Brother Come Close, Sister Draw Near

Gentle Reader,

You would not know it upon a glance
But there’s buzzing in my head

A tingle, shiver, crawls up my spine
And I’m filled with darkest dread

Strive to keep my face serene
Arranged along calmest lines

But know when I respond to you
That I’m really not always “fine”

There’s walking wounded all around
And me, I know that crowd

Not too proud to tell you this
Tho ’tis done with head that’s bowed

Yes, I believe in the healing touch
Of God who reigns on high

But His work in us, it is not done,
Without a struggle or a sigh

Groping about on this earth,
Half-blinded, struggling to see

What to do in the midst of fear
That’s wailing like a banshee

His voice is quiet, speaking peace
I must lean close and listen

That I might choose the better path
And in holiness be christen

There are many other roads
To the right and to the left

Roads I’d frankly rather walk
Than this, with all its theft

But they lead not to God above
As Christian learned in olden tale

And so step on, is what I must
Tho the Devil does assail

Do it afraid, that is my choice
None other can I make

Do it despite, that is the call
Even when my heart does ache

Christ promised trouble in this world
And He spoke not single lie

But He also promised, sure and true
To be near when all does go awry

And so tho I may not be fine
Engaged in unseen war each day

From my God I will not turn
From my Savior ne’er will stray

Thus all that I ask of you
Who read these simple lines

Is that you might come to notice
The strain and struggle’s signs

For I need you, as you need me
We journey through together

Not just on sunny mountaintops
But in the stormy weather

So take my hand, and I’ll take yours
We’ll press along, holding fast

I’ll see you, and you’ll see me
The masks we wear, off cast

Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters.

– Romans 12:10a (CSB)

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Review: This Outside Life

Gentle Reader,

I believe God wants us to notice it all.

– p. 7

Misty mountains, rippling prairie grasses, towering trees and multiple lakes – these are all around me, and have been all my life. For years, I was dulled to their beauty. Though I knew from a young age that I preferred the quiet of country roads and barely-beaten paths to the noise of cities, nothing in my surroundings seemed unique or unusual.

Then I took a long walk one early autumn evening, in the time when the sun disappears and twilight spreads its mysterious cloak over the earth. I watched as a glorious and indescribable array of colors – gold, violet, fiery orange – danced across the sky, putting on a spectacular show for any who cared to notice. And notice, I did. It was as if God arranged that display specifically for me, to remind me of His goodness and constant presence.

Crickets began their song. Frogs joined in. The colors faded into the gray-blue of the thin place, when the veil between this world and the spiritual realm is at its thinnest. In that moment, I began to understand why God called His creation good.

In This Outside Life: Finding God in the Heart of Nature, Laurie Kehler calls the reader to connect with this goodness in order to foster a deeper, more intimate relationship with God:

Spending time in nature is healing. It can draw you closer to the creative heart of God. It can help anxiety. It can help ADHD. It can give you a new perspective. Spending time outside is good for your insides. It’s no wonder that Beethoven, Einstein and Steve Jobs all took long walks outside. It quieted their minds and fueled their creativity. In 1910, hiker and philosopher John Muir noted that we were a “tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people.” We need to reconnect with nature now more than ever. … I want you to step outside and find the heart of God in nature. … He’s there. He’s everywhere.

– p. 13-14

Having never known a day without anxiety, even stretching back to my earliest memories, I can attest to the truth of her statement. The worst days are made better when I take the time to get outside, whether that is going for a hike, wading in the always-cold river or digging my hands into the dirt of my garden. The fresh air and physical activity shift my focus from whatever is scaring me and onto the sound of birds singing, the scent of pine trees, the touch of grass on my skin. God lays His hand on my head and says, “Rest, child. Rest.”

Kehler not only makes this call, but issues another, to remember that we need to connect with others within the context of outside. To step outside of our homes, workplaces and traditional worship centers. To gather around the campfire, roast marshmallows and drink bad coffee:

Community and connection are the antidotes for anxiety, isolation, and depression. A caring community cultivates contentedness. This is reflected in the Hebrews passage where it states: “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near” (10:24-25 NLT).

– p. 93

I read this and a fond memory rises to the surface. I am a young teen, baby cousin balanced on my knee, watching the crackling fire and listening as my dad and uncles tell ridiculous stories. The whole family is present. Grandma, her five sons, their wives, her fourteen grandchildren (two more would be added in years to come), plus a few friends who came along. None of us have had a decent shower because the campsite is as basic as can be. The boy cousins are all about this; we girls, less so. But despite the grime and grit, we are happy.

I think of another campfire, more recent. Church family gathered around. I sit, shivering despite the flames and several layers because warm is not really a thing I ever am these days, with a big dog at my feet, just waiting for a bit of s’more to drop. People drawn from various backgrounds and experiences, whose only commonality is Jesus. And He is more than enough.

