Walk in the Light – 1 John 1:5-2:2

One of my earliest childhood memories took place on a sultry Rhode Island summer night. My parents had friends over and all of us, adults and children, had congregated in the backyard. Did we eat outside? Possibly, as I have seen pictures of al fresco meals on other occasions. But in this memory, the sun had set too long ago for pictures.

Trees bordered the back edge of our yard; a short sloping dirt trail led down to railroad tracks. An open field connected our side yard to our neighbor’s so, despite the warning to stay away from the train tracks, we had plenty of open space to roam.

Swatting at the mosquitoes buzzing and biting our tender skin, my friends and I played Hide and Go Seek. How many hundreds of such games must we have played since then? But this one vividly stands out in my memory because, at only three or four years of age, being outside at night, way past bedtime, in the pitch dark, playing with friends while the adults contented themselves with their own conversations, well, this was novel.

We ran, hid, stifled giggles behind our fingers, then shrieked with wild joy and excitement. The unprecedented freedom of playing in the dark thrilled us almost beyond what we could bear. Our sweaty skin shivered despite the humidity.

But we froze when we heard it: “Oooo, watch out, I’m the Bogeyman…!” There…we heard it again: “Oooo, here comes the Bogeyman, oooo…!”

Our giggles grew nervous. I remember saying, first whispered to my friends, then louder: “What’s a Bogeyman?” before we all ran to our parents, who assured us that some teenager was hiding in the bushes, trying to scare the little kids.

The little kids who had felt like such big kids only moments earlier, squashed by someone else’s fun at our expense.

As I reflect on that night, a few things stand out that still ring true today:

Playing in the dark was exciting, precisely because it was dark, and because it wasn’t something we were typically allowed to do. (What kinds of darkness entice us today?)

The darkness hid potential dangers. (What dangers lurk in the tempting darkness?)

Playing in the dark gave us a new sense of freedom and independence, all good until we got scared and needed help. (How does darkness imitate light? And where do we find help when we need it?)

Walk in Love
Week 2: Walk in the Light
1 John 1:5-2:2

Connect
Reflect on a time when you have taken ‘a walk in the dark’ (literally or figuratively). What was it like?

Study
Read aloud 1 John 1:5-2:2
With whose authority does John write this letter, and why does that matter (v5)?
Explain the light/dark metaphor (vv5-7). Look up one or more of the following passages from John’s gospel: 1:4-5, 9; 3:19-21; 8:12; 9:4-5; 12:35-36, 46.
What deceit does John call out (vv6, 8, 10)?
What happens when we confess sin and live rightly (vv7, 9)?
What do we learn about Jesus in this passage, and why is that significant?

Live
Explain the attractions/detractions of light and darkness. In what ways do Christians try to stay in the darkness? Why is this so easy to do?
What makes it difficult to “come into the light” in our relationships with one another?
Is it possible to ever be done for good with sin? Why or why not?
How might fellowship with one another help us avoid sin and maintain fellowship with Him?
If you’re willing, share about a victory over sin that Christ accomplished for you.
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Thank God for His faithfulness to us even when we try to hide from God and others.

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Books: end-2017 reading

Goodreads (jokingly) tells me there are two reasons to read a book: to enjoy it, and to boast about it. But Goodreads stats page isn’t working, so I can’t boast about my year-end reading results. I know I read 44 books, less than last year but enough considering the year it was. I think I’ve now read most of Fredrik Backman’s books (there may be a short story I haven’t seen). I’ve read a good balance of fiction and non-fiction, books for adults and books ‘for’ teens. I’ve always enjoyed fiction that takes me places I’ve never been and introduces me to people in situations I’ve never encountered, so little surprise that I’ve found my way to a few books about immigrants, especially given our world situation.

Below are the books I read October-December 2017. What are you reading?

Behold the DreamersBehold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This. Book…!

Dreaming of a better life, a family struggles and saves to move from Cameroon, where they have no prospect of bettering their lives, to New York. To America, the land of opportunity. There they encounter other dreamers, Americans by birth, each of whom live out the American dream differently.

