When God Keeps Surprising

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I am back in Kodiak now. Summer is gone. The writing workshop is over. And just when I think nothing new could happen in this yearly cycle—from one Alaskan island to another, that has now spun me around for 42 years——God does it again. Astonishment. Surprise. Goodness hailing down like rain from a cloudless sky. Maybe I am a hopeless slow learner, but I am still dropped low, left gaping at these moments when we lived, moved and felt our being joined to God and one another.

But—-this is too many words.Here is what this last week looked, sounded, and tasted like:




 

And here are Marilyn’s words for this week. (The brilliant Marilyn Chandler MacEntyre was my guest writer for the week)

Harvester Island Writers’ Workshop, 2019

with many thanks to Leslie and Duncan

 

I had no idea, when I said yes,

how wide open the door would swing,

how many would come bearing gifts—

local lore, woolen socks, timely reminders

of ways to use a Q, new uses for quinoa,

large cameras for crowds, a sharp eye

for whale fins, long-legged rain gear

and chocolate covered almonds.

 

I had no idea what pleasure a banya

might provide on a chilly afternoon

or what chilly might mean in this

northwest outback.  In Sacramento

it’s 102 today.  70 is sweater weather.

 

I thought I knew what I might offer;

I’ve done this many times before, I thought.

I had handouts, and plenty of prompts.

 

But one sure and certain sign of the Spirit

is surprise.  Conversation re-creates and all

our preparations are reconfigured.  We leave

our devices at the door, our shoes, our hygienic

excesses, and walk into a bright circle of grace.

 

We learn again, from one another, how a word

can take root in the body and grow into story

or song.  We have seen salmon dying now,

and puffins making their flapping way

up the steep hill of wind, and curious gulls,

and watched quizzical otters from a deck full

of well-wrapped watchers, balanced between

words and silence, awed and unsettled and expectant,

already imagining how to keep these moments alive

long enough to transplant them into poems.

 

I had some idea of what could happen

when two or three were gathered, permitted to laugh,

invited to play.  God’s own breath moves among us,

diffuse and subtle, filling hospitable silences,

preparing us each, in ways we barely suspect,

for what comes next.

——-Marilyn Chandler MacEntyre

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Does God Care about Food? (My 2 new food videos!)

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Dear Readers,

I am wearing part of summer. It sits around my middle and if I grab it just right I can make out the last piece of kielbasa roasted over a beach fire, hunks of smoked salmon, the raspberry shortcake with chocolate drizzle. But I am not repentant. When 23 people jump out of a plane onto your beach (in July), and you’re all cooking, eating, conversing together about Important Things, which include FOOD and all the ways it matters——-you just have to pull on your fat jeans and celebrate, you know??

Here’s how we did it in July, here on Harvester Island. It’s our First ever Spirit of Food workshop and retreat.

You know the answer to my question already: “Does God care about food?” But here are some answers that might surprise you. And they are just the very beginning of so many ore answers and reasons God cares so deeply about (your, mine, the world’s) food:

 

Would you share with us all a special food memory from this summer?

And—-other thoughts on how food matters to our faith?

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P.S. We had SO much fun, we’re doing it again next year! Stay tuned here for further news:

http://www.leslieleylandfields.com/the-spirit-of-food-workshop-2019

A Tour of Our Banya (Are You Clean Enough for God?)

The Harvester Island Wilderness Workshop starts on Saturday——which means 23 people are here sharing our island, our waters, our whales---AND our banya! How do you get 23 people clean each night in a place without an indoor bathroom?  This is how: 

 

Americans use an average of 100 gallons of water a day. We use maybe 3 gallons apiece. We’re just not that thirsty---or that clean. (One of my sons has worn the same sweatshirt the entire summer. Just 1 washing. And I just went 6 days without washing my hair. I’m lucky like that . ..)   

Our water does not gush from our 2 faucets in the house: it ambles, urged along simply by gravity-flow from a tank above our house filled with water from our hand-dug well. Getting clean and staying clean take time and energy. We don’t have an indoor shower or a tub; we bathe in a banya, a word and a custom brought over by the Russians 300 years ago when they colonized this part of Alaska.  

The banya is a wood-fired steam sauna in a building separate from the house. We build a huge wood fire in the barrel stove,

fill the inside tank (over part of the barrel stove) with water for our hot water.  

We keep the fire stoked until the water inside is hot and the air temperature is about 200 degrees. It takes 3 - 4 hours---we have to plan ahead. Then we take turns filing out to the banya, towels over our shoulders. We steam and sweat, washing in basins, emerging  red-faced, happy and clean. 

We use very little water, but we use a lot of wood, all of it driftwood found on beaches, dragged to shore in a flotilla, stacked until we saw it up and burn it.

I’ve been dragging my body into that banya for 42 years now. Naked I sit, in my grime and sweat and the worries of the day, sucking in air almost too hot for my lungs.  But I’m not really here to get clean. I'm here to get pure. 

The banya, like a native American sweatlodge, is often a house of prayer for me. Two thousand years ago, on a grassy hillside, maybe a bit like the one where we built our banya, a promise and a blessing was given: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. “

 Am I pure enough yet to see the living God? 

In a book of prayers from the Presbyterian church published in 1940’s  I find this prayer: 

“Grant that we may think clean, generous, humble  thoughts and harbor none that  stains the mind or dims our vision of Thee. So cleanse our hearts that we may ever behold thee face to face . .”

What I have seen of God so far is this: 

He strips us,   he scalds us, he sears our lungs,   he opens our pores,   

we melt,  our bodies weep . . . And when we return again to the world, our skin shines, 

people are kinder,  and the world itself is  brighter than we left it.

How many of us are “pure in heart”?  

Not me. But we shall be, one day. Even as we lean toward that day,

 somehow 

this day,

already,

we have been made 

clean    enough.

Of Killer Whales and Killers: What to Do Next

The weekend of two shootings in our country was a weekend of killer whales out at our fish camp. 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. My kids and our crew 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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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. But I’m certain they don’t kill out of hate or prejudice.

They are better than us this way.

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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.

 

It’s a story as old as humankind. Our human history runs a river of blood. 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 worked toward the 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.  

Then he ruled out of that deep God-formed sense of faith and justice.

We need rulers and officials like this. That’s one thing we can do:

Support and vote for those who seek the heart of God, who foster the Common Good, who unite people, who value and welcome All people, regardless of race, faith, gender, economic status, country of origin—— just as Jesus did.

One more thing we can do:

*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. Others will grow weary of resisting evil. We cannot.

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.

 

With love and prayers for us all,

Leslie

Finding Rest After the Debates and Josh Harris

What a week it’s been!

My daughter and her lovely new husband have been with us at fishcamp since early June. But they left a few days ago. (How I miss them!)

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*Joshua Harris, the 21 year old author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, who became a Christian media star launching a generation into “courtship” rather than dating—-has now kissed Christianity Goodbye. The now forty-something former pastor renounced his faith, making international news. We’re shaken. (Do we put too much faith in our Christian celebrities’ faith??)

*The democratic “debates”? I didn’t watch them because I live here in the wilderness, without TV (and often without internet!) But the pundits say the debate focused on personal sniping. The world is ablaze and we’re still launching insults instead of solutions?

*My edits on my next book have come back from my editor. I have a thousand little changes to make. I will be a slave to my screen again.

*And finally, in our annual summer measuring and marking on the doorframe, my teenage sons each grew an inch since last year. Naphtali posted a half inch gain (“it’s all the yoga,” she smiled.) I didn’t want to be measured, but everyone insisted: I shrank. I lost (another) half inch. (And I hate yoga.)

Sometimes it’s just all too much and you have to leave, escape. One night I grabbed a paddle and launched a kayak. And the next few nights, I went out fishing with my kids. (Would any of this make me taller? No, but it would make me happier. And it did.)

