden should be speaking into our lives. We tend to look at all our human made structures and goods to parch our thirsty souls. How do we awaken our senses to all that God has provided for us? In a beautiful writing style which lifts up our calendar seasons as seasons of the soul, she offers insight which points us in the right direction.
Seeking the Gardener
Starting with the image of the Gardener meticulously and lovingly creating and caring for his garden, she reminds us of the intimacy between Creator and creation. As the author points out, “Adam and Eve fell into trouble when they adopted the habit of of talking about God rather than to him.” As a result, the tendency of looking for provision from other sources began. God longs for intimacy with us yet remains sovereign. Within that mystery, we can find him if we seek him. And that means looking for God’s character through all that has been created. God never stops speaking. Are we listening?
God of the Seasons
“All Shall Be well” encourages us to be vulnerable before God who loves us unconditionally. To not be afraid of asking hard questions and finding refuge in the midst of uncomfortable seasons. The book is laid out according to the four seasons beginning with Spring and then subdivided into chapters speaking into specific aspects of them. Each chapter focuses on a character quality that reflects God’s image. For example, “winter” includes chapters on snow:rest, wilderness:dependence and salt:endurance. Weaving personal stories through reflection and insight, McNeil’s words are as beautiful as the topic. In addition, at the end of each chapter are questions for the reader to ponder which help with action steps.
All Shall be Well
The title of this book is fitting for such a time as this. Julian of Norwich a fourteenth century mystic who pronounced “All will be well” for anxious souls living in troubling times. We live in such moments. Lots of loud voices, nonstop news updates and polarizing relationships tempt us to wonder where God’s presence is in all of it. Yet, as we are reminded in the book, God has not moved. Our senses must be awakened again to seeing, hearing, and feeling him all around us. When everything else appears to be changing, it is comforting to remember where we can find refuge.
Several years ago, my family instituted an ancient practice: creating Ebenezers. We needed physical reminders that God is with us. Always. Remembering our past gives us hope for the future.
It’s not exactly a well known practice although it should become one again. “Ebenezer’s” claim to fame is a word found in the hymn, “Come Though Fount of Every Blessing.” The reference comes from 1 Samuel 7:12 in which Israel defeated the Philistines. In gratitude for God’s intervention in the battle, Samuel held up a stone calling it “Ebenezer” (God helped us.)
Much of our life as a family involves seasons of pain and struggle followed by seasons of provision and restoration. Creating markers to remember the ways God’s hand moved in our lives points us to God’s character.
We find ourselves in good company.
“The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they camped in Gilgal on the east border of Jericho. 20 Those twelve stones, which they had taken out of the Jordan, Joshua set up in Gilgal, 21 saying to the Israelites, “When your children ask their parents in time to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel crossed over the Jordan here on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you crossed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea,[b] which he dried up for us until we crossed over, 24 so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, and so that you may fear the Lord your God forever.” Joshua 4:19-24.
So we write the names and dates of specific events in which we experienced God’s goodness, glory, deliverance, or simply presence on the stones or create them into a sculpture representing them. . Because it goes without saying that at some point our voices will strain as we cry out for God’s help. And the testimony of the stones will speak words of hope to us. We will remember again that God sees us. Hears us. Shows up. Always.
It caught my eye as I stepped off my porch. A small orange dried leaf laying alone on the ground.
It’s sight summoned up a whirlwind of emotions. While I embrace some parts of fall, I adore summer. Seeing that orange leaf signaled to me that fall is back. I scanned around quickly gauging the color scheme of the trees. Green seemed to appear as the majority of hues on my landscape palette. But tinges of orange edged the shapes of the trees.
Cozy, candle lit evenings, pumpkin flavor, and hot apple cider bring me delight. But the change to a cold, dark landscape does not. Truthfully, winters sting my body and soul. I relish sun and warm air kissing my skin. However, God has called me to this midwest climate for now and I can look for God’s glory in its midst.
Glimpsing at that lone leaf reminded me that there is comfort in the order of seasons. They point to a God who has created a stunningly beautiful, mysterious and orderly universe that synchronizes to breathe life into all creation. This season of in-between serves to remind me that I need seasons. All of them.
An orange leaf on a balmy August morning tells me that fall is around the corner-but not yet. I can prepare for what’s coming because I’ve been there before and I know that, despite my disliking for cooler weather, God’s provision is taking place-for the earth and for me. It’s not always an easy lesson. Recognizing that the universe does not revolve around me needs to be spoken into my life in various ways-including a lone orange leaf.
But, I am grateful that God’s holiness intersects my our world. And in the midst, speaks to me through a leaf.
Truthfully, I didn’t even realize I was running. My daily liturgy moments became focused on competing with others. I lost track of who God made me. Why was I racing in the first place?
