Imagine a river. A powerful river… I mean POWERFUL… Like the Yenisey, the Mississippi, the Brahmaputra, or the Yangtze sort of powerful. These rivers are thousands of miles long and discharge millions of gallons of water into various oceans per second. The energy they produce through hydroelectric power is up to 800 times more powerful than the energy generated from the wind.
Now, what happens when such a river overflows its banks?
I’ll tell you. The water rushes out, losing speed, direction, and purpose, resulting in destruction, loss, and finally, a muddy (often tragic) mess. (In 1887, when the Yellow River overflowed its banks, approximately 2,000,000 people died.)
Lesson: It is important for a river to have strong banks.
You are just as powerful as any of those rivers I listed above.
And your banks are your boundaries.
The stronger your boundaries, the more force you have, the faster you race towards your goal. The weaker your boundaries, the easier it will be for you to reach capacity and spill over the edge, lose speed, direction, and purpose, and wreak havoc on those around you and what you have spent years building.
So, how do we shore up our banks? How do we protect and direct our force so it reaches the target? How do we prevent our water from spilling over and cause waste and destruction?
Over the past few months, I’ve had to learn to shore up my banks drastically. Rising waters led to a couple of devastating floods that I don’t want repeated, God willing, ever. So in the process of rebuilding my boundaries, here is what I learned:
Save your energy for what matters. (Mind-numbing media and news-streams, I’m looking at you!) The fastest way to break down your banks is to allow yourself to be distracted and redirected towards worthless things that have nothing to do with you or things that don’t help you grow as a person.
Stay focused on the goal. If a new prospect or idea waves at you from the sidelines that will pull you away from where you should be going (no matter how attractive that idea might be), ignore it, and press on! Go with the flow God has given you, not a flow someone else wants to give you. There is only one flow that matters, and that is His.
Saying “no” with kindness and politeness doesn’t offend anyone. Most people are very understanding and are willing to wait until you have the capacity to do whatever it is they need you to do. If they can’t wait, there is someone else who can help them. Shoring up your banks is more important than adding another event, meeting, or what-have-you. Believe me when I say you can’t do everything. You can’t. You can only do what God has given you to do. Everything else is extra and (I’m stating the obvious) not from God. (If you’re not sure what God has asked you to do, ask Him to show you. If you aren’t hearing anything, go back to the last thing He told you to do, and do that.)
This one is pretty basic: get adequate rest and sleep. Nothing breaks down your banks like tiredness and bad nutrition and a lack of fresh air and exercise.
Finally, and this is the main one, do not, I repeat, do NOT, lose your connection with your source, i.e, the Holy Spirit.
Now, when the rain comes, you will rise to the occasion, but you will not overflow. Your waters will stay clear and clean. The communities you touch will remain on your shores, undamaged, benefiting from your strength. You will move forward, with strength and dignity.
The crazy thing is, when you strengthen your boundaries, you increase your capacity for more. (That’s right: saying “no” to the wrong thing means you have room to say “yes” to the right thing.) But that is a lesson for another time.
For now, let me encourage you to take this time and shore up banks before the next storm surge. You are the only one with the ability to set and strengthen your boundaries. Only you have the ability to decide if you will stay on your course to reach your goal, or if you will overflow into the mud. Be the river whose streams make glad the City of God.
He is in the midst of her, and she will not be moved. He will help her when the morning dawns.
Dorris squinted into the pigeon loft, a special coop for the drafted birds of the U.S. Army stationed in Townsville, Australia. “So, they are just like regular pigeons?”
“Regular pigeons!” Frank was horrified. “I mean, these girls are the athletes of the sky! Specially bred and trained.” He reached in and pulled out a gentle sleek bird. “Look how muscular she is and well-proportioned. Sure, she may come from the same family, the Columba livia or Rock Dove, as those pathetic run-of-the-mill pigeons down at the fountain, but they are altogether a better bird. These will live for twenty years. Those other birds might last three or four. It’s all in the breeding, see?”
“They look the same,” Dorris challenged.
“Well, they aren’t.” He put the bird back, and we stood aside as he came out of the loft. “I’ve been studying.”
“I can imagine.” She looked at him squarely. “They don’t seem to mind when you hold them.”
“Pigeons like people. They are actually pretty social.”
Edie adjusted her straw hat and slipped her arm around Grace’s waist, as though she was afraid the girl would bolt at any moment. “And to think, they mate for life!”
“They do. Not like some people.” Frank’s expression was emotionless.
Peter and I peered into the loft. It was not terribly large, not much bigger than a garden shed. But it was large enough for the fifty birds in the program.
“So, how do you get them to race?” Peter cleared his throat.
“It’s pretty simple. These birds have been here since they were six weeks old. They’ve been trained together, and it’s in their genes to come back to their home. They have an amazing sense of direction. We take them somewhere, release them, and they fly home.”
“How do you tell them apart?” Paul asked. Much to Frank’s disappointment, Paul had gotten yet another afternoon off.
“They wear a little rubber ring with a number on it. Whichever one makes it back first wins. We also time each of the birds so we know which ones are the strongest, fastest fliers.”
“This should to be interesting.” Dorris elbowed Grace playfully. Grace tried to look interested, but she was obviously distracted.
Frank checked his watch. “We ought to be going. How about you all go get in the jeep with Horatio? Peter, Piper and I will follow with the birds. We’ll all meet up at the base on the top of Castle Rock.”
* * *
The drive up Castle Rock, the enormous pink granite mountain rising out of the earth in the center of town, was breathtaking. Surrounded by eight cooing pigeons in their cages, Peter couldn’t help but laugh. “Well, this certainly beats walking.”
