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Why Traveling Across the World Expands Our View of God’s Character

Photo by Nicole Harrington on Unsplash

I pinch myself as I feel my feet on the new terrain. The reality of literally walking on the ground of a land across the globe feels surreal. Though I will live in Sweden as an exchange student in college lasted for only three months, the experience will transform me for a lifetime.

Thirty-two years later, I find myself repeatedly connecting to the culture that became my brief home. It shapes my politics, my worldviews, my lifestyle, and my theology. But it wasn’t comfortable at first. Oh, the anticipation of adventure, a first plane ride (nineteen hours!), the quest for independence as a young adult and the wonder of landing in new soil fueled a racing rhythm in my heart. But, truthfully, those elements became a backdrop for the most profound changes that took place.

I was no longer in a comfortable place. It wasn’t familiar. I didn’t know my place in the social/political scene. How was I viewed as an American? Living in community with others who do not share any part of your country’s influential narrative, puts you in a vulnerable place.

But it’s a good place. A humbling place. I am dependent on someone else to show me the ropes. For everything. How do I find transportation? What if I can’t speak the language right (which happened and if the people that I addressed were laughing inside, they didn’t show it), We’re eating WHAT for breakfast? What’s the expected routine? In the midst of that rhythm of exchange between learner and teacher, a connection takes place. One that puts a face to the “them” who are not American. I recognize my only identity is as another human created in God’s image. Nothing else.

It is a blessing to share life, if even briefly, with those who live a world away. Yes, there are differences. But we need to be exposed to them. We need to hear diverse voices speaking into our lives. Because God created a vast world and a mosaic of people reflecting the Imago Dei. And one small perspective of our world does not give us a glimpse of the expansive character of God.

Where have you traveled that changed your life?

This post is written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community. Come join us! https://fiveminutefriday.com/

Why I'm Changing My Goal for the Summer


One thing can become both life giving and life draining depending on how we see it.
Summer is my favorite season. I long for the more relaxed schedule, the warmth of the air kissing my skin, and opportunities to engage with the beauty of vibrantly colored landscape dotting views. Living in the Great Lakes region, leaves one restless in those midwinter months. The long, cold, often icy days of hunkering down inside leave me holding on to a vision of sunny, carefree moments. The countdown to summer begins in March.
Yet, every May, I find myself tempted to cram as much into my summer months as possible. I justify it by recognizing that the busy schedules of the school year and the inclement weather make it hard to fit in excursions, connections with friends, and bucket list items.
But recently, I have learned to listen to God speak into the liturgy of my life. I haven’t felt renewed. In fact, I sometimes feel obligated to obey an agenda set by me that isn’t completely life giving. Why?
I have been convicted that many of the spaces that become filled in my days are a result of the little voice in my head that yearns for identity in my self induced “should” list rather than in my Creator. The items on my agenda are things that, in themselves, are life giving. But are they life giving to me right now?
Emily P. Freeman’s words in her book, “The Next Right Thing,” spoke into my struggle: “If you feel more like a robot with a to-do list in your hand than an artist with wonder in your eyes, stop. Close your eyes, open one hand in your lap, and put the other in your heart, and ask yourself, What am I longing for in this moment? What is life giving?”
So, this summer will look different for me. My goals have changed. As tempting as it is to fill my schedule with “shoulds,” I am leaving space. It’s a sign of surrender. It means things may get left “undone.” Connecting with some of my friends will have to wait. But I’m learning to be at peace with that and rest in God’s presence rather than my own.  The path to renewal means recognizing when I need to move out of my own way.
This post is written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community. Come join us! https://fiveminutefriday.com/

Checking in With My Soul

“It is well
with my soul
It is well, It is well with my soul”
As I sing along with the virtual choir in my head, I pause. Is it though? 
Is it really well with my soul?
I am reminded of the Jewish word Shalom. Longing for Shalom goes beyond desiring peace for self or neighbor. ““Shalom” is taken from the root word shalam, which means, “to be safe in mind, body, or estate.” It speaks of completeness, fullness, or a type of wholeness that encourages you to give back — to generously re-pay something in some way.” (https://firm.org.il/learn/the-meaning-of-shalom/)
I ponder on the state of my heart. Why do I feel restless?
Am I holding a grudge?
Am I resisting the grace poured over me?
Am I seeking security on a platform of privilege rather than in the the footsteps of Christ?
Am I allowing Jesus to touch the wounded parts of me?
Have I embraced the mercies that are “new every morning?”
Do I fear the path God has placed in front of me?
Am I surrendering that which I can’t or don’t need to control?
Am I asking for help where needed?
Is unrecognized grief residing within?
Am I in need of connection with others?
The road to wellness begins with naming that which prevents the attainment of Shalom.
Perhaps, the liturgy of my life would do well to incorporate a daily wellness check. How about you?
This post was written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community. Come join us! https://fiveminutefriday.com/
 
