About Milagro Mama

A Bay Area 40-something, married 20-something years to the love of my life, with two sons (Teen and Tween); Jesus-follower, artistic-type, passionate about time with my guys and with friends, Bible study, stories of most types, cooking, and other creative endeavors.

Guest Post: A.J. Brown

Our 2018 theme is “Connect” and my dear A.J. Brown wrote about “Community,” which seems just right: we live in community, we invest in community, we create community as we knit our heartstrings together. Please note: if you would like to guest post on this blog, please see the link above.

Community.

When someone asks me to write an article or blog post about a certain word, I usually try to start with my knee jerk emotional reaction to that word. For example, when the owner of this blog asked me to write a post about creativity a couple of years ago, that was simple. My beautiful, unicorn and rainbow loving little boy exemplified the word and still does now.

Community.

What does that mean to me? I think the reason this post was hard to write is that community means so many different things to me. The town I grew up in represented a community I couldn’t wait to get out of. Then, when I grew up and became a parent, I couldn’t wait to move back. I can’t imagine raising my kids anywhere else.

Community.

It doesn’t just refer to a geographical area in which we live, does it? Not for me, anyway. Yes, I live in this community. I am part of this community. But, I am also part of many communities within this community, and that’s what I love about this community.

In junior high and high school in this same community, I often felt like the odd girl out. I didn’t have just one posse of friends with whom I did everything and shared everything…I never felt like I belonged to any one group. I was more of a floater. Some months I gravitated towards the popular crowd and the other cheerleaders, other times I’d get fed up with the cattiness and take refuge with the quiet academics. Or, if there was a boy I was interested in (wasn’t there always?), I’d hang around with the athletes. I got really good at being “one of the guys.” I could occasionally be found breathing second hand smoke in a van behind the school listening to “Stairway to Heaven,” or flaunting my impressively flipped bangs and perm at college parties when I was just sixteen. Some lunchtimes, I felt too insecure to join any group at all, and you’d find me in the library, or assisting a teacher. Looking back, I realize that what was so hard about those years for me was that I felt that I didn’t HAVE a community. I was just an occasional honorary member. I didn’t have the self-confidence to just…be. I could not wait to graduate, get the heck out, and finally discover who I really was.

Fast forward several decades, and here I am, living in this same community, with a lot of the same folks who grew up here just like I did. Apparently this town breeds homing pigeons. The difference? Now this finally feels like MY community. This time around, I know exactly who I am and who I want to be. Furthermore, I truly don’t care who likes it and who doesn’t. Interestingly, while I’m a completely different person as an adult than I was as that corner hugging, cringing teenager, I’m still a floater. But this time, it’s not because I feel like I don’t fit in, it’s because I am blessed to feel like I fit in everywhere. Everything about this town makes me happy, and I adore all of the smaller communities that, together, make up this beautiful flower of a larger community. 

When I go to Starbucks in the morning, I love that I see the same faces, day after day. I don’t know many of their names, but they know my face and I know theirs and we greet each other with smiles that are genuine. I love the groups of older (than me, which is all relative) folks who commune there every single morning. They have an amazing community. I love that when I’m working out of Starbucks, as I often am because my home and office get lonely during the day, never a day goes by where I don’t see several people I know and whom I am genuinely happy to see. This silly little chain store coffee shop is a community all its own. Just as I’ve been sitting here writing this, I’ve been greeted by a teenager, several moms, a dear friend of a dad who happens to be working at “home” today, a newspaper reporter I adore for whom this is home base, a friend I went to high school with, and one of my favorite neighbors who’s treating her kindergarten son to a treat after a traumatic dentist visit. And that’s just in the space of an hour.

I love that I can’t ever go to the gym without seeing at least one friendly face I know. I’ve been taking the same Friday morning spin class for several years now, and the group of people that show up with me, week after week, through good times and bad, is a community all its own. I love these people, and I love the pixie sized, tattooed sprite who inspires us and pushes us to the point where I’m not sure if I’m going to throw up or pass out, and yet afterwards I feel amazing for two days. I love that when I’m having a really bad week I can cry my way through class and no one blinks an eye, they just hug me when we’re done. I’m literally tearing up writing this just thinking about that group of people and how much they mean to me even though I really only see them once a week for an hour. That’s community.

