Archive for the ‘Living out faith’ Category

There are several lessons, perspectives and ways of doing that became ingrained in me when I interned with a non-profit discipleship-focused mime and arts ministry during college (and continued working with them on and off in subsequent years).

One of the ideas which has stuck with me and which I continue to do (or work towards) is the idea that you leave a place better than you found it.

When churches would let us rehearse there or use their facilities for workshops or even simply taking meals and doing schoolwork (we took homeschooled young men and women on the road to minister and they brought their work with them), we would not only clean up the areas we were in, but would often clean the rest of the church as well.

When we stayed in host homes we were trained to not let our stuff “spew” up all over these generous people’s homes but keep it neat and orderly, cleaning up after ourselves and always seeking ways to help – cleaning up after meals or such.

Even those rare occasions we stayed in hotel rooms we always left them neat and orderly – not a wreck.

It is a simple mindset to seek small ways in which you can leave a place better than when you found it.

I’ve since applied this to parking lots (taking in carts that others have left) and apartments (leaving it cleaner or in better shape/better value than when I moved in) and public bathrooms (wiping down especially messy sink areas, pushing the paper towels in the trashcan down further to allow more in without spilling onto the floor) and, of course, still when I stay in hotel rooms or host homes (including friends’ homes) or rent or use rooms.

There’s always this little voice at the back of my head saying, “Leave it better than you found it.”

So Saturday night I was in bed attempting to calm my mind before I fell asleep. Which was harder than usual because I had gone to tea with Mom earlier that day and had consumed caffeine and sugar, not to mention how riled up with excitement and hope and ideas I get when talking tea and attending well-done tea events. But I was also exhausted and in pain. The pain was because caffeine and sugar are not blood-sugar friendly and incite pain in my fibromyalgia-ridden body. The exhaustion was mostly because as an introvert, people wear me out. I love people and very much enjoyed the sharing and conversations, but I was simply worn out afterwards.

Which is probably why as I lay there trying to calm my mind down, my thoughts turned to wanting to be awake and chipper on Sunday morning when interacting with my church family. As an introvert (and being a bit socially awkward), this takes focus and energy. But church isn’t about me. I go to worship God and fellowship with and serve others and mutually learn and grow together.

For more than a year now I’ve been trying to get into the habit of being others-centered on Sunday mornings. For me at least, this is a very hard task. Especially when I often find myself weary and sickly and mentally foggy. Such things make it even harder to turn my eyes from my own pressing issues to love on and serve others. Oh yeah, and have I mentioned my social awkwardness? I am terrible at initiating conversations and making small talk!

And I’m honestly not quite sure how it happened. Perhaps it stemmed from the fact that twice earlier that day in the tiny little hot and humid two-seater bathroom, which nearly 200 ladies had to share while drinking lots of tea, I hiked up my skirt and used my Capezio character dance heels to push down the overflowing paper towels in the tiny little wastebasket so more could fit in.

But suddenly it occurred to me, “why not leave people better than you found them?”

Why not apply the principle that I have ingrained in me regarding spaces and things to people?

This could be as simple as a smile or a cheery ‘hello!’ It could be complimenting someone’s outfit or hair or smile or work. It could be listening to a person who simply needs to be heard. It could be praying for or with a person. It could be offering advice or support or encouragement. It could be making someone laugh or giving someone a safe place to cry. It could be investing time and thought and emotions into someone to really come alongside and help them along.

Because sometimes when you borrow the fellowship hall you clean the whole church before you are done. And sometimes you simply take the stray cart nearest you back into the store when you head in.

Big ways. Small ways.

It’s simply a mindset.

And so I’m working towards a new mindset to leave people better than I found them.

Read Full Post »

So I mixed metaphors in my title. Let’s just call it a cross between Matt Redman’s 10,000 Reasons and Great Is Thy Faithfulness and call it a day.

Or 10,000.

