Blackberry…

Yesterday was a real blackberry wrangler. The Himalayan variety is considered a noxious weed in Whatcom and Skagit Counties. And they are gnarly; grasping and scratching, and tearing out one’s hair. But after donning my hazmat suit, I kinda like those blackberry days… the gnarly things refuse to be ‘managed.’ Yesterday’s session turned out to be a little like church.

The blackberries spring up in seemingly devastated landscapes – clear cuts, vacant lots, abandoned farmhouses. In our case, they jumpstarted when we thinned the upper canopy; filling in where the undergrowth was traumatized by falling alders and cottonwood giants. In an uncanny way, they have allowed the elder- and salmonberry to flourish as well, and recreate habitat for small creatures. Preserving that habitat was part of our intent, but the blackberry invasion not anything like the method we had imagined.

As I climb and crouch among them, they seem almost desperate to grow, to reach the light. Their crowns are both hidden in the dark, and lurking in plain view. I used to be afraid of desperate people, afraid that something of the trauma that had ravaged their landscapes might rub off on me. But after half a century of trying to grow by cautious and thoughtful management, experiencing desperation myself with just a glimpse of the extent of trauma in our world; I am mostly impressed by their resilience, and in awe of their knowing to seek the light. I could cross-examine the foundations of what that means – to seek the light. But I know who spoke sunlight into being; and that seeking interface is enough to give me hope.

jfig  7/17

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tuesday mornings…prayers of vulnerability

My hand is ‘out of joint’ this morning; I woke up during the night, and something had shifted. Painfully. Thankfully, things are moving better as I go about my morning.  My heart is out of joint, too, with the pain of a friend newly diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer,  old friends painfully grappling with estrangement, a third friend and her family already too many days at Children’s Hospital. My heart and mind keep cautiously approaching these explosive facts, trying to figure out what to do, to help or to understand; wondering when quiet, versus questions is the kindest, least intrusive form of care. Then wondering if intrusion is what the moment needs. Doubting that sequestration in a prayer closet is the answer, but having NO CLUE how to proceed. If I feel vulnerable and at a loss…how do they feel??????

For my friend with cancer, I feel angry and afraid. Very afraid. There are too many pieces of life attached to her, for me to calmly ‘let go’ and trust.

For my friends who are parting, there is so.much.sorrow

For my friends in hospital – there are weeks of wearying work ahead to facilitate recovery.

You likely have loved ones to add to the list.

I feel vulnerable in relationship to all of them – (how am I ever going to help?) I FEAR that I, their sister, their friend, will surely fail them in these moments.

I feel vulnerable for them – these strong , amazing advocates for others, who will now have to ask for themselves. I have lost.. it is not a journey one enters lightly. I have held the stone of sorrow…I have wearied my brain and bones in caregiving work. Perhaps this is why I feel vulnerable FOR them, this glimpse of what lies ahead. None of them are strangers to the journey either. Truthfully, I would not trade those journeys – the intertwine of beauty with ashes – the tracing of one’s hands across the face of God in the heart of Christ, along this journey we call life.  But I have not walked their sorrows, and I do not envy them the walking it now.

Vulnerability    History helps. I remember a time, when I was invited to flat-out worship God, but found myself in a position of vulnerability. As if on cue, the words flowed, telling God all the ways in which I felt vulnerable, all the fears and questions for which I had no practical answers. I had been circling the problems, puzzling them from different perspectives, rather than bringing them to a Holy God. The God of the Storehouse found in Job 38:  “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?… Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the evil out of it?” There it is. Job, with a season full of woes, and  God reminding him that nothing is beyond his reach; the whole passage a call to worship. Three chapters worth.

Job responds, “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.”  And, “My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42;2,5

Finally, I know what to do. God of the Storehouse, we stand amazed that you have every resource at your disposal. Bring them to bear, we humbly pray, on this array of needs. Help us to trust not only in your power, but in the goodness of your grace. We worship your goodness, Oh God.

 It is not ours to judge one another, but where we need to shift, to repent and change, please show us the way. Help us to RUN in that new-found freedom. We worship your goodness , Oh God.

HELP US TO SEE YOU, over and over  as we go about our days. And in seeing, to worship you truthfully; not as we expect you to be, but as you are in power and majesty, in righteousness and glory. May your glory fill the whole earth, as you shake the evil from its dust. No plan of yours can be thwarted. We worship your goodness, OH God.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On Easter Sunday, we spotted the first trilliums in the woods. They remind me again, of the triune completeness of our God; the Father to give us life, his Son to teach and save us, the Holy Spirit to lead and empower, the living of our own resurrected life. He is complete. And in Him, we find the help we need.

jlf 4/15

1) Quotes from Job Cpts. 38-42. NIV The Holy Bible.  Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI 1983

tuesday mornings…prayers for growth

Spring is coming early to the Northwest. One would have to squeeze her eyes tightly shut to miss the glory of God in the pristine yellow of daffodils, the pink light of dawn breaking over foothills, made majestic by their unwavering bulk alone; the constant chatter of birds at play. Momentarily, these things boost my sagging winter spirits. But what lifts them enough to catch the Spirit’s prevailing wind, is the imprints. Imprints of God’s heart, his power and strength at work in people.

