Scorching Heat

Days and days with no rain. The grass crunches under our feet and the heat keeps us shut inside until the sun slides towards the horizon. Drought sucks the ponds lower and lower with each passing day as we wait. Wait for rain or cooler temperatures or cloud cover to provide relief from the relentless heat.

And it’s all we can talk about here these days…how hot it is, whether the power grid will break, when it will be over, comparing this summer to the scorcher that was 2011 and sparked unprecedented wild fires.

As much as I don’t want my mood to be governed by the weather, I’m fighting to cultivate contentment in this environment. Not ambivalence or dissociation …but true contentment. The attitude that acknowledges the reality of the struggle while also choosing to receive what I need from God to face it without despair or anxious striving.

The Guadalupe, a serene reminder of cool refreshment.

The physical heat is the most obvious and innocuous part of life to practice cultivating contentment. A baby step, a most basic exercise, in learning to trust God. That is where I find myself learning the lessons afresh. The lesson that ripples out into all the other areas as well.

Can I entrust more than my physical comfort to God? Can I place in His hands the unknown future? The worries that wake me up at night? Will He be enough for my kids in the avenues of life they must trod? What will it take for me to lay down my anxious striving to solve problems on my own, without God?

And the heat continues, reminding me day by day to take this life day by day, entrusting myself and others to God. The crisp, brown grass and scorching seatbelts a tangible clue to my desperate need for the spring of living water.

Today, what is reminding you of your need to rely on God?

Resonance

My son plays cello. No matter that we owned two violas, he wanted to play cello. Over the summer he took lessons because I wanted him to have something to do while his older siblings scampered around to jobs, hiking trips, and places with friends in cars.

Hearing him practice is a delight.

Once, his teacher moved one lesson online and a weird thing happened. While he was playing a scale, hitting the notes just right, the teacher’s cello all the way across town began picking up the sound waves and resonating a note. Through air, wires, chips, internet lines, then back through chips and wires and air that note traveled and replicate itself in the other cello.

When you think about it, that’s pretty incredible. Sound and music is one of the ways its hard for me to get out from under believing in the existence of God.

That resonance is what got me. One note moved through the air from one object and caused movement in another object.

Today I read about Peter at the last supper and then at that fateful campfire where he denied his friend, his teacher, the One he believed was the savior of his people.

It struck me that Peter didn’t know what was in himself. He was so sure that he would be loyal, that he would never… That all others might but not him.

And then he did the thing.

And Jesus turned and looked directly at Peter in that moment. When Peter met His gaze, he remembered what Jesus said would happen, what Peter so confidently denied could ever happen.

We don’t know anything about that look Jesus gave Peter. In my humanity I see raised eyebrows with I-told-you-so vibes because that’s how it works with me. Those moments when something comes true that I warned a kid about it takes everything in me not to raise my brows and waft off a distinct vibe even while I hold back the actual words.

What’s even more interesting is the interchange a few hours before. Jesus says to Peter three astounding things:

  1. Satan asked to mess with all of the disciples to see what will shake out
  2. I (Jesus) personally prayed for Peter that your faith would not fail
  3. I predict you’ll come back

I mean, tons of questions here for me. Did all the disciples get sifted or just Peter? I assume Jesus said ok? Jesus prayed that Peter’s faith would not fail yet Peter did fail.

And! Jesus seems to know that Peter will fail or why else would Jesus tell Peter that “when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers”?

That kind of blows my circuits when I really think about it. Did one of Jesus’ prayers not get answered with a yes? Of course we know that in the end Peter did betray Jesus but he also turned back and strengthened others.

Did Peter’s response right after this affect what happened? Did Peter’s following confident assertion that he was ready to go with Jesus to prison and death reveal that Peter needed to know more about himself without which he would not be ready to strengthen others?

There’s so much we don’t know but so much to know as well.

For me, I hate that so much of ministering to people involves living out of weakness, failure and suffering. Why does it have to be this way? Why is it that to follow Him, I must see and embrace those aspects of me that feel like nothing but failure?

