What I learned in July (or books I've read or am reading)

What I learned in July (or books I've read or am reading)
I'm sharing some of my favorite summer reads and one song. Photo via Creative Commons/Flickr User: Yuri Levchenko 1. Some children's books are not just for children. I reread A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, and I was amazed at how she wove in love and sacrifice as themes into her book. For the first time, I'm reading The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. I enjoy his thoughtful insights imparted through whimsical word plays. 2. I can't wait to see the documentary on The Phantom Tollbooth...here is its official trailer. 3. What happens when Jane Austen's classic Sense & Sensibility meets the 21st century? Find out in Joanna Trollope's fun beach read, Sense & Sensibility. 4. If you've ever wondered who took care of Elizabeth Bennet and her family, then you will love Longbourn, a novel by Jo Baker that invites us to imagine us how the other half lived in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. As I read about Sarah, the house maid's duties, my hands hurt. Hint: there is a surprise twist at the end...but I'm sworn to secrecy. One of my favorite quotes: "Things could change so entirely, in a heartbeat; the world could be made entirely anew, because someone was kind." - James in Longbourn, p. 56 Love that quote...I have experienced the difference kindness makes. I hope you have, too. Photo via Creative Commons Flickr User: Tim Green 5. I'm reading King's Cross (based on the book of Mark) by Timothy Keller. His words inspire and challenge me as he illuminates familiar stories in new ways. It's a deep read. "[Jesus] knows that whether we're a paralyzed man lying on a mat [Mk.2:8-12] or a struggling actor or ...[an] actor who's become a celebrity, we don't need someone who can just grant our wishes. We need someone who can go deeper that. Someone who will use his claws, lovingly and carefully, [like Aslan in C.S. Lewis' The Dawn Treader] to pierce our self-centeredness and remove the sin that enslaves us and distorts even our beautiful longings. In short, we need to be forgiven." - Timothy Keller, King's Cross, 35 [added paragraph breaks] I appreciated Keller's reminder that what I most deeply long for is Jesus himself. Nothing else will satisfy. 6. Audrey Assad's beautifully haunting song, "I Shall Not Want" pairs nicely with Keller's thoughts. Subscribers, link here to listen. This line from Assad's song pierces me: "When I taste Your goodness, I shall not want." Soul Stops Moment: What's your favorite children's book as an adult? What are you reading now? What do you think about what Keller wrote about what we really desire - beyond our apparent desires? Thanks for being here. Psst....my first monthly-ish post for Jumping Tandem's Retreat blog goes live tomorrow (July 29, 2014)....here's the link if you'd like to pop over and say "Hi." Thanks! Welcome, if this is your first time here, and you liked what you read, join my e-mail list and receive my Soul Care Manifesto e-book, blog updates and other exclusive content. Also linking with these gracious friends: Kelli of Unforced Rythms Sharing with Emily Freeman's "What I learned in July" link-up.      

On being open & unexpected gifts

On being open & unexpected gifts
Earlier, I shared how we met three river otters on the Big River, Mendocino during vacation. But river otters were not the only creatures, our family observed. After we rowed about a half hour, we heard loud prehistoric groaning or a cackling sound reverberate and break the silence of a quiet morning. It's hard to describe the sound as we'd never heard it before, resounding from a large grove of trees on the other side of the riverbank. The eerie cries pierced our ears and haunted our thoughts. Photo via CC/Flickr User: Nature Shutterbug After we watched the river otters swim, play and preen, we paddled our canoe around to return. A mile or two later, we noticed a white clump standing on a fallen tree in the river. As we paddled closer, it looked like a white feathery egg resting on its side, perched on a thin dark stick. What was it? Where was its head, if it was alive? It didn't move. When we were about 15 feet way, I noted: "It has white feathers with a black sash." Suddenly, like a Transformer, the oval grew bigger and bigger until it unfurled to reveal a head with a beak, two thin legs and two giant wings, which flapped. The lone bird flew to the top of a tree further down the river and away from our prying eyes. My heart sang at this unexpected glimpse of its beauty and majesty: Thank you, God. Later we learned the unearthly sound came from Great Blue Herons nesting. And when we studied a bird book, we learned the whitish-gray bird that flew away was also a Great Blue Heron. The feathers on the inside of its wing was a grayish pale blue. Hearing then seeing a Great Blue Heron was a surprise grace gift. We would never have seen it if we hadn't done something new: rent a canoe and paddle for three hours along the Big River. When we try something good and new, we open ourselves to potentially receive an unexpected gift. In retrospect, I realize I have received many unexpected grace gifts, when I risked and did something new, like blog, three years ago. I've made new friends and my life is richer because of those friendships. I'm learning to be open to those gentle nudges to try new things or to visit new places. It may not be all sunshine and river otters, but God in His goodness always gives His children good gifts, even the ones disguised as trials. Through blogging, I met women (such as Mia and Shelly), who battle chronic illness and cling to God in the midst of it. They unwrap the gifts of a closer relationship with God as they share their faith through their respective blogs. Or I think of how Michelle DeRusha decided to be open to God's existence and came to faith, as told in her memoir, Spiritual Misfit. Soul Stops Moment: What do you think about being open to trying something new(*) as a way to being available to receive an unexpected gift? What unexpected gift(s) have you received? Thanks for being here. (*)I'm assuming it is not only new but also something good and wholesome. Welcome, if this is your first time here, and you liked what you read, sign up for my e-mail list and receive my Soul Care Manifesto e-book, blog updates and other exclusive content. Also linking with gracious Kelli of Unforced Rythms   and Laura Boggess of Playdates with God. I'm linking with these encouraging friends: Holley Gerth, Jennifer Dukes Lee,and Lyli Dunbar of Thought-Provoking Thursdays.      