This is the point that Kehler makes, time and again,

…the romance of stars and how they hint at a loving an imaginative Creator. I like to think of His hand scattering the confetti of brilliance across the carpet of sky. I like to ponder God’s immensity, artistry and care for the great and small things He has made.

– p. 116

Yes, great and small, the Lord God made them all.

Spending time in nature is meant to drive us not to worship the creation, but the Creator. It is a choice to slow down and refocus, reprioritize. The world and its break-neck pace will not give us permission to do so, and thus we must be intentional. Close the laptop, turn off the phone, lace up the boots and go. Have a spot of adventure, done with a dash of daring. And then sit, whether on a mountain peak or in the midst of a perfectly plotted rose garden, wrapped in silent awe and wonder.

For the King made all this. He is so very good.

Kehler’s words will stay with me for some time to come. Definitely recommend this one.

I RECEIVED A FREE COPY OF THIS BOOK IN EXCHANGE FOR MY FAIR AND HONEST REVIEW.
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Five Minute Friday: Offer

Gentle Reader,

Fifteen or eighty-five.

In my heart, I’m fifteen, complete with the attendant maturity level. (I don’t know if this is due to spending increasing amounts of time with actual teenagers or if this is just…me). My body, though, it’s about eighty-five today. All my joints hurt. If my hands had the ability to speak, they’d yell at me right now for making them type. Every knuckle throbs.

Nauseated. Why? Because it’s Thursday.

Accidentally fell asleep for three hours this afternoon.

Looked in the mirror a bit ago. Ghostly pale face. Dark rings around my eyes. Why the Victorians were into this fragile, wilted-flower look, I’ll never know.

Nothing fun about it. But a most excellent reminder to dwell on thoughts of Heaven, to hope for renewal, to have faith in restoration, to remember Jesus.

Kate says: offer.

Go.

Evan Welcher reminds people of God’s love for them every day on his social media accounts. Literally; he posts the words “God loves you” every single day. The simplest of offerings with the most radical potential to change lives. Three little words containing an eternity’s worth of meaning.

I am thankful for his consistency, for I am easily distracted from this fundamental truth. You know, the Devil, he doesn’t play fair. He knows where the weak spots are and goes after them continually. If he can get me to doubt God’s love, then he’s won that battle. I am wrecked when I take hold of the lie.

That’s got me thinking about the words I offer to others. If everyone needs to know that God loves us (and everyone does need to know), then I think perhaps we need a revival in our speech, a scrubbing of our tongues. For if God loves us (and He does), then shouldn’t it be natural for us to use words like beloved, darling, dear and precious with each other? Not in a creepy or saccharine way. In the way that reminds us of who we are in Him.

So hear me tonight. Because God is love, and He loves you:

You are the beloved. You were created by the Master Artist, placed into this context for a reason. God does not make garbage.

You are the darling. God watches you sleep at night, like the proud Father He is.

You are the dear. You are the apple of His eye. He is proud of you every time you make the hard choice to obey Him.

You are the precious. Every breath is given to you as a gift of grace.

The world and the Devil in it will throw a lot of other words your way. Instead of accepting them uncritically, take each one and hold it up in the light of truth. There, the darkness dissolves.

Stop.

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Little Tortilla Girl

Gentle Reader,

This one is for my goddaughter, the spunky Riley Rae. When she was a baby and decidedly hangry, I held her in a headlock in order to get her to drink a bottle. We’ve been best buddies ever since.

********

A beautiful early spring evening in Bellevue…or Seattle…or wherever we exactly and technically were. (I have no sense of direction or place). The first day of Northwest Ministry Conference had passed by in a blur of workshops, conversations and a fast lunch trip to Chick-fil-A. (My first time eating the Lord’s chicken nuggets, complete with dipping sauce. Vegetarianism went out the minivan window. Hashtag worth it, never mind the liver complaining later). As the sun began to dip in the distance, calling the street lamps to flickering life, we sat, a tired but merry band, twenty-odd strong, around brightly patterned tables, noses filled with the scents of Mexican food. Or, at least, what passes for Mexican food in the Pacific Northwest (my Southern friends were about to object).

In a 1988 interview, author Ursula K. LeGuin discussed her daily schedule, noting that, after 8:00 p.m., “I tend to be very stupid and we won’t talk about this.” I had reached the stupid point around 6:00 p.m., very much ready for sleep but knowing that it was hours away. So, when my dearest Riley, who was sitting to my left, asked, “Auntie Marie, where is my food? How long does it take to make a quesadilla?,” I should not have been surprised (though I was) when the spirit of my father and uncles overtook my mind and the silliest of sentences came flying out of my mouth.

“Well,” I replied. “They have to go and hunt the tortilla, you know.”

Her eyes went wide. “That’s not true.” She giggled, gaps where teeth used to be on full display. “That’s just not true.”

And thus the Saga of Tortilla Hunting began.