“I thought you wanted to hike up this monolith,” I protested, remembering his words upon first laying his eyes on the mountain.
“I take it back.” Peter looked down over the edge of the mountain.
As we wound our way up the steep switchbacks, Frank switched on the radio. Immediately, a newscaster with a heavy Australian accent broke into the gentle birds’ songs.
“One week ago on December 16, 1944, German forces launched a massive offensive campaign through the Ardennes region of Belgium, France, and Luxembourg. They have completely encircled and destroyed four Allied armies, and there are rumors that the Allies are willing to negotiate a peace treaty favoring the Axis.”
Peter and I shared a pained look.
“American forces have suffered more than others, and the casualty list is higher than any other operation during the war. Between 63,000 and 98,000 men are killed, missing, wounded in action, or captured.”20
“How can they know?” I exclaimed. “I mean, so soon! It’s only been a week!”
Frank slammed his hand on the steering wheel, barely containing his rage.
“We’ll counter-attack,” Peter said firmly. “We will. You mark my words. We will. We are Americans.”
The radio announcer continued, “Disagreements between the Allied forces have caused delays in a clear response. German Panzer units…”
Frank shut off the radio, and we drove up the rest of the mountain in silence.
We did not speak of the news as we prepared the small flock of birds for the race. But by the looks on Edie, Horatio, Grace, Lorelei, and Katrine’s faces, they too had listened to the radio on the drive over. I wanted to scream and cry. I wanted it all to end. I was infinitely finished with death. How could it go on and on? It was absurd. And the absurdity of it all was frustratingly infuriating.
One by one, we released the graceful birds off the granite rock at a set time and watched them soar back to their coop, where another birdkeeper waited to catch them and clock their arrivals. But the excitement of the race was lost.
It was Edie who was humming under her breath, “His eye is on the sparrow.” I knew she was thinking of all our boys in the Ardennes forest, and she was reminding herself that God saw them, just as he saw our pigeons soaring over the Townsville skyline in a magnificent sunset.
“Well,” Frank said, rubbing his hands together, “that’s it. The show’s over.”
Dorris tried to smile. “Maybe we could all go to dinner? I know a great place right on the water. It’s called Longboards. They make a great hamburger.”
“That sounds good to me.” Peter nodded.
“I could go for a hamburger,” Lorelei agreed.
“Nothing like a riveting pigeon race to wake up the metabolism.” Edie took Horatio’s hand. “Don’t you think, so dear.”
Paul paused and took Lorelei’s hand and whispered quietly as the group made their way back to the car, “I have the night off, Lorelei. I was wondering… Maybe I could take you out. You know, something nicer than a hamburger.”
Horatio, just ahead of them and accidentally overhearing, stopped dead in his tracks. “What’s this?” He turned on his heel and looked up at Paul. “You are asking Lorelei out… to dinner?”
Paul smiled innocently and shrugged nonchalantly.
“But you haven’t asked my permission,” he stated bluntly, rolling his brogue ‘r’s’ especially long as he stared menacingly at Paul.
Lorelei stepped in. “Horatio, I don’t think it’s necessary. Really—”
He put his hand out and stopped her. “Lorelei, you are my pseudo-adopted daughter. If a man wants to ask you out, he must go through me.”
“Sir,” Paul looked at Lorelei, “Lorelei is 28 years old. And just between us, we’ve been going out for quite some time now.”
“Is that true?” Horatio’s eyes widened in shock.
Edie rolled her eyes. “Where have you been for the last two months?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Fighting a war. Kicking the Japanese back to where they came from? And apparently, this young man’s been gallivanting about in the bush with my daughter!”
“Oh my.” Edie fanned herself and smiled. “I had no idea you were such a protective father, Horatio! I like this side of you!”
Horatio shrugged to Edie. “Just practicing for the young ones.” Then, back in character, he continued to Paul, nearly shouting, “I think I deserve an apology, young man.”
“I’m sorry?” Paul had no idea what he was apologizing for.
“And…” Horatio waved his hand for Paul to continue.
“And…?” Paul looked at Lorelei for a clue. She looked nervous.
“And dinner is a lot more serious than coffee,” Horatio hinted.
“May I have your permission,” Paul said solemnly, “to take your sort-of daughter to dinner?”
“I’m not sure.”
Edie slapped his arm. “Horatio!”
Horatio frowned. “Oh, Edie, I’m just teasing the young lad. Well, I already know you’re an upstanding citizen and a true Christian. I can’t think of any reason off the top of my head to say no.” He looked at Lorelei. “Unless you don’t want to go.”
“I want to go.” She smiled up at Paul.
Horatio waited, enjoying the moment. “Have a lovely time, dear.”
“I’m planning on it.”
Paul offered his arm to Lorelei. She nodded, and arm in arm they began descending the switchbacks down the mountain.
Watching them, Edie exclaimed, “My my my, that young man reminds me of Horatio when he was young. He could be your twin! It reminds me of our old courting days, doesn’t it you, darling?”
Horatio nodded in agreement. “I definitely see the resemblance.”
“Don’t you think so dear?” Edie called to me.
“That Paul looks like Horatio!”
I looked at Paul’s back. Well… if Uncle Horatio was a foot taller, clean-shaven, had more hair and a tan, and a stronger jawline… there might be a resemblance, I thought.
“So,” Dorris clapped her hands together, “how about that hamburger?”
“You all go ahead,” Katrine said. “I’m not very hungry. I’ll meet you at home. I’d like a walk myself. I need some time to think.”
