Looking back… What’s your motivation?

looking backAs I pondered today’s reading from Genesis 19, verse 26 settled quite firmly into my thoughts, particularly as I remembered Jesus’ exhortation:

But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.
-Genesis 19:26 [ESV]

“Remember Lot’s wife.” -Luke 17:32 [ESV]

What did Lot’s wife do that was so bad that she would become a pillar of salt? (Can’t you just picture her turning into little particles, scattering in the wind?) Scripture doesn’t tell us why she looked back, saying only that she did so as she fled Sodom with her husband, Lot, and their two daughters. We do know that it took some serious persuading for them to flee, and that Lot pleaded not to go too far.

The angel said to Lot that he could do nothing until Lot was safely in Zoar, the plain city that was to be spared at Lot’s request. As Lot arrived in Zoar, the Lord rained down sulfur and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah. But Lot’s wife was behind him, and she looked back. Did she intentionally lag behind, reluctant to leave her home? Or did she stop short of the safety of Zoar and turn to watch triumphantly as the Lord destroyed Sodom?

Only God knows what was in her heart when she turned to look back but, whatever motivated her action, it certainly caused her destruction.

Looking back… The beginning of a new year often is the impetus for me to look back on the previous year. Perhaps this is an annual practice for you, too. It’s not a bad one–in fact, it can be quite instructive. But there are two emotions that can really trip me up:

  • Pride. I can look back and be quite pleased with my accomplishments, allowing my ego to get puffed up. This can cause me to hold on to success as though it defines me, giving my life purpose. But what happens when God wants to lead me to something new? Am I willing to release that success, those accomplishments, and venture into uncharted territory?
  • Regret. I can look back and regret what I left behind or what I feel was lost. Perhaps I did allow God to lead me into something new, but it required leaving other things behind. Finding that I am in a place of uncertainty, am I longing for what was safe and familiar, not quite trusting that God will be faithful?

“On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.”  -Luke 17:31-33 [ESV]

But when I consider the context of Jesus’ admonition to remember Lot’s wife, I can rest assured that when my practice of looking back is motivated by the desire to see how God has been at work in my life the previous year…focusing on and celebrating his goodness and his faithfulness towards me…then I can rest assured that my life is secure and that I am safe in the place of refuge God has made for me!


How safe are you?

This year I am reading through the Bible using the Bible in One Year app from Holy Trinity Brompton. Three readings are given each day–one from the Psalms, one from the New Testament, and one from the Old Testament. Todays readings included the second Psalm and the second chapter of Matthew’s gospel. In his commentary on the last verse of Psalm 2, Nicky Gumbel says,

The safest place to be in the world is close to Jesus.

The next reading is from Matthew, telling of Joseph’s second encounter with an angel (isn’t he the lucky one!), who advised him to take little Jesus and Mary and escape to Egypt, and to stay there until he (the angel–which, by the way, means there will be a third angelic visitation for Joseph!) tells him it is safe to return.

I wonder…Did Joseph feel “safe” with Jesus?

As if a visit from an angel isn’t frightening enough, the message that a murderous king is out to kill this innocent child who has been entrusted to Joseph’s care…this child who is the long-awaited Messiah–screams “DANGER!” I certainly wouldn’t feel safe, and I bet Joseph and Mary didn’t, either.

So Joseph takes his wife and child and flees to Egypt as the angel advised, narrowlyflighttoegypt escaping Herod’s murderous wrath. They remain there for a couple of years, until the angel reappears to tell them that Herod is dead. So Joseph packs up his family and returns to Israel. If Joseph thought it would be safe there, he soon learns otherwise. In yet another angelic visitation (that makes four, if you are counting!) Joseph is warned that Herod’s son is even more evil than his father, and so Joseph avoids his ancestral home of Judea and takes up residence in a despised little town called Nazareth in Galilee.

A life lived on the run certainly doesn’t sound safe, does it? And yet, because Joseph was with Jesus, he was safer than anywhere else in the world.

I often comment that following Jesus is an adventure, and adventure almost always includes some element of risk. Sometimes it doesn’t feel particularly “safe” to be with Jesus, but no matter what life brings, as long as I am with and in Jesus, I can rest assured that I am in the safest place I can be.

What about you? As you begin this new year, are you safe with Jesus?

