Category Archives: Allender Center

Friendship Friday ~Jesus Showed Up

Jesus showed up at just the right time.

My Bible reading plan this year is chronological. That means intensive Old Testament time. Nine months to be exact. God’s word is always alive and powerful, speaking to wherever we are in the moment. The minor prophets were calling to me for months. As was the weeping one. There was lots of weeping.

Steve would tease me before bed, Time to be encouraged by a dose of Lamentations.

In a strange way, I am encouraged by the Old Testament. It is full of mess and grief and people who see God directly, hear from him specifically, and still do the opposite. It has people who follow the rules and are foiled and who break them and are blessed.

There are stories that occur over chapters and those in just a few verses, whose magnitude is more real to me the more I live and experience life. The Old Testament is a reminder that there is indeed nothing new under the sun.

Nothing. New.

In the midst of poor choices, direct disobedience, chaos, and confusion, God is still glorified and working all things. I am neither a theologian nor a Bible scholar. That is not what this is about. I am not trying to prove points or make cases. I may be a kindred spirit with Jeremiah, but I digress.

This is about Jesus showing up this week, as I finally made it to the New Testament. How timely to read about his entrance into our world on a day when the horror was magnified. Even though he has been here all along and is well-acquainted with our sorrow and grief, it brought comfort to be reminded again.

He chose to come to us.

It reminds me of one of my children and the Baby Jesus story.

One year, a particular child was in kindergarten. His Sunday School teacher gave each child in the class a plastic nativity scene to assemble. She gave each parent a sealed envelope with a note and the Baby Jesus inside. The note contained instructions about helping the child assemble the nativity scene and how to respond when they noticed the baby was missing. We were to put it in the manger on Christmas Day.

This particular child tore into the box immediately in the van after church. Where is he? Where is the Baby Jesus? He demanded.

Determined to follow the plan, I mentioned that it was not Christmas yet. We would have to wait and see.

Come on, Mom. He already came! Now where is it?

Laughing, I had to admit that he had me, as I pulled it out of the envelope.

That is how it feels. Jesus already came. He has been in my Old Testament reading, and I know that. In the midst of all that is wrong, there is also right. I am not pretending to have the answers. I am just grateful to be resting in the comfort of the Gospels.

 

 

 

Where are the Words?

Trauma takes our words which is why I sit in shock and disbelief over the news of a mass shooting in Las Vegas yesterday. The post I had hoped to write feels trite and self-centered in the wake of hearing about those who are only beginning to grieve the loss of loved ones and whose lives are forever altered by bullets and blood. Where are the words for this?

I did not hear the news until everyone had been dropped off at school. Switching from morning music to NPR, I was stunned by the story and the sounds of chaos that the soundbites played. My heart sank as I engaged the latest in a series of traumas that have been only a social media click or news report away.

Yesterday Steve was listening to an Allender Center Podcast on catastrophic stories while cleaning the kitchen. I joined him in the space to begin lunch preparation for the upcoming week. I had listened to this episode when it originally aired. Houston was the focus, having been left in the wake of the Hurricane Harvey catastrophe.

Sadly, Houston is now old news in the world of media coverage. We barreled on to scenes from Florida and Irma and then to the islands with Maria, and even those images are fading. New sights and sounds of trauma are here to flood us.

Yet there are still people living the trauma that overtook them. Just because we no longer see the pictures, does not mean that the houses have been rebuilt, the people have food, water, and clothing, that infrastructures are safe. Lives have been forever changed. Loved ones grieve from a distance, helpless and hurting.

I enter the house, bracing myself with dread. I know what will come later in the day, should I choose to look and listen ~ the comments, the commentary, the anger, the solutions, the accusations. I was looking forward to this month with anticipation, and now it just feels heavy. What is the point of anything? It is easy for me to slide down the path of despair.

The thief comes to steal, kill, destroy.

Dewey jumps up on my leg, patting me with his paws, waiting for me to clip on his leash for our morning walk. I leash him, grab a bag, and leave my phone in my room, choosing to disconnect and unplug even if only for half and hour. We walk.

The air is crisp, the sky is brilliant, the sun is dazzling, the shadows are long. Dewey steps along happily engaging the world as we do together each morning. He invites me to presence in his dog-like way, by doing his new trick of jumping and grabbing his leash in his mouth as if to say, Look at me walking myself! Aren’t I clever? Watch me jump!

I choose to see the beauty, because the broken is all around. It’s on the length of sidewalk I did not walk, because I know the dead squirrel is there, and I do not want to see or smell death right now. I almost stepped in it last night. The terror is real. I walk and ponder and pray.

