Gather Your Team and Make a ‘Family’

“Thank you for being on my team.”

Words from my friend bear witness to this friendship we’re nurturing, to the time we’ve spent catching up over tea, in prayer, studying God’s word. The times we’ve carried one another’s burdens, rejoiced over each other’s victories.

“Gather your team” we’d heard the speaker say. This wise woman at the podium, in the evening of her life, had given a diverse group of women gathered for worship and teaching a peek into the journey that’s been her life. She’s lived simply but with a heart open to all that God placed in her path. Divorced early in her marriage, she trusted God to lead her as a single parent, to bless her remarriage, and to bring comfort in the tragic too-soon death of her beloved second husband and a son.

At a round table with friends I’ve known for decades and with several new to this season of my life, I’d heard the lovely woman communing with us remind the gathering of this:

Whatever life brings, God has gone before you. He is already there. Click To Tweet

Then she said it. “Gather your team.”

Surround yourself with people who know you, she said, those you can trust, those who’ll hang with you in the hard days and dance with you in the good.

“Some friends are for a season,” she told us. “And that’s okay.”

 

“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads forth the prisoners with singing, but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.” Psalm 68:5-6

My Grandmothers. Sisters-in-law and lifelong teammates.

Always, always cultivate friends who are willing, committed, available. Find friends and make a “family.”

If we choose wisely, she said, we need never been lonely. Even in widowhood. Especially in the evening of our lives.

Then one more piece of advice fell from her lips — use your gifts. “I am a knitter of socks,” she said, smiling as she held up a pair in progress. “I’m using my gifts and God is pleased with me.”

More than a knitter of socks, she is a generous weaver of wise words, passed down, spread around and soaked up.

Thank you, Lord, for women who take seriously the command “to be reverent in the way they live….to teach what is good.” Titus 2:3

 

 

 

 

Pray A to Z: Purposeful Prayer in the New Year and a Book Give-Away

It’s a new year and because I love fresh starts, I’ve been known to make a resolution or two. (I won’t share the statistics on my success at keeping them.) Recently, our pastor challenged us to make commitments instead of resolutions — more importantly, to commit to God an action, attitude, habit or sacrifice that we’re willing to take up in the new year.

Mine is prayer. Just that — conversation with God. No more spiritual “tweets” or text messages sent up in the midst of other things, but deep, personal prayer. Intentional solicitations, thoughtful praises, heartfelt gratitude. With a new prayer journal in hand, I’m off to a good start.

One of the tools I know will guide me toward a habit of more intentional prayer is a new book by my friend, Amelia Rhodes, entitled Pray A to Z: A Practical Guide to Pray for Your Community. Amelia is a writer, author and speaker who lives in Lowell, Michigan, with her family. Her book grew out of a personal desire to cultivate an organized prayer life. From Amelia:

“Pray A to Z: A Practical Guide to Pray for Your Community features 5 topics for each letter. Three of those are prayers of petition, and two are prayers of praise. Each topic has a verse, a prompt, and a short prayer to get you started.

Pray A to Z can be used in many ways, including your personal quiet time, as a part of a small prayer group, during family devotions or in Sunday school classes. You can pray all the way through one letter each day, completing the entire alphabet in a month, or imply lift up one topic per day, or utilize any other order or schedule that suits your needs at the time. I’ve often camped out on one topic when there’s been something heavy on my heart.

My hope and prayer is that this book will help you experience a renewed excitement about prayer and enjoy a closer relationship with God. I also pray God will open your eyes to the struggles others are facing and show you how you can be His hands and feet of love to your community.”

I am giving a copy of this book to one reader who responds here with his or her request for prayer. I promise not only to send you the book (through Amazon), but to pray specifically for your request. I’ll choose the winner in a drawing.

The beautiful thing about writing out prayers is that we have a record which can make us aware of the answers to our prayers. I asked Amelia to share a personal story about answered prayer in her life:

Author Amelia Rhodes

A year ago at this time my family and I were settling into a cozy 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom apartment. We had sold our house, believing that God was calling us to a simpler way of life, one that long term would allow us to be more generous with our time and our money. Yet, when our house sold, there was nothing for sale in our little town. However, there was this small rental that we were able to snag for six months, and it happened to be in the exact location we wanted to live. It was a perfect way to “try out” this part of town we believed we were supposed to move to. And by spring, there would be plenty of houses for sale.