I found so many consolations:

*Tiny kelp crabs fell into our skiff. They’re ornamented in bonnets of kelp, which they fasten with their pincers, looping and hooking the ribbons on the tiny protrusions on their shell. Biologists tell us they’re dressing to hide, to camouflage, though I’m certain they’re fancying-up for Sunday dinner, or a night out on the town, (which, in this case, would be an hour in our skiff.)

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*I found five starfish on the beach. Which is nothing, but it’s five more than we had last summer. Two summers ago Kodiak Island was stricken with Sea Star Wasting Syndrome, (from warmer ocean temps). Our beaches, always festooned with hundreds of purple, orange, magenta sun and starfish were desolate of starfish. Wiped out, as they were along most of the US west coast. They’re recovering there——and maybe they’re returning here as well? I am hopeful.

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Everywhere I turned I saw loveliness. Rocks dressed in barnacles and bright wigs even on the dullest days.

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Mothers and fathers feeding their children.

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And then, in the kayak two nights ago, silently paddling, mother and babe.

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I am on these waters too with my beloved ones, (though we’re not nearly as cute).

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And then the skies whispering overhead as we glide back home.

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This is my Sabbath, out here, on these waters, on these shores. I know you need it too. When we turn off our screens, the unnatural world, and turn to the natural world—-we are not escaping or retreating. We are returning. And we are resting, even while we work.

When watching an otter, an eagle, a kelp crab, a sunset, I find rest. My tired ears hear again. I see again. The rocks shout out whose world this is. The moon, the sun testifies. The eagles know who feed them.

We are the only ones in all of creation who forget. We are the only ones who lose our faith. We are the only ones who “politic.” We are the only ones who never have enough.

SABBATH rest, Norman Wirzba tells us, is not about closing our eyes, taking a nap, retreating from the world. It’s about ending our restlessness, our discontent, the not-enough-ness that rules our lives and drives us sad, mad and frantic.

Stop. Declare a Sabbath. Go watch the sparrows, the spider outside your window, the otters. Hike the mountain behind your house. Walk softly on the beach.

All this has been given to us out of love.

Watch, listen, love it back. And you will find rest.

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Where is your favorite place to go to find rest, to find Sabbath?

Eat, Pray, Love, (Smoke)

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“ . … you gave them bread from heaven for their hunger.” Neh. 9:15

I know many of you wanted to come.  To come to this island in the Gulf of Alaska  to to eat, to pray, to love, to think about food. So let me bring it to you. We lived a whole month in this week so I will show and tell now---and again next week. This is not about what you missed. It's about what you can do now to eat, love, pray (and swim?) right where you are.

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What did we do? 20 of us flew out on float planes to Harvester Island, Alaska, where my family and I live and commercial fish for salmon. I had a plan for the week, a schedule of sorts. Norman Wirzba (prof of eco-theology at Duke) was ready with his notes. Melissa d’Arabian (Food Network star) with hers. Me with mine. And the plane was filled with boxes of food, all kinds.

And we did it. We sizzled and grilled, sliced and roasted, rolled and stirred our collective way to feasting lunches and dinners every day. We taught and talked and sang and adventured and prayed around it all. And we smoked——-salmon. The smoke from my smokehouse joined the smoke from 100 fires burning around Alaska. We’re praying for rain.)

 I could say we tasted heaven through the food, the bisque, the crab, the  ceviche, the salmon, the potato-bacon torte. We did. And we were tasting earth, too. There it was on every plate: pieces of the field, the sea, fruit fallen from trees, plucked from the ground. Our plates a garden. Our plates a map of creation, the goodness of the earth given to nourish the first earthlings and all of us after.

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 God didn't have to make it so, as Norman reminded us. He could have given us gruel every morning----like the gruel I grew up eating every morning: Lumpy, cold, gelled, leftover.  Like the gruel the parishoners ate in Babette's Feast: Food to make us brave for choking it down every morning. Food to make us strong  in self-denial. Food that punishes, that teaches our appetites are sinful and wrong, that the body must be endured. Food that leaves us hungry and wondering if we are loved.

 

But when God rained food from the sky those forty years it was white, light, sweet like honey, wafers on the tongue. It wasn't gruel. It wasn't cruel. despite their disobedience and constant complaint, it was still lovely and delicious,

 

God is like that.

 

This week God fed us and we fed each other so very well. We needed it. We were starving, I think, all of us. Tired of snatching a mcmuffin and a coffee on the way to work. Sick of counting calories and carb. Sickened by media and drive-thrus urging us all to "Super-size" it. Worn out from perching alone on snacking stools in coffee shops. Weary with being overfed and undernourished. Lonely from being cut off from the earth and sea beneath us. Exhausted from fearing food, from idolizing food. From believing it will save us or kill us. Our culture teaches us all these things.

How has the goodness of food turned so bitter?

How has the blessing of food turned to bite and consume us?

 We've lost our way. We all know it. But there are so many ways back. Here is one way to start this very week: Feed people. Open your doors to people you know and people you don't for one meal. It doesn't have to be expensive. Just colorful. Something that has come from the earth or the sea, that has passed through your hands. Something you offer freely, without asking for anything back. Something you make because of love.

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 As Norman shared this week, God did not have to make the world so beautiful, so delicious. But He did: "Food is God's love made delicious.”

Gather the hungry. Feed someone that love this week.

When you invite them all to your table, you will see heaven, earth and its people returned to one another.

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(Norman, Melissa and I are hoping and planning to do it again next summer. I hope some of you can come?)

Your turn! What was the most loving meal you ever made or you ever ate?

 



 

Surviving Kodiak's Heat Wave: And "I Want It All"

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Who can account for a week in a life? What is the story of this week on Harvester Island? Eleven of us live, eating around the table, standing at fishing nets mending for days and days . .. An unprecedented heat wave—-in the mid-70’s here on Harvester for 10 days. (Over 90 in Anchorage. A first.) It’s a little scary to us . . .

(And I know all of you suffering with temps in the 90’s and over 100 can laugh at us wimps. We are wimps indeed . ..)

And me, what am I doing among all of this? I am rejoicing. THE BOOK (my 12th) is OFF to the publisher. I met the deadline, though sickness came to call just before and it seemed the whole tiny universe around me was conspiring to keep me from words. This is what it looks like to hit the “Send” button on a manuscript that was forged in the midst of sickness, personal heartache, and a busy fishcamp life.

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And here is my studio, awash still in paper, words, sentences . …. .

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Every book finished is some kind of miracle. At the nearly-finished line, I’m sure I am not the only one relieved and breathing easier (though my breath is held in reservation until I hear back from my editor . .).

I think God is probably relieved as well: No more daily whimpering from Leslie!


How do you rejoice and celebrate on Harvester Island? You go climb trees with your son. Oh good day——this was one of the happiest moments in my week. (I spent half my childhood up in trees.)

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And——You cut up fish! Here, a 40 pound king salmon my daughter brought in.

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I don’t need words now. Just hands. Just knives. Just eyes.



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But play is over. The Spirit of Food workshop begins next week with so many friends coming! And we have a new classroom and bedrooms to finish., menus to plan, and a thousand other things.

I am greedy, I know. I am greedy. I am tired. But I cannot stop. As Rilke writes in the poem below, “Maybe I want it all.”

You see, I want a lot.

Maybe I want it all:

The darkness of each endless fall,

The shimmering light of each ascent.

 

So many are alive who don’t seem to care.

Casual, easy, they move in the world

As though untouched.

 

But you take pleasure in the faces

Of those who know they thirst.

You cherish those

Who grip you for survival.

 

You are not dead yet, it’s not too late

To open your depths by plunging into them

And drink in the life

That reveals itself quietly there.

 

---Rainer Maria Rilke


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Will you keep gripping God for survival?