I believe it relates to resonance. That phenomenon where some chord strikes the chord of another.

Could Peter ever lead the way Jesus displayed to him without a colossal failure followed by repentance and then restoration?

I don’t think so. Peter’s failure led him to an experience of restoration that transformed him into the humble servant Christ taught him to be.

And I don’t believe I or anyone can connect with the soul of another without the experience of being fully known in that moment of failure and then fully accepted and forgiven there too.

Those who are forgiven much love much, right?

And so it is that embracing our weakness is the striking chord that resonates in the souls of others who also seek the truth.

Walking the Blind Side

I posted this almost seven years ago as we navigated my dad’s terminal brain tumor diagnosis. This week   did not permit much time to write. As I perused past posts, and I contemplated the surprising escalation of conflict in Europe too near where my brother and his family live, I felt it eerily appropriate.

We all walk blind in this world and must always learn to follow.


His plate sat there half full of scrambled eggs as he reached for more. I watched as he spooned some more on the right side. Then he ate the right side leaving a line straight up the middle. Eggs on the left. No eggs on the right. I turned the plate and it was like a magic trick.

The brain is fascinating. When signals don’t come from the eyes, it fills in the blanks, interpreting from what it’s learned. My dad doesn’t realize he can’t see his left side. That means walking into walls and furniture, knocking things over.

Now he often needs help on his blind side to prevent a fall or running into things. It’s a lesson in humility, I’m sure. For me it’s a lesson in service.

I’m constantly watching and adjusting on the blind side, learning his limits, walking the fine line between parent and child. Sometimes I tell him like it is, and he follows. Other times there’s no leading him anywhere, only hanging on for the ride. Like when he wanted to do a pre-op snow angel outside the hospital.

Walking the blind side is a privilege, but he’s a man not used to being guided. He’s led where he doesn’t want to go. Like Peter in the Bible.

When you were young , you would tie your belt and walk wherever you wanted. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will tie you and carry you where you don’t want to go. John 21:18

At this point we’re not tying him up. Its a tempting option when he’s home alone and inclined to test limits that are steadily changing.

He’s not the only blind person. I’m as blind as my dad about what’s next. My mom less so, but this is the first brain tumor in our family. We pray it’s the last.

None of us wants to walk this path. We’re learning and we’re taking faltering steps into unknown territory. I’m growing wary of what I can’t see ahead, like my dad.

Follow Me. That’s the big question, bound on this path, will I follow Jesus? Will I go where I don’t want to go, because that’s where He’s going? What does faith look like on this path?

I will walk the blind side again today and tomorrow and for a long time to come. At least, it will feel long. Doctors say it will not be nearly long enough.

God knows the path. Will I follow?

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Climbing Stairs

Our first year overseas we lived in a dark, cold, damp, and generally unpleasant apartment. It occupied the 7th and top floor of a communist style cement block. There was no elevator.

The first few nights my quads felt like boulders. My bootcut jeans began to get snug from the speed skater size thighs I developed.

We got so tired of those stairs that we began taking risks. One time my husband got to the first floor, realized he needed my passport and called up for me to throw it down.

Yes. Throw it down to him.

I didn’t want to go down. He didn’t want to come up and it seemed reasonable to throw down proof of our identity to avoid climbing 7 flights of stairs.

Our cheery apartment block…

I watched it float down. When it got to the 6th floor I realized climbing 7 flights of stairs was much better than spending 10 days trying to get that document and the visa replaced.

The little, blue, very important book graciously avoided a couple awnings and a sewer grate before landing on the pavement.

Phew.

So, when a plum apartment opportunity opened up on the fourth floor, we jumped at the chance to rent it. Climbing four flights with groceries, books, friends… just our bodies… seemed divine.

In those days landlords needed a document giving special permission to rent to a foreigner. The police dispensed this document but it seemed to be taking a long, long time for our landlady to arrange the appointment at the police office.

