When winds pick up

As I walked home one night from a soaking prayer evening, the world around looked like it had been soaking in God’s love too. All was still, a perfect reflection, tinted golden.

The scene that met me the next morning was completely different.


Winds whipped dark water into jagged whitecaps. Even when I managed to peek between strands of hair that whipped across my face, blinding me, I couldn’t see a single reflection. Not even a broken one. Only rough turmoil.

I ran anyway, leaning hard into the wind that resisted every stride.

Rounding the corner, I saw numerous small boats anchored out in the deep water, well away from the shore. I watched one boat as wave after wave threatened to roll over it, then tilted the bow up and rolled underneath, threatening to dunk the stern. The little boat stayed afloat.

At first I felt sorry for whoever might have been on those boats. All that rolling. I began to feel seasick just watching.

But I rounded another corner and changed my mind. What’s a little seasickness once you see a boat that sits tilted, fixed and unmoving, gripped by the rock on which it has run aground? One wave after another hit hard, sending spray over the boat that shuddered and groaned but could not roll, could not rise and fall with each wave. Each wave pounded and tore and fractured the boat a little more as it sat, fixed and helpless, in the shallows.

When winds rise, I often forget that deep water is safer. I fear the waves, the rolling seasickness of change. It’s not hard to imagine myself spread eagle, clinging with all my might to a slippery black rock, trying to keep myself safe while the waves pound me to pieces.

But slowly I’m learning that the real danger isn’t the waves at all, but my clinging to control, to supposed security, when winds rise.

Slowly I’m learning to hear in the voice of the wind the summons to move out of the shallows, out of the clinging to the familiar, the apparently secure, out into the deep, deep love of Jesus where alone we are safe.

“Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus

Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free

Rolling as a mighty ocean

In its fullness over me

Underneath me, all around me

Is the current of your love

Leading onward, leading homeward

To your glorious rest above.” (Samuel Francis)

The truth about learning to fly

dsc_0990I’m out running at dawn on this Canadian Thanksgiving Day. The gulls are wailing like the end of the world is near.

Words from yesterday return to mind, other birds touching our human story:

“In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste.

He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye,

like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young,

that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions.

The LORD alone led him; no foreign god was with him.” (Deut 32:10-12)

I’ve always pictured “stirring up its nest” as pushing the eaglet out, albeit while hovering ready to scoop underneath and catch it and lift it again if it becomes clear the eaglet hasn’t yet gotten the knack of flying. But as I read about eagles, it seems like preparation for the first flight is a more gentle, though still firm, process, with mom hovering over the nest to show what wings are for, and baby practicing leaps and jumps to gradually strengthen its wings; with, some sources say, mom gradually bringing less food so the baby’s desire grows and weight drops, letting it be more easily lifted by the wind. It’s less a pushing than a coaxing, and babies may leave the nest several days or more apart, as each is ready. Sometimes eaglets fall to the ground, and parents feed them there, or lure them back to the nest.

Even with this gentler process I wonder whether eaglets ever feel like their world is ending as they’re coaxed out of their comfortable home? Do they sense the excitement of growth, or do they just feel the pangs of hunger and desire as the parent flies past with prey but doesn’t drop it in the nest, the confusion of apparent rejection by the one who had always fed them before? Do they feel the terror of falling as they leave the nest or are they so lured by desire that fear is left behind?

This might be the thing I’m most grateful for on this particular Thanksgiving Day: that, whether we feel it or not, the same Parent who coaxes us out of our comfortable nest is also hovering over us as the Spirit hovered over the waters, continuing the creation of our fullest, free-est selves. And all the discomfort of the process is part of the bigger truth of being shielded and cared for and guarded, and helped to grow into the selves we were meant to be.

The sky is lightening and the gulls are still crying but I see them wheel and turn toward the light.


When healing doesn’t feel like healing


One day I discover that I am the blind man whom people have brought to Jesus. Jesus takes my hand. His is warm and gentle and strong, and I know I can trust this hand. I let myself be led out of the village, out to where I don’t know the streets anymore, where I can’t call for help. I can’t say why, but I trust him enough to go there with him. I spend the day feeling my hand in his, savoring the delight of being cared for, tended, led. Knowing myself safe.

