How to Get MORE of Everything that Counts (Including Squid)

Finally, I am finding words. What happened in this most intense week of my life? Come and see.

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Here’s what didn’t happen. We didn’t see whales this time—the first Harvester Island Wilderness Workshop workshop ever without whales. Nor did we see Kodiak bears, though we tried.  But we saw a squid. Small, nearly translucent, with neon eyes and a weird affinity for us. He played around our boots for 15 minutes. We held him in the cradle of our hands.

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 I never know what’s going to happen this week when 22 writers from everywhere gather on our fish camp island in Alaska. We first met on Saturday, sitting in a circle, telling 2 minutes of our story. We did not know each other. I asked, “Why have you come so far? What are you looking for?” Before we even began, there were tears and raw hearts. I wondered, what will God do here?

 

It wasn’t a simple or easy week. One of our beloved crewmen was injured by a chainsaw (Incredibly, a float plane was nearby so he could be whisked to the hospital. He is well and healed now.) A film crew was there filming the classes—-which stressed me out. One day we shot three sessions consecutively, ending with headaches, exhausted. We had some crises in the kitchen so everyone had to cook. We ran out of veggies. Did I sleep that week?

And the aftermath? The 28 sets of sheets, the 15 rooms to be cleaned and closed up for the winter . . .

 

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But it was an extravagant week.

 

 

I know so many of you who want to come. But it’s far. And it costs. But I want you to know,

You don’t have to fly to a far north island in Alaska to live this way. You don’t have to fly in a float plane, walk in wilderness, ride in skiffs, to know this same joy.     

  Two thousand years ago a man said, “I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly.

The man who promised this was mostly homeless, born into an oppressed minority, despised by the religious authorities, distrusted by his family, misunderstood by even his closest friends, marked for death by his many enemies. And yet---he lived extravagantly, generously, sacrificially, joyfully, abundantly.

 Have you heard this?

 “Truly, truly I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.  I am the door. If anyone enters through Me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief does not come, except to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”

What IS this abundant life?

 It IS a life of more. Not Joel-Osteen “more.” Not bigger houses, fancier cars, better job, more expensive clothes “more.” “More” meaning a life beyond our lonely single selves. Meaning a life bound up, twined into the lives of others. “More” includes, yes, exhaustion, Yes, risk. Yes, wounding and betrayal. Yes, grief. Yes, failure. All of it. But it means, more than anything, MORE of one another. And MORE of God. And with this “more,” in the company of friends and God, a little squid playing in our hands is as wondrous as a whale.

 This is the fullest life I know. We can live like this wherever we are, every single day.

 Will you try—-and tell me about it?

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(Who’s coming for the next HIWW? Here:)

Surviving Your Island of Grace

  The summer is nearly over.  Ann V. (you know who) is coming in a few days. All is (nearly) ready for a week of filming, writing, laughing, wrestling God, feasting . . ..   But you want to know the truth? I have island fever. After the workshop  I will be leaving this tiny island soon----which slays me, but which also thrills me. You know, that love-hate cabin-fever thing?

You may not live on an island without a bridge, or on a fishcamp island without roads, but I know you have felt stuck, trapped. By a place. By your body. By your circumstances. Maybe you're there even now. Maybe these truths I have discovered in my own life on this rock of an island are for you as well? Listen, then, and see if there is space and grace for you . . . 

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         It was the end of my 20th season at fish camp. The day before I left the island, I woke early. The children were still sleeping. I untwined my legs from Duncan's, careful not to wake him, and went out to the front window to look at the day. It was a low minus tide, the ocean's cloak pulled back farther than I could remember.

I put on my boots, walked down near the water's skirt and made my way from rock to rock to a beach seldom accessible. From around the corner I could hear the hum of a boat; two ravens sat on a cliff above me, spatting. I waved them away and could hear now the water licking its lips, and nothing more.  

I thought about our conversation that night in bed. Was I sorry I had chosen Duncan and this place, and the very particular life that went along with it? No. How could anything be other than it was. But when I chose all this back in 1977, I did not know what I was choosing. (Who does?)

I looked off now and saw a glacier to the east, the mountains hovering over the bay, their ridges sawing the air.; I could almost hear distant rivers foaming to the wide grey Straits. It was a wild and clean and vast a place as when I first had come, but I hadn't known how or what to measure then. What if I hadn't come? I try to see who I could have been had I stayed in New Hampshire, but I can't see anything clearly, only the girl who used to be there. She is still not pretty; she is crying---no, she has decided she will no longer cry. Her face is blurred, but I know what she is looking for---wholeness and freedom.

 

       I came here at 20 certain I had found it in my new husband and in this clean, cold ocean and green mountain island. I know now that what I was looking for is not a something that can be found, not in a place or in a person---it must be made, and it is made out of whatever is around you, whatever is given to you. However much. However little.

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Was I happy here now, finally? I did not have an answer. 

I sat quiet for some minutes on the beach, hoping to hold these moments still, to keep my place on this rock. Then, what was that? A click, no, a popping. I leaned into my ears and suddenly, why hadn't I heard it before? It was all around me, a cricking and snapping as if the beach were waking from sleep, pores opening, tongues unsticking.

I could see no movement, could not account for it at all. I waited, my ears tracing the pattern to the largest boulder on the beach, about forty feet away. It was blistered in colonies of barnacles and mussels, blue mussels and thatched barnacles with tall volcano-shaped cones that are yellowed, and look like fossilized teeth.

 

I moved closer. Yes, it was here, the patter now inches from my face, yet I could still see no movement, no life beyond shells sealed tight.

I waited.

There it was again. This time I saw---a barnacle, the beak of the barnacle, like a telescope in rotation, was rounding the perimeter of its own shell, ticking the edges as it went. Then, scattered within my close range, I caught another tip, the orbit of another maw, and another.

Now adjusted to these dimensions, the whole rock came alive with the diminutive circuit of these beaks. They were not feeding---the tide had been out for hours. Was it It a preening session, or perhaps an early morning stretch, or the gyrations of digestion after a good breakfast? I didn't know. But I was struck with such vulnerability! This creature had no escape from attack. No escape at all. Such obscene limitations!

I saw and understood.

Here halfway between land and water, was the barnacle, a creature that literally grows its own cliffed walls. His own form---given by God himself---entraps him. It is his prison. It is his island. But I saw: it is also his mountain fortress, the very grace that sustains his life.

 

I'm still here, 40 years after saying yes, I do, I will, I am. I am still here on this tiny island every year for three to four months, with an outhouse, with unrelenting work, with stormy skies, with little movement beyond the edges of these cliffs.

I ran away a few times, but I came back. Everything I need is had been found---or made---here. 

I cannot decide for you. Maybe you need to leave your "island." I don't know. Maybe you're not safe. Maybe you've been hauled through too much hurt, poverty and meanness. Women endure so much . . . .  Go if God gives you that certainty. But I also know the world is full of abandonment, of escapes, pursuits of happiness and self, leaving ruin and wreckage behind.

Don't do that.

Dig deep. Plant hard. Hold on. A fresh tide is coming in. A new sun is rising. 

 
Many are saying of me,
    “God will not deliver him.”
3 But you, Lord, are a shield around me,
    my glory, the One who lifts my head high.


6 I will not fear though tens of thousands
    assail me on every side.
                                      (Psalm 3:2,3,6)
 
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(Excerpt from my memoir, originally published by St.Martins.The full story, including a boat-sinking, a runaway, lost in a white-out, buried by fish, etc.----more than ever I imagined when I came to this new country. Yes, it's a survival story. And it's most of all, about Grace. )

 

How have you survived God's (sometimes hard) grace this year?

Three Weddings and Six Funerals: Love and Death and Love

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July blew hot across our island; August has blown cold.  In the sharp winds, my sons and crew wear winter gear while mending the nets, huddle to keep warm on snack break. Our cooler month, July, was hot. Our warm month, August is cold now. The deer run tame. In the clouded skies, the island glows green and the bay sings blue even in the darkest light. I feel unsettled.

 

 

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In this beauty, I wanted to write of weddings this week. That was my plan. But this day, this very hour I sit to write brings news of death. In the storms this last week, one fisherman drowned at the south end of Kodiak. I just heard another man took his life in a village not far from here.  My brother-n-law, just back from the salmon season in Bristol Bay said four fishermen died there during this year’s mad season.

Six deaths. Six funerals. All tragic. But I cannot claim grief---I did not know these men. I can only claim sadness at the losses. Even from a distance, death stings.

But here on this island, close-up, there is joy. 

My daughter, my eldest just left, after two weeks on Harvester with her intended. They got engaged on the shores of the island she loves as much as I do. And, of course, in the skiff as well. (How can a fisherwoman become engaged without a fish or two?)

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It is just weeks now before my son marries the beautiful love of his life.

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And next spring, another precious son marries a woman of greater worth than rubies. 

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Three weddings in eight months. Their cups overflow. And my cup is a gushing well.

It feels wrong to be happy while others are grieving, to plan weddings while others are planning funerals, but we are all dying, too. Every day, another page pulled from the book of the days of our lives. So I take this moment, this sad funereal news as a "memento mori" a sign to once again remember this fleeting piece of life we're given. What shall we do with the hours we are given, if we have that much time? 

You know what I'm going to say today, with my cup spilling over, with these photos of half of my family and the new families that will begin from them. I'm going to say "love." Because that is the strongest weapon I know against Time and against death. There is another kind of death that is equally tragic. We all know people who live for themselves alone. We have seen them. They are already dead. They are breathing, but deceased. And we know people cast off by others. Considered unlovable. Killed by neglect. It is tragic and pitiful and heartbreaking and it's all around us. it could be any of us. (And maybe it is you right now.) Not-loving kills us and it kills others.

But Loving kills us too. We all know this, yes? It kills our self-preservation. It smothers our pride. It slays our self-obsession. It leads us to gladly lay down our lives for others. We can drown in love. We can disappear. We can be swallowed whole.  

(If you have children, you know this. If you are single and have served many, you know this. If you are long married, you know this.)

My words this week are simple and you've heard them before. But I say it again.

We're all headed for the grave. We have no choice. But we have this choice:

Which death shall we die each day?

I pray we choose the beautiful daily death that raises us up each morning, 

against all selfishness,

against all sense and flesh,

to love again the other,

the lovely and unloved,

(the husband, the wife, the father, the brother,)

until death do us part.