Our kids’ schools, of course, create their own communities. We’re so fortunate to live in a place where the parents work really hard to help make the schools great, and we are blessed with teachers and administrators who have passion about kids and education. It tends to be the same group of parents year over year who volunteer for everything, but instead of that feeling like a burden, to me it feels like a gift. It makes me part of THAT community, and that is an amazing group of selfless parents and school staff that I’m blessed to be a part of.

If you know me, you know that I could, of course, write chapters and chapters about this community and how it rallied around my family when our daughter got diagnosed with cancer (almost three years ago, WHAT?!?). I’ll save that for another post. Suffice it to say, I truly learned the meaning of the word community when the $4i% hit the fan, as people I didn’t even know in this community banded together and raised us up when we were in danger of sinking. During that time, this community felt more like a TRIBE. It still does. At unexpected moments, I will be approached by a complete stranger who will tell me that she has followed my (prolific) Facebook posts about our journey with cancer and that she was inspired by our story.

I could go on and on about all the other communities within this community that add joy to my life…from the moms who became friends when our kids were in preschool and even though the kids are now spread out across different elementary schools, seeing them still makes me feel like part of a special family. There are the “dance moms,” moms whose children share a passion for dance at the academy where I am lucky enough to work, and who make me feel blessed every time I go to work to be a part of that community, one that brings the gift of joy and grace and strength to kids through the art of dance. There are the sporty moms, the philanthropic moms, the working moms, the mindful moms, the activist moms…and now as then, I float. I love ALL these groups of moms. I AM these moms. All of them. Why should I pigeonhole myself?

I can’t close any discussion about community, though, without mentioning the one community-within-my-community that feeds my soul the most. On Thursday mornings, I skip the gym in favor of strengthening my spirit instead of my body. I go to a group called Moms’ Council, which is held at my church and is a group of about 150 mothers of all ages and generations who come together each week to…commune. Each session has a theme and there are always wonderful speakers to engage the mind, but for me, it’s the community of women that truly feeds my soul. I’ve sat at the same table with the same group of women for three years now, and I can’t describe the feeling of sitting down with them any better than I feel like I can just…breathe. Breathe in a way I can’t anywhere else. These women are my safest of safest places. We can rage, cry, fall apart and emotionally vomit all over each other without judgment and without ever worrying that what we say won’t remain just between us.

Because, as outwardly perfect as many of our lives may seem, we’re all dealing with our own burdens, fears and pain. Sometimes, you just can’t carry it alone. Sometimes you need more than your family and faith in God to help with the weight. Sometimes you need…community. And no matter how messy or difficult my life may get, that is one area in which I am incredibly blessed. I am rich in community, and for that I am very, very grateful.

 

 

A.J. Brown is a mother, wife, friend, sister, daughter, employee, volunteer, taxi driver, gym rat, health nut, lover of wine, travel, books, dessert, cooking, meditation, Buddha statues, and a compulsive throw pillow purchaser.

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Meatless Monday – Spinach Artichoke White Bean Dip

Well, this day did not go to plan!

Guy left this morning for a full week of travel. So of course, not one, but TWO cars to which I had access didn’t work.

Commence panic attack: I’m Stranded!

After I pulled myself together from a toddler-worthy temper tantrum, I calmed down and decided to take one car to a mechanic.

Not one, not two, but three mechanics later, someone took my key and my phone number. And I haven’t heard from him since, so I’m really trying not to think the worst.

So what do I do? After checking email and social media and wisely deciding not to rant (although, here I am ranting, and this will post to social media…), I start checking recipes to decide what I can make for dinner with what I have on hand.

Hash–roasted potatoes tossed in last minute with sauteed onion, vegan Field Roast Italian and chipotle sausages, bell peppers, and black beans–over a modified version of Quinoa & Black Bean Salad.

