Naming the Wild and Hungry World w/ Philip Yancey & Friends

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*Loaves and Fishes---a Poem

This is not
the age of information.

This is not
the age of information.

Forget the news,
and the radio,
and the blurred screen.

This is the time of loaves
and fishes.

People are hungry,
and one good word is bread
for a thousand.

               -----David Whyte

 

21 people parachuted down onto this faraway Alaskan island last week (including Philip and Janet Yancey.) What kind of world would we create? In boots with backpacks men and women from everywhere clomped tremulously down the pontoon into the water onto the beach, through the open garden gate. Each one came freighted with apprehension, with the weight of their families’ worries, their own burden of words.

What would we make of this island this week?

 

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 We gathered around words every morning. Not so much to fix them. More, to listen. Sprung from our closets, where we write, all of us, utterly alone, here, now, every class, every meal is a feast of presence.

We were FOR each other, not against. We were not competing with one another but collaborating. We never went hungry. We could hardly stop.

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Do not say “Of course! Of course!”  This is not the usual world. I have been in classrooms, universities, workshops with dire shortages of food and water. In these deserts, honor and kindness were bargained or stolen, yanked from the uncertain, the humble, the seeker, the meek. Just one or two were the lucky ones, the smart ones. The desert got only one queen.

 

But not here. Nor anywhere people gather whose hearts are not theirs but their Makers. When the bread and fish kept breaking and breaking, and thousands lugged home their bursting stomachs---this was us too. Abundance, excess, overflow, love.

 

What is this open-gated place? Where do we find it? What do we name it?

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This is the body of Christ.  This is the economy of heaven. These are the metrics of the “Kingdom Come” life . Here. Now.

(But how did you do it, God? Did you really turn it all over to us, your just-made red-dirt beings fresh-hatched from your hands? How did you turn your Very-Good world over to them, to us, to know-nothing Us? How did they dare to begin?)

Your love made them brave, those two: first man and woman of the new earth who set about settling, naming and harvesting with vigor and joy.

 

Your love makes US brave too, brave enough to leap out of floatplanes, to sail rainy seas, to inhabit a wilderness island, to see fully into another’s dark closets of pain, to harvest true words. To make of a desert, a wild and profuse ocean-garden of love . . . .

 

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And it was all very very good.

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    Friends, we will be gathering again next September with Ann Voskamp. (More info and application here ) How I wish I could fly you all up here to join us!! Sadly, I can accommodate only 21! (But that's part of the joy of it---this intimate family that's formed.)   

But you have been called to the same work no matter where you live-----naming this wild world, and taming it with love. I pray you seek and speak sweet true words all this week!!

    Always,

      Leslie

*Special thanks to Carol Lee, poetry-spotter extraordinaire

The Prayer I Cannot Live Without

(Welcome to Focus on the Family listeners! Other friends, if you've not heard the FOF broadcasts on Crossing the Waters airing this week, you can listen Here. (I will not listen. I hate hearing my own voice!) Tell me how it goes?)  I do tell the honest hard mothering truths of raising children on the ocean---as well as that we're-gping to-hit-the-mountain story that slays me every time . .. .)

But now!!! 

I start with Cute. I start with Love. Because who does not want this right now, this very moment??

When horrific storms loom, and as we enter the next round of political losers, braggers and ousters----shall we turn to the otters? 

Here, the dear creatures who swim around my island so languidly, so full of love and protection for their babies.

 

Do you see that little baby face?

Do you see that little baby face?

 

I am joyful as I write this---because of a prayer.  (I can even follow the daily news because of this prayer.) A prayer spoken in the spring, before I came out to Harvester island. I prayed this prayer because I did not think I could do it. Again. Another fishing season out on this island. Building another cabin. SO much work. So many people. Never alone in my own house. (And next week, a film crew from RightNow Media comes, to film a video study of Crossing the Waters.) No margins. No downtime. Four months of round-the-clock work.

And those days of, another pregnancy? Another child? Another book? Another death? Another more of everything I haven't got?

And for many of you, another illness? Another prodigal child? Another foreclosure? Another fight?

We ask, "Are you really asking MORE of me again, God?"

I think Jesus might join us in this refrain. In the gospels, when he and the disciples find out that the one they all loved---John the Baptist---had been murdered, they fled in a boat across the sea to find some lonely quiet place to grieve this unspeakable act. They arrive at this "desolate place" but look---thousands, yes thousands are there before them, the worst kind of thousands: the sorriest neediest lot of humanity ever seen, and all of them shouting, milling, crying out for help. All wanting the touch of this magician's healing hand.

This grieving Jesus, what did he pray as he stepped out of the boat??  Oh Lord, not the pathetic masses again? Father, just give me some peace and rest for once, would you?

If Jesus was fully a man, surely he prayed something like this under his breath.

 Why does God keep calling us to things we cannot do? More than this, his messenger Paul had the gall to implore us to rejoice in the white-hot center of our worst stressed-out mess! "Rejoice in the Lord Always!!"

But No, He is not cruel. Two and half months into a summer I was on-my-knees about, I am rejoicing. Fourteen and sixteen years after birthing those mid-life babies, I am rejoicing. Six years after multiple deaths, one month after finishing another book, I am praising God. For God has done it. God has answered my face-down prayer again and again, even when I did not see it at the time.

 And the words of that prayer? Not Jabez’ prayer

'Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain.
 

No, not that. As I climb out of the boat each time facing multitudes and messes I have no strength or ability for, what do I pray? Not "enlarge my territory" but 

“Lord, increase my capacity.”

They are not words from Scripture. They are not holy inspired words. They are simply the words from an often overwhelmed heart and body:

“Lord, increase my capacity.”

Because my natural heart is  a one-seat leaky dinghy with broken oars and a rotting line that will not cross the sea, and will not throw out a line or an anchor on any hillside hospital for anyone. So----

“Lord, increase my capacity.”

And He does. The years spool by and the boat slowly lengthens, the hatches open, the galley seats two, then five, then dozens;, the engines rumble across a pond then the ocean, and soon the ferry carries more than I can count sometimes. And each one is a wondrous marvel, easy to love. There is even room for me. 

How does He do this? The same way he does all of this: 

 

He cannot not fill the impoverished, empower the weak, beautify the plain, overflow the destitute, make peaceable the angry, make bounteous the miser, dazzle the dim.

It is His very nature. As nature itself shows us.

All we need do is ask. Each morning we awake and step out of our sleepy boat to a needy throng on a hill we thought was ours alone, Let us breathe,

 “Lord, increase my capacity. Make me more like you.”

 

And He does.

 

(And my prayer for our contentious leaders: "Lord, Decrease their territory. Make them more like you.")

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Your turn!! What's the one prayer you cannot live without??

 

The Fishing Storm that Killed My Cameras (and my gods)

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I don't have many words this week. Not just because the Harvester Island Wilderness Workshop is about to begin (very excited to have Phillip and Janet Yancey with us for the next 10 days)

 

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But the storm. I will let the photos and videos tell the story, mostly. 

 

The storm blew in three nights ago. We have at least one of these a summer, sometimes more. And we have many of these storms in the winter. I'm sorry you won't hear the language of this blow-----the howl and scream of the wind, the whistle of the water, the splat and slash of the spray and rain pelting our faces, the slam of the skiff into the roiling seas. I heard it. 

Everyone was out to get the salmon in the nets. that's what fishermen do. That's what my husband and 3 sons and the crew were doing: going after the fish before they were ruined. Me, I didnt go for the fish. Nor did I go because I'm a thrill seeker. I went because I'm a God-seeker. I brought my camera. Two of them. Surely I would catch Him somewhere in this storm.

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My nephew Ryan was out with his camera too. We never do this. We never act like tourists or pilgrims when the seas are high and the nets might be full and danger is all around. But we did this time, the two of us. We knew what we were looking for.  We know what counts.

Here is Ryan's video of this night.  (Hold onto something steady---or better, sit down.) 

Near the end, In the midst of these water mountains, a rogue wave caught us unaware. I was sitting in the stern, sheltering my cameras and filming when a massive hand of water broke over us. One camera washed out of my hands. The other was deluged. I didn't have time to do anything about it.

   BAIL!! Duncan screamed at Levi and me. We let go of the net and, struggling to keep our footing, scrambled to empty the gallons of extra water that weighted us down. One more wave and we'd swamp. The wind keened yet higher, spray whipped our faces. But we are no strangers to storms. Duncan and his brother have ridden these waves for 55 years. I have been here for 40.  

 

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We live too much in a too human world, most of us, surrounded by the work of our own hands, cossetted and comforted and cozy most hours of the day and night. We fashion our lives and our prayers around safety, success, We cannot escape ourselves or our own small desires. But enter a storm, climb a mountain, sail the sea, wander an old-growth forest---be afraid---and you will so suddenly and gloriously disappear. You will feel the wind blowing through your clothes and your soul. If you are lucky you'll be terrified and you may cry like Peter, "Lord, I am a sinful woman, go away from me!" Your little household gods will die, and part of you will die with it.

