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Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Pharisee I Fail to See

The Pharisee I fail to see
Is one who has no need;
Who says, "I'll help - but I won't let
You sacrifice for me!"

The Pharisee I fail to see
Is one who ponders deep -
Who sees the world, its shame and woe
And says, "I'm glad I'm free."

The Pharisee I fail to see
Is unable to receive.
She cannot ask for simple prayer
Lest she admits her need.

There might be some of these -
In Church or home (or quilting bees) -
I wouldn't know...I fail to see
Because the Pharisee is me.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Is This My Invitation?

I don't know what my life is all about -
So I get stuck in my head
Trying to figure the mysteries I live -
In wandering thoughts I lose sight of today:
I miss sunshine's warmth, the glistening dew,
Morning's fresh glow and 
The wonder of each moment.

Getting lost in my head I cannot hear
The chorus of nature - the whisper of peace.
Is this an invitation to lay to rest
Big, un-earthly questions?
To be still and sit before the busy bees, working ants
And bullfrog's rhythmic tempo?

Is this my invitation to gratitude,
To feel the Breath of life
Inspire, and respire
The sluggish spirit in me?
To receive this Breath - this intimate infusion,
This communing of my flesh-embodied spirit
With the Heavenly, Gracious,
Soul-stirring, Life-Breathing, Divine 

The wind blows and reminds me once again
That this power and force is only seen or known
In feeling, movement, 
Impact and effects.

I am moved, Breathed-upon,
Invited to feel and be known,
To receive and revive:
Enter the moment unhindered
And enter the peace
That comes from breath,
Wind, and communion with the Divine.

Big questions will sit - floating in my cluttered mind -
Remaining as brain-chatter
Like a tornado captured inside.
But the sun rises and sets,
The birds fly south and return;
The rhythm and choir of life
Sings its original song
Each new day.

And I hear a Greater Voice
Hints of a knowing and responding:
"I do not give answers,
Because I have given Myself."

And I AM in that moment
Is Enough.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Living in Shadows

Living in shadows becomes my habit
To shelter from life in murky grey
I feel the in-between -
Seeing visions of day I still prefer
The hidden space, a comfort from blinding light
Seeking to uncover, reveal, unravel
Inner workings that would widen my sight
Perhaps too far
Too broad
Beyond what I know.

Bravely I step away from hiding -
Boldly embrace the light of day -
Cast off fear and donning courage
Open my eyes and see there is more...
A work to undertake,
A journey to make -
The pathway is for the bold, daring, foolhardy.
All caution disdained I set my face like flint
Embark to see, to know, to discover
How light shall not frighten
How Truth is a person
How I can become free in the light
Known in love
Embraced in Truth.

Living in shadows has its time, its space
But its work is to shield what can't be seen
Until such time as vision grows, heals
And light invites the courageous to enter.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

What the Queen taught me of baptism

Three weeks ago, Caleb and Priscilla were baptized. I was privileged to share a few thoughts beforehand. Here is what I said:

Two words sum up what I am about to tell you: Legacy and Royalty.  Each of you getting baptized today has been handed a legacy of spiritual commitment. None of you were born with faith in Christ, but you were taught it: shaped by it.  This is your spiritual legacy.  But mere exposure does not make a Christian.

The Queen of England was eligible for her role because of her royal birth.  But sometimes one who might become King or Queen decides to go after something else – they choose to step away from the calling to the throne, and pursue their own desires.  It was over a year between the time the queen became officially queen and when she was publicly crowned in a coronation ceremony.  You have been a child of God since the day you put your trust in Jesus.  But today you are making it public – you are dedicating yourself to your calling as His child.

Much like a marriage, with lifelong vows, the queen commits herself to a life of selfless service and dedication to guarding the Christian faith, and devoting herself for the rest of her life to her country with special attention to fostering unity and stability.  One part of the coronation ceremony caught my attention:  She takes on a white robe, and then is anointed on her head, both hands and chest.

“But wait,” I hear you say. “I am not a queen. What does this have to do with me? I am not royalty!” 


Listen to these words from 1st Peter: But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

The queen received and embraced her anointing.  Today the water will go over your head, your hands, and your heart.  You are recognizing yourself as wholly, fully, completely belonging to God: that your thoughts, your actions and your desires – what you love – are set apart for Christ’s kingdom.  Today you embrace and solidify your commitment to walk asroyalty the rest of your lives. You enter these waters freely because you have been drawn into God’s kingdom – you have come to know Him as your Father.  And by doing so you proclaim publicly that you embrace this calling; that you welcome this process of being set-apart for whatever He has for you the rest of your lives.

