Category Archives: Reflections on Life

The Gift of Slow

IMG_4447I don’t really have a natural mode to go slow. My two speeds tend to be go and stop. The guy who has been my boss and mentor for much of two decades told me once that he didn’t have any complaints about my creativity and productivity–only that he wished I’d slow down and give the things I created a chance to work before tossing them out!

Most of the time I don’t mind my two speeds because my “go” really is a beautiful mixture of passion for meaningful living and ADD. Truly. I am wired to pursue more good things than one might think could be crammed into a 24-hour time slot. And at the same time, ADD kicks in and supplies the energy to juggle my attention between multiple competing endeavors without breaking a sweat!

But even passionate ADD people tire out. That’s when my “stop” mode kicks in. My typical life drill is go, go, go until I stop. I do love to cram my days with all that I can possibly fit in, while grinning triumphantly at doubters who ask, “And when are you going to get that done?” Once I have started multiple fires to tend, and proudly silenced the naysayers, I do hit a point of just needing to stop and do nothing of any material or spiritual value for a short interval. Then, I get up and go again.

I embrace my wiring, even encouraging ADD kids who’ve been categorized with a life sentence of attention deficit that they have the unique ability to energetically tackle more challenges than most people around them. But, I am once again at a nuanced life experience where I cannot ignore “slow” even though it is very difficult for me. Today is day five after a surgery that restricts my activity for several weeks: no driving for at least a week, no lifting ten pounds or more for six weeks, rest often, walk–don’t run for a while, and basically take it easy on my body until the doctor releases me. But I can only sit so long and at some point too many naps give me a headache. So what am I to do when I can’t go, go, go, but also am weary of all the stopping?

Go slow. I know it may sound obvious to you, but I don’t naturally think that way. And frankly, “slow” is much easier for me to accomplish when it’s not optional. There are gifts to this speed that cannot be experienced at a feverish pace. I have encountered them in each of the seasons where I had no choice but to go slow. When I moved to Tulsa between my junior and senior year of high school, I knew no one and had no venue where I could really get to know other high school students for a few months. My memories of that time were of reading several books, exploring my new city, spending some good time with my family, receiving and responding to handwritten letters from cherished friends in Colorado and Wyoming, and getting a great tan at the neighborhood pool! It was a summer of deep breaths before a whirlwind senior year at a completely new school of almost 2000 eleventh and twelfth graders.

The last time it happened was more dramatic. I actually had a bi-lateral pulmonary embolism (blood clot in each lung) about four years ago and that crisis made me go slow and heal so that my body could actually breathe again. The details are in another blog entry, but the point here is that in the midst of slowing down for several months so my body could heal, I discovered some much needed spiritual and emotional healing.

If my own personal history tends to repeat itself, there must be some gifts I can glean from this most recent activity quarantine. Yes, my body needs to heal, but this time it’s not a health crisis or drastic life change. There is no trauma or drama to unpack. The gifts this time it seems are a few activities that require more deliberate thought and reflection than my typical pace can sustain. I am reminded that I skim too often and don’t do enough deep reading. I am sitting on my couch at 5:30 a.m. writing my first blog since springtime because I am fully rested from all the naps! I love to write, but I cannot do it well in a flurry of activity. Instead of just quickly praying and considering a scripture passage in a morning rush before work, I have experienced sacred space where quiet lasts longer than a few minutes.

The reality is I won’t be able to maintain this gift of slow in my regular routine much past the next week. Things will speed up. I will say yes to more than a sane person should agree to. But my goal now is to find days and times to enjoy the gift of slow more by choice. In between the go, go gos and the abrupt stops, I’d like to slow my time down at the intersection of these graces often enough to better contemplate my “humanness” and experience God’s goodness.

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Living by freedom’s last words


This morning, I read through the Declaration of Independence – something I haven’t done for a while.  It still makes my heart pound to read those words.  There is elegance and power woven into every sentence.

But this time, the last sentence is what really captured my attention:

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

I find that much of my life and priorities have been very self-focused.   Even in my faith journey, my pursuits mostly have been about me, myself and I.  Already you can count 11 singular first person pronouns in this writing!

But new stirrings within are helping refocus that tendency away from me to we.  So, from this point in the essay, the goal will be to redirect towards second person pronouns, too!

God is giving opportunities for this one flawed and often selfish human being to see the world more fully as a gift to us.  It’s his original intent that we look at life and faith through a communal vs. individual lens.  In Galatians 5:13-14, we are reminded:

“For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  ‭NLT‬‬

And July 4 seems a very fitting day to read that our forefathers pledged to be in it together throughout their lives, with all their fortunes, and in a committed mindset to honor and value each other.