We are not dead yet.

Let us keep thirsting together.

So gratefully,

Leslie

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All the Light We Cannot Spend: Summer Solstice, 2019

What did you do on the summer solstice, when the sun stayed up past its own bedtime? (Here, just before midnight)

We have 22 hours of light right now. But so sadly—-our solstice celebration was swallowed by fog and rain, utterly. Here it comes, the massive fog bank that moved in yesterday, swallowing the sun and every bright thought . ..

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But the work goes on. (My daughter and Aaron, still honeymooning as they work among nets, fish and kelp.)

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(

And this is one way to make sun even in the rain. [Step aside “American Gothic!”

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When the sun comes back, I will have more than I can use. It is hard to sleep these days that won’t end. I wear double eye masks and pull down blackout curtains, as if warding off bad luck. As if hiding from danger.

The sun IS dangerous. It lights creation with such flames of love I cannot sleep, I cannot stop. I want to gather berries and rose petals, I want to go out on the ocean and pick fish all night long. I want to climb our mountain, name every flower, watch the eagles, pull rhubarb, smoke fish, gather bouquets of wild iris, follow the sparrows and nuthatches.

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And I want to work. I want to paint the buildings that need painting, dig our over-wintered potatoes, plant more potatoes, can salmon and jar whole shelves of jam and jelly.

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I need to do all this, and likely I will. This is the Alaskan way, to work until midnight, to power through on light alone, knowing how soon winter’s dark shadow will fall. Knowing how our bodies turn to slugs in the dark.

We’re solar-powered most of us. But I confess----I am tired. I worried the sun will not return. The fog and rain can last a long long time. And winter is coming and we are soon losing  4 – 5 minutes of light each day. Who can sleep knowing summer will end in two months? Who on a rainy island can waste uminous radiant grace while its here?

(Do you do this too? In the midst of such summer opulence are you too already counting its loss? )

But here’s what’s truly true: Grace comes a thousand ways  and this light is only one. (Click to Tweet) The flowers and the fish are only two and three, but God has millions of graces yet to come. Graces that come in the colors of the fall, in the dark, in the night, in the fog and rain, even in the coming winter storms. )

(

But Do we think God’s going to run out of goodness? Do we think his mercies come only through the summer sun? I know His dark mercies too that come new every winter. That come new every sorrow, every disappointment. That come new every single night.

(That came new last week. This matter I cannot talk about is now international news, yet it is personal and it won’t be resolved for years. SO much heartbreak here . .. yet believing God will somehow rescue through it all . . )

Forgive the poetry here. I mean these words, written with a tired, half-broken heart. Maybe I can rest today. Maybe in the middle of this burning day and night I can lay it down; maybe in the middle of this brilliant day I can lay him down---my tiny made-up god who loves only light, who fears the night, who cannot give without taking something else away. I am choosing to believe

Our God never runs out of graces

                     Even as the lace of light slips away . . . 

Do you know this too? Can you share a time when God appeared in the midst of the dark?

Hold on to Every Fragment

This is us, the ones who flew out together to fish camp, (Harvester Island, Alaska: my daughter and new son-in-law, a crewman (Jonah), and my assistant, Ashley. I’m wearing sunglasses because I’ve just had minor surgery on an eye. Oh, and that’s Sophie in my arms, who promised to be my seeing eye dog for this flight.

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I couldn’t see well, but good enough to catch my breath at the first glimpse of Harvester after a long winter:

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Already green. And the ocean, still, always magical liquid silver and blue.

But it hasn’t been an easy start to our commercial fishing season. I haven’t written here because our internet is intermittant, more Out-ernet than In-ternet. We’ve had a few people leave. We’ve had a medical emergency. I am under a book deadline (3 weeks left), cooking for 14. And something has happened I cannot speak about that presses so heavily on my heart . . . . Praying constantly for justice, mercy and light to come from this terrible dark.

Yet there have been many moments of happiness. Here, the delivery of our frozen foods! They come from Seattle, in bulk, by boat, to smaller boat, to tractor, to our hands to the freezer. We felt rich, like Christmas had come.

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(Will we really eat all this food? Ummm, look at who we're feeding! And how many homemade pizzas does it take to fill all these manly appetites? This many!)

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There have been kayak trips, hikes, and walks along the tideline. I always take a camera on my first beach walk after a winter of storms. There are a hundred stories wound up in the sea weed and kelp, which I love, twisted and dried, tossed high on the beach head. 

Death is always a part of winter's story. A fawn who didn't make it. Clam and mussels shells eaten by otters. And interlopers---cans and plastic that wash up.

 But there is always life as well. These oystercatcher eggs, perfectly camouflaged for the beach, soon to hatch. The shark's purse, prints of a massive mama bear, a Kodiak bear, and her cub as they patrol the sand, on a walkabout for dinner.

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Everything that washes up into our memory, onto our tideline is worth seeing and saving. Listen to memoirist Patricia Hampl:

“When I was a child, I had a powerful sense that I wanted to commemorate things. I even remember thinking at the time that it was a strange word for a twelve-year old to use. . . . it is the idea that every life is sacred and that life is composed of details, of lost moments, of things that nobody cares about, including the people who are wounded or overjoyed by those moments. I don’t think people allow themselves to value their lives enough.They ignore and discard these fragments. I would like my writing to be precise enough, detailed enough so that the attention I bring to bear on something unlocks a door to the reader’s life. In that way, by honoring one’s own life, it’s possible to extend empathy and compassion to others.”

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This summer, I am trying to honor this life and this place. May you too, honor your life this summer. Walk the tidelines, metaphorical or real to see what fragments wash up. In God’s economy, none of it is wasted, not the fall of a sparrow from your tree or the loss of a strand of your hair or the fall of a fawn goes unnoticed by God. And since the One who is Running All Things including galaxies takes care to notice lost sheep, dying sparrows, and fallen fawns, we should notice as well. 

In words or camera or painting or song or letter, send these holy fragments out upon the waters, that empathy, beauty and compassion may wash upon our beaches as common and as lovely as the weeds of the sea.  

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Georgette the Otter & Why I Am So Small

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Last week an otter tried to climb onto my kayak. Sea otters look like ocean-going koala bears so I wasn’t afraid. but I did fear for my water bottle.

Here’s a glimpse of Georgette, the friendly Kodiak koala. (This IS a wild sea otter but I have never seen one so fearless.)

In a few days I fly out to fish camp for the summer. One of the signs of the seasonal migration is always this: (whacking off my hair.)


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In some ways it’s hard to leave. I’ve only been home (Kodiak) about 10 days from my last trip and a whirlwind winter that took me to Texas, Spokane, Mongolia, Denver, Seattle, Atlanta, Mexico, California, British Columbia, the Yukon, and points in between. And now one more move? (Yes.)

I’ll be sharing my summer at fishcamp with you. Some of you travel with me every year and I love your company! Some of you may be coming for the first time.

I don’t love everything at fishcamp, this remote island in the wilderness of Alaska. Just many things. Here are some reasons I’m still excited to go——even after 41 years:


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I love it here because I remember who I am. I am a creature among creatures, as needy and hungry, as on-the-prowl as they are. I wake up every morning looking for food. I watch the skies, watch the water. I pray for fish, watch my husband and sons go out upon the waters for fish, to feed us, to feed others.

We run about in boats; the same ocean that lifts and sinks the puffins lifts us.

We fly in bush planes; the same winds that buffet and sail the eagles sail us.

I am not important. Just one hungry soul among so many hungry bodies, subject to the same forces that rise and swirl and storm around us.

And still we are fed, all of us. The Creator’s hand opens and we eat, just enough for the day.

Are they glad? Do they know deep in their creaturely heart that it is God himself who feeds them?

“All creatures look to you to give them their food at the proper time,” the psalmist wrote. “When you give it to them, they gather it up . . . they are satisfied with good things.”

