Friday, March 29, 2013

Simon's Best/Worst Day

This morning, since it's good Friday, I read Luke 22:1-24:12. The story of my Beloved Jesus dying. I couldn't stop until he rose again. This day breaks my heart. It reminds me of how far beyond my comprehension the love of God is.

I was struck by the experience of Peter as I read. Pete is kind of a hot head. He was probably in more than one bar fight back in his Simon-The-Fisherman days. The kind of person who takes himself seriously--too seriously--but whose convictions are whatever serve him best at the moment. Who hides deep ravines of insecurity behind towers of ego.

He wore a gold chain around his neck, he always knew the best dirty joke. He was his mama's pride and joy but everyone else...well, it wasn't that he didn't know what they thought, that they measured him and saw someone who wasn't enough, it was that he couldn't fix it.

Then one morning, after fishing all night and coming up with nothing--knowing it would be another week of dodging the credit card guy and ignoring the pointed comments made by wife and mother--he pulls the boat to shore to begin cleaning the nets. But today there's a crowd of people listening to some dude talk.

 At first Simon and the guys are talking back and forth, ignoring the crowd. After all, the crowd was in their space, not the other way around. But in a lull, the voice carries over on the wind. It's not unusually deep, not really unusual in any way, except....except that it's passionate. Whoever is teaching really cares about people getting it. He's telling stories even. Not quoting scripture, just talking. Teaching. Without meaning to, Simon and the guys slow as they listen. The crowd continues to grow, people walking and running to hear this Teacher.  So many people crowd that it gets hard to even see him. If they weren't standing on the boat, they wouldn't be able to see a thing.

And then he looks over. For the first time, someone looks at Simon. Not at a fisherman. Not at a blowhard. At Simon. He sees all the stuff that has always been there, but never ever been known. When he climbs in the boat to teach, Simon and the guys quit even pretending to work. He's riveting. And when he's done, he tells them to cast their nets over the side.

The guys all look to Simon for some wisecrack. Something about the fact that they'd thought of that already. But it just doesn't feel right. Simon does make the point, but not to be funny, and tells the crew to do it.

Eyebrows raised, his guys lower their nets. For a second nothing happens. Then, with a creak and a groan, the lines pull taught. The nets are full. But not just full, so full that the lines are actually pulling the boat over. If their friends hadn't been close enough to help they'd have gone down. And when the drama of the catch is over, Simon meets those eyes again. Knowing but not condemning. Interested and not critical.

"Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" Like so many other things, it just blurts out. But this one is true. So true it burns his eyes.

The teacher doesn't leave. No, he invites Simon along on a journey that would change the course of, well, everything. Even his name.

Three years later the swearing is less frequent, the blurting? Not so much. But Peter has a purpose beyond Friday night. He's on the team of the next King and he's all in. He has been known, called out, called down, lifted up, and loved for three years in a way he didn't know was possible.

And tonight he's losing it all. Jesus has been taken. Not only that, but before he left he said Peter would deny him three times. And then Peter went and fell asleep while he should have been praying. The night is not going well. He's terrified, but unwilling to let his Master out of sight. Jesus is his point of reference. The hinge on which all existence, all hope, all import rests.

Peter will be here for him. Maybe not in the middle of the crowd, but here, by the fire, close enough to the light that Jesus will see him and know he's not alone.  And he'll pray, to make up for the prayer he should have offered earlier when he fell asleep.

 A girl keeps staring at him. Peter ignores her, but she won't go away. Then she points. "This man was with him."

Peter turns and eyeballs the guy next to him, but it doesn't work. The whole circle stares at him. She's nodding. The eyes across the fire narrow, the circle shifts restlessly.

"Woman, I don't know him." He tries to be casual, stares at the fire.

People are coming and going and snippets of what is going on is told. Peter sits quietly keeping tabs on Jesus. A guy who saw the whole arrest go down joins the group, telling the story in high drama, and eyes him. "You also are one of them."

The crowd turns. There are more people now. Someone shoves him from behind. Murmuring begins.

"Man, I am not." Peter glares, then shoves back the goon behind and stares down a few suspicious people.

The story teller shrugs and goes on with his tale.

What is taking so long? Jesus hasn't done anything wrong, surely they've figure it out by now. But another hour passes and Peter settles in. Makes conversation with a few guys. One of them listens for a while, then sneers. "Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean."

"Man, I don't know what you're talking about!" It blurts out. Loud. And it's a lie. So ugly it burns his throat.

He turns to see where Jesus is and meets those eyes.

In that moment, their first meeting flashes back. Those are the eyes that see him, perceive who he is. Not who others see, not even who Peter himself claims to be, but who he really, truly

And even now, even after the worst night of his life, they look into him with love.