Isaiah 61:11 says it this way: “For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.” (1)

Thank God for spring! For his working and amending of the soil of our lives to reveal HIM. I hope that I no longer operate under the Eden lie that I should be like God. But I deeply believe that we are meant to look like him; that He is  pleased when  a single facet of his amazing being is revealed, even midst the intricacies of our individuality.

Thank God for spring!

For  growth shared on facebook: 1 year sober. There is nothing trivial about God, permission granted, taking hold of a life and transforming behavior, since we all know how easy behavior is to change… Imprint of an all-powerful God

For a college student stating in simple conversation, that she has learned that the most helpful thing in walking along side her youth group students, as they navigate yOuThful stuff like cutting, and the question of promiscuity; is listening to God for direction, and helping them to find their answers in scripture, rather than telling them what they should do. She went on to say that she does not think she can ‘fix’ their problems, but she knows who can. Distillations…of spring nectar…in a twenty-something who is not out to change the world in her own right, but to make space for God to do so. I AM print

For a young woman, excitiedly sharing that after dutiful obedience and hard work, God has lit the doorway on the next step! The gift of his orchestration appearing all over her treasure map: God knowing, KNOWING her; and along the way, her knowing Him, flowering under the Holy Spirit’s  tutelage. Imprint: glorious, cup running over, life.

For a no longer young, not yet old woman, uprooted by terrible loss; yet in its midst, hearing God speak to her of his protection, and provision. For her knowing that voice enough to trust it, and its message. I AM print

For a couple who feels old, the interweaving of their lives patterned both functionally and dys-so, like painfully tangled blackberry vines. God’s precise grafting enables them to cut out the deadwood, and retrain growth; to salvage the antioxidant benefits, and continue on to bear more fruit.  Imprint of a God of Abundant Graces

In these fresh, upturned, vulnerable faces, I see the imprint of God; both the tracings of his preparatory handiwork in the garden loam of their lives, but also his living Spirit literally breathing in them; re-aerating this ground toward the springing up of righteousness and praise. Glory to God!

Prayers for growth: You, Almighty God, are the God of growth, the one who breathes life into us, and nurtures that life with all that you are. Your word tells us that you planted in us your image, the imprint of a Holy and righteous God. Rescue us, by the blood of your Son Jesus, from the tangling suffocation of sin in our lives. Free us, we pray, to grow in righteousness and praise, and to nurture and celebrate that growth in one another, as we root ourselves in you. Thank you, for your goodness, your careful, knowing, tending of this garden, we pray…

(1) The Holy Bible, NIV. Zondervan Bible Publishers  Grand Rapids, Michigan

tuesday mornings…

The past couple years have been something of a mid-life, mid-journey crisis. I long to soar outside the bounds of time, energy and self-centeredness to make a difference in this world. In particular, I was seeing gaps in my capability to be a present friend in times of trouble, or present enough to even be aware of trouble on the horizon. Around the bend from that, was the ever-active voice in my head,  “You are not doing enough…in your community; nor in the world.” There are caregivers out there; moms, teachers, pastors, youth leaders and their wives(a whole superhero category unto themselves); who seem able to rally to a steady onslaught of needs, all while maintaining a good sense of humor. I am not one of them. Perhaps you are not either. This post is for us… I’m not going to talk about that ‘comparison thing’ we do, just share one compass-bearing of hope and help that God gave me midst that particular crisis.

One of my friends was in trouble – the collapse of a mission, scary, kid-stuff trouble.  Another friend, who is one of those superhero types, organized 40 days of prayer and fasting around the needs. (I am not good at fasting either, just in case you were wondering.) But the situation was so desperate, my ability to help so small, that I signed up to fast and pray every Tuesday during that 40 days. This did not turn out to be a major accomplishment on my part. And how God used it for my friend and her family is their continuing story. What it was for me, however, was an opportunity – to see God at work, to listen for his truth, to align my heart and mind with his purposes, to fill one tiny hole in the gap of his love and care for them. My time at prayer became an AMEN to what He was already doing. It was a privilege to say Amen, over and over and over. Like that old-time discipline of writing on the chalkboard after being caught-out in some misdemeanor. 100 times… Amen…Amen… Amen.

