Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Sarah Bessey: In Which I Am Practicing

Sarah Bessey is a young mom from Western Canada who blogs and is just about to see her first book in print. She has an open heart and a gift with words. Last fall she wrote a post called In which I am practicing, and it spoke to many people. One was Jada Swanson, a friend of Sarah's, who shared the reading in our church service last Sunday. It was a moving and powerful presentation that I wish I could share with you.

As it turns out, there is no recording of Jada (or Sarah) performing the reading, but there is one of another young woman sharing it. Her name is Sarabeth Jones and she is a writer and actress on staff at a church in Arkansas. She sent the audio clip to Sarah and Sarah said I could post it here. (Thank you Sarah!)

So click here if you'd like to hear Sarabeth as she reads Sarah's words below, In which I am practicing.
* * * * *
I have practiced cynicism, like a piano player practices scales. I have practiced being defensive -- about my choices, my mothering, my politics and my life -- until I was on the offensive. I have played with repetition, outrage and anger, sarcasm, disappointment. I called it critical thinking to hide my critical and bitter heart, and I wondered why I had no real joy.

I have practiced poking holes, deflating arguments, I have set up my piano on the border between Funny and Mean, playing sarcastic scales in the name of wit. And over an over and over again, I practiced and practiced, but no one wanted to hear me play.

Give me just a moment here, follow me outside. Because see, I'm done with this grand piano. I am done with this glossy stage. I'm done with the concert proficiency of all the places I have been before. I am ready to hope for something new. So here, now, let's head for the wilderness together, I've got just the spot in mind, and wouldn't you know it, out here, in the sunshine, there's a battered old thrift store piano, just for me.

Look at me, clumsy, and learning to play goodness and truth, like scales all over again. I want to practice gentleness and beauty, over and over again, until my fingers find the keys without thought. I am performing the bare basics, once more and then one more time and then again, boldness, discipline, silence, prayer, community.

I want to practice faithfulness, and I want to practice kindness. I want to practice, with intention, joy. I won't desecrate beauty with cynicism any longer, I won't confuse critical thinking with a critical spirit, and I will practice, painfully, over and over, patience and peace until my gentle answers turn away even my own wrath. I will check the notes, ask for help, and I'll relax my shoulders, straighten my spine, and breathe fresh air as I learn, all over again, the gift of grace freely given and wisdom honored, and healing, and when my fingers falter, when I sound flat or sharp, I'll simply try again.

I'll practice the ways of Jesus, over and over, until the scales fall from my eyes, and my ears begin to hear, and one day, my fingers will be flying over the keys, in old hymns and new songs, and on that day, when I look up, I bet there will be a field full of people dancing, whirling, and clapping their hands, and babies will be bouncing, and I'll be singing the song I was always and ever meant to sing, the rocks will be crying out, and the trees will be clapping their hands, and the banquet table will groan with the weight of apples and wine and bread, and we'll sing until the stars come down.

* * * * *

Go to to meet Sarah Bessey and read her blog.
Meet Sarabeth Jones at
Here's Jada Swanson, who introduced us to Sarah's post.
And here's where the photo came from.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Mountain of Suffering Long

In Hannah Hurnard's allegory Hinds Feet on High Places, Much-Afraid lives in the Valley of Humiliation along with her terrible relatives, the Fearings. When the Chief Shepherd comes and rescues her from her dreadful circumstances she begins a trip to the High Places that will change her life.

It is not an easy journey -- her twisted feet and her weak nature make the journey through the rugged mountains almost unbearable. But the Chief Shepherd gently guides her and provides her with traveling companions (namely, Sorrow and Suffering) who accompany her all the way to the High Places.

As the journey begins, the Chief Shepherd opens Much-Afraid's chest and plants within her heart a small seed that takes root through the journey. When at last she freaches the High Places, she finds that the seed has blossomed into divine love, a self-sacrificing love that affects her so deeply that she is willing to return to the Valley of Humiliation, where her horrible relatives live, so that she can introduce them to the Chief Shepherd and they can travel to the High Places too.

It is a wonderful story. I read it nearly 30 years ago and have thought of it often. So when I recently picked up the sequel, Mountains of Spices, it was a delight to find myself once again in the Valley of Humiliation. But this time Much Afraid goes by the new name the Chief Shepherd gave her -- Grace and Glory. Her twisted feet have also been straightened by the Shepherd. Now she walks on the feet of a mountain deer, a hind, and everything about her is lovely. She endures the scorning she receives from her relatives because of the divine love that is blooming in her heart and because her traveling companions, Sorrow and Suffering, are now known ass Joy and Peace.

