Category Archives: Life Lessons

The Vulnerability of Life

We were walking along the Mexican beach late one night, some friends and I. We were on a mission. We scanned the water and the sand in the dark, ever-hopeful, waiting. Then one of my friends was pointing at the waves. We stopped, started, got closer. It was a giant sea turtle, careening in the shallows, making it’s way to the sandy beach. It was the season for turtles to come out of the ocean to lay their eggs. We felt like we’d just won a million dollars.

Our joy was short-lived. Being a wise and attentive turtle, it caught sight of us and, using it’s legs as nimble rudders, veered back into the ocean. While our excitement was somewhat squelched the wonder remained. We had just seen something beautiful for the very first time.

We saw a few more turtles that night,  but one in particular was striking to me. When we discovered it, it was a long ways up the sand, looking for a good place to dig. We kept our distance, hoping to not disturb the life-giving process. Something tipped it off however, and it left it’s sand-searching to head back to the safety of the sea and to look out for a new and more private spot. It was obvious that sea-turtles were not well-suited to land. It would flap it’s front legs forward, and then drag its heavy body and shell a few inches further down the sand. Flap, pull, flap, pull. We continued to watch this pain-staking process for at least five minutes. The turtle probably felt it’s vulnerability; it knew it wasn’t alone. But it was resolute. Finally, it reached the edge of the surf and with a final heave, slipped below the waves. The Mexican turtle guardian who stood watch with us told us this might happen multiple times—the long journey out of the water, the discovery of an unsuitable spot, and the long journey back. It’s common for turtles to have to try several spots before they find one where all the elements are good.

What an awkward, vulnerable, long drawn-out process! What determination and patience this turtle must have to successfully lay it’s eggs! And seeing this turtle with the eyes of my heart, I wondered what God might be saying to me about the process of giving life in a spiritual sense. In my current ministry vocation I was definitely feeling out of my element, sometimes wondering if I was where I was meant to be. How many times had I felt awkward? How often did I feel vulnerable? How many days had I gotten impatient, and wanted to back out on this purposeful pursuit? Listening to the message of these silent speakers, I realized what a high cost there can be for the opportunity to give life. Here in the natural world, God painted a picture of what one might expect who is designed to give life—it might mean becoming a fish (sea turtle) out of water. And the possibility of giving up your own life in the process.

Living in a culture where comfort is king, and safety is a close second, is it any wonder we sometimes struggle to find life, or to live in life-giving ways? There was nothing comfortable or safe about what I experienced in that turtle’s pursuit of life. But it was beautiful. And unlike the sea-turtle, we have the freedom to choose whether it’s worth it.

So I am left with a decision. Do I embrace the pain and vulnerability that leads to life? Or do I stay hidden in the safety and comfort of my own sea? God, give me the courage and determination to be like a sea-turtle.



Considering Grace

Whilst traversing the globe I came across that well-known book “What’s So Amazing About Grace” by Philip Yancey. And I’ve been thinking about grace ever since. Grace means gift, and as I look at my life I see so much evidence of gift. Seeing gift, seeing grace, is giving me this crazy sense of awareness of God’s presence in my life. It’s like this peace-releasing security that defines my existence despite the waves of chaos, stress and change that I’ve been riding.

Gift takes many forms. Upon arriving home after 6 months of full-throttle globe trotting and missions, I realized that I was surrounded by answers to prayer. Many changes have occurred in my family. Many prayers I have prayed for them over the last months and even years have suddenly borne fruit. Recognizing this, I am overwhelmed  by gift, grace, God.

My baby sister got married last weekend. I remember the day she was born, and my childish joy at having a new member of the family. Now I am sister to another, and I see God’s gift to her life. Grace.

In the midst of wedding craziness my car broke down. Really. The front tire broke off of the steering rods. As I watched my car being towed away, the second car in our family to die that weekend, I had to laugh over the irony of our situation. When I got the service call and heard how much repairs would cost, it wasn’t funny anymore. But as I prayed about what to do, and where the money would come from, I realized it was already taken care of. Just the week before someone had arranged to give me a certain amount of money each month in repayment for work I had done years ago. The total amount pretty much covered my car repair. And I realized God had anticipated my need. Grace.