Seventy Times Seven

20160919_151416One year ago today my mom transitioned from this life to eternal life. Over the years I had watched as a few of my friends lost their mothers, some of whom warned me that I would miss my mom when she was gone from this earth. Especially in the last decade or so of her life, my response was, “Hardly!” To say that our relationship was strained was, at times, an understatement. But…

I miss my mom. Time has a way…

 At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, “Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?” Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.   -Matthew 18:21-22 [MSG]

I have typically thought of this verse as an admonition to forgive someone each time they hurt me. But there is another way of applying it that makes as much (and sometimes more) sense. Every time I remember a hurtful situation, I am faced with the choice to forgive again… and again… and again. Each time that memory reasserts itself, I have the opportunity to forgive. Easier now to understand that seventy times seven, isn’t it?

The truly interesting thing is how, if I am persistent in forgiving, the offense begins to fade away after awhile. I’ve spent a year letting go of offenses, both real and perceived. I’ve forgiven, and forgiven, and forgiven–sometimes the same offense, countless times. And over the course of the year, I’ve found that other memories have begun to rise up and take the place of the painful ones. Memories of laughter, of fun times Mom and I shared, of little phrases that were our own private sort of shorthand–like “milk and cookies,” which meant that something wasn’t working out quite right. (We never could get a glass of milk and a stack of cookies to finish at the same time! There was always more milk than cookies, so we’d have to go back and get more cookies…but then there would be more cookies than milk, so… well, you get the idea. Mom and I could go through a whole package of Oreos playing that game!)

My spiritual director suggested a few months ago that I plan on doing something to mark this first anniversary of my mom’s passing. Her grave is in another state and I knew I would probably not have the opportunity to go visit. I tried come up with something she would have enjoyed doing, thinking that I would go do it in her memory…but nothing came to mind. Last week my daughter and I went to a quilt show. We had a wonderful time together and I know it’s a memory we will both treasure. On the way home it occurred to me that, many years ago–before our relationship became so strained–Mom and I enjoyed doing things like that together and, for a moment, I sensed Mom’s smile.

Seventy times seven is nothing in light of that peace.

I love you, Mom. 20170513_204953.jpg


A Quiet Place

Once a month I slip away for a day of solitude.

If you are thinking, “Wow, that must be nice, but I could never afford that luxury,” read on.

When I first considered a day apart each month–a day to leave all the demands of life and ministry behind in favor of several hours of simply being in God’s presence–it seemed formidable. Could I make the time? Surely it would be impossible to incorporate this into the rhythm of my life. And even if I could, what would I do? Oh, wait…it’s about being, not doing. (That was enough to make my Martha personality hyperventilate!)

But, honestly, desperation is the true mother of invention…or at least of intention. A deep desire to simply be still before God was gnawing at my spirit like a hungry infant demanding to be fed. Eventually I gave in, reserving a day at my favorite retreat house. It was glorious! I came home refreshed and refilled. So I studied my calendar and chose one day I thought I could spare each month for the next three months. Then, at the end of that three months, I booked a day for the next three months–without carefully studying my calendar. It became no longer about a day I could spare. Now it is about putting the retreat day on my calendar and scheduling everything else around it. Who would have thought it would work? Not me! Yet I’ve integrated this into the rhythm of my life and, amazingly, have never felt the time was ill-spent. Everything has gotten done that needed doing.



Yesterday was July’s retreat day. As I got on the road, I had an overwhelming sense of Father God welcoming me, inviting me to just come and be with him. After the flurry of throwing my “stuff” in a bag (more about that in a minute) and getting out the door, his invitation triggered a necessary slowing down. Funny how that aligned with the need to literally slow the car as I left the highway for a country road. As I made the last turn onto the narrow lane that leads to the retreat house, I smiled at the cows lolling in the shade, lazily chewing their cud, hardly noticing my noisy intrusion into their morning reverie. I pulled up to the house and disembarked to the hearty welcome of croaking bullfrogs who inhabit the pond. Again I smiled. Peace began to flood my soul.DSC_1622

As is my habit, I made some coffee and then went out to the porch swing with my prayer book to begin my day with God. Sipping coffee while praying the Morning Office in the midst of the frogs’ song with a gentle breeze wafting across the porch…peace that passes all understanding.

I always bring “stuff.” I’ve wondered if I do this because I’m afraid God won’t show up and I’ll need something to fill the time…something to do. But God has never failed to show up, and I have never felt the need to do anything on these retreat days. My bag of “stuff” usually includes my Bible, my journal, a coloring book and markers or colored pencils (don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it!), a book or two of a spiritual nature, and my camera. What I have learned is that any or all of these things may be God’s “tools” for the day–things through which we connect more intimately. Yesterday it was the camera. (Truth be told, it often is.)