Obviously, these words did not fully work out their inherent truth in every aspect of our young country, or slavery and women’s equality for example, would not have become issues for which we had to fight to change course.  But,  theses words of equality and mutuality keep working on us as a nation, and that is why this declaration is such a vibrant document.  It causes us to critique our lives now through the words written then, and own the prejudices and blind spots that still keep us from being a nation of “we”.

And although there are certainly vital issues of mutuality that require the strength of legislation, my first person hope is that we would learn to live in the second person more often and that this reality would be ever before us:  my freedom doesn’t mean much unless it is shared with you, freely.

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NorthStar – Day 10: Outgrowing Jesus

I meet lots of people who used to believe.

They used to put their hope in something bigger than themselves. They once followed a path that gave them answers, made sense of life’s nonsense and gave them a deep well of joy and purpose. These friends once believed in Jesus.
But something changed. Somewhere along the way, the wear and tear of growing up and facing more complicated issues, wrestling with deeper struggles, and enduring more profound loss caused the fire of that faith to be smothered. And even if they desperately want to believe, they have forgotten how to live in that belief.

Just a few days ago, I heard Where are You Christmas? as How the Grinch Stole Christmas played in my living room. I’m a lyrics girl, so I’m always listening to what the song is trying to communicate through the music and the words. As I listened to the child’s voice ask the searching questions, it dawned on me that in most places of this song, you can replace the word “Christmas” with “Jesus.” Take a second to listen to the song as Faith Hill sings it and insert “Jesus” wherever you hear “Christmas”:

That might be the faith heartache of your life. Where are you Jesus? Where are you when I have so much to face. Why did you go away? My life looks very different from the days when it seemed easy to believe and follow you. Things have been turned upside-down in my life. I’ve got a lot more questions than answers, now. Does that mean all that I had hoped in gets turn upside down, too?

For some of us, maybe the questions of the next verse sum it up. Where are you Jesus? Do you even remember me? I’m not the same as I was – I’ve made a lot of mistakes. Is that why it feels like you’ve let me go?

It’s almost as if we are supposed to outgrow believing in Jesus, just like we eventually stop believing in Santa Claus. Many give up on the childlike notion that God could love us no matter what, meet us wherever we are, accept us regardless of what we’ve done, heal the wounds that have been inflicted upon us and be big enough to answer our toughest questions.

It is an absurdity, I’ll admit. It doesn’t make much sense to the logical mind to believe in Jesus. Just like the story of Santa is rooted in the real life events of the amazing St Nicholas, Bishop of Myra who lived around the 3rd century, it would make more sense to acknowledge that yes, Jesus was real person, and a great one at that, but that his redemptive story of saving us with a not-of-this-world kind of strength that actually brought him back to life, really just became a part of the sweet children’s tale that evolved about him through history.

Here’s the catch though. All those fun details of Santa’s sleigh and reindeer and red suits and of course, the supernatural ability to get around the entire world in one night, well that’s all folklore that’s been added by us, the people who love the story. And, many of those details have been added as recently as the last few centuries.

But, the miracle of Jesus being “God with us”, healing people from miserable diseases, feeding crowds of thousands with a few fish and loaves of bread, dying on the cross for us and then kicking death in the pants so he could come back for us, and offering to be our way, our truth and our life – all those were real-life God-powered events that people really saw over and over again. The details of his life were written by those who actually knew him or lived as a contemporary of him. And even more amazingly, things like where he would be born, how he would die and the kind of power he would have were all foretold and written about long before he even lived. His life story needed no magical embellishments. This real life story has been retold not because of how much people loved the story of this man, but because of the outrageous way that this man loved us.

The truth is that Jesus is here. He hasn’t gone away. He hasn’t let go…and he won’t. He knows your life is different – and by the way, he does recognize you. He misses you and would love nothing better than for you to embrace your belief again, realizing that a whimsical story cannot outlast childhood, but the extraordinary, living, breathing hero of the story can withstand whatever doubt or circumstance you face.

We may outgrow a limited understanding of who Jesus was and still is, but he will never grow out of his persistent desire for us to know him in deeper ways, and still see him with the strong, believing eyes of a child.

The disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book. But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name. John 20:30-31

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NorthStar: Finding Our  Way Home to God: Day 9

No Matter Who You Were Before

For anyone who has read the first chapter of the book of Matthew in the Bible, you might be perplexed by a very long list of names. In the King James Version, you even get to read words like begat over and over.  The list is similar to many genealogies listed in the Old Testament, which trace the generations of history and purpose for the Jewish people.

Matthew 1:1-17

If you play the game “Which one of these is not like the other?” with the names in this particular genealogy, you’ll discover that within these 17 verses of endless names are five that stand out from the rest.  ln verses 3,5,6 and 16, are the names of 5 women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and Mary. This is remarkable because …WOMEN WERE NOT USUALLY INCLUDED lN JEWISH GENEAOLOGIES!!