Peter couldn't take it. He fled, weeping. From guilt, yes I'm sure. From regret and sorrow over his own sinfulness, his own selfishness.

But also I think because in that moment he realized just how vast was the love of Jesus. In his ugliest moment, in the midst of denial, Jesus loved him. It is a love so big it can't help but break the heart it fills. It gushed through him, tore down the tower of ego as Peter saw his truest self. And then it flooded the chasm of insecurity. When he saw that love, all other things on earth ceased to matter.

This day breaks my heart. It reminds me of how far beyond my comprehension the love of God is. Thank you, Jesus for dying for me. That sentence is so inadequate. All words are.  You bought my soul, you have won my heart, and I give you my life and all my love.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Hey, Soul Sista

March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, or so the saying goes. This year in little rock March came in like a lion and is going out like a meaner lion.

But, just for this afternoon, it's warm enough to roll down Dante the Charcoal Impala's windows, crank up the pop, and sing.

Thank you, Lord, for sunshine, drumbeats, and Dante.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Two Right Shoes

In the interest of full disclosure, I took this pictures several
years ago in Africa. But trying to snap iphone shots while
behind the wheel is really dangerous, and frowned on by
my company. But, it looked like this.

Every day when I come home from work, I find Jellybean peering from under the kitchen table, and Buckley? He presses his nose to the gap where the door hinges and sniffs the great outdoors. Always at the back edge of the door instead of the open part. I'm torn between wanting to show him the main opening where he can sniff all he wants, and being glad I don't have to worry about him getting out. But I do open the patio door when its nice and let him sit by the screen, watching for bugs he can tray to catch through the mesh.

It makes me think about expectations, though. For Buckley, the front door opens one inch wide, and if you lean close, you can sniff the outside air. His view is so small.

I was talking with someone yesterday about the strange phenomenon of blessings. For me, nature, and specifically the beach, is always special. And seeing the humpback whales was like the mother of all blessings. For this other person, it is seeing rays of sunlight streaming through the clouds in that way they show in movies, where the light cuts through the dim in precise, powerful bands.

You know how when something good happens, we almost expect something bad to follow? It feels like, I don't know, the balance of life will counteract the wins with equal amounts of losses.When something goes right, even in that joy, there's this tinge of dread that mars the moment as we wait for the left shoe to drop.

What an awful idea. And not Biblical. What if Jeremiah 29:11 said, "For I know the plans I have for you. Plans to prosper you half the time and to harm you the other half. Plans to give you some hope and a moderate future."

But it doesn't.  Praise Jesus, it doesn't.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you," declares the Lord.

I admit that, having had such a splendid time on vacation--did I mention I saw whales?--a sense of foreboding settled over me. As the pessimistic saying goes, the higher you are, the farther you have to fall.  But like I said, I was talking to someone who is wiser than I and saw through that wretched perspective.

God is a giver of good and perfect gifts. He is one hundred percent generous. He is not worried that we'll have too much joy, or get more than our fair share of happiness. He doesn't withhold goodness until it can be blended with a little bad. He isn't into balance at all. He freaking gave his Son to die for an undeserving world with no no big, scary but waiting. Just the biggest, best, richest, most mind-blowing gift ever given.

Do bad things still happen to good people? Yes. To Christians? Yes. But God is not an abusive parent backhanding his children with evil, so they will need him to bandage the wound. He is far to wonderful, glorious, to Him, to need any such manipulation in order to incur praise.

God doesn't drop left shoes. He drops two right ones. He is pure. He is good. He is unchanging. And when that bad comes, even then He is walking with us,  kissing wounds inflicted by life, and in the midst of that, giving good gifts.

My view is so small. Like Buckley, I tend to cover my eyes and peer through a narrow gap between doubt and fear at what God has offered. Unfortunately, I don't have the excuse of being a cat.

And to fear retribution for happiness? Well, isn't that a brilliant way to keep us from the freedom of resting in, trusting in, and rejoicing over not just the gifts, but the fact that the Giver offered them for no other purpose than to delight us.

As I drove home, I mulled over the conversation with God, tested what it would feel like to shunt dreadful forebodings, to expect good from He who promised it. And then I looked up. Rays of sunlight streamed through the clouds in that way they show in movies, the light cutting through the dim in precise, powerful bands.

You are generous, glorious, a giver of sunlight, whales, and fresh outdoor air. Your gifts are beyond my meager imagination, and I'm so grateful. Thank you mostly for Jesus, that my sweet Savior, strong and brilliant and brave, went to the cross knowing full well what was happening, and loving even more than he hurt. My heart, my life, my all have been won by you. All my love.