DSC_1733I wandered down one of the trails, snapping pictures of the flowers and a critter or two, marveling at a couple of brightly colored birds who were not willing to sit still for a photo shoot, taking in the glory of God’s creation.When I had my fill, I returned to the house and settled again on the swing in solitude, occasionally journaling a snippet of DSC_1772conversation with God, but mostly just basking in the slowness and simplicity of the day.

Later, back at home, I looked at the pictures I’d taken. I realized that many of them contained insects feasting on what God provided. I hadn’t necessarily seen them from behind the lens, perhaps because they were so small or because the sun’s glare washed them out of view. Yet there they were, getting their fill. And I realized that I, too, had gotten my fill of God today–enough to sustain me through another month of life and ministry.

A day of solitude will do that for me. I bet it will do it for you, too.


Catalpa Musings

In my backyard stands an old catalpa tree. I’m not an arborist, so I have no idea how old she is…but she is definitely old. Her trunk is hollow now, and yet she stands firm. At least one of her lower branches has a hollow place in it, too. There’s another hollow where her trunk divides into two main branches. Lots of space in that old tree.

Despite the local utility company regularly hacking off her branches that grow too near the electric wire (I nearly weep each time they attack her with their saws), she continues to spread her branches, providing perches for all sorts of winged creatures–raucous bluejays, tiny finches, fat robins, cooing morning doves, brilliant red cardinals, and even the occasional black buzzard who stays way up in the top and never for long, thank God!

For many years the squirrels nested in the hollow at the split, and then they mysteriously moved out. It didn’t take long to figure out why–honeybees had moved in! But this spring a brave little squirrel has made her nest in the hollow of a branch. I sat mesmerized one morning watching her carry up twigs and leaves and all sorts of makings for a cozy nest, laughing as she would scamper along the branch only to suddenly disappear into the hollow.

DSC02090Chipmunks play around the base of the trunk, scurrying in and out of the hollow’s big opening. A few years ago a raccoon checked out that big hollow, perhaps considering it as a new home? He didn’t stay long–another opportunity for giving thanks to God!–and the chipmunks resumed their scurrying.

The leaves of this old catalpa are wide and deeply green, providing luscious shade for the back of our house. Even on the hottest of summer days, I can find cool shelter from the sun under her broad canopy.

She sort of reminds me of a wise old woman… In late spring she produces beautiful white, sweet-20160607_065239smelling blossoms en masse, like a full head of white hair. Her bark reminds me of an old face, wrinkled with age. Her hollows are like an empty bosom, ready to receive whoever needs the nurture of a safe and protected space. Her branches welcome all sorts of creatures who bring delightful music and bright flecks of color to the vibrant green of her leafy canopy.

God is so very present in the most ordinary things of life, always with something to teach or share. That old catalpa tree inspires me. I want to be like her as I grow old. I want to be a warm and welcoming soul for those who need nurturing. I want my life to be decorated by the comings and goings of all sorts of people. I want to be wise, not despising my gray hair or my wrinkles, but rather considering them evidence of a life well-lived…by God’s grace, a life lived for his glory.

Amen and amen.



Suitable for the Old

We…have to stop comparing ourselves with the young. The characteristics of the young are perfect for the young but unsuitable for the old.  -Barbara Stanford, Gift of a Lifetime

As the Baby Boomer generation ages, you would think our cultural stereotypes regarding youth and aging would flip. There are so many of us Boomers–it seems we should easily extol aging as something worthwhile, something beautiful, something to be treasured. But that’s not quite happened (at least, not yet), perhaps because the majority of Boomers are so busy trying to hang on to youth by engaging in youthful pursuits.

I am ready to admit that I am no longer young. What’s more, I’m glad. Being young was wonderful…well, mostly…okay, sometimes. It was hard a good bit of the time, though I didn’t always know it. I sometimes look back on my life and wonder, How did I ever manage all that? I don’t think I could do that today. And I’m absolutely right, I couldn’t. Nor do I want to.

That’s the point. I don’t want to. I don’t long for the days when my children were little; I now enjoy them as adults. I don’t miss the days when I believed multi-tasking was essential to a life well-lived. There’s something to be said for giving one thing my undivided attention. I see now that I’ve spent way too many years rushing from one moment to the next, often without really experiencing much of it.