Speaking of days… it took me just 495 days to reach 10,000 gifts (ie. graces) on my list. Which is more of a journal than a list. Okay, well, a set of journals. I’m starting number 5 today.

Twice before I have composed posts containing my reflective narrations at the beginning points (or special mid-points) of these journals. (There was 10,000 Reasons and then 10,000 Reasons continued.)

So it only seems right to continue this tradition.

Well, that and it makes a quick and easy blog post to put up after not doing any for awhile… but that’s beside the point.

Saturday 30 March 2013

Gift Journal #4

The one that will see me reach 10,000.

The one during which I will perhaps begin to see the deeper and more subtle changes that God is working in me.

I see grace everywhere.

So here are the stats:

  • I began February 20, 2012
  • I reached 1,000 on May 5, 2012
  • Journal #1 was 48 pages of 2,115 gifts from February 20, 2012 to July 4, 2012
  • Journal #2 was 160 pages of 2,379 gifts from July 5, 2012 to November 22, 2012
  • Journal #3 was 160 pages of 2,769 gifts from November 22, 2012 to March 30, 2013
  • Journal #4 is 160 pages of 2,886 gifts from March 30, 2013 to July 5, 2013*
  • I reached 10,000 on June 28, 2013*

It sort of fascinates me that the ending and beginning of new journals has fallen on or around holidays:

  • July 4th – a birthday of sorts and a day to celebrate freedom
  • Thanksgiving – a day of giving thanks! How appropriate!
  • Easter weekend – a time of seeing so very much grace!

And though I still somewhat lament how my “regular journal” has fallen by the wayside, it is nice that my days are actually well-recounted here. Perhaps even better so – for this is the perspective of grace and of what God is doing in my life!

*Note that the last two in italics were added in reserved spaces when I had finished the journal.

Saturday 6 July 2013

(I wrote this on the 1,000 Gifts Facebook group page this morning and then thought it appropriate as my beginning journal entry.)

Dear Ann,

I’m not sure now who it was to originally challenge you to find 1,000 gifts – or did you ever even mention a name? – but I want to thank that person – and you for writing the book of your experience and the change wrought in your life.

In February 2012 I began my own list, just after hitting chapter 3 as I journeyed through the book with the ladies’ Bible study at church. Just two and a half months later I reached 1,000. But I couldn’t stop there. Last Friday, June 28th, I hit 10,000. 10,000 gifts. 10,000 graces. Or, as Matt Redman sings, “10,000 reasons for my heart to find!”

Today I begin my 5th “gift” journal. I have no intention of stopping. And perhaps it is some obsessive-compulsive tendencies which lead me to average 23 gifts a day, but I think even more so it is that once you begin to see, you keep seeing. And I never want to be blind in that way again.

I do not believe it to be a coincidence that this journey to 10,000 gifts over the past year and a half has coincided with perhaps the most difficult period of my life. And in some ways it even feels funny saying that. But the past year and a half has brought very rough health issues and struggles and shattered dreams and lots of things unsettled and up in the air… and much waiting. Yet as I look over that same period of time from another perspective it has been possibly one of the best 17 months of my life. My relationship with God has blossomed in ways it never has before and in ways of which I probably never would even conceived. God has been proven faithful again and again and I am seeing it now. Better. More clearly. More readily. I am seeing graces all around. I am more thankful. I am more joyful. Bad days and bad attitudes are easier to fight with truth.

You wrote a book on your experience and even so it still spills over into continuing blog posts. To try and describe and define my own journey would likely fill and spill the same. Not to mention how friends have also joined this journey and I am seeing the same fruit in their lives.

So thank you for being vulnerable and open and for sharing your experience and your words and your challenges. Thank you for being a continually committed follower of Jesus Christ and for inviting and encouraging those around you to do the same. And thanks also to whomever it was who sparked that 1,000 gifts challenge in your life!

Mahalo y shalom!

