Delivered from bondage – Psalm 107

Today’s Psalms reading includes Psalm 107. I was especially captivated (no pun intended) by the following verses:

He brought them OUT of darkness & the shadow of death & burst their bonds apart; let them THANK the Lord for His steadfast love, for His wondrous works to the children of man! For He SHATTERS the doors of bronze & CUTS in two the bars of iron. Psalm 107:14-16 – NIV

The Psalmist describes the incredible deliverance brought about by the Lord, the God who delivers His people from hopeless & impossible situations. God enters into the darkness & rescues His people, bringing them from dark to light, while completely destroying the bonds that held them stuck. His motivation for doing so is not nefarious or self-serving; it is due to His steadfast love & care for His people. The inescapable prison of bronze doors & iron bars are shattered & cut through by the power of God. The result? Deliverance. Freedom. Great joy. Thankfulness. Hope.


I spent about 15 minutes just pondering the ramifications of this Psalm: the significance of a God who saves; delivers; rescues; does the impossible, even to destroying the most impregnable & hopeless prisons the enemy could throw at us.

I imagined myself in bondage, broken down over time to not even consider that there could be a different way to live. My existence is futile & I hope for nothing because I am powerless to affect any change in my circumstances; if I could have gotten myself out of the mess, I’d have done it already. My efforts to free myself only made things worse.

But the Lord God…

That’s our hope. The mighty hand & outstretched arm of the Lord God. The One who does the impossible. The One who conquered death, the grave, & Hell. The One who brings us out of the Darkness through His mighty power. The One who breaks the bonds that have held us fast for who knows how long. The One who crushes the doors & bars of our prison cells with a word.

That’s why no matter how stuck we are, no matter how hopeless our situations seem, no matter how dark our days have become… there is still One we can turn to & know that He will not only HEAR us, He will ANSWER us.


Several times today – much more than a ‘normal day,’ I’ve heard of situations that people are facing that make me shudder. Situations that are terrible & hopeless & dark & complicated & impossible….

And yet, they’re really not. Because of the Lord God, the God who HEARS & the God who ANSWERS.

And when He sets us free, we are TRULY free.

“…Let us thank the Lord for His steadfast love, for His wondrous works to us!” 

John Leavy Locke – 1/22/1973 – 6/17/1990

If I Stand…

This is the 34 year anniversary of my brother Johnny’s death… sometimes, some years, the grief waves are small & manageable, barely tinged with a sting. Others, the waves are wild, unpredictable, & unruly, crashing into me & dashing me around like a rag doll.

This is one of those “wild, unpredictable, & unruly” wave years.

And so I write. I’ve found that the combination of remembering & rehearsing memories – & writing them down – helps mitigate (or at least spread out to a manageable level,) the grief.


Grief. It is a weight that causes shoulders to slump, & backs to bend. It can approach slowly & almost imperceptibly, or it can slam you to the ground. Sometimes carrying grief feels like carrying a 5 gallons jug of water with 3 gallons of water in it; its uneven, unbalanced, & sloshy… making any sort of movement difficult to sustain, as the sudden sloshing of the water can throw you off balance & knock you to your knees. Or face.

I’ve found grief makes people uncomfortable… especially when its been a while since the passing & loss of a loved one. “Time heals all wounds,” is a mantra I’ve had stated to me more than once. Or “…at least you got him for 17 years…” There’s a whole bunch of “at leasts,” people throw out as leaden lifelines, meaning well, but doing nothing except to emphasize their own discomfort & disconnection with the feeling. (I’d recommend checking out Brene’ Brown’s short video on Empathy  – in a few short minutes she offers several great insights on how to come alongside someone without making the pain worse. But I digress.)

I’m thankful for the people in my life who will just sit with me, without having to say something to try to make it better. Who send a text, a note, or a phone call to say, “I’m with you today.” I’ve learned that one of the greatest helps for navigating grief is to feel it, to be where you are, & to acknowledge it as the present reality I’m experiencing. Denying it, ignoring it, burying it, minimizing it, etc… none of those things “fix” the grief… because, I don’t believe, it CAN be fixed. Nor should we try to FIX it.

At this point, I think the best course of action for navigating grief, FOR ME, is to ride it out. To talk to another person who will listen without judgement or excess word-spam. To intentionally make sure to do things that make the day bearable. To get a good work out & take a “mental & emotional health regulating” sauna. To read in the Psalms. And if I feel like crying, I cry.

Yesterday, on the actual anniversary, I wrote (typed out) a long blog with all sorts of things I remember about my brother Johnny – from our childhood up through (& past) his death. And right before I posted it, I had an issue where the whole thing was deleted. Unretrievable.

Instead of trying to re-create it immediately (or breaking things & losing my biscuits,) I decided to take the rest of the day to “be” & then to tackle a new blog today, taking it where it would go. I’ve decided to touch on a couple of the memories here.