Or so we thought.

Spring came and there weren’t any houses for sale. Week after week we searched. Houses were selling before they were even listed. And a fixer-upper house in the price range and location we felt called to just wasn’t happening.

Every day for six months, I looked out the back window of that rental and prayed, asking God to guide our steps to obey this call on our life and show us the right place to live.

With weeks left before our lease was up, and still no houses for sale, we figured we would have to sign a one year lease and continue waiting. Another year in the rental would be challenging, but we were content to be patient until the right house showed up that would allow us to live the way we believed God was asking us to.

Then the landlord called. It turned out that due to health challenges, they were looking to sell all their rental homes. She hoped we had found a place to buy. When I told her we hadn’t, she asked what specifically we were looking for. I gave her our simple wish list and she replied, “We own the house behind where you are living, and we need to sell it too. I think it might be exactly what you’re looking for. Do you want to walk through it tomorrow?”

A few weeks later, we signed the papers to buy the house behind the rental. It also happened to be the house that filled my view for six months as I stared out the window asking God to show us where we were supposed to live. I’m sure God got a chuckle out of that. I can imagine Him thinking, “My dear, the answer is right in front of you. It’s just not time to show you yet.”

Sometimes the answer is right in front of us, but it’s not time for God to reveal it yet. And sometimes we have to wait, not because we aren’t ready, but because the other parties involved aren’t ready yet. Prayer and patience go together, and God gives us the patience we need to wait for HIs timing when we ask.

Amelia’s new book is available online at all major booksellers. You can also connect with her online at www.ameliarhodes.com, on Twitter @amrhodes, Facebook @ameliarhodeswriter and Instagram @ameliamrhodes.

What Epiphany Looks Like in the Hard-Scrabble Brokenness of Our Everyday

This Christmas season was going to be different.

I entered Advent with a spirit of hope and good intentions, expecting it to carry me to January 6, to Epiphany. Candles would remain lit, trees with twinkling lights would hold their places in our home, and the beautiful Advent readings would keep us focused on the celebration of the birth of Jesus, right through the twelves days of Christmas.

About the same time our Christmas leftovers ran out, so did my spirit of hope.

So this weekend, smack-dab in the middle of Advent, I defrocked the house of Christmas. The artificial trees are bare and tucked away and the big white nativity scene is back in its plastic tub. Garlands and window decorations have been boxed and holiday napkins are stored in the cupboard for another year. The book of Advent readings has been shelved.

I’m both sad and relieved to see our house emptied of Christmas.

After the year we’ve had as a family, I craved the joy, the quiet, and the goodwill of the Christmas season. I didn’t want it come to a screeching halt a day or two after Christmas because I believed the beauty and symbolism of Epiphany could rescue us from a difficult 2016 and usher in a brand-spanking-new 2017.

But you can’t close the door on loss, pain, fear, sadness or illness just because it’s Christmas. There aren’t enough twinkling lights and garlands of evergreen to camouflage what’s resting in your soul, even when Advent is on your doorstep.

Don’t get me wrong — Christmas was good. We celebrated the birth of Jesus in our own fashion. Even with parts of our family missing on Christmas Day, and those other hard things hovering in the background, we feasted and gifted and enjoyed one another.

The reality is that once the Christmas music ended and the post-Christmas sales and holiday parties wound down, our day-to-day lives demanded attention.

I haven’t abandoned hope. It’s just lost some of its glow.

Stepping into the new year, I’m facing down the hard stuff, but still craving the promise of Advent. Though it no longer looks like Christmas around here, there is still some lingering essence of the season.

The historical and sacred Epiphany marks the visit to baby Jesus by the Magi. In the Greek, Epiphany means “manifestation”, the revelation of God in his Son as human in Jesus Christ.

God revealed.