And so I continue on continuing on… 

So at this rate, it’ll only take me 135 more years to reach 1,000,000 gifts!

But hey, as Matt Redman sings,

on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years and then forevermore!

Read Full Post »

GRACE n. 5. A favor rendered by one who need not do so

At its most basic, grace is unmerited favor.



I know this. Of course, I know this! I have a master’s degree! I was raised in a solid, Bible-believing church! At my undergraduate and graduate schools I studied the Bible and theology and ministry! I’ve read books about grace! I can sing along with the (old school) Newsboys:

When we don’t get what we deserve
That’s a real good thing
When we get what we don’t deserve
That’s a real good thing

And dozens, or hundreds, or even thousands of times I have taught or encouraged with these words: “Mercy is not getting what we deserve, grace is getting what we don’t deserve.”

Not to mention that for the past year I’ve been counting gifts. I’m up over 7,800 now. These are things for which I’m grateful, so I see them as gifts and then I see them as they truly are – graces. And my gratitude and awareness has expanded and I see gifts and grace all around me.

So you see, I know grace…

I also know that teaching shouldn’t be without thought or preparation. Even, or perhaps especially, Bible teaching or teaching for Sunday School… I’ve been trained, remember?! I know that good teachers prepare ahead of time. Several hours of study and prayer should stand behind each hour of actual teaching.Teaching should never be on the fly.

And it’s not like it was a last minute commission. Ever since we lost several teachers last autumn I’ve been regularly taking the last Sunday of the month, feeling honored and humbled to teach the most elderly of classes at our church.

And it’s not like I waited to the last minute to look at the lesson. When I finished teaching on that last Sunday of February I looked ahead. I read the scripture from which the lesson was based and I know the story well: two disciples on the road to Emmaus and their burning-heart encounter with a cloaked and resurrected Jesus.

And it’s not like I make it my goal to wait until the last minute. My intention was to read the student guide for each lesson the weeks I wasn’t teaching and then to work on the lesson a little bit each night the week before, wrapping up and finalizing on Saturday.

Though by now I’m sure we all know the place to where good intentions pave the way…

I could make excuses. Some reasons are quite valid: health issues, family situations which took preeminence… And I could plea and argue that I didn’t completely fail. After all, I did manage to catch up on what the class had been learning my weeks off- earlier that week… And I did pray about the lesson and for the class- some… And I did think about the lesson before Saturday- albeit hastily…

Yet the fact of the matter remains, as I confessed to my other-side-of-the-world friend during our regular Skype call, I was unprepared. Here it was Saturday night, the night before Easter, the night before I was to teach on perhaps the most important topic in all of scripture on perhaps the most important day in the Christian calendar with perhaps the highest attendance of the year, and I had not yet begun the actual lesson plan.

Eight o’clock in the evening and there was still work to do. After all, the next day was Easter and I had to prepare foods I could eat (for our family gathering) and I wanted to help Mom and Dad with final food and cleaning preparations so that they wouldn’t stress and could get to bed at a decent time…

So I was actively thinking through the lesson and all the ideas I’d had hitherto required more than a few hours planning. In talking through my dilemma and the scripture with Mom as we worked, I was suddenly struck with an idea. Max. If I wanted a framework, a different angle, something to help me quickly prepare a lesson, how about seeing if my good friend Max Lucado had anything to say about the disciples on the road to Emmaus? So I went to one of his early books which is in my nightstand and I opened it to where I thought that part of the Jesus story might fall. Sure enough, there it was – a whole chapter retelling the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. I read it aloud to Mom as we worked, tearing up when I reached certain lines, certain phrases where Max made some good points. About hope. It was difficult to finish the story after that, my eyes wide in wonder and my thoughts racing. As soon as I finished the story I raced to my room, pulling out the lesson quarterly (booklet) to show Mom.

The theme of the entire quarter? Hope. The name of the chapter in Max’s book where my lesson-story was found? Hope.