I remember…

  • Folding newspapers in the wee hours of the morning. The smell of newspaper ink & rubber bands. The conversations about nothing & everything. Our beloved Giants & 49ers. Spiritual matters. Family, younger brothers, chores, & school.
  • Sharing a room in Carson. We’d had our own rooms in Reno so the forced shared space was a great gift & a time I treasure… especially remembering Johnny’s rants about me talking too long on the phone with theBean.
  • Johnny getting sent home from school on the 1st day of 9th grade for wardrobe infraction. He wore his Jetsons T with multi-colored board-shorts & vintage black-white-red Air Jordans. Carson Jr High had no clue what to do with him. Our great-uncle Bruce used to scratch his head & loudly declare, “That boy dresses like a clown.” The world wasn’t ready for Johnny’s style, & he didn’t care.
  • The mixtapes. Johnny & I spent hours curating our own ancient version of today’s Spotify playlists using our dual cassette boombox… Russ Taff, Steve Taylor, Rich Mullins, DeGarmo & Key, Rez Band, Altar Boys to name a few. The title of this blog IF I STAND, is taken from our favorite Rich Mullins song… something we both declared we wanted to aspire to be. People who STAND.
  • The cancer diagnosis, treatments, & battles… too many & too painful to go into detail again (did that yesterday & it helped. Don’t want to go there today.) I just know that throughout, Johnny didn’t complain or ask, “Why me?” He embraced his life-path as the one God gave to him – kind of like Hananiah, Azariah, & Mishael – aka Shadrach, Meshach, & Abed-nego in the fiery furnace. He knew God could heal him in a moment; but if He didn’t, Johnny was still going to worship Him with all of his heart.
  • The last days at home, where Johnny’s body betrayed him & he weakened. We talked around his home-hospital bed. I got up to leave & he said, “I love you brother.” And I kept walking up the stairs, echoing back to him, “I love you too.”  The pain & intimacy of the moment seemed too much to bear & went & stood outside by my car in the gravel at the top of the driveway, weeping, asking God to heal my brother. And I KNEW that He was there; I could sense His tangible presence. And in a way, His sadness too. But there wouldn’t be a healing this side of heaven. So many times I wished I’d gone back downstairs & just sat with Johnny some more instead of leaving. It is one of my life’s great regrets, & was a great source of pain & sorrow for me for many years.
  • The phone call from my mom in the late 4 a.m. hour of 6/16; the blur of the day(s) following. The memorial service. The songs. The eulogy. The people who came. The numbness.
  • Having to move forward with “normal” life again. The weird things people would say to try to make it better, failing miserably. The religious pontifications people would spout thinking they were providing answers, all the while filled with so much crap & lack of awareness that it was physically painful. Still fires me up a little. (Ok, a lot.)
  • Our family unit moving forward, albeit with a hole in it. There was a big gap where in a different world Johnny’s wife & kids would have taken their place in our hearts & my kids would have had cousins near their own ages. Birthdays & holidays & anniversaries & life. We’re still growing, & still moving forward. And still, there’s a hole.

One more thing – remember the “life’s great regret” I mentioned a minute ago? About 10 years after Johnny’s death, I had a vivid dream where I encountered Johnny in a vividly colored, almost too bright to see place… I had to squint to see, but he didn’t. He was older than I last remembered, somewhere between 18 & 35ish, the picture of health, with fair skin & ruddy cheeks, his signature flowing mullet (he pulled it off so well,) & he radiated LIFE. I embraced him for what seemed to be an eternity & then we talked. He told me stories that were wonderful & that are just at the edge of my memory today, things that feel like a promise of what is to come. I expressed to him my great regrets at not coming back downstairs & sitting with him, & rehearsed the fact that I love  him. He hugged me again & gave me reassurance that it was more than ok. The pain & regret I’d carried for years melted that moment, & have never returned. And then he had to go; he turned to me & smiled & headed out & I woke up.

It was healing & restful for the soul. I’m not sure how to define what happened, so I won’t. I just know my burdens were lifted.

Miss you Johnny. So much. Save me spot; I’ll be seeing you eventually.

Take 10 & get some sun: Embrace rhythm & rest

More often than I’d like to admit, I’ve exited my office at the end of a workday without having stopped work (study, in-person meetings, phone calls, Zooms, & the like) for anything other than bathroom breaks occasioned by the steady intake of “just one more cup of coffee.” 

Busy days. Full days. I have them. We have them. Hard work, perseverance, & the lot are important.

But so is stopping. Taking a minute (or 10) to regroup, reorient, take stock of life (values, priorities, practices, needs) to realign/readjust to make sure we’re staying congruent with our purpose. And not just our ‘work purpose.’ Our life purpose.

I recognize that my nose-to-the-grindstone life-pattern is part of how I’m wired; it’s also a symptom of my anxiety, worry, & desire to attempt to control the outcomes for my life. Without saying it out loud or admitting it to myself, it’s like I believe “If I just work hard, take care of business, & don’t slack/don’t quit, then everything will take care of itself & I will experience Good Life & have Enough & be Okay.”

But even if I don’t say it out loud & I only type it on my MacBook, it still shouts out to me, loudly with feeling, that I better keep the proverbial plates spinning. 

And I tempt myself to forget that control is an illusion & that much of my life that I think is under my control is not. 

Working in the same space as theWeez is a gift to me. She has a way of reminding me of my humanity, my needs to STOP, BE, & realign. TheWeez has every reason to have a busier life & schedule than I do: she is a wife & mom to 3 feral children between the ages of 3-6; she works full time as a preschool administrator; she’s a student midwife, on-call at least 5 times a month to go & assist with catching babies (the mom’s do the delivery; the midwifes do the catching. It’s a thing.)

And yet – just about every morning & every afternoon, on my way through the office & foyer to the bathroom for a pitstop & coffee refueling run, I will see her sitting outside on the concrete paver benches against our building, eyes closed, soaking in the sun. 