And you'll be glad.

 

 

The end of my story? Both of my cameras died (though I salvaged these images). And my little household gods. 

Yes, it was worth it. 

 

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Missing the Eclipse & What the American Church Needs Most

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I missed the eclipse. Entirely.  My son came in from fishing saying, “Wow, did you see it? I watched the eclipse form the boat, through the clouds! It was really cool!”

My eyes went wide. “You’re joking! We’re not supposed to be able to see it in Alaska. I’ve seen the maps! Oregon is the furthest north to see it!” Now I am slightly angry. I love all things celestial and seeing this eclipse would have soothed my earth-and-politics-ravaged heart.

“Well, I saw it!” 

I conferred with nearby experts, my nephew and his wife, both science-smarties and sure enough, they watched it too, but safely, through a pin box.

I felt betrayed that I had missed it.

But that night, that very night,  the sun went down in flames, torching every mountain and sea around my island.  I grabbed my camera and for an hour, I breathlessly tracked its path across the beaches, up on the hills, on the cliffsides, over the water. 

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I

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I wish everyone I know and love had been there with me. And I imagine people gathered by families and communities to watch the eclipse together. What is better than this, for all of us together to tip our heads skyward, to remember we are creatures under the same sun who spin in the same orbit of the same planet. We are people who get wet under the same rains and who parch under the same summer sun. When we take our eyes off our hysterical screens and look at each other and peer together beyond our tiny roofs to the canopy of heavens above us-----maybe we will remember who we are.

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Maybe I have been burned by last night’s gold fire, but I hope for so much more than this. Because I must. Because otherwise I will despair.

I spent the last 3 years writing Crossing the Waters ----about following Jesus. This last week a film company flew up to Harvester to film a 6 part study based on the book. With multiple cameras in my face, I was immersed in those Scriptures, those moments when Jesus called those twelve men from their occupations, from their families, from their politics (Simon the zealot, who wanted to overthrow the Romans through violence. Matthew, through tax evasion.)

Again, I traced Jesus’ life through the gospels----from storm to feast to crucifixion to resurrection to his last words to us all: “Go and make disciples of all nations.”

Are we doing this?

While the (amazing) 5 person film crew was running circles around me, Charlottesville happened. After the week of filming, I felt deeply Holy-Spirit moved to say something. I joined my voice with thousands, millions of Americans exposing racism, neo-nazi-ism and white supremacy for what it is (here) because any form of any of these is in violent opposition to the gospel.      

But there was blowback on this basic human affirmation---from fellow Christians. Everywhere I see this: the drawing of lines, jutted chins, defiant gestures. From Christians.

Our obsession with politics has divided the Church and stolen our mission, and it worsens every day. Right now, we are not making disciples of all nations, we are losing disciples.

But a divided church is not new. It  happened in Paul’s day too:

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”;another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 

 

 Paul’s rhetorical question should be ours as well: Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Was President Trump crucified for you? Was Hilary Clinton or Barak Obama or Joel Osteen or any other religious or political figure crucified for you? 

There is only one man who went to the cross to defeat sin and death. There is only one name that will drop every body and soul to its knees at the end of time. There is only one man worthy to open the scrolls of judgment at the end of the ages. There is only one man sitting at the right hand of the father.

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Those who love and follow this Savior bear His name: We are Christ-ians, “Little Christs.”  Our identity is not as republicans, democrats, liberals, conservatives. We are not Americans, Russians, Cubans, Koreans.  We are not Trump-ians, Clintonians, Reaganites, Sanderites or anything else. If we have been “baptized into Christ,” then “there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

I am praying the Church would be unified---around Christ, and no one else.

I am praying that we would remember our calling to disciple-making.

I am praying most of all that our anxious divided hearts would be overshadowed entirely by Christ.

Entirely.

That's the total eclipse I am praying for.

Would you join me?

 

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What We All Get Wrong about Racism

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Friends, I have been immersed in filming this last week, but I have not missed the events of Charlottesville and the aftermath. Finally I have a moment to speak. Here’s what I must say:

We are all racist in some ways. We all make judgments based on externalities. We all categorize—it is the mind’s natural state to sort and order and try to contain all the disparate information our brains are constantly receiving , which means we all place people in boxes with labels. This is the means whereby we attempt to order a disordered world. This is our means of trying to control a world too big for us. This is the human condition.

It is also the human condition to prefer ourselves over others. To make ourselves look better than others. To seek our own well being above the wellbeing of others.

We are also often willfully blind, preferring to suppress and ignore God’s glorious image inherent in every person of every color, shape and nationality. Our view of God is too small.

We are also lazy, preferring clichés and simple labels that allow us to ignore the true complexity of the world and its peoples.

We are also afraid, that goodness and abundance will run out. That others’ success will diminish our own.

We are all racist in some ways.

To say this is not a statement of despair but rather a statement of hope. For there is no hope for us until we see ourselves as we are. There is no rescue from our condition until we recognize the immensity of our lostness and darkness.

“Lord I am a sinful man! “ Peter cried out when he glimpsed the holiness and perfection of Christ.

And so are we all. There is no hope for us until we can say these words: “Lord, we are sinful people!” Now there is hope, because these are the very people Jesus came to rescue.

There is no rescue from our terminal human condition apart from Christ. He alone frees us from blindness, captivity, self-adoration. He frees us to see the beauty of God in every human being. He frees us to love all others and to recognize them as sisters and brothers. He frees us to joyfully lay down our lives for one another.

Let us live, then, not in our human condition but in our rescued condition: as the freed, redeemed, loving people of God.

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The Prayer I Cannot Live Without

I start with Cute. I start with Love. Because who does not want this right now, this very moment??

When horrific storms loom, and as we enter the next round of political losers, braggers and ousters----shall we turn to the otters? 

Here, the dear creatures who swim around my island so languidly, so full of love and protection for their babies.

 

Do you see that little baby face?

Do you see that little baby face?

 

I am joyful as I write this---because of a prayer.  (I can even follow the daily news because of this prayer.) A prayer spoken in the spring, before I came out to Harvester island. I prayed this prayer because I did not think I could do it. Again. Another fishing season out on this island. Building another cabin. SO much work. So many people. Never alone in my own house. (And next week, a film crew from RightNow Media comes, to film a video study of Crossing the Waters.) No margins. No downtime. Four months of round-the-clock work.

And those days of, another pregnancy? Another child? Another book? Another death? Another more of everything I haven't got?

And for many of you, another illness? Another prodigal child? Another foreclosure? Another fight?

We ask, "Are you really asking MORE of me again, God?"

I think Jesus might join us in this refrain. In the gospels, when he and the disciples find out that the one they all loved---John the Baptist---had been murdered, they fled in a boat across the sea to find some lonely quiet place to grieve this unspeakable act. They arrive at this "desolate place" but look---thousands, yes thousands are there before them, the worst kind of thousands: the sorriest neediest lot of humanity ever seen, and all of them shouting, milling, crying out for help. All wanting the touch of this magician's healing hand.

This grieving Jesus, what did he pray as he stepped out of the boat??  Oh Lord, not the pathetic masses again? Father, just give me some peace and rest for once, would you?

If Jesus was fully a man, surely he prayed something like this under his breath.

 Why does God keep calling us to things we cannot do? More than this, his messenger Paul had the gall to implore us to rejoice in the white-hot center of our worst stressed-out mess! "Rejoice in the Lord Always!!"

But No, He is not cruel. Two and half months into a summer I was on-my-knees about, I am rejoicing. Fourteen and sixteen years after birthing those mid-life babies, I am rejoicing. Six years after multiple deaths, one month after finishing another book, I am praising God. For God has done it. God has answered my face-down prayer again and again, even when I did not see it at the time.

 And the words of that prayer? Not Jabez’ prayer

'Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain.
 

No, not that. As I climb out of the boat each time facing multitudes and messes I have no strength or ability for, what do I pray? Not "enlarge my territory" but 

“Lord, increase my capacity.”

They are not words from Scripture. They are not holy inspired words. They are simply the words from an often overwhelmed heart and body:

“Lord, increase my capacity.”

Because my natural heart is  a one-seat leaky dinghy with broken oars and a rotting line that will not cross the sea, and will not throw out a line or an anchor on any hillside hospital for anyone. So----

“Lord, increase my capacity.”

And He does. The years spool by and the boat slowly lengthens, the hatches open, the galley seats two, then five, then dozens;, the engines rumble across a pond then the ocean, and soon the ferry carries more than I can count sometimes. And each one is a wondrous marvel, easy to love. There is even room for me. 

How does He do this? The same way he does all of this: 

 

He cannot not fill the impoverished, empower the weak, beautify the plain, overflow the destitute, make peaceable the angry, make bounteous the miser, dazzle the dim.

It is His very nature. As nature itself shows us.

All we need do is ask. Each morning we awake and step out of our sleepy boat to a needy throng on a hill we thought was ours alone, Let us breathe,

 “Lord, increase my capacity. Make me more like you.”

