Monday, March 30, 2009


Last year I gave up sugar and caffeine for Lent. (The caffeine was harder at first, but sugar was harder long term.) This year, I didn’t really have anything specific I felt I needed to give up. Instead, I just wanted to embrace the prayerful spirit of the season. Not in a frivolous way mind you. In a concentrated way. Between regular runs, Taize services, yoga, and nights at home, I’ve had a lot of time to practice prayer.

So this year during lent, I’ve been learning what it means to marinate, to meditate, to be captured by an idea. Meditating is not a natural talent of mine. I have a restless spirit. I always have. I am most happy when I have a new problem to solve, mess to organize, person to know, skill to master, etc.

And lo and behold, something very strange has taken place over the past several weeks. I’ve been unable to get away from a phrase: “He makes me to lie down in green pastures.” (It’s from Psalm 23). The part that has taken hold is the word “makes.” Like I have to be forced. Like God has to grab my shoulders and sit me down. Not in a desolate wasteland or in a chair in the corner, but in a green pasture.

The rest of this post is just jumbled thoughts, so bear with me.

I get this image of my sister’s dog Grace. She is an overflowing source of puppy energy. But she also loves getting treats and is very intelligent. One of the skills my sister is attempting to ingrain in Grace is the command to “stay.” It’s an interesting one to watch in action. The command structure usually goes: “Sit. Down. Stay….sttaayyyy….Stay! No. Sit. Down. Stay….staaayyyy….staayyyyyy….” Are you getting the mental picture? The whole time Grace is sitting there with a big puppy grin on her face, muscles coiled, ready to spring up and claim her prize for her demonstrated patience. I can be such a puppy.

On a recent Saturday morning, I did some baking. One of my creations included this step: let dough rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour. Maybe part of lying down in a green pasture is allowing the dough to rest before it makes the final transformation to the finished product. Because usually, that final transformation requires a lot of work. In my case it involved rolling, cutting, layering, filling, smashing, and baking. Good thing the dough was well rested and ready!

One of the things my yoga instructor says all the time is, “be aware.” Be aware of your breath, of your body, of your balance, etc. It’s amazing how much you can be aware of if you actually take the time to be still and listen. In my season of prayer, I’ve been able to become aware of things in my life I didn’t see before. Specifically, wounds and feelings I thought had healed. And now that I’m aware, I can deal with them. After all, after “he makes me to lie down in green pastures,” he “restores my soul.” That’s a reassuring thought indeed.

Probably the biggest thought of all, though my restless spirit is constantly crying out for a new adventure, God has also opened my eyes to show me that I'm living in a green pasture. I have a herd. I think I’m just beginning to see how much of a blessing they are to me. And even though there are things my heart yearns for, I have been able to open my eyes and see the bounty that surrounds me now.

Marinating. That’s what I feel like I’ve been doing during lent. Soaking, being broken down, tenderized, flavored….prepared for …who knows?

I don’t know how this jumble resolves yet. But I have faith that it will.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Simple Things

Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: What! You too? I thought I was the only one. ~ C.S. Lewis

I have some thoughts cooking up in my head, but they’re not quite ready to be spit out yet. But yesterday, I got an email from friend of mine and I want to share it with you. Do you ever have times when you read or hear something and you think to yourself, “Yeah! That’s exactly what I’ve been thinking. Why couldn’t I just spit it out like that?” Her message gave me one or two of those moments. It’s just affirming to know I'm not crazy. Or if I am, that I'm not alone.

Enough preamble.

the simple Jen.

I think for me where I am...I'm seeing the SIMPLE way of serving others and serving God. You don't have to be in a megachurch serving in 6 places, you simply need to be where God needs you to be. There is PURPOSE that He made for you.... and when you live in that purpose...that is where the simplistic things come about. We try too hard to over-doctrinize, over-spiritualize, over-think, is really SIMPLE. Life SHOULD be simple. You can be in the middle of the city with no home, and STILL serve God. You can be in the country of Nicaragua with NO money, NO encouragement, NO anything...and still serve God with all your heart.

My season to serve inside the walls is over...and I want to remind ALL of my church friends...FIND where God needs you to be...and sometimes, remember that it will be something outside the walls. But while you are there....learn, grow...and get to where God needs you to be and then when he moves you, don't fight it...

I told someone yesterday I feel like I'm in the process of being "un-churched"... because I grew up around the church, around the rituals (even in a spirit filled church)...where we gather together and worship. Nothing wrong with it, but not everyone is going to come into those walls. Realize that NOW, rather than fool yourself into thinking that some of these people that NEVER go to church aren't meeting God. Some of these people I meet and God in a very raw & real way that sometimes we don't see at "church". This is just my perspective. For where I'm at now...I've only seen a small portion of what God does and what He can do - but it’s outside those walls where we see a REAL work done. Or should I say...a DIFFERENT way.

I'm here to remind have a purpose to reach out and love your co-workers, people on the street, people wherever you go - you are to LOVE them. Whomever God gives you assignment to? LOVE THEM. Actively love them with all you know... and I dare you to watch yourself change and them change...and even if nothing changed, at least you were OBEDIENT. Remember what Jesus said...about loving those that hate you, challenge yourself with THAT one! anyways...............that is only part of where my heart is right now.

think, meditate, ask God.