I have to confess – the first dozen times I saw her, I was jealous; I WISHED I could go join her for a few moments.

But I couldn’t. I was busy. 

So I went back to my office, filled with regret & yet doing nothing about it.

Until I did.

I went outside & sat next to her on the bench. Soaked up 10 minutes of sun. Talked about nothing & something with theWeez. Noticed how the warmth of the bench soaked into my bones. How the sun embraced my face & filled me with a renewed sense of vigor & life. 

When I eventually made my way back inside I knew I’d be back. I couldn’t wait to do it again.


Over the last few weeks, I’ve made it a habit, a practice to go outside (even when its windy & coldy) & sat on the bench, facing the sun (or where it should be) 2x/day, for about 10 minutes each time. 

I’m noticing changes in my energy patterns; my sense of well-being. I’m enjoying time with my daughter. I’m enjoying time with ME. The 10 minute sun breaks are life-giving, possibly because they serve as stark reminders that life is more than work & busyness. And that when I’m stopping & resting & (trying to) embrace a life rhythm without anxiety & unhealthy driven-ness, I’m doing something for me & for the people who I will interact with for the rest of the day. 

I love it. 

Take 10 & get some sun. Embrace a taste of rhythm & rest in the middle of your day. 

You’re worth the time investment.

Matthew 6:25-34

 

 

“It’s your choice…”

“It’s your choice.”

Years ago, a German friend confronted me in the middle of one of my “minor” fits of anger using just those words.

“It’s your choice.”

His admonition didn’t alleviate the slow burn I was experiencing; it made it worse. He obviously didn’t understand that I was JUSTIFIED in my anger, & that it was BECAUSE a whole series of things had gone WRONG & I was DISAPPOINTED & when I tried to share my disappointment using my WORDS, my wife (seemingly, to me in my agitated slow burn of a fit) DISREGARDED my (righteous) frustration. It was like she MADE me escalate my anger.

A disclaimer: It wasn’t one of those loud, visibly angry episodes; rather, it was my preferred kind of fit… kind of storming around with a furrowed brow, abrupt movements, fierce silence… I was mad, after all. And I was justified in being mad; all the things that hadn’t gone the way I WANTED them to go MADE me mad. Not “feeling” heard made me even MADDER.

At this rate of simmer & feeding the fires of indignation, I could have a full blown rage going pretty quick. Here it comes.

My friend interrupted my huffy-puffy-ness with a question: “What’s wrong with you? Why are you acting this way?”

So I let him have it… both barrels of explanation & indignation at all the things that were going WRONG, all the areas I was FRUSTRATED, all the things other people were DOING to antagonize me…

He listened for a minute & then… shrugged his shoulders, made a disinterested (to me) expression, & told me, “It’s your choice.”

And then he walked away. Leaving me speechless. I couldn’t believe it. How could he SAY it was my CHOICE? I was RESPONDING. I was FEELING.

I was, I was, I was… what?

…I was choosing to give myself over to stupid anger. I was feeding it with bits of indignation & throwing the fuel of misunderstanding on as well.. I was working myself up towards a rage under the guise of something happening TO me, completely ignoring that the response was coming from a force of will & my chosen action.

The rebuke of my friend turned into a time of soul-searching. I couldn’t help but hear the whispered conviction of the Holy Spirit, emphasizing, firmly & gently, that this response that I’d conditioned myself to accept as normal & ok & NOT my fault (or my choice), was actually 100% me. It WAS my choice to respond in anger. It WAS my choice to allow the offense to escalate. It WAS my choice to engage in self-pity. It WAS my choice.

Which meant…

I could CHOOSE differently.

Maybe not in my own strength & abilities; its not an easy thing to undue & break out of past patterns of behavior, especially those with such a strong dopamine hit of self-righteous pity & anger. But I could ask Jesus to do a work in me, by the power of the Holy Spirit – to CHOOSE something different. To still FEEL & PROCESS, but not to give myself over to self-indulgently negative, self-focused pity parties, masked with the ugliness of an on-the-edge anger that threatened (or at least made noise about) blowing up & really losing it.

That was A turning point. Not necessarily THE turning point, but A turning point. From that day forward, I would hear my friend’s rebuke, flavored with extra by the Holy Spirit: “It’s your choice.” And because it was my choice, I could CHOOSE differently. Consistently. Choices that led to stronger relationship with my spouse & kids. Choices that would foster relationship, trust, & healthy predictability with others.

And that is still my prayer – that I CHOOSE well, in each moment where I am tempted to fall back into the well worn rut of what is now a 20 year ago path. I don’t want to fall back into that behavior, & neither do I want to lose ground that was gained with a lot of blood, sweat, & tears.

It’s your choice…

Obedience vs. Sacrifice, God’s guidance: musings on a Monday…

When I started pastoring @ Hillside in January 2000, I decided to intentionally incorporate listening to & meditating on good Bible teaching messages from a few “chosen mentors,” many of whom had no idea that they were mentoring me through their teaching (I hadn’t even met most of them at the time). Due to the tasks I had to complete on most Mondays (administration, office work, errands) I decided to make Monday my main listening day. Most of the time, I just listened to the previous day’s messages posted on the somewhat fledgling interwebs from Ralph Moore @ Hope Chapel Kaneohe-Hawaii & Daniel Brown @ the Coastlands-Aptos CA. I’m so thankful for the many hours of good stuff I was subjected to, listening through the speakers on my computer, as I tackled mundane tasks every week.