Friday, March 22, 2013

I Saw Whales!

One of the coolest things I've ever done happened last Sunday, when my cool little brother and I went whale watching. I didn't want my view of these massive mammals to be on a camera screen, so I just held it and pointed where I thought I was looking.

Sometimes it worked. Sometimes I got pictures of the sky or I lopped off half the whale. BUT, we saw soooo many that I still managed to get a good collection, which I'm proud to present to you now. These are humpback whales. We also saw false killer whales, which are like Shamu only all black, and although they didn't do anything very exciting, they are very rare and so this was apparently a big deal. I don't have any photos of those, just picture a black triangle protruding from the water and moving kind of fast.

On the left you see a whale head poking up. I am told this is very aggressive man-whale behavior. The equivalent of getting up in someone's grill, usually over a lady-whale.

This is the lady-whale that started it all and her baby. She is on the left. Her baby was a boy (the guides told us, I couldn't tell.)

This is her baby. While mama and the two man-whales who were fighting for her affection are roughly the size of a school bus, baby here is only the size of, oh a suburban, if it were skinnier and had fins.

This is the baby again, he was showing off.

This would be an aggressive male. They got SO close!

This is mama and baby together. Mothers with young whale-kids aren't usually in the mood, but she must have been one fine piece of tail, because the two dudes fought for a long time.

This is half of a tail going underwater. I didn't snap in time to get the whole thing.

When a lady-whale is feeling frisky, she will wave one side-fin above water. I don't know why this is sexy to whales. But then, I also don't know what it looks like from under water. 

Okay, I don't know if you can see the shadow, but one of the man-whales swam right next to our boat, and then dove straight down, which is apparently uncommon. His tale was enormous.

This is another shot of a man-whale. See how close they came?

And this is even closer!  Blammo! This man-whale might have bumped our boat. He came up right under the bow. All the scratches on his back are from the fierce underwater battle for the fair maiden. They will head-butt each other, and sometimes one will lay on the other to try and keep them from coming up for air. But, these fights aren't usually to the death. 

Again, I don't know if you can see it, but that white spot toward the bottom is a marking on a man-whale's tail.

Both man-whales came up for air at the same time. That fuzzy spot in the foreground is the remnants of his spray...spout?...well, the water that shoots up when they exhale.

This is not a shark, it's half a tail. Again, I wasn't quick enough to get the whole thing. But it was big.

I had prayed to see at least one whale breach, and instead saw baby breach like five times and a mama-whale in the distance breach twice. I was so psyched and told God so. I just love his creation!  And then two days later while on a ferry, four grown up, school-bus sized whales breached in a row. It was like the marine version of the Rockettes. Sadly I didn't get a picture, but I was reminded how lavish God is.  

Thank you for the tropics, for Maui, for a great vacation, for blue whales, and for so many stellar experiences with them. All my love!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


Me and my cool "little" brother in paradise.
This is pre frigid swim.

In my experience and my head, Maui was just one giant beach punctuated with luaus. This is not true. Over the weekend my brother and some of his friends and I went camping in Hana. If you are not familiar, the road to Hana is a circular trek around the island. The way to Hana is all lush, verdant green and waterfalls.  Once you pass Hana you are in The Beyond. Isn't that cool? The Beyond.

We hiked a bamboo forest (yeah, didn't know Hawaii had bamboo.) It was mysterious and made me feel like saying profound Confucius things, like, "This is so neat!"

Then we climbed ladders, and rope-climbed over rocks and even had to swim across a frigid pool to get to the highest waterfall. Yes, Hawaii has frigid pools, I didn't know that either.

"The Cliffs of Insanity!!" (Meniacal laughter!)
Not really, but that's what it made me think of.
Look at that tiny person just to the right of the
fall for some perspective. You might find
yourself saying something profound like
"It's so big!"
In Hana, we hiked up to a 400 ft. waterfall and once again I found myself spouting eloquent poetry, like, "Wow," and, "It's so pretty!"

The Beyond was different. It was like driving through African plains, if they grew on the side of a hill that ran into the ocean....and lava fields, and then this brilliant green high country of some land where people drink beer and leave pots of gold at the end of rainbows.

All of this was stunning. It was the kind of pretty that makes you feel cleaner, better, important. If the God of All spent time knitting these vast waterways, these delicate flowers, these abundant trees, these ragged lava beds, and now I'm seeing them, well I will carry a piece of that. A knowledge of Him I absorbed in the midst of the wonder and between photos. It has to change me. It must.