And if Love kills us first, death shall have no part. 

 

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Friends, have you, too, found this true? How has love overcome death in your life this last year?

Do People Have to Believe What I Believe?

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Most of this month our fishing nets have been empty. But the bushes are full. Salmonberries burn ripe and red, ready to fall from our hands into our buckets. Ready to be hauled from the hills to the kitchen to the pots to the jars to our table. And some days there are fish we catch to eat. We brine and smoke them and eat them together at the table.

How does any of this happen? We did not till or plant. We did not shield or tend. We reach into hillsides and pluck from the green; we reach into oceans and pull from the blue. We come and gather and go home rejoicing, thanking God.

 

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But not everyone does.

Early this summer, while still in Kodiak, I ran into someone at the grocery store I hadn't seen for awhile. "How you doing, Leslie?" she boomed in an inviting voice. I came closer. I never know what “Raya” is going to say, which is part of the fun.

One time, at a picnic, with my youngest in my arms, and my other five playing with the other kids, she asked me, "So, how many kids you got now?"

"This is my sixth and last."

"Ohhh!" she exclaimed with a shake of his head. "That's too many!" and then she walked away.

But Raya had other things on her mind this time. "So, how’s all this religion stuff workin’ out for ya’? I’ve read your stuff. I know what you do.”

I was doubtful on both counts. But I had no time to respond. She followed with his own spiritual resume, which included "I've never hurt anyone in my life," doing lots of good things for people, not bothering God except when she got in trouble, which wasn't very often, because she could pretty much do everything on his own. And the grand finale, "Why do people have to believe what you believe?"

 I marveled that she had managed to make it through all those decades without hurting anyone. She was clearly better than me. And, she was much stronger than me. She only needed God occasionally whereas I needed God continually. Like, every minute. (Like, right now.) Clearly I was the weaker person. No wonder I’m religious and she isn’t!

This happens all over the earth, in every city and island. The sun shines on us all. The same winds blow our skiffs up water mountains. The same rain drips from our hair. And the same berries and fish fill our buckets and spill onto our tables.

And some families sit down at their table together, happy. They will bow their heads and bless the Maker of all the fish and berries. They will thank him for health. They will confess their weakness, ask for strength for the storm, for endurance for the rain. They will go to bed at night marveling at the goodness poured out upon them, undeserved.

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And other families will sit down at their table, happy. They thank themselves; maybe they thank the earth, the sea, the stars. Then they eat. They are proud of their name, their dominion, their strength. They laugh at the storms, they capture the rain, they sleep well at night knowing they deserve all the goodness they can find.

I have many brave, strong friends like this. God bless them. And He does. 

 This is a God who grows wild grapes and blueberries in the yards of men and women who deny him. This is a God who gives children to the loveless, who heals the bodies of agnostics, who pumps the hearts of those who worship science, who fills the lungs of those who ridicule faith. This is a God who lights the night with stars, who warms our houses with sun, who lavishes his enemies with mercy, surrounds them with birthday cakes, grandchildren and feasts.

This is a God who imbues every molecule of the universe with his love, inviting us to choose Him. 

It's an invitation my friend has missed----or she's refused. 

And many say no. Many choose themselves over God.

But I am greedy and needy. I am small hearted and narrow minded. I want more, not less. I want the God of Everything, not the me with nothing.

 So I choose Him. 

After Raya's "sermon", she left, onto her next task. I like this strong blunt woman very much, but she is not the listening kind. 

May God keep blessing Raya. 

Maybe someday Raya will bless God. 

 

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(And, maybe someday I'll get to ask Raya, kindly, back, "Why do people have to believe what you believe?")

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Friends, I know you've all had interesting encounters with people of various faiths. I'd love to hear about one of those moments from your files. (Thank you!)

 

 

 

Why I'm a Happy Prisoner (& Wonder Years Giveaways)

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Last week you should have been here on Kodiak Island. The sun shone like the Sahara and people ran around in sun dresses and tank tops. These are people usually dressed to the chin and ankle in multilayers of Grundens, Carhardts, X-tra Tufs and Guy Cotton (and therewith I name the four clothing groups of Kodiak). 

 

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Sally has freckled legs? Gus has calves? Mara has tanned shoulders? Andrew has ankles? And someone please put pants on that fisherman in Bermudas with luminously pale hairy legs! (Oh wait. Those are my legs.)

 

But of course what a miracle, for Kodiak Island to have sun like this!

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I haven’t been out in it though. I’ve been living like a prisoner. I’ve spent the last 5 days alone, inside, writing 11-12 hours a day, until my brain, fried, fell out and my eyes swelled to slits, and my hands cramped. I stopped long enough to cram scrambled eggs down my throat and to pump coffee and kombucha.

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But look what I’ve got!

 

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I finished the first draft of a script and the outline of a new book. I can't wait to tell you more about it as it starts. (It involves a film crew out on our island taping Ann Voskamp and I--and 20 writers.)

 Here’s what I've come to say this week. Most people think being religious, going to church, being  “Christian” means following rules. They think it means voting for a certain political party. They think it means living a mean hard intolerant life, like the grim characters cast in Hollywood’s movies, when their movies include a token “Christian.” They’re either that or they’re just plain from-Mars cuckoo. Either stereotype concludes the same: Not fun people. Not a fun life. An abstemious life. A harsh suppressed virginal life. At best, a dutiful life, not a spontaneous joyful life.

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But I am joyful. I am buoyant. And I know lots of Christians who are. I am joyful though I have such stacks and loads of work to do---people waiting for words, classes, food---and I give up Kodiak sun to do it. Happily. I’m giving up some of my favorite summer things this week, this month.

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I am working like a prisoner, like a slave. I do this often----and I love it. Even when I'm tired and hating it. Because I get to speak to people and share the best news I know, news that keeps changing my life--and maybe others' too?  And because maybe I will write something that lightens someone else’s load?

 

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The Apostle Paul called himself "a slave for Jesus Christ," and if we're lucky, we're all His slaves. And Here is just one piece of the strange happy news of the gospel. Everything God asks us to be and to do, he enables us to do. He gives us joy to do. It’s what we want to do. I want to give stuff up to do better stuff. This work that overwhelms me often is yet a glad burden that wakes me up each morning and skips me through my day.

But it’s not all easy, being a Jesus-person. Especially for Christians in other countries who are routinely persecuted and killed because of who they love and serve. This is the ultimate price to pay.  For us, in the West, our struggles are smaller. But still, Forgiveness is not easy. Loving our enemies is not easy. Going the extra mile for a stranger is not always easy.  But so much of what our Father asks of us, he makes easy.

(Remember when the baby cried in the night----again? You thought it was so hard to get up----again. And it was. But it’s harder to stay in bed, yes? Remember forgiving your husband---again?And deciding you would not build walls against him. No, not easy, but this is what Love does. It turns us inside out and sideways-over so that obeying and doing for others is our delight even when it hurts.)

We’re Christians because we believe Jesus is real and true, and it also happens that it’s the best life we know.

It can be yours as well. Jesus wants to take your burden. He wants to make a swap with you. 

 “Come to me, all of you who are tired with heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Accept my teachings and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit, and you will find rest for your lives. The burden that I ask you to accept is easy; the load I give you to carry is light.”

                                                                 Matthew 11:28-30 New Century Version (NCV)

 

I hope you'll do it. There's no better life.

 

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It's been awhile since I gave away some Wonder Years! I'd like to give FIVE away this week!

 

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(Thanks to you all, "The Wonder Years" is headed for a third printing!)

To enter, would you do this? If you know people who need messages of hope, photos of wild Alaska, honest words from this pen, cultural commentary and hands pointing to Jesus, would you subscribe them to these weekly notes? Or just send their emails to me (leslieleylandfields@gmail.com) and they can be added to the list. But please, ONLY with their permission!

Thank you friends. It is always a joy to share this space with you.

As the Nations Rattle and Roil

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Friends, hello again! What news this week?  I flew into Kodiak for a couple of days. We skiff for 25 minutes to the village of Larsen Bay, the home of our cannery, Icicle Seafoods. Then fly out on a bush plane. 

It was a minus tide that day. All week we've been in the highest and lowest tides of the year, from -5.8 to 21.6, a tidal range of 26+ feet. We walked our luggage (always in boxes) across the ocean floor only rarely exposed. I feel shy and illlicit, as though I am treading on the undergarments of the sea.

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I love the cannery at Larsen Bay. We meet old friends here, fellow fishermen. We eat ice cream. We talk weather, fishing, politics. The day Trump and Putin met in Finland, I was here.

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I don't have radio at fishcamp and internet is limited. I am unplugged from the world news mostly. But suddenly I hear the news. The radio is on. The screens are flickering.

There is disbelief. Anger. Outrage. Defense. Attack. Surely it's unprecedented, the words spoken then denied. What a wicked new world! we say as we shake our heads and our fists at our politicians, our heads-of-state, the media, whoever we are blaming.  

But listen, nations come and go. Leaders come and go. America is not very great right now, and it shakes my faith not at all. America is not very great right now, and in truth, my faith is stronger. I'm not gloved up in the ring of the Culture and Politic Wars fighting to make America Christian again, no matter the cost. I'm not interested in trying to recover or create a "Christian nation." I am more interested in what Jesus was interested in: living and enacting right here the great good news of another country, another kingdom, another king, who rules by Love. And Justice. And Mercy.

Who is this king? A king who counted his life as less than mine. Less than mine. And less than yours. And who were we when this King hung up his life for us? We were slaves, ragmen, washerwomen. Prisoners. We were nothing. But not to Him. He counted us worthy. He counted us worthy when no one else did. 

As the nations rattle and roil, I am not shaken. Remember this?

 Why the big noise, nations?
Why the mean plots, peoples?
Earth-leaders push for position,
Demagogues and delegates meet for summit talks,
The God-deniers, the Messiah-defiers:
“Let’s get free of God!
Cast loose from Messiah!”
Heaven-throned God breaks out laughing.
At first he’s amused at their presumption;
Then he gets good and angry.
Furiously, he shuts them up:
“Don’t you know there’s a King in Zion? A coronation banquet
Is spread for him on the holy summit.”
 Let me tell you what God said next.
He said, “You’re my son,
And today is your birthday.
What do you want? Name it:
Nations as a present? continents as a prize?
You can command them all to dance for you,
Or throw them out with tomorrow’s trash.”
So, rebel-kings, use your heads;
Upstart-judges, learn your lesson:
Worship God in adoring embrace,
Celebrate in trembling awe. Kiss Messiah!
Your very lives are in danger, you know;
His anger is about to explode,
But if you make a run for God—you won’t regret it!