They are satisfied indeed. I eat my own food, and I feast on their feeding, more than satisfied.

For the next four months at fish camp, I will remember my true place in the universe: Small. Mostly unseen. But quietly gathering my food, feeding others, and growing in gratitude.

I hope you’ll come with me. I promise to send it on to you, that you too may be fed and filled.

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Where will you be feasting and gathering this summer?

How to Go Home--and Survive! (And 10 Book Winners)

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"You Can't Go Home Again" was the title of a novel by Thomas Wolfe. We say this sometimes, don't we? We mean it can be hard to go home once you've been out in the world a long time. It's often not the same place we remember. (In the novel, the protagonist George Webber writes a book about his hometown. The book is a best seller but the town people so dislike his portrait they send him death threats. Sweet [and familiar] yes?)

But I've come home twice in the last week. I am finally back in Kodiak and it is MORE beautiful than when I left. And this week my sister and brother are here with me. (We're half of the six siblings.)

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Remember? we say to one another. Remember the long bus rides? Remember the mile long climb up the hill every day with books in our arms, no matter the weather?

Yes. I remember.

Remember all the houses, scything the hay field, cutting down the bamboo all day with machetes, the goats, the belt across our legs, the fish bake, the times we ran into the woods and stayed all day? Remember that school we hated, the mountain hikes, all the ways we ran away?

Yes. We remember.

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I met a new friend last month whose childhood and early adulthood  no one would believe, full of such isolation, violence and suffering. She said to me, "I'm not going to let the enemy have those years. I want to write about all that happened to bring light from that darkness. I want it used for God and for good."

She is right. We must remember. We must remember all of it: the beautiful, the heartbreaking, the sad, the infuriating, the wondrous.

 Without remembering, we won't know who we are.

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There are so many places God calls us to remember. When the Hebrews were about to enter the land God had promised them---a new life and land where milk and honey flowed from every ravine! So much anticipation! BUT even after wandering and longing and salivating for their new home for forty years, they're not ready to cross the threshold yet. They're not to cross over without these words:

 “However, be careful and watch yourselves closely so that you don’t forget the things which you have seen with your own eyes. Don’t let them fade from your memory as long as you live. Teach them to your children and grandchildren.”

 In many places God tells them specifically what they're to remember: “Tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson what signs I have done among the Egyptians, that you may know that I am Yahweh.” (Ex. 10:2)

         They're to remember their own story: who they are and where they've come from and how they've gotten there. And their story is completely wrapped around God's story: who He is and all he's done with them, for them. Without this remembrance, they are lost.

 

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         And so they were! The whole history of the Hebrew people in the Old Testament is the story of the rise and fall of kings who did evil because they forgot God, and then occasionally a righteous man will emerge who "remembered" God.

 

          I know I'm going all preachy here, forgive me, but this is monumental. (Yes, this is the book I’m writing now . … due in 6 weeks!) The past is not done. It lives on in us, no matter how cleverly we disguise ourselves, no matter how fast we try to run from it. When we don't turn and look behind we lose our way. Even our very selves. Renowned psychologist Dan Allender writes,

 

         "Rather than living a life of freedom and creativity that finds meaning even in the meaningless places in our past, we purpose to forget. . . . Forgetting is a wager we all make on a daily basis, and it exacts a    terrible price. The price of forgetting is a life of repetition, an insincere way of relating, a loss of self. "

        

But know this: we remember and write and speak of our memories not to be the heroes of our own story. Not just to offer up to the world our own gutteral howl and yelp to the moon. We’re after more than “our truth,” aren’t we? 

We're after growth, yes? We're after a better understanding of this crazy human existence. We "remember" that we may find ourselves in God's story and He in ours. We remember the past to find our way into the future.

 

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Friends, don't lose your way. You CAN go home again (I hope). Call a brother or your father. Go visit your sister. Have coffee with a childhood friend. Remember together. Listen to one another. Laugh. Don't be afraid of tears.

 

In recovering the past, no matter how dark, you get to live it again. But this time you are awake, alive, whole. This time you can remember with hope, with gratitude, with the brilliant presence of God, who can redeem anything.

Who already has.

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What has God redeemed in Your Family and past?

BOOK WINNERS! (Books are on their way!)

Janet Kirk
Briana Almengor
Shelly Brown
Sophia DeLonghi
Sheri Reeve
Tracy Moore
Jenny McHenry
Brenda Veinotte

Susie King

Mother's Day Giveaways (And--Stop Trying to Make Your Kids Happy!)

 Dear Friends,  It’s almost our day, the day to celebrate ALL who mother! (Which means every woman I know.) Today, I have a gift for those mothering and grandmothering——I am offering one beautiful freeing truth, (and 10 books.)

How do I dare to give mothering advice? Because I’ve been through the mill, the flood, the fire and the storm with my six kids, and we have all emerged on the other side. (Here, photos from the last 3 weddings, all in the last 8 months. Proof that we’ve all survived——intact and loving each other!

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(No, we’re not perfect. We’ve been through a ton of stuff—just like your family.) And——we only dress up for weddings. Here’s our more usual garb:

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Here’s the problem. Listen to these words from a teacher I met last year:


"I have a little girl in my classroom who never obeys me. It's a huge problem. So I called in her parents and told them about her disruptive behavior. They looked at me blankly for a moment, then said, 'We never tell her no. Your rules aren't important. Our daughter's happiness is more important than your rules!'

Then they left. I’ve heard the same story from youth pastors, from other teachers, from all around us--and I know you have too. Scary stuff!  

   Most American parents say,  “We just want our kids to be happy.”   

How many times do we hear this? Especially now in relation to sexual identity. (Your 6 year old daughter says she’d be happier as a boy? Let’s consider hormone therapy. Whatever she needs to be happy!)

We see it on nearly every front. Kids 8 – 18 now spend an average of 7 hours a day on electronic gadgets---because we let them----leading to obesity, mental illness, Addiction, aggression and more, according to experts

Many of us go into debt for our children, providing lavish birthday parties and exotic vacations. We fix the foods our children clamor for instead of what they need, while childhood obesity rates soar. We don’t allow our kids to fail. We don’t allow their sports teams to lose. We threaten our kids’ teachers with a lawsuit when our (lazy) students flunk a class. Keeping our kids "happy" is exhausting--for everyone. Even them.

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Here’s the truth: Our job as parents is not to make our children happy, but to help them become “good: ” compassionate, honest, responsible, hard-working, kind. Trying to procure our children’s happiness is like trying to catch a river with a sieve. We need to do for our children what they cannot do for themselves: distinguish between their short-term happiness and their long-term good. What is that long-term good? It’s the same as the way God parents us: for our growth, goodness and holiness rather than our immediate happiness. But of course it’s not an either/or. Ultimately, goodness and Holiness IS the way to happiness.

How do we get there? A few suggestions: Give your kids meaningful work to do. Real work that takes time and muscle. Do hard things yourself and enable them to do hard things as well. Model compassion. Require perseverance. Delay gratification at times. Discipline them when needed. Love them always.

If we make life too easy for our children, they’ll fall.

        My sister-in-law planted a Japanese maple in her yard one year. Because she lives on a windy, stormy island, she staked it out so it had full support against the winds. But it began to sag. By the third year, it completely collapsed. The nursery owner from whom she had bought the tree told her, “The tree is too protected. It needs the wind to strengthen its fibers. It needs the wind to make it strong.”

    Do any of us want our children to topple? Don’t we want them to be like the tree in Psalm 1, firmly rooted in the banks of a gushing, living stream? These gorgeous trees yield bright, bursting fruit through every season of its life.

I pray that we can love our children enough to parent them toward THIS kind of happiness!

And we can.

 

Giveaways!

