Walking the Sea

Walking the Sea: February 2010

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Notes for Two

As a follow up to my Valentine's Day post, this is a beautiful image of love- two musicians, 2 different lines of music coming together.

"An elderly couple walked into the lobby of the Mayo Clinic for a checkup and spotted a piano. They've been married for 62 years and he'll be 90 this year. Check out this impromptu performance. We are only as old as we feel, it's all attitude. Enjoy! They certainly do!"

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To the Sea to Breathe

Last Sunday, Jake, Janaya, and I went to the beach at Lincoln City. It felt so refreshing to walk along the shore, talk to God, hear God, and have clam chowder and a hot chocolate at Mo's. (Happy sigh).


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Five Minutes a Day

I was listening to the radio while driving the other day when the announcer talked about a new Bible for "busy moms" claiming that with all the multitasking moms do, this Bible would help them take five minutes for God. Five minutes? That is all God gets out of a day? In fraction form, that is 1/288 of our day that will be devoted to God and that is a good thing? What about the other 287/288 of our day? Are those not for God?

Admittedly, I have long since gotten out of the practice of a regular sit down time of Bible reading and prayer, a value instilled into me by the church I grew up in. However, I talk to God in the car, at work, I sing songs to him, we sing songs together (God is really good at duets), and I read with him in mind. At night, I always kneel by my bed and pray before climbing under the covers. I just can't imagine my life without God walking through it with me and being in relationship with him. I would give the excuse for all of us that the regular sit down devotional time is a launching point for a deeper living spirituality and I am sure that is true for many. However, I am also sure that many people give their "five minutes" on Sunday, or an occasional nod to Jesus during the week and don't talk to God for the other 287/288 of their day. How much they miss. God doesn't want our five minutes, he wants all 1,440. No matter what we are engaged in, we can commune with him. Whether it is when we cook, when we clean, when we are helping others with a problem, or even when we sleep, we can do those things in acknowledgement of him. We can even fall asleep in his arms, even that is a prayer.

God is not here to be our religion. God is not here to be our salvation plan. He doesn't want us to go around telling people how they can escape the punishment of sin and go to Heaven instead of Hell. He doesn't want us spreading the word on how to avoid judgement. Judgement and escaping punishment is not what God is about. God is not about having it right, having it together. He is not up there keeping a tally of our deeds. And I will even say this, God is not up there with a gigantic pink divine eraser erasing our mistakes as if they were never there when we recite the "salvation prayer". If he did, how would they help us grow?

When we come to God, which we actually do over and over again throughout our lives, we think the salvation prayer solves "our sin problem". But for God, there is no sin problem, at least how it is usually defined. The problem of sin is not about what we do or don't do, it is about who we are disconnected from when we do it. Sin is acting outside of the love of God, the love of the earth, the love of each other, and the love of ourselves. Repenting is turning back to God and living out of his love. Like the prodigal son parable Jesus tells in the gospel of Luke, God is not worried about how dirty we are or where we have been. He is just beside himself with joy when we come home. And like the father in that story, God does not put a beautiful robe on our bodies and a ring on our finger to make us presentable before him for where he wants us to be. He puts those things on us to tell us who we already are and where we already belong.

Telling people they are going to Hell and that they need to repent so they can go to Heaven is completely missing the point. God is not a harsh judge. God is a loving father. Sin is not what the story is about. Love is the main theme. I've heard the speakers who talk about what rotten people we are and how God is going to send us to hell if we don't repent of our evil deeds. It is important to choose to stop behaving in such destructive ways, but really, is this the way to tell about love? By slamming them with what bad people we are and how God can't stand to be around us? No wonder so many of God's children have terrifying images of a father/mother God they are scared of. What would it look like instead to tell ourselves and each other how loved we are exactly as we are, how God longs, aches to be with us.

What would it look like to tell people about God's strength, joy, and gentleness, and compassion? What would it look like to tell them we were made and born to be in relationship with God, that it is intrinsic to who we are? Being in relationship with God doesn't fix our problems and it doesn't make us rich. We will still struggle but when we know the love of God, we know who to struggle with. We know who to talk to and who will fight our battles. There is still the storm, but there is peace in the midst of it. There are still the waves, but we've been handed a life jacket.