I want you look on this day as a turning point in how you see yourself.  That you will move forward in your spiritual life with a different outlook, with the identity of ROYALTY. Today this ceremony – much like a coronation – or crowning, is where you publicly assume the identity you have already received.
Today you are marked with a new identity.  You areroyal children of the King.

Unlike marriage, where commitments can be broken by both parties, you have entered a secure relationship with God Who promises, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 

It is a bold, daring and audacious thing to say, “I identify with Jesus Christ for the rest of my life.”  Yet you have every reason to do so – drawn by His amazing love, to fellowship with Him, to receive His ongoing grace, forgiveness, friendship and presence in your lives, you say, “Count me IN! Sign me up!”

 It is the most wise, obvious commitment to enter – because you are KEPT by Him, LOVED and WELCOMED as His precious child. He KEEPS you.


You have been given both.
Don’t forget who you are. 

You are His child, clothed in royal robes, a precious possession, so very loved.

Walk as His children. 

Walk as royalty.

  And know that you fully belong to Him.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

3 Words in Retrospect on 2016

This is what I wrote just a week ago, on Dad's 77th birthday.

Tuesday, 3rd January, 2017

Today Dad would've been 77 years old - and he would tell me that he had attained perfection eleven times over (7 being the number of perfection)!  The grief and missing him comes in waves - tears cannot be restrained and emerge when I'm alone, driving to pick up kids or wishing I could watch him blow out candles on the traditional Crutchfield birthday cake.

Last year I decided to form my year around 3 words - to orient me, to clarify where I was at or what was/were going to be my theme(s).  I found myself with an uncanny (and unusual, for me) drive to clean - toothpick clean - and found cleaning to be both therapeutic and frustrating at the same time.  The word "CLEANING" emerged for me as a picture of much needed backlog of internal soul-work that had been left untouched. I had prayed for God to lead me to the three words I needed for the year.  And on the threshold of last year I entered a cleaning-binge-phase and was given a clue.  Because in scrubbing and bending and stretching and moving in uncomfortable (even unnatural) ways (to reach hard to clean places) I discovered more dirt and dust-bunnies needing attention.  And the work and progress seem so hidden - not tangible or provable.  And I meditate and see with new eyes how much dedication it takes to clean - how much grit, strength, determination and flexibility it will take - and I am defeated.  I quit, complain, give up, brawl in bed and declare my own lazy nature to myself.  Cleaning of soul and house takes far more than I've got to give.  So often I literally (in the proper use of the term) want to throw in the towel.  And in the non-literal, metaphorical sense, the same applies.

  Cleaning seems absolutely pointless - you can never stay on top of it.  It feels like trying to wash a mud-caked elephant with a toothbrush - a monumental and daunting task only the fool-hardy, ridiculously ambitious types would dare to tackle.  But cleaning has been my calling - and though I've no real evidence to show for it (our house too often resembles a pig sty!), I will continue to work towards physical and emotional cleanliness - heart-hygiene that becomes a habit.

My second word for 2016 was knitting.  I wasn't looking for great profundities here.  Just concepts to help me identify myself - what I do, think, and am - in essence.  My inner self escapes me at times.  She runs off to hide and I feel only a shell of a person.  Knitting is repetitive, pointless, boring, cathartic and forgiving (all what I need).  It is hypnotic - can lull me into a trance where I see, know, feel and think absolutely nothing - and everything - at the same time.  It is mind-emptying (not in the dangerous, mystical sense, but in the 'leave room to hear God's voice' sense) - a great pause - "mental-margin," I call it.   I have had a great backlog of need for mental-margin.  Mental-margin is where as a child Id gaze out the window on a bus ride and see trees and rocks and people and cars and clouds and sunshine and children in school jogging-suit uniforms with Filipina maids hustling them along.  Mental-margin is watching sparrows flock to crumbs fallen on the pavement and pick a fight over them.  It is day-dreaming in the rain and welcoming the endless hours of downpour - yearning for the sky to release its weight of liquid cleansing so the soul can be both glad, sad and free of the tumult churning within.  I have missed mental-margin.  You don't get it when kids bicker in the car or when one of them has his umpteenth meltdown of the week.  There is no mental-margin in days taxed with the needs of heel-nippers all around.  I had been depleted - lost any sense of grounding - couldn't tell who I was, or what I cared about.  Knitting forces and creates mental-margin.  It seems like an utter waste of time - any item could be gotten far cheaper at a thrift store I suppose.  But the point is not in what is made.  The point, for me, is creating mental space for rest, catharsis, imaginings and reflection.  God made me to have busy hands, for that is where my mind becomes free.  So He gave me the word "KNITTING" to shape my year.