* * *
Though the weather made it feel nowhere close to the holidays, Christmas was just around the corner. And despite the heat, I woke up early the next morning with a subtle desire for the familiar of Christmas’s past. I could make my mother’s Linzer cookies with spiced jam. She always made them this time of year. The problem was, I couldn’t remember how many cloves she used. Or maybe, Katrine and I could make an almond-filled stolen. That was always a crowd favorite.
I glanced at my watch. It was 6:30 in the morning. Coffee cup in hand, I was ready for a pleasant moment of quiet spent reading my pocket Bible in the living room. But my pocket Bible was nowhere to be found.
“Where is it?” I huffed under my breath, glancing around the room. I was sure I had left it there the morning before. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the menorah we’d made of tinfoil and wooden beads. Hanukkah this year fell right over Christmas, and we had, of course, gone to great trouble to honor both holidays in our house. But it was difficult to feel celebratory. All our thoughts and prayers were directed towards our boys on the other side of the world.
“There it is,” I thought relieved. It sat beside the menorah and underneath a stack of books and papers scattered on the desk.
As I moved to push the clutter aside, the writing on a page from the open notebook covering the Bible caught my eye.
Who is this Jesus?
“What’s this?” I whispered to myself, picking up the page and scanning it.
It was Katrine’s writing.
Findings: Obviously, there is archeological evidence for the existence of a Jewish rabbi named Yeshua who was born in the first century… The eyewitness accounts, the sources outside of Christian scriptures… there is no doubt that Yeshua existed. The question at hand: Who was he, and why is he so important? And why do Lorelei and Piper feel so strongly about him the way that they do?
My heart started beating in my chest. Katrine had taken my challenge! And she was doing it the only way she knew how, through research. There must have been 20 library books stacked beside the desk on the floor. The notes on the page were detailed, her handwriting small and even. I assumed she had been up half the night. Carefully, I continued to read.
The Gospels are clear that Jesus was convinced he was the son of God. But did he match Messianic prophecy?
Below that, on one side, she had begun a numbered list.
1. A descendant of Abraham? (Genesis 12:1-3)
2. The tribe of Judah? (Genesis 49:10)
3. The House of David? (2 Samuel 7:12-16)
4. Born in Bethlehem? (Micah 5:2)
5. Carried to Egypt? (Hosea 11:1)
6. Born of a Virgin? (Isaiah 7:14)
The list went on and on for several more pages. At the bottom of the list, she had written in a hand that was not as firm or as straight as before, the last lines underlined:
The first Christians were Jews… Yeshua, Jesus, did not come to start a new religion.
I felt nervous, as though I had stumbled onto something not meant for my eyes. The books, the papers. I could feel her internal struggle, her mind’s restless wandering to find the truth. She would never find it on her own. But I knew God’s promise, “Seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be open to you.”19
Silently, I extricated my Bible and sat down behind the desk, still looking at Katrine’s research, praying God would lead Katrine on her journey. If Katrine was looking, she would find him. If she was knocking, he would open the door. As I prayed, my thoughts turned to the day ahead.
My notebook full of notes from the soldiers waited to be edited and expanded and cajoled into some sort of cohesive whole. The task seemed daunting, and I geared up for a morning of frustration. The pain of losing my camera and film still stung. No suitable replacement had been found and I was resigned to do without until we returned home. Where that was and when that would be was up for grabs.
And then, there was the Christmas shopping to be done. I had been assigned Grace via my aunt’s Secret Santa plan. That would, possibly, take even more work than my attempt to become a journalist.
Grace was not the easiest of my cousins to shop for. In the past, she had always been fashionable, more so than I. But now (for the most part) the new Grace stuck to trousers or shorts and blouses rolled up to the elbow. All frill and fun was gone, replaced with a sort of strict, militaristic harshness. I thought of perfume or maybe a new lipstick. But that sort of thing was so personal. A woman needed to pick out her own lipstick. Nylons were too expensive. Edie suggested a book, but Grace wasn’t much of a reader.
However, it was in the bookstore I found it—a beautiful leather journal. It was not dissimilar from the journal my mother had given me long ago when I’d first arrived at Edie’s lighthouse the summer of ‘39. The paper felt handmade. I purchased it and a box of brand-new colored pencils. The pages, unlined, were perfect for writing or sketching. She had so much locked up inside of her… If she couldn’t share with me or her sisters, maybe she could share within the safety of a blank page.
“What do you think?” I asked, holding it up for Lorelei, who was staring off into space.
“What did you say?” The fog cleared, and she looked at me.
“What do you think? For Grace?” I tilted the journal to the side.
“I have no idea what Grace would like these days.” Absentmindedly, she backed into a stack of books on a table. They crashed to the floor and, startled, she knelt down to pick them up.
“Here,” I set the journal down, “let me help you.”
She smiled and one by one; we re-stacked the books.
“What’s going on, Lorelei? You’ve been acting awfully funny all morning. Did the date last night go badly?”
She shook her head, an indiscernible expression on her face. “Not badly…”
She put another book on the stack and whispered, “Oh, Piper, he asked me to marry him.”
“He didn’t!” I exclaimed.
Loudly, she shushed me and motioned for me to come closer. “Keep your voice down, please!”
I leaned in, whispering, “What did you say?”
“I couldn’t answer him. I… I didn’t know what to say!”
She nodded. “I’m just not sure yet! Piper, this is not just something you rush into! You knew Peter for years before you married him! You knew his family, his friends. . . his life. Paul is still a mystery to me. Everything about him and his life is foreign and strange. I feel I barely know him! And he barely knows me!”
“Marriage is always a risk, Lorelei, and you can never fully know a person enough to safeguard against that risk. It takes time. The more you talk, the more you will learn about each other,” I offered.
She nodded. “We do talk, just not about the things I think we should talk about—like the war or my family or, oh, I don’t know. He doesn’t ask the right questions… Sometimes it seems like he doesn’t want to. It makes me nervous.”