We waited and waited for her to give us the word to show up at the police station with our documents. We called her many times and always left assured that she did want to rent to us. A divorce seemed to be complicating her ability to rent out the apartment, or so we gathered in our first year level language ability.

As is common in cross cultural situations, we didn’t understand a lot of what was going on at the time. We didn’t understand why we needed the permission from the police, or why she couldn’t get it. We didn’t understand why we were waiting and waiting to go to the police office right down the road.

But she was kind and we felt motivated to keep waiting on her and the apartment she was renting.

Then, one day the call came. She sounded rushed and hurried. She insisted that we show up at the police office that day at a specific time. No flexibility and lots of anxiety resounded in the call. It was strange but we grabbed our papers, skipped classes and met her.

Stamp, stamp, stamp…and the process was over after months of waiting. Finally our rental contract went through and we moved across the apartment complex, closer to friends and only four flights up from the road.

Much later I began to wonder how much I missed in that interchange. Did she bribe someone at the police station? Or just wait for the one police officer that owed her a favor?

Systems of favors and paybacks– social indebtedness or downright financial indebtedness– clouded most of the functioning bureaucracy but it took me a long time to identify early on. Even after more than ten years living in there, it took me a few extra beats to clue in that receiving something from a person could put me into a kind of debt with them.

It took many years for me to realize that I absorbed this cultural influence more than I knew. Accepting gifts or favors of time from people triggers an alert response to begin looking for ways to return the favor and get me out of an uncomfortable feeling of indebtedness.

Sunday I flipped to a passage in the Bible where God is described as a God who doesn’t take bribes. Huh. What does that mean?

I was also reading in Mark about how in Jesus’ day, some people devoted their wealth to God in some kind of ceremony or tradition. Then, because of this devotion, they resended their support of their parents in their old age. The money was going to something more important in their eyes…God’s work.

Funny thing is that in the first passage in Deuteronomy, right after it says God cannot be bribed, it also talks about how He cares for the orphans, widows, and foreigners–the vulnerable.

Devoting wealth to God began to seem to me like a form of bribery, getting into God’s good favor through giving something to Him. But then it missed the whole heart of God because God cannot be bribed.

And! Caring for the vulnerable is pretty important to God apparently. So important that Jesus seemed to say supporting the vulnerable in your family is more important than giving a lot to the church at their expense.

Our second apartment had a dreamy kitchen…one where I didn’t have to rest my forehead against a cabinet in order to do the dishes. Most people weren’t 5’9″

God and money and our soul are such fascinating topics!

Isn’t that how I behave so often with God too? Best behavior, nervous, anxious to please, gaming the system….

Yet, there is nothing more to pay…no more abundant grace to get for those who are in Christ Jesus. It all got settled and paid at the cross. My standing is secure.

It would be pure silliness to try and bribe God like I had any more to add to what He did.

Reflecting on those truths this week…remembering those rich years learning to love like God loves in a country where I did not fit in… and standing a little more secure.

Why try and bribe God? Just delight in this undeserved acceptance.

Past Year’s Reads

Reading without caring about time remains at the top of my list of indulgent behaviors. When I can crack a good book and just read late, late into the night I know I’m relaxing.

I’m learning this concept of “Total Work” that we live under especially in the western world. A philosopher named Pieper wrote about how people are transformed into workers and nothing else. As I read about it, I realized how much I live in this reality of feeling like I always need to be productive even in rest. Reading is one activity that combats this tendency for me, especially reading fiction.

Every night I read fiction. There are so many books out there about our world and how to live in it (see that total work thing in play?) but fiction inhabits my nightstand as a means to just enjoy life. Good fiction hopefully!

So, what good books can I recommend these days? Oh so many!


A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens:

I ended my year with some Dickens, which I have not read for 20 some years. He’s just a lot, you know? But A Christmas Carol felt like an appropriate way to put my heart into the holidays. It did not disappoint or fail to convict either! If you haven’t read this one, I’m sure you can pick it up for a song at the used bookstore or on Kindle. Set it aside for Christmas 2022.