Later I find myself back in the story. The same hand that led me out to the place of my healing is preparing to touch my eyes. I’ve been waiting for this moment, eager for those kind hands to touch me again. I’ve been aching for this healing, trying to push down hope but hoping anyway that the impossible might become possible. What I get is the shock of spit, slimy against my eyelids, wet under his fingers. I want to push his hands away, to wipe his saliva off my face, to throw up in disgust. Who does he think he is? What gives him the right to spit in my face? I want to run. I can’t. He has led me outside the village and I’m blind and helpless and trapped. I thought I could trust this man and he’s rubbing my face in my own helplessness, rubbing my face in his spit. Against my will, tears form in my useless eyes. This doesn’t feel like the healing I was expecting. WHAT ARE YOU DOING, JESUS?!

“Do you see anything?” The mouth that spit in my face speaks gently. I am so confused. I feel his care. Dare I trust? My face is still wet with his spit. How can I trust this man? He has taken his hands from my eyes. I pause, afraid to open my eyes, afraid of what I won’t see, afraid of the end of hope. But there was kindness in his voice when he spoke, and there is kindness in the stillness that waits.

My heart opens a crack and my eyes do too. There is light and color and movement. “I see a little. There are people, I think, but they look like moving trees.” My hope has stirred and begun moving too, and my trust, and I’m glad I didn’t run from him when I wanted to. Glad I couldn’t run.

I can’t help but flinch a little as I see the shadow of his hands approach my eyes again (I see his hands approach!) but this time there’s no spit, and healing feels like healing. And this time I open my eyes more quickly and my heart wider and both my eyes and my heart see clearly what I couldn’t see before: I may be hemmed in by distance or disability, a held hand or spit-covered fingers, but the hand laid upon me is always a hand of blessing, a hand that longs and works for my deepest healing.

“You hem me in behind and before. You have laid your hand upon me.” (Psalm 139:5)


A live coal in the sea

dscn6195editYou know how sometimes there’s a theme that comes at you in surround sound? A song in the grocery store, an ad on a bus shelter, the words of a friend—all seem to carry some thread of the same theme that is pressing for your attention. A few weeks ago, what was front and center for me was the difference between how I see sin and how God sees it.

I picked up one book and read Alan Jones’ startling statement:

“I have become even more convinced that the generosity of God—the fact that the Divine loves everyone without exception—is what bothers so many religious people. The moralists among us find such generosity intolerable.” (Exploring Spiritual Direction, ix)

I opened another and read Serena Woods’ story:

“I was the adulterous woman for whom Jesus was standing. He didn’t have to convince other people to forgive me. He had to convince me . . .

Every avenue I once used to get to God was no longer open to me. I was kicked out, dismissed and excommunicated. Every Christian song on the radio, book on the shelf and sermon I could remember never spoke to the sinner. It spoke to the victim. Marketed Christianity, I learned, was about saving Christians. But here was Jesus, standing with his feet next to mine. Immanuel was justifying me.” (Soul Bare, 34)

That Sunday my pastor spoke of the accusation against Christians that “You talk a lot about grace but dig down deep enough and what you’re really excited about is judgment.”

I smiled when he spoke of Jonah sulking about grace at the same time he was preaching it. Too many times my heart, too, has held a greater desire for judgment (“they shouldn’t just get away with that!”) than for forgiveness that names sin and removes it and forgets.

Jesus takes sin seriously. Enough to die for it. Enough to insist that people who come to him leave their life of sin. But he never lets sin get in the way of giving or receiving love.

He takes sin and makes it a place to give and receive love, not a barrier to it.

How did we, who often build walls and burn bridges, get this so wrong?

Jesus eats with sinners. He lets them wash his feet, unworried about the opinions of religious folk. He tells sinners he came for them, not for the ones who seem to have it all together.

Jesus lived in front of our eyes the truth that David saw a thousand years before:

“[God] does not treat us as our sins deserve, or repay us according to our iniquities . . . As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:10,12)

I have appreciated forgiveness; now I am learning to love it. I am becoming freer to trust it, to delight in it, to savor the joy of it for myself and offer it more freely to others.