As I let the dog out thisdsc_0561-2 morning, I spied in the faint pre-dawn light our resident cardinal sitting in his winter-woody bush. He was facing the east, awaiting the sunrise. Just waiting. As I settled on the sofa with my cup of hot coffee, I gazed out the window and pondered that cardinal. Had he been sitting there all night, just watching and waiting for the sun to rise and a new day to begin? I contemplated how God keeps watch all hours of the night, how I can sleep peacefully because I know beyond any doubt that God never sleeps, and the deep joy that comes with that sure and certain knowledge rose in my heart. I consciously welcomed it, just as we welcomed the sunrise, Mr. Cardinal and I.

I am grateful for the time I have now to sit quietly and reflect.

In my younger years, I had little time for watching the sun rise or to just sit and ponder in the early pre-dawn light. I was too busy serving breakfast, packing lunchboxes, getting kids out the door to school, a husband off to work and–as the kids got older and the economy got tighter–myself, too. And it is only with the passage of time and the experience gained in a lifetime that I have certain assurances about God, including that he is always watching over me and all his creation.

As I navigate this aging process, I am trying to be attentive to the cultural stereotypes I consciously hold, and even more attentive to those I might be holding subconsciously. (For example, why do I prefer to think of myself as “aging” rather than “old?” Perhaps because aging indicates movement and old sounds final/done? ) I want to embrace this inevitable process with grace, even to welcome it with joy and delight. A slower pace, more time to give, finding and savoring joy in the present moment–these beautiful treasures are definitely suitable for the old!


The Battle on Two Fronts

My husband and I went out for breakfast this morning to celebrate his birthday. As our slow_down_sign_reed_college_portland_oregon_2013conversation drifted to his recent retirement and the changes we are experiencing, he commented on how nice it is to be able to enjoy a leisurely breakfast on a weekday morning, having nothing he has to rush to do. As I thought about his comment, I became increasingly aware of my own state of being. I was revving up. We had finished our meal, and I was physically preparing to rush on to the next thing. Except, there wasn’t a “next thing.”

It seems to me that my body is hard-wired to rush. It’s not that I have a lot of nervous energy…I’m not a leg-jiggler or a foot-tapper. I don’t drum my fingers. I’m not even particularly energetic. But my body is always poised to move on to whatever is next on the to-do list.

As a wife and mother,  a homemaker, a businesswoman-turned-pastor, I have been busy the majority of my life. I learned early on that time management was essential to successfully juggling my varied roles and responsibilities. My days were for the most part carefully planned to maximize every minute so as to accomplish not only what I needed to get done, but also have time for what I wanted to do. It was not uncommon for me to pack more into a day than was feasible to do. I’ve conditioned myself to be productive, and to be productive requires being on the move.

My life has changed significantly in the last six months. I quit my marketplace job to spend more time in ministry. After two years of providing care for my mother, she suffered a stroke and died. Subsequent weeks were spent tying up the loose ends of her affairs. Then my husband retired, and the holidays were upon us. With the whirlwind of activity behind us, we are settling into a new routine, a slower pace. Time to relax over a leisurely meal, or go to a movie in the middle of the day. The problem is that my body doesn’t know how to do that. I feel as though I’m fighting a battle to make myself slow down. That’s the battle on the physical front.

But the battle is also being fought on another front, a spiritual front. All this busyness I’ve prided myself on over the years has also conditioned my spiritual self to stay on the move. I devoured books, yet couldn’t really tell you what I’d read. I would have a revelation from scripture, but wouldn’t remember it days later. Rather than take the time to process what I read and perceived, I was rushing ahead to the next spiritual thought or epiphany. Now I am learning how to sit quietly and listen–really listen–for the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Solitude is becoming something I desire regularly.

Equally important, I am learning to be still and truly listen to others. Just as I rushed physically from one thing to the next, I also rushed conversations. The temptation to think about how I wanted to respond or simply being impatient to move on to another topic meant that I often didn’t give attention to the other person’s words, much less to what might be hiding behind them.

I’m learning that it’s impossible to be attentive to the present moment when the body and the spirit are persistently rushing on to the next thing on the to-do list or on to the next thought. This business of slowing down is hard though! The battle against pushing forward, refusing to idolize both physical and spiritual busyness, is intense.

The lesson that needs to settle deep in my spirit is this: What’s next is not guaranteed. Only this moment is real. To rush past it is to lose the battle and forfeit the opportunity to experience God in the here and now. And so each evening I thank God for all the blessings of the day, the ones I caught and the ones I missed, asking him to reveal those overlooked blessings so that I may be consciously grateful for them, too. My prayer is that this tool–this examen at the end of the day–will help me win the battle of being fully present on both fronts, physically and spiritually. Amen and amen.