These women were also unique in that all except Mary were foreigners who had married into this Jewish lineage, and each had a healthy dose of scandalous history attached to their names. Tamar tricked her father-in-law into sleeping with her.  Rahab was a prostitute.  Ruth was an outsider who worshipped ancestral gods. Bathsheba had an affair with King David and got pregnant, then the king had her husband killed in battle.  And Mary, was the young, unwed, teenage mother of Jesus.

But it is not their histories that earned them a spot in an all male geneaology.  It was believing God could do something with the little they had to offer.  Tamar’s actions cannot be condoned, but her motives to not remain a childless widow in a world where much of women’s worth and rights were found in bearing children, can be understood as noble and strong.  Rahab sheltered a group of spies from Israel at the risk of her own life, and then eventually married one of those spies.  Ruth was also a widow who courageously worked the fields in Bethlehem at the risk of being harassed for being a foreigner.  The land owner, Boaz, witnessed her resilience and determination to carve out a life as a widow and stranger in her dead husband’s homeland.  Bathsheba moved beyond her infidelity and raised Solomon, her and David’s son, to know and follow after God, and who became known as the wisest of kings.  And sweet, young Mary was strong and wise in the face of whispers about her pregnancy before marriage.  Scripture does not say she was perfect, but she trusted God with her whole heart even when it cost her a good reputation.

In these women’s stories, God reminds us that He can do amazing, powerful things through us no matter where we come from, what we’ve done or what we’ve lived for – even make us a grandparent of the Savior, 34 generations removed, or better yet – the mother of that baby who would change history.

And he reminds us that he is not looking for the wisest, the most religious, the most beautiful, the most admired or the most successful person.  He is looking for the woman who will say “yes” when he calls her name. He is looking for the man who will give up his old life and take hold of the new. No matter what your history is, no matter what a hypocrite you’ve been, no matter what people will say about who you were–all that matters to God today is who you can be if you’ll give him the chance to show you the possibilities!

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A Year of Hitting the Reset Button

August 1, 2014:  The doctor said, “You have a blood clot in each lung.”

At first, I had no idea the gravity of those words. I just knew I was in excruciating pain and could hardly breathe.

It began with a stab of pain in my right leg that startled me awake during a Colorado vacation many nights before. I figured leg pain must mean a running injury, so I iced, heated, stretched and nursed my right calf for 3 days.  The pain stopped after a long Sunday morning walk. Incredible! Gone as quickly as it came.

But hours later a new discomfort near my lower left rib cage announced itself. Discomfort became a dull ache on Monday. A dull ache gave way to piercing pain on Tuesday. I knew something must be wrong.

A trip to Urgent Care revealed fluid in the lower left lobe of my lungs. Translation: pneumonia. Armed with a diagnosis and powerful antibiotics, I felt relief. By Friday, it was so much worse. Now the pain was unrelenting. It was a struggle to take every breath.

Round two at Urgent Care. But X-rays showed the same diagnosis. Steroids were added to my arsenal of medicine and I was ready to leave. That’s when he knocked on the door and stepped inside for a few short minutes. A doctor whose children go to the school where I work. He knew I was there and took a few moments to check on me.

“Denise, I am so sorry you don’t feel better. You should feel better.”

“I know. This is crazy. I was running and hiking in Colorado last week and now I can hardly breathe to speak one sentence.”

“Wait! You traveled last week? Did you fly?”

“No, we drove.”

“Would you stay and let me do a CT scan and rule out blood clots? It’s not very likely since you drove, but let’s just make sure.”

A 75 word conversation that probably saved my life – in more ways than one….

————

It’s a year today since I was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism in each lung.  I spent almost five days in the hospital and months in recovery.  During that time, God has helped me hit the reset button in my life several times, both physically and spiritually.  I doubt the journey is complete, but here are a few things I’ve learned so far on these two converging paths of healing:

BREATHING – A PE takes your breath away, and eventually your life by blocking the blood flow of one or more arteries in the lungs.  Sometimes very quickly. In my case, ever so slowly.  My lungs fought off the blood clots for days without giving up.

Disappointment and anger can have a similar effect on our souls when we allow them to block the flow of hope and forgiveness.   I’ve had to acknowledge how much I allowed a deep disappointment to rob me of spiritual breath.  No more do I want to allow my spiritual air to be stolen by life’s circumstances.

PEACE – I was so scared. I had no idea how soon the danger would subside. Misery and pain stooped by my bedside that first night in the hospital.  I heard words like, “check for lung cancer,” all while throwing up from so much pain medication.

In the 2 a.m. darkness I prayed, “God, please give me peace. I am scared. I don’t know what is going to happen.”  But, peace did not surround me like I imagined and I fell asleep in a haze of disappointment because I think I expected to feel something like a spiritual warm fuzzy.