I still get angry with God. He is okay with that. I am honest, or try to be, about where I am at, and he sits down beside me and we start dealing with it. It is okay to be angry at God. He welcomes us to express those thoughts. God wants our presence no matter what we are in the midst of, no matter how filthy we are. God does not turn away from sin. It isn't something his holiness makes him turn away from. Jesus came and swam in sin, became covered in sin so he could get to us. It doesn't scare him. That is why we can come to God just as we are, warts and all, flaws and all. He loves every bit of us. The emphasis on salvation is turning to God, knowing he is there to listen and to speak and that are listening and speaking to him. That is what it's all about.

I do not feel shame with God, I know who I am: his beloved. I know God loves me and that he's there wherever I go, ready to talk or just sit in silence. He is playful and fun, he is serious, sometimes somber, and he teaches me how to live out that love I feel all around me radiating from who he is. God is the core of our lives. Everything comes from him. It is a truth beyond time yet a true we live out within time. And this isn't for just five minutes a day, it's for all 1,440.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Holy Communion

My breath is still taken away into the Divine after watching communion tonight. It was beautiful. We usually leave the bread and juice on a table in the middle of our circle and we go and partake during a song or two. But tonight was a little different. Turner handed the elements to two people in the circle sitting next to each other. One person held the juice while the other tore a piece of bread from the loaf and dipped it in the juice. Then the plate and cup were each passed on to the next individuals so the person who was holding the juice then takes a piece of bread as the person next in the circle holds the cup. Watching them passed along, people helping each other take communion, a community joining together in God hand in hand, was an extraordinarily holy moment to witness and of which to be a part. Communion and community are so closely related, they can even be one in the same. One loaf, one cup, one people, one family.

Kevin, I am naming you here by name. You are so cool!

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Never the Same - New Eyes

This afternoon I was looking through the local newspaper and read an article on circumcision as an effort to stem the epidemic of AIDS in Africa. (Even after reading the article, I'm not sure how circumcision helps with this.) While reading the words, I saw the AIDS patients I met at the clinic at Lugulu Hospital stand before my eyes. They are no longer the "people with AIDS in Africa". They are my sisters and brothers. They are the wives who's husbands slept around and brought the disease home. They are the ones who were blamed for it and cast out, the ones who were abandoned by their families after being raped. They are the children born with it inside of them. They are men and women who get it without knowing the full extent of what that night will mean. My heart can no longer turn away from the headlines but instead, I fall to my knees in tears. Near the end of the article, it talked about a man who operates a bicycle taxi in Kisumu, Kenya. After spending time there, after seeing many men operate bicycle taxis in Kisumu, I think, "Was it him? Did I see him on the side of the road?" He is no longer a stranger in a strange country, he is a man I have seen with my own eyes and I cannot forget him.

Kenya is now ingrained in my heart, Africa will always haunt me, their faces are the ones I will always see. I heard Amy Grant talk about a trip her family took to South Africa to speak at a gathering and she and her family realized how much they invest in material things and how different their priorities needed to be. Since returning, I have felt very much the same. How can we spend so much money on DVD's and shopping and ignore those who don't have clean water? How can we turn away from the cries when we could help so easily?

My friend, Carrie, wrote on her blog of those who have traveled to such countries, "Though I haven’t had the opportunity (yet) to visit Haiti or any other developing nation, I do belong to a different kind of community that has a similar sort of paradigm-shifting effect on its members. Once you are a part of it, it’ll wreck you, too." I see through new eyes.


Monday, February 15, 2010

This is the report I wrote to the three groups that gave me the grants that made it possible for me to go minister in Kenya: the Susan Bax Foundation, the International Outreach Granting Group of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, and the Youth Opportunity Fund Granting Group of North Pacific Yearly Meeting. I thank God for you all.

Dear Grant Committee,

I would first like to take this opportunity to express my deep and lasting gratitude to you for making my ministry to Kenya possible. I am so thankful for your financial assistance and your prayers while I traveled and spoke to the youth and young adult Quakers from a variety of countries throughout East Africa including Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, and Losotho in addition to our delegation from the Netherlands, Britain, and America. While there, I encouraged the youth and young adults to exercise the gifts of ministry God gave them, to be bold and unafraid, and faithful to their call.