With the proliferation of Bible message podcasts (estimated to be about 60,000 in the US at this time) its gotten easier to find Bible messages, but I really don’t KNOW about many of the people speaking or the churches they are a part of… I’ve had a few “swing & a miss” moments where I started a podcast at random & got about 20 minutes (or a couple episodes in) & found it to be wacky or “unique (read: non-orthodox) theology.” I’ve also most connected with churches led by pastors with a similar worldview & mission to what I have; doesn’t mean I don’t listen to people different than me: I do. It does mean it often feels like a waste of time to listen to people talking from leading a church with an attractional, program, & church building-driven model of ministry when that is the opposite of what I believe we (me & the Hillsiders) are supposed to do.

NOTE: Reading back over the previous paragraph makes me think it is a digression from what I was wanting to actually write about, but I decided to leave it in there, just because.


All that to say – I am re-embracing the practice of listening to good Bible messages; some are current (check out our friends at LIFE Church Chico or Modesto First Foursquare, to name a few – I’ve got more suggestions if you’re interested. Hit me up in the comments) & some are vintage. Like from the archives of my childhood.

Today’s message was from 1978 & it is by my mentor Jerry Cook, taken from a Sunday service from when he was pastoring East Hill Church in Gresham, OR. I was given the mp3 access to about 30 of his teachings by his daughter Christy in 2022, & I’ve listened to just about all of them at least once; some as many as 3x.  This is one I’ve listened to several times – its called “Abraham #1: Genesis 12 & 13” & in it Jerry talks extensively about Abraham’s obedience to God’s call to him:

Go from your country & your kindred & your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, & I will bless you & make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, & him who dishonors you I will curse & in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So Abram went…  Genesis 12:14a

This is where the OBEDIENCE vs. SACRIFICE in the title comes in, especially as related to God’s guidance. (After all – this is the story of Abraham going without knowing WHERE he was being sent, only knowing the WHY – for God to bless him & bless all the families of the earth THROUGH him.)  Some highlights for me:

  • God wants our OBEDIENCE more than He wants our SACRIFICES. (You can read some of the biblical backing for this principle HERE in the story of God’s rejection of King Saul from 1Samuel 13-15.) There’s nothing God needs us to DO for him or to GIVE to Him or to SACRIFICE for Him; He wants us to learn to OBEY Him, to follow His commands.
  • There are many people who are willing to sacrifice but who aren’t willing to follow simple obedience patterns. God is not impressed with nor needs our sacrifices; He wants our hearts & won’t settle for less.
  • It’s in the act of our OBEDIENCE to God’s commands that His GUIDANCE comes… as obedience is a forerunner & key ingredient to receiving God as Lord & Master of our lives.
  • The kind of obedience God calls those who would be His people to isn’t mindless or driven by blind faith; it is rooted in faith in the proven character of God.
  • Sometimes we won’t know exactly or specifically what God is doing in/through/around us until we take the first steps of obedience to what He’s already spoken to us about.
  • Something Jerry closed with: “Ok, Abraham, you don’t know WHERE you’re going, but that’s ok, because you are SAFE with Me.” I want to lean into this one more & more.

As I’ve been musing on this this afternoon, other Bible passages come to mind, like from Matthew 28:18-20, the Great Commission, where Jesus emphasizes the “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” part of the Message from verse 20.

Simple patterns of OBEDIENCE > all the SACRIFICES we can make.

To me, a core truth from this seems to be: Want guidance & direction from God? Then obey/put into practice what you already know God has spoken to you about.

And as you take steps of obedience, God will reveal Himself more & more. And even if/when you don’t know 100% (or 20%) where you’re going, you can be sure that you are safe with Him.

Some musings from the last week of 2023 – Part 1 – Enough

I’m mostly off for the last week of the year, that ethereal time & space between Christmas & New Years Day, where it seems the actual real days off (or celebrated days off) outnumber the days on. And in the spirit of that, I’ve been purposing to do more musing, to end this year called 2023 with some things that jump out to me from my thinking timFes. Don’t know how many of these I’ll do before 1/1/2024, but I’m-a-fixing to do a couple.


I’m noticing the older I get, the more I feel tempted to attempt to accumulate stuff… to try to make sure that there is enough. Which made me push back a bit on that word — ENOUGH — to define it. To explain it. To answer the question, “How much IS enough?”

It seems like the only answer I get is “just a little more.”

I get several emails a day (which I never signed up for) that all seem to have the same theme:

“Be very afraid, & scramble to protect your assets because someone is coming for you & what you have. But if you would only do what WE say, you’ll be protected, you’ll be provided for, you’ll be fine.” 

This afternoon I’ve been rehearsing one of my life Scriptures (its actually a life Scripture for any/all who want to be a disciple of Christ, but I digress…) It is Luke 9:23-25

And He (Jesus) said to all: If anyone would come after Me, let him DENY himself, & TAKE UP his cross DAILY, & FOLLOW Me. For whoever would SAVE his life will LOSE it, but whoever LOSES his life for My sake will SAVE it. For what does it profit a man if he GAINS the whole world & LOSES or FORFEITS himself?” (emphasis mine)


From this I’m reminded that my daily goal isn’t the preservation &/or accumulation of stuff so I have ENOUGH… my goal is to be a faithful disciple of Christ. I know that if/when I follow (OBEY) God’s instructions for me in every area I know to follow (OBEY), I am walking in His way… in which I experience His provision, care, & blessing.