But it is her time with the Chief Shepherd that has the greatest impact upon Grace and Glory. When she is on the High Places she travels with him to the various mountains of spices that rise off in the distance. Each mountain is covered with the most lovely blossoms of spices, each one representing one of the fruit of the spirit (love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and self-control).

It is on the Mountain of Saffron where Grace and Glory now sits with the Chief Shepherd.
This mountain, on which grew the spice flowers of longsuffering, was far more exposed than any of the other mountains, for it jutted out some way in front of them all and was so open to the elements and to all the raging tempests, that in comparison with the other peaks its slopes were almost bare. Neither fruit trees nor flowering shrubs clothed its sides, indeed, except for a few scattered pine trees, it was bare of trees altogether. 
But it towered up to a peculiarly beautifully shaped peak and a great part of it was always covered with snow. All over the slopes, however, grew carpets of crocuses of the most delicate and beautiful hues. Even on the areas where the partly melted snow still lingered, they pushed themselves up through the white covering to greet the light, forming patches of delicate mauve, lavender, periwinkle blue, yellow and orange, deep purple and palest rose pink, so that no part of the mountain remained unclothed, either in the pure white of snow or the rainbow colored robe of flowers. 
When Grace and Glory notices how the flowers rise up, uncrushed, as soon as they have been trampled on, she asks the Chief Shepherd how they can do this. It is longsuffering, he tells her, "It bears quite happily everything that is done against it, resents not at all being trampled under foot, and reacts to the wrongdoing of others against it as though no wrong had been done at all, or else as though it had forgotten all about it! For longsuffering is really the lovely quality of forgiveness and bearing contentedly and joyfully the results of the mistakes and wrongdoing of others."

She realizes that this exquisitely beautiful garden is actually "the Mountain of Suffering Long." It was this strange paradox which led Grace and Glory at last to break the thoughtful silence in which they had been sitting.

"'My Lord,' she said, 'this is called the Mountain of Longsuffering. Has love no power to save and help others apart from suffering? Why must love suffer at all, and why, above all else, must love suffer long?'"

And here is the Shepherd's reply. "It is because the very essence of love is oneness. That is why love must suffer. If the beloved creatures from whom the Creator created for love's sake must suffer, then the oneness of love makes it impossible for him to allow them to suffer anything which he is not willing to suffer with them. It is because the whole body of mankind is suffering so dreadfully from the disease of sin and all its dreadful consequences, that I, who am so one with mankind, must suffer it all with them."

If we, in our 21st century lives, walk with the Chief Shepherd, if we have had his seed of love planted in our hearts, if we seek to know and love and honor Him, then we, too, will learn that love and suffering cannot be separated. The sufferings of others will pierce our own hearts as we love them. We will bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things (1 Corinthians 13:7) -- not because we are such amazing people, but because it is Jesus Himself who endured it all for us. And it is this same Jesus who is transforming us into His likeness as we travel with Him to the High Places. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Coming Up Empty

Ever had one of those days when nothing came together? Well, here I sit. It's 11:14 and I still don't have anything to post! I've got a lot of ideas, but not much steam today. You'll have to wait till next week to find out about the book series that I'm reading and meet our Yes You Can person of the month. You probably won't be seeing any cool time lapse videos here today, though I have looked at quite a few as I've sat on my office chair, wondering what on earth to post. No funny quotes or serious Bible study. No children's orchestras or Irish step dancing. I'm coming up empty!

So I think I'll go start the laundry, eat last night's leftover Thai food, collect the paperwork I need to take to town, and be on my way. And before I do, I'll click "Publish."

Oh, but I do have something you might like to see. It's our azalea, our white-and-pink one. It seems a bit unusual to me, especially one particular flower. Have you ever seen a flower with a straight line separating two different colors? I certainly haven't. It reminds me of a wonderful dress that my friend Ruth purchased for me in Hong Kong and sent to me, after we'd shopped together in an amazing shopping district there. It was pink and white striped, two piece with a pleated skirt... But that's another story.