 

And He does.

 

(And my prayer for our hot-tempered leaders: "Lord, Decrease their territory. Make them more like you.")

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The Biggest Sea Lion, the Wildest Heart

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
    or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;
 or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
    or let the fish in the sea inform you.
Which of all these does not know
    that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life of every creature
    and the breath of all mankind."    Job 12

Nearly every day at fishcamp is a day of life and birth and blood.

In my house, my dog Sophie brings forth young, birthing each into my hand.

The spider in the corner window lures the fly, wraps a wicked cocoon around the buzzing struggle, and soon he moves no more.

Fish are caught and gutted and walked up the hill to my kitchen, where my knives and hands parse its red flesh into lunch.  

I leave the house to sit and watch the eagles, young and old, 

who spin the sky blue, and watch for fish to feed their brood. 

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Out in the bay, I hear fin whales spouting, He rises and falls, feeding. 

Sea lions skirt the nets, shopping for fish, blasting sea from their nostrils so loud I can hear it on top of the hill,

then haul out on rocks and reefs, argue and fight over king of the rock, rule by force and heft and roar.

(And isn't he the ugliest, most massive sea lion you have every seen?)

 

Everything on the hunt. Everything looking to kill.  

Which means, everything looking to feed and live.

And I am the wildest thing out here, I know.  

Me with my camera, stalking and shooting their beauty and 

blood, me with my untamed heart

that wants not to yield to another. 

(Not even

sometimes to You, O Lord.) 

And can't I kill with a single word? 

Can't I maim without talons or teeth?

Just to speak or withhold speech alone

can do someone in. How powerful 

the tongue, how wild and dark this wandering heart!

But these creatures live as they must and as they should, as they were made. 

They set out each day to do all that God has put

in their thumping animal heart to do.

And they do it well, 

so boldly and so thoroughly, 

they are never not praising You, O Lord.

 Simply by living, flying, breathing, roaring, swimming and

spinning 

they speak the language you have given them.

They delight you,

they love you

and you love them back. Entirely.

(Even that king-of-the-rock sea lion!)

They are all you created them to be.

Would you grant us this, too, Lord?

Would you so inhabit our wild hearts that we only want

to do what You have created us to do,

So that we please you, 

we delight you, 

And in all we do we love you back?

Would you do this in us?

Even now? 

"In his hand is the life of every creature

    and the breath of all mankind."   

7 Reasons to Cling to Hope When Your Storm is Not Calmed

Friends! Is your boat leaking right now, in choppy seas?  May I throw you a lifeline??

 

 

When I think of the “storms of life” I remember twelve men in a boat on high waters who couldn’t get home. They fought the winds and seas with nothing but arms and oars. For nine hours they rocked and pitched, but barely moved. Another time, in a worse storm, they nearly sank, which would have meant death to all. I’ve been out in storms like this, with nothing but oars against the ocean. Storms aren’t always prayed away. But hang on, because even when the storm doesn’t end, there’s still hope and good news.

 

1.    God seldom calls us to jump out of the boat.

 

We’ve made much of the story of Peter jumping into the stormy sea to walk on water toward Jesus,  but we may have gotten it wrong. It is more likely that Peter jumped not out of faith, but out of doubt. Jesus clearly identified himself in the storm three times: ‘Take courage. It is I. Do not be afraid.” But Peter did not believe it could be Jesus. “IF it is you, Lord, tell me to come to you.” Peter is lauded for jumping into the water, but God had already given him a boat, oars and friends to row with. Jesus didn’t ask him to leap into the waves. So with us. God has given us friends, family, a church, doctors. God often works powerfully through these daily providences. Use them!

 

 

 

2. No storm is random, trivial or without purpose.

God doesn’t waste any storms in the Bible—or in our lives either. Both of the Galilee squalls revealed to the terrified disciples their own physical and spiritual limitations. From that place of need and desperation, they witnessed Jesus’ true identity as Lord over all of creation and as Rescuer and Deliverer. We cannot reduce or dismiss suffering as simply a means of “teaching us lessons,” but God has genuine purposes for our struggles, including his desire to display his love, mercies, and power.

 

 

3. When the storm is relational, God has equipped us to love and forgive. Some of the biggest tempests come within our own families. We have little control over other people’s response, but we do have control over our own. When your mother disowns you, when your father cannot love you, when your son rebels---God can enable us to love and forgive. The person who has wounded us may have no resources beyond herself, but we do. Christ has shown us the way, that we are to forgive others as our Father has forgiven us. When hate and hurt are met with love and forgiveness, the storm may not end but we will find calm and peace.

 

 

4. Even when it seems that Jesus is “sleeping” in your boat, He is still with you and for you. This is one of the hardest parts of this storm narrative, when Jesus is stone-cold asleep while the disciples are sure their boat is about to sink. It appears that Jesus “sleeps” through some of our cyclones as well, particularly when they go on for years. But where did we get the idea that Jesus’ presence in our lives would assure smooth sailing? Not from the scriptures. Jesus pronounced blessing on our neediness—our hunger, our mourning, our persecution---knowing it would not end until heaven came down to earth. The apostle Paul assures us that nothing----not danger or sword or famine or persecution or life or even death---none of these calamities separate us from the love of God. God does not abandon us in our suffering. Ever.

 

 

 

 

 

5. Don’t Wait to Call on Jesus.  Those twelve terrified men waited until they were sure they would drown before they awakened Jesus.  Of course. Because they didn’t yet know who he was. (I rather think they awakened him so he could take a turn at the oars. They certainly did not expect him to shout down the wind and seas.) But they suffered and struggled in their ignorance and aloneness far longer than they needed to.

 

 

 

 

6. Deliverance often looks different than we expect.  We always want the storm to end, but The ultimate deliverance from our greatest enemy—sin and death—came in a shocking act: the promised long-awaited Messiah staked out on a Roman cross. From violence and death springs life, hope, and redemption.

 

 

 

 

7. Even if our boat sinks and we go under, we’re still safe. I felt this truth so powerfully one day when our boat was about to sink.  My husband and I were in rough water along an empty stretch of ocean. Our boat was disabled, taking on wave after wave. We were about to sink. But I knew in those moments that no matter what happened, even if we should die, we were still safe. My husband and I knew Jesus, knew He was with us and even death would not separate us. The disciples in both storms that night were not safe---because they didn’t yet know who Jesus was. I believe Jesus rescued them both times not so much to save them from death, but to save them from a worse fate---from disbelief. Nothing can separate us from God’s love----except our own disbelief.

Nothing.

 

 

 

Have you found this to be true as well?? Share with us how and why!?

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

Congrats to Crystal S. and Jean F. who won some smoked salmon and wild rose petal jam this last week!! (Mailing soon!!)  

This week, I'm giving away some copies of "Crossing the Waters:Following Jesus through the Storms, the Fish, the Doubt and the Seas " to anyone who emails a request, explaining why they want/need a copy.  leslieleylandfields@gmail.com

May Jesus calm you in every storm this week!

 

 

Disappointed with God (and Salmon Giveaways)

This month, on Kodiak Island, it is raining almost every day.

We are mending our fishing nets in the cold and rain. We don’t love it. (But I did get our wonderful crewmen to smile for a moment!)

 

 I am not too holy to complain: I want to graduate to a real summer. I want a promotion to another job.

 

And, this week, a small heartbreak too. No, let me be more honest: a big heartbreak that I'm not sure will ever go away. What to do with all this disappointment, small and massive? I know you are carrying some today too.

What else to do but Cross the Waters, then, to a time and a place that yields unending truth and fruit? Especially with something to say about disappointment. 

In last week's post, Jesus showed up on a Palestine beach and snagged a ragtag gang of the least likely followers ever: Scaly fishermen, a revolutionary, a tax collector and other men not known for anything in particular. 

These men have done the incredible unthinkable: when Jesus said, “Follow me,”----they did. They dropped their nets, left the tax booth, the secret Blow-Up Rome meetings. They gave up their families, their jobs, what little security they had to tag along after this maybe-rabbi.. Why? This maybe-rabbi might be the Messiah---and everyone knew what that meant: He’s going to Make Israel Great Again! Rome will be Crushed like a Bug! The Temple will be Restored! The Kingdom of God is coming! Sound the trumpets and Grab a Sword!

 

But in those first weeks, Jesus must have disappointed them. Again and again.

Their first stop, a wedding. Water turned magically into wine. Can you imagine what they thought?

“THIS is the miracle? THIS is the Messiah’s power? We’ve left our father high and dry for this? We need him to restore the Temple, save our people---and instead he saves the host embarrassment for running out of wine?”   ----Simon Peter, former fisherman

James is ready for battle, not a wine-tasting at a wedding. Andrew wants to see the Roman Empire collapse, want its ruin. Wine? John longs for the days of fasting and atonement, when the people mourn over their sin. The kingdom of God is coming and this is what we get----wine? A wedding?  Feasting? Where’s the blood?