(Psalm 2, The Message)

 

My message this week is simple.

As our nation shakes and totters, we need not be shaken.

Because we're with Him.

We're living in His kingdom now. Already.

And if you're not, the doors and gates and window are open to you

Now. Already. Just enter.

(And listen to this version of Handel's "Who is This King of Glory?" Can you keep your hands from rising?)

 

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How do YOU stay grounded, sane and loving in the midst of political turmoil?

Eating with the Chinese and God (AND---special invitation!)

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It is a week of harvest. My eldest son and his beautiful wife are here. We are twelve at the table now. But yesterday we were 26. Twenty-six people including 10 from China, seafood professionals here on a tour to see Alaska wild seafood at its source. 

What do I feed them? Salmon, yes of course, but how? I fixed "Peroke" (per-awk'), a traditional Russian-Alutiiq fish pie that is the signature dish of Kodiak Island and other coastal areas where the Russians settled. 

It's a messy, tactile, glorious multi-day affair that starts with putting out a net, wrestling the salmon from the net, then knives are involved, pie crusts, steamed rice, sauteed vegetables, rhubarb, a lot of smoke (I use smoked salmon in mine) and a host of aprons. There is blood too. Creatures die for our table. But many are fed. 

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If God made this whole ball of earth and wax, and if God is watching the daily news, surely he is too busy (and too angry) to care about food. Jesus came down and he had a lot to do in a short time. Surely he was too busy to care about something as trivial and earthy and earthly as food!

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But no. Of course. 

Jesus came as "the bread of life," and he spent a lot of his time feeding the hungry loaves of real barley bread. He taught us to pray for "our daily bread." He ate and drank so freely he was known among the disgruntled as a glutton and drunkard, as crazy about food as they were about their own brand of righteousness.  

He spent his last  hours on earth at a dinner with his friends, where he chose homely bread and local wine to mark his death and his promised undying life within us. He told us to eat and drink remembering him. 

When he returned after his death, he cooked fish on the beach for his astonished friends who did not know of any body who could rise from the dead. And who among them could even dream of a God who could kill death then show up calmly after as their breakfast cook? 

Food matters.

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I'm saying this to myself as much as to you because food is . .. food is not always my ally. Food consumes so much of my time, my life. Especially this week with my hands and arms flesh deep in fish flesh. Yesterday I filleted 35 salmon, and then there will be berries and rose petals and so many jams and jellies to be made. I will be busy all summer with this work. 

But God doesn't tire of feeding us, thank God, and he feeds the world through us, at least in part. It is work to be sure, but it is joy to take part in God's feeding of the world. God allows us to be the answer to others' prayer, "Lord, give us this day our daily bread." 

For that, for that great joy, yes, I will dirty my hands with blood, go to bed with fish scales in my hair, remembering each night the gladness at my table, which is your table, Lord.

Thank you for feeding me the daily bread that feeds others theirs.

Amen. 

 

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Would you like to join me on Harvester Island next summer to make peroke, smoked salmon, and whatever else our hearts and appetites desire? I am hosting the first ever "Spirit of Food Retreat" July 14 - 20 with world renowned theologian of food and ecology, Norman Wirzba and Melissa D'Arabian, a chef on the Food Network. We'll forage, fish, gather food from our gorgeous wild environs. We'll cook together, learn about the theology of food and creation care. We'll eat out on the beach, watch whales, go ocean touring and just generally celebrate food and our loving Father who feeds us so well. I can't wait! I hope to see some of you here! Couples welcome. More here: (Space is limited. Taking applications now. ) 

 

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Making History on Harvester Island: Our First Flushing Toilet!

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Big things have been happening on our fish camp island this week! No, not fish, which have yet to show up. And yes, every night a gorgeous flaunting of God's glory. But this week----more!  I have a short video to show and tell.  

 

 

I still can’t believe it.  It’s in my writing studio where the Harvester Island Wilderness Workshop is held. Several times a day I’ll go peek in and marvel at it.

I did nothing to install this technological wonder. It was these guys who dug the trench for the pipes. It was my husband who did all the engineering.

 

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We’ve entered the brave new world of the turn-of-the-century.  I am used to being behind a century or two. For ten summers I carried all our water, up a hill, up a steep set of stairs. For twenty summers I washed our clothes in a wringer washer. For two winters out here, I washed them outside, rinsing by hand, hanging them out on the line, prying them crackly and frozen from the line, carrying them in like pieces of wood. I washed my 6 babies in aluminum tubs in the banya, the Russian steambath. I took them out fishing with my husband and me. We all do whatever is needed, no matter what.

 

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And now, 40 years since I came, we have a toilet. God is good.

 

It will likely be the only toilet on this island of multiple buildings. We don’t have enough water for more than one. I don’t mind our two outhouses, surely the fanciest outhouses in all of Alaska , featuring spectacular views, original artwork, curtains, an entryway, an extensive magazine library, and Maggie's Farm flyspray.

 
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God is good. 

 

And God was good that hard cold winter we were building our house, carrying every piece of lumber from the beach up the hill on our backs, the winter when we didn’t have even an outhouse. And God is good not because it was easy, but because He put it in our hearts to do this, and he blessed us with strength and joy, and he bound my husband’s will and mine together to settle this island, to make a house and a home here, to fill it with children, to work the fishing nets together. And every blessed wrenching step of the way, God was good because He didn’t let us give up. He didn’t let us give up on this island. On our children. On each other. Though so many times it would have been so much easier to walk away from it all.

 

We’re not done building. We have one last building to go. We’re building it for our grown-up children, who will all be married in the next year and who all come to visit. We’re building it for writers and retreaters. For God, who changes lives here. Especially mine.

 

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(View from the new building)

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None of this should have happened. But when I was a teenager, living in a house with closed doors and unheated rooms where no one was welcome, God burst in. He swept into this sparse heart with one rickety chair, and he set up house. A couch, a soft bed, a large open table where all were welcomed, and so many rooms, a mansion of rooms, where so many children would live. He has done it. 

 

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And now among all these rooms there is one with a flushing toilet and it makes me cry. 

 

Because we have not done any of this perfectly or even well at times. At times we utterly failed, and our house should have come crashing down. But it didn’t. For long.

 

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I'm writing all this to you, reader, because maybe that's you hauling the water or the bucket of fish up the steep hill. Maybe that's you right now, with babies on your back and you're strong with love but you're tired. Maybe you're in the middle of building and there are too many rooms. You know it is impossible.  

It was for me, too. There are a lot of rooms, and babies are heavy, and hills are steep but God is capacious and bountiful with a wild plan for our lives. He pours out more upon us than we can bear at times, but it will be good. It will become good if you don't let go of the bucket, or the baby or the load of lumber on your back. 

Tell Him you're tired. And believe these words:

Why would you ever complain, O Jacob,
    or, whine, Israel, saying,
“God has lost track of me.
    He doesn’t care what happens to me”?
Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening?
God doesn’t come and go. God lasts.
    He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine.
He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath.
    And he knows everything, inside and out.
He energizes those who get tired,
    gives fresh strength to dropouts.
For even young people tire and drop out,
    young folk in their prime stumble and fall.
But those who wait upon God get fresh strength.
    They spread their wings and soar like eagles,
They run and don’t get tired,
    they walk and don’t lag behind.       ---Isaiah 40 (The Message)
            

God is building something magnificent and unimaginable right now.

Through you.

And if He can make a toilet flush on Harvester Island,

He can do ANYTHING! 

       

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What has He done for you?

Listening to Alaska's Crazy Days of Light (And Book Winners)

I am writing this on the longest day of the year. It’s crazy here in Alaska, where the sun takes only a two hour snooze (between 1 and 3), but otherwise the shining show goes on. Even here, near midnight. 

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 From this tiny northern island, I pass it on to you, then, some of this long long light. 

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I'm sending more light than words this week. These last two weeks, I've spent most of my words. On a new book proposal. On a script that I’m writing for a film crew this fall.  On a particular social issue. On a theological issue. (About one mega-church's "Patriotic Worship" Sunday, where everyone brings flags to church to celebrate first: their freedom as Americans. Second: their freedom in Christ. Did Jesus call us to worship freedom? Or our nation? Didn't he call us to worship him alone?

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(What if we visited a Christian church in say , Slovenia, and they all brought Slovenian flags for "patriotic worship"? I think we might whisper, "Idolatry"?)

And now I've done it.  I didn't mean to. We all have SO many words, don't we? Our world is all a-twitter, each one proclaiming his truths and her cause to anyone who will listen (as I just did). So many good and right causes worth speaking and fighting for. Yes, let us use our words for this!

But words are tempting, dangerous. Because WE are dangerous. They make us feel powerful. A man who lived more than 2,000 years ago looked around him and saw people speaking, using words amiss. They were counterfeit creators who sculpted statues and tried, like the Creator God, to speak their creations to life:

Woe to him who says to wood, “Come to life!”

  Or to lifeless stone,”Wake up”

Can it give guidance?

It is covered with gold and silver,

There is no breath in it.

But the LORD is in his holy temple;

Let all the earth be silent

before Him.

 

We don't need to fashion idols and beg them to speak. The problem is not that God doesn't speak. Our problem is we are too busy speaking to listen to Him.  If we listen and look, what will we see?

"For the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord"   

"The earth will be filled with the Knowledge of the glory of the LORD,

              As the waters cover the sea." 

                                                   (Hab.2:7)

From this land of long summer light, may I pass on to you today just a bit of it? Can we sit here together, wordless, listening before this holy God? (Maybe with a little music?)
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"The earth WILL be filled with the knowledge
of the glory of God, as the waters cover the sea."
Do you  hear it?
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 This week, Lord, let me practice silence. Before I speak a word,
Let me listen long and well to you in all the light you have given. 
Amen. 
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                                                *****************************************************

 

I'm happy to announce the winners for Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers: Finding Freedom from Hurt and Hate

Lorna, Patricia A. Lynn Hyman, Sheila Smith, Cindy Lavoie,  and Rosemary! 

Your books are on their way! 

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What My (Terrible) Father Taught Me About God (& 5 Giveaways!)