Climbing the hills behind our house on New Year’s Day, ducking through the naked trees, I had a personal epiphany: God is no less manifest in the hard-scrabble brokenness of our everyday than he is in the humanity of his son, Jesus. Yes, God is revealed in His son and celebrated in the sacred of liturgy and tradition. But he’s also present in the struggle. If anything, he’s more manifest — more clearly revealed — in the struggle.

In her book “The Broken Way”, author Ann Voskamp has much to say about how brokenness makes room for goodness and sheds light on heroes:

“Grace can strike when you are in great pain and light you with the greatest hope.”

And grace gives space for healing to begin and for hope to be restored. Maybe I had to clear away my symbols of Christmas to create space for a return to the hope of God incarnate.

But, in packing up Christmas, I couldn’t bring myself to put away my favorite nativity scene, the one I’ve had for three decades, figures collected piece by piece when our children were small. The Magi are already standing there, in awe of Jesus.

Evidence of the manifest God we need right now, in the brokenness of everyday, isn’t found only in a date on the calendar or a tradition, in decorations or celebrations. The God of grace and mercy and healing is revealed when we pick up the hard things and carry on because……hope.

 

 

 

 

Winter Means Counting Down the Blessings

“I look like a little boy,” Dad grumbles. He pulls the stocking cap down over his ears and eyebrows. “I never wear hats like this. Maybe you do, but I don’t.” Dad gives me an accusing look. “Where’s your hat.”

It’s blustery outside, it’s his birthday and he has an appointment with the dentist. I’ve brought the hat, some warm gloves and a new pair of long johns with me to dad’s apartment in the nursing home, hoping to keep his frail body warm while we travel through the countryside. He clearly isn’t impressed, and when I suggest he wear his warm winter coat, I sense a revolt coming on.

With so few choices left in his life, Dad wants to be the one deciding what to wear, even if leaving the long johns laying across his bed means he’ll be shivering while the car warms up.

“Stubborn,” I mutter under my breath.

“What’d you say?”

“You’re a little stubborn, Dad.”

“You bet I am. I dressed myself for 88 years. I don’t need to be told what to wear.”

The cursed stocking cap is a topic of debate throughout the afternoon, and the warm gloves are left conspicuously tossed on the dash of the car. The cap is pulled off as soon as we step into the dental office, exposing Dad’s fuzzy white buzz cut.

Dad’s life has been turned upside down in the past year. He and Mom sold the home they loved and moved into a little apartment at the edge of town. After a few good months getting settled, things started going downhill. Mom became sick and by the end of the summer, she was gone. Dad couldn’t live alone and couldn’t live with any of his kids, so he moved again, into an apartment in a nursing facility in a neighboring town.

It doesn’t matter how cozy the place is, how good and kind his caregivers are or that the food is more than adequate. Dad’s not happy.

The final straw for Dad is being told he can’t drive. His vision and reflexes are failing. For a man who drove a rural mail route for 25 years and who knows every country road surrounding his hometown like the back of his hand, it feels like he’s lost his identity.

How do you help someone who lives in a past that no longer exists see the goodness in today? I count my blessings, number them on a page, and wish I could make a list for him. But they wouldn’t measure up. In his mind, the best blessings of his best days are behind him.

We drive to the county seat, our hometown, and stop in at the restaurant where he and Mom ate breakfast nearly every day. The owner has agreed to let us bring a birthday cake this afternoon to share with a few hometown friends in a back room of the café. It’s good to see Dad’s face light up as people begin dropping by.

They’re a blessing, these good friends who take a minute to say “Happy Birthday”. There is laughter, memories are shared, illnesses compared, handshakes exchanged. Blessings, all of it. I make a mental note in Dad’s column.

The long afternoon winds down and it’s time to take Dad back to his apartment. The restaurant owner hands Dad a Styrofoam container of chili. I know this will be dinner, warmed up in his apartment so he doesn’t have to go to the dining room at the nursing home.

An early sunset has set a glow on the snow-covered evergreens along our route back to the nursing home. Dad remarks, as he often does, that the tall spruce trees look good lined up like soldiers. We travel the rest of the way in silence, his home territory in the rearview mirror. He’s keenly aware of what he’s leaving behind.