“Sometimes you have to help people out. If there are things about you that you think Paul needs to know, you need to just tell him.”
She raised one eyebrow. “I need him to ask, Piper. I need him to know to ask on his own. What if everything in my life, all these hard years, is too much for him to handle? If that’s true, how could we be together if he doesn’t want all of me?”
I shook my head. I knew from experience that you could never expect men to know what you were thinking, even if it seemed obvious.
“But surely, you understand what I am feeling, Piper? I can’t say yes now, not without knowing if it’s the right thing.”
At that moment, Edie bounded around the corner. “All right, ladies! Tempus fugit! We’ve still four more shops to hit before closing time.”
Lorelei looked at me, silently pleading for me to keep what she’d just told me in confidence. She walked around in a daze behind Edie and me the rest of the afternoon. Later, once we made it home and began stringing popcorn, listening to Christmas music, frying up donuts, and trying our best to act festive, Lorelei sat with her bowl of popcorn and string, barely moving, not saying a word.
* * *
“How absolutely international we are,” Edie said, munching on her donut. “Christmas and Hanukkah together.”
“It’s not a bad fit really,” Katrine said thoughtfully, “Yeshua celebrated Hanukkah, and we are celebrating his birthday, even if he might not have been born on Christmas…”
I looked at Katrine surprised.
To my astonishment, she continued sharing her recent research in her usual confident, ‘teacherly’ fashion. “You know,” she said, “Jesus wasn’t a Christian at all. He was a good Jew. I never realized that.” Her tone was serious.
Grace, not hearing what Katrine had said, began a list of complaints. “No dreidel, no latkes, no cheesecake. It doesn’t feel like Hanukkah at all. And these donuts are oily.”
“Don’t disparage the donuts.” Horatio poured another mug of eggnog. “They may be a little ‘oily,’ but the jelly in the middle is excellent. Eight nights of donuts,” Horatio patted his stomach, “on top of whatever is coming on Christmas Eve tomorrow at the party and Christmas and New Year’s. The children won’t recognize us when we get back home, darling Edie!”
“More than likely we won’t recognize them.” Edie frowned. “Imagine how much they’ve grown, dear.” Her face fell. “The presents we sent them won’t make it in time most likely.”
“Happy thoughts, love, only happy thoughts.” Horatio brought her a mug filled to the brim with eggnog.
Lorelei smiled and said softly, “Eating oil-based foods is one way we remember what God did on the first Hanukkah after the Maccabees rebelled against the Seleucid Empire. Once they got the temple back and purified it, they needed pure olive oil for the lamps. But they couldn’t find any, except for one bowl that was sealed with the signet ring of the High Priest, all the way from the days of Samuel. That’s how they knew it was pure. There was only enough oil for one day, but God made it last eight whole days, long enough to find other pure oil for the lamps.” She took another donut.
“Only the Jews could think of such a way to remember.” Frank smiled, “My mother made great donuts.”
“Our boys need that same oil in the Ardennes right now if they will survive the Germans, much less defeat them. If things keep going the way they are…” Peter trailed off. The Nazis, as usual, were proving a formidable enemy. He looked up. “Well, all I can say is we need a miracle.”
“A Hanukkah miracle.” Lorelei picked up the popcorn garland and began to wrap it around the small potted palm tree that was standing in for a Douglas fir.
“A Christmas miracle.” Edie nodded.
“God doesn’t perform miracles anymore.” Grace stood up. “If you want something done, do it yourself.”
“That a girl.” Frank winked at her from across the room where he sat at a small card table playing solitaire. “My sentiments exactly.”
My heart dropped, but no words came to mind to refute their doubts. But I knew. I knew. God was performing miracles every day, all around us. Miracles had marked every stage of our journey; the boys’ survival of the storm in the Malahini, Paul’s rescue, the submarine pickup, catching Ansel Thornton, being together now, the list went on and on in my mind. Grace and Frank just couldn’t see them or didn’t want to.
When I was a newlywed, I could make a boxed cake, and a dinner salad, and could set a mean table. That was it.
When we got back to our condo from our Hawaiian honeymoon, Lawrence taught me to cook eggs. His mom helped me kick it up a notch with gifts and tutorials from cookbooks.
My heart longed to host—but the anxiety it produced was a real hindrance to joy in our home. So much so, that at one point Lawrence looked at me and said “I don’t want to have guests over anymore if you get this nervous, its not worth it. Its too hard.”
I didn’t blame my new husband for not wanting anyone to come over. As long as I was cooking, and as long as it was just for me and him, I was fine. However, as soon as you threw another person in the mix, I turned into another person.
That said, I knew God had called us to community in our home. The Bible commands us to open our homes in hospitably which I write about in Creating a Sanctuary; Hosting with Peace.
Needless to say, the Lord helped me let go of control. Cooking dinner became a natural, “good-enough” (not perfect) event at the end of each day.
But I still had room for growth. When my kids grew older the opportunity for conflict grew as well. All of a sudden they were wanting to ‘get in there and create.’ That meant messes. That meant doing what they had in their minds, not what was in my mind. I had a choice. I could set strict boundaries and control the environment, or, I could let them explore and learn in the kitchen.
“If you will let them go and enjoy creating in the kitchen, it will bless you and bless them,” The Holy Spirit whispered.
I let go.
It blessed me.
It blessed them.
Today, all grown up, the girls have catered weddings and retreats. Larry and I are pampered with personal chefs when they are around. I barely have any work to do at all, unless I want to.