A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles:

How do you make a life within the walls of a hotel? Sounds a little too familiar, doesn’t it? The main character is sentenced to live out his days within a luxury hotel. He ends up leading a very full life within those walls, impacting many lives through some tumultuous times in Russian history. A delightful read.


Imperial Woman: The Story of the Last Empress of China by Pearl S. Buck:

This telling of Chinese history from the imagined perspective of the Empress enthralled me. Some of the themes of grievances are still in play today in world events. If you want to understand some of the tension between China and the west now, this is a more engaging method than some others. The loss of position and prominence for this empire and the efforts to regain a footing on the world stage explain so much of what we see in the news today. Maybe it can be seen with a little more empathy after reading this book.


Letters to a Young Pastor by Eugene Peterson and Eric Peterson:

Ok, this one is not fiction. It’s more a memoir but its so good I can’t keep it a secret.

Eric Peterson compiled these letters his dad sent him at his request to learn more about his dad’s interior thoughts on pastoring. Eugene fleshes out so very personally what it means to live out the unique role of shepherding others spiritually in this day and age when so much is so impersonal. Each chapter takes us into Eugene’s mind, heart, and struggles to form out in real time how to live as a “faithful failure.”

Every time I read the sign off at the end of each chapter, I think of my own dad who was also so proud of his kids and so invested in our lives and life work. Sitting with Eugene is a little bit like sitting with dad again.


The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles:

What can I say? When I read one book by an author and resonate deeply with it, I look for other books they’ve written. My kids gifted me this book for Christmas and I enjoyed it. An almost modern day hero’s journey, the story follows two brothers as they strive to make a life of their own in the world. Who do they need to keep in their lives? What does loyalty look like? It is a worthy read!


Beyond these books, I read quite a bit of suspenseful fiction of the unreliable narrator sort. Trying to figure out what the heck was going on was pretty entertaining for a good chunk of this past year. They are edgier and may keep you up at night but sometimes that’s pretty fun.

Was it good fiction? I’m not sure! The Death of Mrs. Westaway and One by One by Ruth Ware are my top recommendations in that category.

I’m stumbling back into writing on my blog so if you got this far, you get a gold star for plodding through my rusty, low bar attempt to just get words out again. Thank you!

Leave any book recommendations you think I should check out in the comments please.

The Power of A Gentle Lead

Lily is a lunger. I stopped walking her for a week because a back muscle spasm left me doubtful I possessed the strength to control her without incapacitating myself. Its embarrassing really, an indictment on our dog parenting skills, to have such an ill-behaved dog.

She seems ferocious with her heavy chain collar we bought to walk her. Don’t judge y’all.

It helped a little but didn’t keep her from pulling when she approached the big Collie she dislikes. Some dogs she likes and some she can’t stand. She can’t stand that glorious Collie. It’s hard to know how she judges or what they’re saying to her that sets her off. We just walk past, heads hung, sheepish smiles of apology on our faces as our dog barks her face off.

Our neighbors wouldn’t know she spends most of the time in our home sacked out on a couch or bed, completely docile. She behaves like an attack dog in public. I’m sure we’ve avoided a break in just due to her behavior on walks in our neighborhood.

We went to the pet store to look at lizards, my son’s absolute favorite category of the animal kingdom. We wandered into the leash aisle and browsed a bit before spotting a box with an idyllic picture of a cute dog on a walk.

What must that be like I wondered?

We agreed it was a lot to spend for a thin cord contraption but I’d seen other dog parents using it. Their dogs did what I wanted Lily to do. They walked beside their owner and generally behaved themselves. I admired their behavior and thought I’d like to walk my dog in a similar, calm fashion. My son convinced me the purchase was inevitable.

So, I bought the new lead and wondered what would happen when we put it on Lily. Could this little cord really hold back 35 pounds of dog torque? Ok, you’re laughing but it’s a lot when she she sees a deer and imagines the kill.