The main focus of my trip was the three speaking opportunities I had at two Quaker conferences in the western provinces of Kenya, one talk on “Women in Ministry” and another on the Quaker Youth Book Project both for the Young Quaker Christian Association of Africa gathering in Bungoma and the third on “Youth in Ministry” which I gave at the youth gathering of East Africa Yearly Meeting (North). All of the talks went extremely well.

For the “Women in Ministry” talk, I first discussed strong women who ministered in Bible times. For the Quakers in Africa, (I had several different nationalities in the audience), the Bible is extremely important. I knew in order to gain their trust, the Bible was where I needed to start. They needed to know women in ministry is Biblical and that God wants them to be in ministry in whatever capacity he has gifted them. I then had a young woman pastor, Jane Muton, from the western provinces join me in order to discuss her experience in ministry and some of the difficulties African women face in obeying their call. Hearing about living examples of people from their own culture already doing ministry was vital as they needed examples close to them to follow. I then talked to the women about the importance of listening to God above humans; that we are responsible to God for the gifts he gave us. I shared with them that all gifts are of the same value whether the gifts are compassion, hospitality, prophesy, or teaching. The important thing is to practice the gift and to not be silenced. Also present was Eden Grace who added to the conversation during our question and answer period by giving further concrete examples concerning supportive husbands within Kenya in response to a question about marriage. I was appreciative of her additional support to me personally and her positive feedback on the talk I gave. Encouraging these women was an encouragement to me. My sisters and I both learned a lot about ourselves and each other that day. I am grateful to have been there with them.

For the interest group on the Quaker Youth Book Project which John Lomuria and I presented together, we discussed what the book project is, the process we’re going through, what our experiences working as a board have been like, and where we are going from here. One of the attendees asked us to read one of the pieces going into the book so we read and discussed one of the board member’s stories on membership in a meeting. As a result, we had exactly the kind of conversation we would like the book to inspire, a perfect and very practical example of how the book can be used after its release. From throughout my time in Kenya, I came to appreciate what this book could mean to the Quakers in Africa. Most Friends in Africa cannot afford to travel much, certainly not abroad but they love having visitors. They loved spending time with and getting to know our delegation. This book will provide a chance for that, for those who will never meet to get to know one another. They will hear stories of other young adult Quakers from around the world. As a result, their points of view and understanding of Quakerism will be greatly expanded. What is more, Friends who have never been to Africa will have the opportunity to hear of the African’s strong faith and to learn about the issues African Quakers are facing. Additionally, I was also very glad to be able to give John Lomuria some emotional support as he has always before been on his own in Kenya while working on our project and he was grateful for my presence.

The third talk on “Youth in Ministry” took place in front of 1,200 youth and young adults from East Africa Yearly Meeting (North). For my Biblical text I used the Joseph story as well as sharing some of my own story, my own struggles as a youth with my call before encouraging them to obey the calls God had placed on their lives, to listen to what God is saying and to not let anyone silence who they are. For me personally, it was one of the highlights of my time in Kenya as the words I spoke became as true for me as it was for them. My talk was to be first thing in the morning so on the drive from where we stayed the night, (I was traveling with three other women), I took the time to talk to God and ask for wisdom and the right words to say to the youth. During our talk, God gave me a thick steel rod core of confidence in myself and himself and an unwavering purpose. Therefore, I took resolute steps to the front of the vast crowd holding the microphone in my hand knowing I was chosen for that task and that God would give me what I needed to complete it. Through that talk, I not only got to touch the lives of many, but I learned to listen to God’s call on my life with confidence and to not let anyone silence me, others or even myself. After the talk, I received good feedback from both the Kenyans and the three women accompanying me. One woman from our delegation said I “rocked the talk”. Even today, that steel rod is still there. I don’t ever expect it to leave. My deep confidence in my ministry and in God’s call on my life is here to stay.