Enjoy our azaleas. And have a great weekend. I'll see you on Monday, at three minutes to nine.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Apostles Creed -- Suffered Under Pontius Pilate

For our 2013 Hymn of the Month we will be exploring the Apostles Creed
With each post we'll look at one of the statements in the creed,
consider its significance, and share an appropriate hymn. 
I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth:
And in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hades; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
As humans, we are big on justice. Maybe you've heard that justice is getting "just as you deserve." We say, "Don't do the crime if you can't do the time," suggesting that jail is what lawbreakers deserve. And when we say that justice is served, we mean that an appropriate penalty has been meeted out to the guilty party.

Then why is that Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried? He was completely without sin! Because only righteousness can satisfy a righteous God, and we are utterly incapable of producing any righteousness of our own at all. So, He [God] orchestrated this: the Anointed One, who had never experienced sin, became sin for us so that in Him we might embody the very righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21, The Voice).

When Jesus suffered, it was at the hands of Pontius Pilate. We know, of course, that throngs joined in, but it was Pilate who questioned Jesus and found him guiltless, yet turned Him over to the people to do with Him as they pleased. In Pontius Pilate we are reminded that each of us has a decision to make concerning Christ. And that decision has powerful consequences.

The crucifixion, death, and burial of Jesus are truths that are fundamental to our Christian faith. This is the method God chose for His own Son to redeem us from sin and death. There is a terrible finality in these words: crucified, dead, buried. Jesus' suffering was excruciating, and it was tangible. And then He died.

I read recently that the cross is the intersection of God's holiness and His grace. His holiness must be met, but we cannot meet it. It is a horizontal line drawn too high for any of us to reach. So God's grace reached down to us, a vertical line, and gave us the cross. Only as we come to the cross can we ever "embody the very righteousness of God."

Monday, May 20, 2013

View From the Water Jug

On Saturday we volunteered at the Eagle Wings disAbilities 5K & 10K Walk or Run held in Arlington. Eagle Wings serves the developmentally disabled adult population of Snohomish County, and this is an annual fundraiser.

Tom and I were at the turn-around point for the 5K racers, passing out water. Whether people were whizzing past us for the 10K or turning around for the 5K, it was a great to see the enthusiasm and energy these folks exhibited. 

Because we were focused on our assignment, we didn't get pictures of the registration process or the party that followed. But I can show you the spot along the Centennial Trail where we were set up and the race as we saw it. And I can point you to a couple of past blog posts about other Eagle Wings activities. They are the group who provides events such as the Thanksgiving Dinner that our church hosts each year. And it was the Eagle Wings director, Kinder Smoots and her husband Jim, whose wedding our son Samuel was in, along with dozens of others Eagle Wings participants.

Here, then, is a glimpse into the race, from the point of view of the water folks at the 5K turn-around!

Number 117-- the youngest competitor

Jazzie, our most appreciative customer!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Opening the Scripture

Luke tells two stories that I really love. One is about Jesus appearing to two people after the Resurrection; the other is about Philip sharing the gospel with a man from Ethiopia.

In Luke 24:13 we read about two unnamed followers of Jesus who were walking along, deep in conversation. Earlier that day they had heard that the tomb was empty, and the women had told how they had seen an angel who said that Jesus was alive. While they walked, a stranger came and walked beside them. He asked what they were talking about and they poured out their hearts about the death and burial of Jesus. "We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel," they told him (21).

When they were finished, Jesus responded. "'How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?'" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself" (25-27).

I imagine myself on that road, brokenhearted, feeling betrayed. I long for answers but I do not understand. And along comes someone who does understand. I listen and soak in all the Scriptures as they are explained to me. I begin to understand, my heart beats faster, and I realize that surely Jesus is alive. And later, when he sits down to bread with us and our eyes are opened -- we recognize the risen Lord! -- I remember that my heart had burned within me "when he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us" (32).

Skip over to Acts 8. The young church was growing by the day. Again we meet an angel with a message. He told Philip, "Go south to the road -- the desert road -- that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza" (26).  So he started off, and along the way he met a member of the court of Candace of Ethiopia who had been to Jerusalem to worship, and was now on his way home in his chariot. He was reading aloud from the book of Isaiah when Philip approached him. "'Do you understand what you are reading?' Philip asked. 'How can I,' he said, 'unless someone explains it to me?' So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him" (30-31).

"Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture [Isaiah 53:7-8] and told him the good news about Jesus" (35).

He did for the Ethiopian the same thing Jesus did for the men on the Emmaus Road -- he opened the Scripture to him! And in both cases the response was the same -- they received it with joy! When the downcast followers recognized Jesus, just as he disappeared from their sight, they ran to tell the others about him (Luke 24:33). Their doubt was replaced with belief and joy, and they could not keep it to themselves.