Five Minute Fridays: Bloom & Visiting O'Keeffe

Five Minute Fridays: Bloom & Visiting O'Keeffe
It's time for five minutes of unedited writing (but I correct typos) where we let our fingers fly over the keyboard with other writers. < Photo via Creative Commons/Flickr User: Bob Mical Start. In winter, my hydrangea bushes are brown stick skeletons in the ground. There is no sign of its former beauty or of the beauty that will come. Just dry sticks which I continue to water and fertilize when spring comes. So much of blooming is not just the bloom but all the preparation beforehand. The soil needs to be nutrient rich and the sun not too high overhead. It likes shade over scorching sun. And when spring or early summer comes and the bush is awash in blooms, blue, purple and then finally light green and burgundy, if not picked, I rejoice. It reminds again and again that apparent death and barrenness is not the final story for my hydrangea or for my life. God intends resurrection for all just like Jesus experienced. He comes and ignites my dead heart again and again with the life from His Spirit. Am I willing to wait through the long winter? Am I willing to prepare the soil of my heart? Am I willing to rest and be fallow, knowing a time of beauty and bloom will come? If I wait but in my waiting, I do not give up hope. I wait expectantly. For bloom, I will, even now. Stop. If you are in a winter season and nothing seems to be blooming, please don't give up. Spring will come. Prayer: Dear God, I pray for all who are in a winter season, may you encourage them with the hope that winter will not last forever (Romans 8:17-18). Please give them the hope and courage to continue to trust you as they water and prepare the soil for spring's bloom (Romans 8:28-29). Thank you for the hope you give us as we observe how flowers and seasons change. In Jesus' Name, Amen. *My monthly Tweetspeak Poetry post is on Georgia O'Keeffe, an artist renown for her large-scale flower paintings. I would love to see you there as we explore how Lake George and Alfred Stieglitz influenced her art. Thank you! Welcome, if this is your first time here, and you liked what you read, sign up for my e-mail list and receive my Soul Care Manifesto e-book, blog updates and other exclusive content. Please visit encouraging Lisa-Jo Baker, the creative mastermind behind 5 minutes of unedited writing based on a word prompt, which she picks weekly. You can link up and/or enjoy reading posts by the wonderful FMF community. 