I have no idea what it’s like to be an immigrant, but this book helped me to imagine it, to see their perspective and my own privilege with new eyes and insight.

High school teachers and college professors: find a way to incorporate this book into your curriculum now! It deserves a place alongside American classics such as The Grapes of Wrath and The Great Gatsby.

My Not So Perfect LifeMy Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Light, fluffy, funny–just the kind of simple-sweet escapist book I was looking for. Not perfect, but that’s fine by this not-so-perfect me!

 

The Art of Creative ThinkingThe Art of Creative Thinking by Rod Judkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book offers lots to chew on, 89 different ways to see things, in fact. I kept googling artists and art pieces because I had to see for myself the amazing work he described. I underlined so many quotes that I have four typed pages of notes! Some of the entries seem to contradict each other, but that’s okay, too, since creativity can be different each hour for each artist…

A few quotes:

“Creativity is not about creating a painting, novel or house but about creating yourself…” (vii)
“A creative mindset can be applied to everything you do and enrich every aspect of your life” (3).
“Put your personality before practicality and your individuality into everything” (32).

The Revised Fundamentals of CaregivingThe Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m not sure when I’ve read a novel about such sad and pathetic characters that held so much hope. Trev can’t help himself physically; Ben can’t pull himself out of life’s biggest emotional pit; together, they take a trip that changes both their lives. I didn’t always love this book–it was slow at times–but by the end I enjoyed it. The author tells more than one story, back and forth between short chapters; sometimes it gets confusing, but not overly. And it works to keep you turning pages.

“Listen to me: everything you think you know, every relationship you’ve ever taken for granted, every plan or possibility you’ve ever hatched, every conceit or endeavor you’ve ever concocted, can be stripped from you in an instant. Sooner or later, it will happen. So prepare yourself. Be ready not to be ready. Be ready to be brought to your knees and beaten to dust. Because no stable foundation, no act of will, no force of cautious habit will save you from this fact: nothing is indestructible” (236).

“Because I still care deeply… I’ll never stop caring. But the thing about caring is, it’s inconvenient. Sometimes you’ve got to give when it makes no sense at all. Sometimes you’ve got to give until it hurts. It’s not easy, and it can be downright thankless…” (275).

Tomorrow There Will Be ApricotsTomorrow There Will Be Apricots by Jessica Soffer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Two women at opposite ends of life, both grieving from losses of different kinds, come together through cooking. A familiar premise, and the end was also a bit predictable, yet satisfying. This was one of the saddest books I’ve read in a long time, and I thought about putting it aside. I’m glad I didn’t. The heavy descriptions of grief, the ways people hurt one another intentionally and inadvertently, and the power we have to help one another heal even as we move ourselves toward healing–powerful.

“Happiness is an act of faith. But you can’t let it in and be done with it. Emotions come at you from all directions. I forgot to cover my head. It had been a while” (122).

The Sun Is Also a StarThe Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I almost never reread books, simply because there are too many books to be read. But I liked this book so much I could imagine rereading it–even as I was reading it!

Do you follow your head or your heart?
Do you move with the wind or follow a plan?
Do you live to fulfill someone else’s desires for you, or your own?

Daniel and Natasha couldn’t be more different, and maybe that’s exactly what makes them good for each other. They represent different values, different cultures, a different way of moving through life.

I liked this book for so many reasons: short chapters kept me turning pages. Characters who obviously represent ideology, but passionately so. Daniel and Natasha come from different cultures (he’s Korean, she’s Jamaican), and their American-ness stands in contrast to their immigrant parents. The book read almost like a play, with bit parts fleshed out in significant ways to add nuance to the story. And I enjoyed the diversionary chapters that provided information on science, culture, back or future story, or fairy tales.

What Alice ForgotWhat Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As we’ve passed books back and forth, my friend has been on me for some time to read this book. She was right (as always): my fav of all Moriarty’s books so far, better than Big Little Lies.