Here’s an example of what brings out the killer instinct in our dog…Bambi.

I was doubtful. I saved the receipt and my son and I expressed gratitude that the box wasn’t one of those contraptions that needed a box cutter to open. We opened it without losing a finger and raised our eyebrows. It was small and thin for what it claimed it could accomplish.

We finally figured out how to put it on Lily and everything changed.

Immediately.

She went wherever I led her. A new problem emerged, our leash dragged on the ground and got under her paws. Trucks went by, she hardly noticed. Bunnies jumped and she just glanced at them. We walked by the yard of her arch nemesis, Cujo we call him, and she reacted not a bit.

Lily was a new dog.

A tiny bridle-like leash brought her to submission in an instant. She’s going to get more walks now. She will make new friends. People might break into our house but at least we can show our faces in the neighborhood without folks checking to make sure she’s up to date on her rabies vaccine.

I’m going to look like a queen with my medium sized dog walking right beside me.

Being a city girl…ok, a suburb girl…I never saw the power of a bridle quite so clearly until now. And, of course, it reminds me of more than just controlling animals.

Small things can control big things. Small things can turn powerful things. Small things can do big things. James, Jesus’ brother, connected this phenomena to our personal lives. Our tongues. Our speech.

It wreaks havoc in our lives, sets things on fire. The only way out, the only way to bring it in check is to submit our whole selves to Jesus Christ’s gentle lead.

This year I can’t believe some of the things said by people I used to respect. Insults that were off limits in the past got plastered across social media. I grieved the evidence of what lay in the hearts of so many. It became evident we couldn’t control much and tongues wagged, set things on fire and burned relationships to the ground.

I can’t believe things I’ve said in my life, things I deeply regret and needed forgiven. When I begin to see the power of my words it is sobering. How can I have such power to speak words that hurt so deeply? Yet I do, we all do.

It became so common place to breathe out angry words, it was held up as being brave and honest. I think, in reality, it was just a power play, a stab at controlling…something.

Now here we are, divided, suspicious, and scared because we did not put on that bridle and submit ourselves to God who gives the power to resist those forces that tempt us to try and control what we never could control.

I know the arguments.

What if He leads us on a way we don’t want to go? What if it hurts, what He wants us to do for Him? What if we suffer? What if we’re not the winners in this world but we look more like losers.

Jesus told His follower, Peter, what to do under such circumstances…you must follow Me.

Peter, you follow Me and you will lose earthly power and reputation, you won’t even get to dress yourself or decide the next place you sleep.

And Peter submitted to Jesus but somehow I sense we forget. I know I forget.

I forget that life with Christ was never about power but about sacrifice. It was never about my way, but His Way. The call to follow Jesus was never about being in control and it was always about making disciples.

So if I submit to Him, maybe my tongues will stop lunging at other people and I’ll look like Jesus a little more. He’ll seem a little more like who He is because I display who He is a little more accurately.

At least, that’s what I hope for myself. I’m not sure I’ll ever get comfortable with the bridle this side of heaven but I know I need it…desperately…and I know I’m not alone.

Maintenance and the Soul

For the past many, many weeks an army of construction workers rotates around our neighborhood repairing the curbs. A section is cut out, dug out, framed and then poured. Some sidewalks are repaired but some are not. Eventually, the street gets a new, deep black layer of asphalt.

On dozens of walks we discuss whether the work even needs to be done. I mean, I’ve about lost a wheel on the pothole near the kids school and the roads over there look like they need the work a bit more urgently. It’s all quite a mystery and the neighborhood keeps scratching its head.

This last week the condo in Miami collapsed on top of itself. One floor on another floor on another floor. Maintenance was needed but the problems didn’t seem as urgent as we now know they were. So many souls lost. Much is yet unknown but maintenance was desperately needed.