It keeps getting harder — both spending the time together and leaving him to go home. Before I leave, I want to share with Dad my mental list of all the ways he is blessed in the winter of his life, but I know he doesn’t want to hear it.

I can read it in the weary slump of his shoulders. It’s his birthday, and nothing feels right.

Then I realize the best gift I can give Dad on this dark day in December isn’t the warmth of a hat, gloves and long johns, or even the birthday cake shared with friends. The gift Dad wants most is for me to look into his heart and say it.

“Yeah, this stinks, doesn’t it Dad. It’s hard and some days it just stinks.”

Dad’s surprised I would say it, and he kind of chuckles while he hangs up his too-heavy winter coat and lays the hat and gloves on the top shelf of his closet.

“Ah, it ain’t so bad, I guess. Just not what I thought it would be.”

That’s good. I can complain for him and the tables are turned. This feels right — Dad reassuring daughter that things “ain’t so bad.” Could there be blessings?

I turn to go and he reaches for a hug.

“How can I ever pay you back,” he says. Tears well up in his eyes, as they do so often these days.

“You already have, Dad. A long time ago.”

The days I get with Dad, even the hard ones, are blessings and I know it’s true — I’m counting them down. Each one is precious.

 

 

 

 

In the Rush to Christmas, Slow Down for Advent

When our boys were young, the countdown to Christmas involved a festive green cloth calendar with pockets, one for each of 25 days until Christmas. A tiny grey mouse was moved from one pocket to the next as he made his way through the weeks leading up to our sons’ favorite holiday. Each day, a different boy took a turn at jumping the mouse into the new day’s pocket and announcing the countdown.

The older boys understood the progression of time and the build-up of excitement that was behind our family Advent calendar, but it was a hard concept for the two littlest ones to grasp. One morning, with the calendar clearly showing Christmas was still days away, the three-year-old took it upon himself to give the mouse extra jumps. When caught in the act, he turned to his brothers and happily declared “It’s Christmas!”

Sometimes, we grown-ups want to rush the season. Quoting the Angela Lansbury/Johnny Mathis tune, “We need a little Christmas right this very minute. Candles in the window. Carols at the spinet.”

Given the uncertainty, confusion and fear in America today, it’s no surprise this year’s rush to Christmas appears almost frantic. I’m not referring to Christmas decorations that appeared alongside Halloween masks or holiday music playing in the background at Wal-Mart while we shopped for Thanksgiving food. That consumer-driven reality has been with us for several years. What’s different is that people of all faith traditions (and without them) are speaking with nostalgia and great anticipation about the coming of Christmas.

I feel it myself. I sense a deep need to step into something solid, into a season grounded in words and promises I can trust. But my heart’s leaning is not toward December 25. My anticipation has been centered on the anticipation. On Advent — “the coming”.

In America, Advent begins on the Sunday after our traditional Thanksgiving, the fourth Sunday before Christmas. If we are true to it’s intent, at Thanksgiving we’ve given thanks to God — “eucharisteo” — and there has been the breaking of bread with others  — “koinonia”.

Stepping into Advent after we’ve given thanks and shared fellowship prepares us to receive the perfect gift of Christ. The liturgical calendar cycles through a rhythm of seasons.

“Advent to prepare for Christ’s coming, Epiphany to remember the Light, Lent to confess our resistance to the Light, Holy Week to remember Christ’s suffering, Easter to celebrate the resurrection’s power, the birthday of the church at Pentacost, and Ordinary Time to bring us back to the beginning again.” (quoted from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals)

The Greek word for liturgy means “the work of the people”. Advent, then, is as much a  time of work as a time of waiting. Our Advent work goes beyond decorating the house, baking cookies, putting up lights, installing the tree. Though all can be a life-giving aspect of the season. might we also choose actions that draw us near to the One we await, who is waiting for us.

Amidst the feasting, decorating and celebrating, there can be times for fasting, prayer and readings that set the pace for the slow walk toward Christ.