 

         Not long after the wedding, they sat on gentle hillside with thousands of the sorriest mass of villagers from around the sea. Jesus seemed to collect them: the ones every other leader ignored, the kind of followers no one else wanted: the sick and weeping, the lame and palsied. It could not have happened, but it did---the mute wagging their tongue to sing! Crooked legs made straight! The blind watching the flight of a hawk! It was a riot there on the hill for hours! The start of a revolution? This was more like it! This was promising indeed! Maybe he’s raising an army! But then, what’s he teaching?  They could not believe his words at first:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, Blessed are those who mourn, Blessed are the meek, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, Blessed are the pure in heart, the peacemakers, Blessed are those who are persecuted, Blessed are you when others revile you . .love your enemies
 

 

"Love your enemies What is this?" Peter and James, John and Andrew must have wondered. This does not sound like a triumphant Messiah! And maybe a few of them felt confused.  "Don’t bless our need, our emptiness and poverty. Don’t tell us this is blessing. Change it! Take it away! Just like you fixed all those legs and hands and eyes. Fix us! Be our king and vanquish our enemies!"

Jesus kept going.  “You have heard that it was said.”. . .  and now he was talking about adultery, taking oaths, divorce, an eye for an eye. But this rabbi changed the words. He didn’t do as the Pharisees did, who tightened the noose around every command from God to make it smaller, harder, and longer. This man opened up the words to make them larger, generous, capacious even, opening up a meaning that penetrated straight to their hearts. And scaring them as well:

Give him your other cheek to strike as well, give him your cloak also, do not worry about your life, go the second mile, pray in secret, forgive their debts, do not judge.

Everyone who heard these words were astonished. Astonished! And 2000 years later I am astonished too.

What is this kingdom you’re giving us, Yeshua? Love our enemies? Here, strike my other cheek, too? Here, take my last cloak? We who have little----are you taking even our "little" away?

And later, after those words, where did he eat and drink, whom did he consort with but the worst of men and women: traitorous tax collectors, prostitutes, the greedy,  those as broken on the inside as the ones on the hillside hospital that day. How disappointed and shocked they must have been. 

But maybe they began to see it.  Do we see it now? Maybe this man has come to save us not from Rome or any human government, but from ourselves. And maybe this new kingdom is a place of such surfeit, such unending provision, such upside-down bounty that what is given up and given away is not lost? Maybe heaven is beginning right now, and the guilty are forgiven, meekness is winning, the persecuted are blessed, the reviled are loving their revilers, the mourners are being comforted, the pure in heart are seeing God, the thirsty and disappointed are already being filled? 

Yes. I see it too.

When I finish these words, I will go out and stand in the rain until 10 tonight with my family and crew, mending net. I will not forget my heartbreak, but these words will pulse and echo all the while, mending me. 

 

This week, I'm also smoking salmon and I'd like to send some out. I'll send out 2 small boxes of my jarred smoked salmon and my famous Wild Rose Petal jam, both made here in my kitchen and the smokehouse:

 

Friends, listen. Giving away stuff is fun. But what I care about most is that these words go out to those who need them. This is a way of encouraging you to help me share the gospel good news.  Here' show to enter the salmon and jam drawing:

1. Find 5+ friends you know would like these weekly journeys into faith (and Alaska).

2. With their permission, send their email addresses to heidionia@yahoo.com where they will be added to the list of weekly subscribers.

3. Let me know you've done this in the comments below or by email (leslieleylandfields@gmail.com). Be sure to SUBSCRIBE to the comments so you'll find out if your name is drawn!

Thank you, and may God meet you in your disappointments this week!

 

How Do We Know Jesus is Real?

(Crossing the Waters, Part 3. )

At 3 am, through my windows a ghostly orange mooned the white mountains, glowing the waters toward morning. A pod of fin whales breathed out orange mist. The world was being born again, every creature waking. I could have worshipped such beauty, sworn my life to such wonder. Instead, I whispered, Jesus.

 

 

I know all the reasons God can’t exist. 

I know Christians do stupid things. We hurt people, we are unkind, we are judgmental. We are blind sometimes.  We don’t live up to who we are supposed to be.

I know there is inexplicable suffering and pain in the world and how can it be that a God of love presides over it all?

I know God promises peace and deliverance, but why are only some people delivered and not others?

I know we are enraptured with ourselves and the worlds of our own making. Who would give up such freedom for some invisible God who will make unreasonable demands?

 

 

And if you lived in Galilee under Roman oppression in the year 30 A.D. you would have more reasons not to believe.

God said He would be our Father and our God and live among us but He’s nowhere in sight.

God said he would deliver his people through the Messiah, but here we are nearly slaves to the Roman Empire and slaves to all the other empires before them. No one can wait this long. 

Religion? The ones who call themselves Religious distort the Scriptures and control the rest of us with impossible rules and laws we cannot keep.

 

There are always reasons not to believe. And one day, against all arguments, an ordinary man in an ordinary robe got baptized in the Jordan River, and walked the shore of Galilee, calling to some obscure fishermen to throw their nets on the other side of the boat. Within moments, their all-night-empty-nets were sunk with fish. One more thing he had to say, this man that day: “Come, follow me.”

 

God showed up. Right there on the beach, in the midst of their ordinary labor, in the midst of all the good reasons no one expected God to show His face. But He did. They didn’t know yet that it was Him. They only knew God’s promises, and somehow this man was unlike any other they had known. And they knew one more thing: they knew their need, their undeniable longing for the Being beyond all they saw: beyond the orange moon in the morning, beyond the strangely relentless beauty of the world. Beyond the inexplicable resilience of their people. Could he be The One?  

 

Jesus is still showing up. Nearly every day, if you are looking. For me, he showed up in a storm when I thought I might die. He showed up when a gun was pointed at me and my son. Last week He gave me the courage to confront injustice. I heard him as I read the gospels yesterday.

For you, maybe you will have a dream. Words from the Scriptures may jump alive. Maybe there’s a friend who won’t stop caring about you, a last-minute provision, the disappearance of the cancer cells, the fall down the cliff that didn’t kill you, the forgiveness you didn’t deserve from your son---all of them some form of miraculous sighting. All of them some sort of glimpse of the crazy inexplicable abundance and love of Jesus. Because it comes to you when you least expect it. It comes to you when you least deserve it. It comes in spite of your doubts.

 

We can revel in the fish, in the dream, in our new health, in the love of a friend, a son, but none of that will be enough for long. None of that will sustain for long. We have to know--who did this? Who has this kind of mastery over disease? What is the source of this wisdom? Where does this love come from? We have to know, because somehow we know that here, here, is life itself, the life we have longed for but could not even name.

 

Listen, those with ears to hear. A call comes to every man and woman and child. We have all been called. We must follow to find out who it is that calls us, and what we have been called to. Those men that day did not yet know either one: what they would be doing or even who it was who had called them.  They didn’t even know who Jesus was for sure. But they knew the poverty of their old lives. They saw the miraculous catch of fish. They knew the power of the Scriptures and its promises.

They would go, then. They would follow. They would find out.

 

Come, follow me. Do not be afraid.

 

This is our call as well:

 

Come, follow me. Do not be afraid.

 

Friends, would you share your life for a moment? Give me one reason you know Jesus is real.

And if you're not sure, tell me one reason you doubt. 

Under the Waters, Drowned and Saved

Crossing the Waters, Part Two

A few days my son blew in from the nets drenched from head to socks. "It's really nasty out there. A rogue wave caught us," he explained, peeling off his dripping sweatshirt. It blew for 3 days, turning our seas into mountains. Off Kodiak Island, another huge wave hit a  boat, the Miss Destinee, capsizing it. Two people were saved by the Coast Guard, two were lost, an 18 and 22 year old brother and sister. (Please pray for the family.)

 

We spend the first nine months of our lives curled in water, held safe. Even as those waters rupture, delivering us to air and light, we never stop craving and fearing the water, which delivers both life and death. 

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Standing in the Jordan River, in Israel a few years ago, I thought of all this. The Jordan was green and sludgy, nothing like our vast clean Alaskan ocean, but it's water just the same. It promises more life (and maybe more death?) than any other body of water, perhaps. 

Hundreds from every nation and tribe, it seemed, were there that day at the baptismal site, stirring the dirty river into beautiful mayhem.  One group held everyone’s attention. Fifty olive-skinned men and women, dressed in the white robes, lined up beside the river clapping and singing hymns and praises in four part harmony, with rich-throated beauty. Two guitarists accompanied them as they sung and swayed rhythmically at the water’s edge. One by one they waded out to their two pastors, who put their hand on their head, spoke, then dunked them under the water. Then each one would rise, their faces erased for a moment, then they wobbled and fainted, each one. Men in white robes caught them and carried their slain-in-the-spirit body lengthwise, like the dead, slowly up the steps to lay them down beside the ones before them.

What was this swoon? Was this their death to their old selfish self? Swallowed by the water that once swallowed up Jesus, wasn't this also a birth?