If you woke up and ‘forgot’ ten years of your life, what would you have missed? Who were you then, and who might you have become, and which would be preferable? What relationships would you miss, want to re-cultivate, to let go or rediscover? Even if you regained all those lost memories, what would you do differently going forward?

I’ve read a few amnesia books, but this was the best. The most thoughtful. The one about which I want to wonder, ponder, journal. Who was I? Who am I? Who would I like to be?

And entertaining read (thick book, quickly digested), with lots to consider.

“She had always thought that exquisitely happy time at the beginning of her relationship with Nick was the ultimate, the feeling they’d always be trying to replicate, to get back, but now she realized that she was wrong. That was like comparing sparkling mineral water to French champagne. Early love is exciting and exhilarating. It’s light and bubbly. Anyone can love like that. But love after three children, after a separation and a near-divorce, after you’ve hurt each other and forgiven each other, bored each other and surprised each other, after you’ve seen the worst and the best–well, that sort of a love is ineffable. It deserves its own word” (421).

Of Mess and Moxie: Wrangling Delight Out of This Wild and Glorious LifeOf Mess and Moxie: Wrangling Delight Out of This Wild and Glorious Life by Jen Hatmaker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I liked For the Love, but I love Of Mess & Moxie! I’m convinced that Jen is my Southern, funnier, sarcastic personality doppelganger. We both write; we both married pastors; we both come from 3-sister/1-baby brother families; she is also an introvert who uses her phone as a phone never and married a verbal processor; and really, I think I’ve written less funny versions of so many of these chapters. She is just so real, so vulnerable, so the kinda gal I want to hang out with or, TBH, be.

Fav quotes:

“We have important memories from every house—some painful, some instructive, some delightful, some necessary. But how thrilling to realize that even now God is designing a new blueprint, tailor-made, and His creativity extends to the very trajectory of our lives” (9).

“…fear is a liar. It cannot be relied upon to lead well, to lead out, or to lead forward. It is an untrustworthy emotion, not of God, and it never leads to health, wholeness, wisdom, or resurrection….The truth is, God created us with resiliency. Mankind is incredibly able to heal, to rise back up, to stare down pain with moxie….Rather than cower under its weight, we force pain into a partnership, using it to grow, to learn, to catapult us into a deeper, wider, sturdier life” (39, 41).

“Love is a genuine solution. It breaks down barriers and repairs relationships. It invites in the lonely and defeats shame. It provides the lighted path to forgiveness, which sets everyone free. Love makes us brave, pulls up seats to the table, defuses bigotry, and attacks injustice. It is our most powerful spiritual tool. Do not underestimate it as the solution to almost everything that is broken” (82).

“I, too, just want to make beautiful things. Don’t you? Don’t we want our lives to be lovely and creative and productive and meaningful? Don’t we want to offer exquisite, sacred things to the world? This draw toward creation is important, worthy of our time and attention and nurture. We have these magnificent minds and hands and ideas and visions, and they beg us to pay attention, give them permission, give them life.
“I sincerely believe we are created by a Creator to be creative. This is part of His image we bear, this bringing forth of beauty, life, newness….That thing in you that wants to make something beautiful? It is holy” (94).

“…creators create and creating is work and work takes time” (97).

“I cannot write a good story if I am not living one” (99).

“Send kindness out in big, generous waves, send it near and far, send it through texts and emails and calls and words and hugs, send it by showing up, send it by proximity, send it in casseroles, send it with a well-timed ‘me too,’ send it with abandon. Put out exactly what you hoop to draw in, and expect it back in kind and in equal measure” (211).

Exit WestExit West by Mohsin Hamid
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a phenomenal book! Blending the world’s current volatile and distressing dystopian reality with just enough sci fi to allow us to enter in without risking too much, this book provides a personal and insightful look at the refugee/immigrant crisis.

Favorite quotes:
“…to love is to enter into the inevitability of one day not being able to protect what is most valuable to you” (165).