And they have fun. There is peace between them when they cook, not because they are naturally non-confrontational (my girls have no problem voicing their opinions!), but because they have practiced working together for so many years. At this point, they instinctively know how to manage their emotions in the kitchen process, and not create a zone of control and tension. They are way ahead of the game compared to where I was when I was their age.
Ultimately, letting go of being a controller of your kitchen paves the way for peace in your home. Your guests will instinctively know that your home is a stress free zone. That their presence did not make waves or inconvenience you in any way. The freedom for everyone to participate in the meal and the fun of working together creates bonds of friendship and family, and while the meal may not be perfect, it will undoubtedly taste much better and be healthier because it was made in an atmosphere of love and acceptance. These things matter.
Looking back, if I had let the enemy set the tone for the atmosphere of my kitchen, it would have remained my kitchen unto myself, by myself.
I would have had the kitchen in my control, but would have lost all this beautiful wonderful connection to my children and others. It would have become a pretty lonely place, instead of the hub of the home, the place where secrets are shared and burdens lifted while dressing a salad or kneeling bread.
To create a place of refuge at the end of the day, make your kitchen a nourishing space physically, a rejuvenating space spiritually, and a memorable space emotionally. This will create a sanctuary, even while you’re cooking dinner.
“Well, it may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”
A small Los Angeles firm hired me in 1990 after I passed the California Bar Exam. With a growing family to support, I was eager to prove myself, succeed, and generate enough income to buy a house and the stuff of life accompanying it. The firm’s three partners were a good twenty years ahead of me in terms of career and family, each grounded in the Christian faith. I appreciate how extraordinary it was to have these men mentor me looking back after three decades.
They paid me a low salary compared to what I would have earned from the large national firm offered me coming out of law school. But they incentivized me by paying production-based bonuses. The more revenue I generated the more I was paid. Two years into the practice, I was billing significant hours, settling contingency fee cases and developing my own clients. The reward? A generous car allowance, multiple raises, big bonuses, a firm loan for a down payment on our first home, and partnership in three years.
I worked longer and later hours, sometimes spending Saturday at the office, and discovered the law of diminishing returns. My productivity dropped like a rock falling off a cliff after working fifty plus hours a week. I turned counter-productive, losing creativity and the peace of mind to plan and strategize.
The effect on my wife and kids was the worst part. When I’d get home late, long after my wife and kids finished dinner, the house felt empty. It was difficult to reintegrate into family life and I went days and days spending no meaningful time with them.
But God had mercy on me by having the senior guys keep their eyes on me.
One afternoon, two of them cornered me in my office, shut the door and laid down the expectation. “Don’t hang around late because you think you’re impressing anyone. You’re not. This is not a sprint. It’s a marathon. There are exceptions, but we expect you to finish your work, organize for the next day and go home and take care of your family.”
I took their advice to heart.
I had friends who worked in large firms who lived at the other end of the spectrum, billing 2,200 to 2,500 hours a year. Late nights and weekends in the office. Extensive travel. Something gives. There’s always a cost. A marriage. Relationships with kids. Health….
Jesus taught, For your heart will always pursue what you value as your treasure. The eyes of your spirit allow revelation-light to enter your being. If your heart is unclouded, the light floods in. But if your eyes are focused on money, the light cannot penetrate and darkness takes its place. How profound will be the darkness within you if the light of truth cannot enter! (Matthew 6:21-24, The Passion Translation)
Do me a favor. Get alone, somewhere you can think and pray. Spend a moment and ask yourself: Are money, power, and reputation my core motivators? Ask your wife, a trusted friend the same. If the answer is yes, your direction and motivation oppose the momentum of the Kingdom of God. Worse, you are practicing idolatry and engaged in syncretism. “How can you worship two gods at the same time? Hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You can’t worship the true God while enslaved to the god of money!” (Matthew 25:23, NKJ)
Success and personal achievement can be marvelous blessings, the sign of God’s favor, and the fruit of hard work and integrity. But unless the love of Christ compels our performance, work is idolatry. I strive to work at the Lord’s pleasure. I want one thing. I want to hear Him say, Well done good and faithful servant, you were faithful over a few things…(Matthew 8:36, The Passion Translation). I am not always successful, but I am improving year by year.
If you are not driven by a single-minded, wholehearted devotion to serving God at work, it’s time to change direction and repent. Ask God to forgive you for letting him slip into second or third place. Dump the idols of selfish ambition, greed, and pride on the cross and leave them there. Confess to a trusted friend or pastor and ask them to hold you accountable. Reorder your priorities and realign your heart to the people and matters you know matter. You might need to set limits at work or recreational activities distracting you from time with God, family, and committed friends. You might have to change your job or career. For what use is it to gain all the wealth and power of this world…at the cost of your own life?
I’ve spent years struggling in the gray zone, living with mixed motives, my attention away from God, my wife and kids. We suffered. But the Lord gave me grace to repent and make things right. Not an easy process, but worth it in eternity.
May the WORDS of my mouth and the THOUGHTS of my heart BE PLEASING to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
EVERY SINGLE WORD coming out of this mouth? My mouth. Wow.
I am on a quest to make every word count for good. That means I am going to need to speak a lot less. If every word I speak and every single thought I think is going to please the Lord, it’s going to take some effort on my part.
It means in those hard moments…. I will need to take a moment to be quiet and NOT speak, rather than just blurt out what comes into my mind. It will mean I will need to take a few seconds before responding to ask the Lord for help with WHAT WORDS should be spoken and at WHAT TIME.
“Joy comes to a man with the reply of his mouth. How good is a word at the right time!”
The wise words, the kind words, the patient and thoughtful words… The words that do not break, but build, that are not hard, but tender, that are not mean, but kind. The words that restore moments, rather than destroy them.