As for the Ethiopian, as they rode along he said, "Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?" (Acts 8:36). And so he was. Once he had his questions answered, he was ready to obey. He, also, was filled with joy. "When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing" (39).

You may be hungry for more of God. You may be discouraged, even distraught, over the circumstances of your life. Or you may be seeking to know the truth but, like the Ethiopian, you are asking, "How can I [understand] unless someone explains it to me?" (31). To you I say, God knows your heart, your questions, your deepest longings. Tell him your concerns. He can open the Scriptures to you and give you the understanding and joy you so long for. He may enlighten you through the Scripture alone or he may send you a Philip. 

To all of us I say, keep your eyes and ears open. There are people all around us who are hungry for truth. Perhaps the Lord will use you as he did Philip in someone else's life. I pray that he will.

Pictures are from Free Bible Images and are available for many purposes. Check out their website.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Monday, May 13, 2013

We Aren't Meant to See the Whole Picture

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18).

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).

We can arrange and engineer many things in life -- we search for cures for diseases; we provide clean water to devastated areas; we solve many of the world’s problems through technology, through sophisticated research and development, through manipulation. But we do not know the length of our days; we cannot control the circumstances of our lives. In the scheme of things, we really only are pinpricks on the timeline of history.

 We are a vapor – poof! gone!

There are people who see themselves as the center of the universe, whose view of life always comes back to how an event impacts them personally. We give these folks diagnoses like narcissism or autism, but, come now, don't we all have a bit of that in us? The truth is, we are not sovereign; life does not revolve around us. To fix our eyes on ourselves leads to frustration and disappointment. To think too highly of ourselves does too.

We think we see and understand, but we see through a glass dimly – our view is clouded. God withholds from us the fullness of all things. 

We will never fully grasp life, try as we might. It is not for us to know fully in this life. Whoever seeks to know fully will be disappointed. But whoever seeks to know God will never be disappointed. Then, in Heaven, we will know fully because we will see God Himself and He will make all things clear.

So live today realizing that you do not know the end from the beginning, nor are you intended to know! Your part is to be faithful to what you do know. And to fix your eyes on Jesus, the unseen, the eternal. He knows, and that is enough.

Friday, May 10, 2013

God's Plan for Reshma

AFP - Getty Images

Have you heard? There was a survivor found in the rubble of the Bangladesh garment factory collapse, after spending 16 days in a mosque in the basement of the building. She subsisted on dried fruit and bottled water, hoping that rescue workers would hear her cries for help as she called out and whacked sticks and rods on metal objects around her.

Though dehydrated, she was, remarkably, able to walk and is considered to be in "good health."

Her name is Reshma Begum. She is a seamstress, married, the mother of a young son.

What are God's plans for this woman? Surely He preserved her life; surely He knows her name, her needs, her future.

What are God's plans for the three young women rescued from their captivity in Cleveland where they had been held for a decade? Amanda Berry, Michelle Knight, and Gina DeJesus, along with 6-year-old child born during those terrible years, are free now. I wonder what God has in mind for them.

What are God's plans for you, whatever is happening in your life at this moment? In the midst of your current experiences -- some great trauma, some great triumph, or something in between -- what does God have in mind for you?

We don't know. But this we do know, God knows! And He has plans for Reshma, for Amanda, for Michelle, for Gina, for that little girl, for me, for you. He is not caught off-guard by our difficulties; He already has us in mind. His plans for us are good and trustworthy, because He Himself is trustworthy.

Lord, care for Reshma. Lead her to Your heart and make Your way clear to her. We ask the same for the  other women who have been granted freedom this week, and for ourselves. Thank You that You have plans!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Monday, May 6, 2013

Scottish Fiddle Music

We attended a Scottish fiddle concert, featuring the Northwest Scottish Fiddlers What joy! From the sweet six-year-old girl who fiddled and danced with her parents and 9-year-old sister to the teens whose fingers flew over the strings of their violins, cello and double bass (and one amazing keyboardist) to the adults who'e been at this for years, it was a foot-tapping, hand-clapping, smiling time!

In honor of their great music and all the fun to be had when soaking in Scottish fiddle music, I offer you this video.