But I wonder, when forgiveness (for us and for others) is such good news, why does it often take so long before it feels like good news?

Is it pride? Do I want to separate myself from others, to prop up the illusion that I am better—at least able to pay for my own sin if not actually prevent it?

Does fear lie beneath the pride, fear that love is scarce and there isn’t enough to go around? Do I still think I have to earn love and acceptance with my goodness?

I turn back to Psalm 103 and read the verse tucked between the two about forgiveness:

“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him.” (Psalm 103:11)

This is when forgiveness becomes good news, when my heart finally believes that forgiveness flows from God’s free and limitless love.

As William Langland, author of Piers Plowman, wrote in the fourteenth century, “All the wickedness in the world that man might work or think is no more to the mercy of God than a live coal dropped into the sea.”

Societally sanctioned sins. Sins that put people in jail. My own grasping for control. Each way someone else has hurt me. All are bits of that same burning coal begging to be dropped into the limitless ocean, swallowed up, extinguished, forgotten.

It’s true, friends, and pleading to be savored. Time to dump the judgment and come home free.




I’ll be taking a course next week, savoring this limitless love and learning how better to accompany others on the journey to trust it. See you back here in two weeks!

What your heart needs for the next steps

Photo by Chris Watts

Nine year old Lucia steps down into the baptismal tank and then up onto a stool placed there specially for her. I can’t keep tears from spilling as I listen to her soft, confident voice declaring that Jesus is her Lord and her Saviour and she will follow him all of her days.

It’s a season of new things. For us in the northern hemisphere, the beach is being left behind as children pack new notebooks into new bookbags and head off to a new grade. In the southern hemisphere, spring is in the air.

A baptism, a birth, a wedding: any season of new things is an invitation to celebrate newness in our own life (we are new creations!), to reaffirm commitments once made and to know the joy of being alive and loved all over again.

As I gear up to co-lead a community group and prepare to start the next level of training to accompany people in their lives of faith, I’m excited—and often very aware of my inadequacy. And so as I step into newness with its mix of delight and excitement and trepidation, I’m pausing to watch the smile on the face of my Creator as he formed me, pausing to listening to his affirmations spoken then and spoken again now.

He speaks as a parent to a beloved child, reminding me that I can’t flunk out of his love, that I am precious just because he brought me into being, not because of anything I do or don’t do. That he is with me.

The truths are simple, but I need to hear them again and again, in every season, as I prepare to step through fear into something new, or in the middle when the journey is long. Fear fades here as I listen to God whisper his love and sing his delight and tenderly shows his care.

“I’m glad you are you.” I look up into his smiling face. Hearing him speak this over me makes it much easier for me to affirm, “I’m glad I’m me too.”

“Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;

you formed me in my mother’s womb.

I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!

Body and soul, I am marvelously made!

I worship in adoration—what a creation!” (Ps 139:13-14, The Message)

“You belong here.” Here, first and always, in his love. But also here in this city, this church, this training program. Here writing this blog post, this book, walking alongside these particular people.

“Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;

all the stages of my life were spread out before you,

The days of my life all prepared

before I’d even lived one day. (Ps 139:16)

“I love you and I care for you willingly.”

“Walk into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They don’t fuss with their appearance—but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them. If God gives such attention to the wildflowers, most of them never even seen, don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? . . . Don’t be afraid of missing out. You’re my dearest friends! The Father wants to give you the very kingdom itself.” (Luke 12:27-28, 32)

As I watch Lucia and wipe tears from my eyes, I’m sitting in the pew in my dream dress, the long navy one with the flowers and the white beadwork that looks like it was made for me. The one God provided for $8 at Value Village a few weeks ago. I was going to save it to wear first at my graduation, but when I looked in the closet yesterday it called out to me to wear it, to share in God’s joy of loving me and providing for me. And so I wore it and savored all day the feeling that God was cherishing me, that he was celebrating all over again the memory of dreaming me and knitting me together, that he was delighting in newness, in love, in me! as we step together into this year.

Love that delights in each of his children like this—this is a love I can trust.


Photo by Chris Watts. Affirmations in bold from Clarke and Dawson, Growing Up Again.