In addition to speaking, I was also part of a delegation from the U.S., the Netherlands, and Britain who visited ministries around Kenya such as the Friends International Center in Nairobi, Lugulu Hospital, an orphanage in Turkana just finishing the process of closing due to lack of funds, and the monthly meeting in Lodwar. With a Quaker guide, I also visited Lindi Friends Primary School in Kibera Slum on the outskirts of Nairobi. Each time we went somewhere, the people we visited with were very grateful we were there. For them, having someone come to visit, to see the ministries with their own eyes, is far more valuable and precious to them than receiving a check in the mail, as important as that also is. It taught our delegation that the most important gift we can give to each other is our time and loving attention. They wanted us to stand witness to their lives and to share with us what they had. Visiting Lugulu Hospital was especially meaningful for me as Reedwood Friends Church, the meeting I first attended, is a strong supporter of that hospital. While there, I saw many things the people of Reedwood had donated and even touched the planted trees with edible leaves they helped pay for. Soon I will be going to Reedwood to share my time at Lugulu Hospital with them. The orphanage also deeply touched me as I saw what a difference such programs can make in children’s lives and what happens to those children when programs aren’t there. There were children hanging around the grounds while we were there, children who keep coming back during the day because that is the only home they’ve known.

Since returning home from Kenya, I have had many people ask me about what being in Kenya was like and what it is like for me to return home. It’s a hard question to respond to as there are so many mixed up emotions, questions, and images within me involved in the answer. While I am adjusting back to such things as the weather, American society, and having around me the blatant materialism I so dislike, there are things I never want to adjust back to such as never taking running water for granted and the knowledge of what life is like for many around the world. I can’t get Kenya out of my head, what I saw and learned there haunts me everyday. My view of the world is much larger than it was before, my sense of the important issues people face is much more realistic, and I now have a better sense of what life, and my place within it, is really like. My time there changed who I am, how I see my own culture, and how I see myself. Here in Oregon I have in some ways felt closed in and while ministering in Kenya, out of my normal environment, I felt the freedom to really explore what being a young adult woman in ministry means for me and what that will look like in the future. I am asking the question, “How am I to integrate what I learned in Kenya into how I live my life, minister, and relate to the people and places around me?” What my answer is will be a continual unfolding, one I am excited to see. I pray my time in Kenya was a blessing to many. I am sure I will never know the full extent of that blessing or the ripple effects it might hold, but I trust God’s work and I am grateful to have been a part of it.

In the coming months, I will be writing and speaking a great deal about my experiences in Kenya. Not only will I be speaking at Reedwood, but I am also speaking at the Northwest Quaker Women’s Theology Conference as well as writing articles for several Quaker publications. Other speaking opportunities are coming along I am sure, including to North Pacific Yearly Meeting. In addition to these upcoming chances to minister, bonds were formed and relationships begun with people from around the world, relationships that I am looking forward to growing and nurturing in the coming years.

Thank you again for your prayerful and financial support in my ministry to Kenya and to the Quakers of East Africa. My time ministering there would not have been possible without you. I feel incredibly blessed to have been able to fulfill this call and was deeply touched even as I know many other lives were touched by my being there. What this trip will mean for me in the future, how it will direct my life, is yet to be told. Like all things, the journey will be a continual unfolding, one I am looking forward to witnessing, walking, and being a part of.

In Gratitude,
Sarah Katreen Hoggatt

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Happy Valentine's Day

Tonight I watched the movie, “One Night with the King”, the story of Esther who saved the Jewish people, my people. We are celebrating her triumph at the end of the month at temple as “Purim”. I love the scene when she bursts through the doors into the king’s throne room and walks deliberately through the hall, knowing she could very well die, but does it anyway out of love. It is courage and love at its finest.

Today is Valentine’s Day, a day to celebrate love. Along my journey through the internet world, I came across an advertisement with the heading, “Make Love Happen”. Though I have seen the advertisement before, it struck me tonight that we cannot make love happen. Love is something that cannot be forced, cannot be pushed onto another. Love is grown, developed, but never “made to happen”. Love is a gift, love is courageous, love is a covenant. Love is the fulcrum of what makes everything else happen.

In my own life, I want to live out the kind love of Esther had, the courageous, life-giving, enduring love. The kind of love that makes things happen.

Happy Valentine’s Day my friends.