Returning home, I settle onto my favorite couch with my Bible and journal. Lighting a candle the color of tears, I am reminded that Jesus weeps with me, and that he is here. He is Emmanuel, God with me, in the midst of the chaos and confusion when I have no words. I don’t have words for this.

I am grateful that I chose to love this morning before I knew this story. I drove the forgotten items into school without anger. I laughed over the irony of the poor quiz grade while signing the interim envelope. I let the little things go. I put on my Do Justice, Love Mercy, Be Humble shirt before I knew.

It reminds me of how to love, because that is what there is when there are no words. And we never know when we will no longer have the chance or the choice.

 

God of the Great Wall

I entered the final session of the final day, closing out my season of pursuing the Lay Counseling Certificate at the Allender Center. Group had ended in a profound way for me. Deep insights and keen observations by fellow members left me feeling settled and seen and incredibly grateful for the experience. There had been much goodness leading up to the arrival of these fast-approaching, fleeting, final moments.

Transition from the small group room to the large group area a floor below was quick. I needed to be present and on time for the final gathering around tables. Amidst chatting and ducking into the restroom, I instinctively grabbed my phone for a glance at the screen shots I had taken when I woke up that Sunday morning.

Facebook reminded me of where I was six years ago on that day. Did I want to share what was stirring with the others around the table?

Six years earlier, I had stepped out of my comfort zone and agreed to a trip to China with my sisters and three other women. Together we shared and experienced and grew. I brought back meaningful memories along with the souvenirs displayed around my home. They became part of my eclectic decor.

I had walked on the Great Wall at the end of a challenging trip where I faced many fears and insecurities and learned more about myself and my limits. Led by a local guide, I was instructed on how to pose and jump for this picture.

Following his instructions, trusting what felt counterintuitive, the shot became one of my favorites from the trip. Touristy? Of course. Fun? Absolutely. It popped up as a Facebook memory, as well.

I decided to risk sharing what was in my heart with those who had shared so much with me. The goodness that was spilling over was hard to contain. Passing my phone around I began,

This is where I was six years ago today. I was walking on the Great Wall of China with a Chinese man guiding me just as I have had a Chinese man leading me in group this year. In fact, their names are the same. Just as I had to trust what I didn’t understand about taking this picture, and the whole cultural experience in China, so I had to trust what I didn’t understand about the group process and the whole experience this year. I am amazed that God knew six years ago that this is where I would be on this day six years later. He knew I would be sitting in this space around this table with all of you. And he also knew that in my group would be two other Asian men that would become like brothers. I am so grateful for this kindness. My souvenirs and decor from that trip to China hold so much more meaning now.

That Sunday morning I felt seen by God in so many ways on so many levels. While my head knows that God always sees and knows me, my heart does not always feel it. In that moment I felt seen by the God of the Great Wall, the One who knows where I will be six years from now even when I cannot see. I can trust in the God of Miracles who met me in that space and is still with me now. I can trust and remember the goodness.

 

 

Double Portion

Goodnight! Happy Mother’s Day Eve.

A smiling face wished me well at the very end of a particularly long day. It had been a particularly long week that led to a moment where I felt tired and not too fond of mothering. I received both the smile and the words in the spirit offered, though I struggle with Mother’s Day every year.

I’m never having kids! They’re brats, and they don’t listen to you!

My teenage self made this vow that obviously did not stick. Of course kids didn’t listen to their eldest sister, even when she is supposed to be in charge. Especially then. My adult self gave birth to eight children, four of whom have reached adulthood, and four who are still on their way.

I remember being 27, having just birthed my fourth child. It was a ten-pound, four-ounce boy who shocked and surprised us all. Where were you hiding him? asked the midwife. I was not unusually large and had not gained excess weight. I was in love once I regained consciousness and energy.

Baby number four rounded out the bunch, giving us two boys and two girls. I thought it was the perfect number of children and remember thinking I would be content to be finished. People wouldn’t ask if I was trying for a particular sex or if I was disappointed to not have a particular gender or any number of the rude things they feel entitled to chime in about when you have a family of a certain size.

There was one technical difficulty. I didn’t have a voice to express this, nor did my husband have the ears to hear me even if I could. So there was a bind that is still being processed and sorted. We are still finding words for the story of us.

In my 30’s more children came. Four more, to be exact. When all was said and done, eight children were grown in and birthed from my body, one at a time. People ask. That is a lot of pregnancy, birth, postpartum, breastfeeding, diapering, hormones, mothering. A lot.