Monday, March 23, 2009


In the middle of a recent conversation, a friend of mine said something that gave me great pause: "She's got half her life in front of her..." (Not that it matters, but we were discussing a 49-year old).

The statement bothered me because I think it's dangerous to bank on the fact that tomorrow is guaranteed. Yes, dream big. Plan for tomorrow. Make goals and shoot for them. In fact, one of my favorite quotes is: "Never give up on a dream because of the amount of time it will take to achieve it. The time will pass anyway."

But when it comes down to it, tomorrow *isn't* guaranteed. Who knows what illness or accident or circumstance might take our plans and cut them short? I'm not sharing this thought as a downer, but as a reminder that life is precious. Don't let it pass you by because you've got all this time left in front of you.

In some ways, life can't be budgeted and saved for later. You can't "make up" time. You have today, this moment, to use as wisely as you can.

Life is an opportunity, benefit from it.
Life is a beauty, admire it.
Life is a dream, realize it.
Life is a challenge, meet it.
Life is a duty, complete it.
Life is a game, play it.
Life is a promise, fulfill it.
Life is sorrow, overcome it.
Life is a song, sing it.
Life is a struggle, accept it.
Life is a tragedy, confront it.
Life is an adventure, dare it.
Life is luck, make it.
Life is life, fight for it!
~ Mother Teresa

I expect to pass through this life but once. If, therefore there can be any kindness I can show or any good thing I can do for any fellow being let me do it now... Let me not defer it, or neglect it, For I shall not pass this way again.
~ Etienne de Grellet du Mabillier

Death is the destiny of every man, the living should take this to heart.
~ Ecclesiastes 7:2

Grab life by the horns.
~ Dodge

Monday, March 16, 2009

Eat your Vegetables!

Pastor Carter’s sermon yesterday focused on the Parable of the Great Banquet in Luke 14. It was a good message, and during the altar call, something Pastor Carter said was something I needed to hear. When you’re at someone’s house, you eat what they place before you. The meal is a representation of their investment, effort, time, sacrifice, and care. Anyone who has ever been on a mission trip knows this to be true. You eat what you’re given (with a smile), and don’t ask questions. For me, this rule also held true when visiting family or friend’s houses too.

But the same rule holds true when you come to God’s table. If you accept his invitation to come and dine, you have to accept the meal that is placed before you. Vegetables and all. Pastor Carter shared that he used to make up a second verse to the old song “Where you lead me I will follow” --> What you feed me, I will swallow.” *lol* But how often do I sit there at the table and push things around, look quizzically at what is on my plate, and desperately peek for a dog to whom I can pass bits of food underneath the table?

This is a theme that seems to pop up quite often in my life -- being happy with the meal that has been prepared, or being content with the path I have been given to walk. I have to remember from time to time that, given the choice, most people in the Bible (and great people in history) would have probably chosen much different paths for their lives. And our history would be lesser for it. It brings to mind the passage in Romans that says, “But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?” (Rom 9:20-21)

** Side note: I struggle with this, feeling small and insignificant. But for as much as we’re collectively inspired by figures like Jesus, Ghandi, Mother Theresa, Mister Rogers, William Wilberforce, etc…how many “common pots” have also made a profound difference? I have “nobodies” in my life that have left me forever changed. I’m sure you can list several in your life too.

Vegetables may not be my favorite part of a meal. The entre before me may be something I’ve never seen before…but it is the product of love, sacrifice, and investment. The food is for my nourishment and well-being. And quite simply, it is the meal that has been set before me. It's not my place to question it. As a guest at the banquet it is my place just to eat and enjoy. (And you know, most of the times with meals, banquets, and get-togethers, the event is less about the food and more about the fellowship. I needed to be reminded to be grateful, to not criticize my plate, and to simply enjoy the presence those gathered at the table.)

I hope I can humbly and joyfully sing: “Where you lead me I will follow…What you feed me, I will swallow.”

"Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.” (Isa 55:1-2)

P.S. – This is my vegetable of the day: “Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Col 3:12) Recent events in my life have required copious amounts of these virtues. But it’s amazing that as I ask for them, they are given. And as I choose to act in them and pour them out, the supply is refilled. And as I make a habit of acting in them, they come naturally…without any extra effort at all.

Just as what you eat fuels your body, what you feed your character feeds your thoughts and actions. --- Remember to eat your vegetables!

Saturday, March 14, 2009


This post will make more sense to those who struggle with less than perfect eyesight. My book club discussed “The Glass Castle” at our most recent meeting. One of the tales included in the rambling memoir recounts the story of the author’s older sister getting glasses. It brought back memories of when I tried on my first pair. For those of you who wear glasses…do you remember the first time you put them on?

I was in 4th grade, and it was thrilling. I was fascinated by how much detail lay within the fuzzy, blotchy shapes that usually populated my field of vision. And on my way home, I read every single street sign (which, halfway home, I realized was greatly annoying my mother, so I just mouthed them instead of reading them aloud.)