I also want to be a good steward of what He’s provided, for me & theBean & our family, while at the same time not getting caught up in the chase to attempt to store up treasures for me/us HERE at the expense of storing up treasures in heaven.  Some of the Scriptures I rehearse to keep my head straight are:

  • Psalm 37:3 – Trust in the Lord & do good. Dwell in the land & enjoy safe pasture.
  • Psalm 37:25 – I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.
  • Philippians 4:19 – And my God will supply all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus. 
  • 1Timothy 6:6-10 – But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, & we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food & clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation & a trap & into many foolish & harmful desires that plunge people into ruin & destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith & pierced themselves with many griefs.
  • 1John 2:15-17 – Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, & the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world & its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

Au jus, indelible marks, sin, & forgiveness…

Sunday after church, I had a church council meeting. Even though lunch is provided, I don’t normally eat AT the meeting; I wait until AFTER the meeting to ravenously scarf up any remnants of the lunch that remained. Though this usually works for me, (in that I survive it,) it really doesn’t work for me, as the chances of me ending up hangry after a full day of church, lots of people interactions, & a church council meeting, all done without a meal, are about 99.44 out of 100%.

So this week, to the rejoicing of theBean, I chose to eat lunch during the council meeting, at the same time everyone else was eating. And the food was so good – mini-cuban & mini-roast beef slider-sandwiches baked, casserole style, using King’s Hawaiian rolls.

Somewhere in the midst of the meeting, eating, talking, & multi-tasking, I found a way to get a noticeable sized amount of au jus on my left pant leg, probably from an overzealous dipping of the roast beef into the au jus, & even though I’d tried to rush the food into my mouth, some of it, the juicy part, had gotten on my pants. No worries; I’d take care of it at home.

We’d (meaning theBean) made the au jus using lots of fat & drippings & yummy goodness, so I wanted to make sure when it came time to wash my pants I did the appropriate amount of “pre-treatment” on the au jus stain so it would actually come out of the pants, & not serve as an indelible mark, a visible reminder of both that lunch & also my propensity to miss my mouth when I’m eating.

  • NOTE: TheBean offered to help me (translation: do it for me) but, hey, I’m in the 4th grade, (Dan in Real Life reference) so I figured I’d handle it myself.
  • NOTE 2: I was watching the 49ers/Eagles game, so I maaay have hurried through the application of the Spray & Wash (though I am 50% sure I sprayed the spray on the correct spot on the correct leg)

At some point during the game I heard the washer stop so I ran & very responsibly, threw the clothes into the dryer & rushed back to the game before the commercial ended.

  • NOTE 3: I have DVR. I could have pressed the “PAUSE” button & taken my time, but instead I did it, 70s style.
  • NOTE 4: TheBean asked if I had checked the pant leg to make sure the spot had come out in the wash. I distinctly remember telling her, “I didn’t need to because I treated the pant leg.” Who’s a great big boy?!

In the aftermath of the 49ers total domination of the Eagles, I decided to pull my clothes from the dryer & fold them as I watched highlights of the game I’d just watched, beginning to end. (Anybody else do that?)

When I went to fold my pants I decided to admire my handiwork… And I discovered that the au jus spot was still there. In all its glory. Oh no. Even I know what happens when you dry clothes that have stains in them; you set the stains in the clothes, FOREVER. My favorite pants. Forever to be marked by a very visible reminder of some really great au jus.

TheBean said she’d try to look at them for me later, but I wasn’t holding out much hope.


TheBean opened at work the next morning so I was left to my own devices. I sat staring at my stained pants, wondering, thinking, pondering…

Soon my thoughts weren’t on my pants; I was thinking about sin & the mark it can leave in our lives… & how our best efforts to ‘clean up’ the mess left behind through our actions (intentional or otherwise) are woefully inadequate. And how its only the blood of Jesus that takes away, washes away, truly cleanses us from all of our sin.

And I had an idea – I decided to try Dawn PowerWash mixed with Spray & Wash on both the inside of the pant leg & the outside. I liberally applied both substances to the pants while crying out to Jesus about the state of my pants (but it really seemed like it was about more than that, like my soul was involved too.)

I put the pants into the washer, said one last prayer, & started the wash.


45 minutes later, I pulled the pants out of the washer & checked the pant leg for the stain.

Nothing.

I checked the other leg, thinking I must have looked at the wrong one.

Still nothing.

I didn’t trust it enough to put it into the dryer, so I hung the pants on our stair railing & left for work.


When theBean & I arrived home late that evening, I rushed upstairs to check on my mostly dry pants to see if the stain was still visible… it was not. Every trace was gone. Couldn’t even tell where it had been. There was great rejoicing.

And again thoughts of sin & forgiveness crossed my mind, along with the hymn “Nothing But the Blood of Jesus.” 

Scripture verses sprang to mind as I heard the reminders of God’s goodness, in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, of the promise of forgiveness of sins; not just some of them, or most of them, or parts of them… ALL of them.

And I wept with thankfulness. Not just about my pants. But about my soul too.

 “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” Isaiah 1:18

If we confess our sins, He is faithful & just to forgive us our sins & to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1John 1:9

I am a seed, embracing limits, & other musings…

I find myself doing more pondering than I used to do, even a few short months ago… not sure if its solely the lag & slowly-but-surely attempt to re-engage the motor that always happens for me coming back from a long trip as I work through the physical, mental, & emotional costs of said trip, no matter how enjoyable or productive it may have been.