Eight children is a lot and my hard thing.

Four children was my perfect family size, and I would tell you if you asked. I would even joke that it was so perfect that I did it twice, including baby bunching when I had four kids under the age of five. Twice. It brought goodness, and it brought grief.

I have struggled with my story of mothering. I have cringed at the assumptions made about me by people who have no idea. I have grieved my departure from the lives of my bigs when caring for the littles was all-consuming. I have wept over what I have tried to, but could ultimately not, control.

Then God, in incredible, generous kindness, brought healing to this place in my heart during the final weekend of my certificate training in Seattle.

Rachel Clinton was teaching from Isaiah 61. As she read the passage, I heard these words

Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion; Instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot; therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion; they shall have everlasting joy. Isaiah 61:7 (ESV)

My heart was touched in the deepest of places, as I felt a shift from duty to delight, from obligation to honor, from fear to freedom. In that moment I heard God say, I have given you a double portion.

What a terrifying gift! What truth.

Yes, I have a good inheritance. Psalm 16:6 (ESV)

I am blessed.

Miraculous Change

Miracles can happen. I attest to this in the midst of experiencing miraculous change. I wonder, though, if it is also the result of hard work. Am I in the middle of a miracle? Or is this the fruit of faith?

For years, deep inside my soul, unrest and fear coexisted with a helping of added pressure to perform. It was as if I had lost any ability to make choices. Had I ever experienced the power of active choice?  

I knew how to be passive and allow others to choose for me. I bore a burden of expectations, both other-imposed and self. If you can check off all of the boxes on this big list for everyone else, THEN maybe you can do something for yourself.

It is amazing that I did not self-destruct. In the midst of many struggles and losses, God in his deep kindness kept meaningful parts me intact ~ my singing voice, my body, my health. I am so grateful for that miracle.

There were small spaces that I claimed in the midst of the bigness of life. I found space to exercise, to read my Bible, to listen for the still, small voice, to cultivate what I could of relationships in the midst of whatever chaos was presenting, to care for my children, to love my husband.

I chose to stay open to my husband, even when I could not feel. In the midst of internal loneliness, I continued to engage external connection with him. In the midst of the fear of pregnancy and loss of voice over my body’s capacity to grow and bear children, I kept trying. Trusting. Even when I did not understand and had no words to bring, I tried.

I journaled a lot. It is a miracle that I allowed hard words to flow from my heart to paper.

I said yes to things that terrified me, like traveling internationally to be on a team leading worship at a women’s retreat. I said yes to lowering my guard and letting people peek behind the tinted automatic window of my heart before raising it up when their vision became too intense.

I kept going.

I said yes to an invitation to step deeper into my story at the Journey, parts one and two, with Open Hearts Ministry. I seized the weeks, those two years in a row, in the midst of a full life. I did not wait for the perfect time. That is miraculous.

I started a blog. Not sure of the end, not knowing where it was going, I threw words into cyberspace that would later be read by a woman who would reach back to me when I reached out to her. I risked being seen more closely, and miraculously ended up in a space of transformational friendship.

It feels miraculous that at 45 I am finally connecting with myself on a deeper level. How did this happen? Why now? I do not know. What makes a miracle miraculous?

I did not wake up one morning miraculously changed. I fought for my heart every step of the way and allowed others to fight for me, as well. God fought for me when I could do nothing but stand still and see his salvation. I let people in and relinquished the control that I held so tightly, concerning what people saw in me, when they saw it, and how.

Miraculously, healing came. Seasons and spaces of small heart miracles, sometimes involving just getting out of bed, led to this latest big miracle breaking open over my head, shattering and spilling me out all over the place. Slowing me down.

Your voice is slower.

You sounded different in your voicemail. Slower.

Wow! It’s already 7:00! Usually you have to leave to get somewhere else after this much time.

These words and more were spoken over me in the days following the most current miraculous. It was on the heels of my third weekend in Seattle at the Allender Center, pursuing the Lay Counseling Certificate. In this space I miraculously chose to risk, share, and be seen by others. I succumbed to holy terror.

Something happened. I still do not see the miracle clearly, because, Friends, we cannot see our own faces. All I know is that when we take off the mask or roll down the tinted automatic window, allowing others to see us, we invite miracles to happen. The fruit of that faith is sweet.

Scenes From Seattle, part 4

This was my only daylight arrival into Seattle. It was 7:00pm. My other flights landed at 9:00pm.