Words begin with our thoughts. It is no surprise that the psalmist cried out for his thoughts to please God, too. What goes on inside always makes its way out somehow.
We have thousands of thoughts throughout the day and all of them are to please the Lord! Another WOW!
I believe that we can change the course of our lives by agreeing to think the thoughts the Lord desires. This leaves very little room for thoughts of disgust, criticism, anger, jealousy, judgment, self pity, etc.
Today, my husband Lawrence and I were having our morning coffee in bed as we do devo’s and worship before getting on with our day, and we were talking about allowing the Lord to surround our thoughts with His love! Our thoughts are important to the Lord. They can lead to goodness or they can bring separation and death. So today I choose to capture my thoughts and ask our wonderful Lord to lead my thoughts to Him in EVERY SINGLE situation. There is NO ROOM for ugly secret thoughts. Time is short. We only have a few years on this earth… We should spend them thinking thoughts permeated in the spirit and truth. From such thoughts come wise words that produce life.
I’m not there yet… but I am getting better. Love does transform hearts, thoughts, and words.
LOVE is a crazy, beautiful, powerful, gift from God our Father. He IS LOVE, and it is His desire we love well, everyone around us, with our thoughts and words! This may mean listening more and speaking less and discipling our minds to think the very best!
How else will we as believers in Yeshua make a real impact on the world we live in today?
We are called to watch what we think and say and be people who others can depend on to not act like the world. Let’s get out there and get loving with our words and with our thoughts! With His help, you can do it, and so can I!
The last few weeks have been extra trying for us here in the US. I have found myself meditating more on the scripture than usual. I have found myself calling out to the Lord to make my heart softer. Larger. Kinder. More alert. More engaged. More sensitive to others. Less distracted. Less foggy. I have asked for tender understanding of my fellow man and a deeper relationship with Jesus.
The tragic, avoidable violence and loss of innocent life all over our country has placed us in a season of mourning. We live in times when sin is no longer sin. God’s blessings that He has richly poured out on us as a nation have served to steer us away from God rather than draw us to Him in thankfulness and praise. We have forgotten who we are and where we came from. We have lost our compass. In response, I want to be humble and pray for forgiveness. I love this land and her people. This is a precious land to our Father. He loves when we go low and repent so He can bring healing.
I must repent for not speaking up. For not noticing the enemy sliding in through the back door. For contributing knowingly or unknowingly to my nation’s turning away from God. I must repent for not loving God or others as I should. The tough love that corrects, the gentle love that comforts, and the untiring love that stays when everyone else leaves.
“And I prayed to the LORD my God, and made confession, and said, “O Lord, great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and mercy with those who love Him, and with those who keep His commandments, we have sinned and committed iniquity, we have done wickedly and rebelled, even by departing from Your precepts and Your judgments. Neither have we heeded Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings and our princes, to our fathers and all the people of the land.” (Daniel 9:4-6)
If the last few years have revealed anything, they have revealed a need for collective repentance, a need for deeper understanding and courage to walk in God’s ways, and a serious need that we are filled with His love for others as never before. More love for Jesus, and more love for others.
When times of trouble and stress come, a natural human response is to shrink back. Instead, as believers, we have the opportunity to grow and “take up space,” to speak up, to love the unlovable, to demonstrate our value for human life, freedom of religion, and the freedom to raise our children as we see fit in safe, healthy, nurturing, Christ-like environments.
Don’t shrink back, mamas! Grow, grow, grow, through repentance, through active love, and through courage. Ask the Holy Spirit for His special “miracle-love-grow” to give you the energy and wisdom to run the race He is asking you to run. He is never empty. Jesus runs on full. HIs kingdom is always increasing, even in times of darkness like our present time. He has plenty to pour out. He is the life giver.
Lead us our dear, precious Lord through the hard times to love You and know You and walk with You so close that we are running on FULL to pour out love on others.
Jesus is truly powerful to heal and love you so much that you can’t help but love others in a way that transforms lives, families, communities, and ultimately, nations. See if there is any wicked way in you, then repent. Confess your sin to the Lord, turn away from the negative pattern or behavior, and welcome His presence to heal you and align you with His Word and His plan.
He is so sweet to forgive. He is the good shepherd. He cares for his sheep. He LOVES his sheep. We are the sheep.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin. (Psalm 32:5)
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:16)
When I was in the brink of growing up, and since, I thought ‘well, that’s that’. I had read all the staples of a girl’s childhood, classic and contemporary. Juvenile favourites had been fondly slid back onto a shelf, grown out of but not forgotten, beloved, but with that bittersweet smile that this was an end. I had exhausted all the books I could love like that, books by contemporary authors no longer having that power to speak right to me and touch that part of my heart for the first time again—just the gilded path of classics now.
By the end of Chapter Five, I was smiling so wide it hurt, absolutely delighted in the purest and strongest sense of the word. And throughout the rest of the book, when I wasn’t laughing, I was tearing up or crying in several scenes. You know why? Because your story is alive, real in a way I have not come across in so long.
Piper, Edie, Peter, Horatio… the crew, Piper’s parents, Fredrick… Harry, Katrin, Lorelei, and Grace…even smaller but no less important characters like Rolf and Gertie. They were real people to me–characters you made me care about intently. There was no need to spoon-feed emotions like in so many recent writings, sighing softly in happiness or holding one’s breath just came naturally. As I listened, I was among the world you spun with your pen as it came to life with the narration.
Your book inspired me to hope more, trust more, and live life even brighter than before. Genuine, real, and insightful, you touched my heart again and again.