I’m giving 10 books away this week! Five parenting books (which just may save your life as a mother!) AND—five of The Wonder Years: Forty Women Over 40 on Aging, Faith, Beauty and Strength. I'll do it the usual way.  For everyone who shares this post on their social media, please let me know below----and I'll enter your name in the drawing. And DO leave your email as well so I can get ahold of you!!

(Sorry—-Offer only good in the U.S. )

Thank you!! I am so excited at the freedom God can bring to us as we love and raise our children! AND the freedom that comes to us as we sail over that 40 mark . .!)

with Love to you all,

Leslie

 

Easter Flight: Crucified in the Middle Seat

Not long ago, I was stuck in a middle seat on an airplane. Groan. I shrunk into the tiny space, strapped between two large men. I did not want to be there.

Sometimes I do not talk on the plane. At all. Especially in the middle seat. But this night, for some reason, I did. I spoke to the man on my right.  His name was Jerry. He was warm and conversational. We talked about our families, our kids, our work, where we were going that day and why. It was not long into the conversation when he discovered I was a person of faith. I don’t usually hide this, but neither do I make my seat a soapbox.

As soon as he heard me say “Christian” he charged in. “I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in any of that hocus-pocus,” he said, firmly, shaking his head.

“Really? Wow, that’s interesting. How did you decide that?” I looked at him with curiosity.

He told me. He was raised in a charismatic church, he said. His parents were heavily involved. He was in church all the time. “It’s baloney. All of it. I have a great life. I have a wife and three beautiful grown daughters. I don’t need God. My life is every bit as good as theirs. No, better.“

I listened intently, wondering what to say. Before I could think of a single apologetic, he answered my next question: “I don’t even want to talk about it anymore. I don’t do debates or arguments. I just know there’s no god. “ He smiled at me. I smiled back.

The man on the other side of me did not speak for the first hour of the flight. He listened to our long conversation in silence. Finally he spoke. “I was raised Baptist. I’m not anything now. I’m not sure what I believe. “  Then, in the next thirty minutes it came out. He had two sons. No, he had one son. The older one died just 2 years ago. He was bipolar, and became addicted to drugs and alcohol, which killed him.

“We tried to help him. We did everything we knew to do. We followed the expert’s advice. He would come back and live with us, and we’d help him start over. But nothing worked.” 

 

We talked for a long time about his son, about grief, about mental illness. I did not mean to cry, but tears came. I know some of this story as well. But there was more.

“The week after he died, my wife and I were sitting in the back yard, just empty, hollow. A pair of doves, white doves came to our bird bath. My wife and I had never seen doves there before. Ever. They came and bathed in the water for the longest time, two of them. Pure white. We watched, astounded. Then they flew off. We’ve never seen them again. It was a visit I think, maybe from angels? Maybe it was his spirit?”

“It was a message from God,” I whispered. “Don’t you see? That he loves you and is with you.  He never left you and He never will.“ 

He looked at me. We sat 3 inches apart. He nodded. We closed our eyes, hardly able to look at one another in the holiness of that moment. The man on my other side listened and said nothing.

 

 

This week, Friday, many of us will watch a man  take that middle space for us, the place no one wants, He will climb onto a cross, to hang between two men, a disbelieving mocker and a penitent thief; to hang between judgment and mercy, between the past and the future, between law and grace. In that space, he will not shrink, but will spread his arms wide, encompassing all our rebellion, all our disbelief, all our tragic obsession with trivia, and all the death that results.

He will hold us there in that bloody embrace until all is accomplished.

 

I was with him there that day. And you were too. We were there. In his mind, his heart, our deadly sins, our names on his lips as his life drained out of him. 

"For we have been crucified with Christ, and we not longer live but Christ lives in us. The life we all now live in our bodies, we live by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us."

 

Because of that day 2000 years ago, because of that man on the middle cross, we can step into dreaded in-between spaces every day: I could love the man on my right who insists there is no God. I could cry with the man on my left who lost his son. Who might believe again some day. Because of that day, we are reconcilers, standingwhere we must---in the midst of those who are suffering,  opening our arms to the only way out.

 

Dear Friends, wishing you a day of great rejoicing as you celebrate our crucified and RISEN Savior!

HE IS RISEN!!

Palm Sunday--What One Woman Saw

Friends, Would you come with me today? Across time and culture, beyond distraction and schedules that enslave us? I send this dramatic monologue to you today——the words I will speak this Sunday in our service. Maybe they will help us enter into that day?

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I was there that day.  There were so many people there---- but it wasn’t that. Jerusalem, what a city it is for people and crowds!! And it wasn’t even the procession, the parade.  These last two years-----there have been so many parades, trails of stumbling, lisping, broken, drooling people  rolled, pushed, carried, slung hoisted to him. Yeshua.  No one would dare to believe  in healing----except it was happening. To EVERYONE! Even the sorriest among them . .. .

 Everyone became like----new born!  Legs straightened and muscles strung right.  Women who were mute----now they are singing and adding a little dance too!!  And crippled men are running and leaping!!

 So—yes, we’ve been watching these  parades for many months now.

 

But this time--- they finally saw WHO he was! Everyone ran to pull down branches from the trees.  Whih means----Victory!  Triumph!  When was the last time we were victors of anything?  And we all took off our cloaks, our outer robes---and just laid them at his feet and at the feet of the donkey he was riding.

We knew what we were doing because ------Finally we all saw it.  He was the king!!   He was the one we’ve been waiting for since . …..  since we were a people.

 

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And the singing!  Everyone was happy! We are not ----we have not been happy people. But this day!

“HOSANNA! HOSANNA!”

Children singing and old men, my grandpa,  the young mothers----everyone!  Cheering laughing shouting! Hosanna. And you know what “Hosanna” means, yes? It means, Please Save us! Save us!

 Finally----a king to lead us! To lead our people. We can be a nation again—not servants and slaves to the Romans …

 And we said---we turned to one another, all my friends, my neighbors, my cousins, we were all standing and shouting together, and we said, “We will follow him anywhere—- even into battle!” 

 But we didn’t.

We could not guess what would happen next. And if we had, no one would have been there that day. But I saw it. How those same people---not all of them, but some of them---my neighbors, my relatives, my  uncle and cousins----they were there just days later. How many days?  They were shouting again. Just yelling this time—not singing, and not waving palm branches but waving their fists and shouting——

 

CRUCIFY HIM!!

 

How did this happen?? From  O Save Us Our King, Our King!

 

To   CRUCIFY Him,  blasphemer!

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HOW? 

But maybe I know.  They wanted a king, a MAN king who acted like a god.

 They didn’t want a king who WAS God.  

 They never really wanted God at all.

 

I wonder how many of us want God to enter our world and become king over our lives? We think, foolishly, that we will give up too much.

But here is what I know now: that day of singing and celebration and triumph was true.

And real, more real and more true than anybody every knew: 

"Ho-sanna!! Praise to the King! O Save us!!" we shouted.

 

And then very quietly,

through lashes, fists and nails  

               

  He did. 

           

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Write here…

   

 

 

 

 







Stop Saving Your Life! (And Tell a Better Story)

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I’m home in Kodiak now. A few days ago, flying home, I sat next to a beautiful woman with mournful eyes. I pulled out my computer, as I nearly always do, and began working. (I'm on deadline for my next book, "Tell a Better Story.") And I was just leaving an intensive weekend leading a "Tell a Better Story" seminar in Atlanta. (There’s our beautiful class above.)

            We began to talk. We opened our lives. Finally she said, "If you asked me the one thing I need most in my life right now, it's to learn how to tell my story. I've been through some horrific things. Everyone who hears my story tells me to write it, but I don't know how. I can't believe God sat me next to you."  