I was baptized in a river as well. I was 17.  My pastor was there and others from my youth group. I was wearing a white robe, and I walked out into the water like these Jordan River pilgrims. My pastor leaned me back into the water, I rose spluttering, and it was done. No one was singing. I did not faint or swoon or see heaven open, but I was asking for just as much. I lived in a house without heat, without hope. I died there a long time ago, until I heard of this man Jesus. I would follow him, I decided, into the desert, into anywhere, even into death, under the waters of a river. As I broke through the surface, gasping air again, I was starting life again. 

Here, in the Jordan, this day, it's a circus of hope and joy, with crying and guitar-playing and river-splashing and dunking. People are shouting and singing and hugging each other in their wet robes. The waters have swallowed them up; they are reborn.

I stay for hours and speak to a group of Amish pastors. They tell me their people are giving up their old ways of law-keeping and are finding a new life in Jesus. I speak to three laughing sisters from Ghana who have come with their church to be baptized. I cannot contain my wonder.          

 Overwhelmed, I sit down next to a 70-ish man dressed all in white. We begin to talk. He is off a cruise ship in the Mediterranean, he tells me. They are in Israel just two days. He is German, from Saskatchewan. In just seconds, he confesses to me, “I don’t beleef in any of this hocus-pocus,” he says, with a wave of his hand, as the praise music fills our ears. “It’s ridiculous. How can there be a god? What are you going to tell me about Hitler, eh? And the Tsunami that killed all those people. No, with that kind of evil, there’s no god. I beleef in the stars.”

I am not surprised by his words. Don't most of us do this---blame God for every calamity and credit ourselves for every Good? 

Now I see others here who are tourists from the cruise ship. A few are positioned on the railings, gaping at the baptizers. An older man dressed in beige looks down on the people in the river with disdain. I watch an Asian man and woman carry a plastic jug into the river, filling it with the brown water to take back home. Out beyond the barrier in the river, where no one is allowed, a church group of teenagers and adults are hooting and cannonballing off a boulder. I see a small African man by the kiosk nervously break off an entire branch of an olive tree and hand it quickly to two women who guiltily look for a place to hide it. The Amish pastors stand at the rail smiling at everyone below. And above and through it all, the sweet strains of hymns as the Brazilian church choir sings praises to Jesus.

What a world this river has made!!

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An obscure man named Jesus whom people knew only as a carpenter from a nearby village, itself known for nothing, walked the shores of this ordinary river and submitted himself to a loony man in animal skin to be shoved under water--and 2000 years later, churches, families, tribes from all nations still come across continents to fall into these waters, waters nearly killed by politics, agriculture and economics. Yet still they come to confess, to sink, to rise, to swoon, to watch, believing that all can be cleansed under this water, that forgiveness and reconciliation between enemies is possible, that foreigners can be made a family.  There are even benches here for unbelief.

What is the power of this water and this place? Who is this man Jesus?

Half the world away, we stumble in from our own waters, drenched, fatigued, but we keep going back, we keep launching our boats onto and under the waters, always returning. 

What do I know?

I don’t know all that happened that day almost 2000 years ago when the much-loved son burst from those waters, and a piece of heaven ripped wide, but I do know this from my own sea and from this river:

Wherever there is water, the thirsty, the desperate, and the dirty are there.

We are all invited in. 

Once we go under the water, we’re never the same.

 

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(At the Sea of Galilee)

 

Have you been "under the waters?"  If yes, tell me what happened for you. If not, what is holding you back?

 

 

Congrats to Dawn, Jensen, Ingrid and Amy who each won a Crossing the Waters book this last week. This week, I'm sending out 4 more. To enter the drawing, Would you do the same as last week?

1. Share this post on your social media. Let your friends know what this is about (getting a closer look at Jesus and what it might mean to "follow Him."

2. Let me know you did that in the comments below. Include your email address.

That's it!

Thank you, friends. May God lead you safely through the waters this week! 

 

 

 

 

 

Why We Give Up on Jesus (and 3 Giveaways)

I went fishing with my daughter a few nights ago. She was here at Harvester Island for a visit. Just five days. This is the trouble with children. They grow up and leave and only come back to visit, like guests. Sometimes you can hardly stand for the wonder of it: the babies you birthed from your body become your nearest friends, no matter how far away they live. How does this happen? It only takes a lifetime. 

We went out fishing one night. We have fished together many times, she and I, over almost 30 years. Mother and daughter out on the ocean, one skiff of women among many skiffs of men. We do the work quickly, hardly talking about the net, the tide, the fish, the kelp, the task at hand. We don't need words for any of this. 

We were out until 11 pm, as is usual. It was a kelp-y night, the nets full of roving bands of bull kelp, finger kelp, rockweed, the gardens of the ocean uprooted by storm and high tides. We have to pick the nets, then, of these unwanted vegetables. It takes hours.

 

Shall I tell you it is fun? For me, maybe, the occasional fisher, but bot for the ones who do this every day. Three of my 5 sons are here for the duration of the season, until the end of September. It's a very  long season of nearly unending work, with no days off. 

But there is still so much to discover here---beyond perseverance. In my better moments, whether I’m riding a wild sea, walking the beach or mending net on shore, I remember the disciples. I feel a special connection to those men fishing and washing their nets two thousand years ago by the Sea of Galilee.  Jesus chose fishermen as His very first disciples, and Peter was chief of them all. Sometimes I feel it—this life on the shoreline, on the water, in the storms, has grown my faith immensely. But after 39 seasons here, in the middle of this life, I confess---I need to see Jesus again. I need to hear Him again. Maybe you do as well on whatever island and in whatever waters you sail every day. I am more than guessing this. I have met so many who have left their faith, who have left the church, who have given up on the Bible, who have “unfollowed” Jesus. 

 

How many? I have found numbers that describe what we’re all seeing and experiencing. Are you ready? In their 2014 book, Churchless, George Barna and David Kinnaman report that

*43 percent of Americans are “Unchurched,” meaning they do not attend any church or have any kind affiliation with a church.

*33 percent of the population is “De-churched,” meaning they once were active in church but are no longer.

*The Barna Group has also found that the numbers of those who are skeptical or agnostic toward the Bible, who believe it’s “just another book of teachings written by men that contains stories an advice” has doubled in just the last three years.

Even the 49 percent that fall into the “Actively Churched” category includes those who attend church as little as once a month.

Clearly, many are struggling with their faith, with the church, with Jesus Himself.

Even those of us who are sure we are followers of Jesus, we have issues too. We’ve read the Gospel countless times. We’ve heard about Jesus’ miracles in more Sunday school lessons and sermons than we care to recall. We can instantly extract a moral lesson from any of the parables and miracles. We’ve got it down. The suspense is gone. The surprise is gone. We know how it all turns out.  And, if Jesus is so loving, why are our lives so hard? 

Maybe we need to go again, then. One more time. We need to be surprised again. We need to live and breathe the words of Jesus as though they matter, as though they're real--because they matter and because they're real. Crossing the Waters: Following Jesus through the Storms, the Fish, the Doubt and the Seas takes us there. You may have read it already.  If so, wonderful and thank you. If not, in these next weeks in this space I'll give a taste and a fresh look into this island life and the ways it reveals Jesus to all of us. (In August, a film crew from RightNow Media will join me here on our island and film a video study of the book for churches and small groups. Stay tuned for this 

 

Crossing the Waters--COVER.jpg

(In August, a film crew from RightNow Media will join me here on our island and film a dramatic video study of the book for churches and small groups. Stay tuned for this adventure!)

Lest you are afraid of boredom, don't worry. You can't be bored in a storm when you know you're going to die. You can't be bored when one fish explodes into a boatload that breaks your nets, or a sardine that turns into a 200 pound halibut that feeds the thousands at your table. And maybe you think you already know this man Jesus----or you're sure he's just a fable? Yes, of course. I used to think both of these as well. I hope you'll follow me these next summer weeks as I show you why I've changed my mind. 

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I'm giving away three Crossing the Waters books this week, (and more in the coming weeks.) I hope you receive one! Here's how to enter the draw:

 

1. Share this post on your social media,

2. Let me know in the comments below,

3. include your email address so I can get your address

 

Blessings on your week, dear friends!!

Leslie

Christian Male Rompers, Arrogance and Holy Fun

Last week after the two shootings in our country I urged you, Don’t despair of despairing. This week I am urging you, Rejoice! We must do both because the times call for both. This week, I’m pretty sure, we could all use a little holy fun. 

The Babylon Bee is ready to help. 

Thanks to this new publication of Christian satire (by christians) I can finally catch up on the  news that matters: Here are a couple of my recent favorites:

Article HERE

Article HERE

We’ve earned it. We’re a pretty ridiculous lot much of the time. The Bible tells us so. Paul reminds us that God chose “the foolish things of the world to shame the wise,” but here’s the catch. We’re not supposed to remain foolish. 