I like to live my life in intentional pathways, each thing I do pointed towards a specific goal, a determined direction. I like to know what I’m doing and why. I’m in a season of transition, lack of place and uncertainty about where to invest. And yet God’s grace to me is giving me a sense of security. I don’t know where I will be living 6 weeks from now or what I will be doing. But I know God’s hand on my life. And right now that is enough.

I’ve long loved the story of Hagar in the desert, at the end of her rope, sure she was going to die. She came to know God’s presence and provision, she knew Him as “the God Who Sees Me.” I am thankful for the God Who Sees Me today.

Desert Wanderer

Airport Journeys


Sitting in an airport, following that age old travel motto, “Hurry up and wait.” Today I knew there was no real hurry—4 hours between connections. Nothing pressing to do. Just wait. I scan the screen and don’t even have a definite boarding gate to move towards. So I drop my bags and sit. I watch other travelers skirting by, rolling bags, back-packs, and travel skate boards in tow. All going somewhere. And I simply sit, inactive.

I have had my moments of hurrying through airports. There was that time in this same airport when my team literally ran, fearing the very real possibility that our flight to Cambodia would leave without us. Stress overload. Today is different. Almost relaxing. For some it would be simply maddening.

Sometimes it feels like everyone else has somewhere to go, except me. They move forward; I sit around doing nothing. It makes one feel guilty or wonder if you missed something somewhere. It’s easy to forget that when you are a traveler on a journey, sometimes you have to sit and wait. Sometimes the heart of faithfulness is waiting by the board to find out your gate, or sitting at the gate until the time is right. Patience, traveler. Journey on. Eventually, you’ll get where you’re going.

Single and the Brat

My brother calls me “single.” The first time he did it I was taken aback. “What did you call me?” Single, the Uzbek word for “little sister.” It’s actually a pretty apt nick-name, as I am single in every sense of the word. I’ve returned the favor and call him “Brat” (Russian for brother). Also fitting, especially when he’s trying to poke me in the sides or quoting from an unfortunate you-tube video, “Woman, make me a sandwich.” All joking aside, there is an underlying affection between my broski and me. We’ve found ourselves in the interesting position of two grown children living at home. Two adults trying to chart a course through a confusing melee of life choices, who have had to grapple with disappointments, with ways that God doesn’t make sense, with not being sure what to do next. We often feel “lost” together, but we fill the time with Star Trek and League of Legends, with researching exploitation issues and politics. We joke that we will become bums and move into a “van by the river.” We’ve discussed the tempting notion of building a lake cabin somewhere and being an old maid and bachelor infinitely cooler than fictional siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert (Anne of Green Gables). Despite the things that aren’t “going right” for us, our mundane normal has become a good normal. Our companionship in this season of life has become an important support for me. Instead of “Beauty and the Beast,” I am living “Single and the Brat,” but it’s not without a certain appeal.DSC04237

Rewind one year. I’m still an adult living at home, but I’ve swapped brothers. My days include lifting weights at the gym and running with little brother number two. We have been on many adventures together: long-distance backpacking trips, kayaking, Colorado expeditions and meeting up with “Brat” for some white-water rafting through a thunder/hail storm. We ran our first 5k together, and discussed how much we both hated running every day in training. I brought him mochas from work and he made me laugh. I made guacamole and he did dishes. I have a level of camaraderie, of shared jokes and experience, with my family that I don’t have with anyone else, and it’s precious to me.

I share these stories because they illustrate a truth I think our culture has widely forgotten, but which I have been daily living. The truth is that there’s more than one relationship that can feed our need for love, support and connection. Our culture has become obsessed with romantic relationships, increasingly convinced that there’s only one kind of love that really makes life worth living. Think about recent movies that have come out. How many have you seen that show parents and children as a crucial support and encouragement network, or show siblings relating to each other in a really positive way, not at each others’ throats for one reason or another, going on adventures to save the world and save each other? How many movies tell the story of a friend whose love was “better than that of a woman/romantic partner,” as King David experienced? There may be a few out there, but they are definitely not the majority. Our culture paints parents and children as disrespectful and misunderstanding of each other. Most siblings at best tolerate one another, and are usually in some kind of competition to be the best or be on top. Most friends are on the side-lines, offering advice and doing everything they can to find that “one necessary” relationship for themselves as well. It’s all made for some entertaining movies, and many movies that feel “true to life,” but they lie to us. They tell us that if we don’t have that all-important romantic relationship, we are less alive, less human. If you’re single, if you’ve “never been kissed,” you’re seriously missing out, and you’re weird to boot. If you’re in an unhappy relationship you should definitely get out and find a better one. After all, it’s what life is all about.