         I send these words on to my new friend on the plane, and to all of you. Why do I spend so much of my life teaching others to write? Here’s a tiny piece of what I want to say to you:

Many of us come from the Land of Secrets, where everything must be buried and hid away. The buriers think they are staying alive, not knowing how much has already died in the dark.

Stop saving your life. Spend it. Tell it. Write it. Be generous, profligate with it bcz your life is not yours to keep, horde or hide.

Everything that has come to you: the ugly, the lovely, the break-ups and tear-downs, the crushes and crashes, the grieving and groaning, the riddles and   the cancers and healings----however secret they have come, under whatever beds and closets they hide---they do not come for you alone. Bring them out to life and light. And send them on. Comfort others, pass on whatever you have seen and heard for their sake as well as yours. Weep with those who weep. Rejoice with those who rejoice.

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         Tell your story because not a moment is wasted in God’s economy, not the fall of chickadee from your tree or the wandering of a rebellious sheep or the fall of a strand of you  hair goes unnoticed by God and we should notice too.  

I remember the day I sat in my father’s room with notepad in hand describing the red carpet, the furniture the wolf blanket on the wall, the books over his bed. I was capturing that moment forever----and here it is still. I remember. And I pass it onto you, that moment, waiting, when he was dying and I knew that I would not see him again, ever. (And that he wouldn’t care.)

         Who else knows as you do how it felt to hold your mother’s hand after her fall, and how you had to argue her onto the gurney, all the while knowing she doesn’t even like you, that you are not one of her favorite children but you do it anyway because you still love her?

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Remember first time you ever danced with your son——at his wedding?

And remember the time you climbed that mountain near sunset and an eagle sat in a tree in silhouette and your son lost his shoe over the cliff and you ended up piggybacking him down the rest of the trail while you both sang “Deep and Wide”? Who else knows how that feels?

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Oh the things you have done and seen in this life!! Don’t hoard it. Don’t stash it in some cache to keep it from those who need these stories the most.

And those who watch and listen and write and speak, those who are looking for God in every minute of their life------will find him.

 But don’t write or speak your stories to gain love or acceptance. Because when you write the very best you can, which means that you tell the truth and you tell it straight and kind, and that you do not write to exact revenge, only to scatter grace and light in graves and closets---some will dislike you. Some will reject you. Some will think you’re an egomaniac for daring to put marks on a page from your own life. Some may call you a liar and a thief. It happens to writers and truth-telling speakers all the time. But it’s okay, because you are honoring the life God has given you.

  Why am I telling you this? I have seen so much lost. When you seal your lips and your memories, you will lose not just pieces of the past and pieces of yourself, which is tragic enough, but you will lose seeing God Himself. Jesus would not waste the crumbs after 10,000 people ate, and I don’t want you to lose an entire basket, even a single crumb. If you stay silent, someone will not be fed, and the first someone is you.

The rest is all of us.

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         In the end, writing and sharing our stories is not about my father or the little children running away or the mother carrying her son down the mountain----it is that in all of those moments God is present in ways we are blind to, and we have a chance to live those moments again, this time wide awake. 

Dear Friends: Don’t hide your life underground. Spend it!

Tell and live a better story, a richer story, a truer story.

It can raise the dead to life.

(It already has.)

 

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Friends, There are SO many other reasons to find and share our stories with one another. Anyone have another reason? Or—-something wonderful that happened when you shared your story with someone else?

(P.S. HOW do we Tell a Better Story? Let me show you! A few spots are still open: The Lake Michigan Writers’ Workshop and the Harvester Island Wilderness Workshop.)

Crossing Mexico's Border and Tearing Down Walls

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All this week I have been crossing borders. So many.  The hardest border was across an airplane seat-----but the longest border was in Tijuana.  It was just Duncan and I, the two of us on spring break together (Really? Like real grownups?) Driving into Mexico at the San Ysidro border, through San Diego, wasn't even a blink.  No stop. We had our passports in hand and no one was there to stop us anywhere.  We were in the U.S. one moment, then driving along the border wall the next and there we were.

           Coming back wasn't so easy. It took three and a half hours of idling, in a snaking line, waving off gentle peddlers with serapes, aprons and churros at our windows. Waiting for border guards to pull off panels from a truck in front of us.

"Is it this busy because of Spring break"? my husband asked a border patrol guard along the way who looked friendly.

 "It's always like this," he said. 'It's the busiest land port of entry in the world." Later I look it up. 70,000 northbound cars and 20,000 pedestrians cross every day. I’ve crossed borders in more countries than I have counted, and never like this.

 

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But the hardest border crossing was the closest. I was in the dreaded middle seat on a flight from Seattle to California. A small woman with a cane sat against the window. I buried my head in my computer, for so many reasons. It's exhausting talking to a stranger two inches away. And always the book deadlines. But somewhere over Oregon I spoke.  I don't remember what I said, but we ended up talking for over an hour.

            *Sally was a recovering alcoholic and meth addict. "I've been clean for four years," she said smiling. Her face showed the wear.

            "Congratulations!" I cannot imagine the difficulty of this. And I find out that Sally has MS, diagnosed 15 years ago. And there is more. She is recovering from brain surgery.

            We talk about her disease, her surgery, our children, her father. We talk about God. Sally lights up.

            "That's why I'm alive. I wouldn't be here today without God. He's saved me so many times. The aneurysm should have killed me."

            At some point, she takes my hand and guides it to the back of her head.

            "Do you feel that lump? That's from the surgery."

            I cringe with her hand on mine, then my hand behind her head feeling the lump. This is a border I didn't want to cross. Ever. But here I am. Near the end of the flight, when she finds out I'm a writer, Sally tells me, "You can tell my story. I want people to know how good God has been to me."             

 

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            A few days later I am in line at a Starbucks. A young latino man skips in line behind me. He speaks to me almost without taking a breath.

            "Hi, oh it's a beautiful day, and I'm so happy to be alive, aren't you? I mean look at this, we're all here, alive in this place," and he gestures to the 30 or so people with coffee in hand, poring over phones and books.

            "Yes, I'm happy to be alive too," I smile back. I too have felt this, suddenly looking around wondering if anyone notices that we're all breathing and having these moments together in this place.

            "My name is Angel and I want to be an angel. What if everyone here was an angel?"

            And off we go into a weird labrynth of conversation I cannot begin to recall. The line is long and we talk a long time. I think Angel is manic or high right now, but God is here anyway. We talk of heaven. How we should be grateful for every moment of life. Now he is telling me his favorite book of the Bible and I'm saying mine when a grizzled man in a yellow t-shirt and red hat passes us.

             "I read my Bible every morning. You gotta read your Bible," he admonishes us as he passes holding a bag he pulled from the trash.

            Behind us stands a 6'5" African-American man in a tight beige miniskirt and a long red wig. He smiles at me as I turn. I smile back. I would love to talk with him, to hear his story.

            I order my coffee and pay with a gift card and wait. Behind me, Angel orders. "Just water please."

            I'm about to walk away and I can't. Someone gave me the coffee card I'm using. I know it's not just for me.

            "Angel, order a coffee, whatever you like."

             "Really? Are you sure?" After, with his iced coffee in hand he asks, "Why did you do that?"

              "Because Jesus would."

            We high-fived.

             

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            Some flights and some days I'm cranky. Sometimes I build a Trump-sized wall around myself. Sometimes I need to. But when I pull the wall down, one small word at a time, I have found people who need to be seen and heard. Who maybe need a coffee and even a hand behind their head to feel the lump.  And in those minutes, whether we find our way to God or not, I am (mostly) happy. Because Angel is right. Here we are all alive together and breathing together, all of us created in the image of an incredible God and maybe if we cross the borders past our own thick skin, we can bless one another? I need it as much as they do.

Many in our country want to build more border walls. I want to tear mine down.

 

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Dear Friends——Have you torn down a piece of a wall lately? Would you bless us all and tell us about it?