One day last year my radio dial landed on a Christian radio talk show I actively avoid. But the two hosts were laughing. That caught my attention: Christians laughing on a news show? How refreshing! A break from the usual doom and gloom of Christian political commentary. I listened closer.  They were discussing upcoming peace talks with two warring nations. How timely! They quoted the Bible’s prophecies that these nations would always be at war and then broke into derisive laughter and jokes at the leaders’ upcoming attempts to forge peace. Yes, that's truly funny. The entire show was a smug preemptive I Told You So.

Too many Facebook posts from Christians are equally presumptive and arrogant about a "Christian perspective" on national and world events. I don't read them anymore. We only lose friends and neighbors through such posts.

How did we get to be so arrogant and so humorless? I know we’re all caught up in what is probably the most tumultuous first year of any president. The stability of nations feels perilous. Wars are raging, slavery is rising, the environment is degrading. And so has it always been! In the midst of worse global events, endemic slavery and brutality, two men sat in a prison one night, both beaten to a near-pulp, and out of bloody mouths they sang praises to God. With shackles around his ankle and his own execution impending, that same man wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I’ll say it again---rejoice!”

Paul was one man armed with the dangerous gospel of the relentless love of Jesus Christ for the entire world. He was stoned for it, shredded for it, shipwrecked for it, imprisoned for it, and he never stopped telling us to Rejoice! Again I say, Rejoice! Not in the world, not in the news, not in wars, not but Rejoice in the Lord!  (And every time we say "Lord!" We must think of the crucifixion. So we're to glory and be joy-filled before images of that Roman instrument of torture. That's the power of redemption!)

 

Yes, crying is often easier. And yes, Jesus was “ a man of sorrows.” Yes, Jesus wept. But there’s no doubt that Jesus also laughed. He feasted with sinners with such gusto and joy—he was accused by the Pharisees, a sober lot indeed, of gluttony and just generally having too much fun. I imagine some serious laughter there as well at the wedding feast when he waved water into the best wine anyone had ever tasted. And have we forgotten his hilarious hyperboles against the Hyper-Religious: you strain out a gnat and swallow a camel; A camel can squeeze through a needle easier than a rich man can get into heaven.  You try to pick out a sawdust speck from your neighbor’s eye when you’ve got a 2x4 jutting from your own!

I’m with Jesus and Paul. Rejoice! Laugh at least occasionally! Count it all joy! And with that, get some historical perspective! Even if you’re a last days gloom-and-doomer look around. How many of us are in prison?  How many of us have been beaten for our faith and face execution? We think we live in the worst of times, when by many measures we live in the best of times. Both times are causes for joy in the Lord. And maybe we can turn off the media long enough to remember that we’re the messengers of the greatest happiest news ever: God is on His throne. He rules over the nations. Death has been conquered! All of creation is being redeemed!

 

 We’re living in a comedy, friends, not a tragedy, that ends with a massive jubilant wedding between Christ and his bride, the Church. We’re going to sit down to a giddy feast with our sisters and brothers. We’re going to sing songs, tell stories and jokes. But I’m not waiting until then. Jesus didn’t. I’m starting now. And I'm starting by laughing at us, because we are crazy-funny people.

Any good jokes to share, friends?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of Killer Whales and Killers

The day of two shootings in our country was the day my kids were followed by killer whales. It was 10 pm, light as day, near the end of the day’s work on the fishing nets. A pod of 8 orcas appeared, a family, with two babies right beside their skiff. They watched their massive black and white bodies as they dipped and rose around their boat, enthralled. Then one of the orcas surfaced, spun and gulped down an unsuspecting sea otter in one crunch, right before them. A rainbow arched overhead. (No, there were no unicorns.)

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I saw the rainbow. It chased me out of the house where I was unloading 25 boxes from the last shopping trip. Where I was listening to NPR news about the shooting at the baseball practice, when the announcer broke in with news of a new shooting in San Francisco.

 

That morning I watched a bald eagle snatch a salmon from the sea. Sometimes we see them scoop ducks from their innocent feeding, lifting them to their nests, plucking their feathers before they eat. I saw two orcas round the corner of our island below me, scanning for sea lions, otters, seals, any warm body to feed their own.

Two summers ago we boated past a sea lion rookery. One rock still flowed with blood, where an orca had nabbed a sea lion and sunk into the depths.

 

We are enmeshed in killing, all of us.

 

I don’t know what orcas or eagles think when they are killing.  Or eagles when they impale a warm squirming bird and feed it to their young.

 

I don’t know what a man thinks as he points a gun and squeezes the trigger to kill another human being. This is when we are most like animals: brute, unfeeling, predatory.

 

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Is our country unraveling? Fellow Countrymen have become enemies.  Anger rules. Words are arrows, and when insults are not enough for rage, guns take their place. What kind of wisdom or solution can be spoken into this spiral? I have only cold comfort this morning, but comfort nonetheless.                  I am immersed in the Psalms these days, each day writing out a Psalm in my own best hand, word for word. Letting its phrases, poetry, complaints, longings, laments and praises run through my body, through my fingers to the page. Here is what I know so far.  The court and the nation of Israel three thousand years ago is little different than ours today. The King, the man on the throne was often under siege. Violence erupted constantly. His enemies lay in wait for him. The righteous were attacked and embattled.

 

So has it always been. 

It’s a story as old as humankind. (Yes, not much comfort---yet.) How can we not, then, run out of sorrow and righteous indignation? Sometimes I’m just fresh out. But somehow King David never seemed to run out. He did not deny the harsh realities around him. He did not shrug his shoulders in resignation. He did not grow numb and cloister himself in a sanctuary. Nor did he mount his horse to kill his enemies. Instead, He did the two most powerful things possible: He took up his pen and his harp. And he fell on his face before God. Again and again. 

He continued to long for righteousness. He prayed unceasingly against evil and beseeched toward good. He cried tears of frustration and despair. He kept calling upon God’s righteousness. He continually praised and mourned and sang to God in every moment of need. 

This is the narrow way. It’s the harder way. It’s easier to accommodate, to adjust, to adapt, to accept creeping incivilities and outright evil as normal. It’s easier to give up. To rely on ourselves. To fall silent.

 

This is all I'm saying: Don’t despair of despair. Don’t grow weary of longing. Don’t give up mourning evil. These are signs of life. If we did not know the light, we would not see the dark.

But we can’t carry this darkness or it will kill us. Carry it to our Lord, our King who alone can bear it.

And If you’re out of words, use the Psalmist's. God gave him those words, because he knew

we would need them too.

Like this, we will not give up on our country.

Like this, we will not forget all that is Good and Right and True.

 

When the Fog Rolls Down and the Wind Blows High

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It was a mad dash out to fish camp. I had less than a day to get ready. I was supposed to stay in Kodiak and clean our house for renters. I was supposed to do the shop-till-you-drop at Safeway (remember last year's shopping cart entirely full of tortillas?) But the salmon season opened early----surprise!! About a week sooner than anyone expected. Duncan and I jumped from one plane to another then to a boat and here I am. Again. My other life. My "Crossing the Waters" life. 

 

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But I am not always smiling. Yesterday the fog rolled in. A strange fog that arched and rainbowed over the fishermen as they drove home to our island. It's message? No, you will not die by flood, but you will get very wet. And so it came. We woke this morning to a North East wind, blowing 40 mph, making fishing out of skiffs on the open ocean-----hard. Messy. Very wet. Sometimes impossible. Here, the waters in the channel, where they begin, are the calmest the seas will be for the next three days. They will head out from here into high galloping seas.

 

And here it is. This life on this island, in these waters. Not simple. Not easy. It's war sometimes. I watch them go into the storm, three of them my sons, and two nephews. Some just kids. But not really. Not after a lifetime of doing this. And for me, it's been a lifetime of watching them go, or joining them. Thirty-nine seasons. Yes, nearly a lifetime. Is there anything here I haven't yet seen or done? Is there anything new under this fish camp sun?

 

 

 

The Preacher in the book of Ecclesiastes wonders this too. He opens with a wail and a moan, and both eyes wide open:

“Absolute futility,” says the Teacher.
“Absolute futility. Everything is futile.”
 What does a man gain for all his efforts
that he labors at under the sun?
 . . .  All things are wearisome;
man is unable to speak.

 What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done;
there is nothing new under the sun.
 Can one say about anything,
“Look, this is new”?
 

Some commentators and readers over the centuries have insisted this “wisdom book” could not be canonical, could not be inspired by God. Where is the cheer, the victory, the triumph of the Christian life? (“The hearts of people, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead.”)

No one is spared. Even writers get a dose of reality:

         The more the words,
         the less the meaning,
         and how does that profit anyone?

 

What DOES profit us here in the midst of this furious cycle of life? He answers this question three times in the course of his book. Here, my favorite rendition:

Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do. Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil.  . .  and Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.
 