An Advent wreath, akin to the Advent calendar we hung on our wall for our children, is an intentional measuring of the journey toward receiving the gift of Jesus. Each Sunday, as we light the candle for that week, we step closer to Christ. In our practices throughout the week, we move into His presence by laying hands on His Word.

There is more. In this season of waiting and giving, could there not also be giving of “self? We can break through the distractions of the Christmas season and bring focus to the Advent with acts of kindness. The gift of “self” will look different for each of us — a meal for a neighbor, volunteering at a shelter, cookies dropped off at a nursing home, prayers with a friend in need, strangers around our dinner table..

In waiting, choose one gift of “self” for each candle lit during advent. One sometimes painful, terrifying, humbling gift. One action each week, perhaps even more as the gift of Jesus draws near.

As we actively wait for the coming of Christ, we’re aware that our celebration centers on the truth — that He has already come.

“We are forever seeking, while the forever for which we seek is now. Awaken to the truth that any place contains every place and every moment contains eternity. Seekers and searchers of all times have looked toward the heavens in order to find God. Then the gift was given.” (Richard John Neuhaus in “God With Us”)

Christ came, Christ comes, Christ will come again.

The mouse is already sitting in the December 25 pocket. Jesus is here. It’s Christmas.

 

 

 

 

How To Cure An Itchy Trigger Finger

twitter-logoJust 140 characters and two minutes.

That’s all it takes to spout an opinion or start a movement. In a flurry of emotional rhetoric, we have the freedom to proclaim to the world (or whoever’s watching) a point of view we may later realize was uninformed, or just plain over the top. But we do it anyway.

In my mother’s vernacular, some of us have developed an “itchy trigger finger.”

The new leader of the free world calls Twitter “modern communication” and says it’s a very effective way of reaching his 15 million Twitter followers. No doubt he’s right. And he is prolific; the man averages about 1 new “tweet” and hour. But I wonder how much thought he gives to his words and to other social media statements before he hits “post”. Judging from what we’ve heard and seen over the past year, not much.

The Wiktionary definition of someone with an itchy trigger finger is “a person eager to fire their weapon or likely to do so unexpectedly” or someone “with a tendency or readiness to act in haste or without consideration.”

Sound familiar?

Our next President, as well as those of us responding to his presidency via social media, would do well to heed the words of James, the earthly brother of Christ:

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” James 1:19

And if that isn’t clear enough, one could consider the wise words of Solomon:

“Do you see someone who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for them.” Proverbs 29:20

“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” Proverbs 18:2

“Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.” Proverbs 13:3

Tapping out that very witty comeback or oh-so-original opinion with our itchy trigger fingers can undermine all the hard work we’ve done in the past to put forth an image that attests to our character and integrity. Thank goodness there is a cure for trigger finger.

Bind it, stop the inflammation and give it a rest.

“The time it takes to recover from trigger finger depends on how bad it is. The choice of treatment also affects recovery. For example, splinting may be necessary for six weeks. But most people with trigger finger recover within a few weeks by resting the finger and using anti-inflammatory drugs.” (WebMD.com)

The president-elect has time to get his itchy trigger finger under control. If he heeds the advice of James, Solomon and the medical community, in two months time when he lays his hand on the Bible to take the oath of office, that kink in his itchy trigger finger could be fully healed.

 

 

Sexual Misconduct Isn’t Just for Politicians

It’s always an awkward conversation. After we’ve played some games, talked about what they want in a dating relationship, done a bit of role-playing, we get down to the nitty gritty.

Sexual assault. Violence. Rape.

Some of the students avert their eyes. Others giggle nervously. A few show concern, even ask questions.

I talk to high school kids about teen dating violence because they already know it’s happening. They see it among their friends, maybe fear it could happen in their own dating relationships. And they need to know how to stop it before it becomes their reality, their life.

As I write this, I’m preparing to spend four days in another high school health class as the guest speaker from our local domestic violence agency. It’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month and the three county schools have opened their doors for our presentation.

For this group of students, there’s new information on the table. They’ve probably already seen it on the evening news or on the internet:

A candidate for the most powerful job in the world has been exposed as a perpetrator of sexual assault.