Work is different & the rhythms I’d grown used to (fallen into) over the last few years have been shaken up with a (virtual) head-shaking, sinus-clearing whiff of smelling salts brought on by change. Instead of just jumping back into the known & the familiar, I find myself stopping & observing, thinking on & through, & leaning more & more on my foundations for encouragement & possibly, for some directions as I go forward into December & toward the brink of 2024.

Jerry Cook used to say, “If you don’t know what you’re DOING, limit your activities. And if you don’t know what to SAY, limit your words.”  And so in these days I’m finding myself choosing (rather than begrudgingly complaining my way to & through) to embrace those limits of NOT knowing, surely, confidently, what to do. To say.

It’s not apathy. Nor inertia. It has the feel of a ‘gathering of self’ kinda like you’d do before you’d JUMP or SPRING towards something. (I’m picturing Mario C Champagne, a childhood cat much loved by all, getting ready to pounce. And pounce he did. But he could also linger. But I digress.)  i occasionally feel pressure (probably from firstborn, formerly Type A me) to DO something, to JUMP in & lead loud & fast & confidently towards… something. But what I have is nothing concrete, merely the subtle encouragements, a sense of being drawn towards/by the things/person I know & trust… to keep taking the steps in front of me that need to be taken. To lean on myBean & also on my Savior, trusting that I need both to encourage & remind me of things spoken to me long ago, things that are in process of being worked through now.

Sitting at my desk, looking out the window. Melancholy? Peace?

And I’m hit with this: I am a seed, (with the lyrics too.) Haven’t thought of that song in a minute (or a decade.) And yet… I am a seed. SOMETHING is definitely happening, but there’s not much ACTIVITY happening. Like a seed. In the ground. Waiting for the shaking off of the old form, the kernel that’s held me for so long, waiting for roots to sprout DOWN & for life to spring UP. Knowing I can’t make it happen by wanting, as the process isn’t mine to force. I’m on the timeline of Another; the Gardener who planted me knows His times & His seasons. And He knows not only WHEN the shaking/breaking will begin (emerge?) but also WHAT will come forward. And, like the fruit/plant/green that doesn’t even remotely resemble the seed it came from, that which is coming (probably) won’t look like the seed did… but it will be GOOD. And then the activities, the words, will be more evident.

This is the way. Walk in it. These are the words. Speak them.

Deutschland 2023 – Day #17 – Home

Woke up at the crack of doom to put the final touches on our bags & gather & place all our belongings in the appropriate suitcase. Took our bags downstairs & across the courtyard (sorry for the noise. It’s hard to be quiet when you’re rolling a suitcase across cobblestones) & parked them inside the entryway of Alex & Linda’s building. Linda was ready for us with plenty of coffee & snacks to take with.

You know those last few moments you have with dear (& faraway) friends, those moments before the Uber arrives? Those are precious & those are hard. Together we rehearsed our thankfulness for the time together we had; for the great talks; for the food adventures; for the time shared. Too soon we had to navigate downstairs, grab our bags & then make our way to the sidewalk in front of #13, hoping that the Uber I’d scheduled (& had confirmed the night before) would come on time. Evidently there were threats of major snafus on the roads today as the Deutsche Bahn/transit system went on strike this morning. Woohoo.

Fortunately, our driver was just a minute over his scheduled time, &, after hugs & a tearful goodbye (yes, me) we piled into the back of the car & prepared for the loooong day of travels. Berlin’s new airport isn’t huge, but it is big. Even more fun is trying to figure out WHERE you’re supposed to drop off your luggage, because the system used in most other parts of the world isn’t organized even remotely close to what we know at home. I remembered seeing some numbers when I checked in the night before, & sure enough, those corresponded to the place we were to drop off our checked luggage. BTW – I happened upon a German couple saying their passionate goodbyes outside the entrance to security/what we’d call TSA. It stood out to me because I don’t think I’ve seen a make out session like that one since… maybe ever. The dude (he was staying behind, she was leaving) was left a disheveled mess, in need of a hairbrush & a towel. 2 points for Germany.


With that first exchange in the books, theBean & I made our way towards the gate for the flight that would take us to Munich, where we’d catch a flight to San Francisco, where we’d catch a flight home. Wandered the terminal looking at the snack options & finally decided to go with a version of a salami & cheese on brown bread. When it came time for us to board, we lined up with our carryon & backpacks, only to discover that the Lufthansa lady at the gate had decided we weren’t making it by her with our backpack… that we’d have to check it all the way through. Normally this wouldn’t be an issue, but the justice part of me was more than a little frustrated by being singled out (Merica!) amongst a virtual plethora of other passengers’ bags bigger & more numerous than our own Lil Samsonite. There was no stopping her, so, we scrambled to put as much of the ‘stuff’ we’d packed in there into my backpack, & sent the bag on its way.

The flight to Munich was uneventful, though I was more than a bit concerned that our international flight to SF had started boarding 10 minutes before we landed in Munich. These concerns were compounded when we discovered our gate was an estimated (thank you AI estimating tool used in the German airports) 20 minutes walk away. To further complicate the issue, I needed to find a WC before we did any fast moving.

We speed walked/jogged through the crowds, & slowly made our way toward the gate. Airline officials lined the spacious hallways, asking questions, then funneling us toward the appropriate lines leading to our eventual gate entrance. Caught our breath & headed down the tunnel toward the plane… where we stood for another 10 minutes waiting to board. Elation.