Voyage of the Sandpiper is a voyage of a book. It was a lovingly-crafted, sails-to-the-wind journey over uncharted waters.Watching Piper grow from an unsure, out-of-depth young girl with one foot in the water, to a bold young woman learning to sail the storms of life was an adventure I cherished. Edie’s own ‘growing-up’and setting sail, well, all of the characters paths, decisions and dynamics. (I was memorising quotes from our first session!)
I feel proud to have been a part of this eccentric, loving family…at least for a little while. I can’t wait to peak into more of their lives.
Sometimes I felt certain lines in the book were spoken straight to me: words I didn’t know I needed to hear, and those C.S. Lewis moments of, “What, you too? I thought no one but myself…“
We need more kindred-spirit books in this world. Books you want to quote to yourself and friends. Books that highlight family (and sister!) relationships. Books that inspire and nourish, both creatively and spiritually. I cannot thank you enough for this story. As a writer I know what it can be like to uncover special words for the eyes of the rest of the world, and so please know, that this story you gave wings has flown right into my heart, and will nestle in many others to come. (And also, from a writer’s point of view, you inspire me in the brave, genuine, real love in your writing.)
When I finished I was speechless, not in lack of words but because I had so many. I cannot pack all your story meant to me in a single email all my favourite scenes and lines, but I can wrap it up in that classic, ever-used but ever-genuine
I love it.
I will rein myself back now and tell of the audio. Can I say, the narrator’s voice and style just grew on me more with every listening! Without ‘too much salt’, the narrator brings Voyage to life, in an exciting audio that’s both engaging and colourful. Malana and I both thought Ellie did an amazing job, with such a wide grasp of accents and ages and a perfect Piper. Also, as a side note, she read theYiddish dialogue so well it sounded natural to my inexperienced ears!
It was a real blessing from God to be able to dive into the world my mother and sister had known and loved first, before my vision even allowed me to yet read it myself.
In 2007, I was one of the Westmont College students trapped in the Murchinson Gymn for 15 hours while firefighters lined the perimeter of the building and the roof with hoses while a savage wildfire swept through our campus.
The fire came so quickly, there was no time to evacuate the campus nestled in the foothills behind Montecito. We could feel its heat from inside the gym. All the girls had to use the men’s locker room because the trees over the women’s restroom were on fire.
We faced death that long night, and when we emerged, the smoke lingered in our skin and hair and nails for weeks.
As the years went on, the fires kept coming. The Gaza War and Operation Pillar of Defense in Grad School in Israel. My father’s triple by-pass and battle with sepsis.
Relationships that didn’t happen. Relationships that did.
And then came 2018. The ultimate trial. In the blink of an eye, the State of California was set ablaze.
The Thomas Fire.
The Carr Fire with its fire-nados, those twisting, terrifying, flame throwing whirlwinds.
The Camp Fire wiped out an entire town.
The Woolsey Fire.
The list goes on and on. It was the deadliest, most destructive wildfire season on record. We self-evacuated three times and watched as our friends and loved ones lost homes and property.
By the time it all ended, I felt like a National Emergency had been called in my soul, not just my state. Nothing felt right. I felt as charred and devastated as the land I love.
Going through the fire is hard. But unlike Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, instead of a quick visit to the fiery furnace, I had moved in. And the fire kept getting hotter, and hotter.
As the heat grew in intensity, doubtful whispers plagued my mind.
Will you still love Me? Will you still trust Me?
There was a lot I had brought with me that was burning up. Misplaced hopes and dreams… ideas about the way my life should look by now… unmet expectations… props I used to make myself feel secure… one by one, up in smoke.
All I had left was Yeshua and myself stripped bare, illuminated in the glow of the flames. Would I make it through? Would I keep the faith? Would I trust him and believe he was right there with me? Would I come out stronger? Would I come out at all?
Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine. When Jesus wraps this all up, it’s your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of his victory.
You never saw him, yet you love him. You still don’t see him, yet you trust him – with laughter and singing.
Because you kept on believing, you’ll get what you’re looking forward to: total salvation.
The prophets who told us this was coming asked a lot of questions about this gift of life God was preparing.
The Messiah’s Spirit let them in on some of it – that the Messiah would experience suffering, followed by glory. They clamored to know who and when.
All they were told was that they were serving you, you who by orders from heaven have now heard for yourselves – through the Holy Spirit – the Message of those prophecies fulfilled. Do you realize how fortunate you are? Angels would have given anything to be in on this!
So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives.
1 Peter 1:7-17 (The Message)
There is a scene in the pilot episode of Little House on the Prairie where a wildfire threatens to burn up the Ingles rough cabin and everything they’ve spent the last year building on the Minnesota Plains. Mary, Laura, and Carrie hide in the cabin while Ma and Pa do everything in their power to put out the flames sweeping up the prairie. They reach the breaking point, that moment where it is obvious their efforts are futile.
What are two people in the face of a raging brush fire? Nothing.
Nothing without God, that is. Caroline Ingles screams knowing the end is near, and then, there is a crack of thunder. A raindrop. Two. A shower. The heavens open and God is merciful. The Ingles are spared.
What’s more, they are stronger than ever.
I saw this scene a couple of days ago. I cried. They made it, but by the grace of God alone–And I made the conclusion that a pioneer only ever makes it by the grace of God alone.
I am pioneering, what exactly, remains to be seen. But I have set out to find a place to plant and to harvest, a place of safety and creativity, a home for new sounds and fresh words. That means I will face fires. By the grace of God, what I build will withstand them, and his rain will preserve what I’ve built that’s worth preserving.
The rain is coming. I smell it in the air, I imagine I feel the drops falling from the sky. I’m going through the fire, and God willing, I’m coming out gold.
Kind of old school… but Beckah’s song is for today. Enjoy.