He did it just because he could. Because he’s rich and famous. And because he doesn’t value a woman’s right to say who can touch her body and when.

By the time we’ve finished talking about teen dating violence, rape, sexual assault, the students will know that if they had done what he has admitted to doing, they could wind up in jail with a felony conviction that would follow them the rest of their lives.

They’ll also know this:

  • 12 percent of high school students report having been physically victimized by a dating partner in the past year
  • 25 percent of high school students say they have been psychologically abused by a dating partner
  • Dating abuse begins as early as sixth grade
  • Adults who abuse their dating partners often do so during adolescence
  • Young women ages 14-17 represent 38 percent of those victimized by date rape
  • Any unwanted sexual contact is assault
  • Perpetrators of sexual assault and violence do it to gain control over their victims

We’ll have the awkward conversation because just maybe their awareness will mean they won’t have to know what it’s like to be a victim.

love-is-not-abuse

For more information about domestic violence and teen dating violence, visit one of these web sites:

http://www.breakthecycle.org/loveisnotabuse

http://www.nrcdv.org/dvam/home

http://www.ncadv.org/

 

 

 

“Discovering Hope” Turns Chronic Illness Into Chronic Joy

Cindee Snider Re embodies these words from the author J.R.R. Tolkein:

Courage is found in unlikely places

I met Cindee in an unlikely place — at a writers’ workshop on the western coast of Lake Michigan. We were among a dozen writers, many of whom were still waiting on the Lord to show them how to use the gifts He’d bestowed on them. It quickly became evident that among Cindee’s gifts are photography and writing, as well as joy, compassion and a servant’s heart. What wasn’t evident was the fact Cindee was also given the gift of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a chronic disease comprised by “a group of disorders that affect the connective tissues that support the skin, bones, blood vessels, and many other organs and tissues.” (U.S. National Library of Medicine)

Four of Cindee’s five children also have this genetic disorder.

Cindee didn’t talk much about her condition, but there were moments when we could see she was pushing through the pain and discomfort to participate.

Cindee left our week-long workshop telling us she didn’t think the Lord wanted her to write words, but that she would focus on telling stories with her camera lens. God had other plans.

Just one year later, Cindee’s experience with chronic illness has led her to write “Discovering Hope: Beginning the Journey Toward Hope in Chronic Illness”. The Bible study is a product of her partnership in a new ministry with her friend Pamela K. Piquette, who also has Ehlers-Danos. Chronic Joy has as its mission “equipping those affected by chronic physical and mental illness through community and education rooted in Jesus Christ.”

discovering-hope“Discovering Hope” is an uplifting yet challenging workbook that will not only plunge you into the healing Word of God, but will draw from you your own story of chronic illness. Punctuated with insightful, inspiring stories from Cindee’s life, the study is a map through which the participant explores the tough issues and the joys associated with trial. While it is intended for use by those in a personal struggle, it would also be useful for anyone walking through chronic illness with a friend or loved one.

Working through the eight chapters, participants examine their story, perspective, sacrifice, humor, trust, gratitude, promise and choice in living with chronic illness. Instructions for doing the study with a small group are included at the back of the book, as well as a listing of scriptures used throughout the study. The book is also peppered with inspiring quotes, like the one from Tolkein and this one.

lament

Cindee’s study will be followed up by a book authored by Pamela Piquette entitled “Finding Purpose”.

I am giving a copy of this book to a friend who walks this journey, with prayer that it will minister to her. You can order the book and contribute to Chronic Joy by ordering at www.smile.amazon.com and typing in Chronic Joy as recipient. If you agree, all future purchases through Amazon will result in a donation to Chronic Joy.

Chronic Joy can be found on Facebook and on the website.

cindee Chronic illness is seen as anything but a joy. However, Cindee reminds us “It isn’t our circumstances that make life worth living. It’s God.” If you or someone you know is living with a chronic illness, consider this study by Cindee. She is, indeed, courageous, and you will be blessed.

 

 

 

 

“Crossing the Waters” book giveaway winner — Laurie Sherck! Laurie will be notified by e-mail. Thank you all for entering!

