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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Simple Authenticity

I am reading through a particular devotional for the third time right now that is digging deep into my heart and mind once again. It is demanding that various things in my life be examined, dusted off, thrown away, replaced, kept. The book is titled Benedict’s Way: An Ancient Monk’s Insights for a Balanced Life. There is no easy way to summarize it, so I won’t. I just recommend that you buy it. I found mine in a Catholic bookstore, but other friends to whom I’ve recommended it have found it inexpensively on half.com.

The title of today’s reading had me at “hello”: Simple Authenticity. A few nuggets:

Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way. RB 4:20 (“RB” = Rule of St. Benedict, a guide written by 5th century Italian monk which has guided believers who are living in intentional, monastic communities. The practices are surprisingly applicable still in the 21st century.)

Seldom or never do we hear anything about simplicity as an essential discipline of the spiritual life. Most of us have only a vague idea of the meaning of the word. Simplicity means “absence of artificial ornamentation or pretentious styles… lack of cunning or duplicity.” Where there is simplicity words can be taken at their face value… where there is simplicity there is no artificiality. Albert Day
Simplicity is trendy. People have shelves of books and attend conferences lasting a day or longer to learn how to downsize the clutter and complexity of their lives. This is one time when the cliché “Just do it” seems appropriate. Lonni Collins Pratt

It isn’t just our dressers and closets [and garages] that are jammed. That’s the easy part to simplify. You just square your shoulders and cut back. The harder part? Ceasing all of our complicated artificiality… the bigger problem, and maybe the root of why we accumulate, has to do with the clutter in our minds and hearts. Our relationships are cluttered, and our energy is fragmented in all directions… Keeping to the basics – this the strength of the Benedictine life. And it starts with the courage to step out of the disguise and into the reality of who we are. Pratt
~ Chew on all of that for a few moments ~

After I read these thoughts, I picked up my Bible. I am currently in the Book of Jeremiah. Today I was in chapter 17:5-18 and these words hit me most:
7 “But blessed are those who trust in the Lord
and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
8 They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green,
and they never stop producing fruit.

9 “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things,
and desperately wicked.
Who really knows how bad it is?
10 But I, the Lord, search all hearts
and examine secret motives.
I give all people their due rewards,
according to what their actions deserve.”

Then I really appreciated the questions from the IV Press Study:
  • Why will the person who relies on human strength be disappointed (vv. 5-6)?
  • How does God provide for the person who relies on him instead of on human strength (vv. 7-8)?
  • What is the state of the human heart before God (vv. 9-10)?
  • What did Jeremiah continue to hope for (vv. 14-18)?
  • What "drought conditions" are you facing now?
  • In what ways do you find it easier to trust someone or something else besides God to see you through those circumstances?
  • How does God's promise in verses 7-8 give you confidence?
I sense God’s guidance most clearly when he coordinates the dance between various “songs” I’m hearing… The reading from Benedict and this scripture passage from Jeremiah connected in my soul, but not in a beat-me-over-the-head sort of way.

As I read these two passages I tried to listen closely. I “heard” the rhythmic connections between Benedict’s call to authenticity and Jeremiah’s prophetic push to dig my roots down deep for real water. The Benedictine reading reminds me to clear out the clutter that distracts me from Jesus, and the reading from Jeremiah tells me that God sees through my facades, regardless. Lord, I thank you for the safety and truth that you are; that gives me the space to be real and vulnerable. Then your Spirit does His work, shaping my soul for eternity.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Just read this this morning. I don't need to say anything about it. Outstanding and poignant.

(Photo is too darn grainy, but it was taken on a walk during a guided personal retreat in November 08).