It seemed a divine gift. I was so excited. So I planned to use Max’s story and I spent an hour or so on lesson background and scripture study before bed and I formulated a plan. I would tell three stories to the class. Three stories that were all the same story. I began by reading the scripture itself. Then I told “a story” beginning with a “man named Abram” and ending with two bewildered disciples rushing back to Jerusalem from Emmaus. Then I read Max’s story.

Saturday night, but more so Sunday morning as I woke and got ready and then had some “down time” between sunrise breakfast and worship service, as I mentally ran through the long story (finalizing what parts of the story to highlight and what to keep brief) I recognized recurring themes. In the whole of the scripture story, in the lesson plan itself and even in Max’s story. The pieces fell into place and it was beautiful and I was excited and I knew that it was of God and that it was a gift.

And the lesson went well. I mean, really well. Of course, I sputtered and stammered a couple times which I probably wouldn’t have done had I taken more time to plan and run through what I was going to say… but the lesson went really well. Exceptionally so. And, as I was told by one of the other teachers of the class (who was my Sunday School teacher back in the fourth grade), it is always good to hear – and some of the others needed to hear – how the stories all fit together like that.

On the way home I was still marveling and talking to God about it all. How well the lesson went. How unprepared I’d been. How foolish that was of me. How wonderful it was that He had provided that story… that idea… those connections…

“But,” I said guiltily, “it’s not right. It’s not fair. I should have failed today because I knew better and yet wasn’t prepared. I didn’t deserve for it to go well. And certainly not that well!”

“My dear daughter,” came the reply, “that is the definition of grace.”

And then there was silence.

It was sinking in.

What I’ve known for years suddenly became real and tangible.


Unmerited favor.

And I realized that all this time, though my own words and theology told me otherwise, I thought that somehow I could earn it.

But earning is not the definition of grace.

Read Full Post »

10,000 Reasons continued

Several months back, I posted my journal entries regarding key points in my journey of 1,000 Gifts and 10,000 Reasons.

Today I hit another marker.

I began my third journal.

Thursday 22 November 2012

I find it appropriate that today is Thanksgiving and here I am beginning my third journal of gifts…

I began on February 20th of this year. I reached 1,000 gifts on May 5th. That was also appropriate (and needed) timing. My first journal was 48 pages, containing 2,115 gifts and was closed out on July 4th.

My second journal began on July 5th and has 160 pages containing 2,379 gifts – blessings – graces for which I am thankful. I won’t take the time and space here to recount (again) the struggles and insights and lessons that I’ve mentioned at such junctions before.

But there are a few things I’ve noticed in the past weeks that I would like to make note of here:

  • It’s okay to list the same thing twice, especially since the gratitude has been renewed.
  • Sometimes at the end of the day looking back, I note things I wouldn’t have counted as gifts at first…
  • …but I want to get back into the habit of giving thanks in the moment.
  • I’m discovering that attitudes, choices, the ability to be disciplined and other such intangibles are really graces – and I am thankful for them.
  • I’ve realized that it is usually my roughest days (especially health-wise) that end up with the most gifts listed.
  • I’ve realized that busyness threatens my ability to see gifts and graces and to give thanks.

So, here we go… on to #4495 and following!

Read Full Post »

So it’s long after church and lunch and a nap and resting and I find myself in my room clearing off my desk from the books and binders and paperwork that got dumped there when we arrived home. I begin to clear it, piece by piece, putting everything into its place. I pick up today’s sermon notes and see what I had scribbled upon the side. Something Pastor Chris said. Something I wanted to remember. And before filing it away with the rest of my sermon notes, I open up Facebook and begin to type the lines. And as I type my thoughts come together and spill out afterwards, thoughts from earlier and thoughts from now and my very heart’s cry.

And though such spilled thoughts now reside on Facebook, they seemed appropriate to record here, too. Here where I can stumble across them again and remember and relive and revive.