If you like, you can watch the whole movie on youtube, or, if you want to watch the part I refer to, it is the first part of this clip when she walks through the throne room.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Diamonds, Brilliant and Clear

My friend, Christine, has been keeping a blog I love reading. She has always had such insight and spirit. This part of her most recent post was so filled with truth, I am sharing it with you. You can find her blog at: http://michaelyonkmanhealthupdate.blogspot.com/

"This is a lot for me to digest. Because it seems only fair that if we hope and pray and work this hard, and God meets us and even encourages us on, that we should be able to cross the finish line in glory with an outcome that everyone could look at and say "Oh yes! Isn't it wonderful and good how all of that worked out?" This is my daily hope, of course, for all of us. But the measure of success, I am convinced, is not in the final turn of events but rather in how well and deeply we love along the way. God showed me this clearly in morning prayer, that ultimately my job here, even in the midst of Michael's recovery, isn't to serve Michael or to sculpt him toward freedom (or even to serve my family, job or self), but to serve God. And God is served when we love. I thought about the myriad of ways we can love in the world. In my own life I considered teaching, singing, writing, praying, conversing with friends, and being there for my family. We can love by speaking truth or by quietly remembering sometimes it is more important to be kind than to be right. All of these things are good and worthy, but none of them guarantee outcomes. We love because loving is right, not because it gets us to a certain climactic high note before the curtain falls. We love because in so doing our spirits are transformed to the likeness of the substance from which we come.

If Michael were to die from a drug overdose tomorrow or at some future date, our prayers and efforts and support would not be in vain. Because in the loving, in giving ourselves away, we and the world around us are changed. There is nothing more beautiful we can do than pour out our spirits as living sacrifices in service to the endless and saving love of God, God who meets us with all perfect gentleness and majesty, taking the clay of our substance into the crucible of the divine heart where we are formed and forged into diamonds that shine like stars (Philippians 2:15). Each gem holds the light of eternity within, endlessly burning with the inexhaustible supply of God's presence, mercy and strength. The light is not dimmed by darkness. The supreme clarity of our souls as reflections and manifestations of God's light surpasses any earthly vision of beauty, and the brilliance is blinding. So much so that only within the folds of God's arms can we bear the intensity of such love and light. When we love, we become more love. This is why we do it, because something essential in our spirits longs to become and return to that which we know as home. We want to be who we are. Tragedies and celebrations don't change our being. Only loving brings us into greater focus, whether the end of the story is a tear-jerker or fairy tale happiness.

There is tremendous freedom in entering this crucible, because our lives are no longer our own. We have more responsibility, yes, but we also are free from the human tendency and desire to control and understand. We simply surrender to life and recognize that God has the final line, and it is good. God showed me an image in prayer this morning of Michael walking happily off into his life (whether in eternity or into adulthood on earth I don't know), and he was free and healthy and on his way. He is God's, as we all are God's, and I will continue to take heart in loving as we travel the way together. Because loving brings me closer to home, and home is where my heart knows the truth of who I am."

"And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight." - Philippians 1:9

See here for the original post.

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Friday, February 5, 2010

The Oak Tree

It took me about five minutes to realize the class was a handful to say the least and it wasn't hard to pick out the instigators, the ones who acted out verbally and physically on an incredibly regular basis. They were the ones screaming, throwing tantrums, hitting and pushing each other. I wondered how their teachers did it day after day. To think they are kindergartners... For my benefit, the other teacher put name tags on them all which I very much appreciated. To be fair, there were a couple of good kids among them and there were times they were all even reasonably behaved. Not for long periods, but those times were there.

Besides trying to separate the kids from pushing each other and getting them to do something along the lines of what they were supposed to be doing, I reprimanded one child by name and he looked at me with wonder and shock asking me, "How do you know my name?" Very matter-of-factly, I told him, "I know everything." Then the boy at the front of the "line", just as non-chalantly added, "I know everything too." Looking at him, I sincerely responded, "Isn't it nice to know everything?" He answered, "Yes it is."