Intimacy is something we long for as human beings, to be known, to be loved, to not go through life alone. Our culture has become very narrow in the way they perceive intimacy, as something that occurs primarily sexually.But there are actually many spheres of intimacy, and many kinds of relationships that can offer life-giving intimacy in those spheres. Counselor and Spiritual Director David Benner fleshes this out in his book, “Sacred Companions.” He writes, “Intimacy is shared experience…[which] can be experienced in a variety of forms. Two people are spiritually intimate when they share spiritual experiences, emotionally intimate when they share emotional experiences, sexually intimate when they share sexual experiences, and intellectually intimate when they share intellectual experiences. Other forms of intimacy include vocational intimacy (shared work), recreational intimacy (shared delight in play), creative intimacy (shared experiences of creating something), aesthetic intimacy (shared enjoyment of beauty) and social justice intimacy (working together to make the world a better place).” He goes on to describe how intimacy in one sphere strengthens intimacy in another, and how important it is for companions to have intimacy in multiple spheres. A couple who limits intimacy to sexual and emotional spheres will experience less genuine intimacy than one who develops it in other areas. And I would suggest, a single person not experiencing sexual intimacy but intimate with people on many other levels, may actually be experiencing deeper and truer intimacy in the context of their non-romantic relationships.

We are familiar with the Bible teaching, “It is not good for man to be alone.” This is a favored text in support of marriage, but can also be taken as a general principle. No matter what your marital status, it is not good for you to be alone, and the Bible has illustrations of all kinds of relationships meeting this need. Multi-generational housing was very normal, and we see families living in close proximity to each other, pulling together despite the human tendency to pull each other apart. On two separate occasions Jesus called brothers to follow him together (James and John, Peter and Andrew). The latter two even got a co-nick-name, “Sons of Thunder.” Famous duos in the Bible include Moses and Aaron (brothers), Naomi and Ruth (mother-in-law/daughter-in-law) David and Jonathan (friends) and Paul and Timothy (mentor/mentee). If you need strong evidence that full life apart from marriage is possible, look no farther than Jesus, who said, “I have come that [you] might have life, and have it to the full.” His life was full of non-romantic, highly meaningful and mutually encouraging relationships, including his closest friends, the twelve disciples, and other special individuals that blessed his life, such as Mary and Martha.

I’ve had to re-evaluate my “woe-is-me” mentality towards being a single. I have realized how blessed I am in the realm of non-romantic, life-giving relationships. Beyond my family, I have a dizzying array of friends and mentors who have been there for me, invested in me, shared rich experiences with me. I have much to be thankful for. I’m not living the fairy-tale of my dreams, but I am never lacking for partners in crime, companionship or adventure. Maybe someday “Single and the Brat” will become worthy of a compelling movie of its own.

Get a Life

Today my brother asked me to do something with him of a leisurely nature. “I don’t know if I can,” was my instant reply. “Why not?” he said. “Because I have a life…” Open mouth, insert foot. What a dumb thing to say.

When did we start to get the idea that being busy meant we “had a life?” When did we start measuring the quality of our life by our productivity or the length of our to-do list? We have become human doings instead of human beings. Does one person have more of a life, more of a reason to exist, because they do more stuff? Does another have less value because they are in a season of rest? Often it’s the very doing of too many things that starts to sap us of our life-energy. In all our doing we lose space to reach out and connect with others. We bow down to the to-do list god and fail to love our brother. Like I said, dumb thing to say.

What is life? Where is it to be found? It’s not measured in productivity or lack of it, not confined to days of busyness or even days of quiet. Jesus said, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Life is bound up in knowing God and living alongside of Him. The things we do are not totally insignificant, but they aren’t what “give us a life” or prove that we have one. Jesus’ next statement was, “I have brought you  (God) glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do” (John 17:4). God will reveal things to us that He wants us to do. He may write us a divine to-do list of sorts. But it is not so that we will “have a life,” so that we will look good. It’s so that He’ll look good through (or despite?) us. Life is ours apart from anything we do.