There are many sounds that come from a home. Sounds of laughter and love. Sounds of joy and peace. Sounds of closeness and trust. Or, alternately, sounds of strife, anger, and hurt. Though you may not know it, you have the power to control what sort of music comes out of your house. And it is as simple as choosing whether to be thankful or not.
Sharp tones are softened by thankfulness. A thankful heart does not express meanness, criticism, or harshness.
A thankful heart sounds like peace, acceptance, love, and kindness.
Who wants to live in a home where the tone is peaceful, accepting, loving, and kind? Where you are not constantly attacked without warning.
I certainly do! And miraculously, living in such a home is 100% possible, if you cultivate a thankful heart.
Steps to thankfulness:
Mindfully trade criticism and quick comebacks for appreciation.
Refrain from nitpicking.
Remind yourself what you are thankful for daily.
Catch yourself when you start to get annoyed with your family and laugh it off. We all have habits that may grate on those we live with. Showing grace and generosity towards our weaknesses and quirks is an open door to enjoying life together.
Practice saying nice, encouraging words to everyone in your house, several times a day.
Don’t take over, fix, or impose your ideas of what’s right or how to do things. Let the people in your home be free to create and express themselves the way God made them. (I.e., don’t control others.)
Train your mind to be thankful above and beyond any other response.
Lawrence and I have had lots of practice breaking free from destructive patterns of complaining and criticising each other. Little jabs, judgemental looks, and know-it-all postures quickly erode trust and are a sure fire way of having a terrible home life.
We all are in our homes a lot more now. We are around each other a lot more than we have been used to in the past. If there was ever a time to change the tone of your home, this is it.
Don’t be afraid to stop the voice that is bringing everyone down. Take it seriously and communicate that criticism and complaining is no longer going to be acceptable at your home.
Take it from me, filtering your thoughts and words through LOVE will literally deepen your love and affection for your spouse or those you live with, and make the sounds coming out of your walls ones you want to listen to.
Mirislov Volf, the Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, wrote “Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans and myself from the community of sinners.”
Man, it’s hard to forgive. I had no grid for it, no impetus. Forgiveness made no sense. Forgiving someone in a position of trust who’d betrayed me over and over seemed unfair, even irrational!
The Prophet Micah tells me what God expects. Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly. And the Son of David teaches, firsthand, “For if you forgive others their sins, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
So, how to forgive? Really forgive? Volf pulls the curtain back, revealing a liberating true truth:
“The practice of nonviolence requires a belief in divine vengeance. When we know that the torturer will not eternally triumph over the victim, we are free to rediscover that person’s humanity and imitate God’s love for them.” Id.
For us that means to treat others (like everyone) fairly and with dignity, as members of the human community. It means I must never marginalize or exclude another human being because all of us are made in the image of God.
No, I must forgive, recognizing the truth that there is justice from a just God who will ultimately hold our abusers to account and exercise retribution.
My job is to help restore people to God and one another. My job is not to make them suffer for how they’ve hurt us.
Retributive vs. Restorative Justice
Under our Constitution, anyone accused of a crime has the right to due process, a right with its roots in our Judeo-Christian heritage. It is the right to a fair hearing before a neutral tribunal where the accused has an opportunity to be heard, to state his case and present evidence. Without due process we’d live subject to despotic kangaroo courts, punished for thought crimes and independent opinions; or destroy each other in an endless cycle of personal and violent retributive justice known euphemistically to lawyers as self-help remedies.
Left to our own devices, we can go to far extracting a pound of flesh. That’s why retributive justice, i.e., punishment for crimes, for exploiting the poor and vulnerable, should be in the hands of responsible governing authorities whose job is to keep us safe by deterring crime and punishing criminals.
And ultimately, God is the one who, and ultimately who will judge all and sentence us at the end of time. Heaven wrote payback and violent revenge out of our job descriptions. “Vengeance is mine, and retribution…” thus saith the Lord. Deut. 32:35. And Romans 12:19 Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”
So, what does the day-to-day justice God calls me to exercise look like? It is a restorative justice. Restorative justice actively seeks orphans, widows, the poor and oppressed aliens, the sick and imprisoned to bring relief and make things right. Restorative justice makes other people’s problems my own. When I bring isolated people into my home, give money to folks in need, visit and encourage prisoners, welcome and honor people from other countries, and bring healing to the sick, and fight for the human rights of the oppressed, I am walking out my God given call to restore justice to the world.
Restorative Justice: The Evidence of Faith
Though not salvation itself, restorative justice is the hard evidence that we are in Christ and our faith is alive. It is the prison minister, the Good Samaritan spending his time and money to save the life of the traveler, Mother Teresa, and the retirees who deliver meals-on-wheels to shut-ins. It is inconvenient. It is God’s work.
When this truth dawned on me as a young adult, I realized my parent’s frail humanity for the first time. My dad, a Depression kid, couldn’t stand against my mother’s wiles with origins in her own abusive upbringing. And in fits and starts, bits and pieces, with counselling and prayer, I started forgiving them. The process took years and they are long gone. But the three of us, by his grace, finished strongly with great mutual respect and love. The bonds we formed as healthier adults were far stronger than the damaged ones of my childhood.
James teaches us, “If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well… For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
Let’s get out there and do justice. Let’s make our neighbor’s problems our own. Let’s forgive our parents, siblings, spouses, betrayers and enemies. Let’s be generous and forgive and forgive again and again. Let’s do this recognizing that in Heaven, the folks we’ve forgiven and served will thank us, and that non-repentant bullies, torturers, murderers, racists, rapists and oppressors and their ilk will get their just desserts because God is just.
And vengeance is His.
Quote: Mirislov Volf, Exclusion and Embrace. A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996