These tulips graced the table where a friend spoke deep truth to my restless heart Thursday night. My spirit landed, and I began to settle into what was being offered to me this weekend.

Venti cappuccino helped me begin Friday’s lecture.

I took my final yoga class Friday afternoon. These candles represented the light and life that Sarah and her Friday and Saturday yoga classes brought to me each visit.

This weekend’s coloring page had owls scattered through it, a meaningful observation to me. Can you spot the owl(s)?

After class on Saturday, G picked me up and we drove to Discovery Park to take advantage of the sun and the view. It was the most sun we had all weekend. I was grateful for his thoughtfulness.

Sunday morning I begin my final ascent to the bus stop for my last ride into the city.

Sunday’s bus stop is quiet.

I am happy to have caught the early bus to make it in time for Sunday morning informal worship in the chapel.

This space is one of my favorites. Oh, the music and memories held here.

Coffee and question of the day.

Final Uber to the airport. Goodbye, Seattle.

There is so much more held in my heart from the gift of these last six months. To view scenes from my other trips, click here, here, and here.

Thank you for joining me on this journey, Dear Readers. I have been blessed by each of you more than you even know. Stay tuned as I continue to sort through where I have been and where I am going!

Playful Goodness

I sat in a window seat, solo in my row, listening to Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat for nostalgia’s sake. Having just eaten an in-flight snack, I was holding off on opening the small bottle of red wine and pouring it into the blue plastic cup.

Oh, the wine . . .

I really debated whether I should order a glass on this flight or not, and it wasn’t because of the cup. I have embraced that there are acceptable times to drink wine from plastic cups, which include, but are not limited to, outdoor weddings, poolside, anytime an excessive amount of money would need to be spent to rent glassware when plastic will do, and on airplanes.

My first airplane wine was purchased for me by a fellow group member who happened to be on the same flight back in November. Though she was in the front of the plane, and I was in the back, she came bounding to my row with the words, I want to buy you a glass of wine, but you have to tell me what kind you want.

I chose white, and she returned to her seat. The food and drink carts drew closer and closer to my row, and my anxiety level rose. How will this work? Do I ask or say, Hey, I’m the one who gets the wine!?

I found myself wishing that she had never said anything about buying me wine. Then I would not have ended up in this awkward space of having to speak up. Why does it have to be this hard? What do I do now? The cart is gone, and I have no wine, and I don’t want to call attention to myself or need.

The struggle was real. I finally rose from my seat to walk towards the front of the plane and ask how I was going to get the wine. I fought feelings of shame and contempt that threatened to engulf me for having questions about her gift and needing further attention to receive it.

What?! You didn’t get your wine? That is not acceptable!

She jumped up and walked to the back of the plane to ask the flight attendant about it. He had forgotten, and as a result, comped her the glass. It was free. She sat in the empty seat in my row with me for awhile and we talked. I processed what had happened and felt grateful for the practice of speaking up for myself.

Settling into my seat on the third flight, her words, Have a glass of wine for me! Were ringing in my ears or eyes via a text. I had never ordered a glass for myself on a plane, and decided to do so. I knew she would ask.

Red wine, please.

Taking my card, the flight attendant looked at it, then handed it back. No swipe. No cost.

Leaving the card in a conspicuous location on my tray in case he was returning later to swipe it, I turned and continued the conversation I was having with the young woman in the window seat who was heading home to Seattle. The attendant did not return.

I fully believe Jesus bought me that glass of wine and met me in that space.

Which brings me back to the window seat of this, my final flight to Seattle. I thought back to waiting at the gate. I had texted Tina, the friend I am staying with, to tell her I was getting ready to board the plane. She teased me about getting my free wine again. I felt pressure and ambivalence about ordering one.

If I did not order a glass at all, I would not have to explain it away when it was not free. Besides, this time I had an entire row to myself. That’s something, right? Certainly Jesus was in the row, in the space, with me.

And yet, this was the celebration flight. The final trip. As the beverage cart drew closer, I decided to toast my hard work by buying a glass of red wine. The flight attendant took my card, her wristful of Alex and Ani bracelets jingling. I smiled. She swiped.

1. . . 2. . . 3 times.

The card reader isn’t reading this card. Do you have another?

Shaking my head, resigned to saving the money, confident that at least I tried, I began to hand back the plastic cup containing the small closed bottle.

Oh no, it’s okay, you can keep it.

Three flights, three glasses, three times met in a miraculous space where my water was turned to wine. I was seen by the lover of my soul who knew just what I needed  , and also what I desired, and met me in that space.

Thank you, Jesus.