And maintenance is a total drag. Its expensive and it feels like it’s not really needed urgently so it gets put off. Like painting our house or figuring out why one slab of the driveway is sinking. We know that the problem is growing, will require some work someday, and it will be expensive.

Walked by this house once and itched to trim, paint, and repair it!

It doesn’t seem worth it until the problem is way beyond minor.

And so it is with my soul too. Things are working so why dig into that tendency to make a joke instead of respond differently, engaging the other person more lovingly? I’ve read the Bible through a few times so I probably remember what it says well enough to put it aside for awhile, right?

But our world and our souls are constantly pulled in the direction of chaos, disorder, and decay. If the house doesn’t get painted, the wood rots. If the source of the water leak isn’t found, the damage extends. If the crack isn’t investigated we don’t know how deep it goes or how quickly it is growing. If I don’t read my Bible, I forget.

Then crisis hits and we scratch our heads trying to figure out what went wrong. I then face the reality that I didn’t pay attention. I didn’t maintain.

I didn’t want to put in the daily, seemingly mundane toil of repairing what wasn’t quite totally broken. It didn’t seem worth the effort to shore up what was weak or protect what was vulnerable to the very active forces in the world.

Honestly, anything that holds together or makes sense, an atom kept in stable balance or even an atom that races toward another to stabilize itself, shows me an aspect of God’s character by revealing that order still exists. There is a force, God, that keeps things together, that heals, that puts together our souls and keeps them together.

He is the One that does that for our souls. Maintenance for the human heart involves surrendering ourselves, mind and body, to His skilled hand. It’s easy to think we can and need to maintain ourselves, but it seems more that my work is to cede the work to God Himself and comply with His Way.

The surrendered life, the crucified life, the cruciform life.

The abiding life.

That is the life that is kept in perfect peace, solid against the dark forces of the world that would tear us apart.

Re-entry

We walked around the busy grocery store, my sister-in-law and I, carefully following our list and eager to escape back to the quiet lake house retreat. She just returned to the US after 2 years uninterrupted overseas. You know why, pandemic.

Grocery stores are among the most overwhelming re-entry experiences. The choices are different, the quantities are measured in different scales, and in America the abundance can be overwhelming. Choices become more difficult. Mentally tallying the dollar signs from the foreign currency taxes the brain. At some point, you just give up and dump it in the cart resolving to care another day.

America is the land of opportunity. The opportunity to have it your way. To customize. To choose. To never see the back of the grocery store shelf. To not have to rework your menu mid shopping trip because multiple things are unavailable. To not experience as many social restrictions or curtailed freedoms.

Except for this past year and a half.

In many ways, 13 years of life overseas prepared me well to encounter a lack of toilet paper, a reworked menu, an acceptance of social restrictions, and jumps through bureaucratic regulations. We signed up for difficulty when we made the decision to live overseas.

We painted a lot of things this last year, including our front door, a portal to a different place…like re-entry!

Life in lock down reminded me of some aspects of life overseas and I relished the time to jump off the treadmill of the busy American lifestyle so many warned us would come when we moved back to America. After 5 years of life on this side of the Pacific, we’d definitely become increasingly busy and committed. And not just us, but our kids had commitments on top of ours.

Jumping off the treadmill was a gift in many ways. I read through the Bible a couple times because I didn’t have to get anyone off to…well…anywhere. We spent a lot of time together as a family, something which I ached for as our kids got older and busier. It felt like a gift.

But we also lost friends, grieved the unfairness of life, felt guilty at times for having enough, wrestled with how to relate to others during a particularly divisive time in a country that we already struggled to fit into after 13 years living away.

Now life is picking up again. We are faced with re-entry in a wholly different form than ever before in our lives. Alongside an entire world, we are all wondering what we are entering.

Because its not really re-entry. Its entry.

I feel this push and pull about what is to come, what we are entering. I don’t want to go back to the insane schedule that challenged us trying to find time together as a family. But it’ back. The school extra curriculars are laying out time intensive schedules.