Before the last recess, we had about fifteen to twenty minutes and the other teacher needed to use the restroom. She asked me if I could handle the class for a while, maybe read them a story. No problem. I could handle it and there was a parent in the room as well if I needed backup. I went over to my laptop bag and took out a book I had borrowed from Richmond that morning so I could scan in some of the pictures for a Read poster, The Pout-Pout Fish. Though I hadn't read it before, Kim really likes it and she has good taste. I took one of the chairs and had them all sit on the carpet. First I told them this was a special book loaned to us from another school with great excitement. We then talked about what an author and illustrator are, things I've heard Adria teach to her students. I waited until they quieted down, and I started in stopping every once in a while to ask them a question or explain some word they didn't know. There was a repeated "bluuub" throughout the narrative the kids chimed in for and I kept waiting for them to be quiet or to settle down and stop complaining about who was in who's space before I went on. But most of them were sitting quietly listening as I inflected my words to who was speaking, and told them the story of a fish who learned he was not made to be glum and to "spread the dreary-wearies all over the place" but instead to smile and spread cheer.

Even as I read the story and made the kids behave, best they had behaved all afternoon, I realized just how much I've learned listening and watching Adria teach the kids at Richmond. I've seen plenty of teachers at work at all levels around the district and she is one to watch. From a comment she made some time ago, I think she knows how wide my ears are opened while I work on the posters, how much I am observing both her and Kim's interactions with the kids, teachers, volunteers, and parents. Teaching kids has not been a career goal for me but I am realizing how invaluable working in the schools has been. I have learned how to manage a group, I have learned great teaching skills, have graded papers, edited student's writing, and worked with parents and volunteers. I have learned confidence in teaching a class whether elementary or high school. For example, earlier this week, the teacher after asking about my educational background, turned over the math explanations to me so I got to work through problems with the class, explaining them and encouraging them to where they understood the concepts. That made my week.

While in Kenya, I had an experience with God that has affected me even more deeply than I thought at the time. The authority, assertiveness, and power I took up fully there in the green fields is here with me, came to fruition, steady as a rock, tall and strong as an oak tree, within the garden of my life. Those qualities have been developing in me for quite some time but it was under the African sun, the tree fully opened to the sky. I'm enjoying exploring all that means to me and to the lives I touch.

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Thursday, February 4, 2010


I think it is high time to give you all a general update on some things I've mentioned here on the blog.

Quaker Youth Book Project: We are currently working on the cover art and looking through the final manuscript before it goes to print to be officially released in late April of this year. These last two weeks, we have been discussing these things and making our final decisions. We are excited to hold the book in our hands and to see it distributed. To release the book, we are meeting in Richmond, Indiana for the Quakers United in Publishing Writer's Conference which we all get to attend at the end of April. At that conference, I am leading a workshop, "Writing as Prayer" which I am thrilled about. It is something I asked if I could do and the committee approved my proposal. (Insert happy dancing.) This is a topic close to the beat of my heart and I am looking forward to sharing something with others that means so much to me. I've also been invited to be on a panel during one of the evening sessions on blogging and that too, is exciting to me. Both of these public ministries are in addition to the panel made up of our editorial board during another evening session. Following that panel, Angelina tells us will be a BIG party. It will be a fun trip and I am really excited to bring a copy of the book home with me.

Pacific Northwest Quaker Women's Theology Conference: While I haven't mentioned this conference yet, (I will be), it is now fully on my radar screen as I have given my official yes to serve as volunteer coordinator and more importantly to me, to speak along with Sarah Peterson and Ashley Wilcox on spiritual friendship. Within this topic, a different part resonates with each of us more deeply so we are "passing the mike" during our talk. When Ashley first asked me to speak on spiritual friendship, my heart went right to spiritual direction, a relationship I have found to be particularly powerful both as a director and as a directee.

Kenya Photos: My favorite photos from Kenya are now in albums to make it easier for me to look at them and share my experience with others. If you would like to see them, let me know and we can get together for coffee or something along those lines!

Richmond's Read Posters: I posted my favorite poster that I made before I left for Kenya. This has been a project I have been working on for my favorite library and elementary school, creating posters of all their staff reading books. I have learned an immense amount about photoshop through working on this project and while I am indeed ready to see the posters hanging in the halls, it has been a lot of fun and right up my creative alley. There are over 40 posters in all and we are getting close to being done. When we are finished and I save them all in the JPG format for the printer, I will post some of my favorites on here for your enjoyment (and my own!). A side benefit of this project is I now know every staff member's face and they know mine. Often, when I'm not subbing, you can find me there in the library volunteering my heart out. With all the schools I go to and the different jobs I do, it has made a world of difference to me to have one school with staff who greet me by name when I walk in the door and considers me a part of the team. It has been one of the many examples of the lesson that life holds many surprises along our journey, some absolutely delightful and a blessed gift.