Enough, right? Except my curiosity wasn’t satisfied and I remembered a) I had some white beans in the fridge and a can of artichoke hearts in the pantry, b) I have a Tower Garden filled with glorious spinach, and c) I made a holiday party dip and forgot to make notes at the time.

Have you heard about Tower Gardens? These things are amazing! Generous friends gave us one, and we currently have so much mint and spinach and baby lettuce on the way; a few months ago we had abundant arugula. I’m not the best gardener but this thing seems fool-proof!

So I made a Spinach Artichoke White Bean Dip. It comes together so quickly and then bakes to warm, gooey deliciousness. Just as it had cooled, Q14 dashed through the kitchen for a taste test. He declared, “Too spicy…” (I was heavy-handed with the Tapatio) “…and needs cheese” (it doesn’t, that’s just his way of teasing/answer for everything).

Spinach Artichoke Dip was one of my favorite party recipes before leaning plant-based, and I’m so happy to have a yummy non-dairy replacement. You could use kale instead of spinach. To satisfy the kid’s cheese request, I might another time add 2-4 Tablespoons of nutritional yeast, but maybe not. Tonight I’ll eat it with chips. Tomorrow I’ll put it on a toasted bagel or in a veggie wrap sandwich. Ooh, or maybe in a black bean no-cheese quesadilla. It’s versatile that way!

Spinach Artichoke White Bean Dip

2 c packed fresh spinach
1 14-oz can water-packed artichoke hearts, well drained
1/2 c non-dairy mayo
1/2 c white beans, drained and rinsed
3-4 large garlic cloves
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 Tbsp Tapatio or hot sauce of choice (start with less and add more)
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute (or other no-salt herb seasoning)

Combine all ingredients in a food processor. Taste and adjust seasonings. Transfer to a baking dish and bake at 350 for 35 minutes. Serve hot or cold.

Say the Words

Twice this week I’ve found myself in conversation with people who have recently and unexpectedly lost a parent, a woman whose father died and a man whose mother died, both from a stroke.

Last night as I listened to my friend describe the events surrounding his mother’s last days, he said, “Tell the people you love that you love them, over and over, as often as you can. I’d do anything for her to have regained consciousness one more time so that I could tell her again that I love her…”

This morning I awoke from vivid dreams with an uncomfortable heaviness in my chest. I realized my dad had come to me, wearing a nice coat that must have been his Pan American Airlines uniform. As hale and hearty as he had been when I was a child, he greeted me with a big bear hug. I turned to see Q13, looking exactly as he does today except that he was dressed up, too, wearing a suit jacket and slacks. I introduced my son to his grandfather. They embraced, and I woke up.

It didn’t take more than a moment to address the ruminations of my unconscious brain.

This weekend we will celebrate Q13’s fourteenth birthday. Also, the thirteenth anniversary of my dad’s passing on the morning of my son’s first birthday. It’s a weird day, always.

Thankfully, we had time to say the words. In fact, while I have regularly been a gushing fountain of emotion, Dad got better at expressing his love as he recognized the end of his life drawing near. Still, what I wouldn’t do to say it again, and to hear again that he loved me. What I wouldn’t do to watch my son enjoy his own relationship with the grandpa he didn’t have time to know.

Say the words, people. We don’t know how many breaths have been allotted to any of us. Use all the breath you have to share love.

Reading: March-April 2018

It always sounds cliche, but I simply cannot fathom how we are almost to May. One-third of this year has slid out from under my feet. The good news: summer is coming up fast, with slower days and more time for reading. Not that I’m wishing the days away, hardly, just wishing for more leisure time to read! (Note: I did not intentionally choose to read back-to-back two books with PB&J cover art. That’s just the comedy my life dishes up!)

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely FineEleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn’t spoken to another person for two consecutive days. FINE is what you say.” (227)

Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine. At least she thinks she is. Until she realizes she is not, not at all. And then she is.