I love when life gives us moments like that: when suddenly things go from convoluted to clear. It can be a simple moment or an extraordinary one…but it is always something that leaves you different on the other side.

But, just like glasses, the first prescription is not the final one. Every year or so, I go back and have my vision re-examined. And with each new pair of glasses, I am reminded of how much detail I have gotten used to missing among the blur. And if you’re like me, it’s not just fuzz you have to deal with. I also have astigmatism. This means I have to have special lenses that compensate for the irregular bend in my cornea.

Where am I going with this?

I was singing “Open the Eyes of my Heart” a few days ago, and I started to think about the vision that the song is talking about: Looking at things not just with your head, but with your heart, looking at things from a spiritual and eternal perspective. As Rafiki would say, “Look beyond what you see.” (This line is part of a really funny part in Lion King 1 ½. If you haven’t seen it, put it on your list. It’s totally worth it. I digress…)

Sometimes, I think we don’t need to just be reminded to look beyond what we see. We need a little more help. More than just realizing our hearts have “eyes,” admitting that perhaps they need glasses too. Maybe we don’t realize that all we’re seeing is blur. There’s detail to be discovered in the fuzzy convoluted shapes. The trees aren’t just green. They’ve got branches. And those branches have leaves. Individual leaves.

Or, the thought that really got to me, maybe the eyes of our heart have astigmatism. Maybe we don’t realize that we’re putting our own bend on things, and we’re not seeing them as they are.

Hmmm…it’s certainly giving me something to mull (and pray) over.

Monday, March 2, 2009

"God is so good"

Imagine those words in a quiet Spanish accent, and you have the mantra of one of the dearest sweetest women I have ever known: Evelyn Anthony.

No matter what life threw her way, those words were how she faced it. When it got tough, she was honest and would admit, “This is not good.” But without missing a beat would continue, “But God is so good.” Not an empty phrase, but a statement of absolute faith and conviction.

When cancer first racked her body: “This is not good. But God is so good.”
When she was given just a few months to live, and then miraculously the cancer went into recession: “God is so good.”
When the cancer came back some time later: “This is not good. But God is so good.”
When I would drive her to the doctor’s office, no matter what the news: “God is so good.”
When I would share my hopes and dreams: “God is so good.”
When I would come to her to help me pray through my trials: “This is not good. But God is so good.”

Saturday, I was privileged to be part of a home sending party for Evelyn. That’s the only way I can describe it. I got a phone call from my mother saying, “Things don’t look good. You should come now.” So I dropped and ran. I arrived to find Evelyn barely holding on. And it immediately brought me to tears…because Evelyn was a short, spitfire, Puerto Rican woman whose life overflowed with faith and joy. She never messed around. She would call you out in a hot second if she thought you needed it, but she had this way of making you feel loved, even while you were being chastened. But even in her fight to hold on to this life a little while longer, her countenance was as beautiful and peaceful as ever.

I stepped toward the bed, placed my hand on my mom’s shoulder, and joined in the prayer that was going on. There were five people gathered around, and all were lending their voice. Then Steve picked up his guitar, and we started singing. Hymns, praise songs, worship songs…we had church in that little room. You could feel God’s presence. When the nurse came in to take Evelyn’s blood pressure, she noted that it was the highest it had been in a while. Which is totally in line with Evelyn’s character. She loved to dance around her house singing and signing.

I was not the last to arrive. People I have grown up with from Heritage and the Deaf Ministry came. People from the Puerto Rican church came. Evelyn’s family members from all over came. And everyone’s reaction was the same: immediate tears, but then peace. Why? Because “This is not good. But God is so good.”

We had wave upon wave of singing, praising, reading from God’s word, and sharing. In English, Spanish, Sign…usually all three at once. At one point, there were 25 people in her little hospital room, and more gathered out in the hall. Each of us in our turn got to whisper in Evelyn’s ear and let her know how much we loved her, and how much of a difference she has made in each one of our lives. Evelyn's name sign is no accident: an "e" and "a" signed over your heart. She was the kind of person that lived from her heart, and welcomed all into it. Sometimes when I talk about my relationship with God, I say that I have been apprehended by something that will not let me go. Being around Evelyn was like that. She would latch onto you, get you right there, and not let you go. She changed the life of whoever crossed her path.

With each new wave, we were all reminded that we do not grieve without hope. We know that going home is not the end…it’s another beginning. True to her personality, Evelyn waited until midnight, when it was the Lord’s day, she finally let go and allowed the angels to escort her home. I have no doubt that a party is still raging in heaven over the arrival of this dear saint. And though I’m feeling the void of her loss, I know exactly what she would say to me.

“God is so good.”

Thank you Evelyn, for showing me with your life that Christianity is about your actions. It’s about living things out. It’s about praying through. It’s about knowing where your hope comes from. It’s about knowing that God is good. Always good. Thank you for being a spiritual giant and for showing me what a true warrior looks like. Thank you for ceaselessly loving those around you. Thank you for showing me that you can face life’s greatest trials with joy. I’ll miss you for a while. But I’ll see you again one day.