  The third word took much time to come to.  It wasn't until halfway through the year that I saw it  emerging on the landscape of my life.  'Cleaning' and 'Knitting' came quickly, and obviously and were so simple I almost discarded them.  "Surely not, Lord," I thought - "Don't you have something more profound, biblical, theological or purposeful than these?"  But these kept echoing in my thoughts, habits and heart.  So I just said, "Okay, whatever. Makes no sense to me... But what's my third word?  What about 'hope' or 'joy' or 'peace' or some virtue I can grow in?"  (Couldn't He lead me to one of these words to somehow redeem the mundane and ordinary words of 'cleaning' and 'knitting'?)

  In March I experienced the most awful, gut-wrenching event of my life.  My Dad was suddenly gone from this world to his eternal home.  My heart was torn in two - I could not take it in.  I kept waiting to wake up from the nightmare.  I was introduced to a kind of grief and loss I'd never before encountered.

  As the weeks and months unfolded I entered an unfamiliar realm: the descent into the desert of grief.  Only now is the reality setting in - the dull, pulsing ache of sorrow.  Each month takes me farther from when I last saw him, hugged him, heard his voice.  Each change is clouded with missing his involvement - a birthday, an achievement, a kid playing in a recital, a performance at Christmas - all of these feel sad because I won't be reporting to Dad how they went.

  Grief is like a river - sometimes slow, sometimes turbulent, sometimes dangerous and scary.  But it always moves.  It is always carrying me along to somewhere.  At times the movement is imperceptible, but beneath are steady currents that are strong and powerful.  The stillness on the surface is deceptive because deep down torrents are raging and moving to a place of explosive power.

  And my third word for 2016 crashed onto my life, an unwanted guest whose imposing presence intruded on me without permission.  This guest, "GRIEF" has come to stay - not as a guest, or even an unwanted intruder - but as a companion, a counselor and an invitation to communion with the Divine.


All take time.  All can be frustrating.  All require strength, grit, patience and reflection.

In 2016 God invited me to reflect and re-acquaint myself with Him in His work - in me - patiently stretching me to find pockets of unreached, untouched junk, giving me space and time to weave pointless projects (a hat, a scarf, a blanket - though it wasn't the thing that was the point of it), but mostly to re-discover mental-margin and His voice that is heard in such stillness.  And He drew me into the work of grieving, to engage with Him in my sorrow and loss and journey into the reality that He binds up the brokenhearted.

  He gave me my 3 words in 2016.  And as I open the book on another year, I wonder what 3 words will anchor, define and clarify life for me this year.  I'll ask God to show me, and open my ears for His response.  I am confident He'll show me His words for me.  How can I be so bold, so confident?  Because He defines Himself as the WORD - and has said He will never leave me nor forsake me.  The living WORD gave that promise to His own.  So I will boldly trust that He will walk with me into this New Year.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Story of the Stream

One day the Streammaker decided a certain mountain needed a stream.  He opened up the heavens, poured down the rain and soon enough a great torrent was rushing down the mountain.  As it was a new stream, things were not as they should be, as far as streams go, that is.  The water was dark and murky.  The stones were very sharp.  Big clumps of earth and mud and roots and grass got in the way of things.  No matter.  The Streammaker knew how to make His stream, so He did.

At first it was very exciting.  The stream was exuberant at all the new adventures and discoveries to be made.  Each day he welcomed the sunshine with glad splashes and a happy rush - the flow itself disbursed its own joy of simply being, of moving, of reflecting and of singing.

But as the new stream needed to be settled, some things were rather disturbing.  Once in a while, a big clump of leaves and dirt would dislodge and go tumbling away.  The stream felt he was losing part of himself.  "You didn't need that - you can let it go.  You will be sparkly clear without it," encouraged the Streammaker.

Quite often the stream admired the sparkly stones in the flow of water.  He noticed, with a twinge of sorrow, how the sharp edges were becoming dull.  "I liked it when it was sparkly!" he gurgled to the Streammaker.  "Can't you do it some other way?"