Through all of it, Eleanor is a complete character (in every sense of the word). She is unlike anyone you’ve ever met. She talks (mostly to herself) so much like a cantankerous old woman that you have to remind yourself that she is just thirty. She is one thousand percent practical. She has no social skills whatsoever. She is searingly honest to the point of being rude, though she has no idea. Which makes her endearingly funny to boot.

Above all, Eleanor is a survivor and a testament to the human drive to survive.

“These days, loneliness is the new cancer–a shameful, embarrassing thing, brought upon yourself in some obscure way. A fearful, incurable thing, so horrifying that you dare not mention it; other people don’t want to hear the word spoken aloud for fear that they might too be afflicted, or that it might tempt fate into visiting a similar horror upon them.” (227)

“I suppose one of the reasons we’re all able to continue to exist for our allotted span in this green and blue vale of tears is that there is always, however remote it might seem, the possibility of change.” (182)

Sputnik's Guide to Life on EarthSputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth by Frank Cottrell Boyce
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Home isn’t a building. People leave buildings. Buildings fall down….Home isn’t a place on a map. Home isn’t the place you come from. It’s the place you’re heading to. All the times you’ve ever felt at home–they’re just marks on the map, helping you to find your way there.” (308)

What an original book! I actually don’t want to say too much, because it should be read and enjoyed for all its originality, humor, and poignancy. Prez and Sputnik–and the Blythes, especially Jessie–plus Granddad have an adventure that doesn’t lead them home so much as to a new understanding of it.

The Serpent KingThe Serpent King by Jeff Zentner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gutted! It’s been a long time since I have openly sobbed while reading a book and not just at its conclusion. To be honest, a few chapters in I wanted to hate this book–I hate when people use God or the Bible or faith to hurt others, especially kids. But, too bad, I already liked the kids (almost like they needed me to stick it out for their sake, to be there to stick up for them). Zentner handled sensitive matters gently. He calls this book, his first novel, a love letter to young people who struggle, and the reader feels his love for the young people he portrays.

“…if you’re going to live, you might as well do painful, brave, and beautiful things” (327).

Take This Bread: A Radical ConversionTake This Bread: A Radical Conversion by Sara Miles
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this book based on a recommendation by another author I respect. I started, and stopped, and started again several times before committing to read it all the way through. Sara and I aren’t on the same theological page, and yet (or because of that) I learned so much from her. Her memoir challenged my faith and strengthened my determination to listen to people with whom I may not agree, or with whom I would anticipate more disagreement.

And, at my core, it caused me to remember: God can use any and all things to bring people to Himself.

A few quotes:

“Christianity wasn’t an argument I could win, or even resolve. It wasn’t a thesis. It was a mystery that I was finally willing to swallow.” (274)

“To say that communion means we are ‘eating Jesus’ reminds me of how risky—and how thoroughly physical—the encounter with God is.” (287)

“First, do something. Feed, heal, help. Don’t just argue about ideology. Second, pray for your enemies. Don’t pray that they become different, or start doing what you want them to do. Just pray for them.
“You don’t get to practice Christianity by hanging out with people who are like you and believe what you believe. You have to rub up against strangers and people who frighten you and people you think are misguided, dangerous, or just plain wrong.” (289)

Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday LifeLiturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Warren takes the ordinary–waking up in the morning, brushing teeth, searching for lost keys, fighting with my spouse–and reminds us of how very sacred those ordinary events truly are. Now, when I wake up in the morning, sometimes I remember that God looks at me as lovingly as I looked at my tousle-haired, warm-sleep-smelling babies. Now, as I make my bed, I remember that God cares about the small, simple moments of each day. Overall, I appreciated the simple and profound nature of this book and anticipate returning to it time and again.

Everything is Perfect When You're a LiarEverything is Perfect When You’re a Liar by Kelly Oxford
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

DNF.

I cannot remember where I heard about this book. It’s rare for me to get halfway through before ditching a book. I kept trying to give her one more chapter, one more chance. But I just can’t!

The intro is poorly written, but includes cute kid-quotes from her own babies who don’t want to be in the book. So I kinda thought it would be a fluffy/snarky mommy book.