I have prayed for many people, that the peace of God that surpasses all understanding would come and be real and present. So, imagine my surprise that I did not feel that peace the way I had expected it.  I think in those moments, I experienced a fraction of the disappointment that good friends have felt when they cried out to God for peace in the midst of tremendous pain and loss.  I was humbled by how much courage it takes to say that prayer and cling to it.

The next morning when my eyes opened, the first thing I saw was the sunrise through a smudgy, plexiglass hospital window.  It was the most beautiful sunrise I had ever seen!  A strong, sentinel like peace surrounded me.  It wasn’t a peace that took away fear or pain. It was a peace that assured me that God had been present and tirelessly at work  –  and would not leave me even if danger persisted.

SCAR TISSUE – The clots are gone now. It took about 6 months for them to dissolve. But, there are residual issues. I had to go on a steroid inhaler in February because in the words of my doctor, I was “breathing well for an 84 year old!”  I also have this discomfort in my lower left rib cage area every once in a while.  My last CT revealed that the blood clot on the left side damaged the lung and scar tissue remains in its place. I think that means a small part of my lung died. Regardless if the discomfort I feel is actually from the scar tissue, it reminds me how fragile and precious life is.  It also reminds me that it took a part of me physically dying to recognize that I was spiritually losing ground by allowing old pains to live on in my present reality.

In all of it, God has repeated a clear question over and over.  “Do you trust me with your life, your health, your hopes, your dreams, your mishaps, your bad choices, your pride, your gluttony, your fear, your talents, your family, your EVERYTHING????!!!!!

Each day has been an exercise in saying “Yes, God I trust you. You know I do. Or at least I am learning what that really means and seriously want to live it. And you know that you will probably have to remind me again tomorrow.”

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Standout moments with Dad

There are so many memories my dad has given me that are imbedded in the fibers of my heart – the simple moments most defined by his love for us and his joie de vivre.  Here a few moments that stand out for me:

  • A trip into the city at age 4 to visit him working at Hallmark Cards.  He wanted everyone to meet his little girl.
  • Singing my first solo in a talent show in 6th grade.  He started the standing ovation.
  • Riding shotgun with him on all night vacation drives across Wyoming & Nebraska.  We’d sing along with country radio and talk about life and faith.
  • His contagious love of living out west.  I felt like my whole childhood was an adventure.
  • His booming voice that demanded our attention when we were in trouble and left no doubt that he loved us when we were having a bad day.
  • Chopsticks in his ears and a boyish smile on his face in an Asian restaurant – for no reason but the sheer joy of hearing us giggle and drawing verbal fire from Mom.
  • His deep devotion to his wife and mother.
  • One week in Estes Park, CO and he knew everyone in our little motel on a first name basis.  People would drive up on their Harleys and ask me, “Have you seen Bob?”!!!
  • Annual phone calls at 6:00 am to sing Happy Birthday to his kids.
  • Countless acts of spontaneous generosity to family, friends and even strangers.

This is the standout father’s love that has been given in my life every time it has mattered.  Thanks Dad.  Happy Father’s Day.

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A Simple Advent Reflection

The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light WILL shine. Isaiah 9:2

     The journey to Christmas is about hope.

     Hope that God has not forgotten us,

     hope that we will see him show up in a real way.

But God had so much loving-kindness. He loved us with such a great love. Even when we were dead because of our sins, He made us alive by what Christ did for us. Ephesians 2:4,5

     The journey is also about love;

     God’s deep, purposeful love for all of his

     creation and everyone throughout history,

     but also right now – today – for you and me.

Be full of joy, O people of Zion! Call out in a loud voice, O people of Jerusalem! See, your King is coming to you. He is fair and good and has the power to save. Zechariah 9:9

     Joy. Not a word we use every day.

     Maybe that’s good since meeting the Child-King who

     will save us counts as a pretty big deal.

     Feel free to experience joy today.

For to us a Child will be born. To us a Son will be given. And the rule of the nations will be on His shoulders.

His name will be called Wonderful, Teacher, Powerful God, Father Who Lives Forever, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

     The journey to Christmas is not complete until

     we allow Christ’s peace to invade our lives…

     our past, our present and our future lives.

     Where do you need this peace? And…who needs it from you?

He made all things. Nothing was made without Him making it.  Life began by Him. His Life was the Light for men.

The Light shines in the darkness. The darkness has never been able to put out the Light. John 1:3-5

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes… John 1:14

 

     In these days of lights, music,

     and truly unnecessary calories and activities

     may we feel our “madeness” all the way to our bones.

     May we unveil the brilliant and intruding light of Christ

     and let it take our breath away.

 

scripture excerpts taken from:

New Life Version © Christian Literature International

The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group

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