“…in Marin, Saeed prayed even more, several times a day, and he prayed fundamentally as a gesture of love for what had gone and would go and could be loved in no other way. When he prayed he touched his parents, who could not otherwise be touched, and he touched a feeling that we are all children who lose our parents, all of us, every man and woman and boy and girl, and we too will all be lost by those who come after us and love us, and this loss unites humanity, unites every human being, the temporary nature of our being-ness, and our shared sorrow, the heartache we each carry and yet too often refuse to acknowledge in one another, and out of this Saeed felt it might be possible, in the face of death, to believe in humanity’s potential for building a better world, and so he prayed as a lament, as a consolation, and as a hope, but he felt that he could not express this to Nadia, that he did not know how to express this to Nadia, this mystery that prayed linked him to, and it was so important to express it, and somehow he was able to express it to the preacher’s daughter, the first time they had a proper conversation, at a small ceremony he happened upon after work, which turned out to be a remembrance for her mother, who had been from Saeed’s country, and was prayed for communally on each anniversary of her death, and her daughter, who was also the preacher’s daughter, said to Saeed, who was standing near her, so tell me about my mother’s country, and when Saeed spoke he did not mean to but he spoke of his own mother, and he spoke for a long time, and the preacher’s daughter spoke for a long time, and when they finished speaking it was already late at night” (202).

“We are all migrants through time” (209).

The Storied Life of A.J. FikryThe Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Great book! A widowed bookstore owner, depressed and a little snobby, adopts a baby girl and falls for a publishing rep. Love changes his life, unsurprisingly. The book takes shape as A.J. recommends to his daughter his favorite short stories, like the “book talker” recommendations you see attached to bookstore shelves. Very readable, an easy recommendation to most readers, and a great way to stave off the post-Christmas blues.

Favorite quotes:

“No man is an island; every book is a world” (8).

“We read to know we’re not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone. We are not alone” (249).

“We are not quite novels…We are not quite short stories…In the end, we are collected works” (249).

“…we are what we love. We are that we love….We aren’t the things we collect, acquire, read. We are for as long as we are here, only love. The things we loved. The people we loved. And these, I think these really do live on” (251).

“…we tell stories to understand the world. All stories–anecdotes, cave paintings, blog posts, book reviews, news articles, songs, poems–are attempts to explain the world to one another and for ourselves” –Conversation with the Author (266).

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and LongerAnd Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novella is imperfect, patchy and broken, and so lovely because of it. The author comments that he wrote it to personally process life’s big questions, never intending to send it forth in the world. The world is better for his having chosen to send it out.

As Grandpa comes to the end of his life, as his brain stops working, son Ted and grandson Noah (or “Noahnoah”–because Grandpa “likes his grandson’s name twice as much as everyone else’s”) look for ways to help Grandpa ease into Space. Meanwhile, we see Grandpa and Noah, and Grandpa and Grandma (who has preceded her husband into Heaven), enjoying time together inside Grandpa’s Square, the place of memories inside his brain. The Square gets smaller every day, while the road home gets longer. Ted and Noah have the sweet privilege of walking the long road home with Grandpa.

I don’t often reread books, since there are So Many Books, but I can foresee myself rereading this short gem. So many insights into life, love, and death. A sweet, perfectly imperfect last read of the year.

One bit of Grandpa’s wisdom: “The only time you’ve failed is if you don’t try once more” (29).

2018 Word: Connect

I first chose a word to guide my year in 2015. More accurately, I chose a phrase: Put yourself in the way of beauty. It required intention, getting up and going out in pursuit of beautiful occasions with beautiful people. So different from any resolution I’d tried before, it changed the way I moved through my days which changed my weeks, months, year.

In 2016, I chose create as my word, and mostly it led to a lovely guest blog series on how others are involved in acts of creativity. I curated, (lightly) edited, and shared guest posts, while dabbling in my own creativity.

Sensing that I had not done justice to my 2016 word, I vowed to keep at it in 2017 with re:create, a play on words, meaning to continue creating with an eye toward playfulness.