 

Soon it will be lunch. Ten men, my sons, nephews, husband and crewmen will lumber through the door soaked in salt water, muscles weary, hungry. As they have done for decades. Soon after lunch they will go out again. And then after dinner, they will go out into the storm yet again. But right now? Right now the carousel stops. Right now we gather around the table. We gather dressed in work clothes that shine with fish scales and sweat.  We shall eat our meat and homemade bread and drink our tea with gladness. We will laugh. For God is with us. For we are working with all our might. For God approves the work we are doing.

 

 

Like this, I will make it through today. Through another fishing season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kodiak Spring, Beauty in a Time of Bombs

Spring shot its first green on Kodiak this week. The earth has awakened and we must too. 

All of creation speaks the good news: it is time to be born. It is a time to bloom, grow, feed and rest.

But this is also the week of two terrorist massacres---in Manchester, and the bus of Coptic Christians in Egypt. I cannnot turn away. I make myself look at the tender faces of the innocents, the teenage girls, the Egyptian families, of 8 year old Saffie, and I do not stop the tears. If we run out of tears for the evils done in this world, we shall all surely die. 

But in these days of spring, when there is so much light in the sky yet so much darkness in the world, what shall we do? The question has come on the heels of every tragic headline: the Sandy Hook massacre, the Orlando night club bombing, killing 49, the shooting of nine African American congregants at a prayer meeting in a Charleston church.  I pick up my sorrowing hands and try to write, even today. But in the face of such evil, what good is my own tiny art? What value is a frail craft of words sent out on such a terrible black sea?

But I have seen an answer. 

When my daughter graduated from college, she moved to El Salvador where she lived alone in a concrete rowhouse in a small city. She worked for an NGO committed to addressing El Salvador’s endemic rates of domestic violence. Every other day, Naphtali, alone, would walk or jump on the back of a truck and grind down dirt roads to three tiny villages strung along the washed-out tracks. The families were subsistence farmers who lived in dirt-floor huts dizzied with chickens and hungry dogs. Some of the women could not read; all the women bore many children who worked in the corn and bean fields. Men wanted sons, not daughters. Her assignment was to gather women and young people into groups that would meet weekly. The women would be given micro-loans and would be taught how to manage them. More, Naphtali would use theatre workshops to help the women and youth unravel the vicious cycle of violence. I worried about her safety, and I wondered, what could theatre do against such poverty and oppression?

 

 

I flew down to El Salvador twice in those two years, standing with my daughter on the truck as it slowly growled its winding way to the thatched bamboo houses. One of those days we went to a party Naphtali had planned for weeks, an Intercultural Fiesta she called it. We played charades, each of us acting our our lives before the others. The women had practiced songs and skits they had written themselves. One skit was about a girl born to a poor mother. The mother decided to pass her daughter off as a boy, so she would be valued. The daughter grows up as a son. No one knows her true identity. One day she solves a crucial problem for the community and after, reveals her true identity. She is accepted and valued by the male leaders of her village.

 They were awkward. They mumbled their lines, shyly glancing and smiling at the audience. They had never acted before. No one had ever helped them tell their stories before. But that day, standing on a dirt stage, they saw themselves; their children saw them; we saw each other.

 “Beauty can save the world,” Dostoevsky has famously written. Is this our best weapon? Can Art really defuse bombs, mend the blasted bodies of children, heal the blindness of misogyny? I am learning the answer is sometimes “yes.” Even simple pantomime opens our eyes to one another, revealing the stranger as our neighbor.  I suspect that terrorists and the violent must vigilantly guard their hearts against it. Music and dance could enlighten and humanize. Tender, true stories could loosen the grip on a gun. Theatre could reveal that the "other" is much like you. Thoreau asks, “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”

 

Now, I write these words that you may see the shy brave women on the dirt stage, that you may see Saffie and her bright brown eyes, that you may see our Christian brethren. In this time of guns and bombs, get busy. Use the weapons of love and Art to keep our eyes wide open.  

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Thank you for being here, dear friends. Thank you for seeing with me. 

To Graduates: 7 Reasons NOT to Change the World (Yet)

My youngest son will graduate from Eighth Grade this week in Kodiak. (Three cheers!) My fourth child graduated from college last weekend in California. O Happy Day! We froze. It was cloudy, cold and rainy, fantastic weather for wild fires, but not for open-air graduations, California clothes and open-toed sandals. The faculty marched out in procession wearing those cheap clear rain ponchos over their elegant regalia. We huddled under a blanket. We were miserable. But we were thrilled.       

(And weren't you little just yesterday, son??)

   We celebrated the whole weekend, and not just my son's completion, but his wonderful girlfriend's and my other son's girlfriend's graduation. I was so proud of them all.  It was a weekend of worship and inspiration. A time of calling, dreaming and commissioning to go out into the world as leaders and servants.  All good. All Biblical. A beautiful and necessary upending of a rival dream, the American Dream, which has come to mean riches, power, total personal freedom, your own reality show and a million followers on Twitter. 

BUT. In this season of graduations, I get weary sometimes. We Christians have created a parallel dream with, paradoxically, it's own emphasis on power, greatness and success: Every student is charged unendingly with "Change the World!"  "Make a Difference!" My son's university did not overly indulge in this, but the Christian world as a whole overspeaks, over-guilts, (and over-asks for money) nearly every graduation season. May I offer my own hopes and suggestions for new graduates?

 

 

7 Reasons Not to Change the World (Yet)

 

  1.    If you grew up in America, recognize how big the world is and how little you know of it. Get out and experience some of it before you try to change it. Leave your comfortable bed and safe neighborhood and hang out on the other side of the tracks, on the other side of the world for awhile. Live on $10 a day in Laos. Volunteer in an orphanage in Indonesia or at a homeless shelter in Houston.
 

2. When you go out into the world don’t call it “missions” and spend all your time and energy convincing people to give you money rather than working and raising your own funds. Yes, dedicate your experience to the Lord, but remember, this is your trip, your travel, and while you may indeed help others, the main beneficiary here is you. Which is fine. Just don't ask others to pay for it. 

 

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3.  Yes, go out and love the stranger, but how will you love the stranger if you don't love your own family first? Start your new life and new mission right at home. Be kind and show gratitude to your siblings, your parents, your teachers, to all who have invested in you and suffered through your growing pains and rebellions. If you're not able to do this yet, you're not ready to go anywhere. You will not successfully love the stranger without learning to love your real "neighbors" first. (Thank you for doing this, Elisha!)
 

4. Consider your diploma a L.H.M. degree: a degree in Listening, Humility and Mercy. Whatever else you have learned, surely you have learned how little you actually know. Those of us who have been around for awhile, with other degrees behind our name, have learned that this is the only degree that counts. Practice your L.H.M. skills often: Speak to many kinds of people. Read a lot. Keep asking questions. Be compassionate to all. When you do this, you'll find the world is better and smarter than you knew. 

 

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5.   Be an Apprentice. The most valuable skill you have gained in school is the ability to learn. Now, keep learning. Rather than seeking immediate power, position and paycheck, look for a master in your field who will mentor you. And no matter how obscure or menial your job, invest it with diligence and love, as if you were serving God himself (which you are). Be the kind of worker who honors his boss, who respects his co-workers, who devotes himself to the success of others. You won’t change the world: just maybe your workplace.
 

 

6. Know your own strengths and weaknesses, but resist the culture of self-fascination. I know you've taken several personality tests since they are often required in college. But don't be fooled by the impressive names, numbers and labels every test-taker receives. Don't keep yourself in that box. And don't mistake your "score" for achievement. The purpose of knowing yourself is not to "know yourself" but to "grow yourself" into a better self. Exercise your strengths and please address your weaknesses. If you can change and strengthen yourself, maybe you'll have a shot at some bigger piece of the world later. 
 

7. Give up on “greatness” and aim instead for Goodness. Yes, a few men and women through the ages have changed the course of history, but the best ones did not consider themselves “great” when they were doing it. In the moments they are most known for, they often labored in obscurity and mostly tried to do what was good and right. They suffered. They paid a heavy price. But they didn’t give up, even when no one was tweeting or instagramming their efforts. Now more than ever we need leaders committed to goodness rather than greatness. 

 

 Contrary to a well-known graduation speech, you are wonderful and special—and so is everyone else. Your singularity is what you share with the rest of humanity, which entitles you to serve these wondrous others, and to do it as beautifully as only you can. Go to it, then! And God WILL be with you!
 

What graduation advice did I miss?

(And when you comment, be sure and subscribe so you'll see my response!)

 

And may I recommend a book to you? A brand new book just for this season: Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life  by some very wise people, including Byron Borger and Richard Mouw.

 

 

 

6 Irresistible Reasons to Forgive Your Mother this Mother's Day

Dear Friends, here comes the most fraught day of the year, I believe!! Some daughters and sons have marvelous relationships with their mothers. Many don’t. When Mother’s Day comes around, way too many people of every age struggle with conflicting feelings. Hurts, past and ongoing, often cripple our relationships. How do we get through this day? More, how do we move forward without getting lost in the past?

Here is how and why. (And be sure to make your way to the last one, because maybe it's the most compelling reason of all?)