What a river otter taught me about prayer

What a river otter taught me about prayer
The Big River in Mendocino flowed like silk in the early morning as we eased into our rented three person canoe. We were told we might see river otters. A light fog felt like a veil of blessing over us. We entered a cathedral carved with tall trees on each side as our oars silently cut through the glassy water. The fresh scent of a new day filled our lungs. Photo via CC/Flickr User: Chris Paul Soon we saw a few brown female Mallard ducks and the males with their bright green heads. Only the occasional sound of our oars pushing in and out of the dark green river or birds chit chatting broke the holy silence. "Oh, look, a sea otter," I exclaimed. From a distance, I saw its round head and long trailing brown body swimming toward us. "Yeah, right," our daughter replied as she recounted how I had -- mind you, only once -- mistaken a rock for an otter in the foamy  waves and rocks near Carmel Beach. As the otter drifted closer until it was beside us, we saw its head was a large bulb of khaki seaweed and its body, long brown seaweed streamers. We chuckled. (At least it wasn't a rock.) After about a half hour, we still hadn't seen a river otter. I prayed and asked God if we could please see a river otter long enough to get a photograph, but I would be okay if we didn't see one. In the past, I wouldn't have prayed as I thought God couldn't be bothered with my tiny request. Instead false guilt and an inaccurate picture of God kept me silent. (Of course, I also pray for more important things, such as the welfare of others etc.) But then I remembered being God's child and trusting His heart means I present my request - without analyzing it to death - and then I leave it with Him. I trust* whether He answers, "yes," "no," or "wait," it will be okay because He loves me - unconditionally. The issue is whether I trust God with my desires. And whether I trust God or not depends on my image of God. Is He a loving Father or a capricious cruel one? As a parent, I prefer our girl ask me for something so we can dialogue than for her to not ask out of fear or mistrust. Her request reveals to her and to me what is in her heart and helps build intimacy in our relationship. Whether I pray or not reveals if I believe God cares about all of me, even my seemingly small desires. Do I believe He is a big enough God? My request will not burden Him. For some mysterious reason, God cares about my heart and my desires. And it is not about manipulating God to give me what I want. It is about the discovery that results from dialogue. I've learned over the years it is more about the discussion and the relinquishing of my desires into His loving hands. He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?- Romans 8:32 ESV For some of us, it takes more faith to believe God cares about our delight and not only about our holiness. God cares about both: our growth in holiness and our delight. For me, to pray about seeing a river otter was about trusting God's heart of love toward me regardless of the result. We didn't see a single river otter, though we did see a hawk or two soaring overhead. We also saw several seaweed "otters," which my family highlighted. Photo via CC/Flickr User: USFWS- Pacific Region After about an hour, I saw a small dark brown head duck under the water ahead of me, to my left. Then a ripple of water moved in front of me and our canoe. "I think I saw a river otter." "Oh, yeah, " my family crowed. "It moved in front of our canoe...it didn't look like seaweed, really..." More skepticism from my family. Finally, a dark brown head popped up several feet ahead and to our canoe's right. My family saw it. Then another brown head appeared from the left to join the first river otter. Then another. The three river otters swam toward a small inlet, then climbed ashore. One disappeared into a opening between a tree trunk and a rock. Two of the river otters groomed themselves like cats. As we slowly paddled closer, another otter disappeared. Finally, I was about five feet away from the preening river otter where I snapped a photo of it and the other otter who exited the tree trunk from another opening. (Sorry: the photos from my phone came out too fuzzy to share.) We sat enraptured for several minutes watching them peek out, take a quick dip then slide back into their burrow. We thanked God for this undeserved gift. * To be honest, trust is still a growth area for me. This post acknowledges but doesn't address the issue of when God says "no," to our good desires, such as for a child, for a prodigal to return home, for justice or for emotional and/or physical healing. Instead this post addresses the very narrow issue of being honest with God about all of our desires, even the small ones. Soul Stops Moment: Do you pray to God about everything or do you find yourself holding back? What helps you to pray to God about everything with a thankful heart (Phil. 4:6)? Welcome, if this is your first time here, and you liked what you read, sign up for my e-mail list and receive my Soul Care Manifesto e-book, blog updates and other goodies. And thanks to everyone who took the time to share how my manifesto blessed them. I'm linking with these encouraging friends:Kelli of Unforced Rhythms. Holley Gerth, Jennifer Dukes Lee,and Lyli Dunbar of Thought-Provoking Thursdays.        

What is the one secret of life....

What is the one secret of life....
Last night, I sat in bed, reading King's Cross by Timothy Keller when he quoted Scottish author, poet and pastor, George MacDonald, and my eyes opened wide. Photo via CC/Flickr User: Didriks "The one secret of life and development, is not to devise and plan ... but to do every moment's duty aright ... and let come--not what will, for there is no such thing-- but what the eternal Thought wills for each of us, has intended in each of us from the first." - George MacDonald, Sir Gibbie: A Novel, p.149 As I read MacDonald's words, I exhaled.* And I remembered Ephesians 2:10 and Col. 3:17 (do all in Christ's name/character).   "He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing." - Ephesians 2:10 (MSG)   Soul Stops Moment: What's your response to MacDonald's words and/or Ephesians 2:10? What helps you to do "your duty aright," whether public or private? Thanks for being here. * The over-analyzer in me guesses MacDonald isn't against all planning but the kind that distracts from one's present duty. Welcome, if this is your first time here, and you liked what you read, sign up for my e-mail list and receive my Soul Care Manifesto e-book, blog updates and other goodies. And thanks to everyone who took the time to share how my manifesto blessed them. For my subscribers: Thank you for the positive feedback on last week's exclusive content, "Saturday Specials." To clarify, I hope to write "Saturday Specials" once a month-ish...sometimes it may be sooner. I know you're busy so I greatly appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts. Linking with encouraging and gifted friends: Barbie of The Weekend Brew and Sandra of Still Saturday.