But 2017 wasn’t playing around. Sure, I re-created myself and my relationships in various contexts, with more mess and tenderness than anticipated. I played less and hurt more. I turned inward. When I did reach out I did so with one friend at a time. Fewer parties, more quiet conversations.

Over a pre-holidays lunch, a friend asked: “With all this [fill in the blank with your own yuck] going on, how do you continue to connect?”

There it was: Connect.

We need healthy connection—with families, friends, neighbors, coworkers. But we can also connect with ourselves. With God. With beauty, creativity, play. With our faith and our values. With our bodies. With our neighborhoods, communities, country, and world. With a cause, passion project, volunteer opportunity.

Some might say that to be fully alive is to connect in meaningful ways with ourselves, others, and the world.

How do you connect? Or, with whom and in what ways would you like to grow your connections?

If you would like to write a 2018 guest post, post a comment and I’ll send you an email with the details. Let’s connect, shall we?

Word of Life – 1 John 1:1-4

What do you believe?

I just started reading a nonfiction book about how to live an authentic life in a world that no longer runs on the (outdated) standard life approaches passed down through generations. It challenges readers to identify the stories we’ve been told and continue to tell ourselves which may or may not be true.

We live out what we believe. In other words, our beliefs—conscious or not—determine our actions.

If we believe human beings are selfish, then we won’t find ourselves inclined to serve others. Why should I give my time (because I’m selfish) to help others who won’t help themselves (because they’re selfish)? We definitely won’t give $5 to the homeless guy on the street corner.

If I believe I’m lazy (perhaps something I heard and internalized from a parent, teacher or coach), then it’s unlikely I will bring to completion even an exciting new project. How can I? I’m lazy.

But people aren’t always selfish, and I don’t have to be lazy. Those things might be true sometimes but they aren’t consistently true. I can reverse the stories and choose to interact differently with the world.

Some things, however, are consistently true.

Jesus is God, from everlasting to everlasting.
And Jesus took on flesh to show humans the way to the Father.

If I truly believe that Jesus is the eternal God, and if I trust both the witness of those who saw and heard and touched Him in the flesh and my own experience of fellowship with Him, then that will necessarily affect my decisions. John calls Jesus “the Word of life.” Because I believe in Him, I trust this Word to lead me to a fuller, more satisfying life. A life lived in love with the One who gave everything for love of me, and a life lived shoulder-to-shoulder with His beloved people.

It may not be an easier life (it could be much harder!), but I believe it will be a true life.

Walk in Love
Week 1: Word of Life
1 John 1:1-4

Connect
Who’s the most famous person you’ve ever met or seen up close? Describe your experience of them.

Study
Read 1 John 1:1-4 slowly several times through.
How does John describe Jesus (vv1-2)? What strikes you about this description?
Why does it matter that John has seen, heard and touched Jesus (vv1-2)?
What reason does John give for writing this letter (vv3-4)?
What’s the connection between John’s proclamation and the community’s fellowship and joy (vv3-4)?

Live
What difference does it make to you personally that Jesus was “from the beginning”? That real people experienced Him in the flesh? That He is “the Word of life”?
Is it possible to have true fellowship (Greek: koinonia) with people who don’t have a relationship with the Father through His Son, Jesus? Why or why not?
How do you experience Jesus in your daily life?
How do you describe Jesus to people who haven’t experienced Him?
How does shared fellowship with God and others increase your joy?

Pray
Thank God for the Word of life!

 

Thankful Thursday – Let’s Go, 2018!

10 Thanksgivings for the First Week of 2018

  1. New Year, fresh start
  2. My sweet Guy, and celebrating his birthday
  3. Healthy, growing kids
  4. Our cute and cozy home and a clean kitchen
  5. The (mis)adventures of training a puppy alongside our menagerie
  6. Coffee with friends
  7. Meaningful work
  8. Cooking delicious plant-based meals
  9. Bedtime ritual: hot tea and a good book
  10. So much fun, growth, laughter, and connection to anticipate in 2018

And you? What are you thankful for as the New Year kicks off?