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If my father were still alive, I would call him on Father’s Day. I would not lie. I would not thank him for being my father, because I could not do that honestly. But I would send him photos of our Alaska island, our boats, the ocean. He loved the ocean and dreamed his live-long life of sailing around the world. Here, Dad, is the island we live on in the summers, where we fish.

 

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He never came to visit. Not because I lived in Alaska, but because he had no interest in visiting any of his children and he didn’t.

 

But I visited him. Finally. After 50 years of caring nothing for a man who cared nothing for me, God rattled my cage of a heart and sent me from Alaska down to Florida to see him. He was in his eighties then and in a nursing home. I couldn’t believe what I found. 

The 4 day visit did not go well.  On the first day, my father, with all of his teeth gone, but his 88 year old face still unwrinkled, proclaimed his atheism again. In halting breathy words he made it clear he still didn’t believe in God. And he thought I was a fool because I did.

I was defensive. I sniped back. I  remembered why I had never liked him. But didn’t I come here to try and love him? I wasn’t doing a very good job.

But slowly, slowly, I began to see beyond my own hurt and dislike. He was so very alone. Did anyone love him? I calmed down, just focused on being with him. Giving him space when he needed it. Helping him eat his dinner in the dining hall. On the last day, knew, after 30 years of absence from his life, I knew I would come again. I wanted someone to love him. More, I wanted him to know about a love so much better than mine---the love of God. Had he seen it in me? If I asked him, he would look at me blankly, I am sure.

 

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It was time now to leave. I inched toward the exit doors, my heart tight and heavy. A woman sat at a table near the door smiling at me. It was Sally. My father had introduced me to her that first day as she hobbled down the hall, her body twisted with arthritis.

I hesitated, then came over to her table. “Sally, I’ve got to go catch my plane. But I’m so thankful that my father has a friend here. “

“Oh yes,” she smiled back, her eyes on mine.

“Does my father talk to you?”

“He doesn’t say a lot, but yes, we talk.”

“What do you talk about?”

“Your father and I and Bill, we meet out back in the smoking shed every day. We talk about God. Your father says he doesn’t believe in God, but I’m not so sure.” She lifts her eyebrows and looks wise.

My eyes widen. “You talk about the Lord with my father?” I did not even know she was a believer.

“I sure do,” she says, smiling her beatific smile.

I see Sally and my father out in the smoking shed sharing cigarettes and the gospel.

I grabbed her hands, curled mine over her swollen, curled fingers. ‘You’re the answer to my prayers.”  We talked for five more minutes, then hugged, promised to pray for one another. I walked out, my mind ablaze.

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Are God’s mercies really this vast? Narrow is the gate that leads to heaven, and so shall it always be, but wide are God’s mercies, so much wider and vaster than ever I knew. This was his love for my father. And had I not seen this same love even toward me? 

 

And this is how it went: Jesus, the hound of heaven, lovingly dogged my father’s heels all his days, even at the last. 

A loving witness was constantly present with my reclusive, renegade father who had no friends.

I don’t know if my father ever yielded to the God he was unsure of before he breathed his last lung of air.  But I got to go visit him two more times. I got to love him. I got to live out Mercy. I got to see these staggering displays of God’s character and heart. How narrow, yes, is the gate, but how inclusive His invitation, how wide and never-ending are his mercies.

 

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This Father’s Day, Go and be mercy to any father who needs it.

 

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Every Father's Day it is my joy to give away 5 Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers: Finding Freedom from Hurt and Hate. (It tells the rest of my story with my father---which ends so differently than I imagined. It's been translated into 8 languages and by God's great mercies has led to much healing.) 

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How do you enter?

1. Please share this hopeful message with others on social media---and let me know below in your comments that you've done this.

2. Include your email info so I can contact you if you win!

That's it. Friends, a Blessed merciful Father's Day to you all!

.

Of Bodies and Birds (When God Takes Away Our Health)

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Dear All, I am bringing you something special today. A stunning piece written by my spiritual daughter, Michelle Novak, who once sat in my Literature class in Kodiak 25 years ago. She was an angry, leather-clad rebel, but she was no match for the Lord. Who found her. Who changed her utterly. 

This stunning piece comes from The Wonder Years: 40 Women Over 40 on Aging, Faith, Beauty and Strength. There are famous incredible women in The Wonder Years. Michelle is unknown. This is her first ever publication. But her essay is brilliant and beautiful, and often makes me cry.  I have to share it with you. And I hope you will share it with others. 

 

 

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I knelt in the swamp, mesmerized by the creature on the shrub. His strange contortions enthralled me: he was emerging from his exuvia---breaking out of his outer shell, undergoing the change from water-based nymph to fully-adult dragonfly.

I watched for more than hour. It looked excruciating, bone cracking, the outer layer splitting along what we might call the spine. Finally he emerged ---at first a faint greenish color not so different from the spent grey insect he was.  When I bent the twig down for a better look he wobbled onto my hand. There, to my delight, he finished coloring to a deeper emerald, drying and straightening his wings. When he was finally erect, the process nearly finished, he rubbed his head on my palm to loosen his antennae, whirred his brand new wings for a few seconds, and flew away. I decided to keep the twig where the cracked and empty shell was still attached.

I understood entirely how this felt: it mirrored my own bone-cracking transformation to wholeness.

I had always been athletic and energetic. I had even been a lifeboat crewman in the Coast Guard, as well as a shipboard navigator who climbed onto buoys in bays and the ocean, using my sextant to fix their position. Even as I approached 50, I still led a vigorous life and was untroubled at the thought of aging.

Until one day. Without warning, my neck swelled up, became hot to the touch, and my head fell over. My neck could not support my head. Afraid to move, I slept that way in a chair only to wake up the next morning with my head rammed hard onto the opposite shoulder, along with a spine-cracking sensation and pain I couldn't begin to describe.

My head never went back. As I waited months to see a specialist, I thought of obtaining illegal and heavy drugs, or suicide. Mostly, I crawled on the floor, letting my head drop onto it over and over, sobbing and groaning, hoping I would die.

I was eventually diagnosed with systemic dystonia, a complex neuro-muscular disorder for which there is no cure, and very little in the way of successful treatment. The dystonia affects almost every muscle in my body, with constant tormenting spasms in my neck muscles and surprise spasms everywhere else, twisting my spine, wringing it from top to bottom. It rapidly progressed, bringing with it a deep fatigue and a violent tremor in my hands and neck. I had no idea how much I’d be able to do, but I knew my active life was over.

 

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A woman before and after the onset of dystonia

 

What was possible for me in this new life, this new-old body? If this was how I was going to age, I at least wanted peace of mind in the midst of it. That meant I needed something to study. I’ve always been active both in body and in mind. I love studying languages and have gained proficiency in several living and dead languages, which I use to translate ancient texts, particularly the Old and New Testaments.  I knew if I was going to survive this dystonia, I needed a new mental challenge, but I could only study for short periods. I also desperately needed something to keep me moving. Even the little movement I could tolerate was crucial to keeping as healthy as I could.

One winter morning, as I rummaged through my books, I happened upon my mom's old bird guide. The cover was gone, and it had seen much use. I smiled as I fingered through it, remembering how she loved to tell me the names of all the birds in her yard, the tanagers, the purple martins, and especially the hummingbirds. She had several feeders set up exclusively for them, and would sit and enjoy their antics for hours. The memory of how bright and happy she became when she talked about the hummingbirds remained.

Then I remembered something else: by then, she too had developed a spastic rigidity in all her limbs and lost most of her ability to move about safely. But she was so rejuvenated when watching or talking about the birds.

I made a decision. I got a couple of feeders and put out some seeds. Soon, the birds came---first the usuals, chickadees and titmice. And then woodpeckers, which fascinated me. By spring I had an aviary only an obsessive-compulsive, twisted central nervous system could dream up! The yard was full of new birdsong and vigorous life.

Most of my outdoor time now was spent slowly working through each feeder, moving, filling and cleaning it. I experimented. I started talking to the birds, and they began to come closer, forgiving the twisted body and maybe even the twisted mind of one who talks to birds.

 

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I learned to listen to the incredible arias of bird language, as they discuss, announce and proclaim their intentions for their every movement and activity. 

Many nights I study about them. And since my disease requires me to sit for hours at a time every day, I've learned to observe them in their own space through a disciplined, almost athletic stillness, a great accomplishment for someone whose muscles are still yanking, twitching and spasming.

Now, every day a world of creatures alight in my flawed garden to be tended by a wracked body. I know what I look like. I move like someone twenty years older. But the creatures come. They stay. I'm charmed and I feel deep affection for what I never noticed when I could see straight ahead.

When my head was permanently wrenched to the right by the unyielding spasming of many neck muscles, my eyes were re-cast. What was peripheral vision, has become my central vision. Only a twisted body can know it and navigate the world by it.

The direction of my life has been realigned as well. I move sideways. I move slowly, with what might be seen as excruciating deliberation to those who only see straight ahead. But the best part is, I see small. I see slow. What I used to blow by in fast hikes, I now stop to examine, write about, photograph and consider. That's how I met my dragonfly.

And my chickadee. At the end of May, as I was filling a chickadee feeder, talking as I worked, as was my custom, a chickadee landed on a branch just a few inches from me. He looked at me, his head as cocked to the side as the dystonia had tilted mine. I slowly raised my hand, asking in a soft voice, “Would you like a seed?”

 

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In a moment he flitted into my palm. I liked the soft pinch of his feet and he seemed to like sinking into the flesh of my hand. We looked at one another with the same long quizzical gaze. A few seconds later, he lit from my hand to the tree. We were companions now. I knew he would stand in my palm again. He came because I held my hand out to the birds from January to almost June. In my old life, I would never have had the patience to wait and be still.

As it is with everyone whose soul is hidden in Christ, my brokenness has been redeemed, and I am whole. I'm twisted but whole. I know who I am: I am a helpless creature who must wait on the Lord for every good thing.

And he has cared for me in my new state and allowed me to care for others. I have a pair of robins nesting in my yard that come when I call them. I named them as Adam must have when things were new, and slow, and he had fresh eyes which allowed him to truly see every wonderful creature with which God presented him, creatures who came to him as these come to me.

They wait for the food I give them. They drink and bathe in the water I pour out for them. They frolic and nest in the trees and grass I tend for them. I've finally learned why the birds made my mother so joyous, even in her pain and immobility.

And in these creatures I see a new world coming

when my body is made as whole as my soul. In that day,

I will crawl out of my broken exuvia, stand erect

                 to feed my chickadees with strong, steady hands.