 

 

Of Fish, Boats, Faith and Friendship: A Book Review

crossing” ‘Look at you! So happy! You like fishing, no?’ I laugh and nod. Yes, this makes me happy, but I am here for more than this, of course. I have not tried to explain to him the fuller reason I am here, my own search. I do not tell him that I cannot know this place without being on its waters. I do not tell him that I am here to find the real gospel. And how do I explain that I am here on this lake to find Jesus in my own waters back home? I can hardly explain it to myself.” ~ Leslie Leyland Fields, fisherwoman, author, writer and mentor from her book Crossing the Waters: Following Jesus through the Storms, the Fish, the Doubt, and the Seas.

Lesley Leyland Fields hiked around and sailed upon the Sea of Galilee a few years ago in a quest to know more deeply what it means when Jesus calls us to “Come, follow me.” In her new book “Crossing the Waters”, Leslie carries her readers through her exploration of waters, deep and wide, both on the shores Jesus walked and on the other side of the world in the Gulf of Alaska.

Leslie, her husband and their six children run a commercial fishing operation from their own island off the coast of Kodiak Island in Alaska. She has been a fisherwoman for nearly 40 years. This is her 10th book.

I could heartily recommend “Crossing the Waters” based solely on my reading of it. Written in Leslie’s vivid narrative style, this study of the gospels is filled with Biblical truths, beautiful stories and profound insights. I have enjoyed other titles by this talented, prolific author and I trust her to move and inspire me as a writer, a mother, a woman, a daughter, and a follower of Christ (read about her other books here).

But on a personal level, I urge you to pick up Leslie’s latest book because I recently enjoyed exploring Alaska. And because I know Leslie as a mentor and friend.

leslie

Nearly a year ago, I spent a week learning under Leslie’s tutelage, along with a dozen other writers, on the western shore of Lake Michigan. Each day, we gathered before a stone fireplace in the knotty pine living room of a lakefront cottage. Leslie shared writing tips, prompts and wisdom. She also critiqued our submitted work and made suggestions for ways we could better tell our stories. I came away from the workshop challenged and changed, both as a writer and as a woman.

While Leslie generously gave us her undivided attention during those writing sessions, she also spent every available spare minute throughout our week at the lake making final edits to this book. In fact, our little writing group gave her some encouragement as she faced an important change in her project, resulting in a mention in the acknowledgements.

“Crossing the Waters: Following Jesus through the Storms, the Fish, the Doubt, and the Seas” carries us back and forth across 2000 years, from the seaside of our Savior to the churning shore of Alaska’s gulf coast. At the same time, it plunges us deep into scripture as we examine for ourselves what it means to walk in the footsteps of the early disciples. Whether from the deck of a salmon fishing skiff or the bow of an early sailing boat, we are led to go deeper into our faith.

Share this book with a small group or a Sunday school class by accessing the discussion questions provided for each chapter.

I am giving away a copy of Leslie’s book to one lucky reader who leaves a comment here between now and midnight Friday. Don’t miss the chance to read Leslie’s latest work, which currently has a five-star review on Amazon! Jump below my photos from our recent trip to Alaska to comment.

A glacier off the southern coast of Alaska

A glacier off the southern coast of Alaska

Seals warming themselves on rocks in the fjords

Seals warming themselves on rocks in the fjords

A misty morning view in southern Alaska

A misty morning view in southern Alaska

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Denali

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A beautiful valley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Catholic at Heart: Surprised by the Faith That Formed Me

I did a double-take.

Five grown men in long brown robes with bald heads, beards blowing in the breeze, were jogging barefoot down the sidewalk. I slowed my car and caught their happy faces in my rear-view mirror. This was not a sight I was used to seeing in the middle of the afternoon in this rural community. I called my sister-in-law, who runs a business in the small town I was passing through. She laughed and explained “Those are our brothers.”

My introduction to the Franciscan friars (brothers) living in this lakeside community began a journey that over the past several months has carried me back into my Catholic heritage and, I think, was ordained by God.