We made it – shortly we’d be on a plane headed to the US… but alas, our bags did not. At the switchover/customs check in in SF, we discovered that our bags hadn’t made the super-quick connection to Munich. After checking in with our carrier & reporting the issue, we were left with the understanding that NO, the bags didn’t make this trip, but YES, they knew where they were & had a decent guess when they’d show up. First world problems. Sigh.


By this time (14 hours into our day) I was feeling bleary, made worse by the fact that I didn’t sleep on the flight over. TheBean did, so she was in a little better shape, but still… Time passed slowly as we waited for the invite to board the last leg to Reno, but it did eventually pass. After landing at home, we met with the carrier again in the Reno-Tahoe Airport to officially file a missing bags report, & were assured they’d be delivered sometime the next day.

Our Gracer & the girls (Jane Alish & EloWEEZ) picked us up & transported us home. What a joy to hold family after a few weeks – the girls seem to have grown at LEAST 4 inches & 40 pounds apiece (I exaggerate, but you get it.) They came inside & Jane ran around Poppy’s house for a bit as EloWEEZ got herself together in preparation for her final 10 minute trip home. So good.

Home. No place like it.


The aftermath – the next day, 2 of the 3 bags showed up at our front door. The only missing bag? TheBean’s main suitcase. I talked to customer service again & it turns out her bag had always wanted to go to Anchorage, Alaska, so it would, hopefully, come the next day (Saturday) after a late fall excursion to the biggest state in all the land. It did arrive Saturday.


Takeaways:

  • There is nothing like being physically present, in the room, with friends. I’m thankful for technologies that allow regular & close communications, but it isn’t close to the same.
  • One thing we heard in every place we went (Frankfurt, Achern/Ottersweier, Oberwesel, Bielefeld, & Berlin) was “Thank you for your encouragement!” I believe it is a superpower given to us to be able to share, authentically & regularly, with the people we interact with. This tangible thankfulness that emerges in the aftermath of a person who’s been encouraged by another, SEEN by another, has given me a new appreciation of Barnabas, the OG “Son of Encouragement.” Makes me want to grow in this area & be more intentional with encouraging others.
  • The enemy of our souls, the devil, seems to hammer humanity equally, with a barrage of negative thoughts & perspectives about ourselves, how God (& others see us) & to rub in our face our unworthiness, insecurities, inadequacies, & real/perceived failures. THAT is why encouragement, friendship, & real fellowship are so vital for us inside/outside the Church. Doing that, being that, sharing that… helps combat those destructive, hyper-critical voices.
  • I love to partner in life, love, & work/play with theBean. I KNEW this already, but man, nothing like a 17 day voyage to the other side of the world to remind me of the Good Thing God gave to me almost 35 (!) years ago.
  • We’re looking forward to future trips to Germany (& beyond), but for now, we’ll be enjoying home, family, familiar food, friends, & our very own bed.

Thank you all for your prayers, your support, & your ENCOURAGEMENT to us. It helped sustain us in perfect health & good spirits, with everything we could ever need or ask for. You are loved & appreciated.

Be an encourager today.

Deutschland 2023 – Days #15 & 16 “Fun with Alex & Linda, which mostly involved trying out new restaurants & street food… “

Day 15 – the afternoon & evening

We met Alex & Linda in the courtyard of the building where our flats are located, & made our way through the maze to one of the adjoining streets to meet our Uber. They typically employ 1 of 4 modes of transportation: walking, riding a bike, hiring an Uber/taxia, or (rarely) taking the public transportation system (combo of buses/S & U-bahn trains.) The driver dropped us off & it was just a short walk to Parma Pizza. To say it was a hole in the wall makes it seem bigger than it was… there were 3 or 4 tables crammed into 2 rooms, & the ‘kitchen’ was literally 2 steps from our table. Alex stepped into the kitchen twice & was reprimanded each time for violating the ‘chef’s’ space, but it’s not like he could access his seat without stepping into the kitchen. Inside of the rooms looked like a half-finished construction site where the workers had gone home for the weekend, leaving a bunch of stuff half-done, with tools & supplies strewn around the room. There were two guys in the kitchen area; one, the owner/chef, the other, a guy who kept sampling the box of wine on the edge of the super tiny refrigerator. He reminded me of someone who was probably a buddy of the owner who comes to hang out at his buddy’s place in the hopes he’ll be able to sponge some free food & drink if he hangs out long enough. The chef guy looked as though he was an Italian photographer just returned from a taxing & oh-so-draining photoshoot somewhere & by the way he acted, it sure didn’t seem like he was happy to have customers. I dubbed him “Artist Guy” & the other guy was “the Leech.” 

He finally got around to bringing us our menus & made a big show about the artistry of his pizzas… he took the time to explain several of the pizza options to us, in German & English, even though we already knew what we wanted to order. Once we ordered, he engaged in conversation with the Leech for about 15 minutes, seemingly forgetting we were there. Eventually our drink orders came, with our bottled water & the finest boxed red wine the kitchen had to offer placed hurriedly on the table so Artist guy could get back to his conversation.

He remembered we were there to EAT, so he frantically began to assemble the ingredients for the pizzas we’d ordered on his prep counter & then painstakingly made the pizzas, popping them 1 by 1 into the pizza oven on the far side of the kitchen. Good thing they only had to bake for about 90 seconds. Artist guy deposited the pizzas in front of us & stepped back into the kitchen. 