"Those sharp edges could hurt someone - perhaps a child will come to play in you someday.  Do you want your sparkly stones more than you want to be a safe place for others?"  The stream quieted and trusted the great wisdom of the Streammaker.  Surely, he knew what He was doing.  But sometimes it didn't feel good at all.

"I thought being a stream was going to be so much fun.  Turns out there is so much change and turbulence, and smoothing of stones, and washing away dirt - I'm afraid my flow will never be the exciting thing it once was," thought the stream.

Once in a while a bigger rock or boulder would tumble into the stream.  The whole course would be affected then.  The stream would have to adjust and begin to wear away the hardness of those huge stones.  This work seemed endless - little progress could be seen, but over time the edges did become smooth - and these bigger stones even served a purpose.  People could now come and sit on them, dangling feet in the water and the stream could feel his purpose in providing comfort to those who sit in streams.

Most people never had time for such things.  They rushed about doing the things people do.  They might let their children splash in the stream - after all, children didn't always see the need to rush.  The stream delighted in children.  They seemed unaware of the joy they brought the little stream - they splashed and soaked and even dislodged a few stones.  Sometimes they would play so long and so devotedly in the stream they might actually change the course of the stream forever.  They might build a dam and the stream had to work up enough flow to overcome it.  They might walk in the mud and dirty it up and the stream would just have to endure the muddiness for a while, until enough time and water flowed to make it sparkly clear again.  Oh how the stream loved children, for it reminded him of how he once was - happy to be dirty, unconcerned for anything but immediate pleasure.

But it also made the stream glad to see that he was moving away from childhood.  He was being taught his purpose - he was learning how to flow.

Sometimes the stream felt his life was utterly boring.  It was the same thing every day - this or that bird would swoop by, this or that deer would come for a drink, this or that reed would wave and dip with the gentle breeze.  But the stream knew nothing else to do, but to flow and reflect, to gurgle and sing, to wash and renew.  Sometimes the Streammaker let time go by with no changes at all.  And the stream would wonder what He was up to.

Sometimes those times of stillness would lead the stream to be impatient.  So he would muster his power and strength and push his water to a boulder he wished to move.  He would nudge it a different direction, and more often than not this led to it landing in an awkward spot.  "I didn't like it where it was, and now I've forced it to an even worse place. I wish I'd asked the Streammaker for His help," he bemused.

Streams are like that, you see.  They can get restless just like the rest of us.  And when something impedes their stream, they might try to nudge it away, not knowing that if it sits and they watch and wait, that stone may become a resting place for some weary traveller.

That isn't to say the stream had no business in wishing it away - no, the stream had a life within his flow that bore its own sorrows and joys.  But trying to fix things without the Streammaker's help was simply inefficient and tiresome.

The Streammaker was delighted with the little stream He'd made.  Often He would send a cool breeze to rush through the leaves of the surrounding trees.  Or He would clear away clouds to see the sunshine glisten on the water.  And then He would invite the children to come and play.

"My life flows on in endless song,
Above earth's lamentation
I catch the sweet, though far off hymn
That hails a new creation.

Through all the tumult and the strife,
I hear that music ringing.
It finds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?

What though my joys and comforts die?
The Lord my Saviour liveth,
What though the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night He giveth.

The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing!
All things are mine since I am His!
How can I keep from singing?

No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that Rock I'm clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of heav'n and earth,
How can I keep from singing?"

-Robert Lowry, 1869

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Friday, May 27, 2016

I'd like to Guess about Jonah

At Church we are doing a series on Jonah.  And so my mind has wandered, straight to the text, of course, and I have begun to think I can be just a bit inside Jonah's head.  With smug arrogance, I often (too often, I admit) have told my kids I can read minds.  And here I am, centuries after Jonah lived, and thinking I can somehow get inside his mind.  So, pardon my over-confidence here, but I'm just going to take a stab at what was going on with him.

I'm going to use some sanctified imagination, and go out on a limb and fill in the gaps with my musings.

I imagine that Jonah was raised by godly, somewhat rigid, well-meaning, devout, circumspect, righteous people.  He was probably a first-born: cautious, wanting to please, high-achieving, with keen insight and greater burdens of responsibility.  He took his upbringing well, I suppose, as we can guess because he went on to invest himself in full-time kingdom work as no less than a prophet.  I'll bet he was an inspiring leader.  He probably gave himself fully, seriously, and courageously to his work as God's appointed spokesperson.