 
 

Planting a Lasting Legacy


At times, the most extravagant beauty is found in simplicity. The brilliance radiated by a single firefly. The intricate, colorful design adorning one tropical fish. A single rose. “Simple” allows one to hone in and marvel at the craftsmanship.
My thoughts of simple beauty and nature naturally gravitate to memories of my husband’s grandfather Elmer. No middle name. Just Elmer. He was a quiet man with an unassuming presence. His favorite attire consisted of a t-shirt and jeans. Inside resided a large heart and a giant faith. He found blessing in his Creator, whose hand shaped his purposes as well as the bounty of fruitful things that dot our surrounding landscape. Gardening was his passion. Summers brought a harvest from a large garden and the surrounding rose bushes that framed it.  Read more here: https://redbudwritersguild.com/simple-beauty-planted-a-lasting-legacy/

The Sacred Process of Naming Land


We pass by a lot of Holy ground without knowing it.
One year ago, my family took a road trip. That trip involved celebrating my daughter’s graduation from a home school program and that  ceremony that took place was a sacred moment. Cedarcrest College in Pennsylvania will always be Holy ground to our family.
Later, we decided to travel to Washington D.C. There are plenty of places in that landscape that mark significant moments in history. As we ran toward our lunch destination in a cold rain, my eyes caught the sign protruding from a building a block away. “Ford Theater.” Literally, I stopped. President Lincoln and I share a birthday so I have always held an interest in him.  I recognized this spot. It’s where his life ended. The moment felt surreal as I realized that I stood on the same space as feet long ago when the announcement regarding his shooting took place.
A life transitioned in that space. Despite our gap in generations, I was connected to those who stood there in 1865 and everyone in between. It was hallowed ground known by it’s associated name.
Scripture attests to the ancient Jewish practice of naming land after the way God’s presence was experienced there.
She (Hagar)answered God by name, praying to the God who spoke to her, “You’re the God who sees me!
“Yes! He saw me; and then I saw him!”
14 That’s how that desert spring got named “God-Alive-Sees-Me Spring.” That spring is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.”  (Gen 16:13-14)
“Abraham named that place God-Yireh (God-Sees-to-It). That’s where we get the saying, “On the mountain of God, he sees to it.”  (Gen.22:14)
Jacob named the place Peniel (God’s Face) because, he said, “I saw God face-to-face and lived to tell the story!”  (Gen 32:30)
What if we started naming our places of transformation? How would that remind us of God’s character and the hope that is held despite what took place at various “land marks?”
As we make our way from one point to another, perhaps we can learn to see our view differently. May we remember that Heaven may have intersected the soil where we tread; either for us or someone else.  “Remove your sandals. You’re standing on Holy Ground.”
What are you naming your sacred places?
This post is written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community. Come join us! https://fiveminutefriday.com/
 
 
 

Why Sharing our Cultures Helps Us Know Our Collective Story


In recent years, I have been convicted of a startling truth: I don’t really know my American neighbors. Certainly I have relationships with people in my neighbor hood. Those bonds are blessings.  Yet, they aren’t the only relationships that shape me. I need more .
More first hand stories of narratives different from mine.
More voices reminding me that adding mine makes an impact
More opportunities to be present with someone on a “front porch”; wherever that may be
More feasting at a table with diverse views and unfamiliar tastes
More gleanings of wisdom from those who have lived through events I have only heard about
Our country is a vast, beautiful landscape of cultures. Some are ethnically rooted. Many are geographically based. But truthfully, we have formed invisible property markers between each other. Sure, we may visit ethnically specific neighborhoods for a “taste” of culture,  Rural areas and architecture become inspiration for chic decor and weddings. We bask in the conveniences of electricity, transportation, and factory made goods. We hold preconceived notions about neighborhoods-from the wealthiest to the most poverty stricken. From metro areas to small  towns.
But do we know who we are?
Following the last election, my ears were pierced by the sounds of crying voices. Some were familiar. But others were new. How had I failed to hear them? While political views appeared to be the primary factor for the broken spirit woven through our nation, I would argue that the underlying problem is that we aren’t listening to each other. As  I stated in a previous post, it “requires vulnerability. Letting go of the walls of our cause and standing in the same space. Acknowledging that at our core-we our both humans-created in the Image of God. We come bearing our imperfections and our common longings for validation.” http://stephaniejthompson.com/2016/11/14/the-hard-work-of-being-neighbors/

Where will you start?