After 40 days, it just seemed easier to keep praying, about all the people and places in the world where the need is great, and the help small. For friends and family hanging onto hope under the see-all lights of despair.  About seemingly hopeless, and helpless situations brought about by the oppressions of poverty, sickness, evil in our world. One can hardly turn around without encountering desperate need, on every side. It is truly overwhelming to anyone who wants to be of help.

Tuesday mornings. Compass bearing: prayer. What are the landmarks?

  • I think God gave me a portioned task; one that I could do. In the midst of all the other demands that are never-ceasing in the life of a caregiver, I can focus and pray about these issues one day per week. I can be consistent, even if I don’t have the energy to be perpetual. Is that the only day I pray? No, but it is the day I always (or almost always), pray for these friends, at home and across the globe, regarding these issues.
  • Prayers are grounded in scripture, which lays a foundation of truth. upon which strong stuff grows, even in the most desperate of situations. Isaiah 61 reminds me of God’s intent. Ephesians 1 and Romans 8 reassure me of His power. Copyright law prohibits me sharing these verses in entirety here, but they are like pavers of gold, if you want to build a prayer walk. If your situation is one to which sin-leads-to-death applies, Ephesians 1 describes resurrection power. If you seek to countermand injustice, Isaiah offers hope and a dream for the future.
  • Finally, I am not advocating leaving someone’s side, for your prayer closet. But barring some other God-appointed role, I am confident that His filling of a hole in the wall of his kingdom with the putty of truth-filled prayers, is an offering of eternal value.                   Tuesday mornings…Godspeed

Declaration

Some years, our family has been privileged to collaborate in crafting a Christmas carol. As we move from Thanksgiving to Advent, I am thankful for a God , who sees, and knows… Here is this year’s rough copy, based on Isaiah 61. When all the musicians get here, we’ll work out the transitions.

Declaration

I have come…to find the lost, you lonely

Lend my truth, to light the corners of your mind.

I have come…to help the broke and hurting

Mend your hearts: I offer to you mine.

Let the little children come – the orphaned, lame, forgotten ones

Climb into the reaches of my heart.

Let the weary, burdened see; there’s rest in doing life with me

The blind, the poor – in seeing what I see.

 

I have come…to loose the chains that hold you.

You’re free to soar, unfettered by a past.

Beauty’s hope, in trade for broken dreams and burned-out ashes,

Joy will rise into a kingdom that will last.

The valleys and the hills made low, an easy path for us to go

Let the echoes ring, of the joy I bring.

I have come.

I have come.

 

(SPOKEN)   I have come, image of my Father’s glory.

HERE I  AM…  to offer you his love.

I bring strength for your trial, power for your struggle,

The gift of wisdom, and a peace that will not end.

 

(SING)   Let the children come…

Let the people see…

Let my kingdom come

When you believe.

jlf12/14

Echoes…

Midst December’s relentless march into longer.. hours… of darkness…, we introduced a series on hope, with the metaphor of a crevasse  reverberating with the echoes of need and plenty, have and have not, in an effort to find light in the darkness. To somehow bridge the gap.  Here’s a spring perspective, dedicated to Miss t. and fam, for their resilience.

In FEBRUARY of 20__ (who can keep track anymore) I stared at the puddled floor of the Firs Chalet drying room, at my children’s boots. Heavy fans thrummed steadily in some attempt to stir the heavy air, but nothing stirred the moisture-laden boots (and sopping socks) that lay miss-matched and askew in the middle of the entry. We were at the chalet for a homeschool ski retreat, with a variety of families, many of whom had more children than we, and better established plans of training them up than we. These were lovely people, with lovely children. I’m totally serious…l.o.v.e.l.y. I held in one fist, my aspiration to be a good parent and in the other the big question, “How?”   My mesmery (I know it’s not a word, but it should be) was broken by one small voice crying, “Mom, you pick them up…” as a wee body darted past and clumped up the stairs. I’m not sure in what, because I had the boots… I replied in a loud, pained voice, “I am not your servant” And midst the ongoing thrum of the fans, the stillness on the stairs, the as yet unanswered, ‘how’ in my head, I heard the echo, “Oh, yes…you are.” Oh, yes, you are; yes, yes, you are… a servant. It was clear to me, that it was not in the act of picking up boots that my children were responsible for themselves; nor in having exactly the same parenting style or plan as these other successful couples, that I was to serve; but in laying down my expectation of parent, to pick up their need as child. Everything from love that dares to discipline to clean socks to reassurance in the dark falls under serve. Oh, yes…I am