The Voice in the Garden of Solitude

Solitude is the garden for our hearts, which yearn for love. It is the place where our aloneness can bear fruit. It is the home for our restless bodies and anxious minds. Solitude, whether it is connected with a physical space or not, is essential for our spiritual lives. It is not an easy place to be, since we are so insecure and fearful that we are easily distracted by whatever promises immediate satisfaction. Solitude is not immediately satisfying, because in solitude we meet our demons, our addictions, our feelings of lust and anger, and our immense need for recognition and approval. But if we do not run away, we will meet there also the One who says, "Do not be afraid. I am with you, and I will guide you through the valley of darkness." Let's keep returning to our solitude. (Henri Nouwen)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Put Me In, Coach

If you've known me for awhile you'll know I've been working through some major life transitions. It has been a wild ride. As of February 1, it will be one year since I officially resigned from my last position of fifteen years. That exit was akin to having several organs removed... I had so many years and relationships that I had invested in, and it was unimaginable to me that I could leave.

Yet so many things (including some significant shoves from God) had pointed me in that direction, and I felt ready, or at least willing, to take a big leap into the unknown. At one point I told someone that I felt like I'd flung myself off a cliff, and didn't know if there was going to be a net, a bungee cord, a parachute -- or absolutely nothing -- to catch me. It was mostly terrifying and a tiny bit thrilling.

I picked the worst time in modern American history to leave a well-paying, stable job with loads of great things about it. But God is bigger. And though it had days of real fear, I can say in hindsight that I am so grateful I took the step.

I don't want to paint a rosy picture. In the months following my exit, I made $0.00 the first month, $720 the second month, $2000 the third month... and this was still only about 35% of what I used to living on. But I was pressed to step into new places of prayer and risk and simplicity and humility and raw vulnerability. Somehow I do not want to ever forget how that felt. I learned a whole lot about what still needs work in me. Again I say, God is bigger. And more than enough.

But I must say that the thing I've learned THE MOST about is this: just admit that you have a terrible imagination.

In other words, just because YOU cannot imagine how something, ANYthing, is going to work out, does not mean it will not or cannot work out. Because, truth be told, it's really all about how incredibly limited your perspective is. The ability to see your life accurately is about the same as when you pick up binoculars and accidentally look through the wrong end of the lenses. Everything looks itsy bitsy small and indecipherable. And very far away.

I say this because I am now pursuing four, and really FIVE, different jobs right now. They all let me do things I enjoy doing like mad, and I would never have pictured myself doing any single one of them when I finally said, "I think it's time to go" from my other job. If you're in a big life transition yourself, write that one down.

For example... one of the biggest surprises to emerge out of all this has been this new venture into pastoral coaching. I still sort of twitch, maybe even cringe a teeny bit when I use that word "coach." I just have visions of websites with phrases like "Awake. Transform. Create." blazing across in floaty script with butterflies emerging from cocoons or people standing with arms outstretched on beaches or mountain tops. Barf.

All I can say is a I fell into it in a only-God-could-have-come-up-with-this sort of way. I still could not tell you how it all happened, but I ended up meeting most of last year with lead pastors from 3 different churches on a weekly basis (through video conferencing), started with a 4th in December, and have 3 more I'm starting with in the next month. (Don't worry, I'm not a freak who no longer sleeps -- I finished with my first project in November, and am finishing the next two this month. I can't really manage more than 3-4 at a time on top of the other stuff I'm doing.)

It's hard to quantify what we work on together. But there is a method in the madness as we work through identification of talents (and blind spots), places that need work, time management, moving from being reactive to proactive (sorry, I know that sounds very life-coachy, but it's true), leadership development, vision casting, management of staff, development of structures for growth, strategic planning... plus a whole lotta problem-solving in between. I have been privileged to work with several tremendous and gifted people from different cultures and backgrounds who are leading a very intriguing combination of churches. I feel so very fortunate.

Two passages come to mind:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

(Go to wordle.net to make one of these nifty little numbers)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Onions and Avocados and Apples, Oh My!

I've mentioned before that I've picked a new habit of reading cookbooks for fun... and while there are loads and loads of lovely recipes lingering on the internet just waiting to be tried, I do like picking up a cookbook once in awhile because it just gets my creative juices (and tastebuds) going.

Other days I will look at what I have in my refrigerator and pantry, plug in the key ingredients and see what comes up.