 

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Michelle Novak lives in Delevan New York with her two huge dogs, Sundew and Acacia. (Here, on a good day, she is able to sit for this photo.) When able, she roams the hills, swamps, fields ands forests of western NY State, often bringing back specimens to examine under a microscope. While captivated by birds and swamp-mucking, she is also a lifelong self-taught linguist who is able to translate four languages, including Greek and Hebrew. Most of all, Michelle loves God. 

(Please feel free to leave a comment for Michelle below!)

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10 Ways the World is Getting Better

I write this from my island in Alaska---because I need it this week. The daily headlines travel all the way here. I need to shut out cynicism. I need hope and truth. And perhaps you do as well? Here we go then! 10 Ways the World is Getting Better (for real!)

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1.  The Miss America Pageant ended its swimsuit parade! (Sis-boom-bah with a pom-pom [but not a skimpy skirt!])  Good riddance to strutting near-naked before a panel of judges scoring their curves, weight and shape like a cow at an auction. Because naturally if you're a woman, no one can judge your real beauty---and of course we mean inside beauty---and intelligence too!---unless you're in stilettos and bikini. Chalk another “about-time” notch on the #MeToo movement.

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2. It’s our time to shine! As the public square gets increasingly impulsive and insulting, believers are given an exciting glorious hour to enact Paul’s important admonitions: “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone,” and “speak the truth in love.”  Seize the day, grace-filled people!

 

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3. Podcasts! A whole new world has opened to all of us hungry masses, eager to learn more about-----everything!  Those empty hours commuting, cleaning bathrooms, or mending fishing nets can now be filled with artful aural blends of music, voice, fascinating ideas and people. What’s not to love?  Here’s a list of Time Magazines “Best Podcasts of 2018, So far” http://time.com/5275708/best-podcasts-of-2018-so-far/

And here’s the “Big List of Christian Podcasts.”

 

4. Churches and Christian organizations are doing something! They are rising up to boldly (and gracefully) speak on behalf of the most vulnerable of our neighbors: immigrants, children of immigrants, unborn babies, refugees, abused women. I’m so encouraged that our faith is increasingly engendering action in the world. We are praying with our lips, and now with our hands and bodies also.

 

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5. Your favorite superheroes will never die! "The Justice League: Civil War" reminded me that thanks to Hollywoods’ endless reboots and our own human need for heroes and resurrections, we’re all assured a constant supply of good vs. evil melees and bashes. Even when my hero (Black Panther) dies a tortuous death, I know he’ll soon rise to inspire me again. This makes me happy.

 

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6. #MeToo, #TimesUp and #ChurchToo have put criminals in jail and male predators on notice!!  Yes, we must guard against over-reaching, and all are "innocent until proven guilty," but women who routinely experience harassment and abuse at work and in the church are finally being heard. And believed. (After how many centuries?) I’m still cheering and thankful. (Because I am a MeToo too.)

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7. Social media! (I know, but hear me for a minute.)  We have an unprecedented chance to “weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.” We get to pray for Molly who is sick, we get to laugh with Davy and Elise who are getting married, we get to thank God for Karen healing from being hit by a bus, we get to console Ben on the death of his mother. (And bonus! We get the goat-in-a-bonnet pics and the banana dump-cake recipe we’ll make for dessert. ) I’m more connected and empathetic because of it.

 

8. Racist tweets can cancel a popular show! I believe that more and more of us are awakening to the lies and pervasiveness of racism and are actively working to uproot and expose it, in ourselves first, and in our churches and larger world.  Racism is anti-Christian, and (finally) we're getting it. 

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9. No more “normal.”!!  (Okay, this one's hard, but let me try.) Ageism, sexism, racism and a bunch of other –isms narrowed “normal” and “beautiful” to a tiny swath of acceptable people. Human diversity is every-day real and should be recognized and represented. We’re getting there. Kanye West recently revealed his bi-polar diagnosis. Lady Gaga talks about her fibromyalgia. Glen Campbell was open about his Alzheimer’s. Models now include curvy women and women in their 70’s and 80’s.  All of us in our incredible variety of shapes, sizes, ages, colors and abilities are made in the beautiful image of God. We’re doing so much better at honoring that. 

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10. People are loving each other more than ever. They are. Just look around. Families are going on picnics. Churches are feeding refugees and teaching them English. Mothers are riding bikes with their kids. Fathers are backpacking with their teenagers. Teachers are playing baseball with their students. Daughters and sons are caring for their elderly parents. Kids are secretly making presents for Father’s Day. Pastors are serving communion bread and wine to men and women in hospital beds. Strangers dig gardens together and become friends. 

This is happening all over.  

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Turn off the news. Walk outside. Watch a shooting star. Breathe in the beautiful lavender night on the mountains.

The whole earth is full of the goodness of God--and we can be too.  Rejoice!  

 

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Friends (people smarter than me), Would you add to my list? I'd love to hear your thoughts on ways the world is getting better!

Roseanne Barr and the End of Free Speech

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Yes, I am on my island in Alaska, but I know about it too.

That heinous tweet. The apology and explanation, that it was a 2 am Ambien-fueled blast. The cancellation of her show. The internet exploding with words and tweets and speeches about words and tweets.

This site is a place for goodness and beauty and peace. But I also try to take a swing at truth along the way. Here’s my swing:

It’s time we faced the truth. There is no free speech in this country. Nor should there be.

Freedom of speech is protected in our Constitution; it’s in our national DNA. And now we’re lousy with it. With social media, anyone low on sleep, high on racism, anyone from the ditch digger to the president with any sort of rant, rage, or lie can shoot their words into the vast wide world with just the cost of a reasonable computer and three seconds of their time.

It’s so easy. And that little verbal fling hits the news. Then the news shoots out their headline—which becomes a tweet. Facebook and twitter light up with first, second and third responders to the headlines and to each other about the initial utterance, picking up heat, steam and accusation along the way, until we’re all mired in gossip, outrage, innuendo, slander, and accusation.

 

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None of this is free. The more we speak, the more it costs us all.

It costs the speaker too. Barr paid a high price for her words. Mel Gibson’s drunken rant against Jews a few years ago cost him. And we all know of the long string of politicians and celebrities who have fallen from great heights because of politically incorrect verbiage, either through rants or even minor tongue trips and slips.

Yes, sometimes the PC language police are over zealous, but  more, we’ve been duped. We’ve been lured into the lair and the lies of social media:  

*That all the world is holding its breath until it hears from me.

*That my words are worthy and precious just because I wrote them.

*That my need to express myself is greater and more important than anyone else’s needs.

Beneath this, I believe that we value free speech more than we value truth. And that we value our own desire to speak more than we value the good of our listeners.

If we don’t “love our neighbors” first, free speech is more likely to curse rather than bless.

We’re wasting and misusing the most powerful and precious resource we have: language.

 

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God’s words lit the cosmic swirl of night to brilliant noon. God’s words knit our bodies from dust. Jesus’ “Peace! Be still!” stopped a storm.  Jesus breathed out, “It is finished” in his final words, sealing our redemption.

The battle between God and the destroyer was a battle over words. (Did God really say?)

Words are not merely sounds and letters. As Frederick Beuchner has so wisely noted,

. In Hebrew, the word dabar means both word and also deed. A word doesn't merely say something, it does something. It brings something into being. It makes something happen. . . . 

 If there is poison in the words, you are poisoned; if there is nourishment, you are nourished; if there is beauty, you are made a little more beautiful.

 

Here’s my plea. What if we all slowed down, spoke less, listened more? What if we sent out into the world only the costliest words---not the words that cost our listeners, but words that cost us, the speakers and writers? Words that we labored over, that we cried over, that we prayed over. Words that cost us sleep and days and even years to find. Words that did their shaping purifying work in our hearts first.

What if we waited and sent out only these words into the world? Imagine the world our words would create!

And here, what have I done? I have stayed up until today became tomorrow, adding my own poor voice to the clamor of millions. But I write slow. Long. Seeking. Listening. Hoping.

If these words bring a moment of good to even one reader, how rich I will be! 

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Finally Fish Camp! & The Elephant Who Became a Mermaid (video)

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I’m riding in the skiff, head down, burying my neck in the three coats I layered so carefully. The wind is frigid. I forgot gloves. My hands shrink and fist in the long sleeves of my rain coat. The mountains hover over the water, still wearing their white winter coats. This is May. It’s a cold wintery May. And I’m on my way to fish camp.

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How did 8 months of travel pass so fast? How am I here again, riding over steel waters, approaching my 40th season at fish camp?  

And was this homecoming beautiful? After planes and trains and subways and jeeps over tens of thousands of miles, didn’t I throw myself over my doorstep, step out of my ruby slippers, slough off my backpack exhaling, “There’s no place like home”?    

 

I didn’t. People would ask me as we traveled, “Don’t you miss Alaska? Don’t you miss home?” I didn’t want to disappoint them. I said I did.

But I lied. The truth is, I felt at home everywhere. Everywhere.

 

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I set off in October with my two youngest sons and my husband, looking around for God in this world. (I am always chasing after Him, though more than half my days I am surely running the other way. He does not hide; it is I who hide from Him. He is not silent, it is I who cannot stop boasting long enough to hear him. )

But there he was In the African bush, the karoo, the French Alps, the island of Patmos, the ruins of Corinth, the townships, a Paris café. In the mountains of Greece. In Pollsmoor prison.

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 I saw God’s spirit move in mighty ways. But the months passed too fast. I wasn’t ready to leave any of those places. There are people there now whom I love. People I miss. There are churches and publishers and cities and villages I want to see again. Not even mentioning the elephants. Have I told you about the elephants?

 

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We spent a week in Kruger National Park in South Africa, sweltering in 90+ degrees and safari-ing from south to north in our rented car. If love is measured by length of gaze, I surely then love elephants. And this elephant in particular.

There were three at first in this watering hole. Galumphing, cavorting like gazelles in the only element that renders them floatable and suddenly graceful.

After thirty minutes, two of the water beauties tired of hosing one another and solemnly emerged, dripping, plodding off into the trees, with just a single glance behind, “Flora, dear, aren’t you coming?”