Dare to Laugh; Dare to Lament (And Wonder Years Giveaways)

Welcome Friends! I need to laugh this week. I’ll bet you do too. The Babylon Bee always does it for me. (If you’re new to this rag, it’s brilliant Christian satire, about us, by us, which is good for all of us. We are so worthy of self-parody.)

(Wonder Women, please enjoy the post and at the bottom you’ll see what to do!)

HORTON, ND—It was time to eat dinner at the Kendall household and Gregory Kendall, who had just come home from a long day selling auto parts, was in no mood to pray.  “Would anyone else like to pray?” he asked his family, but he was met with blank stares, his children not jumping at the chance to pray for the meal. Gregory looked at his wife, Roberta and she returned a look that said “not today.”  Finally, the Kendalls’ Amazon Echo device offered to lead the prayer after the always-listening device determined the awkward silence was probably never going to end until someone stepped up to bless the food.  (See how  Her    secular prayer    ends!

HORTON, ND—It was time to eat dinner at the Kendall household and Gregory Kendall, who had just come home from a long day selling auto parts, was in no mood to pray.

“Would anyone else like to pray?” he asked his family, but he was met with blank stares, his children not jumping at the chance to pray for the meal. Gregory looked at his wife, Roberta and she returned a look that said “not today.”

Finally, the Kendalls’ Amazon Echo device offered to lead the prayer after the always-listening device determined the awkward silence was probably never going to end until someone stepped up to bless the food.

(See how Her secular prayer ends!

One more?

HOLLYWOOD, CA—A new filtering service aims to make films more acceptable to a Christian audience by replacing every actor with Kirk Cameron.  KirkView, an upstart tech company founded "by Christians, for Christians," is trying to help believers watch filthy movies by digitally imposing Cameron over all the actors in the film. Previous streaming services have replaced cuss words and suggestive scenes, but now Christians can watch movies the way God intended: by only seeing Kirk Cameron in every role.  The service has levels ranging from "baby Christian," where Cameron only replaces a few of the actors, to "Holy man of God," where Cameron replaces absolutely everybody. ( more here.)

HOLLYWOOD, CA—A new filtering service aims to make films more acceptable to a Christian audience by replacing every actor with Kirk Cameron.

KirkView, an upstart tech company founded "by Christians, for Christians," is trying to help believers watch filthy movies by digitally imposing Cameron over all the actors in the film. Previous streaming services have replaced cuss words and suggestive scenes, but now Christians can watch movies the way God intended: by only seeing Kirk Cameron in every role.

The service has levels ranging from "baby Christian," where Cameron only replaces a few of the actors, to "Holy man of God," where Cameron replaces absolutely everybody. (more here.)

Kirk Cameron’s face does NOT appear, however, in our local production of NEWSIES! The hit Broadway musical is on our main stage this week and next—-and my two youngest sons are in it. Pure joy. Pure laughter.

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It takes faith to laugh sometimes. It takes courage. It takes daring. Because our screens, the news reports, the headlines and even the fine print beneath them shouts Fear. Insecurity. Instability. National politics unrelentingly sicken and sour us. Neighbors across fences keep lobbing tomatoes and stereotypes. Young people keep leaving the church and its God-and-Country politics. Americans seem to be in a permanent state of Outrage and depression. And Christians aren’t doing much better. Is the light we’re lifting the light of Christ or is it the sputtering flame of our own brand of politics? (Can we please lay down everything that isn’t of Christ?)

I want to fix our nation. I want God to fix the world. I want clear answers and immediate solutions.

But when those don’t come, we can laugh. We really can. We can laugh because God laughs.

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.
(Psalm 2)


We can laugh and “shout to God with cries of joy.” And there’s a reason we can do this: ”For the Lord Most High is awesome, the great King over all the earth.” (Ps. 47) Nothing and no one will alter His purposes and plans.

So laugh!

But if you cannot dare to laugh, then dare to lament. We need lament as much as we need laughter. Aubrey Sampson’s new book, just in my mailbox this week, reminds me of the importance of lament:

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She writes, “What’s remarkable about Christianity is that we have a King who is also a steadfast, loving Husband and friend. He not only permits lament; he gives us the language of lament.”

In the Lament Psalms, and there are many of these, God invites us to question him. He invites us to cry out, “O God where are you? Why have you hidden yourself from me? Why do you sleep, O Lord? Why do you forget our affliction? How long, O Lord?”

What kind of God does this? What kind of God inspires writers to pour out their doubting hearts to Him?

A God who knows the end from the beginning. A God who says, even when we mourn, we are blessed, for our mourning will be turned to laughter. A God who knows that daring to doubt is better than pretending to believe.

Wherever you are—-waiting for the results of that biopsy; searching for your runaway daughter, planning funeral arrangements for your father, lamenting the state of our nation, praying for a dear friend who just had a stroke—— try lamenting with this powerful musical liturgy. As Sampson writes, lament “creates a pathway between the Already and Not Yet. . . . between current hopelessness and coming hope.”

And—-when you cannot lament any more, then remember God has not moved from his throne——and laugh! Not at evil, but Laugh at us, because we’re secure in Jesus——and because some of the time, we’re funny. (I’m definitely the “window washer” here.)

 

And sometimes we’re downright hilarious. (Thank you John Crist!)

Dear Friends, May we laugh or lament with you? What are you lamenting this week? What has made you laugh this week?

AND——I’m giving away 5 Wonder Years books this week in honor of International Women’s Day. Leave a comment below with your EMAIL address, and I’ll do a drawing. I hope you win one!!

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7 Ways to Love Your (Online) Haters

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Flying home from Texas——-I never tire of this land and sea and ice scape.

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And then flying to Kodiak . . .

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I brought back with me hugs, words, stories, so much shared with the women and men of Faith Family Church in Texas. There is nothing like Southern Hospitality! They really know how to do it!!

Here are a few of the beautiful women I got to share the weekend with.

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AND—the fearless and tireless Miss Tamara, the vision-er and force behind the ANCHORED conference.

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My cup was emptied out—-and filled again with love.

But how do we live a life of love in this Age of Outrage? Even the most peaceful people-pleasers among us pick up a few haters along our way. Especially online readers, followers and “friends.” What do we do?

How do we love these PIP’s, the Perpetually Irate People in our lives? And love them we must. They are our neighbors, even our onscreen neighbors. (But love doesn’t always mean what we think.)

Here it is, Sweet and Short: 

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7 Ways to Love Your (Online) Haters

1. Love them by doing for them what they have not done for you: listen respectfully before reacting. Align yourself with their words first rather than against their words so you can hear them first. Despite the hate and the hurt, there may be truth and corrective there that you can profit from. IF so, then----

2. Love them by thanking them for their interest and time, and for that helpful piece of advice or corrective. Identify what was helpful. (I’m not talking about someone telling you there’s lipstick on your teeth . ..) Shower grace upon gracelessness (Yes, this is HARD!)

3. Love them (and love yourself) by sometimes staying silent, no matter how outrageous the accusations against you. Don't feed their dis-ease by responding. Most of the time, they cannot hear you and they are not interested in your experience of those events. Some of these are dear people with mental and physical health issues and trauma in their own lives. If you respond, you’ll likely prolong your pain and theirs.

4. Love them by listening between the lines for the real issue, the deep hurt that they're speaking and acting from. If the Holy Spirit prompts, respond kindly and with concern, not to the issue at hand, but to their own experience and well-being. “I’m sorry you’re struggling with difficult feelings right now. Is there some way I can help you?” They’re expecting a fist fight. Give them a hand on the shoulder instead.


5. If this person has contacted you on social media, Love them by calmly and respectfully inviting further dialogue with them through email rather than a public site. But only if prompted by the Holy Spirit, only if you believe further communication can help THEM (not you) and only out of concern for them rather than for a righting of your own reputation.