U-Turn Challenge: I've mentioned the U-Turn Challenge at First Tech Credit Union several times. The challenge is finished, the data is turned in, but they haven't announced the winners yet. I'm looking forward to hearing about it when it happens. By the way, because of what I've heard about First Tech, I opened an account and they have been wonderful to work with. For those in Oregon and Washington, I would highly recommend them.

If you have any other questions on things I've posted, or haven't posted as the case may be, leave a comment and I will answer them!

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Try Again

I went to Ecclessia tonight (church) instead of staying home for a good cry. It was a hard night and I was upset and frustrated over something I have struggled with for nearly half a year and tonight I was an inch away from my breaking point. Deciding that I was too emotional to talk about it at the moment I was with that person, I went home, pushed back my tears, and went to church.

Now, to be quite frank, the last few weeks have been hard for me. (Thus, the fewer posts.) I've had a lot on my mind and have not been taking the time to refill and renew myself. So, I grant you, I've been near tears many times lately. One of those times in my life, which I am sure you are all familiar with, when the water drips, drips, drips in our bucket and I haven't turned it over to dump it out, it just keeps spilling over. So tonight was the needle that nearly broke the camel's back.

Going into church, I see one of the large and comfortable armchairs is still available so I kick off my shoes and relax into that. Jordan starts off the teaching portion (I usually miss the singing due to always coming after tap class) by talking about the book of Ephesians. It is our first week on this book study and he explains to us how you wouldn't examine the details of a movie until you've seen it all the way through. So we were going to read Ephesians all the way through tonight as if we were hearing it from the perspective of the people to whom it was written. He explained the background of what the church was struggling with in their city and their relationship with Paul. He then explained they didn't have Bibles so we were to close ours. They also wouldn't have been sitting in chairs, they would have stood or sat on the floor in respect and humbleness to hear Paul's words so we all moved to the floor or stood. Jordan then opened up "The Message" as the original language of the letter was everyday Greek and "The Message" is everyday English, and read to us the letter from Paul in its entirety. Hearing it like that, any Bible book like that, was a first for me and I loved it. It reminded me of Jewish midrash, a way to digest God's word to his people that I also love. The words were comforting, challenging, intriguing, and thought-provoking. Many things stood out to me like the image of God pouring his grace and peace into me, abundant freedom, and that we are each meant to do what we were given to do by God. We talked afterward about what stuck out to us, what feelings the letter invoked, and what hit home.

Around this time, Taylor, age 3, had joined me on the floor with paper and pen in hand. While we discussed the book of Ephesians, Taylor and I outlined each other's feet and hands. According to Taylor, my hands and feet are quite large. She then told me we were going to draw a farm on one side of the paper. I had already drawn a pig and was following her instructions to draw a cow as she didn't know how. She instructed me to draw the legs and then while watching my attempt, she looked at me sympathetically and stated very matter-of-factly, "I'll do it." After adding some to the picture, she then handed the pen back to me and watched me draw another leg with another look of sympathy and another patient "I'll do it." I admit, the cow did look more like a dog which she pointed out to me by telling me, "That doesn't look like a cow." I agreed, it didn't. She then handed me the pen again and said, "Try again." This time I drew the face from the front and added horns, rather like the buffalo from the safari. I explained to her what those were and while she didn't tell me it looked like a cow, she didn't say it looked like a dog either so I took that as a sign I had passed, for now.

Sometimes I think God says the same thing. He looks at our drawings, adds some lines of his own and then kindly tells us to try again. No judgement, no criticism, just the gentle yet firm invitation to "try again." Paul told the Ephesians to keep trying, he encouraged them with God's peace and grace when times were tough. Listening to his words, I could feel his comfort, like lavishing lavender lotion on my dry skin. I felt God near, him calling in my heart.

I've seen Taylor have a tough time listening and struggling to obey. I've seen her upset and have to sit down until she was ready to listen again. But then she always gets up and tries again. She keeps playing and talking with us. She delights in our company, she is present. When our discussion was finished, some of the group played two songs while we sang and took communion. Taylor danced.