Halfway through and she’s only seventeen years old. And she’s not nice. Adventurous? Yes. Crazy? Probably. Funny? Well, she tries…

She’s also mean–obviously smart, and she can (at least mostly) write–and I just don’t like her. At All. And I like most people.

Maybe I just don’t get her sense of humor. But God bless her kiddos having to grow up with this sense of snark!

Overflow

The Friday before the Monday C19 left for college out-of-state, neighbors we hadn’t met posted on social media that they were giving away a full-size bed, a few years old with limited wear-and-tear, with an almost-new mattress. Free.

That morning, C19 had awoken in the twin-over-full bunk beds he’d had since childhood. We asked if he’d like a new bed, even though he wouldn’t sleep it in often. He replied with an emphatic, “YES!”

We didn’t need more to do that weekend, but nevertheless we made arrangements to see the bed, and the owner, congenial and overly generous, helped us load the pieces into our minivan. He easily could have sold the bed/mattress, but he just wanted it gone. Two trips and less than a half-hour later, our kid had a new bed he loved.

Q13 liked it, too. Since his bed was the metal frame we’d found, free, when the crib-daybed-full bed frame that had served both our children finally cracked, he decided he’d be moving in to the new bed as soon as his brother left home.

Guy recognized that Little Brother, easy-going and uncomplaining as he was, had grown tired of hand-me-downs. He needed a new bed of his own. He also needed a show of provision from his parents. So he checked online and found another almost-new bed/mattress combo for sale at a ridiculously low price. He bought it, and wouldn’t you know?, it matched the existing decor of Q13’s room as if we’d planned it all along.

We donated all the matching bedding from the twin-over-full bunks to charity. We listed the bunk beds for sale, and the low purchase price was still enough to pay for the purchased bed plus new bedding for the free bed.

And somehow, we still had a good quality full-sized mattress left over. We gave it to a young friend in her first apartment + (low-paying) professional job.

We thought we didn’t have time for more in an already overly-full weekend. But generosity flows downhill. Someone generously giving something away led to more, and more, and more. In the end, our kids had new-to-them beds they love, we came out about even on the cash flow, and we still had things to give away.

God is good!

By the way, I was going to title this post “Pay It Forward,” but I’ve already used that title on another post about someone’s generosity. C19 still enjoys that gift when he’s home and driving about town!

Abundant Life
Week 2: Grace-Fueled Gratitude
Luke 7:36-50

Connect
Share about a generous gift you have received.

Study
Read aloud Luke 7:36-50.
Describe Simon. Describe the woman. How does each interact with Jesus?
How does Simon view the woman? How does Jesus view her?
How would you retell this story in a contemporary context? Who would play the Pharisee and the woman?
Based on this story, why do you think the religious establishment and “sinners” had such different reactions to Jesus?

Live
Write a Yelp! review for the banker who forgave your $36,000 debt (equivalent to 500 denarii today). How would your review reflect your gratitude?
How are you like the Pharisee? Like the woman?
What moves you about the woman’s response to Jesus? Does anything about her response unsettle you, and if so, why?
How can we demonstrate our gratitude to Jesus?
What prayers has God answered for you?
How do we prevent a pharisaical, judgmental mindset? In other words, how can we keep God’s grace in constant view?
What would it take for the Church to be as welcoming to sinners as Jesus was?
Discuss: “Appreciating beauty and giving thanks for life’s treasures is not living in denial of life’s suffering and challenges. It’s what helps us cope with life’s suffering and challenges” (Rene Schlaepfer).
Create a Generosity Project—something you can do, ideally with others, to demonstrate and share your gratitude to God with others.
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Ask God to help you stay grateful and reflect His generous spirit to others.

“Happy birthday, Dad. Wherever you are.”

Guest Post: Erich Miller

This year’s theme is “Connect,” and I am honored to share this story by my college friend, Erich Miller. If you’d like to write a guest post, see details above.