Five Opportunities to Help Your Kids Learn to Tangibly Love Others


Looking for ways to teach your kids some ways God uses us to tangibly love others? The following organizations have kid friendly opportunities for them to choose and give gifts which will transform the lives of other kids. Some offer personal interaction as well as donations. What they will realize is that God meets us in the connections with each other. Can it feel uncomfortable at times? Of course. Loving others should demand sacrifice at some level. But, the more we are informed, the more we desire to fight for abundance for all. We recognize that God provides ways for us to provide for each other.
https://cuddleandkind.com/
Feeding children while empowering women artesans in Peru with a fair trade sustainable income through the purchase of a doll is how this organization operates. “It’s about putting the principles of fairness and decency before profits.”The founders are a married couple who have a background in health and are parents which fuels their passion for feeding children and empowering mothers. Through partnerships, the income from the purchases feeds children around the world. One $50 high quality doll made from sustainable materials can yield ten meals.
https://www.togetherwerise.org/
Connecting others with kids in foster care is the goal of this organization. It offers a variety of volunteer opportunities and programs which provide pathways to extend love to others. Their “niche” is offering team building opportunities for you to host at your house, office, workplace or other site. The most popular ones are build a bike, birthday boxes, superhero boxes, and decorating duffle bags (many foster kids carry their belongings in a trash bag), In addition, there are individual ways to give through sponsoring gifts and hands on connection through various events.
https://www.onesimplewish.org/
As the site states, “Every year nearly 500,000 children are impacted by abuse, neglect and trauma and spend time in our nation’s foster care system. ” Their mission is to spread love, hope, and joy to them as well as lift up their voices. One of the most practical ways is to let them submit a wish (via an agency): toys, games, clothes, and experiences. Wishes are granted by anyone choosing to fulfill it. Browse the site and find one (or more)!
https://appolition.us/
“Defendants are nine times more likely to plead guilty to a misdemeanor due to their inability to post bail, putting them at risk for losing their homes, jobs and ultimately making them unable to defend themselves (via appolition.us).” The U.S. justice system is badly in need of reform. Racial, economic, and mental health disparities often lead to frequent incarceration of individuals who are not criminally guilty of their charges. Bail itself does not exonerate but it does allow for freedom from wrongful jail time, ability to work while waiting for resolution, opportunity to obtain legal aid, and decrease trauma to family members. The ripple effect of not affording bail has widespread social implications to all of us. Simply connect your debit card to the app, and all purchases will be rounded up to the nearest dollar, the change going toward the organization.
https://www.rescue.org/
Currently, 68 million people are uprooted by crisis worldwide. The traumatic results include homelessness, separation from family, disease, injury, access to a sanitary environment and clean water. IRC was been at work transforming lives for 85 years. Initially begun as a call to a humanitarian effort to meet the needs of lives shattered as Hitler rose to power. My eyes were initially drawn to an ad on Facebook about sending baby boxes to mothers. While that is one of the popular gifts purchased, there are so many options to choose from. Pick a gift in honor of a family member and know that you are also celebrating the life of someone else at the same time.  *Charitywatch gives IRC a high ranking.
 
 
 

When the Seasons of Life Don't Sync With the Holidays


That spider has been adorning my window for a while. Originally, hung up as a Halloween decoration, it’s stayed up there through Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Birthdays, and Easter.
I realize that it seems odd that I wouldn’t notice it when the seasons transitioned,. but,  gradually we became accustomed to it. When you are in the thick of parenting, having a Pinterest worthy  home takes a backseat.
Babies are born.
Kids get sick.
Extracurricular activities commence
Marriages become stressed
God leads us to new callings
Finances leave you hustling.
Living this life, as glorious as it can be, often leaves us exhausted.
Sometimes the seasons of our lives do not sync with the seasons of the year.
There were plenty of times it caught my eye and had the opportunity to rehouse this critter with it’s seasonal appropriate friends. But taking that trek to the storage room just seemed like too much at the time. And in the greater picture of things, it didn’t matter.
Last week, though, I noticed it again. I laughed when I realized how long it has been hanging from my curtain.  Now, in a brief season of rest, I took it down.
But next year, who knows what might find itself sharing space on a shelf or a wall? If you notice something that seems out of place in my home, recognize that I probably know it. But I’ve left it up because we’re busy living life in the space between the walls.
This post is written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community. Come join us! https://fiveminutefriday.com/
 
 
 
 