When the book of Jonah opens, however, he isn't in his most stellar moments of life.  The biblical record has left us with more questions than answers, and gives us little of the details of who Jonah really was.  And isn't that just like God, to make it really not about the glorification of super-hero kingdom ministers, and more about the glory of His name and the spread of His good news to the farthest reaches of creation?  Because, I'm sure Jonah would have liked to go down in history as a faithful guy, who executed his spiritual obligations with grace, obedience and joy.  But we jump in on the story after what I imagine would have been his dark night of the soul.

I say this because as the book opens, he isn't interested in doing God's bidding anymore.  I wonder if some deep tragedy or disappointment with God had struck - perhaps a loss, a rejection, a failure.  I don't know what it might have been.  But whatever it was - and I think there was something - he seems to be confronted with what he had held to be true for most of his life.  Perhaps he was stuck in some linear thinking that if he just did everything he was supposed to do, God would fend for him and make his life peachy good and downright comfortable.  Maybe I'm being a little harsh.  But he strikes me as one who struggles with self-righteous legalism.  I think he thought pretty good of himself until his life started to fall to pieces.

I wonder if he had some reckoning with God and when God sends him on the next mission, he just throws in the towel and says, "No way.  And I'm not shy about saying it.  I'm so through with this - and I'm putting feet to my words - I'm heading the other way."  And without hesitation he sets off on the opposite path than what God told him to.

Now, usually we stop there and talk about how bad it was to do this.  Disobeying God is not recommended and we see where God has His way and still gets Jonah to do what He wants, not what 'he' wants.

But I'm tired of sticking with that storyline - plus, it doesn't take us inside Jonah's mind - or God's for that matter.  And who can know the mind of God?

Jonah is so sick of living life as God dictates and he's so mad or heartbroken or disappointed or despairing - of some conflagration of all these - that he is suicidal.

You read that right.  You thought that wasn't til chapter 4.  Think again.

Because right there in chapter 1, we have Jonah willing to have his life ended, rather than to repent.  He is on a ship with godless men - and God is still having His way with the weather and all - and Jonah is napping and basically like, 'I don't care.'

But the men gripped with fear won't allow Jonah the luxury of a nap below deck.  Prayers are demanded and Jonah is still not on great talking-terms with the God he is running from.  He would rather drown than bend his will to the God of the wind and waves.  Jonah's heartbroken despair, rage, and eventual disenchantment with life led him to this point - the point of not even caring about the living of life: a total rejection of the sovereign rule of God in his life.

I'm thinking many of us can relate to this.  I understand the shock to the core, the devastation, the realization that God does what pleases Him, and though it is the best, it doesn't often feel like that.  As hard a rap as Jonah gets from us moralistic relatives of his, I soften a little when I wonder what kind of painful emotional upheaval he might have faced that brought him to such a deeply tragic place of wanting to cast his fate to the deathly waves on what seemed to be the end of his earthly journey.

Let's cut him some slack, shall we?  Probably most of you learned your Jonah lesson well in Sunday school and would never dream of defying the orders of the Most High.  And, I truly hope that is the case.  But chances are, if Jonah wrestled with God in this way, there might be others of us with that honest, fighting spirit who find an awkward dissonance when faced with inner turmoil and just wonder if life is worth the living anymore.

Oh dear Jonah.  I think I get you.

But the main character in the story of Jonah isn't Jonah, but God and all that God does - how He acts, and shows up in the oddest of ways.

And while we think Jonah was wrong to disobey God, isn't it just like God to unfold a purpose even in the wrestling-poor-choices that are made, even in rebellion?

Because you see, Jonah was still a missionary of sorts.  And while not on speaking terms with God, God seems to work around that and use Jonah to bring His presence to the ship-crew who knew Him not.

After hurling Jonah to the sea, they made sacrifices to the One True God and made vows to Him.  Sounds an awful lot like conversion to me - worship and commitment and acknowledgement of Who God is.  And these were people outside the fold.  Though they had feared for their lives, and early on regretted having such a nuisance of a passenger, I'll bet that was a voyage they never forgot.  It was their day of salvation.

So, while Jonah flailed about in angst, rage and sullenness towards God, God still had the upper-hand (of course) and used Jonah to introduce the ship-crew to Him.  Seems in running from God, He just landed Jonah with an extra preaching mission which he unknowingly served, and probably didn't know the results of, while taking what he thought were his last gulps of air this side of glory.

Sometimes I wonder if honesty with God about our disappointment with Him borders on rebellion. Perhaps it does.  But apparently God can handle it, and continues to use His servants, even in their despair and flight from Him.

And that, in a nutshell, gives me hope.