“More than we need physical healing, we need God. More than we need the touch of God, we need God himself.” ~ Pastor Christopher T. Little

As much as I long for – yearn for – physical healing (and rightly so), I know this truth to be true.

And day by day I see and count the movements and presence of God in my life and in the lives around me; these graces, this gifts. And I give thanks.


Eucharisteo like the bread and wine and I thought of this during communion today.Communion and celebrating and remembering the sacrifice. By His stripes we are healed. Our God is Jehovah Rophe.

And the grace and the thanksgiving and the joy are all tied together.

And then the words of Kutless cut through my mind, “You are God, you are good; forever Faithful One, even if the healing doesn’t come” and I smile and I add “here on earth” to their chorus.

Because healing will come in that Day. That Day with a capital D. Full healing. Wholeness that goes beyond *just* (yet includes) the physical, the emotional, the mental, the social, the spiritual.

Healing in full. Rophe in full.

Like Shalom in full.

And so I groan in this tent and I yearn and I long and I give thanks and I praise and I look for and I see the heartbeat of God. The God who is God above all gods, who is from everlasting to everlasting, who is provider, who is master, who is healer.

And my heart cries, “Yes, Lord!”

Read Full Post »


I came across this list in a “Needs Done” (second priority) folder. I have no idea when I wrote it (a least a few years ago) and no idea where it came from (but possibly out of a devotional or Bible study). But apparently I had wanted to type it up and keep as a reminder. So I’m typing it now. Here.

Across the top is this word: Truths

  • God is good
  • God loves me and wants me to have His best
  • I am complete and accepted in Christ
  • God is enough
  • God can be trusted
  • God’s grace is sufficient for me
  • My past does not have to plague me
  • God’s Word is sufficient
  • God won’t ask me to do anything that I can’t do through Him
  • I am responsible to God for my responses (choices, etc)
  • True joy is in relinquishing control
  • My suffering will not last forever
  • It’s not about me

Then at the bottom there are verse references. For context, I’m going to include them here.

  • Romans 8:18, 32, 38-39 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us… He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? …For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
  • Psalm 23:1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
  • 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
  • Romans 6:12-14 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.
  • Psalm 107:19-20  Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble; He saved them out of their distresses. He sent His word and healed them, And delivered them from their destructions.
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.
  • 1 Corinthians 9:27 but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.
  • Philippians 3:12-14 Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
  • 1 Corinthians 4:17-18 For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church. Now some have become arrogant, as though I were not coming to you.
  • Revelation 21:4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.
  • 2 Timothy 2:23 But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels.

Read Full Post »

Last fall at the tea seminar, whenever Bruce wanted to end our breaks and call us all together again, he did the most peculiar thing. He picked up a small bronze bowl, took a small wooden mallet in his hand and then began to very slowly move the mallet around the outside edge of the bowl. The sound was low at first, but it gradually built into a deep, loud and beautiful song. The graduated intensity caused our bustle and conversation to melt into silence. I found it the most calming and beautiful way to call a group’s attention together. So much more peaceful than shouts or whistles or bells and, admittedly, more calming than the sound I’ve been using to start meetings the past several years: the shofar.

I found out that his simple instrument was a Tibetan singing bowl which had been gifted to him by someone sometime somewhere along the way of his many and varied tea travels. And I wanted one.

My desire remained firmly planted… in the very back of my mind. I figured I’d have to save for years and search high and low for one. But a friend’s Facebook status a few weeks ago prompted me to check one of my favorite retailers, Ten Thousand Villages. They have several. Different sizes, different materials. I quickly realized that I knew nothing about singing bowls and did a little quick research. Someday I would like to own a larger, hand-hammered singing bowl. But for now I purchased a very small, simple, sand-casted brass bowl through Ten Thousand Villages. It’s called “Delicate Song.”

It arrived Monday.

I was so excited!