“They really do have to hunt the tortillas. Where do you think they come from?”

Riley had no answer.

You see, tortillas grow wild in the plains of South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas. They are bright pink in color, though a few green ones have been spotted. The green ones are the aged tortillas, the wise ones who have escaped capture. Trouble is, most tortillas are not intelligent, so they don’t listen to their elders, who try so hard to teach them how to live free.

“Don’t eat the guacamole,” they say. “Don’t trust the avocados.”

Put a little guacamole in the bottom of a tortilla trap and they come flying. They spin like flying saucers and make a strange, indescribable flapping noise. They only have one eye, so they don’t see well at all, often smacking into things in their quest to find the guacamole. Ah, but their sense of smell never fails them. They descend into the trap, mouths, at the center of their bodies, directly tied to their stomachs because tortilla anatomy does not include an esophagus or other digestive parts, wide open.

Clang!

A leprechaun, dressed in ninja clothes and riding a unicorn, slams the trap shut. Only ninja-leprechauns can hunt tortillas, you know. And of course they ride unicorns, because what else would they ride? How silly, imagining a leprechaun astride any other steed or using public transport. What do you think this is, a made-up-on-the-fly story? Honestly.

The leprechauns have to open the traps in order to stuff the tortillas into plastic bags, suitable for selling in local supermarkets. Some tortillas, stunned but determined to live, make their way out of the traps, flinging themselves against living room windows, but their stomachs are so full of food that they can’t hang on, and they fall into the waiting arms of the leprechauns below. (Oh, I forgot to mention: The unicorns that the leprechauns ride, they are smaller in size, able to hide in bushes. They are known in folklore as “Stealthicorns”). This is what happened to Billy Scrimshaw Tortilla.

Billy was a young tortilla, just venturing out on his own. Saddled with student loan debt that he could never hope to pay off, Billy nevertheless planned to be the first Certified Public Accountant for the tortilla community. Again, tortillas are not intelligent; they don’t use money, and their average lifespan is less than twenty years, so why Billy went to college in the first place is a mystery. And how did he get into school? Aunt Becky bought him a spot at the University of Southern California.

Billy had heard the stories. An elder who lived at the bottom of a gnarled tree had warned him. But Billy couldn’t help himself. The smell was too strong. His hunger, too great. He rose from the fields one clear night (for tortillas are nocturnal), driven by the powerful urge to eat. And eat. And eat some more.

He heard the sound of unicorn hooves. A soft laugh. (Leprechauns are rather bold in their hunting). His eye flicked this way and that. A brief thought flitted through his minuscule brain. He knew he should stop. But the guacamole was homemade. And it didn’t have any cilantro in it because cilantro is disgusting and tastes like soap. In a daze, he descended into the warm red circle, mouth watering.

“That’s not true!” Riley cried, arms flapping. “Tortillas don’t fly!”

“They do! There’s a documentary about it, but you may not have access to it due to parental controls because it’s a little disturbing.”

Fits of laughter, not at all proper manners for a restaurant setting. I began to speak in my Mary Poppins accent, adding a level of gravitas that made it all the funnier. But perhaps the best part was the contribution of the other adults present, who added little bits and pieces to the tall tale, or at the very least kept Riley wondering if, just maybe, there might be some kernel of truth in what I was saying.

Hours later, we were still going.

“You ate him, Riley! You ate Billy!”

We dissolved into too-exhausted-to-care giggles on the hotel bed. Tears dripped from my eyes. This was so very stupid, but the sort of fun that we both needed in that moment.

A brief pause while she styled my hair. Bangs askew, curls a mess. Didn’t matter to me.

“Auntie Marie,” she said, “let’s take a selfie.” Of course I obliged.

She approved the photo. “You need to send this to that guy in the red shirt from dinner, because you are the biggest liar I know but he is the second biggest.”

“That guy” added some crucial elements to the story. He also dared her to stick her tongue on a piping hot fajita pan.

Of course I sent the photo.

The night wound down. We lay on the bed, snuggled under the blanket, nothing at all to watch on television. Riley’s older sister, the delightful Emery Mae, sent some texts to her friends. Baby Aurora Jade fought sleep in their mother’s arms. I could see Tauni, my sister from another mister, in each of their faces. And in that moment, in that hotel room, hanging out with four of the ladies I love best in the whole world, I thanked God for relationships that stretch back years and will grow into the future. For friends who are truly family.

A knock on the door. Time for the them to head out. I hugged Riley and whispered in her ear, “Be sure to watch for the tortillas. They migrate this way in the spring.”

She pushed me and bounced off the bed, laughing once again.

********

Riley, or, to use your “Monty Python” name, Johann Sebastian Gambolpotty of Ulm, this is a night I will never forget. I am so, so glad that you are in my life. Watching you grow and learn is a joy. Being your auntie is a privilege. I look forward to many more days of ridiculousness.

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