Do you have a life? Is it the kind of life that Jesus called life? Or do you make the same mistake of equating busyness with life, and glorifying the things you do instead of glorifying God? Maybe some days we need to set aside the to-do list and let God lead us in the kind of life He wants us to live. Whether we are in a season of stress or a season of recuperation, our source of true life comes from the same place. And our value and purpose is exactly the same. I thought I had these truths nailed, but this morning’s expose’ revealed otherwise. Perhaps as I continue to reflect on these things, they will work their way deeper into my heart. And maybe next time true life will guide what comes out of my mouth.


The Strange Case of the Missing Cord

I haven’t been writing much lately, maybe you’ve noticed. I’ve been stymied, frozen, stuck. And it’s all because of a missing camera cord. Call it the weirdest case of writer’s block ever. I’m calling it a lesson in life.

So here’s the story. I had this awesome photo blog all planned out. I spent a week taking pictures, plotting it, perfecting it. But when the time came to put it all together, I hit a glitch. My camera connecting cord was M.I.A. and my picture blog was doomed to an early and unfortunate death. For some reason I couldn’t move on. Inspiration went out the window. My blog fell flat and I didn’t see the point of writing anymore. “Why did I even start this thing in the first place? What do I have to say that’s worth saying? Maybe I should just hang up the towel and admit defeat.” Oh, I tried. A few failed attempts. Several sessions staring at a blank screen. Nothing. And all because my dear little blog-plan got the shaft.

Funny how a change of plans can mess up your equilibrium. Funny how when things don’t go where you anticipated you can lose your momentum to go anywhere. Funny how when the plan falls flat life can fall flat as well. Have you ever been the victim of a changed plan? Maybe something a little more dramatic than a missing camera cord? I have. And I usually cope about the same. It’s hard work to let go and move on. It’s hard to get your inspiration for living back on line when you’ve had a systems failure. Proverbs says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12). Amen and amen.

Is there some secret to putting yourself back together after you fall apart? If there is, I guess I haven’t discovered it yet. It’s off missing with the camera cord. But I figure the first step is facing the facts, feeling the disappointment, acknowledging that the loss is real. In a word, grieving. You write that blog bemoaning the blog-that-will-never-be.  You’re honest with yourself that life disappointed you. And as much as you can, you let it rest in peace.

Proverbs 13:12 says “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Sometimes when our hopes and plans fail, the raw wound uncovers something deeper, the longing that gave rise to the  hope in the first place. My failed blog-plan uncovered nothing less than the longing in my soul to be significant, a longing I wanted to satisfy with my amazing post, but which in reality could never have been satisfied by something so small.

Hopes, longings, inspiration and camera cords. You lose one and discover another. Life is a funny, jumbled up mess sometimes. I guess that’s why some days you lose your camera cord. And I guess that’s also why I keep writing.

The Spiritual Discipline of . . . Drinking Coffee??

I had a conversation recently about idealism and how I cope with a life not lining up with everything I pictured. It boiled down to two words–recognizing goodness. In the middle of stress, in the midst of disappointments or simply “differences” (ways my life doesn’t look like I imagined it would), the most helpful strategy I have is to dwell on all that is truly good in my life.

Recognizing the good, and being thankful to the One who gave it, is the crux of “true spirituality” according to respected apologist, pastor and author Francis Schaeffer. A posture of thankfulness is the starting place from which our walk with God can deepen and thrive. In a similar vein, well-known theologian and author Dallas Willard speaks of celebration as a spiritual discipline. He writes that in celebration, “we concentrate on our life and world as God’s work and as God’s gift to us.” We recognize the good and respond in thankfulness.

Another writer, Andi Ashworth, reflects on this idea in her book Real Love for For Real Life:

“Celebration, in fact, is a spiritual discipline because it is a means of God’s grace to strengthen and transform us. Celebrations, along with the other spiritual disciplines such as prayer, study, solitude, worship, and confession, put us in the path to receive from our Lord. Joy is cultivated as we turn from our daily struggles to remember and appreciate the good things in our life, which come from the hand of God.”

In my experience, joy is a fruit of the Spirit that takes a beating from prolonged disappointment and discouragement. Recognizing God’s continued goodness is the best way to fight back. So take some time to enjoy your life. Sometimes something as seemingly small and insignificant as a cup of good coffee is a spiritual discipline.