 

 

1. She chose to give you life.

When we’re hurt and disappointed, often we compile a list of all that our mother didn’t do for us, forgetting to count all she did. Did she provide food, water, a bed, clothing, rides to school and after school events?  Did she make lunches for us, take us to the beach, buy us Christmas presents? Even if she did none of these things, and even if your mother didn’t raise you, remember this: she chose to keep the pregnancy and bring you to light and life.  She could have chosen otherwise.

 

2. She tried her best.

Even without knowing your mother, I know this is almost always true. Our mothers---birth mothers, stepmothers, adoptive mothers-- all came to parenting with their own loads of baggage and circumstances. Some of our mothers were not mothered themselves. They simply did not know how to do it. Some were trapped in very difficult marriages, or were alone without support. All of our mothers struggled with more than we knew as children, and even more than we know now as adults. I think of how my mother led us through years without any family income, her resourcefulness in making our clothes, in making all of our bread and growing most of our own food. While we were often unhappy about our food, clothes, the houses we lived in, our mother did all she could with the resources she had at hand. Likely your mother did as well.

 

 

3. She cannot repay her “debts” against you.

When we forgive, we release the offender from the hurts and “debts” they owe us. We do this because it is impossible for them to pay back what they “owe” us. They simply can’t. They’re unable either by temperament, by circumstances, by their own human limitations. We’re either stuck trying to exact from our mothers whatever debts they have incurred----or we let them go.  We give the gift of mercy. When we do this, we not only free our mothers, but we free ourselves from acting as judge and jury over them.  Those years are gone, and while you and your mother may wish to take them back, it’s not possible. Realistically assess what happened. Seek counseling if you need help with this.  And begin to move forward with the wisdom the past is now able to give you.

4. Your negative emotions affect your own children and family.

Your children may be missing getting to know their own grandmother. Not every grandmother is safe to be around; sometimes boundaries are needed. In most cases, though, even imperfect people have qualities and life experiences that your children can benefit from. While you want to protect your child, be careful as well not to superimpose on your children the relationship you had with your mother. She is older now, and likely will interact with your children differently than she did with you. 

 

 

5. So your children will forgive you.

As hard as we try to break generational cycles of dysfunction with our own children, we are still imperfect mothers ourselves who have hurt our children at times. We will want and need from them a spirit of love and forgiveness, particularly as they become adults. If we are not modeling this toward our own parent, they are less likely to extend the same toward us.

6. So you can become the kind of person you want to be. It’s too easy to get trapped in anger and resentment, but most of us don’t like ourselves this way. You may not have to live with your mother, but you can't avoid living with yourself. 

Forgiving a parent of her deficiencies and hurts against you will bring healing to your mother---and to you. It will begin to mend your broken and bitter parts and bring you closer to the woman you want to be: someone who is wise, not easily offended, compassionate, quick to forgive. Take this step toward becoming the kind of person you want to become, and start becoming her this very day.

Amen.  Love and hope and grace to you all!!

If you want a longer journey through forgiveness, with warm counsel and friends at your side, including the amazing Dr. Jill Hubbard, this book is waiting for you (at a special price right now on amazon)

O Happy Ruins! And, Why I'm Going to Quit Complaining

I am back from the ruins, back from tromping through dead cities and temples scattered across Turkey, Greece and Rome. Back from following the sandal prints of the Apostle Paul and his Middle East journeys.  The trip has been fruitful in so many ways.  For one thing, I managed to NOT be the for-real woman who asked the tour guide, after touring the remains of ancient cities, "Why did the Greeks and Romans build so many ruins?"

I managed to take notes slightly better than that . . .

I would love to gush about my stalwart kind and intelligent travel companions who made ruin-romping a ton more fun than had I done it on my own. But----I'll gush at them privately.

I have 1,000 things I'd like to share with you, but  after traveling 15,000 miles the last 2 weeks (and traveling still) my brain is like semifreddo, the half-frozen dessert we ate in Rome our last night together: mushy, partly crystallized, tart, and melting fast. 

So quick, before I fall into a coma in this hotel may I share one thought with you? You know I was in Israel a few years ago, tracking Jesus. This time, Paul. I have to be honest. I never thought much about Paul. I love his letters. He's written some of the most eloquent and moving words in the Scriptures, but he wasn't quite real to me. I never longed to walk in the footsteps of Paul. Until recently.  After scuffling and roaming what's left of Ephesus, Pergamom, Athens, Corinth, Colosse and other cities where Paul began churches, I can glimpse him now. And what I see astounds me. 

You remember what happened to him in these cities? He faced unimaginable peril at every turn. He opposed a culture sunk in idolatry, sexual depravity, pagan worship, human sacrifice.  His message, that "Jesus is Lord" equally threatened his fellow Jews. After just two weeks immersed in the mere ruins of this ancient world, Paul's courage became nearly tangible to me. Here is the price he paid, in his own words: 

"I have been in prison . . . I have been hurt  in beatings. I have been near death many times. Five times the Jews have given me their punishment of thirty-nine lashes with a whip. Three different times I was beaten with rods. One time I was almost stoned to death. Three times I was in ships that wrecked, and one of those times I spent a night and a day in the sea. I have gone on many travels and have been in danger from rivers, thieves, my own people, the Jews, and those who are not Jews. I have been in danger in cities, in places where no one lives, and on the sea. And I have been in danger with false Christians. I have done hard and tiring work, and many times I did not sleep. I have been hungry and thirsty, and many times I have been without food. I have been cold and without clothes. Besides all this, there is on me every day the load of my concern for all the churches. I feel weak every time someone is weak, and I feel upset every time someone is led into sin."

Paul is not our Savior. He did not suffer all this with our names in his mind and heart, as Jesus did in His sufferings. But---Paul, under Jesus' leading, opened the door of the synagogue to us. To us Gentiles, us non-Jews. And nearly everyone wanted to kill him for it. He was executed, finally, in Rome, likely by beheading. His life and death was shaped by the same extravagant sacrifice of Jesus. 

(AND---this is a word to our cushy American church. How whiny we are!! How soft and spoiled, how quick to claim "persecution." We know NOTHING of persecution!!)

Paul is not my Savior, but he is my brother. He did all this that WE---the unwanted, the unqualified, the far-off---might be delivered from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, that we might be for "the praise of His glory."   (And OH how I praise His glory!!)


I can't wait to thank him. 

I'm not tired anymore. (And I'm going to quit complaining about my "stuff"--at least for a little while.) 

And I'm ready to keep going. 

Untying the Knot in Turkey

It is warm and sunny today in Ephesus, Turkey. Coming from Alaska, I cannot get enough of the sun, but I am missing the wind. Three Muslim women in head scarves and silky dress coats stand before me, conferring. Then one turns and asks, anxious, "Are these waters holy?"  I don't know what to say to her. A man standing near hears her and answers "Yes, many believe these waters are holy."  She looks relieved and steps toward one of the three faucets spouting from the stone wall. What will she pray for as she washes her hands in the water?

We are here together, Christians and Muslims of all kinds, from Asia, from the Middle East, our small group from the U.S.  We're at the House of Mary, where many believe the  mother of Jesus lived out her last days with the disciple John. (And who is not moved to remember that Christ, hanging crucified and close to death, looked upon his friend John and his beloved mother and gave them to one another as mother and son. From then on, the gospel tells us, John "took her into his house.") 

Muslims are here because Meryem is the mother of the prophet Jesus, and so is holy in some way. I go into the House of Mary where a statue stands in the center of the wall, a candle burning. Muslim women in headdresses bow, kneel in prayer. There are maybe 11 of us in this room. In the quiet I feel the heaviness of these women's needs. No one speaks. 

Is this tiny stone chapel, this two room shrine the place where John and Mary lived together, living out every day the words and new life Jesus taught them? No one can know. There is a long story behind the choice of this ancient nondescript dwelling, but I will not tell it here.  I have stopped my travel this day to write these words, to show you this one more thing, this one place where dreams and wishes and prayers become a wall. 

It is called The Wishing Wall. Prayers and hopes are written on napkins and tissues and tied to the iron grating. I see words written in Korean, Arabic, Chinese, English, Spanish and many others. There are ribbons tied here too, as well as socks, plastic shopping bags, whatever people brought, whatever they pulled from their pockets.  

A priest, a friend, traveling with us, tells us that Mary is sometimes called "The Untier of Knots."  It was St. Irenaeus in the second century who wrote that "the knot of Eve's disobedience was untied by the obedience of Mary; what  the virgin Eve bound by her unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosened by her faith."

I think of the Turkish rugs made by thousands of Turk women in small villages, women sitting before cotton strands, knotting every thread of wool and silk twice. Twice, so the knots cannot be pulled out. 

This day, standing before the Wishing Wall, I am grateful for Mary, but I did not knot a tissue for her. I said a prayer instead to her Son for all the broken choking hearts longing  for what Jesus came to give. He gives it still, his forgiveness flowing like water from a faucet, his love freeing knotted hearts to float  like tissues on a vast warm wind.