Seriously, even Disney couldn't come up
with some of this stuff.
Sunday was a truly cool day, too, but more on that later. For now, I am grateful for a God who doesn't just make beauty, who doesn't just revel in it, but who speaks through it. Who can take the nasty this world throws at us and from it draw glorious good for us and for his name, sure. But who chooses to speak joy through stunning colors, power through the spray of mighty ocean waves firing off of stalwart rocks, peace through the quiet of pre-dawn as the sun eases unrushed over the horizon, love that he made it all and lets me see and enjoy it.

Thank you, Lord, for your creativity that is always refreshing, for the endless wonder of who you are.  All my love.

Thursday, March 14, 2013


There are two types of people in this world. Mountain people and beach people. Okay, there are probably some other kinds too, but it seems that most of us are more raptured by the beauty of either colossal craggy peaks, or by the endless rippling ocean, the soft and steady hush of waves on sand, the feel of a silky breeze dusting all the excess heat off your sun-warmed body...I'm obviously a beach girl.

For a list person like me, a fulfilling day is usually heralded by a long line of dashes through my list of things to do. But there are a few exceptions. 

1) Mission trips. If I play with kids and get nothing else done, its a day well spent.

2) Beaches.

It had been, oh, I don't know, maybe two years or so since last I settled in a beach chair, set my phone alarm for thirty minutes, and read in my own version of heaven.  So today I hit D.T. Fleming beach at about 10:30 and since I was by myself, figured I would probably stay, doing my thirty minute front/back rotations until 1 or 1:30.  Yeah, I stayed until 3. 

It was nourishing. Relaxing. Strangely fulfilling. I would like to say I pondered the vastness of a God who could not only create an unfathomable ocean, but then fill it with countless, wild creatures.  But I didn't. I did shout out the occasional thank you, but mostly I just basked.  Maybe tomorrow.

Thank you, Lord, for beaches, for water so pale and brilliant and for the prefect breeze, for waves that sing to pretty a song to drown out with man made music, for my kindle, and for sunscreen so I don't regret my day of rotating in the sun. All my love.

PS. Spell check just wanted me to change the word raptured to the word ruptured. Ewwww. Gross. I sincerely hope the beauty of the beach doesn't rupture anyone.

Monday, March 11, 2013

A New View

This is a view from my balcony that I recently texted my brother.

This is the view from his apartment that he texted back.

He wins.  Why? Because my brother makes his home in Maui. And as of tomorrow I'll be sharing his view for a week. In writing, the scene set up is intentional. It reflects the mood and promise of the scene.  While my life isn't exactly filled with the human equivalent of naked trees, I would like to think that stepping onto a scene in Maui will bring good things, not the least of which is time with my cool bro in his corner of the world.  

Thank you, Lord, for brothers, for beaches, for airplanes and new swimsuits and fake tans and that Maui has Starbucks. Mostly though for brothers and beaches. As amazing as the inventions of man are, they never can even fall in the same bracket as your own good ideas.  All my love.

Friday, March 8, 2013

God doesn't write in blue.

You know how sometimes you just need something new? I felt that way recently, and fought it. I don't want to be a person who needs things.  I mean, aside from food and shelter and clothing and baths and sugar.  But like the chickenpox virus, it would go dormant for a while, but it was still there. Niggling.

Fortunately for me and my bank account, my nigglings aren't for new cars or boats or designer anything. No, when I crave a new thing, it is most often pens. But not just your every day Bic, the fun brightly colored pens that normal people wouldn't use for business.

So, alas, I made an emergency chapstick stop the other day and found my way back to the school supply aisle, when what to my wondering eyes should appear but an 18 pack of fancy pens. Get this: neons, glitters, and metallics.

The fact that they're writing implements delights the writer in me, even though said writer would be better served with a multi-colored keyboard cover. And the brilliant array of sparkle and shine appeals to the six year-old in me.  Buckley likes them too.

I wonder if God gets that way sometimes. He just wants something shiny and new and brilliant and superfluous.  I mean, scientists are still discovering new species. This year they've found new Indonesian owls, Papua New Guinean shellfish, and spiders in South Africa. The owl is pretty exciting.

Obviously God could have, and I have no doubt did, create many a species long ago that we people just haven't discerned until now. But I wonder if also, just for his glory on an average Friday, he speaks a new creature into being.  If it flips out humans, so be it.  Creator is part of his nature, so the ongoing exercise of the aspect of God shouldn't be unexpected. He makes new stars--God likes sparkly things, too--so to add animals to his world that will make it more intriguing, beautiful and vast seems very much like him.