About this time, a younger guy arrived, complete with a dark mullet of curls on his head (theBean said they were the size of the classic pink 1 1/2″ sponge hair roller that hadn’t been brushed out after removing the curlers); he spoke only broken English & his native Italian, & he seemed to be there to do all the jobs Artist guy didn’t want to do.

Pizza was ok – I got a Salamewurst & Tomato & Mozzarella & theBean had a ham pizza (ham put on after the pizza cooked, much to her chagrin & displeasure.) We ate our fill & laughed a lot around the tiny table in the bizarre pizza place/construction zone while the Leech drank more wine & the Mullet guy went through the motions of cleaning & puttering around looking for something. 

We had a blast… time with Alex & Linda is always the BEST time. Good conversations on a variety of topics: Jesus, church life, health, exercise, conspiracy theories, Joe Rogan, specialty meal replacement shakes, work (Alex works in a start-up that does high end health supplements & Linda is a supervisor in the educational system, focusing much of her life on helping foreigners & others trying to make the best of school in Germany.)

Alex had us rolling with his active & quick sense of humor & Linda’s joy & love of life are evident in every conversation we had with her. Truly dear & much loved friends. 

After our meal, since it wasn’t raining (YES) we decided to stretch our legs & walk home through the dark back streets of Berlin’s Kreuzberg & Neukölln neighborhoods; it only took about 30 minutes & it was really refreshing, esp. considering how much we had sat around with little activity the first week of our trip. Went up to their flat for more talks & a late night glass of wine… eventually made our way across the courtyard to our flat & were in our room a minute later. It was a good day.


DAY 16 – Templehof, Street Food, & Crazy Kim’s

Woke up late & headed to the Cafe Bread for coffee & a breakfast pastry… guy from yesterday wasn’t working (bummer) & but the new girl hooked us up & quickly as we settled into our spot to read, enjoy our coffee & people watch. Alex worked until 1 p.m. & Linda until 5, so theBean & I went for a walk through the neighborhood & picked up some supplies from the local grocery store. When Alex called us, we met him outside at an Uber & made our way downtown for some “on the go” site-seeing & a quick stop for a ‘snack’ at Goldie’s Smashburger &.I’ve had smashburgers in the US & they were ok… nothing compared to a good 3×3 animal style, protein style, w/extra grilled onions & cheese, no tomato, no spread, ketchup & mustard please @ In-N-Out burger, but ok.  

This was > ok. This was incredible. Keep in mind, we stopped here for a snack… & also because we hadn’t had a burger our whole time in Germany. So of course, we ended up getting doubles, which were the size of my two fists together. We came at the perfect time, so no line. By the time we were done eating, the line had wandered down the block. We crushed our burgers (so good) & took turns sampling the fries until we couldn’t eat any more. This was, by far, the food highlight of our trip. 

After eating waaaay too much for a snack, we wanted to do some walking, so we made our way through the streets til we finally got to the old Templehof Airport (check out the link for Templehof above), the site of the Berlin airdrops that saved Berlin in 1948 & 1949 (go USA). This massive former airport is now a recreation area, where miles of former taxi & runways have been turned into places for exercise, (bikes, roller blades, scooters, & foot power), with large grassy areas here & there for picnics, kid-friendly recreation, & a couple designated dog parks. Very cool, & lots of places to stop & read about the history of the place. Spent about 90 minutes walking & ended up on the far side of the airport, where we (thank the Lord) found bathrooms that were open & available for usage, without any fee. (NOTE: most of the time to use a toilet in a store/restaurant in Germany/Europe, it will cost you at least 1 Euro. Put that on your list of Even More Things to be thankful for at home.) 

Caught an Uber home, with just enough time to rest, change clothes, & meet Linda to catch another Uber to our dinner place, Crazy Kim’s Korean. We got seated by Kim herself at a table in the entry way, & placed our orders. This restaurant was one they hadn’t been to before, but our coming to visit gave them an opportunity. Food was decent & there were 15 appetizer bites brought to our table (no choice in the matter) & it was fun to try different things. For our main dishes, I got bulgogi & theBean got Korean short-ribs.

But the highlight of the night, for me, was the 2 women who came in shortly after us. One of them HAD to be the owner’s daughter & the other seemed to be a beloved best friend, because Kim doted on the super fancy & chic ladies, dressed in what were probably pretty fashionable (definition: super weird clothes that real people don’t wear) all the while snapping photos of themselves, each other, & the little pocket sized dog the daughter brought in in her purse. If you’ve ever seen wanna-be IG ‘influencers’ in action, you have an idea of our entertainment for the duration of dinner. They helped themselves to all sorts of things behind the bar, often leaving their table to walk around the building, often retreating into the “private” & “Staff only”, only to emerge later & hit the bar again. So. Funny.

Finished dinner & made our way to our Uber outside. The drive home only took 5 minutes, so we had to be close, but it was raining & we’d already walked about 8 miles earlier in the day. As it was our last night, we made our way up to Alex & Linda’s flat again, & sat around their table trying to pack as many conversations as possible into the time we had left. So precious. 

We sadly made our way back to our flat to sleep the short night’s sleep that comes before the departure flight home. We’d made plans to come to their flat in the morning for a cup of coffee & hugs goodbye, so we knew we’d get to see them at least one more time before we left. 

Slept well, with dreams of home in our minds.