But Flora was not coming. Because she knew who she was. She was not an elephant; she was a mermaid. And here in this water all her dreams come true. She longs to be small and lithe, she longs to dance rather than plod, she longs to lunge and sink, to hide, to float, to twirl. And all of this she does and is. And when she’s done, she swishes her shimmering tail and climbs ashore, lumbering off to her daily elephant chores, lighter. Here is 42 seconds of Flora:

Watching that video again now on my Alaskan island,  gazing at snowed mountains, hailing rain and a stormy sea, thinking of all that is ahead of us in this salmon season, I remember---

These waters---how sweet and deep they are! This clumsy child of God who limps and trips, she falls into them each summer and remember? She does not drown. She swims. She floats. She spins. Sometimes she even breathes underwater. (And is that a bit of mermaid scale on her legs after 40 seasons?)

 

I know. The world beckons and shines brighter than our own tiny dim islands. But here. HERE. Is where God has now planted you and me. And it will be sweet, these months, years, however long we must stay. No matter how hard. If God cares about Flora's joy, he cares about yours. Every island, every field, every city, every street has a watering hole as deep and as wide as heaven. It does. Go ahead----Jump in!

 

And at the end of this season, we shall all say, dripping, with a flick of our (mermaid) tails:

 

Our mouths were filled with laughter, 

our tongues with songs of joy!

Then it was said among the nations,

 “The Lord has done great things for them!” 

The Lord has done great things for us, 

and we are filled with joy!

                                       (Psalm 126:2-3

 

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Are you ready to plunge? 

 

For Mother's Day: Madeleine L'Engle on "The Flesh is to Be Honored"

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Dear Friends, I come to you today from Kodiak. I write looking out upon my rainy Alaska ocean. Home at last.

It's almost Mother's Day. So I come with a small gift: beautiful words not my own, but words from the beloved Madeleine L'Engle I have caught like seeds on the wind, words planted in The Wonder Years.

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There is no more beautiful witness to the mystery of the word made flesh than a baby’s naked body. I remember with sensory clarity sitting with one of my babies on my lap and running my hand over the incredibly pure smoothness of the bare back and thinking that any mother, holding her child thus, must have at least an echo of what it is like to be Mary; that in touching the particular created matter, flesh, of our child, we are touching the Incarnation.

 

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Once, when I was in the hospital, the smooth and beautiful white back of the woman in the bed next to mine, a young woman dying of cancer, was a stabbing and bitter reminder of the ultimate end of all matter.

But not just our human bodies: all matter: the stars in their courses: everything: the end of time.

 

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Meanwhile we are in time, and the flesh is to be honored. At all ages. For me, this summer, this has been made clear in a threefold way: I have fed, bathed, played pat-a-cake with my grandbabies. In the night when I wake up, as I usually do, I always reach out with a foot, a hand, to touch my husband’s body; I go back to sleep with my hand on his warm flesh. And my mother is almost ninety and preparing to move into a different country. I do not understand the mysteries of the flesh, but I know that we must not be afraid to reach out to each other, to hold hands, to touch.

 

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In our bedroom there is a large old rocking chair which was in the attic of Crosswicks when we bought it. It seems to have been made especially for mothers and babies. I have sat in it and nursed my babe in the middle of the night. I have sung innumerable lullabies from it. When Hugh was in Medea, which was sent overseas in 1951 by the State Department, I sat in the rocking chair, carrying his child within me and holding our firstborn in my arms, singing all the old lullabies, but especially “Sweet and Low” because of over the Western sea and bring him again to me.

This summer I sit in the rocking chair and rock and sing with one or other of my granddaughters. I sing the same songs I sang all those years ago. It feels utterly right. Natural. The same.

But it isn’t the same. I may be holding a baby just as I used to hold a baby, but chronology has done many things in the intervening years, to the world, to our country, to my children, to me. I may feel, rocking a small, loving body, no older than I felt rocking that body’s mother. But I am older bodily; my energy span is not as long as it used to be; at night my limbs ache with fatigue; my eyes are even older than the rest of me. It is going to seem very early—it is going to be very early—when the babies wake up: Alan, Josephine, Cynthia, and I take turns getting up and going downstairs with them, giving them breakfast, making the coffee. Is it my turn again so quickly?

 

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Chronology: the word about the measurable passage of time, although its duration varies: How long is a toothache? How long is standing in line at the supermarket? How long is a tramp through the fields with the dogs or dinner with friends, or a sunset, or the birth of a baby?

Chronology, the time which changes things, makes them grow older, wears them out, and manages to dispose of them, chronologically, forever.

Thank God there is kairos, too: again the Greeks were wiser than we are. They had two words for time: chronos and kairos.

Kairos is not measurable. Kairos is ontological. In kairos we are, we are fully in isness, not negatively, as Sartre saw the isness of the oak tree, but fully, wholly, positively. Kairos can sometimes enter, penetrate, break through chronos . . . The saint at prayer, friends around the dinner table, the mother reaching out her arms for her newborn baby, are in kairos. The bush, the burning bush, is in kairos, not any burning bush, but the very particular burning bush before which Moses removed his shoes; the bush I pass on my way to the brook. In kairos that part of us which is not consumed in the burning is wholly awake . . . 

 

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I sit in the rocking chair with a baby in my arms, and I am in both kairos and chronos. In chronos I may be nothing more than my social security number; or my passport number.

In kairos I am known by name: Madeleine.

 

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                    **************************

 

May you love well and fully this Mother's Day! And May God give us the eyes to see every  kairos moment with our babies, our grown babies and our grandbabies. 

Gratefully,

Leslie

P.S. Maybe bless your mother with a copy of The Wonder Years for Mother's Day? It will inspire and encourage her.

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The (Astounding) End of My Pilgrimage & 10 Wonder Years Winners!

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Congratulations to the winners of The Wonder Years! Please find your names at the end of the blog. Books are going out to you asap.)

                         *************************************************************

 

How do you end a pilgrimage? Never. But this journey comes to an end this week. And how do you end a book that you have only lived, not yet written? And when you are tired from 7 months of travel, how do you keep seeing when your eyes are going dim? I don’t know the answers to any of this. But it seems maybe God does.

The last Sunday of my pilgrimage toward praise took me somewhere astonishing. To a particular church in Lyon, France. I went to this church because this is the church my French hosts attend. They have become dear friends so of course I will go with them.

 

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It is a small church. Not many over 100. They meet in a rented space, a convent. It is an ordinary building, an ordinary room.  We sit on chairs so small they look like nursery school chairs. We face a cross that seems to be made of twigs. I like its fragility. 

 

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The church is noisy with people in clusters, around babies, families, an elderly woman, teenage boys. It’s an “all-ages” service.

The announcements begin, spoken by an elderly woman from Scotland, I think, by her accent. The pastor is from the U.K.

I have come knowing something about this church already. I had lunch with the pastor yesterday and many of the women at the seminar were from this church. So I knew already. But it doesn’t hit me until we stand and begin singing.

Name above all names
Worthy of our praise
My heart will sing
How great is our God

You're the name above all names
You are worthy of our praise
And my heart will sing
How great is our God

How great is our God, sing with me
How great is our God, and all will see
How great, how great is our God

I look around me. At the couple from Nigeria with a baby snuggled into her mother’s chest. The elderly French man sitting 3 inches from me, whom I discover is teaching French to refugees in the church. The woman across the aisle from South Africa. The family from Iran, another from Pakistan. The woman from Malaysia, the couple from Korea.

Some hands are raised, including mine. Old hands. Middle-aged hands. A baby cries. A child complains. Our voices rise, I sway.

 

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Name above all names
Worthy of our praise
My heart will sing
How great is our God

 

One woman, pregnant, walked from a Muslim country across a mountain range to get here, fleeing for her life. I sing next to a woman who emigrated from the middle east to the US. When they were settled in, her husband abandoned her and their children. Through a Bible study in Michigan, this muslim woman found Christ. I see to my left the Asian woman whose teenage son committed suicide. A tiny frail woman in her 90’s is behind me.  We are singing another song now:

 

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord

"Praise You in the heavens
Join with the angels
Praising You forever and a day
Praise You on the earth now
Join with creation
Calling all the nations to Your praise , , ,"


 

I think of those days in January I was on Patmos, Greece in the Cave of the Apocalypse. I sat in that cave for four mornings, for three hours each, reading aloud through the entire book of Revelations. “Revelation” comes from the Greek word apocalypsis, meaning “an unveiling, uncovering.” I was asking that this book unveiling Heaven would unveil my own eyes. Click to tweet

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It was quiet in that cave as I read verse after verse. I was alone nearly every hour of those readings, (except when the janitor came in to dust and vacuum the holy objects.) John saw the other world, the one waiting for us just beyond this fragile curtain,

 

 “You were slain, and purchased for God with your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation . . .” 

 

But I saw nothing in that cave.

Three months later, standing now in this church, with a shudder, I know that God has given me the revelation I was seeking. I stand among people who have come across mountains, deserts and seas, from Buddhist temples and synagogues, from city streets and distant mosques, from far countries and next-door neighborhoods to this small church in France that doesn’t even own its own building. People who have fled for their lives, people who are rejected by their families because of Jesus; people of every color and tongue who have found Jesus. People who now are one family. 

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On this last Sunday, out of all the places on earth I could have been, God has led me from Alaska through tens of thousands of miles across three continents to this one little church where I stand undone, silent, tears slipping, hands raised to this God who has led me too from rejection to love. Click to tweet

He has torn the curtain to show me what is coming and what is possible---now. That Jesus can break down every wall that divides us. That heaven begins now in the neighborhoods of the world. Click to tweet

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And I know He has given me the ending of my book about praise.

And the ending to the book of my life.

The ending to the book of all our lives, we who have been rescued by Jesus.

 

 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:

 

To him who sits on the throne

      and to the Lamb
   

 be praise and honor and glory and power,
 

for ever and ever!

 

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Amen.

                                                ***************************************************

 It is nearly Mother's Day! I intended to send out only 5 books (because I have to pay for them too!) but---SO many responded here, I'm sending out 10.  (See names below.) It's my HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY present to you!

 

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For all who didn't win a book, I hope you're able to order one? They're $12 on amazon and other sellers. (And if you absolutely can't---and you NEED this book, please let me know: leslieleylandfields@gmail.com)

with love to you all,

Leslie

**Kim Jurney

**Deb Peabody

**Cherie Grunke

**Dianne Lami

Barb Winters

Carole Sparks

Chara

**Sherry Fisher

Colleen van Nieuwkerk

Robin

**Send me your email address please!

 

 

 

Are We Aging, Sagging or "Saging"? And The Wonder Years Giveaways!