Everything is starting up and I’m feeling a little like my sister-in-law in the grocery store. Overwhelmed. Stressed. And feeling like I just need to dump some stuff in the cart of life and try to figure it out later.

But this isn’t cereal or potato chips. Its time and energy and cultivating a life in dependence to God in ever changing circumstances.

Re-entry and entry take time…mostly time to think, feel, and align ourselves with what following Jesus looks like in new seasons of life. And besides a world opening up…kind of…I also have a daughter a year away from graduating. That alone is catching my attention and heart.

Another sign that I am entering, not re-entering. My life will change drastically soon.

So maybe you can relate to me on some level with our current times or maybe not. I have a feeling that many of us may need a little more time to do things we once did so effortlessly before a global pandemic.

For those that have not experienced the grocery store scenario of the newly returned expat, let me tell you it’s ok. It’s normal. It will take time. It will make you angry, sad, confused, insecure, and probably many other things to navigate the new world with its new challenges.

But in all that unsettledness, I’ve learned that following Jesus is the surest foothold through rocky life transitions. Something that all that reading the Bible brought into focus this past year.

If you’re looking for a first step, I suggest the Gospel of John and reading about Jesus who pretty much shook up every life He encountered.

As always, thank you for reading my thoughts and musings! I’ve struggled to write this year in the midst of so much…well…just so, so much of everything. I resolved today to write and break the silence and I’m so thankful you got to this point in my ramblings!

For the love…

It’s all about Peter this spring. Peter, the hot headed follower of Jesus. The one who chopped off a guys ear. Jesus put it back on FYI and I have some questions about what that looked like in real time…no…slo-mo!

I would really like to see that in slo-mo.

I have expectations for heaven and one of them is slo-mo video recaps. It’s going to be so much better than the best tiktoks, right?!

So, Peter. I get Peter’s personality at times. I want quick fixes, zaps that would put everything to rights. Maybe not lightening but that would be cool sometimes. Expedient.

Peter got it wrong a lot with Jesus and Jesus doesn’t make sense to me sometimes either. He goes against all we think should be true about life and our world sometimes.

Like suffering, that makes no sense to me at all sometimes. The concept of suffering having meaning and experiencing joy in suffering just really stumps me. I avoid suffering unnecessarily. If I can be comfortable, I choose that path. Peter was suffering avoidant, too, and Jesus really called him out on that.

I mean really called him out! Jesus used the word Satan as I recall.

In 1 Peter, though, there’s a real change. Peter, the quick-fix, suffering avoidant snob is a different man. Now he’s telling Christians that were driven from their homes to rest secure as they suffer for their faith.

Old Peter wanted to call down lightening to resolve problems. New Peter is saying wait, hope, let suffering do its work removing the bloat and impurities from our lives.

Contrary to the positivity all around us today–Peter owns the suffering they experience, we experience. It’s real. He owns that its hard. He acknowledges that we cannot afford to be passive in suffering but we must be sober and alert and it matters what we do when we suffer. But just thinking positive thoughts doesn’t make it go away.

And more surprising, all this suffering and waiting and hoping results in something otherworldly–greater love. When we submit to the trials and the suffering, the goal is not that we become more with-it, disciplined, and productive people.

Peter says we become more sincere lovers of other people.

So, if you, like me, are chaffing under the weight of the things that are not right, under the displacement we feel in the world, Peter has got a lot to say to you too.

Old Peter is pretty fun to read about but new Peter. New Peter is the one I want to spend time with. He’s the one that gives the true filling of courage for hard times.

He has lived it. He loves. He became the shepherd Jesus charged him to become when Peter was coming out of his greatest failure.

So, as we live it too. As we face all our avoidant, quick-fix tendencies and live under our circumstances with that living hope inheritance with Jesus, we will be changed too.

And we will love. And won’t the world be better for it? And won’t Jesus shine?

Stepping into this New Year

As news unfolds this week, there is hope mixed with uncertainty and suspense. A vaccine is rolling out but cases rise as a new variant of Covid spreads. Just when I want to rely on the future looking a certain way, uncertainty prevails yet again.