But on days like today, cozy and rainy and slow, I like to sit down with a cookbook and let the recipes tell me what to do. And my palate and my tummy are oh so pleased right now. This salad is a delightful mix of textures and tastes that work together at once, but also arrive one at a time to savor. Judge for yourself. (The photo featured here is the closest I could find to capturing what my salad looked like... substitute thin apple slices for the oranges in the photo... or use oranges. It's a free country.)

Onion-Wilted Spinach Salad with Cumin, Avocado and Apple
(The term "wilted" sounds so humdrum and floppy in other contexts... but in cooking it is wonderful! To wilt lettuce or spinach allows it to be slightly crisp still, but warmed up ever so subtly to conform with ingredients in a new way. Enjoy.)


1 medium apple (the recipe calls for tart apple, but I used a Pink Lady)
3 tb lemon juice
1 small, perfectly ripe avocado
3 tb olive oil
2 cups thickly-sliced onions into rings
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 pound cleaned, stemmed spinach
1/2 tsp salt

1. Cut the apple into thin slices onto a plate, drizzle with about 2 tsp of lemon juice. Cover the plate tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

2. Pour the remaining lemon juice onto a second plate. Peel and slice the avocado, place the slices in the lemon juice, and turn them over till they are well-coated.

3. Heat the olive oil in a medium-sized skillet. When it is very hot (I sprinkle water drops on it to see if they sizzle) add the onion rings and cook over high heat for 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle in the cumin seeds, and cook for a minute longer.

4. Add the hot onion and cumin to the spinach, and toss until thoroughly mixed. The spinach will begin to wilt upon contact. To speed the process along -- and to be sure you include every last drop of oil -- add some of the spinach to the pan and swish it around to catch some oil. Then return everything into a large bowl.

5. Mix in the avocado and apple, including the lemon juice. Grind some pepper on it. Party party.

(Taken from Mollie Katzen's "Vegetable Heaven" cookbook - a steal from the clearance rack at Borders!)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Save Lives

Yesterday morning at 7:15am I met a friend for breakfast. His name is Tom and he is a doctor here in town. He chooses to work at Urgent Care so he can maintain flexibility in his schedule, because several times a year he goes down to Haiti and works in a clinic.

I had to go to Urgent Care last June, and met him. We soon connected on our mutual desire to serve the poor in the ways they felt the most need. When I told him I was just getting started with Eden Reforestation Projects, his eyes brightened. He had started going to Haiti four years previous, and worked with a local pastor to provide consistent medical care, educational support and clean water to a large group of orphans. But he said that even when he first started with the group that the pastor told him, "Our great vision and hope is that we begin the work of reforestation. That will really help us to rebuild our land."

So Tom and I started working on ways to get that vision going. He met with Eden's director, and they met for a day in Haiti itself as well this past October. A small nursery was started with 10,000 seedlings. Eden is proceeding slowly in Haiti because the devastation is so massive. We can't even figure out the native species because the landscape is so denuded.

Tom and I met yesterday to move forward. He's returning in March, and wanted some help on how to prepare the group of med students he's bringing. He showed me two bracelets he'd had made on his last trip down there, building on the operating premise of Eden: "Plant Trees. Save Lives." Then he handed me the Save Lives bracelet in the photo and I put it on.

How could I have known how stunning a statement that bracelet would be just a few hours a later. My heart aches for Haiti, a land and a people who have already sustained unimaginable devastation. Even on CNN last night, Anderson Cooper mentioned how the deforestation in the country will compound the damage in Haiti. The quake and its aftershocks will cause landslides, and the naked hillsides (Haiti only has 2-3% of its forests remaining) will not be able to hold the soil, resulting in massive landslides and even worse damage. Indeed, the pastor's vision for reforestation is more pertinent than ever.