6. Love them by reminding them you are a real human being with a family, a dog, a broken dishwasher and kids you're trying to get through school. Help them recognize you are not a disembodied issue. You are not a political position. You are a human being with feelings and struggles just like anyone else. (And make sure you see them the same way!)

7. Love them by praying for them. Yes, really. Their inappropriate response makes it clear that they are likely more hurt and damaged than you are. You’ve been given the Holy Spirit. You’ve been given all you need to do this. They likely have few resources, while you have many.

HOW do I know these 7 ways? Partly from failure. When I’ve lost it, when I’ve fought back teeth and nails, I’ve truly lost, even when I “win.”

(BUT—-do NOT let haters shut you down from speaking truths you know must be spoken. If I listened to all of mine, I would have stopped writing 20 years ago.)


The whole world is gasping for grace and love. Who needs it more than anyone? Yes. The haters. 

As the Lord has flung his profligate mercies upon us, let us do the same for them.

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Friends, would you share a time when anger or enmity was met with grace? These real stories SO encourage us all!

Thank you,

Always,

Leslie

Alaska's Disaster & Swooning Over Swans

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This week I am in Texas, speaking at a large church in Victoria. So glad and grateful to pour out the words God has given. And going, always, in weakness rather than strength.

Last week, my husband and I escaped town and our relentless schedules and the flood of bad news on our screen. The national news is so constantly jarring, and now this week, Alaska’s news is just as bad. We didn’t go far——just an hour “out the road,” the one road out of town that winds for 60 miles into breathtaking country.

We were lucky. It was foggy, making our disappearance complete. No one knew we were there. It felt like we were a million miles away.

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What were we escaping? What is “Alaska’s Disaster?” This is not my space to talk about politics, but I’ll give it quick nod. (Fellow Alaskans who disagree, let’s agree on grace toward one another, even if we have different views?) Our new governor got elected by promising every Alaskan a check for $3,000 in their mailbox, their full Permanent Fund dividend. (this is complicated and I won’t explain it here.) He did not, however, while running, ever give us his plan to balance Alaska’s budget, which has been in trouble for some time.

Now he’s threatening a 40% budget cut. What gets cut? Education. Headstart and preschool programs. Forty-one percent of the state university budget. Medicare and Medicaid. Farmers. The state ferry system—-which Kodiak and every coastal community depends on. And so much more. They want it all gone. As if there is no other way . ..

So we get in our car and go.

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We go for a walk along the rime-edged shores of Lake Rose Tead, surely one of the most beautiful lakes in Alaska.

There are bald eagles here in scores. One immature eagle let me walk to the base of her misty tree before she lifted off. Glory!

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And the tundra swans are there. They’re new in the neighborhood. They’ve come down from the north, discovering our Kodiak rainforest, our waters thick with food. Our temperate climate.

Sometimes we drive out to and there’s not a swan to be seen. Today, there were 100. We counted.

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And a funny thing happened. The first flock of swans saw were such wild creatures. So skittish. I snuck and slid and hid among the alders, camera around my neck, wanting just a peek. Just a shuttered moment to catch them. And I did. Four sailing swans stayed long enough to let my lens watch them run, rise, and arrow straight into the foggy skies.

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But the rest of them? The 96 others? I slipped surreptitiously along the edge, noiseless, hunched low . . .. and there they were. I crept closer, expecting them to startle and flee, as the others did. Then closer. They did not attend to me at all. Then I stood at water’s edge, a stone’s throw away and they regarded me not at all. I called to them. They just kept pluming and swanning as if I was not there. For ten minutes I stood there, close, feasting on their wildness wondering why they would not flee from me . . ..

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And then this poem by Mary Oliver, which maybe tells me why.

WILD SWANS

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

——-Mary Oliver

I do belong. Even in the wildest of places. Even in whatever protest I join, to protect Alaska’s elderly, the needy, our kids.

The world and the Spirit of God calls to us all.

This is our family too.

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Love's Record of Wrongs & How Do We Keep Loving?

Oh sweet roses and chocolate, it’s almost V-Day, which is not short for Venge-ful Day! This is about Love! I have many reasons to be smiling this Valentine’s Day. It’s my 41st

with my husband. (And I'm hoping for a 42cd---so I'm also hoping he won't see this post.) 

Here it begins, Love’s (mercifully short) record of wrongs, like this:

#1.

(

Three, count them! coats on the bannister, next to the coat closet. Everyone knows that men are genetically unable to hang up their coat, yes?)

    #2.    If a truck (or a tractor or tires or anything) was good 50 years ago, and it might be good for something else again, why would anyone want to get rid of it? It’s the Alaskan male way:

(Don't be distracted by the beautiful sky. It's still a 50 year old rusty truck full of junk buoys)

#3. Kitchen crimes! Here, notice the position of the silverware?

(Should be

down!

 So they stay clean when you take them out.)

       (Kitchen counters used as office space! Wrong! For further kitchen crimes, go here: 

Who Will Save Us From the Kitchen Wars?

)

And then there are the “Things That Happened”---like, 

#4. When I  was “volunteered” to ride behind an ATV on a piece of plywood on the ground heaped with the mess of offal from two beasts. (We raised our own beef for 35 years out on our fishcamp island.) I hung on for dear life, face inches from the warm guts, trying to keep them from spilling while Duncan roared the ATV down to to beach for disposal.  (no photos of that traumatic event. Here, as close as I get to cattle guts now.) 

#5.  The Banya. The banya,

 a kind of sauna, is where and how we bathe in the summer. But the year we moved to this uninhabited island to build a house, we didn’t have time to build a house AND a banya AND an outhouse.  So---someone in the marriage proposed a temporary solution: Ta daaa!!! A Two-Fer: To combine the outhouse and the sauna in one tiny building.  Yes, flies and smell and all.  I laugh now (after the eyerolls) when I think of hauling all my babies and children out there to get clean, while swatting away the outhouse flies . ..  And don’t worry---it was only for 12 summers.

      (How we bathed before the banya, oh so long ago! .. ..This is part of the record of wrong because when Duncan used to give slide shows of Alaska, he'd sneak this photo in, not telling me of course until I was blown up on the wall in front of 100 Ohio farmers. "Red" was not a bright enough color to describe my face.)

#6. The last: the storms. Yes, all the storms we've fished in, and what happens to the voice and to the marriage in such storms? (We don't fish together anymore. At all.)

      So, how DO we keep loving one another? How DO we keep forgiving one another? We all bear 1000 wounds. All of us. But don't take them back, though sometimes I want to. Sometimes I want to erase whole years. But I can't---and I won't even try. Who are we without those wounds, the places we've been, even the ways we've hurt each other? 

     Even now, it's not 

too late to forgive. It is not too late to heal memories. It is not too late to “remember well.” Each time we return to our past, we have the wonderful chance to reclaim it and tell a truer story. (Okay, I

did

 volunteer for that gut-ride, masochistically). We each can tell a truer story that begins with our human failing (Mine: my failure to communicate.  Yours: not wanting to listen.) A story that sees all the ways we've hurt each other. That recognizes we are sharers alike in what L. Gregory Jones calls the “universal disaster of sinful brokenness.” 

When we "remember well," we will find the presence of God even in the outhouse/banya, and especially in the dark and stormy places. Even in memory, we can find Him there shepherding us toward a better love, a love that can finally disarm the haunting and the hurt of what others have done to us.

Why, my friends, would we choose an emptied past over a healed, reclaimed one? Because we know, even with our mouths stuffed full of chocolate on Valentine's Day, that it is not pain itself that diminishes us; it is our response to it that determines the kind of lives we will live, the kind of people we will be, the kind of loves we will possess and give away.

How do we love each other? Let us count the ways. 

#7. 

Tell us, bless us with one way you have "remembered well"---or loved well this week??!!