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I send this from Slovakia, still on my pilgrimage, but this is a very special week. Finally! The official launch week for The Wonder Years: 40 Women Over 40 on Aging, Faith, Beauty and Strength (with Luci Shaw, Elisa Morgan, Kay Warren, Lauren Winner, Jeanne Murray Walker, Joni Tada, Madeleine L'Engle, Elizabeth Elliot, Margot Starbuck, Jen Pollock Michel, and many more) 

 

https://www.amazon.com/Wonder-Years-Women-Beauty-Strength/dp/0825445221

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https://www.amazon.com/Wonder-Years-Women-Beauty-Strength/dp/0825445221

 

We need this book!  (I NEED this book, which is why I spent the last 5 years compiling and editing it! And maybe your mother needs this book for Mother's Day?) Come and have a taste!  Book giveaways at the end. 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

 

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I am looking into the mirror. Not the mirror, mirror on the wall, which kindly tells me whatever I want by a quick dim and flick of the light switch, but the far scarier one: the mirror in my hand that magnifies my face by a factor of ten. Under this painful scrutiny, I skip over my pores and crow’s feet and go right for the brows. I count a record number of greys. With jaw set I pluck them ruthlessly, realizing I’ll soon be brow-less at this rate. Thankfully, the mirror is minute enough to keep me from cataloging all the other marks of age upon my body. Today, it’s just the brows.

Tomorrow it might be something else, especially if I have given in to my secret online obsession of celebrity slideshows. Particularly the “Where are they now?” slides, documenting actors’ unforgiveable lapses into middle and old age. How dare our movie icons age like that? The disgust is palpable. Those galleries are usually linked to celebrities trying to escape that ignominy who end up instead in the next slideshow: “The Worst Plastic Surgeries Ever.”

 

 

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Who wants to age, really? We fight it in so many ways, some of which are downright silly. Recently I saw an enticing online headline that had gone viral: “The Hairstyle That Will Get a 38-Year-Old Carded.”

I clicked on it, of course. There she was: a woman obviously in her late thirties, peering goofily from behind long, blunt bangs once popular among tweens and teens. At least they weren’t pigtails! But this obsession is hardly new. Remember Twiggy, the seventeen-year-old super model-waif from the sixties, who suddenly made mature women everywhere long to look eleven years old?

 

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Are we so youth-obsessed that we long to be children again? Perhaps. Who wouldn’t love another chance at childhood, to do it right and thorough with the proper joy next time? But maybe all this is more than the universal human hunt for the fountain of youth and innocence. Maybe it’s something more modest, more possible. Maybe we older women just want to be seen again.

 

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In 2013, Salon.com ran a provocative article by Tira Harpaz with the headline, “Women Over Fifty Are Invisible.” The essay made significant waves—among women over fifty but was, predictably, ignored by others. The author’s thesis was simply this: “If you want to make a person invisible, just put her in the shoes of an over-fifty woman and abracadabra, watch her disappear.” Harpaz, herself in her late fifties, described aging and its accompanying invisibility as a kind of fading away into irrelevance, including “a loss of attractiveness and sex appeal, the end of fertility, a glimpse of a slow, lingering decline.”

I thought about women ahead of me, women I admire two and three decades older than I: Doris with her glowing red hair and killer figure. Luci with two new books coming out this year; Vera who still teaches dance classes; Kay, still speaking around the world. I thought of Iris Apfel draped in turquoise or orange with layers of massive ethnic jewelry lighting her tiny figure. When she attended Paris Fashion Week, she was treated like a combination of “a rock star and Queen Elizabeth.”  She is drop-dead gorgeous. And she is ninety-four. And not least among them, Merle with her servant’s heart and generosity to all.

All of these women are well past eighty. I am agog not at their age; there are plenty of nonagenarians and even centenarians knocking around. But a ninety-four-year-old setting new fashion trends? A ninety-ish woman who is still making new friends? An eighty-eight-year-old still creating stunning poetry? An eighty-three-year-old opening fresh biblical truths to hungry audiences? Beauty and age have too long been enemies and antitheses. But times are changing. And so are we. Dozens of models over sixty grace fashion runways and magazine covers, flaunting their wrinkles, wearing their grey hair long and flowing as they pose elegantly among women young enough to be their granddaughters. Even in this dizzying technological age, which prizes the nimblest brains and the quickest adapters, we women over forty are proving again and again that innovation and imagination can flower all the way into our nineties.

 

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Even more than this, as I look around my faith community, I see older women serving. I see them beginning new ministries after their retirement, finding new ways to alleviate suffering and lighten others’ loads. Here are the real radicals, women who reject the prevailing notion of our culture that age delivers a license for freedom and self-indulgence. How many times have I heard celebrities and acquaintances alike, on the eve of their fiftieth or sixtieth birthday, proclaim to the world, “Watch out. It’s my time now. I’m gonna say and do whatever I want.” And in the next breath, when asked for their newfound wisdom, they invariably say something like, “I’ve finally come to love myself just as I am. Now I don’t have to please anyone but myself.” Is that really all there is? Did we survive childhood, adolescence, and our twenties and thirties to arrive on the doorstep we left as children? Surely not.

 

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I’m not saying aging is a breeze. Vanities and losses remain, I confess. This book is something of a coming out for me. I’ve vacillated over the last few decades over making my age public. Sometimes I deliberately hide my age or even lie. A few months ago, I changed my birthdate on Facebook to a full decade younger, thinking, Why not? Why should I reveal that I’m almost a senior citizen? I speak to university audiences often and would rather not be perceived as their mother, or worse, their grandmother. But it didn’t stand long before I was spasmed by guilt and tried to change it back, only to find the date uneditable. (It seems you can only change your age twice before the FB police come after you.)

So again, this book is a kind of coming out for me. Like many others, sometimes I am mistaken for someone ten or even fifteen years younger, given good lighting and the just-right dress. But other times it cuts the other way, which feels like the ultimate defeat. But why?

Why do we feel as though we’re racing against time? And as if time were not an inequitable enough racing partner, some of us, mostly subconsciously, lace up our shoes next to Photoshopped magazine cover models who regularly go under the needle and the laser, who work out four hours a day with their personal trainer, nibbling salads devised by their personal chefs. For a few, their own postmenopausal youthfulness has become their single raison d'etre.

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It’s a rigged, impossible race. Mostly, we know it. Our best claim, then, is to look or feel younger than our actual age. Here, finally, we’re crowned a winner in the lifestyle sweepstakes, which is not so much about cheating death—we’re not concerned with that—yet. But to cheat Time itself, and even more, to cheat Nature, who, by the time we’re over forty, we know for sure is not our Mother.

 

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How then do we respond to the passing years that make their inevitable marks upon our faces, our bodies, and our abilities?

A thousand different ways. Look around. Look and listen to these forty women, most of whom are just like you and me, women who are growing, beginning new ventures, casting off old shadows, whose own passages through life and time have yielded great fruit, even when aging saps health, energy, and abilities. Yes, even then. Welcome to the party!

But we’re serious, too. Aging is not for the thin-boned or the faint of heart. As we climb year by year, whether it’s a mountain or a ladder, we need to stop for a long moment and consider the view. We need to ask questions. Maybe we should even check our ladder. As a number of writers have told us, we could spend our entire lives climbing the ladder of achievement and success only to discover, once we mount those upper rungs, that we’ve leaned the ladder upon the wrong wall. It takes courage to stop and take stock of who we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going. It takes strength to keep our hearts open. It takes fearlessness to keep questing after the good, the beautiful, the true. We’ll do exactly that in these pages, knowing that no matter our age, it’s never too late to keep becoming the women God wants us to be.

 

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These are indeed The Wonder Years. In writing and compiling this book, I have been astonished and inspired by my fellow writers. I know you will be as well, but we have another audience in mind too. We’re taking up the mantle the apostle Paul gave us in Titus 2:3–5, for “older women” to “teach what is good” to “younger women.” All of us in these middle and later years have gained a storehouse of memories and experiences that surprise us in their depth and breadth. We find ourselves, unexpectedly at times, experts in a whole host of areas: we’re mothers and grandmothers, wives, mothers-in-law, and stepmothers. We’re professionals. We’re farmers and fisherwomen. We’re pastors, writers, teachers, ministry leaders. As we have learned, stumbled, and grown, we must pass on all that is good and true to those coming behind us. Many of us had no such encouraging voices as we lurched through our own earlier years. We send these notes on to you, our younger sisters, with joy and love. We commit ourselves to easing your passage as well!

How shall we do this, then? Our lives seldom divide into neat packages, but the three sections of this book make enormous sense to all of us in our “years of wonder.” Along with the passage of time comes courage, a wise sort of adventuring that knows how fleet the passage of time and how ripe the moment for new experiences, so we begin with “Firsts.” The wisdom that launches us into new ventures also relieves us of burdens and obligations we no longer need to carry. The next section is “Lasts,” where fourteen women cast off the weight of regret, fear, judgments, and perfectionism. Finally, though we’re constantly changing and growing through the embrace of the new and the loss of the old, we arrive as well at our “Always” convictions. We discover again the core of who we are and who we vow to remain, no matter our health, our abilities, or our age.

Welcome to the Wonder Years! Get ready for break-out joy, indulgent abundance, heart-stopping wisdom, and never-let-go faith!

 

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(Some of the contributors at the book party in Grand Rapids last week.)

 

I’m giving away 5 copies of The Wonder Years this week! Here’s how to enter (and don’t forget Mother’s Day is near!):

 

1.   Share this post on your social media outlets. (Thank you, friends!)

2.   Leave a comment here telling me this---AND, share why you too need this book. (thank you again!)

 

3.   Include your email address so I can contact you if you win.

 

That’s it. A huge hug to you all. I’m so grateful to you all---more than you know! (YOU are the reason I write.)

Paul's Last Prison & What Happens When We Die

 Notre Dame

Notre Dame

     This trip will soon be over. Too soon! We have seen so much beauty and a lot of pain as we've traveled. On our flight from Zimbabwe to Rome 2 weeks ago, we had a layover in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The airport was primitive, dirty, overcrowded. Close to midnight, we tiredly lined up to board our flight, when a man behind us began to yell. He was in his sixties, perhaps, and was shouting in French and gesticulating to the airline employee we had just passed through. She was tiny, young, startled. She shook her head no at him; he yelled louder, in her face. She stood her ground, though she looked frightened. He hopped in rage, then pulled off his hat and smacked her across the face. All of us in that long crowded line caught our breath, frozen in shock. He rose his arm to hit her again and a large man jumped in between to stop him. The two men began arguing loudly in French.