The bearded men reside in a white Cape Cod home on the grounds of Our Lady Mother of Mercy Center across from Sylvan Lake in Rome City, Indiana. They are novitiates in the Franciscan Friars Minor, a Catholic monastic order committed to living the rule of Saint Francis, which includes a vow of poverty. People in the community have grown used to seeing the barefoot gentlemen in the grocery store, at civic events and elsewhere in town. Growing up, I’d seen priests and nuns in their habits, but not a monastic brother.

The journalist in me wanted to know more — about the friars and about Our Lady Mother of Mercy Center.

When I knocked on the door of the brick Victorian home that houses the center’s offices, I really wasn’t sure what I hoped to gain from my visit, other than to satisfy my curiosity. Standing in the lawn outside the house, I was transported back in time.

I was raised in the Church and grew up visiting the site of the Catholic retreat center on Sunday afternoons with my parents and grandparents. At that time, it was known as Kneipp Springs and was operated by nuns from the Order of the Sisters of the Precious Blood. The 65-acre compound was beautiful, dotted with gardens and green pathways, and amazing natural springs. It was our family’s own personal Catholic park. What I didn’t know as a child was that it was also a place of physical and spiritual healing. For 75 years, celebrities and devout Catholics from around the world had made the pilgrimage to Kneipp Springs to be immersed in the healing sulphur springs and to renew their Catholic faith.

MaryI left Catholicism when I headed off to college and eventually embraced the Protestant faith. About the time I returned home and began my career as a news reporter, Kneipp Springs was sold by the nuns to The Way International. The organization operated a residential religious school on the grounds for the next 20 years. Following their departure just before the start of the new millennium, the property changed hands many times as groups and individuals pursued various uses for the buildings and acreage. A year ago, the current owners, Catholics active in the diocese, decided to return the property to its original purpose as a place of healing and devotion to spiritual growth. A foundation was formed and the property was given a new name that reflected its devotion to Mary, the mother of Christ — Our Lady Mother of Mercy Center.

I met several times with the foundation’s director and was inspired by and drawn to the work being done at the center. I looked for a way to get involved. Restoration of the 100-year-old chapel is underway and, of course, donations are needed there, and the grounds are slowly being returned to their original beauty. Manual labor is always needed.

I wondered if others might be as curious as I was about the Franciscan friars, the history of the property and the future of the retreat center. I also longed to reconnect with the Catholic Church of today.  I offered to use my gifts as a writer and designer to write articles for the local newspaper and to create a magazine for the center’s use. It’s been a mutually satisfying project.

A Healing Labor of Love

During the weeks I worked on the magazine, I also spent a lot of time with my parents. Mom’s health was declining and Dad couldn’t live entirely alone as she spent time in hospitals and in two different nursing homes. On one of my visits to the nursing home, I took Mom her rosary. I knew she needed to hold it in her hands.

It’s because of Mom that I have an emotional connection to the Catholic tradition. She’s actually my stepmother and when she married my Dad over 50 years ago — a divorced man with three little girls and a Presbyterian background — she gave us not only her unconditional love but the love of Christ as she shared with us her Catholic faith.

The morning after the magazine project was first put into the hands of visitors to Our Lady Mother of Mercy Center, Mom was found unresponsive by nursing home staff. She passed away one week later.

I hadn’t attended Mass for years. The rhythmic cadence of the liturgy, the smoky cloud of pungent incense, the priest’s lyrical prayers — all combined in a wave of nostalgia that was both comforting and unexpected. I sat in Mom and Dad’s little church for the funeral Mass last week, surrounded by people who shared her faith and knew her well, and found the words were still with me:

“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art though among women and blessed is the fruit of they womb, Jesus…..”

I’ve yet to spend an afternoon getting to know the barefoot, bearded Franciscan friars living at Our Lady Mother of Mercy, but I’m hoping they’ll let me tell their story soon. Now that a window has opened on the faith that formed me, I’m not anxious for it to close.

Father David Mary

Father David Mary, head of the Franciscan Friars Minor, celebrates mass outdoors at Our Lady Mother of Mercy Center.

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Brothers lead a Eucharistic procession past the chapel at Our Lady Mother of Mercy Center.