While I don't necessarily feel the need to justify my new pens, it does remind me in a very tiny way of God's bounty. He is not a minimalist or an industrial engineer. He's not an economist bent on shaving out the excess. He doesn't write in blue ink. No, he's lavish and rich and loves to surround himself with beauty and vibrance. It is an aspect I often overlook, and yet am so grateful to benefit from.

Thank you, Jesus, for being abundant and generous, and loving variety and color and texture and shape and plenty. Thank you for new owls, for colored pens, for colors in general. You are vast and creative and the more I know of you the more I want to know.  All my love.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Special. The good kind.

There are those things in life that get better with time. Like classic jewels, fine wine, comfy yoga pants, and friends. Recently two of my dear friends got in touch to say they were thinking of me. It was unexpected and wonderful. And then an acquaintance and I spent some time hanging out and saw a glimpse of ourselves in each other. That kind of recognition of a common soul, or a kindred spirit as Anne Shirley would say, innately recognizes the special. You go along feeling good, confident, enough. And then someone comes along and tells you you're special.

It's not a message the world will offer. You can be good enough. You can work hard enough. You can on occasion be accepted. But never does the world admit you are uniquely splendid.

But the thing is, you are. We all are. And no, that is not a contradiction any more than it would be to claim that each Van Gogh is special. We are masterpieces. And like all art, tastes differ. Not everyone in the world will love every piece. I, for one, don't really get modern art or cubism. But I love me some da Vinci and Thomas Kincaid.

So it is with people. Many will interact and appreciate. Some will actually say it out loud. And a few will recognize the great worth in the details and connect. These relationships are the glimpses of an eternity of being truly known. These interactions are a taste of what our Father intended. They are like prisms in a black wall through which the light of day can be seen, and they paint the world with color that is true.

I'm so thankful for these people who are rich prisms in my life, and who have reminded me what it means to be me. I'm so thankful for friendship and for the One who created it. I'm so grateful that I will die friends with these people (hopefully long from now) and yet we'll still hang out in Heaven at the heavenly equivalent of Starbucks.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Learning from Frasier

I recently returned from a week long writing retreat in Florida. I know, I’m jealous of last-week-me, too. There is something soul-nourishing about spending time with people who share your passion. The kind of people who will talk to you about writing for hours without getting that glassy-eyed look or edging for the nearest door.

Writing is mostly a solitary thing. You get a story spark, you build on it, you give it bones, flesh, you make it beautiful. But then what? How do you know if this story you’ve built is up to par?  Contests. Contest season is upon us.

For those of us who are writers, this means, polishing the beginning of your novel, polishing it again, and then polishing it one more time. Then you choose what contests you’ll enter. I’m entering the Frasier this year at My Book Therapy. It's a great contest for some specific reasons I'll get to here in a minute, but also because it's named for Frasier Crane. How cool is that?

Contests season means you let someone else look at your work. This is good, but terrifying. On the list of scary things, it generally falls somewhere between running naked through a cloud of angry bees, and getting mowed down by a Zamboni.  But the Frasier is different. The people reading your work really know story. They know what you can do to make yours better, and they’ll tell you because they REALLY want you to succeed. They also point out your strengths, see in your work assets you might now recognize.

It also means writing a synopsis.  So. Not. Fun. But…this year my synopsis writing, while painful and time consuming, went better than normal. It turns out I’ve learned a lot about story structure over the last year, due in a large part to My Book Therapy, where all that stuff people tell you you’re supposed to do is explained in a way that teaches you how to do it.

So yes, it took me a while, but I managed to tell the story of my novel in a mere 500 words for the Frasier. I had to really get down to the structural basics. My physical, emotional, and spiritual plot. And you know what? I did it. It made me examine the story I’d told again, and when I made pass number eight-hundred-twenty-nine this week, I drew those out, emphasized them. My story is better for it.

So writer friends, give your story that one last pass, see in it the beauty you have to share, then take a deep breath and enter. Let someone who knows story read it. You’ll definitely learn something.

And friends who are not writers, go hug one today. We can always use it.

Today I'm thankful for my story, for the fact that my synopsis is done, and for other people who love story. For the opportunity to see growth in my own work and room for growth. For a chance to spend time with writerly friends and that I will never be done learning, hatching, or growing better stories.

Entries for the 2013 MBT Frasier Contest for unpublished novelists will be accepted through Sunday, March 31, at 11:59 p.m. The contest is open to Voices members. The winner will receive a scholarship to a My Book Therapy coaching retreat ($500 value). Final round judges are award-winning author Susan May Warren; literary agent Steve Laube; and Shannon Marchese, senior fiction editor for WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group. For more information, FAQs and to enter, visit