 The scene went on for 15 minutes. When she told the man he was no longer allowed to board the plane, he was even angrier. No security guards came to this employee's defense. Instead, three imposing men, fellow passengers, came to the old man’s defense, surrounding this woman, harassing her, trying to get her to reverse the decision. She didn’t budge. Just before midnight, as we wearily but thankfully stumbled out of this grimy airport, I looked back at her. She looked unbearably weary.

 

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 A few days later, in Rome, following the apostle Paul again, I went down into Mamartine Prison, where St. Peter and St. Paul might have been held just before their deaths. I must say “might,” because no one knows for sure, but history and church tradition place them here for reasonable reasons. Even now, when empty, it is a dank, pitch-dark moldy underground cell. Now put 30 dying men in there .  . . 

 

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Prisoners were dropped into its stony hell through a hole in the floor above.  No one survived this prison. It was the holding tank for enemies of the Roman Empire condemned to die. Some were left until they starved to death. Some were strangled. Some were hauled out for public execution. If Paul and Peter were held here, they were pulled from here after who knows how long in its depths? 

 Both were killed under Nero. Paul was beheaded, most believe. Peter crucified upside down.

 

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Today I am thinking of Paul. I stood alone in that underground prison, used for nearly a thousand years, as long as I could, trying to see, to feel, to understand. But the fuller story is above ground.To get to the cell, prisoners would have walked through or seen the Roman emperor’s palace on next-door Palatine Hill. A place of such luxury, decadence and brutality, we can hardly conceive of it. Historians record that for his famous orgies, he would provide night time illumination outdoors by burning Christians at the stake.

The palace itself is described by an ancient historian, like this: 

 

Its courtyard was so large that a 120-foot colossal statue of the emperor himself stood there; it was so spacious that it had a mile-long triple portico;

 

In other parts of the house, everything was covered in gold and adorned with jewels and mother-of-pearl; dining rooms with fretted ceilings whose ivory panels could be turned so that flowers or perfumes from pipes were sprinkled down from above; the main hall of the dining rooms was round, and it would turn constantly day and night like the Heavens; there were baths, flowing with seawater and with the sulfur springs of the Albula; when he dedicated this house, that had been completed in this manner, he approved of it only so much as to say that he could finally begin to live like a human being.  Suetonius, The Lives of the Caesars

 

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Two men, two lives. Paul the apostle of Jesus Christ ending his days in an underground prison. Emperor Nero, just above and outside the walls of that cell, living in palatial luxury.

 

One man shackled for delivering healing, liberation and  brings eternal life. The other man, through slaves, carry out his most extravagant personal desjres. 

 

One man, compelled by love, delivered hope and life to countless others. The other man, compelled by self-love, delivered death, killing his mother, his two wives and countless others., with special hatred toward Christians. 

 

Both died by the same man’s hand: one ordered the beheading of the other. And the same one, not long after, when his enemies came to capture him, killed himself. 

 

 In Corinthians Paul wrote

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

 

The day they came for Paul, to haul him out of his cell to the execution block, was he afraid? Did he recant? Listen to the words of his last letter likely written shortly before his death (2 Tim.):

 

At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth.  The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

 

What happened in the moments before the sword came down? I know the Lord stood at his side again. And he was delivered.

 

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I am sober this week. We have to choose, too, whom we will serve and how we will live. Even if we land in a prison with a sword at our neck---and we may, Paul has given us our prayer. I pray it even now:

The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack

and will bring me safely

to his heavenly kingdom.

To him be glory for ever and ever.

Amen.

 

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I will be at the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids this week. I think many of you will be there! Please say hello!!   

Dancing in Zimbabwe (and a snake for Holy Week?)

We have been in Zimbabwe and Botswana this week, talking to so many people, learning as much as we can. Which meant visiting a snake rehab center where a python took a liking to my hair. (This was a "haaaa!" and "yuck" moment both at the same time.)

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(No, at this point in the encounter, I think I'm well on the yuck side of the scale . ..)

But the best day was Sunday. In church. A Baptist church, of sorts. Some very kind people gave us a great gift there. They don't have much. They don't have cars; many don't have jobs. They don't have a church building of their own. Some live without electricity. But let me show you what they do have!

 

 

We got to be part of this joy and worship for 3 hours. We walked a long way in the hot sun to this gathering with the woman who cleans the house we are staying in. By the time we entered the church, in a concrete block building with concrete benches, the congregation was already in full voice.

They sang in several languages, only once in English, but I knew who they were singing about and I had some idea of what they were saying. No one could stay silent. There were "Hallelujahs!" and "amens!" everywhere, even trilling ululations floating high above it all. Nor could anyone sit or stand still. I felt at home here, shuffling, clapping, singing, swaying song after song. How else to praise the Lord but with our voice breath and bodies?

 

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After an hour of singing and testimony, and after being greeted with a hug and a handshake by every person there, the pastor called us down to the front: “Come down and share some words with us, Fields family!” 

 

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And he thrust a microphone in our faces.

Duncan started, thanking them for welcoming us so warmly. Thanking them for their music. Then it was my turn.

I talked about where we’ve been, about how we find God’s people everywhere. About the Apostle Paul, and how he suffered the most of all the apostles, but he also praised God the most. I finished with something like this:

“I have heard that things are difficult here, that the economy is very bad. I know there is much hardship. But I see how you worship God. It is so beautiful! We go to a Baptist church in Alaska. We sing too. And we praise the Lord. But we hardly ever clap. And we don’t dance! I think you are right.  We need to praise God with ALL that we have and are, and that is what you are doing! I’m going to tell my church back home about you and how you praise the Lord!”

Everyone clapped and cheered. As we sat down the worship leader said, ‘Thank you very much! We’re going to give you a gift right now. This is for you!”

And he called a few people to the front and the music began again, and here it was:

 

I will not tell you that the music was professional, or that the dancing was elaborate. Here, everybody sings. Everybody dances. It’s not about who is gifted in this or that. This wasn’t about talent. This was about celebrating God-with-us. God who died and rose again for us. This was about loving him back with all we are.  

After the dance, there was a sermon. A powerful sermon from the gospel of Mark. They knew the Word of God, these people.

Writing this now, watching the video brings tears. I think about the American church. And I wonder where our joy is.  I wonder why when it’s testimony time the same few people speak and everyone else is silent. I wonder why pastors have to work so hard to move an audience. I wonder why we’ve professionalized the “Praise Team” and sidelined the congregation’s voice. I wonder why our services are run by the clock. I wonder why sports and and every other activity we cram into our Sunday takes precedence over worship.

Maybe I’m wondering how much we need Jesus. We have so much of everything else, we Americans, we have only a little room left for a little bit of Jesus. That’s all we want, I think, just a scant sprinkling of a tiny touch of Jesus, an itty-bitty cherry atop our hot fudge Sunday.  . . .

Many of you reading this have lived and served in other cultures. You know about this far more than I do. But I too have seen in so many countries how those who need Jesus the most know Him the most. Love him the most. Praise him the most.

I’m thinking now of this Holy Week before us. If you don’t need Jesus then Jesus didn’t come for you. He wasn’t hammered to the cross for you. He didn’t rise from the dead for you. He didn’t bring everlasting life to you. He came for the sick, the sinners, the poor in spirit, the down and out, the sinners, the have-nots. But if you don’t have Jesus, you "have not." The poorest of all are those who do not know the God of All That Is.

What if you said yes to Jesus? What if you finally said a full, real "Yes" out of the deepest pocket of your soul? I think if you did, you might sing. You might feel as free as these dancers. You might find joy everywhere, (even in a snake curled in your hair.) The serpent, after all, IS defeated!

 

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He is Risen!

 

Do you know someone who might need these words, these joyous videos? Pass it on?!

So Gratefully,

Leslie

What Happened in the Township & "Easter Uproot"

 (Two of the leaders who made this conference happen. Amazing women!)

(Two of the leaders who made this conference happen. Amazing women!)

Happy Holy Week, dear friends. Forgive my silence. This last week in South Africa has been run-around crazy, and in the midst of it sickness and fatigue. But I owe you something. You prayed for me, for that errant train stuck in the desert, and for the conference in the township. And you need to know what happened!  

(But apologies first. I have only two photos of the event, these taken after the conference. It felt rude to go around taking photos. I simply needed to be fully present.)

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But here’s part of what happened. This 40-hour-train-trip woman with little sleep for three days went to the Township outside of Cape Town. And went filled with energy and excitement as if she had slept all week. (Supernatural strength given!)

But------would anyone come to this first-time event? It’s scary to go to a township of a million, where many good people live, but where there is violence as well. Some township dwellers do not welcome "settlers"--and who would after the evils of apartheid? There is a deep sad history here.

But they went. Women from the city came who had never been in the township before. Women from the township came to meet them. We sat around circular tables together. We prayed together. We sang praise songs in English and in Xhosa, the tribal language, our voices blending perfectly. We ate lunch together, women in beautiful head wraps and women in flowing dresses. We talked together about the deepest things in our lives as  women and mothers.

In the midst of my two hour presentations on parenting, I asked them to share with one another four different times.

 “What were your expectations of motherhood before you had children?” 

“What do you feel most guilty about as a mother?”

“What are your hopes and dreams for your children?”

 “What can we do to be faithful mothers?”  

These were the most glorious moments, as women of all colors, ages, languages and history opened their hearts to one another. Women who had been separated by apartheid, literally fenced off from one another for generations. In those long beautiful moments, with heads bent toward one another as stories and burdens poured out, the sanctuary was a picture of the reality of resurrection.   What man worked so hard to maim, fracture and divide, God is joining together. 

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This is why Christ died and rose again: to unite his many people around the world into one people, who sing His praises in many tongues, but in one glorious song.

God has so much work in my own life still to do .... but your prayers helped make this happen this day. (And there is yet more to be shared another day.)  Please KNOW I am on-the-floor grateful for your partnership in the gospel this way.                       

And---one more thing?  

For this Holy Week, may I share one more time the Easter poem written last year? That Christ was not buried, He was planted . .. 

 

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Lord, help us to live and move and root our being in your resurrection power every blessed day of life that you give us!