The awareness that it would have been my dad’s 84th birthday bobbed in and out of my consciousness last Tuesday as I woke, as I debated Yerba Mate or coffee, as I arrived at work and began composing diplomatic e-mails in my mind to co-workers who seem challenged to accomplish the most rudimentary elements of their jobs. But it wasn’t until about 1 p.m. when I drove my work vehicle to the Food Bank for a weekly pick up of cereals, pastry and endless varieties of granola bars that had under-performed at market that I had to stop, bow my head and utter a quiet “Hi, Dad.”

It was the massive crates packed with onions—row after row of them—neatly stacked on the Food Bank’s loading dock that landed me firmly in the realm of Dad Consciousness. Their sweet, soily scent promptly had me sitting shotgun in my dad’s small blue truck with the white campershell, some iteration of family Labrador happily trying to gain its footing in the truck’s rear as we drove through one or another allium-rich California valley. Depending on the time of year, we might have been heading east across the San Joaquin toward the Sierras or south toward the Tehachapis. Often it was through the southernmost Santa Clara to a ranch out near Gustine where he hunted ducks in the Fall.

These jaunts aren’t evocative to me today because they were peppered with nurturing moments where I confided my hopes and fears and where my dad responded warmly with his own experience—indeed, those kinds of parent-child conversations may be the exception rather than the rule. Rather, the memories of these times in my dad’s blue truck are evocative to me because they were the times my dad and I were least prone to being at cross-purposes. On these trips he didn’t have to contend with the specter of how unrelateable I was to him, from the shallow (my love for 70’s rock musicals as a little boy, to my habit of repurposing his old military uniforms into adolescent haute couture) to the less shallow (my need for an adult who was secure enough in himself to help me face a not-so-embracing world). I, in turn, didn’t have to contend with him glaring with exasperated frustration at one of my report cards.

True, the terms of these car trips were his—the destination, the radio station we listened to (AM news and sports)—and I was sometimes ambivalent about our destination. But the further we drove from home, the more that the Bay Area subdivisions gave way to oaks and orchards and pungent soils—the mellower we both grew, our assigned roles at home fading into a wide camera shot of two guys inside a small blue truck, bathed by the soft oniony air. If my mind didn’t stray too far into the past or the future, those moments were enough to live in.

As I grew into young adulthood, those car rides dwindled and then stopped altogether. Luckily for both of us, I eventually found communities that spackled in some of the nicks and dents my dad wasn’t able to address when I was younger and it became easier for me to see him as an intelligent, engaged and goofy guy who was mostly trying to spackle himself together. We became as close as our two particular constellations could be, which is to say, not very. But I happily showed up to my dad’s house for Christmases, the menu having been planned weeks in advance, where beneath his crusty exterior lay a secret joy in having prepared us goose rather than the standard turkey or ham. I happily showed up for spring lunches where we enjoyed fresh asparagus and he delighted in showing off the daffodils that crowded his small orchard.  In later years, he often traveled to Europe at the end of the summer, but before he’d go he’d have us over and unload on us as much of his summer garden as we’d take—stone fruit, those cool looking beans with the white and cranberry-colored stripes, August tomatoes.

In his last year of life, his health rapidly heading south, I got to drive him to doctor’s appointments, then visit him in the various facilities where he’d land after a fall. I’m sure he was scared of what was happening to him and, as a result, he defaulted to one of his more primal operating systems—Grumpy and Demanding Guy. Once, after visiting a very pleasant assisted living home where he repeatedly badgered the admissions lady about whether they’d let him drink his beloved wine, he ordered me to drive him back to his house instead of the skilled nursing facility where he was still recuperating from his most recent collection of ailments. I tried for several minutes to kindly explain that he wasn’t quite ready yet to return to his house, that we needed to go back to Pilgrim Haven instead (some of these places get intricately euphemistic in their branding). He wasn’t having any of it, and as we drove out of the assisted living home’s parking lot, red-faced and sputtering, he demanded, again, that I take him home. With a migraine looming on the horizon and running only on fumes of objective detachment, I lost it and told him, essentially, to shut the fuck up. I then promptly drove my rented minivan into one of the brick pillars at the parking lot exit. Things got very quiet in the car as I gently edged the minivan away from the pillar and out onto the street, hoping the home’s admissions lady hadn’t witness us plowing into their pillar. As we slowly crept away, my dad looked over at me wide-eyed and said softly, “Uh oh…”