My days became frantic. Constantly checking social media, creating content for posts, and learning how to do better. Yet, while I was focused on “more,” I was feeling “less.” Less peaceful. Less confident. Less productive in other ways.
As someone who wants to embrace new opportunities that present themselves, saying no is challenging. I don’t want to miss anything. Yet I recognize that sometimes God calls us back to rest.
When I step back, I am letting God’s character show through me as I enter into the places where I am led right now. That includes exploring other creative outlets that give me pleasure. It means also humbly acknowledging that God can use others to move in the places in which I have stepped aside. Perhaps, my own blessed experiences have occurred because someone else left a place for me
So I hit the pause button. I slowed down my pace and reflected on my identity and who I was trying to please. Emily P Freeman’s words in her book, The Next Right Thing, speak to me. In writing about filtering choices, she says, “Choose your absence so that your presence will have more impact. ..As him (Jesus), then listen well. Your work is your work. Your pace is your pace. Your life is your life. What a gift.”.
Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. Proverbs 3:5-6
In the last few years, I learned how much language and behaviors are intertwined.
Robin Wall Kimmerer, in her book “Braiding Sweetgrass,” describes her surprise at learning there is no word in the Potowatami language for “please.” Kimmerer writes of her findings, “Food was meant to be shared, no added politeness needed; it was simply a cultural given that one was asking respectfully.”
The native people realized what is already woven throughout scripture. Connections are sacred. Our Creator God provides for us and sustains us-sometimes through each other. Here’s the rub: our ancestors’ narratives speak of offering up our resources to both the “neighbor” and the stranger.
Practicing hospitality in our American “pull yourselves up by your bootstraps” culture, appears challenging. It implies that “ours” is not really our own. However, growing acknowledgement of the isolation in our communities creates ideas for bringing back the desire to share time and self with others. Transformation takes place in the midst.
Lauren Winner, in her book Mudhouse Sabbath says, “God’s creation gives us a model for making and sharing homes with people, but the reality of God’s Trinitarian life suggests that Christian hospitality goes further than that. We are not meant simply to invite people into our homes, but also to invite them into our lives.”
Sometimes, it means simply looking to your street. How many neighbors do you actually know? What about the ones you do know but seem like polar opposites politically, in worldview, or theologically. Can you ask God to open your hearts and invite them in?
Looking for ideas how to implement hospitality into your rhythms?
Host an outdoor movie at your church or back yard. My family showed movies on Friday Nights on the garage door. Popcorn included!
Gather around the campfire and make smores.
Host an appetizer/dessert time as a casual “get to know you” gathering
A friend of mine opens up her house on Friday mornings for anyone to drop in
” Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless—cheerfully. Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God’s words; if help, let it be God’s hearty help. That way, God’s bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus, and he’ll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything—encores to the end of time. Oh, yes! “ (1 Peter 4:8-11)
Anniversaries remind us of where we have come from and where we are headed.
Five years ago, I was recovering from a polar vortex which had pushed it’s cold breath into my family’s landscape. As many hid within the warm confines of a home, we felt the cold air penetrate our walls. The icicles appeared as frozen fingers clutching our family with its sting.
Unexpectedly a family friend, young and healthy, passed away in her sleep from a heart attack. The reality of traveling lightly on this earth smacked our souls.
My husband’s beloved grandmother was diagnosed with cancer. Our 97 year old matriarch whose resilience to previous injuries and illness made us believe she would always rally, actually passed from this life. Her impact on our lives and others around her left a festering wound.
His aunt, with whom we were very close, died from a stroke. As we grieved once again, my younger son recognized the ways funeral had become a part of our rhythm. One more good-bye. Could we sustain one more fierce blow?
One day, my husband announced that his job might be eliminated in a corporate buy out. After a week sitting in the frozen tundra, we received an answer. As it turned out, he remained employed but his company family no longer resembled what he had known.
Learning how to respond to a Polar Vortex
Five years later the polar vortex blew in again. However, this time, we found ourselves on the other side of the last one. We experienced some small stings of the weather that surrounded our landscape and our lives. But this time, we knew that we pushed through the last ones. We recognized the need to not face this chill alone. We need the warmth from huddling with others in prayer and accepting their help to keep walking toward spring. Toward a season of new life.
We are still thawing out. The brain and body don’t easily forget the sting of frostbite. A bit of fear at the thought of experiencing it again remains. Truthfully, a bit of the sting of the warming period permeates my body. My senses are heightened at the sound of an ambulance, when my son is out of my sight, and at the presence of a symptom in one of children which appears to indicate a recurrence of the previous affliction.
But I can’t live in fear. So I remember that summer arrived this year as it did five years ago and the three others in between. I soak in the sun during this season of rebirth. I find comfort knowing that regardless of the season, I am held and loved by God who sees me. (Genesis 16:13).