Photo by Danielle Macinnes on Unsplash

Walk the Dog

One of our family’s favorite Christmas Eve traditions has been walking the trail around the Lafayette Reservoir. Our first NorCal Christmas, friends invited us to walk it with them; that first walk led to walking it every Christmas Eve (and so many times throughout and over the years), except for one rainy Christmas Eve in the last eleven years.

Walking our bodies around the Res makes for scenic exercise; walking with a dog is even better, and this year we had the added fun of walking it with our Big Dog and our Puppy, who had achieved age+shots enough to be out on the town eight days prior. Pups took to the leash like, well, fish to water, except truly, like a dog to a walk! He still wants to bite his harness and barks at anything that moves (humans and dogs, obviously, but also birds and holiday animatronic reindeer…), but he’s getting it alongside his Big Dog sister-teacher.

Pups encountered more than his usual number of dogs/people on his first Res walk. Tail wagging, he growled ferociously cute Christmas greetings at each passerby, joyfully accepting head pats as they came. Mostly he kept trucking along at our side.

But he is a curious and stubborn baby dog and, about halfway round the Res, he became so intrigued with something the rest of us had passed that he just stopped. Calling him by name and gently tugging on the leash as Pups stumbled forward, tripping over his legs as he gazed backward, Guy said to him, “You can’t keep moving forward if you get stuck looking back.”

“You can’t keep moving forward if you get stuck looking back…” The words stopped me.

I’ve spent hours this week combing through photos, creating what will become a family album. Despite the emotional roller coaster of this past year, it has been refreshing to reminisce about the adventures and the moments overflowing with gratitude that comprised 2017.

Still, reminiscing is different than getting stuck. Pups tripped over his own feet trying to move one direction while looking another. The future keeps coming whether or not we want to face it. Looking backwards will trip us up and land us down, scratching our shins if not our noses.

2017 was not my favorite year. It held necessary, good, gut-wrenching and soul-searching work: restructuring who we are as a family in this life stage; rediscovering myself, personally and professionally, and how I live out my calling; and reevaluating relationships and social constructs that may or may not be life-giving in this season.

Thank the Lord, 2017 draws nigh to a close. 2018 holds hope for another fresh start. Each year, and each day of the year, we can make the choice to leave the past behind. To thank God for even the misadventures that led us to today. To let go of slip-ups, things done or undone, said or unsaid. To forgive and receive forgiveness, to forgive ourselves as necessary. To choose love, and joy, and hope. To live into our best version of who we are and will become.

Walking my little dog will remind me: I need to look ahead to move forward, no looking back.

This is what the Lord says— he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. –Isaiah 43:16, 18-19 (NIV)

Merry Christmas – The Messiah Has Come

“O Lord, you are the musician, and we are all your instruments. You breathe, and we come to life. You breathe, and we are horns for your glory. You blow through the world the winds of the spirit, and we like chimes cannot keep silent. You pluck the strings of our hearts, and we become a psalm. You come, and we must sing.”
–Walter Wangerin, Preparing for Jesus

Read and light all candles: The first candle represents the Child of the Virgin. The second candle represents the King. The third candle represents the Prince of Peace. The fourth candle represents the Savior. The center candle represents Jesus, the Messiah.

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Read Scripture: Luke 2:1-20

Read: Hello, sweet baby Jesus, lying in a manger. We’ve been expecting you, Messiah! We’ve prepared for your birth, Child of the Virgin. We’ve anticipated the arrival of our King Jesus. And oh, how we have been longing for you, our Prince of Peace. Now it’s Christmas Eve, and here you are, announced by angels and guarded by shepherds and livestock. We’re so glad you’re here, since we need you now more than ever. We’re not very good at waiting, but we will keep expecting you, preparing for your next Advent, when you will gather your people to be with you forever.

Pray: Everlasting Father, thank you for sending us your Son, our Messiah Jesus. In His precious name we will rejoice forever, Amen.