My dad died a few short months after that, in the assisted living home I wasn’t sure would accept him. Despite the amazingly rich life he led, because I know beneath my dad’s gruffness lay a well of fear and because I don’t think the journey ends with this incarnation, my dad is still on the list of people I pray for every night. The list is broken into several categories—family, friends, co-workers, people who are ill, people whom I dislike and hope are removed from positions of power ASAP. My dad falls into a miscellaneous category that appears to be largely populated with dead people and those on whom I have unrequited crushes. Regardless of category, everyone receives the same prayer, and it is this:

“May these many people find all of the warmth, nurturing and loving kindness that you (Jesus, Great Spirit, Universe) see that they need in their bodies, minds and spirits.”

This prayer certainly comforts me. I hope it’s comforting my dad.

A Bay Area native, Erich studied English literature at Westmont College and creative writing at Saint Mary’s College of California.  He has lived in San Francisco for the last 26 years, working primarily in social services. He currently manages a food program for HIV-positive 18-24 year-olds at Larkin Street Youth Services. In his spare time, Erich practices (and occasionally teaches) yoga, swims at his neighborhood pool, nurtures a budding coffee habit, bakes “hippie desserts” and spends as much time as he can with family, friends and nature.

Favorite Things

Sing along…

Raindrops on roses And whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things

While I’m a big fan of dew-dropped roses and kittens, my favorites list includes different items:

My family, my marriage (coming right up on 25 years!), our home
Our menagerie of pets, and animals in all their wild and wonderful weirdness
The beach

Well-told stories, and a library system with access to more books than I will ever read
Sharing a crisp sauvignon blanc with girlfriends on a warm summer evening
A fire in the fireplace on a cold winter’s night, and candlelight all around
Cooking healthy and delicious food to share with people I love
Walking our neighborhood and hiking trails, especially with family, friends, and dogs
Meaningful work
Adventures in exploring the world near and far
Beautiful home-grown flowers
Farmers’ Markets overflowing with fresh produce
Laughing so hard I cry
Heartfelt conversation
Quiet moments of awe, wonder, peace
Cheering on my people as they do what they love
Art and creativity in oh-so-many forms

I recognize all these things (and so much more) as gifts from God, examples of the riches of His grace which He lavishes on us.

But sometimes I don’t. Sometimes, I get tired and cranky, disillusioned, caught up in my own frenzied spirals or the harshness of others and the world’s brokenness.

All the more reason to keep reminding myself of the good gifts God pours into my life…

When the dog bites
When the bee stings
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad

Abundant Life
Week 1: Lavish Generosity
John 10:10-11 & Ephesians 1:3-8a

Connect
Reflect on a generous gift you have given.

Study
Read aloud John 10:10-11.
Contrast the thief and the good shepherd. What happens to those who are near them?
Read aloud Ephesians 1:3-8a.
What has God done for us, and why?
How would you explain “every spiritual blessing” with which God has blessed us to someone who doesn’t feel blessed (v3)?
What does it mean that we are “in him” (vv4, 6-7)?
How does this passage describe our relationship with God? What difference does that make?
Which of God’s blessings depend on us? Which change or affect us, and how?

Live
Why do people choose to follow the thief instead of the good shepherd?
Name some of your favorites of God’s lavish riches. How do you respond? How can you share them with others?
“…worship and praise are so crucial [because] they give opportunity for us to tell the truth about ourselves and God” (Klyne Snodgrass). How are worship and praise appropriate responses to reflecting on what God has done for us?
How can you hold on to the truth of the abundant life God has designed for us in light of the daily realities of a messy, pain-filled world?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Read aloud from Psalm 145 as a hymn of thanksgiving to our lavishly generous God.