New Year’s resolutions feel ridiculous after a year that upended so many of our plans. What do we do with this milestone this year? 

We recently saw the movie News of the World, which I highly recommend. Tom Hanks and Texas. Really, y’all, what’s not to love?

I read the book a couple years ago and loved it. The movie does it justice.

Its beautiful, heart-rending, and important. This year we can all identify with the losses of the two main characters. With the dangers they face in a hard, cruel world. And with the importance of relationship and connection.

It’s a must-see.

One main theme is about what to do with who we were and who we are now. Do we look back and hold it all or just keep moving forward in a straight line?

In some ways, a little of both is necessary.

While this year may feel like an anomaly, and hopefully it is, it still bears weight on what we are and what we will become.

It shaped us and will continue shaping us for years to come. Looking back on the past year has never felt so important.

Read on to see what that practice has looked like for me a couple years ago…


I hardly ever make it to midnight awake. Usually I roll over about midnight, disrupted by the rumble of a few fireworks, then drift back to sleep. The day dawns and I wake to find myself in a whole new year that feels just like another morning.

Except that most new years days I spend a chunk of time reviewing the last year. I took up this habit one year when we lived overseas and I spent a quiet, sunny morning going over Michael Hyatt’s 7 Questions to Ask About Last Year. I still remember the chair I sat in, it was that powerful.

Since that year, I look forward to reflecting every new year. Lest you be afraid this somehow leads to those resolutions, be afraid. Somehow, these questions and reflecting on the past year just naturally lead to revealing what’s important to take with me into the next year.

Maybe it’s also the coffee that kicks in about the same time, but I end up holding onto a few thoughts about what I want the next year to include, if it’s up to me.

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Remembering is a funny thing. I lived a lot of life this last year, and forgot quite a bit of it. Memory to me feels like I’m holding a bunch of groceries at the grocery store like when I think I don’t need a cart. I can only hold so much and my brain just drops things  that it can’t keep holding onto. Sometimes they are the right things, sometimes not. It can be startling what I forget and remember.

Why? Why do I remember some things and forget others? I’m not sure. But its a reality. Reflecting on the past year is a means to much grace and mercy. I look into the year and lay out the events and experiences before the Lord and myself and sift through them. Are there themes? Regrets? Disappointments? Joys? Always, yes.

This year, I stood back and looked and saw a year of great adventure and drama. As I sorted through it, I saw more clearly the reality I’ve felt as the year drew to a close. It was a roller coaster year…again. I’m ready for a little boring. A bit less adrenaline.

Extensive travel, romantic drama, medical issues, rich family time, and ministry to others defined our year. It was a good year. It was also a full year with lots of ups and downs, twists and turns. So many good things but also a few very real, hard, new things to navigate.

In the middle of it, it has been easy, maybe even necessary, to just pack experiences in my bag of memory and do the next thing that needs doing. The problem with that is that I need to look up every once in a while and see the bigger picture, the distances traveled, the goals ahead, the victories and sorrows along the way.

Like a rest stop on the journey, I need the time to reflect so I can acknowledge God’s hand in it all, and recognize that He has been with me the whole way. That He sees and He cares even if it’s not all worked out, resolved, or better. I can have joy when I look back and remember what He did work out too.

What distilled over the course of my morning was that…

  • writing is still very important to me. I regretted not keeping it up this past year. I need to make time to write.
  • exercise took a back seat for different chunks of the year and that was necessary. It is now important that it not stay in the back seat.
  • making peer friends in this season of life is challenging because of the many demands on life. I greatly value having good friends and I need to keep moving forward in cultivating friendship.

Notice there’s not a lot of specific goals. I don’t really have a word for the year. But, now I have 3 areas of life that I know are important to me that need some attention. It helps tie a tiny, imperfect bow on the past year and move a bit more confidently into a new year.

If you end of spending the time to go through this process, please share what came out of it for you!