The Paradox Found in Jesus's Hands


Often, Jesus’s hands did the talking. They beckon us to pay attention.
Those hands. Vessels of creating, healing, comfort and validation
Those hands. Tools of force necessary to flip tables of sin and convict.
Those hands. Offered physical restoration to an enemy?
45-46 He got up from prayer, went back to the disciples and found them asleep, drugged by grief. He said, “What business do you have sleeping? Get up. Pray so you won’t give in to temptation.”
47-48 No sooner were the words out of his mouth than a crowd showed up, Judas, the one from the Twelve, in the lead. He came right up to Jesus to kiss him. Jesus said, “Judas, you would betray the Son of Man with a kiss?”
49-50 When those with him saw what was happening, they said, “Master, shall we fight?” One of them took a swing at the Chief Priest’s servant and cut off his right ear.
51 Jesus said, “Let them be. Even in this.” Then, touching the servant’s ear, he healed him. (Luke 22)
Who does that?
His hands still spoke for the Kingdom of Heaven when he was being bound by powers of an earthly one.
But at that moment, he didn’t seek to restore himself. He sought to restore someone else.
Even his disciples were unprepared for what his hands said to the Chief Priest’s servant in this dark and vulnerable place.
While they were focused on death, He was focused on life. Jesus touched the ear of an enemy and had the last word.
The implications are not lost on me. How does the language of his hands speak to the ways I seek to interact with those in my path? Do my hands clench up quickly in a position ready to destroy or do I keep them open as a position of offering myself as a vessel of Jesus’s touch?
May Jesus mold my hands into the posture of his.
This post is written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community. Come join us!https://fiveminutefriday.com/

The "Fourth Word" of Jesus: Accepting the Paradox of Feeling Abandoned Yet Beloved

 

This moment for Jesus is a far cry from the one on the mountain. There, he stood with his three closest friends- Peter, James and John. There, God’s presence was affirmed in the bright cloud which appeared overhead. There, God’s voice proclaimed publicly once again, This is my Son, the Beloved;
Now, God’s presence does not appear in such a tangible form. God’s voice is silent. No public affirmation of his identity. No reminder that he is God’s beloved.
Instead, he is surrounded by the noise of dehmanizing voices mocking him. Alone. Most of his closest friends have left him in the valley. Jesus is left in anguish, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Seemingly alone; yet surrounded by a crowd.
And like a child whose parent is in the room but not within sight, a cry erupts from his gut.
Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?
Eloi. Not Abba.
Hours earlier, Jesus began the descent into desperation. The predictions of betrayal began to materialize. The road ahead of him began to appear. He needed his human companions the most-to touch, to pray, to weep, to simply stay awake and offer presence. But they failed his expectations. “And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, “Abba, Father...(Mark 14:35). Abba-The word is recorded only three times in the N.T. The nuance is undoubtedly familial. Jesus still reaches out to the one he knows without a doubt sees him and will comfort him.
But, on the cross, something has changed. Eloi. Not Abba.
According to Father Brown, In his essay, “Jesus’ Death Cry,” if we accept that Jesus in the garden could still call the Father Abba, then we should accept this cry as“screamed protest against abandonment wrenched from an utterly forlorn Jesus who now is so isolated and estranged that he no longer uses ‘Father’ language but speaks as the humblest servant.”
The familial bond is strained.
Is it possible to feel both abandonment and connection at the same time?
Jesus, in his gutteral cries points to the answer. Although it appears to us to be a breathless wail signifying betrayal, his words speak of hope.
Jesus recites the beginning of Psalm 22:one that begins, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Jesus and anyone else familiar with this Psalm would have known it moves toward hope. as is evidenced by the turn in its middle:
he did not hide his face from me,but heard when I cried to him.”  (verse 24)
The whole prayer of lament was ingrained in his mind and in his spirit-even if his lips never finished pouring it out.
Though no voice bellows from a bright cloud above, though the darkness intensifies, though life literally drains from his body, Jesus still knows God is there. His cry tells us that there is still relationship-even if it changed.
Author Aubrey Sampson, in her book The Louder Song writes,“What kind of God do we have? He is not a passive, distant, deistic God, but an incarnate God. A God who reveals his withness in our darkest hours. An Immanuel God, a God who is transcendent over all creation but imminent with his people.”
Jesus’ cry punches us in the gut not only because we compassionately feel his pain, we have tasted it as well.
Like Jesus, we are Beloved. And that identity will hold hope for us when nothing else can.
This post was originally delivered as part of the “Seven Last Words” of Jesus on April 19, 2019 at Hope Covenant Church, Orland Park, IL. You can find the whole service here: http://orlandhope.org/media/103139-2824999-1838960/seven-last-words?fbclid=IwAR3LcjIRcv8UqUOtpF7Sbb0O94uZE82S-Fw8vxZLEgwEG9bjqYlHkbsZCvE