Sometimes God speaks to us from a letter written 2,000 years ago and sometimes he speaks to us through a little girl handing us a pen and telling us to "try again." Either way, both ways, they were the words I needed to hear tonight. They hit home. So tomorrow, I am going to try again. As I overheard Kim say today, things will work out. You have to live today and enjoy it for the gift it is. And if it's a tough day, if it's a day when your bucket is full and you want to cry, God is still telling you that you can always try again tomorrow. Solutions will come, problems won't seem so big and you can find a new perspective. Try again. What a gift of grace.

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Monday, February 1, 2010

Train Conductor God

As I write this, I'm sitting at the bar facing the windows of my favorite coffee shop. I love the open feel of the place, the light streaming in from the street, the white and wood detail with the little cream colored lights trailing around the banister of the upper level of tables. It's a peaceful place and they never bother you if you are here and haven't bought anything. For someone like me who can't afford to buy a drink every time I come in, it's a definite "selling" point. Outside the rain is falling and people are making their way here and there, maybe shopping for a new pair of red shoes, searching for a good Thai restaurant, or, like me, merely needing to be out in community without actually talking to anyone. It all puts me in a reflective train of thought. Where the train is going I cannot say; I just know I'm on it.

This train has been in my life for a while now. I call it the train of change and God is the train conductor. I know I'm on the train, I know it's chugging along the tracks, but I have little idea as to where it's headed. It's a hard place to live in - the unknown. There are more questions than answers and I have no reply to those who ask them. But being on the train, not having the answers, is sure making me ask a lot more questions, ones I have not been willing to ask or to consider answers I would have never believed to be true. It's a scary train to be riding on for this journey is made up of nothing but trust.

During the ride, we learn a new paradox as we realize all at the same time how much power we hold in our lives and how little control we possess. We learn of the power we hold to make our own choices and are at the same time surprised when the winds of change blow through our lives whether or not we have invited them in. We are simply left with the question of which wind shall we sail into? It has been said that destinations are where we begin again and isn't that so true? We think we have reached the end of a journey and instead of returning, which you can never really do after a journey, we begin a new one. We are are asked to reboard the train. We dedicate our lives to one thing and then find it falling through our fingers only leaving a trace of memory with the whispered inquiry, "Now what?"

Throughout our lives, things change; we change, sometimes without warning. Our lives change. The question I'm asking now and the question I find so many of us asking, is what are our lives changing into? What is the new normal? (But believe me, as soon as we get comfortable with the new normal, things will change again.) Our lives are not meant to be static, they are meant to change. A plant cannot stay in the same pot , a river does not stay stagnantly in a pool. The plant grows, stretching out its roots, and the river changes its course, it alters the environment in which it passes and flows on to new places. We are much the same. However much I hate to admit it, I like change and I don't like change. Change appeals to me when I'm tired of the ruts yet it's really hard to let some of those ruts go. Sometimes I hold onto the ruts because I see them as a rock to hold onto, something that won't change. They are my security. But then a couple of weeks ago, God asked me if I love the ruts and the rocks more than I love him. Ouch. That question hit home. Do I trust in the security of relationships and place more than I trust in God's love and desire for me to grow and learn? Do I want the lights in my life more than I want to be a light?

So I sit on the train with all these unknowns, trying to enjoy their company but really struggling with having them around as traveling companions. They aren't the comforting or even kind companions I would have picked given the choice, but the selection wasn't mine. We never know who and where our growth will come from, we never know where the train will go. Whether to get on the train or not was the choice God gave me. Do I preserve my security and stifle my growth and the light I could be or do I let go of my grip and free-fall into the arms I know are waiting for me somewhere down below? As many times as God has caught me before, I am still nervous about where the train is going. I want a ticket with where we're headed and a map so I can follow along on the way. But that is not the choice God gives us with change. He stands by the steps to the train inviting us to board. He asks for our trust, probably because we would not be ready for the answer yet. But to get there, we have to get on the train without knowing which direction we're going. It is one of the most courageous things we do. Yet somehow I believe it is always worth it in the end. When God himself is the conductor, what else could it be? He respects us. He loves us. He knows exactly how to help us get where we need to go. The train of change is a good place to be.

I love the meaning in this song.

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