It is finished… A brilliant friend surprised me the other day, by asking me to pray for strength; “strength to make wise decisions; ones that you would encourage in your 14 year-old, like going to bed at a reasonable time instead of staying up late to watch a movie, when you know what will be asked of you tomorrow.” I knew exactly what he meant, because as the years lengthen, I find my capacity thinning (too bad it’s not carried in my…hmm). It occurs to me , that it may not be the capacity in which we serve, so much as our willingness to find it a privilege, whatever the task, that fills our cup for the next effort. Some people seem to naturally overflow with this enthusiasm for service, but not me. I wanted to be SOME.Body; not just anybody. As the years went on, and I became less impressed with myself, and more impressed with what God was working in my kids and in and through other moms, that left-handed fist started to slip its grasp a little. I realized that it was going to be pretty difficult to carry the cross, if my hands were full of, well, ME. Gradually, the cross became a place, not to launch myself from, but a place to drink life from, because every time I let myself die there at Jesus feet, God filled me up with something he could use. Wow! And if I got stuck looking at the crumpled up remnants of the old me, He quietly echoed, “It is finished.

Last Sunday, I got to visit our stunningly beautiful daughter Laura (someone else’s words) for Mom’s weekend @ WSU. The homily at church was about Peter. Poor Peter… who got tangled in the circumstances, like so many of us do, and denied knowing Christ. Well, he outright lied, didn’t he??? After rereading the Gospel accounts (Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22 and John 18), I wonder if there was not an echo of truth in Peter’s words, “I do not know him;’ an echo that we share in the passages of life in which we cannot see Christ. For he did not yet know the Risen Christ. It seems obvious that we deny Christ, if we remain in our sin, with no attempt to move forward into his redemption. But perhaps as believers, it is often not the dying Christ which we deny, but the risen one. I do not know him, in the places where we have not yet allowed the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, to pull us up out of the grave clothes. Voluminous grave clothes, in which we sometimes hide with our failings, our fears, our weakness, instead of allowing Jesus to gently fold them away. What are we afraid of, when it is finished? Peter, who had limited success walking on the water, ran undeterred through it, to get to the Risen Jesus; to see who this was that he did not yet know…And Jesus commissioned that thrice-failed Peter, by the same power that raised him from the dead, to feed sheep. Love me, Peter, and feed my sheep.

The echo of Jesus’ coming, rolled across the hillside from his birth, to his resurrection, commissioning shepherds with a message – an echo from the chambers of God’s heart… may it find a home in yours.

Lest you be snXlowed by Lent, or other seasons of life

Great Aunt Ruth…I call her that because it’s fitting, even though she is officially just, “Aunt Ruth,” by the branching of the family tree. I called her this morning to ask how she was getting along, given that she lives in a retirement community and I hadn’t talked with her in awhile. By some over-inflated sense of my place in the planet, I thought it might cheer her to hear from me…given that she lives in a retirement community, and per her calculation,has most recently celebrated the 5oth anniversary of her 39th birthday. I wanted to make sure she was doing okay, given that she lives in a  retirement community – ALONE – and travels with a walker.

On first try, I missed her. She was out to lunch with her book group, which was attended by the author of their latest read. When she returned my call, she informed me that she had been compelled to be on her best behavior because she disliked the book. Immensely. The chairman of the book group had exacted the behavioral promise days before, given that the author would be in attendance. But I got the full story when she returned my call. The book choice, for this group of octogenarians, was one in which the heroine (there are no main characters for Aunt Ruth) had been a lesbian who had attempted suicide but been kept alive for the birth of an ill-conceived child. Aunt Ruth found the author interesting, and not one to judge prematurely, will now have a  friend at the retirement center save his newspaper so she can read the author’s weekly column. She got right down to that, and the first column featured zombies. I called her because she lives in a retirement center, and I though she might be feeling a little, out of touch….

The next conversational topic was the projected family reunion, which she assures me is on her calendar. (I don’t have the dates yet.)

The third topic was the paring  down of her schedule, which has been hindered by an invitation from the activities director  to join the education board of a summer theatre program. This is not at the retirement center, but for school aged children: “I just could not say, “No.” They have, upon you-know-who’s suggestion, named the program, Gettin’ the Show on the Stage, since the program focuses upon the staging aspects of theatre production.

She has also thinned her schedule by going to inactive status in a parish ministry. (She still gets together twice a month with her most recent client, for lunch or an outing – she just doesn’t do meetings or paperwork anymore.)

Her taxes aren’t in yet…she has about 1.5 hours prep work remaining. She is admittedly dragging her feet due to frustration with current policy.

By this time, I was beginning to feel ‘updated.’ She asked about my children. We voiced concerns over the demands on another family member.

And last but not least, in true Aunt Ruth from, she brought up Lent: “When a friend asked me the other day if I had considered giving something up for Lent, I told her I had given up thinking about, giving up chocolate for Lent. Furthermore, it is working very well.”

With a shared round of laughter to bolster our quiet  ‘I love you’s, we said good-bye. Updated + cheered: Aunt Ruth is more than  ‘okay.’

jlf 2/13