It's just a tiny taste. If you like the music of Alasdair Fraser, you might enjoy the Legacy of the Scottish Fiddle CD. And you might mark your calendar for January 17-19, 2014, when the Northwest Scottish Fiddlers hold their annual Scottish Music Workshop at Ft Casey Conference Center, With Aladsair Fraser and Natalie Haas as instructors. I'm looking forward to attending their final concert!

Check out the Northwest Scottish Fiddlers here at their website.

Friday, May 3, 2013

I Know Just How They Felt

I read this article online last night -- maybe you saw it posted on MSN's homepage. It's about a group of women in southwest England who attended a presentation on piracy and decided to go in style. They all dressed up as pirates, decked out in eye patches, pirate hats, and rubber daggers. It wasn't long after the speaker, Colin Darch, began his presentation that they realized his talk was about his 47-day ordeal at the hands of Somali pirates!

Needless to say, the women were embarrassed, yet they recovered and listened with rapt attention to his story. They even asked him to judge their costumes. He chose the woman with the toy parrot, "although, to be honest," he said, "it looked more like a fluffy chick."

Reading the story took my breath away. It may seem like an over-reaction, but I've got to tell you the truth: I know how those women felt! But my outfit wasn't that of a pirate. I was dressed as a pumpkin, a huge orange pumpkin!

In my junior and senior years of college I was a part of the on-campus women's service organization. We had monthly meetings where we learned about service opportunities, reported on events of the month before, and occasionally had a guest speaker. In my senior year, the October meeting fell precisely on Halloween evening.

Mom had sent me a Halloween care package that year, filled with candy and goodies, and a wearable pumpkin. Do you remember those party decorations that were made of honeycomb tissue paper? They came folded flat, but as you opened them up they turned into a centerpiece for the table. Well, that's what Mom sent me. Only this one was designed to fit around you, covering you from your shoulders to somewhere below the waist. (Imagine the pumpkin below being large enough to fit over an adult's torso.)

I loved it! So much so, in fact, that I decided to wear it to the meeting that night.

I slipped the pumpkin on over my lovely purple polyester pant suit and walked gingerly down the hall. I hadn't considered how I would navigate the steps that would take me to the floor below where the meeting was being held, but slowly, carefully, I maneuvered my way down the stairs.

Most of the women in the group, I learned that night, were too sophisticated to appreciate my outfit. They did not comment, they didn't smile, they didn't acknowledge me at all. Many of them wore their uniforms to the meeting -- a gold blazer over a black dress -- but there was not one other person in a costume.

I found a seat and somehow managed to bend in the right places to sit.

The meeting began. I endured the opening and the business details. And then the guest speaker began to share. She told about her three beautiful children and how, one by one, they had suffered with a terrible hereditary disease and eventually died.

It's a wonder my paper pumpkin didn't combust, ignited by a spark from my burning face!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Pray for America

Tomorrow is the National Day of Prayer. People in the Stanwood-Camano community will, once again, meet in the parking lot of Haggen from 12:00 till 1:00 p.m. to worship and pray together while people across the country will be praying in similar gatherings throughout the day, focusing on the injunction to "Pray for America," the theme of this year's National Day of Prayer.

We watch, stunned, as each day we see greater evidence of the need for prayer for our nation. It is impossible to listen to the news without recognizing that America is in distress -- economically, politically, spiritually, in our families, our schools, and our neighborhoods.

But I believe there is a need even deeper than our need for reform in our country. It is for revival.

Revival is what happens when men and women of God come to him in humility, crying out for God's forgiveness for sin, for his cleansing, and for his deep work in their lives. It comes when we acknowledge our desperation as individuals and as a church for God himself, when we realize that we cannot do the work of God without the grace and power of God. It comes when we throw ourselves completely on him, allowing him to fill and direct us.

The fruit of revival is manifold, but I believe the greatest evidence of revival is love. When we have met with God and he has revived our souls -- and our churches -- there will be such an outpouring of God's love within the church and into the community that everyone will know that we are his disciples (John 13:35). And we will work to end injustice; we will serve with joy; we will not bicker among ourselves; we will be clean vessels through which the light of Christ can shine.

When God's people are revived in this way, others will be drawn to the light. But until revival comes, we we will not experience the fullness of God's power in our lives or our nation.

I encourage you to pray for America, but don't limit your prayers to one day of the year. Let's make prayer for our nation a part of our daily lives. Let us pray from hearts that are seeking him for revival. Let us allow God to do his work within our own hearts and within the church. Until we seek his face and receive his cleansing we cannot really expect God to heal our land.