Pray for Haiti. Pray for the many people serving and living there. Pray for wisdom in the distribution of aid that will be pouring into the country, which is already at such a high level. Pray against civil unrest as the people are forced to live out of doors. May this disaster spur even more interest in ways to care and commit to the developing world. And remind yourself to keep praying and keep caring, even as the flow of news dies down.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Nutrition Notebook #5

Not a lot of news to report in my ongoing venture to work with my cholesterol and metabolism, other than it's not very easy to maintain a this way of life when one is working at a convention in a Midwestern urban center! Not only was my schedule non-stop during that week (which does not allow much room for preparing meals), I was also constrained by limited facilities and resources. I did have a great grocery nearby that allowed me to have giant tasty salads or hummus and vegetables each day for lunch, and a Japanese restaurant had wonderful sushi for a couple of on-the-run dinners, but overall I'd give myself about a B- in terms of adherence.

This past week was spent getting back into the swing of all of life: food, exercise, sleep, work, play. I'm a happier camper (though the conference was outstanding) now that I'm back in my routine. That sounds so boring and grown-up, I suppose. Oh well.

This morning I made a breakfast that I cannot keep a secret any longer. I got the recipe from my nutritionist and oh baby... it takes a time or two to get it down, but it's well worth the trouble. You'll take a look at the ingredients and scratch your head. But it works wonderfully, and is an amazing treat on every level. Enjoy!

2 large eggs, beaten
1 ripe banana, mashed or 1 apple, grated
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 c walnuts, chopped
olive oil, as needed

Pour a thin film of olive oil in a cast iron or stainless skillet. Heat on low (I use a gas stove, and have it between 2 & 3). Meanwhile, mix ingredients together. When oil is hot (I sprinkle a few droplets of water to test - if they sizzle, it's ready), pour batter into pan with a ladle, forming 2-3" pancakes (NO BIGGER).

When little bubbles form on top of pancake, flip over and brown other side. This will take practice. My first batch was an abysmal failure. Serve immediately. I top my pancakes with peanut or almond butter, or blueberries. Really, really good.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Foodie Gold!

Lookit I found on LA Times online today! Take your time, scroll through and daydream. Twenty-five years of Top Ten recipes. I've got several beat-up recipe clippings from LA Times that I saved from when I got the print edition...

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Prayer for the New Year

I Hold Up My Life to You Now
Rev. Ted Loder

Patient God,
the clock struck midnight
and I partied with a strange sadness in my heart,
confusion in my mind.

Now, I ask you
to gather me,
for I realize
the storms of time have scattered me,
the furies of the year past have driven me,
many sorrows have scarred me,
many accomplishments have disappointed me,
much activity has wearied me,
and fear has spooked me
into a hundred hiding places,
one of which is pretended gaiety.

I'm sick of a string of "nice days."

What I want is passionate days,
wondrous days,
dangerous days,
blessed days,
surprising days.

What I want is you!

Patient God, I hold up my life to you now,
as much as I can,
as high as I can,
in this mysterious reach called prayer.

Help me not to let my life slip away from me.
Come close, lest I wobble and fall short.
It is not days or years I seek from you,
not infinity and enormity,
but small things and moments of awareness,
awareness that you are in what I am
and in what I have been indifferent to.

It is not new time I seek,
but new eyes,
a new heart,
and you, always you.

O Patient God,
make something new in me,
in this year,
for you, for others,
for the abundance of this life lived in your presence.


Adapted from Ted Loder, Guerrillas of Grace: Prayers for the Battle,
Innisfree Press, Inc. 1984.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


"Oh God," I said, and that was all. But what are the prayers of the whole universe more than expansions of that one cry? It is not what God can give us, but God that we want.
(George Macdonald)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Happy Twenty Ten!

I'm so glad to be back home I nearly kissed the ground when I walked down the steps from my little SB puddle-jumper last night after being gone for six days at Urbana 09 in St. Louis.

What an adventure... if you followed my daily entries on my Facebook page, you've heard the details (and my whining) already.

The hardest part was simply getting there. My flight path was Santa Barbara to SF, SF to Chicago, Chicago to St. Louis. The flight from SF ended up being delayed for 4 hours (I comforted myself with sushi, Peets lattes and Ghirardelli chocolate... but stuck with decaf per my new nutritional demands...)