As soon as I unpacked it, I had the mallet out trying to make the bowl sing. Just like Bruce did. It didn’t come right away and over the course of the past week as I have interacted with the bowl, not only have I gotten better at making it sing, but I’ve come to realize it can teach me much about faith and life:

  • Don’t hold on too tightly. The singing bowl sits in the open palm of the hand. Placing fingers up around the sides or, for a very small one like mine, cupping the palm of the hand too much chokes the song. It reminds me again to hold my stuff in open hands. I don’t want to choke the song out of my life by holding onto stuff, onto unnecessary things, nor even holding wrongly onto that which is the current instrument of the song God has given me to sing.
  • Slow down. Don’t rush. Take it slow and steady. The slower and steadier you move the mallet around the outside of the bowl, the stronger, the more unwavering and the more beautiful the sound is. If you rush, the mallet clashes with the fine vibrations that enable the singing and it makes a tinny ringing sound that is quite discordant from the intended song. Likewise, rushing through life, through quiet times and prayer times, through conversations and time spent with family and friends can cause sour notes or kill the song. Slow it down a bit…
  • Be patient. This is not a piano nor guitar nor drum which makes sound the instant you play it. The bowl requires a few (or several) steady rotations for it to begin to sing. But sing it will. And some things are definitely worth waiting for. Not everything in life is instant. And the best things seldom are. So be patient. With yourself. With others. With God.
  • Be unwavering. I read a great article today that brought up “the undisciplined pursuit of more.” The article was speaking of how the success of successful people and organizations can undermine clarity which ends up undermining the success itself. I thought about how we get going and we’re excited and  have this momentum and it can easily become a “more, more; faster, faster!” drive. Yet as I saw early on with the singing bowl, though the tendency is to speed up when it begins to sing in an effort to make it better, louder and longer, this actually undermines the song. It can kill the song. Sticking to the right rhythm unwaveringly is much more productive for the song. Isn’t the same true in life? It’s like that old story of the tightrope walker I heard from Dave Thrush in many a staff meeting all those summers working at camp: the hardest part of tightrope walking is near the end, when the platform is no longer within peripheral view yet it is still too far for a final step or jump. Attempting to speed up or “jump” right to the end causes a perilous fall. I’ve recounted this story many a time to friends, encouraging them to not rush and keep the steady pace.
  • Keep the pressure firm, yet soft. When moving the mallet around the bowl, if you are too firm you will interrupt the vibration or even push the bowl itself. Yet if you are too soft you allow too much vibration between the mallet and the bowl and you get that awful tinny ringing again. There is an appropriate tension that should be kept in order for the bowl to sing.
  • Keep playing. In some ways it seems silly. It’s a bowl and a mallet and you move the mallet around the bowl. Simple, right? How hard can it be? But as I’ve discovered this week, there is much more to a singing bowl than meets the eye. The bowl has taught me so much – and God has taught me so much through it! – but even though I know how to make it sing and what to do and what to avoid, I still don’t get it right every time. The more I play the singing bowl, the better I will be at it. It will take time to get good, to make it sound beautifully seemingly effortlessly, but in order to get there I have to keep going; I have to keep playing it.
  • Time smoothes the rough edges. Unlike the others, this isn’t something I observed on my own. This was mentioned in the comments when I was listening to some singing bowl videos on YouTube. Over time, the constant rotation of the mallet around the edge of the bowl works to smooth it out even more than the artisan already has. It diminishes any friction and the sound becomes even smoother, even purer.

I’m really enjoying my singing bowl. I use it when I’m trying to quiet my mind. I use it to help me focus and turn to God. It takes a quiet sort of concentration that is conducive to prayer and meditation. Which makes sense considering its origins are in Buddhist meditative practice.

As as I mentioned, this little brass bowl (and God) have taught me a lot this past week. Some of it I spelled out in more detail, some of it I left for you to make the deeper connections to your own life and faith. So think on…

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »