Category Archives: Uncategorized

Learning From the Experiences of Courageous Women

We learn so much from each other.

Recently, I finished reading When Others Shuddered: Eight Women who Refused to Give Up by Jamie Janosz. Exploring the lives of women known throughout history for their courage and perseverance brings me pleasure. I imagine a dinner party or afternoon tea gleaning wisdom from their experiences.

I may not live in their time frame but character knows no bounds.

Convictions catapult us into action. Risks are inherent. But, as Morecai says to Esther, “…. Who knows? Maybe you were made queen for just such a time as this.” So God uses our talents and skills to make his voice heard and his love known.

Women have challenged the status quo through writing (Jane Austen, Hannah Moore), teaching (Mary Bethune), advocacy, (Dorthea Dix, Elizabeth Fry), preaching (Amanda Smith), generosity (Nancy McCormick), hospitality (Sarah Dunn Clarke) , and even military spies (Emma Edmonds, Elizabeth Van Lew)

“We’re all traveling through time together, everyday of our lives. All we can do is do our best to relish this remarkable ride,” says Richard Curtis through his movie “About Time.”

Who inspires you?

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Embracing Sacred Relief When Something is Found

I noticed it was missing.

The diamond on my engagement band adorned my finger for 24 years. After a while, certain pieces of Jewelry become second “skin.” They form familiar senses in your movements and often carry stories of your life.

If my engagement ring could talk, it would share it’s adventurous and somewhat scandalous journey. My now husband found the jeweler through a friend who agreed to offer a whole price deal on it. It’s trek to my finger included meetings between strangers in a mall parking lot to exchange ring for currency. And a funny story about my husband proposing to me on a Thanksgiving morning and me thinking he was joking at first. The ring has immense value to me.

So when I glanced down on a July evening two years ago and noticed an empty spot between the prongs, it felt as though my heart stopped. How could something that means so much to me be gone?

Immediately, those in my midst began searching. Fortunately my home is small. But so is a diamond. On our hands and knees, we crawled. Exploring every corner and examining every crevice.

And then my teenaged son found it! He went down to the basement with a flashlight. There, near the washing machine on a gray concrete floor, laid my gem. His shout of discovery caused a flood of relief through my veins.

The story reminds me of the “lost parables in scripture (Luke 15). We are worth so much more than the diamond yet God seeks us. May we be reminded of our immense value and proclaim it to others in word and action.

We love  because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19

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Why Sacrifice Results in Abundance

Jesus reminds me there is a cost.

In October, I traveled with 30 companions on a Sankofa journey. My denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church, offers this enlightening and transforming opportunity to journey toward racial righteousness. “Sankofa” comes from the Twi language in Gana which means to go back and fetch. Together, our racially diverse group engaged in hard conversations regarding historical civil rights events in Southern locations. How does our past impact the present and the future? What is necessary for restoration of a people and a country to take place?

My senses absorbed the sounds, sights, and smells of these prominent places where evil was confronted and liberation from earthly kingdoms sought. The faces of those who crossed bridges, boycotted buses, arranged sit-ins, carved out escape tunnels and gave up their lives remain etched in my mind. They remind me of the cost.

I ponder: what would I have done? What am I doing? To love neighbors as ourselves, demands movement into places of discomfort, vulnerability, and risk. Because that is what we long for from others. What am I willing to sacrifice?

“Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can’t be my disciple.” Luke 14:33.

Being a kingdom builder involves sacrifice but the result is abundance: for all.

I embrace Martin Luther King’s words, “I admire the good Samaritan, but I don’t want to be one. I don’t want to spend my life picking up people by the side of the road after they have been beaten up and robbed. I want to change the Jericho road, so that everybody has an opportunity for a job, education, security, health.”

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My Favorite Book of the Year: Braiding Sweetgrass

Author Robin Wall Kimmerer aptly named her gorgeous book Braiding Sweetgrass. Within it, she braids together indigenous wisdom, perspectives on our Creator, and scientific theory through the pages that are both essay and autobiography. Never have I read a book similar to this. It’s information, wisdom, and beautiful storytelling cultivated an awareness of my ecological “relatives” that barely existed previously .

Kimmerer’s membership in the Potowatami Nation and background as a professor of botany weaves together seamlessly as she shares lessons learned from the earth. Indiginous ideologies acknowledge a commitment to a harmonious relationship with plants: ” “Knowing that you love the earth changes you, activates you to defend and protect and celebrate. But when you feel that the earth loves you in return, that feeling transforms the relationship from a one-way street into a sacred bond.” Because of what is shared here, I will forever be indebted to wild strawberries, pecans, and maple trees.

While lamenting the loss and dismissal of indigenous wisdom, the author shares how colonization and industrialization affects both her personal story as well as the bigger narrative of our country. “The consumption-driven mindset masquerades as “quality of life” but eats us from within. It is as if we’ve been invited to a feast, but the table is laid with food that nourishes only emptiness, the black hole of the stomach that never fills.” It left me pondering how we have messed up the commandment to be stewards of creation. What blessings are we missing as a result of a zest for control and accumulation regardless of cost?

Through sharing stories of her own pain staking experiences restoring nature, Kimmerer does not leave one in a state of discouragement. She lifts up hope. But it will involve commitment to doing the hard work together. “How we approach restoration of land depends, of course, on what we believe “land” means.” It’s on this premise that Kimmerer engages the reader. She paints an exquisite and compelling picture of a demographic of creation. Historically, our nature family is taken for granted at best, and treated with disregard at worst. But, as she says, we all live in a circle of reciprocity, not a line.We need each other. Even algae and salamanders. For her words, I will forever be thankful.

” “Action on behalf of life transforms. Because the relationship between self and the world is reciprocal, it is not a question of first getting enlightened or saved and then acting. As we work to heal the earth, the earth heals us.”

Remembering that God Beats GPS

They moved on from Succoth and then camped at Etham at the edge of the wilderness. God went ahead of them in a Pillar of Cloud during the day to guide them on the way, and at night in a Pillar of Fire to give them light; thus they could travel both day and night. The Pillar of Cloud by day and the Pillar of Fire by night never left the people. (Exodus 13:20-22)

I have no sense of direction. GPS is a godsend. But sometimes, even technology can mislead me. Yesterday, I drove to a women’s conference. Unfortunately, where I normally park was under construction so I quickly pulled into a restaurant parking lot and opened my app for cheap parking. I found a place and proceeded to navigate to it.

The problem was that a series of unfortunate events led to confusion: the gps voice was not audible, it was pitch dark, and I was surrounded by city traffic. Feeling lost and frustrated, I repeatedly drove around the area; glancing at the glowing map radiating from my phone. I trusted in the gps, no matter how many times I drove around the block.

In retrospect, I ask myself why I pledge loyalty to my GPS but call out God when I feel a lack of direction. Certainly, pillars of clouds or fire don’t settle over me. However, I have the the Holy Spirit all around and inside of me.

I find myself not too different from the Israelites. They, too, gravitated toward worshipping man made “gods.” God not only visibly settled over them and helped them navigate their next steps but had shown himself to be capable of intervening for his people in the most miraculous of ways. Yet, they still struggled with trust.

May I hide these words in my heart:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart.
    Do not depend on your own understanding.
In all your ways obey him.
    Then he will make your paths smooth and straight. (
Proverbs 3:5-6)

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Book Review: The Louder Song: Listening for Hope in the Midst of Lament

In her book, The Louder Song, Aubrey Sampson tackles a biblical practice that seems to have disappeared in contemporary faith culture: lament. Despite the fact that lament is woven through scripture (most blatantly in the Psalms and in Lamentations, it does not make a common appearance in personal or corporate liturgies. Sampson writes,”I am learning that powerful people do not know how to lament. They’re used to being able to affect a situation, leveraging their power for their own benefit or someone else’s. People in control don’t need lament because lament is for the helpless, the weak-those who have no advocate or way forward but for the mercy of God.” Lament points us to God. Simply, we need it.

Sampson not only takes the reader through the process of understanding the practice of lament but shares her own experiences with it through telling her own story of grief. She points out that lament allows us to sit in our pain and yet yearn for God’s ability to fill it with his “very good.” As the title implies, “God doesn’t avoid or ignore pain. He sings a louder song over it.”

The book is arranged in three sections: How, Yet, and With. Each theme pertains to the form of a prayer of lament. In addition, she introduces the four different expressions of lament as found in scripture and unpacks them. They find themselves woven through the personal stories shared throughout the book. Each chapter ends with a prayer of lament written by an assortment of ancient and contemporary writers.

As Sampson points out, there are more prayers of lament than prayers of praise in the Bible. That fact reminds us that we find good company in others who also acknowledged their posture of helplessness. For too long, I felt guilty feeling frustration, confusion, resentment, and even anger at God’s allowance of painful situations,both personal and in the world. I found hope and affirmation in her words.

Recognizing the purpose and significance of lament is essential as we seek restoration. The soul finds refuge in God’s character while also laying our grief before him. Lament opens us up to God’s character. Perhaps it’s time to embrace lament as a common practice as individuals and as the church. People are longing for Shalom. Aubrey’s book offers a path toward finding it.

I Vow to be a Bridge Crosser

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.

How about you?

Book Review: The Next Right Thing

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.

Together Yet Apart: Celebrating Healing Moments in the Relationship Between Mother and Daughter

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.

All Shall be Well: a Book Review

“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.