Then, due to weather, my flight to St. Louis got canceled. OF COURSE. By then it was 10pm. No hotel voucher either. Providentially, a couple who had offered to help out in the booth, with whom I'd been emailing frequently this fall, happen to live in Chicago. So they came and got me. I slept all of 4 hours (didn't go to bed till 12:30am), because it was still snowing so hard that I assumed my standby connection from Chicago to St Louis wouldn't make it anytime soon, and technically I was supposed to be there by 9am on the 27th to set up the booth for Eden Reforestation Projects.

I haven't mentioned either that when I plugged in my laptop at midnight when I arrived at the home in Chicago that I discovered that water had gotten into the screen of my laptop. Great sleep that night, let me tell you (hear sarcasm in my voice). Anyway, we left at 5:15am on the 27th and drove to St Louis in snow and sleet in an old Astro van. I will admit that I feared for my life at points - driving on non-plowed highways, windshield wipers frozen up, early morning exhaustion, etc. But we made it by 10:30am Sunday the 27th thanks to Evan's great driving and God's hand on us.

At this point I had no sense of where my luggage was, and couldn't worry about it because I needed to get my tail over to the Global Conexions Hall to get our booth set up. I ended up not having my bag for two full days (Tuesday night, so three, really). I had just enough stuff in my rolly bag to help me last (and we had standard Eden Reforestation t-shirts we were wearing in the booth). But my jeans could walk by themselves by Tuesday. I made several irate phone calls to United and talked with some nice men from India on the baggage claim customer service line (every single one apologized profusely and each also promised me $150 travel vouchers for my troubles -- which I have yet to receive) who promised also that United would deliver my bag to my hotel. I gave up on that despite 3 heartfelt promises from my friends at United India --- a friend from Santa Barbara (thank you Ryan!!) saved me by driving the Astro Van to the blasted airport and retrieved the bag from United himself, signing off some dumb form acknowledging responsibility for the bag.

I LOVE Urbana. I attended in 1996, 2000, 2003, and 2006, and each one has moved me in a different way. This year proved to be no exception. But it was also quite different in that for the time since I was an exhibitor. What does that mean? Every afternoon, from 12:30-6:30pm, I was in the booth. I had absolutely no idea what to expect in terms of response. After all, there are over 250 exhibitors and 16,000 attendees We were told in the orientation for exhibitors that we need to follow up on our contacts from this conference by February, even if that means being in touch with 200 persons. OK, we can do that, I thought to myself....

If you got to look at my facebook posts, you'll know that I grossly underestimated the response. We ended up talking to at least 800 people! I basically lost my voice on the 3rd day and survived on throat lozenges. It was wonderful to have students come back and bring their friends. On the last full day, a pastor giving a seminar to over 400 pastors mentioned us twice as the first thing he's going to get his church involved with when he gets home (to So Cal). We got some traffic from that shout out too.

So the booth was exhausting but entirely worthwhile. Thank you to many friends and supporters of Eden who sent funds to assist us in paying for this adventure. I cannot wait to see what happens from here!

I would be remiss if I didn't mention some of my favorite quotes from Urbana. I cannot recommend enough that you set aside a half an hour each day for a week or so and tune in to some of the Urbana speakers now posted online. Go to the webcast link on Urbana 09. My favorites were Oscar Muriu, Brenda Salter-McNeil, Patrick Fung, Sunder Krishnan, Alec Hill and Shane Claiborne. But each one was fantastic in its right.
  • "You have no idea what you unleash when you say YES to God." Jim Tebbe
  • "God's work done in God's way will never lack God's supply." Patrick Fung, quoting Hudson Taylor
  • "If you can't give away your possessions, then they possess you." Shane Claiborne
  • "We are saved to redeem all of creation, according to Genesis." Denise-Margaret Thompson
  • "So much of our praying is telling something to God he already knows... what if prayer becomes spiritual defiance of what is, in order to bring about what God has promised?" Sunder Krishnan

Perhaps the most powerful word for me as a representative for Eden Reforestation was being reminded of this profound verse near the end of the Bible:

On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:2)